Nearly all of his father's presents were given with reservations which hampered their value somewhat. It was good discipline. (1.21)
At this point, Jody knows he's getting a present, but he has no clue that it's a full-on pony. A pony. One thing he knows for sure is that any gift given him by his old man is going to have many life lessons attached.
Jody was glad when they had gone. He took brush and currycomb from the wall, took down the barrier of the box stall and stepped cautiously in. (1.58)
At first, Jody was super amped to show his pony off but after a short while, he just wanted them gone so he could get back to the business of caring for Gabilan. In a quick scene, Jody shows us he can bounce from immature braggart to mature caretaker with lightning speed.
Billy lifted the weak head and made a quick slash with the knife. Jody saw the yellow pus run out. (1.153)
As he's witnessing this, Jody does not throw up or pass out or cry. It's a tough scene to take in but if he can do it, maybe that means he's more of a man than we thought. Shmoop would be cry-barfing in the corner.
As he went back toward the house, Jody knew one thing more sharply than he had ever known anything. He must never tell anyone about the rapier. It would be a dreadful thing to tell anyone about it, for it would destroy some fragile structure of truth. It was a truth that might be shattered by division. (2.152)
Okay, Jody, it's just a sword. No need to get all worked up. We wonder if he wants to keep the rapier a secret because his parents might think it's dangerous, or if he just wants to share something with a stranger. Either way, it's clear he's forging new bonds, and breaking some old ones.
A longing caressed him, and it was so sharp that he wanted to cry to get it out of his breast. He lay down in the green grass near the round tub at the brush line. He covered his eyes with his crossed arms and lay there a long time, and he was full of a nameless sorrow. (2.173)
From these lines, it's clear that Jody isn't your average happy-go-lucky kid. He's got deep thoughts and feelings that are worthy of a grown man.
And in the house, after listening to his mother's despair over boys who filled their lunch pails with slimy, suffocated reptiles, and bugs, he promised never to do it again. Indeed, Jody felt that all such foolishness was lost in the past. He was far too grown up ever to put horny-toads in his lunch pail any more. (3.38)
So one second Jody's playing practical jokes on his mom, and the next he's far too grown up for that? What happened in the span of just a few minutes? Oh, that's right—his father promised him a new baby colt. That means Jody's gotta buckle down and get to growing up.
The warm morning sun shone on Jody's back so sweetly that he was forced to take a serious stiff-legged hop now and then in spite of his maturity. (3.49)
Admit it, Shmoopers. No matter how old we are, we're all tempted to skip in the sunshine now and then. Jody's no different. He just gets away with it a little more easily than the rest of us.
Jody sighed deeply. "It's a long time, isn't it?"
"And then it'll be about two years more before you can ride."
Jody cried out in despair, "I'll be grown up."
"Yep, you'll be an old man," said Billy. (3.69-3.72)
Sure, Billy's just teasing Jody here, but he does have a point. Two years is a long time in the life of a kid. What's interesting here is that he seems to think that when he's grown, he won't be able to enjoy the horse as much. But why?
A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of staunchness unknown in this day. (4.113)
Jody's obviously not one of these guys. But he totally wants to be when he grows up. The problem is, these men don't exist anymore. So what sort of man will Jody be when he's no longer a kid?
Jody felt very sad. "If you'd like a glass of lemonade I could make it for you." (4.165)
The fact that he gets his Gramps a glass of lemonade, and doesn't want one himself tells us that, in this moment at least, Jody's acting like a mature and empathetic kid. Of course there's no telling what he'll do next.
He felt an uncertainty in the air, a feeling of change and of loss and of the gain of new and unfamiliar things. Over the hillside two big black buzzards sailed low to the ground and their shadows slipped smoothly and quickly ahead of them. Some animal had died in the vicinity. Jody knew it. It might be a cow or it might be the remains of a rabbit. The buzzards overlooked nothing. Jody hated them as all decent things hate them, but they could not be hurt because they made away with carrion. (1.14)
Oooh, a little foreshadowing. Excellent. From the get-go, we know Jody's not a fan of buzzards, and apparently that's a totally normal way for a decent person to feel. After all, buzzards are the harbingers of death. So is the fact that he wales on the buzzard that eats his pony's eyeball just an indication of his decency? Probably not.
