Superintendent Mansus had a little office in Scotland Yard proper, which, he complained, was not so much a private bureau, as a waiting-room to which repaired every official of the police service who found time hanging on his hands. On the afternoon of Miss Holland's surprising adventure, a plainclothes man of "D" Division brought to Mr. Mansus's room a very scared domestic servant, voluble, tearful and agonizingly penitent. It was a mood not wholly unfamiliar to a police officer of twenty years experience and Mr. Mansus was not impressed.
"If you will kindly shut up," he said, blending his natural politeness with his employment of the vernacular, "and if you will also answer a few questions I will save you a lot of trouble. You were Lady Bartholomew's maid weren't you?"
"Yes, sir," sobbed the red-eyed Mary Ann.
"And you have been detected trying to pawn a gold bracelet, the property of Lady Bartholomew?"
The maid gulped, nodded and started breathlessly upon a recital of her wrongs.
"Yes, sir - but she practically gave it to me, sir, and I haven't had my wages for two months, sir, and she can give that foreigner thousands and thousands of pounds at a time, sir, but her poor servants she can't pay - no, she can't. And if Sir William knew especially about my lady's cards and about the snuffbox, what would he think, I wonder, and I'm going to have my rights, for if she can pay thousands to a swell like Mr. Kara she can pay me and - "
Mansus jerked his head.
"Take her down to the cells," he said briefly, and they led her away, a wailing, woeful figure of amateur larcenist.
In three minutes Mansus was with T. X. and had reduced the girl's incoherence to something like order.
"This is important," said T. X.; "produce the Abigail."
"The - ?" asked the puzzled officer.
"The skivvy - slavey - hired help - get busy," said T. X. impatiently.
They brought her to T. X. in a condition bordering upon collapse.
"Get her a cup of tea," said the wise chief. "Sit down, Mary Ann, and forget all your troubles."
"Oh, sir, I've never been in this position before," she began, as she flopped into the chair they put for her.
"Then you've had a very tiring time," said T. X. "Now listen - "
"I've been respectable - "
"Forget it!" said T. X., wearily. "Listen! If you'll tell me the whole truth about Lady Bartholomew and the money she paid to Mr. Kara - "
"Two thousand pounds - two separate thousand and by all accounts-"
"If you will tell me the truth, I'll compound a felony and let you go free."
It was a long time before he could prevail upon her to clear her speech of the ego which insisted upon intruding. There were gaps in her narrative which he bridged. In the main it was a believable story. Lady Bartholomew had lost money and had borrowed from Kara. She had given as security, the snuffbox presented to her husband's father, a doctor, by one of the Czars for services rendered, and was "all blue enamel and gold, and foreign words in diamonds." On the question of the amount Lady Bartholomew had borrowed, Abigail was very vague. All that she knew was that my lady had paid back two thousand pounds and that she was still very distressed ("in a fit" was the phrase the girl used), because apparently Kara refused to restore the box.
There had evidently been terrible scenes in the Bartholomew menage, hysterics and what not, the principal breakdown having occurred when Belinda Mary came home from school in France.
"Miss Bartholomew is home then. Where is she?" asked T. X.
Here the girl was more vague than ever. She thought the young lady had gone back again, anyway Miss Belinda had been very much upset. Miss Belinda had seen Dr. Williams and advised that her mother should go away for a change.
"Miss Belinda seems to be a precocious young person," said T. X. "Did she by any chance see Mr. Kara?"
"Oh, no," explained the girl. "Miss Belinda was above that sort of person. Miss Belinda was a lady, if ever there was one."
"And how old is this interesting young woman?" asked T. X. curiously.
"She is nineteen," said the girl, and the Commissioner, who had pictured Belinda in short plaid frocks and long pigtails, and had moreover visualised her as a freckled little girl with thin legs and snub nose, was abashed.
He delivered a short lecture on the sacred rights of property, paid the girl the three months' wages which were due to her - he had no doubt as to the legality of her claim - and dismissed her with instructions to go back to the house, pack her box and clear out.
After the girl had gone, T. X. sat down to consider the position. He might see Kara and since Kara had expressed his contrition and was probably in a more humble state of mind, he might make reparation. Then again he might not. Mansus was waiting and T. X. walked back with him to his little office.
"I hardly know what to make of it," he said in despair.
"If you can give me Kara's motive, sir, I can give you a solution," said Mansus.
T. X. shook his head.
"That is exactly what I am unable to give you," he said.
He perched himself on Mansus's desk and lit a cigar.
"I have a good mind to go round and see him," he said after a while.
"Why not telephone to him?" asked Mansus. "There is his 'phone straight into his boudoir."
He pointed to a small telephone in a corner of the room.
"Oh, he persuaded the Commissioner to run the wire, did he?" said T. X. interested, and walked over to the telephone.
He fingered the receiver for a little while and was about to take it off, but changed his mind.
