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Authors: Giacomo Puccini,David Belasco

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The Girl of the Golden West

BOOK: The Girl of the Golden West
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The Girl of the Golden West
David Belasco
Published:
1911
Categorie(s):
Fiction, Historical
Source:
http://gutenberg.org
About Belasco:

David Belasco was an American theatrical producer, impresario,
director and playwright.

Copyright:
This work is
available for countries where copyright is
Life+70
and in the USA.
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"In those strange days, people coming from God knows where,
joined forces in that far Western land, and, according to the rude
custom of the camp, their very names were soon lost and unrecorded,
and here they struggled, laughed, gambled, cursed, killed, loved
and worked out their strange destinies in a manner incredible to us
of to-day. Of one thing only are we sure—they lived!"

 

Early History of California

Chapter
1

 

It was when coming back to the mines, after a trip to Monterey,
that the Girl first met him. It happened, too, just at a time when
her mind was ripe to receive a lasting impression. But of all this
the boys of Cloudy Mountain Camp heard not a word, needless to say,
until long afterwards.

Lolling back on the rear seat of the stage, her eyes half
closed,—the sole passenger now, and with the seat in front piled
high with boxes and baskets containing 
rebozos
,
silken souvenirs, and other finery purchased in the shops of the
old town,—the Girl was mentally reviewing and dreaming of the
delights of her week's visit there,—a visit that had been a
revelation to one whose sole experience of the world had until now
been derived from life in a rough mining camp. Before her
half-closed eyes still shimmered a vista of strange, exotic scenes
and people, the thronging crowds of carnivals and fêtes; the
Mexican girls swaying through the movements of the fandango to the
music of guitars and castanets; the great 
rodeo
with
its hundreds of 
vaqueros
, which was held at one of
the ranchos just outside the town; and, lastly, and most vividly of
all, the never-to-be-forgotten thrill of her first bull-fight.

Still ringing in her ears was the piercing note of the bugle
which instantly silenced the expectant throng; the hoarse roar that
greeted the entrance of the bull, and the thunder of his hoofs when
he made his first mad charge. She saw again, with marvellous
fidelity, the whole colour-scheme just before the death of the big,
brave beast: the huge arena in its unrivalled setting of mountain,
sea and sky; the eager multitude, tense with expectancy; the
silver-mounted bridles and trappings of the horses; the many-hued
capes of the 
capadors
; the
gaily-dressed 
banderilleros
, poising their beribboned
barbs; the red flag and long, slender, flashing sword of the cool
and ever watchful 
matador
; and, most prominent of all
to her eyes, the brilliant, gold-laced packets of the
gentlemen-
picadors
, who, after the Mexican fashion,—so she
had been told,—deemed it in nowise beneath them to enter the arena
in person.

And so it happened that now, as the stage swung round a corner,
and a horseman suddenly appeared at a point where two roads
converged, and was evidently spurring his horse with the intent of
coming up with the stage, it was only natural that, even before he
was near enough to be identified,
the 
caballero
 should already have become a part
of the pageant of her mental picture.

Up to the moment of the stranger's appearance, nothing had
happened to break the monotony of her long return journey towards
Cloudy Mountain Camp. Far back in the distance now lay the Mission
where the passengers of the stage had been hospitably entertained
the night before; still further back the red-tiled roofs and
whitewashed walls of the little pueblo of San Jose,—a veritable
bower of roses; and remotest of all, the crosses of San Carlos and
the great pines, oaks and cypresses, which bordered her
dream-memory of the white-beach crescent formed by the waves of
Monterey Bay.

The dawn of each day that swept her further from her week in
wonderland had ushered in the matchless spring weather of
California,—the brilliant sunshine, the fleecy clouds, the gentle
wind with just a tang in it from the distant mountains; and as the
stage rolled slowly northward through beautiful valleys, bright
with yellow poppies and silver-white lupines, every turn of the
road varied her view of the hills lying under an enchantment unlike
that of any other land. Yet strange and full of interest as every
mile of the river country should have been to a girl accustomed to
the great forest of the Sierras, she had gazed upon it for the most
part with unseeing eyes, while her thoughts turned, magnet-like,
backward to the delights and the bewilderment of the old Mexican
town. So now, as the pursuing horseman swept rapidly nearer, each
swinging stride of the powerful horse, each rhythmic movement of
the graceful rider brought nearer and more vivid the vision of a
handsome 
picador
 holding off with his lance a
thoroughly maddened bull until the crowd roared forth its
appreciation.

