I John Fothergill West, student of law in the University of St. Andrews, hav_ndeavoured in the ensuing pages to lay my statement before the public in _oncise and business-like fashion.
It is not my wish to achieve literary success, nor have I any desire by th_races of my style, or by the artistic ordering of my incidents, to throw _eeper shadow over the strange passages of which I shall have to speak. M_ighest ambition is that those who know something of the matter should, afte_eading my account, be able to conscientiously indorse it without finding _ingle paragraph in which I have either added to or detracted from the truth.
Should I attain this result, I shall rest amply satisfied with the outcome o_y first, and probably my last, venture in literature.
It was my intention to write out the sequence of events in due order,
depending on trustworthy hearsay when I was describing that which was beyon_y own personal knowledge. I have now, however, through the kind cooperatio_f friends, hit upon a plan which promises to be less onerous to me and mor_atisfactory to the reader. This is nothing less than to make use of th_arious manuscripts which I have by me bearing upon the subject, and to add t_hem the first-hand evidence contributed by those who had the bes_pportunities of knowing Major-General J. B. Heatherstone.
In pursuance of this design I shall lay before the public the testimony o_srael Stakes, formerly coachman at Cloomber Hall, and of John Easterling,
F.R.C.P. Edin., now practising at Stranraer, in Wigtownshire. To these I shal_dd a verbatim account extracted from the journal of the late John Berthie_eatherstone, of the events which occurred in the Thul Valley in the autumn of
'41 towards the end of the first Afghan War, with a description of th_kirmish in the Terada defile, and of the death of the man Ghoolab Shah.
To myself I reserve the duty of filling up all the gaps and chinks which ma_e left in the narrative. By this arrangement I have sunk from the position o_n author to that of a compiler, but on the other hand my work has ceased t_e a story and has expanded into a series of affidavits.
My Father, John Hunter West, was a well known Oriental and Sanskrit scholar,
and his name is still of weight with those who are interested in such matters.
He it was who first after Sir William Jones called attention to the grea_alue of early Persian literature, and his translations from the Hafiz an_rom Ferideddin Atar have earned the warmest commendations from the Baron vo_ammer-Purgstall, of Vienna, and other distinguished Continental critics.
In the issue of the Orientalisches Scienzblatt for January, 1861, he i_escribed as "Der beruhmte und sehr gelhernte Hunter West von Edinburgh" —_assage which I well remember that he cut out and stowed away, with _ardonable vanity, among the most revered family archives.
He had been brought up to be a solicitor, or Writer to the Signet, as it i_ermed in Scotland, but his learned hobby absorbed so much of his time that h_ad little to devote to the pursuit of his profession.
When his clients were seeking him at his chambers in George Street, he wa_uried in the recesses of the Advocates' Library, or poring over some mould_anuscript at the Philosophical Institution, with his brain more exercise_ver the code which Menu propounded six hundred years before the birth o_hrist than over the knotty problems of Scottish law in the nineteent_entury. Hence it can hardly be wondered at that as his learning accumulate_is practice dissolved, until at the very moment when he had attained th_enith of his celebrity he had also reached the nadir of his fortunes.
There being no chair of Sanscrit in any of his native universities, and n_emand anywhere for the only mental wares which he had to dispose of, w_hould have been forced to retire into genteel poverty, consoling ourselve_ith the aphorisms and precepts of Firdousi, Omar Khayyam, and others of hi_astern favourites, had it not been for the kindness and liberality of hi_alf-brother William Farintosh, the Laird of Branksome, in Wigtownshire.
This William Farintosh was the proprietor of a landed estate, the acreag_hich bore, unfortunately, a most disproportional relation to its value, fo_t formed the bleakest and most barren tract of land in the whole of a blea_nd barren shire. As a bachelor, however, his expenses had been small, and h_ad contrived from the rents of his scattered cottages, and the sale of th_alloway nags, which he bred upon the moors, not only to live as a lair_hould, but to put by a considerable sum in the bank.
We had heard little from our kinsman during the days of our comparativ_rosperity, but just as we were at our wit's end, there came a letter like _inistering angel, giving us assurance of sympathy and succour. In it th_aird of Branksome told us that one of his lungs had been growing weaker fo_ome time, and that Dr. Easterling, of Stranraer, had strongly advised him t_pend the few years which were left to him in some more genial climate. He ha_etermined, therefore to set out for the South of Italy, and he begged that w_hould take up our residence at Branksome in his absence, and that my fathe_hould act as his land steward and agent at a salary which placed us above al_ear of want.
Our mother had been dead for some years, so that there were only myself, m_ather, and my sister Esther to consult, and it may be readily imagined tha_t did not take us long to decide upon the acceptance of the laird's generou_ffer. My father started for Wigtown that very night, while Esther and _ollowed a few days afterwards, bearing with us two potato-sacksful of learne_ooks, and such other of our household effects that were worth the trouble an_xpense of transport.