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The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 18864

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was when coming back to the mines, after a trip to Monterey, that the Girl first met him. It happened, too, just at a time when her mind was ripe to receive a lasting impression. But of all this the boys of Cloudy Mountain Camp heard not a word, needless to say, until long afterwards.

Lolling back on the rear seat of the stage, her eyes half closed,-the sole passenger now, and with the seat in front piled high with boxes and baskets containing rebozos, silken souvenirs, and other finery purchased in the shops of the old town,-the Girl was mentally reviewing and dreaming of the delights of her week's visit there,-a visit that had been a revelation to one whose sole experience of the world had until now been derived from life in a rough mining camp. Before her half-closed eyes still shimmered a vista of strange, exotic scenes and people, the thronging crowds of carnivals and fêtes; the Mexican girls swaying through the movements of the fandango to the music of guitars and castanets; the great rodeo with its hundreds of vaqueros, which was held at one of the ranchos just outside the town; and, lastly, and most vividly of all, the never-to-be-forgotten thrill of her first bull-fight.

Still ringing in her ears was the piercing note of the bugle which instantly silenced the expectant throng; the hoarse roar that greeted the entrance of the bull, and the thunder of his hoofs when he made his first mad charge. She saw again, with marvellous fidelity, the whole colour-scheme just before the death of the big, brave beast: the huge arena in its unrivalled setting of mountain, sea and sky; the eager multitude, tense with expectancy; the silver-mounted bridles and trappings of the horses; the many-hued capes of the capadors; the gaily-dressed banderilleros, poising their beribboned barbs; the red flag and long, slender, flashing sword of the cool and ever watchful matador; and, most prominent of all to her eyes, the brilliant, gold-laced packets of the gentlemen-picadors, who, after the Mexican fashion,-so she had been told,-deemed it in nowise beneath them to enter the arena in person.

And so it happened that now, as the stage swung round a corner, and a horseman suddenly appeared at a point where two roads converged, and was evidently spurring his horse with the intent of coming up with the stage, it was only natural that, even before he was near enough to be identified, the caballero should already have become a part of the pageant of her mental picture.

Up to the moment of the stranger's appearance, nothing had happened to break the monotony of her long return journey towards Cloudy Mountain Camp. Far back in the distance now lay the Mission where the passengers of the stage had been hospitably entertained the night before; still further back the red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of the little pueblo of San Jose,-a veritable bower of roses; and remotest of all, the crosses of San Carlos and the great pines, oaks and cypresses, which bordered her dream-memory of the white-beach crescent formed by the waves of Monterey Bay.

The dawn of each day that swept her further from her week in wonderland had ushered in the matchless spring weather of California,-the brilliant sunshine, the fleecy clouds, the gentle wind with just a tang in it from the distant mountains; and as the stage rolled slowly northward through beautiful valleys, bright with yellow poppies and silver-white lupines, every turn of the road varied her view of the hills lying under an enchantment unlike that of any other land. Yet strange and full of interest as every mile of the river country should have been to a girl accustomed to the great forest of the Sierras, she had gazed upon it for the most part with unseeing eyes, while her thoughts turned, magnet-like, backward to the delights and the bewilderment of the old Mexican town. So now, as the pursuing horseman swept rapidly nearer, each swinging stride of the powerful horse, each rhythmic movement of the graceful rider brought nearer and more vivid the vision of a handsome picador holding off with his lance a thoroughly maddened bull until the crowd roared forth its appreciation.

"See, Se?orita," said the horseman, at last galloping close to the coach and lifting his sombrero, "A beautiful bunch of syringa," and then, with his face bent towards her and his voice full of appeal, he added in lower tone: "for you!"

For a brief second, the Girl was too much taken back to find the adequate words with which to accept the stranger's offering. Notwithstanding that in his glance she could read, as plainly as though he had spoken: "I know I am taking a liberty, but please don't be angry with me," there was something in his sweeping bow and grace of manner that, coupled with her vague sense of his social advantage, disconcerted her. A second more, however, and the embarrassment had passed, for on lifting her eyes to his again she saw that her memory had not played her false; beyond all chance of a mistake, he was the man who, ten days earlier, had peered into the stage, as she was nearing Monterey, and later, at the bull-fight, had found time to shoot admiring glances at her between his daring feats of horsemanship. Therefore, genuine admiration was in her eyes and extreme cordiality in her voice when, after a word or two of thanks, she added, with great frankness:

"But it strikes me sort o' forcible that I've seen you before." Then, with growing enthusiasm: "My, but that bull-fight was jest grand! You were fine! I'm right glad to know you, sir."

The caballero's face flushed with pleasure at her free-and-easy reception of him, while an almost inaudible "Gracias" fell from his lips. At once he knew that his first surmise, that the Girl was an American, had been correct. Not that his experience in life had furnished him with any parallel, for the Girl constituted a new and unique type. But he was well aware that no Spanish lady would have received the advances of a stranger in like fashion. It was inevitable, therefore, that for the moment he should contrast, and not wholly to her advantage, the Girl's unconventionality with the enforced reserve of the dulcineas who, custom decrees, may not be courted save in the presence of duennas. But the next instant he recalled that there were, in Sacramento, young women whose directness it would never do to mistake for boldness; and,-to his credit be it said,-he was quick to perceive that, however indifferent the Girl seemed to the customary formality of introduction, there was no suggestion of indelicacy about her. All that her frank and easy manner suggested was that she was a child of nature, spontaneous and untrammelled by the dictates of society, and normally and healthily at home in the company of the opposite sex.

