Read CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD - THE DEATH-DRUG of The Stretton Street Affair , free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

It was July.

The London season, later in these modern days, was already on the wane.  The Derby and Ascot had been won, in glorious weather.  There had been splendid cricket at Lord’s, fine polo at Hurlingham, and Henley Week had just passed.  London Society was preparing for the country, the Continental Spas, and the sea, leaving the metropolis to the American cousins who were each week invading London’s big hotels.

I was back at Francis and Goldsmith’s hard at work as I had been before my strange adventure, while Harry was busy at his legal work in the police courts.

From our windows looking across the Thames between the trees on the towing path we had a wide view of the river with the chimneys of the factories on the opposite bank.  On the right was Putney, the starting place of the University Boat Race, and on the left the great reservoirs and the bend of the river behind which lay Mortlake, the finish of the boat-race course.  Each morning, when I rose and dressed, I looked out upon the wide and somewhat uninteresting vista, racking my brains how to further proceed with my campaign against the great intriguer who could, by his immense wealth, juggle with dynasties.

With Mrs. Tennison I had become on very friendly terms.  Fearing to reveal myself as having taken that bundle of Bank of England notes as a bribe, I held back from her what had actually happened to me on that fateful night.  But I had become a frequent guest at Longridge Road, and often spent many delightful hours with Gabrielle, who at times seemed quite in her normal senses.

Yet, at others, she became vague and spoke in awed tones about what she had seen ­“all red, green and gold.”  And often I sat at home smoking and wondering what she had seen that had so impressed her.  Often, too, I discussed it with Mrs. Tennison and with Harry Hambledon, but neither of us could suggest any solution of the mystery.

Mrs. Tennison, on account of the slump in securities owing to the war, was, I knew, in rather straitened circumstances.  When I again suggested a visit to the great specialist in Lyons she shook her head, and told me frankly that she could not afford it.  De Gex had, it seemed, sought his victims among those who had been ruined by the war.

She had, however, told me that her brother, a shipping agent living in Liverpool, who was Gabrielle’s godfather, was deeply interested in her.

I suggested that she should write to him and urge that, as a last resort, Gabrielle should consult Professor Gourbeil.  The latter had been successful in restoring to their normal mental condition patients who had been infected with orosin, that most dangerous and puzzling of the discoveries of modern toxicologists.

Mrs. Tennison had acted upon my advice.  Had I been in a financial position to pay Gabrielle’s expenses to Lyons I would have done so most willingly.  But my journey to Spain had depleted my resources, and though I had those Bank of England notes still reposing in a drawer at home, I dared not change one of them lest by such action I should have accepted and profited upon the bribe which De Gex had so cleverly pressed upon me.

In the first week of July Mrs. Tennison wrote to me, and that evening I went over to see her after leaving the office in Westminster.

It was a hot dry night when London lay beneath its haze of sun-reddened dust after a heat spell, parched and choked.

Gabrielle was out at the house of one of her school friends, hence, we sat alone together in the cool drawing-room ­a room which was essentially that of a woman of taste and refinement.

A few seconds after I had entered, a tall, grey-haired man came in, whereupon Mrs. Tennison introduced him as her brother Charles from Liverpool.

The man glanced at me sharply, and then, smiling pleasantly, took my hand.

“I have come up to see my sister regarding poor Gabrielle,” he said, when we were seated.  “I understand that you have experienced similar symptoms to hers, and have recovered.”

“I have not completely recovered,” I replied.  “Often I have little recurrences of lapse of memory for periods from a few moments to a quarter of an hour.”

“My sister has told me that you believe that poor Gabrielle and yourself are fellow-victims of some plot.”

“I am certain of it, Mr. Maxwell,” I replied.  “And I have already devoted considerable time and more money than I could really afford in an attempt to solve the mystery of it all.”

“Can you explain the whole circumstances?” he asked.  “I am deeply interested in my unfortunate niece.”

“I can relate to you a few of the facts if you wish to hear them,” was my reply.  I certainly had no intention of telling him all that I knew, or of the death and cremation of the mysterious Gabrielle Engledue ­whoever she might have been.

So I explained practically what I had told his sister.  I also described how Professor Vega at Madrid had told me of the two cures effected by Professor Gourbeil, of Lyons.

“My sister tells me that you suggest Gabrielle should consult him,” Mr. Maxwell said.  “But she has consulted so many specialists.  Doctor Moroni has been most kind to her.  He took her to doctors in Paris and in Italy, but they could do nothing.”

“Well, I think that as Professor Gourbeil has cured two persons of the deadly effects of the drug Miss Tennison should see him,” I remarked.

