Hassan was majestic in his wrath; but his eyes were black with venomous hatred.
“He has suffered the penalty which the Koran lays down; he has lost his right hand. But the lord of all evil protects him, else ere this he had lost his life! Move no closer to that table!”
I started. Either Hassan of Aleppo was omniscient or he had overheard my whispered words!
“Easily I could slay you where you stand!” he continued. “But to do so would profit me nothing. This meeting has been revealed to me. Last night I witnessed it as I slept. Also it has been revealed to me by Erroohanee, in the mirror of ink, that the slipper of the Prophet, Salla-’llahu ’ale yhi wasellem! Shall indeed return to that place accursed, that infidel eyes may look upon it! It is the will of Allah, whose name be exalted, that I hold my hand, but it is also His will that I be here, at whatever danger to my worthless body.”
He turned his blazing eyes upon me.
“To-morrow, ere noon,” he said, “the slipper will again be in the Museum from which the man of evil stole it. So it is written; obscure are the ways. We met last night, you and I, but at that time much was dark to me that now is light. The holy ’Alee spoke to me in a vision, saying: ’There are two keys to the case in which it will be locked. Secure one, leaving the other with him who holds it! Let him swear to be secret. This shall be the price of his life!’”
The black tube was pointed directly at my forehead.
“Effendim,” concluded the speaker, “place in my hand the key of the case in the Antiquarian Museum!”
Hands convulsively clenched, the girl was looking from me to Hassan. My throat felt parched. but I forced speech to my lips.
“Your omniscience fails you,” I said. “Both keys are at my bank!”
Blacker grew the fierce eyes—and blacker. I gave myself up for lost; I awaited death—death by some awful, unique means—with what courage I could muster.
From the court below came the sound of voices, the voices of passers-by who so little suspected what was happening near to them that had someone told them they certainly had refused to credit it. The noise of busy Fleet Street came drumming under the archway, too.
Then, above all, another sound became audible. To this day I find myself unable to define it; but it resembled the note of a silver bell.
Clearly it was a signal; for, hearing it, Hassan dropped the tube and glanced toward the open window.
In that instant I sprang upon him!
That I had to deal with a fanatic, a dangerous madman, I knew; that it was his life or mine, I was fully convinced. I struck out then and caught him fairly over the heart. He reeled back, and I made a wild clutch for the damnable tube, horrid, unreasoning fear of which thus far had held me inert.
I heard the girl scream affrightedly, and I knew, and felt my heart chill to know, that the tube had been wrenched from my hand! Hassan of Aleppo, old man that he appeared, had the strength of a tiger. He recovered himself and hurled me from him so that I came to the floor crashingly half under my writing-table!