"And she is even more beautiful than I supposed," was the thought that went through his mind.

And yet, the Girl was not beautiful, at least if judged by Spanish or Californian standards. Unlike most of their women, she was fair, and her type purely American. Her eyes of blue were lightly but clearly browed and abundantly fringed; her hair of burnished gold was luxuriant and wavy, and framed a face of singularly frank and happy expression, even though the features lacked regularity. But it was a face, so he told himself, that any man would trust,-a face that would make a man the better for looking at it,-a face which reflected a soul that no environment could make other than pure and spotless. And so there was, perhaps, a shade more of respect and a little less assurance in his manner when he asked:

"And you like Monterey?"

"I love it! Ain't it romantic-an', my, what a fine time the girls there must have!"

The man laughed; the Girl's enthusiasm amused him.

"Have you had a fine trip so far?" he asked, for want of something better to say.

"Mercy, yes! This 'ere stage is a pokey ol' thing, but we've made not bad time, considerin'."

"I thought you were never going to get here!"

The Girl shot a coquettish glance at him.

"How did you know I was comin' on this 'ere stage?"

"I did not know,"-the stranger broke off and thought a moment. He may have been asking himself whether it were best for him to be as frank as she had been and admit his admiration for her; at last, encouraged perhaps by a look in the Girl's blue eyes, he ventured: "But I've been riding along this road every day since I saw you. I felt that I must see you again."

"You must like me powerful well…?" This remark, far from being a question, was accompanied with all the physiognomical evidences of an assertion.

The stranger shot a surprised glance at her, out of the corner of his eye. Then he admitted, in all truthfulness:

"Of course I do. Who could help…?"

"Have you tried not to?" questioned the Girl, smiling in his face now, and enjoying in the full this stolen intimacy.

"Ah, Se?orita, why should I…? All I know is that I do."

The Girl became reflective; presently she observed:

"How funny it seems, an' yet, p'r'aps not so strange after all. The boys-all my boys at the camp like me-I'm glad you do, too."

Meanwhile the good-natured and loquaciously-inclined driver had turned his head and was subjecting the man cantering alongside of his stage to a rigid inspection. With his knowledge of the various types of men in California at that time, he had no difficulty i

n placing the status of this straight-limbed, broad-shouldered, young fellow as a native Californian. Moreover, it made no difference to him whether his passenger had met an old acquaintance or not; it was sufficient for him to observe that the lady, as well as himself-for the expression on her face could by no means be described as bored or scornful-liked the stranger's appearance; and so the better to take in all the points of the magnificent horse which the young Californian was riding, not to mention a commendable desire to give his only passenger a bit of pleasant diversion on the long journey, he slowed his horse down to a walk.

"But where do you live? You have a rancho near here?" the Girl was now asking.

"My father has-I live with him."

"Any sisters?"

"No,-no sisters or brothers. My mother was an American; she died a few years ago." And so saying, his glance sought and obtained an answering one full of sympathy.

"I'm downright sorry for you," said the Girl with feeling; and then in the next breath she added:

"But I'm pleased you're-you're half American."

"And you, Se?orita?"

"I'm an orphan-my family are all dead," replied the Girl in a low voice. "But I have my boys," she went on more cheerfully, "an' what more do I need?" And then before he had time to ask her to explain what she meant by the boys, she cried out: "Oh, jest look at them wonderful berries over yonder! La, how I wish I could pick 'em!"

"Perhaps you may," the stranger hastened to say, and instantly with his free hand he made a movement to assist her to alight, while with the other he checked his horse; then, with his eyes resting appealingly upon the driver, he inquired: "It is possible, is it not, Se?or?"

Curiously enough, this apparently proper request was responsible for changing the whole aspect of things. For, keenly desirous to oblige him, though she was, there was something in the stranger's eyes as they now rested upon her that made her feel suddenly shy; a flood of new impressions assailed her: she wanted to evade the look and yet foster it; but the former impulse was the stronger, and for the first time she was conscious of a growing feeling of restraint. Indeed, some inner voice told her that it would not be quite right for her to leave the stage. True, she belonged to Cloudy Mountain Camp where the conventions were unknown and where a rough, if kind, comradery existed between the miners and herself; nevertheless, she felt that she had gone far enough with a new acquaintance, whose accent, as well as the timbre of his voice, gave ample evidence that he belonged to another order of society than her own and that of the boys. So, hard though it was not to accede to his request and, at the same time, break the monotony of her journey with a few minutes of berry-picking with him in the fields, she made no move to leave the stage but answered the questioning look of the obliging driver with a negative one. Whereupon, the latter, after declaring to the young Californian that the stage was late as it was, called to his horses to show what they could do in the way of getting over the ground after their long rest.

