Lonesome Dove, part 4. Clara: Love’s Labours Lost

HI 96 / LO 53, sunny


Love’s Labour’s Lost: Clara Allen

When I got to chapter 75 and finally met Clara Allen, I felt immense joy. By the time I finished the page, I knew she was Gus’s match. She is exactly the kind of woman who would be Gus’s true love. She’s the whole reason he goes on the cattle drive, just for the chance to see the woman who turned him down, to see if she might like to change her mind and relocate to that “orchard” in Texas.

For Clara, love is something you do. She may not like her husband, Bob, all that much, but every day she feeds him and changes his bed linens after he is severely injured by a horse. That’s love. Love for her two daughters gets her out of bed every morning, although the loss of her three sons makes her want to stay in bed. She loves horses and takes care of them with the help of Cholo. And she does love Gus — greets him with a big kiss right in front of her daughters and everyone — but she needs more than a man to share a bed with. She needs a friend.

“Where have you been for the last fifteen years?” she asked

“Lonesome Dove, mostly,” he said. “I wrote you three letters.”

“I got them,” she said. “And what did you accomplish in all that time?”

“Drank a lot of whiskey,” Augustus said.

Clara nodded and went back to packing the picnic basket. “If that was all you accomplished you could have done it in Ogallala and been a friend to me,” she said. “I lost three boys, Gus. I needed a friend.”

Gus protests that Clara was married.

“I was never so married but what I could have managed a friend,” she said.

I’ve never read more eloquent words about why a woman needs a friend.

Clara loves Gus enough to send him away. She convinces him to give Lorie the chance to stay, even though she can see that Lorie loves Gus the way Gus loves Clara.

Clara never judges Lorie for her past, either, and resents the fact that Gus thinks she might.

“Where’d you get Miss Wood?” she asked.

“She’s been in Lonesome Dove a while,” he said.

“Doing what?”

“Doing what she could, but don’t you hold it against her,” he said.

Clara looked at him coolly. “I don’t judge women that harsh,” she said.

The person Clara judges is Call. Oh, my goodness sakes alive! Talk about speaking truth to power. Gus may be, in his own words to Call, “the one man you don’t boss,” but Clara is the only woman who can boss Call. She does her best to parent Newt (who is the age her oldest boy would have been if he’d lived) when Call won’t.

“A live son is more important than a dead friend. Can you understand that?”

“A promise is a promise,” Call said.

“A promise is words — a son is a life,” Clara said, “A life, Mr. Call. I was better fit to raise boys than you’ve ever been, and yet I lost three. I tell you no promise is worth leaving that boy up there, as you have. Does he know he’s your son?”

“I suppose he does — I give him my horse,” Call said, feeling that it was hell to have her, of all women, talk to him about the matter.

“Your horse but not your name?” Clara said. “You haven’t even given him your name?”

“I put more value on the horse,” Call said. 

Even worse, Clara judges Call for his friendship to Gus.

“And I’ll tell you another thing: I’m sorry you and Gus McCrae ever met. All you two done was ruin one another, not to mention those close to you. Another reason I didn’t marry him was because I didn’t want to fight you for him every day of my life.”

Call drives away (on a mule, not his mare, the Hell Bitch, which he gave to Newt), and Clara goes back in the house, back to Lorie and Dish and July and Cholo and Martin and Betsey and Sally, back to her horses she’s so good with. Back to those early sunrises.

“But she loved the fine light of the prairie mornings; it had resurrected her spirits time after time through the years, when it seemed that dirt and cold and death would crush her. Just to see the light spreading like that, far on toward Wyoming, was her joy.”

Clara is my hero.


  1. Oh, I agree! Clara is a hero! When it came to that point in the movie, I wanted so badly for Gus to stay, I could almost scream at the TV. I wanted him to say, “Now I’m home!” But Clara was wise. She could see that Gus’ true love was Call. He was his roots and his home, as Gus was to Call. Sad.

  2. The exchange about Call giving his son the horse reminded me of an old family story. My grandfather, who served as a veterinarian to the cavalry in WWI, came from a family in which siblings were born every two years. I think there were at least a dozen of them. His youngest sister–my mom’s aunt, is only a few years older than my mom. My grandpa told my brother that he remembered the year she was born because they got a new horse for the farm. “He was a really good horse,” my grandpa said.

    Which is probably why this glimpse of Call you’ve highlighted rings true for me. For some men of that era, horses were at least as important as family relationships. Maybe more so.