Read CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND - GABRIELLE AT HOME of The Stretton Street Affair , free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

I had been back in London a little over a week when I read in the paper one morning a paragraph which possessed for me a peculiar interest.  It ran as follows: 

“The notorious Spanish bandit Rodriquez Despujol, who has for several years terrorized Murcia and Andalusia and has committed several murders, is dead.  The police have been searching for him everywhere, but so elusive was he that he always evaded them.  The celebrated Spanish detective Senor Rivero learnt a short time ago that the wanted man had been seen at Nimes, where he cleverly contrived to escape by car.

“Certain clues came into the hands of the police, and by these Senor Rivero was able to trace the fugitive to Denia, not far from Valencia.  He was hiding in a small cottage in an orange-grove just outside the town.  The place was surrounded by police, but Despujol, discovering this, opened fire upon them from one of the windows and also threw a hand grenade among them, with result that two carabineers were killed and four others injured, among the latter being Senor Rivero himself.  A desperate fight ensued, but in the end the bandit received a bullet in the head which proved fatal.

“A large quantity of stolen property of all sorts has been discovered in rooms which the criminal occupied in Montauban, in France.  Despujol’s latest exploit was an attempt to administer in secret a very deadly poison to an Englishman who was visiting Madrid.  It was that attempted crime which aroused Senor Rivero’s activities which have had the effect of ridding Spain of one of its most notorious assassins.”

I read the report twice.  So the defiant Despujol was dead, and poor Rivero had sustained injuries!  Nothing was said of the powerful financier’s friendship with the bandit.

When I showed it to Hambledon, he remarked: 

“At least you’ve been the means not only of putting an end to Despujol’s ignoble career, but also of restoring a quantity of very valuable property to its owners.”

“True, but it brings us no nearer a solution of the affair at Stretton Street,” was my reply.

Gabrielle’s mother had returned to London, and that evening I called upon her by appointment.  I found her a grey-haired refined woman with a pale anxious face and deep-set eyes.

When I mentioned Gabrielle, who was in the adjoining room, she sighed and exclaimed: 

“Ah!  Mr. Garfield.  It is a great trial to me.  Poor child!  I cannot think what happened to her.  Nobody can tell, she least of all.  Doctor Moroni has been very good, for he is greatly interested in her case.  They have told me that you called some time ago and evinced an interest in her.”

“Yes, Mrs. Tennison,” I said.  “I feel a very deep interest in your daughter because ­well, to tell you the truth, I, too, after a strange adventure here in London one night completely lost my sense of identity, and when I came to a knowledge of things about me I was in a hospital in France, having been found unconscious at the roadside many days after my adventure in London.”

“How very curious!” Mrs. Tennison remarked, instantly interested.  “Gabrielle was found at the roadside.  Do you think, then, that there is any connexion between your case and hers?”

“Yes, Mrs. Tennison,” I replied promptly.  “It is for that reason I am in active search of the truth ­in the interests of your daughter, as well as of those of my own.”

“What do you suspect, Mr. Garfield?” asked Gabrielle’s mother, as we sat in that cosily-furnished little room where on the table in the centre stood an old punch-bowl filled with sweet-smelling La France roses.

“I suspect many things.  In some, my suspicions have proved correct.  In others, I am still entirely in the dark.  One important point, however, I have established, namely, the means by which this curious, mysterious effect has been produced upon the minds of both your daughter and myself.  When one knows the disease then it is not difficult to search for the cure.  I know how the effect was produced, and further, I know the name of the medical man who has effected cures in similar cases.”

“You do?” she exclaimed eagerly.  “Well, Gabrielle has seen a dozen specialists, all of whom have been puzzled.”

“Professor Gourbeil, of Lyons, has been able to gain complete cures in two cases.  Orosin, a newly discovered poison, is the drug that was used, and the Professor has a wider knowledge of the effect of that highly dangerous substance than any person living.  You should arrange to take your daughter to him.”

The pale-faced widow shook her head, and in a mournful tone, replied: 

“Ah!  I am afraid it would be useless.  Doctor Moroni took her to several specialists, but they all failed to restore her brain to its normal activity.”

“Professor Gourbeil is the only man who has ever been able to completely cure a person to whom orosin has been administered ­and that has been in two cases only.”

“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.”

I laughed.

“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.”

“Who?”

“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.”

“How?”

“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.