“The death-hounds!” I muttered, clasping Leo by the arm.
“Yes,” he answered, “they are running that poor devil. Here comes the huntsman.”
As he spoke there appeared a second figure, splendidly mounted, a cloak streaming from his shoulders, and in his hand a long whip, which he waved. He was big but loosely jointed, and as he passed he turned his face also, and we saw that it was that of a madman. There could be no doubt of it; insanity blazed in those hollow eyes and rang in that savage, screeching laugh.
“The Khan! The Khan!” said Simbri, bowing, and I could see that he was afraid.
Now he too was gone, and after him came his guards. I counted eight of them, all carrying whips, with which they flogged their horses.
“What does this mean, friend Simbri?” I asked, as the sounds grew faint in the distance.
“It means, friend Holly,” he answered, “that the Khan does justice in his own fashion—hunting to death one that has angered him.”
“What then is his crime? And who is that poor man?”
“He is a great lord of this land, one of the royal kinsmen, and the crime for which he has been condemned is that he told the Khania he loved her, and offered to make war upon her husband and kill him, if she would promise herself to him in marriage. But she hated the man, as she hates all men, and brought the matter before the Khan. That is all the story.”
“Happy is that prince who has so virtuous a wife!” I could not help saying unctuously, but with meaning, and the old wretch of a Shaman turned his head at my words and began to stroke his white beard.
It was but a little while afterwards that once more we heard the baying of the death-hounds. Yes, they were heading straight for us, this time across country. Again the white horse and its rider appeared, utterly exhausted, both of them, for the poor beast could scarcely struggle on to the towing-path. As it gained it a great red hound with a black ear gripped its flank, and at the touch of the fangs it screamed aloud in terror as only a horse can. The rider sprang from its back, and, to our horror, ran to the river’s edge, thinking evidently to take refuge in our boat. But before ever he reached the water the devilish brutes were upon him.
What followed I will not describe, but never shall I forget the scene of those two heaps of worrying wolves, and of the maniac Khan, who yelled in his fiendish joy, and cheered on his death-hounds to finish their red work.
THE COURT OF KALOON
Horrified, sick at heart, we continued our journey. No wonder that the Khania hated such a mad despot. And this woman was in love with Leo, and this lunatic Khan, her husband, was a victim to jealousy, which he avenged after the very unpleasant fashion that we had witnessed. Truly an agreeable prospect for all of us! Yet, I could not help reflecting, as an object lesson that horrid scene had its advantages.