Hogan wearily climbed the steps of the Headquarters and the officers were coming from the Dining Room as he went into the hallway. Wellington saw Hogan’s face and stopped. “Major?”
“Richard Sharpe’s dead, sir.”
Hogan nodded. “I’m sorry, my lord.” He told what he knew.
Wellington listened in silence. He remembered Sharpe as a Sergeant. They had covered many miles together and much time. He saw the distress on Hogan’s face, understood it, but did not know what words to say. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Hogan. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, sir.” It suddenly struck Hogan that life hereafter would seem anti-climactic, inadequate, and dull. Richard Sharpe was dead.
The surgeons had not lied to Major Hogan. They remembered Patrick Harper, stunned cold by the fall, and they had probed and palpated and found nothing broken and so he had been put into a ward where he could snore until he recovered consciousness.
There was another man involved in the fight on the upper cloister. When he reached the surgeon he was still breathing, but shallowly, and unconsciousness had blessedly released him from his pain. An orderly had stripped off the empty scabbard and sword belt, slit the shirt from the man’s back, and seen the old flogging scars. The body was lifted onto the stained table.
The surgeon, spattered with fresh blood that gleamed over the clotted, coagulated stains from the week’s operations, caught at Sharpe’s overalls, split them down with huge shears, and saw the wound low and right in Sharpe’s abdomen. He shook his head and swore. The blood welled up in the small bullet hole, spilt and pulsed onto the wounded man’s thigh and waist, and the surgeon did not even bother to pick up a knife. He leaned close to the muscled chest and noted that the breathing was shallow, so shallow as to be almost inaudible, and then he picked up the wrist. For a moment he could not find the pulse, was about to give up, and then he felt it; a thready, weak throb of a tiny heartbeat. He nodded at the orderly, then at the wound. “Close it.”
There was not much he could do, except stop the man bleeding to death and sometimes he thought that would be a mercy with this kind of wound. One orderly grasped Sharpe’s feet, held them tight, the second pinched the skin over the wound, pushing the flesh, blood and driven uniform threads together, and keeping his fingers clear of the welling hole. The surgeon crossed to the brazier, took out the poker, and cauterized the puncture. The wounded man jerked, gasped and moaned, but unconsciousness held him, and the bleeding stopped. Smoke hung over the bloody abdomen, the stink of burned flesh was in the surgeon’s nostrils. „put a bandage on. Take him away.“
The orderly who had closed the wound nodded. “No hope, sir?”
“No.” The bullet was inside. The surgeon could take a leg off in ninety seconds, he could probe for a bullet and pluck it from next to a thighbone in sixty, he could set broken limbs, he could even take a bullet from a man’s chest if it had not pierced a lung, but no one on earth, not even Napoleon’s famous Surgeon-General Larrey, could take out a bullet that had lodged in the lower right abdomen. This was a dead man. Already the breathing was shallow, the skin palloring, and the pulse going. The sooner he died, the better, for the rest of his life would be pain. It would be a short life. The wound would abscess, the rot would set in, and he would be buried within the week. The surgeon, irritated with himself for his thoroughness, heaved up Sharpe’s side and saw that there was no exit wound. Instead he saw the flogging scars. A troublemaker come to a bad end. “Take him downstairs. Next!”
They bandaged him, stripped him naked, and his clothes, such as they were, were tossed into a corner where they could be searched at leisure. Many men hid coins in the seams of their clothes and the orderlies reaped a tidy reward for their work. One of them looked at the pale face. “Who is he?”