The Clue of the Twisted Candle
Part 2 out of 5
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
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.
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
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
"Face the wall," growled a voice, and mechanically he turned, his
hands still behind him, and stood staring at the grey wall of the
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
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
"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.
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
"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?"
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
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
"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
"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."
"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
"This is a self-starter," he said, "one of the newest models of
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
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
Talking was impossible. The roar of the engines defied
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."
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!"
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
He ran up the stairs to his office, and found Mansus reading the
"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.
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
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
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
"What like of man was he?" asked T. X.
The brief description the man gave sent a cold chill to the
"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
"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
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!"
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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?"
"She went alone?"
"She took her maid, but otherwise she was alone. I thought she
"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
Mansus busily engaged in going through the bundles of letters,
slips of paper and little notebooks he had taken from his pocket,
"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
"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
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 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
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
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 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
"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
"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.
"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
"Oh, Poropulos," said Kara gravely, "I dismissed him a long time
"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
"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
"What an extraordinary question to ask me - as though Lady
Bartholomew confided her plans to one who is little more than a
"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
"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
"You - you - " he hissed, and his clawing hands moved suspiciously
"Put up your hands," said T. X. sharply, "and be damned quick
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
"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,
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,
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I see," she said, nodding her head quickly. "I suppose that is
how blackmailers feel."
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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."
"Is there anything you want; miss?" he asked as he stood at the
"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
"Shall I ring up for a messenger?"
"No, I don't think that would be advisable. You had better take
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,
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
"I'm afraid you're rather lonely, Mrs. Beale," said the girl
"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
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.
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
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
"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
Kara turned and opened it and after a low strained conversation he
returned, closing the door and laid a paper of stamps on the
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
He must have read her thoughts for he came nearer and stood over
"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
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
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
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 . . . !"
Superintendent Mansus had a little office in Scotland Yard proper,
which, he complained, was not so much a private bureau, as a
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