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Title: The Clue of the Twisted Candle
Author: Edgar Wallace




CHAPTER I


The 4.15 from Victoria to Lewes had been held up at Three Bridges
in consequence of a derailment and, though John Lexman was
fortunate enough to catch a belated connection to Beston Tracey,
the wagonette which was the sole communication between the village
and the outside world had gone.

"If you can wait half an hour, Mr. Lexman," said the
station-master, "I will telephone up to the village and get Briggs
to come down for you."

John Lexman looked out upon the dripping landscape and shrugged
his shoulders.

"I'll walk," he said shortly and, leaving his bag in the
station-master's care and buttoning his mackintosh to his chin, he
stepped forth resolutely into the rain to negotiate the two miles
which separated the tiny railway station from Little Tracey.

The downpour was incessant and likely to last through the night.
The high hedges on either side of the narrow road were so many
leafy cascades; the road itself was in places ankle deep in mud.
He stopped under the protecting cover of a big tree to fill and
light his pipe and with its bowl turned downwards continued his
walk. But for the driving rain which searched every crevice and
found every chink in his waterproof armor, he preferred, indeed
welcomed, the walk.

The road from Beston Tracey to Little Beston was associated in his
mind with some of the finest situations in his novels. It was on
this road that he had conceived "The Tilbury Mystery." Between the
station and the house he had woven the plot which had made
"Gregory Standish" the most popular detective story of the year.
For John Lexman was a maker of cunning plots.

If, in the literary world, he was regarded by superior persons as
a writer of "shockers," he had a large and increasing public who
were fascinated by the wholesome and thrilling stories he wrote,
and who held on breathlessly to the skein of mystery until they
came to the denouement he had planned.

But no thought of books, or plots, or stories filled his troubled
mind as he strode along the deserted road to Little Beston. He
had had two interviews in London, one of which under ordinary
circumstances would have filled him with joy: He had seen T. X.
and "T. X." was T. X. Meredith, who would one day be Chief of the
Criminal Investigation Department and was now an Assistant
Commissioner of Police, engaged in the more delicate work of that
department.

In his erratic, tempestuous way, T. X. had suggested the greatest
idea for a plot that any author could desire. But it was not of
T. X. that John Lexman thought as he breasted the hill, on the
slope of which was the tiny habitation known by the somewhat
magnificent title of Beston Priory.

It was the interview he had had with the Greek on the previous day
which filled his mind, and he frowned as he recalled it. He
opened the little wicket gate and went through the plantation to
the house, doing his best to shake off the recollection of the
remarkable and unedifying discussion he had had with the
moneylender.

Beston Priory was little more than a cottage, though one of its
walls was an indubitable relic of that establishment which a pious
Howard had erected in the thirteenth century. A small and
unpretentious building, built in the Elizabethan style with quaint
gables and high chimneys, its latticed windows and sunken gardens,
its rosary and its tiny meadow, gave it a certain manorial
completeness which was a source of great pride to its owner.

He passed under the thatched porch, and stood for a moment in the
broad hallway as he stripped his drenching mackintosh.

The hall was in darkness. Grace would probably be changing for
dinner, and he decided that in his present mood he would not
disturb her. He passed through the long passage which led to the
big study at the back of the house. A fire burnt redly in the
old-fashioned grate and the snug comfort of the room brought a
sense of ease and relief. He changed his shoes, and lit the
table lamp.

The room was obviously a man's den. The leather-covered chairs,
the big and well-filled bookcase which covered one wall of the
room, the huge, solid-oak writing-desk, covered with books and
half-finished manuscripts, spoke unmistakably of its owner's
occupation.

After he had changed his shoes, he refilled his pipe, walked over
to the fire, and stood looking down into its glowing heart.

He was a man a little above medium height, slimly built, with a
breadth of shoulder which was suggestive of the athlete. He had
indeed rowed 4 in his boat, and had fought his way into the
semi-finals of the amateur boxing championship of England. His
face was strong, lean, yet well-moulded. His eyes were grey and
deep, his eyebrows straight and a little forbidding. The
clean-shaven mouth was big and generous, and the healthy tan of
his cheek told of a life lived in the open air.

There was nothing of the recluse or the student in his appearance.
He was in fact a typical, healthy-looking Britisher, very much
like any other man of his class whom one would meet in the
mess-room of the British army, in the wardrooms of the fleet, or
in the far-off posts of the Empire, where the administrative cogs
of the great machine are to be seen at work.

There was a little tap at the door, and before he could say "Come
in" it was pushed open and Grace Lexman entered.

If you described her as brave and sweet you might secure from that
brief description both her manner and her charm. He half crossed
the room to meet her, and kissed her tenderly.

"I didn't know you were back until--" she said; linking her arm
in his.

"Until you saw the horrible mess my mackintosh has made," he
smiled. "I know your methods, Watson!"

She laughed, but became serious again.

"I am very glad you've come back. We have a visitor," she said.

He raised his eyebrows.

"A visitor? Whoever came down on a day like this?"

She looked at him a little strangely.

"Mr. Kara," she said.

"Kara? How long has he been here?"

"He came at four."

There was nothing enthusiastic in her tone.

"I can't understand why you don't like old Kara," rallied her
husband.

"There are very many reasons," she replied, a little curtly for
her.

"Anyway," said John Lexman, after a moment's thought, "his arrival
is rather opportune. Where is he?"

"He is in the drawing-room."

The Priory drawing-room was a low-ceilinged, rambling apartment,
"all old print and chrysanthemums," to use Lexman's description.
Cosy armchairs, a grand piano, an almost medieval open grate,
faced with dull-green tiles, a well-worn but cheerful carpet and
two big silver candelabras were the principal features which
attracted the newcomer.

There was in this room a harmony, a quiet order and a soothing
quality which made it a haven of rest to a literary man with
jagged nerves. Two big bronze bowls were filled with early
violets, another blazed like a pale sun with primroses, and the
early woodland flowers filled the room with a faint fragrance.

A man rose to his feet, as John Lexman entered and crossed the
room with an easy carriage. He was a man possessed of singular
beauty of face and of figure. Half a head taller than the author,
he carried himself with such a grace as to conceal his height.

"I missed you in town," he said, "so I thought I'd run down on the
off chance of seeing you."

He spoke in the well-modulated tone of one who had had a long
acquaintance with the public schools and universities of England.
There was no trace of any foreign accent, yet Remington Kara was a
Greek and had been born and partly educated in the more turbulent
area of Albania.

The two men shook hands warmly.

"You'll stay to dinner?"

Kara glanced round with a smile at Grace Lexman. She sat
uncomfortably upright, her hands loosely folded on her lap, her
face devoid of encouragement.

"If Mrs. Lexman doesn't object," said the Greek.

"I should be pleased, if you would," she said, almost
mechanically; "it is a horrid night and you won't get anything
worth eating this side of London and I doubt very much," she
smiled a little, "if the meal I can give you will be worthy of
that description."

"What you can give me will be more than sufficient," he said, with
a little bow, and turned to her husband.

In a few minutes they were deep in a discussion of books and
places, and Grace seized the opportunity to make her escape. From
books in general to Lexman's books in particular the conversation
flowed.

"I've read every one of them, you know," said Kara.

John made a little face. "Poor devil," he said sardonically.

"On the contrary," said Kara, "I am not to be pitied. There is a
great criminal lost in you, Lexman."

"Thank you," said John.

"I am not being uncomplimentary, am I?" smiled the Greek. "I am
merely referring to the ingenuity of your plots. Sometimes your
books baffle and annoy me. If I cannot see the solution of your
mysteries before the book is half through, it angers me a little.
Of course in the majority of cases I know the solution before I
have reached the fifth chapter."

John looked at him in surprise and was somewhat piqued.

"I flatter myself it is impossible to tell how my stories will end
until the last chapter," he said.

Kara nodded.

"That would be so in the case of the average reader, but you
forget that I am a student. I follow every little thread of the
clue which you leave exposed."

"You should meet T. X.," said John, with a laugh, as he rose from
his chair to poke the fire.

"T. X.?"

"T. X. Meredith. He is the most ingenious beggar you could meet.
We were at Caius together, and he is by way of being a great pal
of mine. He is in the Criminal Investigation Department."

Kara nodded. There was the light of interest in his eyes and he
would have pursued the discussion further, but at the moment
dinner was announced.

It was not a particularly cheerful meal because Grace did not as
usual join in the conversation, and it was left to Kara and to her
husband to supply the deficiencies. She was experiencing a
curious sense of depression, a premonition of evil which she could
not define. Again and again in the course of the dinner she took
her mind back to the events of the day to discover the reason for
her unease.

Usually when she adopted this method she came upon the trivial
causes in which apprehension was born, but now she was puzzled to
find that a solution was denied her. Her letters of the morning
had been pleasant, neither the house nor the servants had given
her any trouble. She was well herself, and though she knew John
had a little money trouble, since his unfortunate speculation in
Roumanian gold shares, and she half suspected that he had had to
borrow money to make good his losses, yet his prospects were so
excellent and the success of his last book so promising that she,
probably seeing with a clearer vision the unimportance of those
money worries, was less concerned about the problem than he.

"You will have your coffee in the study, I suppose," said Grace,
"and I know you'll excuse me; I have to see Mrs. Chandler on the
mundane subject of laundry."

She favoured Kara with a little nod as she left the room and
touched John's shoulder lightly with her hand in passing.

Kara's eyes followed her graceful figure until she was out of
view, then:

"I want to see you, Kara," said John Lexman, "if you will give me
five minutes."

"You can have five hours, if you like," said the other, easily.

They went into the study together; the maid brought the coffee and
liqueur, and placed them on a little table near the fire and
disappeared.

For a time the conversation was general. Kara, who was a frank
admirer of the comfort of the room and who lamented his own
inability to secure with money the cosiness which John had
obtained at little cost, went on a foraging expedition whilst his
host applied himself to a proof which needed correcting.

"I suppose it is impossible for you to have electric light here,"
Kara asked.

"Quite," replied the other.

"Why?"

"I rather like the light of this lamp."

"It isn't the lamp," drawled the Greek and made a little grimace;
"I hate these candles."

He waved his hand to the mantle-shelf where the six tall, white,
waxen candles stood out from two wall sconces.

"Why on earth do you hate candles?" asked the other in surprise.

Kara made no reply for the moment, but shrugged his shoulders.
Presently he spoke.

"If you were ever tied down to a chair and by the side of that
chair was a small keg of black powder and stuck in that powder was
a small candle that burnt lower and lower every minute--my God!"

John was amazed to see the perspiration stand upon the forehead of
his guest.

"That sounds thrilling," he said.

The Greek wiped his forehead with a silk handkerchief and his hand
shook a little.

"It was something more than thrilling," he said.

"And when did this occur?" asked the author curiously.

"In Albania," replied the other; "it was many years ago, but the
devils are always sending me reminders of the fact."

He did not attempt to explain who the devils were or under what
circumstances he was brought to this unhappy pass, but changed the
subject definitely.

Sauntering round the cosy room he followed the bookshelf which
filled one wall and stopped now and again to examine some title.
Presently he drew forth a stout volume.

"'Wild Brazil'," he read, "by George Gathercole--do you know
Gathercole?"

John was filling his pipe from a big blue jar on his desk and
nodded.

"Met him once--a taciturn devil. Very short of speech and, like
all men who have seen and done things, less inclined to talk about
himself than any man I know."

Kara looked at the book with a thoughtful pucker of brow and
turned the leaves idly.

"I've never seen him," he said as he replaced the book, "yet, in a
sense, his new journey is on my behalf."

The other man looked up.

"On your behalf?"

"Yes--you know he has gone to Patagonia for me. He believes
there is gold there--you will learn as much from his book on the
mountain systems of South America. I was interested in his
theories and corresponded with him. As a result of that
correspondence he undertook to make a geological survey for me. I
sent him money for his expenses, and he went off."

"You never saw him?" asked John Lexman, surprised.

Kara shook his head.

"That was not--?" began his host.

"Not like me, you were going to say. Frankly, it was not, but
then I realized that he was an unusual kind of man. I invited him
to dine with me before he left London, and in reply received a
wire from Southampton intimating that he was already on his way."

Lexman nodded.

"It must be an awfully interesting kind of life," he said. "I
suppose he will be away for quite a long time?"

"Three years," said Kara, continuing his examination of the
bookshelf.

"I envy those fellows who run round the world writing books," said
John, puffing reflectively at his pipe. "They have all the best
of it."

Kara turned. He stood immediately behind the author and the other
could not see his face. There was, however, in his voice an
unusual earnestness and an unusual quiet vehemence.

"What have you to complain about!" he asked, with that little
drawl of his. "You have your own creative work--the most
fascinating branch of labour that comes to a man. He, poor
beggar, is bound to actualities. You have the full range of all
the worlds which your imagination gives to you. You can create
men and destroy them, call into existence fascinating problems,
mystify and baffle ten or twenty thousand people, and then, at a
word, elucidate your mystery."

John laughed.

"There is something in that," he said.

"As for the rest of your life," Kara went on in a lower voice, "I
think you have that which makes life worth living--an
incomparable wife."

Lexman swung round in his chair, and met the other's gaze, and
there was something in the set of the other's handsome face which
took his breath away.

"I do not see--" he began.

Kara smiled.

"That was an impertinence, wasn't it!" he said, banteringly. "But
then you mustn't forget, my dear man, that I was very anxious to
marry your wife. I don't suppose it is secret. And when I lost
her, I had ideas about you which are not pleasant to recall."

He had recovered his self-possession and had continued his aimless
stroll about the room.

"You must remember I am a Greek, and the modern Greek is no
philosopher. You must remember, too, that I am a petted child of
fortune, and have had everything I wanted since I was a baby."

"You are a fortunate devil," said the other, turning back to his
desk, and taking up his pen.

For a moment Kara did not speak, then he made as though he would
say something, checked himself, and laughed.

"I wonder if I am," he said.

And now he spoke with a sudden energy.

"What is this trouble you are having with Vassalaro?"

John rose from his chair and walked over to the fire, stood gazing
down into its depths, his legs wide apart, his hands clasped
behind him, and Kara took his attitude to supply an answer to the
question.

"I warned you against Vassalaro," he said, stooping by the other's
side to light his cigar with a spill of paper. "My dear Lexman,
my fellow countrymen are unpleasant people to deal with in certain
moods."

"He was so obliging at first," said Lexman, half to himself.

"And now he is so disobliging," drawled Kara. "That is a way
which moneylenders have, my dear man; you were very foolish to go
to him at all. I could have lent you the money."

"There were reasons why I should not borrow money from you,", said
John, quietly, "and I think you yourself have supplied the
principal reason when you told me just now, what I already knew,
that you wanted to marry Grace."

"How much is the amount?" asked Kara, examining his well-manicured
finger-nails.

"Two thousand five hundred pounds," replied John, with a short
laugh, "and I haven't two thousand five hundred shillings at this
moment."

"Will he wait?"

John Lexman shrugged his shoulders.

"Look here, Kara," he said, suddenly, "don't think I want to
reproach you, but it was through you that I met Vassalaro so that
you know the kind of man he is."

Kara nodded.

"Well, I can tell you he has been very unpleasant indeed," said
John, with a frown, "I had an interview with him yesterday in
London and it is clear that he is going to make a lot of trouble.
I depended upon the success of my play in town giving me enough to
pay him off, and I very foolishly made a lot of promises of
repayment which I have been unable to keep."

"I see," said Kara, and then, "does Mrs. Lexman know about this
matter?"

"A little," said the other.

He paced restlessly up and down the room, his hands behind him and
his chin upon his chest.

"Naturally I have not told her the worst, or how beastly
unpleasant the man has been."

He stopped and turned.

"Do you know he threatened to kill me?" he asked.

Kara smiled.

"I can tell you it was no laughing matter," said the other,
angrily, "I nearly took the little whippersnapper by the scruff of
the neck and kicked him."

Kara dropped his hand on the other's arm.

"I am not laughing at you," he said; "I am laughing at the thought
of Vassalaro threatening to kill anybody. He is the biggest
coward in the world. What on earth induced him to take this
drastic step?"

"He said he is being hard pushed for money," said the other,
moodily, "and it is possibly true. He was beside himself with
anger and anxiety, otherwise I might have given the little
blackguard the thrashing he deserved."

Kara who had continued his stroll came down the room and halted in
front of the fireplace looking at the young author with a paternal
smile.

"You don't understand Vassalaro," he said; "I repeat he is the
greatest coward in the world. You will probably discover he is
full of firearms and threats of slaughter, but you have only to
click a revolver to see him collapse. Have you a revolver, by the
way?"

"Oh, nonsense," said the other, roughly, "I cannot engage myself
in that kind of melodrama."

"It is not nonsense," insisted the other, "when you are in Rome,
et cetera, and when you have to deal with a low-class Greek you
must use methods which will at least impress him. If you thrash
him, he will never forgive you and will probably stick a knife
into you or your wife. If you meet his melodrama with melodrama
and at the psychological moment produce your revolver; you will
secure the effect you require. Have you a revolver?"

John went to his desk and, pulling open a drawer, took out a small
Browning.

"That is the extent of my armory," he said, "it has never been
fired and was sent to me by an unknown admirer last Christmas."

"A curious Christmas present," said the other, examining the
weapon.

"I suppose the mistaken donor imagined from my books that I lived
in a veritable museum of revolvers, sword sticks and noxious
drugs," said Lexman, recovering some of his good humour; "it was
accompanied by a card."

"Do you know how it works?" asked the other.

"I have never troubled very much about it," replied Lexman, "I
know that it is loaded by slipping back the cover, but as my
admirer did not send ammunition, I never even practised with it."

There was a knock at the door.

"That is the post," explained John.

The maid had one letter on the salver and the author took it up
with a frown.

"From Vassalaro," he said, when the girl had left the room.

The Greek took the letter in his hand and examined it.

"He writes a vile fist," was his only comment as he handed it back
to John.

He slit open the thin, buff envelope and took out half a dozen
sheets of yellow paper, only a single sheet of which was written
upon. The letter was brief:

 "I must see you to-night without fail," ran the scrawl; "meet me
  at the crossroads between Beston Tracey and the Eastbourne
Road. I shall be there at eleven o'clock, and, if you want to
preserve your life, you had better bring me a substantial
instalment."

It was signed "Vassalaro."

John read the letter aloud. "He must be mad to write a letter
like that," he said; "I'll meet the little devil and teach him
such a lesson in politeness as he is never likely to forget."

He handed the letter to the other and Kara read it in silence.

"Better take your revolver," he said as he handed it back.

John Lexman looked at his watch.

"I have an hour yet, but it will take me the best part of twenty
minutes to reach the Eastbourne Road."

"Will you see him?" asked Kara, in a tone of surprise.

"Certainly," Lexman replied emphatically: "I cannot have him
coming up to the house and making a scene and that is certainly
what the little beast will do."

"Will you pay him?" asked Kara softly.

John made no answer. There was probably 10 pounds in the house
and a cheque which was due on the morrow would bring him another
30 pounds. He looked at the letter again. It was written on
paper of an unusual texture. The surface was rough almost like
blotting paper and in some places the ink absorbed by the porous
surface had run. The blank sheets had evidently been inserted by
a man in so violent a hurry that he had not noticed the
extravagance.

"I shall keep this letter," said John.

"I think you are well advised. Vassalaro probably does not know
that he transgresses a law in writing threatening letters and that
should be a very strong weapon in your hand in certain
eventualities."

There was a tiny safe in one corner of the study and this John
opened with a key which he took from his pocket. He pulled open
one of the steel drawers, took out the papers which were in it and
put in their place the letter, pushed the drawer to, and locked
it.

All the time Kara was watching him intently as one who found more
than an ordinary amount of interest in the novelty of the
procedure.

He took his leave soon afterwards.

"I would like to come with you to your interesting meeting," he
said, "but unfortunately I have business elsewhere. Let me enjoin
you to take your revolver and at the first sign of any
bloodthirsty intention on the part of my admirable compatriot,
produce it and click it once or twice, you won't have to do more."

Grace rose from the piano as Kara entered the little drawing-room
and murmured a few conventional expressions of regret that the
visitor's stay had been so short. That there was no sincerity in
that regret Kara, for one, had no doubt. He was a man singularly
free from illusions.

They stayed talking a little while.

"I will see if your chauffeur is asleep," said John, and went out
of the room.

There was a little silence after he had gone.

"I don't think you are very glad to see me," said Kara. His
frankness was a little embarrassing to the girl and she flushed
slightly.

"I am always glad to see you, Mr. Kara, or any other of my
husband's friends," she said steadily.

He inclined his head.

"To be a friend of your husband is something," he said, and then
as if remembering something, "I wanted to take a book away with me
- I wonder if your husband would mind my getting it?"

"I will find it for you."

"Don't let me bother you," he protested, "I know my way."

Without waiting for her permission he left the girl with the
unpleasant feeling that he was taking rather much for granted. He
was gone less than a minute and returned with a book under his
arm.

"I have not asked Lexman's permission to take it," he said, "but I
am rather interested in the author. Oh, here you are," he turned
to John who came in at that moment. "Might I take this book on
Mexico?" he asked. "I will return it in the morning."

They stood at the door, watching the tail light of the motor
disappear down the drive; and returned in silence to the drawing
room.

"You look worried, dear," she said, laying her hand on his
shoulder.

He smiled faintly.

"Is it the money?" she asked anxiously.

For a moment he was tempted to tell her of the letter. He stifled
the temptation realizing that she would not consent to his going
out if she knew the truth.

"It is nothing very much," he said. "I have to go down to Beston
Tracey to meet the last train. I am expecting some proofs down."

He hated lying to her, and even an innocuous lie of this character
was repugnant to him.

"I'm afraid you have had a dull evening," he said, "Kara was not
very amusing."

She looked at him thoughtfully.

"He has not changed very much," she said slowly.

"He's a wonderfully handsome chap, isn't he?" he asked in a tone
of admiration. "I can't understand what you ever saw in a fellow
like me, when you had a man who was not only rich, but possibly
the best-looking man in the world."

She shivered a little.

"I have seen a side of Mr. Kara that is not particularly
beautiful," she said. "Oh, John, I am afraid of that man!"

He looked at her in astonishment.

"Afraid?" he asked. "Good heavens, Grace, what a thing to say!
Why I believe he'd do anything for you."

"That is exactly what I am afraid of," she said in a low voice.

She had a reason which she did not reveal. She had first met
Remington Kara in Salonika two years before. She had been doing a
tour through the Balkans with her father--it was the last tour
the famous archeologist made--and had met the man who was fated
to have such an influence upon her life at a dinner given by the
American Consul.

Many were the stories which were told about this Greek with his
Jove-like face, his handsome carriage and his limitless wealth.
It was said that his mother was an American lady who had been
captured by Albanian brigands and was sold to one of the Albanian
chiefs who fell in love with her, and for her sake became a
Protestant. He had been educated at Yale and at Oxford, and was
known to be the possessor of vast wealth, and was virtually king
of a hill district forty miles out of Durazzo. Here he reigned
supreme, occupying a beautiful house which he had built by an
Italian architect, and the fittings and appointments of which had
been imported from the luxurious centres of the world.

In Albania they called him "Kara Rumo," which meant "The Black
Roman," for no particular reason so far as any one could judge,
for his skin was as fair as a Saxon's, and his close-cropped curls
were almost golden.

He had fallen in love with Grace Terrell. At first his attentions
had amused her, and then there came a time when they frightened
her, for the man's fire and passion had been unmistakable. She
had made it plain to him that he could base no hopes upon her
returning his love, and, in a scene which she even now shuddered
to recall, he had revealed something of his wild and reckless
nature. On the following day she did not see him, but two days
later, when returning through the Bazaar from a dance which had
been given by the Governor General, her carriage was stopped, she
was forcibly dragged from its interior, and her cries were stifled
with a cloth impregnated with a scent of a peculiar aromatic
sweetness. Her assailants were about to thrust her into another
carriage, when a party of British bluejackets who had been on
leave came upon the scene, and, without knowing anything of the
nationality of the girl, had rescued her.

In her heart of hearts she did not doubt Kara's complicity in this
medieval attempt to gain a wife, but of this adventure she had
told her husband nothing. Until her marriage she was constantly
receiving valuable presents which she as constantly returned to
the only address she knew--Kara's estate at Lemazo. A few months
after her marriage she had learned through the newspapers that
this "leader of Greek society" had purchased a big house near
Cadogan Square, and then, to her amazement and to her dismay, Kara
had scraped an acquaintance with her husband even before the
honeymoon was over.

His visits had been happily few, but the growing intimacy between
John and this strange undisciplined man had been a source of
constant distress to her.

Should she, at this, the eleventh hour, tell her husband all her
fears and her suspicions?

She debated the point for some time. And never was she nearer
taking him into her complete confidence than she was as he sat in
the big armchair by the side of the piano, a little drawn of face,
more than a little absorbed in his own meditations. Had he been
less worried she might have spoken. As it was, she turned the
conversation to his last work, the big mystery story which, if it
would not make his fortune, would mean a considerable increase to
his income.

At a quarter to eleven he looked at his watch, and rose. She
helped him on with his coat. He stood for some time irresolutely.

"Is there anything you have forgotten?" she asked.

He asked himself whether he should follow Kara's advice. In any
circumstance it was not a pleasant thing to meet a ferocious
little man who had threatened his life, and to meet him unarmed
was tempting Providence. The whole thing was of course
ridiculous, but it was ridiculous that he should have borrowed,
and it was ridiculous that the borrowing should have been
necessary, and yet he had speculated on the best of advice--it
was Kara's advice.

The connection suddenly occurred to him, and yet Kara had not
directly suggested that he should buy Roumanian gold shares, but
had merely spoken glowingly of their prospects. He thought a
moment, and then walked back slowly into the study, pulled open
the drawer of his desk, took out the sinister little Browning, and
slipped it into his pocket.

"I shan't be long, dear," he said, and kissing the girl he strode
out into the darkness.


Kara sat back in the luxurious depths of his car, humming a little
tune, as the driver picked his way cautiously over the uncertain
road. The rain was still falling, and Kara had to rub the windows
free of the mist which had gathered on them to discover where he
was. From time to time he looked out as though he expected to see
somebody, and then with a little smile he remembered that he had
changed his original plan, and that he had fixed the waiting room
of Lewes junction as his rendezvous.

Here it was that he found a little man muffled up to the ears in a
big top coat, standing before the dying fire. He started as Kara
entered and at a signal followed him from the room.

The stranger was obviously not English. His face was sallow and
peaked, his cheeks were hollow, and the beard he wore was
irregular-almost unkempt.

Kara led the way to the end of the dark platform, before he spoke.

"You have carried out my instructions?" he asked brusquely.

The language he spoke was Arabic, and the other answered him in
that language.

"Everything that you have ordered has been done, Effendi," he said
humbly.

"You have a revolver?"

The man nodded and patted his pocket.

"Loaded?"

"Excellency," asked the other, in surprise, "what is the use of a
revolver, if it is not loaded?"

"You understand, you are not to shoot this man," said Kara. "You
are merely to present the pistol. To make sure, you had better
unload it now."

Wonderingly the man obeyed, and clicked back the ejector.

"I will take the cartridges," said Kara, holding out his hand.

He slipped the little cylinders into his pocket, and after
examining the weapon returned it to its owner.

"You will threaten him," he went on. "Present the revolver
straight at his heart. You need do nothing else."

The man shuffled uneasily.

"I will do as you say, Effendi," he said. "But--"

"There are no 'buts,' " replied the other harshly. "You are to
carry out my instructions without any question. What will happen
then you shall see. I shall be at hand. That I have a reason for
this play be assured."

"But suppose he shoots?" persisted the other uneasily.

"He will not shoot," said Kara easily. "Besides, his revolver is
not loaded. Now you may go. You have a long walk before you.
You know the way?"

The man nodded.

"I have been over it before," he said confidently.

Kara returned to the big limousine which had drawn up some
distance from the station. He spoke a word or two to the
chauffeur in Greek, and the man touched his hat.




CHAPTER II


Assistant Commissioner of Police T. X. Meredith did not occupy
offices in New Scotland Yard. It is the peculiarity of public
offices that they are planned with the idea of supplying the
margin of space above all requirements and that on their
completion they are found wholly inadequate to house the various
departments which mysteriously come into progress coincident with
the building operations.

"T. X.," as he was known by the police forces of the world, had a
big suite of offices in Whitehall. The house was an old one
facing the Board of Trade and the inscription on the ancient door
told passers-by that this was the "Public Prosecutor, Special
Branch."

The duties of T. X. were multifarious. People said of him--and
like most public gossip, this was probably untrue--that he was
the head of the "illegal" department of Scotland Yard. If by
chance you lost the keys of your safe, T. X. could supply you (so
popular rumour ran) with a burglar who would open that safe in
half an hour.

If there dwelt in England a notorious individual against whom the
police could collect no scintilla of evidence to justify a
prosecution, and if it was necessary for the good of the community
that that person should be deported, it was T. X. who arrested the
obnoxious person, hustled him into a cab and did not loose his
hold upon his victim until he had landed him on the indignant
shores of an otherwise friendly power.

It is very certain that when the minister of a tiny power which
shall be nameless was suddenly recalled by his government and
brought to trial in his native land for putting into circulation
spurious bonds, it was somebody from the department which T. X.
controlled, who burgled His Excellency's house, burnt the locks
from his safe and secured the necessary incriminating evidence.

I say it is fairly certain and here I am merely voicing the
opinion of very knowledgeable people indeed, heads of public
departments who speak behind their hands, mysterious
under-secretaries of state who discuss things in whispers in the
remote corners of their clubrooms and the more frank views of
American correspondents who had no hesitation in putting those
views into print for the benefit of their readers.

That T. X. had a more legitimate occupation we know, for it was
that flippant man whose outrageous comment on the Home Office
Administration is popularly supposed to have sent one Home
Secretary to his grave, who traced the Deptford murderers through
a labyrinth of perjury and who brought to book Sir Julius Waglite
though he had covered his trail of defalcation through the balance
sheets of thirty-four companies.

On the night of March 3rd, T. X. sat in his inner office
interviewing a disconsolate inspector of metropolitan police,
named Mansus.

In appearance T. X. conveyed the impression of extreme youth, for
his face was almost boyish and it was only when you looked at him
closely and saw the little creases about his eyes, the setting of
his straight mouth, that you guessed he was on the way to forty.
In his early days he had been something of a poet, and had written
a slight volume of "Woodland Lyrics," the mention of which at this
later stage was sufficient to make him feel violently unhappy.

In manner he was tactful but persistent, his language was at times
marked by a violent extravagance and he had had the distinction of
having provoked, by certain correspondence which had seen the
light, the comment of a former Home Secretary that "it was
unfortunate that Mr. Meredith did not take his position with the
seriousness which was expected from a public official."

His language was, as I say, under great provocation, violent and
unusual. He had a trick of using words which never were on land
or sea, and illustrating his instruction or his admonition with
the quaintest phraseology.

Now he was tilted back in his office chair at an alarming angle,
scowling at his distressed subordinate who sat on the edge of a
chair at the other side of his desk.

"But, T. X.," protested the Inspector, "there was nothing to be
found."

It was the outrageous practice of Mr. Meredith to insist upon his
associates calling him by his initials, a practice which had earnt
disapproval in the highest quarters.

"Nothing is to be found!" he repeated wrathfully. "Curious Mike!"

He sat up with a suddenness which caused the police officer to
start back in alarm.

"Listen," said T. X., grasping an ivory paperknife savagely in his
hand and tapping his blotting-pad to emphasize his words, "you're
a pie!"

"I'm a policeman," said the other patiently.

"A policeman!" exclaimed the exasperated T. X. "You're worse than
a pie, you're a slud! I'm afraid I shall never make a detective
of you," he shook his head sorrowfully at the smiling Mansus who
had been in the police force when T. X. was a small boy at school,
"you are neither Wise nor Wily; you combine the innocence of a
Baby with the grubbiness of a County Parson--you ought to be in
the choir."

At this outrageous insult Mr. Mansus was silent; what he might
have said, or what further provocation he might have received may
be never known, for at that moment, the Chief himself walked in.

The Chief of the Police in these days was a grey man, rather
tired, with a hawk nose and deep eyes that glared under shaggy
eyebrows and he was a terror to all men of his department save to
T. X. who respected nothing on earth and very little elsewhere.
He nodded curtly to Mansus.

"Well, T. X.," he said, "what have you discovered about our friend
Kara?"

He turned from T. X. to the discomforted inspector.

"Very little," said T. X. "I've had Mansus on the job."

"And you've found nothing, eh?" growled the Chief.

"He has found all that it is possible to find," said T. X. "We do
not perform miracles in this department, Sir George, nor can we
pick up the threads of a case at five minutes' notice."

Sir George Haley grunted.

"Mansus has done his best," the other went on easily, "but it is
rather absurd to talk about one's best when you know so little of
what you want."

Sir George dropped heavily into the arm-chair, and stretched out
his long thin legs.

