Part 4 out of 5
"I can tell you this about Gathercole," said John slowly and
thoughtfully, "that he was a man who would not hurt a fly. He was
incapable of killing any man, being constitutionally averse to
taking life in any shape. For this reason he never made
collections of butterflies or of bees, and I believe has never
shot an animal in his life. He carried his principles to such an
extent that he was a vegetarian - poor old Gathercole!" he said,
with the first smile which T. X. had seen on his face since he
"If you want to sympathize with anybody," said T. X. gloomily,
"sympathize with me."
On the following day T. X. was summoned to the Home Office and
went steeled for a most unholy row. The Home Secretary, a large
and worthy gentleman, given to the making of speeches on every
excuse, received him, however, with unusual kindness.
"I've sent for you, Mr. Meredith," he said, "about this
unfortunate Greek. I've had all his private papers looked into
and translated and in some cases decoded, because as you are
probably aware his diaries and a great deal of his correspondence
were in a code which called for the attention of experts."
T. X. had not troubled himself greatly about Kara's private papers
but had handed them over, in accordance with instructions, to the
"Of course, Mr. Meredith," the Home Secretary went on, beaming
across his big table, "we expect you to continue your search for
the murderer, but I must confess that your prisoner when you
secure him will have a very excellent case to put to a jury."
"That I can well believe, sir," said T. X.
"Seldom in my long career at the bar," began the Home Secretary in
his best oratorical manner, "have I examined a record so utterly
discreditable as that of the deceased man."
Here he advanced a few instances which surprised even T. X.
"The men was a lunatic," continued the Home Secretary, "a vicious,
evil man who loved cruelty for cruelty's sake. We have in this
diary alone sufficient evidence to convict him of three separate
murders, one of which was committed in this country."
T. X. looked his astonishment.
"You will remember, Mr. Meredith, as I saw in one of your reports,
that he had a chauffeur, a Greek named Poropulos."
T. X. nodded.
"He went to Greece on the day following the shooting of
Vassalaro," he said.
The Home Secretary shook his head
"He was killed on the same night," said the Minister, "and you
will have no difficulty in finding what remains of his body in the
disused house which Kara rented for his own purpose on the
Portsmouth Road. That he has killed a number of people in Albania
you may well suppose. Whole villages have been wiped out to
provide him with a little excitement. The man was a Nero without
any of Nero's amiable weaknesses. He was obsessed with the idea
that he himself was in danger of assassination, and saw an enemy
even in his trusty servant. Undoubtedly the chauffeur Poropulos
was in touch with several Continental government circles. You
understand," said the Minister in conclusion, "that I am telling
you this, not with the idea of expecting you, to relax your
efforts to find the murderer and clear up the mystery, but in
order that you may know something of the possible motive for this
T. X. spent an hour going over the decoded diary and documents and
left the Home Office a little shakily. It was inconceivable,
incredible. Kara was a lunatic, but the directing genius was a
T. X. had a flat in Whitehall Gardens and thither he repaired to
change for dinner. He was half dressed when the evening paper
arrived and he glanced as was his wont first at the news' page and
then at the advertisement column. He looked down the column
marked "Personal" without expecting to find anything of particular
interest to himself, but saw that which made him drop the paper
and fly round the room in a frenzy to complete his toilet.
"Tommy X.," ran the brief announcement, "most urgent, Marble Arch
He had five minutes to get there but it seemed like five hours.
He was held up at almost every crossing and though he might have
used his authority to obtain right of way, it was a step which his
curious sense of honesty prevented him taking. He leapt out of
the cab before it stopped, thrust the fare into the driver's hands
and looked round for the girl. He saw her at last and walked
quickly towards her. As he approached her, she turned about and
with an almost imperceptible beckoning gesture walked away. He
followed her along the Bayswater Road and gradually drew level.
"I am afraid I have been watched," she said in a low voice. "Will
you call a cab?"
He hailed a passing taxi, helped her in and gave at random the
first place that suggested itself to him, which was Finsbury Park.
"I am very worried," she said, "and I don't know anybody who can
help me except you."
"Is it money?" he asked.
"Money," she said scornfully, "of course it isn't money. I want
to show you a letter," she said after a while.
She took it from her bag and gave it to him and he struck a match
and read it with difficulty.
It was written in a studiously uneducated hand.
"I know who you are. You are wanted by the police but I will not
give you away. Dear Miss. I am very hard up and 20 pounds will
be very useful to me and I shall not trouble you again. Dear
Miss. Put the money on the window sill of your room. I know you
sleep on the ground floor and I will come in and take it. And if
not - well, I don't want to make any trouble.
"When did you get this?" he asked.
"This morning," she replied. "I sent the Agony to the paper by
telegram, I knew you would come."
"Oh, you did, did you?" he said.
Her assurance was very pleasing to him. The faith that her words
implied gave him an odd little feeling of comfort and happiness.
"I can easily get you out of this," he added; "give me your
address and when the gentleman comes - "
"That is impossible," she replied hurriedly. "Please don't think
I'm ungrateful, and don't think I'm being silly - you do think I'm
being silly, don't you!"
"I have never harboured such an unworthy thought," he said
"Yes, you have," she persisted, "but really I can't tell you where
I am living. I have a very special reason for not doing so. It's
not myself that I'm thinking about, but there's a life involved."
This was a somewhat dramatic statement to make and she felt she
had gone too far.
"Perhaps I don't mean that," she said, "but there is some one I
care for - " she dropped her voice.
"Oh," said T. X. blankly.
He came down from his rosy heights into the shadow and darkness of
a sunless valley.
"Some one you care for," he repeated after a while.
There was another long silence, then,
"Oh, indeed," said T. X.
Again the unbroken interval of quiet and after a while she said in
a low voice, "Not that way."
"Not what way!" asked T. X. huskily, his spirits doing a little
"The way you mean," she said.
"Oh," said T. X.
He was back again amidst the rosy snows of dawn, was in fact
climbing a dizzy escalier on the topmost height of hope's Mont
Blanc when she pulled the ladder from under him.
"I shall, of course, never marry," she said with a certain prim
T. X. fell with a dull sickening thud, discovering that his rosy
snows were not unlike cold, hard ice in their lack of resilience.
"Who said you would?" he asked somewhat feebly, but in self
"You did," she said, and her audacity took his breath away.
"Well, how am I to help you!" he asked after a while.
"By giving me some advice," she said; "do you think I ought to put
the money there!"
"Indeed I do not," said T. X., recovering some of his natural
dominance; "apart from the fact that you would be compounding a
felony, you would merely be laying out trouble for yourself in the
future. If he can get 20 pounds so easily, he will come for 40
pounds. But why do you stay away, why don't you return home?
There's no charge and no breath of suspicion against you."
"Because I have something to do which I have set my mind to," she
said, with determination in her tones.
"Surely you can trust me with your address," he urged her, "after
all that has passed between us, Belinda Mary - after all the years
we have known one another."
"I shall get out and leave you," she said steadily.
"But how the dickens am I going to help you?" he protested.
"Don't swear," she could be very severe indeed; "the only way you
can help me is by being kind and sympathetic."
"Would you like me to burst into tears?" he asked sarcastically.
"I ask you to do nothing more painful or repugnant to your natural
feelings than to be a gentleman," she said.
"Thank you very kindly," said T. X., and leant back in the cab
with an air of supreme resignation.
"I believe you're making faces in the dark," she accused him.
"God forbid that I should do anything so low," said he hastily;
"what made you think that?"
"Because I was putting my tongue out at you," she admitted, and
the taxi driver heard the shrieks of laughter in the cab behind
him above the wheezing of his asthmatic engine.
At twelve that night in a certain suburb of London an overcoated
man moved stealthily through a garden. He felt his way carefully
along the wall of the house and groped with hope, but with no
great certainty, along the window sill. He found an envelope
which his fingers, somewhat sensitive from long employment in
nefarious uses, told him contained nothing more substantial than a
He went back through the garden and rejoined his companion, who
was waiting under an adjacent lamp-post.
"Did she drop?" asked the other eagerly.
"I don't know yet," growled the man from the garden.
He opened the envelope and read the few lines.
"She hasn't got the money," he said, "but she's going to get it.
I must meet her to-morrow afternoon at the corner of Oxford Street
and Regent Street."
"What time!" asked the other.
"Six o'clock," said the first man. "The chap who takes the money
must carry a copy of the Westminster Gazette in his hand."
"Oh, then it's a plant," said the other with conviction.
The other laughed.
"She won't work any plants. I bet she's scared out of her life."
