The light of the western.., p.1
Produced by Nigel Lacey
THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS
by Zane Grey
I. A Gentleman of the Range II. A Secret Kept III. Sister and Brother IV. A Ride From Sunrise to Sunset V. The Round-up VI. A Gift and a Purchase VII. Her Majesty's Rancho VIII. El Capitan IX. The New Foreman X. Don Carlo's Vaqueros XI. A Band of Guerrillas XII. Friends from the East XIII. Cowboy Golf XIV. Bandits XV. The Mountain Trail XVI. The Crags XVII. The Lost Mine of the Padres XVIII.Bonita XIX. Don Carlos XX. The Sheriff of El Cajon XXI. Unbridled XXII. The Secret Told XXIII.The Light of Western Stars XXIV. The Ride XXV. At the End of the Road
THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS
I. A Gentleman of the Range
When Madeline Hammond stepped from the train at El Cajon, New Mexico, itwas nearly midnight, and her first impression was of a huge dark spaceof cool, windy emptiness, strange and silent, stretching away undergreat blinking white stars.
"Miss, there's no one to meet you," said the conductor, ratheranxiously.
"I wired my brother," she replied. "The train being so late--perhaps hegrew tired of waiting. He will be here presently. But, if he should notcome--surely I can find a hotel?"
"There's lodgings to be had. Get the station agent to show you. Ifyou'll excuse me--this is no place for a lady like you to be alone atnight. It's a rough little town--mostly Mexicans, miners, cowboys.And they carouse a lot. Besides, the revolution across the border hasstirred up some excitement along the line. Miss, I guess it's safeenough, if you--"
"Thank you. I am not in the least afraid."
As the train started to glide away Miss Hammond walked towards the dimlylighted station. As she was about to enter she encountered a Mexicanwith sombrero hiding his features and a blanket mantling his shoulders.
"Is there any one here to meet Miss Hammond?" she asked.
"No sabe, Senora," he replied from under the muffling blanket, and heshuffled away into the shadow.
She entered the empty waiting-room. An oil-lamp gave out a thick yellowlight. The ticket window was open, and through it she saw there wasneither agent nor operator in the little compartment. A telegraphinstrument clicked faintly.
Madeline Hammond stood tapping a shapely foot on the floor, and withsome amusement contrasted her reception in El Cajon with what it waswhen she left a train at the Grand Central. The only time she couldremember ever having been alone like this was once when she had missedher maid and her train at a place outside of Versailles--an adventurethat had been a novel and delightful break in the prescribed routine ofher much-chaperoned life. She crossed the waiting-room to a window and,holding aside her veil, looked out. At first she could descry only a fewdim lights, and these blurred in her sight. As her eyes grew accustomedto the darkness she saw a superbly built horse standing near the window.Beyond was a bare square. Or, if it was a street, it was the widest oneMadeline had ever seen. The dim lights shone from low, flat buildings.She made out the dark shapes of many horses, all standing motionlesswith drooping heads. Through a hole in the window-glass came a coolbreeze, and on it breathed a sound that struck coarsely upon her ear--adiscordant mingling of laughter and shout, and the tramp of boots to thehard music of a phonograph.
"Western revelry," mused Miss Hammond, as she left the window. "Now,what to do? I'll wait here. Perhaps the station agent will return soon,or Alfred will come for me."
As she sat down to wait she reviewed the causes which accounted for theremarkable situation in which she found herself. That Madeline Hammondshould be alone, at a late hour, in a dingy little Western railroadstation, was indeed extraordinary.
The close of her debutante year had been marred by the only unhappyexperience of her life--the disgrace of her brother and his leavinghome. She dated the beginning of a certain thoughtful habit of mind fromthat time, and a dissatisfaction with the brilliant life society offeredher. The change had been so gradual that it was permanent beforeshe realized it. For a while an active outdoor life--golf, tennis,yachting--kept this realization from becoming morbid introspection.There came a time when even these lost charm for her, and then shebelieved she was indeed ill in mind. Travel did not help her.
There had been months of unrest, of curiously painful wondermentthat her position, her wealth, her popularity no longer sufficed. Shebelieved she had lived through the dreams and fancies of a girl tobecome a woman of the world. And she had gone on as before, a part ofthe glittering show, but no longer blind to the truth--that there wasnothing in her luxurious life to make it significant.
