The Lighted Match (Chapter 27)

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Chapter 27

Louis Delgado awaited Jusseret in an agony of doubt and fear.

The Frenchman was late. A dispatch from the frontier had announced his
coming, but to the anxiety of Delgado delays seemed numberless and

At last an aide ushered him into the apartment where the new Monarch
waited, his inevitable glass of Pernod and anisette twisting in his
fingers. Jusseret bowed.

"Where is Martin?" inquired the King.

"Dead," said the newcomer briefly. The Pretender paled palpably.
Evidently the plan had gone awry. Fear always stood near the fore, ready
to rush out upon Delgado's timid spirit.

"And being dead," resumed the Frenchman, "he is much safer."

Louis gave a half-shuddering sigh of relief. He had none of that
righteous horror of crime which makes the face of murder hideous, but in
its place he had all the terrors of the weak, and playing with life and
death gave him over to panic.

"I should suggest an announcement that King Karyl had fled for a time
from the cares of State and was traveling as a private gentleman in
strictest incognito, when sudden death overtook him. There need be no
hint of violence. There must be a State funeral."

"Where is the body?" objected Louis.

Jusseret shrugged his shoulders.

"That I cannot say. I can, however, assure you that it is quite
lifeless. Since the death occurred some days ago the lying in State may
be dispensed with. A closed casket is sufficient."

"And his Queen?"

"That point is left unguarded, but from intimations I have received, I
believe the Queen will be satisfied with private life. If you announce
her abdication, she will hardly contradict you."

"And Von Ritz?" persisted Louis, with the manner of one who wishes all
the ghosts which terrify him laid by someone stronger and less afraid of
ghosts than himself.

"Leave Von Ritz to me. He is no fool. Von Ritz knows who instigated the
murder of the King, but he is without proof. The thing happened far
beyond the borders of Galavia."

Louis rose unsteadily from his chair.

"Jusseret," he began, "this interview with Marie still confronts me and
I dread it. Would it not be better for you to explain to her? You could
persuade her that Kings are not free in these matters, that crowned
heads from antiquity to Napoleon have been compelled to obey the
dictates of State."

The Frenchman stiffened.

"Your Majesty," he observed, "it is impossible. Your attachment for the
Countess Astaride is a personal matter. I am concerned only in affairs
of State. I must even require of you, in respect to that confidence
which obtains between gentlemen, that you shall in no wise intimate that
this suggestion came from me."

The new incumbent, who had brought to the Throne of Galavia all the
libertine's irresoluteness, paced the floor in perplexed distress. He
feared Jusseret. He dared not anger or disobey him. It appeared that
being a King was not what he had conceived it, as he sat under the
chestnut trees of the Paris boulevards and listened to the band.

When Jusseret had left him to his thoughts he paused three times with a
tremulous finger on the call-bell, unable to command the courage
required to send a message to the Countess Astaride. Finally he
succeeded and five minutes later stood shamefacedly in the presence of
the woman who had made him King. She was more than usually beautiful,
and as always her beauty and personality dominated him, swayed his
senses like music. It was so easy to slip into the impetuous attitude
of the lover; so difficult to maintain the austere one of the Monarch.

Delgado nerved himself and began.

How he said it or what he said, he did not himself know when the words
had been spoken. He rushed through the speech he had prepared like a
frightened child at recitation and waited for the outburst of her anger.
He waited in vain.

Marie Astaride had plotted, had consented to every infamy which had been
suggested as necessary to bring the man she loved to the Crown.

Now she was silent.

The man looked up when he had waited a seeming century for the expected
torrent of reproach.

She was standing supporting herself upon her downward stretched arms,
her hands resting on the table. Her face was pallid and her magnificent
figure rigid. The scarlet fullness of her lips had gone bloodless. Her
eyes were stupefied.

At length she straightened herself, let go her support upon the table
and went slowly like a sleep-walker from the room. She had not spoken.
She had not said good-by, but Louis Delgado knew that she had walked out
of his life.

