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   Chapter 21 No.21

Casey Ryan By B. M. Bower Characters: 15326

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"Casey Ryan," the Little Woman began with her usual abruptness one evening, when she was able to walk as far as the mine and back without feeling; the effect of the exercise, but was still nursing a bandaged right hand; "Casey Ryan, tell me again just what old Injun Jim looked like."

Casey laughed and shifted Babe to a more secure perch on his shoulder, and drew his head to one side in an effort to slacken Babe's terrific pull on his hair. "Him? Mean an' ornery as the meanest thing you can think of. Sour as a dough can you've went off an' left for a coupla weeks in July."

"Oh, yes; very explicit, I admit. But just what did he look like? Height, weight, age and chief characteristics. I have," she explained, "a very-good reason for wanting a description of him."

"What yuh want a description of him for? He's good an' dead now." You see,

Casey had reached the point of intimacy where he could argue with the

Little Woman quite in his everyday Irish spirit of contention.

The Little Woman had spirit of her own, but she was surprisingly meek with Casey at times. "It struck me quite suddenly, to-day, that I may know where that gold mine is; or about where it is," she said, with a hidden excitement in her voice. "I've been thinking all day about it, and putting two and two together. I merely need a fair description now of Injun Jim, to feel tolerably certain that I do or do not know something about the location of that mine."

"How'd you come to know anything about it?" Casey stopped to move Babe to his other shoulder. He had put in a long hard day in the tunnel, and Babe was a husky youngster for four-and-a-half. Also she had developed a burr-like quality toward Casey, and she liked so well to be carried home from the mine that she would sit flat on the ground and rock her small body and weep until she was picked, up and placed on Casey's shoulder. "Set still, now, Babe, or Casey'll have to put yuh down an' make yuh walk home. Le'go my ear! Yuh want Casey to go around lop-sided, with only one ear?"

"Yes!" assented Babe eagerly, kicking Casey in the stomach. "Give me your knife, Casey Wyan, so I can cut off one ear an' make you lop-sided!"

"An' you'd do it, too!" Casey exclaimed admiringly.

"Baby Girl, you interrupted mother when mother was speaking of something important. You make mother very sad."

Babe's mouth puckered, her eyelids puckered, and she give a small wail.

"Now Baby's sad! You hurt-my-feelin's when you speak to me cross!"

She shook her yellow curls into her eyes and wept against them.

There was no hope of grown-ups talking about anything so foolish as a gold mine when Babe was in that mood. So Casey cooked supper, washed the dishes and helped Babe into her pyjamas; then he let her kneel restively in his lap while she said her prayers, and told her a story while he rocked her to sleep-it was a funny, Caseyish story about a bear, but we haven't time for it now-before he attempted to ask the Little Woman again what she meant by her mysterious curiosity concerning Injun Jim. Then, when he had his pipe going and the stove filled with pi?on wood, he turned to her with the question in his eyes.

The Little Woman laughed. "Now, if that terrible child will kindly consent to sleep for fifteen minutes, I'll tell you what I meant," she said. "It had slipped my mind altogether, and it was only to-day, when Babe was scratching out a snake's track-so the snake couldn't find the way back home, she said-that I chanced to remember. Just a small thing, you know, that may or may not mean something very large and important-like a gold mine, for instance."

"I don't have to go to work 'til sunup," Casey hinted broadly, "and I've set up many a night when I wasn't havin' half as much fun as I git listenin' to you talk."

Again the Little Woman laughed. I think she had been rambling along just to bait Casey into something like that."

"Very well, then, I'll come to the point. Though it is such a luxury to talk, sometimes! For a woman, that is.

"Three years ago we had two burros to pack water from your gulch, where there were too many snakes, to this gulch where there never seemed to be so many. We hadn't developed this spring then. One night something or other frightened the burros and they disappeared, and I started out to find them, leaving Babe of course with her father at the tunnel.

"I trailed those burros along the mountain for about four miles, I should think. And by that time I was wishing I had taken a canteen with me, though when I started out from camp I hated the thought of being burdened with the weight of it. I thought I could find water in some of the gulches, however, so I climbed a certain ridge and sat down to rest and examine the canyon beneath with that old telescope Babe plays with. It has been dropped so many times it's worthless now, but three years ago you could see a lizard run across a rock a mile away. Don't you believe that?" she stopped to demand sternly.

