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B.M. BOWER

GODSEND TO A LADY

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First published in The Popular Magazine, 20 December 1920

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-04-21

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Ex Libris

Illustration

The Popular Magazine, 20 December 1920
with "Godsend to a Lady"


Illustration


"Casey" Ryan mixes a little philanthropy with considerable poker
and ends where he started—with the addition of a pair of socks.



CASEY waved good-by to the men from Tonopah, squinted up at the sun, and got a coal-oil can of water and filled the radiator of his Ford. He rolled his bed in the tarp and tied it securely, put flour, bacon, coffee, salt, and various other small necessities of life into a box, inspected his sour- dough can and decided to empty it and start over again if hard fate drove him to sour dough. "Might bust down and have to sleep out," he meditated. "Then again I ain't liable to; and if I do I'll be goin' so fast I'll git somewhere before she stops. I'm—sure—goin' to go!" He cranked the battered car, straddled in over the edge on the driver's side, and set his feet against the pedals with the air of a man who had urgent business elsewhere. The men from Tonopah were not yet out of sight around the butte scarred with granite ledges before Casey was under way, rattling down the rough trail from Ghost Mountain and bouncing clear of the seat as the car lurched over certain rough spots.

Pinned with a safety pin to the inside pocket of the vest he wore only when he felt need of a safe and secret pocket, Casey Ryan carried a check for twenty-five thousand dollars, made payable to himself. A check for twenty-five thousand dollars in Casey's pocket was like a wild cat clawing at his imagination and spitting at every moment's delay. Casey had endured solitude and some hardship while he coaxed Ghost Mountain to reveal a little of its secret treasure. Now he wanted action, light, life, and plenty of it. While he drove he dreamed, and his dreams beckoned, urged him faster and faster.

Up over the summit of the ridge that lay between Ghost Mountain and Furnace Lake he surged with radiator bubbling. Down the long slope to the lake lying there smiling sardonically at a world it loved to trick with its moods, Casey drove as if he were winning a bet. Across that five miles of baked, yellow-white clay he raced, his Ford a-creak in every joint.

"Go it, you tin lizard," chortled Casey. "I'll have me a real wagon when I git to Los. She'll be white, with red stripes along her sides and red wheels, and she'll eat up the road and lick her chops for more. Sixty miles under her belt every time the clock strikes, or she ain't good enough for Casey! Mebby they think they got some drivers in Californy. Meybe they think they have. They ain't, though, because Casey Ryan ain't there yet. I'll catch that night train. Oughta be in by morning, and then you keep your eye on Casey. There's goin' to be a stir around Los, about to-morrow noon. I'll have to buy some clothes, I guess. And I'll find some nice girl with yella hair that likes pleasure, and take her out ridin'. Yeah, I'll have to git me a swell outfit uh clothes. I'll look the part, all right!"

Up a long, winding trail and over another summit, Casey dreamed while the stark, scarred buttes on either side regarded him with enigmatic calm. Since the first wagon train had worried over the rough deserts on their way to California, the bleak hills of Nevada had listened while prospectors dreamed aloud and cackled over their dreaming; had listened, too, while they raved in thirst and heat and madness. Inscrutably they watched Casey as he hurried by with his twenty-five thousand dollars and his pleasant pictures of soft ease.

At a dim fork in the trail Casey slowed and stopped. A boiling radiator will not forever brook neglect, and Casey brought his mind down to practical things for a space. "I can just as well take the train from Lund," he mused, while he poured in more water. "Then I can leave this bleatin' burro with Bill. He oughta give me a coupla hundred for her, anyway. No use wasting money just because you happen to have a few dollars in your pants." He filled his pipe to smoke and muse on that sensible idea and turned the nose of his Ford down the dim trail to Lund.

Eighty miles more or less straight away across the mountainous waste lay Lund, halfway up a cańon that led to higher reaches in the hills rich in silver, lead, copper, gold. Silver it was that Casey had found and sold to the men from Tonopah—and it was a freak of luck, he thought whimsically, that had led him and his Ford away over to Ghost Mountain to find their stake when they had probably been driving over millions every day that they made the stage trip from Pinnacle down to Lund. For Casey, be it known, was an old stage driver turned prospector. He had a good deal to think of while he drove, and he had time enough in which to think it.

The trail was rutted in places where the sluicing rains had driven hard across the hills; soft with sand in places where the fierce winds had swept the open. For a while the thin, wabbly track of a wagon meandered over the road, then turned off up a flat-bottomed draw and was lost in the sagebrush. Some prospector not so lucky as he, thought Casey with swift, soon-forgotten sympathy.

A coyote ran up a slope toward him, halted with forefeet planted on a rock and stared at him, ears perked like an inquisitive dog. Casey stopped, eased his rifle out of the crease in the back of the seat cushion, chanced a shot and his luck held. He climbed out, picked up the limp gray animal, threw it into the tonneau and went on. Even with twenty-five thousand dollars in his pocket, Casey told himself that coyote hides are not to be scorned. He had seen the time when the price of a good hide meant flour and bacon and tobacco to him. He would skin it when he stopped to eat.

Eighty miles with never a soul to call good day to Casey. Nor shack nor shelter made for man, nor water to wet his lips if they cracked with thirst—unless, perchance, one of those swift downpours came riding on the wind, lashing the clouds with lightning. Then there was water, to be sure. Far ahead of Casey such a storm rolled in off the barren hills to the south. "She's wettin' up that red lake a-plenty," observed Casey, squinting through the dirty windshield. "No trail around, either, on account of the lava beds. But I guess I can pull acrost, all right."

