Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t.”

“Sharpe!” Spears grinned at him. “Two guineas he won’t come?”

“I don’t gamble.”

“I do! Christ! Half the bloody estate’s gone.”

“Half of it?” La Marquesa laughed. “All of it, Jack. All of it, and a lot more. What will you leave your heir?”

“I’m not married, Helena, thus none of my bastards can be described as an heir.” He blew her a kiss. “If only your dear husband would die I would be on my knees to you. I think we’d make a handsome couple.”

“And how long would my fortune last?”

“Your beauty is your fortune, Helena, and that is safe for ever.”

“How pretty, Jack, and how untrue.”

“The words were said by Captain Sharpe, my dear, I just repeated them.”

The huge blue eyes looked at Sharpe. “How pretty, Captain Sharpe.”

He was blushing because of Spears’ lie and he hid it by wrenching the reins harshly about and staring at the quiescent French. Lord Spears followed him and spoke softly. “You fancy her, don’t you?”

“She’s a beautiful woman.”

“My dear Sharpe.” Spears leaned over and led the Rifleman’s horse forward a few paces. “If you want her, try her.” He laughed. “Don’t worry about me. She won’t look at me. She’s very discreet, our Helena, and she’s not going to endure Jack Spears boasting round the city that he tucked his feet in her bed. You should mount an attack, Sharpe!”

Sharpe was angry. “You mean lovers from the servant’s hall keep quiet, because they’re so grateful?”

“Your words, friend, not mine.”


“And if you must know, you may be right.” Spears was still friendly, but his words were low and forceful. “Some people think the meat in the servant’s hall is better than the thin stuff served in the banquet hall.”

Sharpe looked at the handsome face. “La Marquesa?”

“She gets what she wants, you get what I want.” He grinned. “I’m doing you a favour.”

“I’m married.”

“God help me! Do you say your prayers every night?” Spears laughed aloud, then turned for hoofbeats presaged Wellington’s arrival at the head of his staff. The General reined in, doffed his bicorne hat, then cast a cold glance at Spears and Sharpe.

“You’re well escorted, Helena!”

“Dear Arthur!” She offered him her hand. “You have disappointed me!”

“I? How?”

“I came for a battle!”

“So did we all. If you have any complaints you must address them to Marmont. The fellow absolutely refuses to attack!”

She pouted at him. “But I so hoped to see a battle!”

“You will, you will.” He patted his horse’s neck. „I’ll lay you odds that the French will sneak away tonight. I gave them their chance and they turned it down, so tomorrow I’ll take those forts.“

“The forts! I can watch from the Palacio!”

“Then pray Marmont sneaks away tonight, Helena, for if he does I’ll lay on a full assault for you. All the battle you could wish!”

She clapped her hands. “Then I will give a reception tomorrow night. To celebrate your victory. You’ll come?”

“To celebrate my victory?” Wellington seemed positively skittish in her presence. “Of course I’ll come!”

She waved a hand round all the horsemen gathered about the elegant barouche. “You must all come! Even you, Captain Sharpe! You must come!”

Wellington’s eyes met Sharpe. The General gave a thin smile. “Captain Sharpe will be busy tomorrow night.”

“Then he will come when his business is finished. We shall dance till dawn, Captain.”

Sharpe felt, though he did not know if it was meant, a subtle mockery in the eyes that watched him. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would face Leroux, tomorrow he would fight that sword, and Sharpe felt the desire to fight. He would beat Leroux, this Colonel who had put a chill of fear into the British, he would face him, fight him, and he would drag him captive from the wasteland. Tomorrow he would fight, and these foppish aristocrats would watch from La Marquesa’s Palacio and suddenly Sharpe knew what reward he wanted for facing Colonel Philippe Leroux. Not just the sword. He would have that anyway as the spoils of war, but something else. He would have the woman. He smiled at her for the first time, and nodded. “Tomorrow.”

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