“This box is unopenable by ordinary means! I shall have to smash it!”
At his words, I joined him where he knelt on the floor. Mysteriously, the chest had defied all his efforts.
“There’s a pick-axe in the garden,” volunteered Lester. “Shall I bring it?”
The man ran off.
“I see the key is safe,” said Bristol. “Possibly the letter may throw some light upon all this.”
“Let us hope so,” I replied. “You might read it.”
He took the letter from my hand, stepped up to the table, and by the light of the lamp read as follows—
My Dear Cavanagh,—
It has now become apparent to me that my life is in imminent danger. You know of the inexplicable outrages which marked my homeward journey, and if this letter come to your hand it will be because these have culminated in my death.
The idea of a pursuing scimitar is not new to me. This phenomenon, which I have now witnessed three times, is fairly easy of explanation, but its significance is singular. It is said to be one of the devices whereby the Hashishin warn those whom they have marked down for destruction, and is called, in the East, “The Scimitar of Hassan.”
The Hashishin were the members of a Moslem secret society, founded in 1090 by one Hassan of Khorassan. There is a persistent tradition in parts of the Orient that this sect still flourishes in Assyria, under the rule of a certain Hassan of Aleppo, the Sheikh-al-jebal, or supreme lord of the Hashishin. My careful inquiries, however, at the time that I was preparing matter for my “Assyrian Mythology,” failed to discover any trace of such a person or such a group.
I accordingly assumed Hassan to be a myth—a first cousin to the ginn. I was wrong. He exists. And by my supremely rash act I have incurred his vengeance, for Hassan of Aleppo is the self-appointed guardian of the traditions and relics of Mohammed. And I have Stolen one of the holy slippers of the Prophet!
He, with some of his servants, has followed me from Mecca to England. My precautions have enabled me to retain the relic, but you have seen what fate befell all those others who even touched the receptacle containing it.
If I fall a victim to the Hashishin, I am uncertain how you, as my confidant, will fare. Therefore I have locked the slipper in my safe and to you entrust the key. I append particulars of the lock combination; but I warn you—do not open the safe. If their wrath be visited upon you, your possession of the key may prove a safeguard.
Take the copy of “Assyrian Mythology.” You will find in it all that I learned respecting the Hashishin. If I am doomed to be assassinated, it may aid you; if not in avenging me, in saving others from my fate. I fear I shall never see you again. A cloud of horror settles upon me like a pall. Do not touch the slipper, nor the case containing it.