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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 8063

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Inside The Polka, not a bit more, and not a bit less sardonic-it was this imperturbability which made him so resistless to most people-than he was prior to the banishment of The Sidney Duck, the Sheriff of Manzaneta County waited patiently until the returning puppets of his will had had time to compose themselves. It took them merely the briefest of periods, but it served to increase visibly the long ash at the end of Rance's cigar. At length he shot a hawk-like glance at Sonora and proposed a little game of poker.

"This time, gentlemen-" he said, with a significant pause and accent-"just for social recreation. What do you say?"

"I'm your Injun!" acquiesced Sonora, rubbing his hands together gleefully at the prospect of winning from the Sheriff, whom he liked none too well.

"That's me, too!" concurred Trinidad.

"Chips, then, Nick!" called out the Sheriff, quietly taking a seat at the table; while Sonora, bubbling over with spirits, hitched up his trousers in sailor fashion and executed an impromptu hornpipe, bellowing in his deep, base voice:

"I shipped aboard of a liner, boys-"

"Renzo, boys, renzo," finished Trinidad, falling in place at the table.

At this point the outside door was unexpectedly pushed open, inward, and the Deputy-Sheriff came into their midst.

"Ashby just rode in with his posse," he announced huskily to his superior.

The Sheriff flashed a look of annoyance and inquired of the gaunt, hollow-cheeked, muscular Deputy whose beaver overcoat was thrown open so that his gun and powder-flask showed plainly in his belt:

"Why, what's he doing here?"

"He's after Ramerrez," answered the Deputy, eyeing him intently.

Rance received this information in silence and went on with his shuffling of the cards; presently, unconcernedly, he remarked:

"Ramerrez-Oh, that's the polite road agent who has been visiting the other camps?"

"Yes; he's just turned into your county," declared the Deputy, meaningly.

"What?" Sonora looked dumbfounded.

The Deputy nodded and proceeded to the bar. And while he drained the contents of his glass, the Minstrel played on his banjo, much to the amusement of the men, who showed their appreciation by laughing heartily, the last bars of, "Pop Goes the Weasel."

"Hello, Sheriff!" greeted Ashby, coming in just as the merriment over the Minstrel's little joke had died away. Ashby's voice-quick, sharp and decisive was that of a man accustomed to ordering men, but his manner was suave, if a trifle gruff. Moreover, he was a man of whom it could be said, paradoxical as it may seem, that he was never known to be drunk nor ever known to be sober. It was plain from his appearance that he had been some time on the road.

Rance rose and politely extended his hand. And, although the greeting between the two men was none too cordial, yet in their look, as they eyed each other, was the respect which men have for others engaged more or less in the same business and in whom they recognise certain qualities which they have in common. In point of age Ashby was, perhaps, the senior. As far as reputation was concerned, both men were accounted nervy and square. Rance introduced him to Sonora and the others, saying:

"Boys, Mr. Ashby of Wells Fargo."

The latter had a pleasant word or two for the men; then, turning to the Deputy, he said:

"And how are you these days?"

"Fit. And yourself?"

"Same here." Turning now to the barkeeper, Ashby, with easy familiarity, added: "Say, Nick, give us a drink."

"Sure!" came promptly from the little barkeeper.

"Everybody'll have the same?" inquired Ashby, turning once more to the men.

"The same!" returned the men in chorus.

Thereupon, Nick briskly slapped down a bottle and four glasses before the Sheriff, and leaving him to do the honours, disappeared into the dance-hall.

"'Well, I trust the Girl who runs The Polka is well?" inquired Ashby, pushing his glass near the bottle.

"Fine as silk," vouched Sonora, adding in the next breath: "But, say

, Mr. Ashby, how long you been chasm' up this road agent?"

"Oh, he only took to the road a few months ago," was Ashby's answer. "Wells Fargo have had me and a posse busy ever since. He's a wonder!"

"Must be to evade you," complimented Sonora, much to the discomfort of the Sheriff.

"Yes, I can smell a road agent in the wind," declared Ashby somewhat boastfully. "But, Rance, I expect to get that fellow right here in your county."

The Sheriff looked as if he scouted the idea, and was about to speak, but checked the word on his tongue. Then followed a short silence in which the Deputy, smiling a trifle derisively, went out of the saloon.

"Is this fellow a Spaniard?" questioned the Sheriff, drawling as usual, but at the same time jerking his thumb over his shoulder towards a placard on the wall, which read:






"No-can't prove it. The fact of his leading a crew of greasers and Spaniards signifies nothing. His name is assumed, I suppose."

"They say he robs you like a gentleman," remarked Rance with some show of interest.

"Well, look out for the greasers up the road!" was Ashby's warning as he emptied his glass and put it down before him.

"We don't let them pass through here," shrugged Rance, likewise putting down his glass on the table.

Ashby now picked up the whisky bottle and carried it over to the deserted faro table before which he settled himself comfortably in a chair.

"Well, boys, I've had a long ride-wake me up when The Pony Express goes through!" he called over his shoulder as he put his coat over him.

But no sooner was he comfortably ensconced for a snooze than Nick came bustling in with a kettle of boiling water and several glasses half-filled with whisky and lemon. Stopping before Ashby he said in his best professional manner:

"Re-gards of the Girl-hot whisky straight with lemming extract."

Ashby took up his glass, as did, in turn, the men at the other table. But it was Rance who, with arm uplifted, toasted:

"The Girl, gentlemen, the only Girl in Camp, the Girl I mean to make Mrs. Jack Rance!"

Confident that neither would catch him in the act, Nick winked first at Sonora and then at Trinidad. That the little barkeeper was successful in making the former, at least, believe that he possessed the Girl's affections was manifested by the big miner's next remark.

"That's a joke, Rance. She makes you look like a Chinaman."

Rance sprang to his feet, white with rage.

"You prove that!" he shouted.

"In what particular spot will you have it?" taunted Sonora, as his hand crept for his gun.

Simultaneously, every man in the room made a dash for cover. Nick ducked behind the bar, for, as he told himself when safely settled there, he was too old a bird to get anywhere near the line of fire when two old stagers got to making lead fly about. Nor was Trinidad slow in arriving at the other end of the bar where he caromed against Jake, who had dropped his banjo and was frantically trying to kick the spring of the iron shield in an endeavour to protect himself-a feat which, at last, he succeeded in performing. But, fortunately, for all concerned, as the two men stood eyeing each other, their hands on their hips ready to draw, Nick, from his position behind the bar, glimpsed through the window the Girl on the point of entering the saloon.

"Here comes the Girl!" he cried excitedly. "Aw, leave your guns alone-take your drinks, quick!"

For a fraction of a second the men looked sheepishly at one another, even Nick appearing a trifle uncomfortable, as he picked up the kettle and went off with it.

"Once more we're friends, eh, boys?" said Rance, with a forced laugh; and then as he lifted his glass high in the air, he gave the toast:

"The Girl!"

"The Girl!" repeated all-all save Ashby, whose snores by this time could be heard throughout the big room-and drained their glasses.

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