Major Hogan had waited for Sharpe, first at the ravine’s head, then at Headquarters, but the fate of Colonel Leroux was not the Irishman’s only concern. Wellington, now that the forts were taken, was eager to be out of the city. He wanted reports from the north, from the east, and Hogan worked late through the afternoon.
It was not till half past six that Lieutenant Price, awed by approaching Headquarters on his own responsibility, entered Hogan’s room. The Major looked up, smelt trouble, and frowned. “Lieutenant?”
“It’s Sharpe, sir.”
Price nodded miserably. “We’ve lost him, sir.”
“No Leroux?” Hogan had almost forgotten Leroux. He had assumed that it was now Sharpe’s problem while he could concentrate on discovering what fresh levies of troops were joining Marmont. Price shook his head.
“No Leroux, sir.” Price sketched in the afternoon’s events.
“What have you done since?”
It did not add up to much. Lieutenant Price had searched the San Cayetano again, then La Merced, and afterwards taken the Company back to their billets in the hope that Sharpe might have turned up. There was no Sharpe, no Harper, just a lost Lieutenant Price. Hogan looked at his watch. “Good God! You’ve lost him for four hours?” Price nodded. Hogan shouted. “Corporal!”
A head came round the door. “Sir?”
“Daily reports, are they in?”
“Anything odd, apart from the forts. Quick, man!”
It did not take long. A shooting and a fight at the hospital, one Frenchman had escaped and the town guard had been alerted, but there was no sign of the fugitive.
“Come on, man!” Hogan pulled on his jacket, snatched his hat, and led Lieutenant Price down to the Irish College.
Sergeant Huckfield, who had gone with Price as far as Headquarter’s front door, joined them and it was he who pounded on the gate that was still shut against the revenge of the townspeople. It did not take long to hear the story from the guards in the gate-lodge. There had been a chase. One man was wounded, probably in the wards, as to the other? The guards shrugged. “Dunno, sir.”
Hogan pointed at Price. “Officers’ wards. Search them. Sergeant?”
Huckfield stiffened. “Sir?”
“Other ranks’ wards. Find Sergeant Harper. Go!”
Leroux at liberty. The thought haunted Hogan. He could not believe that Sharpe had failed, he needed to find the Rifleman because, he thought, surely Sharpe could throw light on the episode. It was impossible that Leroux was free!
The surgeons were still at work, dealing now with the less wounded men, taking out scraps of stone that the bombardment had splintered and driven into French defenders. Hogan went from room to room and none could remember a Rifle Captain. One remembered Sergeant Harper. “Out of his senses, sir.”
“You mean mad?”
“No. In a faint. God knows when he’ll recover.”
“And his officer?”
“I didn’t see an officer, sir.”
Was Sharpe still on Leroux’s trail? It was a hope, at least, and Hogan clung to it. Sergeant Huckfield had found Harper, had shaken the huge Irishman’s shoulder, but Harper was still dead to the world, still snoring, still unable to say a thing.
Lieutenant Price came down the curving stairs. He was blinking, almost unable to speak. Hogan was impatient. “What is it?”
“He’s not there, sir.”
Price nodded, took a deep breath. “But he was shot, sir. Really bad, sir.”
Hogan felt a chill spread through him. There was a silence for a few seconds. “Shot?”
“Bad, sir. And he’s not in the wards.”
“Oh, God.” Huckfield shook his head, unwilling to believe it.
Hogan had held to a live Sharpe, a Sharpe chasing Leroux, a Sharpe who could help him, and he could not adjust to the new information. If Sharpe had been shot, and was not in the officers’ wards, then he was… „Who saw it?“
“A dozen French wounded, sir. They told the British officers. And the priest.”
Hogan ran, the same path that Sharpe had run, and he took the stairs two at a time, his sword rapping the stone, and he ran to Curtis’ rooms. It seemed to Price and Huckfield, left outside, that he was in the rooms a long time.