The Lighted Match (Chapter 6)

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Chapter 6

When Benton had straightened out his car for the run to the city, and
the road had begun to slip away under the tires, he turned to McGuire,
his chauffeur.

"McGuire," he inquired, "where is the runabout?"

"At 'Idle Times,' sir. You loaned it to Mr. Bristow to fill up the

"I remember. Now, listen!" And as Benton talked a slow grin of
contentment spread across the visage of Mr. McGuire, hinting of some
enterprise that appealed to his venturesome soul with a lure beyond the

In the city, Benton was a busy man, though his visit to the costumer's
was brief. Coming out of the place, he fancied he caught a glimpse of
Von Ritz, but the view was fleeting and he decided that his eyes must
have deceived him. He had himself patronized a rather obscure shop,
recommended by Mr. McGuire. Von Ritz would presumably have selected some
more fashionable purveyor of disguises even had his assertion that he
would not masquerade been made only to deceive. Perhaps, thought the
American, Colonel Von Ritz was becoming an obsession with him, merely
because he stood for Galavia and the threat of royalty's mandate. He was
convinced of this later in the day, when he once more fancied that a
disappearing pair of broad shoulders belonged to the European. This time
he laughed at the idea. The surroundings made the supposition ludicrous.
It was among the tawdry shops of ship chandlers in the East Side, where
he himself had gone in search of certain able seamen in the company of
the sailing-master of the Isis. Von Ritz would hardly be consorting
with the fo'castle men who frequent the water front below Brooklyn

The few days of the last week raced by, with all the charm of sky and
field that the magic of Indian summer can lavish, and for Benton and
Cara, they raced also with the sense of fast-slipping hope and
relentlessly marching doom. Outwardly Cara set a pace for vivacious and
care-free enjoyment that left Mrs. Porter-Woodleigh, the
"semi-professional light-hearted lady," as O'Barreton named her, "to
trail along in the ruck." Alone with Benton, there was always the furrow
between the brows and the distressed gaze upon the mystery beyond the
sky-line, but Pagratide and Von Ritz were vigilant, to the end that
their tête-à-têtes were few.

Neither Benton nor Cara had alluded to the man's overbold assertion that
he would find a way. It was a futile thing said in eagerness. The day of
the dance, the last day they could hope for together, came unprefaced by
development. To-morrow she must take up her journey and her duty: her
holiday would be at its end. It was all the greater reason why this
evening should be memorable. He should think of her afterward as he saw
her to-night, and it pleased her that in the irresponsibility of the
maskers she should appear to him in the garb of vagabond liberty, since
in fact freedom was impossible to her.

As the kaleidoscope of the first dance sifted and shifted its pattern of
color, three men stood by the door, scanning the disguised figures with
watchful eyes.

One of the three was fantastically arrayed as a cannibal chief, in brown
fleshings, with cuffs upon his ankles, gaudy decorations about his neck,
and huge rings in nose and ears.

The second man was a Bedouin: a camel-driver of the Libyan Desert. From
the black horsehair circlet on his temples a turban-scarf fell to his
shoulders. He was wrapped in a brown cashmere cloak which dropped
domino-like to his ankles. Shaggy brows ran in an unbroken line from
temple to temple, masking his eyes, while a fierce mustache and beard
obliterated the contour of his lower face. His cheek-bones and forehead
showed, under some dye, as dark as leather, and as his gaze searchingly
raked the crowds, he fingered a string of Moslem prayer-beads.

The third man was conspicuous in ordinary dress. Save for the decoration
of the Order of Takavo, suspended by a crimson ribbon on his
shirt-front, and the Star of Galavia, on the left lapel of his coat,
there was no break in the black and white scheme of his evening clothes.
Von Ritz had told the truth. He was not disguised. He stood, his arms
folded on his breast, towering above the Fiji Islander, possibly a
quarter of an inch taller than the Bedouin. A half-amused smile lurked
in his steady eyes--the smile of unwavering brows and dispassionately
steady mouth-line.

The cannibal chief waved his hand. "Bright the lamps shone o'er fair
women and brave men!" he declaimed, in a disguised voice; then scowled
about him villainously, remembering that an affable quoting of Lord
Byron is incompatible with the qualities of a man-eating savage.

The Bedouin gravely inclined his head. "Allahu Akbar!" he responded,
in a soft voice.

Suddenly the caravan driver commenced a hurried and zigzag course across
the crowded floor. The eyes of Colonel Von Ritz indolently followed.

Through a low-silled window a girl had just entered, carrying herself
with the untrammeled freedom of some wild thing, erect, poised from the
waist, rhythmic in motion. Her walk was like the scansion of good verse.
The Bedouin caught the grace before the ensemble of costume met his eye.
It was in harmony.

