No rights infringement intended. M/F
The Sharpe Fan Fictions of The Mardy Bum
a work of fan-fiction by The Mardy Bum, 21st November, 2006
He stood on the stone ledge, the cold breeze nipping at the skin of his naked body, looking down into the dusty streets of the little Spanish village. The evening air whipped around him, a bell in the distance announcing half past midnight. He leaned over slightly to judge how far he was from the ground, and swallowed and leaned back quickly, plastering his back to the cold stone wall.
He clutched his uniform at a judicious height against his body, his mind whirling. Buggerin hell that were close!
He listened carefully, hearing the polite voices and well-wishes inside the room from which hed just escaped, wetting dry lips and then regretting it as the cold wind flew over them mercilessly. He started to shiver, waiting for the sound of the polite voices to stop.
It did, and he blew out a long sigh, hearing the door inside close too. He was about to turn and edge back in through the window. He froze as a mans voice, gently admonishing and politely inquiring, approached the inside of the window. Sharpe shuffled slightly further to his left. A hand reached out and grasped the inside of the window firmly, pulling it closed. The sound of the catch on the inside only served to crush any ideas he might have had of opening it again. He closed his eyes, thinking.
Aw shite. Now what? How can things get any worse?
Sir? Is that you, sir? came a distinctive Irish lilt, floating up through the darkness at him. Sharpe swore under his breath, then looked down carefully. As he suspected, Patrick Michael Harper of Donegal was standing on the opposite side of the dark dirt-track, arms akimbo, staring up at him with an affably bemused expression. Sharpe huffed and rolled his eyes.
He lifted a hand to wave him away silently. Harper grinned at him, indicating his uniform. Sharpe grabbed at it, holding it against him securely, scowling at him.
And just how in the world did you come to be up there? Harper called, more softly this time. Sharpe leaned back against the stone wall, his head falling back against the freezing brick work.
Barely a week earlier, Sharpe was looking out over the hillside, leaning on his sword and wiping the sweat from his eyes with his sleeve. He took in the men wandering around, rifling through uniforms and items strewn all over the ground. He made a quick count of the red and blue coats, and then put his hand up to take the whistle from his crossbelt.
He blew three long notes and watched as the redcoats looked around, grinning. They thrust hands, muskets and shakoes in the air, shouting in triumph.
Another battle over, Sharpe thought wearily, and then turned at the sound of muskets still firing. It couldnt have been many, but the sound carried over the field admirably. He followed the sound to his left, walking to the hillside and looking down.
A small group of redcoats was surrounded by a horde of French on horseback. They looked to be without an officer, the seven men back-to-back in a rough circle, firing their muskets seemingly at will to try and keep the mounted enemy away.
Except for two of them. Sharpe watched as they fired and reloaded faster than anyone hed seen. The dark-haired one was chivvying his partner to fire as he reloaded, and then reload as he himself fired. And he was aiming.
Sharpe turned and looked back at the redcoats congratulating themselves on winning.
Oi! he bawled back at them. They started to turn. South Essex! Rifles! Down there! Were not done yet! he ordered angrily. They jumped to and snatched up bayoneted muskets and rifles, roaring and flooding past him and down the hillside.
He grabbed at a green jacketed arm as it passed him. He pulled on it to find Taylor on the other end. You, he said quickly.
Sir, Taylor replied immediately.
Find out who them two are int middle, and get em out. Bring em to me, he said.
Yes sir! he nodded, and Sharpe released his arm. He ran down the hill to join the red and green men currently harrying and bringing down the French cavalrymen.
It was a short stand by anyones count. The French realised they were hopelessly outnumbered, and simply turned tail and made a smart getaway. The red and green jackets jeered and shouted after them, and as Sharpe stalked down the hill, he found a breathless Taylor calling him.
He turned and found him walking toward him, accompanied by the two redcoats. Sharpe eyed them both dangerously. They stopped and the slightly taller one looked at him cautiously, straightening and nudging his partner to do likewise. Sharpe looked him over slowly.
Do you know who I am? he asked curiously. The men shared a look.
Dont know, sir, the taller one replied, still eyeing his red sash. Sharpe looked over the slightly shorter, fairer man, then looked back at the first one again.
Name? Rank? he snapped.
Private Green, sir, he said immediately. Sharpe thought for a long second.
And you? he asked the other one.
Private Gordon, sir, he said, a little less smartly. Sharpe nodded.
Did you give the order for firing in ranks, Green? Sharpe asked, sliding his sword back into his scabbard. He unbuttoned the middle shiny buttons on his tunic and put a hand inside, bringing out a small notebook with a scruffy stub of a pencil shoved inside. He looked up at Green as he pulled the string off the notebook thoughtfully, grabbing the pencil before it could fall to the grass.
No, sir, he said stiffly. I dont give orders sir, I just
Did you have you and your friend here fire in order, Green? he asked, his face not exactly a smile, but definitely more pleasant than the scowl it had been in before.
Yes sir, he admitted.
And that were you, trying to aim that musket? You know muskets are pretty much useless beyond fifty yards? he mused.
Thirty, sir, Green sniffed, then bit his lip. Sorry, sir.
How many shots can you fire a minute, Private? he asked curiously.
Two, sir, he said boldly. Three. Well just then four, sir, he added carefully. Sharpe considered him for a long, silent moment, his eyes boring into the young man.
Wheres your ramrod, Private? he asked quietly. Green looked down at his weapon quickly.
Lost, sir. Sorry, sir, he said wretchedly. Its in some Frog, sir, he added, annoyed. Sharpe flicked his gaze at Gordon.
And yours? he asked. Private Gordon lifted his musket and turned it slightly. There was the ramrod, stuck firmly in its hold. Sharpe sniffed, lifting his hand with the pencil in it to rub his eye slowly with his free fingers. He let his hand drop, sniffed to himself, and then looked back at the pair of them. Take this, he said, writing something carefully on the paper in the notebook, to Colonel Lawford.
Private Green swallowed. Ill get a ramrod from supplies, sir, he said quickly. Sharpe snorted with amusement.
You will not, he smiled, tearing the page from the book and handing it to him. Youll get a new jacket and a proper weapon from supplies. Get back here in an hour and find Sergeant Harper. Hell give you your stripe, he said.
Green took the paper and looked at it. He could only read a few words but his heart leapt as he read the name at the bottom.
Begging your pardon, Major Sharpe sir, Green said hurriedly, as Sharpe pushed the notebook back in his tunic, What stripe? Chosen Man, Sharpe said. Dismissed, the pair of you, he said. Gordon clapped him on the elbow and turned, walking away. Green looked back at the paper, then up at Sharpe again.
Me? he asked, his voice an excited squeak. He cleared his throat. Me, sir?
Aye, you. Go on, be quick before I change me mind, Rifleman, Sharpe said. Green closed his mouth and a huge grin spread across his face.
Yes sir! he barked, saluting and turning, looking round to get his bearings. Sharpe smiled, wiped his face, and then turned to find the group of green jackets already finding wood to burn. They had tea to brew, after all.
Ah! And here he is: Major Sharpe, Lawford called out. Or as we like to call him, Smoke, he grinned. The girl on his arm matched his pace as they walked over the encampment grass, smiling to herself. She held a parasol over her open shoulder idly, twirling it slightly in the sun.
Sharpe looked up from the tub of water outside his tent, looking up. Sir? he asked, unsure if he was the punch line or the butt of the Colonels joke this time.
Lawford eyed Sharpes state of half-dress, gesturing for him to dry his face off. Sharpe turned to the bowl, rinsed his face of the last of the shaving lather, and hastily picked up a towel, pressing it to his face quickly. He flicked it to sit over his shoulder, looking back at Lawford.
Major Sharpe, may I present Miss Constance Peel? he said grandly. Sharpe looked at the girl and his breath stopped.
She was stunning, an absolute statue of beauty and elegance. Her refined features were cheerful and open, and yet the curiosity burning in her hazel eyes made her look alive and self-possessed in a way that so many other pretty young ladies lacked. Her long, brown hair was twisted into a cascading wave of ringlets and curls, sending it down around her neck and over her shoulders. Her delicate skin was flawless, her eyes searching his as if looking for something.
He remembered to breathe and swallowed quickly, realising how she must be amused at this scruffy-looking officer, stripped to the waist and standing staring at her openly. He cleared his throat hastily.
Miss, he said, then cleared his throat again, wetting dry lips. She smiled slowly.
Major, she said warmly. Her hands fingered the parasol handle, twirling it slowly. Mister Lawford tells me youre to dine with us this evening, she said politely.
I am? he prompted, trying to keep up. That is, I can, miss, he added quickly.
Good. And why do they call you Smoke, Major? she asked curiously, her crafty gaze stealing over him, then back up to his face.
Im sure I dont
Because theres no Smoke without Fire, Lawford interrupted, and here he comes now. Sergeant Patrick Harper rounded the side of the tent jauntily, singing to himself. He stopped and looked at the three of them.
Mary, Mother of God! he whispered as he saw Constances face. She looked over at him, surprised. Sharpe cast him a glance that would have forged new frizzen plates from pig iron. Harper swallowed quickly, realising she was now looking at him. Oh, er begging your pardon, maam, he said, snatching off his shako and inclining his head quickly. She looked confused for a long moment, then looked back at Sharpe.
Well, Major, we shall see you at dinner. I hope, she added with a crafty smile, before Lawford nodded to him and turned her to leave. She stopped and looked back at Harper. Good day, Sergeant, she said cheerfully, and smiled before letting Lawford walk her back away from the tents.
Harper closed his mouth and shuffled over to Sharpe, who was still staring after her.
God save Ireland, Harper whispered, if shes not the most beautiful thing put on this Earth! It was silent for a long moment, then he looked at Sharpe. He was still staring, with a far away look on his face. He slapped the back of his hand into his shoulder. Sir, he said pointedly.
Eh? Oh, er yeah, he said absently. Harper grinned.
Thinking of the lady, are you sir? he said maliciously.
Trying not to, Sharpe admitted, turned back to his bowl of water. Shell be the Colonels bit of skirt, no doubt, he added sourly.
If thats true, sir, Harper mused, watching Sharpe pick up one end of the tub and pour the water over the grass, why was it you she was giving the eye?
Harper, shut it, he said irritably. Has that new lad found you yet?
Hours ago, sir, he said cheerfully, watching him up-end the tub to empty it properly. Jesus, but hes a crack shot, sir. Says hes never fired a rifle before, but Dan reckons hes lying, so he does, he said.
Do you think hell be alright wi us? Sharpe asked, turning to look at the Irishman.
Hes just a small fish, so he is, Harper grinned, but youve just tipped him back in the open sea.
And thats how we came to win today, my dear, Lawford said genially, snapping his fingers at the man servant. He stepped forward and refilled Constances wine glass smoothly. Lawford lifted his glass, watching her. Were it not for myself and Major Sharpe here, half of Spain would be under French military rule.
Then it seems Spain has much to be thankful for, she said, nodding to Lawford and looking at Sharpe. Her gaze was piercing, and he caught it like a slap across the nose. He wondered if his eyes were really watering, or if it was just her beauty and the wine. Dont you think? she asked him.
He realised she was speaking and kicked himself. Not my place to say, miss, he managed, wondering why his mind had gone blank.
Dont you feel proud of your victory today, Major? she asked politely.
Im just glad Im not dead, he sniffed. Miss, he added quickly, politely. She giggled for a moment, and he felt the noise through his fingers pressed to the table cloth, held there so he wouldnt crush his wine glass in nervous excitement.
Mr Lawford did say you had a sense of humour, Mr Sharpe, she grinned. She opened her mouth to say more, but a Lieutenant burst into the tent. Lawford stood quickly.
I say, man! he said, annoyed, but the Lieutenant saluted and pulled out an envelope.
From Lord Wellington, sir, he blurted. Lawford huffed, then nodded, taking the envelope. He looked at it but didnt open it. He looked at Constance and Sharpe.
My apologies, Miss Peel, Major, he said, nodding, I fear this is for my eyes alone. Please excuse me, I shall return, he said, walking stiffly to the tent flaps and out. The Lieutenant followed him out and Constance sighed delicately, leaning back in her chair and relaxing noticeably. Sharpe couldnt help but watch her.
I thought hed never leave, she said to herself, then looked at Sharpe. She looked at him for a long moment, then turned slightly toward him and regarded him with a crafty smile. Even from four feet away, he suddenly felt heat in his face. And certain other places too. The Colonel tells me you two are friends, Major Sharpe, she said quietly.
That we are, miss, he said.
And just how far does this friendship go? she asked carefully. He felt his face screw up in confusion.
Miss? he asked, unsure. She smiled, regarding him and thinking, it seemed.
That Sergeant of yours I hear hes married, she said conversationally.
He is, miss, he replied, his head still swimming. Is it me, or is this conversation all over the place?
And you, Major? she asked lightly.
