Daughters of Destiny - L. Frank Baum - ebook

“What country did you say, Prince?” “Baluchistan, my lord.” The great financier lay back in his chair and a slight smile flickered over his stern features. Then he removed his eye-glasses and twirled them thoughtfully around his finger as he addressed the young man opposite. “I remember,” said he, “that when I attended school as a boy one of my chiefest trials in geography was to learn how to bound Baluchistan.” “Ah, do not say that, sir,” exclaimed Prince Kasam, eagerly. “It is a customary thing, whenever my country is mentioned, for an Englishman to refer to his geography. I have borne the slight with rare patience, Lord Marvale, since first I came, a boy, to London; but permit me to say that I expected you to be better informed.” “But, why?” asked the nobleman, raising his brows at the retort. “Because Baluchistan is a great country, sir. You might drop all of England upon one of its plains—and have some trouble to find it again.”

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“ What country did you say, Prince?” “ Baluchistan, my lord.”The great financier lay back in his chair and a slight smile flickered over his stern features. Then he removed his eye-glasses and twirled them thoughtfully around his finger as he addressed the young man opposite. “ I remember,” said he, “that when I attended school as a boy one of my chiefest trials in geography was to learn how to bound Baluchistan.” “ Ah, do not say that, sir,” exclaimed Prince Kasam, eagerly. “It is a customary thing, whenever my country is mentioned, for an Englishman to refer to his geography. I have borne the slight with rare patience, Lord Marvale, since first I came, a boy, to London; but permit me to say that I expected you to be better informed.” “ But, why?” asked the nobleman, raising his brows at the retort. “ Because Baluchistan is a great country, sir. You might drop all of England upon one of its plains—and have some trouble to find it again.”Lord Marvale’s eyes twinkled. “ And how about London?” he asked. “You have many such cities, I suppose?” “ There is but one London, my lord,” answered the young man composedly; “and, to be frank with you, there are few clusters of houses in my country that are worthy the name of cities. We Baluchi are a wild race, as yet untamed by the influence of your western civilization, and those who wander in desert and plain far exceed in numbers the dwellers in towns.” “ I am not so ignorant as you may suppose,” declared Lord Marvale; “for it is a part of my business training to acquire information concerning all countries of the world, however remote and barbaric they may be. For instance, I know that your country is ruled by the Khan of Kelat, and that the English have established a protectorate over it.” “ Kelat!” cried the other, a touch of scorn in his tone; “that, sir, is not Baluchistan at all. It is the country of the Brahoes, a weak and cowardly race that is distinct from the Baluchi, my own people. Small wonder they need the English to protect them! But Kelat, although placed in Baluchistan by your map-makers, is another country altogether, and the unconquered Baluchi owe no allegiance to any nation in the world.”For a time the financier sat silently in his chair. Then he asked: “ You have lived here since childhood, Prince?” “ Since eight years of age, my lord.” “ Why were you educated in London, if your people dislike Europeans?” “ For political reasons, sir. I am the sole legitimate descendant of seven generations of Khans of Mekran—rulers of all Baluchistan. But in my grandsire’s time our throne was usurped by Keedar Khan, a fierce tribesman who carried all before his mighty sword. His son, Burah Khan, now an old man and in bad health, at present rules at Mekran. Therefore I was sent by my kinsmen, who are yet powerful and loyal to our family, to London, that I might escape assassination at the hands of the usurpers.” “ I see; you hope to succeed Burah Khan.” “ That is my ambition. All that stands in my way is a son of the khan, who, however, has been confined in a Sunnite monastery since youth and is reported to be more fitted to become a priest than a ruler of men.” “ Well?” “ My lord, I desire your coöperation and assistance. Twice have I secretly revisited Baluchistan, where my uncle is vizier to the present khan. The adherents to my cause are many. We have no money, but possess vast store of rare jewels, and much gold and silver plate hoarded for centuries—since the day when Alexander’s army, marching through our land, was forced to abandon and cast aside much of its burden of plunder. If we can convert this treasure into money it is our intention to hire an army of Afghan mercenaries to assist us and with their aid to rise at the death of Burah Khan, which cannot be long delayed, and