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The Quest of the Sacred Slipper Sax Rohmer

The Woman With The Basket

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There at the head of those stone steps in that common dwelling-house I knew her - and in the violet eyes it was written that she knew, and feared, me!

"What do you want? Why are you following me?"

She made no endeavour to disguise her voice. Almost, I think, she spoke the words involuntarily.

I stood beside her. Quickly as she had turned from the door at my ascent, I had noted that it was that numbered forty-eight which she had been about to open.

"You waste words," I said grimly. "Who lives there?"

I nodded in the direction of the doorway. The violet eyes watched me with an expression in their depths which I find myself wholly unable to describe. Fear predominated, but there was anger, too, and with it a sort of entreaty which almost made me regret that I had taken this task upon myself. From beneath the shabby black hat escaped an errant lock of wavy hair wholly inconsistent with the assumed appearance of the woman. The flickering gaslight on the landing sought out in that wonderful hair shades which seemed to glow with the soft light seen in the heart of a rose. The thick veil was raised now and all attempts at deception abandoned. At bay she faced me, this secret woman whom I knew to hold the key to some of the darkest places which we sought to explore.

"I live there," she said slowly. "What do you want with me?"

"I want to know," I replied, "for whom are those provisions in your basket?"

She watched me fixedly.

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"And I want to know," I continued, "something that only you can tell me. We have met before, madam, but you have always eluded me. This time you shall not do so. There's much I have to ask of you, but particularly I want to know who killed the Hashishin who lies dead at no great distance from here!"

"How can I tell you that? Of what are you speaking?"

Her voice was low and musical; that of a cultured woman. She evidently recognized the futility of further subterfuge in this respect.

"You know quite well of what I am speaking! You know that you can tell me if any one can! The fact that you go disguised alone condemns you! Why should I remind you of our previous meetings - of the links which bind you to the history of the Prophet's slipper?" She shuddered and closed her eyes. "Your present attitude is a sufficient admission!"

She stood silent before me, with something pitiful in her pose - a wonderfully pretty woman, whose disarranged hair and dilapidated hat could not mar her beauty; whose clumsy, ill-fitting garments could not conceal her lithe grace.

Our altercation had not thus far served to arouse any of the inhabitants and on that stuffy landing, beneath the flickering gaslight, we stood alone, a group of two which epitomized strange things.

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The Quest of the Sacred Slipper
Sax Rohmer

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