To Meet the Ameer (3)

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 1 April 1885


Sussex Scrapbooks, 28/1 p. 19. Diary 30 and 31 March 1885.
This is the seventh article in the series. [T.P.]

The Article

Peshawur, March 30

[ . . . ] Monday night, half past eight; pitch dark and the platform of the Peshawar station, covered with the Ameer’s horses, which are at the present moment entraining for Pindi. Unless you are actually on the platform, in serious danger of your life from flying heels and panic stricken horses, you will not appreciate the beauty of the situation. His Highness really starts tonight at eleven o’clock, more or less exactly, and before that hour strikes, seven hundred and fifty horses are to be cleared away somehow. Four detachments have already gone off. This is the fifth and, I fancy, the last. The Assistant Commissioner is, apparently, the only man who can interpret the Pushtu of the yelling crowd to the natives around. Neither Cabulies nor horses have seen a train before; but the former are adapting themselves wonderfully to circumstances. In the first place they are absolutely fearless; plunging head first, into the squealing, kicking truck-loads of yaboos (Afghan horses), without a moment’s hesitation. Hyder Ali, Commander in Chief of the Ameer’s army, has recognized the gravity of the situation and — think of it Cs. in C. (Commanders in Chief) all over creation — is working like a navvy in the midst of his men. Three horses are down in a wagon of eight, and from the appalling noise inside, seem to be kicking each other to pieces. Hyder Ali, guided by a single lantern, dives into the tumult, directs, superintends, harangues and — from the tone of his voice — swears till the wretched beasts are set right. If one restive grey stallion could speak, he might even tell us how the Commander-in-Chief backed him, protesting and snorting, up the slippery gangway and into his fellows once more.

What Mr Anderson’s work through this dripping afternoon and evening have been, that unfortunate officer only knows. It is admitted, of course, that the Punjab Commission understands ‘a little bit of everything’; but to turn one of that distinguished body, for the nonce, into a Trooper-cum-Traffic Superintendent-guard-cum-syce civilian, does seem rather hard. However, the horses must be got away, and the 9—20 mail train to Pindi, starts as near her proper time as may be.
In the centre of the platform stands a huge baggage cart drawn by two bullocks; and round this the tumult rages unceasingly.

‘Duserah gorah lao.’ ‘Kubberdar! ’ [‘Bring the other horse. Look out!’] ‘What the deuce is this ’ere man a saying of sir?’ seems to be the keynotes of the cats’ concert: Pushtu gutterals, and a running accompaniment of kicks, all down the waggons, completing the chorus. The horses are all entrained, with their packs on; consequently when one falls down, the work of picking him up is rendered doubly difficult. Each Cabuli, too, carries a heavy load on his back and is as difficult to move as the horses themselves. Ammunition cases, in red wood, home¬made Martini-Henri rifles; tent poles, furs, food, samovers, hookahs, saddles two feet high, and every other sort of odds and ends, lie about in wild confusion, Everything is wet and clammy to the touch, and in the black darkness one stumbles across men and horses at every step. If the scene could be reproduced on canvas, it would be ridiculed as wildly impossible. Usbeg lancers and locomotives cheek by jowl; tartars and telegraphs, jostling each other; western civilization and eastern savagery, blended in the maddest fashion, and on the just and unjust alike, the ceaseless pitiless rain. No words in my power could do justice to the tableau. After an hour and a half of hard work, the Commander-in-Chief retires; the Assistant Commissioner, soaked from head to foot, follows his example, in order to snatch a little rest before the Ameer’s ‘special’ is taken in hand, and the waggons of horses and men steam off into the darkness; the thump, thump, thump, of their four-footed occupants, ringing in our ears as long as the tail lights of the train can be seen. It may be remarked here, that the ingenuous ‘Yaboo’ only showed his astonishment at the iron horse. The Cabulis may have been surprised, but they took snuff and concealed their feelings.

