Part 1 out of 3
B. M. BOWER
Author of "Chip of the Flying U", "Rim O' the World", "Cow-Country", etc.
[Illustration: Casey reached for his pocket, and the white man also
reached for his. FRONTISPIECE. _See page_ 237.]
From Denver to Spokane, from El Paso to Fort Benton, men talk of Casey
Ryan and smile when they speak his name. Old men with the flat tone of
coming senility in their voices will suck at their pipes and cackle
reminiscently while they tell you of Casey's tumultuous youth--when he
drove the six fastest horses in Colorado on the stage out from Cripple
Creek, and whooped past would-be holdups with a grin of derision on his
face and bullets whining after him and passengers praying disjointed
prayers and clinging white-knuckled to the seats.
They say that once a flat, lanky man climbed bareheaded out at the stage
station below the mountain and met Casey coming springily off the box with
whip and six reins in his hand. The lanky man was still pale from his
ride, and he spluttered when he spoke:
"Sa-ay! N-next time you're held up and I'm r-ridin' with yuh, b-by gosh,
you s-_stop_. I-I'd ruther be shot t-than p-pitched off into a
c-canyon, s-somewhere a-and busted up!"
Casey is a little man. When he was young he was slim, but he always has
owned a pale blue, unwinking squint which he uses with effect. He halted
where he was and squinted up at the man, and spat fluid tobacco and
"You're here, and you're able to kick about my drivin'. That's purty good
luck, I'd say. You _ain't_ shot, an' you ain't layin' busted in no canyon.
Any time a man gits shot outa Casey Ryan's stage, he'll have to jump out
an' wait for the bullet to ketch up. And there ain't any passengers offn'
this stage layin' busted in no canyon, neither. I bring in what I start
The other man snorted and reached under his coat tail for the solacing
plug of chewing tobacco. Opposition and ridicule had brought a little
color into his face.
"Why, hell, man! You--you come around that ha-hairpin turn up there on two
wheels! It's a miracle we wasn't--"
"Miracles is what happens once and lets it go at that. Say! Casey Ryan
_always_ saves wear on a coupla wheels, on that turn. I've made it on one;
but the leaders wasn't runnin' right to-day. That nigh one's cast a shoe.
I gotta have that looked after." He gave up the reins to the waiting
hostler and went off, heading straight for the station porch where waited
a red-haired girl with freckles and a warm smile for Casey.
That was Casey's youth; part of it. The rest was made up of fighting,
gambling, drinking hilariously with the crowd and always with his temper
on hair trigger. Along the years behind him he left a straggling
procession of men, women and events. The men and women would always know
the color of his eyes and would recognize the Casey laugh in a crowd,
years after they had last heard it; the events were full of the true Casey
flavor,--and as I say, when men told of them and mentioned Casey, they
From the time when his daily drives were likely to be interrupted by
holdups, and once by a grizzly that reared up in the road fairly under the
nose of his leaders and sent the stage off at an acute angle, blazing a
trail by itself amongst the timber, Casey drifted from mountain to desert,
from desert to plain and back again, blithely meeting hard luck face to
face and giving it good day as if it were a friend. For Casey was born an
optimist, and misfortune never quite got him down and kept him there,
though it tried hard and often, as you will presently see. Some called him
gritty. Some said he hadn't the sense to know when he was licked. Either
way, it made a rare little Irishman of Casey Ryan, and kept his name from
becoming blurred in the memories of those who once knew him.
So in time it happened that Casey was driving a stage of his own from
Pinnacle down to Lund, in Nevada, and making boast that his four horses
could beat the record--the month's record, mind--of any dog-gone
auty-_mo_-bile that ever infested the trail. Infest is a word that Casey
would have used often had he known its dictionary reputation. Having been
deprived of close acquaintance with dictionaries, but having a facile
imagination and some creative ability, Casey kept pace with progress and
invented words of his own which he applied lavishly to all automobiles;
but particularly and emphatically he applied the spiciest, most colorful
ones to Fords.
Put yourself in Casey's place, and you will understand. Imagine yourself
with a thirty-mile trip to make down a twisty, rough mountain road built
in the days when men hauled ore down the mountain on wagons built to bump
over rocks without damage to anything but human bones. You are Casey Ryan,
remember; you never stopped for stage robbers or grizzlies in the past,
and you have your record to maintain as the hardest driver in the West.
You are proud of that record, because you know how you have driven to earn
You pop the lash over the ears of your leaders and go whooping down a
long, straight bit of road where you count on making time. When you are
about halfway down and the four horses are running even and tugging
pleasantly at the reins, and you are happy enough to sing your favorite
song, which begins,
"Hey, ole Bill! Can-n yuh play the fiddle-o?
Yes, by gosh! I--I--kin play a liddle-o--"
and never gets beyond that one flat statement, around the turn below you
comes a Ford, rattling all its joints trying to make the hill on "high."
The driver honks wildly at you to give him the road--you, Casey Ryan!
Wouldn't you writhe and invent words and apply them viciously to all Fords
and the man who invented them? But the driver comes at you honking,
squawking,--and you turn out.
You have to, unless the Ford does; and Fords don't. A Ford will send a
twin-six swerving sharply to the edge of a ditch, and even Casey Ryan must
swing his leaders to the right in obedience to that raucous command.
Once Casey didn't. He had the patience of the good-natured, and for awhile
he had contented himself with his vocabulary and his reputation as a
driver and a fighter, and the record he held of making the thirty miles
from Pinnacle to Lund in an hour and thirty-five minutes, twenty-six days
in the month. (He did not publish his running expenses, by the way, nor
did he mention the fact that his passengers were mostly strangers picked
up at the railway station at Lund because they liked the look of the
picturesque four-horses-and-Casey stagecoach.)
Once Casey refused to turn out. That morning he had been compelled to wait
and whip a heavy man who berated Casey because the heavy man's wife had
ridden from Pinnacle to Lund the day before and had fainted at the last
sharp turn in the road and had not revived in time to board the train for
Salt Lake which she had been anxious to catch. Casey had known she was
anxious to catch the train, and he had made the trip in an hour and
twenty-nine minutes in spite of the fact that he had driven the last mile
with a completely unconscious lady leaning heavily against his left
shoulder. She made much better time with Casey than she would have made on
the narrow-gauge train which carried ore and passengers and mail to Lund,
arriving when most convenient to the train crew. That it took half an hour
to restore her to consciousness was not Casey's fault.
Casey had succeeded in whipping the heavy man till he hollered, but the
effort had been noticeable. Casey wondered uneasily whether by any chance
he, Casey Ryan, was growing old with the rest of the world. That
possibility had never before occurred to him, and the thought was
disquieting. Casey Ryan too old to lick any man who gave him cause, too
old to hold the fickle esteem of those who met him in the road? Casey
squinted belligerently at the Old-man-with-the-scythe and snorted. "I
licked him good. You ask anybody. And he's twice as big as I am. I guess
they's a good many years left in Casey Ryan yet! Giddap, you--thus-and-so!
We're ten minutes late and we got our record!"
At that moment a Ford touring car popped around the turn below him and
squawked presumptuously for a clear passage ahead. Casey pulled his lash
off the nigh leader, yelled and charged straight down the road. Did they
think they could honk him off the road? Hunh! Casey Ryan was still Casey
Ryan. Never again would he turn out for man or devil.
Wherefore Casey was presently extricating his leaders from the harness of
his wheelers ten feet below the grade. On the road above him the driver of
the Ford inspected bent parts and a smashed headlight and cranked and
cranked ineffectively, and swore down at Casey Ryan, who squinted
unblinkingly up under his hatbrim at the man he likewise cussed.
They were a long while there exchanging disagreeable opinions of one
another, and Casey was even obliged to climb the steep bank and whip the
driver of the Ford because he had applied a word to Casey which had never
failed as automatic prelude to a Casey Ryan combat. Casey was frankly
winded when he finally mounted one of his horses and led the other three,
and so proceeded to Lund as mad as he had ever been in his life.
"That there settles it final," he snorted, when the town came into view in
the flat below. "They've pushed Casey off'n the grade for the first time
and the last time. What pushin' and crowdin' and squawkin' is done from
now on, it'll be Casey Ryan doin' it! Faint! I'll learn 'em something to
faint about. If it's Fords goin' to run horses off'n the trail, you watch
how Casey Ryan'll drive the livin' tar outa one. Dog-gone 'em, there ain't
no Ford livin' that can drive Casey off'n the road. I'll drive 'em till
their tongues hang out. I'll make 'em bawl like a calf, and I'll pound 'em
on the back and make 'em fan it faster."
So talking to himself and his team he rode into town and up to one of
those ubiquitous Ford agencies that write their curly-tailed blue
lettering across the continent from the high nose of Maine to the shoulder
of Cape Flattery.
"Gimme one of them dog-goned blankety bing-bing Ford auty-_mo_-biles," he
commanded the garage owner who came to meet Casey amiably in his shirt
sleeves. "Here's four horses I'll trade yuh, with what's left of the
harness. And up at the third turn you'll find a good wheel off'n the
stage." He slid down from the sweaty back of his nigh leader and stood
slightly bow-legged and very determined before the garage owner, Bill
"Wel-l--there ain't much sale for horses, Casey. I ain't got any place to
keep 'em, nor any feed. I'll sell yuh a Ford on time, and--"
Casey glanced over his shoulder to make sure the horses were standing
quiet, dropped the reins and advanced upon Bill.
"You _trade_," he stated flatly.
Bill backed a little. "Oh, all right, if that's the way yuh feel. What yuh
askin' for the four just as they stand?"
"Me? A Ford auty-_mo_-bile. I told yuh that, Bill. And I want you to put
on the biggest horn that's made; one that can be heard from here to
Pinnacle and back when I turn 'er loose. And run the damn thing out here
right away and show me how it works, and how often you gotta wind it and
when. Lucky I didn't bring no passengers down--I was runnin' empty. But I
gotta take back a load of Bohunks to the Bluebird this afternoon, and my
stage, she's a total wreck. I'll sign papers to-night if you got any to
Thus was the trade effected with much speed and few preliminaries, because
Bill knew Casey Ryan very intimately and had seen him in action when his
temper was up. Bill adjusted an extra horn which he happened to have in
stock. One of those terrific things that go far toward making the life of
a pedestrian a nerve-racking succession of startles. Casey tried it out on
himself before he would accept it. He walked several doors down the street
with the understanding that Bill would honk at him when he was some little
distance away. Bill waited until Casey's attention was drawn to a lady
with thick ankles who was crossing the street in a hurry and a stiff
breeze. Bill came down on the metal plunger of the horn with all his
might, and Casey jumped perceptibly and came back grinning.
"She'll do. What'll put a crimp in Casey Ryan's spine is good enough for
anybody. Bring her out here and show me how yuh work the damn thing. Guess
she'll hold six Bohunks, won't she--with sideboards on? I'll run 'er
around a coupla times b'fore I start out--and that's all I will do."
Naturally the garage man was somewhat perturbed at this nonchalant manner
of getting acquainted with a Ford. He knew the road from Lund to Pinnacle.
He had driven it himself, with a conscious sigh of relief when he had
safely negotiated the last hair-pin curve; and Bill was counted a good
driver. He suggested an insurance policy to Casey, not half so jokingly as
he tried to sound.
Casey turned and gave him a pale blue, unwinking stare. "Say! Never you
mind gettin' out insurance on _this_ auty-_mo_-bile. What you wanta do is
insure the cars that's liable to meet up with me in the trail."
