‘… some damned odd fellows in the earlies.’: Three examples VI

Continuing the account of the life and exploits of Colonel Alexander Campbell Gardner “Gurdana Khana”….

~~ He was guard commander to the infant Dalip Singh and Rani Jeendan at the time of his meeting with Flashman, but he was strongly pro-British (his friends included Henry Lawrence) and believed that India’s future would be best served by ever close communion with the United Kingdom. In his letter “from John Bull of India to John Bull of England”, he envisaged the development of India as a great industrial nation. with Indians playing their part in the highest posts in civil and military life, and being represented in both Houses at Westminister. Physically, Gardner was as Flashman describes him – six feet tall, fierce, lean, and of iron constitution. As a result of one of his numerous wounds he was unable to swallow solid food and could drink only with the help of an iron collar, but even in his eightieth year he was said to be active as a man of fifty, lively and humourous, and speaking an English which was “quaint, graphic and wonderfully good considering his fifty years among Asiatics.” The photograph in his Memoirs shows a splendid old war-horse, beak-nosed and with bristling whiskers, seated sword in hand and clad in a full sword of tartan, even to his plumed turban. He bought the cloth from a Highland regiment in India, but which tartan it is cannot be told from the monochrome picture, and thereby hangs a small mystery.

Flashman says it was the tartan of the 79th (Cameron) ¬†Highlander, and describes it as red or crimson – which is slightly puzzling, since the 79th’s kilt is largely dark blue, being a hybrid of the MacDonald and a crimson element from the Lochiel Cameron. It may be that Flashman, who knew his military tartans, regarded it as “red” only by contrast with those of the other four Highland regiments, which are predominantly dark blue-green. The only other explanation is that he was entirely mistaken, and Gardner was wearing not the 79th tartan but the red and resplendent Lochiel Cameron – in which case the Colonel must have been a sight to behold.

That is Colonel Gardner. But I said three examples, and for the next, we must go back to Flashman’s account….. the same meeting in which he learns the truth about Gurdana Khan, or Uncle Sam with a Kandahar haircut, in Flashman’s words.

~~ (Gardner to Flashman)¬†“And now, if you’re recovered, we’ll return you to your quarters. And don’t say Wisconsin again unless you mean it. Jemadar, idderao! (Lieutenant, come here)”.

An under-officer appeared like magic, and Gardner told him I was to have a couple of discreet shadows henceforth. He asked if anyone had been seeking me, and the jemadar said only my orderly.

Gardner frowned. “Who’s he – one of Broadfoot’s Pathans? I didn’t see him arrive with you.” ¬†[Here I must interject – The Black-Coated Infidel, i.e., Broadfoot, who sent Flashman on this mission, had his Pathan Sappers, or as Flashman colourfully puts it, he’d (Broadfoot) had a gang of them in Afghanistan, fearsome villains who’d cut your throat or mend your watch with equal skill. But I digress]

I explained that Jassa had a habit of vanishing when most needed, and that he wasn’t a Pathan – or the dervish he claimed to be.

“A dervish?” He stared. “What does he look like?”

I described Jassa, down to the vaccination mark, and he swore in astonishment and took a turn about the room.

“I’ll be…. no, it couldn’t be! I haven’t heard of him for years – and even he wouldn’t have the hard neck…. You’re sure he’s a Broadfoot man? And no beard, eh? Well, we’ll see! Jemadar, find the orderly, tell him the husoor wants him, double quick – and if he asks, say I’m out at Maian Mir. You sit down, Mr Flashman…. I suspect this may interest you.”

After the events of the night, I doubted if Lahore could hold any further surprises – but d’you know, what followed was perhaps the most astonishing encounter between two men I ever saw – and I was at Appomatox, remember, and saw Bismarck and Gully face to face with the mauleys, and held the shotgun when Hickok confronted Wesley Hardin. But what took place in Gardner’s room laid over any of them.

To be continued…..


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