THE MAN OF DESTINY

A young man paced with nervous strides an open gallery of the ancient
monastery of Mehmet, set high upon the mountain peak of Takkatu. He was
tall and slender, his face worn thin by fasting and endless vigils, his
shoulders stooping, his hands so emaciated that the fingers resembled
eagles’ talons. His forehead was high and protruding; his eyes bright
and glistening; but the lower part of his face, from the small, delicate
nose to the receding chin, indicated a weak and vacillating character.
Prone upon a narrow divan against the wall reclined another man, also
young but of stalwart, rugged frame and with calm and well-fashioned
features. His pose was absolutely without motion: not even a muscle
twitched. The dark lashes lay over his closed eyes without a tremor.
Both wore the loose yellow gowns and high turbans of the Sunnite
novitiates, but the one who paced the marble tiles had a band of white
around his flowing sleeve–an indication of his superior degree.
Through the open peristyle came spicy breezes from near-by Araby. The
sun cast intense shadows; a mighty stillness enveloped the monastery, as
if the world slept.
The two novitiates were not alone. On a stone bench near the outer
arches was seated an aged priest, clothed all in pure white, whose set
face and hard, unseeing eyes indicated him wholly oblivious of his
surroundings. Neither the young men seemed to consider his presence,
although from time to time the nervous pacer would cast a swift glance
in his direction.
Suddenly the latter paused before the divan.
“Give me your counsel, Hafiz!” said he, addressing the prostrate form.
“Tell me what I must do.”
The man upon the divan moved and sat up, regarding the other gravely
with clear grey eyes.
“Well?” said he.
“Must I submit to it?” asked the other, eagerly. “Has my father the
right to make this unreasonable, unjust, shameful demand?”
Hafiz nodded.
“After all these years of study and research,” continued the slender
brother, with a passionate gesture, “after a life devoted to religious
concentration, to the worship of Allah and His divine manifestations on
earth; after delving far into the inner mysteries of the Faith and
seeing the day approach when I shall become of the Imaum–after this
holy life in this holy temple must I be dragged into the coarse,
material world again? Bah! it is outrageous–impossible!”
“Yet imperative,” added the man on the divan.
His companion had resumed his agitated walk, but suddenly paused again
and cast a frightened look at the placid countenance turned upon him.
Then the frown faded from his own brow; his eyes softened and he said,
gently:
“Forgive me, dear Hafiz! I am beside myself with grief. Tell me what I
must do!”
“They have sent for you?” asked Hafiz.
“Yes. My father, the Khan, who has forgotten me since I came here, a
little child, is now dying, and he commands my presence that I may
succeed him as ruler of the tribes of Mekran.”
“Have you known e’er this that you were Prince of Mekran?”
“Not till this hour, when our beloved mufti revealed to me the tidings.”
“But _he_ knew it?” said Hafiz, with a glance toward the entranced
priest by the arch.
“Yes; he knew it, but preserved the knowledge. It seems there was reason
for this. My father’s house has powerful enemies, who would gladly have
murdered his heir in childhood. So that no one but the Khan and his
trusted vizier knew where I have been hidden all these years. And I–I
have grown to manhood with the belief that I might devote my life to
religion; yet now, when my soul craves peace and that exaltation which
is accorded only to Allah’s chosen servants, I am rudely summoned to a
life of worldly turmoil, to take part in endless political intrigues and
brutal warfares–all of which my spirit loathes.”
“‘Tis fate, Ahmed,” said the other, thoughtfully, “and to be borne with
the resignation our creed teaches. You are of royal birth, of an ancient
line of heaven-born rulers, and you must fulfill your destiny.”
“Ah, now you have given me my argument,” retorted Ahmed, with a quick
smile. “I am not of an ancient line of heaven-born rulers. We are
usurpers.”
“Yes?”
“Yes. My grandfather, according to the tale I have just heard, was a
younger brother of the reigning khan, whom he ruthlessly slew and
supplanted. By terrible and bloody wars my grandsire Keedar conquered
the tribes that were faithful to his brother’s son, and forced them to
acknowledge and obey him. A fierce man was Keedar Khan, and always more
hated than loved. But before he died all Baluchistan rendered him
homage, and his son, my father, proved as stern and warlike as his sire.
For thirty years he has ruled with an iron hand, and is today known to
the world as the Lion of Mekran.”
“Yet he is dying?”
“He is dying; and he sends for me, his only child, that I may be
acknowledged his successor before the assembled sirdars of the nation.”
“You must go.”
“Think what that means!”
“You will be khan.”
“Ruler of a nation of disaffected tribes, half of whom are eager to
return to the allegiance of their rightful sovereign and who have only
been held in subjection through two generations by the might of an iron
will and the right of a gleaming sword.”