"I think not," he said, "I'll go round and see him to-morrow. I don't hope to succeed in extracting the confidence in the case of Lady Bartholomew, which he denied me over poor Lexman."
"I suppose you'll never give up hope of seeing Mr. Lexman again," smiled Mansus, busily arranging a new blotting pad.
Before T. X. could answer there came a knock at the door, and a uniformed policeman, entered. He saluted T. X.
"They've just sent an urgent letter across from your office, sir. I said I thought you were here."
Ht handed the missive to the Commissioner. T. X. took it and glanced at the typewritten address. It was marked "urgent" and "by hand." He took up the thin, steel, paper-knife from the desk and slit open the envelope. The letter consisted of three or four pages of manuscript and, unlike the envelope, it was handwritten.
"My dear T. X.," it began, and the handwriting was familiar.
Mansus, watching the Commissioner, saw the puzzled frown gather on his superior's forehead, saw the eyebrows arch and the mouth open in astonishment, saw him hastily turn to the last page to read the signature and then
"Howling apples!" gasped T. X. "It's from John Lexman!"
His hand shook as he turned the closely written pages. The letter was dated that afternoon. There was no other address than "London."
"My dear T. X.," it began, "I do not doubt that this letter will give you a little shock, because most of my friends will have believed that I am gone beyond return. Fortunately or unfortunately that is not so. For myself I could wish - but I am not going to take a very gloomy view since I am genuinely pleased at the thought that I shall be meeting you again. Forgive this letter if it is incoherent but I have only this moment returned and am writing at the Charing Cross Hotel. I am not staying here, but I will let you have my address later. The crossing has been a very severe one so you must forgive me if my letter sounds a little disjointed. You will be sorry to hear that my dear wife is dead. She died abroad about six months ago. I do not wish to talk very much about it so you will forgive me if I do not tell you any more.
"My principal object in writing to you at the moment is an official one. I suppose I am still amenable to punishment and I have decided to surrender myself to the authorities to-night. You used to have a most excellent assistant in Superintendent Mansus, and if it is convenient to you, as I hope it will be, I will report myself to him at 10.15. At any rate, my dear T. X., I do not wish to mix you up in my affairs and if you will let me do this business through Mansus I shall be very much obliged to you.
"I know there is no great punishment awaiting me, because my pardon was apparently signed on the night before my escape. I shall not have much to tell you, because there is not much in the past two years that I would care to recall. We endured a great deal of unhappiness and death was very merciful when it took my beloved from me.
"Do you ever see Kara in these days?
"Will you tell Mansus to expect me at between ten and half-past, and if he will give instructions to the officer on duty in the hall I will come straight up to his room.
"With affectionate regards, my dear fellow, I am, "Yours sincerely,
T. X. read the letter over twice and his eyes were troubled.
"Poor girl," he said softly, and handed the letter to Mansus. "He evidently wants to see you because he is afraid of using my friendship to his advantage. I shall be here, nevertheless."
"What will be the formality?" asked Mansus.
"There will be no formality," said the other briskly. "I will secure the necessary pardon from the Home Secretary and in point of fact I have it already promised, in writing."
He walked back to Whitehall, his mind fully occupied with the momentous events of the day. It was a raw February evening, sleet was falling in the street, a piercing easterly wind drove even through his thick overcoat. In such doorways as offered protection from the bitter elements the wreckage of humanity which clings to the West end of London, as the singed moth flutters about the flame that destroys it, were huddled for warmth.
T. X. was a man of vast human sympathies.
All his experience with the criminal world, all his disappointments, all his disillusions had failed to quench the pity for his unfortunate fellows. He made it a rule on such nights as these, that if, by chance, returning late to his office he should find such a shivering piece of jetsam sheltering in his own doorway, he would give him or her the price of a bed.
In his own quaint way he derived a certain speculative excitement from this practice. If the doorway was empty he regarded himself as a winner, if some one stood sheltered in the deep recess which is a feature of the old Georgian houses in this historic thoroughfare, he would lose to the extent of a shilling.
He peered forward through the semi-darkness as he neared the door of his offices.
"I've lost," he said, and stripped his gloves preparatory to groping in his pocket for a coin.
Somebody was standing in the entrance, but it was obviously a very respectable somebody. A dumpy, motherly somebody in a seal-skin coat and a preposterous bonnet.
"Hullo," said T. X. in surprise, "are you trying to get in here?"
"I want to see Mr. Meredith," said the visitor, in the mincing affected tones of one who excused the vulgar source of her prosperity by frequently reiterated claims to having seen better days.
"Your longing shall be gratified," said T. X. gravely.
He unlocked the heavy door, passed through the uncarpeted passage - there are no frills on Government offices - and led the way up the stairs to the suite on the first floor which constituted his bureau.
He switched on all the lights and surveyed his visitor, a comfortable person of the landlady type.
"A good sort," thought T. X., "but somewhat overweighted with lorgnettes and seal-skin."
"You will pardon my coming to see you at this hour of the night," she began deprecatingly, "but as my dear father used to say, 'Hopi soit qui mal y pense.'"