The young man's face clouded with disappointment. For two hundred yards or more he spoke not a word, though he spurred his horse in order to keep up with the now fast-moving stage. Then, all of a sudden, as the silence between them was beginning to grow embarrassing, the Girl made out the figure of a man on horseback a short distance ahead, and uttered an exclamation of surprise. The stranger followed the direction of the Girl's eyes and, almost instantly, it was borne in upon them that the horseman awaited their coming. The Girl turned to speak, but the tender, sorrowful expression that she saw on the young man's face kept her silent.

"That is one of my father's men," he said, somewhat solemnly. "His presence here may mean that I must leave you. The road to our ranch begins there. I fear that something may be wrong."

The Girl shot him a look of sympathetic inquiry, though she said nothing. To tell the truth, the first thought that entered her mind at his words was one of concern that their companionship was likely to cease abruptly. During the silence that preceded his outspoken premonition of trouble, she had been studying him closely. She found herself admiring his aquiline features, his olive-coloured skin with its healthful pallor, the lazy, black Spanish eyes behind which, however tranquil they generally were, it was easy for her to discern, when he smiled, that reckless and indomitable spirit which appeals to women all the world over.

As the stage approached the motionless horseman, the young man cried out to the vaquero, for such he was, and asked in Spanish whether he had a message for him; an answer came back in the same language, the meaning of which the Girl failed to comprehend. A moment later her companion turned to her and said:

"It is as I feared."

Once more a silence fell upon them. For a half-mile or so, apparently deep in thought, he continued to canter at her side; at last he spoke what was in his mind.

"I hate to leave you, Se?orita," he said.

In an instant the light went out of the Girl's eyes, and her face was as serious as his own when she replied:

"Well, I guess I ain't particularly crazy to have you go neither."

The unmistakable note of regret in the Girl's voice flattered as well as encouraged him to go further and ask:

"Will you think of me some time?"

The Girl laughed.

"What's the good o' my thinkin' o' you? I seen you talkin' with them gran' Monterey ladies an' I guess you won't be thinkin' often o' me. Like 's not by to-morrow you'll 'ave clean forgot me," she said with forced carelessness.

"I shall never forget you," declared the young man with the intense fervour that comes so easily to the men of his race.

At that a half-mistrustful, half-puzzled look crossed the Girl's face. Was this handsome stranger finding her amusing? There was almost a resentful glitter in her eyes when she cried out:

"I 'mos' think you're makin' fun o' me!"

"No, I mean every word that I say," he hastened to assure her, looking straight into her eyes where he could scarcely have failed to read something which the Girl had not the subtlety to conceal.

"Oh, I guess I made you say that!" she returned, making a child-like effort to appear to disbelieve him.

The stranger could not suppress a smile; but the next moment he was serious, and asked:

"And am I never going to see you again? Won't you tell me where I can find you?"

Once more the Girl was conscious of a feeling of embarrassment. Not that she was at all ashamed of being "The Girl of The Polka Saloon," for that never entered her mind; but she suddenly realised that it was one thing to converse pleasantly with a young man on the highway and another to let him come to her home on Cloudy Mountain. Only too well could she imagine the cool reception, if it stopped at that, that the boys of the camp there would accord to this stylish stranger. As a consequence, she was torn by conflicting emotions: an overwhelming desire to see him again, and a dread of what might happen to him should he descend upon Cloudy Mountain with all his fine airs and graces.

"I guess I'm queer-" she began uncertainly and then stopped in sudden surprise. Too long had she delayed her answer. Already the stage had left him some distance behind. Unperceived by her a shade of annoyance had passed over the Californian's face at her seeming reluctance to tell him where she lived. The quick of his Spanish pride was touched; and with a wave of his sombrero he had pulled his horse down on his haunches. Of no avail now was her resolution to let him know the whereabouts of the camp at any cost, for already his "Adios, Se?orita" was sounding faintly in her ears.

With a little cry of vexation, scarcely audible, the young woman flung herself back on the seat. She was only a girl with all a girl's ways, and like most of her sex, however practical her life thus far, she was not without dreams of a romance. This meeting with the handsome caballero was the nearest she had come to having one. True, there was scarcely a man at Cloudy but what had tried at one time or another to go beyond the stage of good comradeship; but none of them had approached the idealistic vision of the hero that was all the time lying dormant in her mind. Of course, being a girl, and almost a queen in her own little sphere, she accepted their rough homage in a manner that was befitting to such an exalted personage, and gave nothing in return. But now something was stirring within her of which she knew nothing; a feeling was creeping over her that she could not analyse; she was conscious only of the fact that with the departure of this attractive stranger, who had taken no pains to conceal his admiration for her, her journey had been robbed of all its joy.

A hundred yards further on, therefore, she could not resist the temptation to put her head out of the stage and look back at the place where she had last seen him.

He was still sitting quietly on his horse at the place where they had parted so unceremoniously, his face turned in her direction-horse and rider silhouetted against the western sky which showed a crimson hue below a greenish blue that was sapphire farther from the horizon.

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