"But the night-porter was on duty," exclaimed the hotel manager. "He had the register and would have been able at once to tell you the number of the room."
The fellow seemed so frank in revealing to me his money, the portraits of his family, and his private letters, that I had taken his statement as the truth.
Yet, even now, I could not believe that he had any sinister design—not until the Professor had examined those three carpet pins.
In response to close questions put to me by Senor Andrade, with whom was Senor Rivero, the head of the Detective Branch, I gave a description of my midnight visitor as accurately as I could. I told them how I had covered him with my automatic pistol, and how afterwards we had laughed together at our mental fear of each other.
Senor Rivero, the bald-headed, black-bearded chief of the branch of criminal investigation, suddenly stopped me when I mentioned the scar upon the neck of the advocate from Burgos.
"Did you notice that there was any deformity of his hands?" he asked quickly.
In an instant I recollected that the little finger of his right hand had been amputated at the first joint, and I told him so.
"Ah!" exclaimed the shrewd, dark-bearded official. "Perhaps we may here find something of interest. Just a few moments," and he rose and left us.
We chatted with Senor Andrade for about a quarter of an hour when the detective returned with a bundle of papers and four photographs of a man taken in police style upon one negative, full face, three-quarter, half and profile.
The instant he placed it before me, I exclaimed:
"Why, that is Salavera!"
"I thought as much," remarked the famous detective with a grim smile. "He is not Salavera, but Rodriquez Despujol, one of the most dangerous criminals in Spain!"
"Despujol!" cried Senor Andrade. "And he was in Madrid last night!" Then he added: "Ah! if we had but known."
"True. But why was he in the English gentleman's room?" queried the detective. "He is a dangerous character, and one would have thought that instead of being covered he would, on being cornered, have drawn his knife and attacked his adversary."
"Despujol is no amateur," the Chief of Police agreed. "We've wanted him for the last five years for the assassination of the banker, Monteros, in the train between Cordova and Malaga, and yet he always evades us, even though he is one of the most audacious thieves in Europe."
"But his friend Pedro?" I remarked, startled at what I had now learned.
"He does not exist," replied the detective. "You no doubt had a lucky escape. Had you demanded to see his friend he would no doubt have killed you. He is a man of colossal strength—a veritable tiger, they say."
"But what was the motive?" I asked. "I have no valuables, save my watch and tie pin, and fifty pounds in English money. Surely it was not worth while to kill me for that!"
"No. That's just it," replied the dark-eyed detective, whose chagrin was so apparent that Despujol had slipped through his fingers. "The game was not worth the candle. So he returned after proving to you his bona fides. And these bona fides he always carries in order to extricate himself from any ugly situation."
"But the carpet pins?" asked the hotel manager.
The director of the Spanish secret police shrugged his shoulders, and said:
"Until Professor Vega can make a report we can do nothing. It is no use basing theories upon mere surmises. So we can only wait for Senor Vega to tell us what he discovers. Meanwhile, we will try and secure Despujol—though I fear he has too long a start of us."
He crossed the room to the telephone, and a few minutes later spoke in Spanish into the instrument in sharp, authoritative tones.
I understood him to be speaking to the police commissary at Zaragoza, explaining that the much-wanted criminal Despujol had left Madrid for that city, and giving the train by which he was supposed to be travelling. Then, in turn, he spoke to the commissaries of Alcazar, Salamanca, Valladolid and Arroyo, thus informing the police along all the lines of railway leading from the capital.
It was evident that what I had told them caused considerable excitement. Indeed, after the head of the detective department had concluded giving his instructions over the telephone, he turned to me and translated into French the black record of the stranger whom I had discovered in my room.
That he was a bold and audacious criminal was quickly apparent. In the Sud express travelling between Madrid and Paris he had drugged and robbed an Italian jeweller of a wallet containing a quantity of diamonds, which he took to London at once and disposed of to a receiver of stolen property at Kilburn.
Another of his daring exploits was the theft of the famous Murillo from the Castle of Setefillas, near Seville. This he sold to a dealer in Brussels, who afterwards smuggled it to New York, where it was bought by a private collector for a very large sum.
Yet again, a few months later he enticed a bank messenger in Barcelona into a house he had taken for the purpose, and having knocked him down robbed him of his wallet containing a quantity of English bank notes and negotiable securities.
Up to five years before he had been convicted many times, but he now seemed to be able to commit robberies with impunity, and always get off free. It was believed that he lived in secret somewhere abroad and only came to Spain to commit thefts. Probably he passed to and fro to France by one of the obscure mountain tracks through the Pyrenees known only to those who dealt in contraband—and there are many in that chain of mountains.
In any case the police were now hot again upon his track.
Suddenly the head of the Detective Department had another inspiration and rang up both Jaca and Pamplona, which are at the end of each railway line towards the barrier of mountains which form the French frontier.
"If he is on his way to France he will go to either one place or the other," he said.
"But have they his photograph?" I asked.
"A copy of this photograph taken at the prison of Barcelona, is in every detective office in Spain," was his reply. "Rodriquez Despujol is the most dangerous and elusive criminal at large," he went on. "He never leaves anything to chance. No doubt he believed that you were in possession of something valuable, and his intention was to drug you and get it. But you were too quick for him. My chief surprise is why, when he found himself cornered as he was, that he did not draw his knife and attack you."
"But I had a pistol!" I said.
"Despujol does not fear pistols. Before you could pull the trigger he could have pounced upon you like a cat!" replied the police official.
"Well, he certainly entirely misled me," I exclaimed. "I even offered him an apology for my attitude towards him."
The three men laughed heartily.
"An apology to Despujol!" cried the Chief of Police. "How very amusing!"
"I consider that I was very lucky," I said. "He seems to be a most desperate character."
"He is," answered Senor Andrade. "We have had inquiries for him from all over Europe. During the war it seems that he served as a spy of Germany in France, hence the military authorities there are very anxious to get him."
"But you think he lives in France and crosses the frontier every now and then."
"Yes. We received information to that effect about a year ago. He probably lives as a poor, but perfectly honest man in one of the remote villages in the Pyrenees, and is perhaps held in high esteem by all around him. It was the case of the notorious Maurice Tricoche who escaped us for years and lived near Luchon until he was betrayed by a woman whose husband he had maltreated. Perhaps Despujol will also be betrayed. We hope so!"
"I cannot understand why the fellow dared to put foot into Madrid when he knows how active we are in search of him," remarked Senor Rivero, turning to me. "He must have followed you with evil intent. The explanation of mistaking your room was, of course, a good one, but entirely false."
I longed to tell the police all about the mystery of Stretton Street, and the grave suspicions concerning the great international financier who was at that moment at the Ritz. Yet I hesitated for two reasons, the first being that I feared lest my story should be disbelieved, and secondly, because I had, on behalf of the beautiful girl with whom I had fallen in love, set out to solve the enigma by myself, and bring the culprit to justice.
"If Despujol is arrested I will willingly come forward and give evidence—that is, if I am still in Spain," I promised.
But both police officials shrugged their shoulders, and the detective remarked:
"Despujol is a will o' the wisp. There seems little hope of our ever securing him. Nevertheless we shall continue to do our best to allow you to face him again one day. And then, senor, you will realize what a miraculous escape you have had!"
CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH
WHAT THE PROFESSOR FOUND
When I met my friend Hambledon in secret at two o'clock that day under the trees at a spot in the Retiro, not far from the great Plaza de la Independencia, we sat down and I described to him my strange midnight adventure.
He listened in amazement, which was increased when I told him how the police had recognized in the inoffensive lawyer of Burgos the notorious bandit Despujol, who was wanted not only by Scotland Yard, but by the police of Europe.
"But those carpet pins are a curious feature of the affair, Hughie," he remarked.
"Yes. The police seem to attach no importance to them—but I do."
"So do I. The opinion of Professor Vega may throw some light upon the affair."
"I shall call at the Princesa Hospital to-morrow," I said, and then I inquired the latest information concerning De Gex and his French friend.
There was little to report. De Gex had not been out of the hotel, though Suzor had gone to purchase some cigars at eleven o'clock that morning. While Suzor was absent De Gex had, according to the friendly concierge, received a visitor, a middle-aged Spanish woman of the middle-class. She had asked to see him, and on her name being sent up the great one at once gave orders for her to be admitted.
Again the floor waiter became inquisitive, and heard the financier speaking in English with his visitor.
"Unfortunate! Most unfortunate!" he heard De Gex say. "I am very glad, however, that you have come to me so quickly. You had a telegram from Siguenza—eh?"
"I received it only a quarter of an hour ago, sir," the woman had replied in broken English.
Then De Gex had apparently given her something for her services, and dismissed her.
"A telegram from Siguenza!" I exclaimed, when my friend Harry had told me this. "Now Siguenza is on the direct line from here to the Pyrenees and the French frontier! That telegram may be from Despujol while in flight. If so, the police have set a trap for him at his journey's end, either at Jaca beneath Mont Perdu, or at Pamplona. I wonder if he'll be caught?"
"He might go on to Zaragoza and then turn to Barcelona and Marseilles," Hambledon remarked.
"All the frontiers are watched, so it seems almost impossible for him to escape. But," I added, "I wonder if this information conveyed by the Spanish woman really concerned the fugitive?"
