The Lighted Match (Chapter 17)

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Chapter 17

There were several things to harrow Benton's thoughts aside from the
ingenious tortures of memory. Blanco should have arrived at Monte Carlo
on the day of their separation. Benton himself had proceeded slowly to
Puntal and had now been an isolated guest at the Grand Palace Hotel for
two days, yet he had heard nothing from Manuel. Still the man from Cadiz
had not been idly cruising. The Isis had duly dropped her anchor in
the ultramarine waters where the rock of Monaco juts out like a
beckoning finger, and Monte Carlo spreads the marble display of its
rococo façades at the feet of the Maritime Alps.

That night, in the most detailed perfection of evening dress, he
wandered good-humoredly, yet aloof, through the crowds. He haunted the
groups that swarmed about the busy wheels in the casino. He mingled with
the diners upon the terraces of the principal hotels. He brushed elbows
with the strollers along the promenade and about the Cercle des
Etrangers, and all the while his studiously alert eyes wandered with
seeming vacancy of expression over the faces of the men and women whom
he passed.

Safe in the surety of being himself unknown, he trained his countenance
into the ennui of one who has no object beyond killing the hour and
contributing his quota to the income of the syndicate.

The evening was wasted, together with a few louis, and the next
morning found the Spaniard scrutinizing every face along the Promenade
des Anglais at Nice. Then he searched Cannes and Mentone, but by
evening he was back again in the sacred City of Black and Red.

As he disembarked from the yacht's launch and came up the white stairs
to the landing-stage, his eyes were still indolently wandering, but
before he reached the level of the Boulevard de la Condamine, the
expression changed with the suddenness of discovery into a glint almost
triumphant. It was only with strong effort that he banished the
satisfied light from his pupils and forced them to wander absently
again, along the glitter and color of the palm-lined promenade.

For Manuel had seen a slender, well-groomed figure leaning on the coping
of the sea-wall and gazing out with obvious amusement on the life of the
harbor. Although the Spaniard did not allow himself a second glance, he
knew that his search was ended. The attention of the man above was
dreamily fixed on the bay where a dozen darting motor-boats cut swift
courses hither and thither. His attitude was graceful. His bearing might
have been almost noble except for a deplorable lack of frankness which
spoiled otherwise fine eyes, and a self-indulgent weakness which marred
the angle of the chin.

The Bay at Monte Carlo is a haven for luxurious craft. Now the Prince of
Monaco's yacht lay at anchor and several others, hardly less handsome,
rode snugly offshore, but with the enthusiasm of a connoisseur the tall
gentleman disregarded all the rest and let his admiring gaze dwell on
the Isis.

The face was studiously altered. Where there had been a full mustache
there was now only a thinly clipped line, waxed and uptilting in needle
points. It had been dark brown. Now it was black. The hair formerly
brushed straight back from the forehead now showed beneath the hat-band.
The Van Dyke which had masked the receding tendency of the chin was
shaven away. Evidently the gentleman wished to present a changed
appearance to the world, but the visionary eyes were unmistakably those
of Louis, the Dreamer, and in lapses of thought the fingers of the right
hand nervously twisted and untwisted, after the manner of an old
personal trick.

As Blanco came up the stairs he brushed clumsily against the stranger
and paused to apologize.

"I am inexcusably awkward," he avowed with engaging contriteness.

The Duke protested that it was not worth mention, and added with a
smile, "I noticed that you came from that yacht. I think she is one of
the most beautiful little vessels I have ever seen."

"Thank you, Monsieur." Blanco was apparently much flattered. "She is
American built, and has some appointments which I have not seen
elsewhere." Then smilingly, but in hot haste, he rushed away.

During the course of the evening the Andalusian contrived to throw
himself repeatedly across the Duke's path. On each occasion he appeared
to be in great haste and under the necessity of immediate departure,
though he never left without a cordial word of recognition. He played
his game so adroitly that at the end of the evening the Duke felt as
though he and the stranger from the American-built yacht were old and
pleasant acquaintances.

