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The Stretton Street Affair
by William Le Queux
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So Moroni had visited her there—in Longridge Road!

I tried to ascertain if Gaston Suzor had been there also, but my informant had no knowledge of him. She had never seen him walking with Gabrielle Tennison, as she had so often seen the Italian.

I remained for nearly half an hour chatting, retiring, of course, when she was compelled to serve customers, and then I left her and walked round to the house in Longridge Road, where I watched a little while, and then returned to the Carlton.



CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH

THE ABSOLUTE FACTS

"Monsieur Suzor has not yet returned," was the reply of the smart reception-clerk when I inquired for the French banker. "But he is often away for two or three days."

I left the hotel, and taking a taxi to the Euston Road made a thorough examination of the high shabby house with its smoke-grimed lace curtains, a place which bore over the fan-light the words "Private Hotel." In the broad light of day it looked a most dull, uninviting place; more so even than its neighbours. There are many such hotels in the vicinity of Euston Station, and this seemed the most wretched of them all, for the windows had not been cleaned for many months, while the steps badly wanted scrubbing.

After I had thoroughly examined the place in front, I went round to the back, where I discovered, to my surprise, that the house had an exit at the rear through a mews into a drab, dull street which ran parallel. Then, for the first time, the thought occurred to me that on the previous day the Frenchman might have entered by the front door and passed out by the back into the next street!

I waited an hour idling about, and then I went boldly to the door, and knocked.

A black-haired, slatternly woman in a torn and soiled apron opened the door slightly.

"We're full up," she snapped before I could speak. "We haven't any room to let."

"I don't require a room," I replied politely. "I've called to see the French gentleman you have staying here—Monsieur Suzor."

I thought she started at mention of the name, for she still held the door ajar as though to prevent me from peering inside.

"We've got no French gent a-staying 'ere," she replied. "You've made a mistake."

"But I saw him enter here last night."

"You must 'ave been mistaken," the woman said. "'E might 'ave gone next door. They 'ave a lot of visitors."

"But you are full up—eh?"

"Yes—with our reg'lar residents," she answered promptly. But from her nervousness of manner I knew she was not telling the truth. I was positive that Suzor had entered there, but she denied all knowledge of him. Why?

Without a doubt, while I had waited for him to emerge, he had passed out by the back way. If so, was it possible that he had seen and recognized me, and wished to escape unseen?

The house was certainly one of mystery. The woman was palpably perturbed by my inquiry, and she seemed relieved when I turned away with feigned disappointment.

"Try next door," she suggested, and disappeared.

As I walked along Euston Road in the direction of Tottenham Court Road, I fell to wondering whether that frowsy house was one of those which exist in various quarters of London where thieves and persons hiding from the police can find sanctuary, and whether Suzor, knowing that I had seen him, had escaped me by passing through to the back and thus getting away!

I longed to know the character of the serious conversation he had had with Gabrielle Tennison. That indeed was my object to discover, hence that afternoon I still pursued my bold tactics and at about three o'clock I rang the bell in Longridge Road.

That act, the true consequences of which I never dreamed, eventually brought upon me a strange and sensational series of complications and adventures so remarkable that I sometimes think that it is only by a miracle I am alive to set down the facts in black and white.

The old woman-servant, Mrs. Alford, opened the door, whereupon I said:

"I trust you will excuse me, but as a matter of fact I am desirous of a few minutes' private conversation with you."

She looked askance at me, and naturally. I was a perfect stranger, and servants do not care to admit strangers to the house when their mistress is absent.

"I know that this is Mrs. Tennison's house," I went on, "and also that you are left in charge of Miss Gabrielle. It is about her that I wish to consult you. I think I may be able to tell you something of interest," and I handed her my card.

Mrs. Alford read the name, but at first she seemed rather disinclined to admit me. Indeed, not until I had further whetted her curiosity by again telling her that I could give her some interesting information, did she show me upstairs to the cosy maisonnette on the first floor. It was a large house which had been divided into two residences, one the basement and ground floor, and the other the first and second floors. It was in the latter that Mrs. Tennison lived.

She ushered me into a pretty drawing-room, small, but very tastefully furnished. In the adjoining room someone was playing a piano; no doubt it was Gabrielle.

"Well, Mrs. Alford," I began. "I have ventured to call here because I have learned of Miss Gabrielle's unfortunate mental condition, and perhaps I may have a key to it."

"What—do you know something, sir?" asked the stout buxom woman, for the first time impressed by my seriousness. "Do you know anything of what happened?"

"Perhaps," was my non-committal reply. "But first, I wish you to respect my confidence. I know you'll do that in the interests of the poor young lady."

"I'll do anything in her interests, sir," she replied, and invited me to take a seat, she herself remained standing, as a servant should.

"Well, then, say nothing to your mistress, or to anyone else regarding my visit. First, I want you to answer one or two questions so as to either confirm or negative certain suspicions which I hold."

"Suspicions of what?" she asked.

"I will reveal those in due course," I replied. "Now, tell me what happened to Miss Gabrielle that she should be in her present mental state?"

"Nobody can tell, sir. She went out one evening in November to go to her dancing lesson, and was not seen again until six days later, when she was found on the Portsmouth Road half-way between Liphook and Petersfield. She had evidently walked a considerable distance and was on her way towards London, when she collapsed at the roadside. A carter discovered her, gave warning to the police at Petersfield, and she was taken to the hospital, where it was found that her memory had entirely gone. She could not recognize her mother or anyone else."

"On what date did she disappear?" I asked breathlessly.

"On November the seventh."

I held my breath. It was on the day of my startling adventure.

"Would you describe to me the exact circumstances?" I asked eagerly. "I may be able to throw a very interesting light upon the affair."

The woman hesitated. Perhaps it was but natural.

"Well," she said at last. "My mistress is away. I think you ought to see her, sir."

"Why, Mrs. Alford? You are the trusted servant of the family, and surely you know the whole facts?"

"I do," she answered in a low, tense voice. "They are most remarkable."

"Then tell me all you know, and in return I will try to explain some matters which are no doubt to you and to Mrs. Tennison a mystery."

"Well, after tea on the day in question, the seventh of November, Miss Gabrielle went out to go to Addison Road to Mrs. Gill's dancing class. She was in the best of health and in high spirits because she had that morning received an invitation to go and stay with her cousin Leonora at Newmarket on the following Wednesday. As far as we know she had not a single trouble in the world."

"She had no admirers—eh?"

"Yes, several. But she had no serious flirtations, as far as we can make out," replied Mrs. Alford. "Her mother had gone to pay a visit, and when Miss Gabrielle went out she told me that she would be home at nine o'clock. Though we waited till midnight she did not return. We remained up all night, and next morning when I went to Mrs. Gill, in Addison Road, I found that she had left there at half-past six to return home. We then went to Kensington Police Station, and gave her description to the police."

"What was their theory?" I asked.

"They thought she had left home of her own accord—that she had a lover in secret. At least, the inspector hinted at that suggestion."

"Of course her mother was frantic," I remarked. "But had you no suspicion of any person posing as her friend?"

"None. It was not till six days later—about one o'clock in the day, when a constable called and told Mrs. Tennison that a young lady answering the description of her daughter had been found at the roadside, and had been taken to the cottage hospital at Petersfield. We both took the next train from Waterloo, and on arrival at the hospital found the poor girl lying in bed. But so strange was her manner that she was unable to recognize either of us. All she could say were the words 'Red, green and gold!' and she shuddered in horror as though the colours terrified her. These words she constantly repeated—'red, green and gold!'—'red, green and gold!'"

"What was the doctor's opinion?"

"He was as much puzzled as we were, sir. Apparently my poor young mistress was found early in the morning lying in the hedge on the main Portsmouth Road. Her clothes were wet, for it had rained during the night. Her boots were very muddy, and her clothes in an awful state. She seemed as if she had wandered about for hours. But all she could say to us were the words: 'Red, green and gold.'"

"Did not she recognize her mother?" I inquired.

"No, sir. She hasn't recognized her—even now!"

"Doctors have seen her, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, half a dozen of them—including Doctor Moroni, the great Italian doctor. He took her to Florence for treatment, but it did her no good—none in the least."

"How did you know Moroni?" I asked quickly.

"I think he became interested in her through one of the doctors to whom Mrs. Tennison took her."

"Mrs. Tennison did not know Moroni before this affair?" I inquired.

"No, sir. Not to my knowledge. He's a very nice gentleman, and has been awfully kind to Miss Gabrielle," replied Mrs. Alford. "Like all the other doctors he thinks that she has sustained some very severe shock—but of what nature nobody can tell."

"What other doctor has seen her?" I asked.

