Warning: General Audience
Sharpe has called his eight company commanders to his command tent. Normally there would be ten company commanders, but because the Prince of Wales’ Own has only four hundred out of standard order of one thousand and twenty-six out of thirty-five officers to fill the companies, Sharpe has organized them into eight companies – the grenadier, light and six line. He knows the value of having fire concentrated and led by good officers. Sharpe came from the 95th Rifles. When depleted, the Rifles would consolidate companies. Line battalions rarely consolidate, even if the battalion could place only 20-30 men per company.
His eight company commanders, Captain Peter ‘Dally’ D'Alembord who has the Light Company, Captain Matthew Jefferson who has the Grenadier Company and Captains Hamish Smith, Harry Price, George Carline, Matthew Hooper, Garrett Collins, and Lieutenant Henry Wilkinson who have the six Line Companies, all performed well in the recent fight at The Nivelle. Also present are Lieutenant John Pike who serves as the Adjutant, Ensign Amos Stokes who is Quartermaster and Sergeant Kirk Bixby who assists Stokes.
Since Sharpe took command of the battalion after Lieutenant Colonel Girdwood was relieved after the battle at The Nivelle, Dally has been serving as Battalion Major. Lieutenant Thomas Richardson took over the Light Company until a new colonel is assigned to the battalion and Dally returns to the company.
“Good morning gentlemen.” In a different day, Sharpe would have stressed the word gentlemen to emphasize that these men mostly are gentlemen and he is not considered one. As they have fought together, both groups have come to respect the other. Now he says the word with friendliness.
“Wellington has called me to his tent in two hours.” Once, Sharpe thought of the ritual of reviewing the status of a battalion to be a waste of time. He would rather have been out with the companies to watch and to train them to be a fighting machine. Now that he commands the battalion, he knows the value of having the company commanders handle their men while he sees to how the whole battalion will fight.
“What is our situation today?”
All of them gathered with Sharpe know that Wellington has often called on Sharpe for ‘special’ duties. Some wonder “What now?”
Pike starts the responses to Sharpe’s question. “Sir, we have four hundred twenty fit for duty and another one hundred thirty-nine recovering from wounds. Within a week, ten should come back and within two weeks, we should have another fourteen.”
“Thank you, Pike.”
Sharpe turns to Stokes. “Stokes, what is our ammunition and provisions status?”
“Sir, we have cartridges for sixty rounds for each man and another three reloads. We have rations for a week on the move.” Stokes turns to Sergeant Bixby to see if there is any more to report.
The condition of the men in the battalion is the most important news that Sharpe wants to hear. If Wellington selects them again for one of his special jobs, how prepared the men are after a period of rest can make a difference. He starts the reports with the flank companies – the Light and Grenadiers. These contain the best physically able men and in the case of the Light Company the men who can best be trusted to operate when deployed as skirmishers.
“Dally, Light Company?”
Captain Peter D’Alembord stands to report. Lieutenant Richardson and Ensign Charles Nicholls stand with him
“Sir, Light Company has fifty-two fit for duty. None on sick call.”
Captain Matthew Jefferson with “Lieutenant MacNamara and Ensign Stewart stand.
“Sir, Grenadier Company has fifty-one fit for duty. Three on sick call.”
“Thank you. Line companies?” The line companies are the heart of the battalion. These are the men that will be expected to stand in a two-deep line to face the enemy.
Captain Harry Price, Lieutenant Andrews and Ensign Bascable stand
“Sir, No. 2 Company has fifty-three fit for duty. One on sick call.”
“We completed the training for all the company to march like the Light Company.”
Sharpe knows that the terrain that they fight over needs line battalions. Lately, the French have used more artillery and Voltiguers than in the past. Without asking, he has begun to train the Prince of Wales Own as light infantry. They need to march at Quick March pace of 140 versus 120 counts per minute. They also will learn to march five steps at double time of 180 counts per minute followed by five steps at Quick March.
“Very good Harry.”
Captain Carline, Lieutenant Boyd and Ensign Young, stand.
