|Disclaimer:No rights infringement intended
This short story is a not-for-profit work of fan fiction, a homage to the work of author Bernard Cornwell. The character of Richard Sharpe is the copyrighted property of Mr Bernard Cornwell and the story is based on the character as developed in Mr Cornwell's series of novels.
Author: Sue Law
Visit : the author's website
Sharpe is settling down as the Quartermaster of the 95th's second battalion. He still finds the new regiment strange in its ways, but the strangeness is attractive. He is starting to feel wanted, and a part of the regiment. He is also finding that the regiment is intent on training him, something he hadn't really counted on.
The title is a quote from the Duke of Wellington.
At the sound of the Church bells, Sharpe put down the book he was labouring through and stretched. It was tough going; Jackson's Systematic View of the Formation, Discipline and Economy of Armies as prescribed by Lieutenant-Colonel Wade for old 2nd Lieutenants, particularly those he had ordained were to be quartermasters. One of the things Sharpe still found disconcerting about the Rifles was the amount of interest the senior officers showed in the training and education of the entire regiment, particularly the junior officers. He hadn't even bought a green jacket before Wade had thrown a copy of the Regulations for the Rifle Corps at him. When he'd first been commissioned in the 74th in India, a fellow ensign had told him that the job of a subaltern was to survive until he made captain (at which point he was assumed to have absorbed enough knowledge to suddenly become useful). Since joining the Rifles, he'd been forced to read enough military theory and history for a General.
Another thing Sharpe had difficulty getting used to were the mess arrangements. In the 74th, the subalterns had usually occupied a large table in the most uncomfortable part of the mess, the Captains a medium sized table in moderate comfort and the Colonel, Majors and senior staff officers a small table in the most pleasant part of the room. The unwanted new Ensign had been able to disappear into a corner, and generally been ignored. After a while he just stopped attending, and nobody had noticed. His first day of duty in the 95th had seen him dining in the mess. He had arrived early, found a nice dark corner only to be hauled out of it by Colonel Wade. He had found himself at the Colonel's table with a number of other Lieutenants, a couple of the Captains and the Adjutant. The Majors were at the heads of the two lower tables, endeavouring to keep the conversation in bounds.
This mixing in the mess was apparently a regular occurrence, approved of by all except the exceptionally hidebound, and there were few of those in the 95th. It was the only time attendance at mess was compulsory. Otherwise Sharpe attended irregularly. It was not the cost; as quartermaster he received a much higher rate of pay than any of the other Lieutenants, but he still felt like an outsider. He was nearly ten years older than most of the other 2nd Lieutenants, and a good five older than all but one of the Lieutenants. Their conversation tended to be about the pastimes of the trades and gentry, and he could contribute nothing. He could not say that they cold-shouldered him. They were indeed an exceptionally friendly bunch, who would have taken him to their bosoms if he could have entered into any of their enthusiasms. The fault, he freely admitted, lay with himself, and his inability to feel comfortable in such company.
Tonight there was to be no escape. The rotation had completed another cycle and it was once again his turn to dine with the Lieutenant Colonel. Not that Sharpe minded Wade. The eccentric Irishman was a cheerful and friendly soul, and Sharpe found the conversations they had some afternoons, after he'd delivered his quartermaster's report, interesting. But there was no one else present at those times, and Sharpe found it easy to bare his ignorance to Wade, confident that it would be enlightened without mockery. These sessions were when Wade usually picked out more books for him to read. A mess dinner was different. There would be at least a dozen men at Wade's table, and some of them would not hesitate to laugh at some show of ignorance.
Coming out of his day-dream, Sharpe stood and rapidly donned full dress, tugging the tasselled sash straight and checking that his sabre was hanging correctly and wouldn't trip him up. Reaching across the desk, he closed Jackson, leaving a slip of paper to mark his place, then picked up the rather more interesting volume Wade had lent him last week. He would drop Beatson's War with Tippoo Sultaun at the Colonel's rooms on the way to the mess. Checking that his precious rifle was securely locked away, he left his quarters, put on his shako, and headed across to the mess hall.
As he entered the mess hall he took a quick look up at Wade's table. It both reassured him and dismayed him. The reassurance came from the fact that (as far as he was concerned) the best of the 2nd battalion's subalterns and captains had been selected for this evening. The dismay came from the fact that one of the spaces next to Wade had been left vacant, which meant that Wade intended to discuss Beatson's book with him, tonight, publicly. On Wade's other side sat the new subaltern, fresh from the new-fangled military school at High Wycombe and plainly terrified at being so close to the personage who acted as god in his new life. Chin up, back straight, shako under his arm and carefully holding his sword away from his legs, Sharpe strode up to the table. Wade looked up, "Ah, Sharpe, come and sit down, me boy." Sharpe came smartly to attention, nodded to the young subaltern, then did as he was told.