They marched past the cypress, where a singletree hung from a limb to butcher the pigs on… (1.35)
Jody probably hasn't experienced death before his beloved red pony bites it. Sure, he's seen pigs be slaughtered and the like, but that's unemotional. He's not friends with the pigs, and hey, they make for delicious eats. And that's the key here. Life on a ranch is full of death, but it doesn't hit home until Jody loses something he loves.
He saw a hawk flying so high that it caught the sun on its breast and shone like a spark. Two blackbirds were driving him down the sky, glittering as they attacked their enemy. In the west, the clouds were moving in to rain again. (1.140)
Jody's red pony Gabilan is named after the Eastern Mountains but the name Gabilan also means "hawk." In this scene, Jody witnesses a deathcapade in the sky as two blackbirds attack and, most likely kill a lone hawk. You don't have to be a brain wizard to put this foreshadowing together. The poor pony is gonna die. And of course, as the quote states, the rain is coming.
The pony's tracks were plain enough, dragging through the frostlike dew on the young grass, tired tracks with little lines between them where the hoofs had dragged. … At the top of the ridge, Jody was winded. He paused, puffing noisily. The blood pounded in his ears. Then he saw what he was looking for. Below, in one of the little clearings in the brush lay the red pony. (1.182-1.183)
This happens a lot with animals. When they know they are close to death, they tend to wander away and die on their own. It's awfully sad and lonely to think about, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. Jody probably would have given anything to be with Gabilan during his final moments but the horse had different plans. Oh woe is Jody.
Then the beak opened and vomited a stream of putrefied fluid. Jody brought up his knee and fell on the great bird. He held the neck to the ground with one hand while his other found a piece of sharp white quartz. (1.184)
To be fair, it's not the buzzard's fault that Gabilan has died. But in this passionate moment, Jody just doesn't give a hoot. He's mad (and sad), and he has to take it out on someone—anyone. The poor buzzard's just unlucky enough to step into the line of fire.
Carl Tiflin wiped the blood from the boy's face with a red bandana. Jody was limp and quiet now. His father moved the buzzard with his toe. "Jody," he explained, "the buzzard didn't kill the pony, don't you know that?"
"I know it," Jody said wearily. (1.185-1.186)
Of course he knows it, Carl, ya nincompoop. In fact, that's exactly what Billy screams at him next. Carl seems a little desensitized to death here, probably because he's seen his fair share of it, running the ranch for so many years. But this is Jody's first experience with it, so Carl will have to indulge a freak out or two.
The bird looked much smaller dead than it had alive. Jody felt a little mean pain in his stomach, so he took out his pocketknife and cut off the bird's head. (2.5)
Whoa. This isn't the same buzzard that Jody killed in a heat of fiery passion after Gabilan's death. This is an entirely new bird that was just minding its own business when it had the misfortune of crossing paths with a disturbed young Jody Tiflin. Is Jody becoming a bad boy?
Jody walked up through the vegetable patch, toward the brush line. He looked searchingly at the towering mountains—ridge after ridge until at last there was the ocean. For a moment he thought he could see a black speck crawling up the farthest ridge. (3.173)
Here's what we're dying to know: do you think Gitano is riding off to meet his death? Or does he have another, sunnier destination in mind?
Billy jumped to the swollen stomach; his pocketknife was in his hand. He lifted the skin and drove the knife in. He sawed and ripped through the tough belly. The air filled with the sick odor of warm living entrails. (3.170)
Ah, horse death number two. Steel yourselves, Shmoopers. The death here is a gruesome one, but it's also a nice sacrifice. The mare's death ensures the colt's survival.
"Would you like to come on a mouse hunt tomorrow, sir?"
"Mouse hunt, Jody?" Grandfather chuckled. "Have the people of this generation come down to hunting mice?" …
Jody explained, "The dogs eat them, sir. It wouldn't be much like hunting Indians, I guess."
