THE DAUGHTER OF THE VIZIER

Upon a stone gallery overlooking the courtyard of a handsome dwelling
not far from the palace of the khan reclined a girl, beautiful with that
mysterious Eastern beauty that has been for ages the despair of poets
and artists and which attains its full charm only in the Orient. She was
scarcely seventeen years of age, yet her rounded outlines, her graceful
poise, her sedate demeanor, all proclaimed her a maiden on the verge of
womanhood. Her eyes, round and soft as those of a fawn, were absolutely
inscrutable; her features in repose held the immutable expression of the
Sphynx. When she smiled sunbeams danced in her eyes and a girlish dimple
showed in her chin. But she rarely smiled. The composed, serious,
languorous expression dominated her exquisite face.

The girl was richly dressed. Her silken gown was of finest texture;
pearls of rare size were twined in her dark hair; a golden serpent whose
every scale was a lustrous diamond spanned her waist; upon her breast
glittered a solitary blood-red ruby of historic fame, known in song and
story for generations.

For this maiden was Maie, only daughter of Agahr, Grand Vizier to the
Lion of Mekran and to his father before him–the terrible Keedar Khan.

Next to Burah himself in rank, virtually directing all the civic affairs
of the nation, responsible to none save his stern master, Agahr was
indeed a personage of vast importance in the realm. The sirdars of the
nine fighting tribes of Baluchi, the main support of the Khan, might
look upon the vizier scornfully; but they obeyed his laws and avoided
any interference with his civic functions.

Maie was the daughter of Agahr’s old age, his only companion and his
constant delight. To her he confided many of the problems that from time
to time confronted him, and often a quiet word from the girl’s lips
showed him the matter in a new light and guided him in his actions. The
old man had discovered a store of common sense in the dainty head of his
daughter; the inscrutable velvet eyes were wells of wisdom from which he
drew solace and counsel in all difficulties.

On the evening of this eventful day came Agahr to the gallery where his
daughter reclined. And as he sat beside her she turned her eyes upon his
face and seemed to read it clearly.

“The Khan is worse,” said she, quietly.

“He is dying,” answered the vizier. “The Persian physician has come from
Kelat, and he says there is no hope.”

“We shall be making history soon,” remarked the girl, in soft tones.
“The Khan will pass away, and Kasam is here.”

The vizier moved uneasily on his seat.

“Kasam is here; yes,” said he. “But no one knows the secret save us. No
one knows who our Kasam is.”

“They will know soon,” returned the girl in a calm, expressionless
voice. “Our cousin Kasam is rightful heir to the throne–when the
Lion’s eyes are closed in death.”

“You forget that Burah Khan has also a son,” said the old man, harshly.
“Even now Dirrag is riding full speed to the Sunnite monastery at
Takkatu to bring hither the Prince Ahmed.”

“That he may be acknowledged successor to the throne by the assembled
sirdars of the Nine Tribes?”

“Yes.”

“But the Khan is dying. The Prince cannot arrive in time.”

“Perhaps not. Yet that accursed Persian has promised to prolong the
Khan’s life for seven days. If he succeeds–”

The girl bent forward suddenly.

“He must not succeed!” she exclaimed, in a clear voice.

Agahr shrank from the intentness of her gaze.

“Hear me!” she continued. “Kasam is our kinsman; the throne is his by
right. Most of our citizens and many of the members of the Nine Tribes
secretly favor his claim. A crisis approaches, and we must take
advantage of it. The Lion of Mekran must not live seven days. If his son
Ahmed, who has been secluded for twenty years in a monastery, and is
said to be devoted to Allah, is not here to be recognized as the
successor to the throne, the people will acclaim Kasam their khan. It is
all very simple, my father. The Lion of Mekran must not live seven
days!”

“What, plotting again, cousin?” cried a cheery voice behind them. Agahr
gave a sudden start and wheeled around with a frown, meeting the smiling
face of Prince Kasam, but the girl moved not even an eyelid.

“Pardon me, uncle, for startling you,” said the young man, coming
forward and taking a seat beside the vizier. “I arrived in time to hear
cousin Maie doom Burah Kahn to an early death, as if the dark angel
fought on our side. What a wonderful little conspirator you are, my
Maie!”

She looked into his face thoughtfully not caring to acknowledge the
compliment of his words or the ardor of his gaze. But Agahr said,
gruffly:

“The conspiracies of women cost many men their heads.”

“Very true, uncle,” replied Kasam, becoming grave. “But we are in sore
straights, and a little plotting may not come amiss. If the son of the
old Lion–who, by the way, is also my cousin–is acknowledged by the
sirdars, he is liable to make a change in his officers. We may lose our
vizier, and with the office more than half our power with the people. In
that event I can never become kahn.”

“The son of Burah must be a weakling and a dreamer,” said the girl,
thoughtfully. “What can be expected of one who for twenty years has
associated with monks and priests?”

“Twenty years?” exclaimed Kasam; “then my cousin Ahmed must be nearly
thirty years of age.”

“And a recluse,” added Maie, quietly. “You, Prince, are not yet
twenty-five, and you have lived in the world. We need not, I am sure,
fear the gentle son of Burah–even though he be acknowledged by his
father and the sirdars of the tribes.”

