“It is almost incredible!” I said hoarsely.
Bristol returned the letter to me without a word, and turning to Lester, who had reentered carrying a heavy pick-axe, he attacked the oblong box with savage energy.
Through the house of death the sound of the blows echoed and rang with a sort of sacrilegious mockery. The box fell to pieces.
“My God! look, sir!”
Lester was the trembling speaker.
The box, I have said, was but three feet long by one foot square, and had clearly defied poor Deeping’s efforts to open it. But a crescent-shaped knife, wet with blood, lay within!
THE OCCUPANT OF THE BOX
Dimly to my ears came the ceaseless murmur of London. The night now was far advanced, and not a sound disturbed the silence of the court below my windows.
Professor Deeping’s “Assyrian Mythology” lay open before me, beside it my notebook. A coal dropped from the fire, and I half started up out of my chair. My nerves were all awry, and I had more than my horrible memories of the murdered man to thank for it. Let me explain what I mean.
When, after assisting, or endeavouring to assist, Bristol at his elaborate inquiries, I had at last returned to my chambers, I had become the victim of a singular delusion—though one common enough in the case of persons whose nerves are overwrought. I had thought myself followed.
During the latter part of my journey I found myself constantly looking from the little window at the rear of the cab. I had an impression that some vehicle was tracking us. Then, when I discharged the man and walked up the narrow passage to the court, it was fear of a skulking form that dodged from shadow to shadow which obsessed me.
Finally, as I entered the hall and mounted the darkened stair, from the first landing I glanced down into the black well beneath. Blazing yellow eyes, I thought, looked up at me!
I will confess that I leapt up the remaining flight of stairs to my door, and, safely within, found myself trembling as if with a palsy.
When I sat down to write (for sleep was an impossible proposition) I placed my revolver upon the table beside me. I cannot say why. It afforded me some sense of protection, I suppose. My conclusions, thus far, amounted to the following—
The apparition of the phantom scimitar was due to the presence of someone who, by means of the moonlight, or of artificial light, cast a reflection of such a weapon as that found in the oblong chest upon the wall of a darkened apartment—as, Deeping’s stateroom on the Mandalay, his study, etc.
A group of highly efficient assassins, evidently Moslem fanatics, who might or might not be of the ancient order of the Hashishin, had pursued the stolen slipper to England. They had severed any hand, other than that of a Believer, which had touched the case containing it. (The Coptic porter was a Christian.)