again seize the throne that by right belongs to me. You, my lord, are noted for your shrewdness in financing great affairs. Here is one of magnitude in which you may profit largely. Will you aid me?”The man appealed to was, through long experience, a competent judge of human nature, and while Kasam spoke he studied the young Oriental critically.The prince was of medium height, full faced and broad shouldered. His beard was clipped in modern fashion, and he wore a conventional frock coat. But his swarthy skin and glittering dark eyes proclaimed his Eastern origin, and for head-dress he wore the turban of his tribe, twisted gracefully but with studied care into that particular fold which to an Oriental declared as plainly as the written page of a book the wearer’s nationality and tribe and degree. To the Westerner a turban means nothing more than a head-covering; to the Oriental it is eloquent of detail. In the manner of fold, the size, the color and the material of which it is composed, he reads clearly the wearer’s caste and condition in life, and accords him the exact respect that is his due.Aside from the turban, Kasam wore the tribal sash over his shoulder, thus combining the apparel of the orient with that of the Occident in a picturesque and most effective manner.The expression of his face was animated and winning; he gesticulated freely, but with grace; the words that flowed from his full red lips were fervent, but well chosen.Prince Kasam spoke fluent English. His handsome countenance glowed with the eager enthusiasm of youth, with the conscious pride of high station, of powerful friends and of a just cause.Lord Marvale was impressed. “ Come to me in three days,” said the banker. “I will make enquiries and take counsel with my colleagues. Then I shall be able to consider your proposal with more intelligence.”Three days later a long conference was held in Lord Marvale’s office, during which Prince Kasam related with clearness yet characteristic Eastern loquaciousness the details of a carefully planned conspiracy to replace him upon the throne of his ancestors. The plot seemed both simple and practical, and Lord Marvale was by no means averse to acquiring the rare treasure of ancient plate and the rich oriental jewels that the adherents of Prince Kasam were anxious to exchange for English money and support.It was not the only conference before the bargain was finally struck, but Kasam’s proposals met with no serious opposition and it was arranged that he should secretly return to Baluchistan, get together the treasure, and bring it with him to London, where Lord Marvale would convert it into money and also negotiate with the Afghans for an army of mercenaries. The countenance and moral support of the English government the banker could safely pledge.It did not occur to Kasam that time might become a powerful factor in his future plans, and that all this detail would require considerable time to consummate. He had worn out many years of tedious waiting in London, and really thought events were beginning to move swiftly. But when he received a message stating that Burah Khan was failing fast and urging him to hasten home, he realized that in order to accomplish his purposes he must lose no single moment in delay. Therefore he hurried to Lord Marvale with the information that he would return at once to Baluchistan. “ Good!” exclaimed the banker. “Your decision will relieve me of a slight embarrassment and enable me, through your courtesy, to serve an influential friend.” “ That will please me very much,” said Kasam. “ There has arrived in London a party of American capitalists representing a great New York syndicate, and our minister in Washington has given their chief a letter to me, asking me to arrange for the safe conduct of the party through Baluchistan.” “ Baluchistan! My own country? Why, my lord, few Englishmen have ever approached its borders, and never an American—so far as I know. What can induce them to visit Baluchistan?” “ I understand it is a matter of some railway enterprise or other. These Americans penetrate into the most outlandish and unfrequented places, and no one ever pays much attention to their wanderings. But the minister’s letter asks me to supply them with a guide. What do you say, Prince, to undertaking the task yourself? It will enable you to return to Mekran incognito, as the conductor of a party of wealthy and influential Americans; and, as you are not likely to be recognized, you may accomplish your task of collecting the treasure more safely than if you travelled alone.” “ That is true,” answered the young man, thoughtfully; and after a moment’s reflection he added: “Very well; inform your Americans that I will guide them to Baluchistan—even to the walls of Mekran—and no one can do it more safely or swiftly than I.”