Bill saw the sense of that, too, and said no more about insuring Casey. He
drove down the canyon where the road is walled in on both sides by cliffs,
and proceeded to give Casey a lesson in driving. Casey did not think that
he needed to be taught how to drive. All he wanted to know, he said, was
how to stop 'er and how to start 'er. Bill needn't worry about the rest of
"She's darn tender-bitted," he commented, after two round trips over the
straight half-mile stretch,--and fourteen narrow escapes. "And the man
that made 'er sure oughta known better than to make 'er neck rein in
harness. And I don't like this windin' 'er up every time you wanta start.
But she can sure _go_--and that's what Casey Ryan's after every day in the
"All right, Bill. I'll go gather up the Bohunks and start. You better
'phone up to Pinnacle that Casey's on the road--and tell 'em he says it's
his road's long's he's on it. They'll know what I mean."
Pinnacle did know, and waited on the sidewalk that afforded a view of the
long hill where the road curled down around the head of the gulch and into
town. Much sooner than his most optimistic backers had a right to expect--
for there were bets laid on the outcome there in Pinnacle--on the brow of
the hill a swirl of red dust grew rapidly to a cloud. Like a desert
whirlwind it swept down the road, crossed the narrow bridge over the deep
cut at the head of the gulch where the famous Youbet mine belched black
smoke, and rolled on down the steep, narrow little street.
Out of the whirlwind poked the pugnacious little brass-rimmed nose of a
new Ford, and behind the windshield Casey Ryan grinned widely as he swung
up to the postoffice and stopped as he had always stopped his four-horse
stage,--with a flourish. Stopping with a flourish is fine and spectacular
when you are driving horses accustomed to that method and on the lookout
for it. Horses have a way of stiffening their forelegs and sliding their
hind feet and giving a lot of dramatic finish to the performance. But
there is no dramatic sense at all in the tin brain of a Ford. It just
stopped. And the insecure fourth Bohunk in the tonneau went hurtling
forward into the front seat straight on his way through the windshield.
Casey threw up an elbow instinctively and caught him in the collar button
and so avoided breakage and blood spattered around. Three other foreigners
were scrambling to get out when Casey stopped them with a yell that froze
them quiet where they were.
"Hey! You stay right where y'are! I gotta deliver yuh up to the Bluebird
in a minute."
There were chatterings and gesticulations in the tonneau. Out of the
gabble a shrill voice rose be-seechingly in English. "We will _walk_,
meester'. If you _pleese_, meester! We are 'fraid for ride wit' dees
Casey was nettled by the cackling and the thigh-slapping of the audience
on the sidewalk. He reached for his stage whip, and missing it used his
ready Irish fists. So the Bohunks crawled unhappily back into the car and
subsided shivering and with tears in their eyes.
"Dammit, when I take on passengers to ride, they're goin' to _ride_ till
they git there. You shut up, back there!"
A friend of Casey's stepped forward and cranked the machine, and Casey
pulled down the gas lever until the motor howled, turned in the shortest
possible radius and went lunging up the crooked steep trail to the
Bluebird mine on top of the hill, his engine racing and screaming in low.
Thereafter Pinnacle and Lund had a new standard by which to measure the
courage of a man. Had he made the trip with Casey Ryan and his new Ford?
He _had_? By golly, he sure had nerve. One man passed the peak for sheer
bravery and rode twice with Casey, but certain others were inclined to
disparage the feat, on the ground that on the second trip he was drunk.
Casey did not like that. He admitted that he was a hard driver; he had
always been proud because men called him the hardest driver in the West.
But he argued that he was also a safe driver, and that they had no
business to make such a fuss over riding with him. Didn't he ride after
his own driving every day of his life? Had he ever got killed? Had he ever
killed anybody else? Well! What were they all yawping about, then?
Pinnacle and Lund made him tired.
"If you fellers think I can't bounce that there tin can down the road fast
as any man in the country, why don't yuh pass me on the road? You're
welcome. Just try it."
No one cared to try, however. Meeting him was sufficiently hazardous.
There were those who secretly timed their traveling so that they would not
see Casey Ryan at all, and I don't think you can really call them cowards,
either. A good many had families, you know.
Casey had an accident now and then; and his tire expense was such as to
keep him up nights playing poker for money to support his Ford. You simply
can't whirl into town at a thirty-mile gait--I am speaking now of
Pinnacle, whose street was a gravelly creek bed quite dry and ridgy
between rains--and stop in twice the car's length without scouring more
rubber off your tires than a capacity load of passengers will pay for.
Besides, you run short of passengers if you persist in doing it. Even the
strangers who came in on the Salt Lake line were quite likely to look once
at the cute little narrow-gauge train with its cunning little day coach
hitched behind a string of ore cars, glance at Casey's Ford stage with
indifference and climb into the cunning day coach for the trip to
Pinnacle. The psychology of it passed quite over Casey's head, but his
pocket felt the change.
In two weeks--perhaps it was less, though I want to be perfectly just--
Casey was back, afoot and standing bow-legged in the doorway of Bill
Master's garage at Lund.
"Gimme another one of them Ford auty-_mo_-biles," he requested, grinning a
little. "I guess mebby I oughta take two or three--but I'm a little short
right now, Bill. I ain't been gitting any good luck at poker, lately."
Bill asked a question or two while he led Casey to the latest model of
Fords, just in from the factory.
Casey took a chew of tobacco and explained. "Well, I had a bet up, y'see.
That red-headed bartender in Pinnacle bet me a hundred dollars I couldn't
beat my own record ten minutes on the trip down. I knowed I could, so I
took him up on it. A man would be a fool if he didn't grab any easy money
like that. And so I pounded 'er on the tail, coming down. And I had eight
minutes peeled off my best time, and then Jim Black he had to go git in
the road on that last turn up there. We rammed our noses together and I
pushed him on ahead of me for fifty rods, Bill--and him yelling at me to
quit--but something busted in the insides of my car, I guess. She give a
grunt and quit. All right, I'll take this one. Grease her up, Bill. I'll
eat a bite before I take her up."
You've no doubt suspected before now that not even poker, played
industriously o' nights, could keep Casey's head above the financial
waters that threatened to drown him and his Ford and his reputation. Casey
did not mind repair bills, so long as he achieved the speed he wanted. But
he did mind not being able to pay the repair bills when they were
presented to him. Whatever else were his faults, Casey Ryan had always
gone cheerfully into his pocket and paid what he owed. Now he was haunted
by a growing fear that an unlucky game or two would send him under, and
that he might not come up again.
He began to think seriously of selling his car and going back to horses
which, in spite of the high cost of feeding them, had paid their way and
his, and left him a pleasant jingle in his pockets. But then he bumped
hard into one of those queer little psychological facts which men never
take into account until it is too late. Casey Ryan, who had driven horses
since he could stand on his toes and fling harness on their backs, could
not go back to driving horses. The speed fiend of progress had him by the
neck. Horses were too slow for Casey. Moreover, when he began to think
about it, he knew that the thirty-mile stretch between Pinnacle and Lund
had become too tame for him, too monotonous. He knew in the dark every
twist in the road, every sharp turn, and he could tell you offhand what
every sharp turn had cost him in the past month, either in repairs to his
own car or to the car that had unluckily met him without warning. For
Casey, I must tell you, habitually forgot all about that earsplitting
klaxon at his left elbow. He was always in too much of a hurry to blow it;
and anyway, by the time he reached a turn, he was around it; there either
was no car in the road or Casey had scraped paint off it or worse and gone
on. So why honk?
Far distances called Casey. In one day, he meditated, he could cover more
desert with his Ford than horses could travel in a week. An old,
half-buried passion stirred, lifted its head and smiled at him
seductively,--a dream he had dreamed of finding some of that wealth which
Nature holds so miser-like in her hills. A gold mine, or perhaps silver or
copper,--what matter which mineral he found, so long as it spelled wealth
for him? Then he would buy a bigger car and a faster car, and he would
bore farther and farther into yonder. In his past were tucked away months
on end of tramping across deserts and up mountain defiles with a packed
burro nipping patiently along in front of him and this same, seductive
dream beckoning him over the next horizon. Burros had been slow. While he
hurtled down the road from Pinnacle to Lund, Casey pictured himself
plodding through sand and sage and over malapai and up dry canyons, hazing
a burro before him.
"No, sir, the time for that is gone by. I could do in a week now what it
took me a month to do then. I could get into country a man'd hate to
tackle afoot, not knowing the water holes. I'll git me a radiator that
don't boil like a teakettle over a pitch fire, and load up with water and
grub and gas, and I'll find the Injun Jim mine, mebby. Or some other darn
mine that'll put me in the clear the rest of my life. Couldn't before,
because I had to travel too slow. But shucks! A Ford can go anywhere a
mountain goat can go. You ask anybody."
So Casey sold his stage line and the hypothetical good will that went with
it, and Pinnacle and Lund breathed long and deep and planned trips they
had refrained from taking heretofore, and wished Casey luck. Bill Masters
laid a friendly hand on his shoulder and made a suggestion so wise that
not even Casey could shut his mind against it.
"You're starting out where there won't be no Bill handy to fix what you
bust," he pointed out. "You wait over a day or two, Casey, and let me show
yuh a few things about that car. If you bust down on the desert you'll
want to know what's wrong, and how to fix it. It's easy, but you got to
know where to look for the trouble."
"Me? Say, Bill, I never had to go lookin' for trouble," Casey grinned.
"What do I need to learn how for?"
Nevertheless he remained all of that day with Bill and crammed on
mechanics. He was amazed to discover how many and how different were the
ailments that might afflict a Ford. That he had boldly--albeit
unconsciously--driven a thing filled with timers, high-tension plugs that
may become fouled and fail to "spark," carburetors that could get out of
adjustment (whatever that was) spark plugs that burned out and had to be
replaced, a transmission that absolutely _must_ have grease or something
happened, bearings that were prone to burn out if they went dry of oil,
and a multitude of other mishaps that could happen and did happen if one
did not watch out, would have filled Casey with foreboding if that were
possible. Being an optimist to the middle of his bones, he merely felt a
growing pride in himself. He had actually driven all this aggregation of
potential internal grief! Whenever anything had happened to his Ford
auty-_mo_-bile between Pinnacle and Lund, Casey never failed to trace the
direct cause, which had always been external rather than internal, save
that time when he had walked in and bought a new car without out probing
into the vitals of the other.
"I'd ruther have a horse down with glanders," he sighed, when Bill finally
washed the grease off his hands and forearms and rolled down his sleeves.
"But Casey Ryan's game to try anything once, and most things the second
and third time. You ask anybody. Gimme all the hootin'-annies that's
liable to wear out, Bill, and a load uh tires and patches, and Casey'll
come back and hand yuh a diamond big as your fist, some day. Ole Lady
Trouble's always tryin' to take a fall outa me, but she's never got me
down so't I had to holler 'nough. You ask anybody. Casey Ryan's goin' out
to see what he can see. If he meets up with Miss Fortune, he'll tame her,
Bill. And this little Ford auty-_mo_-bile is goin' to eat outa my hand. I
don't give a cuss if she does git sore and ram her spark plugs into her
carburetor now and agin. She'll know who's boss, Bill. I learnt it to the
burros, and what you can learn a burro you can learn a Ford, take time
Taking that point of view and keeping it, Casey managed very well.