* * * * *

That evening Monsieur Jusseret of the French Cabinet Noir met, as if
by chance, young Lieutenant Lapas, who was now high in the favor of the
new government. Jusseret knew that the lure which had drawn young Lapas
away from the confidence of Karyl to the uncertain standard of Delgado
had been the influence of the Countess Astaride. He knew that Lapas
loved her hopelessly, willing even in her name to serve the greater man
who loved her more successfully. His attachment was that of the boy for
the woman who is mistress of all the mature arts of charm. This love
could be turned into the fanatic's zeal; this boy could be led to the
extreme of martyrdom, if the strings of his characterless nature were
played upon with a skill sufficiently consummate. Jusseret knew also a
number of other things. He knew that whereas he had, to all seeming,
brought a difficult task to completion, he was in reality not yet half
through. His own vision went farther into the future, and recognized in
the present only a mile-post far from the ultimate.

He led Lapas to his own rooms. He was leaving for Paris the following
morning, he explained, and wished a brief conference.

Jusseret could, when occasion demanded, be not only calm and
self-sufficient, but also emotional. Now he was emotional.

"Rarely, indeed," he began, "do I permit personal indignation to excite
me. But this is so unspeakable that I wished to talk to you. You enjoy
the confidence of the Countess Astaride?"

"Only in a humble way," confessed young Lapas.

"But you are her friend? If she were wronged and had no other defender,
you would assume her cause?"

"With my life," protested the officer, fervently.

"This matter," said Jusseret dubiously, "might cost you your life.
Possibly I should not tell you. As a politician I can have nothing to do
with it, but as a man, I wish I were myself free to act."

"Who has offended the Countess?" demanded Lapas hotly.

"Offended, my young friend! This is not an offense. It is the gravest
indignity that can be shown a woman. It is an insult to which a man must
either blind himself--or punish with such means as can ignore personal

"For God's sake," insisted the other, "explain yourself."

"Louis Delgado," began Jusseret quietly, "accepted this woman's love:
enjoyed it to the full. He sat and dreamed over his absinthe futile
dreams of power. He was too weak to strike a blow--too weak to raise a
hand. Then she took up his cause; intrigued, enlisted our interests,
raised his supine and powerless ambitions to a throne. There he abandons
her at the foot of the stairs by which he mounted; and refuses her his
Crown. He talks now of a more Royal alliance." Jusseret spread his hands
in a gesture of disgust.

Lapas rose tensely from his chair. The veins on his temples stood out
corded and deep-lined.

"This cannot be true, sir," he argued. "There must be some error. You
wrong the King."

"Am I the man to wrong Louis?" questioned the Frenchman. "You have only
to wait and see for yourself. The matter rests with you. She and I have
put Louis on the throne. So much I did as the servant of my government.
What I say to you I say as a man, and I had rather behold all my work
undone than to stand by and see it bear such fruit. Adieu."

He rose slowly and took his departure. Outside, he smiled.

"I fancy," he told himself, "he will go to the Countess. I fancy she
will corroborate me--and then--!" He dismissed the matter with his
habitual shrug.

* * * * *

Two weeks had passed since the tragedy in Stamboul, and the Isis
cruised aimlessly westward. The Mediterranean stretched to the horizon,
so placid that the froth from the wake washed languidly, almost
lifelessly, on the surface, and a single cloud hung stationary in the
softer blue of the sky. Wrapped in a steamer rug, her figure, more
slender in the simple lines of her black gown, Cara sat gazing toward
the receding coast-line of Malta. So she had spent most of the hours
since they had weighed anchor at Constantinople. On the deck at her feet
sat Benton.

At Piræus Von Ritz had secured a copy of the Figaro several days old,
and the men had read its report of the Regency of Louis in Puntal. Then
the yacht had called at Malta where the gray fortresses of Valetta frown
out to sea, and Von Ritz had once more gone in quest of news.

