We have joined the Moveable Column at Jullunder in the north of the Punjab. Chamberlain has already secured Multan while Georgie Lawrence secures Rajasthan so I am to secure the northern cities of the Punjab as we arch across toward our key allies the Triad of Sikh Principalities who are gearing up troops and supplies and support to help us attack Delhi from the north. Agra is shaky. Meerut is a mess. We need to leapfrog through the Sikh Triad and use Jind as a jumping off to attack Delhi. The trouble is Jullunder is yet another cockup as in ballup of a fucking mess of holy cow shit.
The Moveable Column is triple the size of a regular redeploying column. Not since working with Gould in the Second Sikh War have I seen such a mass on the move! But I worked as Gould’s Logistics & Commissariat Aide de camp as well as his Military Police and Military Intelligence so this is my expertise. Give me a road and Point A Departure and Point B Arrival and I will be a busy little berserker. This is my forte. This is why I have been temporarily hired as temporary Brigadier General.
The Tribe of Nicholson trot past the rear of the column as I ride ahead with Brother # 2 and Khan Son # 1 and the Commander and mass of Wah! In Exile Plus. We inspect as we ride briskly past. The men are not moving fast enough but otherwise it is a coherent march. This is not Anson’s Simla Fuckup. We have the animals. We have order. We just have to pick up the pace. Everyone is gripping why Delhi is not under attack. Everyone is worried how Meerut’s Morons will fuck up the Ridge. We have to cross the Punjab in Hot Season during Ramadan in 120 degree heat and get to Delhi before anything else fucks up. We can’t lose any more face or we will lose the confidence of our Allies and the rank and file citizens of India. Once in Delhi a lot of the job will be done. Between us and another Siege Train plus Meerut’s Morons we can take down Delhi. We just have to get to Delhi.
The Rebels are making all of the classic mistakes. Bunching up in one place to be besieged, not using strategy, trusting city walls and not winning real battles to seize the countryside, waiting to be attacked, not attacking, retrenching, not severing arteries to stop us redeploying armies all over India to march to them, squandering time and resources doing nothing, while we gear up for an integrated assault. Sure, they have their old bailiwick, the old Mughal Bastion of Doab and Oudh and Rohilkhand, but they are isolated, cut off, are not consolidating, much less expanding. We are consolidating and expanding. Their supplies are finite and they have no tax base or port. We have infinite supplies and tax base and three ports. And in the Mughal Bastion they are spending their time imposing Sharia Law and jizya taxes and terrorizing Hindu instead of nation building. Building a nation is not imposing Dar ul Islam at the point of your spear, parading around with impaled severed heads. Time is on our side if we can just get to Delhi and set up a siege.
Sieges take time but once a siege starts it is a predictable exercise in garroting. Every Indian Prince and squire and civilian will sit back and say ‘Right! Siege underway! Takes forever! But sooner or later the city will be taken! Crisis over! Just kick back and swing in the swing and wait. Time is on the side of the Loyalists. End of crisis!’ I just have to push this column briskly to Delhi and set up the siege.
We reach the head of the column as it was making camp at mid-afternoon. The camp was the size of a town. It shimmered across the lay of the land like a magical anthill! Campfires dotting the land. The Quarter Master glorying in his command as even officers all but grovel before him. Elephants queuing up on one side. Bullocks queuing up on another side. Camels and horses and mules queuing up on another side. The cantonment pickets set up, invisible security monitoring the perimeter. Tents being set up in a pattern of precise squares like city blocks. Officers in one cluster. The Quartermaster and his men in another cluster. Each regiment subdivided by company and caste and mess. Treasury set up in it’s hedgehog of security pickets. Sanitation downwind and down river. God! I love the Art of Logistics!
We rode up right where per protocols the Commander of the Column should be. There was an empty square. “I need more space” I said to the officer in command. I am bringing Irregulars and Military Police. Durbar Tent. Justice Durbar Tent. Police Tent. Headquarters Tent. Personal digs.”
The dusty officer yanked off his tropic wicker helmet wrapped in a paggri turban cloth. He wiped a mask of dirt off his face to reveal no less than Freddy Roberts! “Fucking Freddy!” I bellowed! “Grand to see you! But I still need triple space!”
“I told the senior officers that but they bellowed ‘Who the fuck does Captain Nicholson fucking think he is! Rajah of Peshawar!’ But I rigged the game! I lined up the senior officer tents right along the line that will have to move!” Freddy grinned as I laughed. Then up marched several senior officers.
“Move it boyos!” I bellowed. “The Big Turban has arrived ! In another hour the rest of the Tribe of Nicholson will be here!”
The pig sticking officers in their red tunics glared at my dusty men and myself. We were in khaki kurta caked with dirt, our turbans caked with dirt, our faces caked with dirt. “Niggers. Don’t you know who we are?” they said.
At this juicy moment some of Coke’s Rifles swaggered up to watch the brouhaha in their dark forest green tunics that in the dirt and sweat always looked like black assassins. Most of Coke’s were lethal Gurkha Rifle snipers. They grinned maliciously. So did some Sikhs who swaggered up to watch the rumpus they knew was about to unfold.
I pointed to my Captaincy insignia on my shoulder belt held by shoulder chains which attached to my sword belt worn over a cashmere shawl cummerbund which held my Adams revolver. I always wore my insignia by my pricker plate, boss, and chains instead of pinned to my collar. A lot of kurta and alkalak tunics did not have the collars needed to show off insignia so I just kept my insignia on my shoulder belt which moved each day to each Indian tunic Father brought out. I also only had one set of fucking insignia as well. As a political officer I usually did not even bother with military garb so I never invested in the stuff. But now I pointed to the old insignia. “See this! I fucking command here!”
