And when finally I reopened my eyes, I sat up with a suppressed cry. For a tall figure in a yellow robe from beneath which peeped yellow slippers, a figure crowned with a green turban, stood in the centre of the apartment!
It was that of a majestic old man, white bearded, with aquiline nose, and the fierce eagle eyes of a fanatic set upon me sternly, reprovingly.
With folded arms he stood watching me, and I drew a sharp breath and rose slowly to my feet.
There amid the yellow and green and gold, amid the abominable reek of burning hashish I stood and faced Hassan of Aleppo!
No words came to me; I was confounded.
Hassan spoke in that gentle voice which I had heard only once before.
“Mr. Cavanagh,” he said, “I have brought you here that I might warn you. Your police are seeking me night and day, and I am fully alive to my danger whilst I stay in your midst. But for close upon a thousand years the Sheikh-al-jebal, Lord of the Hashishin, has guarded the traditions and the relics of the Prophet, Salla-’llahu ’ale yhi wasellem! I, Hassan of Aleppo, am Sheikh of the Order to-day, and my sacred duty has brought me here.”
The piercing gaze never left my face. I was not yet by any means my own man and still I made no reply.
“You have been wise,” continued Hassan, “in that you have never touched the sacred slipper. Had you lain hands upon it, no secrecy could have availed you. The eye of the Hashishin sees all. There is a shaft of light which the true Believer perceives at night as he travels toward El-Medineh. It is the light which uprises, a spiritual fire, from the tomb of the Prophet (Salla-’llahu ’aleyhi wasellem!). The relics also are radiant, though in a lesser degree.”
He took a step toward me, spreading out his lean brown hands, palms downward.
“A shaft of light,” he said impressively, “shines upward now from London. It is the light of the holy slipper.” He gazed intently at the yellow drapery at the left of the divan, but as though he were looking not at the wall but through it. His features worked convulsively; he was a man inspired. “I see it now!” he almost whispered—“that white light by which the guardians of the relic may always know its resting place!”
I managed to force words to my lips.
“If you know where the slipper is,” I said, more for the sake of talking than for anything else, “why do you not recover it?”
Hassan turned his eyes upon me again.
“Because the infidel dog,” he cried loudly, “who has soiled it with his unclean touch, defies us—mocks us! He has suffered the loss of the offending hand, but the evil ginn protect him; he is inspired by efreets! But God is great and Mohammed is His only Prophet! We shall triumph; but it is written, oh, daring infidel, that you again shall become the guardian of the slipper!”
He spoke like some prophet of old and I stared at him fascinated. I was loth to believe his words.