blog 76 600 miles staight up

Finally I saw them! I stood up and waved my umbrella as my Indian Family brought up the overnight camp cart with the gear to tide us over for the night. My other bullock carts stayed in the back line. My Indian dhobi Brother took my dust caked clothes and marched off to wash them in the stream along with all of the other dhobis, pounding the clothes on the rocks. Later he would wash the clothes of our entire Indian family. The wonderful thing about cotton was that was so damn easy to clean compared to wool or linen. No wonder cotton mills were springing up like mumps all over Manchester and the like to weave cotton clothes! The idea that you could actually wash clothes every day was amazing!

Meanwhile my Indian family and I raised the hill tent. I bought a larger one than I originally planned but at 500 rupees it was a grand thing! Indian tents were amazing. They quite put anything else to shame! My Indian family and I rehearsed this operation for a week to get it down right so we could raise it up fast and impress everyone that we were not totally griffins! My Indian Father and Uncle and I commanded the massive central pole, a beautiful thing, fifteen feet tall, enameled yellow with a double brass crown, and levered it up. Then the inner fly was set in a deflated circle. Then we cast the outer fly over it. Then we hosted both tents at the same time. The outer fly or tent shielded the inner fly or tent. The outer fly or tent was a pyramidal affair 15 feet tall made of three layers of quilted canvas and cotton. The inside fly was a boxy affair 12 feet tall in the center and 6 feet tall around the side made of five layers of quilted cotton. The vertical sides were reinforced with bamboo. The outer fly being triangular covered the inner tent while creating a 3 foot space on all four sides between the inner and outer fly. My Indian family camped here. My precious Indian pony enjoyed the inner fly. Hobson insisted I could sleep with my pony. During the rehearsals my Indian family and I did during the prior week I found the pony ruled the nest and I ended up under the canvas flap! Forgot about camp furniture!

My Indian family did not want me to loose face so they unpacked my brand new metal campsite kitchen, steel box of foodstuffs, water tank to boil and store water, and bedrolls for everyone. Then they brought out my small lap desk, brush, shaving and toiletries kit, alternating Indian tunic and loose pajama trousers, wash stand, folding chair (where I deposited my aging munshi teacher), mosquito net, lanterns for everyone, plus the hand cranked organ owned by Brother # 2. I was so lucky. Every member of my Indian family could do so many needful things! I just had to pay them most of my tiny lieutenant’s pay! No wonder every soldier was desperate to claim Batta. Batta was the allowance given to anyone on the march to or from the frontier. No wonder! It was so damn expensive to move!

Brother # 1 picketed the pony right by the tent as my Mother and Sister set up the tiny campfire and kitchen. Sons 2 and 3 boiled water. Son # 1 tidied up the tent and campsite just in case anyone important bothered to come to visit the tent. (Highly unlikely.) Father brushed my clothes and guarded the rifle bags, sword, pistol, and valuables. Brother # 2 brought back my washed clothes for Uncle to and hand smooth and hang to dry before mending tomorrow (usually with creeping gold embroidery which I loathed but could not stop him from adding covertly). Brother # 4 checked on the family cow for tomorrow’s milk, then ghee and yogurt. Brother # 3 handled the camping needs. Grandfather and Grandmother guarded the carts which had little bamboo tents. All of the Brothers would take turns checking on the gear, carts, and animals during the night. I had the same staff as a VIP. What could I say? How could I break up a family? So what if I did not have a punkah fan right now? How could we leave behind Grandfather and Grandmother who was actually a lost and abandoned old woman before my Indian family adopted first her and then me? I was quite sure everyone in the camp was laughing at me.

My commanding officer came and grinned. “So my little griffin?” as he looked up at me. Most people looked up to me. It was disconcerting. I was six foot three and still growing! “ Settling in my little griffin?”

“Yes Sir! I know it seems to be a lot of help Sir but…”

“About the norm actually” he replied dryly. “ India is insanely over populated and therefore filled with people who are desperate to work. A chap with money is like a magnet. Servants appear like magic and stick for dear life. They won’t let go! But when you are more busy you will appreciate good servants. Be polite. Never flog! Flogging is illegal! Absolutely remember that! Always talk in the native lingo! It is good practice. And who is that strange old man sitting in your camp chair?”

