When the Legends Die
Part III: The Arena: Chapters 40–41 Part IV: The Mountains: Chapter 42
Having healed considerably, Tom now uses a wheel chair. While Mary pushes him, Tom becomes more talkative, telling her about broncos and answering her questions about his riding life. When Mary leaves him alone in his hospital room, Tom often attempts to walk on his own. One day Mary catches him in the act and futilely attempts to stop him; he responds by pushing her away. Mary informs Dr. Ferguson of Tom's efforts. Dr. Ferguson asks Tom to show him his efforts. With significant effort, Tom surprises the doctor by successfully walking. Dr. Ferguson tells Tom that he has recovered more quickly than he had expected and that he may soon leave the hospital. As the doctor and Mary leave his room, Tom becomes aware of the deep ache in his muscles, fatigued from his efforts at walking.
Mary urges Tom to consider seeking further assistance at a convalescent home, and she recommends a particularly good one in Nyack. Tom denies his need for such care; rather, he calculates his medical expenses and arranges to sell his car in order to pay the bill. As Tom's date of release from the hospital draws near, Mary begins to treat him with distance and a lack of familiarity. Having paid his bill, Tom prepares to leave the hospital. However, longing to feel that someone cares for him, he almost hopes that someone will stop him from leaving the hospital, but no one does; Mary simply issues a curt goodbye. As he departs, he is once again struck by the feeling that he does not belong anywhere. He concludes he will take a train headed west.
Arriving in Pagosa, Tom enters a café where four men stare at him and render him self-conscious. Eating quickly, he soon steps outside the café to spot his old roommate, Luther Spotted Dog, and stopping to talk with him briefly. His return to Pagosa provokes memories of the time he had spent there in his youth. In need of work clothes, Tom visits the general store, where he tells the clerk that he had previously herded sheep for a living. Eyeing his expensive clothes, the clerk believes Tom is joking about his herding job. A man named Jim Woodward asks Tom if he knows anyone who might like to tend sheep for him, as he has lost one of his shepherds. Tom himself offers to take the job and, after they agree on the terms, Tom departs for Piedra, Horse Mountain, where he will tend a flock of sheep.
Through the author's description of Tom's thoughts in Chapter 41, it becomes clear why Tom resents Mary and fears her control of him. Because his last, violent ride has so seriously injured him, he feels vulnerable and exposed by his weakness. While Mary has the best intentions for Tom's well being, the circumstances of his past skew his perspective and convince him that she intends to control him rather than help him. Borland writes, "Then he remembered and the whole pattern fell into place. Blue Elk, Benny Grayback, Rowena Ellis, Red Dillon—they had trapped him, every one of them, had tried to run his life, make him do things their way. And now Mary Redmond." Having struggled for years to gain his independence, Tom remains exceedingly wary of once again becoming dependent on another person.
Throughout his career as a bronco rider, Tom has taken out the many frustrations of his life on the horses he has ridden, and his reputation as a brutal rider results from the channeling of these frustrations. However, now that his riding has caused him serious injury, which renders him unable to return to the ring for some time, he must seek an outlet for his frustrations elsewhere. For this reason he seeks solace and clarity in the place of his childhood. Tom's acute sense of alienation also becomes evident through his interactions with the townspeople of Pagosa. Upon his return in Chapter 42, Tom stops at a café in town. The stares of the other patrons render him self-conscious and defensive. He also seeks a human connection, and during his interaction with the waitress at the café, Borland writes, "Unconsciously, he was trying to make contact with somebody, something."
As Chapter 41 comes to a conclusion, and Tom boards a train headed back west to Pagosa, the fifth and last part of the novel, entitled "The Mountains," begins. The title appropriately indicates his return to his homeland. As Tom travels back to Pagosa, Borland writes, "Then, as the road would steeply down from the pass through the pines and aspens the smells began to touch the quick of his being, the resinous pine smell, the damp woods smell, the clean smell of fast water, and it was almost painful, the way it cut down through the layers of the years." Given his constant efforts to push his past as far away from himself as possible, this experience with the natural environment of his youth becomes understandably emotional and painful. Tom's decision to volunteer to work as a herder will take him full circle back to Horse Mountain, the place of his youth. In addition, the author has brought us full circle, to the setting in which the beginning of the book takes place. Tom's return to Horse Mountain will bring him face to face with the thoughts, dreams, and memories with which he has grappled his entire life.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!