THE VIZIER OPENS THE GATE

When Agahr entered his daughter’s apartment that night the girl sat
propped with silken cushions while a female slave brushed and arranged
the folds of her glossy hair and another woman sat at her feet to anoint
them with pungent and sweet-smelling ointments. A shaded lamp of
Egyptian design swung from the ceiling and cast a rosy hue over the
group, and the air was redolent of the spicy perfumes of the East.

Agahr stood before his daughter for a time in silence, searching her
fair and composed face with much earnestness. The soft, languorous eyes
met his own frankly and lovingly, and she smiled until the dimples
showed daintily in her pretty cheeks.

“You are welcome, oh my father,” she tenderly exclaimed.

He seated himself in a chair and waved the women away.

“You are about to retire, my Maie?” he asked, when they were alone.

“I am preparing for the night, dear one, but I shall not retire as yet.
How could I sleep with our fortunes swinging with the pendulum of fate?
This night we win or lose all.”

He did not reply, but sat moodily studying her expression, and she moved
restlessly and turned her face slightly to the shade.

“Yet there is small risk of failure,” she continued, after a pause. “The
Khan, secure in the strength of his loyal tribes, has neglected to
prepare for immediate battle, and Kasam’s host, once inside the gate,
will carry all before it.”

“And then?” he asked, gravely.

“Then Kasam will keep his promise, and make me his queen. It is the
price we demanded for giving him his throne. And, through me, my father,
you shall hereafter rule Mekran.”

The vizier sighed and stroked his beard.

“Are you willing to become Kasam’s queen when you know he loves the
American girl whom he attempted to carry away by force? Will you be
able, without his love, to bend him to your will?”

Maie laughed softly, clasping her jewelled fingers behind the folds of
her hair.

“Let him love the American girl!” she answered, a touch of scorn in her
voice. “While he dallies in her presence I will direct the affairs of
state. Listen, my father, I have never loved Kasam from the first. Nor
could that cold-eyed Ahmed Khan have ever won my heart. Yet to favor my
ambition I would have mated with either one. The fates now favor Kasam,
and if I cannot rule him through love I will rule him through cunning.
The foreign girl will not stand in my way. In the harem of a khan are
subtile poisons and daggers with needle points, and no dull-witted
Western maiden can ever hope to oppose your Maie’s intrigues.”

Agahr stared at her as if afraid. The perfect repose of her features as
she hissed the fiendish words struck a chill to his very bones.

“You are false as Iblis itself, my Maie,” he said. “How do I know you
will sacrifice me, also, to your great ambition?”

“Have no fear, my father,” she returned, her low laugh rippling through
the perfumed atmosphere. “You live but to please your Maie; would she
foolishly betray her most faithful servant? We are one in all things.”

Again he sat silent, the frown growing upon his face. Perhaps he had
begun to realize, for the first time in his life, that all this
loveliness before him breathed passion and sensuality, but no warrant of
a soul beneath its exquisite outlines. His child was beautiful, indeed;
so beautiful that he had worshipped her as an angel of paradise, sent to
comfort and console his old age. He had longed to see her acknowledged
above all women of Baluchistan as the brightest star in the harem of the
Khan himself–the greatest pride and glory a father and a true believer
could conceive. He had plotted and planned to this end without regard
or consideration for others: even with an humble subversion of self. But
she had given him nothing in return. Her very love for him was more
calculating than filial. And he knew her furtive mind so intimately that
he might well doubt her truth.

“Since you were a child,” he said, musingly, “I have made you my
comrade; more, my confidant. You were not treated like other women of
Islam, but given the full freedom of my household. I have loaded you
with jewels, with fine cloths from the looms of Persia, of Turkey and of
China; with precious perfumes and cosmetics from Arabia. Your slaves are
the loveliest maidens of Circassia and Morocco, purchased with vast sums
to minister to your lightest whims. Even the harem of the Khan cannot
boast a greater luxury than that which surrounds you. Yet you have dared
to deceive me.”

The last words were spoken with impetuous force, as if evoked by a
sudden thought. The lashes that veiled her eyes flickered slightly the
accusation, but she made no other movement.

His voice grew stern.

“Tell me, why have you favored a dog of an infidel?”

