THE PERIL OF BURAH KHAN

Three days had passed. The khan remained sunk in a stupor caused by the
medicines administered by the Persian physician, who hovered constantly
around the bedside of his patient. Burah now lay in a well aired, high
vaulted chamber. The musk-scented cushions had been ostracised, the
dancing girls dismissed. Quiet reigned throughout the vast palace.
Occasionally Agahr would thrust his head through the curtains draping
the entrance, as if seeking to know that all was well; but the Persian
merely gave him a reassuring nod and motioned him away.
This summary banishment did not please the vizier. His daughter had
assisted him in forming several plans of great political import, and the
conduct of the foreign physician prevented their being carried to a
successful issue.
Thus Agahr, appearing again at the entrance, beckoned with imperative
gesture the Persian to join him; and, after a careful inspection of his
patient, lying peaceful and unconscious, the physician obeyed.
Together they paced up and down the deserted marble passage, the
Persian’s quick eye never leaving the entrance to the khan’s chamber,
while Agahr plied him with eager questions concerning his master’s
condition.
“He will live until his son, the Prince Ahmed, arrives,” said the other,
calmly. “He will remain unconscious, but he will live.”
“And then?” asked the vizier, anxiously.
“Then I will awaken him. He will have full command of all his faculties
for a brief period–and then he will pass away quickly.”
Agahr sighed.
“Is it not possible for him to pass away during this stupor?” he
enquired.
“Yes, it is possible,” answered the Persian. “But I believe I can
prevent that. My task requires constant vigilance: that is why I dare
not leave the Khan’s chamber.”
“I will send a man to relieve you,” said the vizier. “You can instruct
him in his duties and he will be faithful.”
“No,” returned the Persian.
An awkward silence followed. Then Agahr stopped suddenly and said:
“I will be frank with you. The son of Burah Khan is not the rightful
heir to the throne of Mekran. It is the exiled Prince Kasam, from whose
grandsire Keedar Khan by right of sword wrested all Baluchistan.
Therefore it is best for the country that Burah does not live until his
son arrives.”
He paused, wiping the perspiration from his brow and glancing half
fearfully into the grave face of the physician. The latter nodded.
“I understand,” said he.
Agahr became reassured.
“The ancestors of Prince Kasam,” he continued, earnestly, “ruled the
land for nine generations. Then the Baluchi rebelled and put their
Headsman, the fierce Keedar Khan, upon the throne his own brother was
forced to vacate. I being at the time vizier, remained Keedar’s vizier,
as I have remained vizier to his son. By means of wars and bloodshed
these terrible men have for forty-six years dominated all Baluchistan.
It is now time, in the interest of justice and humanity, that the
rightful heir should recover the throne.”
“Did not Prince Kasam’s ancestors conquer this country with the aid of
the Afghans, and put to death every member of the then reigning family?”
asked the Persian.
“It is a matter of history,” said Agahr, proudly. “They were my
ancestors, these bold conquerors, as well as the ancestors of Prince
Kasam.”
“Yet Keedar Khan made you his vizier, and his son retained you?”
“Yes; and I have been faithful.”
“But now, it seems to me, you are speaking treason,” said the physician.
“Not so,” declared the vizier, indignantly. “Burah Khan, by your own
showing, is virtually dead at this moment. I owe no allegiance to his
son, whom I have never seen.”
“How is that?” asked the physician, in surprise.
“When Ahmed was a child his father, fearing a revolt and that his boy
might fall by an assassin’s knife, placed him in the Sunnite monastery
at Takkatu for safe keeping. There he has remained ever since. It will
be necessary for Burah Khan to officially acknowledge him before the
chiefs of the Nine Tribes and to appoint him his own successor, before
Ahmed can legally occupy the throne. If this is not done the people, who
are weary of the rule of these tyrants, will acclaim Kasam as khan.”
“But Prince Ahmed will arrive, and be acknowledged. Burah Khan has so
willed it, and he is still the master.”
Agahr faced the Persian with an angry frown.
“Do you refuse to assist us?” he asked, sharply.