Doubt was in his voice, however, and he was half minded to turn back and take the straight road to Vernal, which had been his first objective. But he discarded the idea. "No, sir, Casey Ryan never back-trailed yet. Poor time to commence now, when I got the world by the tail and a downhill pull. We'll make out, all right—can't be so terrible boggy with a short rain like that there. I bet," he continued optimistically to the Ford, which was the nearest he had to human companionship, "I bet we make it in a long lope. Git along, there! Shake a hoof—'s the last time you haul Casey around.

"Casey's goin' to step high, wide, and handsome. Sixty miles an hour or he'll ask for his money back. They can't step too fast for Casey! Blue—if I git me a girl with yella hair, mebby she'll show up better in a blue car than she will in a white and red. This here turnout has got to be tasty and have class. If she was dark—" He shook his head at that. "No, sir, black hair grows too plenty on squaws an' chili queens. Yella goes with Casey. Clingin' kind with blue eyes—that's the stuff! An' I'll sure show her some drivin'!"

He wondered whether he should find the girl first and buy the car to match her beauty, or buy the car first and with that lure the lady of his dreams. It was a nice question and it required thought. It was pleasant to ponder the problem, and Casey became so lost in meditation that he forgot to eat when the sun flirted with the scurrying clouds over his wind-torn automobile top.

So he came bouncing and swaying down the last mesa to the place called Red Lake. Casey had heard it spoken of with opprobrious epithets by men who had crossed it in wet weather. In dry weather it was red clay caked and checked by the sun, and wheels or hoofs stirred clouds of red dust that followed and choked the traveler. In rain it was said to be boggy, and travelers failed to travel at all.

Casey was not thinking of the lake when he drove down to it. He was seeing visions, though you would not think it to look at him; a stocky, middle-aged man who needed a shave and a hair cut, wearing cheap, dirt-stained overalls and blue shirt and square-toed shoes studded thickly on the soles with hobnails worn shiny; driving a desert-scarred Ford with most of the paint gone and a front fender cocked up and flapping crazily, and tires worn down to the fabric in places.

But his eyes were very blue and there was a humorous twist to his mouth, and the wrinkles around his eyes meant Irish laughter quite as much as squinting into the sun. If he dreamed incongruously of big, luxurious cars gorgeous in paint and nickel trim, and of slim, young women with yellow hair and blue eyes—well, stranger dreams have been hidden away behind exteriors more unsightly than was the shell which holds the soul of Casey Ryan.

Presently the practical, everyday side of his nature nudged him into taking note of his immediate surroundings. Casey knew at a glance that half of Red Lake was wet, and that the shiny patches here and there were shallow pools of water. Moreover, out in the reddest, wettest part of it an automobile stood with its back to him, and pygmy figures were moving slowly upon either side.

"Stuck" diagnosed Casey in one word, and tucked his dream into the back of his mind even while he pulled down the gas lever a couple of notches and lunged along the muddy ruts that led straight away from the safe line of sagebrush and out upon the platterlike red expanse.

The Ford grunted and lugged down to a steady pull. Casey drove as he had driven his six horses up a steep grade in the old days, coaxing every ounce of power into action. Now he coaxed with spark and gas and somehow kept her in high, and stopped with nice judgment on a small island of harder clay within shouting distance of the car ahead. He killed the engine then and stepped down, and went picking his way carefully out to them, his heavy shoes speedily collecting great pancakes of mud that clung like glue.

"Stuck, hey? You oughta kept in the ruts, no matter if they are water-logged. You never want to turn outa the road on one of these lake beds, huntin' dry ground. If it's wet in the road you can bank on sinkin' in to the hocks the minute you turn out." He carefully removed the mud pancakes from his shoes by scraping them across the hub of the stalled car, and edged back to stand with his arms on his hips while he surveyed the full plight of them.

"She sure is bogged down a-plenty," he observed, grinning sympathetically.

"Could you hitch on your car, mister, and pull us out?" This was a woman's voice, and it had an odd quality of youth and unquenchable humor that thrilled Casey, woman hungry as he was.

Casey put up a hand to his mouth and surreptitiously removed a chew of tobacco almost fresh. With some effort he pulled his feet closer together, and he lifted his old Stetson and reset it at a consciously rakish angle. He glanced at the car, behind it and in front, coming back to the flat-chested, depressed individual before him. "Yes, ma'am. I'll get you out, all right. Sure, I will." While he looked at the man he spoke to the woman.

"We've been stalled here for an hour or more," volunteered the flat-chested one. "We was right behind the storm. Looked a sorry chance that anybody would come along for the next week or so—"

"Mister, you're a godsend if ever there was one," added the lady. "I'd write your name on the roster of saints in my prayer book, if I ever said prayers and had a prayer book and a pencil and knew what name to write."

"Casey Ryan. Don't you worry, ma'am. We'll get you outa here in no time." Casey grinned and craned his neck. Looking lower this time, he saw a pair of feet which did not seem to belong to that voice, though they were undoubtedly feminine. Still, red mud will work miracles of disfigurement, and Casey was an optimist by nature.

"My wife is trying out a new comedy line," the flat-chested one observed unemotionally. "Trouble is it never gets over out front. If she ever did get it across the footlights I could raise the price of admission and get away with it. How far is it to Rhyolite?"

"Rhyolite? Twenty or twenty-five miles, mebby." Casey gave him an inquiring look.

"Can we get there in time to paper the town and hire a hall to show in, mister?" Casey saw the mud-caked feet move laboriously toward the rear of the car.

"Yes, ma'am, I guess you can. There ain't any town, though, and it ain't got any hall in it, ner anybody to go to a show."

The woman laughed. "That's like my prayer book. Well, Jack, you certainly have got a powerful eye, but you've been trying to look this outfit out of the mud for an hour, and I haven't saw it move an inch, so far. Let's just try something else."

