B. M. Bower
Part 2 out of 3
back down from runnin' anything. But if you'd grubstake me for a year,
instead of settin' up this here garage at Patmos, I'd feel like I had a
better chance of makin' us both a piece uh money. There's a lost gold mine
I been wantin' fer years to get out and look for. I believe I know now
about where to hit for. It ain't lost, exactly. There's an old Injun been
in the habit of packin' in high grade in a lard bucket, and nobody's been
able to trail him and git back to tell about it. He's an old she-bear to
do anything with, but I got a scheme, Bill--"
"Ferget it," Bill advised. "Now you listen to me, Casey, and lay off that
prospectin' bug for awhile. Here's this long strip of desert from Needles
to Ludlow, and tourists trailin' through like ants on movin' day. And
here's this garage that I can get at Patmos for about half what the
buildin's worth. You ain't got any competition, none whatever. You've got
a cinch. There'll be cars comin' in from both ways with their tongues
hangin' out, outa gas, outa oil, needin' this and needin' that and looking
on that garage as a godsend--"
"Say, Bill, if I gotta be a godsend I'll go out somewheres and holler
myself to death. Casey's off that godsend stuff for life; you hear me,
"Glad to hear it, Casey. If you go down there to Patmos to clean up some
money for you 'n' me, you wanta cut out this soft-hearted stuff. Get the
money, see? Never mind being kind; you can be kind when you've got a stake
to be it with. Charge 'em for everything they git, and see to it that the
money's good. Don't you take no checks. Don't trust nobody for anything
whatever. That's your weakness, Casey, and you know it. You're too
dog-gone trusting. You promise me you'll put a bell on your tire tester
and a log chain and drag on your pump and jack--say, you wouldn't believe
the number of honest men that go off for a vacation and steal everything,
by golly, they can haul away! Pliers, wrenches, oil cans, tire testers--
say, you sure wanta watch 'em when they ask yuh for a tester! You can lose
more tire testers in the garage business--"
"Well, now, you watch Casey! When it comes to putting things like that
over, they wanta try somebody besides Casey Ryan. You ask anybody if
Casey's easy fooled. But I'd ruther go hunt the Injun Jim mine, Bill."
"Say, Casey, in this one summer you can make enough money in Patmos to
_buy_ a gold mine. I've been reading the papers pretty careful. Why, they
say tourist travel is the heaviest that ever was known, and this is early
May and it's only beginning. And lemme tell yuh something, Casey. I'd
ruther have a garage in Patmos than a hotel in Los Angeles, and by all
they say that's puttin' it strong. Ever been over the road west uh
Casey never had, and Bill proceeded to describe it so that any tourist who
ever blew out a tire there with the sun at a hundred and twenty and
running in high, would have confessed the limitations of his own
"And there you are, high and dry, with fifteen miles of the ungodliest,
tire-chewinest road on either side of yuh that America can show. About
like this stretch down here between Rhyolite and Vegas. And hills and
chucks--say, don't talk to me about any Injun packin' gold in a lard
bucket. Why, lemme tell yuh, Casey, if you work it right and don't be so
dog-gone kind-hearted, you'll want a five-ton truck to haul off your
profits next fall. I'd go myself and let you run this place here, only I
got a lot of credit trade and you'd never git a cent outa the bunch. And
then you're wantin' to leave Lund for awhile, anyway."
"You could git somebody else," Casey suggested half-heartedly. "I kinda
hate to be hobbled to a place like a garage, Bill. And if there's anything
gits my goat, it's patchin' up old tires. I'll run 'em flat long as
they'll stay on, before I'll git out and mend 'em. I'd about as soon go to
jail, Bill, as patch tires for tourists; I--"
"You don't have to," said Bill, his grin widening. "You sell 'em new
tires, see. There won't be one in a dozen you can't talk into a new tire
or two. Whichever way they're goin', tell 'em the road's a heap worse from
there on than what it was behind 'em. They'll buy new tires--you take it
from me they will. And," he added virtuously, "you'll do 'em no harm
whatever. If you got a car, you need tires, and a new one'll always come
in handy sometime. You know that yourself, Casey.
"Now, I'll put in an assortment of tires, and I'll trust you to sell 'em.
You and the road they got to travel. Why, when I was in Ludlow, a feller
blew in there with a big brute of a car--36-6 tires. He'd had a blow-out
down the other side of Patmos and he was sore because they didn't have no
tires he could use down there. He bought three tires--_three,_ mind yuh,
and peeled off the bills to pay for 'em! Sa-ay when yuh figure two hundred
cars a day rollin' through, and half of 'em comin' to yuh with grief of
"It's darn little I know about any car but a Ford," Casey admitted
plaintively. "When yuh come to them complicated ones that you can crawl
behind the wheel and set your boot on a button and holler giddap and
she'll start off in a lope, I don't know about it. A Ford's like a mule or
a burro. You take a monkey wrench and work 'em over, and cuss, and that's
about all there is to it. But you take them others, and I got to admit I
"Well," said Bill, and spat reflectively, "you roll up your sleeves and
I'll learn yuh. It'll take time for the stuff to be delivered, and you can
learn a lot in two or three weeks, Casey, if you fergit that prospectin'
idea and put your mind to it."
Casey rolled a cigarette and smoked half of it, his eyes clinging
pensively to the barren hills behind Lund. He hunched his shoulders,
looked at Bill and grinned reluctantly.
"She's a go with me, Bill, if you can't think of no other way to spend
money. I wisht you took to poker more, or minin', or something that's got
action. Stakin' Casey Ryan to a garage business looks kinda foolish to me.
But if you can stand it, Bill, I can. It's kinda hard on the tourists,
don't yuh think?"
Thus are garages born,--too many of them, as suffering drivers will
testify. Casey Ryan, known wherever men of the open travel and spin their
yarns, famous for his recklessly efficient driving of lurching
stagecoaches in the old days, and for his soft heart and his
happy-go-lucky ways; famous too as the man who invented ungodly
predicaments from which he could extricate himself and be pleased if he
kept his shirt on his back; Casey Ryan as the owner of a garage might
justly be considered a joke pushed to the very limit of plausibility. Yet
Casey Ryan became just that after two weeks of cramming on mechanics and
the compiling of a reference book which would have made a fortune for
himself and Bill if they had thought to publish it.
"A quort of oil becomes lubrecant and is worth from five to fifteen cents
more per quort when you put it into a two-thousand dollar car or over,"
was one valuable bit of information supplied by Bill. Also: "Never cuss or
fight a man getting work done in your place. Shut up and charge him
according to the way he acts."
It is safe to assume that Bill would make a fortune in the garage business
anywhere, given normal traffic.
Patmos consists of a water tank on the railroad, a siding where trains can
pass each other, a ten-by-ten depot, telegraph office and express and
freight office, six sweltering families, one sunbaked lodging place with
tent bedrooms so hot that even the soap melts, and the Casey Ryan garage.
I forgot to mention three trees which stand beside the water tank and try
to grow enough at night to make up for the blistering they get during the
day. The highway (Coast to Coast and signed at every crossroads in red
letters on white metal boards with red arrows pointing to the far skyline)
shies away from the railroad at Patmos so that perspiring travelers look
wistfully across two hundred yards or so of lava rock and sand and wish
that they might lie under those three trees and cool off. They couldn't,
you know. It is no cooler under the trees than elsewhere. It merely looks
Even the water tank is a disappointment to the uninitiated. You cannot
drink the water which the pump draws wheezingly up from some deep
reservoir of bad flavors. It is very clear water and it has a sparkle that
lures the unwary, but it is common knowledge that no man ever drank two
swallows of it if he could help himself. So the water supply of Patmos
lies twelve miles away in the edge of the hills, where there is a very
good spring. One of the six male residents of Patmos hauls water in
barrels, at fifty cents a barrel. He makes a living at it, too.
One other male resident keeps the lodging place,--I avoid the term lodging
house, because this place is not a house. It is a shack with a sign
straddling out over the hot porch to insult the credulity of the
passers-by. The sign says that this place is "The Oasis,"--and the nearest
trees a long rifleshot away, and the coolest water going warm into parched
The Oasis stands over by the highway, alongside Casey's garage, and the
proprietor spends nine tenths of his waking hours sitting on the front
porch and following the strip of shade from the west end to the east end,
and in watching the trains go by, and counting the cars of tourists and
remarking upon the State license plate.
"There's an outfit from Ioway, maw," he will call in to his wife. "Wonder
where they're headed fer?" His wife will come to the door and look
apathetically at the receding dust cloud, and go back somewhere,--perhaps
to put fresh soap in the tents to melt. Toward evening the cars are very
likely to slow down and stop reluctantly; sunburned, goggled women and men
looking the place over without enthusiasm. It isn't much of a place, to be
sure, but any place is better than none in the desert, unless you have
your own bed and frying pan with you, roped in dusty canvas to the back of
Alongside the Oasis stands the garage, and in the garage swelters Casey,--
during this episode. Just at first Bill came down from Lund and helped him
to arrange and mark prices on his stock of tires and "parts" and
accessories, and to remember the catalogue names for things so that he
would recognize them when a car owner asked for them.
Casey, I must explain, had evolved a system of his own while driving his
Ford wickedly here and there to the consternation of his fellow men.
Whatever was not a hootin'-annie was a dingbat, and treated accordingly.
The hootin'-annie appeared to be the thing that went wrong, while the
dingbat was the thing the hootin'-annie was attached to. It was perfectly
simple, to Casey and his Ford, but Bill thought it was a trifle limited
and was apt to confuse customers. So Bill remained three days mopping his
face with his handkerchief and explaining things to Casey. After that
Casey hired a heavy-eyed young Mexican to pump tires and fill radiators
and the like, and settled down to make his fortune.
Cars came and cars went, in heat and dust and some tribulation. In a month
Casey had seen the color of every State license plate in the Union, and
some from Canada and Mexico. From Needles way they came, searching their
souls for words to tell Casey what they thought of it as far as they had
gone. And Casey would squint up at them from under the rim of his greasy
old Stetson and grin his Irish grin.
"Cheer up, the worst is yet to come," he would chant, with never a qualm
at the staleness of the slogan. "How yuh fixed for water? Better fill up
your canteens--yuh don't wanta git caught out between here and Ludlow with
a boilin' radiator and not water enough. Got oil enough? Juan, you look
and see. Can't afford to run low on oil, stranger. No, ma'am, there ain't
any other road--and if there was another road it'd be worse than what this
one is. No, ma'am, you ain't liable to git off'n the road. You can't.
You'd git stuck in the sand 'fore you'd went the length of your car."
He would walk around them and look at their tires, his hands on his hips
perhaps and his mouth damped shut in deep cogitation.
"What kinda shape is your extras in?" he would presently inquire. "She's a
tough one, from here on to the next stop. You got a hind tire here that
ain't goin' to last yuh five miles up the road." He would kick the tire
whose character he was blackening. "Better lay in a supply of blow-out
patches, unless you're a mind to invest in a new casing." Very often he
would sell a tire or two, complete with new tubes, before the car moved
Casey never did things halfway, and Bill had impressed certain things deep
on his mind. He was working with Bill's money and he obeyed Bill's
commands. He never took a check or a promise for his pay, and he never
once let his Irish temper get beyond his teeth or his blackened finger
tips. Which is doing remarkably well for Casey Ryan, as you would admit if
you knew him.
At the last moment, when the driver was settling himself behind the wheel,
Casey would square his conscience for whatever strain the demands of
business had put upon it. "Wait and take a good drink uh cold water before
yuh start out," he would say, and disappear. He knew that the car would
wait. The man or woman never lived who refused a drink of cold water on
the desert in summer. Casey would return with a pale green glass water
pitcher and a pale green glass. He would grin at their exclamations, and
pour for them water that was actually cold and came from the coolest water
bag inside. Those of you who have never traveled across the desert will
not really understand the effect this would have. Those who have will know
exactly what was said of Casey as that car moved out once more into the
glaring sun and the hot wind and the choking dust.
