"So the chance is very remote, even if she saw him," exclaimed the widow despairingly.
"I think, Mrs. Tennison, that Gabrielle should see him in any case," I said.
"I agree. The poor girl's condition is most pitiable. At times she seems absolutely normal, and talks of things about her in quite a reasonable manner. But she never seems able to concentrate her thoughts. They always wander swiftly from one subject to another. I have noticed, too, that her vision is affected. Sometimes she will declare that a vivid red is blue. When we look into shop windows together she will refer to a yellow dress as mauve, a pink as white. At times she cannot distinguish colours. Yet now and then her vision becomes quite normal."
"I have had some difficulty, Mrs. Tennison, in that way myself," I said. "When I first left St. Malo, after recovering consciousness of the present, I one day saw a grass field and it appeared to be bright blue. Again, an omnibus in London which I knew to be blue was a peculiar dull red. So my symptoms were the same as your daughter's."
"It seems proved that both of you are fellow-victims of some desperate plot, Mr. Garfield," said the widow. "But what could have been its motive?"
"That I am striving with all my might to establish," I answered. "If I can only obtain from your daughter the true facts concerning her adventures on that fatal night last November, then it will materially assist me towards fixing the guilt upon the person I suspect. In this I beg your aid, Mrs. Tennison," I said. "I have only just returned from several weeks abroad, during which I have gained considerable knowledge which in the end will, I hope, lead me to the solution of the problem."
I then told her of my journey to Spain and afterwards to Nimes. But I mentioned nothing concerning either Oswald De Gex or Despujol.
At that moment Gabrielle, unaware of my presence, entered. She was dressed in a simple grey frock with short sleeves and cut discreetly low, and looked very sweet. On seeing me she drew back, but next second she put out her slim white hand in greeting, and with a delightful smile, exclaimed:
"Why—why, Mr. Garfield! I—I remember you! You called upon me some weeks ago—did you not?"
"Yes, Miss Tennison, I did," I replied as I sprang from my chair and bent over her hand. "So you recollect me—eh?"
"I do. They said that you would call upon me," she replied, her beautiful face suddenly clouding.
"Who told you that?" I asked.
"Doctor Moroni. He warned me that you were my enemy."
I drew a long breath, for I discerned the depth of the plot.
"Not your enemy, Miss Tennison," I assured her. "But your friend—your friend who is trying his best to solve the problem of your—your illness."
"Yes, Gabrielle, dear, Mr. Garfield is certainly your friend. I know that," declared her mother kindly. "Doctor Moroni must have been mistaken. Why should he have warned you against meeting Mr. Garfield?"
I was silent for a moment, then I said:
"Of course, Mrs. Tennison, you have no previous knowledge of me. You are taking me entirely at my own estimation."
"When I meet a young man who is open and frank as you are, I trust him," she said quietly. "You know that woman's intuition seldom errs."
"Well," I answered. "I am striving to solve the mystery of what occurred on the night of November the seventh—of what occurred to your daughter, as well as to myself."
Mrs. Tennison endeavoured to obtain from me a description of my adventure, but I managed to evade her questions.
"I wonder why Doctor Moroni warned Gabrielle against you?" she remarked presently. "It is a mystery."
"Yes, Mrs. Tennison, it is all a mystery—a complete mystery to me why Doctor Moroni, of all men, should take an interest in your daughter. He is certainly not a man to be trusted, and I, in turn, warn you against him."
"Why? He has been so good to Gabrielle."
"The reason of my warning is that he is her enemy as well as mine," I said, glancing at the beautiful girl, whose countenance had, alas! now grown inanimate again.
"But I do not understand," Mrs. Tennison exclaimed. "Why should the doctor be Gabrielle's enemy?"
"Ah! That I cannot tell—except that he fears lest she should recover and reveal the truth—a serious truth which would implicate him."
"Do you think he had any hand in the mysterious affair?"
"I certainly do," was my reply, and then I told her of my journey to Italy, and of my discovery of her daughter with Moroni in Florence.
"But how did you know my daughter?" she asked.
"Because on that fatal night I saw her in a house in London."
"You saw her! Where?"
"In the house of a mutual enemy."
"Mrs. Tennison," I exclaimed quietly. "At present I cannot reveal to you more than I have done. Please excuse me. When I have fully verified my suspicions I will explain all that occurred to me—all that is within my knowledge. Until then, please remain in patience."
"I never dreamed that Gabrielle had a single enemy in the world. I cannot understand it," she exclaimed.
"Neither can I, but the fact remains. The greatest care should be exercised regarding your daughter. Why did she meet that Frenchman in Kensington Gardens?"
"I have only just heard about it," was her mother's reply. "It appears that Doctor Moroni introduced them. She had only seen him once before."
Then, turning to the girl, her mother asked:
"What did he say to you?"
"He brought me an urgent and secret message from Doctor Moroni, telling me that there was a plot against my life," she replied in a slow, mechanical voice. "The doctor sent word to me that Mr. Garfield would probably call and endeavour to be friendly with me, but that he was my enemy, and I should have no dealings with him."
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "So that was the second warning given you, Miss Tennison! It is more than ever plain that they fear lest, by meeting, we shall discover the plot and its instigators. What else did he say?"
"He told me that Doctor Moroni was still in Florence, but that he would be coming to London again very soon, and that he would call. He urged me at the same time to tell nobody that he had seen me, or that he had warned me against you—not even my mother."
"All that is in no way surprising," I remarked, "for I happen to know that Monsieur Suzor and the doctor are on terms of closest friendship—a partnership for evil."
"As I have already explained, Miss Tennison, I have not yet fully solved the enigma, though I have learned a number of facts which, though they increase the mystery, yet they give some clue to the solution of the enigma."
"But their evil design?" asked her mother.
"Their evil design is against us both, hence your daughter's interests have become my own," I replied. "My sole object is to bring to justice those who have, for their own ends—no doubt for financial gain—been guilty of the astounding plot against your daughter. You may believe Doctor Moroni and his friend Suzor as you will, Mrs. Tennison, but I shall not withdraw from my present attitude. That they fear me is conclusively proved."
"I quite see your point," said the quiet-voiced, refined lady.
"Then I do urge you to have a care of Miss Gabrielle," I exclaimed. "If it is known, as it may be, that I have been here, an effort will surely be made to close the mouth of one or other of us. These men are desperate. I have already proved them so. Therefore we must take every precaution against surprise."
"Why not go to the police?" suggested Mrs. Tennison.
"Because the whole circumstances are so strange that, if I related them at Scotland Yard, I should not be believed," was my reply. "No. I, with my friend Mr. Hambledon, must carry on our inquiries alone. If we are sufficiently wary and active we may, I hope, gather sufficient evidence to elucidate the mystery of your daughter's present mental condition, and also the reason why a similar attempt was made upon myself."
"Well, Mr. Garfield," exclaimed the charming, elderly lady with a sigh, "I only hope you will be successful in your quest after the truth. This blow upon me is, I confess, a most terrible one. It is so distressing to see my poor child in such an uncertain state of mentality. Sometimes, as I have told you, she is quite normal, though she has no knowledge of what occurred to her. And at other times she is painfully vague and often erratic in her actions."
"She must consult Professor Gourbeil, the great alienist, at Lyons. He has a wide knowledge of the symptoms and effects of orosin."
The poor lady sighed, and with tired, sad eyes looked upon her daughter, who had sunk into a chair with her pointed chin resting upon her palms.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Garfield, I am not rich," she said in a low earnest tone. "I will give most willingly all I possess in order that my poor child be restored to her normal senses. But I have very little in these post-war days, when everything is so dear, and taxation strangles one, in face of what they told us during the war that they were making England a place fit for heroes to live in! It seems to me that they are now making it fit for Germans and aliens to live in."
"My dear Mrs. Tennison, our discussion does not concern politics," I said, anxious for the future of the graceful girl whom I had grown to love so dearly, even though her brain was unbalanced. At first I regarded it as strange that being fellow-victims of Oswald De Gex and his desperate, unscrupulous accomplices—who included the assassin Despujol—I had been drawn towards her by some unknown and invisible attraction. But when I analysed my feelings and surveyed the situation calmly I saw that it was not more extraordinary than in any other circumstances when a man, seeing a woman who fulfills all his high ideals, falls desperately in love with her and worships at her shrine.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD
It was July.
The London season, later in these modern days, was already on the wane. The Derby and Ascot had been won, in glorious weather. There had been splendid cricket at Lord's, fine polo at Hurlingham, and Henley Week had just passed. London Society was preparing for the country, the Continental Spas, and the sea, leaving the metropolis to the American cousins who were each week invading London's big hotels.
I was back at Francis and Goldsmith's hard at work as I had been before my strange adventure, while Harry was busy at his legal work in the police courts.
From our windows looking across the Thames between the trees on the towing path we had a wide view of the river with the chimneys of the factories on the opposite bank. On the right was Putney, the starting place of the University Boat Race, and on the left the great reservoirs and the bend of the river behind which lay Mortlake, the finish of the boat-race course. Each morning, when I rose and dressed, I looked out upon the wide and somewhat uninteresting vista, racking my brains how to further proceed with my campaign against the great intriguer who could, by his immense wealth, juggle with dynasties.
With Mrs. Tennison I had become on very friendly terms. Fearing to reveal myself as having taken that bundle of Bank of England notes as a bribe, I held back from her what had actually happened to me on that fateful night. But I had become a frequent guest at Longridge Road, and often spent many delightful hours with Gabrielle, who at times seemed quite in her normal senses.
Yet, at others, she became vague and spoke in awed tones about what she had seen—"all red, green and gold." And often I sat at home smoking and wondering what she had seen that had so impressed her. Often, too, I discussed it with Mrs. Tennison and with Harry Hambledon, but neither of us could suggest any solution of the mystery.
Mrs. Tennison, on account of the slump in securities owing to the war, was, I knew, in rather straitened circumstances. When I again suggested a visit to the great specialist in Lyons she shook her head, and told me frankly that she could not afford it. De Gex had, it seemed, sought his victims among those who had been ruined by the war.
She had, however, told me that her brother, a shipping agent living in Liverpool, who was Gabrielle's godfather, was deeply interested in her.
