Part 4 out of 4
unsupportable; it seemingly proceeded from this fetid pool which,
occupying the floor of the dungeon, offered a barrier, since its
depth was unknown, of fully twelve feet between ourselves and the
There was a faint, dripping sound: a whispering, echoing drip-drip
of falling water. I could not tell from whence it proceeded.
Almost supporting my companion, whose courage seemed suddenly to
have failed her, I stared fascinatedly at that blood-stained
relic. Something then induced me to look behind; I suppose a
warning instinct of that sort which is unexplainable. I only know
that upholding Carneta with my left arm, and nervously grasping my
revolver in my right, I turned and glanced over my shoulder.
Very slowly, but with a constant, regular motion, the massive door
I snatched away my arm; in my left hand I held the electric torch,
and springing sharply about I directed the searching ray into the
black gap of the stairway. A yellow face, a malignant Oriental
face, came suddenly, fully, into view! Instantly I recognized it
for that of the man who had driven Hassan's car!
Acting upon the determination with which I had entered the Gate
House, I raised my revolver and fired straight between the evil
eyes! To the fact that I dropped my left hand in the act of
pulling the trigger with my right, and thus lost my mark, the
servant of Hassan of Aleppo owed his escape. I missed him. He
uttered a shrill cry of fear and went racing up the wooden stair.
I followed him with the light and fired twice at the retreating
figure. I heard him stumble and a second time cry out. But,
though I doubt not he was hit, he recovered himself, for I heard
his tread in the corridor above.
Propping wide the door with my foot, I turned to Carneta. Her
face was drawn and haggard; but her mouth set in a sort of grim
"Earl is dead!" she said, in a queer, toneless voice. "He died
trying to get - that thing! I will get it, and destroy it!"
Before I could detain her, even had I sought to do so, she stepped
into the filthy water, struggled to recover her foothold, and sank
above her waist into its sliminess. Without hesitation she began
to advance toward the niche which contained the slipper. In the,
middle of the pool she stopped.
What memory it was which supplied the clue to the identity of that
nauseating smell, heaven alone knows; but as the girl stopped and
drew herself up rigidly - then turned and leapt wildly back toward
the door-I knew what occasioned that sickly odour!
She screamed once, dreadfully - shrilly - a scream of agonizing
fear that I can never forget. Then, roughly I grasped her, for the
need was urgent - and dragged her out on to the floor beside me.
With her wet garments clinging to her limbs, she fell prostrate on
A yard from the brink the slimy water parted, and the yellow snout
of a huge crocodile was raised above the surface! The saurian eyes,
hungrily malevolent, rose next to view!
The extremity of our danger found me suddenly cool. As the thing
drew its slimy body up out of the poor I waited. The jaws were
extended toward the prostrate body, were but inches removed from
it, dripped their saliva upon the soddened skirt - when I bent
forward, and at a range of some ten inches emptied the remaining
three loaded chambers of my revolver into the creature's left
Upchurned in bloody foam became the water of that dreadful place
. . . . As one recalls the incidents of a fevered dream, I recall
dragging Carneta away from the contorted body of the death-stricken
reptile. A nightmare chaos of horrid, revolting sights and sounds
forms my only recollection of quitting the dungeon of the slipper.
I succeeded in carrying her up the stairs and out through the empty
rooms on to the verandah; but there, from sheer exhaustion, I laid
her down. I had no means of reviving her and I lacked the strength
to carry her farther. Having recharged my revolver, I stood watching
her where she lay, wanly beautiful in the dim light.
There was no doubt in my mind respecting the fate of Earl Dexter,
nor could I doubt that the slipper in the dungeon below was a
duplicate of the real one. It was a death-trap into which he had
lured Dexter and which he had left baited for whomsoever might trace
the cracksman to the Gate House. Why Hassan should have remained
behind, unless from fanatic lust of killing, I could not imagine.
When at last the fresher night air had its effect, and Carneta
opened her eyes, I led her to the gates, nor did she offer the
slightest resistance, but looked dully before her, muttering over
and over again, "Earl, Earl!"
The gates were open; we passed out on to the open road. No man
pursued us, and the night was gravely still.