The second man bit his nails and looked up and down the road,
"It's come to something," he said bitterly; "we went out to make
our thousands and we've come down to 'chanting' for 20 pounds."
"It's the luck," said the other philosophically, "and I haven't
done with her by any means. Besides we've still got a chance of
pulling of the big thing, Harry. I reckon she's good for a
hundred or two, anyway."
At six o'clock on the following afternoon, a man dressed in a dark
overcoat, with a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes stood
nonchalantly by the curb near where the buses stop at Regent
Street slapping his hand gently with a folded copy of the
That none should mistake his Liberal reading, he stood as near as
possible to a street lamp and so arranged himself and his attitude
that the minimum of light should fall upon his face and the
maximum upon that respectable organ of public opinion. Soon after
six he saw the girl approaching, out of the tail of his eye, and
strolled off to meet her. To his surprise she passed him by and
he was turning to follow when an unfriendly hand gripped him by
"Mr. Fisher, I believe," said a pleasant voice.
"What do you mean?" said the man, struggling backward.
"Are you going quietly!" asked the pleasant Superintendent Mansus,
"or shall I take my stick to you'?"
Mr. Fisher thought awhile.
"It's a cop," he confessed, and allowed himself to be hustled into
the waiting cab.
He made his appearance in T. X.'s office and that urbane gentleman
greeted him as a friend.
"And how's Mr. Fisher!" he asked; "I suppose you are Mr. Fisher
still and not Mr. Harry Gilcott, or Mr. George Porten."
Fisher smiled his old, deferential, deprecating smile.
"You will always have your joke, sir. I suppose the young lady
gave me away."
"You gave yourself away, my poor Fisher," said T. X., and put a
strip of paper before him; "you may disguise your hand, and in
your extreme modesty pretend to an ignorance of the British
language, which is not creditable to your many attainments, but
what you must be awfully careful in doing in future when you write
such epistles," he said, "is to wash your hands."
"Wash my hands!" repeated the puzzled Fisher.
T. X. nodded.
"You see you left a little thumb print, and we are rather whales
on thumb prints at Scotland Yard, Fisher."
"I see. What is the charge now, sir!"
"I shall make no charge against you except the conventional one of
being a convict under license and failing to report."
Fisher heaved a sigh.
"That'll only mean twelve months. Are you going to charge me with
this business?" he nodded to the paper.
T. X. shook his head.
"I bear you no ill-will although you tried to frighten Miss
Bartholomew. Oh yes, I know it is Miss Bartholomew, and have
known all the time. The lady is there for a reason which is no
business of yours or of mine. I shall not charge you with attempt
to blackmail and in reward for my leniency I hope you are going to
tell me all you know about the Kara murder. You wouldn't like me
to charge you with that, would you by any chance!"
Fisher drew a long breath.
"No, sir, but if you did I could prove my innocence," he said
earnestly. "I spent the whole of the evening in the kitchen."
"Except a quarter of an hour," said T. X.
The man nodded.
"That's true, sir, I went out to see a pal of mine."
"The man who is in this!" asked T. X.
"Yes, sir. He was with me in this but there was nothing wrong
about the business - as far as we went. I don't mind admitting
that I was planning a Big Thing. I'm not going to blow on it, if
it's going to get me into trouble, but if you'll promise me that
it won't, I'll tell you the whole story."
"Against whom was this coup of yours planned?"
"Against Mr. Kara, sir," said Fisher.
"Go on with your story," nodded T. X.
The story was a short and commonplace one. Fisher had met a man
who knew another man who was either a Turk or an Albanian. They
had learnt that Kara was in the habit of keeping large sums of
money in the house and they had planned to rob him. That was the
story in a nutshell. Somewhere the plan miscarried. It was when
he came to the incidents that occurred on the night of the murder
that T. X. followed him with the greatest interest.
"The old gentleman came in," said Fisher, "and I saw him up to the
room. I heard him coming out and I went up and spoke to him while
he was having a chat with Mr. Kara at the open door."
"Did you hear Mr. Kara speak?"
"I fancy I did, sir," said Fisher; "anyway the old gentleman was
quite pleased with himself."
"Why do you say 'old gentleman'!" asked T. X.; "he was not an old
"Not exactly, sir," said Fisher, "but he had a sort of fussy
irritable way that old gentlemen sometimes have and I somehow got
it fixed in my mind that he was old. As a matter of fact, he was
about forty-five, he may have been fifty."
"You have told me all this before. Was there anything peculiar
"Nothing, sir, except the fact that one of his arms was a game
"Meaning that it was - "
"Meaning that it was an artificial one, sir, so far as I can make
"Was it his right or his left arm that was game!" interrupted T.
"His left arm, sir."
"I'd swear to it, sir."
"Very well, go on."
"He came downstairs and went out and I never saw him again. When
you came and the murder was discovered and knowing as I did that I
had my own scheme on and that one of your splits might pinch me, I
got a bit rattled. I went downstairs to the hall and the first
thing I saw lying on the table was a letter. It was addressed to
He paused and T. X. nodded.
"Go on," he said again.
"I couldn't understand how it came to be there, but as I'd been in
the kitchen most of the evening except when I was seeing my pal
outside to tell him the job was off for that night, it might have
been there before you came. I opened the letter. There were only
a few words on it and I can tell you those few words made my heart
jump up into my mouth, and made me go cold all over."
"What were they!" asked T. X.
"I shall not forget them, sir. They're sort of permanently fixed
in my brain," said the man earnestly; "the note started with just
the figures 'A. C. 274.' "
"What was that!" asked T. X.
"My convict number when I was in Dartmoor Prison, sir."
"What did the note say?"
"'Get out of here quick' - I don't know who had put it there, but
I'd evidently been spotted and I was taking no chances. That's
the whole story from beginning to end. I accidentally happened to
meet the young lady, Miss Holland - Miss Bartholomew as she is -
and followed her to her house in Portman Place. That was the
night you were there."
T. X. found himself to his intense annoyance going very red.
"And you know no more?" he asked.
"No more, sir - and if I may be struck dead - "
"Keep all that sabbath talk for the chaplain," commended T. X.,
and they took away Mr. Fisher, not an especially dissatisfied man.
That night T. X. interviewed his prisoner at Cannon Row police
station and made a few more enquiries.
"There is one thing I would like to ask you," said the girl when
he met her next morning in Green Park.
"If you were going to ask whether I made enquiries as to where
your habitation was," he warned her, "I beg of you to refrain."
She was looking very beautiful that morning, he thought. The keen
air had brought a colour to her face and lent a spring to her
gait, and, as she strode along by his side with the free and
careless swing of youth, she was an epitome of the life which even
now was budding on every tree in the park.
"Your father is back in town, by the way," he said, "and he is
most anxious to see you."
She made a little grimace.
"I hope you haven't been round talking to father about me."
"Of course I have," he said helplessly; "I have also had all the
reporters up from Fleet Street and given them a full description
of your escapades."
She looked round at him with laughter in her eyes.
"You have all the manners of an early Christian martyr," she said.
"Poor soul! Would you like to be thrown to the lions?"
"I should prefer being thrown to the demnition ducks and drakes,"
he said moodily.
"You're such a miserable man," she chided him, "and yet you have
everything to make life worth living."
"Ha, ha!" said T. X.
"You have, of course you have! You have a splendid position.
Everybody looks up to you and talks about you. You have got a
wife and family who adore you - "
He stopped and looked at her as though she were some strange
"I have a how much?" he asked credulously.
"Aren't you married?" she asked innocently.
He made a strange noise in his throat.
"Do you know I have always thought of you as married," she went
on; "I often picture you in your domestic circle reading to the
children from the Daily Megaphone those awfully interesting
stories about Little Willie Waterbug."
He held on to the railings for support.
"May we sit down" he asked faintly.
She sat by his side, half turned to him, demure and wholly
"Of course you are right in one respect," he said at last, "but
you're altogether wrong about the children."
"Are you married!" she demanded with no evidence of amusement.
"Didn't you know?" he asked.
She swallowed something.
"Of course it's no business of mine and I'm sure I hope you are
"Perfectly happy," said T. X. complacently. "You must come out
and see me one Saturday afternoon when I am digging the potatoes.
I am a perfect devil when they let me loose in the vegetable
"Shall we go on?" she said.
He could have sworn there were tears in her eyes and manlike he
thought she was vexed with him at his fooling.
"I haven't made you cross, have I?" he asked.
"Oh no," she replied.
"I mean you don't believe all this rot about my being married and
that sort of thing?"
