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   Chapter 16 No.16

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 14358

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


You may not believe this next incident. I know I did not, when Casey told me about it,-but now I am not so sure. Casey said that the light appeared again, that night, moving slowly along the lip of the canyon like a man with a large lantern. There was a full moon, which had made him decide to travel at night on account of the heat while the sun was up. But the moon did not reveal the cause of the light, though the canyon crest was plainly visible to him.

William swung away from that light and walked rather briskly in the other direction, and Casey did not argue with him. So they headed almost due west and kept going. It seemed to Casey once or twice that the light followed them; but he could not be sure.

Two full nights he journeyed, and on both nights he had the light behind him. Once it came up swiftly to within a mile or so of him and William, and stopped there for awhile and then disappeared. Casey camped rather early and slept, and took the trail again in the morning. Night travel was getting on his nerves.

All that day he walked and toward evening, with thunder heads piling high above the Tippipahs, he came upon a small herd of Indian ponies feeding out from the mouth of a wide gulch. He knew they were Indian ponies by their size, their variegated colors, and their general unkemptness. They presently spied him and went galloping off up the gulch, and Casey followed until he spied a thin bluish ribbon of smoke wavering up toward the slate-black clouds.

He made camp just out of sight around a point of rocks from the smoke, stretching the canvas tarp which had floored the tent to make shelter between boulders. He changed his clothes, dressing himself carefully in the white flannel trousers, blue-and-green striped silk shirt, tan belt, white shoes and his old Stetson tilted over his right eye at the characteristic Casey angle. He was taking it for granted that an Indian camp lay under that smoke, and he knew Indians. Inquisitiveness would shut them up as effectively as poking a stick at a clam; but there were ways of coaxing their interest, nevertheless, and when an Indian is curious you have the trumps in your own hand and it will be your own fault if you lose.

Casey's manner therefore was extremely preoccupied when he led a suddenly limping William up the gulch and past a stone hut with a patched tepee alongside it. A lean squaw stood erect before the tepee and regarded him fixedly from under the shade of a mahogany-colored hand, and when Casey came closer she stooped and ducked out of sight like a prairie dog diving into its burrow. Casey paid no attention to that. He knew without being told that he was under close scrutiny from eyes unseen; which was what he desired and had prepared for.

The spring, as he had guessed, was above the camp. He threw a rock at two yammering curs that rushed out at him, and drove them back with Caseyish curses. Then he watered William at the trampled spring, made himself a smoke, and went back down the gulch. Opposite the tepee the squaw stood beside the trial. Casey grinned amiably and said hello.

"Yo' ketchum 'bacco? My man, him heap sick. Mebby die. Likeum 'bacco, him." The squaw muttered it as if she would rather not speak, but had been commanded to beg tobacco from the stranger.

"Sure, I got tobacco!" Casey's tone was a bit more friendly than before.

He pulled a small red can from his shirt pocket, hesitated and then tied

William to a bush. "Too bad your man sick. Mebby I can help him. He in

here?"

The squaw gestured dumbly, and Casey stooped and went into the tepee.

Inside it was so dark that he stood still just within the opening to get his bearings. This happened to be very good form in Indian society, and we will assume that Casey lost nothing by the pause. He dimly saw that a few blankets lay untidily against the tepee wall and that an old Indian was stretched upon them, watching Casey with one black eye, the other lid lying in sunken folds across the socket. Casey was for once in his life speechless. He had not expected to walk straight into the camp of Injun Jim. He had thought that of course he would have to go on to Round Butte and glean information there, perhaps; if he were exceptionally lucky he would meet Indians who would tell him what he wanted to know. But here was a one-eyed buck, and he was old, and he lived in the Tippipahs,-Injun Jim by all description.

"Your squaw says you want tobacco." Casey advanced and held out the red can. He knew better than to waste words, especially in the beginning. Indians are peculiar; you must approach them by not seeming to approach at all.

The old fellow grunted and turned the can over and over in clawlike hands, and said he wanted a match and a paper. Casey went farther; he rolled a cigarette and gave it to him and then rolled one for himself. They smoked, there in that unsavoury tepee, saying nothing at all. Casey had achieved the first part of his dream; he was making friends with Injun Jim.

