Clair Huffaker: The Cowboy and the Cossack

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Clair Huffaker The Cowboy and the Cossack
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    The Cowboy and the Cossack
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The Cowboy and the Cossack: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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On a cold spring day in 1880, fifteen American cowboys sail into Vladivostock with a herd of 500 cattle for delivery to a famine stricken town deep in Siberia. Assigned to accompany them is a band of Cossacks, Russia’s elite horsemen and warriors. From the first day, distrust between the two groups disrupts the cattle drive. But as they overcome hardships and trials along the trail, a deep understanding and mutual respect develops between the men in both groups.

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“There,” a low, strong voice said from behind me.

Shad had silently come up, and now he hunched his broad shoulders on the railing beside me, shifted his tobacco, slowly chewing, and nodded so that his deeply creased black hat somehow pointed exactly where to look. I followed his steady gaze, frowning against the wind-made tears in my eyes, and finally made out that a couple of those low-lying stars were dim, distant, man-made lights.


And then Shad said one more word, very tightly and very hard.


The way he said it, I got a chilly feeling in my backbone that was more than the cold sea wind could account for. I looked at the lights again, and then back at him. “Well—hell, boss. After all this time at sea, any solid land ought t’ look pretty damn good.”

Old Keats came up then and joined us. “Look pretty good?” He pulled the collar of his sheepskin coat higher around his neck with his good hand and grinned, his teeth chattering briefly. “Me and five hundred cows and bulls have been seasick longer than any of us would care to remember. Anything without waves on it has to appear to be pure heaven right now.”

Somebody had once pointed out that Old Keats’s name was also the name of some English poet, and he tended to talk in fancy terms, so he’d gotten the part-time nickname of “The Poet.” Maybe his bad left hand had something to do with that too. Old Keats could do wonders with that hand, except he couldn’t lift it higher than his chest. And sometimes, when he got serious and was talking fancy, and went to waving that hand at chest level, it looked like he really was talking poetry, or even making a speech.

“There sure is somethin’ out there!” I told him. “Shad just now spotted it!”

Old Keats stared ahead, his smile-crinkled eyes nearly closed. “Yes. That’ll be the growing metropolis of Vladivostok.”

Shad’s voice still kept its tough edge. “All ten buildings of it—counting outhouses.”

The lights were coming clearer and I said, “It looks t’ me a little bit bigger than that.”

Shad glanced down at my boots. “That yellow cow hurt your foot much?”

“No.” I flexed my ankle to make sure. “It’s okay.”

Old Keats said, “We ought to be there in an hour or so, boss.”

“Want me t’ roust out the men?” I asked.

Shad looked off once more toward the lights that were now getting a feeling of inky black land hovering around them. He pulled his hat down against a gust of bitter wind. “Give them a few more minutes’ sleep first. Then wake ’em.”

He went across the swaying deck and up the ladder toward the captain’s cabin, walking surely, with a cougar’s instinctive movements and grace.

“That Shad”—Old Keats shook his head thoughtfully—“never gets thrown off balance. Never clumsy, never even gets seasick. I personally think that he believes this ship is nothing more than a big wooden horse, swaying and bucking and jumping all over the place. And he rides it just like one. Never misses a beat.”

“Yeah,” I said. “He don’t never miss nothin’. I was the only one who could know about a cow stompin’ on my foot in the dark down there. But he not only knew it happened, he even knew it was the old yella who done it! Seems t’ me he’s got eyes in the back a’ that hard head of his, even when he’s asleep.”

“He’s got a good eye.” Old Keats held his sheepskin collar close around his neck. “But I think you’ll see this country better than he does, Levi.”

I turned and looked and still couldn’t see much more than the few lights that were just vaguely beginning to separate themselves and the shadowed earth from the stars and the sky. “You’re crazy, Keats.”

Old Keats leaned closer, seeming to gain warmth from my shoulder, or wanting perhaps to give warmth to me. He said very seriously, “A gigantic new land is ahead of us.”

I shivered in the cold and dark. “That’s for damn sure.”

“We’re a long way from Montana, with a far way yet to go.” Old Keats hesitated. “For whatever reasons, Shad is going in there hostile, and therefore blind. And he will never see Russia, or Siberia, any more than we can see it now. A few dim lights fighting in the distance against the dark.”

“Well, now, if Shad can see my foot accidentally stomped on in a pitch-black hold, with a bunch of beeves jumpin’ all around, and even know the stomper was that old yellow cow, that keen-eyed bastard can see anything.”

“Not necessarily,” Old Keats said. “There are many ways you can see things, aside from your eyes.”

“I’d sure be interested t’ know just how.”

He touched me on the shoulder, swaying a little with the boat. “You know how else, Levi. A man can see with his mind, his spirit, his heart.”

I grinned at him a little. “Ah, c’mon, Keats. You don’t have t’ live up t’ that nickname.”

“The Poet?” He stretched his bad hand just high enough to rub his lowered chin with the back of it. Then he looked back at the approaching lights of Vladivostok. “I’ll prophesy you something, Levi.” His gray eyes were level with the horizon and deadly serious. “We do have a long way to go.” He hesitated. “And if we don’t learn to see with lots more than our eyes, none of us will come out of that big country right-side up or alive.”


CRAB SMITH was the first man I woke up when I got down to the dark forward hold. He was one of the few lucky cases who had a bunk. The others, like I’d been, were wrapped in their bedrolls on the floor, most of them using saddles for pillows. I scratched a match and lighted the kerosene lamp on the wall only a few inches from Crab’s face, then turned it up bright.

“Jesus!” he muttered, blinking hard at the light. “Just what the hell d’ you think you’re doin’?”

“Time t’ get up. We’ll be there pretty soon.”

“Good God. Don’t this goddamn boat never get no place except in the goddamn middle a’ the goddamn night?”

“C’mon, Crab. T’night’s somethin’ really special.”

Slim was now awake in the bunk beneath Crab. “Hell, Levi, Russia ain’t about t’ disappear on us. It’s been there a hundred years.”

Some of the others were beginning to wake up now. Slim started to pull on his boots and said loudly, “Bust out, fellas! Your pleasant ocean voyage is comin’ to an end!”

Slim, who was really a little on the heavyset side, was sort of an assistant ramrod to Shad, and made ten bucks a month more than the rest of us. Like Shad, he could give an unpleasant order in such a way that it didn’t sound too bad, and the men would do it without hardly thinking twice. Come to think of it, if a younger, kind of green kid like me had just gone down there and lighted the lamp and yelled “Get up!” I’d have more than likely been bruised and battered somewhat severely during the process.

Rufus Hooker stood up groggy and mad, his stomach hanging out over his belt. He rubbed his small dark eyes between his mass of matted black hair and scrubby beard.

“Damn hell!” he grumbled. “I just barely got m’self t’ fuckin’ sleep!”

“No one could ever guess it, Rufe,” Slim said. “You wakin’ up just now is a vision a’ rare beauty.”

But some of the others had the same kind of excitement jumping in them that I had. Sammy the Kid sat up near where I’d been sleeping beside the rope barrier separating us from the cattle starting to stir around in the main hold, where the yellow cow had stepped through the ropes onto my foot. “Hey!” he said. “Russia?”

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