THE SIXTH DAY

Dirrag led his master straight to the royal palace, reaching it just as
the first rays of the sun fell upon the city. As he arrived
unexpectedly, there was none to receive him except a few sleepy servants
and the sirdars of the tribes of Mem and Agot, who shared the watch over
the chamber of the khan. These, being loyal to the reigning house, were
overjoyed at the speedy and safe return of the messenger, and cast
curious glances at his tall companion.

But Dirrag knew where his duty lay and did not linger an instant. He
pressed on to the khan’s own chamber, and entered without announcement,
followed closely by Ahmed.

The Persian stood by an open window, engaged in rolling a cigarette. He
paused, motionless, as he saw Dirrag. His eye lighted with
satisfaction, and he drew a sigh of relief.

“Back already!” he said, pleasantly.

“As you see,” answered Dirrag, with pride. “It is the morning of the
sixth day, and I have saved twelve hours from my allotted time. And here
is Prince Ahmed, the son of Burah Khan, and heir to the Lion of
Mekran–safe and sound, although nearly as weary as I am myself.”

A long speech for Dirrag, but warranted by the marvelous ride he had so
successfully accomplished.

The Persian seemed not to hear it. He was staring fixedly at the tall
form of the Prince.

“You!” he gasped, as if a great surprise overwhelmed him.

Ahmed, with wide eyes reading the other through and through, and
seemingly filled with equal astonishment, answered steadily and briefly:

“I am the man.”

“I have searched for you throughout the East,” said the Physician,
recovering in a degree his composure. “And now–”

“Now you have found me,” returned Ahmed, smiling upon the other.

The two men clasped hands, and Dirrag, uneasily regarding the amazing
thing, shifted his booted feet back and forth with a child’s
nervousness.

“You the son of Burah Khan!” exclaimed one.

“You the famed physician of Persia!” said the other.

But Dirrag did not understand. They spoke a queer language unknown to
him.

Presently, however, the physician noted his distress and drew away from
the Prince, saying in the Baluch tongue:

“My lord the Prince Ahmed is welcome. It is fortunate for us all that he
has arrived safely.”

“And in time, I hope?” enquired Ahmed, eagerly. “How is my–how is Burah
Khan’s health?”

The Persian gave a little laugh, sat down, and proceeded to light his
cigarette.

“Burah Khan is dead,” said he.

“Dead!”

The physician nodded, blowing a cloud of smoke from his nostrils.
Dirrag gave a groan and sank limply into a chair. Ahmed, with a swift
glance into the Persian’s face, merely frowned and stood at attention,
as if waiting to hear more.

“It is doubtless a great misfortune,” continued the physician, speaking
in a leisurely tone, “and I have been in a desperate quandary, having no
one in all the throng surrounding the late khan in whom I dared confide.
The vizier is a traitor, and at the head of a formidable conspiracy. The
sirdars, with one exception, are faithful; but they are warriors, and
not fitted to counsel in so delicate a matter as this. So I have watched
beside the khan’s dead body for two days and two nights, and none save
myself knew he had ceased to breathe.”

“But, elai! did you not promise–” began Dirrag, in a boisterous tone.

“I did,” interrupted the other, coolly. “I promised Burah Khan should
live seven days–even while I saw the death-damp upon his brow. For I
read the vizier clearly, and suspected there was a conspiracy to
supplant the dying man’s son. It mattered nothing to me except that it
gave me pleasure to try to defeat the plot old Burah was himself unable
to foil. Moreover, I had faith in a peculiar powder that has been known
to hold life within a body for many days. It seemed the game was worth
the candle, did it not? And the old khan, to my great satisfaction, did
manage to live for four days of the six required by Dirrag to make the
journey to Takkatu and back. Then he died without awakening.”

“It is terrible,” said Dirrag, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“Not so,” returned the physician, with an odd smile. “A man has ample
time to think when he sits by a dead body. We three are the sole owners
of the secret. Well? Shall we ring down the curtain, or go on with the
play?”

“The play!” repeated Dirrag, vacantly.

“It is all a play, my friend,” said the Persian, reassuringly, “and we,
living or dead, are expected to assume our characters to the end. So, if
an honest man is sometimes called upon to enact the part of a villain,
it is not greatly to his discredit.”

Ahmed stepped close to the physician and his grey eyes gazed full into
the other’s brown ones.

“If I become khan,” said he, “it will be due to your friendly offices.”

“I acknowledge it,” the physician replied.

“If I become khan,” persisted Ahmed, in the same level tone, “no man on
earth shall dictate my acts or cripple my power.”

