The Lighted Match
THE LIGHTED MATCH
SHE HELD OUT HER HAND TO BENTON AND WATCHED, TRANCE-LIKE, HIS LOWERED HEAD AS HE BENT HIS LIPS TO HER FINGERS.
Copyright, 1911, by
W. J. WATT & COMPANY
BRAUNWORTH & CO.
BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS
BROOKLYN, N. Y.
To K. du P.
- I. An Omen Is Construed
- II. Benton Plays Magician
- III. The Moon Overhears
- IV. The Doctrine According to Jonesy
- V. It is Decided to Masquerade
- VI. In Which Romeo Becomes Dromio
- VII. In Which Dromio Becomes Romeo
- VIII. The Princess Consults Jonesy
- IX. The Toreador Appears
- X. Of Certain Transpirings at a Café Table
- XI. The Passing Princess and the Mistaken Countess
- XII. Benton Must Decide
- XIII. Concerning Farewells and Warnings
- XIV. Countess and Cabinet Noir Join Forces
- XV. The Toreador Becomes Ambassador
- XVI. The Ambassador Becomes Admiral
- XVII. Benton Calls on the King
- XVIII. In Which the Sphinx Breaks Silence
- XIX. The Jackal Takes the Trail
- XX. The Death of Romance is Deplored
- XXI. Naples Assumes New Beauty
- XXII. The Sentry-box Answers the King's Query
- XXIII. "Scarabs of a Dead Dynasty"
- XXIV. In Which Kings and Commoners Discuss Love
- XXV. Abdul Said Bey Effects a Rescue
- XXVI. In a Curio Shop in Stamboul
- XXVII. Benton Says Good-by
- XXVIII. Jusseret Makes a Report
- Charles Neville Buck
- Pelham Granville Wodehouse
THE LIGHTED MATCH
AN OMEN IS CONSTRUED
"When a feller an' a gal washes their hands in the same basin at thesame time, it's a tol'able good sign they won't git married this year."
The oracle spoke through the bearded lips of a farmer perched on the topstep of his cabin porch. The while he construed omens, a setter pupindustriously gnawed at his boot-heels.
The girl was bending forward, her fingers spread in a tin basin, as theman at her elbow poured water slowly from a gourd-dipper. Heaped, indisorder against the cabin wall, lay their red hunting-coats, crops, andriding gauntlets.
The oracle tumbled the puppy down the steps and watched its return tothe attack. Then with something of melancholy retrospect in his paleeyes he pursued his reflections. "Now there was Sissy Belmire an' BudThomas, been keeping company for two years, then washed hands in commonat the Christian Endeavor[Pg 10] picnic an'—" He broke off to shake his headin sorrowing memory.
The young man, holding his muddied digits over the water, paused toconsider the matter.
Suddenly his hands went down into the basin with a splash.
"It is now the end of October," he enlightened; "next year comes in nineweeks."
The sun was dipping into a cloud-bank already purpled and gold-rimmed.Shortly it would drop behind the bristling summit-line of the hills.
The girl looked down at tell-tale streaks of red clay on the skirt ofher riding habit, and shook her head. "'Twill never, never do to go backlike this," she sighed. "They'll know I've come a cropper, and theyfancy I'm as breakable as Sévres. There will be no end of questions."
The young man dropped to his knees and began industriously plying abrush on the damaged skirt. The farmer took his eyes from the puppy foran upward glance. His face was solicitous.
"When I saw that horse of yours fall down, it looked to me like he wastrying to jam you through to China. You sure lit hard!"
"It didn't hurt me," she laughed as she thrust her arms into the sleevesof her pink coat. "You see, we thought we knew the run better than thewhips,[Pg 11] and we chose the short cut across your meadow. My horse took offtoo wide at that stone fence. That's why he went down, and why we turnedyour house into a port of repairs. You have been very kind."
The trio started down the grass-grown pathway to the gate where thehunters stood hitched. The young man dropped back a few paces to satisfyhimself that she was not concealing some hurt. He knew herhalf-masculine contempt for acknowledging the fragility of her sex.
Reassurance came as he watched her walking ahead with the unconsciousgrace that belonged to her pliant litheness and expressed itself in hersuperb, almost boyish carriage.
When they had mounted and he had reined his bay down to the side of herroan, he sat studying her through half-closed, satisfied eyes though healready knew her as the Moslem priest knows the Koran. While they rodein silence he conned the inventory. Slim uprightness like the strengthof a young poplar; eyes that played the whole color-gamut between violetand slate-gray, as does the Mediterranean under sun and cloud-bank; lipsthat in repose hinted at melancholy and that broke into magic with asmile. Then there was the suggestion of a thought-furrow between thebrows and a chin delicately chiseled, but resolute and fascinatinglyuptilted.[Pg 12]
It was a face that triumphed over mere prettiness with hints ofchallenging qualities; with individuality, with possibilities ofpurpose, with glints of merry humor and unspoken sadness; withdeep-sleeping potentiality for passion; with a hundred charmingwhimsicalities.