She wore a silk skirt to the ankles, and about her waist and hips was
bound the yellow and red sash of the Spanish gipsy, tightly knotted, and
falling at its tasseled ends. Her arms were bare to the elbows, and gay
with bracelets; her hair fell from her forehead and temples, dropping
over her shoulders in two ribbon bound braids. A tall, gray-cowled monk,
whose military bearing gave the lie to his cassock, a Spanish grandee,
and a fool in motley saw her at the same moment and hurried to intercept
her, but with a slide which carried him a quarter of the way across the
floor the Bedouin arrived first, and before the others had come up he
was drifting away with her in the tide of the dancers.

"Allah is good to me--Flamencine," whispered the camel-driver as he drew
her close to avoid a careless dancer.

"Why, Flamencine?" demanded a carefully altered voice, from which,
however, the music had not been eliminated.

"Don't you remember?" The Arab stole a covert, identifying glance down
at the tip of one ear which showed under its masking of brown hair--an
ear that looked as though it were chiseled from the pink coral of
Capri. He quoted: "'There was a gipsy maiden within the forest green,
There was a gipsy maiden who shook a tambourine.
The stars of night had not the face,
The woodland wind had not the grace,
Of Flamencine.'"

Then the music stopped, and with its silencing came the monk, the clown,
the grandee, and others.

In the insistent demand of the many the Arab had too few dances with the
Spanish girl. There were Comanches, Samurai, policemen, Zulus and
courtiers, who, seeing her dance, discovered that their immediate
avocation was dancing with her.

Yet it wanted an hour of unmasking time when a Bedouin led a gipsy
maiden from Andalusia into the deserted library, where the darkness was
broken only by blazing logs on an open hearth.

When they were alone he turned to her anxiously. His voice was freighted
with appeal. Her face, now unmasked, wore an expression of stunned

"Dear," he asked, "how are you?"

She gazed at the flickering logs. "I should think you would know," she
answered wearily. Then, with a mirthless laugh, she spread both hands
toward the blaze. "I'm looking ahead--I can see it all there in the
fire." Her fingers convulsively clenched themselves until blue marks
showed against the pink palms.

He pushed a chair forward for her, but with a shake of her head she
declined it.

"Whoever heard of a gipsy girl sitting in a leather chair?" she
demanded. "It's more like--like some effete princess."

She dropped to the Persian rug and, gathering her knees between her
clasped hands, sat looking into the dying blaze. "For a few brief
minutes I am the gipsy girl," she added.

"And," he said, dropping cross-legged to the rug at her side, "when the
caravan halts at evening, and prayers have been said facing Mecca, and
the grunting camels kneel, to be unloaded, neither do we, the gipsies of
the desert, sit in chairs." He swayed slightly toward her, lowering his
voice to a whisper. As the soft touch of her shoulder brushed him and
electrified him, his cashmere-draped arms closed around her and held her
hungrily to him. The vagrant maiden of Andalusia and the caravan-driver
of Africa sat gazing together at the glowing pictures in the logs as
they turned slowly to ashes.

"Cara," he went on in a voice of pent-up earnestness, "we be nomads--we
two. 'The scarlet of the maples can shake us like the cry of bugles
going by.' Come away with me while there is time. Let us follow out our
destinies where gipsy blood calls us; in the desert, the jungle,
wherever you say. Let your fancy be our guide--your heart our compass.
Suppose"--he paused and, with one outstretched arm, pointed to the
fire--"suppose that to be a camp-fire--what do you see in the coals?"

"I have already told you," she said wearily. "I see a throne, a life
with all the confining littleness of a prison, with none of the breadth
of an empire. I see the sacrifice of all I love. I see year upon year of
purple desolation.... Purple is the color of mourning and royalty."

She fell silent, and he spoke slowly.

"I see the desert, many-hued, like an opal with the setting of the sun.
I see the flickering of camp-fires and the palm-fringe of an oasis. I
see the tapering minarets of a mosque, and the long booths of the
bazaars. I smell the scent of the perfume-seller's stall, the heavy
sweetness of attar of roses.... I hear the tinkle of camel bells....
There comes a change.... I see a mountain-pass and a mule-train crawling
through the dust, I see the paths that go around the world. Which of our
pictures do you prefer?"

She gave a pained, low cry, and buried her face passionately on his
shoulder. "Oh, you know, you know!" she cried, in a piteous voice. "And
you love me, yet you tempt me to break my parole. If I could do it and
be freed of the responsibility! If a miracle could work itself!"

"Cara," he whispered, resolutely steadying himself, "don't forget the
gospel according to Jonesy. You can't dam up the tributaries of the
heart. Some day you must come to me. That much is immutably written. For
God's sake come now while the road is still clear. Otherwise we shall
grope our ways to each other, even if it be through tragedy--through
hell itself."

For a moment she gazed at him with wide eyes.

"I know it--" she whispered in a frightened voice. "I know it--and yet I
must go ahead."

He rose and lifted her; then as she stood clinging to him he said: "I
ask your forgiveness if I've made it harder--and one boon. Slip away
with me and give me an hour with you."

