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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 22699

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Conscious-stricken at the fraud that she had imposed upon the gambler, the Girl lived a lifetime in the moments that followed his departure. With her face buried in her hands she stood lost in contemplation of her shameful secret.

A sound-the sound of a man in great pain checked her hysterical sobs. Dazed, she passed her hand over her face as if to clear away the dark shades that were obstructing her vision. Another groan-and like a flash she was down on her knees lavishing endearments upon the road agent.

Never before, it is true, had the Girl had any experience in gun-shot wounds. She had played the part of nurse, however, more than once when the boys met with accidents at the mines. For the women of the California camps at that time had endless calls upon them. It was a period for sacrifices innumerable, and help and sympathy were never asked that they were not freely given. So, if the Girl did not know the very best thing to do, she knew, at least, what not to do, and it was only a few minutes before she had cut the coat from his back.

The next thing to be done-the dragging of the unconscious man to the bed-was hard work, of course, but being strong of arm, as well as stout of heart, she at last accomplished it.

Now she cut away his shirt in order to find the wound, which proved to be in his breast. Quickly then she felt with her fingers in an endeavour to find the ball, but in this she was unsuccessful. So after a moment's deliberation she made up her mind that the wound was a flesh one and that the ball was anywhere but in the man's body-a diagnosis that was largely due to the cheerful optimism of her nature and which, fortunately, proved to be true.

Presently she went to a corner of the room and soon returned with a basin of water and some hastily torn bandages. For a good fifteen minutes after that she washed the gash and, finally, bandaged it as well as she knew how. And now, having done all that her knowledge or instinct prompted, she drew up a chair and prepared to pass the rest of the night in watching by his side.

For an hour or so he slept the sleep of unconsciousness. In the room not a sound could be heard, but outside the storm still roared and raged. It was anything but an easy or cheerful situation: Here she was alone with a wounded, if not dying, man; and she well knew that, unless there came an abatement in the fury of the storm, it might be days before anyone could climb the mountain. True, the Indians were not far off, but like as not they would remain in their wigwam until the sun came forth again. In the matter of food there was a scant supply, but probably enough to tide them over until communication could be had with The Polka.

For three days she watched over him, and all the time the storm continued. On the third day he became delirious, and that was the night of her torture. Despite a feeling that she was taking an unfair advantage of him, the Girl strained her ears to catch a name which, in his delirium, was constantly on his lips; but she could not make it out. All that she knew was that it was not her name that he spoke, and it pained her. She had given him absolute faith and trust and, already, she was overwhelmed with the fierce flames of jealousy. It was a new sensation, this being jealous of anyone, and it called forth a passionate resentment. In such moments she would rise and flee to the other end of the room until the whispered endearments had ceased. Then she would draw near again with flushes of shame on her cheeks for having heeded the sayings of an irresponsible person, and she would take his head in her lap and, caressing him the while, would put cold towels on his heated brow.

Dawn of the fourth day saw the Girl still pale and anxious, though despair had entirely left her; for the storm was over and colour and speech had come back to the man early that morning. Love and good nursing, not to speak of some excellent whisky that she happened to have stored away in her cabin, had pulled him through. With a sigh of relief she threw herself down on the rug for a much-needed rest.

The man woke just before the sun rose. His first thought, that he was home in the foothills, was dissipated by the sight of the snow ranges. Through the window of the cabin, as far as the eye could see, nothing of green was visible. Snow was everywhere; everything was white, save at the eastern horizon where silver was fast changing into rose and rose to a fiery red as the fast-rising sun sent its shafts over the snow-coated mountains.

And now there came to him a full realisation of what had happened and where he was. To his amazement, though, he was almost without pain. That his wound had been dressed he was, of course, well aware for when he attempted to draw back still further the curtain at the window the movement strained the tight bandage, and he was instantly made conscious of a twinge of pain.

Nevertheless, he persevered, for he wisely decided that it would be well to reconnoitre, to familiarise himself, as much as possible, with the lay of the land and find out whether the trail that he had followed to reach the cabin which, he recalled, was perched high up above a ravine, was the only means of communication with the valley below. It was a useless precaution, for the snow would have wholly obliterated any such trail had there been one and, soon realising the fact, he fell back exhausted by his effort on the pillows.

