‘The Khyber’ | Extract

This is something I’ve started only this week and it is… Well, a bit different to what I usually do. I’ve had the idea for the story floating around for a while and whilst this isn’t my first stab at it, it’s certainly the furthest I’ve got. Even if I end up starting again (which I do sometimes) this is a story I definitely want to get out one day. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it for this is the start, the first preview, if you will, of THE KHYBER. 


THE KHYBER

(EXTRACT)

BY JAMES CHURCHILL

1916

23RD NOVEMBER- THURSDAY

In the midst of a diatribe on terminal moraines I received a note from Clafferty asking me to come to his office at once. Muskin most put out. His ears were smoking more than his cigar and I got the feeling from his expression that he might give me a ‘damned good thrashing’ on my return. Was absolutely correct, though I had certainly done nothing wrong and if anybody deserved Muskin’s thrashing it was Clafferty. Then again, I suppose the masters aren’t allowed to beat each other so if they want to do that they must take it out on their pupils instead. That thrashing I received from Muskin must have been in place of one meant for Clafferty.

Found Clafferty on the floor, French cigarette hanging from his mouth, playing with his model trains. Was invited to sit down on the far side of the tracks. Forced to sit in a space two inches wide- Most uncomfortable.
‘Morfasson, yes… I was looking over my correspondence just now.’ He never once took his eye off the train that was endlessly going round and round the tracks. ‘Got a letter from Royal Dublin. You’ve rescinded you’re application?’
‘Father won’t have me going there sir, not after the risings,’ I responded.
‘I see.’ He made a coughing noise to show that he was in complete disagreement with the thinking. ‘Have you thought about where else you might want to go? Someone of your intelligence would do well at Oxford… An old chum of mine is a master at Remus College. I could…’
‘I suggested Oxford, sir, but Mother was dead against the idea. She claimed it was a nest of conjugal indecency.’ I was forced to explain what she had meant and Clafferty pulled a face.
‘She does know you’ve spent almost seven years in the British public school system doesn’t she?’
‘I would very much assume so sir.’
‘Well what goes on at Oxford is no different and no worse than what happens in any public school dormitory. I should also add that since it is still an educational establishment there is absolutely nothing wrong with it… It only becomes indecency out there in the real world. Let the boys get on with it, I say. Get all that business out of his system before it becomes a problem. Have you thought about Edinburgh? Jolly nice place and no separatist revolutions going on. There’s still conjugal indecency, as your mother put it, but it isn’t nearly so much as at Oxford.’
‘I thought of it sir but I’ve since had a much different idea.’
‘Do go on.’
‘I’m thinking I might join the army.’

The train going around track suddenly fell off, crashed into the carpet and probably killed several imaginary passengers and bystanders. Clafferty looked up at me for the first time, horrified and wide eyed, cigarette falling from his open mouth. He began to splutter, paused, composed himself and then tried to maintain an air of dignity.
‘Well… Err… That is a… Erm… Yes… You do know that now isn’t the best time to be joining the army don’t you?’
‘It did cross my mind sir… But I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I didn’t go. It does make me feel like a dashed coward, sitting here and doing nothing whilst every other able bodied man is out there being killed, beastly and unjust as it all is.’
‘Unjust is definitely the right word for this war Morfasson…’ He popped his cigarette back into his mouth and set about righting the train. ‘Beastly, however, is an understatement. Barbaric is what I would describe it as. I’ve only read and heard stuff from the old boys who’ve gone out there but to me that is what it sounds like. That chap you used to fag for, Jynks, he came to see me on his last leave before he bought it at the Somme. Told me all about the front… All the mud and constant shelling and being sent into machine gun fire. No tactics at all, he said. Just like the generals were playing a game of chequers and they were the pieces. He said they were the major problem, excuse the pun. He claimed that if they only bothered to come up with some way to get across no-man’s land without going into the machine gun fire then the war might be over in a few months.’
‘You’d think that wouldn’t be too much of an issue… But I’m assuming the Germans haven’t come up with anything either, or else they’d have won the war.’
‘Quite right. Obviously their generals are just as bad as ours- Just keep sending men to the slaughter! You know, it’s as if the political bigwigs of the world all got together and decided there were too many people in the world, conspired to decrease the surplus population. From what I’ve heard the whole thing is one mass insanity.’

