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   Chapter 8 No.8

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 15191

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Casey looked battered and sad when the show people were through with him. He had expected bandages wound picturesquely around his person, but the Barrymores were more artistic than that. Casey's right leg was drawn up at the knee so that he could not put his foot on the ground when he tried, and he did not know how the straps were fastened. His left shoulder was higher than his right shoulder, and his eyes were sunken in his head and a scar ran down along his temple to his left cheek bone. When he looked in the glass which Bill brought him, Casey actually felt ill. They told him that he must not wash his face, and that his week's growth of beard was a blessing from heaven. The show lady begged him, with dew on her lashes, to play the part faithfully, and they departed, very happy over their prospects.

Casey did not know whether he was happy or not. With Bill to encourage him and give him a lift over the gutters, he crossed the street to a restaurant and ordered largely of sirloin steak and French fried potatoes. After supper there was a long evening to spend quietly on crutches, and The Club was just next door. A man can always spend an evening very quickly at The Club-or he could in the wet days-if his money held out. Casey had money enough, and within an hour he didn't care whether he was crippled or not. There were five besides himself at that table, and they had unanimously agreed to remove the lid. Moreover, there was a crowd ten deep around that particular table. For the news had gone out that here was Casey Ryan back again, a hopeless cripple, playing poker like a drunken Rockefeller and losing as if he liked to lose.

At eight o'clock the next morning Bill came in to tell Casey that the show people had brought up their car to be fixed, and was the pay good? Casey replied Without looking up from his hand, which held a pair of queens which interested him. He'd stand good, he said, and Bill gave a grunt and went off.

At noon Casey meant to eat something. But another man had come into the game with a roll of money and a boastful manner. Casey rubbed his cramped leg and hunched down in his chair again and called for a stack of blues. Casey, I may as well confess, had been calling for stacks of blues and reds and whites rather often since midnight.

At four in the afternoon Casey hobbled into the restaurant and ate another steak and drank three cups of black coffee. He meant to go across to the garage and have Bill hunt up the Barrymores and get them to unstrap him for awhile, but just as he was lifting his left crutch around the edge of the restaurant door, two women of Lund came up and began to pity him and ask him how it ever happened. Casey could not remember, just at the moment, what story he had already told of his accident. He stuttered-a strange thing for an Irishman to do, by the way-and retreated into The Club, where they dared not follow.

"H'lo, Casey! Give yuh a chance to win back some of your losin's, if you're game to try it again," called a man from the far end of the room.

Casey swore and hobbled back to him, let himself stiffly down into a chair and dropped his crutches with a rattle of hard wood. Being a cripple was growing painful, besides being very inconvenient. The male half of Lund had practically suspended business that day to hover around him and exchange comments upon his looks. Casey had received a lot of sympathy that day, and only the fact that he had remained sequestered behind the curtained arch that cut across the rear of The Club saved him from receiving a lot more. But of course there were mitigations. Since walking was slow and awkward, Casey sat. And since he was not a man to sit and twiddle thumbs to pass the time, Casey played poker. That is how he explained it afterwards. He had not intended to play poker for twenty-four hours, but tie up a man's leg so he can't walk, and he's got to do something.

Wherefore Casey played,-and did not win back what he had lost earlier in the day. Daylight grew dim, and some one came over and lighted a hanging gasoline lamp that threw into tragic relief the painted hollows under Casey's eyes, which were beginning to look very bloodshot around the blue of them.

Once, while the bartender was bringing drinks-you are not to infer that Casey was drunk; he was merely a bit hazy over details-Casey pulled out his dollar watch and looked at it. Eight-thirty-the show must be pretty well started, by now. He thought he might venture to hobble over to Bill's and have those dog-gone straps taken off before he was crippled for sure. But he did not want to do anything to embarrass the show lady. Besides, he had lost a great deal of money, and he wanted to win some of it back. He still had time to make that train, he remembered. It was reported an hour late, some one said.

So Casey rubbed his strapped leg, twisting his face at the cramp in his knee and letting his companions believe that his accident had given him a heritage of pain. He hitched his lifted shoulder into an easier position and picked up another unfortunate assortment of five cards.

At ten o'clock Bill, the garage man, came and whispered something to Casey, who growled an oath and reached almost unconsciously for his crutches before trying to get up; so soon is a habit born in a man.

