THE VEILED WOMAN

“What does it mean?” demanded Maie, stamping her small foot in passion.
“Tell me at once, my father–what does it mean?”

The vizier sat doubled up in his chair a picture of abject humiliation
and despair. His chin lay inert against his chest; the white beard
streamed to his waist, where long and bony fingers clutched it and
dragged at the meshes nervously; his eyes refused to meet the glowing
orbs his incensed daughter turned upon him like searchlights baring the
soul.

“Will you speak?” she asked, scornfully. “Will you speak, most sublime
and magnificent Vizier–if only to proclaim yourself an ass?”

“Have peace–have peace!” muttered Agahr, moving uneasily. “How was I
to know that Merad the Persian would return?”

“Oh trusting and childlike servant–thou one innocent in all the world
of guile!”

“Ahmed tells no one of his plans,” the vizier went on, heedless of her
jibes; “nor can I be expected to probe the secret thoughts of the Khan.
When Merad departed there was no hint of his mission or that he expected
soon to return. My spy waits in Ahmed’s private chamber; my spy serves
his every meal; my spy listens to the secret conferences he holds with
sirdars and officers of the household. If the Khan sneezes, I know it;
if he stirs abroad my eyes follow his every step. But his thoughts,
being known only to himself and to Allah, baffle my efforts, and the
jargon he speaks to the foreign physician is a language none else can
understand.”

Maie clutched at her silken scarf and rent its folds in twain, twisting
and tearing the tender fabric until its threads lay scattered in all
directions.

“I hate him! I have hated him from the first,” she said. “Aye, even as I
clasped his clammy form in my arms, and knew that water rather than
blood flowed in his veins, I loathed the man and guessed he would strive
to ruin me!” NORFLOXACIN

“You did this?” asked the vizier, sternly. “You clasped the Persian in
your arms–a man so old that he might call you daughter? You played the
wanton with this stranger?”

“Even so,” she answered, mockingly. “I would have sacrificed anything,
at that time, to have cut old Burah’s thread of life. But, elai! your
cold Persian would not respond. He spurned me from him. I was very safe
in his presence, my father.”

Agahr’s brows did not unbend. He eyed his daughter with a look of
smouldering fury.

“Hear me, Maie,” he commanded; “you are the child of my heart, my best
beloved. With you I have plotted and intrigued until my very soul is
stained with evil in the Prophet’s sight; but all for your future glory
and pride, and with no thought of my own advantage. But if you disregard
your own purity, if I find that you give yourself to strange men or
humble me in the sight of Allah, I swear to kill you as quickly as I
would a dog of an infidel! Aye, my own slaves shall cut you down like a
noxious weed.”

She laughed then, showing her dimples and her pearl-like teeth; but the
laugh rang hard in Agahr’s ears.

“What man has knowledge to teach a woman?” she asked, with a careless
gesture. “Is your wisdom so little, my father, that you judge me lacking
in worldly cunning? Bah! have comfort, then! Never can you plot so well
for Maie as Maie can plot for herself. And when I fall the heavens shall
follow in my wake. Enough of this. We face a real trouble. The Persian
has returned to Mekran, bearing in a splendid palanquin a woman veiled
and closely guarded, who is received into the harem of the khan after he
had embraced her form in the sight of many servants. In this we read my
own rejection, the failure of all our clever plotting. The harem, then,
was not made beautiful for me, but for this strange woman whom the
Persian brings to warm the cold heart of Ahmed Khan. Is she beautiful?
Is she young and winning? Has she charms to delight the senses? Then why
should she be chosen before me–the daughter you yourself have declared
to be incomparable? Answer, you man of spies–spies so impotent that
they cannot penetrate the secrets of the harem!”




“It is all a deep mystery, my Maie,” sighed the vizier, solemnly
stroking his beard. “But let us not be disheartened. There is room in
the khan’s harem for more than one woman.”

“Unless Maie is first, there is no room for her in any man’s harem,” she
retorted, proudly. “Have done, my father, with thoughts of Ahmed Khan.
Our Kasam is assembling an army. Perhaps it is not too late to bargain
with him for our support.”

“Not long ago,” said the vizier, slowly, “we rejected Kasam.”

“The more reason that he will be eager to make a compact with us. We can
open to him the gates of Mekran.”

“A day or two ago,” continued the vizier, “the Prince came out from his
camp and met the American women who ride with Dirrag each morning. He
conversed long and tenderly with the dark haired one. My spy saw all
from a thicket on the hillside.”

Maie’s dainty face became grave and thoughtful.

“It is difficult to estimate the power of these American women,” she
said, after a pause. “Only yesterday I feared they might win the favor
of Ahmed Khan; yet it seems I was wrong, for another has been received
into his harem. Kasam’s interest in them may be equally unimportant. He
saw many such creatures in England, and cared nothing for them. Besides,
he has a throne to win, and with it he may have–”

She stopped abruptly, and rising from her cushions approached a large
mirror, where she examined her reflection with much care. Then she
returned slowly to her divan.

“You are right, my father: no woman that I have ever beheld can compare
with me in beauty of form or face–in grace or in womanly loveliness.
The Americans could not amuse Kasam as I can. Let us think of them no
longer, but send messages at once to the camp of the Prince. Without
doubt he will accept our terms eagerly.”

“I will do as you wish,” returned the vizier, but with evident
reluctance. “There is little doubt we can do better with Kasam than with
the Khan, but by allying ourselves with the rebel we place our own necks
in danger. I wish the Prince had a share of Ahmed’s compelling will and
cool judgment. When the armies meet Kasam may not win the battle.”

“But the armies must not meet!” returned the girl. “With our aid Kasam
can accomplish his ends by strategy. In battle the khan would crush him
to the earth, but in cunning our Prince will prove the victor. Select
your messenger with care–one whose death will not cause you to mourn,
for we must trust no one with our secret. When he is ready to depart I
will give him instructions.”

“It shall be done,” said the vizier.

“And now it grows late, and I will retire.”

She made him a dutiful obeisance and left the room to go to her
apartment.

An hour later, while the vizier slumbered, Maie stole away to the end of
the garden and by the Gate of the Griffins came upon Allison, who
clasped her fondly in his arms.

Next day David brought to the house of Colonel Moore the gossip of the
city, telling of the return of Merad the Persian. The physician had been
to Quettah for the most beautiful woman in the world, whom he had
purchased for the price of ten thousand fillibees to grace the harem of
the young khan.

The ladies received this wonderful tale with various comments. Aunt Lucy
was very indignant that any female, however depraved, should be bought
and sold like so many goods and chattels. Bessie wondered if the girl
was really beautiful, and whether she was proud to have brought so large
a sum of money. Janet said nothing, but listened with downcast eyes and
flushed cheeks.

Somewhere or other Allison had also heard this gossip, and he took
pains to quietly impress his sister with the fact that the incident
fully proved them to have been mistaken in thinking they recognized the
Persian on the day he had left Mekran.

“The doctor we knew in New York was an impertinent meddler,” he said,
when they could not be overheard; “but he wasn’t the man to purchase
women for the harem of a barbarian, you may be sure. We probably had our
scare for nothing.”

“Scare?” she exclaimed. “What do you mean, Allison? Why should you fear
to meet–”

“Hush!” he interrupted, nervously glancing around. “They may hear you;
and it isn’t best, on your own account, to mention that name. I didn’t
mean that we need fear to meet him, but that he would be afraid to meet
us. Is it not so?”

“You are talking riddles,” she answered, coldly, and left the room to
avoid discussing the matter further.