CHAPTER XV. We can all remember
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--"