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   Chapter 2 No.2

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 15198

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Thus was the trade effected with much speed and few preliminaries, because Bill knew Casey Ryan very intimately and had seen him in action when his temper was up. Bill adjusted an extra horn which he happened to have in stock. One of those terrific things that go far toward making the life of a pedestrian a nerve-racking succession of startles. Casey tried it out on himself before he would accept it. He walked several doors down the street with the understanding that Bill would honk at him when he was some little distance away. Bill waited until Casey's attention was drawn to a lady with thick ankles who was crossing the street in a hurry and a stiff breeze. Bill came down on the metal plunger of the horn with all his might, and Casey jumped perceptibly and came back grinning.

"She'll do. What'll put a crimp in Casey Ryan's spine is good enough for anybody. Bring her out here and show me how yuh work the damn thing. Guess she'll hold six Bohunks, won't she-with sideboards on? I'll run 'er around a coupla times b'fore I start out-and that's all I will do."

Naturally the garage man was somewhat perturbed at this nonchalant manner of getting acquainted with a Ford. He knew the road from Lund to Pinnacle. He had driven it himself, with a conscious sigh of relief when he had safely negotiated the last hair-pin curve; and Bill was counted a good driver. He suggested an insurance policy to Casey, not half so jokingly as he tried to sound.

Casey turned and gave him a pale blue, unwinking stare. "Say! Never you mind gettin' out insurance on this auty-mo-bile. What you wanta do is insure the cars that's liable to meet up with me in the trail."

Bill saw the sense of that, too, and said no more about insuring Casey. He drove down the canyon where the road is walled in on both sides by cliffs, and proceeded to give Casey a lesson in driving. Casey did not think that he needed to be taught how to drive. All he wanted to know, he said, was how to stop 'er and how to start 'er. Bill needn't worry about the rest of it.

"She's darn tender-bitted," he commented, after two round trips over the straight half-mile stretch,-and fourteen narrow escapes. "And the man that made 'er sure oughta known better than to make 'er neck rein in harness. And I don't like this windin' 'er up every time you wanta start. But she can sure go-and that's what Casey Ryan's after every day in the week.

"All right, Bill. I'll go gather up the Bohunks and start. You better 'phone up to Pinnacle that Casey's on the road-and tell 'em he says it's his road's long's he's on it. They'll know what I mean."

Pinnacle did know, and waited on the sidewalk that afforded a view of the long hill where the road curled down around the head of the gulch and into town. Much sooner than his most optimistic backers had a right to expect- for there were bets laid on the outcome there in Pinnacle-on the brow of the hill a swirl of red dust grew rapidly to a cloud. Like a desert whirlwind it swept down the road, crossed the narrow bridge over the deep cut at the head of the gulch where the famous Youbet mine belched black smoke, and rolled on down the steep, narrow little street.

Out of the whirlwind poked the pugnacious little brass-rimmed nose of a new Ford, and behind the windshield Casey Ryan grinned widely as he swung up to the postoffice and stopped as he had always stopped his four-horse stage,-with a flourish. Stopping with a flourish is fine and spectacular when you are driving horses accustomed to that method and on the lookout for it. Horses have a way of stiffening their forelegs and sliding their hind feet and giving a lot of dramatic finish to the performance. But there is no dramatic sense at all in the tin brain of a Ford. It just stopped. And the insecure fourth Bohunk in the tonneau went hurtling forward into the front seat straight on his way through the windshield. Casey threw up an elbow instinctively and caught him in the collar button and so avoided breakage and blood spattered around. Three other foreigners were scrambling to get out when Casey stopped them with a yell that froze them quiet where they were.

"Hey! You stay right where y'are! I gotta deliver yuh up to the Bluebird in a minute."

There were chatterings and gesticulations in the tonneau. Out of the gabble a shrill voice rose be-seechingly in English. "We will walk, meester'. If you pleese, meester! We are 'fraid for ride wit' dees may_chine_, meester!"

Casey was nettled by the cackling and the thigh-slapping of the audience on the sidewalk. He reached for his stage whip, and missing it used his ready Irish fists. So the Bohunks crawled unhappily back into the car and subsided shivering and with tears in their eyes.

"Dammit, when I take on passengers to ride, they're goin' to ride till they git there. You shut up, back there!"

