The Lighted Match (Chapter 5, page 1 of 3)


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Chapter 5

The first day of quail-shooting found Van Bristow's guests afield.

Separated from the others, Benton and Cara came upon a small grove, like
an oasis in the stretching acres of stubble. Under a scarlet maple that
reared itself skyward all aflame, and shielded by a festooning profusion
of wild-grape, a fallen beech-trunk offered an inviting seat. The girl
halted and grounded arms.

The man seated himself at her feet and looked up. He framed a question,
then hesitated, fearing the answer. Finally he spoke, controlling his
voice with an effort.

"Cara," he questioned, "how long have I?"

Her eyes widened as if with terror. "A very--very little time, dear,"
she said. "It frightens me to think how little. Then--then--nothing but
memory. Do you realize what it all means?" She leaned forward and laid a
hand on each of his shoulders. "Just one week more, and after that I
shall look out to sea when the sun sinks, red and sullen, into leaden
waters and think of--of Arcady--and you."

"Don't, Cara!" He seized her hands and went on talking fast and
vehemently. "Listen! I love you--that is not a unique thing. You love
me--that is the miracle. And because of a distorted idea of duty, our
lives must go to wreck. Don't you see the situation is
ludicrous--intolerable? You are trying to live a medieval life in a day
of wireless telegraph and air ships."

She nodded. "But what are we going to do about it?" she questioned
simply.

"Cara, dear--if I could find a way!" he pleaded eagerly. "Suppose I
could play the magician!"

He rose and stood back of the log.

She leaned back so that she might look into his eyes. "I wish you
could," she mused with infinite weariness.

He stooped suddenly and kissed the drooping lips with a resentful sense
of the monstrous injustice of a scheme of things wherein such lips could
droop.

"No, no, no!" she cried. "You must not! I've got to be Queen of
Galavia--I've got to be his wife." Then, in a quick, half-frightened
tone: "Yet when you are with me I can't help it. It's wicked to love
you--and I do."

He smiled through the misery of his own frown. "Am I so bad as that?" he
questioned.

"You are so bad"--she suddenly caught his hands in hers and slowly
shook her head--"that I don't trust myself on the same side of the road
with you. You must go across and sit on that opposite side." She lightly
kissed his forehead. "That's a kiss before exile--now go."

He measured the distance with disapproving eyes. "That must be fifteen
feet away," he protested, "and my arms are not a yard long." He
stretched them out, viewing them ruefully.

"Go!" she repeated with sternness.

He obeyed slowly, his face growing sullen.

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