An Unconventional Officer is the story of Paul van Daan, younger son of the wealthy owner of a shipping line, who joins the 110th Infantry as an ambitious junior officer and travels to India in 1802 to serve under a young and relatively inexperienced general with a reputation to make…
An Unconventional Officer – India, 1802
There were six companies of the 110th first battalion already settled in the cantonments, and at dinner in the mess Paul and Carl were introduced to their fellow officers. The meal was rich and heavily spiced and seemed to go on forever. As the afternoon wore on into evening, Paul was faintly astonished at the quantity of wine and brandy being consumed. He excused himself fairly early on leaving Carl and the others and made his way back up to the lines where his tent had been erected. His men either sat or lay around in their bedrolls drinking, talking or gambling and they greeted him cheerfully as he passed. Paul went in search of O’Reilly.
“Jesus, sir, what are you doing back so early?” the Irishman said in surprise. “Generally they’d be going until midnight.”
“They’ll be going for longer than that I suspect, but I’d had enough. It’s as stuffy as hell in there.” Paul motioned him to follow. Outside his tent he pulled out two camp chairs, leaned back and looked up at the stars, brilliant in a clear black sky. “I prefer this. I did, however, manage to liberate this.” He pulled a bottle of brandy from his coat.
O’Reilly gave a chuckle. “Sure and you’re a marvel, sir. Anyone would think you’d been doing this for years.”
Paul rummaged for cups and they sat in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the camp. Eventually Paul stirred.
“The Major says we’ll have a few days to rest before marching. I feel as though I’ve done nothing but sit around for weeks.”
“Aye, a long sea voyage will do that to you. Unless, presumably, you’re a petty officer in which case I imagine you’re busy enough. It’s good that we’ve a bit of a walk. It’ll get the men used to the climate and make sure they’re fit enough to fight when needed.”
“I shouldn’t think the officers will be fit to stagger in the morning, let alone fight,” Paul said with a laugh.
“I’ve never seen you drunk,” Michael said studying him.
“You won’t often. I like a drink. Not so keen on the hangover.”
“Or the loss of control,” Michael said quietly and Paul looked sharply at him and laughed.
“Very likely.” He leaned back in his chair. “Jesus, look at those stars! Why in God’s name would you want to sit in that dining room all evening when you can be out here looking at this?”
The Irishman reached for the brandy, his eyes on the young face. “I can remember when you walked into that barracks at Melton, thinking that I just couldn’t make you out,” he said quietly. “And I’m not sure I’m much closer now. What are you doing, Mr van Daan, sitting out here under the stars with an enlisted man when you should be socialising with your own kind?”
Paul looked across at him and smiled. “I thought I was,” he said quietly.
“Sooner or later somebody is going to ask questions about that, sir, you do know that don’t you? They don’t like people who flout army traditions, and for all your cockiness you’re still only a bloody lieutenant.”
Paul grinned. “I know, Michael. But I won’t always be.”
The Irishman studied him, suddenly enlightened. “No,” he said. “And that’s your aim, isn’t it? You want to be where Wellesley is?”
“Yes,” Paul said quietly, and for once he was not laughing. Then he drank again and the laughter came back into his eyes. “But there are other ways to achieve it than kissing arses, Michael, although half the army doesn’t know that yet. Coming with me?”
“Looks that way, sir. I might even be looking forward to it if I weren’t worried you’re going to get me bloody killed on the way.”
An Unconventional Officer follows Paul’s early career from a junior lieutenant in India through the wars in Europe to Portugal and Spain. A talented and charismatic leader of men, he needs to learn to curb his temper and adjust to the rigid army hierarchy in order to rise in his chosen profession. On the way he makes enduring friendships forged on the battlefields of India and Europe and builds an unexpected bond with the difficult, unemotional commander of the Peninsular army, Sir Arthur Wellesley.
There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.
Rowena Summers, a shy young governess straight from a charity school. Serene and gentle, her love and companionship give Paul a stability he had not known he lacked.
Anne Howard the extraordinary daughter of a wealthy manufacturer who marries a fellow officer and changes everything Paul thought he knew about women.
Amidst the violence and tragedy of the war against Napoleon an unforgettable love story unfolds which affects the lives of everybody it touches.
An Unconventional Officer is the first book in the Peninsular War saga which tells the story of the men and women of the 110th infantry, a regiment like no other in Wellington’s army.