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Red Saunders' Pets and Other Critters

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The Pets

"Of all the worlds I ever broke into, this one's the most curious," said Red. "And one of the curiousest things in it is that I think it's queer. Why should I, now? What put it into our heads that affairs ought to go so and so and so, when they never do anything of the sort? Take any book you read, or any story a man tells you: it runs along about how Mr. Smith made up his mind to do this or that, and proceeded to do it. And that never happened. What Mr. Smith calls making up his mind is nothing more nor less than Mr. Smith's dodging to cover under pressure of circumstances. That's straight. Old Lady Luck comes for Mr. Smith's mind, swinging both hands; she gives it a stem-winder on the ear; lams it for keeps on the smeller; chugs it one in the short ribs, drives right and left into its stummick, and Mr. Smith's mind breaks for cover; then Mr. Smith tells his wife that—he's made up his mind—He, mind you. Wouldn't that stun you?

"Some people would say, 'Mr. Sett and Mr. Burton made up their minds to start the Big Bend Ranch.' All right; perhaps they did, but let me give you an inside view of the factory.

"First off, Billy Quinn, Wind-River Smith, and me were putting up hay at the lake beds. It was a God-forsaken, lonesome job, to say the best of it, and we took to collecting pets, to make it seem a little more like home.

"Billy shot a hawk, breaking its wing. That was the first in the collection. He was a lovely pet. When you gave him a piece of meat he said 'Cree,' and clawed chunks out of you, but most of the time he sat in the corner with his chin on his chest, like a broken-down lawyer. We didn't get the affection we needed out of him. Well, then Wind-River found a bull-snake asleep and lugged him home, hanging over his shoulder. We sewed a flannel collar on the snake and picketed him out until he got used to the place. And around and around and around squirmed that snake until we near got sick at our stummicks watching him. All day long, turning and turning and turning.

"'Darn it,' says I, 'I like more variety.' So that day, when I was cutting close to a timbered slew, out pops an old bob-cat and starts to open my shirt to see if I am her long-lost brother. By the time I got her strangled I had parted with most of my complexion. Served me right for being without a gun. The team run away as soon as I fell off the seat and I was booked to walk home. I heard a squeal from the bushes, and here comes a funny little cuss. I liked the look of him from the jump-off, even if his mother did claw delirious delight out of me. He balanced himself on his stubby legs and looked me square in the eye, and he spit and fought as though he weighed a ton when I picked him up—never had any notion of running away. Well, that was Robert—long for Bob.

"The style that cat spread on in the matter of growing was simply astonishing; he grew so's you could notice it overnight. At the end of two months he was that big he couldn't stand up under our sheet-iron cook-stove, and this was about the beginning of our family troubles....