“Now this,” said the Colonel, “is to be a council of war. We are in
grave difficulties, and may as well look the matter straight in the
The little band of Americans seemed all to agree with him, for it was
with fitting gravity that they turned their eyes upon the leader of the
Commission–all except Aunt Lucy, whose wondering gaze was full upon
little David, resplendent in his new costume. David’s outer robe was
orange and white, and his inner garb brilliant green. An orange turban
was twisted around his bald head and orange hose covered his stubby
legs. This gorgeousness was due to a whim of the doctor, and it appeared
to be eminently satisfactory to David. A native barber had trimmed and
curled his straggling beard and the Jew had been scrubbed and scented
so thoroughly that he had a fresh and wholesome look which was in strong
contrast to his former unkempt condition.
“If he is to be our emissary and interpreter,” the doctor had said, “he
must be made worthy of the great Commission, and in this barbarous
country color is everything.”
“Then,” replied Aunt Lucy, “David is everything. He reminds me of a
brass band on parade.”
David was now present at the council, seated between the Colonel and the
“In the first place,” resumed the leader, “we must acknowledge that we
are virtually prisoners in this town, possessing no means in the way of
animals or attendants of getting away. David has talked with the
servants in this house and has discovered that we are guests of his
Highness the Khan, who has ordered us supplied with every comfort that
can be procured. Why the khan has taken an interest in our affairs–we
being entire strangers to him–is a deep mystery. Unless he feels that
he owes us some compensation for having driven Kasam out of Mekran.”
“Did he drive Kasam out?” asked Bessie.
“I understand from David that there is room for but one on the throne,
and Ahmed Khan naturally prefers to sit there himself. So our friend
Kasam made tracks and left us to shift for ourselves. All of the tribe
of Raab, a powerful clan in Baluchistan, have deserted Ahmed and joined
Kasam, who is in open revolt.”
“Would it not be safer for us to leave here and join Prince Kasam?”
enquired Bessie.
“Why, I’m inclined to think, from the gossip David has picked up, that
Kasam’s cause is a forlorn one, and that he’s not particularly safe
himself. Ahmed Khan may wake up some day and poke him with a sharp
stick. Moreover, there’s no disguising the fact that when our guide left
Mekran and set up in business for himself he deliberately robbed us of
the beasts we had bought and paid for with our own money, besides
carrying off our Afghans, whose pay was fortunately in arrears. The
Prince couldn’t well have treated us with less consideration, and in
strong contrast with his actions Ahmed Khan has come to the front like a
man and taken care of us. Let’s pin our faith to Ahmed Khan.”
“Cannot we induce Ahmed to supply us with a caravan?” asked Allison.
“That’s the point. That is, it’s one point. We mustn’t lose sight of the
fact that we came here to get a right of way for the railroad. The first
concession to get from the Khan is the right of way. The means to
journey back to the railway at Quettah is the second consideration,
although no less important. These things being accomplished, we will
have performed our duty to the Syndicate and to ourselves.”
“When will they be accomplished?” enquired Aunt Lucy, in brisk,
matter-of-fact tones.
“Ahem! That I cannot say, to a day, my dear Mrs. Higgins. The fact is,
I’ve sent David twice to the Khan, with demands in writing for an
interview. But David can’t get within a mile of the Khan,
notwithstanding his impressive costume–which cost eight fillibees,
native money.”
“The Khan,” added the doctor musingly, “is quite an exclusive personage.
His Highness’ guards have threatened to tattoo our dear David unless he
ceases to bother them.”
David groaned, thereby concurring in this statement.
“Then what is to be done?” asked Janet, who had displayed a lively
interest in her father’s discourse.
The Colonel shook his head, rather despondently.
“What do you suggest, David?” asked the doctor.
David had been earnestly regarding the cabinet in which his gold was
stored. Now, however, being addressed, he reluctantly withdrew his eyes
from the vicinity of his treasure, heaved a deep sigh as if awakening
from a happy dream, and said:
“Vy nod try de vizier?”
“What vizier?”
“De grant vizier, Agahr. He iss de biggest man here ven der Khan he iss
somevhere else.”
“That seems a practical hint,” said the Colonel. “I’ll write a new
letter, addressed to the vizier.”
David turned uneasily in his seat.
“Letters, most Excellency, iss a bad vay. Noboddy takes letters to Agahr
de vizier. Dey go talk mit Agahr.”
“Will he see people?”
“Vy nod? He iss vizier.”
“Then one of us had best go and interview him, and take David along for
interpreter,” decided the Colonel promptly.
“He speaks such lovely English!” added Aunt Lucy, with a toss of her
“The vizier won’t hear his English,” said the doctor, “and I suspect
David’s native dialect is somewhat clearer and more comprehensive.