"See, Señorita," said the horseman, at last galloping close to
the coach and lifting his sombrero, "A beautiful bunch of syringa,"
and then, with his face bent towards her and his voice full of
appeal, he added in lower tone: "for you!"

For a brief second, the Girl was too much taken back to find the
adequate words with which to accept the stranger's offering.
Notwithstanding that in his glance she could read, as plainly as
though he had spoken: "I know I am taking a liberty, but please
don't be angry with me," there was something in his sweeping bow
and grace of manner that, coupled with her vague sense of his
social advantage, disconcerted her. A second more, however, and the
embarrassment had passed, for on lifting her eyes to his again she
saw that her memory had not played her false; beyond all chance of
a mistake, he was the man who, ten days earlier, had peered into
the stage, as she was nearing Monterey, and later, at the
bull-fight, had found time to shoot admiring glances at her between
his daring feats of horsemanship. Therefore, genuine admiration was
in her eyes and extreme cordiality in her voice when, after a word
or two of thanks, she added, with great frankness:

"But it strikes me sort o' forcible that I've seen you before."
Then, with growing enthusiasm: "My, but that bull-fight was jest
grand! You were fine! I'm right glad to know you, sir."

The 
caballero's
 face flushed with pleasure at
her free-and-easy reception of him, while an almost inaudible
"
Gracias
" fell from his lips. At once he knew that his
first surmise, that the Girl was an American, had been correct. Not
that his experience in life had furnished him with any parallel,
for the Girl constituted a new and unique type. But he was well
aware that no Spanish lady would have received the advances of a
stranger in like fashion. It was inevitable, therefore, that for
the moment he should contrast, and not wholly to her advantage, the
Girl's unconventionality with the enforced reserve of
the 
dulcineas
 who, custom decrees, may not be
courted save in the presence of 
duennas
. But the next
instant he recalled that there were, in Sacramento, young women
whose directness it would never do to mistake for boldness; and,—to
his credit be it said,—he was quick to perceive that, however
indifferent the Girl seemed to the customary formality of
introduction, there was no suggestion of indelicacy about her. All
that her frank and easy manner suggested was that she was a child
of nature, spontaneous and untrammelled by the dictates of society,
and normally and healthily at home in the company of the opposite
sex.

"And she is even more beautiful than I supposed," was the
thought that went through his mind.

And yet, the Girl was not beautiful, at least if judged by
Spanish or Californian standards. Unlike most of their women, she
was fair, and her type purely American. Her eyes of blue were
lightly but clearly browed and abundantly fringed; her hair of
burnished gold was luxuriant and wavy, and framed a face of
singularly frank and happy expression, even though the features
lacked regularity. But it was a face, so he told himself, that any
man would trust,—a face that would make a man the better for
looking at it,—a face which reflected a soul that no environment
could make other than pure and spotless. And so there was, perhaps,
a shade more of respect and a little less assurance in his manner
when he asked:

"And you like Monterey?"

"I love it! Ain't it romantic—an', my, what a fine time the
girls there must have!"

The man laughed; the Girl's enthusiasm amused him.

"Have you had a fine trip so far?" he asked, for want of
something better to say.

"Mercy, yes! This 'ere stage is a pokey ol' thing, but we've
made not bad time, considerin'."

"I thought you were never going to get here!"

The Girl shot a coquettish glance at him.

"How did you know I was comin' on this 'ere stage?"

"I did not know,"—the stranger broke off and thought a moment.
He may have been asking himself whether it were best for him to be
as frank as she had been and admit his admiration for her; at last,
encouraged perhaps by a look in the Girl's blue eyes, he ventured:
"But I've been riding along this road every day since I saw you. I
felt that I must see you again."

"You must like me powerful well…?" This remark, far from being a
question, was accompanied with all the physiognomical evidences of
an assertion.

The stranger shot a surprised glance at her, out of the corner
of his eye. Then he admitted, in all truthfulness:

"Of course I do. Who could help…?"

"Have you tried not to?" questioned the Girl, smiling in his
face now, and enjoying in the full this stolen intimacy.

"Ah, Señorita, why should I…? All I know is that I do."