“I quite agree.  It is for that reason I have come to London,” he said.  “I understand that you, Mr. Garfield, take a personal interest in my niece, therefore I want to ask you a favour ­namely, that if I pay the expenses would you accompany my sister and her daughter to Lyons?”

“Willingly.  But I will pay my own expenses, please,” was my prompt reply.

At first he would not hear of it, until I declined to go unless I went independently, and then we arranged for our departure.

Four days later we descended at the big busy Perrache station at Lyons from the lumbering rapide which had brought us from Paris, and entered the Terminus Hotel which adjoins the platform.  Later, from the concierge, we found that Professor Gourbeil of the Facultés des Sciences et de Médecine, lived in the Avenue Felix Faure, and I succeeded over the telephone in making an appointment with him for the following day at noon.

This I kept, going to him alone in order to explain matters.

I found him to be a short, florid-faced man with a shock of white hair and a short white beard.  His house was a rather large one standing back in a well-kept garden full of flowers, and the room in which he received me was shaded and cool.

I told him of Professor Vega’s recommendation, whereupon he exclaimed in French: 

“Ah!  I know Professor Vega.  We met last year at our conference in Paris ­a very brilliant man!”

Then, as briefly as I could, I explained how the deadly drug orosin had been surreptitiously administered to Gabrielle and myself, and its effects upon us both.

“Orosin!” exclaimed the old savant, raising his thin hands.  “Ah!  There is not much hope of the lady’s recovery.  I have known of only two cases within my experience.  The effect of orosin upon the human brain is mysterious and lasting.  It produces a state of the brain-cells with which we cannot cope.  A larger dose produces strong homicidal tendencies and inevitable death, and a still larger dose almost instantaneous death.”

I told him how we both had lost all sense of our surroundings for weeks, and how we were both found at the roadside, she in Hampshire and I in France.

“You were both victims of some plot; that is evident.  Of course you have invoked the aid of the police?”

I did not reply.  I certainly feared to seek the assistance of Scotland Yard.

He explained to me practically what Professor Vega had done regarding orosin and its terrible effect.

“There have been other cases of its administration,” said the great alienist.  “Somebody must be preparing the drug and selling it for sinister purposes.  Though it is so little known as yet that its manufacturer must be an expert toxicologist with special knowledge.”

“Have you seen many cases of its administration?” I asked eagerly.

“Yes.  Quite a number,” was the old Professor’s reply.  “I am in communication with Doctor Duroc, of the Salpetrière in Paris, and together we are keeping a record of the cases where orosin is administered by some mysterious hand.  Whose, we have no idea.  We leave that to the Sûreté.  But you say that your adventure and that of mademoiselle occurred in London?”

I repeated my story.  Then I ventured to ask: 

“Do you, Professor, know anything of a Doctor Moroni, of Florence?”

The white-bearded, shock-haired man reflected for a moment, and then moving in his chair, replied: 

“I fancy I have heard his name.  Moroni ­Moroni?  Yes, I am sure someone has mentioned him.”

“As a toxicologist?”

“Probably.  I do not really remember.  I believe I met him at one of the conferences in Paris or Geneva.  He was with one of your English professors ­one of your medico-legists whose name at the moment escapes my memory.  He gave evidence in that curious case of alleged poison at the Old Bailey, in London, a year ago.”

“But is Doctor Moroni known as an expert in poison?”

“Not to my personal knowledge.  Possibly he is, and I have heard his name in that connexion.  Why do you ask?”

“Because he has had my friend Miss Tennison under his care.  He has taken her to see several specialists in Italy.”  Then in a sudden burst of confidence I told him of my great love for the girl who, like myself, had been attacked in secret.  Further, I told him that the reason of my steady inquiry was in her interests, as well as in my own.

“My dear Monsieur Garfield, now that you are so frank with me I will do my utmost in the interests of both of you,” declared the dear old Professor, as he rose and crossed to the window.  “What you have told me interests me intensely.  I see by your travels to Spain and the South that you are leaving no stone unturned to arrive at a true solution of the problem ­and I will help you.  Orosin is the least known and most dangerous drug that has ever been discovered in our modern civilization.  Used with evil intent it is unsuspected and wellnigh undiscoverable, for the symptoms often resemble those of certain diseases of the brain.  The person to whom the drug is administered either exhibits an exhilaration akin to undue excess of alcohol, or else the functions of the brain are entirely distorted, with a complete loss of memory or a chronic aberration of the brain.”

“That is the case of my friend Miss Tennison,” I said.