Casey always kept one cold water bag and one in process of cooling, and he
would charge as much as he thought they would pay and be called a fine
fellow afterwards. He knew that. He had lived in dry, hot places before,
and he was conscientiously trying to please the public and also make money
for Bill, who had befriended him. You are not to jump to the conclusion,
however, that Casey systematically robbed the public. He did not. He aided
the public, helped the public across a rather bad stretch of country, and
saw to it that the public paid for the assistance.
Casey saw all sorts and sizes of cars pass to and fro, and most of them
stopped at his door, for gas or for water or oil, or perhaps merely to
inquire inanely if they were on the right road to Needles or to Los
Angeles, as the case might be. Any fool, thought Casey, would know without
asking, since there was no other road, and since the one road was signed
conscientiously every mile or two. But he always grinned good-naturedly
and told them what they wanted him to tell them, and if they shifted money
into his palm for any reason whatever he brought out his green glass
pitcher and his green glass tumbler and gave them a drink all around and
wished them luck.
There were strip-down Fords that tried to look like sixes, and there were
six-cylinder cars that labored harder than Fords. There were limousines,
sedans, sport cars,--and they all carried suitcases and canvas rolls and
bundles draped over the hoods, on the fenders and piled high on the
Sometimes he would find it necessary to remove a thousand pounds or so of
ill-wrapped bedding from the back of a tonneau before he could get at the
gas tank to fill it, but Casey never grumbled. He merely retied the
luggage with a packer's hitch that would take the greenhorn through his
whole vocabulary before he untied it that night, and he would add two bits
to the price of the gas because his time belonged to Bill, and Bill
expected Casey's time to be paid for by the public.
One day when it was so hot that even Casey was limp and pale from the
heat, and the proprietor of the Oasis had forsaken the strip of shade on
his porch and had chased his dog out of the dirt hollow it had scratched
under the house and had crawled under there himself, a party pulled slowly
up to the garage and stopped. Casey was inside sitting on the ground and
letting the most recently filled water bag drip down the back of his neck.
He shouted to Juan, but Juan had gone somewhere to find himself a cool
spot for his siesta, so Casey got slowly to his feet and went out to meet
Trouble, sopping his wet hair against the back of his head with the flat
of his hand before he put on his hat. He squinted into the sunshine and
straightway squared himself for business.
This was a two-ton truck fitted for camping. A tall, lean man whose
overalls hung wide from his suspenders and did not seem to touch his
person anywhere, climbed out and stood looking at the bare rims of two
wheels, as if he had at that moment discovered them.
"Thinkin' about the price uh tires, stranger?" Casey grinned cheerfully.
"It's lucky I got your size, at that. Fabrics and cords--and the
difference in price is more'n made up in wear. Run yer car inside outa the
sun whilst I change yer grief into joy."
"I teen havin' hard luck all along," the man complained listlessly.
"Geewhillikens, but it shore does cost to travel!"
Casey should have been warned by that. Bill would have smelled a purse
lean as the man himself and would have shied a little. But Casey could
meet Trouble every morning after breakfast and yet fail to recognize her
until she had him by the collar.
"You ask anybody if it don't!" he agreed sympathetically, mentally going
over his rack of tires, not quite sure that he had four in that size, but
hoping that he had five and that he could persuade the man to invest. He
surely needed rubber, thought Casey, as he scrutinized the two casings on
the car. He stood aside while the man backed, turned a wide half-circle
and drove into the grateful shade of the garage. It seemed cool in there
after the blistering sunlight, unless one glanced at Casey's thermometer
which declared a hundred and nineteen with its inexorable red line.
"Whatcha got there? Goats?" Casey's eyes had left the wheels of the trucks
and dwelt upon a trailer penned round and filled with uneasy animals.
"Yeah. Twelve, not countin' the little fellers. And m'wife an' six young
ones all told. Makes quite a drag on the ole boat. Knocks thunder outa
tires, too. You say you got my size? We-ell, I guess I got to have 'em,
cost er no cost."
"Sure you got to have 'em. It's worse ahead than what you been over, an'
if I was you I'd shoe 'er all round before I hit that lava stretch up
ahead here. You could keep them two fer extras in case of accident. Might
git some wear outa them when yuh strike good roads again, but they shore
won't go far in these rocks. You ask anybody."
"We-ell--I guess mebby I better--I don't see how I'm goin' to git along
any other way, but--"
Casey had gone to find where Juan had cached himself and to pluck that
apathetic youth from slumber and set him to work. Four casings and tubes
for a two-ton truck run into money, as Casey was telling himself
complacently. He had not yet sold any tires for a two-ton truck, and he
had just two fabrics and two cords, in trade vernacular. He paid no
further attention to the man, since there would be no bickering. When a
man has only two badly chewed tires, and four wheels, argument is
So Casey mildly kicked Juan awake and after the garage jack, and himself
wheeled out his four great pneumatic tires, and with his jackknife slit
the wound paper covering, and wondered what it was that smelled so
unpleasant. A goat bleated plaintively to remind him of their presence.
Another goat carried on the theme, and the chorus swelled quaveringly and
held to certain minor notes. Within the closed truck a small child
whimpered and then began to cry definitely at the top of its voice.
Casey looked up from bending over the fourth tire wrapping. "Better let
your folks git out and rest awhile," he invited hospitably. "It's goin' to
take a little time to put these tires on. I got some cold water back
"Well, I'd kinda like to water them goats," the man observed diffidently.
"They ain't had a drop sence early yest-day mornin'. You got water here,
ain't yuh? An' they might graze around a mite whilst we're here. Travelin'
like this, I try to kinda give 'em a chanct when we stop along the road.
It's been an awful trip. We come clear from Wyoming. How far is it from
here to San Jose, Californy?"
Casey had in the first week learned that it is not wise for a garage man
to confess that he does not know distances. People always asked him how
far it was to some place of which he had never heard, and he had learned
to name figures at random very convincingly. He named now what seemed to
him a sufficient number, and the man said "Gosh!" and went back to let
down the end gate of the trailer and release the goats. "You said you got
water for 'em?" he asked, his tone putting the question in the form of
both statement and request.
When you are selling four thirty-six-sixes, two of them cords, to a man,
you can't be stingy with a barrel of water, even if it does cost fifty
cents. Casey told Juan to go borrow a tub next door and show the man where
the water barrel stood. Juan, squatted on his heels while he languidly
pumped the jack handle up and down, and seeming pleased than otherwise
when the jack slipped and tilted so that he must lower it and begin all
over again, got languidly to his bare feet and lounged off obediently.
According to Juan's simple philosophy, to obey was better than to dodge
hammers, pliers or monkey wrenches, since Casey's aim was direct and there
was usually considerable force of hard, prospector's muscle behind it.
Juan was gone a long while, long enough to walk slowly to the station of
Patmos and back again, but he returned with the tub, and the incessant
bleating of the goats stilled intermittently while they drank. By this
time Casey had forgotten the goats, even with the noise of them filling
Casey was down on his knees hammering dents out of the rim of a front
wheel so that the new tire could go on. Four of the six offspring crowded
around him, getting in the way of Casey's hammer and asking questions
which no man could answer and remain normal. Casey had, while he unwrapped
the casings, made a mental reduction in the price. Even Bill would throw
off a little, he told himself, on a sale like this. Mentally he had
deducted twenty-five dollars from the grand total, but before he had that
rim straightened he said to himself that he'd be darned if he discounted
more than twenty.
"Humbolt an' Greeley, you git away from there an' git out here an' git
these goats a-grazin'," the lean customer called sharply from the rear of
the garage. Humbolt and Greeley hastily proceeded to git, which left two
unkempt young girls standing there at Casey's elbow so that he could not
expectorate where he pleased, or swear at all. Wherefore Casey was
appreciably handicapped in his work, and he wished that he were away out
in the hills digging into the side of a gulch somewhere, sun-blistered,
broke, more than half starving on short rations and with rheumatism in his
right shoulder and a bunion giving him a limp in the left foot. He could
still be happy--
"_What_ yuh doin' that for?" the shrillest voice repeated three times
rapidly, with a sniffle now and then by way of punctuation.
"To make little girls ask questions," grunted Casey, glancing around him
for the snub-nosed, double-headed, four-pound hammer which he called
affectionately by the name Maud. The biggest girl had Maud. She had turned
it upright on its handle and was sitting on the head of it. When Casey
reached for it and got it, without apology or warning, the girl sprawled
backward and howled.
"Porshea, you git up from there! _Shame_ on yuh!" A shrill woman voice,
very much like the younger voices except that it was worn rough and
querulous with age and many hardships, called down from the truck. Casey
looked up, startled, and tried to remember just what he had said before
the girls appeared to silence him. The woman was very large both in height
and in bulk, and she was heaving herself out of the truck in a way that
reminded Casey oddly of a disgruntled hippopotamus he had once watched
coming out of its tank at a circus. Casey moved modestly away and did not
look, after that first glance. A truck, you will please understand, is not
a touring car, and ladies who have passed the two-hundred-pound notch on
the scales should remain up there and call for a step-ladder.
She descended, and the jack slipped and let the car down with a six-inch
lurch. Casey is remarkably quick in his motions. He turned, jumped three
feet and caught the lady's full weight in his arms as she was falling
toward him. Probably he would have caught it anyway, but then there would
have been little left of Casey, and his troubles would have been finished
instead of being just begun.
He had just straightened the jack and was beginning to lift the bare wheel
off the ground again when the fifth offspring descended. Casey thought
again of the hippopotamus in its infancy. The fifth was perhaps fifteen,
but she had apparently reached her full growth, which was very nearly that
of her mother. She had also reached the age of self-consciousness, and she
simpered at Casey when he assisted her to alight.
Casey was not bashful, nor was he over-fastidious; men who have lived long
in the wilderness are not, as a rule. Still, he had his little whims, and
he failed to react to the young lady's smile. His pale blue eyes were keen
to observe details and even Casey did not approve of "high-water marks" on
Well, that brought the whole family to view save the youngest who had
evidently dropped asleep and was left in the truck. Casey went to work on
the wheel again, after directing mother and daughter to the desert water
bag which swung suspended from ropes in the rear of the garage.
Ten minutes later a dusty limousine stopped for gas and oil, and Casey
left his work to wait upon them. There was a very good-looking girl
driving, and the man beside her was undoubtedly only her father, and Casey
was humanly anxious to be remembered pleasantly when they drove on. He
asked them to wait and have a drink of cold water, and was deeply
humiliated to find that both water bags were empty,--the overgrown girl
having used the last to wash her face. Casey didn't like her any the
better for that, or for having accentuated the high-water mark, or for
forcing him to apologize to the pretty driver of the limousine.
He refilled the water bags and remarked pointedly that it would take an
hour for the water to cool in them and that they must be left alone in the
meantime. He did not look at the girl, but from the tail of his eye he saw
her pull a contemptuous grimace at him when she thought his back safely
Wherefore Casey finished the putting on of the fourth tire pretty well up
toward the boiling point in temper and in blood. I have not mentioned half
the disagreeable trifles that nagged at him during the interval,--his
audience, for instance, that hovered so close that he could not get up
without colliding with one of them, so full of aimless talk that he
mislaid tools in his distraction. Juan was a pest and Casey thought
malevolently how he would kill him when the job was finished. Juan went
around like one in a trance, his heavy-lidded, opaque eyes following every
movement of the girl, which kept her younger sisters giggling. But even
with interruptions and practically no assistance the truck stood at last
with four good tires on its wheels, and Casey wiped a perspiring face and
let down the jack, thankful that the job was done; thinking, too, that ten
dollars would be a big reduction on the price. He had to count his time,
"Well, how much does it come to, mister?" the lord of the flock asked
dolefully, when Casey called him in and told him that he could go at any
Casey told him, and made the price only five dollars lower than the full
amount, just because he hated to see men walk around loose in their pants,
with their stomachs sagged in as though they never were fed a square meal
in their lives.
