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The Stretton Street Affair
by William Le Queux
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"All this, Mr. Garfield, is most astounding!" she declared, gazing with bewilderment around the room. "It seems incredible!"

"Yes, Miss Tennison, I know it does," I replied. "But have patience, and I will prove to you the true depth of the villainy of our mutual enemy and his well-paid sycophants."

Then, of a sudden, I grasped her soft hand in mine and for a few seconds held it. I looked steadily into her wonderful eyes, and then slowly I raised her hand to my lips and kissed it.

"Gabrielle," I whispered, bending to her in deep earnestness. "My triumph over your enemies is yours—yours! Wait, and I will reveal to you the whole facts—facts more astounding than have ever been conceived in the most sensational pages of modern fiction."

She did not withdraw her hand, and by her inert attitude, I realized with indescribable joy that she really reciprocated my love!

I am not an emotional man, neither am I an ideal lover. I am only a mere man-of-the-world. Hence perhaps the reader will forgive me if I fail to describe all the ecstasy of affection which I experienced at that moment.

I loved Gabrielle Tennison with all my soul, and I now knew that she loved me. That surely was all-sufficient!

With Gabrielle I had been a fellow-victim of a deeply laid and most foul plot. That I had been purposely marked down with the aid of De Gex's accomplice and sycophant, Gaston Suzor, was made more than plain as I pursued my inquiries.

The plot by which De Gex had hoped to secure his partner's fortune was indeed worthy the evil ever-scheming mind of the mystery-man of Europe; the man whose unseen influence made itself felt in every great political move on the Continent—the man whose hundred agents were ready in secret to do his bidding and perform any dirty work for payment.

After the Conde de Chamartin had been secretly attacked in the train on his way to Paris and had died in the hospital at San Sebastian, Oswald De Gex suddenly found to his dismay that whatever claim he made upon his late partner's estate, practically the whole would go to his daughter. Therefore, while being a little apprehensive lest orosin could be detected in a body after death by an expert pathologist, he resorted to that elaborate and remarkable plot in order to exhibit to me what I presumed to be the body of Gabrielle Engledue, and induce me to forge a death certificate in the name of a doctor whose surname was the same as my own.

The fact that he had actually provided himself with a genuine sheet of the doctor's notepaper, and that—as I now learnt for the first time—Moroni was actually in the house when the drug was given to Gabrielle and myself prior to the death of the chief victim, showed the utter callousness of the crime. Indeed, Gabrielle Engledue was actually witness of my beloved's mysterious seizure, little dreaming that in a short hour she herself would fall victim to the cupidity of that relentless poisoner who, by his crimes, hoped to amass one of the most colossal fortunes in the world.

I sat with Gabrielle discussing the amazing affair until darkness slowly fell. I told her of my own astounding adventures, and my narrow escape from death in Madrid, to all of which she listened with breathless interest.

Then, rising, I took her hand again, and with whispered words I pressed my lips to hers for the first time in a long but sacred caress.

She sighed. I felt her quiver as I pressed her to me, and then to my delight I felt her sweet warm lips cling at last affectionately to mine.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-NINTH

ANOTHER PLOT

Among my letters on the following morning was a small packet which I opened. Within was a tablet of dark-brown toilet-soap bearing the name of a well-known firm of manufacturers. With it was a typewritten letter upon dark-blue commercial paper with a printed heading. I was addressed as "H. Granfield, Esq.," and the letter proved to be a polite intimation that as the firm in question was putting on to the market a new brand of toilet-soap, they begged me to accept with their compliments the enclosed sample. I was also informed that, if I liked it, I could purchase it of their agents, a certain firm of chemists in King Street, Hammersmith.

"Looks rather decent soap!" remarked Harry as I passed it to him, and then I re-wrapped it in its paper and placed it aside.

At eleven o'clock I sat with Rivero, Gabrielle and Harry Hambledon in the dull reception-room at Scotland Yard, that same room wherein I had given information concerning the whereabouts of Mateo Sanz.

The Superintendent who received us was a well-dressed courtly man, rather stout and elderly, who became intensely interested when I related the whole story, much as I have set it down in the foregoing pages.

The consultation was a momentous one. Rivero sat amazed when I described my chance meeting with Gaston Suzor, and the clever manner in which I had been inveigled into De Gex's house in Stretton Street. Indeed, on comparing Gabrielle's story with my own, I now saw that at the time I entered the house both she and the girl Engledue were in their normal health. The coffee had not then been served though Moroni had gone out of the room, no doubt to put the drug into the cup which was to be offered to Gabrielle Tennison, and which apparently was placed by mistake before the mystery-man himself. Or else the changing of the cups was to allay any suspicion that might arise in the mind of the other victim, which was perhaps most likely.

According to Gabrielle, it seemed that at the moment of her seizure Horton re-entered the room and said some words in a low tone to his master, whereupon the latter rose, left the table, and evidently went to greet me, leaving Gabrielle in Miss Engledue's care.

