Just a simple white star on his forehead, all the rest of him was a beautiful jet black. I still couldn’t believe my luck that I had won him fair and square from that guy on the street. I always wanted a horse like this and now he’s mine, all mine.
The street was still muddy from the severe rainstorm that blew through town last night. Strange night – most people huddled inside the general store until it shut at 6-then everybody over to the bar. Since I ran away from my Dad six months ago, I just hung out wherever men gathered, hoping someone would look kindly on me cause I was youngish, but still strong and willin’ to work hard. I made that clear as soon as I approached people, that I was willin’ to work hard and they didn’t even need to pay me if they could give me a barn to sleep in or somethin’ to eat. It had worked so far, but now I needed to feed Blackjack too and that might be a bit trickier. But, hey, I had a horse now and I could do other kinds of work for people, like plow for them or haul a wagon. I don’t know, but there wasn’t any way that I would reverse what happened that let me win my horse.
I kept going over what happened last night, still in disbelief at the easy way I won him. That guy with long black hair comin up to me and sayin, “Hey, kid, you wanna play me for Blackjack, my horse?”
“Yeah, what do I have to do?” I said eagerly.
“Pick a card from this deck and don’t tell me what it is. Write it down on this here paper and stuff it in your pocket so there’s no cheatin’. Put the card you picked back in the deck and if I get it, you give me everything you got – food, money, hat. If I don’t get it right you get my horse. Whatta you got for money – I like your hat and vest, but what kinda money you got?”
“Just two silver dollars, that’s it and a little bag of biscuits,” I said hoping I didn’t have to give this guy my hat – it was my last present ever from my Dad and even though I hated him I loved the hat and winter was comin and I was gonna need it real bad.
“Ok, you ready – pick a card.”
I pulled out the Jack of Spades, “Black Jack,” I thought to myself – “good omen to win a horse named Blackjack!” I looked at it in the fading light, placed it carefully back in the deck and wrote down “Jack of Spades” on the dirty piece of paper he gave me with a piece of coal to write and stuffed it into my pants pocket.
The guy shuffled and spun around and pulled out the Jack of Clubs. I couldn’t believe the elation rising up from somewhere in my gut to my head.
“No,” I said, pulling out the crumpled piece of paper – “Jack of Spades. I win.”
The guy cursed weakly, threw the reins at me and walked crookedly down the muddy street. Gone in seconds, I picked up the reins and spoke gently to the horse. I never saw the guy again, but the next day guys were talkin in the general store about a drifter who bit the dust last night just a few hundred feet out of town.
I had wanted to give him at least one of my silver dollars and a biscuit, but he disappeared into the blackness so quickly. Maybe his last ditch effort to save himself, was really an attempt to get his horse into good hands, who knows.
Blackjack didn’t have a saddle, but he did have a decent bridle and reins. I pulled out one of my biscuits and gave it to him and he gently nuzzled it into his mouth, grunting his approval. I quickly gave him my other biscuits and led him to the trough of rain water to let him drink his fill.
There would be grass to graze him in the morning, but how I would feed him when the snows came in was more than I could fathom. Montana winters are not for the tame and I knew we were in for it in a couple of weeks.
“You know, I think I’ll ride south and hopefully gain some more grazin land and warmer temperatures, ” Caleb mused. “If we follow the wide ole’ Missouri, I’m told we could get to New Mexico, you wanna do that, huh Blackjack?” Blackjack grunted as if he knew what I meant and was in favor.
As dawn broke with it’s usual incredible golden beauty, Caleb talked to his new friend, “Ok, Jack, do you mind if I drop the Black part of your name and just call you Jack? No, of course you don’t as long as I find us warmer pastures, right?” With that, Caleb pulled Jack over to the wooden steps and mounted him from that vantage point. Jack was broken and took Caleb’s 140 pounds with dignity, and even with no saddle to hold onto, they rode off into the sunrise, both sensing the adventure and the excitement that went with it.
Caleb thought about riding by his Dad’s cabin, but quickly ruled that out. “He’s probably drunk and would shoot me to get my horse, ” Caleb thought – “I’m sayin good bye, Dad – wish I could stop by, but I don’t trust you-Adios papa.”
They weren’t far from the river and Caleb knew the journey was going to be long and hard. At least the river might supply some food, grass, and water for sure to keep them alive.
Caleb saw a calendar as they headed out of town on the barber shop wall as the sunlight lit up the little room. “Hey, Jake, what day is it,” Caleb called in to the shop owner.
“Today is October 21st-good day to play Blackjack,” Jake hollered out – gambling was the big entertainment in this town and Blackjack was the favored game.
The realization hit Caleb like a smack to his forehead- “October 21–it’s my birthday – hey I’m 21 – good day to play Blackjack,” he said to himself, laughing at his own joke.
Blackjack tossed his beautiful head back towards Caleb and they headed south.
“Gonna be a good day for anything, right boy?” Blackjack agreed. “You can bet on it,” Caleb shouted out loud and laughed again at his own joke.