"I wonder. A man like De Gex, with so many financial irons in the fire, and with agents in every European capital, is bound to receive visits from all sorts and conditions of people who bring him information for profit. When one deals in colossal sums as he does, one has to cultivate people of all classes," Hambledon said. "Personally, I don't think the woman's information had anything to do with your mysterious friend's hurried departure," he added.
"I do. I'm highly suspicious. There was some motive that he did not attack me, as he could so easily have done, for he's a most desperate character and has committed several murders when cornered. His explanation was really wonderful, and I admit that I was so completely deceived that I actually apologized to him! But," I went on, "we may perhaps know more when we learn the truth from Professor Vega."
Hence at noon next day I called at the great hospital in the Calle Alberto Aguilera, and was ushered into the Professor's room.
"Ah, my dear monsieur!" he exclaimed in French, knowing that I spoke Spanish only with the greatest difficulty. "I am very glad you have called. Those brass-headed pins which upholsterers often use, and which you have submitted to me, are most interesting from a toxicological point of view."
"What?" I gasped. "Were they poisoned?"
"Undoubtedly," replied the grave-faced old expert. "And by somebody who is au courant with the very latest and undetectable poison. I searched for alkaloids and glucosids, and used Kippenberger's process, and then the tests of Marne, Meyer, Scheiblen and Dragendorff. Since you brought the three pins to me I have been active all the time, for the problem much interests me. At last—though I did not think that the substance could possibly contain so subtle, deadly, and as yet unknown poison—I applied Sonnenschein's reagent—phosphomolybdic acid—and then I obtained a result—only an hour ago indeed!"
"And what was the result, Professor?"
He looked me straight in the face, and replied: "You have had a very narrow escape from death, monsieur—a very narrow one. Had you placed your foot upon one of those upturned points you would have fallen dead within five seconds!"
"Because each of the points of those three pins, left there as though by accident by some upholsterer employed by the hotel, was impregnated by one of the most deadly of all newly-discovered poisons. It is called by men of my profession orosin, after its discoverer Orosi, and is certainly a most dangerous poison in the hands of anyone with criminal intent, because no post-mortem examination known to the medical profession to-day would be able to detect whether the victim had been murdered or died of natural causes."
"It astounds me!" I gasped.
"No doubt. But to me, of course, it is a most interesting piece of research," and the professor went on: "I have never met this substance before, though I had heard whispers of it. Professor Orosi, who lived in Cologne a few years ago and is now dead, produced this poison quite accidentally, and among his intimate friends disclosed its existence, though he had no idea how to test for it with certainty. For five years all toxicologists made constant tests until apparently quite by accident Professor Sonnenschein, of Hanover, discovered the reagent which would reveal the actual glucosid, and determine its identity. It gives a yellowish-white precipitate," he added, holding up for my inspection a small test-tube containing a liquid of the colour he had indicated.
"Marvellous!" I exclaimed. "I had no idea that medical science could carry inquiries so far. I know that in criminal cases in London our pathologists, with their mirror-tests for arsenic, fix the guilt upon poisoners in a manner most amazing. But I have never heard of this secret and most subtle poison which was placed beside my bed, the intention being for me to tread upon the impregnated pin."
"And if you had done so you would have been taken with a sudden fatal seizure, the cause of which would never have been detected."
"You mean I should have died of poison?"
"You certainly would. No medical aid would have been of any avail, for orosin is the most deadly substance which has ever been discovered. It is indeed good for humanity that it is known to only a few toxicologists, but that in itself reveals the fact, monsieur, that an exceedingly clever and secret attack has been made upon your life. A single puncture of the skin with one or other of those pins which were placed so conveniently at your bedside when you sprang out to meet the intruder, and you would by this time have been buried as one whose death had been due to natural causes!"
I held my breath. This declaration by one of the greatest professors of toxicology in Europe staggered me. A dastardly attempt had been made upon me by one of the most notorious of modern criminals!
Why? No attempt at assassination is made without some motive, and the game must ever be "worth the candle."
The whole of the dramatic incidents of the night flashed across my memory; how I had faced the fellow in my room, challenged him at the point of my pistol, and compelled him to give me meekly proofs of his respectability. Truly it was all humorous—but only from Despujol's point of view.
I recollected those innocent-looking pins which apparently had been left so carelessly in my room. Each held for me a sudden and suspicious death.
"The slightest puncture of the skin would inevitably prove fatal," the Professor continued. "Feeling yourself pricked you would naturally remove the pin and very quickly afterwards death would supervene. So prior to it you yourself would no doubt have removed all trace of the crime!"
"It is as well that such poison is not generally known, or it would be used by many who wished to get rid of their friends," I remarked.
The Professor laughed, and agreed, saying:
"There are several poisons of the same type which are known only to toxicologists, and we are very careful not to allow the public sufficient knowledge of them. I must confess that I never dreamed when I commenced my investigations that I was in the presence of orosin. There is sufficient in this little tube"—and he held it to the light—"to kill a hundred persons. It certainly is one of the most dangerous of known compounds."
"So it is evident that the man Despujol entered my room and placed the pins there intending that I should step upon one or other of them!" I gasped.
"Without doubt. And it seems little short of a marvel that you escaped," said the Professor.
"It certainly does," I remarked. "But I must tell the police of the fact you have established. The affair now assumes a new phase. The man was not in my room with the intention of robbery, but in order to encompass my death by secret means."
"If you had not so fortunately avoided treading upon the pins you certainly would not be alive at the moment," remarked the Professor, again reflectively examining the yellow fluid in the tube. "What motive could the man have had in gaining access to your room and placing the pins there? I suppose he did not risk putting them there before you went to bed, as you might have picked one up on your boot, and that would have drawn your attention to them. By placing them there after you were in bed he hoped that, on getting out, your bare foot would come into contact with one of the impregnated points."
"It was certainly a most fiendish plot!" I declared. "And I thank you, Professor, for taking all this trouble with your analysis and so establishing the truth. I will go to the police and inform them."
"Yes. I wish you to do that, for the fellow is undoubtedly in possession of orosin, and intends to use it. Perhaps he has already killed people by the same subtle and secret means."
"He must be arrested at all costs," I said. "Already the police all over Spain are watching for him, and special surveillance is being kept along all the railways and on the frontier."
"Any person with orosin in his possession should be detained and examined," the Professor declared. "I wonder where he obtained it?"
"Who knows?" I exclaimed, but I was reflecting whether, after all, my presence in Madrid was not known to De Gex. If so, was it possible that he had hired the notorious Despujol to attack me in secret!
"Of course we know that there is a secret traffic in poisons. Medico-legists, with the police, have established that fact over and over again," said Professor Vega. "But the vendors are very difficult to trace. One was found only six months ago—a doctor living in a suburb of Copenhagen. But orosin is not known to a dozen people beyond those who study toxicology. Hence this man Despujol must have been supplied with it by someone who knew."
The suspicion had arisen in my mind that De Gex and his agent Suzor knew that I was in Madrid for the purpose of watching them, and they had resorted to a very clever and secret means of getting rid of me once and for all. If the notorious criminal Despujol was in their pay he would no doubt afterwards blackmail them, now that the desperate plot had failed. Again, could it be possible that Moroni had had any hand in supplying this most effective and dangerous of all secret poisons to the Spanish malefactor who snapped his defiant fingers under the very nose of the police?
As I sat in that quiet room of the Professor's, a room that smelt strongly of chemicals, though it was filled mostly with books, I could not refrain from shuddering when I reflected upon the narrow escape I had had. Yet if De Gex resorted to such measures, he must certainly hold me in great fear. Besides, if my life was threatened, so also was that of my friend Harry Hambledon, who remained so vigilant in the serene belief that his presence was undetected.
At that time I never dreamed that the great financier who controlled the destinies of certain European States never moved without a police official being in attendance, and that surveillance was kept upon him as though he were royalty travelling incognito. De Gex, it seemed, was ever afraid that one of his enemies, the hundreds whom he had ruined by dint of sharp practice, unscrupulous dealing, and flagrant bribery, might seek revenge.
Hence, though neither Hambledon nor myself knew of it, both De Gex and his toady and agent, Gaston Suzor, were well aware of our presence, and, moreover, were kept posted concerning our movements from day to day!
Though we were in ignorance of all this, yet the desperate nature of the plot against me caused me to wonder what exactly was the fear in which De Gex held me. Of course it concerned Gabrielle Tennison. But exactly how, I failed to surmise.
One thing was certain, that the mystery-man of Europe intended to rid himself of me, and in this he was being aided by certain of his friends, chief among whom were Suzor and Moroni. That the assassin Despujol was only a paid servant was quite clear. But the pay must have been a very handsome sum to cause him to dare to come to Madrid so boldly and run the risk of arrest.
I smiled at my own innocence when I remembered how completely he had imposed upon me by showing me his papers of identity, and the photographs of his pretended family. Truly only a great criminal could have remained so imperturbed and polite to the man whom he intended should die.
"This drug orosin is a very mysterious one, I suppose?" I remarked a few seconds later as the Professor, who had offered me a cigar, was in the act of lighting up.
"Yes. A very weak solution taken by the mouth produces extraordinary effects upon the human brain. The latter almost instantly becomes unbalanced and the victim lapses into an unconscious state for days, even for weeks," he said. "Very often the brain is quite normal, save that a complete loss of memory follows the return to consciousness. In other cases orosin has produced complete and hopeless dementia."
