Western Short Story
The Philosophic Cowboy
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The boy loved his name, Victor Grimes, from the first moment he understood why his father named him so; it was like a wish on his father’s part, and an application on the boy’s destiny, cut and dried, as it were, and as said by so many mingling with us.

His father’s words on the deed, echoing in his head as soon as they had been said, pronounced, announced to him firstly, and then, by all the dangness he could manage, “He’ll be a winner if it takes me to my grave, I vow here and now, dang it!.”

Those words hung on him without fail, because they came so announced, so sudden, so swallowed like a grand meal out on the vast prairie, home of dreams galore, as well as failures by far-reaching numbers; all the way back to the east coast, as history will have it.

“By all the dangness I can muster,” repeated itself, like a charm at work, echoes of the master of thoughts, weekly, daily, nearly hourly on their own. “And your lessons come first of all duties, my son. Your lessons. Don’t learn them, but master them. Make them work for you. You’ll only have this one opportunity to take them right down to your toenails, all of your lessons. Frame them. Make them part of your thinking, your full mind, your life. They’ll pay you back with spades in hand, all the black and bold numbers, all the words you can muster in your lexicon.”

The father addressed all the data to the boy’s able reasoning, all of it, each pause in teaching allowing the ingestion of what had been said, father to son.

If his son didn’t hear them now, which was doubtful, he’d hear them for a long range of his life. Much of life, he was thinking, moves on the energy behind the words that prompt their being said, uttered, whispered. The truth and gentleness of that utterance filled him with reality down to his toes, and him a natural loudmouth of all nature.

We all know some of them, the whisperers, the near-silent advisors in our lives, winners of the time-being, their sole accolade in a singular life; teachers at any level, professors, milkmen who listen at the side door and advise, or an older postman with a bag of mail from the whole world over on some of his lucky days; but not all answerable, replies lost in current events, like an echo getting flat feet in the free air;

the grasp of unanswerable mysteries loose as cannon shot, as wide, their broadcasts each a total of things unknown as yet.

Some of us know lots of pronouncements, their intricate entrances, imposed decisions, the sudden turn of events coming our way, our feeling them on their own grounds, like a stream of homesteaders on the move, ready for most anything in the path, on the trail, below the stars before dawn rushes them off to sleep elsewhere or do what else they always do, no matter where they are, here or there.

Stanton “Mack” Grady came of such lineage on every day of his life after he left home because, soon after, his soul bent one way, his becoming a gunner, a lawman, a crusader for the good life for the good people of the West, the pluggers at work, the makers of towns, the do-ers of deeds, the men of law and teaching, the responsible civil leaders who carried on their own lessons, their own way of life, to those, like the boy, who understood what was said to them.

“Hey, Mack” came the salutations daily to him from his friends or co-workers, “What do you think of this?” or that, at a swift change of thought, and Mack would add his piece of the pie, a chunk of truth, good sense, or a new thought for the day now upon them. He was not a silent man; he had his views on just about any matter, any topic, any current scene that cowboys brought into light in long, daily rides on the flank of a herd of cows or a remuda with speed and stamina galore, the backbone of ranching, of beef on the move, of the national markets for steak at the sizzle just waiting for deliveries, by the absolute hundreds.

Mack, also, was a grand rider of unbroken horses, of the speediest mounts, out on the wide grass of their world of moving cattle from ranch fold to markets sometimes 20-30 days on the drag.

Work, he knew, makes philosophers of long-riders of the circuit; they have tons of hours to think about vast subjects, new-fangled topics, old events now received as news of the day, the cowboys world a slow-moving pace, a thinking pace, questions rising as if from the earth itself, holding more mysteries than they imagined possible, and going as far back as each man could grasp in his limited means..

When gunshots disturbed the slow pace, rustlers making changes in ownerships, leaving a cowboy dead on the flat prairie for an eagle or a hawk or a wolf pack to pick apart, cowboys wondered all about their lives and what spins about them; they have time for thinking, mounting questions as often as their horses are mounted.

Mack could sit in a saloon en route and have his say in the matter, some of the listeners being the best of thieves, rustlers, men outside the law but caught up by the drink of a day, whatever turned up, the good and the bad in the mix, often not able to recall a rustler’s face, a killer’s gun style, a thief’s tone of voice, him thinking all the time, all the time, the questions to be asked, men like Mack with answers right down to the ground level, damned proof of the pudding, puzzle solutions, a language often of their own skill and tone.

Mack, more than once in his long drives, stood at a bar beside a man who might have tried to nab some of his beeves that very week, or at least recently, and neither man knowing the other, except each was seen as a long-rider, a man of the saddle, sun-burned, red in the face, hands rough and dark, neckerchief clutching sweat from a dozen days at a time, knowing each other for what they were but not who they were, but mostly long-riders at a first glance.

“Time and crime,” he’d say at those moments, can wait their moments of proof, the fall from a rustler’s saddle, dead before he hits the ground, life gone elsewhere, slippery as Time on the loose, closing so fast one never knows the difference when it happens.

“Cowboys,” he said more than once at a saloon bar, or at a night fireside, “never see it coming, but know it’s already in the saddle, and that’s not guesswork, ‘cause it’s been told me by sudden demise out there on the wide grass, under stars and moon, or the sun on fire itself.”