When the American Construction Syndicate, of New York and Chicago, conceived the idea of laying a railway across Baluchistan, through the Alexandrian Pass and so into the Lower Indies—thus connecting Asia and Europe by the shortest possible route—it was regarded as a bold undertaking even for this gigantic corporation. But the Syndicate scorned the imputation that any undertaking might be too hazardous or difficult for it to accomplish; so, when the route was proposed and its advantages understood, the railway was as good as built, in the minds of the directors.There were preliminaries, of course. A commission must be sent to Baluchistan to secure right of way. And the route must be surveyed. But these were mere matters of detail. Already the Syndicate had built a road across the Balkans; even now it was laying rails in Turkestan. And this Baluchistan route was but a part of a great system wisely and cleverly projected.The Alexandrian Pass was the same that nearly proved fatal to Alexander the Great on the occasion of his invasion of India. Since then little had been heard of it. But doubtless the Pass was still there, and had been waiting all these years for some one to utilize it. It was part of the domain of the Khan of Mekran, who also ruled the greater part of Baluchistan.The directors had the histories consulted. Baluchistan seemed practically unknown to history. There were no books of travel in Baluchistan. Strange! The country was there—very big on the maps—and some one ought to know something about it. But no one apparently did.Well, the Commission would discover all there was to know, and a semi-barbarous country would be easy to deal with.Next the Commission itself was considered, and Colonel Piedmont Moore was selected as its chief. Colonel Moore was one of the Syndicate’s largest stockholders and most respected officers, and the gentleman himself directed the selection of the chief, because he had decided to get away from the office for a time and travel, his health having become undermined by too close attention to business.Dr. Warner, his intimate friend, had repeatedly counselled him to break away from work and take better care of himself. Travel was what he needed—travel in such remote lands that no temptation would exist to return to New York to “see how the Syndicate was getting on.”When the Baluchistan Commission was first spoken of the Colonel mentioned it to his old friend, who was also a stockholder in the concern, the doctor having grown wealthy and retired from active practice several years before. “ Just the thing!” declared the old gentleman. “A trip to Baluchistan would probably set you on your feet again. Let me see—where is it? Somewhere in South America, isn’t it?” “ No; I believe it’s in Asia,” returned the Colonel, gravely. “And that is a long distance to journey alone.” “ Why, bless your soul! I’ll go with you,” declared Dr. Warner, cheerfully. “I’ve intended to do a bit of travelling myself, as soon as I got around to it; and Baluchistan has a fine climate, I’m sure.” “ No one seems to know much about it,” answered the Colonel. “ All the better! Why, we’ll be explorers. We’ll find out all about Darkest Baluchistan, and perhaps write a book on our discoveries. We’ll combine business and pleasure. I’m in the Syndicate. Have me appointed as your second on the Commission, and the Syndicate shall pay our expenses.”So the plans were made, and afterward amplified to include the Colonel’s son, Mr. Allison Moore, as official surveyor. Not that Allison Moore was an especially practical or proficient man in his profession—indeed, the directors feared just the contrary was true—but this was going to be a sort of family party, and the Colonel was a person absolutely to be depended upon. He was willing to vouch for his son, and that settled the matter.In fact, the Colonel was glad to have Allison with him on this trip. Glad to have the young man under his eye, for one thing, and glad of an opportunity to advance his son professionally. For Allison seemed to have some difficulty in getting the right sort of a start, even though he had spent years in making the attempt.At first the young man declined to go to Baluchistan, and there were angry words between father and son. But Dr. Warner acted as peacemaker and Allison finally consented to go provided his father would pay certain debts he had accumulated and make him an allowance in addition to his salary from the syndicate. It was the first salary he had ever received, and although the syndicate thought it liberal enough, it seemed absurdly small to a gentleman of Allison’s requirements.All this having been pleasantly settled, the doctor proposed taking along his daughter Bessie, who had been pleading to go ever since the trip was suggested.At first the Colonel demurred. “ It’s a business expedition,” said he. “ Business and pleasure,” amended the doctor, promptly. “ And I don’t know