Author's note: As of March 2013, Bernard Cornwell has yet to write a book that covers the time when Richard Sharpe joined the army and first met Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.
Starting with Sharpe's Tiger, Cornwell wrote in detail about why Sharpe hates Hakeswill. However, he has never explained how and why Obadiah came to hate Sharpe enough to single him out as a special target for more intense harassment and bullying than was given to the other men around him.
I have written this story to explore my idea of what could have happened to cause Obadiah to hate Sharpe and how what happened was to shape the man that Obadiah was later to become. This story is told from Obadiah's point of view.
I do not own the rights to the Sharpe universe and make no profit from this story. I am only borrowing Obadiah Hakeswill and Richard Sharpe, written by Bernard Cornwell and wonderfully brought to life by Pete Postlethwaite and Sean Bean.
Life had never been easy for the nearly sixteen year old Richard Sharpe. He'd never known who his father was and his mother had been a whore who'd died when he was only three. Now approaching manhood, he had only the vaguest memory of her tucking him into bed at night.
Right after his mother's death, he'd been taken away and dumped into the Brewhouse Lane foundling home. Despite his tender age, no one there had shown him any tenderness or compassion. Indeed, he'd been expected to earn his keep from the very start. He'd spent the next nine years doing mountains of laundry and picking oakum, while enduring frequent beatings and never getting quite enough to eat or wear. Living by his wits, the orphaned boy survived by fighting, lying, and stealing. It would later turn out to have been a surprisingly apt training ground for his future life as an adult.
Not long after his twelfth birthday, young Richard was sold as an apprentice to a local chimney sweep. After half a dozen times of having to squeeze himself naked into filthy, narrow chimneys to clean them, the undersized boy knew he wanted no more of that. Determined to run away at the first opportunity, he escaped a little more than two weeks after leaving the orphanage, with no more than the clothes on his back.
He'd headed straight for the labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and alleys in the St. Giles Rookery where it would be difficult and time consuming for the chimney sweep to hunt him down. He knew the man wouldn't bother when it would be quicker and easier just to get another unfortunate orphan from Jem Hocking back on Brewhouse Lane.
Richard spent a couple of nights sleeping in different alleys, with nothing more to eat than the scraps he could scavenge out of dustbins. On the third morning, he awakened to the sight of a buxom, flame-haired woman, about ten years his senior, who'd brought out a box of rubbish to dump in the alley.
This had been Maggie Joyce, a whore who ran a gin house and brothel on Goslitt Yard. Taking pity on the scrawny, ragged boy, she gave him a place to stay, putting him to work doing whatever odd jobs needed doing around the establishment.
Maggie soon became the mother he'd never really had. After he'd proven his competence with the odd jobs she gave him, he graduated to burglary. Richard quickly became adept at his new trade, which was much easier and far more lucrative than trying to squeeze himself into chimneys.
And, as time passed and his body turned from that of a boy into a man, Maggie eventually became his first lover, thoroughly instructing him in the finer techniques of the sexual act.
For more than three years, life was good for Richard Sharpe. But it all came to an end one night when he'd returned from doing a burglary and found Maggie being beaten by one of her drunken customers. Richard had not hesitated for a moment - he'd picked up a heavy wooden stool to get the bastard off her and when it was all over, Maggie's attacker was crumpled in a bloody heap, dead at his feet.
That had been the first time he'd killed a man and had been obliged to run for his life. He wasn't running from the law, who would not have cared enough about the murder to investigate it. Young Sharpe wasn't worried about ending up being carted off to gaol; he was worried about being waylaid in an alley and being knifed or beaten to death himself. The drunken lout he'd killed had been the head of a powerful gang and if Richard had stayed with Maggie, it would have been only a matter of time before one of the lout's former henchmen took revenge on him for the murder.
Maggie had sent him to a friend of hers who ran a coaching tavern in Yorkshire, where he found work. But within six months, he was back in the same boat. This time, he had killed his employer, slashing his throat in a fight over a pretty, young barmaid. For as long as he lived, women would be Richard Sharpe's main weakness, clouding his better judgment every time.
This time, however, there were no more friends to go to. For the first time in his young life, Richard Sharpe was completely on his own to fend for himself and did not quite know what to do.
Though only twenty-three, Obadiah Hakeswill had been in the army for eleven years and had been a sergeant for the last five. This was his first year working with a recruitment party and the young sergeant found he had a knack for recruiting, easily able to gull naïve boys and desperate men into believing the tales he wove about the grand adventures they would have once they joined the army.