"What I want," he said, looking up at the ceiling and putting his
hands together, "is to discover something about one Remington
Kara, a wealthy Greek who has taken a house in Cadogan Square, who
has no particular position in London society and therefore has no
reason for coming here, who openly expresses his detestation of
the climate, who has a magnificent estate in some wild place in
the Balkans, who is an excellent horseman, a magnificent shot and
a passable aviator."

T. X. nodded to Mansus and with something of gratitude in his eyes
the inspector took his leave.

"Now Mansus has departed," said T. X., sitting himself on the edge
of his desk and selecting with great care a cigarette from the
case he took from his pocket, "let me know something of the reason
for this sudden interest in the great ones of the earth."

Sir George smiled grimly.

"I have the interest which is the interest of my department," he
said. "That is to say I want to know a great deal about abnormal
people. We have had an application from him," he went on, "which
is rather unusual. Apparently he is in fear of his life from some
cause or other and wants to know if he can have a private
telephone connection between his house and the central office. We
told him that he could always get the nearest Police Station on
the 'phone, but that doesn't satisfy him. He has made bad friends
with some gentleman of his own country who sooner or later, he
thinks, will cut his throat."

T. X. nodded.

"All this I know," he said patiently, "if you will further unfold
the secret dossier, Sir George, I am prepared to be thrilled."

"There is nothing thrilling about it," growled the older man,
rising, "but I remember the Macedonian shooting case in South
London and I don't want a repetition of that sort of thing. If
people want to have blood feuds, let them take them outside the
metropolitan area."

"By all means," said T. X., "let them. Personally, I don't care
where they go. But if that is the extent of your information I
can supplement it. He has had extensive alterations made to the
house he bought in Cadogan Square; the room in which he lives is
practically a safe."

Sir George raised his eyebrows.

"A safe," he repeated.

T. X. nodded.

"A safe," he said; "its walls are burglar proof, floor and roof
are reinforced concrete, there is one door which in addition to
its ordinary lock is closed by a sort of steel latch which he lets
fall when he retires for the night and which he opens himself
personally in the morning. The window is unreachable, there are
no communicating doors, and altogether the room is planned to
stand a siege."

The Chief Commissioner was interested.

"Any more?" he asked.

"Let me think," said T. X., looking up at the ceiling. "Yes, the
interior of his room is plainly furnished, there is a big
fireplace, rather an ornate bed, a steel safe built into the wall
and visible from its outer side to the policeman whose beat is in
that neighborhood."

"How do you know all this?" asked the Chief Commissioner.

"Because I've been in the room," said T. X. simply, "having by an
underhand trick succeeded in gaining the misplaced confidence of
Kara's housekeeper, who by the way"--he turned round to his desk
and scribbled a name on the blotting-pad--"will be discharged
to-morrow and must be found a place."

"Is there any -er -?" began the Chief.

"Funny business?" interrupted T. X., "not a bit. House and man
are quite normal save for these eccentricities. He has announced
his intention of spending three months of the year in England and
nine months abroad. He is very rich, has no relations, and has a
passion for power."

"Then he'll be hung," said the Chief, rising.

"I doubt it," said the other, "people with lots of money seldom
get hung. You only get hung for wanting money."

"Then you're in some danger, T. X.," smiled the Chief, "for
according to my account you're always more or less broke."

"A genial libel," said T. X., "but talking about people being
broke, I saw John Lexman to-day--you know him!"

The Chief Commissioner nodded.

"I've an idea he's rather hit for money. He was in that Roumanian
gold swindle, and by his general gloom, which only comes to a man
when he's in love (and he can't possibly be in love since he's
married) or when he's in debt, I fear that he is still feeling the
effect of that rosy adventure."

A telephone bell in the corner of the room rang sharply, and T. X.
picked up the receiver. He listened intently.

"A trunk call," he said over his shoulder to the departing
commissioner, "it may be something interesting."

A little pause; then a hoarse voice spoke to him. "Is that you,
T. X.?"

"That's me," said the Assistant Commissioner, commonly.

"It's John Lexman speaking."

"I shouldn't have recognized your voice," said T. X., "what is
wrong with you, John, can't you get your plot to went?"

"I want you to come down here at once," said the voice urgently,
and even over the telephone T. X. recognized the distress. "I
have shot a man, killed him!"

T. X. gasped.

"Good Lord," he said, "you are a silly ass!"




CHAPTER III


In the early hours of the morning a tragic little party was
assembled in the study at Beston Priory. John Lexman, white and
haggard, sat on the sofa with his wife by his side. Immediate
authority as represented by a village constable was on duty in the
passage outside, whilst T. X. sitting at the table with a writing
pad and a pencil was briefly noting the evidence.

The author had sketched the events of the day. He had described
his interview with the money-lender the day before and the arrival
of the letter.

"You have the letter!" asked T. X.

John Lexman nodded.

"I am glad of that," said the other with a sigh of relief, "that
will save you from a great deal of unpleasantness, my poor old
chap. Tell me what happened afterward."

"I reached the village," said John Lexman, "and passed through it.
There was nobody about, the rain was still falling very heavily
and indeed I didn't meet a single soul all the evening. I reached
the place appointed about five minutes before time. It was the
corner of Eastbourne Road on the station side and there I found
Vassalaro waiting. I was rather ashamed of myself at meeting him
at all under these conditions, but I was very keen on his not
coming to the house for I was afraid it would upset Grace. What
made it all the more ridiculous was this infernal pistol which was
in my pocket banging against my side with every step I took as
though to nudge me to an understanding of my folly."

"Where did you meet Vassalaro?" asked T. X.

"He was on the other side of the Eastbourne Road and crossed the
road to meet me. At first he was very pleasant though a little
agitated but afterward he began to behave in a most extraordinary
manner as though he was lashing himself up into a fury which he
didn't feel. I promised him a substantial amount on account, but
he grew worse and worse and then, suddenly, before I realised what
he was doing, he was brandishing a revolver in my face and
uttering the most extraordinary threats. Then it was I remembered
Kara's warning."

"Kara," said T. X. quickly.

"A man I know and who was responsible for introducing me to
Vassalaro. He is immensely wealthy."

"I see," said T. X., "go on."

"I remembered this warning," the other proceeded, "and I thought
it worth while trying it out to see if it had any effect upon the
little man. I pulled the pistol from my pocket and pointed it at
him, but that only seemed to make it--and then I pressed the
trigger . . . .

"To my horror four shots exploded before I could recover
sufficient self-possession to loosen my hold of the butt. He fell
without a word. I dropped the revolver and knelt by his side. I
could tell he was dangerously wounded, and indeed I knew at that
moment that nothing would save him. My pistol had been pointed in
the region of his heart . . . . "

He shuddered, dropping his face in his hands, and the girl by his
side, encircling his shoulder with a protecting arm, murmured
something in his ear. Presently he recovered.

"He wasn't quite dead. I heard him murmur something but I wasn't
able to distinguish what he said. I went straight to the village
and told the constable and had the body removed."

T. X. rose from the table and walked to the door and opened it.

"Come in, constable," he said, and when the man made his
appearance, "I suppose you were very careful in removing this
body, and you took everything which was lying about in the
immediate ate vicinity'?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man, "I took his hat and his walkingstick,
if that's what you mean."

"And the revolver!" asked T. X.

The man shook his head.

"There warn't any revolver, sir, except the pistol which Mr.
Lexman had."

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled it out gingerly, and T. X.
took it from him.

"I'll look after your prisoner; you go down to the village, get
any help you can and make a most careful search in the place where
this man was killed and bring me the revolver which you will
discover. You'll probably find it in a ditch by the side of the
road. I'll give a sovereign to the man who finds it."

The constable touched his hat and went out.

"It looks rather a weird case to me," said T. X., as he came back
to the table, "can't you see the unusual features yourself,
Lexman! It isn't unusual for you to owe money and it isn't
unusual for the usurer to demand the return of that money, but in
this case he is asking for it before it was due, and further than
that he was demanding it with threats. It is not the practice of
the average money lender to go after his clients with a loaded
revolver. Another peculiar thing is that if he wished to
blackmail you, that is to say, bring you into contempt in the eyes
of your friends, why did he choose to meet you in a dark and
unfrequented road, and not in your house where the moral pressure
would be greatest? Also, why did he write you a threatening
letter which would certainly bring him into the grip of the law
and would have saved you a great deal of unpleasantness if he had
decided upon taking action!"

He tapped his white teeth with the end of his pencil and then
suddenly,

"I think I'll see that letter," he said.

John Lexman rose from the sofa, crossed to the safe, unlocked it
and was unlocking the steel drawer in which he had placed the
incriminating document. His hand was on the key when T. X.
noticed the look of surprise on his face.

"What is it!" asked the detective suddenly.

"This drawer feels very hot," said John,--he looked round as
though to measure the distance between the safe and the fire.

T. X. laid his hand upon the front of the drawer. It was indeed
warm.

"Open it," said T. X., and Lexman turned the key and pulled the
drawer open.

As he did so, the whole contents burst up in a quick blaze of
flame. It died down immediately and left only a little coil of
smoke that flowed from the safe into the room.

"Don't touch anything inside," said T. X. quickly.

He lifted the drawer carefully and placed it under the light. In
the bottom was no more than a few crumpled white ashes and a
blister of paint where the flame had caught the side.

"I see," said T. X. slowly.

He saw something more than that handful of ashes, he saw the
deadly peril in which his friend was standing. Here was one half
of the evidence in Lexman's favour gone, irredeemably.

"The letter was written on a paper which was specially prepared by
a chemical process which disintegrated the moment the paper was
exposed to the air. Probably if you delayed putting the letter in
the drawer another five minutes, you would have seen it burn
before your eyes. As it was, it was smouldering before you had
turned the key of the box. The envelope!"

"Kara burnt it," said Lexman in a low voice, "I remember seeing
him take it up from the table and throw it in the fire."

T. X. nodded.

"There remains the other half of the evidence," he said grimly,
and when an hour later, the village constable returned to report
that in spite of his most careful search he had failed to discover
the dead man's revolver, his anticipations were realized.

The next morning John Lexman was lodged in Lewes gaol on a charge
of wilful murder.


A telegram brought Mansus from London to Beston Tracey, and T. X.
received him in the library.

"I sent for you, Mansus, because I suffer from the illusion that
you have more brains than most of the people in my department, and
that's not saying much."

"I am very grateful to you, sir, for putting me right with
Commissioner," began Mansus, but T. X. stopped him.

"It is the duty of every head of departments," he said oracularly,
"to shield the incompetence of his subordinates. It is only by
the adoption of some such method that the decencies of the public
life can be observed. Now get down to this." He gave a sketch of
the case from start to finish in as brief a space of time as
possible.

"The evidence against Mr. Lexman is very heavy," he said. "He
borrowed money from this man, and on the man's body were found
particulars of the very Promissory Note which Lexman signed. Why
he should have brought it with him, I cannot say. Anyhow I doubt
very much whether Mr. Lexman will get a jury to accept his
version. Our only chance is to find the Greek's revolver--I
don't think there's any very great chance, but if we are to be
successful we must make a search at once."

Before he went out he had an interview with Grace. The dark
shadows under her eyes told of a sleepless night. She was
unusually pale and surprisingly calm.

"I think there are one or two things I ought to tell you," she
said, as she led the way into the drawing room, closing the door
behind him.

"And they concern Mr. Kara, I think," said T. X.

She looked at him startled.

"How did you know that?"

"I know nothing."

He hesitated on the brink of a flippant claim of omniscience, but
realizing in time the agony she must be suffering he checked his
natural desire.

"I really know nothing," he continued, "but I guess a lot," and
that was as near to the truth as you might expect T. X. to reach
on the spur of the moment.

She began without preliminary.

"In the first place I must tell you that Mr. Kara once asked me to
marry him, and for reasons which I will give you, I am dreadfully
afraid of him."

She described without reserve the meeting at Salonika and Kara's
extravagant rage and told of the attempt which had been made upon
her.

"Does John know this?" asked T. X.

She shook her head sadly.

"I wish I had told him now," she said. "Oh, how I wish I had!"
She wrung her hands in an ecstasy of sorrow and remorse.

T. X. looked at her sympathetically. Then he asked,

"Did Mr. Kara ever discuss your husband's financial position with
you!"

"Never."

"How did John Lexman happen to meet Vassalaro!"

"I can tell you that," she answered, "the first time we met Mr.
Kara in England was when we were staying at Babbacombe on a summer
holiday--which was really a prolongation of our honeymoon. Mr.
Kara came to stay at the same hotel. I think Mr. Vassalaro must
have been there before; at any rate they knew one another and
after Kara's introduction to my husband the rest was easy.

"Can I do anything for John!" she asked piteously.

T. X. shook his head.

"So far as your story is concerned, I don't think you will
advantage him by telling it," he said. "There is nothing whatever
to connect Kara with this business and you would only give your
husband a great deal of pain. I'll do the best I can."

He held out his hand and she grasped it and somehow at that moment
there came to T. X. Meredith a new courage, a new faith and a
greater determination than ever to solve this troublesome mystery.

He found Mansus waiting for him in a car outside and in a few
minutes they were at the scene of the tragedy. A curious little
knot of spectators had gathered, looking with morbid interest at
the place where the body had been found. There was a local
policeman on duty and to him was deputed the ungracious task of
warning his fellow villagers to keep their distance. The ground
had already been searched very carefully. The two roads crossed
almost at right angles and at the corner of the cross thus formed,
the hedges were broken, admitting to a field which had evidently
been used as a pasture by an adjoining dairy farm. Some rough
attempt had been made to close the gap with barbed wire, but it
was possible to step over the drooping strands with little or no
difficulty. It was to this gap that T. X. devoted his principal
attention. All the fields had been carefully examined without
result, the four drains which were merely the connecting pipes
between ditches at the sides of the crossroads had been swept out
and only the broken hedge and its tangle of bushes behind offered
any prospect of the new search being rewarded.

"Hullo!" said Mansus, suddenly, and stooping down he picked up
something from the ground.

T. X. took it in his hand.

It was unmistakably a revolver cartridge. He marked the spot
where it had been found by jamming his walking stick into the
ground and continued his search, but without success.

"I am afraid we shall find nothing more here," said T. X., after
half an hour's further search. He stood with his chin in his
hand, a frown on his face.

"Mansus," he said, "suppose there were three people here, Lexman,
the money lender and a third witness. And suppose this third
person for some reason unknown was interested in what took place
between the two men and he wanted to watch unobserved. Isn't it
likely that if he, as I think, instigated the meeting, he would
have chosen this place because this particular hedge gave him a
chance of seeing without being seen?"

Mansus thought.

"He could have seen just as well from either of the other hedges,
with less chance of detection," he said, after a long pause.

T. X. grinned.

"You have the makings of a brain," he said admiringly. "I agree
with you. Always remember that, Mansus. That there was one
occasion in your life when T. X. Meredith and you thought alike."

Mansus smiled a little feebly.

"Of course from the point of view of the observer this was the
worst place possible, so whoever came here, if they did come here,
dropping revolver bullets about, must have chosen the spot because
it was get-at-able from another direction. Obviously he couldn't
come down the road and climb in without attracting the attention
of the Greek who was waiting for Mr. Lexman. We may suppose there
is a gate farther along the road, we may suppose that he entered
that gate, came along the field by the side of the hedge and that
somewhere between here and the gate, he threw away his cigar."

"His cigar!" said Mansus in surprise.

"His cigar," repeated T. X., "if he was alone, he would keep his
cigar alight until the very last moment."

"He might have thrown it into the road," said Mansus.

"Don't jibber," said T. X., and led the way along the hedge. From
where they stood they could see the gate which led on to the road
about a hundred yards further on. Within a dozen yards of that
gate, T. X. found what he had been searching for, a half-smoked
cigar. It was sodden with rain and he picked it up tenderly.

"A good cigar, if I am any judge," he said, "cut with a penknife,
and smoked through a holder."

They reached the gate and passed through.  Here they were on the
road again and this they followed until they reached another cross
road that to the left inclining southward to the new Eastbourne
Road and that to the westward looking back to the Lewes-Eastbourne
railway. The rain had obliterated much that T. X. was looking
for, but presently he found a faint indication of a car wheel.

"This is where she turned and backed," he said, and walked slowly
to the road on the left, "and this is where she stood. There is
the grease from her engine."

He stooped down and moved forward in the attitude of a Russian
dancer, "And here are the wax matches which the chauffeur struck,"
he counted, "one, two, three, four, five, six, allow three for
each cigarette on a boisterous night like last night, that makes
three cigarettes. Here is a cigarette end, Mansus, Gold Flake
brand," he said, as he examined it carefully, "and a Gold Flake
brand smokes for twelve minutes in normal weather, but about eight
minutes in gusty weather. A car was here for about twenty-four
minutes-- what do you think of that, Mansus?"

"A good bit of reasoning, T. X.," said the other calmly, "if it
happens to be the car you're looking for."

"I am looking for any old car," said T. X.

He found no other trace of car wheels though he carefully followed
up the little lane until it reached the main road. After that it
was hopeless to search because rain had fallen in the night and in
the early hours of the morning. He drove his assistant to the
railway station in time to catch the train at one o'clock to
London.

"You will go straight to Cadogan Square and arrest the chauffeur
of Mr. Kara," he said.

"Upon what charge!" asked Mansus hurriedly.

When it came to the step which T. X. thought fit to take in the
pursuance of his duty, Mansus was beyond surprise.

"You can charge him with anything you like," said T. X., with fine
carelessness, "probably something will occur to you on your way up
to town. As a matter of fact the chauffeur has been called
unexpectedly away to Greece and has probably left by this
morning's train for the Continent. If that is so, we can do
nothing, because the boat will have left Dover and will have
landed him at Boulogne, but if by any luck you get him, keep him
busy until I get back."

T. X. himself was a busy man that day, and it was not until night
was falling that he again turned to Beston Tracey to find a
telegram waiting for him. He opened it and read,

"Chauffeur's name, Goole. Formerly waiter English Club,
Constantinople. Left for east by early train this morning, his
mother being ill."

"His mother ill," said T. X. contemptuously, "how very feeble,--I
should have thought Kara could have gone one better than that."

He was in John Lexman's study as the door opened and the maid
announced, "Mr. Remington Kara."




CHAPTER IV


T. X. folded the telegram very carefully and slipped it into his
waistcoat pocket.

He favoured the newcomer with a little bow and taking upon himself
the honours of the establishment, pushed a chair to his visitor.

"I think you know my name," said Kara easily, "I am a friend of
poor Lexman's."

"So I am told," said T. X., "but don't let your friendship for
Lexman prevent your sitting down."

For a moment the Greek was nonplussed and then, with a little
smile and bow, he seated himself by the writing table.

"I am very distressed at this happening," he went on, "and I am
more distressed because I feel that as I introduced Lexman to this
unfortunate man, I am in a sense responsible."

"If I were you," said T. X., leaning back in the chair and looking
half questioningly and half earnestly into the face of the other,
"I shouldn't let that fact keep me awake at night. Most people
are murdered as a result of an introduction. The cases where
people murder total strangers are singularly rare. That I think
is due to the insularity of our national character."

Again the other was taken back and puzzled by the flippancy of the
man from whom he had expected at least the official manner.

"When did you see Mr. Vassalaro last?" asked T. X. pleasantly.

Kara raised his eyes as though considering.

"I think it must have been nearly a week ago."

"Think again," said T. X.

For a second the Greek started and again relaxed into a smile.

"I am afraid," he began.

"Don't worry about that," said T. X., "but let me ask you this
question. You were here last night when Mr. Lexman received a
letter. That he did receive a letter, there is considerable
evidence," he said as he saw the other hesitate, "because we have
the supporting statements of the servant and the postman."

"I was here," said the other, deliberately, "and I was present
when Mr. Lexman received a letter."

T. X. nodded.

"A letter written on some brownish paper and rather bulky," he
suggested.

Again there was that momentary hesitation.

"I would not swear to the color of the paper or as to the bulk of
the letter," he said.

"I should have thought you would," suggested T. X., "because you
see, you burnt the envelope, and I presumed you would have noticed
that."

"I have no recollection of burning any envelope," said the other
easily.

"At any rate," T. X. went on, "when Mr. Lexman read this letter
out to you . . ."

"To which letter are you referring?" asked the other, with a lift
of his eyebrows.

"Mr. Lexman received a threatening letter," repeated T. X.
patiently, "which he read out to you, and which was addressed to
him by Vassalaro.  This letter was handed to you and you also
read it. Mr. Lexman to your knowledge put the letter in his safe
- in a steel drawer."

The other shook his head, smiling gently.

"I am afraid you've made a great mistake," he said almost
apologetically, "though I have a recollection of his receiving a
letter, I did not read it, nor was it read to me."

The eyes of T. X. narrowed to the very slits and his voice became
metallic and hard.

"And if I put you into the box, will you swear, that you did not
see that letter, nor read it, nor have it read to you, and that
you have no knowledge whatever of such a letter having been
received by Mr. Lexman?"

"Most certainly," said the other coolly.

"Would you swear that you have not seen Vassalaro for a week?"

"Certainly," smiled the Greek.

"That you did not in fact see him last night," persisted T. X.,
"and interview him on the station platform at Lewes, that you did
not after leaving him continue on your way to London and then turn
your car and return to the neighbourhood of Beston Tracey?"

The Greek was white to the lips, but not a muscle of his face
moved.

"Will you also swear," continued T. X. inexorably, "that you did
not stand at the corner of what is known as Mitre's Lot and
re-enter a gate near to the side where your car was, and that you
did not watch the whole tragedy?"

"I'd swear to that," Kara's voice was strained and cracked.

"Would you also swear as to the hour of your arrival in London?"

"Somewhere in the region of ten or eleven," said the Greek.

T. X. smiled.

"Would you swear that you did not go through Guilford at half-past
twelve and pull up to replenish your petrol?"

The Greek had now recovered his self-possession and rose.

"You are a very clever man, Mr. Meredith--I think that is your
name?"

"That is my name," said T. X. calmly. "There has been, no need
for me to change it as often as you have found the necessity."

He saw the fire blazing in the other's eyes and knew that his shot
had gone home.

"I am afraid I must go," said Kara. "I came here intending to see
Mrs. Lexman, and I had no idea that I should meet a policeman."

"My dear Mr. Kara," said T. X., rising and lighting a cigarette,
"you will go through life enduring that unhappy experience."

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say. You will always be expecting to meet one
person, and meeting another, and unless you are very fortunate
indeed, that other will always be a policeman."

His eyes twinkled for he had recovered from the gust of anger
which had swept through him.

"There are two pieces of evidence I require to save Mr. Lexman
from very serious trouble," he said, "the first of these is the
letter which was burnt, as you know."

"Yes," said Kara.

T. X. leant across the desk.

"How did you know?" he snapped.

"Somebody told me, I don't know who it was."

"That's not true," replied T. X.; "nobody knows except myself and
Mrs. Lexman."

"But my dear good fellow," said Kara, pulling on his gloves, "you
have already asked me whether I didn't burn the letter."

"I said envelope," said T. X., with a little laugh.

"And you were going to say something about the other clue?"

"The other is the revolver," said T. X.

"Mr. Lexman's revolver!" drawled the Greek.

"That we have," said T. X. shortly. "What we want is the weapon
which the Greek had when he threatened Mr. Lexman."

"There, I'm afraid I cannot help you."

Kara walked to the door and T. X. followed.

"I think I will see Mrs. Lexman."

"I think not," said T. X.

The other turned with a sneer.

"Have you arrested her, too?" he asked.

"Pull yourself together!" said T. X. coarsely. He escorted Kara
to his waiting limousine.

"You have a new chauffeur to-night, I observe," he said.

Kara towering with rage stepped daintily into the car.

"If you are writing to the other you might give him my love," said
T. X., "and make most tender enquiries after his mother. I
particularly ask this."

Kara said nothing until the car was out of earshot then he lay
back on the down cushions and abandoned himself to a paroxysm of
rage and blasphemy.




CHAPTER V


Six months later T. X. Meredith was laboriously tracing an elusive
line which occurred on an ordnance map of Sussex when the Chief
Commissioner announced himself.

Sir George described T. X. as the most wholesome corrective a
public official could have, and never missed an opportunity of
meeting his subordinate (as he said) for this reason.

"What are you doing there?" he growled.

"The lesson this morning," said T. X. without looking up, "is
maps."

Sir George passed behind his assistant and looked over his
shoulder.

"That is a very old map you have got there," he said.

"1876. It shows the course of a number of interesting little
streams in this neighbourhood which have been lost sight of for
one reason or the other by the gentleman who made the survey at a
later period. I am perfectly sure that in one of these streams I
shall find what I am seeking."

"You haven't given up hope, then, in regard to Lexman?"

"I shall never give up hope," said T. X., "until I am dead, and
possibly not then."

"Let me see, what did he get--fifteen years!"

"Fifteen years," repeated T. X., "and a very fortunate man to
escape with his life."

Sir George walked to the window and stared out on to busy
Whitehall.

"I am told you are quite friendly with Kara again."

T. X. made a noise which might be taken to indicate his assent to
the statement.

"I suppose you know that gentleman has made a very heroic attempt
to get you fired," he said.

"I shouldn't wonder," said T. X. "I made as heroic an attempt to
get him hung, and one good turn deserves another. What did he do?
See ministers and people?"

"He did," said Sir George.

"He's a silly ass," responded T. X.

"I can understand all that"--the Chief Commissioner turned round -
"but what I cannot understand is your apology to him."

"There are so many things you don't understand, Sir George," said
T. X. tartly, "that I despair of ever cataloguing them."

"You are an insolent cub," growled his Chief. "Come to lunch."

"Where will you take me?" asked T. X. cautiously.

"To my club."

"I'm sorry," said the other, with elaborate politeness, "I have
lunched once at your club. Need I say more?"

He smiled, as he worked after his Chief had gone, at the
recollection of Kara's profound astonishment and the gratification
he strove so desperately to disguise.

Kara was a vain man, immensely conscious of his good looks,
conscious of his wealth. He had behaved most handsomely, for not
only had he accepted the apology, but he left nothing undone to
show his desire to create a good impression upon the man who had
so grossly insulted him.

T. X. had accepted an invitation to stay a weekend at Kara's
"little place in the country," and had found there assembled
everything that the heart could desire in the way of fellowship,
eminent politicians who might conceivably be of service to an
ambitious young Assistant Commissioner of Police, beautiful ladies
to interest and amuse him. Kara had even gone to the length of
engaging a theatrical company to play "Sweet Lavender," and for
this purpose the big ballroom at Hever Court had been transformed
into a theatre.

As he was undressing for bed that night T. X. remembered that he
had mentioned to Kara that "Sweet Lavender" was his favorite play,
and he realized that the entertainment was got up especially for
his benefit.

In a score of other ways Kara had endeavoured to consolidate the
friendship. He gave the young Commissioner advice about a railway
company which was operating in Asia Minor, and the shares of which
stood a little below par. T. X. thanked him for the advice, and
did not take it, nor did he feel any regret when the shares rose 3
pounds in as many weeks.

T. X. had superintended the disposal of Beston Priory. He had the
furniture removed to London, and had taken a flat for Grace
Lexman.

She had a small income of her own, and this, added to the large
royalties which came to her (as she was bitterly conscious) in
increasing volume as the result of the publicity of the trial,
placed her beyond fear of want.

"Fifteen years," murmured T. X., as he worked and whistled.

There had been no hope for John Lexman from the start. He was in
debt to the man he killed. His story of threatening letters was
not substantiated. The revolver which he said had been flourished
at him had never been found. Two people believed implicitly in
the story, and a sympathetic Home Secretary had assured T. X.
personally that if he could find the revolver and associate it
with the murder beyond any doubt, John Lexman would be pardoned.

Every stream in the neighbourhood had been dragged. In one case a
small river had been dammed, and the bed had been carefully dried
and sifted, but there was no trace of the weapon, and T. X. had
tried methods more effective and certainly less legal.

A mysterious electrician had called at 456 Cadogan Square in
Kara's absence, and he was armed with such indisputable authority
that he was permitted to penetrate to Kara's private room, in
order to examine certain fitments.

Kara returning next day thought no more of the matter when it was
reported to him, until going to his safe that night he discovered
that it had been opened and ransacked.

As it happened, most of Kara's valuable and confidential
possessions were at the bank. In a fret of panic and at
considerable cost he had the safe removed and another put in its
place of such potency that the makers offered to indemnify him
against any loss from burglary.

T. X. finished his work, washed his hands, and was drying them
when Mansus came bursting into the room. It was not usual for
Mansus to burst into anywhere. He was a slow, methodical,
painstaking man, with a deliberate and an official, manner.

"What's the matter?" asked T. X. quickly.

"We didn't search Vassalaro's lodgings," cried Mansus
breathlessly. "It just occurred to me as I was coming over
Westminster Bridge. I was on top of a bus--"

"Wake up!" said T. X. "You're amongst friends and cut all that
'bus' stuff out. Of course we searched Vassalaro's lodgings!"

"No, we didn't, sir," said the other triumphantly. "He lived in
Great James Street."

"He lived in the Adelphi," corrected T. X.

"There were two places where he lived," said Mansus.

"When did you learn this?" asked his Chief, dropping his
flippancy.

"This morning. I was on a bus coming across Westminster Bridge,
and there were two men in front of me, and I heard the word
'Vassalaro' and naturally I pricked up my ears."

"It was very unnatural, but proceed," said T. X.

"One of the men--a very respectable person--said, 'That chap
Vassalaro used to lodge in my place, and I've still got a lot of
his things. What do you think I ought to do?'"

"And you said," suggested the other.

"I nearly frightened his life out of him," said Mansus. "I said,
'I am a police officer and I want you to come along with me.'"

"And of course he shut up and would not say another word," said T.
X.

"That's true, sir," said Mansus, "but after awhile I got him to
talk. Vassalaro lived in Great James Street, 604, on the third
floor. In fact, some of his furniture is there still. He had a
good reason for keeping two addresses by all accounts."

T. X. nodded wisely.

"What was her name?" he asked.

"He had a wife," said the other, "but she left him about four
months before he was killed. He used the Adelphi address for
business purposes and apparently he slept two or three nights of
the week at Great James Street. I have told the man to leave
everything as it is, and that we will come round."

Ten minutes later the two officers were in the somewhat gloomy
apartments which Vassalaro had occupied.

The landlord explained that most of the furniture was his, but
that there were certain articles which were the property of the
deceased man. He added, somewhat unnecessarily, that the late
tenant owed him six months' rent.

The articles which had been the property of Vassalaro included a
tin trunk, a small writing bureau, a secretaire bookcase and a few
clothes. The secretaire was locked, as was the writing bureau.
The tin box, which had little or nothing of interest, was
unfastened.

The other locks needed very little attention. Without any
difficulty Mansus opened both. The leaf of the bureau, when let
down, formed the desk, and piled up inside was a whole mass of
letters opened and unopened, accounts, note-books and all the
paraphernalia which an untidy man collects.

Letter by letter, T. X. went through the accumulation without
finding anything to help him. Then his eye was attracted by a
small tin case thrust into one of the oblong pigeon holes at the
back of the desk. This he pulled out and opened and found a small
wad of paper wrapped in tin foil.

"Hello, hello!" said T. X., and he was pardonably exhilarated.




CHAPTER VI


A Man stood in the speckless courtyard before the Governor's house
at Dartmoor gaol. He wore the ugly livery of shame which marks
the convict. His head was clipped short, and there was two days'
growth of beard upon his haggard face. Standing with his hands
behind him, he waited for the moment when he would be ordered to
his work.

John Lexman--A. O. 43--looked up at the blue sky as he had
looked so many times from the exercise yard, and wondered what the
day would bring forth. A day to him was the beginning and the end
of an eternity. He dare not let his mind dwell upon the long
aching years ahead. He dare not think of the woman he left, or
let his mind dwell upon the agony which she was enduring. He had
disappeared from the world, the world he loved, and the world that
knew him, and all that there was in life; all that was worth while
had been crushed and obliterated into the granite of the
Princetown quarries, and its wide horizon shrunken by the gaunt
moorland with its menacing tors.

New interests made up his existence. The quality of the food was
one. The character of the book he would receive from the prison
library another. The future meant Sunday chapel; the present
whatever task they found him. For the day he was to paint some
doors and windows of an outlying cottage. A cottage occupied by a
warder who, for some reason, on the day previous, had spoken to
him with a certain kindness and a certain respect which was
unusual.

"Face the wall," growled a voice, and mechanically he turned, his
hands still behind him, and stood staring at the grey wall of the
prison storehouse.

He heard the shuffling feet of the quarry gang, his ears caught
the clink of the chains which bound them together. They were
desperate men, peculiarly interesting to him, and he had watched
their faces furtively in the early period of his imprisonment.

He had been sent to Dartmoor after spending three months in
Wormwood Scrubbs. Old hands had told him variously that he was
fortunate or unlucky. It was usual to have twelve months at the
Scrubbs before testing the life of a convict establishment. He
believed there was some talk of sending him to Parkhurst, and here
he traced the influence which T. X. would exercise, for Parkhurst
was a prisoner's paradise.

