Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe said nothing. To his right he could see, half a mile away, the General and his staff bunched on the skyline. An aide-de-camp had just left the small group and was spurring back down the ridge towards the British forces. Sharpe wondered if something was about to happen.

The French were making a move, yet not a particularly forceful one. Directly ahead of Sharpe and Hogan, at the foot of the ridge scarp, was a small knoll that disturbed the smoothness of the plain where the French were gathered. Two enemy Battalions had come slowly forward and now lined the knoll’s crest. They were no threat to the ridge and, having taken the tiny summit, they seemed content to stay there. Two field guns had come with them.

Hogan ignored them. “I have to stop Leroux, Richard. That’s my job. He’s taking my best people and he’s killing them if they’re Spanish and capturing them if they’re British, and he’s too bloody clever by half.” Sharpe was surprised by the gloom in his friend’s voice. Hogan was not usually downcast by setbacks, but Sharpe could tell that Colonel Philippe Leroux had the Irish Major desperately worried. Hogan looked up at Sharpe again. “You searched him?”


“Tell me again what you found. Tell me everything.”

Sharpe shrugged. He took off his shako to let the small breeze cool his forehead. He spoke of that day in the wood, of the prisoner’s seeming arrogance. He mentioned the sword, he spoke of his suspicion that Leroux pretended not to understand English. Hogan smiled at that. “You were right. He speaks English like a bloody native. Go on.”

“There isn’t any more. I’ve told you everything!” Sharpe looked behind the ridge to see where the aide-de-camp had ridden, and an urgency suddenly came over him. “Look! We’re moving! Christ!” He crammed his shako back on.

The South Essex, together with another Battalion, had been stirred into activity. They had stood up, dressed their ranks, and now they were climbing the hill in companies. They were going to attack! Sharpe looked north, at the small knoll, and he knew that Wellington was meeting the French move with a move of his own. The French would be pushed offthe small hill, and the South Essex was to be one of the two Battalions that did the pushing. “I must go!”

“Richard!” Hogan held his elbow. “For God’s sake. Nothing else? No papers? No books? Nothing hidden in his helmet, I mean, God, he must have had something!”

Sharpe was impatient. He wanted to be with his men. The Light Company would be first into the attack and Sharpe would lead them. Already he was forgetting Leroux and thinking only of the enemy skirmishers he would face in a few minutes. He snapped his fingers. “No, yes. Yes. There was one thing. Jesus! A piece of paper, he said it was horse dealers or something. It was just a list!”

“You have it?”

“It’s in my pack. Down there.” He pointed to the place the South Essex had left. The Battalion was halfway up the slope now, the Light Company already stretching ahead. “I must go, sir!”

“Can I look for the paper?”

“Yes!” Sharpe was running now, released by Hogan, and his scabbard and rifle thumped as he hurried towards his men. The leather casings were being stripped from the colours so that the flags, unfurled, spread in the small breeze, their tassels bright yellow against the Union Flag. He felt the surge of emotion because the Colours were a soldier’s pride. They were going to fight!

“Are they going to fight?” La Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba had come to San Christobal hoping for a battle. Lord Spears was with her, his horse close to the elegant barouche, while La Marquesa herself was chaperoned by a dowdy, middle-aged woman who was wilting of the heat in a thick serge dress. La Marquesa wore white and had her filmy parasol raised against the sun.

Lord Spears tugged at his sling to make it comfortable. “No, my dear. It’s just a redeployment.”

“I do believe you’re wrong, Jack.”

“Ten guineas says I’m not.”

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