‘They’re calling it the war to end all wars… But I don’t believe that,’ I sighed. ‘I still want to go though, despite how horrific it might be.’
‘How horrific it will be you mean. Have you spoken to your parents about this decision Morfasson?’
‘No sir. My father is… He’s not a violent man and mention of the war makes him uneasy. I can’t imagine how Mother would react if I told her I was going off to fight. She would destroy a lot of things I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘Would they stop you going do you think?’
‘I don’t see how they could. If I joined up then there is any way they could get me out without having me shot for desertion.’

Clafferty made a lot of noises and bent closer to his railway.
‘I can’t say I approve myself, we’ve lost enough boys to this dratted war already. But if you want to go then it’s on your own head. Leave it with me, I’ll make arrangements. You, meanwhile, write to your parents and tell them of your decision.’
‘Yes sir. Thank you sir.’

Returned to Muskin’s classroom and the expected thrashing.

EVENING-

Have decided not to follow Clafferty’s instruction to write telling Mother and Father of my joining up. I wonder if it is possible not to tell them at all, even after I have been sent to the front? I suppose then, if I were to find myself cast below, it would be more distressing for them than otherwise. I think I shall write to them from wherever I am sent. It shall still upset them but that, I am afraid, cannot be avoided whenever I choose to tell them. If Father were not such a pacifist this might be less difficult an issue.

I also worry how my decision will affect his health. The war has already left him unwell and my choice to go to the front line could well finish him off. If that is the case then I shall be able to forgive myself less than if I do not join up. I would much rather be considered a coward than a party to my own Father’s death.

As for Mother… She would fight her way through the whole German army, if she had to, in order to berate me for joining up. In fact, I think I should write home and suggest that we send her to the front. She’ll have the war won inside of a week.

℘℘℘℘℘

26TH NOVEMBER- SUNDAY

Accosted by Clafferty after chapel- Told me he’d spoken to a Colonel Fletcher, based in Caergybi. He wished me to dine with him this evening in the village inn, to assess my character in the words of Clafferty.

Spent the afternoon with Tanzie, a girl from the next door convent school, much of it down in the hidden glade. She asked, at our departure, if we should meet again. I said that since I was headed for the front such a thing was unlikely. I promised, however, that I would write to her though I do not think that I ever shall.

She has been put right from my mind by a woman of such divine elegance that I do not think I shall ever see the like again. From the moment I entered the inn and we were introduced by the colonel I was smitten by her charming green eyes and her raven hair. I have been castigated in the past for claiming that love at first sight is possible, by my tutors and my parents and my peers, but now I have been proven correct for I fell instantly in love with this fair maiden.
‘Come inside and meet my niece, Alice,’ the colonel boomed after we had shook hands outside the inn. He is a large man with a voracious appetite, not usually the kind of man I take to but he was of such a character that I could not help liking and admiring him.
‘Alice is the daughter of my brother, the Count of Nuneaton. She’s visiting me now because he’s sending her to India for some dashed silly reason.’

Before, during and after the meal he did not talk, not in the usual way at least. He spoke in interconnected dribbles. He would be on one subject, say Alice and her being sent out to India, but then moments later he would be waffling about the correct way to eat a banana and moments after that he would be going through the life and times of some obscure civil servant who worked in the home office thirty years ago. How the divil he managed to do it I could not work out, though I honestly tried to do so.