"Oh!—well, Sir Charles Wendover, in Cavendish Square, has taken a great interest in her. He has seen her several times, but seems unable to restore her to her normal state of mind."

Sir Charles was one of our greatest mental specialists, I knew, and if he had been unable to do anything, then her case must be hopeless.

"But Doctor Moroni took her away to Italy," I said. "For what reason?"

"He took her to Professor Casuto, of Florence—I think that's the name—but he could do nothing, so she was brought back again."

"Now tell me frankly, Mrs. Alford," I said, looking the stout, well-preserved woman full in the face. "Have you ever heard the name of De Gex—a rich gentleman who lives in Stretton Street, just off Park Lane?"

"De Gex!" she repeated, her countenance assuming a blank expression. "Yes, I've heard of him. I've read of him in the papers. He's a millionaire, they say."

"You have never heard of him in connexion with Miss Tennison? Is she acquainted with him?"

"Not to my knowledge. Why do you ask?"

"I have a distinct reason for asking," was my reply. "Remember that I am seeking to solve the enigma of your young mistress's present extraordinary state of mind. Any information you can give me will assist me towards that end."

As I spoke I heard a sweet contralto voice in the adjoining room break out into a song from one of the popular revues. It was Gabrielle's voice, I knew.

"All the information I possess, sir, is at your disposal," the woman assured me. "I only wish Mrs. Tennison was here to answer your questions."

"But you know as much as she does," I said. "Now tell me—what is your theory? What happened to your young mistress during the time she disappeared?"

Mrs. Alford lifted her hands in dismay.

"What can we think? She went away quite bright and happy. When she was found wandering on the road between London and Portsmouth her memory was a blank. She was haggard, worn, and much aged—aged in those few days of her absence. She could remember nothing, and all she could repeat were those strange words 'Red, green and gold.'"

"I wonder why those colours were so impressed upon her memory?" I remarked.

"Ah! That is what puzzles the doctors so. Each evening, just as it grows dark, she sits down and is silent for half an hour, with eyes downcast as though thinking deeply. Then she will suddenly start up and cry, 'Ah! I see—I see—yes—that terrible red, green and gold! Oh! it's horrible—bewildering—fascinating—red, green and gold!' The three colours seem to obsess her always at nightfall. That is what Doctor Moroni told me."

I paused for a few moments.

"You've never heard her speak of Mr. De Gex? You're quite sure?"

"Quite," was Mrs. Alford's reply. "My young mistress was studying singing at the Royal Academy of Music. Hark! You hear her now! Has she not a beautiful voice? Ah, sir—it is all a great tragedy! It has broken her mother's heart. Only to think that to-day the poor girl is without memory, and her brain is entirely unbalanced. 'Red, green and gold' is all that seems to matter to her. And whenever she recollects it and the words escape her drawn lips she seems petrified by horror."

What the woman told me was, I realized, the actual truth. And yet when I recollected that I had seen the dark-eyed victim lying dead in that spacious room in the house of Mr. De Gex in Stretton Street, I became utterly bewildered. I had seen her dead there. I had held a mirror to her half-open lips and it had not become clouded. Yet in my ears there now sounded the sweet tuneful strains of that bird-song from "Joy Bells."

Truly, the unfortunate girl possessed a glorious voice, which would make a fortune upon the concert platform or the stage.

I did my level best to obtain more information concerning the Italian doctor and the man De Gex, but the woman could tell me absolutely nothing. She was concealing nothing from me—that I knew.

It was only when I mentioned the French banker, Monsieur Suzor, that she started and became visibly perturbed.

"I have no knowledge of the gentleman," she declared. Yet had I not seen them together in Kensington Gardens?

"I don't know whether he is known to you as Suzor," I said. Then I described him as accurately as I could.

But the woman shook her head. For the first time she now lied to me. With my own eyes I had seen the man approach her and the girl, and after they had greeted each other, she had risen and left the girl alone with him.

Curiously enough when the pair were alone together they seemed to understand each other. I recollected it all most vividly.

To say the least it was strange why, being so frank upon other details, she so strenuously denied all knowledge of the affable Frenchman who had been my fellow-traveller from York almost immediately preceding my strange adventures in the heart of London.

My conversation with her had been, to say the least, highly illuminating, and I had learnt several facts of which I had been in ignorance. But this fixed assertion that she knew nothing of the elusive Frenchman aroused my suspicions.

What was she hiding from me?

I felt that she was concealing some very essential point—one that might well prove the clue to the whole puzzling enigma.

And while we spoke the girl's clear contralto rang out, while she herself played the accompaniment.

At length I saw that I could obtain no further information from the servant, therefore I begged to be introduced to her young mistress, assuring her of my keen interest in the most puzzling problem.

Apparently relieved that I pressed her no further regarding the handsome but insidious Frenchman, the woman at once ushered me into the adjoining room—a small but well-furnished one—where at the grand piano sat the girl whose eyes were fixed, though not sightless as I had believed when in Florence.

She turned them suddenly upon my companion, and stopped playing.

"Ah! dear Alford!" she exclaimed, "I wondered if you were at home." Then she paused. She apparently had no knowledge of my presence, for she had not turned to me, though I stood straight in her line of gaze. "I thought you had gone out to see Monsieur—to tell him my message." She again paused, and drew her breath.

I stood gazing upon her beautiful face, dark, tragic and full of mystery. She sat at the piano, her white fingers inert upon the keys.

She wore a simple navy blue frock, cut low in the neck with a touch of cream upon it, and edged with scarlet piping—a dress which at that moment was the mode.

Yet her pale, blank countenance was indeed pathetic, a face upon which tragedy was written. I stood for a moment gazing upon her, perplexed, bewildered and breathless in mystery.

I spoke. She rose from her seat, and turned to me.

Her reply, low and tense, staggered me!



CHAPTER THE TWELFTH

"RED, GREEN AND GOLD!"

"I know you!" she cried, staring at me as though transformed by terror. "They told me you would come! You are my enemy—you are here to kill me!"

"To kill you, Miss Tennison!" I gasped. "No, I am certainly not your enemy. I am your friend!"

She looked very hard at me, and I noticed that her lips twitched slightly.

"You—you are Mr. Garfield—Hugh Garfield?" she asked, her hands quivering nervously.

"Yes. That is my name," I replied. "How do you know it?"

"They—they told me. They told me in Florence. The doctor pointed you out. He told me that you were my worst enemy—that you intend to kill me!"

"Doctor Moroni told you that?" I inquired kindly.

"Yes. One day you were in the Via Tornabuoni and he made me take note of you. It was then that he told me you were a man of evil intentions, and warned me to be wary of you."

I paused. Here was yet another sinister action on the part of Moroni! Besides, I was unaware that he had realized I had watched him!

"Ah! yes, I see," I replied, in an attempt to humour her, for she was very sweet and full of grace and beauty. "The doctor tried to set you against me. And yet, strangely enough, I am your friend. Why should he seek to do this?"

"How can I tell?" replied the girl in a strange blank voice. "But he evidently hates you. He told me that you were also his enemy, as well as mine. He said that it was his intention to take steps to prevent you from seeking mischief against both of us."

This struck me as distinctly curious. Though the poor girl's mind was unbalanced it was evident that she could recollect some things, while her memory did not serve her in others. Of course it was quite feasible that Moroni, on discovering that I was on the alert, would warn her against me.

Suddenly, hoping to further stir the chords of her memory, I asked:

"Have you seen Mr. De Gex lately?"

"Who?" she inquired blankly.

"Mr. Oswald De Gex—who lives in Stretton Street."

She shook her head blankly.

"I'm afraid I—I don't know him," she replied. "Who is he?"

"Surely you know Stretton Street?" I asked.

"No—where is it?" she inquired in that strange inert manner which characterized her mentality.

I did not pursue the question further, for it was evident that she now had no knowledge of the man in whose house I had seen her lying—apparently dead. And if she were not dead whose body was it that had been cremated? That was one of the main points of the problem which, try how I would, I failed to grasp.

Would the enigma ever be solved?

As she stood in her mother's cosy little drawing-room Gabrielle Tennison presented a strangely tragic figure. In the grey London light she was very beautiful it was true, but upon her pale countenance was that terribly vacant look which was the index of her overwrought brain. Her memory had been swept away by some unknown horror—so the doctors had declared. And yet she seemed to remember distinctly what Doctor Moroni had alleged against me in Florence!

Therefore I questioned her further concerning the Italian, and found that she recollected quite a lot about him.

"He has been very kind to you—has he not?" I asked.

"Yes. He is an exceedingly kind friend. He took me to see several doctors in Florence and Rome. All of them said I had lost my memory," and she smiled sweetly.

"And haven't you lost your memory?"

"A little—perhaps—but not much."

