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Title: When everybody knew

Author: Raymond S. Spears

Release date: April 1, 2024 [eBook #73315]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 1928

Credits: Roger Frank and Sue Clark

decorative title text


By Raymond S. Spears

Of course it was easy to understand Patient Bob’s handling of the bad man.

A swaggering monster of a man, with long, tangled black hair, a cascade of blue steel whiskers and sunken caverns for eyes, thundered on thick soled boots into the Many Moons Barroom where he surged with long and eager strides to the center of the three man width of liquid counter. As he approached, those between him and his apparent point of destination spread swiftly to right and left.

“Set ’er up!” he growled, shaking his head, snorting, and turning from side to side till he had surveyed the whole circumference of the establishment with his sunken, glowing eyes.

He drank what looked to be a ridiculously little drink for so huge a carcass; he wriggled all the way down as the tiny shot burned in his throat. He gurgled and choked, as if the drink were in proportion to him, and after four or five fillings of the barrel shaped little glass he reached tentatively for the outflaring yellow handled revolver which was of a size in proportion to his beef. He gave sidelong glances into the big mirrors behind the bar after three or four false alarms with his gun. And he had a drink after each half completed movement. Then suddenly he pulled and let go a shot. He looked around. The bartenders stood with their hands lifted, like squirrels’ paws, and other patrons of the place were skittering without dignity out of the way, drawing toward the front and rear entrances through which the ones who always avoided trouble vanished like mist cloud shadows. The big fellow took some more drinks, and at intervals in a tentative kind of way he let go a booming shot. And presently, when he had reloaded his cylinder twice from loose ammunition in his trousers pockets he threw a pinch of silver on the bar, enough to pay for his drinks, and surged into the square.

There, with his big legs spreading, he weaved and swayed while he looked around. Court House Square of Boxelder was a glow and a sparkle of yellowish lights, with here and there the colors of red, green, blue and sundry hues, the brighter places being saloons, dance halls, gambling places, the most ornate of which had pool and billiard tables imported at enormous cost. Large boxlike buildings were dull—the reputable emporiums of trade, where hardware, food, dry goods and outfits were to be bought.

Swing doors were flashing to the shadows of ingoing or outgoing figures. As he looked around, the big fellow caught flashes of sparkling points, the eyes of humans, shining in the gloom like those of dogs or cats, some green, some golden, some purple.

“I’m Bill of Buck Hill!” the man murmured in his throat, so that it sounded like a growl; and then, louder, “I’m Rearin’ Bill of Buck Hill!”

He looked around rather expectantly, and raised his chin higher, throwing back his head.

“I’m Rearin’ Bill of Big Buck Hill!” he shouted. “I’m two yards wide and nine feet high—Woo-who-o! Woo-who-o!

At that shout—“Woo-who-o!”—men, standing at every bar around the square and all the way down to the Claybank Delight, turned and glanced at one another.

“’Tain’t Texas!” One shook his head. “That’d be e-yeow-w!

“’Tain’t Prairie—hit’d be Hi-i-i-i!

“’Tain’t Rebel—’tain’t Yank.” An old veteran shook his head.

“’Tain’t old Mississip’ shanty boat landing whoop er soundin’ hail.”

“Ner mule skinnin’ cowboy—none of them!” another declared.

“That’s green timber!” a square shouldered, high headed man remarked as he turned a sheet of a weekly paper in the lobby of Squint Legere’s hotel.

“My lan’! He’s bad!” A bystander shook his head. “Y’ c’n tell that—the way he growls— My lan’!”

“Who is he?” some one asked, and another raised a warning hand.

“Cyarful, ol’ man! He’s from Buck Hill. I’ve been t’ Buck Hill. Hit’s way yonder in the head of Snake Creek Bad Lands. My land’! I was glad the sun didn’t set on me up theh; yes, indeedy! He’s Rearin’ Bill—my lan’! Don’t ’tagonise ’im. He comes from a bad country!”

The hoarse, rumbling growling of the man thus identified came around the square in the middle of the street. Horses hitched along the rails turned their heads to look at the phenomenon going by, twitching their tails and snorting a little under their breaths. A dog ran out in the dark from the sidewalk, wagging its tail, yipping as it pranced. Rearing Bill turned and growled at the vagrant beast, and the dog stood on its hind legs in an enthusiastic invitation to come on and play!

Some one laughed in the gloom of a passageway between two saloons. Rearing Bill threw a bullet into that shadow insult and then slammed two shots which sent the dog squealing in creased terror the other way around the square. A man’s yell of alarm rose frantically from the passageway and the clatter of loose boards and the fall of a stack of booming empty kegs reverberated around.

Woo-who-o!” Rearing Bill whooped, and the echoes returned from faces of Bad Land cliffs.

“Lawse, he c’n shore yell!” listeners said in low voices.

As the big fellow shambled nearer, the gamblers around the tables hesitated, the drinkers at the bars held their liquor poised, looking over their shoulders at the front doors; and those with nothing special to divide their attention withdrew to the rear or side entrances. The bartenders, who must perforce stay and take it, wiped their hands on their aprons, their fingers twiddling, all except Flat Face Dink of Squint Legere’s liquid annex. Flat Face Dink lifted the corner of his lips; then he gave the long, red, cherry wood bar an extra dry polish.