what sort of country we’re going to. It may not be pleasant for ladies.” “ We’ll make it pleasant for them. Better take Janet with you, Colonel, and we’ll induce Aunt Lucy to go along as chaperon.” “ She wouldn’t consider such a trip an instant.” “ Who wouldn’t?” “ Janet.” “ Ask her about it.”So the Colonel mentioned it at dinner, in a casual way, and Miss Janet Moore at first opened her beautiful dark eyes in surprise, then considered the matter silently for a half hour, and at dessert decided she would go.The Colonel was pleased. It was difficult to interest Janet in anything, and if the Baluchistan trip would draw her out of her dreamy lassitude and awaken in her something of her old bright self, why, the syndicate be thanked for conceiving the idea of a Commission!The old gentleman tolerated his son as a cross to be borne with Christian resignation: he was devoted to his beautiful daughter.Janet Moore in face and form represented that type of American girl which has come to be acknowledged in all countries the ideal of womanly grace and loveliness. The delicate contour of her features did not destroy nor even abate their unmistakable strength and dignity. The well-opened eyes were clear as a mountain pool, yet penetrating and often discomfiting in their steadiness; the mouth was wide, yet sweet and essentially feminine; the chin, held high and firm, was alluringly curved and dimpled, displaying beneath it a throat so rarely perfect that only in the Sicilian Aphrodite has sculptor ever equalled it. Her head was poised in queenly fashion upon a form so lithe and rounded that Diana might well have envied it, and while Janet’s expression at all times bore a trace of sadness, a half smile always lingered upon her lips—a smile so pathetic in its appeal that one who loved her would be far less sympathetically affected by a flood of tears. The girl had suffered a terrible disappointment seven years before. The man she loved had been proven an arrant scoundrel. He had forged her father’s name; been guilty of crime and ingratitude; worse than all else, he had run away to escape punishment. It had been clearly proven against Herbert Osborne, yet Janet, by a strange caprice, would never accept the proof. She had a distinctly feminine idea that in spite of everything Herbert was incapable of crime or any sort of dishonesty. And, knowing full well that she stood alone in her belief, the girl proudly suffered in silence.There was more to Janet’s old romance than anyone ever dreamed; but whatever the girl’s secret might be, she kept all details safely locked within her own bosom.The Colonel was surprised that his daughter should so readily agree to undertake a tedious and perhaps uninteresting journey to a far-away country; but he was nevertheless delighted. The change would assuredly do her good, and Bessie Warner was just the jolly companion she needed to waken her into new life.So the doctor was informed that the two girls would accompany the Commission, and Bessie at once set out to interview her Aunt Lucy and persuade that very accommodating lady to go with them as chaperon. Aunt Lucy was without a single tie to keep her in New York, and she was so accustomed to being dragged here and there by her energetic niece that she never stopped to enquire where Baluchistan was or how they were expected to get there. In her mild and pleasant little voice she remarked: “ Very well, dear. When do we start?” “ Oh, I’ll send you word, auntie. And thank you very much for being so nice.” “ We’ll be back by Thanksgiving, I suppose?” “ I hardly know, dear. It’s a business trip of papa’s, and of course the length of our stay depends entirely upon him and the Colonel, who is some way interested in the matter. By the way, it’s called a Commission, and we’ll be very important travellers, I assure you! Good bye, auntie, dear!”Then she hurried away; for that suggestion of returning by Thanksgiving day, scarcely a month distant, showed her how little Aunt Lucy really knew of the far journey she had so recklessly undertaken.So this was the personnel of the famous Commission that was to invade Baluchistan and secure from the Khan of Mekran a right of way for a railroad through the Alexandrian Pass: Col. Piedmont Moore, Chief; Dr. Luther Warner, Assistant; Allison Moore, Civil Engineer; Janet Moore and Bessie Warner, chaperoned by Mrs. Lucy Higgins, Accessories and Appendages.The Commission crossed the ocean in safety; it reached London without incident worthy of record, and there the Chief endeavored to secure some definite knowledge of Baluchistan.Not until he had presented the British minister’s letter to Lord Marvale did the Colonel meet with any good fortune in his quest. Then the atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty suddenly cleared, for a real Baluch of Baluchistan was then in London and could be secured to pilot the Americans to their destination.To be sure