Later he went down to his own camp, leading William. It was hard to wait and watch for the proper moment to broach the subject that filled his mind, and then induce the old Indian to talk. Casey was beginning to understand why no one had wormed the secret from Jim. When you are hundreds of miles and many months distant from a problem, it is easy to decide that you will do so and so, and handle the matter differently from the bungling men you have heard about. To find Injun Jim and get him to tell where his gold mine was had seemed fairly easy to Casey when he was driving stage elsewhere, and could only think about it. But when he sat on his haunches in the tepee, smoking with Injun Jim and conversing intermittently of such vital things as the prospect of rain that night, and the enforced delay in his journey because his pack mule was lame, speaking of gold mines in a properly disinterested and casual manner was not at all easy.

However, Casey ate a very hearty supper and went to bed studying the problem of somehow winning the old fellow's gratitude. Morning did not bring a solution, as it properly should have done, but he ransacked his pack, chose a small glass jar of blackberry jam and a little can of maple syrup, fortified himself with another red can of tobacco and went up to the camp, hoping for a streak of good luck. As for medicine, he hadn't a drop, and if he had he did not know for certain what ailed Injun Jim. He thought it was just old age and general cussedness.

Injun Jim ate the jam, using a deadly looking knife and later his fingers, when the jam got low in the jar. When he had finished that he opened the can and drank the maple syrup just as he would have drunk whisky,-with a relish. He smoked Casey's tobacco in the stone pipe which the squaw brought him and appeared fairly well satisfied with life. But he did not talk much, and what he did say was of no importance whatever. Not once did he mention gold mines.

Casey went back to camp and swore at William as he counted his cans of luxuries. He did not realize that he had established a dangerous precedent, but when he led William up to water, me

aning to pass by the camp without stopping, the squaw halted him on his way back and told him briefly that her man wanted him.

Injun Jim did not want Casey; he wanted more jam. Casey went back to camp and got another can, this time of strawberry, and in a spirit of peevishness added a small tin of the liver paste that had caused him a night's discomfort. He took them to the tepee, and Injun Jim ate the complete contents of both cans and seemed disgruntled afterwards; so much so that he would not talk at all but smoked in brooding silence, staring with his one malevolent eye at the stained wall of the tepee.

An hour later he began to move himself restlessly in the blanket and to mutter Piute words, the full meaning of which Casey did not grasp. But he would not answer when he was spoken to, so Casey went back to his camp. And that night Injun Jim was very sick.

Next day however he was sufficiently recovered to want more jam. Casey filled his pockets with small cans and doled them out one by one and gossipped artfully while he watched Injun Jim eat pickles, India relish and jelly with absolute, inscrutable impartiality. Casey felt sympathetic qualms in his own stomach just from watching the performance, but he was talking for a gold mine and he did not stop.

"You know Willow Pete?" he asked garrulously. "Big, tall man. Drinks whisky all the time. Willow Pete found a gold mine two moons ago. He's rich now. Got a big barrel of whisky. Got silk shirts like this-" he plucked at his own silken sleeve "-got lots of jam all the time. Every day drinks whisky and eats jam."

"Hunh!" Injun Jim ran his forefinger dexterously around the inside of a jelly glass and licked the finger with the nonchalance of a two-year-old. "Hunh. Got heap big gol' mine, me. No can go ketchum two year, mebby. I dunno. Feet no damn good for walk. Back no damn good for ride. No ketchum gol' long time now."

Casey took a chew of tobacco. This was getting to the point he had been aiming for, and he needed his wits working at top speed.

"Well, if you got a gold mine, you can eat jam all the time. Drink whisky, too," he added, hushing his conscience peremptorily. "If you've got a white man that's your friend, he might take your gold to town and buy whisky and jam."

Injun Jim considered, his finger searching for more jelly. "White man no good for Injun, mebby. I dunno. Ketchum gol', mebby no givum. Tell all white mans. Heap mans come. White man horses eat grass. Drink all water. Shootum deer, shootum rabbit, shootum all damn time. Make big house. Heap noise all time. No place for Injuns no more. No good."

