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To Herat and Cabul: A Story of the First Afghan War written by a prolific English novelist and war correspondent G. A. Henty. This book is one of many works by him. It has already Published in 1902. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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To Herat and Cabul
A Story of the First Afghan War
G. A. Henty
Illustrator: Charles M. Sheldon
CHAPTER I. ALONE IN THE WORLD
CHAPTER II. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
CHAPTER III. THE SIEGE OF HERAT
CHAPTER IV. A STURDY DEFENCE
CHAPTER V. IN CANDAHAR
CHAPTER VI. AN ESCAPE
CHAPTER VII. IN THE SERVICE
CHAPTER VIII. THE ADVANCE
CHAPTER IX. JUST IN TIME
CHAPTER X. A MISSION
CHAPTER XI. A DANGEROUS JOURNEY
CHAPTER XII. TROUBLES THICKEN
CHAPTER XIII. THE MURDER OF SIR A. BURNES
CHAPTER XIV. A SERIES OF BLUNDERS
CHAPTER XV. A DOOMED ARMY
CHAPTER XVI. ANNIHILATION OF THE ARMY
CHAPTER XVII. JELLALABAD
CHAPTER XVIII. THE ADVANCE ON CABUL
CHAPTER XIX. THE BRITISH CAPTIVES
ANGUS AND POTTINGER WATCHING THE FIGHT FROM THE WALLS OF HERAT.
In the military history of this country there is no darker page than the destruction of a considerable British force in the terrible defiles between Cabul and Jellalabad in January, 1842. Of all the wars in which our troops have taken part never was one entered upon so recklessly or so unjustifiably. The ruler of Afghanistan, Dost Mahomed, was sincerely anxious for our friendship. He was alarmed at the menacing attitude of Russia, which, in conjunction with Persia, was threatening his dominions and intriguing with the princes at Candahar. Our commissioner at Cabul, Mr. Burnes, was convinced of the Ameer's honesty of intention, and protested most strongly against the course taken by the Indian government, who determined upon setting up a discredited prince, who had for many years been a fugitive in India, in place of Dost Mahomed.
In spite of his remonstrances, the war was undertaken. Nothing could have been worse than the arrangements for it, and the troops suffered terribly from thirst and want of transport. However, they reached Cabul with comparatively little fighting. Dost Mahomed fled, and the puppet Shah Soojah was set up in his place; but he was only kept there by British bayonets, and for two years he was so protected. Gradually, however, the British force was withdrawn, until only some five thousand troops remained to support him. Well led, they would have been amply sufficient for the purpose, for though the Afghan tribesmen were dangerous among their mountains, they could not for a moment have stood against them in the open field. Unhappily the general was old and infirm, incapable of decision of any kind, and in his imbecile hands the troops, who in October could have met the whole forces of Afghanistan in fight, were kept inactive, while the Afghans pillaged the stores with the provisions for the winter, and insulted and bearded them in every way. Thus a fine body of fighting men were reduced to such depths of discontent and shame that when the unworthy order for retreat before their exulting enemy was given they had lost all confidence in themselves or their officers, and, weakened by hunger and hampered by an enormous train of camp followers, they went as sheep to the slaughter in the trap the Afghans had prepared for them. It would almost seem that their fate was a punishment for the injustice of the war. Misfortunes have befallen our arms, but never one so dark and disgraceful as this. The shame of the disaster was redeemed only by the heroic garrison of Jellalabad, which, although but one-fourth of the strength of that at Cabul, sallied out after a noble defence and routed the army which Dost Mahomed's son Akbar had assembled for their destruction.
ON the 20th of September, 1837, a lad was standing before Mr. M'Neill, the British minister at the Persian court. Both looked grave, for the interview was an important one. The former felt that it was the turning-point of his life, the opening of a fresh career, the introduction to a service in which he might gain honourable distinction and credit. To the British minister it was of scarcely less importance, for the interests of Great Britain were gravely involved in the success of the mission that he was now entrusting to this young clerk in the employment of the embassy. It was nothing less than thwarting the designs of Persia, aided and instigated by Russia, to capture Herat and to conquer at least the western portion of Afghanistan, the alliance of the princes of Candahar having already been secured.
Angus Campbell was now about sixteen years old. His father was a trader, who had for twelve years been settled in Tabriz, carrying on business on his own account in some branches of trade, and as agent for a Scotch firm in others. The boy had been left with some relations in Scotland until he was twelve years old, when his parents had paid a short visit to their friends in Scotland, and had brought him back with them. The change of life was not an agreeable one to him. In the eight years that had elapsed since he had last seen his parents, he had, of course, almost forgotten them, and it would be some time before any real affection for them would spring up. It was the companionship of his school-fellows that he missed rather than that of his aunt, a strict woman, who made no allowance whatever for a boy's restlessness and love of fun, and who was continually shocked by the complaints made by members of her chapel as to the conduct of the boys at Dr. Murray's.
It was the principal school in the little town. The teaching was good, the application of the rod frequent, but neither teaching nor thrashing availed to soften the manners of the healthy and somewhat riotous lads, who once out of school threw themselves with all their hearts into their favourite diversions, among which the most conspicuous were fishing in forbidden parts of the river, bird-nesting in woods which were kept strictly private and guarded by keepers, playing hare-and-hounds across the fields of the crustiest of farmers, and above all engaging in desperate battles with the boys of other schools. In all these pastimes Angus Campbell took as large a share as his age entitled him to, and the state of his clothes and his face when he returned home was a source of continual amazement and irritation to his aunt.
