The Story of Rupert Mills
Rupert Mills was a slight man, but for every ounce that he was lacking, he made up for it in grim determination. Most folks in the valley simply avoided Rupert because he was devoid of most things that folks around here ascribed to human decency. His face always had the look of someone that was angry with square set jaw, angry eyes and a furrowed brow. He had short stubby legs and a well muscled chest with arms that had seen the gym daily for the workout regimen. He didn’t have much of a neck, his head seemingly jutted right out of the top of his torso.
I remember one night last fall while down at the saloon with Rupert getting in an argument with an outsider. The outsider, try as he might, to move on and let the issue go, Rupert would have none of it. Finally, when logic would have no sway the larger outsider gave in and the fight was on. The outsider, much larger and more powerful knocked old Rupert to his knees several times but Rupert would get back up in his determined way, putting pain and dizziness out of his little mind and go after the other larger man with a persistence none us had witnessed before. The stranger with his hard hitting big blows and Rupert with his constant little pecking punches. Punches like if you were trying to break a rock with a little hammer, eventually making it shatter or just turning it into dust. So it was with Rupert, peck, peck, pecking away at the larger man until finally the bigger man conceded, running from the bar; unable to stop the little man Rupert Mills. None of us there at the saloon that night said anything after it was over. There was no talking over the fight, and back slapping, it was as if a cold spell had settled in the room. One by one, each of us said our good bye’s and headed to our respective homes.
Rupert had spent a lifetime in the army and due to his persistent manner had achieved the rank of staff sergeant. Some around these parts say that Rupert was drummed out of the army, others said he had just woke up one day and decided he was done, since there was no advancement was in the cards. In any event, Rupert had driven into our little town one day driving an old beat up Chevrolet Pickup.
After spending a week or two looking the area over, he had purchased the old Riley spread, West of town. Rupert mostly just kept to himself, only rarely attending the social gatherings that were a constant part of life here in the Chewacan valley of Oregon. Rupert spent his time raising a few head of cattle some horses and overseeing the scattered homestead properties that made up the old Riley spread, scattered all over the Sycan and the Chewacan valleys.
Little was known about Rupert by the local folks and he did little if anything to change that. Rupert had grown up dirt poor, somewhere back east. His father had been drunk most of his early years with frequent acts of violence of which his mother bore the brunt. As Rupert aged, and gained in size and strength, the violent outbursts from his father became more and more frequent, often involving the entire family. Rupert set his mind on escaping and escape he did, off to the jungles of Vietnam.
Rupert did well in the combat setting, seemingly fearless while in reality it was much like living at home for him. In his own relentless manner, he drove himself on, leaving a trail of destruction where ever he was sent. It mattered little to Rupert what side of the fence you were on, it only mattered that you were in his way and if you were in the way, he was going to overcome, come hell or high water.
Rupert prided himself on being an early riser and this morning was no exception. Being a simple purpose driven man, he quickly consumed his breakfast washed down by black coffee. Cleaning up the few dishes and leaving the kitchen in military order he headed out. Long before the sun was up he was at the corral sizing up the mounts, settling on a big boned half broke thoroughbred, he cut him out from the group, roping and throwing a saddle on him with little care, as one who fancies themselves superior to animals of any nature.
Rupert being a man of grim determination and little thought process, cinched up the saddle and with little more care than stepping on a bug crossing the sidewalk; vaulted aboard, raked his spurs down the flanks of the startled horse, which screaming, snorting and bucking all the while trying to loose this little nasty devil of a man. The horse with wild eyes and the man, Rupert Mills seriously applying the quirt; raced across the meadow that bordered the house and up the side of the ridge. Rupert, still raking the spurs and applying the quirt, the horse running headlong now, up one steep grade and down the other side terror in his eyes and foam coming out of his mouth.
They continued in much the same manner, the big boned roan and the slight little man; the horse driven by the little devil man and the man driven by the demons that inhabited his soul. The more the horse labored, the madder Rupert became, applying the spurs while beating the horse between the ears with his quirt. The horse, covered with sweat, blood flecked foam coming out of it’s nose, running and stumbling up this hill and down the next trying to outrun the terror that was stuck to his back.
This pace continued for some time, until the horse, little suited to this mountain country lost his footing sliding down a long steep and shady slope finally tumbling ass over teakettle, throwing the little man Rupert Mills down, much like you would throw down a dirty shirt, then overtaking him, rolling over and smashing the little man into the gravel and loose rock of the hillside. When they finally came to a rest at the base of the hill, the horse up against a large ponderosa pine with a broken back, front legs wildly thrashing and a look of terror in his eyes then slightly uphill, the little man, broken leg, ribs and madder than seven shades of hell.
It took some time for the little man Rupert Mills to take stock of his situation but being the driven man that he was; Rupert staggered to his feet, not admitting the wave of nausea that swept over him to half stagger half crawl down the hill to stand over the thrashing horse. Rupert looked down on the big boned horse thrashing around in pain at his feet. With a sneer on his lip, Rupert spit a big wad of tobacco in the animal’s face and said, “You crazy assed broom tailed whore of a horse, you ain’t worth the fifty cents to blow your stupid brains out,” before staggering off down the mountain using a large stick for support. Rupert Mills continued on down the mountain without a backwards glance at the terrified horse still thrashing and screaming up the slope.
Not long after leaving the horse to its fate, the sky turned black and it started to snow. Under normal conditions, this would pose no issue to one who was used to spending long hours in the saddle, but with his broken leg, Rupert was in no condition to deal with this change in the weather. Rupert staggered on, with the grim determination that outlined his character, his clothing soaked now, then freezing till it was stiff and hard like saddle leather. Rupert kept moving, finally coming up against a drift fence then following that, now in a daze marching on like an automaton, still unwilling to stop.
Martha Cain was out feeding the stock, throwing the horses and cows a few flakes of hay, before moving onto the chickens to collect some eggs. It was cold and windy out and snow was pelting her face as she made her way from the chicken coop back towards the house. Somewhere behind her, there was a noise and feeling the hair stand up on the back of her neck, she whirled around. There in the falling snow, which was now sticking to everything it touched; she saw a little man, beaten and half frozen standing there in the yard, with rich red blood dripping onto the freshly fallen snow.
She heard him say, “Could I trouble you for a horse?” at which point he crumpled over, amongst the chickens who ran cackling and squawking away, wildly flapping their flightless wings in an attempt to get distance from this little beast. Martha hauled the broken little man into the house, sending John junior to the neighbors to call for an ambulance.
Rupert checked out of the hospital a few days later, never going home to collect his things, he left the valley, never to be seen again. Folks around here often speculate as to what happened to Rupert, usually while having a nip off the jug, sitting by the fire and smoking home rolled cigarettes, that is of course, after taking care of the stock and putting out the horses to roll in the meadow after a long days ride.
NW Outdoor Writer