Trouble in Calcutta
Colonel Cartwright was in the process of reviewing troops with officers gathered around him when a runner appeared and requested permission to deliver his orders. Permission granted the Colonel handed over command to Captain Lancaster and strode to the Company Headquarters office taking his seat behind the desk. The runner saluted and extended his hand with a sealed letter. He read it slowly and turned to the runner.
“Tell Brigadier Johnson I’ll begin my journey to meet with him starting tomorrow morning after making arrangements for oversight of the troops here. Did he happen to say what the purpose of this visit might be and how many days did it take you to travel from Calcutta?”
“It was slow going Sir so it could be up to a week. There are many trouble spots along the way. I do not know the purpose of your visit Sir!”
The Colonel nodded. “At ease soldier, you will be cared for at the mess and given quarters for the night then you will want to return to deliver my message to the Brigadier while I arrange things here.”
“With your permission Sir I will eat, gather supplies and return immediately Sir!”
The Colonel nodded. “Permission granted soldier.”
He walked to the building where Shireen presided over the Intelligence Unit of carefully chosen Indian soldiers dressed in local costume bringing their reports from territory borders. The Colonel asked him to visit his office as soon as the briefings had been completed. He then went in search of Captain Lancaster and asked him to hand over command of the troops on parade to the sergeant accompanying him and follow him to the office.
When the two men were assembled at the office he cleared staff from the building so they could consult in private. The Colonel first turned to Captain Lancaster.
“It is my pleasant duty to inform you that my recommendation has been accepted by Calcutta and I can inform you Sir you have been promoted to the rank of Major in the British forces. Congratulations! Here is your new insignia and I’m sure you will want to have these installed today.”
Lancaster snapped to attention and saluted. “Thank you Sir! You can be assured of my gratitude and you’ll find me even more diligent in my commission.”
“Now Major I’ve been summonsed to Calcutta and will be leaving tomorrow morning. I appoint you in charge of the base with the full authority of my command. There is a lot going on in the border regions now. Our Intelligence Unit is of vital importance and I’m taking Sergeant Shireen with me to Calcutta. Who will you be appointing to give daily briefings to Major Lancaster?” He turned to Shireen for the response.
“Sunder Singh manages the unit when I’m out in the field Sir. He is recognized as my second in command by the troops under my control. I recommend Major Lancaster receive daily briefings from him while I’m away.”
Good it’s settled then. Shireen would you please inform my wife to pack things for my departure tomorrow with you. We’ll leave early. The runner said the situation between here and Calcutta is fluid so we don’t know how long it will take to get to Calcutta or return.
The two left Cartwright’s office and he summonsed staff to their offices again and resumed wading through paperwork. Best to leave nothing unattended before the Major took over in his absence.
The journey was less eventful than the runner had described, and they travelled fast with little time to stopover and rest. They arrived sooner than expected in Calcutta. Brigadier Johnson met them as soon as he heard of their arrival. They’d worked together on the NW frontier in times past and were good friends. After exchanging pleasantries, he spoke.
“Horace Lieutenant General Smithers is anxiously waiting to see you we need your help here at headquarters. He has an appointment arranged early tomorrow morning and will send for you so get some rest after your long journey. He directed them to their guest quarters and arranged for meals to be delivered there. Then returned to his office.”
Next morning early a runner arrived at their door and summonsed Colonel Cartwright to a meeting. When he arrived, he was greeted by the Lieutenant General and his friend the Brigadier, there was another civilian in the room who was introduced to him as the representative of the Crown Office for the Raj. His name was not offered.
The Crown representative spoke.
“Colonel we have good reports about your service!” He leafed through a pile of reports on his desk for a few minutes in silence. “I see your district of command is well handled. You seem to accomplish that without a lot of force being applied. You had the same reputation in other places you’ve served too. What do you think is the reason for the relative peace in areas you’ve served?
“Gaining the respect of the local people Sir. When they see the advantages of having a British army to serve their needs of peace and prosperity and they’re treated with respect they look on us as an asset rather than an enforcing conqueror.”
The government official laughed. “Enforcing conqueror indeed! Some of these people only understand force Sir. However, it seems to work for you for some reason and that’s why I’ve called you here to understand your methods. Perhaps we need you in our office here to see just how that works in places where we are constantly being challenged. Lieutenant General Smithers recommends we do that. Would you be prepared to join us Sir? Of course, that would carry with it an appropriate elevation in rank.”
The Colonel looked at his army friends and they nodded their approval then he turned back to the unnamed official. “Sir you’ve paid me a very great compliment. As you know Sir I’m of retirement age and happily settled in Dehradun. I’d prefer to stay there in my nearing retirement Sir. As a loyal subject of the Crown of course I’d be willing to give all the advice I can, but it will require a cultural change. Those officers who come directly from England do not understand the nature of these people and their culture and are considered aloof and unapproachable. This naturally causes resentment, particularly if people are treated roughly. My suggestion would be any officers coming from abroad should have a cultural orientation time under established officers experienced in India well before being granted command.”
The officer of the Crown stood and shouted. “That is disrespectful Sir! You are insulting the nobility of Britain from whom these officers are recruited. I expect an apology from you Sir! Is it true Sir you have agreed for your son to marry a native? For an Englishmen at your level of influence to do that sends the wrong signal. The purity of English heritage must be maintained Sir.”
The Colonel was amazed at this reaction and didn’t know what to say. So, no apology was offered. How had the proposal for his son to marry Tiitali reached Calcutta? This hadn’t been announced to the community yet, but it was obviously common knowledge. It had to be the servants. He thought the discussion had been a private one but there were eyes and ears everywhere. He turned to his army friends for support and found them to be equally horror stricken at the words of the Crown official as he was.
The Crown official again rummaged through the papers in front of him after several minutes waiting for an apology. As none was given he looked up. “You are right Sir! You are nearing retirement age so perhaps this is the time for us to consider your retirement current. We’ve recently elevated Captain Lancaster to the rank of Major it seems so we will consider he takes over the base at Dehradun and you can take a letter of appointment with you on your return immediately. You are excused Sir!”
As he left he heard the Lieutenant General and Brigadier in loud protest at the treatment of a colleague they respected and needed help from in their current difficulties. The Crown Officer drove them from his office threatening their respective commands.
Both visited the Colonel offering their apologies in embarrassment. They considered his treatment wrong and determined to write to London to complain about the official. Later the Colonel had the satisfaction of learning that Official had been recalled to London as a result of many complaints against him.
However, a great weight had lifted off the Colonel’s shoulders as he walked out of that office despite his humiliation. All the responsibilities of leadership and rigors of travel over the years through remote territories bereft of comforts had impacted on his health and with Matilda’s declining health he wanted to spend quality time with her now. They’d done him a favour unintentionally. He’d receive an ample pension to live in style and had saved frugally over the years. This would free him to go into business with his adopted brother Shireen should Shireen still choose to do that rather than continue in the army as their Intelligence Officer. On learning of the Colonel’s treatment Shireen decided he too would retire from army duties. Sunder Singh would be quite capable of taking over his responsibilities as he’d been trained well over the years.
Later after recall of the Crown Officer to London Horace Cartwright was pressed to re-enter service in Calcutta with enhanced rank despite his age but he declined the invitation stating poor health as the reason but thanking them for the offer and their proposed elevation of rank for him.
To be continued.
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