The eyes were just now fixed on the burning beauty of the sunset and thethought-furrow was delicately accentuated. She drew a long, deep breathand, letting the reins drop, stretched out both arms toward the splendorof the sky-line.
"It is so beautiful—so beautiful!" she cried, with the rapture of achild, "and it all spells Freedom. I should like to be the freest thingthat has life under heaven. What is the freest thing in the world?"
She turned her face on him with the question, and her eyes widened aftera way they had until they seemed to be searching far out in the fieldsof untalked-of things, and seeing there something that clouded them withdisquietude.
"I should like to be a man," she went on, "a man and a hobo." Thefurrow vanished and the eyes suddenly went dancing. "That is what Ishould like to be—a hobo with a tomato-can and a fire beside therailroad-track."
The man said nothing, and she looked up to encounter a steady gaze fromeyes somewhat puzzled.
His pupils held a note of pained seriousness, and her[Pg 13] voice becameresponsively vibrant as she leaned forward with answering gravity in herown.
"What is it?" she questioned. "You are troubled."
He looked away beyond her to the pine-topped hills, which seemed to bemarching with lances and ragged pennants, against the orange field ofthe sky. Then his glance came again to her face.
"They call me the Shadow," he said slowly. "You know whose shadow thatmeans. These weeks have made us comrades, and I am jealous because youare the sum of two girls, and I know only one of them. I am jealous ofthe other girl at home in Europe. I am jealous that I don't know whyyou, who are seemingly subject only to your own fancy, should crave thefreedom of the hobo by the railroad track."
She bent forward to adjust a twisted martingale, and for a moment herface was averted. In her hidden eyes at that moment, there was deepsuffering, but when she straightened up she was smiling.
"There is nothing that you shall not know. But not yet—not yet! Afterall, perhaps it's only that in another incarnation I was a vagrant beeand I'm homesick for its irresponsibility."
"At all events"—he spoke with an access of boyish enthusiasm—"I 'thankwhatever gods may be' that I have known you as I have. I'm glad that wehave not just been idly rich together. Why, Cara, do[Pg 14] you remember theday we lost our way in the far woods, and I foraged corn, and youscrambled stolen eggs? We were forest folk that day; primitive as in theyears when things were young and the best families kept house in caves."
The girl nodded. "I approve of my shadow," she affirmed.
The smile of enthusiasm died on his face and something like a scowl camethere.
"The chief trouble," he said, "is that altogether too decent brute,Pagratide. I don't like double shadows; they usually stand for confusedlights."
"Are you jealous of Pagratide?" she laughed. "He pretends to have asimilar sentiment for you."
"Well," he conceded, laughing in spite of himself, "it does seem thatwhen a European girl deigns to play a while with her American cousins,Europe might stay on its own side of the pond. This Pagratide is acommuter over the Northern Ocean track. He harasses the Atlantic withhis goings and comings."
"The Atlantic?" she echoed mockingly.
"Possibly I was too modest," he amended. "I mean me and theAtlantic—particularly me."
From around the curve of the road sounded a tempered shout. The girllaughed.
"You seem to have summoned him out of space," she suggested.[Pg 15]
The man growled. "The local from Europe appears to have arrived." Hegathered in his reins with an almost vicious jerk which brought thebay's head up with a snort of remonstrance.
A horseman appeared at the turn of the road. Waving his hat, he putspurs to his mount and came forward at a gallop. The newcomer rode withmilitary uprightness, softened by the informal ease of the polo-player.Even at the distance, which his horse was lessening under the insistentpressure of his heels, one could note a boyish charm in the frankness ofhis smile and an eagerness in his eyes.
"I have been searching for you for centuries at least," he shouted, witha pleasantly foreign accent, which was rather a nicety than a fault ofenunciation, "but the quest is amply rewarded!"
He wheeled his horse to the left with a precision that again bespoke thecavalryman, and bending over the girl's gauntleted hand, kissed herfingers in a manner that added to something of ceremonious flourish muchmore of individual homage. Her smile of greeting was cordial, but adegree short of enthusiasm.
"I thought—" she hesitated. "I thought you were on the other side."
The newcomer's laugh showed a glistening line of the whitest teeth undera closely-cropped dark mustache.
"I have run away," he declared. "My honored[Pg 16] father is, of course,furious, but Europe was desolate—and so—" He shrugged his shoulders.Then, noting Benton's half-amused, half-annoyed smile, he bowed andsaluted. "Ah, Benton," he said. "How are you? I see that your eyesresent foreign invasion."
Benton raised his brows in simulated astonishment. "Are you stillforeign?" he inquired. "I thought perhaps you had taken out your firstcitizenship papers."
"But you?" Pagratide turned to the girl with something of entreaty."Will you not give me your welcome?"
In the distance loomed the tile roofs and tall chimneys of "Idle Times."Between stretched a level sweep of road.
"You didn't ask permission," she replied, with a touch of disquiet inher pupils. "When a woman is asked to extend a welcome, she must begiven time to prepare it.