"Always hopeless?" I asked eagerly, recollecting my own case and that of Gabrielle Tennison.
"Not always hopeless. There have been cases that have been cured."
"Do you know any personally?" I demanded breathlessly.
"There are one or two—very few—on record. Professor Gourbeil, the well-known alienist of Lyons, has observed two patients who recovered. But the majority of cases where orosin has been administered were found incurable. The mind is blank, the memory completely destroyed, and the general health so undermined that only the strongest persons can withstand the strain."
At once I described Gabrielle's symptoms and general attitude, whereupon the Professor said:
"What you tell me are the exact symptoms exhibited by a person to whom a small dose of orosin has been administered. In most cases, however, such a state of mind develops into actual insanity with a homicidal tendency. Such a patient should be very carefully watched, for in ninety per cent. the chance of a cure is, alas! beyond expectation."
CHAPTER THE EIGHTEENTH
MORE ABOUT THE MYSTERY-MAN
One very important fact I had established. Orosin was the obscure and little-known drug that had been administered to Gabrielle Tennison, as well as to myself, by the mystery-man of Europe at his palatial house in Stretton Street. Gabrielle being the weaker, was still suffering from its paralysing effects, while I, the stronger, had practically recovered.
Yet it had been intended by the daring Despujol that a fatal "accident" should now befall me! And could anything be plainer than that the fellow for whom the police were searching so eagerly was a hireling of the man De Gex who went in fear of me?
That most secret and most potent of all poisons might be known to Moroni! Indeed, it apparently was known to him, and the endeavour had been to introduce it into my system by means of an infected carpet pin.
On leaving Professor Vega I at once sent a note round to Hambledon, and awaited his arrival.
When he came I related all the professor had told me.
"Well, Hugh," he said, "we now know the truth, and it remains for us to combat the fiends. If you are marked down—no doubt I am also. So it behoves us both to be very wary."
"Why can't we tell the police the whole circumstances?" I suggested.
"My dear fellow, they wouldn't believe you, and they wouldn't arrest such a powerful man as Oswald De Gex," was his serious reply. "Money can buy immunity from arrest in every country in Europe, and especially De Gex's money, for it can be distributed in secret by his agents. No. If we are to be successful we must lay our plans just as cleverly as he lays his. We must allow him to believe that we are entirely unsuspicious of his plotting. That is our only way."
I realized that there was much truth in his argument. It remained with us to pretend ignorance. Therefore we resolved to still watch and wait.
A few hours later I told Senor Andrade, the Chief of Police, of the professor's discovery that the points of the pins had been infected with orosin, the newly discovered drug which in small doses produced loss of memory and insanity, and in larger doses sudden death.
In reply, he informed me that though every effort had been made to trace the elusive fugitive, all had been in vain, and that he was still at large.
"But if he has this terrible drug in his possession he is more than ever a danger to society," the Spanish official went on, speaking in French. "I thank you, m'sieur, for all the information you have given me, and you may rely upon me to take every possible step towards securing his arrest. I was in telegraphic communication with the Paris Surete only this morning concerning him. I will wire them again. They have been stirred into activity by the message I sent them after your call to see me."
I longed again to be frank with the affable Senor Andrade, yet I saw that if I were I might negative all chance of solving the problem which concerned the health and life of the girl whom I had grown to love so fervently.
Upon a sudden impulse I remarked with affected carelessness:
"I hear that our English financier, Mr. De Gex, is at the Ritz."
"Yes," he replied. "He is here under an assumed name in connexion with some big railway scheme in Estremadura—a line between Toledo and Merida. It is badly wanted, and has been talked of for years. There is a huge stretch of country south of the Tagus as far as Villa Nueva without any railway communication. The King himself has been agitating for the development of that rich agricultural region for the last ten years. And now it seems as though your great financier, Monsieur De Gex, is here to consult with the Ministry of Communications."
"Yes," I said, realizing in what high esteem that mystery-man of millions was held.
"I do not think I would care to have such colossal wealth as his," remarked the Chief of Police. "As soon as he arrived from Paris I had orders from the Ministry to place him under surveillance, because, it seems, he goes in fear of some personal attack upon him."
"By whom?" I asked, instantly interested.
"The information is vague," was his reply. Then, taking up a large yellow paper from his desk, he said: "It seems that he has applied to the Ministry for personal protection, and for a daily report of anyone who may be keeping observation upon him. There is a young Englishman living at the Palace Hotel who seems unduly interested in the gentleman's movements. We are watching him."
I held my breath. This was an unexpected revelation. De Gex was in fear of us, and had resorted to that ruse in order to keep himself posted upon Hambledon's movements! Truly the situation was daily growing more complicated!
"Surely such a well-known man as Mr. De Gex—a man who is noted not only for his immense wealth, but for his generous contributions to charity—could not have enemies?" I remarked.
"Everyone has enemies, my dear m'sieur," was the police official's suave reply. "Senor De Gex was here in Madrid a year ago when he made a similar application to the Ministry for personal surveillance. He was here in connexion with the foundation of the new Madrid and Southern Spain Banking Corporation, which is guaranteed by a group of French and Dutch financiers of whom Senor De Gex is the head."
He paused, and then continued:
"He seems highly strung and nervous. All men who are in the public eye seem to be the same. Well-known foreigners visiting Madrid often apply for surveillance, yet there is certainly no need of it. And I confess to you that my staff is, after all, unduly worked."
"I can quite imagine that," I said. "But is a strict watch kept upon Mr. De Gex?"
"Yes, and upon his agent, Monsieur Suzor, also."
"Has Monsieur Suzor been in Madrid before?"
"He was here two years ago when Senor De Gex had some big financial deal with the Count Chamartin, who was head of the Miramar Shipping Company of Barcelona. They say he bought the whole fleet of steamers from Count Chamartin."
"Was Count Chamartin wealthy?"
"Yes. A millionaire, without a doubt. But it is said that shortly before his death he quarrelled with his wife. Why, nobody knows. She lives at Segovia, and their house here in the capital has just been sold."
"Was any attempt made upon Mr. De Gex?" I asked.
"Well, a mysterious young Frenchman called one night at the Ritz and demanded to see him. He was very excited, and when he was refused admission upstairs, he flourished a revolver. My agent on duty arrested the stranger, who was, after examination, deported. For that Senor De Gex sent me a letter of thanks, and the scarf-pin which you see I wear."
The pin he indicated consisted of a single black pearl with the base surrounded by diamonds, an expensive piece of jewellery. That, in itself, was sufficient to show that Oswald De Gex was a past-master in the art of bribery, and that he had established in the minds of the authorities of the Spanish capital that when he came there he came in the interests of the Government, and hence he could do no wrong.
Ah! How I longed to be able to tell my story to that charming official. But I saw that if I did so he would not only disbelieve me, but put me down as an exaggerating fool. So I held my tongue.
I further questioned him concerning De Gex and his friend Suzor.
"Monsieur Suzor has been in Madrid before," he said. "He is agent of Senor De Gex. But how wealthy the latter must be! During the war he made a big loan to our Government. The real extent of it is not known, but some say that he can pull the strings of the Cabinet in any way he wishes, though the King disapproved of the whole transaction. At least that is the rumour. Yet, after all, Senor De Gex is a true friend of Spain, even though he, like all financiers, obtains huge percentages upon his loans."
"True," I laughed. "Men of wealth are seldom philanthropists. One finds more true philanthropy among the poor, and in the artistic circles of lower Bohemia, than in the circles of the ultra-rich. Philanthropy is not written in the dictionary of the war-rich—those blatant profiteers with their motors and their places in the country, who, having fattened upon the lives of the brave fellows who fought and died to save Europe from the unholy Hun, are now enjoying their lives, while the widows and orphans of heroes starve."
"Ah, M'sieur Garfield, with that I entirely agree," sighed the astute man seated at his writing-table with the three telephones at his elbow. "In my official career as head of the police department of Madrid, I have watched recent events, and I have seen how men who were little removed from the category of the worst criminals, have suddenly jumped into wealth, with its consequent notoriety, and the power which is inseparable from the possessor of money."
"The international financier Oswald De Gex is one of those," I said. "You cannot close your eyes to that fact!"
"You appear to entertain some antipathy towards him," he remarked, a little surprised it seemed.
"No, not at all," I assured him, smiling. "I only speak broadly. All these great financiers fatten upon the ruin of honest folk."
"I hardly think that such is the case with Senor De Gex," he remarked. "But you are English, and you probably know more than myself concerning his career."
"Nobody in England knows much about him," was my reply. "We only know that he is immensely wealthy, and that his riches are daily increased by the various ventures which he finances."
"He is a great support to our Ministry of Finance," declared the Chief of Police. "It was Count Chamartin who first interested him in Spain, I believe. In any case, they combined to finance a number of industrial enterprises, including the great Guadajoz Copper Mine which must, in itself, have brought them both a fortune."
"You said that the count is dead," I remarked.
"Yes. He died quite suddenly last year. He was one of the most popular men at Court, and his tragic death caused a great sensation. He was taken ill in the Sud Express while travelling from Madrid to keep an appointment with Senor De Gex in Paris, and though he was taken from the train on its arrival at San Sebastian and conveyed to the hospital, he died a few moments after reaching there. He had a weak heart, and had consulted two doctors only a month previously. They had ordered him a complete rest and change, but, contrary to their advice, he continued attending to his affairs—with fatal result."