She had even endeavoured to arrange for a deputation to wait upon Dr. Murray with a list of grievances suffered by the townspeople, such as broken windows, the yells and shouts of conflict, and the destruction of the boys' garments caused by the various fights, and to propose that the hours of play should be shortened, and that some sort of supervision should be exercised at all times over the boys. However, although there were many who agreed with her that the present state of things was disgraceful, nothing came of the movement; for the fathers, remembering their own boyhood, were to a man against the idea.
"We did just the same in our young days," they said, "and are none the worse for it now. Lads cannot be like lassies, and we don't want them to be even if they could; if you were to speak to the doctor, he would just laugh in your faces, and would tell you that he kept a school for boys and not for girls. If you have complaints to make against any of his scholars, make them, and he will punish the lads as they deserve. His boys are no worse than others, and he does not wish to see them better. If they do some mischief occasionally, it is because they are in good health and in good spirits, and a lad of that kind is far more likely to turn out well than one who spends all his spare time in poring over his books."
As the doctor's opinions on these subjects were known to all the town, Miss Campbell's proposal came to nothing. She would herself have gone to him to complain of the doings of her nephew, but there was a strong feeling in the town that while all things connected with the school were under the doctor's charge, parents should take other matters into their own hands, and maintain discipline by the use of the tawse in their own dwellings, and that they had no right to trouble Dr. Murray about private delinquencies.
He had, indeed, sufficient on his hands, for although no actual supervision was maintained when the lads were once dismissed from school, there were bounds set beyond which they were not allowed to go, and when they were caught upon any of their frequent forays beyond these limits, he had to adjudicate and punish the offenders. But it was not often that this happened; for while the boys considered it not only justifiable but meritorious to break bounds, they looked upon anyone caught in the act of showing a want of craft and of judgment, and so, having good legs and lungs, they were generally able to outdistance their pursuers.
Thus, then, when his parents returned to Scotland they found Angus a healthy, active, and high-spirited boy, somewhat rough in manners, but straightforward and honourable, for it was a tradition in the school that no boy should ever try to screen himself by a lie. When questioned by his father, he acknowledged that he would like to stay at school for a few years longer.
"And I should like you to do so too, Angus; but it is a long, long journey, and a difficult one, from Tabriz to Scotland, and it may be many years before I return home again. It is a journey that it is impossible for a boy to make alone. But this is not the only reason why I wish to take you back. I want to train you to help me in my business, and until you speak Persian fluently you will be of no use whatever to me. At your age you will pick it up rapidly, far more rapidly than you could if you did not begin till you were seventeen or eighteen. We will generally speak to you in Persian, and you will have many opportunities for practising it. In two years you ought to speak it like a native. Arabic will also be very useful to you. I have constant communications with India, with Turkey, and with Herat. I buy goods from all these countries; and sell Persian products to them. In Afghanistan, indeed, Persian is spoken generally by the trading and upper classes; but Arabic is essential to trade with Constantinople and Smyrna, with Bokhara and the Turkomans; and it is our chief medium of communication with India traders, who, although speaking several distinct languages, all have more or less knowledge of Arabic. It has been a great privation to your mother and myself to be so many years without you. We have no other children, and it would be a great joy and comfort to our lives, as well as a great assistance to me in my business, to have you with me."
"I understand, Father," the boy said; "I did not think of these things before. I am sure I should be very glad to be able to help you, and I won't say another word about being sorry to leave all my friends."
"It is quite natural that you should be sorry, Angus; it would be strange indeed if you were not. However, I don't think you will dislike the life out there when you get accustomed to it. We will certainly do our best to make you happy."
So Angus had returned with them, and soon settled down to his new life. Devoting himself earnestly to acquiring the language, at the end of six months he came to speak it fairly, and before he had been out a year could have passed as a Persian lad; at the same time he had made considerable progress in Arabic. His father had then dressed him in Persian fashion. There was a good deal of ill-feeling among the lower class against foreigners, and the pugnacity that had been fostered in Angus at school had frequent opportunities of displaying itself; for, in spite of good resolutions to the contrary, he was often goaded into fury by the taunts and abuse with which the boys assailed him when he went out alone, and had thrown himself upon them, and used his fists with such effect that he had sometimes put to flight half a dozen lads of his own age. But in Persian costume he could move about the streets unnoticed; and although he did not like the change at first, he acknowledged that it was useful, for his father pointed out to him that it was essential that nothing should take place that could add to the dislike with which foreigners were regarded. Already several angry complaints had been made by neighbours of the state in which their sons had come home after an encounter with him.
Nearly four years after Angus arrived at Tabriz the plague made its appearance in Persia. It spread rapidly, and Tabriz was one of the cities which suffered most severely. One evening Mr. Campbell returned home from a visit to a customer and complained of feeling unwell. The next morning it was too evident that he had caught the infection. Before nightfall his wife also sickened. Twenty-four hours later both were dead. Mr. Campbell had a long talk with his son as soon as the disease manifested itself in the case of his wife.
