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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 34344

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


There was a general movement towards the bar when the fair proprietress of The Polka, who had lingered longer than usual in her little cabin on top of the mountain, breezily entered the place by the main door. In a coarse, blue skirt, and rough, white flannel blouse, cut away and held in place at the throat by a crimson ribbon, the Girl made a pretty picture; it was not difficult to see why the boys of Cloudy Mountain Camp had a feeling which fell little short of adoration for this sun-browned maid, with the spirit of the mountain in her eyes. That each in his own way had given her to understand that he was desperately smitten with her, goes without saying. But, although she accepted their rough homage as a matter of course, such a thought as falling in love with anyone of them had never entered her mind.

As far back, almost, as she could remember, the Girl had lived among them and had ever been a true comrade, sharing their disappointments and thrilling with their successes. Of a nature pure and simple, she was, nevertheless, frank and outspoken. Moreover, she knew to a dot what was meant when someone-bolder than his mates-stretched out his arms to her. One such exhibition on a man's part she was likely to forgive and forget, but the wrath and scorn that had blazed forth from her blue eyes on such an occasion had been sufficient to prevent a repetition of the offence. In short, unspoiled by their coarse flattery, and, to all appearances, happy and care-free, she attended to the running of The Polka wholly unsmirched by her environment.

But a keen observer would not have failed to detect that the Girl took a little less pleasure in her surroundings than she had taken in them before she had made the trip to Monterey. Downright glad, to use her own expression, as she had been on her return to see the boys of the camp and hear their boisterous shouts of welcome when the stage drew up in front of The Polka, she had to acknowledge that her home-coming was not quite what she expected. It was as if she had suddenly been startled out of a beautiful dream wherein she had been listening to the soft music of her lover's voice and brought face to face with the actualities of life, which, in her case, to say the least, were very real.

For hours after leaving her admirer sitting motionless on his horse on the great highway between Monterey and Sacramento, the Girl had indulged in some pertinent thoughts which, if the truth were known, were anything but complimentary to her behaviour. And, however successful she was later on in persuading herself that he would eventually seek her out, there was no question that at first she felt that the chances of her ever setting eyes on him again were almost negligible. All the more bitterly, therefore, did she regret her folly in not having told him where she lived; particularly so since she assured herself that not only was he the handsomest man that she had ever seen, but that he was the only one who had ever succeeded in chaining her attention. That he had been making love to her with his eyes, if not with words, she knew only too well-a fact that had been anything but displeasing to her. Indeed, far from having felt sorry that she had encouraged him, she, unblushingly, acknowledged to herself that, if she had the thing to do over again, she would encourage him still more.

Was she then a flirt? Not at all, in the common acceptation of the word. All her knowledge of the ways of the world had been derived from Mother Nature, who had supplied her with a quick and ready wit to turn aside, with a smile, the protestations of the boys; had taught her how to live on intimate terms with them and yet not be intimate; but when it came to playing at love, which every city maid of the same age is an adept at, she was strangely ignorant. Of a truth, then, it was something far broader and deeper that had entered into her heart-love. Not infrequently love comes as suddenly as this to young women who live in small mining camps or out-of-the-way places where the men are practically of a type; it is their unfamiliarity with the class which a stranger represents when he makes his appearance in their midst that is responsible, fully as much as his own personality, for their being attracted to him. It is not impossible, of course, that if the Girl had met him in Cloudy,-say as a miner there,-the result would have been precisely the same. But it is much more likely that the attendant conditions of their meeting aided him in appealing to her imagination, and in touching a chord in her nature which, under other circumstances, would not have responded in as many months as there were minutes on that eventful day.

Little wonder then, that as each succeeding mile travelled by the stage took her further and further away from him, something which, as yet, she did not dare to name, kept tugging at her heartstrings and which she endeavoured to overcome by listening to the stage driver's long-winded reminiscences and anecdotes concerning the country through which they were passing. But, although she made a brave effort to appear interested, it did not take him long to realise that something was on his passenger's mind and, being a wise man, he gradually relapsed into silence, with the result that, before the long journey ended at Cloudy Mountain, she had deceived herself into believing that she was certain to see her admirer again.

