“Wine on the Desert” Summary: Max Brand Short Story

“Wine on the Desert” is a short story by Max Brand, who was well-known for Western and pulp stories. It’s about an outlaw’s attempt to flee justice, first stopping at an acquaintance’s place and then continuing across the desert to the mountains beyond. It’s one of the better-known Western short stories and is an easy, entertaining read. If you’d like it to be even easier, here’s a summary of “Wine on the Desert”.

“Wine on the Desert” Summary

Durante rides slowly through the desert toward Tony’s house. He’s thirsty but he’ll get water soon. The man he killed won’t be found until this morning and then a posse will have to be gathered to pursue him, so there’s no rush. Durante sees Tony’s windmill and then the vineyard as he gets closer. The water from the rainy season is gathered into iron tanks to sustain the vines during the dry season. The vines are dusty and dying as the grapes have already been gathered and the wine made.

Durante rides his mule right into the patio and then goes inside, where he drinks a dipper full of water from a stone vase outside the kitchen. He calls out to Tony and soon hears the thump of his wooden leg as he approaches.

Tony greets Durante warmly. He sent Julia to Nogales to get away from the heat for a while. Durante rests in the hammock while Tony brings water out to the mule. Tony cooks food for them. He even has rabbit, which he shoots with the rifle. They eat and drink wine together and talk.

Tony’s father died in the desert only an hour from home. There was a leak in his canteen. When a man dies of thirst, he goes mad first. He runs and tears his clothes off to cool down but then gets baked by the sun. He digs in the sand, tearing up his nails and fingers. There’s a screaming look on the face when they’re found.

Tony’s place is set up to protect them from the desert and they live well. Durante sleeps in the hammock until a rifle blast wakes him. Tony comes in with a fresh rabbit, shot right through the head, which makes Durante shudder.

Wine on the Desert Max Brand Summary Short Story
“Wine on the Desert” Summary, Cont’d

After they have a good breakfast in the morning, Durante asks to see the rifle. He orders Tony outside and explains the situation. The sheriff is coming after him. When he gets here, he and his men will replenish their water and continue their pursuit. He can’t let them do that. Durante shoots a hole in one of the tanks. Tony begs him to spare his livelihood but Durante shoots all the other tanks too.

Durante orders Tony to fill his canteen with water from inside. Dejected, Tony returns and hands the full canteen over. Durante calls Tony a coward for his timidity. He rides off, dumping the empty rifle after a while. He still has his revolver. Looking back over a mile out, he sees Tony picking up the discarded rifle. He can’t ever come back to the vineyard again. He’s amused by the thought of his pursuers finding wine (which is insufficient for a desert voyage) but no water.

The trail across the Apache is dotted with bones. Tomorrow morning, Durante will reach the mountains. He takes out his canteen for his first taste—it’s wine! He has to go twenty-four hours without water. Durante accepts the blame for not filling it himself. He calms himself and decides not to have a sip until noon.

At ten he drinks the wine heartily and feels drier afterward. It’s already getting low. He considers turning back but remembers what a crack shot Tony is, and knows he won’t forgive the destruction of his vines. His heart races with fear and his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth.

As he rides on, Durante’s stomach is upset. He sees the mule is bleeding from where he’s been spurring it to gallop. It staggers and its mouth is open. Durante knows it’s going to die, and it does after sunset. He leaves everything behind except his revolver. After an hour, his legs are weak and he discards the weight of the revolver as well.

Durante lies down a while but doesn’t feel better. He’s breathing dust and continues to stagger on, eventually breaking into a run. He remembers that you go mad before dying of thirst. He considers cutting his tongue to moisten his mouth, but that would be salty.

Durante can’t see any stars and realizes his sight is failing. Tony put poison in the wine to blind him. He tears his shirt away and stumbles along in the darkness. The sand sounds like water, so soft that it could be dug away with his bare hands.

Hours later it starts to rain and at dawn it’s pouring. Even through all this confusion, the buzzards find the right spot in the desert.

I hope this summary of “Wine on the Desert” by Max Brand was helpful.