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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 25922

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

There was a subtle change, an obvious lack of warmth in Johnson's manner, which the Girl was quick to feel upon returning to the now practically deserted saloon.

"Don't it feel funny here-kind o' creepy?" She gave the words a peculiar emphasis, which made Johnson flash a quick, inquisitorial look at her; and then, no comment being forthcoming, she went on to explain: "I s'pose though that's 'cause I don't remember seein' the bar so empty before."

A somewhat awkward silence followed, which at length was broken by the Girl, who ordered:

"Lights out now! Put out the candle here, too, Nick!" But while the little barkeeper proceeded to carry out her instructions she turned to Johnson with an eager, frank expression on her face, and said: "Oh, you ain't goin', are you?"

"No-not yet-no-" stammered Johnson, half-surprisedly, half-wonderingly.

The Girl's face wore a pleased look as she answered:

"Oh, I'm so glad o' that!"

Another embarrassing silence followed. At last Nick made a movement towards the window, saying:

"I'm goin' to put the shutters up."

"So early? What?" The Girl looked her surprise.

"Well, you see, the boys are out huntin' Ramerrez, and there's too much money here…" said Nick in a low tone.

The Girl laughed lightly.

"Oh, all right-cash in-but don't put the head on the keg-I ain't cashed in m'self yet."

Rolling the keg to one side of the room, Nick beckoned to the Girl to come close to him, which she did; and pointing to Johnson, who was strolling about the room, humming softly to himself, he whispered:

"Say, Girl, know anythin' about-about him?"

But very significant as was Nick's pantomime, which included the keg and Johnson, it succeeded only in bringing forth a laugh from the Girl, and the words:

"Oh, sure!"

Nevertheless, the faithful guardian of the Girl's interests sent a startled glance of inquiry about the room, and again asked:

"All right, eh?"

The Girl ignored the implication contained in the other's glance, and answered "Yep," in such a tone of finality that Nick, reassured at last, began to put things ship-shape for the night. This took but a moment or two, however, and then he quietly disappeared.

"Well, Mr. Johnson, it seems to be us a-keepin' house here to-night, don't it?" said the Girl, alone now with the road agent.

Her observation might easily have been interpreted as purposely introductory to an intimate scene, notwithstanding that it was made in a thoroughly matter-of-fact tone and without the slightest trace of coquetry. But Johnson did not make the mistake of misconstruing her words, puzzled though he was to find a clue to them. His curiosity about her was intense, and it showed plainly in the voice that said presently:

"Isn't it strange how things come about? Strange that I should have looked everywhere for you and in the end find you here-at The Polka."

Johnson's emphasis on his last words sent a bright red rushing over her, colouring her neck, her ears and her broad, white forehead.

"Anythin' wrong with The Polka?"

Johnson was conscious of an indiscreet remark; nevertheless he ventured:

"Well, it's hardly the place for a young woman like you."

The Girl made no reply to this but busied herself with the closing-up of the saloon. Johnson interpreted her silence as a difference of opinion. Nevertheless, he repeated with emphasis:

"It is decidedly no place for you."

"How so?"

"Well, it's rather unprotected, and-"

"Oh, pshaw!" interrupted the Girl somewhat irritably. "I tol' Ashby only to-night that I bet if a rud agent come in here I could offer 'im a drink an' he'd treat me like a perfect lady." She stopped and turned upon him impulsively with: "Say, that reminds me, won't you take somethin'?"

Before answering, Johnson shot her a quick look of inquiry to see whether there was not a hidden meaning in her words. Of course there was not, the remark being impelled by a sudden consciousness that he might consider her inhospitable. Nevertheless, her going behind the bar and picking up a bottle came somewhat as a relief to him.

"No, thank you," at last he said; and then as he leaned heavily on the bar: "But I would very much like to ask you a question."

Instantly, to his great surprise, the Girl was eyeing him with mingled reproach and coquetry. So he was going to do it! Was it possible that he thought so lightly of her, she wondered. With all her heart she wished that he would not make the same mistake that others had.

"I know what it is-every stranger asks it-but I didn't think you would. You want to know if I am decent? Well, I am, you bet!" she returned, a defiant note creeping into her voice as she uttered the concluding words.

"Oh, Girl, I'm not blind!" His eyes quailed before the look that flamed in hers. "And that was not the question."

