The Lighted Match (Chapter 3)

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Chapter 3

At dinner the talk ran for a course or two with the hounds, then strayed
aimlessly into a dozen discursive channels.

"My boy," whispered Mrs. Van from her end of the table, to Pagratide on
her right, "I relinquish you to the girl on your other side. You have
made a very brave effort to talk to me. Ah, I know--" raising a slender
hand to still his polite remonstrance--"there is no Cara but Cara, and
Pagratide is--" She let her mischief-laden smile finish the comment.

"Her satellite," he confessed.

"One of them," she wickedly corrected him.

The foreigner turned his head and nodded gravely. Cara was listening to
something that Benton was saying in undertone, her lips parted in an
amused smile.

Through a momentary lull as the coffee came, rose the voice of
O'Barreton, the bore, near the head of the table; O'Barreton, who must
be tolerated because as a master of hounds he had no superior and a bare
quorum of equals.

"For my part," he was saying, "I confess an augmented admiration for
Van because he's distantly related to near-royalty. If that be snobbish,
make the most of it."

Van laughed. "Related to royalty?" he scornfully repeated. "Am I not
myself a sovereign with the right on election day to stand in line
behind my chauffeur and stable-boys at the voting-place?"

"How did it happen, Van? How did you acquire your gorgeous relatives?"
persisted O'Barreton.

"Some day I'll tell you all about it. Do you think the Elkridge hounds
will run--"

"I addressed a question to you. That question is still before the
house," interrupted O'Barreton, with dignity. "How did you acquire 'em?"

"Inherited 'em!" snapped Van, but O'Barreton was not to be turned aside.

"Quite true and quite epigrammatic," he persisted sweetly. "But how?"

Van turned to the rest of the table. "You don't have to listen to this,"
he said in despair. "I have to go through it with O'Barreton every time
he comes here. It's a sort of ritual." Then, turning to the tormenting
guest, he explained carefully: "Once upon a time the Earl of Dundredge
had three daughters. The eldest--my mother--married an American husband.
The second married an Englishman--she is the mother of my fair cousin,
Cara, there; the third and youngest married the third son of the Grand
Duke of Maritzburg, at that time a quiet gentleman who loved the Champs
Elysées and landscape-painting in Southern Spain."

Van traced a family-tree on the tablecloth with a salt-spoon, for his
guest's better information.

"That doesn't enlighten me on the semi-royal status of your Aunt
Maritzburg," objected O'Barreton. "How did she grow so great?"

"Vicissitudes, Barry," explained the host patiently. "Just vicissitudes.
The father and the two elder brothers died off and left the third son to
assume the government of a grand duchy, which he did not want, and
compelled him to relinquish the mahl-stick and brushes which he loved.
My aunt was his grand-duchess-consort, and until her death occupied with
him the ducal throne. If you'd look these things up for yourself, my
son, in some European 'Who's Who,' you'd remember 'em--and save me much

After dinner Cara disappeared, and Benton wandered from room to room
with a seemingly purposeless eye, keenly alert for a black gown, a red
rose, and a girl whom he could not find. Von Ritz also was missing, and
this fact added to his anxiety.

In the conservatory he came upon Pagratide, likewise stalking about with
restlessly roving eyes, like a hunter searching a jungle. The foreigner
paused with one foot tapping the marble rim of a small fountain, and
Benton passed with a nod.

The evening went by without her reappearance, and finally the house
darkened, and settled into quiet. Benton sought the open, driven by a
restlessness that obsessed and troubled him. A fitful breeze brought
down the dead leaves in swirling eddies. The moon was under a cloud-bank
when, a quarter of a mile from the house, he left the smooth lawns and
plunged among the vine-clad trees and thickets that rimmed the creek. In
the darkness, he could hear the low, wild plaint with which the stream
tossed itself over the rocks that cumbered its bed.

