King of a Distant Country Ch. 01-03

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London must be the most miserable place on God’s Earth on a wet day in January. There were five of us in the Library of The Exiles Club that afternoon. The New Year of 1887 was but a few days old and I had I come to Town from my customary refuge in Cheltenham to meet with my broker and take care of one or two other small items of business. After thirty years in India, the damp always seemed to penetrate my old bones and I was mightily glad of the cheerful fire blazing in the hearth. Perkins, the Club scout, served postprandial burra pegs and retired, leaving our little company to sit a while and indulge in the sort of reminiscence that is such a comfort to old soldiers. As usually happens on such occasions, the talk was desultory at first. Apart from Carstairs, who also resides in Cheltenham, I had not seen any of them for a couple of years and we swapped our limited amounts of news; mostly concerning those of our acquaintance who were no longer with us. I was saddened to learn of Johnny Hulme’s passing, he was a capital fellow. Sadly, the malaria got him in the end, it seems.

Talk then turned to the continuing troubles on the North West Frontier and our permanent inability to reach a solution with the Pathans. We reached a consensus that Afghanistan was best left to its own devices except for the fact that the bloody Russians were always interfering where they were not wanted. It really is the most frightful country to fight in and has nothing of any value to the Empire that we could ever see. The only times the local tribesmen ceased from their slaughtering of each other was when they banded together to slaughter us. And Kabul is a most pestilential hole and no place at all for a white man.

I think it was Bradshaw who raised the subject, or it might have been Hadley. They both knew of it and told the story by turns so it is difficult to recall precisely who first mentioned the strange tale of Harry Danvers-Reid. I have to confess that I hardly knew the man. I think I met him once when we were all in Lucknow for cold weather manoeuvres, but it might have been Barrackpore. He made something of a name for himself as a young subaltern during the Sepoy Mutiny, as I recall. He was with one of those irregular outfits, Skinner’s or Hodson’s Horse, that got renamed as Bengal Lancers when John Company was relieved of any military responsibility. I remember a slender fellow of a little above average height with dark hair and a long pointed nose. Of course, I could be confusing him with Williams-Pike, but that is really by-the-by. Anyway, it turns out that Danvers-Reid was the most singular cove indeed. It appears he went native in the most extreme manner possible.

Now of course, it is well known, but largely passes unremarked in polite company, that a number of old Indian Army hands rather overstepped the mark when it came to embracing the local customs and way of life. I’m not just talking about the odd discreet liaison with a young bibi. Dash it all, a chap has needs and white women were not exactly thick on the ground in the Raj. Some of those native gals were damned attractive, too; and a lot less inhibited about matters physical then your average memsahib! I well remember one dusky little beauty… but that’s another story entirely! Which is not to say I condone such behaviour, you understand. Private arrangements are one thing but it doesn’t do at all to go the whole hog. I remember one of our young chaps losing his head entirely over some native gal. He proposed marriage! Can you imagine it? The Colonel sorted that one out damned quick, I can tell you. Chap found himself guarding palm trees on the Andaman Islands for the next few years, silly young beggar!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, young Danvers-Reid. I will tell the story just as I heard it even though I allow it is most unsuitable for some ears. Now some may of you may well recall the story of that unscrupulous rogue, James Brooke, the so-called White Rajah of Sarawak. I know it was much discussed out East years back and opinion was sharply divided as to whether the man was a hero or an out-and-out dastard. I was, and still am, most firmly in the latter camp. I don’t care if the powers-that-be saw fit to reward the rapacious swine with a knighthood. The damn’ man’s family run the country to this day. He may have done good work eliminating the odd nest of Malay pirates but he made himself damn rich in the process. Forgive an old man’s digression; it was Danvers-Reid we were speaking of.

Sometime towards the end of ’67, Harry Danvers-Reid found himself on the eastern frontier near Chittagong. His life, up to this point, was utterly blameless. He did his duty, obeyed his superiors and cared for his men. In short, he was everything a British Officer should be in the Army of India. Why he underwent such a radical change at this point in his life can only be a matter of conjecture. Perhaps his military career stalled somewhat after a promising start and, if the truth is told, he was simply bored. Maybe his sixteen years of campaigning against fractious tribesmen and recalcitrant Rajahs had taken their toll on him. Although he was only a year or two past thirty, he may have felt used-up and stale. I mention this simply to try and güvenilir bahis shed some light on subsequent events. Dash it all; it wasn’t as if the man had displayed any symptoms of going Dhoolali like that chap, Simkins, who wandered into

the Mess as naked as a jaybird, with his private parts painted blue and demanded a chota peg. I mean to say, we could see instantly that something was up with the fellow. If he’d been a horse, we’d have had him shot. No, everyone who knew Danvers-Reid at the time will swear to you he was perfectly normal and generally in high good humour.