Here Mrs. Alford interrupted.

"But you don't recollect what happened to you when you were away, until you were found wandering near Petersfield. Tell us, dear."

"No—no, not exactly," the girl answered. "All I recollect is that it was all red, green and gold—oh! such bright dazzling colours—red, green and gold! At first they were glorious—until—until sight of them blinded me—they seemed to burn into my brain—eh!" And she drew back and placed her right arm across her eyes as though to shut out from her gaze something that appalled her. "There they are!" she shrieked. "I see them again—always the same, day and night—red, green and gold!—red, green and gold!"

I exchanged glances with the woman Alford. It was apparent that the shock the girl had sustained had been somehow connected with the colours red, green and gold.

I tried to obtain from her some faint idea of the nature of what she had witnessed, but she was quite unable to explain. That she had fallen victim to some deep-laid plot was evident.

She remembered much of her visit to Florence, I found, for when I recalled the great Duomo, where I had first seen her with Moroni, she became quite talkative and told me how much she admired the magnificent monuments—the Battistero, the Bigallo, Giotto's campanile and the magnificent pictures in the Pitti and Uffizi.

Moroni had apparently also taken her to Rome, presumably to consult another Italian professor, for she spoke vaguely of the Corso and St. Peter's and described the Forum in such a manner that she must have visited it.

While I sat chatting with her it struck me that in the blank state of her mind certain things stood out very prominently—a mental state well known to alienists—while others were entirely blotted out.

I referred to the millionaire who lived in Stretton Street, but again she declared, and with truth, that she had no recollection of him.

"Perhaps, Miss Tennison, you knew him under some other name," I said, and then proceeded to describe minutely the handsome, rather foreign-looking man who had bribed me to give that certificate of death.

"Have you an uncle?" I asked presently, recollecting that the man at Stretton Street had declared the victim to be his niece.

"I have an uncle—my mother's brother—he lives in Liverpool."

Again I fell to wondering whether the beautiful girl before me was actually the same person whose death I had certified to be due to heart disease, and who, according to the official records, had been cremated. She was very like—and yet? Well, the whole affair was a problem which each hour became more inscrutable.

Still the fact remained that Gabrielle Tennison had disappeared suddenly on November the seventh, the night I had met with my amazing adventure.

In reply to my further questions, as she sat staring blankly into my face with those great dark eyes of hers, I at last gathered that Doctor Moroni, hearing of her case from a specialist in Harley Street, to whom she had been taken by the police-surgeon, had called upon her mother, and had had a long interview with her. Afterwards he had called daily, and later Mrs. Tennison had allowed him to take her daughter to Florence to consult another specialist at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.

"I think you know a Mrs. Cullerton," I remarked at last.

The effect of my words upon her was almost electrical.

"Dolly Cullerton!" she shrieked. "Ah! Don't mention that woman's name! Please do not mention her!"

"I believed that she was a friend of yours," I said, much surprised.

"Friend? No, enemy—a bitter enemy!"

"Then you have quarrelled? She was once your friend—eh? Over what have you quarrelled?"

"That is my own affair!" she snapped in apparent annoyance. "If you know her, don't trust her. I warn you!" Then she added: "She is a wicked woman."

"And her husband, Jack?"

"Ah! he's an excellent fellow—far too good for her!"

"Why do you entertain such antipathy toward her?" I asked. "Do tell me, because it will make my inquiries so very much easier."

"Inquiries? What inquiries are you making?"

I was silent for a moment, then looking straight into her eyes, I replied very seriously:

"I am making inquiries, Miss Tennison, into what happened to you during those days when you disappeared. I am seeking to bring punishment upon those who are responsible for your present condition."

She shook her head mournfully, and a faint smile played about her lips. But she did not reply.

"Tell me more about Mrs. Cullerton," I went on. "She was in Florence when you were there."

"In Florence!" exclaimed the girl, as though amazed. "What could she be doing there?"

"She was living in a furnished villa with her husband. And she went on several visits to Mr. De Gex who lives up at Fiesole. Are you quite sure you do not know him?" I asked. "He lives at the Villa Clementini. Have you ever been there? Does the Villa Clementini recall anything to you?"

She was thoughtful for a few moments, and then said:

"I seem to have heard of the villa, but in what connexion I do not recollect."

"You are certain you do not know the owner of the villa?" I asked again, and described him once more very minutely.

But alas! her mind seemed a perfect blank.

For what reason had Moroni come to London and taken her with him to Florence? But for the matter of that, what could be the motive of the whole puzzling affair—and further, whose was the body that had been cremated?

The points I had established all combined to form an enigma which now seemed utterly beyond solution.

The pale tragic figure before me held me incensed against those whose victim she had been, for it seemed that for some distinct reason her mental balance had been wantonly destroyed.

Again and again, as she sat with her hands lying idly in her lap, she stared at the carpet and repeated to herself in a horrified voice those strange words: "Red, green and gold!—red, green and gold!"

"Cannot you recollect about those colours?" I asked her kindly. "Try and think about them. Where did you see them?"

She drew a long breath, and turning her tired eyes upon mine, she replied wearily:

"I—I can't remember. I really can't remember anything!"

Sometimes her eyes were fixed straight before her just as I had seen her in the Via Calzajoli in Florence—when I had believed her to be blind. At such times her gaze was vacant, and she seemed to be entirely oblivious to all about her. At others she seemed quite normal, save that she could not recall what had occurred in those days when she was lost to her friends—days when I, too, had been missing and had returned to my senses with my own memory either distorted or blotted out.

Could it be that the same drug, or other diabolical method, had been used upon us both, and that I, the stronger of the two, had recovered, while she still remained in that half demented state?

It certainly seemed so. Hence the more I reflected the more intense became my resolve to fathom the mystery and bring those responsible to justice.

Further, she had been terrified by being told that I intended to come there to kill her! Moroni had purposely told her that, evidently in anticipation that we might meet! He had pointed me out in Florence and warned her that I was her bitterest enemy. Was it therefore any wonder that she would not tell me more than absolutely obliged?

"Do you recollect ever meeting a French gentleman named Monsieur Suzor?" I asked her presently.

Instantly she exchanged glances with the woman Alford.

"No," was her slow reply, her eyes again downcast. "I have no knowledge of any such man."

It was upon the tip of my tongue to point out that they had met that mysterious Frenchman in Kensington Gardens, but I hesitated. They certainly were unaware that I had watched them.

Again, my French friend was a mystery. I did not lose sight of the fact that our first meeting had taken place on the day before my startling adventure in Stretton Street, and I began to wonder whether the man from Paris had not followed me up to York and purposely joined the train in which I had travelled back to London.

Why did both the woman Alford and Gabrielle Tennison deny all knowledge of the man whom they had met with such precautions of secrecy, and who, when afterwards he discovered that I was following him, had so cleverly evaded me? The man Suzor was evidently implicated in the plot, though I had never previously suspected it! Twice he had travelled with me, meeting me as though by accident, yet I now saw that he had been my companion with some set purpose in view.

What could it be?

It became quite plain that I could not hope to obtain anything further from either Gabrielle or the servant, therefore I assumed a polite and sympathetic attitude and told them that I hoped to call again on Mrs. Tennison's return. Afterwards I left, feeling that at least I had gained some knowledge, even though it served to bewilder me the more.

Later I called upon Sir Charles Wendover in Cavendish Square, whom I found to be a quiet elderly man of severe professional aspect and demeanour, a man whose photograph I had often seen in the newspapers, for he was one of the best-known of mental specialists.

When I explained that the object of my visit was to learn something of the case of my friend Miss Tennison, he asked me to sit down and then switched on a green-shaded reading-lamp and referred to a big book upon his writing table. His consulting room was dull and dark, with heavy Victorian furniture and a great bookcase filled with medical works. In the chair in which I sat persons of all classes had sat while he had examined and observed them, and afterwards given his opinion to their friends.

"Ah! yes," he exclaimed, when at last he found the notes he had made upon the case. "I saw the young lady on the twenty-eighth of November. A most peculiar case—most peculiar! Leicester and Franklyn both saw her, but they were just as much puzzled as myself."

And through his big round horn spectacles he continued reading to himself the several pages of notes.

"Yes," he remarked at last. "I now recall all the facts. A very curious case. The young lady disappeared from her friends, and was found some days later wandering near Petersfield, in Hampshire, in an exhausted condition. She could not account for her disappearance, or the state in which she was. Her memory had completely gone, and she has not, I believe, yet recovered it."

"No, she has not," I said. "But the reason I have ventured to call, Sir Charles, is to hear your opinion on the case."

"My opinion!" he echoed. "What opinion can I hold when the effect is so plain—loss of memory?"

