Part 1 out of 4
Etext scanned by Daniel Wentzell of Leesburg, Georgia.
THE TRAIL OF THE WHITE MULE
by B. M. Bower
Casey Ryan, hunched behind the wheel of a large, dark blue
touring car with a kinked front fender and the glass gone from
the left headlight, slid out from the halted traffic, shied
sharply away from a hysterically clanging street car, crossed the
path of a huge red truck coming in from his right, missed it with
two inches to spare and was halfway down the block before the
traffic officer overtook him.
The traffic officer was Irish too, and bigger than Casey, and
madder. For all that, Casey offered to lick the livin' tar outa
him before accepting a pale, expensive ticket which he crumbled
and put into his pocket without looking at it.
"What I know about these here fancy city rules ain't sufficient
to give a horn-toad a headache--but it's a darn sight more'n I
care," Casey declaimed hotly. "I never was asked what I thought
of them tin signs you stick up on the end of a telegraft pole, to
tell folks when to go an' when to quit goin'. Mebby it's all
right fer these here city drivers--"
"This'll mean thirty days for you," spluttered the officer. "I
ought to call the patrol right now--"
"Get the undertaker on the line first!" Casey advised him
Traffic was piling up behind them, and horns were honking a
blatant chorus that extended two blocks up the street. The
traffic officer glanced into the troubled gray eyes of the Little
Woman beside Casey and took his foot off the running board.
"Better go put up your bail and then forfeit it," he advised in a
milder tone. "The judge will probably remember you; I do, and my
memory ain't the best in the world. Twice you've been hooked for
speeding through traffic; and parking by fire-plugs and in front
of the No Park signs and after four, seems to be your big outdoor
sport. Forfeit your bail, old boy--or it's thirty days for you,
Casey Ryan made bitter retort, but the traffic cop had gone to
untangle two furious Fords from a horse-drawn mail wagon, so he
did not hear. Which was good luck for Casey.
"Why do you persist in making trouble for yourself?" the Little
Woman beside him exclaimed. "It can't be so hard to obey the
rules; other drivers do. I know that I have driven this car all
over town without any trouble whatever."
Casey hogged the next safety-zone line to the deep disgust of a
young movie star in a cream-and-silver racer, and pulled in to
the curb just where he could not be passed.
"All right, ma'am. You can drive, then." He slid out of the
driver's seat to the pavement, his face a deeper shade of red
"For pity's sake, Casey! Don't be silly," his wife cried
sharply, a bit of panic in her voice.
"You was in a hurry to git home," Casey pointed out to her with
that mildness of manner which is not mild. "I was hurryin',
"You aren't hurrying now--you're delaying the traffic again. Do
be reasonable! You know it costs money to argue with the
"Police be damned! I'm tryin' to please a woman, an' I'm up agin
a hard proposition. You can ask anybody if I'm the unreasonable
one. You hustled me out of the show soon as the huggin'
commenced. You wouldn't even let me stay to see the first of
Mutt and Jeff. You said you was in a hurry. I leaves the show
without seein' the best part, gits the car an' drills through the
traffic tryin' to git yuh home quick. Now you're kickin' because
I did hurry."
"Hey! Whadda yuh mean, blockin' the traffic?" a domineering
voice behind him bellowed. "This ain't any reception hall, and
it ain't no free auto park neither."
Another traffic officer with another pencil and another pad of
tickets such as drivers dread to see began to write down the
number of Casey's car. This man did not argue. He finished his
work briskly, presented another notice which advised Casey Ryan
to report immediately to police headquarters, waved Casey
peremptorily to proceed, and returned to his little square
platform to the chorus of blatting automobile horns.
"The cops in this town hands out tickets like they was Free
Excursion peddlers!" snorted Casey, his eyes a pale glitter
behind his half-closed lids. "They can go around me, or they can
honk and be darned to 'em. Git behind the wheel, ma'am--Casey
Ryan's drove the last inch he'll ever drive in this darned town.
If they pinch me again, it'll have to be fer walkin'."
The Little Woman looked at him, pressed her lips together and
moved behind the wheel. She did not say a word all the way out
to the white apartment house on Vermont which held the four rooms
they called home. She parked the car dexterously in front and
led the way to their apartment (ground floor, front) before she
looked at me.
"It's coming to a show-down, Jack," she said then with a faint
smile. "He's on probation already for disobeying traffic rules
of one sort and other, and his fines cost more than the entire
upkeep of the car. I think he really will have to go to jail this
time. It just isn't in Casey Ryan to take orders from any one,
especially when his own personal habits of driving a car are
"Town life is getting on his nerves," I tried to defend Casey,
and at the same time to comfort the Little Woman. "I didn't
think it would work, his coming here to live, with nothing to do
but spend money. This is the inevitable result of too much money
and too much leisure."
"It sounds much better, putting it that way," murmured Mrs.
Casey. "I think you're right--though he did behave back there as
if it were too much matrimony. Jack, he's been looking forward
to your visit. I'm sorry this has happened to spoil it."
"It isn't spoiled," I grinned. "Casey Ryan is, always and ever
shall be Casey Ryan. He's running true to form, though tamer
than one would expect. When do you think he'll show up?"
Mrs. Casey did not know. She ventured a guess or two, but there
was no conviction in her tone. With two nominal arrests in five
minutes chalked against him, and with his first rebellion against
the Little Woman to rankle in his conscience and memory, she
owned herself at a loss.
With a cheerfulness that was only conversation deep, we waited
for Casey and finally ate supper without him. The evening was
enlivened somewhat by Babe's chatter of kindergarten doings; and
was punctuated by certain pauses while steps on the sidewalk
passed on or ended with the closing of another door than the
Ryans'. I fought the impulse to call up the police station, and
I caught the eyes of the Little Woman straying unconsciously to
the telephone in the hall while she talked of things remote from
our inner thoughts. Margaret Ryan is game, I'll say that. We
played cribbage for an hour or two, and the Little Woman beat me
until finally I threw up my hands and quit.
"I can't stand it any longer, Mrs. Casey. Do you think he's in
jail, or just sulking at a movie somewhere?" I blurted. "Forgive
my butting in, but I wish you'd talk about it. You know you can,
to me. Casey Ryan is a friend and more than a friend: he's a pet
theory of mine-- a fad, if you prefer to call him that.
"I consider him a perfect example of human nature in its
unhampered, unbiased state, going straight through life without
deviating a hair's breadth from the viewpoint of youth. A
fighter and a castle builder; a sort of rough-edged Peter Pan.
Till he gums soft food and hobbles with a stick because the years
have warped his back and his legs, Casey Ryan will keep that
indefinable, bubbling optimism of spiritual youth. So tell me
all about him. I want to know who has licked, so far; luxury or
The Little Woman laughed and picked up the cards, evening their
edges with sensitive fingers that had not been manicured so
beautifully when first I saw them.
"Well-sir," she drawled, making one word of the two and failing
to keep a little twitching from her lips, "I think it's been
about a tie, so far. As a husband--Casey's a darned good
bachelor." Her chuckle robbed that statement of anything
approaching criticism. "Aside from his insisting on cooking
breakfast every morning and feeding me in bed, forcing me to eat
fried eggs and sour-dough hotcakes swimming in butter and
honey--when I crave grapefruit and thin toast and one French lamb
chop with a white paper frill on the handle and garnished with
fresh parsley--he's the soul of consideration. He wants four
kinds of jam on the table every meal, when fresh fruit is going
to waste. He's bullied the laundryman until the poor fellow's
reached the point where he won't stop if the car's parked in
front and Casey's liable to be home; but aside from that, Casey's
"After serving time in the desert and rustling my own wood and
living on bacon and beans and sour-dough bread, I'm perfectly
willing to spend the rest of my life doing painless housekeeping
with all the modern built-in features ever invented; and buying
my bread and cakes and salads from the delicatessen around the
corner. I never want to see a sagebush again as long as I live,
or feel the crunch of gravel under my feet. I expect to die in
French-heeled pumps and embroidered silk stockings and the
finest, silliest silk things ever put in a show window to tempt
the soul of a woman. But it took just two weeks and three days
to drive Casey back to his sour-dough can."
"He craved luxury more than you seemed to do," I remembered aloud.
"He did, yes. But his idea of luxury is sitting down in the
kitchen to a real meal of beans and biscuits and all the known
varieties of jam and those horrible whitewashed store cookies and
having the noise of the phonograph drowned every five minutes by
a passing street car. Casey wants four movies a day, and he wants
them all funny. He brings home silk shirts with the stripes
fairly shrieking when he unwraps them--and he has to be thrown
and tied to get a collar on him.
"He will get up at any hour of the night to chase after a fire
engine, and every whipstitch he gets pinched for doing something
which is perfectly lawful and right in the desert and perfectly
awful in the city. You saw him," said the Little Woman,
"to-day." And she added wistfully, "It's the first time since we
were married that he has ever talked back--to me.
"And you know," she went on, shuffling the cards and stopping to
regard the joker attentively (though I am sure she didn't know
what card she was looking at), "just chasing around town and
doing nothing but square yourself for not playing according to
the rules costs money without getting you anywhere. Fifty-five
thousand dollars isn't so much just to play with, in this town.
Casey's highest ambition now seems to be nickel disk wheels on a
new racing car that can make the speed cops go some to catch him.
His idea of economy is to put six or seven thousand dollars into
a car that will enable him to outrun a twenty-dollar fine!
"We have some money invested," she went on. "We own this
apartment house--and fortunately it's in my name. So long as the
housing problem continues critical, I think I can keep Casey
going without spending our last cent."
"He did one good stroke of business," I ventured, "when he bought
this place. Apartment houses are good as gold mines these days."
The Little Woman laughed. "Well-sir, it wasn't so much a stroke
as it was a wallop. Casey bought it just to show who was boss,
he or the landlord. The first thing he did when we moved in was
to take down the nicely framed rules that said we must not cook
cabbage nor onions nor fish, nor play music after ten o'clock at
night, nor do any loud talking in the halls.
"Every day for a week Casey cooked cabbage, onions and fish. He
sat up nights to play the graphophone. He stayed home to talk
loudly and play bucking bronk with Babe all up and down the
stairs and in the halls. Our rent was paid for a month in
advance, and the landlord was too little and old to fight. So he
sold out cheap--and it really was a good stroke of business for
us, though not deliberate
"Well-sir, at first we lost tenants who didn't enjoy the freedom
of their neighbors' homes. But really, Jack, you'd be surprised
to know how many people in this city just LOVE cabbage and onions
and fish, and to have children they needn't disown whenever they
go house-hunting. I had ventilator hoods put over every gas range
in the house, and turned the back yard into a playground with
plenty of sand piles and swings. I raised the price, too, and
made the place look very select, with a roof garden for the
grown-ups. We have the house filled now with really nice
families--avoiding the garlic brand--and as an investment I
wouldn't ask for anything better.
