The Lighted Match (Chapter 26)

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Chapter 26

The muezzin had called the devout to their prayer-rugs for the third
time that day, when the girl and the two men turned from the Stamboul
end of Galata Bridge into the tawdry confusion of buildings which
cluster about the Mosque Yeni-Djami. They were bound for the bazaars.

Along the twisting ways stretched the booths of native merchants stocked
with the thousand fascinating trifles that the City of the Sultan
markets to the journeying world. Everywhere the crowd surged and

On the side street where the shops are a trifle larger than their
neighbors, one Mohammed Abbas keeps his curio bazaar. In such flowery
Orientalism of appeal did he couch his plea for an inspection of his
wares, that Cara was persuaded and turned into the shop. Cut off by
pressure of the crowd, Pagratide, who was following, some paces back,
caught a glimpse of her figure in the door and fought his way to her
side, but Benton, having stopped to price a bracelet of antique silver
set with turquoises, lost sight of them. The girl had become interested
in a quaint, curved dagger thickly studded with semi-precious stones.

Mohammed Abbas urged her to see the rarer and choicer articles which he
kept in an upper room. As they tailed, a half-dozen natives, swarthy and
villainous of face, drifted into the shop to be promptly ordered out by
the proprietor, who used for that purpose a vocabulary of scope and
vividness. The ruffians retreated after a brief conversation in guttural
Arabic, but not by the street door through which they had come. Instead,
they left by a low-arched exit to the rear, concealed from view by the
angle of the screening stairway. Abbas led his customers to an upper
room which they found dark except where he lighted it as he went with
hanging lamps. Its space was generous, broken here and there by piles of
ebony furniture, inlaid with pearl; pieces of Saracenic armor,
Damascened bucklers, and all the gear too large for the narrow confines

Half an hour's searching through the chaos of wares failed to reveal the
choice daggers which Mohammed wished them to see, and with many
apologies for added annoyance he begged Monsieur and Madame to mount
yet another flight, and visit yet another store-room. At the head of
these stairs they encountered absolute darkness and the shopman, with
his ever-ready apologies, paused again to light lamps.

As Pagratide's pupils accustomed themselves to the murk he realized that
this last room was bare except for tapestries hung flat against the
wall, and that at its farther side narrow slits of light showed along
the sills of two doors. Turning, he noted the darker shadow of some
recess in the wall, immediately to his left.

Suddenly Mohammed Abbas closed the door upon the stairs, and sharply
clapped his hands. In all lands where Allah is worshiped, clapping of
the hands is a signal of summons. Thrusting his hand into the pocket
where he had stored an automatic pistol, Karyl found it empty, and
remembered that on the stairway the merchant had apologized for jostling
him. Then simultaneously the two opposite doors opened and framed
against their light a momentary picture of crowding Arabs.

* * * * *

Outside, Benton had been searching. First he had felt only annoyance for
a chance separation, but when ten minutes of futile wandering had
lengthened to fifteen, annoyance gave way to fear, and fear to panic. A
dozen tragic stories of mysterious disappearances in Stamboul crowded
like nightmares upon his memory. At last, standing bewildered in the
street, he caught sight of a familiar figure; a figure that filled him
with astonishment and delight.

Colonel Von Ritz had left Cairo to return to Puntal. Now here he was in
a crooked Stamboul street, appearing without warning, but with his
almost uncanny faculty for being at the right spot when needed. He
shouldered his way to the side of the officer.

Though the two men had parted several weeks before, the Galavian greeted
the other only with a formal bow, and an abrupt question. "Where are

"I have lost them," replied Benton. He rapidly sketched the events of
the last half-hour, and confessed his own apprehensions.

With evidence of neither anxiety nor interest, Von Ritz listened, and
replied with a second question. "Have you seen Martin?"

Benton gave a palpable start. "Martin!" he ejaculated. "Is Martin in

For reply Von Ritz permitted himself the rare indulgence of a smile.

"Martin is here," he said briefly.

"And you--?"

As he spoke the figure of Martin himself emerged from a shop a few paces
ahead, and without a backward glance cut diagonally across the narrow
street to disappear into the doorway of the curio shop which is kept by
Mohammed Abbas.