Whenever anything went wrong that his vocabulary and a monkey wrench could
not mend, Casey sat down on the shadiest running board and conned the
Instruction Book which Bill handed him at the last minute. Other times he
treated the Ford exactly as he would treat a burro, with satisfactory
Away out on the high mesas that are much like the desert below, except
that the nights are cool and the wind is not fanned out of a furnace,
Casey fought sand and brush and rocks and found a trail now and then which
he followed thankfully, and so came at last to a short range of mountains
whose name matched well their inhospitable stare. The Starvation Mountains
had always been reputed rich in mineral and malevolent in their attitude
toward man and beast. Even the Joshua trees stood afar off and lifted
grotesque arms defensively against them. But Casey was not easily daunted,
and eerie places held for him no meaning save the purely material one. If
he could find water and the rich vein of ore some one had told him was
there, then Casey would be happy in spite of snakes, tarantulas and
sinister stories of the place.
Water he found, not too far up a gulch. So he pitched his tent within
carrying distance from the spring, thanked the god of mechanics that an
automobile neither eats nor drinks when it does not work, and set out to
find his fortune.
Casey knew there was a mining camp on the high slope of Barren Butte. He
knew the name of the camp, which was Lucky Lode, and he knew the foreman
there--knew him from long ago in the days when Casey was what he himself
confessed to be wild. In reaching Starvation Mountains, Casey had driven
for fifteen miles within plain sight of Lucky Lode. But gas is precious
when you are a hundred miles from a garage, and since business did not
take him there Casey did not drive up the five-mile hill to the Lucky Lode
just to shake hands with the foreman and swap a yarn or two. Instead, he
headed down on to the bleached, bleak oval of Furnace Lake and forged
across it as straight as he could drive toward Starvation Mountains.
But the next time Casey made the trip--needing supplies, powder, fuse,
caps and so on--Fate took him by the ear and led him to a lady. This is
how Fate did it,--and I will say it was an original idea:
Casey had a gallon syrup can in the car which he used for extra oil for
the engine. Having an appetite for sour-dough biscuits and syrup, he had
also a gallon can of syrup in the car. It was a terrifically hot day, and
the wind that blew full against Casey's left cheek as he drove burned even
his leather skin where it struck. Casey was afraid he was running short of
water, and a Ford's comfort comes first,--as every man knows; so that
Casey was parched pretty thoroughly, inside and out. Within a mile of
Furnace Lake he stopped, took an unsatisfying sip from his big canteen and
emptied the rest of the water into the radiator. Then he replenished the
oil in the motor generously, cranked and went bumping along down the trail
worn rough with the trucks from Lucky Lode.
For a little way he jounced along the trail; then the motor began to
labor; and although Casey pulled the gas lever down as far as it would go,
the car slowed and stopped dead in the road. After an hour of fruitless
monkey-wrenching and swearing and sweating, Casey began to suspect
something. He examined both cans, "hefted" them, smelt and even tasted the
one half-empty, and decided that Ford auty-_mo_-biles do not require two
quarts of syrup at one dose. He thought that a little syrup ought not to
make much difference, but half a gallon was probably too much.
He put in more oil on top of the syrup, but he could not even move the
crank, much less "turn 'er over." So long as a man can wind the crank of a
Ford he seems able to keep alive his hopes. Casey could not crank,
wherefore he knew himself beaten even while he heaved and lifted and
swore, and strained every muscle in his back lifting again. He got so
desperately wrathful that he lifted the car perceptibly off its right
front wheel with every heave, but he felt as if he were trying to lift a
It was past supper time at Lucky Lode when Casey arrived, staggering a
little with exhaustion, both mental and physical. His eyes were bloodshot
with the hot wind, his face was purple from the same wind, his lips were
dry and rough. I cannot blame the men at Lucky Lode for a sudden thirst
when they saw him coming, and a hope that he still had a little left. And
when he told them that he had filled his engine with syrup instead of oil,
what would any one think?
Their unjust suspicions would not have worried Casey in the least, had
Lucky Lode not possessed a lady cook who was a lady. She was a widow with
two children, and she had the children with her and held herself aloof
from the men in a manner befitting a lady. Casey was hungry and thirsty
and tired, and, as much as was possible to his nature, disgusted, with
life in general. The widow gave him a smile of sympathy which went
straight to his heart, and hot biscuits and coffee and beans cooked the
way he liked them best. These went straight to ease the gnawing emptiness
of his stomach, and being a man who took his emotions at their face value,
he jumped to the conclusion that it was the lady whose presence gave him
Casey stayed that night and the next day and the next at Lucky Lode. The
foreman helped him tow the syruppy car up the hill to the machine shop
where he could get at it, and Casey worked until night trying to remove
the dingbats from the hootin'annies,--otherwise, the pistons from the
cylinders. The foreman showed him what to do, and Casey did it, using a
"double-jack" and a lot of energy.
Before he left the Lucky Lode, Casey knew exactly what syrup will do to a
Ford if applied internally, and the widow had promised to marry him if he
would stop drinking and smoking and swearing. Since Casey had not been
drunk in ten years on account of having seen a big yellow snake with a
green head on the occasion of his last carouse, he took the drinking
pledge quite cheerfully for her sake. He promised to stop smoking, glad
that the widow neglected to mention chewing tobacco, which was his
everyday comfort. As for the swearing, he told her he would do his best
under the circumstances, and that he would taste the oil hereafter, and
try and think up some new names for the Ford.
"But Casey, if you leave whisky alone, you won't need to taste the oil,"
the widow told him. Whereat Casey grinned feebly and explained for the
tenth time that he had not been drinking. She did not contradict him. She
seemed a wise woman, after a fashion.
Casey drove back to his camp at Starvation Mountain happy and a little
scared. Why, after all these years of careless freedom, he should
precipitate himself into matrimony with a woman he had known casually for
two days puzzled him a little.
"Well, a man gits to feelin' like he wants to settle down when he's
crowdin' fifty," he explained his recklessness to the Ford as it hummed
away over Furnace Lake which was flat as a floor and dry as a bleached
bone,--and much the same color. "Any man feels the want of a home as he
gits older. And Casey's the man that will try anything once, you ask
anybody." He took out his pipe, looked at it, bethought himself of his
promise and put it away again, substituting a chew of tobacco as large as
his cheek would hold without prying his mouth open. "G'long, there--can't
you? You got your belly full of oil--shake a wheel and show you're alive."
After that, Casey spent every Sunday at Lucky Lode. He liked the widow
better and better. Especially after dinner, with the delicious flavor of
pie still caressing his palate. Only he wished she would take it for
granted that when Casey Ryan made a promise, Casey Ryan would keep it.
"I've got so now I can bark a knuckle with m'single-jack when I'm puttin'
down a hole, and say, 'Oh, dear!' and let it go at that," he boasted to
her on the second Sunday. "I'll bet there ain't another man in the state
of Nevada could do that."
"Yes. But Casey dear, if _only_ you will never touch another drop of
liquor. You'll keep your promise, won't you, dear boy?"
"Hell, yes!" Casey assured her headily. It had been close to twenty years
since he had been called dear boy, at least to his face. He kissed the
widow full on the lips before he saw that a frown sat upon her forehead
like a section of that ridgy cardboard they wrap bottles in.
"Casey, you swore!"
"I only hope," sighed the widow, "that your other promise won't be broken
as easily as that one. Remember, Casey, I cannot and I will not marry a
Casey looked at her dubiously. "If you mean that syrup--"
"Oh, I've heard awful tales of you, Casey dear! The boys talk at the
table, and they seem to think it's awful funny to tell about your fighting
and drinking and playing cards for money. But I think it's perfectly
awful. You _must_ stop drinking, Casey dear. I could never forgive myself
if I set before my innocent little ones the example of a husband who
"You won't," said Casey. "Not if you marry me, you won't." Then he changed
the subject, beginning to talk of his prospect over on Starvation. The
widow liked to hear him tell about finding a pocket of ore that went
seventy ounces in silver and one and seven tenths ounces in gold, and how
he expected any day to get down into the main body of ore and find it a
"contact" vein. It all sounded very convincing and as if Casey Ryan were
in a fair way to become a rich man.
The next time Casey saw the widow he was on his way to town for more
powder, his whole box of "giant" having gone off with a tremendous bang
the night before in one of those abrupt hailstorms that come so
unexpectedly in the mountain country. Casey had worked until dark, and was
dog-tired and had left the box standing uncovered beside the dugout where
he kept it. He suspected that a hailstone had played a joke on him, but
his chief emotion was one of self-congratulation because he had prudently
stored the dynamite around a shoulder of the canyon from where he camped.
When he told the widow about it as one relates the details of a narrow
escape, and pointed out how lucky he was, she looked very grave. It was a
very careless thing to do, she said. Casey admitted it was. A man who
handled dynamite ought to shun liquor above all things, she went on; and
Casey agreed restively. He had not felt any inclination, to imbibe until
that minute, when the Irish rose up hotly within him.
"Casey dear, are you _sure_ you have nothing in camp?"
Casey assured her solemnly that he had not and drove off down the hill,
vaguely aware that he was not so content with life as he had been.
"Damn that syrup!" he exploded once, quite as abruptly as had the giant
powder. After that he chewed tobacco and drove in broody silence.
Being Casey Ryan, tough as hickory and wont to drive headlong to his
destination, Casey did not remain in town to loiter a half a day and sleep
a night and drive back the next day, as most desert dwellers did. He
hurried through with his business, filled up with gas and oil, loaded on
an extra can of each, strapped his box of dynamite upon the seat beside
him where he could keep an eye on it--just as if that would do any good if
the tricky stuff meant to blow up!--and started back at three in the
afternoon. He would be half the night getting to camp, even though he was
Casey Ryan and drove a mean Ford. But he would be there, ready to start
work at sunrise. A man who is going to marry a widow with two children had
best hurry up and strike every streak of rich ore he has in his claim,
All that afternoon, though the wind blew hot in his face, Casey drilled
across the desert, meeting never a living thing, overtaking none. All that
afternoon a yellow dust cloud swirled rapidly along the rough desert road,
vainly trying to keep up with Casey who made it. In Yucca Pass he had to
stop and fill motor and radiator with oil and water, and just as he topped
the summit a front tire popped like a pistol.
Casey killed the engine and got out a bit stiffly, pried off a chew of
tobacco and gazed pensively at Barren Butte that held Lucky Lode, where
the widow was cooking supper at that moment. Casey wished practically that
he was there and could sit down to some of her culinary achievements.
"I sure would like to flop m'lip over one of her biscuits right now," he
said aloud. "If I do strike it, I wonder will she git too high-toned to
His eyes went to Furnace Lake, lying smooth and pale yellow in the
saucerlike basin between Barren Butte and the foothills of Starvation. In
the soft light of the afterglow it seemed to smile at him with a glint of
malice, like the treacherous thing it was. For Furnace Lake is
treacherous. The Big Earthquake (America knows only one Big Earthquake,
that which rocked San Francisco so disastrously) had split Furnace Lake
halfway across, leaving an ugly crevice ten feet wide at the narrowest
point and eighty feet deep, men said. Time and passing storms had partly
filled the gash, but it was there, ugly, ominous, a warning to all men to
trust the lake not at all. Little cracks radiated from the big gash here
and there, and the cattle men rode often that way, though not often enough
to save their cattle from falling in.
By day the lake shimmered deceptively with mirages that painted it blue
with the likeness of water, Then a lone clump of greasewood stood up tall
and proclaimed itself a ship lying idle on a glassy expanse of water so
blue, so cool, so clear, one could not wonder that thirsty travelers went
mad sometimes with the false lure of it.
Just now the lake looked exactly like any lake at dusk, with the far shore
line reflected along its edge; and Casey's thought went beyond, to his
claim on Starvation. Being tired and hungry, he pictured wistfully a cabin
there, and a light in the window when he went chuckling up the long mesa
in the dark, and the widow inside with hot coffee and supper waiting for
him. Just as soon as he struck "shipping values" that picture would be
real, said Casey to himself; and he opened his tool box and set to work
changing the tire.
