He was wiping the blood from his big sword as he led them along the river bank and then up into a steep alleyway which pointed towards the two Cathedrals on the hilltop. They were behind the houses from which the Spanish civilians had fired at Delmas, where the priest had checked their fire, and Sharpe thought he recognised the tall, grey-haired figure that climbed ahead of him.
He quickened his pace, leaving his Riflemen behind, and the noise of his boots on the cobbled street made the priest turn. He was a tall, elderly man whose face seemed filled with amusement and charity. He smiled at Sharpe and glanced at the sword. “You look as if you want to kill me, my son.”
Sharpe had not known exactly why he had pursued the priest, except to vent his anger at the man’s interference with the afternoon’s fight. The priest’s perfect English took him by surprise, and the man’s cool tone annoyed him. “I kill the King’s enemies.”
The priest smiled at Sharpe’s dramatic tone. “You’re angry with me, my son. Is it because I stopped the civilians shooting? Yes?” He did not wait for an answer, but went on placatingly. “Do you know what the French will do to them if they get a chance? Do you? Have you seen civilians put against a wall and shot like sick dogs?”
Sharpe’s anger spilt into his voice. “For Christ’s sake! We’re here now, not the bloody French!”
“I doubt if it’s for His sake, my son.” The priest irritated Sharpe by continuing to smile. “And for how long are you here? If you don’t defeat the main French armies then you’ll be running back to Portugal and we can expect those Frenchmen to be in our streets again.”
Sharpe frowned. “Are you English?”
“Praise the Lord, no!” For the first time the priest sounded shocked by something Sharpe had said. “I’m Irish, my son. My name is Father Patrick Curtis, though the Salamantines call me Don Patricio Cortes.” Curtis stopped as Harper shepherded the curious Riflemen past the two men. Harper took them on up the street. Curtis smiled again at Sharpe. “Salamanca is my city now, and these people are my people. I understand their hatred of the French, but I must protect them if the French ever rule here again. That man you were chasing. Do you know what he would do to them?”
Curtis frowned. He had a strong face, deeply lined, dominated by enormous, busy grey eyebrows. “Delmas? No! Leroux!”
It was Sharpe’s turn to be puzzled. “I was chasing a man in a brass helmet. A man with a limp.”
“That’s right! Leroux.” He saw Sharpe’s surprise. “He’s a full Colonel in Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. Philippe Leroux. He’s ruthless, my son, especially against civilians.”
The priest’s calm, informative voice had not mollified Sharpe, who kept his voice hostile. “You know a lot about him.”
Curtis laughed. “Of course! I’m Irish! We’re always interested in other people’s business. In my case, of course, it’s also God’s business to know about people. Even people like Colonel Leroux.”
“And it was my business to kill him.”
“As the centurion said on Golgotha.”
“Nothing, my son. A comment in poor taste. Well, Captain?” Curtis made the rank a question, and Sharpe nodded. The priest smiled. “It’s my pleasant duty to welcome you to Salamanca, even if you are English. Consider yourself duly welcomed.
“You don’t like the English?” Sharpe was determined not to like the elderly priest.
“Why should I?” Curtis still smiled. “Does the worm like the plough?”
“I suppose you’d prefer the French?” Sharpe was still convinced that Curtis had stopped the firing to spare the man who had called himself Delmas.
Curtis sighed. “Dear, oh dear! This conversation, if you’ll forgive me, Captain, is getting tiresome. I’ll bid you good-day, my son. I expect we’ll meet again soon. Salamanca’s a small enough town.” He turned and walked ahead of Sharpe, leaving the Rifle Officer annoyed. Sharpe knew he had been bested by the priest, that Curtis’s calmness had easily deflected his anger. Well, damn the priest, and damn Colonel Philippe Leroux. Sharpe walked on, hurrying past Curtis without acknowledging him, and his head was busy with his need for revenge. Leroux. The man who had murdered Windham, had murdered McDonald, had broken his parole, had escaped Sharpe, and who possessed a sword fit for a great fighter. Colonel Leroux; a worthy enemy for this summer of war and heat.