The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter XIV

It was Mansus who found the second candle, a stouter affair. It lay underneath the bed. The telephone, which stood on a fairly large-sized table by the side of the bed, was overturned and the receiver was on the floor. By its side were two books, one being the "Balkan Question," by Villari, and the other "Travels and Politics in the Near East," by Miller. With them was a long, ivory paper-knife.

There was nothing else on the bedside-table save a silver cigarette box. T. X. drew on a pair of gloves and examined the bright surface for finger-prints, but a superficial view revealed no such clue.

"Open the window," said T. X., "the heat here is intolerable. Be very careful, Mansus. By the way, is the window fastened?"

"Very well fastened," said the superintendent after a careful scrutiny.

He pushed back the fastenings, lifted the window and as he did, a harsh bell rang in the basement.

"That is the burglar alarm, I suppose," said T. X.; "go down and stop that bell."

He addressed Fisher, who stood with a troubled face at the door. When he had disappeared T. X. gave a significant glance to one of the waiting officers and the man sauntered after the valet.

Fisher stopped the bell and came back to the hall and stood before the hall fire, a very troubled man. Near the fire was a big, oaken writing table and on this there lay a small envelope which he did not remember having seen before, though it might have been there for some time, for he had spent a greater portion of the evening in the kitchen with the cook.

He picked up the envelope, and, with a start, recognised that it was addressed to himself. He opened it and took out a card. There were only a few words written upon it, but they were sufficient to banish all the colour from his face and set his hands shaking. He took the envelope and card and flung them into the fire.

It so happened that, at that moment, Mansus had called from upstairs, and the officer, who had been told off to keep the valet under observation, ran up in answer to the summons. For a moment Fisher hesitated, then hatless and coatless as he was, he crept to the door, opened it, leaving it ajar behind him and darting down the steps, ran like a hare from the house.

The doctor, who came a little later, was cautious as to the hour of death.

"If you got your telephone message at 10.25, as you say, that was probably the hour he was killed," he said. "I could not tell within half an hour. Obviously the man who killed him gripped his throat with his left hand - there are the bruises on his neck - and stabbed him with the right."

It was at this time that the disappearance of Fisher was noticed, but the cross-examination of the terrified Mrs. Beale removed any doubt that T. X. had as to the man's guilt.

"You had better send out an 'All Stations' message and pull him in," said T. X. "He was with the cook from the moment the visitor left until a few minutes before we rang. Besides which it is obviously impossible for anybody to have got into this room or out again. Have you searched the dead man?"

Mansus produced a tray on which Kara's belongings had been disposed. The ordinary keys Mrs. Beale was able to identify. There were one or two which were beyond her. T. X. recognised one of these as the key of the safe, but two smaller keys baffled him not a little, and Mrs. Beale was at first unable to assist him.

"The only thing I can think of, sir," she said, "is the wine cellar."

"The wine cellar?" said T. X. slowly. "That must be - " he stopped.

The greater tragedy of the evening, with all its mystifying aspects had not banished from his mind the thought of the girl - that Belinda Mary, who had called upon him in her hour of danger as he divined. Perhaps - he descended into the kitchen and was brought face to face with the unpainted door.

"It looks more like a prison than a wine cellar," he said.

"That's what I've always thought, sir," said Mrs. Beale, "and sometimes I've had a horrible feeling of fear."

He cut short her loquacity by inserting one of the keys in the lock - it did not turn, but he had more success with the second. The lock snapped back easily and he pulled the door back. He found the inner door bolted top and bottom. The bolts slipped back in their well-oiled sockets without any effort. Evidently Kara used this place pretty frequently, thought T. X.

He pushed the door open and stopped with an exclamation of surprise. The cellar apartment was brilliantly lit - but it was unoccupied.

"This beats the band," said T. X.

He saw something on the table and lifted it up. It was a pair of long-bladed scissors and about the handle was wound a handkerchief. It was not this fact which startled him, but that the scissors' blades were dappled with blood and blood, too, was on the handkerchief. He unwound the flimsy piece of cambric and stared at the monogram "B. M. B."

He looked around. Nobody had seen the weapon and he dropped it in his overcoat pocket, and walked from the cellar to the kitchen where Mrs. Beale and Mansus awaited him.

"There is a lower cellar, is there not!" he asked in a strained voice.

"That was bricked up when Mr. Kara took the house," explained the woman.

"There is nothing more to look for here," he said.

He walked slowly up the stairs to the library, his mind in a whirl. That he, an accredited officer of police, sworn to the business of criminal detection, should attempt to screen one who was conceivably a criminal was inexplicable. But if the girl had committed this crime, how had she reached Kara's room and why had she returned to the locked cellar!

He sent for Mrs. Beale to interrogate her. She had heard nothing and she had been in the kitchen all the evening. One fact she did reveal, however, that Fisher had gone from the kitchen and had been absent a quarter of an hour and had returned a little agitated.

"Stay here," said T. X., and went down again to the cellar to make a further search.

"Probably there is some way out of this subterranean jail," he thought and a diligent search of the room soon revealed it.

He found the iron trap, pulled it open, and slipped down the stairs. He, too, was puzzled by the luxurious character of the vault. He passed from room to room and finally came to the inner chamber where a light was burning.

The light, as he discovered, proceeded from a small reading lamp which stood by the side of a small brass bedstead. The bed had recently been slept in, but there was no sign of any occupant. T. X. conducted a very careful search and had no difficulty in finding the bricked up door. Other exits there were none.

The floor was of wood block laid on concrete, the ventilation was excellent and in one of the recesses which had evidently held at so time or other, a large wine bin, there was a prefect electrical cooking plant. In a small larder were a number of baskets, bearing the name of a well-known caterer, one of them containing an excellent assortment of cold and potted meats, preserves, etc.

T. X. went back to the bedroom and took the little lamp from the table by the side of the bed and began a more careful examination. Presently he found traces of blood, and followed an irregular trail to the outer room. He 1ost it suddenly at the foot of stairs leading down from the upper cellar. Then he struck it again. He had reached the end of his electric cord and was now depending upon an electric torch he hid taken from his pocket.

There were indications of something heavy having been dragged across the room and he saw that it led to a small bathroom. He had made a cursory examination of this well-appointed apartment, and now he proceeded to make a close investigation and was well rewarded.

The bathroom was the only apartment which possess anything resembling a door - a two-fold screen and - as he pressed this back, he felt some thing which prevented its wider extension. He slipped into the room and flashed his lamp in the space behind the screen. There stiff in death with glazed eyes and lolling tongue lay a great gaunt dog, his yellow fangs exposed in a last grimace.

About the neck was a collar and attached to that, a few links of broken chain. T. X. mounted the steps thoughtfully and passed out to the kitchen.

Did Belinda Mary stab Kara or kill the dog? That she killed one hound or the other was certain. That she killed both was possible.


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