"And the countess?"
"Ah! Poor lady, she was beside herself with grief. She was his second wife. His first was the daughter of an Englishman who lived in Madrid. The present countess is the daughter of the Marquis Avellanosa of Algeciras, and they were a most devoted pair. She now lives in Segovia in comparative seclusion. The count's untimely end was a great loss to Spain."
It was news to me that Oswald De Gex was in Madrid with his agent Suzor in connexion with the new railway scheme. Indeed, what I had just been told was all amazing, and showed De Gex to be a man of outstanding genius. The mystery-man of Europe took good care to inform himself of any person who watched his movements, or sought to inquire into his business. It certainly was a master-stroke to pretend fear of assassination, and compel the police to act as his personal guard. By that means he had learnt that Hambledon and myself were in Madrid on purpose to discover what we could, hence he had hired the assassin Despujol to set that dastardly trap for me.
Again it was upon the tip of my tongue to reveal the suspicions I had of the great financier, but I refrained, because I could see that my companion held De Gex in high esteem as a friend and financial mainstay of his country.
A few moments later I reverted to the possibility of the arrest of Despujol, for if arrested he might betray De Gex as the person who had paid him to place those infected pins in my room. In such case my story would be heard and investigated.
But the Chief of Police shook his head dubiously.
"I fear that he has again gone into safe hiding—up in the mountains somewhere, without a doubt," he replied. "It was an act of considerable daring to come boldly to Madrid and stay at your hotel when he knows full well the hue-and-cry for him is raised everywhere, and that there is actually ten thousand pesetas offered as reward for his capture."
"Someone may betray him," I suggested with a smile.
"Yes. We hope so. One of his friends, male or female, will no doubt do so and come one day to us for the reward. Not till then shall we know the truth of that strange attempt upon your life. The motive could not have been robbery, as you had nothing worth taking save your watch. If he had been found in De Gex's room at the Ritz one could have understood it."
I smiled. The Chief of Police never suspected the true facts of the case, facts within my own knowledge, which were of such an amazing and startling character that I hesitated to relate them.
When I left my friend I again sought Hambledon and told him all I had learnt.
"H'm!" he grunted. "Very wily of De Gex to get the police to keep an eye upon me. If I'm not careful I shall suddenly find myself under arrest as a suspicious person who is in the habit of loitering in the vicinity of the great financier."
"Yes," I agreed. "This seems to put an end to our present activity—does it not?"
"Well, he apparently knows that we are watching," Hambledon said. "What a pity we cannot tell the police all we know."
"If we did we should not be believed, and, moreover, they wouldn't hear a word against the great man who is such a friend to Spain. Money buys reputation, remember. Nobody knows that better than De Gex."
Hambledon was standing at my bedroom window looking thoughtfully down upon the Puerta del Sol with its crowd of hurrying foot-passengers.
"It seems a miserable ending to all our careful surveillance upon Suzor—doesn't it?" he grumbled.
"True, it does. But now that the pair are on the alert I cannot see that anything can be gained by remaining in Madrid longer," I pointed out.
"Then you intend to give up the quest for the truth?"
"Not by any means," I replied quickly. "I intend, at all hazards, and at all costs, to still fathom the mystery. What we have learned since we came to Spain puts quite a different complexion upon matters. We are now in possession of certain facts concerning De Gex—facts of which we had no suspicion. We had never dreamed that to further his ends he did not hesitate to employ a notorious criminal to commit murder with malice aforethought. Neither did we know anything of his financial dealings with the Spanish Ministry of Finance, or his partnership with the Conde de Chamartin, or that the drug he used upon poor Gabrielle and myself was the obscure but most deadly and dangerous orosin. All these are points which may in the near future be of greatest advantage to us. Therefore we must not despair. Let us take courage and continue to probe the mystery—for the sake of poor Gabrielle Tennison," I urged. "Let us act as quietly and discreetly as our enemy is acting, and we may yet attain success!"
CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH
THE TRACK OF DESPUJOL
Having decided to still remain in Madrid I deemed it advisable to engage the services of a private inquiry agent to watch the movements of De Gex and Suzor, who still remained at the Ritz. The mystery-man, living under an assumed name, never went out in the daytime, though Suzor often went forth, paying visits to certain banks and commercial offices in connexion with the proposed new railway.
The man we engaged was an elderly ex-detective of the Seville police, named Pardo, who very soon discovered the identity of the secret agent employed to keep surveillance upon De Gex on behalf of the police so that no harm should befall him.
In consequence, I took Pardo into my confidence, and calling him to my hotel, explained that I desired to keep secret watch upon the Frenchman Suzor, without the knowledge of the detective watching De Gex.
"I particularly desire to know the addresses of any telegram which Suzor may send. Probably he may send some message to Italy. If so, please discover the address and the text of the message."
I believed that De Gex might communicate with Moroni, now that the plot of Despujol had failed.
"I will watch, senor," was the grey-haired Spaniard's reply. "If Senor Suzor sends any telegram I shall probably obtain a copy of it. They know me well at the chief telegraph office. Senor Suzor appears to be transacting a considerable amount of business in Madrid—a scheme for a new railway, I understand."
"Yes, I know. All I want you to do is to find out who visits Mr. De Gex, and whether any telegrams are sent by either him or Mr. Suzor."
"I quite understand, senor," was the detective's reply as he rose, and a few minutes later withdrew.
Late in the evening two days afterwards I returned to the hotel to find the man Pardo awaiting me. After I had taken him up to my room and closed the door, he drew a piece of paper from his pocket, saying in French:
"Senor Suzor sent a telegram at half-past eight this evening of which this is a copy."
The message he handed me was in a pencilled scribble, and was in English as follows:
"Charles Rabel, Rue de Lalande 163, Montauban.—
"Important that I should see you. Meet me at Hotel Luxembourg, Nimes, without fail, next Monday at noon.—O."
The initial "O" stood for Oswald—Oswald De Gex! So the mystery-man of Europe contemplated leaving Madrid!
I thanked the man Pardo, who said:
"Senor Suzor did not dispatch the telegram from the chief office in the Calle del Correo, but from the branch office in the Plaza del Progreso. He apparently wished to send it in secret."
"I wonder why?" I asked.
The Spaniard raised his shoulders.
The address conveyed nothing to me. But the message was proof that De Gex intended to leave Spain, and further, it was a source of satisfaction to know his destination in case he slipped away suddenly.
After Pardo had gone I sat and pondered. It struck me as very curious that Suzor should have gone to a distant telegraph office in order to send the message. It seemed that he feared to be recognized by the counter-clerk at the chief telegraph office. For over an hour I smoked reflectively. I confess that a curious ill-defined suspicion had arisen in my mind, a suspicion that became so strong that just about eleven o'clock I entered the Jefatura Superior de Policia in the Calle de la Princesa, and again inquired for Senor Andrade.
Fortunately he had been detained in his office, and I was shown into his presence.
He seemed surprised to see me, but at once he became interested when I said:
"I have a distinct suspicion that I know the whereabouts of Despujol."
"Have you?" he exclaimed quickly. "What causes you to suspect?"
"A man whom I believe to be an acquaintance of his has to-day sent an urgent telegram to Charles Rabel, Rue de Lalande, 163, in Montauban, in France, making an appointment to meet him at the Hotel Luxembourg at Nimes next Monday at noon."
"Who is his friend?" he asked eagerly.
"I regret, Senor Andrade, that I am not in a position to answer that question. The whole matter is only one of suspicion—very strong suspicion."
The Chief of Police looked very straight at me.
"Ah! Then you are in possession of certain secret knowledge concerning the man who made such a dastardly attempt upon your life!" he remarked. "And you suspect this Charles Rabel at Montauban to be the fugitive—eh?"
"Exactly," I replied.
He asked me to repeat the address, which he scribbled down, and then looking up, said:
"Personally, Senor Garfield, I think your suspicions are unfounded. Despujol, if he is ever found, will be discovered in hiding somewhere in the mountains of the north."
"But why not in Montauban?" I asked. "He is apparently a well-educated man, judging from his conversation with me. He speaks French well, and perhaps passes as a French subject."
"He could pass for a Spaniard, an Italian, a Greek, or a Frenchman," Andrade remarked. "And as forged passports are so cheap nowadays, and almost impossible to detect, the means of escape of such a daring criminal are both numerous and easy. But," he added, "I am interested in this person whom you believe to be a friend of the fugitive. Cannot you tell me who he is?"
I shook my head, and smiling replied:
"I have only come here to tell you of a very distinct suspicion I entertain that Despujol is at Montauban."
"Then his friend is your enemy—eh?" he suggested, his dark, penetrating eyes fixed upon mine. "You know the motive of that trap which Despujol set for you, and yet you will not reveal it to me!"
Again I shook my head and smiled.
"It would make my task much easier," he remarked.
"I am aware of that. But at present mine is only a suspicion. I have no actual knowledge that Charles Rabel is the man you are so desirous of arresting."
"And you really refuse to tell me who sent this message?" he asked in a tone of disappointment.
"It was sent in secret," I answered. "Indeed, it was that fact which caused me to suspect. You can, of course, obtain the original of the telegram by applying for it from the authorities. But it is only signed by an initial."
"How did you obtain knowledge of it?"
