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Release date: 2022-12-01 07:45:32 Author:TJimWjfX

Gudin gestured towards the archway. 'We must let Doctor Venkatesh finish your back, Sharpe, then give you both new uniforms and muskets. Welcome to the Tippoo Sultan's army, gentlemen. You earn a haideri each every day.'

'Exactly,' Gudin said. 'And soldiers on probation are not permitted wives. Don't worry, Sharpe. I'm sure your woman will be safe in General Rao's house. Now go, Mademoiselle.'

'Look after yourself, lass,' Sharpe said, and watched her follow the tall Indian officer out of the courtyard.

'Two men?' Morris frowned. That bastard Sharpe had run, taking his bibbi with him, but who else? 'Oh!' Morris said. 'You mean Lieutenant Lawford, sir?The very fellow. A lucky fellow too, eh? Carrying the despatch to Madras. It's quite an honour for him.' Baird shook his head ruefully. 'Myself, I'm not so certain that little scrap the other day was worth a despatch, but General Harris insisted and your Colonel chose Lawford.' Baird was using the excuse the army had invented to explain Lawford's disappearance. The excuse had provoked some resentment in the 33rd for Lawford was one of the most junior of the battalion's lieutenants and most men who carried despatches could expect a promotion as a reward for the task which, in turn, was usually only given to men who had distinguished themselves in battle. It seemed to Morris, as to every other officer in the battalion, that Lawford had neither distinguished himself nor deserved promotion, but Morris could hardly admit as much to Baird.

'Exactly,' Gudin said. 'And soldiers on probation are not permitted wives. Don't worry, Sharpe. I'm sure your woman will be safe in General Rao's house. Now go, Mademoiselle.'

'But doubtless in arrears,' Lawford said sarcastically. He was still angry at Sharpe for having tried to shoot McCandless, and the musket's misfire had not placated him.

'Ensign Fitzgerald, sir,' Morris said. 'Lieutenant Fitzgerald now, sir, by brevet, of course.' Morris managed to sound disapproving. He would have much preferred Ensign Hicks to have received the temporary promotion, but Hicks did not have the hundred and fifty pounds needed to purchase up from ensign to lieutenant, whereas Fitzgerald did, and if Lawford's reward for carrying the despatches was a promotion to captain then Fitzgerald must replace him. In Morris's opinion the newly breveted Lieutenant was altogether too easy with the men, but a money draft was a money draft, and Fitzgerald was the monied candidate and so had been given the temporary rank.

'Unbearable, sir,' Morris said nervously.

Major Shee seemed alarmed at the General's sudden appearance, but Baird soothed the Major and explained he had a little business with the Light Company. 'Nothing to trouble you, Major. Just an administrative matter. A triviality.'

'Thank you, sir.' Sergeant Hakeswill's stiff posture unbent a fraction.

'I wouldn't waste your time, Shee, on trifles, but I'm obliged for your help, though.'

Baird smiled at Morris. 'You lost two men this week, Captain, did you not?'

Major Shee seemed alarmed at the General's sudden appearance, but Baird soothed the Major and explained he had a little business with the Light Company. 'Nothing to trouble you, Major. Just an administrative matter. A triviality.'

Baird waved to show that Morris need not worry about donning a coat. 'There's no need for formality, Captain. Leave your coat off, man, leave it off. It's desperately hot, isn't it?'

'Probation, sir?' Lawford offered.

'I'm Baird,' Baird introduced himself. 'I don't think we've had the pleasure?'

Major Shee seemed alarmed at the General's sudden appearance, but Baird soothed the Major and explained he had a little business with the Light Company. 'Nothing to trouble you, Major. Just an administrative matter. A triviality.'

'The pay is always in arrears,' Gudin admitted cheerfully, 'but in what army is the pay ever on time? Officially you earn a haideri a day, though you will rarely receive it, but I can promise you other consolations. Now come.' He summonedDoctor Venkatesh who retrieved his basket and followed Gudin out of the palace.

'No, sir.' Morris was too nervous to introduce himself properly.

'Good money!' Sharpe said, impressed. A haideri was worth half a crown, far above the miserable tuppence a day he received in the British army.

'Unbearable, sir,' Morris said nervously.

'Very glad for him,' Morris managed to say.

Baird smiled at Morris. 'You lost two men this week, Captain, did you not?'

'Sit you down, man,' Baird said, trying to put the Captain at his ease. 'Sit you down. May I?' Baird gestured at Morris's cot, asking permission to use it as a chair. 'Thank you kindly,' Baird said, then he sat, took off his plumed hat and fanned his face with its brim. 'I think I've forgotten what cold weather is like. Do you think it still snows anywhere? My God, but it saps a man, this heat. Saps him. Do relax, Sergeant.'

'Probation, sir?' Lawford offered.

General David Baird did not feel guilty about Sharpe and Lawford, for they were soldiers and were paid to take risks, but he did feel responsible for them. The fact that neither the British nor Indian cavalry patrols had discovered the two men suggested that they might well have reached Seringapa-tam, but the more Baird thought about their mission the less sanguine he was about its successful completion. It had seemed a good idea when he had first thought of it, but two days' reflection had diluted that initial hope with a score of reservations. He had always suspected that even with the help of Ravi Shekhar their chances of rescuing McCandless were woefully small, but at the very least he had hoped they might learn McCandless's news and succeed in bringing it out of the city, but now he feared that neither man would even survive. At best, he thought, the two men could only hope to escape execution by joining the Tippoo's forces, which would mean that both Sharpe and Lawford would be in enemy uniform when the British assaulted the city. There was litde Baird could do about that, but he could prevent a dreadful miscarriage of justice following the city's fall, and so that night, when the two armies' great encampment was established just a few days' march from their goal, Baird sought out the lines of the 33rd.

'Unbearable, sir,' Morris said nervously.

'I'Il take you to Captain Morris, sir,' Shee said, then clapped on his hat and led the General down the line ofofficers' tents. 'It's the end one, sir,' he said nervously. 'Do you need me at all?'

'Very glad for him,' Morris managed to say.

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