The Lighted Match (Chapter 1)

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Chapter 1

"When a feller an' a gal washes their hands in the same basin at the
same time, it's a tol'able good sign they won't git married this year."

The oracle spoke through the bearded lips of a farmer perched on the top
step of his cabin porch. The while he construed omens, a setter pup
industriously gnawed at his boot-heels.

The girl was bending forward, her fingers spread in a tin basin, as the
man at her elbow poured water slowly from a gourd-dipper. Heaped, in
disorder against the cabin wall, lay their red hunting-coats, crops, and
riding gauntlets.

The oracle tumbled the puppy down the steps and watched its return to
the attack. Then with something of melancholy retrospect in his pale
eyes he pursued his reflections. "Now there was Sissy Belmire an' Bud
Thomas, been keeping company for two years, then washed hands in common
at the Christian Endeavor picnic an'--" He broke off to shake his head
in sorrowing memory.

The young man, holding his muddied digits over the water, paused to
consider the matter.

Suddenly his hands went down into the basin with a splash.

"It is now the end of October," he enlightened; "next year comes in nine

The sun was dipping into a cloud-bank already purpled and gold-rimmed.
Shortly it would drop behind the bristling summit-line of the hills.

The girl looked down at tell-tale streaks of red clay on the skirt of
her riding habit, and shook her head. "'Twill never, never do to go back
like this," she sighed. "They'll know I've come a cropper, and they
fancy I'm as breakable as Sévres. There will be no end of questions."

The young man dropped to his knees and began industriously plying a
brush on the damaged skirt. The farmer took his eyes from the puppy for
an upward glance. His face was solicitous.

"When I saw that horse of yours fall down, it looked to me like he was
trying to jam you through to China. You sure lit hard!"

"It didn't hurt me," she laughed as she thrust her arms into the sleeves
of her pink coat. "You see, we thought we knew the run better than the
whips, and we chose the short cut across your meadow. My horse took off
too wide at that stone fence. That's why he went down, and why we turned
your house into a port of repairs. You have been very kind."

The trio started down the grass-grown pathway to the gate where the
hunters stood hitched. The young man dropped back a few paces to satisfy
himself that she was not concealing some hurt. He knew her
half-masculine contempt for acknowledging the fragility of her sex.

Reassurance came as he watched her walking ahead with the unconscious
grace that belonged to her pliant litheness and expressed itself in her
superb, almost boyish carriage.

When they had mounted and he had reined his bay down to the side of her
roan, he sat studying her through half-closed, satisfied eyes though he
already knew her as the Moslem priest knows the Koran. While they rode
in silence he conned the inventory. Slim uprightness like the strength
of a young poplar; eyes that played the whole color-gamut between violet
and slate-gray, as does the Mediterranean under sun and cloud-bank; lips
that in repose hinted at melancholy and that broke into magic with a
smile. Then there was the suggestion of a thought-furrow between the
brows and a chin delicately chiseled, but resolute and fascinatingly

It was a face that triumphed over mere prettiness with hints of
challenging qualities; with individuality, with possibilities of
purpose, with glints of merry humor and unspoken sadness; with
deep-sleeping potentiality for passion; with a hundred charming

The eyes were just now fixed on the burning beauty of the sunset and the
thought-furrow was delicately accentuated. She drew a long, deep breath
and, letting the reins drop, stretched out both arms toward the splendor
of the sky-line.

"It is so beautiful--so beautiful!" she cried, with the rapture of a
child, "and it all spells Freedom. I should like to be the freest thing
that has life under heaven. What is the freest thing in the world?"

She turned her face on him with the question, and her eyes widened after
a way they had until they seemed to be searching far out in the fields
of untalked-of things, and seeing there something that clouded them with

"I should like to be a man," she went on, "a man and a hobo." The
furrow vanished and the eyes suddenly went dancing. "That is what I
should like to be--a hobo with a tomato-can and a fire beside the

The man said nothing, and she looked up to encounter a steady gaze from
eyes somewhat puzzled.

His pupils held a note of pained seriousness, and her voice became
responsively vibrant as she leaned forward with answering gravity in her

"What is it?" she questioned. "You are troubled."

He looked away beyond her to the pine-topped hills, which seemed to be
marching with lances and ragged pennants, against the orange field of
the sky. Then his glance came again to her face.

"They call me the Shadow," he said slowly. "You know whose shadow that
means. These weeks have made us comrades, and I am jealous because you
are the sum of two girls, and I know only one of them. I am jealous of
the other girl at home in Europe. I am jealous that I don't know why
you, who are seemingly subject only to your own fancy, should crave the
freedom of the hobo by the railroad track."

She bent forward to adjust a twisted martingale, and for a moment her
face was averted. In her hidden eyes at that moment, there was deep
suffering, but when she straightened up she was smiling.

"There is nothing that you shall not know. But not yet--not yet! After
all, perhaps it's only that in another incarnation I was a vagrant bee
and I'm homesick for its irresponsibility."

"At all events"--he spoke with an access of boyish enthusiasm--"I 'thank
whatever gods may be' that I have known you as I have. I'm glad that we
have not just been idly rich together. Why, Cara, do you remember the
day we lost our way in the far woods, and I foraged corn, and you
scrambled stolen eggs? We were forest folk that day; primitive as in the
years when things were young and the best families kept house in caves."

The girl nodded. "I approve of my shadow," she affirmed.

The smile of enthusiasm died on his face and something like a scowl came

"The chief trouble," he said, "is that altogether too decent brute,
Pagratide. I don't like double shadows; they usually stand for confused

"Are you jealous of Pagratide?" she laughed. "He pretends to have a
similar sentiment for you."

"Well," he conceded, laughing in spite of himself, "it does seem that
when a European girl deigns to play a while with her American cousins,
Europe might stay on its own side of the pond. This Pagratide is a
commuter over the Northern Ocean track. He harasses the Atlantic with
his goings and comings."

"The Atlantic?" she echoed mockingly.

"Possibly I was too modest," he amended. "I mean me and the
Atlantic--particularly me."

From around the curve of the road sounded a tempered shout. The girl

"You seem to have summoned him out of space," she suggested.

The man growled. "The local from Europe appears to have arrived." He
gathered in his reins with an almost vicious jerk which brought the
bay's head up with a snort of remonstrance.

A horseman appeared at the turn of the road. Waving his hat, he put
spurs to his mount and came forward at a gallop. The newcomer rode with
military uprightness, softened by the informal ease of the polo-player.
Even at the distance, which his horse was lessening under the insistent
pressure of his heels, one could note a boyish charm in the frankness of
his smile and an eagerness in his eyes.

"I have been searching for you for centuries at least," he shouted, with
a pleasantly foreign accent, which was rather a nicety than a fault of
enunciation, "but the quest is amply rewarded!"

He wheeled his horse to the left with a precision that again bespoke the
cavalryman, and bending over the girl's gauntleted hand, kissed her
fingers in a manner that added to something of ceremonious flourish much
more of individual homage. Her smile of greeting was cordial, but a
degree short of enthusiasm.

"I thought--" she hesitated. "I thought you were on the other side."

The newcomer's laugh showed a glistening line of the whitest teeth under
a closely-cropped dark mustache.

"I have run away," he declared. "My honored father is, of course,
furious, but Europe was desolate--and so--" He shrugged his shoulders.
Then, noting Benton's half-amused, half-annoyed smile, he bowed and
saluted. "Ah, Benton," he said. "How are you? I see that your eyes
resent foreign invasion."

Benton raised his brows in simulated astonishment. "Are you still
foreign?" he inquired. "I thought perhaps you had taken out your first
citizenship papers."

"But you?" Pagratide turned to the girl with something of entreaty.
"Will you not give me your welcome?"

In the distance loomed the tile roofs and tall chimneys of "Idle Times."
Between stretched a level sweep of road.

"You didn't ask permission," she replied, with a touch of disquiet in
her pupils. "When a woman is asked to extend a welcome, she must be
given time to prepare it. I ran away from Europe, you know, and after
all you are a part of Europe."

She shook out her reins, bending forward over the roan's neck, and with
a clatter of gravel under their twelve hoofs, the horses burst forward
in a sudden neck and neck dash, toward the patch of red roofs set in a
mosaic of Autumn woods.

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