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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 23286

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Hello!" sang out Johnson, genially, as he entered the Girl's cabin.

At once the Girl's audacity and spirit deserted her, and hanging her head she answered meekly, bashfully:

"Hello!"

The man's eyes swept the Girl's figure; he looked puzzled, and asked:

"Are you-you going out?"

The Girl was plainly embarrassed; she stammered in reply:

"Yes-no-I don't know-Oh, come on in!"

"Thank you," said Johnson in his best manner, and put down his lantern on the table. Turning now with a look of admiration in his eyes, at the same time trying to embrace her, he went on: "Oh, Girl, I'm so glad you let me come…"

His glance, his tone, his familiarity sent the colour flying to the Girl's cheeks; she flared up instantly, her blue eyes snapping with resentment:

"You stop where you are, Mr. Johnson."

"Ugh!" came from Wowkle, at that moment closing the door which Johnson had left ajar.

At the sound of the woman's voice Johnson wheeled round quickly. And then, to his great surprise, he saw that the Girl was not alone as he had expected to find her.

"I beg your pardon; I did not see anyone when I came in," he said in humble apology, his eyes the while upon Wowkle who, having blown out the candle and removed the lantern from the table to the floor, was directing her footsteps towards the cupboard, into which she presently disappeared, closing the door behind her. "But seeing you standing there," went on Johnson in explanation, "and looking into your lovely eyes, well, the temptation to take you in my arms was so great that I, well, I took-"

"You must be in the habit o' takin' things, Mr. Johnson," broke in the Girl. "I seen you on the road to Monterey, goin' an' comin', an' passed a few words with you; I seen you once since, but that don't give you no excuse to begin this sort o' game." The Girl's tone was one of reproach rather than of annoyance, and for the moment the young man was left with a sense of having committed an indiscretion. Silently, sheepishly, he moved away, while she quietly went over to the fire.

"Besides, you might have prospected a bit first anyway," presently she went on, watching the tips of her slender white fingers held out transparent towards the fire.

Just at that moment a log dropped, turning up its glowing underside. Wheeling round with a smile, Johnson said:

"I see how wrong I was."

And then, seeing that the Girl made no move in his direction, he asked, still smiling:

"May I take off my coat?"

The Girl remained silent, which silence he interpreted as an assent, and went on to make himself at home.

"Thank you," he said simply. "What a bully little place you have here! It's awfully snug!" he continued delightedly, as his eyes wandered about the room. "And to think that I've found you again when I-Oh, the luck of it!"

He went over to her and held out his hands, a broad, yet kindly smile lighting up his strong features, making him appear handsomer, even, than he really was, to the Girl taking in the olive-coloured skin glowing with healthful pallor.

"Friends?" he asked.

Nevertheless the girl did not give him her hand, but quickly drew it away; she answered his question with a question:

"Are you sorry?"

"No, I'm not sorry."

To this she made no reply but quietly, disappointedly returned to the fireplace, where she stood in contemplative silence, waiting for his next words.

But he did not speak; he contented himself with gazing at the tender girlishness of her, the blue-black eyes, and flesh that was so bright and pure that he knew it to be soft and firm, making him yearn for her.

Involuntarily she turned towards him, and she saw that in his face which caused her eyes to drop and her breath to come more quickly.

"That damme style just catches a woman!" she ejaculated with a little tremour in her voice.

Then her mood underwent a sudden change in marked contrast to that of the moment before. "Look here, Mr. Johnson," she said, "down at the saloon to-night you said you always got what you wanted. O' course I've got to admire you for that. I reckon women always do admire men for gettin' what they want. But if huggin' me's included, jest count it out."

For a breathing space there was a dead silence.

"That was a lovely day, Girl, on the road to Monterey, wasn't it?" of a sudden Johnson observed dreamily.

The Girl's eyes opened upon him wonderingly.

"Was it?"

"Well, wasn't it?"

The Girl thought it was and she laughed.

"Say, take a chair and set down for a while, won't you?" was her next remark, she herself taking a chair at the table.

"Thanks," he said, coming slowly towards her while his eyes wandered about the room for a chair.

