“Now, girls, I want you to tell me what we’re going to do,” said Aunt
Lucy, looking over her spectacles at Janet and Bessie, while her needle
continued to ply in a jerky fashion. “Your father, Janet Moore, says he
is waiting here in Mekran to get an audience with the high jumboree of
this forsaken country about that nonsensical railroad; and _your_
father, Bessie Warner, says we are staying here because we can’t get
away. Now, I want to know what it all means.”
They were sitting in the cool and spacious upper chamber of a square
white house which had been mysteriously placed at the disposal of the
Americans the evening of their arrival in Mekran. It was comfortably
furnished, with no less than a dozen native servants to wait upon them,
their meals being bountiful and prepared with exact regularity. But no
one about them had any knowledge of the English language, nor did any
person in authority appear whom they might question by signs or
otherwise. It almost seemed as if they had been established in this
place by some fairy godmother who had then gone away and forgotten all
about them. Their personal baggage had arrived with them, but there were
no stables connected with the mansion and their entire caravan had
“I think,” said Janet, answering their chaperon, “that we are all as
much puzzled as you are, Aunt Lucy.”
“Puzzled!” exclaimed the old lady, indignantly; “why should we be
puzzled? Aren’t we free American citizens, and haven’t we enough money
to pay our way back to New York if we want to go?”
“It isn’t that, dear,” said Bessie, soothingly. “We have both the
financial means and the inclination to leave Mekran. But Kasam seems to
have wholly deserted us, and we don’t know what has become of our horses
and dromedaries and tents and other things. Even the Afghans who were
employed to guard us have disappeared.”
“I always had my suspicions of that Kasam,” declared the old lady with a
toss of her head; “and he turned out exactly as I thought he would. He’s
stolen the whole caravan, under our very noses, and he’d have stolen
you, too, Janet Moore, if I hadn’t kept an eye on him. Stolen you and
put you into some harem or other, and dressed you in pink silk bloomers
and a yellow crepe veil, like those creatures we saw passing the house
the other day in stretchers.”
Janet smiled, and Bessie burst into merry laughter.
“Oh, Auntie! those were not stretchers,” she protested. “They were
palanquins. And didn’t the girls look lovely, nestled among their
“Don’t mention the hussies, Bessie. It’s an outrage to parade such
frightful depravity in the public streets.”
“You know, dear,” said Janet, softly, “that it is the custom in these
Eastern countries to veil all females from the eyes of men, which are
thought to defile the purity of young girls and married women alike. It
seems to me a pretty thought, however misapplied, according reverence
and sacredness to our sex that is in strong contrast to the bold freedom
of more civilized communities.”
“But the harems are dens of iniquity,” declared Aunt Lucy, sternly.
“The harems are simply the quarters set aside for the women of the
native households,” replied Janet, “and they contain the mothers and
daughters of families as well as the wives. Of course only the wealthier
natives can afford harems, which are naturally more or less luxurious.
But even the lower classes require their women to be veiled when in
“Swathed, you mean,” snapped the elder lady. “Bandaged up to the eyes
like mummies. You needn’t talk to me about harems, Janet Moore; I know
very well they’re not respectable, and so do you. Did you ever hear of a
harem in America? We wouldn’t allow such things a minute! And do you
mean to say these miserable Baluchi are not all Mormons?”
“They’re Mahomedans, Auntie–or Sunnites, which is very much the same
thing,” remarked Bessie, “but if you mean that they have a plurality of
wives, it’s a thing that can’t be proved, for Kasam says that even the
law is powerless to invade the sanctity of the harem.”
“Sanctity!” with a scornful snort. “And don’t quote that young man–that
caravan stealer–to me. What has all this to do with our imprisonment,
I’d like to know? And what’s going to be the end of it all? I’ve had
enough of this place.”
“We’ve all had enough of it,” said a gloomy voice, and Allison entered
and threw himself into a chair.
“Is there anything new, Allison?” asked Janet, looking at her brother
“Not that I know of,” he replied. “I’ve been roaming through the streets
trying to find some one that can speak English; but they’re all dummies
in Mekran, so far as we’re concerned. One fellow I met had a fine black
horse–the most glorious Arabian I have seen–and he led it with a rag
twisted around its neck. I offered him a whole pocketful of
twenty-dollar gold pieces, but, by Jove! he just glanced at the money
and shook his head. The American eagle doesn’t seem to be of much
account in this neck-of-the-woods.”
