The Yellow Claw/Chapter XXIII

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The Yellow Claw by Sax Rohmer
Chapter XXIII


XXIII


Raid in the Rue St. Claude


I PERCEIVED,” said M. Gaston Max, “that owing to the progress of the work of demolition, and owing to the carelessness of the people in charge—nom d’un nom! they were careless, those!—I was able, from a certain point, to look into a small room fitted up in a way very curious. There was a sort of bunk somewhat similar to that in a steamer berth, and the walls were covered with paper of a Chinese pattern—most bizarre. No one was in the room when I first perceived it, but I had not been looking in for many moments before a Chinaman entered and closed the shutters. He was hasty, this one.

Eh bien! I had seen enough. I perceived that my visit to the house of Cagliostro had been dictated by a good little angel. It happened that for many months I had been in quest of the headquarters of a certain group which I knew, beyond any tiny doubt, to have its claws deep in Parisian society. I refer to an opium syndicate”…

Dr. Cumberly started and seemed about to speak; but he restrained himself, bending forward and awaiting the detective’s next words with even keener interest than hitherto.

“I had been trying—all vainly—to trace the source from which the opium was obtained, and the place where it was used. I have devoted much attention to the subject, and have spent some twelve months in the opium provinces of China, you understand. I know how insidious a thing it is, this opium, and how dreadful a curse it may become when it gets a hold upon a community. I was formerly engaged upon a most sensational case in San Francisco; and the horrors of the discoveries which we made there—the American police and myself—have remained with me ever since. Pardieu! I cannot forget them! Therefore when I learnt that an organized attempt was being made to establish elaborate opium dens upon a most up-to-date plan, in Paris, I exerted myself to the utmost to break up this scheme in its infancy”…

Dr. Cumberly was hanging upon every word.

“Apart from the physical and moral ruin attendant upon the vice,” continued Max, “the methods of this particular organization have brought financial ruin to many.” He shook his finger at Dr. Cumberly as if to emphasize his certainty upon this point. “I will not go into particulars now, but there is a system of wholesale robbery—sapristi! of most ingenious brigandage—being practised by this group. Therefore I congratulated myself upon the inspiration which had led me to mount Cagliostro’s staircase. The way in which these people had conducted their sinister trade from so public a spot as this was really wonderful, but I had already learned to respect the ingenuity of the group, or of the man at the head of it. I wasted no time; not I! We raided the house that evening”…

“And what did you find?” asked Dr. Cumberly, eagerly.

“We found this establishment elaborately fitted, and the whole of the fittings were American. Eh bien! This confirmed me in my belief that the establishment was a branch of the wealthy concern I have mentioned in San Francisco. There was also a branch in New York, apparently. We found six or eight people in the place in various stages of coma; and I cannot tell you their names because—among them, were some well-known in the best society”…

“Good Heavens, M. Max, you surprise and shock me!”

“What I tell you is but the truth. We apprehended two low fellows who acted as servants sometimes in the place. We had records of both of them at the Bureau. And there was also a woman belonging to the same class. None of these seemed to me very important, but we were fortunate enough to capture, in addition, a Chinaman—Sen—and a certain Madame Jean—the latter the principal of the establishment!”

“What! a woman?”

Morbleu! a woman—exactly! You are surprised? Yes; and I was surprised, but full inquiry convinced me that Madame Jean was the chief of staff. We had conducted the raid at night, of course, and because of the big names, we hushed it up. We can do these things in Paris so much more easily than is possible here in London.” He illustrated, delivering a kick upon the person of an imaginary malefactor. “Cochon! Va!” he shrugged. “It is finished!

“The place was arranged with Oriental magnificence. The reception-room—if I can so term that apartment—was like the scene of Rimsky Korsakov’s Shéhérezade; I could see that very heavy charges were made at this establishment. I will not bore you with further particulars, but I will tell you of my disappointment.”

“Your disappointment?”

