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   Chapter 18 No.18

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 12283

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Casey was restless, and his restlessness manifested itself in a most unusual pessimism. Twice he picked up "float" that showed the clean indigo stain of silver bromyrite in spots the size of a split pea, and cast the piece from him as if it were so much barren limestone, without ever investigating to see where it had come from. Little as I know about mineral, I am sure that one piece at least was rich; high-grade, if ever I saw any. But Casey merely grunted when I spoke to him about it.

"Maybe it is. A coupla hundred ounces, say. What's that, even with silver at a dollar an ounce? It ain't good enough for Casey, and what I'm wastin' my time for, wearing the heels off'n my shoes prospectin' Starvation, is somethin' I can't tell yuh." He looked at me with his pale-blue, unwinking stare for a minute.

"Er-I can-and I guess the quicker it's out the better I'll feel."

He took out his familiar plug of tobacco, always nibbled around the edges, always half the size of his four fingers. I never saw Casey with a fresh plug in his pocket, and I never saw him down to one chew; it is one of the little mysteries in his life that I never quite solved.

"I been thinkin' about that devil's lantern we seen the other night," he said, when he had returned to his pocket the plug with a corner gone. "They's something funny about that-the way it went over there and stood on the Tippipahs again. I ain't sooperstitious. But I can't git things outa my head. I want to go hunt fer that mine of Injun Jim's. This here is just foolin' around-huntin' silver. I want to see where that free gold comes from that he used to peddle. It's mine-by rights. He was goin' to tell me where it was, you recollect, and he woulda if I hadn't overfed him on jam-or if that damn squaw hadn't took a notion for marryin'. I let her stampede me-and that's where I was wrong. I shoulda stayed."

I was foolish enough to argue with him. I had talked with others about the mine of Injun Jim, and one man (who owned cattle and called mines a gamble) told me that he doubted the whole story. A prospectors' bubble, he called it. Free gold, he insisted, did not belong in this particular formation; it ran in porphyry, he said,-and then he ran into mineralogy too technical for me now. I repeated his statement, however, and saw Casey grin tolerantly.

"Gold is where yuh find it," he retorted, and spat after a hurrying lizard. "They said gold couldn't be found in that formation around Goldfield. But they found it, didn't they?"

Casey looked at me steadily for a minute and then came out with what was really in his mind. "You stake me to grub and a couple of burros an' let me go hunt the Injun Jim, and I'll locate yuh in on it when I find it. And if I don't find it, I'll pay yuh back for the outfit. And, anyway, you're makin' money off'n my bad luck right along, ain't yuh? Wasn't it me you was writin' up, these last few days?"

"I was-er-reconsidering that devil's lantern yarn you told me, Casey. But the thing doesn't work out right. It sounds unfinished, as you told it. I don't know that I can do anything with it, after all." I was truthful with him; you all remember that I was dissatisfied with the way Casey ended it. Just walking back across the desert and quitting the search,-it lacked, somehow, the dramatic climax. I could have built one, of course. But I wanted to test out my theory that a man like Casey will live a complete drama if he is left alone. Casey is absolutely natural; he goes out after life without waiting for it to come to him, and he will forget all about his own interests to help a stranger,-and above all, he builds his castles hopefully as a child and seeks always to make them substantial structures afterwards. If any man can prove my theory, that man is Casey Ryan. So I led him along to say what dream held him now.

"Unfinished? Sure it's unfinished! I quit, didn't I tell yuh? It ain't goin' to be finished till I git out and find that mine. I been studyin' things over. I never seen one of them lights till I started out to find Injun Jim's mine. If I'd a-gone along with no bad luck, I wouldn't never a-found that tenderfoot camp, would I? It was keepin' the light at my back done that-and William not likin' the look of it, either. And you gotta admit it was the light mostly that scared them young dudes off and left me the things. And if you'd of saw Injun Jim, you'd of known same as I that it was the jam and the silk shirts that loosened him up. Nothin' in my own pack coulda won him over,-"

"It's all right that far," I cut in. "But then he died, and you were set afoot and all but married by as venomous a creature as I ever heard of, and the thing stops right there, Casey, where it shouldn't."

"And that's what I'm kickin' about! Casey Ryan ain't the man to let it stop there. I been thinkin' it over sence that devil's lantern showed up again, and went and set over there on Tippipah. Mebby I misjudged the dog-gone thing. Mebby it's settin' somewheres around that gold mine. Funny it never showed up no other time and no other place. I been travelin' the desert off'n on all my life, and I never seen anything like it before. And I can tell yuh this much: I been wanting that mine too darn long to give up now. If you don't feel like stakin' me for the trip, I'll go back to Lund and have a talk with Bill. Bill's a good old scout and he'll stake me to an outfit, anyway."

That was merely Casey's inborn optimism speaking. Bill was a good old scout, all right, but if he would grubstake Casey to go hunting the Injun Jim mine, then Bill had changed considerably.

