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The Rifleman’s Wife

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The Rifleman’s Wife
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Author(s): Mrs. Fitz Maurice
Date Published: 2010/07
Page Count: 124
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-203-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-204-8

Experiences of the wife of an officer in green

Mrs Fitz Maurice's book, The Rifleman's Wife is often quoted in Cope's History of the Rifle Brigade, the Leonaur editors therefore thought it fitting that it should be reintroduced to the modern reader since in reveals the life of an officer's wife of the Rifles on active service in some detail. The narrative is divided into two distinct sections. The first—and largest—section is an account of the experiences of the author in the post-Napoleonic Wars period commencing in 1827. The book concludes with a gathering together of anecdotes told to the author concerning the regiment's time in the Peninsular War which—she asserts—'have not seen publication elsewhere.' This female perspective will be invaluable to all those seeking a more complete picture of the Rifles’ 'regimental family' in the early part of the nineteenth century and will help to complete many 'Rifles libraries' since it has been unavailable for some time except upon the antiquarian market. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

We had been thirteen days wind-bound at Bandol, when we were woke one night by a loud rapping at the door, and the voice of the captain, calling out, “Signore! Signore! il vento è favorevole, bisogna partire.” We had been too long wishing to go, to make long delay; our poor little children were taken up from their beds; our adieus were soon made at the Lion d’Or, and we groped our way in the darkness down to the shore, where the little boat was in waiting, and in which we had to go rather more than a mile, between twelve and one o’clock, in the open sea, before we reached the vessel—such a nocturnal expedition, on the 18th of November, as I hope never to repeat.<br>
As our ship, impelled by the favourable gale, was ploughing through the waters, the captain exclaimed, with exultation, “Cammina la Susan!” and I went down into the cabin, hoping that two or three days at farthest would “bring us to the haven where we would be.” When daylight came we had lost sight of the iron-bound coast of Toulon, but daylight brought with it a disagreeable discovery. We found that while we were on shore the sailors had helped themselves to our provisions, of which they had taken the lion’s share! For this aggression on the high seas there was no redress; and really these poor men, who only acted on one of the first principles of nature, “self-preservation,” were less to be blamed than those who had sent them out so badly provided.<br>
We had brought a little with us from Bandol, but it would have been as nothing to a starving crew; and I really do not know what we should have done, if most fortunately the next day we had not fallen in with some French vessels returning from taking supplies to the fleet that was at that time off Navarino. Our boat was lowered, and my husband and the captain went alongside their convoy, which was a ship-of-war, and told them our situation. They immediately gave a supply of beef, biscuit, &c., taking a receipt for the same, and an order on the underwriters of the Susan, who were obliged to defray the expense; and when they heard there were children on board, they kindly ordered a basket of dates as a present.<br>
The weather, which had so far been favourable, now changed. I never shall forget the angry look of the sky that evening, before I went below for the night. The sun was setting in a bank of clouds, heavy masses were gathering all around, and the wind was blowing in those short fitful gusts which generally presage a storm, and before morning it blew a heavy gale from the south-east. For three days and nights I never left my mattress, which was stretched on the floor of the cabin; but even there was something to be learnt—I ascertained, in propriâ persona, that salt-water does not give cold.<br>
Many times, in those three terrible days of storm and tempest, we were perfectly drenched, without the power of changing to dry things, and yet no one was the worse for it afterwards; and never did I so fully appreciate the beauty of the 107th Psalm, or feel the truth, that it is those who go down into the sea in ships, and occupy their business in deep waters—these men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep; for at His word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof.<br>
I remember one moment of dreadful agony, in which, as someone has said, “one seemed to live a thousand years.” Our children had been carried on deck for a little fresh air (for the hatchways were obliged to be down), and, with Mrs. R., were fastened on to one of the hen-coops. Their father had left them for a minute to see if I wanted anything, when the vessel gave a tremendous lurch, which was followed by a dreadful scream. Of course, we thought nothing less than that all were carried overboard. He rushed to the foot of the companion-ladder as fast as the boxes of tin which filled the main cabin would allow; and the inexpressible relief of hearing that it was only a favourite doll which had found a watery grave I cannot describe.<br>
The vessel in which we were, and which had been built for a packet between Marseilles and Malta, had been confiscated for smuggling tobacco, and, as we afterwards found out, had remained long enough in the foul waters of the former port to get quite unfit for sailing, from the dirty state she was in. As it seemed impossible to proceed, we were obliged again to “appoggiare,” and Sardinia being the nearest land, it was resolved to make for it. Our jibboom had been carried away, and our sails were so split, that we were almost under bare poles. In this state, happy were we when, about midday of the 24th, we cleared the bar at the entrance of the harbour of Cagliari, and anchored safely within it.<br>
A number of picturesque-looking boats soon put off to hail us; among them, one with the English consul, Mr. Bomeester, on board. Coming from Marseilles, which was infected with smallpox, we found we were liable to a quarantine of ten days! My husband, however, was allowed to meet the authorities of the town at the Parlatorio, and what with his representations, our intermediate purification at Bandol, and perhaps a little curiosity on the part of the natives to see an English family, we were admitted to pratique that evening. We took care to throw overboard the basket of dates given by the good-natured French officers, for had such a proof of communication with the East been found upon us, we might not have been liberated so easily. Once more, therefore, we thankfully found ourselves again on terra firma