Harper watched for an instant, grinning, because he was used to the fearsome spectacle of Richard Sharpe going fierce into battle and then he joined in. He left the seven-barrelled gun behind and used a length of fire-blackened timber with which he flailed the red-epauletted enemy until, their courage broken, they were scrambling back up the hill. Harper looked at his Captain whose reddened blade had defeated four men in less than half a minute. He bent down to retrieve the big gun. “Have you ever thought about joining the army, Mr. Sharpe?”
Sharpe was not listening. He was staring at the houses where the priest had stopped the civilians from firing, and now Sharpe was smiling because the priest might be able to order civilians, but he could not order British soldiers about. The Sixth Division had arrived! He could see the red uniforms at the hilltop, he could hear the crackle of muskets, and Sharpe drove himself up the slope so he could find out where Delmas was. Harper followed.
They dropped at the crest. To their right the houses were dotted with red uniforms, to their left were the three forts to which the Voltigeurs were retreating and Delmas was with them! He had been headed off by the Sixth Division and had been forced towards the fortresses. That was a victory of a kind, Sharpe supposed, because now the treacherous Frenchman was trapped in the forts. He looked behind and saw the river bank thick with British troops who marched west along the road beside the Tormes to finish off the cbrdon about the three strongholds. Delmas was trapped!
The French cannons fired again, canister blasting over the wasteland to rattle on the houses, smashing windows and flimsy shutters, aimed at driving the newly arrived British troops into cover.
Sharpe watched Delmas. He watched as the man was helped into the ditch in front of the nearest, smallest fort. Watched as the brass helmet appeared again and the Frenchman was pulled into one of the cannon embrasures. Sharpe watched his enemy go into the fort. The bastard was trapped! The sword was in Salamanca and it might yet belong to Sharpe.
Sharpe looked at Harper. That’s it. Bastard got away.“
“Not next time, sir.” Harper twisted around and stared over the river. A knot of officers were in the shelter of the houses on the far bank, another group of men, unmolested by the French gunners, were carrying Windham’s body up the hill. Harper could see the foxhounds following the sad cortege. As he watched, so the gunners fired again at the bridge. They would let the British take away their dead, but they would still not yield passage of the river. Harper nodded at the bridge. “Don’t think we can go back, sir.”
“Not a bad wee city to be stuck in, sir.”
“What?” Sharpe had only been half listening. He had been thinking of Delmas. The Frenchman had murdered Windham, and probably murdered McDonald too. A man who killed while still on parole was a murderer.
“I said it’s not a bad wee city…‘
“I heard you, Patrick.” Sharpe looked at the Sergeant, remembering the fight. “Thank you.”
“For what? Do you think we should join the lads?”
They scrambled down the hill to join the few Riflemen who, like themselves, were marooned on the northern bank of the river. One of them had retrieved Sharpe’s rifle and carried it all the way across the bridge. He gave it back to his Captain. “What do we do now, sir?”
“Now?” Sharpe listened. Faintly he could hear a rhythmic booming, a sound overlaid with a slight, tinny melody. “Hear that?”
They listened. Parry Jenkins grinned. “It’s a band!”
Sharpe slung his rifle. “I think we should join in.” He guessed that the Sixth Division was making their formal entry into the city; bands playing and colours flying, and he pointed down the river bank to the east. “That way, lads, then up into the city.” The route would take them far from the French cannons pointing across the wasted south-western corner of the city. “And listen, lads!” They looked at him. “Just stay together, you understand? We’re not supposed to be here and the bloody Provosts would just love a chance to put a real soldier in chains.” They grinned at him. “Come on!”