"A prayer outa your prayer book, maybe," the flat-chested one retorted, not troubling to move or to turn his head.

Casey blinked and looked again. The woman who appeared from the farther side of the car might have been the creature of his dream, so far as her face, her hair, and her voice went. Her hair was yellow, unmistakably yellow. Her eyes were blue as Casey's own, and she had nice teeth and showed them in a red-lipped smile. A more sophisticated man would have known that the powder on her nose was freshly applied, and that her reason for remaining so long hidden from his sight while she talked to him was revealed in the moist color on her lips and the fresh bloom on her cheeks. Casey was not sophisticated. He thought she was a beautiful woman, and asked no questions of her makeup box.

"Mister, you certainly are a godsend!"—she told him again when she faced him. "I'd call you a direct answer to prayer, only I haven't been praying. I've been trying to tell Jack that the shovel is not packed under the banjos, as he thinks it was, but was left back at our last camp where he was trying to dig water out of a wet spot. Jack, dear, perhaps the gentleman has got a shovel in his car. Ain't it a real gag, mister, us being stuck out here in a dry lake?"

Casey tipped his hat and grinned and tried not to look at her too long. Husbands of beautiful young women are frequently jealous, and Casey knew his place and meant to keep it.

All the way back to his car Casey studied the peculiar features of the meeting. He had been thinking about yellow-haired women—well! But, of course, she was married, and therefore not to be thought of save as a coincidence. Still, Casey rather regretted the existence of Jack, dear, and began to wonder why good-looking women always picked such dried-up little runts for husbands. "Show actors, by the talk," he mused. "I wonder now if she don't sing, mebby?"

He started the car and forged out to them, making the last few rods in low gear and knowing how risky it was to stop. They were rather helpless, he had to admit, and did all the standing around while Casey did all the work. But he shoveled the rear wheels out, waded back to the tiny island of solid ground and gathered an armful of brush, covered himself with mud while he crowded the brush in front of the wheels, tied the tow rope he carried for emergencies like this, waded to the Ford, cranked, and trusted the rest to luck. The Ford moved slowly ahead until the rope between the two cars tightened, then spun wheels and proceeded to dig herself in where she stood. The other car, shaking with the tremor of its own engine, ruthlessly ground the sagebrush into the mud and stood upon it shaking and roaring and spluttering furiously.

"Nothing like sticking together, mister," called the lady cheerfully, and he heard the music of her laughter above the churn of their motor.

"Say, ain't your carburetor all off?" Casey leaned out to call back to the flat-chested one. "You're smokin' back there like wet wood."

The man immediately stopped the motor and looked behind him.

Casey muttered something under his breath when he climbed out. He looked at his own car standing hub deep in red mud, and reached for the solacing plug of chewing tobacco. Then he thought of the lady, and withdrew his hand empty.

"We're certainly going to stick together, mister," she repeated her witticism, and Casey grinned foolishly.

"She'll dry up in a few hours, with this hot sun," he observed hearteningly. "We'll have to pile brush in, I guess." His glance went back to the tiny island and to his double row of tracks. He looked at the man.

"Jack, dear, you might go help the gentleman get some brush," the lady suggested sweetly.

"This ain't my act," Jack dear objected. "I just about broke my spine trying to heave the car outa the mud when we first stuck. Say, I wish there was a beanery of some kind in walking distance. Honest, I'll be dead of starvation in another hour. What's the chance of a bite, hon?"

Contempt surged through Casey. Deep in his soul he pitied her for being tied to such an insect. Immediately he was glad that she had spirit enough to put the little runt in his place.

"You would wait to buy supplies in Rhyolite, remember," she reminded her husband calmly. "I guess you'll have to wait till you get there. I've got one piece of bread saved for junior. You and I go hungry—and cheer up, old dear, you're used to it!"

"I've got grub," Casey volunteered hospitably. "Didn't stop to eat yet. I'll pack the stuff back there to dry ground and boil some coffee and fry some bacon." He looked at the woman and was rewarded by a smile so brilliant that Casey was dazzled.

"You certainly are a godsend," she called after him, as he turned away to his own car. "It just happens that we're out of everything. It's so hard to keep anything on hand when you're traveling in this country, with towns so far apart. You just run short, before you know it."

Casey thought that the very scarcity of towns compelled one to avoid running short of food, but he did not say anything. He waded back to the island with a full load of provisions and cooking utensils, and in three minutes he was squinting against the smoke of a camp fire while he poured water from a canteen into his blackened coffeepot.

"Coffee! Jack, dear, can you believe your nose!" chirped the woman presently behind Casey. "Junior, darling, just smell the bacon! Isn't he a nice gentleman? Go give him a kiss like a little man."

Casey didn't want any kiss—at least from junior. Junior was six years old and his face was dirty and his eyes were old, old eyes, hot brown like his father's. He had the pinched, hungry look which Casey had seen only among starving Indians, and after he had kissed Casey perfunctorily he snatched the piece of raw bacon which Casey had just sliced off, and tore at it with his teeth like a hungry pup.

Casey affected not to notice, and busied himself with the fire while the woman reproved junior half-heartedly in an undertone and laughed and remarked upon the number of hours since they had breakfasted.

Casey tried not to watch them eat, but in spite of himself he thought of a prospector whom he had rescued last summer after a five-day fast. These people tried not to seem unusually hungry, but they ate more than the prospector had eaten, and their eyes followed greedily every mouthful which Casey took, as if they grudged him the food. Wherefore Casey did not take as many mouthfuls as he would have liked.

