Read CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH - THE ABSOLUTE FACTS of The Stretton Street Affair , free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re full up,” she snapped before I could speak.  “We haven’t any room to let.”

“I don’t require a room,” I replied politely.  “I’ve called to see the French gentleman you have staying here ­Monsieur Suzor.”

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

“We’ve got no French gent a-staying ’ere,” she replied.  “You’ve made a mistake.”

“But I saw him enter here last night.”

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

“But you are full up ­eh?”

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

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

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

“Try next door,” she suggested, and disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suspicions of what?” she asked.

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

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

“On what date did she disappear?” I asked breathlessly.

“On November the seventh.”

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

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

The woman hesitated.  Perhaps it was but natural.

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

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

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

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

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

“She had no admirers ­eh?”

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

“What was their theory?” I asked.

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

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

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

“What was the doctor’s opinion?”

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

“Did not she recognize her mother?” I inquired.

“No, sir.  She hasn’t recognized her ­even now!”

“Doctors have seen her, I suppose?”

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

“How did you know Moroni?” I asked quickly.

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

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

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

“What other doctor has seen her?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not to my knowledge.  Why do you ask?”

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Alford lifted her hands in dismay.

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

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

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

I paused for a few moments.

“You’ve never heard her speak of Mr. De Gex?  You’re quite sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was she hiding from me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her reply, low and tense, staggered me!