"Ah! But how could such a state of mind be produced?" I asked.

"You ask me for the cause. That, my dear sir, I cannot say," was his answer. "There are several causes which would produce a similar effect. Probably it was some great shock. But of what nature we cannot possibly discover unless she herself recovers her normal memory so far as to be able to assist us. I see that I have noted how she constantly repeats the words 'red, green and gold.' That combination of colours has apparently impressed itself upon her mind to such an extent that it has become an obsession. Often she will utter no other words than those. She was seen by a number of eminent men, but nobody could suggest any cause other than shock."

"Is it possible that some drug could have been administered to her?"

"Everything is possible," Sir Charles answered. "But I know of no drug which would produce such effect. In brief, I confess that I have no idea what can have caused the sudden mental breakdown."

I felt impelled to relate to him the whole story of my own adventures, but I hesitated. As a matter of fact I feared that he might regard it, as he most probably would have done, as a mere chimera of my own imagination.

A girl I had seen dead—or believed I had seen dead—was now living! And she was Gabrielle Tennison.

Of that I had no doubt, for the dates of our adventures corresponded.

And yet a girl also named Gabrielle had died and her body had been cremated!

The whole affair seemed to be beyond human credence. And yet you, my reader, have in this record the exact, hard and undeniable facts.



CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH

SOME INTERESTING REVELATIONS

Next day I went to the office of Francis and Goldsmith, and after a consultation with both principals, during which I briefly outlined the curious circumstances such as I have here related, I was granted further leave of absence.

Yet I entertained a distinct feeling that old Mr. Francis somewhat doubted the truth of my statements. But was it surprising, so extraordinary had been my adventures?

"Perhaps you do not credit my statements, gentlemen," I said before leaving their room. "But one day I hope to solve the enigma, and you will then learn one of the most extraordinary stories that any man has lived to tell."

Afterwards I went round to the Carlton and inquired for Monsieur Suzor. To my surprise he was in.

Therefore I was ushered up to his private sitting-room, where he greeted me very warmly—so frankly welcome did he make me, indeed, that I wondered whether, after all, he had detected me following him, or whether he had entered and escaped from that house in the Euston Road with some entirely different motive.

"Ah, my dear friend!" he cried in his excellent English. "I wondered what had become of you. I called at Rivermead Mansions three days ago, but I could get no reply when I rang at your flat. The porter said that both you and your friend were out, and he had no idea when you would return. I go back to Paris to-morrow."

"Shall you fly across this time?" I asked.

"No. I go by train. I have a lot of luggage—some purchases I have made for my friend the Baroness de Henonville."

It was then about five o'clock, so he ordered some tea, and over cigarettes we chatted for nearly an hour.

The longer I conversed with him the more mysterious he appeared. Why had he crossed from Paris to London with me in order to meet clandestinely the poor girl who was the rich man's victim? That was one point which arose in my mind.

But the main question was the reason of his supposed chance meeting with me in the express between York and London.

During our chat I feared to refer to Gabrielle lest he should suspect that I knew of his subtle intrigue. I could see that he was congratulating himself upon his cleverness in misleading me, therefore I chuckled inwardly.

What I desired most at that moment was to establish the connexion between the elegant cosmopolitan Frenchman and Oswald De Gex with his wily accomplice Moroni. That the latter was a man of criminal instinct I had long ago established. He was a toady to a man of immense wealth—a clever medical man who, by reason of his callous unscrupulousness, was a dealer in Death in its most insidious and least-looked-for form. The hand of death is ever at the command of every medical man, hence mankind has to thank the medical profession—one of the hardest-worked and least recognized in the world—for its honesty, frankness and strict uprightness. In every profession we have black sheep—even, alas! in the Church. But happily unscrupulousness in those who practise medicine in Great Britain is practically an unknown quantity.

But in Europe it is different, for in the dossiers held by the police of Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin criminals who practise medicine are written largely, as witnessed by the evidence in more than one famous trial where the accused has been sentenced to death.

I longed to go to Scotland Yard and tell my story. Yet how could I do so when, in a drawer in my room, there reposed that bundle of Bank of England notes, the price paid to me for being the accomplice of a mysterious crime? I could only seek a solution of the enigma alone and unaided by the authorities. I seemed to be making a little headway, yet each fact I established added complications to the amazing affair.

Further, I must here confess to you that during the past day or two I had found myself actually in love with the beautiful girl whose mentality had been wilfully destroyed by some means which medical science failed to establish. From the first I had been filled with great admiration for her. She was indeed very beautiful, with wonderful eyes and a perfect complexion. There was grace in every movement, save when at times she held herself rigid, with fixed blank eyes as though fascinated, or gripped by some invisible power. More than once I had wondered whether she were under hypnotic influence, but that theory had been completely negatived by Sir Charles Wendover.

Be that as it may, I had now fallen desperately in love with the girl whom I was seeking to rescue from her enemies.

Why had the body of Gabrielle Engledue been cremated if not to destroy all evidence of a crime? Gabrielle Tennison still lived; therefore another woman must have lost her life by foul means—most probably by poison—in face of the pains that were taken by Moroni to efface all trace of the cause of death.

Over our tea the affable French banker told me of a rapid journey to Liverpool which he had taken a few days before, he having some pressing business with a man who was on the point of sailing for New York. The person in question had absconded from Paris owing the bank a large sum of money, and he had that day cabled to the New York police asking for his arrest on landing.

"I shall probably be compelled to go across to America and apply for him to be sent back to Paris," my friend said, "so I am going back for instructions."

As he spoke I pondered. Was it possible that he was unaware of the surveillance I had kept upon him during and after his secret interview with Gabrielle? If so, why had he entered that dingy house in the Euston Road and made his exit by the back way? I had established the fact that the house was well-known to thieves of a certain class who used it in order to escape being followed. Several such houses exist in London. One is near the Elephant and Castle, another in the Clapham Road, while there is one in Hammersmith Road, and still another just off Clarence Terrace at Regent's Park. Such houses serve as sanctuaries for those escaping from justice. The latter know them, and as they slip through they pay a toll, well-knowing that the keeper of the house will deny that they have ever been there.

The "in-and-out" houses of London and their keepers, always sly crooks, form a particular study in themselves. One pretends to be a garage, another a private hotel, a third a small greengrocer's, and a fourth a boot repairer's. All those trades are carried on as "blinds." The public believe them to be honest businesses, but there is far more business done in concealing those wanted by the police than in anything else.

From Suzor's demeanour I felt that he did not suspect me of having been witness of his entry into that frowsy house near Euston Station. But why had he gone there? He must have feared that he might be watched. And why? The only answer to that question was that he had met Gabrielle clandestinely and feared lest afterwards he might be followed.

But why should he fear if not implicated in the plot?

To me it now seemed plain that I had been marked down as a pawn in the game prior to that day when we travelled together from York to London. I had not altogether recovered from the effect of what had been administered to me. Often I felt a curious sensation of dizziness and of overwhelming depression, which I knew was the after effects of that loss of all sense of my surroundings when I had been taken to the hospital in St. Malo. I had been found at the roadside in France, just as Gabrielle had been found on the highway near Petersfield.

When I reflected my blood boiled.

The affable and highly cultured Frenchman presented a further enigma. He was crossing back to Paris next day. What if I, too, went back to Paris and watched his further movements? As I sat chatting and laughing with him, I decided upon this course.

When, shortly afterwards, I left, I went straight across Hammersmith Bridge and found that Harry Hambledon had just returned from his office.

We sat together at table, whereupon I told him one or two facts I had discovered, and urged him to cross to Paris with me next day.

"You see, you can watch—for you will be a perfect stranger to Suzor. I will bear the expense. I've still got a little money in the bank. We can see Suzor off from Charing Cross, then take a taxi to Croydon, fly over, and be in Paris hours before he arrives at the Gare du Nord. There you will wait for his arrival, follow him and see his destination."

Hambledon, who was already much interested in my strange adventures, quickly saw the point.

"I've got one or two rather urgent things on to-morrow," he replied. "But if you really wish me to go with you I can telephone to my friend Hardy and ask him to look after them for me. We shan't be away very long, I suppose?"

"A week at the most," I said. "I want to establish the true identity of this banker friend of mine. I have a distinct suspicion of him."

"And so have I," Hambledon said. "Depend upon it, some big conspiracy has been afoot, and they are now endeavouring to cover up all traces of their villainy. I was discussing it with Norah when we were walking in Richmond Park last night."

"I quite agree," I replied. "Then we'll fly across to Paris at lunch-time to-morrow, and keep watch upon this man who meets Miss Tennison in secret and then uses a thieves' sanctuary in order to escape."

"That story of the absconding customer of the bank is a fiction, I believe," Harry exclaimed.

