CHAPTER X. ARRESTED AT FURRAH.
Perhaps no stranger occurrence in the field of personal adventure in Central Asia has happened for many a year than my entrance into Furrah on a bicycle. Only those who know Afghanistan and the Afghans can fully realize the ticklish character of this little piece of adventure.
My soldier-escort are fine-looking fellows, wearing the well-known red jackets of the British Army, evidently the uniform of some sepoy regiment. Forming around me, they conduct me through the gate of an inner enclosure near by, and usher me into a small compound where Mahmoud Yusuph Khan, the commander-in-chief of the garrison, is engaged in holding a morning reception of his subordinate chiefs and officers. The spectacle that greets my astonished eyes is a revelation indeed; the whole compound is filled with soldiers wearing the regimentals of the Anglo-Indian army. As I enter the compound and trundle the bicycle between long files of soldiers toward Mahmoud Yusuph Khan and his officers, five hundred pairs of eyes are fixed on me with intense curiosity. These are Cabooli soldiers sent here to garrison Furrah, where they will be handy to march to the relief of Herat, in case of demonstrations against that city by the Russians. The tension over the Penjdeh incident has not yet (April, 1886) wholly relaxed, and I feel instinctively that I am suspected of being a Russian spy.
In the centre of the compound is a large bungalow, surrounded by a slightly raised porch. Seated on a mat at one end of this is Mahmoud Yusuph Khan, and ranged in two long rows down the porch are his chiefs and officers. They are all seated cross-legged on a strip of carpet, and attendants are serving them with tea in little porcelain cups. They are the most martial-looking assembly of humans I ever set eyes on. They are fairly bristling with quite serviceable looking weapons, besides many of the highly ornamented, but less dangerous, "gewgaws of war" dear to the heart of the brave but conservative warriors of Islam. Prominent among the peculiarities observed are strips of chain mail attached to portions of their clothing as guards against sword-cuts, noticeably on the sleeves. Some are wearing steel helmets, some huge turbans, and others the regular Afghan military hat, this latter a rakish-looking head-piece something like the hat of a Chinese Tartar general.
Mahmoud Yusupli Khan himself is wearing one of these hats, and is attired in a tight-fitting suit of buckram, pipe-clayed from head to foot; in his hat glitters a handsome rosette of nine diamonds, which I have an opportunity of counting while seated beside him. He is a stoutish person, full-faced, slightly above middle age, less striking in appearance than many of his subordinates. When I have walked up between the two rows of seated chieftains and gained his side, he forthwith displays his knowledge of the English mode of greeting by shaking hands. He orders an attendant to fetch a couple of camp chairs, and setting one for me, he rises from the carpet and occupies the other one himself. Tea is brought in small cups instead of glasses, and is highly sweetened after the manner of the Persians; sweetmeats are handed round at the same time. After ascertaining that I understand something of Persian, he expresses his astonishment at my appearance in Furrah. At first it is painfully evident that he suspects me of being a Russian spy; but after several minutes of questions and answers, he is apparently satisfied that I am not a Muscovite, and he explains to his officers that I am an "Ingilis nockshi" (correspondent). He is greatly astonished to hear of the route by which I entered the country, as no traveller ever entered Afghanistan across the Dasht-i-na-oomid before. I tell him that I am going to Kandahar and Quetta, and suggest that he send a sowar with me to guide the way. He smiles amusedly at this suggestion, and shaking his head vigorously, he says, "Kandahar neis; Afghanistan's bad; khylie bad;" and he furthermore explains that I would be sure to get killed. "Kliylie koob; I don't want any sowar, I will go alone; if I get killed, then nobody will be blamable but myself." "Kandahar neis," he replies, shaking his finger and head, and looking very serious; "Kandahar neis; beest (20) sowars couldn't see you safely through to Kandahar; Afghanistan's bad; a Ferenghi would be sure to get killed before reaching Kandahar." Pretending to be greatly amused at this, I reply, "koob; if I get killed, all right; I don't want any sowars; I will go alone." At hearing this, he grows still more serious, and enters into quite an eloquent and lengthy explanation, to dissuade me from the idea of going. He explains that the Ameer has little control over the fanatical tribes in Zemindavar, and that although the Boundary Commission had a whole regiment of sepoys, the Ameer couldn't guarantee their safety if they came to Furrah. He furthermore expresses his surprise that I wasn't killed before getting this far. The officer of the guard who brought me in, and who is standing against the porch close by, speaks up at this stage of the interview and tells with much animation of how I was riding down the street, and of the people all speechless with astonishment.