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And now, Henry Leroux, Denise Ryland and Helen Cumberly were speeding along the Richmond Road beneath a sky which smiled upon Leroux's convalescence; for this was a perfect autumn morning which ordinarily had gladdened him, but which saddened him to-day.
The sun shone and the sky was blue; a pleasant breeze played upon his cheeks; whilst Mira, his wife, was . . .
He knew that he had come perilously near to the borderland beyond which are gibbering, mowing things: that he had stood upon the frontier of insanity; and realizing the futility of such reflections, he struggled to banish them from his mind, for his mind was not yet healed--and he must be whole, be sane, if he would take part in the work, which, now, strangers were doing, whilst he-- whilst he was a useless hulk.
Denise Ryland had been very voluble at the commencement of the drive, but, as it progressed, had grown gradually silent, and now sat with her brows working up and down and with a little network of wrinkles alternately appearing and disappearing above the bridge of her nose. A self-reliant woman, it was irksome to her to know herself outside the circle of activity revolving around the mysterious Mr. King. She had had one interview with Inspector Dunbar, merely in order that she might give personal testimony to the fact that Mira Leroux had not visited her that year in Paris. Of the shrewd Scotsman she had formed the poorest opinion; and indeed she never had been known to express admiration for, or even the slightest confidence in, any man breathing. The amiable M. Gaston possessed virtues which appealed to her, but whilst she admitted that his conversation was entertaining and his general behavior good, she always spoke with the utmost contempt of his sartorial splendor.
Now, with the days and the weeks slipping by, and with the spectacle before her of poor Leroux, a mere shadow of his former self, with the case, so far as she could perceive, at a standstill, and with the police (she firmly believed) doing "absolutely . . . nothing . . . whatever"--Denise Ryland recognized that what was lacking in the investigation was that intuition and wit which only a clever woman could bring to bear upon it, and of which she, in particular, possessed an unlimited reserve.
The car sped on toward the purer atmosphere of the riverside, and even the clouds of dust, which periodically enveloped them, with the passing of each motor-'bus, and which at the commencement of the drive had inspired her to several notable and syncopated outbursts, now left her unmoved.
She thought that at last she perceived the secret working of that Providence which ever dances attendance at the elbow of accomplished womankind. Following the lead set by "H. C." in the Planet ("H. C." was Helen Cumberly's nom de plume) and by Crocket in the Daily Monitor, the London Press had taken Olaf van Noord to its bosom; and his exhibition in the Little Gallery was an established financial success, whilst "Our Lady of the Poppies" (which had, of course, been rejected by the Royal Academy) promised to be the picture of the year.
Mentally, Denise Ryland was again surveying that remarkable composition; mentally she was surveying Olaf van Noord's model, also. Into the scheme slowly forming in her brain, the yellow- wrapped cigarette containing "a small percentage of opium" fitted likewise. Finally, but not last in importance, the Greek gentleman, Mr. Gianapolis, formed a unit of the whole.
Denise Ryland had always despised those detective creations which abound in French literature; perceiving in their marvelous deductions a tortured logic incompatible with the classic models. She prided herself upon her logic, possibly because it was a quality which she lacked, and probably because she confused it with intuition, of which, to do her justice, she possessed an unusual share. Now, this intuition was at work, at work well and truly; and the result which this mental contortionist ascribed to pure reason was nearer to the truth than a real logician could well have hoped to attain by confining himself to legitimate data. In short, she had determined to her own satisfaction that Mr. Gianapolis was the clue to the mystery; that Mr. Gianapolis was not (as she had once supposed) enacting the part of an amiable liar when he declared that there were, in London, such apartments as that represented by Olaf van Noord; that Mr. Gianapolis was acquainted with the present whereabouts of Mrs. Leroux; that Mr. Gianapolis knew who murdered Iris Vernon; and that Scotland Yard was a benevolent institution for the support of those of enfeebled intellect.
These results achieved, she broke her long silence at the moment that the car was turning into Richmond High Street.
"My dear!" she exclaimed, clutching Helen's arm, "I see it all!"
"Oh!" cried the girl, "how you startled me! I thought you were ill or that you had seen something frightful." . . .
"I have . . . seen something . . . frightful," declared Denise Ryland. She glared across at the haggard Leroux. "Harry . . . Leroux," she continued, "it is very fortunate . . . that I came to London . . . very fortunate."
"I am sincerely glad that you did," answered the novelist, with one of his kindly, weary smiles.
"My dear," said Denise Ryland, turning again to Helen Cumberly, "you say you met that . . . cross-eyed . . . being . . . Gianapolis, again?"
"Good Heavens!" cried Helen; "I thought I should never get rid of him; a most loathsome man!"
"My dear . . . child"--Denise squeezed her tightly by the arm, and peered into her face, intently--"cul-tivate . . . deliberately cul- tivate that man's acquaintance!"
Helen stared at her friend as though she suspected the latter's sanity.
"I am afraid I do not understand at all," she said, breathlessly.
"I am positive that I do not," declared Leroux, who was as much surprised as Helen. "In the first place I am not acquainted with this cross-eyed being."
"You are . . . out of this!" cried Denise Ryland with a sweeping movement of the left hand; "entirely . . . out of it! This is no man's . . . business." . . .
"But my dear Denise!" exclaimed Helen. . . .
"I beseech you; I entreat you; . . . I order . . . you to cul- tivate . . . that . . . execrable . . . being."
"Perhaps," said Helen, with eyes widely opened, "you will condescend to give me some slight reason why I should do anything so extraordinary and undesirable?"
"Undesirable!" cried Denise. "On the contrary; . . . it is most . . . desirable! It is essential. The wretched . . . cross-eyed . . . creature has presumed to fall in love . . . with you." . . .
"Oh!" cried Helen, flushing, and glancing rapidly at Leroux, who now was thoroughly interested, "please do not talk nonsense!"
"It is no . . . nonsense. It is the finger . . . of Providence. Do you know where you can find . . . him?"
"Not exactly; but I have a shrewd suspicion," again she glanced in an embarrassed way at Leroux, "that he will know where to find me."
"Who is this presumptuous person?" inquired the novelist, leaning forward, his dark blue eyes aglow with interest.
"Never mind," replied Denise Ryland, "you will know . . . soon enough. In the meantime . . . as I am simply . . . starving, suppose we see about . . . lunch?"
Moved by some unaccountable impulse, Helen extended her hand to Leroux, who took it quietly in his own and held it, looking down at the slim fingers as though he derived strength and healing from their touch.
"Poor boy," she said softly.
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