“My gracious!” the observing Tid Ricks whispered. “Dink don’t care f’r anybody in the world! He’s all nerve, Dink is! Come the devil himself and Flat Face’d say to him, ‘Name yer pisen, old boy—how’s hell t’day?’ He would, honest! I bet he would.”

A heavy footfall out in front of Legere’s shook the planks till they boomed and creaked. Rearing Bill of Big Buck Hill surged into the middle of the barroom. Tid Ricks shrank into a corner. Patrons along the bar watched anxiously through the mirror reflections. Flat Face Dink deliberately turned his back and stacked up a pyramid of glasses.

“I want pisen!” the newcomer declared, shambling toward the bar, where they gave him ten feet width according to his size, looks and actions.

Flat Face Dink flipped up a quart bottle, tall, straight sided and long necked, and set up a thick, fluted glass to hold two good liquor drinks. Rearing Bill looked at the glass, picking it up.

“Put ’r thar, mister!” Rearing Bill said, enthusiastically. “You got a measure ’cording to the man here—put ’r thar!”

Flat Face Dink colored happily under that praise, and drank with Rearing Bill, something he never did except with the most distinguished of patrons.

Rearing Bill holstered his gun with the stained ivory handles. He was a gentleman among gentlemen, in Squint Legere’s, all on account of the appreciation of Flat Face Dink of the appropriateness of measures for a man, serving glasses according to one’s size. Rearing Bill surged forth into the street again, popped away a couple of times and went on his way.

He began to sing:

“I’m Rearing Bill of Big Buck Hill.
  Snake pisen is my cure.
Of human flesh I eat my fill;
  An’ I takes my whisky pure.”

He ended the verse with a chorus of shots. He aimed at lights, which crashed in broken glass, for he could shoot pretty straight. His gunfire made the horses nervous, and they pranced around. When he was on one side of the square men scurried on the opposite side to remove their mounts, either racing out to the livery barn and corral or down toward Strollers’ Campground on the creek bottom.

Rearing Bill’s horse was built on his own generous scale, but he had begun to ride it when it was too young; and now the beast, which would have been a good draft horse, was a swayback with a tired look in the lop of its ears. When Rearing Bill came by, however, the animal pranced and shook nervously.

Word had been sent to City Marshal Pete Culder, who was out in his home cabin. The messenger said that Rearing Bill from Buck Hill had come to town. At least, the fellow had said he was Rearing Bill and acted as bad as they make them. Culder promised to come right down, but he wasn’t seen by any one on that hectic night.

After shooting up Court House Square the disturber went into saloons and took tentative shots at bottles and glasses. Keen observers noticed that he shot with accuracy. He held his biggest of revolvers with a free, powerful grip which on the pull landed the lead slugs in whatever he aimed at, whether tin lamp base or peak glass on a pyramid of glasses.

Rearing Bill shambled from saloon to saloon. On each circuit he became more uproarious, more exacting in his demands; and when in the Happy Medium a frightened bartender put out a half size whisky glass instead of a double size according to the fashion set by Flat Face Dink, Rearing Bill with a grizzly-like swipe of the muzzle of his gun knocked the unfortunate liquor clerk senseless. He then stood, amused for an instant by the spectacle of the poor devil sprawled limp on the floor.

“Heh!” Rearing Bill snarled. “Cheat me on m’ liquor, eh! Heh!”

He turned, surging to glare from sunken eyes at the white faced onlookers. As he stared at them one by one they all shrank, watchful of the swinging of the carelessly handled revolver, the drunken man’s unsteady finger on the trigger, the hammer drawn back at full cock and the big, powerful paw holding the barrel as steady as a mounted cannon.

There was in Boxelder a shiftless, shaky, friendless hanger-on known as Odd Jobbing Det Linver, a huddled up, raggedly dressed fellow who was kicked around by every one. There had been an interval of ten or fifteen minutes’ quiet when Odd Jobbing Det appeared in Squint Legere’s barroom. The man who had been reading the weekly paper in the lobby laid it on the hotel clerk’s desk and entered the barroom from the lobby just as Det entered from the rear alley, looking anxiously behind him.

Rearing Bill had catfooted, as softly as a grizzly bear on the sneak, into the front entrance. Flat Face Dink looked up with a genial smile of welcome, so the bully grinned widely as he started for the bar. Thus Odd Jobbing Det backed right into the very big fellow he was scared to meet. It was an abrupt collision.

Rearing Bill grunted. He glanced around, stopped and saw the cringing, shrinking wretch who looked up at him with utterly abject fear. For an instant Rearing Bill stared and glared; then he began to grin as he surged at the victim thus thrown in his way. Odd Jobbing Det backed till he was stopped by the wall. Then Rearing Bill cuffed and kicked, abusing the wretched weakling, who blubbered, whimpered, choked and begged. The more he pleaded for mercy the more the bully slapped and poked him with the big revolver.