“Where is papa?” asked Janet.
“Engaged in writing an official communication to the Khan, I suppose, on
the engraved letter-head of the Commission. I believe he has left seven
of these already at the royal palace.”
“Don’t they pay any attention to them?” asked Bessie.
“Why should they? No one in this enlightened town can speak or read
English, now that Kasam has gone.”
“Where do you suppose Kasam has gone to?”
“Can’t say, I’m sure. Run away with our animals, I guess. I always had a
suspicion your lovely prince was no better than a horse-thief.”
“Nonsense!” said Bessie, indignantly. “I’m sure Kasam is not responsible
for our present difficulties. It’s that horrid Ahmed Khan, who got the
start of Kasam while he was escorting us, and robbed him of his
Allison’s laugh sounded rather disagreeable.
“I can’t understand,” said he, “how any decent American girl can go into
raptures over a brown-skinned Oriental, with treacherous eyes and a
beastly temper. Kasam’s no better than the rest of his tribe, and as for
being khan, I don’t believe he ever had a ghost of a show. The last we
saw of him he was being escorted by the khan’s guard to the palace–like
a common criminal. Probably he’s been in prison for the last three
“If that’s the case how could he steal our caravan?” demanded Bessie,
“Don’t ask so many questions, Bess. We’re an ignorant lot of duffers,
I’ll admit, but the fact remains that Kasam is either a jail-bird or a
horse-thief. You can take your choice.”
“Do you know whose house this is, and who is entertaining us in this
sumptuous way?” asked Janet, curiously.
“Haven’t the faintest idea. This is certainly the land of mystery. We
don’t owe it to Kasam, you may be sure, for he had no idea when we
entered the town where he was going to lodge us. And it can’t be the
mighty Khan, for he won’t see us or have anything to do with the
Commission or its members. Possibly it’s that uncle whom Kasam used to
talk about, the vizier, or something of that sort. If we could only find
anyone to talk with we might discover the clue to the puzzle.”
“In the meantime we’re no better than prisoners,” said Aunt Lucy,
snappishly. “There’s nothing to see if we go out and nothing to do if we
stay in, and we’re cut off from all the news of the world. We don’t even
know who’s been elected President of the United States, and we can’t ask
a single question because nobody understands us. If you men had any
gumption at all you’d hustle around and find out why we are treated in
this impertinent manner. One thing’s certain; unless something is done
mighty soon I, for one, mean to quit the Commission and go back
home–even if I have to walk and pay my own expenses!”
As the good lady paused in her speech a distant noise of drums and bells
was heard, accompanied by the low rumble of a multitude of voices. The
sounds gradually grew nearer, and Allison stepped out upon a balcony to
see what caused it. Janet and Bessie followed him, but Aunt Lucy had
aroused herself to such a pitch of indignation that she remained seated
in her chair, busily endeavoring to mend the rents in her travelling
skirt, caused during the stress of the long journey to Mekran, and
refused to even look at “the heathens.”
A procession turned the corner of the street and approached at a slow
pace, while the inhabitants of the neighboring houses flocked out upon
the balconies and roofs to watch it pass. First came a dozen Baluch
warriors, the royal colors proclaiming them members of the tribe of Ugg.
They were superbly mounted and seemed to be picked men. Following them
were three dromedaries, gaily caparisoned. Two were ridden by native
officers, but on the third was seated a man dressed simply in a black
flowing robe confined at the waist with a silver girdle. He wore upon
his head a round black cap, being shielded from the sun by a square of
green silk, supported by four slender rods attached to his dromedary’s
“It is the Persian! It is the great physician!” murmured the people, as
this rare personage gazed about him and with dignified bows returned the
All in Mekran had heard the wondrous story of this mystic who had caused
Burah Khan to live six days longer than the fates had decreed, and all
united in honoring him.
Surging on either side of the dromedaries came a rabble beating upon
gongs and jingling bells while they shouted extravagant compliments to
Merad the Persian.
The remainder of the procession consisted of fifty tribesmen, fully
armed and wearing the colors of the khan. Several heavily laden camels
at the end implied that the caravan was setting upon a long journey.
As the Persian came opposite the house of the Americans the physician
turned his dark eyes for a moment upon the balcony, and they met those
“Good God!” cried the young man, starting back as if in terror. At the
same time Janet gave a low moan and sank fainting into Bessie’s arms.
