The Lighted Match (Chapter 8, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 8

The coldness of the moonlight killed the pallor of Karyl's face, but
added a note of stark accentuation to his set chin and labored
self-containment. Von Ritz, despite his bedraggled masquerade was as
composed and expressionless as though he had seen nothing beyond the
expected. With Von Ritz nothing was beyond the expected.

He had to-night counterfeited Benton's disguise; stolen Benton's car;
substituted himself for the American and made a decisive effort to
interrupt the kidnaping of a Queen.

Finding himself checkmated, he had joined forces with the Prince and
brought the pursuit to a successful termination. His manner now was
precisely what it had been last night, when his only excitement had been
a game of billiards. Men who knew him would have told you that his
manner had been the same on a certain red and smoky day when the order
of Takavo had been pinned on his breast, in the reek and noise of a
battlefield.

After a moment of tense silence, Benton took a step forward.

"At any suitable time," he said, in a voice too low for Cara to catch,
"I shall, of course, be entirely at your service."

Pagratide drew a labored breath, but when he raised his head it was to
lift his brows inquiringly.

"For what?" he asked in an equally low tone. "Have I asked any
questions?" In a matter-of-fact voice he added: "It is growing late. If
Miss Carstow has finished the inspection of your yacht, I suggest a
return."

Benton recognized the other's refusal to read his motive. After all that
was the best course; the only course. Pagratide stepped forward.

"Mr. Benton had the pleasure of driving you down--" he suggested, "may I
have the same honor, returning?"

The girl met the eyes of the Prince, with defiance in her own.

"I am not a child!" she vehemently declared. "We may as well be honest
with each other. If he had chosen to have it so, you could not have come
aboard. I must obey the decrees of State!" She paused, then impulsively
swept on: "I can force myself to do what I must do, but I cannot compel
my heart--that is his, utterly his." She raised both hands. "Now you
know," she said. "You may decide."

Karyl inclined his head.

"I have questioned nothing," he repeated. "Will you honor me by
returning in my car?"

Cara tilted her chin rebelliously.

"No," she said, "I don't think I shall. My vacation ends to-morrow if
you still wish it, but to-night it has not ended. I return with Mr.
Benton."

Pagratide stiffened painfully, but with supreme self-mastery he forced a
smile as though he had asked nothing more than a dance--and had found it
engaged.

"I must submit," he replied in a steady voice. "I even understand. But
you will agree with me that they"--with a gesture toward the direction
from which they had come--"had best know nothing."

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