Lady in Waiting Part 11
Charlotte and her companion Anna are still waiting in San Sebastian for their ship home. Luckily the Army are waiting for supplies so while the majority of the army move to harry the French in the Pyrenees a contingent remain to receive the supplies and move them to the main body.
Early October the near by town of Fuenterrabia was put under siege by the army after crossing the river Bidassoa. Wellington’s forces managed to surprise the French garrison as they thought the river was too wide and treacherous to cross we could hear the cannon back in San Sebastian.
The fighting around Fuenterrabia was brief but intense with the French withdrawing and Wellington rolling up their line as they retreated towards France.
The hospital here at San Sebastian again received patients and the two of us resumed our bandage-washing task.
We had been here for 2 months and while it was pleasant we were getting restless.
My thoughts turned to my first meeting with Mama and the outcome I pretended to be nonchalant about it but inside I was really worried.
No matter which way I looked at it my mothers response to my children was to me of paramount importance. Without really thinking I had backed Mama into a corner as we had told Williams family about the children the more I considered this the more I worried and wished we could simply remain in Portugal - and that was just the start she still has to find out about Anna!
Whichever way you looked at it my first few days home were going to be interesting to say the least.
It was mid October that a fast Brig entered the bay with dispatches for the army it’s arrival caused a bit of a stir and I thought that this may be our transport home - but the ship left after a day or so bound for Gibraltar with dispatches and mail for the Mediterranean Fleet thence into the Atlantic to find the Atlantic Fleet.
Later that day dear Hugh Rothwell (yes he is still with us) came to visit and handed me a letter.
My heart dropped like a stone I recognised the handwriting Mama surely my letter could not have reached her already?
It was with some trepidation I broke the seal and read the contents. The words written in brackets are my reaction
My dearest Charlotte (a good start)
It would seem that the age of miracles is with us still (Ooooops) to say I was surprised when I read your your recent letter would be an understatement I am very interested to hear your story before I get too used to being a grandmother (was that good or bad)!
Having children and being a mother may curb you impetuous nature but I do not hold out much hope on that but we will see. I assume that your ‘companion’ is helping you with the children. (Oh no she knows!)
The rest of the letter was about the estate how Edward was doing in his work for the government and general information about Mama and William’s family then to end with came another surprise.
I have to sadly inform you that Miss Martha has passed away. This was through old age and her catching a slight chill all of which conspired to take her from us.
Also your ‘companion’ Anna you are to inform her that her parents died this summer they contracted smallpox and did not recover please tell her we gave them a Christian burial.
We will speak more when you arrive back in England on both subjects. I will be spending Christmas at home but will be going to London in February. I suggest we talk before we visit Lord and Lady Ffinch
I sat there stunned a tear trickled down my cheek as I remembered Miss Martha and all she had done for me her strict teaching had moulded me into the young lady I now was.
All told Mama’s letter was couched in generalities (like mine to her) that had many meanings I think I understood what she was saying.
Now to go and tell Anna about her parents the poor girl she had no brothers or sisters so was alone in the world apart from the children and myself of course not forgetting her sailor John Newsome.
Anna was playing with the children when I told her the news she went very quiet then in a small voice said. “I’m all by myself now Miss Charlotte. T’only you and these kiddies now.” A tear slid down her cheek then she asked. “What will happen to me if Her Ladyship send’s me away?”
“That will not happen Anna” I said more confidently than I felt. “That simply will not happen.”
“Miss Charlotte” she whispered. “Her Ladyship could send me away – away from you and your children.”
I reached for her and hugged her close as she gave way to the grief that was hiding just under the surface.
How long we held onto each other I know not when a discreet “Ahem” brought us back into the present time it was Ensign Rothwell.
“Your Ladyship” he began “I have been told to inform you that your transport home will be here come morning, if you and the children could be ready.”
I looked at Anna and soberly said. “Well Anna I think we are both about to know my mother’s feelings – so let us pack so we are ready for the morning.”
