Lord Berrybender’s epic four-year hunting trip through the unsettled West comes to a wistful close.
Under comfortable house arrest in Santa Fe, McMurtry’s large cast of peers, painters, trappers, priests, Indians, and the crop of infants who have replaced the many characters left dead on the deserts and by the many tributaries of the Missouri await rescue and relief. Everyone is edgy in this most remote reach of the rickety Mexican republic. Lady Tasmin, the improbable but appealing eldest daughter of the boozy earl is in black despair following the death of her reticent lover Pompey Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea. (Yes, that Sacagawea.) Were it not for the loving ministrations of Little Onion, Tasmin’s sort-of-in-law, her husband’s Indian wife, Tasmin’s son Monty and the twins Petey and Petal would have no emotional home. Tasmin has no emotional room for anything. Not even her husband Jim when he returns. Her sister Buffum worries constantly about her Indian husband High Shoulders, who is on the Mexicans’ most-wanted list. Tasmin’s stepmother and friend Vicky, the cellist and former mistress to Lord Berrybender seethes as Lord B. cavorts with a voracious but deeply blue-blooded 16-year-old. Only little Petal seems untouched by the provincial malaise. Petal is truly her mother’s daughter. Impetuous, brilliant, bossy, demanding, and precocious, the pretty child steals everything her twin brother might want and demands her mother’s full attention and, if possible, devotion. She’s unimpressed by her father when he returns, but they eventually bond. Suddenly the great caravan lurches into motion again. The governor’s governors have ordered the removal of the party to old Mexico, where everyone will be held hostage for dealings with the soon-to-rebel Texans. Their resumed odyssey brings horrible deaths to both family and retainers from cholera, slavers, and indigenous tribes, and as the Republic of Texas rises, the great adventure winds down.
A fitting end to McMurtry’s odd but wise saga of Old Europe in the New World (By Sorrow’s River, 2003, etc.).