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   Chapter 7 No.7

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 15208

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was full sundown when they reached Rhyolite, which was not a town but a camp beside a spring, usually deserted. Three years before, a mine had built the camp for the accommodation of the truck drivers who hauled ore to Lund and were sometimes unable to make the trip in one day. Casey, having adapted his speed to that of the decrepit car of the show people, was thankful that they arrived at all. He still had a little flour and coffee and salt, and he hoped there was enough grease left on the bacon paper to grease the skillet so that bannocks would not stick to the pan. He also hoped that his flour would hold out under the onslaught of their appetites.

But Casey was lucky. A half dozen cowboys were camped there with a pack outfit, meaning to ride the canyons next day for cattle. They were cooking supper, and they had "beefed a critter" that had broken a leg that afternoon running among rocks. Casey shuffled his responsibility and watched, in complete content, while the show people gorged on broiled yearling steaks. (I dislike to use the word gorge where a lady's appetite is involved, but that is the word which Casey thought of first.)

Later, the show people very amiably consented to entertain their hosts. It was then that Casey was once more blinded by the brilliance of the lady and forgot certain little blemishes that had seemed to him quite pronounced. The cowboys obligingly built a bonfire before the tent, into which the couple retired to set their stage and tune their instruments. Casey lay back on a cowboy's rolled bed with his knees crossed, his hands clasped behind his thinning hair, and smoked and watched the first pale stars come out while he listened to the pleasant twang of banjos in the tuning.

It was great. The sale of his silver claim to the men from Tonopah, the check safely pinned in his pocket, the future which he had planned for himself swam hazily through his mind. He was fed to repletion, he was rich, he had been kind to those in need. He was a man to be envied, and he told himself so.

Then the tent flaps were lifted and a dazzling, golden-haired creature in a filmy white evening gown to which the firelight was kind stood there smiling, a banjo in her hands. Casey gave a grunt and sat up, blinking. She sang, looking at him frequently. At the encore, which was livened by a clog danced to hidden music, she surely blew a kiss in the direction of Casey, who gulped and looked around at the others self-consciously, and blushed hotly.

In truth, it was a very good show which the two gave there in the tent; much better than the easiest going optimist would expect. When it was over to the last twang of a banjo string, Casey took off his hat, emptied into it what silver he had in his pockets and set the hat in the fireglow. Without a word the cowboys followed his example, turning pockets inside out to prove they could give no more.

Casey spread his bed apart from the others that night, and lay for a long while smoking and looking up at the stars and dreaming again his dream; only now the golden-haired creature who leaned back upon the deep cushions of his speedy blue car, was not a vague bloodless vision, but a real person with nice teeth and a red-lipped smile, who called him Mister in a tone he thought like music. Now his dream lady sang to him, talked to him,-I consider it rather pathetic that Casey's dream always halted just short of meal time, and that he never pictured her sitting across the table from him in some expensive café, although Casey was rather fond of café lights and music and service and food.

Next morning the glamor remained, although the lady was once more the unkempt woman of yesterday. The three seemed to look upon Casey still as a godsend. They had talked with some of the men and had decided to turn back to Vegas, which was a bigger town than Lund and therefore likely to produce better crowds. They even contemplated a three-night stand, which would make possible some very urgent repairs to their car. Casey demurred, although he could not deny the necessity for repairs. It was a longer trail to Vegas and a rougher trail. Moreover, he himself was on his way to Lund.

"You go to Lund," he urged, "and you can stay there four nights if you want to, and give shows. And I'll take yuh on up to Pinnacle in my car while yours is gettin' fixed, and you can give a show there. You'd draw a big crowd. I'd make it a point to tell folks you give a fine show. And I'll git yuh good rates at the garage where I do business. You don't want nothin' of Vegas. Lund's the place you want to hit fer."

"There's a lot to that," the foreman of the cowboys agreed. "If Casey's willin' to back you up, you better hit straight for Lund. Everybody there knows Casey Ryan. He drove stage from Pinnacle to Lund for two years and never killed anybody, though he did come close to it now and again. I've saw strong men that rode with Casey and said they never felt right afterwards. Casey, he's a dog-gone good driver, but he used to be kinda hard on passengers. He done more to promote heart failure in them two towns than all the altitude they can pile up. But nobody's going to hold that against a good show that comes there. I heard there ain't been a show stop off in Lund for over a year. You'll have to beat 'em away from the door, I bet." Wherefore the Barrymores-that was the name they called themselves, though I am inclined to doubt their legal right to it-the Barrymores altered their booking and went with Casey to Lund.