"This desert air certainly does put an edge on one's appetite," the woman smiled, while she blew across her fourth cup of coffee to cool it, and between breaths bit into a huge bacon sandwich which Casey could not help knowing was her third. "Jack, dear, isn't this coffee delicious!"

"Mah-ma! Do we have to p-pay that there g-godsend? C-can you p-pay for more b-bacon for me, mah-ma?" Junior licked his fingers and twitched a fold of his mother's soiled skirt.

"Sure, give him more bacon! All he wants. I'll fry another skillet full." Casey spoke hurriedly, getting out the piece which he had packed away in the bag.

"He's used to these holdup joints where they charge you forty cents for a greasy plate," the flat-chested man explained, speaking with his mouth full. "Eat all yuh want, junior. This is a barbecue and no collection took up to pay the speaker of the day."

"We certainly appreciate your kindness, mister," the woman put in graciously, holding out her cup. "What we'd have done, stuck here in the mud with no provisions and no town within miles, Heaven only knows. Was you kidding us," she added, with a betrayal of more real anxiety than she intended, "when you said Rhyolite is a dead one? We looked it up on the map, and it was marked like a town. We're making ali the little towns that the road shows mostly miss. We give a fine show, mister. It's been played on all the best time in the country—we took it abroad before the war and made real good money with it. But we just wanted to see the country, you know—after doing the Cont'nent and all the like of that. So we thought we'd travel independent and make all the small towns—"

"The movie trust is what puts vodeville on the bum," the man interrupted. "We used to play the best time only. We got a first-class act. One that ought to draw down good money anywhere, and would draw down good money, if the movie trust—"

"And then we like to be independent, and go where we like and get off the railroad for a spell. Freedom is the breath of life to he and I. We'd rather have it kinda rough, now and then, and be free and independent—"

"I've g-got a b-bunny, a-and it f-fell in the g-grease box a-and we c-can't wash it off. And h-he's asleep now. C-can I g-give my b-bunny some b-bacon, Mister G-godsend?"

The woman laughed, and the man laughed and Casey himself grinned sheepishly. Casey did not want to be called a godsend, and he hated the term mister when applied to himself. All his life he had been plain Casey Ryan and proud of it, and his face was very red when he confessed that there was no more bacon. He had not expected to feed a family when he left camp that morning, but had taken ample rations for himself only.

Junior whined and insisted that he wanted b-bacon for his b-bunny, and the man hushed him querulously and asked Casey what the chances were for getting under way. Casey repacked a lightened bag, emptied the coffee grounds, shouldered his canteen, and waded back to the cars and to the problem of red mud with an unbelievably tenacious quality.

The man followed and asked him if he happened to have any smoking tobacco, and afterward begged a cigarette paper, and then a match. "The dog-gone helpless, starved bunch!" Casey muttered while he dug out the wheels of his Ford, and knew that his own dream must wait upon the need of these three human beings whom he had never seen until an hour ago, of whose existence he had been in ignorance and who would probably contribute nothing whatever to his own welfare or happiness, however much he might contribute to theirs.

I do not say that Casey soliloquized in this manner while he was sweating there in the mud under hot midday. He did think that now he would no doubt miss the night train to Los Angeles, and that he would not, after all, be purchasing glad raiment and a luxurious car on the morrow. He regretted that, but he did not see how he could help it. He was Casey Ryan, and his heart was soft to suffering, even though a little of the spell cast by the woman's blue eyes and her golden hair had dimmed for him.

He still thought her a beautiful woman who was terribly mismated, but he felt vaguely that women with beautiful golden hair should not drink their coffee aloud, nor calmly turn up the bottom of their skirts that they might use the under side of the hem for a napkin after eating bacon. I do not like to mention this—Casey did not like to think of it, either. It was with reluctance that he reflected upon the different standards imposed by sex. A man, for instance, might wipe his fingers on his pants and look his world straight in the eye. But, dog-gone it, when a lady's a lady, she ought to be a lady.

Later Casey forgot for a time the incident of the luncheon on Red Lake. With infinite labor and much patience he finally extricated himself and the show people, with no assistance from them, save encouragement. He towed them to dry land, untied and put away his rope and then discovered that he had not the heart to drive on at his usual hurtling pace and leave them to follow. There was an ominous stutter in their motor, for one thing, and Casey knew of a stiffish hill a few miles this side of Rhyolite.

It was full sundown when they reached the place, which was not a town but a camp beside a spring, usually deserted. Three years before, a mine had built the camp for the accommodation of the truck drivers who hauled ore to Lund and were sometimes unable to make the trip in one day. Casey, having adapted his speed to that of the decrepit car of the show people, was thankful that they arrived at all. He still had a little flour and coffee and salt, and he hoped that there was enough grease left on the bacon paper to grease the skillet so that bannocks would not stick to the pan. He also hoped that his flour would hold out under the onslaught of their appetites.

But Casey was lucky. A half dozen cowboys were camped there with a pack outfit, meaning to ride the cańons next day for cattle. They were cooking supper, and they had "beefed a critter" that had broken a leg that afternoon running among rocks. Casey shifted his responsibility and watched, in complete content, while the show people gorged on broiled yearling steaks. I dislike to use the word gorge, where a lady's appetite is involved, but that is the word which Casey thought of first.

Later, the show people very amiably consented to entertain their hosts. It was then that Casey was once more blinded by the brilliance of the lady, and forgot certain little blemishes that had seemed to him quite pronounced. The cowboys obligingly built a bonfire before the tent, into which the couple retired to set their stage and tune their instruments. Casey lay back on a cowboy's rolled bed with his knees crossed, his hands clasped behind his thinning hair, and smoked and watched the first pale stars come out while he listened to the pleasant twang of banjos in the tuning.

