“In this world,” he said, “we have to count with the Debnams. One’s own private knowledge of a man’s character is not worth a brass farthing as legal evidence. But I am happy to say that Dunbar completely pooh-poohed the idea.”
“I like Inspector Dunbar!” declared Helen; “he is so strong—a splendid man!”
Denise Ryland stared at her cynically, but made no remark.
“The inspector and myself,” continued Dr. Cumberly, “attached altogether a different significance to the circumstances. I am pleased to tell you that Debnam’s unpleasant theories are already proved fallacious; the case goes deeper, far deeper, than a mere intrigue of that kind. In short, I am now assured—I cannot, unfortunately, name the source of my new information—but I am assured, that Mrs. Leroux, as well as Mrs. Vernon, was addicted to the opium vice."...
“Oh, my God! how horrible!” whispered Helen.
“A certain notorious character,” resumed Dr. Cumberly...
“Soames!” snapped Denise Ryland. “Since I heard... that man’s name I knew him for... a villain... of the worst possible... description... imaginable.”
“Soames,” replied Dr. Cumberly, smiling slightly, “was one of the group, beyond doubt—for I may as well explain that we are dealing with an elaborate organization; but the chief member, to whom I have referred, is a greater one than Soames. He is a certain shadowy being, known as Mr. King.”
“The name on the paper!” said Helen, quickly. “But of course the police have been looking for Mr. King all along?”
“In a general way—yes; but as we have thousands of Kings in London alone, the task is a stupendous one. The information which I received this morning narrows down the search immensely; for it points to Mr. King being the chief, or president, of a sort of opium syndicate, and, furthermore, it points to his being a Chinaman.”
“A Chinaman!” cried Denise and Helen together.
“It is not absolutely certain, but it is more than probable. The point is that Mrs. Leroux has not eloped with some unknown lover; she is in one of the opium establishments of Mr. King.”
“Do you mean that she is detained there?” asked Helen.
“It appears to me, now, to be certain that she is. My hypothesis is that she was an habitue of this place, as also was Mrs. Vernon. These unhappy women, by means of elaborate plans, made on their behalf by the syndicate, indulged in periodical opium orgies. It was a game well worth the candle, as the saying goes, from the syndicate’s standpoint; for Mrs. Leroux, alone, has paid no less than a thousand pounds to the opium group!”
“A thousand pounds!” cried Denise Ryland. “You don’t mean to tell me that that... silly fool... of a man, Harry Leroux... has allowed himself to be swindled of... all that money?”
“There is not the slightest doubt about it,” Dr. Cumberly assured her; “he opened a credit to that amount in Paris, and the entire sum has been absorbed by Mr. King!”