Otherwise he’d have been murdered long ago. Now then, who’ll tackle the
“I’ll go,” replied Allison, to the surprise of all. “I’m tired of
hanging around doing nothing, and this mission promises a bit of
“Very good,” said his father, pleased at the remark. “Be firm with him,
Allison. Insist upon his securing an interview for me with the Khan,
and also tell the vizier we want a caravan to take us to Quettah. Let
him understand we have plenty of money to pay for what we require.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” said Allison. “Come, David.”
* * * * *
Agahr had just awakened from his afternoon siesta and was sitting with
Maie in a cool, darkened room. Both the vizier and his daughter were in
a happy mood.
“There has been a more agreeable atmosphere at the palace since the
Persian physician went away,” said the old man. “The fellow had a
suspicious manner of looking at me, as if he knew all my secret thoughts
and intended to betray them.”
“I hate the man!” exclaimed Maie, with a shiver of her rounded
“And I,” answered Agahr. “But he is gone. Let us hope he will never
“Yet the Khan liked him?” said the girl, enquiringly.
“They were old friends, although their ages differ so widely; and there
is a secret between them, of some sort. The physician, who dominated
everyone else, was very gentle with Ahmed.”
“That was his cunning,” declared Maie. “It is not wise to attempt to
rule Ahmed Khan.” She broke off suddenly, and nestling closer to Agahr
upon the divan she asked, in soft accents: “Do you think he is attracted
toward me, my father?”
“He has eyes for no one else when you are by,” returned the vizier,
fondly caressing the girl’s hand. “But that is not strange, my Maie. You
are more beautiful than the houris of Paradise.”
She sighed, very gently, as if the tribute was sweet.
“And how does Ahmed Khan spend his days?” she enquired. “Do the dancing
girls still amuse him?”
“He has sent all the dancing girls away,” was the reply, “and every
inmate of Burah’s harem, both young and old, has been conveyed by Melka
to the Castle of Ugg, far away in the South country.”
“I wonder why?” said the girl, thoughtfully. “Perhaps, having been a
priest so long, he does not care for women.”
Agahr smiled.
“Then why is he improving and beautifying the harem? he asked.
“Is he?” she cried, starting up.
“The apartments of the women were turned over to an army of workmen a
week ago. In another week the harem will be beautiful beyond compare.
And the gardens and Court of the Maidens are being made magnificent with
rare plants and exquisite flowers. That is not an indication, my beauty,
that the Khan does not care for women.”
“True,” she returned, and sat as if lost in thought. Then she asked:
“What woman, besides myself, has the Khan looked kindly upon?”
“None,” answered the vizier, without hesitation. “It was only this
morning he spoke to me of you, asking how many summers you had seen and
saying you were rarely beautiful.”
She smiled contentedly.
“How wise we were, oh my father, to abandon the cause of the Pretender
and ally ourselves with Ahmed Khan.”
“Kasam is too weak and unreliable to become a leader of men,” returned
the vizier, calmly.
“Yet for years–while Burah Khan grew aged–I imagined I should become
the queen of Kasam’s harem, and plotted shrewdly to place him upon the
throne. Is it not amusing, my father, to remember that I learned to
speak the awkward English tongue, just because Kasam had lived in
England and spoke that language?”
“It was time wasted,” said the vizier. “But that reminds me that those
American travellers are still in Mekran. I wonder why the Khan is
keeping them.”
Maie started.
“Are there not women among them?” she asked.
“Two or three of the party are women.”
“Are they beautiful?”
Agahr laughed, and pinched her cheek.
“There are no beautiful women but ours,” he returned, “and of them you
are the queen, my Maie! However, jealous one, the Khan has never looked
upon these foreign women, nor does he care to.”
“Then why does he keep the Americans here? Will he permit them to build
their railway?”
“Indeed, no,” said the vizier. “He agrees with me that a railway would
ruin our country. But why he will neither see the Americans nor permit
them to depart from Mekran is really a mystery.”
“Ah, I must discover it!” the girl exclaimed, earnestly. “When a thing
is not understood it is dangerous. And it is well to beware of all
women, even though they be foreigners and ugly of form and feature. I
can manage any man who lives, my father, be he khan or vizier,” with a
smile into his face; “but even the far-seeing Prophet failed to
understand my sex aright.”
“I have put a spy in the household of the Americans,” said Agahr.
“David the Jew.”
“David is clever,” said Maie, thoughtfully. “But will he be faithful?
Gold is his only master.”
“I have promised, if David is faithful, to purchase from him those
wonderful African pearls–at his own price. That will make him rich,
and the pearls will be your bridal gift, my daughter.”