“What is it? What has happened?” asked the girl, in frightened tones.
“Aunt Lucy, come and help me! Janet has fainted.”
While they carried her into the room and fussed over her, as women will
on such occasions, Allison turned and rushed down into the street. He
was not long in overtaking the dromedaries, and, running beside them, he
“Wait, doctor! Let me speak to you a moment!”
The Persian was bowing in the direction of a balcony on the opposite
side of the street, and seemed not to hear the young American. But
Allison was desperate.
“Wait–wait!” he cried again, and turned to seize the camel’s bridle.
Then the physician slowly turned his head and gazed curiously down upon
“I must speak with you,” said Allison, tugging at the bridle.
The Persian seemed puzzled but smiled indulgently and glanced toward his
attendants. Instantly a big Baluch rode forward and grasped Allison by
his collar, thrusting him back into the crowd.
The procession moved on, the honored Persian again bowing to right and
left and wholly indifferent to the cries the American sent after him.
When the last pack animal had passed, Allison’s guard released him; but
the engineer followed with dogged steps until the caravan had reached
the iron gateway and passed through without halting, the noisy rabble
shouting enthusiastic farewells as it disappeared. Then silent and
thoughtful, Allison returned to the house.
“Without doubt I have been mistaken,” he mused; “and yet it seems
strange that the world should contain two men whose features are
identically the same–and both of them physicians, too. In New York
Osborne passed for an East Indian, and this man is a Persian. If they
were the same surely he would have recognized me, if only to curse me as
he did at home in the old days.”
He found Janet not only recovered but laughing gaily at what she called
her “foolish weakness.” Somehow it jarred upon Allison to hear his
melancholy sister laughing, to note the sparkle in her eyes and the
flush that for the first time in years mantled her fair cheeks. He had
no difficulty in accounting for all this, yet when she cast an eager,
enquiring look at her brother he took a certain satisfaction in
answering it with a scowl and a shake of his head.
“I followed him,” said he, “and managed to speak to him. We were both
mistaken, Janet. It is a stranger–some notable the people seem to know
well, and call by the name of Merad.”
“Yes. He has started upon a journey across the plains–returning to his
home, I think.”
To his surprise Janet smiled and began twisting up her disordered hair.
“Very well, dear,” she answered, carelessly, and as if dismissing the
subject from her mind as unimportant she turned to renew her
conversation with Bessie.
Suddenly a scuffle was heard in the passage.
“I’ve got him! I’ve got him!” called the voice of Dr. Warner; and then
the draperies were pulled aside and the Colonel and the doctor rushed
into the room dragging between them a nondescript form from which came
yells of protest in a high minor key.
“We’ve got him!” shouted the Colonel, triumphantly, as the prisoner was
dumped in the center of the room.
“Land of mercy! What _have_ you got?” demanded Aunt Lucy, glaring upon
the strange object with amazement.
The doctor drew out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead vigorously.
“He speaks English!” he answered, impressively, waving the handkerchief
in the direction of the limp captive.
Janet laughed, almost hysterically; but the others stared with marked
interest at the man who could speak English.
He was exceedingly short in stature, and likewise exceedingly squat and
round of form. His head was entirely bald except for a bushy lock upon
the very top, but a long beard, tangled, unkempt and grizzled, reached
nearly to his middle. His cheeks were fat, his eyes small and beady, and
his nose so curved that its point was perpetually lost in the flowing
beard. For costume the man wore a gown of red and white quilted silk
that Aunt Lucy afterward declared reminded her of a bath robe, except
that no word signifying “bath” could ever be properly applied to either
the robe or the wearer. There were sandals upon his grimy feet and a
leathern pouch hung at his girdle.
“Wherever in the world did you get him?” asked Bessie, drawing a long
“Energy and enterprise will accomplish anything,” replied the doctor,
proudly. “The Colonel and I went to the booths this morning to search
for tobacco. All the shops in this infernal town are mere booths, you
know, and all are located against the inner side of the city wall. Until
today we had never visited any of these places except the nearest ones,
for they all look alike. But good tobacco is a scarce article in Mekran,
and we kept circling around the wall until we came to one dirty little
hole where this man sat. To our surprise and joy he answered us in
English. We fell on his neck–I believe the Colonel kissed him–and then
we seized him and brought him here.”
“I do not remember kissing him,” retorted the Colonel, with twinkling
eyes. “It must have been the doctor.”
