Lady in Waiting Part 8
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.
The French were routed and a decisive victory could have been gained except for the fact that when the French fled the battlefield they left all their cannon and King Joseph Bonaparte’s personal baggage train which the British troops stopped pursuit to loot!
As for Anna and I we were simply too tired and as things calmed down and the redcoats wounded were taken to the surgeons we simply huddled into each other and fell soundly asleep.
This was how William found us servant and mistress indistinguishable smeared in blood clothing in dire need of washing but totally at peace with the world knowing we had done our best.
“Took part in some looting have you?” He asked I was confused until he pointed out that beside each of us there was a small neat hoard of some gold rings necklace and coins.
Anna looked at me aghast, “Miss where did this come from?” I shook my head, as I had no idea.”
I looked at William he smiled and answered my unasked question, “I think you have been made honorary members of the 95th it’s my guess the troopers left these as a token of thanks for you tending their wounded – but hide them in your pack as Wellington is not pleased as the French escaped when the troops stopped to loot.”
We cleaned ourselves up looking in despair at our ruined skirts now we only had one change but until a camp was made near running water we could not wash out clothes.
Sergeant Gilroy and four troopers came up to us carrying two large bundles as he approached he cheerfully told us, “These may be more use to you ladies than this lot” nodding at the men carrying the bundles, – “They want to thank you.”
They dumped the bundles and we went to see what they were.
What found a selection of the most beautiful dresses and gowns in the finest silk, satins and other exotic fabrics. But more important to the two of us there were a selection of skirts and tops in the Maja style but made of the finest of cloth these had been made for King Joseph’s queen but were just what we needed.
Again we were confused how on earth did these men find these? Just then an officer arrived and took one look commenting, “Looting is a capital offence – you know that Ladies?”
“B, b, b, but we ...........” I started when Gilroy butted in putting on his full Irish brogue, “Sorr the lads found these by the side of the road and thought of the ladies it’s a present sorr!”
The officer walked away chuckling and muttering to himself, “Present indeed - really if I thought you had been looting Gilroy I’d have you flogged!”
Sergeant Gilroy affected a look of righteous indignation and innocence protesting, “Me sorr, looting sorr – never sorr.” Looking at the two of us he told us quietly, “That’s Major Sharpe.”
Sharpe continued to walk away then he turned saying to Anna and myself “Pick what you want and pack them small as the mules and your horses have to carry them. Oh and thank you for looking after our wounded.”
The troopers then produced four French backpacks taken from the dead on the battlefield for us to pack our new supply of clothes.
These were better than the English Army back packs (which were made of wood and very uncomfortable to carry) These French ones were made of leather more comfortable and easier to pack (and bigger) I decided that we would keep all of the Maja style and 3 gowns each but only those that would pack small we also managed to keep a lot of underwear.
Once again the troopers showed us how to roll our dresses to fit into the backpacks this helped them not to crease too badly. Then we were shown how to secure backpacks to our horses.
And we were off again. We didn’t realise it then but we would be with these men for over a year and this year was among some of the happiest and yet some of the most depressing of my life.
Wellington’s army reached the Pyrenees in the spring and early summer of 1813 and it was wet!
Horrendously and depressingly WET. Fever was rife and the troops demoralised the campaign continued in a delusory manner.
All sides English, French, Spanish and Portuguese committed atrocities on the civilian populous but I am proud to say none of the 95th took part in this as for a lot of the time we ranged far ahead of the encamped army watching for the French to make any sudden move.
I was at my happiest when William and I shared a tent and I could show him my love. I had learned how to relieve him with my fingers and mouth.
In turn I loved it when he played with my breasts making my nipples stand hard to attention and giving me strange but wonderful feelings elsewhere on my body.
It was an unconventional marriage I admit but I was hopelessly in love and William professed his love for me many times daily.
I had received some letters from Mama and one from my brother. When I received the first it was with trepidation that I opened it.
Mama roundly chastised my stupid selfish acts but she tempered this by saying that she always knew I was strong spirited and that she forgave me – to say I was happy was an understatement my prop, my support, my beloved mama had forgiven me.
She said that she understood why we married but was very disappointed that through my selfish acts it was necessary.
Edward’s letter was slightly colder and more formal; he too understood why I did what I had done but could not condone it; however he did approved of my ‘punishment’ of tending the needs of the wounded – maybe it would temper my impetuous nature.
Anna could now read and write her own letters; she got sporadic replies as of course her beloved was at sea where sending and receiving mail is difficult but it would seem that their relationship was blossoming.
One day in the late spring we were crossing the mountains when we happened upon a remote Hacienda as was usual we approached with caution but unfortunately some marauding deserters had arrived first, they were too busy abusing the lady of the house and her maid to notice our approach.
In the ensuing skirmish the maid received a fatal wound and the lady was stabbed in the stomach by the deserters - why I will never know.
William had the deserters hung while Anna and I tended the woman and her maid.