"Angus," he said, "you must prepare for the worst. The cases of recovery are few indeed. The servants have already fled, and even did I wish you to leave us, I know that it would be too late now. God's will be done, my boy, and I can only hope that you may be spared. However that is in His hands. You have been my assistant now for the past three years, and know how matters stand. I have no debts. The books will show you how much is due to me from the house at home and how much by my agent at Bombay. The stock of goods in the warehouse is worth a considerable sum. I am unable to think very clearly now, or to advise you what to do should you be left alone; but it is clear to me that you are too young yet to manage the business, and it is not likely that the firm would entrust their affairs to a lad of your age. I should say, therefore, that you had best dispose of all the goods; the books will show you their prices. As for yourself, I will give you no advice. It will be open to you to return to England or to go to Bombay, and I have no doubt my agent there will obtain employment for you, especially as you will have money to embark in any business you may go into. But do not invest a penny until you become of age; you will by that time be able to judge wisely whether the business you are in is that in which you can best employ your mind.
"Whatever you do, do not remain in Tabriz. As is always the case in times of plague or famine, there is sedition and trouble, and foreigners become the object of hatred, for the poor people have some sort of superstitious idea that they are responsible for the scourge. The best thing you can do is to consult our Armenian friend, who is also our vice-consul; he will view matters more clearly than I can do at present. Put your trust always in God, my boy. My own opinion is that you had better remain in the East. Your knowledge of languages would be absolutely useless to you at home, and you could only hope to obtain a place in a counting-house."
"I will do as you tell me, father," Angus said, trying to speak steadily. "I will try always to be what you would wish me."
His grief was terrible when his mother expired two or three hours after his father. He roused himself, however, to see to the simple preparations for their funeral, and late that evening buried them in the garden behind the house.
The next day as he was sitting alone he heard a tumult in the street. Looking out, he saw that several houses, which he knew belonged to foreign traders, were in flames, and a mob of maddened men were rushing down the street towards his house. Resistance would have been madness. He ran to the safe, seized the bag containing the cash, and had just time to run out at the back of the house and escape by the gate in the garden when the rioters burst in.
For a few minutes they were engaged in the work of pillage. Shawls from Cashmere, native embroidered silks, costly goods from India, Turkish, Persian, Turkoman, and Heratee carpets, and British goods of all kinds were scrambled and fought for. When the house was sacked from top to bottom it was set on fire, and as a volume of smoke rose from it, Angus turned away from the spot where from a distance he had been watching the scene, and made his way to the house of the Armenian merchant. The loss of the house and the contents of the warehouse affected him little—although he knew that it had cost him more than half his inheritance—but this was as nothing to what he had so recently suffered.
The vice-consul had been an intimate friend of the family. On approaching his house Angus stood some distance from the door and called. A servant looked out. "Will you tell Izaac effendi that I desire greatly to speak to him?"
The Armenian quickly came to the door. "My poor lad," he said, "I grieve deeply for you. I heard of your losses, and the news has just been brought in of the burning of the house and magazine. But why do you stand so far away?"
"Because I would not bring contagion near you, effendi. I came to tell you what had happened, and to say that I shall buy some food and go out into the country, and there remain until I die of the plague or can be sure that I have escaped contagion."
"You will come in here at once," the Armenian said. "Does not one in the street run against persons who may be affected. Many of my compatriots have come here to ask my advice, and some of them have stricken friends in their houses. Since I came to reside here I have four times seen the plague raging, and each time it has passed me over. Whether it is the will of God that I should thus be spared I know not, but I am in His hands. Come in, lad, I will take no denial. Shall I desert my friends when they most need comfort and aid? What is my friendship worth if I should, now in your hour of need, turn my back upon you? Come in, I pray you."
Seeing that the old man was thoroughly in earnest, Angus, too greatly touched by his kindness even to speak, silently entered the house.
"I will take you through at once to the pavilion in the garden," the merchant said. "Although I have no fear myself, there are my servants and clerks. 'Tis like enough that some of them may be stricken, for they, like all of us, are liable to be smitten when they go into the streets, and should this be so they might blame me for your presence here; therefore 'tis best that you should for three or four days live in the pavilion; I will bring you out cushions and pillows. But I do not think that you will be attacked; had you taken the plague you would probably have shown symptoms of it ere now. Keep your thoughts from dwelling on it. I will bring you out some books; try to fix your mind on them and abstain as much as possible from dwelling on the past. I will bring your food out to you, and we will talk together to-morrow, there is much that you will have to consider."
"What are you thinking of doing?" his host asked him when he came in to see him on the morning after his arrival.
"I have been trying to think, but I cannot decide on anything. I do not wish to go back to Scotland. I have an aunt living there, but she would not welcome me warmly. Besides, if I were to do so, I do not see how I could earn my living; for my knowledge of Persian and Arabic would be of no use to me. If I had been ten years older the firm for whom my father was agent might have appointed me in his place, but of course I am a great deal too young for that. They acted as his agents also, and bought for him the goods in which he dealt outside their business; and he told me when he was taken suddenly ill that they had about a thousand pounds of his money in their hands. That would be of no use to me now, and I should very much prefer not to touch it until I am old enough to set up in trade."
"The position is certainly a grave one, Angus. I agree with you that it would be better for you on all accounts to remain out here, at any rate for a time. Your father had correspondents also in Bombay, had he not?"
"Yes, he made purchases of Persian goods for a house there; but he did not do much for them, as the trade is principally in the hands of the Parsees."
