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   Chapter 3 No.3

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 10654

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Away out on the high mesas that are much like the desert below, except that the nights are cool and the wind is not fanned out of a furnace, Casey fought sand and brush and rocks and found a trail now and then which he followed thankfully, and so came at last to a short range of mountains whose name matched well their inhospitable stare. The Starvation Mountains had always been reputed rich in mineral and malevolent in their attitude toward man and beast. Even the Joshua trees stood afar off and lifted grotesque arms defensively against them. But Casey was not easily daunted, and eerie places held for him no meaning save the purely material one. If he could find water and the rich vein of ore some one had told him was there, then Casey would be happy in spite of snakes, tarantulas and sinister stories of the place.

Water he found, not too far up a gulch. So he pitched his tent within carrying distance from the spring, thanked the god of mechanics that an automobile neither eats nor drinks when it does not work, and set out to find his fortune.

Casey knew there was a mining camp on the high slope of Barren Butte. He knew the name of the camp, which was Lucky Lode, and he knew the foreman there-knew him from long ago in the days when Casey was what he himself confessed to be wild. In reaching Starvation Mountains, Casey had driven for fifteen miles within plain sight of Lucky Lode. But gas is precious when you are a hundred miles from a garage, and since business did not take him there Casey did not drive up the five-mile hill to the Lucky Lode just to shake hands with the foreman and swap a yarn or two. Instead, he headed down on to the bleached, bleak oval of Furnace Lake and forged across it as straight as he could drive toward Starvation Mountains.

But the next time Casey made the trip-needing supplies, powder, fuse, caps and so on-Fate took him by the ear and led him to a lady. This is how Fate did it,-and I will say it was an original idea:

Casey had a gallon syrup can in the car which he used for extra oil for the engine. Having an appetite for sour-dough biscuits and syrup, he had also a gallon can of syrup in the car. It was a terrifically hot day, and the wind that blew full against Casey's left cheek as he drove burned even his leather skin where it struck. Casey was afraid he was running short of water, and a Ford's comfort comes first,-as every man knows; so that Casey was parched pretty thoroughly, inside and out. Within a mile of Furnace Lake he stopped, took an unsatisfying sip from his big canteen and emptied the rest of the water into the radiator. Then he replenished the oil in the motor generously, cranked and went bumping along down the trail worn rough with the trucks from Lucky Lode.

For a little way he jounced along the trail; then the motor began to labor; and although Casey pulled the gas lever down as far as it would go, the car slowed and stopped dead in the road. After an hour of fruitless monkey-wrenching and swearing and sweating, Casey began to suspect something. He examined both cans, "hefted" them, smelt and even tasted the one half-empty, and decided that Ford auty-mo-biles do not require two quarts of syrup at one dose. He thought that a little syrup ought not to make much difference, but half a gallon was probably too much.

He put in more oil on top of the syrup, but he could not even move the crank, much less "turn 'er over." So long as a man can wind the crank of a Ford he seems able to keep alive his hopes. Casey could not crank, wherefore he knew himself beaten even while he heaved and lifted and swore, and strained every muscle in his back lifting again. He got so desperately wrathful that he lifted the car perceptibly off its right front wheel with every heave, but he felt as if he were trying to lift a boulder.

It was past supper time at Lucky Lode when Casey arrived, staggering a little with exhaustion, both mental and physical. His eyes were bloodshot with the hot wind, his face was purple from the same wind, his lips were dry and rough. I cannot blame the men at Lucky Lode for a sudden thirst when they saw him coming, and a hope that he still had a little left. And when he told them that he had filled his engine with syrup instead of oil, what would any one think?

Their unjust suspicions would not have worried Casey in the least, had Lucky Lode not possessed a lady cook who was a lady. She was a widow with two children, and she had the children with her and held herself aloof from the men in a manner befitting a lady. Casey was hungry and thirsty and tired, and, as much as was possible to his nature, disgusted, with life in general. The widow gave him a smile of sympathy which went straight to his heart, and hot biscuits and coffee and beans cooked the way he liked them best. These went straight to ease the gnawing emptiness of his stomach, and being a man who took his emotions at their face value, he jumped to the conclusion that it was the lady whose presence gave him the glow.

Casey stayed that night and the next day and the next at Lucky Lode. The foreman helped him tow the syruppy car up the hill to the machine shop where he could get at it, and Casey worked until night trying to remove the dingbats from the hootin'annies,-otherwise, the pistons from t

he cylinders. The foreman showed him what to do, and Casey did it, using a "double-jack" and a lot of energy.

