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CHARLES J. MANSFORD

SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER

DARAK,
THE SCORN OF THE AFGHANS

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First published in The Strand Magazine, Oct 1892

Collected in Shafts from an Eastern Quiver,
George Newnes Limited, London, 1894

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Version Date: 2019-10-20
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Shafts from an Eastern Quiver, George Newnes, 1893, with:
Darak, the Scorn of the Afghans



A REVIEW OF "SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER"

THESE stories ... introduce the lover of sensations to a new writer, who is not at all unworthy to be placed upon the same shelf with Mr. Conan Doyle. He certainly contrives to give the three heroes of this book—the two Englishmen, Frank Denviers and Harold Derwent, and their marvellous Arab servant and good genius Hassan—as many hairbreadth escapes and other adventures by sea and land as can well be packed into a volume of less than three hundred pages.

Mr. Mansford appears to be most at home in Persia, Afghanistan, and India. But he does not confine his literary attentions to the more strictly Eastern countries; on the contrary, one of his most thrilling stories tells of the experiences of the fortunate three among Papuan wreckers, and another relates the escape of an exile from Siberia.

Undoubtedly Mr. Mansford has the gift of the story-teller, and besides, he uniformly writes like a scholar. The illustrations of the book, though small and unpretentious, are admirably executed, and enhance the piquancy—though that was hardly needed—of the letterpress.

The Spectator, 1 December 1894



Illustration


I.

"HE seems to be making for our tent, Frank," I exclaimed to Denviers, as we stood gazing over the waste of sand which lay between us and the town of Ghuzni, which towered before us on a rock three hundred feet above the surrounding plain.

"The fellow runs magnificently," answered my companion, in a tone of admiration; "but for all that I am inclined to think his efforts are being made in vain. Look at that Afghan behind him; he is almost within striking distance of the fugitive!"

Fleeing across the plain was a man whose aquiline nose, intense black eyes, and swarthy complexion disclosed the characteristics of the Hebrew race from which the crowd of Afghans, who hotly pursued him, claimed their descent. On they came, rushing like a horde of barbarians, while they wildly flourished their sabres and daggers, or whatever weapons they had been able to hastily snatch up.


Illustration

Fleeing across the plains.


The man's body, although slender, was well proportioned, and in spite of the evident danger in which he was in I could not help noticing as he gradually neared us the picturesque effect of the garb which he wore. Round his loins was passed a many- coloured scarf, which drew close to his form an embroidered garment which formed a loose covering for the upper part of his body, leaving his bronzed chest partly exposed, and then hung down, covering him as far as the knees. A sash, made of the same material as the scarf, bound his head like a turban, the end of it fluttering behind him, its hue contrasting forcibly with the Afghan's heavy eyebrows and black beard. By his side hung a curved scimitar, shaped like that which Persians usually wear, but which he made no attempt to use, for, against the fierce howling mob which followed him, he knew that it would be worse than useless for him to endeavour to make a stand.

"Hassan!" shouted Denviers to our guide, who was within the tent preparing some food for us, "what is the cause of this?"

The Arab came to where we were standing, and after watching the strange spectacle for a moment, he replied:—

"I can scarcely tell, sahib, unless he belongs to a different tribe to those pursuing him; if he is fleeing for shelter to the tent, the Englishmen will have good need of stout hearts during the next few minutes. Cowardly and treacherous as are those who follow him, in the frenzy of their fanaticism they will face the utmost perils unflinchingly once they are thoroughly aroused."

Denviers turned to the Arab, and said in the quiet tone which he invariably adopted when danger confronted him:—

"Bring out our rifles, Hassan."

The Arab obeyed, and, as we took the weapons from him, he ventured to utter a few words of caution, which sounded strangely upon our ears:—

"Save the man, sahibs, if you can; but if possible avoid injuring one of the tribe of the Saduzai, for such indeed they are. The eyes of Hassan are keen, and see the flashing glances of dislike which are daily turned upon the Englishmen as they traverse this country. There is a tradition, indeed, that between Afghan and Feringhee one day war to the death will be proclaimed, when the former ally themselves with the white bear of the frozen north, which seeks to hug to its shaggy breast the border town which is the key to the golden plain of the sacred Ganges. To slay the Englishmen would be deemed by them a deed of glory, and their women's dark eyes would light up with a fierce joy when they returned home with the captured English sabres adorning Saduzai sashes!"

Yet, in spite of his vague words, Hassan prepared himself to help us if necessary, for on glancing into the tent for a moment, I saw him carefully feeling the keen edge of the weapon which he usually carried.

