The upper-class English voice rang across the town market square. CSM Harrington paused in the act of haggling for a rather nice blanket for his quarters and looked up, slowly scanning the crowded scene for a familiar face to go with the voice. I've not been called Horrible Harrington since I left Harrow. So who the hell is calling me by that name here?
A beaming if sunburned face beneath a broad-brimmed hat leaped into focus some yards away as a man approached him. Harrington took in the guise of a roughneck clad in new hard wearing clothes, subtracted them, the mustache and about a decade and groaned quietly. "Brickie Tuck-Poynter?"
That worthy rolled up to him, hand thrust out. "The very same! I heard you were in town." Cool grey eyes looked him over as they shook hands and the smile took on a tint of smirk. "In the army as a non-commissioned officer, no less!"
"It has its benefits. What are you doing here, Brickie?"
Tuck-Poynter thrust his thumbs through his belt and grinned. "I'm here to aid the military power!"
Harrington looked at him, puzzled. "As what, a civilian commissary?"
Tuck-Poynter roared with laughter. Wiping his eyes he shook his head. "Oh, no, no. Something far better than that. I formed a volunteer group, a handy little unit, actually. We've got new Sharp's carbines - well, new-ish - from America. The government came up with the idea, actually. Well, they came up with it over a century ago to deal with all those annoying Scotch fellows sloshing about the place after that '45 revolt nonsense. Gave 'em land and gold if they'd bugger off to the Colonies to fight the French, what? My chaps and I are going to do the same here." He pointed at the dusty ground with a flourish.
Harrington had a sinking feeling. "You're going to fight alongside the army in return for land and gold?"
"The very same! What do you think?"
Harrington stared at him. "I think you're off your bloody rocker!"
* * * *
"No help for it, Fred, old chap." Colonel Trollope shook his head. "We're stuck with the silly blighters."
"They'll be a hindrance in the bush, sir." Fred glanced out the colonel's office window at the empty barrack square. "With this new advance planned we don't have time to play nursemaid to a band of adventurers, however well-connected they are. Can't we leave them in garrison here?"
"I'm afraid not."Trollope tidied a stack of paper on his desk then clasped his hands and looked at Fred. "The Colonial Office is keen to see how this experiment plays out. If it works, well and good. If it doesn't..." He pursed his lips then gave a wicked little smile. "Too bad, really. Are your fellows up to snuff?"
Fred noted the change of subject. "They are, sir. They're keen to take another crack at the G'wunda tribe after what happened last time."
"That's the ticket. We're in better fettle than we were then, too, so I have confidence." Trollope glanced at the clock on the wall. "Well, young Fred, go and see all's well in their mess, then join me for a snifter."
Fred stood, came briefly to attention then departed.
He encountered CSM Harrington on the way to the barracks. "Have you heard the news, Sarn't-Major?"
Harrington looked glum. "If you mean the new volunteers, sir, yes, I have."
"What do you think?"
The tough young CSM sniffed. "I know the chap leading them. He'll either lead them to hell or glory."
Fred blinked at the depth of feeling in the CSM's voice. "Oh dear..!"