"White man not all same, Jim. One white man maybe good friend. Help get gold, give you half. You buy lots of jam, lots of whisky, lots of silk shirts, have good time." Casey looked at him straight. He could do it, because he meant what he said; even the whisky, I regret to say.

Injun Jim accepted a cigarette and smoked it, saying never a word. Casey smoked the mate to it and waited, trying to hide how his fingers trembled. Injun Jim turned himself painfully on the blankets and regarded Casey steadily with his one suspicious eye. Casey met the look squarely.

"You got more shirt?" Jim's finger pointed at the blue and green stripes. "Yo' got more jam? You bringum. Heap sick, me, mebby die. Me no takeum gol' me die. No wantum, me die. Yo' mebby good man. I dunno. Me ketchum heap jam, ketchum heap silk shirt, ketchum heap 'bacco, heap whisky, mebby me tellum you where ketchum gol' mine. Me die, yo' heap rich-"

He turned suddenly, lifted his right arm and sent his knife swishing through the air. It sliced its way through the tepee wall and hung there quivering, Caught by the hilt. Injun Jim called out vicious, Piute words. "Hahnaga!" he commanded fiercely. "Hahnaga!"

The lean old squaw came meekly, stood just within the tepee while her lord spat words at her. She answered apathetically in Piute and backed out. Presently she returned, driving before her a young squaw whom Casey had not before seen. The young squaw was holding a hand upon her other arm, and Casey saw blood between her fingers. The young squaw was not particularly meek. She stood there sullenly while Injun Jim berated her in the Indian tongue, and once she muttered a retort that made the old man's fingers go groping over the blankets for a weapon; whereat the young squaw laughed contemptuously and went out, sending Casey a side glance and a fleeting smile as full of coquetry as ever white woman could employ.

The interruption silenced the old buck upon the subject of gold. Casey sat there and chewed tobacco and waited, schooling his impatience as best he could. Injun Jim muttered in Piute, or lay with his one eye closed. But Casey knew that he did not sleep; his thin lips were drawn too tense for slumber. So he waited.

Injun Jim opened his eye suddenly, looked all around the tepee and then stared fixedly at Casey. "Young squaw no good. Heap much white talk. Stealum gol' mine, mebby. I dunno." He gestured for his knife, and Casey got it for him. Injun Jim fondled it evilly.

"Bimeby killum. Mebby. I dunno. Yo' ketchum jam, ketchum shirt-how many jam yo' ketchum?"

Casey meditated awhile. He had not planned an exclusive jam diet for Injun Jim, therefore his supply was getting low. But at the tenderfoot camp was much more, enough to last Injun Jim to the border of the happy hunting grounds,-if he did not loiter too long upon the way. There was no telling how long Injun Jim would be able to eat jam, but Casey was a good gambler.

"If I go get a lot more, and get silk shirts-six," he counted with his fingers, "you tell me where your gold mine is."

"Yo' bringum heap jam, bringum shirt. Me tellum." His one eye was bright. "Yo' bringum jam. Yo' bringum shirt. Yol giveum me." He patted the bare dirt beside the blankets, signifying that he wanted the jam and shirts there, within reach of his hand. He even twisted his cruel old lips into a smile. "Me tellum. Me shakeum hand."

He held out his left hand and Casey clasped it soberly, though he wanted to jump up and crack his heels together,-as he confided afterwards. Injun Jim laid the blade of his knife across the clasped hands.

"Yo' lie me, yo' die quick. Injun god biteum. Mebby snake. I dunno. How long yo' ketchum heap jam, heap shirt?"

Now that he knew the way, Casey had in mind a certain short-cut that would subtract two days from the round trip. He held up his hand, fingers spread, and got up. Then he thought of the threat and added one of his own.

"I've got a God myself, Jim. You lie about that gold mine and the jam'll choke yuh to death. You can ask anybody."

Casey went out and straightway packed for the journey. Fate, he told himself, was playing partners with him. I don't suppose Casey, even in his most happy-go-lucky mood, had ever been quite so content with life as when he returned to the camp of the tenderfeet for a mule load of jam and silk shirts. Trading an old muzzle-loading shotgun to an Indian chief for the future site of a great city could not have seemed more of a bargain in the days of our forefathers.

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