"Say, look 'ere!" she shot out, scrutinising him closely; "I ben thinkin' you didn't come to the saloon to see me to-night. What brought you?"

"It was Fate," he told her, leaning over the table and looking down upon her admiringly.

She pondered his answer for a moment, then blurted out:

"You're a bluff! It may have been Fate, but I tho't you looked kind o' funny when Rance asked you if you hadn't missed the trail an' wa'n't on the road to see Nina Micheltore?a-she that lives in the greaser settlement an' has the name o' shelterin' thieves."

At the mention of thieves, Johnson paled frightfully and the knife which he had been toying with dropped to the floor.

"Was it Fate or the back trail?" again queried the Girl.

"It was Fate," calmly reiterated the man, and looked her fairly in the eye.

The cloud disappeared from the Girl's face.

"Serve the coffee, Wowkle!" she called almost instantly. And then it was that she saw that no chair had been placed at the table for him. She sprang to her feet, exclaiming: "Oh, Lordy, you ain't got no chair yet to-"

"Careful, please, careful," quickly warned Johnson, as she rounded the corner of the table upon which his guns lay.

But fear was not one of the Girl's emotions. At the display of guns that met her gaze she merely shrugged and inquired placidly:

"Oh, how many guns do you carry?"

Not unnaturally she waited for his answer before starting in quest of a chair for him; but instead Johnson quietly went over to the chair near the door where his coat lay, hung it up on the peg with his hat, and returning now with a chair, he answered:

"Oh, several when travelling through the country."

"Well, set down," said the Girl bluntly, and hurried to his side to adjust his chair. But she did not return to her place at the table; instead, she took the barrel rocker near the fireplace and began to rock nervously to and fro. In silence Johnson sat studying her, looking her through and through, as it were.

"It must be strange living all alone way up here in the mountains," he remarked, breaking the spell of silence. "Isn't it lonely?"

"Lonely? Mountains lonely?" The Girl's laugh rang out clearly. "Besides," she went on, her eyes fairly dancing with excitement, "I got a little pinto an' I'm all over the country on 'im. Finest little horse you ever saw! If I want to I can ride right down into the summer at the foothills with miles o' Injun pinks jest a-laffin' an' tiger lilies as mad as blazes. There's a river there, too-the Injuns call it a water-road-an' I can git on that an' drift an' drift an' smell the wild syringa on the banks. An if I git tired o' that I can turn my horse up-grade an' gallop right into the winter an' the lonely pines an' firs a-whisperin' an' a-sighin'. Lonely? Mountains lonely, did you say? Oh, my mountains, my beautiful peaks, my Sierras! God's in the air here, sure! You can see Him layin' peaceful hands on the mountain tops. He seems so near you want to let your soul go right on up."

Johnson was touched at the depth of meaning in her words; he nodded his head in appreciation.

"I see, when you die you won't have far to go," he quietly observed.

Minutes passed before either spoke. Then all at once the Girl rose and took the chair facing his, the table between them as at first.

"Wowkle, serve the coffee!" again she called.

Immediately, Wowkle emerged from the cupboard, took the coffee-pot from the fire and filled the cups that had been kept warm on the fireplace base, and after placing a cup beside each plate she squatted down before the fire in watchful silence.

"But when it's very cold up here, cold, and it snows?" queried Johnson, his admiration for the plucky, quaint little figure before him growing by leaps and bounds.

"Oh, the boys come up an' digs me out o' my front door like-like-" She paused, her sunny laugh rippling out at the recollection of it all, and Johnson noted the two delightful dimples in her rounded cheeks. Indeed, she had never appeared prettier to him than when displaying her two rows of perfect, dazzling teeth, which was the case every time that she laughed.

"-like a little rabbit, eh?" he supplemented, joining in the laugh.

She nodded eagerly.

"I get digged out near every day when the mine's shet down an' Academy opens," went on the Girl in the same happy strain, her big blue eyes dancing with merriment.

Johnson looked at her wonderingly; he questioned:

"Academy? Here? Why, who teaches in your Academy?"