"No, not much—but then later, when the troops were hunting Indians and shooting children and burning teepees, it wasn't much different from your mouse hunt." (4.60-4.61, 4.64-4.65)
Here, Grandfather has just arrived and Jody is immediately trying to impress him by saying he is going on a mouse hunt. But then, as soon as he says this, the boy is embarrassed with his childish game when he remembers that his Grandfather once hunted and killed many Indians. That's quite different, right? Wrong. The alarming part here is that both boy and old man are pretty cavalier about death. C'est la morte.
Billy Buck sat down on the steps, because he was a cow-hand, and it wouldn't be fitting that he should go first into the dining-room. (1.1)
Right off the bat we understand that Billy is an outsider to the family and there are certain unwritten rules he must obey. Carl Tiflin runs a tight ship and Billy respects his law and order.
His father was a disciplinarian. Jody obeyed him in everything without questions of any kind. (1.7)
Carl's kind of old school, huh? These days, we might think of him as too gruff and distant, but back then, this is probably the only way he knows how to be a dad.
Back at the house his mother bent over his rough hands, inspecting his fingers and nails. It did little good to start him clean to school for too many things could happen on the way. She sighed over the black cracks on his fingers, and then gave him his books and his lunch and started him on the mile walk to school. (1.16)
What's a mother to do? Mrs. Tiflin isn't much of the motherly type in that she doesn't fawn over Jody or smother him with kisses and affection. But she does what she can with their less-than-clean surroundings.
When the door was closed behind him, Jody heard his father and Billy Buck chuckling and he knew it was a joke of some kind. And later, when he lay in bed, trying to make words out of the murmurs in the other room, he heard his father protest, "But, Ruth, I didn't give much for him." (1.27)
Jody doesn't hear his parents argue often and when he does in this scene, it is from behind his closed bedroom door. They are disagreeing about something and Jody can only assume it has something to do with him. In fact, they are discussing a new red pony that Carl has bought for the boy. But as of this moment, Jody has no idea what the men's laughter and his parents' disagreement could be about. All families have secrets.
Jody sat with his chin in his hands; his mouth worked nervously, and his father gradually became aware that he wasn't listening very carefully. "Isn't that funny?" he asked.
Jody laughed politely and said, "Yes, sir." His father was angry and hurt, then. He didn't tell any more stories. (1.142-1.143)
Awkward. In a completely out-of-character moment, Carl is trying to cheer up his son with some funny stories. And let's just say, this is not Carl's strong suit. Plus, Jody's feeling mopey right now, and doesn't want to be bothered, thank you very much. But hey, at least Carl tried. It's a rare moment of fatherly affection from the guy.
The Saturday dragged on. Late in the afternoon Jody went to the house and brought his bedding down and made up a place to sleep in the hay. He didn't ask permission. He knew from the way his mother looked at him that she would let him do almost anything. (1.160)
Mrs. Tiflin may have her rules about hand washing and chores, but she knows when to bend 'em a bit. And in this case, it's clear her heart is going out to her son. Unfortunately there's just not much she can do for the kid. Jody knows it, too.
Jody knew how his father was probing for a place to hurt in Gitano. He had been probed often. His father knew every place in the boy where a word could fester. (2.109)
Although we're betting they don't have a lot of heart-to-hearts, it's clear that Jody knows his dad really well—faults and all.
"Nobody can tell you anything. Like my old man did with me about the saddle blanket. He was a government packer when I was your size, and I helped him some. One day I left a wrinkle in my saddle blanket and made a saddle-sore. My old man didn't give me hell at all. But the next morning he saddled me up with a forty-pound stock saddle. I had to lead my horse and carry that saddle over a whole damn mountain in the sun. It darn near killed me, but I never left no wrinkles in a blanket again." (3.116)
Billy Buck's dad passed on some sage wisdom: no matter how much you tell a person what to do, they won't learn their lesson until they learn by doing. Maybe that's why Carl doesn't do much to explain things to Jody. He figures that the kid will suss it out on his own and learn from his own mistakes.