I suggested that she should write to him and urge that, as a last resort, Gabrielle should consult Professor Gourbeil. The latter had been successful in restoring to their normal mental condition patients who had been infected with orosin, that most dangerous and puzzling of the discoveries of modern toxicologists.
Mrs. Tennison had acted upon my advice. Had I been in a financial position to pay Gabrielle's expenses to Lyons I would have done so most willingly. But my journey to Spain had depleted my resources, and though I had those Bank of England notes still reposing in a drawer at home, I dared not change one of them lest by such action I should have accepted and profited upon the bribe which De Gex had so cleverly pressed upon me.
In the first week of July Mrs. Tennison wrote to me, and that evening I went over to see her after leaving the office in Westminster.
It was a hot dry night when London lay beneath its haze of sun-reddened dust after a heat spell, parched and choked.
Gabrielle was out at the house of one of her school friends, hence, we sat alone together in the cool drawing-room—a room which was essentially that of a woman of taste and refinement.
A few seconds after I had entered, a tall, grey-haired man came in, whereupon Mrs. Tennison introduced him as her brother Charles from Liverpool.
The man glanced at me sharply, and then, smiling pleasantly, took my hand.
"I have come up to see my sister regarding poor Gabrielle," he said, when we were seated. "I understand that you have experienced similar symptoms to hers, and have recovered."
"I have not completely recovered," I replied. "Often I have little recurrences of lapse of memory for periods from a few moments to a quarter of an hour."
"My sister has told me that you believe that poor Gabrielle and yourself are fellow-victims of some plot."
"I am certain of it, Mr. Maxwell," I replied. "And I have already devoted considerable time and more money than I could really afford in an attempt to solve the mystery of it all."
"Can you explain the whole circumstances?" he asked. "I am deeply interested in my unfortunate niece."
"I can relate to you a few of the facts if you wish to hear them," was my reply. I certainly had no intention of telling him all that I knew, or of the death and cremation of the mysterious Gabrielle Engledue—whoever she might have been.
So I explained practically what I had told his sister. I also described how Professor Vega at Madrid had told me of the two cures effected by Professor Gourbeil, of Lyons.
"My sister tells me that you suggest Gabrielle should consult him," Mr. Maxwell said. "But she has consulted so many specialists. Doctor Moroni has been most kind to her. He took her to doctors in Paris and in Italy, but they could do nothing."
"Well, I think that as Professor Gourbeil has cured two persons of the deadly effects of the drug Miss Tennison should see him," I remarked.
"I quite agree. It is for that reason I have come to London," he said. "I understand that you, Mr. Garfield, take a personal interest in my niece, therefore I want to ask you a favour—namely, that if I pay the expenses would you accompany my sister and her daughter to Lyons?"
"Willingly. But I will pay my own expenses, please," was my prompt reply.
At first he would not hear of it, until I declined to go unless I went independently, and then we arranged for our departure.
Four days later we descended at the big busy Perrache station at Lyons from the lumbering rapide which had brought us from Paris, and entered the Terminus Hotel which adjoins the platform. Later, from the concierge, we found that Professor Gourbeil of the Facultes des Sciences et de Medecine, lived in the Avenue Felix Faure, and I succeeded over the telephone in making an appointment with him for the following day at noon.
This I kept, going to him alone in order to explain matters.
I found him to be a short, florid-faced man with a shock of white hair and a short white beard. His house was a rather large one standing back in a well-kept garden full of flowers, and the room in which he received me was shaded and cool.
I told him of Professor Vega's recommendation, whereupon he exclaimed in French:
"Ah! I know Professor Vega. We met last year at our conference in Paris—a very brilliant man!"
Then, as briefly as I could, I explained how the deadly drug orosin had been surreptitiously administered to Gabrielle and myself, and its effects upon us both.
"Orosin!" exclaimed the old savant, raising his thin hands. "Ah! There is not much hope of the lady's recovery. I have known of only two cases within my experience. The effect of orosin upon the human brain is mysterious and lasting. It produces a state of the brain-cells with which we cannot cope. A larger dose produces strong homicidal tendencies and inevitable death, and a still larger dose almost instantaneous death."
I told him how we both had lost all sense of our surroundings for weeks, and how we were both found at the roadside, she in Hampshire and I in France.
"You were both victims of some plot; that is evident. Of course you have invoked the aid of the police?"
I did not reply. I certainly feared to seek the assistance of Scotland Yard.
He explained to me practically what Professor Vega had done regarding orosin and its terrible effect.
"There have been other cases of its administration," said the great alienist. "Somebody must be preparing the drug and selling it for sinister purposes. Though it is so little known as yet that its manufacturer must be an expert toxicologist with special knowledge."
"Have you seen many cases of its administration?" I asked eagerly.
"Yes. Quite a number," was the old Professor's reply. "I am in communication with Doctor Duroc, of the Salpetriere in Paris, and together we are keeping a record of the cases where orosin is administered by some mysterious hand. Whose, we have no idea. We leave that to the Surete. But you say that your adventure and that of mademoiselle occurred in London?"
I repeated my story. Then I ventured to ask:
"Do you, Professor, know anything of a Doctor Moroni, of Florence?"
The white-bearded, shock-haired man reflected for a moment, and then moving in his chair, replied:
"I fancy I have heard his name. Moroni—Moroni? Yes, I am sure someone has mentioned him."
"As a toxicologist?"
"Probably. I do not really remember. I believe I met him at one of the conferences in Paris or Geneva. He was with one of your English professors—one of your medico-legists whose name at the moment escapes my memory. He gave evidence in that curious case of alleged poison at the Old Bailey, in London, a year ago."
"But is Doctor Moroni known as an expert in poison?"
"Not to my personal knowledge. Possibly he is, and I have heard his name in that connexion. Why do you ask?"
"Because he has had my friend Miss Tennison under his care. He has taken her to see several specialists in Italy." Then in a sudden burst of confidence I told him of my great love for the girl who, like myself, had been attacked in secret. Further, I told him that the reason of my steady inquiry was in her interests, as well as in my own.
"My dear Monsieur Garfield, now that you are so frank with me I will do my utmost in the interests of both of you," declared the dear old Professor, as he rose and crossed to the window. "What you have told me interests me intensely. I see by your travels to Spain and the South that you are leaving no stone unturned to arrive at a true solution of the problem—and I will help you. Orosin is the least known and most dangerous drug that has ever been discovered in our modern civilization. Used with evil intent it is unsuspected and wellnigh undiscoverable, for the symptoms often resemble those of certain diseases of the brain. The person to whom the drug is administered either exhibits an exhilaration akin to undue excess of alcohol, or else the functions of the brain are entirely distorted, with a complete loss of memory or a chronic aberration of the brain."
"That is the case of my friend Miss Tennison," I said.
"Very well. I will see her and endeavour to do what I can to restore her," said the elegant old French savant. "But, remember, I hold out no hope. In all cases orosin destroys the brain. It seems to create a slow degeneracy of the cells which nobody yet can understand. We know the effect, but we cannot, up to the present, combat it. There are yet many things in human life of which the medical men are in as complete ignorance as those who study electricity and radio-frequencies. We try to do our best to the extent of our knowledge, my dear monsieur. And if you will bring Mademoiselle to me to-morrow at three o'clock I will try to make my diagnosis."
I thanked him for his perfectly open declaration, and then I left. That he was the greatest living authority on the symptoms and effect of the mysterious drug orosin I felt confident. I only longed that he would take Gabrielle beneath his charge and endeavour to restore her brain to its normal function.
Punctually at three o'clock next day I called with my beloved and her mother at the house embowered in roses and geraniums up on the hill above the broad Rhone river.
We were ushered in by an old man-servant, silent and stately.
The Professor quickly appeared, his sharp eyes upon the patient.
"I wonder if you will allow me, Madame, to take your daughter into my consulting-room alone?" he asked in good English. "It will be best for me to question her without any other person being present."
"Most certainly," Mrs. Tennison replied. Then, turning to Gabrielle, she said: "The Professor wants to put a few questions to you, dear. Will you go with him into the next room?"
Gabrielle, pale-faced and tragic, looked at me strangely, and then meekly followed the old Professor into his consulting-room.
The door was closed, and Mrs. Tennison waited with me in silence. The window of the room was open and through it came the sweet scent of the roses and climbing jasmine, with the buzz of the summer insects and the chatter of the birds, for the house was high up on that hill above the great silk-weaving capital of the Rhone.
I rose and looked out upon the garden, so well ordered, for the Professor was, it seemed, a lover of roses, the blossoms running riot everywhere.
Suddenly, as we remained in silence, we heard Gabrielle's voice raised until she shouted fierce defiant words in English:
"No!" she shrieked. "It was not that—not that! You try and fix upon me a deed that I did not do! Why should you do this—why should you do this!"
"Pardon, Mademoiselle," we heard the Professor say in a quiet, calm tone. "Pardon. Please! I do not allege it. I have only asked a simple question."
"Your question is insulting, doctor!" declared my beloved loudly. "Why should you insinuate such a thing?"
"Mademoiselle, I insinuate nothing," replied the Professor. "I am endeavouring to ascertain the exact state of your mental balance. Your anger is, in itself, a most gratifying feature. A thousand pardons if you feel that I have insulted you," he added with the extreme politeness of his race.
Then, through the folding doors which divided the apartments, we heard him say:
"Will you please give me both your hands, and look directly into my eyes?"
There was a silence.
We could hear the Professor sigh, but he made no comment.
His examination occupied nearly an hour. He put to her many searching questions in an endeavour to restore her memory as to what happened, but without avail. Those questions seemed to perturb her, for of a sudden she cried loudly, indeed she almost shrieked in terror:
"Ah! no! no! Save me!" she implored. "I—I can't stand it! I can't—I really can't! See! Look! Look! There it is again—all red, green and gold!—all red, green and gold!"
And we could hear her expressions of fear as she gazed upon some imaginary object which held her terrified.
We heard the kindly old Professor putting many questions to her in an endeavour to discover what gave rise to that nameless horror which she so often experienced, but her replies were most vague. She seemed unable to describe the chimera of her imagination. Yet it was only too plain that on that fatal night she had seen something bearing those colours which had so impressed itself upon her mind as distinctly horrible that it constantly recurred to her.