SIX GRAY PATCHES
When the invitation came from my old friend Hilton to spend a week
"roughing it" with him in Warwickshire I accepted with alacrity.
If ever a man needed a holiday I was that man. Nervous breakdown
threatened me at any moment; the ghastly experience at the Gate
House together with Carneta's grief-stricken face when I had
parted from her were obsessing memories which I sought in vain to
A brief wire had contained the welcome invitation, and up to the
time when I had received it I had been unaware that Hilton was
back in England. Moreover, beyond the fact that his house,
"Uplands," was near H--, for which I was instructed to change at
New Street Station, Birmingham, I had little idea of its location.
But he added "Wire train and will meet at H--"; so that I had no
uneasiness on that score.
I had contemplated catching the 2:45 from Euston, but by the time
I had got my work into something like order, I decided that the
6:55 would be more suitable and decided to dine on the train.
Altogether, there was something of a rush and hustle attendant upon
getting away, and when at last I found myself in the cab, bound for
Euston, I sat back with a long-drawn sigh. The quest of the Prophet's
slipper was ended; in all probability that blood-stained relic was
already Eastward bound. Hassan of Aleppo, its awful guardian, had
triumphed and had escaped retribution. Earl Dexter was dead. I
could not doubt that; for the memory of his beautiful accomplice,
Carneta, as I last had seen her, broken-hearted, with her great
violet eyes dulled in tearless agony - have I not said that it lived
Even as the picture of her lovely, pale face presented itself to my
mind, the cab was held up by a temporary block in the traffic - and
my imagination played me a strange trick.
Another taxi ran close alongside, almost at the moment that the
press of vehicles moved on again. Certainly, I had no more than a
passing glimpse of the occupants; but I could have sworn that violet
eyes looked suddenly into mine, and with equal conviction I could
have sworn to the gaunt face of the man who sat beside the
violet-eyed girl for that of Earl Dexter!
The travellers, however, were immediately lost to sight in the rear,
and I was left to conjecture whether this had been a not uncommon
form of optical delusion or whether I had seen a ghost.
At any rate, as I passed in between the big pillars, "The gateway
of the North," I scrutinized, and closely, the numerous hurrying
figures about me. None of them, by any stretch of the imagination,
could have been set down for that of Dexter, The Stetson Man. No
doubt, I concluded, I had been tricked by a chance resemblance.
Having dispatched my telegram, I boarded the 6:55. I thought I
should have the compartment to myself, and so deep in reverie was
I that the train was actually clear of the platforms ere I learned
that I had a companion. He must have joined me at the moment that
the train started. Certainly, I had not seen him enter. But,
suddenly looking up, I met the eyes of this man who occupied the
corner seat facing me.
This person was olive-skinned, clean-shaven, fine featured, and
perfectly groomed. His age might have been anything from twenty-five
to forty-five, but his hair and brows were jet black. His eyes, too,
were nearer to real black than any human eyes I had ever seen
before - excepting the awful eyes of Hassan of Aleppo. Hassan of
Aleppo! It was, to that hour, a mystery how his group of trained
assassins - the Hashishin - had quitted England. Since none of them
were known to the police, it was no insoluble mystery, I admit; but
nevertheless it was singular that the careful watching of the ports
had yielded no result. Could it be that some of them had not yet
left the country? Could it be--
I looked intently into the black eyes. They were caressing, smiling
eyes, and looked boldly into mine. I picked up a magazine,
pretending to read. But I supported it with my left hand; my right
was in my coat pocket - and it rested upon my Smith and Wesson!
So much had the slipper of Mohammed done for me: I went in hourly
dread of murderous attack!
My travelling companion watched me; of that I was certain. I could
feel his gaze. But he made no move and no word passed between us.
This was the situation when the train slowed into Northampton. At
Northampton, to my indescribable relief (frankly, I was as nervous
in those days as a woman), the Oriental traveller stepped out on to
Having reclosed the door, he turned and leaned in through the open
"Evidently you are not concerned, Mr. Cavanagh," he said. "Be
warned. Do not interfere with those that are!"
The night swallowed him up.
My fears had been justified; the man was one of the Hashishin - a
spy of Hassan of Aleppo! What did it mean?
I craned from the window, searching the platform right and left.
But there was no sign of him.
