Read CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH - THE TRACK OF DESPUJOL of The Stretton Street Affair , free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

Having decided to still remain in Madrid I deemed it advisable to engage the services of a private inquiry agent to watch the movements of De Gex and Suzor, who still remained at the Ritz.  The mystery-man, living under an assumed name, never went out in the daytime, though Suzor often went forth, paying visits to certain banks and commercial offices in connexion with the proposed new railway.

The man we engaged was an elderly ex-detective of the Seville police, named Pardo, who very soon discovered the identity of the secret agent employed to keep surveillance upon De Gex on behalf of the police so that no harm should befall him.

In consequence, I took Pardo into my confidence, and calling him to my hotel, explained that I desired to keep secret watch upon the Frenchman Suzor, without the knowledge of the detective watching De Gex.

“I particularly desire to know the addresses of any telegram which Suzor may send.  Probably he may send some message to Italy.  If so, please discover the address and the text of the message.”

I believed that De Gex might communicate with Moroni, now that the plot of Despujol had failed.

“I will watch, senor,” was the grey-haired Spaniard’s reply.  “If Senor Suzor sends any telegram I shall probably obtain a copy of it.  They know me well at the chief telegraph office.  Senor Suzor appears to be transacting a considerable amount of business in Madrid ­a scheme for a new railway, I understand.”

“Yes, I know.  All I want you to do is to find out who visits Mr. De Gex, and whether any telegrams are sent by either him or Mr. Suzor.”

“I quite understand, senor,” was the detective’s reply as he rose, and a few minutes later withdrew.

Late in the evening two days afterwards I returned to the hotel to find the man Pardo awaiting me.  After I had taken him up to my room and closed the door, he drew a piece of paper from his pocket, saying in French: 

“Senor Suzor sent a telegram at half-past eight this evening of which this is a copy.”

The message he handed me was in a pencilled scribble, and was in English as follows: 

     “Charles Rabel, Rue de Lalande 163, Montauban. ­

     “Important that I should see you.  Meet me at Hotel
     Luxembourg, Nimes, without fail, next Monday at noon. ­O.”

The initial “O” stood for Oswald ­Oswald De Gex!  So the mystery-man of Europe contemplated leaving Madrid!

I thanked the man Pardo, who said: 

“Senor Suzor did not dispatch the telegram from the chief office in the Calle del Correo, but from the branch office in the Plaza del Progreso.  He apparently wished to send it in secret.”

“I wonder why?” I asked.

The Spaniard raised his shoulders.

The address conveyed nothing to me.  But the message was proof that De Gex intended to leave Spain, and further, it was a source of satisfaction to know his destination in case he slipped away suddenly.

After Pardo had gone I sat and pondered.  It struck me as very curious that Suzor should have gone to a distant telegraph office in order to send the message.  It seemed that he feared to be recognized by the counter-clerk at the chief telegraph office.  For over an hour I smoked reflectively.  I confess that a curious ill-defined suspicion had arisen in my mind, a suspicion that became so strong that just about eleven o’clock I entered the Jefatura Superior de Policía in the Calle de la Princesa, and again inquired for Senor Andrade.

Fortunately he had been detained in his office, and I was shown into his presence.

He seemed surprised to see me, but at once he became interested when I said: 

“I have a distinct suspicion that I know the whereabouts of Despujol.”

“Have you?” he exclaimed quickly.  “What causes you to suspect?”

“A man whom I believe to be an acquaintance of his has to-day sent an urgent telegram to Charles Rabel, Rue de Lalande, 163, in Montauban, in France, making an appointment to meet him at the Hotel Luxembourg at Nimes next Monday at noon.”

“Who is his friend?” he asked eagerly.

“I regret, Senor Andrade, that I am not in a position to answer that question.  The whole matter is only one of suspicion ­very strong suspicion.”

The Chief of Police looked very straight at me.

“Ah!  Then you are in possession of certain secret knowledge concerning the man who made such a dastardly attempt upon your life!” he remarked.  “And you suspect this Charles Rabel at Montauban to be the fugitive ­eh?”

“Exactly,” I replied.

He asked me to repeat the address, which he scribbled down, and then looking up, said: 

“Personally, Senor Garfield, I think your suspicions are unfounded.  Despujol, if he is ever found, will be discovered in hiding somewhere in the mountains of the north.”

