The Lighted Match (Chapter 12)

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Chapter 12

On the next afternoon at the base of the flag-staff above Look-out Rock,
Lieutenant Lapas nervously swept the leagues of sea and land, spreading
under him, with strong glasses. Though the air was somewhat rarer and
cooler here than below, beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, and
the cigarettes which he incessantly smoked followed each other with a
furious haste which denoted mental unrest.

At a sound of foliage rustled aside and a displaced rock bumping down
the slope, the watcher took the glasses from his eyes with a nervous

Up the hill from the left climbed an unknown man. His features were
those of a Spaniard. As the officer's eyes challenged him he halted,
panting, to mop his brow with the air of one who takes a breathing space
after violent exertion. The newcomer smiled pleasantly as he leaned
against a bowlder and genially volunteered: "It is a long journey from
the shore." Then after a moment he added in a tone of respectful
inquiry: "You are Lieutenant Lapas?"

The officer had regained his composure. He regarded the other with a
mild scrutiny touched with superciliousness as he nodded acquiescence
and in return demanded: "Who are you?"

"Do you see that speck of white down yonder by the sea?" Blanco drew
close and his outstretched finger pointed a line to the Duke's lodge. "I
come from there," he explained with concise directness.

The officer bit his lip.

"Why did you come?" The Spaniard paused to roll a cigarette before he
answered: "I come from the Duke, of course. Why else should I climb this accursed
ladder of hills?"

"What Duke?" The interrogation tumbled too eagerly from the soldier's
lips to be consonant with his wary assumption of innocence. "There are
so many Dukes. Myself, I serve only the King."

The Spaniard's teeth gleamed, and there was a strangely disarming
quality in the smile that broke in sudden illumination over his dark

"I have been here only a few days," explained Blanco. Then, lying with
apt fluency, he continued: "I have arrived from Cadiz in the service of
the Grand Duke Louis Delgado, who will soon be His Majesty, Louis of
Galavia, and I am sent to you as the bearer of his message." He ignored
the other's protestations of loyalty to the throne as completely as he
ignored the frightened face of the man who made them.

Lapas had whitened to the lips and now stood hesitant. "I don't
understand," he stammered.

The Spaniard's expression changed swiftly from good humor to the
sternness of a taskmaster.

"The Duke is impatient," he asserted, "of delays and misunderstandings
on the part of his servants. His Grace believed that your memory had
been well schooled. Louis, the King, may prove forgetful of those who
are forgetful of Louis, the Duke."

Lapas still stood silent, pitiably unnerved. If the man was Karyl's spy
an incautious reply might cost him his life. If he was genuinely a
messenger from the Pretender any hesitation might prove equally fatal.

Time was important. Blanco drew from his pocket a gold seal ring which
until last night had adorned the finger of the Countess Astaride. Upon
its shield was the crest of the House of Delgado. At the sight of the
familiar quarterings, the officer's face became contrite, apologetic,
but above all immeasurably relieved.

"Caution is so necessary," he explained. "One cannot be too careful. It
is not for myself alone, but for the Duke also that I must have a care."

Blanco accepted the explanation with a bow, then he spoke energetically
and rapidly, pressing his advantage before the other's weakness should
lead him into fresh vacillation.

"The Duke feared that there might be some misunderstanding as to the
signal and the programme. He wished me to make it clear to you."

Lapas nodded and, turning, led the way through the pine trees to a small
kiosk that was something between a sentinel box and a signal station
built against the walls of the old observatory.

"I think I understand," said Lapas, "but I shall be glad to have you
repeat the Duke's commands and inform me if any changes have been made."

"No, the arrangements stand unaltered," replied the Spaniard. "My
directions were that you should repeat to me the order of your
instructions and that I should judge for His Grace whether or not your
memory is retentive. There must be no hitch."

"I don't know you," demurred Lapas.

"His Grace knows me--and trusts me. That should be sufficient," retorted
Blanco. "I bring you credentials which you will refuse to recognize at
your own risk. Unless I were in the confidence of the Duke, I could
scarcely be here with a knowledge of your plans."

Blanco's eyes blazed in sudden and well simulated wrath. "I have no time
to waste in argument. Choose quickly. Shall I return to Louis and inform
him that you refuse to trust those he selects to bear his orders?"

For an instant the Spaniard stood contemptuously regarding the other's
terror, then with a disgusted exclamation he turned on his heel and
started to the door of the kiosk. But Lapas was in a moment catching at
his elbow and protesting himself convinced. He led Blanco back to a

"Listen." The Lieutenant sat at the crude table in the center of the
small room and talked rapidly, as one rehearsing a well-learned lesson.