They were not fools, by the way. Their car was much more disreputable than you would believe a car could be and turn a wheel, and the Barrymores recognized the handicap of its appearance. They camped well out of sight of town, therefore, and let Casey drive in alone.

Casey found that the westbound train had already gone, which gave him a full twenty-four hours in Lund, even though he discounted his promise to see the Barrymores through. There was a train, to be sure, that passed through Lund in the middle of the night; but that was the De Luxe, standard and drawing-room sleepers, and disdained stopping to pick up plebeian local passengers.

So Casey must spend twenty-four hours in Lund, there to greet men who hailed him joyously at the top of their voices while they were yet afar off, and thumped him painfully upon the shoulders when they came within reach of him. You may not grasp the full significance of this, unless you have known old and popular stage drivers, soft of heart and hard of fist. Then remember that Casey had spent months on end alone in the wilderness, working like a lashed slave from sunrise to dark, trying to wrest a fortune from a certain mountain side. Remember how an enforced isolation, coupled with rough fare and hard work, will breed a craving for lights and laughter and the speech of friends. Remember that, and don't overlook the twenty-five thousand dollar check that Casey had pinned safe within his pocket.

Casey had unthinkingly tossed his last dime into his hat for the show people at Rhyolite. He had not even skinned the coyote, whose hide would have been worth ten or fifteen dollars, as hides go. In the stress of pulling out of the mud at Red Lake, he had forgot all about the dead animal in his tonneau until his nose reminded him next morning that it was there. Then he had hauled it out by the tail and thrown it away. He was broke, except that he had that check in his pocket.

Of course it was easy enough for Casey to get money. He went to the store that sold everything from mining tool

s to green perfume bottles tied with narrow pink ribbon. The man who owned that store also owned the bank next door, and a little place down the street which was called laconically The Club. One way or another, Dwyer managed to feel the money of every man who came into Lund and stopped there for a space. He was an honest man, too,- or as honest as is practicable for a man in business.

Dwyer was tickled to see Casey again. Casey was a good fellow, and he never needed his memory jogged when he owed a man. He paid before he was asked to pay, and that was enough to make any merchant love him. He watched Casey unpin his vest pocket and remove the check, and he was not too eager to inspect it.

"Good? Surest thing you know. Want it cashed, or applied to your old checking account? It's open yet, with a dollar and sixty-seven cents to your credit, I believe. I'll take care of it, though it's after banking hours."

Casey was foolish. "I'll take a couple of hundred, if it's handy, and a check book. I guess you can fix it so I can get what money I want in Los. I'm goin' to have one hell of a time when I git there. I've earned it."

Dwyer laughed while he inked a pen for Casey's endorsement. "Hop to it, Casey. Glad you made good. But you'd better let me put part of that in a savings account, so you can't check it out. You know, Casey-remember your weak point."

"Aw-that's all right! Don't you worry none about Casey Ryan! Casey'll take care of himself-he's had too many jolts to want another one. Say, gimme a pair of them socks before you go in the bank. I'll pay yuh," he grinned, "when yuh come back with some money. Ain't got a cent on me, Dwyer. Give it all away. Twelve dollars and something. Down to twenty-five thousand dollars and my Ford auty-mo-bile-and Bill's goin' to buy that off me as soon as he looks her over to see what's busted and what ain't."

Dwyer laughed again as he unlocked the door behind the overalls and jumpers and disappeared into his bank. Presently he returned with a receipted duplicate deposit slip for twenty-four thousand eight hundred dollars, a little, flat check book and two hundred dollars in worn bank notes. "You ought to be independent for the rest of your life, Casey. This is a fine start for any man," he said.

Casey paid for the socks and slid the change for a ten-dollar bill into his overalls pocket, put the check book and the bank notes away where he had carried the check, and walked out with his hat very much tilted over his right eye and his shoulders swaggering a little. You can't blame him for that, can you?