Me? he asked, not sure what the question was.
Are you married, Major? she asked. He gazed at her, watching her smile in amusement at his inability to think.
Shes doing it on purpose. Shit, he realised suddenly. He wet dry lips and reached for his wine. No, miss, not any more, he said. He took a sip of the wine, watching the glass, not her.
Oh. I sense a story behind that, she said charmingly, but as he looked back at her, he realised with a heavy heart that she was simply doing what girls did best; getting any information she wanted from a man whod lost his head. He let himself smile, even as he relaxed slowly. He leaned back in his chair, looking back at her for a long moment.
Yeah, alright, shes a stunner. But what does she want? He watched her regard him, and he felt prepared to wait for her to speak first. If I play me cards right, I should be able to find out. He grinned suddenly, and she put her elbow on the table, letting her chin into it and watching him.
What? she asked coyly. He sniffed, looking at the linen tablecloth.
Just wondering what yer doing way out here, miss, he said. She continued to watch him.
My brother was in the ranks, she said faintly.
The ranks? I dont think so, miss, he offered apologetically. He looked up at her but she looked away. He found that odd.
He was a Lieutenant, she said reluctantly. Hes not now, she added quietly.
Im sorry, miss, he said truthfully. She looked up at him, and for the first time, he realised it was a genuine look. Now hed seen something real, he knew that anything else would easily be distinguished as a lie.
So am I, she replied, her face suddenly fragile-looking. She held his gaze and was about to say more, but Lawford ducked back into the tent suddenly.
Well, well, well, he breathed, annoyed. I am most sorry, my dear, for leaving you with no-one but the Major for company, he began, but
On the contrary, the Major and I seem to have more in common than I first thought, she said brightly, her good mood seemingly restored. Lawford looked at Sharpe gingerly.
Really? he asked dubiously. Well Im afraid we have to talk war business, Miss Peel. I do so hate to break up the evening, but cant be helped, you see, he said, positively wringing his hands in reluctance to see her booted out into the cool, autumn evening.
No, no, Im sure you have important things to discuss with the good Major, she said, putting her hands on the table to get to her feet. Sharpe stood quickly, inclining his head respectfully. She smiled at him. You men get on with fighting the war, I have to find a soft place to sleep, if I can, she said, smiling impishly at Sharpe. He caught himself staring and swallowed, noticing Lawfords testy glance his way.
Goodnight, Miss, he said formally. She smiled at him and then turned to Lawford.
Goodnight, Mr Lawford, she said, lifting her skirts and making for the tent flaps.
Guard! Lawford called out, and the Private outside ducked into the tent. See Miss Peel to her tent, if you please, he said.
Yes sir, the Private chirped, nodding to Constance and lifting the canvas for her to exit the tent. The tent flaps dropped and Lawford looked at Sharpe.
Now then, Richard, were ordered to the village of Fuerza Mayor. Its only three days march from here, shouldnt be too hard on the men.
No, sir, he said, looking pre-occupied.
Hows the new man doing? The one you pilfered from my ranks, he said pleasantly, turning and crossing to his desk, finding a rolled up map and bringing it back to the small dining table.
Very well, sir. Id say hes a natural wi rifles, he replied, but Lawford noticed the thumb rubbing his fingers, the slight wince to his eyes.
Well, Richard? Out with it, he sighed, lying the map on the table.
Whats troubling you? he asked. Miss Peel, by any chance?
Aye. Whats she doing here? he asked, confused. Lawford sighed.
Look, she arrived this morning, saying she was picking up items from her brothers ranks. Well he was in the 54th, but she wasnt to know theyd already moved on without us. Shes leaving tomorrow to catch them up and collect her brothers things. Then shes going back to England. He watched Sharpes face, but it didnt clear. What now? he sighed resignedly.
I dont know, he admitted. But summats not right.
Like what? Lawford demanded testily. The fact that shes attached herself to me for the two days that shes spending here, and not some filthy, unwashed Major?
Sharpe looked at him slowly, his green eyes whirling with a thousand thoughts and suspicions. Lawford huffed.
Look, sorry about that, old man. But you know what I mean just give me a chance with her, alright? Its not often that I get a handsome girl like that fall into my lap. As it were, he added hastily. Sharpe smiled, and Lawford suddenly realised he hadnt been listening anyway.
Its no business o mine, Im sure, he said easily. Just go careful, Bill. Summats not right wi that lass, he added thoughtfully. Lawford met his eyes for a long moment.
If you say so, he said, nodding. Anyway, here look, theres the village we need to get to. And heres -. Oh, look at that, he said, surprised. Sharpe leaned over the map, reading it.
What? he asked, when Lawford smiled slowly. Well, its right on Miss Peels way to the 54th, he smiled. We can accompany her for three-quarters of her journey after all.
Sharpe looked at him, then forced his face into an easy smile. Well then, he said, Ill get back to the lads and tell em to get sorted fer tomorrows march, he said. Dawn start, is it, sir? he asked.
Yes, Richard. Thank you, he said with a smile. Sharpe nodded, turning back to his seat and leaning over, collecting his shako from the opposite side.
Goodnight, sir, he said, nodding.
Goodnight, Lawford replied, but he already sounded very much pre-occupied.
Eeeee, look at that, will you? Hagman wheezed, nodding slightly to his right. Harris and Robinson looked over, noticing Colonel Lawford edging his horse out in front of the marching South Essex and Rifles. Following his horse was a vision in cream and white. Constance Peel was riding side-saddle, her cream parasol up to keep off the strong sun. Robinson whistled quietly.
Now I could definitely look at that all day, he breathed, grinning. Harris tutted.
Believe me, a refined lady like that wouldnt look twice at this bunch of scruffy would-be convicts, he grinned. Shes obviously here under Colonel Lawfords protection, he added haughtily.
So why was she eyeing Mister Sharpe like an eight-guinea ball-gown? Green said suddenly. The others looked at him.
When did you see that? Robinson hissed quietly.
Ey, it pays to keep your eyes open, Green admitted, yer never know when there might be something worth blagging.
And ah which assizes volunteered you for this detail? Harper asked loudly from behind them.
Them bastards up at Lancaster Castle, he grumbled. Said I was a thief.
Thief? You? Moore asked sarcastically, from his left.
Aye, a thief and me just trying to eat, he moaned. Harper laughed.
Even thieves have to eat, isnt that right, Green? he chuckled.
Of course some moren others, he pointed out, and Brown cleared his throat.
I had two mates o mine done at Lancaster Castle, for nicking bread, he said glumly.
Sure and thats no way to go, now is it? Harper commiserated. Well, at least we got Mister Green out, so we did.
Aye, Private Green in green, Hagman grinned. Just another misunderstood Scouse, am I right? he teased.
Ey, get off it, he said, pushing at Hagmans shoulder. The Cheshire-man chuckled and winked at Harper.
Oi! came a loud voice from their left suddenly, immediately identifiable as Sharpes. Pick yer bloody feet up! This int a Sunday afternoon stroll!
Blimey, Brown tutted. Youd fink hed let us keep pace with the Essex lads.
You heard the man, Rifles, speed it up, Harper snapped, and they straightened and sped up just a little.
Harper picked up the tea urn, swishing it round before setting it back down on the tripod over the small fire.
So anyway, I says, if you wants a good kickin, Im moren happy to oblige, Green said cheerfully, and Brown laughed.
And did you? he asked.
O course what kind of man do you think I am? he chuckled. Harper shook his head sadly.
A Scouse git with no-one to keep him in line, so you are, he said, and the rest of the Chosen Men laughed. Green tutted.
Now thats not fair, he whined, but Robinson tossed a ramrod at him. It bounced harmlessly off his knee and he picked it up, looking at it. I never thought Id be here, wi you lot, he said proudly. I mean, when youre in the South Essex, you think youre either going to die or well, die, he shrugged. Harper grinned.
Well, now you can die at long-range, he said happily, and Green smiled.
Yeah. Nice of him to put me here, he said quietly.
The Major, he said, as if it was obvious. We hear hes a right snappy bastard, he said conspiratorially. Whats he really like?
What am I really like? Sharpe echoed, thinking. Constance watched him, her face lit up by the flicker of the fire between them.
Hes a ruffian and a cad, Lawford said deliberately, and she looked at the Colonel slowly.
Oh I know that, she said airily.
Do you, Sharpe said pointedly. He looked at his hands, clasped tightly, and sniffed, letting them fall to the table slowly. She looked back at him.
You hear things when you travel with soldiers, Major, she said neatly.
Ill just bet. Is that what yer doing here? Hearing things? For who? You shouldnt believe solders tales, miss, he said politely. Theyre worse than newspapers.
You dont trust newspapers? she prompted. He took a sip of the red wine, looking at the glass in his fingers to keep from staring at her.
Make better use as firelighters, he said shortly. She giggled, raising a hand to her mouth.
Really, she stressed. I read all about you in the Times, Major. Talavera? she added slyly.
See? They lie, he pointed out. They probably said we went in, fought a couple of French blokes, picked up a standard we found lying about and went home fer afternoon tea. Am I right? he asked. She considered his face through the red glow of the fire, hesitating.
More or less, she admitted, but her voice was quieter now, more serious. He huffed, displaying just what he thought of that summary. She looked at the wine glass in her hands, and it was silent for a long moment.
So youre following the 54th, Miss Peel? Lawford said suddenly. She turned and looked at him, sat a few feet to her right.
I am, sir, she said cheerfully. Sharpe watched her, and Lawfords reaction, as they talked about the 54th and where they were headed. He leaned back slowly, thinking.
Isnt that right, Sharpe? Lawford said suddenly. Sharpe looked at him.
Sir? he asked, realising hed missed the conversation while lost in her beauty. Lawford looked annoyed.
I said, its growing late and we all have to be up early tomorrow, he said pointedly. Sharpe let his eyes slide back over to Constances, who met them with a curious stare.
We do, he agreed. Lawford stood, as did Sharpe. Constance got to her feet slowly.
Goodnight, gentlemen, she said, amused. Thank you for a most illuminating evening. She picked up her skirts and turned, walking away slowly. Sharpe looked at Lawford.
There, you see? Lawford said quietly. Do you still think theres something dreadfully secretive about Miss Peel?
Yes, he said bluntly. But right now Id rather sleep.
See that you do, Lawford said darkly, then nodded to him and turned away, walking to his tent. Sharpe sat down again slowly, thinking for a long minute. Then he upended his glass and finished the last mouthful of wine, wiping a hand over his face. He heard the manservant arrive and turned to watch him tamp out the fire and collect the glasses and stools. Sharpe stood, nodded a thanks, and walked over the grass slowly.
He undid the buttons on his tunic slowly as he walked, trying not to think about Constance and the sound of her laugh. He opened his tunic and stretched, rubbing his face. He rounded the tents and spotted his, heaving a tired sigh and heading for it. He stopped and listened to the sound of the Chosen Men, laughing and talking, just round the next few tents, and then smiled to himself, ducking into his tent. He pulled the tunic off over his shoulders and then stopped suddenly.
Miss? he asked, finding Constance stood, watching him. He looked around his small tent quickly. Nothing had moved, no candle had been lit. She was simply standing, watching him in the silent darkness.
Major, she said quietly, walking up to him slowly.
Now, look here miss, I think -
Major, I want to ask you a question, she said, her eyes dark. He stared at her; he couldnt help it. He noticed the smile was gone from her face, the cheer non-existent. Instead she looked unsure, her eyes leaving his to dart round his shoulder, always watching the tent flaps nervously.
Well? he asked slowly, shrugging his tunic back on cautiously. She looked up at him, then away quickly, to her hands fiddling with the lace on her dress awkwardly.
Do you think Do you think well be safe? she asked, her voice timid.
Safe? From who? he asked, confused.
Before we reach the 54th, she said, her voice quieter still. I Im rather fearful Im just trying to reach the 54th, and safety, she whispered. He realised she was shaking slightly, and she lifted her head to look at him clearly. Will we?
He took in her face, reading the fear and anxiety all too well. He was aware that time was passing, but couldnt think of anything useful to say. She watched him for a long moment, then swallowed and looked at her hands, still fiddling with the lace edging on her blouse.
I just want to be safe, she whispered, but it caused a tear to break over her face. She put her hand out and grabbed his arm, squeezing hard. I never wanted this, any of this, she whimpered. Please believe me.
The pressure of her fingers on his arm worried him. 54th my arse, he thought suspiciously. He put his hands to her elbows reassuringly.
Look, Miss Peel, weve only two days to go, and well find em, he said gruffly. She looked up at him quickly.
The 54th, he said simply. You remember them yer cover story?
Oh Major, she said wretchedly, and pulled on him. She let go of his arm, sliding her arms around him and squeezing herself against him tightly. He just cleared his throat, pausing for a long, long moment before putting his arms round her awkwardly and looking over her head. I know Colonel Lawford commands here, but I feel so much safer with you.