“Your shoulder pouch says lieutenant” another pig sticking officer said. “And the rest of these bastards don’t wear a god damn thing remotely resembling uniforms!”
Coke’s Gurkhas grinned in anticipation as Freddy eased himself out of anticipated range of assault. The Sikhs eyed a watch as they took bets how long the fracas would last.
“I am fucking Nicholson! I fucking outrank you sister fuckers because I am the biggest right royal bastard in the entire Northwest Punjab!” I bellowed. “And my job is to move this fucking column across the fucking Punjab to fucking Delhi and starting tomorrow I am going to kick your collective arse so hard you will be begging me to stop for a mere fucking one half hour! And I want my fucking staff and my fucking family to have space to fucking set up their fucking tents because some of my fucking staff who is also my fucking family is close to 60 years old and Rosh Sahib is 63 years old! And we have been moving at twice the fucking speed as you sister fuckers! Do you understand sister fuckers? Or do I have to stake out the MP tent and arrest you sister fuckers here and now for being assholes?”
“Brigadier General Nicholson” Freddy stage whispered at a safe distance as the Gurkhas passed money in bets and the Sikhs commenced the count down to certain death.
The pig sticking officers stood flat footed and dazed. But I was pissed off. “And don’t you assholes ever call my staff, who are also my family, anything but their full military ranks! And this man here is Subedar Major Rao and Aide de camp to me! As in second in command to me! My pundit and military advisor and Aide de camp right hand man! And this is Jemadar Muhammad Hayat Khan who commands Wah! In Exile Plus who are my Irregulars and Advance Scouts and Security. He is my left hand man! And this is the Commander of Wah! In Exile Plus! He guards my back! And unless you are pundits in anything excepting pig sticking then you are ballast! So fucking get out of my way! Do you fucking understand?”
The men saluted and marched off forthwith. The Sikhs and Coke’s men applauded, delivering a bellowing war cry. Wah! In Exile Plus echoed it. Freddy smiled his most perky smile. “Sir! You have confounded the enemy and the enemy as retreated forthwith! However, I would not expect an invitation to their mess any time soon. But then I don’t get invitations to their mess either.”
“I would invite you to my mess but my mess is for pariahs and the Tribe of Nicholson and …” I replied while gesturing that I knew perfectly well I had just fucked up.
Freddy Roberts smiled his most perky smile. “Do I consider that a standing invitation to dine with you and yours? Accepted Sir! Before you can change your mind!” The little officer, now a lieutenant, grinned as he saluted me.
“You are joining pariahs!” I said groaning as the reality sunk in. “I remember my first day in my new cantonment posting at Ferozepore! I failed to deliver calling cards with the memsahibs of the officers, all hatchet faced gargoyles, and was henceforth dead meat on the Great Trunk Road forthwith! I am just done it again haven’t I?”
“Sir!” Freddy replied grinning. “But it will be a tale told ever many a campfire from here to Delhi!” Coke’s men and the Sikhs applauded me as I took a mock bow.
“Berserker Nicholson takes his bow!” I said. “Now! Where is the fucking telegraph?”
“Oh?” Freddy asked.
“We are marching along the metalic road and there is a fucking telegraph line so why isn’t there a fucking telegraphic mobile office set up to keep this fucking column in continuous contact? And I want to set up the Net of Eyes and Ears that will encircle the column forthwith! Irregulars and snipers on the outside! Scouts and snipers ahead! Liaison with each district newswriter and his cell of spies as we approach! Also flying columns to deliver flying attacks on suspected mutineers! Boys!” I said gesturing to the Gurkhas and Sikhs. “Run down the line and recruit forthwith! Report to Brother # 2 here and Khan Son # 1 here. Now scram!”
Half a hour later as the rest of the Tribe of Nicholson arrived recruits for the Network of Eyes and Ears and Flying Columns were queuing up. “Brother # 1″ I bellowed. “Set up the Mobile Telegraphic Office! These morons have never seen one in action!” Then I hung my head before Son # 1. “Fucked up the social totem pole and kicked down the social bailiwick!” I reported. “I will never be invited to any mess! But the good news is I will never be invited to any mess!” I plastered a grotesque smile on my face.
“One hour before me and you have already walked on the durbar carpet in boots!” Son # 1 sighed. “Oh Sahib Uncle! You are very lucky to have me as your Subedar Majordomo!”
“You cannot salvage it!” I replied. “I have fucked up right royal! It is hopeless!”
“I can salvage any social debacle!” Son # 1 replied calmly. “Other than death. Actually, I could even salvage death. I could engineer a wake around the corpse.”
“Salvaging my debacle would be like a wake” I replied. “So let’s not talk about my social inability to not eat people and hoist the tents!” And we did!
I helped Rosh Sahib into his tent, the old man looking fragile. “Marches like this feature aged generals all of the time” I said to reassure him. “General Gould was eighty if he was a day! Hobson swore General Anson was ninety! Anson is dead of course but only because of cholera. I eased the old man into a chair.
“Military Law is fascinating!” Rosh Sahib replied. “I have my first case!”
“What” I sputtered.
“Some officers came. Heard I was part of the Legal Staff of Brigadier General Nicholson and asked me to prosecute a dreadfully vulgar captain who swore at them!……”