"Darak, the scapegoat!" "Darak, the nation's scorn!" "Death to Darak!" were some of the cries which we distinguished from the babel of sounds which arose from the lips of those who were following the fugitive. He was now within thirty yards of the tent, and we stepped forward and excitedly cheered him on.

"Refuge!" was the one solitary and appealing cry which burst from his lips as he ran towards us at a tremendous speed before the horde, which seemed fully bent on his destruction. When he was only a few yards distant from us, Denviers raised his rifle to his shoulder, and, taking steady aim, covered the foremost of the pursuers, while the fugitive darted past us, and, with an inarticulate cry, threw himself, utterly exhausted, upon the cushions of the tent.


Illustration

The fugitive darted past us.


The howling mob halted and held a hurried conference for a moment, then one of them attempted to advance, as if for the purpose of holding a conversation with us. Denviers was however resolute; he knew too well the treacherous character of the race, and feared lest, in an unguarded moment, the Afghan's sword might be stealthily thrust into the man whom we had for the present saved from his foes. He raised his rifle again to his shoulder—a silent message which the man rightly understood; for, after a further discussion with the others, they all uttered a wild cry of baffled rage and ran swiftly back towards Ghuzni to rouse, as we conjectured, its inhabitants to join them in an attack upon us.

"We shall have some sort of a respite," said Denviers, as we entered the tent; "but I expect that the fugitive will bring us into conflict with these Afghans. It will be best for us to change our position as soon as possible—it is too unprotected at present."

The man lying upon the cushions now dragged his weary body to our feet as he faltered out, brokenly:—

"Allah reward the Englishmen, for Darak, the outcast, can never do so." Hassan attended to his wants, and when the fugitive had recovered himself somewhat we endeavoured to learn from him the cause of his seeking refuge with us. It was some time, however, before we could understand him at all, for he spoke a kind of hybrid Pushto, a language of which we had little knowledge. Hassan, however, acted as interpreter, and through him we learnt that the man had ventured into Ghuzni in spite of the fact that he had been prohibited from entering an Afghan town, and thus he had aroused the fierce fanaticism of his nation. He had seen our tent from the overhanging town, and had fled to us, this being his sole opportunity of escaping his foes.

After passing through the plain of Khorassan, where we had met with our strange experience in the tomb of On, we spent several days both at Meshed and Nishapoor; for we found that these beautiful Persian cities had not been over-estimated by our somewhat imaginative guide. Thence, after a long journey, we had passed into Afghanistan, and having stayed for some time at Herat, a city which interested us considerably, we journeyed along the beautiful river valley almost as far as Kabul; then, turning southward, found ourselves encamped outside Ghuzni, where our present adventure was taking place.

Hassan, who knew the district well, suggested that we should strike the tent and climb the mountain which rose to our left, as it seemed probable that we could defend ourselves there, if pursued. This, too, was Denviers' opinion, before expressed, while the Afghan added some words in support of it, and accordingly we did so. After we had journeyed up the slope of the mountain for a considerable time, the Afghan led the way, and conducted us by a narrow path which wound between two mountains. At last we halted, and, feeling that we were now secure, Denviers summoned Hassan to his side and bade him endeavour to get the Afghan to narrate to us the reason of his exiled fate.

The man was at first disinclined to do so, but eventually gave way, and, sheltering ourselves under a projecting rock from the rays of the sun, we listened to his narrative, which Hassan turned into his own mode of expression as he interpreted it. From time to time we looked wonderingly at him, especially as he neared the conclusion of the story, for so strange it seemed to us that we more than once thought Hassan was embellishing it with some ideas of his own.

Our Arab guide, however, seemed to be surprised himself as the story proceeded, and occasionally interrupted the Afghan to ask some searching question, which always appeared to us to be answered satisfactorily, to judge from Hassan's countenance. Forbidden to hold intercourse with any of his own nation, the Afghan eventually seemed glad of the opportunity to converse with Hassan, for there was much in common between them, since both the Afghan and the Arab were Sunnees, and felt the influence of the common bond which united them.

The contrast between the grave, mild features of our guide and the fierce look upon the face of the Afghan, which all the dangers through which he had passed could not subdue, seemed to add to the effectiveness of the scene before us, and, watching them as they sat opposite to each other, I felt almost sorry when the narrative was concluded. Hassan, as well as he could, made the account continuous, while Denviers and I, reclining in the little group which the party unitedly made, listened to the following interpretation.


II.