The whole business — admirably as it was despatched — the mail train was not more than an hour or so behind time — was a huge mistake. Seeing that Abdur Rahman had been already so late in keeping his appointment, and that the mischief of this delay was beyond repair — a day extra would not have mattered. This would have given time for entraining the horses quietly, and possibly another four and twenty hours will mend the weather at Rawal Pindi, where, like Peshawur, it has been raining heavily.
Rawal Pindi, 31st March, 5—30 A.M.
That last sentence was a mistake altogether. The weather has not mended, and Rawal Pindi in the grey dawn is only Peshawur turned up side down. Here are the Yaboos and Cabulis coming out of the train instead of entering it. Here too are the sodden, rain-soaked followers; the gruelly mud under foot, and the heavy clouds overhead. Abdur Rahman left Peshawar last night at eleven for a wonder. I am unable to record the departure. It must have been a depressing function at the best, but he will be here in two hours and a half. Meantime, some drenched coolies are decorating the station, with mournful bunting and depressed laurel boughs, and sight seers, even at this unholy hour, are beginning to drop in. The red cloth is weighted with an unromantic brick, lest it should take unto itself wings.
Later. — The Guard of Honour — Royal Irish Fusiliers — has arrived and are being rained upon. Several big wigs, with plumed hats and restive horses, are being treated in the same manner. Also the K[ing’s] D[ragoon] G[uards] in blue cloaks, and the 14th Bengal Lancers and 15th Bengal Cavalry and a battery of horse artillery. Lots of prancing and curvetting in the mud; more rain, gouts of mud everywhere — and a bevy of umbrellas on the station roof. The umbrellas are agitated, and a rush is made to the business side of the station. Up to the present we umbrellas, have been watching the troops below — and commenting on the appearance of the Punjab Volunteers. One company has yellow gaiters. Every one of the umbrellas is consumed with envy. The other companies have no gaiters. ‘Aren’t the fellows getting wet’ say the umbrellas, and forthwith dismiss the volunteers from their minds. The Ameer has arrived, the Guard of Honour presents arms; the Band strikes up, and our respected Lieutenant Governor, Sir M. Biddulph, Mr Perkins, Commissioner, Colonel Henderson, and another cocked hat or two, emerge warily from the shelter of the waiting room verandah, and prepare to receive His Highness. His Highness is not in a hurry to come out, but finally descends — very lame — clad in a black surtout with gold trappings, and the invariable Tartar cap — and shakes hands all round. Desultory conversation in the rain, which the cocked hats appear to enjoy immensely, and then a rush for certain barouches, four in hands, landaus, etc., which have been waiting outside.

Where were the elephants and the Judges of the Chief Court, the Commissioners, and Durbaies, who were to mount them; Forty two animals, swathed as to Jhool (blanket) and Ilowdah (seat) with canvas and looking for all the world like huge dhobies’ donkeys with the week’s wash on their backs, have been swaying pensively in the midst for an hour past. These are now shuffled homeward riderless, and with the glories of gold embroidery and silk trappings hidden from view. Thus ended the elephant procession which was to be the greatest sight that Asia had ever seen. Man durbars but Jupiter Pluvius downpours, and the game is a losing one for thin-skinned mankind. The barouches are trotting away, and the K.D.G.’s (King’s Dragoon Guards), the 14th B.L. (Bengal Lancers), the 18th B.C. (Bengal Cavalry) and the guns form the escort in front and behind them. Neither rain, nor mud can destroy the beauty of British Cavalry, or prevent their presence from impressing the bystander. In spite of mired horses, and soaked cloaks, the escort was an impressive sight and it is to be hoped that the Ameer looked at them as he passed. They have all gone away to the Commissioner’s house — pro tem the Ameer’s bungalow, the Guard of Honour playing ‘for he might have been a Roosian’ etc. Ribald, is it not? At the bungalow the third ziafut of Rs. 21,000 will be presented. As the umbrellas descend from the roof of the Station, the welcome news goes round that today is a dies non. There will be no durbar, and the review is postponed till Saturday. ‘So home’ as Mr Pepys said ‘which pleased me mightily to change my filthy raiment, and thank heaven that the king comes not thus everie daye.’