Yet she was unable to describe it, owing to her mental aberration.
Time after time, she implored the Professor's protection from some imaginary peril, and time after time, after she had begged him to remain near her, she repeated those mysterious and meaningless words:
"Red, green and gold!—red, green and gold!"
In breathless anxiety we listened, but all we could hear were the Professor's sighs of despair, which meant far more to Mrs. Tennison and myself than any of his words could convey.
We knew that upon poor Gabrielle, the girl I loved with all my heart and soul, the deadly drug had done its work—and that she was, alas! incurable!
Her case was hopeless, even in the hands of the one man in all Europe who knew the effects of orosin and had only in two cases effected cures.
I looked at her mother in silence. She knew my thoughts, for tears were now coursing down her pale cheeks.
Both of us knew the worst. Our journey had been in vain.
That thought caused me to grit my teeth against De Gex and his unholy hirelings. I would follow and unmask them. I would avenge the innocent girl whom I loved so dearly, even though it should cost me my life!
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FOURTH
YET ANOTHER MYSTERY
The first week in August was unusually hot and dry in London.
Gabrielle and Mrs. Tennison had remained in Lyons, for Professor Gourbeil had suggested that his patient should, as a desperate resource, remain under his treatment for a few weeks. He gave practically no hope of her recovery. The dose of orosin that had been administered was, he declared, a larger one than that which De Gex had introduced into my drink on that night of horrors.
The effect upon me had been to muddle my brain so that I had accepted those Bank of England notes as bribe to assist the mystery-man of Europe in his foul and mysterious plot.
My companion Harry Hambledon was still earning his guineas at Hammersmith Police Court, gradually establishing a reputation. He had bought a small two-seater car, and each Sunday he took Norah out for runs to the Hut at Wisley, to the Burford Bridge Hotel, where the genial Mr. Hunt—one of the last remaining Bohemians of the days of the Junior Garrick Club—welcomed them; to the Wooton Hatch, or up to those more pretentious and less comfortable hostelries on Hindhead.
Motoring had roused a new interest in my friend. I loved the open road, but with the heavy expenses I had recently sustained I could not afford it. Besides, my firm had just secured a big electric lighting contract with the corporation of Chichester, and I was constantly travelling between that city and London, sometimes by rail and sometimes in Mr. Francis's car.
I suppose I must have carried on my work satisfactorily after the generous leave the firm—one of those stately old-fashioned ones which have still survived the war—had accorded me. But my thoughts were ever of my beloved Gabrielle, the beautiful girl whom, though her mind was so strongly unbalanced, I yet loved with all the strength of my being.
Every few days we exchanged letters. Sometimes Mrs. Tennison wrote to me from the quiet little pension in the Rue Paul Bert, in Lyons, but her letters were always despairing. Poor Gabrielle was just the same. She still had no other vista in life than her immediate one, and she still in her reflective moments gave vent to that strange ejaculation of those mysterious words: "Red, green and gold! Red, green and gold!"
I confess that I went about my business in a low-spirited, despairing mood. More than once I passed by that dark forbidding house in Stretton Street, the blinds of which were drawn, for ever since the winter it had been closed with the caretaker in charge. Pass along Park Lane and the Mayfair neighbourhood in August and you will see the Holland blinds drawn everywhere. The window-boxes filled with geraniums and marguerites are drooping, for they have served their turn and "the families" are out of town, enjoying themselves in Scotland, in Norway, or at the French Spas. Honest Londoners may sweat and toil with their begrudged fourteen days at the sea or in the country, but Society, caring nothing for unhealthy trades or ill-paid labour, unless a strike perchance affects their pockets or their comforts, drifts to where it can flirt, dance or gamble amid gay surroundings denied in London by our sanctimonious kill-joys.
Whenever I passed along Stretton Street there spread over my mind the strange and inexplicable events of that night when De Gex's man-servant Horton had dashed out after me, and suddenly implored me to see his master. Ah! I saw the amazing cleverness of the whole plot—a plot such as could only be conceived by a master brain.
De Gex's dark, sinister, half-Oriental countenance haunted me in my dreams. True, he was a man who swayed the finances of Europe, suave, smiling, and with an extremely polished and refined exterior. But why Suzor had purposely become acquainted with me, and why I had afterwards been enticed into that house of tragedy were, in themselves, two points, the motive of which I failed to grasp.
Late one evening I passed the house, going out of my way purposely to do so, when, to my amazement, I saw standing upon the doorstep, and about to enter his car, no other person than Oswald De Gex himself. Behind him stood a strange man-servant, who at the moment seemed to be taking some instructions.
In the darkness De Gex could not distinguish me. Therefore I drew back and watched the world-famous financier enter the car and drive away.
So Oswald De Gex was back in London—and in August! I had passed the house on the previous afternoon and seen that as usual the faded Holland blinds were drawn, just as they had been for months, an indication to callers that the owner was away. I looked again. The blinds were still down!
Next day being Sunday I watched, and though at four o'clock in the afternoon De Gex came forth and strolled round to his club in St. James's Street, the blinds were still drawn, it being evident that the unscrupulous man who juggled with European dynasties was living there in obscurity—and in pretence of absence.
My watchfulness was increased; my thoughts being ever upon the avenging of the injury done to the sweet girl I so dearly loved—that poor unfortunate creature whose brain had been destroyed by the dastardly administration of that poison only known to students of toxicology. In my waking hours I conjured up scenes of how mother and daughter, living in that obscure pension in busy Lyons, went each day to the Professor's house, and how the kindly old savant did his best to restore her brain to its normal activity.
One hot day I had been to Reading on business for the firm, and on arrival at Paddington I bought an evening paper and took it home to Rivermead Mansions. As usual Harry and I had dinner together, and after he had gone out to Richmond, I sat by the open window which looked upon the towing-path beside the Thames, and with my pipe in my mouth, scanned the day's news.
Of a sudden I came across a heading which attracted me, and read as follows:
"The sudden death is announced, at his house outside Amsterdam, of Baron Harte van Veltrup, the well-known Dutch financier, who for some years was in active association with the Spanish banker, the late Count de Chamartin. The Count died recently in San Sebastian just after he, with van Veltrup, had promoted a great railway scheme in Central Spain. The circumstances of the Baron's death appear to be somewhat mysterious, says our Amsterdam correspondent. Three days ago the banker, who is a widower, went to The Hague, where in a private room in an obscure hotel, he met a man on business. The meeting was apparently in secret, for he told his valet that he did not wish anyone to know of the mysterious visitor for a certain financial reason. The man remained with the Baron for nearly an hour, after which the financier went home in his car to Amsterdam, his valet driving. On the way the servant noticed that his master seemed very perturbed, once or twice muttering threats beneath his breath.
"On arrival at his house facing Vondel Park, he dressed, ate his dinner alone, and was about to re-enter his car to drive to the Park Schouwburg, where opera was being given that night, when he staggered and fell just outside the gate, and expired in a few moments.
"Though a medical examination proved that death was due to heart failure, some comment has been caused by the valet's story of his master's mysterious visitor at The Hague. The latter he describes as middle-aged, with a small dark moustache, a ruddy complexion, wearing round horn-rimmed spectacles. He thinks the latter were worn for purposes of disguise.
"Three doctors have, however, declared that death ensued from natural causes, hence the police discredit the valet's story. Baron van Veltrup, who was well known in international finance, was a frequent visitor to London, where he had permanent chambers in Jermyn Street. He was in the habit of receiving strange callers—persons who probably gave him secret information regarding Government concessions and other such matters. Therefore it is not believed that the man whom he met in secret has any connexion with his sudden and lamented death. The Baron contributed most generously to Dutch charities, especially to the Blinden Institution, of which he was one of the governors.
"Some of his financial deals were of outstanding magnitude. The last loan to Peru was made through his house, in combination with that of Chamartin, in Madrid, while he negotiated a big loan to Serbia immediately before the war, as well as obtaining the concessions for two new railways in Northern Italy and in Portugal. The reputation of the house of Veltrup was one of the highest standing, and the Baron's untimely death has cast a gloom over financial circles in all the European capitals."
I raised my eyes from the paper and gazed across the Thames now growing grey in the evening light. Outside, the soft wind whispered in the trees and across the long suspension bridge ran an endless stream of motor traffic into and out of London.
The affair in Amsterdam was certainly curious, but what attracted me most was the fact that the dead Baron had been a partner with the late Count Chamartin, whose widow I knew by sight. The Count had also died very suddenly. So within a short time of each other two men whose names were ones to conjure with in international finance had both died!
The valet's story I did not doubt. I knew that such men as the late Baron were often compelled, in their own interests, to receive visits from mysterious and often undesirable persons, most of whom were paid for their information. Every giant of finance employs his secret agents, whose duty it is to keep his principal informed of the various political and other secrets in Europe. Indeed, the great financiers know more of the underground currents of foreign politics than they do at any Embassy or Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is their duty to know the secrets of nations—and they profit upon their knowledge.
I sat ruminating. The sudden deaths of the two pillars of finance was, to say the least, a curious coincidence. I recollected that Chamartin had been associated with De Gex, and the object of the latter's journey to Madrid had apparently been to interview his dead friend's widow. I also remembered Professor Vega's description of the deadly effect of that secret poison orosin—that it might cause almost instant death, and that all doctors would attribute the cause to heart failure.
This caused me to ponder for a long time. I read and re-read the report of the Baron's death, and when I retired to bed—Harry not having yet returned—I could not sleep, so haunted was I by vague suspicions.
Next day I found that I could not apply myself to work at the office, so gave it up and once more wandered towards Hyde Park Corner and up Park Lane where again I passed through Stretton Street. The blinds of the big dark mansion were all lowered, indicating that its owner was still out of town. Yet I knew that he was living in the half darkness of that closed house.