"There is one thing that you might do," the Armenian said, after thinking for some time. "I have heard that Mr. M'Neill is on his way to Teheran as British minister there. You might be able to obtain a post in his Embassy. You can write both Persian and Arabic, and might be useful in many ways. It would not be necessary for you to ask a large salary, but, however small, it might lead the way to better things. At present there is much political disturbance. The Shah is meditating an attack upon Herat, and has already given orders for an army to be collected. Certainly the British government will feel jealous of any movement that would extend the power of Persia farther towards Afghanistan, especially as they are, I hear, about to take steps to interfere in that country by placing a rival of Dost Mahomed on the throne. Then, too, it is no secret that Russia is encouraging the Shah, and it is probable that Russian influence will become predominant in Persia. The conquest of Herat would matter little to England were it by Persia alone, for Persia is powerless to damage India; but with Persia acting as the tool of Russia, which some day or other will assuredly swallow her up, the matter is very much more serious. This being so, there can be little doubt that the new British minister will be charged with a mission to counteract the designs of Russia as much as possible, and might be glad to take into his employment one who knows the language well and could gather news for him in the guise of a native—for there are so many dialects spoken in different parts of the country that any imperfection of speech would pass unnoticed."
"I think that would be an excellent plan, sir, if it could be carried out."
"I will give you a letter stating the circumstances, speaking of the esteem in which your father was held, and vouching for your character. If you decide to take this course, think it would be well for you to leave at once, for from what I hear of the new minister's course you would then arrive at Teheran within two or three days of his getting there, and might have a better chance, therefore, of obtaining a post in his office. As to the money you speak of, it seems to me that, as your country is a long way off, it would be better if it could be sent to the house with which you father had dealings at Bombay, since there are constantly vessels sailing thither from ports in the Persian Gulf; and whether you saw an opportunity for doing a trade with India, or thought of going there yourself, it would be an advantage to have your money ready to your hand. You must already know a good deal of trade matters, having, as I know, worked as your father's assistant for the past two years. At any rate a year or two at Teheran in the service of the British minister would be an advantage to you in many respects. There is a caravan starting to-morrow, that is why I suggested that you should leave at once. A merchant who travels with it is a friend of mine, and I can recommend you to his care, but it would certainly be best for you to travel as a native."
"I thank you, sir, very heartily, and shall certainly do as you advise me, for as an English lad going alone with a caravan I could scarcely hope to escape trouble with camel-drivers and others. If I fail to obtain employment at the Embassy, I shall probably travel down with a caravan to Bushire, and take ship to Bombay. I have plenty of money to do that, for the expense of travelling with a caravan is very small—nothing is needed except for food—and the passage in a native craft would not be more than a pound or two. I have nearly two hundred, so that I could live for a long time in Bombay if I failed to obtain employment there. When it is gone, I could at least enlist in one of the British regiments."
"It is a poor trade soldiering, lad, though in your case it might not do you harm for a few years, especially if you turned your attention to learning some of the Indian languages. With such knowledge you should certainly have no difficulty in making your way with the little capital you will receive from home."
And so it was settled, and Angus travelled to Teheran. The journey did him good. He had bought a donkey, and trotting along by the side of the merchant to whom his friend had introduced him, the novelty of the life, the strangeness of passing as a native among the travellers, and the conversation of the Persian merchant kept him from brooding over his sorrows. He felt that, suddenly thrown as he was upon his own resources, and compelled to think and act for himself, when but a fortnight before he had others to think and care for him, he must bear himself like a man. It was only at night, when rolled in a blanket he prepared to sleep, that he gave way and lay for hours weeping over his loss.
The merchant, who had been much pleased with his conversation, and had made many enquiries as to the ways of his countrymen, and to whom he had told his plans, invited Angus to take up his abode with him at a khan until he found whether he could obtain employment at the British minister's. Issuing into the town, after having seen his animals attended to and his goods stowed away, the merchant went to see some friends, and on his return told Angus that the new British minister had arrived two days before. The next morning Angus went to the envoy's, and sent in the letter with which the Armenian had furnished him, together with the translation which he had made and the vice-consul had signed and stamped. He had not waited many minutes when one of the attendants came to him and led him in to the minister's room.
"You are Mr. Campbell, the young gentleman of whom our vice-consul at Tabriz writes to me?"
"It is a sad story that he has told me, and I would willingly do anything in my power for a young countryman thus left so sadly and suddenly on his own resources in a foreign land. He tells me that you speak Arabic as well as Persian, and have some acquaintance with Armenian colloquially, though you cannot write it as you can the two former languages. Do you know any other language at all?"
"I know some Kurdish. One of my father's porters was a Kurd, and I was able to get on fairly with him."
"He tells me that it is your wish to obtain employment of some sort with me, as at present you are not old enough to enter upon trade for yourself, and that you do not wish to return to Scotland."
"No, sir. I have been away for four years, and were I to go back I should lose the advantage that I have gained in learning these Eastern languages."
"Quite right; very sensibly decided," the minister said. "And I suppose that you know something of trade?"
"Yes, sir, my father took much pains in instructing me, and for the past two years I have acted as his assistant, and have learned the value of most articles of trade."
The minister nodded.
