Book 2 Part 6
In this and future episode’s of Book 2 I have borrowed very heavily from the excellent ‘Sharpe’ series of books by Bernard Cornwell which describe the times, the country and the life in the army perfectly.
I have avoided using any names in those novels but in a few places I have used Major Sharpe as a cameo character.
After I had eaten I asked William why everyone woke each other up by tapping on the sole of their feet – it was strange but it had been bothering me.
He was about to answer when Captain Miles answered for him, “I wondered when you’d ask that; look around you Charlotte all you can see are men that have been at war for as long as many can remember.
Most of us sleep with a weapon close by ready for use. If you were to waken someone by shaking their shoulder and they were having a nightmare you could easily get killed or wounded so tapping the sole of their feet is always the safest.”
“Oh” was all I could say but when you thought about it, it really made sense another lesson I had learned.
A council of war was held, I was while not excluded didn’t feel that I had anything to contribute so I sat to one side and cleaned and reloaded my pistols.
This was another thing William had insisted upon that I could look after my own gun.
The meeting broke up and Sergeant Gilroy passed commenting, “Good idea miss though those pop guns won’t be needed.”
I smiled up at him and replied, “I would sooner have a rifle – but these will do.”
He looked surprised and asked, “You can shoot a Baker miss?”
“Indeed I can; William taught me but I am slow in reloading” I smiled. He walked away shaking his head looking bemused at what this member of the upper classes could do.
The upshot of the plan was that one of William’s troopers would take my mule and enter the village of Vimioso from the Spanish side. The trooper chosen was a Spaniard so language was no problem.
His task was to see if he could find out where Anna was being held and ascertain if the Frenchman had arrived yet. The rest of us were to remain where we were until our ‘spy’ returned.
Thompson and another trooper had been sent out to snare enough food for us all we had ample hard bread, cheese and sausage but fresh food was always a welcome addition.
I was sat talking idly to William when Sergeant Gilroy approached carrying two of their Baker rifles. “Begging your pardon sir” he said, “Miss Charlotte tells me she’s a bit slow at reloading – well I thought.........” He tailed off speaking looking a bit embarrassed but I jumped up exclaiming, “What a splendid idea getting taught how to reload like a trooper – let’s go sergeant.”
With that and much to Gilroys embarrassment I linked my arm into his and we walked off into the surrounding fields where I was shown how to reload lying prone, as the troopers have to do.
Of course we couldn’t fire the gun for fear of being heard so after each load I had to draw the charge and make sure the breech was clear then start again.
As gunpowder was always in short supply I had to make sure that I caught the ball and charge of powder so it could be used again.
After a dozen or so times Gilroy grunted that I would do; then he showed me rudimentary field craft how to move and operate without being seen.
This was so very different to my real life as a woman and I thought that had things been different this could have been my life.
I gave an inward shudder at this as I simply couldn’t imagine being anything but what I was a young lady; as much as I loved being close to William I longed to feel soft silks and satins caress my skin and I longed to be totally clean again to smell and feel like the woman I was.
We walked back to camp I thanked the sergeant for his time and help then before I left I said, “I’ll clean the rifle then return it to you.”
“Y, y, you can clean a rifle miss?” He managed to stammer in surprise.
Happily I smiled at him answering, “Yes Patrick that was one thing William insisted upon if you use a weapon you have to know how to clean it – You can tell me how I have done when I hand it back to you!”
I returned to where my bed roll was and happily cleaned the Baker making especially sure that the breech and touch hole was spotless and the whole of the bore dry then I checked the flint then put all the cleaning equipment back in the patch box making sure that there was enough greased patches for the carbine bullets.
Then I returned it to Sergeant Gilroy he really gave the rifle a really good look over then to my delight he announced, “Miss your rifle passes – I didn’t think that you could clean one properly but Lieutenant Ffinch taught you well.”
I smiled happily and commented, “I really like these rifles but the are a bit too long for me to use easily.” He smiled back at me telling me, “Good rifles these what’s your aim like?”
This damped my enthusiasm as I admitted I could hit a man target at 200 paces but needed more practice.
“I’ll help you miss once we have finished this job and if the captain let’s us rest a while”
We were deep in conversation so never heard the captain and my William come up. “And what will you help Miss Charlotte with Gilroy?” Miles enquired.
