“I’m hardly likely to.”
“No, no I suppose not.”
Sharpe wished he had not mentioned it. He had traduced Hogan by suggesting that the Irish Major had written everything in his letter, but Spears’ anger had made Sharpe decide not to launch himself on a convoluted explanation.
La Marquesa came back and looked at Spears. “You’re looking positively flustered, Jack.”
Spears smiled at her. “A wasp, Helena, threatening my virtue.”
“Such a tiny thing to threaten.” She looked at Sharpe. “You’re happy here, Captain?”
She made polite conversation for Spears’ benefit. “The house is rather pretty. My husband’s great-uncle built it. He was a leper, so he was forced to live outside the city. The house was built here and he could rot away happily on his own. They say he looked perfectly dreadful which is why there are such high walls.”
Spears grinned. “I hope you scrubbed the place before you put Sharpe here.”
She looked at him, smiled, then touched his cheek with her fan. “Such a charming man you are, Jack. Tell my coachman to get ready, will you?”
Spears half bowed. “You’ll be safe with Sharpe?”
„I’ll risk it, Jack. Now begone.“
She watched Spears walk towards the house and then drew Sharpe into the shade of some bushes. A stone bench was set in a small clearing and she ^at on it. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought him.”
“I think you should.”
She seemed unmoved by that. “Why?”
“He is your guard. It’s his job.”
She watched Sharpe for a few seconds. “How do you deduce that, Richard?”
He felt confused. First Spears had reacted almost violently, and now La Marquesa was quizzing him as if he was rendering the accounts for her estates. Then he thought that she must be frightened. If Spears had told Sharpe, then Spears was not to be trusted. He smiled at her. “First, he’s here with you. Second, I asked him. He didn’t offer the information, in fact he was quite angry that I knew.”
She nodded. “Good. What did he say?”
“That he was the guard for El Mirador.” He smiled. “La Miradora.”
She smiled at that. “There’s no such word, I’ve told you. Miradors are masculine in Spanish, they cannot be feminine. He can be trusted?”
“He got quite angry.”
She sighed, then twitched her fan at a fly. “He’s a fool, Richard. He’s no money, he’s gambled it all away, but he is amusing sometimes. Are you jealous?”
“Liar.” She smiled at him. “I won’t let him come again. He insisted tonight.” She laughed at him. “You remind me tonight of the first time we met. You bristled with dignity. You were so ready to take offence.”
“And you to give it.”
“And something else, Richard.”
“Yes.” He sat beside her. She could see the new colour in his face.
She sat silent for a moment, her head cocked as if listening for a faraway sound, then she relaxed. “No guns today.”
“No.” No battle, which meant that the French had outmarched Wellington again, that the armies were getting nearer to the city, and that perhaps the time when Sharpe would have to leave Salamanca was getting closer. He looked at her. “Come with us.”
“Perhaps you won’t go.”
“Perhaps.” But his instinct told him otherwise.
She leaned against him, her eyes closed, and then Spears’ voice shouted from the house that her carriage waited. She looked up at Sharpe. Til come early tomorrow.“
She kissed him. “You exercised today?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He grinned.
She gave him a mock salute. “Don’t give up, Captain.”
He followed her to the house and watched as the carriage went through the high gates, Spears’ horse beside it, and then he turned back into the building. It was his last evening with Harper, till God knew when, for on the next day the Sergeant was going north, taking Isabella, going back to the South Essex. Harper was marching with a group of men recovered from their wounds and to mark their final evening the big Irishman and Isabella ate with Sharpe in the formal dining room instead of in the kitchen.
Sharpe spent the next days alone, exercising and walking, and the news from the north went from bad to worse. An officer, posting back to Ciudad Rodrigo, stopped at the house for water and he sat in the garden with Sharpe and spoke of the troops’ anger because they were not allowed to fight. Wellington seemed to be giving ground, to be always retreating from the French, and each new day brought reinforcements to Marmont’s army. The officer claimed that Wellington was being too cautious, that he was losing the campaign, and Sharpe did not understand it. The army had marched from Portugal with such high hopes and now those hopes were frittered away. The campaign was being lost without a battle and each day’s manoeuvring brought the armies nearer to the city, promised that soon Leroux would have the freedom to hunt again, and Sharpe wondered where the Frenchman was, what he was doing, and practised with the big sword in the slim hope that he might see Leroux again.