Study Guide

The Red Pony

The Red Pony Summary

The scene? A California ranch in the 1930s. The book's plot can be summarized using the highly intelligent and never questioned "Boy meets X" analysis. Not familiar? Give it a minute; you'll catch on real quick.

It's like this, see:

Boy meets pony, boy loves pony, boy takes care of pony, boy worries over pony constantly, boy does not go to meteorology school, boy puts faith in ranch hand's ability to predict sunny skies, pony gets soaked by rain, boy witnesses slow and tragic death of beloved pony, reader bawls his or her eyes out, boy brutally murders a buzzard.

Here's where things get interesting.

An old Mexican comes strolling in and refuses to leave for a while. But then he does leave, and he steals an old horse while he's at it. The boy's father is unfazed as old Mexican rides off into the Gabilan Mountains (presumably to die).

And then…

Boy—okay, okay, his name is Jody—is promised a new colt. Yippee ki-yay. Jody brings a mare to a neighboring ranch, where it has some special time with a stud horse. One thing leads to another, and bam! the mare's preggers. Jody's pumped because he's finally gonna get a new colt. He worries about the mare for months, and as her due date approaches, a problem becomes apparent: the colt is twisted around inside the mare. So Billy, a ranch hand, has to kill the mare in order to save the colt, which he cuts out of her. Yep, it's gross. Jody is, understandably, traumatized, but hey, at least the colt's okay. The word bittersweet is defined in raw form.

And then…

Jody's maternal Grandfather visits the ranch. The Grandfather talks and talks and talks and talks and yes, even yaks some more until Jody's old man jumps in and insults ol' g-pa. Gramps is humbled and saddened, which prompts Papa to feel really, really bad. Suddenly, Jody realizes that his old man is fallible, and he tries to cheer up Gramps by making him some lemonade.

And then…

Actually, that's it.