It was as they stood watching the stiffer gambling of the elect in the
upper room of the Casino, after the wheels below had ceased to spin,
that the tall gentleman turned to Blanco.

"How do you say? Would a cup of coffee or a glass of wine go amiss?"

Without a trace of eagerness, the Andalusian assented and a few minutes
later he found himself across a café table at the Nouvel Hôtel de
Paris; listening to Louis, the Dreamer's soft voice, and watching the
slender fingers which nervously toyed with a Sévres cup.

"She is extremely beautiful in her lines," Louis was declaring. "I am
fond of yachts that are properly built. I am planning one myself, and
each new vessel holds for me a fresh interest."

"Ah, indeed!" The Spaniard was delighted. "Then we have fallen upon a
common enthusiasm. I am never so happy as when talking to a keen
yachtsman." Yet so long as the conversation threatened those nautical
technicalities in which he was utterly deficient, he managed to let the
other do the talking.

Manuel at last set down his cup and, looking up with a flash, as of
sudden inspiration, suggested: "But doubtless you will be stopping in
Monte Carlo a day or two? Possibly you will do me the honor of
inspecting the boat?"

The other protested that his friend was too good. He regarded himself
highly honored. He would be most charmed. But apparently the idea was
developing and Blanco was conceiving even more extended notions of

"Stay!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Why not breakfast with me, on board,
to-morrow at twelve? The launch will be at the landing at eleven
forty-five. I could take you cruising for a few knots, and let you test
her sailing qualities, returning in abundant time for dinner and the
amusements of the evening."

Louis gave the matter a moment's reflection, then declared that the
programme was delightful. He would not be engaged until the evening.

Blanco laughed uproariously. "It is most amusing," he declared. "I have
had supper with you--you are to breakfast with me, and I have not yet
told you my name!" He was searching for a card-case, which seemingly he
had misplaced. "I cannot find a card. No matter, my name is Sir Manuel

The Duke smiled as he rose from the table and took up hat and cane. "I
was equally forgetful," he said. "My name is Monsieur Breuillard."

The following day had advanced well into the afternoon, and Monsieur
Breuillard had punctuated with graceful compliment each point of
excellence in the equipment of the Isis, when Blanco led the way into
the small smoking saloon.

"Sailing qualities may not have been fairly tested," admitted Sir
Manuel, "since the sea was serene, the sky brilliant, and the breeze
insufficient to ruffle the water."

"The more charming, Monsieur!" exclaimed the guest, whose mood after a
pleasing day was mellow and complacent.

Blanco waved Monsieur Breuillard to an easy chair and pointed out
cigars. As chance would have it, he stood before the door, which he had
just closed.

"By the way--Your Grace--" He broke off abruptly to mark the effect of
the title on the other man. Evidently he found it highly pleasing for he
smiled as the Dreamer winced and came violently to his feet, pale and
rigid, but as yet too astounded for speech.

"I did not tell you, did I," went on the Spaniard, "that I have been Sir
Manuel Blanco only a few days, and that the title was conferred on me by
your royal kinsman, Karyl of Galavia, for a trifling service in
confounding his enemies? Before that I was a matador in Andalusia."

Delgado stood petrified, his features livid and his eyes blazing with
rage. An instinct warned him that to surrender to passion would be only
to trap himself more deeply. The man blocking the door filled its
breadth with his strong shoulders. Louis turned his head and his eyes
caught through the open porthole a glimpse of the receding shore-line of
the Riviera. Blanco followed the glance and smiled.

"We shall be losing shore in a short time," he calmly announced. "May I
have the honor of showing Your Grace to your stateroom?"

* * * * *

On the next evening Benton emerged from his rooms at the Grand Palace
Hotel in Puntal, and threading his way through the loungers on the
galleries, sought out a remote corner of the garden, where, under a
blossom-freighted vine, he could hear the surge of the sea, and, in a
tempered softness, the Viennese waltz of the hotel band. Under him the
harbor mirrored lights along the shore and those of ships at anchor. At
a distance the windows of the Palace could be seen.