“Sir, No. 3 Company too has fifty-three fit for duty. Two on sick call.”
“We continue to drill today. Some of the men have trouble remembering to carry their muskets at trail instead of on the shoulder at the new pace.
Captain Smith, Lieutenant Mattingley and Ensign Walsh stand.
“Sir, No. 4 Company has fifty-four fit for duty. One on sick call.”
“No. 4 Company is also ready to march at the new pace. We started to train working in pairs and with the Rifles.”
Captain Hooper, Lieutenant Hawkins and Ensign Linklater stand.
“Sir, No. 5 Company is pleased also to report fifty-three fit for duty. None on sick call.” He emphasizes the words pleased and none.
“No. 5 Company too is ready to perform as a Light Company.”
Captain Collins, Lieutenant Shields and Ensign Conners stand.
“Sir, No. 6 Company has fifty-one fit for duty. None on sick call.”
“As with 2 and 5 companies, No. 6 Company is ready to Light Company ready.”
Sharpe looks at Collins to see if he has more to add. He noticed that Collins likes to compete to outshine the other company commanders. He likes the way Collins has his company perform, but may have to watch that he keeps the competition healthy.
Lieutenant Wilkinson, Lieutenant Biddle and Ensign Faxon stand.
“Sir, No. 7 Company has forty-eight fit for duty. Three on sick call.”
“My men do like to dawdle after the new pace, SIR!” He smiles.
Sharpe nods approvingly. He knows that, next to Richardson, Wilkinson is probably the best physically conditioned officer in the battalion. He supported having the men drill at running and fast marching before Sharpe ordered training for everyone. No one dawdles in his company for very long unless Wilkinson says to dawdle.
Sharpe turns to Pike who has been taking the counts.
“Sir, we have four hundred and fifteen fit for duty and ten on sick call.”
Sharpe is pleased to hear these numbers
He moves back a step so that he may face all in the room. “Thank you. These are the best numbers that we have had in months. We are ready. Keep the men busy and out of trouble.” He smiles at Harry.
“That means you too, Harry.”
“Trouble? Me, sir?” Price beams. He knows that Sharpe means for him to remain reasonably sober.
Harper has been listening. “Sir, there are rumours that Boney has been kicked around in Germany. There is talk that we may fight no more because the French will quit before we have to take Bayonne.”
“Boney still has an army.”
“Soult still has an army.”
“Wellington has an army.”
“Until someone tells us that the war is over, we fight when Wellington says we fight.”
in the tent nod. Those that have been with the regiment for a long time would like that the war would be over and to go home. For the new men, one more battle could help them to rise in rank before they may go on half pay.
“I will go to Wellington to see what he has for us.”
Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. and his army sit to the south of Bayonne. After the battle at The Nivelle, Wellington sent all of the Spanish units except Morillo’s division back to Spain. With his numbers reduced by the loss of thousands of men of the Spanish Divisions, he is waiting for news from central Europe about the allied progress against Napoleon before he chooses where and when to attack Soult. For now, he addresses other duties of commanding the army.
A civilian dressed in London’s best leaves Wellington’s tent. The civilian is tall and thin -- handsome with long wavy brown hair, beard and mustache.
Wellington walks behind him out of the tent. “ I dare say I shall see you at supper some night, Mr. Shellington.”
“I do hope so, my dear Lord. I do hope so.” He shakes Wellington’s hand.
Wellington sees Sharpe approaching. “Ah, there you are Sharpe.”
Wellington has known Sharpe for ten years since they both served in India. At the battle of Assaye, Sharpe saved Wellington’s life. Wellington rewarded him by promoting him from sergeant to ensign. Often during the war in the Peninsula, Wellington has called on Sharpe to lead some special assignment. Often these are designed by Major Michael Hogan, one of the Exploring officers who gather intelligence behind the French lines. Sharpe wonders if this is another time that Wellington will require him for a dangerous task.
“I want you to meet Mr. Clarence Shellington of the Times of London.”
Sharpe looks quickly at Shellington, then to Wellington.
“This is Major Sharpe. One of our most, um, well one of our officers.”
