Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Fifteen

While Lord Lipton made his way towards London with his household along with him in the chaise and four, taking the by now not very unusual four-day trip from Yorkshire to London, news was being published in London and other areas along the way that together indicated a collaborative smear campaign. None of the newspapers was one that Lord Lipton subscribed to, but certainly others were paying attention. The articles started out something like this:

“A certain Lord L—– of Yorkshire has been suspected of keeping a child for immoral purposes who is passed off as his cousin. Not content to do so in secret, he has felt emboldened enough to bring her out by his side at a public political event along with someone who appears as her governess, and has even been rumored to bring her to London. Given the shrugs at his behavior in Yorkshire, it appears that the good people of that area are not inclined to view this eccentric Lord as a menace to society and a threat to decency, but we hope that the people of London will be more vigilant defenders of public morality than to let such a thing slide.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the newspapers in Yorkshire carried this libelous material, which makes perfect sense. After all, not only did the writing attack Lord Lipton himself, suitably not named in full so as to give the appearance of plausible deniability, but it attacked the people of Yorkshire for their tolerance of Lord Lipton and his supposed deeds. This was not the most worthwhile way to appeal to the people of Yorkshire, it might be imagined, but the writers of this filth thought it would be worthwhile to take advantage of the supposed backwardness of Yorkshire to other people. In particular, they thought that the appeal to snobbery would work for London elite audiences who could be trusted to look down on the morals and the discernment of those who lived in the periphery far from the center of power and culture.

And while the newspapers of York were too offended by the material to print it, or reprint it after it appeared in other newspapers, plenty of other newspapers were staffed by swinish editors who were quite willing to play in the mire in order to print some sort of gossip that might titillate their readers, without any moral qualms, feeling themselves secure from any possible threat, since some other papers had printed the material first. By the time the party stopped for the night in Peterborough and had a pleasant dinner, word spread through the inn that the notorious Lord L had come to them, just as had been promised, with a girl in tow. The fact that she was treated with affection and treated him with affection was taken to be a token of his guilt. She obviously did not look anything like him, being a slender girl with curly dark hair, while he was a balding and stout man with a ruddy and fairly pale complexion. Such people were not assumed to be related by the critical and discerning audience, who were treated to a conversation on English geography.

“Is this a place you have been to often?” Clarissa asked.

“This is my third time here, so I suppose I have gotten familiar to it after a while.”

“Is there a reason you go down the same road to and from home?”

“Quite so, it is because the quality of this road is the best.”

“Why is that?”

“For more than a century now this is the turnpike that has made it possible to travel speedily from York to London. If I wanted to go to Scotland, it would be about a day or so to get to the border, depending on how fast we went, and one could not get to London in under a week otherwise, and perhaps a good deal longer if the roads were soggy and the carriage got stuck.”

“Does that happen?”

“It happened to Daniel Defoe when he traveled here a few decades ago, and as a result of experiences like his own–he was a writer and their sufferings often reach an appreciative audience, turnpikes were made to connect the various regions of England together with relatively speedy travel.”

“What does a turnpike mean?”

“Well, in a literal sense, a turnpike is a road where there are places where toll may be collected by something like a pike across the road that is turned like a gate to open the way once the money has been paid.”

“It sounds like something a footpad would do.”

“The difference between a highway robber and a tollkeeper is that a robber steals to feed his own greedy belly and a tollkeeper uses the money he receives to repair and maintain the road.”

From such innocent conversations as these while the household ate a meal and observed the people around them, various astute newspaper readers, who believed what their papers said as the Gospel truth, saw confirming evidence of open guilt. Everything that was said and done was viewed in a perverse light as a sign of the most flagrant guilt, when the conversation was of an entirely innocent nature. To the pure, all things are pure, and to those whose minds have been poisoned by the press, everything is corrupt that runs afoul of those who fancy themselves to be the shapers of public opinion and the printers of all the news that is fit to print, and a great deal that is not reporting nor that is fit to print.

If a great many people watching the household were convinced of Lord Lipton’s guilt, the people who worked at the inn were not inclined to feel the same. Such people, at least a few of them, were privileged to see that Lord Lipton had a room of his own and that his cousin and her governess had their own room to themselves, and that when he finished eating the late dinner he retired for the night and did not stir until morning. As he was a person of considerable interest, the workers of the inn were able to shake their heads at the follies of what the newspapers were saying and to ponder upon his innocence as a man, whatever the newspapers might say. For such people, at least, their prejudices and preconceived notions did not lead them astray when they saw that Lord Lipton was no more a hardened sinner than the average prosperous person who came, ate heartily and tipped well, and snored for a few hours of sleep in a roadside inn before continuing on his journey.