"The Fortress do Freres is stocked with explosives. Karyl goes there
with Von Ritz and others of his suite to inspect the place with the view
of turning it into a prison. The Grand Duke, waiting at his hunting
lodge, is to receive by wireless the message from Jusseret and
Borttorff, who convey the verdict of Europe, as to whether or not it is
decided to recognize his Government. If their message be favorable, he
will raise the Galavian flag on the west tower of the hunting lodge, and
I shall relay the message here with the flag at Look-out Point. This
flag-pole will be the signal to those in the city whose fingers are on
the key, and whose key will explode the powder in do Freres. If the
flag which now flies from the flag-staff here is still flying when the
King enters the fortress, the cap will explode. If the flag-staff is
empty, the King's visit will be uneventful. It will require fifteen
minutes for the King to go from the Palace to the Fortress. I must not
remain here--I must be where I can see."

Lapas rose and consulted his watch with nervous haste. "You will excuse
me?" he added. "I must be at my post. Are you satisfied?"

Blanco also rose, bowing as he drew back the heavy chair he had
occupied. "I am quite satisfied," he approved. His hands were gripping
the chairback and when Lapas had taken two paces to the front, and
Blanco had appraised the distance between, the chair left the floor.
With the same lightning swiftness of motion that had brought salvos of
applause from the bull-rings of Cadiz and Seville, he swung it above his
head and brought down its cumbersome weight in an arc.

Lapas, his eyes fixed on the door, had no hint. A picture of serene sky
and steady mountains was blotted from his brain. There was blackness
instead--and unconsciousness.

A bleeding scalp told the toreador that the blow had only cut and

Rapidly he bound and gagged his captive. Dragging him back through the
narrow room he made certainty doubly sure by tying him to the base of
the neglected telescope in the abandoned observatory.

A hundred yards below the rock, tucked out of sight of the man at the
flag-pole, stretched a ledge-like strip of level ground, backed by the
thick tangle of growth which masked the slope. Beyond its edge of
roughly blocked and crevassed stone, the gorge fell away a dizzy
thousand feet. Out of the pines struggled the half-overgrown path where
once a road had led from the castle. This way the earlier Lords of
Galavia had come to look across the backbone of the peninsula, to the

As Benton paced the ledge impatiently, awaiting the outcome of Blanco's
reconnoiter, he noticed with a nauseating sense of onrushing peril how
the purpled shadows of the mountains were lengthening across the valley
and beginning to creep up the other side.

Each time his pacing brought him to the edge of the clearing he paused
to look down at the sullen walls of Karyl's castle.

A woman, flushed and breathless from the climb, pushed through the scrub
pines at the path's end and stopped suddenly at the marge of the
clearing. Her slender girlish figure, clad in corduroy skirt and blue
jersey, was poised with lance-like straightness, and a grace as free as
a boy's. Her hands, cased in battered gauntlets, went suddenly to her
breast, as though she would muffle the palpitant heart beneath the
jersey. She stood for a moment looking at the man and the ultramarine of
her eyes clouded slowly into gray. The pink flush of exercise died
instantly to pallor in her cheeks.

Then the lips overcame an impulse to quiver and spoke slowly in an
undertone and with marked effort. "This is twice that I have seen you,"
she whispered, "although you are three thousand miles away."

The man wheeled, not suddenly, but heavily and slowly. "I am real," he
answered simply.

Cara put out one hand like a sleep-walker, and came forward, still

"Cara, dearest one!" he said impetuously. "You must have known that I
would be near you--that I would be standing by, even though I couldn't

She shook her head. "I have been having these hallucinations, you know,
of late." She explained as though to herself. "I guess it's--it's just
missing people so that does it."

She was close to him now, close, too, to the sheer drop of the cliff,
walking forward with eyes wide and fixed on his face. He took a quick
step forward and swept her to him, crushing her against his breast.

She gave a glad exclamation of realization, and her own arms closed
impulsively around his neck.

"You are real! You are real!" she whispered, looking into his eyes, her
gauntleted hands holding his face between them.

"Cara," he begged, "listen to me. It's my last plea. You said in the
letter I have in my pocket--there where your heart is beating--that you
could not refuse me if I came again. Dear, this is 'again.' The Isis
is a speck out there at sea awaiting a signal. Will you go? I have no
throne to offer, but--"

"Don't," she cried, holding a hand over his lips. "For a minute--just
for a little golden minute--let us forget thrones." Then as the furrow
came back between her brows: "Oh, boy, it's my destiny to be always
strong enough to resist happiness when I might have it by being less
strong, and always too weak to bear bravely what must be borne--when it
can't be helped."

He stood silent.

After a moment she went on. "And I love you. Ah, you know that well
enough, but up there beyond your head which I love, I see the green and
white and blue flag of Galavia which I hate, and destiny commands me to
be disloyal to you for loyalty to it. On the eve of life imprisonment,"
she went on, clinging to him, "I have stolen away to play truant perhaps
for the last time--still craving freedom, longing for you; and now I
find freedom, and you, just to lose you again! I can't--I can't--yes--I
can--I will!"

Suddenly he held her off at arms' length and looked at her with a
strange wide-eyed expression of discovery.

"But," he cried with the vehemence of a sudden thought, "you are up
here--safe! Safe, whatever happens down there! Nothing that occurs there
can affect you!"