"Me-I'm her-I'm teacher," she told him with not a little show of pride.

With difficulty Johnson suppressed a smile; nevertheless he observed soberly:

"Oh, so you're the teacher?"

"Yep-I learn m'self an' the boys at the same time," she hastened to explain, and dropped a heaping teaspoon of coarse brown sugar into his cup. "But o' course Academy's suspended when ther's a blizzard on 'cause no girl could git down the mountain then."

"Is it so very severe here when there's a blizzard on?" Johnson was saying, when there came to his ears a strange sound-the sound of the wind rising in the canyon below.

The Girl looked at him in blank astonishment-a look that might easily have been interpreted as saying, "Where do you hail from?" She answered:

"Is it…? Oh, Lordy, they come in a minute! All of a sudden you don't know where you are-it's awful!"

"Not many women-" digressed the man, glancing apprehensively towards the door, but she cut him short swiftly with the ejaculation:

"Bosh!" And picking up a plate she raised it high in the air the better to show off its contents. "Charlotte rusks an' lemming turnover!" she announced, searching his face for some sign of joy, her own face lighting up perceptibly.

"Well, this is a treat!" cried out Johnson between sips of coffee.

"Have one?"

"You bet!" he returned with unmistakable pleasure in his voice.

The Girl served him with one of each, and when he thanked her she beamed with happiness.

"Let me send you some little souvenir of to-night"-he said, a little while later, his admiring eyes settled on her hair of burnished gold which glistened when the light fell upon it-"something that you'd just love to read in your course of teaching at the Academy." He paused to search his mind for something suitable to suggest to her; at length he questioned: "Now, what have you been reading lately?"

The Girl's face broke into smiles as she answered:

"Oh, it's an awful funny book about a kepple. He was a classic an' his name was Dent."

Johnson knitted his brows and thought a moment. "He was a classic, you say, and his name was-Oh, yes, I know-Dante," he declared, with difficulty controlling the laughter that well-nigh convulsed him. "And you found Dante funny, did you?"

"Funny? I roared!" acknowledged the Girl with a frankness that was so genuine that Johnson could not help but

admire her all the more. "You see, he loved a lady-" resumed the Girl, toying idly with her spoon.

"-Beatrice," supplemented Johnson, pronouncing the name with the Italian accent which, by the way, was not lost on the Girl.

"How?" she asked quickly, with eyes wide open.

Johnson ignored the question. Anxious to hear her interpretation of the story, he requested her to continue.

"He loved a lady-" began the Girl, and broke off short. And going over to the book-shelf she took down a volume and began to finger the leaves absently. Presently she came back, and fixing her eyes upon him, she went on: "It made me think of it, what you said down to the saloon to-night about livin' so you didn't care what come after. Well, he made up his min', this Dent-Dantes-that one hour o' happiness with her was worth the whole da-" She checked the word on her tongue, and concluded: "outfit that come after. He was willin' to sell out his chances for sixty minutes with 'er. Well, I jest put the book down an' hollered." And once more she broke into a hearty laugh.

"Of course you did," agreed Johnson, joining in the laugh. "All the same," he presently added, "you knew he was right."

"I didn't!" she contradicted with spirit, and slowly went back to the book-shelf with the book.

"You did."

"Didn't!"

"You did."

"Didn't! Didn't!"

"I don't-"

"You do, you do," insisted the Girl, plumping down into the chair which she had vacated at the table.

"Do you mean to say-" Johnson got no further, for the Girl, with a na?veté that made her positively bewitching to the man before her, went on as if there had been no interruption:

"That a feller could so wind h'ms'lf up as to say, 'Jest give me one hour o' your sassiety; time ain't nothin', nothin' ain't nothin' only to be a da-darn fool over you!' Ain't it funny to feel like that?" And then, before Johnson could frame an answer:

"Yet, I s'pose there are people that love into the grave an' into death an' after." The Girl's voice lowered, stopped. Then, looking straight ahead of her, her eyes glistening, she broke out with:

"Golly, it jest lifts you right up by your bootstraps to think of it, don't it?"

