The Lighted Match (Chapter 19)

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Chapter 19

"When the Duke avowed himself to be kidnaped, he committed an error so
grave that it can hardly be--overestimated." The speaker used the last
word as an afterthought. His first inclination was to say, forgiven.

Monsieur Jusseret sat upright in the brougham, scorning the supporting
cushions at his back. His small, shrewd eyes frowned his deep
disapproval over the roofs of Algiers outspread below him. He scowled on
the gaudy and tatterdemalion color of the native city. He scowled on the
smart brilliancy of the French quarter basking along the Place du
Government and the Boulevard de la Republique.

The Countess Astaride leaned back and smiled from the depths of the

"It is usually a mistake to be made a prisoner," she smiled.

"But such a foolish mistake," quarreled Jusseret. "To permit oneself to
be lured into so palpable a trap. It is most absurd."

"Now that it is done," inquired the woman, "is it not almost as absurd
to waste time deploring the spilled milk? We must find a way to set him

"I have done all that could be done. I have stationed men whom I can
trust throughout Puntal and Galavia. They are men Karyl likewise thinks
he can trust. The distinction is that I know--where he merely thinks."

"And these men--what have they done?" The Countess laid one gloved hand
eagerly on the Frenchman's coat-sleeve.

"These men have gradually and quietly reorganized the army, the
bureaucracy, the very palace Guard. We have undermined the government's
power, until when the word is passed to strike the blow, a honey-combed
system will crumble under its own weight. When Karyl calls on his
troops, not one man will respond. Well--" Jusseret smiled
dryly--"perhaps I overstate the case. Possibly one man will. I think we
will hardly convert Von Ritz."

"Ah, that is good news, Monsieur." The Countess breathed the words with
a tremor of enthusiasm.

"It is, however, all useless, Madame--since His Grace is unavailable. In
captivity he is absolutely valueless."

"In captivity he has a stronger claim upon our loyalty than in power!"

The dark-room diplomat regarded her with a disappointed smile.

"For a clever woman, Comptesse, who has heretofore played the game so
brilliantly, you have grown singularly unobservant. I am not a crusader,
liberating captive Christian knights. I am France's servant, playing a
somewhat guileful game which is as ancient as Ulysses, and subject to
certain definite rules."

"Yes, but--"

"But, my dear lady, this revolution I have planted--nourished and
cultivated to ripeness--I cannot harvest it. Outside Europe must not
appear interested in this matter. If the Galavian people led by a member
of the Galavian Royal House revolts! Bien! More than
bien--excellent!" Jusseret spread his palms. "But unless there is a
leader, there can be no revolution. No, no, Louis should have kept out
of custody."

The Countess leaned forward with sudden eagerness.

"And if I free him? If I devise a way?"

The Frenchman turned quickly from contemplation of the landscape to her

"Ah!" he exclaimed. "Once more you are yourself; the cleverest woman in
Europe, as, always, you are the most charming!"

"Do you know where Monsieur Martin may be found?"

Jusseret looked at her in surprise.

"I supposed he was here, consulting with you. I sent him to you with a
letter--recommending him as a useful instrument."

"He was in Algiers, but I sent him away." The Countess laughed. "He
wanted money, always money, until I wearied of furnishing his purse."

"Even if he were available he could hardly go to Puntal, Madame,"
demurred Jusseret. "Von Ritz knows him."

"True." The Countess sat for a time in deep thought.

"There is one man in Puntal," said Jusseret with sudden thought, "who
might possibly be of assistance to you. He is not legally a citizen of
Galavia. He even has a certain official connection with another
government. He is a man I cannot myself approach." Jusseret had been
talking in a low tone, too low to endanger being overheard by the
cocher, but now with excess of caution he leaned forward and whispered
a name. The name was José Reebeler.

* * * * *

It was June. Three months had passed since the Grand Duke had steamed
into Puntal Harbor as Blanco's prisoner of war. The Duke had since that
day been a guest of the King. His goings and comings were, however,
guarded with strict solicitude. One day he went after his custom for a
stroll in the Palace garden. He was accompanied by two officers of the
Palace Guard especially selected by Von Ritz for known fidelity. At the
garden gates stood picked sentinels. That evening a fisherman's boat
stole out of the harbor. Neither Louis Delgado nor his guard returned.
The sentinels failed to respond at roll-call.

As the King and the Colonel listened to the report of the escape,
Karyl's face paled a little and the features of Von Ritz hardened.
Orders were given for an instant dispatch in cipher, demanding from a
secret agent in Algiers all information obtainable as to the movements
of the Countess Astaride. The reply brought the statement that the
Countess had, several days before, sailed for Alexandria and Cairo.

Von Ritz became preternaturally active, masking every movement under his
accustomed seeming of imperturbable calm. At last he brought his report
to the King. "It signifies one thing which I had not suspected. Among
the men whom I thought I could most implicitly trust, there is treason.
How deep that cancer goes is a matter as to which we can only make

Karyl took a few turns across the floor.

"And by that you mean that we are over a volcano which may break into
eruption at any moment?"

Von Ritz nodded.

"And the Queen--" began Karyl.

"I have been thinking of Her Majesty," said the Colonel. "She should
leave Puntal, but she will not go, if it occurs to her that she is being
sent away to escape danger. Her Majesty's courage might almost be called

The King made no immediate response. He was standing at a window,
looking out at the serenity of sea and sky. His forehead was drawn in
thought. He knew that Von Ritz was right. Had Cara hated him, instead of
merely finding herself unable to love him, he knew that the first threat
of danger would arouse the ally in her, and that the suggestion of
flight would throw her into the attitude of determined resistance. She
was like the captain who goes down with his ship, not because he loves
the ship, but because his place is on the bridge.