"And how are you getting on wid Jackson?" Sharpe looked around at Wade. Beyond the colonel he could see Lathen's face. It bore the most peculiar expression and Sharpe had to drag his eyes away from the young subaltern and back to Wade. "Slowly, sir. I like Beatson better." It occurred to Sharpe that Lathen would have had to read books like Jackson at High Wycombe. He looked back at Lathen, who was still pulling faces.
"What about you, Mr Lathen?" To his credit, the young lieutenant managed to straighten his features before Wade turned to him.
"A most thorough exposition, Mr Sharpe." Sharpe wondered if the subaltern had actually read the whole book, or whether he'd given up and bluffed his way out of it. "I haven't come across Beatson's book, sir" This was an obvious attempt by Lathen to divert attention back to Sharpe.
"Ah yes, Beatson's book on the war against Tippoo Sultaun. Maybe you should read it when Mr Sharpe has finished." Sharpe mentioned that he had dropped the book back in the Colonel's quarters and the Colonel instructed Lathen to come and pick it up on the morrow. The young man looked aghast. He had obviously thought himself done with reading once he left the academy.
"Mr Sharpe was there in Mysore, Mr Lathen," Wade continued. "It will be interesting to hear how his recollections fit in with Beatson's descriptions."
Sharpe's mind drifted back. He remembered the heat and the dust. He remembered the way the regiment had changed when Wellesley was promoted and the drunken Shee had got the battalion. At the time Wellesley's stiff face when revisiting his regiment had seemed to indicate an indifference to its fate. However the speed with which Wellesley had pushed one of the best officers in India into Shee's position once he had died of the drink belied this. In the light of his new knowledge of the way the army worked, Sharpe wondered whether Wellesley, always a stickler for discipline, was hiding his revulsion and frustration behind the mask of indifference because to show either would be to foster dissent.
His mind drifted further. He remembered the first action at Malavelly. The 33rd had advanced, fired one volley, and the Tippoo's troops had turned and run. Reading about it in Beatson gave him a peculiar feeling, almost as if he were split in two. One half of him was like an eagle, flying above the marching columns seeing what Beatson described, seeing the other half of him a tiny part of the whole. He tried to explain this to Wade, who nodded understandingly. Lathen seemed fascinated and thus encouraged, Sharpe let himself go. He told of the apparently aimless march, the sudden changes of direction, the frustration of the common soldiers who wanted to head directly to Seringapatam and beat the Sultan silly.
"There would have been less grumbling in the ranks, if they'd just told us about Tippoo destroying the forage on the direct line of march." Wade nodded and turned to Lathen.
"Never forget, Mr Lathen, that the common soldier has a mind. They will work and march more willingly if they understand what they are about." Lathen nodded seriously, "but what about the siege?"
Sharpe was reluctant to go further. The memories were all mixed up with his flogging and the injustice of it. But soon it was all dragged out. Sharpe need not have worried, Wade kept control of the conversation, keeping it to the military aspects, though he did allow the story of the tiger guard to be dragged out. Just remembering was enough to give Sharpe the shakes all over again. He didn't realise it but set against the story of blowing the mine, it really brought home to the other officers just how terrifying a fully grown tiger could be, especially when it is leaping directly at you. By the time Sharpe reached his quarters, he felt totally drained. Thinking back, he couldn't but feel he'd made a fool of himself. He dreaded meeting any of the officers again the next day.
In the morning Sharpe was at his desk early. All morning he kept his head down, not allowing the sun and the sounds of drilling from the parade ground entice him out occasionally, as it usually did. By midday this extraordinary effort had its repercussions: the days work was finished early. There was no excuse to stay any longer, and to do so would have convinced Sergeant Miller, already wondering what was up, that something was seriously wrong. Sharpe gathered his shako and arms and headed out. On one side of the ground Lathen was pacing something out, marking the ground and the wall with a piece of soft stone. Looking up he caught sight of Sharpe.
"Mr Sharpe, sir!" Sharpe was embarrassed, Lathen should not be calling him sir, they were after all the same rank. He hurried across to shush the lad down, and was immediately overwhelmed by questions.
Lathen was trying to work out just how big an eight foot tiger was. It was one thing to listen, but when he started measuring things up, it seemed awfully big. Sharpe looked at the marks, and assured Lathen that yes, tigers grew that big, and yes the guard tiger was a fully grown beast. The conversation then slid on to the Tippoo's dungeon, and the area Sharpe had to work in. When they worked that out, it seemed very small compared to the tiger and Sharpe was once again having to control the shakes brought on by the memory, but at least Lathen was calling him Richard, instead of "sir", and begging him for more stories about India. Sharpe felt old. Lathen looked at him, the admiration shining out of his eyes.
"Was that the most frightening thing that happened to you in India?" Sharpe thought about all the other things he'd been through, but none of them seemed to bear comparison.
"Well, after the tiger, nothing seemed as frightening and since India the only thing that's come close to being that scary was marching into Colonel Wade's office the first day I arrived here." Lathen gasped, and burst out laughing. Sharpe grinned back at him, ruffled his hair, and walked off back to his quarters.