MoboReader > Literature > The Girl of the Golden West

   Chapter 9 No.9

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 17835

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Notwithstanding that The Palmetto was the most pretentious building in Cloudy, and was the only rooming and eating house that outwardly asserted its right to be called an hotel, its saloon contrasted unfavourably with its rival, The Polka. There was not the individuality of the Girl there to charm away the impress of coarseness settled upon it by the loafers, the habitual drunkards and the riffraff of the camp, who were not tolerated elsewhere. In short, it did not have that certain indefinable something which gave to The Polka Saloon an almost homelike appearance, but was a drab, squalid, soulless place with nothing to recommend it but its size.

In a small parlour pungent at all times with the odour of liquor,-but used only on rare occasions, most of The Palmetto's patrons preferring the even more stifling atmosphere of the bar-room,-the Wells Fargo Agent had been watching and waiting ever since he had left The Polka Saloon. On a table in front of him was a bottle, for it was a part of Ashby's scheme of things to solace thus all such weary hours.

Although a shrewd judge of women of the Nina Micheltore?a type and by no means unmindful of their mercurial temperament, Ashby, nevertheless, had felt that she would keep her appointment with him. In the Mexican Camp he had read the wild jealousy in her eyes, and had assumed, not unnaturally, that there had been scarcely time for anything to occur which would cause a revulsion of feeling on her part. But as the moments went by, and still she did not put in an appearance, an expression of keen disappointment showed itself on his face and, with mechanical regularity, he carried out the liquid programme, shutting his eyes after each drink for moments at a time yet, apparently, in perfect control of his mind when he opened them again; and it was in one of these moments that he heard a step outside which he correctly surmised to be that of the Sheriff.

Without a word Rance walked into the room and over to the table and helped himself to a drink from the bottle there, which action the Wells Fargo Agent rightly interpreted as meaning that the posse had failed to catch their quarry. At first a glint of satisfaction shone in Ashby's eyes: not that he disliked Rance, but rather that he resented his egotistical manner and evident desire to overawe all who came in contact with him; and it required, therefore, no little effort on his part to banish this look from his face and make up his mind not to mention the subject in any manner.

For some time, therefore, the two officers sat opposite to each other inhaling the stale odour of tobacco and spirits peculiar to this room, with little or no ventilation. It was enough to sicken anyone, but both men, accustomed to such places in the pursuit of their calling, apparently thought nothing of it, the Sheriff seemingly absorbed in contemplating the long ash at the end of his cigar, but, in reality, turning over in his mind whether he should leave the room or not. At length, he inaugurated a little contest of opinion.

"This woman isn't coming, that's certain," he declared, impatiently.

"I rather think she will; she promised not to fail me," was the other's quiet answer; and he added: "In ten minutes you'll see her."

It was a rash remark and expressive of a confidence that he by no means felt. As a matter of fact, it was induced solely by the cynical smile which he perceived on the Sheriff's face.

"You, evidently, take no account of the fact that the lady may have changed her mind," observed Rance, lighting a fresh cigar. "The Nina Micheltore?as are fully as privileged as others of their sex."

As he drained his glass Ashby gave the speaker a sharp glance; another side of Rance's character had cropped out. Moreover, Ashby's quick intuition told him that the other's failure to catch the outlaw was not troubling him nearly as much as was the blow which his conceit had probably received at the hands of the Girl. It was, therefore, in an indulgent tone that he said:

"No, Rance, not this one nor this time. You mark my words, the woman is through with Ramerrez. At least, she is so jealous that she thinks she is. She'll turn up here, never fear; she means business."

The shoulders of Mr. Jack Rance strongly suggested a shrug, but the man himself said nothing. They were anything but sympathetic companions, these two officers, and in the silence that ensued Rance formulated mentally more than one disparaging remark about the big man sitting opposite to him. It is possible, of course, that the Sheriff's rebuff by the Girl, together with the wild goose chase which he had recently taken against his better judgment, had something to do with this bitterness; but it was none the less true that he found himself wondering how Ashby had succeeded in acquiring his great reputation. Among the things that he held against him was his everlasting propensity to boast of his achievements, to say nothing of the pedestal upon which the boys insisted upon placing him. Was this Wells Fargo's most famous agent? Was this the man whose warnings were given such credence that they stirred even the largest of the gold camps into a sense of insecurity? And at this Rance indulged again in a fit of mental merriment at the other's expense.

But, although he would have denied it in toto, the truth of the matter was that the Sheriff was jealous of Ashby. Witty, generous, and a high liver, the latter was generally regarded as a man who fascinated women; moreover, he was known to be a favourite-and here the shoe pinched-with the Girl. True, the demands of his profession were such as to prevent his staying long in any camp. Nevertheless, it seemed to Rance that he contrived frequently to turn up at The Polka when the boys were at the diggings.

