THE TOUGH GUY
You could not be so very tough in Chippewa, Wisconsin. But Buzz Werner managed magnificently with the limited means at hand. Before he was nineteen mothers were warning their sons against him, and brothers their sisters. Buzz Werner not only was tough—he looked tough. When he spoke—which was often—his speech slid sinisterly out of the extreme left corner of his mouth. He had a trick of hitching himself up from the belt—one palm on the stomach and a sort of heaving jerk from the waist, as a prize fighter does it—that would have made a Van Bibber look rough.
His name was not really Buzz, but quotes are dispensed with because no one but his mother remembered what it originally had been. His mother called him Ernie and she alone, in all Chippewa, Wisconsin, was unaware that her son was the town tough guy. But even she sometimes mildly remonstrated with him for being what she called kind of wild. Buzz had yellow hair with a glint in it, and it curled up into a bang at the front. No amount of wetting or greasing could subdue that irrepressible forelock. A boy with hair like that never grows up in his mother’s eyes.
If Buzz’s real name was lost in the dim mists of boyhood, the origin and fitness of his nickname were apparent after two minutes’ conversation with him. Buzz Werner was called Buzz not only because he talked too much, but because he was a braggart. His conversation bristled with the perpendicular pronoun, and his pet phrase was, “I says to him—”
By the time Buzz was fourteen he was stealing brass from the yards of the big paper mills down in the Flats and selling it to the junk man. How he escaped the reform school is a mystery. Perhaps it was the blond forelock. At nineteen he was running with the Kearney girl.
Twenty-five years hence Chippewa will have learned to treat the Kearney-girl type as a disease, and a public menace. Which she was. The Kearney girl ran wild in Chippewa, and Chippewa will be paying taxes on the fruit of her liberty for a hundred years to come. The Kearney girl was a beautiful idiot, with a lovely oval face, and limpid, rather wistful blue eyes, and fair, fine hair, and a long slim neck. She looked very much like those famous wantons of history, from Lucrezia Borgia to Nell Gwyn, that you see pictured in the galleries of Europe—all very mild and girlish, with moist red mouths, like a puppy’s, so that you wonder if they have not been basely defamed through all the centuries.
The Kearney girl’s father ran a saloon out on Second Avenue, and every few days the Chippewa paper would come out with a story of a brawl, a knifing, or a free-for-all fight following a Saturday night in Kearney’s. The Kearney girl herself was forever running up and down Grand Avenue, which was the main business street. She would trail up and down from the old Armory to the post-office