this native—Kasam Ullah Raab by name—was uncommunicative at first regarding the character of the Khan of Mekran or the probability of the Syndicate’s being able to negotiate for a right of way through his country; and, indeed, the Baluch could be induced to commit himself neither to criticism nor encouragement of the plan. But, after all, it was not to be supposed that much information of value could be secured from a mere guide. The main point to be considered just then was how to journey to Mekran with comfort and despatch, and incidentally the accomplishments and attainments of the guide himself.Kasam’s charming manners and frank, handsome countenance soon won the confidence of the entire party. Even Allison Moore did not withhold his admiration for the “gentlemanly barbarian,” as Aunt Lucy called him, and the young ladies felt entirely at ease in his company. “ Really,” said Bessie, “our Kasam is quite a superior personage, for a guide.”And the prince overheard the remark and smiled.During the journey the guide proved very thoughtful and gallant toward the young ladies, and with the friendly familiarity common to Americans they made Kasam one of themselves and treated him with frank consideration. It was perhaps natural that the prince should respond by openly confiding to them his rank and ambition, thus explaining his reason for journeying with them in the humble capacity of guide. Before they had reached Quettah the entire party knew every detail of Kasam’s history, and canvassed his prospect of becoming khan as eagerly as they did the details of their own vast enterprise. Indeed, the Colonel was quick to recognize the advantage the Commission would acquire by being on friendly terms with the future Khan of Mekran, and since Burah Khan was old and suffered from many wounds received in many battles, the chances were strongly in favor of the young prince being soon called to the throne. “ My uncle is vizier to the usurper,” said Kasam, “and I will secure, through him, an interview for you with Burah Khan. Also my uncle shall extend to your party his good offices. He is the leader of the party which is plotting to restore to me the throne of my ancestors, and is therefore entirely devoted to my interests. Of course you will understand that I dare not publicly announce my presence in Mekran; therefore I will guide you as a hired servant, and so escape notice. Only my uncle Agahr and two of the sirdars—or leaders of the tribes—are acquainted with my person or know who I really am. But the spies of the Khan are everywhere, as I have discovered during my former secret visits to Mekran, and it is best for me to avoid them at this juncture.”All this was intensely interesting to every member of the Commission, and it is no wonder Bessie smiled upon the handsome guide who possessed so romantic a story. But Bessie’s brightest smiles seemed less desirable to Kasam than one sympathetic look from Janet’s Moore’s serious dark eyes.The evident adoration with which the “foreign prince,” as she called him, came to regard Miss Moore was a source of much uneasiness to Aunt Lucy; but Janet did not seem to notice it, and the young man was ever most humble and discreet while in her presence. In fact, there was nothing in the prince’s behavior that the gentle old lady might complain of openly. Yet she had her own suspicions, clinched by experienced observation, of the foreigner’s intentions, and determined to keep a sharp lookout in the interests of her charge. Soon they would enter a barbarous country where this handsome prince would be more powerful than the great Commission itself. And then?At Quettah they secured camels and formed a caravan to cross the corner of the Gedrasian Desert and so journey on to Mekran; but there was more or less grumbling when this necessity was disclosed. Allison Moore, who had behaved fairly well so far, flatly declined to go further toward the wild and unknown country they had come so far to visit. The inn at Quettah was fairly good. He would stay there. Vainly his father stormed and argued, alternately; he even threatened to cut his son off with a dime—the nearest approach to the legendary shilling he could think of; but Allison proved stubborn. Having once declared his intention, he answered nothing to the demands of his father or the pleadings of Dr. Warner. He smoked his pipe, stared straight ahead and would not budge an inch from Quettah. “ I’ll wait here till you come back,” he said, sullenly. “If you ever do.”This was the first disagreeable incident of the journey. Even Bessie was depressed by Allison’s inference that they were involved in a dangerous enterprise. As for Aunt Lucy, she suddenly conceived an idea that the band of Afghans Kasam had employed to accompany the caravan were nothing more than desperate bandits, who would carry the Commission into the mountains and either murder every individual outright or hold them for