He heard his warder's voice behind him.

"Right turn, 43, quick march."

He walked ahead of the armed guard, through the great and gloomy
gates of the prison, turned sharply to the right, and walked up
the village street toward the moors, beyond the village of
Princetown, and on the Tavistock Road where were two or three
cottages which had been lately taken by the prison staff; and it
was to the decoration of one of these that A. O. 43 had been sent.

The house was as yet without a tenant.

A paper-hanger under the charge of another warder was waiting for
the arrival of the painter. The two warders exchanged greetings,
and the first went off leaving the other in charge of both men.

For an hour they worked in silence under the eyes of the guard.
Presently the warder went outside, and John Lexman had an
opportunity of examining his fellow sufferer.

He was a man of twenty-four or twenty-five, lithe and alert. By
no means bad looking, he lacked that indefinable suggestion of
animalism which distinguished the majority of the inhabitants at
Dartmoor.

They waited until they heard the warder's step clear the passage,
and until his iron-shod boots were tramping over the cobbled path
which led from the door, through the tiny garden to the road,
before the second man spoke.

"What are you in for?" he asked, in a low voice.

"Murder," said John Lexman, laconically.

He had answered the question before, and had noticed with a little
amusement the look of respect which came into the eyes of the
questioner.

"What have you got!"

"Fifteen years," said the other.

"That means 11 years and 9 months," said the first man. "You've
never been here before, I suppose?"

"Hardly," said Lexman, drily.

"I was here when I was a kid," confessed the paper-hanger. "I am
going out next week."

John Lexman looked at him enviously. Had the man told him that he
had inherited a great fortune and a greater title his envy would
not have been so genuine.

Going out!

The drive in the brake to the station, the ride to London in
creased, but comfortable clothing, free as the air, at liberty to
go to bed and rise when he liked, to choose his own dinner, to
answer no call save the call of his conscience, to see--he
checked himself.

"What are you in for?" he asked in self-defence.

"Conspiracy and fraud," said the other cheerfully. "I was put
away by a woman after three of us had got clear with 12,000
pounds. Damn rough luck, wasn't it?"

John nodded.

It was curious, he thought, how sympathetic one grows with these
exponents of crimes. One naturally adopts their point of view and
sees life through their distorted vision.

"I bet I'm not given away with the next lot," the prisoner went
on. "I've got one of the biggest ideas I've ever had, and I've
got a real good man to help me."

"How?" asked John, in surprise.

The man jerked his head in the direction of the prison.

"Larry Green," he said briefly. "He's coming out next month, too,
and we are all fixed up proper. We are going to get the pile and
then we're off to South America, and you won't see us for dust."

Though he employed all the colloquialisms which were common, his
tone was that of a man of education, and yet there was something
in his address which told John as clearly as though the man had
confessed as much, that he had never occupied any social position
in life.

The warder's step on the stones outside reduced them to silence.
Suddenly his voice came up the stairs.

"Forty-three," he called sharply, "I want you down here."

John took his paint pot and brush and went clattering down the
uncarpeted stairs.

"Where's the other man?" asked the warder, in a low voice.

"He's upstairs in the back room."

The warder stepped out of the door and looked left and right.
Coming up from Princetown was a big, grey car.

"Put down your paint pot," he said.

His voice was shaking with excitement.

"I am going upstairs. When that car comes abreast of the gate,
ask no questions and jump into it. Get down into the bottom and
pull a sack over you, and do not get up until the car stops."

The blood rushed to John Lexman's head, and he staggered.

"My God!" he whispered.

"Do as I tell you," hissed the warder.

Like an automaton John put down his brushes, and walked slowly to
the gate. The grey car was crawling up the hill, and the face of
the driver was half enveloped in a big rubber mask. Through the
two great goggles John could see little to help him identify the
man. As the machine came up to the gate, he leapt into the
tonneau and sank instantly to the bottom. As he did so he felt
the car leap forward underneath him. Now it was going fast, now
faster, now it rocked and swayed as it gathered speed. He felt it
sweeping down hill and up hill, and once he heard a hollow rumble
as it crossed a wooden bridge.

He could not detect from his hiding place in what direction they
were going, but he gathered they had switched off to the left and
were making for one of the wildest parts of the moor. Never once
did he feel the car slacken its pace, until, with a grind of
brakes, it stopped suddenly.

"Get out," said a voice.

John Lexman threw off the cover and leapt out and as he did so the
car turned and sped back the way it had come.

For a moment he thought he was alone, and looked around. Far away
in the distance he saw the grey bulk of Princetown Gaol. It was
an accident that he should see it, but it so happened that a ray
of the sun fell athwart it and threw it into relief.

He was alone on the moors! Where could he go?

He turned at the sound of a voice.

He was standing on the slope of a small tor. At the foot there
was a smooth stretch of green sward. It was on this stretch that
the people of Dartmoor held their pony races in the summer months.
There was no sign of horses; but only a great bat-like machine
with out-stretched pinions of taut white canvas, and by that
machine a man clad from head to foot in brown overalls.

John stumbled down the slope. As he neared the machine he stopped
and gasped.

"Kara," he said, and the brown man smiled.

"But, I do not understand. What are you going to do!" asked
Lexman, when he had recovered from his surprise.

"I am going to take you to a place of safety," said the other.

"I have no reason to be grateful to you, as yet, Kara," breathed
Lexman. "A word from you could have saved me."

"I could not lie, my dear Lexman. And honestly, I had forgotten
the existence of the letter; if that is what you are referring to,
but I am trying to do what I can for you and for your wife."

"My wife!"

"She is waiting for you," said the other.

He turned his head, listening.

Across the moor came the dull sullen boom of a gun.

"You haven't time for argument. They discovered your escape," he
said. "Get in."

John clambered up into the frail body of the machine and Kara
followed.

"This is a self-starter," he said, "one of the newest models of
monoplanes."

He clicked over a lever and with a roar the big three-bladed
tractor screw spun.

The aeroplane moved forward with a jerk, ran with increasing gait
for a hundred yards, and then suddenly the jerky progress ceased.
The machine swayed gently from side to side, and looking over, the
passenger saw the ground recede beneath him.

Up, up, they climbed in one long sweeping ascent, passing through
drifting clouds till the machine soared like a bird above the blue
sea.

John Lexman looked down. He saw the indentations of the coast and
recognized the fringe of white houses that stood for Torquay, but
in an incredibly short space of time all signs of the land were
blotted out.

Talking was impossible. The roar of the engines defied
penetration.

Kara was evidently a skilful pilot. From time to time he
consulted the compass on the board before him, and changed his
course ever so slightly. Presently he released one hand from the
driving wheel, and scribbling on a little block of paper which was
inserted in a pocket at the side of the seat he passed it back.

John Lexman read:

 "If you cannot swim there is a life belt under your seat."

John nodded.

Kara was searching the sea for something, and presently he found
it. Viewed from the height at which they flew it looked no more
than a white speck in a great blue saucer, but presently the
machine began to dip, falling at a terrific rate of speed, which
took away the breath of the man who was hanging on with both hands
to the dangerous seat behind.

He was deadly cold, but had hardly noticed the fact. It was all
so incredible, so impossible. He expected to wake up and wondered
if the prison was also part of the dream.

Now he saw the point for which Kara was making.

A white steam yacht, long and narrow of beam, was steaming slowly
westward. He could see the feathery wake in her rear, and as the
aeroplane fell he had time to observe that a boat had been put
off. Then with a jerk the monoplane flattened out and came like a
skimming bird to the surface of the water; her engines stopped.

"We ought to be able to keep afloat for ten minutes," said Kara,
"and by that time they will pick us up."

His voice was high and harsh in the almost painful silence which
followed the stoppage of the engines.

In less than five minutes the boat had come alongside, manned, as
Lexman gathered from a glimpse of the crew, by Greeks. He
scrambled aboard and five minutes later he was standing on the
white deck of the yacht, watching the disappearing tail of the
monoplane. Kara was by his side.

"There goes fifteen hundred pounds," said the Greek, with a smile,
"add that to the two thousand I paid the warder and you have a
tidy sum-but some things are worth all the money in the world!"





CHAPTER VII


T. X. came from Downing Street at 11 o'clock one night, and his
heart was filled with joy and gratitude.

He swung his stick to the common danger of the public, but the
policeman on point duty at the end of the street, who saw him,
recognized and saluted him, did not think it fit to issue any
official warning.

He ran up the stairs to his office, and found Mansus reading the
evening paper.

"My poor, dumb beast," said T. X. "I am afraid I have kept you
waiting for a very long time, but tomorrow you and I will take a
little journey to Devonshire. It will be good for you, Mansus -
where did you get that ridiculous name, by the way!"

"M. or N.," replied Mansus, laconically.

"I repeat that there is the dawn of an intellect in you," said T.
X., offensively.

He became more serious as he took from a pocket inside his
waistcoat a long blue envelope containing the paper which had cost
him so much to secure.

"Finding the revolver was a master-stroke of yours, Mansus," he
said, and he was in earnest as he spoke.

The man coloured with pleasure for the subordinates of T. X. loved
him, and a word of praise was almost equal to promotion. It was
on the advice of Mansus that the road from London to Lewes had
been carefully covered and such streams as passed beneath that
road had been searched.

The revolver had been found after the third attempt between
Gatwick and Horsley. Its identification was made easier by the
fact that Vassalaro's name was engraved on the butt. It was
rather an ornate affair and in its earlier days had been silver
plated; the handle was of mother-o'-pearl.

"Obviously the gift of one brigand to another," was T. X.'s
comment.

Armed with this, his task would have been fairly easy, but when to
this evidence he added a rough draft of the threatening letter
which he had found amongst Vassalaro's belongings, and which had
evidently been taken down at dictation, since some of the words
were misspelt and had been corrected by another hand, the case was
complete.

But what clinched the matter was the finding of a wad of that
peculiar chemical paper, a number of sheets of which T. X. had
ignited for the information of the Chief Commissioner and the Home
Secretary by simply exposing them for a few seconds to the light
of an electric lamp.

Instantly it had filled the Home Secretary's office with a pungent
and most disagreeable smoke, for which he was heartily cursed by
his superiors. But it had rounded off the argument.

He looked at his watch.

"I wonder if it is too late to see Mrs. Lexman," he said.

"I don't think any hour would be too late," suggested Mansus.

"You shall come and chaperon me," said his superior.

But a disappointment awaited. Mrs. Lexman was not in and neither
the ringing at her electric bell nor vigorous applications to the
knocker brought any response. The hall porter of the flats where
she lived was under the impression that Mrs. Lexman had gone out
of town. She frequently went out on Saturdays and returned on the
Monday and, he thought, occasionally on Tuesdays.

It happened that this particular night was a Monday night and T.
X. was faced with a dilemma. The night porter, who had only the
vaguest information on the subject, thought that the day porter
might know more, and aroused him from his sleep.

Yes, Mrs. Lexman had gone. She went on the Sunday, an unusual day
to pay a week-end visit, and she had taken with her two bags. The
porter ventured the opinion that she was rather excited, but when
asked to define the symptoms relapsed into a chaos of incoherent
"you-knows" and "what-I-means."

"I don't like this," said T. X., suddenly. "Does anybody know that
we have made these discoveries?"

"Nobody outside the office," said Mansus, "unless, unless . . . "

"Unless what?" asked the other, irritably. "Don't be a jimp,
Mansus. Get it off your mind. What is it?"

"I am wondering," said Mansus slowly, "if the landlord at Great
James Street said anything. He knows we have made a search."

"We can easily find that out," said T. X.

They hailed a taxi and drove to Great James Street. That
respectable thoroughfare was wrapped in sleep and it was some time
before the landlord could be aroused. Recognizing T. X. he
checked his sarcasm, which he had prepared for a keyless lodger,
and led the way into the drawing room.

"You didn't tell me not to speak about it, Mr. Meredith," he said,
in an aggrieved tone, "and as a matter of fact I have spoken to
nobody except the gentleman who called the same day."

"What did he want?" asked T. X.

"He said he had only just discovered that Mr. Vassalaro had stayed
with me and he wanted to pay whatever rent was due," replied the
other.

"What like of man was he?" asked T. X.

The brief description the man gave sent a cold chill to the
Commissioner's heart.

"Kara for a ducat!" he said, and swore long and variously.

"Cadogan Square," he ordered.

His ring was answered promptly. Mr. Kara was out of town, had
indeed been out of town since Saturday. This much the man-servant
explained with a suspicious eye upon his visitors, remembering
that his predecessor had lost his job from a too confiding
friendliness with spurious electric fitters. He did not know when
Mr. Kara would return, perhaps it would be a long time and perhaps
a short time. He might come back that night or he might not.

"You are wasting your young life," said T. X. bitterly. "You
ought to be a fortune teller."

"This settles the matter," he said, in the cab on the way back.
"Find out the first train for Tavistock in the morning and wire
the George Hotel to have a car waiting."

"Why not go to-night?" suggested the other. "There is the
midnight train. It is rather slow, but it will get you there by
six or seven in the morning."

"Too late," he said, "unless you can invent a method of getting
from here to Paddington in about fifty seconds."

The morning journey to Devonshire was a dispiriting one despite
the fineness of the day. T. X. had an uncomfortable sense that
something distressing had happened. The run across the moor in
the fresh spring air revived him a little.

As they spun down to the valley of the Dart, Mansus touched his
arm.

"Look at that," he said, and pointed to the blue heavens where, a
mile above their heads, a white-winged aeroplane, looking no
larger than a very distant dragon fly, shimmered in the sunlight.

"By Jove!" said T. X. "What an excellent way for a man to escape!"

"It's about the only way," said Mansus.

The significance of the aeroplane was borne in upon T. X. a few
minutes later when he was held up by an armed guard. A glance at
his card was enough to pass him.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"A prisoner has escaped," said the sentry.

"Escaped--by aeroplane?" asked T. X.

"I don't know anything about aeroplanes, sir. All I know is that
one of the working party got away."

The car came to the gates of the prison and T. X. sprang out,
followed by his assistant. He had no difficulty in finding the
Governor, a greatly perturbed man, for an escape is a very serious
matter.

The official was inclined to be brusque in his manner, but again
the magic card produced a soothing effect.

"I am rather rattled," said the Governor. "One of my men has got
away. I suppose you know that?"

"And I am afraid another of your men is going away, sir," said T.
X., who had a curious reverence for military authority. He
produced his paper and laid it on the governor's table.

"This is an order for the release of John Lexman, convicted under
sentence of fifteen years penal servitude."

The Governor looked at it.

"Dated last night," he said, and breathed a long sigh of relief.
"Thank the Lord!--that is the man who escaped!"




CHAPTER VIII


Two years after the events just described, T. X. journeying up to
London from Bath was attracted by a paragraph in the Morning Post.
It told him briefly that Mr. Remington Kara, the influential
leader of the Greek Colony, had been the guest of honor at a
dinner of the Hellenic Society.

T. X. had only seen Kara for a brief space of time following that
tragic morning, when he had discovered not only that his best
friend had escaped from Dartmoor prison and disappeared, as it
were, from the world at a moment when his pardon had been signed,
but that that friend's wife had also vanished from the face of the
earth.

At the same time--it might, as even T. X. admitted, have been the
veriest coincidence that Kara had also cleared out of London to
reappear at the end of six months. Any question addressed to him,
concerning the whereabouts of the two unhappy people, was met with
a bland expression of ignorance as to their whereabouts.

John Lexman was somewhere in the world, hiding as he believed from
justice, and with him was his wife. T. X. had no doubt in his
mind as to this solution of the puzzle. He had caused to be
published the story of the pardon and the circumstances under
which that pardon had been secured, and he had, moreover, arranged
for an advertisement to be inserted in the principal papers of
every European country.

It was a moot question amongst the departmental lawyers as to
whether John Lexman was not guilty of a technical and punishable
offence for prison breaking, but this possibility did not keep T.
X. awake at nights. The circumstances of the escape had been
carefully examined. The warder responsible had been discharged
from the service, and had almost immediately purchased for himself
a beer house in Falmouth, for a sum which left no doubt in the
official mind that he had been the recipient of a heavy bribe.

Who had been the guiding spirit in that escape--Mrs. Lexman, or
Kara?

It was impossible to connect Kara with the event. The motor car
had been traced to Exeter, where it had been hired by a
"foreign-looking gentleman," but the chauffeur, whoever he was,
had made good his escape. An inspection of Kara's hangars at
Wembley showed that his two monoplanes had not been removed, and
T. X. failed entirely to trace the owner of the machine he had
seen flying over Dartmoor on the fatal morning.

T. X. was somewhat baffled and a little amused by the
disinclination of the authorities to believe that the escape had
been effected by this method at all. All the events of the trial
came back to him, as he watched the landscape spinning past.

He set down the newspaper with a little sigh, put his feet on the
cushions of the opposite seat and gave himself up to reverie.
Presently he returned to his journals and searched them idly for
something to interest him in the final stretch of journey between
Newbury and Paddington.

Presently he found it in a two column article with the uninspiring
title, "The Mineral Wealth of Tierra del Fuego." It was written
brightly with a style which was at once easy and informative. It
told of adventures in the marshes behind St. Sebastian Bay and
journeys up the Guarez Celman river, of nights spent in primeval
forests and ended in a geological survey, wherein the commercial
value of syenite, porphyry, trachite and dialite were severally
canvassed.

The article was signed "G. G." It is said of T. X. that his
greatest virtue was his curiosity. He had at the tip of his
fingers the names of all the big explorers and author-travellers,
and for some reason he could not place "G. G." to his
satisfaction, in fact he had an absurd desire to interpret the
initials into "George Grossmith." His inability to identify the
writer irritated him, and his first act on reaching his office was
to telephone to one of the literary editors of the Times whom he
knew.

"Not my department," was the chilly reply, "and besides we never
give away the names of our contributors. Speaking as a person
outside the office I should say that "G. G." was 'George
Gathercole' the explorer you know, the fellow who had an arm
chewed off by a lion or something."

"George Gathercole!" repeated T. X. "What an ass I am."

"Yes," said the voice at the other end the wire, and he had rung
off before T. X. could think of something suitable to say.

Having elucidated this little side-line of mystery, the matter
passed from the young Commissioner's mind. It happened that
morning that his work consisted of dealing with John Lexman's
estate.

With the disappearance of the couple he had taken over control of
their belongings. It had not embarrassed him to discover that he
was an executor under Lexman's will, for he had already acted as
trustee to the wife's small estate, and had been one of the
parties to the ante-nuptial contract which John Lexman had made
before his marriage.

The estate revenues had increased very considerably. All the
vanished author's books were selling as they had never sold
before, and the executor's work was made the heavier by the fact
that Grace Lexman had possessed an aunt who had most in
inconsiderately died, leaving a considerable fortune to her
"unhappy niece."

"I will keep the trusteeship another year," he told the solicitor
who came to consult him that morning. "At the end of that time I
shall go to the court for relief."

"Do you think they will ever turn up?" asked the solicitor, an
elderly and unimaginative man.

"Of course, they'll turn up!" said T. X. impatiently; "all the
heroes of Lexman's books turn up sooner or later. He will
discover himself to us at a suitable moment, and we shall be
properly thrilled."

That Lexman would return he was sure. It was a faith from which
he did not swerve.

He had as implicit a confidence that one day or other Kara, the
magnificent, would play into his hands.

There were some queer stories in circulation concerning the Greek,
but on the whole they were stories and rumours which were
difficult to separate from the malicious gossip which invariably
attaches itself to the rich and to the successful.

One of these was that Kara desired something more than an Albanian
chieftainship, which he undoubtedly enjoyed. There were whispers
of wider and higher ambitions. Though his father had been born a
Greek, he had indubitably descended in a direct line from one of
those old Mprets of Albania, who had exercised their brief
authority over that turbulent land.

The man's passion was for power. To this end he did not spare
himself. It was said that he utilized his vast wealth for this
reason, and none other, and that whatever might have been the
irregularities of his youth--and there were adduced concrete
instances--he was working toward an end with a singleness of
purpose, from which it was difficult to withhold admiration.

T. X. kept in his locked desk a little red book, steel bound and
triple locked, which he called his "Scandalaria." In this he
inscribed in his own irregular writing the titbits which might not
be published, and which often helped an investigator to light upon
the missing threads of a problem. In truth he scorned no source
of information, and was conscienceless in the compilation of this
somewhat chaotic record.

The affairs of John Lexman recalled Kara, and Kara's great
reception. Mansus would have made arrangements to secure a
verbatim report of the speeches which were made, and these would
be in his hands by the night. Mansus did not tell him that Kara
was financing some very influential people indeed, that a certain
Under-secretary of State with a great number of very influential
relations had been saved from bankruptcy by the timely advances
which Kara had made. This T. X. had obtained through sources
which might be hastily described as discreditable. Mansus knew of
the baccarat establishment in Albemarle Street, but he did not
know that the neurotic wife of a very great man indeed, no less
than the Minister of Justice, was a frequent visitor to that
establishment, and that she had lost in one night some 6,000
pounds. In these circumstances it was remarkable, thought T. X.,
that she should report to the police so small a matter as the
petty pilfering of servants. This, however, she had done and
whilst the lesser officers of Scotland Yard were interrogating
pawnbrokers, the men higher up were genuinely worried by the
lady's own lapses from grace.

It was all sordid but, unfortunately, conventional, because highly
placed people will always do underbred things, where money or
women are concerned, but it was necessary, for the proper conduct
of the department which T. X. directed, that, however sordid and
however conventional might be the errors which the great ones of
the earth committed, they should be filed for reference.

The motto which T. X. went upon in life was, "You never know."

The Minister of Justice was a very important person, for he was a
personal friend of half the monarchs of Europe. A poor man, with
two or three thousand a year of his own, with no very definite
political views and uncommitted to the more violent policies of
either party, he succeeded in serving both, with profit to
himself, and without earning the obloquy of either. Though he did
not pursue the blatant policy of the Vicar of Bray, yet it is fact
which may be confirmed from the reader's own knowledge, that he
served in four different administrations, drawing the pay and
emoluments of his office from each, though the fundamental
policies of those four governments were distinct.

Lady Bartholomew, the wife of this adaptable Minister, had
recently departed for San Remo. The newspapers announced the fact
and spoke vaguely of a breakdown which prevented the lady from
fulfilling her social engagements.

T. X., ever a Doubting Thomas, could trace no visit of nerve
specialist, nor yet of the family practitioner, to the official
residence in Downing Street, and therefore he drew conclusions.
In his own "Who's Who" T. X. noted the hobbies of his victims
which, by the way, did not always coincide with the innocent
occupations set against their names in the more pretentious
volume. Their follies and their weaknesses found a place and were
recorded at a length (as it might seem to the uninformed observer)
beyond the limit which charity allowed.

Lady Mary Bartholomew's name appeared not once, but many times, in
the erratic records which T. X. kept. There was a plain
matter-of-fact and wholly unobjectionable statement that she was
born in 1874, that she was the seventh daughter of the Earl of
Balmorey, that she had one daughter who rejoiced in the somewhat
unpromising name of Belinda Mary, and such further information as
a man might get without going to a great deal of trouble.

T. X., refreshing his memory from the little red book, wondered
what unexpected tragedy had sent Lady Bartholomew out of London in
the middle of the season. The information was that the lady was
fairly well off at this moment, and this fact made matters all the
more puzzling and almost induced him to believe that, after all,
the story was true, and a nervous breakdown really was the cause
of her sudden departure. He sent for Mansus.

"You saw Lady Bartholomew off at Charing Cross, I suppose?"

Mansus nodded.

"She went alone?"

"She took her maid, but otherwise she was alone. I thought she
looked ill."

"She has been looking ill for months past," said T. X., without
any visible expression of sympathy.

"Did she take Belinda Mary?"

Mansus was puzzled. "Belinda Mary?" he repeated slowly. "Oh, you
mean the daughter. No, she's at a school somewhere in France."

T. X. whistled a snatch of a popular song, closed the little red
book with a snap and replaced it in his desk.

"I wonder where on earth people dig up names like Belinda Mary?"
he mused. "Belinda Mary must be rather a weird little animal -
the Lord forgive me for speaking so about my betters! If heredity
counts for anything she ought to be something between a head
waiter and a pack of cards. Have you lost anything'?"

Mansus was searching his pockets.

"I made a few notes, some questions I wanted to ask you about and
Lady Bartholomew was the subject of one of them. I have had her
under observation for six months; do you want it kept up?"

T. X. thought awhile, then shook his head.

"I am only interested in Lady Bartholomew in so far as Kara is
interested in her. There is a criminal for you, my friend!" he
added, admiringly.

Mansus busily engaged in going through the bundles of letters,
slips of paper and little notebooks he had taken from his pocket,
sniffed audibly.

"Have you a cold?" asked T. X. politely.

"No, sir," was the reply, "only I haven't much opinion of Kara as
a criminal. Besides, what has he got to be a criminal about? He
has all that he requires in the money department, he's one of the
most popular people in London, and certainly one of the
best-looking men I've ever seen in my life. He needs nothing."

T. X. regarded him scornfully.

"You're a poor blind brute," he said, shaking his head; don't you
know that great criminals are never influenced by material
desires, or by the prospect of concrete gains? The man, who robs
his employer's till in order to give the girl of his heart the
25-pearl and ruby brooch her soul desires, gains nothing but the
glow of satisfaction which comes to the man who is thought well
of. The majority of crimes in the world are committed by people
for the same reason--they want to be thought well of. Here is
Doctor X. who murdered his wife because she was a drunkard and a
slut, and he dared not leave her for fear the neighbours would
have doubts as to his respectability. Here is another gentleman
who murders his wives in their baths in order that he should keep
up some sort of position and earn the respect of his friends and
his associates. Nothing roused him more quickly to a frenzy of
passion than the suggestion that he was not respectable. Here is
the great financier, who has embezzled a million and a quarter,
not because he needed money, but because people looked up to him.
Therefore, he must build great mansions, submarine pleasure courts
and must lay out huge estates--because he wished that he should
be thought well of.

Mansus sniffed again.

"What about the man who half murders his wife, does he do that to
be well thought of?" he asked, with a tinge of sarcasm.

T. X. looked at him pityingly.

"The low-brow who beats his wife, my poor Mansus," he said, "does
so because she doesn't think well of him. That is our ruling
passion, our national characteristic, the primary cause of most
crimes, big or little. That is why Kara is a bad criminal and
will, as I say, end his life very violently."

He took down his glossy silk hat from the peg and slipped into his
overcoat.

"I am going down to see my friend Kara," he said. "I have a
feeling that I should like to talk with him. He might tell me
something."

His acquaintance with Kara's menage had been mere hearsay. He had
interviewed the Greek once after his return, but since all his
efforts to secure information concerning the whereabouts of John
Lexman and his wife--the main reason for his visit--had been in
vain, he had not repeated his visit.

The house in Cadogan Square was a large one, occupying a corner
site. It was peculiarly English in appearance with its window
boxes, its discreet curtains, its polished brass and enamelled
doorway. It had been the town house of Lord Henry Gratham, that
eccentric connoisseur of wine and follower of witless pleasure.
It had been built by him "round a bottle of port," as his friends
said, meaning thereby that his first consideration had been the
cellarage of the house, and that when those cellars had been built
and provision made for the safe storage of his priceless wines,
the house had been built without the architect's being greatly
troubled by his lordship. The double cellars of Gratham House
had, in their time, been one of the sights of London. When
Henry Gratham lay under eight feet of Congo earth (he was killed
by an elephant whilst on a hunting trip) his executors had been
singularly fortunate in finding an immediate purchaser. Rumour
had it that Kara, who was no lover of wine, had bricked up the
cellars, and their very existence passed into domestic legendary.

The door was opened by a well-dressed and deferential man-servant
and T. X. was ushered into the hall. A fire burnt cheerily in a
bronze grate and T. X. had a glimpse of a big oil painting of Kara
above the marble mantle-piece.

"Mr. Kara is very busy, sir," said the man.

"Just take in my card," said T. X. "I think he may care to see
me."

The man bowed, produced from some mysterious corner a silver
salver and glided upstairs in that manner which well-trained
servants have, a manner which seems to call for no bodily effort.
In a minute he returned.

"Will you come this way, sir," he said, and led the way up a broad
flight of stairs.

At the head of the stairs was a corridor which ran to the left and
to the right. From this there gave four rooms. One at the
extreme end of the passage on the right, one on the left, and two
at fairly regular intervals in the centre.

When the man's hand was on one of the doors, T. X. asked quietly,
"I think I have seen you before somewhere, my friend."

The man smiled.

"It is very possible, sir. I was a waiter at the Constitutional
for some time."

T. X. nodded.

"That is where it must have been," he said.

The man opened the door and announced the visitor.

T. X. found himself in a large room, very handsomely furnished,
but just lacking that sense of cosiness and comfort which is the
feature of the Englishman's home.

Kara rose from behind a big writing table, and came with a smile
and a quick step to greet the visitor.

"This is a most unexpected pleasure," he said, and shook hands
warmly.

T. X. had not seen him for a year and found very little change in
this strange young man. He could not be more confident than he
had been, nor bear himself with a more graceful carriage.
Whatever social success he had achieved, it had not spoiled him,
for his manner was as genial and easy as ever.

"I think that will do, Miss Holland," he said, turning to the girl
who, with notebook in hand, stood by the desk.

"Evidently," thought T. X., "our Hellenic friend has a pretty taste
in secretaries."

In that one glance he took her all in--from the bronze-brown of
her hair to her neat foot.

T. X. was not readily attracted by members of the opposite sex.
He was self-confessed a predestined bachelor, finding life and its
incidence too absorbing to give his whole mind to the serious
problem of marriage, or to contract responsibilities and interests
which might divert his attention from what he believed was the
greater game. Yet he must be a man of stone to resist the
freshness, the beauty and the youth of this straight, slender
girl; the pink-and-whiteness of her, the aliveness and buoyancy
and the thrilling sense of vitality she carried in her very
presence.

"What is the weirdest name you have ever heard?" asked Kara
laughingly. "I ask you, because Miss Holland and I have been
discussing a begging letter addressed to us by a Maggie Goomer."

The girl smiled slightly and in that smile was paradise, thought
T. X.

"The weirdest name?" he repeated, "why I think the worst I have
heard for a long time is Belinda Mary."

"That has a familiar ring," said Kara.

T. X. was looking at the girl.

She was staring at him with a certain languid insolence which made
him curl up inside. Then with a glance at her employer she swept
from the room.

"I ought to have introduced you," said Kara. "That was my
secretary, Miss Holland. Rather a pretty girl, isn't she?"

"Very," said T. X., recovering his breath.

"I like pretty things around me," said Kara, and somehow the
complacency of the remark annoyed the detective more than anything
that Kara had ever said to him.

The Greek went to the mantlepiece, and taking down a silver
cigarette box, opened and offered it to his visitor. Kara was
wearing a grey lounge suit; and although grey is a very trying
colour for a foreigner to wear, this suit fitted his splendid
figure and gave him just that bulk which he needed.

"You are a most suspicious man, Mr. Meredith," he smiled.

"Suspicious! I?" asked the innocent T. X.

Kara nodded.

"I am sure you want to enquire into the character of all my
present staff. I am perfectly satisfied that you will never be at
rest until you learn the antecedents of my cook, my valet, my
secretary--"

T. X. held up his hand with a laugh.

"Spare me," he said. "It is one of my failings, I admit, but I
have never gone much farther into your domestic affairs than to
pry into the antecedents of your very interesting chauffeur."

A little cloud passed over Kara's face, but it was only momentary.

"Oh, Brown," he said, airily, with just a perceptible pause
between the two words.

"It used to be Smith," said T. X., "but no matter. His name is
really Poropulos."

"Oh, Poropulos," said Kara gravely, "I dismissed him a long time
ago."

"Pensioned hire, too, I understand," said T. X.

The other looked at him awhile, then, "I am very good to my old
servants," he said slowly and, changing the subject; "to what good
fortune do I owe this visit?"

T. X. selected a cigarette before he replied.

"I thought you might be of some service to me," he said,
apparently giving his whole attention to the cigarette.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," said Kara, a little
eagerly. "I am afraid you have not been very keen on continuing
what I hoped would have ripened into a valuable friendship, more
valuable to me perhaps," he smiled, "than to you."

"I am a very shy man," said the shameless T. X., "difficult to a
fault, and rather apt to underrate my social attractions. I have
come to you now because you know everybody--by the way, how long
have you had your secretary!" he asked abruptly.

Kara looked up at the ceiling for inspiration.

"Four, no three months," he corrected, "a very efficient young
lady who came to me from one of the training establishments.
Somewhat uncommunicative, better educated than most girls in her
position--for example, she speaks and writes modern Greek fairly
well."

"A treasure!" suggested T. X.

"Unusually so," said Kara. "She lives in Marylebone Road, 86a is
the address. She has no friends, spends most of her evenings in
her room, is eminently respectable and a little chilling in her
attitude to her employer."