Several days passed when, unable to rest, I at last asked leave of absence from old Mr. Francis, and crossed by the night-boat from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. On the following day I found myself in quaint old Amsterdam, that city built upon the sand in defiance of a certain text in St. Matthew, the city with its great network of canals, and its many gaudily-painted barges. As I left my hotel and walked to the Dam, the central square of the city, my nostrils were saluted upon one side by the perfume of the flowers adorning the windows and the odour of cook-shops, while on the other was the smell of tar and the fumes of the humble kitchens of sailing vessels.
I happened to know an Englishman employed as clerk to a firm of Dutch forwarding agents whose offices were in the Dam, and this man, whose name was Graham, I at once sought.
We went out to a cafe together, and I explained the object of my visit, namely, the investigation of the death of Baron van Veltrup. Graham at once regarded me with considerable astonishment, for very naturally he could not make out why I should take such a keen interest in the death of one of the richest men in Holland.
"The Baron died of heart failure," my friend said. "The doctors are agreed upon that. His valet told some extraordinary story, but no credence has been placed in it. There has been a good deal in the papers concerning the unfortunate affair, but the excitement has now all died down. The Baron was, I believe, buried yesterday."
"I know that there is no suspicion that death was due to foul play, Graham," I said. "But I confess that in face of certain knowledge I possess I am not altogether satisfied with the doctor's conclusion."
My friend smiled incredulously.
"At first, the police were, I heard, inclined to suspect foul play. But after full investigation they are now quite satisfied as to the cause of death."
"Be that as it may, I intend to make a few discreet inquiries," I replied resolutely. "I want you, if you will, to assist me."
He smiled again in undisguised disbelief.
"Of course you are at liberty to express your own opinion," he said with some reluctance. "And if you wish, I will assist you. But I really think, Garfield, that you will be only wasting your time—and mine."
"I hope not," I assured him. "Were I not in possession of certain exclusive information I should not venture to come here from London and trouble you, as I am doing."
Graham, whom I had known for a number of years, looked very straight at me.
"What is the nature of this exclusive information?" he inquired. "You are concealing something, Hugh."
"Yes. I know I am," was my reply as I smiled at him. "I am here to discover the truth regarding the death of Baron van Veltrup."
"Then you suspect foul play—eh?" asked my friend.
"Yes, I do," I replied in a low voice, "and I want you, Graham, to put me in touch with the Baron's valet."
"He is a man named Folcker, a Swede, according to the newspapers. I dare say I could find him."
"If you can, you will assist me very much. I must have a chat with him," I said. "I feel somehow that in face of the strange facts within my knowledge that he can give me the clue to the cause of his master's death."
Graham smiled. He seemed to regard me as a person whose mind was not quite sound. But I will give him his due. He propitiated me, and promised to get into touch with Oscar Folcker. By virtue of the wide ramifications of the firm by which Graham was employed, I knew that it would be an easy matter, hence I was not surprised when next day he rang me up on the telephone to my hotel and told me that he had been able to find the valet Folcker who would call upon me at six o'clock that evening.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH
WHAT THE VALET KNEW
At the time appointed, as I stood in the hall, a tall, clean-shaven, rather spruce young man entered and spoke to the concierge, who at once brought him over to me.
I took him into a corner of the lounge, and when we were seated I told him of my suspicions and my quest.
Like many Swedes he spoke English, and in reply said:
"Well, sir, I was in the Baron's service for five years, and I knew his habits very well. He was an excellent master—most kind and generous, and with him I have travelled Europe up and down. We were very often in London, where the Baron had bachelor chambers in Jermyn Street."
"I know that," I said. "But tell me what you know, and what you suspect concerning his untimely end."
"There was foul play, sir!" he said unhesitatingly. "The Baron was a strong healthy man who lived frugally, and though he dealt in millions of francs, yet he was most quiet in his habits, and his boast was that he was never out of bed after half-past ten. Though very rich he devoted nearly half his income yearly to charitable institutions. I know the extent of his contributions to the needy, for I have often seen him draw the cheques."
"Well—tell me exactly what happened," I asked.
"The affair presents some very puzzling features, sir," he replied. "One morning, while dressing, my master told me that he had to motor to The Hague as he wished to meet in strict secrecy a man who would call to see him at a little hotel called the Rhijn, in the Oranje Straat. He asked me to drive him there so that Mullard, the chauffeur, should have no knowledge of the visit. This I promised to do, for I can drive a car. We arrived early in the afternoon, and the Baron, who was unknown at the obscure little place, ordered lunch for us both. He ate his in the private room he had engaged, and at about three o'clock the visitor arrived. He inquired of the proprietor and was shown into the Baron's private room. I judged him to be about forty, of middle height, well-dressed, and wearing big round tortoiseshell glasses, like those Americans so often wear. He was red-faced and walked with a slight limp."
"And what happened while your master was with the stranger?"
"The Baron came out and told me to go to the garage with the car, and I was telephoned for an hour later. When I met him again he seemed to be in an ill and petulant mood, for he told me to drive back to Amsterdam with all speed. He also again made me promise to tell nobody of the secret meeting."
"And then?" I asked anxiously.
"On arrival home he washed, dressed, and dined alone. Afterwards he put on his gloves, grey suede ones, ready to go, but exchanged them for a pair of white ones, as he recollected that he was going to the opera. Then he walked out to the car, but suddenly cried, 'Oh! My head! My head!' and fell on to the pavement. I was just behind him when he did so, and hurried to get him up. But he was already unconscious, and scarcely before we could get him into the house he expired."
"And why do you suspect foul play?" I asked.
"I feel certain that my master did not die from natural causes," declared the thin-faced man-servant.
"You suspect that the individual in round spectacles had a hand in it—eh?"
"I do. But how, I have no idea. The police pooh-pooh my suspicions. But if my suspicions are unfounded, why has not the stranger come forward? There has been a lot about the affair in the papers."
"Yes," I said. "It certainly appears strange, for there can be no cause for secrecy now that the Baron is dead, even if some great financial transaction had been involved."
"My master often received very queer visitors," said Folcker. "Once he entertained two very strange-looking shabby individuals when he was at Aix-les-Bains with Mr. De Gex."
"With Mr. De Gex!" I echoed. "Was the Baron a friend of his?"
"Yes, an intimate friend. They often had big deals together in which Count Chamartin, who lived in Madrid, participated."
"Ah! That is distinctly interesting," I said. "Did the Baron, when in London, visit Mr. De Gex at Stretton Street?"
"Frequently. They were mutually interested in the great Netherlands Shipping Combine about a year ago," replied the valet.
"And you usually travelled with your master, I suppose?"
"Nearly always. We were frequently in Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Madrid, and naturally I learnt a good deal about his business. His most intimate friend was Mr. De Gex. Do you happen to know him?"
I gritted my teeth, and replied in the affirmative.
"A very charming man," the valet declared. "He was always very good to the servants. I used to look after him when he visited us here in Amsterdam."
"Did you ever meet a friend of his—a Frenchman named Suzor?" I asked.
"Yes, once. When we stayed with Mr. De Gex at Florence. He was a fellow guest with my master."
"And an Italian doctor named Moroni?"
Folcker shook his head, as he replied:
"I have no recollection of an Italian doctor. We were in Florence only two weeks."
"Of course you know Mr. De Gex's butler, a man named Horton?" I asked.
"No, the man I know is named Farmer. I haven't been to Stretton Street for over a year."
It would therefore appear that Horton was a new servant.
"But have you any idea how your master died?" was my next query.
"None—only something tells me that he fell victim to a plot for his assassination."
"Because he more than once told me that if he died certain persons would derive great benefits."
"Who? His friends?"
"I suppose so."
"Including De Gex?"
The thin-faced man shook his head, saying:
"Ah! That I cannot tell, sir. But I know that Mr. De Gex owed the Baron a very considerable sum over a financial deal regarding some oil wells in Roumania. Only a few months ago he mentioned to Mr. Grant, one of his friends, in my presence, that he hoped De Gex would very soon settle with him. In fact he seemed annoyed at the delay in the payment."
This statement caused me to reflect deeply.
Was it really possible that the Dutch Baron's death had been due to the machinations of this mystery-man of Europe? The fact that he owed the dead man money would serve as sufficient motive! I did not overlook the deeply-laid plot against myself, one that must have sent me swiftly into my grave had it not been for my providential escape.
The whole amazing facts, my meeting with Suzor in the express between York and King's Cross, the trap set for me at Stretton Street, and my astounding adventures afterwards, all flashed through my mind. Oswald De Gex was a most unscrupulous person who had climbed to fame and fortune over the ruined homes and bodies of his victims. I was now out to obtain direct and undeniable evidence of his crimes.
Yet up to the present I could not go much further than mere surmise. Two of his business friends, Count Chamartin and Baron van Veltrup, had died quite suddenly. In the case of the latter, the valet expressed a positive belief that his master had not died of natural causes. This was supported by the fact that the Baron received a mysterious visitor at an obscure hotel at The Hague, a man who was apparently disguised by big horn spectacles, and was certainly not a Dutchman.
And above all that, I held most conclusive evidence that both De Gex himself and the dead bandit, Despujol, had used that deadly drug orosin to secure their nefarious ends.
But the most irritating feature of the affair was that I was as far off as ever from solving the mystery of what happened on that memorable night in Stretton Street, or with what motive I had been induced to give a death certificate that had enabled the body of an unknown girl to be cremated.
I questioned the valet, Folcker, still further, telling him that I had come especially from London to endeavour to elucidate the truth concerning his master's death. He was devoted to the Baron, and was highly incensed at the attitude taken by the Dutch police.
"I will give you every assistance, sir," he replied.
"Excellent," I said. "I would very much like to go to the Baron's house. Could you take me there?"
"Most certainly, sir," was his response, and with willingness he accompanied me in a horse cab up the cobbled Leidwche Straat with its many canals to the pleasant Vondel Park, just outside the city. We stopped before a great white house, square and rather inartistic, standing back behind very high iron railings, to which we were admitted by an elderly man-servant who was in charge of the place now that its owner was dead.
Folcker showed me his master's handsome dressing-room which had been left practically as it was on the night of his tragic end. He showed me how the Baron had put on his evening clothes and descended to dine.
He took me into the fine, handsomely-furnished dining-room, with big long carved table in the centre, and showed me the small round table set in the big bow window looking out upon the garden, at which the Baron always ate his meals when alone.
