The Lighted Match (Chapter 22)

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Chapter 22

Several days later, Blanco arrived in Puntal shortly after the lazy noon

Out of disconnected fragments of fact and memory he had evolved a
theory. It was a theory as yet immature and half-baked, but one upon
which he resolved to act, trusting to the lucky outcome of subsequent
events for the filling in of many gaps, and the making good of many

Among the shreds of fragmentary information which Manuel had previously
stored away in his memory was the fact that one José Reebeler was a
capitalist. This was not exclusive information. Every guide and casual
acquaintance hastened to sing for the newcomer the saga of Reebeler's
importance. One was informed that this magnate owned the three tourist
hotels and their acres of vine-covered gardens; that he controlled the
half-humorous pretense of a street-railway company and that even the
huge, dominating rock upon which perched the pavilions and casino of the
Strangers' Club was his property. Still more significant, to Blanco's
reasoning, was the fact that Reebeler, though Puntal-born, was of
British parentage and that over his house, in the Ruo do Consilhiero,
floated both British and American flags, while the double coat-of-arms
above his balcony proclaimed him the consular agent of both governments.
Here, reasoned Blanco, was a man shielded behind the devices of two
nations, neither of which was engaged in petty Mediterranean intrigue.
He would be the last man in Puntal to challenge a suspicious glance from
the Palace, yet as a man of moneyed enterprise his wish for concessions
might well give a political coloring to his thoughts. Somewhere he had
heard that the Strangers' Club aspired to the establishment of a
gambling Mecca which should rival Monte Carlo in magnitude and that the
present impediment was the frown of the government upon such a wholesale
gambling enterprise. It was quite unlikely that the Delgado government
would discourage a syndicate which could turn a munificent revenue into
its taxing coffers.

Through a shaded courtyard where a small fountain tinkled, Blanco
strolled to the Consular office and rapped on the door. He was conducted
by a native servant to an inner room. Here, while a great blue-bottle
fly droned and thumped, Reebeler, a heavy Briton with mild eyes,
sprawled his length in a wicker chair and poured brandy and soda. First
Blanco represented himself as an adoptive American, touring the world
and interested in natural resources. When his host had exhausted the
subject of the wine-grower's battle against the ravages of "oidium
Tuckeri" and "phyloxera," Blanco picked up a stick of sealing-wax
from the table and commenced toying with it in a manner of aimlessness.
He struck match after match and melted pellet after pellet of wax, then
absently he took from his pocket a gold seal-ring and made, with its
shield, several impressions on the wax. Reebeler's eyes were half-closed
as he gazed vacantly at the pigeons cooing and strutting in his

"See, I have at last got a good impression." The Spaniard idly tossed
over the scrap of paper upon which he had stamped a half-dozen of Louis
Delgado's crests from the die of the Comptessa Astaride's ring.

The Consul took the fragment of paper with the manner of one forced by
politeness to assume an interest in trivialities which bore him.

"See how clearly the device of His Grace stands out in the last
impression," casually suggested Blanco, then with eyes narrowly bent on
the other he saw the astonished start as his vis-a-vis realized what
device had been imprinted on the paper. It was the sign for which he had
played. When Reebeler's eyes came up questioningly to his own, he, too,
was looking off through the raised window where the limp curtain barely
trembled in the light breeze.

"The ring is interesting," suggested the Consul.

"The arms seem to be those of a family of Galavia which is connected
with Royalty. Did you pick it up in a curio shop? If so, some servant
must have stolen it."

Blanco stood up. "We waste time fencing, Señor Reebeler," he said,
"His Grace, Louis Delgado, was held captive by the King until several
days ago. He then escaped. That escape has been kept secret by the King.
Only men in the Duke's confidence know of it. I am in the service of His
Grace and I report to you. In these times we do not carry signed letters
of introduction--those of us at least who are not protected behind the
insignia of Consular office."

There was a long silence. Reebeler, under the influence of brandy and
perplexity, breathed heavily. Blanco poured from a squat bottle and
watched the soda bubble in the glass.

Finally the Consul inquired with a show of indifference: "Why do you
assume that I know anything of this matter?"