"I'm certain it is," I said.

"Then why should he have told it to you if he did not suspect that you had been watching?" my friend queried.

I had not considered that point. It was certainly strange, to say the least, that he should thus have endeavoured to mislead me.

Next morning Hambledon was up early and went to Charing Cross, where he watched the banker's departure. Afterwards he returned, and with our suit-cases we travelled down to the London Terminal Aerodrome at Croydon, where, just before noon, we entered one of the large passenger aeroplanes which fly between London and Paris. Within half an hour of our arrival at the aerodrome we were already in the air sailing gaily southward towards Lympne, near Folkestone, where we had to report previous to crossing the Channel.

The morning was bright, and although cold the visibility was excellent. Below us spread a wide panorama of tiny square fields and small clusters of houses that were villages, and larger ones with straight roads running like ribbons through them, which were towns.

The dark patches dotting the ground beneath us were woods and coppices, while running straight beneath was a tiny train upon the railway between Folkestone and London. There were three other passengers beside ourselves, apparently French business men, who were all excitement, it evidently being their first flight.

Very soon we could see the sea, and presently we could also discern the French coast.

As we approached Lympne the observer telephoned by wireless back to Croydon telling them of our position, and in a few moments we were high over the Channel. At Marquise, on the other side, we again reported, and then following the railway line we sped towards Paris long before the express, by which the banker was travelling, had left Calais.

Indeed, shortly before three o'clock we had installed ourselves at the Hotel Terminus at the Gare St. Lazare, in Paris, and afterwards took a stroll along the boulevards, awaiting the time when the express from Calais was due at the Gare du Nord.

Shortly before half-past five Hambledon left me and took a taxi to the station for the purpose of watching Suzor's arrival and ascertaining his destination, which, of course, I feared to do, lest he should recognize me.

It was not until past nine o'clock that evening that my friend returned to the hotel. He described how Suzor on arrival at the Gare du Nord had been met by a young English lady, and the pair had driven straight to the Rotonde Restaurant at the corner of the Boulevard Haussmann, where they had dined together.

"I dined near them, and one could see plainly that their conversation was a very earnest one," declared my companion. "She seemed to be relating something, and apparently was most apprehensive, while he, on his part, seemed gravely perplexed. Though he ordered an expensive meal they scarcely touched it. They sat in a corner and spoke in English, but I could not catch a single word."

In response to my request he described Suzor's lady friend.

Then he added: "She wore only one ornament, a beautiful piece of apple-green jade suspended round her neck by a narrow black ribbon. When they rose and the waiter brought their coats, I heard him call her Dorothy."

"Dorothy Cullerton!" I gasped. "I recollect that piece of Chinese jade she wore in Florence! What is she doing here, meeting that man clandestinely?"

"The man slipped something into her hand beneath the table and she put it into her handbag," Hambledon said. "I have a suspicion that it was a small roll of French bank notes."

"Payment for some information, perhaps," I said. "I don't trust that young stockbroker's wife. Well?" I asked. "And what then?"

"On leaving the Rotonde they drove to the Rue de Rivoli, where the lady alighted and entered the Hotel Wagram, while he went along to the Hotel du Louvre," was his reply.

I was much puzzled at the secret meeting between the affable Frenchman and young Mrs. Cullerton, and next day by watching the entrance to the Hotel Wagram, which was an easy matter in the bustle of the Rue de Rivoli, I satisfied myself that my surmise was correct, for at eleven o'clock she came forth, entered a taxi, and drove away.

My next inquiry was at the head office of the Credit Lyonnais, in the Boulevard des Italiens, but, as I suspected, the name of my French fellow-traveller was unknown.

"We have no official of the name of Suzor," replied the polite assistant director whom I had asked to see. "The gentleman must be pretending to be associated with us, monsieur. It is not the first time we have heard of such a thing."

So it was apparent that Suzor was not a bank official after all!

In the meantime Hambledon was keeping watch at the Hotel du Louvre, and it was not until afternoon that he rejoined me to report what had occurred.

It seemed that Suzor had, just before noon, strolled to the Grand Cafe, where he had met a well-dressed man who was awaiting him. They took coffee together, and then entering a taxi drove out to the Bois, where at the Pre Catelan they were joined by a smartly dressed young woman who was, no doubt, an actress. The three sat talking for a quarter of an hour, after which the two men left her and returned to a small restaurant in the boulevard St. Martin, where they took their dejeuner. Afterwards Suzor had returned to his hotel.

At my suggestion my companion had become on friendly terms with the under concierge, who had promised to inform him if Monsieur Suzor should chance to be leaving.

It was well that he had arranged this, for when at six o'clock Hambledon again went to the hotel the man in uniform told him that Monsieur Suzor was leaving the Quai d'Orsay at eleven o'clock that night by the through express for Madrid.

I saw that for me to travel to Spain by the same train as the man who had posed as a banker would be to court exposure. Hence Hambledon volunteered to travel to the Spanish capital in all secrecy, while I promised to join him as soon as he sent me his address.

That journey was destined to be an adventurous one indeed, as I will duly explain to you, but its results proved more startling and astounding than we ever anticipated.



CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH

THE GATE OF THE SUN

The spring morning was grey and rather threatening as I left the Hotel de la Paix in Madrid and walked from the Puerta del Sol past the smart shops in the Carrera de San Jeronimo and across the broad handsome Plaza de Canovas, in order to meet Hambledon at a point which he had indicated in the Retiro Park.

Late on the previous night I had arrived in the Spanish capital, and while Hambledon was at the Palace Hotel in the Plaza de Canovas I had gone to the Paix in the Puerta del Sol. I had been in Madrid only once before in my life, and as I walked through the gay thoroughfares I recalled that proud saying of the Madrilenos: "De Madrid al cielo y en el cielo un ventanillo para ver a Madrid" (From Madrid to Heaven, and in Heaven a loophole to look at Madrid). The Spanish capital to-day is indeed a very fine city, full of life, of movement, and of post-war prosperity.

Crossing the Prado, where the trees were already in full leaf, I took that straight broad way which led past the Royal Academy, and again crossing the Calle de Alfonso XII came to the Alcahofa fountain, the Fountain of the Artichoke, near which I waited for the coming of my friend.

I stood there upon ground that was historic, and as I gazed around upon that sylvan scene, I wondered what would be the result of our long journey from Rivermead Mansions. That beautiful park which, in the seventeenth century, had been laid out with such taste by the Conde-Duque de Olivares, the favourite of Philip IV, had been the scene of innumerable festivals which swallowed millions of money, and gave rise to many biting "pasquinas" and "coplas." To-day it is the Hyde Park of Spanish Society. There all the latest Paris fashions are seen at the hour of the promenade, and everybody who is anybody in Spain must be seen walking or riding along its picturesque paths.

I had not long to wait for Hambledon, for after a few moments his familiar sturdy figure came into sight.

"Well, Hughie!" he exclaimed, as we sank upon a seat together. "There's some deep game being played here, I'm certain!"

"What game?" I asked quickly.

"Ah! I can't yet make it out," he replied. "But I'll tell you what's occurred. Suzor, on arrival, went to the Ritz, where he has a private suite, and after I had watched him safely there I took up my quarters at the Palace on the other side of the Square, and started to keep a watch upon our friend. I got the concierge at the Ritz to do something for me for which I paid him generously, so as to pave the way for information concerning Suzor, in case we may want it."

"Good," I said. "There's nothing like making friends with a concierge. He knows everything about the visitors to his hotel, and about their friends also."

"Well, on the first day Suzor did not go out at all. But on the second morning at about eleven o'clock, he came forth very smartly dressed, and strolling along the Calle de Alcala turned into the Gran Cafe where an elderly lady dressed in black was awaiting him. She was Spanish, without a doubt. He greeted her with studied courtesy and then sat down opposite her at the little table and ordered aperatifs. They conversed together in low, earnest tones. She seemed to be questioning him, while he gave rather hesitating replies. It seemed to me that he had come to Madrid in order to meet her. Therefore when after about half an hour they parted, I followed the lady. She took a cab and drove to the North Station, where she took a ticket for Segovia which I found was about sixty miles from here. I, of course, entered another compartment of the train and in about three hours we reached our destination. At the station she was met by a handsome young girl, who began to ply her with questions to which the elder woman replied in monosyllables as the pair ascended the pretty tree-lined boulevard that led into the picturesque town perched as it is upon a rock between two streams. Half-way up the Passeo, just prior to entering the ancient city so full of antiquities, the two ladies went in the gates of a large white house, evidently the residence of someone of importance. Unseen, I watched the door as it was opened by a man-servant who bowed to them as he admitted them. Afterwards I passed into that most venerable city of Castile where I found a hotel called the Europeo, where I ordered a meal. The waiter spoke broken English, and when I described the big white house in the Passeo Ezequiel Gonzalez and inquired who lived there he replied that it was the Condesa de Chamartin with her niece Senorita Carmen Florez. The Countess was the widow of an immensely wealthy Spaniard who had died leaving most of his money away from his wife. There were rumours afloat both in Segovia and in Madrid—where he had had a fine house—that the widow was now in quite poor circumstances. Yet the Conde de Chamartin had been one of the richest men in Spain. Then I came back and telegraphed to you in Paris."