Like Richard Sharpe, Obadiah had been born a bastard and his childhood had been one of miserable poverty, also often spent lying, fighting, and stealing.
Unlike, Sharpe, however, he'd been raised by his mother in a small town in Sussex. Though Biddy Hakeswill hadn't been a prostitute like Lizzie Sharpe, she'd been free and easy with her favours, which was how Obadiah had been conceived. Biddy had toiled long, thankless hours as a laundress and managed, if just barely, to make a home for her only son. She doted on him as much as was possible, considering how little time she had to spare for him.
Despite being mostly neglected, he was smart enough to know that his mother had no other choice. He worshiped the ground she walked on. And she was the only one who loved him; the only one he could depend on.
Obadiah was not an attractive child; he was all knees and elbows with oddly prominent cheekbones and shifty eyes. Nor did he have the charm of a winning personality that might have otherwise caused townspeople to overlook his appearance and low origins. He did whatever he could to help her, which usually turned out to be stealing to supplement their income.
His mother had been able to send him to school for a few years, determined that he would learn to read and write, so that he might as an adult escape the grinding poverty in which they were obliged to live. But that had all ended when Biddy had become sick with consumption and could no longer work so much. Obadiah would have likely been soon thrown out of the school, anyway, because the vicar, who taught the class for indigent boys, disapproved of what he considered to be the immoral ways of both Hakeswills.
As Biddy's health rapidly declined, Obadiah had to devote all his time to stealing and taking care of his mother as best as a ten year old boy could. It wasn't until right before Biddy died that her brother came to grudgingly take charge of his young nephew.
She had made her brother promise to look after Obadiah after she was gone and it was only after he'd reluctantly agreed, that she'd been able to let go and die in peace.
Peter Hakeswill had kept his promise to his sister, but just barely. He kept a roof over his nephew's head, but mostly he ignored the boy, preferring to spend most of his time in a drunken haze down at the local pub. For much of the next year, Obadiah was pretty much left to his own devices, having to fend for himself.
As the months rolled by after Biddy's death, Obadiah got into trouble more and more often. But his uncle didn't care what he did, just so long as it didn't interfere with his nights down at the pub.
Few people in town had any use for the young Hakeswill, viewing him as a troublemaker and a nuisance. Most people were of the opinion that it would have been a better thing if he'd died and been buried along with his mother. Nevertheless, he had one friend who often accompanied him on his capers; oddly enough, the vicar's daughter. She was a year older than Obadiah, and was a rebellious girl who took great delight in assisting him with his stealing, knowing how much it would distress her pious parents.
It all came to an end one night after Obadiah had escorted her home after a successful raid on a chicken coop. The vicar had caught both children at the door, just as Obadiah had reached over to steal a kiss from the girl.
Knowing the young urchin's loose sense of morality and lack of a proper upbringing, the vicar suspected the worst; that Obadiah had compromised his daughter's honour. In the vicar's opinion, the orphaned boy had been nothing but a nuisance to the entire town since his mother's death. And trying to corrupt his innocent daughter was the last straw for the clergyman. Knowing that Peter Hakeswill would never take his nephew in hand, the vicar decided to solve the problem once and for all.
Because of his high standing in the town, no one questioned the vicar when he framed Obadiah for stealing a sheep. After the barest semblance of a trial, the unfortunate boy was sentenced to hang. Within days, he was hanged in the town square, along with several other condemned prisoners.
But luck was with Obadiah Hakeswill that day. As he hanged from the gibbet, twitching and struggling to breathe, a sudden downpour scattered the crowd. His uncle seized the opportunity to cut his nephew down and carried him to an secluded alley to try to revive him.
When he came to, he had an ugly wound around his neck that would turn into a permanent scar, and an uncontrollable facial twitch. But he was alive and that's all that mattered. It was at that moment that young Obadiah realized that he was a born survivor, and he lost his fear of death.
Knowing that they'd come looking for Obadiah once the rain stopped, Peter Hakeswill told the boy to bugger off and to never return. Taking his uncle's advice, twelve year old Obadiah ran for his life and never looked back.
When he reached the first large town, he ran into an army recruiting party and he joined as a drummer boy. In the time since, he had quickly made his way up the ladder to his present rank of sergeant. The army had almost literally saved his life.
By the time April 1793 rolled around, Obadiah had been in the army for nearly half his life. It was his home and, by now, army life fitted him like a well-worn glove. When his recruiting party entered the small market town of Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire, the young sergeant had a feeling that this would be his most successful recruiting campaign yet.