"I'm not interested," she said, with a shrug of her shoulders,
"not very much. You've been very kind to me and I should be an
awful boor if I wasn't grateful. Of course, I don't care whether
you're married or not, it's nothing to do with me, is it?"
"Naturally it isn't," he replied. "I suppose you aren't married
by any chance?"
"Married," she repeated bitterly; "why, you will make my fourth!"
She had hardy got the words out of her mouth before she realized
her terrible error. A second later she was in his arms and he was
kissing her to the scandal of one aged park keeper, one small and
dirty-faced little boy and a moulting duck who seemed to sneer at
the proceedings which he watched through a yellow and malignant
"Belinda Mary," said T. X. at parting, "you have got to give up
your little country establishment, wherever it may be and come
back to the discomforts of Portman Place. Oh, I know you can't
come back yet. That 'somebody' is there, and I can pretty well
guess who it is."
"Who?" she challenged.
"I rather fancy your mother has come back," he suggested.
A look of scorn dawned into her pretty face.
"Good lord, Tommy!" she said in disgust, "you don't think I should
keep mother in the suburbs without her telling the world all about
"You're an undutiful little beggar," he said.
They had reached the Horse Guards at Whitehall and he was saying
good-bye to her.
"If it comes to a matter of duty," she answered, "perhaps you will
do your duty and hold up the traffic for me and let me cross this
"My dear girl," he protested, "hold up the traffic?"
"Of course," she said indignantly, "you're a policeman."
"Only when I am in uniform," he said hastily, and piloted her
across the road.
It was a new man who returned to the gloomy office in Whitehall.
A man with a heart that swelled and throbbed with the pride and
joy of life's most precious possession.
T. X. sat at his desk, his chin in his hands, his mind remarkably
busy. Grave as the matter was which he was considering, he rose
with alacrity to meet the smiling girl who was ushered through the
door by Mansus, preternaturally solemn and mysterious.
She was radiant that day. Her eyes were sparkling with an unusual
"I've got the most wonderful thing to tell you," she said, "and I
can't tell you."
"That's a very good beginning," said T. X., taking her muff from
"Oh, but it's really wonderful," she cried eagerly, "more
wonderful than anything you have ever heard about."
"We are interested," said T. X. blandly.
"No, no, you mustn't make fun," she begged, "I can't tell you now,
but it is something that will make you simply - " she was at a loss
for a simile.
"Jump out of my skin?" suggested T. X.
"I shall astonish you," she nodded her head solemnly.
"I take a lot of astonishing, I warn you," he smiled; "to know you
is to exhaust one's capacity for surprise."
"That can be either very, very nice or very, very nasty," she said
"But accept it as being very, very nice," he laughed. "Now come,
out with this tale of yours."
She shook her head very vigorously.
"I can't possibly tell you anything," she said.
"Then why the dickens do you begin telling anything for?" he
complained, not without reason.
"Because I just want you to know that I do know something."
"Oh, Lord!" he groaned. "Of course you know everything. Belinda
Mary, you're really the most wonderful child."
He sat on the edge of her arm-chair and laid his hand on her
"And you've come to take me out to lunch!"
"What were you worrying about when I came in?" she asked.
He made a little gesture as if to dismiss the subject.
"Nothing very much. You've heard me speak of John Lexman?"
She bent her head.
"Lexman's the writer of a great many mystery stories, but you've
probably read his books."
She nodded again, and again T. X. noticed the suppressed eagerness
in her eyes.
"You're not ill or sickening for anything, are you?" he asked
anxiously; "measles, or mumps or something?"
"Don't be silly," she said; "go on and tell me something about Mr.
"He's going to America," said T. X., "and before he goes he wants
to give a little lecture."
"It sounds rum, doesn't it, but that's just what he wants to do."
"Why is he doing it!" she asked.
T. X. made a gesture of despair.
"That is one of the mysteries which may never be revealed to me,
except - " he pursed his lips and looked thoughtfully at the girl.
"There are times," he said, "when there is a great struggle going
on inside a man between all the human and better part of him and
the baser professional part of him. One side of me wants to hear
this lecture of John Lexman's very much, the other shrinks from
"Let us talk it over at lunch," she said practically, and carried
One would not readily associate the party of top-booted sewermen
who descend nightly to the subterranean passages of London with
the stout viceconsul at Durazzo. Yet it was one unimaginative man
who lived in Lambeth and had no knowledge that there was such a
place as Durazzo who was responsible for bringing this comfortable
official out of his bed in the early hours of the morning causing
him - albeit reluctantly and with violent and insubordinate
language - to conduct certain investigations in the crowded
At first he was unsuccessful because there were many Hussein
Effendis in Durazzo. He sent an invitation to the American Consul
to come over to tiffin and help him.
"Why the dickens the Foreign Office should suddenly be interested
in Hussein Effendi, I cannot for the life of me understand."
"The Foreign Department has to be interested in something, you
know," said the genial American. "I receive some of the quaintest
requests from Washington; I rather fancy they only wire you to
find if they are there."
"Why are you doing this!"
"I've seen Hakaat Bey," said the English official. "I wonder what
this fellow has been doing? There is probably a wigging for me in
At about the same time the sewerman in the bosom of his own family
was taking loud and noisy sips from a big mug of tea.
"Don't you be surprised," he said to his admiring better half, "if
I have to go up to the Old Bailey to give evidence."
"Lord! Joe!" she said with interest, "what has happened!"
The sewer man filled his pipe and told the story with a wealth of
rambling detail. He gave particulars of the hour he had descended
the Victoria Street shaft, of what Bill Morgan had said to him as
they were going down, of what he had said to Harry Carter as they
splashed along the low-roofed tunnel, of how he had a funny
feeling that he was going to make a discovery, and so on and so
forth until he reached his long delayed climax.
T. X. waited up very late that night and at twelve o'clock his
patience was rewarded, for the Foreign Office' messenger brought a
telegram to him. It was addressed to the Chief Secretary and ran:
"No. 847. Yours 63952 of yesterday's date. Begins. Hussein
Effendi a prosperous merchant of this city left for Italy to place
his daughter in convent Marie Theressa, Florence Hussein being
Christian. He goes on to Paris. Apply Ralli Theokritis et Cie.,
Rue de l'Opera. Ends."
Half an hour later T. X. had a telephone connection through to
Paris and was instructing the British police agent in that city.
He received a further telephone report from Paris the next morning
and one which gave him infinite satisfaction. Very slowly but
surely he was gathering together the pieces of this baffling
mystery and was fitting them together. Hussein Effendi would
probably supply the last missing segments.
At eight o'clock that night the door opened and the man who
represented T. X. in Paris came in carrying a travelling ulster on
his arm. T. X. gave him a nod and then, as the newcomer stood
with the door open, obviously waiting for somebody to follow him,
"Show him in - I will see him alone."
There walked into his office, a tall man wearing a frock coat and
a red fez. He was a man from fifty-five to sixty, powerfully
built, with a grave dark face and a thin fringe of white beard.
He salaamed as he entered.
"You speak French, I believe," said T. X. presently.
The other bowed.
"My agent has explained to you," said T. X. in French, "that I
desire some information for the purpose of clearing up a crime
which has been committed in this country. I have given you my
assurance, if that assurance was necessary, that you would come to
no harm as a result of anything you might tell me."
"That I understand, Effendi," said the tall Turk; "the Americans
and the English have always been good friends of mine and I have
been frequently in London. Therefore, I shall be very pleased to
be of any help to you."
T. X. walked to a closed bookcase on one side of the room,
unlocked it, took out an object wrapped in white tissue paper. He
laid this on the table, the Turk watching the proceedings with an
impassive face. Very slowly the Commissioner unrolled the little
bundle and revealed at last a long, slim knife, rusted and
stained, with a hilt, which in its untarnished days had evidently
been of chased silver. He lifted the dagger from the table and
handed it to the Turk.
"This is yours, I believe," he said softly.
The man turned it over, stepping nearer the table that he might
secure the advantage of a better light. He examined the blade
near the hilt and handed the weapon back to T. X.
"That is my knife," he said.
T. X. smiled.
"You understand, of course, that I saw 'Hussein Effendi of
Durazzo' inscribed in Arabic near the hilt."
The Turk inclined his head.
"With this weapon," T. X. went on, speaking with slow emphasis, "a
murder was committed in this town."
There was no sign of interest or astonishment, or indeed of any
"It is the will of God," he said calmly; "these things happen even
in a great city like London."
"It was your knife," suggested T. X.
"But my hand was in Durazzo, Effendi," said the Turk.
