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datatime: 2022-12-08 13:26:16 Author:mnUkzreY

'Probation, sir?' Lawford offered.

'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.

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

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

'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.

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?'

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

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.

'Found a replacement, have you?' Baird asked.

'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.

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?'

'Sir!' Morris upset his chair as he stood up, then he plucked his red coat off the floor where it had fallen with the chair.

'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.

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

'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.

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

'Probation, sir?' Lawford offered.

'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.

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

'Sir!' Morris upset his chair as he stood up, then he plucked his red coat off the floor where it had fallen with the chair.

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

Mary stood on tiptoe and kissed Sharpe's cheek. 'I'll be all right, love,' she whispered, 'and so will you.'

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

'Found a replacement, have you?' Baird asked.

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

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