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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 17509

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In the still black night and with no guide other than the dimly-lighted lantern which she carried, the Girl had started for home-a bit of shelter in the middle of a great silence, a little fortress in the wilderness, as it were, with its barred doors and windows-on the top of Cloudy Mountain. To be sure, it was not the first time that she had followed the trail alone: Day and night, night and day, for as long, almost, as she could remember, she had been doing it; indeed, she had watched the alders, oaks and dwarf pines, that bordered the trail, grow year by year as she herself had grown, until now the whispering of the mountain's night winds spoke a language as familiar as her own; but never before had she climbed up into the clean, wide, free sweep of this unbounded horizon, the very air untainted and limitless as the sky itself, with so keen and uncloying a pleasure. But there was a new significance attached to her home-coming to-night: was she not to entertain there her first real visitor?

At the threshold of her cabin the Girl, her cheeks aglow and eyes as bright, almost, as the red cape that enveloped her lithe, girlish figure, paused, and swinging her lantern high above her head so that its light was reflected in the room, she endeavoured to imagine what would be the impression that a stranger would receive coming suddenly upon these surroundings.

And well might she have paused, for no eye ever rested upon a more conglomerate ensemble! Yet, withal, there was a certain attractiveness about this log-built, low, square room, half-papered with gaudy paper-the supply, evidently, having fallen short,-that was as unexpected as it was unusual.

Upon the floor, which had a covering of corn sacks, were many beautiful bear and wolf skins, Indian rugs and Navajo blankets; while overhead-screening some old trunks and boxes neatly piled up high in the loft, which was reached by a ladder, generally swung out of the way-hung a faded, woollen blanket; from the opposite corner there fell an old, patchwork, silk quilt. Dainty white curtains in all their crispness were at the windows, and upon the walls were many rare and weird trophies of the chase, not to mention the innumerable pictures that had been taken from "Godey's Lady Book" and other periodicals of that time. A little book-shelf, that had been fashioned out of a box, was filled with old and well-read books; while the mantel that guarded the fireplace was ornamented with various small articles, conspicuous among which were a clock that beat loud, automatic time with a brassy resonance, a china dog and cat of most gaudy colours, a whisky bottle and two tumblers, and some winter berries in a jar.

There were two pieces of furniture in the room, however, which were placed with an eye to attract attention, and these the Girl prized most highly: one was a homemade rocking-chair that had been made out of a barrel and had been dyed, unsuccessfully, with indigo blue, and had across its back a knitted tidy with a large, upstanding, satin bow; the other was a homemade, pine wardrobe that had been rudely decorated by one of the boys of the camp and in which the Girl kept her dresses, and was piled up high towards the ceiling with souvenirs of her trip to Monterey, including the hat-boxes and wicker basket that had come well nigh to loading down the stage on that memorable journey.

But it was upon her bed and bedroom fixings that the greatest attempt at decoration had been made; partitioning off the room, as it were, and at the same time forming a canopy about the bed, were curtains of cheap, gaudy material, through the partings of which there was to be had a glimpse of a daintily-made-up bed, whose pillows were made conspicuous by the hand-made lace that trimmed their slips, as was the bureau-cover, and upon which, in charming disarray, were various articles generally included in a woman's toilet, not to mention the numberless strings of coloured beads and other bits of feminine adornment. A table standing in the centre of the room was covered with a small, white cloth, while falling in folds from beneath this was a faded, red cotton cover. The table was laid for one, the charlotte "rusks" and "lemming" turn-over-each on a separate plate-which Nick had been commissioned to procure, earlier in the evening, from the Palmetto restaurant, looming up prominently in the centre; and on another plate were some chipped beef and biscuits. A large lamp was suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the room and was quaintly, if not grotesquely, shaded; while other lamps flanked by composition metal reflectors concentrated light upon the Girl's bureau, the book-shelf and mantel, leaving the remainder of the room in variant shadow.

All in all, what with the fire that was burning cheerily in the grate and the strong odour of steaming coffee, the room had a soft glow and home-like air that was most inviting.

In that brief moment that the Girl stood in the doorway reviewing her possessions, a multitude of expressions drifted across her countenance, a multitude of possibilities thrilled within her bosom. But however much she would have liked to analyse these strange feelings, she resisted the inclination and gave all her attention to the amusing scene that was being enacted before her eyes.

For some time Billy Jackrabbit had been standing by the table looking greedily down upon the charlotte russes there. He was on the point of putting his finger through the centre of one of them when Wowkle-the Indian woman-of-all-work of the cabin, who sat upon the floor before the fire singing a lullaby to the papoose strapped to its cradle on her back-turning suddenly her gaze in his direction, was just in time to prevent him.

"Charlotte rusk-Palmetto rest'rant-not take," were her warning words.

Jackrabbit drew himself up quickly, but he was furious at interference from a source where it was wholly unexpected.

"Hm-me honest," he growled fiercely, flashing her a malignant look.

"Huh?" was Wowkle's monosyllabic observation delivered in a guttural tone.

