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   Chapter 20 No.20

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 18276

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Casey was out of his blankets long before daylight the next morning and sitting behind a bush on the ridge just back of the cabin, his rifle across his knees. He hoped that his mention of three other men would discourage those two from the attempt to revenge themselves, much as a lone woman would tempt them. But he was not going to take any risk whatever.

At sunrise he went back to his camp-which he had moved closer to the cabin, by the way, just barely keeping it out of sight-and cooked a hasty breakfast. When he returned the little woman was ready to show him her claims, and she seemed to have forgotten those two who had been so ignominiously hauled away and dropped like unwanted cats beside the road. She inquired again about Casey's partners, and Casey lied once more and said that they had gone on over the range, prospecting.

I don't know why he did not tell the little woman that he had lied to Ole and Joe and let it go at that. But he seemed to dread having her discover that he had lied at all, and so he kept on lying about those three imaginary men. Perhaps he had a chivalrous instinct that she would feel safer, more at ease, if she thought that others were somewhere near. At any rate he did not tell her that his only partners were two burros and a mule.

I don't know what the little woman's opinion of Casey was, except that in the first enthusiasm of her gratitude to him she had called him a man and a gentleman. She drove a bargain with him, as she supposed. She would pay him so much more per day if he preferred to board himself, and having named the amount, Casey waited two minutes, as if he were meditating upon the matter, and then replied that it suited him all right.

Casey did not think much of her claims, though he did not tell her so. In his opinion that tunnel should have been driven into the hill at a different point, where the indications of mineral were much stronger and the distance to the contact much less. A light, varying vein had been followed at an incline, and Casey, working alone, was obliged to wheel every pound of dirt up a rather steep grade to the dump outside. The rock was hard to work in, so that it took him a full half a day to put in four shots, and then he would be likely to find that they had "bootlegged." The tunnel also faced the south, from where the wind nearly always blew, so that the gas and smoke from his shots would hang in there sometimes for a full twenty-four hours, making it impossible for him to work.

The little woman seemed slightly surprised when Casey told her, at the end of the first week, to knock off three days on account of gas. She and the little girl came to his camp next day and brought Casey a loaf of light bread and interrupted him in the act of shaving. The little woman looked at the two burros and at the mule, measured the camp outfit with her keen gray eyes, looked at Casey who had nicked his chin, and became thoughtful.

After that she stopped calling him Mr. Ryan and addressed him as Casey Ryan instead, with a little teasing inflection in her voice. Once Casey happened to mention Lund, and when he saw her look of surprise he explained that he drove a stage out of Lund, for awhile.

"Oh! So you are that Casey Ryan!" she said. "I might have known it." She laughed to herself, but she did not say why, and Casey was afraid to ask. He could remember so many incidents in his past that he would not want the little woman to know about, and he was afraid that it might be one of them at which she was laughing.

She formed the habit of coming up to the tunnel every day, with Babe chattering along beside her, swinging herself on her mother's hand. At first she said whimsically that she had found it best to keep an eye on her miners, as if that explained her coming. But she always had something good to eat or drink. Once she brought a small bucket of hot chocolate, which Casey gulped down heroically and smacked his lips afterwards. Casey hated chocolate, too, so I think you may take it for granted that by then he was a goner.

He used to smoke his pipe and watch the little woman and Babe go "high-grading" along the tunnel wall. That was what she called it and pretended that she expected to find very rich ore concealed somewhere. It struck him one day, quite suddenly, that the Little Woman (I may as well begin to use capitals, because Casey always called her that in his mind, and the capitals were growing bigger every day) the Little Woman never seemed to notice his smoking, or to realize that it is a filthy habit and immoral and degrading, as that other woman had done.

He began to notice other things, too; that the Little Woman helped him a lot, on afternoons when help was most likely to be appreciated. She sometimes "put down a hole" all by herself, skinning a knuckle now and then with the lightest "single-jack" and saying "darn!" quite as a matter of course.

And once, when the rock was particularly hard, she happened along and volunteered to turn the drill while Casey used the "double-jack", which I suppose you know is the big hammer that requires two hands to pound the drill while another turns it slightly after each blow, so that the bitted end will chew its way into hard rock.

You aren't all of you miners, so I will explain further that to drill into rock with a double-jack and steel drill is not sport for greenhorns exactly. The drill-turner needs a lot of faith and a little nerve, because one blow of the double-jack may break a hand clasped just below the head of the drill. And the man with the double-jack needs a steady nerve, too, and some experience in swinging the big hammer true to the head of the drill,-unless he enjoys cracking another man's bones.

Casey Ryan prides himself upon being able to swing a double-jack as well as any man in the country. It is his boast that he never yet broke the skin on the hand of his drill-turner. So I shall have to let you take it for granted that the Little Woman's presence and help was more unnerving than a wildcat on Casey's back. For, while the first, second and third blows fell true on the drill, the fourth went wild. Casey owns that he was in a cold sweat for fear he might hit her. So he did. She was squatted on her heels, steadying one elbow on her knee. The double-jack struck her hand, glanced and landed another blow on her knee; one of those terribly painful blows that take your breath and make you see stars without crippling you permanently.