When the train left Northampton I found myself alone, and I should
only weary you were I to attempt to recount the troubled conjectures
that bore me company to Birmingham.
The train reached New Street at nine, with the result that having
gulped a badly needed brandy and soda in the buffet, I grabbed my
bag, raced across - and just missed the connection! More than an
hour later I found myself standing at ten minutes to eleven upon
the H-- platform, watching the red taillight of the "local"
disappear into the night. Then I realized to the full that with
four miles of lonely England before me there hung above my head a
mysterious threat - a vague menace. The solitary official, who
but waited my departure to lock up the station, was the last
representative of civilization I could hope to encounter until the
gates of "Uplands" should be opened to me!
What was the matter with which I was warned not to interfere? Might
I not, by my mere presence in that place, unwittingly be interfering
With the station-master's directions humming like a refrain in my
ears, I passed through the sleeping village and out on to the road.
The moon was exceptionally bright and unobscured, although a dense
bank of cloud crept slowly from the west, and before me the path
stretched as an unbroken thread of silvery white twining a sinuous
way up the bracken-covered slope, to where, sharply defined against
the moonlight sky, a coppice in grotesque silhouette marked the
The month had been dry and tropically hot, and my footsteps rang
crisply upon the hard ground. There is nothing more deceptive
than a straight road up a hill; and half an hour's steady tramping
but saw me approaching the trees.
I had so far resolutely endeavoured to keep my mind away from the
idea of surveillance. Now, as I paused to light my pipe - a
never-failing friend in loneliness - I perceived something move in
the shadows of a neighbouring bush.
This object was not unlike a bladder, and the very incongruity of
its appearance served to revive all my apprehensions. Taking up
my grip, as though I had noticed nothing of an alarming nature, I
pursued my way up the slope, leaving a trail of tobacco smoke in my
wake; and having my revolver secreted up my right coat-sleeve.
Successfully resisting a temptation to glance behind, I entered the
cover of the coppice, and, now invisible to any one who might be
dogging me, stood and looked back upon the moon-bright road.
There was no living thing in sight, the road was empty as far as the
eye could see. The coppice now remained to be negotiated, and then,
if the station-master's directions were not at fault, "Uplands"
should be visible beyond. Taking, therefore, what I had designed to
be a final glance back down the hillside, I was preparing to resume
my way when I saw something - something that arrested me.
It was a long way behind - so far that, had the moon been less
bright, I could never have discerned it. What it was I could not
even conjecture; but it had the appearance of a vague gray patch,
moving - not along the road, but through the undergrowth - in my
For a second my eye rested upon it. Then I saw a second patch - a
third - a fourth!
There were six gray patches creeping up the slope toward me!
The sight was unnerving. What were these things that approached,
silently, stealthily - like snakes in the grass?
A fear, unlike anything I had known before the quest of the Prophet's
slipper had brought fantastic horror into my life, came upon me.
Revolver in hand I ran - ran for my life toward the gap in the trees
that marked the coppice end. And as I went something hummed through
the darkness beside my headsome projectile, some venomous thing that
missed its mark by a bare inch!
Painfully conversant with the uncanny weapons employed by the
Hashishin, I knew now, beyond any possibility of doubt, that death
was behind me.
A pattering like naked feet sounded on the road, and, without
pausing in my headlong career, I sent a random shot into the
The crack of the Smith and Wesson reassured me. I pulled up short,
turned, and looked back toward the trees.
Nothing - no one!
Breathing heavily, I crammed my extinguished briar into my pocket
- re-charged the empty chamber of the revolver - and started to
run again toward a light that showed over the treetops to my left.
That, if the man's directions were right, was "Uplands" - if his
directions were wrong - then . . .
A shrill whistle - minor, eerie, in rising cadence - sounded on the
dead silence with piercing clearness! Six whistles - seemingly
from all around me - replied!
Some object came humming through the air, and I ducked wildly.
On and on I ran - flying from an unknown, but, as a warning instinct
told me, deadly peril - ran as a man runs pursued by devils.
The road bent sharply to the left then forked. Overhanging trees
concealed the house, and the light, though high up under the eaves,
was no longer visible. Trusting to Providence to guide me, I plunged
down the lane that turned to the left, and, almost exhausted, saw the
gates before me - saw the sweep of the drive, and the moonlight,
gleaming on the windows!