After Ashby's observation the conversation by mutual, if unspoken, consent, was switched into other channels. But it may be truthfully said that Rance did not wholly recover his mental equilibrium until a door was heard to open noiselessly and some whispered words in Spanish fell upon their ears.

Now the Sheriff, as well as Ashby, had the detective instinct fully developed; moreover, both men knew a few words of that language and had an extreme curiosity to hear the conversation going on between a man and a woman, who were standing just outside in a sort of hallway. As a result, therefore, both officers sprang to the door with the hope-if indeed it was Nina Micheltore?a as they surmised-that they might catch a word or two which would give them a clue to what was likely to take place at the coming interview. It came sooner than they expected.

"… Ramerrez-Five thousand dollars!" reached their ears in a soft, Spanish voice.

Ashby needed nothing more than this. In an instant, much to the Sheriff's astonishment, and moving marvellously quick for a man of his heavy build, he was out of the room, leaving Rance to face a woman with a black mantilla thrown over her head who, presently, entered by another door.

Nina Micheltore?a, for it was she, did not favour him with as much as an icy look. Nor did the Sheriff give any sign of knowing her; a wise proceeding as it turned out, for a quick turn of the head and a subtle movement of the woman's shoulders told him that she was in anything but a quiet state of mind. One glance towards the door behind him, however, and the reason of her anger was all too plain: A Mexican was vainly struggling in the clutches of Ashby.

"Why are you dragging him in?" Far from quailing before him as did her confederate, she confronted Ashby with eyes that flashed fire. "He came with me-"

Ashby cut her short.

"We don't allow greasers in this camp and-" he began in a throaty voice.

"But he is waiting to take me back!" she objected, and then added: "I wish him to wait for me outside, and unless you allow him to I'll go at once." And with these words she made a movement towards the door.

Ashby laid one restraining hand upon her, while with the other he held on to the Mexican. Of a sudden there had dawned upon him the conviction that for once in his life he had made a grievous mistake. He had thought, by the detention of her confederate, to have two strings to his bow, but one glance at the sneeringly censorious expression on the Sheriff's face convinced him that no information would be forthcoming from the woman while in her present rebellious mood.

"All right, my lady," he said, for the time being yielding to her will, "have your way." And turning now to the Mexican, he added none too gently:

"Here you, get out!"

Whereupon the Mexican slunk out of the room.

"There's no use of your getting into a rage," went on Ashby, turning to the woman in a slightly conciliatory manner. "I calculated that the greaser would be in on the job, too."

All through this scene Rance had been sitting back in his chair

chewing his cigar in contemptuous silence, while his face wore a look of languid insolence, a fact which, apparently, did not disturb the woman in the least, for she ignored him completely.

"It was well for you, Se?or Ashby, that you let him go. I tell you frankly that in another moment I should have gone." And now throwing back her mantilla she took out a cigarette from a dainty, little case and lit it and coolly blew a cloud of smoke in Rance's face, saying: "It depends on how you treat me-you, Mr. Jack Rance, as well as Se?or Ashby-whether we come to terms or not. Perhaps I had better go away anyway," she concluded with a shrug of admirably simulated indifference.

This time Ashby sat perfectly still. It was not difficult to perceive that her anger was decreasing with every word that she uttered; nor did he fail to note how fluently she spoke English, a slight Spanish accent giving added charm to her wonderfully soft and musical voice. How gloriously beautiful, he told himself, she looked as she stood there, voluptuous, compelling, alluring, the expression that had been almost diabolical, gradually fading from her face. Was it possible, he asked himself, that all this loveliness was soiled forever? He felt that there was something pitiful in the fact that the woman standing before him represented negotiable property which could be purchased by any passer-by who had a few more nuggets in his possession than his neighbour; and, perhaps, because of his knowledge of the piteous history of this former belle of Monterey he put a little more consideration into the voice that said:

"All right, Nina, we'll get down to business. What have you to say to us?"

By this time Nina's passionate anger had burned itself out. In anticipation, perhaps, of what she was about to do, she looked straight ahead of her into space. It was not because she was assailed by some transient emotion to forswear her treacherous desire for vengeance; she had no illusion of that kind. Too vividly she recalled the road agent's indifferent manner at their last interview for any feeling to dwell in her heart other than hatred. It was that she was summoning to appear a vision scarcely less attractive, however pregnant with tragedy, than that of seeing herself avenged: a gay, extravagant career in Mexico or Spain which the reward would procure for her. That was what she was seeing, and with a pious wish for its confirmation she began to make herself a fresh cigarette, rolling it dexterously with her white, delicate fingers, and not until her task was accomplished and her full, red lips were sending forth tiny clouds of smoke did she announce:

"Ramerrez was in Cloudy Mountain to-night."

But however much of a surprise this assertion was to both men, neither gave vent to an exclamation. Instead Rance regarded his elegantly booted feet; Ashby looked hard at the woman as if he would read the truth in her eyes; while as for Nina, she continued to puff away at her little cigarette after the manner of one that has appealed not in vain to the magic power which can paint out the past and fill the blank with the most beautiful of dreams.

