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A Peep into Toorkisthhan by Rollo Burslem

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nearer than about four miles, but I was credibly informed that the
streak was in reality what its appearance first suggested to my mind,
a body of fine sand continually flowing over the side of the hill, and
depositing its volumes in a heap at the base of the mountain. I might
perhaps in a windy day have ascertained the correctness of the report,
as then the sandy cascade would appear as a cloud of dust, but the
weather was calm during the whole time we were in its vicinity. It
is called by the natives the Regrow[=a]n or flowing sand. Being no
geologist, I refrain from offering any suggestions as to its cause,
but merely state what I saw and heard.

After marching about the country for some days like the Paladins of
old in search of adventure, we turned our faces once more towards
C[=a]bul and encamped near Kara-bagh. While here, a scene occurred
which will doubtless be still in the recollection of many officers
with the force, and which I relate as illustrative of the barbarous
customs of the people. Many of the stories which I have introduced
must of course be received by the impartial or incredulous reader "cum
grano salis." I have given them as they were repeated to me, but I can
personally vouch for the following fact.

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 vassals, 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 harass 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
superstition 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 masses 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 pass 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 anticipations of a little more active service were soon
realized by an order to advance upon Purwan Durrah. We accordingly
struck our tents, passing 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 passed
through our ranks that Dost Mahommed was himself amongst the horsemen,
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
circumstances 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 unsurpassable 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 shells, 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 assigned 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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