Johnson was not smiling now, but sat gazing intently at her through half-veiled lids.

"It does have that effect," he answered, the wonder of it all creeping into his voice.

"Yet, p'r'aps he was ahead o' the game. P'r'aps-" She did not finish the sentence, but broke out with fresh enthusiasm: "Oh, say, I jest love this conversation with you! I love to hear you talk! You give me idees!"

Johnson's heart was too full for utterance; he could only think of his own happiness. The next instant the Girl called to Wowkle to bring the candle, while she, still eager and animated, her eyes bright, her lips curving in a smile, took up a cigar and handed it to him, saying:

"One o' your real Havanas!"

"But I"-began Johnson, protestingly.

Nevertheless the Girl lit a match for him from the candle which Wowkle held up to her, and, while the latter returned the candle to the mantel, Johnson lighted his cigar from the burning match between her fingers.

"Oh, Girl, how I'd love to know you!" he suddenly cried with the fire of love in his eyes.

"But you do know me," was her answer, as she watched the smoke from his cigar curl upwards toward the ceiling.

"Not well enough," he sighed.

For a brief second only she was silent. Whether she read his thoughts it would be difficult to say; but there came a moment soon when she could not mistake them.

"What's your drift, anyway?" she asked, looking him full in the face.

"To know you as Dante knew the lady-'One hour for me, one hour worth the world,'" he told her, all the while watching and loving her beauty.

At the thought she trembled a little, though she answered with characteristic bluntness:

"He didn't git it, Mr. Johnson."

"All the same there are women we could die for," insisted Johnson, dreamily.

The Girl was in the act of carrying her cup to her mouth but put it down on the table. Leaning forward, she inquired somewhat sneeringly:

"Mr. Johnson, how many times have you died?" Johnson did not have to think twice before answering. With wide, truthful eyes he said:

"That day on the road to Monterey I said just that one woman for me. I wanted to kiss you then," he added, taking her hand in his. And, strange to say, she was not angry, not unwilling, but sweetly tender and modest as she let it lay there.

"But, Mr. Johnson, some men think so much o' kisses that they don't want a second kiss from the same girl," spoke up the Girl after a moment's reflection.

"Doesn't that depend on whether they love her or not? Now all loves are not alike," reasoned the man in all truthfulness.

"No, but they all have the same aim-to git 'er if they can," contended the Girl, gently withdrawing her hand.

Silence filled the room.

"Ah, I see you don't know what love is," at length sighed Johnson, watching the colour come and go from her face.

The Girl hesitated, then answered in a confused, uneven voice:

"Nope. Mother used to say, 'It's a tickling sensation at the heart that you can't scratch,' an' we'll let it go at that."

"Oh, Girl, you're bully!" laughed the man, rising, and making an attempt to embrace her. But all of a sudden he stopped and stood with a bewildered look upon his face: a fierce gale was sweeping the mountain. It filtered in through the crevices of the walls and doors; the lights flickered; the curtains swayed; and the cabin itself rocked uncertainly until it seemed as if it would be uprooted. It was all over in a minute. In fact, the wind had died away almost simultaneously with the Girl's loud cry of "Wowkle, hist the winder!"

It is not to be wondered at, however, that Johnson looked apprehensively about him with every fresh impulse of the gale. The Girl's description of the storms on the mountain was fresh in his mind, and there was also good and sufficient reason why he should not be caught in a blizzard on the top of Cloudy Mountain! Nevertheless, as before, the calm look which he saw on the Girl's face reassured him. Advancing once more towards her, he stretched out his arms as if to gather her in them.

"Look out, you'll muss my roses!" she cried, waving him back and dodging Wowkle who, having cleared the table, was now making her last trip to the cupboard.

"Well, hadn't you better take them off then?" suggested Johnson, still following her up.

"Give a man an inch an' he'll be at Sank Hosey before you know it!" she flung at him over her shoulder, and made straightway for the bureau.

But although Johnson desisted, he kept his eyes upon her as she took the roses from her hair, losing none of the picture that she made with the light beating and playing upon her glimmering eyes, her rosy cheeks and her parted lips.