“Which will surely happen if the Khan lives seven days. Is it not so?
But if Allah calls him sooner, and my friends are loyal–why, then, I
may become khan myself, and much trouble spared. The English have an
injunction to ‘strike while the iron is hot.’ We may safely apply it to
ourselves.”

Maie glanced at her father, and there was a glint of triumph in the dark
eyes.

“It is what I have said,” she murmured. “The Lion of Mekran must not
live seven days.”

“Do you know, fair one,” remarked Kasam, lightly, “that only yesterday I
bewailed the approaching fate of the usurper, and longed to have him
live until we could secure England’s support?”

“England!” she cried, scornfully. “What is that far-away nation to our
Baluchistan? It is _here_ that history will be made.”

Kasam laughed merrily.

“What a logical little head you have, cousin!” he answered, laying his
hand upon her own, caressingly. “To us, indeed, Baluchistan is the
world. And England’s help is far away from us in this crisis. Tell me,
Maie, what is your counsel?”

“It is your duty, Prince, to prevent Burah Khan from living until his
son arrives to be acknowledged his successor.”

Kasam’s face became suddenly grave.

“_My_ duty, cousin?” he replied. “It is no man’s duty to murder, even to
become khan. But perhaps I misunderstood your words. I am practically a
stranger in my own land, and can do little to further my own interests,
which naturally include the interests of my friends. If Burah Khan fails
to live until his son’s arrival it will be through the will of Allah,
and by no act of mine.”

“You are a coward,” said the girl, scornfully.

“Yes,” he answered, coldly; “I am afraid to become a murderer.”

“Peace, both of you!” commanded the vizier, angrily. “You are like a
pair of children. Do you think that I, who have been Burah’s faithful
officer for thirty years, would countenance treachery or foul play while
he lies upon his death-bed? I long to see Prince Kasam seated upon the
throne, but it must be through honest diplomacy, and by no assassin’s
stroke.”

“Right, my uncle!” cried Kasam, seizing the vizier’s hand in a hearty
clasp. “Otherwise, were I khan, you should be no officer of mine.”

Agahr and his daughter exchanged a quick glance, and the girl said,
languidly:




“I was doubtless wrong, urged on by the intensity of my feeling and my
loyalty to the Tribe of Raab. But a woman’s way is, I think, more direct
and effective than a man’s.”

“Even if less honest, cousin?” retorted the young man, playfully
pinching her cheek. “Let us bide our time and trust to the will of
Allah. This evening I must set out on my return to Quanam. What answer
shall I take to my foreign friends who await me?”

“Tell me, Kasam; why do they wish to cross our territory–to visit our
villages and spy upon our people?” asked Agahr suspiciously.

“It is as I told you, my uncle. They are people of great wealth, from
the far western country of America, and it is their custom to penetrate
to every part of the world and lay rails of iron over which chariots may
swiftly speed. We have no such rails in Baluchistan.”

“Nor do we desire them,” returned the vizier, brusquely.

“But they would bring to us all the merchandise of that wonderful
western world. They would bring us wealth in exchange for our own
products,” said Kasam, eagerly.

“And they would bring hundreds of infidels to trick and rob us. I know
of these railways,” declared the vizier.

“I also,” answered Kasam, lightly. “I have been educated in Europe, and
know well the benefits of western civilization.”

“But the Baluchi do not. Our own high and advanced civilization is
enough for us.”

The young man smiled.

“It is not worth an argument now,” he remarked. “The present mission of
this party of infidels is to examine our country and consider whether a
railway across it would be profitable. All that I now require is a
passport and safe conduct for them. It will benefit our cause, as well,
for only as the guide to these foreigners dared I return to my native
land. If I am permitted to depart tonight with the passport I can easily
return in time for the crisis that approaches. Then perhaps our American
friends will be of service to us, for no one will suspect their guide of
being the exiled heir to the throne.”

The vizier hesitated.

“But the railway–”

“Bother the railway!” interrupted Kasam, impatiently. “That is a matter
of the future, a matter for the new khan and his vizier to decide upon,
whoever they may chance to be.”

“Here is the passport,” said Agahr, reluctantly drawing a parchment from
his breast. “Burah Khan was too sick to be bothered with the request of
the infidels, so I made out the paper and signed it by virtue of my
office.”

“Ah, and affixed the great seal, I perceive,” added Kasam, taking the
document. “I thank you, uncle Agahr. We shall get along famously
together–when I am khan.”

He bade them adieu the next moment, embracing the vizier and kissing his
cousin’s hand with a gallantry that brought a slight flush to the girl’s
cheeks. And soon they heard the quick beat of his horse’s hoofs as he
rode away.

Maie and her father looked into each other’s eyes. Presently the old man
spoke, slowly and thoughtfully.

“You will share his throne, my child.”

The girl nodded and fanned herself.

“The life in Europe has made Kasam foolish,” said she. Then, leaning
forward and regarding the vizier earnestly, she added in a whisper:

“Nevertheless, Burah Khan must not live seven days!”