A Peep into Toorkisthan Part 7

Our bugles had just sounded the first call to dinner, when a few officers who were strolling in front of the camp observed a woman with a black veil walking hurriedly from some dark-looking object, and proceed in the direction of that part of the camp occupied by the Affghan force under Prince Timour Shah, the Shah Zada, heir apparent to the throne of C[=a]bul. On approaching the object, it was discovered to be a man lying on the ground with his hands tied behind him, his throat half severed, with three stabs in his breast, and two gashes across the stomach. The mangled wretch was still breathing, and a medical man being at hand, measures were instantly taken most calculated to save his life, but without success, and in a quarter of an hour he was a corpse. Familiar as we were with scenes which in our own happy land would have excited the horror and disgust of every man possessed of the common feelings of humanity, there was something in this strange murder which caused us to make enquiries, and the reader will hardly believe me when I tell him that the victim met his fate with the knowledge and consent of Timour Shah. The woman whom we first observed was the legal murderess. She had that morning been to the Shah Zada and sworn on the Kor[=a]n that the deceased many years back had murdered her husband and ran away with his other wife; she had demanded redress according to the Mahommedan law--blood for blood. The Shah Zada offered the woman a considerable sum of money if she would waive her claim to right of personally inflicting the punishment on the delinquent, and allow the man to be delivered over to his officers of justice, promising a punishment commensurate with the crime he had committed. But the woman persisted in her demand for the law of the Kor[=a]n. Her victim was bound and delivered into her hands; she had him conducted in front of the prince's camp about three hundred yards off, and effected her inhuman revenge with an Affgh[=a]n knife, a fit instrument for such a purpose.

Before returning to C[=a]bul it was deemed requisite to punish the rebellious owner of the fort of Babboo-koosh-Ghur. On the approach of our force he decamped with all his va.s.sals, and as it was advisable to leave some permanent mark of our displeasure, the bastions were blown down with gunpowder. It seems that the enemy imagined we were very negligent in camp, for they honored us the same evening with one of their night attacks, for which they are famous, the object in general being rather to hara.s.s their adversary by keeping him on the alert than to penetrate to his tents.

On the present occasion they commenced a distant fusillade upon the left of our line, extending it gradually along nearly the whole face; a few rounds of grape from the artillery soon cleared _their_ front, but the enemy continued for above three hours a random fire upon the left, and, strange to say, they kept aloof from the European troops, who were encamped as usual on the right of the line. The artillery horses being picketted in soft ground soon drew their iron pegs, and having thus obtained their liberty, scampered up and down in rear of the troops and amongst the tents, thereby considerably adding to the confusion and uproar. On the alarm first sounding every light was extinguished in the camp, and well was it that these precautionary measures were adopted, for a great portion of the standing tents were riddled. The enemy fired without aim, and we were fortunate enough to lose only one sepoy; we could not ascertain the amount of casualty amongst them, but from the sudden cessation of any attack upon that part of the line where the artillery was stationed, we concluded that the rounds of grape must have told with considerable effect.

After midnight the enemy withdrew, and when at a distance of about half a mile from our outposts gave a shout of defiance, perhaps to draw a party from the camp to pursue them, which, however, was not done, or rejoicing at the havoc they imagined to have made in our ranks. We heard afterwards that the Affgh[=a]ns with their usual superst.i.tion had remembered that many years ago a large army had been attacked on the same ground we then occupied and annihilated, and that probably a like success would crown their efforts in the present instance.

This night attack rendered some further demonstration of our powers of retaliation necessary, particularly as a portion of our adversaries were from the fort of Kardurrah, to which we proceeded the next day and easily captured, the enemy retiring to the hills on our advance, abandoning a strong and easily defended position, for their flank could not have been turned without incurring considerable loss, if the fort of Kardurrah had been held in a determined manner. It was generally remarked as being a particularly strong place, the approach leading through orchards surrounded by mud walls six or seven feet high and loopholed, the lanes intersecting them being barricadoed as if to be held to the last extremity.

Probably such was their valiant intention, but it seems they were bewildered by our attacking them from different points, and not trusting to each other for support, all took to their heels. The undulating ground was strewn with ma.s.ses of detached rocks, and they had also built up several small but substantial stone breast-works, so that altogether we had reason to congratulate ourselves on their unexpected retreat.

