“No.” Sharpe jerked his head towards the wounded man. “Are you planning to charge him?”
The Lieutenant looked round for escape or support, then sighed. “He has lost his musket, sir.”
“It was broken by French shot.” Sharpe’s voice was quiet.
“I’m sure you’ll put that in writing, sir.”
“No. You will. You were out there, weren’t you?”
The Lieutenant swallowed nervously. “No, sir.”
“Sir! I was ordered to stay here, sir!”
“And no one ordered you to make life a bloody misery for the men who went out, did they? How many battles have you been in, Lieutenant?”
The Lieutenant’s eyes looked round the circle of grim, interested faces. He shrugged. “Sir?”
Sharpe reached over to the clerk-Corporal and took the notebook out of his hand. “You write ”destroyed by enemy“ against everything, understand? Everything. Including the boots they lost last week.”
“Yes, sir.” The Lieutenant took the notebook from Sharpe and gave it to the clerk. “You heard the man, Bates. ”Destroyed by enemy“.” The Lieutenant backed away.
Sharpe watched him go. His anger had not vented itself and he wanted to strike out at something, at someone, because the men had died through treachery. The French had been ready, warned of the attack, and good men had been thrown away, and he bellowed again. “Bandsmen!”
Two musicians, doing their battlefield job offending the wounded, came and crouched by the injured Dale. They lifted him clumsily onto a stretcher. Sharpe stopped one of them as they were about to go. “Where’s the Hospital?”
“Irish College, sir,”
“Look after him.”
The man shrugged. “Yes, sir.”
Poor bloody Dale, Sharpe thought, to be betrayed in his first battle. If he survived he would be invalided out of the army. His broken body, good for nothing, would be sent to Lisbon and there he would have to rot on the quays until the bureaucrats made sure he had accounted for all his equipment. Anything missing would be charged to the balance of his miserable wages and only when the account was balanced would he be put onto a foul transport and shipped to an English quayside. There he was left, the army’s obligation discharged, though if he was lucky he might be given a travel document that promised to reimburse any parish overseer who fed him while he travelled to his home. Usually the overseers ignored the paper and kicked the invalid out of their jurisdiction with an order to go and beg somewhere else. Dale might be better offdead than face all that.
Lieutenant Price, wary of Sharpe’s anger, saluted. “Dismiss, sir?”
“Dismiss and get drunk, Lieutenant.”
Price grinned with relief. “Yes, sir. Morning parade?”
“Late one. Nine o’clock.”
Harper could still hear the suppressed rage in Sharpe, but he was one man who did not fear the Captain’s anger. He nodded at Sharpe’s uniform. “Not planning on any formal dinner tonight, sir?”
The uniform was soaked with Dale’s blood, dark against the green, and Sharpe cursed. He brushed at it uselessly. He had planned on going to the Palacio Casares and then he thought how La Marquesa had wanted a battle, and had been given one, and now she could see how a real soldier looked instead of the dripping confections of gold and silver who called themselves fighting men. Harper’s uniform was bloody, too, but Harper had Isabella waiting for him and suddenly Sharpe was tired of being alone and he wanted the golden haired woman and his anger was such that he would use it to take him into her palace and see what happened. He looked at the Irish Sergeant. „I’ll see you in the morning.“
Harper watched Sharpe walk away and let out a deep breath. “Someone’s in for trouble.”
Lieutenant Price glanced at the huge Sergeant. “Should we go with him?”
“No, sir. I think he fancies a fight. That Lieutenant didn’t give him one so he’s going to look for another one.” Harper grinned. “He’ll be back in a couple of hours, sir. Just let him cool off.” Harper raised his canteen to Price and shrugged. “Here’s to a happy night, sir. A happy, bloody night.”
Sharpe’s resolution to go to La Marquesa waned as he neared the Palacio Casares. Yet he had said to Harper that he would not be back until morning and he could not face slinking back early with his tail between his legs and so he walked on. Yet with every step he worried more about the state of his uniform.