Blanco laughed. "I have already told you that I come from His Grace.
Naturally His Grace knew to whom to commend me. I have frankly given
myself into your hands by declaring my sentiments. On the other hand,
you decline a similar confidence. You are discreet." He waved his hand.

"Wait." The Consul stopped him at the door. He paused, cleared his
throat and then abruptly suggested: "Suppose you return to-morrow at

The Spaniard bowed. "I only wish you to test me, Señor."

That evening Blanco knew that he was being shadowed. The next day he had
the same sense of being incessantly watched. This was a thing which he
had expected and for which he was prepared. Promptly at six o'clock he
returned to the Rue do Consilhiero.

He knew that his greatest danger lay in the possibility of communication
by the conspirators with the Duke or the Countess, but he had been
assured that Marie Astaride was in Cairo and it could safely be assumed
that Delgado would return to Galavia only at the psychological moment.
If either of these assumptions were false Louis would, of course,
recognize the description of his kidnapper. The Countess would connect
the episode of the ring with the former checkmating of her plans. At all
events, he must chance those possibilities.

This time the Consulate was discreetly shut in by drawn jealousies.
Within, beside Reebeler himself, were a number of men, all of whom
narrowly scrutinized the newcomer. Those who were not in uniform
carried themselves with a cocky smartness that belied their civilian
clothes. The man from Cadiz returned their gaze with the same
imperturbable steadiness and the same concealed wariness which he had
employed when, in the Plaza de Toros, he awaited the charge of the

For a time they allowed him to stand in silence under the embarrassing
batteries of their eyes, then an elderly officer assumed the position of

"If you are a spy your experience will be brief," he announced.

Blanco smiled.

"That is as it should be, Señor. Spies are not entitled to an old

"We are going to test you," continued the officer. "We have need of men
of courage. If, as you claim, the Duke sent you, he must have done so
because he regarded you as available. If you prove trustworthy, all
right. If not, it is your misfortune, because in the place where we mean
to use you you will have no opportunity to betray us, and a very
excellent opportunity of meeting death. We cannot now communicate with
His Grace for corroboration, so we shall let you prove yourself. You
seem to bear no message from the Duke. That has the smell of suspicion."

"On the contrary," retorted the Spaniard, "the Duke believed that a man
who was a stranger might prove of value. I was to take my instructions
from you."

Blanco wondered vaguely what the future held for him. Evidently their
acceptance of his services was to bear a close resemblance to
imprisonment. He could see in the programme small opportunity to serve
the King. His instructions had been to win into their confidence and do
what he could.

* * * * *

Two weeks later, in the small garden giving off from the King's private
apartments, and perched half-way up the buttressed side of the rock on
which sat the Palace, Karyl impatiently awaited the coming of Colonel
Von Ritz. Below he could hear a brass band in the Botanical Gardens and
out in the bay a German war-ship, decorated for a dance, blazed like a
set piece in a pyrotechnic display.

There was peace, summer, perfume, in the moonlit air and Karyl smiled
ironically as he reflected that even the bodyguard so carefully selected
by Von Ritz might at any moment enter the place and raise the shout of
"Long live King Louis!"

Leaning over the parapet, he could see one of his fantastically
uniformed soldiery pacing back and forth before a sentry-box, his musket
jauntily shouldered, and a bayonet glinting at his belt. Karyl stood
looking, and his lips curled skeptically as he wondered whether the man
would repel or admit assassins.

Somewhat wearily the King turned and leaned on the stone coping of the
outer wall. He was at one end where a shadow cloaked him, but he lighted
a cigarette and the match that flared up threw an orange-red light on
his face, showing eyes which were lusterless. For a few moments he held
the match in his hollowed palms, coaxing its blaze in the breeze. Before
it had burned out there came a sharp report and Karyl heard the spat of
flattening lead on the masonry at his back. The echo rattled along the
rocky side of the hill. One of the sentry-boxes had answered his unasked
question of loyalty.