By the time he had finished it was dark, and Casey had yet a long forty
miles between himself and his sour-dough can. He cranked the engine,
switched on the electric headlights, and went tearing down the
fifteen-mile incline to the lake.
"She c'n see the lights, and she'll know I ain't hangin' out in town
lappin' up whisky," he told himself as he drove. "She'll know it's Casey
Ryan comin' home--know it the way them lights are slippin' over the
country. Ain't another man on the desert can put a car over the trail like
this! You ask anybody."
Pleased with himself and his reputation, urged by hunger and the desire to
make good on his claim so that he might have the little home he
instinctively craved, Casey pulled the gas lever down another eighth of an
inch--when he was already using more than he should--and nearly bounced
his dynamite off the seat when he lurched over a sandy hummock and down on
to the smooth floor of the lake.
It was five miles across that lake from rim to rim and taking a straight
line, as Casey did, well above the crevice. In all that distance there is
not a stick, or a stone, or a bush to mark the way. Not even a trail,
since Casey was the only man who traveled it, and Casey never made tracks
twice in the same place, but drove down upon it, picked himself a landmark
on the opposite side and steered for it exactly as one steers a boat. The
marks he left behind him were no more than pencil marks drawn upon a sheet
of buff wrapping paper. Unless the lake was wet with one of those sporadic
desert rains, you couldn't make any impression on the cement-like surface.
And when the lake was wet, you stuck where you were until wind and sun
dried it for you. Wherefore Casey plunged out upon five miles of blank,
baked clay with neither road, chart nor compass to guide him. It was the
first time he had ever crossed at night, and a blanket of thin, high
clouds hid the stars.
Casey thought nothing much of that,--being Casey Ryan. He had before him
the dim--very dim--outline of Starvation, and being perfectly sober, he
steered a straight course, and made sure he was well away from the upper
end of the crevice, and pulled the gas lever down another notch.
The little handful of engine roared beautifully and shook the car with the
vibration. Casey heaved a sigh of weariness mingled with content that the
way was smooth and he need not look for chuck holes for a few minutes, at
any rate. He settled back, and his fingers relaxed on the wheel. I think
he dozed, though Casey swears he did not.
Suddenly he leaned forward, stared hard, leaned out and stared, listened
with an ear cocked toward the engine. He turned and looked behind, then
stared ahead again.
"By _gosh_, I bet both hubs is busted!" he ejaculated under his breath,--
Furnace Lake subdues one somehow. "She's runnin' like a wolf--but she
He waited for a minute longer, trifling with the gas, staring and
listening. The car was shaking with the throb of the motor, but Casey
could feel no forward motion. "Settin' here burnin' gas like a 'lection
bonfire--she sure _would_ think I'm drunk if she knowed it," Casey
muttered, and straddled over the side of the car to the running board.
"I wish--to--_hell_ I hadn't promised her not to cuss!" he gritted, and
with one hand still on the wheel, Casey shut off the gas and stepped down.
He stepped down upon a surface sliding beneath him at the rate of close to
forty miles an hour. The Ford went on, spinning away from him in a wide
circle, since Casey had unconsciously turned the wheel to the left as he
let go. The blow of meeting the hard clay stunned him just at first, and
he had rolled over a couple of times before he began to regain his senses.
He lifted himself groggily to his knees and looked for the car, saw it
bearing down upon him from the direction whence he had come. Before he had
time to wonder much at the phenomenon, it was upon him, over with a lurch,
and gone again.
Casey was tough, and he never knew when he was whipped. He crawled up to
his knees again, saw the same Ford coming at him with dimming headlights
from the same direction it had taken before, made a wild grab for it, was
knocked down and run over again. You may not believe that, but Casey had
the bruises to prove it.
On the third round the Ford had slowed to a walk, figuratively speaking.
Casey was pretty dizzy, and he thought his back was broken, but he was mad
clear through. He caught the Ford by its fender, hung on, clutching
frantically for a better hold, was dragged a little distance so and then,
as its speed slackened to a gentle forward roll, he made shift to get
aboard and give the engine gas before it had quite stopped. Which he told
himself was lucky, because he couldn't have cranked the thing to save his
By sheer dogged nerve he drove to camp, drank cold coffee left from his
early breakfast, and decided that the bite of a Ford, while it is
poisonous, is not necessarily fatal unless it attacks one in a vital spot.
Casey could not drill a hole, he could not swing a pick; for two days he
limped groaning around camp and confined his activities to cooking his
meals. Frequently he would look at the Ford and shake his head. There was
something uncanny about it.
"She sure has got it in for me," he mused. "You can't blame her for
runnin' off when I dropped the reins and stepped out. But that don't
account for the way she come _at_ me, and the way she _got_ me every
circle she made. That's human. It's dog-_gone_ human! I've cussed her a
lot, and I've done things to her--like that syrup I poured into her--and
dog-gone her, she's been layin' low and watchin' her chance all this
while. Fords, I believe, are about as human as horses, and I've knowed
horses I believe coulda talked if their tongues was split. Ask anybody.
That there car _knowed_!"
The third day after the attack Casey was still too sore to work, but he
managed to crank the Ford--eyeing it curiously the while, and with
respect, too--and started down the mesa and up over the ridge and on down
to the lake. He was still studying the matter incredulously, still
wondering if Fords can think. He wanted to tell the widow about it and get
her opinion. The widow was a smart woman. A little touchy on the liquor
question, maybe, but smart. You ask anybody.
Lucky Lode greeted him with dropped jaws and wide staring eyes, which
puzzled Casey until the foreman, grasping his shoulder--which made Casey
wince and break a promise--explained their astonishment. They had, as
Casey expected, seen his lights when he came off the summit from Yucca
Pass. By the speed they traveled, Lucky Lode knew that Casey and no other
was at the steering wheel, even before he took to the lake.
"And then," said the foreman, "we saw your lights go round and round in a
circle, and disappear--"
"They didn't," Casey cut in trenchantly. "They went dim because I was
taking her slow, being about all in."
The foreman grinned. "We thought you'd drove into the crevice, and we went
down with lanterns and hunted the full length of it. We never found a sign
of you or the car--"
"'Cause I was over in camp, or thereabouts," interpolated Casey drily. "I
wish you'd of come on over. I sure needed help."
"We figured you was pretty well lit up, to circle around like that. I've
been down since, by daylight, and so have some of the boys, looking into
that crevice. But we gave it up, finally."
Then Casey, because he liked a joke even when it was on himself, told the
foreman and his men what had happened to him. He did not exaggerate the
mishap; the truth was sufficiently wild.
They whooped with glee. Every one laughs at the unusual misfortunes of
others, and this was unusual. They stood around the Ford and talked to it,
and whooped again. "You sure must have had so-ome jag, Casey," they told
"I was sober," Casey testified earnestly. "I'll swear I hadn't a drop of
anything worse than lemon soda, and that was before I left town."
Whereupon they whooped the louder, bent double, some of them with mirth.
"Say! If I was drunk that night, I'd say so," Casey exploded finally.
"What the hell--what's the matter with you rabbits? You think Casey Ryan
has got to the point where he's scared to tell what he done and all he
done? Lemme tell yuh, anything Casey does he ain't afraid to _tell_ about!
Lyin' is something I never was scared bad enough to do. You ask anybody."
"There's the widow," said the foreman, wiping his eyes.
Casey turned and looked, but the widow was not in sight. The foreman, he
judged, was speaking figuratively. He swung back glaring.
"You think I'm scared to tell her what happened? She'll know I was sober
if I say I was sober. She ain't as big a fool--" He did not want to fight,
although he was aching to lick every man of them. But for one thing, he
was too sore and lame, and then, the widow would not like it.
With his neck very stiff, Casey limped down to the house and tried to tell
the widow. But the widow was a woman, and she was hurt because Casey,
since he was alive and not in the crevice, had not come straight to
comfort her, but had lingered up there talking and laughing with the men.
The widow had taken Casey's part when the others said he must have been
drunk. She had maintained, red-lidded and trembly of voice, that something
had gone wrong with Casey's car so that he couldn't steer it. Such things
happened, she knew.
Well, Casey told the widow the truth, and the widow's face hardened while
she listened. She had permitted him to kiss her when he came in, but now
she moved away from him. She did not call him dear boy, nor even Casey
dear. She waited until he had reached the point that puzzled him, the
point of a Ford's degree of intelligence. Then her lips thinned before she
"And what," she asked coldly, "had you been drinking, Mr. Ryan?"
"Me? One bottle of lemon soda before I left town, and I left town at three
o'clock in the afternoon. I swear--"
"You need not swear, Mr. Ryan." The widow folded her hands and regarded
him sternly, though her voice was still politely soft. "After I had told
you repeatedly that my little ones should ever be guarded from a drinking
father; after you had solemnly promised me that you would never again put
glass to your lips, or swallow a drop of whisky; after that very morning
renewing your pledge--"
"Well, I kept it," Casey said, his face a shade paler under its usual
frank red. "I swear to Gawd I was sober."
"You need not lie," said the widow, "and add to your misdeeds. You were
drunk. No man in his senses would imagine what you imagine, or do what you
did. I wish you to understand, Mr. Ryan, that I shall not marry you. I
could not trust you out of my sight."
"I--was--_sober_!" cried Casey, measuring his words. Very nearly shouting
them, in fact.
The widow turned pointedly away and began to stir something on the stove,
and did not look at him.
Casey went out, climbed the hill to his Ford, cranked it and went
larruping down the hill, out on the lake and, when he had traversed half
its length, turned and steered a straight course across it. Where tracings
of wheels described a wide circle he stopped and regarded them intently.
Then he began to swear, at nothing in particular, but with a hearty
enjoyment of the phrases he intoned.
"Casey, you sure as hell have had one close call," he remarked, when he
could think of nothing new and devilish to say. "You mighta run along, and
run along, till you got _married_ to her. Whadda I want a wife for,
anyway? Sour-dough biscuits tastes pretty good, and Casey sure can make
'em!" He got out his pipe, filled it and crammed down the tobacco, found a
match and leaned back, smoking with relish, one leg thrown over the wheel.
"A man's best friend is his Ford," he exclaimed. "You can ask anybody." He
grinned, and blew a lot of smoke, and gave the wheel an affectionate
Some months later Casey waved good-by to the men from Tonopah, squinted up
at the sun and got a coal-oil can of water, with which he filled the
radiator of his Ford. He rolled his bed in the tarp and tied it securely,
put flour, bacon, coffee, salt and various other small necessities of life
into a box, inspected his sour-dough can, and decided to empty it and
start over again if hard fate drove him to sourdough.
"Might bust down and have to sleep out," he meditated. "Then, agin, I
ain't liable to; and if I do, I'll be goin' so fast I'll git somewhere
before she stops. I'm--sure--goin' to go!"
He cranked the battered car, straddled in over the edge on the driver's
side and set his feet against the pedals with the air of a man who had
urgent business elsewhere. The men from Tonopah were not yet out of sight
around the butte scarred with rhyolite ledges before Casey was under way,
rattling down the rough trail from Starvation Mountain and bouncing clear
of the seat as the car lurched over certain rough spots.
