The next morning Malka was set on fire, and the huge , column of smoke which ascended from the burning village, and was visible for miles round, did not tend to allay the ill-feeling so plainly displayed. The Native officers of the Guides warned us that delay was dangerous, as the people were becoming momentarily more excited, and were vowing we should never return. It was no use, however, to attempt to make a move without the consent of the tribesmen, for we were a mere handful compared to the thousands who had assembled around Malka, and we were separated from our camp by twenty miles of most difficult country.
Our position was no doubt extremely critical, and it was well for us that we had at our head such a cool, determined leader as Reynell Taylor. I greatly admired the calm, quiet manner in which he went up and spoke to the headmen, telling them that, the object of our visit having been accomplished, we were ready to retrace our steps. At this the Amazais became still further excited. They talked in loud tones, and gesticulated in true Pathan fashion, thronging round Taylor, who stood quite alone and perfectly self possessed in the midst of the angry and dangerous-looking multitude. At this crisis the Bunerwals came to our rescue.
The most influential of the tribe, a grey-bearded warrior, who had lost an eye and an arm in some tribal contest, forced his way through the rapidly increasing crowd to Taylor’s side, and, raising his one arm to enjoin silence, delivered himself as follows: ‘You are hesitating whether you will allow these English to return unmolested. You can, of course, murder them and their escort; but if you do, you must kill us Bunerwals first, for we have sworn to protect them, and we will do so with our lives.’ This plucky speech produced a quieting effect, and taking advantage of the lull in the storm, we set out on our return journey ; but evidently the tribesmen did not consider the question finally or satisfactorily settled, for they followed us the whole way to Kuria. The slopes of the hills on both sides were covered with men. Several times we were stopped while stormy discussions took place, and once, as we were passing through a narrow defile, an armed Amazai, waving a standard above his head, rushed down towards us.
Fortunately for us, he was stopped by some of those less inimically disposed; for if he had succeeded in inciting anyone to fire a single shot, the desire for blood would quickly have spread, and in all probability not one of our party would have escaped.
On the 28rd December we reached our camp in the Umbeyla Pass, when the force, which had only been kept there till our return, retired to the plains and was broken up.
During my absence at Umbeyla my wife remained with friends at Mian Mir for some time, and then made her way to Peshawar, where I joined her on Christmas Day. She spent one night en route in Sir Hugh Rose’s camp at Hasan Abdal, and found the Chief in great excitement and very angry at such a small party having been sent to Malka, and placed at the mercy of the tribes. He did ‘not know that my wife had arrived, and in passing her tent she heard him say: ‘It was madness, and not one of them will ever come back alive.’ She was of course dreadfully frightened. As soon as Sir Hugh heard she was in camp, he went to see her, and tried to soften down what he knew she must have heard; but he could not conceal his apprehension ; and my poor wife’s anxiety was terrible, for she did not hear another word till the morning of the day I returned to her.
Source of Information/Reference:
Fredrick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Forty One Years In India: From Subalturn to Commander-In-Chief, Volume II, London, Richard Bentley and Sons, 1897, 20-22.