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Authors: Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe's Regiment

BOOK: Sharpe's Regiment
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Sharpe’s Regiment
is the eighth volume in Bernard Cornwell’s acclaimed Richard Sharpe series, which takes the hero to the famous battle of Waterloo—and beyond. Several novels in the series have been made into a television miniseries. Bernard Cornwell was born in London and lives in Chatham, Massachusetts.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglincon Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Great Britain by William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd 1986
First published in the United States of America by The Viking Penguin Inc. 1986
Published in Select Penguin edition 1987
Published in Penguin Books 1994
This edition published in 2001
Copyright © Rifleman Productions Ltd., 1986
All rights reserved
Cornwell, Bernard.
Sharpe’s regiment.
1. Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1814—Fiction.
2. Great Britain—History, Military—19th century—Fiction.
I. Title.
[PR6053.075S54 1987] 823’.914 87-11333
eISBN : 978-1-101-15355-0

is respectfully dedicated to the men of
The Royal Green Jackets,
Sharpe’s successors.
‘... if any ’prentices have severe masters, any children have undutiful parents, if any servants have too little wages, or any husband too much wife, let them repair to the noble Sergeant Kite, at the sign of the Raven in this good town of Shrewsbury, and they shall receive present relief and entertainment. Gentlemen, I don’t beat my drum here to ensnare or inveigle any man, for you must know, gentlemen, that I am a man of honour!‘
The Recruiting Sergeant
by George Farquhar (1678-1707)
SPAIN, June 1813
Regimental Sergeant Major MacLaird was a powerful man and the pressure of his fingers, where they gripped Major Richard Sharpe’s left hand, was painful. The RSM’s eyes opened slowly. ‘I’ll not cry, sir.’
‘They’ll not say they saw me cry, sir.’
A tear rolled down the side of the RSM’s face. His shako had fallen. It lay a foot from his head.
Sharpe, leaving his left hand in the Sergeant Major’s grip, gently pulled back the red jacket.
‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’ MacLaird’s voice choked suddenly. He lay on the hard flints of the roadway. Some of the dark flints were flecked with his blood. ‘Oh, Christ!’
Sharpe was staring into the ruin of the Sergeant Major’s belly. MacLaird’s filthy shirt had been driven into the wound that welled with gleaming, bright blood. Sharpe let the jacket fall gently onto the horror. There was nothing to be done.
‘Sir,’ the RSM’s voice was weak, ‘please, sir?’ Sharpe was embarrassed. He knew what this hard man, who had bullied and whored and done his duty, wanted. Sharpe saw the struggle on the strong man’s face not to show weakness in death and he gripped MacLaird’s hand as if he could help this last moment of a soldier’s pride. MacLaird stared at the officer. ‘Sir?’
‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,’ the words came uncertainly to Sharpe’s lips. He did not know if he could remember the whole prayer. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Sharpe had no belief, but perhaps when he died then he too would want the comfort of old phrases. ‘Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ One pound of twice-baked bread a day and it had been the bastard French who had trespassed. What were the next words? The flints dug into his knee where he knelt. ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, Amen.’ He thought he had remembered it all, but it did not matter now. MacLaird was dead, killed by a piece of stone the size of a bayonet that had been driven from a rock by the strike of a French cannon ball. The blood had stopped flowing and there was no pulse in his neck.
Slowly Sharpe uncurled the fingers. He lay the hand on the breast, wiped the tears from the face, then stood. ‘Captain Thomas?’
‘RSM’s dead. Take him for burial. Captain d’Alembord!‘
‘Push those picquets fifty yards further up the hill, this isn’t a god-damn field-training day! Move!’ The picquets were perfectly positioned, and everyone knew it, but Sharpe was venting an anger where he could.
The ground was wet, soaked by overnight rain. There were puddles on the track, some discoloured with blood. To Sharpe’s left, where the hillside fell away, a party of men hacked at the thin soil to make graves. Ten bodies, stripped of their jackets and boots that were too valuable to be buried, waited beside the shallow trench. ‘Lieutenant Andrews!’
‘Two Sergeants! Twenty men! Collect rocks!’
‘Rocks, sir?’
‘Do it!’ Sharpe turned and bellowed the order. In this mood men were foolish who crossed the tall, dark-haired officer who had risen from the ranks. His face, always savage, was tight with anger.
He walked to the sheltered place by the big rocks where the wounded were sheltered from wind’s knife-edge. Sharpe’s scabbard, which held the big, Heavy Cavalry blade that he wielded with the force of an axe, clanged on the ground as he crouched. ‘Dan?’