The woman was frantic and kept pointing to the floor eventually we heard a mewling sound and realised that somehow she had managed to hide her children.
Eventually we found two tiny babies who looked like they were about a month old and they were very hungry we lay them at their mother’s breast and watched as they suckled.
However as the days progressed it became apparent that her wound had become infected which was very bad. Anna and I did what we could but our knowledge was more about gun shot wounds and stab wounds than fever all we could do was make her comfortable and wait.
Her milk dried up as her body fought the infection so we had to feed the babies with ewe’s milk. One of the troopers who had been a shepherd showed us how to make a teat for the babies to suckle on.
I gladly took the task of feeding these little scraps of humanity and loved doing it.
Meanwhile the mother was really ill she had her two babies with her when she was lucid looking at them with adoration and regret in truth knowing that she would never see them grow.
It was a week after we found them that the mother joined her husband and died as my tears fell for her I looked at Anna in despair. “What are we going to do Miss?” Anna asked me.
Distraught I shook my head while holding the twins, “I have no idea Anna, no idea at all.”
As I looked at these sleeping babies a surge of love swept through me as it was now up to Anna and I to look after these children.
One night while I lay in William’s arms I heard a whimper from the makeshift crib near by.
Getting up I fed and cleaned the twins while William watched me.
Settling them down again I returned to him he commented, “You make a good mother Charlotte.” Then he kissed my nose.
I snuggled down contentedly then I exclaimed, “Darling can we keep the twins as our own?” The thought of this made me feel very excited.
William looked at me like I had lost my mind, “Charlotte I know you love them but we cannot it simply wouldn’t be right.”
But by now I was excited and very determined, “So William what are we going to do with them? Cast them aside to be brought up by god knows who or give them a good life!
You know that I can never give you children – but here is a chance for us. We have been married over a year now no one would think it odd for us to have children of this age.”
We argued, discussed and talked this over for the rest of the night getting no sleep whatsoever and to be honest getting nowhere for every argument William made I had a counter argument.
In the end William made this concession to me by saying, “Look Charlotte I’ll speak to Major Sharpe I trust his council.” “Even on something like this?” I countered.
He looked steadily at me answering, “Yes even on something as personal as this the Major is a man of vast experience including being abandoned as a child – so yes I trust him on this.”
By the time we had agreed on this it was dawn and the camp was stirring so I got out of bed and went to tend to my toilet then I attended to the twins. Anna came a short time later with milk from the ewe and I fed the two of them.
Anna and I bathed the children then dressed them in fresh clothes (not that we had very many but we had taken as much as we could from the hacienda).
Then we sat playing with them I was wondering what major Sharpe would say, as he always looked fierce and disapproving.
Then his voice dragged me out of my reverie, “Anna would you please leave myself and her Ladyship to speak in private?”
After Anna left he sat next to me looking at me playing with these two scraps of humanity.
A small smile played on his lips “William has spoke of your hair brained scheme”
He started to say more but I interrupted him, “It’s not hair brained someone has to look after these poor children and William and I can give them a good life.” I stared at him daring him the challenge me.
“I always told William that you were a force to be reckoned with. And Captain Miles said that you were stubborn BUT now will you please HEAR ME OUT!” he shouted this last like he was on the parade ground this caused some heads to turn no doubt thinking that I was getting another tongue lashing the troopers grinned at me in sympathy.
I nodded so he started again, “Lady Charlotte are you certain about this? William has told me you cannot have children – though not the reason why. I can understand your need – but is this the correct course of action.”
I decided on a half-truth here to explain why I was seemingly barren, “Richard” I began then realised what I had said in some confusion I asked, “May I call you Richard?”
He gave that sardonic smile and answered, “It is my name.” I smiled my thanks and started again.
“Richard the reason the surgeons say I cannot have children is that a few years ago I was thrown from my horse (true) and the horse rolled on me (also true) this caused a bleed from ........ err, emmm, (False)” I stopped in confusion the major nodded and commented, “I understand.”
I blushed my thanks and continued, “William is full aware of this but was still was determined to marry me – now these children have come into our life and well it would seem that God is looking down on us.”
He grunted at this then muttered, “Indeed God may be doing just that but what about your families what will they say? Good lord you are part of the gentry these children are ------- well orphans and you know what your class are like.”
I nodded sadly then carried on with my argument, “Richard a child is simply that an innocent bystander in life – what is the difference between a child born to wealth and one in poverty? Apart from the conditions there is no difference.”
He nodded at this apparently deep in thought so hopefully I continued.
“William is a second son so the title and most of the inheritance will go to his brother and as for me – well I am a mere girl I will inherit little so yes we are gentry but we will have not be titled.”
We can bring these two children up to a good life, educate and care for them – no one knows that they are not our own.”
He barked a laugh at this and answered, “No one knows? Girl only 55 troopers and your maid that’s all that knows!” “Companion Anna is my companion” I corrected him crossly.
