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"That's My Dill Pickle!"
Charming Billy Boyle was, to put it mildly, enjoying his enforced vacation very much. To tell the plain truth and tell it without the polish of fiction, he was hilariously moistened as to his gullet and he was not thinking of quitting yet; he had only just begun.
He was sitting on an end of the bar in the Hardtip Saloon, his hat as far back on his head as it could possibly be pushed with any hope of its staying there at all. He had a glass in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and he was raking his rowels rhythmically up and down the erstwhile varnished bar in buzzing accompaniment, the while he chanted with much enthusiasm:
"How old is she, Billy boy, Billy boy? How old is she, charming Billy? Twice six, twice seven, Forty-nine and eleven--"
The bartender, wiping the bar after an unsteady sheepherder, was careful to leave a generous margin around the person of Charming Billy who was at that moment asserting with much emphasis:
"She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother."
"Twice-six's-twelve, 'n' twice-seven's-four-r-teen, 'n' twelve 'n' fourteen's--er--twelve--'n'--fourteen--" The unsteady sheepherder was laboring earnestly with the problem. "She ain't no spring chicken, she ain't!" He laughed tipsily, and winked up at the singer, but Billy was not observing him and his mathematical struggles. He refreshed himself from the glass, leaving the contents perceptibly lower--it was a large, thick glass with a handle, and it had flecks of foam down the inside--took a pull at the cigarette and inquired plaintively:
"Can she brew, can she bake, Billy boy, Billy boy? Can she brew, can she bake, charming Billy?"
Another long pull at the cigarette, and then the triumphant declaration:
"She can brew n' she can bake, She can sew n' she can make-- She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother."
"She ain't s' young!" bawled the sheepherder, who was taking it all very seriously. "Say them numbers over again, onc't. Twelve-'n'-fourteen--"
"Aw, go off and lay down!" advised Charming Billy, in a tone of deep disgust. He was about to pursue still farther his inquiry into the housewifely qualifications of the mysterious "young thing," and he hated interruptions.
"Can she make a punkin pie, Billy boy, Billy boy? Can she make a punkin pie, charming Billy?"
The door opened timidly and closed again, but he did not see who entered. He was not looking; he was holding the empty, foam-flecked glass behind him imperatively, and he was watching over his shoulder to see that the bartender did not skimp the filling and make it two-thirds foam. The bartender was punctiliously lavish, so that a crest of foam threatened to deluge the hand of Charming Billy and quite occupied him for the moment. When he squared himself again and buzzed his spurs against the bar, his mind was wholly given to the proper execution of the musical gem.
"She can make a punkin pie, Quick's a cat can wink her eye--"
Something was going on, over in the dimly lighted corner near the door. Half a dozen men had grouped themselves there with their backs to Billy and they were talking and laughing; but the speech of them was an unintelligible clamor and their laughter a commingling roar. Billy gravely inspected his cigarette, which had gone cold, set down the glass and sought diligently for a match.
"Aw, come on an' have one on me!" bawled a voice peremptorily. "Yuh can't raise no wild cattle around this joint, lessen yuh wet up good with whisky. Why, a feller as long as you be needs a good jolt for every foot of yuh--and that's about fifteen when you're lengthened out good. Come on--don't be a damn' chubber! Yuh got to sample m' hospitality. Hey, Tom! set out about a quart uh your mildest for Daffy-down-Dilly. He's dry, clean down to his hand-made socks."
Charming Billy, having found a match, held it unlighted in his fingers and watched the commotion from his perch on the bar. In the very midst of the clamor towered the melancholy Alexander P. Dill, and he was endeavoring to explain, in his quiet, grammatical fashion. A lull that must have been an accident carried the words clearly across to Charming Billy.
"Thank you, gentlemen. I really don't care for anything in the way of refreshment. I merely came in to find a friend who has promised to spend the night with me. It is getting along toward bedtime. Have your fun, gentlemen, if you must--but I am really too tired to join you."
"Make 'im dance!" yelled the sheepherder, giving over the attempt to find the sum of twelve and fourteen. "By gosh, yuh made me dance when I struck town. Make 'im dance!"
"You go off and lay down!" commanded Billy again, and to emphasize his words leaned and emptied the contents of his glass neatly inside the collar of the sheepherder. "Cool down, yuh Ba-ba-black-sheep!"
The herder forgot everything after that--everything but the desire to tear limb from limb one Charming Billy Boyle, who sat and raked his spurs up and down the marred front of the bar and grinned maliciously down at him. "Go-awn off, before I take yuh all to pieces," he urged wearily, already regretting the unjustifiable waste of good beer. "Quit your buzzing; I wanta listen over there."
"Come on 'n' have a drink!" vociferated the hospitable one. "Yuh got to be sociable, or yuh can't stop in this man's town." So insistent was he that he laid violent hold of Mr. Dill and tried to pull him bodily to the bar.
"Gentlemen, this passes a joke!" protested Mr. Dill, looking around him in his blankly melancholy way. "I do not drink liquor. I must insist upon your stopping this horseplay immediately!"