Casey doesn't like to talk about it, but once he growled that he did about

every damn-fool thing he could with a double-jack, except brain her. The

Little Woman gave one small scream and went over backward in a faint, and

Casey was just about ready to go off and shoot himself.

He took her up in his arms and carried her down to the cabin before she came to. And when she did come to her senses, Babe immediately made matters worse. She was whimpering beside her mother, and when she saw that mamma had waked up, she shrilled consolingly: "It's going to be all well in a minute. Casey Ryan kissed it des like that! So now it'll get all well!"

If the Little Woman had wanted to tell Casey what she thought of him, she couldn't just then, for Casey was halfway to his own camp by the time she glanced around the room, looking for him.

Common humanity drove him back, of course. He couldn't let a woman and a child starve to death just because he was a damned idiot and had half-killed the woman. But if there had been another person within calling distance, the Little Woman would probably never have seen Casey Ryan again.

Necessity has a bland way of ignoring such things as conventions and the human emotions. Casey cooked supper for Babe and the Little Woman, and washed the dishes, and wrung out cloths from hot vinegar and salt so that the Little Woman could bathe her knee-she had to do it left-handed, at that-and unbuttoned Babe's clothes and helped her on with her pyjamas and let her kneel on his lap while she said her prayers. Because, as Babe painstakingly explained, she always kneeled on a lap so ants couldn't run over her toes and tickle her and make her laugh, which would make God think she was a bad, naughty girl.

Can you picture Casey Ryan rocking that child to sleep? I can't-yes, I can too, and there's something in the picture that holds back the laugh you think will come.

Before she gave her final wriggle and cheeped her last little cheep, Babe had to be carried over and held down where she could kiss mamma good night. Casey got rather white around the mouth, then. But he didn't say a word. Indeed, he had said mighty little since that fourth blow of the double-jack; just enough to get along intelligently, with what he had to do. He hadn't even told the Little Woman he was sorry.

So Babe was asleep and tucked in her bed, and Casey turned down the light and asked perfunctorily if there was anything else he could do, and had started for the door. And then-

"Casey Ryan," called the Little Woman, with the teasing note in her voice. "Casey Ryan, come back here and lis

ten to me. You are not going off like that to swear at yourself all night. Sit down in that chair and listen to me!"

Casey sat down, swallowing hard. All the Casey Ryan nonchalance was gone,-never had been with him, in fact, while he faced that Little Woman. Somehow she had struck him humble and dumb, from the very beginning. I wish I knew how she did it; I'd like to try it sometime myself.

"Casey Ryan, it's hard for a woman to own herself in the wrong, especially to a man," she said, when he had begun to squirm and wonder what biting words she would say. "I've always thought that I had as good nerve as any one. I have, usually. But that double-jack scared the life out of me after the first blow, and I thought I wouldn't let on. I couldn't admit I was afraid. I was terribly ashamed. I knew you'd never miss, but I was scared, just the same. And like a darn fool I pushed the drill away from me just as you struck. It was coming down-you couldn't change it, man alive. You'd aimed true at the drill, and-the drill wasn't just there at the moment. Serves me right. But it's tough on you, old boy-having to do the cooking for three of us while I'm laid up!"

I'm sure I can't see how Casey Ryan ever got the name of being a devil with the ladies. He certainly behaved like a yap then, if you get my meaning. He gave the Little Woman a quick, unwinking stare, looked away from her shamedly, reached for his plug of tobacco, took away his hand, swallowed twice, shuffled his feet and then grunted-I can use no other word for it:

"Aw, I guess I c'n stand it if you can!"

He made a motion then to rise up and go to his own camp where he would undoubtedly think of many tender, witty things that he would like to have spoken to the Little Woman. But she was watching him. She saw him move and stopped him with a question.

"Casey Ryan, tell me the truth about that tunnel. Do you think it's ever going to strike the ore body at all?"

Start Casey off on the subject of mining and you have him anchored and interested for an hour, at least. The Little Woman had brains, you must see that.

"Well, I don't want to discourage you, ma'am," Casey said reluctantly, the truth crowding against his teeth. "But I'd 'a' gone in under that iron capping, if I'd been doing it. The outcropping you followed in from the surface never has been in place, ma'am. It's what I'd call a wild stringer. It pinched out forty foot back of where we're diggin' now. That's just an iron stain we're following, and the pocket of high grade don't mean nothin'. You went in on the strength of indications-" He stopped there and chuckled to himself, in a way that I'd come to know as the "indications" of a story,-which usually followed.

The Little Woman probably guessed. I suppose she was lonely, too, and the pain of her hurts made her want entertainment. "What are you laughing at, Casey Ryan?" she demanded. "If it's funny, tell me."

Casey blushed, though she couldn't have seen him in the dusky light of the cabin. "Aw, it ain't anything much," he protested bashfully. "I just happened to think about a little ol' Frenchman I knowed once, over in Cripple Creek, ma'am." He stopped.

"Well? Tell me about the little ol' Frenchman. It made you laugh, Casey

Ryan, and it's about the first time I've seen you do that. Tell me."

"Well, it ain't nothin' very funny to tell about," Casey hedged like a bashful boy; which was mighty queer for Casey Ryan, I assure you. For if there was anything Casey liked better than a funny story, it was some one to listen while he told it. "You won't git the kick, mebby. It's knowin' the Frenchman makes it seem kinda funny when I think about it. He was a good little man and he kept a little hotel and was an awful good cook. And he wanted a gold mine worse than anybody I ever seen. He didn't know a da-nothin' at all about minin' ma'am, but every ol' soak of a prospector could git a meal off him by tellin' him about some wildcat bonanza or other. He'd forgit to charge 'em, he'd be so busy listenin'.

"Well, there was two ol' soaks that got around him to grubstake 'em. They worked it all one year. They'd git a burro load of grub and go out somewheres and peck around till it was all et up, and then they'd come back an' tell Frenchy some wild tale about runnin' acrost what looked like the richest prospect in the country. They'd go on about havin' all the indications of a big body uh rich ore. He'd soak it in, an' they'd hang around town-one had a sore foot one time, I remember, that lasted 'em a month of good board at Frenchy's hotel before he drove 'em out agin to his mine, as he called it.

"They worked that scheme on him for a long time-and it was the only da- scheme they wasn't too lazy to work. They'd git money to buy powder an' fuse an' caps, ma'am, an' blow it on booze, y'see. An' they'd hang in town, boardin' off Frenchy, jest as long as they c'ld think of an excuse fer stayin'.

"So somebody tipped Frenchy off that he was bein' worked for grub an' booze money, an' Frenchy done a lot uh thinkin'. Next time them two come in, he was mighty nice to 'em. An' when he finally got 'em pried loose an' headed out, he appeared suddenly and says he's goin along to take a look at his mine. They couldn't do nothin' but take him, uh course. So they led him out to an old location hole somebody else had dug, an' they showed him iron cappin' an' granite contact an' so on-just talkin' wild, an' every few minutes comin' in with the 'strong indications of a rich ore body.' That was their trump suit, y'see, ma'am.

"Frenchy listened, an' his eyes commenced to snap, but he never said nothin' for awhile. Then all at once he pulled one uh these ol'-style revolvers an' points it at 'em, an' yells: 'Indicaziones! Indicaziones! T'ell weez your indicaziones! Now you show me zee me-tall!'" Casey stopped, reached for his plug and remembered that he mustn't. The Little Woman laughed. She didn't seem to need the tapering off of the story, as most women demand.

"And so you think I have plenty of indicaziones, but mighty little chance of getting the me-tall," she pointed the moral. "Well, then tell me what to do."

It was in the telling, I think, that Casey for the first time forgot to be shy and became his real, Casey Ryan best. The Little Woman saw at once, when he pointed it out to her, that she ought to drift and cut under the iron capping instead of tunnelling away from it as they had been doing.

But she was not altogether engrossed in that tunnel. I think her prospecting into the soul of Casey Ryan interested her much more; and being a woman she followed the small outcropping of his Irish humor and opened up a distinct vein of it before the evening was over. Just to convince you, she led him on until Casey told her all about feeding his Ford syrup instead of oil, and all about how it ran over him a few times on the dry lake,-Casey was secretly made happy because she saw at once how easily that could happen, and never once doubted that he was sober! He told her about the goats in Patmos and made her laugh so hard that Babe woke and whimpered a little, and insisted that Casey take her up and rock her again in the old homemade chair with crooked juniper branches hewn for rockers.

With Babe in his arms he told her, too, about his coming out to hunt the Injun Jim mine. He must have felt pretty well acquainted, by then, because he regaled her with a painstaking, Caseyish description of Lucy Lily and her educated wardrobe, and-because she was a murderous kind of squaw and entitled to no particular chivalry-even repeated her manner of proposing to a white man, and her avowed reason and all. That was going pretty far, I think, for one evening, but we must keep in mind the fact that Casey and the Little Woman had met almost a month before this, and that Casey had merely thrown wide open the little door to his real self.

At any rate it was after ten o'clock by Casey's Ingersoll when he tucked

Babe into her little bed, brought a jelly glass of cold water for the

Little Woman to drink in the night, and started for the door.

There he stopped for a minute, debated with his shyness and turned back.

"You mebby moved that steel at the wrong time," he said abruptly, "I guess you musta, the way it happened. But I was so scared I'd hit yuh, my teeth was playin' the dance to La Paloma. I was in a cold sweat. I never did hit a man with a double-jack in my life, and I guess I've put down ten miles uh holes, ma'am, if you placed 'em end to end. I always made it my brag I never scraped a knuckle at that game. But-them little hands of yours on the drill-I was shakin' all over for fear I might-hurt yuh. I- I never hated anything so bad in my life-I'd ruther kill a dozen men than hurt you-"

"Man alive," the Little Woman exclaimed softly from her dusky corner, "you'd never have hurt me in the world, if I'd had the nerve to trust you." And she added softly, "I'll trust you, from now on, Casey Ryan. Always."

I think Casey was an awful fool to walk out and never let her know that he heard that "Always."

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