Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell


The next morning Lieutenant Price marched the Company to the field, west of the city, where a common grave had been dug for the French. The Company were shocked, unbelieving. They stopped by the pit. Price stared into the hole. It looked as if dogs had been clawing at the part where the shrouded bodies had been already covered with earth. A sentry shrugged. “We caught some bloody madman here this morning, sir. He was trying to dig up the bodies.”

They were in two ranks. Price nodded at McGovern. “Carry on, Sergeant.”

It seemed terribly inadequate. The commands were given, the muskets and rifles went into the shoulders, the volley echoed back from the houses. It all seemed so flat, so wrong, so inadequate.

As the volley and its echo died away there came a sudden burst of bells from the city, pealing bells, victorious and joyful, and the Company marched away from them, going north, leaving a small cloud of smoke that hung over the grave.

Hogan heard the volley, very distantly, and then came the bells clamouring and he straightened his uniform, took off his bicorne hat, and went into the Cathedral. It was Sunday. A Te Deum was to be sung for the liberation of Salamanca, for the destruction of the forts, yet it was a half-hearted celebration. The Cathedral was full, packed with gaudy uniforms, sombre citizens, and robed priests, and the organ thundered in the great space, yet Hogan knew nothing but an immense sadness. The congregation sang and responded, went through the motions, yet they knew that Salamanca was only temporarily freed, that the army of Marmont still had to be destroyed, and some of them, the better informed, knew that four other French armies were in Spain and that no city would be free till all had been defeated. And the price would be high. Already a great part of Salamanca had been destroyed to clear a space around the fortresses. The city had lost cloisters, courts, colleges, and houses; all ground to rubble.

After the service, Wellington stood beneath the fantastic carvings of the great western doors, opposite the Bishop’s palace, and acknowledged the applause of the crowd. He pushed through them, nodding and smiling, sometimes waving with his plain hat, but his eyes flicked over the faces looking for someone. He saw Hogan, and the hat gestured at the Irishman.

“My lord?”

“Is it done?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Wellington nodded. “We march tonight.”

Hogan was left behind by the General’s progress. What had been done was to put a discreet guard on El Mirador. It had not been an easy decision. To guard El Mirador meant telling the chosen guard who their ward was and why he was important, yet with Leroux at liberty it was the only course left. Lord Spears, his arm mending, but not yet fully fit for normal duties, had been given the task. At first he had been reluctant, but when told that El Mirador was not to be close-guarded at home, only out in public places, he relented. He would still have time, it seemed, for his relentless gambling. Then he was told El Mirador’s identity and he shook his head, disbelieving. “Bless my soul, sir! One would never have guessed!” No one at Headquarters, apart from Wellington himself and Hogan, knew what Lord Spears’ new duties were. Hogan was mindful that Leroux had a source within the British Headquarters.

All had been done, then, that could be done, and it had been done heavily, reluctantly, because Hogan still had not fully understood that Sharpe was dead. Twice that morning he had seen Rifle Officers walking in the streets and both times his heart had leapt because he thought he saw Sharpe, and then he remembered. Richard Sharpe was dead, and the army would march on without him, and Hogan let the crowds disperse and walked slowly, disconsolately through the streets.

“Sir! Sir!” The voice shouted at him from down the hill. “Major Hogan!”

Hogan looked down the steep street he had been passing. A group of chained prisoners were being led by Provosts, one of whom clubbed with reversed musket at a shackled man. Hogan had recognised the voice. He ran. “Stop it! Stop it!”

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