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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Match - Chapter 24. In Which Kings And Commoners Discuss Love
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The Lighted Match - Chapter 24. In Which Kings And Commoners Discuss Love Post by :swatsweb Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :974

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The Lighted Match - Chapter 24. In Which Kings And Commoners Discuss Love

CHAPTER XXIV. IN WHICH KINGS AND COMMONERS DISCUSS LOVE

In the gardens of the hotel, the paths lay ankle-deep in scattered confetti. Already the scores of lights were going out and those that remained shone on the wreckage of an entertainment ended.

Cara had gone to her rooms. In his own, at a window commanding the garden, Benton sat in an attitude of lethargic dejection, staring down on the lingering illuminations. His brain still swirled. A dozen times he told himself that matters were precisely as they had been; that the developments of the evening had brought no change, save a momentary belief in a mistaken rumor and a few wild dreams. When he had waited in the rotunda for Cara, he had known Karyl to be living. He knew it now, yet it seemed as though his life-rival had died and come again to life. It seemed, too, as though his own prison doors had swung open, and while he stood on the free threshold had slammed inward upon him, sweeping him back, broken and bruised with their clanging momentum.

To-morrow he must go away.

Benton looked at his watch. It was after four o'clock.

Then a knock came on the door. Benton did not respond. He feared that young Harcourt, belated and flushed with brandy-acid-soda, might have seen the light of his transom and paused for gossip. The thought he could not endure. Again he heard and ignored the knock, then the door opened slowly, and turning his head, he recognized Karyl on his threshold.

Just at that moment the American could not have spoken. He had come to a point of pent-up emotion which can move only by breaking dams. He pointed to a chair, but Karyl shook his head.

For a while neither spoke. Karyl's hair was rumpled; his eyes darkly ringed, and the line of his lips close set. Benton glanced out of his window. Across the gardens the wall was growing blanker, as lighted panes fell dark. One window, which he knew was Cara's, still showed a parallelogram of light behind its drawn shade. Karyl in passing followed the glance. He, too, recognized the window.

At last the Galavian spoke.

"Can you spare me a half-hour?"

Benton nodded. He would have preferred any other time. He needed opportunity for self-collection.

Again Karyl spoke.

"Benton, I might as well be brief. There are two of us. In this world there is room for only one. One of us is an interloper."

The American felt the blood rush to his face; he felt it pound at the back of his eyeballs, at the base of his brain. An instinct of fury, which was only half-sane, flooded him. Red spots danced before his eyes. The other had spoken slowly, almost gently, yet he could read only challenge in the words, and the challenge was one he hungered to accept.

He made a tremendous effort for self-mastery and rose slowly, turning a white face on his visitor.

"You told me," he said, enunciating each word with distinct deliberateness, "that you would fight me, when your throne freed you. You begin promptly. I am here, but--"

"I think you misunderstand me," interrupted Karyl.

"But," went on Benton, ignoring the interruption, "neither of us is free to fight. If we were, Pagratide, you may guess how gladly I'd put it to the issue. Good God, man, what could I lose?"

"Wait," said the late King of Galavia. "I have come here to talk with you, Benton, in a way which is unspeakably hard. Can you not make the same effort to lay aside passion that I am making?"

The American turned and paced the floor.

For a moment more there was the same embarrassed silence between them, then the Galavian continued, measuring his words, speaking with desperately studied effort to eliminate the feeling that struggled to the surface.

"You love my wife."

"And shall," replied the American in the same calculated, colorless voice, "while I live."

"I, too," said Pagratide. "Therefore we must talk."

"Wait." Benton raised a hand. "If we are to talk at all along these lines, Pagratide, there is only one way in which it can be done."

"And that is what?"

"That each of us, throughout, talks with only one thought in mind: her happiness; that one strip aside all conventions and talk as two utterly naked souls might talk."

"Of course," said Karyl simply. "Otherwise I should not have suggested it."

"Then," began Benton, "up to this point we are agreed."

The King, despite his pallor, smiled.

"I'm afraid you still don't understand me. I haven't come to murder you, or to invite murder, Benton. It would not help."

"You have just said that one of us is an interloper. Presumably you have come to decide which one it is."

Karyl shook his head.

"Benton, that point has been decided. Not by you or me, but it is decided."

"I don't understand you," admitted the American.

His visitor studied the few remaining lights in the garden beneath.

"I am no longer a King. I am an outcast. If I ever had a claim before God, it passed with my Crown. I could hold her now only by brutality. I told you I would free her and fight for her, but I saw her eyes to-night.... Benton, it is I who am the interloper!"

No answer came to Benton's tongue. Pagratide did not seem to expect one. After a moment he went on, with the manner of one who had thought out what he was to say, and who compels himself to go through with the prepared recital.