"WITHIN yonder city of Ghuzni stands a palace, the roof whereof is beaten gold; and, inlaid with many a gem, pillars of ivory support it. Upon its walls are engraven the deeds of the mighty Mahmaud, what time he overthrew the haughty monarch upon whose banners were emblazoned the Lion and the Sun. Before its sculptured porticoes fountains throw high their crystal waters, and cool the burning winds that blow over the parched lands which lie beyond the Helmund and the shimmering waters of Istada.

"Yet I, Darak, prince of this palace and its treasures, was unhappy, since never for me had love shone in the eyes of an Afghan maiden, and, save for the countless slaves who came obedient to my call, my home was desolate. So, leaving it in charge of one of the Saduzai race, I set forth to visit strange lands and to find a bride fitting to share with me the inheritance which had come to me through the long line from which I sprang.

"Wandering in Eastern lands I came at last to Egypt, and even to Cairo, the city of mosques and minarets, for my eyes would fain behold the spot where the sacred head of Hoseyn was buried —he who was descended from the great Prophet. Then arose a rumour within the city that a prince had come to honour it, and, at times in the streets of Cairo, I saw the veil of an Egyptian maiden slightly moved aside that her eyes might rest upon the jewels of the sword which I wore. I had heard that the women were like the black-eyed virgins of Paradise, and it seemed to me that the saying was true. I became enchanted with this maiden, and watched many a weary hour that one glance from her liquid orbs might be to me a reward for the long journey which I had taken.


Illustration

In the streets of Cairo.


"I ventured to follow her through the narrow streets, and my eyes rested upon the abode wherein she dwelt, and, as I gazed up at the lattice-work above the corbels, it seemed to me that behind it the maiden lingered. Each day she wandered forth, and our eves spoke the love which we dared not utter, lest it might bring death unto her. One memorable day she came not forth, and on the morrow, too, I missed her glances. I was in despair, and wandered aimlessly through the city, wondering what fate had overtaken her. Then there passed me a maiden carrying a water- pitcher upon her head, and she thrust into my hand a piece of papyrus whereon was engraven a message to me. Few were the words, yet they were sad indeed, for the queen of the harem had observed the maiden watching me from the lattice, and so she was commanded to stay in an apartment wherefrom she could not see me, nor was she to be allowed to traverse again the streets of Cairo.

"Despair at first seized upon me, then I began to wonder if in some way I could not possess me of the maiden and bear her away to my own land. Keeping at a certain distance from the harem, I closely observed those who passed in and out, and then a strange idea presented itself to me. Every morning there issued from the courtyard a woman of the harem; and I, taking into my confidence the keeper of a bazaar, paid him handsomely to narrowly mark her attire. Next morning when she had emerged I went to the harem and, disguised in an exact counterpart of her clothing, I walked boldly up into the women's apartment."

I looked at Hassan eagerly, for such a plan seemed to me unfeasible, but he, accustomed to Oriental stratagems, did not interrupt the narrative.

"Save for my eyes, my face was closely veiled, and, sauntering amid the crowd of beautiful women, my eyes fell upon the apartment wherein, from the papyrus, I knew that my adored one was confined. I opened the door carelessly and, imitating a woman's tone, bade her come forth and follow me into the presence of her lord. She recognised me in a moment, and faltered forth some words of surprise at my daring, which the rest of the women thought were expressions of fear at the fate which might be hers. We reached the lower floor and, passing through the guest chamber, were soon in the court adjacent. No one attempted to bar our way, for my plan was entirely unsuspected, and before it was discovered we were happily beyond pursuit!

"With my lovely bride, Hestra, I journeyed down the peaceful waters of the Nile, and with viewed delighted eyes the green fields of waving corn and the grey ridges of lime-stone rock that at times extended to the river's brink. Down the winding river we floated, until before us lay the cataract where the waters tumbled amid snowy foam, and the red felspar crystals glittered a warmer hue beneath the sun shining in the cloudless blue sky above. Then we ventured to return, and passing through Sinai, crossed into Arabia, whence by slow degrees I brought home the peerless Hestra to the palace from which I had set forth long before.

Illustration

Down the winding river we floated.


"So long had my absence been that the one to whom the charge of my palace had been entrusted thought I had perished in lands afar, and so he occupied my place and adorned him with the apparel which befitted me alone as a prince in the land. When at last I arrived at Ghuzni, and he was removed from the position which he had wrongfully assumed, there arose in his breast a feeling of jealousy, and henceforth he sought in many ways to bring sorrow to me or even to encompass me with death. Knowing that I was sprung from the tribe of the Barukzai, he sought to turn against me the enmity of the more powerful Saduzai, and in order to accomplish his purpose he spread rumours abroad which were brought to me from time to time by the more faithful of my slaves.