"It's a pile uh money to pay out for rubber that's goin' to be chewed off
on these here danged rocks," sighed the man.
Casey grunted and began collecting his tools, rescuing the best hammer he
had from one of the girls. "I wisht it was all profit," he said. "Or even
a quarter of it. I'm sellin' 'em close as I can an' git paid fer my time
puttin' 'em on."
"Oh, I ain't kickin' about the price. I'm satisfied with that." Men
usually are, you notice, when they want credit. "Now I tell yuh. I ain't
got that much money with me--"
Casey spat and pointed his thumb toward a sign which he had nailed up just
the day before, thinking that it would save both himself and his customers
some embarrassment. The sign, except that the letters were not even, was
"CHECKS MUST BE CASHED
BY THE ONER
OR THEY AIN'T CASHED"
The lean man read and looked at Casey humbly. "Well, I ain't never wrote a
check in my life. Now I tell yuh. I ain't got the money to pay for these
tires, but I tell yuh what I'll do; I'm goin' on up to my brother--he's
got a prune orchard a little ways out from San Jose, an' he's well fixed.
Now I'll write out an order on my brother, fer him to send you the money.
He's good fer it, an' he'll do it. I'm goin' on up to help him work his
place on shares, so I c'n straighten up with him when I get--"
Casey had picked up the jack again and was regretfully but firmly
adjusting it under the front axle. "That ain't the first good prospect I
ever had pinch out on me," he observed, trying to be cheerful over it. He
could even grin while he squinted up at the lean man.
"Well, now, you can't hardly refuse to trust a man in my fix!"
"Think I can't?" Casey was working the jack handle rapidly and the words
came in jerks. "You stand there and watch me." He spun the wheel free and
reached for his socket wrench. "I wisht you'd spoke your piece before I
set these dam nuts so tight," he added.
The lean man turned and looked inquiringly at his wife. "Ain't I honest,
maw, and don't I pay my debts? An' ain't my brother Joe honest, an' don't
he pay _his_ debts? Would you think the man lived, maw, that would set a
man with a fambly afoot out on the desert like this?"
"Nev' mind, now, paw. Give him time to think what it means, an' he won't.
He's got a heart."
The baby awoke and cried then, and Casey's heart squirmed in his chest.
But he thought of Bill and stiffened his business nerve.
"I got a heart; sure I've got a heart. You ask anybody if Casey's got a
heart. But I also got a pardner."
"Your pardner's likely gen'l'man enough to trust us, if you ain't," maw
"Yes, ma'am, he is. But he's got these tires to pay fer on the first of
the month. It ain't a case uh not trustin'; it's a case of git the money
or keep the tires. I wisht you had the money--she shore is a good bunch uh
rubber I let yuh try on."
They wrangled with him while he removed the tires he had so painstakingly
adjusted, but Casey was firm. He had to be. There is no heart in the
rubber trust; merely a business office that employs very efficient
bookkeepers, who are paid to see that others pay. He removed the new
tires; that was his duty to Bill. By then it was five o'clock when all
good mechanics throw down their pliers and begin to shed their coveralls.
Casey was his own man after five o'clock. He rolled the tattered tires out
into the sunlight, let out the air and yanked them from their rims. "Come
on here and help, and I'll patch up your old tires so you c'n go on," he
offered good-naturedly, in spite of the things the woman had said to him.
"The tire don't live that Casey can't patch if it comes to a showdown."
Before he was through with them he had donated four blow-out patches to
the cause, and about five hours of hard labor. The Smith family--yes, they
were of the tribe of Smith--were camped outside and quarreling
incessantly. The goats, held in spasmodic restraint by Humbolt and Greeley
and a little spotted dog which Casey had overlooked in his first
inventory, were blatting inconsequently in the sage behind the garage.
Casey cooked a belated supper and hoped that the outfit would get an early
start, and that their tires would hold until they reached Ludlow, at
least. "Though I ain't got nothin' against Ludlow," he added to himself
while he poured his coffee.
"Maw wants to know if you got any coffee you kin lend," the shrill voice
of Portia sounded unexpectedly at his elbow. Casey jumped,--an indication
that his nerves had been unstrung.
"Lend? Hunh! Tell 'er I give her a cupful." Then, because Casey had
streaks of wisdom, he closed the doors of the garage and locked them from
the inside. Cars might come and honk as long as they liked; Casey was
going to have his sleep.
Very early he was awakened by the bleating, the barking, the crying and
the wrangling of the Smiths. He pulled his tarp over his ears, hot as it
was, to shut out the sound. After a long while he heard the stutter of the
truck motor getting warmed up. There was a clamor of voices, a bleating of
goats, the barking of the spotted dog, and the truck moved off.
"Thank Gawd!" muttered Casey, and went to sleep again.
At two o'clock the next afternoon, the Smith outfit came back, limping
along on three bare rims. Casey's jaw dropped a little when he saw them
coming, but nature had made him an optimist. Now, perhaps, that
hungry-looking Smith would dig into his pocket and find the price of new
tires. It had been Casey's experience that a man who protested the loudest
that he was broke would, if held rigidly to the no-credit rule, find the
money to pay for what he must have. In his heart he believed that Smith
had money dangling somewhere in close proximity to his lank person.
But if Smith had any money he did not betray the fact. He asked quite
humbly for the loan of tools, and tube cement, and more blow-out patches,
and set awkwardly to work mending his tattered tires. And once more Casey
sent Juan to borrow the Oasis tub, and watered the goats and picked his
way amongst the Smith offsprings and pretended to be deaf half of the
time, and said he didn't know the other half. His green glass water
pitcher was practically useless to travelers, and Juan was worse. A goat
got away from Humbolt and Greeley and went exploring in the corner of the
garage where Casey lived, and ate three pounds of bacon. You know what
bacon costs. Maw Smith became acquainted with Casey and followed him about
with a detailed recital of her family history, which she thought would
make a real exciting book. What Casey thought I must not tell you.
That night Casey patched tires and tubes. He had to, you see, or go crazy.
Next morning he listened to the departure of the Smith family and the
Smith goats, and prayed that their tires would hold out even as far as
Bagdad,--though I don't see why, since there was no garage in Bagdad, or
anything else but a flag station.
That afternoon at three o'clock, they came back again! And Casey neglected
to send Juan after the tub to water the goats. Wherefore paw sent Humbolt,
and watered the goats himself from Casey's barrel and seemed peevish
because he must. Maw Smith came after coffee again, and helped herself
with no more formality than a shrill, "I'm borrying some more coffee!"
sent to Casey out in front.
That night Casey patched tires and tubes.
At six o'clock Smith pounded on the back door and called in to Casey that
he would have to have some gas before he started. So Casey pulled on his
pants and gave Smith some gas, and paid the garage out of his own pocket.
He didn't swear, either. He was past that.
That afternoon Casey watched apprehensively the road that led west. It was
two-thirty when he saw them coming. Casey set his jaw and went in and hid
every blow-out patch he had in stock, and all the cement.
Smith went into camp, sent Greeley after the Oasis tub and watered the
goats from one of Casey's water barrels. Casey went on with his work,
waiting upon customers who paid, and tried not to think of the Smiths,
although most of them were underfoot or at his elbow.
"Them tires you mended ain't worth a cuss," Smith came around finally to
complain. "I didn't get ten mile out with 'em before I had another
blowout. I tell yuh what I'll do. I'll trade yuh goats fer tires. I got
two milk goats that's worth a hundred dollars apiece, mebby more, the way
goats is selling on the Coast. I hate to part with 'em, but I gotta do
somethin'. Er else you'll have to trust me till I c'n get to my brother
an' git the money. It ain't," he added grievedly, "as if I wasn't honest
enough to pay my debts."
"Nope," said Casey wearily, "I don't want yer goats. I've had more goats
a'ready than I want. And tires has gotta roll outa this shop paid for. We
talked that all over, the first night."
"What am I goin' to do, then?" Smith inquired in exasperation.
"Hell; I dunno," Casey returned grimly. "I quit guessin' day before
Smith went off to confer with maw, and Casey overheard some very harsh
statements made concerning himself. Maw Smith was so offended that she
refused to borrow coffee from Casey that night, and she called her
children out of his garage and told them she would warm their ears for
them if they went near him again. Hearing which Casey's features relaxed a
little. He could even meet customers with his accustomed grin when Smith
in his anger sent the goats over to the water tank next day, refusing to
show any friendship for Casey by emptying a water barrel for him. But he
had to fire Juan for pouring gasoline into the radiator of a big sedan,
and later he had to stalk that lovesick youth into the very camp of the
Smiths and lead him back by the collar, and search him for stolen tools.
He recovered twice as many as you would believe a Mexican's few garments
Casey was harassed for two days by the loud proximity of the Smiths, but
not one of them deigned to speak to him or to show any liking for him
whatever, beyond helping themselves superciliously to the contents of his
water barrel. On the morning of the third day the lean man presented his
thin shadow and then himself at the front door of the garage, with a
letter in his hand and a hopeful look on his face.
"Well, mebby I c'n talk business to yuh now an' have somethin' to go on,"
he began abruptly. "I went an' sent off a telegraft to my brother in San
Jose about you, and he's wrote a letter to yuh. My brother's a business
man. You c'n see that much fer yourself. An' mebby you'll see your way
clear t' help me leave this dod-rotten hole. Here's yer letter."
Casey held himself neutral while he read the letter.
As it happens that I have a copy, here it is:
VISTA GRANDE RANCHO
San Jose, Calif.
_Garage Owner, Patmos, Calif._
Dear Sir: I am informed that my brother Eldreth William Smith, having
suffered the mishap to lose his tires at your place or thereabouts, and
having the misfortune to fall short of immediate funds with which to pay
cash for replacement, has been denied credit at your hands.
I regret that because of business requirements in my own business it is
impossible for me to place the amount necessary at his immediate disposal.
It is therefore my advise that you lend to my brother Eldreth William
Smith such money or moneys as will be necessary to purchase railroad
tickets for himself and family from Patmos to this place, and
Furthermore that you take as security for said loan such motor truck and
equipment etc. as he has now stored at your place of business. I am aware
of the fact that a motor truck in any running condition would amply secure
such loans as would purchase tickets from Patmos to San Jose, and I hereby
enclose note for same, duly made out in blank and signed by me, which
signature will be backed by the signature of my brother. Upon receiving
from you such money as he may require he will duly deliver note and
security duly signed and filled with the amount. I trust this will be
perfectly satisfactory to you as amply securing you for the loan of the
Thanking you in advance,
Yours very Truly,
J. Paul Smith.
In spite of himself, Casey was impressed. The very Spanish name of the
prune orchard impressed him, and so did the formal business terms used by
J. Paul Smith; and that "thanking you in advance" seemed to place him
under a moral obligation too great to shirk. There was the note, too,--
heavy green paper with a stag's head printed on it, and looking almost
like a check.
"Well, all right, if it don't cost too much and the time don't run too
long," surrendered Casey reluctantly. "How much--"
"Fare's a little over twenty-five dollars, an' they'll be four full fares
an' three half. I guess mebby I better have a hundred an' seventy-five
anyway, so'st we kin eat on the way."