"Very good; it will doubtless be of value to you hereafter. However, I can at present utilize your services here. I have with me my secretary, and I have the dragomanemployed by my predecessor, who speaks half a dozen languages; but in many ways a sharp young fellow like yourself, able if necessary to mix with the people as one of themselves, and to gather me information as to popular opinion, and who can read and write Persian fluently, would be a welcome addition to my staff. Of course I cannot offer you high pay, as I have an allowance for the expenses of my office upon the same scale as that of my predecessor."
"The pay is quite a secondary matter with me, sir. Even if there were no pay, I should be glad to accept a temporary post under you, as it would be a great advantage to me afterwards to have been employed by you, and I should at least have time to decide what to do next."
"I will think the matter over," the minister said; "at any rate there will be a room assigned to you in the house, and for the present thirty shillings a week for your living. You had better continue to wear your Persian attire. Have you European clothes with you?"
"No, sir, everything was burnt."
The next day Angus was installed in a small room next to that of the secretary, and set to work translating Persian proclamations, edicts, and other matters. A fortnight later the minister decided that he should be dressed as a European when in the house, and a tailor was sent for and ordered to make him clothes of the same style as a suit of the secretary's, which was given him to use as a pattern. The minister nodded approvingly when he entered the little office on the day when Angus first wore his new suit. His work was now changed, and while visitors of distinction were ushered in directly to the minister, and others of less importance were first interviewed by the secretary, people coming in with complaints or petitions were shown in to Angus, who took down what they had to say, and then dismissed them to call the next day for an answer. He was amused at the general impression prevailing among these people that if the British minister could be induced to take up their cases he could obtain justice and redress for them, and how evidently they disbelieved his assurances that a foreign official could not interfere in such matters.
Six months passed, the Shah had started with his army towards Herat, and the evidences that Russia was at the bottom of the movement, and that he was acting in accordance with her advice, became stronger and stronger. Angus stood high in the minister's good opinion, from the steadiness with which he worked, the tact and good temper that he showed with the natives he interviewed, and the willingness with which he would, after the office was closed, work until late at night at his translations. Sometimes he changed his attire again, and slightly darkening his face, and tucking away his light hair, would go out into the streets, mingle with the crowd in busy quarters, and listen to the talk. From the fact that the expedition against Herat was seldom spoken of, he gathered that the war was not popular except among the trading class, who thought that the possession of Herat would lead to a large increase of trade with Afghanistan, and even through Candahar to Northern India. It was, however, but seldom that he went on these expeditions, for it was certain that any private arrangement that had been made between the Shah and Russia would be known only to two of the former's principal officers.
One evening Mr. M'Neill summoned him to his own apartment, and said: "I have obtained information from a source I can rely upon that Russia is encouraging the Shah, and that there are other Russian officers besides their accredited envoy in the Shah's camp. Mr. Corbould started half an hour ago, and will carry the news himself to London; it is too important to be trusted to other hands. I have no doubt whatever that orders will be sent to me at once to mediate between the parties, and to put a certain amount of pressure upon the Shah. Herat is considered the key of Afghanistan, and although we could do nothing to assist its defenders, even were a force to start at once from Bombay, I fancy that I should be authorized to say to the Shah that England would greatly resent the town being permanently occupied; and that she might even go so far as to blockade the ports on the Persian Gulf, and so put a stop to the whole trade of Persia with India. The great question, of course, is how long Herat can hold out against the Persians. The place has the reputation of being strong, but I hear that the fortifications are much dilapidated. The Afghans are likely to fight well up to a certain point, but they might, and probably would, get disheartened after a time. I am anxious to assure them that if they will but hold out, England will do all in her power to induce the Persians to give up the siege. The messenger I send must at once be altogether trustworthy, must be able to make his way through the country as a native, and must have a sufficient knowledge of Arabic to make himself understood there, although this is less important, as there must be many traders in the town who understand Persian."
"If you would entrust me with the message, sir, I would gladly undertake to carry it to Herat."
"That was my purpose in sending for you, Mr. Campbell. I have the greatest confidence in you, and as your Persian is good enough to pass in Teheran, it is certainly good enough for the country districts. But it is not only because I should trust you thoroughly, and have every faith in your being able to carry out the mission, but also because I thought that it would be of great utility to you to be engaged in the performance of such a mission. If Herat defends itself successfully until relieved either by Afghan troops, or as a result of our diplomacy, it will undoubtedly be a feather in the cap of the gentleman I select to undertake the commission of encouraging the Heratees to hold out; and, with my report of the valuable services that you have rendered here, might obtain for you a better position in the diplomatic service than I can offer you, or some post in India where your knowledge of Persian and Arabic would be valuable."
"I thank you very much indeed, sir. The change to an active life would not only be very pleasant to me, but I can quite understand that if good comes of it I might benefit greatly. Would you wish me to return as soon as I have delivered your message?"
"No, I think it would be better for you to remain there. I myself will shortly join the Shah in his camp; the office here will be closed."
On the following day Angus started. The back of his head having been shaved, his hair was completely covered by his turban. He wore wide Turkish trousers, a loosely fitting blue embroidered vest, and a long kaftan thickly padded and falling below his knees, a coloured sash, with two long-barrelled pistols, and a curved sword. His attire was that of a Persian trader. He rode on a camel, which, although not a handsome animal to look at, was of good blood and fast. Slung over his shoulder was a long matchlock; he carried behind him a great bale of goods. Accompanying him was a Persian boy, whose father was a door-keeper at the mission; the boy himself was a hanger-on there. He was a bright-faced lad of some fifteen years old, who ran messages, and made himself generally useful. Between him and Angus a sort of friendship had sprung up, and of an evening when the latter went out he often took the boy with him, his shrewdness and chatter being a relief after a long day's work in the office.
