Circumstance Unrelated. Part IV – The Headless Soldier

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Amidst the backdrop of Napoleonic War raging across Europe, soldiers seek distraction from the horrors of the battle field. Major Grant is an officer of the British Army serving under Wellington in France. An officer, a gentleman and a connoisseur of female bottoms, Major Grant finds himself unusually captivated by a mysterious woman…..

My duties did not allow public circulation for a number of weeks, and although I had a burning desire to see her again, I trusted in god that our paths would cross. It is odd, is it not that unrelated circumstances often take control to form a single event? I found myself  walking with the Quarter Master General along the King’s Road in the direction of the Duke of York’s Barracks on a bright February morning. Taking in the sights and sounds, I noticed through the black fenced bars of the barracks a number of men transferring some rather aged furniture from a large cart into the main building. My colleague, seeing my line of sight, commented that the children were bound to be picking splinters from their behinds before the months end. I laughed involuntary without reason, and in the same instant realised the full picture unfolding before me. I asked him if this was the school for the Brigade’s children, which he confirmed and went on to complain how much of a distraction it had been whilst trying to prepare for war. After a few more paces along the street, he suddenly slapped his thigh and in true soldier-to-soldier fashion said, “I can assure you my young friend, if I was 50 years younger I would be signing up to sit in this school mistress’s class!” He gave me an overly exaggerated wink of the eye which made me smile to think that this was my lady he was referring to. I laughed out loud at my comfort in addressing her as ‘my’ lady. The Quartermaster, mistaking my laughter for seeing merit in his joke, slapped me on the back and reminded me that we should press on with haste as tea would soon be served in the Mess.

“Ten days to sail,” I read aloud from the Warning Order in my hand. Under normal circumstances I would be impatient to sail at an earlier date, however my mind had other considerations. I had made arrangements that morning to accompany a number of junior officers and their wives to the new Brigades school at the Duke of York’s. It was to be the official opening, and dressed in my newly tailored uniform I made my way by cab from Horse Guards towards Sloane Square, however, I halted the driver some way from the school and decided to take in the fine morning air. The sky was a clear blue with a light chilly breeze in the air. The birds seemed to sing more sweetly and the trees in which they perched looked deceptively greener than I remembered. The only other sound that morning was the squeak of my new boots, and on hearing them I was glad for the walk, for I would not have the opportunity to break them in before sailing. Many a lady I passed that morning smiled in my direction for I was sure that I cut a dashing figure with red and brass flashing in the sun. My confidence was up and my intentions were clear, if not totally honourable.

A modest crowd had gathered in the reception area of the main hall just beyond the building’s iconic Greek pillars. As I entered, the Silver Stick stood and introduced himself, mainly for the benefit of the small pack of press reporters and those of non military backgrounds. The Silver Stick, by right of his title, had direct access to the King himself on matters of military business. Only one other held this title and that was the Prince Regent himself. Colonel Brook was an officer of the highest calibre in all respects. He was a soldier’s soldier and had fought side by side with his men over the years, in many campaigns. To look upon him from a distance one would say he had not reached his 50th year as he stood upright and true with his hair neatly trimmed. In truth, and upon closer inspection, he had long seen his 65th birthday and had lost various parts of his anatomy across the fields of Europe. Half of one ear, three fingers on his right hand and a neat flat area on his chin had all been claimed by sword alone. The use of his right arm was visibly limited during meal times, having been glanced by cannon ball. He was, albeit unofficially, ‘Lucky Brook’ and by his presence alone on the field of battle,  could change the fortune of many men, nay, many a battle! His relaxed attitude and blood thirsty stories made him a favourite with the younger officer’s wives. His favourite tale being that of him scolding a fellow officer for not passing a telescope when ordered to do so. Upon turning in the saddle to give the gentleman the edge of his tongue, he discovered the man had no head, but remained on his horse, which incidentally had also been unaware of the tragic incident. Realising his embarrassing position, the Colonel casually called to his staff behind him to bring up an officer alongside who had the faculties to use a telescope!

Colonel Brook cleared his throat and introduced Mrs. Eleanor Black as the new Mistress of ‘Guards’ School.’ A polite ripple of applause echoed throughout the vast reception area. She stood, dressed in a black full skirt and a white blouse with her hair tied neatly but relaxed behind her head. She smiled and again the room lit up as it had once done before at our first meeting. I had not heard her voice before and became annoyed when the audience failed to calm sufficiently for her to make her address. When it came, it was a soft voice with a light Scottish accent. I had not thought of her with an accent, however, it suited her perfectly. She spoke clearly and slowly in a fashion that held you captivated and wanting more. Mrs. Black was without doubt the centre of my world at that very moment. Addressing visually as many people as she could whilst delivering her address, her eyes passed mine, and continued without recognition! I immediately felt as though I had caused her some disservice and a great weight came over me. Did she not recognise me? I stood pondering this set back when I suddenly remembered that it was I that had thought of very little, but her for many weeks. She, in total contrast had only smiled at me briefly before Christmas. What a fool I had been, what a total fool! I was the pursuer and she the unknown prey. I had listened only to my thoughts and dreams, and that was a perfect summary of the situation, a dream. What a damn fool I had been.

I decided to leave the reception after the cutting of the ribbon, however, once cut, a ledger was passed from officer to officer with the intention of pledging money to support the school. I had no choice but to stay until the book past my hands and once doing so, turned to leave some five pounds the lighter but heavy of heart.

“Major Grant?” I turned instantly knowing who had called my named. She smiled softly and looked directly into my eyes. We engaged in polite conversation regarding the school and as if suddenly recalling a memory, I declared that we shared a common acquaintance in Lord Grantham, and was she not at his Coronation dinner? She looked somewhat disappointed and after issuing a second thank you for attending, made her excuses to leave. As she turned to go I noticed that she was not holding the ledger that contained the names and amounts of those who had pledged money. “Mrs. Black?” I called. She turned. “May I ask how you came by my name?” She smiled and closed the gap between us. “I knew your name, Major Grant, before we had heard the reading of the King’s letter at the coronation dinner. You know Dr.Teak I believe?”  I must have resembled a mute, as I stared at her in disbelief. She smiled with a sparkle in her eyes, turned, and walked away in the direction of the other guests.

My boots had very little opportunity to break in further on my return walk back to my quarters, for I was sure that I flew! My mind raced around and around, I was dizzy with relief; but wait, I should stop and gather my thoughts. She had only said that she knew my name. But was it the way in which she confessed to knowing me? And what was there to confess? Oh my mind had too many questions. Fortunately I had drawn the short straw to act as Guard Commander at The Tower that evening and had preparations to make; this for sure would keep my mind on matters not related to the heart, however, the reappearance of the bird-like doctor’s name did not miss my attention.

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