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The Girl of the Golden West

The Girl of the Golden West
Title: The Girl of the Golden West
Release Date: 2019-02-01
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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“Mr. Johnson, come down”

The Girl of the
Golden   West



J.   N.   M A R C H A N D


Copyright, 1911,
By Dodd, Mead & Co.
All rights reserved
Published, October, 1911

In those strange days, people coming from God knows where, joinedforces in that far Western land, and, according to the rude customof the camp, their very names were soon lost and unrecorded, andhere they struggled, laughed, gambled, cursed, killed, loved andworked out their strange destinies in a manner incredible to us ofto-day. Of one thing only are we sure—they lived!”

Early History of California.



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

Lolling back on the rear seat of the stage, her eyes half closed,—thesole passenger now, and with the seat in front piled high with boxes andbaskets containing rebozos, silken souvenirs, and other finerypurchased in the shops of the old town,—the Girl was mentally reviewingand dreaming of the delights of her week’s visit there,—a visit thathad been a revelation to one whose sole experience of the world haduntil now been derived from life in a rough mining camp. Before herhalf-closed eyes still shimmered a vista of strange, exotic scenes andpeople, the thronging crowds of carnivals and fêtes; the Mexican girlsswaying through the movements of the fandango to the music of guitarsand castanets; the great rodeo with its hundreds of vaqueros, whichwas held at one of the ranchos just outside the town; and, lastly, andmost vividly of all, the never-to-be-forgotten thrill of her firstbull-fight.

Still ringing in her ears was the piercing note of the{2} bugle whichinstantly silenced the expectant throng; the hoarse roar that greetedthe entrance of the bull, and the thunder of his hoofs when he made hisfirst mad charge. She saw again, with marvellous fidelity, the wholecolour-scheme just before the death of the big, brave beast: the hugearena in its unrivalled setting of mountain, sea and sky; the eagermultitude, tense with expectancy; the silver-mounted bridles andtrappings of the horses; the many-hued capes of the capadors; thegaily-dressed banderilleros, poising their beribboned barbs; the redflag and long, slender, flashing sword of the cool and ever watchfulmatador; and, most prominent of all to her eyes, the brilliant,gold-laced packets of the gentlemen-picadors, who, after the Mexicanfashion,—so she had been told,—deemed it in nowise beneath them toenter the arena in person.

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

Up to the moment of the stranger’s appearance, nothing had happened tobreak the monotony of her long return journey towards Cloudy Mountain{3}Camp. Far back in the distance now lay the Mission where the passengersof the stage had been hospitably entertained the night before; stillfurther back the red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of the littlepueblo of San Jose,—a veritable bower of roses; and remotest of all,the crosses of San Carlos and the great pines, oaks and cypresses, whichbordered her dream-memory of the white-beach crescent formed by thewaves of Monterey Bay.

The dawn of each day that swept her further from her week in wonderlandhad ushered in the matchless spring weather of California,—thebrilliant sunshine, the fleecy clouds, the gentle wind with just a tangin it from the distant mountains; and as the stage rolled slowlynorthward through beautiful valleys, bright with yellow poppies andsilver-white lupines, every turn of the road varied her view of thehills lying under an enchantment unlike that of any other land. Yetstrange and full of interest as every mile of the river country shouldhave been to a girl accustomed to the great forest of the Sierras, shehad gazed upon it for the most part with unseeing eyes, while herthoughts turned, magnet-like, backward to the delights and thebewilderment of the old Mexican town. So now, as the pursuing horsemanswept rapidly nearer, each swinging stride of the powerful horse, eachrhythmic movement of the graceful rider brought nearer and more vividthe vision of a hand{4}some picador holding off with his lance athoroughly maddened bull until the crowd roared forth its appreciation.

“See, Señorita,” said the horseman, at last galloping close to the coachand lifting his sombrero, “A beautiful bunch of syringa,” and then, withhis face bent towards her and his voice full of appeal, he added inlower tone: “for you!”

For a brief second, the Girl was too much taken back to find theadequate words with which to accept the stranger’s offering.Notwithstanding that in his glance she could read, as plainly as thoughhe had spoken: “I know I am taking a liberty, but please don’t be angrywith me,” there was something in his sweeping bow and grace of mannerthat, coupled with her vague sense of his social advantage, disconcertedher. A second more, however, and the embarrassment had passed, for onlifting her eyes to his again she saw that her memory had not played herfalse; beyond all chance of a mistake, he was the man who, ten daysearlier, had peered into the stage, as she was nearing Monterey, andlater, at the bull-fight, had found time to shoot admiring glances ather between his daring feats of horsemanship. Therefore, genuineadmiration 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{5} you before.” Then,with growing enthusiasm: “My, but that bull-fight was jest grand! Youwere fine! I’m right glad to know you, sir.”

