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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 18069

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The clock, striking the hour of two, filled in a lull that might otherwise have seemed to require conversation. For some minutes, Johnson, raised to a higher level of exaltation, even, than was the Girl, had been secretly rejoicing in the Fate that had brought them together.

"It's wonderful that I should have found her at last and won her love," he soliloquised. "We must be Fortune's children-she and I."

The minutes ticked away and still they were silent. Then, of a sudden, with infinite tenderness in his voice, Johnson asked:

"What is your name, Girl-your real name?"

"Min-Minnie; my father's name was Smith," she told him, her eyes cast down under delicately tremulous lids.

"Oh, Minnie Sm-"

"But 'twa'n't his right name," quickly corrected the Girl, and unconsciously both rose to their feet. "His right name was Falconer."

"Minnie Falconer-well, that is a pretty name," commented Johnson; and raising her hand to his lips he pressed them against it.

"I ain't sure that's what he said it was-I ain't sure o' anythin' only jest you," she said coyly, burying her face in his neck.

"You may well be sure of me since I've loved-" Johnson's sentence was cut short, a wave of remorse sweeping over him. "Turn your head away, Girl, and don't listen to me," he went on, gently putting her away from him. "I'm not worthy of you. Don't listen but just say no, no, no, no."

The Girl, puzzled, was even more so when Johnson began to pace the floor.

"Oh, I know-I ain't good enough for you !" she cried with a little tremour in her voice. "But I'll try hard, hard… If you see anythin' better in me, why don't you bring it out, 'cause I've loved you ever since I saw you first, 'cause I knowed that you-that you were the right man."

"The right man," repeated Johnson, dismally, for his conscience was beginning to smite him hard.

"Don't laugh!"

"I'm not laughing," as indeed he was not.

"O' course every girl kind o' looks ahead," went on the Girl in explanation.

"Yes, I suppose," he observed seriously.

"An' figgers about bein'-well, Oh, you know-about bein' settled. An' when the right man comes, why, she knows 'im, you bet! Jest as we both knowed each other standin' on the road to Monterey. I said that day, he's good, he's gran' an' he can have me."

"I could have you," murmured Johnson, meditatively.

The Girl nodded eagerly.

There was a long silence in which Johnson was trying to make up his mind to tear himself away from her,-the one woman whom he loved in the world,-for it had been slowly borne in upon him that he was not a fit mate for this pure young girl. Nor was his unhappiness lessened when he recalled how she had struggled against yielding to him. At last, difficult though it was, he took his courage in both hands, and said:

"Girl, I have looked into your heart and my own and now I realise what this means for us both-for you, Girl-and knowing that, it seems hard to say good-bye as I should, must and will…"

At those clear words spoken by lips which failed so utterly to hide his misery, the Girl's face turned pale.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

Johnson coloured, hesitated, and finally with a swift glance at the clock, he briefly explained:

"I mean it's hard to go and leave you here. The clock reminded me that long before this I should have been on my way. I shouldn't have come up here at all. God bless you, dear," and here their eyes came together and seemed unable to part,-"I love you as I never thought I could…"

But at Johnson's queer look she hastened to inquire:

"But it ain't for long you're goin'?"

For long! Then she had not understood that he meant to go for all time. How tell her the truth? While he pondered over the situation there came to him with great suddenness the thought that, perhaps, after all, Life never intended that she should be given to him only to be taken away almost as suddenly; and seized with a desire to hold on to her at any cost, he sprang forward as if to take her in his arms, but before he reached her, he stopped short.

"Such happiness is not for me," he muttered under his breath; and then aloud he added: "No, no, I've got to go now while I have the courage, I mean." He broke off as suddenly as he had begun, and taking her face in his hands he kissed her good-bye.

Now, accustomed as was the Girl to the strange comings and goings of the men at the camp, it did not occur to her to question him further when he told her that he should have been away before now. Moreover, she trusted and loved him. And so it was without the slightest feeling of misgiving that she watched her lover quickly take down his coat and hat from the peg on the wall and start for the door. On the other hand, it must have required not a little courage on the man's part to have torn himself away from this lovely, if unconventional, creature, just as he was beginning to love truly and appreciate her. But, then, Johnson was a man of no mean determination!

Not daring to trust himself to words, Johnson paused to look back over his shoulder at the Girl before plunging forth into the night. But on opening the door all the multitudinous wild noises of the forests reached his ears: Sounds of whispering and rocking storm-tossed pines, sounds of the wind making the rounds of the deep canyon below them, sounds that would have made the blood run cold of a man more daring, even, than himself. Like one petrified he stood blinded, almost, by the great drifts of snow that were being driven into the room, while the cabin rocked and shook and the roof cracked and snapped, the lights flickered, smoked, or sent their tongues of fire upward towards the ceiling, the curtains swayed like pendants in the air, and while baskets, boxes, and other small furnishings of the cabin were blown in every direction.

But it was the Girl's quick presence of mind that saved them from being buried, literally, under the snow. In an instant she had rushed past him and closed both the outer and inner doors of the cabin; then, going over to the window, she tried to look through the heavily frosted panes; but the falling of the sleet and snow, striking the window like fine shot, made it impossible for her to see more than a few inches away.