“My munshi. He is an aging ex-courtier. He can hardly sit on the ground Sir!”

My officer laughed. “Everyone timed the erecting of the griffin tents and you won hands down! Clearly you rehearsed! You win the prize. Tomorrow you are foot and rifle inspection!”

“Sir!”

“Pony pickets are over there!”

“Pony goes inside the tent at night Sir!”

“Good luck!”

“I will need it Sir!”

At night the pony did go inside and made itself quite at home. Oddly. Most oddly! Perhaps it was Arabian? It was so bland I decided to risk setting up my bedroll inside. The pony took half of the tent and I took the other half. I thought I was too tired to sleep but the moment I set my saddle down, put the rifles, (slings around my arm) and sword (sword knot around my arm) and pistol (safety loop around my neck) under the saddle and then rested my head on the saddle I was sound asleep. I did not wake until the pony nestled me and whinnied to wake me up as the bugles sounded out at 3:00 AM.

So we tramped up the Great Trunk Road! Day in and day out! A great parade raising dust high into the sky. I did my duties every other day, alternating with other griffins. I quickly became famous for being able to utter obscenities in five languages or dialects including Sanscrit and Ancient Greek! My munshi tried and tried but I proved to be his most difficult student. That seem to be my fate to be everyone’s most difficult student!

“Nicholson! I heard you flogged a man!”

“Yes Sir!”

“Fogging Indians is not allowed!”

“I did not flog an Indian! I flogged a griffin!”

“Why Nicholson?”

“Because the griffin flogged an Indian! Sir!”

I also learned that avoiding mess was considered surly. And the common men also chalked me up as surly as well. The common soldiers, sepoys, and sowars valued the gift of the gab highly. Ditto singing. Ditto musical instruments. I was not born with the gift of the gab. Charm was not my middle name. Nor Wit. Much less Humor. I did not play musical instruments either. And while my munshi was trying to teach me Urdu poetry, deportment, and music, with profoundly limited success, my voice trying to sing courtly Mughal songs offended the camp.

“Why?” I snarled with some griffins came up to complain. “I am not totally tone deaf. I don’t sound like a camel dying or a cat in heat!”

“You have a most promising voice Sahib” my munshi added. “Baritone base!”

“But old chap! You an’t sharing with the camp. You sit by your own campfire with your own little servants and sing with your own music organ and you don’t share. An’t social don’t you know! An’t the thing! And it is not English.”

“It is Urdu. That is like French. And my munshi is teaching me Urdu. And why the fuck should I sing in English when I am suppose to be learning Urdu?”

“But an’t you Irish? Why don’t you sing ‘Danny Boy’ and stuff like that?”

“Because I am not as slobbering, sentimental Southerner but rather a surly and in your face Northerner! Don’t you fucking know North Ireland from South Ireland?”

“No! Yea gods Nicholson! You are the most foul tempered specimen of humanity we have ever had the misfortune to meet! I guess we should consider ourselves lucky you don’t come to the mess! You moroseness would leave us all in such depression we would all commit suicide!”

Thievery was another problem. One by one the officer tents and or supply carts were looted. One night our hill tent was the target. The thieves made off with my brush, shaving, and toiletries kit which my Uncle Hogg had given to me. My Indian Father was modified. He had been sleeping with it in his arms but the brazen thief made off with it nevertheless. Inside the bottle that normally held shaving soap I had all of my worldly savings of exactly 150 pounds sterling designed to pay for the bungalow in Ferozepore. I resolved to snare the thieves bedeviling the camp. I volunteered for the night watches and studied the pattern of thievery. Then I made an educated guess buttressed by my gut instincts. I caught five men robbing the personal valuables on the supply train at night during my assigned watch. I punished them royally.

“Nicholson! I hear you flogged men!”

“Yes Sir!”

“Why?”

“Robbing the supply train. I caught them red handed.”

“They should have been brought to me!”

“Why Sir? Caught red handed!”

“Who did you flog?”

“That man. Brit!”

“But you said 5 men were stealing. What happened to the other four?”

“Indians Sir! So I stripped them naked and painted ‘Thief’ in five languages on their backs and chests and let them go!”

“Sir! Sir! Four men are being beaten bloody by the soldiers Sir!” a griffin howled as he came running up! “And they are Muslim and someone shaved off their beards too!”

“Nicholson!”……

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