Pinned with a safety pin to the inside pocket of the vest he wore only
when he felt need of a safe and secret pocket, Casey Ryan carried a check
for twenty-five thousand dollars, made payable to himself. A check for
twenty-five thousand dollars in Casey's pocket was like a wildcat clawing
at his imagination and spitting at every moment's delay. Casey had endured
solitude and some hardship while he coaxed Starvation Mountain to reveal a
little of its secret treasure. Now he wanted action, light, life and
plenty of it. While he drove he dreamed, and his dreams beckoned, urged
him faster and faster.
Up over the summit of the ridge that lay between Starvation and Furnace
Lake he surged, with radiator bubbling. Down the long slope to the lake,
lying there smiling sardonically at a world it loved to trick with its
moods, Casey drove as if he were winning a bet. Across that five miles of
baked, yellow-white clay he raced, his Ford a-creak in every joint.
"Go it, you tin lizard!" chortled Casey. "I'll have me a real wagon when I
git to Los. She'll be white, with red stripes along her sides and red
wheels, and she'll lay 'er belly to the ground and eat up the road and
lick her chops for more. Sixty miles under her belt every time the clock
strikes, or she ain't good enough fer Casey! Mebby they think they got
some drivers in Californy. Mebby they _think_ they have. They ain't,
though, because Casey Ryan ain't there yet. I'll catch that night train.
Oughta be in by morning, and then you keep your eye on Casey. There's
goin' to be a stir around Los, about to-morrow noon. I'll have to buy some
clothes, I guess. And I'll git acquainted with some nice girl with yella
hair that likes pleasure, and take her out ridin'. Yeah, I'll have to git
me a swell outfit uh clothes. I'll look the part, all right---"
Up a long, winding trail and over another summit to Yucca Pass Casey
dreamed, while the stark, scarred buttes on either side regarded him with
enigmatic calm. Since the first wagon train had worried over the rough
deserts on their way to California, the bleak hills of Nevada had listened
while prospectors dreamed aloud and cackled over their dreaming; had
listened, too, while they raved in thirst and heat and madness.
Inscrutably they watched Casey as he hurried by with his twenty-five
thousand dollars and his pleasant pictures of soft ease.
At a dim fork in the trail Casey slowed and stopped. A boiling radiator
will not forever brook neglect, and Casey brought his mind down to
practical things for a space. "I can just as well take the train from
Lund," he mused, while he poured in more water. "Then I can leave this
bleatin' burro with Bill. He oughta give me a coupla hundred for her,
anyway. No use wasting money just because you happen to have a few
thousand in your pants." He filled his pipe at that sensible idea and
turned the nose of his Ford down the dim trail to Lund.
Eighty miles more or less straight away across the mountainous waste lay
Lund, halfway up a canyon that led to higher reaches in the hills, rich in
silver, lead, copper, gold. Silver it was that Casey had found and sold to
the men from Tonopah, and it was a freak of luck, he thought whimsically,
that had led him and his Ford away over to Starvation Mountains to find
their stake when they had probably been driving over millions every day
that they made the stage trip from Pinnacle down to Lund.
The trail was rutted in places where the sluicing rains had driven hard
across the hills; soft with sand in places where the fierce winds had
swept the open. For awhile the thin, wobbly track of a wagon meandered
along ahead of him, then turned off up a flat-bottomed draw and was lost
in the sagebrush. Some prospector not so lucky as he, thought Casey, with
swift, soon forgotten sympathy. A coyote ran up a slope toward him, halted
with forefeet planted on a rock, and stared at him, ears perked like an
inquisitive dog. Casey stopped, eased his rifle out of the crease in the
back of the seat cushion, chanced a shot,--and his luck held. He climbed
out, picked up the limp gray animal, threw it into the tonneau and went
on. Even with twenty-five thousand dollars in his pocket, Casey told
himself that coyote hides are not to be scorned. He had seen the time when
the price of a good hide meant flour and bacon and tobacco to him. He
would skin it when he stopped to eat.
Eighty miles with never a soul to call good day to Casey. Nor shack nor
shelter made for man, and only one place where there was water to wet his
lips if they cracked with thirst,--unless, perchance, one of those swift
desert downpours came riding on the wind, lashing the clouds with
Far ahead of Casey such a storm rolled in off the barren hills to the
south. "She's a-wettin' up that red lake a-plenty," observed Casey,
squinting through the dirty windshield. "No trail around, either, on
account of the lava beds. But I guess I can pull acrost, all right." Doubt
was in his voice, however, and he was half minded to turn back and take
the straight road to Vegas, which had been his first objective. But he
discarded the idea.
"No, sir, Casey Ryan never back-trailed yet. Poor time to commence, now
when I got the world by the tail and a downhill pull. We'll make out, all
right--can't be so terrible boggy with a short rain like that there. I
bet," he continued optimistically to the Ford, which was the nearest he
had to human companionship, "I bet we make it in a long lope. Git along,
there! Shake a wheel--'s the last time you haul Casey around. Casey's
goin' to step high, wide and handsome. Sixty miles _an hour_, or he'll ask
for his money back. They can't step too fast for Casey! Blue--if I get me
a lady friend with yella hair, mebby she'll show up better in a blue car
than she will in a white-and-red. This here turnout has got to be tasty
and have class. If she was dark--" He shook his head at that. "No, sir,
black hair grows too plenty on squaws an' chilli queens. Yella goes with
Casey. Clingin' kinda girl with blue eyes--that's the stuff! An' I'll sure
show her some drivin'!"
He wondered whether he should try and find the girl first and buy the car
to match her beauty, or buy the car first and with that lure the lady of
his dreams. It was a nice question and it required thought. It was
pleasant to ponder the problem, and Casey became so lost in meditation
that he forgot to eat when the sun flirted with the scurrying clouds over
his wind-torn automobile top.
So he came bouncing and swaying down the last mesa to the place called Red
Lake. Casey had heard it spoken of with opprobrious epithets by men who
had crossed it in wet weather. In dry weather it was red clay caked and
checked by the sun, and wheels or hoofs stirred clouds of red dust that
followed and choked the traveler.
Casey was not thinking at all of the lake when he drove down to it. He was
seeing visions, though you would not think it to look at him; a stocky,
middle-aged man who needed a shave and a hair-cut, wearing cheap,
dirt-stained overalls and a blue shirt and square-toed shoes studded
thickly on the soles with hobnails worn shiny; driving a desert-scarred
Ford with most of the paint gone and a front fender cocked up and flapping
crazily, and tires worn down to the fabric in places. But his eyes were
very keen and steady, and there was a humorous twist to his mouth. If he
dreamed incongruously of big, luxurious cars gorgeous in paint and nickel
trim, and of slim young women with yellow hair and blue eyes,--well,
stranger dreams have been hidden away behind exteriors more unsightly than
was the shell which holds the soul of Casey Ryan.
Presently the practical, everyday side of his nature nudged him into
taking note of his immediate surroundings. Red Lake had received a
wetting. The dark, shiny surface betrayed that fact, and it was surprising
how real water, when you did see it on a lake subject to mirage, was so
unmistakably real. It is like putting flakes of real gold beside flakes of
mica; you are ready to swear that the mica is gold--until you see the real
gold beside it. So Casey knew at a glance that half of Red Lake was wet,
and that the shiny patches here and there were not mirage pictures but
shallow pools of water. Moreover, out in the reddest, wettest part of it
an automobile stood with its back to him, and pigmy figures were moving
slowly upon either side.
"Stuck," diagnosed Casey in one word, as he caught sight of the group
ahead. He tucked his dream into the back of his mind while he pulled down
the gas lever a couple of notches and lunged along the muddy ruts that
led straight away from the safe line of sagebrush and out upon the
platter-like red expanse.
The Ford grunted and lugged down to a steady pull, but Casey drove as he
had driven his six horses on a steep grade in the old days, coaxing every
ounce of power into action. He juggled with spark and gas and somehow kept
her going, and finally stopped with nice judgment on a small island of
harder clay within shouting distance of the car ahead. He killed the
engine then and stepped down, and went picking his way carefully out to
it, his heavy shoes speedily collecting great pancakes of mud that clung
"Stuck, hey? You oughta kept in the ruts, no matter if they are
water-logged. You never want to turn outa the road on one of these lake
beds, huntin' dry ground. If it's wet in the road, you can bank on sinkin'
in to the hocks the minute you turn out." He carefully removed the mud
pancakes from his shoes by scraping them across the hub of the stalled car
and edged back to stand with his arms on his hips while he surveyed the
full plight of them.
"She sure is bogged down a-plenty," he observed, grinning sympathetically.
"Could you hitch on your car, Mister, and pull us out?" This was a woman's
voice, and it thrilled Casey, woman hungry as he was.
Casey put up a hand to his mouth and surreptitiously removed a chew of
tobacco almost fresh. With some effort he pulled his feet closer together,
and he lifted his old Stetson and reset it at a consciously rakish angle.
He glanced at the car, behind it and in front, coming back to the
depressed male individual before him. "Yes, ma'am, I'll get you out, all
right. Sure, I will."
"We've been stalled here for an hour or more," volunteered the depressed
one. "We was right behind the storm. Looked a sorry chance that anybody
would come along for the next week or so."
"Mister, you're a godsend, if ever there was one. I'd write your name on
the roster of saints in my prayer book, if I ever said prayers and had a
prayer book and a pencil and knew what name to write."
"Casey Ryan. Don't you worry, ma'am. We'll get you outa here in no time."
Casey grinned and craned his neck. Looking lower this time, he saw a pair
of feet which did not seem to belong to that voice, though they were
undoubtedly feminine. Still, red mud will work miracles of disfigurement,
and Casey was an optimist by nature.
"My wife is trying out a new comedy line," the man observed unemotionally.
"Trouble is it never gets over, out front. If she ever did get it across
the footlights, I could raise the price of admission and get away with it.
How far is it to Rhyolite?"
"Rhyolite? Twenty or twenty-five miles, mebby." Casey gave him an
"Can we get there in time to paper the town and hire a hall to show in,
Mister?" Casey saw the mud-caked feet move laboriously toward the rear of
"Yes, ma'am, I guess you can. There ain't any town, though, and it ain't
got any hall in it, nor anybody to go to a show."
The woman laughed. "That's like my prayer book. Well, Jack, you certainly
have got a powerful eye, but you've been trying to Svengali this out-fit
out of the mud for an hour, and I haven't seen it move an inch, so far.
Let's just try something else."
"A prayer outa your prayer book, maybe," her husband retorted, not
troubling to move or turn his head.
Casey blinked and looked again. The woman who appeared from the farther
side of the car might have been the creature of his dream, so far as her
face, her hair and her voice went. Her hair was yellow, unmistakably
yellow. Her eyes were bluer than Casey's own, and she had nice teeth and
showed them in a red-lipped smile. A more sophisticated man would have
known that the powder on her nose was freshly applied, and that her reason
for remaining so long hidden from his sight while she talked to him was
revealed in the moist color on her lips and the fresh bloom on her cheeks.
Casey was not sophisticated. He thought she was a beautiful woman and
asked no questions of her make-up box.
"Mister, you certainly are a godsend!" she gushed again when she faced
him. "I'd call you a direct answer to prayer, only I haven't been praying.
I've been trying to tell Jack that the shovel is not packed under the
banjos, as he thinks it was, but was left back at our last camp where he
was trying to dig water out of a wet spot. Jack, dear, perhaps the
gentleman has got a shovel in his car. Ain't it a real gag, Mister, us
being stuck out here in a dry lake?"
Casey touched his hat and grinned and tried not to look at her too long.
Husbands of beautiful young women are frequently jealous, and Casey knew
his place and meant to keep it.