Sometimes from the depths of her there flashed up at odd momentsintimations of a future revolt. She remembered one evening at the operawhen the curtain had risen upon a particularly well-done piece of stagescenery--a broad space of deep desolateness, reaching away under aninfinitude of night sky, illumined by stars. The suggestion it broughtof vast wastes of lonely, rugged earth, of a great, blue-arched vault ofstarry sky, pervaded her soul with a strange, sweet peace.
When the scene was changed she lost this vague new sense of peace, andshe turned away from the stage in irritation. She looked at the long,curved tier of glittering boxes that represented her world. It was adistinguished and splendid world--the wealth, fashion, culture, beauty,and blood of a nation. She, Madeline Hammond, was a part of it. Shesmiled, she listened, she talked to the men who from time to timestrolled into the Hammond box, and she felt that there was not a momentwhen she was natural, true to herself. She wondered why these peoplecould not somehow, some way be different; but she could not tell whatshe wanted them to be. If they had been different they would not havefitted the place; indeed, they would not have been there at all. Yet shethought wistfully that they lacked something for her.
And suddenly realizing she would marry one of these men if she did notrevolt, she had been assailed by a great weariness, an icy-sickeningsense that life had palled upon her. She was tired of fashionablesociety. She was tired of polished, imperturbable men who sought only toplease her. She was tired of being feted, admired, loved, followed,and importuned; tired of people; tired of houses, noise, ostentation,luxury. She was so tired of herself!
In the lonely distances and the passionless stars of boldly paintedstage scenery she had caught a glimpse of something that stirred hersoul. The feeling did not last. She could not call it back. She imaginedthat the very boldness of the scene had appealed to her; she divinedthat the man who painted it had found inspiration, joy, strength,serenity in rugged nature. And at last she knew what she needed--to bealone, to brood for long hours, to gaze out on lonely, silent, darkeningstretches, to watch the stars, to face her soul, to find her real self.
Then it was she had first thought of visiting the brother who had goneWest to cast his fortune with the cattlemen. As it happened, she hadfriends who were on the eve of starting for California, and she madea quick decision to travel with them. When she calmly announced herintention of going out West her mother had exclaimed in consternation;and her father, surprised into pathetic memory of the black sheep of thefamily, had stared at her with glistening eyes. "Why, Madeline! You wantto see that wild boy!" Then he had reverted to the anger he still feltfor his wayward son, and he had forbidden Madeline to go. Her motherforgot her haughty poise and dignity. Madeline, however, had exhibiteda will she had never before been known to possess. She stood her groundeven to reminding them that she was twenty-four and her own mistress. Inthe end she had prevailed, and that without betraying the real state ofher mind.
Her decision to visit her brother had been too hurriedly made and actedupon for her to write him about it, a
It did not take long for thought of the past to give way wholly to thereality of the present.
"I hope nothing has happened to Alfred," she said to herself. "He waswell, doing splendidly, the last time he wrote. To be sure, that was agood while ago; but, then, he never wrote often. He's all right. Prettysoon he'll come, and how glad I'll be! I wonder if he has changed."
As Madeline sat waiting in the yellow gloom she heard the faint,intermittent click of the telegraph instrument, the low hum of wires,the occasional stamp of an iron-shod hoof, and a distant vacant laughrising above the sounds of the dance. These commonplace things werenew to her. She became conscious of a slight quickening of her pulse.Madeline had only a limited knowledge of the West. Like all of herclass, she had traveled Europe and had neglected America. A few lettersfrom her brother had confused her already vague ideas of plains andmountains, as well as of cowboys and cattle. She had been astoundedat the interminable distance she had traveled, and if there had beenanything attractive to look at in all that journey she had passed it inthe night. And here she sat in a dingy little station, with telegraphwires moaning a lonely song in the wind.
A faint sound like the rattling of thin chains diverted Madeline'sattention. At first she imagined it was made by the telegraph wires.Then she heard a step. The door swung wide; a tall man entered, and withhim came the clinking rattle. She realized then that the sound came fromhis spurs. The man was a cowboy, and his entrance recalled vividly toher that of Dustin Farnum in the first act of "The Virginian."
"Will you please direct me to a hotel?" asked Madeline, rising.
The cowboy removed his sombrero, and the sweep he made with it and theaccompanying bow, despite their exaggeration, had a kind of rude grace.He took two long strides toward her.
"Lady, are you married?"