Aye, I bet. And dont think I havent seen tears before, neither. He smelt her perfume and swallowed quickly. Well get you to the 54th safely, Miss Peel, he said confidently. Theres nowt between here and them as can get in our way, he added reassuringly.
She looked up at him. Constance, she said quietly.
Well, I try, he said, confused. She smiled suddenly, her eyes bright again.
Thats my name, Major. She watched him. He just looked back at her, not knowing what to say.
Do you want me to Well, shall I he began, his face unsure.
Yes, she interrupted, her voice a whisper.
get you back to yer tent, Miss Constance? he finished. She stared at him.
My tent, she repeated flatly.
Yes, miss, he said. You cant stay here, its well, its not int Kings Regulations, is it? he pointed out. Her face started to turn angry, he noticed. And cant have the men gossiping, miss, he added pointedly. She searched his eyes for a long moment, and he had time to wonder just what she was looking for. Then she cleared her throat, smiling slightly.
Are you always such a gentleman? Or just when you dont care for the sport? she asked sourly. He felt his eyes narrow.
I dont care for games int middle of the night, he said clearly. She looked up at him again slowly, her shoulders sagging just a little.
Then I shall take care not to play them any more, she said softly. She stared at him but he relaxed his arms round her, lifting his chin slightly. Oh, dear me You arent a cad at all, are you? she said ruefully. It seems most of this camp has you wrong, Major Sharpe, she added, some of her old cheer resurfacing, although she sounded just the slightest bit unsettled.
Richard, he managed, wetting dry lips.
Richard, she repeated happily. She continued to stare at him, then let her hands slide down his open tunic slowly. He felt immeasurably glad she hadnt slid them over his shirt. Well then, she said, pushing herself away from him slowly.
He let her go, looking at his feet and sliding a hand over his mouth slowly, swallowing. He looked at her, feeling her eyes in his direction, but noticed she was actually giving the tent flaps a fretful look.
Would you she began, then her voice gave slightly. She cleared her throat and straightened herself consciously. Would you be kind enough to walk me back to my tent, Richard?
Of course, miss, he said automatically, and she put her hands to her face, wiping away the stray tears and rearranging her fringe professionally. She looked at him and offered a small smile. He sniffed, then put his elbow out. She took it, wrapping her arms round it gratefully, and he led her out of the tent.
They walked back to her tent in silence, but he noticed she held on tightly to his arm, jumping at slight noises on the night air. They stopped in front of her tent, and she let go of his arm reluctantly.
Thank you for your kindness, Richard, she said quietly, and he nodded.
Your servant, miss, he allowed.
Constance, she said, leaning forward and kissing him. After a minute or two of this she grabbed a handful of buttons on his open tunic and yanked him closer. He had to put a hand to her elbow to stop himself from falling over her.
Ah, Miss Peel, I Ah!
Sharpe heard the shout and pulled himself away from her, looking up to find Lawford staring at them in horror. He took a step back, then fixed Sharpe with a glare from Hell. Sharpe cleared his throat, realising what had just happened and the fact that he had no idea where the last few minutes had gone. Constance pulled her shawl tighter over her shoulders, raising her chin and looking over at Lawford down her nose.
Major, you are supposed to be resting! Lawford snapped accusingly.
As are you, Colonel, Constance said cheerfully. Goodnight, gentlemen, she said, not looking at either of them as she ducked into her own tent quickly. Sharpe stood back one, lost. Lawford marched over and grabbed his elbow, yanking him away hurriedly. He waited until they were within reach of Sharpes own tent.
Oh the nerve of you, man! Lawford hissed angrily.
Hey, look, she
Richard, I saw you two! Dont try and blame this on her! You you you had your hands on her! he spat.
Heads appeared round the tent next to them, grinning and listening.
Look, Bill, she were in me tent, and I told her she shouldnt
In your tent! he repeated, slapping his hand to his temple. And I thought you were supposed to be at least trying to be a gentleman! he cried.
I was! I told her to leave, I took her back, I swear!
Oh yes, and as soon as you got her back to her tent you just couldnt resist, could you? he scoffed.
She had hold o me! Sharpe protested.
Oh Im sure! A refined, upright lady like Miss Peel would go for you, wouldnt she? he demanded angrily. You! A dirty, uncouth little ranker without a decent tailor or a shirt! he spat. Look, Richard, just get to bed and get up early tomorrow. Dont think Im not watching you!
Its Colonel Lawford to you! he cried, turning and storming off across the grass. Sharpe huffed, watching him go, then flicked him a vindictive two fingers before turning toward his tent.
He suddenly noticed the heads vanishing from their vantage-point round the tent next to him. Oi! he called angrily, but all he heard were chuckles and fast feet in the grass. He huffed, rubbing his hands over his face, walking up to his tent flaps and ducking inside.
It was then that he wondered why he could taste honey.
They moved out early the next day, Lawford ordering Sharpe to take the Chosen Men ahead slightly.
He wants you away from him, so he does, Harper said cheerfully. And why would that be? he asked, prompting winks and muffled chuckles from the Green Jackets stretching out behind them.
Dont ask, Sharpe muttered. He marched on, wondering just what it was that Constance had really wanted to ask him.
Ooh, Harper said, casting a look behind him at Hagman, who was walking with his rifle across his shoulders and a cheeky grin on his face. And ah, would it have anything to do with the young miss, sir? he asked.
Funny, is it? Sharpe asked, turning and pinning Harper with a stare that could have been broken up and served in strong alcohol. Harper cleared his throat, his face dropping. As funny as my boot up yer arse, Harper? he demanded. Harper shook his head slowly. Didnt think so.
Harper waited until Sharpe was looking forwards again, and then cast a look over his shoulder at Hagman. He winked. Hagman grinned and turned to look at Harris, who turned and nodded to Moore, who passed it on to Taylor, and then Brown, and then Robinson. Robinson turned a cheeky grin on Green, who just looked back at him, lost. Robinson shook his head dismissively. They marched on.
Ow! Major! she cried accusingly.
Sorry miss, but itd be easier if you held still, like.
But youre hurting me!
Do you want me to stop then?
Of course not.
Well Hows that, miss?
Much better, thank you. Just slow down, would you, Major?
Are you sure, miss? Itll be over quicker if you let me
No. I have no desire to have you rush and make a mess. It would be better if you took it slowly and just got it over with.
Of course, miss, he breathed, unimpressed. Come on, come on Nearly there, miss, soon have . Look, miss, Im sorry, but could you move that way a bit? I cant see where Im putting me there!
Thank God for that, I thought Id be here all day
Wait Oh bloody hell, what a mess.
Language, Major! I told you not to pull it out so fast.
I know, but I couldnt help it... Bugger!
Now I cant see for the
What? I thought you said it was out, Major?
Will you hold still, miss! I cant see if you keep shifting!
Well its hard not to, she huffed.
Dont put your hand there.
Sorry, miss. Its the only way
For you, maybe. Girls dont like it, she stressed.
Hold still Right, it dunt look too bad from this angle.
It will do, miss, theres nowt I can do about that. Nearly there
Dear God... Who would have thought that such a small thing could be so much trouble?
Its not that small, he pointed out.
Thats because man-inches are twice the size of girl-inches, she replied tartly.
All out, Sharpe said, letting go of her hand and looking up at her. She pulled her finger back and looked at it. If youd take a soldiers advice, miss? he said gingerly. She just sat on the small stool, sucking her throbbing finger slowly. He let his head drop deliberately, scratching the back of it while he looked at his feet.
What? she asked, her mouth still round her finger. He got up from his crouch in front of her, standing and brushing his hands off on the sides of his trousers carelessly. He put his hand out with the tweezers in it. She looked up at him, taking them off him with her free hand.
Wear yer gloves when yer riding. Then when yer moving tree branches out of yer face you wouldnt get splinters, he pointed out. Yer lucky the Colonel let us stop for a half-hour.
Thank you, she said quietly, her finger still in her mouth. She sighed, pulling it out and shaking it slightly. She looked around. Look, Major, Im sorry about well, last night, she said, lowering her voice. He stood over her, watching her with absolute incredulity on his face, and she sighed. She stood abruptly, nearly knocking into him. He stood back one to create at least the illusion of a discreet space. She looked at him, but he just put his hands on his hips, watching her cautiously.
Well well be with the 54th tomorrow, miss, and then itll all be over, he allowed. He noticed her eyes widen slightly.
Why do you say that, Major? she asked quickly. He continued to stare at her, and she bit her lip sheepishly.
Look, Miss Constance You do whatever it is yer really doing out here, and then go back to England, alright? he said wearily. Youll be safe until we hand you over to the 54th. He turned to go but she grabbed his arm suddenly. He paused but didnt turn to look at her.
Major Richard I She hesitated, and then he did turn to look at her slowly.
What? he asked clearly. She looked at him for a long moment, opening her mouth. Then she just closed it and released his arm.
I wanted to say thank you, she said. And Im sorry if Ive upset things between you and Colonel Lawford, she added quietly.
I can sort him out, he allowed dismissively. She smiled.
I dont doubt, she said, then shrugged. I meant what I said, Richard, she added more seriously. I feel much safer with you here.
Thats me job, miss, he said non-commitedly.
No, Richard, its your attitude, she said, and leaned toward him. He made no effort to move, until she put a hand to his face and kissed him. He couldnt stop himself from pulling her against him.
Sir! Youll be wanting to know, Colonel Lawfords just had a runner, sir, and Harper rounded the side of the equipment wagon and stopped dead in his tracks. He whipped his shako off his head and waited for them to jump in surprise and make all kinds of excuses.
Instead, the pair didnt seem to have noticed him at all. Harper scratched his head, at first amused, and then quite unnerved by the sight of his commanding officer applying himself with an industriousness that would shock a sailor.
He looked around quickly, thinking. Then he cleared his throat, put his shako back firmly on his head, and put his hands behind his back.
Major Sharpe, sir! he called out, his parade-ground voice carrying perfectly.
Sharpe sprang back a few inches, looking at Constance and seeming very surprised to her eyes. But it didnt seem to have been the interruption that had surprised him. He slid his arms away from her, tugging his jacket straight quickly. She leaned on him still, then pushed at him quickly to stand upright. Sharpe swallowed, putting a hand to her elbow to support her, then looked over at Harper with trepidation.
Sergeant? he snapped. Harper smiled the smile of the innocent, convincingly as always.
I thought youd like to know, sir, that the Colonel has just had a rider to tell him were within a day of the 54th, sir, he said cheerfully. Oh, miss, good afternoon there, he said quickly, as if only just realising she were there. He took down his shako again, fingering the cap and smiling benignly, nodding to her. She stared at him for a long moment, then smiled slightly.
Sergeant, she said faintly, then cleared her throat and stood a little straighter. Sergeant, you have the eyes of a hawk, she observed.
Me, miss? Oh no, miss, he said, shaking his head helpfully. Too many battles in too much musket-smoke, miss. Terrible clouding of the eyes at times. Tis a worry, miss, he added.
I see, she said, smiling gratefully. Sharpe did not smile.
You, get back to the Men, get em ready fer the off, he snapped. Harper nodded, snapping his heels and planting his shako back on his head jauntily, turning and sauntering off. And you, Sharpe said, looking back at Constance. She waited.
Yes? she dared, watching his green eyes steal over her face slowly.
Be nice to Colonel Lawford. Might keep me out of the sh trouble a little longer, he said quietly. She smiled, before lifting a hand and running it down the side of his face gently.
Your eyes say you should be cruel, she said quietly, and yet youre not.
And your eyes say you should be honest, he countered. Her smile dropped, but not her hand.
Richard! she admonished. His eyes narrowed.
Perhaps later you can explain to me what game it is were playing now, miss, he said quietly.
Perhaps, she conceded.
I had a girl, yeah, Green admitted quietly. But she wouldnt speak to me after I was caught, like.
Her parents didnt like her knocking around with a petty thief, I suppose, Harper put in, rubbing the cloth over the volley gun in his lap.
Nah they just didnt like the fact that I was stupid enough to get caught, he sniffed.
Then you shouldnt have stolen whatever it was you stole, Sharpe put in mildly. Harper looked at him surreptitiously, noticing the far-away look in his blank gaze. He looked back at the volley gun.
I had no choice, sir, Green replied gloomily. We was starving.
Everybody were starving, Robinson said quietly from the other side of the fire. He looked at his tin cup and then got up, walking over to the fire and picking up the tea urn. He refilled his cup, then looked at Green, wandering over and refilling his too. He turned back and looked at Sharpe. Tea, sir?
Eh? Oh, no, yer alright, he said, draining the cup. He stood, wiping hands over his face and stretching, before walking past Harper, handing the cup to him as he went. Harper watched him go.
Night then, sir, he said pointedly.
Yeah, Sharpe replied, disappearing round the tents. Harris looked up from his book.