I kept being distracted by the sight of Alice, though she did not say much until her uncle had left for the gentleman’s room.
‘Time was that every officer was required to have a moustache but they’ve recently rescinded that directive,’ the colonel was saying. I was left wondering how he had got onto this topic when minutes before he had been taking about how Birmingham had more canals than Venice. ‘All the officers coming up now are too dashed young to grow one. All they can manage is bottom fluff… But if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I must go and attend to some business in the gentlemen’s room.’ He eased himself out of his chair with many grunts, groans and an ‘argh, there goes me gout,’ and then was gone for a good half hour.

‘I’m glad that requirement has gone. I think you’d look very silly with a moustache,’ Alice said to me, continuing the colonel’s last portion of conversation.
‘Do you think so? I’ve always thought that I’d grow one… I was thinking that one might help me fit in with the other officers.’
‘Oh please don’t. I like your face as it is. A moustache would ruin it,’ she grimaced.
‘If it does then I could always shave it off again, couldn’t I?’
‘Well yes, you could… But I am certain that I’d be left with a horrible image of that thing on your face.’
‘But what if it didn’t look silly?’ I asked her. ‘What if it made me look… Devilishly handsome?’ Alice laughed so loud that it caught the attention of all the other people in the dining room.
‘No. I don’t think it would.’ She was silent for a long while. ‘If I ever find you’ve grown one I think I’ll come find you and pull the ghastly thing off hair by hair, just to teach you a lesson.’ In the way she threatened me she reminded me of Mother. They used the same tone of voice as well. I am sure she was pulling my leg for I cannot for the life of me imagine Alice ever carrying through with that threat. Mother on the other hand…

I was supremely irritated by the return of the colonel from his lavatorial break for in his absence Alice and I had spoken of many things, from shoes and ships and sealing wax to cabbages and kings. We did not talk of anything personal, of our families or homes or schooling, yet through discussing trivialities I became more and more enchanted. I found that her beauty was more than skin deep and that the head on her shoulders was level and not without intelligence. Our conversation, during which there were certainly disagreements, was mature and considerate and one that when my death day arrives I shall no doubt look back on with fondness. There are not many people one can talk to in such a way but Alice is certainly one of the chosen.

After the return I attempted as much as was possible to return to this conversation but the colonel kept interrupting and somehow changing the subject to things of the utmost irrelevance. Only when it was time for me to come back to the school did we get the chance to talk alone once more.
‘May I write to you, from the front?’ I asked. ‘It would make me very happy, to have a pen pal of sorts I mean.’
‘That would be very lovely,’ Alice beamed. ‘I’ve never had anybody to write to me before.’ We both blushed and then she did a very unexpected thing. She kissed my cheek.

All the way back to school and ever since I have not been able to stop thinking about her.

℘℘℘℘℘

27th NOVEMBER- MONDAY

Last night dreamed of Alice- dreams of a nature I cannot describe without being severely obscene. My dormitory mates certainly noticed for the noises I made kept them awake for much of the night. Thank goodness that Matron is addicted to Veronal or else I would have found myself being made an example of- Managed to hide the evidence, with the aid of Gaskin, by swapping sheets with Cohen whilst the latter was in the washroom. The oik was left perplexed and ashamed when Muskin called him out in front of the whole school and later vowed he would get me back for it.

Was forced to explain to the others about Alice and became the subject of much ribbing and joshing. Gaskin called me a pansy and Muffet called me a sop. Others provided variations thereon. I care not what they call me for I am becoming of the strong conviction that I have been introduced to my soul mate. If there is a God, and I am highly dubious that there is, then he has decreed that our spirits are to be conjoined at the heart. (MARGIN NOTE: Reading this back, these words give me a strong desire to vomit) From now to the end of my days I shall never love another and if she cannot be mine, or is destined for another, then I shall willingly face the barrel of a gun for life without her is no life at all.

℘℘℘℘℘

30th NOVEMBER- THURSDAY

Mother arrived at school in the middle of a diatribe on long-shore drift. Whilst most were no doubt relieved to be momentarily freed of Muskin’s drone and amused by the scene I found it embarrassing and humiliating. I even think that Muskin, who in so long as I have been at school has never once cracked a smile, will by now be laughing at it.

