1, No. 7, Nov. Dec. 1984
The Baying of the Bloodhounds
A Long Note from the Editor: Don’t quote this or anything, but there’s times when skydiving with a factory outlet parachute beats putting out a magazine.
November 7 being a lovely day for selling ads, we editors set out early to catch potential advertisers while they still were cheerful. (Something about listening eight hours at a stretch for the cash register to ring turns even the sunniest business people into walking crab apples.) Aware of Rawhide’s threat of a visit on, coincidentally, annual ad-selling day, we asked Barbara Wyre to fill in at the office. If she couldn’t handle the old rascal there was always the janitor, not that he would do more than panic should the situation really get out of hand, as we had every reason to believe it might. But keep in mind that ads are the life blood of any magazine. When duty calls we do not tarry.
After Rawhide barged in at a quarter till night he was surprised to find Ms. Wyre filing her more than adequate fingernails. A shade under forty, fiercely opinionated, and quite attractive, Barbara comes in hand at proofreading time, and also at letter answering time. But its at letter opening time when she really shines. Zipping those fingernails of hers up in under the upper fold of each envelope, she creates an opening that allows the checks to sail deskward in much the way that maple leaves float to earth in mid-October, only the checks are prettier and far more inspiring.
"Where’s the boss," Rawhide barked. For some reason he couldn’t take his eyes off those nails. "And by the way, Sis, who are you?"
"Barb Wyre. I help out from time to time."
"That’s good, because these birds need all the help they can get, especially right now." Having spoken his piece, and before waiting to hear Ms. Wyre say that they (we) were out for the day, Rawhide stormed into the main office.
Now get this. An officious looking character, with his feet on our desk, was reading the Wall Street Journal. Before he had a chance to fling the stock market page and yell for help, a pair of leathery paws were fastened vise-like around his throat. In his terror all the poor fellow could utter were words of one syllable. Luckily his very name was formed by two one syllable words.
"Lon Churn," he screeched.
Loosening his grip long enough to glare at this quivering specimen of humanity, Rawhide finally muttered, " If you’re Churn, partner, you’d be money ahead to prove it."
"See the moth holes in my tie, sir, and the patches on my knee. Believe me, Mr. Rawhide, it’s me, if me I am, not you who daily needs to check the mirror. Truth to tell, I have this all consuming fear that I am not. At times, I have trouble sleeping for fear the head on the pillow is but an illusion. Oh, believe me, it’s help I need, not more choking."
"Tell you what, Churn. You haul off and slap yourself right good and hard across the cheek. Take a deep breath, then do it again, only this time harder. If by the second slap you feel good old read-blooded American pain coursing through your veins chances are you’re as real as that gal with the nails."
Whap. Pause. WHAP!
"It hurts. Thank God, it hurts," he cried out, as though coming to life at last. If the glow on Lon Churn’s cheek didn’t make him seem half-saintly, the beatific gaze in both eyes, did. Then things went haywire. For almost the fiP!H
rst time in nearly four decades Barbara got her signals crossed. Standing suddenly in the doorway pointing what appeared to be a sawed off shotgun at Rawhide’s digestive tract, she made it clear she thought Rawhide, and not Churn himself, had just attacked Lon Churn.
Another man would have taken up croquet—not Rawhide. Besides, he had a duel for which to prepare.
Upon receiving Rawhide’s challenge, E. Andrew Andrews, Esq. was so positively elated he pushed aside the pheasant under glass and the crystal goblet of champagne and reread the note. He read it again. Would it have made any difference if that wretch Rawhide had known that the gentleman to whom the note was addressed was considered not only the best marksman on the continent but, in fencing, had won the coveted LaBronx, being only the second American to do so. In that flowery penmanship for which he was known, Andrews, Esq. penned a short reply, adding in a postscript that Rawhide might feel free to choose the weapons. In a post-postscript at the bottom of the page he further suggested that someone from the nearest undertaking parlor should be notified "just in case." This message was carried to Rawhide by an idealistic young man who had dropped out of high school to become a professional ginseng hunter and who, being excellent at his work, had effectively managed to put himself out of business.
As the would-be ginseng magnate peered over his shoulder, Rawhide grew pale as he read the note. The tone of the message seemed too self-assured, too cheerful. As for "choosing the weapons," that, too, was puzzling; the undertaking part was, well, spooky. Hmm, thought Rawhide, pressing his fingers steeple-like before his face. Meant as a joke, a little something to make Old Andrews squirm in his linen cuffs, the upcoming "duel" was clearly getting out of hand. Innovation alone could save it. Scrawling his reply on the back of a discarded envelope, Rawhide made clear his intentions: "Rotten eggs at ten paces, with all the frills.
Shaken to the dept of his aristocratic marrow, Andrews, Esq. could not refuse the invitation to meet at the Dueling Oaks for fear of forfeiting the LaBronx. Never! He would, alas, meet the scoundrel at the appointed time and would endure the indignity all for the sake of honor. Only the elite know true suffering.