She clasped her hands, ecstatically.
“And the great diamond that David brought from Algiers? What of that?”
“The Khan himself has purchased it, by my advice.”

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“Then it shall be mine!” she whispered. “You have done well, my father.
How long has David been with the Americans?”
“Three days. I expect him here, presently, for the foreigners begin to
grow impatient of restraint, and I have told David to let me quiet them
with promises.”
“Question the Jew closely when he comes, concerning the Americans. I
must know more of them, and we must watch them closely.”
The vizier arose, arranged his robe, and with slow steps left the room
to cross a passage that admitted him to the apartment wherein he was
wont to receive visitors on affairs of state. The fringe of the drapery
caught as he threw it back, and hung partially open behind him; but
neither he nor Maie, who still reclined upon her divan, noted this.
Scarcely was Agahr seated in his great velvet-lined chair of state when
a slave entered to announce the arrival of David and the young American,
who desired an audience.
The vizier hesitated, in deep thought, mindful of Maie’s injunctions.
Finally he said to the slave:
“Admit David the Jew to my presence; but tell him the American must wait
in the outer chamber until he is summoned.”
So presently little David entered the room, drawing the draperies
closely behind him and then turning to bow cringingly before the vizier.
Allison waited impatiently. Why should Agahr wish to speak with David in
secret? It looked decidedly suspicious, thought the young man, and after
a few moments he arose and glanced down the passage. He seemed to be
entirely alone, and the heavy rugs would deaden any sound of footsteps.
Stealthily he made his way down the passage toward the crimson draperies
that had fallen behind David’s pudgy form. On his way he passed an
entrance on the opposite side, to which the curtain hung half open,
displaying the dim interior of the room. And then he paused as if
fascinated, his eyes fixed upon the most exquisite picture he had ever
Maie lay carelessly stretched upon the divan, her robe thrown back, her
arms crossed behind her head and the outlines of her rounded limbs
showing daintily through the folds of soft mulle that enveloped them.
Her eyes, languid and dark, gazed full into those of the intruder, and
as she noted his enraptured face she smiled in a way that instantly
robbed Allison of all caution or even a realization of his delicate
position in this household. In two strides he was by her side, kneeling
at the divan and clasping the unresisting hands of the girl in both his
“Oh, my darling!” he whispered, looking deep into the lustrous eyes,
“how very, very beautiful you are!”
Such sincere tribute was beyond Maie’s power to resist. The little head
might be full of ambitions, schemes and intrigues, yet there was room
for a vivid appreciation of man’s adoration, and this abrupt method of
wooing was sure to appeal to her Eastern imagination. She sighed,
forgetful of all save the handsome face bent over her, and only the
sound of her father’s stern voice coming from the opposite chamber had
power to recall her to the present.
“You must go, my American,” she said, in clear English, “or you will be
“Ah, you speak my language?” said Allison, in delight; “then you will
understand me, sweet one, when I tell you how lovely you are–how
passionately I adore you!”
He clasped his arms around her and drew her so close that her bosom
rested against his own. The red lips were nearer now–so near that he
kissed them again and again, in a very abandon of ecstatic joy.
“They will find you,” said Maie, softly. “And they will kill you.”
“What does it matter?” he rejoined, recklessly. “One moment such as this
is worth a hundred deaths!”
With a sudden movement she freed herself from his embrace and sat up,
facing him.
“Take this key,” she whispered, drawing it from her bosom, where it was
secured by a silken thread. “It unlocks the Gate of the Griffins, at the
end of our garden. Meet me there tonight–an hour before midnight–and
take care you are seen by no prying eye. And now, go–and go quickly!”
She broke the thread and handed him a tiny silver key, which he thrust
into his pocket.
“One kiss, sweetheart,” he begged; “just one more to comfort me until–”
“Go, or all is lost,” she answered, almost fiercely, and seizing his arm
she dragged him to another doorway and thrust him from the room with a
force her slender form did not seem to warrant.
It was time. Allison heard footsteps and voices, and staggering through
an ante-room he barely had time to reach the outer chamber and throw
himself into a chair when David and a slave entered.
“Hiss goot Excellency, de vizier, vill see you,” said David, looking
with open surprise into Allison’s flushed and excited face.
“I must have fallen asleep, David,” said the American, reaching out his
arms as if to stretch them, “for I dreamed I was in Paradise, and you
were imploring the Prophet to pardon my sins.”
David grinned, and turned to lead him to the vizier. But the Jew’s keen
eyes had made a hasty survey of the room, and noted a curtain swaying
gently where no breeze could ever have reached it.