We decided what we would wear for the morning remembering the scary ride up onto the last ship. We had spent a piece of our time while we were waiting in sewing small pouches on the inside of out dresses and skirts so where ever we were our cache of gold and jewels were with us – and safe! So these were filled accordingly and we made sure that they were tied tight to stop us loosing anything.
We then made ready my children who were very lively and energetic crawling in fact tottering about the place somewhat unsteadily and saying the odd “mama” or at least that’s what I thought they had said along with sundry other words. Our main item for the children was the small goat we had to provide them with milk.
When I asked Ensign Rothwell about this he had one of the soldiers make a small cage for it and also supplied us with enough fodder for a month - hopefully enough for our journey.
As well as goat’s milk we fed Annabel and Edmond on sauce from stews and soups, when we could get it soft bread soaked in milk, soup or gravy and that was about it.
We tried soaking the hard army biscuit first whole in boiling water which was an abject failure they were still solid after 4 days soaking but at least the boiling water got rid of the weevil’s!
Then we tried crushing it using stones, this was a bit better but we couldn’t get a soft smooth paste.
As neither Anna nor myself had any experience in children it was a matter of learning as we went along and to date the children seemed to thrive on this strange diet.
We tidied up our tent then sat there waiting the summons to board our transport to pass the time we watched the ship as it neared the bay. “Miss Charlotte” Anna said with a tinge of awe. “It looks bigger than the last ship”.
Her comment mirrored what I was thinking this ship looked huge. I later found out it was what the navy call a ‘First Rate Ship of the Line’ and it was called the Ville de Paris which has a distinct French sound but this boat was built in Chatham some 18 years previous.
“Miss Charlotte” Anna gasped with some panic in her voice. “Will we have to go on that chair thing again?”
Slowly I nodded my head though I was still unsure, “I think so Anna we certainly cannot climb in these dresses!”
As we watched it came to about a mile from us them swung into the wind even from this distance we could hear the sales crack and I assume that it dropped it’s anchor as there was a big splash from the front of the ship and slowly it swung around bow pointing to the north which was where the breeze was coming from. My Good God even from where we were sat it was huge!
I sat there and wondered what it would be like being back in England. My life would be so very different having to comply with the conventions of the day following the strict etiquette, dress code having to watch what I said and how I said things all of this was going to take so much getting used to again.
As I considered these things my thoughts turned to Anna had I been too impetuous?
As soon as the thought entered my head I dismissed it I had done exactly the right thing by Anna and it was up to me to prove this to my mother – and prove it I would!
We sat playing with the children fully packed and ready for going on board our transport it was getting dark when Ensign Rothwell approached and told us that we would be boarding tomorrow morning so we had supper then slept.
The next day was all hustle and bustle as a party of marines came to our makeshift home to accompany us to the ship.
They were lead by an officer who looked with interest at both our baggage and ourselves. His eyes were agog when he spotted my Baker Carbine he spluttered. “How on earth did you get hold of this? Only the cavalry are armed with these.”
I gave him my best smile and stretching the truth a little sweetly answered. “When we were fighting the French in the mountains I found the infantry model somewhat too long so I was given this and I find it a lot better.”
“I suppose you think you can use it!” He sneered. Before I could answer Ensign Rothwell butted in. “Oh yes her Ladyship can us it – in fact a small wager she can outshoot any or all of your men!”
I shot him a look of pure annoyance, which he caught full on and smiled apologetically. This young naval officer was obviously getting to him as well and I had noticed his emphasis on Her Ladyship to give the young officer a hint as to my status. However the last thing I needed was a stupid contest but this had galvanised the Redcoats and the Marines alike and the obnoxious marine officer he was obviously highly competitive and a chauvinist as he clearly thought a slip of a woman was no match for his vaunted marines.
Already bets were being made with the Redcoats backing me while the marines gleefully took the bets expecting to win.
What annoyed me was that no one, not one person had asked for my thoughts!