"I beg your pardon--"

Benton recognized the coldly modulated voice before he glanced up at the
cloaked figure.

"Colonel Von Ritz," he said, "I am honored."

Von Ritz bowed.

"His Majesty requests that you will do him the honor of coming to the
Palace with me--now."

Despite the form of request in which the summons was couched, Von Ritz
clothed it in a coldness that brought to Benton's mind the implacable
politeness of an arrest. At the hint he stiffened.

"If His Majesty requests my presence," he replied with some shortness,
"it will be a pleasure to present myself at once. If--" he paused and
looked at the stiffly erect figure before him, "if the peremptory tone
you assume is a part of your instruction, I must remind you that I am an
American citizen, entirely free to accept or decline invitations--even
when they come from the Palace."

Von Ritz replied with unruffled gravity.

"If it will add to your sense of security, Mr. Benton, I shall be
pleased to drive you to your Legation and to have your government's
representative accompany us."

Benton flushed. "I was not speaking from any sense of personal
insecurity," he explained. "But I wished you to understand the manner in
which I prefer to be approached."

The Colonel waited with perfect courtesy for the American to finish,
then he went on in the same distantly polite tone and manner. "I had not
quite finished delivering my message when you--when you began to speak.
His Majesty instructs me to say that if you will accompany me to the
Palace he will regard it as a courtesy and will be grateful. He commands
me to add that he does not send this message officially or as coming
from the Court. It is simply that the Count Pagratide wishes to see you
and that it is obviously impossible for His Majesty--for the Count
Pagratide--to call on you here."

Benton was irritated with himself for his display of temper, and more
irritated with Von Ritz for his calm superiority of manner. His murmured
apology was offered with no very good grace as he turned to follow the
other's lead. Opposite the hotel entrance he stopped.

"Colonel," he said, "I have been awaiting news from Manuel Blanco. He
may send a message or come himself, and if so it may be vital for him to
establish instant communication with me."

"Certainly," agreed Von Ritz. "I would suggest that you introduce my
aide, who may be trusted, at the hotel and that he be instructed to
bring you any message. By that means, Señor Blanco, or his news, can
follow you directly to the Palace--and it does not become necessary to
take others into your confidence."

The same young Captain who had summoned Blanco in the Casino was left to
act as messenger and Benton, following the officer through a side gate
and into a side street, stepped into a closed carriage.

"I had not supposed that the Palace knew of my presence in Puntal,"
commented the American as he took his seat opposite the Colonel of

"You were seen on the promenade. It was reported from several sources,"
Von Ritz made answer. "Also," he added as an afterthought, "we knew of
your arrival two hours after you reached Puntal. You registered at the
hotel under your own name."

"Does the Queen also know of my presence?" asked Benton.

"No," was the brief reply.

For the remainder of the drive conversation died. The two men sat mutely
opposite each other as the carriage jolted over the cobble-stoned
streets, until the driver turned into the castle gates.

Then Von Ritz again leaned forward.

"Mr. Benton," he explained, "it happens that this evening a ball is
being given at the Palace for the members of the Diplomatic Corps. His
Majesty, supposing that you would desire a quiet reception, instructed
me to take you to the gardens of his private suite where he will shortly
join you; unless," added Von Ritz courteously, "you prefer the
Throne-room and dancing salles?"

Benton's reply was prompt.

"I believe I am to see the Count Pagratide," he answered. "I am grateful
to the Count for arranging that I might be secluded."

Blanco had gone into some detail in describing the chamber where he had
met the King, and later the Queen. Benton now recognized the place to
which he was conducted, from that description. As before, the room was
empty and the portières of the wide windows were partly drawn. Through
the opening he could see the small area perching on a space redeemed
from the solid rock. Dark masses against the sky marked the palms of the
garden, and through the window drifted the splashing of a fountain
mingled with the distant strains of the same Viennese waltz that the
hotel band had been playing. That year you might have heard it from the
Golden Gate to Suez and back again from Suez to the Golden Gate.

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