"After finishing his dinner the Baron smoked one of his Petroff cigarettes which were especially made for him in Odessa, and then calling me, he asked for his coat and told me to ring up for the car," Folcker said. "He finished his cigarette and a glass of kuemmel, at the same time scanning the evening newspaper. All the time he had been eating, however, he seemed in a very angry mood. The interview with the stranger at The Hague had somehow upset him, for once or twice he muttered angrily to himself."
"Now tell me, Folcker," I asked seriously, "when he entered that little hotel at The Hague he waited for his mysterious visitor—did he not?"
"The visitor arrived and you saw him. I understand that your master came out and saw you during the interview?"
"Yes. About ten minutes after the stranger's arrival the Baron came into the little hall of the hotel and told me that he would not require me for an hour, or perhaps more. Apparently he did not wish the car to stand outside the place for so long, lest it should be recognized. So he sent me to a garage."
"Then the stranger was left inside the hotel alone?"
"Yes, sir, for two or three minutes. Why?"
We were standing out in the well-furnished hall and I glanced around.
"Your master was in quite good health as he ate his dinner and smoked his cigarette?" I remarked.
"Quite. He came out of the room and standing here I gave him his hat, coat, gloves and stick. After he had put on his coat he drew on his left-hand glove. Suddenly he tore it off again, and rubbing his fingers together impatiently, said: 'I forgot, Folcker! I'm going to the opera, give me some white gloves.' They were in the drawer yonder," the valet said, pointing to a great old carved Flemish cupboard. "So I got them out and handed them to him. He drew one of them on and walked down to the gate to enter the car, when he suddenly fell upon the pavement outside. You see, just yonder," and he pointed through the open door.
"Why did he rub his fingers together, I wonder?" I remarked. "Was it a habit of his?"
"Not at all, sir. He seemed to have a sudden pain in his fingers."
"A pain. Why?"
"I don't know, sir. It has only this moment occurred to me. He flung off the glove and tossed it upon the table. It's still there—as you see. Then he put on the white gloves and went down the steps and collapsed."
"His head was affected?"
"Yes, he cried out twice that his head hurt him. The doctors attribute his death to heart failure. But, personally, I doubt it, sir! I'm certain that there was foul play somewhere."
I crossed to the great carved table which stood on the opposite side of the wide hall, tiled as it was with ancient blue and white Dutch tiles, and from the table took up a pair of well-worn grey suede gloves. They interested me, because after putting one on the Baron had torn it off and rubbed his fingers.
"Is this the glove your master wore when he went to The Hague?" I asked, selecting the left-hand one.
I examined it closely and very gingerly. The exterior presented nothing out of the ordinary, but on turning it inside out, I found in the index finger a tiny piece of steel which tumbled out upon the table.
It was apparently a piece clipped from the blade of a safety razor, and keenly sharp. Anyone inserting a finger into the glove would certainly be cut by the razor edge of that sharp scrap of steel. As it lay upon the polished oak I bent to look at it, the valet also standing near and bending down in curiosity.
Upon it something had apparently been smeared—some colourless jelly, it seemed.
Had Baron van Veltrup fallen victim to orosin, wilfully administered?
That was my instant suspicion, one that was afterwards verified by the great Dutch pathologist Doctor Obelt, who lived in the Amstel Straat, and to whom I carried the mysterious but incriminating scrap of steel.
"Without a doubt this piece of razor-blade has been impregnated with a new and most deadly poison, orosin," he declared to me on the following evening as I sat in his consulting room. "The police have seen no mysterious circumstances in the unfortunate death of the Baron, who, by the way, was a very dear friend of mine. But now you have brought me this piece of steel which you took from his glove, and which no doubt must have caused a slight cut to his finger and, in consequence, almost instant death, I feel it my duty to take up the matter with the authorities."
"I shall be much gratified, doctor, if you will," I urged, speaking in French. "The valet's suspicions of foul play are entirely proved."
"Yes, foul play, committed by somebody who possesses expert toxicological knowledge. I confess that this is the first time I have discovered orosin. The hint you gave me caused me to search for it, and that I have found it is undoubted."
Later that day I accompanied the doctor to the Bureau of Police, where we were met by a very stolid official who smoked a long thin cigar all the time he talked to us.
At first he treated the affair as of no importance. The medical evidence had pronounced the Baron's death as having been due to natural causes. The police could not interfere further, he declared.
"Ah! but thanks to the Baron's valet we now have evidence of a most subtle and deadly poison," declared the Dutch pathologist. "I certify that I have found upon a small piece of sharp steel, which has been discovered in the dead man's glove, traces of orosin, one of the least known but most dangerous poisons."
The heavy-jowled Dutch police official straightened himself in his chair.
"Is that really so, doctor?" he asked in surprise, holding his cigar between his fingers.
"Yes, it is," Doctor Obelt replied. "The body must be exhumed, and an examination made to ascertain if there is a small cut in the first finger of the left hand. If there is—then the Baron has been secretly murdered!"
"The valet has alleged this all along, but there being no evidence we disbelieved him," said the official at once.
"There is now evidence—direct evidence," said the Dutch doctor. "This Englishman here is interested in some way in the Baron's death, and after discovering the scrap of razor-blade he brought it to me."
The Dutch police official knit his brows, and turning to me, asked:
"Did you yourself discover this piece of steel?"
"I did. From certain facts within my knowledge I suspected that the Baron had been deliberately killed. The allegations of the valet, Folcker, strengthened my suspicions, hence I travelled from London and pursued my own independent inquiries, which have resulted in the discovery of the little piece of blade inside the glove which the Baron wore when he went to interview his mysterious visitor at The Hague."
"But what evidence have we that the mysterious visitor—the individual who has been referred to in the report as the man with the round horn glasses—had anything to do with the affair?"
"According to the Baron's servant the visitor was left alone for a few moments in the room where van Veltrup had put down his gloves in order to go out and speak to his valet, who on that day was acting as his chauffeur. It was in those moments of his absence that the unknown visitor put the infected scrap of steel into the Baron's glove."
"Did he not wear the gloves on his way back to Amsterdam?" asked the police official, as he laid down his thin cigar.
"No," I replied. "The valet is certain that instead of putting on his gloves he thrust them into the pocket of his linen dust-coat. Folcker says that when his master returned he took the gloves from the pocket of the linen coat and placed them on the table in the hall—as was his habit. It was only when the Baron was going out again that he put on the left-hand one, and then suddenly drew it off and rubbed his fingers. The first finger of his left hand had undoubtedly been cut, and hence infected with that substance which causes almost instant death and the exact symptoms of heart disease."
"Orosin—did you say?" asked the head of the Amsterdam police.
"Yes," I replied. "Orosin—the most dangerous, subtle and easily administered poison known to our modern toxicologists. And your great financier Baron van Veltrup has died by the hand of one who has wilfully administered it!"
"Well," said the stolid man with the scraggy beard, rather reluctantly, "I confess that this has come to me as a perfect revelation."
"You have only to order the exhumation of the Baron's body, and an examination of the left hand, to be convinced that what this Englishman, Mr. Garfield, has discovered is the actual truth!" declared Doctor Obelt, whose reputation as a pathologist was the highest in the Netherlands, and against whose opinion even the Chief of Police of Amsterdam could raise no word.
"It shall be done, gentlemen," the stolid official assured us. "It shall be done in secret—and at once."
He was true to his word, for at noon next day I received an invitation to call again at the Police Bureau, and was there informed that a small superficial cut upon the first finger of the left hand had been discovered.
Therefore there was no doubt that death had resulted from foul play.
If such were the case, it seemed more than probable that to Count de Chamartin, the intimate associate of Oswald De Gex, a similar dose of orosin had been administered!
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH
MORE ABOUT MATEO SANZ
The means by which the unfortunate Baron van Veltrup had met with his death was as ingenious as that practised upon me by the expert thief, Despujol. As I reflected upon all the details as related to me by the valet, Folcker, I suddenly recollected that the Baron's strange visitor, the man who must have placed that sharp scrap of razor-blade within his glove at the moment when the unsuspicious victim had gone outside to speak with his servant, was described as a man with a red face and a dark moustache.
A man who answered such description was the elusive friend of Mademoiselle Jacquelot, of Montauban, the motor bandit Mateo Sanz—the man who had so cleverly evaded the police, and who had no doubt been an intimate friend of Despujol! In order to confirm my suspicions, I at once telegraphed to Senor Rivero in Madrid, urging him to send me a copy of the police photograph of Sanz for identification purposes. That same day I received a reply which informed me that the photograph was in the post, hence I remained in Amsterdam awaiting its arrival.
Four days later it was handed to me, a photograph taken in several positions of the rather round-faced, florid man whom I had seen talking to Mademoiselle at the station at Montauban—the man whom Rivero had followed, but who, on the French police going to arrest him, was found to have fled.
I carried the photograph to Folcker's lodgings and there showed it to him.
"That is the man who met my master, sir!" he cried unhesitatingly. "Only he wore round horn spectacles. His face and moustache are the same. He was not Dutch."
"No. This man is a Spaniard named Sanz, who is well known to the police," I replied.
"Then they should arrest him, for he is no doubt responsible for my poor master's death."
We went together to the Bureau of Police where the valet formally identified the photograph, and made certain declarations concerning the malefactor in question. These he signed.
"I happen to have seen this individual," I explained to the police commissary. "I was with Senor Rivero, head of the Spanish detective department, and we saw him at Montauban. But though Senor Rivero followed him, he escaped."
"Then he is wanted—eh?"
The Dutch police official gave vent to a low grunt.
"Very well," he said. "I will have inquiry made. I thank you very much for the information."
It seemed to me that he was annoyed because I had dared to dispute his theory that the late Baron had died from natural causes. He was a stolid man, who, having once made up his mind, would not hear any evidence to the contrary.
With failing heart I saw that to move him was hopeless, so next day I returned to London, piqued and angry, yet satisfied that I had discovered the true cause of the Baron's lamentable death.