As he stepped from the store he met an old acquaintance from Pinnacle.

There was only one thing to do in a case like that, and Casey did it quite

naturally. They came out of The Club wiping their lips, and the swagger in

Casey's shoulders was more pronounced.

Face to face Casey met the show lady, which was what he called her in his mind. She had her arms clasped around a large paper sack full of lumpy things, and her eyes had a strained, anxious look.

"Oh, Mister! I've been looking all over for you. They say we can't show in this town. The license for road shows is fifty dollars, to begin with, and I've been all over and can't find a single place where we could show, even if we could pay the license. Ain't that the last word in hard luck? Now what to do beats me, Mister. We've just got to have the old car tinkered up so it'll carry us on to the next place, wherever that is. Jack says he must have a new tire by some means or other, and he was counting on what we'd make here. And up at that other place you've mentioned the mumps have broke out and they wouldn't let us show for love or money. A man in the drug store told me, Mister. We certainly are in a hole now, for sure! If we could give a benefit for something or somebody. Those men back there said you're so popular in this town, I believe I've got an idea. Mister, couldn't you have bad luck, or be sick or something, so we could give a benefit for you? People certainly would turn out good for a man that's liked the way they say you are. I'd just love to put on a show for you. Couldn't we fix it up some way?"

Casey looked up and down the street and found it practically empty. Lund was dining at that hour. And while Casey expected later the loud greetings, and the handshakes and all, as a matter of fact he had thus far talked with Bill, the garage man, with Dwyer, the storekeeper and banker, and with the man from Pinnacle, who was already making ready to crank his car and go home. Lund, as a town, was yet unaware of Casey's presence.

Casey looked at the show lady, found her gazing at his face with eyes that said please in four languages, and hesitated.

"You could git up a benefit for the Methodist church, mebby," he temporized. "There's a church of some kind here-I guess it's a Methodist. They most generally are."

"We'd have to split with them if we did," the show lady objected practically. "Oh, we're stuck worse than when we was back there in the mud! We'd only have to pay five dollars for a six-months' theater license, which would let us give all the shows we wanted to. It's a new law that I guess you didn't know anything about," she added kindly. "You certainly wouldn't have insisted on us coming if you'd knew about the license."

"It's a year, almost, since I was here," Casey admitted; "I been out prospecting."

"Well, we can just work it fine! Can't we go somewhere and talk it over? I've got a swell idea, Mister, if you'll just listen to it a minute, and it'll certainly be a godsend to us to be able to give our show. We've got some crutches amongst our stage props, and some scar patches, Mister, that would certainly make you up fine as a cripple. Wouldn't they believe it, Mister, if it was told that you had been in an accident and got crippled for life?"

In spite of his embarrassment, Casey grinned. "Yeah, I guess they'd believe it, all right," he admitted. "They'd likely be tickled to death to see me goin' around on crutches." He cast a hasty thought back into his past, when he had driven a careening stage between Pinnacle and Lund, strewing the steep trail with wreckage not his own. "Yeah, it'd tickle 'em to death. Them that's rode with me," he concluded.

"Oh, you certainly are a godsend! Duck outa sight somewhere while I go tell Jack dear that we've found a way open for us to show, after all!" While Casey was pulling the sag out of his jaw so that he could protest, could offer her money, do anything save what she wanted, the show lady disappeared. Casey turned and went back into The Club, remained five minutes perhaps and then walked very circumspectly across the street to Bill's garage. It was there that the Barrymores found him when they came seeking with their dilapidated old car, their crutches, their grease paint and scar patches, to make a cripple of Casey whether he would or no.

Bill fell uproariously in with the plan, and Dwyer, stopping at the garage on his way home to dinner, thought it a great joke on Lund and promised to help the benefit along. Casey, with three drinks under his belt and his stomach otherwise empty, wanted to sing,

"Hey, ok Bill! Can-n yuh play the fiddle-o?

Yes, by-"

and stuck there because of the show lady. Casey wouldn't have recognized Trouble if it had walked up and banged him in the eye. He said sure, he'd be a cripple for the lady. He'd be anything once, and some things several times if they asked him in the right way. And then he gave himself into the hands of Jack dear.

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