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   Chapter 11 No.11

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 23198

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


At two o'clock the next afternoon, the Smith outfit came back, limping along on three bare rims. Casey's jaw dropped a little when he saw them coming, but nature had made him an optimist. Now, perhaps, that hungry-looking Smith would dig into his pocket and find the price of new tires. It had been Casey's experience that a man who protested the loudest that he was broke would, if held rigidly to the no-credit rule, find the money to pay for what he must have. In his heart he believed that Smith had money dangling somewhere in close proximity to his lank person.

But if Smith had any money he did not betray the fact. He asked quite humbly for the loan of tools, and tube cement, and more blow-out patches, and set awkwardly to work mending his tattered tires. And once more Casey sent Juan to borrow the Oasis tub, and watered the goats and picked his way amongst the Smith offsprings and pretended to be deaf half of the time, and said he didn't know the other half. His green glass water pitcher was practically useless to travelers, and Juan was worse. A goat got away from Humbolt and Greeley and went exploring in the corner of the garage where Casey lived, and ate three pounds of bacon. You know what bacon costs. Maw Smith became acquainted with Casey and followed him about with a detailed recital of her family history, which she thought would make a real exciting book. What Casey thought I must not tell you.

That night Casey patched tires and tubes. He had to, you see, or go crazy.

Next morning he listened to the departure of the Smith family and the

Smith goats, and prayed that their tires would hold out even as far as

Bagdad,-though I don't see why, since there was no garage in Bagdad, or

anything else but a flag station.

That afternoon at three o'clock, they came back again! And Casey neglected to send Juan after the tub to water the goats. Wherefore paw sent Humbolt, and watered the goats himself from Casey's barrel and seemed peevish because he must. Maw Smith came after coffee again, and helped herself with no more formality than a shrill, "I'm borrying some more coffee!" sent to Casey out in front.

That night Casey patched tires and tubes.

At six o'clock Smith pounded on the back door and called in to Casey that he would have to have some gas before he started. So Casey pulled on his pants and gave Smith some gas, and paid the garage out of his own pocket. He didn't swear, either. He was past that.

That afternoon Casey watched apprehensively the road that led west. It was two-thirty when he saw them coming. Casey set his jaw and went in and hid every blow-out patch he had in stock, and all the cement.

Smith went into camp, sent Greeley after the Oasis tub and watered the goats from one of Casey's water barrels. Casey went on with his work, waiting upon customers who paid, and tried not to think of the Smiths, although most of them were underfoot or at his elbow.

"Them tires you mended ain't worth a cuss," Smith came around finally to complain. "I didn't get ten mile out with 'em before I had another blowout. I tell yuh what I'll do. I'll trade yuh goats fer tires. I got two milk goats that's worth a hundred dollars apiece, mebby more, the way goats is selling on the Coast. I hate to part with 'em, but I gotta do somethin'. Er else you'll have to trust me till I c'n get to my brother an' git the money. It ain't," he added grievedly, "as if I wasn't honest enough to pay my debts."

"Nope," said Casey wearily, "I don't want yer goats. I've had more goats a'ready than I want. And tires has gotta roll outa this shop paid for. We talked that all over, the first night."

"What am I goin' to do, then?" Smith inquired in exasperation.

"Hell; I dunno," Casey returned grimly. "I quit guessin' day before yesterday."

Smith went off to confer with maw, and Casey overheard some very harsh statements made concerning himself. Maw Smith was so offended that she refused to borrow coffee from Casey that night, and she called her children out of his garage and told them she would warm their ears for them if they went near him again. Hearing which Casey's features relaxed a little. He could even meet customers with his accustomed grin when Smith in his anger sent the goats over to the water tank next day, refusing to show any friendship for Casey by emptying a water barrel for him. But he had to fire Juan for pouring gasoline into the radiator of a big sedan, and later he had to stalk that lovesick youth into the very camp of the Smiths and lead him back by the collar, and search him for stolen tools. He recovered twice as many as you would believe a Mexican's few garments could conceal.

Casey was harassed for two days by the loud proximity of the Smiths, but not one of them deigned to speak to him or to show any liking for him whatever, beyond helping themselves superciliously to the contents of his water barrel. On the morning of the third day the lean man presented his thin shadow and then himself at the front door of the garage, with a letter in his hand and a hopeful look on his face.

"Well, mebby I c'n talk business to yuh now an' have somethin' to go on," he began abruptly. "I went an' sent off a telegraft to my brother in San Jose about you, and he's wrote a letter to yuh. My brother's a business man. You c'n see that much fer yourself. An' mebby you'll see your way clear t' help me leave this dod-rotten hole. Here's yer letter."

Casey held himself neutral while he read the letter.

As it happens that I have a copy, here it is:

(Printed Letterhead)

VISTA GRANDE RANCHO

Smith Bros.

