The streets were still filled with men from the Light Companies who waited for dismissal while the final rosters were taken. The wounded, on stretchers and carts, were being carried to the surgeons’ knives and many of the dead were still on the wasteland. The unwounded living stood with bitter, angry expression and the citizens of Salamanca hurried by in the shadows, averting their eyes, hoping the soldiers would not vent their anger on helpless civilians.
The arch gates of the Palacio Casares were wide open, flickering with lights cast by resin torches and Sharpe, like the fearful citizens, kept to the shadows on the far side of the street. He leaned against the wall and pulled his blood-soaked jacket straight. He did up the top buttons and tried to force the high collar, that had long lost its stiffness, into a decent shape round his neck. He wanted to see her.
Candles showed in the hallway. Their light was splintered by the fountain in the courtyard centre. The raised pool was surrounded by the silhouettes of British uniforms, officers’ uniforms, and while most seemed to be taking the air, or smoking a cigar in the night’s coolness, others were puking helplessly on the flagstones. The defeat, it seemed, had not affected the celebration. The courtyard was surrounded by light, the once masked windows ablaze with candles, and music came gently across the street. It was not the spirited thump of martial music, nor the full-bellied sound of soldiers’ taverns, but the thin, precious tinkle of rich peoples’ music. Music as expensive as a crystal chandelier, and Sharpe knew that if he walked over the street, through the tall arch, and over to the hallway he would feel as foreign and strange as if he had been plunged into the court of the King of Tartary. The house was lit like a festival, the rich were at play, and the dead who lay shredded by the canister just a quarter mile away might never have existed.
“Richard! By the moving bowels of the living saints! Is that you?” Lord Spears was in the gateway. In one hand was a cigar that beckoned to him. “Richard Sharpe! Come here, you dog!”
Sharpe smiled, despite his mood, and crossed the street. “My lord.”
“Will you stop ”my lording“ me? You sound like a damned shop-keeper! My friends call me Jack, my enemies what they like. Are you coming in? You’re invited. Not that it makes any difference, every damned mother’s son in town is here.”
Sharpe gestured at his uniform. “I’m hardly in a fit state.”
“Christ! What’s a fit state? I’m drunk as an Archbishop, wits gone to the four winds.” Spears was, Sharpe could see, slightly unsteady. The cavalryman linked his free arm, the cigar clenched between his teeth, into Sharpe’s and steered the Rifleman into the courtyard. “Let’s have a look at you.” He stopped Sharpe in the light, turned him, and looked him up and down. “You should change your tailor, Richard, the man’s robbing you blind!” He grinned. “Bit of blood, that’s all. Come here!” He tossed the cigar into the pool and scooped water with his good hand, throwing it on Sharpe’s uniform and rubbing it down. “How was it out there?”
“So I see!” He was on one knee, slapping at Sharpe’s overalls. “It cost me a heavy purse.”
Spears looked up and grinned. “I had a hundred on you getting into the fort before midnight. Lost it.”
Spears stood up and inspected his handiwork. “Spanish dollars, Richard? I’m a gentleman. Guineas, you fool.”
“You haven’t got a hundred guineas.”
Lord Spears shrugged. “Fellow has to keep up a decent appearance. If they knew I was as broke as a virgin whore they’d cut me dead.”
Spears nodded. “I am, I am. And I don’t even have her remedy for making good the loss.” He cocked his head to one side, still inspecting Sharpe. “Not bad, Richard, not bad. The weapons add a touch of roughness to the ensemble, but I think we can improve you.” He looked round the courtyard and saw Sir Robin Callard, blind drunk, collapsed against a flower tub. Spears grinned. “Robin bloody Callard, ’pon my soul. He never could take his drink.“ He led the way towards the collapsed staff officer. ”I was at school with this poxy little swine. He used to wet his bed.“ Spears bent down and tugged at Callard. ”Robin? Sweet Robin?“