  • The Gift

    • "At daybreak, Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse…" (1.1). Meet our ranch hand.
    • Billy's a muscular guy who works on Carl Tiflin's cow ranch in sunny California in the 1930s. He has been with the Tiflin family for many years and Carl would probably be lost without him—he's that good.
    • Jody Tiflin is "a little boy, ten years old, with hair like dusty yellow grass and with shy polite grey eyes, and with a mouth that worked when he thought" (1.2). He's Carl's son.
    • When his father (a true disciplinarian) and Billy ride off to sell some cattle in Salinas, Jody walks to school for a day of worry-free boyhood.
    • In the evening, Carl and Billy return and eat a dinner prepared by Mrs. Tiflin.
    • Carl tells Jody he is going to need his help in the morning. Jody's intrigued, but a little nervous, too.
    • When he questions his father further, Carl brushes him off, and Jody heads to bed.
    • At daybreak, Jody is rousted out of bed by the familiar sound of the morning triangle, and at breakfast Carl tells him to follow him and Billy to the barn.
    • He does, albeit reluctantly and with his head down fearing some sort of punishment or impossible chore, or (gulp) maybe both.
    • In the barn, Jody comes face to face with a beautiful red pony. (If you didn't see that one coming, maybe you skipped over the title of the book?)
    • "Mine?" (1.38) Jody asks shyly.
    • Carl doesn't answer but tells his son he'd better take good care of the pony.
    • Then he walks out of the barn because he is a manly man and has no patience for emotions.
    • Billy, it turns out, is not only an excellent ranch hand but is also a stupendous horse trainer.
    • He's gonna teach Jody all there is to know about raising this pony.
    • Jody names him Gabilan, after the prestigious, majestic mountains that lie to the east.
    • Seeing as he's a typical kiddo, the first thing Jody wants to do with Gabilan is show him off to his friends. His standing among his classmates is elevated to hero status when six boys come to see the red pony that afternoon.
    • They're a bit bummed when they learn that Gabilan is way too young to ride, but they perk up a bit when Jody shows off a brilliant, red morocco saddle.
    • Oohs and aahs ensue, and Jody beams with pride and love for Gabilan.
    • But the attention gets old fast, and Jody is glad when his friends leave. Finally, he gets to be alone with his pony.
    • Jody caresses Gabilan and says soothing words to him. The time flies by as the boy spends hours with his pony. Evening arrives and his mother has to remind him to do his chores. Boo on chores! The kid's got a pony! True, but as Jody knows full well, one must never shirk one's duties.
    • Time goes by and Jody learns everything there is to know about horses from Billy.
    • They set about to training Gabilan. First they halter-break him, which is not as easy as it sounds. Gabilan can be mischievous in a playful way, which is fun enough, but it makes it tough to train him. He even seems to laugh when he knows he is doing wrong and Jody tries his best to see past the cuteness and be a better disciplinarian, like his father.
    • Speaking of dear old dad, Carl seems to think that Billy and Jody are focusing too much on turning Gabilan into a "trick pony." Really, all they've done is teach Gabilan to walk and stop walking on command, but Carl's all, dude, just cut to the chase. Saddle the pony.
    • But saddling is no easy job and Gabilan fights against it tooth and nail. But with time and patience, the pony soon accepts his fate as a horse that will be used to cart a kid around.
    • Carl tells Jody that his pony should be ready to ride by Thanksgiving. But of course, Jody gives no thanks for this news because Turkey Day is three weeks away and to Jody, that's a lifetime.
    • In the midst of all this prep work, grooming, and day-to-day care, Gabilan comes to trust and love Jody, who totally feels the same way. Remember your first pet? Yeah, it's pretty much like that.
    • Thanksgiving approaches, and the weather turns cold and damp.
    • Jody's always worried about the weather because rain makes the ground muddy, and would prevent him from walking and training Gabilan.
    • And sure enough, the ground grows soggy and gross and Gabilan's stuck in the barn for a few days, poor thing.
    • On a morning when the sun actually comes out to play, Jody suggests to Billy that he might let Gabilan roam in the corral while he goes off to school. Surely it won't rain today… right?
    • Billy agrees that it would do Gabilan good to get some sun and also, the ranch hand is pretty sure the day will be rain-free.
    • Jody second-guesses the weather a few more times and at last decides to trust Billy's meteorology skills. After all, the dude's a skilled and experienced ranch hand.
    • So he releases Gabilan into the corral and then shuffles off to school.
    • Annnnd it rains. Of course it does. It doesn't just rain. It pours. And some old man probably even snores.
    • At school, Jody stares helplessly out the window as the storm comes. He is trapped there at his desk and all he can do is believe Billy's words that "a little rain don't hurt a horse" (1.97).
    • When school lets out, Jody runs home as fast as he can. He makes a beeline for the corral and leads a very sad, very soaked and shivering Gabilan back into the barn.
    • Carl and Billy come home from their day's journey and Jody rounds on Billy: "You said it wouldn't rain…" (1.105).
    • Billy looks away, in search of an excuse, but knowing he has failed: "A little rain never hurt anything…" (1.112). Strike Two, Billy.
    • Try as he might to dry off Gabilan, the poor pony's not in good shape.
    • He'll be fine in the morning, Billy promises. Apparently the ranch hand just doesn't know when to stop writing checks his butt can't cash.