“Yes, I was disappointed. True, I had brought about the closing of that house, but of the huge sums of money fraudulently obtained from victims, I could find no trace in the accounts of Madame Jean. She defied me with silence, simply declining to give any account of herself beyond admitting that she conducted an hotel at which opium might be smoked if desired. Blagueur! Sen, the Chinaman, who professed to speak nothing but Chinese—ah! cochon!—was equally a difficult case, Nom d’un nom! I was in despair, for apart from frauds connected with the concern, I had more than small suspicions that at least one death—that of a wealthy banker—could be laid at the doors of the establishment in Rue St. Claude.”…

Dr. Cumberly bent yet lower, watching the speaker’s face.

“A murder!” he whispered.

“I do not say so,” replied Max, “but it certainly might have been. The case then must, indeed, have ended miserably, as far as I was concerned, if I had not chanced upon a letter which the otherwise prudent Madame Jean had forgotten to destroy. Triomphe! It was a letter of instruction, and definitely it proved that she was no more than a kind of glorified conciérge, and that the chief of the opium group was in London.”

“Undoubtedly in London. There was no address on the letter, and no date, and it was curiously signed: Mr. King.”

“Mr. King!”

Dr. Cumberly rose slowly from his chair, and took a step toward M. Max.

“You are interested?” said the detective, and shrugged his shoulders, whilst his mobile mouth shaped itself in a grim smile. “Pardieu! I knew you would be! Acting upon another clue which the letter—priceless letter—contained, I visited the Crédit Lyonnais. I discovered that an account had been opened there by Mr. Henry Leroux of London on behalf of his wife, Mira Leroux, to the amount of a thousand pounds.”

“A thousand pounds—really!” cried Dr. Cumberly, drawing his heavy brows together—“as much as that?”

“Certainly. It was for a thousand pounds,” repeated Max, “and the whole of that amount had been drawn out.”

“The whole thousand?”

“The whole thousand; nom d’un p’tit bonhomme! The whole thousand! Acting, as I have said, upon the information in this always priceless letter, I confronted Madame Jean and the manager of the bank with each other. Morbleu! ‘This,’ he said, ‘is Mira Leroux of London!’”…

“What!” cried Cumberly, seemingly quite stupefied by this last revelation.

Max spread wide his palms, and the flexible lips expressed sympathy with the doctor’s stupefaction.

“It is as I tell you,” he continued. “This Madame Jean had been posing as Mrs. Leroux, and in some way, which I was unable to understand, her signature had been accepted by the Crédit Lyonnais. I examined the specimen signature which had been forwarded to them by the London County and Suburban Bank, and I perceived, at once, that it was not a case of common forgery. The signatures were identical”…

“Therefore,” said Cumberly, and he was thinking of Henry Leroux, whom Fate delighted in buffeting—“therefore, the Crédit Lyonnais is not responsible?”

“Most decidedly not responsible,” agreed Max. “So you see I now have two reasons for coming to London: one, to visit the London County and Suburban Bank, and the other to find…Mr. King. The first part of my mission I have performed successfully; but the second”…again he shrugged, and the lines of his mouth were humorous.

Dr. Cumberly began to walk up and down the carpet.

“Poor Leroux!” he muttered—“poor Leroux.”

“Ah! poor Leroux, indeed,” said Max. “He is so typical a victim of this most infernal group!”

“What!” Dr. Cumberly turned in his promenade and stared at the detective—“he’s not the only one?”

“My dear sir,” said Max, gently, “the victims of Mr. King are truly as the sands of Arabia.”

“Good heavens!” muttered Dr. Cumberly; “good heavens!”

“I came immediately to London,” continued Max, “and presented myself at New Scotland Yard. There I discovered that my inquiry was complicated by a ghastly crime which had been committed in the flat of Mr. Leroux; but I learned, also, that Mr. King was concerned in this crime—his name had been found upon a scrap of paper clenched in the murdered woman’s hand!”

“I was present when it was found,” said Dr. Cumberly.