Beyond the thicket he came again to a more open space among the trees,
free from underbrush, but strewn at intervals with great bowlders. He
picked his way cautiously, mindful of crevices where a broken leg or
worse might be the penalty of a misstep in the darkness. The humor
seized him to sit on a great rock which dropped down twenty feet to the
creek bed, and listen to the quieting music of its night song. His eyes,
grown somewhat accustomed to the darkness, had been blinded again by the
match he had just struck to light a cigarette, and he walked, as it
behooved him, carefully and gropingly.

"Please, sir, don't step on me."

Benton halted with a start and stared confusedly about him. A ripple of
low laughter came to his ears as he widened his pupils in the effort to
accommodate his eyes to the murk. Then the moon broke out once more and
the place became one of silver light and dark, soft shadow-blots. She
was sitting with her back against a tree, her knees gathered between her
arms, fingers interlocked. She had thrown a long, rough cape about her,
but it had fallen open, leaving visible the black gown and a spot he
knew to be a red rose on her breast.

He stood looking down, and she smiled up.

"Cara!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here--alone?"

"Seeking freedom," she responded calmly. "It's not so good as the hobo's
fire beside the track, but it's better than four walls. The moon has
been wonderful, Sir Gray Eyes--as bright and dark as life; radiant a
little while and hidden behind clouds a great deal. And the wind has
been whispering like a troubadour to the tree-tops."

"And you," he interrupted severely, dropping on the earth at her feet
and propping himself on one elbow, "have been sitting in the chilling
air, with your throat uncovered and probably catching cold."

"What a matter-of-fact person it is!" she laughed. "I didn't appoint you
my physician, you know."

"But your coming alone out here in these woods, and so late!" he

"Why not?" She looked frankly up at him. "I am not afraid."

"I am afraid for you." He spoke seriously.

"Why?" she inquired again.

He knelt beside her, looking directly into her eyes. "For many reasons,"
he said. "But above all else, because I love you."

The fingers of her clasped hands tightened until they strained, and she
looked straight away across the clearing. The moon was bright now, and
the thought-furrow showed deep between her brows, but she said nothing.

The tree-tops whispered, and the girl shivered slightly. He bent forward
and folded the cape across her throat. Still she did not move.

"Cara, I love you," he repeated insistently.

"Don't--I can't listen." Her voice was one of forced calm. Then, turning
suddenly, she laid her hand on his arm. It trembled violently under her
touch. "And, oh, boy," she broke out, with a voice of pent-up vibrance,
"don't you see how I want to listen to you?"

He bent forward until he was very close, and his tone was almost fierce
in its tense eagerness.

"You want to! Why?"

Again a tremor seized her, then with the sudden abandon of one who
surrenders to an impulse stronger than one's self, she leaned forward
and placed a hand on each of his shoulders, clutching him almost wildly.
Her eyes glowed close to his own.

"Because I love you, too," she said. Then, with a break in her voice:
"Oh, you knew that! Why did you make me say it?"

While the stars seemed to break out in a chorus above him, he found his
arms about her, and was vaguely conscious that his lips were smothering
some words her lips were trying to shape. Words seemed to him just then
so superfluous.

There was a tumult of pounding pulses in his veins, responsive to the
fluttering heart which beat back of a crushed rose in the lithe being he
held in his arms. Then he obeyed the pressure of the hands on his
shoulders and released her.

"Why should you find it so hard to say?" He asked.

She sat for a moment with her hands covering her face.

"You must never do that again," she said faintly. "You have not the
right. I have not the right."

"I have the only right," he announced triumphantly.

She shook her head. "Not when the girl is engaged."

She looked at him with a sad droop at the corners of her lips. He sat

"Listen!" She spoke wearily, rising and leaning against the rough bole
of the tree at her back, with both hands tightly clasped behind her.
"Listen and don't interrupt, because it's hard, and I want to finish
it." Her words came slowly with labored calm, almost as if she were
reciting memorized lines. "It sounds simple from your point of view. It
is simple from mine, but desperately hard. Love is not the only thing.
To some of us there is something else that must come first. I am
engaged, and I shall marry the man to whom I am engaged. Not because I
want to, but because--" her chin went up with the determination that was
in her--"because I must."