As the sun cleared the low hills of a county that shall remain nameless, bathing the uplands in pearl and amethyst, Andrews, Esq. stepped forward. Following behind at exactly three paces was the portly and threadbare Effen Wynne. A noted optimist, Wynne had years before bade farewell to middle age, remarking at the time that if death wasn’t such a good deal, why was there so much of it? Lined with red velvet, the basket he carried contained thirteen oversized goose eggs, each one ripe almost to bursting.
Facing the two men across the knoll stood Rawhide, and behind him, wearing a red scarf to hide the choke marks, was the newly dynamic Lon Churn. All but filling the oaken basket Churn clutched with such vigor were thirteen spheres of rottenness, compliments of Lon Churn’s setting hens.
The sun continued to rise. The birds ceased their twittering. As they had previously agreed, Andrews, Esq. and Rawhide met in the center of the park-like area, turned. Backs each to the other, they walked slowly that long few years until their seconds, in unison, counted one, two, three…At the count of four each man stood before his basket. Suddenly, in a single voice, Churn and Wynne cried: "FIRE AWAY!"
Crashing into lip, chin, and forehead came missiles from the depths of hens and geese. Again, they flew these fetid orbs, mimicking the comets that arc through the night before fizzing out into nothingness. Like the final dinosaurs in some decaying woodland, the two combatants ignored direct hits—and there were many—long enough to hurl another egg. Splash unspeakable was answered by unspeakable splash.
No sooner had the last egg sped through the growing light only to connect with Rawhide’s remaining front tooth, thus giving him that last taste of humiliation, than the sheriff and his deputies came stomping through the underbrush. "You’re all under arrest," boomed the beefy lawman though what appeared to be a megaphone. The duel was now history but the drama continued.
For fear his silken blue-green vest might get ripped by the briars were he to flee, the aromatic Andrews, Esq. surrendered on the spot. Before we leave him to the cold and dank of the county jail, let it be said that except for no more pheasant under glass and such, the aristocrat fared rather well in confinement. So much in demand were his card tricks, our would-be king was treated by other prisoners with such consideration it was all he could do not to bring up that Belgium business again. Farewell, E. Andrew Andrews, Esq. until we meet again.
But what about Rawhide: Briars meant nothing to him, of course, nor the stigma of being a fugitive from justice. That dueling happened to be against the law was no big deal, either. (Being an avid reader of Springhouse, the good sheriff got wind of the pending confrontation weeks before and laid his trap accordingly. That eggs were used instead of Toledo steel or polished pistols was irrelevant. What mattered was Rawhide’s printed challenge. In light of that document both men could have tossed marshmallows underhanded at each other while wearing blindfolds and still be held accountable to Mother Justice in Illinois. Such is the law.
Permit a weary editor to do some projecting, calendar wise. The mind’s eye reveals the first Annual Springhouse Christmas Party. Lon Churn is cracking jokes to a giggling Barb Wyre while the rest of us are kept busy trying to forget all the brushes with disaster that marked our first tumultuous year. Now, using her long and glittering nails with great effect, Barb begins to open the presents. Somewhere between the ahs ("My, what gorgeous socks" and "What I’ve always wanted, a branding iron"), someone mentions hearing bugles in the distance.
"No," says Churn, hand to ear, "that must be the sheriff’s bloodhounds hot on Mr. Rawhide’s trail. God bless him, quirks and all."
As the four-legged detectives near their quarry, our editorial eye envisions a somewhat tattered, and quite torn backwoodsman clawing his way up the frosty stones of Froststone Ridge, which looms a good mile and a half to the southeast. Battered, bruised, but still defiant, Rawhide reaches the crest of the hill, peers into the distance, perhaps toward us. Tiny lights from scattered houses tell the tale of Yule Tide celebrations, of punch and candy, and of presents with pretty bows. Not for the fugitive these niceties marking mankind’s brief sojourn upon this planet. No, for him only the coyotes’ melancholy yowling and his belly’s own even more melancholy growling. A tear rolls down his left cheek. Remembering who he is and what he stands for, the aging rebel quickly wipes the stain away. No need to worry about further lapses of the tearful sort, for the bloodhounds are closing in , their voices bugling his doom. One by one, he will hurl the beasts from the cliffs. Finally, too many at once or, perhaps, a few Dobermans along for the chase will take him over the side as well. And there it will end.
Maybe not, though, maybe not. After all, it’s not just another rag-tag law violator the dogs and deputies are chasing, but a man who, on principle, would rather defy all the statutes, and hack a path though all the red tape, blue tape, and perforated polka dot tape than give one inch to—the very word sets his teeth on edge—"society."
There is a little of Rawhide in all of us, and a lot of Rawhide in a few of us, but the man himself is so full of himself he can no more cease being himself than the approaching bloodhounds can don straw hats and become tap dancers.
So ends the Rawhide Chronicles for 1984.
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