All of a sudden, Jackrabbit's gaze was arrested by a piece of paper which lay upon the floor and in which had been wrapped the charlotte russes; he went over to it quickly, picked it up, opened it and proceeded to collect on his finger the cream that had adhered to it.

"Huh!" he growled delightedly, holding up his finger for Wowkle's inspection. The next instant, however, he slumped down beside her upon the floor, where both the man and the woman sat in silence gazing into the fire. The man was the first to speak.

"Send me up-Polka. Say, p'haps me marry you-huh?" he said, coming to the point bluntly.

Wowkle's eyes were glued to the fire; she answered dully:

"Me don't know."

There was a silence, and then:

"Me don't know," observed Jackrabbit thoughtfully. A moment later, however, he added: "Me marry you-how much me get give fatha-huh?"

Wowkle raised her narrowing eyes to his and told him with absolute indifference:

"Huh-me don't know."

Jackrabbit's face darkened. He pondered for a long time.

"Me don't know-" suddenly he began and then stopped. They had been silent for some moments, when at last he ventured: "Me give fatha four dolla"-and here he indicated the number with his two hands, the finger with the cream locking those of the other hand-"and one blanket."

Wowkle's eyes dilated.

"Better keep blanket-baby cold," was her ambiguous answer.

Whereupon Jackrabbit emitted a low growl. Presently he handed her his pipe, and while she puffed steadily away he fondled caressingly the string of beads which she wore around her neck.

"You sing for get those?" he asked.

"Me sing," she replied dully, beginning almost instantly in soft, nasal tones:

"My days are as um grass"-

Jackrabbit's face cleared.

"Huh!" he growled in rejoicement.

Immediately Wowkle edged up close to him and together they continued in chorus:

"Or as um faded flo'r,

Um wintry winds sweep o'er um plain,

We pe'ish in um ho'r."

"But Gar," said the man when the song was ended, at the same time taking his pipe away from her, "to-morrow we go missionary-sing like hell-get whisky."

But as Wowkle made no answer, once more a silence fell upon them.

"We pe'ish in um ho'r," suddenly repeated Jackrabbit, half-singing, half-speaking the words, and rising quickly started for the door. At the table, however, he halted and inquired: "All right-go missionary to-morrow-get marry-huh?"

Wowkle hesitated, then rose, and finally started slowly towards him. Half-way over she stopped and reminded him in a most apathetic manner:

"P'haps me not stay marry to you for long."

"Huh-seven m

onse?" queried Jackrabbit in the same tone.

"Six monse," came laconically from the woman.

In nowise disconcerted by her answer, the Indian now asked:

"You come soon?"

Wowkle thought a moment; then suddenly edging up close to him she promised to come to him after the Girl had had her supper.

"Huh!" fairly roared the Indian, his coal-black eyes glowing as he looked at her.

It was at this juncture that the Girl, after hanging up her lantern on a peg on the outer door, broke in unexpectedly upon the strange pair of lovers.

Dumbfounded, the woman and the man stood gaping at her. Wowkle was the first to regain her composure, and bending over the table she turned up the light.

"Hello, Billy Jackrabbit!" greeted the Girl, breezily. "Fixed it?"

"Me fix," he grunted.

"That's good! Now git!" ordered the Girl in the same happy tone that had characterised her greeting.

Slowly, stealthily, Jackrabbit left the cabin, the two women, though for different reasons, watching him go until the door had closed behind him.

"Now, Wowkle," said the Girl, turning to her with a smile, "it's for two to-night."

Wowkle's eyelashes twinkled up inquisitorially.

"Huh?"

"Yep."

Wowkle's eyes narrowed to pin-points.

"Come anotha? Never before come anotha," was her significant comment.

"Never you mind." The Girl voiced the reprimand without the twitching of an eyelid; and then as she hung up her cape upon the wardrobe, she added: "Pick up the room, Wowkle!"

The big-hipped, full-bosomed woman did not move but stood in all her stolidness gazing at her mistress like one in a dream; whereupon the Girl, exasperated beyond measure at the other's placidity, rushed over to her and shook her so violently that she finally awakened to the importance of her mistress' request.

"He's comin' now, now; he's comin'!" the Girl was saying, when suddenly her eyes were attracted to a pair of stockings hanging upon the wall; quickly she released her hold on the woman and with a hop, skip and a jump they were down and hid away in her bureau drawer.

"My roses-what did you do with them, Wowkle?" she asked a trifle impatiently as she fumbled in the drawer.

"Ugh!" grunted Wowkle, and pointed to a corner of the bureau top.

"Good!" cried the Girl, delightedly, as she spied them. The next instant she was busily engaged in arranging them in her hair, pausing only to take a pistol out of her pocket, which she laid on the edge of the bureau. "No offence, Wowkle," she went on thoughtfully, a moment later, "but I want you to put your best foot forward when you're waitin' on table to-night. This here company o' mine's a man o' idees. Oh, he knows everythin'! Sort of a damme style."

Wowkle gave no sign of having heard her mistress' words, but kept right on tidying the room. Now she went over to the cupboard and took down two cups, which she placed on the fireplace base. It was while she was in the act of laying down the last one that the Girl broke in suddenly upon her thoughts with:

"Say, Wowkle, did Billy Jackrabbit really propose to you?"