"Casey enjoyed himself hugely while he was whipping things into
shape, but the last month he's been going stale. The tenants are
all so thankful to do as they please that they're excruciatingly
polite to him, no matter what he does or says. He's tired of the
beaches and he has begun to cuss the long, smooth roads that are
signed so that he couldn't get lost if he tried. It does seem as
if there's no interest left in anything, unless he can get a kick
out of going to jail. And, Jack, I do believe he's gone there."
The telephone rang and the Little Woman excused herself and went
into the hall, closing the door softly behind her.
I'm not greatly given to reminiscence, but while I sat and
watched the flames of civilization licking tamely at the
impregnable iron bark of the gas logs, the eyes of my memory
looked upon a picture:
Desert, empty and with the mountains standing back against the
sky, the great dipper uptilted over a peak and the stars bending
close for very friendliness. The licking flames of dry
greasewood burning, with a pungent odor in my nostrils when the
wind blew the smoke my way. The far-off hooting of an owl,
perched somewhere on a juniper branch watching for mice; and
Casey Ryan sitting cross-legged in the sand, squinting humorously
at me across the fire while he talked.
I saw him, too, bolting a hurried breakfast under a mesquite tree
in the chill before sunrise, his mind intent upon the trail;
facing the desert and its hardships as a matter of course, with
never a thought that other men would shrink from the ordeal.
I saw him kneeling before a solid face of rock in a shallow cut
in the hillside, swinging his "single-jack" with tireless rhythm;
a tap and a turn of the steel, a tap and a turn--chewing tobacco
industriously and stopping now and then to pry off a fresh bit
from the plug in his hip pocket before he reached for the "spoon"
to muck out the hole he was drilling.
I saw him larruping in his Ford along a sandy, winding trail it
would break a snake's back to follow, hot on the heels of his
next adventure, dreaming of the fortune that finally came. . . .
The Little Woman came in looking as if she had been talking with
Destiny and was still dazed and unsteady from the meeting.
"Well-sir, he's gone!" she announced, and stopped and tried to
smile. But her eyes looked hurt and sorry. "He has bought a Ford
and a tent and outfit since he left us down on Seventh and
Broadway, and he just called me up on long-distance from San
Bernardino. He's going out on a prospecting trip, he says. I'll
say he's been going some! A speed cop overhauled him just the
other side of Claremont, he told me, and he was delayed for a few
minutes while he licked the cop and kicked him and his motorcycle
into a ditch. He says he's sorry he sassed me, and if I can
drive a car in this darned town and not spend all my loose change
paying fines, I'm a better man than he is. He doesn't know when
he'll be back--and there you are."
She sat down wearily on the arm of an over-stuffed armchair and
looked up at the gilt-and-onyx clock which I suspected Casey of
having bought. "If he isn't lynched before morning," she sighed
whimsically, "he'll probably make it to the Nevada line all
I rose, also glancing at the clock. But the Little Woman put up
a hand to forbid the plan she read in my mind.
"Let him alone, Jack," she advised. "Let him go and be just as
wild and devilish as he wants to be. I'm only thankful he can
take it out on a Ford and a pick and shovel. There really isn't
any trouble between us two. Casey knows I can look out for
myself for awhile. He's got to have a vacation from loafing and
matrimony. I'm so thankful he isn't taking it in jail!"
I told her somewhat bluntly that she was a brick, and that if I
could get in touch with Casey I'd try to keep an eye on him. It
would probably be a good thing, I told her, if he did stay away
long enough to let this collection of complaints against him be
forgotten at the police station.
I went away, hoping fervently that Casey would break even his own
records that night. I really intended to find him and keep an
eye on him. But keeping an eye on Casey Ryan is a more
complicated affair than it sounds.
Wherefore, much of this story must be built upon my knowledge of
Casey and a more or less complete report of events in which I
took no part, welded together with a bit of healthy imagination.
Casey Ryan knew his desert. Also, from long and not so happy
experience, he knew Fords, or thought he did. He made the
mistake, however, of buying a nearly new one and asking it to
accomplish the work of a twin six from the moment he got behind
He was fortunate in buying a demonstrator's car with a hundred
miles or so to its credit. He arrived in Barstow before the
proprietor of a supply store had gone to bed--for which he was
grateful to the Ford. He loaded up there with such necessities
for desert prospecting as he had not waited to buy in Los
Angeles, turned short off the main highway where traffic officers
might be summoned by telephone to lie in wait for him, and took
the steeper and less used trail north. He was still mad and
talking bitterly to himself in an undertone while he
drove--telling the new Ford what he thought of city rules and
city ways, and driving it as no Ford was ever meant by its maker
to be driven.
The country north of Barstow is not to be taken casually in the
middle of a dark night, even by Casey Ryan and a Ford. The
roads, once you are well away from help, are all pretty much
alike, and all bad. And although the white, diamond-shaped signs
of a beneficent automobile club are posted here and there, where
wrong turnings are most likely to prove disastrous to travelers,
Casey Ryan was in the mood to lick any man who pointed out a sign
to him. He did see one or two in spite of himself and gave a
grunt of contempt. So, where he should have turned to the east
(his intention being to reach Nevada by way of Silver Lake) he
continued traveling north and didn't know it.
Driving across the desert on a dark night is confusing to the
most observant wayfarer. On either side, beyond the light of the
car, illusory forest stands for mile upon mile. Up hill or down
or across the level it is the same--a narrow, winding trail
through dimly seen woods. The most familiar road grows strange;
the miles are longer; you drive through mystery and silence and
the world around you is a formless void.
Dawn and a gorgeous sunrise painted out the woods and revealed
barren hilltops which Casey did not know. Because he did not
know them, he guessed shrewdly that he was on his way to the
wilderness of mountains and sand which lies west of Death Valley.
Small chance he had of hearing the shop whistles blow in Las
Vegas at noon, as he had expected.
He was telling himself that he didn't care where he went, when
the car, laboring more and more reluctantly up a long, sandy
hill, suddenly stopped. In Casey's heart was a thrill at the
sheer luxury of stopping in the middle of the road without having
some thick-necked cop stride toward him bawling insults. That he
was obliged to stop, and that a hill uptilted before him, and the
sand was a foot deep outside the ruts failed to impress him with
foreboding. He gloried in his freedom and thought not at all of
He climbed stiffly out, squinted at the sky line, which was
jagged, and at his immediate surroundings, which were barren and
lonely and soothing to his soul that hungered for these things.
Great, gaunt "Joshua" trees stood in grotesque groups all up and
down the narrow valley, hiding the way he had come from the way
he would go. It was as if the desert had purposely dropped a
curtain before his past and would show him none of his future.
Whereat Casey Ryan grinned, took a chew of tobacco and was
"If they wanta come pinch me here, I'll meet 'em man to man.
Back in town no man's got a show. They pile in four deep and
gang a feller. Out here it's lick er git licked. They can all go
t' thunder. Tahell with town!"
The odor of coffee boiling in a new pot which the sagebrush fire
was fast blackening; the salty, smoky smell of bacon frying in a
new frying pan that turned bluish with the heat; the sizzle of
bannock batter poured into hot grease--these things made the
smiling mouth of Casey Ryan water with desire.
"Hell!" said Casey, breathing deep when, stomach full and
resentment toward the past blurred by satisfaction with his
present, he filled his pipe and fingered his vest pocket for a
match. "Gas stoves can't cook nothin' so there's any taste to
it. That there's the first real meal I've et in six months.
Light a match and turn on the gas and call that a fire! Hunh!
Good old sage er greasewood fer Casey Ryan, from here on!"
He laid back against the sandy sidehill, tilted his hat over his
eyes and crossed his legs luxuriously. He was in no hurry to
continue his journey. Now that he and the desert were alone
together, haste and Casey Ryan held nothing in common. For
awhile he watched a Joshua palm that looked oddly like a giant
man with one arm hanging loose at its side and another pointing
fixedly at a distant, black-capped butte standing aloof from its
fellows. Casey was tired after his night on the trail. Easy
living in town had softened his muscles and slowed a little that
untiring energy which had balked at no hardship. He was drowsy,
and his brain stopped thinking logically and slipped into
The Joshua seemed to move, to lift its arm and point more
imperatively toward the peak. Its ungainly head seemed to turn
and nod at Casey. What did the darned thing want? Casey would go
when he, got good and ready. Perhaps he would go that way, and
perhaps he would not. Right here was good enough for Casey Ryan
at present; and you could ask anybody if he were the man to
follow another man's pointing, much less a Joshua tree.
Battering rain woke Casey some hours later and drove him to the
shelter of the Ford. Thunder and lightning came with the rain,
and a bellowing wind that rocked the car and threatened once or
twice to overturn it. With some trouble Casey managed to button
down the curtains and sat huddled on the front seat, watching
through a streaming windshield the buffeted wilderness. He was
glad he had not unloaded his outfit; gladder still that the storm
had not struck which he was traveling. Down the trail toward him
a small river galloped, washing deep gullies where the wheels of
his car offered obstruction to its boisterousness.
"She's a tough one," grinned Casey, in spite of the chattering of
his teeth. "Looks like all the water in the world is bein'
poured down this pass. Keeps on, I'll have to gouge out a couple
of Joshuays an' turn the old Ford into a boat--but Casey'll keep
Until inky dark it rained like the deluge. Casey remained
perched in his one-man ark and tried hard to enjoy himself and
his hard-won freedom. He stabbed open a can of condensed milk,
poured it into a cup, and drank it and ate what was left of his
breakfast bannock, which he had fortunately put away in the car
out of the reach of a hill of industrious red ants.
He thought vaguely of cranking the car and going on, but gave up
the notion. One sidehill, he decided, was as good as another
sidehill for the present.
That night Casey slept fitfully in the car and discovered that
even a wall bed in a despised apartment house may be more
comfortable than the front seat of a Ford. His bones ached by
morning, and he was hungry enough to eat raw bacon and relish it.
But the sun was fighting through the piled clouds and shone
cheerfully upon the draggled pass, and Casey boiled coffee and
fried bacon and bannock beside the trail, and for a little while
was happy again.
From breakfast until noon he was busy as a beaver repairing the
washout beneath the car and on to the top of the hill. She was
going to have to get down and dig in her toes to make it, he told
the Ford, when at last he heaved pick and shovel into the
tonneau, packed in his cooking outfit and made ready to crank up.