All the way back to his car Casey studied the peculiar features of the
meeting. He had been thinking about yellow-haired women--well! But of
course, she was married, and therefore not to be thought of save as a
coincidence; still, Casey rather regretted the existence of Jack dear, and
began to wonder why good-looking women always picked such dried-up little
runts for husbands. "Show actors by the talk," he mused. "I wonder now if
she don't sing, mebby?"
He started the car and forged out to them, making the last few rods in low
gear and knowing how risky it was to stop. They were rather helpless, he
had to admit, and did all the standing around while Casey did all the
work. But he shoveled the rear wheels out, waded back to the tiny island
of solid ground and gathered an armful of brush, which he crowded in front
of the wheels, covering himself with mud thereby; then he tied the tow
rope he carried for emergencies like this, waded to the Ford, cranked and
trusted the rest to luck. The Ford moved slowly ahead until the rope
between the two cars tightened, then spun her wheels and proceeded to dig
herself in where she stood. The other car, shaking with the tremor of its
own engine, ruthlessly ground the sagebrush into the mud and stood upon it
roaring and spluttering furiously.
"Nothing like sticking together, Mister," called the lady cheerfully, and
he heard her laughter above the churn of their motors.
"Say, ain't your carburetor all off?" Casey leaned out to call back to the
husband. "You're smokin' back there like wet wood."
The man immediately stopped the motor and looked behind him.
Casey muttered something under his breath when he climbed out. He looked
at his own car standing hub deep in red mud and reached for the solacing
plug of chewing tobacco. Then he thought of the lady and withdrew his hand
"We're certainly going to stick together, Mister," she repeated her
witticism, and Casey grinned foolishly.
"She'll dry up in a few hours, with this hot sun," he observed
hearteningly. "We'll have to pile brush in, I guess." His glance went back
to the tiny island and to his double row of tracks. He looked at the man.
"Jack, dear, you might go help the gentleman get some brush," the lady
"This ain't my act," Jack dear objected. "I just about broke my spine
trying to heave the car outa the mud when we first stuck. Say, I wish
there was a beanery of some kind in walking distance. Honest, I'll be dead
of starvation in another hour. What's the chance of a bite, Hon?"
Contempt surged through Casey. Deep in his soul he pitied her for being
tied to such an insect. Immediately he was glad that she had spirit enough
to put the little runt in his place.
"You _would_ wait to buy supplies in Rhyolite, remember," she reminded her
husband calmly. "I guess you'll have to wait till you get there. I've got
one piece of bread saved for Junior. You and I go hungry--and cheer up,
old dear; you're used to it!"
"I've got grub," Casey volunteered hospitably. "Didn't stop to eat yet.
I'll pack the stuff back there to dry ground and boil some coffee and fry
some bacon." He looked at the woman and was rewarded by a smile so
brilliant that Casey was dazzled.
"You certainly are a godsend," she called after him, as he turned away to
his own car. "It just happens that we're out of everything. It's so hard
to keep anything on hand when you're traveling in this country, with towns
so far apart. You just run short before you know it."
Casey thought that the very scarcity of towns compelled one to avoid
running short of food, but he did not say anything. He waded back to the
island with a full load of provisions and cooking utensils, and in three
minutes he was squinting against the smoke of a camp-fire while he poured
water from a canteen into his blackened coffee pot.
"Coffee! Jack, dear, can you believe your nose!" chirped the woman
presently behind Casey. "Junior, darling, just smell the bacon! Isn't he a
nice gentleman? Go give him a kiss like a little man."
Casey didn't want any kiss--at least from Junior. Junior was six years
old, and his face was dirty and his eyes were old, old eyes, but brown
like his father's. He had the pinched, hungry look which Casey had seen
only amongst starving Indians, and after he had kissed Casey perfunctorily
he snatched the piece of raw bacon which Casey had just sliced off, and
tore at it with his teeth like a hungry pup.
Casey affected not to notice, and busied himself with the fire while the
woman reproved Junior half-heartedly in an undertone, and laughed stagily
and remarked upon the number of hours since they had breakfasted.
Casey tried not to watch them eat, but in spite of himself he thought of a
prospector whom he had rescued last summer after a five-day fast. These
people ate more than the prospector had eaten, and their eyes followed
greedily every mouthful which Casey took, as if they grudged him the food.
Wherefore Casey did not take as many mouthfuls as he would have liked.
"This desert air certainly does put an edge on one's appetite," the woman
smiled, while she blew across her fourth cup of coffee to cool it, and
between breaths bit into a huge bacon sandwich, which Casey could not help
knowing was her third. "Jack, dear, isn't this coffee delicious!"
"Mah-mal Do we have to p-pay that there g-godsend? C-can you p-pay for
more b-bacon for me, mah-ma?" Junior licked his fingers and twitched a
fold of his mother's soiled skirt.
"Sure, give him more bacon! All he wants. I'll fry another skillet full,"
Casey spoke hurriedly, getting out the piece which he had packed away in
"He's used to these hold-up joints where they charge you forty cents for a
greasy plate," the man explained, speaking with his mouth full. "Eat all
yuh want, Junior. This is a barbecue and no collection took up to pay the
speaker of the day."
"We certainly appreciate your kindness, Mister," the woman put in
graciously, holding out her cup. "What we'd have done, stuck here in the
mud with no provisions and no town within miles, heaven only knows. Was
you kidding us," she added, with a betrayal of more real anxiety than she
intended, "when you said Rhyolite is a dead one? We looked it up on the
map, and it was marked like a town. We're making all the little towns that
the road shows mostly miss. We give a fine show, Mister. It's been played
on all the best time in the country--we took it abroad before the war and
made real good money with it. But we just wanted to see the country, you
know--after doing the cont'nent and all the like of that. So we thought
we'd travel independent and make all the small towns--"
"The movie trust is what put vodeville on the bum," the man interrupted.
"We used to play the best time only. We got a first-class act. One that
ought to draw down good money anywhere, and would draw down good money, if
the movie trust--"
"And then we like to be independent, and go where we like and get off the
railroad for a spell. Freedom is the breath of life to he and I. We'd
rather have it kinda rough now and then to be free and independent--"
"I've g-got a b-bunny, a-and it f-fell in the g-grease box a-and we
c-can't wash it off, a-and h-he's asleep now. C-can I g-give my b-bunny
some b-bacon, Mister G-godsend?"
The woman laughed, and Jack dear laughed, and Casey himself grinned
sheepishly. Casey did not want to be called a godsend, and he hated the
term "Mister" when applied to himself. All his life he had been plain
Casey Ryan and proud of it, and his face was very red when he confessed
that there was no more bacon. He had not expected to feed a family when he
left camp that morning, but had taken rations for himself only.
Junior whined and insisted that he wanted b-bacon for his b-bunny, and the
man hushed him querulously and asked Casey what the chances were for
getting under way. Casey repacked a lightened bag, emptied the coffee
grounds, shouldered his canteen and waded back to the cars and to the
problem of red mud with an unbelievable quality of tenacity.
The man followed and asked him if he happened to have any smoking tobacco,
afterwards he begged a cigarette paper, and then a match. "The dog-gone
helpless, starved bunch!" Casey muttered, while he dug out the wheels of
his Ford, and knew that his own haste must wait upon the need of these
three human beings whom he had never seen until an hour ago, of whose very
existence he had been in ignorance, and who would probably contribute
nothing whatever to his own welfare or happiness, however much he might
contribute to theirs.
I do not say that Casey soliloquised in this manner while he was sweating
there in the mud under hot midday. He did think that now he would no doubt
miss the night train to Los Angeles, and that he would not, after all, be
purchasing glad raiment and a luxurious car on the morrow. He regretted
that, but he did not see how he could help it. He was Casey Ryan, and his
heart was soft to suffering even though a little of the spell cast by the
woman's blue eyes and her golden hair had dimmed for him.
He still thought her a beautiful woman who was terribly mismated, but he
felt vaguely that women with beautiful golden hair should not drink their
coffee aloud, or calmly turn up the bottom of their skirts that they might
use the underside of the hem for a napkin after eating bacon. I do not
like to mention this; Casey did not like to think of it, either. It was
with reluctance that he reflected upon the different standard imposed by
sex. A man, for instance, might wipe his fingers on his pants and look the
world straight in the eye,--but dog-gone it, when a lady's a lady, she
ought to _be_ a lady.
Later Casey forgot for a time the incident of the luncheon on Red Lake.
With infinite labor and much patience he finally extricated himself and
the show people, with no assistance from them save encouragement. He towed
them to dry land, untied and put away his rope and then discovered that he
had not the heart to drive on at his usual hurtling pace and leave them to
follow. There was an ominous stutter in their motor, for one thing, and
Casey knew of a stiffish hill a few miles this side of Rhyolite, so he
forced himself to set a slow pace which they could easily follow.
It was full sundown when they reached Rhyolite, which was not a town but a
camp beside a spring, usually deserted. Three years before, a mine had
built the camp for the accommodation of the truck drivers who hauled ore
to Lund and were sometimes unable to make the trip in one day. Casey,
having adapted his speed to that of the decrepit car of the show people,
was thankful that they arrived at all. He still had a little flour and
coffee and salt, and he hoped there was enough grease left on the bacon
paper to grease the skillet so that bannocks would not stick to the pan.
He also hoped that his flour would hold out under the onslaught of their
But Casey was lucky. A half dozen cowboys were camped there with a pack
outfit, meaning to ride the canyons next day for cattle. They were cooking
supper, and they had "beefed a critter" that had broken a leg that
afternoon running among rocks. Casey shuffled his responsibility and
watched, in complete content, while the show people gorged on broiled
yearling steaks. (I dislike to use the word gorge where a lady's appetite
is involved, but that is the word which Casey thought of first.)
Later, the show people very amiably consented to entertain their hosts. It
was then that Casey was once more blinded by the brilliance of the lady
and forgot certain little blemishes that had seemed to him quite
pronounced. The cowboys obligingly built a bonfire before the tent, into
which the couple retired to set their stage and tune their instruments.
Casey lay back on a cowboy's rolled bed with his knees crossed, his hands
clasped behind his thinning hair, and smoked and watched the first pale
stars come out while he listened to the pleasant twang of banjos in the
It was great. The sale of his silver claim to the men from Tonopah, the
check safely pinned in his pocket, the future which he had planned for
himself swam hazily through his mind. He was fed to repletion, he was
rich, he had been kind to those in need. He was a man to be envied, and he
told himself so.
Then the tent flaps were lifted and a dazzling, golden-haired creature in
a filmy white evening gown to which the firelight was kind stood there
smiling, a banjo in her hands. Casey gave a grunt and sat up, blinking.
She sang, looking at him frequently. At the encore, which was livened by a
clog danced to hidden music, she surely blew a kiss in the direction of
Casey, who gulped and looked around at the others self-consciously, and
In truth, it was a very good show which the two gave there in the tent;
much better than the easiest going optimist would expect. When it was over
to the last twang of a banjo string, Casey took off his hat, emptied into
it what silver he had in his pockets and set the hat in the fireglow.
Without a word the cowboys followed his example, turning pockets inside
out to prove they could give no more.
Casey spread his bed apart from the others that night, and lay for a long
while smoking and looking up at the stars and dreaming again his dream;
only now the golden-haired creature who leaned back upon the deep cushions
of his speedy blue car, was not a vague bloodless vision, but a real
person with nice teeth and a red-lipped smile, who called him Mister in a
tone he thought like music. Now his dream lady sang to him, talked to
him,--I consider it rather pathetic that Casey's dream always halted just
short of meal time, and that he never pictured her sitting across the
table from him in some expensive cafe, although Casey was rather fond of
cafe lights and music and service and food.
