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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 30/41 -


Meredith if you don't mind."

She looked at her watch.

"If you are not going to arrest me I'm going," she said.

"I have certainly no intention of arresting you," said he, "but I am going to see you home!"

She jumped up smartly.

"You're not," she commanded.

She was so definite in this that he was startled.

"My dear child," he protested.

"Please don't 'dear child' me," she said seriously; "you're going to be a good little Tommy and let me go home by myself."

She held out her hand frankly and the laughing appeal in her eyes was irresistible.

"Well, I'll see you to a cab," he insisted.

"And listen while I give the driver instructions where he is to take me?"

She shook her head reprovingly.

"It must be an awful thing to be a policeman."

He stood back with folded arms, a stern frown on his face.

"Don't you trust me?" he asked.

"No," she replied.

"Quite right," he approved; "anyway I'll see you to the cab and you can tell the driver to go to Charing Cross station and on your way you can change your direction."

"And you promise you won't follow me?" she asked.

"On my honour," he swore; "on one condition though."

"I will make no conditions," she replied haughtily.

"Please come down from your great big horse," he begged, "and listen to reason. The condition I make is that I can always bring you to an appointed rendezvous whenever I want you. Honestly, this is necessary, Belinda Mary."

"Miss Bartholomew," she corrected, coldly.

"It is necessary," he went on, "as you will understand. Promise me that, if I put an advertisement in the agonies of either an evening paper which I will name or in the Morning Port, you will keep the appointment I fix, if it is humanly possible."

She hesitated a moment, then held out her hand.

"I promise," she said.

"Good for you, Belinda Mary," said he, and tucking her arm in his he led her out of the room switching off the light and racing her down the stairs.

If there was a lot of the schoolgirl left in Belinda Mary Bartholomew, no less of the schoolboy was there in this Commissioner of Police. He would have danced her through the fog, contemptuous of the proprieties, but he wasn't so very anxious to get her to her cab and to lose sight of her.

"Good-night," he said, holding her hand.

"That's the third time you've shaken hands with me to-night," she interjected.

"Don't let us have any unpleasantness at the last," he pleaded, "and remember."

"I have promised," she replied.

"And one day," he went on, "you will tell me all that happened in that cellar."

"I have told you," she said in a low voice.

"You have not told me everything, child."

He handed her into the cab. He shut the door behind her and leant through the open window.

"Victoria or Marble Arch?" he asked politely.

"Charing Cross," she replied, with a little laugh.

He watched the cab drive away and then suddenly it stopped and a figure lent out from the window beckoning him frantically. He ran up to her.

"Suppose I want you," she asked.

"Advertise," he said promptly, "beginning your advertisement 'Dear Tommy."'

"I shall put 'T. X.,' " she said indignantly.

"Then I shall take no notice of your advertisement," he replied and stood in the middle of the street, his hat in his hand, to the intense annoyance of a taxi-cab driver who literally all but ran him down and in a figurative sense did so until T. X. was out of earshot.

CHAPTER XVII

Thomas Xavier Meredith was a shrewd young man. It was said of him by Signor Paulo Coselli, the eminent criminologist, that he had a gift of intuition which was abnormal. Probably the mystery of the twisted candle was solved by him long before any other person in the world had the dimmest idea that it was capable of solution.

The house in Cadogan Square was still in the hands of the police. To this house and particularly to Kara's bedroom T. X. from time to time repaired, and reproduced as far as possible the conditions which obtained on the night of the murder. He had the same stifling fire, the same locked door. The latch was dropped in its socket, whilst T. X., with a stop watch in his hand, made elaborate calculations and acted certain parts which he did not reveal to a soul.

Three times, accompanied by Mansus, he went to the house, three times went to the death chamber and was alone on one occasion for an hour and a half whilst the patient Mansus waited outside. Three times he emerged looking graver on each occasion, and after the third visit he called into consultation John Lexman.

Lexman had been spending some time in the country, having deferred his trip to the United States.

"This case puzzles me more and more, John," said T. X., troubled out of his usual boisterous self, "and thank heaven it worries other people besides me. De Mainau came over from France the other day and brought all his best sleuths, whilst O'Grady of the New York central office paid a flying visit just to get hold of the facts. Not one of them has given me the real solution, though they've all been rather ingenious. Gathercole has vanished and is probably on his way to some undiscoverable region, and our people have not yet traced the valet."

"He should be the easiest for you," said John Lexman, reflectively.

"Why Gathercole should go off I can't understand," T. X. continued. "According to the story which was told me by Fisher, his last words to Kara were to the effect that he was expecting a cheque or that he had received a cheque. No cheque has been presented or drawn and apparently Gathercole has gone off without waiting for any payment. An examination of, Kara's books show nothing against the Gathercole account save the sum of 600 pounds which was originally advanced, and now to upset all my calculations, look at this."

He took from his pocketbook a newspaper cutting and pushed it across the table, for they were dining together at the Carlton. John Lexman picked up the slip and read. It was evidently from a New York paper:

"Further news has now come to hand by the Antarctic Trading Company's steamer, Cyprus, concerning the wreck of the City of the Argentine. It is believed that this ill-fated vessel, which called at South American ports, lost her propellor and drifted south out of the track of shipping. This theory is now confirmed. Apparently the ship struck an iceberg on December 23rd and foundered with all aboard save a few men who were able to launch a boat and who were picked up by the Cyprus. The following is the passenger list."

John Lexman ran down the list until he came upon the name which was evidently underlined in ink by T. X. That name was George Gathercole and after it in brackets (Explorer).

"If that were true, then, Gathercole could not have come to London."

"He may have taken another boat," said T. X., "and I cabled to the Steamship Company without any great success. Apparently Gathercole was an eccentric sort of man and lived in terror of being overcrowded. It was a habit of his to make provisional bookings by every available steamer. The company can tell me no more than that he had booked, but whether he shipped on the City of the Argentine or not, they do not know."

"I can tell you this about Gathercole," said John slowly and thoughtfully, "that he was a man who would not hurt a fly. He was


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