"Say! You couldn't tell me nothin' I wouldn't believe!" Casey retorted, fussing with his pipe to hide the grin on his face.

"This is the truth, as it happens. I merely speak of the lizard to convince you that a man's features would show very distinctly in the telescope. And please observe, Casey Ryan, that I am very serious at the moment. This may be important to you, remember.

"I was sitting among a heap of boulders that capped the ridge, and it happened that I was pretty well concealed from view because I was keeping in the shade of a huge rock and had crouched down so that I could steady the telescope across a flat rock in front of me. So I was not discovered by a man down in the canyon whom I picked up with the telescope while I was searching the canyon side for a spring.

"The man was suddenly revealed to me as he parted the branches of a large greasewood and peered out. I think it was the stealthiness of his manner that impressed me most. He looked up and down and across, but he did not see me. After a short wait, while he seemed to be listening, he crept out from behind the bush, turned and lifted forward a bag which hadn't much in it, yet appeared quite heavy. He went down into the canyon, picking his way carefully and stepping on rocks, mostly. But in one place where he must cross a wash of deep sand, he went backward and with a dead branch he had picked up among the rocks he scratched out each track as he made it. Babe reminded me of that to-day when she scratched out the snake's track in the sand up by the mine."

Casey was leaning toward her, listening avidly, his pipe going cold in his hand. "Was he-?"

"He was an Indian, and very old, and he walked with that bent, tottery walk of old age. He had one eye and-"

"Injun Jim, that was-couldn't be anybody else!" Casey knocked his pipe against the front of the little cookstove, emptying the half-burned tobacco into the hearth. The Little Woman probably wondered why he seemed so unexcited, but she did not know all of Casey's traits. He put away his pipe and almost immediately reached for his plug of tobacco, taking a chew without remembering where he was. "If you feel able to ride," he said, "I'll ketch up the mule in the morning, and we'll go over there."

"So your heart is really set on finding it, after all. I've been wondering about that. You haven't seemed to be thinking much about it, lately."

"A feller can prospect," Casey declared, "when he can't do nothin' else." And he added rather convincingly, "Good jobs is scarce, out this way. I'd be a fool to pass up this one, when I'd have the hull winter left fer prospectin'."

"And what about those partners of yours?"

"Oh, them?" Casey hesitated, tempted perhaps to tell the truth. "Oh, they've quit on me. They quit right away after I went to work. We-we had a kinda fuss, and they've went back to town." He stopped and added with a sigh of relief, "We can just as well count them out, fr'm now on-an' fergit about 'em."

"Oh," said the Little Woman, and smiled to herself. "Well, if you are anxious about that patch of brush in the canyon, we'll go and see what's behind it. To-morrow is Sunday, anyway."

"I'd a made up the time, if it wasn't," Casey assured her with dignity.

"I've been waitin' a good many years for a look at that Injun Jim gold."

"And it's just possible that I have been almost within reach of it for the past four years and didn't know it! Well, I always have believed that Fate weaves our destinies for us; and a curious pattern is the weaving, sometimes! I'll go with you, Casey Ryan, and I hope, for your sake, that Indian Jim's mine is behind that clump of bushes. And I hope," she added, with a little laugh whose meaning was not clear to Casey, "I hope you get a million dollars out of it! I should like to point to Casey Ryan, the mining millionaire and say, 'That plutocratic gentleman over there once knocked me down with a hammer, and washed my dishes for two weeks, and really, my dears, you should taste his sour-dough biscuits!'"

Casey went away to his camp and lay awake a long time, not thinking about the Injun Jim mine, if you please, but wondering what he had done to make the Little Woman give him hell about his biscuits. Good Lord! Did she still blame him for hitting her with that double-jack?-when he knew and she knew that she had made him do it!-and if she didn't like his sour-dough biscuits, why in thunder had she kept telling him she did?

He tucked the incident away in the back of his mind, meaning to watch her and find out just what she did mean, anyway. Her opinion of him had become vital to Casey; more vital than the Injun Jim mine, even.

He saddled the buckskin mule next morning and after breakfast the three set out, with a lunch and two canteens of water. The Little Woman was in a very good humor and kept Casey "jumpin' sideways," as he afterwards confessed to me, wondering just what she meant or whether she meant nothing at all by her remarks concerning his future wealth and dignity and how he would forget old friends.