Next morning the glamor remained, although the lady was once more the
unkempt woman of yesterday. The three seemed to look upon Casey still as a
godsend. They had talked with some of the men and had decided to turn back
to Vegas, which was a bigger town than Lund and therefore likely to
produce better crowds. They even contemplated a three-night stand, which
would make possible some very urgent repairs to their car. Casey demurred,
although he could not deny the necessity for repairs. It was a longer
trail to Vegas and a rougher trail. Moreover, he himself was on his way to
"You go to Lund," he urged, "and you can stay there four nights if you
want to, and give shows. And I'll take yuh on up to Pinnacle in my car
while yours is gettin' fixed, and you can give a show there. You'd draw a
big crowd. I'd make it a point to tell folks you give a fine show. And
I'll git yuh good rates at the garage where I do business. You don't want
nothin' of Vegas. Lund's the place you want to hit fer."
"There's a lot to that," the foreman of the cowboys agreed. "If Casey's
willin' to back you up, you better hit straight for Lund. Everybody there
knows Casey Ryan. He drove stage from Pinnacle to Lund for two years and
never killed anybody, though he did come close to it now and again. I've
saw strong men that rode with Casey and said they never felt right
afterwards. Casey, he's a dog-gone good driver, but he used to be kinda
hard on passengers. He done more to promote heart failure in them two
towns than all the altitude they can pile up. But nobody's going to hold
that against a good show that comes there. I heard there ain't been a show
stop off in Lund for over a year. You'll have to beat 'em away from the
door, I bet." Wherefore the Barrymores--that was the name they called
themselves, though I am inclined to doubt their legal right to it--the
Barrymores altered their booking and went with Casey to Lund.
They were not fools, by the way. Their car was much more disreputable than
you would believe a car could be and turn a wheel, and the Barrymores
recognized the handicap of its appearance. They camped well out of sight
of town, therefore, and let Casey drive in alone.
Casey found that the westbound train had already gone, which gave him a
full twenty-four hours in Lund, even though he discounted his promise to
see the Barrymores through. There was a train, to be sure, that passed
through Lund in the middle of the night; but that was the De Luxe,
standard and drawing-room sleepers, and disdained stopping to pick up
plebeian local passengers.
So Casey must spend twenty-four hours in Lund, there to greet men who
hailed him joyously at the top of their voices while they were yet afar
off, and thumped him painfully upon the shoulders when they came within
reach of him. You may not grasp the full significance of this, unless you
have known old and popular stage drivers, soft of heart and hard of fist.
Then remember that Casey had spent months on end alone in the wilderness,
working like a lashed slave from sunrise to dark, trying to wrest a
fortune from a certain mountain side. Remember how an enforced isolation,
coupled with rough fare and hard work, will breed a craving for lights and
laughter and the speech of friends. Remember that, and don't overlook the
twenty-five thousand dollar check that Casey had pinned safe within his
Casey had unthinkingly tossed his last dime into his hat for the show
people at Rhyolite. He had not even skinned the coyote, whose hide would
have been worth ten or fifteen dollars, as hides go. In the stress of
pulling out of the mud at Red Lake, he had forgot all about the dead
animal in his tonneau until his nose reminded him next morning that it was
there. Then he had hauled it out by the tail and thrown it away. He was
broke, except that he had that check in his pocket.
Of course it was easy enough for Casey to get money. He went to the store
that sold everything from mining tools to green perfume bottles tied with
narrow pink ribbon. The man who owned that store also owned the bank next
door, and a little place down the street which was called laconically The
Club. One way or another, Dwyer managed to feel the money of every man who
came into Lund and stopped there for a space. He was an honest man, too,--
or as honest as is practicable for a man in business.
Dwyer was tickled to see Casey again. Casey was a good fellow, and he
never needed his memory jogged when he owed a man. He paid before he was
asked to pay, and that was enough to make any merchant love him. He
watched Casey unpin his vest pocket and remove the check, and he was not
too eager to inspect it.
"Good? Surest thing you know. Want it cashed, or applied to your old
checking account? It's open yet, with a dollar and sixty-seven cents to
your credit, I believe. I'll take care of it, though it's after banking
Casey was foolish. "I'll take a couple of hundred, if it's handy, and a
check book. I guess you can fix it so I can get what money I want in Los.
I'm goin' to have one hell of a time when I git there. I've earned it."
Dwyer laughed while he inked a pen for Casey's endorsement. "Hop to it,
Casey. Glad you made good. But you'd better let me put part of that in a
savings account, so you can't check it out. You know, Casey--remember your
"Aw--that's all right! Don't you worry none about Casey Ryan! Casey'll
take care of himself--he's had too many jolts to want another one. Say,
gimme a pair of them socks before you go in the bank. I'll pay yuh," he
grinned, "when yuh come back with some money. Ain't got a cent on me,
Dwyer. Give it all away. Twelve dollars and something. Down to twenty-five
thousand dollars and my Ford auty-_mo_-bile--and Bill's goin' to buy that
off me as soon as he looks her over to see what's busted and what ain't."
Dwyer laughed again as he unlocked the door behind the overalls and
jumpers and disappeared into his bank. Presently he returned with a
receipted duplicate deposit slip for twenty-four thousand eight hundred
dollars, a little, flat check book and two hundred dollars in worn bank
notes. "You ought to be independent for the rest of your life, Casey. This
is a fine start for any man," he said.
Casey paid for the socks and slid the change for a ten-dollar bill into
his overalls pocket, put the check book and the bank notes away where he
had carried the check, and walked out with his hat very much tilted over
his right eye and his shoulders swaggering a little. You can't blame him
for that, can you?
As he stepped from the store he met an old acquaintance from Pinnacle.
There was only one thing to do in a case like that, and Casey did it quite
naturally. They came out of The Club wiping their lips, and the swagger in
Casey's shoulders was more pronounced.
Face to face Casey met the show lady, which was what he called her in his
mind. She had her arms clasped around a large paper sack full of lumpy
things, and her eyes had a strained, anxious look.
"Oh, Mister! I've been looking all over for you. They say we can't show in
this town. The license for road shows is fifty dollars, to begin with, and
I've been all over and can't find a single place where we could show, even
if we could pay the license. Ain't that the last word in hard luck? Now
what to do beats me, Mister. We've just got to have the old car tinkered
up so it'll carry us on to the next place, wherever that is. Jack says he
must have a new tire by some means or other, and he was counting on what
we'd make here. And up at that other place you've mentioned the mumps have
broke out and they wouldn't let us show for love or money. A man in the
drug store told me, Mister. We certainly are in a hole now, for sure! If
we could give a benefit for something or somebody. Those men back there
said you're so popular in this town, I believe I've got an idea. Mister,
couldn't you have bad luck, or be sick or something, so we could give a
benefit for you? People certainly would turn out good for a man that's
liked the way they say you are. I'd just love to put on a show for you.
Couldn't we fix it up some way?"
Casey looked up and down the street and found it practically empty. Lund
was dining at that hour. And while Casey expected later the loud
greetings, and the handshakes and all, as a matter of fact he had thus far
talked with Bill, the garage man, with Dwyer, the storekeeper and banker,
and with the man from Pinnacle, who was already making ready to crank his
car and go home. Lund, as a town, was yet unaware of Casey's presence.
Casey looked at the show lady, found her gazing at his face with eyes that
said please in four languages, and hesitated.
"You could git up a benefit for the Methodist church, mebby," he
temporized. "There's a church of some kind here--I guess it's a Methodist.
They most generally are."
"We'd have to split with them if we did," the show lady objected
practically. "Oh, we're stuck worse than when we was back there in the
mud! We'd only have to pay five dollars for a six-months' theater license,
which would let us give all the shows we wanted to. It's a new law that I
guess you didn't know anything about," she added kindly. "You certainly
wouldn't have insisted on us coming if you'd knew about the license."
"It's a year, almost, since I was here," Casey admitted; "I been out
"Well, we can just work it fine! Can't we go somewhere and talk it over?
I've got a swell idea, Mister, if you'll just listen to it a minute, and
it'll certainly be a godsend to us to be able to give our show. We've got
some crutches amongst our stage props, and some scar patches, Mister, that
would certainly make you up fine as a cripple. Wouldn't they believe it,
Mister, if it was told that you had been in an accident and got crippled
In spite of his embarrassment, Casey grinned. "Yeah, I guess they'd
believe it, all right," he admitted. "They'd likely be tickled to death to
see me goin' around on crutches." He cast a hasty thought back into his
past, when he had driven a careening stage between Pinnacle and Lund,
strewing the steep trail with wreckage not his own. "Yeah, it'd tickle 'em
to death. Them that's rode with me," he concluded.
"Oh, you certainly are a godsend! Duck outa sight somewhere while I go
tell Jack dear that we've found a way open for us to show, after all!"
While Casey was pulling the sag out of his jaw so that he could protest,
could offer her money, do anything save what she wanted, the show lady
disappeared. Casey turned and went back into The Club, remained five
minutes perhaps and then walked very circumspectly across the street to
Bill's garage. It was there that the Barrymores found him when they came
seeking with their dilapidated old car, their crutches, their grease paint
and scar patches, to make a cripple of Casey whether he would or no.
Bill fell uproariously in with the plan, and Dwyer, stopping at the garage
on his way home to dinner, thought it a great joke on Lund and promised to
help the benefit along. Casey, with three drinks under his belt and his
stomach otherwise empty, wanted to sing,
"Hey, ok Bill! Can-n yuh play the fiddle-o?
and stuck there because of the show lady. Casey wouldn't have recognized
Trouble if it had walked up and banged him in the eye. He said sure, he'd
be a cripple for the lady. He'd be anything once, and some things several
times if they asked him in the right way. And then he gave himself into
the hands of Jack dear.
Casey looked battered and sad when the show people were through with him.
He had expected bandages wound picturesquely around his person, but the
Barrymores were more artistic than that. Casey's right leg was drawn up at
the knee so that he could not put his foot on the ground when he tried,
and he did not know how the straps were fastened. His left shoulder was
higher than his right shoulder, and his eyes were sunken in his head and a
scar ran down along his temple to his left cheek bone. When he looked in
the glass which Bill brought him, Casey actually felt ill. They told him
that he must not wash his face, and that his week's growth of beard was a
blessing from heaven. The show lady begged him, with dew on her lashes, to
play the part faithfully, and they departed, very happy over their
Casey did not know whether he was happy or not. With Bill to encourage him
and give him a lift over the gutters, he crossed the street to a
restaurant and ordered largely of sirloin steak and French fried potatoes.
After supper there was a long evening to spend quietly on crutches, and
The Club was just next door. A man can always spend an evening very
quickly at The Club--or he could in the wet days--if his money held out.
Casey had money enough, and within an hour he didn't care whether he was
crippled or not. There were five besides himself at that table, and they
had unanimously agreed to remove the lid. Moreover, there was a crowd ten
deep around that particular table. For the news had gone out that here was
Casey Ryan back again, a hopeless cripple, playing poker like a drunken
Rockefeller and losing as if he liked to lose.
At eight o'clock the next morning Bill came in to tell Casey that the show
people had brought up their car to be fixed, and was the pay good? Casey
replied Without looking up from his hand, which held a pair of queens
which interested him. He'd stand good, he said, and Bill gave a grunt and
At noon Casey meant to eat something. But another man had come into the
game with a roll of money and a boastful manner. Casey rubbed his cramped
leg and hunched down in his chair again and called for a stack of blues.
Casey, I may as well confess, had been calling for stacks of blues and
reds and whites rather often since midnight.
