It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog. One morning around ten o’clock Drover brought me some incredible news. He said the world was coming to an end.
I had gotten in from work around daylight, washed up in the septic tank, and hit my gunnysack just as the sun peeked over that big cottonwood tree down by the creek. It had been a slow night but still I was bushed. Must have been the accumulation of long nights. This security work begins to wear on a guy after a while.
I had given Drover the night off, so by the time I came dragging in he was all fresh and ready to go exploring or some such foolishness. He asked if I wanted to go with him.
"No sir, I certainly don't, and here's the rest of it. I plan to be sound asleep when the mailman comes by. You get your little self up there by the mailbox and give him a good barking. You got that?"
The smile left his face. "Okay Hank, but I sure did want to go exploring."
"That exploring can keep for another day, son." I scratched my gunnysack until it was fluffed up just the way I like it, then I flopped down. What a beautiful feeling! "We tend to business first, Drover, and then if there's any time left, we tend to pleasure. Why do I have to keep telling you that?"
"I don't know, Hank. I forget things." I looked at the runt and shook my head. "You forget things. How can you forget that the mailman comes by here every day at the same time? How can you forget that one of our most important jobs is to bark at him? How can you forget that you're wasting my time and I'm ready to go to sleep?" I noticed that he was staring at my ear.
"What are you staring at?"
"You got three fleas crawling on your ear." They were coming out of my bed. Derned gunnysack was getting a little ripe and needed changing. You’d think the cowboys would notice something like that and give me a fresh cake sack every six months or so, but they can sell ’em back to the Co-op for a nickel apiece, see, and that sort of puts a price on my services.
You never really know these ranch folks until there’s a nickel involved. Give the Head of Ranch Security a five-cent bed every six months? No siree, not with cattle prices the way they are. That new gunnysack just might take the ranch down into bankruptcy.
So if you want to know why my bed was full of fleas, there's your answer. It had nothing to do with my personal hygiene. I bathe in the sewer every single day, I make a sincere effort to keep the sandburs out of my tail, I scratch every flea that shows himself.
In other words, I'm one of the cleanest dogs I ever met except Beulah the collie, and oh, just the mention of her name makes my heart start whammming around in my chest!
How could she love a bird dog when she could have me? What did Plato have that I didn't have? I'll answer that question. Plato was so homely, so pitiful, so incompetent that Beulah felt sorry for him. That's all I could figger. I mean, in a contest of looks, brains, courage, brute strength, or anything else you’d want to mention, Plato came in dead last.
How did I get started on Beulah? I can’t let myself do that and what the heck was I talking about?
I can't remember.
Okay, I've got it now. Fleas. I was discussing fleas. It doesn't matter how careful you are with your personal hygiene, if the ranch executives are too tight to give you a clean gunnysack every six months or so, you’re going to by George come up with fleas, and Drover was correct in saying that I had three of the little devils crawling on my left ear.
Know what I did? I got my hind leg up and went to kicking them fleas, and fellers, I wouldn’t want to be a flea in that situation because my hind legs are very powerful and my claws are just death on fleas.
"I think you got'em," said Drover. "I hope they don't get into my bed."
"Son, when this dog takes after a flea, it needs more than a bed. It needs a cemetery, and that goes for larger animals too. Now I'm going to sleep. Tell me what your assignment is."
He twisted his mouth around and squinted one eye. "Uh . . . let's see . . ."
"Mailman. Mail-MAN. MAIL-man."”
"Bark." He shook his head.
"Bark at . . . bark at . . . mailman bark at . . . bark at the mailman!"
"Very good, Drover. Now, keep saying that to yourself and run up to the road before you forget again."
"Okay, Hank, bark at the mailman." He started off but stopped. "Hank, how come we bark at the mailman?"
I stared at him. "Are you asking why we bark at the mailman?"
"Yeah. If he brings the mail, how come we bark at him?"
"Holy cats, Drover, at your age you're still asking a question like that? Son, if you don’t know the answer by this time, it wouldn’t do any good for me to tell you. Now go on before I lose my temper."
"Okay, Hank. Bark at the mailman, bark at the mailman." And off he went to the mailbox. I settled into my gunnysack and released my grip on the world. But you know what? I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. I kept asking myself, "Why DO we bark at the mailman?"
If you look at it in a certain light, it really doesn’t make much sense. As far back as I can remember, no mailman has ever killed a chicken, robbed a nest, broke into a sack of feed, or done anything worse than deliver the mail. But that right there is one of the primary dangers of having an active, superior type of intelligence. On the one hand, it's necessary for security work. On the other hand, it can come up with foolish questions. Ma used to say that back at the beginning of time, God built a thousand questions but only two hundred and fifty answers, so there you are.
Why do we bark at the mailman? Because, by George, cowdogs have always barked at the mailman and they always will.
And with that out of the way, I went to sleep. It was wonderful, delicious. Geeze, I love sleep. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to lie there with my paws in the air and have dreams that make me twitch. I don’t know what it is that makes twitching dreams special, but they're the very best kind.
So there I was, twitching and rolling my eyes and at peace with the world, dreaming of fresh bloody bones and . . . well, Beulah, when all at once I heard a high-pitched squeal.
"Hank, oh Hank, it's awful, wake up, I'm so scared I can't stand it, wake up!"
One eye popped open. It was a short-haired, stub-tailed white dog, and he was jumping up and down. "Bzelwykqe dkeithsle pclkenck qghbnesl,"
My other eye slid open. "These are my fresh bloody bones and next week's an entirely different matter."