« PreviousContinue »
would suddenly start cheering in the shrillest of staccato voices. It required a very steady animal to stand this sudden shock, and the rider had to be prepared for exceptional capers.
When the preparations were being made for the Great Durbar of 1st January 1903, which was to include a review of 40,000 troops on a sandy plain outside Delhi, at which the Viceroy, accompanied by the Duke of Connaught and the Grand Duke of Hesse, was to take the salute, it was thought desirable that a charger of exceptional distinction should be procured for him. My Acting Commander-inChief was nothing loth to serve me in this respect, and magnanimously surrendered to me a magnificent chestnut "waler", well over seventeen hands in height, and of splendid appearance. Mounted on this noble animal, which was named "Coronation" in honour of the occasion (we were celebrating the Coronation of King Edward VII.), I successfully passed through the ceremonies of the morning, though I remember that "Coronation ", being unused to the experience of standing out alone in the open, kept edging backwards to join the horses with their royal riders standing immediately behind. I used to ride him sometimes afterwards; and, when I left India, I parted with him to a General Officer who commanded one of the principal Indian armies.
Some years afterwards, meeting this officer in England, I asked him how he had fared with 66 Coronation". "Have you never heard?" was his mournful reply. "The brute laid me on my back on the parade ground in full sight of all the
troops at P—r.” "But how did that come about?" I asked. "Did you not know", was the reply, "that he was famous for this performance, which he had successfully executed at the expense of the Acting Commander-in-Chief before he parted with him to you?" "No, indeed", I said, regretting much that that gallant commander was no longer under my orders, to receive a becoming expression of my gratitude; "and what was the sequel?" "I parted with him", said the General, “without a pang, and he has doubtless treated other Generals in the same manner since. But", he added, "happening to see the diary of my son, who was my A.D.C. on that fateful occasion, lying open on his desk, I glanced at the entry on that date, in order to see how he had dealt with the parental misfortune :
"January 1, 19-.-Proclamation ParadeFather came off all right' was the somewhat ambiguous but laconic entry."
I was shown the scene of a similar catastrophe at Imphal, the capital town of Manipur in the far East of India. The General commanding the forces in Bengal and Assam had come up to that remote spot to inspect the garrison; and the entire population of the town was assembled on the polo ground, which is bounded at the two ends by a broad shallow ditch, across which the goals are struck, and on the low bank above which the native inhabitants sit or stand to watch the show. The gallant General's steed, overcome by the firing of the salute or the cheering of the crowd, retreated steadily backwards and
eventually discharged its rider amid great applause into the ditch.
Such incidents are not uncommon in a country where a good deal of the locomotion, apart from ceremonies, requires to be performed on horseback, sometimes by persons who have had no great training or experience in equitation. I recall two such that happened at Simla in my time.
The station chaplain, who was about to take to himself a wife, sought and received my permission to have the ceremony performed at noon in a little chapel of ease that stood on Observatory Hill close to Viceregal Lodge. I was seated at work in my room, when I heard that, just as the reverend gentleman, attired for the ceremony, was riding through the Gurkha Gate that led into the Viceregal grounds, the 12 o'clock gun, which stood under a gun shed hard by, went off-and so did he. He was reported as lying on the ground in a condition that scarcely fitted him for the impending function. The remedy was obvious. Without hesitation I sent down an A.D.C. with a bottle of champagne, a copious libation of which at once restored the prostrate bridegroom to his senses, and enabled the bride within half an hour to change her name.
The other incident befell one of my most esteemed colleagues in Council, a gentleman who, never having bestridden a horse until he came out to India, nevertheless regarded it as an obligation of honour to ride, as did all his colleagues, to the meetings of Council at Viceregal Lodge.
The journey, which was a long one from the other
end of the Ridge, was pursued at a snail's pace, a native syce running alongside in order to be prepared for any sudden collapse on the part of the rider. If one met the latter so engaged, it was with the utmost difficulty, and only at great personal risk, that he could raise his left hand to salute. It was reported that on one occasion he was met by a friend who, ignoring his air of concentrated anxiety, asked him a question. "Don't speak", he said; "can't you see that I am busy riding?"
At last the inevitable catastrophe occurred. The Members of Council were assembled in the Council Chamber for the weekly Cabinet meeting. I was waiting to go in. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed, and our eminent colleague did not appear! I told an A.D.C. to mount and gallop down the hill, searching the roadside as he went. Sure enough, there he found the unlucky equestrian, whom the syce had failed to catch as he made his sudden descent; he was lying on the road, severely battered, while his astonished steed stood patiently at his side. The Government of India had to do without a Member for that particular department for more than three weeks.
THE MUTINY VETERANS
DELHI, 1st January 1903
To-day, across our fathers' graves,
Which cleansed our East with steel.
Hail and farewell! We greet you here,
O Keepers of the House of old,
RUDYARD KIPLING, "The Veterans ".
By 11 o'clock, when a bugle sounded, the great arena was cleared. Every seat was occupied in the vast horseshoe amphitheatre, built in imitation of the Moghul style, with Saracenic arches, and light cupolas tipped with gold. Painted a creamy white, it shone like some fairy palace of marble in the fierce light of the Indian sun.
There might be seen the Princes of India, ablaze with jewels and in their most splendid raiment ; behind them, a curtained box hid from the public gaze their wives and female relatives. There were the representatives of foreign states, of Japan, Siam, Afghanistan, Muscat and Nepal, of the French and Portuguese possessions in India, and of the British Overseas Dominions of South Africa and