PRINCE KASAM OF BALUCHISTAN

“What country did you say, Prince?”

“Baluchistan, my lord.”

The great financier lay back in his chair and a slight smile flickered
over his stern features. Then he removed his eye-glasses and twirled
them thoughtfully around his finger as he addressed the young man
opposite.

“I remember,” said he, “that when I attended school as a boy one of my
chiefest trials in geography was to learn how to bound Baluchistan.”

“Ah, do not say that, sir,” exclaimed Prince Kasam, eagerly. “It is a
customary thing, whenever my country is mentioned, for an Englishman to
refer to his geography. I have borne the slight with rare patience, Lord
Marvale, since first I came, a boy, to London; but permit me to say
that I expected _you_ to be better informed.”

“But, why?” asked the nobleman, raising his brows at the retort.

“Because Baluchistan is a great country, sir. You might drop all of
England upon one of its plains–and have some trouble to find it again.”

Lord Marvale’s eyes twinkled.

“And how about London?” he asked. “You have many such cities, I
suppose?”

“There is but one London, my lord,” answered the young man composedly;
“and, to be frank with you, there are few clusters of houses in my
country that are worthy the name of cities. We Baluchi are a wild race,
as yet untamed by the influence of your western civilization, and those
who wander in desert and plain far exceed in numbers the dwellers in
towns.”

“I am not so ignorant as you may suppose,” declared Lord Marvale; “for
it is a part of my business training to acquire information concerning
all countries of the world, however remote and barbaric they may be. For
instance, I know that your country is ruled by the Khan of Kelat, and
that the English have established a protectorate over it.”

“Kelat!” cried the other, a touch of scorn in his tone; “that, sir, is
not Baluchistan at all. It is the country of the Brahoes, a weak and
cowardly race that is distinct from the Baluchi, my own people. Small
wonder they need the English to protect them! But Kelat, although placed
in Baluchistan by your map-makers, is another country altogether, and
the unconquered Baluchi owe no allegiance to any nation in the world.”

For a time the financier sat silently in his chair. Then he asked:

“You have lived here since childhood, Prince?”

“Since eight years of age, my lord.”

“Why were you educated in London, if your people dislike Europeans?”

“For political reasons, sir. I am the sole legitimate descendant of
seven generations of Khans of Mekran–rulers of all Baluchistan. But in
my grandsire’s time our throne was usurped by Keedar Khan, a fierce
tribesman who carried all before his mighty sword. His son, Burah Khan,
now an old man and in bad health, at present rules at Mekran. Therefore
I was sent by my kinsmen, who are yet powerful and loyal to our family,
to London, that I might escape assassination at the hands of the
usurpers.”

“I see; you hope to succeed Burah Khan.”

“That is my ambition. All that stands in my way is a son of the khan,
who, however, has been confined in a Sunnite monastery since youth and
is reported to be more fitted to become a priest than a ruler of men.”

“Well?”

“My lord, I desire your coöperation and assistance. Twice have I
secretly revisited Baluchistan, where my uncle is vizier to the present
khan. The adherents to my cause are many. We have no money, but possess
vast store of rare jewels, and much gold and silver plate hoarded for
centuries–since the day when Alexander’s army, marching through our
land, was forced to abandon and cast aside much of its burden of
plunder. If we can convert this treasure into money it is our intention
to hire an army of Afghan mercenaries to assist us and with their aid to
rise at the death of Burah Khan, which cannot be long delayed, and again
seize the throne that by right belongs to me. You, my lord, are noted
for your shrewdness in financing great affairs. Here is one of magnitude
in which you may profit largely. Will you aid me?”

The man appealed to was, through long experience, a competent judge of
human nature, and while Kasam spoke he studied the young Oriental
critically.

The prince was of medium height, full faced and broad shouldered. His
beard was clipped in modern fashion, and he wore a conventional frock
coat. But his swarthy skin and glittering dark eyes proclaimed his
Eastern origin, and for head-dress he wore the turban of his tribe,
twisted gracefully but with studied care into that particular fold which
to an Oriental declared as plainly as the written page of a book the
wearer’s nationality and tribe and degree. To the Westerner a turban
means nothing more than a head-covering; to the Oriental it is eloquent
of detail. In the manner of fold, the size, the color and the material
of which it is composed, he reads clearly the wearer’s caste and
condition in life, and accords him the exact respect that is his due.

Aside from the turban, Kasam wore the tribal sash over his shoulder,
thus combining the apparel of the orient with that of the Occident in a
picturesque and most effective manner.

The expression of his face was animated and winning; he gesticulated
freely, but with grace; the words that flowed from his full red lips
were fervent, but well chosen.

Prince Kasam spoke fluent English. His handsome countenance glowed with
the eager enthusiasm of youth, with the conscious pride of high station,
of powerful friends and of a just cause.

Lord Marvale was impressed.

“Come to me in three days,” said the banker. “I will make enquiries and
take counsel with my colleagues. Then I shall be able to consider your
proposal with more intelligence.”

Three days later a long conference was held in Lord Marvale’s office,
during which Prince Kasam related with clearness yet characteristic
Eastern loquaciousness the details of a carefully planned conspiracy to
replace him upon the throne of his ancestors. The plot seemed both
simple and practical, and Lord Marvale was by no means averse to
acquiring the rare treasure of ancient plate and the rich oriental
jewels that the adherents of Prince Kasam were anxious to exchange for
English money and support.




It was not the only conference before the bargain was finally struck,
but Kasam’s proposals met with no serious opposition and it was arranged
that he should secretly return to Baluchistan, get together the
treasure, and bring it with him to London, where Lord Marvale would
convert it into money and also negotiate with the Afghans for an army of
mercenaries. The countenance and moral support of the English government
the banker could safely pledge.

It did not occur to Kasam that time might become a powerful factor in
his future plans, and that all this detail would require considerable
time to consummate. He had worn out many years of tedious waiting in
London, and really thought events were beginning to move swiftly. But
when he received a message stating that Burah Khan was failing fast and
urging him to hasten home, he realized that in order to accomplish his
purposes he must lose no single moment in delay. Therefore he hurried to
Lord Marvale with the information that he would return at once to
Baluchistan.

“Good!” exclaimed the banker. “Your decision will relieve me of a slight
embarrassment and enable me, through your courtesy, to serve an
influential friend.”

“That will please me very much,” said Kasam.

“There has arrived in London a party of American capitalists
representing a great New York syndicate, and our minister in Washington
has given their chief a letter to me, asking me to arrange for the safe
conduct of the party through Baluchistan.”

“Baluchistan! My own country? Why, my lord, few Englishmen have ever
approached its borders, and never an American–so far as I know. What
can induce them to visit Baluchistan?”

“I understand it is a matter of some railway enterprise or other. These
Americans penetrate into the most outlandish and unfrequented places,
and no one ever pays much attention to their wanderings. But the
minister’s letter asks me to supply them with a guide. What do you say,
Prince, to undertaking the task yourself? It will enable you to return
to Mekran incognito, as the conductor of a party of wealthy and
influential Americans; and, as you are not likely to be recognized, you
may accomplish your task of collecting the treasure more safely than if
you travelled alone.”

“That is true,” answered the young man, thoughtfully; and after a
moment’s reflection he added: “Very well; inform your Americans that I
will guide them to Baluchistan–even to the walls of Mekran–and no one
can do it more safely or swiftly than I.”