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[Illustration: "HE WAS A NOTICEABLY HANDSOME FIGURE AS HE SAT ALONE IN
THE BOX"

[_See p. 31_]




THE

LIGHT OF THE STAR


A Novel


BY

HAMLIN GARLAND

AUTHOR OF "HESPER"

"THE CAPTAIN OF THE GRAY-HORSE TROOP"

ETC. ETC.


NEW YORK AND LONDON

HARPER & BROTHERS

PUBLISHERS:: MCMIV




THE LIGHT OF THE STAR

Published May, 1904.




THE LIGHT OF THE STAR




I


After the appointment with Miss Merival reached him (through the hand of
her manager), young Douglass grew feverishly impatient of the long days
which lay between. Waiting became a species of heroism. Each morning he
reread his manuscript and each evening found him at the theatre, partly
to while away the time, but mainly in order that he might catch some
clew to the real woman behind the shining mask. His brain was filled
with the light of the star--her radiance dazzled him.

By day he walked the streets, seeing her name on every bill-board,
catching the glow of her subtle and changeful beauty in every window.
She gazed out at him from brows weary with splendid barbaric jewels, her
eyes bitter and disdainful, and hopelessly sad. She smiled at him in
framework of blue and ermine and pearls--the bedecked, heartless
coquette of the pleasure-seeking world. She stood in the shadow of gray
walls, a grating over her head, with deep, soulful, girlish eyes lifted
in piteous appeal; and in each of these characters an unfathomed depth
remained to vex and to allure him.

Magnified by these reflections on the walls, haloed by the teeming
praise and censure of the press, she seemed to dominate the entire city
as she had come to absorb the best of his own life. What her private
character really was no one seemed to know, in spite of the special
articles and interviews with her managers which fed the almost universal
adulation of her dark and changeful face, her savage and sovereign
beauty. There was insolence in her tread, and mad allurement in the
rounded beauty of her powerful white arm--and at his weakest the young
playwright admitted that all else concerning her was of no account.

At the same time he insisted that he was not involved with the
woman--only with the actress. "I am not a lover--I am a playwright,
eager to have my heroine adequately portrayed," he contended with
himself in the solitude of his room, high in one of the great apartment
buildings of the middle city. Nevertheless, the tremor in his nerves
caused him thought.

Her voice. Yes, that, too, was mysterious. Whence came that undertone
like the moan of a weary wastrel tortured with dreams of idyllic
innocence long lost? Why did her utterance, like her glorious face,
always suggest some inner, darker meaning? There were times when she
seemed old--old as vice and cruelty, hoarse with complaints, with
curses, and then again her lips were childishly sweet, and her voice
carried only the wistful accents of adolescence or the melody of girlish
awe.

On the night before his appointment she played _The Baroness Telka_, a
lurid, lustful, remorseless woman--a creature with a vampire's heart and
the glamour of Helen of Troy--a woman whose cheeks were still round and
smooth, but whose eyes were alight with the flame of insanity--a
frightful, hungry, soulless wretch. And as he sat at the play and
watched that glittering, inexplicable woman, and thought of her rôles,
Douglass asked himself: "How will she meet me to-morrow? What will be
the light in her eyes when she turns them upon me? Will she meet me
alone--haughty, weary with praise, or will she be surrounded by those
who bow to her as to a queen?" This latter thing he feared.

He had not been without experience with women--even with actresses; but
no woman he had ever met had appealed to his imagination beyond the
first meeting. Would it be so with Helen Merival? He had loved twice in
his life, but not well enough to say so to either of his sweethearts.
Around Myra's name clung the perfume and moonlight of summer evenings in
the far-off mid-continent village where he was born, while Violet
recalled the music, the comfort, and the security of a beautiful Eastern
home. Neither of these sweet and lovely girls had won his heart
completely. How was it that this woman of the blazoning bill-boards had
already put more of passion into his heart than they of the pure and
sheltered life?

He did not deceive himself. It was because Helen could not be understood
at a glance. She appealed to his imagination as some strange bird--alien
voyager--fled from distant islands in dim, purple seas. She typed the
dreams of adventuring youth seeking the princesses of other and more
romantic lands.