T. X. shot a swift glance at the other.

"Why do you tell me all this?" he asked.

"To save you the trouble of finding out," replied the other
coolly. "That insatiable curiosity which is one of the equipments
of your profession, would, I feel sure, induce you to conduct
investigations for your own satisfaction."

T. X. laughed.

"May I sit down?" he said.

The other wheeled an armchair across the room and T. X. sank into
it. He leant back and crossed his legs, and was, in a second, the
personification of ease.

"I think you are a very clever man, Monsieur Kara," he said.

The other looked down at him this time without amusement.

"Not so clever that I can discover the object of your visit," he
said pleasantly enough.

"It is very simply explained," said T. X. "You know everybody in
town. You know, amongst other people, Lady Bartholomew."

"I know the lady very well indeed," said Kara, readily,--too
readily in fact, for the rapidity with which answer had followed
question, suggested to T. X. that Kara had anticipated the reason
for the call.

"Have you any idea," asked T. X., speaking with deliberation, "as
to why Lady Bartholomew has gone out of town at this particular
moment?"

Kara laughed.

"What an extraordinary question to ask me--as though Lady
Bartholomew confided her plans to one who is little more than a
chance acquaintance!"

"And yet," said T. X., contemplating the burning end of his
cigarette, "you know her well enough to hold her promissory note."

"Promissory note?" asked the other.

His tone was one of involuntary surprise and T. X. swore softly to
himself for now he saw the faintest shade of relief in Kara's
face. The Commissioner realized that he had committed an error -
he had been far too definite.

"When I say promissory note," he went on easily, as though he had
noticed nothing, "I mean, of course, the securities which the
debtor invariably gives to one from whom he or she has borrowed
large sums of money."

Kara made no answer, but opening a drawer of his desk he took out
a key and brought it across to where T. X. was sitting.

"Here is the key of my safe," he said quietly. "You are at
liberty to go carefully through its contents and discover for
yourself any promissory note which I hold from Lady Bartholomew.
My dear fellow, you don't imagine I'm a moneylender, do you?" he
said in an injured tone.

"Nothing was further from my thoughts," said T. X., untruthfully.

But the other pressed the key upon him.

"I should be awfully glad if you would look for yourself," he said
earnestly. "I feel that in some way you associate Lady
Bartholomew's illness with some horrible act of usury on my part -
will you satisfy yourself and in doing so satisfy me?"

Now any ordinary man, and possibly any ordinary detective, would
have made the conventional answer. He would have protested that
he had no intention of doing anything of the sort; he would have
uttered, if he were a man in the position which T. X. occupied,
the conventional statement that he had no authority to search the
private papers, and that he would certainly not avail himself of
the other's kindness. But T. X. was not an ordinary person. He
took the key and balanced it lightly in the palm of his hand.

"Is this the key of the famous bedroom safe?" he said banteringly.

Kara was looking down at him with a quizzical smile. "It isn't
the safe you opened in my absence, on one memorable occasion, Mr.
Meredith," he said. "As you probably know, I have changed that
safe, but perhaps you don't feel equal to the task?"

"On the contrary," said T. X., calmly, and rising from the chair,
"I am going to put your good faith to the test."

For answer Kara walked to the door and opened it.

"Let me show you the way," he said politely.

He passed along the corridor and entered the apartment at the end.
The room was a large one and lighted by one big square window
which was protected by steel bars. In the grate which was broad
and high a huge fire was burning and the temperature of the room
was unpleasantly close despite the coldness of the day.

"That is one of the eccentricities which you, as an Englishman,
will never excuse in me," said Kara.

Near the foot of the bed, let into, and flush with, the wall, was
a big green door of the safe.

"Here you are, Mr. Meredith," said Kara. "All the precious
secrets of Remington Kara are yours for the seeking."

"I am afraid I've had my trouble for nothing," said T. X., making
no attempt to use the key.

"That is an opinion which I share," said Kara, with a smile.

"Curiously enough," said T. X. "I mean just what you mean."

He handed the key to Kara.

"Won't you open it?" asked the Greek.

T. X. shook his head.

"The safe as far as I can see is a Magnus, the key which you have
been kind enough to give me is legibly inscribed upon the handle
'Chubb.' My experience as a police officer has taught me that
Chubb keys very rarely open Magnus safes."

Kara uttered an exclamation of annoyance.

"How stupid of me!" he said, "yet now I remember, I sent the key
to my bankers, before I went out of town--I only came back this
morning, you know. I will send for it at once."

"Pray don't trouble," murmured T. X. politely. He took from his
pocket a little flat leather case and opened it. It contained a
number of steel implements of curious shape which were held in
position by a leather loop along the centre of the case. From one
of these loops he extracted a handle, and deftly fitted something
that looked like a steel awl to the socket in the handle. Looking
in wonder, and with no little apprehension, Kara saw that the awl
was bent at the head.

"What are you going to do?" he asked, a little alarmed.

"I'll show you," said T. X. pleasantly.

Very gingerly he inserted the instrument in the small keyhole and
turned it cautiously first one way and then the other. There was
a sharp click followed by another. He turned the handle and the
door of the safe swung open.

"Simple, isn't it!" he asked politely.

In that second of time Kara's face had undergone a transformation.
The eyes which met T. X. Meredith's blazed with an almost insane
fury. With a quick stride Kara placed himself before the open
safe.

"I think this has gone far enough, Mr. Meredith," he said harshly.
"If you wish to search my safe you must get a warrant."

T. X. shrugged his shoulders, and carefully unscrewing the
instrument he had employed and replacing it in the case, he
returned it to his inside pocket.

"It was at your invitation, my dear Monsieur Kara," he said
suavely. "Of course I knew that you were putting a bluff up on me
with the key and that you had no more intention of letting me see
the inside of your safe than you had of telling me exactly what
happened to John Lexman."

The shot went home.

The face which was thrust into the Commissioner's was ridged and
veined with passion. The lips were turned back to show the big
white even teeth, the eyes were narrowed to slits, the jaw thrust
out, and almost every semblance of humanity had vanished from his
face.

"You--you--" he hissed, and his clawing hands moved suspiciously
backward.

"Put up your hands," said T. X. sharply, "and be damned quick
about it!"

In a flash the hands went up, for the revolver which T. X. held
was pressed uncomfortably against the third button of the Greek's
waistcoat.

"That's not the first time you've been asked to put up your hands,
I think," said T. X. pleasantly.

His own left hand slipped round to Kara's hip pocket. He found
something in the shape of a cylinder and drew it out from the
pocket. To his surprise it was not a revolver, not even a knife;
it looked like a small electric torch, though instead of a bulb
and a bull's-eye glass, there was a pepper-box perforation at one
end.

He handled it carefully and was about to press the small nickel
knob when a strangled cry of horror broke from Kara.

"For God's sake be careful!" he gasped. "You're pointing it at
me! Do not press that lever, I beg!"

"Will it explode!" asked T. X. curiously.

"No, no!"

T. X. pointed the thing downward to the carpet and pressed the
knob cautiously. As he did so there was a sharp hiss and the
floor was stained with the liquid which the instrument contained.
Just one gush of fluid and no more. T. X. looked down. The
bright carpet had already changed colour, and was smoking. The
room was filled with a pungent and disagreeable scent. T. X.
looked from the floor to the white-faced man.

"Vitriol, I believe," he said, shaking his head admiringly. "What
a dear little fellow you are!"

The man, big as he was, was on the point of collapse and mumbled
something about self-defence, and listened without a word, whilst
T. X., labouring under an emotion which was perfectly pardonable,
described Kara, his ancestors and the possibilities of his future
estate.

Very slowly the Greek recovered his self-possession.

"I didn't intend using it on you, I swear I didn't," he pleaded.
"I'm surrounded by enemies, Meredith. I had to carry some means
of protection. It is because my enemies know I carry this that
they fight shy of me. I'll swear I had no intention of using it
on you. The idea is too preposterous. I am sorry I fooled you
about the safe."

"Don't let that worry you," said T. X. "I am afraid I did all the
fooling. No, I cannot let you have this back again," he said, as
the Greek put out his hand to take the infernal little instrument.
"I must take this back to Scotland Yard; it's quite a long time
since we had anything new in this shape. Compressed air, I
presume."

Kara nodded solemnly.

"Very ingenious indeed," said T. X. "If I had a brain like yours,"
he paused, "I should do something with it--with a gun," he added,
as he passed out of the room.




CHAPTER IX


 "My dear Mr. Meredith,

 "I cannot tell you how unhappy and humiliated I feel that my
  little joke with you should have had such an uncomfortable
 ending. As you know, and as I have given you proof, I have the
 greatest admiration in the world for one whose work for
humanity has won such universal recognition.

 "I hope that we shall both forget this unhappy morning and that
 you will give me an opportunity of rendering to you in person,
 the apologies which are due to you. I feel that anything less
 will neither rehabilitate me in your esteem, nor secure for me
 the remnants of my shattered self-respect.

 "I am hoping you will dine with me next week and meet a most
interesting man, George Gathercole, who has just returned from
Patagonia,--I only received his letter this morning--having
made most remarkable discoveries concerning that country.

 "I feel sure that you are large enough minded and too much a man
  of the world to allow my foolish fit of temper to disturb a
relationship which I have always hoped would be mutually
pleasant. If you will allow Gathercole, who will be
unconscious of the part he is playing, to act as peacemaker
between yourself and myself, I shall feel that his trip, which
has cost me a large sum of money, will not have been wasted.

    "I am, dear Mr. Meredith,
           "Yours very sincerely,
                  "REMINGTON KARA."

Kara folded the letter and inserted it in its envelope. He rang a
bell on his table and the girl who had so filled T. X. with a
sense of awe came from an adjoining room.

"You will see that this is delivered, Miss Holland."

She inclined her head and stood waiting. Kara rose from his desk
and began to pace the room.

"Do you know T. X. Meredith?" he asked suddenly.

"I have heard of him," said the girl.

"A man with a singular mind," said Kara; "a man against whom my
favourite weapon would fail."

She looked at him with interest in her eyes.

"What is your favourite weapon, Mr. Kara?" she asked.

"Fear," he said.

If he expected her to give him any encouragement to proceed he was
disappointed. Probably he required no such encouragement, for in
the presence of his social inferiors he was somewhat monopolizing.

"Cut a man's flesh and it heals," he said. "Whip a man and the
memory of it passes, frighten him, fill him with a sense of
foreboding and apprehension and let him believe that something
dreadful is going to happen either to himself or to someone he
loves--better the latter--and you will hurt him beyond
forgetfulness. Fear is a tyrant and a despot, more terrible than
the rack, more potent than the stake. Fear is many-eyed and sees
horrors where normal vision only sees the ridiculous."

"Is that your creed?" she asked quietly.

"Part of it, Miss Holland," he smiled.

She played idly with the letter she held in her hand, balancing it
on the edge of the desk, her eyes downcast.

"What would justify the use of such an awful weapon?" she asked.

"It is amply justified to secure an end," he said blandly. "For
example--I want something--I cannot obtain that something
through the ordinary channel or by the employment of ordinary
means. It is essential to me, to my happiness, to my comfort, or
my amour-propre, that that something shall be possessed by me. If
I can buy it, well and good. If I can buy those who can use their
influence to secure this thing for me, so much the better. If I
can obtain it by any merit I possess, I utilize that merit,
providing always, that I can secure my object in the time,
otherwise--"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I see," she said, nodding her head quickly. "I suppose that is
how blackmailers feel."

He frowned.

"That is a word I never use, nor do I like to hear it employed,"
he said. "Blackmail suggests to me a vulgar attempt to obtain
money."

"Which is generally very badly wanted by the people who use it,"
said the girl, with a little smile, "and, according to your
argument, they are also justified."

"It is a matter of plane," he said airily. "Viewed from my
standpoint, they are sordid criminals--the sort of person that T.
X. meets, I presume, in the course of his daily work. T. X.," he
went on somewhat oracularly, "is a man for whom I have a great
deal of respect. You will probably meet him again, for he will
find an opportunity of asking you a few questions about myself. I
need hardly tell you--"

He lifted his shoulders with a deprecating smile.

"I shall certainly not discuss your business with any person,"
said the girl coldly.

"I am paying you 3 pounds a week, I think," he said. "I intend
increasing that to 5 pounds because you suit me most admirably."

"Thank you," said the girl quietly, "but I am already being paid
quite sufficient."

She left him, a little astonished and not a little ruffled.

To refuse the favours of Remington Kara was, by him, regarded as
something of an affront. Half his quarrel with T. X. was that
gentleman's curious indifference to the benevolent attitude which
Kara had persistently adopted in his dealings with the detective.

He rang the bell, this time for his valet.

"Fisher," he said, "I am expecting a visit from a gentleman named
Gathercole--a one-armed gentleman whom you must look after if he
comes. Detain him on some pretext or other because he is rather
difficult to get hold of and I want to see him. I am going out
now and I shall be back at 6.30. Do whatever you can to prevent
him going away until I return. He will probably be interested if
you take him into the library."

"Very good, sir," said the urbane Fisher, "will you change before
you go out?"

Kara shook his head.

"I think I will go as I am," he said. "Get me my fur coat. This
beastly cold kills me," he shivered as he glanced into the bleak
street. "Keep my fire going, put all my private letters in my
bedroom, and see that Miss Holland has her lunch."

Fisher followed him to his car, wrapped the fur rug about his
legs, closed the door carefully and returned to the house. From
thence onward his behaviour was somewhat extraordinary for a
well-bred servant. That he should return to Kara's study and set
the papers in order was natural and proper.

That he should conduct a rapid examination of all the drawers in
Kara's desk might be excused on the score of diligence, since he
was, to some extent, in the confidence of his employer.

Kara was given to making friends of his servants--up to a point.
In his more generous moments he would address his bodyguard as
"Fred," and on more occasions than one, and for no apparent
reason, had tipped his servant over and above his salary.

Mr. Fred Fisher found little to reward him for his search until he
came upon Kara's cheque book which told him that on the previous
day the Greek had drawn 6,000 pounds in cash from the bank. This
interested him mightily and he replaced the cheque book with the
tightened lips and the fixed gaze of a man who was thinking
rapidly. He paid a visit to the library, where the secretary was
engaged in making copies of Kara's correspondence, answering
letters appealing for charitable donations, and in the hack words
which fall to the secretaries of the great.

He replenished the fire, asked deferentially for any instructions
and returned again to his quest. This time he made the bedroom
the scene of his investigations. The safe he did not attempt to
touch, but there was a small bureau in which Kara would have
placed his private correspondence of the morning. This however
yielded no result.

By the side of the bed on a small table was a telephone, the sight
of which apparently afforded the servant a little amusement. This
was the private 'phone which Kara had been instrumental in having
fixed to Scotland Yard--as he had explained to his servants.

"Rum cove," said Fisher.

He paused for a moment before the closed door of the room and
smilingly surveyed the great steel latch which spanned the door
and fitted into an iron socket securely screwed to the framework.
He lifted it gingerly--there was a little knob for the purpose -
and let it fall gently into the socket which had been made to
receive it on the door itself.

"Rum cove," he said again, and lifting the latch to the hook which
held it up, left the room, closing the door softly behind him. He
walked down the corridor, with a meditative frown, and began to
descend the stairs to the hall.

He was less than half-way down when the one maid of Kara's
household came up to meet him.

"There's a gentleman who wants to see Mr. Kara," she said, "here
is his card."

Fisher took the card from the salver and read, "Mr. George
Gathercole, Junior Travellers' Club."

"I'll see this gentleman," he said, with a sudden brisk interest.

He found the visitor standing in the hall.

He was a man who would have attracted attention, if only from the
somewhat eccentric nature of his dress and his unkempt appearance.
He was dressed in a well-worn overcoat of a somewhat pronounced
check, he had a top-hat, glossy and obviously new, at the back of
his head, and the lower part of his face was covered by a ragged
beard. This he was plucking with nervous jerks, talking to
himself the while, and casting a disparaging eye upon the portrait
of Remington Kara which hung above the marble fireplace. A pair
of pince-nez sat crookedly on his nose and two fat volumes under
his arm completed the picture. Fisher, who was an observer of
some discernment, noticed under the overcoat a creased blue suit,
large black boots and a pair of pearl studs.

The newcomer glared round at the valet.

"Take these!" he ordered peremptorily, pointing to the books under
his arm.

Fisher hastened to obey and noted with some wonder that the
visitor did not attempt to assist him either by loosening his hold
of the volumes or raising his hand. Accidentally the valet's hand
pressed against the other's sleeve and he received a shock, for
the forearm was clearly an artificial one. It was against a
wooden surface beneath the sleeve that his knuckles struck, and
this view of the stranger's infirmity was confirmed when the other
reached round with his right hand, took hold of the gloved left
hand and thrust it into the pocket of his overcoat.

"Where is Kara?" growled the stranger.

"He will be back very shortly, sir," said the urbane Fisher.

"Out, is he?" boomed the visitor. "Then I shan't wait. What the
devil does he mean by being out? He's had three years to be out!"

"Mr. Kara expects you, sir. He told me he would be in at six
o'clock at the latest."

"Six o'clock, ye gods'." stormed the man impatiently. "What dog
am I that I should wait till six?"

He gave a savage little tug at his beard.

"Six o'clock, eh? You will tell Mr. Kara that I called. Give me
those books."

"But I assure you, sir,--" stammered Fisher.

"Give me those books!" roared the other.

Deftly he lifted his left hand from the pocket, crooked the elbow
by some quick manipulation, and thrust the books, which the valet
most reluctantly handed to him, back to the place from whence he
had taken them.

"Tell Mr. Kara I will call at my own time--do you understand, at
my own time. Good morning to you."

"If you would only wait, sir," pleaded the agonized Fisher.

"Wait be hanged," snarled the other. "I've waited three years, I
tell you. Tell Mr. Kara to expect me when he sees me!"

He went out and most unnecessarily banged the door behind him.
Fisher went back to the library. The girl was sealing up some
letters as he entered and looked up.

"I am afraid, Miss Holland, I've got myself into very serious
trouble."

"What is that, Fisher!" asked the girl.

"There was a gentleman coming to see Mr. Kara, whom Mr. Kara
particularly wanted to see."

"Mr. Gathercole," said the girl quickly.

Fisher nodded.

"Yes, miss, I couldn't get him to stay though."

She pursed her lips thoughtfully.

"Mr. Kara will be very cross, but I don't see how you can help it.
I wish you had called me."

"He never gave a chance, miss," said Fisher, with a little smile,
"but if he comes again I'll show him straight up to you."

She nodded.

"Is there anything you want, miss?" he asked as he stood at the
door.

"What time did Mr. Kara say he would be back?"

"At six o'clock, miss," the man replied.

"There is rather an important letter here which has to be
delivered."

"Shall I ring up for a messenger?"

"No, I don't think that would be advisable. You had better take
it yourself."

Kara was in the habit of employing Fisher as a confidential
messenger when the occasion demanded such employment.

"I will go with pleasure, miss," he said.

It was a heaven-sent opportunity for Fisher, who had been
inventing some excuse for leaving the house. She handed him the
letter and he read without a droop of eyelid the superscription:

"T. X. Meredith, Esq., Special Service Dept., Scotland Yard,
Whitehall."

He put it carefully in his pocket and went from the room to
change. Large as the house was Kara did not employ a regular
staff of servants. A maid and a valet comprised the whole of the
indoor staff. His cook, and the other domestics, necessary for
conducting an establishment of that size, were engaged by the day.

Kara had returned from the country earlier than had been
anticipated, and, save for Fisher, the only other person in the
house beside the girl, was the middle-aged domestic who was
parlour-maid, serving-maid and housekeeper in one.

Miss Holland sat at her desk to all appearance reading over the
letters she had typed that afternoon but her mind was very far
from the correspondence before her. She heard the soft thud of
the front door closing, and rising she crossed the room rapidly
and looked down through the window to the street. She watched
Fisher until he was out of sight; then she descended to the hall
and to the kitchen.

It was not the first visit she had made to the big underground
room with its vaulted roof and its great ranges--which were
seldom used nowadays, for Kara gave no dinners.

The maid--who was also cook--arose up as the girl entered.

"It's a sight for sore eyes to see you in my kitchen, miss," she
smiled.

"I'm afraid you're rather lonely, Mrs. Beale," said the girl
sympathetically.

"Lonely, miss!" cried the maid. "I fairly get the creeps sitting
here hour after hour. It's that door that gives me the hump."

She pointed to the far end of the kitchen to a soiled looking door
of unpainted wood.

"That's Mr. Kara's wine cellar--nobody's been in it but him. I
know he goes in sometimes because I tried a dodge that my brother
- who's a policeman--taught me. I stretched a bit of white
cotton across it an' it was broke the next morning."

"Mr. Kara keeps some of his private papers in there," said the
girl quietly, "he has told me so himself."

"H'm," said the woman doubtfully, "I wish he'd brick it up--the
same as he has the lower cellar--I get the horrors sittin' here
at night expectin' the door to open an' the ghost of the mad lord
to come out--him that was killed in Africa."

Miss Holland laughed.

"I want you to go out now," she said, "I have no stamps."

Mrs. Beale obeyed with alacrity and whilst she was assuming a hat
- being desirous of maintaining her prestige as housekeeper in the
eyes of Cadogan Square, the girl ascended to the upper floor.

Again she watched from the window the disappearing figure.

Once out of sight Miss Holland went to work with a remarkable
deliberation and thoroughness. From her bag she produced a small
purse and opened it. In that case was a new steel key. She
passed swiftly down the corridor to Kara's room and made straight
for the safe.

In two seconds it was open and she was examining its contents. It
was a large safe of the usual type. There were four steel drawers
fitted at the back and at the bottom of the strong box. Two of
these were unlocked and contained nothing more interesting than
accounts relating to Kara's estate in Albania.

The top pair were locked. She was prepared for this contingency
and a second key was as efficacious as the first. An examination
of the first drawer did not produce all that she had expected.
She returned the papers to the drawer, pushed it to and locked it.
She gave her attention to the second drawer. Her hand shook a
little as she pulled it open. It was her last chance, her last
hope.

There were a number of small jewel-boxes almost filling the
drawer. She took them out one by one and at the bottom she found
what she had been searching for and that which had filled her
thoughts for the past three months.

It was a square case covered in red morocco leather. She inserted
her shaking hand and took it out with a triumphant little cry.

"At last," she said aloud, and then a hand grasped her wrist and
in a panic she turned to meet the smiling face of Kara.




CHAPTER X


She felt her knees shake under her and thought she was going to
swoon. She put out her disengaged hand to steady herself, and if
the face which was turned to him was pale, there was a steadfast
resolution in her dark eyes.

"Let me relieve you of that, Miss Holland," said Kara, in his
silkiest tones.

He wrenched rather than took the box from her hand, replaced it
carefully in the drawer, pushed the drawer to and locked it,
examining the key as he withdrew it. Then he closed the safe and
locked that.

"Obviously," he said presently, "I must get a new safe."

He had not released his hold of her wrist nor did he, until he had
led her from the room back to the library. Then he released the
girl, standing between her and the door, with folded arms and that
cynical, quiet, contemptuous smile of his upon his handsome face.

"There are many courses which I can adopt," he said slowly. "I
can send for the police--when my servants whom you have
despatched so thoughtfully have returned, or I can take your
punishment into my own hands."

"So far as I am concerned," said the girl coolly, "you may send
for the police."

She leant back against the edge of the desk, her hands holding the
edge, and faced him without so much as a quaver.

"I do not like the police," mused Kara, when there came a knock at
the door.

Kara turned and opened it and after a low strained conversation he
returned, closing the door and laid a paper of stamps on the
girl's table.

"As I was saying, I do not care for the police, and I prefer my
own method. In this particular instance the police obviously
would not serve me, because you are not afraid of them and in all
probability you are in their pay--am I right in supposing that
you are one of Mr. T. X. Meredith's accomplices!"

"I do not know Mr. T. X. Meredith," she replied calmly, "and I am
not in any way associated with the police."

"Nevertheless," he persisted, "you do not seem to be very scared
of them and that removes any temptation I might have to place you
in the hands of the law. Let me see," he pursed his lips as he
applied his mind to the problem.

She half sat, half stood, watching him without any evidence of
apprehension, but with a heart which began to quake a little. For
three months she had played her part and the strain had been
greater than she had confessed to herself. Now the great moment
had come and she had failed. That was the sickening, maddening
thing about it all. It was not the fear of arrest or of
conviction, which brought a sinking to her heart; it was the
despair of failure, added to a sense of her helplessness against
this man.

"If I had you arrested your name would appear in all the papers,
of course," he said, narrowly, "and your photograph would probably
adorn the Sunday journals," he added expectantly.

She laughed.

"That doesn't appeal to me," she said.

"I am afraid it doesn't," he replied, and strolled towards her as
though to pass her on his way to the window. He was abreast of
her when he suddenly swung round and catching her in his arms he
caught her close to him. Before she could realise what he
planned, he had stooped swiftly and kissed her full upon the
mouth.

"If you scream, I shall kiss you again," he said, "for I have sent
the maid to buy some more stamps--to the General Post Office."

"Let me go," she gasped.

Now for the first time he saw the terror in her eyes, and there
surged within him that mad sense of triumph, that intoxication of
power which had been associated with the red letter days of his
warped life.

"You're afraid!" he bantered her, half whispering the words,
"you're afraid now, aren't you? If you scream I shall kiss you
again, do you hear?"

"For God's sake, let me go," she whispered.

He felt her shaking in his arms, and suddenly he released her with
a little laugh, and she sank trembling from head to foot upon the
chair by her desk.

"Now you're going to tell me who sent you here," he went on
harshly, "and why you came. I never suspected you. I thought you
were one of those strange creatures one meets in England, a
gentlewoman who prefers working for her living to the more simple
business of getting married. And all the time you were spying -
clever--very clever!"

The girl was thinking rapidly. In five minutes Fisher would
return. Somehow she had faith in Fisher's ability and willingness
to save her from a situation which she realized was fraught with
the greatest danger to herself. She was horribly afraid. She
knew this man far better than he suspected, realized the treachery
and the unscrupulousness of him. She knew he would stop short of
nothing, that he was without honour and without a single attribute
of goodness.

He must have read her thoughts for he came nearer and stood over
her.

"You needn't shrink, my young friend," he said with a little
chuckle. "You are going to do just what I want you to do, and
your first act will be to accompany me downstairs. Get up."

He half lifted, half dragged her to her feet and led her from the
room. They descended to the hall together and the girl spoke no
word. Perhaps she hoped that she might wrench herself free and
make her escape into the street, but in this she was disappointed.
The grip about her arm was a grip of steel and she knew safety did
not lie in that direction. She pulled back at the head of the
stairs that led down to the kitchen.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

"I am going to put you into safe custody," he said. "On the whole
I think it is best that the police take this matter in hand and I
shall lock you into my wine cellar and go out in search of a
policeman."

The big wooden door opened, revealing a second door and this Kara
unbolted. She noticed that both doors were sheeted with steel,
the outer on the inside, and the inner door on the outside. She
had no time to make any further observations for Kara thrust her
into the darkness. He switched on a light.

"I will not deny you that," he said, pushing her back as she made
a frantic attempt to escape. He swung the outer door to as she
raised her voice in a piercing scream, and clapping his hand over
her mouth held her tightly for a moment.

"I have warned you," he hissed.

She saw his face distorted with rage. She saw Kara transfigured
with devilish anger, saw that handsome, almost godlike countenance
thrust into hers, flushed and seamed with malignity and a
hatefulness beyond understanding and then her senses left her and
she sank limp and swooning into his arms.


When she recovered consciousness she found herself lying on a
plain stretcher bed. She sat up suddenly. Kara had gone and the
door was closed. The cellar was dry and clean and its walls were
enamelled white. Light was supplied by two electric lamps in the
ceiling. There was a table and a chair and a small washstand, and
air was evidently supplied through unseen ventilators. It was
indeed a prison and no less, and in her first moments of panic she
found herself wondering whether Kara had used this underground
dungeon of his before for a similar purpose.

She examined the room carefully. At the farthermost end was
another door and this she pushed gently at first and then
vigorously without producing the slightest impression. She still
had her bag, a small affair of black moire, which hung from her
belt, in which was nothing more formidable than a penknife, a
small bottle of smelling salts and a pair of scissors. The latter
she had used for cutting out those paragraphs from the daily
newspapers which referred to Kara's movements.

They would make a formidable weapon, and wrapping her handkerchief
round the handle to give it a better grip she placed it on the
table within reach. She was dimly conscious all the time that she
had heard something about this wine cellar--something which, if
she could recollect it, would be of service to her.

Then in a flash she remembered that there was a lower cellar,
which according to Mrs. Beale was never used and was bricked up.
It was approached from the outside, down a circular flight of
stairs. There might be a way out from that direction and would
there not be some connection between the upper cellar and the
lower!

She set to work to make a closer examination of the apartment.

The floor was of concrete, covered with a light rush matting.
This she carefully rolled up, starting at the door. One half of
the floor was uncovered without revealing the existence of any
trap. She attempted to pull the table into the centre of the
room, better to roll the matting, but found it fixed to the wall,
and going down on her knees, she discovered that it had been fixed
after the matting had been laid.

Obviously there was no need for the fixture and, she tapped the
floor with her little knuckle. Her heart started racing. The
sound her knocking gave forth was a hollow one. She sprang up,
took her bag from the table, opened the little penknife and cut
carefully through the thin rushes. She might have to replace the
matting and it was necessary she should do her work tidily.

Soon the whole of the trap was revealed. There was an iron ring,
which fitted flush with the top and which she pulled. The trap
yielded and swung back as though there were a counterbalance at
the other end, as indeed there was. She peered down. There was a
dim light below--the reflection of a light in the distance. A
flight of steps led down to the lower level and after a second's
hesitation she swung her legs over the cavity and began her
descent.

She was in a cellar slightly smaller than that above her. The
light she had seen came from an inner apartment which would be
underneath the kitchen of the house. She made her way cautiously
along, stepping on tip-toe. The first of the rooms she came to
was well-furnished. There was a thick carpet on the floor,
comfortable easy-chairs, a little bookcase well filled, and a
reading lamp. This must be Kara's underground study, where he
kept his precious papers.

A smaller room gave from this and again it was doorless. She
looked in and after her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness
she saw that it was a bathroom handsomely fitted.

The room she was in was also without any light which came from the
farthermost chamber. As the girl strode softly across the
well-carpeted room she trod on something hard. She stooped and
felt along the floor and her fingers encountered a thin steel
chain. The girl was bewildered-almost panic-stricken. She shrunk
back from the entrance of the inner room, fearful of what she
would see. And then from the interior came a sound that made her
tingle with horror.

It was a sound of a sigh, long and trembling. She set her teeth
and strode through the doorway and stood for a moment staring with
open eyes and mouth at what she saw.

"My God!" she breathed, "London . . . . in the twentieth
century . . . !"




CHAPTER XI


Superintendent Mansus had a little office in Scotland Yard proper,
which, he complained, was not so much a private bureau, as a
waiting-room to which repaired every official of the police
service who found time hanging on his hands. On the afternoon of
Miss Holland's surprising adventure, a plainclothes man of "D"
Division brought to Mr. Mansus's room a very scared domestic
servant, voluble, tearful and agonizingly penitent. It was a mood
not wholly unfamiliar to a police officer of twenty years
experience and Mr. Mansus was not impressed.

"If you will kindly shut up," he said, blending his natural
politeness with his employment of the vernacular, "and if you will
also answer a few questions I will save you a lot of trouble. You
were Lady Bartholomew's maid weren't you?"

"Yes, sir," sobbed the red-eyed Mary Ann.

"And you have been detected trying to pawn a gold bracelet, the
property of Lady Bartholomew?"

The maid gulped, nodded and started breathlessly upon a recital of
her wrongs.

"Yes, sir--but she practically gave it to me, sir, and I haven't
had my wages for two months, sir, and she can give that foreigner
thousands and thousands of pounds at a time, sir, but her poor
servants she can't pay--no, she can't. And if Sir William knew
especially about my lady's cards and about the snuffbox, what
would he think, I wonder, and I'm going to have my rights, for if
she can pay thousands to a swell like Mr. Kara she can pay me
and--"

Mansus jerked his head.

"Take her down to the cells," he said briefly, and they led her
away, a wailing, woeful figure of amateur larcenist.

In three minutes Mansus was with T. X. and had reduced the girl's
incoherence to something like order.

"This is important," said T. X.; "produce the Abigail."

"The--?" asked the puzzled officer.

"The skivvy--slavey--hired help--get busy," said T. X.
impatiently.

They brought her to T. X. in a condition bordering upon collapse.

"Get her a cup of tea," said the wise chief. "Sit down, Mary Ann,
and forget all your troubles."

"Oh, sir, I've never been in this position before," she began, as
she flopped into the chair they put for her.