Carl Tiflin came to the barn with Jody one day. He looked admiringly at the groomed bay coat, and he felt the firm flesh over ribs and shoulders. "You've done a good job," he said to Jody. And this was the greatest praise he knew how to give. Jody was bright with pride for hours afterward. (3.128)
Jody probably wants to hold on to this feeling for as long as he can, because it's unlikely Carl's going to be showering him with praise again anytime soon.
On the night of the second of February, he awakened crying. His mother called to him, "Jody, you're dreaming. Wake up and start over again." (3.134)
Here's the thing. Ruth doesn't come running into her boy's room when it's clear he's having a nightmare. She just shouts some sort of encouraging words from the comfort of her own bed. It's not exactly the tenderest mothering we've ever seen.
At daybreak Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse and stood for a moment on the porch looking up at the sky. He was a broad, bandy-legged little man with a walrus mustache, with square hands, puffed and muscled on the palms. (1.1)
It's the first line and already we're meeting Billy Buck, manly man and general ranching aficionado. He seems like a classic cowboy of the old west. Except there's that one word that gets tossed in there: he's "little." That doesn't sound all that manly to Shmoop.
"Got the cows ready to go, Billy?" he asked.
"In the lower corral," Billy said. "I could just as well take them in alone."
"Sure you could. But a man needs company." (1.8-1.10)
These are strange words coming from Carl. He seems to like his alone time, and yet here he's saying men need company. What's that about?
Nearly all his father's presents were given with reservations which hampered their value somewhat. It was good discipline. (1.21)
It's a fine line to walk, gift giving. Carl wants to give his son something he'll like, but he also wants that gift to have value. And by value, he means a built-in life lesson. Unfortunately for Jody, this pretty much spoils all the fun.
"Well," he said with pride—"Well, I guess he can bite all right." The two men laughed, somewhat in relief. Carl Tiflin went out of the barn and walked up a side-hill to be by himself, for he was embarrassed. (1.38)
Apparently real men don't laugh at the silly quips of boys and their horses. In all seriousness though, isn't Carl being a bit dramatic? Going off up alone up a hill because of a little embarrassment? He could definitely afford to loosen up once in a while.
Before today, Jody had been a boy, dressed in overalls and a blue shirt—quieter than most, even suspected of being a little cowardly. And now he was different. Out of a thousand centuries they drew the ancient admiration that a man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot. They knew that Jody had been miraculously lifted out of equality with them, and had been placed over them. (1.50)
A man on a horse is considered to be superior to some average shmuck just walking around on his own two feet. So Jody gets instant points, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the fact that he owns the pony in the first place. We mean, it was a gift.
"I tell you you can't stay," Carl said angrily. "I don't need an old man. This isn't a big ranch. I can't afford food and doctor bills for an old man. You must have relatives and friends. Go to them. It is like begging to come to strangers." (2.67)
In Carl Tiflin's mind, a man is someone who fends for himself and his family. For Gitano to just appear out of nowhere and demand he be allowed to stay on their ranch, well, that's just unmanly behavior. And an old man should know better. Right Carl?
"Old things ought to be put out of their misery," Jody's father went on. "One shot, a big noise, one big pain in the head maybe, and that's all. That's better than stiffness and sore teeth." (2.103)
Nice, Carl. Doesn't he realize what lesson he's teaching his kid here? It seems to Shmoop that he's imparting the not so wise lesson that old people should be… shot. Okay, maybe we're exaggerating, but isn't that the gist?
He frowned quickly. "How do you know there was a letter?"
She nodded her head in the boy's direction. "Big-Britches Jody told me."
Jody was embarrassed.
His father looked down at him contemptuously. "He is getting to be a Big-Britches," Carl said. "He's minding everybody's business but his own. Got his big nose into everything." (4.25-4.28)
Just when you think Carl may have an ounce of compassion in him, he goes and says a mean thing like this. Mrs. Tiflin was merely teasing when she called Jody "Big-Britches," but Carl takes it a step further and straight up insults the kid. And all Jody did was receive a letter, for Pete's sake.
