The Lighted Match (Chapter 9, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 9

Slowly, with a gesture almost subconscious, Benton slipped an unopened
envelope from his breast pocket; turned it over; looked at it and
slipped it back, still unopened. Then, leaning heavily on his elbow, he
gazed off, frowning, over the rail of the yacht's forward deck.

The waters that lap the quays and wharves of Old Cadiz, green as jade
and quiet as farm-yard pools, were darkening into inkiness toward shore.
White walls that had been like ivory were turning into ashy gray behind
the Bateria San Carlos and the pillars of the Entrada. The molten
sun was sinking into a rich orange sky beyond the Moorish dome and
Christian towers of the cathedral.

Shafts of red and green wavered and quaked in the black dock waters.

Between the hulks of cork- and salt-freighters, the steam yacht Isis
slipped with as graceful a motion as that of the gulls. Then when the
anchor chains ran gratingly out, Benton turned on his heel and went to
his cabin.

Behind a bolted door he dropped into a chair and sat motionless. Finally
the right hand wandered mechanically to his breast pocket and brought
out the envelope. He read for the thousandth time the endorsement in the
corner.

"Not to be opened until the evening of March 5th," and under that, "I
love you."

There was another envelope; an outer one much rubbed from the pocket. It
was directed in her hand and the blurred postmark bore a date in
February. He could have described every mark upon the enclosing cover
with the precision of a careful detective. When his impatient fingers
had first torn off the end, only to be confronted by the order: "Not to
be opened until the evening of March 5th," he had fallen back on
studying outward marks and indications. In the first place, it had been
posted from Puntal, and instead of the familiar violet stamp of
Maritzburg, with which her other letters had been franked during the two
months past, this stamp was pink, and its medallion bore the profile of
Karyl.

That she had left Maritzburg, and that she had written him a message to
be sealed for a month, meant that the date of March 5th had
significance. That she was in Galavia meant that the significance
was--he winced.

On the calendar of a bronze desk-set, the first four days of March were
already cancelled. Now, taking up a blue pencil, he crossed off the
number five. After that he looked at his watch. It wanted one minute of
six. He held the timepiece before him while the second-hand ticked its
way once around its circle, then with feverish impatience he tore the
end from the envelope.

Benton's face paled a little as he drew out the many pages covered with
a woman's handwriting, but there was no one to see that or to notice the
tremor of his fingers.

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