"Then you've had a very tiring time," said T. X. "Now listen--"

"I've been respectable--"

"Forget it!" said T. X., wearily. "Listen! If you'll tell me
the whole truth about Lady Bartholomew and the money she paid to
Mr. Kara--"

"Two thousand pounds--two separate thousand and by all accounts-"

"If you will tell me the truth, I'll compound a felony and let you
go free."

It was a long time before he could prevail upon her to clear her
speech of the ego which insisted upon intruding. There were gaps
in her narrative which he bridged. In the main it was a
believable story. Lady Bartholomew had lost money and had
borrowed from Kara. She had given as security, the snuffbox
presented to her husband's father, a doctor, by one of the Czars
for services rendered, and was "all blue enamel and gold, and
foreign words in diamonds." On the question of the amount Lady
Bartholomew had borrowed, Abigail was very vague. All that she
knew was that my lady had paid back two thousand pounds and that
she was still very distressed ("in a fit" was the phrase the girl
used), because apparently Kara refused to restore the box.

There had evidently been terrible scenes in the Bartholomew
menage, hysterics and what not, the principal breakdown having
occurred when Belinda Mary came home from school in France.

"Miss Bartholomew is home then. Where is she?" asked T. X.

Here the girl was more vague than ever. She thought the young
lady had gone back again, anyway Miss Belinda had been very much
upset. Miss Belinda had seen Dr. Williams and advised that her
mother should go away for a change.

"Miss Belinda seems to be a precocious young person," said T. X.
"Did she by any chance see Mr. Kara?"

"Oh, no," explained the girl. "Miss Belinda was above that sort
of person. Miss Belinda was a lady, if ever there was one."

"And how old is this interesting young woman?" asked T. X.
curiously.

"She is nineteen," said the girl, and the Commissioner, who had
pictured Belinda in short plaid frocks and long pigtails, and had
moreover visualised her as a freckled little girl with thin legs
and snub nose, was abashed.

He delivered a short lecture on the sacred rights of property,
paid the girl the three months' wages which were due to her--he
had no doubt as to the legality of her claim--and dismissed her
with instructions to go back to the house, pack her box and clear
out.

After the girl had gone, T. X. sat down to consider the position.
He might see Kara and since Kara had expressed his contrition and
was probably in a more humble state of mind, he might make
reparation. Then again he might not. Mansus was waiting and T.
X. walked back with him to his little office.

"I hardly know what to make of it," he said in despair.

"If you can give me Kara's motive, sir, I can give you a
solution," said Mansus.

T. X. shook his head.

"That is exactly what I am unable to give you," he said.

He perched himself on Mansus's desk and lit a cigar.

"I have a good mind to go round and see him," he said after a
while.

"Why not telephone to him?" asked Mansus. "There is his 'phone
straight into his boudoir."

He pointed to a small telephone in a corner of the room.

"Oh, he persuaded the Commissioner to run the wire, did he?" said
T. X. interested, and walked over to the telephone.

He fingered the receiver for a little while and was about to take
it off, but changed his mind.

"I think not," he said, "I'll go round and see him to-morrow. I
don't hope to succeed in extracting the confidence in the case of
Lady Bartholomew, which he denied me over poor Lexman."

"I suppose you'll never give up hope of seeing Mr. Lexman again,"
smiled Mansus, busily arranging a new blotting pad.

Before T. X. could answer there came a knock at the door, and a
uniformed policeman, entered. He saluted T. X.

"They've just sent an urgent letter across from your office, sir.
I said I thought you were here."

He handed the missive to the Commissioner. T. X. took it and
glanced at the typewritten address. It was marked "urgent" and
"by hand." He took up the thin, steel, paper-knife from the desk
and slit open the envelope. The letter consisted of three or four
pages of manuscript and, unlike the envelope, it was handwritten.

"My dear T. X.," it began, and the handwriting was familiar.

Mansus, watching the Commissioner, saw the puzzled frown gather on
his superior's forehead, saw the eyebrows arch and the mouth open
in astonishment, saw him hastily turn to the last page to read the
signature and then:

"Howling apples!" gasped T. X. "It's from John Lexman!"

His hand shook as he turned the closely written pages. The letter
was dated that afternoon. There was no other address than
"London."

"My dear T. X.," it began, "I do not doubt that this letter will
give you a little shock, because most of my friends will have
believed that I am gone beyond return. Fortunately or
unfortunately that is not so. For myself I could wish--but I am
not going to take a very gloomy view since I am genuinely pleased
at the thought that I shall be meeting you again. Forgive this
letter if it is incoherent but I have only this moment returned
and am writing at the Charing Cross Hotel. I am not staying here,
but I will let you have my address later. The crossing has been a
very severe one so you must forgive me if my letter sounds a
little disjointed. You will be sorry to hear that my dear wife is
dead. She died abroad about six months ago. I do not wish to
talk very much about it so you will forgive me if I do not tell
you any more.

"My principal object in writing to you at the moment is an
official one. I suppose I am still amenable to punishment and I
have decided to surrender myself to the authorities to-night. You
used to have a most excellent assistant in Superintendent Mansus,
and if it is convenient to you, as I hope it will be, I will
report myself to him at 10.15. At any rate, my dear T. X., I do
not wish to mix you up in my affairs and if you will let me do
this business through Mansus I shall be very much obliged to you.

"I know there is no great punishment awaiting me, because my
pardon was apparently signed on the night before my escape. I
shall not have much to tell you, because there is not much in the
past two years that I would care to recall. We endured a great
deal of unhappiness and death was very merciful when it took my
beloved from me.

"Do you ever see Kara in these days?

"Will you tell Mansus to expect me at between ten and half-past,
and if he will give instructions to the officer on duty in the
hall I will come straight up to his room.

"With affectionate regards, my dear fellow, I am, 
"Yours sincerely,

"JOHN LEXMAN."

T. X. read the letter over twice and his eyes were troubled.

"Poor girl," he said softly, and handed the letter to Mansus. "He
evidently wants to see you because he is afraid of using my
friendship to his advantage. I shall be here, nevertheless."

"What will be the formality?" asked Mansus.

"There will be no formality," said the other briskly. "I will
secure the necessary pardon from the Home Secretary and in point
of fact I have it already promised, in writing."

He walked back to Whitehall, his mind fully occupied with the
momentous events of the day. It was a raw February evening, sleet
was falling in the street, a piercing easterly wind drove even
through his thick overcoat. In such doorways as offered
protection from the bitter elements the wreckage of humanity which
clings to the West end of London, as the singed moth flutters
about the flame that destroys it, were huddled for warmth.

T. X. was a man of vast human sympathies.

All his experience with the criminal world, all his
disappointments, all his disillusions had failed to quench the
pity for his unfortunate fellows. He made it a rule on such
nights as these, that if, by chance, returning late to his office
he should find such a shivering piece of jetsam sheltering in his
own doorway, he would give him or her the price of a bed.

In his own quaint way he derived a certain speculative excitement
from this practice. If the doorway was empty he regarded himself
as a winner, if some one stood sheltered in the deep recess which
is a feature of the old Georgian houses in this historic
thoroughfare, he would lose to the extent of a shilling.

He peered forward through the semi-darkness as he neared the door
of his offices.

"I've lost," he said, and stripped his gloves preparatory to
groping in his pocket for a coin.

Somebody was standing in the entrance, but it was obviously a very
respectable somebody. A dumpy, motherly somebody in a seal-skin
coat and a preposterous bonnet.

"Hullo," said T. X. in surprise, "are you trying to get in here?"

"I want to see Mr. Meredith," said the visitor, in the mincing
affected tones of one who excused the vulgar source of her
prosperity by frequently reiterated claims to having seen better
days.

"Your longing shall be gratified," said T. X. gravely.

He unlocked the heavy door, passed through the uncarpeted passage
- there are no frills on Government offices--and led the way up
the stairs to the suite on the first floor which constituted his
bureau.

He switched on all the lights and surveyed his visitor, a
comfortable person of the landlady type.

"A good sort," thought T. X., "but somewhat overweighted with
lorgnettes and seal-skin."

"You will pardon my coming to see you at this hour of the night,"
she began deprecatingly, "but as my dear father used to say, 'Hopi
soit qui mal y pense.'"

"Your dear father being in the garter business?" suggested T. X.
humorously. "Won't you sit down, Mrs.- "

"Mrs. Cassley," beamed the lady as she seated herself. "He was in
the paper hanging business. But needs must, when the devil
drives, as the saying goes."

"What particular devil is driving you, Mrs. Cassley?" asked T.
X., somewhat at a loss to understand the object of this visit.

"I may be doing wrong," began the lady, pursing her lips, "and two
blacks will never make a white."

"And all that glitters is not gold," suggested T. X. a little
wearily. "Will you please tell me your business, Mrs. Cassley? I
am a very hungry man."

"Well, it's like this, sir," said Mrs. Cassley, dropping her
erudition, and coming down to bedrock homeliness; "I've got a
young lady stopping with me, as respectable a gel as I've had to
deal with. And I know what respectability is, I might tell you,
for I've taken professional boarders and I have been housekeeper
to a doctor."

"You are well qualified to speak," said T. X. with a smile. "And
what about this particular young lady of yours! By the way what
is your address?"

"86a Marylebone Road," said the lady.

T. X. sat up.

"Yes?" he said quickly. "What about your young lady?"

"She works as far as I can understand," said the loquacious
landlady, "with a certain Mr. Kara in the typewriting line. She
came to me four months ago."

"Never mind when she came to you," said T. X. impatiently. "Have
you a message from the lady?"

"Well, it's like this, sir," said Mrs. Cassley, leaning forward
confidentially and speaking in the hollow tone which she had
decided should accompany any revelation to a police officer, "this
young lady said to me, 'If I don't come any night by 8 o'clock you
must go to T. X. and tell him--'!"

She paused dramatically.

"Yes, yes," said T. X. quickly, "for heaven's sake go on, woman."

"'Tell him,'" said Mrs. Cassley, "'that Belinda Mary--' "

He sprang to his feet.

"Belinda Mary!" he breathed, "Belinda Mary!" In a flash he saw it
all. This girl with a knowledge of modern Greek, who was working
in Kara's house, was there for a purpose. Kara had something of
her mother's, something that was vital and which he would not part
with, and she had adopted this method of securing that some thing.
Mrs. Cassley was prattling on, but her voice was merely a haze of
sound to him. It brought a strange glow to his heart that Belinda
Mary should have thought of him.

"Only as a policeman, of course," said the still, small voice of
his official self. "Perhaps!" said the human T. X., defiantly.

He got on the telephone to Mansus and gave a few instructions.

"You stay here," he ordered the astounded Mrs. Cassley; "I am
going to make a few investigations."

Kara was at home, but was in bed. T. X. remembered that this
extraordinary man invariably went to bed early and that it was his
practice to receive visitors in this guarded room of his. He was
admitted almost at once and found Kara in his silk dressing-gown
lying on the bed smoking. The heat of the room was unbearable
even on that bleak February night.

"This is a pleasant surprise," said Kara, sitting up; "I hope you
don't mind my dishabille."

T. X. came straight to the point.

"Where is Miss Holland!" he asked.

"Miss Holland?" Kara's eyebrows advertised his astonishment.
"What an extraordinary question to ask me, my dear man! At her
home, or at the theatre or in a cinema palace--I don't know how
these people employ their evenings."

"She is not at home," said T. X., "and I have reason to believe
that she has not left this house."

"What a suspicious person you are, Mr. Meredith!" Kara rang the
bell and Fisher came in with a cup of coffee on a tray.

"Fisher," drawled Kara. "Mr. Meredith is anxious to know where
Miss Holland is. Will you be good enough to tell him, you know
more about her movements than I do."

"As far as I know, sir," said Fisher deferentially, "she left the
house about 5.30, her usual hour. She sent me out a little before
five on a message and when I came back her hat and her coat had
gone, so I presume she had gone also."

"Did you see her go?" asked T. X.

The man shook his head.

"No, sir, I very seldom see the lady come or go. There has been
no restrictions placed upon the young lady and she has been at
liberty to move about as she likes. I think I am correct in
saying that, sir," he turned to Kara.

Kara nodded.

"You will probably find her at home."

He shook his finger waggishly at T. X.

"What a dog you are," he jibed, "I ought to keep the beauties of
my household veiled, as we do in the East, and especially when I
have a susceptible policeman wandering at large."

T. X. gave jest for jest. There was nothing to be gained by
making trouble here. After a few amiable commonplaces he took his
departure. He found Mrs. Cassley being entertained by Mansus with
a wholly fictitious description of the famous criminals he had
arrested.

"I can only suggest that you go home," said T. X. "I will send a
police officer with you to report to me, but in all probability
you will find the lady has returned. She may have had a
difficulty in getting a bus on a night like this."

A detective was summoned from Scotland Yard and accompanied by him
Mrs. Cassley returned to her domicile with a certain importance.
T. X. looked at his watch. It was a quarter to ten.

"Whatever happens, I must see old Lexman," he said. "Tell the
best men we've got in the department to stand by for
eventualities. This is going to be one of my busy days."




CHAPTER XII


Kara lay back on his down pillows with a sneer on his face and his
brain very busy. What started the train of thought he did not
know, but at that moment his mind was very far away. It carried
him back a dozen years to a dirty little peasant's cabin on the
hillside outside Durazzo, to the livid face of a young Albanian
chief, who had lost at Kara's whim all that life held for a man,
to the hateful eyes of the girl's father, who stood with folded
arms glaring down at the bound and manacled figure on the floor,
to the smoke-stained rafters of this peasant cottage and the
dancing shadows on the roof, to that terrible hour of waiting when
he sat bound to a post with a candle flickering and spluttering
lower and lower to the little heap of gunpowder that would start
the trail toward the clumsy infernal machine under his chair. He
remembered the day well because it was Candlemas day, and this was
the anniversary. He remembered other things more pleasant. The
beat of hoofs on the rocky roadway, the crash of the door falling
in when the Turkish Gendarmes had battered a way to his rescue.
He remembered with a savage joy the spectacle of his would-be
assassins twitching and struggling on the gallows at Pezara and -
he heard the faint tinkle of the front door bell.

Had T. X. returned! He slipped from the bed and went to the door,
opened it slightly and listened. T. X. with a search warrant
might be a source of panic especially if--he shrugged his
shoulders. He had satisfied T. X. and allayed his suspicions. He
would get Fisher out of the way that night and make sure.

The voice from the hall below was loud and gruff. Who could it
be! Then he heard Fisher's foot on the stairs and the valet
entered.

"Will you see Mr. Gathercole now!"

"Mr. Gathercole!"

Kara breathed a sigh of relief and his face was wreathed in
smiles.

"Why, of course. Tell him to come up. Ask him if he minds seeing
me in my room."

"I told him you were in bed, sir, and he used shocking language,"
said Fisher.

Kara laughed.

"Send him up," he said, and then as Fisher was going out of the
room he called him back.

"By the way, Fisher, after Mr. Gathercole has gone, you may go out
for the night. You've got somewhere to go, I suppose, and you
needn't come back until the morning."

"Yes, sir," said the servant.

Such an instruction was remarkably pleasing to him. There was
much that he had to do and that night's freedom would assist him
materially.

"Perhaps" Kara hesitated, "perhaps you had better wait until
eleven o'clock. Bring me up some sandwiches and a large glass of
milk. Or better still, place them on a plate in the hall."

"Very good, sir," said the man and withdrew.

Down below, that grotesque figure with his shiny hat and his
ragged beard was walking up and down the tesselated hallway
muttering to himself and staring at the various objects in the
hall with a certain amused antagonism.

"Mr. Kara will see you, sir," said Fisher.

"Oh!" said the other glaring at the unoffending Fisher, "that's
very good of him. Very good of this person to see a scholar and a
gentleman who has been about his dirty business for three years.
Grown grey in his service! Do you understand that, my man!"

"Yes, sir," said Fisher.

"Look here!"

The man thrust out his face.

"Do you see those grey hairs in my beard?"

The embarrassed Fisher grinned.

"Is it grey!" challenged the visitor, with a roar.

"Yes, sir," said the valet hastily.

"Is it real grey?" insisted the visitor. "Pull one out and see!"

The startled Fisher drew back with an apologetic smile.

"I couldn't think of doing a thing like that, sir."

"Oh, you couldn't," sneered the visitor; "then lead on!"

Fisher showed the way up the stairs. This time the traveller
carried no books. His left arm hung limply by his side and Fisher
privately gathered that the hand had got loose from the detaining
pocket without its owner being aware of the fact. He pushed open
the door and announced, "Mr. Gathercole," and Kara came forward
with a smile to meet his agent, who, with top hat still on the top
of his head, and his overcoat dangling about his heels, must have
made a remarkable picture.

Fisher closed the door behind them and returned to his duties in
the hall below. Ten minutes later he heard the door opened and
the booming voice of the stranger came down to him. Fisher went
up the stairs to meet him and found him addressing the occupant
of the room in his own eccentric fashion.

"No more Patagonia!" he roared, "no more Tierra del Fuego!" he
paused.

"Certainly!" He replied to some question, "but not Patagonia," he
paused again, and Fisher standing at the foot of the stairs
wondered what had occurred to make the visitor so genial.

"I suppose your cheque will be honoured all right?" asked the
visitor sardonically, and then burst into a little chuckle of
laughter as he carefully closed the door.

He came down the corridor talking to himself, and greeted Fisher.

"Damn all Greeks," he said jovially, and Fisher could do no more
than smile reproachfully, the smile being his very own, the
reproach being on behalf of the master who paid him.

The traveller touched the other on the chest with his right hand.

"Never trust a Greek," he said, "always get your money in advance.
Is that clear to you?"

"Yes, sir," said Fisher, "but I think you will always find that
Mr. Kara is always most generous about money."

"Don't you believe it, don't you believe it, my poor man," said
the other, "you--"

At that moment there came from Kara's room a faint "clang."

"What's that?" asked the visitor a little startled.

"Mr. Kara's put down his steel latch," said Fisher with a smile,
"which means that he is not to be disturbed until--" he looked at
his watch, "until eleven o'clock at any rate."

"He's a funk!" snapped the other, "a beastly funk!"

He stamped down the stairs as though testing the weight of every
tread, opened the front door without assistance, slammed it behind
him and disappeared into the night.

Fisher, his hands in his pockets, looked after the departing
stranger, nodding his head in reprobation.

"You're a queer old devil," he said, and looked at his watch
again.

It wanted five minutes to ten.




CHAPTER XIII

"IF you would care to come in, sir, I'm sure Lexman would be glad
to see you," said T. X.; "it's very kind of you to take an
interest in the matter."

The Chief Commissioner of Police growled something about being
paid to take an interest in everybody and strolled with T. X. down
one of the apparently endless corridors of Scotland Yard.

"You won't have any bother about the pardon," he said. "I was
dining to-night with old man Bartholomew and he will fix that up
in the morning."

"There will be no necessity to detain Lexman in custody?" asked T.
X.

The Chief shook his head.

"None whatever," he said.

There was a pause, then,

"By the way, did Bartholomew mention Belinda Mary!"

The white-haired chief looked round in astonishment.

"And who the devil is Belinda Mary?" he asked.

T. X. went red.

"Belinda Mary," he said a little quickly, "is Bartholomew's
daughter."

"By Jove," said the Commissioner, "now you mention it, he did -
she is still in France."

"Oh, is she?" said T. X. innocently, and in his heart of hearts he
wished most fervently that she was. They came to the room which
Mansus occupied and found that admirable man waiting.

Wherever policemen meet, their conversation naturally drifts to
"shop" and in two minutes the three were discussing with some
animation and much difference of opinion, as far as T. X. was
concerned, a series of frauds which had been perpetrated in the
Midlands, and which have nothing to do with this story.

"Your friend is late," said the Chief Commissioner.

"There he is," cried T. X., springing up. He heard a familiar
footstep on the flagged corridor, and sprung out of the room to
meet the newcomer.

For a moment he stood wringing the hand of this grave man, his
heart too full for words.

"My dear chap!" he said at last, "you don't know how glad I am to
see you."

John Lexman said nothing, then,

"I am sorry to bring you into this business, T. X.," he said
quietly.

"Nonsense," said the other, "come in and see the Chief."

He took John by the arm and led him into the Superintendent's
room.

There was a change in John Lexman. A subtle shifting of balance
which was not readily discoverable. His face was older, the
mobile mouth a little more grimly set, the eyes more deeply lined.
He was in evening dress and looked, as T. X. thought, a typical,
clean, English gentleman, such an one as any self-respecting valet
would be proud to say he had "turned out."

T. X. looking at him carefully could see no great change, save
that down one side of his smooth shaven cheek ran the scar of an
old wound; which could not have been much more than superficial.

"I must apologize for this kit," said John, taking off his
overcoat and laying it across the back of a chair, "but the fact
is I was so bored this evening that I had to do something to pass
the time away, so I dressed and went to the theatre--and was more
bored than ever."

T. X. noticed that he did not smile and that when he spoke it was
slowly and carefully, as though he were weighing the value of
every word.

"Now," he went on, "I have come to deliver myself into your
hands."

"I suppose you have not seen Kara?" said T. X.

"I have no desire to see Kara," was the short reply.

"Well, Mr. Lexman," broke in the Chief, "I don't think you are
going to have any difficulty about your escape. By the way, I
suppose it was by aeroplane?"

Lexman nodded.

"And you had an assistant?"

Again Lexman nodded.

"Unless you press me I would rather not discuss the matter for
some little time, Sir George," he said, "there is much that will
happen before the full story of my escape is made known."

Sir George nodded.

"We will leave it at that," he said cheerily, "and now I hope you
have come back to delight us all with one of your wonderful
plots."

"For the time being I have done with wonderful plots," said John
Lexman in that even, deliberate tone of his. "I hope to leave
London next week for New York and take up such of the threads of
life as remain. The greater thread has gone."

The Chief Commissioner understood.

The silence which followed was broken by the loud and insistent
ringing of the telephone bell.

"Hullo," said Mansus rising quickly; "that's Kara's bell."

With two quick strides he was at the telephone and lifted down the
receiver.

"Hullo," he cried. "Hullo," he cried again. There was no reply,
only the continuous buzzing, and when he hung up the receiver
again, the bell continued ringing.

The three policemen looked at one another.

"There's trouble there," said Mansus.

"Take off the receiver," said T. X., "and try again."

Mansus obeyed, but there was no response.

"I am afraid this is not my affair," said John Lexman gathering up
his coat. "What do you wish me to do, Sir George?"

"Come along to-morrow morning and see us, Lexman," said Sir
George, offering his hand.

"Where are you staying!" asked T. X.

"At the Great Midland," replied the other, "at least my bags have
gone on there."

"I'll come along and see you to-morrow morning. It's curious this
should have happened the night you returned," he said, gripping
the other's shoulder affectionately.

John Lexman did not speak for the moment.

"If anything happened to Kara," he said slowly, "if the worst that
was possible happened to him, believe me I should not weep."

T. X. looked down into the other's eyes sympathetically.

"I think he has hurt you pretty badly, old man," he said gently.

John Lexman nodded.

"He has, damn him," he said between his teeth.

The Chief Commissioner's motor car was waiting outside and in this
T. X., Mansus, and a detective-sergeant were whirled off to
Cadogan Square. Fisher was in the hall when they rung the bell
and opened the door instantly.

He was frankly surprised to see his visitors. Mr. Kara was in his
room he explained resentfully, as though T. X. should have been
aware of the fact without being told. He had heard no bell
ringing and indeed had not been summoned to the room.

"I have to see him at eleven o'clock," he said, "and I have had
standing instructions not to go to him unless I am sent for."

T. X. led the way upstairs, and went straight to Kara's room. He
knocked, but there was no reply. He knocked again and on this
failing to evoke any response kicked heavily at the door.

"Have you a telephone downstairs!" he asked.

"Yes, sir," replied Fisher.

T. X. turned to the detective-sergeant.

"'Phone to the Yard," he said, "and get a man up with a bag of
tools. We shall have to pick this lock and I haven't got my case
with me."

"Picking the lock would be no good, sir," said Fisher, an
interested spectator, "Mr. Kara's got the latch down."

"I forgot that," said T. X. "Tell him to bring his saw, we'll
have to cut through the panel here."

While they were waiting for the arrival of the police officer T.
X. strove to attract the attention of the inmates of the room, but
without success.

"Does he take opium or anything!" asked Mansus.

Fisher shook his head.

"I've never known him to take any of that kind of stuff," he said.

T. X. made a rapid survey of the other rooms on that floor. The
room next to Kara's was the library, beyond that was a dressing
room which, according to Fisher, Miss Holland had used, and at the
farthermost end of the corridor was the dining room.

Facing the dining room was a small service lift and by its side a
storeroom in which were a number of trunks, including a very large
one smothered in injunctions in three different languages to
"handle with care." There was nothing else of interest on this
floor and the upper and lower floors could wait. In a quarter of
an hour the carpenter had arrived from Scotland Yard, and had
bored a hole in the rosewood panel of Kara's room and was busily
applying his slender saw.

Through the hole he cut T. X. could see no more than that the room
was in darkness save for the glow of a blazing fire. He inserted
his hand, groped for the knob of the steel latch, which he had
remarked on his previous visit to the room, lifted it and the door
swung open.

"Keep outside, everybody," he ordered.

He felt for the switch of the electric, found it and instantly the
room was flooded with light. The bed was hidden by the open door.
T. X. took one stride into the room and saw enough. Kara was
lying half on and half off the bed. He was quite dead and the
blood-stained patch above his heart told its own story.

T. X. stood looking down at him, saw the frozen horror on the dead
man's face, then drew his eyes away and slowly surveyed the room.
There in the middle of the carpet he found his clue, a bent and
twisted little candle such as you find on children's Christmas
trees.





CHAPTER XIV


It was Mansus who found the second candle, a stouter affair. It
lay underneath the bed. The telephone, which stood on a fairly
large-sized table by the side of the bed, was overturned and the
receiver was on the floor. By its side were two books, one being
the "Balkan Question," by Villari, and the other "Travels and
Politics in the Near East," by Miller. With them was a long,
ivory paper-knife.

There was nothing else on the bedside-table save a silver
cigarette box. T. X. drew on a pair of gloves and examined the
bright surface for finger-prints, but a superficial view revealed
no such clue.

"Open the window," said T. X., "the heat here is intolerable. Be
very careful, Mansus. By the way, is the window fastened?"

"Very well fastened," said the superintendent after a careful
scrutiny.

He pushed back the fastenings, lifted the window and as he did, a
harsh bell rang in the basement.

"That is the burglar alarm, I suppose," said T. X.; "go down and
stop that bell."

He addressed Fisher, who stood with a troubled face at the door.
When he had disappeared T. X. gave a significant glance to one of
the waiting officers and the man sauntered after the valet.

Fisher stopped the bell and came back to the hall and stood before
the hall fire, a very troubled man. Near the fire was a big,
oaken writing table and on this there lay a small envelope which
he did not remember having seen before, though it might have been
there for some time, for he had spent a greater portion of the
evening in the kitchen with the cook.

He picked up the envelope, and, with a start, recognised that it
was addressed to himself. He opened it and took out a card.
There were only a few words written upon it, but they were
sufficient to banish all the colour from his face and set his
hands shaking. He took the envelope and card and flung them into
the fire.

It so happened that, at that moment, Mansus had called from
upstairs, and the officer, who had been told off to keep the valet
under observation, ran up in answer to the summons. For a moment
Fisher hesitated, then hatless and coatless as he was, he crept to
the door, opened it, leaving it ajar behind him and darting down
the steps, ran like a hare from the house.

The doctor, who came a little later, was cautious as to the hour
of death.

"If you got your telephone message at 10.25, as you say, that was
probably the hour he was killed," he said. "I could not tell
within half an hour. Obviously the man who killed him gripped his
throat with his left hand--there are the bruises on his neck -
and stabbed him with the right."

It was at this time that the disappearance of Fisher was noticed,
but the cross-examination of the terrified Mrs. Beale removed any
doubt that T. X. had as to the man's guilt.

"You had better send out an 'All Stations' message and pull him
in," said T. X. "He was with the cook from the moment the visitor
left until a few minutes before we rang. Besides which it is
obviously impossible for anybody to have got into this room or out
again. Have you searched the dead man?"

Mansus produced a tray on which Kara's belongings had been
disposed. The ordinary keys Mrs. Beale was able to identify.
There were one or two which were beyond her. T. X. recognised one
of these as the key of the safe, but two smaller keys baffled him
not a little, and Mrs. Beale was at first unable to assist him.

"The only thing I can think of, sir," she said, "is the wine
cellar."

"The wine cellar?" said T. X. slowly. "That must be--" he
stopped.

The greater tragedy of the evening, with all its mystifying
aspects had not banished from his mind the thought of the girl -
that Belinda Mary, who had called upon him in her hour of danger
as he divined. Perhaps--he descended into the kitchen and was
brought face to face with the unpainted door.

"It looks more like a prison than a wine cellar," he said.

"That's what I've always thought, sir," said Mrs. Beale, "and
sometimes I've had a horrible feeling of fear."

He cut short her loquacity by inserting one of the keys in the
lock--it did not turn, but he had more success with the second.
The lock snapped back easily and he pulled the door back. He
found the inner door bolted top and bottom. The bolts slipped
back in their well-oiled sockets without any effort. Evidently
Kara used this place pretty frequently, thought T. X.

He pushed the door open and stopped with an exclamation of
surprise. The cellar apartment was brilliantly lit--but it was
unoccupied.

"This beats the band," said T. X.

He saw something on the table and lifted it up. It was a pair of
long-bladed scissors and about the handle was wound a
handkerchief. It was not this fact which startled him, but that
the scissors' blades were dappled with blood and blood, too, was
on the handkerchief. He unwound the flimsy piece of cambric and
stared at the monogram "B. M. B."

He looked around. Nobody had seen the weapon and he dropped it in
his overcoat pocket, and walked from the cellar to the kitchen
where Mrs. Beale and Mansus awaited him.

"There is a lower cellar, is there not!" he asked in a strained
voice.

"That was bricked up when Mr. Kara took the house," explained the
woman.

"There is nothing more to look for here," he said.

He walked slowly up the stairs to the library, his mind in a
whirl. That he, an accredited officer of police, sworn to the
business of criminal detection, should attempt to screen one who
was conceivably a criminal was inexplicable. But if the girl had
committed this crime, how had she reached Kara's room and why had
she returned to the locked cellar!

He sent for Mrs. Beale to interrogate her. She had heard nothing
and she had been in the kitchen all the evening. One fact she did
reveal, however, that Fisher had gone from the kitchen and had
been absent a quarter of an hour and had returned a little
agitated.

"Stay here," said T. X., and went down again to the cellar to make
a further search.

"Probably there is some way out of this subterranean jail," he
thought and a diligent search of the room soon revealed it.

He found the iron trap, pulled it open, and slipped down the
stairs. He, too, was puzzled by the luxurious character of the
vault. He passed from room to room and finally came to the inner
chamber where a light was burning.

The light, as he discovered, proceeded from a small reading lamp
which stood by the side of a small brass bedstead. The bed had
recently been slept in, but there was no sign of any occupant. T.
X. conducted a very careful search and had no difficulty in
finding the bricked up door. Other exits there were none.

The floor was of wood block laid on concrete, the ventilation was
excellent and in one of the recesses which had evidently held at
so time or other, a large wine bin, there was a prefect electrical
cooking plant. In a small larder were a number of baskets,
bearing the name of a well-known caterer, one of them containing
an excellent assortment of cold and potted meats, preserves, etc.

T. X. went back to the bedroom and took the little lamp from the
table by the side of the bed and began a more careful examination.
Presently he found traces of blood, and followed an irregular
trail to the outer room. He lost it suddenly at the foot of
stairs leading down from the upper cellar. Then he struck it
again. He had reached the end of his electric cord and was now
depending upon an electric torch he had taken from his pocket.

There were indications of something heavy having been dragged
across the room and he saw that it led to a small bathroom. He
had made a cursory examination of this well-appointed apartment,
and now he proceeded to make a close investigation and was well
rewarded.

The bathroom was the only apartment which possess anything
resembling a door--a two-fold screen and-- as he pressed this
back, he felt some thing which prevented its wider extension. He
slipped into the room and flashed his lamp in the space behind the
screen. There stiff in death with glazed eyes and lolling tongue
lay a great gaunt dog, his yellow fangs exposed in a last grimace.


About the neck was a collar and attached to that, a few links of
broken chain. T. X. mounted the steps thoughtfully and passed out
to the kitchen.

Did Belinda Mary stab Kara or kill the dog? That she killed one
hound or the other was certain. That she killed both was
possible.




CHAPTER XV


After a busy and sleepless night he came down to report to the
Chief Commissioner the next morning. The evening newspaper bills
were filled with the "Chelsea Sensation" but the information given
was of a meagre character.

