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´╗┐Title: The Clue of the Twisted Candle
Author: Wallace, Edgar, 1875-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Clue of the Twisted Candle" ***

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THE CLUE OF THE TWISTED CANDLE

By 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."





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