Warning: General Audience
Jane Sharpe has waited for two days for Richard to return. She has waited patiently. Each day, she rode to headquarters to ask Major Hogan. While he has been polite to her, he has given her no word of where her husband has gone nor when he will return.
For the remainder of each day, she took a pencil box and paper to sites near her room. The weather was cold, but she wanted to be outside. She would find a place that caught her eye. Then, she would find a place to sit, pull her sketchpad and pencil and begin to draw.
At home in England, she liked to read and sketch. She left with Richard quickly and was unable to bring any books from either those at her uncle’s house or that she could purchase in London. Nowhere here has she found any English language books to buy. She would like to find some poetry and to replace the copies of fiction that she purchased only this year. There is a new, woman author who wrote two books -- Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. She found each of these books fascinating for the lives described of women, not men.
Today, again, she decided to ride to the camp to see when Sharpe will return. Harper and the other riflemen had remained outside the room that Richard and she were using.
“Patrick, will you prepare a horse for me, please? I want to go to Wellington to learn of Richard.”
“Perkins!” Harper calls to the group of riflemen.
“Yes, sergeant.” Perkins is one of the youngest of the riflemen that remain from those that survived the retreat to Corunna and Vigo in 1808.
“Get Mrs. Sharpe a horse to ride.”
Perkins goes off and shortly returns with a horse saddled with a side-saddle.
Harper sees one of the battalion officers nearby. He walks over to talk with the officer, then returns to Jane.
Perkins leads a horse to where Jane waits. Harper has found a crate to use as a step for her to climb to sit in the saddle.
Jane steps onto the crate while holding Harper’s hand. She adjusts her skirts, then pulls herself into the saddle. “Thank you Perkins, Harper.”
Harper points to the officer sitting astride a horse at the edge of the square.
“Ma’am. Ensign Nicholls has offered to take you to the main camp.”
Nicholls offers to Jane. “Ensign Nicholls, at your service Mrs. Sharpe.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you Ensign. Shall we be off?”
It is not a long way to Wellington’s tent, but too long to walk. Besides, Jane likes to ride. If Richard has not returned, then she could ride to take some air before returning to their room.
When they arrive at Wellington’s tent, Ensign Nicholls dismounts first. He summons another ensign to hold Jane’s reins, then offers to assist her to dismount.
Nearby, is the camp of the gypsies that Harris, Hagman and Harper had been with days before.
Jane does not notice them, nor does she notice Richard, Nairn and Pycroft dismounting near the gypsies. Pycroft helps Zara off her horse, then guides her to the gypsies.
Richard has too dismounted his horse and gives it to a soldier to take to be groomed. He turns to walk to Wellington’s tent. However, before he goes very far, he sees Jane.
He strides towards her. She hears footsteps approaching and turns. When she realizes that it is Richard, she grins broadly at him. Richard takes her in his arm and kisses her while they spin in each other’s arms.
“I’m tired and I’m thirsty.”
Jane looks at him while he holds his head against hers.
“Take me home.”
Before Jane can respond, she sees Pycroft at the gypsies’ camp.
“Who is that?”
“That’s Pycroft, and his gypsy girl.”
Pycroft notices Jane and Richard watching him. Pycroft waves a friendly salute to Sharpe. Jane frowns while continuing to watch Pycroft.
“Why does he wear that awful hood?”
Sharpe smiles. “Maybe because he is twice her age.” He too turns towards Pycroft. He returns Pycroft’s salute.
“I think I should get one of them. “
Jane teasingly pats his chest. They smile at each other.
“The hood would hide this scar.” He points to the scar that he has had for many years.
“I love your scar.” Jane traces the scar with her finger.
Before they can say another word, someone shouts, “Colonel Brand!”
From the road out of the woods, Brand and his men ride into the camp.
Soldiers move to the side of the road to see Brand more closely. Also, Shellington carries an easel near to Sharpe and Jane.
As the unit rides past the gypsies, Without staring at them, Zara watches the men ride by. None wear partisan clothes. All are dressed in British military uniforms.
Colonel Brand rides a white horse that appears to be like one of the men who killed her parents rode. His sergeant rides a chestnut, like the second man who attacked her parents.
Brand and the sergeant see her watching them. Both turn to see her more closely. Brand turns to the sergeant. He wonders why the girl is interested in them. Had they not killed all of the gypsies? Did someone see them?
Zara fears that they have seen her. She runs to hide behind the tents.
As Zara flees, she passes her bay horse. The sergeant turns to examine the bay before he rides out of sight. That bay looks like the one that he has seen recently pulling a gypsy wagon.
From the corner of a tent, Zara peeks to watch the rest of Brand’s men ride into the camp. With the last horses to arrive, one of the men leads the horse that was taken from her family’s wagon earlier that day. The horse is noticeable by the ribbons that are tied into its tail. It is the pattern her family used.