Since Fisher had disappeared, many of the details which could have
been secured by the enterprising pressmen were missing. There was
no reference to the visit of Mr. Gathercole and in self-defence
the press had fallen back upon a statement, which at an earlier
period had crept into the newspapers in one of those chatty
paragraphs which begin "I saw my friend Kara at Giros" and end
with a brief but inaccurate summary of his hobbies. The paragraph
had been to the effect that Mr. Kara had been in fear of his life
for some time, as a result of a blood feud which existed between
himself and another Albanian family. Small wonder, therefore, the
murder was everywhere referred to as "the political crime of the
century."

"So far," reported T. X. to his superior, "I have been unable to
trace either Gathercole or the valet. The only thing we know
about Gathercole is that he sent his article to The Times with his
card. The servants of his Club are very vague as to his
whereabouts. He is a very eccentric man, who only comes in
occasionally, and the steward whom I interviewed says that it
frequently happened that Gathercole arrived and departed without
anybody being aware of the fact. We have been to his old lodgings
in Lincoln's Inn, but apparently he sold up there before he went
away to the wilds of Patagonia and relinquished his tenancy.

"The only clue I have is that a man answering to some extent to
his description left by the eleven o'clock train for Paris last
night."

"You have seen the secretary of course," said the Chief.

It was a question which T. X. had been dreading.

"Gone too," he answered shortly; "in fact she has not been seen
since 5:30 yesterday evening."

Sir George leant back in his chair and rumpled his thick grey
hair.

"The only person who seems to have remained," he said with heavy
sarcasm, "was Kara himself. Would you like me to put somebody
else on this case--it isn't exactly your job--or will you carry
it on?"

"I prefer to carry it on, sir," said T. X. firmly.

"Have you found out anything more about Kara?"

T. X. nodded.

"All that I have discovered about him is eminently discreditable,"
he said. "He seems to have had an ambition to occupy a very
important position in Albania. To this end he had bribed and
subsidized the Turkish and Albanian officials and had a fairly
large following in that country. Bartholomew tells me that Kara
had already sounded him as to the possibility of the British
Government recognising a fait accompli in Albania and had been
inducing him to use his influence with the Cabinet to recognize
the consequence of any revolution. There is no doubt whatever
that Kara has engineered all the political assassinations which
have been such a feature in the news from Albania during this past
year. We also found in the house very large sums of money and
documents which we have handed over to the Foreign Office for
decoding."

Sir George thought for a long time.

Then he said, "I have an idea that if you find your secretary you
will be half way to solving the mystery."

T. X. went out from the office in anything but a joyous mood. He
was on his way to lunch when he remembered his promise to call
upon John Lexman.

Could Lexman supply a key which would unravel this tragic tangle?
He leant out of his taxi-cab and redirected the driver. It
happened that the cab drove up to the door of the Great Midland
Hotel as John Lexman was coming out.

"Come and lunch with me," said T. X. "I suppose you've heard all
the news."

"I read about Kara being killed, if that's what you mean," said
the other. "It was rather a coincidence that I should have been
discussing the matter last night at the very moment when his
telephone bell rang--I wish to heaven you hadn't been in this,"
he said fretfully.

"Why?" asked the astonished Assistant Commissioner, "and what do
you mean by 'in it'?"

"In the concrete sense I wish you had not been present when I
returned," said the other moodily, "I wanted to be finished with
the whole sordid business without in any way involving my
friends."

"I think you are too sensitive," laughed the other, clapping him
on the shoulder. "I want you to unburden yourself to me, my dear
chap, and tell me anything you can that will help me to clear up
this mystery."

John Lexman looked straight ahead with a worried frown.

"I would do almost anything for you, T. X.," he said quietly, "the
more so since I know how good you were to Grace, but I can't help
you in this matter. I hated Kara living, I hate him dead," he
cried, and there was a passion in his voice which was
unmistakable; "he was the vilest thing that ever drew the breath
of life. There was no villainy too despicable, no cruelty so
horrid but that he gloried in it. If ever the devil were
incarnate on earth he took the shape and the form of Remington
Kara. He died too merciful a death by all accounts. But if there
is a God, this man will suffer for his crimes in hell through all
eternity."

T. X. looked at him in astonishment. The hate in the man's face
took his breath away. Never before had he experienced or
witnessed such a vehemence of loathing.

"What did Kara do to you?" he demanded.

The other looked out of the window.

"I am sorry," he said in a milder tone; "that is my weakness.
Some day I will tell you the whole story but for the moment it
were better that it were not told. I will tell you this," he
turned round and faced the detective squarely, "Kara tortured and
killed my wife."

T. X. said no more.

Half way through lunch he returned indirectly to the subject.

"Do you know Gathercole?" he asked.

T. X. nodded.

"I think you asked me that question once before, or perhaps it was
somebody else. Yes, I know him, rather an eccentric man with an
artificial arm."

"That's the cove," said T. X. with a little sigh; "he's one of the
few men I want to meet just now."

"Why?"

"Because he was apparently the last man to see Kara alive."

John Lexman looked at the other with an impatient jerk of his
shoulders.

"You don't suspect Gathercole, do you?" he asked.

"Hardly," said the other drily; "in the first place the man that
committed this murder had two hands and needed them both. No, I
only want to ask that gentleman the subject of his conversation.
I also want to know who was in the room with Kara when Gathercole
went in."

"H'm," said John Lexman.

"Even if I found who the third person was, I am still puzzled as
to how they got out and fastened the heavy latch behind them. Now
in the old days, Lexman," he said good humouredly, "you would have
made a fine mystery story out of this. How would you have made
your man escape?"

Lexman thought for a while.

"Have you examined the safe!" he asked.

"Yes," said the other.

"Was there very much in it?"

T. X. looked at him in astonishment.

"Just the ordinary books and things. Why do you ask?"

"Suppose there were two doors to that safe, one on the outside of
the room and one on the inside, would it be possible to pass
through the safe and go down the wall?"

"I have thought of that," said T. X.

"Of course," said Lexman, leaning back and toying with a
salt-spoon, "in writing a story where one hasn't got to deal with
the absolute possibilities, one could always have made Kara have a
safe of that character in order to make his escape in the event of
danger. He might keep a rope ladder stored inside, open the back
door, throw out his ladder to a friend and by some trick
arrangement could detach the ladder and allow the door to swing to
again."

"A very ingenious idea," said T. X., "but unfortunately it doesn't
work in this case. I have seen the makers of the safe and there
is nothing very eccentric about it except the fact that it is
mounted as it is. Can you offer another suggestion?"

John Lexman thought again.

"I will not suggest trap doors, or secret panels or anything so
banal," he said, "nor mysterious springs in the wall which, when
touched, reveal secret staircases."

He smiled slightly.

"In my early days, I must confess, I was rather keen upon that
sort of thing, but age has brought experience and I have
discovered the impossibility of bringing an architect to one's way
of thinking even in so commonplace a matter as the position of a
scullery. It would be much more difficult to induce him to
construct a house with double walls and secret chambers."

T. X. waited patiently.

"There is a possibility, of course," said Lexman slowly, "that the
steel latch may have been raised by somebody outside by some
ingenious magnetic arrangement and lowered in a similar manner."

"I have thought about it," said T. X. triumphantly, "and I have
made the most elaborate tests only this morning. It is quite
impossible to raise the steel latch because once it is dropped it
cannot be raised again except by means of the knob, the pulling of
which releases the catch which holds the bar securely in its
place. Try another one, John."

John Lexman threw back his head in a noiseless laugh.

"Why I should be helping you to discover the murderer of Kara is
beyond my understanding," he said, "but I will give you another
theory, at the same time warning you that I may be putting you off
the track. For God knows I have more reason to murder Kara than
any man in the world."

He thought a while.

"The chimney was of course impossible?"

"There was a big fire burning in the grate," explained T. X.; "so
big indeed that the room was stifling."

John Lexman nodded.

"That was Kara's way," he said; "as a matter of fact I know the
suggestion about magnetism in the steel bar was impossible,
because I was friendly with Kara when he had that bar put in and
pretty well know the mechanism, although I had forgotten it for
the moment. What is your own theory, by the way?"

T. X. pursed his lips.

"My theory isn't very clearly formed," he said cautiously, "but so
far as it goes, it is that Kara was lying on the bed probably
reading one of the books which were found by the bedside when his
assailant suddenly came upon him. Kara seized the telephone to
call for assistance and was promptly killed."

Again there was silence.

"That is a theory," said John Lexman, with his curious
deliberation of speech, "but as I say I refuse to be definite -
have you found the weapon?"

T. X. shook his head.

"Were there any peculiar features about the room which astonished
you, and which you have not told me?"

T. X. hesitated.

"There were two candles," he said, "one in the middle of the room
and one under the bed. That in the middle of the room was a small
Christmas candle, the one under the bed was the ordinary candle of
commerce evidently roughly cut and probably cut in the room. We
found traces of candle chips on the floor and it is evident to me
that the portion which was cut off was thrown into the fire, for
here again we have a trace of grease."

Lexman nodded.

"Anything further?" he asked.

"The smaller candle was twisted into a sort of corkscrew shape."

"The Clue of the Twisted Candle," mused John Lexman "that's a very
good title--Kara hated candles."

"Why?"

Lexman leant back in his chair, selected a cigarette from a silver
case.

"In my wanderings," he said, "I have been to many strange places.
I have been to the country which you probably do not know, and
which the traveller who writes books about countries seldom
visits. There are queer little villages perched on the spurs of
the bleakest hills you ever saw. I have lived with communities
which acknowledge no king and no government. These have their
laws handed down to them from father to son--it is a nation
without a written language. They administer their laws rigidly
and drastically. The punishments they award are cruel--inhuman.
I have seen, the woman taken in adultery stoned to death as in the
best Biblical traditions, and I have seen the thief blinded."

T. X. shivered.

"I have seen the false witness stand up in a barbaric market place
whilst his tongue was torn from him. Sometimes the Turks or the
piebald governments of the state sent down a few gendarmes and
tried a sort of sporadic administration of the country. It
usually ended in the representative of the law lapsing into
barbarism, or else disappearing from the face of the earth, with a
whole community of murderers eager to testify, with singular
unanimity, to the fact that he had either committed suicide or had
gone off with the wife of one of the townsmen.

"In some of these communities the candle plays a big part. It is
not the candle of commerce as you know it, but a dip made from
mutton fat. Strap three between the fingers of your hands and
keep the hand rigid with two flat pieces of wood; then let the
candles burn down lower and lower--can you imagine? Or set a
candle in a gunpowder trail and lead the trail to a well-oiled
heap of shavings thoughtfully heaped about your naked feet. Or a
candle fixed to the shaved head of a man--there are hundreds of
variations and the candle plays a part in all of them. I don't
know which Kara had cause to hate the worst, but I know one or two
that he has employed."

"Was he as bad as that?" asked T. X.

John Lexman laughed.

"You don't know how bad he was," he said.

Towards the end of the luncheon the waiter brought a note in to T.
X. which had been sent on from his office.

"Dear Mr. Meredith,

"In answer to your enquiry I believe my daughter is in London,
but I did not know it until this morning. My banker informs me
that my daughter called at the bank this morning and drew a
considerable sum of money from her private account, but where she
has gone and what she is doing with the money I do not know. I
need hardly tell you that I am very worried about this matter and
I should be glad if you could explain what it is all about."

It was signed "William Bartholomew."

T. X. groaned.

"If I had only had the sense to go to the bank this morning, I
should have seen her," he said. "I'm going to lose my job over
this."

The other looked troubled.

"You don't seriously mean that."

"Not exactly," smiled T. X., "but I don't think the Chief is very
pleased with me just now. You see I have butted into this
business without any authority--it isn't exactly in my
department. But you have not given me your theory about the
candles."

"I have no theory to offer," said the other, folding up his
serviette; "the candles suggest a typical Albanian murder. I do
not say that it was so, I merely say that by their presence they
suggest a crime of this character."

With this T. X. had to be content.

If it were not his business to interest himself in commonplace
murder--though this hardly fitted such a description--it was
part of the peculiar function which his department exercised to
restore to Lady Bartholomew a certain very elaborate snuff-box
which he discovered in the safe.

Letters had been found amongst his papers which made clear the
part which Kara had played. Though he had not been a vulgar
blackmailer he had retained his hold, not only upon this
particular property of Lady Bartholomew, but upon certain other
articles which were discovered, with no other object, apparently,
than to compel influence from quarters likely to be of assistance
to him in his schemes.

The inquest on the murdered man which the Assistant Commissioner
attended produced nothing in the shape of evidence and the
coroner's verdict of "murder against some person or persons
unknown" was only to be expected.

T. X. spent a very busy and a very tiring week tracing elusive
clues which led him nowhere. He had a letter from John Lexman
announcing the fact that he intended leaving for the United
States. He had received a very good offer from a firm of magazine
publishers in New York and was going out to take up the
appointment.

Meredith's plans were now in fair shape. He had decided upon the
line of action he would take and in the pursuance of this he
interviewed his Chief and the Minister of Justice.

"Yes, I have heard from my daughter," said that great man
uncomfortably, "and really she has placed me in a most
embarrassing position. I cannot tell you, Mr. Meredith, exactly
in what manner she has done this, but I can assure you she has."

"Can I see her letter or telegram?" asked T. X.

"I am afraid that is impossible," said the other solemnly; "she
begged me to keep her communication very secret. I have written
to my wife and asked her to come home. I feel the constant strain
to which I am being subjected is more than human can endure."

"I suppose," said T. X. patiently, "it is impossible for you to
tell me to what address you have replied?"

"To no address," answered the other and corrected himself
hurriedly; "that is to say I only received the telegram--the
message this morning and there is no address--to reply to."

"I see," said T. X.

That afternoon he instructed his secretary.

"I want a copy of all the agony advertisements in to-morrow's
papers and in the last editions of the evening papers--have them
ready for me tomorrow morning when I come."

They were waiting for him when he reached the office at nine
o'clock the next day and he went through them carefully.
Presently he found the message he was seeking.

B. M. You place me awkward position. Very thoughtless. Have
received package addressed your mother which have placed in
mother's sitting-room. Cannot understand why you want me to go
away week-end and give servants holiday but have done so. Shall
require very full explanation. Matter gone far enough. Father.

"This," said T. X. exultantly, as he read the advertisement, "is
where I get busy."




CHAPTER XVI


February as a rule is not a month of fogs, but rather a month of
tempestuous gales, of frosts and snowfalls, but the night of
February 17th, 19--, was one of calm and mist. It was not the
typical London fog so dreaded by the foreigner, but one of those
little patchy mists which smoke through the streets, now
enshrouding and making the nearest object invisible, now clearing
away to the finest diaphanous filament of pale grey.

Sir William Bartholomew had a house in Portman Place, which is a
wide thoroughfare, filled with solemn edifices of unlovely and
forbidding exterior, but remarkably comfortable within. Shortly
before eleven on the night of February 17th, a taxi drew up at the
junction of Sussex Street and Portman Place, and a girl alighted.
The fog at that moment was denser than usual and she hesitated a
moment before she left the shelter which the cab afforded.

She gave the driver a few instructions and walked on with a firm
step, turning abruptly and mounting the steps of Number 173. Very
quickly she inserted her key in the lock, pushed the door open and
closed it behind her. She switched on the hall light. The house
sounded hollow and deserted, a fact which afforded her
considerable satisfaction. She turned the light out and found her
way up the broad stairs to the first floor, paused for a moment to
switch on another light which she knew would not be observable
from the street outside and mounted the second flight.

Miss Belinda Mary Bartholomew congratulated herself upon the
success of her scheme, and the only doubt that was in her mind now
was whether the boudoir had been locked, but her father was rather
careless in such matters and Jacks the butler was one of those
dear, silly, old men who never locked anything, and, in
consequence, faced every audit with a long face and a longer tale
of the peculations of occasional servants.

To her immense relief the handle turned and the door opened to her
touch. Somebody had had the sense to pull down the blinds and the
curtains were drawn. She switched on the light with a sigh of
relief. Her mother's writing table was covered with unopened
letters, but she brushed these aside in her search for the little
parcel. It was not there and her heart sank. Perhaps she had put
it in one of the drawers. She tried them all without result.

She stood by the desk a picture of perplexity, biting a finger
thoughtfully.

"Thank goodness!" she said with a jump, for she saw the parcel on
the mantel shelf, crossed the room and took it down.

With eager hands she tore off the covering and came to the
familiar leather case. Not until she had opened the padded lid
and had seen the snuffbox reposing in a bed of cotton wool did she
relapse into a long sigh of relief.

"Thank heaven for that," she said aloud.

"And me," said a voice.

She sprang up and turned round with a look of terror.

"Mr.--Mr. Meredith," she stammered.

T. X. stood by the window curtains from whence he had made his
dramatic entry upon the scene.

"I say you have to thank me also, Miss Bartholomew," he said
presently.

"How do you know my name?" she asked with some curiosity.

"I know everything in the world," he answered, and she smiled.
Suddenly her face went serious and she demanded sharply,

"Who sent you after me--Mr. Kara?"

"Mr. Kara?" he repeated, in wonder.

"He threatened to send for the police," she went on rapidly, "and
I told him he might do so. I didn't mind the police--it was Kara
I was afraid of. You know what I went for, my mother's property."

She held the snuff-box in her outstretched hand.

"He accused me of stealing and was hateful, and then he put me
downstairs in that awful cellar and--"

"And?" suggested T. X.

"That's all," she replied with tightened lips; "what are you going
to do now?"

"I am going to ask you a few questions if I may," he said. "In
the first place have you not heard anything about Mr. Kara since
you went away?"

She shook her head.

"I have kept out of his way," she said grimly.

"Have you seen the newspapers?" he asked.

She nodded.

"I have seen the advertisement column--I wired asking Papa to
reply to my telegram."

"I know--I saw it," he smiled; "that is what brought me here."

"I was afraid it would," she said ruefully; "father is awfully
loquacious in print--he makes speeches you know. All I wanted
him to say was yes or no. What do you mean about the newspapers?"
she went on. "Is anything wrong with mother?"

He shook his head.

"So far as I know Lady Bartholomew is in the best of health and is
on her way home."

"Then what do you mean by asking me about the newspapers!" she
demanded; "why should I see the newspapers--what is there for me
to see?"

"About Kara?" he suggested.

She shook her head in bewilderment.

"I know and want to know nothing about Kara. Why do you say this
to me?"

"Because," said T. X. slowly, "on the night you disappeared from
Cadogan Square, Remington Kara was murdered."

"Murdered," she gasped.

He nodded.

"He was stabbed to the heart by some person or persons unknown."

T. X. took his hand from his pocket and pulled something out which
was wrapped in tissue paper. This he carefully removed and the
girl watched with fascinated gaze, and with an awful sense of
apprehension. Presently the object was revealed. It was a pair
of scissors with the handle wrapped about with a small
handkerchief dappled with brown stains. She took a step backward,
raising her hands to her cheeks.

"My scissors," she said huskily; "you won't think--"

She stared up at him, fear and indignation struggling for mastery.

"I don't think you committed the murder," he smiled; "if that's
what you mean to ask me, but if anybody else found those scissors
and had identified this handkerchief you would have been in rather
a fix, my young friend."

She looked at the scissors and shuddered.

"I did kill something," she said in a low voice, "an awful dog ...
I don't know how I did it, but the beastly thing jumped at me and
I just stabbed him and killed him, and I am glad," she nodded many
times and repeated, "I am glad."

"So I gather--I found the dog and now perhaps you'll explain why
I didn't find you?"

Again she hesitated and he felt that she was hiding something from
him.

"I don't know why you didn't find me," she said; "I was there."

"How did you get out?"

"How did you get out?" she challenged him boldly.

"I got out through the door," he confessed; "it seems a
ridiculously commonplace way of leaving but that's the only way I
could see."

"And that's how I got out," she answered, with a little smile.

"But it was locked."

She laughed.

"I see now," she said; "I was in the cellar. I heard your key in
the lock and bolted down the trap, leaving those awful scissors
behind. I thought it was Kara with some of his friends and then
the voices died away and I ventured to come up and found you had
left the door open. So--so I--"

These queer little pauses puzzled T. X. There was something she
was not telling him. Something she had yet to reveal.

"So I got away you see," she went on. "I came out into the
kitchen; there was nobody there, and I passed through the area
door and up the steps and just round the corner I found a taxicab,
and that is all."

She spread out her hands in a dramatic little gesture.

"And that is all, is it?" said T. X.

"That is all," she repeated; "now what are you going to do?"

T. X. looked up at the ceiling and stroked his chin.

"I suppose that I ought to arrest you. I feel that something is
due from me. May I ask if you were sleeping in the bed
downstairs?"

"In the lower cellar?" she demanded,--a little pause and then,
"Yes, I was sleeping in the cellar downstairs."

There was that interval of hesitation almost between each word.

"What are you going to do?" she asked again.

She was feeling more sure of herself and had suppressed the panic
which his sudden appearance had produced in her. He rumpled his
hair, a gross imitation, did she but know it, of one of his
chief's mannerisms and she observed that his hair was very thick
and inclined to curl. She saw also that he was passably good
looking, had fine grey eyes, a straight nose and a most firm chin.

"I think," she suggested gently, "you had better arrest me."

"Don't be silly," he begged.

She stared at him in amazement.

"What did you say?" she asked wrathfully.

"I said 'don't be silly,'" repeated the calm young man.

"Do you know that you're being very rude?" she asked.

He seemed interested and surprised at this novel view of his
conduct.

"Of course," she went on carefully smoothing her dress and
avoiding his eye, "I know you think I am silly and that I've got a
most comic name."

"I have never said your name was comic," he replied coldly; "I
would not take so great a liberty."

"You said it was 'weird' which was worse," she claimed.

"I may have said it was 'weird,"' he admitted, "but that's rather
different to saying it was 'comic.' There is dignity in weird
things. For example, nightmares aren't comic but they're weird."

"Thank you," she said pointedly.

"Not that I mean your name is anything approaching a nightmare."
He made this concession with a most magnificent sweep of hand as
though he were a king conceding her the right to remain covered in
his presence. "I think that Belinda Ann--"

"Belinda Mary," she corrected.

"Belinda Mary, I was going to say, or as a matter of fact," he
floundered, "I was going to say Belinda and Mary."

"You were going to say nothing of the kind," she corrected him.

"Anyway, I think Belinda Mary is a very pretty name."

"You think nothing of the sort."

She saw the laughter in his eyes and felt an insane desire to
laugh.

"You said it was a weird name and you think it is a weird name,
but I really can't be bothered considering everybody's views. I
think it's a weird name, too. I was named after an aunt," she
added in self-defence.

"There you have the advantage of me," he inclined his head
politely; "I was named after my father's favourite dog."

"What does T. X. stand for?" she asked curiously.

"Thomas Xavier," he said, and she leant back in the big chair on
the edge of which a few minutes before she had perched herself in
trepidation and dissolved into a fit of immoderate laughter.

"It is comic, isn't it?" he asked.

"Oh, I am sorry I'm so rude," she gasped. "Fancy being called
Tommy Xavier--I mean Thomas Xavier."

"You may call me Tommy if you wish--most of my friends do."

"Unfortunately I'm not your friend," she said, still smiling and
wiping the tears from her eyes, "so I shall go on calling you Mr.
Meredith if you don't mind."

She looked at her watch.

"If you are not going to arrest me I'm going," she said.

"I have certainly no intention of arresting you," said he, "but I
am going to see you home!"

She jumped up smartly.

"You're not," she commanded.

She was so definite in this that he was startled.

"My dear child," he protested.

"Please don't 'dear child' me," she said seriously; "you're going
to be a good little Tommy and let me go home by myself."

She held out her hand frankly and the laughing appeal in her eyes
was irresistible.

"Well, I'll see you to a cab," he insisted.

"And listen while I give the driver instructions where he is to
take me?"

She shook her head reprovingly.

"It must be an awful thing to be a policeman."

He stood back with folded arms, a stern frown on his face.

"Don't you trust me?" he asked.

"No," she replied.

"Quite right," he approved; "anyway I'll see you to the cab and
you can tell the driver to go to Charing Cross station and on your
way you can change your direction."

"And you promise you won't follow me?" she asked.

"On my honour," he swore; "on one condition though."

"I will make no conditions," she replied haughtily.

"Please come down from your great big horse," he begged, "and
listen to reason. The condition I make is that I can always bring
you to an appointed rendezvous whenever I want you. Honestly,
this is necessary, Belinda Mary."

"Miss Bartholomew," she corrected, coldly.

"It is necessary," he went on, "as you will understand. Promise
me that, if I put an advertisement in the agonies of either an
evening paper which I will name or in the Morning Port, you will
keep the appointment I fix, if it is humanly possible."

She hesitated a moment, then held out her hand.

"I promise," she said.

"Good for you, Belinda Mary," said he, and tucking her arm in his
he led her out of the room switching off the light and racing her
down the stairs.

If there was a lot of the schoolgirl left in Belinda Mary
Bartholomew, no less of the schoolboy was there in this
Commissioner of Police. He would have danced her through the fog,
contemptuous of the proprieties, but he wasn't so very anxious to
get her to her cab and to lose sight of her.

"Good-night," he said, holding her hand.

"That's the third time you've shaken hands with me to-night," she
interjected.

"Don't let us have any unpleasantness at the last," he pleaded,
"and remember."

"I have promised," she replied.

"And one day," he went on, "you will tell me all that happened in
that cellar."

"I have told you," she said in a low voice.

"You have not told me everything, child."

He handed her into the cab. He shut the door behind her and leant
through the open window.

"Victoria or Marble Arch?" he asked politely.

"Charing Cross," she replied, with a little laugh.

He watched the cab drive away and then suddenly it stopped and a
figure lent out from the window beckoning him frantically. He ran
up to her.

"Suppose I want you," she asked.

"Advertise," he said promptly, "beginning your advertisement 'Dear
Tommy."'

"I shall put 'T. X.,' " she said indignantly.

"Then I shall take no notice of your advertisement," he replied
and stood in the middle of the street, his hat in his hand, to the
intense annoyance of a taxi-cab driver who literally all but ran
him down and in a figurative sense did so until T. X. was out of
earshot.




CHAPTER XVII


Thomas Xavier Meredith was a shrewd young man. It was said of him
by Signor Paulo Coselli, the eminent criminologist, that he had a
gift of intuition which was abnormal. Probably the mystery of the
twisted candle was solved by him long before any other person in
the world had the dimmest idea that it was capable of solution.

The house in Cadogan Square was still in the hands of the police.
To this house and particularly to Kara's bedroom T. X. from time
to time repaired, and reproduced as far as possible the conditions
which obtained on the night of the murder. He had the same
stifling fire, the same locked door. The latch was dropped in its
socket, whilst T. X., with a stop watch in his hand, made
elaborate calculations and acted certain parts which he did not
reveal to a soul.

Three times, accompanied by Mansus, he went to the house, three
times went to the death chamber and was alone on one occasion for
an hour and a half whilst the patient Mansus waited outside.
Three times he emerged looking graver on each occasion, and after
the third visit he called into consultation John Lexman.

Lexman had been spending some time in the country, having deferred
his trip to the United States.

"This case puzzles me more and more, John," said T. X., troubled
out of his usual boisterous self, "and thank heaven it worries
other people besides me. De Mainau came over from France the
other day and brought all his best sleuths, whilst O'Grady of the
New York central office paid a flying visit just to get hold of
the facts. Not one of them has given me the real solution, though
they've all been rather ingenious. Gathercole has vanished and is
probably on his way to some undiscoverable region, and our people
have not yet traced the valet."

"He should be the easiest for you," said John Lexman,
reflectively.

"Why Gathercole should go off I can't understand," T. X.
continued. "According to the story which was told me by Fisher,
his last words to Kara were to the effect that he was expecting a
cheque or that he had received a cheque. No cheque has been
presented or drawn and apparently Gathercole has gone off without
waiting for any payment. An examination of Kara's books show
nothing against the Gathercole account save the sum of 600 pounds
which was originally advanced, and now to upset all my
calculations, look at this."

He took from his pocketbook a newspaper cutting and pushed it
across the table, for they were dining together at the Carlton.
John Lexman picked up the slip and read. It was evidently from a
New York paper:

"Further news has now come to hand by the Antarctic Trading
Company's steamer, Cyprus, concerning the wreck of the City of the
Argentine. It is believed that this ill-fated vessel, which
called at South American ports, lost her propellor and drifted
south out of the track of shipping. This theory is now confirmed.
Apparently the ship struck an iceberg on December 23rd and
foundered with all aboard save a few men who were able to launch a
boat and who were picked up by the Cyprus. The following is the
passenger list."

John Lexman ran down the list until he came upon the name which
was evidently underlined in ink by T. X. That name was George
Gathercole and after it in brackets (Explorer).

"If that were true, then, Gathercole could not have come to
London."

"He may have taken another boat," said T. X., "and I cabled to the
Steamship Company without any great success. Apparently
Gathercole was an eccentric sort of man and lived in terror of
being overcrowded. It was a habit of his to make provisional
bookings by every available steamer. The company can tell me no
more than that he had booked, but whether he shipped on the City
of the Argentine or not, they do not know."

"I can tell you this about Gathercole," said John slowly and
thoughtfully, "that he was a man who would not hurt a fly. He was
incapable of killing any man, being constitutionally averse to
taking life in any shape. For this reason he never made
collections of butterflies or of bees, and I believe has never
shot an animal in his life. He carried his principles to such an
extent that he was a vegetarian--poor old Gathercole!" he said,
with the first smile which T. X. had seen on his face since he
came back.

"If you want to sympathize with anybody," said T. X. gloomily,
"sympathize with me."

On the following day T. X. was summoned to the Home Office and
went steeled for a most unholy row. The Home Secretary, a large
and worthy gentleman, given to the making of speeches on every
excuse, received him, however, with unusual kindness.

"I've sent for you, Mr. Meredith," he said, "about this
unfortunate Greek. I've had all his private papers looked into
and translated and in some cases decoded, because as you are
probably aware his diaries and a great deal of his correspondence
were in a code which called for the attention of experts."

T. X. had not troubled himself greatly about Kara's private papers
but had handed them over, in accordance with instructions, to the
proper authorities.

"Of course, Mr. Meredith," the Home Secretary went on, beaming
across his big table, "we expect you to continue your search for
the murderer, but I must confess that your prisoner when you
secure him will have a very excellent case to put to a jury."

"That I can well believe, sir," said T. X.

"Seldom in my long career at the bar," began the Home Secretary in
his best oratorical manner, "have I examined a record so utterly
discreditable as that of the deceased man."

Here he advanced a few instances which surprised even T. X.

"The men was a lunatic," continued the Home Secretary, "a vicious,
evil man who loved cruelty for cruelty's sake. We have in this
diary alone sufficient evidence to convict him of three separate
murders, one of which was committed in this country."

T. X. looked his astonishment.

"You will remember, Mr. Meredith, as I saw in one of your reports,
that he had a chauffeur, a Greek named Poropulos."

T. X. nodded.

"He went to Greece on the day following the shooting of
Vassalaro," he said.

The Home Secretary shook his head.

"He was killed on the same night," said the Minister, "and you
will have no difficulty in finding what remains of his body in the
disused house which Kara rented for his own purpose on the
Portsmouth Road. That he has killed a number of people in Albania
you may well suppose. Whole villages have been wiped out to
provide him with a little excitement. The man was a Nero without
any of Nero's amiable weaknesses. He was obsessed with the idea
that he himself was in danger of assassination, and saw an enemy
even in his trusty servant. Undoubtedly the chauffeur Poropulos
was in touch with several Continental government circles. You
understand," said the Minister in conclusion, "that I am telling
you this, not with the idea of expecting you, to relax your
efforts to find the murderer and clear up the mystery, but in
order that you may know something of the possible motive for this
man's murder."

T. X. spent an hour going over the decoded diary and documents and
left the Home Office a little shakily. It was inconceivable,
incredible. Kara was a lunatic, but the directing genius was a
devil.

T. X. had a flat in Whitehall Gardens and thither he repaired to
change for dinner. He was half dressed when the evening paper
arrived and he glanced as was his wont first at the news' page and
then at the advertisement column. He looked down the column
marked "Personal" without expecting to find anything of particular
interest to himself, but saw that which made him drop the paper
and fly round the room in a frenzy to complete his toilet.

"Tommy X.," ran the brief announcement, "most urgent, Marble Arch
8."

He had five minutes to get there but it seemed like five hours.
He was held up at almost every crossing and though he might have
used his authority to obtain right of way, it was a step which his
curious sense of honesty prevented him taking. He leapt out of
the cab before it stopped, thrust the fare into the driver's hands
and looked round for the girl. He saw her at last and walked
quickly towards her. As he approached her, she turned about and
with an almost imperceptible beckoning gesture walked away. He
followed her along the Bayswater Road and gradually drew level.

"I am afraid I have been watched," she said in a low voice. "Will
you call a cab?"

He hailed a passing taxi, helped her in and gave at random the
first place that suggested itself to him, which was Finsbury Park.

"I am very worried," she said, "and I don't know anybody who can
help me except you."

"Is it money?" he asked.

"Money," she said scornfully, "of course it isn't money. I want
to show you a letter," she said after a while.