And whats he up to, Sarge? he asked quietly. Harper looked at him, then sighed.
God only knows, Harris. And he isnt telling, he added thoughtfully. He looked at Green. You have a sharp eye, Green, he said cheerfully. Green looked back at him.
I have two, Sarge, he allowed cautiously. Harper grinned.
How about you make good use of them? he said pleasantly. Find out what the young miss wants with the Major, and therell be a bonus in your tea rations, so there will, he added. Green laughed.
I can tell you what the young miss wants with the Major right now, dont need to go spying on her, he scoffed. Harper leaned forward and pinned him with a sobering look.
Oh, but you do, Green, he said clearly. Theres something going on with her that even the Major doesnt know about. Im not about to let some head-turning wench get him into trouble, and no mistake.
Green opened his mouth but looked around, noticing how every Green Jacket had sat up slowly, watching. You You lot are kinda protective, arent you? he asked nervously.
That we are, Green. On account of so many higher-ranking officers having tried to break us up and piss us off between the various battles weve won for them. So you be a good boy now, and run along. Find out what this girls up to, and then you come straight back here and tell me, understand? Harper asked quietly. Green swallowed, set his rifle down and got up. He stopped for a second, turned, and picked up his rifle, detaching the bayonet sword and pushing it into his belt. Then he put the rifle down, nodded at Harper, and scurried off.
That was a bit harsh, wasnt it? Harris asked quietly. Harper turned and looked at him.
You want us separated from Colonel Lawford, and the South Essex? he asked pointedly. Cos thats what shes trying to do, so it is.
Hows that? Hagman asked, confused. Last I saw she were sweet on Mister Sharpe.
Exactly. But only when she thinks Mister Lawfords around to see it, he said wisely. Hagman met his gaze, then ahed and nodded slowly. Harris sighed.
I dont know, these women are so much trouble.
Sharpe closed his telescope and pouted, thinking. Harper walked up and stood next to him. They stood watching the redcoats, splayed out across the flats about a half mile away from them, apparently oblivious of their audience. Something in the region of two hundred men were decamping, setting up tents and arranging the site as the sky started to dim and the air started to nip with the evenings chill.
Thatll be the 54th then, sir? Harper asked. Sharpe huffed. So Miss Peel will be transferring to their camp, then? he added innocently. Sharpe straightened, letting the telescope fall to his side. He grunted something unintelligible and turned away, walking back to the group of Chosen Men currently sitting around the hillside with their feet up, their rifles down and their backs flat on the grass. He was contemplating sitting down when they heard someone scrambling up the side of the steep hill toward them. Sharpe walked over and looked down.
A redcoat was scrabbling his way up the incline, puffing and cursing. He reached the top and found Sharpes boots. He looked up gratefully, then pulled himself over the top and stood quickly, brushing off his uniform hastily. He saluted.
Major Sharpe, sir, he breathed. Sharpe sniffed.
News? he asked shortly. The redcoat stuffed his hand in his pocket and brought out a small piece of paper.
Colonel Lawford requests you find a road to the village for us, sir. The 54th are to follow, sir, he gabbled. He offered Sharpe the piece of paper. He took it, unfolding it and reading it slowly.
Change of plans. Were to join the 54th and make our way to Fuerza Mayor together. Remember: hands are for pockets, Richard.
He snorted mirthlessly, then looked at the redcoat. Received, Private. Dismissed, he said curtly. The redcoat saluted and turned to the hill again, slithering down it on his side. Hagman wandered to the edge and watched him.
Why dunt he just take the path? he wondered out loud. Green got up and looked over.
Hes a right sconehead, he said. I knows him from the South Essex. Always goes fer the most direct route, that one.
He would have saved hisself a lot of trouble by
Alright lads, on yer feet, Sharpe ordered, folding the piece of paper and stuffing it inside his tunic. Were to find a road to get to the village. Lets go, he snapped.
The Green Jackets wearily got to their feet, not daring to moan about the cold night that was just a few hours away, or the lack of a tea-break, or in fact say anything to the Major. His face was enough warning that he should not be pestered. They followed Harper as he walked off toward the other side of the hill, looking down and waving at them to spread out and reconnoitre. He turned back to find Sharpe still thinking.
Sir? he asked. Sharpe looked at him. Any particular direction, sir? he asked.
Left, he said absently, then walked on to follow them.
Well, here we are, my dear, Lawford said warmly, stopping his horse. Fuerza Mayor, in the brick, he chuckled. She smiled demurely and he felt his heart sing. He turned in his seat, looking out over the ranks stretching backwards in a perfect column.
Lieutenant, get the men safely barracked, he barked.
Sir, Lieutenant George Withwood replied smartly, turning and relaying orders to Sergeants along the sides. Men started to separate and divide in perfect order, and Lawford smiled contentedly at the display.
And when youve done that, Withwood, you might join the senior staff and Miss Peel for an early supper, he said cheerfully.
Yes sir, thank you, sir, Withwood smiled, knowing who would be at that dinner. Lawford turned in his saddle to look at Constance.
That is, if youd deign to join us this evening, Miss Peel? he said suavely. She smiled and nodded. He straightened in the saddle, then urged his horse onto the main road that appeared to run through the village. Well then, lets find somewhere to freshen up, shall we? he said.
Harper, wheres Green? Sharpe demanded. Harper looked up from the wooden table of the inn, standing quickly. Sharpe had walked into the crowded tavern, looked around and caught sight of the taller Irishman with little trouble.
Oh, er, couldnt say for sure, sir. Hell be with the others, so he will, he reasoned. Sharpe just fixed him with a searching stare. Something you wanted him for, sir? he asked innocently. Sharpe just huffed, then turned and walked out again. Harper sat down slowly, looking at Brown and Moore.
Hes onto you, Moore said quietly, grinning. Harper scoffed at him.
Sure and hes not, Moore. Ive been running rings around officers for more years than youve been in this poxy army, he said indignantly.
Sharpe walked outside of the tavern, slowly and stopping. He thought about it for a long moment.
Do I really care that Greens been following Constance around? And since when was she Constance and not Miss Peel? He shook his head wearily, ran a hand through his hair, and turned in the direction of the house where hed been bunked. He walked quietly through the night streets, reaching the house and looking up at it. It certainly looked old, and oddly beautiful, if he were being honest.
He pushed the door open and walked in, going for the staircase. As he climbed to the top and rounded the small landing, he caught sight of Constance stood outside his door. He let his shoulders sag, knowing that if he walked over and talked to her, hed be lucky to get into his room alone.
You seem lost, miss, he ventured. She turned and saw him, smiling. He noticed her hands were pressed together tightly, her smile nervous.
Yes, I rather think I am, Richard, she said gamely. You, ah youre not in the same building as William? she said conversationally.
As you can see, he replied neutrally.
Yes, that I can see, she said. Her eyes darted about and she looked up and down the landing quickly. You must be wondering what Im doing here, she said, swallowing.
I can imagine, he said in measured tones. She nodded.
Yes, I know what it must look like, a girl like me hovering around your door, especially at this hour, she said, her voice thin. He stole a quick glance around the landing, then walked a few paces closer. She was still a good ten feet away, but her nervousness was all too evident.
Miss Constance, is there something wrong? he asked. Ill be buggered if Im going to stand here all night until she moves. I want me bed.
Er, well I, ah You didnt come to the officers dinner, she said suddenly.
No, I didnt, he admitted.
Why? I was so hoping to talk to you. And a Lieutenant Withwood was also there, he seemed disappointed you were absent.
I were staying clear of Colonel Lawford, he said neutrally. She nodded.
Oh, I see, yes, she said, her hands wringing apparently by themselves.
Miss, are we going to be stood here all night? he asked wearily. Only its getting late, and you really should be back at your
Oh, yes, yes, of course, she said. She turned and walked a few paces toward the opposite end of the landing, and then turned and walked back toward him. He watched her for a few moments, then sighed and folded his arms.
Miss? he said wearily. She stopped and looked up at him, her eyes bright. Are you not used to being alone in strange villages?
Thats it, Richard, exactly, she said quickly. I dont know anyone here, well, apart from you, of course, and I feel this place is
Miss, Ill take you back to your building, and then Ill come back here to bed. Just so were clear, he said slowly. She swallowed, watching him.
I suppose thats fair, she said quietly. He rolled his eyes and let his arms drop, and she walked over to him. He backed out of her way, letting her walk down the staircase first. But she stopped, reaching out and putting her hand to his elbow, pulling on the material in her fingers. He walked down with her, taking her hand from his jacket and looping it round his elbow instead. She edged closer to him, pulling on his elbow gratefully, and they walked down the stairs.
Sharpe wandered down the stairs slowly, wiping his hand over his face.
Stay for a night-cap she says. As if I dont know what that means, he snorted. He reached the bottom before he stopped, thinking. But she didnt have any drinks in her room, he realised slowly. He shook his head, smiling, before he pushed the big door to the building open, pushing it closed firmly. He stepped off the stone bricks to the dirt street, feeling the chilly air against his face as he wrapped his hand round his sword hilt, turning in the direction of his building. She were certainly scared about summat, he thought idly. Is it the village, or the 54th? She said she were picking up her brothers effects tomorrow. Youd think shed be glad to get em back
He pushed it from his mind as he noticed a dark shape stealing against the far wall of the street. It slipped on towards the building behind him. He pretended not to notice and kept on walking. He heard the sound of the door opening and closing softly and stopped, looking back quickly.
So thats what it is someones after her, he thought wildly. He turned and ran to the doors, then stopped. Wait a minute, lad, he thought quickly, his hand on the door. He hesitated, his tongue wetting his upper lip slowly. Maybe hes not even going to her room. Maybe its nowt. Maybe I should stop thinking Ive owt to do with her and get to me bed.
He let go of the door slowly, then turned and looked back over the street. He huffed and turned away, walking slowly back into the street.
Suddenly a scream burst from the upstairs window, closely followed by the crack of a pistol shot. He turned and threw his shoulder against the door, flinging it open and running to the stairs, taking them two at a time.
He ran along the landing, seeing her door open. He barged in and almost tripped. He stopped and grabbed the open door for support, looking round.
Constance was stood, one hand over her mouth, the other limply holding a spent pistol directly at him. He looked at his feet.
The colour of the jacket of the man at his feet made him jump. He pushed the sword hilt out of his way and dropped to his knees, grabbing the green uniform and rolling it over.
Bitch, Green whimpered, and Sharpe looked up at her.
What the bloody hell do you think yer doing? he bawled at her. She dropped the pistol and stepped back until she was against the wall, whimpering into her hands.
Sharpe looked Green over, finding a spreading patch of deep red over his left shoulder. He pushed him flat against the floor.
Dont move, he commanded, and Green opened the eyes hed squeezed shut.
Oh, its you, sir, he ground out, hissing with the pain. Sharpe grabbed his buttons and yanked his jacket open, finding the pistol wound to his shoulder and looking around the room hurriedly. He got up, slammed the door quickly, and then looked at Constance.
Get me summat to put over it! he shouted harshly. She just stared, every part of her shaking, silent tears flowing over her face. He tutted and ran to her suitcase on the bed, upending it to tip the contents over the bed. Green moaned and whimpered in pain. Sharpe grabbed at a small white piece of something and ran back over, opening it to find it was a silk slip. He grabbed the seams and ripped it in half, folding it over and over. He looked at Green. Dont move! he snapped.
Yes, sir, Green moaned, wincing and shivering. Sharpe pulled his shirt from his shoulder and pressed the silk to it firmly. Green shouted in pain, whimpering and moaning again.
Come on, up, Sharpe snapped, helping him to sit up. Green grabbed at his arm and they got him to his feet slowly. Sharpe helped him hobble over to the bed, where he swept the case and the clothes onto the floor. He dropped him to the bed and turned to look at Constance. You, he said quickly, moving over to her and grabbing her wrists from her mouth. She squealed in fright and tried to free her hands, trying to back away, but she was already against the wall. Sharpe squeezed her wrists painfully and slapped them back against the wall. Constance! he shouted into her face.
She gulped and looked at him, her face a study in white fear. He looked over at Green, shivering and groaning in pain. He looked back at the girl he was pinning to the wall.
Constance! You have to help him! he snapped. She gulped and whimpered, shaking her head wildly.
I didnt know! I didnt know! I didnt see the green jack-
Constance, listen to me, he shouted. She shook her head desperately. I need you to watch him while I get help, do you understand me? he snapped. She started to shake again, her tears flowing over her face quickly.
I didnt know he wasnt him! I thought he was
Sharpe let go of one of her wrists and simply slapped her across the face. It wasnt hard but it stopped her short. She stared off to the side, at the floor, for a long, silent second.
Constance, Im sorry, he said quickly. But you have to look after him while I get help. Do you understand? he said firmly. She raised her head and looked at him, her eyes a little vacant.