Casey chanced to have almost that much coming to him out of the business,
so that he would not be lending Bill's money. He watched the lean Smith
fill in the amount and sign the note, identifying the truck by its engine
and license numbers, and he went and borrowed fifteen dollars from the
proprietor of the Oasis and made up the amount. There was a train at noon,
and from his garage door he watched the Smith family start off across the
lava rocks to the depot, each one laden with bundles and disreputable
grips, the spotted dog trotting optimistically ahead of the party with his
pink tongue draped over the right side of his mouth. Smith turned, the
baby in his arms, and called back casually to Casey:
"Yuh better tie up them two milk goats when yuh milk 'em. They won't stand
if yuh don't."
Casey's jaw sagged. He had not thought of the goats. Indeed, the last two
days they had not troubled him except by their bleating at dawn. Humbolt
and Greeley had grazed them over by the railroad track so that they could
watch the trains go by. Casey looked and saw that the goats were still
over there where they had been driven early. He took off his hat and
rubbed his palm reflectively over the back of his head, set the hat on his
head with a pronounced tilt over one eyebrow, and reached for his plug of
"Oh, darn the goats! Me milkin' goats! Well, now, Casey Ryan never milked
no goats, an' he ain't goin' to milk no goats! You can ask anybody if they
think't he will."
Casey was very busy that day, and he had no dull-eyed Juan to do certain
menial tasks about the cars that stopped before his garage. Nevertheless
he kept an eye on the station of Patmos until the westbound train had come
and had departed, and on the rough road between the railroad and the
garage for another half hour, until he was sure that the Smith family were
not coming back. Then he went more cheerfully about his work, now and then
glancing, perhaps, at the truck which had been driven into the rear of the
garage where it was very much in his way, but was safe from pilfering
fingers. It was not such a bad truck, give it new tires. Casey had already
figured the price at which he could probably sell it, on an easy payment
plan, to the man who hauled water for Patmos. It was more than the amount
of his loan, naturally. By noon he was rather hoping the "Smith Bros."
would fail to take up that note.
Casey, you see, was not counting the goats at all. He had a vague idea
that, while they were nominally a part of the security, they were actually
of no importance whatever. They would run loose until Smith came after
them, he guessed. He did not intend to milk any nanny goats, so that
settled the goat question for Casey.
Casey simply did not know anything about goats. He ought to have used a
little logic and not so much happy-go-lucky "t'ell with the goats." That
is all very well, so far as it goes, and we all know that everybody says
it and thinks it. But it does, not settle the problem. It never occurred
to Casey, for instance, that the going of Humbolt and Greeley and the
little spotted dog would make any difference. It really did make a great
deal, you see. And it never occurred to Casey that goats are domesticated
animals after they have been hauled around the country for weeks and weeks
in a trailer to a truck, or that they will come back to the only home they
I don't know how long it takes goats to fill up. I never kept a goat or
goats. And I don't know how long they will stand around and blat before
they start something. I don't know much more about goats than Casey, or
didn't, at least, until he told me. By that time Casey knew a lot more, I
suspect, than he could put into words.
Casey says that he heard them blatting around outside, but he was busy
trying to straighten a radius rod--Casey _said_ he was taking the kinks
outa that hootin'-annie that goes behind the front ex and turns the
dingbats when you steer--for a man who walked back and forth and slapped
his hands together nervously and kept asking how long it was going to
take, and how far it was to Barstow, and whether the road from there up
across the Mojave was in good condition, and whether the Death Valley road
out from Ludlow went clear through the valley and was a cut-off north, or
whether it just went into the valley and stopped. Casey says that the only
time he ever was in Death Valley it was with a couple of burros and that
he like to have stayed there. He got to telling the man about his trip
into Death Valley and how he just did get out by a scratch.
So he didn't pay any attention to the goats until he went back after some
cold water for the white little woman in the car, that looked all tuckered
out and scared. It was then he found the whole corner chewed off one water
bag and the other water bag on the ground and a lot more than the corner
gone. And the billy was up on his hind feet with his horns caught in the
fullest barrel, and was snorting and snuffling in a drowning condition and
tilting the barrel perilously. The other goats were acting just like plain
damn goats, said Casey, and merely looking for trouble without having
Casey says he had to call the Oasis man to help him get Billy out of the
barrel, and that even then he had to borrow a saw and saw off one horn--
either that, or cave in the barrel with Maud--and he needed that barrel
worse than the billy goat needed two horns; but he told me that if he'd
had Maud in his two hands just then he sure would have caved in the goat.
At that, the nervous man got away without paying Casey, which I think
rankled worse than a spoiled barrel of water.
Casey told me that he aged ten years in the next two weeks, and lost
eighty-nine dollars and a half in damages and wages, not counting the two
water bags he had to replace out of his stock, at nearly four dollars
wholesale price. When he chased the goats out of his back door they went
around and came in at the front, determined, he supposed, to bed down near
It was late before that occurred to him, and when it did he cranked up and
drove the truck a hundred yards down the road that led to the spring. The
goats did not follow as he expected, but stood around the trailer and
blatted. Casey went back and hooked on the trailer and drove again down
the road. The goats would not follow, and he went back to find that Billy
had managed to push open the back door and had led his flock into Casey's
kitchen. There was no kitchen left but the little camp stove, and that was
bent so that it stood skew-gee, Casey said, and developed a habit of
toppling over just when his coffee came to a boil.
Casey told me that he had to barricade himself in his garage that night,
and he swore that Billy stood on his hind feet and stared at him all night
through the window in spite of wrenches and pliers hailing out upon him.
However that may be, Billy couldn't have stood there all night, unless
Casey got his dates mixed. For at six o'clock the Oasis man came over,
stepping high and swinging his fists, and told Casey that them damn goats
had et all the bedding out of one tent and the soap, towel and one pillow
out of another, and what was Casey going to do about it?
Casey did not know,--and he was famous for his resourcefulness too. I
think he paid for the bedding before the thing was settled.
Casey says that after that it was just one thing after another. He told me
that he never would have believed twelve goats could cover so much
cussedness in a day. He said he couldn't fill a radiator but some goat
would be chewing the baggage tied behind the car, or Billy would be
rooting suitcases off the running board. One party fell in love with a
baby goat and Casey in a moment of desperation told them they could have
it. But he was sorry afterward, because the mother stood and blatted at
him reproachfully for four days and nights without stopping.
Casey swears that he picked up and threw two tons of rocks every day, and
he has no idea how many tons the six families of Patmos heaved at and
after the goats. When they weren't going headfirst into barrels of water
they were chewing something not meant to be chewed. Casey asserts that it
is all a bluff about goats eating tin cans. They don't. He says they never
touched a can all the while he had them. He says devastated Patmos wished
they would, and leave the two-dollar lace curtains alone, and clotheslines
and water barrels and baggage. He says many a party drove off with chewed
bedding rolls and didn't know it, and that he didn't tell them, either.
You're thinking about Juan, I know. Well, Casey thought of Juan the first
day, and took the trouble to hunt him up and hire him to herd the goats.
But Juan developed a bad case of sleeping sickness, Casey says, which
unfortunately was not contagious to goats. He swears that he never saw one
of those goats lying down, though he had seen pictures of goats lying down
and had a vague idea that they chewed their cuds. Casey tried to be funny,
then. He looked at me and grinned, and observed, "Hunh! Goats don't chew
cuds. That's all wrong. They chew _duds._ You ask anybody in Patmos." So
Juan slept under sagebushes and grease-wood, and the goats did not.
Casey declares that he stood it for two weeks, and that it took all he
could make in the garage to pay the six families of Patmos for the damage
wrought by his security. He lost fifteen pounds of flesh and every friend
he had made in the place except the man who hauled water, and he liked it
because he was getting rich. Once Casey had a bright idea, and with much
labor and language he loaded the goats into the trailer and had the
water-hauler take them out to the hills. But that didn't work at all. Part
of the flock came back afoot, from sheer homesickness, and the rest were
hauled back because they were ruining the spring which was Patmos' sole
Casey would have shot the goats, but he couldn't bring himself to do
anything that would offend J. Paul Smith of the _Vista Grande Rancho._
Whenever he read the letter J. Paul Smith had written him he was ashamed
to do anything that would lower him in the estimation of J. Paul Smith,
who trusted him and took it for granted that he would do the right thing
and do it with enthusiasm.
"If he hadn't wrote so dog-gone polite!" Casey complained to me. "And if
he hadn't went an' took it for granted I'd come through. But a man can't
turn down a feller that wrote the way he done. Look at that letter! A
college perfessor couldn't uh throwed together no better letter than that.
And that there 'Thanking you in advance'--a feller _can't_ throw a man
down when he writes that way. You ask anybody." Casey's tone was one of
reminiscent injury, as if J. Paul Smith had indeed taken a mean advantage
One day Casey reached the limit of his endurance,--or perhaps of the
endurance of Patmos. There were not enough male residents to form a mob
strong enough to lynch Casey, but there was one woman who had lost a sofa
pillow and two lace curtains; Casey did not say much about her, but I
gathered that he would as soon be lynched as remonstrated with again by
that woman. "Sufferin' Sunday! I'd shore hate to be her husband. You ask
anybody!" sighed Casey when he was telling me.
Casey moralized a little. "Folks used to look at the goats that I'd maybe
just hazed off into the brush fifty yards or so with a thousand pounds
mebby of rocks, an' some woman in goggles would say, 'Oh, an' you keep
goats! How nice!' like as if it were something peaceful an' homelike to
keep goats! Hunh! Lemme tell yuh; never drive past a place that _looks_
peaceful, and jump at the idea it _is_ peaceful. They may be a woman
behind them vines poisinin' 'er husband's father. How could them darn
tourists tell'what was goin' on in Patmos? They seen the goats pertendin'
to graze, an' keepin' an eye peeled till my back was turned, an' they
thought it was _nice_ to keep goats. Hunh!"
At last Casey could bear no more. He gathered together enough hardwood,
three-inch crate slats to make twelve crates, and he worked for three
nights, making them. And Casey is no carpenter. After that he worked for
three days, with all the men in Patmos to help him, getting the goats into
the crates and loaded on the truck. Then he drove over to the station and
asked for tags, and addressed the crates to J. Paul Smith, _Vista Grande
Rancho,_ San Jose, Calif. Then he discovered that he could not send them
except by express, and that he could not send them by express unless he
prepaid the charges. And the charges on goats sent by express, was, as
Casey put it, a holy fright.
But he had to do it. Patmos had been led to believe that he would send
those goats off on the train, and Casey did not know what would happen if
he failed. There were the heads of the six families, and all the children
who were of walking age, grouped around the crates and Casey expectantly.
Casey went back to the garage safe and got what money he had, borrowed the
balance from the male citizens of Patmos and prepaid the express. Patmos
helped to load them into the first express car going west, and Casey felt,
he said, as if some one had handed him a million dollars in dimes.
Casey seemed to think that ended the story, but I am like the rest of you.
I wanted to know what the Smith family did, and J. Paul Smith, and whether
Casey kept the truck and sold it to the man who hauled water.
"Who? Me? Say! D'you ever know Casey Ryan to ever come out anywheres but
at the little end uh the horn? Ain't I the bag holder pro tem?" I don't
know what he meant by that. I think he was mistaken in the meaning of "pro
"You ask anybody. Say, I got a letter sayin' in a gen'ral way that I'm a
thief an' a cutthroat an' a profiteer an' so on, an' that I would have to
pay fer the goat that was missin'--that there was the one I give away--an'
that the damages to the billy goat was worth twenty-five dollars and same
would be deducted from the amount of the loan. _Darn_ these fancy word
slingers!" said Casey. "An' the day before the note come due, here comes
that shoestring in pants with the money to pay the note minus the damages,
and four new tires fer the truck! Yessir, wouldn't buy tires off me, even!
Could yuh beat that fer gall? And he wouldn't hardly speak."