But as the days grew into weeks, the weeks into months, and the Girl neither saw nor heard anything of him, it was inevitable that the picture that he had left on her mind should begin to grow dim. Nevertheless, it was surprising what a knack his figure had of appearing before her at various times of the day and night, when she never failed to compare him with the miners in the camp, and, needless to say, unflatteringly to them. There came a time, it is true, when she was sorely tempted to tell one of them something of this new-found friend of hers; but rightly surmising the effect that her praising of her paragon would have upon the recipient of her confidences, she wisely resolved to lock up his image in her heart.

Of course, there were moments, too, when the Girl regretted that there was no other woman-some friend of her own sex in the camp-to whom she could confide her little romance. But since that boon was denied her, she took to seeking out the most solitary places to dream of him. In such moods she would climb to a high crag, a few feet from her cabin, and with a reminiscent and far-away look in her eyes she would sit for hours gazing at the great canyons and gorges, the broad forests and wooded hillsides, the waterfalls flashing silver in the distance, and, above all, at the wonderously-grand and snow-capped peaks of the main range.

At other times she would take the trail leading from the camp to the country below, and after wandering about aimlessly in the beautiful and mysterious forests, she would select some little glen through which a brook trickled and murmured underneath the ferns into a pool, and seating herself on a clump of velvet moss, the great sugar pines and firs forming a canopy over her head, she would whisper her secret thoughts and wild hopes to the gorgeously-plumed birds and saucy squirrels scampering all about her. The hours spent thus were as oases in her otherwise practical existence, and after a while she would return laden down with great bunches of ferns and wild flowers which, eventually, found a place on the walls of The Polka.

* * * * * *

Glancing at the bar to see that everything was to her satisfaction, the Girl greeted the boys warmly, almost rapturously with:

"Hello, boys! How's everythin'? Gettin' taken care of?"

"Hello, Girl!" sang out Sonora in what he considered was his most fetching manner. He had been the first to reach the coveted position opposite the Girl, although Handsome, who had followed her in, was leaning at the end of the bar nearest to the dance-hall.

"Hello, Sonora!" returned the Girl with an amused smile, for it was impossible with her keen sense of humour not to see Sonora's attempts to make himself irresistible to her. Nor did she fail to observe that Trinidad, likewise, had spruced himself up a little more than usual, with the same purpose in mind.

"Hello, Girl!" he said, strolling up to her with a ludicrous swagger.

"Hello, Trin!" came from the Girl, smilingly.

There was an awkward pause in which both Sonora and Trinidad floundered about in their minds for something to say; at length, a brilliant inspiration came to the former, and he asked:

"Say, Girl, make me a prairie oyster, will you?"

"All, right, Sonora, I'll fix you right up," returned the Girl, smiling to herself at his effort. But at the moment that she was reaching for a bottle back of the bar, a terrific whoop came from the dance-hall, and ever-watchful lest the boys' fun should get beyond her control, she called to her factotum to quiet things down in the next room, concluding warningly:

"They've had about enough."

When the barkeeper had gone to do her bidding, the Girl picked up an egg, and, poising it over a glass, she went on:

"Say, look 'ere, Sonora, before I crack this 'ere egg, I'd like to state that eggs is four bits apiece. Only two hens left-" She broke off short, and turning upon Handsome, who had been gradually sidling up until his elbows almost touched hers, she repulsed him a trifle impatiently:

"Oh, run away, Handsome!"

A flush of pleasure at Handsome's evident discomfiture spread over Sonora's countenance, and comical, indeed, to the Girl, was the majestic air he took on when he ordered recklessly:

"Oh, crack the egg-I'll stand for it."

But Sonora's fancied advantage over the others was of short duration, for the next instant Nick, stepping quickly forward with a drink, handed it to the Girl with the words:

"Regards of Blonde Harry."

Again Sonora experienced a feeling akin to jealousy at what he termed Blonde Harry's impudence. It almost immediately gave way to a paroxysm of chuckling; for, the Girl, quickly taking the glass from Nick's hand, flung its contents into a nearby receptacle.

"There-tell 'im that it hit the spot!" She laughed.

Nick roared with the others, but on the threshold of the dance-hall he paused, hesitated, and finally came back, and advised in a low tone:

"Throw around a few kind words, Girl-good for the bar."