"What has Suzor done since?"

"Practically nothing. He hardly ever goes out in the daytime, which shows me that he is no stranger in Madrid. Yet almost every evening after dinner he goes alone to one or other of the theatres, or to the variety show at the Trianon. Last night he was at Il Trovatore, at the Teatro Real."

"Alone?"

"Always alone."

"Then why has he come here, to Madrid?" I queried.

"In order to meet the Condesa de Chamartin."

"But he has already met her. She came from Segovia to keep that appointment, hence one would think he would have returned to Paris by this time."

"We can only watch," Hambledon replied. "I will continue my surveillance, but you had better be seen about as little as possible. He might meet and recognize you. Should I discover anything, or should I want to see you, I will either telephone to you at your hotel, or we will meet again—at this spot."

Thus it was arranged, and half an hour later we parted.

I walked back to my hotel, my thoughts occupied by the beautiful girl who had suddenly so possessed me. Before me, by day and by night, rose visions of the lovely countenance of that strange, half-bewildered expression which was so pathetic and so mysterious. I recollected her sweet smiles when we had talked in her mother's drawing-room in Longridge Road, and I knew that my admiration had already ripened into love.

But it was all so mysterious, so incredible indeed, that I hardly dared reflect upon those amazing events of the immediate past.

The name of the great financier, De Gex, was one to conjure with all over Europe. Since my night's adventure in Stretton Street I had learnt much concerning him. His nationality was obscure. He posed as an Englishman, but at the same time he was a Frenchman, an Italian, and a Greek. His financial tentacles were spread throughout Europe. Fabulously wealthy, he held a controlling interest in a number of banks and great industrial concerns, and it was said that he knew the capitals of the world as a milkman knows the streets of his particular suburb.

Behind the smoke-clouds of great events his intriguing figure followed unseen, unheralded, influencing dynasties through his secretaries and agents—one of whom was Prime Minister of a foreign kingdom—and financing bankrupt states.

Now and then he emerged from the retirement of the Villa Clementini and would go to Paris, Brussels, or Rome, and there entertain most lavishly Ministers and aristocrats of various nations, and frequently give them presents at the dinner-table.

One man declared to me that Oswald De Gex was the friend of mighty persons and the moulder of mighty events. He was a man of mystery who quietly and in secret juggled the destinies of nations in his gilded fingers. Wherever money has the power to speak there Oswald De Gex would be found smiling an inscrutable mysterious smile, but always the centre of intrigue and adventure.

To outwit and expose such a man I was determined.

Back in the hotel I stood at the window of my room, gazing out across the busy plaza upon the fine Ministerio de la Gobernacion, with its great clock upon the facade. The Gateway of the Rising Sun is ever a scene of animation, and the more so on a "fiesta," which it happened to be that day.

I stood there looking blankly out upon the centre of Madrid life. It was irksome to be compelled to remain in the hotel during the daytime for fear of recognition by the man Suzor. Why had he held that secret meeting with the widow of the wealthy Count Chamartin? Hambledon had certainly acted with discretion and promptitude in following the lady in black to her home in Segovia. Could the Frenchman's visit to Madrid be in any way connected with the affair at Stretton Street?

A new and highly interesting feature had arisen in the fact which I had only recently discovered, that Suzor had apparently travelled with me from York to London on that well-remembered afternoon with some set and distinct purpose. He had been most affable, and he had told me all about himself—a story which I now knew to be fictitious. In return, I suppose I had told him something about myself, but the exact conversation had long ago escaped my memory.

I had had no suspicion that the man who had posed as an important official of one of the best known of French banking corporations was in any way associated with the mysterious Oswald De Gex, until I had seen him meet in secret the girl with whom I had fallen so violently in love.

I tried to analyse my feelings towards Gabrielle Tennison, but failed utterly. I loved her, and loving her so well, I now set my whole soul upon elucidating the mystery.

Truly, the problem was most puzzling, presenting further complications at every turn.

Through the day I idled about the big hotel, occupying my time in writing letters and reading the papers. The cafe below in the late afternoon was crowded, for on the day of a fiesta Madrid is always agog with life and movement.

When night fell and I ate my solitary dinner in the big restaurant, where I specially ordered an olla with garbanoz, a dish so dear to the Spanish palate and which cannot be procured beyond the confines of King Alfonso's kingdom. The waiter aided me, of course, and he smiled contentedly when I gave him his propina.

Around me there dined as smart a set of people as those who frequented the Carlton in London, and perhaps the toilettes were even more elaborate. In certain feminine details the West End can be eclipsed both by modern Madrid and Bucharest, while Paris remains where she has ever been, the inventor of feminine fashion and the alluring City of Light.

In Madrid to-day one has all the pre-war prosperity combined with post-war extravagance. The latest mode of the Rue de la Paix is seen at the Ritz in Madrid almost before it is seen at Armenonville, and it becomes only second-hand when it has filtered through Dover Street—or "Petticoat Lane," as that thoroughfare is termed by truculent London bachelors.

After dinner I spent an hour at the gay Cafe Iberia, in the Carrera de San Jeronimo, and returned early to the hotel.

As I entered the concierge met me with a note. It was from Harry Hambledon, written an hour before, urging me to meet him at the Gato Negro Cafe (The Black Cat), in the Calle del Principe.

I lost no time in keeping the appointment, and on meeting my friend, he whispered excitedly:

"Suzor has a visitor. He arrived at the Ritz at six o'clock, and they have dined together. He is a well-dressed man of between forty and fifty, rather sallow-faced, and has given his name at the hotel as Henri Thibon, rentier, of Bordeaux."

"Aged nearly fifty—sallow?" I echoed. "Are his features of a rather Oriental cast—a dark, handsome man with deep-set eyes and a dimple in the centre of his chin?" I asked eagerly.

"Yes. That just describes him."

"De Gex!" I gasped. "Then he is here!"

"After dinner they went out to the Trianon. They are there now."

"Then we will watch them return to the Ritz," I said.

We spent an hour together in the cafe, after which we rose and walked through the well-lit streets and along beneath the trees of the Prado until we came to the great plaza where, opposite the Neptune fountain, the fine hotel stands back behind its gardens.

We both halted against the colossal fountain, the waters of which were plashing into the great basin, and found that from where we were standing we had a good view of the entrance to the hotel. That the theatres were over was proved by the number of cars and taxis that were depositing people in evening-dress who had come to the Ritz to supper. Hence we had not long to wait before we distinguished Suzor and his companion, both in dinner-jackets, strolling on foot across the Plaza from the Calle de Cervantes in the direction of the hotel.

In an instant I recognized the form of the mysterious owner of the house in Stretton Street.

"Yes!" I cried. "I'm not mistaken! But why is he here under the name of Thibon? Without a doubt he is known in Madrid. Why should he seek to conceal his identity?"

"We are here to discover the motive of his journey from Italy. According to his passport he arrived from Irun. But if he had come direct from Italy he would have come from the south—from Barcelona, most probably."

"He has a house in Paris. No doubt he has followed his friend Suzor from there. It will be interesting to watch."

As I spoke the pair passed up the steps of the hotel and were lost to sight, therefore we turned and retraced our steps along the wide Carrera de San Jeronimo to my hotel where, for an hour, Hambledon sat in my room discussing the situation.

He suggested that he should move from the Palace Hotel to the Ritz, which was only just opposite. At first it seemed a good idea, but on reflection I did not agree, because I feared lest he might be recognized by Suzor. De Gex, of course, would not know him, but with Suzor the danger of recognition was always great. If either realized that they were being watched, all chances of solving the problem would instantly disappear. Only by secret and patient watchfulness could we discover the motive of that amazing affair near Park Lane, and again the truth of what actually occurred on that fateful November night.

"There is no doubt some further devil's game is in progress here," I declared, as Harry sat upon my bed smoking a cigarette, while I was stretched in an easy-chair. "And it is up to us to discover what it is, and whether it has any bearing upon the plot against poor Gabrielle Tennison."

"Yes," agreed Hambledon. "We must watch all their actions, for it is now evident that this fellow Suzor is deeply implicated in the conspiracy, whatever its nature."



CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH

THE INTRUDER

During the next few days I remained idle in the hotel, not daring to go out while it was light, and leaving the surveillance upon De Gex and his friend to my old friend Hambledon.

Each night we met at one cafe or another as we appointed, when he would report to me what he had witnessed during the day. It seemed that De Gex—or Monsieur Thibon, as he preferred to call himself—shared Suzor's private sitting-room and, curiously enough, he also did not go out in the daytime!

After all, that was not surprising, for such a great figure in international finance was probably well-known in the Spanish capital. I had learnt that he had had a hand in the finances of Spain, and had made some huge profits thereby. This man of mystery and intrigue was, I felt, there in Madrid with some malice aforethought. The very fact that he feared to be recognized was in itself sufficient proof! On the other hand, Suzor now went out in the daytime, going hither and thither as though transacting business for his friend. Hambledon had reported to me how he had sent three cipher telegrams by wireless from the Correo Central in the Calle Carretas, the first was to London, the second on the following noon to an address in Paris, and the third at one o'clock in the morning to Moroni in Florence. The message to the latter was in figures, groups of five numerals as used by the British Admiralty. Besides, he had also posted several letters in that big box at the chief post-office marked "Extranjero."

The message to Moroni was highly suspicious. Harry Hambledon, as a solicitor, was, of course, a very acute person, and in addition he had very fortunately entered into the true spirit of the adventure. Though he longed to be back again at Richmond with his pretty fiancee, Norah Peyton, yet the mystery of the whole affair had bewildered him, and he was as keen as I was myself in elucidating the strange enigma.

Moroni was no doubt a tool in the hands of that quiet, sallow-faced man who, by reason of his colossal wealth and huge financial resources, could even make and unmake dynasties. Oswald De Gex, the man who without nationality or patriotism pulled a hundred financial strings both in Europe and in America, held the sinister Doctor Moroni in his pay. I could discern that fact, just as I could see that the man Suzor, who had so cleverly posed as an official of the Credit Lyonnais, was one of the many confidential agents of the mysterious De Gex.

One evening I went, by appointment, to the Nuevo Club, to which I had been admitted as a foreign member, and in the smoking-room I awaited Hambledon.

At last he came through the big swing doors, and approaching me, excitedly exclaimed:

"They've both gone out to Segovia to see the Countess de Chamartin. De Gex sent a wire early this morning and then, on receipt of a reply, they hired a car and drove out to keep the appointment."

"Chamartin was a Spanish financier. De Gex is one of international fame—a millionaire," I remarked. "The wits of De Gex are perhaps pitted against the widow and the executors of the dead man. Don't you agree?"

"Entirely," was Hambledon's reply. "I follow the trend of your thoughts, Hugh. De Gex is the controlling influence of great events, but why should he seek to send you into an asylum for the insane?"

"With the same motive that he endeavoured to send into such an asylum poor Gabrielle Tennison," I said bitterly.

"In law we have an old adage which says 'discover the motive and you also discover the miscreant,'" Harry remarked.

I agreed, and, as much bewildered as he, exclaimed:

"Well, as far as we can discern there is something very underhand in this meeting. But the count's widow is a cheery, easy-going person, despite her mournful black, and perhaps, after all, we may be upon a wrong scent."

"Exactly. De Gex may be attracted by her handsome niece, the Senorita Carmen Florez—eh?"

"He may. But as the dead count was a great financier, Oswald De Gex may be working in the interests of the widow—or to the contrary."

"To the contrary," said my friend without hesitation.

Next morning Hambledon told me that De Gex and Suzor did not return to the Ritz until nearly one o'clock. Apparently they had dined and spent the evening in Segovia. On that same day at noon, my curiosity aroused, I took train to the old-world town with its wonderful cathedral, the Alcazar, and the aqueduct built by Augustus, the largest piece of Roman work extant in Spain, rivalling as it does the walls of Tarragona.

Without difficulty I discovered the fine country house of the Countess de Chamartin situated high up on the broad tree-lined Paseo. She had never seen me, therefore I had no hesitation in idling in the vicinity, in order to catch sight of her or her niece, their descriptions having been given to me by my friend Hambledon. Till it was growing dark I waited in vain, when suddenly I had a very narrow escape. A big dusty grey limousine came rapidly up the hill and halted close to where I was standing. From it there alighted Gaston Suzor, who without hesitation entered the big iron gates and disappeared into the garden.

Fortunately he was in such haste, and so preoccupied that he did not notice me, hence I crossed the road and hid behind a half-ruined wall, where I had a good view of the car.

About twenty minutes later he emerged again, and with him was a young girl wearing a small toque and a rich sable coat. No second glance was needed to realize that it was the Senorita Carmen Florez, niece of the countess. The elegant Frenchman held the door open politely for her, and after she had entered he got in beside her, whereupon the car turned and went down the hill and out of sight.

It occurred to me that Suzor had come from Madrid to fetch her, and that surmise later proved to be correct, for on returning to the capital at ten o'clock Hambledon called at the Hotel de la Paix, and as we sat upstairs in my bedroom he informed me that the young girl had arrived by car at the Ritz and had dined with De Gex and his companion. The countess, who had apparently been in Madrid since the morning, and who had attended a charity matinee at the Comedia, had arrived at the Ritz a quarter of an hour before her niece. It was evident, therefore, that they were well known to De Gex, who, as I afterwards ascertained, had been a friend of the late count.

The four had dined privately together in Suzor's sitting-room, and according to the information given to Hambledon by the concierge, a number of papers had been produced and examined immediately after the coffee had been served.

"I understand that the production of the papers had a most disturbing effect upon the countess," Hambledon told me. "She gave vent to a cry of amazement, and afterwards burst into a fit of tears. At least that is what the waiter told the concierge. The countess is very well known at the Ritz, for she moves in the Court circle, and is often at the smart functions so constantly held there."

"And the niece?" I asked. "She is certainly both smart and good-looking."

"I can discover but little concerning her," Harry replied. "She is not known at all. She has apparently only gone to live with her aunt at Segovia since the count's death."

"I wonder what was in the papers which so affected the lady?" I remarked. "De Gex evidently invited them to dinner in order to make some disclosure, and to prove it by the production of documents."

"Evidently," replied my companion. "In any case, the countess and her niece have just started to return for home, the widow being very upset at what has been revealed to her to-night."

"What can it have been, I wonder? Could not the waiter ascertain the nature of the disclosure?"

"No. I saw him myself afterwards, and he explained that the documents in question were produced just after he had left the room. He heard the countess utter a cry of dismay, and when he again entered the room in pretence of clearing away the coffee-cups, he found the lady in tears, while her niece declared hotly in French: 'I do not believe it! I will never believe it!' A number of legal documents were spread out upon the table, and De Gex was holding one of them in his hand."

"Then the object of the visit of the precious pair seems to have been to disclose some hitherto well-guarded secret to the widow of the Spanish financier—eh?"

"Yes," my friend agreed. "It certainly seems so," and then he rose and left. Downstairs in the palm court the gay crowd was pouring through to the restaurant for supper after the theatre, for smart Madrid is gay at night, and there is as much dancing and fun there, on a smaller scale of course, as there is in the West End. The pretty dresses, the laughter, the sibilant whispers, and the claw-hammer coat are the same in Madrid and Bucharest as in London or Paris, or any other capital. The hour of midnight is the same hour of relaxation when even judges smile after their day upon the bench, and the blue-stocking will laugh at a risky story.

So after Harry had gone, refusing to have supper with me lest somebody should notice us together, I strolled about, and selecting a table in the corner, ate my solitary meal, having had no dinner that day.

It was past midnight before I ascended in the lift to my room. I undressed and when in bed I read the Heraldo until I suppose I dropped off to sleep.

I knew nothing until later I was awakened by some slight movement. In an instant I was seized by a strange intuition of danger, and my wits became acute. Next second I was on the alert. There had been three lights burning when I retired, now there was but one. I had bolted my door, yet it was now slightly ajar!

I lay and listened. Outside I heard the hum of a car receding across the great square. Afterwards a church bell began to clang discordantly, as they all do in Spain.

The light was over the dressing-table in the corner, and so shaded that the room was quite dim.

Someone had been in my room! I grasped my automatic pistol which I kept under the pillow, and jumping out of bed crossed to the dressing-table where I had put my watch and bank-note-case on taking them from my pocket. As I did so I heard the click of an electric light switch, and next instant the room was in darkness.

For a second I was nonplussed. I knew, however, that I was not alone in the room, so I dashed across to the door, my pistol in my hand, and gaining it before the intruder could escape, turned on the lights.