The Lancers were patrolling the border and things were generally pretty quiet. The monsoon had broken and the weather turned cooler and, apart from the usual dysentery, they were relatively free from disease. Word came in from one of the little independent hill kingdoms, by name of Nambhustan, that there was a large band of dacoits terrorising the area. The local Nizzam beseeched the Commissioner for some British troops to see the blighters off and Danvers-Reid was sent with a half-troop to restore order. He was still a captain at the time; no one of field rank had obligingly succumbed to the cholera for a few years, so there were no vacant majorities, assuming he’d had the wherewithal to buy one, of course. Bradshaw, who was in the same regiment, said Danvers-Reid was quite bucked by the mission: a chance for some proper soldiering after the months of boredom.

He set out with thirty or so lancers and a young cornet, whose name escapes me for the present. Now let me tell you that those native cavalry were damn’ good at their job. The sowars were mostly Sikhs or Rajputs; big fierce chaps with fire in their bellies and they knew how to handle those pig-stickers they carried. Eight feet of steel-shod bamboo is not to be sneezed at, not in the hands of an expert. They headed up into the hills and spent the next few days patrolling and searching for any sign of the dacoits. They had a minor skirmish with a band of the swine up near Nambhupore, the capital, and put them to flight. That sort are very brave when faced with unarmed villagers but it’s a wholly different story when it comes to a proper fight. They won’t stand, sir, they won’t stand.

Clearly, young Harry had acquitted himself well enough and the Nizzam was suitably impressed. A lot of these minor Indian princes are not much to write home about, if I’m frank. Oh yes, there are a few that run things well but there are just as many that exploit their people horribly and are most abominably cruel. Can’t say I know too much about Nambhustan but, by all accounts, the Nizzam was of the more enlightened sort. He rewarded Danvers-Reid with the usual bucket of rubies and the pick of his stables, so at least the beggar was properly grateful. That should have been the end of the matter, but it was not. For reasons best known to himself, Danvers-Reid accepted a position as chief of the Nambhustan Army and sent his papers in. The bloody fool didn’t even bother to do it in person but handed a letter to the cornet to deliver to the Colonel on his return. The cornet duly brought it with him when the Lancers came back to the lines. That was the last anybody heard from Danvers-Reid for a while.

A couple or three years later, the local Commissioner chanced to have cause to go up to Nambhupore. The old Nizzam was dead and Danvers-Reid was now King Harry I of Nambhustan. That little piece of news stopped the old boy in his tracks. He scuttled back to Chittagong and yelled blue murder. The Viceroy’s staff shuffled their feet a bit and eventually decided they couldn’t intervene. They dispatched a British officer – by chance my chum Hadley – to go and find out what the Dickens was going on. Dancers-Reid left him kicking his heels for a few days in the guest bungalow and then granted him a ‘Royal Audience.’ Hadley was shocked to the core by what he found. Danvers-Reid had gone completely native. He was wearing some sort of local getup and a turban with a diamond the size of a goose egg. Apparently the chap was also surrounded by his harem of forty or so young, ahem, ‘ladies,’ who were wearing pyjamas so thin that they might just as well have not bothered. The air reeked of hashish or bhang, as the locals call it and the whole scene reminded Hadley of the worst excesses of Gomorrah.

Danvers-Reid refused to answer any of Hadley’s questions and waved away all the latter’s entreaties with an airy gesture. He invited Hadley to take his pick of the assembled women – as many as he liked – and laughed at Hadley’s outrage at the suggestion. He would only say that Nambhustan would maintain friendly relations with the Raj but would brook no interference. He then bade Hadley ‘good day’ and allowed that he might return in twelve months, if he was so minded. There were some grim-looking chaps dotted about with very large tulwars in their hands so Hadley decided on discretion and withdrew as graciously as possible in the circumstances. He duly reported back to the Viceroy and there was much sucking of teeth, I can tell you. The general consensus was that any European who gave himself utterly up to such excesses would not be long for this world and they could afford to wait and let nature türkçe bahis take its course. Nobody wanted any damned scandal to reach the long ears of the yellow press.

