THE LIGHTED MATCH
The LIGHTED MATCH
CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK
The Key to Yesterday
Illustrations by R. F. Schabelitz
W. J. Watt & Company Publishers New York
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY W. J. WATT & COMPANY
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS BROOKLYN, N. Y.
To K. du P.
CHAPTER PAGE I AN OMEN IS CONSTRUED 9
II BENTON PLAYS MAGICIAN 17
III THE MOON OVERHEARS 28
IV THE DOCTRINE ACCORDING TO JONESY 40
V IT IS DECIDED TO MASQUERADE 49
VI IN WHICH ROMEO BECOMES DROMIO 56
VII IN WHICH DROMIO BECOMES ROMEO 70
VIII THE PRINCESS CONSULTS JONESY 82
IX THE TOREADOR APPEARS 92
X OF CERTAIN TRANSPIRINGS AT A CAFE TABLE 102
XI THE PASSING PRINCESS AND THE MISTAKEN COUNTESS 112
XII BENTON MUST DECIDE 123
XIII CONCERNING FAREWELLS AND WARNINGS 137
XIV COUNTESS AND CABINET NOIR JOIN FORCES 144
XV THE TOREADOR BECOMES AMBASSADOR 155
XVI THE AMBASSADOR BECOMES ADMIRAL 167
XVII BENTON CALLS ON THE KING 178
XVIII IN WHICH THE SPHINX BREAKS SILENCE 190
XIX THE JACKAL TAKES THE TRAIL 203
XX THE DEATH OF ROMANCE IS DEPLORED 214
XXI NAPLES ASSUMES NEW BEAUTY 222
XXII THE SENTRY-BOX ANSWERS THE KING'S QUERY 229
XXIII "SCARABS OF A DEAD DYNASTY" 244
XXIV IN WHICH KINGS AND COMMONERS DISCUSS LOVE 255
XXV ABDUL SAID BEY EFFECTS A RESCUE 265
XXVI IN A CURIO SHOP IN STAMBOUL 276
XXVII BENTON SAYS GOOD-BY 288
XXVIII JUSSERET MAKES A REPORT 300
THE LIGHTED MATCH
AN OMEN IS CONSTRUED
"When a feller an' a gal washes their hands in the same basin at the same 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 top step of his cabin porch. The while he construed omens, a setter pup industriously gnawed at his boot-heels.
The girl was bending forward, her fingers spread in a tin basin, as the man at her elbow poured water slowly from a gourd-dipper. Heaped, in disorder against the cabin wall, lay their red hunting-coats, crops, and riding gauntlets.
The oracle tumbled the puppy down the steps and watched its return to the attack. Then with something of melancholy retrospect in his pale eyes he pursued his reflections. "Now there was Sissy Belmire an' Bud Thomas, been keeping company for two years, then washed hands in common at the Christian Endeavor picnic an'—" He broke off to shake his head in sorrowing memory.
The young man, holding his muddied digits over the water, paused to consider 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 nine weeks."
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 of her riding habit, and shook her head. "'Twill never, never do to go back like this," she sighed. "They'll know I've come a cropper, and they fancy I'm as breakable as Sevres. There will be no end of questions."
The young man dropped to his knees and began industriously plying a brush on the damaged skirt. The farmer took his eyes from the puppy for an upward glance. His face was solicitous.
"When I saw that horse of yours fall down, it looked to me like he was trying to jam you through to China. You sure lit hard!"
"It didn't hurt me," she laughed as she thrust her arms into the sleeves of her pink coat. "You see, we thought we knew the run better than the whips, and we chose the short cut across your meadow. My horse took off too wide at that stone fence. That's why he went down, and why we turned your house into a port of repairs. You have been very kind."
The trio started down the grass-grown pathway to the gate where the hunters stood hitched. The young man dropped back a few paces to satisfy himself that she was not concealing some hurt. He knew her half-masculine contempt for acknowledging the fragility of her sex.
Reassurance came as he watched her walking ahead with the unconscious grace that belonged to her pliant litheness and expressed itself in her superb, almost boyish carriage.
When they had mounted and he had reined his bay down to the side of her roan, he sat studying her through half-closed, satisfied eyes though he already knew her as the Moslem priest knows the Koran. While they rode in silence he conned the inventory. Slim uprightness like the strength of a young poplar; eyes that played the whole color-gamut between violet and slate-gray, as does the Mediterranean under sun and cloud-bank; lips that in repose hinted at melancholy and that broke into magic with a smile. Then there was the suggestion of a thought-furrow between the brows and a chin delicately chiseled, but resolute and fascinatingly uptilted.
It was a face that triumphed over mere prettiness with hints of challenging qualities; with individuality, with possibilities of purpose, with glints of merry humor and unspoken sadness; with deep-sleeping potentiality for passion; with a hundred charming whimsicalities.
The eyes were just now fixed on the burning beauty of the sunset and the thought-furrow was delicately accentuated. She drew a long, deep breath and, letting the reins drop, stretched out both arms toward the splendor of the sky-line.
"It is so beautiful—so beautiful!" she cried, with the rapture of a child, "and it all spells Freedom. I should like to be the freest thing that 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 after a way they had until they seemed to be searching far out in the fields of untalked-of things, and seeing there something that clouded them with disquietude.
"I should like to be a man," she went on, "a man and a hobo." The furrow vanished and the eyes suddenly went dancing. "That is what I should like to be—a hobo with a tomato-can and a fire beside the railroad-track."
The man said nothing, and she looked up to encounter a steady gaze from eyes somewhat puzzled.
His pupils held a note of pained seriousness, and her voice became responsively vibrant as she leaned forward with answering gravity in her own.
"What is it?" she questioned. "You are troubled."
He looked away beyond her to the pine-topped hills, which seemed to be marching with lances and ragged pennants, against the orange field of the sky. Then his glance came again to her face.
"They call me the Shadow," he said slowly. "You know whose shadow that means. These weeks have made us comrades, and I am jealous because you are the sum of two girls, and I know only one of them. I am jealous of the other girl at home in Europe. I am jealous that I don't know why you, who are seemingly subject only to your own fancy, should crave the freedom of the hobo by the railroad track."
She bent forward to adjust a twisted martingale, and for a moment her face was averted. In her hidden eyes at that moment, there was deep suffering, but when she straightened up she was smiling.
"There is nothing that you shall not know. But not yet—not yet! After all, perhaps it's only that in another incarnation I was a vagrant bee and I'm homesick for its irresponsibility."
"At all events"—he spoke with an access of boyish enthusiasm—"I 'thank whatever gods may be' that I have known you as I have. I'm glad that we have not just been idly rich together. Why, Cara, do you remember the day we lost our way in the far woods, and I foraged corn, and you scrambled stolen eggs? We were forest folk that day; primitive as in the years 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 came there.
"The chief trouble," he said, "is that altogether too decent brute, Pagratide. I don't like double shadows; they usually stand for confused lights."
"Are you jealous of Pagratide?" she laughed. "He pretends to have a similar sentiment for you."
"Well," he conceded, laughing in spite of himself, "it does seem that when 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 a commuter over the Northern Ocean track. He harasses the Atlantic with his goings and comings."
"The Atlantic?" she echoed mockingly.
"Possibly I was too modest," he amended. "I mean me and the Atlantic—particularly me."
From around the curve of the road sounded a tempered shout. The girl laughed.
"You seem to have summoned him out of space," she suggested.
The man growled. "The local from Europe appears to have arrived." He gathered in his reins with an almost vicious jerk which brought the bay's head up with a snort of remonstrance.
A horseman appeared at the turn of the road. Waving his hat, he put spurs to his mount and came forward at a gallop. The newcomer rode with military uprightness, softened by the informal ease of the polo-player. Even at the distance, which his horse was lessening under the insistent pressure of his heels, one could note a boyish charm in the frankness of his smile and an eagerness in his eyes.
"I have been searching for you for centuries at least," he shouted, with a pleasantly foreign accent, which was rather a nicety than a fault of enunciation, "but the quest is amply rewarded!"
He wheeled his horse to the left with a precision that again bespoke the cavalryman, and bending over the girl's gauntleted hand, kissed her fingers in a manner that added to something of ceremonious flourish much more of individual homage. Her smile of greeting was cordial, but a degree 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 under a closely-cropped dark mustache.
"I have run away," he declared. "My honored 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 and saluted. "Ah, Benton," he said. "How are you? I see that your eyes resent foreign invasion."
Benton raised his brows in simulated astonishment. "Are you still foreign?" he inquired. "I thought perhaps you had taken out your first citizenship 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 in her pupils. "When a woman is asked to extend a welcome, she must be given time to prepare it. I ran away from Europe, you know, and after all you are a part of Europe."
She shook out her reins, bending forward over the roan's neck, and with a clatter of gravel under their twelve hoofs, the horses burst forward in a sudden neck and neck dash, toward the patch of red roofs set in a mosaic of Autumn woods.
BENTON PLAYS MAGICIAN
In the large living-room, Van Bristow, the master of "Idle Times," had expressed his tastes. Here in the almost severe wainscoting, in inglenook and chimney-corner, one found the index to his fancy. It was his fancy which had dictated that the broad windows, with sills at the level of the floor, should not command the formal terraces and lawns of a landscape-gardener's devising, but should give exit instead upon a strip of rugged nature, where the murmur of the creek came up through unaltered foliage and underbrush.
Shortening their entrance through one of the windows, the trio found their host, already in evening dress. Bristow was idling on the hearth with no more immediate concern than a cigarette and the enjoyment of the crackling logs, unspoiled by other light.
As the clatter of boots and spurs announced their coming, Van glanced up and schooled his face into a very fair counterfeit of severity.
