The Quest of the Sacred Slipper HTML version

15. A Shrivelled Hand
Around a large square table in a room at New Scotland Yard stood a group of men, all of
whom looked more or less continuously at something that lay upon the polished deal.
One of the party, none other than the Commissioner himself, had just finished speaking,
and in silence now we stood about the gruesome object which had furnished him with the
text of his very terse address.
I knew myself privileged in being admitted to such a conference at the C.I.D.
headquarters and owed my admission partly to Inspector Bristol, and partly to the fact
that under the will of the late Professor Deeping I was concerned in the uncanny business
we were met to discuss.
Novelty has a charm for every one; and to find oneself immersed in a maelstrom of
Eastern devilry, with a group of scientific murderers in pursuit of a holy Moslem relic,
and unexpectedly to be made a trustee of that dangerous curiosity, makes a certain appeal
to the adventurous. But to read of such things and to participate in them are widely
different matters. The slipper of the Prophet and the dreadful crimes connected with it,
the mutilations, murders, the uncanny mysteries which made up its history, were filling
my world with horror.
Now, in silence we stood around that table at New Scotland Yard and watched, as though
we expected it to move, the ghastly "clue" which lay there. It was a shrivelled human
hand, and about the thumb and forefinger there still dryly hung a fragment of lint which
had bandaged a jagged wound. On one of the shrunken fingers was a ring set with a large
Inspector Bristol broke the oppressive silence.
"You see, sir," he said, addressing the Commissioner, "this marks a new complication in
the case. Up to this week although, unfortunately, we had made next to no progress, the
thing was straightforward enough. A band of Eastern murderers, working along lines
quite novel to Europe, were concea1ed somewhere in London. We knew that much. They
murdered Professor Deeping, but failed to recover the slipper. They mutilated everyone
who touched it mysteriously. The best men in the department, working night and day,
failed to effect a single arrest. In spite of the mysterious activity of Hassan of Aleppo the
slipper was safely lodged in the British Antiquarian Museum."
The Commissioner nodded thoughtfully.
"There is no doubt," continued Bristol, "that the Hashishin were watching the Museum.
Mr. Cavanagh, here" - he nodded in my direction - " saw Hassan himself lurking in the
neighbourhood. We took every precaution, observed the greatest secrecy; but in spite of it
all a constable who touched the accursed thing lost his right hand. Then the slipper was