"Why, it's the first time I knew that it-" She cut her sentence short and ended with: "That's the way we git it up here! Look! Look!"

Whereupon, Johnson went over to the window and put his face close to hers on the frosted panes; a great sea of white snow met his gaze!

"This means-" he said, turning away from the window and meeting her glance-"surely it doesn't mean that I can't leave Cloudy to-night?"

"It means you can't get off the mountain to-night," calmly answered the Girl.

"Good Lord!" fell from the man's lips.

"You can't leave this room to-night," went on the Girl, decidedly. "Why, you couldn't find your way three feet from this door-you a stranger! You don't know the trail anyway unless you can see it."

"But I can't stay here?" incredulously.

"Why not? Why, that's all right! The boys'll come up an' dig us out to-morrow or day after. There's plenty o' wood an' you can have my bed." And with no more ado than that, the Girl went over to the bed to remove the covers and make it ready for his occupancy.

"I wouldn't think of taking that," protested the man, stoutly, while his face clouded over.

The Girl felt a thrill at the note of regard in his voice and hastened to explain:

"I never use it cold nights; I always roll up in my rug in front of the fire." All of a sudden she broke out into a merry little laugh. "Jest think of it stormin' all this time an' we didn't know it!"

But Johnson was not in a laughing mood. Indeed, he looked very grave and serious when presently he said:

"But people coming up here and finding me might-"

The Girl looked up at him in blank amazement.

"Might what?" And then, while she waited for his answer, two shots in close succession rang out in the night with great distinctness.

There was no mistaking the nearness of the sound. Instantly scenting trouble and alert at the possibility of danger, Johnson inquired:

"What's that? What's that?"

"Wait! Wait!" came back from the Girl, unconsciously in the same tone, while she strained her ears for other sounds. She did not have long to wait, however, before other shots followed, the last ones coming from further away, so it seemed, and at greater intervals.

"They've got a road agent-it's the posse-p'r'aps they've got Ramerrez or one o' his band!" suddenly declared the Girl, at the same time rushing over to the window for some verification of her words. But, as before, the wind was beating with great force against the frosted panes, and only a vast stretch of snow met her gaze. Turning away from the window she now came towards him with: "You see, whoever it is, they're snowed in-they can't get away."

Johnson knitted his brows and muttered something under his breath which the Girl did

not catch.

Again a shot was fired.

"Another thief crep' into camp," coldly observed the Girl almost simultaneously with the report.

Johnson winced.

"Poor devil!" he muttered. "But of course, as you say, he's only a thief."

In reply to which the Girl uttered words to the effect that she was glad he had been caught.

"Well, you're right," said Johnson, thoughtfully, after a short silence; then determinedly and in short jerky sentences, he went on: "I've been thinking that I must go-tear myself away. I have very important business at dawn-imperative business…"

The Girl, who now stood by the table folding up the white cloth cover, watched him out of the corner of her eye, take down his coat from the peg on the wall.

"Ever sample one o' our mountain blizzards?" she asked as he slipped on his coat. "In five minutes you wouldn't know where you was. Your important business would land you at the bottom of a canyon 'bout twenty feet from here."

Johnson cleared his throat as if to speak but said nothing; whereupon the Girl continued:

"You say you believe in Fate. Well, Fate has caught up with you-you got to stay here."

Johnson was strangely silent. He was wondering how his coming there to-night had really come about. But he could find no solution to the problem unless it was in response to that perverse instinct which prompts us all at times to do the very thing which in our hearts we know to be wrong. The Girl, meanwhile, after a final creasing of the neatly-folded cover, started for the cupboard, stopping on the way to pick up various articles which the wind had strewn about the room. Flinging them quickly into the cupboard she now went over to the window and once more attempted to peer out into the night. But as before, it was of no avail. With a shrug she straightened the curtains at the windows and started for the door. Her action seemed to quicken his decision, for, presently, with a gesture of resignation, he threw down his hat and coat on the table and said as if speaking to himself:

"Well, it is Fate-my Fate that has always made the thing I shouldn't do so easy." And then, turning to the Girl, he added: "Come, Girl, as you say, if I can't go, I can't. But I know as I stand here that I'll never give you up."

The Girl looked puzzled.

"Why, what do you mean?"

"I mean," began Johnson, pacing the floor slowly. Now he stopped by a chair and pointed as though to the falling snow. "Suppose we say that's an omen-that the old trail is blotted out and there is a fresh road. Would you take it with me a stranger, who says: From this day I mean to be all you'd have me. Would you take it with me far away from here and forever?"

It did not take the Girl long to frame an answer. Taking Johnson's hand she said with great feeling:

"Well, show me the girl that would want to go to Heaven alone! I'll sell out the saloon-I'll go anywhere with you, you bet!"

Johnson bent low over her hand and kissed it. The Girl's straightforward answer had filled his heart to overflowing with joy.

"You know what that means, don't you?" a moment later he asked.

