“Then,” I whispered-"it hadn’t been stolen?”
“Wrong! It had! This was a duplicate, as Mostyn, the curator, saw at a glance! Some of the early visitors—they were Easterns—had quite surrounded the case. They were watched, of course, but any number of Orientals come to see the thing; and, short of smashing the glass, which would immediately attract attention, the authorities were unprepared, of course, for any attempt. Anyway, they were tricked. Somebody opened the case. The real slipper of the Prophet is gone!”
“They told you at the bank—”
“That you had withdrawn the keys! If Dexter had known that!”
“Hassan of Aleppo took them from me last night! At last the Hashishin have triumphed.”
Bristol sank into the armchair.
“Every port is watched,” he said. “But—”
“I am entirely at your mercy; you can do as you please with me. But before you do anything I should like you to listen to what I have to say.”
Her beautiful face was pale and troubled. Violet eyes looked sadly into mine.
“For nearly an hour I have been waiting for this chance—until I knew you were alone,” she continued. “If you are thinking of giving me up to the police, at least remember that I came here of my own free will. Of course, I know you are quite entitled to take advantage of that; but please let me say what I came to say!”
She pleaded so hard, with that musical voice, with her evident helplessness, most of all with her wonderful eyes, that I quite abandoned any project I might have entertained to secure her arrest. I think she divined this masculine weakness, for she said, with greater confidence—
“Your friend, Professor Deeping, was murdered by the man called Hassan of Aleppo. Are you content to remain idle while his murderer escapes?”
God knows I was not. My idleness in the matter was none of my choosing. Since poor Deeping’s murder I had come to handgrips with the assassins more than once, but Hassan had proved too clever for me, too clever for Scotland Yard. The sacred slipper was once more in the hands of its fanatic guardian.
One man there was who might have helped the search, Earl Dexter. But Earl Dexter was himself wanted by Scotland Yard!
From the time of the bank affair up to the moment when this beautiful visitor had come to my chambers I had thought Dexter, as well as Hassan, to have fled secretly from England. But the moment that I saw Carneta at my door I divined that The Stetson Man must still be in London.
She sat watching me and awaiting my answer.
“I cannot avenge my friend unless I can find his murderer.”
Eagerly she bent forward.
“But if I can find him?”
That made me think, and I hesitated before speaking again.