She took it from her bag and gave it to him and he struck a match
and read it with difficulty.

It was written in a studiously uneducated hand.



"Dear Miss,

"I know who you are. You are wanted by the police but I will not
give you away. Dear Miss. I am very hard up and 20 pounds will
be very useful to me and I shall not trouble you again. Dear
Miss. Put the money on the window sill of your room. I know you
sleep on the ground floor and I will come in and take it. And if
not--well, I don't want to make any trouble.

                     "Yours truly,
                          "A FRIEND."

"When did you get this?" he asked.

"This morning," she replied. "I sent the Agony to the paper by
telegram, I knew you would come."

"Oh, you did, did you?" he said.

Her assurance was very pleasing to him. The faith that her words
implied gave him an odd little feeling of comfort and happiness.

"I can easily get you out of this," he added; "give me your
address and when the gentleman comes--"

"That is impossible," she replied hurriedly. "Please don't think
I'm ungrateful, and don't think I'm being silly--you do think I'm
being silly, don't you!"

"I have never harboured such an unworthy thought," he said
virtuously.

"Yes, you have," she persisted, "but really I can't tell you where
I am living. I have a very special reason for not doing so. It's
not myself that I'm thinking about, but there's a life involved."

This was a somewhat dramatic statement to make and she felt she
had gone too far.

"Perhaps I don't mean that," she said, "but there is some one I
care for--" she dropped her voice.

"Oh," said T. X. blankly.

He came down from his rosy heights into the shadow and darkness of
a sunless valley.

"Some one you care for," he repeated after a while.

"Yes."

There was another long silence, then,

"Oh, indeed," said T. X.

Again the unbroken interval of quiet and after a while she said in
a low voice, "Not that way."

"Not what way!" asked T. X. huskily, his spirits doing a little
mountaineering.

"The way you mean," she said.

"Oh," said T. X.

He was back again amidst the rosy snows of dawn, was in fact
climbing a dizzy escalier on the topmost height of hope's Mont
Blanc when she pulled the ladder from under him.

"I shall, of course, never marry," she said with a certain prim
decision.

T. X. fell with a dull sickening thud, discovering that his rosy
snows were not unlike cold, hard ice in their lack of resilience.

"Who said you would?" he asked somewhat feebly, but in self
defence.

"You did," she said, and her audacity took his breath away.

"Well, how am I to help you!" he asked after a while.

"By giving me some advice," she said; "do you think I ought to put
the money there!"

"Indeed I do not," said T. X., recovering some of his natural
dominance; "apart from the fact that you would be compounding a
felony, you would merely be laying out trouble for yourself in the
future. If he can get 20 pounds so easily, he will come for 40
pounds. But why do you stay away, why don't you return home?
There's no charge and no breath of suspicion against you."

"Because I have something to do which I have set my mind to," she
said, with determination in her tones.

"Surely you can trust me with your address," he urged her, "after
all that has passed between us, Belinda Mary--after all the years
we have known one another."

"I shall get out and leave you," she said steadily.

"But how the dickens am I going to help you?" he protested.

"Don't swear," she could be very severe indeed; "the only way you
can help me is by being kind and sympathetic."

"Would you like me to burst into tears?" he asked sarcastically.

"I ask you to do nothing more painful or repugnant to your natural
feelings than to be a gentleman," she said.

"Thank you very kindly," said T. X., and leant back in the cab
with an air of supreme resignation.

"I believe you're making faces in the dark," she accused him.

"God forbid that I should do anything so low," said he hastily;
"what made you think that?"

"Because I was putting my tongue out at you," she admitted, and
the taxi driver heard the shrieks of laughter in the cab behind
him above the wheezing of his asthmatic engine.

At twelve that night in a certain suburb of London an overcoated
man moved stealthily through a garden. He felt his way carefully
along the wall of the house and groped with hope, but with no
great certainty, along the window sill. He found an envelope
which his fingers, somewhat sensitive from long employment in
nefarious uses, told him contained nothing more substantial than a
letter.

He went back through the garden and rejoined his companion, who
was waiting under an adjacent lamp-post.

"Did she drop?" asked the other eagerly.

"I don't know yet," growled the man from the garden.

He opened the envelope and read the few lines.

"She hasn't got the money," he said, "but she's going to get it.
I must meet her to-morrow afternoon at the corner of Oxford Street
and Regent Street."

"What time!" asked the other.

"Six o'clock," said the first man. "The chap who takes the money
must carry a copy of the Westminster Gazette in his hand."

"Oh, then it's a plant," said the other with conviction.

The other laughed.

"She won't work any plants. I bet she's scared out of her life."

The second man bit his nails and looked up and down the road,
apprehensively.

"It's come to something," he said bitterly; "we went out to make
our thousands and we've come down to 'chanting' for 20 pounds."

"It's the luck," said the other philosophically, "and I haven't
done with her by any means. Besides we've still got a chance of
pulling of the big thing, Harry. I reckon she's good for a
hundred or two, anyway."

At six o'clock on the following afternoon, a man dressed in a dark
overcoat, with a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes stood
nonchalantly by the curb near where the buses stop at Regent
Street slapping his hand gently with a folded copy of the
Westminster Gazette.

That none should mistake his Liberal reading, he stood as near as
possible to a street lamp and so arranged himself and his attitude
that the minimum of light should fall upon his face and the
maximum upon that respectable organ of public opinion. Soon after
six he saw the girl approaching, out of the tail of his eye, and
strolled off to meet her. To his surprise she passed him by and
he was turning to follow when an unfriendly hand gripped him by
the arm.

"Mr. Fisher, I believe," said a pleasant voice.

"What do you mean?" said the man, struggling backward.

"Are you going quietly!" asked the pleasant Superintendent Mansus,
"or shall I take my stick to you'?"

Mr. Fisher thought awhile.

"It's a cop," he confessed, and allowed himself to be hustled into
the waiting cab.

He made his appearance in T. X.'s office and that urbane gentleman
greeted him as a friend.

"And how's Mr. Fisher!" he asked; "I suppose you are Mr. Fisher
still and not Mr. Harry Gilcott, or Mr. George Porten."

Fisher smiled his old, deferential, deprecating smile.

"You will always have your joke, sir. I suppose the young lady
gave me away."

"You gave yourself away, my poor Fisher," said T. X., and put a
strip of paper before him; "you may disguise your hand, and in
your extreme modesty pretend to an ignorance of the British
language, which is not creditable to your many attainments, but
what you must be awfully careful in doing in future when you write
such epistles," he said, "is to wash your hands."

"Wash my hands!" repeated the puzzled Fisher.

T. X. nodded.

"You see you left a little thumb print, and we are rather whales
on thumb prints at Scotland Yard, Fisher."

"I see. What is the charge now, sir!"

"I shall make no charge against you except the conventional one of
being a convict under license and failing to report."

Fisher heaved a sigh.

"That'll only mean twelve months. Are you going to charge me with
this business?" he nodded to the paper.

T. X. shook his head.

"I bear you no ill-will although you tried to frighten Miss
Bartholomew. Oh yes, I know it is Miss Bartholomew, and have
known all the time. The lady is there for a reason which is no
business of yours or of mine. I shall not charge you with attempt
to blackmail and in reward for my leniency I hope you are going to
tell me all you know about the Kara murder. You wouldn't like me
to charge you with that, would you by any chance!"

Fisher drew a long breath.

"No, sir, but if you did I could prove my innocence," he said
earnestly. "I spent the whole of the evening in the kitchen."

"Except a quarter of an hour," said T. X.

The man nodded.

"That's true, sir, I went out to see a pal of mine."

"The man who is in this!" asked T. X.

Fisher hesitated.

"Yes, sir. He was with me in this but there was nothing wrong
about the business--as far as we went. I don't mind admitting
that I was planning a Big Thing. I'm not going to blow on it, if
it's going to get me into trouble, but if you'll promise me that
it won't, I'll tell you the whole story."

"Against whom was this coup of yours planned?"

"Against Mr. Kara, sir," said Fisher.

"Go on with your story," nodded T. X.

The story was a short and commonplace one. Fisher had met a man
who knew another man who was either a Turk or an Albanian. They
had learnt that Kara was in the habit of keeping large sums of
money in the house and they had planned to rob him. That was the
story in a nutshell. Somewhere the plan miscarried. It was when
he came to the incidents that occurred on the night of the murder
that T. X. followed him with the greatest interest.

"The old gentleman came in," said Fisher, "and I saw him up to the
room. I heard him coming out and I went up and spoke to him while
he was having a chat with Mr. Kara at the open door."

"Did you hear Mr. Kara speak?"

"I fancy I did, sir," said Fisher; "anyway the old gentleman was
quite pleased with himself."

"Why do you say 'old gentleman'!" asked T. X.; "he was not an old
man."

"Not exactly, sir," said Fisher, "but he had a sort of fussy
irritable way that old gentlemen sometimes have and I somehow got
it fixed in my mind that he was old. As a matter of fact, he was
about forty-five, he may have been fifty."

"You have told me all this before. Was there anything peculiar
about him!"

Fisher hesitated.

"Nothing, sir, except the fact that one of his arms was a game
one."

"Meaning that it was--"

"Meaning that it was an artificial one, sir, so far as I can make
out."

"Was it his right or his left arm that was game!" interrupted T.
X.

"His left arm, sir."

"You're sure?"

"I'd swear to it, sir."

"Very well, go on."

"He came downstairs and went out and I never saw him again. When
you came and the murder was discovered and knowing as I did that I
had my own scheme on and that one of your splits might pinch me, I
got a bit rattled. I went downstairs to the hall and the first
thing I saw lying on the table was a letter. It was addressed to
me."

He paused and T. X. nodded.

"Go on," he said again.

"I couldn't understand how it came to be there, but as I'd been in
the kitchen most of the evening except when I was seeing my pal
outside to tell him the job was off for that night, it might have
been there before you came. I opened the letter. There were only
a few words on it and I can tell you those few words made my heart
jump up into my mouth, and made me go cold all over."

"What were they!" asked T. X.

"I shall not forget them, sir. They're sort of permanently fixed
in my brain," said the man earnestly; "the note started with just
the figures 'A. C. 274.' "

"What was that!" asked T. X.

"My convict number when I was in Dartmoor Prison, sir."

"What did the note say?"

"'Get out of here quick'--I don't know who had put it there, but
I'd evidently been spotted and I was taking no chances. That's
the whole story from beginning to end. I accidentally happened to
meet the young lady, Miss Holland--Miss Bartholomew as she is -
and followed her to her house in Portman Place. That was the
night you were there."

T. X. found himself to his intense annoyance going very red.

"And you know no more?" he asked.

"No more, sir--and if I may be struck dead--"

"Keep all that sabbath talk for the chaplain," commended T. X.,
and they took away Mr. Fisher, not an especially dissatisfied man.

That night T. X. interviewed his prisoner at Cannon Row police
station and made a few more enquiries.

"There is one thing I would like to ask you," said the girl when
he met her next morning in Green Park.

"If you were going to ask whether I made enquiries as to where
your habitation was," he warned her, "I beg of you to refrain."

She was looking very beautiful that morning, he thought. The keen
air had brought a colour to her face and lent a spring to her
gait, and, as she strode along by his side with the free and
careless swing of youth, she was an epitome of the life which even
now was budding on every tree in the park.

"Your father is back in town, by the way," he said, "and he is
most anxious to see you."

She made a little grimace.

"I hope you haven't been round talking to father about me."

"Of course I have," he said helplessly; "I have also had all the
reporters up from Fleet Street and given them a full description
of your escapades."

She looked round at him with laughter in her eyes.

"You have all the manners of an early Christian martyr," she said.
"Poor soul! Would you like to be thrown to the lions?"

"I should prefer being thrown to the demnition ducks and drakes,"
he said moodily.

"You're such a miserable man," she chided him, "and yet you have
everything to make life worth living."

"Ha, ha!" said T. X.

"You have, of course you have! You have a splendid position.
Everybody looks up to you and talks about you. You have got a
wife and family who adore you--"

He stopped and looked at her as though she were some strange
insect.

"I have a how much?" he asked credulously.

"Aren't you married?" she asked innocently.

He made a strange noise in his throat.

"Do you know I have always thought of you as married," she went
on; "I often picture you in your domestic circle reading to the
children from the Daily Megaphone those awfully interesting
stories about Little Willie Waterbug."

He held on to the railings for support.

"May we sit down?" he asked faintly.

She sat by his side, half turned to him, demure and wholly
adorable.

"Of course you are right in one respect," he said at last, "but
you're altogether wrong about the children."

"Are you married!" she demanded with no evidence of amusement.

"Didn't you know?" he asked.

She swallowed something.

"Of course it's no business of mine and I'm sure I hope you are
very happy."

"Perfectly happy," said T. X. complacently. "You must come out
and see me one Saturday afternoon when I am digging the potatoes.
I am a perfect devil when they let me loose in the vegetable
garden."

"Shall we go on?" she said.

He could have sworn there were tears in her eyes and manlike he
thought she was vexed with him at his fooling.

"I haven't made you cross, have I?" he asked.

"Oh no," she replied.

"I mean you don't believe all this rot about my being married and
that sort of thing?"

"I'm not interested," she said, with a shrug of her shoulders,
"not very much. You've been very kind to me and I should be an
awful boor if I wasn't grateful. Of course, I don't care whether
you're married or not, it's nothing to do with me, is it?"

"Naturally it isn't," he replied. "I suppose you aren't married
by any chance?"

"Married," she repeated bitterly; "why, you will make my fourth!"

She had hardy got the words out of her mouth before she realized
her terrible error. A second later she was in his arms and he was
kissing her to the scandal of one aged park keeper, one small and
dirty-faced little boy and a moulting duck who seemed to sneer at
the proceedings which he watched through a yellow and malignant
eye.

"Belinda Mary," said T. X. at parting, "you have got to give up
your little country establishment, wherever it may be and come
back to the discomforts of Portman Place. Oh, I know you can't
come back yet. That 'somebody' is there, and I can pretty well
guess who it is."

"Who?" she challenged.

"I rather fancy your mother has come back," he suggested.

A look of scorn dawned into her pretty face.

"Good lord, Tommy!" she said in disgust, "you don't think I should
keep mother in the suburbs without her telling the world all about
it!"

"You're an undutiful little beggar," he said.

They had reached the Horse Guards at Whitehall and he was saying
good-bye to her.

"If it comes to a matter of duty," she answered, "perhaps you will
do your duty and hold up the traffic for me and let me cross this
road."

"My dear girl," he protested, "hold up the traffic?"

"Of course," she said indignantly, "you're a policeman."

"Only when I am in uniform," he said hastily, and piloted her
across the road.

It was a new man who returned to the gloomy office in Whitehall.
A man with a heart that swelled and throbbed with the pride and
joy of life's most precious possession.




CHAPTER XVIII



T. X. sat at his desk, his chin in his hands, his mind remarkably
busy. Grave as the matter was which he was considering, he rose
with alacrity to meet the smiling girl who was ushered through the
door by Mansus, preternaturally solemn and mysterious.

She was radiant that day. Her eyes were sparkling with an unusual
brightness.

"I've got the most wonderful thing to tell you," she said, "and I
can't tell you."

"That's a very good beginning," said T. X., taking her muff from
her hand.

"Oh, but it's really wonderful," she cried eagerly, "more
wonderful than anything you have ever heard about."

"We are interested," said T. X. blandly.

"No, no, you mustn't make fun," she begged, "I can't tell you now,
but it is something that will make you simply--" she was at a loss
for a simile.

"Jump out of my skin?" suggested T. X.

"I shall astonish you," she nodded her head solemnly.

"I take a lot of astonishing, I warn you," he smiled; "to know you
is to exhaust one's capacity for surprise."

"That can be either very, very nice or very, very nasty," she said
cautiously.

"But accept it as being very, very nice," he laughed. "Now come,
out with this tale of yours."

She shook her head very vigorously.

"I can't possibly tell you anything," she said.

"Then why the dickens do you begin telling anything for?" he
complained, not without reason.

"Because I just want you to know that I do know something."

"Oh, Lord!" he groaned. "Of course you know everything. Belinda
Mary, you're really the most wonderful child."

He sat on the edge of her arm-chair and laid his hand on her
shoulder.

"And you've come to take me out to lunch!"

"What were you worrying about when I came in?" she asked.

He made a little gesture as if to dismiss the subject.

"Nothing very much. You've heard me speak of John Lexman?"

She bent her head.

"Lexman's the writer of a great many mystery stories, but you've
probably read his books."

She nodded again, and again T. X. noticed the suppressed eagerness
in her eyes.

"You're not ill or sickening for anything, are you?" he asked
anxiously; "measles, or mumps or something?"

"Don't be silly," she said; "go on and tell me something about Mr.
Lexman."

"He's going to America," said T. X., "and before he goes he wants
to give a little lecture."

"A lecture?"

"It sounds rum, doesn't it, but that's just what he wants to do."

"Why is he doing it!" she asked.

T. X. made a gesture of despair.

"That is one of the mysteries which may never be revealed to me,
except--" he pursed his lips and looked thoughtfully at the girl.
"There are times," he said, "when there is a great struggle going
on inside a man between all the human and better part of him and
the baser professional part of him. One side of me wants to hear
this lecture of John Lexman's very much, the other shrinks from
the ordeal."

"Let us talk it over at lunch," she said practically, and carried
him off.



CHAPTER XIX


One would not readily associate the party of top-booted sewermen
who descend nightly to the subterranean passages of London with
the stout viceconsul at Durazzo. Yet it was one unimaginative man
who lived in Lambeth and had no knowledge that there was such a
place as Durazzo who was responsible for bringing this comfortable
official out of his bed in the early hours of the morning causing
him--albeit reluctantly and with violent and insubordinate
language--to conduct certain investigations in the crowded
bazaars.

At first he was unsuccessful because there were many Hussein
Effendis in Durazzo. He sent an invitation to the American Consul
to come over to tiffin and help him.

"Why the dickens the Foreign Office should suddenly be interested
in Hussein Effendi, I cannot for the life of me understand."

"The Foreign Department has to be interested in something, you
know," said the genial American. "I receive some of the quaintest
requests from Washington; I rather fancy they only wire you to
find if they are there."

"Why are you doing this!"

"I've seen Hakaat Bey," said the English official. "I wonder what
this fellow has been doing? There is probably a wigging for me in
the offing."

At about the same time the sewerman in the bosom of his own family
was taking loud and noisy sips from a big mug of tea.

"Don't you be surprised," he said to his admiring better half, "if
I have to go up to the Old Bailey to give evidence."

"Lord! Joe!" she said with interest, "what has happened!"

The sewer man filled his pipe and told the story with a wealth of
rambling detail. He gave particulars of the hour he had descended
the Victoria Street shaft, of what Bill Morgan had said to him as
they were going down, of what he had said to Harry Carter as they
splashed along the low-roofed tunnel, of how he had a funny
feeling that he was going to make a discovery, and so on and so
forth until he reached his long delayed climax.

T. X. waited up very late that night and at twelve o'clock his
patience was rewarded, for the Foreign Office' messenger brought a
telegram to him. It was addressed to the Chief Secretary and ran:

"No. 847. Yours 63952 of yesterday's date. Begins. Hussein
Effendi a prosperous merchant of this city left for Italy to place
his daughter in convent Marie Theressa, Florence Hussein being
Christian. He goes on to Paris. Apply Ralli Theokritis et Cie.,
Rue de l'Opera. Ends."

Half an hour later T. X. had a telephone connection through to
Paris and was instructing the British police agent in that city.
He received a further telephone report from Paris the next morning
and one which gave him infinite satisfaction. Very slowly but
surely he was gathering together the pieces of this baffling
mystery and was fitting them together. Hussein Effendi would
probably supply the last missing segments.

At eight o'clock that night the door opened and the man who
represented T. X. in Paris came in carrying a travelling ulster on
his arm. T. X. gave him a nod and then, as the newcomer stood
with the door open, obviously waiting for somebody to follow him,
he said,

"Show him in--I will see him alone."

There walked into his office, a tall man wearing a frock coat and
a red fez. He was a man from fifty-five to sixty, powerfully
built, with a grave dark face and a thin fringe of white beard.
He salaamed as he entered.

"You speak French, I believe," said T. X. presently.

The other bowed.

"My agent has explained to you," said T. X. in French, "that I
desire some information for the purpose of clearing up a crime
which has been committed in this country. I have given you my
assurance, if that assurance was necessary, that you would come to
no harm as a result of anything you might tell me."

"That I understand, Effendi," said the tall Turk; "the Americans
and the English have always been good friends of mine and I have
been frequently in London. Therefore, I shall be very pleased to
be of any help to you."

T. X. walked to a closed bookcase on one side of the room,
unlocked it, took out an object wrapped in white tissue paper. He
laid this on the table, the Turk watching the proceedings with an
impassive face. Very slowly the Commissioner unrolled the little
bundle and revealed at last a long, slim knife, rusted and
stained, with a hilt, which in its untarnished days had evidently
been of chased silver. He lifted the dagger from the table and
handed it to the Turk.

"This is yours, I believe," he said softly.

The man turned it over, stepping nearer the table that he might
secure the advantage of a better light. He examined the blade
near the hilt and handed the weapon back to T. X.

"That is my knife," he said.

T. X. smiled.

"You understand, of course, that I saw 'Hussein Effendi of
Durazzo' inscribed in Arabic near the hilt."

The Turk inclined his head.

"With this weapon," T. X. went on, speaking with slow emphasis, "a
murder was committed in this town."

There was no sign of interest or astonishment, or indeed of any
emotion whatever.

"It is the will of God," he said calmly; "these things happen even
in a great city like London."

"It was your knife," suggested T. X.

"But my hand was in Durazzo, Effendi," said the Turk.

He looked at the knife again.

"So the Black Roman is dead, Effendi."

"The Black Roman?" asked T. X., a little puzzled.

"The Greek they call Kara," said the Turk; "he was a very wicked
man."

T. X. was up on his feet now, leaning across the table and looking
at the other with narrowed eyes.

"How did you know it was Kara?" he asked quickly.

The Turk shrugged his shoulders.

"Who else could it be?" he said; "are not your newspapers
filled with the story?"

T. X. sat back again, disappointed and a little annoyed with himself.

"That is true, Hussein Effendi, but I did not think you read the
papers."

"Neither do I, master," replied the other coolly, "nor did I know
that Kara had been killed until I saw this knife. How came this
in your possession!"

"It was found in a rain sewer," said T. X., "into which the
murderer had apparently dropped it. But if you have not read the
newspapers, Effendi, then you admit that you know who committed
this murder."

The Turk raised his hands slowly to a level with his shoulders.

"Though I am a Christian," he said, "there are many wise sayings
of my father's religion which I remember. And one of these,
Effendi, was, 'the wicked must die in the habitations of the just,
by the weapons of the worthy shall the wicked perish.' Your
Excellency, I am a worthy man, for never have I done a dishonest
thing in my life. I have traded fairly with Greeks, with
Italians, have with Frenchmen and with Englishmen, also with Jews.
I have never sought to rob them nor to hurt them. If I have
killed men, God knows it was not because I desired their death,
but because their lives were dangerous to me and to mine. Ask the
blade all your questions and see what answer it gives. Until it
speaks I am as dumb as the blade, for it is also written that 'the
soldier is the servant of his sword,' and also, 'the wise servant
is dumb about his master's affairs.' "

T. X. laughed helplessly.

"I had hoped that you might be able to help me, hoped and feared,"
he said; "if you cannot speak it is not my business to force you
either by threat or by act. I am grateful to you for having come
over, although the visit has been rather fruitless so far as I am
concerned."

He smiled again and offered his hand.

"Excellency," said the old Turk soberly, "there are some things in
life that are well left alone and there are moments when justice
should be so blind that she does not see guilt; here is such a
moment."

And this ended the interview, one on which T. X. had set very high
hopes. His gloom carried to Portman Place, where he had arranged
to meet Belinda Mary.

"Where is Mr. Lexman going to give this famous lecture of his?"
was the question with which she greeted him, "and, please, what is
the subject?"

"It is on a subject which is of supreme interest to me;" he said
gravely; "he has called his lecture 'The Clue of the Twisted
Candle.' There is no clearer brain being employed in the business
of criminal detection than John Lexman's. Though he uses his
genius for the construction of stories, were it employed in the
legitimate business of police work, I am certain he would make a
mark second to none in the world. He is determined on giving this
lecture and he has issued a number of invitations. These include
the Chiefs of the Secret Police of nearly all the civilized
countries of the world. O'Grady is on his way from America, he
wirelessed me this morning to that effect. Even the Chief of the
Russian police has accepted the invitation, because, as you know,
this murder has excited a great deal of interest in police circles
everywhere. John Lexman is not only going to deliver this
lecture," he said slowly, "but he is going to tell us who
committed the murder and how it was committed."

She thought a moment.

"Where will it be delivered!"

"I don't know," he said in astonishment; "does that matter?"

"It matters a great deal," she said emphatically, "especially if I
want it delivered in a certain place. Would you induce Mr.
Lexman to lecture at my house?"

"At Portman Place!" he asked.

She shook her head.

"No, I have a house of my own. A furnished house I have rented at
Blackheath. Will you induce Mr. Lexman to give the lecture
there?"

"But why?" he asked.

"Please don't ask questions," she pleaded, "do this for me,
Tommy."

He saw she was in earnest.

"I'll write to old Lexman this afternoon," he promised.

John Lexman telephoned his reply.

"I should prefer somewhere out of London," he said, "and since
Miss Bartholomew has some interest in the matter, may I extend my
invitation to her? I promise she shall not be any more shocked than
a good woman need be."

And so it came about that the name of Belinda Mary Bartholomew was
added to the selected list of police chiefs, who were making for
London at that moment to hear from the man who had guaranteed the
solution of the story of Kara and his killing; the unravelment of
the mystery which surrounded his death, and the significance of
the twisted candles, which at that moment were reposing in the
Black Museum at Scotland Yard.




CHAPTER XX


The room was a big one and most of the furniture had been cleared
out to admit the guests who had come from the ends of the earth to
learn the story of the twisted candles, and to test John Lexman's
theory by their own.

They sat around chatting cheerfully of men and crimes, of great
coups planned and frustrated, of strange deeds committed and
undetected. Scraps of their conversation came to Belinda Mary as
she stood in the chintz-draped doorway which led from the
drawing-room to the room she used as a study.

". . . do you remember, Sir George, the Bolbrook case! I took the
man at Odessa . . . ."

". . . the curious thing was that I found no money on the body,
only a small gold charm set with a single emerald, so I knew it
was the girl with the fur bonnet who had . . ."

". . . Pinot got away after putting three bullets into me, but I
dragged myself to the window and shot him dead--it was a real
good shot . . . !"

They rose to meet her and T. X. introduced her to the men. It was
at that moment that John Lexman was announced.

He looked tired, but returned the Commissioner's greeting with a
cheerful mien. He knew all the men present by name, as they knew
him. He had a few sheets of notes, which he laid on the little
table which had been placed for him, and when the introductions
were finished he went to this and with scarcely any preliminary
began.




CHAPTER XXI


THE NARRATIVE OF JOHN LEXMAN

"I am, as you may all know, a writer of stories which depend for
their success upon the creation and unravelment of criminological
mysteries. The Chief Commissioner has been good enough to tell
you that my stories were something more than a mere seeking after
sensation, and that I endeavoured in the course of those
narratives to propound obscure but possible situations, and, with
the ingenuity that I could command, to offer to those problems a
solution acceptable, not only to the general reader, but to the
police expert.

"Although I did not regard my earlier work with any great
seriousness and indeed only sought after exciting situations and
incidents, I can see now, looking back, that underneath the work
which seemed at the time purposeless, there was something very
much like a scheme of studies.

"You must forgive this egotism in me because it is necessary that
I should make this explanation and you, who are in the main police
officers of considerable experience and discernment, should
appreciate the fact that as I was able to get inside the minds of
the fictitious criminals I portrayed, so am I now able to follow
the mind of the man who committed this murder, or if not to follow
his mind, to recreate the psychology of the slayer of Remington
Kara.

"In the possession of most of you are the vital facts concerning
this man. You know the type of man he was, you have instances of
his terrible ruthlessness, you know that he was a blot upon God's
earth, a vicious wicked ego, seeking the gratification of that
strange blood-lust and pain-lust, which is to be found in so few
criminals."

John Lexman went on to describe the killing of Vassalaro.

"I know now how that occurred," he said. "I had received on the
previous Christmas eve amongst other presents, a pistol from an
unknown admirer. That unknown admirer was Kara, who had planned
this murder some three months ahead. He it was, who sent me the
Browning, knowing as he did that I had never used such a weapon
and that therefore I would be chary about using it. I might have
put the pistol away in a cupboard out of reach and the whole of
his carefully thought out plan would have miscarried.

"But Kara was systematic in all things. Three weeks after I
received the weapon, a clumsy attempt was made to break into my
house in the middle of the night. It struck me at the time it was
clumsy, because the burglar made a tremendous amount of noise and
disappeared soon after he began his attempt, doing no more damage
than to break a window in my dining-room. Naturally my mind went
to the possibility of a further attempt of this kind, as my house
stood on the outskirts of the village, and it was only natural
that I should take the pistol from one of my boxes and put it
somewhere handy. To make doubly sure, Kara came down the next day
and heard the full story of the outrage.

"He did not speak of pistols, but I remember now, though I did not
remember at the time, that I mentioned the fact that I had a handy
weapon. A fortnight later a second attempt was made to enter the
house. I say an attempt, but again I do not believe that the
intention was at all serious. The outrage was designed to keep
that pistol of mine in a get-at-able place.

"And again Kara came down to see us on the day following the
burglary, and again I must have told him, though I have no
distinct recollection of the fact, of what had happened the
previous night. It would have been unnatural if I had not
mentioned the fact, as it was a matter which had formed a subject
of discussion between myself, my wife and the servants.

"Then came the threatening letter, with Kara providentially at
hand. On the night of the murder, whilst Kara was still in my
house, I went out to find his chauffeur. Kara remained a few
minutes with my wife and then on some excuse went into the
library. There he loaded the pistol, placing one cartridge in the
chamber, and trusting to luck that I did not pull the trigger
until I had it pointed at my victim. Here he took his biggest
chance, because, before sending the weapon to me, he had had the
spring of the Browning so eased that the slightest touch set it
off and, as you know, the pistol being automatic, the explosion of
one cartridge, reloading and firing the next and so on, it was
probably that a chance touch would have brought his scheme to
nought--probably me also.

"Of what happened on that night you are aware."

He went on to tell of his trial and conviction and skimmed over
the life he led until that morning on Dartmoor.

"Kara knew my innocence had been proved and his hatred for me
being his great obsession, since I had the thing he had wanted but
no longer wanted, let that be understood--he saw the misery he
had planned for me and my dear wife being brought to a sudden end.
He had, by the way, already planned and carried his plan into
execution, a system of tormenting her.

"You did not know," he turned to T. X., "that scarcely a month
passed, but some disreputable villain called at her flat, with a
story that he had been released from Portland or Wormwood Scrubbs
that morning and that he had seen me. The story each messenger
brought was one sufficient to break the heart of any but the
bravest woman. It was a story of ill-treatment by brutal
officials, of my illness, of my madness, of everything calculated
to harrow the feelings of a tender-hearted and faithful wife.

"That was Kara's scheme. Not to hurt with the whip or with the
knife, but to cut deep at the heart with his evil tongue, to cut
to the raw places of the mind. When he found that I was to be
released,--he may have guessed, or he may have discovered by some
underhand method; that a pardon was about to be signed,--he
conceived his great plan. He had less than two days to execute
it.

"Through one of his agents he discovered a warder who had been in
some trouble with the authorities, a man who was avaricious and
was even then on the brink of being discharged from the service
for trafficking with prisoners. The bribe he offered this man was
a heavy one and the warder accepted.

"Kara had purchased a new monoplane and as you know he was an
excellent aviator. With this new machine he flew to Devon and
arrived at dawn in one of the unfrequented parts of the moor.

"The story of my own escape needs no telling. My narrative really
begins from the moment I put my foot upon the deck of the Mpret.
The first person I asked to see was, naturally, my wife. Kara,
however, insisted on my going to the cabin he had prepared and
changing my clothes, and until then I did not realise I was still
in my convict's garb. A clean change was waiting for me, and the
luxury of soft shirts and well-fitting garments after the prison
uniform I cannot describe.

"After I was dressed I was taken by the Greek steward to the
larger stateroom and there I found my darling waiting for me."

His voice sank almost to a whisper, and it was a minute or two
before he had mastered his emotions.

"She had been suspicious of Kara, but he had been very insistent.
He had detailed the plans and shown her the monoplane, but even
then she would not trust herself on board, and she had been
waiting in a motor-boat, moving parallel with the yacht, until she
saw the landing and realized, as she thought, that Kara was not
playing her false. The motor-boat had been hired by Kara and the
two men inside were probably as well-bribed as the warder.