A friend of Casey's stepped forward and cranked the machine, and Casey pulled down the gas lever until the motor howled, turned in the shortest possible radius and went lunging up the crooked steep trail to the Bluebird mine on top of the hill, his engine racing and screaming in low.

Thereafter Pinnacle and Lund had a new standard by which to measure the courage of a man. Had he made the trip with Casey Ryan and his new Ford? He had? By golly, he sure had nerve. One man passed the peak for sheer bravery and rode twice with Casey, but certain others were inclined to disparage the feat, on the ground that on the second trip he was drunk.

Casey did not like that. He admitted that he was a hard driver; he had always been proud because men called him the hardest driver in the West. But he argued that he was also a safe driver, and that they had no business to make such a fuss over riding with him. Didn't he ride after his own driving every day of his life? Had he ever got killed? Had he ever killed anybody else? Well! What were they all yawping about, then? Pinnacle and Lund made him tired.

"If you fellers think I can't bounce that there tin can down the road fast as any man in the country, why don't yuh pass me on the road? You're welcome. Just try it."

No one cared to try, however. Meeting him was sufficiently hazardous. There were those who secretly timed their traveling so that they would not see Casey Ryan at all, and I don't think you can really call them cowards, either. A good many had families, you know.

Casey had an accident now and then; and his tire expense was such as to keep him up nights playing poker for money to support his Ford. You simply can't whirl into town at a thirty-mile gait-I am speaking now of Pinnacle, whose street was a gravelly creek bed quite dry and ridgy between rains-and stop in twice the car's length without scouring more rubber off your tires than a capacity load of passengers will pay for. Besides, you run short of passengers if you persist in doing it. Even the strangers who came in on the Salt Lake line were quite likely to look once at the cute little narrow-gauge train with its cunning little day coach hitched behind a string of ore cars, glance at Casey's Ford stage with indifference and climb into the cunning day coach for the trip to Pinnacle. The psychology of it passed quite over Casey's head, but his pocket felt the change.

In two weeks-perhaps it was less, though I want to be perfectly just-

Casey was back, afoot and standing bow-legged in the doorway of Bill

Master's garage at Lund.

"Gimme another one of them Ford auty-mo-biles," he requested, grinning a little. "I guess mebby I oughta take two or three-bu

t I'm a little short right now, Bill. I ain't been gitting any good luck at poker, lately."

Bill asked a question or two while he led Casey to the latest model of

Fords, just in from the factory.

Casey took a chew of tobacco and explained. "Well, I had a bet up, y'see. That red-headed bartender in Pinnacle bet me a hundred dollars I couldn't beat my own record ten minutes on the trip down. I knowed I could, so I took him up on it. A man would be a fool if he didn't grab any easy money like that. And so I pounded 'er on the tail, coming down. And I had eight minutes peeled off my best time, and then Jim Black he had to go git in the road on that last turn up there. We rammed our noses together and I pushed him on ahead of me for fifty rods, Bill-and him yelling at me to quit-but something busted in the insides of my car, I guess. She give a grunt and quit. All right, I'll take this one. Grease her up, Bill. I'll eat a bite before I take her up."

You've no doubt suspected before now that not even poker, played industriously o' nights, could keep Casey's head above the financial waters that threatened to drown him and his Ford and his reputation. Casey did not mind repair bills, so long as he achieved the speed he wanted. But he did mind not being able to pay the repair bills when they were presented to him. Whatever else were his faults, Casey Ryan had always gone cheerfully into his pocket and paid what he owed. Now he was haunted by a growing fear that an unlucky game or two would send him under, and that he might not come up again.

He began to think seriously of selling his car and going back to horses which, in spite of the high cost of feeding them, had paid their way and his, and left him a pleasant jingle in his pockets. But then he bumped hard into one of those queer little psychological facts which men never take into account until it is too late. Casey Ryan, who had driven horses since he could stand on his toes and fling harness on their backs, could not go back to driving horses. The speed fiend of progress had him by the neck. Horses were too slow for Casey. Moreover, when he began to think about it, he knew that the thirty-mile stretch between Pinnacle and Lund had become too tame for him, too monotonous. He knew in the dark every twist in the road, every sharp turn, and he could tell you offhand what every sharp turn had cost him in the past month, either in repairs to his own car or to the car that had unluckily met him without warning. For Casey, I must tell you, habitually forgot all about that earsplitting klaxon at his left elbow. He was always in too much of a hurry to blow it; and anyway, by the time he reached a turn, he was around it; there either was no car in the road or Casey had scraped paint off it or worse and gone on. So why honk?