It was great. The sale of his silver claim to the men from Tonopah, the check safely pinned in his pocket, the future which he had planned for himself swam hazily through his mind. He was fed to repletion, he was rich, he had been kind to those in need. He was a man to be envied, and he told himself so.

Then the tent flaps were lifted and a dazzling, golden-haired creature in a filmy white evening gown to which the firelight was kind, stood there smiling, a banjo in her hands. Casey gave a grunt and sat up, blinking. She sang, looking at him frequently. At the encore, which was livened by a clog, danced to hidden music, she surely blew a kiss in the direction of Casey, who gulped and looked around at the others self-consciously, and blushed hotly.

In truth it was a very good show which the two gave there in the tent; much better than the easiest-going optimist would expect. When it was over to the last twang of a bango string, Casey took off his hat, emptied into it what money he had in his pockets, and set the hat in the fire glow. Without a word the cowboys followed his example, turning pockets inside out to prove they could give no more.

Casey spread his bed apart from the others that night, and lay for a long while smoking and looking up at the stars and dreaming again his dream; only now the golden-haired creature who leaned back upon the deep cushions of his speedy blue car was not a vague, bloodless vision, but a real person with nice teeth and a red-lipped smile, who called him mister in a tone he thought like music. Now his dream lady sang to him, talked to him. I consider it rather pathetic that Casey's dreams always halted just short of mealtime. He never pictured her sitting across the table from him in some expensive cafe, although Casey was rather fond of cafe lights and music and service and food.

Next morning the glamour remained, although the lady was once more the unkempt woman of yesterday. The three seemed to look upon Casey still as a godsend. They had talked with some of the men and had decided to turn back to Vernal, which was a bigger town than Lund and, therefore, likely to produce better crowds. They even contemplated a three-night stand, which would make possible some very urgent repairs to their car. Casey demurred, although he could not deny the necessity for repairs. It was a longer trail to Vernal, and a rougher trail. Moreover, he himself was on his way to Lund.

"You go to Lund," he urged, "and you can stay there four nights if you want to, and give shows. And I'll take yuh on up to Pinnacle in my car while yours is gittin' fixed, and you can give a show there. You'd draw a big crowd. I'd make it a point to tell folks you give a dandy show. And I'll git yuh good rates at the garage where I do business. You don't want nothin' of Vernal. Lund's the place you want to hit fer."

"There's a lot to that," the foreman of the cowboys agreed. "If Casey's willin' to back you up, you better hit straight for Lund. Everybody there knows Casey Ryan. He drove stage from Pinnacle to Lund for two years and never killed nobody, though he did come close to it, now and again. I've saw strong men that rode with Casey and said they never felt right afterward. Casey, he's a dog-gone good driver, but he used to be kinda hard on passengers. He done more to promote heart failure in them two towns than all the altitude they can pile up. But nobody's going to hold that against a good show that comes there. I heard there ain't been a show stop off in Lund for over a year. You'll have to beat 'em away from the door, I bet."

Wherefore the Barrymores—that was the name they called themselves, though I am inclined to doubt their legal right to it—the Barrymores altered their booking and went with Casey to Lund. They were not fools, by the way. Their car was much more disreputable than you would believe a car could be and turn a wheel, and the Barrymores recognized the handicap of its appearance. They camped well out of sight of town, therefore, and let Casey drive in alone.

Casey found that the westbound train had already gone, which gave him a full twenty-four hours in Lund, even though he discounted his promise to see the Barrymores through. There was a train, to be sure, that passed through Lund in the middle of the night; but that was the De Luxe, standard and drawing-room sleepers, which disdained stopping to pick up plebeian local passengers. So Casey must spend twenty-four hours in Lund, greeting men who hailed him joyously at the top of their voices while they were yet afar off, and thumped him painfully upon the shoulders when they came within reach of him.

You may not grasp the full significance of this, unless you have known old and popular stage drivers, soft of heart and hard of fist. Then remember that Casey had spent months on end alone in the wilderness, working like a lashed slave from sunrise to dark trying to wrest a fortune from a certain mountainside. Remember how an enforced isolation, coupled with rough fare and hard work, will breed a craving for lights and laughter and the speech of friends. Remember that, and don't overlook the twenty-five thousand dollars that Casey had pinned safe within his pocket.

Casey had unthinkingly tossed his last dime into his hat for the show people at Rhyolite. He had not even skinned the coyote whose hide would have been worth ten or fifteen dollars, as hides go. In the stress of pulling out of the mud at Red Lake he had forgotten all about the dead animal in his tonneau until his nose reminded him next morning that it was there. Then he had hauled it out by the tail and thrown it away. He was broke, except that he had that check in his pocket.

Of course it was easy enough for Casey to get money. He went to the store that sold everything from mining tools to green perfume bottles tied with narrow pink ribbon. The man who owned that store also owned the bank next door, and a little place down the street which was called laconically "The Club." One way and another, Dwyer managed to feel the money of every man who came into Lund and stopped there for a space. He was an honest man, too—or as honest as is practicable for a man in business.

Dwyer was tickled to see Casey again. Casey was a good fellow, and he never needed his memory jogged when he owed a man. He paid before he was asked to pay, and that is enough to make any merchant love him. He watched Casey unpin his vest pocket and remove the check, and he was not too eager to inspect it.

"Good? Surest thing you know. Want it cashed, or applied to your old checking account?—it's open yet, with a dollar and sixty-seven cents to your credit, I believe. I'll take care of it, though it's after banking hours."

Casey was foolish. "I'll take a couple of hundred, if it's handy, and a check book. I guess you can fix it so I can get what money I want in Los. I'm goin' to the city, Dwyer, and I'm goin' to have one hell of a time when I git there. I've earned it. You ask anybody that ever mined."