"When such reports reached my ears I vowed vengeance against him, yet in the presence of Hestra my anger would die away, and so I left him to say what he would, knowing that his words were false. Despite his crooked talk he often entered the palace and listened while I recounted one of my adventures when journeying to Egypt, and then Hestra, my beloved, following the maxim of the great Prophet, busied herself the while with her distaff, stopping occasionally to glance at me with her starlight eyes.

"Now hearken, that I may tell ye the full depths of a man's duplicity. It chanced that he fell ill, and when men inquired of him wherefore, he summoned them to the couch on which he lay and whispered that Hestra, my princess, had the gift of the evil eye, and that his sickness was caused by her! Nay, he even dared to say that I, Prince Darak, was held fast beneath her subtle spells, and that dire evil would surely fall upon the city if she were suffered to live! When the terrible report was brought to me I stood aghast at the depths of the man's baseness, and resolved that no whisper of the rumour should reach the ears of the princess. When in the streets of Ghuzni I chanced to walk, men turned darkly aside lest they should be contaminated by my presence; for they said that surely my heart was evil to seek after a bride from a strange land, and to thus bring desolation upon them. They dared at last to storm the gates of my palace, and to demand that Hestra should be delivered unto them, that from the lofty rock she might be cast down into the plain below.

"I listened in sullen silence to the blows of their weapons as they smote heavily upon the gates of bronze, and I heard in disdain the wild cries with which they summoned me forth to answer their demand. Then Hestra, learning the dreadful truth, begged that I would yield her unto them lest evil might befall me, for she loved Darak better than her life. Not for a moment did I hearken unto her, for well I knew that mine enemy had inspired the frenzied throng with his malicious words that the fair palace and its treasures might be his.

"When the sheltering night drew dark her mantle round the city, I stole away from the palace with my bride and, crossing the plain over which ye have seen me hunted like a beast, I traversed this mountain pass, even whereon our feet have recently trodden. High above the spot where now we rest I knew that deep in the mountain-side was a cave, and thither I bore the princess and placed her safely within it. But our flight was soon discovered, and up the narrow way the enemy swooped, like the screaming vultures that scent their prey from afar.

"I drew my shining blade and, one man against a host, prepared to hold the pass. On they came, even as to-day ye saw them, and raised a derisive laugh when I stood forth, the sole barrier between them and the bride whom the cowards yearned to slay. Yet I was undaunted; for, coming from the cave, behind me stood Hestra, and to fall fighting for her would leave no seal of shame upon my brow.

"Beneath the stars that shone on the snow-clad peak above I stood, and the ringing clash of steel against steel re-echoed from crag to crag, until, exhausted, my right arm fell nerveless to my side. I grasped the falling sword in my left hand and still faced the foe, who pressed on over the bodies of their fallen comrades.

"'He is under the influence of the evil eye!' they hoarsely murmured. 'No mortal man could front us so!'

Illustration

'No mortal man could front us so!'


"With knitted brows and teeth fast locked together I hewed my assailants down. Suddenly a cry of distress rose behind me, and for a moment the din of our clashing weapons was unheard.

"One of their number, despairing of his comrades winning the pass, had scaled the overhanging mountain, and climbing down dared to touch with his hands the veil which covered Hestra's face! But the outstretched hands seemed frozen as he did so, and, uttering a wild shriek of terror, he dashed past me, and with excited cries called upon his comrades to follow him, and they fled headlong down the pathway. My senses reeled, and I fell upon the ground in a swoon, and when at daybreak consciousness returned to me, I saw to my astonishment that round my bride had formed a mighty rock of crystal, and then I knew that never again would the hand of man lay sacrilegious touch upon her veil! Never since that night have they ventured to molest me on the mountain, for from Ghuzni's height they yet can behold the top of Hestra's rock glittering in the sun. From the city my presence is banished, and at times when upon me comes the desire to gaze once again upon my palace within which my foe triumphant dwells, and I venture into the city, then am I driven thence. Yet they once used to bow lowly down when my shadow fell upon them, and to fawningly murmur: 'Great is Darak, for he is become a power in the land, and its mighty ruler honours him!'

"Such then was he who now lies an outcast at your feet; but by the Koran, one day my indignities shall be atoned for, and, if I live not once again beneath the roof of my palace, the glare of a torch shall make a yet ruddier glow, and the roof of beaten gold shall flow in a molten stream down the slope of Ghuzni's steep side!"


III.