The Girl surveyed the barkeeper with playful disapproval in her eye. However advantageous might be his method of working up trade, she disdained to follow his advice, and her laughing answer was:

"Oh, you Nick!"

The peal of laughter that rung in Nick's ears as he disappeared through the door, awakened Ashby and brought him instantly to his feet. Despite his size, he was remarkably quick in his movements, and in no time at all he was standing before the bar with a glass, which he had filled from the bottle that had stood in front of him on the table, and was saying:

"Compliments of Wells Fargo."

"Thank you," returned the Girl; and then while she shook the prairie oyster: "You see we live high-shouldered here."

"That's what!" put in Sonora with a broad grin.

"What cigars have you?" asked Ashby, at the conclusion of his round of drinks.

"Regalias, Auroras and Eurekas," reeled off the Girl with her eye upon Billy Jackrabbit, who had quietly come in and was sneaking about in an endeavour to find something worth pilfering.

"Oh, any will do," Ashby told her, with a smile; and while he was helping himself from a box of Regalias, Nick suddenly appeared, calling out excitedly:

"Man jest come in threatenin' to shoot up the furniture!"

"Who is it?" calmly inquired the Girl, returning the cigar-box to its place on the shelf.

"Old man Watson!"

"Leave 'im shoot,-he's good for it!"

"Nick! Nick!" yelled several voices in the dance-hall where old man Watson was surely having the time of his life.

And still the Girl paid not the slightest attention to the shooting or the cries of the men; what did concern her, however, was the fact that the Indian was drinking up the dregs in the whisky glasses on the faro table.

"Here, you, Billy Jackrabbit! What are you doin' here?" she exclaimed sharply, causing that generally imperturbable redskin to start perceptibly. "Did you marry my squaw yet?"

Billy Jackrabbit's face wore as stolid an expression as ever, when he answered:

"Not so much married squaw-yet."

"Not so much married…" repeated the Girl when the merriment, which his words provoked, had subsided. "Come 'ere, you thievin' redskin!" And when he had slid up to the bar, and she had extracted from his pockets a number of cigars which she knew had been pilfered, she added: "You git up to my cabin an' marry my squaw before I git there." And at another emphatic "Git!" the Indian, much to the amusement of all, started for the Girl's cabin.

"Here-here's your prairie oyster, Sonora," at last said the Girl; and then turning to the Sheriff and speaking to him for the first time, she called out gaily: "Hello, Rance!"

"Hello, Girl!" replied the Gambler without even a glance at her or ceasing to shuffle the cards.

Presently, Sonora pulled out a bag of gold-dust and told the Girl to clear the slate out of it. She was in the act of taking the sack when Nick, rushing into the room and jerking his thumb over his shoulder, said:

"Say, Girl, there's a fellow in there wants to know if we can help out on provisions."

"Sure; what does he want?" returned the Girl with a show of willingness to accommodate him.

"Bread."

"Bread? Does he think we're runnin' a bakery?"

"Then he asked for sardines."

"Sardines? Great Gilead! You tell 'im we have nothin' but straight provisions here. We got pickled oysters, smokin' tobacco an' the best whisky he ever saw," rapped out the Girl, proudly, and turned her attention to the slate.

"You bet!" vouched Trinidad with a nod, as Nick departed on his errand.

Finally, the Girl, having made her calculations, opened the counter drawer and brought forth some silver Mexican dollars, saying:

"Sonora, an' Mr. Ashby, your change!"

Ashby picked up his money, only to throw it instantly back on the bar, and say gallantly:

"Keep the change-buy a ribbon at The Ridge-compliments of Wells Fargo."

"Thank you," smiled the Girl, sweeping the money into the drawer, but her manner showed plainly that it was not an unusual thing for the patrons of The Polka to refuse to accept the change.

Not to be outdone, Sonora quickly arose and went over to the counter where, pointing to his stack of silver dollars, he said:

"Girl, buy two ribbons at The Ridge;" and then with a significant glance towards Ashby, he added: "Fawn's my colour."

And again, as before, the voice that said, "Thank you," was colourless, while her eyes rested upon the ubiquitous Nick, who had entered with an armful of wood and was intent upon making the room warmer.