    • Needless to say, it's a long night for Jody. And in the morning, he rushes straight to the barn.
    • Gabilan is worse off and has a nasty cough. There is mucus running out of his nose. Gross.
    • Guilt ridden and shamed, Billy Buck is tending to the pony and yet again assures Jody that it is just a minor cold and his horse is going to be fine.
    • Jody has no choice—he has to go to school.
    • It's torture to be away from Gabilan in his time of need and the hours pass miserably.
    • At last, Jody is released and rushes home to find Gabilan even worse off than before. (Grab some tissues because it's all downhill from here.)
    • Billy shows Jody a nasty lump under Gabilan's jaw. Billy explains that Gabilan has "strangles" and that when the lump gets bigger, he will have to slice it open and drain the fluid to cure him.
    • Ever the optimist, Billy says he's seen worse and tells Jody not to worry. Um, Billy, we've heard that one before.
    • Gabilan shows a little improvement that night, which gives Jody some hope.
    • But then Jody watches the sky as two blackbirds attack a hawk. Incidentally, the name "Gabilan" means hawk so this is not a good sign.
    • Jody is so preoccupied with thoughts for his horse that he does not even notice that someone else has done his chores for him.
    • To his credit, Carl, the stern disciplinarian, tries to cheer up his son by telling stories by a fire that evening. But Jody is all gloom and doom, and Carl's attempts totally crash and burn.
    • That night, Jody sleeps pretty deeply, as a result of his emotional exhaustion.
    • In the morning, the lump under Gabilan's jaw is huge and Billy takes a knife and… close your eyes… he cuts it open and all this yellow, poisonous pus comes flooding out. "Now he'll feel better" (1.154), Billy says. Blech.
    • Jody, tough as nails, hasn't fainted (did you?). He strokes his pony lovingly behind the ears.
    • That Saturday passes slowly and Jody stays with his horse.
    • When night falls, he goes to the house to collect some blankets. He does so without asking permission and when he sees his mother, she doesn't even blink an eye.
    • Jody sleeps in the stable with his sick horse, and in the wee small hours of the morning the boy wakes to the sound of wind rushing through the barn. The doors have burst open and Gabilan is gone.
    • Jody springs to his feet and catches up with his horse outside. The red pony's in bad shape, so the kiddo wrangles him back inside.
    • At dawn, Billy Buck comes strolling into the barn and tells Jody he won't want to see this. He has to cut yet another hole in his beloved pony—this time, in his windpipe to allow him to breathe. In other words, it's a pony-tracheotomy.
    • But Jody's a toughie. He decides to stay no matter how gruesome the operation may turn out to be. He even holds Gabilan's head for Billy.
    • The knife cuts again and this time it is obviously painful, as Gabilan's kicking and struggling show.
    • Billy cuts a perfect round hole in Gabilan's windpipe and air and blood come rushing out. At least he can breathe a little easier now. And Jody has done a great job holding the pony steady (and holding himself steady, too).
    • Later, Jody barely eats dinner. And then, after another long night his mother gives him some steaming mash to give to Gabilan. Aww.
    • But Jody says the pony won't eat anything and he walks back to the barn without the meal.
    • Jody's father tries to call Jody away from the barn, telling his son he'd "better come on, out of this…" (1.172).
    • In a sheer act of defiance, Billy speaks out of turn and yells at his employer, Carl Tiflin. He states that Jody ought to be allowed to stay with Gabilan. It is the boy's horse, after all. Carl walks away, embarrassed.
    • Jody takes a break from it all and wanders off into the distance, and "A cold wind blew out of the east now, signifying that the rain was over for a little while" (1.178).
    • While he's roaming, Jody's dog, Doubletree Mutt (now there's a name) comes bounding up to the boy. Jody grabs hold of the mutt and hugs him.
    • When he returns to the barn, Jody sees "how dry and dead [Gabilan's] hair looked, he knew at last there was no hope for the pony" (1.180). In other words, if you had your fingers crossed until now, well, you might as well uncross them.
    • Night falls, and Jody lies down with his pony once more. It is a loud and windy night and owls fly through the hayloft.
    • In the morning, the barn doors are flying wide open again and Gabilan has disappeared.
    • Jody runs off, following his limping horse's tracks, and finds Gabilan in some brush.
    • As Jody runs to Gabilan, a buzzard swoops down and lands on the pony. When Jody gets to the scene, he is too late. The buzzard's beak has just ripped out Gabilan's eyeball and its mouth drips with "dark eye fluid" (1.184). Ick.
    • Jody goes berserk (wouldn't you?) and lunges at the buzzard. He manages to grab its wing before it takes flight and the boy hauls the creature to the ground.
    • Startled, it vomits out more grotesque fluids while Jody manages to pin it down with his knee. He then grabs a piece of white quartz from the ground and bashes the vulture's brains in. How you doin'? Still conscious?
    • Jody is physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained but he continues to strike the dead bird until Billy Buck appears and pulls him off.
    • Jody's father arrives, too, and wipes the blood from his son's face. Carl tells Jody that the buzzard didn't kill Gabilan. Jody knows.
    • This chapter in Jody's life ends with Billy Buck lifting the boy from the ground, carrying him back home and shouting back to Carl, "'Course he knows it… Jesus Christ! man, can't you see how he'd feel about it?" (1.187).
    • In other words, it ends on a real high note.
  • The Great Mountains

