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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 3/41 -
fascinating branch of labour that comes to a man. He, poor beggar, is bound to actualities. You have the full range of all the worlds which your imagination gives to you. You can create men and destroy them, call into existence fascinating problems, mystify and baffle ten or twenty thousand people, and then, at a word, elucidate your mystery."
"There is something in that," he said.
"As for the rest of your life," Kara went on in a lower voice, "I think you have that which makes life worth living - an incomparable wife."
Lexman swung round in his chair, and met the other's gaze, and there was something in the set of the other's handsome face which took his breath away.
"I do not see - " he began.
"That was an impertinence, wasn't it!" he said, banteringly. "But then you mustn't forget, my dear man, that I was very anxious to marry your wife. I don't suppose it is secret. And when I lost her, I had ideas about you which are not pleasant to recall."
He had recovered his self-possession and had continued his aimless stroll about the room.
"You must remember I am a Greek, and the modern Greek is no philosopher. You must remember, too, that I am a petted child of fortune, and have had everything I wanted since I was a baby."
"You are a fortunate devil," said the other, turning back to his desk, and taking up his pen.
For a moment Kara did not speak, then he made as though he would say something, checked himself, and laughed.
"I wonder if I am," he said.
And now he spoke with a sudden energy.
"What is this trouble you are having with Vassalaro?"
John rose from his chair and walked over to the fire, stood gazing down into its depths, his legs wide apart, his hands clasped behind him, and Kara took his attitude to supply an answer to the question.
"I warned you against Vassalaro," he said, stooping by the other's side to light his cigar with a spill of paper. "My dear Lexman, my fellow countrymen are unpleasant people to deal with in certain moods."
"He was so obliging at first," said Lexman, half to himself.
"And now he is so disobliging," drawled Kara. "That is a way which moneylenders have, my dear man; you were very foolish to go to him at all. I could have lent you the money."
"There were reasons why I should not borrow money from you,", said John, quietly, "and I think you yourself have supplied the principal reason when you told me just now, what I already knew, that you wanted to marry Grace."
"How much is the amount?" asked Kara, examining his well-manicured finger-nails.
"Two thousand five hundred pounds," replied John, with a short laugh, "and I haven't two thousand five hundred shillings at this moment."
"Will he wait?"
John Lexman shrugged his shoulders.
"Look here, Kara," he said, suddenly, "don't think I want to reproach you, but it was through you that I met Vassalaro so that you know the kind of man he is."
"Well, I can tell you he has been very unpleasant indeed," said John, with a frown, "I had an interview with him yesterday in London and it is clear that he is going to make a lot of trouble. I depended upon the success of my play in town giving me enough to pay him off, and I very foolishly made a lot of promises of repayment which I have been unable to keep."
"I see," said Kara, and then, "does Mrs. Lexman know about this matter?"
"A little," said the other.
He paced restlessly up and down the room, his hands behind him and his chin upon his chest.
"Naturally I have not told her the worst, or how beastly unpleasant the man has been."
He stopped and turned.
"Do you know he threatened to kill me?" he asked.
"I can tell you it was no laughing matter," said the other, angrily, "I nearly took the little whippersnapper by the scruff of the neck and kicked him."
Kara dropped his hand on the other's arm.
"I am not laughing at you," he said; "I am laughing at the thought of Vassalaro threatening to kill anybody. He is the biggest coward in the world. What on earth induced him to take this drastic step?"
"He said he is being hard pushed for money," said the other, moodily, "and it is possibly true. He was beside himself with anger and anxiety, otherwise I might have given the little blackguard the thrashing he deserved."
Kara who had continued his stroll came down the room and halted in front of the fireplace looking at the young author with a paternal smile.
"You don't understand Vassalaro," he said; "I repeat he is the greatest coward in the world. You will probably discover he is full of firearms and threats of slaughter, but you have only to click a revolver to see him collapse. Have you a revolver, by the way?"
"Oh, nonsense," said the other, roughly, "I cannot engage myself in that kind of melodrama."
"It is not nonsense," insisted the other, "when you are in Rome, et cetera, and when you have to deal with a low-class Greek you must use methods which will at least impress him. If you thrash him, he will never forgive you and will probably stick a knife into you or your wife. If you meet his melodrama with melodrama and at the psychological moment produce your revolver; you will secure the effect you require. Have you a revolver?"
John went to his desk and, pulling open a drawer, took out a small Browning.
"That is the extent of my armory," he said, "it has never been fired and was sent to me by an unknown admirer last Christmas."
"A curious Christmas present," said the other, examining the weapon.
"I suppose the mistaken donor imagined from my books that I lived in a veritable museum of revolvers, sword sticks and noxious drugs," said Lexman, recovering some of his good humour; "it was accompanied by a card."
"Do you know how it works?" asked the other.
"I have never troubled very much about it," replied Lexman, "I know that it is loaded by slipping back the cover, but as my admirer did not send ammunition, I never even practised with it."
There was a knock at the door.
"That is the post," explained John.
The maid had one letter on the salver and the author took it up with a frown.
"From Vassalaro," he said, when the girl had left the room.
The Greek took the letter in his hand and examined it.
"He writes a vile fist," was his only comment as he handed it back to John.
He slit open the thin, buff envelope and took out half a dozen sheets of yellow paper, only a single sheet of which was written upon. The letter was brief:
"I must see you to-night without fail," ran the scrawl; "meet me at the crossroads between Beston Tracey and the Eastbourne Road. I shall be there at eleven o'clock, and, if you want to preserve your life, you had better bring me a substantial instalment."
It was signed "Vassalaro."
John read the letter aloud. "He must be mad to write a letter like that," he said; "I'll meet the little devil and teach him such a lesson in politeness as he is never likely to forget."
He handed the letter to the other and Kara read it in silence.
"Better take your revolver," he said as he handed it back.
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