A Deal in Wheat And Other Stories
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.
Slowly at Indian trot we encircle the herd. Earlier in the evening a prairie-wolf had pulled
down a calf, and the beasts were still restless.
Little eddies of nervousness at long intervals developed here and there in the mass--
eddies that not impossibly might widen at any time with perilous quickness to the
maelstrom of a stampede. So as he rode Bunt sang to these great brutes, literally to put
them to sleep--sang an old grandmother's song, with all the quaint modulations of sixty,
seventy, a hundred years ago:
"With her ogling winks
And bobbling blinks,
Her quizzing glass,
Her one eye idle,
Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.
I remember that song. My grandmother--so they tell me--used to sing it in Carolina, in
the thirties, accompanying herself on a harp, if you please:
"Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle."
It was in Charleston, I remembered, and the slave-ships used to discharge there in those
days. My grandmother had sung it then to her beaux; officers they were; no wonder she
chose it--"Oh, she loved a bold dragoon"--and now I heard it sung on an Idaho cattle-
range to quiet two thousand restless steers.