“GENTLEMEN!” I loudly announced in my best cut crystal voice emphasising my status as a Lady. This was a tactic I used infrequently but I found that it does focus the mind of those I am addressing.
This stopped them in their tracks as all turned and looked at me. I smiled sweetly and continued in a more reasonable tone. “Thank you but if you think that I am shooting at targets dressed as I am then all of you are more stupid that I thought!
“Now shall we get down to business and proceed with what you Gentlemen have been tasked with namely taking my children and I to my transport home. Come Anna let us leave these silly men to their silly games.” And with that I turned and made my way to our tent to make ready the children. You could have heard a pin drop even on the sandy beach we were stood on as I proceeded through them.
After this interlude both officers came in and offered apologies and arranged for our baggage to be taken to the cutter Anna and myself followed each bearing a child while Ensign Rothwell and his red coats followed with our small goat and it’s fodder.
The obnoxious marine officer was about to protest about the goat when I stopped him. “Mr ?????? My apologies I didn’t catch your name. (And in truth I wasn’t really interested.) However the goat goes with us as it’s the only source of milk for my children and it has it’s own food.” Once again this was said in my most upper class accent to emphasise there was to be no argument – and once again it worked.
We were handed onto the cutter only getting the hems of our dresses wet. I said farewell to Mr Rothwell and thanked him for his kindness and help I promised to visit his parents when I reached home to tell them he was well and missed them.
Then we pulled from shore and headed out to what looked to me like a wall of wood the ship was HUGE and as we neared it grew in size at least to Anna and myself. From the waterline the body of the ship curved outwards narrowing as it neared the top deck. The back of the ship was built out overhanging the hull and had actual windows the vessel was grandly impressive.
The children well they were totally unaware of events Annabel was looking around seeming to take in what was happening around her while Edmond was soundly asleep. As for Anna she had a look of apprehension on her face and I must admit I was a bit afraid of the height we would have to travel in the chair.
As we rounded the back of the ship I looked into the masts and yes there was something that looked like the much dreaded chair dangling from the yard arm it looked absolutely tiny from my perspective.
Still looking skywards at the chair that was descending towards us I told Anna. “I will go first with Annabel and you will follow with Edmond.”
“Yes Miss Charlotte” she weakly responded then as we spoke the chair was grabbed by one of the sailors and I was helped into it.
The young Midshipman in charge of the boat looked and asked. “Ready your Ladyship?” I nodded and he waved at the ship and the next thing I knew I was some 20 feet above the bouncing cutter clinging on to Annabel and the chair for dear life.
I landed on the deck of this leviathan of a ship as light as a feather trembling slightly looking towards the stern I saw that I was being observed by a number of men resplendent in their uniforms laden down with gold braid.
I remembered that my brother Edward had saluted when we had landed on the deck of the Hydra and thought that I had better do something to acknowledge this group of officers so I turned and curtsied towards them. Then to my amazement as a unit of one they saluted me. By total accident I had done the right thing!
By then Anna and Edmond was dangling above me Anna, like me clinging on for dear life while Edmond was still sound asleep.
Once Anna had landed and stood next to me an officer approached and saluted saying. “Lady Grenford please follow me I will show you to your accommodation.”
Looking curiously around Anna and I followed. Compared to the ‘Hydra’ this ship was huge. I later found out that the Ville de Paris was over twice the size of the Hydra where the Hydra carried 44 guns the Ville de Paris carried an impressive 110 guns.
When we arrived at the cabin allocated to us it was very apparent that the accommodation was also much lager there were 3 quite comfortable beds for us a small table and 4 chairs.
I was amazed but realised that carrying 2 ladies someone had been evicted from this cabin. In truth, 4 junior officers who had moved into the midshipman berth shared the cabin and the junior midshipmen had been moved into the gunroom.
I thanked the officer and asked him to convey my apologies to whoever had been evicted. He smiled answering “With pleasure m’lady but for two such beautiful ladies it is no inconvenience and we hope that you will join us one evening for a meal.”