“I know you were,” replied Max. “In short, I discovered that the Palace Mansions murder case was my case, and that my case was the Palace Mansions case. Eh bien! the mystery of the Paris draft did not detain me long. A call upon the manager of the London County and Suburban Bank at Charing Cross revealed to me the whole plot. The real Mrs. Leroux had never visited that bank; it was Madame Jean, posing as Mrs. Leroux, who went there and wrote the specimen signature, accompanied by a certain Soames, a butler”…

“I know him!” said Dr. Cumberly, grimly, “the blackguard!”

“Truly a blackguard, truly a big, dirty blackguard! But it is such canaille as this that Mr. King discovers and uses for his own ends. Paris society, I know for a fact, has many such a canker-worm in its heart. Oh! it is a big case, a very big case. Poor Mr. Leroux being confined to his bed—ah! I pity him—I took the opportunity to visit his flat in Palace Mansions with Inspector Dunbar, and I obtained further evidence showing how the conspiracy had been conducted; yes. For instance, Dunbar’s notebook showed me that Mr. Leroux was accustomed to receive letters from Mrs. Leroux whilst she was supposed to be in Paris. I actually discovered some of those letters, and they bore no dates. This, if they came from a woman, was not remarkable, but, upon one of them I found something that was remarkable. It was still in its envelope, you must understand, this letter, its envelope bearing the Paris post-mark. But impressed upon the paper I discovered a second post-mark, which, by means of a simple process, and the use of a magnifying glass, I made out to be Bow, East!

“What!”

“Do you understand? This letter, and others doubtless, had been enclosed in an envelope and despatched to Paris from Bow, East? In short, Mrs. Leroux wrote those letters before she left London; Soames never posted them, but handed them over to some representative of Mr. King; this other, in turn, posted them to Madame Jean in Paris! Morbleu! these are clever rogues! This which I was fortunate enough to discover had been on top, you understand, this billet, and the outer envelope being very heavily stamped, that below retained the impress of the post-mark.”

“Poor Leroux!” said Cumberly again, with suppressed emotion. “That unsuspecting, kindly soul has been drawn into the meshes of this conspiracy. How they have been wound around him, until.”…

“He knows the truth about his wife?” asked Max, suddenly glancing up at the physician, “that she is not in Paris?”

“I, myself, broke the painful news to him,” replied Cumberly—“after a consultation with Miss Ryland and my daughter. I considered it my duty to tell him, but I cannot disguise from myself that it hastened, if it did not directly occasion, his breakdown.”

“Yes, yes,” said Max; “we have been very fortunate however in diverting the attention of the press from the absence of Mrs. Leroux throughout this time. Nom d’un nom! Had they got to know about the scrap of paper found in the dead woman’s hand, I fear that this would have been impossible.”

“I do not doubt that it would have been impossible, knowing the London press,” replied Dr. Cumberly, “but I, too, am glad that it has been achieved; for in the light of your Paris discoveries, I begin at last to understand.”

“You were not Mrs. Leroux’s medical adviser?”

“I was not,” replied Cumberly, glancing sharply at Max. “Good heavens, to think that I had never realized the truth!”

“It is not so wonderful at all. Of course, as I have seen from the evidence which you gave to the police, you knew that Mrs. Vernon was addicted to the use of opium?”

“It was perfectly evident,” replied Cumberly; “painfully evident. I will not go into particulars, but her entire constitution was undermined by the habit. I may add, however, that I did not associate the vice with her violent end, except”…

“Ah!” interrupted Max, shaking his finger at the physician, “you are coming to the point upon which you disagreed with the divisional surgeon! Now, it is an important point. You are of opinion that the injection in Mrs. Vernon’s shoulder—which could not have been self-administered”…

“She was not addicted to the use of the needle,” interrupted Cumberly; “she was an opium smoker.”

“Quite so, quite so,” said Max: “it makes the point all the more clear. You are of opinion that this injection was made at least eight hours before the woman’s death?”

“At least eight hours—yes.”

Eh bien!” said Max; “and have you had extensive experience of such injections?”

Dr. Cumberly stared at him in some surprise.

“In a general way,” he said, “a fair number of such cases have come under my notice; but it chances that one of my patients, a regular patient—is addicted to the vice.”

“Injections?”

“Only as a makeshift. He has periodical bouts of opium smoking—what I may term deliberate debauches.”

“Ah!” Max was keenly interested. “This patient is a member of good society?”

“He’s a member of Parliament,” replied Cumberly, a faint, humorous glint creeping into his gray eyes; “but, of course, that is not an answer to your question! Yes, he is of an old family, and is engaged to the daughter of a peer.”

“Dr. Cumberly,” said Max, “in a case like the present—apart from the fact that the happiness—pardieu! the life—of one of your own friends is involved…should you count it a breach of professional etiquette to divulge the name of that patient?”

It was a disturbing question; a momentous question for a fashionable physician to be called upon to answer thus suddenly. Dr. Cumberly, who had resumed his promenade of the carpet, stopped with his back to M. Max, and stared out of the window into Harley Street.

M. Max, a man of refined susceptibilities, came to his aid, diplomatically.

“It is perhaps overmuch to ask you,” he said. “I can settle the problem in a more simple manner. Inspector Dunbar will ask you for this gentleman’s name, and you, as witness in the case, cannot refuse to give it.”

“I can refuse until I stand in the witness-box!” replied Cumberly, turning, a wry smile upon his face.

“With the result,” interposed Max, “that the ends of justice might be defeated, and the wrong man hanged!”

“True,” said Cumberly; “I am splitting hairs. It is distinctly a breach of professional etiquette, nevertheless, and I cannot disguise the fact from myself. However, since the knowledge will never go any further, and since tremendous issues are at stake, I will give you the name of my opium patient. It is Sir Brian Malpas!”

“I am much indebted to you, Dr. Cumberly,” said Max; “a thousand thanks;” but in his eyes there was a far-away look. “Malpas—Malpas! Where in this case have I met with the name of Malpas?”…

“Inspector Dunbar may possibly have mentioned it to you in reference to the evidence of Mr. John Exel, M. P. Mr. Exel, you may remember”…

“I have it!” cried Max; “Nom d’un nom! I have it! It was from Sir Brian Malpas that he had parted at the corner of Victoria Street on the night of the murder, is it not so?”

“Your memory is very good, M. Max!”

“Then Mr. Exel is a personal friend of Sir Brian Malpas?”

“Excellent! Kismet aids me still! I come to you hoping that you may be acquainted with the constitution of Mrs. Leroux, but no! behold me disappointed in this. Then—morbleu! among your patients I find a possible client of the opium syndicate!”

“What! Malpas? Good God! I had not thought of that! Of course, he must retire somewhere from the ken of society to indulge in these opium orgies”…

“Quite so. I have hopes. Since it would never do for Sir Brian Malpas to know who I am and what I seek, a roundabout introduction is provided by kindly Providence—Ah! that good little angel of mine!—in the person of Mr. John Exel, M. P.”

“I will introduce you to Mr. Exel with pleasure.”

Eh bien! Let it be arranged as soon as possible,” said M. Max. “To Mr. John Exel I will be, as to Miss Ryland (morbleu! I hate me!) and Miss Cumberly (pardieu! I loathe myself!), M. Gaston! It is ten o’clock, and already I hear your first patient ringing at the front-door bell. Good morning, Dr. Cumberly.”

Dr. Cumberly grasped his hand cordially.

“Good morning, M. Max!”

The famous detective was indeed retiring, when:

“M. Max!”

He turned—and looked into the troubled gray eyes of Dr. Cumberly.

“You would ask me where is she—Mrs. Leroux?” he said. “My friend—I may call you my friend, may I not?—I cannot say if she is living or is dead. Some little I know of the Chinese, quite a little; nom de dieu!…I hope she is dead!”…