A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and of the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. Across his mind marched the great phantoms, and they marched off the earth and they were gone. (4.113)
Ah, the good old days. When men were men and women were… stuck on wagons while their husbands shot buffalo and fought off attack parties. But we digress. The point here is that in the olden days, when there were big projects to tackle, like moving westward across the continent, the men were manly. But those days are gone, so Jody's going to have to look for new models of masculinity.
"Won't you tell me any more stories?" Jody asked.
"Why, sure I'll tell them, but only when—I'm sure people want to hear them."
"I like to hear them, sir."
"Oh! Of course you do, but you're a little boy. It was a job for men, but only little boys like to hear about it." (4.141-4.144)
According to Grandfather, men don't like to hear stories about what men of the past have done—only little boys do. Maybe because boys like to imagine being men whereas men (like Carl) are actually busy living their lives. Or maybe they're worried that they just don't measure up to the manly models of the past.
Nearly all of his father's presents were given with reservations which hampered their value somewhat. (1.21)
Early on, we learn that Jody is less than thrilled any time his father gives him a gift. Carl's presents aren't nearly as bad as getting a tie for your birthday, but they always have some lesson attached to them that makes Jody feel like they aren't really gifts at all.
Jody had wished it might not rain before Thanksgiving, but it did. (1.93)
Well of course he doesn't want it to rain. When it rains, you can't play with your pony outside. But all the wishes in the world can't stop the disappointing weather from arriving and ruining everything.
Billy Buck wasn't wrong about many things. He couldn't be. But he was wrong about the weather for that day, for a little after noon the clouds pushed over the hills and the rain began to pour down. (1.101)
What a huge bummer for our boy to experience smack dab in the middle of his school day. He's disappointed that his horse is in danger, and he's disappointed because Billy Buck proves not to be infallible after all.
Jody looked reproachfully at Billy Buck and Billy felt guilty.
"You said it wouldn't rain," Jody accused him.
Billy looked away. "It's hard to tell, this time of year," he said, but his excuse was lame. (1.104-1.106)
To be fair, you can't blame Billy for the weather. But Jody can blame him for being wrong. And Billy knows he screwed up, too. In this dialogue, it's clear he's totally disappointed in himself—not just because he failed, but also because he let Jody down.
Jody looked at the pony's face. The eyes were half closed and the lids thick and dry. In the eye corners a crust of hard mucus stuck. Gabilan's ears hung loosely sideways and his head was low. Jody put out his hand, but the pony did not move close to it. (1.123)
Poor Jody's still clinging to the hope that Gabilan can hang on. But if he really thinks that pony will pull through, well then he's in for a Big Bummer.
Words burst out of Jody's mouth. "But the pony died—"
"Don't you go blaming that on him," Carl said sternly. "If Billy can't save a horse, it can't be saved." (3.150-3.151)
The truth comes out. Billy really did disappoint Jody way back when he didn't save Gabilan, and that means Jody doesn't have much faith in the ranch hand to keep his new colt safe. In this case, his disappointment has far-reaching consequences.
Billy's face and arms and chest were dripping red. His body shivered and his teeth chattered. His voice was gone; he spoke in a throaty whisper. "There's your colt. I promised. And there it is. I had to do it—had to." […]
Jody stared stupidly at the wet, panting foal. (3.172-3.173)
For all the long months of waiting and waiting, Jody finally has the colt he has been promised. But at what cost? Billy has brutally sacrificed the mother, Nellie, which means what should be a joyous occasion is a total disaster. Jody can't be happy, because he's too horrified.
Billy looked up at the top of the hill that surrounded the ranch. "Maybe you'd better ask your father before you do it," he suggested.
"Well where is he? I'll ask him now."
"He rode up to the ridge after dinner. He'll be back pretty soon."
Jody slumped against the fence post. "I don't think he'd care." (4.10-4.13)
Jody slumps because he knows his dear old dad won't give a hoot what he does with his day. In asking Billy permission, he's hoping for a fatherly exchange. But Billy just refers him to his dad, which totally bums the kid out.