The upshot of it was that we left Starvation the next morning, headed for town. And two days after that I had pulled myself out of bed at daybreak to walk down to his camp under the mesquite grove just outside of town. I drank a cup of coffee with him and wished him luck. Casey did not talk much. His mind was all taken up with the details of his starting,-whether to trust his water cans on the brown burro or the gray, and whether he had taken enough "cold" shoes along for the mule. And he set down his cup

of coffee to go rummaging in a kyack just to make sure that he had the hoof rasp and shoeing hammer safe.

He was packed and moving up the little hill out of the grove before the sun had more than painted a cloud or two in the east. A dreamer once more gone to find the end of his particular rainbow, I told myself, as I watched him out of sight. I must admit that I hoped, down deep in the heart of me, that Casey would fall into some other unheard-of experience such as had been his portion in the past. I felt much more certain that he would get into some scrape than I did that he would find the Injun Jim, and I was grinning inside when I went back to town; though there was a bit of envy in the smile,-one must always envy the man who keeps his dreams through all the years and banks on them to the end. For myself, I hadn't chased a rainbow for thirty years, and I could not call myself the better for it, either.

* * * * *

In September the lower desert does not seem to realize that summer is going. The wind blows a little harder, perhaps, and frequently a little hotter; the nights are not quite so sweltering, and the very sheets on one's bed do not feel so freshly baked. But up on the higher mesas there is a heady quality to the wind that blows fresh in your face. There is an Indian-summery haze like a thin veil over the farthest mountain ranges. Summer is with you yet; but somehow you feel that winter is coming.

In a country all gray and dull yellow and brown, you find strange, beautiful tints no artist has yet prisoned with his paints. You dream in spite of yourself, and walk through a world no more than half real, a world peopled with your thoughts.

Casey did, when the burros left him in peace long enough. They were misleading, pot-bellied animals that Casey hazed before him toward the Tippipahs. They never showed more than slits of eyes beneath their drooping lids, yet they never missed seeing whatever there was to see, and taking advantage of every absent-minded moment when Casey was thinking of the Injun Jim, perhaps. They were fast-walking burros when they were following a beaten trail and Casey was hard upon their heels, but when his attention wandered they showed a remarkable amount of energy in finding blind trails and following them into some impracticable wash where Casey wasted a good deal of time in extricating them. He said he never saw burros that hated so to turn around and go back into the road, and he never saw two burros get out of sight as quickly as they could when they thought he wasn't watching. They would choose different directions and hide from him separately,-but once was enough for Casey. He lost them both for an hour in the sand pits twelve miles out of town, and after that he tied them nose to tail and himself held a rope attached to the hindmost, and so made fair time with them, after all.

The mule, Casey said, was just plain damn mule, sloughed off from the army, blasé beyond words,-any words at Casey's command, at least. A lopeared buckskin mule with a hanging lower lip and a chronic tail-switching, that shacked along hour after hour and saved Casey's legs and, more particularly, a bunion that had developed in the past year.

Casey knew the country better than he had known it on his first unprofitable trip into the Tippipahs. He avoided Furnace Lake, keeping well around the Southern rim of it and making straight for Loco Canyon and the spring there while his water cans still had a pleasant slosh. There he rested his longears for a day, and disinterred certain tenderfoot luxuries which he had cached when he was there last time. And when he set out again he went straight on to the old stone hut where Injun Jim had camped. The tepee was gone, burned down according to Indian custom after a death, as he had expected. The herd of Indian ponies were nowhere in sight. Hahnaga's brother, he guessed, had driven them off long ago.

Casey had worked out a theory, bit by bit, and with characteristic optimism he had full faith that it would prove a fact later on. He wanted to start his search from the point where Injun Jim had started, and he had rather a plausible reason for doing so.

Injun Jim was an Indian of the old school, and the old school did a great deal of its talking by signs. Casey had watched Jim with that pale, unwinking stare that misses nothing within range, and he had read the significance of Jim's unconscious gestures while he talked. It had been purely subconscious; Casey had expected the exact location of the mine in words, and perhaps with a crudely accurate map of Jim's making. But now he remembered Jim's words, certain motions made by the skinny hands, and from them he laid his course.

"He was layin' right here-facin' south," Casey told himself, squatting on his heels within the rock circle that marked the walls of the tepee. "He said, 'Got heap big gol' mine, me-' and he turned his hand that way." Casey squinted at the distant blue ridge that was an unnamed spur of the Tippipahs. "It's far enough so an old buck like him couldn't make it very well. Fifteen mile, anyway-mebby twenty or twenty-five. And from the sign talk he made whilst he was talkin', I'd guess it's nearer twenty than fifteen. There's that two-peak butte-looks like that would be about right for distance. And it's dead in line-them old bucks don't waggle their hands permiskus when they talk. Old Jim woulda laid on his hands if he'd knovved what they was tellin' me; but even an ornery old devil like him gits careless when they git old. Casey hits straight fer Two Peak."

That's the way he got his bearings; just remembering the unguarded motion of Injun Jim's grimy hand and adding thereto his superficial knowledge of the country and his own estimate of what an old fellow like Jim could call a long journey. With this and the unquestioning faith in his dream that was a part of him, Casey threw his favorite "packer's hitch" across the packed burros at dawn next morning, boarded his buckskin mule and set off hopefully across the barren valley, heading straight for the distant butte he called Two Peak.

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