The Clue of the Twisted Candle

by Edgar Wallace

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Chapter XV

After a busy and sleepless night he came down to report to the Chief Commissioner the next morning. The evening newspaper bills were filled with the "Chelsea Sensation" but the information given was of a meagre character.

Since Fisher had disappeared, many of the details which could have been secured by the enterprising pressmen were missing. There was no reference to the visit of Mr. Gathercole and in self-defence the press had fallen back upon a statement, which at an earlier period had crept into the newspapers in one of those chatty paragraphs which begin "I saw my friend Kara at Giros" and end with a brief but inaccurate summary of his hobbies. The paragraph had been to the effect that Mr. Kara had been in fear of his life for some time, as a result of a blood feud which existed between himself and another Albanian family. Small wonder, therefore, the murder was everywhere referred to as "the political crime of the century."

"So far," reported T. X. to his superior, "I have been unable to trace either Gathercole or the valet. The only thing we know about Gathercole is that he sent his article to The Times with his card. The servants of his Club are very vague as to his whereabouts. He is a very eccentric man, who only comes in occasionally, and the steward whom I interviewed says that it frequently happened that Gathercole arrived and departed without anybody being aware of the fact. We have been to his old lodgings in Lincoln's Inn, but apparently he sold up there before he went away to the wilds of Patagonia and relinquished his tenancy.

"The only clue I have is that a man answering to some extent to his description left by the eleven o'clock train for Paris last night."

"You have seen the secretary of course," said the Chief.

It was a question which T. X. had been dreading.

"Gone too," he answered shortly; "in fact she has not been seen since 5:30 yesterday evening."

Sir George leant back in his chair and rumpled his thick grey hair.

"The only person who seems to have remained," he said with heavy sarcasm, "was Kara himself. Would you like me to put somebody else on this case - it isn't exactly your job - or will you carry it on?"

"I prefer to carry it on, sir," said T. X. firmly.

"Have you found out anything more about Kara?"

T. X. nodded.

"All that I have discovered about him is eminently discreditable," he said. "He seems to have had an ambition to occupy a very important position in Albania. To this end he had bribed and subsidized the Turkish and Albanian officials and had a fairly large following in that country. Bartholomew tells me that Kara had already sounded him as to the possibility of the British Government recognising a fait accompli in Albania and had been inducing him to use his influence with the Cabinet to recognize the consequence of any revolution. There is no doubt whatever that Kara has engineered all the political assassinations which have been such a feature in the news from Albania during this past year. We also found in the house very large sums of money and documents which we have handed over to the Foreign Office for decoding."

Sir George thought for a long time.

Then he said, "I have an idea that if you find your secretary you will be half way to solving the mystery."

T. X. went out from the office in anything but a joyous mood. He was on his way to lunch when he remembered his promise to call upon John Lexman.

Could Lexman supply a key which would unravel this tragic tangle? He leant out of his taxi-cab and redirected the driver. It happened that the cab drove up to the door of the Great Midland Hotel as John Lexman was coming out.

"Come and lunch with me," said T. X. "I suppose you've heard all the news."

"I read about Kara being killed, if that's what you mean," said the other. "It was rather a coincidence that I should have been discussing the matter last night at the very moment when his telephone bell rang - I wish to heaven you hadn't been in this," he said fretfully.

"Why?" asked the astonished Assistant Commissioner, "and what do you mean by 'in it'?"

"In the concrete sense I wish you had not been present when I returned," said the other moodily, "I wanted to be finished with the whole sordid business without in any way involving my friends."

"I think you are too sensitive," laughed the other, clapping him on the shoulder. "I want you to unburden yourself to me, my dear chap, and tell me anything you can that will help me to clear up this mystery."

John Lexman looked straight ahead with a worried frown.

"I would do almost anything for you, T. X.," he said quietly, "the more so since I know how good you were to Grace, but I can't help you in this matter. I hated Kara living, I hate him dead," he cried, and there was a passion in his voice which was unmistakable; "he was the vilest thing that ever drew the breath of life. There was no villainy too despicable, no cruelty so horrid but that he gloried in it. If ever the devil were incarnate on earth he took the shape and the form of Remington Kara. He died too merciful a death by all accounts. But if there is a God, this man will suffer for his crimes in hell through all eternity."

T. X. looked at him in astonishment. The hate in the man's face took his breath away. Never before had he experienced or witnessed such a vehemence of loathing.

"What did Kara do to you?" he demanded.

The other looked out of the window.

"I am sorry," he said in a milder tone; "that is my weakness. Some day I will tell you the whole story but for the moment it were better that it were not told. I will tell you this," he turned round and faced the detective squarely, "Kara tortured and killed my wife."

T. X. said no more.

Half way through lunch he returned indirectly to the subject.

"Do you know Gathercole?" he asked.