"What they raisin' thunder about?" he asked apathetically, when Bill had helped him across the gutter and into the street. "Didn't the crowd turn out like they expected?" Casey's tone was dismal. You simply cannot be a cripple for twenty-four hours, and sit up playing unlucky poker all night and all day and well into another night, without losing some of your animation; not even if you are Casey Ryan. "Hell, I missed that train again," he added heavily, when he heard it whistle into the railroad yard.

"Too bad. You oughta be on it, Casey," Bill said ominously.

At the garage the Barrymores were waiting for him in their stage clothes and make-up. The show lady had wept seams down through her rouge, and the beads on her lashes had clotted unbecomingly.

"Mister, you certainly have wished a sorry deal on to us," she exclaimed, when Casey came hobbling through the doorway. "Fifteen years on the stage and this never happened to us before. We've took our bad luck with our good luck and lived honest and respectable and self-respecting, and here, at last, ill fortune has tied the can on to us. I know you meant well and all that, Mister, but we certainly have had a raw deal handed out to us in this town. We-certainly-have!"

"We got till noon to-morrow to be outa the county," croaked Jack dear, shifting his Adam's apple rapidly. "And that's real comedy, ain't it, when your damn county runs clean over to the Utah line, and we can't go back the way we come, or-and we can't go anywhere till this big slob here puts our car together. He's got pieces of it strung from here around the block. Say, what kinda town is this you wished on to us, anyway? Holding night court, mind you, so they could can us quicker!"

The show lady must have seen how dazed Casey looked. "Maybe you ain't heard the horrible deal they handed us, Mister. They stopped our show before we'd raised the curtain,-and it was a seventy-five dollar house if it was a cent!" she wailed. "They had a bill as long as my arm for license-we couldn't get by with the five-dollar one-and for lights and hall rent and what-all. There wasn't enough money in the house to pay it! And they was going to send us to jail! The sheriff acted anything but a gentleman, Mister, and if you e

ver lived in this town and liked it, I must say I question your taste!"

"We wouldn't use a town like this for a garbage dump, back home," cut in

Jack with all the contempt he could master.

"And they hauled us over to their dirty old Justice of the Peace, and he told us he'd give us thirty days in jail if we was in the county to-morrow noon, and we don't know how far this county goes, either way!"

"Fifty miles to St. Simon," Bill told them comfortingly. "You can make it, all right-"

"We can make it, hey? How're we going to make it, with our car layin' around all over your garage?" Jack's tone was arrogant past belief.

Casey was fumbling for strap buckles which he could not reach. He was also groping through his colorful, stage-driver's vocabulary for words which might be pronounced in the presence of a lady, and finding mighty few that were of any use to him. The combined effort was turning him a fine purple when the lady was seized with another brilliant idea.

"Jack dear, don't be harsh. The gentleman meant well-and I'll tell you, Mister, what let's do! Let's trade cars till the man has our car repaired. Your car goes just fine, and we can load our stuff in and get away from this horrible town. Why, the preacher was there and made a speech and said the meanest things about you, because you was having a benefit and at the same identical time you was setting in a saloon gambling. He said it was an outrage on civilization, Mister, and an insult to the honest, hard-working people in Lund. Them was his very words."

"Well, hell!" Casey exploded abruptly. "I'm honest and hard-workin' as any damn preacher. You can ask anybody!"

"Well, that's what he said, anyhow. We certainly didn't know you was a gambler when we offered to give you a benefit. We certainly never dreamed you'd queer us like that. But you'll do us the favor to lend us your car, won't you? You wouldn't refuse that, and see me and little Junior languishin' in jail when you know in your heart-"

"Aw, take the darn car!" muttered Casey distractedly, and hobbled into the garage office where he knew Bill kept liniment.

Five minutes, perhaps, after that, Casey opened the office door wide enough to fling out an assortment of straps and two crutches.

The show lady turned and made a motion which Casey mentally called a pounce. "Oh, thank you, Mister! We certainly wouldn't want to go off and forget these props. Jack dear has to use them in a comedy sketch we put on sometimes when we got a good house."

Casey banged the door and said something exceedingly stage-driverish which a lady should by no means overhear.