A half hour passed and the man began to grow restless. He had, of course, no idea whatever of the length of time he had been in the cabin, and he knew that he must be thinking of an immediate escape. In desperation, he tried to get out of bed, but the task was beyond his power. At that a terrible feeling of hopelessness assailed him. His only chance was to reach the valley where he had little fear of capture; but wounded, as he was, that seemed out of the question, and he saw himself caught like a rat in a trap. In an access of rage at the situation in which he was placed he made another effort to raise himself up on his elbow and peer through the window at the Sierras. The noise that he made, slight though it was, awoke the Girl. In an instant she was at his bedside drawing the curtain over the window.

"What you thinkin' of?" she asked. "At any moment-jest as soon as the trail can be cleared-there'll be someone of the boys up here to see how I've pulled through. They mustn't see you…"

Forcibly, but with loving tenderness, she put him back among his pillows and seated herself by the bed. An awkward silence followed. For now that the man was in his right senses it was borne in upon her that he might remember that she had fed him, given him drink and fondled him. It was a situation embarrassing to both. Neither knew just what to say or how to begin. At length, the voice from the bed spoke:

"How long have I been here?"

"Three days."

"And you have nursed me all that-"

"You mustn't talk," warned the girl. "It's dangerous in more ways than one. But if you keep still no one'll suspect that you're here."

"But I must know what happened," he insisted with increasing excitement. "I remember nothing after I came down the ladder. The Sheriff-Rance-what's become…?"

The Girl chided him with gentle authority.

"You keep perfectly still-you mustn't say nothin' 'til you've rested. Everythin's all right an' you needn't worry a bit." But then seeing that he chafed at this, she added: "Well, then, I'll tell you all there is to know." And then followed an account of the happenings of that night. It was not a thoroughly truthful tale, for in her narrative she told him only what she thought was necessary and good for him to know, keeping the rest to herself. And when she had related all that there was to tell she insisted upon his going to sleep again, giving him no opportunity whatsoever to speak, since she left his bedside after drawing the curtains.

Unwillingly the man lay back and tried to force himself to be patient; but he fretted at the enforced quietude and, as a result, sleep refused to come to him. From time to time he could hear the Girl moving noiselessly about the room. The knowledge that she was there gave him a sense of security, and he began to let his thoughts dwell upon her. No longer did he doubt but what she was a real influence now; and the thought had the effect of making him keenly alive to what his life had been. It was not a pleasant picture that he looked back upon, now that he had caught a glimpse of what life might mean with the Girl at his side. From the moment that he had taken her in his arms he realised to the full that his cherished dream had come true; he realised, also, that there was now but one answer to the question of keeping to the oath given to his father, and that was that gratitude-for he had guessed rightly, though she had not told him, that she had saved him from capture by the Sheriff and his posse-demanded that he should put an end to his vocation and devote his life henceforth to making her happy.

Once or twice while thus communing with himself he fancied that he heard voices. It seemed to him that he recognised Nick's voice. But whoever it was, he spoke in whispers, and though the wounded man strove to hear, he was unsuccessful.

After a while he heard the door close and then the tension was somewhat relaxed, for he knew that she was keeping his presence in her cabin a secret with all the wiles of a clever and loving woman. And more and more he determined to gain an honoured place for her in some community-an honoured place for himself and her. Vague, very vague, of course, were the new purposes and plans that had so suddenly sprang up because of her influence, but the desire to lead a clean life had touched his heart, and since his old calling had never been pleasing to him, he did not for a moment doubt his ability to succeed.

The morning was half gone when the Girl returned to her patient. Then, in tones that did her best to make her appear free from anxiety, she told him that it was the barkeeper, as he had surmised, with whom she had been talking and that she had been obliged to take him into her confidence. The man made no comment, for the situation necessarily was in her hands, and he felt that she could be relied upon not to make any mistake. Four people, he was told, knew of his presence in the cabin. So far as Rance was concerned she had absolute faith in his honour, gambler though he was; there was nothing that Nick would not do for her; and as for the Indians, the secret was sure to be kept by them, unless Jackrabbit got hold of some whisky-a contingency not at all likely, for Nick had promised to see to that. In fact, all could be trusted to be as silent as the grave.

The invalid had listened intently; nevertheless, he sighed:

"It's hard to lie here. I don't want to be caught now."

The Girl smiled at the emphasis on the last word, for she knew that it referred to her. Furthermore, she had divined pretty well what had been his thoughts concerning his old life; but, being essentially a woman of action and not words, she said nothing.

A moment or so later he asked her to read to him. The Girl looked as she might have looked if he had asked her to go to the moon. Notwithstanding, sh

e got up and, presently, returned with a lot of old school-books, which she solemnly handed over for his inspection.