The first we knew of her arrival was the unexpected scream of a first year from somewhere on the ground floor. It was loud enough to stop Muskin mid flow and wake us all from our drone induced slumbers.
‘Wait here boys,’ Muskin scowled, not pleased, as he marched off to investigate with his cloak billowing behind him. It was at this point, whilst he had the opportunity, that Gaskin looked out of the window.
‘I say… Morfasson… Isn’t that your chauffeur down there? What’s his name? Chadwick isn’t it?’
‘Yes, it is,’ Muffet blurted out. ‘He’s the chap who drove us all to the station when we visited you last summer. That car as well… Bloody awful looking thing. Must be one of yours.’
‘What on earth is it?’ someone asked. By now everyone barring myself had gathered at the window. I did not join them for I was too rooted to my seat, the knowledge of an approaching typhoon or a tempest having dawned on me.
‘It’s a Humberette,’ somebody else said. ‘Damned fine if you ask me.’
‘Hardly,’ Muffet scolded. ‘It looks like somebody bashed a couple of tin cans together.’

My sense of dread only increased as the noise of hurried footsteps echoed down the hall. I eased myself by the fact that they had come from the wrong direction but it was not so easy with the second set, a sound that was akin to a herd of wildebeest stampeding across the plains. Everyone knew they were coming to our classroom and before the door had even had time to crash against the wall they were all back in their seats.

It was not Muskin who came through the remains, he only appeared (nervously) in the wake, crawling underneath his desk and staying there, I assume, until it was safe to come out again. Mother flew through the door with all the rage of a murdering psychopath. Her appearance was made scarier, for me, by the fact that she was in her nightgown and her hair in curlers. That she had not dressed told me that I was in serious mud for Mother would not leave the house undressed unless she thought that she had a very good reason for doing so. I have only known her to do it twice before and both times she had been severely affronted by something.

Somehow she had gotten hold of Muskin’s cane and she was brandishing it as a weapon, striking whoever got in her way as she marched through the classroom to the back where I was sat, quivering.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ she asked, throwing something onto my desk. It looked like a letter and before I even had a chance to inspect it Mother had snatched it back and was waving it in my face. ‘Colonel Fletcher? Does the name sound familiar to you Montgomery?’

Before I could say anything she was walking around the classroom, reading the letter aloud and wildly gesticulating and enunciating as she went.

‘Dear Mr & Mrs Morfasson,
No doubt your son, Monty, has written to tell you all about our dinner in The Lamb’s Liver, Nebo, this gone Sunday. Myself and my niece, Alice, were quite taken by his polity, intelligence and charm. Alice has even since stated that she finds him exceedingly dashing. I suspect, from what I saw and from what Alice has told me, that he feels something similar. He certainly appeared quite smitten from the moment I introduced him. (I turned bright crimson as Gaskin, Muffet and a few others began to snigger) I must congratulate you both on raising a fine young gentleman, one who I look forwards to accepting into my regiment come January.

His joining the army and the potential consequences must be of some concern to you but I nevertheless hope you are also proud that in these difficult times he has nobly volunteered to put his own life on the line for the sake of his country. Rest assured that he shall make a fine Captain and if God should call him to paradise, as he has done to so many in this war, then we who remain mortal shall have the honour of proclaiming him a brave and deserving hero.

Sincerely yours,
Fawcett Fletcher, Colonel, 2nd Mon Regiment, Caergybi.’

Mother threw the letter back at me and through anger broke Muskin’s cane in two. There was a squeak of anguish from under the desk at the front of the room.
‘Joining the army? You have joined the army? You ungrateful, inconsiderate little brat, Montgomery. What possessed you? What has possessed you to throw your life away to this ridiculous war? Lord only knows what your father will say when he finds out… It shall kill him I shouldn’t wonder. You know damn well that he has a weak constitution… You shall tell him yourself in person! You shall come home with me as soon as you have packed your things.’

