“Perhaps; I trust so.”
“Then assist me to rid England of what you have called a survival of the dark ages. I will furnish porters to remove and carry the safe, if you will deliver to me the key!”
I sprang to my feet.
“That is madness!” I cried. “In the first place I should be compromising with my conscience, and in the second place I should be defenceless against those who might—”
“I have with me a written promise from one highly placed—one to whose will Hassan of Aleppo bows!”
My mind greatly disturbed, I watched the venerable speaker. I had determined now that he was some religious leader of Islam in England, who had been deputed to approach me; and, let me add, I was sorely tempted to accede to his proposal, for nothing would be gained by any one if the slipper remained for ever at the museum, whereas by conniving at its recovery by those who, after all, were its rightful owners I should be ridding England of a weird and undesirable visitant.
I think I should have agreed, when I remembered that the Hashishin had murdered Professor Deeping and had mutilated others wholly innocent of offence. I looked across at the old man. He had drawn himself up to his great height, and for the first time fully raising the lids, had fixed upon me the piercing gaze of a pair of eagle eyes. I started, for the aspect of this majestic figure was entirely different from that of the old stranger who had stood suppliant before me a moment ago.
“It is impossible,” I said. “I can come to no terms with those who shield murderers.”
He regarded me fixedly, but did not move.
“Es-selam ’aleykum!” I added ("Peace be on you!”) closing the interview in the Eastern manner.
The old man lowered his eyes, and saluted me with graceful gravity.
“Wa-’aleykum!” he said ("And on you!"). I conducted him to the door and closed it upon his exit. In his last salute I had noticed the flashing of a ring which he wore upon his left hand, and he was gone scarce ten seconds ere my heart began to beat furiously. I snatched up “Assyrian Mythology” and with trembling fingers turned to a certain page.
There I read—
Each Sheikh of the Assassins is said to be invested with the “Ring of the Prophet.” It bears a green stone, shaped in the form of a scimitar or crescent.
My dreadful suspicion was confirmed. I knew who my visitor had been.
“God in heaven!” I whispered. “It was Hassan of Aleppo!”
FIRST ATTEMPT ON THE SAFE
On the following morning I was awakened by the arrival of Bristol. I hastened to admit him.
“Your visitor of yesterday,” he began, “has wasted no time!”
“What has happened?”
He tugged irritably at his moustache. “I don’t know!” he replied. “Of course it was no surprise to find that there isn’t a Mohammedan who’ll lay his little finger on Professor Deeping’s safe! There’s no doubt in my mind that every lascar at the docks knows Hassan of Aleppo to be in England. Some other arrangement will have to be arrived at, if the thing is ever to be taken to the Antiquarian Museum. Meanwhile we stand to lose it. Last night—”