One morning during his stay at Alexandra Bergson's farm, Carl Linstrum gets up early to walk through the fields. Unseen, he watches Emil Bergson hunt ducks with Marie Shabata. Later that day, Carl and Alexandra visit Marie in her orchard. Marie's energetic pleasantness contrasts with her husband Frank's melancholic reserve.
The reader learns that Marie was the daughter of a Bohemian immigrant to Omaha, Nebraska. She fell in love with Frank and ran away from home with him; at the time, he seemed a gentleman, handsome and romantic. But after their marriage and move to the Divide, Frank's true nature revealed itself. He is a hard worker, but a perpetual malcontent. He resents everyone and everything for his arduous farmer's life.
A romance grows between Marie and Emil, but it becomes shaky when Emil tells Marie, during a difficult and tense conversation in the fields, that they must be realistic and face the impossibility of their situation. He expresses his growing resolve to leave the Divide. When he goes to a fair at the local French Catholic church, his best friend, Amedee Chevalier, unaware of Emil's forbidden love for Marie, encourages him to find a love interest. He takes Emil's unresponsiveness for cold-heartedness.
While Emil is at the fair, Alexandra is visited by her other two brothers, Lou and Oscar. They are concerned that Alexandra will marry Carl, whom they believe to be an untrustworthy gold-digger. They claim that Alexandra has no business sharing the farm with Carl; they argue, instead, that the property truly belongs to the men of the family, ignoring Alexandra's pivotal role in bringing prosperity to all of them. Furthermore, they tell her that social propriety dictates that she must send Carl away. Alexandra angrily rejects these patently specious arguments and effectively declares that any ties of affection between her and her brothers have been severed.
Emil returns from the fair to tell Alexandra that he plans to leave for Mexico. She is distracted by her fight with Lou and Oscar, and he gets caught up pining for Marie. Soon after Emil's return, Carl returns from having spoken with Lou and Oscar. Carl now believes that he must leave the Divide and try to make his fortune in Alaska. Abandoned by Carl and Emil, the two people who were truly important to her, Alexandra is devastated.
These chapters of the novel focus on the difficulty in achieving successful romantic relationships. A collection of fragmented scenes illuminates the tensions between Marie and Emil; the relationship between Marie and her husband Frank is dysfunctional, predicated on unhappiness. Marie's unhappiness is compounded by her inability to improve her situation, since she is a believing Catholic, precluding the possibility of divorce.