“Don’t mock. She’s only got one leg. Some bastard sawed off the bottom two inches of her peg.”
“A one-legged cobbler’s daughter? Saves her father a decent bit of money, no doubt. You’re a liar, Richard Sharpe.”
“I swear it.”
Spears took a huge breath and bellowed again. “Richard Sharpe has rogered Dolores! The cobbler’s hopping daughter!” He roared with laughter at his own joke and bowed to some astonished labourers who were dismantling the barri-cades that had been used for the previous day’s bullfight. He linked his arm with Sharpe again and dropped his voice. “How is La Marquesa?”
“How would I know? I haven’t seen her since we were at San Christobal.”
“Richard! Richard! You’re too clever for me. I wish you’d admit it, even if it isn’t true, it would be a perfectly delicious scandal.”
“I can’t see that stopping you spreading it.”
“True, but no one believes me!” Spears sighed, then suddenly became serious. “Let me ask you one more question.”
“Have you heard of ”El Mirador“?”
“El Mirador?” In his surprise, Sharpe checked.
Spears stopped as well. “You have, haven’t you?”
“Only as a name.” Sharpe wished he had not betrayed his surprise.
“A name? What connection?”
Sharpe paused to think of an answer. It crossed his mind that this could be some kind of a test, arranged by La Marquesa, to see if he was really trustworthy. It brought home to him, as if he had forgotten, the total secrecy that had to surround her. He shrugged. “No connection. Is he one of the Guerilla leaders?”
“Like El Empecinado?” Spears shook his head. “No, he’s not a Partisan, he’s a spy here in Salamanca.”
“Ours or theirs?”
“Ours.” Spears bit his lip, then turned fiercely on Sharpe. “Think! Try to remember! Where did you hear it?”
Sharpe was taken aback by the sudden passion, then had an inspiration. “You remember Major Kearsey? I think he mentioned it, but I can’t remember why. It was two years ago.”
Spears swore. Kearsey had been, like Lord Spears, an Exploring Officer, but he was dead, swept off the ramparts of Almeida when Sharpe blew up the magazine.
“How do you know about him?” Sharpe asked.
Spears shrugged. “You hear rumours as an Exploring Officer.”
“Why is it so important now?”
“It’s not, but I’d like to know.” He jerked the arm in its sling. “When this is healed I’ll be back to work and I’ll need friends everywhere.”
Sharpe began walking again. “Hardly in Salamanca. The French have gone.”
Spears matched Sharpe’s stride. “Only for the moment, Richard. We have to defeat Marmont first, otherwise we’ll be scuttling back to Portugal with our tails between our legs.” He looked at Sharpe. “If you hear anything, will you tell me?”
“About El Mirador?”
“Why don’t you ask Hogan?”
Spears yawned. “Maybe I will, maybe I will.”
At midday Sharpe went to the main battery and watched the gunners heating the solid shot in their portable furnaces. The assault, he knew, had to be close, even the next day, and it would mark the end of his visits to the Palacio Casares. He wished the gunners were not so industrious. He watched them slaving at the bellows fixed to one end of the forge while other men shovelled the coal from the bunker at the far end. In the centre was the cast iron furnace, roaring in the noon heat, the flames escaping at the bottom of the casing, and he marvelled that men could work with that heat, under the sun. It took fifteen minutes to heat each eighteen pounder shot until the red glow had gone deep into the iron and the ball could be dragged from the crucible with long tongs and rolled carefully onto the metal cradle, carried by two men, that took the shot to the gun. The barrel was loaded with powder, then with a thick wad of soaking cloth that stopped the heated shot from igniting the charge. It was rammed home swiftly, the men eager to preserve the red-heat, and then the gun bellowed and the shot left the smallest, finest trace of smoke in its flat trajectory into the demolished French defences. Hardly an enemy gun replied now. The next assault, Sharpe knew, would meet small resistance. He wondered if Leroux was already dead, the body laid out with the others killed in the siege, and that thus these gunners would already have done Sharpe’s work.