“I’ve a notion to kill you,” Rearing Bill suggested tentatively, “’sultin’ me thataway. I’ve a notion to cut yer heart out an’ eat it! I’ve a notion to shoot ye—’sultin’ me. Me—bumping into me—walkin’ all over me. I’ve a notion to kill an’ eat ye f’r breakfast—”’

The spectators, shrinking along the walls, edging away, froze with expectancy as they saw the tentative suggestion of murder congealing into determination to kill. Rearing Bill had worked himself up to a fury. He was weaving in savage ferocity. He glanced around, covertly from under his bushy brows, taking in the white faces and the fears in the eyes of the beholders.

“Yes, sir, I’m going t’ kill you!” he suddenly snarled.

But, like a cat playing with a victim Rearing Bill deliberately delayed. Here was a worthless, terror stricken, utterly helpless and friendless victim. Odd Jobbing Det looked his sorry misery and his voice went up in a shrill breaking wail of hopeless terror, for he felt the drunken brute’s determination to “get a man”, establishing a reputation as bad, killing to see a victim kick.

The man who had been reading the paper gazed curiously at the spectacle. He had recognized the whoop of Rearing Bill as that of a green timber woodsman, a logger from the pine, spruce or hemlock belt somewhere. Now he saw the big fellow clearly and, staring at him in surprise, recognized him.

“Why, you damned skunk!” he muttered, just like that, and started straight across the barroom, bare handed.

There was a gasp of amazement among the other spectators. Rearing Bill heard or felt the difference in the echo. He froze for an instant as he cunningly turned his eyes to look out of their corners. He discovered the swift approach of the spectator and turned to look.

Rearing Bill’s face convulsed. A regular gorilla expression of ugliness and cruelty crossed his features. He had clicked his teeth and shaken his tangled mane, fluffing up his steel black whiskers. At sight of the interrupter he shrank in precisely the same way that Odd Jobbing Det had done, and lines of cruel satisfaction changed to the same quivering of terror and pleading.

“I didn’t mean nothing! I didn’t mean nothing! I were jes’ foolin’!” Rearing Bill’s voice rose higher and shriller. “I wa’n’t really goin’ to hurt ’im, Mister Benson! Hones’—honest!”

“You lie!” the other exclaimed, cuffing the big face backhandedly. Under cover of the stinging blow, Benson snatched the huge revolver from the loose grasp of the bully’s hand.

Then with the barrel of the weapon Benson pounded the big fellow across the floor, backward. Rearing Bill yelped, cried out, choked and at last turned to run. Contemptuously, Benson gave him a kick; and then as the bully yelled he fired the big gun at the floor under him so that the huge boots bobbed high and thumped to frantic efforts at escape, crashing out into the night. Outside Rearing Bill raced, plunging to the swayback drayhorse, and he rode furiously away in the dark, heading up Snake Creek.

When he was out of hearing, his nervous yelps lost away in the Bad Land distance, the crowd came back into Squint Legere’s barroom to see what miracle had changed the echo of Rearing Bill’s whoops. They found the other stranger, Benson, unloading Rearing Bill’s revolver of the yellow stained ivory handles. Bystanders whispered excitedly at what this fellow had done, barehanded, right after calling Rearing Bill a skunk.

“My lan’!” Tid Ricks gasped. “I never hoped to see anybody brave as that—my, gracious! He just acted like he wa’n’t ’fraid of nothing in the world, yes, sir! Why, he slapped that big feller ’fore he even took his gun away! It was the nerviest thing anybody eveh did get to see!”

Squint Legere did the honors. Benson just must take a drink.

“I’ll take one,” he assented, “and no more.”

He meant it. No one urged, or even suggested, a second drink. Benson went to the night clerk for his room key. Legere checked him at the foot of the stairs.

“Excuse me,” Legere said. “’Course, I mind my own business—but you knew him?”

“Oh, yes! Went to school together.”

“That so! Back East, I expect?”

“Yes, Minnesota.”

“That makes me think. You’re Benson—Robert Benson,” Legere said, “I see by the register.”

“Oh, yes!”

“Not—uh—not Patient Bob—uh?”

“Why—” the flicker of a reminiscent smile crossed his face—“I’ve been called that—”

“Shu-u!” Squint exclaimed, softly. “’Course, I mind my own business, Mister Benson!”

“’Course, know that. Well, goodnight!”

Squint Legere returned to the bar where he was awaited with interest by a curious crowd.

“He’s Patient Bob,” Squint remarked in a low voice.

“Not —— Say, Patient Bob Benson! Shu-u-u-u!” voices gasped.

“An’ I seen ’im settin’ theh all the ev’ing, reading the paper, cool as you please!” Tid Ricks broke the silence. “Why, he neveh even looked up when that old fourflusher come shootin’ by, no, suh! I seen it with my own eyes. I knowed he was good. Same time I neveh dreamed he was Patient Bob—but when he got to goin’—’course—”

“’Course!” others assented. “Anybody’d knowed, then, he was good!”

Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the July 15, 1928 issue of Adventure magazine.