Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Five

Before too long life at Orient House got into a pleasant pattern. There were various neighbors that came over to drop in to pay their respects to the new Viscount, once they realized he was a friendly and cultured man despite having spent so much of his life among the half-savages of the South and had worked among the freed slaves of the West Indies, whom they considered to be an even more barbarous sort of people, and that he had not had the good fortune to go to an Eton or Harrow or one of the Oxbridge colleges as was customary for someone of his class and obvious cultured demeanor.

Before the rest of the week had passed Lord Lipton had met most of the worthwhile people in the neighborhood, it being somewhat small and remote. By and large, the people were as Lord Lipton had expected them to be, mostly interested in their own personal affairs, fond of shooting, gossiping, and occasionally dancing, unsure of what to make of someone whose life experiences had been so far removed from their own. Lord Lipton had observed, though, that people of class tended to have many of the same interests in one part of the Empire as another, and he was too polite to remind them that the posh people of London would have thought the wilds of North Yorkshire to be hardly less barbaric than those of the Southern Colonies or Caribbean. Given his politeness and tact and his general fondness of good company, the next few days passed by without great incident. Lord Lipton had gained a better understanding of his neighbors, their strengths and weaknesses, their local and regional pride and enjoyment in having an active and sociable Viscount at the head of local society once again, which had been missing thanks to the bad state of his late uncle’s liver and to his grandfather’s long illness.

And it must be admitted that local society formed a similarly mixed opinion of him. Lord Lipton was judged to be a bit of an odd duck, but not one odd enough to be worth shooting. He was judged to be a discreet and thoughtful person who was generally interested in the well-being and thoughts of others, considerate of their feelings, and a person who kept his judgment to himself. This was judged to be well and proper. He was judged to be a person of some shyness and reserve, but not overly queerly so. His cousin was judged as being even more shy, but also a girl of a sweet disposition, and from the arrangement the neighbors judged that the Viscount had some interest in providing for the well-being of his family, which was credited to him justly. There was little to dislike on either side, as everyone was judged as being of good company and tolerably decent conduct. If his time in the world had been unconventionally spent, Lord Lipton was not the extreme eccentric that some people were, and he was evidently of patriotic feeling, which they approved of wholeheartedly, having spent his youth and young adulthood in the King’s services in matters that they did not understand and were not particularly curious to know about.

Towards the latter part of the week, the mail arrived simultaneously with a stranger, a plan but decent-looking young woman of about twenty and five years or so. Lord Lipton greeted her and asked her why she had arrived without a manservant of some kind. A bit abashedly, the young woman introduced herself as a Miss Wood, who introduced herself as a governess sent over by people who had been recommended by Lord Sydney.

Lord Lipton looked at the mail that had arrived and saw that there was a letter from the Lord Sydney in question. Lord Lipton asked Miss Wood if she would object to him reading the letter aloud, as far as it related to her presence here. She consented eagerly, glad to be saved from the awkwardness at arriving unannounced and unexpected at the house of a great man who, at least as it appeared, was at least a friendly and gracious person. He opened the letter, saw some introductory comments thanking him for his information, and then read aloud the paragraphs expressing his own efforts to help find a governess for Lord Lipton’s charge. He then stopped once he got to the section of the letter that invited him to the debutante party for his own ward, a relative of his wife’s that he had helped raise, who was now of age and would be out in society. This letter would require a reply, he figured, but he would do that after dinner, he figured.

At any rate, the present mystery was solved. Lord Lipton thanked Miss Wood for her presence and introduced her to Clarissa.

“Here is your charge,” he said, “if you are amenable to it.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you Clarissa,” she responded.

Lord Lipton introduced Clarissa’s background discreetly and commented that she was the daughter of his maternal uncle, but would be raised as a gentlewoman and so needed to have the accomplishments that would allow her to fit into the world that she would find herself in.

