CHAPTER XI. KELAT - QUETTA - BOMBAY.
We encamped in the suburbs of the city, about a couple of miles from the northern or Mastung Gate, and near the telegraph office, a small brick bungalow in charge of an English-speaking native. There is a single wire laid to Quetta, a distance, roughly speaking, of ninety miles. A terrific hurricane, accompanied by thunder, vivid lightning, and dense clouds of black dust, sprang up about sunset the day of our arrival. Both tents were instantly blown down, and in a few moments reduced to shapeless rags of torn canvas. So great was the force of the wind that it snapped the tent-poles short off, and, tearing them from the ropes, sent the tents flying over the plain as if they had been shreds of tissue paper. We managed, however, to find quarters in the telegraph office, and remained there till our departure, two days later, for Quetta. During the storm the thermometer sank to 50 deg. Fahr., although a few moments before it had marked 78 deg..
Kelat contains - with its suburbs, which are of considerable extent - about 15,000 inhabitants, and is picturesquely situated on the edge of a fertile plain thickly cultivated with wheat, barley, and tobacco. The city is built in terraces, on the sides and summit of a limestone cliff, about a hundred and fifty feet high. This is called the "Shah Mirdan," and is surrounded at the base of the hill by high mud ramparts, with bastions at intervals, loopholed for musketry. The "Mir," [A] or palace of the Khan, overhangs the town, and is made up of a confused mass of buildings, which, though imposing at a distance, I found on closer inspection to consist chiefly of mud, which in many places had crumbled away, leaving great gaping holes in the walls. The Mir mounts a few primitive, muzzle-loading cannon, and the citadel is garrisoned by a thousand men, chiefly Afghans, deserters from Cabul, Kandahar, and other parts of the Ameer's dominions. They are a ragged, undisciplined lot. The Khan himself has a wholesome dread of his soldiery, who break out at times, and commit great depredations among the villages surrounding the capital, robbing and murdering the peasants with impunity, for few dare resist them. The remainder of the troops, three thousand in number, are quartered in barracks, or rather mud hovels, at some distance from the palace. Each man is supposed to receive three rupees a month and a lump sum of forty-eight rupees at the end of each year, but pay is uncertain and mutiny frequent. When not engaged on military duties the Khan's Baluch soldiers are put to agricultural work on his estates, while the Afghans pass their time in pillaging and plundering their neighbours. As we entered Kelat we passed a regiment at drill on a sandy plain outside the walls. With the exception of a conical fur cap, there is no attempt at uniform. The men, fine strapping fellows, are armed with rusty flint-locks. Though there appeared to be no officers, European or otherwise, I was rather surprised to hear the word of command given in English, and to see this band of ragamuffins march off parade to the strains of "Home, sweet Home," played by a very fair fife-and-drum band.
The morning following my arrival, I was startled by the apparition at my bedside of a swarthy, wild-looking Afghan sowar - a messenger from the Wazir, to say that his Highness the Khan wished to make my acquaintance, and would receive me, if convenient, at three o'clock that afternoon. It had not been my intention to solicit an interview, for, from all accounts, the Khan is anything but friendly towards Europeans, Englishmen in particular. To refuse, however, was out of the question. The morning was therefore devoted to cleaning up, and getting out a decent suit of wearing-apparel; while my Beila escort, who evidently had uncomfortable forebodings as to the appearance of the Beila uniform in the streets of Kelat, polished up arms and accoutrements till they shone like silver, and paid, I noticed, particular attention to the loading of their rifles and revolvers.
About midday the Wazir made his appearance to conduct me to the palace. He was a fat, paunchy old man, with beady black eyes and a shy, shifty expression, very unlike my cheery little friend at Beila. After the usual preliminary questions as to who I was, my age, business, etc., he anxiously inquired after the health of Mr. Gladstone, and somewhat astonished me by asking whether I was a Liberal or Conservative. "You have some Beila men with you, I see," said the Khan's adviser, who spoke English perfectly. "Don't let his Highness see them." I could not, after such a speech, allow my faithful escort to enter the city without warning. But it had little effect. "Let the dogs do what they like," was the reply. "We shall not let the sahib go alone."
Tea and cigarettes discussed, a start was made for the palace. The Wazir, on a wiry, good looking bay horse, and attended by half a dozen mounted Afghans, led the way, and I followed on a pony borrowed of the telegraph clerk. My costume was, if not becoming, at any rate original: high boots, flannel trousers, and shirt, an evening dress-coat, and astrakhan cap. Gerome's wardrobe being even less presentable, I deemed it prudent to leave him behind. The Beila men brought up the rear of the procession some distance from the Afghans, who, to my anxiety, never ceased scoffing and jeering at them the whole way. Every moment I expected to hear the crack of a pistol-shot, followed by a general melee. Arrived at the Mastung Gate, we dismounted, and, leaving our horses in charge of the guard, slowly proceeded up the steep narrow streets to the citadel.