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The Quest of the Sacred Slipper

26. The Strong-Room
I wonder how often a sense of humour has saved a man from desperation? Perhaps only
the Easterns have thoroughly appreciated that divine gift. I have interpolated the
adventure of Inspector Bristol in order that the sequence of my story be not broken;
actually I did not learn it until later, but when, on the following day, the whole of the
facts came into my possession, I laughed and was glad that I could laugh, for laughter has
saved many a man from madness.
Certainly the Fates were playing with us, for at a time very nearly corresponding with
that when Bristol found himself bound and helpless in Bank Chambers I awoke to find
myself tied hand and foot to my own bed! Nothing but the haziest recollections came to
me at first, nothing but dim memories of the awful being who had lured me there; for I
perceived now that all the messages proceeded, not from Bristol, but from Hassan of
Aleppo! I had been a fool, and I was reaping the fruits of my folly. Could I have known
that almost within pistol shot of me the Inspector was trussed up as helpless as I, then
indeed my situation must have become unbearable, since upon him I relied for my speedy
release.
My ankles were firmly lashed to the rails at the foot of my bed; each of my wrists was
tied back to a bedpost. I ached in every limb and my head burned feverishly, which latter
symptom I ascribed to the powerful drug which had been expelled into my face by the
uncanny weapon carried by Hassan of Aleppo. I reflected bitterly how, having transferred
my quarters to the Astoria, I could not well hope for any visitor to my chambers; and
even the event of such a visitor had been foreseen and provided against by the cunning
lord of the Hashishin. A gag, of the type which Dumas has described in "Twenty Years
After," the poire d'angoisse, was wedged firmly into my mouth. so that only by
preserving the utmost composure could I breathe. I was bathed in cold perspiration. So I
lay listening to the familiar sounds without and reflecting that it was quite possible so to
lie, undisturbed, and to die alone, my presence there wholly unsuspected!
Once, toward dusk, my phone bell rang, and my state of mind became agonizing. It was
maddening to think that someone, a friend, was virtually within reach of me, yet actually
as far removed as if an ocean divided us! I tasted the hellish torments of Tantalus. I
cursed fate, heaven, everything; I prayed; I sank into bottomless depths of despair and
rose to dizzy pinnacles of hope, when a footstep sounded on the landing and a thousand
wild possibilities, vague possibilities of rescue, poured into my mind.
The visitor hesitated, apparently outside my door; and a change, as sudden as lightning
out of a cloud, transformed my errant fancies. A gruesome conviction seized me, as
irrational as the hope which it displayed, that this was one of the Hashishin - an apish
yellow dwarf, a strangler, the awful Hassan himself!
The footsteps receded down the stairs. And my thoughts reverted into the old channels of
dull despair.
 
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