I have arrived ahead of the Moveable Column with just a small hill tent with Khan Son # 1 along with some of Wah! In Exile Plus to the Ridge. What a bloody mess! The besieging column besieged! Rooted on a high raise of ground among ruins of British splendor reduced to rubble! I guess that says something! But the Ridge is firmly dug in and the supply tether is secure. Black faced men grin at me. You cannot tell what race they are! Everything is black! Black faces! Black rags! Black guns! Black flies buzzing! Black rot! Black muck! Black everything! Not knowing who I was the first grimy bunch of soldiers who saw me bellowed rambunctiously and then turned around and mooned me with their breeches all holes and stinking from dysentery. “Oh what a vision!” I bellowed back. “Wait until we get the Emperor Zafar here! Signing his surrender! Then you fellows can really show him the moon where the sky don’t shine!” They yelled back, grimy and sick and stinking but still fighting. Because I was in a god damn pony cart I jumped off and pulled down my pajama trousers to show off my ulcerated saddle sores. Then I pointed to my poor grey mare who was still bandaged. I had given her my one and only metal, a minor one given to me by General Gould personally because the Military said I never did swat to earn a fucking metal. I pointed to the metal. “Awarded to my valiant mare for heroism beyond the call of duty! That is why I an’t riding yet!” The ragged and sick soldiers cheered my grey mare with manic intensity of men pushed to the brink of sanity by months of utter hell on earth.
But by the time I arrived at headquarters I was pissed off right royal about the way the ordinary soldiers were suffering while officers were enjoying mess meals and cricket. I jumped off the cart and stiff neck with anger marched into mess, it being meal time, and glared at the Meerut Morons. They had improvised their usual stupid mess on barrels with dirty canvas for white linen and tin cans for regimental silver. And they were just as sick, grimy, and worn down by war. But I was pissed off so I glared at them. Sitting at the head of the improvised table was a small, goateed fussbudget of a man. I sneered as haughty as could be. “Enjoying your officer mess I see” I sneered. “What are your men enjoying?” Then I marched into the improvised officer’s commissary and commandeered the lot! Hauled it out and ordered it disbursed to every man jack on the Ridge! “I want every man jack to get something! And I will be double checking to make sure!”
At that moment Daly and Hobson came up. “So much for civilized gentility!” Hobson laughed as he peered at me over the tops of his dark blue sun goggles. That tin right there is my tin of peaches!” he pointed to a can of peaches on top of the pile of loot I was ordering hauled away to be distributed to the men.
“Did you pay for that can of peaches yourself?” I snarled grabbing the disputed can of peaches.
“Yes!” Hobson replied as he stood straight and tall, coming up to my upper chest, while pressing one dirty hand over his heart. Both men wore dirty khaki Indian tunics rapidly turning to black rags.
“How did you have the money!” I roared. “You are always broke!”
“I borrowed it from Daly here!” Hobson replied with that mad smile of a naughty child. So I grabbed the tin of peaches and give it to Daly who danced away as Hobson howled.
“Peaches! Peaches!” Hobson howled as Daly awkwardly used one arm to punch the tin open with his boot knife. Then he devour the peaches in three gulps as Hobson howled. Then Daly impaled the last peach on his boot knife and held it up with his right hand while grinning. Hobson ran over — just as Daly devoured it!
“Oh by the way old boy” Hobson said after wailing as the last peach was devoured. “Besides the fact that actually was not our tin of peaches — when inside raiding the officer’s mess you did not see a fussy he goat did you?”
“Company mascot?” I snarled as I ordered men to haul the commandeered goods to every part of the camp — or else!
“In a way old boy!” Hobson replied as he peered over the tops of his sun goggles. “General Naaaaaaaayyyyyy Goat Wilson!” Hobson grinned maliciously as the enormity of my social breach of Military decorum sunk in.
“As in Wilson Weak Wrist Witless Wingnut the Scion of Heroic Gerbils?” I asked. “I have seen lots of useless generals in my day but such an ignorant, croaking obstructive moron I have not seen in many a year!” Daly pointed behind me with right hand. I spun around. There stood General Wilson himself!
“Busted” Hobson whispered as I saluted my technical superior officer.
“Brigadier General Nicholson! I have arrived three days ahead of the Moveable Column and a week ahead of the Siege Column to set up the staging arena Sir!” I said.
General Wilson stared at me. “Yes. So I see …..Captain Nicholson. And so busy doing your job!” Then the little man spun around on his boot lifts and stormed off to his tent.
“Boot lifts!” I snarled. “Lifts in his boots! And what is wrong with his moustache!” I gestured to wilting facial hairs.
