Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

He ran down the stairs, joining Harper who had searched the rooms again, and the shout proved to be the discovery of the French magazine. The building smouldered and, beneath their feet, the powder barrels waited that could blow them into fine scraps. A British officer had organised a chain of men and the barrels were heaved up, passed through the courtyard, to be piled in the ditch. Sharpe pushed past the chain, ignoring their protests, but Leroux was not in the cellar.

The other two forts had still not surrendered, yet the British walked quite openly and unconcerned in the space outside the San Cayetano. No French guns fired, no canister riddled the air. Sergeant Huckfield had brought his squad to join McGovern’s, and the two Sergeants saluted as Sharpe came out of the breach. McGovern shook his head dourly. “No sign of him, sir?”

“No.” Sharpe sheathed his sword. Lieutenant Price was waiting in the trench, ready to go to the San Vincente, and Sharpe thought of the long afternoon ahead. He wanted to get back to La Marquesa, he wanted this chore done, and he began to resent the long search in the heat. He looked at Huckfield. “Take your men to La Merced. Wait for me there.” He did not expect Leroux to be in the smallest fort, but it had to be covered. He switched to McGovern. “Let four of your men stay here, just in case he’s hiding. The rest to the big one.”

“Sir. I’d be happier with six.”

“Six it is.” He thought what might happen if Leroux had found a hiding place in the smoking ruins. “And you stay, too, Mac.”

“Sir.” McGovern nodded gravely.

God, but it was hot. Sharpe took off his shako and wiped his face. His jacket was undone, swinging free. He clambered down the ravine side, staring up at the San Vincente, and as he watched he saw the Portuguese troops begin their climb towards the big, blazing fortress. Let the bastards surrender quickly, he thought, and he hurried, the sweat soaking the new, fine linen shirt that La Marquesa had given him. He would have to bathe in the Palacio, he thought, and he remembered the unbelievable luxury of the huge tub, filled by a relay of servants, and the strange sensation of being immersed in hot water. He smiled at the memory and Patrick Harper wondered what his Captain was thinking.

The Portuguese were not resisted. The small figures j jumped into the ditch, clambered through the cannon emplacements, and no muskets fired. The French had had enough. Sharpe looked at his squads. “Come on!”

The air was stifling. Close to the big fort, it was even hotter, fuelled by the fires that blazed unchecked in the building. Some Frenchmen, ignored by the Portuguese, were already leaping from the defences and Price led his squad to cut off their flight. Sharpe hurried up the crude glacis, the heat burning at him, and then he led Harper’s squad into the big defences to find the same picture they had seen before. The wounded needed attention, the living surrendered, the dead stank in the collapsed stones and timber. The Portuguese were already pulling the powder barrels from the cellars, rolling the kegs to safety, while others herded prisoners and looted French packs. There was no sign of Leroux. Three huge Frenchmen were pulled out of the ranks and Sharpe stared at them, trying to fit their faces to his mental image, but none was Leroux. One had a hare lip, and he could not imagine the Imperial Guard Colonel faking that disfigurement, one was too old, and the third seemed some kind of simpleton who grinned with feeble good-will at the Rifle Officer. It was not Leroux. Sharpe looked at the burning buildings, then at Harper. “We’ll have to search.”

They searched. They looked in every room that could be entered and tried to look even in those where no human could stay alive. Once Sharpe teetered on the brink of a broken floor, staring hopelessly into a roaring fire that swept upwards, white hot, and he heard the fall of great timbers and knew that no man could live in that. He put a hand on his ammunition pouch and the leather was almost too hot to touch and he went back, suddenly fearing that the rifle ammunition would explode, and he felt the first stirrings of doubt, of frustration. He was soaked with sweat, begrimed, and still the sun burned down on the furnace building, the prisoners milled outside and Sharpe cursed Leroux.

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