Certainly neither Paul nor Lance Desmond, riding home together from kit inspection, on a morning of early September, entertained the dimmest idea of a break with the family tradition. Lance, at seven-and-twenty—spare and soldierly, alive to the finger-tips—was his father in replica, even to the V.C. after his name, which he had ‘snaffled out of the War,’ together with a Croix de Guerre and a brevet-Majority. Though Cavalry had been at a discount in France, Mesopotamia and Palestine had given the Regiment its chance—with fever and dysentery and all the plagues of Egypt thrown in to keep things going.
It was in the process of filling up his woeful gaps that Colonel Desmond had applied for Roy Sinclair, and so fulfilled the desire of his brother’s heart: also, incidentally, Roy’s craving to serve with Indian Cavalry. To that end, his knowledge of the language, his horsemanship, his daring and resource in scout work, had stood him in good stead. Paul—who scarcely knew him at the time—very soon discovered that he had secured an asset for the Regiment—the great Fetish, that claimed his paramount allegiance, and began to look like claiming it for life.
“He’s just John over again,” Lady Desmond would say, referring to a brother who had served the great Fetish from subaltern to Colonel and left his name on a cross in Kohat cemetery.
Certainly, in form and feature, Paul was very much a Meredith:—the coppery tone of his hair, the straight nose and steadfast grey-blue eyes, the height and breadth and suggestion of power in reserve. It was one of the most serious problems of his life to keep his big frame under weight for polo, without impairing his immense capacity for work. Apart from this important detail, he was singularly unaware of his striking personal appearance, except when others chaffed him about his look of Lord Kitchener, and were usually snubbed for their pains; though, at heart, he was inordinately proud of the fact. He had only one quarrel with the hero of his boyhood;—the decree that officially extinguished the Frontier Force; though the spirit of it survives, and will survive, for decades to come. Like his brother, he had ‘snaffled’ a few decorations out of the War: but to be in Command of the Regiment, with Lance in charge of his pet squadron, was better than all.
The strong bond of affection between these two—first and last of a family of six—was enhanced by their very unlikeness. Lance had the elan of a torrent; Paul the stillness and depth of a mountain lake. Lance was a rapier; Paul a claymore—slow to smite, formidable when roused. Both were natural leaders of men; both, it need hardly be added, ’Piffers’ in the grain. They had only returned in March from active service, with the Regiment very much the worse for wear; heartily sorry to be out of the biggest show on record; yet heartily glad to be back in India, a sadly changing India though it was.
Two urgent questions were troubling the mind of Lance as they rode at a foot’s pace up the slope leading to the Blue Bungalow. Would the board of doctors, at that moment ‘sitting’ on Roy, give him another chance? Would the impending reliefs condemn them to a ‘down-country’ station? For they had only been posted to Kohat till these came out.