He looked at the knife again.
"So the Black Roman is dead, Effendi."
"The Black Roman" asked T. X., a little puzzled.
"The Greek they call Kara," said the Turk; "he was a very wicked
T. X. was up on his feet now, leaning across the table and looking
at the other with narrowed eyes.
"How did you know it was Kara?" he asked quickly.
The Turk shrugged his shoulders.
"Who else could it be?" he said; "are not your newspapers
filled with the story?"
T. X. sat back again, disappointed and a little annoyed with himself.
"That is true, Hussein Effendi, but I did not think you read the
"Neither do I, master," replied the other coolly, "nor did I know
that Kara had been killed until I saw this knife. How came this
in your possession!"
"It was found in a rain sewer," said T. X., "into which the
murderer had apparently dropped it. But if you have not read the
newspapers, Effendi, then you admit that you know who committed
The Turk raised his hands slowly to a level with his shoulders.
"Though I am a Christian," he said, "there are many wise sayings
of my father's religion which I remember. And one of these,
Effendi, was, 'the wicked must die in the habitations of the just,
by the weapons of the worthy shall the wicked perish.' Your
Excellency, I am a worthy man, for never have I done a dishonest
thing in my life. I have traded fairly with Greeks, with
Italians, have with Frenchmen and with Englishmen, also with Jews.
I have never sought to rob them nor to hurt them. If I have
killed men, God knows it was not because I desired their death,
but because their lives were dangerous to me and to mine. Ask the
blade all your questions and see what answer it gives. Until it
speaks I am as dumb as the blade, for it is also written that 'the
soldier is the servant of his sword,' and also, 'the wise servant
is dumb about his master's affairs.' "
T. X. laughed helplessly.
"I had hoped that you might be able to help me, hoped and feared,"
he said; "if you cannot speak it is not my business to force you
either by threat or by act. I am grateful to you for having come
over, although the visit has been rather fruitless so far as I am
He smiled again and offered his hand.
"Excellency," said the old Turk soberly, "there are some things in
life that are well left alone and there are moments when justice
should be so blind that she does not see guilt here is such a
And this ended the interview, one on which T. X. had set very high
hopes. His gloom carried to Portman Place, where he had arranged
to meet Belinda Mary.
"Where is Mr. Lexman going to give this famous lecture of his?"
was the question with which she greeted him, "and, please, what is
"It is on a subject which is of supreme interest to me;" he said
gravely; "he has called his lecture 'The Clue of the Twisted
Candle.' There is no clearer brain being employed in the business
of criminal detection than John Lexman's. Though he uses his
genius for the construction of stories, were it employed in the
legitimate business of police work, I am certain he would make a
mark second to none in the world. He is determined on giving this
lecture and he has issued a number of invitations. These include
the Chiefs of the Secret Police of nearly all the civilized
countries of the world. O'Grady is on his way from America, he
wirelessed me this morning to that effect. Even the Chief of the
Russian police has accepted the invitation, because, as you know,
this murder has excited a great deal of interest in police circles
everywhere. John Lexman is not only going to deliver this
lecture," he said slowly, "but he is going to tell us who
committed the murder and how it was committed."
She thought a moment.
"Where will it be delivered!"
"I don't know," he said in astonishment; "does that matter?"
"It matters a great deal," she said emphatically, "especially if I
want it delivered in a certain place. Would you induce Mr.
Lexman to lecture at my house?"
"At Portman Place!" he asked.
She shook her head.
"No, I have a house of my own. A furnished house I have rented at
Blackheath. Will you induce Mr. Lexman to give the lecture
"But why?" he asked.
"Please don't ask questions," she pleaded, "do this for me,
He saw she was in earnest.
"I'll write to old Lexman this afternoon," he promised.
John Lexman telephoned his reply.
"I should prefer somewhere out of London," he said, "and since
Miss Bartholomew has some interest in the matter, may I extend my
invitation to her? promise she shall not be any more shocked than
a good woman need be."
And so it came about that the name of Belinda Mary Bartholomew was
added to the selected list of police chiefs, who were making for
London at that moment to hear from the man who had guaranteed the
solution of the story of Kara and his killing; the unravelment of
the mystery which surrounded his death, and the significance of
the twisted candles, which at that moment were reposing in the
Black Museum at Scotland Yard.
The room was a big one and most of the furniture had been cleared
out to admit the guests who had come from the ends of the earth to
learn the story of the twisted candles, and to test John Lexman's
theory by their own.
They sat around chatting cheerfully of men and crimes, of great
coups planned and frustrated, of strange deeds committed and
undetected. Scraps of their conversation came to Belinda Mary as
she stood in the chintz-draped doorway which led from the
drawing-room to the room she used as a study.
". . . do you remember, Sir George, the Bolbrook case! I took the
man at Odessa . . . ."
". . . the curious thing was that I found no money on the body,
only a small gold charm set with a single emerald, so I knew it
was the girl with the fur bonnet who had . . ."
". . . Pinot got away after putting three bullets into me, but I
dragged myself to the window and shot him dead - it was a real
good shot . . . !"
They rose to meet her and T. X. introduced her to the men. It was
at that moment that John Lexman was announced.
He looked tired, but returned the Commissioner's greeting with a
cheerful mien. He knew all the men present by name, as they knew
him. He had a few sheets of notes, which he laid on the little
table which had been placed for him, and when the introductions
were finished he went to this and with scarcely any preliminary
THE NARRATIVE OF JOHN LEXMAN
"I am, as you may all know, a writer of stories which depend for
their success upon the creation and unravelment of criminological
mysteries. The Chief Commissioner has been good enough to tell
you that my stories were something more than a mere seeking after
sensation, and that I endeavoured in the course of those
narratives to propound obscure but possible situations, and, with
the ingenuity that I could command, to offer to those problems a
solution acceptable, not only to the general reader, but to the
"Although I did not regard my earlier work with any great
seriousness and indeed only sought after exciting situations and
incidents, I can see now, looking back, that underneath the work
which seemed at the time purposeless, there was something very
much like a scheme of studies.
"You must forgive this egotism in me because it is necessary that
I should make this explanation and you, who are in the main police
officers of considerable experience and discernment, should
appreciate the fact that as I was able to get inside the minds of
the fictitious criminals I portrayed, so am I now able to follow
the mind of the man who committed this murder, or if not to follow
his mind, to recreate the psychology of the slayer of Remington
"In the possession of most of you are the vital facts concerning
this man. You know the type of man he was, you have instances of
his terrible ruthlessness, you know that he was a blot upon God's
earth, a vicious wicked ego, seeking the gratification of that
strange blood-lust and pain-lust, which is to be found in so few
John Lexman went on to describe the killing of Vassalaro.
"I know now how that occurred," he said. "I had received on the
previous Christmas eve amongst other presents, a pistol from an
unknown admirer. That unknown admirer was Kara, who had planned
this murder some three months ahead. He it was, who sent me the
Browning, knowing as he did that I had never used such a weapon
and that therefore I would be chary about using it. I might have
put the pistol away in a cupboard out of reach and the whole of
his carefully thought out plan would have miscarried.
"But Kara was systematic in all things. Three weeks after I
received the weapon, a clumsy attempt was made to break into my
house in the middle of the night. It struck me at the time it was
clumsy, because the burglar made a tremendous amount of noise and
disappeared soon after he began his attempt, doing no more damage
than to break a window in my dining-room. Naturally my mind went
to the possibility of a further attempt of this kind, as my house
stood on the outskirts of the village, and it was only natural
that I should take the pistol from one of my boxes and put it
somewhere handy. To make doubly sure, Kara came down the next day
and heard the full story of the outrage.
"He did not speak of pistols, but I remember now, though I did not
remember at the time, that I mentioned the fact that I had a handy
weapon. A fortnight later a second attempt was made to enter the
house. I say an attempt, but again I do not believe that the
intention was at all serious. The outrage was designed to keep
that pistol of mine in a get-at-able place.
"And again Kara came down to see us on the day following the
burglary, and again I must have told him, though I have no
distinct recollection of the fact, of what had happened the
previous night. It would have been unnatural if I had not
mentioned the fact, as it was a matter which had formed a subject
of discussion between myself, my wife and the servants.