Instinctively something told the Girl that the man spoke the truth, but notwithstanding which, she permitted her eyes to express disbelief and "Dear me suz!" fell from her lips with an odd little laugh. On the other hand, Johnson declined to treat the subject other than seriously. He had no desire, of course, to enlarge upon the unconventionality of her attitude, but he felt that his feelings towards her, even if they were only friendly, justified him in giving her a warning. Moreover, he refused to admit to himself that this was a mere chance meeting. He had a consciousness, vague, but nevertheless real that, at last, after all his searching, Fate had brought him face to face with the one woman in all the world for him. Unknown to himself, therefore, there was a sort of jealous proprietorship in his manner towards her as he now said:

"What I meant was this: I am sorry to find you here almost at the mercy of the passer-by, where a man may come, may drink, may rob you if he will-" and here a flush of shame spread over his features in spite of himself-"and where, I daresay, more than one has laid claim to a kiss."

The Girl turned upon him in good-natured contempt.

"There's a good many people claimin' things they never git. I've got my first kiss to give."

Once more a brief silence fell upon them in which the Girl busied herself with her cash box. She was not unaware that his eyes were upon her, but she was by no means sure that he believed her words. Nor could she tell herself, unfortunately for her peace of mind, that it made no difference to her.

"Have you been here long?" suddenly he asked.


"Lived in The Polka?"


"Where do you live?"

"Cabin up the mountain a little ways."

"Cabin up the mountain a little ways," echoed Johnson, reflectively. The next instant the little figure before him had faded from his sight and instead there appeared a vision of the little hut on the top of Cloudy Mountain. Only a few hours back he had stood on the precipice which looked towards it, and had felt a vague, indefinable something, had heard a voice speak to him out of the vastness which he now believed to have been her spirit calling to him.

"You're worth something better than this," after a while he murmured with the tenderness of real love in his voice.

"What's better'n this?" questioned the Girl with a toss of her pretty blonde head. "I ain't a-boastin' but if keepin' this saloon don't give me sort of a position 'round here I dunno what does."

But the next moment there had flashed through her mind a new thought concerning him. She came out from behind the bar and confronted him with the question:

"Look 'ere, you ain't one o' them exhorters from the Missionaries' Camp, are you?"

The road agent smiled.

"My profession has its faults," he acknowledged, "but I am not an exhorter."

But still the Girl was nonplussed, and eyed him steadily for a moment or two.

"You know I can't figger out jest exactly what you are?" she admitted smilingly.

"Well, try…" he suggested, slightly colouring under her persistent gaze.

"Well, you ain't one o' us."


"Oh, I can tell-I can spot my man every time. I tell you, keepin' saloon's a great educator." And so saying she plumped herself down in a chair and went on very seriously now: "I dunno but what it's a good way to bring up girls-they git to know things. Now," and here she looked at him long and earnestly, "I'd trust you."

Johnson was conscious of a guilty feeling, though he said as he took a seat beside her:

"You would trust me?"

The Girl nodded an assent and observed in a tone that was intended to be thoroughly conclusive:

"Notice I danced with you to-night?"

"Yes," was his brief reply, though the next moment he wondered that he had not found something more to say.

"I seen from the first that you were the real article."

"I beg your pardon," he said absently, still lost in thought.

"Why, that was a compliment I handed out to you," returned the Girl with a pained look on her face.

"Oh!" he ejaculated with a faint little smile.

Now the Girl, who had drawn up her chair close to his, leaned over and said in a low, confidential voice:

"Your kind don't prevail much here. I can tell-I got what you call a quick eye."

As might be expected Johnson flushed guiltily at this remark. No different, for that matter, would have acted many a man whose conscience was far clearer.

"Oh, I'm afraid that men like me prevail-prevail, as you say,-almost everywhere," he said, laying such stress on the words that it would seem almost impossible for anyone not to see that they were shot through with self-depreciation.

The Girl gave him a playful dig with her elbow.

"Go on! What are you givin' me! O' course they don't…!" She laughed outright; but the next instant checking herself, went on with absolute ingenuousness: "Before I went on that trip to Monterey I tho't Rance here was the genuine thing in a gent, but the minute I kind o' glanced over you on the road I-I seen he wasn't." She stopped, a realisation having suddenly been borne in upon her that perhaps she was laying her heart too bare to him. To cover up her embarrassment, therefore, she took refuge, as before, in hospitality, and rushing over to the bar she called to Nick to come and serve Mr. Johnson with a drink, only to dismiss him the moment he put his head through the door with: "Never mind, I'll help Mr. Johnson m'self." Turning to her visitor again, she said: "Have your whisky with water, won't you?"