“Delighted to make your acquaintance Major Sharpe.”
Shellington grins at Sharpe, but keeps his hands behind his back. He does not offer to shake hands of greeting. Sharpe wears the uniform of the Rifles that he has worn in battles for more than five years. His pants and boots came from a French cavalry officer that he killed. Many tears and cuts in the uniform are stitched. He looks more a beggar more than an officer. Sharpe looks to Shellington, then back to Wellington.
Shellington has heard of Sharpe. Living in London, it is difficult not to have heard of Sharpe and the Eagle. As a reporter for the Times of London, he had been present at the Prince of Wales’ ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Talavera. He wants to learn more about the man to fulfill the report commissioned by his special sponsor.’
With a tone of ignorance he asks. “Have you done anything … heroic?”
Sharpe is offended by the question. If this man reports news and has come from London, how could he not now that Sharpe and Harper had been recognized by the Prince of Wales for capturing a French Eagle. Also, from the clothes the man wears, his general appearance and his manner of speaking, he wouldn’t know heroic if he fell in a pile of it. He looks away then back to Shellington while saying.
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Shellington.”
Wellington steps in to the conversation on Sharpe’s behalf.
“Don’t be so modest, Major Sharpe. Mr. Shellington, Major Sharpe is one of the finest leaders of light infantry we have in our army. He commands the Prince of Wales Own Volunteers, formerly the South Essex, regiment.”
Sharpe looks at Wellington in surprise, then begins to shuffle his feet as he is uncomfortable being complimented. Wellington does not often hand out praise.
“Are the South Essex not a regular infantry regiment, my Lord?”
“Yes, the Prince of Wales’ Own fights with our infantry. But, General Nairn, Major Hogan and I often have need to carry out special work. We have used part or all of the South Essex at times as light infantry.”
“I say they have done quite well. In fact, for the coming campaign, they are attached to the Light Division.”
Sharpe looks at Wellington with a quick look of surprise. This is the first that he has heard that they will be sent to the Light Division – arguably the most famous and capable division in the army. Some would say that it is THE Elite force of the army.
“I am pleased to know you, Major Sharpe.” And to himself he thinks it will be interesting to learn more about Sharpe. It will take some work to find a weakness that he can exploit.
Shellington looks to Wellington. He bows as he backs away. “My Lord.”
Wellington watches him go, then addresses Sharpe. “Sharpe.” He waves his hand to have him follow into the tent.
Inside the tent, Wellington goes to his desk and sits
Major General Nairn in full uniform stands in a corner of the tent. Major Hogan sits in a corner. Both Nairn and Hogan could hear the conversation outside Wellington’s tent. Without standing, Hogan greets Sharpe.
“Richard, my boy, take no offense from Mister Shellington.”
Wellington turns to Nairn.
“Shame on you Nairn. Should have had him stopped at the port.”
Nairn holds a snuff box and removes a pinch. “Well poor fellow wanted to give you a ‘puff’ of what the public back home wants.”
“Puff? Rubbish” Wellington plays with papers on the desk.
Nairn inhales the snuff, pauses, then sneezes as the snuff impacts the inside of his nose.
Wellington pulls a paper from the stack and gives it to Sharpe. “Take a look at that Sharpe.”
Nairn picks up a newspaper and quietly reads while Wellington addresses the real subject that he wants Sharpe to fulfill.
“It’s from Colonel Brand. You know Brand, don’t you Sharpe?”
Sharpe recalls the patrol three and a half years earlier. He reads the paper. “Yes sir. I was with him in the ambush that won him his promotion, sir.”
Wellington looks at Sharpe. “Well, that ambush created quite a stir in London. As, did your report.”
“My report? That was three years ago. How did my report impact anything?”
“Richard, the Prince Regent himself got to hear of it. Brand’s regiment is the Prince of Wales Dragoons. Even before you launched your, ahem, attack in London on the Prince, you came to his attention. Seize an Eagle. Praise an officer in the Prince’s cavalry.
“Quite famous are you, Richard.” Hogan says.
