The Lighted Match (Chapter 20)

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Chapter 20

"And yet," declared young Harcourt, "if there still survives, anywhere
in the world, a vestige of Romance, this should be her refuge; her last
stand against the encroachments of the commonplace."

He spoke animatedly, with the double eagerness of a boy and an artist,
sweeping one hand outward in an argumentative gesture. It was a gesture
which seemed to submit in evidence all the palpitating colors of Capri
sunning herself among her rocks: all the sparkle and glitter of the Bay
of Naples spreading away to the nebulous line where Ischia bulked
herself in mist against the horizon: all the majesty of the cone where
the fires of Vesuvius lay sleeping.

Across the table Sir Manuel Blanco shrugged his broad shoulders.

Benton lighted a cigarette, and a smile, scarcely indicative of frank
amusement, flickered in his eyes.

"Do you hold that Romance is on the run?" he queried.

"Where do you find it nowadays?" demanded the boy in flannels. "There!"
With the violence of disgust he slammed a Baedeker of Southern Italy
down upon the table. "That is the way we see the world in these days! We
go back with souvenir postcards instead of experiences, and when we get
home we have just been to a lot of tramped-over places. I'll wager that
a handful of this copper junk they call money over here, would buy in a
bull market all the real adventure any of us will ever know."

The three had been lunching out-doors in a Capri hotel with flagstones
for a floor and overhanging vine-trellises for a roof. Chance had thrown
this young stranger across their path, and luncheon had cemented an

"Who can say?" suggested Benton. "Why hunt Trouble under the alias of
Romance? Vesuvius, across there, is as vague and noiseless to-day as a
wraith, but to-morrow his demon may run amuck over all this end of
Italy! And then--" His laugh finished the speculation.

"And yet," went on the boy, after a moment's pause, "I was just thinking
of a chap I met in Algiers a while back and later on the boat to Malta.
I ran across him in one of those vile little twisting alleys in the
Kasbah quarter where dirty natives sit cross-legged on shabby rugs and
eye the 'Infidel dogs' just as spiders watch flies from loathsome
webs--ugh, you know the sort of place!" He paused with a slight shudder
of reminiscent disgust. "I fancy he has had adventures. We had a glass
of wine later down at one of the sidewalk cafés in the Boulevard de la
Republique. He showed me lots of things that a regular guide would have
omitted. The fellow was on his uppers, yet he had been something else,
and still knew genteel people. Up on the driveway by the villas, where
fashion parades, he excused himself to speak with a magnificently
dressed woman in a brougham, and she chatted with him in a manner almost
confidential. He told me later she might some day occupy a throne; I
think her name was the Countess Astaride."

Benton looked up quickly and his eyes met those of the Spaniard with a
swiftly flashed message which excluded Harcourt.

"This fellow and I were on the same boat coming over to Valetta,"
continued the young tourist. "One night in the smoke-room, the steward
was filling the glasses pretty frequently. At last he became

"Yes?" prompted Benton.

"Well, he told me he had once held a commission in the British Army and
had seen service in diplomacy as military attaché. Then he got
cashiered. He didn't go into particulars, and of course I didn't
cross-question. He recited some weird experiences. He had been a cattle
man in Australia and a horse-trader in Syria and had served the Sultan
in Turkey. There were lots of things that would have made a good book."
The boy's voice took on a note of young ardor. "But the great story was
the one he told last. He had stood to win a title of nobility in this
two-by-four Kingdom of Galavia, but it had slipped away from him just on
the verge of attainment."

Harcourt slowly drained his thin Capri wine and set down the goblet.

"I must watch the time," he remembered at last, drawing out his watch.
"I do the Blue Grotto this afternoon.... Well, to continue: This chap
gave the name Browne (he insisted that it be Browne with an e), though
while he was drunk he called himself Martin.

"He told a long and complicated story of plans in which a King was to
lose his life and throne. He said that the secret cabinets of several of
the major European governments were interested, and that just as
carefully prepared plans were about to be consummated something
happened--something mysterious which none of the cleverest agents of the
governments had been able to solve. In some unfathomable way someone had
discovered everything and stepped between and disarranged. No upheaval
followed and of course Browne never won his title. They have never yet
learned who saved that throne. Someone is working magic and getting
away with it under the eyes of Europe's cleverest detectives."