Weeks passed. To pursue the inquiry further seemed quite hopeless. The summer went by, but Mrs. Tennison and her daughter still remained in Lyons. The reports were never hopeful. My poor darling was just the same. There recurred to her ever and anon a remembrance of those three colours which haunted her—red, green and gold.
The Professor was most kind, Gabrielle's mother wrote me. He did everything in his power, and still persevered after failure upon failure.
"I fear poor Gabrielle will never recover," she wrote in one of her letters. "The Professor is always optimistic, but I can read that in his heart he has no hope. The next step will, I dread to think, be hopeless imbecility!"
With that letter in my pocket I went to the office in Westminster each day with leaden heart. The joys of life had become blotted out. I cared for nothing, for no one, and my interest in living further had been suddenly swept away.
Harry Hambledon, as we sat together at breakfast each day, tried in vain to interest me in various ways. He urged me one evening to go with him and Norah to the Palais de Danse, across Hammersmith Bridge, and I was forced to accept. But instead of dancing I sat at a side table and sipped ice drinks. Dancing had no attraction for me.
Very fortunately we were extremely busy at the office. Four big contracts had been entered into by the firm for the lighting and telephones for four new hotels-de-luxe, one at Bude, in Cornwall, one in Knightsbridge, another at Llandudno, in North Wales, and the fourth at Cromer. Hence I was compelled to be ever on the move between Wales, Norfolk, and Cornwall, and perhaps this sudden activity prevented me from brooding too closely over the hopeless condition of the girl with whom I was so deeply in love. In these days electrical engineers have to be pretty active in order to pay their way, and though Francis and Goldsmith was an old-established firm, they were nothing if not up-to-date in their methods.
One morning as I sat in a corner of the London-Exeter express on my way down to Bude, I read in my paper the following:
"Mr. Oswald De Gex, the well-known international financier, is to be entertained on Thursday next to luncheon by the Lord Mayor and Corporation at the Mansion House. The Prime Ministers of Spain and the Netherlands, who are in London on official business, will be included among the guests. Mr. De Gex, though he has a house in London, is seldom here. He has recently been engaged in a great financial scheme to secure for England the whole of the output of the rich oil field recently discovered in Ecuador."
So Oswald De Gex was still in London! I held my breath. With his wall of wealth before him he seemed invulnerable. I recollected those crisp Bank of England notes which still reposed in a drawer at Rivermead Mansions—the bribe I had so foolishly accepted to become his accomplice in that mysterious crime.
Gabrielle Engledue! Who was the girl whose body, because of my false certificate, had been reduced to ashes in order to destroy all evidence of foul play? Who was she—and what was the motive?
If I could only ascertain the latter, then I might be able to reconstruct the crime slowly, piece by piece. But as far as I could see there was an utter absence of motive.
Long ago I had arrived at the conclusion that by the death of the unknown girl named Engledue, the unscrupulous financier had added some considerable sum to his bank balance. But how? His crafty unscrupulousness was shown by the manner in which his partner, to whom he owed a big sum, had been cleverly secretly killed by a hireling—a friend of the dead Despujol. Oswald De Gex posed to the world as an honest and upright man of business whose financial aid was welcomed cordially by all the hard-up States in Europe. He posed as a philanthropist, and as such earned a big reputation in those countries in which the operations of the all-powerful group he controlled were carried on.
But I knew his methods, and I sat staggered at the fact that the Corporation of the City of London were about to entertain him. Yet money counts always. Did not the Lord Mayor and Corporation once entertain the man who gave a service of gold communion-plate to St. Paul's Cathedral, and who afterwards spent many years in one of His Majesty's gaols?
My blood boiled within me when I read that announcement. Yet on calmer consideration, I resolved to still wait and watch.
I returned to London on the following Friday, and in the train I read of the splendid luncheon given on the previous day to the arch-criminal and the eulogistic speeches made by two English politicians and the two foreign Premiers.
Oswald De Gex was declared to be one of the greatest financiers of the age, and there was a hint that a certain Allied Government was about to enlist his efforts with a view to extricate it from national bankruptcy.
De Gex was a man who thought and spoke in millions. Accompanying the article was a photograph of him standing smiling beside the Lord Mayor as guest of the City of London. Oswald De Gex seldom allowed himself to be photographed, but some enterprising Press photographer had no doubt snapped him unawares.
His hesitation to be photographed—public man that he was—was but natural. Wherever you hear of people in the public eye, male or female, who will not allow their pictures to appear in the papers, you may always suspect in that hesitation a dread of the raking up of some hidden scandal. Many a face which has looked out upon us from a pictorial newspaper or a "back-page" of one's daily journal, has caused its owner much terror, and in more than one instance a rush into obscurity to avoid the police.
Scotland Yard and the Paris Surete have many albums of photographs, and it is not generally known that each day their counterparts are searched for in the daily journals.
Oswald De Gex had on that memorable day become, against his will no doubt, a lion of London. One heard nothing of Mrs. De Gex. She was still at the Villa Clementini no doubt. Her name was never mentioned in the very eulogistic articles which innocent men of Fleet Street penned concerning the man of colossal finance. One can never blame Fleet Street for "booming" any man or woman. A couple of thousand pounds to a Press agent will secure for a burglar an invitation to dine at a peer's table. Plainly speaking, in Europe since the war, real merit has become almost a back number. Money buys anything and anybody.
I fear that, young man as I still am, I am a fierce critic of the manners of our times. I learned my, perhaps, old-fashioned ideas from my father, an honest, upright, country parson, who loved to ride with the hounds, who called a spade a spade, and openly denounced a liar as such. He never minced matters, and stuck to his opinion, yet he was a pious, generous, open-hearted Englishman, who had no use for the "international financier," who has lately become the pseudonym for a foreign adventurer.
The autumn days shortened and winter was approaching, for the east winds blew chill across the Thames into my room as I shaved before my window each morning. Mrs. Tennison was still in Lyons, and Harry Hambledon went each morning to his sordid work at the Hammersmith Police Court, either prosecuting or defending in small cases. His eloquence and shrewdness as an advocate had more than once been commented upon by the stipendiary, hence he was gradually working up quite a lucrative practice.
Things drifted along till the end of October. De Gex was living at Stretton Street, very occupied, I ascertained, in arranging a great development scheme for Liberia, that independent State in West Africa.
In the City he was constantly expressing his regret at the unfortunate deaths of his partners, Count de Chamartin, of Madrid, and the Baron van Veltrup, of Amsterdam, but he had expressed himself ready to carry the great deal through himself, though it involved the speculation of nearly two millions sterling.
I could hardly take up any newspaper—neither could you, my reader, for that matter—unless I saw De Gex referred to, under another name, of course. He went here and there, the guest of a Cabinet Minister, playing golf with a Leader of the House, or spending a week-end with a Duke, until it seemed that the world of Society had at last prevailed upon the mystery-man of millions to emerge from his shell and take up his position in Mayfair.
When I saw that he was the guest of certain hard-up members of the aristocracy, or of war profiteers, who, dropping their aitches, had bought ancestral homes, I merely smiled at the ignorance of those who were entertaining one of the greatest criminals in Europe.
In the watch I kept each evening upon the house in Stretton Street my friend Harry Hambledon assisted me. As we lurked in doorways in the vicinity, we saw the great ones of London Society, of both sexes, going and coming, for Oswald De Gex had now commenced to entertain upon a lavish scale. He gave smart dinner-parties and musical evenings, which the most exclusive set enjoyed.
One night, after it had grown dark, I sauntered along Park Lane, as was my habit, and having turned into Stretton Street noticed a rather shabbily dressed man, evidently a foreigner, descending the steps from De Gex's door. He turned in my direction, and we came face to face.
In an instant I recognized him as the Spaniard, Mateo Sanz! He had never seen me before, therefore, when at a respectable distance, I turned and followed him along to a street off the Edgware Road, where he entered a third-class private hotel.
What, I wondered, was his object in visiting De Gex unless some other plot was in progress? I, however, did not intend, now that I knew the truth concerning the death of the Baron in Amsterdam, that the assassin should escape. Hence I took a taxi to Scotland Yard where I was interviewed by a detective-inspector to whom I revealed the hiding-place of the much-wanted criminal.
He thanked me, and then began to inquire what I knew concerning him. In return, I told him of my friendship with the great Spanish detective Rivero, and how, with the latter, I had seen Sanz at the station at Montauban.
Presently he rose, and telling me he would search for any request from the Spanish Government for the man's arrest, he left me.
He returned a quarter of an hour later with some papers in his hands, and said:
"I find that the Madrid police have applied to us for this individual's arrest, and here is his photograph," and he showed me one similar to that which Rivero had sent me to Amsterdam.
I, of course, made no mention of Oswald De Gex, but it suddenly occurred to me that if Sanz were arrested De Gex might take fright, so I suggested that the Spaniard be kept under surveillance until the Spanish police were communicated with.
"I believe Senor Rivero suspects that Sanz is one of a very dangerous gang," I said. "If so, it would be well to arrest them all."
"Are the others in London, do you think?" asked the tall, dark-haired official of the Criminal Investigation Department.
"Ah! That I do not know," was my reply. "I only know that Mateo Sanz is a very dangerous person, who has been wanted for several years."
"Well, we thank you very much for your information, sir, and we shall act upon it at once," he replied. And then I went along the stone corridor and out again into Parliament Street, well satisfied that I had, at last, placed one of the criminals in the hands of the police, who would, in due course, learn the true facts concerning Baron van Veltrup's mysterious end.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH
A CURIOUS STORY
At Scotland Yard they acted upon my suggestion, and at once sent a wireless message to Senor Rivero in Madrid, telling him of the discovery of the notorious Mateo Sanz.
In the meantime my curiosity was further aroused by a note sent to me by Mrs. Tennison's servant, Mrs. Alford, next day, saying that Doctor Moroni had called at Longridge Road and that, finding Miss Gabrielle absent, he had put to her a number of questions concerning myself.
"As I promised you, sir," the woman wrote, "I pleaded ignorance of everything. He was apparently astonished to find my mistress and Miss Gabrielle away. He asked me for their address, but I replied that they were moving from place to place on the Continent. He seemed most annoyed, and went away."