Azim had accepted with delight Angus's proposal that he should accompany him, as his attendant, on a journey that he was about to make. The matter was settled in a few minutes, a donkey purchased for him, suitable clothes for travel, and a couple of Kurd blankets. Angus himself had a large fur-lined coat reaching to his feet, and four blankets, two of which were of very large size and capable of being made into a tent, for he knew that the khans and the houses in the villages swarmed with insects, and was determined that, unless circumstances prevented it, he would always encamp in the open air. Azim's camel carried, in addition to a bale of goods, two water-skins, a sufficient supply of flour for the journey, a bag of ground coffee, and another of sugar; meat would always be procurable.
It was a long journey, but Angus enjoyed it. The road was a frequented one, for a considerable trade was carried on between Herat and Persia, and traders frequently passed along. Azim turned out a bright and intelligent companion, and no suspicion was anywhere entertained that Angus was aught but what he seemed. Some little surprise, however, was occasionally expressed that he should be making the journey at a time when the Persian army was marching against Herat. To such remarks he always replied that he should probably stay there but a few days, and hoped to be well on the road to Candahar before the army arrived at Herat. He was certain that he should arrive in time, for the army with its huge baggage train had already taken nearly six months in accomplishing a journey that he had performed in little over as many weeks.
WHEN near the frontier Angus sold the camels. He had already parted with all the goods that he had carried, and he now bought peasant dresses, such as those worn by the Afghan cultivators, for himself and Azim. It was but some seventy miles on to Herat, but the Persian army was on the direct road, having just laid siege to Ghorian, and it was necessary to make a detour to avoid both the plundering parties of the Persians and the Afghan horsemen who would be hovering round the enemy's camp. Before crossing the frontier he purchased sufficient food to last for four days, as it would be dangerous to enter any place where they might be accosted, as their ignorance of the language would seem to prove that they were Persian spies.
Both carried swords and long knives, as a protection rather from the attacks of village dogs than from trouble with men. As it was now November and the weather was becoming cold at night, they were glad of the long coats lined with sheep-skin. The country through which they were passing was fertile, and when on the afternoon of the third day they came in sight of Herat, even Azim was struck with the richness and fertility of the country. It was well watered by several small streams; fortified villages were scattered here and there over the plain. Round these were gardens, orchards, and vineyards, the intervening spaces being in summer covered by wide expanses of corn. As they neared the city they saw that numbers of people from the villages were making their way towards it, many with bullock waggons carrying stores of grain and household goods, while women and men were alike loaded. They entered the gate of the city unquestioned and unnoticed in the crowd of horse and footmen, cattle, bullock-carts, sheep, and goats.
Striking as was the appearance of the town without, inside everything showed signs of neglect and poverty. Herat contained some forty-five thousand inhabitants; the majority of these were Persian Sheeahs. Once the capital of the great empire of Tamerlane, it had greatly fallen from its former splendour, its decline having been rapid since its capture from the Persians by the Afghans in 1715. It had been retaken by the Persians, and recaptured by the Afghans, under whose savage rule its prosperity had greatly diminished. It was still an important trading centre, being situated on the one great thoroughfare between India and Russia, and being celebrated for the beauty of its carpets and for the temper of its sword-blades. Its trade was principally in the hands of Hindoos, who numbered no fewer than a thousand, some of whom were traders, while others were occupied in the various branches of work to which they had been accustomed in India. There were several families of Armenians and a few Jews.
The city had for years suffered under the horrible tyranny of Shah Kamran, now an old and feeble man, and of his wuzeer or minister, Yar Mahomed Khan, who held the post of governor of the city. Under these men neither life nor property was respected; men and women were seized and sold into slavery under the smallest pretext, often without any attempt whatever to justify the action. Armed bands of ruffians broke into the houses and plundered at their will, and the peaceful portion of the population were in a state of utter misery and despair.
On entering the gate, Angus proceeded along the bazaar, an arched street about a mile long, which extended from one side of the city to the other. This was crossed at right angles by another bazaar of equal length, and the city, which was built in the form of a square, was thus divided into four quarters. Round the wall was a wide ditch, which was at all times kept full of water from springs rising in the town.
When he had proceeded some distance, Angus heard two traders in one of the shops speaking in Armenian. He at once entered. "Effendi," he said in that language, "I am a stranger here and but newly arrived. Can you tell me where I can procure a lodging?"
The two men looked in surprise at this Afghan peasant who addressed them in their own tongue, and one of them, after a moment's hesitation, bade him come into his private apartment behind the shop.
"Who are you?" he said; "and how come you to speak our language?"
"I learned it in conversation with some of your people in Tabriz, and especially from one who was the British vice-consul there. I also speak Persian and Arabic."
The trader's surprise increased as Angus spoke. "But who are you, then, who have travelled so far, and how is it that having learned so many languages you are now here as a peasant?"
"It is a disguise," Angus said. "My father was a British merchant at Tabriz, and I myself am in the service of the British minister at Teheran, and am the bearer of a letter from him to Shah Kamran."