"Then came the threatening letter, with Kara providentially at
hand. On the night of the murder, whilst Kara was still in my
house, I went out to find his chauffeur. Kara remained a few
minutes with my wife and then on some excuse went into the
library. There he loaded the pistol, placing one cartridge in the
chamber, and trusting to luck that I did not pull the trigger
until I had it pointed at my victim. Here he took his biggest
chance, because, before sending the weapon to me, he had had the
spring of the Browning so eased that the slightest touch set it
off and, as you know, the pistol being automatic, the explosion of
one cartridge, reloading and firing the next and so on, it was
probably that a chance touch would have brought his scheme to
nought - probably me also.
"Of what happened on that night you are aware."
He went on to tell of his trial and conviction and skimmed over
the life he led until that morning on Dartmoor.
"Kara knew my innocence had been proved and his hatred for me
being his great obsession, since I had the thing he had wanted but
no longer wanted, let that be understood - he saw the misery he
had planned for me and my dear wife being brought to a sudden end.
He had, by the way; already planned and carried his plan into
execution, a system of tormenting her.
"You did not know," he turned to T. X., "that scarcely a month
passed, but some disreputable villain called at her flat, with a
story that he had been released from Portland or Wormwood Scrubbs
that morning and that he had seen me. The story each messenger
brought was one sufficient to break the heart of any but the
bravest woman. It was a story of ill-treatment by brutal
officials, of my illness, of my madness, of everything calculated
to harrow the feelings of a tender-hearted and faithful wife.
"That was Kara's scheme. Not to hurt with the whip or with the
knife, but to cut deep at the heart with his evil tongue, to cut
to the raw places of the mind. When he found that I was to be
released, - he may have guessed, or he may have discovered by some
underhand method; that a pardon was about to be signed, - he
conceived his great plan. He had less than two days to execute
"Through one of his agents he discovered a warder who had been in
some trouble with the authorities, a man who was avaricious and
was even then on the brink of being discharged from the service
for trafficking with prisoners. The bribe he offered this man was
a heavy one and the warder accepted.
"Kara had purchased a new monoplane and as you know he was an
excellent aviator. With this new machine he flew to Devon and
arrived at dawn in one of the unfrequented parts of the moor.
"The story of my own escape needs no telling. My narrative really
begins from the moment I put my foot upon the deck of the Mpret.
The first person I asked to see was, naturally, my wife. Kara,
however, insisted on my going to the cabin he had prepared and
changing my clothes, and until then I did not realise I was still
in my convict's garb. A clean change was waiting for me, and the
luxury of soft shirts and well-fitting garments after the prison
uniform I cannot describe.
"After I was dressed I was taken by the Greek steward to the
larger stateroom and there I found my darling waiting for me."
His voice sank almost to a whisper, and it was a minute or two
before he had mastered his emotions.
"She had been suspicious of Kara, but he had been very insistent.
He had detailed the plans and shown her the monoplane, but even
then she would not trust herself on board, and she had been
waiting in a motor-boat, moving parallel with the yacht, until she
saw the landing and realized, as she thought, that Kara was not
playing her false. The motor-boat had been hired by Kara and the
two men inside were probably as well-bribed as the warder.
"The joy of freedom can only be known to those who have suffered
the horrors of restraint. That is a trite enough statement, but
when one is describing elemental things there is no room for
subtlety. The voyage was a fairly eventless one. We saw very
little of Kara, who did not intrude himself upon us, and our main
excitement lay in the apprehension that we should be held up by a
British destroyer or, that when we reached Gibraltar, we should be
searched by the Brit's authorities. Kara had foreseen that
possibility and had taken in enough coal to last him for the run.
"We had a fairly stormy passage in the Mediterranean, but after
that nothing happened until we arrived at Durazzo. We had to go
ashore in disguise, because Kara told us that the English Consul
might see us and make some trouble. We wore Turkish dresses,
Grace heavily veiled and I wearing a greasy old kaftan which, with
my somewhat emaciated face and my unshaven appearance, passed me
"Kara's home was and is about eighteen miles from Durazzo. It is
not on the main road, but it is reached by following one of the
rocky mountain paths which wind and twist among the hills to the
south-east of the town. The country is wild and mainly
uncultivated. We had to pass through swamps and skirt huge
lagoons as we mounted higher and higher from terrace to terrace
and came to the roads which crossed the mountains.
"Kara's, palace, you could call it no less, is really built within
sight of the sea. It is on the Acroceraunian Peninsula near Cape
Linguetta. Hereabouts the country is more populated and better
cultivated. We passed great slopes entirely covered with mulberry
and olive trees, whilst in the valleys there were fields of maize
and corn. The palazzo stands on a lofty plateau. It is
approached by two paths, which can be and have been well defended
in the past against the Sultan's troops or against the bands which
have been raised by rival villages with the object of storming and
plundering this stronghold.
"The Skipetars, a blood-thirsty crowd without pity or remorse,
were faithful enough to their chief, as Kara was. He paid them so
well that it was not profitable to rob him; moreover he kept their
own turbulent elements fully occupied with the little raids which
he or his agents organized from time to time. The palazzo was
built rather in the Moorish than in the Turkish style.
"It was a sort of Eastern type to which was grafted an Italian
architecture - a house of white-columned courts, of big paved
yards, fountains and cool, dark rooms.
"When I passed through the gates I realized for the first time
something of Kara's importance. There were a score of servants,
all Eastern, perfectly trained, silent and obsequious. He led
us to his own room.
"It was a big apartment with divans running round the wall, the
most ornate French drawing room suite and an enormous Persian
carpet, one of the finest of the kind that has ever been turned
out of Shiraz. Here, let me say, that throughout the trip his
attitude to me had been perfectly friendly and towards Grace all
that I could ask of my best friend, considerate and tactful.
"'We had hardly reached his room before he said to me with that
bonhomie which he had observed throughout the trip, 'You would
like to see your room?'
"I expressed a wish to that effect. He clapped his hands and a
big Albanian servant came through the curtained doorway, made the
usual salaam, and Kara spoke to him a few words in a language
which I presume was Turkish.
"'He will show you the way,' said Kara with his most genial smile.
"I followed the servant through the curtains which had hardly
fallen behind me before I was seized by four men, flung violently
on the ground, a filthy tarbosch was thrust into my mouth and
before I knew what was happening I was bound hand and foot.
"As I realised the gross treachery of the man, my first frantic
thoughts were of Grace and her safety. I struggled with the
strength of three men, but they were too many for me and I was
dragged along the passage, a door was opened and I was flung into
a bare room. I must have been lying on the floor for half an hour
when they came for me, this time accompanied by a middle-aged man
named Savolio, who was either an Italian or a Greek.
"He spoke English fairly well and he made it clear to me that I
had to behave myself. I was led back to the room from whence I
had come and found Kara sitting in one of those big armchairs
which he affected, smoking a cigarette. Confronting him, still in
her Turkish dress, was poor Grace. She was not bound I was
pleased to see, but when on my entrance she rose and made as if to
come towards me, she was unceremoniously thrown back by the
guardian who stood at her side.
"'Mr. John Lexman,' drawled Kara, 'you are at the beginning of a
great disillusionment. I have a few things to tell you which will
make you feel rather uncomfortable.' It was then that I heard for
the first time that my pardon had been signed and my innocence
"'Having taken a great deal of trouble to get you in prison,' said
Kara, 'it isn't likely that I'm going to allow all my plans to be
undone, and my plan is to make you both extremely uncomfortable.'
"He did not raise his voice, speaking still in the same
conversational tone, suave and half amused.
"'I hate you for two things,' he said, and ticked them off on his
fingers: 'the first is that you took the woman that I wanted. To
a man of my temperament that is an unpardonable crime. I have
never wanted women either as friends or as amusement. I am one of
the few people in the world who are self-sufficient. It happened
that I wanted your wife and she rejected me because apparently she
"He looked at me quizzically.
"'You are thinking at this moment,' he went on slowly, "that I
want her now, and that it is part of my revenge that I shall put
her straight in my harem. Nothing is farther from my desires or
my thoughts. The Black Roman is not satisfied with the leavings
of such poor trash as you. I hate you both equally and for both
of you there is waiting an experience more terrible than even your
elastic imagination can conjure. You understand what that means!'
he asked me still retaining his calm.
"I did not reply. I dared not look at Grace, to whom he turned.
"'I believe you love your husband, my friend,' he said; 'your love
will be put to a very severe test. You shall see him the mere
wreckage of the man he is. You shall see him brutalized below the
level of the cattle in the field. I will give you both no joys,
no ease of mind. From this moment you are slaves, and worse than
"He clapped his hands. The interview was ended and from that
moment I only saw Grace once."
John Lexman stopped and buried his face in his hands.