“Wax melts above 100 degrees plus so his attempts to sculpt his mustache and goatee into some sort of heroic declaration of valor has failed…..along with other things” Daly said. “‘Stiffness’ is not any part of General Wilson’s anatomy. Nor is ‘raising’ to the occasion!”
“Busted” Hobson stage whispered. “I hoped you enjoyed your temporary command title while you had it ‘cause you an’t got it now old boy! Busted down to bum along with the rest of us!”
“Yes! Rather!” I replied as Daly awkwardly put the empty peaches tin over the point of his boot knife and then raddled it.
“Welcome to the Ridge Johnny boy!” Daly said. “ Leper Colony over there! By us pariahs!” he raddled his raddle with one hand as he led the way to the Leper Colony.
Having alienated the entire office staff I checked on Chamberlain who badly wounded, confined to a cot, his wound festering, his face feverous. “Oh John. Thank God for coming!” he gasped. “Now promise me you will not lose your temper! You cannot lose your temper! I need you here! Your title is temporary and once the columns come technically you are busted down to captain and redundant. But I need you here! So be calm! Don’t lose your temper! And whatever you do, don’t piss off General Wilson who, on the death of every other general in the entire North Punjab, has been promoted to command of the Ridge. So be calm! Whatever you do please be calm!” Chamberlain gasped as a spasm of pain ravished him.
“I will be nice. I will be nice!” I said patting his hand.
“Why do you have that terrible smile on your face John! You have not offended anyone already?” he groaned.
“No!” I retorted. “My smile always looks as if I am about to eat someone! I can’t help the fact my smile looks like a tiger about to devour a goateed….goat!” I corrected.
“Be nice. Because until I can get back on my feet I need you to in effect commandeer command….” Chamberlain passed out. I crept out of his tent most guilty. The Lepers of the Ridge were all standing outside. The entire early arrivals of the Corp of Guides! Daly raddled his peaches tin can raddle awkwardly with his right hand as the Corp of Guides applauded me as I bowed. “One hour! John! That is a record! One hour and you pissed off The Goat and everyone else! Daly laughed.
“Why, it took me a whole two and a half days to piss off The Goat!” Hobson laughed.
“Sushhh!” I said gesturing to Chamberlain passed out inside his tent. “And I did not piss off the only officer I what to impress anyway! Major Reid of the Gurkhas!”
Daly raddled the peaches tin. “There! First time in a month he had been able to crawl out of the ruins to reach Headquarters! The mess was to celebrate his heroism!”
“Oh fuck!” I shouted. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
At that moment an unassuming civilian came up. Daly raddled his tin raddle. The civilian grinned. “I am offended! You have not yet insulted me!”
“I have only been here one fucking hour!” I snarled. “Give me time! Who are you anyway?
“The only other man I wanted to impress!” I gasped.
“So what are we then?” Hobson replied as he peered over the tops of his sun goggles. “Chopped road kill?”
I shook the poor engineer’s hand while Daly shook his raddle. “Oh fuck it all!” I said. “Who gives a fuck if I offended The Goat! Show me everything you have done ! And why are you only using your right hand Daly?”
Daly smiled. He passed his raddle to Hobson and then used his right hand to hold up his left hand and arm. Then he let it drop and the hand and arm went limp. “Bone shot away. Intact but totally useless old chap!”
I blanched and staggered back. What could one say to that? I formally shook his hand like a total idiot. “I am so very sorry old chap!”
Hobson give Daly back his raddle and he grinned and raddled it. “So we are the walking wounded! It does not mean we Corp of Guides can not fight! Even wounded each one of us of the god damn Corp of Guides, are more than any five Meerut Morons!” The Leper Colony erupted into cheers!
“Henry’s Boys triumphant!” I bellowed.
“Right!” the engineer replied as he tugged at his grimy civilian vest. “Command inspection this way!”
“Yes Sir!” I said saluting. “It is Colonel right?”
“I am a civilian engineer who masquerades as a colonel in war just as you are a political officer who masquerades as a brigadier general in war! Let us civilians leave the military BOYS to their pointy sticks eh!” Engineer Baird-Smith laughed as Henry’s Boys cheered. One of Henry’s Boys produced a ‘John Company’ sword which was not only blunt as a poker but bent! So much for ‘pointy’ eh! Everyone laughed!
Engineer Baird-Smith pulled out a slide ruler. “With this I can conquer the world!” Henry’s Boys cheered him as if Napoleon as I jumped up and down like a moron.
“Yes! Yes!” I shouted. “We will win! Those buggers in that fucking city might as well surrender to us right now!”
Daly raddled his raddle. “And the crazy thing is John, you are right! If we can win this siege it will be entirely because of Baird-Smith and his engineers!”