"Lucky we don't make our people ring in on the clock," he observed. "You three would be docked."
The girl stood in the red glow of the hearth, slowly drawing off her riding-gauntlets.
Pagratide went to the table in search of cigarettes and matches, and as the light there was dim, the host joined him and laid a hand readily enough upon the brass case for which the other was fumbling. As he held a light to his guest's cigarette, he bent over and spoke in a guarded undertone. Benton noticed in the brief flare that the visitor's face mirrored sudden surprise.
"Colonel Von Ritz is here," confided Bristow. "Arrived by the next train after you and was for posting off in search of you instanter. He acted very much like a summons-server or a bailiff. He's ensconced in rooms adjoining yours. You might look in on him as you go up to dress. He seems to be in the very devil of a hurry."
Pagratide's brows went up in evident annoyance and for an instant there was a defiant stiffening of his jaw, but when he spoke his voice held neither excitement nor surprise.
"Ah, indeed!" The exclamation was casual. He watched the glowing end of his cigarette for a moment, then magnanimously added: "However, since he has followed across three thousand miles, I had better see him."
The host turned to the girl. "I'm borrowing this young man until dinner," he vouchsafed as he led Pagratide to the door.
Cara stood watching the two as they passed into the hall; then her face changed suddenly as though she had been leaving a stage and had laid aside a part—abandoning a semblance which it was no longer necessary to maintain. A pained droop came to the corners of her lips and she dropped wearily into the broad oak seat of the inglenook. There she sat, with her chin propped on her hands, elbows on her knees, and gazed silently at the logs.
"Why did they have to come just now and spoil my holiday?"
She spoke as though unconscious that her musings were finding voice, and the half-whispered words were wistful. Benton took a step nearer and bent impulsively forward.
"What is it?" he anxiously questioned.
She only looked intently into the coals with trouble-clouded eyes and shook her head. He could not tell whether in response to his words or to some thought of her own.
Dropping on one knee at her feet, he gently covered her hands with his own. He could feel the delicate play of her breath on his forehead.
"Cara," he whispered, "what is it, dear?"
She started, and with a spasmodic movement caught one of his hands, for an instant pressing it in her own, then, rising, she shook her head with a gesture of the fingers at the temples as though she would brush away cobwebs that enmeshed and fogged the brain.
"Nothing, boy." Her smile was somewhat wistful. "Nothing but silly imaginings." She laughed and when she spoke again her voice was as light as if her world held only triviality and laughter. "Yet there be important things to decide. What shall I wear for dinner?"
"It's such a hard question," he demurred. "I like you best in so many things, but the queen can do no wrong—make no mistake."
A sudden shadow of pain crossed her eyes, and she caught her lower lip sharply between her teeth.
"Was it something I said?" he demanded.
"Nothing," she answered slowly. "Only don't say that again, ever—'the queen can do no wrong.' Now, I must go."
She rose and turned toward the door, then suddenly carrying one hand to her eyes, she took a single unsteady step and swayed as though she would fall. Instantly his arms were around her and for a moment he could feel, in its wild fluttering, her heart against the red breast of his hunting-coat.
Her laugh was a little shaken as she drew away from him and stood, still a trifle unsteady. Her voice was surcharged with self-contempt.
"Sir Gray Eyes, I—I ask you to believe that I don't habitually fall about into people's arms. I'm developing nerves—there is a white feather in my moral and mental plumage."
He looked at her with grave eyes, from which he sternly banished all questioning—and remained silent.
They passed out into the hall and, at the foot of the stairs where their ways diverged, she paused to look back at him with an unclouded smile.
"You have not told me what to wear."
His eyes were as steady as her own. "You will please wear the black gown with the shimmery things all over it. I can't describe it, but I can remember it. And a single red rose," he judiciously added.
"'Tis October and the florists are fifty miles away," she demurred. "It would take a magician's wand to produce the red rose."
"I noticed a funny looking thing among my golf sticks," he remembered. "It is a little bit like a niblick, but it may be a magic wand in disguise. You wear the black gown and trust to providence for the red rose."
She threw back a laugh and was gone.
When she disappeared at the turning, he wheeled and went to the "bachelors' barracks," as the master of "Idle Times" dubbed the wing where the unmarried men were quartered.
Two suites next adjoining the room allotted to Benton had been unoccupied when he had gone out that forenoon. Between his quarters and these erstwhile vacant ones lay a room forming a sort of buffer space. Here a sideboard, a card-table, and desk made the "neutral zone," as Van called it, available for his guests as a territory either separating or connecting their individual chambers.
Now a blaze of transoms and a sound of voices proclaimed that the apartments were tenanted. Benton entered his own unlighted room, and then with his hand at the electric switch halted in embarrassment.
The folding-doors between his apartment and the "neutral territory" stood wide, and the attitudes and voices of the two men he saw there indicated their interview to be one in which outsiders should have no concern. To switch on the light would be to declare himself a witness to a part at least; to remain would be to become unwilling auditor to more; to open the door he had just closed behind him would also be to attract attention to himself. He paused in momentary uncertainty.
One of the men was Pagratide, transformed by anger; seemingly taller, darker, lither. The second man stood calm, immobile, with his arms crossed on his breast, bending an impassive glance on the other from singularly steady eyes. His six feet of well-proportioned stature just missed an exaggeration of soldierly bearing.
The unwavering mouth-line; level, dark brows almost meeting over unflinching gray eyes; the uncurved nose and commanding forehead were in concert with the clean, almost lean sweep of the jaw, in spelling force for field or council.
"Am I a brigand, Von Ritz, to be harassed by police? Answer me—am I?" Pagratide spoke in a tempest of anger. He halted before the other man, his hands twitching in fury.
Von Ritz remained as motionless, apparently as mildly interested, as though he were listening to the screaming of a parrot.
"My orders were explicit." His words fell icily. "They were the orders of His Majesty's government. I shall obey them. I beg pardon, I shall attempt to obey them; and thus far my attempts to serve His Majesty have not encountered failure. I should prefer not having to call on the ambassador—or the American secret service."
"By God! If I had a sword—" breathed Pagratide. His fury had gone through heat to cold, and his attitude was that of a man denied the opportunity of resenting a mortal affront.
Von Ritz coolly inclined his head, indicating the heaped-up luggage on the table between them. Otherwise he did not move.
"The stick there, on the table, is a sword-cane," he commented.
Pagratide stood unmoving.
The other waited a moment, almost deferentially, then went on with calm deliberation.
"You left your regiment without leave, captain. One might almost call that—" Then Benton remembered an auxiliary door at the back of his apartment and made his escape unnoticed.
A half hour later, changed from boots and breeches into evening dress, Benton was opening a long package which bore the name of his florist in town. In another moment he had spread a profusion of roses on his table and stood bending over them with the critically selective gaze of a Paris.
When he had made the choice of one, he carefully pared every thorn from its long stem. Then he went out through the rear of the hall to a stairway at the back.
He knew of a window-seat above, where he could wait in concealment behind a screening mass of potted palms to rise out of his ambush and intercept Cara as she came into the hall. It pleased him to regard himself as a genie, materializing out of emptiness to present the rose which she had chosen to declare unobtainable.
In the shadowed recess he ensconced himself with his knees drawn up and the flower twirling idly between his fingers.
For a while he measured his vigil only by the ticking of a clock somewhere out of sight, then he heard a quiet footfall on the hardwood, and through the fronds of the plants he saw a man's figure pace slowly by. The broad shoulders and the lancelike carriage proclaimed Von Ritz even before the downcast face was raised. At Cara's door the European wheeled uncertainly and paused. Because something vague and subconscious in Benton's mind had catalogued this man as a harbinger of trouble and branded him with distrust, his own eyes contracted and the rose ceased twirling.
Just then the door of Cara's room opened and closed, and the slender figure of the girl stood out in the silhouette of her black evening gown against the white woodwork. Her eyes widened and she paled perceptibly. For an instant, she caught her lower lip between her teeth; but she did not, by start or other overt manifestation, give sign of surprise. She only inclined her head in greeting, and waited for Von Ritz to speak.
He bowed low, and his manner was ceremonious.
"You do not like me—" He smiled, pausing as though in doubt as to what form of address he should employ; then he asked: "What shall I call you?"
"Miss Carstow," she prompted, in a voice that seemed to raise a quarantine flag above him.
"Certainly, Miss Carstow," he continued gravely. "Time has elapsed since the days of your pinafores and braids, when I was honored with the sobriquet of 'Soldier-man' and you were the 'Little Empress.'"
His voice was one that would have lent itself to eloquence. Now its even modulation carried a sort of cold charm.
"You do not like me," he repeated.
"I don't know," she answered simply. "I hadn't thought about it. I was surprised."
"Naturally." He contemplated her with grave eyes that seemed to admit no play of expression. "I came only to ask an interview later. At any time that may be most agreeable—Pardon me," he interrupted himself with a certain cynical humor in his voice, "at any time, I should say, that may be least disagreeable to you."
"I will tell you later," she said. He bowed himself backward, then turning on his heel went silently down the stairs.
She stood hesitant for a moment, with both hands pressed against the door at her back, and her brow drawn in a deep furrow, then she threw her chin upward and shook her head with that resolute gesture which meant, with her, shaking off at least the outward seeming of annoyance.
Benton came out from his hiding-place behind the palms, and she looked up at him with a momentary clearing of her brow.
"Where were you?" she asked.
"I unintentionally played eavesdropper," he said humbly, handing her the rose. "I was lying in wait to decorate you."
"It is wonderful," she exclaimed. "I think it is the wonderfulest rose that any little girl ever had for a magic gift." She held it for a moment, softly against her cheek.