At times he shuddered with a fear that some hidden decay of Helen
Merival's own soul enabled her to so horrify her audience with these
desolating rôles, and when the curtain fell on _The Baroness_, he was
resolved to put aside the chance of meeting the actress. Was it worth
while to be made ashamed and bitter? She might stand revealed as a
coarse and selfish courtesan--a worn and haggard enchantress whose
failing life blazed back to youth only when on the stage. Why be
disenchanted? But in the end he rose above this boyish doubt. "What does
it matter whether she be true or false? She has genius, and genius I
need for my play--genius and power," and in the delusion he rested.

He climbed to his den in the tower as physically wearied as one
exhausted with running a race, and fell asleep with his eyelids
fluttering in a feverish dream.

The hour of his appointment with her fell upon Sunday, and as he walked
up the street towards her hotel the bells in a church on a side street
were ringing, and their chimes filled his mind with memories of the
small town from which he came. How peaceful and sweet the life of
Woodstock seemed now. The little meeting-house, whose shingled spire
still pointed at the stars, would always be sweet with the memory of
Myra Thurber, whose timid clasp upon his arm troubled him then and
pained him now. He had so little to give in return for her
devotion--therefore he had given nothing. He had said good-bye almost
harshly--his ambition hardening his heart to her appeal.

Around him, in his dream of those far-off days, moved other agile
forms--young lovers like Myra and himself, their feet creaking on the
glittering snow. They stepped slowly, though the bells called and
called. The moonlight was not more clear and untouched of baleful fire
than Myra's sweet eyes looking up at him, and now he was walking the wet
pavement of the great metropolis, with the clang and grind of cars all
about him, on his way to meet a woman whose life was spent in simulating
acts as destructive as Myra's had been serene and trustful. At the
moment he saw his own life as a thread in some mysterious drama.

"To what does it lead?" he asked, as he drew under the overhanging
portal of the great hotel where the star made her home. It was to the
man of the West a splendid place. Its builders had been lavish of highly
colored marbles and mosaics, spendthrift of light and gilding; on every
side shone the signs and seals of predatory wealth. Its walls were like
costly confectionery, its ornaments insolent, its waste criminal. Every
decorative feature was hot, restless, irreverent, and cruel, quite the
sort of avenue one might expect to find in his walk towards the
glittering woman of the false and ribald drama.

"She chose her abode with instinctive bad taste," he said, bitterly; and
again his weakness, his folly turned him cold; for with all his physical
powers he was shy to the point of fear.

He made a sober and singular spot in the blaze of the rotunda. So sombre
was his look, so intent his gaze. Youths in high hats and shining
shirt-fronts stood in groups conversing loudly, and in the resplendent
dining-hall bediamonded women and their sleek-haired, heavy-jewelled
partners were eating leisurely, attended by swarms of waiters so eager
they trod upon one another's feet.

The clerk eyed him in impassible silence as he took out his worn
card-case, saying: "Please send my card to Miss Merival."

"Miss Merival is not receiving any one this evening," the clerk
answered, with a tone which was like the slap of a wet glove in the
face.

Douglass faced him with a look which made him reflect. "You will let her
be the judge of that," he said, and his tone was that of one accustomed
to be obeyed.

The little man bowed. "Oh, certainly, Mr. Douglass, but as she left
orders--"

When the boy with his card had disappeared into the candy-colored
distances, the playwright found himself again studying the face of his
incomprehensible sorceress, who looked down upon him even at that moment
from a bulletin-board on the hotel wall, Oriental, savage, and
sullen--sad, too, as though alone in her solitary splendor. "She can't
be all of her parts--which one of them will I find as I enter her room?"
he asked himself for the hundredth time.

"Miss Merival will see Mr. Douglass," said the bell-boy. "This way,
sir."

As he stepped into the elevator the young man's face grew stern and his
lips straightened out into a grim line. It was absurd to think he should
be so deeply moved by any woman alive, he who prided himself on his
self-possession.

Down a long hall on the tenth floor the boy led him, and tapped at a
door, which was opened after a pause by a quiet woman who greeted him
with outstretched hand, kindly cordial.

"How do you do, Mr. Douglass? It is very good of you to come," she said,
with the simplest inflection.

"This must be an elder sister," he thought, and followed her into a
large sitting-room, where a gray-haired woman and a young man were
sipping after-dinner coffee.

"Mother, this is Mr.



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