The Lighted Match (Chapter 21)

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Chapter 21

The following day was Tuesday. It found Benton nearer cheerfulness than
he had been since the Isis had in February pointed her bow eastward
for the run across the Atlantic, under sealed orders.

To Blanco the yachtsman announced that he would lunch at Parker's, and
evasively asked the Spaniard if he would mind being left alone for the

As the coachman, hailed at random from the mob of brigands by the
Custom-house entrance, cracked his whip over the bony stallion in the
fiacre shafts, Benton began to notice that Naples was altogether
charming. He found no refusals for the tatterdemalion vagabonds who
pattered alongside to thrust their violets over the carriage door.

At last, as he paced one of the main parlors of the hotel, his eyes
riveted on the street entrance, he heard a laugh behind him; a laugh
tempered with a vibrant mellowness which was of a sort with no other
laugh, and which set him vibrating in turn, as promptly as a tuning-fork
answers to its note.

The sound brought him round in such electric haste as almost resulted in
collision with the girl behind him.

He was prepared, of course, to find in her incognita no suggestion of
Royalty, yet now when he met her standing alone, and could take the hand
she held out to him with her heart-breaking, heart-recompensating smile,
he felt a distinct sense of astonishment.

"I'm having a holiday," she declared. "It's to be the Queen's day off
and you are being allowed to play host with the Isis. Do you approve?"

With abandonment to the delight of mere propinquity, he laid away sorrow
against the returning time of her absence, as one lays away an umbrella
until the next shower.

"Approve?" he mocked. "It's like asking the drowning man if he approves
of being picked up."

For a moment her eyes clouded and a droop threatened her lips.

"But," she said in a softer tone, "what if you've got to be thrown back
into the sea again?" Then she added, "And, you see, I have. Probably I'm
very foolish to come. The prison will only be blacker, but I couldn't
stand it. I wanted--" She looked at him with the frankness which has
nothing to conceal--"I wanted to forget it all for a little time."

With a frigid salutation, Colonel Von Ritz arrived. As he addressed the
American, despite his flawless courtesy, his voice still carried the
undercurrent of antagonism which no word of his had ever failed to
convey to Benton, since their first meeting in America.

"If Miss Carstow"--he uttered the assumed name with distaste--"will
excuse you," he suggested, "I should like a word."

Von Ritz led the way out of doors and between the tables and trellises
of the garden until he came upon a spot which seemed to promise the
greatest possible degree of privacy. There he stopped and stood looking
straight ahead of him.

"All that I now tell you, Mr. Benton"--his voice was even and polite to
a nicety, yet distinctly icy--"is of course a message from the King."

"Meaning," Benton smiled with polite indifference, "that your personal
communications with me would be few?"

"Meaning," corrected Von Ritz gravely, "that in His Majesty's affairs, I
speak only on His Majesty's authority."

"Colonel, I am at your service."

"In the first place," began the Galavian at last, "His Majesty wished me
to explain why he has presumed on your further assistance. You are the
only man outside Galavia who understands--and whom the King may
implicitly trust, trust even with the safety of Her Majesty, the

"You will convey to the King my appreciation of his confidence."
Somehow, between the American and this emissary of Karyl, there could
never be any attitude other than that of the utmost formality.

Von Ritz sketched the situation.

"It is important that the world should not know of Her Majesty's
departure. It would be an admission to the conspirators that the King
feels his weakness, and would invite attack. For this reason she could
not leave in the ordinary way. Fortunately, it is not difficult for Her
Majesty to escape recognition. She is perhaps the one Queen in Europe
whose published portraits would not make it impossible for her to go
unknown through the cities of the Continent. Her prejudice against
photographs has given her that immunity. She might walk through Paris

Benton looked narrowly at Von Ritz. "How much does she know of the

"Absolutely nothing. She has been persuaded to regard the truancy as a
break in the routine of Court life, which--" Von Ritz hesitated, then
went on doggedly--"which she finds distasteful. She does not even know
that the Duke is free. That is as closely guarded a secret as the fact
that he was being held under duress."

The soldier paused, then went on. "The King has told Her Majesty that he
hopes to join her on your yacht within a few days. You will please
encourage that fiction. In point of fact," with a gesture of despair,
"if His Majesty were to leave now he would never return, and if he
remains now he may never again leave. I must myself hasten back."

The two men went at some length over the details of the situation. It
was agreed that the simple name of a town received by wireless should be
a signal upon which the Isis would proceed with all possible haste to
the place designated. If the necessity should arise for Karyl's leaving
Galavia, he might in this way take refuge on the yacht. This, explained
Von Ritz, was only the final precaution of preparing for every exigency.
His Majesty was determined not to leave his city alive, until he could
leave it in the full security of his established government.

The King also made another request. If Blanco could be spared and would
consent to come to Puntal, his proven ability, together with his
understanding of the language and the fact that he was not generally
known in Puntal, would give him untold value. All the government's
secret agents were either under suspicion of treason or too well known
to the conspirators to be of great avail. If Blanco agreed to come, he
might return with Von Ritz, or follow him at once and await instructions
at his hotel, using care to avoid the semblance of open communication
with the Palace.

On his return to the parlors, Cara presented Benton to her
ladies-in-waiting, the Countess Fernandez and the Countess Jaurez, who
were to travel as Miss Carstow's aunts.

* * * * *

When there is a three-quarter moon and an atmosphere as subtle as
perfume; when the walls of the city lose their ragged lines and melt
into soft shadow shapes, relieved here and there by lights which the
waters mirror, night and the Bay of Naples are not bad. Then the small
boats which bob alongside are filled with picturesque beggars raising
huge bunches of violets on bamboo poles to the deck rails, and the
mingling of singing voices with guitars sets it all to music.

On the forward deck Benton stood leaning on the rail and looking toward
the city. At his side was Cara Carstow. She was silent, but she shook
her head, and the man's solicitous scrutiny caught the deepening
thought-furrow between her eyes, and the twitching of her fingers.

He bent forward and spoke softly. "Cara, what is it?" She looked up and
smiled. "I was remembering that I stood just here, once before," she

"Do you think," he asked quietly, "that there has been a moment since
then that I have not remembered it? That night you belonged to me and I
to you."

"I guess," she said rather wearily, "we don't any of us belong to
ourselves or to those we love most. We just belong to Fate."

"Cara!" He gripped the rail tightly and his words fell evenly. "Over
there in America, you admitted to me that you loved me. That was when
you were not yet Queen of Galavia." He brought himself up with a sudden
halt. She looked up as frankly as a child.

"I didn't admit it," she said. "We only admit things against our will,
don't we? I told you gladly."

"And now--!" He held his breath as he looked into her eyes.

"Now I am the Queen of a hideous little Kingdom," she shuddered. "It
wouldn't do for me to say it now, would it?"

"Oh!" The man leaned again heavily on the rail. The monosyllable was
eloquent. Impulsively she bent toward him, then caught herself. For a
moment she looked out at the water undulating under the moon like
mother-of-pearl on a waving fan. "But it was all right to say I loved
you then," she went on reflectively, after a pause. "I had a perfect
right then to tell you that I loved you better than all the small total
of the world beside, and--" her voice faltered for a moment--"and," with
a musical laugh, she illogically added, "I have nothing to take back of
what I then said, though of course I can't ever say it again."

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