an impossible ransom.Kasam’s earnest protestations finally disabused the minds of the ladies of all impressions of danger. It was true that in Baluchistan they might meet with lawless bands of Baluchi; but their caravan was too well guarded to be interfered with. They were supplied with fleet saddle horses and fleeter dromedaries; the twenty Afghans were bold and fearless and would fight for them unto death. Really, they had nothing at all to fear.So at last they started, an imposing cavalcade, for the Khan’s dominions, leaving Allison in the doorway of the inn smoking his everlasting pipe and staring sullenly after them. The ladies rode dromedaries, and found them less uncomfortable than they had at first feared they would be. The Colonel did not seem to mind his son’s desertion, for Kasam had whispered in his ear an amusing plan to conquer the young surveyor’s obstinacy.An hour later one of the prince’s Afghans, selected because he spoke the English language, returned from the caravan to warn Allison that he was in grave danger. The night before a plot had been overheard to murder and rob the young man as soon as his friends had departed. “ If you shoot well and are quick with the knife,” added the Afghan, coolly, “you may succeed in preserving your life till our return. His Highness the Prince sent me to advise you to fight to the last, for these scoundrels of Quettah have no mercy on foreigners.”Then Allison stared again, rather blankly this time, and the next moment requested the Afghan to secure him a horse.Kasam was assuring the Colonel for the twentieth time that his son would soon rejoin them when Allison and the Afghan rode up at a gallop and attached themselves without a word to the cavalcade. And the Colonel was undecided whether most to commend the guide’s cunning or his son’s cautiousness.This portion of their journey was greatly enjoyed by all members of the party. The doctor declared he felt more than ever like an explorer, and the Colonel silently speculated on all that might be gained by opening this unknown territory to the world by means of the railway. The distinct novelty of their present mode of progression was delightful to the ladies, and Aunt Lucy decided she much preferred a camel to an automobile. Even Janet’s pale cheeks gathered a tint from the desert air, and despite the uncertainties of their pilgrimage the entire party retained to a wonderful degree their cheerfulness and good nature.At the end of four days they halted in a small village where Kasam intended them to rest while he alone went forward to Mekran to obtain their passports. For they were now upon the edge of the Khan’s dominions, and without Burah’s protection the party was liable to interference by some wandering tribe of Baluchi.The accommodations they were able to secure in this unfrequented village were none of the best, and Allison began to grumble anew, thereby bringing upon himself a stern rebuke from the guide, who frankly informed the young man that he was making his friends uncomfortable when nothing could be gained by protesting. “ You cannot go back, and you dare not go forward without passports,” said Kasam. “Therefore, if you possess any gentlemanly instincts at all, you will endeavor to encourage the ladies and your father, instead of adding to their annoyance. When one travels, one must be a philosopher.” “ You are impertinent,” returned Allison, scowling. “ If I yielded to my earnest desire,” said the prince, “I would ask my men to flog you into a decent frame of mind. If I find, when I return, that you have been disagreeable, perhaps I shall punish you in that way. It may be well for you to remember that we are no longer in Europe.”The young man made no reply, but Kasam remembered the vengeful look that flashed from his eyes.Heretofore the prince had worn the European frock coat; now he assumed the white burnous of his countrymen. When he came to bid adieu to his employers before starting for Mekran, Bessie declared that their guide looked more handsome and distinguished than ever—“just like that famous picture of the Son of the Desert, you know.”Kasam was about to mount his horse—a splendid Arabian he had purchased in the village—when a tall Baluch who was riding by cast a shrewd glance into the young man’s face, sharply reined in his stallion, and placed a thumb against his forehead, bowing low.Kasam’s brown face went ashen grey. He gazed steadily into the stranger’s eyes. “ You are bound for Mekran, my prince?” asked the tall Baluch, in the native tongue. “ I ride at once.” “ Make all haste possible. Burah Khan is dying.” “ Dying? Blessed Allah!” cried Kasam, striking his forehead in despair. “Burah Khan dying, and our plans still incomplete! I have waited too long.” “ Perhaps not,” retorted the other, significantly. “It is a lingering disease, and you may yet get to Mekran in time.” “ In time? In time for what?” asked Kasam. “ To strike!”