It soon became necessary to determine the level of accomplishments that Clarissa already possessed. She knew how to read, could sing and dance a little, and was also acquainted with some French and Italian. Lord Lipton figured this to be part of the influence of her mother, and was pleased to see that her mother’s background had provided at least some of the elements of education, besides the obvious deportment that she had as well.

Miss Wood was not displeased to have found such a situation, as she saw that Lord Lipton lived well and was a person of obvious generosity to others, by virtue of the presence of his young cousin, who was clearly being treated as a beloved foster daughter.

It soon became time to talk about Miss Wood’s own status. Lord Lipton could see that Miss Wood, like he and Clarissa, actually, only had a small trunk of clothing. He discussed her wages, which would be around 50 pounds per year, not including the cost of her board and upkeep, and not including the cost of any letters she sent, which would be franked by him as she would now be a member of his household. He said that as Clarissa had a pony that she would be able to have her own to ride with her charge during the course of the day as long as the weather was pleasant, and that while there was not a piano at the premises that a good upright would be purchased if she needed it for any of her own playing or instruction. He told her about the meal schedule, and said that she would be welcome to join Clarissa and himself for supper as well as for other meals as she wished. He explained that he expected her instruction time to take place between breakfast and supper and that she would be free besides that to rest, to read and write, with free use of his library. All in all she was very pleased with her position, and figured that it was not a bad thing at all to be involved in the household of someone who was fair-minded and who thought of the sorts of things that would be most enjoyable for her. After they had come to a fair settlement, which Lord Lipton wrote down to send to the people who had sent her for their own records, and another fair copy for Miss Wood herself, besides his own, he invited Clarissa to show Miss Wood around the house and for her to pick which of the upstairs rooms best suited her.

He then remembered he had one more meeting today that he did not necessarily look forward to as much, and while he waited for his carpenter to show up, he wrote the response to Lord Sydney thanking him for his speedy work, explaining that Miss Wood had already shown up to begin her duties as a governess, and that he would be happy to come and visit London to have a meeting with His Majesty and Lord Sydney at St. James, where he would formally introduce himself to society as Lord Lipton, and then attend the tea and supper at their own London home where their fair daughter would herself be introduced to society. He was happy to attend such an event, not having been used to it before.

And by the time such warm and friendly sentiments were expressed, Lord Lipton’s carpenter had arrived. Lord Lipton invited him to sit down.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, I did.”

“About what sort of business?” he seemed a bit worried, so Lord Lipton wanted to calm him down.

“I do not know if you are aware, but I suffer from the terribly malady known as gout, and I wanted to know if you would be able to make some devices for me to help deal with this condition.”

“Sir?”

“Yes, right now I have a walking stick that I use when I have gout attacks, but there are times where that has been insufficient for me to walk with the right amount of balance, so I wanted there to be other devices to help me to move around when I could not use a cane.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, first I wanted to know if you could make crutches of the kind that would be used by someone who was lame or had a limb amputated in war.”

“I could make such things for you if you needed it, that would fit your height.”

“That is good, and would you be able to make something that would handle all of my weight like someone who is elderly and unable to stay on his feet would use?”

“Yes, I could make that as well.”

“And would you be able to make a cart that I could use to wheel myself around if necessary?”

“Yes, I could do that as well. Do you want it in that order?”

“Yes, that is correct. I did not wish to trouble you, but I have already had some very serious gout attacks despite my relative youth and I wanted to make sure that I would not be entirely bedridden when such attacks came and that I would be able to at least get to the library and dining room and be able to eat and read no matter how much pain I was in or how immobile I happened to be.”

“That is talking very seriously, sir. How old are you?”

“I am not yet forty.”

“And how long have you had gout?”

“It has been nearly fifteen years at this point.”

Not wishing to express pity to someone who seemed not to ask for it nor desire it, the carpenter said that he would work on those things as he was able, in addition to his usual efforts, and was thanked for that by Lord Lipton, who, after the interview ended, attended to the remainder of his correspondence until it was time to sup once again.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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