Dwyer laughed while he inked a pen for Casey's indorsement. "Hop to it, Casey. Glad you made good. But you better let me put part of that in a savings account, so you can't check it out. You know, Casey—remember your weak point."

"Aw—that's all right! Don't you worry none about Casey Ryan! Casey'll take care of himself—he's had too many jolts to want another one. Say, gimme a pair of them socks before you go in the bank. I'll pay yuh," he grinned, "when yuh come back with some money. Ain't got a cent on me, Dwyer. Give it all away. Twelve dollars and something. Down to twenty-five thousand dollars and my Ford autymobil—and Bill's goin' to buy that off me soon as he looks her over to see what's busted and what ain't."

Dwyer laughed again and unlocked the door behind the overalls and jumpers, and disappeared into his bank. Presently he returned with a receipted duplicate deposit slip for twenty-three thousand eight hundred dollars, a little, flat check book and two hundred dollars in worn bank notes. "You ought to be independent for the rest of your life, Casey. This is a fine start for any man," he said.

Casey paid for the socks and slid the change for a ten-dollar bill into his overalls pocket, put the check book and the bank notes away where he had carried the check, and walked out with his hat very much tilted over his right eye and his shoulders swaggering a little. You can't blame him for that, can you?

As he stepped from the store he met an old acquaintance from Pinnacle. There was only one thing to do, in a case like that, and Casey did it quite naturally. They came out of The Club wiping their lips, and the swagger in Casey's shoulders was more pronounced.

Then, face to face, Casey met the show lady, which was what he called her in his mind. She had her arms clasped around a large paper sack full of lumpy things, and her eyes had a strained, anxious look.

"Oh, mister! I've been looking all over for you. They say we can't show in this town. The license for road shows is fifty dollars, to begin with, and I've been all over and can't find a single place where we could show, even if we could pay the license. Ain't that the last word in hard luck? Now, what to do beats me, mister. We've just got to have the old car tinkered up so it'll carry us on to the next place, wherever that is. Jack, dear, says he must have a new tire by some means or other, and we was counting on what we'd make here.

"And up at that other place you've mentioned the mumps has broke out and they wouldn't let us show for love or money. A man in the drug store told me. Mister, we certainly are in a hole now for sure! If we could give a benefit for something or somebody. Mister, those men back there said you're so popular in this town, I believe I've got an idea. Mister, couldn't you have bad luck, or be sick or something, so we could give a benefit for you? People certainly would turn out good for a man that's liked the way they say you are. I'd just love to put on a show for you, mister. Couldn't we fix it up some way?"

Casey looked up and down the street, and found it practically empty. Lund was dining at that hour. And while Casey expected later the loud greetings and the handshakes and all, as a matter of fact he had thus far talked with Bill, the garage man, with Dwyer, the storekeeper and banker, and with the man from Pinnacle, who was already making ready to crank his car and go home. Lund, as a town, was yet unaware of Casey's presence. Casey looked at the show lady, found her gazing at his face with eyes that said please in four languages, and hesitated.

"You could git up a benefit for the Methodist church, mebby," he temporized. "There's a church of some kind here—I guess it's a Methodist. They most generally are."

"We'd have to split with them if we did," the show lady objected practically. "Oh, mister, we're stuck worse than when we was back there in the mud! We'd only have to pay five dollars for a six months' theater license, which would let us give all the shows we wanted to. It's a new law that I guess you didn't know anything about," she added kindly. "You certainly wouldn't have insisted on us coming if you'd knew about the license—"

"It's two years, almost, since I was here," Casey admitted. "I been out prospecting."

"Well, we can just work it fine! Can't we go somewhere and talk it over? I've got a swell idea, mister, if you'll just listen to it a minute, and it'll certainly be a godsend to us to be able to give our show. We've got some crutches among our stage props, and some scar patches, mister, that would certainly make you up fine as a cripple. Wouldn't they believe it, mister, if it was told that you had been in an accident and got crippled for life?"

In spite of his perturbation Casey grinned. "Yeah, I guess they'd believe it, all right," he admitted. "They'd likely be tickled to death to see me goin' around on crutches." He cast a hasty thought back into his past, when he had driven a careening stage between Pinnacle and Lund, strewing the steep trail with wreckage not his own. "Yeah, it'd tickle 'em to death. Them that's rode with me," he concluded.

"Oh, mister, you certainly are a godsend! Duck outa sight somewhere while I go tell Jack, dear, that we've found a way open for us to show, after all!" While Casey was pulling the sag out of his jaw so that he could protest, could offer her money, do anything save what she wanted, the show lady disappeared. Casey turned and went back into The Club, remained five minutes perhaps and then walked very circumspectly across the street to Bill's garage. It was there that the Barrymores found him when they came a-seeking with their dilapidated old car, their crutches, their grease paint and scar patches, to make a cripple of Casey, whether he would or no.

Bill fell uproariously in with the plan, and Dwyer, stopping at the garage on his way home to dinner, thought it a great joke on Lund, and promised to help the benefit along. Casey, with three drinks under his belt and his stomach otherwise empty, wanted to sing something which he had forgotten. Casey couldn't have recognized Trouble if it had walked up and banged him in the eye. He said sure, he'd be a cripple for the lady. He'd be anything once, and some things several times, if they asked him the right way.

Casey looked very bad when the show people were through with him. He had expected bandages wound picturesquely around his person, but the Barrymores were more artistic than that. Casey's right leg was drawn up at the knee so that he could not put his foot on the ground when he tried, and he did not know how the straps were fastened. His left shoulder was higher than his right shoulder, and his eyes were sunken in his head and a scar ran down along his temple to his left cheek bone. When he looked in the glass which Bill brought him, Casey actually felt ill. They told him that he must not wash his face, and that his week's growth of beard was a blessing from Heaven. The show lady begged him, with dew on her lashes, to play the part faithfully, and they departed very happy over their prospects.