From then until supper time he wore a trail around the car,
looking to see what was wrong and why he could not crank. He
removed hootin'-annies and dingbats (using Casey's mechanical
terms) looked them over dissatisfiedly, and put them back without
having done them ny good whatever. Sometimes they were returned
to a different place, I imagine, since I know too well how
impartial Casey is with the mechanical parts of a Ford.
He made camp there that night, pitching his little tent in the
trail for pure cussedness, and defying aloud a traveling world to
make him move until he got good and ready. He might have saved
his vocabulary, for the road was impassable before him and
behind; and had Casey managed to start the car, he could not have
driven a mile in either direction.
Since he did not know that, the next day he painstakingly cleaned
the spark plugs and tried again to crank the Ford; couldn't, and
removed more hootin'-annies and dingbats than he had touched the
day before. That night he once more pitched his tent in the
trail, hoping in his heart that some one would drive along and
dispute his right to camp there; when he would lick the doggone
On the fourth day, after a long, fatiguing session with the
vitals of a Ford that refused to be cranked, Casey was busy
gathering brush, for his supper fire when Fate came walking up'
the trail. Fate appears in many forms. In this instance it
assumed the shape of a packed burro that poked its nose around a
group of Joshuas, stopped abruptly and backed precipitately into
another burro which swung out of the trail and went careening
awkwardly down the slope. The stampeding burro had not seen the
Ford at all, but accepted the testimony of its leader that
something was radically wrong with the trail ahead. His pack
bumped against the yuccas as he went; after him lurched a large
man, heavy to the point of fatness, yelling hoarse threats and
Casey threw down his armful of dead brush and went after the lead
burro which was blazing itself a trail in an entirely different
direction. The lead burro had four large canteens strapped
outside its pack, and Casey was growing so short of water that he
had begun to debate seriously the question of draining the
radiator on the morrow.
I don't suppose many of you would believe the innate cussedness
of a burro when it wants to be that way. Casey hazed this one to
the hills and back down the trail for half a mile before he
rushed it into a clump of greasewood and sneaked up on it when it
thought itself hidden from all mortal eyes. After that he dug
heels into the sand and hung on. Memory resurrected for his need
certain choice phrases coined in times of stress for the ears of
burros alone. Luxury and civilization and fifty-five thousand
dollars and a wife were as if they had never been. He was Casey
Ryan, the prospector, fighting a stubborn donkey all over a
desert slope. He led it conquered back to the Ford, tied it to a
wheel and lifted off the four canteens, gratified with their
weight and hoping there were more on the other burro. He had
quite forgotten that he had meant to lick the first man he saw,
and grinned when the fat man came toiling back with the other
By the time their coffee was boiled and their bacon fried, each
one knew the other's past history and tentative plans for the
future, censored and glossed somewhat by the teller but received
without question or criticism.
The fat man's name was Barney Oakes, and he had heard of Casey
Ryan and was glad to meet him. Though Casey had never heard of
Barney Oakes, he discovered that they both knew Bill Masters, the
garage man at Lund; and further gossip revealed the amazing fact
that Barney Oakes had once been the husband of the woman whom
Casey had very nearly married, the widow who cooked for the Lucky
"Boy, you're sure lucky she turned loose on yuh before yuh went
an' married her!" Barney congratulated Casey, slapping his great
thigh and laughing loudly. "She shore is handy with her
tongue--that old girl. Ever hear a sawmill workin' overtime?
That's her--rippin' through knots an' never blowin' the whistle
fer quittin' time. I never knowed a man could have as many faults
as what she used t' name over fer me." He drained his cup and
sighed with great content. "At that, I stayed with her seven
months and fourteen days," he boasted. "I admit, two of them
months I was laid up with a busted ankle an' shoulder blade.
Tunnel caved in on me."
They talked late that night and were comrades, brothers, partners
share and share alike before they slept. Next morning Casey
tried again to start the Ford; couldn't; and yielded to Barney's
argument that burros were better than a car for prospectin' in
that rough country. They overhauled Casey's outfit, took all the
grub and as much else as the burros could carry and debated
seriously what point in the Panamints they should aim for.
"Where's that there Joshuay tree pointin' to?" Casey asked
finally. "She's the biggest and oldest in the bunch, and ever
since I've been here she's looked like she's got somethin' on 'er
mind. Whadda yuh think, Barney?"
Barney walked around the yucca, stood behind the extended arm,
squinted at the sharp-peaked butte with the black capping, toward
which the gaunt tree seemed to point. He spat out a stale quid
of tobacco and took a fresh one, squinted again toward the butte
and looked at Casey.
"She's country I never prospected in, back in there. I've
follered poorer advice than a Joshuay. Le's try it a whirl."
Thus it came to pass that Casey Ryan forsook his Ford for a
strange partner with two burros and a clouded past, and fared
forth across the barren foothills with no better guidance than
the rigid, outstretched limb of a great, gaunt Joshua tree.
In a still sunny gulch which shadows would presently fill to the
brim, Casey Ryan was reaching, soiled bandanna in his hand, to
pull a pot of bubbling coffee from the coals,--a pot now
blackened with the smoke of many campfires to prove how
thoroughly a part of the open land it had become. Something
nipped at his right shoulder, and at the same instant ticked the
coffeepot and overturned it into a splutter of steam and hot
ashes. The spiteful crack of a rifle shot followed close. Casey
ducked behind a nose of rock, and big Barney Oakes scuttled for
cover, spilling bacon out of the frying pan as he went.
For a week the two had been camped in this particular gulch,
which drew in to a mere wrinkle on the southwestern slope of the
black-topped butte, toward which the Joshua tree in the pass had
directed them. Nearly a week they had spent toiling across the
hilly, waterless waste, with two harrowing days when their
canteens flopped empty on the burros and big Barney stumbled
oftener than Casey liked to see. Casey himself had gone doggedly
ahead, his body bent forward, his square shoulders sagging a bit,
but with never a thought of doing anything but go on.
A red splotch high up on the side of this gulch promised "water
formation" as prospectors have a way of putting it. They had
found the water, else adventure would have turned to tragedy.
Near the water they had also found a promising outcropping of
silver-bearing quartz. Barney's blowpipe had this very day shown
them silver in castle-building quantities.
Just at this moment, however, they were not thinking of mines.
They were eyeing a round hole in the coffeepot from which a brown
rivulet ran spitting into the blackening coals.
Casey was the more venturesome. He raised himself to see if he
could discover where the bullet had come from, and very nearly
met the fate of the coffeepot. He felt the wind of a second
bullet that spatted against a boulder near Barney. Barney
burrowed deeper into his covert.
Casey went down on all fours and crawled laboriously toward a
concealing bank covered thick with brush. A third bullet clipped
a twig of sage just about three inches above the middle of his
back, and Casey flattened on his stomach and swore. Some one on
the peak of the hill had good eyesight, he decided. Neither
spoke, other than to swear in undertones; for voices carried far
in that clear atmosphere, and nothing could be gained by
Darkness never had poured so slowly into that gulch since the
world was young. The campfire had died to black embers before
Casey ventured from his covert, and Barney Oakes seemed to have
holed up for the season. Unless you have lived for a long while
in a land altogether empty of any human life save your own, you
cannot realize the effect of having mysterious bullets zip past
your ears and ruin your supper for you.
"Somebody's gunnin' fer us, looks like t' me," Barney observed
belatedly in a hoarse whisper, from his covert.
"Found that out, did yuh? Well, it ain't the first time Casey's
been shot at and missed," Casey retorted peevishly in the lee of
the bank. "Say! I knowed the sing of bullets before I was old
enough to carry a tune."
"So'd I," boasted Barney, "but that ain't sayin' I learned t'
like the song."
"What I'm figurin' out now," said Casey, "is how to get up there
an' AT 'am. An' how we kin do it without him seein' us. Goin'
t' be kinda ticklish--but it ain't the first ticklish job Casey
Ryan ever tackled."
"It can't be did," Barney stated flatly. "An' if it could be
did, I wouldn't do it. I ain't as easy t' miss as what you be.
I got bulk."
"A hole bored through your tallow might mebbe do you good," Casey
suggested harshly. "Might let in a little sand. You can't never
"My vitals," said Barney with dignity, "is just as close to the
surface as what your vitals be. I ain't so fat--I'm big. An' I
got all the sand I need. I also have got sense, which some men
"What yuh figurin' on doin'?" Casey wanted to know. "Set here
under a bush an' let 'em pick yuh up same as they would a
cottontail, mebbe? We got a hull night to work in, an' Casey's
eyes is as good as anybody's in the dark. More'n that, Casey's
six-gun kin shoot just as hard an' fast as a rifle--let 'im git
Barney did not want to be left alone and said so frankly.
Neither did he want to climb the butte. He could see no possible
gain in climbing to meet an enemy or enemies who could hear the
noise of approach. It was plain suicide, he declared, and Barney
Oakes was not ready to die.
But Casey could never listen to argument when a fight was in
prospect. He filled a canteen, emptied a box of cartridges into
his pocket, stuck his old, Colt six-shooter inside his trousers
belt, and gave Barney some parting instruction under his breath.
Barney was to move camp down under the bank by the spring, and
dig himself in there, so that the only approach would be up the
narrow gulch. He would then wait until Casey returned.
"Somebody's after our outfit, most likely," Casey reasoned. "It
ain't the first time I've knowed it to happen. So you put the
hull outfit outa sight down there an' stand guard over it. If
we'd 'a' run when they opened up, they'd uh cleaned us out and
left us flat. They's two of us, an' we'll git 'em from two
He stuffed cold bannock into the pocket that did not hold the
cartridges and disappeared, climbing the side of the gulch
opposite the point which held their ambitious marksman.
To Barney's panicky expostulations he had given little heed. "If
yore vitals is as close to your hide as what you claim," Casey
had said impatiently, "an' you don't want any punctures in 'em,
git to work an' git that hide of yourn outa sight. It'll take
some diggin'; they's a lot of yuh to cover."
Barney, therefore, dug like a badger with a dog snuffing at its
tail. Casey, on the other hand, climbed laboriously in the
darkness a bluff he had not attempted to climb by daylight. It
was hard work and slow, for he felt the need of going quietly.
What lay over the rim-rock he did not know, though he meant to
Daylight found him leaning against a smooth ledge which formed a
part of the black capping he had seen from the road. He had
spent the night toiling over boulders and into small gulches and
out again, trying to find some crevice through which he might
climb to the top. Now he was just about where he had been several
hours before, and even Casey Ryan could not help realizing what a
fine target he would make if he attempted to climb back down the
bluff to camp before darkness again hid his movements.