"But I don't-" began Johnson in protest.

"Say," interrupted the Girl, falling back into her favourite position of resting both elbows on the bar, her face in her hands, "I've got you figgered out. You're awful good or awful bad." A remark which seemed to amuse the man, for he laughed heartily.

"Now, what do you mean by that?" presently he asked.

"Well, I mean so good that you're a teetotaller, or so bad that you're tired o' life an' whisky."

Johnson shook his head.

"On the contrary, although I'm not good, I've lived and I've liked life pretty well. It's been bully!"

Surprised and delighted with his enthusiasm, the Girl raised her eyes to his, which look he mistook-not unnaturally after all that had been said-for one of encouragement. A moment more and the restraint that he had exercised over himself had vanished completely.

"So have you liked it, Girl," he went on, trying vainly to get possession of her hand, "only you haven't lived, you haven't lived-not with your nature. You see I've got a quick eye, too."

To Johnson's amazement she flushed and averted her face. Following the direction of her eyes he saw Nick standing in the door with a broad grin on his face.

"You git, Nick! What do you mean by…?" cried out the Girl in a tone that left no doubt in the minds of her hearers that she was annoyed, if not angry, at the intrusion.

Nick disappeared into the dance-hall as though shot out of a gun; whereupon, the Girl turned to Johnson with:

"I haven't lived? That's good!"

Johnson's next words were insinuating, but his voice was cold in comparison with the fervent tones of a moment previous.

"Oh, you know!" was what he said, seating himself at the poker table.

"No, I don't," contradicted the Girl, taking a seat opposite him.

"Yes, you do," he insisted.

"Well, say it's an even chance I do an' an even chance I don't," she parried.

Once more the passion in the man was stirring.

"I mean," he explained in a voice that barely reached her, "life for all it's worth, to the uttermost, to the last drop in the cup, so that it atones for what's gone before, or may come after."

The Girl's face wore a puzzled look as she answered:

"No, I don't believe I know what you mean by them words. Is it a-" She cut her sentence short, and springing up, cried out: "Oh, Lord-Oh, excuse me, I sat on my gun!"

Johnson looked at her, genuine amusement depicted on his face.

"Look here," said the Girl, suddenly perching herself upon the t

able, "I'm goin' to make you an offer."

"An offer?" Johnson fairly snatched the words out of her mouth. "You're going to make me an offer?"

"It's this," declared the Girl with a pleased look on her face. "If ever you need to be staked-"

Johnson eyed her uncomprehendingly.

"Which o' course you don't," she hastened to add. "Name your price. It's yours jest for the style I git from you an' the deportment."

"Deportment? Me?" A half-grin formed over Johnson's face as he asked the question; then he said: "Well, I never heard before that my society was so desirable. Apart from the financial aspect of this matter, I-"

"Say," broke in the Girl, gazing at him in helpless admiration, "ain't that great? Ain't that great? Oh, you got to let me stand treat!"

"No, really I would prefer not to take anything," responded Johnson, putting a restraining hand on her as she was about to leap from the table.

At that moment Nick's hurried footsteps reached their ears. Turning, the Girl, with a swift gesture, waved him back. There was a brief silence, then Johnson spoke:

"Say, Girl, you're like finding some new kind of flower."

A slight laugh of confusion was his answer. The next moment, however, she went on, speaking very slowly and seriously: "Well, we're kind o' rough up here, but we're reachin' out."

Johnson noted immediately the change in her voice. There was no mistaking the genuineness of her emotion, nor the wistful look in her eyes. It was plain that she yearned for someone who would teach her the ways of the outside world; and when the man looked at the Girl with the lamp-light softening her features, he felt her sincerity and was pleased by her confidence.

"Now, I take it," continued the Girl with a vague, dreamy look on her face, "that's what we're all put on this earth for-everyone of us-is to rise ourselves up in the world-to reach out."

"That's true, that's true," returned Johnson with gentle and perfect sympathy. "I venture to say that there isn't a man who hasn't thought seriously about that. I have. If only one knew how to reach out for something one hardly dares even hope for. Why, it's like trying to catch the star shining just ahead."

The Girl could not restrain her enthusiasm.

"That's the cheese! You've struck it!"

At this juncture Nick appeared and refused to be ordered away. At length, the Girl inquired somewhat impatiently:

"Well, what is it, Nick?"

"I've been tryin' to say," announced the barkeeper, whose face wore an expression of uneasiness as he pointed to the window, "that I have seen an ugly-lookin' greaser hanging around outside."

