“Where the hell have you been?” Hogan was truculent, sweating in the heat.
“I looked for you last night. Damn it, Richard! You could at least let people know where you are! Suppose it was important!”
“Was it, sir?”
“As it happens, no.” Hogan conceded it grudgingly. “Patrick Harper said he’d heard you were with some cobbler’s daughter. Doris or something, and that she didn’t have any legs.”
Hogan opened his snuff box. “Damn it, Richard, your marriage is your affair, but you’re damned lucky to have Teresa.” He sniffed violently, to cover his feelings. Sharpe waited for the sneeze, it came, and Hogan shook his head. “God’s Blood! I won’t say anything.”
“Nothing to say, sir.”
“I hope not, Richard, I hope not.” Hogan paused, listening to the sizzling sound as a red hot shot was rammed onto the soaked wadding. The gun fired, bellowing noise at the houses, drifting the bitter smoke back where the two officers talked. “Have you heard from Teresa, Richard?”
“Not for a month, sir.”
“She’s chasing Caffarelli’s men. Ramon wrote me.” Ramon was her brother. “Your child’s fine and bonny, in Casate-jada.”
“That’s good, sir.” Sharpe was not certain whether Hogan was trying to make him feel guilty. Perhaps he should feel guilty, yet he did not. He and La Marquesa were so temporary, their loving doomed to be of such a short time, that somehow it did not affect his long term plans. And he could not feel guilty about protecting El Mirador. It was his job.
Hogan glanced at Sharpe’s Company, paraded in the street, and grunted that they looked good. Sharpe agreed, “The rest has suited them, sir.”
“You know what to do?”
Hogan wiped his forehead. The noonday sun was searing the city. He repeated his orders despite Sharpe’s answer. “Go behind the assault, Richard. And no one’s to leave, understand? No one, unless you’ve seen their face, and when you’ve found the bastard, bring him to me. If I’m not here, I’ll be at Headquarters.”
The Company filed into the new trench that led, in safety, down the gorge towards the Tormes. Overhead the shot still rumbled, still crashed into the fortresses, and the attacking troops were cheerful and confident. This time they could not fail. The San Cayetano had been so battered that one wall was virtually gone and that was the first fort which was to be attacked. It would be a daylight attack, hard on the echoes of the siege guns, and the troops were happy because the French guns were mostly silent. A Rifle Lieutenant was to lead the Forlorn Hope, but neither he nor his men wore the strained and hopeless look of other Forlorn Hopes. A Forlorn Hope expected to die. Their job was to draw the enemy’s fire, to empty the defending guns before the main attack erupted into the breach. The volunteers grinned at Sharpe. They recognised him and envied the laurel wreath badge on his arm. “Won’t be like Badajoz, sir.”
“No, you’ll be fine.”
Sharpe could see at the far end of the ravine the silver waters of the Tormes sliding quietly towards the far off sea. His men had fished the waters in their long, restful afternoons and they would miss the trout. Sharpe saw Harper staring at the water. “Sergeant?”
“What’s this I hear about Doris? Something you said to Major Hogan?”
“Doris, sir?” Harper looked innocent, then gauged that Sharpe was not upset. “You mean Dolores, sir. I might have said something.”
“How did you hear about it?”
Harper pulled back the flint of his seven-barrelled gun. “Me, sir? I think Lord Spears was looking for you one day. He might have mentioned it.” He grinned at Sharpe conspiratorialy. “Legless, I hear, sir.”
“You hear wrong. It’s not true.”
“No, sir. Course not, sir.” Harper whistled tunelessly and stared up at the cloudless sky.
There was a stirring in the trench, groans as men got to their feet and fixed long bayonets onto muskets, and Sharpe realised that the cannonade had stopped. This was the moment of attack, yet it had none of the tension of the previous attack, when these same Battalions had been shredded by the French guns. Today it would be easy, instinct told them that, easy because the vicious heated shot from the great guns had turned the fortresses into hell for their garrisons. The Rifle Lieutenant drew his sabre, waved at his Forlorn Hope, and climbed the side of the trench. At the summit, with no fire coming from the enemy, he halted. He gestured his men down. “Stop! Stop!”