None of the windows were illuminated.
Straight up to the iron gates I raced.
They were locked!
Without a moment's hesitation I hurled my grip over the top and
clambered up the bars! As I got astride, from the blackness of the
lane came the ominous hum, and my hat went spinning away across the
lawn !- the black cloud veiled the moon and complete darkness fell.
Then I dropped and ran for the house - shouting, though all but
winded - "Hilton! Hilton! Open the door!"
Sinking exhausted on the steps, I looked toward the gates - but they
showed only dimly in the dense shadows of the trees.
I dropped flat in the portico as something struck the metal knob of
the door and rebounded over me. A shower of gravel told of another
Crack! Crack! Crack! The revolver spoke its short reply into the
mysterious darkness; but the night gave up no sound to tell of a
shot gone home.
"Hilton! Hilton!" I cried, banging on the panels with the butt of
the weapon. "Open the door! Open the door!"
And now I heard the coming footsteps along the hall within; heavy
were withdrawn - the door swung open - and Hilton, pale-faced,
appeared. His hand shot out, grabbed my coat collar; and weak,
exhausted, I found myself snatched into safety, and the door
"Thank God!" I whispered. "Thank God! Hilton, look to all your
bolts and fastenings. Hell is outside!"
HOW WE WERE REINFORCED
Hilton, I learned, was living the simple life at "Uplands." The
place was not yet decorated and was only partly furnished. But
with his man, Soar, he had been in solitary occupation for a week.
"Feel better now?" he asked anxiously.
I reached for my tumbler and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
I could hear Soar's footsteps as he made the round of bolts and
bars, testing each anxiously.
"Thanks, Hilton," I said. "I'm quite all right. You are naturally
wondering what the devil it all means? Well, then, I wired you
from Euston that I was coming by the 6:55
"H Post Office shuts at 7. I shall get your wire in the morning!"
"That explains your failing to meet me. Now for my explanation!"
"Surrounding this house at the present moment," I continued, "are
members of an Eastern organization - the Hashishin, founded in
Khorassan in the eleventh century and flourishing to-day!"
"Do you mean it, Cavanagh?"
"I do! One Hassan of Aleppo is the present Sheikh of the order,
and he has come to England, bringing a fiendish company in his train,
in pursuit of the sacred slipper of Mohammed, which was stolen by
the late Professor Deeping - "
"Surely I have read something about this?"
"Probably. Deeping was murdered by Hassan! The slipper was placed
in the Antiquarian Museum - "
"From which it was stolen again!"
"Correct - by Earl Dexter, America's foremost crook! But the real
facts have never got into print. I am the only pressman who knows
them, and I have good reason for keeping my knowledge to myself!
Dexter is dead (I believe I saw his ghost to-day). But although,
to the best of my knowledge, the accursed slipper is in the hands
of Hassan and Company, I have been watched since I left Euston,
and on my way to "Uplands" my life was attempted!"
"For God's sake, why?"
"I cannot surmise, Hilton. Deeping, for certain reasons that are
irrelevant at the moment, left the keys of the case at the Museum
in my perpetual keeping - but the case was rifled a second time - "
"I read of it!"
"And the keys were stolen from me. I am utterly at a loss to
understand why the Hashishin - for it is members of that awful
organization who, without a doubt, surround this house at the
present moment - should seek my life. Hilton, I have brought
trouble with me!"
"It's almost incredible!" said Hilton, staring at me. "Why do
these people pursue you?"
Ere I had time to reply Soar entered, arrayed, as was Hilton, in
his night attire. Soar was an ex-dragoon and a model man.
"Everything fast, sir," he reported; "but from the window of the
bedroom over here - the room I got ready for Mr. Cavanagh - I
thought I saw someone in the orchard."
"Eh?" jerked Hilton - "in the orchard? Come on up, Cavanagh!"
We all ran upstairs. The moonlight was streaming into the room.
"Keep back!" I warned.
Well within the shadow, I crept up to the window and looked out.