I promised that we would then as he left we settled in making one of the beds for the children so that they were comfortable.
After we had settled in there was a knock on the door and another officer – this time more senior (judging by the amount of gold braid) entered and invited me to dinner with the Rear Admiral and his staff this very evening after we had set sail also if we so desired we could come onto the quarter deck to observe the ship setting sail which we did making sure that the children were well wrapped up as there was a cool breeze.
Watching the ship making ready was really interesting. As well as the main anchor there were two others which was for swinging the ship in case of attack this was explained to Anna and I by a very earnest young midshipman who’s voice had not yet broken.
Once these kedge anchors were up many men took their place around the main capstan and started to wind up the huge rope to the main anchor – this rope was about the size of a man’s thigh.
When this became taunt some sails were loosed and with an almighty crack, which scared the very life out of me, filled with the wind and slowly moved the ship towards where the anchor was buried in the seabed.
The sight and sounds of this were quite amazing to me once again I reflected that this could have been my life had I remained a male now it was oh so different and to my mind different in a better way I simply could not imagine wearing the stiff rough clothing men wore! No I much preferred the silks and satins we women wear – even if it means the restriction of the corset.
The creaking of the masts and sails as they took the wind the rhythmic clank of the capstan pawls as they engaged combined with the seamen singing a shanty and cries of the officers and sailors all this was with a backdrop of the sun setting over the sea – wonderful I knew that I must commit this scene to my pad and try and paint it later.
Once the anchor was secured more sails were loosed and we slowly started moving with purpose away from the coast and out to the natural environment of this ship the open sea to home to my family, Williams family and whatever was waiting for me and of course not forgetting Anna as it was I that put her in such an awkward position - but I was certain that Mama would agree with me when she see’s the marked change in her.
Historical Note: In Napoleonic times the Royal Navy had many different types of vessels – as do modern navies.
The top of the tree so to speak was the First Rates these were classified by the number of guns and the number of decks that carried these guns so the Ville de Paris was a 110 gun 3 deck First Rate Ship of the Line.
Generally a first rate had over 100 guns.
Second Rate ships of followed these between 80 to 100 guns.
Then came Third Rate ships carrying over 50 up to 80 guns and below this Forth Rate carrying up to 50 guns.
Below these there were Frigates the official Admiralty criteria for defining a frigate required a minimum battery of 28 carriage-mounted guns, including such guns that were mounted on the quarterdeck and forecastle.
The smaller Sixth Rates, of frigate-type construction, but carrying between 20 and 26 guns, were categorised by the Admiralty as "post ships", but were often described by seagoing officers as "frigates" even though this was not officially recognised.
The post ships, generally of 20 or 24 guns, were in practice the continuation of the earlier Sixth Rates.
The Napoleonic War era post ships were later re-armed with (many being completed with) 32-pounder carronades instead of 9-pounder guns; after 1817 most of the survivors (except the Conway class) were re-classified as sloops.
These were general greyhound of the sea well armed, fast and highly manoeuvrable.
Next came gun brigs and gunboats and finally sloops these were very fast but they had lighter armaments they relied on speed and manoeuvrability to keep out of trouble.
Also there were bomb vessels these were small with huge timbers designed to take the recoil of what in effect was one or two mortar’s these were for pounding enemy positions and the shells could be of the exploding variety where a fuse was lit before firing. In these times they were ship rigged but very un-manoeuvrable.
One other type of ship is worth a mention this is the infamous Fire Ship which would cause chaos on panic when unleashed of a fleet at anchor imagine seeing three or four of these fire ships approaching your fleet which consisted of wooden vessels, canvas sails, tar coated ropes and stays and carrying gunpowder housed in rudimentary magazines.
What fire ships actually did was make the safely anchored fleet hurriedly weigh anchor and leave safety sailing into an enemy fleet whose guns were fully loaded often with double shot usually consisting of a cannon ball and bar or chain shot. Thus for this reason fire ships were very effective and hated by those on the receiving end.
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