"If there is no throne, I must eliminate myself.... But for the time being I have given Von Ritz my parole.... The game is not yet quite played out.... He and Cara agree that I must play it to the end. After that there will be time to remedy mistakes." He paused.

"Pagratide," said the American slowly, "you are talking wildly. At all events, while everything impossible has happened to us, I think we can, after all shake hands."

Karyl extended his own.

"I have spoken as I have," he went on, "because it was necessary to be frank. Meanwhile I must ask you to place me under yet another obligation. There is one safe place for her. Will you take us with you on the yacht, and cruise in unfrequented ports, until Von Ritz reports to me?"

"Where is Von Ritz?"

"Gone back to Alexandria. He still cherishes hopes of a restoration. He wishes to return to Galavia."

"Can he return safely?"

Karyl shrugged his shoulders. "His conduct can hardly be construed as a political offense. He will be under suspicion, but all Europe would resent any injury to Von Ritz."

"The _Isis is, of course, at your command."

* * * * *

In the same rooms where Karyl and his father had often consulted with Von Ritz on affairs of state, Louis Delgado sat in conference with a foreigner, who had no acknowledged position in the councils of any government, yet whose mind and execution had affected many. The foreigner was Monsieur Jusseret.

"Why," began the new Monarch testily, "do you believe that there should be delay in proclaiming myself? I shall feel safer with the Crown actually upon my head."

The Frenchman sat reflectively silent, his slim fingers spread, tip to tip, his elbows on the arms of the chair in which he lounged.

"Your Majesty is not a fisherman?" he suavely inquired. Louis rose impatiently.

"You know that I have no interest in such sports. Why do you ask?"

"It is unfortunate," mused the Master Intriguer, "since if Your Majesty were, you would realize the inadvisability of an effort to land the game fish too abruptly when he takes the hook. Your Majesty, however, realizes that it is wiser to eat ripe fruit than green fruit."

The King poured himself a glass of wine, which he gulped down nervously.

"You speak in riddles--always in riddles. What is unripe? The blow is struck, I am in possession. What is to be gained by waiting?"

Jusseret raised his brows.

"What blow is struck, Your Majesty? You know and I know that you occupy the Palace. Europe in general supposes that you have been here for some time as the guest of Karyl. Europe does not yet officially know that Karyl has vacated the throne. The governments agreed to recognize you, but the governments relied upon your adequately disposing of your royal kinsman. Yet he is now at large."

The Pretender wheeled suddenly on the calm gentleman sitting indolently in his chair. The Pretender's face paled.

"Do you mean, Monsieur Jusseret, that after enticing me into this mad enterprise you now purpose to abandon me?" The coward's terror added excitement to the questioning voice.

Jusseret smiled.

"By no means," he assured. "But Your Majesty must now play your part. I merely counsel holding the reins of government lightly--as Regent--until it is logically advisable to grasp them tightly as King. Karyl escaped. The man shot proves to be an unknown who had changed coats with the King. Ostensibly, His late Majesty is traveling. You are his representative. Now, if His Majesty and the Queen should fail to return from their journeyings, your position would be stronger."

Louis sank into a chair, deeply agitated. "I fear this man Von Ritz more deeply than Karyl."

"Naturally," was Jusseret's dry comment. "But Your Majesty will leave Von Ritz alone. I also, should like to see him disposed of--but leave him alone, or you will incur Europe's displeasure."

"What shall I do?" The question came in a note of plaintive helplessness.

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.

"If you ask my counsel, I should say send for one Martin. He has been of some service. He is a man of action. He is called the English Jackal. I should suggest--" He paused.

"Yes, yes--you would suggest what?" eagerly prompted the new King.

"Really, Your Majesty, you should act more promptly on hints. Diplomats cannot diagram their suggestions. I should suggest that the English Jackal also travel, with the understanding that if he should return to Galavia after the death of the late King and Queen--and that shortly--he may expect certain titles and recognition at Court, but if he returns before their death, he need expect nothing." Jusseret lighted a cigarette.

The Pretender sat silent, frightened, vacillating.

"And," went on Jusseret calmly, "there was one other suggestion which I shall make, if Your Majesty will permit me the liberty."

"What?"

"Touching Your Majesty's marriage--"

"Yes--Marie is also in some hurry about that. What is the devilish haste? One can be married at any time."

Monsieur Jusseret rose and began drawing on his gloves.

"Of course if Your Majesty sees fit, a morganatic marriage with the Countess Astaride would be entirely advisable--but for the Queen of Galavia, Europe will insist on a stronger alliance; on a union with more royal blood."

Louis came to his feet in astonishment.

"You dare suggest that?" he exclaimed. "You, who have been her ally and used her aid!"

"Pardon me--I suggest nothing. I repeat to Your Majesty, as the very humble mouthpiece of France, the sentiment of the governments, without whose recognition your dynasty can hardly stand."

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