Rance snorted disapprovingly at Sonora's prodigality. That he considered that both his and Ashby's attentions to the Girl had gone far enough was made apparent by the severe manner in which he envisaged them and drawled out:

"Play cyards?"

But to that gentleman's surprise the men did not move. Instead, Ashby raising a warning finger to the Girl, went on to advise that she should bank with them oftener, concluding with:

"And then if this road agent Ramerrez should drop in, you won't lose so much-"

"The devil you say!" cut in Sonora; while Trinidad broke out into a scornful laugh.

"Oh, go on, Mr. Ashby!" smilingly scoffed the Girl. "I keep the specie in an empty keg now. But I've took to bankin' personally in my stockin'," she confided without the slightest trace of embarrassment.

"But say, we've got an awful pile this month," observed Nick, anxiously, leaving the fireplace and joining the little ring of men about her. "It makes me sort o' nervous-why, Sonora's got ten thousand alone fer safe keepin' in that keg an'-"

"-Ramerrez' band's everywhere," completed Ashby with a start, his quick and trained ear having caught the sound of horses' hoofs.

"But if a road agent did come here, I could offer 'im a drink an' he'd treat me like a perfect lady," contended the Girl, confidently.

"You bet he would, the durned old halibut!" was Sonora's comment, while Nick took occasion to ask the Girl for some tobacco.

"Solace or Honeydew?" she inquired, her hands already on the assortment of tobacco underneath the bar.

"Dew," was Nick's laconic answer.

And then it was that the Girl heard for the first time the sound of the galloping hoofs; startled for the moment, she inquired somewhat uneasily:

"Who's this, I wonder?"

But no sooner were the words spoken than a voice outside in the darkness sung out sharply:

"Hello!"

"Hello!" instantly returned another voice, which the Girl recognised at once as being that of the Deputy.

"Big holdup last night at The Forks!" the first voice was now saying.

"Holdup!" repeated several voices outside in to

nes of excitement.

"Ramerrez-" went on the first voice, at which ominous word all, including Ashby, began to exchange significant glances as they echoed:

"Ramerrez!"

The name had barely died on their lips, however, than Nick precipitated himself into their midst and announced that The Pony Express had arrived, handing up to the Girl, at the same time, a bundle of letters and one paper.

"You see!" maintained Ashby, stoutly, as he watched her sort the letters; "I was right when I told you…"

"Look sharp! There's a greaser on the trail!" rang out warningly the voice of The Pony Express.

"A greaser!" exclaimed Rance, for the first time showing any interest in the proceedings; and then without looking up and after the manner of a man speaking to a good dog, he told the Deputy, who had followed Nick into the room:

"Find him, Dep."

For some time the Girl occupied herself with cashing in the chips which Nick brought to her-a task which she performed with amazing correctness and speed considering that her knowledge of the science of mathematics had been derived solely from the handling of money at The Polka. Now she went over to Sonora, who sat at a table reading.

"You got the newspaper, I see," she observed. "But you, Trin, I'm sorry you ain't got nothin'," she added, with a sad, little smile.

"So long!" hollered The Pony Express at that moment; whereupon, Ashby rushed over to the door and called after him:

"Pony Express, I want you!" Satisfied that his command had been heard he retraced his footsteps and found Handsome peering eagerly over Sonora's shoulder.

"So, Sonora, you've got a newspaper," Handsome was saying.

"Yes, but the infernal thing's two months old," returned the other disgustedly.

Handsome laughed, and wheeling round was just in time to see the door flung open and a young fellow advance towards Ashby.

The Pony Express was a young man of not more than twenty years of age. He was smooth-faced and unshaven and, needless to say, was light of build, for these riders were selected for their weight as well as for their nerve. He wore a sombrero, a buckskin hunting-shirt, tight trousers tucked into high boots with spurs, all of which were weather-beaten and faded by wind, rain, dust and alkali. A pair of Colt revolvers could be seen in his holsters, and he carried in his hands, which were covered with heavy gloves, a mail pouch-it being the company's orders not to let his muchilo of heavy leather out of his hands for a second.

"You drop mail at the greaser settlement?" inquired Ashby in his peremptory and incisive manner.