Sounds from the rear of the garage indicated that Casey's Ford was r'arin' to go, as Casey frequently expressed it. Voices were jumbled in the tones of suggestions, commands, protest. Casey heard the show lady's clear treble berating Jack dear with thin politeness. Then the car came snorting forward, paused in the wide doorway, and the show lady's voice called out clearly, untroubled as the voice of a child after it has received that which it cried for.

"Well, good-by, Mister! You certainly are a godsend to give us the loan of your car!" There was a buzz and a splutter, and they were gone-gone clean out of Casey's life into the unknown whence they had come.

Bill opened the door gently and eased into the office, sniffing liniment. The painted hollows under Casey's eyes gave him a ghastly look in the lamp-light when he lifted his face from examining a chafed and angry knee. Bill opened his mouth for speech, caught a certain look in Casey's eyes and did not say what he had intended to say. Instead:

"You better sleep here in the office, Casey. I've got another bed back of the machine shop. I'll lock up, and if any one comes and rings the night bell-well, never mind. I'll plug her so they can't ring her." The world needs more men like Bill.

* * * * *

Even after an avalanche, human nature cannot resist digging in the melancholy hope of turning up grewsome remains. I know that you are all itching to put shovel into the debris of Casey's dreams, and to see just what was left of them.

There was mighty little, let me tell you. I said in the beginning that twenty-five thousand dollars was like a wildcat in Casey's pocket. You can't give a man that much money all in a lump and suddenly, after he has been content with dollars enough to pay for the food he eats, without seeing him lose his sense of proportion. Twenty-five dollars he understands and can spend more prudently than you, perhaps. Twenty-five thousand he simply cannot gauge. It seems exhaustless. It is as if you plucked from the night all the stars you can see, knowing that the Milky Way is still there and unnumbered other stars invisible, even in the aggregate.

Casey played poker with an appreciative audience and the lid off. Now and then he took a drink stronger than root beer. He kept that up for a night and a day and well into another night. Very well, gather round and look at the remains, and if there's a moral, you are welcome, I am sure.

Casey awoke just before noon, and went out and held his head under Bill's garage hydrant, with the water running full stream. He looked up and found Bill standing there with his hands in his pockets, gazing at Casey sorrowfully. Casey grinned. You can't down the Irish for very long.

"How's she comin', Bill?"

Bill grunted and spat. "She ain't. Not if you mean that car them folks wished on to you. Well, the tail light's pretty fair, too. And in their hurry the lady went off and left a pink silk stockin' in the back seat. The toe's out of it though. Casey, if you wait till you overhaul 'em with that thing they wheeled in here under the name of a car-"

"Oh, that's all right, Bill," Casey grunted gamely. "I was goin' to git me a new car, anyway. Mine wasn't so much. They're welcome."

Bill grunted and spat again, but he did not say anything.

"I'll go see Dwyer and see how much I got left," Casey said presently, and his voice, whether you believe it or not, was cheerful. "I'm going to ketch that evenin' train to Los." And he added kindly, "C'm on and eat with me, Bill. I'm hungry."

Bill shook his head and gave another grunt, and Casey went off without him.

After awhile Casey returned. He was grinning, but the grin was, to a careful observer, a bit sickish. "Say, Bill, talk about poker-I'm off it fer life. Now look what it done to me, Bill! I puts twenty-five thousand dollars into the bank-minus two hundred I took in money-and I takes a check book, and I goes over to The Club and gits into a game. I wears the check book down to the stubs. I goes back and asks Dwyer how much I got in the bank, and he looks me over like I was a sick horse he had doubts about being worth doctorin', and as if he thought he mebby might better take me out an' shoot me an' put me outa my misery.

"'Jest one dollar an' sixty-seven cents, Casey,' he says to me, 'if the checks is all in, which I trust they air!'" Casey got out his plug of chewing tobacco and pried off a blunted corner. "An' hell Bill! I had that much in the bank when I started," he finished plaintively.

"Hell!" repeated Bill in brief, eloquent sympathy.

Casey set his teeth together and extracted comfort from the tobacco. He expectorated ruminatively.

"Well, anyway, I got me some bran' new socks, an' they're paid for, thank

God!" He tilted his old Stetson down over his right eye at his favorite,

Caseyish angle, stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled out into the

sunshine.

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