    • On a midsummer afternoon, Jody is bored and throwing rocks at swallows' nests, you know how he do.
    • He has also been torturing his dog, by throwing rocks at him as well. Um, Jody, what's up with that?
    • After his mother yells at him to leave Mutt alone, Jody wanders off with his slingshot in hand, looking for something new to torture.
    • At the brush line, Jody takes precise aim at a little thrush, fires, and kills the bird. He then takes out his pocketknife and, feeling "a mean pain in his stomach" (2.5), Jody cuts off the bird's head, then disembowels it and rips off its wings. So now we've strayed into budding serial killer territory.
    • Does he feel regret? Nah. But he knows what other people would think if they knew, so he decides to just forget the whole thing happened rather than feel all guilty about it.
    • Jody then lies down in the grass and does some cloud gazing for a while before he starts to fully appreciate the dark mountains that lie to the west.
    • He remembers a chat he had with his father during which he asked what was over the mountains. Basically the answer is more mountains and more mountains until you get to the ocean. Jody is curious about what is in between though.
    • Probably valleys, dude.
    • To the east are the Gabilans. They are described as "jolly mountains, with hill ranches in their creases, and with pine trees growing in crests" (2.31).
    • Then, out of nowhere, an old guy comes walking toward the Tiflin ranch.
    • Jody comes up to meet him and sees that the "skin on his face had shrunk back against his skull until it defined bone, not flesh, and made the nose and chin seem sharp and fragile" (2.33). Sounds like a real looker.
    • The old man says his name is Gitano and that he has "come back" (2.36). Who? From where?
    • Jody freaks out and runs inside for his mom. The big baby.
    • Mrs. Tiflin comes outside to meet Gitano and again the old man cryptically mentions that he's come back.
    • After some prodding, he gives up the goods: he was born on this land, and his father was, too. Their house was washed away by the rain a long time ago.
    • To Mrs. Tiflin, it's a familiar story. But she still doesn't know what he wants.
    • Gitano says, rather presumptuously, "I will stay here … until I die" (2.53). Ah, there it is.
    • Now it's all too much for Mrs. Tiflin, too, so she tells Jody to run and fetch his father in the barn. When Carl arrives on the scene and hears what's up, he's a bit more forceful than his wife and son. He tells Gitano that he doesn't need another dude on the ranch, especially an old one.
    • But Gitano ain't havin' it. He keeps repeating that he was born here and he plans to stay. Eventually, the old man manages to wear down even Carl and the family sets up Gitano with some blankets in the bunkhouse.
    • Carl says, "You can eat here tonight… We'll give you your breakfast in the morning, and then you'll have to go along. Don't come to die with strangers."
    • Naturally, Jody's more than a little curious about this stranger. So he visits Gitano in the bunkhouse and peppers him with questions about the mountains: Did Gitano see any people living there? No. Were there houses? No. Well what then? I don't remember.
    • Jody's frustrated. The old guy doesn't seem to have any memories except that he thinks the mountains were quiet and nice.
    • Playing the tour guide, Jody takes Gitano down to the barn and shows him Easter, his father's oldest horse. Gitano's not impressed. He thinks Easter is too old to be useful, and that he "Just eats and pretty soon dies" (2.101).
    • Having overheard this rather blunt assessment, Carl jumps in, suggesting he should just shoot the horse and put it out of its misery.
    • Then Billy Buck jumps in (he's always hanging around) and is all, no siree Carl. Billy says old horses have a right to rest and live out their old age since they have worked all their life.
    • They argue for a bit, and then quit.
    • The sun goes down. Jody notices that Gitano seems really interested in Easter. He asks the old man if he likes the horse and Gitano replies, "Yes—but he's no damn good" (2.113).
    • The supper bell rings, and the Tiflins eat together with Billy and Gitano. Carl seems to be growing concerned about the old man and asks him if there isn't anywhere he can go.
    • Apparently Carl doesn't get the picture, because Gitano is not interested in going anywhere. At all.
    • Stubbornly, he says again, "I was born here" (2.124). Capisce?
    • After supper, Gitano heads to the bunkhouse and Carl and Billy discuss the old man in the living room. Carl says the old man cannot stay, but Billy disagrees. He argues that old paisanos are "damn good men. They can work older than white men" (2.132).
    • Carl doesn't disagree, but the fact is they're not exactly rolling in the dough. They can't afford another mouth to feed.
    • Jody decides to go spy on the old man. He peers in on him through the bunkhouse window and sees Gitano shielding something.
    • When he sees Jody spying, Gitano tries to cover up whatever he's hiding. Ever curious, Jody asks about it, and the Gitano gets all proud, while he launches into an explanation.
    • He shows Jody "a lean and lovely rapier with a golden basket hilt" (2.137). It was a gift from his dad.
    • Of course, Jody asks question after question, but Gitano doesn't have any answers.
    • So the kiddo gives up and goes home.
    • In the morning, Jody goes to the bunkhouse to find that Gitano is gone. He left his sack of clothes and just took off. And apparently so did Easter, because the horse is gone, too.
    • About mid-morning, a neighboring rancher comes by on horseback and tells that he saw a strange thing earlier—an old man riding an old horse past his farm, heading into the western mountains. He had no gun but there was something in his hand. Carl laughs at the thought that an old man stole Easter.
    • The neighbor asks Carl if they should go after him, but Carl's all don't bother. In fact Gitano probably just saved him the effort of burying that horse.
    • Jody walks off and stares at the mountains. He thinks he can see a black speck and wonders if that is the old man.
    • Jody lies down in the grass for a long time and is "full of a nameless sorrow" (2.173).
    • And so ends another super uplifting story.
    • Oh wait.
  • The Promise