"They took me to an underground dungeon cut in the solid rock. In
many ways it resembled the dungeon of the Chateau of Chillon, in
that its only window looked out upon a wild, storm-swept lake and
its floor was jagged rock. I have called it underground, as
indeed it was on that side, for the palazzo was built upon a steep
slope running down from the spur of the hills.
"They chained me by the legs and left me to my own devices. Once
a day they gave me a little goat flesh and a pannikin of water and
once a week Kara would come in and outside the radius of my chain
he would open a little camp stool and sitting down smoke his
cigarette and talk. My God! the things that man said! The things
he described! The horrors he related! And always it was Grace
who was the centre of his description. And he would relate the
stories he was telling to her about myself. I cannot describe
them. They are beyond repetition."
John Lexman shuddered and closed his eyes.
"That was his weapon. He did not confront me with the torture of
my darling, he did not bring tangible evidence of her suffering -
he just sat and talked, describing with a remarkable clarity of
language which seemed incredible in a foreigner, the 'amusements'
which he himself had witnessed.
"I thought I should go mad. Twice I sprang at him and twice the
chain about my legs threw me headlong on that cruel floor. Once
he brought the jailer in to whip me, but I took the whipping with
such phlegm that it gave him no satisfaction. I told you I had
seen Grace only once and this is how it happened.
"It was after the flogging, and Kara, who was a veritable demon in
his rage, planned to have his revenge for my indifference. They
brought Grace out upon a boat and rowed the boat to where I could
see it from my window. There the whip which had been applied to
me was applied to her. I can't tell you any more about that," he
said brokenly, "but I wish, you don't know how fervently, that I
had broken down and given the dog the satisfaction he wanted. My
God! It was horrible!
"When the winter came they used to take me out with chains on my
legs to gather in wood from the forest. There was no reason why I
should be given this work, but the truth was, as I discovered from
Salvolio, that Kara thought my dungeon was too warm. It was
sheltered from the winds by the hill behind and even on the
coldest days and nights it was not unbearable. Then Kara went
away for some time. I think he must have gone to England, and he
came back in a white fury. One of his big plans had gone wrong
and the mental torture he inflicted upon me was more acute than
"In the old days he used to come once a weeks now he came almost
every day. He usually arrived in the afternoon and I was
surprised one night to be awakened from my sleep to see him
standing at the door, a lantern in his hand, his inevitable
cigarette in his mouth. He always wore the Albanian costume when
he was in the country, those white kilted skirts and zouave
jackets which the hillsmen affect and, if anything, it added to
his demoniacal appearance. He put down the lantern and leant
against the wall.
"'I'm afraid that wife of yours is breaking up, Lexman,' he
drawled; 'she isn't the good, stout, English stuff that I thought
"I made no reply. I had found by bitter experience that if I
intruded into the conversation, I should only suffer the more.
"'I have sent down to Durazzo to get a doctor,' he went on;
'naturally having taken all this trouble I don't want to lose you
by death. She is breaking up,' he repeated with relish and yet
with an undertone of annoyance in his voice; "she asked for you
three times this morning.'
"I kept myself under control as I had never expected that a man so
desperately circumstanced could do.
"'Kara,' I said as quietly as I could, 'what has she done that she
should deserve this hell in which she has lived?'
"He sent out a long ring of smoke and watched its progress across
"'What has she done?' he said, keeping his eye on the ring - I
shall always remember every look, every gesture, and every
intonation of his voice. 'Why, she has done all that a woman can
do for a man like me. She has made me feel little. Until I had a
rebuff from her, I had all the world at my feet, Lexman. I did as
I liked. If I crooked my little finger, people ran after me and
that one experience with her has broken me. Oh, don't think,' he
went on quickly, 'that I am broken in love. I never loved her
very much, it was just a passing passion, but she killed my
self-confidence. After then, whenever I came to a crucial moment
in my affairs, when the big manner, the big certainty was
absolutely necessary for me to carry my way, whenever I was most
confident of myself and my ability and my scheme, a vision of this
damned girl rose and I felt that momentary weakening, that memory
of defeat, which made all the difference between success and
"'I hated her and I hate her still,' he said with vehemence; 'if
she dies I shall hate her more because she will remain
everlastingly unbroken to menace my thoughts and spoil my schemes
through all eternity.'
"He leant forward, his elbows on his knees, his clenched fist
under his chin - how well I can see him! - and stared at me.
"'I could have been king here in this land,' he said, waving his
hand toward the interior, 'I could have bribed and shot my way to
the throne of Albania. Don't you realize what that means to a man
like me? There is still a chance and if I could keep your wife
alive, if I could see her broken in reason and in health, a poor,
skeleton, gibbering thing that knelt at my feet when I came near
her I should recover the mastery of myself. Believe me,' he said,
nodding his head, 'your wife will have the best medical advice
that it is possible to obtain.'
"Kara went out and I did not see him again for a very long time.
He sent word, just a scrawled note in the morning, to say my wife
John Lexman rose up from his seat, and paced the apartment, his
head upon his breast.
"From that moment," he said, "I lived only for one thing, to
punish Remington Kara. And gentlemen, I punished him."
He stood in the centre of the room and thumped his broad chest
with his clenched hand.
"I killed Remington Kara," he said, and there was a little gasp of
astonishment from every man present save one. That one was T. X.
Meredith, who had known all the time.
After a while Lexman resumed his story.
"I told you that there was a man at the palazzo named Salvolio.
Salvolio was a man who had been undergoing a life sentence in one
of the prisons of southern Italy. In some mysterious fashion he
escaped and got across the Adriatic in a small boat. How Kara
found him I don't know. Salvolio was a very uncommunicative
person. I was never certain whether he was a Greek or an Italian.
All that I am sure about is that he was the most unmitigated
villain next to his master that I have ever met.
"He was a quick man with his knife and I have seen him kill one of
the guards whom he had thought was favouring me in the matter of
diet with less compunction than you would kill a rat.
"It was he who gave me this scar," John Lexman pointed to his
cheek. "In his master's absence he took upon himself the task of
conducting a clumsy imitation of Kara's persecution. He gave me,
too, the only glimpse I ever had of the torture poor Grace
underwent. She hated dogs, and Kara must have come to know this
and in her sleeping room - she was apparently better accommodated
than I - he kept four fierce beasts so chained that they could
almost reach her.
"Some reference to my wife from this low brute maddened me beyond
endurance and I sprang at him. He whipped out his knife and
struck at me as I fell and I escaped by a miracle. He evidently
had orders not to touch me, for he was in a great panic of mind,
as he had reason to be, because on Kara's return he discovered the
state of my face, started an enquiry and had Salvolio taken to the
courtyard in the true eastern style and bastinadoed until his feet
"You may be sure the man hated me with a malignity which almost
rivalled his employer's. After Grace's death Kara went away
suddenly and I was left to the tender mercy of this man.
Evidently he had been given a fairly free hand. The principal
object of Kara's hate being dead, he took little further interest
in me, or else wearied of his hobby. Salvolio began his
persecutions by reducing my diet. Fortunately I ate very little.
Nevertheless the supplies began to grow less and less, and I was
beginning to feel the effects of this starvation system when there
happened a thing which changed the whole course of my life and
opened to me a way to freedom and to vengeance.
"Salvolio did not imitate the austerity of his master and in
Kara's absence was in the habit of having little orgies of his
own. He would bring up dancing girls from Durazzo for his
amusement and invite prominent men in the neighbourhood to his
feasts and entertainments, for he was absolutely lord of the
palazzo when Kara was away and could do pretty well as he liked.
On this particular night the festivities had been more than
usually prolonged, for as near as I could judge by the day-light
which was creeping in through my window it was about four o'clock
in the morning when the big steel-sheeted door was opened and
Salvolio came in, more than a little drunk. He brought with him,
as I judged, one of his dancing girls, who apparently was
privileged to see the sights of the palace.
"For a long time he stood in the doorway talking incoherently in a
language which I think must have been Turkish, for I caught one or
"Whoever the girl was, she seemed a little frightened, I could see
that, because she shrank back from him though his arm was about
her shoulders and he was half supporting his weight upon her.
There was fear, not only in the curious little glances she shot at
me from time to time, but also in the averted face. Her story I
was to learn. She was not of the class from whence Salvolio found
the dancers who from time to time came up to the palace for his
amusement and the amusement of his guests. She was the daughter
of a Turkish merchant of Scutari who had been received into the
"Her father had gone down to Durazzo during the first Balkan war
and then Salvolio had seen the girl unknown to her parent, and
there had been some rough kind of courtship which ended in her
running away on this very day and joining her ill-favoured lover
at the palazzo. I tell you this because the fact had some bearing
on my own fate.
