Uncertain, possibly, of Deeping’s faith, or fearful of endangering the success of their efforts by an outrage upon him en route, they had refrained from this until his arrival at his house. He had been warned of his impending end by Ahmad Ahmadeen.
Who was Ahmadeen? And who was his beautiful associate? I found myself unable, at present, to answer either of those questions. In order to gain access to Professor Deeping, who so carefully secluded himself, a box had been sent to him by ordinary carrier. (As I sat at my table, Scotland Yard was busy endeavouring to trace the sender.) Respecting this box we had made an extraordinary discovery.
It was of the kind used by Eastern conjurors for what is generally known as “the Box Trick.” That is to say, it could only be opened (short of smashing it) from the inside! You will remember what we found within it? Consider this with the new fact, above, and to what conclusion do you come?
Something (it is not possible to speak of someone in connection with so small a box) had been concealed inside, and had killed Professor Deeping whilst he was actually engaged in endeavouring to force it open. This inconceivable creature had then searched the study for the slipper—or for the key of the safe. Interrupted and trapped by the arrival of the police, the creature had returned to the box, re-closed it, and had actually been there when the study was searched!
For a creature so small as the murderous thing in the box to slip out during the confusion, and at some time prior to Bristol’s arrival, was no difficult matter. The inspector and I were certain that these were the facts.
But what was this creature?
I turned to the chapter in “Assyrian Mythology”—“The Tradition of the Hashishin.”
The legends which the late Professor Deeping had collected relative to this sect of religious murderers were truly extraordinary. Of the cult’s extinction at the time of writing he was clearly certain, but he referred to the popular belief, or Moslem legend, that, since Hassan of Khorassan, there had always been a Sheikh-al-jebal, and that a dreadful being known as Hassan of Aleppo was the present holder of the title.
He referred to the fact that De Sacy has shown the word Assassin to be derived from Hashishin, and quoted El-Idrisi to the same end. The Hashishin performed their murderous feats under the influence of hashish, or Indian hemp; and during the state of ecstasy so induced, according to Deeping, they acquired powers almost superhuman. I read how they could scale sheer precipices, pass fearlessly along narrow ledges which would scarce afford foothold for a rat, cast themselves from great heights unscathed, and track one marked for death in such a manner as to remain unseen not only by the victim but by others about him. At this point of my studies I started, in a sudden nervous panic, and laid my hand upon my revolver.