As luck would have it, Hadley wasn’t able to return the following year, some small unpleasantness up near Peshwar detained him, so it was fully two years before he next visited Nambhustan and its self-styled King. He found Danvers-Reid physically little altered, maybe a little thicker about the waist, but it was the man’s mental state that struck Hadley most forcibly. King Harry was far from the devil-may-care creature he had shown the world previously. Instead, he was morose, appeared distracted. When Hadley was finally granted an audience, Danvers-Reid was most uncivil and hectoring in his manner, demanding to know what business it was of Her Majesty’s Viceroy what went on in the sovereign Kingdom of Nambhustan. Hadley was all emollient, soothing the savage breast as it were. He couldn’t help noticing how the ‘King’s’ eyes kept flicking back and forth as though expecting an ambush at any second. He worked himself up into a towering rage and dismissed Hadley with the promise that any further incursions by British officers would be considered an act of war. Once more, Hadley retired peaceably, as per his instructions. His report opined that Danvers-Reid was definitely on the way out and that the problem should disappear entirely within a year or two. In the manner of civil service clerks, the viceregal administration decided to sit on their collective hands and let matters take their course. That was Hadley’s last involvement in the story.

Around the middle of July in ’75, a messenger arrived at the residency in Calcutta. The fellow claimed to be an emissary from the Kingdom of Nambhustan and he bore all manner of official-looking documents requesting the Viceroy to take over the Kingdom following the recent death of its ruler. As it turned out, Bradshaw’s regiment was chosen to escort the diplomats back to Nambhupore. Bradshaw was a half-colonel by this time and he decided to take command himself, such was his curiosity. By the time the clerks eased their fat backsides from the comfort of their armchairs and dragged themselves into the hills, the obloquies for the late monarch had been well and truly completed. By all accounts, the locals gave Danvers-Reid a rare send off and not a few of his ‘wives’ indulged in the abominable practice of suttee, hurling themselves onto his blazing pyre. It was precisely to stop this sort of barbarism that the British took over the country, don’t you know.

Bradshaw confesses that he was a little disappointed to have missed out on the pageantry and there seemed to be little for the Lancers to do but stand about the place looking martial. Bradshaw admitted he was getting a bit bored by the whole thing when, one night, after he had retired to his bungalow, there came a tap upon his veranda door. Bradshaw prudently grabbed his revolver before opening the door, one can’t be too careful in that part of the world, and was absolutely staggered to find one of the young bibis from the harem. I have to stress that Bradshaw is nothing if not a gentleman and he was quite loath to grant her admittance. She was most insistent and spoke passable English so he reluctantly allowed her to come in to his room. She told him that she was acting on the direct instructions of her late departed lord and handed him a leather bound volume. Strictly speaking, she had been told to give it to Hadley, but seeing as how Hadley was absent and Bradshaw was the senior officer present, she decided that he would fit the bill.

Bradshaw duly thanked her and saw her off the premises and settled down to examine that which he’d been given in such a clandestine manner. The book’s cover was fastened with a brass clasp and, on opening it, Bradshaw was dismayed to discover that the contents were written in some kind of code. There was also a short note in Danvers-Reid’s hand, addressed to Hadley. I quote it here verbatim:

My Dear Hadley,

If you are reading this note, it is because I am dead. My health has been deteriorating markedly over recent months so I can be sure that it will not be too much longer. I feel I owe you an explanation. I treated you so abominably, old chap, that this will have to serve for an apology.

I am entrusting to you my journal. You may do with it as you wish. Know only that, at the end, I remain, a loyal servant of Her Majesty. I have walked through the valley of the shadow, Hadley. Thankfully, I emerged at the other side in time to make my peace with God, if not my fellow man.

It was signed, quite simply: H J K Danvers-Reid, Capt.

Of course, we were all agog to know the contents of this journal but Bradshaw shook his head sadly.

“I haven’t been able to make head nor tail of it, chaps. Danvers-Reid devised his own code and it has me stumped.”