He waited. There was no rush of feet. No medley of anxiously inquiring
voices. Others had heard the report, of course, yet no one hastened to
inquire and investigate. The King, pacing farther back where his
silhouette was less clearly defined, laughed again, very bitterly.

Finally Von Ritz came. "It seems that we can rely on no one," he said.
"The Palace Guard had been picked from the few in whom I still believed.
I had hoped there was a trustworthy remnant."

"One of them has just tried a shot at me with one of my own muskets."
The King spoke impersonally as though the matter bore only on the
psychic question of trusting men. "The spot is there on the wall." Then
he added with bitter whimsicality: "It seems to me, Colonel, that we
have either very poor marksmen in our service, or else we supply them
with very poor rifles."

For a moment Von Ritz almost smiled. "I was passing the point as he
touched the trigger, Your Majesty," he replied with calmness. "I will
personally vouch for his future harmlessness."

The lighted door, at the same moment, framed the figure of an aide.
"Your Majesty," he said with a bow, "Monsieur Jusseret prays a brief

Karyl turned to Von Ritz, his brows arching interrogation. In answer the
Colonel wheeled and addressed the officer, who waited statuesquely: "His
Majesty will not receive Monsieur Jusseret. Any matters of interest to
France will receive His Majesty's attention when they reach him through
France's properly accredited ambassador."

Yet five minutes later, Jusseret, escorted by several officers in the
Galavian uniform, entered the garden through the door of the King's
private suite. At the monstrous insolence of this forbidden invasion of
Karyl's privacy, Von Ritz stepped forward. His voice was even colder
than usual with the chill of mortal fury.

"You have evidently misunderstood. The King declined to receive you--"
he began.

Karyl turned his head and looked curiously on. The keen, dissipated eyes
of the sub-rosa diplomat twinkled humorously. For a moment the thin lips
twisted into a wry smile.

"The King is hardly in a position that warrants declining to receive
me," he announced with an ironically ceremonious bow to Karyl. He was
imperturbable and impeccable from his patent-leather pumps to the Legion
of Honor ribbon in his lapel.

"I offer the King an opportunity to abdicate his throne--and retain his
liberty. Not only do I offer him his liberty, but also such an income as
will make the cafés of Paris possible, and the society of other
gentlemen who are also--well, let us say retired Royalties. I do this in
the capacity of a private friend of the Grand Duke Louis Delgado." His
smile was bland, suave, undisturbed.

Von Ritz took a step forward.

"Escort Monsieur Jusseret to the Palace gates!" he commanded, his eyes
blazing on the Galavian officers. "The persons of even secret
Ambassadors are sacred--otherwise--" His voice failed him.

The officers cringed back under his glance, but stood supine and

Karyl waited with a cold smile on his lips. His face was pale but there
was no touch of fear in the expression. For a brief psychological moment
there was absolute silence, then the Frenchman spoke again. "Gentlemen,
you are my prisoners." Turning to the Colonel, he added: "You have clung
to the waning dynasty, Von Ritz, until it fell, but your sword may still
find service in Galavia. I offer you the opportunity. We have often
crossed wits. Now, for the first time, I win--and offer amnesty."

For a moment Von Ritz stood white and trembling with rage, then with his
open hand he struck the smiling face that seemed to float tauntingly
before his eyes, and drawing his sword, stepped between the King and the
suddenly concentrated group of officers who moved frontward with a
single accord, hands on swords. They spread from a group into a line,
and the line quickly closed in a circle around the King and the one man
who remained loyal.

Karyl was himself unarmed. He raised a restraining hand to Von Ritz's
shoulder, but before he could speak his head sagged forward under the
impact of some sudden shock--some blow from behind--and things went dark
about him as he crumpled to his knees and fell.

Von Ritz, struggling desperately with a broken blade in his hand was
slowly overwhelmed by seeming swarms of men. Like a tiger caught in a
net, his ferocity gradually waned until, bleeding from scratch-wounds
in a half-dozen places, he felt himself sinking into a haze. His useless
sword-hilt fell with a clatter to the tiles. As his arms were pinioned
by several of his captors, he was dreamily aware that music still
floated up from the Botanical Gardens and the German man-of-war. Nearer
at hand, Von Ritz heard--or perhaps dreamed through his stupor that he
heard--a voice exclaiming: "Long live King Louis!"