Daniel Hagman, Rifleman and ex-poacher, grinned at him. ‘I ain’t bad, sir.’ His left shoulder was bandaged, his jacket and shirt draped over the bound wound like cloaks. ‘I just can’t fill my pipe, sir.’
‘Here.’ Sharpe took the short clay stump, fished in Hagman’s ammunition pouch for the plug of dark, greasy tobacco, and bit a lump free that he crumbled and pushed into the bowl. ‘What happened?’
‘Bloody skirmisher. I thought the bastard was dead, sir.’ Hagman was the oldest man in the Battalion; perhaps he was over fifty, no one really knew. He was also the best marksman in the regiment. He took the pipe from Sharpe and watched as the officer brought out a tinder-box. ‘I shot the bugger, sir. Went forward, and he cracks me. Bastard.’ He sucked on the pipe, blew smoke, and sucked again. ‘Angel got him. Knifed the bastard proper.’ He shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, sir.’
‘Don’t be a fool, Dan. Not your fault. You’ll be back.’
‘We beat the buggers, sir.’ Hagman, like Sharpe, was a Rifleman; one of a Company who, like flotsam in this ocean of war, had ended up in the red-jacketed ranks of the South Essex. Yet, out of cussedness and pride, they still wore their green jackets. They were Riflemen. They were the best. ‘We always beat the buggers, sir.’
‘Yes.’ Sharpe smiled, and the sardonic, mocking look that his face wore because of the scar on his left cheek suddenly disappeared. ‘We beat the bastards, Dan.’ They had, too. The South Essex, a Battalion under half its full strength, worn down by war the way a bayonet is thinned by use and sharpening, had beaten the bastards. Sharpe thought of Leroy, the American who had been the Battalion’s commanding officer. Leroy would have been proud of them today.
But Leroy was dead, killed last week at Vitoria, and soon, Sharpe knew, there would be a new Lieutenant Colonel, new officers, new men. Those new men were coming from England and Sharpe would give up his temporary command of this shrunken force that should not even have fought a battle this day.
They had been marching to Pasajes, ordered there in the wake of the great victory at Vitoria, when orders had come, brought on a sweating, galloped horse, that asked the South Essex to block this track from the mountains. The staff officer had not known what was happening, had only given a panicked account of a French force erupting from the frontier, and the South Essex, by chance, were closest to the threat. They had left their women and baggage on the main road and gone north to stop the French.
They succeeded. They had lined the track and their muskets had cracked in the deadly rhythm of platoon fire, flaying the northern approach, shredding the blue-jacketed enemy ranks.
The South Essex had not given ground. Their wounded had crawled to shelter or bled where they fell. Even when the enemy mountain gun had opened its fire, hurling back whole files in bloody shambles, they had not stepped back. They had fought the bastards to a standstill and seen them off, and now Major Richard Sharpe, the taste of tobacco still sour in his mouth, could see what price he had paid.
Eleven dead, and more would yet die of their wounds. At least twelve of the wounded would never return to the ranks. Another dozen, like Hagman, should live to fight again, unless their wounds turned filthy, and that fevered, slow death did not bear thinking about.
Sharpe spat. He had no water, for an enemy bullet had smashed his canteen open. ‘Sergeant Harper!’
‘Sir?’ The huge Irishman walked towards him. Perhaps alone in the Battalion this Rifleman would not fear Richard Sharpe’s anger, for Harper had fought beside Sharpe in every battle of this long war. They had marched the length of Spain until, in this summer of 1813, they were close to the French frontier itself. ‘How’s Dan, sir?’
‘He’ll live. Do you have any water?’
‘I did, but someone worked a miracle on it.’ Harper, who illicitly had red wine in his canteen, offered it to Sharpe. The Major drank, then pushed the cork home.
‘Thank you, Patrick.’
‘Plenty more if you need it, sir.’
‘Not for that. For being here.’ Harper had married just two days before and Sharpe had ordered the huge Irishman to stay with his new Spanish wife when the order to fight had come, but Harper had refused. Now Harper stared northwards at the empty horizon. ‘What were the buggers doing here?’
‘They were lost.’ Sharpe could think of no other explanation. He knew that a number of French units, cut off by the defeat of Joseph Bonaparte at Vitoria, were straggling back to France. This one had outnumbered Sharpe, and he had been puzzled why they had broken off the fight when they did. The only explanation he could find was that the enemy must have suddenly realised that the South Essex did not bar the way to France and thus there was no need to go on fighting. The French had been lost, they had blundered into a useless fight, and they had gone. ‘Bastards.’ Sharpe said it with anger, for his men had died for nothing.
BOOK: Sharpe's Regiment
4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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