Casey did not know whether he was happy or not. With Bill to encourage him and give him a lift over the gutters, he crossed the street to a restaurant and ordered largely of sirloin steak and French-fried potatoes. After supper there was a long evening to spend quietly on crutches, and The Club was just next door. A man can always spend an evening very quickly at The Club—or he could in the wet days—if his money held out. Casey had money enough, and within an hour he didn't care whether he was crippled or not. There were five besides himself at that table, and they had agreed to remove the lid. Moreover, there was a crowd ten deep around that particular table. For the news had gone out that here was Casey Ryan back again, a hopeless cripple, playing poker like a drunken Rockefeller and losing as if he liked to lose.

At eight o'clock the next morning Bill came in to tell Casey that the show people had brought up their car to be fixed, and was the pay good? Casey replied without looking up from his hand, which held a pair of queens which interested him. He'd stand good, he said, and Bill gave a grunt and went off.

At noon Casey meant to eat something. But another man had come into the game with a roll of money and a boastful manner. Casey rubbed his cramped leg and hunched down in his chair again and called for a stack of blues. Casey, I may as well confess, had been calling for stacks of blues and reds and whites rather often since midnight.

At four in the afternoon Casey hobbled into the restaurant and ate another steak and drank three cups of coffee, black. He meant to go across to the garage and have Bill hunt up the Barrymores and get them to unstrap him for a while, but, just as he was lifting his left crutch around the edge of the restaurant door, two women of Lund came up and began to pity him and ask him how it ever happened. Casey could not remember, just at the moment, what story he had told of his accident. He stuttered—a strange thing for an Irishman to do, by the way—and retreated into The Club where they dared not follow.

"H'lo, Casey! Give yuh a chance to win back some of your losin's, if you're game to try it again," called a man from the far end of the room.

Casey swore and hobbled back to him, let himself stiffly down into a chair and dropped his crutches with a rattle of hard wood. Being a cripple was growing painful, besides being very inconvenient. The male half of Lund had practically suspended business that day to hover around him and exchange comments upon his looks. Casey had received a lot of sympathy that day, and only the fact that he had remained sequestered behind the curtained arch that cut across the rear of The Club saved him from receiving a lot more. But, of course, there were mitigations. Since walking was slow and awkward, Casey sat. And since he was not the man to sit and twiddle thumbs to pass the time, Casey played poker. That is how he explained it afterward. He had not intended to play poker for twenty-four hours, but tie up a man's leg so he can't walk, and he's got to do something.

Wherefore Casey played, and did not win back what he had lost earlier in the day.

Once, while the bartender was bringing drinks—you are not to infer that Casey was drunk; he was merely a bit hazy over details—Casey pulled out his dollar watch and looked at it. Eight-thirty—the show must be pretty well started, by now. He thought he might venture to hobble over to Bill's and have those dog-gone straps taken off before he was crippled for sure. But he did not want to do anything to embarrass the show lady. Besides, he had lost a great deal of money, and he wanted to win some of it back. He still had time to make that train, he remembered. It was reported an hour late, some one said.

So Casey rubbed his strapped leg, twisting his face at the cramp in his knee, and letting his companions believe that his accident had given him a heritage of pain. He hitched his lifted shoulder into an easier position and picked up another unfortunate assortment of five cards.

At ten o'clock Bill, the garage man, came and whispered something to Casey, who growled an oath and reached almost unconsciously for his crutches; so soon is a habit born in a man.

"What they raisin' thunder about?" he asked apathetically when Bill had helped him across the gutter and into the street. "Didn't the crowd turn out like they expected?" Casey's tone was dismal. You simply cannot be a cripple for twenty-four hours, and sit up playing unlucky poker all night and all day and well into another night, without losing some of your animation; not even if you are Casey Ryan. "Hell, I missed that train ag'in," he added heavily when he heard it whistle into the railroad yard.

At the garage the Barrymores were waiting for him in their stage clothes and makeup. The show lady had wept seams down through her rouge, and the beads on her lashes had clotted stickily. "This never happened to us before. We've took our bad luck with our good luck and lived honest and respectable and self-respecting, and here, at last ill fortune has tied the can onto us. I know you meant well and all that, mister, but we certainly have had a raw deal handed out to us in this town. We—certainly—have!"

"We got till noon to-morrow to be outa the county," croaked the flat-chested one, shifting his Adam's apple rapidly. "And that's real comedy, ain't it, when your damn county runs clean over to the Utah line, and we can't go back the way we come, or—and we can't go anywhere till this big slob here puts our car together. He's got pieces of it strung from here around the block. Say, what kinda town is this you wished onto us, anyway? Holding night court, mind you, so they could can us quicker!"

The show lady must have seen how dazed Casey looked. "Maybe you ain't heard the horrible deal they handed us, mister. They stopped our show before we'd raised the curtain—and it was a seventy-five-dollar house if it was a cent!" she wailed. "They had a bill as long as my arm for license—we couldn't get by with the five-dollar one—and for lights and hall rent and what all. There wasn't enough money in the house to pay it! And they was going to send us to jail! The sheriff acted anything but a gentleman, mister, and if you ever lived in this town and liked it I must say I question your taste!"

"We wouldn't use a town like this for a garbage dump, back home," cut in the flat-chested one, with all the contempt he could master.

"And they hauled us over to their dirty old justice of the peace, and he told us he'd give us thirty days in jail if we was in the county to-morrow noon, and we don't know how far this county goes, either way!"