    • It's midafternoon on a spring day, and Jody's walking home from school. He imagines he's leading a great gray army into battle. As he marches, his imagination gets away from him when he spots a toad in the bushes.
    • He picks it up, rubs its belly and marvels as the toad falls asleep, and then the boy puts the toad in his lunch tin, because that's where toads belong.
    • Along the way home, he collects a various number of other animals and throws them in the tin as well. It's quite the collection.
    • Jody arrives at his mailbox and finds a catalog inside. He goes to the house and gives his mother his lunch tin and the catalog.
    • Mrs. Tiflin tells him that his father wants to see him at the barn. Jody runs off, forgetting about the animals inside his lunch tin until he hears his mother scream. Guess she found 'em.
    • At the lower pasture, Jody finds his father and Billy Buck hanging out by the fence.
    • Carl tells Jody that Billy seems to think the boy did a fine job with Gabilan before he died. Gee, how comforting.
    • Carl goes on to say that their neighbor, Jess Taylor, has several good colts and for the whopping sum (well it was whopping back then, anyway) of five dollars, they could mate their mare Nellie with one of them so that Jody could have another colt.
    • Hooray. Jody promises to work off the money and the matter's settled. One colt, coming right up.
    • Jody does his chores and then listens to his mother yell at him for bringing home all kinds of disgusting animals in his lunch tin. Jody totally cops to his childish behavior, but now he's feeling majorly mature, since he'll have a colt to raise.
    • The next morning, after breakfast, Jody walks their horse Nellie to Jess Taylor's farm for mating.
    • On the way, a great big buck of a stallion comes charging toward them. Nellie freaks and tries to bolt, causing Jody to lose of her halter.
    • He ducks for cover in the bushes while the stallion comes at Nellie and bites her neck. This calms Nellie some and the two horses get down to business. Avert your eyes.
    • Jess Taylor arrives and assures the kiddo that both horses will be fine and that he should go get some pie at his house.
    • But oh look, the horses seem to be done. That was fast. Jody politely walks Nellie to the Taylor ranch, hands over the five dollars, accepts two pieces of pie and heads home again.
    • Now the waiting game begins.
    • It'll take a while, maybe up to five months, Billy says, before they can even tell if Nellie's knocked up. And it'll be another three months after that before the colt is even born.
    • Jody asks Billy how the birth will be, so the ranch hand tells him that Nellie's "thrown good colts" (3.84) before so it shouldn't be a problem.
    • But sometimes, the ranch hand has to get in there and cut the colt to pieces to get it out—in order to save the mare. Ugh.
    • Billy assures Jody that that won't happen this time. And we all know how right on Billy is with his assurances.
    • When Jody begs the ranch hand to let him be there at the birth, Billy's on board. But it's going to be a long time before that happens… if it even happens at all. They don't even know if Nellie's preggers.
    • Jody wanders off and finds himself at the brush line behind the house, which is a place he comes to a ton. He feels cleansed there, because there's a pipe that always flows into a green tub, but he's also kind of grossed out by the place, because it's where they slaughter pigs.
    • Jody thinks about the many pigs he has seen killed and about the wholesomeness of the water. He reflects on how both images are complete opposites of each other. Smart kid.
    • Jody goes on to fantasize about how it will be when his colt is born. He's totally gonna name it Black Demon and help out the sheriff and win all the roping contests and answer the President's call for help and… in other words, he's basically daydreaming about being John Wayne (before John Wayne was around).
    • Back in reality though, time passes more slowly than a dentist appointment. It's September before they can say for sure that yes, Nellie's expecting.