"Yes, sir," quickly responded the young man; and then volunteered: "It's a tough place."

Ashby scrutinised the newcomer closely before going on with:

"Know a girl there named Nina Micheltore?a?"

But before The Pony Express had time to reply the Girl interposed scornfully:

"Nina Micheltore?a? Why, they all know 'er! She's one o' them Cachuca girls with droopy, Spanish eyes! Oh, ask the boys about 'er!" And with that she started to leave the room, stopping on her way to clap both Trinidad and Sonora playfully on the back. "Yes, ask the boys about 'er, they'll tell you!" And so saying she fled from the room, followed by the men she was poking fun at.

"Hold her letters, you understand?" instructed Ashby who, with the Sheriff, was alone now with The Pony Express.

"Yes, sir," he replied earnestly. A moment later there being no further orders forthcoming he hastily took his leave.

Ashby now turned his attention to Rance.

"Sheriff," said he, "to-night I expect to see this Nina Micheltore?a either here or at The Palmetto."

Rance never raised an eyebrow.

"You do?" he remarked a moment later with studied carelessness. "Well, the boys had better look to their watches. I met that lady once."

Ashby shot him a look of inquiry.

"She's looking to that five thousand reward for Ramerrez," he told him.

Rance's interest was growing by leaps and bounds though he continued to riffle the cards.

"What? She's after that?"

"Sure thing. She knows something…" And having delivered himself of this Ashby strode over to the opposite side of the room where his coat and hat were hanging upon an elk horn. While putting them on he came face to face with the Girl who, having merely glanced in at the dance-hall, was returning to take up her duties behind the bar. "Well, I'll have a look at that greaser up the road," he said, addressing her, and then went on half-jocularly, half-seriously: "He may have his eye on the find in that stocking."

"You be darned!" was the Girl's parting shot at him as he went out into the night.

There was a long and impressive pause in which, apparently, the Sheriff was making up his mind to speak of matters scarcely incident to the situation that had gone before; while fully conscious that she was to be asked to give him an answer-she whose answer had been given many times-the Girl stood at the bar in an attitude of amused expectancy, and fussing with things there. At length, Rance, glancing shyly over his shoulder to make sure that they were alone, became all at once grave and his voice fell soft and almost caressingly.

"Say, Girl!"

The young woman addressed stole a look at him from under her lashes, all the while smiling a wise, little smile to herself, but not a word did she vouchsafe in reply.

Again Rance called to her over his shoulder:

"I say, Girl!"

The Girl took up a glass and began to polish it. At last she deigned to favour him with "Hm?" which, apparently, he did not hear, for again a silence fell upon them. Finally, unable to bear the suspense any longer, the Sheriff threw down his cards on the table, and facing her he said:

"Say, Girl, will you marry me?"

"Nope," returned the Girl with a saucy toss of the head.

Rance rose and strode over to the bar. Looking fixedly at her with his steely grey eyes he demanded the reason.

"'Cause you got a wife in Noo Orleans-or so the mountain breezes say," was her ready answer.

Rance gave no sign of having heard her. Throwing away the cigar he was smoking he asked in the most nonchalant manner:

"Give me some of them cigars-my kind."

Reaching for a box behind her the Girl placed it before him.

"Them's your kind, Jack."

From an inside pocket of his broadcloth coat Rance took out an elaborate cigar-case, filled it slowly, leaving out one cigar which he placed between his lips. When he had this one going satisfactorily he rested both elbows on the edge of the bar, and said bluntly:

"I'm stuck on you."

The Girl's lips parted a little mockingly.

"Thank you."

Rance puffed away for a moment or two in silence, and then with sudden determination he went on:

"I'm going to marry you."

"Think so?" questioned the Girl, drawing herself up proudly. And while Rance proceeded to relight his cigar, it having gone out, she plumped both elbows on the bar and looked him straight in the eye, and announced: "They ain't a man here goin' to marry me."

The scene had precisely the appearance of a struggle between two powerful wills. How long they would have remained with elbows almost touching and looking into each other's eyes it is difficult to determine; but an interruption came in the person of the barkeeper, who darted in, calling: "One good cigar!"

