The Lighted Match (Chapter 18)

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Chapter 18

Left alone, Benton spent ten minutes in the room, then passed through
the window to the balcony and went down into the miniature garden. His
face was hot and his pulses heightened. The garden was gratefully cool
and quiet.

From the window, through which he had come, a broad shaft of tempered
luminance fell across the fountain and laid a zone of soft light athwart
the low stone benches surrounding it. Then it caught, and faintly edged
with its glow, the granite balustrade at the shoulder of the cliff.
Elsewhere the little garden was enveloped in the velvet blackness of the
night, against which the points of town and harbor lights, far below,
were splinters of emerald and ruby. The moon would not rise until late.

The American strolled over to the shaded margin which was unspoiled by
the light. He brushed back the hair from his forehead and let the sea
breeze play on his face.

Finally a light sound behind him called his attention inward. The King
and Von Ritz stood together in the doorway. Both were in dress uniform.
Karyl, even at the side of the soldierly Von Ritz, was striking in the
white and silver of Galavia's commanding general. Across his breast
glinted the decorations of all the orders to which Royalty entitled him.

The King, with a deep breath not unlike a sigh, came forward to the
fountain. There he halted with one booted foot on the margin of the
basin and his white-gauntleted hands clasped at his back. He had not yet
seen Benton, who now stepped out of the shadow to present himself. As he
came into view Karyl raised his eyes and nodded with a smile.

"Ah, Benton," he said, "so you came! Thank you."

The American bowed. He wished to observe every proper amenity of Court
etiquette. He was still chagrined by the memory of his rudeness to Von
Ritz, yet he was determined that if Karyl had sent for him as the Count
Pagratide, he must receive him on equal terms and without ceremony.

"Certainly," he replied. Then with a short laugh he added: "I have never
before been received by a crowned head. If my etiquette proves faulty,
you must score it against my ignorance--not my intention."

"I sent for you," said Karyl slowly, as the eyes of the two men met in
full directness, "and you were good enough to come. I am a crowned
head--yes--that is my damned ill-fortune. Let us, for God's sake, in so
far as we may, forget that! Benton, back there--" his voice suddenly
rose and took on a passionate tremor as he lifted one gauntleted hand in
a sweep toward the west--"back there in your country, where you were a
grandee of finance and I an impecunious foreigner, there was no ceremony
between us. If we can forget this livery"--Karyl savagely struck his
breast--"if you will try to forget that you are looking at a toy King,
fancifully trimmed from head to heel in braid and medals--then perhaps
we can talk!"

"Your Majesty--" demurred Von Ritz in a tone of deep protest.

The King swept his arm back as one who brushes an unimportant intruder
into the background.

"And we must talk," went on Karyl vehemently, "as two men, not as one
man and a puppet."

The American stood looking on at the violence of the King's outburst
with a sense of deep sympathy. Again the Colonel stepped forward with an
interposed objection.

"If I may suggest--" he began in an emotionless inflection which fell in
startling contrast with the surcharged vehemence of the other. Then he
halted in the midst of his sentence as Karyl wheeled passionately to
face him.

"My God, Colonel!" cried the King. "There is not a debt of gratitude in
life that I do not owe to you--I and my house! I am crushed under my
obligations to you. You have been our strength, our one loyal support,
and yet there are times when you madden me!" The officer stood waiting,
respectful, impersonal, until the flood of words should subside, but for
a while Karyl swept agitatedly on.

"You wear a sword, Von Ritz, which any monarch in Europe would hire at
your own price. Any government would let you name what titles and honors
you wished in payment--"

"Your Majesty!"

"Forgive me, I know your sword is not for sale. I mean no such
intimation. I mean only that it has a value. I mean you are a man, and
the game to you is the large one of statecraft. It is really you who
rule this Kingdom. Ah, yes, you remonstrate, but I tell you it is true,
and the damnable shame is that it is not a Kingdom worthy of your
genius! You, Von Ritz, are the engine, the motive force--but I--in God's
holy name, what am I?"

He raised his hands questioningly, appealingly.

"You," replied the older soldier calmly, "are the King."

"Yes," Karyl caught up the words almost before they had fallen from the
lips of the other. "Yes, I am the King. I am the miserable, gilded
figurehead out on the prow, which serves no end and no purpose. I am
the ornamental symbol of a system which the world is discarding! I am a
medieval lay figure upon which to hang these tinsel decorations, these

"Your Majesty is excited."

"No, by God, I am only heartbroken--and I am through!" The King's hands
dropped at his sides. The passion died out of his voice and eyes,
leaving them those of a man who is very tired. For a moment there was
silence. It was broken by the American.