The night was hot and still. No breeze stirred the leaves, but
the edge of the frowning thunder cloud which I had noted before
spread a heavy carpet of ebony black upon the ground. Beyond, I
could dimly discern the hills. The others stood behind me,
constrained by the fear of this mysterious danger which I had
brought to "Uplands."
There was someone moving among the trees!
Closer came the figure, and closer, until suddenly a shaft of
moonlight found passage and spilled a momentary pool of light amid
the shadows, I could see the watcher very clearly. A moment he
stood there, motionless, and looking up at the window; then as he
glided again into the shade of the trees the darkness became
complete. But I watched, crouching there nervously, for long after
he was gone.
"For God's sake, who is it?" whispered Hilton, with a sort of awe
in his voice.
"It's Hassan of Aleppo!" I replied.
Virtually, the house, with the capital of the Midlands so near upon
the one hand, the feverish activity of the Black Country reddening
the night upon the other, was invested by fanatic Easterns!
We descended again to the extemporized study. Soar entered with us
and Hilton invited him to sit down.
"We must stick together to-night!" he said. "Now, Cavanagh, let us
see if we can find any explanation of this amazing business. I can
understand that at one period of the slipper's history you were an
object of interest to those who sought to recover it; but if, as
you say, the Hashishin have the slipper now, what do they want with
you? If you have never touched it, they cannot be prompted by
desire for vengeance."
"I have never touched it," I replied grimly; "nor even any
receptacle containing it."
As I ceased speaking came a distant muffled rumbling.
"That's the thunder," said Hilton. "There's a tremendous storm
He poured out three glasses of whisky, and was about to speak
when Soar held up a warning finger.
"Listen!" he said.
At his words, with tropical suddenness down came the rain.
Hilton, his pipe in his hand, stood listening intently.
"What?" he asked.
"I don't know, sir; the sound of the rain has drowned it."
Indeed, the rain was descending in a perfect deluge, its continuous
roar drowning all other sounds; but as we three listened tensely
we detected a noise which hitherto had seemed like the overflowing
of some spout.
But louder and clearer it grew, until at last I knew it for what
"It's a motor-car!" I cried.
"And coming here!" added Soar. "Listen! it's in the lane!"'
"It certainly isn't a taxicab," declared Hilton. "None of the men
will come beyond the village."
"That's the gate!" said Soar, in an awed voice, and stood up,
looking at Hilton.
"Come on," said the latter abruptly, making for the door.
"Be careful, Hilton!" I cried; "it may be a trick!"
Soar unbolted the front door, threw it open, and looked out. In
the darkness of the storm it was almost impossible to see anything
in the lane outside. But at that moment a great sheet of lightning
split the gloom, and we saw a taxicab standing close up to the
"Help! Open the gate!" came a high-pitched voice; "open the gate!"
Out into the rain we ran and down the gravel path. Soar had the
gate open in a twinkling, and a woman carrying a brown leather grip,
but who was so closely veiled that I had no glimpse of her features,
leapt through on to the drive.
"Lend a hand, two of you!" cried a vaguely familiar voice - "this way!"
Hilton and Soar stepped out into the road. The driver of the cab
was lying forward across the wheel, apparently insensible, but as
Hilton seized his arm he moved and spoke feebly.
"For God's sake be quick, sir!" he said. "They're after us!
They're on the other side of the lane, there!"
With that he dropped limply into Hilton's arms!
He was dragged in on to the drive - and something whizzed over our
heads and went sputtering into the gravel away up toward the house.
The last to enter was the man who had come in the cab. As he barred
the gate behind him he suddenly reached out through the bars and I
saw a pistol in his hand.
Once - twice - thrice - he fired into the blackness of the lane.
"Take that, you swine!" he shouted. "Take that!"
As quickly as we could, bearing the insensible man, we hurried back
to the door. On the step the woman was waiting for us, with her
veil raised. A blinding flash of lightning came as we mounted the
step - and I looked into the violet eyes of Carneta! I turned and
stared at the man behind me.
It was Earl Dexter.
Three of the mysterious missiles fell amongst us, but miraculously
no one was struck. Amid the mighty booming of the thunder we
reentered the houses and got the door barred. In the hall we laid
down the unconscious man and stood, a strangely met company,
peering at one another in the dim lamplight.
