Chapter XXVII. The Slipper
 

Someone was breaking in at the door of my chambers!

I aroused myself from a state of coma almost death-like and listened to the blows. The sun was streaming in at my windows.

A splintering crash told of a panel broken. Then a moment later I heard the grating of the lock, and a rush of footsteps along the passage.

"Try the study!" came a voice that sounded like Bristol's, save that it was strangely weak and shaky.

Almost simultaneously the Inspector himself threw open the bedroom door - and, very pale and haggard-eyed, stood there looking across at me. It was a scene unforgettable.

"Mr. Cavanagh!" he said huskily - "Mr. Cavanagh! Thank God you're alive! But" - he turned - "this way, Marden!" he cried, "Untie him quickly! I've got no strength in my arms!".

Marden, a C.I.D. man, came running, and in a minute, or less, I was sitting up gulping brandy.

"I've had the most awful experience of my life," said Bristol. "You've fared badly enough, but I've been hanging by my wrists - you know Dexter's trick! - for close upon sixteen hours! I wasn't released until Carter, an office boy, came on the scene this morning!"

Very feebly I nodded; I could not talk.

"The strong-room of your bank was rifled under my very eyes last evening!" he continued, with something of his old vigour; "and five minutes after the Antiquarian Museum was opened to the public this morning quite an unusual number of visitors appeared.

"I saw the bank manager the moment he arrived, and learned a piece of news that positively took my breath away! I was at the Museum seven minutes later and got another shock! There in the case was the red slipper!"

"Then," I whispered-"it hadn't been stolen?"

"Wrong! It had! This was a duplicate, as Mostyn, the curator, saw at a glance! Some of the early visitors - they were Easterns - had quite surrounded the case. They were watched, of course, but any number of Orientals come to see the thing; and, short of smashing the glass, which would immediately attract attention, the authorities were unprepared, of course, for any attempt. Anyway, they were tricked. Somebody opened the case. The real slipper of the Prophet is gone!"

"They told you at the bank - "

"That you had withdrawn the keys! If Dexter had known that!"

"Hassan of Aleppo took them from me last night! At last the Hashishin have triumphed.

Bristol sank into the armchair.

"Every port is watched," he said. "But - "