Sharpe’s Skirmish. Richard Sharpe and the defence of the Tormes, August 1812. By BERNARD CORNWELL.

Sharpe’s Skirmish.

Richard Sharpe and the defence of the Tormes, August 1812.


Sharpe’s Skirmish.

Richard Sharpe and the defence of the Tormes, August 1812.


(c) Bernard Cornwell, 1998.

“Welcome to San Miguel, Captain,” Major Lucius Tubbs said to the officer beside him, “where God is in his heaven and all is well with the world.”

“Amen to that,” said Sergeant Patrick Harper, standing behind the two officers who both ignored him. Major Tubbs, befitting his name, was a plump man with a cheerful, jowly face who now stood at the ramparts of the small fortress of San Miguel and bounced his hands on the parapet in time to some imaginary music. Next to him, and towering over the shorter Tubbs, was a lean and scarred man in a green Rifleman’s jacket that was so patched with common brown cloth that from a distance it looked like a farm-labourer’s coat. Beneath the patched coat he wore a pair of leather-trimmed cavalry overalls that had once belonged to a colonel of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, and at his side there hung a heavy-bladed cavalry sword that had killed the colonel.

“We shall not be disturbed here, Sharpe,” Tubbs said.

“Pleased to hear that, sir.”

“The French are gone!” Tubbs waved a hand which suggested the French had simply evaporated. “We shall do our work in these Elysian fields!” Sharpe had no idea what an Elysian field was, and had no intention of asking, but it was plainly a pleasant sort of place for the landscape beyond the river was gentle, peaceful and bathed in Spanish sunlight. “There is just you and I,” Tubbs went on enthusiastically, “our splendid men, and enough wine in the store room to float a frigate.”

“Amen to that, too,” Sergeant Harper said.

Sharpe turned on him. “Sergeant? Take three reliable men and break every damned bottle.”

“Sharpe!” Tubbs remonstrated, staring at the rifleman as though he could not believe his ears. “Break the bottles?”

Sharpe looked down into Tubbs’s eyes. “The Crapauds may have gone, sir, but the war ain’t won yet. And if a troop of monsewers were to come down that road,” he pointed south along the road which led from the bridge that the small fortress guarded, “then you and I don’t want to be relying on a pack of piss-eyed Riflemen who are so damned drunk that they won’t be able to load a rifle, let alone fire one.”

Tubbs looked southwards, seeing nothing but unharvested fields, groves of olives, vineyards, white farmhouses and bright red poppies. “But there are no Frenchmen!” The major protested.

“Not a one, sir,” Harper valiantly backed up the major.

“They’re always damned frogs, sir,” Sharpe insisted. “It won’t be till we’ve cleared the bloody earth of the last bloody one that you can claim there are no frogs.”

“But breaking the bottles, Sharpe!” Tubbs said reprovingly. “It’s good wine, very good wine, and doubtless private property. Have you thought of that?” The major frowned at Sharpe, and then, seeing he had not persuaded the rifleman, tried another approach. “Why don’t we just leave the door locked, eh?”

Sharpe sighed. “There ain’t one of my men, sir, and I dare say there ain’t one of yours for that matter, what can’t get through that padlock in half a minute. Sergeant!”


“Fetch the bottles from the store-room and break them on the bridge.”

Sharpe ordered. The fort’s store-room was slightly below ground level, and stone-flagged, and Sharpe did not want it flooded with wine, for his men would get down on hands and knees to lap it up. “Now!”

Tubbs sighed, but he dared not countermand the order. He was a Commissary of the Storekeeper of the Ordnance, and though he wore a blue-coated uniform that was generously decorated with silver braid, and though he was accorded the courtesy rank of Major, he was a civilian. His job was to help keep the army supplied with muskets, powder and shot, and Lucius Tubbs had never seen a battle, while the dark-haired, much scarred man beside him had lived through too many. Captain Richard Sharpe had once been Private Richard Sharpe, and he had made the leap from ranks to officer’s mess because he was good, frighteningly good, and Tubbs, though he would never have admitted it, was more frightened of Captain Sharpe than he was of the French.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Categories: Cornwell, Bernard