Far distances called Casey. In one day, he meditated, he could cover more desert with his Ford than horses could travel in a week. An old, half-buried passion stirred, lifted its head and smiled at him seductively,-a dream he had dreamed of finding some of that wealth which Nature holds so miser-like in her hills. A gold mine, or perhaps silver or copper,-what matter which mineral he found, so long as it spelled wealth for him? Then he would buy a bigger car and a faster car, and he would bore farther and farther into yonder. In his past were tucked away months on end of tramping across deserts and up mountain defiles with a packed burro nipping patiently along in front of him and this same, seductive dream beckoning him over the next horizon. Burros had been slow. While he hurtled down the road from Pinnacle to Lund, Casey pictured himself plodding through sand and sage and over malapai and up dry canyons, hazing a burro before him.

"No, sir, the time for that is gone by. I could do in a week now what it took me a month to do then. I could get into country a man'd hate to tackle afoot, not knowing the water holes. I'll git me a radiator that don't boil like a teakettle over a pitch fire, and load up with water and grub and gas, and I'll find the Injun Jim mine, mebby. Or some other darn mine that'll put me in the clear the rest of my life. Couldn't before, because I had to travel too slow. But shucks! A Ford can go anywhere a mountain goat can go. You ask anybody."

So Casey sold his stage line and the hypothetical good will that went with it, and Pinnacle and Lund breathed long and deep and planned trips they had refrained from taking heretofore, and wished Casey luck. Bill Masters laid a friendly hand on his shoulder and made a suggestion so wise that not even Casey could shut his mind against it.

"You're starting out where there won't be no Bill handy to fix what you bust," he pointed out. "You wait over a day or two, Casey, and let me show yuh a few things about that car. If you bust down on the desert you'll want to know what's wrong, and how to fix it. It's easy, but you got to know where to look for the trouble."

"Me? Say, Bill, I never had to go lookin' for trouble," Casey grinned.

"What do I need to learn how for?"

Nevertheless he remained all of that day with Bill and crammed on mechanics. He was amazed to discover how many and how different were the ailments that might afflict a Ford. That he had boldly-albeit unconsciously-driven a thing filled with timers, high-tension plugs that may become fouled and fail to "spark," carburetors that could get out of adjustment (whatever that was) spark plugs that burned out and had to be replaced, a transmission that absolutely must have grease or something happened, bearings that were prone to burn out if they went dry of oil, and a multitude of other mishaps that could happen and did happen if one did not watch out, would have filled Casey with foreboding if that were possible. Being an optimist to the middle of his bones, he merely felt a growing pride in himself. He had actually driven all this aggregation of potential internal grief! Whenever anything had happened to his Ford auty-mo-bile between Pinnacle and Lund, Casey never failed to trace the direct cause, which had always been external rather than internal, save that time when he had walked in and bought a new car without out probing into the vitals of the other.

"I'd ruther have a horse down with glanders," he sighed, when Bill finally washed the grease off his hands and forearms and rolled down his sleeves. "But Casey Ryan's game to try anything once, and most things the second and third time. You ask anybody. Gimme all the hootin'-annies that's liable to wear out, Bill, and a load uh tires and patches, and Casey'll come back and hand yuh a diamond big as your fist, some day. Ole Lady Trouble's always tryin' to take a fall outa me, but she's never got me down so't I had to holler 'nough. You ask anybody. Casey Ryan's goin' out to see what he can see. If he meets up with Miss Fortune, he'll tame her, Bill. And this little Ford auty-mo-bile is goin' to eat outa my hand. I don't give a cuss if she does git sore and ram her spark plugs into her carburetor now and agin. She'll know who's boss, Bill. I learnt it to the burros, and what you can learn a burro you can learn a Ford, take time enough."

Taking that point of view and keeping it, Casey managed very well. Whenever anything went wrong that his vocabulary and a monkey wrench could not mend, Casey sat down on the shadiest running board and conned the Instruction Book which Bill handed him at the last minute. Other times he treated the Ford exactly as he would treat a burro, with satisfactory results.

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