The women had been previously conveyed away with the heavy baggage, and we found the houses empty, but fruit of every description was lying about the streets, prepared and packed for the winter supply of the C[=a]bul market. Melons, peaches, pears, walnuts were either in heaps against the walls or placed in baskets for transportation; but the most curious arrangement was exhibited in the mode in which they preserved their brobdignag grapes for winter consumption. About thirty berries, each of enormous size and separately enveloped in cotton, were hermetically enclosed between a couple of rudely shaped clay saucers, so that we were obliged to crack the saucers to get at the fruit inside, and great was the scrambling amongst the thirsty soldiers for their luscious contents as they rolled out upon the ground.

CHAPTER XX.

The thread of my narrative now guides me to an event which cannot be contemplated without astonishment and regret. I allude to the unaccountable panic which seized the 2nd Cavalry during the action at Purwan Durrah; indeed I would willingly pa.s.s it over in silence, but I am anxious to express my humble admiration of the chivalrous bearing of the European officers on that melancholy occasion.

The several severe blows which we had recently inflicted upon the Affgh[=a]ns during the course of this short compaign, and their not having lately appeared in any organized force in the vicinity of our camp, caused an opinion to prevail amongst many that our labours for the season were brought to a close; but on the 20th of October we were again excited by the rumour that Dost Mahommed, who had been hovering about, intended as a "derniere ressource" once more to try his fortune in war. Our antic.i.p.ations of a little more active service were soon realized by an order to advance upon Purwan Durrah. We accordingly struck our tents, pa.s.sing by Aukserai, and encamped near Meer Musjedi's fortress, remaining there till the 3rd of November watching the movements of the enemy. On that day information was received that the Dost, with a large body of horse and foot, was moving towards us by the Purwan Durrah; the general decided upon checking his progress, and an advanced guard consisting of four companies of the 13th under Major Kershaw, two companies of Native Infantry, two nine-pounders, and two squadrons of the 2nd Bengal Cavalry, the whole under the command of Col. Salter of the 2nd Cavalry, preceded the main column.

On the road we met a follower of one of the friendly chiefs charged with a report that the ex-Ameer's party had been attacking some of the forts in the valley, but for the present had taken up a position on the neighbouring hills. We soon came on them, and at a short distance perceived a small body of cavalry in the plain. A rumour pa.s.sed through our ranks that Dost Mahommed was himself amongst the hors.e.m.e.n, and it was a subject of congratulation that the only opportunity had now arrived of our cavalry engaging theirs, and that one brilliant attack would bring this desultory warfare to a glorious termination.

The squadrons under the command of the gallant Fraser were ordered to advance, and moved steadily forward at a trot; all eyes were fixed upon them--the men were apparently steady--and even the least sanguine could hardly doubt the result of a shock of disciplined cavalry on an irregular body of horse not half their numerical strength.

But when the word to charge was given, an uncontrolled panic seized the troopers; instead of putting their horses into a gallop and dashing forward to certain victory, the pace gradually slackened; in vain did their officers use every effort to urge the men on--in vain did the spirit-stirring trumpet sound the charge--the troopers were spell-bound by the demon of fear; the trot became a walk, then a halt; and then, forgetful of their duty, their honor, and their officers, they wheeled about and shamefully fled.

But not for one single instant did Fraser hesitate; with a bitter and well-merited expression of contempt at this unmanly desertion, he briefly said, "We must charge alone," and dashing spurs into his horse, he rushed to an almost certain fate, followed by Ponsonby, Crispin, Broadfoot, Dr. Lord, and by about a dozen of his men, who all preferred an honourable death to an ignominious life.

The feelings of disgust mingled with intense admiration with which this unparalleled scene was viewed by the infantry can be better imagined than expressed; and those who under similar trying circ.u.mstances would have endeavoured to imitate the heroism of their countrymen, could scarce subdue a thrill of horror as this handful of brave soldiers galloped forward. The intrepid Fraser, mounted upon a large and powerful English horse, literally hewed a lane for himself through the astonished Affghans; and Ponsonby too--for I am weary of seeking fresh epithets for their unsurpa.s.sable conduct--on a strong Persian mare, for a time bore down all opposition. Dost Mahommed himself, though in some personal danger from the impetuosity of this desperate charge, could not restrain his admiration.

The event fully proved the danger incurred. Dr. Lord, Crispin, and Broadfoot upheld the glory of their country to the last, and fell covered with many wounds. Fraser and Ponsonby were both desperately hacked, and owed their lives to their horses becoming unmanageable, bearing their riders from the midst of the enemy. The reins of Ponsonby's bridle were cut, and he himself grievously wounded in the face, while Fraser's arm was nearly severed in two; neither did their horses escape in the conflict, as both bore deep gashes of the Affgh[=a]n blades.

