My Father’s Gun: Newt Dobbs
This Elton John song is a departure from my love theme in these posts, except that the song is about the love of a father for a son. In the end, Newt gets his grandfather’s pocket watch, his father’s horse, his father’s gun, and his father’s cattle ranch. Everything but his father’s name.
We should’ve known Newt would one day become the boss becauseDeets predicted it: “Oh, my, they done put a gun on you, ain’t they,” Deets said with a big grin. “I guess next thing you’ll be the boss of us all.”
If you didn’t already know that Newt was Call’s son, Clara clears it up: “They walk alike, they stand alike, and they look alike.”
Like his father, Newt’s a horseman. That’s why everyone is always giving Newt a horse. He inspires the kind of love that motivates people to give him the most valuable thing they own, which they know will be well cared for. Jake gives him his pacer. Clara gives him the sorrel with the star. And finally, Call gives him the Hell Bitch. No wonder he proves himself worthy of inheriting the Montana cattle ranch. Although he doesn’t discover he talent for breaking horses he’s out from under Call’s shadow.
If only Call could have told Newt what he privately tells the reader: “It pleased him to see the quiet way the boy worked. He had never been one for talk when there was work to be done — it was his big point of difference with Gus, who could do nothing without talking. He was glad the boy was inclined to his way.”
In the preface to the novel, McMurtry acknowledges what I’d guessed: “But, if one cuts more deeply, the lonesome dove is Newt.” Heck, Clara practically says it: “He had been a sweet boy with lonesome eyes, polite.” And here, too: “This [boy] had a lonely look in his eye although he also had a quick smile.”
There’s not a person in the story who doesn’t like Newt. It’s probably because he likes everyone else, too. And he cries whenever any of them leaves or dies, even old Bolivar, the cook who can’t really cook, who returns to his family. He cries for Sean. He cries for Jake. He cries for Wilbarger. He cries for Deets. He cries for Gus. There’s only one man he doesn’t cry for — his father, Call.
“Dern, Newt,” Pea Eye said, more astonished than he had ever been in his life. “He gave you his horse and his gun and that watch. He acts like you’re his kin.”
“No, I ain’t kin to nobody in this world,” Newt said bitterly. “I don’t want to be. I won’t be.”
Despair in his heart, he mounted the Hell Bitch as if he had ridden her for years, and turned downstream.
It’s really too bad that he couldn’t stay with Clara, the woman who takes in people like strays. He’s a better horseman than July will ever be, or Dish for that matter. He’s the age of Clara’s oldest son Johnny, who died. But Johnny “had wildness in him.” He was like an unbroken colt. Not a boy of “gentle behavior,” like Newt. Clara offers that Newt can come back and live in Nebraska if he doesn’t like Montana.
“I’d like to,” Newt said. He meant it. Since meeting the girls and seeing the ranch, he had begun to wonder why they were taking the herd so far. It seemed to him Nebraska had plenty of room.
For most of the trip Newt had supposed that nothing could be better than being allowed to be a cowboy, but now that they had got to Nebraska, his thinking was changing … he had begun to see that a world with women in it could be even more interesting. The taste he had of that world seemed all too brief. Though he had been more or less scared of Clara all day, and was still a little scared of her, there was something powerfully appealing about her, too.
“Thank you for the picnic,” he said. “I never went on one before.”
That doesn’t sound like his father at all. Newt must have a lot of his mother in him.
The A Team: Maggie (The title is from Ed Sheeran song, which is the sweetest song about the death of a prostitute that you’ll ever hear.)
We never meet Maggie, Newt’s mother, but we hear about her. She was the one woman Call loved, and he never forgave himself for it.
Call describes her as someone helpless and needy: “She had such frightened eyes,” and “She could never quite get her hair to stay fixed, and was always touching it nervously with one hand. ‘It won’t behave,’ she said, as if her hair were a child.” And most damning, “There was nothing hard about her — in fact, it was obvious to everyone that she was far too soft for the life she was living.”
Once Pea Eye overheard Maggie talking to the Captain, and she used his first name, Woodrow. But Woodrow never called Maggie by name —“Why was it important that he say her name?” In fact, Call can’t manage to call any woman by name. As Pea says, “whereas so far as he knew no one had ever heard of the Captain doing more than occasionally tipping his hat to a lady if he met one in the street.”
Did you catch the word “occasionally”? The Captain can’t even be counted on to consistently tip his hat to a woman. In contrast, I bet there’s not a woman to whom Gus didn’t tip his hat (at least).
We don’t know how Maggie died, except that she took up with Jake for a while after Call left her. We know after Call stopped coming, she was drunk most of the last year of her life. We know she and Gus were good friends, good enough for her to tell Gus that Newt is Call’s son.
Gus and Call almost parted ways over his mistreatment — his neglect — of Maggie. And when she died, that left Newt as a living memory of the one time Call ever let himself be human:“It was his forever, like the long scar on his back, the result of having let a horse throw him through a glass window.”
I’m betting that horse was a female, because from then on, the only females Call will deal with are horses. “Fillies are his only form of folly,” Augustus said. Call saddles up the unruly mare, the Hell Bitch, who begins the story by biting a hunk out of his shoulder and ends up as Newt’s inheritance.
Maggie was no Hell Bitch. But that’s the only way Call can see her. Or any woman.