Casey grinned and got his plug of tobacco and inspected the corners
absently before he bit into it. "But I got even with 'im," he added. "I
laid off till he got his tires on--an' I wouldn't lend him no tools to put
'em on with, neither. And then I looked up an' down the road an' seen
there was no dust comin' an' we wouldn't be interrupted, an' I went up to
the old skunk an' I says, 'I got a bill to colleck off you. _Thankin' you
in advance!'_ an' then I shore collected. You ask anybody in Patmos. Say,
I bet he drove by-guess-an'-by-gosh to the orange belt, anyway, the way
his eyes was swellin' up when he left!"
I mentioned his promise to Bill, that he would not fight a customer. Casey
spat disgustedly. "Hell! He wasn't no customer! Didn't he ship his rubber
in by express, ruther'n to buy off me?" He grinned retrospectively and
looked at his knuckles, one of which showed a patch of new skin, pink and
"'Thankin' you in advance!' that's just what I told 'im. An' I shore got
all I thanked 'im for! You ask anybody in Patmos. They seen 'im
"Look there!" Casey rose from the ground where he had been sitting with
his hands clasped round his drawn-up knees. He pointed with his pipe to a
mountain side twelve miles away but looking five, even in the gloom of
early dusk. "Look at that, will yuh! Whadda yuh say that is, just makin' a
guess? A fire, mebby?"
"Camp fire. Some prospector boiling coffee in a dirty lard bucket, maybe."
Casey snorted. "It's a darn big fire to boil a pot uh coffee! Recollect,
it's twelve miles over to that mountain. A bonfire a mile off wouldn't
look any bigger than that. Would it now?" His tone was a challenge to my
"Wel-l, I guess it wouldn't, come to think of it."
"Guess? You know darn well it wouldn't. You watch that there fire. I ain't
over there--but if that ain't the devil's lantern, I'll walk on my hands
from here over there an' find out for yuh."
"I'd have to go over there myself to discover whether you're right or
wrong. But if a fellow can trust his eyes, Casey--"
"Well, you can't," Casey said grimly, still standing, his eyes fixed upon
the distant light. "Not here in this country, you can't. You ask anybody.
You don't trust your eyes when yuh come to a dry lake an' you see water,
an' the bushes around the shore reflected in the water, an' mebby a boat
out in the middle. _Do_ yuh? You don't trust your eyes when you look at
them hills. They look close enough to walk over to 'em in half or three
quarters of an hour. _Don't_ they? An' didn't I take yuh in my Ford
auto-_mo_-bile, an' wasn't it twelve? An' d'yuh trust your eyes when yuh
look up, an' it looks like you could knock stars down with a tent pole,
like yuh knock apples off'n trees? Sure, you can't trust your eyes! When
yuh hit the desert, oletimer, yuh pack two of the biggest liars on earth
right under your eyebrows." He chuckled at that. "An' most folks pack
another one under their noses, fer luck. Now lookit over there! Prospector
nothin'. It's the devil out walkin' an' packin' a lantern. He's mebby
found some shin bones an' a rib or two an' mebby a chewed boot, an' he
stopped there to have his little laugh. Lemme tell yuh. You mark where
that fire is. An' t'-morra, if yuh like, I'll take yuh over there. If you
c'n find a track er embers on that slope--Gawsh!"
We both stood staring; while he talked, the light had blinked out like
snapping an electric switch. And that was strange because camp fires take
a little time in the dying. I stepped inside the tent, fumbled for the
field glasses and came out, adjusting the night focus. Casey's squat,
powerful form stood perfectly still where I had left him, his face turned
toward the mountain. There was no fire on the slope. Beyond, hanging black
in the sky, a thunder cloud pillowed up toward the peak of the mountain,
pushing out now and then to blot a star from the purple. Now and then a
white, ragged gash cut through, but no sound reached up to where we were
camped on the high mesa that was the lap of Starvation Mountain. I will
explain that Casey had come back to Starvation to see if there were not
another good silver claim lying loose and needing a location monument. We
faced Tippipah Range twelve miles away,--and to-night the fire on its
"Lightning struck a yucca over there and burned it, probably," I hazarded,
seeking the spot through the glasses.
"Yeah--only there ain't no yuccas on that slope. That's a limestone ledge
formation an' there ain't enough soil to cover up a t'rantler. And the
storm's over back of the Tippipahs anyhow. It ain't on 'em."
"It's burning up again--"
"Hit another yucca, mebby!"
"It looks--" I adjusted the lenses carefully "--like a fire, all right.
There's a reddish cast. I can't see any flames, exactly, but--" I suppose
I gave a gasp, for Casey laughed outright.
"No, I guess yuh can't. Flames don't travel like that--huh?"
The light had moved suddenly, so that it seemed to jump clean away from
the field of vision embraced by the glasses. I had a little trouble in
picking it up again. I had to take down the glasses and look; and then I
left them down and watched the light with my naked, lying eyes. They did
lie; they must have. They said that a camp fire had abruptly picked itself
up bodily and was slipping rapidly as a speeding automobile up a bare
white slide of rock so steep that a mountain goat would give one glance
and hunt up an easier trail. All my life I have had intimate acquaintance
with camp fires; I have eaten with them, slept with them, coaxed them in
storm, watched them from afar. I thought I knew all their tricks, all
their treacheries. I have seen apparently cold ashes blow red quite
unexpectedly and fire grass and bushes and go racing away,--I have fought
them then with whatever came to hand.
I admit that an odd, prickly sensation at the base of my scalp annoyed me
while I watched this fire race up the slope and leave no red trail behind
it. Then it disappeared, blinked out again. I opened my mouth to call
Casey's attention to it--though I felt that he was watching it with that
steady, squinting stare of his that never seems to wink or waver for a
second--but there it was again, come to a stop just under the crest of the
mountain where the white slide was topped by a black rim capped with
bleak, bare rock like a crude skullcap on Tippipah. The fire flared,
dimmed, burned bright again, as though some one had piled on dry brush. I
caught up the glasses and watched the light for a full minute. They were
good glasses,--I ought to have seen the flicker of flames; but I did not.
Just the reddish yellow glow and no more.
"Must be fox fire," I said, feeling impatient because that did not satisfy
me at all, but having no other explanation that I could think of handy.
"I've seen wonderful exhibitions of it in low, swampy ground--"
Casey spat into the dark. "I never heard of nobody boggin' down, up there
on Tippipah." He put his cold pipe in his mouth, removed it and gestured
with it toward the light. "I've seen jack-o'-lanterns myself. You know
darn well that ain't it; not up on them rocks, dry as a bone. A minute ago
you said it was lightnin' burnin' a yucca. Why don't yuh come out in the
open, an' say you don't _know_? Mebby you'll come closer to believin' what
I told yuh about that devil's lantern I follered. He's lit another one--
kinda hopin' we'll be fool enough to fall for it. You come inside where
yuh can't watch it. That's what does the damage--watchin' and wonderin'
and then goin' to see. I bet you wanta strike out right now and see just
what it is."
I didn't admit it, but Casey had guessed exactly what was in my mind. I
was itching with curiosity and trying to ignore the creepiness of it.
Casey went into the tent and lighted the candle and proceeded to unlace
his high hiking boots. "You come on in and go to bed. Don't yuh pay no
attention to that light--that's what the Old Boy plays for first, every
time; workin' your curiosity up. You ask anybody. He played me fer a
sucker and I told yuh about it, and yuh thought Casey was stringin' yuh.
Well, I can take a joke from the devil himself and never let out a yip--
but once is enough for Casey! I'm goin' to bed. Let him set out there and
hold his darn lantern and be damned; he ain't going to make nothin' off'n
Casey Ryan this time. You can ask anybody if Casey Ryan bites twice on the
He got into bed and turned his face to the wall with a finality I could
not ignore. I let it go at that, but twice I got up and went outside to
look. There burned the light, diabolically like a signal fire on the peak,
where no fire should be. I began to seek explanations, but the best of
them were vague. Electricity playing a prank of some obscure kind,--that
was as close as I could get to it, and even that did not satisfy as it
should have done, perhaps because the high, barren mesas and the mountains
of bare rocks are in themselves weird and sinister, and commonplace
explanations of their phenomena seem out of place.
The land is empty of men, emptier still of habitations. There are not many
animals, even. A few coyotes, all of them under suspicion of having
rabies; venomous things such as tarantulas and centipedes, scorpions,
rattlers, hydrophobia skunks. Not so many of them that they are a constant
menace, but occasionally to be reckoned with. Great sprawling dry lakes
ominous in their very placidity; dust dry, with little whirlwinds
scurrying over them and mirages that lie to you most convincingly,
painting water where there is only clay dust. Water that is hidden deep in
forbidding canyons, water that you must hunt for blindly unless you have
been told where it comes stealthily out from some crevice in the rocks.
Indians know the water holes, and have told the white men with whom they
made friends after a fashion--for Casey tells me he never knew a red man
who was essentially noble--and these have told others; and men have named
the springs and have indicated their location on maps. Otherwise the land
is dry, parched and deadly and beautiful, and men have died terrible,
picturesque deaths within its borders.
I was thinking of that, and it seemed not too incongruous that the devil
should now and then walk abroad with a lantern of his own devising to make
men shrink from his path. But Casey says, and I think he means it, that
the light is a lure. He told me a weird adventure of his own to back his
argument, but I thought he was inventing most of it as he went along.
Until I saw that light on Tippipah I had determined to let his romancing
go in at one ear if it must, and stop there without running out at the
tips of my fingers. Casey has enough ungodly adventures that are true. I
didn't feel called upon to repeat his Irish inventions.
But now I'm going to tell you. If you can't believe it I shall not blame
you; but Casey swears that it is all true. It's worth beginning where
Casey did, at the beginning. And that goes back to when he was driving
stage in the Yellowstone.
Casey was making the trip out, one time, and he had just one passenger
because it was at the end of the season and there had been a week of nasty
weather that had driven out most of the sightseers and no new ones were
coming in. This man was a peevish, egotistical sort, I imagine; at any
rate he did a lot of talking about himself and his ill luck, and he told
Casey of his misfortunes by the hour.
Casey did not mind that much. He says he didn't listen half the time. But
finally the fellow began talking of the wealth that is wasted on folks who
can't use it properly or even appreciate the good fortune.
To illustrate that point he told a story that set Casey's mind to seeing
visions. The man told about an old Indian who lived in dirt and a
government blanket and drank bad whisky when he could get it, and whipped
his squaw and behaved exactly like other Indians. Yet that old Indian knew
where gold lay so thick that he could pick out pieces of crumbly rock all
plastered with free gold. He was too lazy to dig out enough to do him any
good. He would come into the nearest town with a rusty old lard bucket
full of high grade so rich that the storekeeper once got five hundred
dollars from the bucketful. He gave the Indian about twenty dollars' worth
of grub and made him a present of two yards of bright blue ribbon, which
tickled the old buck so much that in two weeks he was back with more high
grade knotted in the bottom of a gunny sack.
Casey asked the man why some one didn't trail the Injun. Casey knew that
an Indian is not permitted to file a claim to mineral land. He could not
hold it, under the law, if some white man discovered it and located the
ground, but Casey thought that some white-hearted fellow might take the
claim and pay the buck a certain percentage of the profits.
The man said that couldn't be done. The old buck--Injun Jim, they called
him--was an old she-bear. All the Indians were afraid of him and would
hide their faces in their blankets when he passed them on his way to the
gold, rather than be suspected by Injun Jim of any unwarranted interest in
his destination. Casey knew enough about Indians to accept that statement.
And white men, it would seem, were either not nervy enough or else they
were not cunning enough. A few had attempted to trail Injun Jim, but no
one had ever succeeded, because that part of Nevada had not had any gold
stampede, which the man declared would have come sure as fate if Injun
Jim's mine were ever uncovered.
Casey asked certain questions and learned all that the man could tell
him,--or would tell him. He said that Injun Jim lived mostly in the
Tippipah district. No free gold had ever been discovered there, nor much
gold of any kind; but Injun Jim certainly brought free gold into Round
Butte whenever he wanted grub. It must have been ungodly rich,--five
hundred dollars' worth in a ten-pound lard bucket!