    • Jody begins taking extra special care of Nellie but it'll still be another three months before she gives birth.
    • The boy makes Billy promise again that he'll be allowed to be there when it happens. Billy tells Jody he wants him there from the start. It's the only way to learn.
    • Billy tells Jody, "Why I'm half horse, myself, you, see," (3.118). It's true, just a second ago, Billy had nonchalantly nibbled on Nellie's ear.
    • The ranch hand tells Jody that when he was young, he lived in the mountains and there were no cows around. Only horses. So he drank mare's milk. And this is what makes him such an excellent horse trainer. The horses see him as one of them. Weird? Yes, but we'll roll with it.
    • "And if you do what I say," Billy brags, "you'll have the best horse in the country" (3.119).
    • Jody's relieved. He knows that both he and Nellie and the unborn colt are in good hands with Billy Buck. Apparently, Jody has no memory of the poor red pony tragedy but whatever. Billy means well, and youngsters aren't long on memory, it seems.
    • Here comes the rain again. Falling on your head like a memory.
    • It rains for the first two weeks in January and a feeling of foreboding is definitely in the air.
    • Mid-January turns to late January and still the colt has not come. Jody demands to know if the colt is all right, and Billy's all, "patience, grasshopper."
    • On the night of February 2, Jody wakes up startled and crying. His mother calls for him to "Wake up and start over again" (3.134).
    • But there is no starting over. Jody gets out of bed and slips some clothes on and creeps out into the night in his bare feet.
    • He goes to the barn and calls to the extremely pregnant mare "So, Nellie, so-o, Nellie" (3.136). The horse is standing in her stall and weaving from side to side.
    • Billy Buck calls down from the hayloft, telling Jody to go back to bed and he'll get him if it starts.
    • Sadly, Jody walks back to the house.
    • In the kitchen Jody stumbles and wakes his parents in their bedroom. Jody apologizes and says he only wanted to see the mare. Carl tells Jody "there isn't a man in this country that knows more about colts than Billy" (3.150).
    • Jody bursts out, "But the pony died—" (3.150). Carl explains that that wasn't Billy's fault. He says, "If Billy can't save a horse, it can't be saved" (3.151).
    • Speak of the devil, here Billy comes running into the house. The colt's on his way.
    • Jody jumps up and runs with Billy back to the barn.
    • Nellie's whole body is in spasms. Something's wrong. Billy says so.
    • The ranch hand says that he can't turn the colt, and that it won't be able to come out the way it's positioned inside the mare.
    • He makes up his mind in an instant. It's the only way.
    • He tells Jody to go outside.
    • Jody doesn't move.
    • Billy tells him again.
    • But Jody won't budge.
    • Billy screams for Jody to turn away, and when the kid does (all you squeamish folks out there, you might want to follow suit), Billy takes his hammer and savagely beats Nellie over the head with it.
    • The horse hits the ground. Dead.
    • Okay, we did not see that coming.
    • Billy jumps to the dead horse's stomach and slices violently through her belly. What comes next is gruesome, bloody, and horrible. Don't say we didn't warn you.
    • "The air filled with the sick odor of warm living entrails" (3.170).
    • When the hole is properly cut, Billy dives in with both arms and pulls out a "big white, dripping bundle" (3.171).
    • The ranch hand rips open the covering and a newborn baby colt pops his head out.
    • Billy cuts the umbilical cord and lays the newborn colt in the straw at Jody's feet.
    • Billy tells Jody that he had promised him the colt and there it is. Then he tells the kid to go get some warm water to wash the newborn horse.
    • Jody stands speechless, prompting Billy to full on yell at him. Jody hops to it.
    • As he runs to the house, Jody tries to be happy about the colt but can only picture the "haunted tired eyes of Billy Buck" (3.175).
  • The Leader of The People

