The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter XII

Kara lay back on his down pillows with a sneer on his face and his brain very busy. What started the train of thought he did not know, but at that moment his mind was very far away. It carried him back a dozen years to a dirty little peasant's cabin on the hillside outside Durazzo, to the livid face of a young Albanian chief, who had lost at Kara's whim all that life held for a man, to the hateful eyes of the girl's father, who stood with folded arms glaring down at the bound and manacled figure on the floor, to the smoke-stained rafters of this peasant cottage and the dancing shadows on the roof, to that terrible hour of waiting when he sat bound to a post with a candle flickering and spluttering lower and lower to the little heap of gunpowder that would start the trail toward the clumsy infernal machine under his chair. He remembered the day well because it was Candlemas day, and this was the anniversary. He remembered other things more pleasant. The beat of hoofs on the rocky roadway, the crash of the door falling in when the Turkish Gendarmes had battered a way to his rescue. He remembered with a savage joy the spectacle of his would-be assassins twitching and struggling on the gallows at Pezara and - he heard the faint tinkle of the front door bell.

Had T. X. returned! He slipped from the bed and went to the door, opened it slightly and listened. T. X. with a search warrant might be a source of panic especially if-he shrugged his shoulders. He had satisfied T. X. and allayed his suspicions. He would get Fisher out of the way that night and make sure.

The voice from the hall below was loud and gruff. Who could it be! Then he heard Fisher's foot on the stairs and the valet entered.

"Will you see Mr. Gathercole now!"

"Mr. Gathercole!"

Kara breathed a sigh of relief and his face was wreathed in smiles.

"Why, of course. Tell him to come up. Ask him if he minds seeing me in my room."

"I told him you were in bed, sir, and he used shocking language," said Fisher.

Kara laughed.

"Send him up," he said, and then as Fisher was going out of the room he called him back.

"By the way, Fisher, after Mr. Gathercole has gone, you may go out for the night. You've got somewhere to go, I suppose, and you needn't come back until the morning."

"Yes, sir," said the servant.

Such an instruction was remarkably pleasing to him. There was much that he had to do and that night's freedom would assist him materially.

"Perhaps" Kara hesitated, "perhaps you had better wait until eleven o'clock. Bring me up some sandwiches and a large glass of milk. Or better still, place them on a plate in the hall."

"Very good, sir," said the man and withdrew.

Down below, that grotesque figure with his shiny hat and his ragged beard was walking up and down the tesselated hallway muttering to himself and staring at the various objects in the hall with a certain amused antagonism.

"Mr. Kara will see you, sir," said Fisher.

"Oh!" said the other glaring at the unoffending Fisher, "that's very good of him. Very good of this person to see a scholar and a gentleman who has been about his dirty business for three years. Grown grey in his service! Do you understand that, my man!"

"Yes, sir," said Fisher.

"Look here!"

The man thrust out his face.

"Do you see those grey hairs in my beard"

The embarrassed Fisher grinned.

"Is it grey!" challenged the visitor, with a roar.

"Yes, sir," said the valet hastily.

"Is it real grey?" insisted the visitor. "Pull one out and see!"

The startled Fisher drew back with an apologetic smile.

"I couldn't think of doing a thing like that, sir."

"Oh, you couldn't," sneered the visitor; "then lead on!"

Fisher showed the way up the stairs. This time the traveller carried no books. His left arm hung limply by his side and Fisher privately gathered that the hand had got loose from the detaining pocket without its owner being aware of the fact. He pushed open the door and announced, "Mr. Gathercole," and Kara came forward with a smile to meet his agent, who, with top hat still on the top of his head, and his overcoat dangling about his heels, must have made a remarkable picture.

Fisher closed the door behind them and returned to his duties in the hall below. Ten minutes later he heard the door opened and the booming voice of the stranger came down to him. Fisher went up the stairs to meet him and found hire addressing the occupant of the room in his own eccentric fashion.

"No more Patagonia!" he roared, "no more Tierra del Fuego!" he paused.

"Certainly!" He replied to some question, "but not Patagonia," he paused again, and Fisher standing at the foot of the stairs wondered what had occurred to make the visitor so genial.

"I suppose your cheque will be honoured all right?" asked the visitor sardonically, and then burst into a little chuckle of laughter as he carefully closed the door.

He came down the corridor talking to himself, and greeted Fisher.

"Damn all Greeks," he said jovially, and Fisher could do no more than smile reproachfully, the smile being his very own, the reproach being on behalf of the master who paid him.

The traveller touched the other on the chest with his right hand.

"Never trust a Greek," he said, "always get your money in advance. Is that clear to you?"

"Yes, sir," said Fisher, "but I think you will always find that Mr. Kara is always most generous about money."

"Don't you believe it, don't you believe it, my poor man," said the other, "you - "

At that moment there came from Kara's room a faint "clang."

"What's that" asked the visitor a little startled.

"Mr. Kara's put down his steel latch," said Fisher with a smile, "which means that he is not to be disturbed until - " he looked at his watch, "until eleven o'clock at any rate."

"He's a funk!" snapped the other, "a beastly funk!"

He stamped down the stairs as though testing the weight of every tread, opened the front door without assistance, slammed it behind him and disappeared into the night.

Fisher, his hands in his pockets, looked after the departing stranger, nodding his head in reprobation.

"You're a queer old devil," he said, and looked at his watch again.

It wanted five minutes to ten.


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