I wonder how often a sense of humour has saved a man from desperation? Perhaps only the Easterns have thoroughly appreciated that divine gift. I have interpolated the adventure of Inspector Bristol in order that the sequence of my story be not broken; actually I did not learn it until later, but when, on the following day, the whole of the facts came into my possession, I laughed and was glad that I could laugh, for laughter has saved many a man from madness.
Certainly the Fates were playing with us, for at a time very nearly corresponding with that when Bristol found himself bound and helpless in Bank Chambers I awoke to find myself tied hand and foot to my own bed! Nothing but the haziest recollections came to me at first, nothing but dim memories of the awful being who had lured me there; for I perceived now that all the messages proceeded, not from Bristol, but from Hassan of Aleppo! I had been a fool, and I was reaping the fruits of my folly. Could I have known that almost within pistol shot of me the Inspector was trussed up as helpless as I, then indeed my situation must have become unbearable, since upon him I relied for my speedy release.
My ankles were firmly lashed to the rails at the foot of my bed; each of my wrists was tied back to a bedpost. I ached in every limb and my head burned feverishly, which latter symptom I ascribed to the powerful drug which had been expelled into my face by the uncanny weapon carried by Hassan of Aleppo. I reflected bitterly how, having transferred my quarters to the Astoria, I could not well hope for any visitor to my chambers; and even the event of such a visitor had been foreseen and provided against by the cunning lord of the Hashishin. A gag, of the type which Dumas has described in “Twenty Years After,” the poire d’angoisse, was wedged firmly into my mouth, so that only by preserving the utmost composure could I breathe. I was bathed in cold perspiration. So I lay listening to the familiar sounds without and reflecting that it was quite possible so to lie, undisturbed, and to die alone, my presence there wholly unsuspected!
Once, toward dusk, my phone bell rang, and my state of mind became agonizing. It was maddening to think that someone, a friend, was virtually within reach of me, yet actually as far removed as if an ocean divided us! I tasted the hellish torments of Tantalus. I cursed fate, heaven, everything; I prayed; I sank into bottomless depths of despair and rose to dizzy pinnacles of hope, when a footstep sounded on the landing and a thousand wild possibilities, vague possibilities of rescue, poured into my mind.
The visitor hesitated, apparently outside my door; and a change, as sudden as lightning out of a cloud, transformed my errant fancies. A gruesome conviction seized me, as irrational as the hope which it displayed, that this was one of the Hashishin—an apish yellow dwarf, a strangler, the awful Hassan himself!