Lord Lipton sat along with his erstwhile estate manager and, perhaps, soon-to-be colleague in Parliament, enjoying some tea and scones, along with his cousin, all seated and conversing with each other in a friendly and easy fashion. Quite suddenly there was a knock at the door and into the sitting room a stout, apoplectic looking man entered in fashionable clothes.
“Are you Lord Lipton,” the man asked.
“I am,” he answered, curious.
“I am Mr. Robinson, one of the leaders of the local gentry here.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Robinson.”
“I am sorry you were not able to make it in time for the beginning of the season. I scarcely think that there are many good sporting opportunities for shooting left outside of your own estate.”
Lord Lipton took this as a subtle request for an invitation from the local gentry to hunt his bird population. He thought for a bit and then replied.
“Do you wish to bring yourself and some other hunters here to enjoy the last good sport of the season?”
“I do indeed, Lord Lipton.”
“Very well then, what would be a date convenient for you to do so before fall turns into winter?”
“No more than a couple of days would be necessary to let everyone else know and allow them to prepare.”
“Very well then,” Lord Lipton replied. “In two days it shall be done. Let everyone meet here in the morning for a bit of breakfast so that we do not go shooting empty-stomached, and then we shall spend the morning shooting, and then enjoy some tea here, or perhaps some rum punch, before we return home.”
“That would be mighty generous of you.”
Lord Lipton politely refused to be flattered, but instead replied that he hoped to get to know Mr. Robinson and the other gentry in the area before too long. He inquired as to how many gentry there were in the local area and found out that there were at least ten or a dozen families that hoped to be able to send at least one of their menfolk to the estate with the opportunity for some fair shooting. After the exchange of more pleasantries about the family, Mr. Robinson left.
This departure led Mr. Housewell, the estate manager, to remark that with gracious and understated tact like that, Lord Lipton would find it easy to fit in among the grandees in the capital. Lord Lipton replied by telling a short story about his experiences in the late Southern colonies where he would routinely have to interact with plantation owners who were proud about their hunting abilities and whose sociability consisted in talking about how cheaply they had purchased slaves, how expensive they sold their tobacco or cotton or indigo for, how fast their horses flew along the region’s terrible roads, and how many animals and people they felled with their shooting rifles and dueling pistols. The story was told in such an understated fashion that the audience was soon in stitches.
“You know the type then,” Mr. Housewell commented.
“I do not think he is quite so bad as that,” Lord Lipton said. “But I did notice that he had little to say to you, as you do not appear to be a huntsman, and he had still less attention for poor Clarissa here. How he got a wife with such limited interests outside of masculine pursuits is perhaps a mystery that is better left unexamined, lest it depress my own spirits.”
With that interruption done the three of them continued to enjoy a fine tea, and when the tea was done, Mr. Housewell picked up his hat and bid them a fond adieu, until they had reason to discuss matters further. Before he left, Lord Lipton inquired as to when he would get the chance to meet the young Mr. Housewell who was to take over his responsibilities, and received a date for that as well.
When it was just the two of them, aside from the sharply observant eyes of the otherwise mostly invisible servants who managed to find their way to work in places where they could gather the most information in an unobtrusive fashion, Clarissa asked about the day’s events thus far.
“There is much that goes into running an estate, is there not?”
“Quite so, my dear cousin.”
“And was this work unfamiliar to you?”
“Being an adult of a certain class has always involved these duties, at least a little. From the time I was a child I grew up in a household that was at least genteel, and so there have always been these concerns to deal with, even if the household was not so large or as fancy as this. Admittedly, the Viscounts Lipton have seldom been among the most fancy households in existence, but between this estate and our house in London there is much to attend to, and if I did not have multiple great houses growing up, I still had my own townhouse to attend to in Saint Augustine when I was a young adult, besides various places throughout the Southern colonies that I rented in order to perform my duties to His Majesty.”