Before he left the Lucky Lode, Casey knew exactly what syrup will do to a Ford if applied internally, and the widow had promised to marry him if he would stop drinking and smoking and swearing. Since Casey had not been drunk in ten years on account of having seen a big yellow snake with a green head on the occasion of his last carouse, he took the drinking pledge quite cheerfully for her sake. He promised to stop smoking, glad that the widow neglected to mention chewing tobacco, which was his everyday comfort. As for the swearing, he told her he would do his best under the circumstances, and that he would taste the oil hereafter, and try and think up some new names for the Ford.

"But Casey, if you leave whisky alone, you won't need to taste the oil," the widow told him. Whereat Casey grinned feebly and explained for the tenth time that he had not been drinking. She did not contradict him. She seemed a wise woman, after a fashion.

Casey drove back to his camp at Starvation Mountain happy and a little scared. Why, after all these years of careless freedom, he should precipitate himself into matrimony with a woman he had known casually for two days puzzled him a little.

"Well, a man gits to feelin' like he wants to settle down when he's crowdin' fifty," he explained his recklessness to the Ford as it hummed away over Furnace Lake which was flat as a floor and dry as a bleached bone,-and much the same color. "Any man feels the want of a home as he gits older. And Casey's the man that will try anything once, you ask anybody." He took out his pipe, looked at it, bethought himself of his promise and put it away again, substituting a chew of tobacco as large as his cheek would hold without prying his mouth open. "G'long, there-can't you? You got your belly full of oil-shake a wheel and show you're alive."

After that, Casey spent every Sunday at Lucky Lode. He liked the widow better and better. Especially after dinner, with the delicious flavor of pie still caressing his palate. Only he wished she would take it for granted that when Casey Ryan made a promise, Casey Ryan would keep it.

"I've got so now I can bark a knuckle with m'single-jack when I'm puttin' down a hole, and say, 'Oh, dear!' and let it go at that," he boasted to her on the second Sunday. "I'll bet there ain't another man in the state of Nevada could do that."

"Yes. But Casey dear, if only you will never touch another drop of liquor. You'll keep your promise, won't you, dear boy?"

"Hell, yes!" Casey assured her headily. It had been close to twenty years since he had been called dear boy, at least to his face. He kissed the widow full on the lips before he saw that a frown sat upon her forehead like a section of that ridgy cardboard they wrap bottles in.

"Casey, you swore!"

"Swore? Me?"

"I only hope," sighed the widow, "that your other promise won't be broken as easily as that one. Remember, Casey, I cannot and I will not marry a drinking man!"

Casey looked at her dubiously. "If you mean that syrup-"

"Oh, I've heard awful tales of you, Casey dear! The boys talk at the table, and they seem to think it's awful funny to tell about your fighting and drinking and playing cards for money. But I think it's perfectly awful. You must stop drinking, Casey dear. I could never forgive myself if I set before my innocent little ones the example of a husband who drank."

"You won't," said Casey. "Not if you marry me, you won't." Then he changed the subject, beginning to talk of his prospect over on Starvation. The widow liked to hear him tell about finding a pocket of ore that went seventy ounces in silver and one and seven tenths ounces in gold, and how he expected any day to get down into the main body of ore and find it a "contact" vein. It all sounded very convincing and as if Casey Ryan were in a fair way to become a rich man.

The next time Casey saw the widow he was on his way to town for more powder, his whole box of "giant" having gone off with a tremendous bang the night before in one of those abrupt hailstorms that come so unexpectedly in the mountain country. Casey had worked until dark, and was dog-tired and had left the box standing uncovered beside the dugout where he kept it. He suspected that a hailstone had played a joke on him, but his chief emotion was one of self-congratulation because he had prudently stored the dynamite around a shoulder of the canyon from where he camped.

When he told the widow about it as one relates the details of a narrow escape, and pointed out how lucky he was, she looked very grave. It was a very careless thing to do, she said. Casey admitted it was. A man who handled dynamite ought to shun liquor above all things, she went on; and Casey agreed restively. He had not felt any inclination, to imbibe until that minute, when the Irish rose up hotly within him.

"Casey dear, are you sure you have nothing in camp?"

Casey assured her solemnly that he had not and drove off down the hill, vaguely aware that he was not so content with life as he had been.

"Damn that syrup!" he exploded once, quite as abruptly as had the giant powder. After that he chewed tobacco and drove in broody silence.

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