Charlie Weller was scared, but old Dan had said that everybody got scared, even Mister Sharpe, and so the boy bit down on the gut-wrenching fear that was turning his stomach to ice and marched on. He was young, he was frightened, but he could do this. He could.
They were coming up to the water now; the wide but shallow river ford where the French lay just across the other side, muzzles of muskets pointing straight at them, firing hot lead and death in their direction. Colonel Girdwood was there with them, murmuring and whimpering underneath his drooping moustache, eyes wild but pressing on. He was going mad they said, and Charlie Weller believed it. He had been slightly concerned that he was being led into his first battle by a madman, but when voicing his concern Hagman had just smiled and shook his head.
“Don’t you worry ‘bout it, lad. Mister Sharpe’s the one that commands this battalion, and it’s Mister Sharpe that’s driving Colonel mad, y’see?”
“Sure! Got old Tar Brush in a state, so it has, knowing Sharpe’s better’n him. And why else would the bastard encourage us to collect dogs?” The old poacher shook his head again. “Know it’d certainly drive me mad havin’ Mister Sharpe breathin’ down the back of me neck…”
Weller didn’t know how far to believe Hagman, but he was certainly right about the dogs - Buttons the Second was currently back with the regiment’s baggage being looked after by one of the women. He hoped that he would live to see the dog again.
Sergeant Lynch was here as well. Charlie’s grip unconsciously tightened around the wood of his musket stock, his young face set into a grim expression as he glared at the distant back of the sergeant. RSM Harper had assured the lad that Lynch would not last the battle; and with such an assurance Weller already viewed Lynch as living on borrowed time.
They were at the water’s edge now, and the private took a deep breath before wading into the thigh-high river, its icy coldness stealing a gasp from him momentarily as he raised his musket and cartridge box, determined to keep his powder dry.
Yes, Charlie Weller was frightened; but not, he reckoned, half so frightened as those Frenchies would be when they came charging up the hill towards them, Major Sharpe leading the way. Charlie Weller was going to fight and be the best, and so Charlie Weller marched on.