I had heard—who has not heard?—of the Indian rope trick, where a fakir throws a rope into the air which remains magically suspended whilst a boy climbs upward and upward until he disappears into space. I had never credited accounts of the performance; but now I began seriously to wonder if the arts of Hassan of Aleppo were not as great or greater than the arts of fakir. But the crowning mystery to my mind was that of the Hashishin’s death. It would seem that as he had hung suspended in space he had been shot!
“You say that someone heard the sound of the shot?” I asked suddenly.
“Several people,” replied Bristol; “but no one knows, or no one will say, from what direction it came. I shall go on with the inquiry, of course, and cross-examine every soul in Wyatt’s Buildings. Meanwhile, I’m open to confess that I am beaten.”
In the velvet sky countless points blazed tropically. The hum of the traffic in Waterloo Road reached us only in a muffled way. Sordidness lay beneath us, but up there under the heavens we seemed removed from it as any Babylonian astronomer communing with the stars.
When, some ten minutes later, I passed out into the noise of Waterloo Road, I left behind me an unsolved mystery and took with me a great dread; for I knew that the quest of the sacred slipper was not ended, I knew that another tragedy was added to its history —and I feared to surmise what the future might hold for all of us.
THE WOMAN WITH THE BASKET
Deep in thought respecting the inexplicable nature of this latest mystery, I turned in the direction of the bridge, and leaving behind me an ever-swelling throng at the gate of Wyatt’s Buildings, proceeded westward.
The death of the dwarf had lifted the case into the realms of the marvellous, and I noted nothing of the bustle about me, for mentally I was still surveying that hunched-up body which had fallen out of empty space.
Then in upon my preoccupation burst a woman’s scream!
I aroused myself from reverie, looking about to right and left. Evidently I had been walking slowly, for I was less than a hundred yards from Wyatt’s Buildings, and hard by the entrance to an uninviting alley from which I thought the scream had proceeded.
And as I hesitated, for I had no desire to become involved in a drunken brawl, again came the shrill scream: “Help! help!”
I cannot say if I was the only passer-by who heard the cry; certainly I was the only one who responded to it. I ran down the narrow street, which was practically deserted, and heard windows thrown up as I passed for the cries for help continued.
Just beyond a patch of light cast by a street lamp a scene was being enacted strange enough at any time and in any place, but doubly singular at that hour of the night, or early morning, in a lane off the Waterloo Road.