Wales beckons with its six-fingered shuffle, and so the House of Boyo is piling into Old Mossy tomorrow morning for a week of drizzle, feral relatives and nursery food in the ancestral shed in Snowdonia.
Leaves in the dam often leave our hometown with an erratic power supply, as do angry peasants advancing up the hill at midnight, so web blogging may be light. In which case I leave you with the further adventures of Capt Deakin in or near Afghanistan.
As they say in Penarth, ciao for now:
DOWN THE OXUS ON A LOG: PART THE THIRD
The Governor motioned on his map to the blasted deserts north of the Hindoo-Koosh, that God-forsaken arena for the Tournament of Shadows between England and the Russian Bear for the fealty of the petty Amirs and Khans of Toorkistan.
"Things arebeginning to stir up there on the Oxus, Deakin, and it's time for us to strengthen our hand amongst the Pamiri chieftains. We have had reports, disturbing reports, that Cossack patrols from Tashkent are plying the hill-tribes of Wakhan and Kulyab with baubles, jewelled prayer-books and Smith & Wesson repeat-action rifles, not to mention Persian dancing-boys.
"The most worrying intelligence is that Col. Shatkovski is amongst them - no, you buffoon, not the dancing-boys, although Iwouldn't put that past him. He is a master of disguise, seduction, and all the other dark arts of espionage. Fluent inall the local Turki dialects, plus Persian, Pashto and English, he is a most formidable adversary - his greatest weapon being the insight into our own way of thinking he gained from attending a minor public school in Scotland; Dr Shuggie Macleod's Caledonian Academy, I believe.
"There he learnt to survive on salted grits, clad only in a hessian kilt, in extreme cold and almost Trappist silence for his first eighteen years. Part of some absurd exchange programme, it seems, under which we sent twenty pale youths to the Russiacity of Voronezh, a ship-building centre near the Don. They all returned married to Cossack women, and had to be put out of their misery within weeks."
"So you want an expedition to go up there and flog the blazes out of the Pamiris' womenfolk, to show the infidel who's boss of the Himalayas from Assam to Bokhara, eh Sir?" I interrupted enthusiastically. "Problem solved. I'll assemble a raiding party from the Gallant Welshmen of the Fifth, under Lt. Probert, right away, Sir, and show those heathens what fun can be had with three lengths of stout hemp and a selection of melons. Leave it to Deakin, Sir!"
The Governor was silent for a while, moved no doubt by my selfless offer to sacrifice my own men in the glaciers ofthe north. He even had to sit down and hold his head in his hands for a good few minutes, before raising his bloodshot eyes and addressing me again.
"Captain. Shut up and listen to me, or I'll second you to the Army Education Corps. How do you fancy twenty years of teaching literacy and elementary toilet-training to web-fingered East Anglians who pine for the sisters in the Fens? I thought not. Right, this is what you are going to do.
"I have gathered a small party of pundits - natives who know the uncharted Hindoo-Koosh passes and the Pamiri statelets like the back of their hands, and who can pass through the bazaars of Samarkand and Bokhara unnoticed. They are loyal and discreet, and will lead a select group of officers to the Hakim of Bunjikath, who we believe is willing to cut off the Cossacks as they return north from their mission to the Akhund of Basiq-Arvil.
"The Hakim has no love for the Russians, but has as yet no reason to help us either. The aim of our party will be to overtake Shatkovski and his mercenary crew, assure the Hakim of His Majesty's intentions to protect the Pamiris from the Bear's incursions, and promise him all the territories of Basiq-Arvil from the frontier with Kondooz to the Bokharan settlement of Hissar..."
At this point the oppressive heat, compounded by the delayed effects of the previous night's gin-drinking competition with"Fluffy" Tarry in the Mess - I won - conspired to send me into a light doze, but I don't think the Governor noticed.
"Wake up, you slobbering dipsomaniac! Good Lord, I have no more time to waste on you. Listen. You will nominally head the party, because the Russians have never heard of your worthless hide, and because you have the ideal alibi - officially you're dead. If reports of you reach the Russians, they will simply attribute them to native idiocy - moreover, they will never believe that we would entrust such a sensitive mission to a shifty incompetent like you.
"And they will be right. The party will in practice be led by two fine soldiers: Captain Champion of the Kashmiri Rifles, a superb linguist, crack shot and gallant officer, who has led many forays against the Pathans; and by Abdul Khalik, a pundit who is known and respected bythe Hakim of Bunjikath.
"Both men are too well-known to be formally acknowledged as members of the party, and will travel in mufti as traders: Champion has passed himself off as an Uighur merchant from Kashgar several times before. Your task will be to render them any assistance they might need - in short, to be expendable.
"If the mission succeeds and the Hakim pledges allegiance to the King-Emperor, we will have halted the Russian juggernaut in its tracks - St Petersburg will not dare openly challenge England, its ally in Europe, for control of the passes to Afghanistan. Moreover, you will have won yourself redemption, and will be allowed to return to the card-tables of Quetta to fritter away your life in vulgar debauchery."
