The Lighted Match (Chapter 3, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 3

At dinner the talk ran for a course or two with the hounds, then strayed
aimlessly into a dozen discursive channels.

"My boy," whispered Mrs. Van from her end of the table, to Pagratide on
her right, "I relinquish you to the girl on your other side. You have
made a very brave effort to talk to me. Ah, I know--" raising a slender
hand to still his polite remonstrance--"there is no Cara but Cara, and
Pagratide is--" She let her mischief-laden smile finish the comment.

"Her satellite," he confessed.

"One of them," she wickedly corrected him.

The foreigner turned his head and nodded gravely. Cara was listening to
something that Benton was saying in undertone, her lips parted in an
amused smile.

Through a momentary lull as the coffee came, rose the voice of
O'Barreton, the bore, near the head of the table; O'Barreton, who must
be tolerated because as a master of hounds he had no superior and a bare
quorum of equals.

"For my part," he was saying, "I confess an augmented admiration for
Van because he's distantly related to near-royalty. If that be snobbish,
make the most of it."

Van laughed. "Related to royalty?" he scornfully repeated. "Am I not
myself a sovereign with the right on election day to stand in line
behind my chauffeur and stable-boys at the voting-place?"

"How did it happen, Van? How did you acquire your gorgeous relatives?"
persisted O'Barreton.

"Some day I'll tell you all about it. Do you think the Elkridge hounds
will run--"

"I addressed a question to you. That question is still before the
house," interrupted O'Barreton, with dignity. "How did you acquire 'em?"

"Inherited 'em!" snapped Van, but O'Barreton was not to be turned aside.

"Quite true and quite epigrammatic," he persisted sweetly. "But how?"

Van turned to the rest of the table. "You don't have to listen to this,"
he said in despair. "I have to go through it with O'Barreton every time
he comes here. It's a sort of ritual." Then, turning to the tormenting
guest, he explained carefully: "Once upon a time the Earl of Dundredge
had three daughters. The eldest--my mother--married an American husband.
The second married an Englishman--she is the mother of my fair cousin,
Cara, there; the third and youngest married the third son of the Grand
Duke of Maritzburg, at that time a quiet gentleman who loved the Champs
Elysées and landscape-painting in Southern Spain."

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