“Oh, Luther!” said Aunt Lucy, horrified. “How could you ever do it?”
“He speaks English,” replied the doctor. “We’ve adopted him.”
A whine came from the prostrate victim.
“What’s his name?” asked Allison.
“Hi, there. What’s your name?” questioned the doctor, stirring the
bundle with his foot.
“Davit, goot Excellency,” came the meek reply.
“Stand up, David, so we can get a good look at you,” said the Colonel.
So David rolled over and with some difficulty scrambled to his feet.
Miss Warner began to giggle, and Janet laughed outright. Even Aunt Lucy
allowed a grim smile to rest upon her wrinkled features.
“Who are you, David?” enquired the doctor.
“I iss merchant, most Excellency. Chew merchant.”
“Where did you learn English?”
“From mine fadder, who vas a Cherman merchant unt lived in Kelat.”
“Who taught him English?”
David looked reproachful.
“He knew it, most High Excellency. Mine fadder could shbeak anyt’ing
“Except the truth, I suppose. Tell me, David; are you rich?”
The Jew cast a frightened look around him.
“All I haf in de vorlt,” he moaned, “iss in my pouch. If you rob de
pouch I am nodding any more whateffer!”
The Colonel with a sudden motion grasped the pouch and jerked it free
from the girdle. Then, while David wept real tears of anguish, his
tormentor emptied the contents of the pouch upon the table. These
consisted of a miscellaneous collection of native coins of very little
“Really, you are very poor, David,” the Colonel remarked.
“I am vorse, goot Excellency,” he replied, encouraged by the tone. “Who
iss so misserable ass Davit? Who iss so poor, so frientless, so
efferyt’ing? I shall go dead!”
“Don’t do that, David. If a man is poor, he should strive to get rich.
Watch me,” and the Colonel took a handful of gold from his pocket and
threw it into the pouch, afterward adding the former insignificant
contents. The injunction to watch this proceeding was wholly
unnecessary. David’s eyes sparkled like diamonds and he trembled with
eagerness while the Colonel carefully tied the mouth of the pouch.
Then, tossing the bag from hand to hand so that it jingled merrily, he
“This is real wealth, David–good yellow gold. And it shall all be
yours, with an equal sum added to it, if you consent to serve us
David fell upon his knees and waved his short arms frantically toward
“I vill do anyt’ing, great Excellency! I vill be serfant–I vill be
slafe! Yes, I vill be brudder to you all!”
“Very good,” returned the Colonel. He walked to a massive cabinet,
elaborately carved, that was built into the wall of the room. Unlocking
a drawer he tossed the pouch within and then carefully relocked it and
placed the key in his own pocket.
There was a look of despair on David’s face. He still knelt upon the
floor, his arms rigidly outstretched toward the cabinet.
“Now, David,” continued the Colonel, calmly, while the others looked on,
much amused, “you must not forget that you are going to be very rich,
and that all this money–doubled, and perhaps tripled–will be yours as
soon as you have earned it. And you are going to earn it by speaking
English, and translating our speech to natives, and by doing exactly
what we tell you to do, at all times and under all circumstances. But if
you deceive me–if you prove unfaithful in any way–you will never see
your pouch again.”
“I vill shpik Engliss all day! I vill do anyt’ing!” protested David.
“Once,” said the doctor, “a man proved faithless to us. And what do you
suppose happened to him, David? Well, you couldn’t guess. I skinned him
very carefully and stuffed him with sawdust, and now he sits on a shelf
in my home with a lovely smile on his face and two glass eyes that all
observers consider very beautiful.”
“I am true man, most Excellency! I half neffer deceive. I neffer _can_
“We shall trust you,” said the doctor, gravely. “I feel quite certain
you will never deserve to be stuffed with sawdust.”
“How absurd!” ejaculated Aunt Lucy. “Do give him a bath and some decent
clothes, and stop bothering him. If we’ve got to have the fellow around
let’s make him respectable.”
“That is a task that can only be performed outwardly,” returned the
doctor, imperturbably. “But even that is worthy of consideration. Come,
Allison, let us see what can be done toward the renovation of David.”
As the shuffling form of “the man who could speak English” disappeared
through the archway, Aunt Lucy, who had been shrewdly studying his face,
“He’s playing possum. You mark my words, that Jew’s no fool. If he was,
he wouldn’t be a Jew.”