He bent forward. "Cara!" he whispered. No answer. "Cara!" he repeated.
"Yeth, thir," she lisped in a whimsical little-girl voice, looking up with a smile stolen from a fairy-tale.
"I am just lending you that rose. I had meant to give it to you, but now I want it back—when you are through with it. May I have it?"
She held it out teasingly. "Do you want it now—Indian-giver?" she demanded.
"You know I don't," in an injured tone.
"I'm glad, because you couldn't have it—yet." And she was gone, leaving him to make his appearance from the direction of his own apartments.
THE MOON OVERHEARS
At dinner the talk ran for a course or two with the hounds, then strayed aimlessly into a dozen discursive channels.
"My boy," whispered Mrs. Van from her end of the table, to Pagratide on her right, "I relinquish you to the girl on your other side. You have made a very brave effort to talk to me. Ah, I know—" raising a slender hand to still his polite remonstrance—"there is no Cara but Cara, and Pagratide is—" She let her mischief-laden smile finish the comment.
"Her satellite," he confessed.
"One of them," she wickedly corrected him.
The foreigner turned his head and nodded gravely. Cara was listening to something that Benton was saying in undertone, her lips parted in an amused smile.
Through a momentary lull as the coffee came, rose the voice of O'Barreton, the bore, near the head of the table; O'Barreton, who must be tolerated because as a master of hounds he had no superior and a bare quorum of equals.
"For my part," he was saying, "I confess an augmented admiration for Van because he's distantly related to near-royalty. If that be snobbish, make the most of it."
Van laughed. "Related to royalty?" he scornfully repeated. "Am I not myself a sovereign with the right on election day to stand in line behind my chauffeur and stable-boys at the voting-place?"
"How did it happen, Van? How did you acquire your gorgeous relatives?" persisted O'Barreton.
"Some day I'll tell you all about it. Do you think the Elkridge hounds will run—"
"I addressed a question to you. That question is still before the house," interrupted O'Barreton, with dignity. "How did you acquire 'em?"
"Inherited 'em!" snapped Van, but O'Barreton was not to be turned aside.
"Quite true and quite epigrammatic," he persisted sweetly. "But how?"
Van turned to the rest of the table. "You don't have to listen to this," he said in despair. "I have to go through it with O'Barreton every time he comes here. It's a sort of ritual." Then, turning to the tormenting guest, he explained carefully: "Once upon a time the Earl of Dundredge had three daughters. The eldest—my mother—married an American husband. The second married an Englishman—she is the mother of my fair cousin, Cara, there; the third and youngest married the third son of the Grand Duke of Maritzburg, at that time a quiet gentleman who loved the Champs Elysees and landscape-painting in Southern Spain."
Van traced a family-tree on the tablecloth with a salt-spoon, for his guest's better information.
"That doesn't enlighten me on the semi-royal status of your Aunt Maritzburg," objected O'Barreton. "How did she grow so great?"
"Vicissitudes, Barry," explained the host patiently. "Just vicissitudes. The father and the two elder brothers died off and left the third son to assume the government of a grand duchy, which he did not want, and compelled him to relinquish the mahl-stick and brushes which he loved. My aunt was his grand-duchess-consort, and until her death occupied with him the ducal throne. If you'd look these things up for yourself, my son, in some European 'Who's Who,' you'd remember 'em—and save me much trouble."
After dinner Cara disappeared, and Benton wandered from room to room with a seemingly purposeless eye, keenly alert for a black gown, a red rose, and a girl whom he could not find. Von Ritz also was missing, and this fact added to his anxiety.
In the conservatory he came upon Pagratide, likewise stalking about with restlessly roving eyes, like a hunter searching a jungle. The foreigner paused with one foot tapping the marble rim of a small fountain, and Benton passed with a nod.
The evening went by without her reappearance, and finally the house darkened, and settled into quiet. Benton sought the open, driven by a restlessness that obsessed and troubled him. A fitful breeze brought down the dead leaves in swirling eddies. The moon was under a cloud-bank when, a quarter of a mile from the house, he left the smooth lawns and plunged among the vine-clad trees and thickets that rimmed the creek. In the darkness, he could hear the low, wild plaint with which the stream tossed itself over the rocks that cumbered its bed.
Beyond the thicket he came again to a more open space among the trees, free from underbrush, but strewn at intervals with great bowlders. He picked his way cautiously, mindful of crevices where a broken leg or worse might be the penalty of a misstep in the darkness. The humor seized him to sit on a great rock which dropped down twenty feet to the creek bed, and listen to the quieting music of its night song. His eyes, grown somewhat accustomed to the darkness, had been blinded again by the match he had just struck to light a cigarette, and he walked, as it behooved him, carefully and gropingly.
"Please, sir, don't step on me."
Benton halted with a start and stared confusedly about him. A ripple of low laughter came to his ears as he widened his pupils in the effort to accommodate his eyes to the murk. Then the moon broke out once more and the place became one of silver light and dark, soft shadow-blots. She was sitting with her back against a tree, her knees gathered between her arms, fingers interlocked. She had thrown a long, rough cape about her, but it had fallen open, leaving visible the black gown and a spot he knew to be a red rose on her breast.
He stood looking down, and she smiled up.
"Cara!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here—alone?"
"Seeking freedom," she responded calmly. "It's not so good as the hobo's fire beside the track, but it's better than four walls. The moon has been wonderful, Sir Gray Eyes—as bright and dark as life; radiant a little while and hidden behind clouds a great deal. And the wind has been whispering like a troubadour to the tree-tops."
"And you," he interrupted severely, dropping on the earth at her feet and propping himself on one elbow, "have been sitting in the chilling air, with your throat uncovered and probably catching cold."
"What a matter-of-fact person it is!" she laughed. "I didn't appoint you my physician, you know."
"But your coming alone out here in these woods, and so late!" he expostulated.
"Why not?" She looked frankly up at him. "I am not afraid."
"I am afraid for you." He spoke seriously.
"Why?" she inquired again.
He knelt beside her, looking directly into her eyes. "For many reasons," he said. "But above all else, because I love you."
The fingers of her clasped hands tightened until they strained, and she looked straight away across the clearing. The moon was bright now, and the thought-furrow showed deep between her brows, but she said nothing.
The tree-tops whispered, and the girl shivered slightly. He bent forward and folded the cape across her throat. Still she did not move.
"Cara, I love you," he repeated insistently.
"Don't—I can't listen." Her voice was one of forced calm. Then, turning suddenly, she laid her hand on his arm. It trembled violently under her touch. "And, oh, boy," she broke out, with a voice of pent-up vibrance, "don't you see how I want to listen to you?"
He bent forward until he was very close, and his tone was almost fierce in its tense eagerness.
"You want to! Why?"
Again a tremor seized her, then with the sudden abandon of one who surrenders to an impulse stronger than one's self, she leaned forward and placed a hand on each of his shoulders, clutching him almost wildly. Her eyes glowed close to his own.
"Because I love you, too," she said. Then, with a break in her voice: "Oh, you knew that! Why did you make me say it?"
While the stars seemed to break out in a chorus above him, he found his arms about her, and was vaguely conscious that his lips were smothering some words her lips were trying to shape. Words seemed to him just then so superfluous.
There was a tumult of pounding pulses in his veins, responsive to the fluttering heart which beat back of a crushed rose in the lithe being he held in his arms. Then he obeyed the pressure of the hands on his shoulders and released her.
"Why should you find it so hard to say?" He asked.
She sat for a moment with her hands covering her face.
"You must never do that again," she said faintly. "You have not the right. I have not the right."
"I have the only right," he announced triumphantly.
She shook her head. "Not when the girl is engaged."
She looked at him with a sad droop at the corners of her lips. He sat silent—waiting.
"Listen!" She spoke wearily, rising and leaning against the rough bole of the tree at her back, with both hands tightly clasped behind her. "Listen and don't interrupt, because it's hard, and I want to finish it." Her words came slowly with labored calm, almost as if she were reciting memorized lines. "It sounds simple from your point of view. It is simple from mine, but desperately hard. Love is not the only thing. To some of us there is something else that must come first. I am engaged, and I shall marry the man to whom I am engaged. Not because I want to, but because—" her chin went up with the determination that was in her—"because I must."
"What kind of man will ask you to keep a promise that your heart repudiates?" he hotly demanded.
"He knew that I loved you before you knew it," she answered; "that I would always love you—that I would never love him. Besides, he must do it. After all, it's fortunate that he wants to." She tried to laugh.
"Is his name Pagratide?" The man mechanically drew his handkerchief from his cuff, and wiped beads of cold moisture from his forehead.
The girl shook her head. "No, his name is not Pagratide."
He took a step nearer, but she raised a hand to wave him back, and he bowed his submission.
"You love me—you are certain of that?" he whispered.
"Do you doubt it?"
"No," he said, "I don't doubt it."
Again he pressed the handkerchief to his forehead, and in the silvering radiance of the moonlight she could see the outstanding tracery of the arteries on his temples.
Instantly she flung both arms about his neck.
"Don't!" she cried passionately. "Don't look like that! You will kill me!"
He smiled. "Under such treatment, I shall look precisely as you say," he acquiesced.
"Listen, dear." She was talking rapidly, wildly, her arms still about his neck. "There are two miserable little kingdoms over there.... Horrible little two-by-four principalities, that fit into the map of Europe like little, ragged chips in a mosaic.... Cousin Van lied in there to protect my disguise.... It is my father who is the Grand Duke of Maritzburg, and it is ordained that I shall marry Prince Karyl of Galavia.... It was Von Ritz's mission to remind me of my slavery." Her voice rose in sudden protest. "Every peasant girl in the vineyards may select her own lover, but I must be awarded by the crowned heads of the real kingdoms—like a prize in a lottery. Do you wonder that I have run away and masqueraded for a taste of freedom before the end? Do you wonder"—the head came down on his shoulder—"that I want to be a hobo with a tomato-can and a fire of deadwood?"