"Oh, it ain't no play," asserted the insistent one darkly. "I mean it, by thunder."
It was at this point that Charming Billy decided to have a word. "Here, break away, there!" he yelled, pushing the belligerent sheepherder to one side. "Hands off that long person! That there's my dill pickle!"
Mr. Dill was released, and Billy fancied hazily that it was because he so ordered; as a matter of fact, Mr. Dill, catching sight of him there, had thrown the men and their importunities off as though they had been rough-mannered boys. He literally plowed his way through them and stopped deprecatingly before Billy.
"It is getting late," he observed, mildly reproachful. "I thought I would show you the way to my room, if you don't mind."
Billy stared down at him. "Well, I'm going to be busy for a while yet," he demurred. "I've got to lick this misguided son-of-a-gun that's blatting around wanting to eat me alive--and I got my eyes on your friend in the rear, there, that's saying words about you, Dilly. Looks to me like I'm going to be some occupied for quite a spell. You run along to bed and don't yuh bother none about me."
"The matter is not so urgent but what I can wait until you are ready," Mr. Dill told him quietly, but with decision. He folded his long arms and ranged himself patiently alongside Billy. And Billy, regarding him uneasily, felt convinced that though he tarried until the sun returned Mr. Dill would stand right there and wait--like a well-broken range-horse when the reins are dropped to the ground. Charming Billy did not know why it made him uncomfortable, but it did and he took immediate measures to relieve the sensation.
He turned fretfully and cuffed the clamorous sheepherder, who seemed to lack the heart for actual hostilities but indulged in much recrimination and was almost in tears. "Aw, shut up!" growled Billy. "A little more uh that war-talk and I'll start in and learn yuh some manners. I don't want any more of it. Yuh hear?"
It is a fact that trifles sometimes breed large events. Billy, to make good his threat, jumped off the bar. In doing so he came down upon the toes of Jack Morgan, the hospitable soul who had insisted upon treating Mr. Dill and who had just come up to renew the argument. Jack Morgan was a man of uncertain temper and he also had toes exceedingly tender. He struck out, missed Billy, who was thinking only of the herder, and it looked quite as though the blow was meant for Mr. Dill.
After that, things happened quickly and with some confusion. Others became active, one way or the other, and the clamor was great, so that it was easily heard down the street and nearly emptied the other saloons.
When the worst of it was over and one could tell for a certainty what was taking place, Charming Billy was holding a man's face tightly against the bar and was occasionally beating it with his fist none too gently. Mr. Dill, an arm's length away, had Jack Morgan and one other offender clutched by the neck in either hand and he was solemnly and systematically butting their heads together until they howled. The bartender had just succeeded in throwing the sheepherder out through the back door, and he was wiping his hands and feeling very well satisfied with himself.
"I'd oughta fired him long ago, when he first commenced building trouble," he remarked, to no one in particular. "The darned lamb-licker--he's broke and has been all evening. I don't know what made me stand for 'im long as I did."
Billy, moved perhaps by weariness rather than mercy, let go his man and straightened up, feeling mechanically for his hat. His eyes met those of the melancholy Mr. Dill.
"If you're quite through"--bang! went the heads--"perhaps we may as well"--bang!--"leave this unruly crowd"--bang!!--"and go to our room. It is after eleven o'clock." Mr. Dill looked as though his present occupation was unpleasant but necessary and as though, to please Billy, he could keep it up indefinitely.
Charming Billy stood quite still, staring at the other and at what he was doing; and while he stared and wondered, something came into the heart of him and quite changed his destiny. He did not know what it was, or why it was so; at the time he realized only a deep amazement that Mr. Dill, mild of manner, correct of speech and wistful-eyed, should be standing there banging the heads of two men who were considered rather hard to handle. Certainly Jack Morgan was reputed a "bad actor" when it came to giving blows. And while Alexander P. Dill was a big man--an enormous man, one might say--he had none of the earmarks of a fighting man. It was, perhaps, his very calmness that won Billy for good and all. Before, Charming Billy had felt toward him a certain amused pity; his instinct had been to protect Mr. Dill. He would never feel just that way again; Mr. Dill, it would seem, was perfectly well able to protect himself.
"Shall we go?" Mr. Dill poised the two heads for another bang and held them so. By this time every one in the room was watching, but he had eyes only for Billy.
"Just as you say," Billy assented submissively.
Mr. Dill shook the two with their faces close together, led them to a couple of chairs and set them emphatically down. "Now, see if you can behave yourselves," he advised, in the tone a father would have used toward two refractory boys. "You have been acting boorishly and disgracefully all evening. It was you who directed me wrong, to-day. You have not, at any time since I first met you, acted like gentlemen; I should be sorry to think this country held many such brainless louts." He turned inquiringly toward Charming Billy and nodded his head toward the door. Billy, stooping unsteadily for his hat which he discovered under his feet, followed him meekly out.
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