“In brief,” I said, “what do you propose?”
“I propose that we endeavour to obtain admittance to the house of Hassan of Aleppo—secretly, of course, and all I ask of you in return for revealing the secret of its situation is—”
“That I let Dexter go free?”
Almost inaudibly she whispered: “If he lives!”
Surely no stranger proposition ever had been submitted to a law-abiding citizen. I was asked to connive in the escape of a notorious criminal, and at one and the same time to embark upon an expedition patently burglarious! As though this were not enough, I was invited to beard Hassan of Aleppo, the most dreadful being I had ever encountered East or West, in his mysterious stronghold!
I wondered what my friend, Inspector Bristol, would have thought of the project; I wondered if I should ever live to see Hassan meet his just deserts as a result of this enterprise, which I was forced to admit a foolhardy one. But a man who has selected the career of a war correspondent from amongst those which Fleet Street offers, is the victim of a certain craving for fresh experiences; I suppose, has in his character something of an adventurous turn.
For a while I stood staring from the window, then faced about and looked into the violet eyes of my visitor.
“I agree, Carneta!” I said.
WE MEET MR. ISAACS
Quitting the wayside station, and walking down a short lane, we came out upon Watling Street, white and dusty beneath the afternoon sun. We were less than an hour’s train journey from London but found ourselves amid the Kentish hop gardens, amid a rural peace unbroken. My companion carried a camera case slung across her shoulder, but its contents were less innocent than one might have supposed. In fact, it contained a neat set of those instruments of the burglar’s art with whose use she appeared to be quite familiar.
“There is an inn,” she said, “about a mile ahead, where we can obtain some vital information. He last wrote to me from there.”
Side by side we tramped along the dusty road. We both were silent, occupied with our own thoughts. Respecting the nature of my companion’s I could entertain little doubt, and my own turned upon the foolhardy nature of the undertaking upon which I was embarked. No other word passed between us then, until upon rounding a bend and passing a cluster of picturesque cottages, the yard of the Vinepole came into view.
“Do they know you by sight here?” I asked abruptly.
“No, of course not; we never made strategic mistakes of that kind. If we have tea here, no doubt we can learn all we require.”
I entered the little parlour of the inn, and suggested that tea should be served in the pretty garden which opened out of it upon the right.
The host, who himself laid the table, viewed the camera case critically.