He kissed her hair. "Are you crying, Cara, dear?" he asked softly.
Her head came up. "I never cry," she answered. "Do you believe there are more lives—other incarnations—that I may yet live to be a butterfly—or a vagrant bee?"
"I believe"—his voice was firm—"I believe you are not Queen of Galavia yet by a good bit. There's a fairly husky American anarchist in this game, dearest, who has designs on that dynasty."
"Don't!" she begged. "Don't you see that I wouldn't let them force me? It is that I see the inexorable call of it, as my father saw it when he left his studio in Paris for a throne that meant only unhappiness—as you would see it, if your country called for volunteers."
He bowed his head. For a moment neither spoke. Then she took the rose from her breast and kissed it.
"Sir Knight of the Red Rose," she said, with a pitifully forced smile. "I don't want to give it back—ever. I want to keep it always."
He took her in his arms, and she offered no protest.
"To-morrow is to-morrow," he said. "To-day you are mine. I love you."
She took his head between her palms and drew his face down. "I shall never do this with anyone else," she said slowly, kissing his forehead. "I love you."
Slowly they turned together toward the house.
"I like your cavalryman, Pagratide," he said thoughtfully. His mind had suddenly recurred to the scene in the foreigner's room, and he thought he began to understand. "He is a man. He dares to challenge royal wrath by venturing his love in the lists against his prince."
"I wish he had not come," she said slowly.
"But you don't love him?" he demanded with sudden unreasoning jealousy.
"I love—just, only, solely, you, Mr. Monopoly," she replied.
At the door they paused. There was complete silence save for a clock striking two and the distant crowing of a cock. The pause belonged to them—their moment of reprieve.
At last she said quietly: "But you are stupid not to guess it."
"Guess what?" he inquired.
"There is no Pagratide. Pagratide's real name is Karyl of Galavia."
THE DOCTRINE ACCORDING TO JONESY
If the living-room at "Idle Times" bore the impress of Van Bristow's individuality and taste, his den was the tangible setting of his personality.
His marriage had, only eighteen months before, cut his life sharply with the boundary of an epoch. The den bore something of the atmosphere of a museum dedicated to past eras. It was crowded with useless junk that stood for divers memories and much wandering. Many of the pictures that cumbered the walls were redolent of the atmosphere of overseas.
There were photographs wherein the master of "Idle Times" and Mr. George Benton appeared together, ranging from ancient football days to snapshots of a mountain-climbing expedition in the Andes, dated only two years back.
It was into this sanctum that Benton clanked, booted and spurred, early the following morning.
Ostensibly Van was looking over business letters, but there was a trace of wander-lust in the eyes that strayed off with dreamy truancy beyond the tree-tops.
Benton planted himself before his host with folded arms, and stood looking down almost accusingly into the face of his old friend.
"Whenever I have anything particularly unpleasant to do," began the guest, "I do it quick. That's why I'm here now."
Van Bristow looked up, mildly astonished.
During a decade of intimacy these two men had joyously, affectionately and consistently insulted each other on all possible occasions. Now, however, there was a certain purposeful ring in Benton's voice which told the other this was quite different from the time-honored affectation of slander. Consequently his demand for further enlightenment came with terse directness.
Benton nodded and a defiant glint came to his pupils.
"I come to serve notice," he announced briefly, "of something I mean to do."
Van took the pipe from his mouth and regarded it with concentrated attention, while his friend went on in carefully gauged voice.
"I am here," he explained, "as a guest in your house. I mean to make war on certain plans and arrangements which presumably have your sympathy and support—and I mean to make the hardest war I know." He paused, but as Van gave no indication of cutting in, he went on in aggressive announcement. "What I mean to do is my business—mine and a girl's—but since she is your kinswoman and this is your place, it wouldn't be quite fair to begin without warning."
For a time Bristow's attitude remained that of deep and silent reflection. Finally he knocked the ashes from his pipe and came over until he stood directly confronting Benton.
"So she has told you?" was his brief question at last.
The other nodded.
The master of "Idle Times" paced thoughtfully up and down the room. When at length he stopped it was to clap his hand on his class-mate's shoulder.
"George," he said, with a voice hardened to edit down the note of sympathy that threatened it, "you seem to start out with the assumption that I am against you. Get that out of your head. Cara has hungered for freedom. We've felt that she had the right to, at least, her little intervals of recess. It happened that she could have them here. Here she could be Miss Carstow—and cease to be Cara of Maritzburg. I am sorry if you—and she—must pay for these vacations with your happiness. I see now that people who are sentenced to imprisonment, should not play with liberty."
"She is not going to play with liberty," declared Benton categorically. "She is going to have it. She is going to have for the rest of her life just what she wants." He lifted his hand in protest against anticipated interruption. "I know that you have got to line up with your royal relatives. I know the utter impossibility of what I want—but I'm going to win. If you regard me as a burglar, you may turn me out, but you can't stop me."
"I sha'n't turn you out," mused Van quietly. "I wish you could win. But you are not merely fighting people. You are fighting an idea. It is only for an idea that men and women martyr themselves. With Cara this idea has become morbid—an obsession. She has inherited it together with an abnormally developed courage, and her conception of courage is to face what she most hates and fears."
"But if I can show her that it is a mistaken courage—that instead of loyalty it is desertion?" The man spoke with quick eagerness.
Van shook his head, and his eyes clouded with the gravity of sympathy for a futile resolve.
"That you can't do. I am an American myself. I'm not policing thrones. To me it seems a monstrous thing that a girl superbly American in everything but the accident of birth should have no chance—no opportunity to escape life-imprisonment. It doesn't altogether compensate that the prison happens to be a palace."
For a time neither spoke, then Bristow went on.
"At the age of five, Cara stood before a mirror and critically surveyed herself. At the end of the scrutiny she turned away with a satisfied sigh. 'I finks I'm lovely,' she announced. At five one is frank. Her verdict has since then been duly and reliably confirmed by everyone who has known her—yet she might as well have been born into unbeautiful, hopeless slavery."
Benton went to the window and stood moodily looking out. Finally he wheeled to demand: "How did the crown of Maritzburg come to your uncle?"
"When he married my aunt," said Bristow, "he fancied himself safe-guarded from the ducal throne by two older brothers. That's why he was able to choose his own wife. He was dedicated with passionate loyalty to his brushes and paint tubes. He saw before him achievement of that sort. Assassination claimed his father and brothers, and, facing the same peril, he took up the distasteful duties of government. My aunt's life was intolerably shadowed by the terror of violence for him. She died at Cara's birth and the child inherited all the protest and acceptance so paradoxically bequeathed by her heart-broken mother."
"Realizing that Cara could not hope to escape a royal marriage, her father looked toward Galavia. There at least the strain was clean ... untouched by degeneracy and untainted with libertinism. Karyl is as decent a chap as yourself. He loves her, and though he knows she accepts him only from compulsion, he believes he can eventually win her love as well as her mere acquiescence. It's all as final as the laws of the Medes and Persians."
Again there was a long silence. Bristow began to wonder if it was, with his friend, the silence of despair and surrender. At last Benton lifted his face and his jaw was set unyieldingly.
"Personally," he commented quietly, "I have decided otherwise."
* * * * *
Despite the raw edge on the air, the hardier guests at "Idle Times" still clung to those outdoor sports which properly belonged to the summer. That afternoon a canoeing expedition was made up river to explore a cave which tradition had endowed with some legendary tale of pioneer days and Indian warfare.
Pagratide, having organized the expedition with that object in view, had made use of his prior knowledge to enlist Cara for the crew of his canoe, but Benton, covering a point that Pagratide had overlooked, pointed out that an engagement to go up the river in a canoe is entirely distinct from an engagement to come down the river in a canoe. He cited so many excellent authorities in support of his contention that the matter was decided in his favor for the return trip, and Mrs. Porter-Woodleigh, all unconscious that her escort was a Crown Prince, found in him an introspective and altogether uninteresting young man.
Benton and the girl in one canoe, were soon a quarter of a mile in advance of the others, and lifting their paddles from the water they floated with the slow current. The singing voices of the party behind them came softly adrift along the water. All of the singers were young and the songs had to do with sentiment.
The girl buttoned her sweater closer about her throat. The man stuffed tobacco into the bowl of his pipe and bent low to kindle it into a cheerful spot of light.
A belated lemon afterglow lingered at the edge of the sky ahead. Against it the gaunt branches of a tall tree traced themselves starkly. Below was the silent blackness of the woods.
Suddenly Benton raised his head.
"I have a present for you," he announced.
"A present?" echoed the girl. "Be careful, Sir Gray Eyes. You played the magician once and gave me a rose. It was such a wonderful rose"—she spoke almost tenderly,—"that it has spoiled me. No commonplace gift will be tolerated after that."
"This is a different sort of present," he assured her. "This is a god."
"A what!" Cara was at the stern with the guiding paddle. The man leaned back, steadying the canoe with a hand on each gunwale, and smiled into her face.
"Yes," he said, "he is a god made out of clay with a countenance that is most unlovely and a complexion like an earthenware jar. I acquired him in the Andes for a few centavos. Since then we have been companions. In his day he had his place in a splendid temple of the Sun Worshipers. When I rescued him he was squatting cross-legged on a counter among silver and copper trinkets belonging to a civilization younger than his own. When you've been a god and come to be a souvenir of ruins and dead things—" the man paused for a moment, then with the ghost of a laugh went on, "—it makes you see things differently. In the twisted squint of his small clay face one reads slight regard for mere systems and codes."