“But why not in Montauban?” I asked.  “He is apparently a well-educated man, judging from his conversation with me.  He speaks French well, and perhaps passes as a French subject.”

“He could pass for a Spaniard, an Italian, a Greek, or a Frenchman,” Andrade remarked.  “And as forged passports are so cheap nowadays, and almost impossible to detect, the means of escape of such a daring criminal are both numerous and easy.  But,” he added, “I am interested in this person whom you believe to be a friend of the fugitive.  Cannot you tell me who he is?”

I shook my head, and smiling replied: 

“I have only come here to tell you of a very distinct suspicion I entertain that Despujol is at Montauban.”

“Then his friend is your enemy ­eh?” he suggested, his dark, penetrating eyes fixed upon mine.  “You know the motive of that trap which Despujol set for you, and yet you will not reveal it to me!”

Again I shook my head and smiled.

“It would make my task much easier,” he remarked.

“I am aware of that.  But at present mine is only a suspicion.  I have no actual knowledge that Charles Rabel is the man you are so desirous of arresting.”

“And you really refuse to tell me who sent this message?” he asked in a tone of disappointment.

“It was sent in secret,” I answered.  “Indeed, it was that fact which caused me to suspect.  You can, of course, obtain the original of the telegram by applying for it from the authorities.  But it is only signed by an initial.”

“How did you obtain knowledge of it?”

“Again I have no intention of disclosing the source of my information, Senor Andrade,” I replied as politely as I could, “I am, as a matter of fact, here in Madrid attempting to solve a very remarkable mystery which occurred in London a few months ago.”

“This is most interesting!  You never told me that before!” he exclaimed.  “I confess I wondered with what motive you and your friend Senor Hambledon, living at separate hotels, had in remaining here.  It was regarded as suspicious by the detective force that being such intimate friends you lived at separate hotels, and met only in secret.  Reports have reached me of your movements, and of your meetings,” he laughed.  “More than once you have been regarded as suspected persons,” he added.

“Well, I hope you do not regard me as a suspected person any longer, Senor Andrade!” I exclaimed with a smile.

“No, no,” he laughed.  “But I confess you are something of a mystery.  Why should the notorious Despujol dare to put his foot into Madrid and lay that deadly plot to kill you?  You know the motive, and yet you will not disclose it to me.”

“Not at present,” I said.  “If it is found that Charles Rabel is really Despujol, then I will come forward and state all that I know.”

“You promise that?”

“I do.”

“Very well ­then I will give orders to have your suspicions investigated,” replied the patient, urbane official.  “A detective shall leave by the next train for Montauban with a request to the Prefect of Police of the Department of Tarn-et-Garonne for the arrest of the individual in question, if he should be identified.”

“Then I will accompany him,” I said.

“Excellent,” he exclaimed.  “It would be well if Senor Rivero, the head of the Detective Department, whom you have met, went in person to France.  I will ring him up at his house.”

He took up the telephone and a few minutes later spoke rapidly in
Spanish to the chief detective of Spain.

Presently after a rapid conversation he put down the receiver, and said: 

“Senor Rivero will meet you at the Delicias Station at two o’clock to-morrow morning.  The express for Barcelona leaves at two-fifteen.  From Barcelona you can get direct to Nimes, and on to Montauban.  And,” he added, “I only hope you will be successful in arresting the notorious Despujol.”

I thanked him, and suggested that if we should be fortunate enough to identify him, we should watch for the keeping of the appointment at the Hotel Luxembourg at Nimes on the following Monday.

“With whom is he keeping the appointment?” asked Senor Andrade.

“That I will disclose later,” was my reply.  “I know that the appointment has been fixed, and if we watch, we shall, I feel assured, gain some knowledge of considerable interest.”

“As you wish,” replied the Chief of Police, who now seemed convinced by my manner that I was in possession of certain actual facts.  “You will meet Senor Rivero ­eh?”

“Certainly,” I said.

“Then I wish the pair of you the good fortune of arresting the assassin Despujol,” he said as we shook hands and parted.

I drove at once to Hambledon’s hotel, where I found that he had just retired to bed.  As he stood in his pyjamas, surprised at my unexpected visit at that hour, I told him what I had arranged.

“Then I will remain here and watch De Gex’s departure,” he said.

“Yes.  But be very careful of yourself,” I urged.  “Keep your revolver handy, for you never know when an attack may be made upon you.  These fellows, though great men in the eyes of the world, employ desperate characters to do their dirty work.”