T. X. nodded.

"I think you asked me that question once before, or perhaps it was somebody else. Yes, I know him, rather an eccentric man with an artificial arm."

"That's the cove," said T. X. with a little sigh; "he's one of the few men I want to meet just now."


"Because he was apparently the last man to see Kara alive."

John Lexman looked at the other with an impatient jerk of his shoulders.

"You don't suspect Gathercole, do you?" he asked.

"Hardly," said the other drily; "in the first place the man that committed this murder had two hands and needed them both. No, I only want to ask that gentleman the subject of his conversation. I also want to know who was in the room with Kara when Gathercole went in."

"H'm," said John Lexman.

"Even if I found who the third person was, I am still puzzled as to how they got out and fastened the heavy latch behind them. Now in the old days, Lexman," he said good humouredly, "you would have made a fine mystery story out of this. How would you have made your man escape?"

Lexman thought for a while.

"Have you examined the safe!" he asked.

"Yes," said the other.

"Was there very much in it?"

T. X. looked at him in astonishment.

"Just the ordinary books and things. Why do you ask?"

"Suppose there were two doors to that safe, one on the outside of the room and one on the inside, would it be possible to pass through the safe and go down the wall?"

"I have thought of that," said T. X.

"Of course," said Lexman, leaning back and toying with a salt-spoon, "in writing a story where one hasn't got to deal with the absolute possibilities, one could always have made Kara have a safe of that character in order to make his escape in the event of danger. He might keep a rope ladder stored inside, open the back door, throw out his ladder to a friend and by some trick arrangement could detach the ladder and allow the door to swing to again."

"A very ingenious idea," said T. X., "but unfortunately it doesn't work in this case. I have seen the makers of the safe and there is nothing very eccentric about it except the fact that it is mounted as it is. Can you offer another suggestion?"

John Lexman thought again.

"I will not suggest trap doors, or secret panels or anything so banal," he said, "nor mysterious springs in the wall which, when touched, reveal secret staircases."

He smiled slightly.

"In my early days, I must confess I, was rather keen upon that sort of thing, but age has brought experience and I have discovered the impossibility of bringing an architect to one's way of thinking even in so commonplace a matter as the position of a scullery. It would be much more difficult to induce him to construct a house with double walls and secret chambers."

T. X. waited patiently.

"There is a possibility, of course," said Lexman slowly, "that the steel latch may have been raised by somebody outside by some ingenious magnetic arrangement and lowered in a similar manner."

"I have thought about it," said T. X. triumphantly, "and I have made the most elaborate tests only this morning. It is quite impossible to raise the steel latch because once it is dropped it cannot be raised again except by means of the knob, the pulling of which releases the catch which holds the bar securely in its place. Try another one, John."

John Lexman threw back his head in a noiseless laugh.

"Why I should be helping you to discover the murderer of Kara is beyond my understanding," he said, "but I will give you another theory, at the same time warning you that I may be putting you off the track. For God knows I have more reason to murder Kara than any man in the world."

He thought a while.

"The chimney was of course impossible?"

"There was a big fire burning in the grate," explained T. X.; "so big indeed that the room was stifling."

John Lexman nodded.

"That was Kara's way," he said; "as a matter of fact I know the suggestion about magnetism in the steel bar was impossible, because I was friendly with Kara when he had that bar put in and pretty well know the mechanism, although I had forgotten it for the moment. What is your own theory, by the way?"

T. X. pursed his lips.

"My theory isn't very clearly formed," he said cautiously, "but so far as it goes, it is that Kara was lying on the bed probably reading one of the books which were found by the bedside when his assailant suddenly came upon him. Kara seized the telephone to call for assistance and was promptly killed."

Again there was silence.

"That is a theory," said John Lexman. with his curious deliberation of speech, "but as I say I refuse to be definite - have you found the weapon?"

T. X. shook his head.

"Were there any peculiar features about the room which astonished you, and which you have not told me?"

T. X. hesitated.

"There were two candles," he said, "one in the middle of the room and one under the bed. That in the middle of the room was a small Christmas candle, the one under the bed was the ordinary candle of commerce evidently roughly cut and probably cut in the room. We found traces of candle chips on the floor and it is evident to me that the portion which was cut off was thrown into the fire, for here again we have a trace of grease."

Lexman nodded.

"Anything further?" he asked.

"The smaller candle was twisted into a sort of corkscrew shape."

"The Clue of the Twisted Candle," mused John Lexman "that's a very good title - Kara hated candles."


Lexman leant back in his chair, selected a cigarette from a silver case.

