Lieutenant Colquhoun Grant rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the noise coming from outside. The 11th Foot had been stationed at the Colchester garrison for a little over two months and every time they were joined by a new regiment the whole place erupted in a frenzy of activity.
Sighing, he put down the newly published handbook that he had been looking forward to reading and crossed over to the window. The men riding into the yard wore glamorous uniforms with silver trim and crested helmets and the Death’s Head badge identified them as the 17th Light Dragoons - a light cavalry regiment with a reputation for dashing headfirst into the fray and a motto - Or Glory - that reflected it.
Grant watched for a while as the men greeted old friends from other regiments and dispersed to find their quarters then went back to his book.
Since joining the army from military school, he had been disappointed on a daily basis by the attitudes of those around him. Most of his fellow subalterns made very little effort to acquaint themselves with military matters beyond the simple drills of the parade ground and certainly had no interest in discussing the arts and practices of soldiering, and his superior officers were of the opinion that intellect was more of a hindrance than a help among the junior ranks.
So he found himself spending most of his spare time on his own, studying the manuals he had been able to acquire and teaching himself the basics of various languages so that he could supplement the meagre knowledge available in England. Despite the current situation, he was hopeful that the changes implemented by the Duke of York and the government’s response to the mutiny in the Channel Fleet would set in motion a series of reforms that would reward his diligence in the long run.
Besides, he was not the type to idle away the hours drinking and gambling in the local public houses like so many of his peers.
On his free days, he could usually be found out in the fields and woodlands around the town. He passed the time by reading, sketching and practising the skills he had learned about from his studies with nobody around to mock him for his efforts - or so he thought.
The next chance he got, he strapped on his sword, picked up the new book and headed out into the woods. His imagination had been captured by Le Marchant’s Sword Exercise of the Cavalry and, having read it from cover to cover several times, he had decided that it would be useful to learn the skills, even though his hopes of getting to put them into practice seemed somewhat remote.
However, with no formal training, he only got as far as the first cut before he ended up on his arse in the dirt.
“Damn it!” He cursed under his breath as he looked down at the mud stains on his trousers and was thankful that he had at least spared himself any public humiliation until he heard a low chuckle and looked up to see a young dragoon captain sitting on a tree stump with the book in his hands and a broad grin on his face.
“You will never master the drill if you go about it in that manner, Lieutenant Grant.”
Grant scrambled to his feet, brushing himself down to hide his embarrassment and confusion at how this dashing young officer knew his name.
“I fear you have me at a disadvantage, sir.”
“Captain William De Lancey. At your service.”
Grant frowned, unsure whether he was being taken for a fool, but De Lancey smiled and continued. “For one thing, you are using the wrong sword.”
“I know that. It is all I have.”
“And for another, your stance is a little off.”
Grant’s surprise must have shown on his face as he realised De Lancey actually knew what he was talking about.
“You know the drill, sir?”
“I do indeed, although I did not suppose anyone else in this godforsaken place would have taken the time to learn it.“ He drew his sabre and handed it over. “Try again with this and place your feet slightly further apart.”
Grant took the weapon carefully, hefting it in his right hand and trying to accustom himself to the unfamiliar weight and balance, but his next attempt ended exactly the same way as his first.
De Lancey laughed and held out a hand to help him up. “You are overbalancing because you are trying to use your whole arm. Here, let me show you.” He winked. “Remember it is all in the wrist.”
He picked up the sabre, moved straight into the Guard position and performed the six cuts with the fluidity and grace of a ballet dancer, finishing with a flourish that Grant was certain was not in the manual.
“See. Easy.” He handed the sword back.
Grant closed his eyes and pictured the first move in his mind, but before he could begin, he felt De Lancey’s hand on his wrist.
“No. Not like that. You are thinking about it too much.”
This did not make sense to Grant. How was he ever supposed to get it right if he did not think about what he was doing?
“It is similar to dancing,” De Lancey explained, “when you are familiar with the steps you do not need to think about them, you simply allow yourself to feel the music and it comes naturally.”
Grant shook his head, admitting with some embarrassment, “I do not know how to dance.”
“You can sing though, I heard you earlier.” De Lancey did not seem to notice Grant’s surprise at this admission. “So think of it like a song - once you know the words, you do not have to think of them before you sing them.”
Grant was astonished. Why had he not thought of it like that before? He smiled at De Lancey, who let go of his arm and stepped back.
“Sing your song, lieutenant.”
Taking a deep breath, Grant began the drill, moving in time with the music playing in his head. He was still rather slow and some of the moves were far from perfect but he got to the end without falling and the feeling was quite exhilarating.
De Lancey applauded. “Much better!”
“Thank you, sir.” Grant was slightly out of breath and could not conceal his excitement at completing the task.
“Do not thank me.” De Lancey returned the sabre to the scabbard on his belt. “It makes a change to see someone enjoying it as much as I do, rather than treating it as a necessary evil and simply going through the motions. Perhaps you would care to make this a regular lesson?”
Grant nodded, there was nothing he would like more.
“I would request only that you do one thing for me in return.” De Lancey looked down at the ground, almost as if he were ashamed to ask. “I have seen you making some wonderful sketches of the landscapes hereabouts. Do you think you could teach me?”
“I could try, sir. Although I fear landscapes is all I can do. If you wish to learn how to paint a portrait of your sweetheart I’m afraid I will not be of much use.”
This seemed to amuse De Lancey for some reason.
“No such thing.” He laughed. “I merely wish to discover if I have an aptitude for it. Much as I love the cavalry, I hope some day to find a position where I can indulge my interest in more intellectual pursuits and I would imagine that such skills would prove most useful.”
He flashed a conspiratorial grin as he turned to walk back towards the town. “I shan’t tell anyone of your adventures with the sabre if you promise not to reveal my ambitions to the higher-ups. I doubt they would be happy to learn I that I see my future elsewhere.”
“Of course.” Grant gathered up his books and sword and rushed to catch up.
“Oh, and Grant?”
“There is no need to call me sir when we are out here.”