Sudden joy leapt to her blue eyes.

"Oh, yes," she told him with a world of understanding in her voice. There was a silence; then she went on reminiscently: "There's a little Spanish Mission church-I pass it 'most every day. I can look in an' see the light burnin' before the Virgin an' see the saints standin' round with glassy eyes an' faded satin slippers. An' I often tho't what they'd think if I was to walk right in to be made-well, some man's wife. It makes your blood like pin-points thinkin' about it. There's somethin' kind o' holy about love, ain't they?"

Johnson nodded. He had never regarded love in that light before, much less known it. For many moments he stood motionless, a new problem of right and wrong throbbing in his bosom.

At last, it being settled that Johnson was to pass the night in the Girl's cabin, she went over to the bed and, once more, began to make it ready for his occupancy. Meanwhile, Johnson, seated in the barrel rocker before the fire, watched her with a new interest. The Girl had not gone very far with her duties, however, when she suddenly came over to him, plumping herself down on the floor at his feet.

"Say, did you ever ask any other woman to marry you?" she asked as she leaned far back in his arms.

"No," was the man's truthful answer.

"Oh, how glad I am! Take me-ah, take me I don't care where as long as it is with you!" cried the Girl in an ecstasy of delight.

"So help me, God, I'm going to…!" promised Johnson, his voice strained, tense. "You're worth something better than me, Girl," he added, a moment later, "but they say love works miracles every hour, that it weakens the strong and strengthens the weak. With all my soul I love you, with all my soul I-" The man let his voice die out, leaving his sentence unfinished. Suddenly he called: "Why, Min-Minnie!"

"I wasn't really asleep," spoke up the Girl, blinking sleepily. "I'm jest so happy an' let down, that's all." The next moment, however, she was forced to acknowledge that she was awfully sleepy and would have to say good-night.

"All right," said Johnson, rising, and kissed her good-night.

"That's your bed over there," she told him, pointing in the direction of the curtains.

"But hadn't you better take the bed and let me sleep over here?"

"Not much!"

"You're sure you would be more comfortable by the fire-sure, now?"

"Yes, you bet!"

And so it was that Johnson decided to pass the night in the Girl's canopied bed while she herself, rolled up in a blanket rug before the fire, slept on the floor.

"This beats a bed any time," remarked the Girl, spreading out the rug smoothly; and then, reaching up for the old patchwork, silk quilt that hung from the loft, she added: "There's one thing-you don't have to make it up in the mornin'."

"You're splendid, Girl!" laughed Johnson. Presently, he saw her quietly closet herself in the cupboard, only to emerge a few minutes later dressed for the night. Over her white cambric gown with its coarse lace trimming showing at the throat, she wore a red woollen blanket robe held in at the waist by a heavy, twisted, red cord which, to the man who got a glimpse of her as she crossed the room, made her prettier, even, than she had seemed at any time yet.

Quietly, now, the Girl began to put her house in order. All the lights, save the quaintly-shaded lamp that was suspended over the table, were extinguished; that one, after many unsuccessful attempts, was turned down so as to give the right minimum of light which would not interfere with her lover's sleep. Then she went over to the door to make sure that it was bolted. Outside the wind howled and shrieked and moaned; but inside the cabin it had never seemed more cosey and secure and peaceful to her.

"Now you can talk to me from your bunk an' I'll talk to you from mine," she said in a sleepy, lazy voice.

Except for a prodigious yawn which came from the Girl there was an ominous quiet hanging over the place that chilled the man. Sudden sounds startled him, and he found it impossible to make any progress with his preparations for the night. He was about to make some remark, however, when to his well-attuned ears there came the sound of approaching footsteps. In an instant he was standing in the parting made by the curtains, his face eager, animated, tense.

"What's that?" he whispered.

"That's snow slidin'," the Girl informed him without the slightest trace of anxiety in her voice.

"God bless you, Girl," he murmured, and retreated back of the curtains. It was only an instant before he was back again with: "Why, there is something out there-sounded like people calling," he again whispered.

"That's only the wind," she said, adding as she drew her robe tightly about her: "Gettin' cold, ain't it?"

But, notwithstanding her assurances, Johnson did not feel secure, and it was with many misgivings that he now directed his footsteps towards the bed behind the curtains.

"Good-night!" he said uneasily.

"Good-night!" unconsciously returned the Girl in the same tone.

Taking off her slippers the Girl now put on a pair of moccasins and quietly went over to her bed, where she knelt down and made a silent prayer.

"Good-night!" presently came from a little voice in the rug.

"Good-night!" answered the man now settled in the centre of the much-befrilled bed.

There was a silence; then the little voice in the rug called out:

"Say, what's your name?"

"Dick," whispered the man behind the curtains.

"So long, Dick!" drowsily.

"So long, Girl!" dreamily.

There was a brief silence; then, of a sudden, the Girl bolted upright in bed, and asked:

"Say, Dick, are you sure you don't know that Nina Micheltore?a?"

"Sure," prevaricated the man, not without some compunction.

Whereupon the Girl fell back on her pillows and called out contentedly a final "Good-night!"

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