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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 2/41 -
worth eating this side of London and I doubt very much," she smiled a little, "if the meal I can give you will be worthy of that description."
"What you can give me will be more than sufficient," he said, with a little bow, and turned to her husband.
In a few minutes they were deep in a discussion of books and places, and Grace seized the opportunity to make her escape. From books in general to Lexman's books in particular the conversation flowed.
"I've read every one of them, you know," said Kara.
John made a little face. "Poor devil," he said sardonically.
"On the contrary," said Kara, "I am not to be pitied. There is a great criminal lost in you, Lexman."
"Thank you," said John.
"I am not being uncomplimentary, am I?" smiled the Greek. "I am merely referring to the ingenuity of your plots. Sometimes your books baffle and annoy me. If I cannot see the solution of your mysteries before the book is half through, it angers me a little. Of course in the majority of cases I know the solution before I have reached the fifth chapter."
John looked at him in surprise and was somewhat piqued.
"I flatter myself it is impossible to tell how my stories will end until the last chapter," he said.
"That would be so in the case of the average reader, but you forget that I am a student. I follow every little thread of the clue which you leave exposed."
"You should meet T. X.," said John, with a laugh, as he rose from his chair to poke the fire.
"T. X. Meredith. He is the most ingenious beggar you could meet. We were at Caius together, and he is by way of being a great pal of mine. He is in the Criminal Investigation Department."
Kara nodded. There was the light of interest in his eyes and he would have pursued the discussion further, but at the moment dinner was announced.
It was not a particularly cheerful meal because Grace did not as usual join in the conversation, and it was left to Kara and to her husband to supply the deficiencies. She was experiencing a curious sense of depression, a premonition of evil which she could not define. Again and again in the course of the dinner she took her mind back to the events of the day to discover the reason for her unease.
Usually when she adopted this method she came upon the trivial causes in which apprehension was born, but now she was puzzled to find that a solution was denied her. Her letters of the morning had been pleasant, neither the house nor the servants had given her any trouble. She was well herself, and though she knew John had a little money trouble, since his unfortunate speculation in Roumanian gold shares, and she half suspected that he had had to borrow money to make good his losses, yet his prospects were so excellent and the success of his last book so promising that she, probably seeing with a clearer vision the unimportance of those money worries, was less concerned about the problem than he.
"You will have your coffee in the study, I suppose," said Grace, "and I know you'll excuse me; I have to see Mrs. Chandler on the mundane subject of laundry."
She favoured Kara with a little nod as she left the room and touched John's shoulder lightly with her hand in passing.
Kara's eyes followed her graceful figure until she was out of view, then
"I want to see you, Kara," said John Lexman, "if you will give me five minutes."
"You can have five hours, if you like," said the other, easily.
They went into the study together; the maid brought the coffee and liqueur, and placed them on a little table near the fire and disappeared.
For a time the conversation was general. Kara, who was a frank admirer of the comfort of the room and who lamented his own inability to secure with money the cosiness which John had obtained at little cost, went on a foraging expedition whilst his host applied himself to a proof which needed correcting.
"I suppose it is impossible for you to have electric light here," Kara asked.
"Quite," replied the other.
"I rather like the light of this lamp."
"It isn't the lamp," drawled the Greek and made a little grimace; "I hate these candles."
He waved his hand to the mantle-shelf where the six tall, white, waxen candles stood out from two wall sconces.
"Why on earth do you hate candles?" asked the other in surprise.
Kara made no reply for the moment, but shrugged his shoulders. Presently he spoke.
"If you were ever tied down to a chair and by the side of that chair was a small keg of black powder and stuck in that powder was a small candle that burnt lower and lower every minute - my God!"
John was amazed to see the perspiration stand upon the forehead of his guest.
"That sounds thrilling," he said.
The Greek wiped his forehead with a silk handkerchief and his hand shook a little.
"It was something more than thrilling," he said.
"And when did this occur?" asked the author curiously.
"In Albania," replied the other; "it was many years ago, but the devils are always sending me reminders of the fact."
He did not attempt to explain who the devils were or under what circumstances he was brought to this unhappy pass, but changed the subject definitely.
Sauntering round the cosy room he followed the bookshelf which filled one wall and stopped now and again to examine some title. Presently he drew forth a stout volume.
"'Wild Brazil'," he read, "by George Gathercole - do you know Gathercole?"
John was filling his pipe from a big blue jar on his desk and nodded.
"Met him once - a taciturn devil. Very short of speech and, like all men who have seen and done things, less inclined to talk about himself than any man I know."
Kara looked at the book with a thoughtful pucker of brow and turned the leaves idly.
"I've never seen him," he said as he replaced the book, "yet, in a sense, his new journey is on my behalf."
The other man looked up.
"On your behalf?"
"Yes - you know he has gone to Patagonia for me. He believes there is gold there - you will learn as much from his book on the mountain systems of South America. I was interested in his theories and corresponded with him. As a result of that correspondence he undertook to make a geological survey for me. I sent him money for his expenses, and he went off."
"You never saw him?" asked John Lexman, surprised.
Kara shook his head.
"That was not - ?" began his host.
"Not like me, you were going to say. Frankly, it was not, but then I realized that he was an unusual kind of man. I invited him to dine with me before he left London, and in reply received a wire from Southampton intimating that he was already on his way."
"It must be an awfully interesting kind of life," he said. "I suppose he will be away for quite a long time?"
"Three years," said Kara, continuing his examination of the bookshelf.
"I envy those fellows who run round the world writing books," said John, puffing reflectively at his pipe. "They have all the best of it."
Kara turned. He stood immediately behind the author and the other could not see his face. There was, however, in his voice an unusual earnestness and an unusual quiet vehemence.
"What have you to complain about!" he asked, with that little drawl of his. "You have your own creative work - the most
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