Standing there puffing and wondering what to do next, he saw the
two burros come picking their way toward the spring for their
morning drink and a handful apiece of rolled oats which Barney
kept to bait them into camp. The lead burro was within easy
flinging distance of a rock, from camp, when the thin,
unmistakable crack of a rifle-shot came from the right, high up
on the rim somewhere beyond Casey. The lead burro pitched
forward, struggled to get up, fell again and rolled over, lodging
against a rock with its four feet sticking up at awkward angles
in the air.
The second burro, always quick to take alarm, wheeled and went
galloping away down the draw. But he couldn't outgallop the
bullet that sent him in a complete somersault down the slope.
Barney might keep the rest of his rolled oats, for the burros
were through wanting them.
Casey squinted along the rim of black rock that crested the peak
irregularly like a stiff, ragged frill of mourning stuff the gods
had thrown away. He could not see the man who had shot the
burros. By the intervals between shots, Casey guessed that one
man was doing the shooting, though it was probable there were
others in the gang. And now that the burros were dead, it became
more than ever necessary to locate the gang and have it out with
them. That necessity did not worry Casey in the least. The only
thing that troubled him now was getting up on the rim without
It was characteristic of Casey Ryan that, though he moved with
caution, he nevertheless moved toward their unseen enemy. Not
for a long, long while had Casey been cautious in his behavior,
and the necessity galled him. If the hidden marksman had missed
that last burro, Casey would probably have taken a longer chance.
But to date, every bullet had gone straight to its destination;
which was enough to make any man think twice.
Once during the forenoon, while Casey was standing against the
rim-rock staring glumly down upon the camp, Barney's hat, perched
on a pick handle, lifted its crown above the edge of his hiding
place; an old, old trick Barney was playing to see if the rifle
were still there and working. The rifle worked very well indeed,
for Barney was presently flattened into his retreat, swearing and
poking his finger through a round hole in his hat.
Casey seized the opportunity created by the diversion and
scurried like a lizard across a bare, gravelly slide that had
been bothering him for half an hour. By mid-afternoon he reached
a crevice that looked promising enough when he craned up it, but
which nearly broke his neck when he had climbed halfway up.
Never before had he been compelled to measure so exactly his
breadth and thickness. It was drawing matters down rather fine
when he was compelled to back down to where he had elbow room,
and remove his coat before he could squeeze his body through that
crack. But he did it, with his six-shooter inside his shirt and
the extra ammunition weighting his trousers pockets.
In spite of his long experience with desert scenery, Casey was
somewhat astonished to find himself in a new land, fairly level
and with thick groves of pinon cedar and juniper trees scattered
here and there. Far away stood other barren hills with deep
canyons between. He knew now that the black-capped butte was
less a butte than the uptilted nose of a high plateau not half so
barren as the lower country. From the pointing Joshua tree it
had seemed a peak, but contours are never so deceptive as in the
high, broken barrens of Nevada.
He looked down into the gulch where Barney was holed up with
their outfit. He could scarcely distinguish the place, it had
dwindled so with the distance. He had small hope of seeing
Barney. After that last leaden bee had buzzed through his hat
crown, you would have to dig faster than Barney if you wanted a
look at him. Casey grinned when he thought of it.
When he had gotten his breath and had scraped some loose dirt out
of his shirt collar, Casey crouched down behind a juniper and
examined his surroundings carefully, his pale, straight-lidded
eyes moving slowly as the white, pointing finger of a searchlight
while he took in every small detail within view. Midway in the
arc of his vision was a ledge, ending in a flat-topped boulder.
The ledge blocked his view, except that he could see trees and a
higher peak of rocks beyond it. He made his way cautiously
toward the ledge, his eyes fixed upon the boulder. A huge,
sloping slab of the granite outcropping it seemed, scaly with
gray-green fungus in the cracks where moisture longest remained;
granite ledge banked with low junipers warped and stunted and
tangled with sage. The longer Casey looked at the boulder, the
less he saw that seemed unnatural in a country filled with
boulders and outcroppings and stunted vegetation.
But the longer he looked at it, the stronger grew his animal
instinct that something was wrong. He waited for a time--a long
time indeed for Casey Ryan to wait. There was no stir anywhere
save the sweep of the wind blowing steadily from the west.
He crept forward, halting often, eyeing the boulder and its
neighboring ledge, distrust growing within him, though he saw
nothing, heard nothing but the wind sweeping through branches and
bush. Casey Ryan was never frightened in his life. But he was
Irish born--and there's something in Irish blood that will not
out; something that goes beyond reason into the world of unknown
It's a tricksy world, that realm of intuitions. For this is what
befell Casey Ryan, and you may account for it as best pleases
He circled the rock as a wolf will circle a coiled rattler which
it does not see. Beyond the rock, built close against it so that
the rear wall must have been the face of the ledge, a little rock
cabin squatted secretively. One small window, with two panes of
glass was set high under the eaves on the side toward Casey.
Cleverly concealed it was, built to resemble the ledge. Visible
from one side only, and that was the side where Casey stood. At
the back the sloping boulder, untouched, impregnable; at the
north and west, a twist of the ledge that hid the cabin
completely in a niche. It was the window on the south side that
So here was what the boulder concealed,--and yet, Casey was not
satisfied with the discovery. Unconsciously he reached for his
gun. This, he told himself, must be the secret habitation of the
fiend who shot from rim-rocks with terrible precision at harmless
prospectors and their burros.
Casey squinted up at the sun and turned his level gaze again upon
the cabin. Reason told him that the man with the rifle was still
watching for a pot shot at him and Barney, and that there was
nothing whatever to indicate the presence of only one man in the
camp below. Had he been glimpsed once during the climb, he would
have been fired upon; he would never have been given the chance
to gain the top and find this cabin.
The place looked deserted. His practical, everyday mind told him
it was empty for the time being. But he felt queer and
uncomfortable, nevertheless. He sneaked along the ledge to the
cabin, flattened himself against the corner next the gray boulder
and waited there for a minute. He felt the flesh stiffening on
his jaws as he crept up to the window to look in. By standing on
his toes, Casey's eyes came on a level with the lowest inch of
glass,--the window was so high.
Just at first Casey could not see much. Then, when his eyes had
adjusted themselves to the half twilight within, his mind at
first failed to grasp what he saw. Gradually a dimly sensed
dread took hold of him, and grew while he stood there peering in
at commonplace things which should have given him no feeling save
perhaps a faint surprise.
A fairly clean, tiny room he saw, with a rough, narrow bed in one
corner and a box table at its head. From the ceiling hung a
lantern with the chimney smoked on one side and the warped, pole
rafter above it slightly blackened to show how long the lantern
had hung there lighted. A door opposite the tiny window was
closed, and there was no latch or fastening on the inner side.
An Indian blanket covered half the floor space, and in the corner
opposite the bed was a queer, drumlike thing of sheet iron with a
pipe running through the wall; some heating arrangement, Casey
In the center of the room, facing the window, a woman sat in a
wooden rocking chair and rocked. A pale old woman with dark
hollows under her eyes that were fixed upon the pattern of the
Indian rug. Her hair was white. Her thin, white hands rested
limply on the arms of the chair, and she was rocking back and
forth, back and forth, steadily, quietly,--just rocking and
staring at the Indian rug.
Casey has since told me that she was the creepiest thing he ever
saw in his life. Yet he could not explain why it was so. The
woman's face was not so old, though it was lined and without
color. There was a terrible quiet in her features, but he felt,
somehow, that her thoughts were not quiet. It was as if her
thoughts were reaching out to him, telling him things too awful
for her thin, hushed lips to let pass.
But after all, Casey's main object was to locate the man with the
rifle, and to do it before he himself was seen on the butte. He
watched a little longer the woman who rocked and rocked. Never
once did her eyes move from that fixed point on the rug. Never
once did her fingers move on the arm of the chair. Her mouth
remained immobile as the lips of a dead woman. He had to force
himself to leave the window; and when he did, he felt guilty, as
if he had somehow deserted some one helpless and needing him. He
sneaked back, lifted himself and took another long look. The old
woman was rocking back and forth, her face quiet with that
terrible, pent placidity which Casey could not understand.
Away from the cabin a pebble's throw, he shook his shoulders and
pulled his mind away from her, back to the man with the rifle--
and to Barney. Rocking in a chair never hurt anybody that he
ever heard of. And shooting from rim-rocks did. And Barney was
down there, holed up and helpless, though he had grub and water.
Casey was up here in a mighty dangerous place without much grub
or water but--he hoped--not quite helpless. His immediate,
pressing job was not to peek through a high-up window at an old
woman rocking back and forth in a chair, but to round up the man
who was interfering with Casey's peaceful quest for--well, he
called it wealth; but I think that adventure meant more to him.
He picked his way carefully along the edge of the rim-rock,
keeping under cover when he could and watching always the country
ahead. And without any artful description of his progress, I
will simply say that Casey Ryan combed the edge of that rampart
for two miles before dark, and found himself at last on the side
farthest from Barney without having discovered the faintest trace
of any living soul save the woman who rocked back and forth in
the little, secret cabin.
Casey sat down on a rock, took a restrained drink from his
canteen, and said everything he knew or could invent that was
profane and condemnatory of his luck, of the unseen assassin, of
the country and his present predicament. He got up, looked all
around him, sniffed unavailingly for some tang of smoke in the
thin, crisp air, reseated himself and said everything all over
Presently he rose and made his way straight across the butte,
going slowly to lessen his chance of making a noise for
unfriendly ears to hear, and with the stars for guidance.
The night was growing cold, and Casey had no coat. At least he
could go down and tell Barney what he had discovered and had
failed to discover, and get something to eat. Barney would
probably be worrying about him, though there was a chance that a
bullet had found Barney before dark. Casey was uneasy, and once
he was down the fissure again, he hurried as much as possible.
He managed to reach the camp by the little spring without being
shot at and without breaking a leg. But Barney was not there.
Just at first Casey believed he was dead; but a brief search told
Casey that two of the largest canteens were gone, together with a
side of bacon, some flour and all of the tobacco. White
assassins would have made a more thorough job of robbing the
camp. Barney, it was evident, had fled the fate of the burros.
Casey told the stars what he thought of a partner like Barney.
Afterward he ate what was easiest to swallow without cooking,
overhauled what was left of their outfit, cached the remainder in
a clump of bushes, and wearily climbed the bluff again under a
capacity load. He concealed himself in the bottom of the fissure
to sleep, since he could search no farther.
