The Light Of Western Stars





Blinded, like a wild creature, Madeline Hammond ran to her room. She

felt as if a stroke of lightning had shattered the shadowy substance of

the dream she had made of real life. The wonder of Danny Mains's story,

the strange regret with which she had realized her injustice to Stewart,

the astounding secret as revealed by Padre Marcos--these were forgotten

in the sudden consciousness of her own love.



Madeline fled as if pursued. With trembling hands she locked the doors,

drew the blinds of the windows that opened on the porch, pushed chairs

aside so that she could pace the length of her room. She was now alone,

and she walked with soft, hurried, uneven steps. She could be herself

here; she needed no mask; the long habit of serenely hiding the truth

from the world and from herself could be broken. The seclusion of her

darkened chamber made possible that betrayal of herself to which she was

impelled.



She paused in her swift pacing to and fro. She liberated the thought

that knocked at the gates of her mind. With quivering lips she whispered

it. Then she spoke aloud:



"I will say it--hear it. I--I love him!"



"I love him!" she repeated the astounding truth, but she doubted her

identity.



"Am I still Madeline Hammond? What has happened? Who am I?" She stood

where the light from one unclosed window fell upon her image in the

mirror. "Who is this woman?"



She expected to see a familiar, dignified person, a quiet, unruffled

figure, a tranquil face with dark, proud eyes and calm, proud lips. No,

she did not see Madeline Hammond. She did not see any one she knew. Were

her eyes, like her heart, playing her false? The figure before her

was instinct with pulsating life. The hands she saw, clasped together,

pressed deep into a swelling bosom that heaved with each panting breath.

The face she saw--white, rapt, strangely glowing, with parted, quivering

lips, with great, staring, tragic eyes--this could not be Madeline

Hammond's face.



Yet as she looked she knew no fancy could really deceive her, that she

was only Madeline Hammond come at last to the end of brooding dreams.

She swiftly realized the change in her, divined its cause and meaning,

accepted it as inevitable, and straightway fell back again into the mood

of bewildering amaze.



Calmness was unattainable. The surprise absorbed her. She could not go

back to count the innumerable, imperceptible steps of her undoing. Her

old power of reflecting, analyzing, even thinking at all, seemed to have

vanished in a pulse-stirring sense of one new emotion. She only felt

all her instinctive outward action that was a physical relief, all her

involuntary inner strife that was maddening, yet unutterably sweet; and

they seemed to be just one bewildering effect of surprise.



In a nature like hers, where strength of feeling had long been inhibited

as a matter of training, such a transforming surprise as sudden

consciousness of passionate love required time for its awakening, time

for its sway.



By and by that last enlightening moment came, and Madeline Hammond faced

not only the love in her heart, but the thought of the man she loved.



Suddenly, as she raged, something in her--this dauntless new

personality--took arms against indictment of Gene Stewart. Her mind

whirled about him and his life. She saw him drunk, brutal; she saw him

abandoned, lost. Then out of the picture she had of him thus slowly grew

one of a different man--weak, sick, changed by shock, growing strong,

strangely, spiritually altered, silent, lonely like an eagle, secretive,

tireless, faithful, soft as a woman, hard as iron to endure, and at the

last noble.



She softened. In a flash her complex mood changed to one wherein she

thought of the truth, the beauty, the wonder of Stewart's uplifting.

Humbly she trusted that she had helped him to climb. That influence

had been the best she had ever exerted. It had wrought magic in her own

character. By it she had reached some higher, nobler plane of trust in

man. She had received infinitely more than she had given.



Her swiftly flying memory seemed to assort a vast mine of treasures

of the past. Of that letter Stewart had written to her brother she

saw vivid words. But ah! she had known, and if it had not made any

difference then, now it made all in the world. She recalled how her

loosened hair had blown across his lips that night he had ridden down

from the mountains carrying her in his arms. She recalled the strange

joy of pride in Stewart's eyes when he had suddenly come upon her

dressed to receive her Eastern guests in the white gown with the red

roses at her breast.