She even pretended she had forgotten the place, and was not at all sure that this was the right canyon, when they came to it. She studied landmarks and then said they were all wrong and that the place was marked in her mind by something entirely different and not what she first named. She deviled Casey all she could, and led him straight to the spot and suggested that they eat their lunch there, within twenty feet of the bushes from which she had seen the Indian creep with the sack on his back.

She underrated Casey's knowledge of minerals; or perhaps she wanted to test it,-you never can tell what a woman really has in the back of her mind. Casey sat there eating a sour-dough biscuit of his own making, and staring at the steep wall of the canyon because he was afraid to stare at the Little Woman, and so his uncannily keen eye saw a bit of rock no larger than Babe's fist. It lay just under that particular clump of bushes, in the shade. And in the shade he saw a yellow gleam on the rock.

He looked at the Little Woman then and grinned, but he didn't say anything until he had taken the coffeepot off the fire, and had filled her cup.

"This ain't a bad canyon to prospect in. You can brush up your memory whilst I take a look around. Mebby I can find Jim's mine myself," he said impudently. Then he got up and went poking here and there with his prospector's pick, and finally worked up to the brush and disappeared behind it. In five minutes or less he came back to her with a little nugget the size of Babe's thumb.

"If yuh want to see something pretty, come on up where I got this here," he told her. "I'll show yuh what drives prospectors crazy. This ain't no free gold country, but there's a pile uh gold in a dirt bank I can show yuh. Mebby you forgot the place, and mebby yuh didn't. I've quit guessin' at what yuh really do mean an' what yuh don't mean. Anyway, this is where we headed for."

"Well, you really are a prospector, after all. I just wondered." The Little Woman did not seem in the least embarrassed. She just laughed and took Babe by the hand, and they went up beyond the clump of bushes to what lay hidden so cunningly behind it.

Cunning-that was the mood Nature must have been in when she planted free gold in that little wrinkle on the side of Two Peak, and set the bushes in the mouth of the draw, and piled an iron ledge across the top and spread barren mountainside all around it. In the hiding Injun Jim had done his share, too. He had pulled rubble down over the face of the bank of richness, and eyes less keen than Casey's would have passed it by without a second glance.

The Little Woman knelt and picked out half a dozen small nuggets and stood up, holding them out to Casey, her eyes shining. "Casey Ryan, here's the end of your rainbow! And you're luckier than most of us; you've got your pot o' gold."

Casey looked down at her oddly. "It's mebby the end of one," he said. "But they's another one, now, 't I can see plainer than this one. I dunno's I'll ever git to where that one points."

"A man's never satisfied," scoffed the Little Woman, turning the precious little yellow fragments over thoughtfully in her palm. "I should think this ought to be enough for you, man alive."

"Mebby it had. But it ain't." He looked at her, hesitating,-and I think the Little Woman waited and held her breath for what he might say next. But Casey was scarcely himself in her presence. He turned away without another glance at the nuggets.

"You'n the kid can gopher around there whilst I go step off the lines of a claim an' put up the location notice," he said, and left her standing there with the gold in her palm.

That night it was the Little Woman who planned great things for Casey, and it was Casey who smoked and said little about it. But once he shook his head when she described the gilded future she saw for him.

"Money in great gobs like that ain't much use to me," he demurred. "Once I blew into Lund, over here, with twenty-five thousand dollars in my pocket that I got outa silver claims. All I ever saved outa that chunk was two pairs of socks. No need of you makin' plans on my being a millionaire. It ain't in me. I guess I'm nothin' but a rough-neck stagedriver an' prospector, clear into the middle of my bones. If I had the sense of a rabbit I never'd gone hellin' through life the way I've done. I'd amount to somethin' by now. As it is I ain't nothin' and I ain't nobody-"

"You're Casey Wyan! You make me sad when you say that!" Babe protested sleepily, lifting her head from his shoulder and spatting him reprovingly on the cheek. "You're my bes' friend and you've got a lots more sense than a wabbit!"

"And your rainbow, Casey Ryan?" the Little Woman asked softly. "What about this other, new rainbow?"

"It's there," said Casey gloomily. "It'll always be there-jest over the ridge ahead uh me. I c'n see it, plain enough, but I got more sense 'n to think I'll ever git m'hands on it."

"I'll go catch your wainbow, Casey Wyan. I'll run fas' as I can, an' I'll catch it for you!"

"Will yuh, Babe?" Casey bent his head until his lips touched her curls.

And neither Casey nor the Little Woman spoke of it again.

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