Instantly the Girl reached behind her for the box containing the choicest cigars, and handing one to Nick, she said:

"Here's your poison-three bits. Why look at 'em," she went on in the next breath to Rance; "there's Handsome with two wives I know of somewhere East. And-" She broke off short and ended with: "Nick, who's that cigar for?"

"Tommy," he told her.

"Here, give that back!" she cried quickly putting out her hand for it. "Tommy don't know a good cigar when he's smokin' it." And so saying she put the choice cigar back in its place among its fellows and handed him one from another box with the remark: "Same price, Nick."

Nick chuckled and went out.

"An' look at Trin with a widow in Sacramento. An' you-" The Girl broke off short and laughed in his face. "Oh, not one o' you travellin' under your own name!"

"One whisky!" ordered Nick, coming into the room with a rush. Without a word the Girl took down a bottle and poured it out for him while he stood quietly looking on, grinning from ear to ear. For Rance's weakness was known to him as it was to every other man in Manzaneta County, and he believed that the Sheriff had taken advantage of his absence to press his hopeless suit.

"Here you be!" sang out the Girl, and passed the glass over to him.

"He wants it with water," returned Nick, with a snicker.

With a contemptuous gesture the Girl put the bottle back on the shelf.

"No-no you don't; no fancy drinks here!" she objected.

"But he says he won't take it without water," protested Nick, though there was a twinkle in his eye. "He's a fellow that's jest rode in from The Crossin', so he says."

The Girl folded her arms and declared in a tone of finality:

"He'll take it straight or git."

"But he won't git," contended Nick chuckling. There was an ominous silence. Such behaviour was without a parallel in the annals of Cloudy. For much less than this, as the little barkeeper very well knew, many a man had been disciplined by the Girl. So, with his eyes fixed upon her face, he was already revelling in the situation by way of anticipation, and rejoicing in the coming requital for his own rebuff when the stranger had declined to leave as ordered. It was merely a question of his waiting for the words which would, as he put it, "take the fellow down a peg." They were soon forthcoming.

"You jest send 'im to me," commanded the Girl. "I'll curl his hair for him!"

Nick's face showed that the message was to his liking. It was evident, also, that he meant to lose no time in delivering it. A moment after he disappeared, Rance, who had been toying with a twenty dollar gold piece which he took from his pocket, turned to the Girl and said with great earnestness:

"Girl, I'll give you a thousand dollars on the spot for a kiss," which offer met with no response other than a nervous little laugh and the words:

"Some men invite bein' played."

The gambler shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, what are men made for?" said he, flinging the gold piece down on the bar in payment for the cigar.

"That's true," placidly commented the Girl, making the change.

Rance tried another tack.

"You can't keep on running this place alone; it's getting too big for you; too much money circulating through The Polka. You need a man behind you." All this was said in short, jerky sentences; moreover, when she placed his change in front of him he pushed it back almost angrily.

"Come now, marry me," again he pleaded.

"Nope."

"My wife won't know it."

"Nope."

"Now, see here, there's just one-"

"Nope-take it straight, Jack, nope…" interrupted the Girl. She had made up her mind that he had gone far enough; and firmly grabbing his hand she slipped his change into it.

Without a word the Sheriff dropped the coins into the cuspidor. The Girl saw the action and her eyes flashed with anger. The next moment, however, she looked up at him and said more gently than any time yet:

"No, Jack, I can't marry you. Ah, come along-start your game again-go on, Jack." And so saying she came out from behind the bar and went over to the faro table with: "Whoop la! Mula! Go! Good Lord, look at that faro table!"

But Rance was on the verge of losing control of himself. There was passion in his steely grey eyes when he advanced towards her, but although the Girl saw the look she did not flinch, and met it in a clear, straight glance.

"Look here, Jack Rance," she said, "let's have it out right now. I run The Polka 'cause I like it. My father taught me the business an', well, don't you worry 'bout me-I can look after m'self. I carry my little wepping"-and with that she touched significantly the little pocket of her dress. "I'm independent, I'm happy, The Polka's payin', an' it's bully!" she wound up, laughing. Then, with one of her quick changes of mood, she turned upon him angrily and demanded: "Say, what the devil do you mean by proposin' to me with a wife in Noo Orleans? Now, this is a respectable saloon, an' I don't want no more of it."

