“As for myself,” said Rod Wheat, “I’m not going to fret. You can’t avoid it when it comes, and every now and then you miss it by a hair. I had an uncle who served four years in the Confederate army, went through thirty engagements, was wounded half a dozen times, and came home well and sound. Within a month after his return, a plough handle kicked him in the side and we buried him within a week.”
“Oh, well,” said Fox, commenting on the sudden call of the man whose grave we had seen, “it won’t make much difference to this fellow back here when the horn toots and the graves give up their dead. He might just as well start from there as anywhere. I don’t envy him none, though; but if I had any pity to offer now, it would be for a mother or sister who might wish that he slept nearer home.”
This last remark carried our minds far away from their present surroundings to other graves which were not on the trail. There was a long silence. We lay around the camp-fire and gazed into its depths, while its flickering light threw our shadows out beyond the circle. Our reverie was finally broken by Ash Borrowstone, who was by all odds the most impressionable and emotional one in the outfit, a man who always argued the moral side of every question, yet could not be credited with possessing an iota of moral stamina. Gloomy as we were, he added to our depression by relating a pathetic incident which occurred at a child’s funeral, when Flood reproved him, saying,—
“Well, neither that one you mention, nor this one of Pierce’s man is any of our funeral. We’re on the trail with Lovell’s cattle. You should keep nearer the earth.”
There was a long silence after this reproof of the foreman. It was evident there was a gloom settling over the outfit. Our thoughts were ranging wide. At last Rod Wheat spoke up and said that in order to get the benefit of all the variations, the blues were not a bad thing to have.
But the depression of our spirits was not so easily dismissed. In order to avoid listening to the gloomy tales that were being narrated around the camp-fire, a number of us got up and went out as if to look up the night horses on picket. The Rebel and I pulled our picket pins and changed our horses to fresh grazing, and after lying down among the horses, out of hearing of the camp, for over an hour, returned to the wagon expecting to retire. A number of the boys were making down their beds, as it was already late; but on our arrival at the fire one of the boys had just concluded a story, as gloomy as the others which had preceded it.
“These stories you are all telling to-night,” said Flood, “remind me of what Lige Link said to the book agent when he was shearing sheep. ‘I reckon,’ said Lige, ’that book of yours has a heap sight more poetry in it than there is in shearing sheep.’ I wish I had gone on guard to-night, so I could have missed these stories.”
At this juncture the first guard rode in, having been relieved, and John Officer, who had exchanged places on guard that night with Moss Strayhorn, remarked that the cattle were uneasy.