"We've got to bury the hatchet, Mr. Cavanagh!" said Dexter. "It's
a case of the common enemy I've brought you your bag!" and he
pointed to the brown grip upon the floor.
"My bag!" I cried. "My bag is upstairs in my room."
"Wrong, sir!" snapped The Stetson Man. "They are like as two peas
in a pod, I'll grant you, but the bag you snatched off the platform
at New Street was mine! That's what I'm after; I ought to be on
the way to Liverpool. That's what Hassan's after!"
"You don't need to ask what's in the bag?" suggested Dexter.
"What is in the bag?" ask Hilton hoarsely.
"The slipper of the Prophet, sir!" was the reply.
MY LAST MEETING WITH HASSAN OF ALEPPO
I felt dazed, as a man must feel who has just heard the death
sentence pronounced upon him. Hilton seemed to have become
incapable of speech or action; and in silence we stood watching
Carneta tending the unconscious man. She forced brandy from
a flask between his teeth, kneeling there beside him with her
face very pale and dark rings around her eyes. Presently she
"Will you please get me a bowl of water and a sponge?" she said
Soar departed without a word, and no one spoke until he returned,
bringing the sponge and the water, when the girl set to work in a
businesslike way to cleanse a wound which showed upon the man's
"She's a good nurse is Carneta," said Dexter coolly. "She was the
only doctor I had through this" - indicating his maimed wrist. "If
you will fetch my bag down, there's some lint in it."
"You needn't worry," said Dexter; "as well be hung for a sheep as
a lamb. You've handled the bag, and I'm not asking you to do
I went up to my room and lifted the grip from the chair upon which
I had put it. Even now I found it difficult to perceive any
difference between this and mine. Both were of identical appearance
and both new. In fact, I had bought mine only that morning, my old
one being past use, and being in a hurry, I had not left it to be
As I picked up the bag the lightning flashed again, and from the
window I could see the orchard as clearly as by sunlight. At the
farther end near the wall someone was standing watching the house.
I went downstairs carrying the fatal bag, and rejoined the group in
"He will have to be got to bed," said Carneta, referring to the
wounded man; "he will probably remain unconscious for a long time.
Accordingly, we took the patient into one of the few furnished
bedrooms, and having put him to bed left him in care of the beautiful
nurse. When we four men met again downstairs, amazement had rendered
the whole scene unreal to me. Soar stood just within the open door,
not knowing whether to go or to remain; but Hilton motioned to
him to stay. Earl Dexter bit off the end of a cigar and stood with
his left elbow resting on the mantelpiece.
His gaunt face looked gaunter than ever, but the daredevil gray eyes
still nursed that humorous light in their depths.
"Mr. Cavanagh," he said, "we're brothers! And if you'll consider
a minute, you'll see that I'm not lying when I say I'm on the
straight, now and for always!"
I made no reply: I could think of none.
"I'm a crook," he resumed, "or I was up to a while ago. There's
a warrant out for me - the first that ever bore my name. I've
sailed near the wind often enough, but it was desperation that got
me into hot water about that!"
He jerked his cigar in the direction of his grip, which lay now on
the rug at his feet.
"I lost a useful right hand," he went on - "and I lost every cent I
had. It was a dead rotten speculation - for I lost my good name!
I mean it! Believe me, I've handled some shady propositions in the
past, but I did it right in the sunlight! Up to the time I went out
for that damned slipper I could have had lunch with any detective
from Broadway to the Strand! I didn't need any false whiskers and
the Ritz was good enough for The Stetson Man. What now? I'm
'wanted!' Enough said."
He tossed the cigar - he had smoked scarce an inch of it - into the
"I'm an Aunt Sally for any man to shy at," he resumed bitterly.
"My place henceforth is in the dark. Right! I've finished; the
book's closed. From the time I quit England - if I can quit - I'm
on the straight! I've promised Carneta, and I mean to keep my
word. See here - "
Dexter turned to me.
"You'll want to know how I escaped from the cursed death-trap at
Hassan's house in Kent? I'll tell you. I was never in it! I
was hiding and waiting my chance. You know what was left to guard
the slipper while the Sheikh - rot him - was away looking after
arrangements for getting his mob out of the country?"