San Jose, Calif.

Garage Owner, Patmos, Calif.

Dear Sir: I am informed that my brother Eldreth William Smith, having suffered the mishap to lose his tires at your place or thereabouts, and having the misfortune to fall short of immediate funds with which to pay cash for replacement, has been denied credit at your hands.

I regret that because of business requirements in my own business it is impossible for me to place the amount necessary at his immediate disposal. It is therefore my advise that you lend to my brother Eldreth William Smith such money or moneys as will be necessary to purchase railroad tickets for himself and family from Patmos to this place, and

Furthermore that you take as security for said loan such motor truck and equipment etc. as he has now stored at your place of business. I am aware of the fact that a motor truck in any running condition would amply secure such loans as would purchase tickets from Patmos to San Jose, and I hereby enclose note for same, duly made out in blank and signed by me, which signature will be backed by the signature of my brother. Upon receiving from you such money as he may require he will duly deliver note and security duly signed and filled with the amount. I trust this will be perfectly satisfactory to you as amply securing you for the loan of the desired amount.

Thanking you in advance,

Yours very Truly,

J. Paul Smith.

In spite of himself, Casey was impressed. The very Spanish name of the prune orchard impressed him, and so did the formal business terms used by J. Paul Smith; and that "thanking you in advance" seemed to place him under a moral obligation too great to shirk. There was the note, too,- heavy green paper with a stag's head printed on it, and looking almost like a check.

"Well, all right, if it don't cost too much and the time don't run too long," surrendered Casey reluctantly. "How much-"

"Fare's a little over twenty-five dollars, an' they'll be four full fares an' three half. I guess mebby I better have a hundred an' seventy-five anyway, so'st we kin eat on the way."

Casey chanced to have almost that much coming to him out of the business, so that he would not be lending Bill's money. He watched the lean Smith fill in the amount and sign the note, identifying the truck by its engine and license numbers, and he went and borrowed fifteen dollars from the proprietor of the Oasis and made up the amount. There was a train at noon, and from his garage door he watched the Smith family start off across the lava rocks to the depot, each one laden with bundles and disreputable grips, the spotted dog trotting optimistically ahead of the party with his pink tongue draped over the right side of his mouth. Smith turned, the baby in his arms, and called back casually to Casey:

"Yuh better tie up them two milk goats when yuh milk 'em. They won't stand if yuh don't."

Casey's jaw sagged. He had not thought of the goats. Indeed, the last two days they had not troubled him except by their bleating at dawn. Humbolt and Greeley had grazed them over by the railroad track so that they could watch the trains go by. Casey looked and saw that the goats were still over there where they had been driven early. He took off his hat and rubbed his palm reflectively over the back of his head, set the hat on his head with a pronounced tilt over one eyebrow, and reached for his plug of tobacco.

"Oh, darn the goats! Me milkin' goats! Well, now, Casey Ryan never milked no goats, an' he ain't goin' to milk no goats! You can ask anybody if they think't he will."

Casey was very busy that day, and he had no dull-eyed Juan to do certain menial tasks about the cars that stopped before his garage. Nevertheless he kept an eye on the station of Patmos until the westbound train had come and had departed, and on the rough road between the railroad and the garage for another half hour, until he was sure that the Smith family were not coming back. Then he went more cheerfully about his work, now and then glancing, perhaps, at the truck which had been driven into the rear of the garage where it was very much in his way, but was safe from pilfering fingers. It was not such a bad truck, give it new tires. Casey had already figured the price at which he could probably sell it, on an easy payment plan, to the man who hauled water for Patmos. It was more than the amount of his loan, naturally. By noon he was rather hoping the "Smith Bros." would fail to take up that note.

Casey, you see, was not counting the goats at all. He had a vague idea that, while they were nominally a part of the security, they were actually of no importance whatever. They would run loose until Smith came after them, he guessed. He did not intend to milk any nanny goats, so that settled the goat question for Casey.

Casey simply did not know anything about goats. He ought to have used a little logic and not so much happy-go-lucky "t'ell with the goats." That is all very well, so far as it goes, and we all know that everybody says it and thinks it. But it does, not settle the problem. It never occurred to Casey, for instance, that the going of Humbolt and Greeley and the little spotted dog would make any difference. It really did make a great deal, you see. And it never occurred to Casey that goats are domesticated animals after they have been hauled around the country for weeks and weeks in a trailer to a truck, or that they will come back to the only home they know.

I don't know how long it takes goats to fill up. I never kept a goat or goats. And I don't know how long they will stand around and blat before they start something. I don't know much more about goats than Casey, or didn't, at least, until he told me. By that time Casey knew a lot more, I suspect, than he could put into words.

