THE GIRL IN THE HAREM

David was in high spirits. True, these absurd Americans had virtually
made him a prisoner in their house until his services were required to
lead them to the harem of the khan; but he had been clever enough to
arrange all his plans beforehand. Now, as he sat in the dim room
awaiting the hour of action, he felt he had good reason to congratulate
himself. The service of the vizier had been especially remunerative, for
in addition to his liberal pay as a spy he had that morning received
from Maie a large sum to keep her secret, with a promise of more to
follow, and then he had secured an equal sum from Agahr for betraying
his daughter’s secret. Was that not clever? Allison, also, who now sat
opposite him silently smoking and at times stealthily glancing at his
watch, had contributed much money for the preservation of a secret that
was a secret no longer. There were three good strings to that bow,
thought David, chuckling delightedly. And now the old underground
passage into the khan’s harem, which the Jew had discovered long ago and
feared he would never have any use for, had paid him richer returns than
all else. Mentally he figured up his various accumulations, both in
money and jewels, and decided he was too rich to remain longer in
Mekran. He would return very soon to Kelat, where there was more room
for enterprise; or perhaps he would go on to Quettah, or even so far
as–

“Come!” said the Colonel’s voice, its stern tones interrupting David’s
meditations; “we are ready.”

Allison gave a sigh of relief, looked at his watch for the twentieth
time, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe. He might be a trifle late,
but Maie would wait.

“We will leave you to look after the women,” the Colonel said to his
son. “Both the doctor and I are fully armed and will be equal to any
occasion. But if David is right, and the night attack takes place on
time, I anticipate no difficulty in getting Janet away from the harem.”

“Good luck to you,” said Allison, standing up to yawn and stretch his
limbs.

“Have you a revolver?” asked the doctor, as his eyes wandered toward the
rooms where his daughter and his sister slept.

“Always carry it,” said Allison.

“Then be watchful until we return. No one knows what may happen.”

“I’ll watch out,” said the young man, carelessly. And then, as David led
the Colonel and the doctor to the street by one door, Allison slipped
out at another and ran as speedily as possible in the direction of the
vizier’s gardens.

David was short and fat, but he proved an agile walker, and the darkness
of the night was no hindrance to his way. He led his companions through
many black alleys, turning first one way and then another, until he
finally paused before a small stone house that stood vacant and
delapidated. Drawing a key from his pocket he unlocked the door and
drew the others into a damp and close-smelling room.

A moment later he struck a match and lighted a candle.

“Now ve can see vhere ve go,” he said, complacently.

The Americans looked around them with some curiosity. Although doubtless
of considerable age the house seemed never to have been finished inside,
or even occupied as a place of abode. Bits of the building blocks were
yet scattered over the earthen floor.

“Vonce, in de time of Keedar Khan,” said David, “a young kaid built dis
house ant made a tunnel unner de grount to de khan’s harem, vhere hiss
sveetheardt vas liffing. When she vas nod combing de vhiskers of de Khan
she vas hugging de young kaid; ant vhen she vas nod hugging him she vas
combing de Khan’s vhiskers. Id vas very nice arrangements. Bud von night
de Khan called on de female vhen he vas nod expected, ant he cut de
young kaid ant de girl both into slices before he enquired how de feller
got into de harem. Id vas all very careless of de Khan; but he had a
bad temper. So de tunnel vas neffer used again until I find it oudt a
couple year ago. I buy de place cheap because de mans vot owned it
neffer looked to find a tunnel. Ant now id iss very handy for us, ant
very cheap for a t’ousant fillibees. Come–I show you.”

Chuckling softly, the Jew led the way through a narrow passage and down
a few steps into a sort of underground cellar at the rear. Here, in one
corner, a flagstone stood on edge, disclosing another flight of steps.
Down these David proceeded without hesitation, the Americans following
closely at his heels. Then came a damp, ill-smelling tunnel, so low that
only David could traverse it without bending down. The candle lighted
the way only a few steps in advance, and numerous rats scurried from
their path as they slowly advanced.

