“Mr. Cavanagh?” he asked, speaking in faultless English.
“I am he.”
“I learn that the services of a Moslem workman are required.”
“Quite correct, sir; but you should apply at the offices of Messrs. Rawson & Rawson, Chancery Lane.”
The old man bowed, smiling.
“Many thanks; I understood so much. But, my position being a peculiar one, I wished to speak with you—as a friend of the late Professor.”
I hesitated. The old man looked harmless enough, but there was an air of mystery about the matter which put me on my guard.
“You will pardon me,” I said, “but the work is scarcely of a kind—”
He raised his thin hand.
“I am not undertaking it myself. I wished to explain to you the conditions under which I could arrange to furnish suitable porters.”
His patient explanation disposed me to believe that he was merely some kind of small contractor, and in any event I had nothing to fear from this frail old man.
“Step in, sir,” I said, repenting of my brusquerie—and stood aside for him.
He entered, with that Oriental meekness in which there is something majestic. I placed a chair for him in the study, and reseated myself at the table. The old man, who from the first had kept his eyes lowered deferentially, turned to me with a gentle gesture, as if to apologize for opening the conversation.
“From the papers, Mr. Cavanagh,” he began, “I have learned of the circumstances attending the death of Professor Deeping. Your papers”—he smiled, and I thought I had never seen a smile of such sweetness—“your papers know all! Now I understand why a Moslem is required, and I understand what is required of him. But remembering that the object of his labours would be to place a holy relic on exhibition for the amusement of unbelievers, can you reasonably expect to obtain the services of one?”
His point of view was fair enough.
“Perhaps not,” I replied. “For my own part I should wish to see the slipper back in Mecca, or wherever it came from. But Professor Deeping—”
“Professor Deeping was a thorn in the flesh of the Faithful!”
My visitor’s voice was gravely reproachful.
“Nevertheless his wishes must be considered,” I said, “and the methods adopted by those who seek to recover the relic are such as to alienate all sympathy.”
“You speak of the Hashishin?” asked the old man. “Mr. Cavanagh, in your own faith you have had those who spilled the blood of infidels as freely!”
“My good sir, the existence of such an organization cannot be tolerated today! This survival of the dark ages must be stamped out. However just a cause may be, secret murder is not permissible, as you, a man of culture, a Believer, and”—I glanced at his unusual turban—“a descendant of the Prophet, must admit.”
“I can admit nothing against the Guardian of the Tradition, Mr. Cavanagh! The Prophet taught that we should smite the Infidel. I ask you—have you the courage of your convictions?”