If he thought wistfully of the palled comfort of his apartment in
Los Angeles, and of the Little Woman there, he still did not
think strongly enough to send him back to them. For with a
canteen or two of water, some food and his two capable legs to
carry him, Casey Ryan could have made it to Barstow easily
enough. But because he was Casey Ryan, and Irish, and because he
was always on the hunt for trouble without recognizing it when he
met it in the trail, it never occurred to him to follow Barney
down to safer country.
"That there Joshuay tree meant a lot more'n what it let on,
pointin' up this way!" Casey muttered, staring down upon a
somnolent wilderness blanketed with hushed midnight. "If it
thinks it's got Casey whipped, it better think agin and think
quick. I'll give it somethin' to point at, 'fore I leave this
"Funny, the way it kept pointin' up this way. I've saw Joshuays
before--miles of 'em. But I never seen one that looked so kinda
human and so kinda like it was tryin' to talk. Seems kinda
funny; an' that old lady rockin' an' lookin'--seems like her an'
the Joshuay has kinda throwed in together, hopin' somebody might
come along with savvy enough to kinda--aw, hell!" So did Casey
and his Irish belief in the supernatural fall plump against the
limitations of his vocabulary.
Against the limitations proscribed by his material predicament,
however, Casey Ryan set his face with a grin. Somebody was going
to get the big jolt of his life before long, he told himself over
a careful breakfast fire built cunningly far back in the crevice
where a current of air sucked into the rock capping of the butte.
Something was going on up here that shouldn't go on. He did not
know what it was, but he meant to stop it. He did not know who
was making Indian war on peaceful prospectors, but Casey felt
that they were already as good as licked, since he was here with
breakfast under his belt and his six-shooter tucked handily
inside his waistband.
He squinted up the crack in the ledge, made certain mental
alterations in its narrow, jagged walls, and reached for the
tough-handled, efficient prospector's pick he had thoughtfully
included in his meagre equipment. Slowly and methodically he
worked up the crevice, knocking off certain sharp points of rock,
and knowing all the while what would probably happen to him if he
He was not discovered, however. When he laid elbows on the upper
level of the rim and pulled himself up, his coat was on his back
where it belonged, and even Barney could have followed him. Yet
the top showed no evidence of a widening of the fissure. The
bushy junipers hid him completely while he reconnoitred and
considered what he should do.
Because the place was close and the invisible call was strong,
Casey went first to the rock hut, circled it carefully and found
that it was exactly what it had seemed at first sight; a hidden
place with no evident opening save that high, small window under
the eaves. There was no sign of pathway leading to it, no trace
of life outside its wall. But when he crept close and peeked in
again, there sat the old woman rocking back and forth. But
to-day she stared at the wall before her.
Casey felt a distinct sensation of relief just in knowing that
she was, after all, capable of moving. Now her head was not
bent, but rested against the back of her chair. She was rocking
steadily, quietly, with never a halt.
Casey rapped on the window and waited, fighting a nameless dread
of the mystery of her. But she continued to rock and to stare at
the wall; if she heard the tapping she gave no sign whatever. So
presently he turned away and set himself to the work of finding
the man with the rifle.
To that end he first of all climbed the tallest pinon tree in
sight; a tree that stood on a rise of ground apart from its
brothers. From the concealment of its branches, he surveyed his
surroundings carefully, noting especially the notched unevenness
of the butte's rim and how just behind him it narrowed
unexpectedly to a thin ridge not more than a couple of hundred
yards in breadth. A jagged outcropping cut straight across and
Casey saw how yesterday he had mistaken that ledge for the rim of
the butte. His man must have been out on the point beyond him
all the while. He was out there now, very likely; there, or down
in the camp he had watched yesterday like a vulture.
His search having narrowed to an area easily covered in an hour
or two, Casey turned his head and examined as well as he could
the deep canyon that had bitten into the butte and caused that
narrow peak. Trees blocked his view there, and he was feeling
about for a lower foothold so that he could make the descent when
a voice from the ground startled him considerably.
"Come down outa there, before I shoot yuh down!"
Casey looked down and saw what he afterwards declared was the
meanest looking man on earth, pointing straight at him the widest
muzzled shotgun he had ever seen in his life.
Casey came down. The last ten feet of the distance he made in a
clean jump, planting his feet full in the old man's stomach. The
meanest looking man on earth gave a grunt and crumpled, with
Casey's fingers digging into his throat.
Whether Casey would have killed him or not will never be known.
For just as the man was falling limp in his hands, another heavy
body landed upon Casey's back. Casey felt a hard, chill circle
pressed against his perspiring temple. His hands relaxed and
fall away from the throat, leaving finger marks there in the
"Git up off'n him!" a new voice commanded harshly, and Casey
obeyed. His captor shifted the gun muzzle to the back of Casey's
neck and poked the gasping, bearded old man with his toe.
"Git up, Paw, you old fool, you! What'd you let 'im light on yuh
fer? Why couldn't you a stood back a piece, outa reach? You
like to got croaked."
Casey found it prudent to hold his head rather still, as a man
does when he carries a boil on his neck. The muzzle of a
six-shooter has a quieting effect, when applied to the person by
an unfriendly hand. Casey did not at once see the intruder. But
presently "Paw" recovered himself and his shotgun, and swung it
menacingly toward Casey. Whereupon the cold circle left Casey's
medulla oblongata and a long-faced, long-legged youth stepped
somewhat hastily to one side.
"Paw, you ol' fool, you, get your finger off'n that trigger
whilst you're aimin' at me!" he exclaimed pettishly.
"I wa'n't aimin' at you. I was aimin' at this 'ere--" Casey
heard himself called many names, any one of which was good for a
fight when Casey was free.
"Aw, you shut up, Paw. You ain't gittin' nobody nowhere," the
son interrupted. "You can't cuss 'im t' death--he looks like he
could cut loose a few of them pet names hisself if he got a
chancet. Yuh might tell us what you was doin' up that there tree,
mister. An' what you're doin' on this here butte, anyhow."
Casey looked at him. Knowing Casey, I should say that his eyes
were not pleasant. "Talk to Paw," he advised contemptuously.
"The two of yuh may possibly be able to stand each other without
gittin' sick; but me, I never did git used to skunks!"
That remark very nearly got him a through ticket to Land Beyond.
But, being very nearly what Casey had called them, they contented
themselves with mouthing vile epithets.
"Better take 'im down to the mine an' keep 'im till Mart gets
back, Paw," the long-jawed youth suggested, when he ran short of
objurgations. "Mart'll fix 'im when he comes."
"I'd fix 'im, here an', now," threatened Paw, "but Mart, he's so
damned techy lately--what we oughta do is bust 'is head with a
rock an, pitch 'im over the rim. That'd fix 'im."
They wrangled over the suggestion, and finally decided to take
him down and turn him over to one whom they called Joe. Casey
went along peaceably, hopeful that he would later have a chance
to fight back. He told himself that they both had heads like
peanuts, and whenever they moved, he swore, he could hear their
brains rattle in their skulls. It doesn't take brains to shoot
straight, and he decided that the lanky young man was the one who
had shot from the rim-rock. They drove him down into the narrow,
deep gulch, following a steep trail that Casey had not seen the
day before. The trail led them to the mouth of a tunnel; and by
the size of the dump Casey judged that the workings were of a
considerable extent. They were getting out silver ore, he
guessed, after a glance or two at stray pieces of rock.
Joe was a big, glum-looking individual with his left hand
bandaged. He chewed tobacco industriously and maintained a
complete silence while Hank, frequently telling Paw to shut up,
told how and where they had found Casey spying up on the butte.
"We don't fancy stray desert rats prowlin' around without no
reason," said Joe. "Our boss that we're workin' for ain't at
home. We're lookin' for 'im back any day now, an' we'll just
hold yuh till he comes. He can do as he likes about yuh. You'll
have to work fer your board--c'm on an' I'll show yuh how."
Hank followed Casey and Joe into the tunnel. Casey made no
objections whatever to going. The tunnel was a fairly long one,
he noticed, with drifts opening out of it to left and right. At
the end of the main tunnel, Joe turned, took Casey's candle from
him and stuck it into a seam in the wall, as he had done with his
"Ever drill in rock?" he asked shortly.
"Mebbe I have an' mebbe I ain't," Casey returned defiantly.
"Here's a drill, an' here's your single-jack. Now git t' work.
There ain't any loafin' around this camp, and spies never meant
good to nobody. Yuh needn't expect to be popular with us--but
you'll git your grub if yuh earn it.
Casey looked at the drill, took the double-headed, four-pound
hammer and hesitated. He has said that it was pretty hard to
resist braining the two of them at once. But there would still
be the old man with the shotgun, and he admitted that he was
curious about the old woman who rocked and rocked. He decided to
wait awhile and see, why these miners found it necessary to shoot
harmless prospectors who came near the butte. So he spat into
the dust of the tunnel floor, squinted at Joe for a minute and
went to work.
That day Casey was kept underground except during the short
interval of "shooting" and waiting for the dynamite smoke to
clear out of the tunnel; which process Casey assisted by
operating a hand blower much against his will. Joe remained
always on guard, eyeing Casey suspiciously. When at last he was
permitted to pick up his coat and leave the tunnel, night had
fallen so that the gulch was dim and shadowy. Casey was
conducted to a dugout cabin where bacon was frying too fast and
smoking suffocatingly. Paw was there, in a vile temper which
seemed to be directed toward the three impartially and to have
been caused chiefly by his temporary occupation as camp cook.
Casey watched the old man place food for one person in little
dishes which he set in a bake pan for want of a tray. He added a
small tin teapot of tea and disappeared from the dugout.
"Two of us waitin' to see your boss, huh?" Casey inquired boldly
of Joe. "Can't we eat together?"
"You can call yourself lucky if you eat at all," Joe retorted
glumly. "The old man's pretty sore at the way you handled him.
He's runnin' this camp; I ain't."
Casey let it go at that, chiefly because he was hungry and tired
and did not want to risk losing his supper altogether. Hounds
like these, he told himself bitterly, were capable of any
crime--from smashing a man's skull and throwing him off the
rim-rock to starving him to death. He was Casey Ryan, ready
always to fight whether his chance of winning was even or merely
microscopical; but even so, Casey was not inclined toward
When the old man presently returned and the three sat down to the
table, Casey obeyed a gesture and sat down with them. In spite
of Joe's six-shooter laid handily upon the table beside his
plate, Casey ate heartily, though the food was neither well
cooked nor over plentiful.
After supper he rose and filled his pipe which they had permitted
him to keep. A stranger coming into the cabin might not have
guessed that Casey was a prisoner. When the table was cleared
and Hank set about washing the dishes, Casey picked up a grimy
dish towel branded black in places where it had rubbed sooty
kettles, and grinned cheerfully at Paw while he dried a tin
plate. Paw eyed him dubiously over a stinking pipe, spat
reflectively into the woodbox and crossed his legs the other way,
loosely swinging an ill-shod foot.
