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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Who was slashing away at the Sistanis near him


Major

Benn with considerable pluck dashed between the fighting men, seizing with his left hand the rifle of the leader--who had knelt down and was on the point of firing--and with his right hand got hold of the blade--fortunately blunt--of another Afghan's sword, who was slashing away at the Sistanis near him. The force of the blow caused quite a wound in the gallant Major's hand, but suddenly, as by magic owing to the respect he commanded on both sides, his action put a stop to the fight.

Seizing this opportunity he talked to them calmly in his usual quiet, jocular manner, and told the Afghans how, by behaving in this fashion, while under his protection, they were doing him harm in the eyes of the Persians in whose country they were guests, and that if they had any claim they must apply to him and not take the law into their own hands. With his keen sense of humour he even succeeded with some joke or other in raising a laugh from both belligerent parties, and requested them to sit down and give up their arms into his custody, which they willingly did.

The Afghans seated themselves at the further end of the caravanserai, while the Sistanis, whom he next addressed in the kindest way, were persuaded to desist from using further violence. He managed to turn the whole thing into a joke, and eventually the Sistanis dispersed laughing and retired within the wall of their city; but, indeed, there were five Afghans left on

the ground severely wounded,--one with a fractured skull being carried to the Consulate Hospital in a dying condition.

The Afghans possessed some excellent Russian rifles, a great many of which find their way into Afghanistan from the north.

The Consul, when the row was over, proceeded to the Amir, who had the gates of the city instantly closed and promised the Consul that they should not be opened again until the Consul could go the next day to identify the ringleaders of the attacking Sistanis. The Amir received the Consul with more than usually marked respect, and showed himself greatly disturbed at the occurrence. He took personal charge of the keys of the city and undertook to mete out severe punishment upon the offenders.

The city gates, which are daily opened at sunrise, remained closed the greater portion of the day at the Consul's request, but for a consideration the doorkeepers let out occasional citizens,--in all probability those very ones that should have been kept in.

Unfortunately, being Ramzam-time, when Mussulmans sit up feasting the greater part of the night, as they are compelled to fast when the sun is above the horizon, his Excellency the Amir was unable to attend to even this important matter, which was left to slide from day to day. The Consul, however, although extremely patient, was the last man to let things go to the wall, and no doubt in the end the leaders were duly punished and compensation paid.

The illustration shows the Customs caravanserai, in front of which the fight took place. Two of the domed rooms shown in the picture are occupied by Mr. Miletor, the Belgian Customs officer, in Persian employ. The others are occupied by camel-men or native travellers, there being no other caravanserai of the kind in Sher-i-Nasrya.

[Illustration: The Customs Caravanserai, Sher-i-Nasrya, Sistan. (Belgian Customs Officer in foreground.)]

It would be a very great addition to the British Consulate, now that so many Beluch and Afghans, all under British protection, travel through Sistan, if a British caravanserai could be built in which they, their goods and their camels, might enjoy comparative safety. The expense of putting it up would be very small, and it would avoid the constant friction which is bound to exist at present in a country where honesty is not the chief forte of the lower people, and where quarrels are ever rampant. Even during the short stay of Messrs. Clemenson and Marsh's caravan, several articles were stolen under their very eyes in the Consulate shelter, and at the time of my visit caravans, British or otherwise, were absolutely at the mercy of the natives. The goods were left out in the open in front of the caravanserai, and the Customs people had not sufficient men to protect them from interference at the hands of the lower people.


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