The Wells Fargo man was the first to make any comment; he asked:

"You know this?" And then as she surveyed them through a scented cloud and bowed her head, he added: "How do you know it?"

"That I shall not tell you," replied the woman, firmly.

Ashby made an impatient movement towards her with the question:

"Where was he?"

"Oh, come, Ashby!" put in Rance, speaking for the first time. "She's putting up a game on us."

In a flash Nina wheeled around and with eyes that blazed advanced to the table where the Sheriff was sitting. Indeed, there was something so tigerish about the woman that the Sheriff, in alarm, quickly pushed back his chair.

"I am not lying, Jack Rance." There was an evil glitter in her eye as she watched a sarcastic smile playing around his lips. "Oh, yes, I know you-you are the Sheriff," and so saying a peal of contemptuous merriment burst from her, "and Ramerrez was in the camp not less than two hours ago."

Ashby could hardly restrain his excitement.

"And you saw him?" came from him.

"Yes," was her answer.

Both men sprang to their feet; it was impossible to doubt any longer that she spoke the truth.

"What's his game?" demanded Rance.

The woman answered his question with a question.

"How about the reward, Se?or Ashby?"

"You needn't worry about that-I'll see that you get what's coming to you," replied the Wells Fargo Agent already getting into his coat.

"But how are we to know?" inquired Rance, likewise getting ready to leave. "Is he an American or a Mexican?"

"To-night he's an American, that is, he's dressed and looks like one. But the reward-you swear you're playing fair?"

"On my honour," Ashby assured her.

The woman's face stood clear-cruelly clear in the light of the kerosene lamp above her head. About her mouth and eyes there was a repellent expression. Her mind, still working vividly, was reviewing the past; and a bitter memory prompted the words which were said however with a smile that was still seductive:

"Try to recall, Se?or Ashby, what strangers were in The Polka to-night?"

At these ominous words the men started and regarded each other questioningly. Their keen and trained intelligences were greatly distressed at being so utterly in the dark. For an instant, it is true, the thought of the greaser that Ashby had brought in rose uppermost in their minds, but only to be dismissed quickly when they recalled the woman's words concerning the way that the road agent was dressed. A moment more, however, and a strange thought had fastened itself on one of their active minds-a thought which, although persisting in forcing itself upon the Sheriff's consideration, was in the end rejected as wholly improbable. But who was it then? In his intensity Rance let his cigar go out.

"Ah!" at last he cried. "Johnson, by the eternal!"

"Johnson?" echoed Ashby, wholly at sea and surprised at the look of corroboration in Nina's eyes.

"Yes, Johnson," went on Rance, insistently. Why had he not seen at once that it was Johnson who was the road agent! There could be no mistake! "You weren't there," he explained hurriedly, "when he came in and began flirting with the Girl and-"

"Ramerrez making love to the Girl?" broke in Ashby. "Ye Gods!"

"The Girl? So that's the woman he's after now!" Nina laughed bitterly. "Well, she's not destined to have him for long, I can tell you!" And with that she reached out for the bottle on the table and poured herself a small glass of whisky and swallowed it. When she turned her lips were tightly shut over her brilliant teeth, a thousand thoughts came rushing into her brain. There was no longer any compunction-she would strike now and deep. Through her efforts alone the man would be captured, and she gloried in the thought.

"Here-here is something that will interest you!" she said; and putting her hand in her bosom drew out a soiled, faded photograph. "There-that will settle him for good and all! Never again will he boast of trifling with Nina Micheltore?a-with me, a Micheltore?a in whose veins runs the best and proudest blood of California!"

Ashby fairly snatched the photograph out of her hand and, after one look at it, passed it over to the Sheriff.

"Good of him, isn't it?" sneered Nina; and then seemingly trying by her very vehemence to impress upon herself the impossibility of his ever being anything but an episode in her life, she added: "I hate him!"

The picture was indeed an excellent one. It represented Ramerrez in the gorgeous dress of a caballero-and the outlaw was a fine specimen of that spectacular class of men. But Rance studied the photograph only long enough to be sure that no mistake was possible. With a quick movement he put it away in his pocket and looked long and hard at the figure of the degraded woman standing before him and revelling in her treachery. In that time he forgot that anyone had ever entertained a kind thought about her; he forgot that she once was respected as well as admired; he was conscious only of regarding her with a far deeper disgust and repugnance than he held towards others much her inferior in birth and education. But, presently, his face grew a shade whiter, if that were possible, and he cursed himself for not having thought of the danger to which the Girl might even now be exposed. In less than a minute, therefore, both men stood ready for the work before them. But on the threshold just before going out into the fierce storm that had burst during the last few minutes, he paused and called back:

"You Mexican devil! If any harm comes to the Girl, I'll strangle you with my own hands!" And not waiting to hear the woman's mocking laughter he passed out, followed by Ashby, into the storm.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top