When, after being cut off and delayed for some minutes by a passing
donkey train, Von Ritz and Benton entered the place, they found it empty
except for a native salesman, but as the Galavian paused to make a
trivial purchase his listening ear caught a sound above. Without
hesitation, he wheeled and mounted the stairs with Benton close at his
heels. Behind him the shop-clerk stood irresolute--taken aback, with a
vague consciousness that he should have devised a way to stop this
gigantic Infidel. Assuredly the master would be angry. Orders had been
explicitly given to allow no one to climb those steps to-day without

While Cara and Karyl had been on the second floor, a heavy Osmanli,
wearing the Sultan's uniform, had stood in the center of the room above,
looking about with keen, pig-like eyes, as he gave rapid commands to a
half dozen Arabs of villainous visage.

"You, Sayed Ayoub," he ordered, "take your pig of a self and others like
unto you into that doorway by the stairs. Remain until you hear men
enter from these two doors, facing the Infidel dogs. Then come upon them
from behind. The man is to be bound, and when evening comes--but that is
later! Still, if he resists too much--" The speaker shrugged his heavy
shoulders and made a certain gesture.

"And the woman? What of her?" The question came from a gigantic Bedouin
whose evil countenance was made the more sinister by one closed and
empty eye-socket.

Abdul Said Bey nodded. "She is to be tenderly handled," he enjoined.
"She, also, must disappear, but that shall be my care. My harem is as
silent as the Bosphorus."

There were steps on the stairs, and instantaneously the room emptied
itself and became silently dark.

When Karyl heard the hand-clapping of the decoy shopman, and saw the
responding ruffians in the opposite doors, he swiftly thrust the girl
into the spot of blacker shadow at his back, and seized the wrist of
Mohammed Abbas with a force and suddenness that wrung from him a piteous

Keeping the Turk before him, he backed toward the shadowed recess, with
the one idea of shielding Cara. But the darker spot was the door behind
which Sayed Ayoub lay in ambuscade, and as Karyl reached it, it swung
open, showing them against a background as bright as though they were
painted on yellow canvas.

With his free arm he swept Cara into the doorway, wheeling quickly in
front of her, and sent Mohammed Abbas lurching forward into the faces of
the assailants led by Sayed Ayoub. Instantly, however, his arms were
pinioned from behind by the reënforcements, and as he frantically
struggled to turn his face, in an effort to see the girl, some thick
fabric fell over his head, covering mouth and eyes, and he went down
stifled and garroted into insensibility.

Seeing the man overwhelmed and dragged through the door, Cara stood
rigidly upright, white in the intensity of voiceless outrage, until the
gigantic brute with one sightless eye and a greasy tarboosh reached
out his grimy hand and seized her. Then she sickened at the profaning
shock of his touch, and fell unconscious.

A few moments later the "English Jackal" stood nonchalantly looking down
at the bound figure of the former King lying on the floor, shoulders
propped against the wall, head wrapped in a richly embroidered shawl
from Persia. Lamps had been kindled. The head wrappings had already been
somewhat loosened and Karyl was stirring with the indication of
returning consciousness.

"Oh, damn it!" remarked Martin in disgust. "He doesn't need to be both
trussed up and gagged, you know. He's quite safe. Take off the head

He stuffed tobacco into his blunt bull-dog pipe as he supervised the
undoing of the smothering fabric and complacently looked at his

Freed from the bandage, and drinking in again reviving breaths, Karyl
awoke to the sense of his surroundings. His eyes at once swept the place
for Cara, but he saw only the closed door of the room where she was

Martin looked down and as their eyes met he casually nodded.

"Sorry to inconvenience you," he commented affably, "but this is
politics, you know. I happen to work for the other chap, King Louis." As
an afterthought he added: "And the other chap thinks that you are, to
put it quite civilly, unnecessary."

He smoked meditatively, while Karyl, without reply, scowled up into his
face. The sense of futility left Pagratide silent. He lay insanely
furious like a trapped wolf, able only to glare.

Suddenly the complacency deserted the Englishman's features, for a
startled expression. With a violent malediction he bent forward

Karyl's ears also caught the sound of feet on the stairs, immediately
followed by a crash upon the door.

Martin drew a heavy revolver from a holster under his coat, and his
voice ripped out orders with the sharp decision which had survived the
days when he wore a British uniform. "Here, you beggars," he shouted,
"to that door!"