I looked at him imploringly, “Please Richard look on us favourably if you refuse god knows what will happen to these poor children they could end up on the streets.”
As I said this, the little girl gurgled and reached out to the major who took the tiny hand into his. His features softened for a second then he stood up saying, “I must think on this Lady Charlotte.”
Then he left I was torn at least he hadn’t said no – yet! Anna came back and sat next to me I was deep in thought I needed someone to confide in. “Anna” I started somewhat hesitantly, “I see you as a friend and hope you feel the same about me.”
She looked surprised, “A friend me bless your soul Miss I am a servant. But I would do anything for you.”
I looked at her mulling over what she had just said then continued, “No Anna you are more than a servant – after what we have gone through this part year I see you as a friend.”
Then I hugged her close, “Bless you Miss Charlotte it’s not right for the likes of me to be friends with you.”
“Why not” I countered. She looked confused then managed to say, “Well you’re gentry I’m not.”
I was irritated at this and asked, “If I wasn’t gentry could we be friends?” “Oh yes I would love that.”
“Well there you are” we can be friends I concluded. Before she had time to think I continued.
Now as a friend I am going to tell you something – but you must never breath anything of this to any living soul promise me this Anna!
She looked troubled answering, “If it’s that you’re not a maid I knows and I would never tell anyone that – I love you too much!”
That floored me! “H, h, how did you?” I never finished as she informed me, “I’ve known a while remember we wash together half naked but it’s never-no-matter to me I will never tell anyone.”
Still stunned I soldiered on, “No it’s not that but I hope that you never tell anyone about that either. This is much more important.” I took a deep breath then continued, “I want to take the twins as William and my own children I want to raise them educate them and give them a good life.”
I took a deep breath then finished, “And I need you to help me by being their governess and nanny!”
Anna looked stunned, totally stunned then she recovered exclaiming excitedly, “Oh Miss you are such a lovely person. What a wonderful idea giving them little mites a life Oh Miss Charlotte you are an angel.”
Then she stopped and looked at me in awe, “M, m, m, me a governess but I’m not educated how can this be?”
Briskly I answered, “Anna you know right from wrong that is the main thing in life. The rest I can teach you then you’ll be ready for your sailor – a lady suitable for him.”
Tears filled her eyes and she fell into my arms, “Oh Miss Charlotte I knew I wasn’t of the same class as John and I knew that once he found out about me I would loose him – but now! Oh thank you Miss Charlotte I promise never to speak of this.”
I hugged her back telling her not to be so silly then I commented, “The way Mr Newsome looks at you I don’t think you would have lost him Anna.”
Now all I have to do is wait for major Sharpe to give his blessing – or not!
Historical Note: SOCIAL CLASSES:
At this time your class defined the life you would lead it was a tangled web there were Aristocrats (titled), upper gentry, lower gentry (pseudo-gentry), tradespeople, lower class.
Social rank depends upon family background, genteel upbringing, and wealth. A new class of “nouveau riche” who made money in trade are now becoming gentry.
Aristocrats and upper gentry aspired to be accepted by the “ton” – a word in usage at the time for the high society in London.
If a man’s mother was a Lady he could not inherit a title the title could only come down the male line. He is upper gentry with high status “old” family background and wealth (bordering on aristocracy).
A family that is lower gentry, or “pseudo-gentry” since they don’t own their land or house, and their income depends entirely on one breadwinner.
They will drop to lower class after the breadwinner dies unless their daughters marry into wealth.
(I hope you managed to keep up with this convoluted system)
Servants: Most country homes are relatively self-sufficient in regard to providing the food consumed by families. Think of servants as substitutes for laborsaving devices or modern conveniences – including most items that we buy ready-made in shops today including clothes.
Indoor servants draw water, help their masters and mistresses dress, do ladies hair, make candles for lighting, maintain all fireplaces for heat, maintain the ovens for cooking, pick vegetables and fruits from the gardens, cook food from scratch, serve food, make preserves and home remedies, wash dishes, make and mend everyday clothes, clean house and floors, make soap, do laundry by hand, make/repair furniture, run errands, deliver messages, announce visitors, help tend the ill. Outdoor servants drive carriages, feed and care for horses and livestock, plant crops, maintain the grounds and kitchen gardens, and much more.
A Lady’s Companion from the description of this position it would seem that Charlotte is not doing very much for Anna but in the context of the time Charlotte is giving Anna a huge opportunity to elevate herself above the servant class. she now will work everyday as a ladies’ companion and governess on minimal salary (such as 10 pounds a year) living in genteel poverty.
This may not seem much but as a lady’s companion was usually from the lower gentry of society (daughters of vicars, doctors, teachers and the like) it will allow Anna to marry her midshipman and live comfortably.
Adoption: this was far more widespread than one would have thought but for genealogists the complete absence of paper records at this time proves really difficult.
To adopt children like these Charlotte and William have really gone out on a limb though their argument of being the youngest son and a mere girl is a good one as neither expects to inherit the title.
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