The Girl became reflective; presently she observed:

"How funny it seems, an' yet, p'r'aps not so strange after all.
The boys—all my boys at the camp like me—I'm glad you do, too."

Meanwhile the good-natured and loquaciously-inclined driver had
turned his head and was subjecting the man cantering alongside of
his stage to a rigid inspection. With his knowledge of the various
types of men in California at that time, he had no difficulty in
placing the status of this straight-limbed, broad-shouldered, young
fellow as a native Californian. Moreover, it made no difference to
him whether his passenger had met an old acquaintance or not; it
was sufficient for him to observe that the lady, as well as
himself—for the expression on her face could by no means be
described as bored or scornful—liked the stranger's appearance; and
so the better to take in all the points of the magnificent horse
which the young Californian was riding, not to mention a
commendable desire to give his only passenger a bit of pleasant
diversion on the long journey, he slowed his horse down to a
walk.

"But where do you live? You have a rancho near here?" the Girl
was now asking.

"My father has—I live with him."

"Any sisters?"

"No,—no sisters or brothers. My mother was an American; she died
a few years ago." And so saying, his glance sought and obtained an
answering one full of sympathy.

"I'm downright sorry for you," said the Girl with feeling; and
then in the next breath she added:

"But I'm pleased you're—you're half American."

"And you, Señorita?"

"I'm an orphan—my family are all dead," replied the Girl in a
low voice. "But I have my boys," she went on more cheerfully, "an'
what more do I need?" And then before he had time to ask her to
explain what she meant by the boys, she cried out: "Oh, jest look
at them wonderful berries over yonder! La, how I wish I could pick
'em!"

"Perhaps you may," the stranger hastened to say, and instantly
with his free hand he made a movement to assist her to alight,
while with the other he checked his horse; then, with his eyes
resting appealingly upon the driver, he inquired: "It is possible,
is it not, Señor?"

Curiously enough, this apparently proper request was responsible
for changing the whole aspect of things. For, keenly desirous to
oblige him, though she was, there was something in the stranger's
eyes as they now rested upon her that made her feel suddenly shy; a
flood of new impressions assailed her: she wanted to evade the look
and yet foster it; but the former impulse was the stronger, and for
the first time she was conscious of a growing feeling of restraint.
Indeed, some inner voice told her that it would not be quite right
for her to leave the stage. True, she belonged to Cloudy Mountain
Camp where the conventions were unknown and where a rough, if kind,
comradery existed between the miners and herself; nevertheless, she
felt that she had gone far enough with a new acquaintance, whose
accent, as well as the timbre of his voice, gave ample evidence
that he belonged to another order of society than her own and that
of the boys. So, hard though it was not to accede to his request
and, at the same time, break the monotony of her journey with a few
minutes of berry-picking with him in the fields, she made no move
to leave the stage but answered the questioning look of the
obliging driver with a negative one. Whereupon, the latter, after
declaring to the young Californian that the stage was late as it
was, called to his horses to show what they could do in the way of
getting over the ground after their long rest.

The young man's face clouded with disappointment. For two
hundred yards or more he spoke not a word, though he spurred his
horse in order to keep up with the now fast-moving stage. Then, all
of a sudden, as the silence between them was beginning to grow
embarrassing, the Girl made out the figure of a man on horseback a
short distance ahead, and uttered an exclamation of surprise. The
stranger followed the direction of the Girl's eyes and, almost
instantly, it was borne in upon them that the horseman awaited
their coming. The Girl turned to speak, but the tender, sorrowful
expression that she saw on the young man's face kept her
silent.

"That is one of my father's men," he said, somewhat solemnly.
"His presence here may mean that I must leave you. The road to our
ranch begins there. I fear that something may be wrong."

The Girl shot him a look of sympathetic inquiry, though she said
nothing. To tell the truth, the first thought that entered her mind
at his words was one of concern that their companionship was likely
to cease abruptly. During the silence that preceded his outspoken
premonition of trouble, she had been studying him closely. She
found herself admiring his aquiline features, his olive-coloured
skin with its healthful pallor, the lazy, black Spanish eyes behind
which, however tranquil they generally were, it was easy for her to
discern, when he smiled, that reckless and indomitable spirit which
appeals to women all the world over.

BOOK: The Girl of the Golden West
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