“And, Brand did rather well from it. He raised his own reconnaissance troop. Brand’s boys they call themselves.”
“They spend their time far behind the French lines. Stirring up trouble. Making mischief. It doesn’t matter to me. Although Nairn and Hogan here would like them more frequently to provide the information that they collect to our intelligence network.”
Sharpe meets Wellington eye-to-eye. Wellington takes the paper from Sharpe’s hands. “This is what matter’s to me.”
Wellington sits at his desk with the paper. Nairn stands behind him continuing to read the newspaper.
“This report, if it’s true, could help us change the course of the war.”
Sharpe does not understand. “Sir?”
“Brand believes that he has located General Reille’s main powder magazine. Reille commands Soult’s right-hand Corps. If we can blow their powder, then we can drive up the coast and jump the Adour into Bayonne.”
Sharpe listens intently. He understands that this is why he was summoned.
“It’s in the Rocha Cave system. Twelve miles behind the French lines. It is defended by a brigade of Villatte’s Division under a General Calvet.”
Sharpe pays attention to the details he is being given. He has heard of Villatte before, but not of Calvet.
“What do you say to that, Sharpe?”
“That’s a lot of powder, if it is all for Reille, sir. What do we know of Calvet?”
Hogan answers, “Calvet is a veteran. His men are a mix of veterans and conscripts. Most of them are Germans.”
“Does the whole brigade defend the fort?”
“No, a detachment is at the fort. The rest of the brigade is at Anglet, a few miles away.”
“Detachments can be a company, a battalion or a regiment. Do we know which?
Hogan quietly answers. “Less than a company Richard. Less than a company. Nothing you can’t handle.”
While Sharpe considers the numbers, Wellington stares at him. “How would you rate Brand as a field officer?”
Taken a bit by surprise that the conversation has changed from the fort, Sharpe replies with pride.
“One of the best I’ve ever seen, sir.”
“Then you won’t complain if he commands this mission, eh?”
Sharpe pauses. He considers how to reply. He thought that he would command.
“Of course not, sir.”
Nairn steps in now. He walks forward to offer Sharpe some snuff. Sharpe reaches to take a pinch.
“So you think Brand and you can blow the French powder magazine, do you?”
Sharpe sniffs the snuff and sneezes.
Nairn seriously considers how quickly Sharpe replied. “You’re a damn fool, Sharpe.”
Sharpe looks at Nairn. They are an arms length apart. “Thank you, sir.” He grins.
Nairn turns to return to his position behind Wellington.
“There’s only one man in the British army that can blow the Rocha Fort powder magazine. And, that is Major Septimus Pycroft.”
Nairn sits in a chair behind Wellington. “And Pycroft won’t blow it for us.”
Wellington is annoyed by Nairn’s reply. “Why not, sir? Presumably he is a serving officer.”
“He’s a serving officer with half his face missing and his left hand as well.”
Sharpe asks with concern. He knows the danger of handling powder. He was at Almeida when the powder magazine there blew up.
Wellington picks up the story.
“Pycroft and another officer were working on a bomb. The other officer made a mistake on the fuse. Since then, Pycroft spends his time in the ‘desert’ as an exploring officer.”
Sharpe asks. “Who was the other officer, sir?”
Nairn turns his head away. “I was.”
Wellington turns his eyes away from Nairn’s direction.
Sharpe lowers his head. He exhales.
Wellington breaks the silence.
“I want you and Nairn to set out at dawn tomorrow to fetch Major Pycroft back to camp.”
Before Sharpe can ask any more questions, Wellington looks at Sharpe. “Dismissed.”
Sharpe clicks his heels. “Sir.”
He turns to go.
“Oh, and Sharpe. I’d be obliged if you’d show that fellow Shellington around the camp. I can’t spare another officer. And, he asked about you. You can help him learn more about you.”
Sharpe turns back into the tent. He clearly does not like the assignment. And, if Shellington asked about him, why did he pretend not to know of him. “Yes, sir.”
“Oh and Sharpe. You better brace yourself. He’s a poet.”
Sharpe had started to leave, but now turns again into the tent. “A poet, sir?”