"You are young indeed, my son, to be engaged on so difficult and dangerous a mission. Surely I can find you a lodging. All trade is at a stand-still now, and we Armenians suffer like the rest. My brother, whom you saw in the shop, is a weaver of carpets; but none will buy carpets now. He has a house larger than his needs, and would, I am sure, gladly take you in."
He called his brother in from the front, and explained to him who this strange visitor was and what he wanted.
"I have money," Angus said, "and am prepared to pay well for my accommodation. I have a servant with me, he is the son of a door-keeper at the embassy, and is altogether faithful and trustworthy. Unfortunately, I do not speak the Afghan tongue."
"That will matter little in the town; the majority of the people still speak Persian, although they may know Pushtoo. It is the same with many of the fugitives who have come in from the plain. You will have difficulty in seeing the prince. He is old and feeble, and for the greater part of his time he is drunk. Everything is therefore in the hands of the wuzeer, who is one of the worst of men—cruel, avaricious, and unscrupulous. We have had many tyrants, but he is the worst; and I can assure you that the success of the Persians would fill all but the Afghan portion of the population with the deepest joy. It will be necessary for you to see him first before you see Shah Kamran. The hour is getting late, and I shall close my shop shortly. If you will go round with my brother to his house I will join you there presently. We all love and respect the English. They have always been our good friends, and glad indeed should we be were they masters here as they are in India; for I have been there, and know how just is their rule—how they oppress no one, and will not suffer others to do so. This would be a happy city indeed if your people were our masters."
A short walk brought Angus and Azim to the house of the carpet-weaver. It was of some size, but bore a neglected and poverty-stricken aspect, which was not belied by its appearance when they entered. The doors stood open, and it could be seen that looms stood idle now in all the rooms. The man led the way upstairs, and unlocking a door there entered the family apartments. The contrast between these and the floor below was great indeed. Afghan carpets covered the passages and floors, well-stuffed divans ran round the rooms, and although there were no signs of wealth, everything pointed to comfort. The Armenian led them into a room, where his wife and two daughters were seated. They rose in some surprise at seeing him enter accompanied by an Afghan peasant. Azim had remained in the passage without.
"Do not be surprised," the trader said; "this person is not what he looks, but is an English effendi, the bearer of a letter from his minister at Teheran to Shah Kamran. He is going to do us the honour to lodge here for a time. He speaks our language as well as Persian."
"He is welcome," his wife said courteously; "and indeed his presence here will afford us a protection which we shall need more than ever when the passions of the people are excited by the siege."
"As you are accustomed to our ways," the husband said, "you will not be surprised at my bringing you in here or at seeing the women unveiled. As a rule, everywhere in the East we adopt the customs of the country so far that our women veil when they go out, and my wife and daughters would do the same here if they were to walk through the streets. But my daughters have not left the house since they were children; my wife has not done so since we took up our abode here twenty-three years ago."
Angus uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"You would not be astonished if you knew the lawlessness that prevails here. No young woman can venture safely into the streets, for as soon as a report that she was good-looking reached Kamran she would be seized and carried off to his harem even in broad daylight. No respectable woman would think of going out save with an armed escort."
"That is indeed a terrible state of things."
"We are accustomed to it now, effendi, and at any rate we are not molested here. I make a present now and then to Yar Mahomed Khan and also to his principal officer, and I am let alone by them. My brother does the same. They know that I am a carpet-weaver employing eight or ten men, and as they believe I could not be squeezed to any large amount, they are satisfied to let us go on. So as long as we keep quietly at home we are not molested, and we both intend ere long to move from here to Teheran or Tabriz. We have only been waiting until we can manage to get away with our belongings without attracting notice. We have done very well since we came here, for trade has been good. My brother buys up the products of many other looms, and we have both made good profits, but we take care that we do not keep more money than is necessary here. Now I will show you the room that will be at your disposal. You will, I hope, join us at our family meals, so that we shall not have to cook for you separately."
"Certainly, it would be very much more pleasant for me."
The terms were arranged without difficulty, for the Armenian felt that it might be a great protection for them to have an Englishman in the house. The merchant then arranged to obtain a dress for Angus similar to that worn by himself and his brother. This was brought in on the following morning. Having put it on, Angus went out accompanied by Azim. He decided to wait for a day or two before seeing the wuzeer, so as to ascertain the state of things in the town and the preparations for defence. He was going through one of the narrow streets when a loaded camel came along behind him, its paniers nearly touching the houses on each side. Its rider did not give the usual shout of warning, and Angus had but just time to jump into a doorway when it brushed past him, the Afghan driver grinning maliciously at so nearly upsetting one whom he regarded as a Sheeah trader. A man walking just in front of him, who was not quick enough to get out of the camel's way, was knocked down. As he got up Angus to his astonishment heard him mutter angrily, "Confound you! I wish I had you outside this town, I would give you a lesson you would not forget!" Astonished to find another Englishman here in Afghan costume, Angus stepped up to him and said, "I did not expect to find an Englishman here, sir."
The other turned sharply round. "I am as surprised as you can be, sir! But we had better not be speaking English here. I am lodging within fifty yards of this, if you will follow me I will take you there, and we can then introduce ourselves properly."