"Pagratide," he asked, "why did you send for me?"

The King stood rigid with the illuminating shaft from the door touching
into high-lights the polish of his boots and the burnish of his
accouterments. Finally he turned and in a voice now deadly quiet
countered with another question.

"Benton, why did you save me?"

The American answered with quiet candor.

"I went into it," he said, "because I feared the danger might threaten
Cara. Once in, only a murderer could have turned back."

"So I thought." Karyl nodded his head, then he turned and paced
restively up and down the path between the fountain and the balcony. At
last he halted fronting the American.

"I wish to God, Benton, you had let that traitor Lapas and his
constituents touch their damned button. I wish to God you had let them
lift me, amid the stones of do Freres, into eternity! But that wish is
uncharitable to Von Ritz and the others who must have gone with me." The
King broke off with a short laugh. "After all," he added, "of course, as
you say, you couldn't do it."

Benton shook his head. "No," he said, "I couldn't do it."

Again Karyl paced back and forth, and again he stopped, facing the

"Benton, it is hard for two men to talk in this fashion. Perhaps no two
other men ever did. I find myself a jailer to the woman I love--Oh, yes,
I am also imprisoned by Royalty but that does not alter matters." The
voice shook. The gauntleted hands were tightly gripped, but the speaker
went steadily on. "And you love her!"

For an instant Benton looked at the other, hesitant. Then realizing the
unquestionable sincerity with which the King spoke, he answered with
equal frankness.

"Pagratide--over there--I thought I could enter Paradise. I did look
into Paradise. Then I had to set my face back again to the desert--and
in the desert one has only memory and hunger and thirst."

"Yours is hunger and thirst--yes!" exclaimed the King of Galavia. "But
mine is the hunger and thirst of Tantalus."

There was a low pained exclamation from the balcony and both men wheeled
in recognition of the voice and the shadow that divided the band of
light in the doorway.

The Queen stood on the low sill and though her head and figure were only
sketched in shade against the tempered luminance at her back her
exclamation told them that she had heard. She stood in the unbroken
sweep of her Court gown. Her slim hands gripped the ermine which fell
from her shoulders to the floor and slowly crushed it between clenched
fingers. About her head the light touched her hair into a soft nimbus.

Karyl stepped impetuously forward and held out his hand to lead her into
the garden. Benton, who had involuntarily started toward the balcony at
the first sight of her, caught his lip in his teeth and halted where he

The girl remained for a moment, astonished at the sight of the two men,
incredulous of what she had heard.

She had slipped away for a moment of respite from the fatiguing
requirements of the ball-room. She had come here because she had felt
sure that here she could be alone. She had come, driven by the prompting
of her heart, to look out to the Mediterranean and wonder where, between
its gates at Gibraltar and Suez, Benton might at that moment be. And
from the balcony she had seen him in the garden and had heard a part of
this talk before the spell of her astounded muteness broke into

"You heard what we were saying." Karyl spoke gently, deferentially. "And
it seemed to you incredible that we should be confidential on such a
subject. It would be so, except that we are both seeking the same
end--your service--" he paused, then added miserably--"and your

She listened in wonderment as she held out her hand to Benton and
watched trance-like his lowered head as he bent his lips to her fingers.

"Cara!" Karyl had stepped back and was leaning over, his elbows resting
on the stone back of one of the low benches. His fingers tightly grasped
the carved ornaments at its top. His words were carefully chosen and
measuredly spoken. He knew that if he permitted one expression to escape
him unguardedly, with it would slip away the command by which he was
curbing mutinous emotions.

"Cara, I happened to be born a Prince, who should one day develop into a
King. It chanced that Nature had a sense of humor--so Nature paid me a
droll compliment. She gave me a futile ambition to be a man--me, whom
she had decided was to be only a King!"

The group stood silent and attentive in a strained tableau, except for
Von Ritz, who paced back and forth just beyond the fountain, as though
respectfully repudiating the whole unseemly episode.

"Then I fell in love with you," went on the King of Galavia. "You
married me--because State reasons demanded it. I could not win your
love--he did!" He turned toward Benton, and his voice, though it held
its slow control, was bitter.

"Benton, do you fancy this puny game amuses me? Do I not know that you
could buy a principality like this for a souvenir of Europe if it
happened to please you? The one time I have been allowed to feel a man
was in your country, where we met as equal rivals.... No, not equal even
then, because you were the winner, I the loser."

"Karyl," the Queen spoke in a low voice, "I can give you loyalty,
admiration, respect and my life to use as you see fit to use it. I give
as freely as I can. My love I do not refuse--it is just ... just that it
is not mine to give." She spoke with unutterable weariness. "I seem to
bring only sorrow to those who love me."