    • It is now March and Jody walks to the wire fence to find Billy Buck feeding "mildly interested cattle" (4.1) the last of the old year's haystack.
    • Jody asks if there will be any mice and if he can hunt them down with the dogs. Billy thinks that would be fine and, to prove the point, he lifts another forkful of hay and three mice scurry out and run away. Jody's pumped—he gets to murder some rodents. What fun.
    • But then Billy takes back his permission and tells Jody to ask his father about the plan first. Carl will be home soon.
    • Looking up at the sky, Jody wonders if it will rain. Then he curses the mice and looks away.
    • Jody sees his dog, Doubletree Mutt, digging in a squirrel hole on the side-hill. The dog stops digging suddenly and looks up the hill. Jody follows his gaze and sees that his father has arrived. And he has a letter. Huge news in the olden days.
    • Jody runs back to the house shouting, "We got a letter!" (4.21) to his mother. You'd think, from the level of his excitement, he'd just found out Disneyland exists. But nope. Just some dumb mail.
    • Carl comes into the house and shows off the letter. It is from Mrs. Tiflin's father. Mrs. Tiflin opens it up and reads out loud that her father is coming to visit on Saturday. Wait a second… that's today.
    • Mrs. Tiflin catches a disapproving look on her husband's face and she automatically defends her father.
    • Carl says that her father "only talks about one thing" (4.36). We like to imagine his eyes rolling.
    • Jody finishes the thought and chimes in that his g-pop talks only about "Indians and crossing the plains!" (4.37). For this contribution to the conversation, the boy is shooed out of the house.
    • He sits under the kitchen window playing with a rock and eavesdropping.
    • Still, his father totally agrees: "He just goes on and on, and he never changes a word in the things he tells" (4.40).
    • Fair enough, says Mrs. Tiflin, but look at it this way: crossing the plains was the biggest thing her father ever did in his life. "He led a wagon train clear across the plains to the coast, and when it was finished, his life was done" (4.41). Her father would have kept going too, if only the ocean hadn't stopped him. In other words, cut the old guy some slack.
    • All right, all right, Carl agrees. And hey, if it gets too bad, he can always hang out with Billy at the bunkhouse.
    • Having heard enough, Jody goes off to do his chores. When he's finished he asks his mother if he can go wait for their visitor. Mrs. Tiflin agrees it's a good idea and Jody wanders up the road to meet him.
    • Soon, Jody sees a horse and cart coming up from Salinas. Jody gives a "glad cry" (4.54) and rushes to meet his Grandfather.
    • They're all smiles and happy greetings and finally Jody asks his Gramps to go mouse hunting with him.
    • Gramps just laughs and jokes in response, and tells Jody he's grown nearly an inch since the last time he saw him.
    • Jody says they might kill a pig in honor of his Grandfather's visit but the old man won't have it. Not on his account.
    • Together, Grandfather and grandson walk to the Tiflin ranch. When they arrive, Carl, Billy Buck and Mrs. Tiflin come out to greet her dear old dad at the front gate. Billy Buck takes hold of his horse to put in the barn.
    • The family goes inside and the old man eats a steak. As he does, he begins to talk about how hungry he is, which reminds him of—you guessed it—the crossing. He goes on to tell stories they have all heard a billion times before. He also tells Billy Buck that he knew his father.
    • The old man tells about the time when they ran out of meat during the crossing. He was the leader of the people so it was his job to hunt and kill some animals before the people broke down and started killing their oxen.
    • A big moth flies into the room as Grandfather is telling his story. He cups it in his hand and drops it out the window.
    • After dinner, Jody watches as his Grandfather starts to doze off. His head falls to his chest and the old man startles himself awake by the fire.
    • Which means it's time for another story. This one time, at band camp, some Indians stole their horses and…
    • Carl interrupts him, saying they'd heard it before… lots of times, in fact. Jody says he'd like to hear it again but the old man looks totally bummed by Carl's interjection.
    • "Tell me about Indians" (4.99), Jody says softly.
