Last week we followed Lieutenant Richmond Shakespear as he rescued the Russian slaves from the Khan of Khiva. But, as mentioned, his was not the first attempt. An expedition under Captain James Abbott had vanished, soon after setting out. What had happened to that party? Shakespear learned of his fellow officer's fate when he reached Khiva, finding that Abbott had been there before him.

Rumors always seemed to precede Captain Abbott. He was said at Khiva to be a Russian spy disguised as an Englishman, rather than the Englishman disguised as an Afghan he actually was. Confusing, isn't it? He finally convinced the Khan he wasn't a borscht eater and preceded to bargain for the slaves. First he had to give his host a lesson in European history - Asian potentates don't get out much. Yes, you have twenty guns, no, Queen Victoria has quite a few more than that. Yes, if you die fighting the infidel you will go straight to paradise, but your wives and daughters will find their paradise in the arms of Russian soldiers. Yes, our king is a woman. No, her ministers are not all women. No, it's impossible to count how many cities she owns. No our king doesn't have a telescope that sees through walls. Yes, we eat pork. It's hard to know how much of all this the Khan believed but he was impressed enough to promise to free a number of slaves. He'd learned that the Russian army supposedly sent txo free them had been defeated by winter storms, but was afraid they would try again in the spring. Although Abbott was not authorized to escort slaves out of Khiva he decided to exceed his instructions. Kind of thing looks good on the old resume, if you succeed. He didn't get the chance. The Khan changed his mind, thanked Abbott for a lovely visit and showed him the gates.

After leaving Khiva on March 7th, 1840, Abbott had been betrayed by his guide, attacked by raiders in the desert, wounded and taken captive. His men were hustled off to be sold as slaves. In the nick of time, as usual, the cavalry came to the rescue, in the person of a messenger from the British command at Herat. When the brigands were told Abbott was not only under the protection of the Khan, but also carrying messages to the Tsar of Russia, they immediately became most polite and accommodating; Abbott's party was quickly given the central Asia equivalent of a 'bon voyage'. He and his party traveled on to the fortress on the Caspian, at Alexandrovsk, to have his wounds tended. Rumor preceded him once again - he was said to be the leader of a 10,000-man invasion force. When that didn't check out he was admitted, had his wounds tended to, and was made quite welcome by the Russian commandant and his gorgeous wife. If you read romance novels, let your imagination go crazy, but neither Captain Abbott nor author Peter Hopkirk provide further details. Most importantly, at least to themselves, the slaves had been freed. Final score - Shakespear 416; Abbott 0. Er, make that zed.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte