“It’s almost incredible!” said Helen.
“I quite agree with you,” replied her father. “Of course, most people know that there are opium dens in London, as in almost every other big city, but the existence of these palatial establishments, conducted by Mr. King, although undoubtedly a fact, is a fact difficult to accept. It doesn’t seem possible that such a place can be conducted secretly; whereas I am assured that all the efforts of Scotland Yard thus far have failed to locate the site of the London branch.”
“But surely,” cried Denise Ryland, nostrils dilated indignantly, “some of the... customers of this... disgusting place... can be followed?"...
“The difficulty is to identify them,” explained Cumberly. “Opium smoking is essentially a secret vice; a man does not visit an opium den openly as he would visit his club; and the elaborate precautions adopted by the women are illustrated in the case of Mrs. Vernon, and in the case of Mrs. Leroux. It is a pathetic fact almost daily brought home to me, that women who acquire a drug habit become more rapidly and more entirely enslaved by it than does a man. It becomes the center of the woman’s existence; it becomes her god: all other claims, social and domestic, are disregarded. Upon this knowledge, Mr. King has established his undoubtedly extensive enterprise."...
Dr. Cumberly stood up.
“I will go down and see Leroux,” he announced quietly. “His sorrow hitherto has been secondary to his indignation. Possibly ignorance in this case is preferable to the truth, but nevertheless I am determined to tell him what I know. Give me ten minutes or so, and then join me. Are you agreeable?”
“Quite,” said Helen.
Dr. Cumberly departed upon his self-imposed mission.
Some ten minutes later, Helen Cumberly and Denise Ryland were in turn admitted to Henry Leroux’s flat. They found him seated on a couch in his dining-room, wearing the inevitable dressing-gown. Dr. Cumberly, his hands clasped behind him, stood looking out of the window.
Leroux’s pallor now was most remarkable; his complexion had assumed an ivory whiteness which lent his face a sort of statuesque beauty. He was cleanly shaven (somewhat of a novelty), and his hair was brushed back from his brow. But the dark blue eyes were very tragic.
He rose at sight of his new visitors, and a faint color momentarily tinged his cheeks. Helen Cumberly grasped his outstretched hand, then looked away quickly to where her father was standing.
“I almost thought,” said Leroux, “that you had deserted me.”
“No,” said Helen, seeming to speak with an effort—“we—my father, thought—that you needed quiet.”
Denise Ryland nodded grimly.
“But now,” she said, in her most truculent manner, “we are going to... drag you out of... your morbid... self... for a change... which you need... if ever a man... needed it.”