Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Above all Helena spoke of Leroux, of his famed savagery, and of the fear she had that he would escape. Sharpe smiled. “He can’t escape.”

“Why not?”

He had gestured at the wasteland. “It’s ringed, totally. No one can get through, not even a rat!”

That was his one certainty, that the Light troops which surrounded the beleaguered forts were too vigilant, too thick on the ground, for Leroux to slip past. Leroux, as Hogan had said, would try to escape in the chaos of the successful assault. Sharpe’s problem would be to make sense of that chaos and to recognise the tall Frenchman.

Helena had shrugged. “He’ll disguise himself.”

“I know. But he can’t hide his height, and he has a weakness.”

“A weakness?” She had been surprised.

“The sword.” Sharpe smiled, knowing he was right. “He won’t lose that sword, it’s part of him. If I see a tall man with that sword then I won’t care if he’s dressed as a British General of Division. That’s him.”

“You sound very sure.”

“I am.” He sipped at the cool, white wine and thought of the joy of owning that sword. The Kligenthal would be his, within a week, but with it would come the loss of this woman.

The loss would be secret, as it had to be, yet there were times when he wanted to shout his present joy from the rooftops, and times when it was hard to disguise. He walked towards the Company billets one dawn, crossing the great Plaza, and there was a shout from one of the upper balconies. “Sharpe! You rogue! Stay there!”

Lord Spears waved at him, turned into the building and reappeared a moment later in one of the doorways of the arcade. He walked, yawning, into the dawn light and then stopped. “By God, Richard! You look almost human! What have you done to yourself?”

“Just cleaned the uniform.”

“Just cleaned the uniform!” Lord Spears mimicked him, then prowled round the Rifleman, peering at him. “You’ve been putting your boots under someone’s bed, haven’t you? Sweet Christ, Richard, you think I can’t spot a sin at a thousand paces? Who is she?”

“No one.” Sharpe grinned in embarrassment.

“And you’re damned cheerful for the early morning. Who is it?”

“I told you, no one. You’re up early.”

“Up early? I haven’t been to bloody bed. I’ve been at the bloody cards again. I’ve just lost the Irish lands to some boring man.”


Spears laughed. “Truly. It’s not bloody funny, I know, but Christ!” He shrugged. “Mother’s going to be upset. Sorry, Mother.”

“Have you got anything left?”

“The dower house. Few acres in Hertfordshire. A horse. Sabre. The family name.” He laughed again, then linked his good arm into Sharpe’s and led him across the Plaza. His voice was serious, pleading. “Who have you been with? Someone. You weren’t home last night and that frighten-ingly enormous Sergeant of yours didn’t know where you were. Where were you?”

“Just out.”

“You think we Spears are foolish? That we don’t know? That we can’t be sympathetic to a fellow sinner?” He stop-ped, pulled his arm free, and clicked his fingers. “Helena! You bastard! You’ve been with Helena!”

“Don’t be so ridiculous!”

“Ridiculous? Nonsense. She never appeared at that party of hers, she was said to be ill, and she hasn’t been seen since. Nor have you. Good God! You lucky bastard! Admit it!”

“It is not true.” Even to Sharpe it sounded lame.

“It is true.” Spears was grinning with delight. “All right, if it ain’t true, who were you with?”

“I’ve told you, no one.”

Spears took a deep breath and bellowed at the shuttered windows of the Plaza. “Good morning Salamanca! I have an announcement to make!” He grinned at Sharpe. „I’ll tell them, Richard, unless you admit the truth to me.“ He took another deep breath.

Sharpe interrupted him. “Dolores.”

“Dolores?” Spears’ grin grew wider.

“She’s a cobbler’s daughter. She likes Riflemen.”

Spears laughed. “You don’t say! Dolores, the cobbler’s daughter? Are you going to introduce me?”

“She’s shy.”

“Oh! Shy. How the hell did you meet her, then?”

“I helped her in the street.”

“Of course!” Spears pretended total belief. “You were on your way to feed the stray dogs or help the orphans, right? And you just helped her. Dropped her cobbles, had she?”

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Categories: Cornwell, Bernard