Read CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH - SOME INTERESTING REVELATIONS of The Stretton Street Affair , free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall you fly across this time?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I reflected my blood boiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m certain it is,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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