The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter VII

T. X. came from Downing Street at 11 o'clock one night, and his heart was filled with joy and gratitude.

He swung his stick to the common danger of the public, but the policeman on point duty at the end of the street, who saw him, recognized and saluted him, did not think it fit to issue any official warning.

He ran up the stairs to his office, and found Mansus reading the evening paper.

"My poor, dumb beast," said T. X. "I am afraid I have kept you waiting for a very long time, but tomorrow you and I will take a little journey to Devonshire. It will be good for you, Mansus - where did you get that ridiculous name, by the way!"

"M. or N.," replied Mansus, laconically.

"I repeat that there is the dawn of an intellect in you," said T. X., offensively.

He became more serious as he took from a pocket inside his waistcoat a long blue envelope containing the paper which had cost him so much to secure.

"Finding the revolver was a master-stroke of yours, Mansus," he said, and he was in earnest as he spoke.

The man coloured with pleasure for the subordinates of T. X. loved him, and a word of praise was almost equal to promotion. It was on the advice of Mansus that the road from London to Lewes had been carefully covered and such streams as passed beneath that road had been searched.

The revolver had been found after the third attempt between Gatwick and Horsley. Its identification was made easier by the fact that Vassalaro's name was engraved on the butt. It was rather an ornate affair and in its earlier days had been silver plated; the handle was of mother-o'-pearl,

"Obviously the gift of one brigand to another," was T. X.'s comment.

Armed with this, his task would have been fairly easy, but when to this evidence he added a rough draft of the threatening letter which he had found amongst Vassalaro's belongings, and which had evidently been taken down at dictation, since some of the words were misspelt and had been corrected by another hand, the case was complete.

But what clinched the matter was the finding of a wad of that peculiar chemical paper, a number of sheets of which T. X. had ignited for the information of the Chief Commissioner and the Home Secretary by simply exposing them for a few seconds to the light of an electric lamp.

Instantly it had filled the Home Secretary's office with a pungent and most disagreeable smoke, for which he was heartily cursed by his superiors. But it had rounded off the argument.

He looked at his watch.

"I wonder if it is too late to see Mrs. Lexman," he said.

"I don't think any hour would be too late," suggested Mansus.

"You shall come and chaperon me," said his superior.

But a disappointment awaited. Mrs. Lexman was not in and neither the ringing at her electric bell nor vigorous applications to the knocker brought any response. The hall porter of the flats where she lived was under the impression that Mrs. Lexman had gone out of town. She frequently went out on Saturdays and returned on the Monday and, he thought, occasionally on Tuesdays.

It happened that this particular night was a Monday night and T. X. was faced with a dilemma. The night porter, who had only the vaguest information on the subject, thought that the day porter might know more, and aroused him from his sleep.

Yes, Mrs. Lexman had gone. She went on the Sunday, an unusual day to pay a week-end visit, and she had taken with her two bags. The porter ventured the opinion that she was rather excited, but when asked to define the symptoms relapsed into a chaos of incoherent "you-knows" and "what-I-means."

"I don't like this," said T. X.,suddenly. "Does anybody know that we have made these discoveries?"

"Nobody outside the office," said Mansus, "unless, unless . . . "

"Unless what?" asked the other, irritably. "Don't be a jimp, Mansus. Get it off your mind. What is it?"

"I am wondering," said Mansus slowly, "if the landlord at Great James Street said anything. He knows we have made a search."

"We can easily find that out," said T. X.

They hailed a taxi and drove to Great James Street. That respectable thoroughfare was wrapped in sleep and it was some time before the landlord could be aroused. Recognizing T. X. he checked his sarcasm, which he had prepared for a keyless lodger, and led the way into the drawing room.

"You didn't tell me not to speak about it, Mr. Meredith," he said, in an aggrieved tone, "and as a matter of fact I have spoken to nobody except the gentleman who called the same day."

"What did he want?" asked T. X.

"He said he had only just discovered that Mr. Vassalaro had stayed with me and he wanted to pay whatever rent was due," replied the other.

"What like of man was he?" asked T. X.

The brief description the man gave sent a cold chill to the Commissioner's heart.

"Kara for a ducat!" he said, and swore long and variously.

"Cadogan Square," he ordered.

His ring was answered promptly. Mr. Kara was out of town, had indeed been out of town since Saturday. This much the man-servant explained with a suspicious eye upon his visitors, remembering that his predecessor had lost his job from a too confiding friendliness with spurious electric fitters. He did not know when Mr. Kara would return, perhaps it would be a long time and perhaps a short time. He might come back that night or he might not.

"You are wasting your young life," said T. X. bitterly. "You ought to be a fortune teller."

"This settles the matter," he said, in the cab on the way back. "Find out the first train for Tavistock in the morning and wire the George Hotel to have a car waiting."

"Why not go to-night?" suggested the other. "There is the midnight train. It is rather slow, but it will get you there by six or seven in the morning."

"Too late," he said, "unless you can invent a method of getting from here to Paddington in about fifty seconds."

The morning journey to Devonshire was a dispiriting one despite the fineness of the day. T. X. had an uncomfortable sense that something distressing had happened. The run across the moor in the fresh spring air revived him a little.

As they spun down to the valley of the Dart, Mansus touched his arm.

"Look at that," he said, and pointed to the blue heavens where, a mile above their heads, a white-winged aeroplane, looking no larger than a very distant dragon fly, shimmered in the sunlight.

"By Jove!" said T. X. "What an excellent way for a man to escape!"

"It's about the only way," said Mansus.

The significance of the aeroplane was borne in upon T. X. a few minutes later when he was held up by an armed guard. A glance at his card was enough to pass him.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"A prisoner has escaped," said the sentry.

"Escaped - by aeroplane?" asked T. X.

"I don't know anything about aeroplanes, sir. All I know is that one of the working party got away."

The car came to the gates of the prison and T. X. sprang out, followed by his assistant. He had no difficulty in finding the Governor, a greatly perturbed man, for an escape is a very serious matter.

The official was inclined to be brusque in his manner, but again the magic card produced a soothing effect.

"I am rather rattled," said the Governor. "One of my men has got away. I suppose you know that?"

"And I am afraid another of your men is going away, sir," said T. X., who had a curious reverence for military authority. He produced his paper and laid it on the governor's table.

"This is an order for the release of John Lexman, convicted under sentence of fifteen years penal servitude."

The Governor looked at it.

"Dated last night," he said, and breathed a long sigh of relief. "Thank the Lord! - that is the man who escaped!"


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