"They will find me. Pagratide and Von Ritz will find me," she objected
helplessly. "They won't let us be alone for long."

"Listen," he replied. "It is not too cold and the moon is brilliant. It
is the last real moon for me. Come with me in my car for a while."

"You must not make love to me," she stipulated. "I am going to try to
get my face properly composed--and if you make love to me, I can't.
Besides, when you make love I'm rather afraid of you. So you mustn't."

Then, with a wild spasmodic gesture, she caught the edges of his
cashmere cloak and gripped them tightly in both hands as she looked up
into his eyes and impetuously contradicted herself.

"Yes, please do," she appealed.

He laughed. "Destiny says I must make love to you," he asserted, "and
who am I to disobey Destiny?"

Outside, she insisted upon waiting by the bridge while he went for his
car. So he turned and started alone to the point on the driveway just
around the angle of the house, where McGuire, pursuant to previous
orders, was to be waiting with the machine. It had been only an hour
since Benton had slipped away from the dancers and consulted with
McGuire in the shadow of the wall, instructing him explicitly in his
duties. McGuire was to wait with the machine ready upon call. The lamps
were not to be lighted. When Benton came, the chauffeur was to run the
car to the point where a lady should enter it. He was at that point to
leave, without words. It had been impressed on McGuire that utter
silence was imperative. The chauffeur was then to follow in the
runabout, acting as a reserve in the event of need. Both cars were to
take a certain circuitous route to a point on the shore thirty miles
distant, the runabout keeping just close enough to hold the first car
in sight. McGuire had listened and understood. Yet now McGuire was
missing, together with one very necessary motor-car.

As Benton stood, boiling with wrath at the miscarriage of his plans, he
fancied he heard the soft muffled song of his motor just beyond the turn
where the road circled the house. He bent and held a lighted match close
to the gravel. On a muddied spot he found the easily recognizable tread
of his tires. The car had been there. For the sake of speed he ran to
the garage near by and took a swift look at the runabout. It was
waiting, and, thanks to the God of Machines, would start on compression.
He flung himself to the driver's seat and gave it the spark. Far
away--about as far as the bridge, he calculated--he heard one short,
cautious blast of an automobile horn.

Just before the last turn brought him to the bridge, where he should
meet Cara, he noticed a man hurrying toward him, on foot, and recognized
McGuire. Totally mystified, he slowed down the machine.

"Get in, you infernal blockhead," he called. "Tell me about it as we go.
I'm in a hurry."

But McGuire performed strangely. He clapped one hand to his forehead and
looked at his employer out of large, wild eyes. "Am I dippy? My God! Am
I dippy?" he exclaimed, repeating the question over and over in a low,
trembling voice.

"Apparently you are. Get in, damn you!" Benton ordered.

"It's weird," declared McGuire. "It's damned weird."

"Why, sir," he ran on, talking fast, now that the first shock was over
and his tongue again loosened. "Either I've made a fool mistake, or else
I'm crazier than hell. I waited at the place you said. You--or your
ghost--came and took his seat, and waved his hand. I started the car for
the bridge. He didn't say a word. At the bridge I jumped out. He was
you--and yet you are here--same size--same costume--same beard--even the
same beads around the neck."

They had almost reached the bridge and were slowing down when Benton,
scanning the road, empty in the moonlight, grasped for the first time a
definite suspicion of what had happened.

"Cara!" he shouted. "Good God, where is she?"

The chauffeur leaned over and shouted into his ear. "I'm telling you,
sir. The lady's in that other car--with that other edition of you. And,
sir--beggin' your pardon--they're beatin' it like hell!"

Benton's only answer was to feed gas to the spark so frantically that
the car seemed to rise from the ground and shiver before it settled
again. Then it shot forward and reeled crazily into a speed never
intended for a curving road at night.

The moonlight fell on a gray streak of a car, driven by a maniac with a
scarf blowing back from a turban over two wildly gleaming eyes.

Back at "Idle Times" a Capuchin monk, wandering apart from the dancers
in consonance with the austere proclaiming of his garb, was studying the
frivolous gamboling of a school of fountain gold-fish in the
conservatory. He looked up, scowling, to take a note from a servant.

"Colonel Von Ritz said to hand this to the gentleman masquerading as a
monk," explained the man.

"Von Ritz," growled the monk. "He annoys me."

He impatiently tore open the letter and scanned it. His brows contracted
in astonished mystification, then slowly his eyes narrowed and kindled.

The scrawl ran: "Your Highness: If you see neither Mr. Benton, masquerading as an Arab,
her Highness, the Princess, nor myself in ten minutes from the time of
receiving this, take the car which you will find ready in the garage. My
orderly will be there to act as your chauffeur. Follow the main road to
the second village. Turn there to the right, and drive to the small
bay, where you will find me or an explanation. I have been conducting
certain investigations. The affair is urgent and touches matters of
great import to Europe as well us to Your Highness."

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