I wondered what was his object in going to Longridge Road, if not for the purpose of some further evil work. Though he pretended friendliness towards Gabrielle, yet I knew that he was her enemy, just as he was mine.
Moroni was in London, hence he would no doubt visit De Gex. Hambledon was unknown to Moroni, therefore he watched in Stretton Street on the following night, and in his work of observation he was assisted by Norah, who had been told something of the strange circumstances, though of course not the whole amazing story.
Just before eleven o'clock Harry and his fiancee arrived at Rivermead Mansions in a taxi and told me that they had seen Moroni arrive at Stretton Street about half-past nine. He was admitted by a new and rather supercilious man-servant—for Horton did not now seem to be in the great man's employ.
"Ten minutes afterwards Suzor arrived," Harry said. "Then about half an hour later Moroni came out."
"I was passing the house slowly when he came down the steps muttering fiercely to himself in Italian," Norah said. "He took no notice of me, for he seemed extremely angry and excited. Indeed, as he left, he glanced back at the house, his hands clenched, and he seemed to invoke a curse upon it."
"By Jove!" I gasped. "That's interesting! The precious trio have perhaps quarrelled!"
"Perhaps," said Hambledon. "And as a lawyer I venture to predict that if they really have we shall, ere long, obtain some very interesting disclosures."
Norah stayed and had some supper, for we were all desperately hungry, and later on Harry saw her back to Richmond.
Three days later, in consequence of a message sent to me from the Hotel Cecil, I went home early from the office to Rivermead Mansions, and had only been in five minutes when the door-bell rang.
On opening it I found my expected visitor, Senor Rivero.
"Ah! my dear friend!" cried the good-humoured police official, as he wrung my hand warmly. "So I have found you at last! The taxi-man made a mistake in the address and took me further down the road. Well, so you have been doing good business for us—eh? You have found Mateo Sanz!"
"Yes. I recognized him," I said.
"I have just been with Superintendent Risden, of Scotland Yard, and we have seen our friend whom we have wanted for so long. He is quite unsuspicious. But I am told that two days ago he visited the house of Mr. De Gex."
"Yes, he is his friend, just as Despujol was," I remarked.
"But I cannot understand that!" Rivero declared. "It seems incredible that a person of such high standing as Mr. De Gex should number bandits among his friends!"
"I revealed to you the truth concerning De Gex when we were in Nimes," I said. "Even then you were half inclined to disbelieve it. Now you know the truth. The two business partners of Oswald De Gex, the Conde de Chamartin, of Madrid, and the Baron van Veltrup, of Amsterdam, have both died suddenly—and at the instigation of their unsuspected friend! It has been proved that Sanz introduced the tiny scrap of infected razor-blade into the Baron's glove."
"At De Gex's instigation?—impossible!"
"De Gex was the only person to profit by the Baron's death," I pointed out. "He owed a large sum to the Baron over a financial deal, and by the latter's death, and the destruction of certain papers, he now escapes payment."
"But you surely do not allege that Mr. De Gex resorts to the use of this little known and unsuspected poison in order to secure his own ends!" cried the famous detective, as he sat opposite me in an easy-chair.
"When we know the truth—as I hope we may very soon—then you will be staggered," I assured him. "At present you do not know the whole of the amazing story. For certain private reasons I have been unable to reveal it to you. But slowly, piece by piece, I have been steadily working upon the mystery of certain amazing occurrences at De Gex's house in Stretton Street. By slow degrees, and after travelling up and down Europe, I have at last succeeded in finding just a streak of daylight through the impenetrable barrier so cleverly contrived in order to mystify and mislead me. If you desire to ascertain the great ramifications of the desperate plots conceived by De Gex and his friends, and take steps to combat them, it will be best to allow his accomplice Sanz further liberty. Keep vigilant watch, but do not allow him to suspect," I urged. "He will no doubt go to Stretton Street again. Sanz, though a hired assassin as was his friend Despujol, should not be arrested yet, for the longer he remains at liberty the more extensive will be our information against the arch-schemer of Europe, Oswald De Gex."
Rivero spent the evening with me. We dined at the Clarendon, across Hammersmith Bridge, and afterwards we idled in one of the foreign cafes near Piccadilly Circus.
He was in London with a warrant for the arrest of Mateo Sanz in his pocket. But at my suggestion he stayed his hand. Meanwhile Sanz, all unsuspecting, was being carefully watched, not only by two detective-sergeants from Scotland Yard, but also by two Spanish detectives whom Rivero had brought to London with him.
Two days later, in response to a message from Rivero, I called at the Hotel Cecil on leaving the office. He met me in the marble-paved entrance hall, and I noticed at once a grave expression upon his face.
"Come up to my room," he said in French. "We can talk quietly there."
In surprise I went with him up in the lift to the third floor where, in a bedroom which overlooked the Embankment and the Thames beyond, he turned suddenly to me and exclaimed, still in French:
"I am very troubled and mystified, Monsieur Garfield. When you made those curious allegations against Monsieur De Gex I confess that I laughed them to scorn, but I have to-day learned several facts which put an entirely fresh complexion upon the present circumstances. Last night Mateo Sanz visited De Gex again. The financier gave a musical evening, but after the departure of all the guests, Sanz called and was at once admitted to De Gex's library."
"Ah!" I exclaimed. "I know that room. I have sad cause to remember it!"
"He remained there till nearly two o'clock in the morning. Then he returned on foot to his hotel. My information is that on his walk back he was whistling to himself, as though in high spirits."
"But that is surely no extraordinary circumstance!" I remarked. "Did I not tell you that De Gex is as friendly with Sanz as he was with Despujol?"
"I know. But in face of other facts I have learnt, the problem presented is an amazing one."
As he spoke a tap came upon the door, and a page-boy handed in a card.
"Show the gentleman up," Rivero said in his broken English.
"Here is someone who will relate some very strange facts. He is my friend Gonzalez Maura, an advocate who practised in Madrid before his appointment to our Consulate here. I called at the Consulate yesterday and saw him, when he related to me some curious facts which I have asked him to repeat to you. He is here for that purpose."
A few moments later the page-boy ushered in a middle-aged, well-dressed, black-bearded man who bowed elegantly when we were introduced.
"Now, my dear friend," exclaimed Rivero, when we were all three seated. "Will you please tell Mr. Garfield what you explained to me yesterday."
"Certainly. I merely tell you what I know," he replied in very fair English. "It is like this. Before I left Madrid I was very friendly with a country lawyer named Ruiz Serrano, who lived at Valladolid. For some reason the late Count de Chamartin took a great fancy to my friend, and constituted him his legal adviser, an appointment which brought him in quite a large income. To the lawyer of a great financier fees are always rolling in. The Count naturally took Serrano into his confidence and told him how, years ago, he had married the daughter of an Englishman in rather humble circumstances, living in Madrid. A daughter was born to them, but later he divorced his wife, who died soon afterwards, and then he married a lady of the Madrid aristocracy, the present widow. Apparently he made a will leaving the whole of his fortune to his daughter by his first wife—save for a small annuity to his second wife—and according to the will, on the death of his daughter the fortune was to go to his trusted partner, your English financier, Mr. Oswald De Gex."
I sat staring at the stranger, but uttered no word, for I was reflecting deeply.
"Senor Serrano arrived in London a week ago, and came to consult me regarding the will, because it seems that the Count's daughter—who came here to learn English, she having lived in Madrid all her life—is dead."
"Hence De Gex has inherited the Count's fortune?" I gasped. "What was the girl's name?"
"Her name was, of course, Chamartin, but in obedience to her father's wish, after the divorce she took her mother's maiden name, and was known as Gabrielle Engledue."
"Gabrielle Engledue!" I echoed. "Gabrielle Engledue!"
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-EIGHTH
LOVE THE CONQUEROR
The sudden revelation of the motive of the crime at Stretton Street staggered me.
An hour later I saw the Count's lawyer, Senor Serrano, at his hotel in Russell Square, and from him learned much more regarding his late client's disposition of his property. The Count had apparently not been on very affectionate terms with his second wife, which accounted for him leaving the bulk of his fortune to his daughter Gabrielle, and in case of her death, to his partner De Gex, whom he had, of course, believed to be an honest man.
The Count had died suddenly several months before his daughter. He had died from orosin, no doubt administered by someone in De Gex's pay. Then almost before the will could be proved in the girl's favour, Senor Serrano learned that the girl herself had died in England. Since then he had been constantly occupied in straightening out his late client's affairs, and had now come to London for the first time in order to see Oswald De Gex, who had been constantly pressing for a settlement of the estate. He had seen him on the previous day, when he appeared to be anxious that the affair should be cleared up.
"As he spoke of his late partner, and of his daughter, tears came to his eyes," said the Spanish lawyer, speaking in French.
Tears in the eyes of Oswald De Gex! I smiled at the thought.
As for Rivero he now became just as puzzled as I was myself.
To me the motive of poor Gabrielle Engledue's death was now quite apparent, and, moreover, it seemed that the reason De Gex required a forged death certificate was because he was not exactly certain whether by a post-mortem examination any trace of the drug could be found. He was not quite sure that one or other of the great London pathologists might not identify orosin. With the Count's death on the Continent he had taken the risk, well knowing that any ordinary doctor would pronounce death as being due to heart failure, as indeed it was. In London, however, he felt impelled to take precautions, and they were very elaborate and cunning ones, as I now knew.
With the motive thus apparent, I felt myself on the verge of triumph. Yet without full knowledge of what occurred to my poor beloved on that night how could I denounce the arch-criminal whose favours were now being sought by the great ones of the land.
I was still in a quandary. I had established to my own satisfaction that Tito Moroni, the doctor of the Via Cavezzo, was the person who had distilled the orosin, and who had no doubt introduced it to his wealthy but unscrupulous patient as a means of ridding himself of unwanted persons and enriching himself at the same time. Indeed, these facts were eventually proved up to the hilt.
The motives for the deaths of the Conde de Chamartin, his daughter, and the philanthropic Dutch financier, were all quite plain, but, of course, I had said nothing to Rivero, or to anybody else, regarding my acceptance of a bribe to assist De Gex in the committal of a crime.
