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- The Clue of the Twisted Candle - 40/41 -
"I flung him back on the bed and half knelt, half laid on him.
"'Kara,' I said, 'you are going to die, a more merciful death than my wife died.'
"He tried to speak. His soft hands gesticulated wildly, but I was half lying on one arm and held the other.
"I whispered in his ear:
"'Nobody will know who killed you, Kara, think of that! I shall go scot free - and you will be the centre of a fine mystery! All your letters will be read, all your life will be examined and the world will know you for what you are!'
"I released his arm for just as long as it took to draw my knife and strike. I think he died instantly," John Lexman said simply.
"I left him where he was and went to the door. I had not much time to spare. I took the candles from my pocket. They were already ductile from the heat of my body.
"I lifted up the steel latch of the door and propped up the latch with the smaller of the two candles, one end of which was on the middle socket and the other beneath the latch. The heat of the room I knew would still further soften the candle and let the latch down in a short time.
"I was prepared for the telephone by his bedside though I did not know to whither it led. The presence of the paper-knife decided me. I balanced it across the silver cigarette box so that one end came under the telephone receiver; under the other end I put the second candle which I had to cut to fit. On top of the paper-knife at the candle end I balanced the only two books I could find in the room, and fortunately they were heavy.
"I had no means of knowing how long it would take to melt the candle to a state of flexion which would allow the full weight of the books to bear upon the candle end of the paper-knife and fling off the receiver. I was hoping that Fisher had taken my warning and had gone. When I opened the door softly, I heard his footsteps in the hall below. There was nothing to do but to finish the play.
"I turned and addressed an imaginary conversation to Kara. It was horrible, but there was something about it which aroused in me a curious sense of humour and I wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh!
"I heard the man coming up the stairs and closed the door gingerly. What length of time would it take for the candle to bend!
"To completely establish the alibi I determined to hold Fisher in conversation and this was all the easier since apparently he had not seen the envelope I had left on the table downstairs. I had not long to wait for suddenly with a crash I heard the steel latch fall in its place. Under the effect of the heat the candle had bent sooner than I had expected. I asked Fisher what was the meaning of the sound and he explained. I passed down the stairs talking all the time. I found a cab at Sloane Square and drove to my lodgings. Underneath my overcoat I was partly dressed in evening kit.
"Ten minutes after I entered the door of my flat I came out a beardless man about town, not to be distinguished from the thousand others who would be found that night walking the promenade of any of the great music-halls. From Victoria Street I drove straight to Scotland Yard. It was no more than a coincidence that whilst I should have been speaking with you all, the second candle should have bent and the alarm be given in the very office in which I was sitting.
"I assure you all in all earnestness that I did not suspect the cause of that ringing until Mr. Mansus spoke.
"There, gentlemen, is my story!" He threw out his arms.
"You may do with me as you will. Kara was a murderer, dyed a hundred times in innocent blood. I have done all that I set myself to do - that and no more - that and no less. I had thought to go away to America, but the nearer the day of my departure approached, the more vivid became the memory of the plans which she and I had formed, my girl . . . my poor martyred girl!"
He sat at the little table, his hands clasped before him, his face lined and white.
"And that is the end!" he said suddenly, with a wry smile.
"Not quite!" T. X. swung round with a gasp. It was Belinda Mary who spoke.
"I can carry it on," she said.
She was wonderfully self-possessed, thought T. X., but then T. X. never thought anything of her but that she was "wonderfully" something or the other.
"Most of your story is true, Mr. Lexman," said this astonishing girl, oblivious of the amazed eyes that were staring at her, "but Kara deceived you in one respect."
"What do you mean?" asked John Lexman, rising unsteadily to his feet.
For answer she rose and walked back to the door with the chintz curtains and flung it open: There was a wait which seemed an eternity, and then through the doorway came a girl, slim and grave and beautiful.
"My God!" whispered T. X. "Grace Lexman!"
They went out and left them alone, two people who found in this moment a heaven which is not beyond the reach of humanity, but which is seldom attained to. Belinda Mary had an eager audience all to her very self.
"Of course she didn't die," she said scornfully. "Kara was playing on his fears all the time. He never even harmed her - in the way Mr. Lexman feared. He told Mrs. Lexman that her husband was dead just as he told John Lexman his wife was gone. What happened was that he brought her back to England - "
"Who?" asked T. X., incredulously.
"Grace Lexman," said the girl, with a smile. "You wouldn't think it possible, but when you realize that he had a yacht of his own and that he could travel up from whatever landing place he chose to his house in Cadogan Square by motorcar and that he could take her straight away into his cellar without disturbing his household, you'll understand that the only difficulty he had was in landing her. It was in the lower cellar that I found her."
"You found her in the cellar?" demanded the Chief Commissioner.
The girl nodded.
"I found her and the dog - you heard how Kara terrified her - and I killed the dog with my own hands," she said a little proudly, and then shivered. "It was very beastly," she admitted.
"And she's been living with you all this time and you've said nothing!" asked T. X., incredulously. Belinda Mary nodded.
"And that is why you didn't want me to know where you were living?" She nodded again.
"You see she was very ill," she said, "and I had to nurse her up, and of course I knew that it was Lexman who had killed Kara and I couldn't tell you about Grace Lexman without betraying him. So when Mr. Lexman decided to tell his story, I thought I'd better supply the grand de denouement."
The men looked at one another.
"What are you going to do about Lexman?" asked the Chief Commissioner, "and, by the way, T. X., how does all this fit your theories!"
"Fairly well," replied T. X. coolly; "obviously the man who committed the murder was the man introduced into the room as Gathercole and as obviously it was not Gathercole, although to all appearance, he had lost his left arm."
"Why obvious?" asked the Chief Commissioner.
"Because," answered T. X. Meredith, "the real Gathercole had lost his right arm - that was the one error Lexman made."
"H'm," the Chief pulled at his moustache and looked enquiringly round the room, "we have to make up our minds very quickly about Lexman," he said. "What do you think, Carlneau?"
The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
"For my part I should not only importune your Home Secretary to pardon him, but I should recommend him for a pension," he said flippantly.
"What do you think, Savorsky?"
The Russian smiled a little.
"It is a very impressive story," he said dispassionately; "it occurs to me that if you intend bringing your M. Lexman to judgment you are likely to expose some very pretty scandals. Incidentally," he said, stroking his trim little moustache, "I might remark that any exposure which drew attention to the lawless conditions of Albania would not be regarded by my government with favour."
The Chief Commissioner's eyes twinkled and he nodded.
"That is also my view," said the Chief of the Italian bureau;
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