“Who is this rightful sovereign you mention?”


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“My cousin Kasam, whom I have never heard of until this day. He has
been educated in foreign lands, I am told, to guard him from my
father–as I have been reared in this holy place to prevent my being
killed by the enemies of our house.”
“And you would reject a throne–a throne bequeathed you by a warrior
sire–because there is a pretender to the place?” asked Hafiz, with calm
features but sparkling eyes. “It was by the sword the first royal family
reigned in Mekran; it is by the sword your family reigns. Your duty is
to your own kin. Let your strong arm maintain the power your ancestors
have won and established!”
Ahmed shrank from the flashing eyes of his friend and spread out his
palms with a deprecating gesture.
“I am no warrior, Hafiz. I am an humble servant of Allah. In a month I
shall be Imaum!”
Hafiz gazed upon the slender, shrinking form of the heir of Mekran with
earnestness. Truly it seemed unwise to urge the gentle devotee to
abandon the monastery for the intrigue of a palace. He sighed, this
stalwart, broad-shouldered monk of Takkatu, and reclined anew upon the
divan.
“I wish,” he said, regretfully, “I had been born the son of your
father.”
For a time Ahmed resumed his fretful pacing of the gallery, and no sound
but his footsteps fell upon the ears of the three. The aged priest still
sat, immobile, at his post, and the tall monk reclined as motionless
upon his divan.
At times Ahmed would pause and wring his thin hands, murmuring: “I
cannot! I cannot leave this holy place. In a month I shall be Imaum–a
chosen comrade of the Prophet!”
A bell, low-toned and sweet, chimed from a neighboring spire. At the
summons the priest stirred and turned himself to the east, the
involuntary action being imitated by the younger men. Then all three
cast themselves prone upon the marble floor, while a distant voice came
softly but clearly to their ears, chanting the words: “_Allah is great.
There no god but Allah. Come ye to prayer. Come ye to security!_”
As the tones faded away Ahmed groaned, repeating the words: “Security!
come ye to security! O Allah, help me!”
But the others remained silent and motionless for a protracted time, and
even Ahmed ceased his muttering and succumbed to the impressiveness of
the mid-day prayer.
Finally the priest arose and made a sign.
“Retire, my son,” said he to Ahmed, “and compose thy soul to peace.
Allah has shown me the way.”
The young man gave a start, his features suffused with a glow of
delight, his eyes sparkling joyfully. Then he bowed low before the mufti
and left the gallery with steady steps.
Hafiz remained, curiously regarding the aged priest, whose lean face now
wore a look of keen intelligence. He came close to the stalwart
novitiate and fixed upon him a piercing gaze.
“Allah is above all,” he said, “and Mahomet is the Prophet of Allah.
Next to them stands the Khan–the Protector of the Faith.”
“It is true,” answered Hafiz.
“Prince Kasam has been educated in London. His faith, be he still true
to Mahomet, is lax. For the glory of Allah and the protection of our
order, a true believer must rule at Mekran. The son of Burah Khan must
sit in his father’s place.”
“It is true,” said Hafiz, again.
“Yet our beloved brother, Ahmed, is about to become of the Imaum. His
soul is with Allah. His hand is not fitted to grasp the sword. Shall we
rob the Faith of its most earnest devotee?”
The calm grey eyes and the glittering black ones met, and a wave of
intelligence vibrated between them.
Hafiz made no reply in words, and the priest paused in deep thought. At
length he continued.
“For seven years, my brother, you have been one of us, and we have
learned to love you. You came among us fresh from a life tragedy. You
suffered. Allah comforted you, and within our walls you found peace. The
sun and wind kissed your cheeks and turned them brown; your strength
increased. The purity of your soul was grateful to the Prophet, and he
granted you knowledge and understanding. But you were not destined to
become a priest, my Hafiz. Allah has chosen you for a more worldly life,
wherein you may yet render Him service by becoming a bulwark of the
Faith!”
A smile softened the stern chin of the novitiate and lent his face a
rare sweetness.
“I understand, O Mufti,” he answered; but there was a thrill in his
voice he could not repress.
The priest clapped his hands and an attendant entered.
“Send to me Dirrag the messenger,” he commanded.
No word was spoken on the gallery until the son of Ugg appeared.
Dirrag was still white with the dust of his swift ride across the
desert. He came in with a swinging stride, glanced with a momentary
hesitation from one to the other of the two men, and then knelt humbly
before Hafiz.
“My lord,” said he, “your father commands your presence in Mekran. We
must ride fast if you are to find him still alive.”
“In an hour,” answered the priest, calmly, “Prince Ahmed will be in the
saddle. I commend to your wisdom and loyalty, good Dirrag, the safety of
the heir to the throne of Mekran.”