"Again I have no intention of disclosing the source of my information, Senor Andrade," I replied as politely as I could, "I am, as a matter of fact, here in Madrid attempting to solve a very remarkable mystery which occurred in London a few months ago."
"This is most interesting! You never told me that before!" he exclaimed. "I confess I wondered with what motive you and your friend Senor Hambledon, living at separate hotels, had in remaining here. It was regarded as suspicious by the detective force that being such intimate friends you lived at separate hotels, and met only in secret. Reports have reached me of your movements, and of your meetings," he laughed. "More than once you have been regarded as suspected persons," he added.
"Well, I hope you do not regard me as a suspected person any longer, Senor Andrade!" I exclaimed with a smile.
"No, no," he laughed. "But I confess you are something of a mystery. Why should the notorious Despujol dare to put his foot into Madrid and lay that deadly plot to kill you? You know the motive, and yet you will not disclose it to me."
"Not at present," I said. "If it is found that Charles Rabel is really Despujol, then I will come forward and state all that I know."
"You promise that?"
"Very well—then I will give orders to have your suspicions investigated," replied the patient, urbane official. "A detective shall leave by the next train for Montauban with a request to the Prefect of Police of the Department of Tarn-et-Garonne for the arrest of the individual in question, if he should be identified."
"Then I will accompany him," I said.
"Excellent," he exclaimed. "It would be well if Senor Rivero, the head of the Detective Department, whom you have met, went in person to France. I will ring him up at his house."
He took up the telephone and a few minutes later spoke rapidly in Spanish to the chief detective of Spain.
Presently after a rapid conversation he put down the receiver, and said:
"Senor Rivero will meet you at the Delicias Station at two o'clock to-morrow morning. The express for Barcelona leaves at two-fifteen. From Barcelona you can get direct to Nimes, and on to Montauban. And," he added, "I only hope you will be successful in arresting the notorious Despujol."
I thanked him, and suggested that if we should be fortunate enough to identify him, we should watch for the keeping of the appointment at the Hotel Luxembourg at Nimes on the following Monday.
"With whom is he keeping the appointment?" asked Senor Andrade.
"That I will disclose later," was my reply. "I know that the appointment has been fixed, and if we watch, we shall, I feel assured, gain some knowledge of considerable interest."
"As you wish," replied the Chief of Police, who now seemed convinced by my manner that I was in possession of certain actual facts. "You will meet Senor Rivero—eh?"
"Certainly," I said.
"Then I wish the pair of you the good fortune of arresting the assassin Despujol," he said as we shook hands and parted.
I drove at once to Hambledon's hotel, where I found that he had just retired to bed. As he stood in his pyjamas, surprised at my unexpected visit at that hour, I told him what I had arranged.
"Then I will remain here and watch De Gex's departure," he said.
"Yes. But be very careful of yourself," I urged. "Keep your revolver handy, for you never know when an attack may be made upon you. These fellows, though great men in the eyes of the world, employ desperate characters to do their dirty work."
"I'm quite alive to that fact, Hugh," replied my friend. "But we won't give up till we punish those responsible for poor Miss Tennison's state—will we?"
"No, we won't," I declared determinedly. "Of course we may be on a wrong scent, but something seems to tell me that we are pretty hot on the trail. The assassin Despujol would never have been employed by them if they did not hold us in dread."
"Your journey to Montauban will prove whether you are right, Hugh," he said, and then, after arranging that he should follow Suzor should De Gex leave without him, and that he should at once wire me word to the Poste Restante at Nimes, I left, and returning to the hotel packed my suit-case and later met the bald-headed but famous detective.
The latter proved an amusing companion who, during the long night journey to the Mediterranean, recounted to me many of his interesting experiences. His French was better than his English, so we conversed in the former tongue.
There was no sleeping carriage upon the train, therefore, after my companion had spoken to the conductor, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the first-class compartment which had been reserved for us. At half-past three in the morning, with true Spanish forethought, he produced some sandwiches, fresh fruit, and a bottle of excellent wine, upon which we made a hearty meal, after which we dozed in our corners till dawn.
Throughout the day my companion, who was quite as eager as myself to arrest the notorious Despujol, chatted in French as we went slowly down the fertile valley of the Ebro and suddenly out to where on our right lay the broad blue sea. Not until late afternoon did we arrive at Barcelona, and having two hours to wait we went along the Paseo de San Juan to the Francia Station, and having deposited our bags there, strolled along to the Plaza de Cataluna, where, at the gay Maison Doree, we had coffee and cigarettes, while my companion read the Diario and I watched the picturesque crowd about us. Rivero knew Barcelona well, so after we had finished our cigarettes we took a taxi to the Central Police Office, where we had a chat with the chief of the Detective Department, a short stout little man with a round boyish face and a black moustache. After that we took another taxi along to the toy-fair in the Plaza de la Constitucion, it being the Feast of St. George, the patron saint of Catalonia, which accounted for the bustle and gaiety of the city.
Then, after an interesting half-hour, we returned to the station and set out upon our slow eight-hour journey through the rich wine lands of Catalonia, with their quaint mediaeval villages and towns, with occasional glimpses of sapphire sea, and passing over many ravines and gullies we at last, long after nightfall, entered a long tunnel at the end of which was the station of Port-Bou, the French frontier.
The usual prying douaniers were quickly at work, and after some coffee at the Restaurant Baque, which is so well known to travellers to Southern Spain, we re-entered the train for Narbonne, where in the morning we changed and travelled to Montauban, by way of Carcassonne and Toulouse.
It was late in the afternoon when, on arrival at our destination, we took rooms at the Hotel du Midi on the opposite side of the Tarn to the prosperous pleasant little French town, once a headquarter of the Inquisition, and even now containing in its Museum the executioner's axe and many instruments of torture. After a wash and a meal, for we were both very hungry, we set out to find Monsieur Charles Rabel, whose address was Rue de Lalande, number 163.
We crossed the wonderful old brick bridge from Villebourbon to the town—a bridge built in the fourteenth century with an internal passage running beneath the roadway to the ancient Chateau. Then, making our way past the old Church of St. Jacques, with its fine Gothic octagonal tower, and passing through a number of streets we found ourselves in the narrow old-world Rue de Lalande.
Just as we entered the street, which contained a number of small shops, I halted.
"He must not see me!" I exclaimed.
"I quite agree," replied the Spanish detective. "There is a little cafe over there. Go in and wait for me. I will make some discreet inquiries concerning this Monsieur Rabel."
Hence we parted, and while Senor Rivero sauntered along the street in search of the house in question, I went into the cafe and ordered a bock.
Full of anxiety lest, after all, this man Rabel should be a respectable citizen, I waited.
Time passed slowly. Half an hour went by. I ordered a mazagran and sat smoking, trying to suppress my eagerness. An hour elapsed—an hour and a half—two hours!
I waited yet another half-hour until the proprietor of the cafe began to look askance at me. Then I paid, and rising, went out into the street.
It was now dark. There was no sign of my friend the Spanish police agent. He had disappeared!
I stood upon the pavement full of anxiety and bewilderment.
What could have happened to him?
CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH
I returned to my rather barely-furnished room at the Hotel du Midi which overlooked the Place outside the station in the suburb across the river, and sank into a chair to reflect.
The concierge—a lad who wore the concierge's cap—the concierge being off duty at his evening meal—informed me that my friend had not returned. He seemed an alert French lad of that type so frequently seen in Continental hotels.
Senor Rivero had disappeared! For an hour I waited seated alone in my room reflecting deeply. My sole desire and fixed object was to solve the enigma of Gabrielle Tennison's unfortunate mental state and to bring to justice those unscrupulous blackguards responsible for it. As I sat there her pale beautiful face arose before me—the wonderful countenance of the girl who had, in such a strange and indescribable manner, taken possession of my soul. To analyse my feelings towards her was impossible. I put to myself the query why I loved her, but I was utterly unable to answer it.
I loved her most passionately and devotedly. That was all.
The tragedy of the situation was that I loved one who, alas! could not return my affection as a girl with her mental balance unaffected could do. Her poor unbalanced brain could never allow her to understand me, or to return my love.
I was tired after the long sleepless journey from Spain, and I suppose I must have dozed in my chair.
I awoke suddenly, hearing a tap upon the door, and an elderly chambermaid entered with a telegram.
I tore it open and found it had been dispatched from Castelsarrasin, and was from Rivero, saying: "Absence unavoidable. Hope to be back by midnight."
"Where is Castelsarrasin?" I inquired of the woman.
"It is about sixteen kilometres from here, m'sieur," replied the buxom woman in the strong accent of Toulouse. "It is on the road to Agen and the railway junction for Beaumont-de-Lomagne. Just a small town. They say that the name is a corruption of Castel-sur-Azin. At least my mother used to tell me so."
What, I wondered, had taken the head of the Madrid detective force out there? He must be following some fresh clue.
So I went forth across the bridge to a big cafe opposite the theatre, and there idled till nearly midnight, when I returned eagerly to meet my friend.
He entered my room just before one o'clock in the morning, tired and dusty, for he appeared to have walked a long distance. I had some cognac and a syphon of seltzer awaiting him, and sinking exhausted into a chair, he took a long and refreshing drink before he spoke.
