The Lighted Match (Chapter 4, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 4

If the living-room at "Idle Times" bore the impress of Van Bristow's
individuality and taste, his den was the tangible setting of his
personality.

His marriage had, only eighteen months before, cut his life sharply with
the boundary of an epoch. The den bore something of the atmosphere of a
museum dedicated to past eras. It was crowded with useless junk that
stood for divers memories and much wandering. Many of the pictures that
cumbered the walls were redolent of the atmosphere of overseas.

There were photographs wherein the master of "Idle Times" and Mr. George
Benton appeared together, ranging from ancient football days to
snapshots of a mountain-climbing expedition in the Andes, dated only two
years back.

It was into this sanctum that Benton clanked, booted and spurred, early
the following morning.

Ostensibly Van was looking over business letters, but there was a trace
of wander-lust in the eyes that strayed off with dreamy truancy beyond
the tree-tops.

Benton planted himself before his host with folded arms, and stood
looking down almost accusingly into the face of his old friend.

"Whenever I have anything particularly unpleasant to do," began the
guest, "I do it quick. That's why I'm here now."

Van Bristow looked up, mildly astonished.

During a decade of intimacy these two men had joyously, affectionately
and consistently insulted each other on all possible occasions. Now,
however, there was a certain purposeful ring in Benton's voice which
told the other this was quite different from the time-honored
affectation of slander. Consequently his demand for further
enlightenment came with terse directness.

Benton nodded and a defiant glint came to his pupils.

"I come to serve notice," he announced briefly, "of something I mean to
do."

Van took the pipe from his mouth and regarded it with concentrated
attention, while his friend went on in carefully gauged voice.

"I am here," he explained, "as a guest in your house. I mean to make war
on certain plans and arrangements which presumably have your sympathy
and support--and I mean to make the hardest war I know." He paused, but
as Van gave no indication of cutting in, he went on in aggressive
announcement. "What I mean to do is my business--mine and a girl's--but
since she is your kinswoman and this is your place, it wouldn't be quite
fair to begin without warning."

For a time Bristow's attitude remained that of deep and silent
reflection. Finally he knocked the ashes from his pipe and came over
until he stood directly confronting Benton.

"So she has told you?" was his brief question at last.

The other nodded.

The master of "Idle Times" paced thoughtfully up and down the room. When
at length he stopped it was to clap his hand on his class-mate's
shoulder.

"George," he said, with a voice hardened to edit down the note of
sympathy that threatened it, "you seem to start out with the assumption
that I am against you. Get that out of your head. Cara has hungered for
freedom. We've felt that she had the right to, at least, her little
intervals of recess. It happened that she could have them here. Here she
could be Miss Carstow--and cease to be Cara of Maritzburg. I am sorry if
you--and she--must pay for these vacations with your happiness. I see
now that people who are sentenced to imprisonment, should not play with
liberty."

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