"You fell into the trap - you and Carneta. By God! I didn't know
till it was all over! But two minutes later I was inside that place
- and three minutes later I was away with the slipper! Oh, it
wasn't a duplicate; it was the goods! What then? Carneta had
had a sickening of the business and she just invited me to say Yes
or No. I said Yes; and I'm a straight man onward."
"Then what were you doing on the train with the slipper?" asked
"I was going to Liverpool, sir!" snapped The Stetson Man, turning
on him. "I was going to try to get aboard the Mauretania and
then make terms for my life! What happened? I slipped out at
Birmingham for a drink - grip in hand! I put it down beside
me, and Mr. Cavanagh here, all in a hustle, must have rushed in
behind me, snatched a whisky and snatched my grip and started for
A vivid flash of lightning flickered about the, room. Then came
the deafening boom of the thunder, right over the house it seemed.
"I knew from the weight of the grip it wasn't mine," said Dexter,
"and I was the most surprised guy in Great Britain and Ireland when
I found whose it was! I opened it, of course! And right on top was
a waistcoat and right in the first pocket was a telegram. Here it
He passed it to me. It was that which I had received from Hilton.
I had packed the suit which I had been wearing that morning and
must previously have thrust the telegram into the waistcoat pocket.
"Providence!" Dexter assured me. "Because I got on the station in
time to see Hassan of Aleppo join the train for H-! I was too late,
though. But I chartered a taxi out on Corporation Street and
invited the man to race the local! He couldn't do it, but we got
here in time for the fireworks! Mr. Cavanagh, there are anything
from six to ten Hashishin watching this house!"
"I know it!"
"They're bareheaded; and in the dark their shaven skulls look like
nothing human. They're armed with those damned tubes, too. I'd
give a thousand dollars - if I had it! - to know their mechanism.
Well, gentlemen, deeds speak. What am I here for, when I might be
on the way to Liverpool, and safety?"
"You're here to try to make up for the past a bit!" said a soft,
musical voice. "Mr. Cavanagh's life is in danger."
Carneta entered the room.
The light played in that wonderful hair of hers; and pale though she
was, I thought I had never seen a more beautiful woman.
"Tell them," she said quietly, "what must be done."
Soar glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes and shifted
uneasily. Hilton stared as if fascinated.
"Now," rapped Dexter, in his strident voice, "putting aside all
questions of justice and right (we're not policemen), what do we
want - you and I, Mr. Cavanagh?"
"I can't think clearly about anything," I said dully. "Explain
"Very well. Inspector Bristol, C.I.D., would want me and Hassan
arrested. I don't want that! What I want is peace; I want to be
able to sleep in comfort; I want to know I'm not likely to be
murdered on the next corner! Same with you?"
"Yes - yes."
"How can we manage it? One way would be to kill Hassan of Aleppo;
but he wants a lot of killing - I've tried! Moreover, directly
we'd done it, another Sheikh-al-jebal would be nominated and he'd
carry on the bloody work. We'd be worse off than ever. Right!
we've got to connive at letting the blood-stained fanatic escape,
and we've got to give up the slipper!"
"I'll do that with all my heart!"
"Sure! But you and I have both got little scores up against Hassan,
which it's not in human nature to forget. But I've got it worked
out that there's only one way. It may nearly choke us to have to
do it, I'll allow. I'm working on the Moslem character. Mr. Hilton,
make up a fire in the grate here!"
Hilton stared, not comprehending.
"Do as he asks," I said. "Personally, I am resigned to mutilation,
since I have touched the bag containing the slipper, but if
Dexter has a plan - "
"Excuse me, sir," Soar interrupted. "I believe there's some coal
in the coal-box, but I shall have to break up a packing-case for
firewood - or go out into the yard!"
"Let it be the packing-case," replied Hilton hastily.
Accordingly a fire was kindled, whilst we all stood about the room
in a sort of fearful uncertainty; and before long a big blaze was
roaring up the chimney. Dexter turned to me.
"Mr. Cavanagh," said he, "I want you to go right upstairs, open a
first-floor window - I would suggest that of your bedroom - and
invite Hassan of Aleppo to come and discuss terms!"
Silence followed his words; we were all amazed. Then -
"Why do you ask me to do this?" I inquired.