"Well?" he said with a sigh. "You have been wondering why I disappeared so mysteriously—eh? The fact is I was compelled. On making inquiry of a shoemaker who has a little shop near Charles Rabel's house I learned that the man for whom we are searching lived in a flat on the first floor of the house kept by a widow named Cailliot. But he was frequently absent in England or in Italy. Only for short spells was he there, for he was a commercial traveller representing a Lyons firm of silkweavers. As we were speaking, the shoemaker pointed to a rather smart young woman who was at that moment leaving the house, and said: 'Look! That is Mademoiselle Jacquelot, the fiancee of Monsieur Charles! She might tell you where he is. I do not think he is at home to-day. I saw him four days ago and spoke to him as he passed. But I believe he has left again!' I thanked him, and at once followed Mademoiselle, hence I had no time to tell you, for I had no idea where she was going. I saw that by following Rabel's fiancee I might gain some useful knowledge. She walked to the station, and took a ticket for Castelsarrasin. I did the same. We had half an hour to wait, but I spent it patiently, and when we left I travelled alone with her in the same compartment. Soon I managed to get into conversation with her, whereupon I mentioned that I had a friend, Monsieur Charles Rabel, in Montauban, and that we had met in Paris. He had once shown me her photograph and I believed I was not mistaken that she was Mademoiselle Jacquelot. At first she was surprised, but I told her a very plausible story, whereupon she explained that Charles had gone to Toulouse on business three days before, but that he was returning at noon to-morrow. She herself lived in Castelsarrasin."
"But do you anticipate that we shall discover in Charles Rabel the notorious Despujol?" I inquired eagerly.
Rivero raised his shoulders and elevated his black eyebrows, saying:
"From facts I gathered from Mademoiselle concerning him I certainly think that we are really upon his track. It hardly seems possible, but we must remain in patience till to-morrow. Then, if we find our surmise correct, we must act with the greatest caution if we are to watch him to Nimes where he is to meet your mysterious friend—the man whose name you refuse to reveal."
"When they meet you will at once recognize him," I said. "I may be mistaken," I added. "But I do not anticipate that I am. If all goes well, then you will arrest the notorious Despujol."
"I only wish that the fellow would fall into my hands," replied my companion. "If so, then revelations will be made that will startle Europe."
"And incidentally gain you promotion in the service—eh?" I laughed.
He nodded and admitted:
"I hope so, Senor Garfield. I sincerely hope so," he replied, and we parted for the night.
Next day I woke early and sought my friend. We idled about till nearly noon, when we went together to the railway station to watch the arrival of the train from Toulouse.
A number of people were about, for the dusty lumbering express from Bordeaux to Marseilles had, at that moment, arrived, and considerable bustle ensued in consequence.
While we stood watching the crowd Senor Rivero suddenly touched my arm, and whispered:
"Look yonder! The girl in dark blue! That is Mademoiselle Jacquelot! She must not see me. I wonder why she is here—if not to warn him of the inquiries made concerning him by a stranger!"
I glanced in the direction he had indicated and saw a tall, slim, rather good-looking girl sauntering idly in our direction. Her attention had, for the moment, been diverted by an advertisement upon the wall.
"Quick!" cried my friend. "Let us slip back here."
And next moment we had repassed the barrier, back into the booking-office.
"If she sees me her suspicions will be aroused—if they are not already aroused," said my companion. "The fact that she is here gives rise to the question whether she is really so innocent as she pretends. She may know of her lover's escapades, and suspects me of having followed her out to her home."
"If she does suspect, then she is cleverer than you anticipated," I remarked.
"Yes. But in any case we had better act independently. You return to the platform, for she has never seen you. You will remain well concealed and watch them meet, while I shall be at the exit to identify him if you find that you cannot get near enough to him without courting observation."
As he spoke the bell was clanging, and there came the roar of the engine entering the big echoing station.
I slipped back instantly upon the platform and standing at a point against the corner of the bookstand where I hoped to escape unobserved, I turned my head away as the train came along. Then, when it drew up, I held my breath anxiously as I turned around.
The girl in navy blue was not far from me searching along the train until, of a sudden, she espied a man in a dark overcoat and dark-green velour hat, who had just alighted, carrying in his hand a small leather case. His countenance was ruddy, and he had a small black moustache.
My heart fell. The man was a stranger to me! The countenance was not that of the man whom I had surprised in my bedroom at Madrid. He bent and greeted her affectionately, but next moment it was apparent that she was explaining something which caused his countenance to grow serious.
He put one or two swift questions to her. Then halting suddenly, he glanced at his watch.
I strove to get sufficiently near to look well into his face, but I feared recognition.
Would he pass out of the exit where the famous Spanish detective was awaiting him? Rivero knew Despujol by photographs, and indeed had been present when he had been convicted on the last occasion a few years before.
Mademoiselle's friend hesitated for some moments, and then accosting a porter asked a question. The man pointed to a train on the opposite platform.
Was it possible that what Mademoiselle had told him had scared him? It seemed so, for with a sudden resolve, instead of walking to the exit he entered the booking-office and bought another ticket.
In an instant I dashed to the exit where the Spaniard was waiting, and in a few breathless words told him of the man's intention.
To my amazement Senor Rivero heard me unmoved.
"I was awaiting you," he said. "The man you have been watching is not Despujol at all. Despujol, whom I recognized, passed out a few moments ago and took a cab to his house in the Rue de Lalande."
"Then you have seen him!" I gasped.
"Yes. It is Rodriquez Despujol, without a doubt, Monsieur Garfield. You have not been mistaken, and we must certainly thank you for putting us upon the track of this dangerous assassin."
"Then, after all, my surmise is correct! And he will go on Monday to meet his paymaster in Nimes," I said. "The plot against me failed. Probably a second attempt is to be made."
"We shall be careful not to be seen until he travels to Nimes," laughed Rivero, well satisfied at the progress he had made.
"But I wonder who is the red-faced man whom Mademoiselle has met," I remarked. "She has evidently warned him of some danger."
"If that's so we ought to see him," my friend exclaimed. "Let us go together on to the platform and watch. So long as Mademoiselle does not recognize me, we are safe."
With the reassuring knowledge that the man who was being sought for by the whole police of Europe had gone to his unsuspicious abode in the Rue de Lalande, we returned to the far platform where a train stood waiting to leave. It was the rapide for Paris by way of Bourges. The man was already in a third-class compartment and as he stood with his head out of the window, Mademoiselle was chatting with him. Truly his stay in Montauban had not been long.
The instant Rivero caught sight of the fellow's face, he exclaimed:
"Holy Madonna! Why, it is Mateo Sanz, the motor-bandit. We've been searching everywhere for him! He shot and killed a carabineer near Malaga a month ago!"
Next second he had left me and a few moments later hurried back. He had bought a ticket.
"Sanz does not know me. As soon as we've left the station and are away from Mademoiselle I shall be all right. Remain here. I will wire you, and in any case we shall be together in Nimes on Monday. But be careful not to be seen by Despujol. He is a wary bird, remember!"
Then, unseen by Mademoiselle, he entered a first-class compartment of the train, just as the signal was given to start.
The train moved off, and I was left alone. Surely much had happened in those few exciting moments!
But why had Mademoiselle Jacquelot warned her friend the motor-bandit? If she had warned him because of Rivero's inquiries concerning Despujol then she could also warn the latter. Again it was curious that she met Sanz, and did not meet Despujol. Further, it was a strange fact that the pair of Spanish criminals had not travelled together—unless there was some reason for it.
Perhaps there was.
I watched Mademoiselle as she passed out of the station to a little restaurant where she had a frugal meal. Then she returned and took a ticket back to her home in Castelsarrasin.
Rivero now had his hands full. Not only had he identified in the respectable commercial traveller, Charles Rabel, the notorious assassin Despujol, but he had also quite accidentally come across Sanz the motor-bandit, who of late had terrorized the south of Spain, and whose daring depredations were upon everyone's lips. Mademoiselle seemed to be a friend of both men!
I returned to my hotel close by, and ate my dejeuner alone. My position was a very unenviable one, for I feared to go over into the town lest I should come face to face with the man who had so cunningly made an attempt upon me as the hireling of Oswald De Gex.
But my thoughts were ever of my beloved, the girl who was the victim of some foul plot into which I, too, had been drawn—a mystery which I was devoting my whole life to solve.
At five o'clock that evening I received a telegram from Harry in Madrid, telling me that all was quiet, and "our friend"—meaning De Gex—never went out.
To this I replied in a cryptic way that our suspicions had been verified, and that the person of whom we were in search we had discovered. We were only now waiting for the appointment to be kept at the Hotel de Luxembourg at Nimes.
Next day passed uneventfully. In order to kill time I took train to the quaint little town of Moissac, an ancient little place on the Tarn about twenty-five kilometres distant, and there spent the hours wandering about the countryside which is so famed for its grapes in autumn. I did not return to Montauban till after seven, and while I sat at dinner the waiter handed me another telegram. It was from Rivero, and having been sent from Lyons, read: "All well. Just returning to Montauban."
Later, I busied myself with time-tables and found that he would be due to arrive about six o'clock on the following morning. Therefore I possessed myself in patience, and I was still in bed when in the morning he entered my room.
"Well?" he exclaimed in French, as he sank wearily into a chair. "I've had a swift and weary journey. Sanz has been alarmed by the girl. Why, I cannot tell. Did she go to see Despujol?"
"No," I replied. "She didn't see him, but went straight home."
"You have not ventured near Despujol, I hope?"
"No. I have hardly ventured into the town."