"A greaser!" exclaimed the Girl, uneasily. "Let me look." And with that she made a movement towards the window, but was held back by Johnson's detaining hand. All too well did he know that the Mexican was one of his men waiting impatiently for the signal. So, with an air of concern, for he did not intend that the Girl should run any risk, however remote, he said authoritatively:

"Don't go!"

"Why not?" demanded the Girl.

Johnson sat strangely silent.

"I'll bolt the windows!" cried Nick. Hardly had he disappeared into the dance-hall when a low whistle came to their ears.

"The signal-they're waiting," said Johnson under his breath, and shot a quick look of inquiry at the Girl to see whether she had heard the sound. A look told him that she had, and was uneasy over it.

"Don't that sound horrid?" said the Girl, reaching the bar in a state of perturbation. "Say, I'm awful glad you're here. Nick's so nervous. He knows what a lot o' money I got. Why, there's a little fortune in that keg."

Johnson started; then rising slowly he went over to the keg and examined it with interest.

"In there?" he asked, with difficulty concealing his excitement.

"Yes; the boys sleep around it nights," she went on to confide.

Johnson looked at her curiously.

"But when they're gone-isn't that rather a careless place to leave it?"

Quietly the Girl came from behind the bar and went over and stood beside the keg; when she spoke her eyes flashed dangerously.

"They'd have to kill me before they got it," she said, with cool deliberation.

"Oh, I see-it's your money."

"No, it's the boys'."

A look of relief crossed Johnson's features.

"Oh, that's different," he contended; and then brightening up somewhat, he went on: "Now, I wouldn't risk my life for that."

"Oh, yes, you would, yes, you would," declared the Girl with feeling. A moment later she was down on her knees putting bag after bag of the precious gold-dust and coins into the keg. When they were all in she closed the lid, and putting her foot down hard to make it secure, she repeated: "Oh, yes, you would, if you seen how hard they got it. When I think of it, I nearly cry."

Johnson had listened absorbedly, and was strangely affected by her words. In her rapidly-filling eyes, in the wave of colour that surged in her cheeks, in the voice that shook despite her efforts to control it, he read how intense was her interest in the welfare of the miners. How the men must adore her!

Unconsciously the Girl arose, and said:

"There's somethin' awful pretty in the way the boys hold out before they strike it, somethin' awful pretty in the face o' rocks, an' clay an' alkali. Oh, Lord, what a life it is anyway! They eat dirt, they sleep in dirt, they breathe dirt 'til their backs are bent, their hands twisted an' warped. They're all wind-swept an' blear-eyed I tell you, an' some o' them jest lie down in their sweat beside the sluices, an' they don't never rise up again. I've seen 'em there!" She paused reminiscently; then, pointing to the keg, she went on haltingly: "I got some money there of Ol' Brownie's. He was lyin' out in the sun on a pile o' clay two weeks ago, an' I guess the only clean thing about him was his soul, an' he was quittin', quittin', quittin', right there on the clay, an' quittin' hard. Oh, so hard!" Once more she stopped and covered her face with her hands as if to shut out the horror of it all. Presently she had herself under control and resumed: "Yes, he died-died jest like a dog. You wanted to shoot 'im to help 'im along quicker. Before he went he sez to me: 'Girl, give it to my ol' woman.' That was all he said, an' he went. She'll git it, all right."

With every word that the Girl uttered, the iron had entered deeper into Johnson's soul. Up to the present time he had tried to regard his profession, if he looked at it at all, from the point of view which he inherited from his father. It was not, in all truthfulness, what he would have chosen; it was something that, at times, he lamented; but, nevertheless, he had practised it and had despoiled the miners with but few moments of remorse. But now, he was beginning to look upon things differently. In a brief space of time a woman had impelled him to see his actions in their true light; new ambitions and desires awakened, and he looked downward as if it were impossible to meet her honest eye.

"An' that's what aches you," the Girl was now saying. "There ain't one o' them men workin' for themselves alone-the Lord never put it into no man's heart to make a beast or a pack-horse o' himself, except for some woman or some child." She halted a moment, and throwing up her hands impulsively, she cried: "Ain't it wonderful-ain't it wonderful that instinct? Ain't it wonderful what a man'll do when it comes to a woman-ain't it wonderful?" Once more she waited as if expecting him to corroborate her words; but he remained strangely silent. A moment later when he raised his troubled eyes, he saw that hers were dry and twinkling.