In the past Miss Hammond's sense of humor had often helped her tooverlook critical exactions natural to her breeding. She kept silence,and she imagined it was just as well that her veil hid her face at themoment. She had been prepared to find cowboys rather striking, and shehad been warned not to laugh at them.
This gentleman of the range deliberately reached down and took up herleft hand. Before she recovered from her start of amaze he had strippedoff her glove.
"Fine spark, but no wedding-ring," he drawled. "Lady, I'm glad to seeyou're not married."
He released her hand and returned the glove.
"You see, the only ho-tel in this here town is against boarding marriedwomen."
"Indeed?" said Madeline, trying to adjust her wits to the situation.
"It sure is," he went on. "Bad business for ho-tels to have marriedwomen. Keeps the boys away. You see, this isn't Reno."
Then he laughed rather boyishly, and from that, and the way heslouched on his sombrero, Madeline realized he was half drunk. Asshe instinctively recoiled she not only gave him a keener glance, butstepped into a position where a better light shone on his face. Itwas like red bronze, bold, raw, sharp. He laughed again, as ifgood-naturedly amused with himself, and the laugh scarcely changed thehard set of his features. Like that of all women whose beauty and charmhad brought them much before the world, Miss Hammond's intuition hadbeen developed until she had a delicate and exquisitely sensitiveperception of the nature of men and of her effect upon them. This crudecowboy, under the influence of drink, had affronted her; nevertheless,whatever was in his mind, he meant no insult.
"I shall be greatly obliged if you will show me to the hotel," she said.
"Lady, you wait here," he replied, slowly, as if his thought did notcome swiftly. "I'll go fetch the porter."
She thanked him, and as he went out, closing the door, she sat down inconsiderable relief. It occurred to her that she should have mentionedher brother's name. Then she fell to wondering what living with suchuncouth cowboys had done to Alfred. He had been wild enough in college,and she doubted that any cowboy could have taught him much. She alone ofher family had ever believed in any latent good in Alfred Hammond, andher faith had scarcely survived the two years of silence.
Waiting there, she again found herself listening to the moan of the windthrough the wires. The horse outside began to pound with heavy hoofs,and once he whinnied. Then Madeline heard a rapid pattering, lowat first and growing louder, which presently she recognized as thegalloping of horses. She went to the window, thinking, hoping herbrother had arrived. But as the clatter increased to a roar, shadowssped by--lean horses, flying manes and tails, sombreroed riders, allstrange and wild in her sight. Recalling what the conductor had said,she was at some pains to quell her uneasiness. Dust-clouds shrouded thedim lights in the windows. Then out of the gloom two figures appeared,one tall, the other slight. The cowboy was returning with a porter.
Heavy footsteps sounded without, and lighter ones dragging along, andthen suddenly the door rasped open, jarring the whole room. The cowboyentered, pulling a disheveled figure--that of a priest, a padre, whosemantle had manifestly been disarranged by the rude grasp of his captor.Plain it was that the padre was extremely terrified.
Madeline Hammond gazed in bewilderment at the little man, so pale andshaken, and a protest trembled upon her lips; but it was never uttered,for this half-drunken cowboy now appeared to be a cool, grim-smilingdevil; and stretching out a long arm, he grasped her and swung her backto the bench.
"You stay there!" he ordered.
His voice, though neither brutal nor harsh nor cruel, had theunaccountable effect of making her feel powerless to move. No man hadever before addressed her in such a tone. It was the woman in her thatobeyed--not the personality of proud Madeline Hammond.
The padre lifted his clasped hands as if supplicating for his life, andbegan to speak hurriedly in Spanish. Madeline did not understand thelanguage. The cowboy pulled out a huge gun and brandished it in thepriest's face. Then he lowered it, apparently to point it at thepriest's feet. There was a red flash, and then a thundering report thatstunned Madeline. The room filled with smoke and the smell of powder.Madeline did not faint or even shut her eyes, but she felt as if shewere fast in a cold vise. When she could see distinctly through thesmoke she experienced a sensation of immeasurable relief that thecowboy had not shot the padre. But he was still waving the gun, and nowappeared to be dragging his victim toward her. What possibly could bethe drunken fool's intention? This must be, this surely was a cowboytrick. She had a vague, swiftly flashing recollection of Alfred's firstletters descriptive of the extravagant fun of cowboys. Then she vividlyremembered a moving picture she had seen--cowboys playing a monstrousjoke on a lone school-teacher. Madeline no sooner thought of it thanshe made certain her brother was introducing her to a little wild Westamusement. She could scarcely believe it, yet it must be true. Alfred'sold love of teasing her might have extended even to this outrage.Probably he stood just outside the door or window laughing at herembarrassment.
