The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter IX

"My dear Mr. Meredith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked at him with interest in her eyes.

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

"Fear," he said.

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

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

"Is that your creed?" she asked quietly.

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

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

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

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

He shrugged his shoulders.

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

He frowned.

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

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

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

He lifted his shoulders with a deprecating smile.

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

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

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

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

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

He rang the bell, this time for his valet.

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

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

Kara shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Rum cove," said Fisher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He found the visitor standing in the hall.

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

The newcomer glared round at the valet.

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

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

"Where is Kara?" growled the stranger.

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

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

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

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

He gave a savage little tug at his beard.

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

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

"Give me those books!" roared the other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mr. Gathercole," said the girl quickly.

Fisher nodded.

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

She pursed her lips thoughtfully.

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

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

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

"Shall I ring up for a messenger?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Holland laughed.

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

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

Again she watched from the window the disappearing figure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.