The tale held Casey's imagination. He dreamed nights of trailing Injun
Jim, and if he'd had any money to outfit for the venture he surely would
have gone straight to Nevada and to Round Butte. He told himself that it
would take an outsider to furnish the energy for the search. Men who live
in a country are the last to see the possibilities lying all around them,
Casey said. It was true; he had seen it work out even in himself. Hadn't
he driven stage in Cripple Creek country and carried out gold by the
hundred-thousand,--gold that might have been his had he not been content
to drive stage? Hadn't he lived in gold country all his life, almost, and
didn't he know mineral formations as well as many a school--trained
But even dreams of gold fluctuate and grow vague before the small
interests of everyday living. Casey hadn't the money just then to quit his
job of stage driving and go Indian stalking. It would take money,--a few
hundred at least. Casey at that time lacked the price of a ticket to Round
Butte. So he had to drive and dream, and his first spurt of saving grew
half--hearted as the weeks passed; and then he lost all he had saved in a
poker game because he wanted to win enough in one night to make the trip.
However, he went among men with his ears wide open for gossip concerning
Injun Jim, and he gleaned bits of information that seemed to confirm what
his passenger up in the Yellowstone had told him. He even met a man who
knew Injun Jim.
Injun Jim, he was told, had one eye and a bad temper. He had lost his
right eye in a fight with soldiers, in the days when Indian fighting was
part of a soldier's training. Injun Jim nursed a grudge against the whites
because of that eye, and while he behaved himself nowadays, being old and
not very popular amongst his own people, it was taken for granted that his
trigger finger would never be paralyzed, and that a white man need only
furnish him a thin excuse and a fair chance to cover all traces of the
killing. Injun Jim would attend to the rest with great zeal.
Stranger still, Casey found that the tale of the lard bucket and the gold
was true. This man had once been in the store when Jim arrived for grub.
He had taken a piece of the ore in his hands. It was free gold, all right,
and it must have come from a district where free gold was scarce as women.
"We've got it figured down to a spot about fifty miles square," the man
told Casey. "That old Injun don't travel long trails. He's old. And all
Injuns are lazy. They won't go hunting mineral like a white man. They know
mineral when they see it and they have good memories and can go to the
spot afterwards. Injun Jim prob-ly run across a pocket somewheres when he
was hunting. Can't be much of it--he'd bring in more at a time if there
was, and be Injun-rich. He's just figurin' on making it hold out long as
he lives. 'Tain't worth while trying to find it; there's too much mineral
laying around loose in these hills."
Casey stored all that gossip away in the back of his head and through all
the ups and downs of the years he never quite forgot it.
Casey earned a good deal of money, but there are men who are very good at
finding original ways of losing money, too. Casey was one. (You should
hear Casey unburden himself sometime upon the subject of garages and the
tourist trade!) He saved money enough in Patmos to buy two burros and a
mule, and what grub and tools the burros could carry. There were no poker
games in Patmos, and a discouraged prospector happened along at the right
moment, which accounts for it.
In this speed-hungry age Casey had not escaped the warped viewpoint which
others assume toward travel. Casey always had craved the sensation of
swift moving through space. His old stage horses could tell you tales of
that! It was a distinct comedown, buying burros for his venture. That took
straight, native optimism and the courage to make the best of things. But
he hadn't the price of a Ford, and Casey abhors debt; so he reminded
himself cheerfully that many a millionaire would still be poor if he had
turned up his nose at burros, sour-dough cans and the business end of pick
and shovel, and made the deal.
At that, he was better off than most prospectors, he told himself on the
night of his purchase. He had the mule, William, to ride. The prospector
had assured Casey over and over that William was saddle broke. Casey is
too happy-go-lucky, I think. He took the man's word for it and waited
until the night before he intended beginning his journey before he gave
William a try-out, down in a sandy swale back of the garage. He returned
after dark, leading William. Casey had a pronounced limp and an eyetooth
was broken short off, about halfway to the gums, and his lip was cut.
"William's saddle broke, all right," he told his neighbor, the proprietor
of the Oasis. "I've saw horses broke like that; cow-punchers have fun in
the c'rall with 'em Sundays, seein' which one can stay with the saddle
three jumps. William don't mind the saddle at all. All he hates is anybody
in it." Then he grinned wryly because of his hurt. "No use arguin' with a
mule--I used to be too good a walker."
Casey therefore traded his riding saddle for another packsaddle, and
collected six coal-oil cans which he cleaned carefully. William was loaded
with cans of water, which he seemed to prefer to Casey, though they
probably weighed more. The burros waddled off under their loads of beans,
flour, bacon, coffee, lard, and a full set of prospector's tools. Casey
set his course by the stars and fared forth across the desert, meaning to
pass through the lower end of Death Valley by night, on a trail he knew,
and so plod up toward the Tippipah country.
He was happy. He owed no man a nickel, he had grub enough to last him
three months if he were careful, he had a body tough as seasoned hickory,
and he was headed for that great no-man's-land which is the desert. More,
he was actually upon the trail of his dream that he had dreamed years
before up in the Yellowstone. An old, secretive Indian was going to find
his match when Casey Ryan plodded over his horizon and halted beside his
By the way, don't blame me for showing a fondness for gloom and gore when
you read the names Casey carried in his mind the next few weeks. Casey
crossed Death Valley and the Funeral Mountains--or a spur of them--and
headed up toward Spectre Range, going by way of Deadman's Spring, where he
filled his water cans. That does not sound cheerful, but Casey was still
fairly happy,--though there were moments when he thought seriously of
killing William with a rock.
Every morning, without fail, he and William fought every minute from
breakfast to starting time. From his actions you would think that William
had never seen a pack before, and expected it to bite him fatally if he
came within twenty feet of it. You could tell Casey's camp by the manner
in which the sagebrush was trampled and the sand scored with small
hoofprints in a wide circle around it. But once the battle was lost to
William for that day, and Casey had rested and mopped the perspiration off
his face and taken a comforting chew of tobacco and relapsed into silence
simply because he could think of nothing more to say, William became a pet
dog that hazed the two lazy burros along with little nippings on their
rumps, and saw to it that they did not stray too far from camp.
Casey strung into Searchlight one evening at dusk and camped on a little
knoll behind the town hall, which was open beyond for grazing, and the
village dogs were less likely to bother. Searchlight was not on his way,
but miles off to one side. Casey made the detour because he had heard a
good deal about the place and knew it as a favorite stamping ground of
miners and prospectors who sought free gold. Searchlight is primarily a
gold camp, you see. He wanted to hear a little more about Injun Jim.
But there had been a murder in Searchlight a dark night or so before his
coming, and three suspects were being discussed and championed by their
friends. Searchlight was not in the mood for aimless gossip of Indians.
Killings had been monotonously frequent, but they usually had daylight and
an audience to rob them of mystery. A murder done on a dark night, in the
black shadow of an empty dance hall, and accompanied by a piercing scream
and the sound of running feet was vastly different.
Casey lingered half a day, bought a few more pounds of bacon and some
matches and ten yards of satin ribbon in assorted colors and went his way.
I mention his stop at Searchlight so that those who demand exact geography
will understand why Casey journeyed on to Vegas, tramped its hot sidewalks
for half a day and then went on by way of Indian Spring to the Tippipah
country and his destination. He was following the beaten trail of miners,
now that he was in Jim's country, and he was gleaning a little information
from every man he met. Not altogether concerning Injun Jim, understand,--
but local tidbits that might make him a welcome companion to the old buck
when he met him. Casey says you are not to believe story-writers who
assume that an Indian is wrapped always in a blanket and inscrutable
dignity. He says an Indian is as great a gossip as any old woman, once you
get him thawed to the talking point. So he was filling his bag of tricks
as he went along.
From Vegas there is what purports to be an automobile road across the
desert to Round Butte, and Casey as he walked cursed his burros and
William and sighed for his Ford. He was four days traveling to Furnace
Lake, which he had made in a matter of hours with his Ford when he first
came to Starvation.
He struck Furnace Lake just before dusk one night and pushed the burros
out upon it, thinking he would have cool crossing and would start in the
morning with the lake behind him, which would be something of a load off
his mind. In his heart Casey hated Furnace Lake, and he had good reason.
It was a place of ill fortune for him, especially after the sun had left
it. He wanted it behind him where he need think no more about it and the
grewsome crevice that cut a deep, wide gash two thirds of the way across
it through the middle. Casey is not a coward, and he takes most things as
a matter of course, but he admits that he has always hated and distrusted
Furnace Lake beyond all the dry lakes in Nevada,--and there are many.
He yelled to William, and William nipped the nearest burro into a
shambling half trot, and then went out upon the lake, Casey heading across
at the widest part so that he would strike his old trail to Starvation
Mountain on the other side. From there to the summit he could make it by
noon on the morrow, he planned. Which would be the end of his preliminary
journey and the beginning of Casey's last drive toward his goal; for from
the top of the divide between Starvation Mountain country and that
forbidding waste which lies under the calm scrutiny of Furnace Peak he
could see the far-off range of the Tippipahs.
He was a mile out on the Lake when he first glimpsed the light. Casey
studied it while he walked ahead, leaving no footprints on the hard-baked
clay. He had not known that any road followed just under the crest of the
ridge that hid Crazy Woman lake, yet the light was plainly that of an
automobile moving with speed across the face of the ridge just under the
Away out in the empty land like that you notice little things and think
about them and try to understand just what they mean, unless they are
perfectly familiar to you. One print of a foot on the trail may betray the
lurking presence of a madman, a murderer, a traveling, friendly, desert
dweller or the wandering of some one who is lost and dying of thirst and
hunger. You like to know which, and you are not satisfied until you do
A light moving swiftly along Crazy Woman ridge meant a car, and a car up
there meant a road. If there were a road it would probably lead Casey by a
shorter route to the Tippipahs. While he looked there came to his ears a
roaring, as of some high-powered car traveling under full pressure of
gas. The burros followed him, but William lifted his head and brayed
tremulously three times in the dark. Casey had never heard him bray
before, and the sudden rasping outcry startled him.
He went back and stood for a minute looking at William, who turned tail
and started back toward the shore they had left behind them. Casey ran to
head him off, yelling threats, and William, in spite of his six water
cans--two of them empty--broke into a lope. Casey glanced over his
shoulder as he ran and saw dimly that the burros had turned and were
coming after him, their ears flapping loosely on their bobbing heads as
they trotted. Beyond him, the light still traveled towards the Tippipahs.
Then, with an abruptness that cannot be pictured, everything was blotted
out in a great, blinding swirl of dust as the wind came whooping down upon
them. It threw Casey as though some one had tripped him. It spun him round
and round on his back like an overturned beetle, and then scooted him
across the lake's surface flat as a floor. He thought of the Crevice, but
there was nothing he could do save hold his head off the ground and his
two palms over his face, shielding his nostrils a little from the smother
Sometimes he was lifted inches from the surface and borne with incredible
swiftness. More than once he was spun round and round until his senses
reeled. But all the time he was going somewhere, and I suspect that for
once in his life Casey Ryan went fast enough to satisfy him. At last he
felt brush sweep past his body, and he knew that he must have been swept
to the edge of the lake. He clutched, scratched his hands bloody on the
straggly thorns of greasewood, caught in the dark at a more friendly sage
and gripped it next the roots. The wind tore at him, howling. Casey
flattened his abused body to the hummocky sand and hung on.