He paused so long that she prompted him in a voice that threatened to become unsteady. "Tell me more about him. What is his godship's name?"
"He looked so protestingly wise," Benton went on, "that I named him Jonesy. I liked that name because it fitted him so badly. Jonesy is not conventional in his ideas, but his morals are sound. He has seen religions and civilizations and dynasties flourish and decay, and it has all given him a certain perspective on life. He has occasionally given me good council."
He paused again, but, noting that the singing voices were drawing nearer, he continued more rapidly.
"In Alaska I used to lie flat on my cot before a great open fire and his god-ship would perch cross-legged on my chest. When I breathed, he seemed to shake his fat sides and laugh. When a pagan god from Peru laughs at you in a Yukon cabin, the situation calls for attention. I gave attention.
"Jonesy said that the major human motives sweep in deep channels, full-tide ahead. He said you might in some degree regulate their floods by rearing abutments, but that when you try to build a dam to stop the Amazon you are dealing with folly. He argued that when one sets out to dam up the tides set flowing back in the tributaries of the heart it is written that one must fail. That is the gospel according to Jonesy."
He turned his face to the front and shot the canoe forward. There was silence except for the quiet dipping of their paddles, the dripping of the water from the lifted blades, and the song drifting down river. Finally Benton added:
"I don't know what he will say to you, but perhaps he will give you good advice—on those matters which the centuries can't change."
Cara's voice came soft, with a hint of repressed tears. "He has already given me good advice, dear—" she said, "good advice that I can't follow."
IT IS DECIDED TO MASQUERADE
The first day of quail-shooting found Van Bristow's guests afield.
Separated from the others, Benton and Cara came upon a small grove, like an oasis in the stretching acres of stubble. Under a scarlet maple that reared itself skyward all aflame, and shielded by a festooning profusion of wild-grape, a fallen beech-trunk offered an inviting seat. The girl halted and grounded arms.
The man seated himself at her feet and looked up. He framed a question, then hesitated, fearing the answer. Finally he spoke, controlling his voice with an effort.
"Cara," he questioned, "how long have I?"
Her eyes widened as if with terror. "A very—very little time, dear," she said. "It frightens me to think how little. Then—then—nothing but memory. Do you realize what it all means?" She leaned forward and laid a hand on each of his shoulders. "Just one week more, and after that I shall look out to sea when the sun sinks, red and sullen, into leaden waters and think of—of Arcady—and you."
"Don't, Cara!" He seized her hands and went on talking fast and vehemently. "Listen! I love you—that is not a unique thing. You love me—that is the miracle. And because of a distorted idea of duty, our lives must go to wreck. Don't you see the situation is ludicrous—intolerable? You are trying to live a medieval life in a day of wireless telegraph and air ships."
She nodded. "But what are we going to do about it?" she questioned simply.
"Cara, dear—if I could find a way!" he pleaded eagerly. "Suppose I could play the magician!"
He rose and stood back of the log.
She leaned back so that she might look into his eyes. "I wish you could," she mused with infinite weariness.
He stooped suddenly and kissed the drooping lips with a resentful sense of the monstrous injustice of a scheme of things wherein such lips could droop.
"No, no, no!" she cried. "You must not! I've got to be Queen of Galavia—I've got to be his wife." Then, in a quick, half-frightened tone: "Yet when you are with me I can't help it. It's wicked to love you—and I do."
He smiled through the misery of his own frown. "Am I so bad as that?" he questioned.
"You are so bad"—she suddenly caught his hands in hers and slowly shook her head—"that I don't trust myself on the same side of the road with you. You must go across and sit on that opposite side." She lightly kissed his forehead. "That's a kiss before exile—now go."
He measured the distance with disapproving eyes. "That must be fifteen feet away," he protested, "and my arms are not a yard long." He stretched them out, viewing them ruefully.
"Go!" she repeated with sternness.
He obeyed slowly, his face growing sullen.
"If I am to stay here until I recant what I said about your odious kingdom and your miserable throne, I'll—I'll—" He cast about for a sufficiently rebellious sentiment, then resolutely asserted: "I'll stay here until I rot in my chains." He raised his hands and shook imaginary manacles. "Clink! Clink! Clink!" he added dramatically.
"You are being punished for being too fascinating to a poor little fool princess who has played truant and who doesn't want to go back to school." She talked on with forced levity. "As for the kingdom,"—once more her eyes became wistful—"you may say what you like about it. You can't possibly hate it as much as I. There is no anarchist screaming his adherence to the red flag or inventing infernal machines, who hates all thrones as much as the one small girl who must needs be Queen of Galavia. No, lese-majeste is not the fault for which you are being punished."
For a while he was silent, then his voice was raised in exile, almost cheerfully.
"Destiny is stronger than the paretic councils of little inbred kings. Why, Cara, I can get one good, husky Methodist preacher who can do in five minutes what I hardly think your royalties can undo—ever."
"Oh, don't!" she stopped him with plaintive appeal. "I know all that. I know it. Don't you realize that the longer the flight into the open blue of the skies, the harder the return to a gilt cage? But, dearest—there is such a thing as keeping one's parole. I must go back, unless I am held by a force stronger than I. I must go back. I have been here almost too long."
"Cara," he said slowly, "I, too, have a sense of duty. It is to you. The open blue of the skies is yours by right—divine right. You have nothing to do with cages, gilt or otherwise. My duty is to free you. I mean to do it. I haven't finished thinking it out yet, but I am going to find the way."
Her answering voice was deeply grave.
"If you just devise a situation where I shall have to fight it all out again, you will only make it harder for me. I must do what I must do. I could only be rescued by some power stronger than myself. Come, let's go back."
At dinner that same evening Mrs. Van announced to her guests that "by request of one who should be nameless," punctuating her pledge of secrecy with a pronounced glance at Benton, there would be a masquerade affair on the evening before Cara's departure for New York. She said this was to be an informal sort of frolic in fancy dress, and the only requirement would be that every grown-up should for an evening return to childhood.
On the next morning ensued a hegira from the place, the object whereof was guarded with the most diplomatic deception and secrecy.
"Why this unanimous desertion?" demanded Van indignantly from the head of the table when it began to develop that an exodus impended. "Do your appetites crave the stimulus of city cooking? Are you leaving my simple roof for the lobster palaces?"
Benton shook his head. "Singular," he commented, studying his grape-fruit with the air of an oracle gazing into crystal. "There, for example, is Colonel Centress who will probably tell you that he has had an imperative summons to confer with his brokers and—"
He paused, while the ancient beau across the table quickly nodded affirmation.
"Quite so. How did you guess it?" he inquired.
"Never talk business at table, of course, but this is a mysterious flurry in stocks—quite a mysterious flurry."
"Quite so," echoed Benton. "Nevertheless, if you were to shadow the gallant Colonel in Manhattan to-day he would probably lead you to a costuming tailor, where you would discover him in the act of being fitted with a Roman toga or a crusader's mail."
Mrs. Porter-Woodleigh shot a malicious glance at the tall foreigner whose emotionless face proved a constant irritation to her exuberant vivacity. "I understand, Colonel Von Ritz," she innocently suggested, "that you are to impersonate a polar bear."
The Galavian smiled deep in his eyes only; his lips remained sober. One would have said that he had not recognized the thrust. "I shall only remain myself," he replied. "I am allowed to be a looker-on in Venice."
Under her breath the widow confided to her next neighbor: "Ah! then it is true."
"What are you going to town for?" demanded Mrs. Van, looking accusingly at Benton, as that gentleman arose from the table.
"I should say," he laughingly responded, "that I am going to complete final arrangements for getting the Isis into commission, but nobody would believe me. You are all becoming so diplomatic of late!"
Von Ritz glanced up casually. "There is one very dangerous diplomacy—one very difficult to become accustomed to," he commented. "I allude to the American diplomacy of frankness."
"The Isis? To think I have never seen your yacht!" mused Cara. "And yet you are allowing me to cross on a steamer."
"If she could be put in shape so soon," declared Benton regretfully, glancing from Von Ritz to Pagratide, "I should shanghai Mrs. Van for a chaperon and give a party to Europe. Unfortunately I can't get her in readiness promptly enough; unless," he added hopefully, "Miss Carstow can postpone her sailing-day?"
IN WHICH ROMEO BECOMES DROMIO
When Benton had straightened out his car for the run to the city, and the road had begun to slip away under the tires, he turned to McGuire, his chauffeur.
"McGuire," he inquired, "where is the runabout?"
"At 'Idle Times,' sir. You loaned it to Mr. Bristow to fill up the garage."
"I remember. Now, listen!" And as Benton talked a slow grin of contentment spread across the visage of Mr. McGuire, hinting of some enterprise that appealed to his venturesome soul with a lure beyond the ordinary.
In the city, Benton was a busy man, though his visit to the costumer's was brief. Coming out of the place, he fancied he caught a glimpse of Von Ritz, but the view was fleeting and he decided that his eyes must have deceived him. He had himself patronized a rather obscure shop, recommended by Mr. McGuire. Von Ritz would presumably have selected some more fashionable purveyor of disguises even had his assertion that he would not masquerade been made only to deceive. Perhaps, thought the American, Colonel Von Ritz was becoming an obsession with him, merely because he stood for Galavia and the threat of royalty's mandate. He was convinced of this later in the day, when he once more fancied that a disappearing pair of broad shoulders belonged to the European. This time he laughed at the idea. The surroundings made the supposition ludicrous. It was among the tawdry shops of ship chandlers in the East Side, where he himself had gone in search of certain able seamen in the company of the sailing-master of the Isis. Von Ritz would hardly be consorting with the fo'castle men who frequent the water front below Brooklyn Bridge.