"Good. Well, we shall make a double arrest," he went on. "When the train arrived at the junction at Montlucon at midnight Sanz, evidently fearing lest he was followed, slipped out of the train and into another on the opposite side of the platform. It is a favourite dodge of elusive persons of his type. So, unseen by him, I also joined the train, and we travelled across to Lyons. There he went to a house in the Rue Chevreuil, close to the river, and when I had him safely there I went to the Bureau of Police and asked that observation should be kept upon him until such time that we in Spain should demand his arrest and extradition. The Lyons police know me very well, so two agents were at once detailed for that duty, and I immediately made my way back here. It seems that Sanz is also wanted in France for a motor-car exploit outside Orleans. Therefore our discovery is indeed a lucky one!"
"Will Sanz be arrested?" I asked.
"Yes. I have already reported by telegram to Senor Andrade in Madrid. He will at once ask them in Paris to order the arrest."
"We have now to await his journey to Nimes to keep this mysterious appointment with your friend."
"Not my friend," I remarked, "rather with my bitterest enemy!"
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST
AT THE HOTEL LUXEMBOURG
As a detective Rivero was of outstanding shrewdness. He knew that more could be gained by patience than by sharp activity. Hence he did not go near the Rue de Lalande. Indeed, on the Saturday night we both left Montauban together, and travelled by that slow, cross-country route through the Aveyron, by way of Severac, down to the ancient city of Nimes—that quaint, quiet old place which contains more monuments of antiquity than any other town in France.
Early in the morning we alighted at the station, high upon a viaduct, after a sleepless night, and drove to a small commercial hotel, the Cheval Blanc, in the Place des Arenes, nearly opposite the Luxembourg where the mystery-man of Europe had appointed to meet the infamous Despujol. When I inquired for a telegram one was handed to me. It was from Hambledon, saying that De Gex had left for Nimes and Suzor was returning to Paris, therefore he would follow the latter.
Having installed ourselves in the hotel, Rivero went to the concierge, and taking him into his confidence over a twenty-franc note, told him that he was very anxious to know whether a gentleman named Rabel had arrived at the Luxembourg. Would he ask the concierge there privately on the telephone?
The man in uniform at once rang up the Luxembourg, and addressing the concierge as his "dear Henri," made the inquiry.
The reply was that Monsieur Rabel was expected at noon.
"Ask if a gentleman is expected who has engaged a private sitting-room," Rivero said.
The reply came back that a gentleman, believed to be English, had arrived in the night and now occupied the best suite. His name was Monsieur Johnson, of London.
I then described De Gex to the concierge, who repeated the description to the other hotel.
"Yes, m'sieur," he said, turning again to me. "Henri believes it is the same gentleman whom you describe."
"Who is he?" asked Rivero, much puzzled.
"Wait—and you will see," I replied, laughing, for we now seemed to be within an ace of success.
Just before midday we watched the arrival of the train from Montauban, and from it there descended the man we expected—the notorious Despujol. Though his features were unmistakable he was made up to look much older, his hair being made grey above the ears.
At his side there walked a man whom I instantly recognized, and sight of him, I must confess, caused me to hold my breath.
It was the sinister-faced Italian, Doctor Moroni.
We drew back, and hastening to a taxi, returned at once to our hotel, from the door of which we could see the entrance to the Luxembourg, where a few moments later we saw both the travellers enter.
What further devil's work was now in progress?
We watched the hotel in patience, until just before three o'clock the trio came forth laughing airily.
"Why, look!" gasped Rivero. "Despujol is with your great English financier, Senor De Gex!"
I smiled triumphantly.
"I told you that I had a surprise in store for you," I exclaimed.
"But if Despujol is with him it must be with some evil intent!"
"That is certain!"
"While Senor De Gex was in Madrid we had orders to afford him police protection," Rivero said. "Possibly he suspected that some attempt might be made upon him. Certainly he has no idea of that man's true identity."
"Yes, he has, for he has come here specially to meet him in secret. But why that Italian should be here I can only surmise. He is a doctor from Florence, named Moroni—a man of very evil repute."
"But why should Senor De Gex meet such people in secret?" asked Rivero, much astonished.
"I suppose there is some strong motive why they should meet—the more so, now that I have proved to you that the notorious Despujol is a hireling of this wealthy man De Gex."
"A hireling!" he gasped. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that De Gex hired Despujol to make that attempt upon my life, and I have a suspicion—one not yet entirely verified—that Moroni prepared that deadly orosin by the agency of which it was hoped that I should meet with my death."
"Do you really suggest that De Gex, one of the best-known and most philanthropic men in Europe, actually hired Despujol to go to your room that night?" my companion asked, his eyes following the trio as they walked together and chatted beneath the trees of the Avenue Feucheres.
"I do. And further, De Gex has every motive in closing my lips."
"Ah! Then you hold some secret of his, perhaps?" asked Rivero, a new interest being instantly aroused.
"I do—one that I intend to expose when I obtain sufficient corroborative evidence," I answered with determination. "But is not the fact of the three men meeting here in secret under assumed names sufficient proof to you that some fresh plot is afoot?"
"Certainly it is," Rivero agreed. "But I wish you would reveal to me the whole facts."
"It is unnecessary," was my reply. "You are here only to deal with Despujol. I promised I would bring you to him—and I have done so. Instead of living in obscurity in a high-up frontier village in the Pyrenees, as you in Madrid believed, I have shown you that he lives in Montauban, where he passes as an industrious commercial traveller. If you search that house in the Rue de Lalande you might find a quantity of stolen property."
"As a matter of fact, it has already been searched by the police of Montauban at my request," he replied. "The raid was made last night after Charles Rabel had left. I received a telegram from the Commissary of Police only an hour ago to the effect that six heavy cases of 'travellers' samples' had been opened, and in them was found a great quantity of stolen jewellery, negotiable securities, and other objects of value, including two valuable paintings which were missing from the Prado Museum three years ago."
"Then my information has been of some little use to you—eh?"
"Of enormous use, Senor Garfield! You will no doubt receive an official letter of thanks from the Ministry of the Interior," he replied. "But we must act very warily. Despujol will not risk remaining here for long. Besides, some friend may telegraph to him that the police have been to the Rue de Lalande!"
Once more it was upon the tip of my tongue to explain the manner in which I had become implicated in the evil deeds of Oswald De Gex and his sycophants, when of a sudden he added:
"You must really forgive me, Senor Garfield, but you are an entire mystery to me. You have never been frank with me—never once!"
"I have been as frank as I dared," I replied. "I tell you that I am here to watch and to strive to elucidate a great plot—one which concerns myself and the woman I love. We have both been victims of a vile and desperate conspiracy."
"And whom do you suspect?"
"Oswald De Gex."
"With what motive?" he asked, for he held the enormously wealthy financial friend of Spain in awe and admiration.
"That, alas! is an enigma to me. I only know that he has made an attempt upon my life, and that at least one woman has been sent to the grave by foul means."
"Do you really infer that Senor De Gex is an assassin?" he asked incredulously.
"I only tell you what I know, Senor Rivero," I replied quietly. "I said that I would lead you to the secret abode of Despujol, and I think I have now fulfilled my promise, and shown you that he is on friendly terms with the great financier whom you in Spain all hold in such high esteem."
"There is certainly no man more welcome in Madrid than Senor De Gex," replied the police official. "At the Ritz, whether in his own name or incognito, he constantly receives our greatest politicians and most prominent personages. Even the King has more than once commanded him to the palace, in order to confer with him upon acute financial problems in the interests of our country. And yet you infer that Senor De Gex is an assassin!"
"I not only infer it," I said, "but I openly allege it!" I added hotly, as I thought of Gabrielle.
Rivero glancing at me quickly raised his shoulders with a gesture of disbelief.
"Very well," I said. "At least I have proved to you that he is a secret friend of the notorious Despujol. Why is he here in Nimes to consult with De Gex and his friend the Italian, Moroni, if not for purposes of evil? Despujol has made desperate war upon society, and it is De Gex who secretly finances him! Hence he is the servant of the man with money."
The dark-faced Spaniard reflected.
"Well," he exclaimed at last. "What you have revealed is certainly most interesting."
"And if you wish to capture Despujol you must lose no time," I assured him. "Remember, he and his gang have agents everywhere with eyes and ears open. He will soon know of the raid upon his retreat in Montauban."
"No doubt he will," agreed my companion. "They will return presently, and then we will arrest him. In the meantime I will call upon the Commissary of Police. Come with me."
We at once took a cab to the Prefecture where we were ushered into the presence of Monsieur Coulagne, a rather tall, grey-haired elegant man, with the rosette of the Legion of Honour in his coat.
When Rivero introduced himself the Commissary bowed to us both and bade us be seated.
In a few quick sentences the Spanish detective explained the object of his mission, and producing his authority from the Spanish Ministry, requested the arrest of the infamous bandit Despujol.
"But is Despujol actually in Nimes?" cried the Commissary astounded.
"He certainly is. I identified him on his arrival here at midday."
"We have been searching for him for over two years. He is wanted, among other things, for the murder of Madame Lescot, a wealthy widow of Aix-en-Provence."
"Ah! Then it is not a matter for extradition, eh?" remarked Rivero. "We want him for a dozen crimes of violence in Spain. He attempted the death of my English companion here, Monsieur Garfield—who will give evidence against him."