A similar scene happened when the group pulled into St. Albans the next day. While Lord Lipton took the trip and the late dinner as a chance to talk about the history of the Wars of the Roses and the way that St. Albans had twice become the scene of great and important bloodshed during periods if internal disorder, as a means of supplementing what Clarissa was learning about English history as a result of her lessons, others were attempting to view him as an object lesson in the corruption of the English nobility. Before too long the reports which had been printed at first were added with various local additions saying that correspondents had seen the Lord L in question traveling in his coach with his kept girl and her supposed governess and that they had been seen eating in public and talking about all kinds of subjects relating to history and geography, but not morality, because he was assumed to be the sort of person who was beyond repentance. Though no one who was a spiritual authority in his life had spoken up yet, it was assumed by these writers whose gossip and misinterpretation was becoming increasingly heavy that Lord L lived a life of notorious sin and evil.

Once again, as had been the case as Peterborough, the people who worked at the inn saw with their own eyes that Lord Lipton had a hearty but not gluttonous appetite and that he took two rooms for his party and that no scheme of infamy took place in their in. Yet although they did not add to the gossip that was spreading about him and about his affairs, neither did anyone take up their pens and rebut the statements and attempt to refute them. Those who knew better gloried in knowing better, and did not attempt to correct the misapprehensions of those who thought mistakenly that they had the right knowledge and information.

So it was that the next afternoon, when the party entered London and stopped at his townhouse and got ready for a winter to spend largely in town, depending on what invitations there were, for several days libel had been allowed to spread unchecked. And at first it may be admitted that no one in the house knew what was going on. Whatever the gossip that had started to dog Lord Lipton, no one had thought it worthwhile to tell him, and until the Lord and his household came to their house in London the servants there were not busy enough shopping for supplies to be asked questions about what they saw by the other servants of the great and good who wanted some first hand testimony to corroborate what stories they were hearing and reading for themselves.

So it was that it did not take very long until the servants of the house were asked all kinds of searching questions about Lord Lipton and what was going on in the London townhouse where he supposedly kept a young girl who was being groomed for his immoral purposes. And unlike the others who had known better, his servants at least had the right idea in combating the lies not with an assurance of knowing better from personal observation, but with their own eyewitness testimony that the Lord was an affectionate cousin but was not immoral in any such fashion. They were able to report that Lord Lipton read, wrote, engaged in serious conversation, Bible study, reading of new books, as well as the occasional trip to White’s club to converse with other members of Parliament so that he might be better acquainted with his fellows. In none of his moves was there any private or public infamy, they were happy to report, even noting that not only did he not do anything in his house but that he was never alone with either the girl or her governess, who each had their own private rooms. Not only was the Lord free from any gross evil, but he was free as well of even the appearance or the possibility of evil.

This account soon had its desired effect, at least among the servants of the noble and wealthy within London. Whatever gossip might be passed around by the newspapers, it was soon being combated by word among the servants of various gentry and noble households that Lord L was a man of blameless habits who, far from being worthy of being punished by the defenders of public decency and morality, served as a good example for a great many others who were far less circumspect in their conduct. He was seen to have no tendency to take advantage of girls, nor of servants, nor of actresses. No women of ill-repute found themselves being fondled or caressed in dark corners, no scandalous behavior was there to be reported, but rather Lord Lipton was found to be a person who cherished friendly dinner conversations over good food and was fair-minded, even a bit generous, in his dealings.

All of this conversation went on, it should be noted, without Lord Lipton or any of the other high folk in the city being aware of it. To be sure, the various grocers and shopkeepers who heard the servants talk about Lord L’s innocence with each other soon came to be aware of it as well, for they understood that servants had a firm knowledge of what was really going on, and if his servants said that he was free from that kind of guilt, and was always under the observation of at least some of the servants of his household while they were going about their work, then that record was good enough for them, and so it was that the ordinary working people of London, who did not wish or were not able to waste their money on such newspapers, soon had a better idea of what was going on than the newspapers themselves about Lord Lipton’s supposed sins. And they pitied a man who did not know he could use it that he had such nasty enemies to spread lies about him when he was obviously a decent and upright fellow, shaking their head at the nastiness that politics had gotten to these days and in the sorry state of the press that people thought it fit to report on something that was so obviously untrue. And still Lord Lipton had not an idea of the storm that was going on around him from a multitude of those who professed or actually possessed knowledge of his behavior and character.

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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