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Letter IX

MEMORANDUM.--I have lost this letter, which I regret the more, because it gave a very full account both, of Cabool and its environs, as well as of many interesting circumstances which took place during the time the Bombay division of the army remained there.

As far as I remember its contents, it began with the march of the army from Ghuzni to Cabool, the desertion of the troops of Dost Mahomed, and his flight from the capital. It described his pursuit by a party of officers and cavalry, volunteers from the British army, commanded by Captain Outram, who accompanied Hadjee Khan Kauker, the principal chief of the country, with a body of 2000 Afghans, who had joined Shah Shooja at Ghuzni.

It stated, that after a few days had expired, the party had nearly reached the fugitive, when Hadjee Khan refused to proceed, stating, amongst other excuses, that his men had dispersed to plunder, and that he had not any means of preventing it; and Captain Outram was obliged to proceed without him. It had been supposed by Shah Shooja, that Hadjee Khan had been so committed with Dost Mahomed that he might be safely trusted upon this occasion; but there is not the least doubt but that he was engaged in correspondence with him during the whole time, and that Dost Mahomed was thus enabled to effect his escape with his family, although Captain Outram with his party pursued him as far as Bamian. If Hadjee Khan had not acted in this most treacherous way, there could not be a doubt but that Dost Mahomed must have fallen into the hands of Captain Outram. Thus Hadjee Khan proved his double treachery; for which, on his return to Cabool, it was understood the Shah would have put him to death, but for the presence of the English, upon whose interference his sentence was changed to perpetual confinement in one of the state prisons.

It described, also, the arrival of the eldest son of Shah Shooja, with the contingent from Runjet Sing; his meeting with his youngest brother on the road, near the city, who went out for that purpose upon an elephant, richly caparisoned, attended by a suitable cortège; his reception by the British army, and afterwards by his father, at the Bala Hissar, where my son mixed with the troops of the Shah, who filled the palace yard, and was thus enabled to witness the first interview, which was anything but that which might have been expected when the eldest son arrived at the palace to congratulate his father on his restoration to his throne. The King was seated alone in an open balcony, slightly raised above the court, where his officers of state were ranged on either side, on the ground. The Prince advanced through a line of troops and public officers, but did not raise his eyes from the ground. When he came near his father, he prostrated himself in submission to the King, who called to him "that he was welcome;" after which the son ascended to the balcony, where he again made a prostration, when his father raised him up, and seated him near him. The peculiarly careful conduct of the son on his approach appears to have arisen from a consciousness of his father's jealous and suspicious temper, and a fear lest even a smile interchanged with a friend at the court might be construed into hidden treachery. Soon after this, the chief persons of the court made their salutations to the King, to each of whom he said a few words, and the ceremony was ended.

My son added, that he little expected when he was at the levee of his late Majesty King William, before he left England, that the next ceremony of the sort at which he should be present would be that of the King of Afghanistan, in Central Asia, a person with whose name and country he had not then the slightest acquaintance.

The youngest son of Shah Shooja, whom I have mentioned, is described as a beautiful boy, under twelve years of age, ruddy and fair as an English child. He is a great favourite with his father at present, and usually accompanies the Shah wherever he goes. His childhood probably protects him from suspicion of treachery or intrigue.

My son appeared to have mixed occasionally with the inhabitants of Cabool, and, through the introduction of the Persian interpreter, to have become personally acquainted with some of the leading persons of the city. They are described by him as being particularly affable and civil to the officers of our army, with, some of whom he paid a visit to a man of rank, at his country-house, and with whom they dined. Nothing could exceed the attention of their host. He shewed them his stud consisting of more than fifty horses, and every other thing that he possessed, (except his women,) and the hospitality and good fare was unbounded. Neither was the curiosity of these persons less in inquiring minutely into everything they saw when they visited the officers in the camp, than their desire to please in their own houses; and he appeared to have left the place with a most favourable impression of the upper ranks of the city.

Of the city itself, its magnificent bazaar, filled with the richest manufactures of the East, its gardens abounding with the finest fruits in the world, and the fertile country that surrounds it, his description is the same as that which will be found much more at length in the Travels of Lieut. Burnes, in 1832.

Cricket and horse-racing appeared to be the chief recreation of the army during the time it remained inactive; and the two divisions having fortunately come from different Presidencies, the same spirit of rivalry amongst the officers, in the sports of the camp, was as naturally excited at Cabool as in any of the counties or garrisons of their native land.

The evening before they left their ground, two miles from Cabool, he was sent with a subaltern's party to search through all the worst parts of the city for men who were missing from the camp, but after spending many hours, he returned without finding any. They had been paid the day before, and had got away to the liquor-shops; but all turned up in the morning except one, whose body was found murdered, near the camp.