Then Wishart said that I was just the fellow for the task, seeing as how I’d been a little involved in the Great Game and knew about codes and ciphers and such things. I demurred, of course. All that happened when I was very young. The other chaps would have none of my denials and thus it transpired that I güvenilir bahis siteleri undertook to translate Danvers-Reid’s testament. I suppose I accepted because it would give something to do. Cheltenham can be so damned boring, don’t you know. We all agreed to meet again in twelve months’ time. Bradshaw sent me the journal by parcel post and I set to work. I made very little headway at first. The script was unlike any military code with which I was familiar. Still, I persevered and after about two months, I finally spotted a pattern. That’s what code-breaking is all about. One looks for patterns. If one can guess what a particular piece of the cipher means, one begins to have a key to the whole, as it were.

Decryption is a long and repetitive task so I will not bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say that I noticed that each section of the journal began with a string of letters of varying length. I reasoned that a man keeping a journal might very well start each entry with the date. Once this thought took hold, I was able to further reason that the last four letters would refer to the year and the letters preceding this would be the month. Now, of all the months of the year, only May and September have an unique number of letters, three and nine respectively. Thus, if I could find a group of seven or thirteen letters, it was a fair bet that I had May186- or September 186-. My luck was in as I found an entry with thirteen letters quite early in the proceedings. After a lot more painstaking work I had the key to the following letters: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, L, M, N, O, P, R and T. Thereafter things proceeded apace and I was able to complete the translation just before Christmas, 1888 and present my findings to the chaps as we had agreed.

It takes a great deal to shock a band of old India hands, I can assure you, but when I showed them the translation of Danvers-Reid’s journal they were all aghast. I will not pass further comment but allow you, the reader, to discover the extent of the man’s debauchery for yourself. I now reproduce the journal in its unexpurgated entirety, except where it becomes tedious or contains little of note. I have indicated such places in my own hand. I assure you that I have suppressed nothing and if you are offended by what you read, kindly remember, the words are not my own but those of a strange, tortured individual living far from his fellows.

January 1868

I believe I have discovered a veritable paradise on earth. I sit, writing this first entry in this, the journal I have resolved to keep, in the luxury of my suite of rooms within the Nizzam’s Palace of Nambhupore. Can it really be but a scant three months since that I first set foot in the strange and beautiful little Kingdom? For the sake of clarity, I suppose it best to describe the events that led up to my being here. Until December of last year, I was a Captain in the Xth Royal Bengal Lancers. (Editor’s Note: I have removed the actual regimental number for the sake of those still serving in that excellent body.)

As often happens in this part of the world, a band of Dacoits appeared out of nowhere and began terrorising the villagers. His Highness Mansoor Iqbal Khan, the ruler of this fair land, is an elderly gentleman of no great martial inclinations and thus he sought assistance from the British troops based around Chittagong. This is quite usual in such circumstances. I was thus detached with a half troop of Lancers to bring the matter to a speedy conclusion. This we did, with all due despatch if, in truth, there was only one engagement worthy of note near the small town of Willarua. We caught the murdering swine just after they attacked the town and my sowars did a fearful slaughter. These dacoits are not soldiers and lack discipline. A well-executed charge broke them and thereafter it was most like an afternoon’s pig-sticking as the boys rode them down and took them on their points. An entirely satisfactory, if predictable, outcome.

The old Nizzam was delighted to be rid of the intruders and presented me with a casket of rare rubies and a fine Arab stallion. Nor did he ignore the sowars, each of whom received one thousand rupees. The old boy was as generous as he was grateful. This left me with something of a dilemma. Standing Orders insist that any such gratuities are handed over to the crown for any amount in excess of fifty guineas. I’m no tradesman, but I estimate my rubies would fetch at least £5,000, sufficient to ensure a very comfortable retirement. In the ordinary way of things I’d not have been tempted, but news had come from home that my esteemed Pater had lost every last penny in an unwise investment in some very suspect bonds, leaving me, his son and heir, penniless. Of course, I could have kept quiet about the rubies and no one would have been any the wiser if weren’t for that little prig, Jeavons, my troop cornet. There is not the slightest doubt that he would spill the beans to the Colonel the moment we got back. Jeavons has a singularly unfortunate manner with him, ignorant, prudish and rude; no doubt he’ll go far. However, the Nizzam himself resolved my problem. He offered me the position of General Officer Commanding of the Army of Nambhustan. I accepted with alacrity and wrote out my resignation on the spot. I marked the envelope By Hand of Orifice – my small revenge upon the egregious Jeavons – and sent it back with the little swine when he returned with the troop.

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