He smiles ironically. This just keeps getting better. With barely masked sarcasm he says
“My wife will be delighted.”
Wellington is now surprised. “Really? Personally, I’d rather call the surgeon and have him cut off my god damned foot with a saw. Dismissed.”
Sharpe grins. That is more like Wellington. He leaves the tent before more can be added.
Hogan leaves immediately after Sharpe. “Richard, a moment?”
When they are close enough to talk without being overheard Hogan asks.
“What do you really think about serving with Colonel Brand again, Richard?”
Sharpe chooses his words before he answers.
“Colonel Brand has done very well since we last fought together. I hear he takes the war to the French and makes them use forces much bigger than he has to chase him. He is useful to Wellington and you.”
“And, I still wonder what happened that day when he tried to single-handed save Lieutenant Graham. Even more, why were we there in the first place. No one said Graham was special. Did he have secrets we could not let the French know? Was he a relative of someone famous? Why did I have to take more men to save one man who would have been fine in a prison camp?
“Richard, all good questions?
“And, what of Cooper’s report that there were no dead French where Brand retrieved Graham? That remains strange. Why would the French kill him AFTER we arrived? If they were going to kill him, why not kill him at the time of the fight and then leave the area? There was nothing in that valley worth staying there. It seems to me, they intended to use Graham as bait to lure someone back to that spot.”
“And who might that have been?” Hogan stops their walk to give Sharpe the time to answer this question.
“Brand was not famous then. But, they may have learned something about him from Graham.”
“Harper and you had a reputation already. Perhaps they thought that you would be assigned?”
“Yes, it could have been for Harper and me. But, the number of men we determined they had would not have overwhelmed our force. Nor, could they have been assured that it was our men coming with Brand.”
“Have you considered Pope’s role in this?”
“Yes sir. How did they know that Pope reported Graham’s capture? Why would they expect a rescue party to return?”
“Brand AND Pope have done very well since then. Why did Brand keep Pope with him. He could have had his pick of sergeants to serve him. I don’t think they were connected before Pope served Graham. Pope doesn’t seem to be the type that Brand would tolerate for very long. On the march to find Graham, they hardly talked.”
“Well, it seems you will have a chance to find answers to your questions.” Hogan emphasizes the word ‘your’.
“My questions alone, sir?”
Hogan smiles then turns to go back to Wellington’s tent.
Sharpe stands and watches him go. Hogan is a good friend. But sometimes, he puzzles him.
After Sharpe left Wellington’s tent, Nairn, stands. He moves in front of Wellington. “We’re wasting our time, sir. Pycroft won’t touch explosives.”
“Then you’ll have to make him, Nairn.”
“Why me, sir?”
“Because you know how to hurt him.”
Nairn doesn’t like the answer.
“You and Pycroft were close, were you not?”
Nairn shrugs his shoulders.
Wellington has been signing a document. He looks up to Nairn.
“We were good friends, sir.”
Wellington smiles. “Just like you and me, eh?”
Nairn is not sure that Wellington and he are friends. Wellington commands him and will sometimes share personal comments. But, he would not consider him a friend. He is definitely not like Pycroft and he had been.
Switching from the soft tone he had used when commenting about being a friend, he commands. “Find him.” Wellington returns to his papers.
“My lord.” Nairn salutes. That was his commander, not a friend. He turns and leaves the tent.
After leaving Hogan, Sharpe returned to his command tent. On the way he collects the company commanders to join him.
“Wellington wants us to take a company behind the French lines.”
“I’ll take Tom and the Light Company for this mission. For those not joining us, you will have more time to continue to train.”
Richardson asks, “The whole Light Company, sir?”
“Yes, all that are fit for duty in two days from now.”
“Dally, you have the battalion while I’m gone”
Dally asks, “How long will you be gone?
“We should need no more than a week. Most likely less. When I return, have the others ready to demonstrate that they are ready to go on the next foray that we need light skills.”
Sharpe chooses to keep the news that they will serve with the famous Light Division. It is news that can change. He will wait to tell them.