In three minutes they were in the room occupied by the stranger. "As host I will introduce myself first," he said with a smile. "My name is Eldred Pottinger; I have been travelling through Afghanistan on an unofficial mission to explore and report on the country to my uncle, Colonel Pottinger, Resident in Scinde. Happening to arrive here at the present crisis, and thinking that I might be useful if the city is besieged, I have declared myself to the wuzeer, and although I still retain my disguise there are many who know that I am an Englishman."
"My name is Angus Campbell, Mr. Pottinger. I am in the employment of the British minister at Teheran, and am the bearer of a letter from him to Shah Kamran encouraging him to maintain the defence of the city as long as possible, and holding out hopes that the British government, which would view the attack upon Herat with grave dissatisfaction, will endeavour to mediate between him and the Shah, and may even take measures to put pressure upon the latter to withdraw his forces."
"That is very satisfactory. Of course I have had no shadow of authority to speak in that way, and could only assure him generally that he would have the good will of the English, and that as an English officer I would on my own part put any military skill that I possess at his service, and, being myself an artillery officer, might be of considerable assistance to him in the management and working of the guns. But your letter will place me in a more favourable position. What are your instructions? Are you going to return to the embassy or remain here?"
"Mr. M'Neill left it to myself. He will join the Shah's army, as the Russian ambassador is also with it. As he takes the dragoman of the legation down with him, he has no absolute occasion for my services. From what I have seen of the place so far, though I only arrived yesterday, it does not seem to me possible that these mud walls can withstand a battering fire. The place will therefore very likely be taken in a few days; and as I should not care about being in a town sacked by Persian troops, I had intended to leave it as soon as I delivered my letter."
"There is no doubt about the weakness of the place; a European army would carry it in three days. But the Persians have never been remarkable for their courage, while the Afghans are undoubtedly a fighting people. I think it is quite possible that the siege may last for months. You know the dilatory way in which these Eastern people go to work. Of course I can give no opinion whatever as to what would be your best course. It would depend upon so many things—your position at the embassy, your chances of promotion there, and other matters of which I am altogether ignorant. I suppose you speak Persian well?"
A MAN WALKING JUST IN FRONT OF HIM ... WAS KNOCKED DOWN.
"Yes, and also Arabic, and I can get on in Armenian and Kurdish. As to my position, it is scarcely an official one. I am the son of a Scottish trader who for twelve years carried on business at Tabriz. He and my mother were carried off eight months ago by an outbreak of plague, and his house and store were burned in some street riots. I consulted the British vice-consul there, an Armenian who was a friend of my father, and we agreed that from my knowledge of languages I ought to be able to get on better in the East than at home, where it would be of no use to me. I had acted as my father's assistant for the last two years of his life, and had therefore acquired a knowledge of trading; and I have a small capital with which, when I get older, I can either enter into business myself or join someone already established. I was very glad to obtain this place in the embassy as a temporary employment until I could see my way, for although Mr. M'Neill kindly took me on as an extra assistant, of course his successor, whoever he may be, may not want me."
"I think you have done very wisely. How old are you now?"
"I am a few months over sixteen."
"You are young indeed," Pottinger laughed, "to be engaged in political affairs. Well, I should say that if the Afghans really mean to fight, as I believe they will, they can hold the town for some time, and you will therefore be able to learn their language, which would be invaluable to you if you go in for commerce, or in fact whatever you do out here. Things are in a disturbed state in Afghanistan, and I should be surprised if the Indian Government does not interfere there before long; and in that case anyone acquainted with Pushtoo and with Arabic and Persian will have no difficulty in finding employment with the army, and through my uncle I might be able to put you in the way of it. And now about your mission.
"The wuzeer for some reason or other—I own I don't see why—has been exceedingly civil to me. On my arrival I sent to say that I was a stranger and a traveller, and that, should it be pleasing to him, I would wait upon him. He sent down at once to say that he would see me the next day. Of course on occasions of this sort it is usual to make a present. The only thing that I could give him was a brace of detonating pistols. He had never seen any but flint-locks before, and accepted them graciously. Finding that I was a British artillery officer, he at once asked my opinion on a variety of matters, and took me round the walls with him, consulting me as to how they had best be strengthened, and so on.
"I will go up and see him presently, and tell him that you have arrived and are the bearer of a letter from our minister to Shah Kamran. I shall of course mention that you have come in disguise, and that you have therefore been unable to bring the customary presents, and I shall point out to him that you possess the confidence of the British minister. I shall say that for that reason I have persuaded you to remain here during the siege, and that I am sure you will act with me, and moreover will endeavour to keep M'Neill well informed of everything going on here, and will continually urge him to impress upon the British government the importance of the position and the necessity for interfering to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Persians. As to its importance there is no doubt, especially as Russia appears to be making Persia a cat's-paw in the matter. That is why I feel that while fighting for these Heratees—who between ourselves seem to me to be unmitigated ruffians—I am merely fighting for England, for it is of the utmost importance that the gate of India should not be in the hands of Persia, especially if, as you say, Russian influence is dominant at Teheran."
"I am sure I shall be delighted if you will accept me as your assistant, though I don't see at present what possible service I can be."
"You will be of use. There will be no end of things to see about." Then he burst out laughing. "It does seem absurd, doesn't it, that we two, I a young lieutenant and you a lad not yet seventeen, should be proposing to take a prominent part in the defence of a city like this against an army commanded by the Shah of Persia in person."
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