“Hullo!” I cried. “Hullo!”
A shriek—a deathful, horrifying cry—and a distant babbling alone answered me. There was a crash. Clearly, Deeping had dropped the receiver. I suppose my face blanched.
“What is it?” asked Bristol anxiously.
“God knows what it is!” I said. “Deeping has met with some mishap—”
When, over the wires—
“Hassan of Aleppo!” came a dying whisper. “Hassan . . . of Aleppo . . . "
THE OBLONG BOX
“You had better wait for us,” said Bristol to the taxi-man.
“Very good, sir. But I shan’t be able to take you further back than the Brixton Garage. You can get another cab there, though.”
A clock chimed out—an old-world chime in keeping with the loneliness, the curiously remote loneliness, of the locality. Less than five miles from St. Paul’s are spots whereto, with the persistence of Damascus attar, clings the aroma of former days. This iron gateway fronting the old chapel was such a spot.
Just within stood a plain-clothes man, who saluted my companion respectfully.
“Professor Deeping,” I began.
The man, with a simple gesture, conveyed the dreadful news.
“Dead! dead!” I cried incredulously.
He glanced at Bristol.
“The most mysterious case I have ever had anything to do with, sir,” he said.
The power of speech seemed to desert me. It was unthinkable that Deeping, with whom I had been speaking less than an hour ago, should now be no more; that some malign agency should thus murderously have thrust him into the great borderland.
In that kind of silence which seems to be peopled with whispering spirits we strode forward along the elm avenue. It was very dark where the moon failed to penetrate. The house, low and rambling, came into view, its facade bathed in silver light. Two of the visible windows were illuminated. A sort of loggia ran along one side.
On our left, as we made for this, lay a black ocean of shrubbery. It intruded, raggedly, upon the weed-grown path, for neglect was the keynote of the place.
We entered the cottage, crossed the tiny lobby, and came to the study. A man, evidently Deeping’s servant, was sitting in a chair by the door, his head sunken in his hands. He looked up, haggard-faced.
“My God! my God!” he groaned. “He was locked in, gentlemen! He was locked in; and yet something murdered him!”
“What do you mean?” said Bristol. “Where were you?”
“I was away on an errand, sir. When I returned, the police were knocking the door down. He was locked in!”
We passed him, entering the study.
It was a museum-like room, lighted by a lamp on the littered table. At first glance it looked as though some wild thing had run amok there. The disorder was indescribable.