Sunday, December 4, 2011
Flashman- Chapter 9
A couple of chapters ago I said things went pear shaped for the British Army in Afghanistan, they fell apart totally in Chapter 9.
Flashman's rather urbane captor; Akbar Khan, gives his proposal to the British forces to Flashman to deliver. The soldier himself thinks it's a rather good offer, but even if he didn't, it gives him the chance to get back to safety behind British lines, and to do that Flashman would deliver a marriage proposal from Akbar Khan to Queen Victoria if that's what the Afghan prince wanted him to do.
By appearing back in Kabul alive Flashman's reputation is enhanced further, and the Bloody Lance incident given further credence. Even a character like Colin Mackenzie, one of the few British soldiers at the time that George MacDonald Fraser through his anti hero seems to have any genuine respect for, starts to believe the legend that Flashman is beginning to weave about himself. McNaghten is going to take Khan's offer, Elphy Bey is less certain, but by this stage Elphy Bey isn't certain about anything. He's ill and largely bed ridden. Flashman even wonders if his mind hasn't begun to wonder. These days we'd say he had Alzheimers.
This chapter was readers first introduction to Lady Florentia Sale. Although Flashman often directs insults in his memoirs via this remarkable woman's way, one senses that he has a sneaking respect for her. He didn't think much of her husband's abilities as a commander, but like many at the time couldn't deny that he was a damn good fighter. Lady Sale is another intelligent person who has fallen for the Flashman stories, never realising that most of it was luck and a strong instinct of self preservation.
The meeting to arrange the deal between Akbar Khan and the British is unsurprisingly a complete and utter mess. The British have been played for fools and McNaghten, Mackenzie and Trevor are all taken prisoner. The only reason that Flashman isn't also captured is because he alone keeps his head. It's something that he's very proud of later in life. He mounts a white mare that was given as a gift and takes off. He even manages in his frantic escape to see McNaghten executed, although he gets the impression that this was done against the wishes of Akbar Khan.
Once he's safe Flashman employs a tactic he's used many times since; he insults his enemy and makes threatening noises about what he'd do if only he could get to them. He's done this often and people always fall for it, it's enhanced his reputation and made him quite the 'full of pepper' hero.
Elphy Bey finally makes the decision to retreat, even though he's advised that they could no doubt fight their way out of the situation. On the first morning of retreat poor old Elphinstone even manages to shoot himself in the backside. An incident that prompted the fiery Brigadier Shelton to remark that he was trying to blow his brains out.
Flashman determines that by hook or by crook he's getting safe back to India, and gets the reliable and useful Sergeant Hudson on board. He hand picks a hard fighting band of lancers and provisions himself and them to ensure that he at least will arrive in India without any further injury.
He receives a letter from Elspeth. A flowery missive in which she compares him to Hector, Achilles and Ajax. I love reading Elspeth's letters to Harry, they are so totally her. According to Flashman it was very much the fashion of the time for wives at home to compare their warring husbands to the heroes of Greek legends. As Flashman so eloquently puts it: It was a common custom at that time, in the more romantic females, to see their soldier husbands and sweethearts as Greek heores, instead of the whoremongering, drunken clowns most of them were..
The letter reminds him that it's been some time since he had a woman, and he sets his sights on Mrs Betty Parker, the wife of a much older cavalry officer. As soon as it's practical, Flashman has Parker sent off on a mission, not necessarily fatal, but it does get him out of the way. Definitely shades of King David, Uriah the Hittite and his desirable wife Bathsheba in this little episode.
The whole lot of them set off lock, stock and barrel to make their way across some of the most inhospitable country in the world, being harried by tribesmen armed to the teeth the entire way. Should be an interesting journey.