Grandfather looked sideways. "I'm trying to get right side up," he said gently. "I'm not being mad. I don't mind what you said, but it might be true, and I would mind that." (4.137)
After Grandfather overhears Carl trash talking him, his feelings are hurt. Once Carl realizes that Grandfather has overheard, his feelings are hurt, too. In other words, it's a big ol' mess, and everyone's disappointed in everyone else. Except Jody, who just tries to salvage the situation. Needless to say, he fails.
Billy Buck sat down on the steps, because he was a cow-hand, and it wouldn't be fitting that he should go first into the dining room. (1.1)
For all the work he does with the Tiflins, it really seems like he's part of the family. But he also understands that it is his duty to respect the unwritten rules of the house. One of which, apparently, is that he is to wait until the family enters the dining room before he does. Kind of weird, right? But it is what it is.
"Jody, tonight see you fill the wood-box clear full. Last night you crossed the sticks and it wasn't only about half full. Lay the sticks flat tonight. And Jody, some of the hens are hiding eggs, or else the dogs are eating them. Look about in the grass and see if you can find any nests."
Jody, still eating, went out and did his chores. (1.19-1.20)
What a good boy. Even though he screwed up his chores the night before, he's going out now to fix his mistake. And he doesn't even wait to finish eating before he goes, the poor guy. Carl should be proud. Though I doubt he cares much as long as the job gets done.
"You'd better go to bed, Jody. I'm going to need you in the morning."
This wasn't so bad. Jody liked to do the things he had to do as long as they weren't routine things. He looked at the floor and his mouth worked out a question before he spoke it. "What are we going to do in the morning, kill a pig?" he asked softly.
"Never you mind. You better get to bed." (1.24-1.26)
Jody has no idea as of now, but his father is going to present him with an incredible blurse in the morning—the gift and responsibility of the red pony. But that's for tomorrow. For tonight, Jody is just excited that something is happening that shakes up his routine.
"He needs a good currying," his father said, "and if I ever hear of you not feeding him or leaving his stall dirty, I'll sell him off in a minute." (1.37)
Jody falls in love with his new pony the second he lays eyes on him. It is hard to imagine that the boy wouldn't give him the best care within his abilities. Plus, Billy is there to help him out. So why does Carl insist on giving this ultimatum? It hardly seems necessary. But then again, that's Carl.
The pony's eyes glittered, and he edged around into kicking position. But Jody touched him on the shoulder and rubbed his high arched neck as he had always seen Billy Buck do, and he crooned, "So-o-o, boy," in a deep voice. The pony gradually relaxed his tenseness. Jody curried and brushed until a pile of dead hair lay in the stall and until the pony's coat had taken on a deep red shine. Each time he finished he thought it might have been done better. He braided the mane into a dozen little pigtails, and he braided the forelock, and then he undid them and brushed the hair out straight again. (1.58)
As expected, when it comes to Gabilan, Jody doesn't consider his responsibilities as duties. Quite the contrary, he enjoys taking care of his pony. And he seems to be very good at it.
Jody looked reproachfully at Billy Buck and Billy felt guilty.
"You said it wouldn't rain," Jody accused him.
Billy looked away. "It's hard to tell, this time of year," he said, but his excuse was lame. He had no right to be fallible, and he knew it.
"The pony got wet, got soaked through."
"Did you dry him off?"
"I rubbed him with a sack and I gave him hot grain."
Billy nodded in agreement.
"Do you think he'll take cold, Billy?"
"A little rain never hurt anything," Billy assured him. (1.104-1.112)
Did everyone do their duty in this case? Not exactly. Though Billy can't be held at fault for mis-predicting the weather, he did promise Jody that he would be around, if it did rain. And he wasn't. In that regard, Billy did not do his duty. But he was at a nearby ranch with Carl when the weather turned bad and he couldn't leave until it cleared up. Should he have? Should he have risked his own health and his own horse's health to return and let Gabilan back inside? You make the judgment call.
Jody grabbed him fiercely by the forearm. "You're not going to shoot him?"
Billy patted his hand. "No. I'm going to open a little hole in his windpipe so he can breathe. His nose is filled up. When he gets well, we'll put a little brass button in the hole for him to breathe through."