"Fifty miles to St. Simon," Bill told them comfortingly. "You can make it, all right if—"

"We can make it, hey? How're we going to make it, with our car layin' around all over your garage?" The flat-chested one's tone was arrogant past belief.

Casey was fumbling for strap buckles which he could not reach. He was also groping through his colorful, stage-driver's vocabulary for words which might be pronounced in the presence of a lady, and finding mighty few that were of any use to him. The combined effort was turning him a fine purple when the lady was seized with another brilliant idea.

"Jack, dear, don't be harsh. The gentleman meant well—and I'll tell you, mister, what let's do! Let's trade cars till the man has our car repaired. Your car goes just fine, and we can load our stuff in and get out away from this horrible town. Why, the preacher was there and made a speech and said the meanest things about you, because you was having a benefit and at the same identical time you was setting in a saloon gambling. He said it was an outrage on civilization, mister, and an insult to the honest, hardworking people in Lund. Them was his very words."

"Well, hell!" Casey exploded abruptly. "I'm honest and hardworkin' as any damn preacher. You can ask anybody!"

"Well, that's what he said, mister. We certainly didn't know you was a gambler when we offered to give you a benefit. We certainly never dreamed you'd queer us like that. But you'll do us the favor to lend us your car, won't you, mister? You wouldn't refuse that, and see me and little junior languishin' in jail when you knew in your heart that—"

"Aw, take the darn car!" muttered Casey distractedly, and hobbled into the garage office where he knew that Bill kept liniment.

Five minutes, perhaps, after that, Casey opened the office door wide enough to fling out an assortment of straps and two crutches.

Sounds from the rear of the garage indicated that Casey's Ford was "r'arin' to go," as Casey frequently expressed it. Voices were jumbled in the tones of suggestions, commands, protest. Casey heard the show lady's clear treble berating Jack, dear, with thin politeness. Then the car came snorting forward, paused in the wide doorway, and the show lady's voice called out clearly, untroubled as the voice of a child after it has received that which it cried for.

"Well, good-by, mister! You certainly are a godsend to give us the loan of your car!" There was a buzz and a splutter, and they were gone—gone clean out of Casey's life into the unknown whence they had come.

Bill opened the door gently and eased into the office, sniffing liniment. The painted hollows under Casey's eyes gave him a ghastly look in the lamplight when he lifted his face from examining a chafed and angry knee. Bill opened his mouth for speech, caught a certain look in Casey's eyes, and did not say what he had intended to say. Instead:

"You better sleep here in the office, Casey. I've got another bed back of the machine shop. I'll lock up, and if any one comes and rings the night bell—well, never mind. I'll plug her so they can't ring her." The world needs more men like Bill.

Even after an avalanche human nature cannot resist digging, in the melancholy hope of turning up grewsome remains. I know that you are all itching to put shovel into the debris of Casey's dreams, and to see just what was left of them!

There was mighty little, let me tell you. I said in the beginning that twenty-five thousand dollars was like a wild cat in Casey's pocket. You can't give a man that much money all in a lump and, suddenly, after he has been content with dollars enough to pay for the grub he eats, without seeing him lose his sense of proportion. Twenty-five dollars he understands and can spend more prudently than you, perhaps. Twenty-five thousand he simply cannot gauge. It seems exhaustless. It is as if you plucked from the night all the stars you can see, knowing that the Milky Way is still there and unnumbered other stars invisible even in the aggregate.

Casey played poker, with an appreciative audience and the lid off. Now and then he took a drink stronger than two-and-three-fourths per cent. He kept that up for a night and a day and well into another night. Very well, gather round and look at the remains, and if there's a moral, you are welcome, I am sure.

Casey awoke just before noon, and went out and held his head under Bill's garage hydrant with the water running a full stream. He looked up and found Bill standing there with his hands in his pockets, gazing at Casey sorrowfully. Casey grinned.

"How's she comin', Bill?"

Bill grunted and spat. "She ain't. Not if you mean that car them folks wished onto you. The tail light's pretty fair, though. And in their hurry the lady went off and left a pink silk stockin' in the back seat. The toe's wore out of it, though. Casey, if you wait till you overhaul 'em with that thing they wheeled in here under the name of a car—"

"Oh, that's all right, Bill," Casey grunted gamely. "I was goin' to git me a new car, anyway. Mine wasn't so much. They're welcome."

Bill grunted and spat again, but he did not say anything.

"I'll go see Dwyer, and see how much I got left," Casey said presently, and his voice, whether you believe it or not, was cheerful.

After a while Casey returned. He was grinning, but the grin was, to a careful observer, a bit sickish. "Say, Bill, talk about poker—I'm off it fer life. Now look what it done to me, Bill! I puts twenty-five thousand dollars into the bank—minus two hundred I took in money—and I takes a check book and I goes over to The Club and gits into a game. I wears the check book down to the stubs. I goes back and asks Dwyer how much I got in the bank, and he looks me over like I was a sick horse he had doubts about bein' worth doctorin', and as if he thought he mebby might better take me out an' shoot me an' put me outa my misery. 'Jest one dollar an' sixty-seven cents, Casey,' he says to me. 'If the checks is all in, which I trust they air!'"

Casey got out his plug of chewin' tobacco and pried off a blunted corner. "An' hell, Bill! I had that much in the bank when I started," he finished plaintively.

"Hell!" said Bill in brief, eloquent sympathy.

Casey set his teeth together and extracted comfort from the tobacco. He expectorated ruminatively.

"Well, anyway, I got me some bran'-new socks, an' they're paid for, thank God!" He tilted his old Stetson down over his right eye at his favorite, Caseyish angle, stuck his hands in his pocket, and strolled out into the sunshine.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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