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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Ghul Khan and myself in a row on the opposite side


Owing

to the Russian calendar being in disagreement with ours, the Consul, Mrs. Benn and I were most cordially entertained to a second Christmas dinner by the Russian Consul, who had just returned from Meshed, and we had a most delightful evening. For a convalescent, I could not help thinking so many Christmas dinners coming together might have been fatal, but fortunately, owing entirely to the charming and thoughtful kindness of my hosts, both English and Russian, I managed to pull through with no very ill effects. The Consular escort of Cossacks looked very business-like and smart as they paraded in the yard which had been duly illuminated for the occasion.

The Amir expressed a wish to see me, and as I was just able to get on a horse the Consul and I paid an official visit to the Governor in the citadel. We rode in full state with the escort of Lancers, and traversed the town along the main street, entering from the South gate.

I was again much struck by the intense respect shown by the natives towards Major Benn, all rising as we passed and making a profound salaam. We traversed the greater portion of the city by the main street, and then arrived at the gate of the citadel in the north-west part of Sher-i-Nasrya.

The door was so low that we had some difficulty in entering without dismounting, and just as we were squeezing in, as it were, through this low passage, one of the disreputable-looking

soldiers on guard fired his gun--in sign of salute--which somewhat startled our horses and set them a-kicking.

In the small court where we dismounted was a crowd of soldiers and servants, and here another salute was fired by the sentry. Through winding, dilapidated passages and broken-down courts we were conveyed to the Amir's room--a very modest chamber, whitewashed, and with humble carpets on the floor. A huge wood fire was burning in the chimney, and the furniture consisted of a table and six chairs, three folding ones and three Vienna cane ones, arranged symmetrically on either side of the table.

[Illustration: Major R. E. Benn, British Consul for Sistan, and his Escort of 7th Bombay Lancers.]

The Amir sat on a folding chair on one side of the table, and the Consul, Ghul Khan and myself in a row on the opposite side. We were most cordially received by Hashmat-ul-Mulk, the Amir, who--this being Ramzam or fasting time--showed ample evidence of mis-spent nights. He had all the semblance of a person addicted to opium smoking. His Excellency was unshaven and unwashed, and seemed somewhat dazed, as if still under the effects of opium. His discoloured eyes stared vaguely, now at the Consul, now at Ghul Khan, now at me, and he occasionally muttered some compliment or other at which we all bowed.

Presently, however, his conversation became most interesting, when, having gone through all these tedious preliminary formalities, he began to describe to me the many ruined cities of Sistan. He told me how at one time, centuries and centuries gone by, Sistan was the centre of the world, and that a city existed some twenty miles off, named Zaidan, the length of which was uninterrupted for some eighty or ninety miles.


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