Yes, yes, she said vaguely. He swallowed and pulled her by her wrist to the bed. He pushed her to sit down and picked up her other wrist, placing it on the silk makeshift bandage.
Press that. And dont move, either of you, he commanded.
Hurry, she said quietly. Green opened his eyes.
Im sorry, sir, he wheezed.
Well sort that out later, he said confidently, then turned and ran from the room.
Pat! Pat! he shouted as he ran into the barn. Seven heads popped up from their various hiding places in the hay, annoyed at having been woken.
Harper slowly pulled himself into a sitting position. Oh, he said with a particular lack of enthusiasm, its you, sir.
Aye, its me get up, right now! I need you and Harris, follow me! he shouted. Harper struggled to his feet quickly, turning and finding Harris climbing laboriously out of the hay. Sharpe turned and was already out of the barn door. The two Green Jackets scrambled after him into the night. Harris, Sharpe said as soon as they were out of the barn and under the night sky, fetch the camp surgeon. Tell him to come up to Miss Constance Peels room, right now, he ordered.
Sir! Harris snapped, saluting and running off.
What is it, sir? Harper cried.
Constance has shot Green, thats what, he snapped irritably. Come on, I left her keeping him from bleeding all over the place.
What? Harper gasped, following him as he turned to race back toward the far building, She shot the poor wee lad, and you left her tending him? he dared.
She thought he were someone else, Sharpe snapped as they ran. Harper just followed as they barrelled through the door and up the stairs. Sharpe burst into the room, finding that she had lit a few candles in his absence. He crossed the room quickly to find her pressing on the bandage with both hands.
And she said, how am I supposed to wash my face with that? she was saying shakily. Green let out a wheeze of amusement, wincing in pain as he did so.
Very good, miss, he managed, grinning despite the fire in his shoulder.
Sharpe stood over her. Right you, he said imperiously, up. She looked up at him, spotted Harper over his shoulder, and looked back down at Green.
Just you hold on, Berakiah, helps here, she said warmly, letting go of the bandage and getting up. She squeezed past Sharpe deliberately, walking to the fireplace and putting her hands against the ledge, looking at the wall. Sharpe appeared to ignore her, instead sitting on the bed and studying the bandage closely.
Youll be alright, Green, he said finally, dunt look like its bleeding too much, he added. Green opened his eyes and looked at him.
Thank you, sir. Sir, he added suddenly. Sharpe waited. She didnt know it was me, sir. She thought it was someone coming to harm her, sir. Dont be angry, sir, he added, his voice thick with pain. Sharpe looked over at her, then up at Harper. He got up.
You look after him while the others get here, he said quietly, then walked over to Constance slowly. He stood next to her. You know yer in trouble, miss, he said, equally quietly. She gave a brief bark of cynical laughter.
Oh, Ive always been in trouble of some sort or another, Major, she said sourly. This little episode just takes precedence, thats all, she sniffed. He looked over his shoulder at Harper, now sitting on the bed and talking to Green, and then back at her. She looked at him slowly, her eyes shining in the wan light. He put his hand on her arm, pulling her from the fireplace and over toward the open curtains of the window. He let go of her arm and looked at her, lifting his hands to his hips expectantly.
You tell me whats going on, Miss Peel, he said quietly. She folded her arms, looking at him and straightening.
I thought he was a burglar, or worse. When he picked the lock and opened the door like that, I thought he was a trained thief. I picked up the only weapon I had and used it, she said bravely. He smiled at her, but she didnt take to it. It was sly and knowing.
So he got in here by picking a lock and sneaking in. Hmm, he said, turning away slightly to look out of the window. He must have made a lot of noise, then, he surmised. And you had time to pick up the pistol and aim it at the doorway, before hed even put a foot through the jamb. Impressive, he said sarcastically. She put her hand on his upper arm and spun him to look back at her.
Look, Im sorry for all of this; I never wanted to hurt anyone, she snapped. He stepped closer to her slowly, looking down his nose at her. His eyes burned into hers and she let go of his arm quickly, letting her hand drop. I hope hell be alright, she added defiantly.
Lucky yer not a good shot, he said dubiously, his eyes narrowing. But you may have put an end to his career as a rifleman, he added harshly. He needs that shoulder.
Im sorry, she whispered, letting her head drop. She put her hands to her face slowly, and he noticed her shoulders start to shake.
And you can cut that out, too, he said sternly. It didnt work before, and its not going to save you now.
She looked up quickly, her face streaked with tears, her lower lip quivering fiercely. She swept her hand back and slapped him as hard as she could across the face.
Harper looked over quickly, surprised. Sharpe simply grabbed her wrist, and she struggled as she cried out in frustration.
Let go of me! she growled. He held on and she yanked at her wrist futilely. She stopped pulling abruptly and simply threw herself at him, putting her free arm round him and holding onto him. She began to sob.
Harper looked back at Green, shaking his head and tutting to himself.
Sharpe let go of her wrist and she put that arm round his neck, sobbing into his shirt through his open tunic buttons. He sighed and rolled his eyes, putting his arms round her.
Here now, whats going on? a loud voice said, and they looked over to the door. Harris was guiding an elderly man through the doorframe, looking around and taking note of everything.
Sir? he said, then caught sight of the two of them by the window. Surgeon, sir, he said helpfully. Sharpe took his arms from her, but she grabbed onto him and refused to let go. He huffed.
Harris, Harper, get him sorted, he said irritably. Harris looked to Harper, who got to his feet and motioned the surgeon over. Sharpe looked back at her, admitting to himself that this particular tantrum was a triumph of her acting skill. He cleared his throat. Look, Constance, he said quietly against her ear, lets leave them to patch him up. You still have a lot of explaining to do.
She sniffed and pulled her head from his front, nodding slowly.
Yes, yes, I can see that I do, she admitted, her voice unsteady still. Sharpe pulled her from him but she clung to his arm. He slid it behind her and guided her over to the middle of the floor. He let go of her, bending to pick up a coat hed swept off the bed earlier, and then stood, putting it round her shoulders. He looked over her head at Harper, who nodded meaningfully, as Sharpe guided her from the room. He stopped them by the door, turning toward Harper where she couldnt see. He stabbed a finger toward Green, then motioned to Constance and pulled his thumb across his throat swiftly in a cutting gesture. Harper waved him from the room and he walked her out to the landing slowly.
Sharpe opened the door and let her walk in first. She clutched the coat around her, walking to his bed and sitting abruptly. He closed the door quietly and turned to find her falling sideways and crying into the top bed sheet.
He sighed and walked over slowly, stopping in front of her and folding his arms.
Constance, give over, he said wearily. She opened her eyes and looked at him, her tears and noises still coming.
Im sorry, Richard, she sobbed, its been a long time since since I could I could trust anyone enough to cry, she admitted. He rolled his eyes.
Miss, Im not impressed, he said. Or am I? Shes certainly good at keeping this up, he thought to himself.
No, I dont suppose a man like you would be, she shot back, putting her hands to her face and sitting slowly, leaning forwards to put her elbows on her knees. She controlled herself with what looked like a mammoth effort, and he suddenly found that he was impressed. Whether it was with her acting skill or cleavage he couldnt be sure, but he was willing to bet it was the latter.
Miss, youve yet to tell me why you thought Green were after you, he pointed out.
Yes, yes, your precious green-coat, she snapped irritably.
Green Jacket, he corrected harshly. And that poor bastard had done nothing to deserve you shooting at him. Tell me, or tell the Provosts, he said flatly. She looked up at him.
They cant arrest me, Im a civilian, she said uncertainly.
Youd better hope yer right, he challenged, and she swallowed. She took a deep breath and sniffed, wiping her hands over her face again. She cleared her throat and looked up at him.
Fair enough. Ill tell you everything, Richard, because I need to tell someone or Ill go out of my head. And I trust you, she added quietly.
Trust me? Why? he demanded.
Because you dont like me, Richard. Because you have more brains than any of the other officers, and because She paused, then bit her lip and looked at her hands in her lap. She looked back up at him. Because youre the closest thing to a friend that I have.
Even though I dont like you?
Because you dont like me, she said. He stared at her.
I never said I didnt like you, he admitted quietly. She blinked. Well? Your excuses? he asked suddenly, his voice louder and back to unimpressed. She sniffed, then looked around the room slowly. She wet her lips, then looked back at him.
Dont you keep booze in your room? she asked, surprised.
No. Would you... would you have anything to drink? she asked timidly. It would steady my nerves.
Theyll just have to steady on their own, Constance, he said slowly. She half-smiled and nodded.
Why not? Ive come this far by myself, why should the rest be any different? she asked herself bitterly. She sighed and looked up at him. Are you going to stand over me with that school master expression the whole time? At least unfold your arms, she asked, some of her old spirit returning. Why dont you sit down? she asked, spreading her hand over the bed next to her. He turned and walked away toward the wooden chair in the corner. He picked it up by the backrest and walked back over, depositing it a foot from the bed and sitting in it heavily. He let himself slip down it a small way until he was comfortable, his ankles touching the chair legs slightly, and folded his arms again. She smiled. Its always amused me that men sit like that, she smiled. He felt his lips pouting in anger and stopped himself. He cleared his throat slowly.
Oh, alright, she sighed. She sat up, depriving him of the view, and she looked at the cuffs at his wrists harmlessly. My brother was a Lieutenant, and he did die with the 54th, she said. Except he was rather richer than anyone knew. Five years of plundering French bodies and investing the proceeds did us well.
My brother kept me, Richard, as family do. He was determined that I live in England and find a nice young army man to marry. He insisted that I have a comfortable life and I didnt argue, she allowed.
About a year ago, I met a young fellow by the name of Edward Tanner. He seemed a nice young gent and we courted for some months. In all that time he was the most gracious and well-mannered person you could ever meet, she said sadly.
And how did you find out he were a cheating liar? he asked knowingly. She looked up at him quickly, surprised.
Well after he proposed marriage. My parents having passed away already, he suggested we go to his parents place in the country. We went, she said simply. We met, and everyone got on, and a date was set for the marriage. Oh, she said to herself, looking at the ceiling and clasping her hands in her lap, those were marvellous days, Richard. I was living with my future in-laws and my fianci, and everything was flowers, and sunny walks in the gardens, and promises of eternal love, she whispered.
He watched her face for a long moment, his eyes narrowed. And then?
And then one day he asked to borrow some money. Oh, he was grovelling and ashamed and kept cursing himself, but I was so in love I thought giving him money was a small thing to do. I lent him I lent him three hundred guineas, she admitted. He stared at her, stunned.
And you just had all that lying round the place? he scoffed, his eyes wide. She grinned.
I had a bankers cheque drawn, Richard. I had amassed quite a tidy sum in my name, and although I had spent some travelling to the country and on small luxuries like dresses, I was careful to save as much as I could from what my brother sent me. I knew what he had gone through to get it to me, she admitted darkly. Sharpe sniffed.
And what did he say this small fortune were for, invading France? he asked, deadpan. She smiled despite herself.
He said it was toward some wedding preparations. He said after we were married hed not only pay me back but keep me himself. I confessed it was a strain on my brother, and somehow we got talking about the wealth he had.
Not very bright, are you? Sharpe said scathingly. Her face straightened in anger.
I was in love with him, Richard! I was going to marry him! How could I have known he was gambling it away? she demanded. He just looked down at his wrists, thinking. I dont expect a callous, rough-hewn scoundrel like yourself to understand something at complicated as love! she spat.
He raised his head and levelled her with a gaze that brought heat to her cheeks suddenly, despite its obvious anger. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then he let his eyes flick to the side, his face losing its defiance slowly.
And Edward Tanner? he asked eventually, looking back at her with more accommodation. She raised her chin slightly.
He somehow persuaded me to move back to my small townhouse, said we shouldnt be living together before we were married. I agreed, of course. Propriety is very important to me, she added, flicking an arch gaze his way. He just stared back and she knew she was beaten. Some time after that, I found my account had been emptied. I tried to return to the house in the country, determined to ask for his explanation, but he wasnt there. No-one was. I returned to London and tried to get by I even got a job, Richard, she smiled, and his eyebrows raised slowly. Yes, me, a job, she added. I was a governess thats when I learned to cry and throw tantrums to get my way, she said with an ironic smile.
And then you told your brother what had happened? he asked quietly.
No. How could I? she said sadly. He thought I was marrying a man of good standing, and would soon be living with a family of stature. He was planning to leave the army and come to live near us.
Did you ever tell him? he asked.
Good Lord no, I did not! she cried, dismayed. And Im glad that I didnt. If hed known that that weasel had stolen our money, he would have been on the first boat back to England to choke it out of him! And if hed found out that hed broken my heart, he would have found him and shot him, she said firmly.
I think I like your brother, he said, and she noticed the beginnings of a small smile tugging at his mouth. She let herself relax her stern features.