"You can give me all but love," Karyl repeated very softly, leaning
forward toward her, "and love is all there is! Without it I take all
else you give me as a thief takes, without right. If being a King means
being your jailer, then I am done with being a King!"

"Your Majesty," cut in Von Ritz sharply, "it is time to terminate this
talk. It has no end. It is aimless argument which comes only back to the
starting point."

The King wheeled and met the eyes of his adviser. The studied
self-control he had maintained since Cara's arrival slipped from him and
his voice broke out explosively.

"It has an end!" he cried. "I will show you the end. If I cannot build
empire I can do something else, I can throw this damnable little Kingdom
down into the chaos it deserves!... I can abdicate to my cousin, Louis
Delgado, who wants the throne I don't want!... I can stamp on this
tinseled trumpery.... I can break jail!" He turned with an impassioned
out-sweeping of his hands. Coming swiftly from behind the bench, he
halted tensely before Benton and leaned defiantly forward. "Then I can
free her--and by God I shall fight you for her on equal terms, inch by
inch, not holding her in duress, but fighting for her free consent. She
has been trapped by Fate into marrying me and at heart she rebels. I
shall set her free and then by God I will win her back!"

Von Ritz had stood by as the King rushed on in climax after climax of
heated words. Now he took one swift stride forward. From his quiet face
had fallen every trace of impassiveness. When he spoke his voice
trembled with the irresistible eloquence of power and fire.

"My God, boy!" He seized Karyl by his shoulders and wheeled him so that
they stood face to face. There was in his manner nothing of deference,
nothing of the subordinate. Now he stood transformed, the man of action;
the dominant, compelling force before whom littler men must wither. This
was no longer Von Ritz the emotionless. It was Von Ritz the King-maker,
burning with vitalizing passion.

"My God, boy, are you mad? Do you think other men have never loved and
sacrificed themselves for duty--kept unuttered, locked in their hearts,
things they were hungry to say?... Do you think that your hard task of
Kingship is yours to play with--to desert?... Why, boy, I've taught you
your manual of arms, I've drilled you, trained you, watched you grow
from childhood. My heart has beaten with joy because you were free of
every degenerate trace that has marked and scarred Europe's cancerous
Royalty! I've seen you come clean-hearted, straight-minded into
man-hood; prepared you to show the world what a Kingdom can be with a
clean King--a strong King! I've fitted you to bear a burden which only a
man could bear--to remind the world that 'King' means the Man Who
Can--and I thought you could do it!" He paused only to draw a long
breath, then hastened on again. "Yes, your task is thankless. Your
Principality is small, but it is a keystone in Europe's arch. It is such
Princelings as you who must send clean blood down to the thrones of
to-morrow.... Is that not enough?... Have I built a King, day by day,
year by year, idea by idea, only to see him wither and crumple under the
first blast? Go on with your task, in God's name! Probably they will
murder you ... assassination may at the end be your reward, but only the
coward fears the outcome! For God's sake, Karyl, don't desert me under

He paused with a gesture eloquent of appeal. When next he spoke his
voice was slow, deliberate.

"And the other picture! The café tables of Paris are crowded with
Royalty that has been; with the miserable children of conquered and
abdicated Kings!"

The King dropped exhaustedly to the bench, his fore-arms on his knees,
his gloved fingers hanging limp. After a moment he rose again and went
to Cara.

"I want to fight for you," he said simply. "I want to free you
first--then fight for you."

"Karyl," she answered gently, "if you do this, you will enslave my
soul, and my imprisonment will be only harder. You will make me a
wrecker of governments--a traitor to my duty."

The King turned and looked out to sea.

"I must think," he said in a tired voice. "Perhaps it is only a matter
of time. Delgado is free. Perhaps I shall not have to present him with
my throne. Conceivably he may come and take it."

Von Ritz approached again and took Karyl's hand. To him a King was, at
last analysis, only the best product of the King-maker's craft. He was a
King-maker--before him stood a tired boy whom he loved.

"You will fight," he said, "and you will fight with hell's fury. The
first step will be to recapture this Pretender. With him in hand--"

"Which is in itself impossible," retorted Karyl.

At the window appeared the young Captain who had been left at the hotel.
His hand was at his forehead in salute. Von Ritz went to meet him and in
a moment returned for Benton. Together the two men went out. Five
minutes later they had come again into the garden. With them came Manuel

The bull fighter paused to bow low to the Queen, then to the King. At
last he spoke with some diffidence.

"I have taken the very great liberty," he said, "of making the Duke
Louis Delgado an enforced guest on the yacht--where he awaits Your
Majesty's pleasure."

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