He wondered whether he should try and find the girl first and buy the car to match her beauty, or buy the car first and with that lure the lady of his dreams. It was a nice question and it required thought. It was pleasant to ponder the problem, and Casey became so lost in meditation that he forgot to eat when the sun flirted with the scurrying clouds over his wind-torn automobile top.
So he came bouncing and swaying down the last mesa to the place called Red Lake. Casey had heard it spoken of with opprobrious epithets by men who had crossed it in wet weather. In dry weather it was red clay caked and checked by the sun, and wheels or hoofs stirred clouds of red dust that followed and choked the traveler.
Casey was not thinking at all of the lake when he drove down to it. He was seeing visions, though you would not think it to look at him; a stocky, middle-aged man who needed a shave and a hair-cut, wearing cheap, dirt-stained overalls and a blue shirt and square-toed shoes studded thickly on the soles with hobnails worn shiny; driving a desert-scarred Ford with most of the paint gone and a front fender cocked up and flapping crazily, and tires worn down to the fabric in places. But his eyes were very keen and steady, and there was a humorous twist to his mouth. If he dreamed incongruously of big, luxurious cars gorgeous in paint and nickel trim, and of slim young women with yellow hair and blue eyes,—well, stranger dreams have been hidden away behind exteriors more unsightly than was the shell which holds the soul of Casey Ryan.
Presently the practical, everyday side of his nature nudged him into taking note of his immediate surroundings. Red Lake had received a wetting. The dark, shiny surface betrayed that fact, and it was surprising how real water, when you did see it on a lake subject to mirage, was so unmistakably real. It is like putting flakes of real gold beside flakes of mica; you are ready to swear that the mica is gold—until you see the real gold beside it. So Casey knew at a glance that half of Red Lake was wet, and that the shiny patches here and there were not mirage pictures but shallow pools of water. Moreover, out in the reddest, wettest part of it an automobile stood with its back to him, and pigmy figures were moving slowly upon either side.
“Stuck,” diagnosed Casey in one word, as he caught sight of the group ahead. He tucked his dream into the back of his mind while he pulled down the gas lever a couple of notches and lunged along the muddy ruts that led straight away from the safe line of sagebrush and out upon the platter-like red expanse.
The Ford grunted and lugged down to a steady pull, but Casey drove as he had driven his six horses on a steep grade in the old days, coaxing every ounce of power into action. He juggled with spark and gas and somehow kept her going, and finally stopped with nice judgment on a small island of harder clay within shouting distance of the car ahead. He killed the engine then and stepped down, and went picking his way carefully out to it, his heavy shoes speedily collecting great pancakes of mud that clung like glue.