So I worked and saved, trying to pretend I was a lady of means and not really living hand-to-mouth, she shrugged simply. And then one day it happened the letter from his Colonel. He was very apologetic, of course, she said sadly. But There it was, all laid out in clear, black ink.
Your brother was dead.
Yes, Richard, she said, and then looked up at him slowly. And I was surprised to find my heart broken again. I didnt think it possible, she whispered. She cleared her throat quickly. My brother had taken care of me after our parents died. He had seen to everything, and the day he left to fight overseas, he promised hed always take care to come back. She felt her lip trembling and he sighed slowly.
Im sure he meant to, he said quietly. She didnt look at him, just pressed her hand to her cheek and blew out a sigh. She waved a little air at her face, then sniffed and looked at him.
Thank you, she said awkwardly. They looked at each other for a long moment. And then one day I came home to find Mr Tanner happily sitting on my chez-lounge and drinking my sherry, she said brightly. I was so angry I threw some of my best and only plates at him. Unfortunately, they all missed, she said grumpily. Sharpe smiled slightly, but she didnt notice. She seemed lost in memories. We argued, I threw some more things at him, and he gave me a long story about needing more money because he was in trouble. I told him that he wasnt to come near me or contact me ever again, and he confessed he had always loved me, but loved gambling more.
I bet that hurt, Sharpe admitted, and was surprised when he realised he had said it out loud.
Oh, it did, but I know the poker did too, Richard, she chuckled.
The poker? he prompted, surprised.
Oh yes. I picked it up and chased him out of the house with it. He stopped at the door and vowed hed find me, his darling fiancie, wherever I was and squeeze the rest of my brothers money out of me one way or another. That was when I hit him over the head with it, she said succinctly, and he laughed out loud. She looked at him, surprised.
Yer a woman after me own heart, he said, amused, then sobered and looked at her. Except Im not supposed to have one.
Oh dear. Look, Im sorry about all the nasty things Ive said to you, Richard. Im not very even-tempered these days, she admitted quietly.
And then? he replied quietly
And then I came to Spain. I rented out my house, bought passage on a boat, and came here to find my brothers effects, hopefully a little money, and then return to London. I want to open up a flower shop, she said quietly. He nodded, then sighed.
And you thought the man creeping into yer room tonight was Edward Tanner? he said.
I did. Thats why I wanted you to come in, she admitted guiltily. Believe me, Richard, I was desperate. I was trying so hard to think of a way to get you in my room.
He just looked at her, and she noticed any humour had gone from his face.
You could have just asked for me help, he said, annoyed. Yer didnt have to pretend to like me to get me protect you, he added, disgusted. She smiled slightly.
I couldnt be sure. Men are such fickle creatures, she admitted. And I thought, if it had been done to me, why couldnt I do it to others? All I had to do was find an officer of a suitably high rank, furnish him with affection and anything else he wanted in his tent, and Id have his complete loyalty and protection. I could reach the 54th, pick up the effects and make a quick return to England, leaving my protector to the army. After all, I may be a girl but I learn fast these days, she shrugged. He snorted in disgust. But I didnt have to pretend to like you, Richard, she added sternly. I already did.
Really, he said quietly, but the sarcasm was plain. She tutted.
I like you because you couldnt be swayed that night in your tent, idiot, she said dismissively. Most men would have jumped on me, and more fool me, she added firmly, nodding to herself. But I was desperate I just needed someone who could take care of themselves and me, should Mr Tanner arrive on the scene.
And why me? he asked.
Richard, really! she giggled. Can you imagine William Lawford beating Mr Tanner in a fist-fight? she said, then laughed out loud, slapping her hands together and squeezing. Or little George Withwood? she added, recovering herself.
He watched her, admiring her musical laugh and the way she held her hand to the base of her neck when she thought she should stop.
Look, Constance If you want me to help, youll have to take me advice, he said slowly, looking at her.
And whats that? she asked seriously.
Its no good me helping you get the money, and then you running back to England, straight back to where he can find you. Youll have to stop him here, or else run to another country. Is that what you want? he asked plainly. She sighed.
No. I want him to leave me alone for good. Or just to die, she added suddenly, brightly. I dont suppose youd shoot him for me, would you Richard? she asked eagerly. He just looked at her and she leaned forward, putting a hand on his knee and shaking it slightly. Oh Im joking, of course, she grinned. Is there a way we could have him arrested? she asked, her face suddenly much more serious.
What for? he asked, his face twisted in thought.
I dont know stealing? she offered.
That were in England, not Spain, he said.
Hmm Breaking into an army building? she asked.
Wouldnt get him moren a day, he replied, sounding disappointed himself. She sighed, looking at the ceiling and thinking. It went quiet. Sharpe was taking in her face, her shoulder, her arm, at close quarters when she gasped and looked back down again, at her hand on his knee. She waggled it playfully, then looked at him.
Ive got it, she said proudly.
Well youll have to give it back eventually, lass, Ill need it to get home, he said simply, and she giggled again. He raised an eyebrow. Well? he asked, when she just looked at him, giggling wickedly.
For forcing his attentions on me, she said simply. He let his other eyebrow raise to join the first one, blinking at her.
And how are you going to arrange that? he asked. She grinned evilly.
Well, all we have to do is let it be known Im here in this building and alone, just myself and my money, she said. Hell come straight here, thinking he can steal it and leave in one swift move. Thats when I grab him and haul him into a compromising position, just in time for you to come in and find us. You shout foul play! and all those other exciting words, and he gets arrested. Easy! she crowed delightedly. He just stared.
Constance, he said quietly, and she looked at him, grinning magnificently.
Yes, Richard? she asked slyly, sliding her hand over his leg smoothly.
Yer cracked, he said succinctly. She hesitated.
You dont think itll work, she said flatly.
No, I think it would work, Im just saying yer mad, he said, letting his arms drop and getting to his feet abruptly. Her hand slipped off him and she watched him walk over to the window, looking out grumpily. She got up and wandered over to his side, putting a hand to the back of his green tunic gently. She studied his profile slowly.
I just dont know what else to do, she admitted quietly. Tell me what to do Richard, and Ill do it. He didnt move and she sighed, leaning her head against the side of his shoulder wearily. Alright, Ill admit I am taking all this rather too lightly, she said, but Ive been miserable for so long, its nice to be able to laugh and joke about it for a change.
Harpers coming, he said succinctly, noticing the shape cross underneath the window. He turned to look at her.
Your Sergeant? she asked.
Aye. Hell take you to the army camp, keep yer safe, he said. She just looked at him.
Thank you, she said quietly. She slid her hands up his tunic slowly, lifting one hand to his chin. She tipped it down toward her and kissed him.
Hes all settled now, sir, Harper said loudly as he swung the door open. Sharpe pulled her from him quickly and looked over at him.
Is he alright? he asked. Harper sniffed at Constance, his face betraying his dislike, and nodded.
That he is, sir. Hell be right as rain in a week or so. Surgeon took out the ball, so he did, and patched him up right proper. He cleared his throat loudly. Will you be needing anything else, sir? he asked lightly, but Sharpe wasnt fooled.
Pat, take her back to the camp and hide her, he said, reaching up and taking her hands from his tunic, walking them over. Someones after her. They cant find her till we know what to do wi im, he added. Harper just stared at him.
But sir, if I put her in the camp after what
Pat, just hide her, he said irritably. Theres more to worry about here than a stray pistol ball.
A stray pistol ball? Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Harper exploded, Ill give her stray pistol ball, so I will!
Sharpe straightened in front of him, and it was fortuitous that the glare with which he fixed the Irishman was nowhere near the touch-hole of a cannon. Harper tried to stare back at him for a long moment.
Sergeant, you will take this girl and make sure nowt happens to her, or so help me God Ill see to it Ramona gets a new frying pan from Stores, he said quietly. Harper swallowed and looked at Constance for the first time.
Aye, sir, he said humbly, gesturing to the door with his head. Constance looked back at Sharpe.
Thats it? Thats the best threat you can think of, man? she demanded incredulously.
You use pokers, Ramona uses frying pans, Sharpe said, and she looked back at Harper.
I see, she said, lifting her skirts and following the Irishman out of the room.
Well? How is he? Sharpe asked Harper. They were standing by the tents of the camp, the Chosen Men having been granted free run of the village not half a mile from the neat rows of soldiers. Harper had chosen to go back to the army camp, having a wife and small, crying child to worry about.
The Irishman sniffed the cold morning air and nodded. Hell live, sir. A proper wound, so it is, but it seems the young miss didnt add enough powder to the damned thing to cause any real damage, he said carefully. Sharpe nodded to himself, thinking. I left her with Ramona, sir. Seems they talked most of the night, leaving me with little Patrick, he tutted. Sharpe let himself smile at Harpers expense.
That a problem for you, is it? he asked maliciously. Harper snorted without mirth.
It is when all they do is talk about men, so it is! he complained. You should have heard what the young miss was calling that wretch she thinks it after her! And Ramona, he tutted, shaking her head, she thinks the young miss is a fine lady after all.
And you think she isnt? Sharpe asked curiously, looking at him. Harper met his gaze, wondering just what was going on behind those emerald eyes.
I just think a run-in with a poker isnt enough to put her on my heroes list, sir, he said peevishly, no matter what you may think of the weak-backed
Ey, you leave her alone, Sharpe interrupted. Shes more balls than Robinson, when cornered, he added darkly.
Are you sure, sir? Harper asked dangerously, then a small smile tugged at his mouth as Sharpe looked away again. Checked, have you, sir? he asked craftily.
Give over, Sharpe said irritably.
Thats a yes, sir, he grinned, and Sharpe looked at him as if the Irishman had just told him he was actually a French spy. Oooh, Harper grinned, his mouth a large o shape, his eyebrows scrambling up into his hairline, and thats a many a time, you nosy bog-trotter, he chuckled.
Where is she, anyway? Sharpe snapped, trying to ignore Harpers amusement.
Ramonas helping her get ready, sir, he said, still grinning.
Get ready? Sharpe echoed. Bloody hell, Pat, this int a Sunday morning church outing, he grumbled. Harper opened his mouth but they heard voices behind them. They turned to see Ramona and Constance arm-in-arm, talking quietly and looking quite dour.
Sharpe cleared his throat and turned to face them, straightening as they stopped in front of the two men.
Colonel Lawfords waiting for us, ladies, he said impatiently. Ramona looked at him, her face a picture of authority.
You men will wait for us, she said imperiously. We find her brothers things, but you two dont interrupt us, she said, lifting her chin and her skirt and brushing past her husband. Constance didnt so much as look up as she was swept along behind her.
Sharpe and Harper looked at each other. Then they followed.
It was nearly an hour later when Ramona emerged from Colonel Lawfords tent, stopping just outside and brushing hair from her eyes. Sharpe and Harper waited impatiently in the cold, stamping their feet and rubbing their hands.
Bugger me, Sharpe said for perhaps the fifth time, what the hells she doing in there, anyway?
Best not to ask, sir, Harper said miserably, blowing on his hands. Sure and shell be upset, after all. He tucked his hands under his armpits and wandered around in circles, waiting. Sharpe huffed to himself, rubbing his hands together and blowing on them again, watching Ramona. She turned abruptly and ducked back into the tent, only to re-emerge a moment later, holding onto Constances arm. The two men watched them walk slowly from the tent, Constance holding her head high and looking around her warily.
Sharpe let his hands drop and walked over. Harper followed, much more slowly.
Everything done, miss? Sharpe asked carefully. Constance looked at him with a decidedly glassy expression.
Yes, Major, I suppose it is, she admitted quietly. I say, would anyone care for a drink? she asked timidly. Ramona looked at her husband and lifted a single finger.
She mean a hot tea, Patrick, she warned sternly, and he grinned.
Well of course, Ramona, what else would I have offered the lady at this time of day? he purred. He looked at Constance. Would the young miss care for a hot cup of tea then? he asked warmly. She looked up into his face for the first time.
I think she would, thank you, she said quietly. Harper noticed her red eyes and white face, and nodded.
Well then, back to the village house, I think, he said politely. They have a better stove, so they do, he said helpfully. Ramona led her on, and the two men looked at each other. Then they followed.
You know, Constance said quietly, this is not what I thought Spain would be like.
Oh aye? Sharpe asked detachedly, his hands round the hot china cup gratefully. Ramona got up with her emptied cup, tipping a finger at Harper. He stood too.
Well sir, much as I hate to leave you unprotected, theres a wee boy of mine back at the camp that needs rescuing from a Cheshire-man, so there is, he said politely. Sharpe looked at him.
Go on, bugger off, he said easily. Tell Dan theres extra tea for him, what wi putting up wi your lad for so long.
Ramona got in a glancing blow to Sharpes shoulder lightly, but then patted it as she pulled Harper away. The tall Sergeant inclined his head and followed her out of the room, closing the door quietly behind them.
Constance let out a long breath and leaned back in her wooden chair, her hands falling to the table top.