"The joy of freedom can only be known to those who have suffered
the horrors of restraint. That is a trite enough statement, but
when one is describing elemental things there is no room for
subtlety. The voyage was a fairly eventless one. We saw very
little of Kara, who did not intrude himself upon us, and our main
excitement lay in the apprehension that we should be held up by a
British destroyer or, that when we reached Gibraltar, we should be
searched by the Brit's authorities. Kara had foreseen that
possibility and had taken in enough coal to last him for the run.

"We had a fairly stormy passage in the Mediterranean, but after
that nothing happened until we arrived at Durazzo. We had to go
ashore in disguise, because Kara told us that the English Consul
might see us and make some trouble. We wore Turkish dresses,
Grace heavily veiled and I wearing a greasy old kaftan which, with
my somewhat emaciated face and my unshaven appearance, passed me
without comment.

"Kara's home was and is about eighteen miles from Durazzo. It is
not on the main road, but it is reached by following one of the
rocky mountain paths which wind and twist among the hills to the
south-east of the town. The country is wild and mainly
uncultivated. We had to pass through swamps and skirt huge
lagoons as we mounted higher and higher from terrace to terrace
and came to the roads which crossed the mountains.

"Kara's, palace, you could call it no less, is really built within
sight of the sea. It is on the Acroceraunian Peninsula near Cape
Linguetta. Hereabouts the country is more populated and better
cultivated. We passed great slopes entirely covered with mulberry
and olive trees, whilst in the valleys there were fields of maize
and corn. The palazzo stands on a lofty plateau. It is
approached by two paths, which can be and have been well defended
in the past against the Sultan's troops or against the bands which
have been raised by rival villages with the object of storming and
plundering this stronghold.

"The Skipetars, a blood-thirsty crowd without pity or remorse,
were faithful enough to their chief, as Kara was. He paid them so
well that it was not profitable to rob him; moreover he kept their
own turbulent elements fully occupied with the little raids which
he or his agents organized from time to time. The palazzo was
built rather in the Moorish than in the Turkish style.

"It was a sort of Eastern type to which was grafted an Italian
architecture--a house of white-columned courts, of big paved
yards, fountains and cool, dark rooms.

"When I passed through the gates I realized for the first time
something of Kara's importance. There were a score of servants, 
all Eastern, perfectly trained, silent and obsequious. He led 
us to his own room.

"It was a big apartment with divans running round the wall, the
most ornate French drawing room suite and an enormous Persian
carpet, one of the finest of the kind that has ever been turned
out of Shiraz. Here, let me say, that throughout the trip his
attitude to me had been perfectly friendly and towards Grace all
that I could ask of my best friend, considerate and tactful.

"'We had hardly reached his room before he said to me with that
bonhomie which he had observed throughout the trip, 'You would
like to see your room?'

"I expressed a wish to that effect. He clapped his hands and a
big Albanian servant came through the curtained doorway, made the
usual salaam, and Kara spoke to him a few words in a language
which I presume was Turkish.

"'He will show you the way,' said Kara with his most genial smile.

"I followed the servant through the curtains which had hardly
fallen behind me before I was seized by four men, flung violently
on the ground, a filthy tarbosch was thrust into my mouth and
before I knew what was happening I was bound hand and foot.

"As I realised the gross treachery of the man, my first frantic
thoughts were of Grace and her safety. I struggled with the
strength of three men, but they were too many for me and I was
dragged along the passage, a door was opened and I was flung into
a bare room. I must have been lying on the floor for half an hour
when they came for me, this time accompanied by a middle-aged man
named Savolio, who was either an Italian or a Greek.

"He spoke English fairly well and he made it clear to me that I
had to behave myself. I was led back to the room from whence I
had come and found Kara sitting in one of those big armchairs
which he affected, smoking a cigarette. Confronting him, still in
her Turkish dress, was poor Grace. She was not bound I was
pleased to see, but when on my entrance she rose and made as if to
come towards me, she was unceremoniously thrown back by the
guardian who stood at her side.

"'Mr. John Lexman,' drawled Kara, 'you are at the beginning of a
great disillusionment. I have a few things to tell you which will
make you feel rather uncomfortable.' It was then that I heard for
the first time that my pardon had been signed and my innocence
discovered.

"'Having taken a great deal of trouble to get you in prison,' said
Kara, 'it isn't likely that I'm going to allow all my plans to be
undone, and my plan is to make you both extremely uncomfortable.'

"He did not raise his voice, speaking still in the same
conversational tone, suave and half amused.

"'I hate you for two things,' he said, and ticked them off on his
fingers: 'the first is that you took the woman that I wanted. To
a man of my temperament that is an unpardonable crime. I have
never wanted women either as friends or as amusement. I am one of
the few people in the world who are self-sufficient. It happened
that I wanted your wife and she rejected me because apparently she
preferred you.'

"He looked at me quizzically.

"'You are thinking at this moment,' he went on slowly, "that I
want her now, and that it is part of my revenge that I shall put
her straight in my harem. Nothing is farther from my desires or
my thoughts. The Black Roman is not satisfied with the leavings
of such poor trash as you. I hate you both equally and for both
of you there is waiting an experience more terrible than even your
elastic imagination can conjure. You understand what that means!'
he asked me still retaining his calm.

"I did not reply. I dared not look at Grace, to whom he turned.

"'I believe you love your husband, my friend,' he said; 'your love
will be put to a very severe test. You shall see him the mere
wreckage of the man he is. You shall see him brutalized below the
level of the cattle in the field. I will give you both no joys,
no ease of mind. From this moment you are slaves, and worse than
slaves.'

"He clapped his hands. The interview was ended and from that
moment I only saw Grace once."

John Lexman stopped and buried his face in his hands.

"They took me to an underground dungeon cut in the solid rock. In
many ways it resembled the dungeon of the Chateau of Chillon, in
that its only window looked out upon a wild, storm-swept lake and
its floor was jagged rock. I have called it underground, as
indeed it was on that side, for the palazzo was built upon a steep
slope running down from the spur of the hills.

"They chained me by the legs and left me to my own devices. Once
a day they gave me a little goat flesh and a pannikin of water and
once a week Kara would come in and outside the radius of my chain
he would open a little camp stool and sitting down smoke his
cigarette and talk. My God! the things that man said! The things
he described! The horrors he related! And always it was Grace
who was the centre of his description. And he would relate the
stories he was telling to her about myself. I cannot describe
them. They are beyond repetition."

John Lexman shuddered and closed his eyes.

"That was his weapon. He did not confront me with the torture of
my darling, he did not bring tangible evidence of her suffering -
he just sat and talked, describing with a remarkable clarity of
language which seemed incredible in a foreigner, the 'amusements'
which he himself had witnessed.

"I thought I should go mad. Twice I sprang at him and twice the
chain about my legs threw me headlong on that cruel floor. Once
he brought the jailer in to whip me, but I took the whipping with
such phlegm that it gave him no satisfaction. I told you I had
seen Grace only once and this is how it happened.

"It was after the flogging, and Kara, who was a veritable demon in
his rage, planned to have his revenge for my indifference. They
brought Grace out upon a boat and rowed the boat to where I could
see it from my window. There the whip which had been applied to
me was applied to her. I can't tell you any more about that," he
said brokenly, "but I wish, you don't know how fervently, that I
had broken down and given the dog the satisfaction he wanted. My
God! It was horrible!

"When the winter came they used to take me out with chains on my
legs to gather in wood from the forest. There was no reason why I
should be given this work, but the truth was, as I discovered from
Salvolio, that Kara thought my dungeon was too warm. It was
sheltered from the winds by the hill behind and even on the
coldest days and nights it was not unbearable. Then Kara went
away for some time. I think he must have gone to England, and he
came back in a white fury. One of his big plans had gone wrong
and the mental torture he inflicted upon me was more acute than
ever.

"In the old days he used to come once a week; now he came almost
every day. He usually arrived in the afternoon and I was
surprised one night to be awakened from my sleep to see him
standing at the door, a lantern in his hand, his inevitable
cigarette in his mouth. He always wore the Albanian costume when
he was in the country, those white kilted skirts and zouave
jackets which the hillsmen affect and, if anything, it added to
his demoniacal appearance. He put down the lantern and leant
against the wall.

"'I'm afraid that wife of yours is breaking up, Lexman,' he
drawled; 'she isn't the good, stout, English stuff that I thought
she was.'

"I made no reply. I had found by bitter experience that if I
intruded into the conversation, I should only suffer the more.

"'I have sent down to Durazzo to get a doctor,' he went on;
'naturally having taken all this trouble I don't want to lose you
by death. She is breaking up,' he repeated with relish and yet
with an undertone of annoyance in his voice; "she asked for you
three times this morning.'

"I kept myself under control as I had never expected that a man so
desperately circumstanced could do.

"'Kara,' I said as quietly as I could, 'what has she done that she
should deserve this hell in which she has lived?'

"He sent out a long ring of smoke and watched its progress across
the dungeon.

"'What has she done?' he said, keeping his eye on the ring--I
shall always remember every look, every gesture, and every
intonation of his voice. 'Why, she has done all that a woman can
do for a man like me. She has made me feel little. Until I had a
rebuff from her, I had all the world at my feet, Lexman. I did as
I liked. If I crooked my little finger, people ran after me and
that one experience with her has broken me. Oh, don't think,' he
went on quickly, 'that I am broken in love. I never loved her
very much, it was just a passing passion, but she killed my
self-confidence. After then, whenever I came to a crucial moment
in my affairs, when the big manner, the big certainty was
absolutely necessary for me to carry my way, whenever I was most
confident of myself and my ability and my scheme, a vision of this
damned girl rose and I felt that momentary weakening, that memory
of defeat, which made all the difference between success and
failure.

"'I hated her and I hate her still,' he said with vehemence; 'if
she dies I shall hate her more because she will remain
everlastingly unbroken to menace my thoughts and spoil my schemes
through all eternity.'

"He leant forward, his elbows on his knees, his clenched fist
under his chin--how well I can see him!--and stared at me.

"'I could have been king here in this land,' he said, waving his
hand toward the interior, 'I could have bribed and shot my way to
the throne of Albania. Don't you realize what that means to a man
like me?  There is still a chance and if I could keep your wife
alive, if I could see her broken in reason and in health, a poor,
skeleton, gibbering thing that knelt at my feet when I came near
her I should recover the mastery of myself. Believe me,' he said,
nodding his head, 'your wife will have the best medical advice
that it is possible to obtain.'

"Kara went out and I did not see him again for a very long time.
He sent word, just a scrawled note in the morning, to say my wife
had died."

John Lexman rose up from his seat, and paced the apartment, his
head upon his breast.

"From that moment," he said, "I lived only for one thing, to
punish Remington Kara. And gentlemen, I punished him."

He stood in the centre of the room and thumped his broad chest
with his clenched hand.

"I killed Remington Kara," he said, and there was a little gasp of
astonishment from every man present save one. That one was T. X.
Meredith, who had known all the time.




CHAPTER XXII


After a while Lexman resumed his story.

"I told you that there was a man at the palazzo named Salvolio.
Salvolio was a man who had been undergoing a life sentence in one
of the prisons of southern Italy. In some mysterious fashion he
escaped and got across the Adriatic in a small boat. How Kara
found him I don't know. Salvolio was a very uncommunicative
person. I was never certain whether he was a Greek or an Italian.
All that I am sure about is that he was the most unmitigated
villain next to his master that I have ever met.

"He was a quick man with his knife and I have seen him kill one of
the guards whom he had thought was favouring me in the matter of
diet with less compunction than you would kill a rat.

"It was he who gave me this scar," John Lexman pointed to his
cheek. "In his master's absence he took upon himself the task of
conducting a clumsy imitation of Kara's persecution. He gave me,
too, the only glimpse I ever had of the torture poor Grace
underwent. She hated dogs, and Kara must have come to know this
and in her sleeping room--she was apparently better accommodated
than I--he kept four fierce beasts so chained that they could
almost reach her.

"Some reference to my wife from this low brute maddened me beyond
endurance and I sprang at him. He whipped out his knife and
struck at me as I fell and I escaped by a miracle. He evidently
had orders not to touch me, for he was in a great panic of mind,
as he had reason to be, because on Kara's return he discovered the
state of my face, started an enquiry and had Salvolio taken to the
courtyard in the true eastern style and bastinadoed until his feet
were pulp.

"You may be sure the man hated me with a malignity which almost
rivalled his employer's. After Grace's death Kara went away
suddenly and I was left to the tender mercy of this man.
Evidently he had been given a fairly free hand. The principal
object of Kara's hate being dead, he took little further interest
in me, or else wearied of his hobby. Salvolio began his
persecutions by reducing my diet. Fortunately I ate very little.
Nevertheless the supplies began to grow less and less, and I was
beginning to feel the effects of this starvation system when there
happened a thing which changed the whole course of my life and
opened to me a way to freedom and to vengeance.

"Salvolio did not imitate the austerity of his master and in
Kara's absence was in the habit of having little orgies of his
own. He would bring up dancing girls from Durazzo for his
amusement and invite prominent men in the neighbourhood to his
feasts and entertainments, for he was absolutely lord of the
palazzo when Kara was away and could do pretty well as he liked.
On this particular night the festivities had been more than
usually prolonged, for as near as I could judge by the day-light
which was creeping in through my window it was about four o'clock
in the morning when the big steel-sheeted door was opened and
Salvolio came in, more than a little drunk. He brought with him,
as I judged, one of his dancing girls, who apparently was
privileged to see the sights of the palace.

"For a long time he stood in the doorway talking incoherently in a
language which I think must have been Turkish, for I caught one or
two words.

"Whoever the girl was, she seemed a little frightened, I could see
that, because she shrank back from him though his arm was about
her shoulders and he was half supporting his weight upon her.
There was fear, not only in the curious little glances she shot at
me from time to time, but also in the averted face. Her story I
was to learn. She was not of the class from whence Salvolio found
the dancers who from time to time came up to the palace for his
amusement and the amusement of his guests. She was the daughter
of a Turkish merchant of Scutari who had been received into the
Catholic Church.

"Her father had gone down to Durazzo during the first Balkan war
and then Salvolio had seen the girl unknown to her parent, and
there had been some rough kind of courtship which ended in her
running away on this very day and joining her ill-favoured lover
at the palazzo. I tell you this because the fact had some bearing
on my own fate.

"As I say, the girl was frightened and made as though to go from
the dungeon. She was probably scared both by the unkempt prisoner
and by the drunken man at her side. He, however, could not leave
without showing to her something of his authority. He came
lurching over near where I lay, his long knife balanced in his
hand ready for emergencies, and broke into a string of
vituperations of the character to which I was quite hardened.

"Then he took a flying kick at me and got home in my ribs, but
again I experienced neither a sense of indignity nor any great
hurt. Salvolio had treated me like this before and I had survived
it. In the midst of the tirade, looking past him, I was a new
witness to an extraordinary scene.

"The girl stood in the open doorway, shrinking back against the
door, looking with distress and pity at the spectacle which
Salvolio's brutality afforded. Then suddenly there appeared
beside her a tall Turk. He was grey-bearded and forbidding. She
looked round and saw him, and her mouth opened to utter a cry, but
with a gesture he silenced her and pointed to the darkness
outside.

"Without a word she cringed past him, her sandalled feet making no
noise. All this time Salvolio was continuing his stream of abuse,
but he must have seen the wonder in my eyes for he stopped and
turned.

"The old Turk took one stride forward, encircled his body with his
left arm, and there they stood grotesquely like a couple who were
going to start to waltz. The Turk was a head taller than Salvolio
and, as I could see, a man of immense strength.

"They looked at one another, face to face, Salvolio rapidly
recovering his senses . . . and then the Turk gave him a gentle
punch in the ribs. That is what it seemed like to me, but
Salvolio coughed horribly, went limp in the other's arms and
dropped with a thud to the ground. The Turk leant down soberly
and wiped his long knife on the other's jacket before he put it
back in the sash at his waist.

"Then with a glance at me he turned to go, but stopped at the door
and looked back thoughtfully. He said something in Turkish which
I could not understand, then he spoke in French.

"'Who are you?' he asked.

"In as few words as possible I explained. He came over and looked
at the manacle about my leg and shook his head.

"'You will never be able to get that undone,' he said.

"He caught hold of the chain, which was a fairly long one, bound
it twice round his arm and steadying his arm across his thigh, he
turned with a sudden jerk. There was a smart 'snap' as the chain
parted. He caught me by the shoulder and pulled me to my feet.
" 'Put the chain about your waist, Effendi,' he said, and he took
a revolver from his belt and handed it to me.

"'You may need this before we get back to Durazzo,' he said. His
belt was literally bristling with weapons--I saw three revolvers
beside the one I possessed--and he had, evidently come prepared
for trouble. We made our way from the dungeon into the
clean-smelling world without.

"It was the second time I had been in the open air for eighteen
months and my knees were trembling under me with weakness and
excitement. The old man shut the prison door behind us and walked
on until we came up to the girl waiting for us by the lakeside.
She was weeping softly and he spoke to her a few words in a low
voice and her weeping ceased.

"'This daughter of mine will show us the way,' he said, 'I do not
know this part of the country--she knows it too well.'

"To cut a long story short," said Lexman, "we reached Durazzo in
the afternoon. There was no attempt made to follow us up and
neither my absence nor the body of Salvolio were discovered until
late in the afternoon. You must remember that nobody but Salvolio
was allowed into my prison and therefore nobody had the courage to
make any investigations.

"The old man got me to his house without being observed, and
brought a brother-in-law or some relative of his to remove the
anklet. The name of my host was Hussein Effendi.

"That same night we left with a little caravan to visit some of
the old man's relatives. He was not certain what would be the
consequence of his act, and for safety's sake took this trip,
which would enable him if need be to seek sanctuary with some of
the wilder Turkish tribes, who would give him protection.

"In that three months I saw Albania as it is--it was an
experience never to be forgotten!

"If there is a better man in God's world than Hiabam Hussein
Effendi, I have yet to meet him. It was he who provided me with
money to leave Albania. I begged from him, too, the knife with
which he had killed Salvolio. He had discovered that Kara was in
England and told me something of the Greek's occupation which I
had not known before. I crossed to Italy and went on to Milan.
There it was that I learnt that an eccentric Englishman who had
arrived a few days previously on one of the South American boats
at Genoa, was in my hotel desperately ill.

"My hotel I need hardly tell you was not a very expensive one and
we were evidently the only two Englishmen in the place. I could
do no less than go up and see what I could do for the poor fellow
who was pretty well gone when I saw him. I seemed to remember
having seen him before and when looking round for some
identification I discovered his name I readily recalled the
circumstance.

"It was George Gathercole, who had returned from South America.
He was suffering from malarial fever and blood poisoning and for a
week, with an Italian doctor, I fought as hard as any man could
fight for his life. He was a trying patient," John Lexman smiled
suddenly at the recollection, "vitriolic in his language,
impatient and imperious in his attitude to his friends. He was,
for example, terribly sensitive about his lost arm and would not
allow either the doctor or my-self to enter the room until he was
covered to the neck, nor would he eat or drink in our presence.
Yet he was the bravest of the brave, careless of himself and only
fretful because he had not time to finish his new book. His
indomitable spirit did not save him. He died on the 17th of
January of this year. I was in Genoa at the time, having gone
there at his request to save his belongings. When I returned he
had been buried. I went through his papers and it was then that I
conceived my idea of how I might approach Kara.

"I found a letter from the Greek, which had been addressed to
Buenos Ayres, to await arrival, and then I remembered in a flash,
how Kara had told me he had sent George Gathercole to South
America to report upon possible gold formations. I was determined
to kill Kara, and determined to kill him in such a way that I
myself would cover every trace of my complicity.

"Even as he had planned my downfall, scheming every step and
covering his trail, so did I plan to bring about his death that no
suspicion should fall on me.

"I knew his house. I knew something of his habits. I knew the
fear in which he went when he was in England and away from the
feudal guards who had surrounded him in Albania. I knew of his
famous door with its steel latch and I was planning to circumvent
all these precautions and bring to him not only the death he
deserved, but a full knowledge of his fate before he died.

"Gathercole had some money,--about 140 pounds-- I took 100
pounds of this for my own use, knowing that I should have
sufficient in London to recompense his heirs, and the remainder of
the money with all such documents as he had, save those which
identified him with Kara, I handed over to the British Consul.

"I was not unlike the dead man. My beard had grown wild and I
knew enough of Gathercole's eccentricities to live the part. The
first step I took was to announce my arrival by inference. I am a
fairly good journalist with a wide general knowledge and with
this, corrected by reference to the necessary books which I found
in the British Museum library, I was able to turn out a very
respectable article on Patagonia.

"This I sent to The Times with one of Gathercole's cards and, as
you know, it was printed. My next step was to find suitable
lodgings between Chelsea and Scotland Yard. I was fortunate in
being able to hire a furnished flat, the owner of which was going
to the south of France for three months. I paid the rent in
advance and since I dropped all the eccentricities I had assumed
to support the character of Gathercole, I must have impressed the
owner, who took me without references.

"I had several suits of new clothes made, not in London," he
smiled, "but in Manchester, and again I made myself as trim as
possible to avoid after-identification. When I had got these
together in my flat, I chose my day. In the morning I sent two
trunks with most of my personal belongings to the Great Midland
Hotel.

"In the afternoon I went to Cadogan Square and hung about until I
saw Kara drive off. It was my first view of him since I had left
Albania and it required all my self-control to prevent me
springing at him in the street and tearing at him with my hands.

"Once he was out of sight I went to the house adopting all the
style and all the mannerisms of poor Gathercole. My beginning was
unfortunate for, with a shock, I recognised in the valet a
fellow-convict who had been with me in the warder's cottage on the
morning of my escape from Dartmoor. There was no mistaking him,
and when I heard his voice I was certain. Would he recognise me I
wondered, in spite of my beard and my eye-glasses?

"Apparently he did not. I gave him every chance. I thrust my
face into his and on my second visit challenged him, in the
eccentric way which poor old Gathercole had, to test the grey of
my beard. For the moment however, I was satisfied with my brief
experiment and after a reasonable interval I went away, returning
to my place off Victoria Street and waiting till the evening.

"In my observation of the house, whilst I was waiting for Kara to
depart, I had noticed that there were two distinct telephone wires
running down to the roof. I guessed, rather than knew, that one
of these telephones was a private wire and, knowing something of
Kara's fear, I presumed that that wire would lead to a police
office, or at any rate to a guardian of some kind or other. Kara
had the same arrangement in Albania, connecting the palazzo with
the gendarme posts at Alesso. This much Hussein told me.

"That night I made a reconnaissance of the house and saw Kara's
window was lit and at ten minutes past ten I rang the bell and I
think it was then that I applied the test of the beard. Kara was
in his room, the valet told me, and led the way upstairs. I had
come prepared to deal with this valet for I had an especial reason
for wishing that he should not be interrogated by the police. On
a plain card I had written the number he bore in Dartmoor and had
added the words, 'I know you, get out of here quick.'

"As he turned to lead the way upstairs I flung the envelope
containing the card on the table in the hall. In an inside
pocket, as near to my body as I could put them, I had the two
candles. How I should use them both I had already decided. The
valet ushered me into Kara's room and once more I stood in the
presence of the man who had killed my girl and blotted out all
that was beautiful in life for me."

There was a breathless silence when he paused. T. X. leaned back
in his chair, his head upon his breast, his arms folded, his eyes
watching the other intently.

The Chief Commissioner, with a heavy frown and pursed lips, sat
stroking his moustache and looking under his shaggy eyebrows at
the speaker. The French police officer, his hands thrust deep in
his pockets, his head on one side, was taking in every word
eagerly. The sallow-faced Russian, impassive of face, might have
been a carved ivory mask. O'Grady, the American, the stump of a
dead cigar between his teeth, shifted impatiently with every pause
as though he would hurry forward the denouement.

Presently John Lexman went on.

"He slipped from the bed and came across to meet me as I closed
the door behind me.

"'Ah, Mr. Gathercole,' he said, in that silky tone of his, and
held out his hand.

"I did not speak. I just looked at him with a sort of fierce joy
in my heart the like of which I had never before experienced.

"'And then he saw in my eyes the truth and half reached for the
telephone.

"But at that moment I was on him. He was a child in my hands.
All the bitter anguish he had brought upon me, all the hardships
of starved days and freezing nights had strengthened and hardened
me. I had come back to London disguised with a false arm and this
I shook free. It was merely a gauntlet of thin wood which I had
had made for me in Paris.

"I flung him back on the bed and half knelt, half laid on him.

"'Kara,' I said, 'you are going to die, a more merciful death than
my wife died.'

"He tried to speak. His soft hands gesticulated wildly, but I was
half lying on one arm and held the other.

"I whispered in his ear:

"'Nobody will know who killed you, Kara, think of that! I shall
go scot free--and you will be the centre of a fine mystery! All
your letters will be read, all your life will be examined and the
world will know you for what you are!'

"I released his arm for just as long as it took to draw my knife
and strike. I think he died instantly," John Lexman said simply.

"I left him where he was and went to the door. I had not much
time to spare. I took the candles from my pocket. They were
already ductile from the heat of my body.

"I lifted up the steel latch of the door and propped up the latch
with the smaller of the two candles, one end of which was on the
middle socket and the other beneath the latch. The heat of the
room I knew would still further soften the candle and let the
latch down in a short time.

"I was prepared for the telephone by his bedside though I did not
know to whither it led. The presence of the paper-knife decided
me. I balanced it across the silver cigarette box so that one end
came under the telephone receiver; under the other end I put the
second candle which I had to cut to fit. On top of the
paper-knife at the candle end I balanced the only two books I
could find in the room, and fortunately they were heavy.

"I had no means of knowing how long it would take to melt the
candle to a state of flexion which would allow the full weight of
the books to bear upon the candle end of the paper-knife and fling
off the receiver. I was hoping that Fisher had taken my warning
and had gone. When I opened the door softly, I heard his
footsteps in the hall below. There was nothing to do but to
finish the play.

"I turned and addressed an imaginary conversation to Kara. It was
horrible, but there was something about it which aroused in me a
curious sense of humour and I wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh!

"I heard the man coming up the stairs and closed the door
gingerly. What length of time would it take for the candle to
bend!

"To completely establish the alibi I determined to hold Fisher in
conversation and this was all the easier since apparently he had
not seen the envelope I had left on the table downstairs. I had
not long to wait for suddenly with a crash I heard the steel latch
fall in its place. Under the effect of the heat the candle had
bent sooner than I had expected. I asked Fisher what was the
meaning of the sound and he explained. I passed down the stairs
talking all the time. I found a cab at Sloane Square and drove to
my lodgings. Underneath my overcoat I was partly dressed in
evening kit.

"Ten minutes after I entered the door of my flat I came out a
beardless man about town, not to be distinguished from the
thousand others who would be found that night walking the
promenade of any of the great music-halls. From Victoria Street I
drove straight to Scotland Yard. It was no more than a
coincidence that whilst I should have been speaking with you all,
the second candle should have bent and the alarm be given in the
very office in which I was sitting.

"I assure you all in all earnestness that I did not suspect the
cause of that ringing until Mr. Mansus spoke.

"There, gentlemen, is my story!" He threw out his arms.

"You may do with me as you will. Kara was a murderer, dyed a
hundred times in innocent blood. I have done all that I set
myself to do--that and no more--that and no less. I had thought
to go away to America, but the nearer the day of my departure
approached, the more vivid became the memory of the plans which
she and I had formed, my girl . . . my poor martyred girl!"

He sat at the little table, his hands clasped before him, his face
lined and white.

"And that is the end!" he said suddenly, with a wry smile.

"Not quite!" T. X. swung round with a gasp. It was Belinda Mary
who spoke.

"I can carry it on," she said.

She was wonderfully self-possessed, thought T. X., but then T. X.
never thought anything of her but that she was "wonderfully"
something or the other.

"Most of your story is true, Mr. Lexman," said this astonishing
girl, oblivious of the amazed eyes that were staring at her, "but
Kara deceived you in one respect."

"What do you mean?" asked John Lexman, rising unsteadily to his
feet.

For answer she rose and walked back to the door with the chintz
curtains and flung it open: There was a wait which seemed an
eternity, and then through the doorway came a girl, slim and
grave and beautiful.

"My God!" whispered T. X. "Grace Lexman!"




CHAPTER XXIII


They went out and left them alone, two people who found in this
moment a heaven which is not beyond the reach of humanity, but
which is seldom attained to. Belinda Mary had an eager audience
all to her very self.

"Of course she didn't die," she said scornfully. "Kara was
playing on his fears all the time. He never even harmed her--in
the way Mr. Lexman feared. He told Mrs. Lexman that her husband
was dead just as he told John Lexman his wife was gone. What
happened was that he brought her back to England--"

"Who?" asked T. X., incredulously.

"Grace Lexman," said the girl, with a smile. "You wouldn't think
it possible, but when you realize that he had a yacht of his own
and that he could travel up from whatever landing place he chose
to his house in Cadogan Square by motorcar and that he could take
her straight away into his cellar without disturbing his
household, you'll understand that the only difficulty he had was
in landing her. It was in the lower cellar that I found her."

"You found her in the cellar?" demanded the Chief Commissioner.

The girl nodded.

"I found her and the dog--you heard how Kara terrified her--and
I killed the dog with my own hands," she said a little proudly,
and then shivered. "It was very beastly," she admitted.

"And she's been living with you all this time and you've said
nothing!" asked T. X., incredulously. Belinda Mary nodded.

"And that is why you didn't want me to know where you were
living?" She nodded again.

"You see she was very ill," she said, "and I had to nurse her up,
and of course I knew that it was Lexman who had killed Kara and I
couldn't tell you about Grace Lexman without betraying him. So
when Mr. Lexman decided to tell his story, I thought I'd better
supply the grand denouement."

The men looked at one another.

"What are you going to do about Lexman?" asked the Chief
Commissioner, "and, by the way, T. X., how does all this fit your
theories!"

"Fairly well," replied T. X. coolly; "obviously the man who
committed the murder was the man introduced into the room as
Gathercole and as obviously it was not Gathercole, although to all
appearance, he had lost his left arm."

"Why obvious?" asked the Chief Commissioner.

"Because," answered T. X. Meredith, "the real Gathercole had lost
his right arm--that was the one error Lexman made."

"H'm," the Chief pulled at his moustache and looked enquiringly
round the room, "we have to make up our minds very quickly about
Lexman," he said. "What do you think, Carlneau?"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.

"For my part I should not only importune your Home Secretary to
pardon him, but I should recommend him for a pension," he said
flippantly.

"What do you think, Savorsky?"

The Russian smiled a little.

"It is a very impressive story," he said dispassionately; "it
occurs to me that if you intend bringing your M. Lexman to
judgment you are likely to expose some very pretty scandals.
Incidentally," he said, stroking his trim little moustache, "I
might remark that any exposure which drew attention to the lawless
conditions of Albania would not be regarded by my government with
favour."

The Chief Commissioner's eyes twinkled and he nodded.

"That is also my view," said the Chief of the Italian bureau;
"naturally we are greatly interested in all that happens on the
Adriatic littoral. It seems to me that Kara has come to a very
merciful end and I am not inclined to regard a prosecution of Mr.
Lexman with equanimity."

"Well, I guess the political aspect of the case doesn't affect us
very much," said O'Grady, "but as one who was once mighty near
asphyxiated by stirring up the wrong kind of mud, I should leave
the matter where it is."

The Chief Commissioner was deep in thought and Belinda Mary eyed
him anxiously.

"Tell them to come in," he said bluntly.

The girl went and brought John Lexman and his wife, and they came
in hand in hand supremely and serenely happy whatever the future
might hold for them. The Chief Commissioner cleared his throat.

"Lexman, we're all very much obliged to you," he said, "for a very
interesting story and a most interesting theory. What you have
done, as I understand the matter," he proceeded deliberately, "is
to put yourself in the murderer's place and advance a theory not
only as to how the murder was actually committed, but as to the
motive for that murder. It is, I might say, a remarkable piece of
reconstruction," he spoke very deliberately, and swept away John
Lexman's astonished interruption with a stern hand, "please wait
and do not speak until I am out of hearing," he growled. "You
have got into the skin of the actual assassin and have spoken most
convincingly. One might almost think that the man who killed
Remington Kara was actually standing before us. For that piece of
impersonation we are all very grateful;" he glared round over his
spectacles at his understanding colleagues and they murmured
approvingly.

He looked at his watch.

"Now I am afraid I must be off," he crossed the room and put out
his hand to John Lexman. "I wish you good luck," he said, and
took both Grace Lexman's hands in his. "One of these days," he
said paternally, "I shall come down to Beston Tracey and your
husband shall tell me another and a happier story."

He paused at the door as he was going out and looking back caught
the grateful eyes of Lexman.

"By the way, Mr. Lexman," he said hesitatingly, "I don't think I
should ever write a story called 'The Clue of the Twisted Candle,'
if I were you."

John Lexman shook his head.

"It will never be written," he said, "--by me."



THE END






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