Young Adam Trask joins his Army regiment around the same time that Cyrus moves to Washington to become a Secretary of the Army. Charles takes over the job of running the Trask farm in Connecticut, living alone and visiting prostitutes twice a month. One day, Charles cuts his forehead badly while moving a large boulder from his yard. Ultimately, he develops an ugly, dark scar on his face. Ashamed of his disfigurement, Charles visits the town even less often and longs for Adam’s return.
Adam is discharged from the Army in 1885 but soon realizes that he misses life in the Army and decides to enlist again. He is sent to Washington, where he encounters Cyrus, now dressed in fine clothing and fitted with a fancy prosthetic leg. Cyrus tells Adam that he could get Adam into the military academy at West Point, but Adam insists that he just wants to go back to his old regiment. Charles is crushed when Adam does not return to the farm. After a year and several letters, Adam succeeds in reestablishing contact with his brother. The two never have much in common, however, which makes their relationship difficult.
After five years fighting in campaigns against Native Americans in the west, Adam again is discharged from the Army. As he slowly makes his way across the country back to the farm in Connecticut, he slips into a life as a drifter and is eventually arrested for vagrancy and placed on a chain gang. In February 1894, Cyrus dies and leaves a large fortune—more than $100,000—to his sons, who are to split it evenly. Charles is shocked to learn that Cyrus had so much money and wonders how Cyrus could have made it honestly.
Some time later, Charles receives a telegram from Adam asking for $100 to pay for his trip home to Connecticut. Charles sends the money via a telegraph officer, who asks Charles for a specific question he can ask Adam in order to verify Adam’s identity. Charles tells the telegraph officer to ask Adam what present he gave his father before enlisting in the Army. If Adam answers “a puppy,” then it is definitely Adam, and the money can be transferred.
When Adam arrives at home, he is somewhat surprised to find that he no longer feels intimidated by Charles. The brothers discuss their father and their inheritance. Charles informs Adam that he has figured out that all of Cyrus’s war stories were lies, for Cyrus’s Army papers were sent along with his will, and the dates on them clearly indicate that Cyrus could not have fought in the noteworthy battles in which he claimed to have fought. Furthermore, Charles suspects that Cyrus’s fortune may have been stolen, but Adam denies it. Adam says that he and Charles should travel to California with the money, but only after building a memorial to their father.
I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. . . . The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Despite her innocent, childlike appearance, Cathy Ames is morally reprehensible from her earliest years. She is manipulative and selfish and learns to use her sexuality to hurt others. While still a schoolgirl, she sets up a group of local boys for punishment by luring them with her body; the boys receive a thrashing after Cathy’s mother finds Cathy tied up in a barn with her skirt pulled up. Later, Cathy has a mysterious involvement with her Latin teacher that leads to his suicide.