"Your dear father being in the garter business?" suggested T. X. humorously. "Won't you sit down, Mrs.- "
"Mrs. Cassley," beamed the lady as she seated herself. "He was in the paper hanging business. But needs must, when the devil drives, as the saying goes."
"What particular devil is driving you, Mrs. Cassley?" asked T. X., somewhat at a loss to understand the object of this visit.
"I may be doing wrong," began the lady, pursing her lips, "and two blacks will never make a white."
"And all that glitters is not gold," suggested T. X. a little wearily. "Will you please tell me your business, Mrs. Cassley? I am a very hungry man."
"Well, it's like this, sir," said Mrs. Cassley, dropping her erudition, and coming down to bedrock homeliness; "I've got a young lady stopping with me, as respectable a gel as I've had to deal with. And I know what respectability is, I might tell you, for I've taken professional boarders and I have been housekeeper to a doctor."
"You are well qualified to speak," said T. X. with a smile. "And what about this particular young lady of yours! By the way what is your address?"
"86a Marylebone Road," said the lady.
T. X. sat up.
"Yes?" he said quickly. "What about your young lady?"
"She works as far as I can understand," said the loquacious landlady, "with a certain Mr. Kara in the typewriting line. She came to me four months ago."
"Never mind when she came to you," said T. X. impatiently. "Have you a message from the lady?"
"Well, it's like this, sir," said Mrs. Cassley, leaning forward confidentially and speaking in the hollow tone which she had decided should accompany any revelation to a police officer, "this young lady said to me, 'If I don't come any night by 8 o'clock you must go to T. X. and tell him - '!"
She paused dramatically.
"Yes, yes," said T. X. quickly, "for heaven's sake go on, woman."
"'Tell him,'" said Mrs. Cassley, "'that Belinda Mary - ' "
He sprang to his feet.
"Belinda Mary!" he breathed, "Belinda Mary!" In a flash he saw it all. This girl with a knowledge of modern Greek, who was working in Kara's house, was there for a purpose. Kara had something of her mother's, something that was vital and which he would not part with, and she had adopted this method of securing that some thing. Mrs. Cassley was prattling on, but her voice was merely a haze of sound to him. It brought a strange glow to his heart that Belinda Mary should have thought of him.
"Only as a policeman, of course," said the still, small voice of his official self. "Perhaps!" said the human T. X., defiantly.
He got on the telephone to Mansus and gave a few instructions.
"You stay here," he ordered the astounded Mrs. Cassley; "I am going to make a few investigations."
Kara was at home, but was in bed. T. X. remembered that this extraordinary man invariably went to bed early and that it was his practice to receive visitors in this guarded room of his. He was admitted almost at once and found Kara in his silk dressing-gown lying on the bed smoking. The heat of the room was unbearable even on that bleak February night.
"This is a pleasant surprise," said Kara, sitting up; "I hope you don't mind my dishabille."
T. X. came straight to the point.
"Where is Miss Holland!" he asked.
"Miss Holland?" Kara's eyebrows advertised his astonishment. "What an extraordinary question to ask me, my dear man! At her home, or at the theatre or in a cinema palace - I don't know how these people employ their evenings."
"She is not at home," said T. X., "and I have reason to believe that she has not left this house."
"What a suspicious person you are, Mr. Meredith!" Kara rang the bell and Fisher came in with a cup of coffee on a tray.
"Fisher," drawled Kara. "Mr. Meredith) is anxious to know where Miss Holland is. Will you be good enough to tell him, you know more about her movements than I do."
"As far as I know, sir," said Fisher deferentially, "she left the house about 5.30, her usual hour. She sent me out a little before five on a message and when I came back her hat and her coat had gone, so I presume she had gone also."
"Did you see her go?" asked T. X.
The man shook his head.
"No, sir, I very seldom see the lady come or go. There has been no restrictions placed upon the young lady and she has been at liberty to move about as she likes. I think I am correct in saying that, sir," he turned to Kara.
"You will probably find her at home."
He shook his finger waggishly at T. X.
"What a dog you are," he jibed, "I ought to keep the beauties of my household veiled, as we do in the East, and especially when I have a susceptible policeman wandering at large."
T. X. gave jest for jest. There was nothing to be gained by making trouble here. After a few amiable commonplaces he took his departure. He found Mrs. Cassley being entertained by Mansus with a wholly fictitious description of the famous criminals he had arrested.
"I can only suggest that you go home," said T. X. "I will send a police officer with you to report to me, but in all probability you will find the lady has returned. She may have had a difficulty in getting a bus on a night like this."
A detective was summoned from Scotland Yard and accompanied by him Mrs. Cassley returned to her domicile with a certain importance. T. X. looked at his watch. It was a quarter to ten.
"Whatever happens, I must see old Lexman," he said. "Tell the best men we've got in the department to stand by for eventualities. This is going to be one of my busy days."