“Been looking forward to this,” Byng said to himself, thrusting his hands deeply into his pockets. “Never hurts to have good men around.”
That was true, but before Waller could voice any agreement, one of the doors on the car behind the nearest locomotive swung open. After a few seconds, a leather-skinned man appeared, squinting in the light as he put his hat on to shade his eyes.
Unlike the officers gathered to receive him, the new arrival was clad in British tan – the sand-colored cloth favored in India and on the Northwest Frontier. The cut of his uniform was identical to Waller’s, but instead of being topped by a hat in the style worn by troops from Newfoundland, Canada, and the British home army, a tea-colored pith helmet protected his scalp from the sun.
Unmistakably, the Indian Army had arrived.
As this Major General stepped down from the train, his eyes quickly scanned the station, the trees beyond, and the sky above. It was a cool and fresh new world morning – typical for the place – and that fact didn’t seem lost on him.
After a second’s thought, he turned towards the officers on the platform and made his approach, a wry smile appearing on his face as he neared them, “Well, it doesn’t seem all that different.”
“You’ll find it’s more green than tan around here, sir,” Waller replied immediately, almost surprising himself with how easily he fell back into his old repartee with the man.
“So this time we’re the ones who dressed wrong for the party, eh Tom?” The tan General’s smile grew as he covered the final few steps separating him from the welcoming committee, and instead of saluting, he extended his hand to the Newfoundlander, “Good to see you again, Colonel Waller. Congratulations on getting the b’ys to yourself. And on all the work I’ve been reading about.”
It was a warm and familiar greeting – far warmer than the average person might expect without knowing the history between the two. But for those who knew that the Royal Newfoundland Regiment had learned to war in Afghanistan, under the command of a certain Major General, there would be no surprise.
This was Sir Andrew Skeen, a man who appreciated good, intelligent soldiers. The Newfoundlanders were some of the best he’d seen, and he was happy to be heading into the field with them again – particularly considering the enemy on the new world was so mysterious.
“Thank you, sir,” Waller shook Skeen’s hand, then stepped back, blading his body slightly to indicate his current commanding officer. “May I present, General Sir Julian Byng.”
“No need to present anyone, Tom. The man has a reputation,” Skeen replied, turning his hand in Byng’s direction. “Is it true you never take your hands out of your pockets, Sir Julian?”
Byng considered Skeen for a moment before smiling too, “Yes, Sir Andrew, I’m afraid it is.”
That reply was greeted by a laugh, and then with no pageantry at all, the two men shook hands. There would be no undue tension here – this was not Evelyn Hughes, or any other stuffed uniform inflicted upon the new world by politicians. Like Byng, Skeen was a veteran of the British Empire’s frontier wars, and he bore no misapprehensions of his own abilities, or of the qualities that made for good soldiers.
A proper General, commanding a fine division of elite fighting men, had come to the new world. This was a great day for the Selkirk Mandate.
Skeen was introduced to Alderson and Currie in turn, and the greetings remained warm until the Major General at last turned to Miller. The Skipper’s eyes were narrow as the tan-clad General met them, and then with a severe look Skeen shook his head, “You know, I almost believed you’d be dead, Skipper.”
Miller nodded, and then patted Skeen on the forearm in a decidedly elderly fashion, “No one ever said you was too smart.”
That was enough: Skeen let out a sporting laugh, and Miller smiled.
“By God, I missed having you b’ys around,” the General said. “And now I suppose we’ll have to learn some things from you. Different war out here, from what I read.”
Waller nodded, “Yes sir. But the same fundamentals. We survived on what you taught us…”
Before the conversation could progress any further, the doors to the remaining train cars opened and the unloading began. It was enough of a spectacle to draw silence from anyone observing.
When b’ys piled out of a train, they stretched and grumbled. They were usually good-natured, and anyone watching how they handled their weapons and looked to each other for instruction would have recognized they were good fighting men.
But when Skeen’s men from the Indian Army disembarked, they did it crisply. They took pride in every step, and led by their officers and NCOs, with chests puffed and shoulders back, the Sikhs who had been occupying the other cars of Skeen’s train began to march onto the platform.
The platform vibrated in a uniform rhythm beneath the feet of the veteran Selkirk officers, as Indian boots fell in perfect time. This was parade ground perfection, and it was impossible not to be impressed as the men wearing turbans formed their ranks.
From the other trains came Punjabs, and of course the Gurkhas too. All of them were fearsome, disciplined soldiers, and Waller was glad of their arrival.
“So, I hear we may be too late,” Skeen lowered his voice and looked to Byng with that remark. “Past the point where rifles will make a difference against the blue men?”
Byng’s hands were again thrust deep into his pockets, his eyes travelling over the perfect ranks of the new arrivals. He didn’t answer for a moment, and then he shook his head before looking back to Skeen, “There are complicated problems to sort out, Sir Andrew. But good riflemen are always useful.”
Nodding, Skeen turned to look back at his men.
“Well that’s good,” the General said. “Because I brought 20,000.”
He had indeed.
The Selkirk Mandate was suddenly a more formidable territory.