The few days of the last week raced by, with all the charm of sky and field that the magic of Indian summer can lavish, and for Benton and Cara, they raced also with the sense of fast-slipping hope and relentlessly marching doom. Outwardly Cara set a pace for vivacious and care-free enjoyment that left Mrs. Porter-Woodleigh, the "semi-professional light-hearted lady," as O'Barreton named her, "to trail along in the ruck." Alone with Benton, there was always the furrow between the brows and the distressed gaze upon the mystery beyond the sky-line, but Pagratide and Von Ritz were vigilant, to the end that their tete-a-tetes were few.
Neither Benton nor Cara had alluded to the man's overbold assertion that he would find a way. It was a futile thing said in eagerness. The day of the dance, the last day they could hope for together, came unprefaced by development. To-morrow she must take up her journey and her duty: her holiday would be at its end. It was all the greater reason why this evening should be memorable. He should think of her afterward as he saw her to-night, and it pleased her that in the irresponsibility of the maskers she should appear to him in the garb of vagabond liberty, since in fact freedom was impossible to her.
As the kaleidoscope of the first dance sifted and shifted its pattern of color, three men stood by the door, scanning the disguised figures with watchful eyes.
One of the three was fantastically arrayed as a cannibal chief, in brown fleshings, with cuffs upon his ankles, gaudy decorations about his neck, and huge rings in nose and ears.
The second man was a Bedouin: a camel-driver of the Libyan Desert. From the black horsehair circlet on his temples a turban-scarf fell to his shoulders. He was wrapped in a brown cashmere cloak which dropped domino-like to his ankles. Shaggy brows ran in an unbroken line from temple to temple, masking his eyes, while a fierce mustache and beard obliterated the contour of his lower face. His cheek-bones and forehead showed, under some dye, as dark as leather, and as his gaze searchingly raked the crowds, he fingered a string of Moslem prayer-beads.
The third man was conspicuous in ordinary dress. Save for the decoration of the Order of Takavo, suspended by a crimson ribbon on his shirt-front, and the Star of Galavia, on the left lapel of his coat, there was no break in the black and white scheme of his evening clothes. Von Ritz had told the truth. He was not disguised. He stood, his arms folded on his breast, towering above the Fiji Islander, possibly a quarter of an inch taller than the Bedouin. A half-amused smile lurked in his steady eyes—the smile of unwavering brows and dispassionately steady mouth-line.
The cannibal chief waved his hand. "Bright the lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men!" he declaimed, in a disguised voice; then scowled about him villainously, remembering that an affable quoting of Lord Byron is incompatible with the qualities of a man-eating savage.
The Bedouin gravely inclined his head. "Allahu Akbar!" he responded, in a soft voice.
Suddenly the caravan driver commenced a hurried and zigzag course across the crowded floor. The eyes of Colonel Von Ritz indolently followed.
Through a low-silled window a girl had just entered, carrying herself with the untrammeled freedom of some wild thing, erect, poised from the waist, rhythmic in motion. Her walk was like the scansion of good verse. The Bedouin caught the grace before the ensemble of costume met his eye. It was in harmony.
She wore a silk skirt to the ankles, and about her waist and hips was bound the yellow and red sash of the Spanish gipsy, tightly knotted, and falling at its tasseled ends. Her arms were bare to the elbows, and gay with bracelets; her hair fell from her forehead and temples, dropping over her shoulders in two ribbon bound braids. A tall, gray-cowled monk, whose military bearing gave the lie to his cassock, a Spanish grandee, and a fool in motley saw her at the same moment and hurried to intercept her, but with a slide which carried him a quarter of the way across the floor the Bedouin arrived first, and before the others had come up he was drifting away with her in the tide of the dancers.
"Allah is good to me—Flamencine," whispered the camel-driver as he drew her close to avoid a careless dancer.
"Why, Flamencine?" demanded a carefully altered voice, from which, however, the music had not been eliminated.
"Don't you remember?" The Arab stole a covert, identifying glance down at the tip of one ear which showed under its masking of brown hair—an ear that looked as though it were chiseled from the pink coral of Capri. He quoted:
"'There was a gipsy maiden within the forest green, There was a gipsy maiden who shook a tambourine. The stars of night had not the face, The woodland wind had not the grace, Of Flamencine.'"
Then the music stopped, and with its silencing came the monk, the clown, the grandee, and others.
In the insistent demand of the many the Arab had too few dances with the Spanish girl. There were Comanches, Samurai, policemen, Zulus and courtiers, who, seeing her dance, discovered that their immediate avocation was dancing with her.
Yet it wanted an hour of unmasking time when a Bedouin led a gipsy maiden from Andalusia into the deserted library, where the darkness was broken only by blazing logs on an open hearth.
When they were alone he turned to her anxiously. His voice was freighted with appeal. Her face, now unmasked, wore an expression of stunned misery.
"Dear," he asked, "how are you?"
She gazed at the flickering logs. "I should think you would know," she answered wearily. Then, with a mirthless laugh, she spread both hands toward the blaze. "I'm looking ahead—I can see it all there in the fire." Her fingers convulsively clenched themselves until blue marks showed against the pink palms.
He pushed a chair forward for her, but with a shake of her head she declined it.
"Whoever heard of a gipsy girl sitting in a leather chair?" she demanded. "It's more like—like some effete princess."
She dropped to the Persian rug and, gathering her knees between her clasped hands, sat looking into the dying blaze. "For a few brief minutes I am the gipsy girl," she added.
"And," he said, dropping cross-legged to the rug at her side, "when the caravan halts at evening, and prayers have been said facing Mecca, and the grunting camels kneel, to be unloaded, neither do we, the gipsies of the desert, sit in chairs." He swayed slightly toward her, lowering his voice to a whisper. As the soft touch of her shoulder brushed him and electrified him, his cashmere-draped arms closed around her and held her hungrily to him. The vagrant maiden of Andalusia and the caravan-driver of Africa sat gazing together at the glowing pictures in the logs as they turned slowly to ashes.
"Cara," he went on in a voice of pent-up earnestness, "we be nomads—we two. 'The scarlet of the maples can shake us like the cry of bugles going by.' Come away with me while there is time. Let us follow out our destinies where gipsy blood calls us; in the desert, the jungle, wherever you say. Let your fancy be our guide—your heart our compass. Suppose"—he paused and, with one outstretched arm, pointed to the fire—"suppose that to be a camp-fire—what do you see in the coals?"
"I have already told you," she said wearily. "I see a throne, a life with all the confining littleness of a prison, with none of the breadth of an empire. I see the sacrifice of all I love. I see year upon year of purple desolation.... Purple is the color of mourning and royalty."
She fell silent, and he spoke slowly.
"I see the desert, many-hued, like an opal with the setting of the sun. I see the flickering of camp-fires and the palm-fringe of an oasis. I see the tapering minarets of a mosque, and the long booths of the bazaars. I smell the scent of the perfume-seller's stall, the heavy sweetness of attar of roses.... I hear the tinkle of camel bells.... There comes a change.... I see a mountain-pass and a mule-train crawling through the dust, I see the paths that go around the world. Which of our pictures do you prefer?"
She gave a pained, low cry, and buried her face passionately on his shoulder. "Oh, you know, you know!" she cried, in a piteous voice. "And you love me, yet you tempt me to break my parole. If I could do it and be freed of the responsibility! If a miracle could work itself!"
"Cara," he whispered, resolutely steadying himself, "don't forget the gospel according to Jonesy. You can't dam up the tributaries of the heart. Some day you must come to me. That much is immutably written. For God's sake come now while the road is still clear. Otherwise we shall grope our ways to each other, even if it be through tragedy—through hell itself."
For a moment she gazed at him with wide eyes.
"I know it—" she whispered in a frightened voice. "I know it—and yet I must go ahead."
He rose and lifted her; then as she stood clinging to him he said: "I ask your forgiveness if I've made it harder—and one boon. Slip away with me and give me an hour with you."
"They will find me. Pagratide and Von Ritz will find me," she objected helplessly. "They won't let us be alone for long."
"Listen," he replied. "It is not too cold and the moon is brilliant. It is the last real moon for me. Come with me in my car for a while."
"You must not make love to me," she stipulated. "I am going to try to get my face properly composed—and if you make love to me, I can't. Besides, when you make love I'm rather afraid of you. So you mustn't."
Then, with a wild spasmodic gesture, she caught the edges of his cashmere cloak and gripped them tightly in both hands as she looked up into his eyes and impetuously contradicted herself.
"Yes, please do," she appealed.
He laughed. "Destiny says I must make love to you," he asserted, "and who am I to disobey Destiny?"
Outside, she insisted upon waiting by the bridge while he went for his car. So he turned and started alone to the point on the driveway just around the angle of the house, where McGuire, pursuant to previous orders, was to be waiting with the machine. It had been only an hour since Benton had slipped away from the dancers and consulted with McGuire in the shadow of the wall, instructing him explicitly in his duties. McGuire was to wait with the machine ready upon call. The lamps were not to be lighted. When Benton came, the chauffeur was to run the car to the point where a lady should enter it. He was at that point to leave, without words. It had been impressed on McGuire that utter silence was imperative. The chauffeur was then to follow in the runabout, acting as a reserve in the event of need. Both cars were to take a certain circuitous route to a point on the shore thirty miles distant, the runabout keeping just close enough to hold the first car in sight. McGuire had listened and understood. Yet now McGuire was missing, together with one very necessary motor-car.