"Y'ain't told us yet what brung yuh up on the butte," Paw
observed suddenly. "Yuh wa'n't lost--yuh ain't got the mark uh
no tenderfoot. What was yuh doin' up in that tree?"
"Mebbe I mighta been huntin' mountain sheep," Casey retorted
"Huntin' mountain sheep up a tree is a new one," tittered Hank.
"Wish you'd give me a swaller uh that brand. Must have a kick
like a brindle mule."
"More likely 'White Mule.'" Casey cocked a knowing eye at Hank.
"You're too late, young feller. I chewed the cork day before
yesterday," he declared.
While he fished another plate out of the pan, Casey observed that
Paw looked at Joe inquiringly, and that Joe moved his head
sidewise a careful inch, and back again.
"Moonshine, huh?" Paw hazarded hopefully. "Yuh peddlin' it, er
Casey grinned secretively. "A man can't be pinched without the
goods," he observed shrewdly. "I was raised in a country where
they took fools out an' brained 'em with an axe. You fellers
ain't been none too friendly, recollect. When's your boss
expected home, did yuh say? I'd kinda like to meet 'im."
"He'll kinda like to meet you," Joe returned darkly. "Your
actions has been plumb suspicious.
"Nothin' suspicious about MY actions," Casey stated truculently,
throwing discretion behind him. "The suspiciousness lays up here
somewheres on this butte. If yuh want to know what brung me up
here, Casey Ryan's the man that can tell yuh to your faces. I
come up here to find out who's been gittin' busy with a
high-power on my camp down below. Ain't it natural a man'd want
to know who'd shot his two burros--an' 'is pardner?" Casey had
impulsively decided to throw in Barney for good measure. "Casey
Ryan ain't the man to set under a bush an' be shot at like a
rabbit. You can ask anybody if Casey ever backed up fer man er
beast. I come up here huntin'. Shore I did. It wasn't sheep I
was after--that there's my mistake. It was goats."
"Guess I got yourn," Hank leered "when stuck my gun in your back
"If any one's 'been usin' a high-power it wasn't on this butte,"
Joe growled. "None uh this bunch done any shootin'. Pap an'
Hank, they was up here huntin' burros an I caught yuh up a tree
spyin'. We got a little band uh antelope up here we're
pertectin'. Our boss got himself made a deppity fer just such
cases as yourn appears t' be--pervidin' your case ain't worse.
"Now you say your pardner was shot down below in your camp. That
shore looks bad fer you, old-timer. The boss'll shore have t'
look into it when he gits here. Lucky we made up our minds t'
hold yuh--a murderer, like as not." He filled his pipe with
deliberation, while Casey, his jaw sagging, stared from one to
Casey had meant to accuse them to their faces of shooting Barney
and the burros from the rim-rock. It had occurred to him that if
they believed Barney dead, they might reveal something of their
purpose in the attack. Concealment, he felt vaguely, would serve
merely to sharpen their suspicion of him. It had seemed very
important to Casey that these three should not know that Barney
was probably well on his way to Barstow by now.
Barney in Barstow would mean Barney bearing news that Casey Ryan
was undoubtedly murdered by outlaws in the Panamints; which would
mean a few officers on the trail, with Barney to guide them to
the spot. Paw and Hank and Joe--outlaws all, he would have sworn
would get what Casey called their needin's. His jaw muscles
tightened when he thought of that, and the prospect held him
quiet under Joe's injustice.
"I can prove anything I'm asked to prove when the time comes," he
said sourly, and began to roll himself a cigarette, since his
pipe had gone out. "But I ain't in any courtroom yet, an' you
fellers ain't any judge an' jury."
"We got to hold ye," Paw spoke up unctiously, as if the decision
had been his. "Ef a crime's been committed, like you say it has,
we got to do our duty an' hold ye. The boss'll know what to do
with ye--like I said all along; when I hauled ye down outa that
tree, for instance.
"Aw, shut up, Paw, you ol' fool, you," Hank commanded again with
filial gentleness. "He had yore tongue hangin' out a foot when I
come along an' captured 'im. Don't go takin' no credit to
yourself --you ain't got none comin'. Mart'll know what to do
with 'im, all right. But yuh needn't go an' try to let on to
Mart that you was the one that caught 'im. He had you caught.
An' he'd a killed yuh if I hadn't showed up an' pulled 'im off'n
"Well now, when it comes to KILLIN'," Casey interjected
spitefully, "I guess I coulda put the two of yuh away if I'd a
wanted to right bad. Casey Ryan ain't no killer, because he don't
have to be. G'wan an' hold me if yuh feel that way. Grub ain't
none too good, but I can stand it till your boss comes. I want a
man-to-man talk with him, anyway."
That night Casey slept soundly in a bunk built above Joe's bed in
the dugout, with Hank and Paw on the opposite side of the room
with their guns handy. In the morning he thought well enough of
his stomach to get up and start breakfast when Hank had built the
fire. He was aware of Joe's suspicious gaze from the lower bunk,
and of the close presence of Joe's six-shooter eyeing him
balefully from underneath the top blanket. Hank, too, was
watchful as a coyote, which he much resembled, in Casey's
opinion. But Casey did not mind trifles of that kind, once his
mind was at ease about the breakfast and he was free to slice
bacon the right thickness, and mix the hot-cake batter himself.
For the first time in many weeks he sang --if you could call it
singing--over his work.
When Casey Ryan sings over a breakfast fire, you may expect the
bacon fried exactly right. You may be sure the hot-cakes will be
browned correctly with no uncooked dough inside, and that the
coffee will give you heart for whatever hardship the day may
Even Paw's surliness lightened a bit by the time he had speared
his tenth cake and walloped it in the bacon grease before
sprinkling it thick with sugar and settling the eleventh cake on
top. Casey was eyeing the fourteenth cake on Hank's plate when
Joe looked up at him over a loaded fork.
"Save out enough dough for three good uns," Joe ordered, "an'
fill that little coffee pot an' set it to keep hot, before Hank
hogs the hull thing. Dad, seems like you're, too busy t' think
uh some things Mart wouldn't want forgot." Paw looked quickly at
Casey; but Casey Ryan had played poker all his life, and his
weathered face showed no expression beyond a momentary interest,
which was natural.
"Other feller hurt bad?" he inquired carelessly, looking at
Joe's bandaged hand. He almost grinned when he saw the relieved
glances exchanged between Joe and Paw.
"Leg broke," Joe mumbled over a mouthful. "Dad, he set it an'
it's doin' all right. He's up in another cabin." Through Hank's
brainless titter, Joe added carefully, "Bad ground in the first
right-hand drift. We had to abandon it. Rocks big as your head
comin' in on yuh onexpected. None uh them right-hand drifts is
safe fer a man t' walk in, much less work."
Thereupon Casey related a thrilling story of a cave-in, and
assured Joe that he and his partner were lucky to get off with
mere broken bones. Casey, you will observe, was running contrary
to his nature and leaning to diplomacy.
For himself, I am sure he would never have troubled to placate
them. He would have taken the first slim chance that offered--or
made one --and fought the three to a finish.
But there was the old woman in the rock hut above them, rocking
back and forth and staring at a wall that had no visible opening
save one small window to let in the light of outdoors. Prisoner
she must be--though why, Casey could only guess.
Perhaps she was some desert woman, the widow of some miner who
had been shot as these three had tried to shoot him and Barney
Oakes. Mean, malevolent as they were, they would still lack the
brutishness necessary to shoot an old woman. So they had shut
her up there in the rock hut, not daring to take her back to
civilization where she would tell of the crime. It was all plain
enough to Casey. The story of the crippled miner made him curl
his lip contemptuously when his back was safely turned from Joe.
That day Casey thought much of the old woman in the hut, and of
Paw's worse than inferior cooking. Though he did not realize the
change in himself, six months of close companionship with the
Little Woman had changed Casey Ryan considerably. Time was when
even his soft-heartedness would not have impelled him to patient
scheming that he might help an old woman whose sole claim upon
his sympathy consisted of four rock walls and a look of calm
despair in her eyes. Now, Casey was thinking and planning for
the old woman more than for himself.
Wherefore, Casey chose the time when he was "putting in an upper"
(which is miner's parlance for drilling a hole in the upper face
of the tunnel). He gritted his teeth when he swung back the
single-jack and landed a glancing blow on the knuckles of his
left hand instead of the drill end. No man save Casey Ryan or a
surgeon could have told positively whether the metacarpal bones
were broken or whether the hand was merely skinned and bruised.
Joe came up, regarded the bleeding hand sourly, led Casey out to
the dugout and bandaged the hand for him. There would be no more
tunnel work for Casey until the hand had healed; that was
accepted without comment.
That night Casey proved to Paw that, with one hand in a sling
much resembling Joe's, he could nevertheless cook a meal that
made eating a pleasure to look forward to. After that the old
woman in the little stone hut had pudding, sometimes, and cake
made without eggs, and pie; and the potatoes were mashed or baked
instead of plain boiled. Casey had the satisfaction of seeing the
dishes return empty to the dugout, and know that he was permitted
to add something to her comfort and well-being. The Little Woman
would be glad of that, Casey thought with a glow. She might
never hear of it, but Casey liked to feel that he was doing
something that would please the Little Woman.
For the first few days after Casey was installed as cook, one of
the three remained always with him, making it plain that he was
under guard. Two were always busy elsewhere. Casey saw that he
was expected to believe that they were at work in the tunnel,
driving it in to a certain contact of which they spoke frequently
and at length.
At supper they would mention their footage for that day's work,
and Casey would hide a grin of derision. Casey knew rock as he
knew bacon and beans and his sour-dough can. To make the footage
they claimed to be making in that tunnel, they would need to
shoot twice a day, with a round of, say, five holes to a shot.
As a matter of fact, two holes a day, one shot at noon and one at
night, were the most Casey ever heard fired in the tunnel or
elsewhere about the mine. But he did not tell them any of the
things he thought; not even Joe, who had intelligence far above
Paw and Hank, ever guessed that Casey listened every day for
their shots and could tell, almost to an inch what progress they
were actually making in the tunnel. Nor did he guess that Casey
Ryan with his mouth shut was more unsafe than "giant powder" laid
out in the sun until it sweated destruction.
