“From which it was stolen again!”
“Correct—by Earl Dexter, America’s foremost crook! But the real facts have never got into print. I am the only pressman who knows them, and I have good reason for keeping my knowledge to myself! Dexter is dead (I believe I saw his ghost to-day). But although, to the best of my knowledge, the accursed slipper is in the hands of Hassan and Company, I have been watched since I left Euston, and on my way to ‘Uplands’ my life was attempted!”
“For God’s sake, why?”
“I cannot surmise, Hilton. Deeping, for certain reasons that are irrelevant at the moment, left the keys of the case at the Museum in my perpetual keeping—but the case was rifled a second time—”
“I read of it!”
“And the keys were stolen from me. I am utterly at a loss to understand why the Hashishin—for it is members of that awful organization who, without a doubt, surround this house at the present moment—should seek my life. Hilton, I have brought trouble with me!”
“It’s almost incredible!” said Hilton, staring at me. “Why do these people pursue you?”
Ere I had time to reply Soar entered, arrayed, as was Hilton, in his night attire. Soar was an ex-dragoon and a model man.
“Everything fast, sir,” he reported; “but from the window of the bedroom over here—the room I got ready for Mr. Cavanagh—I thought I saw someone in the orchard.”
“Eh?” jerked Hilton—“in the orchard? Come on up, Cavanagh!”
We all ran upstairs. The moonlight was streaming into the room.
“Keep back!” I warned.
Well within the shadow, I crept up to the window and looked out. The night was hot and still. No breeze stirred the leaves, but the edge of the frowning thunder cloud which I had noted before spread a heavy carpet of ebony black upon the ground. Beyond, I could dimly discern the hills. The others stood behind me, constrained by the fear of this mysterious danger which I had brought to “Uplands.”
There was someone moving among the trees!
Closer came the figure, and closer, until suddenly a shaft of moonlight found passage and spilled a momentary pool of light amid the shadows, I could see the watcher very clearly. A moment he stood there, motionless, and looking up at the window; then as he glided again into the shade of the trees the darkness became complete. But I watched, crouching there nervously, for long after he was gone.
“For God’s sake, who is it?” whispered Hilton, with a sort of awe in his voice.
“It’s Hassan of Aleppo!” I replied.
Virtually, the house, with the capital of the Midlands so near upon the one hand, the feverish activity of the Black Country reddening the night upon the other, was invested by fanatic Easterns!
We descended again to the extemporized study. Soar entered with us and Hilton invited him to sit down.