"What kind of man will ask you to keep a promise that your heart
repudiates?" he hotly demanded.

"He knew that I loved you before you knew it," she answered; "that I
would always love you--that I would never love him. Besides, he must do
it. After all, it's fortunate that he wants to." She tried to laugh.

"Is his name Pagratide?" The man mechanically drew his handkerchief from
his cuff, and wiped beads of cold moisture from his forehead.

The girl shook her head. "No, his name is not Pagratide."

He took a step nearer, but she raised a hand to wave him back, and he
bowed his submission.

"You love me--you are certain of that?" he whispered.

"Do you doubt it?"

"No," he said, "I don't doubt it."

Again he pressed the handkerchief to his forehead, and in the silvering
radiance of the moonlight she could see the outstanding tracery of the
arteries on his temples.

Instantly she flung both arms about his neck.

"Don't!" she cried passionately. "Don't look like that! You will kill

He smiled. "Under such treatment, I shall look precisely as you say," he

"Listen, dear." She was talking rapidly, wildly, her arms still about
his neck. "There are two miserable little kingdoms over there....
Horrible little two-by-four principalities, that fit into the map of
Europe like little, ragged chips in a mosaic.... Cousin Van lied in
there to protect my disguise.... It is my father who is the Grand Duke
of Maritzburg, and it is ordained that I shall marry Prince Karyl of
Galavia.... It was Von Ritz's mission to remind me of my slavery." Her
voice rose in sudden protest. "Every peasant girl in the vineyards may
select her own lover, but I must be awarded by the crowned heads of the
real kingdoms--like a prize in a lottery. Do you wonder that I have run
away and masqueraded for a taste of freedom before the end? Do you
wonder"--the head came down on his shoulder--"that I want to be a hobo
with a tomato-can and a fire of deadwood?"

He kissed her hair. "Are you crying, Cara, dear?" he asked softly.

Her head came up. "I never cry," she answered. "Do you believe there are
more lives--other incarnations--that I may yet live to be a
butterfly--or a vagrant bee?"

"I believe"--his voice was firm--"I believe you are not Queen of Galavia
yet by a good bit. There's a fairly husky American anarchist in this
game, dearest, who has designs on that dynasty."

"Don't!" she begged. "Don't you see that I wouldn't let them force me?
It is that I see the inexorable call of it, as my father saw it when he
left his studio in Paris for a throne that meant only unhappiness--as
you would see it, if your country called for volunteers."

He bowed his head. For a moment neither spoke. Then she took the rose
from her breast and kissed it.

"Sir Knight of the Red Rose," she said, with a pitifully forced smile.
"I don't want to give it back--ever. I want to keep it always."

He took her in his arms, and she offered no protest.

"To-morrow is to-morrow," he said. "To-day you are mine. I love you."

She took his head between her palms and drew his face down. "I shall
never do this with anyone else," she said slowly, kissing his forehead.
"I love you."

Slowly they turned together toward the house.

"I like your cavalryman, Pagratide," he said thoughtfully. His mind had
suddenly recurred to the scene in the foreigner's room, and he thought
he began to understand. "He is a man. He dares to challenge royal wrath
by venturing his love in the lists against his prince."

"I wish he had not come," she said slowly.

"But you don't love him?" he demanded with sudden unreasoning jealousy.

"I love--just, only, solely, you, Mr. Monopoly," she replied.

At the door they paused. There was complete silence save for a clock
striking two and the distant crowing of a cock. The pause belonged to
them--their moment of reprieve.

At last she said quietly: "But you are stupid not to guess it."

"Guess what?" he inquired.

"There is no Pagratide. Pagratide's real name is Karyl of Galavia."

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