The Persian smiled, indulgently.

“I will acknowledge that, also,” said he.

“Then,” continued the Prince, throwing himself upon a chair, “let the
play go on!”

* * * * *

Great was the excitement in Mekran when the news flew from palace to
town that Dirrag had returned, bringing with him the son of the dying
khan. Maie heard it from the mouth of a slave, and after one reproachful
glance at her father sat silent and still as a graven image, while the
vizier, with pallid face and a great fear at his heart, hastened away to
the palace.

The men of Mem and Agot guarded the gateway and jeered openly at Agahr
as he hurried through. Within the courtyard were assembled the sirdars
and chiefs of all the fighting tribes of Baluchi, waiting in grim
silence for the drama about to be enacted. They saluted the vizier.




Agahr started to ascend the stairway leading to the gallery that gave
entrance to the khan’s chamber; but a row of hard-featured men of Ugg
forced him back. No one could be admitted until the Persian physician
gave the order. He was preparing his patient for the ceremony.

“But I am the Khan’s vizier!” protested the old man, trembling despite
his effort at command.

A rugged warrior faced him and bowed low.

“In all else, master, your word is law,” said he, courteously. “But in
the chamber of death the physician rules supreme–by the grace of Allah
and the will of His Highness the Khan.”

Agahr turned and waited with the others in silence.

It was not long. A tall Arab slave, known as a favorite attendant of the
Lion of Mekran, appeared upon the stairs and called aloud:

“Burah Khan, son of Keedar the Great, Headsman of the Nine Tribes of
Baluchi and Defender of the Faith, commands the Sirdars of the Nation
and the officers of his household to attend him!”

They obeyed at once, fully conscious of the mighty import of the
message. The sirdars came first, followed by Agahr and the civil
officers and then a long train of household retainers of lesser
rank–all proceeding with dignified steps up the marble stairway, along
the gallery, and so into the spacious chamber of the Khan.

The Arab slave, acting as major-domo, ranged them in the order of their
rank, facing the curtained alcove in which lay the body of their ruler.

Then, as silence fell upon the throng, the curtains were drawn and those
assembled gazed upon an impressive scene.

Upon a couch covered with costly furs reclined the Khan, his sunken
features dimly outlined in the soft light and the jewelled stars upon
his breast glinting darkly as his bosom rose and fell. Over him bent
the strange physician, administering from a golden cup the draught which
it was understood would restore the sick man to intelligence for a brief
period. But after a glance at this tableau all eyes were turned to the
upright form of a young man standing with folded arms at the head of the
couch. He was clad in a magnificent robe of purple satin richly
embroidered with pearls, and by his side hung the famous cimeter known
to every sirdar as the sword of Keedar Khan, and which had been
entrusted by Burah to the priests of the monastery for safe keeping
until Prince Ahmed should be called to Mekran.

There was something in the majestic presence of the heir, his haughty
bearing and the look of pride in the calm grey eyes that wandered from
one to another of the faces confronting him, that sent a thrill through
all the assemblage. To some that thrill meant elation, to some fear; but
to all it brought a subtle recognition of the fact that here was the
heritage of power, that the son of Burah and grandson of Keedar was a
man to be promptly obeyed.

The physician, passing an arm under the sick man’s head, supported him
to a sitting position, and Burah Khan, after taking his son’s right hand
in his own, began speaking to his people slowly and in low, halting
accents.

“Here–is Prince–Ahmed, my son and rightful–heir. I, Burah Khan,
standing–in the shadow of–death, do acknowledge him to be
my–successor–to the throne of Mekran. Sirdars of the–Nine–Mighty
Tribes of the–Baluchi, do ye, also, acknowledge him–to be your–Khan
and Master–when I am gone?”

So still was the throng that every word of the faltering voice was
distinctly heard. As it ceased the nine sirdars drew their swords and
cast them at Ahmed’s feet, crying aloud:

“We acknowledge Ahmed to be our Khan, when Allah claims his sire, Burah
Khan.”

Answering the shout was a sob and a sudden fall. The spectators drew
aside with significant looks as slaves carried the fainting vizier from
the chamber. Then all eyes turned again to the alcove.

Burah lay back upon his couch with closed eyes, and Ahmed knelt beside
him.

The physician bent over and placed an ear above the old man’s heart.
Then he stood erect and signed to the Arab to draw the curtain.

“Burah Khan is dead,” said he, solemnly. “May Allah and the Prophet
grant him peace!”

The curtain fell, and very humbly and reverently the assembled people
bowed their heads and crept from the chamber of death.