The Lighted Match (Chapter 7, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 7

When Cara, waiting at the bridge, had seen the car flash up, a bearded
Bedouin at the wheel, she had leaped lightly to the seat beside him,
without waiting for the machine to come to a full stop; then she had
thrown herself back luxuriously on the cushions with a sigh of
satisfaction, and had only said: "Drive me fast."

For a long time she lay back, drinking, in long draughts, the spiced
night air, frosted only enough to give it flavor. There was no necessity
for speech, and above, the stars glittered lavishly, despite the white
light of the moon.

At last she murmured half-aloud and almost contentedly: "'Who knows but
the world may end to-night?'"

Above the throbbing purr of the engine which had already done ten miles,
the man beside her caught the voice, but missed the words. He bent
forward.

"I beg your pardon?" he politely inquired.

At the question she started violently, and both hands came to her heart
with a spasmodic movement. Von Ritz carried the car around an ugly rut.

"Don't be alarmed, Your Highness," he said, in a cold, evenly modulated
voice which, though pitched low, carried clearly above the noise of the
cylinders. "I may call you 'Your Highness' now, may I not? We are quite
alone. Or do you still prefer that I respect your incognita?"

The girl's eyes blazed upon him until he could feel their intense
focusing, though he kept his own fixed unbendingly on the road ahead.
Finally she mastered her anger enough to speak.

"Colonel Von Ritz," she commanded, "you will take me back at once!" She
drew herself as far away from him as the space on the seat permitted.

"Your Highness's commands are supreme." The man spoke in the same even
voice. "I intend taking Your Highness back--when it is safer for Your
Highness to go back."

He turned the car suddenly to the right and sped along the narrower road
that led away from the main thoroughfare.

"You will take me back, now. I had not supposed that to a gentleman--"
Her voice choked into silence and her eyes filled with angry tears.

"Your Highness misunderstands," he said coldly. "I obey the throne. If I
live long enough to serve it in another reign, Your Highness will be
Your Majesty. Yet even then will your commands be no more supreme to
me--no more sacred--than now. But even then, Your Highness--"

"Call me Miss Carstow," she interrupted in impassioned anger. "I will
have my freedom for to-night at least."

"Yet even then, Miss Carstow," he calmly resumed, "when danger threatens
you or your throne, I shall take such means as I can to avert that
danger, as I am doing now. Even though"--for a moment the cold, metallic
evenness left his voice and a human note stole into his words--"even
though the reward be contempt."

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