A sudden idea came to me. “When did Dexter first conceive the plan to steal the slipper?” I asked.
“In Egypt!” answered Carneta. “Yes! You may as well know! He is thoroughly familiar with the East, and he learned of the robbery of Professor Deeping almost as soon as it became known to Hassan. I know what you are going to ask—”
“Yes! He travelled home as Ahmadeen—the only time he ever used a disguise. Oh! the thing is accursed!” she cried. “I begged him, implored him, to abandon his attempts upon it. Day and night we were watched by those ghastly yellow men! But it was all in vain. He knew, had known for a long time, where Hassan of Aleppo was in hiding!”
And I reflected that the best men at New Scotland Yard had failed to pick up the slightest clue!
“The Hashishin, of whom that dreadful man is leader, are rich, or have supporters who are rich. The plan was to make them pay for the slipper.”
“My God! it was playing with fire!”
She sat silent awhile. Emotion threatened to get the upper hand. Then—
“Two days ago,” she almost whispered, “he set out—to . . . get the slipper!”
“To steal it?”
“To steal it!”
“From Hassan of Aleppo?”
I could scarcely believe that any man, single-handed, could have had the hardihood to attempt such a thing.
“From Hassan, yes!”
I faced her, amazed, incredulous.
“Dexter had suffered mutilation, he knew that the Hashishin sought his life for his previous attempts upon the relic of the Prophet, and yet he dared to venture again into the very lions’ den?”
“He did, Mr. Cavanagh, two days ago. And—”
“Yes?” I urged, as gently as I could, for she was shaking pitifully.
“He never came back!”
The words were spoken almost in a whisper. She clenched her hands and leapt from the chair, fighting down her grief and with such a stark horror in her beautiful eyes that from my very soul I longed to be able to help her.
“Mr. Cavanagh” (she had courage, this bewildering accomplice of a cracksman), “I know the house he went to! I cannot hope to make you understand what I have suffered since then. A thousand times I have been on the point of going to the police, confessing all I knew, and leading them to that house! O God! if only he is alive, this shall be his last crooked deal—and mine! I dared not go to the police, for his sake! I waited, and watched, and hoped, through two such nights and days . . . then I ventured. I should have gone mad if I had not come here. I knew you had good cause to hate, to detest me, but I remembered that you had a great grievance against Hassan. Not as great, O heaven! not as great as mine, but yet a great one. I remembered, too, that you were the kind of man—a woman can come to . . . "
She sank back into the chair, and with her fingers twining and untwining, sat looking dully before her.