Not For Honour Alone, part 21
"Christ Almighty!" Sharpe hissed through his teeth as Owen pressed the
rum-soaked cloth against the cut on his arm.
"Sorry, sir." Owen said. "But it'll help it
heal cleaner." The young
sergeant finished binding the wound and stopped to admire his handiwork.
"You'll be fine sir. I warrant its not the first, or the worst, sword
slash you've taken."
"No, you're right about that." Sharpe muttered.
He met the eyes of the
earnest younger man. "You have a touch with this, Owen. Where'd you
"From my father, sir. He was a doctor. I would have
liked to become one
too. But..." His voice trailed off and he shook his head. "Just try
and keep that bandage dry, sir, and it'll heal nicely." He dropped his
eyes from the captain's.
"Thank you, Owen." Sharpe said.
"Sir." was all Owen said before he walked off, head
bowed, to water the
"Owen?" Sharpe called. Owen turned around. "Aren't
you going to take
care of Colonel Edrington?"
"No sir." Owen stated, a mischievous smile curling
his lips. "I think
he's a little tired of me hovering over him."
Sharpe watched him go, a little puzzled at the young man's
He did find it strange, however, that Owen did not make any effort to
attend to Colonel Edrington. From what he had observed it was evident
that Owen felt a tremendous awe, respect, and even affection for his
commander. Why then was he leaving the job to Antonia?
He glanced to where Edrington sat, his back propped against
a tree. He
had removed his shirt, not without argument, and his injured shoulder
looked lurid in the fading daylight. Whether in the fight or when he
swung the woman behind him on the horse, the wound had broken open again,
staining his shirt and making him grimace with pain.
Harper had filled his shako with water from the nearby stream
brought it to Antonia. She took a strip of cloth torn from Kennedy's
waistcoat, dipped it in the water and used it to gently scrub the dried
blood from around the injury. The newly mended flesh showed red and raw.
Edrington sat through the procedure, silently enduring what
was no doubt
a painful experience. He hardly seemed aware of who was tending to him,
so intent was he on some inner turmoil. Not until Antonia finished tying
off a new bandage and smiled at him did he snap out of his thoughts.
"Thank you." he said, sparing a smile for her before
sinking once again
into whatever thoughts occupied his mind.
Sharpe approached him and sat down alongside the colonel.
speak right away, although he had a feeling he knew what was on
"I've never been in a fight like that." he finally
said, staring at his
hands which were still faintly bloodstained, his voice low. "Never such
close quarters, hand-to-hand combat. War looks very different when
you're on horseback."
Sharpe nodded. "Yes, it does. But it doesn't matter
how many of those
fights you've been in. It doesn't get any easier, my lord." He picked
up Edrington's sword from where it lay on the ground. Blood and shreds
of wool were crusted on the blade. "I'll get this clean for you, sir.
We don't want it rusting, do we?" he said as he stood. He was about to
walk away when Kennedy and Harper approached the pair of officers.
"Captain Sharpe" Kennedy began. He gestured to Harper.
"I wanted to
thank your sergeant for saving my life back there, and I wanted you to
know about it. I'm grateful to the both of you; he for being so quick of
wit, and you for prizing this man as you do. He is well worth it." he
concluded, giving Harper a pat on the shoulder.
"Thank you, Mister Kennedy." Sharpe acknowledged
the words then with a
nod of his head indicated for Harper to follow him.
They walked a fair distance away before Sharpe stopped and
turned to his
sergeant. "What the devil is happening here, Pat? Mister Kennedy, who
looks like he couldn't harm a flea, doesn't even bat an eye at what
happened today. And the colonel...." His words ground to a halt. He
wasn't sure how to say what was in his head.
"He fought well." Harper said. "When he was
needed he fought well. And
probably saved your life." he continued with a knowing look. He glanced
over his shoulder to where the other men were. "I can understand his
reaction now. Its hard, so it is, to see the man's face just before you
Sharpe sighed. "I know that. But he can't break now.
If we - any of us
- are to have a hope of getting through this mess, we need the colonel."
He laughed briefly, a sardonic smile twisting his lips. "Funny, isn't
it? I never wanted to be dragged into this with him. I only wanted to
know that Dobb's death wouldn't be forgotten. And now I'm saying that we
need His Lordship."
"It is funny, and we do need him. Who else do you think
can talk us out
of the trouble we're in? Desertion is not to be taken lightly, sir."
Harper said, an answering smile lighting his face.
"No. No, it isn't" He held Edrington's sword out
to the sergeant. "Get
this clean, will you Pat? And put a new edge on it as best you can."
"Well, what did you find out?"
Captains Edrington and Langdon had walked off from the main
search of a place where they could talk with no fear of being overheard.
It had been two days since their first meeting; two days in which Langdon
had set out to discover whatever he could about Major Harlan. His
family, his military service; Langdon asked about everything. He was
discreet as he went about his inquiries, but he needn't have worried.
Harlan had taken to drinking himself to a stupor nearly every night in
camp. His conspicuous lack of attention, coming as it did on top of
Colonel Edrington's troubles, made morale in the 86th sink even lower.
The man were now openly talking of mutiny.
"Not enough." was Langdon's response. "The
man's like a cipher; without
a thread to follow he's nearly impossible to figure out."
"Damnit!" William exclaimed. "There has to be something. Anything!"
"What were you planning on doing if there were something?"
"I don't know. Maybe." He stared off to the west.
They were across the
border and into Portugal now. Away from the French threat, for the time
"There just has to be something!" he repeated, turning
back to face
"Well..." Langdon began. "I don't know if it'll
make a difference!" he
said, holding up a hand to halt William's hopeful exclamations. "In fact
I don't even know if its true. I haven't confirmed it yet. But its the
only possible connection I've been able to find between Harlan and the
colonel. Besides the 86th, I mean."
"What? In God's name, WHAT??"
"Major Harlan had an older brother, who was a captain
in a Devonshire
regiment. He was forced to resign his commission in disgrace after a
sixteen year old boy in his company was beaten to death. A young ensign
in the regiment saw Captain Harlan commit the crime, and he reported it."
"A Devonshire regiment?" William asked, feeling a
chill settle in his
stomach. He almost dreaded the next question. "What Devonshire
William's breath left his lungs in a rush. "I can confirm
for you right now, Langdon. The 14th Devonshire was Hal's first
regiment, and as an ensign he served under Captain Richard Harlan. I
don't know if he was the ensign who reported his captain; I never asked
and he never told me."
"That has to be it! Harlan wants some sort of revenge
for his brother's
humiliation. Humiliating Colonel Edrington in the same way would be
ideal. But..." He looked at the tall cavalry captain. "What if your
brother wasn't the ensign who tuned Captain Harlan in?"
"I doubt that makes any difference. He may not have been,
Harlan believes it was Hal. Christ!" William sighed and ran a hand
through his hair. "It was so long ago I doubt if Hal even remembers it.
He was only seventeen at the time."
"He'll remember." Langdon sounded so emphatic that
William looked at him
quizzically. "He has to. Otherwise this is nothing but conjecture, and
it doesn't mean a damned thing."
"Maybe, maybe not." William said, a wolfish grin
on his face. "Perhaps
we need to work on Major Harlan ourselves."