“Nowt much sorr just to shoot a bit straighter.” He answered with a grin.
On impulse I gave him a kiss on the cheek which caused jeers and catcalls from the troopers lounged about the place and I swear he blushed though it was hard to tell as like everyone else his features were mahogany brown through the sun and weather.
I walked away with William leaving the poor sergeant to his blushes William commented, “You have made a conquest there dear Charlotte he’s not an easy man to know but a loyal friend when he likes you – and it would seem that he does like you.”
I hooked my arm into Williams and answered, “He’s nice but dangerous I sense.”
He looked at me saying, “You and your sense’s that man is the best shot in the whole of the Army apart from Harper who’s the Major’s company sergeant so if you do get lessons from him take heed my dear.”
While we were walking I asked a question that was bothering me “William Captain Miles looks so much younger than you yet he is a Captain – why is this?”
He gave me his lopsided grin answering, “I wondered when you would ask. You have noticed the scar across his forehead?” I nodded so William carried on, “Well during the Battle of Bussace he got that saving Wellington from an ambush it was a brave act he carried out – hence his promotion.”
I ran my finger across the scar he now bore above his left eye asking, “And how did you get this?”
He laughed telling me, “This was a stupid accident” “Now William that’s a lie don’t believe him Charlotte.” Captain Miles had approached us while we were talking. “William received that from a French sword saving me when my rifle had a missfire he should have been promoted but I’m a mere Captain – you have to save a General or above for that!”
Before I could ask any more questions the two of them went for a council of war and left me pondering just who my William was you certainly never saw this side of him at home.
It took 3 long days for our ‘spy’ to return to us he had been accepted in the village and found that there was a house on the outskirts that everyone kept away from through careful conversations he had found out that there were no French in the village but there were 5 men from ‘The South’.
Stupidly these men had upset the locals by forcing them to give them food. So it would seem that Anna was still alive and being held in the house.
Now the council of war could be held, as now there was something to work on.
Our ‘Spy’ drew a map of the village and the approaches; it was a hard village to approach as there were only two roads. One from the south that passes through a vee shaped valley.
The other approach was from the north, which was along a mountain pass.
The house that the men from the south were in was at the southern end of the village uphill from the main village.
It was decided that the main force would go up into the mountains and approach the house from above while a small number of men would approach from the south – hopefully both would be unseen though the village dogs would be the danger as any noise would set them off barking.
I would go with the men approaching the village from the south I was told in no uncertain terms I was to follow orders from Sergeant Gilroy who was leading the column from the south.
Captain Miles was to lead one of the squads going over the mountain while William would lead the other.
So the two mountain squads departed while we remained in camp the attack was to start at dawn tomorrow. The cry of a screech owl three times would be the signal to start the rescue. The song of the nightjar would call the attack off.
Sergeant Gilroy came and spoke to me telling me to remember what he had shown me about moving and he told me to stay between himself and Thompson (our renown poacher)
We were the diversion that could gain the rest some vital minutes the three of us would walk up the road from the south in full view while the troopers with us would merge into the cover.
Should the dogs start barking we would be seen and it would be assumed that we were the source of the dog’s unease.
Thompson and myself were in peasant costume while Sergeant Gilroy would pretend to be a deserter from the army the two rifles were hidden on the mule but could be easily reached if needed.
We waited until the time agreed then we made our way to the road for the first few miles we marched as a unit then about a mile from the village the rest of the troopers merged into the scrubland and we were alone.
As we approached the village dawn was just breaking a thin sliver of silver over the mountains. I was very nervous and the weight of the pistol I had thrust into my belt was reassuring.
Slowly as the light got better the shape of the village could be seen individual houses and fields but no lights were shown.
Sure enough one dog started barking which the rest of the village dogs soon took up and of course we were challenged by the villagers diverting all attention away from the house that stood apart.
As I looked at it I could see that the door was open and two men were intently watching the scene unfolding around us.
The sound of the screech owl rent the early morning stillness – the rescue was under way.
I didn’t know what to expect but it certainly was not the continued quietness I though a volley of shots would ring out but no.
I glanced at the house and noticed figures inching their way to the door where the two men were still standing listening to the loud discussions going on near the village.