Jody couldn't have gone away if he wanted to. It was awful to see the red hide cut, but infinitely more terrible to know it being cut and not see it. "I'll stay right here," he said bitterly. (1.164-1.166)
In this heart-wrenching scene, Billy is doing what he has to do to save the red pony. Sometimes, duty can be a terrible thing that you just have to do. It's really not a matter of choice, and Jody knows it, too. Why else would he stay with his horse through such a horrible ordeal?
"I tell you you won't stay," Carl said angrily. "I don't need an old man. This isn't a big ranch. I can't afford food and doctor bills for an old man. You must have relatives and friends. Go to them. It's like begging to come to strangers."
"I was born here," Gitano said patiently and inflexibly.
Carl Tiflin didn't like to be cruel, but he felt he must. "You can eat here tonight," he said. "You can sleep in the little room in the bunkhouse. We'll give you your breakfast in the morning, and then you'll have to go along. Go to your friends. Don't come to die with strangers." (2.67-2.69)
Is Carl fulfilling his duty as a good person in giving Gitano a couple meals, a place to sleep for one night, and then shoo him off in the morning? Or should he be doing more for the old Mexican? Is Carl (as he thinks) being cruel? Or is he just doing what is necessary to support his family? Sometimes doing your duty can make for some awkward, difficult choices.
Billy's face and arms and chest were dripping red. His body shivered and his teeth chattered. His voice was gone; he spoke in a throaty whisper. "There's your colt. I promised. And there it is. I had to do it—had to." (3.172)
What is the price of doing one's duty? Billy Buck thought it was his charge to deliver a colt to Jody, no matter what the cost. In this terrible scene, we see the lengths he will go to fulfill a promise he made to the boy. But was it the right call?
Jody felt very sad. "If you'd like a glass of lemonade I could make it for you."
Grandfather was about to refuse and then he saw Jody's face. "Yes, it would be nice to drink a lemonade."
Jody ran into the kitchen where his mother was wiping the last of the breakfast dishes. "Can I have a lemon to make a lemonade for Grandfather?" (4.164-4.166)
At the end of the book, Jody does his Grandfather a solid. In a way, he's fulfilling a grandkid's duty to his Grandpa—getting the poor old guy a nice lemonade, but it's also an important step into adulthood. So in a weird way, he's fulfilling his duty to himself, too.
Jody did not ask where his father and Billy Buck were riding that day, but he wished he might go along. His father was a disciplinarian. Jody obeyed him in everything without questions of any kind. (1.7)
Early on, we get a pretty clear sense of Jody's feelings for both men. The boy obeys his father without question, but when it comes to Billy Buck, he just wants to hang out. It's difficult to imagine here that Jody wants to ride along with them so that he can be with his Dad. In fact, it's almost as if he is somewhat afraid of Carl. But still he wishes he could go with them because he admires what they are doing and wants to be a man someday, too.
Six boys came over the hill half an hour early that afternoon, running hard, their heads down, their forearms working, their breath whistling. They swept by the house and cut across the stubble-field to the barn. And then they stood self-consciously before the pony, and they looked at Jody with eyes in which there was a new admiration and a new respect. Before today Jody had been a boy, dressed in overalls and a blue shirt—quieter than most, even suspected of being a little cowardly. And now he was different. Out of a thousand centuries they drew the ancient admiration of the footman for the horseman. (1.50)
Now Jody's friends find something to admire in him. Of course it's nothing about Jody per se—it's just the sheer fact that he has a pony all to himself. Nevertheless, Jody's totally eating up all their fawning. And hey, what kid wouldn't?
Jody listened carefully, for he knew and the whole county knew that Billy Buck was a fine hand with horses. Billy's own horse was a stringy cayuse with a hammer head, but he nearly always won first prize at the stock trials. Billy could rope a steer, take a double half-hitch about the horn with his riata, and dismount, and his horse would play the steer as an angler plays a fish, keeping a tight rope until the steer was down or beaten. (1.68)
Welp, whatever all that means it sounds like Billy is an ace with horses and Jody just loves to watch him work. It's good for a boy to have a role model and if he can't find something to admire in his father, Billy will have to do. Let's just hope he doesn't let the kid down—oh wait.