Before me stood revealed a tall, thin-faced, dark-haired man in his shirt and trousers who, seeing my pistol, at once put up his hands, crying in Spanish:

"Ah! no—no! It is a mistake. Holy Madonna! I have mistaken the room! I thought my friend Pedro was here! A thousand apologies, senor! A thousand apologies."

"But my door was bolted! How did you get in?" I demanded fiercely.

"No, senor. It was not bolted. I have been taken very unwell. I was seeking my friend Pedro," he stammered, pale and frightened. "Come to my room, and I will show you my papers to prove that I am no thief, but a well-known advocate of Burgos."

I told him roughly to turn his face to the wall while I went through my belongings to satisfy myself that nothing had been stolen.

All seemed in order, and the fellow's explanation seemed to be quite feasible—save for the fact that I distinctly remembered bolting the door. Nevertheless I began to wonder whether I had not misjudged him.

"Come along to my room, senor," he urged. "I will show you my identity papers. I have to offer you a thousand apologies."

I followed him to a room near the end of the corridor, where he quickly produced documents and papers showing that his name was Juan Salavera, an advocate, who lived in the Calle de Vittoria, in Burgos. He showed me the portrait of his wife and child which he carried in his wallet and a small painted miniature of his mother, and other proofs of his integrity, including a case well filled with notes.

"I trust, senor, that you will no longer accuse me of being a thief!" he said. "Our encounter would have been distinctly amusing had we not so frightened each other as we have done."

I laughed, for I felt convinced that he was a respectable person, and I really began to feel uncomfortable.

Indeed, I muttered an apology for my rather rough behaviour, and at the same time I noticed upon the left side of his neck a deep scar probably left by an abscess.

"My dear senor, it was quite forgiveable in the circumstances," he declared, offering me a cigarette and taking one himself. "I had supper at a restaurant after the theatre to-night and ate something which had disagreed with me. Half an hour ago I felt faint, so I rose and went to find my friend Pedro Espada, who came with me from Burgos, and I entered your room in mistake. He must be in the room next yours."

"Shall we seek him?" I asked.

"No. I feel much better now, thanks," was his reply. "The fright has chased away all faintness! Besides, we should have to go down to the office and ascertain in which room he really is. I shall be all right now," he assured me.

He went on to say that he had come to Madrid in connexion with a large estate in Granada, to which a client of his had laid claim.

"I shall be here for a week at least, therefore I hope you will give me the pleasure of spending an evening with Pedro and myself. We will dine at a restaurant and go to one of the variety theatres afterwards."

I thanked him, and laughing at our encounter we parted quite good friends.

On returning to my room I examined the bolt, and found that the screws of the brass socket had been forced from the woodwork and it was lying on the floor.

That fact caused suspicion to again arise in my mind. Surely considerable force must have been used to break away the socket from the woodwork. Yet I had heard nothing!

However, I returned to bed, and leaving the lights on I reflected upon the strange episode. The fellow's excuse was quite a legitimate one, yet I could not put from myself the fact that the door had been forced. By whom, if not by him?

And yet he was so cool it seemed impossible that he was a thief whom I had caught red-handed.

After half an hour I rose again and thoroughly examined the bolt, when my suspicion was increased by a strange discovery. In my absence the socket of the bolt had been removed, the screw holes enlarged and filled up with bread kneaded into a paste; into this the screws had been placed so that although I had bolted the door I could not secure it, for the smallest pressure from outside would break the fastening from the woodwork!

The dodge was one often practised by hotel thieves. But what proof had I that the lawyer from Burgos had prepared that bolt? I had no means of knowing when the screws had been rendered unstable, or by whom. It might have been done even before I had occupied that room, for the paste was hard and crumbling.

Nevertheless the fact remained that my door had been prepared for a midnight theft, and I had found a stranger in my room. So with a resolve to make further inquiry next morning, I threw myself down and slept.

I must have been tired and overwrought, for it was past nine o'clock when I awoke and drew up the blinds.

Then as I crossed to ring the bell for my coffee and hot water I made a very curious discovery.



CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH

ANOTHER STRANGE DISCLOSURE

On the ground, close to my bed, were three brass-headed carpet pins which had apparently spilt accidentally out of a box.

The sharp point of each was upturned, and it was a marvel that during the night I had not stepped upon them.

How had they come there? Was it by accident or design that they were beside my bed?

At first I wondered whether the hotel upholsterer had been at work on the previous day and had left them behind. He might have used them for pinning down my carpet.

I took one up and examined it. Next second I stood aghast.

The others I also took up, handling them very gingerly, for around the points of each was some colourless transparent substance which looked like vaseline. Such a substance was not ordinarily upon the points of carpet pins.

A horrible thought flashed across my mind. Therefore I carefully placed the three pins upon the small glass tray upon the dressing-table, and dressed as quickly as I could, reflecting the while upon my adventure with the stranger whom I had taken to be a thief.

I shaved, swallowed the coffee which the young waiter brought me, and at once descended to the bureau; when in French I inquired of the clerk for Senor Salavera. He examined the register and replied politely:

"We have no one of that name staying here, senor."

"What?" I cried. "He was in Room 175 last night!"

"Number 175 was Senor Solier," replied the smart young clerk. "He paid his bill and left just after seven o'clock this morning."

"But I saw his identification papers—his passport—letters addressed to him as Senor Salavera!"

"That may be so, senor," was the suave reply. "But he registered here as Senor Solier." And then he dropped into English, which he spoke very fairly. "Of course people who stay at hotels do not always give their correct names. They do not wish them published in visitors' lists in the newspapers. Perhaps it is only natural," and he smiled.

"Have you any one named Pedro Espada in the hotel?" I inquired.

Again he consulted his register, but shook his head.

"Nobody of that name," he replied.

I hesitated. Then I asked:

"Did the gentleman who spent the night in Room 175 depart alone?"

The reception-clerk called the uniformed concierge, and asked:

"Did Number 175 leave alone?"

"Yes," was the reply. "He caught the early express for Zaragoza. He was going on to Barcelona, he told me. He went in the omnibus."

"No one with him?"

"Nobody."

"When did he arrive?" I asked.

"The night before last. He was alone—with only a handbag. I charged him with a deposit for his room."

"Have you ever seen him before?" I asked.

"Never to my recollection."

"Neither have I," remarked the concierge. "He seemed very afraid of being seen. I noticed him in the lounge last night. He left this morning quite suddenly, and without taking anything—even a cup of coffee."

"He left in a violent hurry—eh?" I exclaimed, well knowing the reason. "Well," I added, "I wish to see the manager."

"I will inform him," the clerk replied, and he went to the telephone. A minute later, after exchanging a few words in Spanish, he turned to me, saying:

"You will find the manager's office on the first floor. If you take the lift the man will direct you, senor."

A few minutes later I was seated in the office of an elderly bald-headed man, a typical hotelier, courteous, smiling, and eager to hear any complaint that I might have to make.

At once I told him of my curious adventure of the previous night, and of the sudden flight of the mysterious stranger whom I had discovered in my room.

"That is certainly strange, sir," he replied in English. "His excuse was a very ingenious one, to say the least. I think we ought to inform the police. Do you not agree?"

I told him of my discovery of the carpet pins, and asked his advice as to whom I might send them for chemical analysis.

At once he suggested Professor Vega, of the Princesa Hospital in the Calle Alberto Aguilera, adding:

"The Professor often dines here. If you wish, I will take you to him."

So still leaving the three carpet pins upon the little glass tray I wrapped it in paper and together we went round to the hospital, where I was introduced to a tall, narrow-faced, grey-haired man in a long linen coat. To him I explained how I had found the pins on the carpet beside my bed, and asking whether he would submit them to examination.

He looked at them critically, first with the naked eye and afterwards by means of a large reading-glass. Then he grunted in dissatisfaction and promised that next day, or the day after, he would tell me the result of his analysis.

As we drove back to the hotel the manager remarked:

"It is a very curious affair, sir, to say the least. One does not scatter carpet pins about a bedroom, and particularly when the points are smeared with some mysterious substance. If they had been there before you retired to bed the chambermaid must certainly have seen them. She makes a round of the rooms each night at ten o'clock. Besides, the facts that the bolt had been tampered with, and also that the man who occupied 175 left so early and so hurriedly, are additionally suspicious. Yes," he added, "I think we ought to see the police."

With that object he took me at once to Senor Andrade, the Chief of Police, a short, stout, alert little man, who heard me with keen interest and seemed very puzzled.

"The intruder's explanation was certainly a very clever one," he remarked in French. "It is a pity you did not demand to see his friend, Pedro Espada. If you had, you would have discovered him to be nonexistent."

"But he was so clever," I answered. "He told me that at that hour he could not discover in which room his friend was really sleeping."

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