Reared in isolation by her father on the Western prairie, Mary Dove has been taught to fear only one thing. One sparkling October day it happens. The inevitable stranger rides in off the plains, and Mary Dove does what she had always promised her father she wouldùshe shoots.
Yet compassion overcomes Mary's fear. In remorse, she tends to the wounded stranger, and what follows is their tentative discovery of each other and a love story that weaves universal and timeless themes.
The mother who died before Mary Dove could know her was African-American. And so completely has Mary Dove's father sheltered her that she cannot begin to comprehend what society would so cruelly teach her. Archetypal in their blamelessness and in how deeply they must suffer for their love, Mary Dove and her cowboy, "Red" Christopher Columbus Jones, are so thoroughly West Texan that they prove Rushing's mastery of character and place.
"Get away," she said
"Now I ain't gonna hurt you," he said, "and I don't want to know nothing about you that you don't want to tell." He came a step closer.
"Stop right now," she said, "or I'll shoot."
"You wouldn't," he said.
He was so nearly right. She believed what he saidùor nearly. But she had been afraid so long. And wasn't it a law of God to do what your father said? She trembled, looking into his smiling blue eyes. It would have been easier if he had been preparing to pounce, like the panther, or striking, like the snake. The rifle barrel dropped, a little.
"I knew you wouldn't," he said, taking another step towards her.
"I have to," she said, and with a terrible struggle to hold the gun steady, she fired.