I confess that on that night of horror I had no suspicion of foul play, for knowing the great financier as a person of very high standing, I naturally believed the story of his niece's sudden death. It was not until I found myself in the hospital at St. Malo that I realized how cleverly I had been tricked. The drug had been administered to me in just sufficient dose to ensure that my brain should be affected, and that any story I might afterwards tell should be discredited.
Happily, however, I had now nearly completely recovered. I was the third person known to return to their normal senses after a dose of orosin. Would there be a fourth?
Three further days went past, watchful, anxious days. De Gex was still at Stretton Street, apparently quite unconscious that his hireling Sanz was being kept under close surveillance. Another plot was in progress, without a doubt. Twice again had the elusive Spaniard, who was such a close friend of the notorious Despujol, visited Stretton Street.
It seemed, too, that De Gex, though anxious to return to Italy, still remained in London in the hope that Senor Serrano would arrange for the immediate transfer of the Count's property.
One could scarcely take up a newspaper without finding that Oswald De Gex had attended this function or that, for he was apparently courting the favours of certain high political personages, no doubt with a view to a place in the next Honours List.
I smiled within myself as I read of all the great man's doings, of his vast financial interests, of his estates in England and in Italy, and his assistance to the Ministry of Finance of Spain. Often indeed when at home I discussed the situation with Hambledon, yet without the evidence of Gabrielle Tennison we could not act.
Nearly a week had passed since my first meeting with the Spanish lawyer Serrano. Tito Moroni had apparently returned to Italy, for he had not been again to Stretton Street. His last visit there had no doubt resulted in a quarrel with his wealthy client, whom I had suspicions he was blackmailing, for such would undoubtedly be the procedure of a blackguard of his calibre. More than once Rivero seemed anxious to secure the arrest of Mateo Sanz, but I constantly urged him to remain patient. He frequently begged me to reveal the true extent of my knowledge, but I always evaded his questions because I was not yet in a position to make a triumphant coup, and avenge poor Gabrielle.
Daily, hourly indeed, was she in my thoughts. The letters I received from Lyons were the reverse of hopeful. The last one indeed reported that little or no progress had been noted during the weeks she had been under the care of the kindly old professor.
One evening, on returning from the office, I found upon the hall-table a note in Mrs. Tennison's well-known hand. It had been written from Longridge Road a few hours before, and in it she asked me to call that evening as they had returned from France.
Naturally I lost no time in dashing over to Earl's Court, and with failing heart I entered the well-remembered artistic little drawing-room where Gabrielle herself, in a cool frock of cream washing silk trimmed with narrow edgings of jade green, rose smiling to greet me.
Her face was changed, for her countenance was now bright and vivacious, and her eyes merry and sparkling. The hard set expression had gone, and she looked very alert and indescribably sweet.
"Well, Mr. Garfield!" she cried merrily, shaking my hand in warm welcome, so different from her usual apathetic attitude towards me. "You see we're back again! Mother has just gone round to Aunt Alice's in Cromwell Road, but she told me that you would call."
"Well, Miss Tennison!" I exclaimed, holding her soft little hand in mine, and looking into her eyes. "I hope—I hope that you feel better. Indeed, you look quite changed!"
"Yes. I can recollect everything now! All the past has come back to me, thanks to the old Professor. He was so very kind, and so patient that I can never thank him sufficiently—or you, Mr. Garfield, for discovering him. I feel quite myself again. And it was all so sudden. At first, the treatment gave me no relief, my brain seemed so muddled, but quite suddenly one day I found that I could recollect the past—all that happened to me on that terrible night. And in three days the Professor announced that I had quite recovered!"
My heart leapt with joy! She was cured!—cured!
"Tell me all that you recollect regarding the events of that night," I urged breathlessly as we sat together in the little London drawing-room. I looked at her countenance and realized now that it was full of life and animation, how very beautiful she was. How different from when I had seen her half dragged along the streets of Florence by her pretended friend Moroni.
But justice was at hand. So I urged her to tell me exactly what happened. I give it to you, my reader, in my love's own words, just as she related it to me.
"Well," she said, drawing a long breath. "One night about twelve months ago I was at a private dance at the house of a friend in Holland Park, when I was introduced to a young married woman named Cullerton, the wife of a man on the Stock Exchange. I rather liked her, and as she invited me to a small dance which she gave a week later we soon became friends. One day, while we were walking together in Bond Street we met Mr. De Gex, the great financier, to whom she introduced me. His car was standing at the kerb, so he took us back to tea at his house in Stretton Street. While we were at tea a tall, dark Spanish-looking girl came in and was introduced to us as Gabrielle Engledue. As we sat at tea we laughed over the similarity of our names, and she told me that though her mother had been English she had lived all her life in Madrid, and had been over here for the purpose of studying English. She had been staying with a family somewhere in Essex, but was now at an hotel in London, for she was returning to Madrid in a few days. I rather liked her, and as Mr. De Gex was charming to us both, I accepted his invitation to dine there a few days later. I did not tell mother about this, for I feared that being rather old-fashioned she might disapprove of my new friendships. We had a delightful dinner, and Mr. De Gex took us all three to the theatre afterwards, and drove each of us home. I was the first, and he put me down at the corner of Earl's Court Road.
"On the night of November the seventh at very short notice Mr. De Gex had again invited Miss Engledue and myself through Mrs. Cullerton to dinner, for she was leaving for Madrid next day, her luggage having already been sent to the station cloak-room, she told me. We understood that Mr. and Mrs. Cullerton were also coming. We did not put on dinner-dresses as Mr. De Gex said he intended to take us to a show at Olympia afterwards. I was, I know, foolish not to tell mother where I was going, but the reason for it I have already explained. When I arrived at Stretton Street, after my dancing lesson, Gabrielle Engledue was already there chatting with Mr. De Gex in the library. He told me that he had just received a telephone message from Mr. Cullerton saying that his wife had been taken rather unwell and therefore could not come. So we three sat down, the only other guest being a man I now recollect as one who afterwards proved my friend, Doctor Moroni.
"The meal was quite a merry one for Mr. De Gex was quite a lady's man when his wife was absent. At that time I understood that Mrs. De Gex was remaining in Italy. The meal was served by a man whom the great financier addressed as Horton, and just before coffee was brought in I recollect that Moroni left the table and went to the telephone. Then, on his return, the man Horton brought in the cups which were already filled. The man put down a cup before me, but De Gex noticing that it was a little too full, politely exchanged his for mine.
"We were chatting, and Mr. De Gex had just said that it was about time we were off to Olympia, when I sipped my coffee. I noticed that both Doctor Moroni and our host glanced at me curiously. The coffee tasted unusually sweet, and also it seemed to be slightly perfumed, I remember, almost like pot-pourri. I had just replaced the cup upon the table when I felt a most violent pain in my head, and cried out. Miss Engledue was at my side in an instant, but I felt a sensation of giddiness, and next moment I knew nothing more."
I remained silent for a few seconds, thinking deeply over her remarkable story.
"Then Miss Engledue was quite well at the time?" I asked.
"Quite, she sprang to my assistance."
"Then you were taken ill before she became similarly affected?"
"Was she? I did not know that!" said my beloved in surprise.
"Yes. You were rendered unconscious by a drug which produced all the symptoms of death, but Miss Engledue was afterwards deliberately killed."
Gabrielle stared at me as though she believed that I was bereft of my senses.
"Was Gabrielle Engledue killed?" she gasped. "Surely she was not!"
"She was," I replied. "And her body was afterwards cremated!"
My beloved gave vent to a shriek of horror—and what more natural? She now realized, for the first time, that she had been the victim of a clever and amazing plot.
"I recollect," she said, "that just at the moment of my sudden seizure I seemed to become fascinated by the gorgeous Spanish shawl which Gabrielle Engledue had around her shoulders. It was a most beautifully embroidered silk shawl with long, heavy fringe, and flowers worked in red, green and gold upon a silk fabric. I had been admiring it all the time I sat at the table, but the colours seemed so dazzling as to bewilder me, to muddle my senses—red, green and gold."
How often had those words of hers puzzled me! Now I knew the truth! That magnificent Spanish shawl had stood out in her recollection as the last object she had seen before the deadly orosin had done its work.
Then I told her my own story.
"I was inveigled by a specious story into that house soon after you had sipped your coffee—perhaps even before," I said. "The library was filled with a curious, overpowering perfume of pot-pourri which overcame me, and then De Gex gave me a liqueur glass of brandy into which there had been introduced that most baneful of all drugs orosin! It took immediate effect upon me, and a few moments later I was shown you lying upon the bed, as though you were dead! Indeed, I believed you to be dead, and in the muddled state of my brain I actually gave a certificate with which that fiend De Gex had already provided himself. I declared that you had died of heart disease, a malady for which I had for some months treated you!"
"But I knew nothing more until I was found on the road in Hampshire," she said.
"And I knew nothing more until I found myself in a hospital over at St. Malo," I went on. "The drug orosin in small doses destroys the memory; in large doses it produces an effect of death, and in still larger ones—like that administered to your friend the Anglo-Spanish girl Miss Engledue—causes instant death, with no symptoms that the post-mortem can distinguish other than the natural cause of sudden heart failure."
"Was I given the drug deliberately?" asked Gabrielle, looking at me with her wonderful wide-open eyes—eyes so different from those dulled fixed ones which I had seen in the Duomo in old Florence, when she had raised herself from praying in her half-demented state while the sinister Italian doctor stood behind her.
"Yes," I said. "De Gex passed his coffee cup to you, smiling and without compunction, well knowing the effect it must have upon you, at the same time his intention being to kill your friend Miss Engledue by administering a stronger dose. This must have been accomplished by the infection of some wound or slight abrasion of the skin so that the drug should be introduced directly into the system and not by the mouth. Such a method would cause almost instant death."
"But did Gabrielle Engledue die?" she asked excitedly.
"Yes. She did. And by her death De Gex inherits the fortune of her father, a rich Spaniard, the Conde de Chamartin."
She looked at me utterly bewildered, and well the poor girl might be. She now realized that she had been the victim of an amazing plot conceived by a master criminal, who was at the same time immensely wealthy, yet who cared nothing for human life so long as he amassed a colossal fortune.