Anger checked her panic. She straightened up with what composure thissurprise had left her and started for the door. But the cowboy barredher passage--grasped her arms. Then Madeline divined that her brothercould not have any knowledge of this indignity. It was no trick. It wassomething that was happening, that was real, that threatened she knewnot what. She tried to wrench free, feeling hot all over at beinghandled by this drunken brute. Poise, dignity, culture--all theacquired habits of character--fled before the instinct to fight. She wasathletic. She fought. She struggled desperately. But he forced her backwith hands of iron. She had never known a man could be so strong. Andthen it
"What--do you--mean?" she panted.
"Dearie, ease up a little on the bridle," he replied, gaily.
Madeline thought she must be dreaming. She could not think clearly. Ithad all been too swift, too terrible for her to grasp. Yet she notonly saw this man, but also felt his powerful presence. And the shakingpriest, the haze of blue smoke, the smell of powder--these were notunreal.
Then close before her eyes burst another blinding red flash, and closeat her ears bellowed another report. Unable to stand, Madeline slippeddown onto the bench. Her drifting faculties refused clearly to recordwhat transpired during the next few moments; presently, however, as hermind steadied somewhat, she heard, though as in a dream, the voice ofthe padre hurrying over strange words. It ceased, and then the cowboy'svoice stirred her.
"Lady, say Si--Si. Say it--quick! Say it--Si!"
From sheer suggestion, a force irresistible at this moment when her willwas clamped by panic, she spoke the word.
"And now, lady--so we can finish this properly--what's your name?"
Still obeying mechanically, she told him.
He stared for a while, as if the name had awakened associations in amind somewhat befogged. He leaned back unsteadily. Madeline heard theexpulsion of his breath, a kind of hard puff, not unusual in drunkenmen.
"What name?" he demanded.
"Madeline Hammond. I am Alfred Hammond's sister."
He put his hand up and brushed at an imaginary something before hiseyes. Then he loomed over her, and that hand, now shaking a little,reached out for her veil. Before he could touch it, however, she sweptit back, revealing her face.
How strange--stranger than anything that had ever happened to herbefore--was it to hear that name on the lips of this cowboy! It was aname by which she was familiarly known, though only those nearest anddearest to her had the privilege of using it. And now it revived herdulled faculties, and by an effort she regained control of herself.
"You are Majesty Hammond," he replied; and this time he affirmedwonderingly rather than questioned.
Madeline rose and faced him.
"Yes, I am."
He slammed his gun back into its holster.
"Well, I reckon we won't go on with it, then."
"With what, sir? And why did you force me to say Si to this priest?"
"I reckon that was a way I took to show him you'd be willing to getmarried."
"Oh!... You--you!..." Words failed her.
This appeared to galvanize the cowboy into action. He grasped the padreand led him toward the door, cursing and threatening, no doubt enjoiningsecrecy. Then he pushed him across the threshold and stood therebreathing hard and wrestling with himself.
"Here--wait--wait a minute, Miss--Miss Hammond," he said, huskily. "Youcould fall into worse company than mine--though I reckon you surethink not. I'm pretty drunk, but I'm--all right otherwise. Just wait--aminute."
She stood quivering and blazing with wrath, and watched this savagefight his drunkenness. He acted like a man who had been suddenly shockedinto a rational state of mind, and he was now battling with himself tohold on to it. Madeline saw the dark, damp hair lift from his brows ashe held it up to the cool wind. Above him she saw the white stars in thedeep-blue sky, and they seemed as unreal to her as any other thingin this strange night. They were cold, brilliant, aloof, distant; andlooking at them, she felt her wrath lessen and die and leave her calm.
The cowboy turned and began to talk.
"You see--I was pretty drunk," he labored. "There was a fiesta--and awedding. I do fool things when I'm drunk. I made a fool bet I'd marrythe first girl who came to town.... If you hadn't worn that veil--thefellows were joshing me--and Ed Linton was getting married--andeverybody always wants to gamble.... I must have been pretty drunk."