Von Ritz went on quietly.

"God grant that Your Majesty may be in no actual danger. But we must
face the situation open-eyed. Your place is here. If by mischance you
should fall, there is no reason why--" he hesitated, then added--"why
the dynasty should end with you. In Galavia there is no Salic law. Her
Majesty could reign. Undoubtedly the Queen should be in some safer

The King dropped into a chair and sat for some minutes with his eyes
thoughtfully on the floor. Abstractedly he puffed a cigarette. At last
he raised his face. It was pale, but stamped with determination.

"There is only one thing to do, Von Ritz. There is one available

The soldier read the reluctant eyes of the other, and spared him the
necessary explanation with a question. "Mr. Benton's yacht?" he

Karyl nodded. "The yacht."

"I, too, had thought of that, but how can you arrange it, Your Majesty?"

"We must persuade her that she requires a change of scene and that this
is the one way she can have it without conspicuousness. It can be given
out that she has gone to Maritzburg, and I shall tell her"--Karyl smiled
with a cynical humor--"that I am over-weary with this task of Kingship,
and that I shall join her within a few days for a brief truancy from the
cares of state."

"It may be the safest thing," reflected the officer. "It at least frees
our minds of a burdensome anxiety."

"I shall persuade her," declared Karyl. "She can take several
ladies-in-waiting and you can accompany her to the yacht and explain to
Benton. Direct him to cruise within wireless call and to avoid cities
where the Queen might be in danger of recognition. She must remain until
we gain some hint as to when and where the crater is apt to break into

Jusseret was busy. His agencies were at work over the peninsula. It was
the sort of conspiracy in which the Frenchman took the keenest
delight--purely a military revolution.

The peasant on the mountains, the agriculturist in his buttressed and
terraced farm, the grape-grower in his vineyard and the artisan and
laborer in Puntal did not know that there was dissatisfaction with the

But in the small army and the smaller bureaucracy there was plotting and
undermining. Subtle and devious temptations were employed. Captains saw
before them the shoulder straps of the major, lieutenants the insignia
of the captain, privates the chevrons of the sergeant.

Meanwhile, from a town in southerly Europe, near the Galavian frontier,
Monsieur Jusseret in person was alertly watching.

Martin, the "English Jackal," much depleted in fortune, drifting before
vagabond winds and hailing last from Malta, learned of the Frenchman's
seemingly empty programme. Since his dismissal by the Countess, there
had been no employer for his unscrupulous talents. Now he needed funds.
Where Jusseret operated there might be work in his particular line. He
knew that when this man seemed most idle he was often most busy. Martin
had come to a near-by point by chance. He went on to Jusseret's town,
and then to his hotel, with the same surety and motive that directs the
vulture to its carrion. The Jackal was ushered into the Frenchman's
room in the tattered and somewhat disheveled condition to which his
recent weeks of vagabondage had subjected him.

Jusseret looked his former ally over with scarcely concealed contempt.
Martin sustained the stare and returned it with one coolly audacious.

"I daresay," he began, with something of insolence in his drawl, "it's
hardly necessary to explain why I'm here. I'm looking for something to
do, and in my condition"--he glanced deprecatingly down at his faded
tweeds--"one can't be over nice in selecting one's business associates."

Jusseret was secretly pleased. He divined that before the end came there
might be use for Martin, though no immediate need of him suggested
itself. There were so few men obtainable who would, without question,
undertake and execute intrigue or homicide equally well. It might be
expedient to hold this one in reserve.

"We will not quarrel, Monsieur Martin," he said almost with a purr. "It
is not even necessary to return the compliment. It is so well
understood, why one employs your capable services."

The Englishman flushed. To defend his reputation would be a waste of

"Madame la Comptesse d'Astaride," explained Jusseret, "has gone to
Cairo. She may require your wits as well as her own before the game is
played out. Join her there and take your instructions from her." As he
spoke the map-reviser began counting bills from his well-supplied purse.
Martin looked at them avidly, then objected with a surly frown.

"She sent me away once, and I don't particularly care for the Cairo

"This time she will not send you away." Jusseret glanced up with a bland
smile. "And it seems I remember a season, not so many years gone, when
you were a rather prominent personage upon the terrace of Shephard's.
You were quite an engaging figure of a man, Monsieur Martin, in flannels
and Panama hat, quite a smart figure!"

The Englishman scowled. "You delight, Monsieur, in touching the raw
spots--However, I daresay matters will go rippingly." He took the bills
and counted them into his own purse. "A chap can't afford to be too
sentimental or thin-skinned." He was thinking of a couple of clubs in
Cairo from which he had been asked to resign. Then he laughed callously
as he added aloud: "You see there's a regiment stationed there, just
now, which I'd rather not meet. I used to belong to its mess--once upon
a time."

Jusseret looked up at the renegade, then with a cynical laugh he rose.

"These little matters are inconvenient," he admitted, "but
embarrassments beset one everywhere. If one turns aside to avoid his
old regiment, who knows but he may meet his tailor insistent upon
payment--or the lady who was once his wife?"

He lighted a cigarette, then with the refined cruelty that enjoyed
torturing a victim who could not afford to resent his brutality, he
added: "But these army regulations are extremely annoying, I daresay--these
rules which proclaim it infamous to recognize one who--who has, under
certain circumstances, ceased to be a brother-officer."

The Englishman was leaning across the table, his cheek-bones red and his
eyes dangerous.

"By God, Jusseret, don't go too far!" he cautioned.

The Frenchman raised his hands in an apologetic gesture, but his eyes
still held a trace of the malevolent smile.

"A thousand pardons, my dear Martin," he begged. "I meant only to be

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