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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 4/41 -
John Lexman looked at his watch.
"I have an hour yet, but it will take me the best part of twenty minutes to reach the Eastbourne Road."
"Will you see him?" asked Kara, in a tone of surprise.
"Certainly," Lexman replied emphatically: "I cannot have him coming up to the house and making a scene and that is certainly what the little beast will do."
"Will you pay him?" asked Kara softly.
John made no answer. There was probably 10 pounds in the house and a cheque which was due on the morrow would bring him another 30 pounds. He looked at the letter again. It was written on paper of an unusual texture. The surface was rough almost like blotting paper and in some places the ink absorbed by the porous surface had run. The blank sheets had evidently been inserted by a man in so violent a hurry that he had not noticed the extravagance.
"I shall keep this letter," said John.
"I think you are well advised. Vassalaro probably does not know that he transgresses a law in writing threatening letters and that should be a very strong weapon in your hand in certain eventualities."
There was a tiny safe in one corner of the study and this John opened with a key which he took from his pocket. He pulled open one of the steel drawers, took out the papers which were in it and put in their place the letter, pushed the drawer to, and locked it.
All the time Kara was watching him intently as one who found more than an ordinary amount of interest in the novelty of the procedure.
He took his leave soon afterwards.
"I would like to come with you to your interesting meeting," he said, "but unfortunately I have business elsewhere. Let me enjoin you to take your revolver and at the first sign of any bloodthirsty intention on the part of my admirable compatriot, produce it and click it once or twice, you won't have to do more."
Grace rose from the piano as Kara entered the little drawing-room and murmured a few conventional expressions of regret that the visitor's stay had been so short. That there was no sincerity in that regret Kara, for one, had no doubt. He was a man singularly free from illusions.
They stayed talking a little while.
"I will see if your chauffeur is asleep," said John, and went out of the room.
There was a little silence after he had gone.
"I don't think you are very glad to see me," said Kara. His frankness was a little embarrassing to the girl and she flushed slightly.
"I am always glad to see you, Mr. Kara, or any other of my husband's friends," she said steadily.
He inclined his head.
"To be a friend of your husband is something," he said, and then as if remembering something, "I wanted to take a book away with me - I wonder if your husband would mind my getting it?"
"I will find it for you."
"Don't let me bother you," he protested, "I know my way."
Without waiting for her permission he left the girl with the unpleasant feeling that he was taking rather much for granted. He was gone less than a minute and returned with a book under his arm.
"I have not asked Lexman's permission to take it," he said, "but I am rather interested in the author. Oh, here you are," he turned to John who came in at that moment. "Might I take this book on Mexico?" he asked. "I will return it in the morning."
They stood at the door, watching the tail light of the motor disappear down the drive; and returned in silence to the drawing room.
"You look worried, dear," she said, laying her hand on his shoulder.
He smiled faintly.
"Is it the money" she asked anxiously.
For a moment he was tempted to tell her of the letter. He stifled the temptation realizing that she would not consent to his going out if she knew the truth.
"It is nothing very much," he said. "I have to go down to Beston Tracey to meet the last train. I am expecting some proofs down."
He hated lying to her, and even an innocuous lie of this character was repugnant to him.
"I'm afraid you have had a dull evening," he said, "Kara was not very amusing."
She looked at him thoughtfully.
"He has not changed very much," she said slowly.
"He's a wonderfully handsome chap, isn't he?" he asked in a tone of admiration. "I can't understand what you ever saw in a fellow like me, when you had a man who was not only rich, but possibly the best-looking man in the world."
She shivered a little.
"I have seen a side of Mr. Kara that is not particularly beautiful," she said. "Oh, John, I am afraid of that man!"
He looked at her in astonishment.
"Afraid?" he asked. "Good heavens, Grace, what a thing to say! Why I believe he'd do anything for you."
"That is exactly what I am afraid of," she said in a low voice.
She had a reason which she did not reveal. She had first met Remington Kara in Salonika two years before. She had been doing a tour through the Balkans with her father - it was the last tour the famous archeologist made - and had met the man who was fated to have such an influence upon her life at a dinner given by the American Consul.
Many were the stories which were told about this Greek with his Jove-like face, his handsome carriage and his limitless wealth. It was said that his mother was an American lady who had been captured by Albanian brigands and was sold to one of the Albanian chiefs who fell in love with her, and for her sake became a Protestant. He had been educated at Yale and at Oxford, and was known to be the possessor of vast wealth, and was virtually king of a hill district forty miles out of Durazzo. Here he reigned supreme, occupying a beautiful house which he had built by an Italian architect, and the fittings and appointments of which had been imported from the luxurious centres of the world.
In Albania they called him "Kara Rumo," which meant "The Black Roman," for no particular reason so far as any one could judge, for his skin was as fair as a Saxon's, and his close-cropped curls were almost golden.
He had fallen in love with Grace Terrell. At first his attentions had amused her, and then there came a time when they frightened her, for the man's fire and passion had been unmistakable. She had made it plain to him that he could base no hopes upon her returning his love, and, in a scene which she even now shuddered to recall, he had revealed something of his wild and reckless nature. On the following day she did not see him, but two days later, when returning through the Bazaar from a dance which had been given by the Governor General, her carriage was stopped, she was forcibly dragged from its interior, and her cries were stifled with a cloth impregnated with a scent of a peculiar aromatic sweetness. Her assailants were about to thrust her into another carriage, when a party of British bluejackets who had been on leave came upon the scene, and, without knowing anything of the nationality of the girl, had rescued her.
In her heart of hearts she did not doubt Kara's complicity in this medieval attempt to gain a wife, but of this adventure she had told her husband nothing. Until her marriage she was constantly receiving valuable presents which she as constantly returned to the only address she knew - Kara's estate at Lemazo. A few months after her marriage she had learned through the newspapers that this "leader of Greek society" had purchased a big house near Cadogan Square, and then, to her amazement and to her dismay, Kara had scraped an acquaintance with her husband even before the honeymoon was over.
His visits had been happily few, but the growing intimacy between John and this strange undisciplined man had been a source of constant distress to her.
Should she, at this, the eleventh hour, tell her husband all her fears and her suspicions?
She debated the point for some time. And never was she nearer taking him into her complete confidence than she was as he sat in the big armchair by the side of the piano, a little drawn of face, more than a little absorbed in his own meditations. Had he been less worried she might have spoken. As it was, she turned the conversation to his last work, the big mystery story which, if it would not make his fortune, would mean a considerable increase to his income.
At a quarter to eleven he looked at his watch, and rose. She
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