"As I say, the girl was frightened and made as though to go from
the dungeon. She was probably scared both by the unkempt prisoner
and by the drunken man at her side. He, however, could not leave
without showing to her something of his authority. He came
lurching over near where I lay, his long knife balanced in his
hand ready for emergencies, and broke into a string of
vituperations of the character to which I was quite hardened.
"Then he took a flying kick at me and got home in my ribs, but
again I experienced neither a sense of indignity nor any great
hurt. Salvolio had treated me like this before and I had survived
it. In the midst of the tirade, looking past him, I was a new
witness to an extraordinary scene.
"The girl stood in the open doorway, shrinking back against the
door, looking with distress and pity at the spectacle which
Salvolio's brutality afforded. Then suddenly there appeared
beside her a tall Turk. He was grey-bearded and forbidding. She
looked round and saw him, and her mouth opened to utter a cry, but
with a gesture he silenced her and pointed to the darkness
"Without a word she cringed past him, her sandalled feet making no
noise. All this time Salvolio was continuing his stream of abuse,
but he must have seen the wonder in my eyes for he stopped and
"The old Turk took one stride forward, encircled his body with his
left arm, and there they stood grotesquely like a couple who were
going to start to waltz. The Turk was a head taller than Salvolio
and, as I could see, a man of immense strength.
"They looked at one another, face to face, Salvolio rapidly
recovering his senses . . . and then the Turk gave him a gentle
punch in the ribs. That is what it seemed like to me, but
Salvolio coughed horribly, went limp in the other's arms and
dropped with a thud to the ground. The Turk leant down soberly
and wiped his long knife on the other's jacket before he put it
back in the sash at his waist.
"Then with a glance at me he turned to go, but stopped at the door
and looked back thoughtfully. He said something in Turkish which
I could not understand, then he spoke in French.
"'Who are you?' he asked.
"In as few words as possible I explained. He came over and looked
at the manacle about my leg and shook his head.
"'You will never be able to get that undone,' he said.
"He caught hold of the chain, which was a fairly long one, bound
it twice round his arm and steadying his arm across his thigh, he
turned with a sudden jerk. There was a smart 'snap' as the chain
parted. He caught me by the shoulder and pulled me to my feet.
" 'Put the chain about your waist, Effendi,' he said, and he took
a revolver from his belt and handed it to me.
"'You may need this before we get back to Durazzo,' he said. His
belt was literally bristling with weapons - I saw three revolvers
beside the one I possessed - and he had, evidently come prepared
for trouble. We made our way from the dungeon into the
clean-smelling world without.
"It was the second time I had been in the open air for eighteen
months and my knees were trembling under me with weakness and
excitement. The old man shut the prison door behind us and walked
on until we came up to the girl waiting for us by the lakeside.
She was weeping softly and he spoke to her a few words in a low
voice and her weeping ceased.
"'This daughter of mine will show us the way,' he said, 'I do not
know this part of the country - she knows it too well.'
"To cut a long story short," said Lexman, "we reached Durazzo in
the afternoon. There was no attempt made to follow us up and
neither my absence nor the body of Salvolio were discovered until
late in the afternoon. You must remember that nobody but Salvolio
was allowed into my prison and therefore nobody had the courage to
make any investigations.
"The old man got me to his house without being observed, and
brought a brother-in-law or some relative of his to remove the
anklet. The name of my host was Hussein Effendi.
"That same night we left with a little caravan to visit some of
the old man's relatives. He was not certain what would be the
consequence of his act, and for safety's sake took this trip,
which would enable him if need be to seek sanctuary with some of
the wilder Turkish tribes, who would give him protection.
"In that three months I saw Albania as it is - it was an
experience never to be forgotten!
"If there is a better man in God's world than Hiabam Hussein
Effendi, I have yet to meet him. It was he who provided me with
money to leave Albania. I begged from him, too, the knife with
which he had killed Salvolio. He had discovered that Kara was in
England and told me something of the Greek's occupation which I
had not known before. I crossed to Italy and went on to Milan.
There it was that I learnt that an eccentric Englishman who had
arrived a few days previously on one of the South American boats
at Genoa, was in my hotel desperately ill.
"My hotel I need hardly tell you was not a very expensive one and
we were evidently the only two Englishmen in the place. I could
do no less than go up and see what I could do for the poor fellow
who was pretty well gone when I saw him. I seemed to remember
having seen him before and when looking round for some
identification I discovered his name I readily recalled the
"It was George Gathercole, who had returned from South America.
He was suffering from malarial fever and blood poisoning and for a
week, with an Italian doctor, I fought as hard as any man could
fight for his life. He was a trying patient," John Lexman smiled
suddenly at the recollection, "vitriolic in his language,
impatient and imperious in his attitude to his friends. He was,
for example, terribly sensitive about his lost arm and would not
allow either the doctor or my-self to enter the room until he was
covered to the neck, nor would he eat or drink in our presence.
Yet he was the bravest of the brave, careless of himself and only
fretful because he had not time to finish his new book. His
indomitable spirit did not save him. He died on the 17th of
January of this year. I was in Genoa at the time, having gone
there at his request to save his belongings. When I returned he
had been buried. I went through his papers and it was then that I
conceived my idea of how I might approach Kara.
"I found a letter from the Greek, which had been addressed to
Buenos Ayres, to await arrival, and then I remembered in a flash,
how Kara had told me he had sent George Gathercole to South
America to report upon possible gold formations. I was determined
to kill Kara, and determined to kill him in such a way that I
myself would cover every trace of my complicity.
"Even as he had planned my downfall, scheming every step and
covering his trail, so did I plan to bring about his death that no
suspicion should fall on me.
"I knew his house. I knew something of his habits. I knew the
fear in which he went when he was in England and away from the
feudal guards who had surrounded him in Albania. I knew of his
famous door with its steel latch and I was planning to circumvent
all these precautions and bring to him not only the death he
deserved, but a full knowledge of his fate before he died.
"Gathercole had some money, - about 140 pounds - I took 100
pounds of this for my own use, knowing that I should have
sufficient in London to recompense his heirs, and the remainder of
the money with all such documents as he had, save those which
identified him with Kara, I handed over to the British Consul.
"I was not unlike the dead man. My beard had grown wild and I
knew enough of Gathercole's eccentricities to live the part. The
first step I took was to announce my arrival by inference. I am a
fairly good journalist with a wide general knowledge and with
this, corrected by reference to the necessary books which I found
in the British Museum library, I was able to turn out a very
respectable article on Patagonia.
"This I sent to The Times with one of Gathercole's cards and, as
you know, it was printed. My next step was to find suitable
lodgings between Chelsea and Scotland Yard. I was fortunate in
being able to hire a furnished flat, the owner of which was going
to the south of France for three months. I paid the rent in
advance and since I dropped all the eccentricities I had assumed
to support the character of Gathercole, I must have impressed the
owner, who took me without references.
"I had several suits of new clothes made, not in London," he
smiled, "but in Manchester, and again I made myself as trim as
possible to avoid after-identification. When I had got these
together in my flat, I chose my day. In the morning I sent two
trunks with most of my personal belongings to the Great Midland
"In the afternoon I went to Cadogan Square and hung about until I
saw Kara drive off. It was my first view of him since I had left
Albania and it required all my self-control to prevent me
springing at him in the street and tearing at him with my hands.
"Once he was out of sight I went to the house adopting all the
style and all the mannerisms of poor Gathercole. My beginning was
unfortunate for, with a shock, I recognised in the valet a
fellow-convict who had been with me in the warder's cottage on the
morning of my escape from Dartmoor. There was no mistaking him,
and when I heard his voice I was certain. Would he recognise me I
wondered, in spite of my beard and my eye-glasses?
"Apparently he did not. I gave him every chance. I thrust my
face into his and on my second visit challenged him, in the
eccentric way which poor old Gathercole had, to test the grey of
my beard. For the moment however, I was satisfied with my brief
experiment and after a reasonable interval I went away, returning
to my place off Victoria Street and waiting till the evening.
"In my observation of the house, whilst I was waiting for Kara to
depart, I had noticed that there were two distinct telephone wires
running down to the roof. I guessed, rather than knew, that one
of these telephones was a private wire and, knowing something of
Kara's fear, I presumed that that wire would lead to a police
office, or at any rate to a guardian of some kind or other. Kara
had the same arrangement in Albania, connecting the palazzo with
the gendarme posts at Alesso. This much Hussein told me.