As the Bedouins swarmed forward there came a second crash under which
the panels fell in, precipitating Von Ritz and Benton into a fierce
swarm of human hornets.

Falling desperately upon the newcomers with swords, knives and
naboots, the bravos afforded them no time to take breath after their
climb of the stairs.

Martin, standing with his pipe clamped between his teeth, took no part
in the onslaught. He cast a glance at the turmoil, then deliberately
cocked his weapon and leveled it at the breast of his captive.

Karyl realized that the Jackal was not to be led away from his single
purpose: that of execution. If he himself were to speak to his rescuers,
he must do it quickly. He raised his voice.

"Von Ritz! To that door!" he shouted loudly, but the Galavian and his
companion, fighting desperately to hold their own, with the shouts and
clamor of the struggling Moslems in their ears, did not hear, and the
Englishman only smiled.

"They are quite busy, you know," he drawled in a half-apologetic tone.
"Give them a bit of time."

Von Ritz was fighting with the blade of his sword-cane, while Benton,
too closely pressed to make use of his pistol, was relying upon his
fists. Indeed, the two white men owed their lives to the crowding which
made effective fighting impossible on either side.

At last the Turks gave back a few steps for a fresh rush and Benton,
taking instant advantage of the widened space, fired into the crowd.
They turned in terror at the first report and went stampeding to the
several doors. Then for the first time the rescuers caught sight of the
Englishman standing guard over the bound figure on the floor.

With the grim smile of one who, recognizing the end, neither flinches
nor dallies, Martin fired two shots from his leveled revolver.

A half-second too late Benton's magazine pistol ripped out in a frenzied
series of spats. The Englishman swayed slightly, his face crimson with
blood, then, propping himself weakly against the wall, he fired one
ineffectual shot in reply. Slowly wilting at waist and knees, his figure
slipped to the floor and lay shapelessly huddled near that of Karyl. The
stench of powder filled the room. Twisting spirals of smoke curled

Von Ritz and Benton, kneeling at the King's side, raised him from the
floor. The wounded man attempted to speak. His eyes turned inquiringly
toward the door of the other room. Benton caught the questioning look
and nodded his head. Then Karyl settled back against the officer's
supporting shoulder after the fashion of a reassured child.

"The King is dead," said Colonel Von Ritz quietly. There was something
very pathetic in the steady despair of his voice.

A door opened, and several Bedouins retreated shame-faced and cowed
before a heavy Turk who wore the Sultan's uniform. His small, pig-like
eyes blazed with terrifying wrath. Looking about the room for a moment,
he volcanically reviled them.

"You dogs! You pigs! You serpents!" he shrieked. "Your hearts shall be
thrown to the buzzards! Your children dishonored! You have dared to
attack the foreign Pashas, and you--Mohammed Abbas--!" The shopkeeper
fell trembling to his knees. "Your filthy shop shall be pulled down
about your ears. You make it a trap--your feet shall be bastinadoed
until you are a cripple for life!" Then his rage choked him, and,
wheeling, he walked over to Benton, contemptuously kicking the prostrate
body of Martin Effendi as he went.

From every pore Abdul Said Bey exuded sympathy and commiseration.
Scenting liberal backshish, he promised absolute secrecy for the
affair, coupled with soothing assurances of private vengeance upon the
surviving miscreants. Also, he bewailed the disgrace which had fallen
upon the Empire by reason of such infamy. He presumed that the foreign
gentlemen preferred secret punishment of the malefactors to a public
sensation. It should be so.

In his anxiety for Cara, Benton left Von Ritz to adjust matters with the
Turk, who with profound courtesy and amazing promptness had closed
carriages at a rear door, and caused his kavasses to clear the
alley-way of prying eyes.

When the American reached the room where Cara had been left it was
deserted by the assassin's guards. With a sudden stopping of his heart,
he saw her lying apparently lifeless on a stacked-up pile of rugs. In a
terror that he scarcely dared to investigate, he laid his ear hesitantly
to her breast, then, reassured, he gave thanks for the anesthetic of
unconsciousness with which nature had blinded her to the tragedy beyond
the closed door.

Two curtained carriages drove across Galata Bridge and in the mysterious
quiet of Stamboul there was no ripple on the surface of affairs as other
tourists haggled over a few piastres in the curio shops of the

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