"Is there-is there anyone else?" he inquired falteringly, half-fearful lest there was.

"A man always says, 'who was the first one?' but the girl says, 'who'll be the next one?'" she returned, as she carefully laid the roses in her bureau drawer.

"But the time comes when there never will be a next one."

"No?"

"No."

"I'd hate to stake my pile on that," observed the Girl, drily. She blew up each glove as it came off and likewise carefully laid them away in the bureau drawer.

By this time Wowkle's soft tread had ceased, her duties for the night were over, and she stood at the table waiting to be dismissed.

"Wowkle, git to your wigwam!" suddenly ordered her mistress, watching her until she disappeared into the cupboard; but she did not see the Indian woman's lips draw back in a half-grin as she closed the door behind her.

"Oh, you're sending her away! Must I go, too?" asked Johnson, dismally.

"No-not jest yet; you can stay a-a hour or two longer," the Girl informed him with a smile; and turning once more to the bureau she busied herself there for a few minutes longer.

Johnson's joy knew no bounds; he burst out delightedly:

"Why, I'm like Dante! I want the world in that hour, because, you see, I'm afraid the door of this little paradise might be shut to me after-Let's say this is my one hour-the hour that gave me-that kiss I want."

"Go long! You go to grass!" returned the Girl with a nervous little laugh.

Johnson made one more effort and won out; that is, he succeeded, at last, in getting her in his grasp.

"Listen," said the determined lover, pleading for a kiss as he would have pleaded for his very life.

It was at this juncture that Wowkle, silently, stealthily, emerged from the cupboard and made her way over to the door. Her feet were heavily moccasined and she was blanketed in a stout blanket of gay colouring.

"Ugh-some snow!" she muttered, as a gust of wind beat against her face and drove great snow-flakes into the room, fairly taking her breath away. But her words fell on deaf ears. For, oblivious to the storm that was now raging outside, the youthful pair of lovers continued to concentrate their thoughts upon the storm that was raging within their own breasts, the Girl keeping up the struggle with herself, while the man urged her on as only he knew how.

"Why, if I let you take one you'd take two," denied the Girl, half-yielding by her very words, if she but knew it.

"No, I wouldn't-I swear I wouldn't," promised the man with great earnestness.

"Ugh-very bad!" was the Indian woman's muffled ejaculation as she peered out into the night. But she had promised her lover to come to him when supper was over, and she would not break faith with him even if it were at the peril of her life. The next moment she went out, as did the red light in the Girl's lantern hanging on a peg of the outer door.

"Oh, please, please," said the Girl, half-protestingly, half-willingly.

But the man was no longer to be denied; he kept on urging:

"One kiss, only one."

Here was an appeal which could no longer be resisted, and though half-frightened by the tone of his voice and the look in his eye, the Girl let herself be taken into his arms as she murmured:

"'Tain't no use, I lay down my hands to you."

And so it was that, unconscious of the great havoc that was being wrought by the storm, unconscious of the danger that momentarily threatened their lives, they remained locked in each other's arms. The Girl made no attempt to silence him now or withdraw her hands from his. Why should she? Had he not come to Cloudy Mountain to woo her? Was she not awaiting his coming? To her it seemed but natural that the conventions should be as nothing in the face of love. His voice, low and musical, charged with passion, thrilled through her.

"I love you," said the man, with a note of possession that frightened her while it filled her with strange, sweet joy. For months she had dreamed of him and loved him; no wonder that she looked upon him as her hero and yielded herself entirely to her fate.

She lifted her eyes and he saw the love in them. She freed her hands from his grasp, and then gave them back to him in a little gesture of surrender.

"Yes, you're mine, an' I'm yours," she said with trembling lips.

"I have lived but for this from the moment that I first saw you," he told her, softly.

"Me, too-seein' that I've prayed for it day an' night," she acknowledged, her eyes seeking his.

"Our destinies have brought us together; whatever happens now I am content," he said, pressing his lips once more to hers. A little while later he added: "My darkest hour will be lightened by the memory of you, to-night."

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