Frogmarched from the room, with much staring from my classmates and from Muskin, and guided to my dorm with the point of Muskin’s snapped cane embedded in my rear. Mother left me alone, to snoop around the school I assume, and before packing I spent ten minutes thinking of Alice and how she, according to the letter, had found me ‘exceedingly dashing.’ Left the results for Cohen to discover later on.

The drive home silent- Mother treating me with contempt and Chadwick ordered not to speak at all. It left for a miserable two hour drive, one where I was forced to contemplate how Father might react to the Colonel’s letter. Thought that it would certainly upset him and as much as the praise would please him he would not take well to learning that I had signed up. He would see it as a betrayal, both of the principles he has taught me since childhood and of his trust and care. As we drew closer to home I began to dread our impending confrontation more than I had earlier dreaded Mother’s tempest. Although that was humiliating, and shall certainly be a source of shame for years to come, in hindsight it was not so terrible as I had thought.

Once home was reached Mother did not even let Chadwick finish pulling up beside the front doors before she had pulled me from the car and was frog marching me into the entrance hall at the end of Muskin’s broken cane.
‘MR MAX? WHERE ARE YOU?’ she called into the castle, her voice as shrill and threatening as though it were Father who was the one who had sinned. I saw him slip his nose around the top of the stairs, as much frightened by Mother’s temper as I expected him to be.
‘COME DOWN HERE AT ONCE,’ Mother ordered him. ‘YOUR SON HAS SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO TELL YOU!’ His rolly polly little body tumbled down the stairs and looked between myself and Mother with increasing perplexity.
‘Well… Tell him,’ Mother directed, jamming the end of the cane into my bottom.
‘Father…’ I swallowed hard. ‘I’ve joined the army.’

Father’s eyes stayed calm for three seconds and then they squinted, as if he did not understand the words he had just heard. Then he was about to say something but paused and then his eyes bulged. He held back a choke, turned, and walked straight to the drinks cabinet in the drawing room. He poured himself a stiff brandy, downed it in one and then poured another which was also downed in one. Mother forced Colonel Fletcher’s letter into my hand and I reluctantly passed it over to Father. He snatched it from me and read it with a childish pout and a shaking lip.

‘Fletcher? The Nuneaton Fletchers?’ he asked solemnly when he was done.
‘Yes. I recall the colonel mentioning his brother was the count,’ I replied. Father screwed the letter up and threw it into the unlit fireplace.
‘It’s probably too late to prevent this damned silly thing you’ve done but I see no reason why you should be killed for it.’
‘Father?’ I was confused.
‘Wherever you get sent I’ll make sure it isn’t the front line- I’ll arrange for you to be given a desk job in Paris or somewhere.’ His tone was quiet but very angry. He was almost at the point of blowing his top but was somehow holding it all in.
‘A desk job?’ I spluttered. ‘But Father… I signed up to fight!’
‘Why on earth would you do something that silly? What possessed you? You know damn well… damn well…’ He could not get his words out and poured himself another drink in the hope that it would offer him assistance. ‘You know damn well that the generals have no competence. You know that this pointless war is being fought in the silliest, most wasteful way possible.’
‘I felt it would be cowardly of me not to sign up and defend my country when my peers are all doing the same,’ I confessed.
‘Cowardly? Good God! You aren’t telling me this was an act of patriotism?’
‘I am, Father.’ He poured and downed another drink.
‘And what of your family? What about your responsibilities? What if you happen to be killed? There isn’t anybody else to inherit everything when I go under… Only you. Where would it all go if both of us were dead? I shudder to think… No! You aren’t going anywhere near France if I can help it. Forget Paris. I’ll send you over to Australia if I have to. Something safe and diplomatic…’
‘Father, I wish to fight. That is why I signed up,’ I said coldly.
‘So you said.’ He covered his eyes. ‘Just go to your room. Get out of my sight. I don’t want to hear any more of this.’

Without argument I left him alone to contemplate the matter, as did Mother who went to stew elsewhere.