"Thank you sir, there is nothing I could wish for more. You can count on me. But may I ask one question?", I interposed. The Governor nodded his assent. "The way I see it is this. The alliance with Russia is all wrong. Look, Ivan may becoming over all soft in Europe, but the battle for world domination is being played out here, in the Afghan Cockpit. The Germans have no objection, as I see it, to our dominion over Asia, as long as we let them establish beach-towel hegemony over the Frogs and Wops. If we let them have their way across the Channel, they will have no reason not to help us give the Russkies the damn good hidin' they deserve on the Oxus and Jaxartes.
"Siberia will then be ours, an ideal dumping ground for all the socialists, liberals, Jews and book-reading types as are ruinin' our country. Our joint Germanic axis can then turn its attention to winning back the North American colonies and bringing civilisation to the benighted Africans and Latin Americans. European history took a wrong turning when it abandoned feudalism, and it's up to us Saxons to put matters right by sharing the benefits of slavery, corporal punishment and extensive ground-nut plantations with the lesser breeds.
"Champion and I shall take big guns, plenty of whisky and some Lilly Langtree phonogram recordings to the Hakim fellow, let him keep this Abdulawallah chap as a gesture of goodwill, then move the Baluchi Lancers up to the Pamirs, cable the Kaiser and tell him to get his Hussars cracking against Ivan. Yer see, the Krauts have this Von Schlieffen Plan, and it really can't fail, because..."
"Captain Deakin!", shrieked the Governor. "You will keep your political fantasies to yourself or I'll have you shot for treason! Do as Capt. Champion says, keep your tackle in your trousers, maintain some semblance of sobriety and maybe -just maybe - I'll let you return to your regiment. Is that clear? Good.
"Now, report to the Kashmiri Rifles at four o'clock sharp tomorrow morning. Champion and Abdul Khalik will be waiting for you, and you can set off before morning prayers. Get your batman to assemble mountain kit for you tonight, retire early, and don't let me hear from you again until you return with your party intact and the Hakim's pledge of loyalty in your pocket. Now go!"
"So you agree to my plan, Sir!" I exclaimed in delight. The Governor clasped his head in his hands once again, no doubt overwhelmed by my brilliant strategic vision and the honour History would accord him for his role as my mentor in this undertaking.
"Listen, Peter," he said quietly. "You go and have an early night, and report to the Kashmiris as I said. Send my your batman, and I'll explain everything to him, alright?"
"Jawohl, Herr Gouverneur!" I assented with a knowing click of my heels, and moved to leave the State Room.
"One moment, Deakin," he beckoned. "Just tell me this before you go: how did you ever obtain a commission in the first place?"
"Perfectly simple, Sir; I inherited if orf my brother Bill."
"Bill, Bill Deakin? You surely don't mean William Wilberforce D'Arcy Deakin, the most brilliant graduate from Sandhurst in his year? Really? My son was there, too. Says your brother was a most promising officer."
"Oh, yes, Bill. Bit of an off-ox, actually. Wouldn't let Pater buy him a commission. Insisted on going through Sandhurst on merit, and then volunteered for the Engineers, fer Chrissakes. Wasted his spare time writing some damn-fool book- "The Army of the Future" or something, about how cavalry and infantry must be replaced by high-mobility mechanised divisions, or else the next war will be bogged down in murderous trench-warfare that will sacrifice an entire generation of the Flower of Europe, one by one. Well, I ask you! Thought bright-red uniforms were a bad idea, too. Stuff and nonsense!"
"What happened to him?" asked the Governor.
"Well, he decided to get himself married. Not to a decent shires brood-mare, either, but to some Oxford blue-stocking. Went on their honeymoon to look at wall-paintings in churches in Italy, if yer please. Wouldn't have a stag-night in the mess either, - her idea, no doubt - so me and the chaps slipped some stiff ones in his cocoa the night before and left him with a tupp'ny whore in Whitechapel - old Uncle Jack's stamping-ground, yer know. The least we could do.
"Anyway, damnedest thing happened. He came back from Eytieland blind, started raving about being the Duke of Wellington, went paralysed from the neck down, lost his nose, and died. Bit of a nancy-boy, really, but a shame all the same. Mater was quite cut-up about it, actually; too grief-stricken to speak to me for five years.
"Anyway, our loss was the Army's gain. Pater pulled a few strings and I got the commission."
The Governor was silent for a while. "You mean your father paid good money to get you into the Fifth Baluchi Lancers?"
"Well, er, no, actually. I was meant to join the Welsh Guards- fifteen guineas and a season-ticket to Twickenham for the CO, apparently - but my attempts to console Bill's widow were horribly misinterpreted, and the Lancers was where I ended up. Still, they're a good bunch and they do a damn important job."
"Yes, I suppose the Empire needs men to keep those vicious Baluchi nomad-pastoralists under control, or else they might sack Delhi with their dreaded, sharp-fanged flocks of sheep and fearsome walking-sticks."
"Quite, Sir. Their womenfolk are a force to be reckoned with, too," I agreed ruefully, recalling the number of narrow escapes we'd had from their wet towels and heavy undergarments during our Washing-Day bayonet-charges on the village bath-houses.
"Off you go, Deakin, and don't come back until I've been transferred somewhere else," said the Governor with a straight face. Quite a wag, really, I thought.