“I, my father? I favor a dog of an infidel? Are you mad?”

“It has come to my ears,” he said, stiffly. “The young American who came
here with Kasam.”

Maie stared at him as if amazed, as in truth she was. Then her head fell
back and from her slender throat burst a peal of merriment that was
well-nigh irresistible. She sprang up lightly, dropping her outer robe,
and cast herself with abandon into the old man’s arms, clinging to his
neck and nestling within his lap while her laughter filled his ears like
the sweet chime of silver bells.

“Oh, my foolish, ridiculous old father!” she cried, while kissing his
forehead and smoothing his beard over her bosom, like a mantle. “Has the
serpent of folly bitten you? What monster of Agoum put such dreadful
thoughts of your little Maie into your suspicious head? An infidel! Has
the Prophet forsaken me? Were I lacking in any modesty–which Allah
forbid!–would a daughter of Raab choose an infidel?”

Agahr held her tight, and his heart softened.

“The tale was brought to me, and I could not but doubt,” he said,
doggedly. “But I am very glad to find you innocent, my precious one.
Forget the words, Maie, for they were inspired by a lying tongue–one
that I will tear out by the roots at tomorrow’s sunrise!”

He arose from his seat, clasping her in his arms like a little child,
and carried her to a divan, where he gently laid her down. Then he bent
over and kissed both her cheeks.

“I must go now,” said he. “Midnight approaches, and I must be at the
gate to admit Kasam.”

“You will disguise yourself?” she asked, holding one of his hands as she
gazed up at him.

“I shall cover my head with a cloak. Beni-Bouraz is Captain of the
Guard, and he must know it is the Vizier who commands him to open.
Afterward it will not matter who recognizes me.”

“Be careful,” she cautioned. “We must guard against treachery. Are you
sure no one knows our plot?”

“The messenger who returned from Kasam is dead. Yamou attended to him.”

She nodded. NORFLOXACIN

“Then go, my father; and may Allah guide your hand!”

Slowly he turned and without further word left the room. The passage was
dark, and he stumbled along, feeling his way, until he came to the
draperies that hid his own chamber. Having thrust these aside he entered
to find the room well lighted but deserted by even his slaves.

Thoughtfully the old vizier sat at his table and pondered well the scene
just enacted within his daughter’s boudoir. While in her presence he had
seemed convinced of her innocence; but now the old doubts assailed him
anew.

Presently his brow cleared. He reached out his hand and touched a
soft-toned gong, and immediately the tall, dark figure of a Moor entered
and made obeisance.

“Yamou,” said the vizier, “David the Jew was here this morning. He had a
secret to sell. He swears that my daughter meets the young American
infidel in my own garden, entering by the Gate of the Griffins.”

The black stood as if made of stone, not a muscle of his face moving.

“Have you known of this, Yamou?”

“No, my master.”

“It may not be true. David declared they will meet tonight–just before
the midnight hour. You will take three of the most trusted slaves and at
once hide yourselves in the shrubbery at the end of the garden. Remain
there until daybreak, unless the infidel should indeed come.”

“And if he comes?”

“Kill him, Yamou!” said the old man, with sudden passion. “And if Maie
goes to meet him kill her also. I’ll harbor no toy of an infidel dog in
my household, even though it be my own daughter!”

Yamou bowed and touched the cimeter at his belt.

“You shall be obeyed, my master.”

Agahr glanced at the brutal visage of the Moor and hesitated, repenting
already his command. But Maie had protested her innocence in no
uncertain words. He would believe her. Should she prove false, the fate
that would overtake her would be her own fault, and not to be laid at
his door. But there! she was innocent, without a doubt. Her ambitions
were too great to permit her to descend to so unnatural and foolish an
intrigue. It would do no harm to wash the blemish of David’s lying tales
from his daughter’s fair name by hiding the slaves in the shrubbery. If
proof were needed, there would be the proof.

“You may go, Yamou.”

The slave salamed again, and noiselessly withdrew.

Left alone, Agahr drew a black cloak over his dress, arranging the folds
to conceal his face and beard. Then he crept through an ante-room and
along a short passage to a secret door that led into a small garden.
Crossing this open space he unlocked a gate in the wall and so let
himself into a lane that ran past the grounds of his mansion.