As Benton stood, boiling with wrath at the miscarriage of his plans, he fancied he heard the soft muffled song of his motor just beyond the turn where the road circled the house. He bent and held a lighted match close to the gravel. On a muddied spot he found the easily recognizable tread of his tires. The car had been there. For the sake of speed he ran to the garage near by and took a swift look at the runabout. It was waiting, and, thanks to the God of Machines, would start on compression. He flung himself to the driver's seat and gave it the spark. Far away—about as far as the bridge, he calculated—he heard one short, cautious blast of an automobile horn.
Just before the last turn brought him to the bridge, where he should meet Cara, he noticed a man hurrying toward him, on foot, and recognized McGuire. Totally mystified, he slowed down the machine.
"Get in, you infernal blockhead," he called. "Tell me about it as we go. I'm in a hurry."
But McGuire performed strangely. He clapped one hand to his forehead and looked at his employer out of large, wild eyes. "Am I dippy? My God! Am I dippy?" he exclaimed, repeating the question over and over in a low, trembling voice.
"Apparently you are. Get in, damn you!" Benton ordered.
"It's weird," declared McGuire. "It's damned weird."
"Why, sir," he ran on, talking fast, now that the first shock was over and his tongue again loosened. "Either I've made a fool mistake, or else I'm crazier than hell. I waited at the place you said. You—or your ghost—came and took his seat, and waved his hand. I started the car for the bridge. He didn't say a word. At the bridge I jumped out. He was you—and yet you are here—same size—same costume—same beard—even the same beads around the neck."
They had almost reached the bridge and were slowing down when Benton, scanning the road, empty in the moonlight, grasped for the first time a definite suspicion of what had happened.
"Cara!" he shouted. "Good God, where is she?"
The chauffeur leaned over and shouted into his ear. "I'm telling you, sir. The lady's in that other car—with that other edition of you. And, sir—beggin' your pardon—they're beatin' it like hell!"
Benton's only answer was to feed gas to the spark so frantically that the car seemed to rise from the ground and shiver before it settled again. Then it shot forward and reeled crazily into a speed never intended for a curving road at night.
The moonlight fell on a gray streak of a car, driven by a maniac with a scarf blowing back from a turban over two wildly gleaming eyes.
Back at "Idle Times" a Capuchin monk, wandering apart from the dancers in consonance with the austere proclaiming of his garb, was studying the frivolous gamboling of a school of fountain gold-fish in the conservatory. He looked up, scowling, to take a note from a servant.
"Colonel Von Ritz said to hand this to the gentleman masquerading as a monk," explained the man.
"Von Ritz," growled the monk. "He annoys me."
He impatiently tore open the letter and scanned it. His brows contracted in astonished mystification, then slowly his eyes narrowed and kindled.
The scrawl ran:
"Your Highness: If you see neither Mr. Benton, masquerading as an Arab, her Highness, the Princess, nor myself in ten minutes from the time of receiving this, take the car which you will find ready in the garage. My orderly will be there to act as your chauffeur. Follow the main road to the second village. Turn there to the right, and drive to the small bay, where you will find me or an explanation. I have been conducting certain investigations. The affair is urgent and touches matters of great import to Europe as well us to Your Highness."
IN WHICH DROMIO BECOMES ROMEO
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."
She did not answer.
"Your High—Miss Carstow,"—Von Ritz spoke with a deferential finality—"believe me, some things are inevitable."
Suddenly the car stopped.
The girl made a movement as though she would rise, but the man's arm quietly stretched itself across before her, not touching her, but forming an effective barrier.
She did not speak, but her eyes blazed indignantly. For the first time he was able to return her gaze directly, and as she looked into the unflinching gray pupils, under the level brows, there was a momentary combat, then her own dropped. He sat for a space with his arm outstretched, holding her prisoner in the seat.
"Your Highness"—he spoke as impersonally as a judge ruling from the bench—"I must remind you again that I am your escort to-night only in order that someone else may not be. What his plans were, I need not now say, but I know, and it became my duty to thwart him. It is hardly necessary to explain how I discovered Mr. Benton's purpose. It was not easy, but it has been accomplished. I have acquainted myself with his movements, his intention, and his preparations; I have even counterfeited his masquerade and stolen his car. There are bigger things at stake than individual wishes. I stand for the throne. Mr. Benton has played a daring game—and lost."
He paused, and she found herself watching with a strange fascination the face almost marble-like in its steadiness.
"Some day—perhaps soon," he went on, the arm unmoved, "you will be Queen of Galavia." She shuddered. "You can then strip away my epaulets if you choose. For the moment, however, I must regard you as a prisoner of war and ask your parole, as a gentleman and an officer, not to leave the car while I investigate the trouble with the motor. Otherwise—" he added composedly, "we shall have to remain as we are."
She hesitated, her chin thrown up and her eyes blazing; then, with a glance at the unmoving arm, she bowed reluctant assent.
"All I promise is to remain in the car," she said. "May I go back into the tonneau?"
Satisfying himself that the engine was temporarily dead, he responded, with a half-smile, "That promise I think is sufficient."
He bent to his task of diagnosis. After much futile spinning of the crank, he rose and contemplated the stalled engine.
"Since this machine went out with lamps unlighted, and I have no matches in this garb, I must go to that farmhouse up the hillside—where the light shines through the trees—. Will Your Highness regard your parole as effective until my return, not to leave the car? Yes? I thank Your Highness; I shall not be long."
The girl for answer honked the horn in several loud blasts, and he stopped with a murmured apology to silence it by tearing off the bulb and throwing it to one side.
The Colonel turned and took his way through the woods, statuesquely upright and spectral in his long Arab cloak.
Benton and McGuire had just passed the crossing where Von Ritz had left the main road, when McGuire's quick ear caught the familiar tooting of the other horn and brought his hand to his employer's arm. The car was stopped, and McGuire, by match-light, examined the road with its frosty mud unmarked by fresh automobile tracks, save those running back from their own tires.
The runabout turned and slipped along cautiously to the rear, watchful for byways. At the cross-road McGuire was out again. His match, held close to the mud and gravel, revealed the tread of familiar tires.
"All right, sir," he briefly reported. "The other edition went this track."
With a twist of the wheel Benton was again on the trail. Back in the side lane stood a car in which a girl sat alone, solemnly indignant.
"Cara!" Benton was standing on the step. His voice was tremulous with solicitude and perplexed anxiety. "Cara!" he repeated. "What does it mean?"
"I don't know," she responded coolly. "Something seems to be broken."
"I don't mean that." McGuire was already investigating. "What does it mean?"
She sighed wearily.
"When I foolishly agreed to play Juliet to your Romeo," she informed him, and her tones were frigid, "I didn't know that your Romeo was really only a Dromio. The other edition of you"—he flinched at the words, and McGuire choked violently—"is back there, I believe, hunting for matches."
"She's all right, sir," interrupted McGuire in triumph. "She'll travel now. It's only disconnected spark plugs and a short circuiting."
"Travel, then!" snapped Benton. "Leave the runabout here. The other gentleman may prefer not to walk home."
As he swung himself into the tonneau, the chauffeur had already seized the wheel and the car was backing for the turn. Far back up the hillside there was a crashing of underbrush. A spectral figure, struggling with the unaccustomed drapery of a Bedouin robe, emerged from the woods into the open, and halted in momentary astonishment.
"I believe I am under parole—to the other Dromio—not to run away," she suggested wearily.
"Oh, that's all right; I'm doing this and I have no treaty with Galavia," replied the gentleman pleasantly. "Hit her up a bit, McGuire."
He took one of the hands that lay wearily in Cara's lap and she did not withdraw it. She only lay back in the leather upholstery and said nothing. Finally he bent nearer.
"Dearest," he said. There was no answer.
"Dearest," he whispered again.
She only turned her head and smiled forgiveness.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm so tired—so tired of all of it," she sighed. "Don't you see? I wish someone bigger than I am would take me away to a place where they had never heard of a throne—somewhere beyond the Milky Way."
He took her in his arms, and the spangle-crowned gipsy head fell heavily on his shoulder. She stretched up both arms towards the stars, and the moonlight glinted from her gilt bracelets.
"Somewhere beyond the Milky Way," she murmured, then collapsed like a tired child and lay still.
"Dearest," he whispered, "I'll tell you a secret." He paused and listened to the rhythmic cylinders throbbing a racing pulse; he looked back at the white band of road that was being flung out behind them like thread from a falling spool. He held her fiercely to him and kissed her. "I'll tell you a secret. You are being stolen. The Isis is waiting in a little cove, and there is steam in her engines, and a chaplain on board. If it's necessary I shall run up the skull and cross-bones at her masthead. Do you hear?" Then, with a less piratical voice: "Dearest, I love you."
She looked up drowsily into his eyes. "You don't have to be such a boa-constrictor," she suggested. "You are not a cave-man, after all, you know, if you are taking a lady without asking her." Then she contentedly whispered: "I'm going to sleep." And she did.
As the car at last swept around a curve and took the shore road, Benton caught, far away as yet, the red and green glint of tiny port and starboard lights on the bridge of the Isis, and the long ruby and emerald shafts quivering beneath in the calm waters of the bay. In the light of a low moon, swinging down the midnight sky, the trim silhouette of the yacht stood out boldly.
Cara, after sleeping through the rowboat stage of the journey, awoke on the deck of the Isis and gazed wonderingly about. In her ears was the sound of anchor chains upon the capstan.
"Is it a dream?" she asked.
"It is a dream to me, but I am going to make it real," he responded.
She went to the rail. He followed her.
"I shouldn't have let you, but I was so tired," she said, "I hardly knew where the dream began and the reality ended. Ah, I wish the dream could come true."
"This one is to come true, Cara," he whispered.
