The Cowboy And The Critter

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“The Old Sonovabitch don’t need me to practice on no more,” Jean once remarked with a somber, chuckling cough. We were chewing raw turnips and discussing a favorite range topic, the ceaseless activity and energy of the Devil. “There’s plenty more critters left in the corral fer him to rope.” It was the only time I’d ever heard the old man utter anything that savored of self-pity, and at the time I was puzzled and a speck uncomfortable. A few days later he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off. It was an act of neither cowardice nor despair. There was an element of humorous scorn revealed by the gesture that it is impossible for me to depict. He wasn’t defiant, but he didn’t intend to await slow starvation with the onset of winter snows, and he wasn’t going to remain stove up in a Reno hospital, dependent upon the petulant attention of others. He knew that sick people are secretly hated. Jean had plenty of gumption. In his way, he was a hero.