The reader is left with loose ends, which Johnstone tends to leave unfinished as if on purpose.
The book starts with Art arriving at Rendezvous with two pack mules loaded with prime furs, after killing some Indians who had attacked him. He meets his old friend, Clyde, who tells him that the best buyers from St. Louis did not come this year. But, their employer, William Ashley, is paying top dollar for furs brought to his business in St. Louis.
Art and Clyde begin a trip to the city, riding to the river and exchanging horses and mules for a sturdy river boat. Enroute downriver, they are attacked by braves from the same tribe from which the previous attackers had come. Clyde is killed, and Art continues to St. Louis.
Arriving, he sells his furs to Ashley, then is found by his youthful love, Jennie, now a successful madame whose house is well-known in St. Louis. They renew their friendship and Art spends the night with Jennie, then leaves at the head of a party of trappers in the employ of Ashley.
Along the way, Art works at his employer's request to make peace with tribes they encounter. But, one tribe, the Arikara, whose braves had twice been defeated by Art, only wants him dead, and all whites. This is due in large part to the actions of two of Art's party who had gotten members of the tribe badly drunk on bad whiskey the previous year.
After they beat off an attack by Blackfeet warriors, Art is ranging ahead of his team and is attacked by a giant bear who is protecting her cubs. He is badly injured by the bear he had killed. His men find him, and acting at the urging of one of the two whiskey-dealing men, the men leave Art with his rifle, knife, food and water, should he recover from his wounds. They also leave his horse. Dog, his faithful canine partner, stays with Art and watches him as the men ride off.
One of the disloyal team members, McDill, goes back on a pretext, finds Art barely conscious, and takes almost all his belongings except his knife and blanket. He returns to the party and tells them Art is dead. He would have been, had Dog not protected Art.
Art slowly recovers, and after a pain-filled trek, is captured by the Blackfeet, who have been looking for him. They are amazed at his stamina, and think he is protected by the Great Spirit. After Art starts talking, almost as if delivering a thundering sermon, for more than a day and night, they let him go and name him Preacher.
Jennie has lost her house in St. Louis due to the actions of a criminally-minded teller at the bank who steals the money which was to pay off her mortgage. She and her girls are moving West, and at a settlement they settle for a short time. There, they are found by Art's team, which is returning with nothing to show for their journey due to the failed leadership of McDill. He attacks Jennie in her tent just as Art rides in to the settlement looking for his his men who he has been told are in the town.
Art kills McDill, saving Jennie, and they are reunited. But, here Johnstone abruptly leaves us wanting. Art is enroute to St. Louis, to report to Ashley on the team's failure.
I had expected Art to resupply his team and go back to the mountains with a goal of continuing the original plan. But, after spending the night with Jennie, he climbs aboard his horse and heads East, apparently without saying anything to his men. He leaves behind with them his personal belongings which McDill had stolen, including his beloved rifle, his pistols, his horse and mules, and one is left to wonder what becomes of the three other employees.
Also, Art did not dispose of the riverboat after his earlier arrival in St. Louis, just leaves it tied up to the dock, apparently. And, he does not take his partner's rifle and pistol - this in a time when every loaded weapon is an asset when going back to the West.
Sort of frustrating, but that is the way Johnstone writes.
All in all, a hard-to-put-down story, as are all of his books.