It seemed like a never-ending journey; but, just as the Colonel was
about to protest, the passage suddenly widened and grew higher, and the
light of the candle fell upon a cedar panel let into the wall before
them.

“Have you the key, David?” whispered the doctor.

“Id iss no key; id iss a spring,” replied the Jew. “Vod time iss id
now?”

The Colonel looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight.

“Shall we risk entering, doctor?” he asked; “or shall we wait for the
alarm?”

“I doubt if we could hear an alarm where we are,” was the answer. “Let
us go in.”

David’s self-possession seemed suddenly to desert him.

“I iss no Moslem,” said he, beginning to tremble; “but I respect de
harem. Id iss to die if one iss caught. Davit vill stay here ant vait
for you.” NORFLOXACIN

The doctor locked his fingers fast in the Jew’s collar.

“You’ll come with us,” he declared. “Open the door, David!”

Perhaps David did not intend to obey so readily. He had scarcely touched
his quivering forefinger to the dull metal of the spring when a sharp
click was heard and the door moved and swung outward.

A gleam of light saluted them, half dazzling their eyes, and the group
remained motionless, staring wonderingly at the scene the open panel
disclosed. Perhaps the Colonel had expected to see in the khan’s harem a
mass of silken draperies, luxurious couches and priceless rugs, while
scowling black eunuchs guarded with their naked swords a group of
henna-dyed, be-painted and bespangled girls. Instead, he looked upon a
scene that somehow reminded him of home. The furnishings were of an
oriental character, it is true, but they were simple and in good taste,
and an undefinable air of refinement pervaded the room.

Beside a table on which stood a bronze lamp sat a middle-aged lady with
a beautiful face and sweet gray eyes. She was robed in a conventional
European gown and seemed to be engaged, when so suddenly interrupted, in
reading a well worn copy of the New York Herald. At her feet, upon a low
stool, sat Janet, listlessly sewing upon some trifle that rested in her
lap. On the other side of the table, his dark eyes fixed upon his work,
sat the man we as yet know only as Merad, the Persian physician, busily
engaged in writing.

At the abrupt opening of the panel, the existence of which was evidently
unknown to them, the startled group turned wondering eyes upon the
intruders, who seemed fully as astonished as themselves.

“God bless me!” cried the Colonel, partly recovering himself and
stepping within the room. “Can it be you, Mrs. Osborne, in this
impossible place?–And you, too, doctor!”

“Why, father! How did you ever get here?” exclaimed Janet, springing up
to give him a warm embrace and a kiss.

And then the Colonel remembered, and a frown came over his face,
succeeded by a puzzled expression.

“Isn’t this the khan’s harem?” he asked.

“I believe so,” returned Janet, laughing. And then Mrs. Osborne, with
old-fashioned courtesy, came forward and offered the Colonel her hand,
smiling pleasantly into his staring eyes. The man, also, rose from his
seat to shake hands with both the Colonel and the doctor, the latter
gentleman seeming to be more amused than surprised at the encounter.

“You have taken us somewhat by surprise, but you are welcome,” said
Merad, in his deep, dignified tones, but speaking perfectly the English
language. “I can appreciate your amazement at finding us in this place,
for while we knew of your presence in Mekran, you were doubtless unaware
that Mrs. Osborne and I are guests at the khan’s palace.”

“I–I can’t understand it!” gasped the Colonel.

“Janet, my dear,” said Mrs. Osborne, “will you try to find chairs for
our friends?”




“Dear me!” exclaimed the doctor, looking around him rather nervously,
“we came here to rescue Janet from the toils of an Eastern harem, and
this is the most civilized looking place I’ve found in all Baluchistan.
What does it all mean?”

“Permit me,” said Janet, saucily, “to introduce you to the mysterious
veiled lady who was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the
world,” and she waved a hand toward Mrs. Osborne. “I will acknowledge
that she is the most beautiful, but, daddy dear, I am myself the queen
of the harem, and His Highness the Khan’s favorite wife–being at
present the only one!”