There had been no noise which could have penetrated beyond the King's
suite. Less than ten minutes had elapsed since the sentinel had been
pacing below. Jusseret, passing unostentatiously out through the Palace
gate, glanced at his watch and smiled. It had been excellently managed.

Later, Karyl recovered consciousness to find things little changed. He
was lying on a leather couch in his own rooms. The windows on the small
garden still stood open and the moon, riding farther down the west,
bathed the outer world in shimmer of silver, but at each door stood a

Karyl remembered that during Louis Delgado's recent captivity he had
fared in precisely the same manner, neither better nor worse.

The King rose, still a trifle unsteady from the blow he had received,
and went out into the garden. There was no effort on the part of the
saluting soldier to halt him, and once outside he realized why this
latitude was allowed him. In addition to the man at the door, a second
walked back and forth by the outer wall. As Karyl stepped into the
moonlight this man, himself in the shadow, saluted as his fellow had

"I have the honor to command the guard, Your Grace," said the man in a
respectful voice. "It is by the order of His Majesty, King Louis."
Something in the enunciation puzzled Karyl with a hint of the familiar.

"Why do you remain outside?" he asked.

"Over this wall, any comparatively agile man might make his way to the
beach, if he succeeded in passing the muskets of the sentry-boxes--and
there are boats at the water's edge," explained the soldier with a short
laugh. "I am responsible for the guard, so I keep this post myself. I
believe myself incorruptible and men with thrones at stake might make
tempting offers."

Karyl smiled. "What would you regard as a tempting offer?" he suggested.

For answer the man came into the light and lifted his cap. The King
looked into the dark eyes of Manuel Blanco. "I won into their confidence
by the hardest," he explained in a lowered tone, "but after that, I had
no opportunity to leave them or communicate with you. This was all I
could do. As it is, I shall be recognized as soon as the Duke arrives."

Blanco raised his voice again in casual conversation and beckoned to the
sentinel at the door. When the man approached the Spaniard pointed over
the wall. "Do you see that rock? Is that a figure crouching behind its
shelter?" he demanded. As the man leaned forward, Manuel suddenly struck
him heavily at the back of the neck with a loose stone caught up from
the masonry's coping. The soldier dropped without a sound.

"Now, Your Majesty, we must risk it down the rock," prompted the man
from Cadiz, in hurried, low-pitched words. "Moments are invaluable....
It is only while I command the guard that there is a chance of your
escape.... An officer may come at any instant on a round of
inspection--my discovery as the Duke's kidnapper is a matter of
minutes.... I have been watched and tested in a hundred ways; it was
only to-day that I convinced them of my fanatic zeal."

Blanco hurriedly gave his cap and cape to the King, donning himself the
blouse of Karyl's undress uniform. Then the two crept cautiously down
the rifted face of the cliff, holding the shadow of the crevices. One
sentry-box they passed safely, and finally they edged by the second
unnoticed. They had negotiated the hundred feet of descent and stood
pressed against the bottom, hugging the black shadow. They were waiting
an opportunity to slip across a narrow sliver of intervening moonlight
to the beach and the boat which lay at the water's edge.

Occasional lazy clouds drifted across the sky. The two refugees, goaded
by the realization that every wasted second cut their desperate hope
more and more to a vanishing point, watched the fleecy scraps of mist
skim by the moon afar off without veiling its face. Then for a short
moment a shred of silver-tipped cloud cut off the radiance. Blanco
seized the King's arm in a wordless signal. Karyl and the bull-fighter
raced across to the boat that lay at the water's edge. In a moment more
it was afloat and they were at the oars. The moon emerged and at the
same instant an outcry came from above. The musket of the man in the
lower sentry-box barked with a blatant reverberation. One of the figures
in the boat drooped forward and sagged limply over his oars. The other
only redoubled his efforts. And then again, like the curtain of a
theater, a cloud dropped downward and quenched the moon and the sea and
the rock in impartial obscurity.

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