Sunday, February 4, 2018

'The groundhog was now a perfect philosopher, incapable of contemplating either good or evil.'

The hero of William Ransom's only credited pulp story, "The Texas Kind" (Western Short Stories, June 1955) has a grudge against the groundhog whose hole his horse stepped into, leaving young Larribee without a ride. He'd considered killing the critter until a horse trader happened along. Later, as part of the negotiation for a "sorrel crowbait," he blows the groundhog's head off. "The varmint hadn't even looked surprised," the narrator observes, "because by the time it should have looked surprised it didn't have anything left to look surprised with." That brings the price down by half, from eighty to forty dollars, but to no reader's surprise Larribee has bought a stolen horse, and that puts him on the bad side of the real owners, the Underwoods, father and daughter, who dominate the territory. Larribee is philosopher enough (albeit imperfect by groundhog standards) to talk sass to the daughter, Audrey, while she has a gun trained on him. "You've got an awful temper for a such a good-lookin' heifer," he charms, "Kind of a pert shape, too." Luckily, he convinces the Underwoods that he bought the animal in good faith and is allowed to leave their land alive, if on foot and without bullets in his gun. He falls in with some understandably disgruntled neighbors of the arrogant, water-monopolizing Underwoods, but quickly realizes that they're even worse in their murderous intentions toward the ranchers. Nor does it help their case that he recognizes the thief who sold him that horse in their ranks. He and we might feel that the Underwoods deserve some humbling, but the insurgents go predictably overboard, scheming to kill both father and daughter in the explosion of their dam, and Larribee finally has to put his foot down. Ransom himself goes overboard a bit with that climax, but I rather liked the often sardonic tone of the story as a whole. Ransom most likely was a pseudonym for another contributor or the editor, but I wonder whether Google was right when it answered my search for William Ransom with listings for William Ransom Hogan, a University of Oklahoma professor who published a history of the Texas republic in 1946 and later co-authored the flamboyantly titled The Barber of Natchez, Wherein a Slave is Freed and Rises to a Very High Standing: Wherein the Former Slave Writes a Two-thousand-page Journal about His Town and Himself; Wherein the Free Negro Diarist is Appraised in Terms of His Friends, His Code, and His Community's Reaction to His Wanton Murder. Someone who came up with a title like that could well have a pulp story in him.

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