The Quest of the Sacred Slipper HTML version

10. At The British Antiquarian Museum
A little group of interested spectators stood at the head of the square glass case in the
centre of the lofty apartment in the British Antiquarian Museum known as the Burton
Room (by reason of the fact that a fine painting of Sir Richard Burton faces you as you
enter). A few other people looked on curiously from the lower end of the case. It
contained but one exhibit - a dirty and dilapidated markoob - or slipper of morocco
leather that had once been red.
"Our latest acquisition, gentlemen," said Mr. Mostyn, the curator, speaking in a low tone
to the distinguished Oriental scholars around him. "It has been left to the Institution by
the late Professor Deeping. He describes it in a document furnished by his solicitor as one
of the slippers worn by the Prophet Mohammed, but gives us no further particulars. I
myself cannot quite place the relic."
"Nor I," interrupted one of the group. "It is not mentioned by any of the Arabian
historians to my knowledge - that is, if it comes from Mecca, as I understand it does."
"I cannot possibly assert that it comes from Mecca, Dr. Nicholson," Mostyn replied. "The
Professor may have taken it from Al-Madinah - perhaps from the mysterious inner
passage of the baldaquin where the treasures of the place lie. But I can assure you that
what little we do know of its history is sufficiently unsavoury."
I fancied that the curator's tired cultured voice faltered as he spoke; and now, without
apparent reason, he moved a step to the right and glanced oddly along the room. I
followed the direction of his glance, and saw a tall man in conventional morning dress,
irreproachable in every detail, whose head was instantly bent upon his catalogue. But
before his eyes fell I knew that their long almond shape, as well as the peculiar burnt
pallor of his countenance, were undoubtedly those of an Oriental.
"There have been mysterious outrages committed, I believe, upon many of those who
have come in contact with the slipper?" asked one of the savants.
"Exactly. Professor Deeping was undoubtedly among the victims. His instructions were
explicit that the relic should be brought here by a Moslem, but for a long time we failed
to discover any Moslem who would undertake the task; and, as you are aware, while the
slipper remained at the Professor's house attempts were made to steal it."
He ceased uneasily, and glanced at the tall Eastern figure. It had edged a little nearer; the
head was still bowed and the fine yellow waxen fingers of the hand from which he had
removed his glove fumbled with the catalogue's leaves. It may well have been that in
those days I read menace in every eye, yet I felt assured that the yellow visitor was
eavesdropping - was malignantly attentive to the conversation.