Hours later, by the pale stars that peered out breathlessly when the fury
of the gale was gone, Casey pulled himself painfully to his feet and
looked for the burros and William. Judging by his own experience, they had
had a rough time of it and would not go far after the wind permitted them
to stop. But as to guessing how far they had been impelled, or in what
direction, Casey knew that was impossible. Still, he tried. When the air
grew clearer and the surrounding hills bulked like huge shadows against
the sky, he saw that he had been blown toward the ridge that guards Crazy
Woman lake. His pack animals should be somewhere ahead of him, he thought
groggily, and began stumbling along through the brush-covered sand dunes
that bordered Furnace Lake for miles.
And then he saw again the light, shining up there just under the crest of
the ridge. He was glad the car had escaped, but he reflected that the
tricky winds of the desert seldom sweep a large area. Their diabolic fury
implies a concentration of force that must of necessity weaken as it flows
out away from the center. Up there on the ridge they may not have
experienced more than a steady blow.
He walked slowly because of his bruises, and many times he made small
detours, thinking that a blotch of shadow off to one side might be his
pack train. But always a greasewood mocked him, waving stiff arms at him
derisively. In the sage-land distances deceive. A man may walk unseen
before your eyes, and a bush afar off may trick you with its semblance to
man or beast. Casey finally gave up the hopeless search and headed
straight for the light.
It was standing still,--a car facing him with its headlights burning, the
distance so great that the two lights glowed as one. "An' it ain't no
Ford," Casey decided. "They wouldn't keep the engine runnin' all this
time, standin' still. Unless it's one of them old kind with lamps."
I don't suppose you realize, many of you, just what that would mean to a
man in the desert country. It is rather hard to define, but the
significance would be felt, even by Casey in his present plight. You see,
small cars, of the make too famous to be hurt or helped by having its name
mentioned in a simple yarn like this, have long been recognized as the
proper car for rough trails and no trails. Those who travel the desert
most have come to the point of counting "Lizzie" almost as necessary as
beans. Wherefore a larger car is nearly always brought in by strangers to
the country, who swear solemnly, never to repeat the imprudence. A large
car, driven by strangers in the land, means hunters, prospectors from the
outside brought in by some special tale of hidden wealth,--or just plain
simpletons who only want to see what lies over the mountain. There aren't
many of the last-named variety up in the Nevada wastes. Even your
nature-loving rovers oddly keep pretty much to the beaten trails of other
nature lovers, where gas stations and new tires may be found at regular
intervals. The Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, the National Old
Trails they explore,--but not the high, wind-swept mesas of Nevada's
A fear that was not altogether strange to him crept over Casey. It would
be just his grinning enemy Ill-luck on his trail again, if that light
should prove to be made by men hunting for Injun Jim and his mine. Casey
used to feel a sickness in his middle when that thought nagged him, and he
felt a growing anger now when he looked at the twinkling glow. He walked a
little faster. Now that the fear had come to him, Casey wanted to come up
with the men, talk with them, learn their business if they were truthful,
or sense their lying if they tried to hide their purpose from him. He must
know. If they were seeking Injun Jim, then he must find some way to head
them off, circumvent their plans with strategy of his own. He had dreamed
too long and too ardently to submit now to interlopers.
So he walked, limping and cursing a little now and then because of his
aches. Up a steep slope made heavy with loose sand that dragged at his
feet; over the crest and down the other side among rocks and gravel that
made harder walking than the sand. Up another steep slope: it was
heartbreaking, unending as the toils of a nightmare, but Casey kept on. He
was not worried over his own plight; not yet. He believed that William and
his burros were somewhere ahead of him, since they could not cling to a
bush as he had done and so resist the impetus of that terrific wind. There
was a car standing on the ridge toward which he was laboriously making his
way. It did not occur to Casey that morning might show him a rather
Yet the morning did just that. Hours before dawn the light had disappeared
abruptly, but Casey had no uneasiness over that. It was foolish for them
to run down their battery burning lights when they were standing still, he
thought. They had not moved off, and he had well in mind the contour of
the ridge where they were standing. He would have bet good money that he
could walk straight to the car even though darkness hid it from him until
he came within hailing distance.
But daylight found him still below the higher slope of the ridge, and
Casey was very tired. He had been walking all day, remember, and he had
missed his supper because he wanted to eat it with the lake behind him. He
did not walk in a straight line. He was too near exhaustion to forge ahead
as was his custom. Now he was picking his way carefully so as to shun the
washes out of which he must climb, and the rock patches where he would
stumble, and the thick brush that would claw at him. He would have given
five dollars for a drink of water, but there would be water at the car, he
told himself. People were rather particular about carrying plenty of water
when they traveled these wastes.
And then he was on the ridge, and his keen eyes were squinted half-shut
while he gazed here and there, no foot of exposed land surface escaping
that unwinking stare. He took off his hat and wiped his face, and reached
mechanically for a chew of tobacco which he always took when perplexed, as
if it stimulated thought.
There was no car. There was no road. There was not even a burro trail
along that ridge. Yet there had been the lights of a car, and after the
lights had been extinguished Casey had listened rather anxiously for
sound of the motor and had heard nothing at all. The most powerful,
silent-running car on the market would have made some noise in traveling
through that sand and up and down the washes that seamed the mountain
side. Casey would have heard it--he had remarkably keen hearing.
"And that's darn funny," he muttered, when he was perfectly sure that
there was no car, that there could never have been a car on that trackless
ridge. "That's mighty damn funny! You can ask anybody."
Other things, however, were not so funny to Casey as he stood staring down
over the vast emptiness. There was no sign of his pack train, and without
it he would be in sorry case indeed. He thought of the manner in which the
tornado had whirled him round and round. Caught in a different set of
gyrations and then borne out from the center--flung out would come nearer
it--the burros and William might have been carried in any direction save
his own. Into that gruesome Crevice, for instance. They had not been more
than a mile from the Crevice when the storm struck.
He glanced across to Barren Butte, rising steeply from the farther end of
the lake. But he did not think of going to the mine up there, except to
tell himself that he'd rot on the desert before he ever asked there for
help. He had his reasons, you remember. A man like Casey can face
humiliation from men much easier than he can face a woman who had
misjudged him and scorned him. Unless, of course, he has a million dollars
in his pocket and knows that she knows it.
Having discarded Barren Butte from his plans--rather, having declined to
consider it at all--he knew that he must find his supplies, or he must
find water somewhere in the Crazy Woman hills. The prospect was not
bright, for he had never heard any one mention water there.
He rested where he was for awhile and watched the slope for the pack
animals; more particularly for William and the water cans. He could shoot
rabbits and live for days, if he had a little water, but he had once tried
living on rabbit meat broiled without salt, and he called it dry eating,
even with water to wash it down. Without water he would as soon fast and
let the rabbits live.
A dark speck moving in the sage far down the slope caught his eyes, and he
got up and peered that way eagerly. He started down to meet it hopefully,
feeling certain that his present plight would soon merge into a mere
incident of the trail. Sure enough, when he had walked for half an hour he
saw that it was William, browsing toward him and limping when he moved.
But William was bare as the back of Casey's hand. There was no pack, no
coal-oil cans of water; only the halter and lead rope, that dangled and
caught on brush and impeded William's limping progress. I suppose even
miserable mules like company, for William permitted Casey to walk up and
take him by the halter rope. William had a badly skinned knee which gave
him the limp, and his right ear was broken close to his head so that the
structure which had been his pride dropped over his eye like a wet
Casey swore a little and started back along William's tracks to find the
water cans. He followed a winding, purposeless trail that never showed the
track of burros, and after an hour or so he came upon the pack and the
cans. Evidently the water supply had suffered in the wind, for only four
cans were with the blankets and pack saddle.
William had felt his pack slipping, Casey surmised, and had proceeded to
divest himself of the incumbrance in the manner best known to mules.
Having kicked himself out of it, he had undoubtedly discovered a leaking
can--supposing the cans had escaped thus far--and had battered them with
his heels until they were all leaking copiously. William had saved what he
Casey read the whole story in the sand. The four cans were bent with
gaping seams, and their sides were scored with the prints of William's
hoofs. In a corner of one of them Casey found a scant half-cup of water,
which he drank greedily. It could no more than ease for a moment his
parched throat; it could not satisfy his thirst.
After that he led William back along the trail until the mounting sun
warned him that he was making no headway on his journey to the Tippipahs,
and that with no tracks in sight he had small hope of tracing the burros.
It was sundown again before he gave up hope, and Casey's thirst was a
demon within him. He had wasted a day, he told himself grimly. Now it was
going to be a fight.
Through the day he had mechanically studied the geologic formation of
those hills before him, and he had decided that the chance for water there
was too slight to make a search worth while. He would push on toward the
Tippipahs. _Pah_, he knew, meant water in the Indian tongue. He did not
know what _Tippi_ signified, but since Indians lived in the Tippipah range
he was assured that the water was drinkable. So he got stiffly to his
feet, studied again the darkling skyline, sent a glance up at the first
stars, and turned his face and William's resolutely toward the Tippipahs.
He had applied first aid to William's knee in the form of chewed tobacco,
which if it did no more at least discouraged the pestering flies. Now he
collected a ride for his pay. He had reasoned that William was probably
subdued to the point of permitting the liberty, and that he had other
things to think of more important than protecting his mulish dignity.
Casey guessed right. William merely switched his tail pettishly, as mules
will, and went on picking his way through brush and rocks along the ridge.
It was perhaps nine o'clock when Casey saw the light. William also spied
it and stopped still, his long left ear pointed that way, his broken right
ear dropping over his eye. William lifted his nose and brayed as if he
were tearing loose all his vitals and the operation hurt like the
mischief. Casey kicked him in the flanks and urged him on. It must be a
camp fire, Casey thought. He did not connect it with that moving light he
had seen the night before; that phantom car was a mystery which he would
probably never solve, and in Casey's opinion it had nothing to do with a
camp fire that twinkled upon a distant hilltop.
From the look of it, Casey judged that it was perhaps eight miles off,--
possibly less. But there was a rocky canyon or two between them, and
William was lame and Casey was too exhausted to walk more than half a mile
before he must lie down and own himself whipped. Casey Ryan had never done
that for a man, and he did not propose to do it for Nature. He thought
that William ought to have enough stamina to make the trip if he were
given time enough. And at the last, if William gave out, then Casey would
manage somehow to walk the rest of the way. It all depended upon giving
William time enough.
You know, mules are the greatest mind readers in the world. I have always
heard that, and now Casey swears that it is so. William immediately began
taking his time. Casey told me that a turtle starting nose to nose with
William would have had to pull in his feet and wait for him every half
mile or so. William must have been very thirsty, too.
The light burned steadily, hearteningly. Whenever they crawled to high
ground where a view was possible, Casey saw it there, just under a certain
star which he had used for a marker at first. And whenever William saw the
light he brayed and tried to swing around and go the other way. But Casey
would not permit that, naturally. Nor did he wonder why William acted so
queerly. You never wonder why a mule does things; you just fight it out
and are satisfied if you win, and let it go at that.
Casey does not remember clearly the details of that night. He knows that
during the long hours William balked at a particularly steep climb, and
that Casey was finally obliged to get off and lead the Way. It established
an unfortunate precedent, for William refused to let Casey on again, and
Casey was too weak to mount in spite of William. They compromised at last;
that is, they both walked.
The light went out. Moreover, Casey's star that he had used to mark the
spot moved over to the west and finally slid out of sight altogether. But
Casey felt sure of the direction and he kept going doggedly toward the
point where the light had been. He says there wasn't a rod where a snail
couldn't have outrun him, and when the sky streaked red and orange and the
sun came up, he stood still and looked for a camp, and when he saw nothing
at all but bare rock and bushes of the kind that love barrenness, he
crawled under the nearest shade, tied William fast to the bush and slept.
You don't realize your thirst so much when you are asleep, and you are
saving your strength instead of wearing it out in the hot sun. He remained
there until the sun was almost out of sight behind a high peak. Then he
got up, untied William, mounted him without argument from either, and went
on, keeping to the direction in which he had seen the light.