The caballero’s face flushed with pleasure at her free-and-easyreception of him, while an almost inaudible “Gracias” fell from hislips. At once he knew that his first surmise, that the Girl was anAmerican, had been correct. Not that his experience in life hadfurnished him with any parallel, for the Girl constituted a new andunique type. But he was well aware that no Spanish lady would havereceived the advances of a stranger in like fashion. It was inevitable,therefore, that for the moment he should contrast, and not wholly to heradvantage, the Girl’s unconventionality with the enforced reserve of thedulcineas who, custom decrees, may not be courted save in the presenceof duennas. But the next instant he recalled that there were, inSacramento, young women whose directness it would never do to mistakefor boldness; and,—to his credit be it said,—he was quick to perceivethat, however indifferent the Girl seemed to the customary formality ofintroduction, there was no suggestion of indelicacy about her. All thather frank and easy manner suggested was that she was a child of nature,spontaneous and untrammelled by the dictates of society, and normallyand healthily at home in the company of the opposite sex.{6}

“And she is even more beautiful than I supposed,” was the thought thatwent through his mind.

And yet, the Girl was not beautiful, at least if judged by Spanish orCalifornian standards. Unlike most of their women, she was fair, and hertype purely American. Her eyes of blue were lightly but clearly browedand abundantly fringed; her hair of burnished gold was luxuriant andwavy, and framed a face of singularly frank and happy expression, eventhough the features lacked regularity. But it was a face, so he toldhimself, that any man would trust,—a face that would make a man thebetter for looking at it,—a face which reflected a soul that noenvironment could make other than pure and spotless. And so there was,perhaps, a shade more of respect and a little less assurance in hismanner when he asked:

“And you like Monterey?”

“I love it! Ain’t it romantic—an’, my, what a fine time the girls theremust have!”

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

“Have you had a fine trip so far?” he asked, for want of somethingbetter to say.

“Mercy, yes! This ’ere stage is a pokey ol’ thing, but we’ve made notbad time, considerin’.”

“I thought you were never going to get here!”

The Girl shot a coquettish glance at him.{7}

“How did you know I was comin’ on this ’ere stage?”

“I did not know,”—the stranger broke off and thought a moment. He mayhave been asking himself whether it were best for him to be as frank asshe had been and admit his admiration for her; at last, encouragedperhaps by a look in the Girl’s blue eyes, he ventured: “But I’ve beenriding along this road every day since I saw you. I felt that I must seeyou again.”

“You must like me powerful well...?” This remark, far from being aquestion, was accompanied with all the physiognomical evidences of anassertion.

The stranger shot a surprised glance at her, out of the corner of hiseye. 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. Theboys—all my boys at the camp like me—I’m glad you do, too.{8}

Meanwhile the good-natured and loquaciously-inclined driver had turnedhis head and was subjecting the man cantering alongside of his stage toa rigid inspection. With his knowledge of the various types of men inCalifornia at that time, he had no difficulty in placing the status ofthis straight-limbed, broad-shouldered, young fellow as a nativeCalifornian. Moreover, it made no difference to him whether hispassenger had met an old acquaintance or not; it was sufficient for himto observe that the lady, as well as himself—for the expression on herface could by no means be described as bored or scornful—liked thestranger’s appearance; and so the better to take in all the points ofthe magnificent horse which the young Californian was riding, not tomention a commendable desire to give his only passenger a bit ofpleasant diversion on the long journey, he slowed his horse down to awalk.

“But where do you live? You have a rancho near here?” the Girl was nowasking.

“My father has—I live with him.”

“Any sisters?”

“No,—no sisters or brothers. My mother was an American; she died a fewyears ago.” And so saying, his glance sought and obtained an answeringone full of sympathy.

“I’m downright sorry for you,” said the Girl with feeling; and then inthe next breath she added:{9} “But I’m pleased you’re—you’re halfAmerican.”

“And you, Señorita?”

“I’m an orphan—my family are all dead,” replied the Girl in a lowvoice. “But I have my boys,” she went on more cheerfully, “an’ what moredo I need?” And then before he had time to ask her to explain what shemeant by the boys, she cried out: “Oh, jest look at them wonderfulberries over yonder! La, how I wish I could pick ’em!”

“Perhaps you may,” the stranger hastened to say, and instantly with hisfree hand he made a movement to assist her to alight, while with theother he checked his horse;

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