“Very well.  I will see her and endeavour to do what I can to restore her,” said the elegant old French savant.  “But, remember, I hold out no hope.  In all cases orosin destroys the brain.  It seems to create a slow degeneracy of the cells which nobody yet can understand.  We know the effect, but we cannot, up to the present, combat it.  There are yet many things in human life of which the medical men are in as complete ignorance as those who study electricity and radio-frequencies.  We try to do our best to the extent of our knowledge, my dear monsieur.  And if you will bring Mademoiselle to me to-morrow at three o’clock I will try to make my diagnosis.”

I thanked him for his perfectly open declaration, and then I left.  That he was the greatest living authority on the symptoms and effect of the mysterious drug orosin I felt confident.  I only longed that he would take Gabrielle beneath his charge and endeavour to restore her brain to its normal function.

Punctually at three o’clock next day I called with my beloved and her mother at the house embowered in roses and geraniums up on the hill above the broad Rhone river.

We were ushered in by an old man-servant, silent and stately.

The Professor quickly appeared, his sharp eyes upon the patient.

“I wonder if you will allow me, Madame, to take your daughter into my consulting-room alone?” he asked in good English.  “It will be best for me to question her without any other person being present.”

“Most certainly,” Mrs. Tennison replied.  Then, turning to Gabrielle, she said:  “The Professor wants to put a few questions to you, dear.  Will you go with him into the next room?”

Gabrielle, pale-faced and tragic, looked at me strangely, and then meekly followed the old Professor into his consulting-room.

The door was closed, and Mrs. Tennison waited with me in silence.  The window of the room was open and through it came the sweet scent of the roses and climbing jasmine, with the buzz of the summer insects and the chatter of the birds, for the house was high up on that hill above the great silk-weaving capital of the Rhone.

I rose and looked out upon the garden, so well ordered, for the Professor was, it seemed, a lover of roses, the blossoms running riot everywhere.

Suddenly, as we remained in silence, we heard Gabrielle’s voice raised until she shouted fierce defiant words in English: 

“No!” she shrieked.  “It was not that ­not that!  You try and fix upon me a deed that I did not do!  Why should you do this ­why should you do this!”

“Pardon, Mademoiselle,” we heard the Professor say in a quiet, calm tone.  “Pardon.  Please!  I do not allege it.  I have only asked a simple question.”

“Your question is insulting, doctor!” declared my beloved loudly.  “Why should you insinuate such a thing?”

“Mademoiselle, I insinuate nothing,” replied the Professor.  “I am endeavouring to ascertain the exact state of your mental balance.  Your anger is, in itself, a most gratifying feature.  A thousand pardons if you feel that I have insulted you,” he added with the extreme politeness of his race.

Then, through the folding doors which divided the apartments, we heard him say: 

“Will you please give me both your hands, and look directly into my eyes?”

There was a silence.

We could hear the Professor sigh, but he made no comment.

His examination occupied nearly an hour.  He put to her many searching questions in an endeavour to restore her memory as to what happened, but without avail.  Those questions seemed to perturb her, for of a sudden she cried loudly, indeed she almost shrieked in terror: 

“Ah! no! no!  Save me!” she implored.  “I ­I can’t stand it!  I can’t ­I really can’t!  See!  Look!  Look!  There it is again ­all red, green and gold! ­all red, green and gold!”

And we could hear her expressions of fear as she gazed upon some imaginary object which held her terrified.

We heard the kindly old Professor putting many questions to her in an endeavour to discover what gave rise to that nameless horror which she so often experienced, but her replies were most vague.  She seemed unable to describe the chimera of her imagination.  Yet it was only too plain that on that fatal night she had seen something bearing those colours which had so impressed itself upon her mind as distinctly horrible that it constantly recurred to her.

Yet she was unable to describe it, owing to her mental aberration.

Time after time, she implored the Professor’s protection from some imaginary peril, and time after time, after she had begged him to remain near her, she repeated those mysterious and meaningless words: 

“Red, green and gold! ­red, green and gold!”

In breathless anxiety we listened, but all we could hear were the Professor’s sighs of despair, which meant far more to Mrs. Tennison and myself than any of his words could convey.

We knew that upon poor Gabrielle, the girl I loved with all my heart and soul, the deadly drug had done its work ­and that she was, alas! incurable!

Her case was hopeless, even in the hands of the one man in all Europe who knew the effects of orosin and had only in two cases effected cures.

I looked at her mother in silence.  She knew my thoughts, for tears were now coursing down her pale cheeks.

Both of us knew the worst.  Our journey had been in vain.

That thought caused me to grit my teeth against De Gex and his unholy hirelings.  I would follow and unmask them.  I would avenge the innocent girl whom I loved so dearly, even though it should cost me my life!