“I’m quite alive to that fact, Hugh,” replied my friend.  “But we won’t give up till we punish those responsible for poor Miss Tennison’s state ­will we?”

“No, we won’t,” I declared determinedly.  “Of course we may be on a wrong scent, but something seems to tell me that we are pretty hot on the trail.  The assassin Despujol would never have been employed by them if they did not hold us in dread.”

“Your journey to Montauban will prove whether you are right, Hugh,” he said, and then, after arranging that he should follow Suzor should De Gex leave without him, and that he should at once wire me word to the Poste Restante at Nimes, I left, and returning to the hotel packed my suit-case and later met the bald-headed but famous detective.

The latter proved an amusing companion who, during the long night journey to the Mediterranean, recounted to me many of his interesting experiences.  His French was better than his English, so we conversed in the former tongue.

There was no sleeping carriage upon the train, therefore, after my companion had spoken to the conductor, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the first-class compartment which had been reserved for us.  At half-past three in the morning, with true Spanish forethought, he produced some sandwiches, fresh fruit, and a bottle of excellent wine, upon which we made a hearty meal, after which we dozed in our corners till dawn.

Throughout the day my companion, who was quite as eager as myself to arrest the notorious Despujol, chatted in French as we went slowly down the fertile valley of the Ebro and suddenly out to where on our right lay the broad blue sea.  Not until late afternoon did we arrive at Barcelona, and having two hours to wait we went along the Paseo de San Juan to the Francia Station, and having deposited our bags there, strolled along to the Plaza de Cataluna, where, at the gay Maison Doree, we had coffee and cigarettes, while my companion read the Diario and I watched the picturesque crowd about us.  Rivero knew Barcelona well, so after we had finished our cigarettes we took a taxi to the Central Police Office, where we had a chat with the chief of the Detective Department, a short stout little man with a round boyish face and a black moustache.  After that we took another taxi along to the toy-fair in the Plaza de la Constitución, it being the Feast of St. George, the patron saint of Catalonia, which accounted for the bustle and gaiety of the city.

Then, after an interesting half-hour, we returned to the station and set out upon our slow eight-hour journey through the rich wine lands of Catalonia, with their quaint mediaeval villages and towns, with occasional glimpses of sapphire sea, and passing over many ravines and gullies we at last, long after nightfall, entered a long tunnel at the end of which was the station of Port-Bou, the French frontier.

The usual prying douaniers were quickly at work, and after some coffee at the Restaurant Baque, which is so well known to travellers to Southern Spain, we re-entered the train for Narbonne, where in the morning we changed and travelled to Montauban, by way of Carcassonne and Toulouse.

It was late in the afternoon when, on arrival at our destination, we took rooms at the Hotel du Midi on the opposite side of the Tarn to the prosperous pleasant little French town, once a headquarter of the Inquisition, and even now containing in its Museum the executioner’s axe and many instruments of torture.  After a wash and a meal, for we were both very hungry, we set out to find Monsieur Charles Rabel, whose address was Rue de Lalande, number 163.

We crossed the wonderful old brick bridge from Villebourbon to the town ­a bridge built in the fourteenth century with an internal passage running beneath the roadway to the ancient Chateau.  Then, making our way past the old Church of St. Jacques, with its fine Gothic octagonal tower, and passing through a number of streets we found ourselves in the narrow old-world Rue de Lalande.

Just as we entered the street, which contained a number of small shops, I halted.

“He must not see me!” I exclaimed.

“I quite agree,” replied the Spanish detective.  “There is a little cafe over there.  Go in and wait for me.  I will make some discreet inquiries concerning this Monsieur Rabel.”

Hence we parted, and while Senor Rivero sauntered along the street in search of the house in question, I went into the cafe and ordered a bock.

Full of anxiety lest, after all, this man Rabel should be a respectable citizen, I waited.

Time passed slowly.  Half an hour went by.  I ordered a mazagran and sat smoking, trying to suppress my eagerness.  An hour elapsed ­an hour and a half ­two hours!

I waited yet another half-hour until the proprietor of the cafe began to look askance at me.  Then I paid, and rising, went out into the street.

It was now dark.  There was no sign of my friend the Spanish police agent.  He had disappeared!

I stood upon the pavement full of anxiety and bewilderment.

What could have happened to him?