AS he finished his narrative the Afghan started to his feet; his hands were clenched and a fierce light shone in his dark eyes. Then he seemed to remember that we were present, and, hastily recovering himself, he added:—

"But Hestra awaits me, I must pass on. May the Prophet bless the Englishmen!" and before we could hinder him, even if we had so desired, he hurried past us, and we saw him threading the mountain path before us.

"Shall we follow him, Frank?" I asked Denviers, as I glanced at him to observe what effect the strange story had upon him, to which we had listened.

"Not now," he answered. "With the recollection of the wrongs which have so deeply stirred him so recently, he might forget the service which we have done him, and I certainly have no desire to try conclusions with him in the pass, as the treacherous Saduzai did!"

"Wisdom lies in the sahib's words," said Hassan. "This wondrous rock of which he speaks must be easy to find in the pass above us; the Afghan is weary and will seek rest in the cave; and, while yet he sleeps, we may pass in safety and see this strange marvel."

We waited until about two hours had passed, then we rose, and, led by Hassan, we toiled up the path which grew narrower as we proceeded, until after passing through some strangely-scarred rocks we saw Hassan stop at last, and hold up his hand warningly to us. Then he cautiously moved back to us, and said in a low tone:——

"Sahibs, the Afghan's cave is just in front. Move lightly, for the ears of those of Eastern nations are quick, even in their sleep." We moved forward almost noiselessly, and in a moment more stood before the orifice of the cave and peered in. Upon a low couch made of the skins of animals the Afghan outcast lay sunk in a restful sleep. The fierce look upon his face seemed to be less noticeable, and from the few broken words which came in a soft, passionate tone from his lips, we concluded that in his dreams he was again living beneath the roof of his princely palace. His head rested upon one arm, while the other lay still upon his breast.

Above the dust-stained garb which the Afghan wore we saw, fastened to the rough granite-like side of the cave, a disused sword, the handle of which was studded with jewels, while its steel blade, dinted and bent in the conflict of which we had heard, was imbued with a dull red stain. Adorned with this weapon he had doubtless wandered through the streets of Cairo when first the eyes of Hestra met his, and, grasping this sword, he had stood upon the spot from which we were now gazing upon him, while in her defence he had beaten back the relentless foes. Looking at him as he lay there we seemed to understand the depths of his fallen fortune, and turned uneasily away.

"Hassan," I whispered to our guide, "pass on; we would see the rock before he awakes." The Arab noiselessly advanced, and, with a feeling of suppressed excitement, we followed him. We had only gone a few yards when suddenly we stopped, for before our astonished gaze rose a scene which was difficult for us to realize.

Far in the distance the sun was setting in a sky which seemed to turn the snow upon the mountain peaks into crimson. Thousands of feet below us a miniature village lay, and, standing out rugged and grand, before us was the rock of Hestra. The base of it occupied the space between the two mountain ridges, and thence the rock rose with its jagged top upon which the sky's rich tone seemed to cast its reflection. We advanced slowly to the rock, and for a moment stared blankly at the sight upon which our eyes rested.

Within the transparent rock we saw the form of a woman attired in an Egyptian costume, whose lustrous black eyes seemed to glance lifelike at us from the partly-rent veil which covered her face, and which her hands seemed raised towards, as if to protect it.

Illustration

Within the transparent rock we saw the form of a woman.


"Frank," I cried, astonished, "is this a living being before us?" He did not reply immediately, but going quite close to the rock, touched it with his hand and then said:—

"Just place your hand upon the rock for a moment, Harold." I did so and drew it back immediately, for it touched a frozen surface! Round the rock lay scattered a number of large fragments of stone and, pointing to them, Denviers exclaimed:—

"There lies the explanation of what has happened. The man who scaled the mountain, he of whom Darak spoke, probably disturbed as he did so a boulder lying loose below the peak, and its fall was followed by a snowslip which doubtless enveloped the Afghan's bride. Its weight compressed the lower part of it into ice, and the rays of the sun falling upon the outer surface has gradually melted the snow, leaving the ice intact."

That this was the true explanation there could be no doubt. We drew back and gazed once more upon the wonderful scene before us—surely the most amazing that ever met men's eyes.

Then slowly we made our way past the cave where the Afghan was still sleeping. We hastened down the mountain path, but the descent was perilous, and night had long closed in before we reached the spot where we had secured our horses and tent previous to climbing the mountain path.

"Hassan," said Denviers as the Arab stretched himself before the tent to seek repose, "we must be astir betimes in the morning."

"When the rising sun appears, Hassan will awake the Englishmen," he answered; and, faithful to his word, our guide roused us early that we might continue our wanderings.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.