She returns to hiding behind the tent. “Are the men who killed her parents in this camp? Do they know that she survived? Should she share her worries with Pycroft?”
Further into the camp, Brand and Pope ride towards Wellington’s tent. Brand notices a beautiful woman standing next to an officer wearing the green of the Rifles. He seems to recognize the officer.
He signals his captain to take the men to their encampment, then leaves the line of riders to approach Rifleman. He stops his horse in front of him. As he approaches, he the woman standing next to the officer Jane smiles at Brand.
As they get closer, Sharpe greets Brand happily. “Welcome to Wellington’s camp, Colonel Brand.”
Brand looks at Sharpe. “Sharpe, isn’t it?” He notices the Major insignia on Sharpe’s uniform.
“I mean Major Sharpe. You’ve risen in rank.” Sharpe smiles.
Jane watches Brand. She searches Brand’s face for how he will treat Richard and her.
Sharpe grins, “So have you, sir.”
Brand grins back.
“Thank you, sir.” Sharpe nods his head, then looks up again with a broad smile.
Jane stands behind him. She looks to Sharpe. She is pleased that he has been politely recognized by the hero Brand. She is proud of him.
Brand notices Jane looking at Sharpe.
“And, who is this good looking woman?”
Sharpe turns to Jane. Jane looks back to Brand.
They look at each other and smile. Sharpe puts his arm around Jane.
“May I introduce you to my wife? Mrs. Jane Sharpe, sir.” He beams.”
Brand removes his cap to sweep it in salute to Jane.
In the three and a half years since they have last seen each other, Major Brand has aged very little. He continues to wear his hair unfashionably short with short-cut whiskers that are cut along his jawbone His hairline has receded further such that he is bald beyond the crown of his head.
Brand looks at them. “It is a pleasure to meet you, ma’am. May I say that you are as beautiful as your husband is brave.” He smiles.
Sharpe snorts then looks to Jane.
Jane is struck by Brand’s looks and his charm. She replies, “Bravery is a subject that you can speak to with some authority, Colonel Brand.” She looks to Richard, then back to Brand.
“My fame follows me like a bucket tied to a dog’s tail, my lady.” He puckers at his joke.
“It makes a great deal of noise, but it is damned inconvenient.” Brand turns serious.
Shellington has been sitting nearby with an easel set up and a pad in his lap. He watched the riders while he has been working on his sketch. He chuckles at Brand’s comment. “ah, bon meaux. I must make a note of that.”
Sharpe turns with an annoyed look to Shellington. “This is Mr. Clarence Shellington. He works for the Times of London. He wants to write about you, sir.”
Brand looks at Shellington to size him up. “Your servant, Shellington.”
Jane watches Shellington over her shoulder. Sharpe ignores looking at him.
Shellington stands to address Brand. “May I make an appointment to speak with you on behalf of my readers?”
Jane intercepts any reply. “Why not do it over dinner?” She turns and gives Brand a friendly inviting face.
“May I invite you two gentlemen to dine tonight.”
Sharpe is caught by surprise. His face shows that he is not excited by the prospect of dinner with Shellington, or perhaps too with Brand. He holds Jane’s elbow which he pinches lightly. He turns to her.
Jane ignores his reaction while waiting for the others to respond.
“What do you say, Colonel Brand?”
“I accept madam.” He leans forward in the saddle and grins.
“But I warn you. I’m a simple soldier. No fancy dishes. All I require is a good claret.”
Jane giggles and beams broadly. Richard too grins while looking at his feet.
Jane turns behind her. “And you, Mr. Shellington?”
Shellington looks at Richard and Jane. He appears nervous about something. He shifts his eyes side-to-side. “Bread and water and your company, madam, would suffice.” He stares at them with a solemn look.
Sharpe turns to him. He wonders what Shellington is playing at.
Jane smiles. She has her dinner party.
Brand asks, “By the way Sharpe, where can my men find water well away from the camp?
Sharpe is puzzled. “You’re not camping in the main line, sir?” He looks towards Brands unit.
Brand turns towards his men. “No. My men keep themselves to themselves. It’s a matter of morale.”
Sharpe thinks then looks to him. “Well you’ll find good water and shelter beyond those trees, sir.” He points off behind the gypsy wagons.
Brand follows Sharpe’s arm to the point he has signaled.
“Good. Thank you.” He raises his riding crop to his forehead to salute, then rides off to his men.
Sharpe turns to Jane. Quietly so that Shellington doesn’t hear them he says. “Damn it, Jane. They’re dining with us tonight.”
Jane looks at him forcefully. But, she says nothing.
“Who’s going to do the cooking? We’re going to have to find someone who knows about Frog cooking. Which fork? Which knife?”
He turns his head side to side to see who can hear his consternation.
Jane becomes concerned at Richard’s reaction, but offers before he go further.
“Of course we shall.”
She touches his shoulder to calm him, then walks away with a smile. Jane stops to admire Shellington’s work on his easel.
