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Bristol and I walked slowly in the direction of the entrance of the British Antiquarian Museum. It was the day following upon the sensational scene in my chambers.
"There's very little doubt," said Bristol, "that Earl Dexter has the slipper and that Hassan of Aleppo knows where Dexter is in hiding. I don't know which of the two is more elusive. Hassan apparently melted into thin air yesterday; and a1though The Stetson Man has never within my experience employed disguises, no one has set eyes upon him since the night that he vanished from his lodgings off the Waterloo Road. It's always possible for a man to baffle the police by remaining closely within doors, but during all the time that has elapsed Dexter must have taken a little exercise occasionally, and the missing hand should have betrayed him."
"The wonder to me is," I replied, "that he has escaped death at the hands of the Hashishin. He is a supremely daring man, for I should think that he must be carrying the slipper of the Prophet about with him!"
"I would rather he did it than I!" commented Bristol. "For sheer audacity commend me to The Stetson Man! His idea no doubt was to use you as intermediary in his negotiations with the Museum authorities, but that plan failing, he has written them direct, thoughtfully omitting his address, of course!"
We were, in fact, at that moment bound for the Museum to inspect this latest piece of evidence.
"The crowning example of the man's audacity and cleverness," added my companion, "is his having actually approached Hassan of Aleppo with a similar proposition! How did he get in touch with him? All Scotland Yard has failed to find any trace of that weird character!"
"Birds of a feather - " I suggested.
"But they are not birds of a feather!" cried Bristol. "On your own showing, Hassan of Aleppo is simply waiting his opportunity to balance Dexter's account forever! I always knew Dexter was a clever man; I begin to think he's the most daring genius alive!"
We mounted the steps of the Museum. In the hallway Mostyn, the curator, awaited us. Having greeted Bristol and myself he led the way to his private office, and from a pigeon-hole in his desk took out a letter typewritten upon a sheet of quarto paper.
Bristol spread it out upon the blotting pad and we bent over it curiously.
I believe I can supply information concerning the whereabouts of the missing slipper of Mohammed. As any inquiry of this nature must be extremely perilous to the inquirer and as the relic is a priceless one, my fee would be I0,000 pounds. The fanatics who seek to restore the slipper to the East must not know of any negotiations, therefore I omit my address, but will communicate further if you care to insert instructions in the agony column of Times.
Bristol laughed grimly.
"It's a daring game," he said; "a piece of barefaced impudence quite characteristic.
He's posing as a sort of private detective now, and is prepared for a trifling consideration to return the slipper which he stole himself! He must know, though, that we have his severed hand at the Yard to be used in evidence against him."
"Is the Burton Room open to the public again?" I asked Mostyn.
"It is open, yes," he replied, "and a quite unusual number of visitors come daily to gaze at the empty case which once held the slipper of the Prophet."
"Has the case been mended?"
"Yes; it is quite intact again; only the exhibit is missing."
We ascended the stairs, passed along the Assyrian Room, which seemed to be unusually crowded, and entered the lofty apartment known as the Burton Room. The sunblinds were drawn, and a sort of dim, religious light prevailed therein. A group of visitors stood around an empty case at the farther end of the apartment.
"You see," said Mostyn, pointing, "that empty case has a greater attraction than all the other full ones!"
But I scarcely heeded his words, for I was intently watching the movements of one of the group about the empty case. I have said that the room was but dimly illuminated, and this fact, together no doubt with some effect of reflected light, enhanced by my imagination, perhaps produced the phenomenon which was occasioning me so much amazement.
Remember that my mind was filled with memories of weird things, that I often found myself thinking of that mystic light which Hassan of Aleppo had called the light of El-Medineh - that light whereby, undeterred by distance, he claimed to be able to trace the whereabouts of any of the relics of the Prophet.
Bristol and Mostyn walked on then; but I stood just within the doorway, intently, breathlessly watching an old man wearing an out-of-date Inverness coat and a soft felt hat. He had a gray beard and moustache, and long, untidy hair, walked with a stoop, and in short was no unusual type of Visitor to that institution.
But it seemed to me, and the closer I watched him the more convinced I became, that this was no optical illusion, that a faint luminosity, a sort of elfin light, played eerily about his head!
As Bristol and Mostyn approached the case the old man began to walk toward me and in the direction of the door. The idea flashed through my mind that it might be Hassan of Aleppo himself, Hassan who had predicted that the stolen slipper should that day be returned to the Museum!
Then he came abreast of me, passed me, and I felt that my surmise had been wrong. I saw Bristol, from farther up the room, turn and look back. Something attracted his trained eye, I suppose, which was not perceptible to me. But he suddenly came striding along. Obviously he was pursuing the old man, who was just about to leave the apartment. Seeing that the latter had reached the doorway, Bristol began to run.
The old man turned; and amid a chorus of exclamations from the astonished spectators, Bristol sprang upon him!
How it all came about T cannot say, cannot hope to describe; but there was a short, sharp scuffle, the crack of a well-directed blow . . . and Bristol was rolling on his back, the old man, hatless, was racing up the Assyrian Room, and everyone in the place seemed to be shouting at once!
Bristol, with blood streaming from his face, staggered to his feet, clutching at me for support.
"After him, Mr. Cavanagh!" be cried hoarsely. "It's your turn to-day! After him! That's Earl Dexter!"
Mostyn waited for no more, but went running quickly through the Assyrian Room. I may mention here that at the head of the stairs he found the caped Inverness which had served to conceal Dexter's mutilated arm, and later, behind a piece of statuary, a wig and a very ingenious false beard and moustache were discovered. But of The Stetson Man there was no trace. His brief start had enabled him to make good his escape.
As Mostyn went off, and a group of visitors flocked in our direction, Bristol, who had been badly shaken by the blow, turned to them.
"You will please all leave the Burton Room immediately," he said.
Looks of surprise greeted his words; but with his handkerchief raised to his face, he peremptorily repeated them. The official note in his voice was readily to be detected; and the wonder-stricken group departed with many a backward glance.
As the last left the Burton Room, Bristol pointed, with a rather shaky finger, at the soft felt hat which lay at his feet. It had formed part of Dexter's disguise. Close beside it lay another object which had evidently fallen from the hat - a dull red thing lying on the polished parquet flooring.
"For God's sake don't go near it!" whispered Bristol. "The room must be closed for the present. And now I'm off after that man. Step clear of it."
His words were unnecessary; I shunned it as a leprous thing.
It was the slipper of the Prophet!
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