“My father claims to be great at dealing with servants, but he probably has no more than five to deal with in the house that you visited, and maybe one more in his place in London that he goes to in season.”
“I think that people who can manage with a stout woman of all works and a general manservant consider themselves well fit to manage whole establishments of servants. I must admit that much of the management of servants consists in the servants themselves. It has never been my idea of good household management to be too intrusive in the affairs of other people. I find that, so long as one has hired people of good character and solid competence that they are able to figure out how to do a job well and do not need me to be prying into their affairs. Most people, I think, enjoy a bit of space to act without someone being too obvious about looking into the way that they conduct their affairs.”
“Do you think there are exceptions to this? Do you think that everyone can be left to their own devices?”
“Not everyone. You are quite right to wonder about that. It is the people whose conduct we do not trust that we watch with the closest eye. Those who cannot regulate their own conduct and control their own behavior require some sort of external control in order to keep them in line. It is perhaps not a surprise if they resent it more than others, resent not having the freedom they wish and not realizing that the freedom which other men possess they possess because they are trusted not to make too much a mess out of it.”
“And what of women?”
“I must admit I do not know much about women’s affairs. A wise and discreet woman may find that she has a great deal of freedom in certain circumstances. Let us take the case, for example, of Mrs. Robinson, whomever she may be, as I have yet to meet the lady yet and do not know her particulars. With a husband who is always out of doors going from great house to great house shooting all of the quail and other game birds that can be found, she has a great freedom to do whatever it is that she wishes. Were she an assistant in her husband’s affairs, she would have a great deal more closeness with her husband but much less time on her own. Each husband and wife for themselves may best decide whether they wish to combine their efforts but decrease their own private sphere or have their own sphere where they spend most of their time and effort and combine only for activities that bring about mutual enjoyment and duty. I say this, though, as someone who claims little expertise in the workings of the female heart and mind, but only a general interest in human beings and in their behavior as a whole.”
“Do you know anything about my own mother?”
“I don’t know a thing about your mother, my dear cousin.”
“My mother was an actress in London.”
“I suppose your father was a fan of her work?”
“After a fashion,” she blushed.
“There is no need to be ashamed about having an actress for a mother. To be sure, a great many people are snobs and look down upon those who are involved in the arts, but seeing as those of us who are people of culture appreciate a Shakespeare or even a Fletcher, who enjoy listening to the music of a Bach or Handel or Purcell, or even far less accomplished composers, can little afford to look down on the people who bring such art to us, as low as we may think them in their morality. I have spent many enjoyable hours in the company of escaped slaves, merchant’s families, or the people of native tribes in the swamps of Florida and Georgia, and found much to respect in honorable people of all classes. I do not look down on the daughter of an actress, nor would I be ashamed to have a friendly conversation with the actress herself, were she still alive.”
“I thank you for that.”
“Is it your mother’s death that led you to live with your father?”
“It was indeed, he was quite surprised about it at first.”
“Well he might. There are many fathers who are surprised to have children from what they assumed to be casual affairs.”
“Yes. He did not wish it to be generally known that I was his daughter.”
“But he is an affectionate man, and you are the sort of girl that most fathers or uncles or cousins could not help but dote upon, so it was soon obvious to most people, other than your brothers, perhaps.”
“No, my brothers merely took me for an overly favored servant. They never saw me as their own kinfolk.”
“That is their loss, I suppose. I had asked your father all of that, but he has yet to send a letter to explain himself. Do you think it would embarrass him to go into the whole story of how it was that he came to know of your existence or how he knew of your mother as a widower who sought comfort in the charms of a woman after the death of his own wife?”
“I do not know. He never seemed to act ashamed of me, at least not in person.”
“Well, that is for the best. I still wish to talk to him, though. There are no doubt some people who will judge you, if they knew of your background, as the daughter of an actress and the by-blow of a mere merchant, but others will judge you as the ward of a Viscount, and will be inclined to think far higher of you. Let us hope we meet more of the latter category.”
“I hope so too.”