Even the little brown mule was having trouble now. He wavered, he picked
his footing with great care when a declivity dipped before him; he stopped
every few yards and rested when he was making a climb. As for Casey, he
managed to hold himself on the narrow back of William, but that was all.
He understood perfectly that the next twenty-four hours would tell the
story for him and for William. He had a sturdy body however and a sturdy
brain that had never weakened its hold on facts. So he clung to his reason
and pushed fear away from him and said doggedly that he would go forward
as long as he could crawl or William could carry him, and he would die or
he would not die, as Fate decided for him. He wondered, too, about the
camp whose fire he had seen.
Then he saw the light. This time it burned suddenly clear and large and
very bright, away off to the left of him where he had by daylight noticed
a bare shale slide. The light seemed to stand in the very center of the
slide, no more than a mile away.
William stopped when Casey pulled on the reins he had fashioned from the
lead rope, and turned stiffly so that he faced the light. Casey kicked him
gently with his heels to urge him forward, for in spite of what his reason
told him about the shale slide his instinct was to go straight to the
light. But William began to shiver and tremble, and to swing slowly away.
Casey tried to prevent it, but the mule came out in William. He laid his
good ear flat along his neck as far as it would go, and took little,
nipping steps until he had turned with his tail to the light. Then he
thrust his fawn-colored muzzle to the stars and brayed and brayed, his
good ear working like a pump handle as he tore the sounds loose from his
Casey cursed him in a whisper, having no voice left. He kicked William in
the flanks, having no other means of coercion at hand. But kicking never
yet altered the determination of a mule, and cursing a mule in a whisper
is like blowing your breath against the sail of a becalmed sloop. William
kept his tail toward the light, and furthermore he momentarily drew his
tail farther and farther from that spot. Now and then he would turn his
head and glance back, and immediately increase his pace a little. He was
long past the point where he had strength to trot, but he could walk, and
he did walk and carry Casey on his back, still whispering condemnation.
They did not travel all night. Casey looked at the Big Dipper and judged
it was midnight when they stopped on the brink of a deep canyon, halted
there in William's sheer despair because the light appeared suddenly on
the high point of a hill directly ahead of them. William's voice was gone
like Casey's, so that he, too, cursed in a whisper with a spasmodic
indrawing of ribs and a wheezing in his throat.
When it was plain that the mule had stopped permanently, Casey slid off
William's back and lay down without knowing or caring much whether he
would ever get up again. He said he wasn't hungry--much; but his mouth was
too full of tongue, he added grimly.
He lay and watched through half-closed, staring eyes the light that mocked
him so. His dulling senses told him that it was no camp fire, nor any
light made by human hands. He did not know what it was. He didn't care any
more. William crumpled up and lay down beside him, breathing heavily. It
was getting close to the end of things. Casey knew it, and he thinks
William knew it too.
The sun found them there and forced Casey to move. He sat up painfully,
the fight to live not yet burned out of him, and gazed dully at the
forbidding hills that closed around him like great, naked rock demons
watching to see him die for want of the things they withheld. Where he
remembered the light to have been when last he saw it was bleak, bare
rock. It was a devil's light and there was nothing friendly or human about
He looked down into the canyon which William had refused to enter. A faint
interest revived within him because of a patch of green. Trees,--but they
might easily be junipers which will grow in dry canyons as readily, it
would seem, as in any other. He kept looking, because green was a great
relief from the monotonous gray and black and brown of the hills. It
seemed to him after awhile that he saw a small splotch of dead white.
In the barren lands two things will show white in the distance; a white
horse and a tent of white canvas. Casey shifted his position and squinted
long at the spot, then got up slowly with the help of a bush and took
William by the rope. William was on his feet, standing with head dropped,
apparently half asleep. Casey knew that William was simply waiting until
he could no longer stand.
Together they wabbled down the sloping canyon side and over a grassy
bottom to the trees, which were indeed juniper trees, but thriftier
looking than their brethren of the dry places. There was water, for
William smelled it at last and hurried forward with more briskness than
Casey could muster, eager though he was to reach the tent he saw standing
there under the biggest juniper.
Beside the tent was a water bucket of bright, new tin. A white granite
dipper stood in it. Casey drank sparingly and stopped when he would have
given all he ever possessed in the world to have gone on drinking until he
could hold no more. But he was not yet crazy with the thirst. So he
stopped drinking, filled a white granite basin and soused his head again
and again, sighing with sheer ecstasy at the drip of water down his back
and chest. After a little he drank two swallows more, put down the dipper
and went into the tent.
We can all remember certain experiences that fill us with incredulity even
while we admit that the facts could be proved before a jury of twelve men.
So Casey Ryan, having lost his outfit and come so near to death that he
could barely keep his feet under him, walked into a tent and stood there
thinking it couldn't be true.
A folding camp chair stood near the opening, and Casey sat down from sheer
weakness while he looked about him. The tent was a twelve-by-fourteen,
which is a bit larger than one usually carries in a pack outfit. It had a
canvas floor soiled in strips where the most walking had been done, but
white under table and beds, which proved its newness. Casey was not
accustomed to seeing tents floored with canvas, and he stared at it for a
full half-minute before his eyes went to other things.
There was a folding camp table of the kind shown in the window display of
sporting-goods stores, but which seasoned campers find too wobbly for
actual comfort. The varnish still shone on legs and braces, which helped
to prove its newness. There was a two-burner oil stove with an
enamel-rimmed oven that was distinctly out of place in that country and
yet harmonized perfectly with the tent and furnishings. The dishes were
white enamel of aluminum, and there were boxes piled upon boxes, the
labels proclaiming canned things too expensive for ordinary eating. Two
spring cots with new blankets and white-cased pillows stood against the
tent wall, and beneath each cot sat two yellow pigskin suitcases with
straps and brass buckles. They would have been perfectly natural in a
Pullman sleeper, but even in his present stress Casey snorted disdainfully
at sight of them here.
Things were tumbled about in the disorder of inexperienced campers, but
everything was very new and clean except an array of dishes on the table,
which told Casey that one man had eaten at least three meals without
washing his dishes or putting away his surplus of food. Casey had eaten
nothing at all after that one toasted rabbit which he had choked down on
the evening when he gave up hope of finding the burros. He got up and
staggered stiffly to the table and picked up a piece of burned biscuit,
hard as flint.
While he mumbled a fragment of that he looked into various half-filled
cans, setting them one by one in a compact group on the table corner;
which was habit rather than conscious thought. Poisonous ptomaine lurked
in every one of them, which was a shame, since he had to discard half a
can of preserved peaches, half a can of roast beef, half a can of
asparagus tips, a can of chicken soup scarcely touched and two thirds of a
can of sweet potatoes. He salvaged a can of ripe olives which he thought
was good, a can of India relish and a can of sweet gherkins (both of the
fifty-seven varieties). You will see what I meant when I spoke of
expensive camp food.
There was cold coffee in a nickel percolater, and Casey poured himself a
cup, knowing well the risk of eating much just at first. It was while he
was unscrewing the top of the glass jar that held the sugar that he first
noticed the paper. It was folded and thrust into the sugar jar, and Casey
pulled it out and held it crumpled in his hand while he sweetened and
drank the coffee, forcing himself to take it slowly. When the cup was
empty to the last drop he went over and sat down on the edge of a spring
cot and unfolded the note. What he read surprised him a great deal and
puzzled him more. I leave it to you to judge why.
"I saw it again last night in a different place. The last horse died
yesterday down the canyon. You can have the outfit. I'm going to beat
it out of here while the going's good. Fred."
"That's mighty damn funny," Casey muttered thickly. "You can--ask--" He
lay back luxuriously, with his head on the white pillow and closed his
eyes. The reaction from struggling to live had set in with the assurance
of his safety. He slept heavily, refreshingly.
He awoke to the craving for food, and immediately started a small fire
outside and boiled coffee in a nice new aluminum pail that held two quarts
and had an ornamental cover. The oil stove he dismissed from his mind with
a snort of contempt. And because nearly everything he saw was catalogued
in his mind as a luxury, he opened cans somewhat extravagantly and dined
off strange, delectable foods to which his palate was unaccustomed. He
still thought it was mighty queer, but that did not impair his appetite.
Afterwards he went out to look after William, remembering that horses were
said to have died in this place. William was almost within kicking
distance of the spring, as if he meant to keep an eye upon the water
supply even though that involved browsing off brush instead of wandering
down to good grass below the camp.
Casey knelt stiffly and drank from the spring, laving his face and head
afterward as if he never would get enough of the luxury of being wet and
cool. He rose and stood looking at William for a few minutes, then took
the lead rope and tied him to a juniper that stood near the spring. The
note had said that the last horse died down the canyon, the implication of
mystery lying heavy behind the words.
Casey went back to the tent and read the note through again twice,
studying each word as if he hoped to twist some added information out of
it. It sounded as though the writer had expected his partner back from
some trip and had left the note for him, since he had not considered it
necessary to explain what it was that he had seen again in a different
place. Casey wondered if it might not have been that strange light which
he himself had followed. Whatever it was, the fellow had not liked it. His
going had all the earmarks of flight.
Well, then, why had the last horse died down the canyon? Casey decided
that he would go and see, though he was not hankering for exercise that
day. He took a long drink of water, somewhat shamefacedly filled a new
canteen that lay on a pile of odds and ends near the tent door, and
started down the canyon. It couldn't be far, but he might want a drink
before he got back, and Casey had had enough of thirst.
He was not long in finding the horse that had died, and in fact all the
horses that had died. There had been four, and the manner of their death
was not in the least mysterious. They had been staked out to graze in a
luxurious patch of loco weed, which is reason enough why any horse should
Of course, no man save an unmitigated tenderfoot would picket a horse on
loco, which looks very much like wild peavine and is known the West over
as the deadliest weed that grows. A little of it mixed with a diet of
grass will drive horses and cattle insane, and there is no authentic case
of recovery, that I ever heard, once the infection is complete. A lot of
it will kill,--and these poor beasts had actually been staked out to graze
upon it, I suppose because it looked nice and green, and the horses
The performance matched very well the enamel-trimmed oil stove and the
tinned dainties and the expensive suitcases. Casey went back to camp
feeling as though he had stumbled upon a picnic of feeble-minded persons.
He wondered what in hell two men of such a type could be doing out there,
a hundred miles and more from an ice-cream soda and a barber's chair. He
wondered too how "Fred" had expected to get himself across that hundred
miles and more of dry desert country. He must certainly be afoot, and the
camp itself showed no sign of an emergency outfit having been assembled
from its furnishings.
Casey made sure of that, inspecting first the bedding and food and then
the cooking utensils. Everything was complete--lavishly so--for two men
who loved comfort. Even their sweaters were there; and Casey knew they
must have discovered that the nights can be cool even though the days are
hot, in that altitude. And there were two canteens of the size usually
carried by hikers.
Casey was so worried that he could not properly enjoy his supper of pate
de foi gras and crackers, with pork and beans, plum pudding--eaten as
cake--and spiced figs and coffee. That night he turned over on his
spring-cot bed as often as if he had been lying on nettles, and when he
did sleep he dreamed horribly.
Next morning he set out with William and an emergency camp outfit to trace
if he could the missing men. The great outdoors of Nevada is not kind to
such as these, and Casey had too lately suffered to think with easy-going
optimism that they would manage somehow. They would die if they were left
to shift for themselves, and Casey could not pretend that he did not know
But there was a difficulty in rescuing them, just as there had been in
rescuing the burros. Casey could not find their tracks, and so could not
follow them. He and William hunted the canyon from top to bottom and
ranged far out on the valley floor without discovering anything that could
be called the track of a man. Which was strange, too, in a country where
footprints are held for a long, long while by the soil,--as souvenirs of
man's passing, perhaps.
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