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Capitan-General Blas Vivar's wife, the Countess of Mouromorto, had been born and raised in England, but Sharpe had first met Miss Louisa Parker when, in 1809 and with thousands of other refugees, she was fleeing from Napoleon's invasion of northern Spain. The Parker family, oblivious to the chaos that was engulfing a continent, could grieve only for their lost Protestant Bibles with which they had forlornly hoped to convert Papist Spain. Somehow, in the weltering chaos, Miss Louisa Parker had met Don Blas Vivar who, later that same year, became the Count of Mouromorto. Miss Parker had meanwhile become a Papist, and thereafter Blas Vivar's wife. Sharpe saw neither of them again till, in the late summer of 1819, Doña Louisa Vivar, Countess of Mouromorto, arrived unannounced and unexpected in the Normandy village where Sharpe farmed.
At first Sharpe did not recognize the tall, black-dressed woman whose carriage, attended by postilions and outriders, drew up under the chateau's crumbling arch. He had supposed the lavish carriage to belong to some rich person who, traveling about Normandy, had become lost in the region's green tangle of lanes and, it being late on a hot summer's afternoon, had sought out the largest farmhouse of the village for directions and, doubtless, refreshments as well. Sharpe, his face sour and unwelcoming, had been prepared to turn the visitors away by directing them to the inn at Seleglise, but then a dignified woman had stepped down from the carriage and pushed a veil back from her face. "Mister Sharpe?" she had said after a few awkward seconds, and suddenly Sharpe hadrecognized her, but even then he had found it hard to reconcile this woman's reserved and stately appearance with his memories of an adventurous English girl who had impulsively abandoned both her Protestant religion and the approval of her family to marry Don Blas Vivar, Count of Mouromorto, devout Catholic, and soldier of Spain.
Who, Doña Louisa now informed Sharpe, had disappeared. Blas Vivar had vanished.
Sharpe, overwhelmed by the suddenness of the information and by Louisa's arrival, gaped like a village idiot. Lucille insisted that Doña Louisa must stay for supper, which meant staying for the night, and Sharpe was peremptorily sent about making preparations. There was no spare stabling for Doña Louisa's valuable carriage horses, so Sharpe ordered a boy to unstall the plough horses and take them to a meadow while Lucille organized beds for Doña Louisa and her maids, and rugs for Doña Louisa's coachmen. Luggage had to be unstrapped from the varnished carriage and carried upstairs where the chateau's two maids laid new sheets on the beds. Wine was brought up from the damp Cellar, and a fine cheese, which Lucille would otherwise have sent to the market in Caen, was taken from its nettle-leaf wrapping and pronounced fit for the visitor's supper. That supper would not be much different from any of the other peasant meals being eaten in the village for the chateau was pretentious only in its name. The building had once been a nobleman's fortified manor, but was now little more than an overgrown and moated farmhouse.
Doña Louisa, her mind too full of her troubles to notice the fuss her arrival had prompted, explained to Sharpe the immediate cause of her unexpected visit. "I have been in England and I insisted the Horse Guards tell me where I might find you. I am sorry not to have sent you warning of my coming, but I need help." She spoke peremptorily, her voice that of a woman who was not used to deferring the gratification of her wishes.
She was nevertheless forced to wait while Sharpe's two children were introduced to her. Patrick, age five, offered her ladyship a sturdy bow while Dominique, age three, was more interested in the ducklings that splashed at the moat's edge. "Dominique looks like your wife," Louisa said.
Sharpe merely grunted a noncommital reply, for he had no wish to explain that he and Lucille were not married, nor how he already had a bitch of a wife in London whom he could not afford to divorce and who would not decently crawl away and die. Nor did Lucille, coming to join Sharpe and their guest at the table in the courtyard, bother to correct Louisa's misapprehension, for Lucille claimed to take more pleasure in being mistaken for Madame Richard Sharpe than in using her ancient title, though Sharpe, much to Lucille's amusement, now insisted on introducing her to Louisa as the Vicomtesse de Seleglise, an honor which duly impressed the Countess of Mouromorto. Lucille, as ever, tried to disown the title by saying that such nonsenses had been abolished in the revolution and, besides, anyone connected to an ancient French family could drag out a title from somewhere. "Half the ploughmen in France are Viscounts," the Viscountess Seleglise said with self-deprecation, then politely asked whether the Countess of Mouromorto had any children.
"Three," Louisa replied, and then went on to explain how an additional two children had died in infancy. Sharpe, supposing that the two women would get down to the interminable and tedious feminine business of making mutual compliments about their respective children, let the conversation become a meaningless drone, but Louisa surprisingly brushed the subject of children aside, only wanting to talk of her missing husband. "He's somewhere in Chile," she said.
Sharpe had to think for a few seconds before he could Place Chile, then he remembered a few scraps of information from the newspapers that he read in the inn beside Caen Abbey where he went for dinner on market days. "There's a war of independence going on in Chile, isn't there?"
"A rebellion!" Louisa corrected him sharply. Indeed, she went on, her husband had been sent to suppress the rebellion, though when Don Blas had reached Chile he had discovered a demoralized Spanish army...