Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell


“The rebels’ Declaration of Independence.” Leroy had spat another tobacco shred from his tongue. “Half the bastards who signed it had slaves, the other half would run a mile rather than shake the hand of a slaughterman. No. I give them fifty years and they’ll all want titles. Barons of Boston and Dukes of New York. It’ll happen.”

And Sharpe, standing in the shards of a myriad refracted candle flames, guessed Leroy was right. If you took every person in this room and abandoned them, Robinson Crusoe style, on an empty island, then inside a year there would be a duke, five barons, and the rest would be serfs. Even the French had brought back the aristocracy! They had murdered it first, as they murdered La Marquesa’s parents, and now Bonaparte was making his Marshals into Princes of this and Dukes of that and his poor, honest brother had been made into King of Spain!

Sharpe looked at the sweating faces over tight collars, the thick thighs laced tight in military uniforms, the ridiculous costumes of the women. Take away the money, he supposed, and they would look like anyone else, softer perhaps, flabbier, but the money, and the birth, gave them something that he lacked. An assurance? An ease of moving through the rich waters of society? Then should he bother? He could walk away from the army, when the war was done, and Teresa would have a home for him in Casatejada among the wide fields that were her family’s property. He need never say ‘my lord’ again, or ‘sir’, or feel belittled by an elegant fool, and he felt an anger inside him at the unfairness of life and, at the same time, a determination that one day he would have them respecting him. God rot them all!

“Richard! Are you going?”

Spears whirled offthe dance floor, climbed the two steps to where Sharpe was standing, and brought with him a small, dark-haired girl with brightly rouged cheeks. “Say hello to Maria.”

Sharpe half bowed to her. “Senorita.”

“We are formal.” Spears grinned at him. “You’re not going, are you?”

“I was.”

“You can’t, my dear fellow! Positively can’t. You’ll have to see La Marquesa, at least. Press her exquisite fingers to your lips, murmur ”charmed“, and compliment heron her frock.”

“Tell her from me she looked wonderful.” He had not seen her, though he had looked, in either room.

Spears slumped back in mock resignation. “Are you a dull dog, Richard? Don’t tell me that the hero of Talavera, the Conqueror of Badajoz, is creeping back to his lonely cot to say a few prayers for lame dogs and orphans! Enjoy yourself!” He gestured at the girl. “Do you want her? She’s probably as clean as they come. Really! You can have her! There are plenty more down there.” Maria, who obviously spoke not a word of English, looked devotedly up into Spears’ handsome face.

Sharpe wondered why Spears was so friendly. Perhaps his Lordship needed a strong arm to protect him from his gambling creditors or maybe, as he had accused La Marquesa, Spears liked the company of his social inferiors. Whatever, it did not matter. “I’m going. It’s been a long day.”

Spears shrugged. “If you must, Richard. If you must. I did try.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

Sharpe took one last look at the ballroom, at the circling, brilliant people beneath the great chandeliers, and he knew he had been foolish in coming to this place. La Marquesa was not to be his reward. He had been presumptuous in even coming. He nodded to Spears, turned, and walked onto the upper landing. He stopped behind the shako-hatted statue and stared up at the great, painted ceiling, and he could not imagine owning one hundredth of one hundredth part of all this wealth. He would go back and tell Harper of it.

“Senor?” A servant had appeared beside him. The man was aloof, liveried, and with a supercilious look in his eye.


“This way, senor.” The man plucked Sharpe’s sleeve towards a tapestry against the wall.

Sharpe shook the hand off, growled, and he saw alarm come into the servant’s eyes.

“Senor! Por favor! This way!”

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