Casey says that he heard them blatting around outside, but he was busy trying to straighten a radius rod-Casey said he wa

s taking the kinks outa that hootin'-annie that goes behind the front ex and turns the dingbats when you steer-for a man who walked back and forth and slapped his hands together nervously and kept asking how long it was going to take, and how far it was to Barstow, and whether the road from there up across the Mojave was in good condition, and whether the Death Valley road out from Ludlow went clear through the valley and was a cut-off north, or whether it just went into the valley and stopped. Casey says that the only time he ever was in Death Valley it was with a couple of burros and that he like to have stayed there. He got to telling the man about his trip into Death Valley and how he just did get out by a scratch.

So he didn't pay any attention to the goats until he went back after some cold water for the white little woman in the car, that looked all tuckered out and scared. It was then he found the whole corner chewed off one water bag and the other water bag on the ground and a lot more than the corner gone. And the billy was up on his hind feet with his horns caught in the fullest barrel, and was snorting and snuffling in a drowning condition and tilting the barrel perilously. The other goats were acting just like plain damn goats, said Casey, and merely looking for trouble without having found any.

Casey says he had to call the Oasis man to help him get Billy out of the barrel, and that even then he had to borrow a saw and saw off one horn- either that, or cave in the barrel with Maud-and he needed that barrel worse than the billy goat needed two horns; but he told me that if he'd had Maud in his two hands just then he sure would have caved in the goat.

At that, the nervous man got away without paying Casey, which I think rankled worse than a spoiled barrel of water.

Casey told me that he aged ten years in the next two weeks, and lost eighty-nine dollars and a half in damages and wages, not counting the two water bags he had to replace out of his stock, at nearly four dollars wholesale price. When he chased the goats out of his back door they went around and came in at the front, determined, he supposed, to bed down near the truck.

It was late before that occurred to him, and when it did he cranked up and drove the truck a hundred yards down the road that led to the spring. The goats did not follow as he expected, but stood around the trailer and blatted. Casey went back and hooked on the trailer and drove again down the road. The goats would not follow, and he went back to find that Billy had managed to push open the back door and had led his flock into Casey's kitchen. There was no kitchen left but the little camp stove, and that was bent so that it stood skew-gee, Casey said, and developed a habit of toppling over just when his coffee came to a boil.

Casey told me that he had to barricade himself in his garage that night, and he swore that Billy stood on his hind feet and stared at him all night through the window in spite of wrenches and pliers hailing out upon him. However that may be, Billy couldn't have stood there all night, unless Casey got his dates mixed. For at six o'clock the Oasis man came over, stepping high and swinging his fists, and told Casey that them damn goats had et all the bedding out of one tent and the soap, towel and one pillow out of another, and what was Casey going to do about it?

Casey did not know,-and he was famous for his resourcefulness too. I think he paid for the bedding before the thing was settled.

Casey says that after that it was just one thing after another. He told me that he never would have believed twelve goats could cover so much cussedness in a day. He said he couldn't fill a radiator but some goat would be chewing the baggage tied behind the car, or Billy would be rooting suitcases off the running board. One party fell in love with a baby goat and Casey in a moment of desperation told them they could have it. But he was sorry afterward, because the mother stood and blatted at him reproachfully for four days and nights without stopping.

Casey swears that he picked up and threw two tons of rocks every day, and he has no idea how many tons the six families of Patmos heaved at and after the goats. When they weren't going headfirst into barrels of water they were chewing something not meant to be chewed. Casey asserts that it is all a bluff about goats eating tin cans. They don't. He says they never touched a can all the while he had them. He says devastated Patmos wished they would, and leave the two-dollar lace curtains alone, and clotheslines and water barrels and baggage. He says many a party drove off with chewed bedding rolls and didn't know it, and that he didn't tell them, either.

You're thinking about Juan, I know. Well, Casey thought of Juan the first day, and took the trouble to hunt him up and hire him to herd the goats. But Juan developed a bad case of sleeping sickness, Casey says, which unfortunately was not contagious to goats. He swears that he never saw one of those goats lying down, though he had seen pictures of goats lying down and had a vague idea that they chewed their cuds. Casey tried to be funny, then. He looked at me and grinned, and observed, "Hunh! Goats don't chew cuds. That's all wrong. They chew duds. You ask anybody in Patmos." So Juan slept under sagebushes and grease-wood, and the goats did not.

Casey declares that he stood it for two weeks, and that it took all he could make in the garage to pay the six families of Patmos for the damage wrought by his security. He lost fifteen pounds of flesh and every friend he had made in the place except the man who hauled water, and he liked it because he was getting rich. Once Casey had a bright idea, and with much labor and language he loaded the goats into the trailer and had the water-hauler take them out to the hills. But that didn't work at all. Part of the flock came back afoot, from sheer homesickness, and the rest were hauled back because they were ruining the spring which was Patmos' sole water supply.

