Daughters of Destiny - L. Frank Baum - ebook

Daughters of Destiny ebook

L. Frank Baum

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Danger, intrigue, and adventure await you in one of L. Frank Baum’s rarest works! Baum published the novel under the pen name „Schuyler Staunton,” one of his several pseudonyms (Baum arrived at the name by adding one letter to the name of his late maternal uncle, Schuyler Stanton). „Daughters of Destiny” unfolds in the Middle Eastern country of Baluchistan and is an exciting page-turner from start to finish. Conflict occurs when the American Construction Syndicate wants to build a railroad across a city in Pakistan, as part of their plans for global development. The company appoints a commission, headed by Colonel Piedmont Moore, to obtain the right of way from the Baluchi ruler. What follows is a complex but tightly-woven plot that involves subterfuge and conspiracy, poisonings and attempted assassinations, sword fights and a pursuit in the desert, a scheming femme fatale, disguises and false identities – all the ingredients of melodrama.

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Contents

BOOK I

THE MAN

CHAPTER I PRINCE KASAM OF BALUCHISTAN

CHAPTER II THE AMERICAN COMMISSION

CHAPTER III THE PERSIAN PHYSICIAN

CHAPTER IV THE DAUGHTER OF THE VIZIER

CHAPTER V THE PERIL OF BURAH KHAN

CHAPTER VI THE MAN OF DESTINY

CHAPTER VII DIRRAG

CHAPTER VIII A WOMAN’S WAY

CHAPTER IX THE SIXTH DAY

CHAPTER X AHMED KHAN

BOOK II

THE WOMAN

CHAPTER XI CAPTURE OF DAVID THE JEW

CHAPTER XII THE GIRL ON THE DIVAN

CHAPTER XIII A WILD WOOING

CHAPTER XIV THE VEILED WOMAN

CHAPTER XV SALAMAN

CHAPTER XVI THE ABDUCTION

CHAPTER XVII DAVID SELLS AN IMPORTANT SECRET

CHAPTER XVIII THE VIZIER OPENS THE GATE

CHAPTER XIX IN THE GARDEN OF AGAHR

CHAPTER XX THE GIRL IN THE HAREM

CHAPTER XXI THE CHAMBER OF DEATH

CHAPTER XXII BY THE HAND OF ALLAH

CHAPTER XXIII THE VENGEANCE OF MAIE

CHAPTER XXIV THE SPIRIT OF UNREST

CHAPTER XXV KASAM KHAN

CHAPTER XXVI HER SERENE HIGHNESS THE KHANUM

BOOK I

THE MAN

CHAPTER I. PRINCE KASAM OF BALUCHISTAN

“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.”

CHAPTER II. THE AMERICAN COMMISSION

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.

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