    • Gramps goes on to tell another story about when Indians attacked their crossing party. Jody looks around and notices that his father, mother, and Billy Buck are all bored out of their minds. Then, Jody notices that even his Grandfather seems to have lost interest in the story he is telling. Now that's a snooze.
    • When the story is finished, Billy Buck heads off to catch some z's.
    • Carl asks Grandfather how the country is from here to Monterey. It's dry, he says. And that's that.
    • Carl tells Jody he should be off to bed. Jody remembers about the mice in the old haystack and asks his father if he can kill them.
    • Why not? says Papa Tiflin. Excellent. Jody's pumped for tomorrow.
    • As he tries to doze off that night, Jody wishes he were alive during the time of the great crossing. It sounds kind of cool: "A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day" (4.113).
    • At dawn, Jody passes through the kitchen, telling his mother he is off to find a good stick for beating mice to death with. Typical kid stuff.
    • Jackpot. He finds an old broom handle and a piece of scrap-wood and ties them together to make an über-implement of death.
    • It's time for breakfast, and Jody can't hide his excitement at the prospect of some good old fashioned rodent bludgeoning: "I'll bet they don't know what's going to happen to them today" (4.123).
    • Billy replies, rather philosophically, "No, nor you either… nor me, nor anyone" (4.124). Deep. And alarming.
    • Inside, breakfast is ready but Gramps hasn't showed. Carl and Mrs. Tiflin start to argue about the old man. Carl's still complaining about the old man's repetitive stories: "Why can't he forget it, now it's done?" (4.130) he asks.
    • The kitchen door closes. Poor Gramps is standing there, and he heard everything. Oops.
    • Carl backpedals, and how. He immediately says, "I don't know what got into me, sir. I didn't mean it" (4.135).
    • Jody's all, since when does my dad ever backpedal? He realizes that his father must be really ashamed of himself.
    • G-pop says he is not mad and that maybe Carl has a point. Carl apologizes again but the old man insists that maybe Carl's right: "The crossing is finished. Maybe it should be forgotten, now it's done" (4.139).
    • Totally embarrassed, Carl flees the room, after telling Billy to take his time before joining him for their day's work.
    • In an attempt to salvage the situation, Jody asks his Grandfather if he will tell him more stories. Grandfather agrees to tell stories to "people who want to hear them" (4.142).
    • Then Jody goes outside and grabs his mice-killing stick. He wants Gramps to join him, but the old codger just wants to stay put for a while.
    • Very sweetly, Jody tells his Grandfather that he can use his (Jody's) stick if he likes. But his Grandfather chooses to stay and sit on the porch while Jody goes off to do boyish things.
    • At the old haystack, Jody tries to "whip up his enthusiasm with thoughts of fat, juicy mice" (4.150), but he just can't shake the sadness of his Grandfather. So he walks back to the porch.
    • The two sit in silence for a spell, watching as the "porch boards grew warm in the sunshine" (4.154).
    • At length, the old man speaks up and says he shouldn't stay much longer. He seems worried that maybe the crossing didn't actually mean as much as he thought it meant.
    • Still, he's proud of that part of his life: "We carried life out here and set it down the way those ants carry eggs. And I was the leader" (4.158).
    • Jody looks up and says that maybe someday, he, too, can be a leader. But Grandfather tells the boy that there is nowhere left to go. The ocean stops people.
    • Um, hello? Boats? But Grandfather tells the boy that "Every place is taken," and "Westering isn't a hunger anymore. It's all done. Your father is right. It is finished" (4.163).
    • What a bummer, thinks Jody. Then he offers to make his Grandfather a glass of lemonade. Yum, yum, says the old guy, and Jody runs off to pour a glass.
    • In the kitchen, Jody asks his mother for a lemon to make his Grandfather a lemonade.
    • Mrs. Tiflin asks if Jody is going to have one, too. Jody says nope. His mother tells him that he is "sick!" (4.169).
    • Mrs. Tiflin tells Jody to get a lemon out of the cooler and then says she'll "reach the squeezer down" to him (4.169), so he can make his old Gramps a tall glass.