The streets seemed deserted and the night was very dark, for a storm was
threatening. But Agahr knew every inch of his way and without hesitation
threaded the narrow streets until he finally reached the west wall of
the city.

Above the gate a dim light shone through the windows of the watch tower,
and the vizier mounted the steep stone steps and pushed open the door.

Upon a bench sat two burly Baluchi, earnestly intent upon a game of
dice. At the far end of the room, half hidden by the dim shadows, lay a
dark group of slumbering guardsmen.

“Ah-yah!” called one of the dicers, as he noted the presence of a
visitor; “what is wanted at this hour? None can pass the gate till
daybreak.” And he calmly continued to toss the cubes.

Agahr walked up to him and threw back the folds of his cloak.

“The vizier!” cried both men, in a breath, and rose to their feet,
saluting.

“Yes. Open the gate for me, Beni-Bouraz. I am to meet a friend here
tonight.”

“But, master–”

“Silence! Do as I bid you, Captain. Open the gate.”

The officer bowed low. Then he walked to the end of the room and kicked
two of his men.

“Get up, you dogs. His Excellency the Vizier commands the gate to be
opened.”

They got upon their feet, growling at the summons, and shuffled over to
the windlass. Beni-Bouraz released the bar, and the men began winding up
the huge chain that raised the gate.

As he noted this, the vizier turned to descend.

“Come with me, Captain,” he said to Beni; “it may be necessary to hold
the gate open for a time. I will myself give you the command to close
it.”

The officer followed him down the stairs, and when they had disappeared
from the room a big guardsman arose from the group of sleepers and,
still muffled in his robe, followed after the captain. Also the others
arose, seemingly alert, and by the light of the torch exchanged grins
with the men at the windlass.

When Agahr paused before the heavily-barred gate it had already ascended
toward the arch far enough to admit a horseman. Presently, with a final
creak that sounded very audible in the stillness of the night, the
windlass stopped and the gate remained poised in the archway.

Agahr bent forward, and heard the soft pattering of horses’ feet. The
sound was repeated to the right and left, echoing far out upon the
plains as if an army was awakening to action. Then the patter broke into
a gallop, and a single horseman rode through the gate, a drawn sword
clutched in his hand.

“Light a torch!” said the voice of Kasam. “My men cannot see this
accursed gateway.”

Almost instantly a light flamed up behind them, and its red glow spread
outside the gate and showed the plain fairly alive with a host of
warriors.

“Advance!” shouted Kasam, and waved his sword around his head.

Then a strange denouement came. The immense gate, suddenly loosened from
the tower, fell with a crash, crushing beneath its weight those of the
front rank that already pressed forward to enter. A strong hand seized
the prince and dragged him from his saddle, disarming him at the same
instant.

And then a mighty shout burst from many throats, sounding from all the
length of the great wall as well as from the horde that clamored
helplessly without. Torches flashed, tom-toms were beat with lusty
strokes and the alarm gong sent its warning tones reverberating
throughout the city.

Agahr the Vizier was astounded. Even his sacred person had been seized
and his limbs bound fast with strong cords. It had all happened so
suddenly that the old man did not recover his wits until he heard the
cries of Kasam’s host as it retreated before the hail of missiles
descending from the wall.

Then he turned to confront the stern features of Ahmed Khan, and dropped
his eyes before the gaze he encountered.

Kasam, also securely bound, stood with a look of sullen rage upon his
handsome face, but proudly erect as ever.

“I am betrayed!” he muttered.

“I, also, Prince, was nearly betrayed,” replied the Khan, in a harsh
voice. “The fortunes of war, in this benighted country, are often nursed
by the hand of treachery. Fortunately for the safety of Mekran, I was
warned in time.”

Kasam turned angrily upon the vizier.

“I owe this to you, I suppose!” he said, bitterly.

“My bonds will prove my faith,” returned Agahr, with dignity.

The Khan raised his hand, as if to command peace. The red light of the
torch upon his face seemed to soften its sternness.

“That your disloyal plans have come to naught,” he said, in more kindly
tones, “is due alone to the will of Allah. Come, Captain Beni-Bouraz;
you may follow me with your prisoners to the palace.”