That had been yesterday. By common consent the two men refrained from
allusions to State matters in the girl's presence. Now the former
adviser of the King uneasily paced the deck. Over his usually
sphinx-like face brooded the troubled expression of one who confronts an
unwelcome necessity. Suddenly he halted before the girl's deck-chair,
and, schooling his voice with an apparent effort, spoke in his old-time
even modulation, but for once he found it difficult to meet the eyes of
the person he addressed.

"We have heretofore not spoken of things which we would all give many
years of life to forget," he began. Then he added with feeling: "Only
the sternest necessity could force me to do so now."

As he paused for permission to continue, the girl raised her eyes with a
sad smile that had grown habitual.

"I have come," said Von Ritz, "to stand for an implacable Nemesis to
you, and yet I should wish to be identified only with happiness in your
thoughts. To me one thing always comes first. The House of Galavia is my
gospel; has been my gospel since Karyl's father mounted its throne." He
paused and added gravely: "Louis Delgado has reaped his reward--he is

Benton's voice broke out in an explosive "Thank God!"

Von Ritz stood a moment silent, then, dropping to one knee, he took the
fingers which fell listlessly over the arm of Cara's steamer-chair and
raised them to his lips.

"Your Majesty is Queen of Galavia."

The American came to his feet, his hands clenched, but with quick
self-mastery he stood back, breathing heavily.

Cara sat for a moment only half-comprehending, then with a low moan she
leaned forward and covered her face with both hands.

"Forgive me," said Von Ritz. "I am your Nemesis."

Benton moved over silently and knelt beside her chair. Neither spoke,
but at last she raised her face and sat looking out at the water, then
slowly one hand came out gropingly toward the American and both of his
own closed over it. Von Ritz stood waiting.

When finally she spoke, her voice was almost childlike, full of

"I thought," she said, "that all that was over. I had thought that
whatever is left of life belonged just to me--for my very own. I thought
I could take it away and try to mend it."

Von Ritz turned his head and his eyes traveled northward and westward,
where, somewhere beyond the horizon, lay his country.

"Galavia needs you," he said with grave simplicity. "Unless you come to
her aid there must be ruin and dismemberment. You will save your

But his words appeared to convert all her crushed and pathetic misery
into anger. "It is not my country!" she replied almost fiercely. "To me
it means only--"

Von Ritz raised his hand supplicatingly. "It is my country," he said
sadly, "and--your duty. Its fate is in your hands."

The girl rose, swayed slightly, and putting out one hand for support,
stood with her black-gowned figure sketched slenderly against the white
of the cabin wall, her eyes irresolute and distressed.

"I must have time to think," she begged. "Will you leave me?" Von Ritz
bowed and retired.

She dropped exhaustedly into the chair again and for a long while sat
silent. Finally she turned toward the man who, kneeling by her side,
waited for her decision through what seemed decades of suspense, and her
hands went out gropingly again toward him.

"Dear," she said in a voice hardly more than a whisper, "whatever I
do--whatever I decide--always and always I love you!" Impulsively her
fingers clutched at his, which rested clenched on her arm-chair.

"You must go!" she said, after a long while. "With you here there is
nothing else in the world. I can see only you." With a catch in her
voice she rushed on. "You must not only go, but I must not know where
you go. I must not be able to call you back. You must give me your word
of honor."

He attempted to speak, but she tightened her hold on his hands and her
hurried utterance checked his words.

"No!" she said. "Listen! This time I decide forever. I must decide
alone. You must not only be out of my sight, but beyond recall. Three
months from to-day I shall write to you, but until then I must not know
your address. Three months from to-day you may be at 'Idle Times,' where
I first told you I loved you ... where we told each other ... if you
still wish to be. Then, if I decide that I am free, you will find my
letter there. If I'm not free, I had better not even write. I couldn't
write without calling you back. If I have to decide that way--" She
broke off with a shudder. "Oh, you must go--Dear!--you must go
quickly--! It is the only way you can help me."

A half-hour later, Benton turned to the approaching Von Ritz.

"Colonel," he said steadily, "I sail for San Francisco by way of Suez
from the first port we reach. You will favor me by accepting the Isis
as long as Her Majesty can use it."

Von Ritz met his eyes in silence and held out his hand.

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