A Survey Mission
Colonel Trollope’s office, in Yabhouti.
Major Maxwell-Cooper knocked on the door and entered Colonel Trollope’s office. “Captain Pike is here, sir.”
Without waiting to be told, Maxwell-Cooper ushered the younger man into the office. Pike stopped the regulation distance from Trollope’s desk and came to attention. “Reporting as ordered, sir,” he said, trying not to look curiously at the Colonel’s two guests sitting nearby.
“Ah, Fred,” the Colonel said with a smile. “Good man. This is Captain Frederick Pike, gentlemen,” he said, addressing his guests. “My best officer.”
The two men stood and shook hands with Pike as Colonel Trollope effected the introductions. “Our new District Commissioner, Oliver Carstairs of the Colonial Office, and Dr. Lance Armstrong of the Royal Geographic Survey.”
“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen,” Pike said.
Carstairs, a dark haired gentleman of average height in his mid thirties nodded and looked him over with a keen gaze. “You have quite a reputation, young fellow. I read newspaper accounts of your activities here with interest.”
“Those articles are pure gammon, sir,” Pike said, feeling his face grow warm. “I have good men in my company.”
“Good men don’t do so well without a good leader,” Carstairs said affably, clapping Pike on the shoulder. “I look forward to working with you in my new bailiwick.”
“Dr. Armstrong is here to conduct a survey of the new colony, Fred,” Trollope said, indicating the surveyor, a sandy-haired gent with an open, friendly face who peered at Pike through little round spectacles. “We’re mounting an expedition up-country to begin with. Naturally DC Carstairs wishes to see the territory he’ll govern.” Trollope pointed at Pike. “Your company will provide the escort.”
“Yes, sir,” Pike replied, his mind turning immediately to the logistics involved in moving forty men across hot and potentially hostile country.
Trollope rose and pointed to the map pinned to his office wall. “You’re aware of how little we know of some parts of the Yabhouti region,” he said, tracing the rudimentary features on the map. “A proper survey is vital to Her Majesty’s interests in the area, especially with those strange Belgian coves so active north and west of here.” He tapped a wriggly blue line, an offshoot of the mighty Ukrazi River. “You’ll travel up the Gwunda River on the Lady Cynthia as far as it’s navigable, then proceed on foot from there. We’ve reports of hill country and possible desert beyond. It’ll be good to confirm those features. There’s a sept of the Gwunda tribe that way too.” He rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “They’re not exactly the friendliest coves around, hence the need for an escort to show the flag and teach the blighters who’s in charge here now.”
“Very good sir.”
Trollope nodded. “That’s all for now, Fred. Pop off and put things in hand. These gentlemen expect to leave three days hence.”
“Sir!” Fred came to attention, nodded respectfully to the others and departed.
He walked along the veranda overlooking the parade ground. The sun had heaved up over the distant sea but an hour before; most of the parade ground still lay in the shadow of the barracks, but already the mercury touched ninety. Company Sergeant-Major Harrington stood farther along the veranda, his hands clasped behind his back, watching the newly-constituted fourth section sweating through its drill before the heat of the day came full upon the parade ground. He turned and saluted as Pike walked up. “Good morning, sir!”
“‘Morning, Sarn’t-Major,” Pike replied, returning the salute. He nodded at the sweating men. “How’re the new recruits doing?”
“They’re shaping-up nicely, sir, now they’ve got acclimatised.”
“Percy’s doing fine.” Harrington’s handsome face showed a wry smile. “He’s firm enough without being a tyrant. He’ll do. Nobby Clark’s experienced enough to help out.”
“What do you think of the new eight-man section formation?”
Harrington pursed his lips and nodded slowly. “I think it’ll work, sir. It’ll give us more flexibility at the cost of only a modicum of firepower.” He cocked an eye at Pike. “Is there something in the wind, sir?”
Pike nodded as he watched the drill. “We’re to provide escort for the new DC and a surveyor up-country, three days from now.”
“Ah.” Harrington rubbed his jaw. “That’ll give our new order of battle a chance to shake down.”
“That’s one way of looking at it, Sarn’t-Major,” Pike said dryly. “It’ll also be our first official outing as the Barsetshire Regiment. Quite an occasion, don’t you think?”
Harrington chuckled. The Regiment had been so-named long before Cardwell’s reforms had made the territorial titles official. “It’ll please the county.”
Pike flicked a glance at his NCO, the words You should know, Albert – your family owns half of it on the tip of his tongue. Instead he resorted to formality. “Once the lads have finished out there, begin preparations for a month up-country. You know the drill.”
Harrington nodded and came to attention. “Very good sir.”
Pike touched the peak of his cap. “Carry on, Sarn’t-Major.”