The invalid smiled at the look of earnestness on the Girl's face.

"Not these?" he gently inquired. "Where is the Dante you were telling me about?"

Once more the Girl went over to the book-shelf; when she came back she handed him a volume, which he glanced over carefully before showing her the place where he wished her to begin to read to him.

At first the Girl was embarrassed and stumbled badly. But on seeing that he seemed not to notice it she gained courage and acquitted herself creditably, at least, so she flattered herself, for she could detect, as she looked up from time to time, no expression other than pleasure on his face. It may be surmised, though, that Johnson had not merely chosen a page at random; on the contrary, when the book was in his hand he had quickly found the lines which the Girl had, so to say, paraphrased, and he was intensely curious to see how they would appeal to her. But now, apparently, she saw nothing in the least amusing in them, nor in other passages fully as sentimental. In fact, no comment of any kind was forthcoming from her-though Johnson was looking for it and, to tell the truth, was somewhat disappointed-when she read that Dante had probably never spoken more than twice to Beatrice and his passion had no other food than the mists of his own dreaming. However, it was different when,-pausing before each word after the manner of a child,-she came to a passage of the poet's, and read:

"'In that moment I say most truly that the spirit of life, which hath its dwelling in the most secret chambers of the heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulse of my body shook herewith, and in the trembling it said these words: "Here is a deity stronger than I who, coming shall rule over me."'"

At that the Girl let the book fall and, going down on her knees and taking both his hands in hers, she raised to him a look so full of adoring worship that he felt himself awed before it.

"That 'ere Dante ain't so far off after all. I know jest how he feels. Oh, I ain't fit to read to you, to talk to you, to kiss you."

Nevertheless, he saw to it that she did.

After this he told her about the Inferno, and she listened eagerly to his description of the unfortunate characters, though she declared, when he explained some of the crimes that they had committed, that they "Got only what was rightly comin' to them."

The patient could hardly suppress his amusement. Dante was discarded and instead they told each other how much love there was in that little cabin on Cloudy Mountain.

The days that followed were all much like this one. Food was brought up from The Polka and, by degrees, the patient's strength came back. And it was but natural that he became so absorbed in his newly-found happiness that he gradually was losing all sense of danger. Late one night, however, when he was asleep, an incident happened that warned the Girl that it was necessary to get her lover away just as soon as he was able to ride a horse.

Lying on the rug in front of the fire she had been thinking of him when, suddenly, her quick ear, more than ever alert in these days, caught the sound of a stealthy footstep outside the cabin. With no fear whatever except in relation to the discovery of her lover, the Girl went noiselessly to the window and peered out into the darkness. A man was making signs that he wished to speak with her. For a moment she stood watching in perplexity, but almost instantly her instinct told her that one of that race, for she believed the man to be a Mexican, would never dare to come to her cabin at that time of night unless it was on a friendly errand. So putting her face close to the pane to reassure herself that she had not been mistaken in regard to his nationality, she then went to the door and held it wide open for the man to enter, at the same time putting her finger to her lips as a sign that he should be very still.

"What are you doin' here? What do you want?" she asked in a low voice, at the same time leading him to the side of the room further away from her lover.

Jose Castro's first words were in Spanish, but immediately perceiving that he failed to make her understand, he nodded comprehendingly, and said:

"All righta-I espeak Engleesh-I am Jose Castro too well known to the Maestro. I want to see 'im."

The Girl's intuition told her that a member of the band stood before her, and she regarded him suspiciously. Not that she believed that he was disloyal and had come there with hostile intent, but because she felt that she must be absolutely sure of her ground before she revealed the fact that Johnson was in the cabin. She let some moments pass before she replied:

"I don't know nothin' about your master. Who is he?"

An indulgent smile crossed the Mexican's face.

"That ver' good to tella other peoples; but I know 'im here too much. You trusta me-me quita safe."

All this was said with many gestures and an air that convinced the Girl that he was speaking the truth. But since she deemed it best that the invalid should be kept from any excitement, she resolved to make the Mexican divulge to her the nature of his important errand.

"How do you know he's here?" she began warily. "What do you want 'im for?"

The Mexican's shifty eyes wandered all over the room as if to make certain that no inimical ears were listening; then he whispered:

"I tella you something-you lika the Maestro?"

Unconsciously the Girl nodded, which evidently satisfied the Mexican, for he went on:

"You thinka well of him-yees. Now I tella you something. The man Pedro 'e no good. 'E wisha the reward-the money for Ramerrez. 'E and the woman-woman no good-tell Meester Ashby they thinka 'im 'ere."

