Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

“How do we tell Marmont’s spies that Wellington is really marching tomorrow?”

Sharpe shook his head. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”


The Rifleman stood up, walked to the door and peered into the garden. There was nothing to be seen except the trees lashing in the storm. He turned round, puzzled by the conversation. “What do you mean ”we“?”

“I mean our side, Captain.”

Sharpe walked back to his seat, picking up his rifle as he went, and he felt as if the ground beneath his feet was crumbling away. At first Curtis had provoked him, then mocked him, now he was making Sharpe feel very stupid. He let his fingers run over the lock of the rifle, liking its solidity, and looked at the priest. “Say what you have to say.”

Curtis thrust his hand into the breast of his cassock and brought out a piece of paper. It was folded into a narrow strip. “This came to me today which is why I went to see Wellington. It came to me, Captain, sewn into the spine of a volume of sermons. It came from Paris.”

Sharpe ran his finger against the rough edge of the rifle flint. He was unaware of the pain in his wound, he just listened to the elderly priest who had suddenly assumed great authority. “Leroux is a dangerous man, Captain, very dangerous, and we wanted to know more about him. I asked one of my correspondents, a friend, a man who works in a Ministry in Paris. This is the answer.” He unfolded the paper. “I won’t read it all, because you’ve heard much of it from Major Hogan. I’ll just read the last line. ”Leroux has a sister, as skilled in languages as himself, and I cannot discover her whereabouts. She was christened Helene’“

Sharpe shut his eyes, then shook his head. “No.”


“No, no, no.” Thunder drowned his protest. He opened his eyes and the priest was dark in the night. “You’re El Mirador.”


Sharpe hated to believe it. “No. No.”

Curtis was inexorable. “You may not like it, Captain, but the answer is still ”yes“.”

Sharpe still refused to believe. “Then where’s your guardian?”

“Lord Spears? He thinks I’m hearing confessions in the Cathedral, I often do on Tuesday night. He’s saying his farewells to La Marquesa, Sharpe, which is what is holding her up. Half the cavalry officers in town are paying her court at this moment.”

“No! Her parents were killed by the French! She lived in Zaragoza!”

“Sharpe!” Curtis shouted him down. “She met her husband in Paris just five years ago. He was part of a Spanish government embassy to Napoleon. She says her father was executed in the Terror, but who knows? So many died! Thousands! And no records were kept, Sharpe, no careful ledgers! It’s not difficult for Napoleon’s men to produce a pretty young girl and claim she’s the daughter of Don Antonio Huesca and his English wife. We’d never have known if we hadn’t asked about Leroux.”

“You still don’t know. There are a thousand thousand Helenes and Helenas.”

“Captain Sharpe, please think.”

She had claimed she was El Mirador, she was not. He thought of the telescope on the mirador, the telescope that pointed to the San Cayetano fortress where there had been the second telescope. It would have been so easy for her to signal to Leroux, to talk to him using a system like the army’s telegraph system. Sharpe still hated to believe it. He swept an arm round the shelter. “But all this! She’s been looking after me!”

“Yes.” Curtis stood up and moved about the floor. The rain had slackened, the thunder was further south. “I think, Sharpe, that she is more than a little in love with you. Lord Spears says so and, God knows, he would have sinned with her if she had let him. I think she is in love with you. She’s lonely, she’s far from home. As a priest I disapprove, as a man I’m envious, and as El Mirador I want to use that love.”


“You must lie to her, Captain, tonight. You must tell her that Wellington is leaving a rearguard at Arapiles and that he will try to convince Marmont that the rearguard is his whole army. You will tell her that Wellington wants to trick Marmont into staying still, into facing the rearguard while the bulk of the British army escapes. You will tell her that, Captain, and she will believe you because you have never deceived her. And she will tell Marmont, and then tomorrow you can watch the fruit of your labours.”

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