Chapter XX. The Golden Pavilion
 

When I opened my eyes it was to a conviction that I dreamed. I lay upon a cushioned divan in a small apartment which I find myself at a loss adequately to describe.

It was a yellow room, then, its four walls being hung with yellow silk, its floor being entirely covered by a yellow Persian carpet. One lamp, burning in a frame of some lemon coloured wood and having its openings filled with green glass, flooded the place with a ghastly illumination. The lamp hung by gold chains from the ceiling, which was yellow. Several low tables of the same lemon-hued wood as the lamp-frame stood around; they were inlaid in fanciful designs with gleaming green stones. Turn my eyes where I would, clutch my aching head as I might, this dream chamber would not disperse, but remained palpable before me - yellow and green and gold.

There was a niche behind the divan upon which I lay framed about with yellow wood. In it stood a golden bowl and a tall pot of yellow porcelain; I lay amid yellow cushions having golden tassels. Some of them were figured with vivid green devices.

To contemplate my surroundings assuredly must be to court madness. No door was visible, no window; nothing but silk and luxury, yellow and green and gold.

To crown all, the air was heavy with a perfume wholly unmistakable by one acquainted with Egypt's ruling vice. It was the reek of smouldering hashish - a stench that seemed to take me by the throat, a vapour damnable and unclean. I saw that a little censer, golden in colour and inset with emeralds, stood upon the furthermost corner of the yellow carpet. From it rose a faint streak of vapour; and I followed the course of the sickly scented smoke upward through the still air until in oily spirals it lost itself near to the yellow ceiling. As a sick man will study the veriest trifle I studied that wisp of smoke, pencilled grayly against the silken draperies, the carven tables, against the almost terrifying persistency of the yellow and green and gold.

I strove to rise, but was overcome by vertigo and sank back again upon the yellow cushions. I closed my eyes, which throbbed and burned, and rested my head upon my hands. I ceased to conjecture if I dreamed or was awake. I knew that I felt weak and ill, that my head throbbed agonizingly, that my eyes smarted so as to render it almost impossible to keep them open, that a ceaseless humming was in my ears.

For some time I lay endeavouring to regain command of myself, to prepare to face again that scene which had something horrifying in its yellowness, touched with the green and gold.

And when finally I reopened my eyes, I sat up with a suppressed cry. For a tall figure in a yellow robe from beneath which peeped yellow slippers, a figure crowned with a green turban, stood in the centre of the apartment!

It was that of a majestic old man, white bearded, with aquiline nose, and the fierce eagle eyes of a fanatic set upon me sternly, reprovingly.

With folded arms he stood watching me, and I drew a sharp breath and rose slowly to my feet.

There amid the yellow and green and gold, amid the abominable reek of burning hashish I stood and faced Hassan of Aleppo!

No words came to me; I was confounded.

Hassan spoke in that gentle voice which I had heard only once before.

"Mr. Cavanagh," he said, "I have brought you here that I might warn you. Your police are seeking me night and day, and I am fully alive to my danger whilst I stay in your midst. But for close upon a thousand years the Sheikh-al-jebal, Lord of the Hashishin, has guarded the traditions and the relics of the Prophet, Salla-'llahu 'ale yhi wasdlem! I, Hassan of Aleppo, am Sheikh of the Order to-day, and my sacred duty has brought me here."

The piercing gaze never left my face. I was not yet by any means my own man and still I made no reply.

"You have been wise," continued Hassan, "in that you have never touched the sacred slipper. Had you lain hands upon it, no secrecy could have availed you. The eye of the Hashishin sees all. There is a shaft of light which the true Believer perceives at night as he travels toward El-Medineh. It is the light which uprises, a spiritual fire, from the tomb of the Prophet (Salla-'llahu 'aleyhi wasellem!). The relics also are radiant, though in a lesser degree."

He took a step toward me, spreading out his lean brown hands, palms downward.

"A shaft of light," he said impressively, "shines upward now from London. It is the light of the holy slipper." He gazed intently at the yellow drapery at the left of the divan, but as though he were looking not at the wall but through it. His features worked convulsively; he was a man inspired. "I see it now!" he almost whispered - "that white light by which the guardians of the relic may always know its resting place!"

I managed to force words to my lips.

"If you know where the slipper is," I said, more for the sake of talking than for anything else, "why do you not recover it?"

Hassan turned his eyes upon me again.

"Because the infidel dog," he cried loudly, "who has soiled it with his unclean touch, defies us - mocks us! He has suffered the loss of the offending hand, but the evil ginn protect him; he is inspired by efreets! But God is great and Mohammed is His only Prophet! We shall triumph; but it is written, oh, daring infidel, that you again shall become the guardian of the slipper!"

He spoke like some prophet of old and I stared at him fascinated. I was loth to believe his words.

"When again," he continued, "the slipper shall be in the receptacle of which you hold the key, that key must be given to me!"

I thought I saw the drift of his words now; I thought I perceived with what object I had been trapped and borne to this mysterious abode for whose whereabouts the police vainly were seeking. By the exercise of the gift of divination it would seem that Hassan of Aleppo had forecast the future history of the accursed slipper or believed that he had done so. According to his own words I was doomed once more to become trustee of the relic. The key of the case at the Antiquarian Museum, to which he had prophesied the slipper's return, would be the price of my life! But -

"In order that these things may be fulfilled," he continued, "I must permit you to return to your house. So it is written, so it shall be. Your life is in my hands; beware when it is demanded of you that you hesitate not in yielding up the key!"

He raised his hands before him, making a sort of obeisance, I doubt not in the direction of Mecca, drew aside one of the yellow hangings behind him and disappeared, leaving me alone again in that nightmare apartment of yellow and green and gold. A moment I stood watching the swaying curtain. Utter silence reigned, and a sort of panic seized me infinitely greater than that occasioned by the presence of the weird Sheikh. I felt that I must escape from the place or that I should become raving mad.

I leapt forward to the curtain which Hassan had raised and jerked it aside; it had concealed a door. In this door and about level with my eyes was a kind of little barred window through which shone a dim green light. I bent forward, peering into the place beyond, but was unable to perceive anything save a vague greenness.

And as I peered, half believing that the whole episode was a dreadful, fevered dream, the abominable fumes of hashish grew, or seemed to grow, quite suddenly insupportable. Through the square opening, from the green void beyond, a cloud of oily vapour, pungent, stifling, resembling that of burning Indian hemp, poured out and enveloped me!

With a gasping cry I fell back, fighting for breath, for a breath of clean air unpolluted with hashish. But every inhalation drew down into my lungs the fumes that I sought to escape from. I experienced a deathly sickness; I seemed to be sinking into a sea of hashish, amid bubbles of yellow and green and gold, and I knew no more until, struggling again to my feet, surrounded by utter darkness - I struck my head on the corner of my writing-table . . . for I lay in my own study!

My revolver, unloaded, was upon the table beside me. The night was very still. I think it must have been near to dawn.

"My God!" I whispered, "did I dream it all? Did I dream it all?"