"Well, the boys use me as a-a sort of lady bank," presently she said; and then added with another quick change of expression, and in a voice that showed great determination: "You bet I'll drop down dead before anyone'll get a dollar o' theirs outer The Polka!"

Impulsively the road agent's hand went out to her, and with it went a mental resolution that so far as he was concerned no hard-working miner of Cloudy Mountain need fear for his gold!

"That's right," was what he said. "I'm with you-I'd like to see anyone get that." He dropped her hand and laid his on the keg; then with a voice charged with much feeling, he added: "Girl, I wish to Heaven I could talk more with you, but I can't. By daybreak I must be a long ways off. I'm sorry-I should have liked to have called at your cabin."

The Girl shot him a furtive glance.

"Must you be a-movin' so soon?" she asked.

"Yes; I'm only waiting till the posse gets back and you're safe." And even as he spoke his trained ear caught the sound of horses hoofs. "Why, they're coming now!" he exclaimed with suppressed excitement, and his eyes immediately fastened themselves on his saddle.

The Girl looked her disappointment when she said:

"I'm awfully sorry you've got to go. I was goin' to say-" She stopped, and began to roll the keg back to its place. Now she took the lantern from the bar and placed it on the keg; then turning to him once more she went on in a voice that was distinctly persuasive: "If you didn't have to go so soon, I would like to have you come up to the cabin to-night an' we would talk o' reachin' out up there. You see, the boys will be back here-we close The Polka at one-any time after…"

Hesitatingly, helplessly, Johnson stared at the Girl before him. His acceptance, he realised only too well, meant a pleasant hour or two for him, of which there were only too few in the mad career that he was following, and he wanted to take advantage of it; on the other hand, his better judgment told him that already he should be on his way.

"Why, I-I should ride on now." He began and then stopped, the next moment, however, he threw down his hat on the table in resignation and announced: "I'll come."

"Oh, good!" cried the Girl, making no attempt to conceal her delight. "You can use this," she went on, handing him the lantern. "It's the straight trail up; you can't miss it. But I say, don't expect too much o' me-I've only had thirty-two dollars' worth o' education." Despite her struggle to control herself, her voice broke and her eyes filled with tears. "P'r'aps if I'd had more," she kept on, regretfully, "why, you can't tell what I might have been. Say, that's a terrible tho't, ain't it? What we might a been-an' I know it when I look at you."

Johnson was deeply touched at the Girl's distress, and his voice broke, too, as he said:

"Yes, what we might have been is a terrible thought, and I know it, Girl, when I look at you-when I look at you."

"You bet!" ejaculated the Girl. And then to Johnson's consternation she broke down completely, burying her face in her hands and sobbing out:

"Oh, 'tain't no use, I'm rotten, I'm ignorant, I don't know nothin' an' I never knowed it 'till to-night! The boys always tol' me I knowed so much, but they're such damn liars!"

In an instant Johnson was beside her, patting her hand caressingly; she felt the sympathy in his touch and was quick to respond to it.

"Don't you care, Girl, you're all right," he told her, choking back with difficulty the tears in his own voice. "Your heart's all right, that's the main thing. And as for your looks? Well, to me you've got the face of an angel-the face-" He broke off abruptly and ended with: "Oh, but I must be going now!"

A moment more and he stood framed in the doorway, his saddle in one hand and the Girl's lantern in the other, torn by two emotions which grappled with each other in his bosom. "Johnson, what the devil's the matter with you?" he muttered half-aloud; then suddenly pulling himself together he stumbled rather than walked out of The Polka into the night.

Motionless and trying to check her sobs, the Girl remained where he had left her; but a few minutes later, when Nick entered, all trace of her tears had disappeared.

"Nick," said she, all smiles now, "run over to The Palmetto restaurant an' tell 'em to send me up two charlotte rusks an' a lemming turnover-a good, big, fat one-jest as quick as they can-right up to the cabin for supper."

"He says I have the face of an angel," is what the Girl repeated over and over again to herself when perched up again on the poker table after the wondering barkeeper had departed on her errand, and for a brief space of time her countenance reflected the joy that Johnson's parting words had imprinted on her heart. But in the Girl's character there was an element too prosaic, and too practical, to permit her thoughts to dwell long in a region lifted far above the earth. It was inevitable, therefore, that the notion should presently strike her as supremely comic and, quickly leaping to the floor, she let out the one word which, however adequately it may have expressed her conflicting emotions, is never by any chance to be found in the vocabulary of angels in good standing.

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