Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Passing Of Cock-Eye Blacklock
by [?]

“Well, m’son,” observed Bunt about half an hour after supper, “if your provender has shook down comfortable by now, we might as well jar loose and be moving along out yonder.”

We left the fire and moved toward the hobbled ponies, Bunt complaining of the quality of the outfit’s meals. “Down in the Panamint country,” he growled, “we had a Chink that was a sure frying-pan expert; but this Dago–my word! That ain’t victuals, that supper. That’s just a’ ingenious device for removing superfluous appetite. Next time I assimilate nutriment in this camp I’m sure going to take chloroform beforehand. Careful to draw your cinch tight on that pinto bronc’ of yours. She always swells up same as a horned toad soon as you begin to saddle up.”

We rode from the circle of the camp-fire’s light and out upon the desert. It was Bunt’s turn to ride the herd that night, and I had volunteered to bear him company.

Bunt was one of a fast-disappearing type. He knew his West as the cockney knows his Piccadilly. He had mined with and for Ralston, had soldiered with Crook, had turned cards in a faro game at Laredo, and had known the Apache Kid. He had fifteen separate and different times driven the herds from Texas to Dodge City, in the good old, rare old, wild old days when Dodge was the headquarters for the cattle trade, and as near to heaven as the cowboy cared to get. He had seen the end of gold and the end of the buffalo, the beginning of cattle, the beginning of wheat, and the spreading of the barbed-wire fence, that, in the end, will take from him his occupation and his revolver, his chaparejos and his usefulness, his lariat and his reason for being. He had seen the rise of a new period, the successive stages of which, singularly enough, tally exactly with the progress of our own world-civilization: first the nomad and hunter, then the herder, next and last the husband-man. He had passed the mid-mark of his life. His mustache was gray. He had four friends–his horse, his pistol, a teamster in the Indian Territory Panhandle named Skinny, and me.

The herd–I suppose all told there were some two thousand head–we found not far from the water-hole. We relieved the other watch and took up our night’s vigil. It was about nine o’clock. The night was fine, calm.

There was no cloud. Toward the middle watches one could expect a moon. But the stars, the stars! In Idaho, on those lonely reaches of desert and range, where the shadow of the sun by day and the courses of the constellations by night are the only things that move, these stars are a different matter from those bleared pin-points of the city after dark, seen through dust and smoke and the glare of electrics and the hot haze of fire-signs. On such a night as that when I rode the herd with Bunt anything might have happened; one could have believed in fairies then, and in the buffalo-ghost, and in all the weirds of the craziest Apache “Messiah” that ever made medicine.

One remembered astronomy and the “measureless distances” and the showy problems, including the rapid moving of a ray of light and the long years of its travel between star and star, and smiled incredulously. Why, the stars were just above our heads, were not much higher than the flat-topped hills that barred the horizons. Venus was a yellow lamp hung in a tree; Mars a red lantern in a clock-tower.

One listened instinctively for the tramp of the constellations. Orion, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major marched to and fro on the vault like cohorts of legionaries, seemingly within call of our voices, and all without a sound.

But beneath these quiet heavens the earth disengaged multitudinous sounds–small sounds, minimized as it were by the muffling of the night. Now it was the yap of a coyote leagues away; now the snapping of a twig in the sage-brush; now the mysterious, indefinable stir of the heat-ridden land cooling under the night. But more often it was the confused murmur of the herd itself–the click of a horn, the friction of heavy bodies, the stamp of a hoof, with now and then the low, complaining note of a cow with a calf, or the subdued noise of a steer as it lay down, first lurching to the knees, then rolling clumsily upon the haunch, with a long, stertorous breath of satisfaction.