"Yep-get marry," spoke up Jackrabbit's promised wife without looking up.

For some moments the Girl continued to fumble among her possessions in the bureau drawer; at last she brought forth an orange-coloured satin ribbon, which she placed in the Indian woman's hands with her prettiest smile, saying:

"Here, Wowkle, you can have that to fix up for the weddin'."

Wowkle's eyes glowed with appreciation.

"Huh!" she ejaculated, and proceeded to wind the ribbon about the beads around her neck.

Turning once more to the bureau, the Girl took out a small parcel done up in tissue paper and began to unwrap it.

"I'm goin' to put on them, if I can git 'em on," she said, displaying a pair of white satin slippers. The next instant she had plumped herself down upon the floor and was trying to encase her feet in a pair of slippers which were much too small for them. "Remember what fun I made o' you when you took up with Billy Jackrabbit?" suddenly she asked with a happy little smile. "What for? sez I. Well, p'r'aps you was right. P'r'aps it's nice to have someone you really care for-who belongs to you. P'r'aps they ain't so much in the saloon business for a woman after all, and you don't know what livin' really is until-" She stopped abruptly and threw upon the floor the slipper that refused to give to her foot. "Oh, Wowkle," she went on, taking up the other slipper, "it's nice to have someone you can talk to, someone you can turn your heart inside out to."

At last she had succeeded in getting into one slipper and, rising, tried to stand in it; but it hurt her so frightfully that she immediately sank down upon the floor and proceeded to pat and rub and coddle her foot to ease the pain. It was while she was thus engaged that a knock came upon her cabin door.

"Oh, Lord, here he is!" she cried, panic-stricken, and began to drag herself hurriedly across the room with the intention of concealing herself behind the curtain at the foot of the bed; while Wowkle, with unusual celerity, made for the fire-place, where she stood with her back to the door, gazing into the fire.

The Girl had only gotten half-way across the room, however, when a voice assailed her ears.

"Miss, Miss, kin I-" came in low, subdued tones.

"What? The Sidney Duck?" she cried, turning and seeing his head poked through the window.

"Beg pardon, Miss; I know men ain't lowed up here nohow," humbly apologised that individual; "but, but-"

Vexed and flustered, the Girl turned upon him a trifle irritably with:

"Git! Git, I tell you!"

"But I'm in grite trouble, Miss," began The Sidney Duck, tearfully. "The boys are back-they missed that road agent Ramerrez and now they're taking it out of me. If-if you'd only speak a word for me, Miss."

"No-" began the Girl, and stopped. The next instant she ordered Wowkle to shut the window.

"Oh, don't be 'ard on me, Miss," whimpered the man.

The Girl flashed him a scornful look.

"Now, look here, Sidney Duck, there's one kind o' man I can't stand, an' that's a cheat an' a thief, an' you're it," said the Girl, laying great stress upon her words. "You're no better'n that road agent Ramerrez, an'-"

"But, Miss-" interrupted the man.

"Miss nothin'!" snapped back the Girl, tugging away at the slippers; in desperation once more she ordered:

"Wowkle, close the winder! Close the winder!"

The Sidney Duck glowered at her. He had expected her intercession on his behalf and could not understand this new attitude of hers toward him.

"Public 'ouse jide!" he retorted furiously, and slammed the window.

"Ugh!" snarled Wowkle, resentfully, her eyes full of fire.

Now at any other time, The Sidney Duck would have been made to pay dearly for his words, but either the Girl did not hear him, or if she did she was too engrossed to heed them; at any rate, the remark passed unnoticed.

"I got it on!" presently exclaimed the Girl in great joy. Nevertheless, it was not without several ouches and moans that, finally, she stood upon her feet. "Say, Wowkle, how do you think he'll like 'em? How do they look? They feel awful!" she rattled on with a pained look on her face.

But whatever would have been the Indian woman's observation on the subject of tight shoes in general and those of her mistress in particular, she was not permitted to make it, for the Girl, now hobbling over towards the bureau, went on to announce with sudden determination:

"Say, Wowkle, I'm a-goin' the whole hog! Yes, I'm a-goin' the whole hog," she repeated a moment later, as she drew forth various bits of finery from a chest of drawers, with which she proceeded to adorn herself before the mirror. Taking out first a lace shawl of bold design, she drew it over her shoulders with the grace and ease of one who makes it an everyday affair rather than an occasional undertaking; then she took from a sweet-grass basket a vividly-embroidered handkerchief and saturated it with cologne, impregnating the whole room with its strong odour; finally she brought forth a pair of long, white gloves and began to stretch them on. "Does it look like an effort, Wowkle?" she asked, trying to get her hands into them.

"Ugh!" was the Indian woman's comment at the very moment that a knock came upon the door. "Two plates," she added with a groan, and started for the cupboard.

Meanwhile the Girl continued with her primping and preening, her hands flying back and forth like an automaton from her waist-line to her stockings. Suddenly another knock, this time more vigorous, more insistent, came upon the rough boards of the cabin door, which, finally, was answered by the Girl herself.

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