” ‘Is this Mr. Melas, Harold?’ said he.
” ‘Well done, well done! No ill-will, Mr. Melas, I hope, but we could not get on without you. If you deal fair with us you’ll not regret it, but if you try any tricks, God help you!’ He spoke in a nervous, jerky fashion, and with little giggling laughs in between, but somehow he impressed me with fear more than the other.
” ‘What do you want with me?’ I asked.
” ‘Only to ask a few questions of a Greek gentleman who is visiting us, and to let us have the answers. But say no more than you are told to say, or –‘ here came the nervous giggle again -‘you had better never have been born.’
“As he spoke he opened a door and showed the way into a room which appeared to be very richly furnished, but again the only light was afforded by a single lamp half-turned down. The chamber was certainly large, and the way in which my feet sank into the carpet as I stepped across it told me of its richness. I caught glimpses of velvet chairs, a high white marble mantelpiece, and what seemed to be a suit of Japanese armour at one side of it. There was a chair just under the lamp, and the elderly man motioned that I should sit in it. The younger had left us, but he suddenly returned through another door, leading with him a gentleman clad in some sort of loose dressing-gown who moved slowly towards us. As he came into the circle of dim light which enabled me to see him more clearly I was thrilled with horror at his appearance. He was deadly pale and terribly emaciated, with the protruding, brilliant eyes of a man whose spirit was greater than his strength. But what shocked me more than any signs of physical weakness was that his face was grotesquely criss-crossed with sticking-plaster, and that one large pad of it was fastened over his mouth.
” ‘Have you the slate, Harold?’ cried the older man, as this strange being fell rather than sat down into a chair. ‘Are his hands loose? Now, then, give him the pencil. You are to ask the questions, Mr. Melas, and he will write the answers. Ask him first of all whether he is prepared to sign the papers?”
“The man’s eyes flashed fire.
” ‘Never!’ he wrote in Greek upon the slate.
” ‘On no conditions?’ I asked at the bidding of our tyrant.
” ‘Only if I see her married in my presence by a Greek priest whom I know.’
“The man giggled in his venomous way.
” ‘You know what awaits you, then?’
” ‘I care nothing for myself.’
“These are samples of the questions and answers which made up our strange half-spoken, half-written conversation. Again and again I had to ask him whether he would give in and sign the documents. Again and again I had the same indignant reply. But soon a happy thought came to me. I took to adding on little sentences of my own to each question, innocent ones at first, to test whether either of our companions knew anything of the matter, and then, as I found that they showed no sign I played a more dangerous game. Our conversation ran something like this:
” ‘You can do no good by this obstinacy. Who are you?’
” ‘I care not. I am a stranger in London.’
” ‘Your fate will be on your own head. How long have you been here?’
” ‘Let it be so. Three weeks.’
” ‘The property can never be yours. What ails you?’
” ‘It shall not go to villains. They are starving me.’
” ‘You shall go free if you sign. What house is this?’
” ‘I will never sign. I do not know.’
” ‘You are not doing her any service. What is your name?’
” ‘Let me hear her say so. Kratides.’
” ‘You shall see her if you sign. Where are you from?’
” ‘Then I shall never see her. Athens.’
“Another five minutes, Mr. Holmes, and I should have wormed out the whole story under their very noses. My very next question might have cleared the matter up, but at that instant the door opened and a woman stepped into the room. I could not see her clearly enough to know more than that she was tall and graceful, with black hair, and clad in some sort of loose white gown.
” ‘Harold,’ said she, speaking English with a broken accent. ‘I could not stay away longer. It is so lonely up there with only — Oh, my God, it is Paul!’
“These last words were in Greek, and at the same instant the man with a convulsive effort tore the plaster from his lips, and screaming out ‘Sophy! Sophy!’ rushed into the woman’s arms. Their embrace was but for an instant, however, for the younger man seized the woman and pushed her out of the room, while the elder easily overpowered his emaciated victim and dragged him away through the other door. For a moment I was left alone in the room, and I sprang to my feet with some vague idea that I might in some way get a clue to what this house was in which I found myself. Fortunately, however, I took no steps, for looking up I saw that the older man was standing in the doorway, with his eyes fixed upon me.
” ‘That will do, Mr. Melas,’ said he. ‘You perceive that we have taken you into our confidence over some very private business. We should not have troubled you, only that our friend who speaks Greek and who began these negotiations has been forced to return to the East. It was quite necessary for us to find someone to take his place, and we were fortunate in hearing of your powers.’
” ‘There are five sovereigns here,’ said he, walking up to me, ‘which will, I hope, be a sufficient fee. But remember,’ he added, tapping me lightly on the chest and giggling, ‘if you speak to a human soul about this — one human soul, mind — well, may God have mercy upon your soul!’