"In my wanderings," he said, "I have been to many strange places. I have been to the country which you probably do not know, and which the traveller who writes books about countries seldom visits. There are queer little villages perched on the spurs of the bleakest hills you ever saw. I have lived with communities which acknowledge no king and no government. These have their laws handed down to them from father to son - it is a nation without a written language. They administer their laws rigidly and drastically. The punishments they award are cruel - inhuman. I have seen, the woman taken in adultery stoned to death as in the best Biblical traditions, and I have seen the thief blinded."

T. X. shivered.

"I have seen the false witness stand up in a barbaric market place whilst his tongue was torn from him. Sometimes the Turks or the piebald governments of the state sent down a few gendarmes and tried a sort of sporadic administration of the country. It usually ended in the representative of the law lapsing into barbarism, or else disappearing from the face of the earth, with a whole community of murderers eager to testify, with singular unanimity, to the fact that he had either committed suicide or had gone off with the wife of one of the townsmen.

"In some of these communities the candle plays a big part. It is not the candle of commerce as you know it, but a dip made from mutton fat. Strap three between the fingers of your hands and keep the hand rigid with two flat pieces of wood; then let the candles burn down lower and lower - can you imagine? Or set a candle in a gunpowder trail and lead the trail to a well-oiled heap of shavings thoughtfully heaped about your naked feet. Or a candle fixed to the shaved head of a man - there are hundreds of variations and the candle plays a part in all of them. I don't know which Kara had cause to hate the worst, but I know one or two that he has employed."

"Was he as bad as that?" asked T. X.

John Lexman laughed.

"You don't know how bad he was," he said.

Towards the end of the luncheon the waiter brought a note in to T. X. which had been sent on from his office.

"Dear Mr. Meredith,

"In. answer to your enquiry I believe my daughter is in London, but I did not know it until this morning. My banker informs me that my daughter called at the bank this morning and drew a considerable sum of money from her private account, but where she has gone and what she is doing with the money I do not know. I need hardly tell you that I am very worried about this matter and I should be glad if you could explain what it is all about."

It was signed "William Bartholomew."

T. X. groaned.

"If I had only had the sense to go to the bank this morning, I should have seen her," he said. "I'm going to lose my job over this."

The other looked troubled.

"You don't seriously mean that"

"Not exactly," smiled T. X., "but I don't think the Chief is very pleased with me just now. You see I have butted into this business without any authority - it isn't exactly in my department. But you have not given me your theory about the candles."

"I have no theory to offer," said the other, folding up his serviette; "the candles suggest a typical Albanian murder. I do not say that it was so, I merely say that by their presence they suggest a crime of this character."

With this T. X. had to be content.

If it were not his business to interest himself in commonplace murder - though this hardly fitted such a description - it was part of the peculiar function which his department exercised to restore to Lady Bartholomew a certain very elaborate snuff-box which he discovered in the safe.

Letters had been found amongst his papers which made clear the part which Kara had played. Though he had not been a vulgar blackmailer he had retained his hold, not only upon this particular property of Lady Bartholomew, but upon certain other articles which were discovered, with no other object, apparently, than to compel influence from quarters likely to be of assistance to him in his schemes.

The inquest on the murdered man which the Assistant Commissioner attended produced nothing in the shape of evidence and the coroner's verdict of "murder against some person or persons unknown" was only to be expected.

T. X. spent a very busy and a very tiring week tracing elusive clues which led him nowhere. He had a letter from John Lexman announcing the fact that he intended leaving for the United States. He had received a very good offer from a firm of magazine publishers in New York and was going out to take up the appointment.

Meredith's plans were now in fair shape. He had decided upon the line of action he would take and in the pursuance of this he interviewed his Chief and the Minister of Justice.

"Yes, I have heard from my daughter," said that great man uncomfortably, "and really she has placed me in a most embarrassing position. I cannot tell you, Mr. Meredith, exactly in what manner she has done this, but I can assure you she has."

"Can I see her letter or telegram?" asked T. X.

"I am afraid that is impossible," said the other solemnly; "she begged me to keep her communication very secret. I have written to my wife and asked her to come home. I feel the constant strain to which I am being subjected is more than human man can endure."

"I suppose," said T. X. patiently, "it is impossible for you to tell me to what address you have replied?"

"To no address," answered the other and corrected himself hurriedly; "that is to say I only received the telegram - the message this morning and there is no address - to reply to."

"I see," said T. X.

That afternoon he instructed his secretary.

"I want a copy of all the agony advertisements in to-morrow's papers and in the last editions of the evening papers - have them ready for me tomorrow morning when I come."

They were waiting for him when he reached the office at nine o'clock the next day and he went through them carefully. Presently he found the message he was seeking.

B. M. You place me awkward position. Very thoughtless. Have received package addressed your mother which have placed in mother's sitting-room. Cannot understand why you want me to go away week-end and give servants holiday but have done so. Shall require very full explanation. Matter gone far enough. Father.

"This," said T. X. exultantly, as he read the advertisement, "is where I get busy."


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