Horton, even though he had been engaged in serving the dinner at the rear of the house, was apparently also on the look-out for me, and now I recollected that on my journey down from York, I had mentioned to Suzor my habit of going to visit my uncle in Orchard Street on certain evenings. He had asked me to dine with him on the seventh, but I had excused myself as my uncle would expect me that evening. He evidently held previous knowledge that the route I habitually took was through Stretton Street, hence the plot to get me within that house. Besides, it was quite likely that Suzor himself was watching for me and had sent Horton out to call me. In any case, the plot had been well-timed and elaborately thought out.

The fact was plain that Gabrielle Engledue, who had sent her luggage to the station cloak-room and was about to return to Madrid, was killed, probably by the scratch of a pin upon which orosin had been placed.

"All this is most astounding," declared Superintendent Fletcher. "Of course, De Gex contrived that no inquiry would be made concerning the dead girl. He might have shown you the body of Miss Engledue, but he had some motive in keeping it from you, and obtaining a death certificate for the girl who was still living."

"The motive was that he was not quite certain whether the orosin could be detected. Since then he has grown bolder, as witness the murder of the Baron van Veltrup," I replied.

"But why should he not have shown you the dead girl?" queried the Superintendent.

"Because he no doubt wished to mystify me in case of my recovery from the effects of the drug," was my reply. "He was not quite certain of the effect that the dose might have upon me, so in order to entirely mislead me, so that if I recovered my statements would be discredited, he showed me a girl who was still living, though to all intents dead. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that, aided by Moroni, he purposely contrived that I should meet and recognize in Miss Tennison the girl I had been told was the dead girl Gabrielle Engledue. And I confess that I have been sorely puzzled all along that the girl whom I had seen dead was actually alive, even though her mental state was such as to show that she had met with foul play."

"Yes," remarked Rivero. "The plot was very cunningly conceived, especially the manner in which you were entrapped and induced to give the certificate."

"Here is the money which De Gex gave me for my share in the crime," I said openly, laying the bank notes upon the Superintendent's table. "I suppose some action will be taken against me, but I am prepared to take the consequences, now that I have unmasked one of the greatest and most dangerous criminals of modern times."

"You certainly have done that, Mr. Garfield," remarked Superintendent Fletcher. "And I venture to think that the part which you have played in solving this problem will be taken into account when your own actions are considered."

"It seems to me," remarked Rivero, "that the reason the poison-maker, Moroni, evinced such a keen interest in Miss Tennison, and his reason for taking her to a number of specialists was solely in order to gain their opinions and so further study the effects of the deadly drug which he prepared."

"I have learnt," I said, "that Moroni was the laboratory assistant of the late Professor Orosi, the discoverer of the drug."

"Ah! Then of course he knows the secret of its preparation, how to administer it, and in what doses," remarked Fletcher.

"Even to-day," I said, "I have had yet another attempt upon my life made by these scoundrels," and from my pocket I drew the little packet containing the sample cake of toilet-soap, which I displayed to them all. Then, handling it in the thick brown paper wrapping, I took my pocket-knife and scraped the soap, quickly revealing a number of sharp steel points imbedded in it.

"You see there are sharp clippings in it! Each has no doubt been treated with orosin!" I said. "Had I washed my hands with it as a trial, they would have become scratched and infected with the deadly poison before I was aware of it."

"Sanz has no doubt sent you that!" remarked Rivero instantly.

"Well, Hugh, it is certainly a providential escape that you discovered in time this latest plot against you!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Really the craft and cunning of De Gex is without limit."

"But I think, Miss Tennison, that you need have nothing further to fear from him," said the Superintendent with satisfaction. "He has no doubt, very powerful friends, and if the evidence were not so damning and direct as that collected after so much patience and perseverance by Mr. Garfield, he might perhaps wriggle out of it. But once we have him he can hope for no escape," he added. "And we shall arrest him before an hour is out. Fortunately he is still quite unsuspicious, though his chief fear is of Mr. Garfield, and of the ugly revelations which either Moroni or Sanz could make. Nevertheless we shall see!"



CONCLUSION

Just after noon I accompanied Superintendent Fletcher and Senor Rivero with three detectives from Scotland Yard to the little hotel at Notting Hill Gate, where Mateo Sanz was then staying, for he had twice changed his abode within the past week. Rivero saw the proprietor, and giving his name as Sanchez Orozco, a well-known criminal and friend of his, asked to see his visitor who we knew had taken the name of Nardiz, and represented himself as an agent of a firm of Spanish wine exporters.

Mention of the name of Orozco at once brought the much-sought-after bandit downstairs, and as he entered the little sitting-room Rivero covered him instantly with his automatic pistol, shouting to him authoritatively in Spanish.

The notorious bandit staggered, so completely was he taken aback.

"You know me, Sanz!" exclaimed Rivero. "You are under arrest. Now tell me who prepared that cake of soap which you sent to Mr. Garfield?"

The question was quite an unorthodox procedure in English justice. But it was the Chief of the Spanish Detective Department who had arrested a Spanish criminal.