“I refuse to betray the man whose life I have promised to preserve
until his son arrives,” declared the physician.
“But you are a stranger–a Persian.”
“Even so.”
“And you expect a reward, or you would not have hastened to Mekran when
summoned by the Khan. Name your price. I will double it, and you shall
depart this very night.”
The Persian smiled.
“Here, and throughout the world,” said he, “the strongest argument is
the clink of gold. Listen well, your Excellency. I have promised Burah
Khan life for seven days. I shall keep my promise. Then, if the Prince
does not come, I can do no more.”
The vizier started.
“If the Prince does not come?” he repeated, thoughtfully.
“To be sure.”
“Ah! I had not thought of that!” exclaimed the old man.


(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“It is the only thing I fear,” said the other, with exasperating
coolness; “but I rely upon Dirrag. If you are able to delay him you
will doubtless win the throne for Prince Kasam.”
Before the mocking tones had died away the physician disappeared behind
the draperies of the khan’s chamber, and the vizier, controlling his
anger and chagrin as best he might, walked away to concoct further
plans.
The woman who brought the Persian his evening meal became confused under
his sharp scrutiny and started to retire hurriedly. He arrested her with
a stern command, saying:
“Sit here and taste of the dish you have brought.”
Then she began to tremble.
“Master, I dare not!” she wailed.
“Very well. Take away this food and bring me eggs boiled in the shell.”
The physician was bending over the couch of the khan when one of the
under cooks entered silently with the eggs. The man was of the Brahoe
caste, small and wiry. He placed the eggs upon the table and eyed for a
time the back of the tall Persian, who seemed intent upon his patient.
But a moment later he suddenly straightened, threw back his hand and
caught the wrist of the Brahoe in a firm grasp.
A dagger fell upon the rug, and the man shrank back shuddering before
the gleaming eyes of the physician.
An instant they remained motionless. Then, releasing his prisoner, the
physician picked up the dagger, placed it within his own bosom and
seated himself quietly at the table. One of the eggs he cast aside;
there was a tiny pin-hole through the shell. The others he ate with his
usual composure. As he raised a cup of water to his lips the Brahoe, who
had watched him with amazement, suddenly stretched out his hand in
warning.
“Wait! it is poisoned,” he whispered. “I will bring you more.”
Swiftly he glided away and presently returned with a fresh bowl of clear
water.
The physician drank without hesitation.
“You may go,” said he, setting down the bowl.
“Master,” said the man, “be warned. You are surrounded by dangers. But
you are brave, and I am your servant henceforth. Eat hereafter only the
food I bring you.”
The Persian nodded and gave the Brahoe a smile. Still the man hesitated,
peering cautiously about as if suspecting listeners. Finally he came
nearer and said in a low voice:
“I do not know all; your foes are cunning and powerful. But the old khan
is not to live the seven days. And life is lightly esteemed in
Mekran–if it stands in the way of a purpose. Do not sleep tonight.”
“I never sleep,” returned the Persian, looking upon the man curiously.
Indeed, the critical condition of Burah Khan seemed to require his
constant attention. The strange physician watched the silent form
carefully throughout the night, and only once noted a slight movement of
the draperies that guarded the entrance to the chamber.
At daybreak he drew the curtains of the windows to let in the light, and
turned about in time to dash his heel upon the head of a small but
venomous serpent that was poised to strike him with its fangs. Some one
had placed it in the room during the night–a messenger of death to
either the Khan or his physician, it mattered little which.
The Persian stared at the writhing snake a moment and made a gesture of
impatience.
“It is only the fourth day,” he muttered. “I wonder where Dirrag is.”
An hour later the woman brought in his breakfast.
“Where is the Brahoe?” he demanded, sharply.
“He was found dead this morning,” said the woman, shuddering. “Some
enemy, it seems, strangled him while he slept.”
The frown upon the Persian’s brow was so fierce that the woman slipped
away in terror.
“It is only the fourth day,” he growled again, between set teeth; “but
the Khan shall live until the seventh day–unless Dirrag comes before. I
have sworn it, and, by Allah, I will keep my oath!”