"Because," replied Dexter, "I happen to know that Hassan has some
queer kind of respect for you - I don't know why."
"Which is probably the reason why he tried to kill me to-night!"
"That's beside the question, Mr. Cavanagh. He will believe you
- which is the important point."
"Very well. I have no idea what you have in mind but I am prepared
to adopt any plan since I have none of my own. What shall I say?"
"Say that we are prepared to return the slipper - on conditions."
"He will probably try to shoot me as stand at the window."
Dexter shrugged his shoulders.
"Got to risk it," he drawled.
"And what are the conditions?"
"He must come right in here and discuss them! Guarantee him safe
conduct and I don't think he'll hesitate. Anyway, if he does, just
tell him that the slipper will be destroyed immediately!"
Without a word I turned on my heel and ascended the stairs.
I entered my room, crossed to the window, and threw it widely open.
Hovering over the distant hills I could see the ominous thunder
cloud, but the storm seemed to have passed from "Uplands," and only
a distant muttering with the faint dripping of water from the pipes
broke the silence of the night. A great darkness reigned, however,
and I was entirely unable to see if any one was in the orchard.
Like some mueddin of fantastic fable I stood there.
"Hassan!" I cried - "Hassan of Aleppo!"
The name rang out strangely upon the stillness - the name which
for me had a dreadful significance; but the whole episode seemed
unreal, the voice that had cried unlike my voice.
Instantly as any magician summoning an efreet I was answered.
Out from the trees strode a tall figure, a figure I could not
mistake. It was that of Hassan of Aleppo!
"I hear, effendim, and obey," he said. "I am ready. Open the
"We are prepared to discuss terms. You may come and go safely"
- still my voice sounded unfamiliar in my ears.
"I know, effendim; it is so written. Open the door."
I closed the window and mechanically descended the stairs.
"Mind it isn't a trap!" cried Hilton, who, with the others, had
overheard every word of this strange interview. "They may try to
rush the door directly we open it."
"I'll stand the chest behind it," said Soar; "between the door and
the wall, so that only one can enter at a time.
This was done, and the door opened.
Alone, majestic, entered Hassan of Aleppo.
He was dressed in European clothes but wore the green turban of a
Sherif. With his snowy beard and coal-black eyes he seemed like a
vision of the Prophet, of the Prophet in whose name he had committed
such ghastly atrocities.
Deigning no glance to Soar nor to Hilton, he paced into the room,
passing me and ignoring Carneta, where Earl Dexter awaited him.
I shall never forget the scene as Hassan entered, to stand looking
with blazing eyes at The Stetson Man, who sat beside the fire
with the slipper of Mohammed in his hand!
"Hassan," said Dexter quietly, "Mr. Cavanagh has had to promise
you safe conduct, or as sure as God made me, I'd put a bullet
The Sheikh of the Hashishin glared fixedly at him.
"Companion of the evil one," he said, "it is not written that I
shall die by your hand - or by the hand of any here. But it has
been revealed to me that to-night the gates of Paradise may be
closed in my face."
"I shouldn't be at all surprised," drawled Dexter. "But it's up
to you. You've got to swear by Mohammed - "
"Salla-'llahu 'aleyhi wasellem!"
"That you won't lay a hand upon any living soul, or allow any of
your followers to do so, who has touched the slipper or had
anything to do with it, but that you will go in peace."
"You are doomed to die!"
"You don't agree, then?"
"Those who have offended must suffer the penalty!"
"Right!" said Dexter - and prepared to toss the slipper into the
heart of the fire?
"Stop! Infidel! Stop!"
There was real agony in Hassan's voice. To my inexpressible
surprise he dropped upon his knee, extending his lean brown hands
toward the slipper.
Dexter hesitated. "You agree, then?"
Hassan raised his eyes to the ceiling.
"I agree," he said. "Dark are the ways. It is the will of
God. . ."
Dimly the booming of the thunder came echoing back to us from the
hills. Above its roll sounded a barbaric chanting to which the
drums of angry heaven formed a fitting accompaniment.
I heard Soar shooting the bolts again upon the going of our
Faint and more faint grew the chanting, until it merged into the
remote muttering of the storm-and was lost. The quest of the
sacred slipper was ended.