℘℘℘℘℘

1ST DECEMBER- FRIDAY

Breakfast this morning was frosty. Neither Mother nor Father spoke to me or looked me in the eye. I tried to make conversation, telling them of my plans for the day but I was silenced by a glare from Mother. I was made to feel most unwelcome. I fear that they may never speak to me again and it is possible that I have done something truly unforgivable in their eyes.

Spent the rest of the day walking the mountains and trying to figure a way to appease both my parents and my sense of duty. Certainly, my going to fight on the western front is out of the question but where else is there? After what went down at Gallipoli last year I shall rule out the eastern front. Arabia perhaps? Egypt? As of right now I am thinking that my safest bet is the navy, although given their reputation for conjugal indecency I can hardly see Mother agreeing with me.

℘℘℘℘℘

6th DECEMBER- WEDNESDAY

Today was our Christmas feast. Most present were amiable enough to briefly converse with me, though Father and Mother avoided my presence where they could. Many had heard, by way of Mother lamenting to all she has come across, of my joining up and of Father’s attempt to have me sent somewhere other than France. Everyone, it seemed, was disappointed in me for joining up, all of them saying they thought that I was much more sensible than that.

During the meal I found myself sat beside the Earl of Beddgelert and he seemed quite interested in my meeting with the Fletchers. He has always been a sycophant, a sucker for the wealthy and connected- Father believes it is why he attends our feasts, for the chance that he should meet somebody important. Father thus makes sure never to invite anybody of that nature. I assume Beddgelert was trying to wheeze a way to connect himself to them through me but in the process he did come up with an absolutely cracking idea.

‘Concerning Alice… You say the count was sending her to India?’
‘That’s what the colonel said. He never said why, just that it was for a dashed silly reason.’
‘Did she mention where abouts in India at all? It is a big place.’
‘Now that you mention it I do not think she did.’
‘Well, wherever she happens to find herself India is, I suppose, a long way from the western front. Almost no action there at all from what I hear.’
‘Beddgelert, what are you driving at?’
‘Well, Uncle Max doesn’t want you going to the front line but you can’t get out of the army… You’re also smitten with this girl, from what your mother tells me. So why not go out to India?’

India! Yes! I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. It is perfect, close to Alice and yet so far from France and the front line so as to make the chances of my death (unless by misadventure or misfortune) virtually impossible.

Some may see it as an act of cowardice, to go as far from the main action as possible, but I do not care for them. In my mind I shall still be serving my country. Keeping things in order should be considered a necessary part of war. It can never after all be fighting on the front or desk jobs in Paris. Going to India certainly less cowardly than not joining up at all in my honest opinion. Certainly far less cowardly than outright refusing to go when you are called.

Beddgelert suggested the idea to Father.
‘Uncle Max… What do you say to sending young Montgomery over to India?’ Father was most confused.
‘India? Whatever for? Why would you want to go there?’
‘Because, Father, the empire needs to be kept in some sort of order whilst everyone else is wasting their lives in France,’ I stated on the fly.
‘Yes? And why else? Come on, out with it boy… You were insistent on getting yourself killed a few days ago. What’s changed your mind all of a sudden?’
‘He is in love, Uncle Max.’
‘Love? What’s love got to do… got to do with it?’ Father spluttered.
‘Alice Fletcher,’ I said as calmly as I could. ‘Her father, the count, is sending her out there.’
‘And you wish to be nearby?’ Father did not sound impressed. ‘I would advise you to be careful of those Fletchers boy. They are trouble, mark my words.’
‘May I go to India anyway Father?’ I asked politely. ‘It is at least not France.’
‘I shall think on it, provided you do not ask me again.’

All in all I think most were happy with the feast and before bedtime both my parents looked more pleased than I had seen them since returning home. It may have had something with the idea to send me to India.

℘℘℘℘℘

7th DECMEBER- THURSDAY

Wrote to Alice for the first time. Included some small fibs but mostly the truth.