"Maybe I'll leave Gabilan in the corral when I go to school today."
"Be good for him to be out in the sun," Billy assured him. […]
"If the rain comes, though—" Jody suggested.
"Not likely to rain today. She's rained herself out." Billy pulled up his sleeves and snapped his arm bands. "If it comes on to rain—why a little rain don't hurt a horse."
"Well if it does come to rain, you put him in, will you, Billy? I'm scared he might get cold so I couldn't ride him when the time comes."
"Oh sure! I'll watch out for him if we get back in time. But it won't rain today."
And so Jody, when he went to school, left Gabilan standing out in the corral. (1.94-1.95, 1.96-1.100)
As much as Jody admires Billy Buck, that doesn't stop him from questioning his technique. Jody just wants to be 100% certain that Billy will be around to let Gabilan back inside if it starts to rain. His horse's life is at stake, after all. But Jody admires and trusts Billy, so at the end of the day, he takes him at his word… which doesn't go so well.
Jody's father walked into the barn and stood with them in front of the stall. At length he turned to the boy. "Hadn't you better come with me? I'm going to drive down the hill." Jody shook his head. "You better come on, out of this," his father insisted.
Billy turned on him angrily. "Let him alone. It's his pony, isn't it?" (1.172-1.173)
Who do you admire more in this moment? It's a tough call. We mean Carl has a point—witnessing this tragic death probably won't do any favors for Jody (and afterwards, he does show some odd serial killer tendencies for a while). But Billy's got a point, too. It's Jody's pony. So shouldn't Jody get to stick with him until the end?
Billy Buck broke in. "They got a right to rest after they worked all their life. Maybe they just like to walk around." (2.104)
Billy's got a soft spot for old animals and old men. Maybe that's because he admires all the hard work they've done over the years, whereas Carl just sees them as useless because their hard work is all behind them.
They turned and walked slowly down the hill toward the barn. Jody was tortured with a thing he had to say, although he didn't want to. "Billy," he began miserably, "Billy, you won't let anything happen to the colt, will you?"
And Billy knew he was thinking of the red pony, Gabilan, and how it had died of strangles. Billy knew he had been infallible before that, and now he was capable of failure. (3.91-3.92)
Okay, maybe Jody doesn't admire Billy as much as he used to, but he still wants to believe that the guy knows his stuff. And maybe the promise of this new colt will redeem the ranch hand in Jody's eyes. Heck, maybe Carl will grow wings and fly them all to the moon. Anything's possible.
Sometimes in the night the ranch people, safe in their beds, heard a roar of hoofs go by. They said, "It's Jody, on Demon. He's helping the sheriff again." (3.97)
In Jody's fantasies, he is a man of high regard, a hero even. The townspeople admire him and his colt Black Demon. Is that what he wants to grow up to be? Someone whom others worship?
The mare turned her head and looked full into his eyes for a moment, and this is a thing horses practically never do. Billy was proud and sure of himself now. He boasted a little. "I'll see you get a good colt. I'll start you right. And if you do like I say, you'll have the best horse in the county."
That made Jody feel warm and proud, too; so proud that when he went back to the house he bowed his legs and swayed his shoulders as horsemen do. (3.119-3.120)
All it takes is a little bit of Billy fluffing his own feathers to get Jody back into his corner again. If good ol' Billy Buck says things are going to be okay, then by golly, that's just how it's gonna be. We hope.
Jody lay in his bed and thought of the impossible world of Indians and buffaloes, a world that had ceased to be forever. He wished he could have been living in the heroic time, but he knew he was not of heroic timber. No one living now, save possibly Billy Buck, was worthy to do the things that had been done. A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. (4.113)
Sure, Jody loves his Grandfather. But more than that, he respects and admires the snot out of him. Only Billy Buck stands anywhere close to his Grandfather when it comes to men he wants to model himself after. Carl isn't even in the running.