The boy stopped and looked about to see if his recital had aroused the
proper wonderment. Both men gave expression of deep interest. Flattered
by the impression he had made, Harcourt went on. "Now you fellows are
old travelers--men of the world--I am a kid compared to you. Yet has
either of you stumbled on such a story as that? So you see wonderful
things do sometimes happen under the surface of affairs with never a
ripple at the top of the water. Browne--or Martin--said that the Duke
would reign yet--oh, yes, he said the Powers would see to that!"

"Señor, what became of your friend?" inquired Blanco.

"Oh!" the boy hesitated for a moment, then broke into a laugh. "I'm
afraid that's an anti-climax. They found that he was simply a nervy
stowaway. He had not booked his passage and so--"

"They put him off?"

"Yes, at Malta. Meantime he was stripped to the waist and armed with a
shovel in the stoke-hold."

Benton laughed.

"There was another phase to it, though--" began the boy afresh.

At that moment the whistle of the small excursion steamer below broke
out in a shrill scream. Young Harcourt hurriedly pushed back his chair
and grabbed for his Panama hat. "Cæsar!" he cried, "there's the whistle.
I shall miss my boat for the Grotto." And he hastened off with a shout
of summons to a crazy victoria that was clattering by empty.

During a long silence Blanco studied the cone of Vesuvius.

"Blanco!" Benton leaned across the table with an anxious frown and
stretched out a hand which over-turned the wine glasses. "There was one
thing he said that stuck in my memory. He said the Powers would see that
in the end Louis had his throne."

The Spaniard shook his head dubiously.

"The Powers have lost their instrument! You forget, Señor, that this
is underground diplomacy. It must appear to work itself out and the new
King must be logical. With Louis a prisoner their meddling hands are

Benton rose and pushed back his chair. His companion joined him and
together they passed out through the stone-flagged court and into the
road. For fifteen minutes they walked morosely and in silence through
the steep streets where the shops are tourist-traps, alluringly baited
with corals and trinkets. Finally they came out on the beach where many
fishing boats were dragged up on the sand, and nets stretched, drying in
the sun.

Then Benton spoke.

"In God's name, Manuel, what do I care who occupies the throne of
Galavia? No other man could so block my path as Karyl." Then as one in
the confessional he declared shamefacedly: "I have never said it to any
man because it is too much like murder, but--sometimes I wish I had
reached Cadiz one day later than I did." He drew his handkerchief and
wiped the moisture from his forehead.

The Spaniard skillfully kindled a cigarette in the spurt of a match,
which the gusty sea-breeze made short-lived.

"And now," he calmly suggested, "it is still possible to let Europe play
out her game alone. After all, Señor, we are as the young touristo
indicated--only amateurs."

"And yet, Manuel," the American smiled half-quizzically, "yet we seem
foreordained to play bodyguard to Karyl. Fate throws him on our hands."

"We might decline in future to accept the charge."

Benton halted so close to the water's edge that a bit of sea-weed was
washed up close to his feet. "Any threat to the throne of Galavia now is
also a threat to Her. We must learn what these Powers purpose doing."
He threw back his shoulders and his step quickened with the resolution
of fresh action.

"Besides," he supplemented, "Delgado is a dreaming degenerate! We must
get back into the game."

The Spaniard laughed. "As you say, Señor. After all, this mere
cruising grows monotonous. Playing the game is better."

When, at twilight that evening, the launch came chugging back to the
yacht with the mail from Naples, Benton caught sight of a blue envelope
in which he recognized the form of the Italian telegraph. He tore it
open and his brows contracted in incredulous wonderment as he read the

"Miss Carstow and two other ladies arrive Parker's Hotel Naples Tuesday
afternoon. Rely on your meeting her with yacht. She will explain. Be
ready to sail immediately on arrival. Address reply Pagratide, care
Grand Palace Hotel."

Benton smiled almost happily as he scrawled, in reply, "Isis and self
at Miss Carstow's service. Waiting under steam. Benton."

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