She shook her head. "Stand still!" she commanded.
He was bending forward with his elbows on the rail. Suddenly, with something like a stifled sob, she caught his head in both arms and held him close, so close that he heard her heart pounding and her breath coming with spasmodic gasps. He put out his arms, but she held him off.
"No, no; don't touch me now—only listen!"
He waited a moment before she spoke again.
"You said I was your prisoner." Her voice dropped in a tremor as though the tears would prevail, but she steadied it and went on. "I wish I were. Always I am your prisoner, but I must go back. It is because it is written."
He straightened up and took her in his arms. "I know how you have settled it," he said, "but I have stolen you. The anchor is coming up. You love me—I have claimed what is mine. It is now beyond your power, your responsibility."
"No, it is not," she softly denied. "I will not marry you—but I love you—I love you!"
"You mean that if I hold you my prisoner you will still not be my wife?" he incredulously demanded.
Slowly she nodded her head.
The man gazed off with the eyes of one stunned and slowly fought himself back into control before he trusted his voice. After a while, he raised his face and spoke in fragmentary sentences, his voice pitched low, his words broken.
"But you said—just now—back there on the road—you wished someone stronger than yourself—would take you away somewhere—beyond the Milky Way."
His tones strengthened and suddenly he almost sang out with recovered resolution, speaking buoyantly and triumphantly.
"Dearest, I am stronger than you, and I'm going to take you away—I'm going to take you beyond the Milky Way, to the uttermost stars of Love. How can it matter to me how far, if you are there?"
Again she shook her head.
"No, dear," she whispered, "you are not so strong as I, in this, because I am strong enough to say No when my heart says only Yes—and because Fate is stronger than any of us."
"Boat ahoy!" came a voice from the crow's nest.
"They have come for you," he said, speaking as through a fog. "Show them here," he shouted to an officer who was hurrying to the gangway.
Two figures came over the side, and slowly followed the first officer forward. One was a Capuchin monk, bearing himself rigidly; at his side strode a Bedouin, bedraggled, but erect and military of bearing. The original Arab turned with a sudden sag of the shoulders and looked helplessly out at the path of silver that stretched across the water below, to the moon, now sunk close to the horizon. He waved one hand in a gesture of submission and despair, and stood silent.
The gipsy girl, standing near, took a sudden step forward and stood close to him us the others approached.
"They may take me back if they wish to, now," she said, with a suddenly upflaring defiance. "But they shall find me like this!" And she flung her arms about his neck and kissed him.
THE PRINCESS CONSULTS JONESY
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."
Benton and Von Ritz went to the gangway, where the yachtsman bent forward to give some direction to the boat crew below.
"Karyl!" The girl moved impulsively toward the man she must marry, and laid a hand on his arm. "Karyl," she said plaintively, "if you only wanted to marry me for State reasons—it would be different. It wouldn't hurt me then to hurt you. You mean so much as a friend, but I can never be in love with you. You are being unfair with yourself—if you go on. I must be honest with you."
Pagratide spoke slowly, and his voice carried the tremor of feeling.
"You have always been honest with me, and I will make you love me. Until you marry me I have no privilege to question you. When you do, I shall not have to question you." He leaned forward and spoke confidently. "I would marry you if you hated me—and then I would win your love!"
An hour later the Spanish gipsy girl, having shown herself in the emptying ball-room with ingenious excuses for her long absence, took refuge in her own apartments.
On sailing day, Benton, at the pier, watched the steamer stand out into the river between the coming and going of ferry-boats and tugs. About him stamped the usual farewell throng with hats raised and handkerchiefs a-flutter. The music of the ship's band grew faint as a wider and wider gap of water opened between the wharf and the liner's gray hull.
Gradually the crowd scattered back through the great barn-like spaces of the pier-house to be re-absorbed by cabs, motors and surface-cars into the main arteries of the city's life. It was over. Bon voyage had been said. One more ship had put out to sea.
Benton stood looking after a slim figure in a blue traveling gown and dark furs, pressed against the after-rail, her handkerchief waving in the raw wind. Most of the sea-going ones had retreated into the shelter of the saloon or cabin, but she remained.
Van Bristow, shivering at his friend's elbow, did not suggest turning back.
Cara stood, still looking shoreward, a furrow between her brows, her checks pale, her fingers tightly gripping the rail. She was holding with that grip to all her shaken self-command.
She saw the fang-edged skyline of lower Manhattan lifting its gray shafts through wet streamers of fog; she saw flotillas of squat ferry-boats shouldering their ways against the sullen heave of the river's tide-water; she heard the discordant shriek of their steam throats; she saw the tilting swoop of a hundred gulls, buffeting the wind; but she was conscious only of the vista of oily water widening between herself and him.
Von Ritz had long since drifted into the smoking-room where the men were christening the voyage with brandy-and-soda and dropping into tentative groups, regardful of future poker games.
Pagratide, at Cara's elbow, was silent, respecting her silence.
When at last the two had the deck to themselves and Manhattan had become a shadowy and ragged monotone, she turned and smiled. It was a smile of accepting the inevitable. He went with her to the forward deck where her staterooms were situated, and left her there in silence.
Von Ritz, standing apart near the threshold of the smokeroom, heard his name paged almost before the speaker had entered the door, and turned to take from the hand of the bearer a Marconigram just relayed from shore. He read it and for an instant a look of pain crossed the features that rarely yielded to expression. Then he sought out Karyl's stateroom.
Karyl turned wearily from the wintry picture of a sullenly heaving sea, to answer the rap on the door. His face did not brighten as he recognized Von Ritz.
The Colonel was that type of being upon whom men may depend or whom they must fear. Whenever there was need, Karyl had come to know that there would be Von Ritz, but also there went with him an austerity and an impersonality that robbed him of the gratitude and love he might have claimed.
Now there was a note almost surly in the expression with which the Prince looked up to greet his father's confidential representative.
"Well?" he demanded.
For answer the officer held out the message.
Karyl puckered his brows over the intricacies of the code and handed it back.
"Be good enough to construe it," he commanded.
"The King," said Von Ritz, "is ill. His Majesty wishes to instruct you in certain matters before—" He broke off with something like a catch in his voice, then continued calmly. "Recovery is despaired of, though death may not be immediate."
Karyl turned away, not wishing the soldier to see the tears he felt in his eyes, and Von Ritz discreetly withdrew as far as the door. There he paused, and after a moment's hesitation inquired:
"Her Highness goes to Maritzburg—to her father's Court—I presume?"
With his back still turned, the Prince nodded. "Why?" he demanded.
"Because—the message holds no hope—" Von Ritz paused, then added quietly "—and if Your Highness is called upon to mount the throne, it is advisable to hasten the marriage."
He backed out, closing the door behind him.
In her own cabin the girl had bolted the door. At the small desk of her suite-de-luxe she sat with her head on her crossed arms. For a half-hour she remained motionless.
Finally she rose and, with uncertain hands, opened a suitcase, drawing from its place among filmy fabrics and feminine essentials a small, squat figure of time-corroded clay. The little Inca huaca had perhaps looked with that same unseeing squint upon Princesses of other dynasties so long dead that their heartbreaks and ecstasies were now the same—nothing.
She placed the image before her and rested her chin on one hand, gazing at its grotesque and ancient visage.
Her eyes slowly filled with tears. Again she dropped her face on her arms and the tears overflowed.
* * * * *
Benton and Bristow had been sitting without speech as their motor threaded its way through the traffic along Fourteenth Street, and it was not until the chauffeur had turned north on Fifth Avenue that either spoke. Then Benton roused himself out of seeming lethargy to inquire with suddenness: "Do you remember the bull-fight we saw in Seville?"
His companion looked up, suppressing his surprise at a question so irrelevant.
"You mean the Easter Sunday performance," he asked, "when that negligent banderillero was gored?"
"Just so," assented Benton. "Do you remember the chap we met afterwards at one of the cafes? He was being feted and flattered for the brilliancy of his work in the ring. His name was Blanco."
"Sure I remember him." Van talked glibly, pleased that the conversation had turned into channels so impersonal. "He was a fine-looking chap with the grace of a Velasquez dancing-girl and the nerve of a bull-terrier. I remember he was more like a grandee than a toreador. We had him dine with us—hard bread—black olives—fish—bad wine—all sorts of native truck. For the rest of our stay in Seville he was our inseparable companion. Do you remember how the street gamins pointed us out? Why, it was like walking down Broadway with your arm linked in that of Jim Jeffries!"
He paused, somewhat disconcerted by his companion's steady gaze; then, taking a fresh start, he went on, talking fast.
"Besides sticking bulls, he could discuss several topics in several languages. I recall that he had been educated for the Church. If he hadn't felt the lure of the strenuous life, he might have been celebrating Mass instead of playing guide for us. In the end he'd have won a cardinal's hat."
The fixity of the other's stare at last chilled and quelled his chatter to an embarrassed silence. He realized that the object of his mild subterfuge was transparent.
"I'm after his address—not his biography," suggested Benton coolly. "His name was Manuel Blanco, wasn't it?"
"Why, yes, I believe it was. What do you want with him?"
"Never mind that," returned his friend. "Do you happen to know where he lived? I seem to recall that you promised to write him frequent letters."
"By Jove, so I did," acknowledged Van with humility. "I must get busy. He is a good sort. His address—" He paused to search through his pocket-book for a small tablet dedicated to names and numbers, then added: "His address is Numero 18, Calle Isaac Peral, Cadiz."
Benton was scribbling the direction on the back of an envelope.
"You needn't grow penitent and start a belated correspondence," he suggested. "I am going to write him myself—and I'm going to visit him."
THE TOREADOR APPEARS
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.