The Commissary pressed an electric button, whereupon his secretary appeared.
In a few rapid sentences the tall, elegant French official gave orders, and the secretary retired at once to execute them.
"Despujol is a desperate character. He is always armed, and possesses abnormal strength. He could strangle his strongest opponent," Rivero remarked.
"I have taken precautions," replied Monsieur Coulagne, smiling. "I have ordered ten men in plain clothes to go at once unobtrusively to the Hotel du Luxembourg, and arrest him when he returns."
"That will frighten De Gex and Moroni," I said quickly. "And if they are frightened they will escape!"
Rivero laughed. I knew that he entirely disbelieved my statement. In his eyes the wealthy friend of Spain could do no wrong. Did not his King invite him to conference, in ignorance, of course, of his true character?
I was not surprised at Rivero's attitude, yet I had hoped that Despujol's arrest would be effected without the knowledge of De Gex and his sinister medical friend.
I pointed this out, whereupon Rivero remarked with sarcasm:
"If what you allege against Senor De Gex and his friend be true, they ought also to be arrested."
"Yes. They ought, and they will be when I am able to bring forward sufficient evidence to convict them," I replied warmly. "Why, I ask you, should Oswald De Gex be in secret association with that dangerous bandit?"
The Spaniard merely shrugged his shoulders, while at the Commissary's request a dossier was brought in, and then they both went through a long catalogue of crimes alleged to have been instigated or actually committed by the man whom I had found in my bedroom, and who had so cleverly deceived me.
The list was a formidable one, and showed how elusive was the man whom the police of Europe had been hunting for so long.
Among the big batch of papers was a report in English from the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard stating that the individual in question had arrived in London on a certain date, and stayed with a respectable family at Ham, near Richmond, representing himself to be a lawyer from Barcelona. Thence he had gone to Glasgow, where he stayed at a certain hotel, and then moved to Oban. Afterwards he had come south again to Luton, in Bedfordshire, where all trace of him had been lost.
"Well," laughed Rivero triumphantly, "we shall take good care not to lose him now!"
"No," said the Commissary of Police. "My men will be armed, and will take him, alive or dead!"
"And De Gex and Moroni will then instantly flee!" I said, full of regret that I had taken that step which might so easily result in destroying all my chances of solving that puzzling enigma of Gabrielle Tennison.
Nevertheless, it was a source of satisfaction that at last Despujol had, by my watchfulness, been run to earth.
Suddenly the telephone at Monsieur Coulagne's elbow rang, and after listening, he exclaimed:
"The men are already posted round the hotel. So all we have to do is to await his return."
Hence I went forth with Rivero and the Commissary. Led by the latter, we approached the Place de l'Esplanade through a labyrinth of narrow back streets until, on gaining the hotel, we saw idling in the vicinity a number of men who were apparently quite disinterested.
We entered the hotel boldly, and drawing back to the end of the lounge, after a whispered word with the concierge, we waited.
For a full hour we remained there in eager impatience, until suddenly a figure whom I recognized as Doctor Moroni showed in the doorway.
He was alone!
He ascended to his room, where he remained for about ten minutes. Then, descending, he went to the bureau and inquired for the bill of his friend and himself, announcing his intention of departing for Paris by the train which left in half an hour!
Rivero, who had been standing near him unrecognized, crossed quickly to where with the Commissary I sat well back from observation, and gasped:
"They've gone! He is also leaving! Evidently they suspected they were under observation!"
"Ah! Despujol is a very wary bird," replied Monsieur Coulagne, rising and walking out into the Place, where he whispered some hurried words to a stout, well-dressed man who was sauntering by, and who was his chief inspector.
In a few moments more than half the lurking police agents had disappeared to make inquiries at the railway station and in various quarters, and when he rejoined us—Moroni having returned upstairs—he said:
"Despujol cannot yet have gone very far. I have given orders for all railway stations within two hundred kilometres to be warned. Let us return to my bureau and await reports."
"And what about Moroni?" I asked.
"He will be followed. I have already seen to that," was the reply.
Back at the Prefecture Monsieur Coulagne was soon speaking rapidly over the telephone. Then we waited for news of the fugitive. None came until about two hours afterwards the result of inquiries was told to us by an inspector.
It seemed that on the previous day a large open car, driven by a chauffeur, put into Carli's Garage, a big establishment in the Boulevard des Arenes. The chauffeur asked for a receipt for the car, saying that he had to go by train to Marseilles, and that his master would probably call for the car on the following day, and produce the receipt. He asked that it should be filled up with petrol in readiness for his master. About two hours before the police made inquiry three gentlemen entered the garage, the descriptions of whom tallied with those of De Gex, Despujol and Moroni. De Gex produced the receipt for the car. He paid for the petrol, and he and Despujol drove away bidding farewell to Moroni! Despujol drove the car.
"Ah!" exclaimed Rivero. "Despujol would not risk the train. He always arranges a secret means of escape. In this case he prepared it on the day before. Without a doubt he knew that watch was being kept."
"Or was it that De Gex knew that I was here?" I suggested.
"Well, in any case," remarked the Commissary of Police, "the pair have got clear away, and though we will do our best, it will no doubt be extremely difficult to rediscover them. They will change the number-plates on the car, and perhaps repaint it! Who knows? Despujol is one of the most desperate characters in all Europe!"
"And Oswald De Gex is equally dangerous!" I declared, for I was still no nearer the truth.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND
GABRIELLE AT HOME
I had been back in London a little over a week when I read in the paper one morning a paragraph which possessed for me a peculiar interest. It ran as follows:
"The notorious Spanish bandit Rodriquez Despujol, who has for several years terrorized Murcia and Andalusia and has committed several murders, is dead. The police have been searching for him everywhere, but so elusive was he that he always evaded them. The celebrated Spanish detective Senor Rivero learnt a short time ago that the wanted man had been seen at Nimes, where he cleverly contrived to escape by car.
"Certain clues came into the hands of the police, and by these Senor Rivero was able to trace the fugitive to Denia, not far from Valencia. He was hiding in a small cottage in an orange-grove just outside the town. The place was surrounded by police, but Despujol, discovering this, opened fire upon them from one of the windows and also threw a hand grenade among them, with result that two carabineers were killed and four others injured, among the latter being Senor Rivero himself. A desperate fight ensued, but in the end the bandit received a bullet in the head which proved fatal.
"A large quantity of stolen property of all sorts has been discovered in rooms which the criminal occupied in Montauban, in France. Despujol's latest exploit was an attempt to administer in secret a very deadly poison to an Englishman who was visiting Madrid. It was that attempted crime which aroused Senor Rivero's activities which have had the effect of ridding Spain of one of its most notorious assassins."
I read the report twice. So the defiant Despujol was dead, and poor Rivero had sustained injuries! Nothing was said of the powerful financier's friendship with the bandit.
When I showed it to Hambledon, he remarked:
"At least you've been the means not only of putting an end to Despujol's ignoble career, but also of restoring a quantity of very valuable property to its owners."
"True, but it brings us no nearer a solution of the affair at Stretton Street," was my reply.
Gabrielle's mother had returned to London, and that evening I called upon her by appointment. I found her a grey-haired refined woman with a pale anxious face and deep-set eyes.
When I mentioned Gabrielle, who was in the adjoining room, she sighed and exclaimed:
"Ah! Mr. Garfield. It is a great trial to me. Poor child! I cannot think what happened to her. Nobody can tell, she least of all. Doctor Moroni has been very good, for he is greatly interested in her case. They have told me that you called some time ago and evinced an interest in her."
"Yes, Mrs. Tennison," I said. "I feel a very deep interest in your daughter because—well, to tell you the truth, I, too, after a strange adventure here in London one night completely lost my sense of identity, and when I came to a knowledge of things about me I was in a hospital in France, having been found unconscious at the roadside many days after my adventure in London."
"How very curious!" Mrs. Tennison remarked, instantly interested. "Gabrielle was found at the roadside. Do you think, then, that there is any connexion between your case and hers?"
"Yes, Mrs. Tennison," I replied promptly. "It is for that reason I am in active search of the truth—in the interests of your daughter, as well as of those of my own."
"What do you suspect, Mr. Garfield?" asked Gabrielle's mother, as we sat in that cosily-furnished little room where on the table in the centre stood an old punch-bowl filled with sweet-smelling La France roses.
"I suspect many things. In some, my suspicions have proved correct. In others, I am still entirely in the dark. One important point, however, I have established, namely, the means by which this curious, mysterious effect has been produced upon the minds of both your daughter and myself. When one knows the disease then it is not difficult to search for the cure. I know how the effect was produced, and further, I know the name of the medical man who has effected cures in similar cases."
"You do?" she exclaimed eagerly. "Well, Gabrielle has seen a dozen specialists, all of whom have been puzzled."
"Professor Gourbeil, of Lyons, has been able to gain complete cures in two cases. Orosin, a newly discovered poison, is the drug that was used, and the Professor has a wider knowledge of the effect of that highly dangerous substance than any person living. You should arrange to take your daughter to him."
The pale-faced widow shook her head, and in a mournful tone, replied:
"Ah! I am afraid it would be useless. Doctor Moroni took her to several specialists, but they all failed to restore her brain to its normal activity."
"Professor Gourbeil is the only man who has ever been able to completely cure a person to whom orosin has been administered—and that has been in two cases only."