At four in the afternoon Casey hobbled into the restaurant and ate another
steak and drank three cups of black coffee. He meant to go across to the
garage and have Bill hunt up the Barrymores and get them to unstrap him
for awhile, but just as he was lifting his left crutch around the edge of
the restaurant door, two women of Lund came up and began to pity him and
ask him how it ever happened. Casey could not remember, just at the
moment, what story he had already told of his accident. He stuttered--a
strange thing for an Irishman to do, by the way--and retreated into The
Club, where they dared not follow.
"H'lo, Casey! Give yuh a chance to win back some of your losin's, if
you're game to try it again," called a man from the far end of the room.
Casey swore and hobbled back to him, let himself stiffly down into a chair
and dropped his crutches with a rattle of hard wood. Being a cripple was
growing painful, besides being very inconvenient. The male half of Lund
had practically suspended business that day to hover around him and
exchange comments upon his looks. Casey had received a lot of sympathy
that day, and only the fact that he had remained sequestered behind the
curtained arch that cut across the rear of The Club saved him from
receiving a lot more. But of course there were mitigations. Since walking
was slow and awkward, Casey sat. And since he was not a man to sit and
twiddle thumbs to pass the time, Casey played poker. That is how he
explained it afterwards. He had not intended to play poker for twenty-four
hours, but tie up a man's leg so he can't walk, and he's got to do
Wherefore Casey played,--and did not win back what he had lost earlier in
the day. Daylight grew dim, and some one came over and lighted a hanging
gasoline lamp that threw into tragic relief the painted hollows under
Casey's eyes, which were beginning to look very bloodshot around the blue
Once, while the bartender was bringing drinks--you are not to infer that
Casey was drunk; he was merely a bit hazy over details--Casey pulled out
his dollar watch and looked at it. Eight-thirty--the show must be pretty
well started, by now. He thought he might venture to hobble over to Bill's
and have those dog-gone straps taken off before he was crippled for sure.
But he did not want to do anything to embarrass the show lady. Besides, he
had lost a great deal of money, and he wanted to win some of it back. He
still had time to make that train, he remembered. It was reported an hour
late, some one said.
So Casey rubbed his strapped leg, twisting his face at the cramp in his
knee and letting his companions believe that his accident had given him a
heritage of pain. He hitched his lifted shoulder into an easier position
and picked up another unfortunate assortment of five cards.
At ten o'clock Bill, the garage man, came and whispered something to
Casey, who growled an oath and reached almost unconsciously for his
crutches before trying to get up; so soon is a habit born in a man.
"What they raisin' thunder about?" he asked apathetically, when Bill had
helped him across the gutter and into the street. "Didn't the crowd turn
out like they expected?" Casey's tone was dismal. You simply cannot be a
cripple for twenty-four hours, and sit up playing unlucky poker all night
and all day and well into another night, without losing some of your
animation; not even if you are Casey Ryan. "Hell, I missed that train
again," he added heavily, when he heard it whistle into the railroad yard.
"Too bad. You oughta be on it, Casey," Bill said ominously.
At the garage the Barrymores were waiting for him in their stage clothes
and make-up. The show lady had wept seams down through her rouge, and the
beads on her lashes had clotted unbecomingly.
"Mister, you certainly have wished a sorry deal on to us," she exclaimed,
when Casey came hobbling through the doorway. "Fifteen years on the stage
and _this_ never happened to us before. We've took our bad luck with our
good luck and lived honest and respectable and self-respecting, and here,
at last, ill fortune has tied the can on to us. I know you meant well and
all that, Mister, but we certainly have had a raw deal handed out to us in
this town. We--certainly--have!"
"We got till noon to-morrow to be outa the county," croaked Jack dear,
shifting his Adam's apple rapidly. "And that's real comedy, ain't it, when
your damn county runs clean over to the Utah line, and we can't go back
the way we come, or--and we can't go anywhere till this big slob here puts
our car together. He's got pieces of it strung from here around the block.
Say, what kinda town is this you wished on to us, anyway? Holding night
court, mind you, so they could can us quicker!"
The show lady must have seen how dazed Casey looked. "Maybe you ain't
heard the horrible deal they handed us, Mister. They stopped our show
before we'd raised the curtain,--and it was a seventy-five dollar house if
it was a cent!" she wailed. "They had a bill as long as my arm for
license--we couldn't get by with the five-dollar one--and for lights and
hall rent and what-all. There wasn't enough money in the house to pay it!
And they was going to send us to jail! The sheriff acted anything but a
gentleman, Mister, and if you ever lived in this town and liked it, I must
say I question your taste!"
"We wouldn't use a town like this for a garbage dump, back home," cut in
Jack with all the contempt he could master.
"And they hauled us over to their dirty old Justice of the Peace, and he
told us he'd give us thirty days in jail if we was in the county to-morrow
noon, and we don't know how far this county goes, either way!"
"Fifty miles to St. Simon," Bill told them comfortingly. "You can make it,
"We can make it, hey? How're we going to make it, with our car layin'
around all over your garage?" Jack's tone was arrogant past belief.
Casey was fumbling for strap buckles which he could not reach. He was also
groping through his colorful, stage-driver's vocabulary for words which
might be pronounced in the presence of a lady, and finding mighty few that
were of any use to him. The combined effort was turning him a fine purple
when the lady was seized with another brilliant idea.
"Jack dear, don't be harsh. The gentleman meant well--and I'll tell you,
Mister, what let's do! Let's trade cars till the man has our car repaired.
Your car goes just fine, and we can load our stuff in and get away from
this horrible town. Why, the preacher was there and made a speech and said
the meanest things about you, because you was having a benefit and at the
same identical time you was setting in a saloon gambling. He said it was
an outrage on civilization, Mister, and an insult to the honest,
hard-working people in Lund. Them was his very words."
"Well, hell!" Casey exploded abruptly. "I'm honest and hard-workin' as any
damn preacher. You can ask anybody!"
"Well, that's what he said, anyhow. We certainly didn't know you was a
gambler when we offered to give you a benefit. We certainly never dreamed
you'd queer us like that. But you'll do us the favor to lend us your car,
won't you? You wouldn't refuse that, and see me and little Junior
languishin' in jail when you know in your heart--"
"Aw, take the darn car!" muttered Casey distractedly, and hobbled into the
garage office where he knew Bill kept liniment.
Five minutes, perhaps, after that, Casey opened the office door wide
enough to fling out an assortment of straps and two crutches.
The show lady turned and made a motion which Casey mentally called a
pounce. "Oh, thank you, Mister! We certainly wouldn't want to go off and
forget these props. Jack dear has to use them in a comedy sketch we put on
sometimes when we got a good house."
Casey banged the door and said something exceedingly stage-driverish which
a lady should by no means overhear.
Sounds from the rear of the garage indicated that Casey's Ford was r'arin'
to go, as Casey frequently expressed it. Voices were jumbled in the tones
of suggestions, commands, protest. Casey heard the show lady's clear
treble berating Jack dear with thin politeness. Then the car came snorting
forward, paused in the wide doorway, and the show lady's voice called out
clearly, untroubled as the voice of a child after it has received that
which it cried for.
"Well, good-by, Mister! You certainly are a godsend to give us the loan of
your car!" There was a buzz and a splutter, and they were gone--gone clean
out of Casey's life into the unknown whence they had come.
Bill opened the door gently and eased into the office, sniffing liniment.
The painted hollows under Casey's eyes gave him a ghastly look in the
lamp-light when he lifted his face from examining a chafed and angry knee.
Bill opened his mouth for speech, caught a certain look in Casey's eyes
and did not say what he had intended to say. Instead:
"You better sleep here in the office, Casey. I've got another bed back of
the machine shop. I'll lock up, and if any one comes and rings the night
bell--well, never mind. I'll plug her so they can't ring her." The world
needs more men like Bill.
* * * * *
Even after an avalanche, human nature cannot resist digging in the
melancholy hope of turning up grewsome remains. I know that you are all
itching to put shovel into the debris of Casey's dreams, and to see just
what was left of them.
There was mighty little, let me tell you. I said in the beginning that
twenty-five thousand dollars was like a wildcat in Casey's pocket. You
can't give a man that much money all in a lump and suddenly, after he has
been content with dollars enough to pay for the food he eats, without
seeing him lose his sense of proportion. Twenty-five dollars he
understands and can spend more prudently than you, perhaps. Twenty-five
thousand he simply cannot gauge. It seems exhaustless. It is as if you
plucked from the night all the stars you can see, knowing that the Milky
Way is still there and unnumbered other stars invisible, even in the
Casey played poker with an appreciative audience and the lid off. Now and
then he took a drink stronger than root beer. He kept that up for a night
and a day and well into another night. Very well, gather round and look at
the remains, and if there's a moral, you are welcome, I am sure.
Casey awoke just before noon, and went out and held his head under Bill's
garage hydrant, with the water running full stream. He looked up and found
Bill standing there with his hands in his pockets, gazing at Casey
sorrowfully. Casey grinned. You can't down the Irish for very long.
"How's she comin', Bill?"
Bill grunted and spat. "She ain't. Not if you mean that car them folks
wished on to you. Well, the tail light's pretty fair, too. And in their
hurry the lady went off and left a pink silk stockin' in the back seat.
The toe's out of it though. Casey, if you wait till you overhaul 'em with
that thing they wheeled in here under the name of a car--"
"Oh, that's all right, Bill," Casey grunted gamely. "I was goin' to git me
a new car, anyway. Mine wasn't so much. They're welcome."
Bill grunted and spat again, but he did not say anything.
"I'll go see Dwyer and see how much I got left," Casey said presently, and
his voice, whether you believe it or not, was cheerful. "I'm going to
ketch that evenin' train to Los." And he added kindly, "C'm on and eat
with me, Bill. I'm hungry."
Bill shook his head and gave another grunt, and Casey went off without
After awhile Casey returned. He was grinning, but the grin was, to a
careful observer, a bit sickish. "Say, Bill, talk about poker--I'm off it
fer life. Now look what it done to me, Bill! I puts twenty-five thousand
dollars into the bank--minus two hundred I took in money--and I takes a
check book, and I goes over to The Club and gits into a game. I wears the
check book down to the stubs. I goes back and asks Dwyer how much I got in
the bank, and he looks me over like I was a sick horse he had doubts about
being worth doctorin', and as if he thought he mebby might better take me
out an' shoot me an' put me outa my misery.
"'Jest one dollar an' sixty-seven cents, Casey,' he says to me, 'if the
checks is all in, which I trust they air!'" Casey got out his plug of
chewing tobacco and pried off a blunted corner. "An' hell Bill! I had that
much in the bank when I started," he finished plaintively.
"Hell!" repeated Bill in brief, eloquent sympathy.
Casey set his teeth together and extracted comfort from the tobacco. He
"Well, anyway, I got me some bran' new socks, an' they're paid for, thank
God!" He tilted his old Stetson down over his right eye at his favorite,
Caseyish angle, stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled out into the
"At that," said Bill, grinning a little, "you'll know as much as the
average garage-man. What ain't reformed livery-stable men are second-hand
blacksmiths, and a feller like you, that has drove stage for fifteen
"Twenty," Casey Ryan corrected jealously. "Six years at Cripple Creek, and
then four in Yellowstone, and I was up in Montana for over five years,
driving stage from Dry Lake to Claggett and from there I come to Nevada--"
"Twenty," Bill conceded without waiting to hear more, "knows as much as a
man that has kept livery stable. Then again you've had two Fords--"
"Oh, I ain't sayin' I can't _run_ a garage," Casey interrupted. "I don't