The Colonel’s face expressed horror and grief.

“I–I don’t understand,” he muttered, vacantly.

“The explanation is very simple,” replied Dr. Osborne. “My son Howard,
who was at one time your private secretary, is at present Khan of
Mekran.”

A sudden stillness succeeded this announcement, and then a look of
comprehension stole over the Colonel’s face. He rose from his chair and
drew himself up with cold dignity.

“Then, sir, I demand to know what my daughter is doing in the house of
the scoundrel who swindled me seven years ago? As for her statement that
she is his wife, that is, of course, a lie!”

The Persian confronted him with folded arms, looking down upon the
Colonel from his superior height with the same intent and compelling
force in the dark eyes that had awed the native assemblage at the
death-bed of Burah Khan.

“Howard Osborne is not a scoundrel,” he said.

“He is worse than that!” roared the choleric colonel, now beside himself
with anger; “he is a thief, a forger and a coward. He signed my name for
twenty thousand dollars, and ran away with the money. I have never seen
his face from that day to this.”

“It is true that my son left New York with this stigma attached to his
name,” said the other, calmly. “But he did it to save you, Piedmont
Moore, from a still greater humiliation, although I vainly pleaded with
him to consider his own family before yours.”

“What do you mean?” demanded the Colonel, plainly staggered at this
statement.

Merad, hesitating for the first time, glanced at his wife, who shook
her head pleadingly for him to hold his peace. But Janet sprang forward
and stood erect beside him.

“Tell him!” she cried, defiantly. “The infamous secret has been kept too
long.”

Then Merad spoke in a low, clear voice.

“Your own son was the forger,” he said.

“It’s a lie!” shouted the Colonel, shrinking back, nevertheless, from
the Persian’s calm gaze.

“It is true. The money saved Allison from shame and exposure; so Howard
dared not force him to return it. But the bank, being the direct victim
of the forgery, placed the matter in the hands of the detective police.
The toils were closing slowly but surely around your son when Howard,
seeing no other way to save you, and tenderly loving the sister of the
real criminal, whose heart he feared would be broken at the disclosure
of her brother’s infamy, decided to save you all by acknowledging
himself the forger. It was a rash idea, hastily conceived and executed
in a panic of fear, for the detectives were close upon the trail. He
left me a note, telling me the whole truth and begging me not to betray
Allison, for he had fled the country and would never return. Well
knowing that he did not realize the consequences of his generous act,
his mother and I set out to follow him, and for seven long years we have
striven in vain to regain our lost son. I will not bore you, Colonel
Moore, with a recital of our anxieties and sufferings–borne on your
account; but I think it ill becomes you to revile the name of Howard
Osborne. Rather should you fall at his feet in gratitude for one of the
most noble and unselfish acts any man has ever performed.”

The impressive and convincing tones carried with them the warrant of
truth. The Colonel fell back upon his chair, covering his face with his
hands, and Janet knelt beside him, her arms around his neck and her
cheek to his, striving silently to comfort him. And while they remained
thus, with little David gaping in the frame of the panel and still
holding the flickering candle above his head, the door of the apartment
suddenly opened and Ahmed Khan strode in.

One look into the grave faces of the group before him warned the ruler
of Mekran that a crisis had arisen. Janet arose and stole swiftly to his
side, and he placed an arm around her with a reassuring smile. The
Colonel looked up, and meeting the calm grey eyes of Howard Osborne he
seemed shaken with a fury of doubt and rage.

“It is all false!” he cried, springing to his feet. “I am being tricked
and deceived–even by my own daughter. This fellow is no Khan of Mekran,
but a fugitive from American justice, masquerading as a native of
Baluchistan. The forger of seven years ago is the impostor of today!
Come to me, Janet. That man is not worthy to touch you.”

“Worthy or unworthy,” said the girl, clinging yet closer to the Khan,
“my place is by his side. We were married seven years ago, before he
left America. I am his wife, father!”