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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 8370

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The soft and velvety blackness of night was giving place to a pearly grey, and the feathery streaks of a trembling dawn were shooting heavenward when a man, whose head had been pillowed on a Mexican saddle, rose from the ground in front of a tepee, made of blankets on crossed sticks, and seated himself on an old tree-stump where he proceeded to light a cigarette.

In the little tepee, sheltered by an overhanging rock, the Girl was still sleeping; and the man, sitting opposite the mound of earth and rock on which it was built, was Johnson.

A week had passed since the lovers had left Cloudy Mountain, and each day, at the moment when the sun burst above the snow-capped mountains, found them up and riding slowly eastward. No attempt whatever was made at haste, but, instead, now climbing easily to the top of the passes, now descending into the valleys, they rode slowly on, ever loathe to leave behind them the great forests and high mountains.

Noon of each day found them always resting in some glen where the sun made golden lacework of the branches over their heads; while at the approach of night when the great orb was no longer to be seen through the tree-tops and twilight was fast settling upon the woods, they would halt near a pool of a dancing brook where, with the relish of fatigue, they would partake of their rations; and then, when the silences came on, Johnson would proceed to put up with loving skill the Girl's rude quarters and, stretching himself out on a gentle slope, covered with pine needles matted close together, the man and the Girl would go to sleep listening to the music of the stream as it gurgled and dashed along, foaming and leaping, over the rocks and beneath the little patches of snow forgotten by the sun. And to these two, whether in the depths of the vast forest or, as now, at the edge of the merciless desert, stretching away like a world without end, their environment seemed nothing less than a paradise.

There were moments, however, in the long days, which could be devoted to reflection; and often Johnson pondered over the strange fate that had brought him under the influence-an influence which held him now and which he earnestly prayed would continue to hold him-and into close relationship with a character so different from his own. A contemplation of his past life was wholly unnecessary, for the realisation had come to him that it was her personality alone that had awakened his dormant sense of what was right and what was wrong, and changed the course of his life. That his future was full of possibilities, evil as well as good, he was only too well aware; nevertheless, his faith in himself was that of a strong man whose powers of resistance, in this case, would be immeasurably strengthened by constant association with a stronger character.

It was while he was in the midst of these thoughts that the Girl, without letting him see her, quietly drew the blankets of the tepee a little to one side and peered out at him. She, too, had not been without her moments of meditation. Not that she regretted for an instant that she had committed herself to him irrevocably but, rather, because she feared lest he should find it difficult to detach himself, soul and body, from the adventurous life he had been leading. Such painful communings, however, were rare and quickly dismissed as unworthy of her; and now as she looked at him with faith and joy in her eyes, it seemed to her that never before had she seen him appear so resolute and strong, and she rejoiced that he belonged to her. At the thought a blush spread over her features, and it was not until she had drawn the blankets back into their place that she called from behind them:

"Are you awake, Dick?"

At the sound of her voice the man quickly arose and, going over to the tepee, he parted the blankets and held them open. And even as she passed out the greyness of dawn was replaced by silver, and silver by pink tints which lighted up the pale green of the sage brush, the dwarf shrubs and clumps of Buffalo grass around them as well as the darker green of the pines and hemlocks of the foothills in the near distance.

"Another day,

Girl," he said softly. "See, the dawn is breaking!"

For some moments they stood side by side in silence, the man thinking of the future, the woman serenely happy and lost in admiration of the calm beauty of the scene which, in one direction, at least, differed greatly from anything that she had ever beheld. Every night previous to the one just passed they had encamped in the great forests; but now they looked upon a vast expanse of level plain which to the north and east, stretched trackless and unbroken by mountain or ravine to an infinitude-the boundless prairies soon to be mellowed and turned to a golden brown by the shafts of a burning sun already just below the edge of an horizon aglow with opaline tints.

The Girl had ever been a lover of nature. All her life the mystery and silences of the high mountains had appealed to her soul; but never until now had she realised the marvellous beauty and glory of the great plains. And yet, though her eyes shone with the wonder of it all, there was an unmistakably sad and reminiscent note in the voice that presently murmured:

"Another day."

After a while, and as if under the spell of some unseen power, she slowly turned and faced the west where she gazed long and earnestly at the panorama of the snow-capped peaks, rising range after range, all tipped with dazzling light.

"Oh, Dick, look back!" she cried in distress. "The foothills are growin' fainter." She paused, but suddenly with a far-off look in her eyes she went on: "Every dawn-every dawn they'll be farther away. Some night when I'm goin' to sleep I'll turn an' they won't be there-red an' shinin'." Again she paused as if almost overwhelmed with emotion, saying at length with a deep sigh: "Oh, that was indeed the promised land!"

Johnson was greatly moved. It was some time before he found his voice. At length he chided her softly:

"We must always look ahead, Girl-not backwards. The promised land is always ahead."

It was perhaps strange that the Girl failed to see the new light-the light that reflected his desire for a cleaner life and an honoured place in another community with her ever at his side-the hope and faith in his eyes as he spoke; but still in that sad, reminiscent mood, with her eyes fixed on the dim distances, she failed to see it, though she replied in a voice of resignation:

"Always ahead-yes, it must be." And then again with tears in her eyes: "But, Dick, all the people there in Cloudy, how far off they seem now-like shadows movin' in a dream-like shadows I've dreamt of. Only a few days ago I clasped their hands-I seen their faces-their dear faces-I-" She broke off; then while the tears streamed down her cheeks: "An' now they're fadin'-in this little while I've lost 'em-lost 'em."

"But through you all my old life has faded away… I have lost that …" And so saying he stretched out his arms towards her; but very gently she waved him back with a murmured:

"Not yet!"

For a little while longer her gaze remained on the mountains in the west. The mist was still over her eyes when she turned again and saw that the sun was clearing the horizon in opulent splendour.

"See," she cried with a quick transition of mood, "the sun has risen in the East-far away-fair an' clear!"

Again Johnson held out his arms to her.

"A new day-a new life-trust me, Girl."

In silence she slipped one hand into his; then she bowed her head and repeated solemnly:

"Yes-a new life."

Suddenly she drew a little away from him and faced the west again. Clinging tightly now to him with one hand, and the other raised high above her head, she cried in a voice that was fraught with such passionate longing that the man felt himself stirred to the very depths of his emotions:

"Oh, my mountains, I'm leavin' you! Oh, my California-my lovely West-my Sierras, I'm leavin' you!" She ended with a sob; but the next moment throwing herself into Johnson's arms she snuggled there, murmuring lovingly: "Oh, my home!"

A little while later, happy in their love and fearlessly eager to meet the trials of the days to come in a new country, they had mounted their mustangs and were riding eastward.

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