The Girl felt the colour leave her cheeks, though she made a gesture for him to proceed.

"Pedro not 'ere any longer," smiled the Mexican. "Me senda 'im to the devil. Serva 'im right."

"An' the woman?" gasped the Girl.

"She gone-got away-Monterey by this time," replied Castro with evident disappointment. "But Meester Ashby 'e know too much-'ees men everywhere searched the camp-no safa 'ere now. To-norrow-" Castro stopped short; the next instant with a joyful gleam in his eyes he cried out: "Maestro!"

"Castro's right, Girl," said Johnson, who had waked and heard the Mexican's last words; "it is not safe a moment more here, and I must go."

With a little cry of loving protest the Girl abruptly left the men to talk over the situation and sought the opposite side of the room. There, her eyes half-closed and her lips pressed tightly together she gave herself up to her distressing fears. After a while it was made plain to her that she was being brought into the conversation, for every now and then Castro would look curiously at her; at length, as if it had been determined by them that nothing should be undertaken without her advice, Johnson, followed by his subordinate, came over to her and related in detail all the startling information that Castro had brought.

Quietly the Girl listened and, in the end, it was agreed between them that it would be safer for the men not to leave the cabin together, but that Castro should go at once with the understanding that he should procure horses and wait for the master at a given point across the ravine. It was decided, too, that there was not a moment to be lost in putting their plan into execution. In consequence, Castro immediately took his departure.

The hour that passed before the time set for Johnson to leave the cabin was a most trying one for both of them. It was not so hard on the man, of course, for he was excited over the prospect of escaping; but the Girl, whose mind was filled with the dread of what might happen to him, had nothing to sustain her. Despite his objection, she had stipulated that, with Jackrabbit as a companion, she should accompany him to the outskirts of the camp. And so, at the moment of departure, throwing about her a cloak of some rough material, she went up to her lover and said with a quiver in her voice:

"I'm ready, Dick, but I'm a-figurin' that I can't let you go alone-you jest got to take me below with you, an' that's all there is to it."

The man shook his head.

"There's very little risk, believe me. I'll join Castro and ride all through the night. I'll be down below in no time at all. But we must be going, dear."

The man passed through the door first. But when it came the Girl's turn she hesitated, for she had seen a dark shadow flit by the window. It was as if someone had been stealthily watching there. In another moment, however, it turned out to be Jackrabbit and, greatly relieved, the Girl whispered to Johnson that he was to descend the trail between the Indian and herself, and that on no account was he to utter a word until she gave him permission.

For another moment or so they stood in silence; Johnson, appreciating fully what were the Girl's feelings, did not dare to whisper even a word of encouragement to her. At last, she ordered the Indian to lead the way, and they started.

The trail curved and twisted around the mountain, and in places they had to use the greatest care lest a misstep should carry them over a precipice with a drop of hundreds of feet. It was a perilous descent, inasmuch as the path was covered with snow. Moreover, it was necessary that as little noise as possible should be made while they were making their way past the buildings of the camp below, for the Mexican had not been wrong when he stated that Ashby's men were quartered at, or in the immediate vicinity of, The Palmetto. Fortunately, they passed through without meeting anyone, and before long they came to the edge of the plateau beneath which was the ravine which Johnson had to cross to reach the spot where it had been agreed that Castro should be waiting with horses for his master. It was also the place where the Girl was to leave her lover to go on alone, and so they halted. A few moments passed without either of them speaking; at length, the man said in as cheery a voice as he could summon:

"I must leave you here. I remember the way well. All danger is past."

The Girl's lips were quivering; she asked:

"An' when will you be back?"

The man noted her emotion, and though he himself was conscious of a choking sensation he contrived to say in a most optimistic tone:

"In two weeks-not more than two weeks. It will take all that time to arrange things at the rancho. As it is, I hardly see my way clear to dismissing my men-you see, they belong to me, almost, and-but I'll do so, never fear. No power on earth could make me take up the old life again."

The Girl said nothing in reply; instead she put both her arms around his neck and remained a long time in his embrace. At last, summoning up all her fortitude she put him resolutely from her, and whispered:

"When you are ready, come. You must leave me now." And with a curt command to the Indian she fled back into the darkness.

For an instant the road agent's eyes followed the direction that she had taken; then, his spirits rising at the thought that his escape was now well-nigh assured, he turned and plunged down the ravine.

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