“For God’s sake don’t go near it!” whispered Bristol. “The room must be closed for the present. And now I’m off after that man. Step clear of it.”
His words were unnecessary; I shunned it as a leprous thing.
It was the slipper of the Prophet!
THE THREE MESSAGES
I stood in the foyer of the Astoria Hotel. About me was the pulsing stir of transatlantic life, for the tourist season was now at its height, and I counted myself fortunate in that I had been able to secure a room at this establishment, always so popular with American visitors. Chatting groups surrounded me and I became acquainted with numberless projects for visiting the Tower of London, the National Gallery, the British Museum, Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, and the other sights dear to the heart of our visiting cousins. Loaded lifts ascended and descended. Bradshaws were in great evidence everywhere; all was hustle and glad animation.
The tall military-looking man who stood beside me glanced about him with a rather grim smile.
“You ought to be safe enough here, Mr. Cavanagh!” he said.
“I ought to be safe enough in my own chambers,” I replied wearily. “How many of these pleasure-seeking folk would believe that a man can be as greatly in peril of his life in Fleet Street as in the most uncivilized spot upon the world map? Do you think if I told that prosperous New Yorker who is buying a cigar yonder, for instance, that I had been driven from my chambers by a band of Eastern assassins founded some time in the eleventh century, he would believe it?”
“I am certain he wouldn’t!” replied Bristol. “I should not have credited it myself before I was put in charge of this damnable case.”
My position at that hour was in truth an incredible one. The sacred slipper of Mohammed lay once more in the glass case at the Antiquarian Museum from which Earl Dexter had stolen it. Now, with apish yellow faces haunting my dreams, with ghostly menaces dogging me day and night, I was outcast from my own rooms and compelled, in self-defence, to live amid the bustle of the Astoria. So wholly nonplussed were the police authorities that they could afford me no protection. They knew that a group of scientific murderers lay hidden in or near to London; they knew that Earl Dexter, the foremost crook of his day, was also in the metropolis—and they could make no move, were helpless; indeed, as Bristol had confessed, were hopeless!
Bristol, on the previous day, had unearthed the Greek cigar merchant, Acepulos, who had replaced the slipper in its case (for a monetary consideration). He had performed a similar service when the bloodstained thing had first been put upon exhibition at the Museum, and for a considerable period had disappeared. We had feared that his religious pretensions had not saved him from the avenging scimitar of Hassan; but quite recently he had returned again to his Soho shop, and in time thus to earn a second cheque.