God, Im so glad theyve gone, she breathed. Sharpe looked at her.
Oh? he asked curiously.
Hes a lovely man, that Sergeant, but he keeps watching me with those big cow eyes of his, like he expects me to leap at you with the butter knife, she tutted, and he smiled slightly.
Well you do have a history of attacking people, miss, he said apologetically. She smiled for the first time that day.
I see. And its Constance, she stressed. He looked at her and she just met his gaze, watching the colour in his eyes whirl with the reflections of the windows and the light streaming through them. She leaned her elbow on the table and put her chin in it, bringing herself closer to him.
Look, Constance, Im sorry about yer brother, he said gingerly. She nodded.
So am I, Richard, so am I. But Its odd, only now does it feel like hes actually gone. I mean, I read the letter in England, I cried and was dreadfully upset. But now Ive been given his things now Ive met his Colonel and he was kind enough to tell me how it happened now it feels like Oh, like I have to stop waiting for him to walk in this room and tell me it was all a big misunderstanding, she said miserably. Do you see? she asked wretchedly, flicking her gaze up to his again. They shared a long look.
Yeah, he said quietly. She smiled apologetically.
Oh Im sorry, Richard. I cant be much company, she said. He shrugged non-commitedly and she smiled again, wider. So what do I do now? she asked.
Well, you stay away from the army camp. Stay here. Were on the look-out for him, and when he rears his head well give him a good going over and let him know hes not welcome. He sniffed and leaned back in his chair. She looked at his hands, still round his china cup. She stood slowly, walking to the small range on the opposite side of the room, picking up a cloth and wrapping it round the handle of the tea urn. She picked it up and walked back over, refilling his cup slowly without a word. He watched her fill her cup too, then she favoured him with a brief smile before carrying the urn back over to the hot range and setting it down.
She walked back over and sat slowly, arranging her skirts.
Id much prefer to shoot him, she said deviously, flicking a delicious smile at him. He studied her face.
Then youll have to do that when Im not looking, he said ruefully. She giggled suddenly. What?
You really mean that, dont you, Richard? she grinned. He just looked at her and she sighed. Youre so She let it go, lost for words. She looked up at him as he picked up the tea and sipped it gratefully. Here, she said, getting up and walking to the bed under the window. She picked up a bag and walked back to the table, opening it out. These were my brothers, she said.
Sharpe cast an eye over the belongings, not really taking them in. Whats it to me, after all?
She picked up a long-bladed knife in a leather sheath, sliding it out and looking at it. Richard, she said, sliding it back in and reversing it, holding the handle out to him, I want you to have this.
Why? he asked, surprised. Seems all Ive ever done is shout at you and harass you, he pointed out.
Exactly. My brother was very good at that, just when I needed him to be. And so are you, she said. You didnt have me arrested for shooting poor Berakiah Green, and youve treated me surprisingly well at all other times, she added meaningfully. He just looked at her.
All the same, miss, I dont think
Constance, she interrupted, waving the handle at him slightly. Im not taking no for an answer, Richard.
He put a hand up and took the handle slowly, looking at it. She let go and then looked back at the pile of belongings.
And this, she said, lifting a leather pocket tied with red ribbon, will see my florists shop open in London.
He left you money? he asked, sliding his new blade into his red sash at his side.
Quite a tidy amount, Richard, she said, then smiled at him. Would you care to help me run my flower shop? Oh I dont mean sell flowers or cart them around, I mean stand there and look moody, preferably in front of everyone elses flower shops, she quipped, giggling slightly. He rolled his eyes and she let herself smile easily. I see.
As soon as this blokes dealt with, Constance, you should get back to England and see about that shop, he said, clearing his throat. She eyed him seriously, then looked back at the bag. She cast her hands through, picking up several items that appeared important to her, then setting them back down.
He drank his tea silently, just watching her, and as the cold afternoon turned into a cold evening, they ordered hot food to her room, talking and starting to relax.
Well, its been a mixed day, she yawned eventually, covering it with her hand. He stood slowly.
And a long one. Ill see meself out, miss, he said, nodding to her.
Constance, she corrected.
Yeah. Well goodnight, then, he said, inclining his head and stepping back from the table. She rose too, following him to the door.
Richard You dont have to go, she said quietly. He looked at her clearly, and she lifted her chin, determined to be steady under his scrutinising gaze.
Yeah, Constance, I think I do, he said apologetically. Bloody hell, wish I didnt though, he caught himself thinking. He cleared his throat. Do you know whatd happen if Colonel Lawford knew I were up here int first place? he asked. And what if that bloke comes snooping up here tonight? Yer grasping at straws, Sharpie
Well then youd be ideally placed to apprehend him, she beamed, putting a hand to the sleeve of his tunic, feeling the rough weave slowly.
Thats a good point, but Constance, I really think
Oh Richard, she said shortly, her smile gone. You know how this will turn out! she huffed. Hes going to find me tonight, come racing up those stairs and bang this door down, grab me, shake me, all those things he did before, and this time hell demand the leather pocket from the table. I wont be strong enough to stop him, and before I can even call for the assistance of the nearest wandering soldier, hell be off down those stairs to a waiting horse, she snapped.
Sharpe just looked at her. Really? he challenged, amused. All that?
She lifted her eyes to look at him. Probably, she said more timidly. I cant be sure he wont try to hurt me, and I cant be sure about the waiting horse. But the rest, Im pretty sure hell-
Constance, he breathed, shaking his head. Look, Im not going back to me billet and Im not going back to camp. Neither am I staying in here. Ill be sat outside this door till morning, alright? he said easily. And thats the closest Im going to get while Lawfords ont prowl, the nosy bastard, he realised, also surprised he was so peeved by the fact. She nodded slowly.
Oh. Well. I feel safer already, she allowed with a smile. She paused, and noticed he did too. She stepped just a little closer. Of course, it would be a lot safer if you were inside that door, Richard, she said silkily. He sniffed, meeting her gaze.
Keep yer nerve, Sharpie. Now is not the time. Aye, I bet, he replied, but you know what Lawfords like for
She pulled on his crossbelt and kissed him. He forgot about Lawford.
Sergeant! Lawford cried, stalking through the camp. Sergeant Major! he shouted angrily.
Harper bobbed up from his stool by the fire and tea, little Patrick safely in his grasp.
Sir! he replied quickly. Lawford turned and saw him, then marched over. He stopped and looked at Ramona, who was spooning food from a metal plate hanging over the fire.
My regards, Mrs Harper, he said hastily, politely snatching off his cocked hat. She smiled up at him.
Mister Lawford, she said warmly.
Im sorry to interrupt, but I shall need your husband for a few moments, Mrs Harper, he said. She looked up at Harper.
Take him. But please, make sure he not in trouble, she smiled. Lawford inclined his head.
Youre too kind, madam, he said graciously, watching Harper hand the young lad to his wife, then gestured to him with his head. The big Irishman followed him away from the fire and tents quickly.
Right then, find our wayward Major, Lawford said tightly. Harper looked at him.
Something youll be needing him to do, sir? he asked cheerfully.
Something I'll be needing him not to do, Sergeant, he snapped. Now find him and get him back to his own tent. I dont have to tell you the penalty that dallying in non-billeted quarters carries, he said darkly.
Sir, Harper nodded, then saluted and spun round, disappearing into the night quickly. Lawford huffed, then walked back to his tent slowly.
He walked in, stripped off his jacket, and then paused. He looked around the tent, thinking. He snatched up his jacket and his riding crop, turning for the tent flaps and not looking back.
Harris, Harper hissed against the tent flaps. The sound of giggling and slapping greeted the Irishman and he blew out a huff. Harris, he said, much louder, and he heard someone sigh.
Look Moore, you said I could have the tent tonight, Harris began, poking his head through the flaps. He looked up into the face of Harper and swallowed. Oh, its you, sir, he said lamely.
Aye, its me. And youll be getting your sorry arse out here, so you will, he said sternly. Harris fairly leapt through the tent flaps and looked at him, rearranging his clothes to fit and tuck in. Now wheres Major Sharpe then? he demanded.
Oh, er dont know, Sarge, he admitted. Havent seen him since since you lot went with Miss Constance to get her things, he added helpfully. The two men looked at each other. You dont think hes still up there, is he? he asked.
Its a fair bet hes up something, Harper muttered to himself as he turned away. He stopped and looked back at Harris. Whats the quickest way to the village?
Stealing a horse? Harris ventured, and Harper smiled.
Go on, get back to your penny-back, he said, and turned, hurrying off. Harris looked round at the tent, then over at the retreating shape of Harper. He pulled off his glasses, cleaning them slowly with his shirt tails.
You know, he said to himself, pulling the braces back over his shoulder slowly, perhaps Ill just wander into town too. Just to see if he needs my help, he nodded to himself. He ducked back in the tent to get his rifle and jacket, and then went after Harper.
Richard? Constance whispered. He hmmed and she turned on her side, pushing at his left shoulder. He turned his head on the pillow and looked at her.
What? he rumbled, and she grinned, scooting down closer to his side.
What would really happen if Lawford found you up here? she asked deviously.
Why? he asked, watching her face.
Maybe Ill have something to bargain with now, she giggled. His eyes narrowed and his hand closed on her upper arm, pulling her slowly closer to him.
You wouldnt dare, he smiled.
I might, she said impishly. After all, its not every day I get a full field Major in my bed. Without his boots on, she giggled. Now I have something to bargain with, I can make sure you come back.
Youve a nerve, he smiled. What if I waited till you were asleep, then stole that leather pocket of money? he asked, his eyes amused. She moved up and leaned across his chest, pushing him out flat on his back and running her hand through his hair slowly.
Id find you and kill you, she said sweetly, and he laughed. She paused, looking over at the window.
What? he asked. Cold?
No, I I thought I heard She pushed herself up and slid out of bed, pulling her thin silk slip straight. She crossed to the window.
Bloody hell lass, get back from there, he said, sitting up. He pulled the covers back to follow her and then remembered he didnt have a stitch on. He paused, looking round the room slowly. He realised most, if not all, of his uniform was on the floor.
Major Sharpe! shouted a familiar voice from the direction of the window, and Sharpe and Constance looked at each from across the room.
Oh shit, he groaned, then exploded out of bed and began to snatch up his uniform in its scattered entirety. She turned and grabbed her rather sheer dressing gown, throwing it round her as she raced to the bed and grabbed up the pillows, rearranging them for one occupant. She darted around the room, picking up stray clothes and throwing them at him, then put her hand to his back and pushed him toward the wardrobe.
Woah! he called out, stopping and turning to her. Ill not fit in that!
She stopped and looked him up and down. Youre right, she said. They turned, looking round the room.
Major Sharpe! Answer me, man! came a voice from the stairs, and he cursed. He hurried to the bed, bending to look under.
Solid! she hissed, and he got up again, then looked back at the window. Richard! she gasped, following his gaze, Its freezing out there!
Think Id rather be out there than in here, lass, he ground out, crossing to the window and opening it quickly.
Miss Peel? someone called, knocking politely on the door. She rushed over and put her hands to his back, helping him crawl out of the window. He dropped a boot and she bent over, snatching it up and pushing it at him.
Richard, she breathed, grabbing his arm to steady him and then pulling him toward her, kissing him. Dont fall off, and dont lose anything to the cold!
Oh aye, ta very much, he said sarcastically as she drew back from the window. He shuffled around, the cold stone slabs biting at his bare feet, and he shivered as he edged along the ledge a little, to be further from the window.
He rested his head back against the building and clamped his mouth shut. He shifted his grip on his bundle of uniform, his left hand searching for his trousers. He froze as he heard her voice, and then that of Colonel Lawford.
I say, awfully sorry to trouble you at this late hour, Miss Peel, but it rather seems weve lost our Major Sharpe, and we were just wondering
If I would help you look for him? she asked politely, walking away from the window casually.
Sharpe heard the voices continue, but they kept getting fainter. He let out a long breath, realising she must be leading him away to the other side of the room. He waited, the cold air nipping at his skin. He felt his fingers slipping on the bundle of clothes, and pulled them up to a more judicious height against him. He pulled his head away from the bricks, hoping it would feel a little warmer, but instead he could feel the cool breeze sapping the heat from his body all too easily.
Buggerin hell that were close! He let his head fall back to the building. The voices appeared to stop, and he breathed out, starting to shuffle back toward the window.
Well it doesnt do, you know, Lawford said from just inside the window, and Sharpe froze, swallowing quickly. He saw, not two feet from his eyes, Lawfords hand lean out and take the handle on the window, pulling it shut and closing it firmly. He heard the sound of the latch locking it closed, but didnt dare huff.
Aw shite. Now what? How can things get any worse?
Sir? Is that you, sir? came another familiar voice. Sharpe swore under his breath, groaning on the inside, then looked down at Harper. He was standing on the opposite side of the dark dirt street, hands on his hips, grinning up at him, bemused. Sharpe huffed and rolled his eyes.