"Safe, of course," she spoke wonderingly. "What danger is there?"

The man turned. "For God's sake--let me think a moment!" He dropped on
the pine needles and sat with his hands covering his face and his
fingers pressed into his temples. She came over.

"Does that prevent your thinking?" she softly asked, dropping on her
knees at his side and letting one hand rest on his shoulder.

For moments, lengthening into minutes, he sat immovable, fighting back
the agonized and torrential flood of thought which burst upon him with
unwarned temptation. The danger was not after all a danger to the woman
he loved, but a menace to his enemy. She was safe three thousand feet
above the threatening city. He had only to hold his hand, perhaps, for a
half-hour; had only to keep her here and let matters follow their

He was not entertaining the thought, except to assure himself that he
could not entertain it, but it was racking him with its suddenness. The
King was there--in peril. She was here--safe. Insistently these two
facts assaulted his brain.

"Pardon, Señor." Blanco broke noisily down through the pines and
halted where the path emerged. For an instant he stood in bewildered

"Pardon, Your Highness--" he exclaimed, bending low; then, quenching the
recognition in his eyes and assuming mistake, he laughed. "Ah, I ask
forgiveness, Señorita. I mistook you for the Princess. The resemblance
is strong. I see my error."

"Manuel!" Benton rose unsteadily and stared at the toreador with a
face pallid as chalk. He spoke wildly, "Quick, Manuel--have you learned

The Spaniard glanced inquiringly at the girl, and as Benton nodded
reassurance went on in a lowered voice. Only fragments of his speech
reached Cara's ears. Her own thoughts left her too apathetic to listen.

"The plan is this. It is to happen at the Fortress do Freres this
afternoon while the King inspects the arsenal. Now, in fifteen minutes!"
He pointed down toward the city. "See, the cortége leaves the Palace!
Lapas was to be here at the rock--the blessed Saints help him! He is
hobbled to his telescope." Swiftly he rehearsed the story as it had come
from the lips of Lapas.

Benton was studying the Duke's lodge with his glasses. "There is a flag
flying on the west tower," he muttered.

He turned slowly toward the Princess. Outstanding veins were tracing
cordlike lines on his temples. His fingers trembled as he focused the

Blanco looked slowly from one to the other. Suddenly he threw back both
shoulders and his eyes grew bright in full comprehension of the
situation he had discovered.

"Señor!" he whispered.

"Yes?" echoed the American in a dull voice.

"Señor--suppose--suppose I have confused the signals?" The tone was

Benton's mind flashed back to a Sunday School class of his childhood and
his infantile horror for the tale of a tempter on a high mountain
offering the possession of all the world if only--if only-He took a step forward. Speech seemed to choke him.

"In God's name!" he cried, "you have not forgotten?"

The Spaniard slowly shook his head and smiled. The expression gave to
his face a touch of the sinister. "No--but it is yet possible to forget,
Señor. I serve no King, I serve you. Sometimes a mistake is the truest
accuracy. Quien sabe?"

The Andalusian looked at the girl who stood puzzled and waiting.
"Sometimes in the Plaza de Toros, Señor," he went on, speaking rapidly
and tensely, "the throngs cry, 'Bravo, matador!' and toss coins into
the ring. Yet in a moment the same throngs may shout until their
throats are hoarse: 'Bravo, toro!' A King is like a bull in the ring,
Señor--he has a fickle fate. To me he is nothing--if it pleases
them--it is their King--let them do as they wish." He shrugged his

Benton straightened. "Manuel," he said with a strained tone, "the flag
comes down."

The Andalusian smiled regretfully, and once more shrugged his shoulders.

"As you say, Señor, but are you sure you wish it so?"

"Manuel, I mean that!" said the American with a steadied voice. "And for
God's sake, Manuel," he added wildly, "throw the rope over the gorge
when you have done it!"

For a moment Benton stood rigid, his hands clenched together at his back
as he watched the quick step of the Andalusian climbing to the
flag-staff. At last he turned dully and looked down where he could see
the royal cortége, not yet half-way along the road to the fortress, then
he went over to the girl's side.

"Cara," he said, "I have earned the right to kiss you good-by."

"It's yours without the earning, but good-by--!" She shuddered. "What
does it all mean?" she asked in bewilderment. "What was it you

"Listen," he commanded. "Tell Von Ritz or Karyl that Lapas is a traitor
and a prisoner in the observatory; that Louis is at his lodge and that
the Countess Astaride is a conspirator in a plot to assassinate the
King. Tell them that a percussion cap and key connect the magazines of
do Freres with the city."

The Princess looked at him with eyes that slowly widened in amazed
comprehension. "I understand," she whispered. "And the flag--see, it is
coming down--that means?"

He dropped on one knee and lifted her fingers to his lips. "It means
that you are to be crowned Queen in Galavia to-morrow," he answered with
a groan. "Long live the Queen!"

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