Persistent effort, directed by an idea based solely upon an
abstract theory, must be driven by a trained intelligence. In
this case the abstract theory that every prisoner must be watched
must support itself unaided by Casey's behavior. Not even Joe's
intelligence was trained to a degree where the theory in itself
was sufficient to hold him to the continuous effort of watching
Wherefore Paw, Hank and Joe presently slipped into the habit of
leaving Casey alone for an hour or so; being careful to keep the
guns out of his reach, and returning to the dugout at unexpected
intervals to make sure that all was well.
Casey Ryan knew his pots and pans, and how to make them fill his
days if need be. With savory suppers and his care-free, Casey
Ryan grin, he presently lulled them into accepting him as a handy
man around camp, and into forgetting that he was at least a
potential enemy. Afoot and alone in that unfriendly land, with
his left hand smashed and carried in a sling, and on his tongue
an Irish joke that implied content with his captivity, Casey Ryan
would not have looked dangerous to more intelligent men than
They should have looked one night under the bedding in Casey's
bunk. More important still would have been the safeguarding of
their "giant powder" and caps and fuse. They should not have
left it in a gouged, open hollow under a boulder near the dugout.
They were not burdened by the weight of their brains, I imagine.
Just here I should like to say a few words to those who are
wholly ignorant of the devastating power contained in "giant
powder"-- which is dynamite. If you have never had any
experience with the stuff, you are likely to go out with a bang
and a puff of bluish-brown smoke when you go. On the other hand,
you may believe the weird tales one reads now and then, of how
whole mountainsides have been thrown down by the discharge of a
few sticks of dynamite. Or of one man striking terror to the
very souls of a group of mutinous miners by threatening to throw
a piece at them. Very well, now this is the truth without any
frills of exaggeration or any belittlement:
Dynamite MAY go off by being thrown so that it lands with a jar,
but it is not likely to be so hasty as all that. Whole boxes of
it have been dropped off wagons traveling over rough trails, with
no worse effect than a nervous chill down the spine of the driver
of the wagon. It is true that old stuff, after lying around for
months and months through varying degrees of temperature, may
perform erratically, exploding when it shouldn't and refusing to
explode when it should. The average miner refuses to take a
chance with stale "giant" if he can get hold of fresh.
One stick the size of an ordinary candle, and from that to a
maximum amount of four sticks, may be used to "load" a hole
eighteen to twenty-four inches long, drilled into living rock.
The amount of dynamite used depends upon the quality of rock to
be broken and the skill and good judgment of the miner. In
average hard-rock mining, from three to five of these holes are
drilled in a space four-by-six feet in area.
A stick of dynamite is exploded by inserting in one end of the
stick a high-power detonating cap which will deliver a
twenty-pound blow per X--whatever that means. From three- to
six-X caps are used in ordinary mining. Three-X caps sometimes
fail to explode a stick of dynamite. A six-X cap, delivering a
one-hundred-and-twenty-pound blow, may be counted upon to do the
work without fail.
The cap itself is exploded by a spark running through a length of
fuse, the length depending altogether upon the time required to
reach a point of safety after the fuse is lighted. The cap is
really more dangerous to handle than is the dynamite itself. The
cap is a tricky thing that may go off at any jar or scratch or at
a spark from pipe or cigarette. You can, if you are sufficiently
careless of possible results, light the twisted paper end of a
stick of dynamite and watch the dynamite burn like wax in your
fingers; it MAY go off and set your friends to work retrieving
portions of your body. More likely, it will do nothing but burn
Well, then, a piece of fuse is inserted in the open end of the
cap, and the metal pressed tight against the fuse to hold it in
place. Pressed down by the miner's teeth, sometimes, if he has
been long in the business and has grown careless about his head;
otherwise he crimps the cap on with a small pair of pliers or the
back of his knife blade--and feels a bit easier when it is done
without losing a hand.
You would think, unless you are accustomed to the stuff, that
when five holes are loaded with, probably, ten or twelve sticks
of dynamite to the lot, each hole containing a six-X exploding
cap as well, that the first shot would likewise be the last shot
and that the whole tunnel would cave in and the mountain behind
it would shake. Nothing like that occurs. If there are five
loaded holes in the tunnel face, and you do not hear, one after
the other, five muffled BOOMS, you will know that one hole failed
to go off--and that the miner is worried. It happens sometimes
that four holes loaded with eight sticks of dynamite explode
within a foot or so of the fifth hole and yet the fifth hole
remains "dead" and a menace to the miner until it is discharged.
So please don't swallow those wild tales of a stick of dynamite
that threw down a mountainside. I once read a story--it was not
so long ago--of a Chinaman who wiped out a mine with a little
piece of dynamite which he carried in his pocket. I laughed.
Casey Ryan, on the first day when he was left alone with his
crippled hand and his pots and pans for company, did nothing
whatever that he would not have done had one of the three been
present. He was suspicious of their going and thought it was a
trap set to catch him in an attempted escape.
On the second day when the three went off together and left him
alone, Casey went out gathering wood and discovered just where
the "powder," fuse and caps were kept under a huge, black boulder
between the tunnel portal and the dugout. On the third day he
also gathered wood and helped himself to two sticks of dynamite,
three caps and eighteen inches of fuse. Not enough to be missed
unless they checked their supply more carefully than Casey
believed they did; but enough for Casey's purpose nevertheless.
That night, while the moon shone in through the dingy window at
the head of his bunk and gave him a little light to work by,
Casey sat up in bed and snored softly and with a soothing rhythm
while he cut a stick of dynamite in two, capped five inches of
fuse for each piece working awkwardly with his one good hand and
pinching the caps tight with his teeth, which might have sent him
with a bang into Kingdom Come--and very carefully worked the caps
into the powder until no more than three inches of fuse protruded
from the end of the half stick. It would have been less
dangerous to land with a yell in the middle of the floor and
fight the three men with one bare hand, but Casey's courage never
turned a hair.
Still snoring mildly, he held up to the moonlight two deadly
weapons and surveyed them with much satisfaction. They would not
be so quick, as fiction would have them, but if his aim was
accurate in throwing, they would be deadly enough. Moreover, he
could count with a good deal of certainty upon a certain degree
of terror which the sight of them in his hand would produce.
When Casey Ryan cooked breakfast next morning, he carried two
half-sticks of loaded dynamite under his hand in the sling. Can
you wonder that even he shied at standing over the stove cooking
hot cakes and complained that his broken hand pained him a lot
and that the heat made it worse? But a shrewd observer would
have noticed on his face the expression of a cat that has been
shut in the pantry over night.
Joe volunteered to take another look at the hand and see if blood
poison was "setting in"; but Casey said it didn't feel like blood
poison. He had knocked it against the bunk edge in his sleep, he
declared. He'd dose 'er with iodine after a while, and she'd be
Joe let it go at that, being preoccupied with other matters at
which Casey could only guess. He conferred with Paw outside the
dugout after breakfast, called Hank away from the dish-washing
and the three set off toward the tunnel with a brisker air than
usually accompanied them to work. Casey watched them go and felt
reasonably sure of at least two hours to himself.
The first thing Casey did after he had made sure that he was
actually alone was to remove the deadly stuff from the sling and
lay it on a shadowed shelf where it would be safe but convenient
to his hand. Then, going to his bunk, he reached under the
blankets and found the other stick of dynamite which he had not
yet loaded. This he laid on the kitchen table and cut it in two
as he had done last night with the other stick. With his
remaining cap he loaded a half and carried it back to his bunk.
He was debating in his mind whether it was worth while purloining
another cap from a box under the boulder when another fancy took
him and set him grinning.
Four separate charges of dynamite, he reasoned, would not be
necessary. It was an even chance that the sight of a piece with
the fuse in his hand would be sufficient to tame Paw or Hank or
Joe--or the three together, for that matter--without going
further than to give them a sight of it.
With that idea uppermost, Casey split the paper carefully down
the side of the remaining half-stick, took out the contents in a
tin plate and carried it outside where he buried it in the sand
beneath a bush. Returning to the dugout he made a thick dough of
leftover pancake batter and molded it into the dynamite wrapping
with a fragment of harmless fuse protruding from the opened end.
When the thing was dry, Casey thought it would look very deadly
and might be useful. After several days of helplessness for want
of a weapon, Casey was in a mood to supply himself generously.
He finished the dish-washing, working awkwardly with one hand.
After that he put a kettle of beans on to boil, filled the stove
with pinon sticks and closed the drafts. He armed himself with
the two loaded pieces of dynamite from the cupboard, filled his
pockets with such other things as he thought he might need, and
went prospecting on his own account.
At the portal of the tunnel he stopped and listened for the
ping-g, ping-g of a single-jack striking steadily upon steel.
But the tunnel was silent, the ore car uptilted at the end of its
track on the dump. Yet the three men were supposedly at work in
the mine, had talked at breakfast about wanting to show a certain
footage when the boss returned, and of needing to hurry.
Casey went into the tunnel, listening and going silently; sounds
travel far in underground workings. At the mouth of the first
right-hand drift he stopped again and listened. This, if he
would believe Joe, was the drift where the bad ground had caused
the accident to Joe and his partner whose leg had been broken.
Casey found the drift as silent as the main tunnel. He went in
ten feet or so and lighted the candle he had pulled from inside
his shirt. With the candle held in the swollen fingers of his
injured hand, and a prospector's pick taken from the portal in
his other, Casey went on cautiously, keeping an eye upon the roof
which, to his wise, squinting eyes, looked perfectly solid and
If a track had ever been laid in this drift it had long since
been removed. But a well-defined path led along its center with
boot tracks going and coming, blurring one another with much
passing. Casey grinned and went on, his ears cocked for any sound
before or behind, his shoes slung over his arm by their tied
So he came, in the course of a hundred feet or so, to a crude
door of split cedar slabs, the fastening padlocked on his side.
Casey had vaguely expected some such bar to his path, and he
merely gave a grunt of satisfaction that the lock was old and on
his side of the door.
With his jackknife Casey speedily took off one side of the lock
and opened it. Making the door appear locked behind him when he
had passed through was a different matter, and Casey did not
attempt it. Instead, he merely closed the door behind him,
carrying the padlock in with him.
As Casey reviewed his situation, being on the butte at all was a
risk in itself. One detail more or less could not matter so
much. Besides, he was a bold Casey Ryan with two loaded
half-sticks of dynamite in his sling.
A crude ladder against the wall of a roomy stope beyond the door
did not in the least surprise him. He had expected something of
this sort. When he had topped the ladder and found himself in a
chamber that stretched away into blackness, he grunted again his
mental confirmation of a theory working out beautifully in fact.