Sharpe exhales in frustration. He watches her go. He does not understand.
While they have been talking, Hagman and Harper have been playing music nearby. Hagman saws on his fiddle while Harper plays a pennywhistle. Harris dances with a gypsy girl to their tune. As the song ends, Harris offers an apple to the girl with whom he has been dancing. She smiles and takes it gladly. Harris grins at her.
Sharpe looks to them and forms an idea how to resolve his issue with the dinner. He walks towards the merry musicians and dancers.
While Harris is playfully trying to remove the apple from the girl’s mouth to attempt to kiss her, Sharpe approaches.
“What’s going on?”
Hagman and Harper stop playing and stand. Harris turns from the girl.
“If I find any of you near this gypsy girl again, I’ll confine you to camp. Now clear off, the lot of ya.” He gestures by pointing with his thumb over his shoulder back to their camp.
Hagman and Harper frown and walk in the direction he pointed. Harris pauses with the girl. He holds the apple while he looks into her eyes.
Harris continues to stand by the girl. He turns to Sharpe, then while flipping the apple into the air follows Harper. When he is next to Sharpe, Sharpe snares the apple from the air to stop him.
“As you were, ‘arris.” Sharpe turns to look directly to him.
Harris looks to the ground and waits for what will be next.
Sharpe scans the area to see who is nearby. When he is satisfied that no one will hear him. The only person nearby is the gypsy girl who continues to look at Harris while chewing on her little finger.
“We are having some guests for dinner tonight. Would you like to be chef, heh? Server too?
Harris raises his eyes to look at Sharpe. He screws his mouth up as he ponders the question.
“Talk ‘Frog’. A little La di da, heh?”
Harris looks at Sharpe and smiles.
“Not very much, sir.” He snorts
“But, if you give me Conchita’s apple.”
Sharpe looks at the apple in his hand. Turns and gives it to Harris.
“That’s how it started in the Garden of Eden, Harris.”
Harris looks at the apple and smiles.
Sharpe walks away.
Harris salutes him with the apple then takes a bite.
Pycroft sits stiffly on a bench in Nairn’s tent.
“Septimus, we have an opportunity to destroy a large store of Soult’s gunpowder. The powder is stored at a place near Anglet called Rocha Fort.”
“I have heard of it.”
“We believe that an engineer of your skills is needed to blow the powder without killing those that are there to destroy it.”
Pycroft sits stiffly and listens, but offers no comment.
When he does not reply, Nairn adds, “Do you agree?”
“There are many engineers on Lord Wellington’s staff that could blow the powder.”
“Septimus, none of them has your experience with fuses.”
Venomously Pyrcroft replies. “You mean none of them are expendable, like me.”
Nairn feels the sting of Pycroft’s comment.
“No, no. You can assure that we succeed without killing the men that will go.”
“I do not agree. Nor do I want to join you, again.” He emphasizes ‘you’.
Although Pycroft’s face is covered, he can see the anger in his eyes and feel the heat he imagines is coming from his face as he controls his anger at Nairn.
“If you insist, I will appeal to Wellington.”
“I do insist. We need your skills.”
“Is that all, general?”
Pycroft stands. Without saluting, he leaves. He goes to seek an appointment with Wellington.
After leaving Harris, Sharpe seeks Hogan. He finds him outside a mess tent for Wellington’s staff talking to another officer. He moves so that he may approach Hogan from the front and subtly get his attention.
Hogan sees him, then nods. Sharpe halts short of Hogan.
only a moment, Hogan finishes talking with the other officer, then walks to join Sharpe.
“Richard, my boy. So good to see you back. Did you have fun with Nairn and Pycroft?”
“Fun? We found Pyrcroft. Killed some French dragoons. Brought Pycroft and a gypsy girl back here.”
“Oh, so nothing unusual.” Hogan beams a smile.
“No, nothing unusual.” Sharpe smiles too.
“Except, for the story that the gypsy girl tells.”
“Yes, two masked men, wearing civilian clothes met with a French officer. Shortly after, the two masked men pursued her family. She left her parents’ wagon before the men got to it. The men attacked and killed her parents.”
“Two masked men, eh? Attacked them? Killed her parents? Unprovoked?” “Yes, when we returned to camp, she says that she saw two horses like those that the men rode. While this could be coincidence, she saw the horse that the two men took from her parents.”
“Her horse? In our camp? How was she sure it was her horse?”
“She saw a horse that had ribbons tied in its tail in a pattern that only her father used. That’s what she says.”
Hogan ponders this. “Ribbons? A pattern that only her father uses? She could tell that from a distance?”
He pauses some more. “Does she say where in the camp?”
“With Colonel Brand.”
Hogan raises an eyebrow. “With Brand?”
“What do you make of it?”
“I don’t know what to make of it, yet, sir.”
“Yet? But, you will, eh, Richard?”
“With your help, sir.”
“Aye, with my help. With my help.”