Casey would have shot the goats, but he couldn't bring himself to do anything that would offend J. Paul Smith of the Vista Grande Rancho. Whenever he read the letter J. Paul Smith had written him he was ashamed to do anything that would lower him in the estimation of J. Paul Smith, who trusted him and took it for granted that he would do the right thing and do it with enthusiasm.

"If he hadn't wrote so dog-gone polite!" Casey complained to me. "And if he hadn't went an' took it for granted I'd come through. But a man can't turn down a feller that wrote the way he done. Look at that letter! A college perfessor couldn't uh throwed together no better letter than that. And that there 'Thanking you in advance'-a feller can't throw a man down when he writes that way. You ask anybody." Casey's tone was one of reminiscent injury, as if J. Paul Smith had indeed taken a mean advantage of him.

One day Casey reached the limit of his endurance,-or perhaps of the endurance of Patmos. There were not enough male residents to form a mob strong enough to lynch Casey, but there was one woman who had lost a sofa pillow and two lace curtains; Casey did not say much about her, but I gathered that he would as soon be lynched as remonstrated with again by that woman. "Sufferin' Sunday! I'd shore hate to be her husband. You ask anybody!" sighed Casey when he was telling me.

Casey moralized a little. "Folks used to look at the goats that I'd maybe just hazed off into the brush fifty yards or so with a thousand pounds mebby of rocks, an' some woman in goggles would say, 'Oh, an' you keep goats! How nice!' like as if it were something peaceful an' homelike to keep goats! Hunh! Lemme tell yuh; never drive past a place that looks peaceful, and jump at the idea it is peaceful. They may be a woman behind them vines poisinin' 'er husband's father. How could them darn tourists tell'what was goin' on in Patmos? They seen the goats pertendin' to graze, an' keepin' an eye peeled till my back was turned, an' they thought it was nice to keep goats. Hunh!"

At last Casey could bear no more. He gathered together enough hardwood, three-inch crate slats to make twelve crates, and he worked for three nights, making them. And Casey is no carpenter. After that he worked for three days, with all the men in Patmos to help him, getting the goats into the crates and loaded on the truck. Then he drove over to the station and asked for tags, and addressed the crates to J. Paul Smith, Vista Grande Rancho, San Jose, Calif. Then he discovered that he could not send them except by express, and that he could not send them by express unless he prepaid the charges. And the charges on goats sent by express, was, as Casey put it, a holy fright.

But he had to do it. Patmos had been led to believe that he would send those goats off on the train, and Casey did not know what would happen if he failed. There were the heads of the six families, and all the children who were of walking age, grouped around the crates and Casey expectantly. Casey went back to the garage safe and got what money he had, borrowed the balance from the male citizens of Patmos and prepaid the express. Patmos helped to load them into the first express car going west, and Casey felt, he said, as if some one had handed him a million dollars in dimes.

Casey seemed to think that ended the story, but I am like the rest of you.

I wanted to know what the Smith family did, and J. Paul Smith, and whether

Casey kept the truck and sold it to the man who hauled water.

"Who? Me? Say! D'you ever know Casey Ryan to ever come out anywheres but at the little end uh the horn? Ain't I the bag holder pro tem?" I don't know what he meant by that. I think he was mistaken in the meaning of "pro tem."

"You ask anybody. Say, I got a letter sayin' in a gen'ral way that I'm a thief an' a cutthroat an' a profiteer an' so on, an' that I would have to pay fer the goat that was missin'-that there was the one I give away-an' that the damages to the billy goat was worth twenty-five dollars and same would be deducted from the amount of the loan. Darn these fancy word slingers!" said Casey. "An' the day before the note come due, here comes that shoestring in pants with the money to pay the note minus the damages, and four new tires fer the truck! Yessir, wouldn't buy tires off me, even! Could yuh beat that fer gall? And he wouldn't hardly speak."

Casey grinned and got his plug of tobacco and inspected the corners absently before he bit into it. "But I got even with 'im," he added. "I laid off till he got his tires on-an' I wouldn't lend him no tools to put 'em on with, neither. And then I looked up an' down the road an' seen there was no dust comin' an' we wouldn't be interrupted, an' I went up to the old skunk an' I says, 'I got a bill to colleck off you. Thankin' you in advance!' an' then I shore collected. You ask anybody in Patmos. Say, I bet he drove by-guess-an'-by-gosh to the orange belt, anyway, the way his eyes was swellin' up when he left!"

I mentioned his promise to Bill, that he would not fight a customer. Casey spat disgustedly. "Hell! He wasn't no customer! Didn't he ship his rubber in by express, ruther'n to buy off me?" He grinned retrospectively and looked at his knuckles, one of which showed a patch of new skin, pink and yet tender.

"'Thankin' you in advance!' that's just what I told 'im. An' I shore got all I thanked 'im for! You ask anybody in Patmos. They seen 'im afterwards."

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