His candle held close to the wall, he moved forward along the
well-trodden path, looking for a door. Mechanically he noticed
also the formation of the wall and the vein of ore--probably
high-grade in pockets, at least--that had caused this chamber to
be dug. The ore, he judged, had long since been taken out and
down through the stope into the tunnel and so out through the
main portal. These workings were old and for mining purposes
abandoned. But just now Casey was absorbed in solving the one
angle of the mystery which he had stumbled upon at first, and he
gave no more than a glance and a thought to the silent testimony
of the rock walls.
He found the door, fastened also on the outside just as he had
expected it would be. Beside it stood a rather clever heating
apparatus which Casey did not examine in detail. His Irish heart
was beating rather fast while he unfastened the door. Beyond
that door his thoughts went questing eagerly but he hesitated
nevertheless before he lifted his knuckles and rapped.
There was no reply. Casey waited a minute, knocked again, then
pulled the door open a crack and looked in. The old woman sat
there rocking back and forth, steadily, quietly. But her thin
fingers were rolling a corner of her apron hem painstakingly, as
if she meant to hem it again. Her eyes were fixed absently upon
the futile task. Casey watched her as long as he dared and
cleared his throat twice in the hope that she would notice him.
But the old woman rocked back and forth and rolled her apron hem;
unrolled it and carefully rolled it again.
"Good morning, ma'am," said Casey, clearing his throat for the
third time and coming a step into the room with his candle
dripping wax on the floor.
For just an instant the uneasy fingers paused in their rolling of
the apron hem. For just so long the rockers hesitated in their
motion. But the old woman did not reply nor turn her face toward
him; and Casey pushed the door shut behind him and took two more
steps toward her.
"I come to see if yuh needed anything, ma'am; a friend, mebbe."
Casey grinned amiably, wanting to reassure her if it were
possible to make her aware of his presence. "They had yuh locked
in, ma'am. That don't look good to Casey Ryan. If yuh wanta get
out--if they got yuh held a prisoner here, or anything like
'that, you can trust Casey Ryan any old time. Is--can I do
anything for yuh, ma'am?" The old woman dropped her hands to her
lap and held them there, closely clasped. Her head swung slowly
round until she was looking at Casey with that awful, fixed stare
she had heretofore directed at the wall or the floor.
"Tell those hell-hounds they have a thousand years to burn--every
one of them!" she said in a deep, low voice that had in it a
singing resonance like a chant. "Every cat, every rat, every
mouse, every louse, has a thousand year's to burn. Tell Mart the
hounds of hell must burn!" Her voice carried a terrible
condemnation far beyond the meaning of the words themselves. It
was as if she were pronouncing the doom of the whole world.
"Every cat, every rat, every mouse, every louse--"
Casey Ryan's jaw dropped an inch. He backed until he was against
the door. He had to swallow twice before he could find his
voice, and those of you who know Casey Ryan will appreciate that.
He waited until she had finished her declaration.
"No, ma'am, you're wrong. I come up here to see if I could help
"Hounds of hell--black as the bottomless pit that spewed you
forth to prey upon mankind! The world will have to burn. Tell
those hounds of hell that bay at the gibbous moon the world will
have to burn. Every cat, every rat, every mouse, every louse has
a thousand years to burn!"
Casey Ryan, with his mouth half open and his eyes rather wild,
furtively opened the door behind him. Still meeting fixedly the
dull glare of the old woman's eyes, Casey slid out through the
door and fastened it hastily behind him. With an uneasy glance
now and then over his shoulder as if he feared the old woman
might be in pursuit of him, he hurried back down the ladder to
the closed door in the drift, pulled the door shut behind him and
put the padlock in place before he breathed naturally.
He stopped then to put on his shoes, made his way to the drift
opening and listened again for voices or footsteps. When he
found the way clear he hurried out and back to the dugout. The
first thing he did was to fill his pipe and light it. Even then
the sonorous voice of the old woman intoning her dreadful
proclamation against the world rang in his ears and sent
occasional ripples of horror down his spine. Seen through the
window, she had looked a sad, lonely old lady who needed sympathy
and help. At closer range she was terrible. Casey was trying to
forget her by busying himself about the stove when Joe walked in
Joe stood just inside the door, staring at Casey with a glassy
look in his eyes. Something in Joe's face warned Casey of
impending events; but with that terrible old woman still fresh in
his mind, Casey was in the mood to welcome distraction of any
sort. He shifted his hand in the sling so that his concealed
weapons lay more comfortably therein, secure from detection, and
Joe leaned forward, lifted an arm slowly and aimed a finger at
"Pap says that you're a Federal officer!" he began, waggling his
finger at Casey. "Pap thinks you come here spyin' around t' see
what we're up to on this here butte. Now, you can't pull nothin'
like that! You can't get away with it.
"Hank, he wants t' bump yuh off an' say nothin' to anybody. Now,
I come t' have it out with yuh. If you're a Federal officer
we're goin' t' settle with yuh an' take no chances. Mart, he's
more easy-goin' in some ways, on account of havin' his crazy ol'
mother on 'is hands t' take care of. Mart don't want no
killin'--on account of his mother goin' loony when 'is dad got
killed. But Mart ain't here. Pap an' Hank, they been at me all
mornin' t' let 'em bump yuh off.
"But Pap an' Hank, they're drunk, see? I'm the only sober man
left on the job. So I come up here t' settle with yuh myself.
Takes a sober man with a level head t' settle these things. Now,
if you come up here spyin' an' snoopin', you git bumped off an'
no argument about it. Mart's got his mother t' take care of--an'
we aim t' pertect Mart. If you're a Federal officer, I want t'
know it here an' now. If yuh ain't, I want yuh t' sample some uh
the out-kickin'est 'White Mule' yuh ever swallered. Now which
are yuh, and what yuh goin' t' do? I want my answer here an'
now, an' no argument an' no foolin'!"
Casey blinked but his mouth widened in a grin. "Me, I never went
lookin' fer nothin, I wouldn't put under my vest, Joe," he
declared convincingly. So that was it! He was thinking against
time. Moonshiners as well as would-be murderers they were--and
Joe drunk and giving them away like a fool. Casey wished that he
knew where Hank and Paw were at this moment. He hoped, too, that
Joe was right --that Hank and Paw were drunk. He'd have the
three of them tied in a row before dark, in any case. The thing
to do now was to humor Joe along--leave it to Casey Ryan!
Joe was uncorking a small, flat bottle of pale liquor. Now he
held it out to Casey. Casey took it, thinking he would pretend
to drink, would urge Joe to take a drink; it would be simple,
once he got Joe started. But Joe had a few ideas of his own
concerning the celebration. He pulled a gun unexpectedly, leaned
against the closed door to steady himself and aimed it full at
"In just two minutes I'm goin' t' shoot if that there bottle
ain't empty," he stated gravely, nodding his head with intense
pride in his ability to handle the situation. "If you're a
Federal officer, yuh won't dast t' drink. If yuh ain't, you'll
be almighty glad to. Anyway, it'll be settled one way or t'other.
Drink 'er down!"
Casey blinked again, but this time he did not grin. He debated
swiftly his chance of scaring Joe with the dynamite before Joe
would shoot. But Joe had his finger crooked with drunken
solemnity upon the trigger. The time for dynamite was not now.
"Pap an' Hank, they lap up anything an' call it good. I claim
that's got a back-action kick to it. Drink 'er down!"
Casey drank 'er down. It was like swallowing flames. It was a
half-pint flask, and it was full when Casey, with Joe's eyes
fixed upon him, tilted it and began to drink. Under Joe's
baleful glare Casey emptied the flask before he stopped.
Joe settled his shoulders comfortably against the doorway and
watched Casey make for the water bucket.
"I claim that's the out-kickin'est stuff that ever was made on
Black Butte. How'd yuh like it?"
"All right," Casey bore witness, keeping his eyes fixed on Joe
and the gun and trying his best to maintain a nonchalant manner.
"I'd call it purty fair hootch."
"It's GOOD hootch!" Joe declared impressively, apparently quite
convinced that Casey was not a Federal officer. "Can yuh feel
the kick'to it?"
Casey backed until he sat on the edge of the table his good right
hand supporting his left elbow outside the sling. He grinned at
Joe and while he still keenly realized that he was playing a part
for the sole purpose of gaining somehow an advantage over Joe, he
was conscious of a slight giddiness. An unprejudiced observer
would have noticed that his grin was not quite the old, Casey
Ryan grin. It was a shade foolish.
"Bet your life I can feel the kick!" he agreed, nodding his head.
"You can ask anybody." Then Casey discovered something strange
in Joe's appearance. He lifted his head, held it very still and
regarded Joe attentively.
"Say, Joe, what yuh tryin' to do with that six-gun? Tryin' to
write your name in the air with it?"
Joe looked inquiringly down at the gun, eyeing it as if it were a
new and absolutely unknown object. He satisfied himself
apparently beyond all doubt that the gun was doing nothing it
should not do, and finally turned his attention to Casey sitting
on the table and grinning at him meaninglessly.
"Ain't writin' nothin'," Joe stated solemnly. "It's yore eyes.
Gun's all right--yo'r seein' crooked. It's the hootch.
Back-action kick to it. Ain't that right?"
"That's right," nodded Casey and he added, grinning more
foolishly, "Darn right, that's right! Back-action kick--bet your
Joe pushed the gun inside his waistband and crooked his finger at
Casey, beckoning mysteriously. "C'mon an' I'll show yuh how it's
made," he invited with heavy enthusiasm. "Yore a judge uh hootch
all right--I can see that. I'll show yuh how we do it. Best
White Mule in Nevada. Ain't that right? Ain't that the real
"'S right, all right," Casey agreed earnestly. "Puttin' the hoot
in hootch--you fellers. You can ask anybody if that ain't
Joe laughed hoarsely. "Puttin' the hoot in hootch--that's right.
I knowed you was all right. Didn't I say you was? I told Hank
an' Pap you wasn't no Federal officer. They know it, too. I was
foolin' back there. I knowed you didn't need no gun pulled on
yuh t' make yuh put away the hootch. Lapped it up like a thirsty
hound. I knowed yuh would--I was kiddin' yuh, runnin' that razoo
with the gun. Ain't that right?"
"Darn right, that's right! I knew you was foolin' all along. You
knew Casey Ryan's all right--sure, you knowed it!" Casey laid
his good hand investigatively against his stomach. "Pretty hot
hootch--you can ask anybody if it ain't! Workin' like an air
He blinked inquisitively at Joe, who stared back inquiringly.
"Who's your friend?" Casey demanded pugnaciously. "He sneaked
in on yuh. I never seen 'im come in."
Joe turned slowly and looked behind him at the blank boards of
the unpainted door. Just as slowly he turned back to Casey. A
slow grin split his leathery face.