Then the two men were gone, and figures poured through the open door a scream was heard that diverted all the attention away from we three.
In fluent Portuguese the villagers were told to return to their houses and no one would be harmed.
Finally the rest of the troopers came into the village square dragging 2 men but one was free and as the filthy figure approached I saw it was Anna.
I gave an excited shout and ran towards her crying, “Anna, Oh Anna you’re safe!”
She looked stunned and stammered, “M, m, m, mistress Charlotte surely it cannot be.” Then I was on her hugging her to me, “I’ve found you, I’ve really found you and you are alright?”
The troopers let the villagers take anything they wanted from the house unfortunately this was only a resting place the Frenchman was not coming here his orders were for the men who had kidnapped Anna to move on in a few days – at least that was what they told Captain Miles.
After the house was emptied place was burnt to the ground.
More discussions with the villagers and they agreed to tell us if the Frenchman should come to the village. Monsieur Ducos was the French spymaster and Sharpe wanted him really badly – so badly that it was very nearly a personal affair.
Everything then fell into place Major Sharpe was elsewhere William and Simon (Miles) had been sent on patrol watch over the area finding me and learning of my quest especially about the Frenchman was a gift from god for them.
We moved out of the village leaving the villagers to bury the two kidnappers that had been killed and taking the two still alive with us.
Not fully trusting the villagers watch posts were set up on all the approach’s to the village with 4 men at each post so as a 24 hour watch could be maintained.
Anna wanted to know why I was here and everyone took great delight in telling her that I had run away to find her.
“Oh Miss Charlotte you shouldn’t have done that – as long as they thought I was you I was safe!”
“Anna” I remonstrated, “That is the point! The Frenchman knows what I look like and as soon as he set eyes on you; your life would mean nothing – and I simply couldn’t allow that to happen.”
“But Miss, what is your mother going to say and your brother!” This had been bothering me for a while and I answered as honestly as I could, “No doubt I will be in deep trouble – again! But now I can return and face the music.”
Historical Note: The Baker Rifle – The Colonel responsible for establishing the Rifle Corps, influenced the initial designs of the Baker. The first model resembled the British Infantry Musket, but was rejected as too heavy. Baker was provided with a German Jäger rifle as an example of what was needed. The second model he made had a .75 calibre bore, the same calibre as the Infantry Musket. It had a 32-inch barrel, with eight rectangular rifling grooves; this model was accepted as the Infantry Rifle, but more changes were made until it was finally placed into production. The third and final model had the barrel shortened from 32 to 30 inches, and the calibre reduced to .653, which allowed the rifle to fire a .625 calibre carbine bullet with a greased patch which gripped the now-seven rectangular grooves in the barrel.
The rifle had a simple folding back sight with the standard large lock mechanism (initially marked 'Tower' and 'G.R.' under a Crown; later ones after the battle of Waterloo had 'Enfield'), with a swan-neck cock as fitted to the 'Brown Bess.' Like the German Jäger rifles, it had a scrolled brass trigger guard to help ensure a firm grip and a raised cheek-piece on the left-hand side of the butt. Like many rifles, it had a 'butt-trap' or patch box where greased linen patches and tools could be stored. The lid of the patch box was brass, and hinged at the rear so it could be flipped up. The stocks were made of walnut and held the barrel with three flat captive wedges.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Baker was reported to be effective at long range due to its accuracy and dependability under battlefield conditions. In spite of its advantages, the rifle did not replace the standard British musket of the day, the Brown Bess but was issued officially only to rifle regiments. In practice, however, many regiments, such as the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), and others, acquired rifles for use by some in their light companies during the time of the Peninsular War.
These units were employed as an addition to the common practice of fielding skirmishers in advance of the main column, who were used to weaken and disrupt the waiting enemy lines (the French also had a light company in each battalion that were trained and employed as skirmishers but these were only issued with muskets). With the advantage of the greater range and accuracy provided by the Baker rifle, the highly trained British skirmishers were able to defeat their French counterparts routinely and in turn disrupt the main French force by sniping at officers and NCOs.
The rifle was used by what were considered elite units, such as the 5th battalion and rifle companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions of the 60th Regiment of Foot, deployed around the world, and the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Duke of Wellington between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War, the War of 1812 (3rd Batt./95th (Rifles)
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