Swiftly as they had come these dreamful memories departed. There was

to be no rest for her mind. All she had thought and felt seemed only to

presage a tumult.



Heedless, desperate, she cast off the last remnant of self-control,

turned from the old proud, pale, cold, self-contained ghost of herself

to face this strange, strong, passionate woman. Then, with hands pressed

to her beating heart, with eyes shut, she listened to the ringing

trip-hammer voice of circumstance, of truth, of fatality. The whole

story was revealed, simple enough in the sum of its complicated details,

strange and beautiful in part, remorseless in its proof of great love

on Stewart's side, in dreaming blindness on her own, and, from the first

fatal moment to the last, prophetic of tragedy.



Madeline, like a prisoner in a cell, began again to pace to and fro.



"Oh, it is all terrible!" she cried. "I am his wife. His wife! That

meeting with him--the marriage--then his fall, his love, his rise,

his silence, his pride! And I can never be anything to him. Could I be

anything to him? I, Madeline Hammond? But I am his wife, and I love him!

His wife! I am the wife of a cowboy! That might be undone. Can my love

be undone? Ah, do I want anything undone? He is gone. Gone! Could he

have meant--I will not, dare not think of that. He will come back. No,

he never will come back. Oh, what shall I do?"



*****



For Madeline Hammond the days following that storm of feeling were

leaden-footed, endless, hopeless--a long succession of weary hours,

sleepless hours, passionate hours, all haunted by a fear slowly growing

into torture, a fear that Stewart had crossed the border to invite the

bullet which would give her freedom. The day came when she knew this

to be true. The spiritual tidings reached her, not subtly as so many

divinations had come, but in a clear, vital flash of certainty. Then she

suffered. She burned inwardly, and the nature of that deep fire showed

through her eyes. She kept to herself, waiting, waiting for her fears to

be confirmed.



At times she broke out in wrath at the circumstances she had failed to

control, at herself, at Stewart.



"He might have learned from Ambrose!" she exclaimed, sick with a

bitterness she knew was not consistent with her pride. She recalled

Christine's trenchant exposition of Ambrose's wooing: "He tell me he

love me; he kees me; he hug me; he put me on his horse; he ride away

with me; he marry me."



Then in the next breath Madeline denied this insistent clamoring of

a love that was gradually breaking her spirit. Like a somber shadow

remorse followed her, shading blacker. She had been blind to a man's

honesty, manliness, uprightness, faith, and striving. She had been dead

to love, to nobility that she had herself created. Padre Marcos's grave,

wise words returned to haunt her. She fought her bitterness, scorned her

intelligence, hated her pride, and, weakening, gave up more and more to

a yearning, hopeless hope.



She had shunned the light of the stars as she had violently dismissed

every hinting suggestive memory of Stewart's kisses. But one night she

went deliberately to her window. There they shone. Her stars! Beautiful,

passionless as always, but strangely closer, warmer, speaking a kinder

language, helpful as they had never been, teaching her now that regret

was futile, revealing to her in their one grand, blazing task the

supreme duty of life--to be true.



Those shining stars made her yield. She whispered to them that they had

claimed her--the West claimed her--Stewart claimed her forever, whether

he lived or died. She gave up to her love. And it was as if he was there

in person, dark-faced, fire-eyed, violent in his action, crushing her to

his breast in that farewell moment, kissing her with one burning kiss of

passion, then with cold, terrible lips of renunciation.



"I am your wife!" she whispered to him. In that moment, throbbing,

exalted, quivering in her first sweet, tumultuous surrender to love, she

would have given her all, her life, to be in his arms again, to meet his

lips, to put forever out of his power any thought of wild sacrifice.



*****



And on the morning of the next day, when Madeline went out upon the

porch, Stillwell, haggard and stern, with a husky, incoherent word,

handed her a message from El Cajon. She read:





El Capitan Stewart captured by rebel soldiers in fight at Agua Prieta

yesterday. He was a sharpshooter in the Federal ranks. Sentenced to

death Thursday at sunset.





The Letter In The Chaps The Little Missouri facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback