The Lighted Match (Chapter 8)

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Chapter 8

The coldness of the moonlight killed the pallor of Karyl's face, but
added a note of stark accentuation to his set chin and labored
self-containment. Von Ritz, despite his bedraggled masquerade was as
composed and expressionless as though he had seen nothing beyond the
expected. With Von Ritz nothing was beyond the expected.

He had to-night counterfeited Benton's disguise; stolen Benton's car;
substituted himself for the American and made a decisive effort to
interrupt the kidnaping of a Queen.

Finding himself checkmated, he had joined forces with the Prince and
brought the pursuit to a successful termination. His manner now was
precisely what it had been last night, when his only excitement had been
a game of billiards. Men who knew him would have told you that his
manner had been the same on a certain red and smoky day when the order
of Takavo had been pinned on his breast, in the reek and noise of a

After a moment of tense silence, Benton took a step forward.

"At any suitable time," he said, in a voice too low for Cara to catch,
"I shall, of course, be entirely at your service."

Pagratide drew a labored breath, but when he raised his head it was to
lift his brows inquiringly.

"For what?" he asked in an equally low tone. "Have I asked any
questions?" In a matter-of-fact voice he added: "It is growing late. If
Miss Carstow has finished the inspection of your yacht, I suggest a

Benton recognized the other's refusal to read his motive. After all that
was the best course; the only course. Pagratide stepped forward.

"Mr. Benton had the pleasure of driving you down--" he suggested, "may I
have the same honor, returning?"

The girl met the eyes of the Prince, with defiance in her own.

"I am not a child!" she vehemently declared. "We may as well be honest
with each other. If he had chosen to have it so, you could not have come
aboard. I must obey the decrees of State!" She paused, then impulsively
swept on: "I can force myself to do what I must do, but I cannot compel
my heart--that is his, utterly his." She raised both hands. "Now you
know," she said. "You may decide."

Karyl inclined his head.

"I have questioned nothing," he repeated. "Will you honor me by
returning in my car?"

Cara tilted her chin rebelliously.

"No," she said, "I don't think I shall. My vacation ends to-morrow if
you still wish it, but to-night it has not ended. I return with Mr.

Pagratide stiffened painfully, but with supreme self-mastery he forced a
smile as though he had asked nothing more than a dance--and had found it

"I must submit," he replied in a steady voice. "I even understand. But
you will agree with me that they"--with a gesture toward the direction
from which they had come--"had best know nothing."

Benton and Von Ritz went to the gangway, where the yachtsman bent
forward to give some direction to the boat crew below.

"Karyl!" The girl moved impulsively toward the man she must marry, and
laid a hand on his arm. "Karyl," she said plaintively, "if you only
wanted to marry me for State reasons--it would be different. It wouldn't
hurt me then to hurt you. You mean so much as a friend, but I can never
be in love with you. You are being unfair with yourself--if you go on. I
must be honest with you."

Pagratide spoke slowly, and his voice carried the tremor of feeling.

"You have always been honest with me, and I will make you love me. Until
you marry me I have no privilege to question you. When you do, I shall
not have to question you." He leaned forward and spoke confidently. "I
would marry you if you hated me--and then I would win your love!"

An hour later the Spanish gipsy girl, having shown herself in the
emptying ball-room with ingenious excuses for her long absence, took
refuge in her own apartments.

On sailing day, Benton, at the pier, watched the steamer stand out into
the river between the coming and going of ferry-boats and tugs. About
him stamped the usual farewell throng with hats raised and handkerchiefs
a-flutter. The music of the ship's band grew faint as a wider and wider
gap of water opened between the wharf and the liner's gray hull.

Gradually the crowd scattered back through the great barn-like spaces of
the pier-house to be re-absorbed by cabs, motors and surface-cars into
the main arteries of the city's life. It was over. Bon voyage had been
said. One more ship had put out to sea.

Benton stood looking after a slim figure in a blue traveling gown and
dark furs, pressed against the after-rail, her handkerchief waving in
the raw wind. Most of the sea-going ones had retreated into the shelter
of the saloon or cabin, but she remained.

Van Bristow, shivering at his friend's elbow, did not suggest turning

Cara stood, still looking shoreward, a furrow between her brows, her
checks pale, her fingers tightly gripping the rail. She was holding with
that grip to all her shaken self-command.

She saw the fang-edged skyline of lower Manhattan lifting its gray
shafts through wet streamers of fog; she saw flotillas of squat
ferry-boats shouldering their ways against the sullen heave of the
river's tide-water; she heard the discordant shriek of their steam
throats; she saw the tilting swoop of a hundred gulls, buffeting the
wind; but she was conscious only of the vista of oily water widening
between herself and him.

Von Ritz had long since drifted into the smoking-room where the men were
christening the voyage with brandy-and-soda and dropping into tentative
groups, regardful of future poker games.

Pagratide, at Cara's elbow, was silent, respecting her silence.

