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   Chapter 25 No.25

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 7905

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"The Light!"

Jed Avery sat alone. It was night, a moonlight night in Colorado, the whole world bathed in a cold radiance that conduces to dreams and fantasies.

But as he sat alone Jed's mind wove no light reveries. Far from it, indeed. He was sodden in spirit, weakened in nerve.

He rested his body on the edge of a chair seat and leaned far forward, elbows on his knees. His fingers twined continually, and on occasion one fist hammered the palm of the other hand.

"You old fool!" he whispered. "You old fool! Now, if he's gone-"

For twenty-four hours he had not dared frame the words.

He lifted his eyes to the window, and against the moonlight stood a bottle, its outlines distorted by incrustings of tallow. No candle was in its neck. There was only the bottle.

After a time the old man got up and paced the floor, three steps each way from the splotch of moonlight that came through the window. He had been walking that way for a night and a day-and now it was another night.

While it was daylight he had walked outside, eyes ever on the road, hoping, fearing. And no one had come! Now, as the night wore on and the boy did not return, Jed's condition bordered on distraction.

His pacing became faster and more fast. He lengthened the limits of his walk to those of the room, and finally in desperation jerked open the door to walk outside.

But he did not leave the threshold. Two figures, a man and a horse, coming up the road held him as though robbed of the will to move. He stood and stared, breathing irregularly. The man, who walked ahead, made his way slowly toward the gate. He was followed by the horse, followed as a dog might follow, for not so much as a strap was on the animal. The man's movements were painful, those of the horse deliberate.

Jed knew both those figures too well to be mistaken, even though his sight dimmed.

He wanted to cry out, but dared not. One question alone crowded to get past his teeth. The answer would mean supremest joy or sorrow. Fear of the latter held him mute.

The man unfastened the gate and let it swing open. "Come, boy," he said gently, and the big animal stepped inside.

With the same slow movements again, the man closed the bars.

Jed stood silent. A coyote high on the hills lifted his voice in a thin yapping, and the sound made Old VB shiver.

The boy came slowly toward the house. He saw Jed, but gave no sign, nor did the old man move. He stood there, eyes on the other in a misted stare, and VB stopped before him, putting a hand against the wall for support.

Then came the question, popping its way through unwilling, tight lips:

"Shall I light th' candle, Young VB?"

His voice was shrill, strained, vibrant with anxiety. But VB did not answer-merely lifted a hand to his hot head.

"VB, when you left last night th' candle dropped down into th' bottle an' went out. I didn't dare light a new one to-night-" His voice broke, and he paused a moment. "I didn't dare light it until I knowed. I've been settin' in th' dark here, thinkin' things-tryin' not to think dark things."

One hand went halfway to his mouth in fear as he waited for the other to answer. VB put a hand on Jed's shoulder, and the old man clamped his cold fingers over it desperately.

"Yes, Jed-light it," he said huskily. Then he raised his head and looked at the old man with a half smile. "Light it, Jed. Let it burn on and on, just for the sake of being bright. But we-we don't need it any more. Not for the old reason, Jed."

The cold hand twitched as it gripped the hot one.

"Not for the old reason, Jed," VB continued. "There's a bigger, better, truer light burning now. It won't slip into the bottle; it can't be blown out. It didn't waver when the true crisis came. It'll always burn; it won't slip down into the bottle. It's-it's the real thing."

He staggered forward, and Jed caught him, sobbing like a woman, a happy woman.

They had th

e whole story over then by the light of a fresh candle.

When Jed started forward with a cry at the recital of the shooting VB pushed him off.

"It's only a flesh wound; it don't matter-much. Mrs. Worth dressed it, and I'm all right. It's the Captain I want to tell about-the Captain, Jed!"

And he told it all, in short, choking sentences, stripping his soul naked for the little rancher. He did not spare himself, not one lone lash. He ended, crushed and bleeding before the eyes of his friend. After a pause he straightened back in his chair, the new fire in his eyes, the fire the man at Worth's had seen when he offered drink.

"But I've got to make it up to the Captain now," he said with a wild little laugh. "I've got to go on. He gave me the chance. He took me into blackness, into the test I needed, and brought me back to light. I've got to be a man, Jed-a man-"

And throughout the night Jed Avery tended the wound and watched and muttered-with joy in his heart.

Morning came, with quieted nerves for VB. He lay in the bunk, weak, immobile.

Jed came in from tending the horses.

"He didn't bleed, did he, VB?"


"It ain't what you thought, sonny. It ain't bad. Give him a rest an' he'll be better'n ever. Why, he's out there now, head up, whisperin' for you! You can't break a spirit like his unless you tear his vitals out!"

VB smiled, and the smile swelled to a laugh.

"Oh, Jed, it makes me so happy! But it won't be as it was. I can never let him carry me again."

The old man turned on the boy a puzzled look.

"What you goin' to do with him, VB-turn him loose again?"

"Not that, Jed; he wouldn't be happy. He'll never carry me again, but perhaps-perhaps he could carry a light rider-a girl-a woman."

And from Jed: "Oh-o-o-o!"

An interval of silence.

"That is," muttered VB, "if she'll take him, and-"

"Would you want him away from you?" the old man insisted.

"Oh, I hope it won't be that, Jed! I hope not-but I want her to- You understand. Jed? You understand?"

The other nodded his head, a look of grave tenderness in the old eyes.

"Then-then, Jed, I'm all right. I can get along alone. Would you mind riding over and-asking her if she'd come-

"You see, Jed, I know now. I didn't before-I'm sure it's worth the candle-and there'll be no more darkness; no lasting night for her if-"

Jed walked slowly out into the other room and picked up his spurs. VB heard him strap them on, heard his boots stamp across the floor and stop.

"I'd go, VB, but it ain't necessary."

The boy raised his head, and to his ears came the bellow of a high-powered motor, the sound growing more distinct with each passing second.

"Lord, how that woman's drivin'!" Jed cried. "Lordy!" And he ran from the house.

The bellow of the motor rose to a sound like batteries of Gatlings in action; then came the wail of brakes.

With a pulsing thrill VB heard her voice upraised-with such a thrill that he did not catch the dread in her tone as she questioned Jed.

She came to him swiftly, eyes dimmed with tears, without words, and knelt by his bunk, hands clasped about his head. For many minutes they were so, VB gripping her fine, firm forearms. Then she raised her face high.

"And you wouldn't let me help?" she asked querulously.

He looked at her long and soberly, and took both her hands in his.

"It was the one place you couldn't help," he muttered. "It was that sort-my love, I mean. I had to know; had to know that I wouldn't put a hateful mark on you by loving. I had to know that. Don't you see?"

She moved closer and came between him and the sunshine that poured through the open door. The glorious light was caught by her hair and thrown, it seemed, to the veriest corners of the dingy little room.

"The light!" he cried.

She settled against him, her lips on his, and clung so. From outside came the shrilling call of the Captain. VB crushed her closer.

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