Dearest Alice,
Since our meeting I have been very much in the doghouse. Mother & Father were not pleased that I have joined up. Mother was especially angry, coming to my school in her night clothes and dragging me home again. I do not think I shall ever be able to live down the humiliation. Father was so upset that he briefly turned to drink. He is determined that I should be given a desk job somewhere and under no circumstances am I to be allowed near the front. This is most disappointing to me as I was hoping to serve my country in some more meaningful way, as many of my peers are doing. I do not yet know where I am to be sent but I am anxious to know. I am driving myself mad with constant thinking that it shall be somewhere dull. Mother keeps suggesting Nova Scotia, the thought of which appals me.

What of yourself? How are you? When is it that you leave for India? Do be sure to let me know on the latter. I shall not be able to ask the colonel as it is unlikely that I am to find myself in his regiment after all, which is a shame because I very much enjoyed his company and wished for more of it.

Please write back soon. I am dying to hear from you.

Yours with affection,
Monty.

 ℘℘℘℘℘

9th DECEMBER- SATURDAY

Received a reply from Alice.

Dearest Monty,
Myself and Uncle are most aggrieved that you are not to join his regiment. We very much sympathise with your plight and do hope that you find yourself somewhere that is not so detestable as Nova Scotia.

As for myself, I am well. I return to Nuneaton Hall on Wednesday next, to see Father and Mother and Sister, before leaving for Calcutta in January. I am dreadfully afeared of the journey for it shall be very long and I have heard tell that pirates roam the seas off the coast of Africa. I console myself that if I am captured then it should not be long before I am boldly rescued by a dashing Welsh captain, fresh into the ranks of the military.

Uncle suggested, as I shall be passing close on my way home, that I may think about visiting you. I think this is an excellent idea. Do say you agree as I would so wish to see you again. Write back quickly if Wednesday is convenient. If I do not hear from you I shall assume it is either inconvenient or that you do not wish me to come.

Affectionately yours,
Alice.

 

Replied at once, my heart beating with joy, and then paid a visit to Father in his study

‘Father,’ I began, ‘If your decision has not yet been made, I wish it to be known that my desire is to be stationed somewhere in the vicinity of Calcutta.’ Father looked at me over the top of his spectacles for a long time.
‘Yes. Well… Hmm. I’m afraid it’s all been sorted. I received this telegram from the home office this morning.’ He slid a piece of paper over the desk towards me.

 

REGARDING COMMISSION OF M. MORFASON, (STOP) HAVE ARRANGED TRANSFER TO 2nd BATALLION, NORTH STAFFORDSHIRE REG (STOP) CURRENTLY BASED IN PESHAWAR (STOP) REQUIRED TO MEET WITH COL. WEDGEWOOD IN LONDON, FRIDAY NEXT (STOP)
JULIUS WIND, HOME OFFICE.

 

I read through the telegram several times to make sure it said what I thought it said.
‘Peshawar? Isn’t that on the North West Frontier?’ I asked. Father retired from behind his desk and took down an atlas from the shelf.
‘Yes, here we are,’ he said, opening it out to India and pointing to a spot on the border with Afghanistan. ‘And Calcutta is…’ He pointed to the opposite side of India once he had found it.
‘Yes. Wonderful. How far is that from Peshawar? Two hundred miles would you say?’
‘Do they teach you nothing in that school?’ Father chastised. ‘India is two and a half million square miles in size. It is at least six times bigger than France and far larger than Wales.’ My heart sank and Father then put my exact feelings into words. ‘For all that they’re in the same country Peshawar and Calcutta might as well be on different continents for how far apart they must be. Why did you want to be stationed in Calcutta anyway? No… In fact. Don’t tell me… Alice Fletcher! Well hopefully the length of India will put any hopes of a romance between you to bed.’
‘She’s coming to visit me, Wednesday, I confessed.’ From the look on his face Father was not impressed.
‘Dear God boy, I hope you know what you’re letting yourself in for. That family is trouble, mark my words.’


Image from columbia.edu

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