Trollope looked him over. “Ah, Pike. Stand easy. Take a pew, in fact, since this may require a little time.”
“Thank you, sir.” Fred sat in the visitor’s chair, placed his helmet squarely on his lap, and tried to radiate an air of competence and keenness. The Colonel shuffled some papers on his desk, and Fred took the moment to review his record of late. He’d committed no cardinal military sins. His platoon functioned well on maneuvers and made a good show on parade. All in all, there was little prospect of a roasting from the Colonel – but it paid to be wary where the army was concerned.
Trollope put the papers aside, clasped his hands and leaned forward slightly in his chair. Fixing Fred with a firm gaze he asked “Have you heard the phrase ‘trade follows the flag,’ young man?”
“Good. It’s wrong, y’ know. More often than not, it’s the other way about. Some merchant-adventurer goes where he’s neither wanted nor welcome, and contrives to stir up the natives and whatever passes for local authority. The next thing you know, they’ve laid him by the heels and he bleats for protection from Her Majesty’s Government. HMG feel they have no recourse but to send a gunboat, or an expedition to recover the silly blighter. Before you know it, another few thousand square miles of territory have been added to the Empire, and we’re the poor beggars who have to police it!”
Somewhat red in the face, Trollope paused and stroked his bushy moustache. Fred sat quietly, wondering where the diatribe would lead to. Eventually Trollope calmed down enough to continue.
“One such incident occurred recently. A chap by the name of Willoughby Pond has ventured up the coast in an attempt to trade with the Ukrazi tribal confederation. Something or other he did upset the local chieftain, and the natives bagged him. He contrived to get word out, and the Governor has decided Pond needs to be rescued.” Trollope stabbed a forefinger at Fred. “You’re the chap who’s going to do it...”
The small steamer HM Hired Vessel Altair had brought them to the mouth of the Ukrazi River as close to the objective as possible. The ship’s boats conveyed them the rest of the way through the shallows of the delta to a loop in the river near the target.
Fred stood on the north bank, as his platoon assembled on level ground nearby. Assistant Surgeon Barrington had come along for the experience. He puffed his pipe and watched the troops with an outward appearance of nonchalance, merely nodding when Fred met his gaze. Further off the bhisti-wallah, Manit Ram, stood with Tobias, a local native hired on as a bearer for the expedition. Manit looked calm, Tobias less so. Fred resolved to keep them both out of harm’s way if he could.
He turned and surveyed the surrounding terrain. Most of it appeared to be level plains country, dotted with stands of elephant grass, brush and small trees. According to the report, Pond was being kept prisoner in a native village about a mile away. Fred could just see the thatched rooftops in the distance. A watercourse ran between him and the objective. It was the dry season, but there might still be water present. Dry or not, it’s going to slow us up, I think.
The hour was early, barely a few minutes past dawn, and the air felt relatively cool. Time enough to reach the village, recover Pond and return to the river before the day acquired its usual hellish heat. It’s not too much work for a platoon shrunken through sickness to do. He sighed inwardly, all while maintaining an outward appearance of calm. It’s also a long way from the Jervis Street workhouse to here...
Sergeant Harrington walked up and saluted. “Baker Platoon fallen in, all present and correct, sir!”
Fred returned the salute. “Very good. Let’s be about it, then, sergeant.”
Harrington turned and bellowed the command. “Baker platoon advance!”
As the men moved off, Fred kept pace. Here’s to another glorious episode in the history of the Barsetshire Regiment…he thought.
Baker Platoon, Able Coy. 2nd Battalion Barsetshire Regiment, Lt. Frederick Pike commanding.
1st Section. Sgt. Albert Harrington.
Pvt. Rose, Henry
Pvt. Walters, John
Pvt. Granger, George
Pvt. Lipton, Thomas
Pvt. Harrison, William
Pvt. Bell, John
Pvt. Walker, Alfred
Pvt. Moss, Frederick
Pvt. Hayward, Henry
Cpl. George Gedge.
Pvt. Warren, Phillip
Pvt. Rodman, Frank
Pvt. Burke, William
Pvt. Hare, Geoffrey
Pvt. Monk, Lionel
Pvt. Higgins, Daniel
Pvt. Dyer, Arnold
Pvt. Desmond, Charles
Pvt. O’Shea, Patrick
All troops are rated Good. Lt. Pike will attach himself to 2nd Section.
There’s little in the way of finesse on this mission. The objective is to reach the native village, locate and recover Willoughby Pond, and return to the Altair’s boats waiting just off table.
* * *
I'm rather sad to see Major-General Tremorden-Reddering's wargames site seems to have vanished. A truly inspirational source of ideas and fun, it hadn't been updated for quite some time. It seems the owner no longer games. Sadly missed.