When at last the two had the deck to themselves and Manhattan had become
a shadowy and ragged monotone, she turned and smiled. It was a smile of
accepting the inevitable. He went with her to the forward deck where
her staterooms were situated, and left her there in silence.

Von Ritz, standing apart near the threshold of the smokeroom, heard his
name paged almost before the speaker had entered the door, and turned to
take from the hand of the bearer a Marconigram just relayed from shore.
He read it and for an instant a look of pain crossed the features that
rarely yielded to expression. Then he sought out Karyl's stateroom.

Karyl turned wearily from the wintry picture of a sullenly heaving sea,
to answer the rap on the door. His face did not brighten as he
recognized Von Ritz.

The Colonel was that type of being upon whom men may depend or whom they
must fear. Whenever there was need, Karyl had come to know that there
would be Von Ritz, but also there went with him an austerity and an
impersonality that robbed him of the gratitude and love he might have

Now there was a note almost surly in the expression with which the
Prince looked up to greet his father's confidential representative.

"Well?" he demanded.

For answer the officer held out the message.

Karyl puckered his brows over the intricacies of the code and handed it

"Be good enough to construe it," he commanded.

"The King," said Von Ritz, "is ill. His Majesty wishes to instruct you
in certain matters before--" He broke off with something like a catch in
his voice, then continued calmly. "Recovery is despaired of, though
death may not be immediate."

Karyl turned away, not wishing the soldier to see the tears he felt in
his eyes, and Von Ritz discreetly withdrew as far as the door. There he
paused, and after a moment's hesitation inquired: "Her Highness goes to Maritzburg--to her father's Court--I presume?"

With his back still turned, the Prince nodded. "Why?" he demanded.

"Because--the message holds no hope--" Von Ritz paused, then added
quietly "--and if Your Highness is called upon to mount the throne, it
is advisable to hasten the marriage."

He backed out, closing the door behind him.

In her own cabin the girl had bolted the door. At the small desk of her
suite-de-luxe she sat with her head on her crossed arms. For a
half-hour she remained motionless.

Finally she rose and, with uncertain hands, opened a suitcase, drawing
from its place among filmy fabrics and feminine essentials a small,
squat figure of time-corroded clay. The little Inca huaca had perhaps
looked with that same unseeing squint upon Princesses of other
dynasties so long dead that their heartbreaks and ecstasies were now the

She placed the image before her and rested her chin on one hand, gazing
at its grotesque and ancient visage.

Her eyes slowly filled with tears. Again she dropped her face on her
arms and the tears overflowed.

* * * * * Benton and Bristow had been sitting without speech as their motor
threaded its way through the traffic along Fourteenth Street, and it was
not until the chauffeur had turned north on Fifth Avenue that either
spoke. Then Benton roused himself out of seeming lethargy to inquire
with suddenness: "Do you remember the bull-fight we saw in Seville?"

His companion looked up, suppressing his surprise at a question so

"You mean the Easter Sunday performance," he asked, "when that negligent
banderillero was gored?"

"Just so," assented Benton. "Do you remember the chap we met afterwards
at one of the cafés? He was being fêted and flattered for the brilliancy
of his work in the ring. His name was Blanco."

"Sure I remember him." Van talked glibly, pleased that the conversation
had turned into channels so impersonal. "He was a fine-looking chap with
the grace of a Velasquez dancing-girl and the nerve of a bull-terrier.
I remember he was more like a grandee than a toreador. We had him dine
with us--hard bread--black olives--fish--bad wine--all sorts of native
truck. For the rest of our stay in Seville he was our inseparable
companion. Do you remember how the street gamins pointed us out? Why, it
was like walking down Broadway with your arm linked in that of Jim

He paused, somewhat disconcerted by his companion's steady gaze; then,
taking a fresh start, he went on, talking fast.

"Besides sticking bulls, he could discuss several topics in several
languages. I recall that he had been educated for the Church. If he
hadn't felt the lure of the strenuous life, he might have been
celebrating Mass instead of playing guide for us. In the end he'd have
won a cardinal's hat."

The fixity of the other's stare at last chilled and quelled his chatter
to an embarrassed silence. He realized that the object of his mild
subterfuge was transparent.

"I'm after his address--not his biography," suggested Benton coolly.
"His name was Manuel Blanco, wasn't it?"

"Why, yes, I believe it was. What do you want with him?"

"Never mind that," returned his friend. "Do you happen to know where he
lived? I seem to recall that you promised to write him frequent

"By Jove, so I did," acknowledged Van with humility. "I must get busy.
He is a good sort. His address--" He paused to search through his
pocket-book for a small tablet dedicated to names and numbers, then
added: "His address is Numero 18, Calle Isaac Peral, Cadiz."

Benton was scribbling the direction on the back of an envelope.

"You needn't grow penitent and start a belated correspondence," he
suggested. "I am going to write him myself--and I'm going to visit

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Rate This Book

Current Rating: 2.6/5 (245 votes cast)

Review This Book or Post a Comment