After the one look at her when she had first put aside her veil he hadnot raised his eyes to her face. The cool audacity had vanished in whatwas either excessive emotion or the maudlin condition peculiar to somemen when drunk. He could not stand still; perspiration collected inbeads upon his forehead; he kept wiping his face with his scarf, and hebreathed like a man after violent exertions.
"You see--I was pretty--" he began.
"Explanations are not necessary," she interrupted. "I am verytired--distressed. The hour is late. Have you the slightest idea what itmeans to be a gentleman?"
His bronzed face burned to a flaming crimson.
"Is my brother here--in town to-night?" Madeline went on.
"No. He's at his ranch."
"But I wired him."
"Like as not the message is over in his box at the P.O. He'll be in townto-morrow. He's shipping cattle for Stillwell."
"Meanwhile I must go to a hotel. Will you please--"
If he heard her last words he showed no evidence of it. A noise outsidehad attracted his attention. Madeline listened. Low voices of men, thesofter liquid tones of a woman, drifted in through the open door. Theyspoke in Spanish, and the voices grew louder. Evidently the speakerswere approaching the station. Footsteps crunching on gravel attested tothis, and quicker steps, coming with deep tones of men in anger, toldof a quarrel. Then the woman's voice, hurried and broken, rising higher,was eloquent of vain appeal.
The cowboy's demeanor startled Madeline into anticipation of somethingdreadful. She was not deceived. From outside came the sound of ascuffle--a muffled shot, a groan, the thud of a falling body, a woman'slow cry, and footsteps padding away in rapid retreat.
Madeline Hammond leaned weakly back in her seat, cold and sick, and fora moment her ears throbbed to the tramp of the dancers across the wayand the rhythm of the cheap music. Then into the open door-place flasheda girl's tragic face, lighted by dark eyes and framed by dusky hair. Thegirl reached a slim brown hand round the side of the door and held on asif to support herself. A long black scarf accentuated her gaudy attire.
"Senor--Gene!" she exclaimed; and breathless glad recognition made asudden break in her terror.
"Bonita!" The cowboy leaped to her. "Girl! Are you hurt?"
He took hold of her. "I heard--somebody got shot. Was it Danny?"
"Did Danny do the shooting? Tell me, girl."
"I'm sure glad. I thought Danny was mixed up in that. He had Stillwell'smoney for the boys--I was afraid.... Say, Bonita, but you'll get introuble. Who was with you? What did you do?"
"Senor Gene--they Don Carlos vaqueros--they quarrel over me. I onlydance a leetle, smile a leetle, and they quarrel. I beg they begood--watch out for Sheriff Hawe... and now Sheriff Hawe put me in jail.I so frighten; he try make leetle love to Bonita once, and now he hateme like he hate Senor Gene."
"Pat Hawe won't put you in jail. Take my horse and hit the Peloncillotrail. Bonita, promise to stay away from El Cajon."
He led her outside. Madeline heard the horse snort and champ his bit.The cowboy spoke low; only a few words were intelligible--"stirrups...wait... out of town... mountain... trail ... now ride!"
A moment's silence ensued, and was broken by a pounding of hoofs, apattering of gravel. Then Madeline saw a big, dark horse run into thewide space. She caught a glimpse of wind-swept scarf and hair, a littleform low down in the saddle. The horse was outlined in black against theline of dim lights. There was something wild and splendid in his flight.
Directly the cowboy appeared again in the doorway.
"Miss Hammond, I reckon we want to rustle out of here. Been badgoings-on. And there's a train due."
She hurried into the open air, not daring to look back or to eitherside. Her guide strode swiftly. She had almost to run to keep up withhim. Many conflicting emotions confused her. She had a strange sense ofthis stalking giant beside her, silent except for his
Suddenly aware that she had been led beyond the line of houses, shespoke:
"Where are you taking me?"
"To Florence Kingsley," he replied.
"Who is she?"
"I reckon she's your brother's best friend out here." Madeline kept pacewith the cowboy for a few moments longer, and then she stopped. It wasas much from necessity to catch her breath as it was from recurringfear. All at once she realized what little use her training had been forsuch an experience as this. The cowboy, missing her, came back the fewintervening steps. Then he waited, still silent, looming beside her.
"It's so dark, so lonely," she faltered. "How do I know... what warrantcan you give me that you--that no harm will befall me if I go farther?"
"None, Miss Hammond, except that I've seen your face."
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