He lifted a hand to wave him away urgently. Harper just jabbed a finger back at him and he grabbed at his uniform, holding it against him securely.
And just how in the world did you come to be up there? Harper called up to him softly. Sharpe leaned back against the stone wall, his head falling back against the freezing brick work. He looked down again and lifted a hand, indicating his chest and then the window to his right. Harper nodded, then folded his arm and watched.
Sharpe waved at him to leave, but the Irishman grinned and stepped back slowly until he was leaning against the wall most comfortably. Sharpe fought an almost overwhelming urge to jump the two stories to the ground and beat the Irishman over the head with his boots.
Sarge? Harris said quietly, and Harper looked into the dark shadows on the buildings, finding Harris emerge from his right. What are you looking at?
Something you dont see every day, Harris, he said happily, nodding to the ledge. Harris looked over, then jumped slightly and stared.
How did he -? Why would he be -? he began, then just closed his mouth and looked back at Harper. Miss Peel? he guessed, and Harper nodded, grinning. Colonel Lawford? he said, and Harper nodded again. Harris grinned and stood his rifle on the ground, leaning the muzzle back against the wall and folding his own arms. Then this might be worth wasting that penny Im not using, he mused happily.
Harper and Harris leaned against the wall, arms folded, looking up to the ledge.
Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later, during which the two riflemen had to blow on their hands and rub their arms against the cold, the light to the room dimmed to nothing. They stepped back into the shadows to wait silently. A long few minutes later, Lawford emerged from the main door and stopped just outside, thinking.
Harper and Harris held their breath, their eyes glued to him, wondering if he would look up at the ledge above him to Constances window. There was absolute stillness for a long moment.
Then Lawford cleared his throat, shoved his hands in his pockets dejectedly, and started to walk away.
The two riflemen nearly fell over in their relief, slumping back against the wall as they watched Lawford disappear into the night air. They looked back up the ledge to watch the Major shuffling back toward the window. They watched, scared to move lest they miss any part of the comedy, as Sharpe rapped on the window with one hand.
The window opened quickly and a womans hand came out, grabbing his uniform from him piece by piece. He shuffled round to face the window and tossed the rest of it in hurriedly, putting his hands on the frames and hauling himself back inside.
The window was closed firmly, and Harper and Harris looked at each other.
A charmed life, thats what it is, Sarge, Harris said sadly, shaking his head.
Its not fair, so its not, Harper grumped. Lawford should have seen him, he complained.
Yeah well. Lets get back then, he said. Dont know about you, but Im freezing, he added.
Yeah talk about brass monkeys and their balls, Harper grinned, and Harris chuckled wickedly.
Id like to say that this escapade might teach him something about propriety, but I cant see that it will, he shrugged. He turned to go but grabbed Harpers arm suddenly. Harper turned to look back at him.
What? he asked.
Sharpe skipped nimbly over the window ledge and landed on the carpet, his feet numb and his teeth threatening to chatter. He hugged his arms to him as he straightened up. Constance was just looking him up and down, her arms folded and a slight smile on her face.
Ey, he said indignantly, before you say owt, just remember its bloody freezing out there.
She giggled at him. You men and your pride, she tutted, walking over to him. You poor thing, you must be so cold, she added, putting her hands to his upper arms and rubbing. Oh, she said, surprised, you are cold!
Told you, he grumped, and she leaned against him, flinching at the sudden chill but refusing to pull away.
Well then, well have to do something about that, she said slyly.
Yer not wrong, he said, stepping round her and sifting through his uniform, finding his regulation white shorts quickly. She folded her arms, disappointed. She turned away from him as he pulled them on and then hauled on the heavy cavalry trousers.
I thought things were going up, she said quietly, casting a wistful look back at the bed.
Yeah well, what goes up must come down, he said, buttoning up the front of the trousers.
Youre not leaving? she said quickly, turning to look at him.
I think I should, Constance. When Lawford gets back to camp to find Im not there either, Im going be in proper
Richard, wholl protect me? she asked slyly. He fixed her with a knowing look.
You and your poker, I should think, he said warmly, and she smiled, walking over to him slowly. She slid her hands down him, stopping at the left-hand button on his trousers. Her fingers fiddled with it slowly, getting it undone without trouble. Look, Constance, I think
Well I dont, she said, then looked at him. He slid his hand down hers and caught at her fingers, currently fighting with the other button to his trousers. Do you want me to give up so easily? she asked quietly. I thought this was how it was played, she smiled. He let go of her fingers and she grinned, leaning up to kiss him as she tried to pull the stiff material off over the button.
The door exploded open.
She jumped and they both turned to find a weedy looking man holding a pistol on them. He seemed surprised, then caught his breath.
Connie, he said pleasantly.
Edward! she breathed edgily. Edward Tanner looked at Sharpe from the ground up.
I thought the army types had all left. So who might you be? he demanded.
Sharpe looked at the pistol, then at the man himself. He must have been five foot five, with short black hair and a mousy black moustache to match. Compact, thin, reedy, he noted. Good.
Someone as dunt like being interrupted, he said slowly. Tanner just looked back at him.
Oh. Well, no matter. Im only here for the bankers drafts, then Ill be on my way, he said. He looked at Constance. Connie, be a dear and get them for me, he said happily. Oh, I must say, that colour really does become you, he added. He sniffed as she didnt move. Much as I never tire of looking at your, er, beauty, he said, leering at her scantily clad form, I really would prefer it if youd just find that leather bound sheaf of paper and hand it to me, dear, he said.
And then what? Sharpe asked. He looked at him.
This doesnt concern you, he said shortly. Sharpe straightened up, moving deliberately to put himself between Constance and Tanner.
It does when yer holding a primed pistol, he said dangerously.
Well, just stand still and therell be no reason for me to fire it, he said testily. Sharpe took a step forward. Im warning you! he said.
And Im telling you, he said, taking another step. Tanner pulled the cock back and aimed it shakily at Sharpe. Do you know how small that ball is? he asked stonily, taking another step forward. Tanner shifted back slightly as he looked up into a face full of thunder. Do you know how much damage that ball would do if it went straight into me? he demanded.
Well, I rather hope it would
Not enough, Sharpe snapped, lunging for him. Tanner fired. Constance screamed. Sharpe had one hand at his collar, one hand on the pistol. It was knocked to the floor and Sharpe yanked on his hand. Tanners head came flying toward him. Sharpes head cracked into his and Tanner cried out in pain.
Sharpe let go of his shirt and he fell to the floor, wailing and bleeding. Sharpe stepped back, looked around, and found the pistol. He bent over and picked it up, turning to find Constance staring at him. She closed her mouth.
Well, she allowed, clearing her throat and scraping her hair away from her face, that seemed much more effective than a poker.
Sharpe heard feet on the stairs and turned to find Harper and Harris barrelling into the room. They stopped, breathless, taking it all in.
You two, he said without missing a beat, get him up and trussed, shift him down to Lawfords tent.
Yes sir, they grinned, nodding genially to Constance. She pulled her sheer dressing gown round her securely, then looked at Sharpe. He caught her doing it and his face drew into a question. She gestured to the front of his trousers and he looked down, doing up the button quickly. He cleared his throat and turned to the two riflemen.
All done? he asked.
Oh, well and truly, sir, Harper grinned. Sharpe gestured to the door and the two Green Jackets dragged Edward Tanner, whimpering and cursing, out of the door.
Well, here we are, my dear, Lawford said graciously, indicating the man in a red jacket on horse back. Colonel Kelly here of the 54th promises to have you to Lisbon in a week, he added.
Thank you, very much, Constance said warmly, putting a hand on his shoulder and placing a slight kiss on his cheek. Youve been most kind, Mister Lawford, she added, looking him in the eye.
Oh, please, William, he said, his voice a little weak. She smiled demurely. She turned to the other officer, looking up at him and noticing his green eyes looked somehow amused.
And Major Sharpe, she said pleasantly, I would like to thank you for all youve said and done, she said politely. Especially the done, she added. He just looked back at her.
Your servant, miss, he said non-commitedly, inclining his head, but she noticed him smile slightly as he ignored Lawfords gaze on his profile. She felt his fingers on hers and he lifted them to his lips, kissing the backs of them suavely. She closed her fingers around his and pulled on her hand, leaning up and putting her other hand behind his head, kissing him firmly by the mouth. She heard someone clearing their throat and realised it was Lawford. She pulled her head back to look at him, then leaned forward again to whisper in his ear.
And I hope one day you will be again, she breathed quietly, then pulled herself away from him and dusted off the front of his uniform smartly. He sniffed, looking over her head and waiting for her to step back. She did, then pulled her hat straight. Well, I think everything is settled here, she said, then looked over to her left, at Ramona, smiling suddenly. She spared Sharpe a glance, knowing he had seen even though he was ostensibly looking at the assembled Chosen Men. She walked over to Ramona, speaking to her quietly and pressing something into her hand. Ramona smiled and they hugged for a moment.
Then she turned slowly, looking at everyone assembled. Harper, curious and protective. Cheeky Robinson and Brown, grinning and discussing. Moore and Taylor, more serious and probably thinking of rifles. Harris and Hagman, sharing a knowing look over the muzzle of a rifle. Little Berakiah Green, his arm in a crisp white sling, smiling and nodding to her. She waved her fingers at him slightly, and he nodded warmly.
She looked at Lawford, his stiff, bright red jacket proud and symbolic of his need for everything to be Just So. She looked at Sharpe, his much-loved and over-worn green tunic a touch grimy and therefore symbolic of just how much he had been through during his army years already served. She looked around at the dusty Spanish track cut into the scraggly green countryside, at the horses and soldiers waiting to be off. She heard the silk colours flapping slightly in the cool, stiff breeze, heard the horses snorting and fussing. She smelt the wool and boot polish, the metal and animal, and smiled sadly. She took a deep breath.
Thank you, everyone, for a most interesting slice of army life. I shant forget you, any of you, she said, and then turned and climbed up onto the horse, side-saddle. The assembled soldiers watched her turn the horse, following the stream of the 54th officers as they guided their horses towards the dirt road and their waiting ranks.
Lawford sighed, wiping a tired hand over his face and looking at Sharpe. He undid the top few silver buttons on his tunic, blowing out a sigh and relaxing his shoulders. He called out to Harper to dismiss the Chosen Men and began to walk away. Lawford watched for a second, then hurried to catch him up.
I say, er, Richard, he said awkwardly. Sharpe looked at him, pulling the black cravat from his neck slowly and flinging it to lie over his shoulder.
Yes, sir, he said gingerly, opening his shirt collar a little.
Id like to, er, well Apologise for my recent behaviour, he said quietly. Sharpe snorted with amusement.
Dont see anything to apologise for, sir, he said easily. Lawford put out a hand and stopped him. They looked at each other for a long moment, and eventually Lawford let his hand drop.
Look, I Its no secret that I rather liked Miss Peel. But it was unfair of me to treat you as if you had some say in who she liked, he said slowly.
Really, sir, it dunt
Richard Look, he said frankly, Im sorry for talking to you like that in my tent, and sorry for thinking that well, forget it, can we? he asked slowly. Sharpe considered him.
Whats to do, sir? he asked quietly. Struck a nerve, did she?
Lawford sighed, then looked at him, smiling apologetically.
Yes, Richard, she did, he said sadly, then clapped him on the arm and walked off. Harper appeared at Sharpes elbow, watching Lawford go. Sharpe shook his head.
Look what Ive got, sir, he said proudly, lifting his hand. Sharpe turned to look at it and then blinked.
Is that what I think it is? he asked.
If what youre thinking is a small fortune masquerading as an ancient Spanish coin, then yes, it is exactly what youre thinking, sir, he said happily.
And where did you get that, Harper? he asked, mystified.
Miss Constance, sir. She gave it to Ramona, so she did. Said it was for wee Patrick, and not to let anything happen to the young sir, he said cheerfully.
So shes not the untrustworthy bit of trouble you thought she were? Sharpe needled with a malicious smile. Harper looked at him.
Sure and I never said that, sir, he protested, following as Sharpe began to walk back toward the army lines, already moving out and toward their next destination.
I think yer did, he countered indignantly, and Harper blinked at him, surprised.
Oh no, sir, I think I said from the beginning she was on our side, so I did!
You bloody well did not!
I did so, sir, you can ask Harris
You can have me boot up yer arse if you carry on like that! Sharpe interrupted, and Harper realised he had struck a nerve too.
None of this really happened. I made it all up.
No devilishly handsome, green-eyed Majors of the 95th Rifles were harmed during the writing of this fan-fic. However, the author is now suffering from pronounced SBOCD-withdrawal, and is really quite upset to announce that this has been her last fan-fic.
It's bean fun, and she will miss all of the Chosen Men. But she shan't forget them. Any of them.
~ The Mardy Bum,
15th July, 2006.
Hong Kong S.A.R.