"Find out," was the fellow's defiant retort.

"It was Oswald De Gex," said Rivero. "You won't deny that! You may as well tell the truth, and things may go better with you. He was Despujol's friend, as well as yours—was he not?"

"Yes," the dark-faced man admitted sullenly. "We have both done his dirty work—and Moroni assisted him."

"You sent that soap to Mr. Garfield—eh?"

The man under arrest with Rivero's pistol still pointed at him nodded in the affirmative.

"And you went to The Hague and there met the Baron van Veltrup. You put that little piece of steel into his glove. I know that you did," Rivero went on relentlessly.

"Yes. De Gex paid me for it," was his reply.

"As he paid Despujol—eh?"

"Yes."

"Very well," replied Rivero. "I will note your replies. De Gex is expecting you to call upon him to-day, is he not?"

"Yes. At one o'clock. I was to receive some money," he laughed grimly.

The Spaniard having been taken away in a taxi to Bow Street Police Station, together with his luggage, we went on to Stretton Street.

"Mr. De Gex is not in," replied the man-servant who appeared in answer to my ring.

"Never mind," I said. "My friends and I have some business with him." And I walked into that big familiar hall, followed by Superintendent Fletcher, Senor Rivero, and two detectives.

"We have a meeting here," I explained casually to the smart man-servant who in surprise at our sudden entry showed us to the library, that same room in which I remembered sitting on that fateful November night.

It was nearly a year ago since I had last been in that big, handsomely furnished apartment. I did not remain there, for it was my intention to greet my would-be murderer on his return. Therefore I went to the hall and there awaited him.

Just before one o'clock he entered with his latchkey, and he having closed the door I stepped forward in his path.

"I think you know me—Mr. De Gex!" I exclaimed very firmly, my eyes fixed on him.

He started, and for a second went pale. Then in indignation, he exclaimed:

"Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"I am here to see you, Mr. De Gex," I replied quite calmly.

"I don't know you," he declared angrily.

"Perhaps not," I laughed. "But there are others with me here who wish to speak a few words with you."

As I said this Superintendent Fletcher stepped forward, while behind him came the others.

"Mr. Oswald De Gex?" he asked. "Is that your name?"

The owner of the big mansion went pale to the lips, and muttered an affirmative.

"I hold a warrant for your arrest on the charge of the wilful murder of Gabrielle Engledue on the seventh of November last," said the Superintendent. "Your accomplice Sanz is already under arrest, I may tell you, and orders have gone out to Paris and to Florence for the arrest of your friends Suzor and Moroni." Then turning to his lieutenants, he gave orders for the great financier to be secured.

So utterly aghast was the guilty man at our sudden appearance, and the terrible charge levelled against him, that he was quite unable to speak. He tried to articulate, to protest, but his tongue seemed tied. Only a low, gurgling sound escaped his lips, and the next second he had collapsed into the arms of the detectives who half carried him out to the taxi which stood near by in readiness.

He was placed in a cell at Bow Street to await his appearance before the stipendiary on the following day, but an hour later when the warder went to him he found him dead. Upon the thumb of his left hand was a slight punctured wound.

Rather than face a trial and the penalty for his crimes, he had killed himself by that same most deadly drug by which he had sought to enrich himself.

* * * * *

Next day all the world rang with the sensational news of the arrest and suicide of the mighty millionaire of Europe, but De Gex had many influential friends, hence to the public the actual truth was never disclosed.

Mateo Sanz was extradited to Spain, where at the Assize Court at Madrid he was, six months later, sentenced to death and in due course executed, while Moroni, after many delays, as is usual in the Italian Courts, was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment for being in the possession of orosin, and also attempting to administer it. The charge against him of having had a hand in the heartless murder of poor Gabrielle Engledue was unfortunately not substantiated for lack of evidence.

Though the police are still seeking everywhere for Gaston Suzor, he has not up to the present been found. They, however, do not despair of arresting him.

At first it was resolved to seek the man-servant Horton and arrest him, but as it seemed that he had had no actual hand in the girl's assassination, and as, moreover, the murderer had committed suicide, his evidence was not required, the hue-and-cry after him was dropped.

And myself?

What need I say, except that to-day I am extremely happy. Owing to the sudden great rise of some securities which my father left me I later found myself quite well off. Indeed, upon the death of old Mr. Francis a few months ago, I was able to purchase a partnership in the firm, and I am thankful to say we are doing quite well in face of the strenuous competition in electrical engineering.

Gabrielle Tennison, the sweet, open-hearted girl whom I first met under such extraordinary circumstances, is now my wife. We live very happily in a charming, old-world farmhouse embowered in roses and honeysuckle, on the Portsmouth Road at Cobham, in Surrey.

Life nowadays is one of idyllic bliss, of perfect love and undisturbed peace, different indeed from that fevered year of struggle, adventure, travel and unrest during which I strove so steadily and with all my might to avenge the crimes of Oswald De Gex, and to unravel that tangled skein of the misdeeds of the international financier—the Stretton Street Affair.

THE END

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