"That night I made a reconnaissance of the house and saw Kara's
window was lit and at ten minutes past ten I rang the bell and I
think it was then that I applied the test of the beard. Kara was
in his room, the valet told me, and led the way upstairs. I had
come prepared to deal with this valet for I had an especial reason
for wishing that he should not be interrogated by the police. On
a plain card I had written the number he bore in Dartmoor and had
added the words, 'I know you, get out of here quick.'
"As he turned to lead the way upstairs I flung the envelope
containing the card on the table in the hall. In an inside
pocket, as near to my body as I could put them, I had the two
candles. How I should use them both I had already decided. The
valet ushered me into Kara's room and once more I stood ins the
presence of the man who had killed my girl and blotted out all
that was beautiful in life for me."
There was a breathless silence when he paused. T. X. leaned back
in his chair, his head upon his breast, his arms folded, his eyes
watching the other intently.
The Chief Commissioner, with a heavy frown and pursed lips, sat
stroking his moustache and looking under his shaggy eyebrows at
the speaker. The French police officer, his hands thrust deep in
his pockets, his head on one side, was taking in every word
eagerly. The sallow-faced Russian, impassive of face, might have
been a carved ivory mask. O'Grady, the American, the stump of a
dead cigar between his teeth, shifted impatiently with every pause
as though he would hurry forward the denouement.
Presently John Lexman went on.
"He slipped from the bed and came across to meet me as I closed
the door behind me.
"'Ah, Mr. Gathercole,' he said, in that silky tone of his, and
held out his hand.
"I did not speak. I just looked at him with a sort of fierce joy
in my heart the like of which I had never before experienced.
"'And then he saw in my eyes the truth and half reached for the
"But at that moment I was on him. He was a child in my hands.
All the bitter anguish he had brought upon me, all the hardships
of starved days and freezing nights had strengthened and hardened
me. I had come back to London disguised with a false arm and this
I shook free. It was merely a gauntlet of thin wood which I had
had made for me in Paris.
"I flung him back on the bed and half knelt, half laid on him.
"'Kara,' I said, 'you are going to die, a more merciful death than
my wife died.'
"He tried to speak. His soft hands gesticulated wildly, but I was
half lying on one arm and held the other.
"I whispered in his ear:
"'Nobody will know who killed you, Kara, think of that! I shall
go scot free - and you will be the centre of a fine mystery! All
your letters will be read, all your life will be examined and the
world will know you for what you are!'
"I released his arm for just as long as it took to draw my knife
and strike. I think he died instantly," John Lexman said simply.
"I left him where he was and went to the door. I had not much
time to spare. I took the candles from my pocket. They were
already ductile from the heat of my body.
"I lifted up the steel latch of the door and propped up the latch
with the smaller of the two candles, one end of which was on the
middle socket and the other beneath the latch. The heat of the
room I knew would still further soften the candle and let the
latch down in a short time.
"I was prepared for the telephone by his bedside though I did not
know to whither it led. The presence of the paper-knife decided
me. I balanced it across the silver cigarette box so that one end
came under the telephone receiver; under the other end I put the
second candle which I had to cut to fit. On top of the
paper-knife at the candle end I balanced the only two books I
could find in the room, and fortunately they were heavy.
"I had no means of knowing how long it would take to melt the
candle to a state of flexion which would allow the full weight of
the books to bear upon the candle end of the paper-knife and fling
off the receiver. I was hoping that Fisher had taken my warning
and had gone. When I opened the door softly, I heard his
footsteps in the hall below. There was nothing to do but to
finish the play.
"I turned and addressed an imaginary conversation to Kara. It was
horrible, but there was something about it which aroused in me a
curious sense of humour and I wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh!
"I heard the man coming up the stairs and closed the door
gingerly. What length of time would it take for the candle to
"To completely establish the alibi I determined to hold Fisher in
conversation and this was all the easier since apparently he had
not seen the envelope I had left on the table downstairs. I had
not long to wait for suddenly with a crash I heard the steel latch
fall in its place. Under the effect of the heat the candle had
bent sooner than I had expected. I asked Fisher what was the
meaning of the sound and he explained. I passed down the stairs
talking all the time. I found a cab at Sloane Square and drove to
my lodgings. Underneath my overcoat I was partly dressed in
"Ten minutes after I entered the door of my flat I came out a
beardless man about town, not to be distinguished from the
thousand others who would be found that night walking the
promenade of any of the great music-halls. From Victoria Street I
drove straight to Scotland Yard. It was no more than a
coincidence that whilst I should have been speaking with you all,
the second candle should have bent and the alarm be given in the
very office in which I was sitting.
"I assure you all in all earnestness that I did not suspect the
cause of that ringing until Mr. Mansus spoke.
"There, gentlemen, is my story!" He threw out his arms.
"You may do with me as you will. Kara was a murderer, dyed a
hundred times in innocent blood. I have done all that I set
myself to do - that and no more - that and no less. I had thought
to go away to America, but the nearer the day of my departure
approached, the more vivid became the memory of the plans which
she and I had formed, my girl . . . my poor martyred girl!"
He sat at the little table, his hands clasped before him, his face
lined and white.
"And that is the end!" he said suddenly, with a wry smile.
"Not quite!" T. X. swung round with a gasp. It was Belinda Mary
"I can carry it on," she said.
She was wonderfully self-possessed, thought T. X., but then T. X.
never thought anything of her but that she was "wonderfully"
something or the other.
"Most of your story is true, Mr. Lexman," said this astonishing
girl, oblivious of the amazed eyes that were staring at her, "but
Kara deceived you in one respect."
"What do you mean?" asked John Lexman, rising unsteadily to his
For answer she rose and walked back to the door with the chintz
curtains and flung it open: There was a wait which seemed an
eternity, and then through the doorway came a girl, slim and
grave and beautiful.
"My God!" whispered T. X. "Grace Lexman!"
They went out and left them alone, two people who found in this
moment a heaven which is not beyond the reach of humanity, but
which is seldom attained to. Belinda Mary had an eager audience
all to her very self.
"Of course she didn't die," she said scornfully. "Kara was
playing on his fears all the time. He never even harmed her - in
the way Mr. Lexman feared. He told Mrs. Lexman that her husband
was dead just as he told John Lexman his wife was gone. What
happened was that he brought her back to England - "
"Who?" asked T. X., incredulously.
"Grace Lexman," said the girl, with a smile. "You wouldn't think
it possible, but when you realize that he had a yacht of his own
and that he could travel up from whatever landing place he chose
to his house in Cadogan Square by motorcar and that he could take
her straight away into his cellar without disturbing his
household, you'll understand that the only difficulty he had was
in landing her. It was in the lower cellar that I found her."
"You found her in the cellar?" demanded the Chief Commissioner.
The girl nodded.
"I found her and the dog - you heard how Kara terrified her - and
I killed the dog with my own hands," she said a little proudly,
and then shivered. "It was very beastly," she admitted.
"And she's been living with you all this time and you've said
nothing!" asked T. X., incredulously. Belinda Mary nodded.
"And that is why you didn't want me to know where you were
living?" She nodded again.
"You see she was very ill," she said, "and I had to nurse her up,
and of course I knew that it was Lexman who had killed Kara and I
couldn't tell you about Grace Lexman without betraying him. So
when Mr. Lexman decided to tell his story, I thought I'd better
supply the grand de denouement."
The men looked at one another.
"What are you going to do about Lexman?" asked the Chief
Commissioner, "and, by the way, T. X., how does all this fit your
"Fairly well," replied T. X. coolly; "obviously the man who
committed the murder was the man introduced into the room as
Gathercole and as obviously it was not Gathercole, although to all
appearance, he had lost his left arm."
"Why obvious?" asked the Chief Commissioner.
"Because," answered T. X. Meredith, "the real Gathercole had lost
his right arm - that was the one error Lexman made."
"H'm," the Chief pulled at his moustache and looked enquiringly
round the room, "we have to make up our minds very quickly about
Lexman," he said. "What do you think, Carlneau?"
The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
"For my part I should not only importune your Home Secretary to
pardon him, but I should recommend him for a pension," he said
"What do you think, Savorsky?"
The Russian smiled a little.
"It is a very impressive story," he said dispassionately; "it
occurs to me that if you intend bringing your M. Lexman to
judgment you are likely to expose some very pretty scandals.
Incidentally," he said, stroking his trim little moustache, "I
might remark that any exposure which drew attention to the lawless
conditions of Albania would not be regarded by my government with
The Chief Commissioner's eyes twinkled and he nodded.