While the European officers were thus sacrificing themselves in the execution of their duty, the dastard troopers came galloping in amongst the infantry of the advanced guard, some of whom were with difficulty restrained from inflicting on the spot the punishment they so well deserved.

Meanwhile the enemy's cavalry, flushed with success, advanced against the infantry with colours flying and loud shoutings, as in expectation of an easy victory. But the infantry were prepared to receive them, and a few rounds from the nine-pounders soon caused them to halt; finding that their antagonists were not under the same influence as the cavalry, they gave up the attack and retired to a distant position on the hills. The steady advance of the 37th N.I. from the main body of our forces, together with a few judiciously thrown sh.e.l.ls, soon drove their infantry to a more elevated range of hills; and before sunset we had quiet possession of the field.

We had the melancholy satisfaction of finding the bodies of our comrades, whom we buried at night in one large grave, and performing the solemn service of the dead by torchlight. There is no chance of their being forgotten: so long as gallantry is admired and honour revered amongst British soldiers, so long will they remember Fraser's charge at Purwan Durrah.

I am loath to dwell on the misconduct of the troopers; as far as I am enabled to ascertain it was unexpected by the officers. Some, indeed, declare that previous disaffection existed amongst the men; others say that the troopers being Mussulmen did not like to charge against Dost Mahommed himself, whom they considered as their religious chief; but I think we may fairly attribute their flight to downright _cowardice_, as no complaint or cause was a.s.signed by the men previous to encountering the foe. Whatever be the truth, the event was most unfortunate, for it appears that the Dost was even previous to the action anxious to throw himself upon the protection of the British, but his followers would not permit him to do so; nevertheless, on the evening of that day he managed to elude their vigilance, and riding directly to C[=a]bul met the envoy Sir William M'Naghten taking his evening ride, and surrendered himself into his hands.

The news of this event of course put an end to further hostilities, and on the 7th of November we returned to C[=a]bul, heartily glad once more to get comfortably housed, as the winter was rapidly approaching and the nights severely cold.

THE END.

LIST OF PLATES.

View of the Outer Cave of Yeermallik, shewing the Entrance Hole to the larger Cavern

Map of Cabul and the Kohistan, with the Route to Koollum

View of the Ice Caves in the Cavern of Yeermallik

View of Koollum from the Eastward

Fac-Simile Drawings of Ancient Coins found in Toorkisthan and Affghanistan, in the possession of Capt. Burslem, as follows:

No. 1. A Bactrian coin: legend on the obverse, [Transliterated from the Greek lettering, Basileus ermaion sot]. Reverse, Hercules on a tuckt or throne, with his right arm extended.

No. 2. A square copper coin of Apollodotus: legend, [Transliterated from the Greek lettering, Basileus pollodot soter]; a male figure, holding in one hand a club, and a spear in the other. The reverse bears Pelhvic characters.

No. 3. A square copper coin of Eucratides: [Transliterated from the Greek, Basileus megal] is only decypherable. If of Eucratides the Great, of which I have no doubt, this coin is of great value, as he reigned in Bactria 181 B.C. The reverse bears a Pelhvic legend, with the figures of two warriors mounted.

No. 4. A square silver coin of Menander. A helmeted head, with the inscription, [Transliterated from the Greek, Basileus soteros Menandrou].

The reverse bears the emblematic figure of an owl.

No. 5. A square copper coin, inscription illegible. On the obverse is a woman holding a flower or a priest offering incense. It appears to be a Kanirkos coin.

No. 6. A round silver Indo-Scythian coin.

No. 7. A square silver coin of Apollodotus, 195 B.C. Obverse, an elephant, with the Bactrian monogram beneath--[Transliterated from the Greek, Basileus pollodoton soteros]. Reverse, an Indian bull. The characters and figures on this coin are very distinct.

No. 8. Another coin of Menander. An elephant's head with the proboscis elevated: legend, [Transliterated from the Greek, Basileus soteros Menandrou]. On the reverse is a cannon. This is an old and valuable coin.

No, 9. A gold coin, supposed by Lady Sale to be a Kadphises. The legend begins with Amokad and ends with Korano. On the reverse is a naked figure, with the right arm stretched out. A few specimens, but in copper, have been found in the barrow at Maunikyala in the Punjaub.

Lady Sale considers this coin to be a great beauty and of value.

No. 10. A gem found in the plain of Buggram.

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