Part 1 out of 5
THE CLUE OF THE TWISTED CANDLE
by EDGAR WALLACE
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
"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
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
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 re-lief. He changed his shoes, and lit the
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
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
"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
"There are very many reasons," she replied, a little curtly for
"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
"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
"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.
"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. 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
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
"I want to see you, Kara," said John Lexman, "if you will give me
"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
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,"
"Quite," replied the other.
"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
"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
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
John was filling his pipe from a big blue jar on his desk and
"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."
"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
"I envy those fellows who run round the world writing books," said
John, puffing reflectively at his pipe. "They have all the best
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."
"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
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.
"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
"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
"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
"Two thousand five hundred pounds," replied John, with a short
laugh, "and I haven't two thousand five hundred shillings at this
"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."
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
All the time Kara was watching him intently as one who found more
than an ordinary amount of interest in the novelty of the
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
"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
"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
"You look worried, dear," she said, laying her hand on his
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
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
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
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
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
"Everything that you have ordered has been done, Effendi," he said
"You have a revolver?"
The man nodded and patted his pocket.
"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.
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
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,
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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,
"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!"
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," 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.
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
"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
"Open it," said T. X., and Lexman turned the key and pulled the
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
"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."
T. X. folded the telegram very carefully and slipped it into his
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
"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
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
"I have no recollection of burning any envelope," said the other
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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
Sir George passed behind his assistant and looked over his
"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
"I am told you are quite friendly with Kara again."
T. X. made a noise which might be taken to indicate his assent to
"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
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
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
"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.
"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