Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Hogan apologised in his letter because he had still not reached Teresa. The message, he knew, had travelled as far as Casatejada, but Sharpe’s wife was not there. She was further north harrying the troops of the French General Caffarelli and Hogan did not know how long it would be before she heard the news. He hoped it would be soon. Sharpe felt guilty, because he did not share Hogan’s hope. Once Teresa was in Salamanca then he would be forced to give up the company of La Marquesa. She visited most evenings, coming to the shelter beside the river, and Sharpe found himself looking forward to the visits, needing her company, and Harper kept his wonder to himself.

Major Hogan had spoken of Leroux in his letter. “You are not to concern yourself, Richard, nor to feel responsible for what happened.” That, thought Sharpe, was kind of Hogan because Sharpe was responsible. The failure nagged at him, depressed him, and he tortured himself by imagining what the Frenchman would do to La Marquesa to make her talk. She thought that Leroux was probably in the city, and Hogan agreed. “He will lie low, we think, until Salamanca is again in the hands of the French, (for that, I fear, is a possibility if we cannot bring Marmont to battle) and we must hope that his plans are frustrated. If we do fight Marmont, and win, then Leroux will have to leave Salamanca. Perhaps he has already, we do not know, but in the meantime we have put a guard on El Mirador and you are not to concern yourself with anything except a full recovery.”

The mention of a guard puzzled Sharpe. La Marquesa came alone, except for her coachman, postilion, and chaperone. The coachman and postilion would wait in the servants’ quarters, the chaperone be sent to read a book in the long, gloomy library of the house, while La Marquesa went alone with Sharpe to the pillared shelter beside the river. He showed her the letter and she laughed. “It would be a little obvious, Richard, wouldn’t it? If I rode out here with an armed man riding beside me? Stop worrying.”

The next evening Lord Spears came with her and they could not hide in the small shelter. They walked in the garden, chatting, and Sharpe had to pretend, though he guessed Spears knew otherwise, that he hardly knew La Marquesa, that she had plucked him from the hospital as an object of charity, and he said ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Milady’ and felt tongue-tied and clumsy, just as he had at their first meeting. At one moment in the evening, when the sun was a glorious crimson in the west, La Marquesa went to the low wall beside the river and threw bread scraps to the ducks. Sharpe was alone with Spears. The Rifleman remembered how the cavalryman had so desperately wanted to know the identity of El Mirador; how he had quizzed Sharpe in the Plaza Mayor on the morning after the first assault on the three fortresses. Sharpe grinned at Spears. “So you found out?”

“About you and Helena? You were hardly discreet, my dear Richard, coming here to her lair.”

Sharpe shook his head. “No. I meant about El Mirador.”

An extraordinary look of alarm crossed Spears’ face. It was followed by anger and a question that was almost hissed at Sharpe. “You know?”

Sharpe nodded. “Yes.”

“What the hell do you know?”

Sharpe tried to talk calmly, to quieten Spears’ anger. “I know that we’ve put a guard on El Mirador, and I presumed that you were doing that.“

“How did you know?”

“Hogan wrote to me.” It was not the whole truth. Hogan had written that El Mirador was guarded, but he had not named names. The rest had been Sharpe’s deduction and he had not expected this near violent reaction. He tried to calm Spears again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”

“No, no offence.” Spears pushed his hair back. “Christ! We’re told this is the biggest bloody secret since turning water into wine and then Hogan has to write to you! How many more people know?” Spears glanced towards La Marquesa, then back at Sharpe. “Yes I am, but for God’s sake don’t tell anyone.”

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