A look of gloom came into Rance's eyes.

"I didn't say anything-" he began.

"Push me that Queen," interrupted the Girl, sharply, gathering up the cards at the faro table, and pointing to one that was just beyond her reach. But when Rance handed it to her and was moving silently away, she added: "Ah, no offence, Jack, but I got other idees o' married life from what you have."

"Aw, nonsense!" came from the Sheriff in a voice that was not free from irritation.

The Girl glanced up at him quickly. Her mind was not the abode of hardened convictions, but was tender to sentiment, and something in his manner at once softening her, she said:

"Nonsense? I dunno 'bout that. You see-" and her eyes took on a far away look-"I had a home once an' I ain't forgot it-a home up over our little saloon down in Soledad. I ain't forgot my father an' my mother an' what a happy kepple they were. Lord, how they loved each other-it was beautiful!"

Despite his seemingly callous exterior, there was a soft spot in the gambler's heart. Every word that the Girl uttered had its effect on him. Now his hands, which had been clenched, opened out and a new light came into his eyes. Suddenly, however, it was replaced by one of anger, for the door, at that moment, was hesitatingly pushed open, and The Sidney Duck stood with his hand on the knob, snivelling:

"Oh, Miss, I-"

The Girl fairly flew over to him.

"Say, I've heard about you! You git!" she cried; and when she was certain that he was gone she came back and took a seat at the table where she continued, in the same reminiscent vein as before: "I can see mother now fussin' over father an' pettin' 'im, an' father dealin' faro-Ah, he was square! An' me a kid, as little as a kitten, under the table sneakin' chips for candy. Talk 'bout married life-that was a little heaven! Why, mother tho't so much o' that man, she was so much heart an' soul with 'im that she learned to be the best case-keeper you ever saw. Many a sleeper she caught! You see, when she played, she was playin' for the ol' man." She stopped as if overcome with emotion, and then added with great feeling: "I guess everybody's got some remembrance o' their mother tucked away. I always see mine at the faro table with her foot snuggled up to Dad's, an' the light o' lovin' in her eyes. Ah, she was a lady…!" Impulsively she rose and walked over to the bar.

"No," she went on, when behind it once more, "I couldn't share that table an' The Polka with any man-unless there was a heap o' carin' back of it. No, I couldn't, Jack, I couldn't…"

By this time the Sheriff's anger had completely vanished; dejection was plainly written on every line of his face.

"Well, I guess the boys were right; I am a Chinaman," he drawled out.

At once the Girl was all sympathy.

"Oh, no you're not, Jack!" she protested, speaking as tenderly as she dared without encouraging him.

Rance was quick to detect the change in her voice. Now he leaned over the end of the bar and said in tones that still held hope:

"Once when I rode in here it was nothing but Jack, Jack, Jack Rance. By the Eternal, I nearly got you then!"

"Did you?" The Girl was her saucy self again.

Rance ignored her manner, and went on:

"Then you went on that trip to Sacramento and Monterey and you were different."

In spite of herself the Girl started, which Rance's quick eye did not fail to note.

"Who's the man?" he blazed.

For answer the Girl burst out into a peal of laughter. It was forced, and the man knew it.

"I suppose he's one o' them high-toned, Sacramento shrimps!" he burst out gruffly; then he added meaningly: "Do you think he'd have you?"

At those words a wondering look shone in the Girl's eyes, and she asked in all seriousness:

"What's the matter with me? Is there anythin' 'bout me a high-toned gent would object to?" And then as the full force of the insult was borne in upon her she stepped out from behind the bar, and demanded: "Look here, Jack Rance, ain't I always been a perfect lady?"

Rance laughed discordantly.

"Oh, heaven knows your character's all right!" And so saying he seated himself again at the table.

The girl flared up still more at this; she retorted:

"Well, that ain't your fault, Jack Rance!" But the words were hardly out of her mouth than she regretted having spoken them. She waited a moment, and then as he did not speak she murmured an "Adios, Jack," and took up her position behind the bar where, if Rance had been looking, he would have seen her start on hearing a voice in the next room and fix her eyes in a sort of fascinated wonder, on a man who, after parting the pelt curtain, came into the saloon with just a suggestion of swagger in his bearing.

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