No longer narrated by John Watson, Part 2 shifts to the American desert stretching from the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, between the Yellowstone and Colorado Rivers. Coated in alkali dust, this “land of despair” is hostile to all but the coyote, the buzzard, and the grizzly bear. If one were to look down from the Sierra Blanca, one would see a pathway on the desert created by caravan wheels and footprints, with human and oxen bones littered along the way. It is May 14, 1847, and a lone man is looking down on this scene. He is thin and haggard and must support himself with his rifle. Slowly dying of hunger and dehydration, he searches hopelessly for signs of water but cannot find any.
Part 2 begins an extended flashback to the mid-1800s in the American west. The starkness of the landscape sets the tone for the story to come. The desert represents death, and though Ferrier and Lucy narrowly escape their fate with the help of the Mormons, the very same people who save the Ferriers also become responsible for their deaths later. The narrator’s description of the desert as coated with alkali dust anticipates Jefferson Hope’s use of alkaloid poisons on Drebber and Stangerson, correcting the injustice the Ferriers’ deaths in the desert with a reminder of the desert itself.
The man drops his rifle to the ground, as well as a gray parcel carrying a young child. The child, a five-year-old girl, is pale but healthy. Her mother, along with the rest of their town, had recently died of dehydration, so the man took the girl with him to find water. Now, however, the man tells her that they will probably die and that she will soon see her mother again in heaven. The man and the child get down on their knees and pray, after which they fall asleep.
The man appears to be kind and caring. Though the man is described as haggard and thin, the child is not, suggesting that he had probably been taking care of her at the expense of his own well-being.
While the man and the child sleep, a vast number of wagons, horses, and people approach from the other side of the plain. The narrator describes these people as “nomads” seeking a new home out of necessity rather than out of the pursuit of opportunity. Though the nomads’ caravans are loud, the man and the child are so exhausted that they don’t wake up. When the cries of buzzards wake the man and young girl up, they find themselves among a rescue party, which leads them down to the caravans.
Seemingly miraculously, the worn travellers are saved from the brink of death by nomads, whom the narrator presents as sympathetic refugees. Ironically, these nomads who save the man and the child also become responsible for their deaths years later.
The man introduces himself as John Ferrier and decides to adopt the child, Lucy, as his daughter. The travellers tell him that they believe in Joseph Smith’s teachings and “seek a refuge from the violent man and from the godless.” Ferrier correctly guesses that they are the Mormons, and the travellers take Ferrier and Lucy to their prophet, who will decide what to do with them. The Mormons’ leader is described as barely 30 years old, with a “massive head and resolute expression.” He tells Ferrier that if he does not join them as a true believer, they will let him die in the desert. Ferrier agrees to become a Mormon, and the leader leaves Ferrier and Lucy in the care of the Elder Stangerson, who tells them that the man they had been speaking to is Brigham Young, who speaks with the voice of Joseph Smith and thus the voice of God, and who has made them forever part of their religion.
Mormonism was founded in New York the early 1820s when Joseph Smith claimed to receive visions from angels. Eventually the Mormons moved to Illinois, but tensions rose between Mormons and non-Mormons over the former’s polygamous marriage practices, leading Smith’s successor Brigham Young to move the Mormons to Utah. The Mormons’ claim that they “seek a refuge from the violent man” is ironic, as a number of them later become members of the sensationalized vigilante group, the Avenging Angels, and persecute their own church members. Doyle’s fictionalized version of Young in particular presages Mormon violence, as the leader of the Mormons shows that he is willing to let an innocent child and her caretaker die in the name of his faith.