Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Twenty

The next day Lord Lipton was sitting in his library doing some reading when someone was introduced. He looked up from his book at his desk and saw that it was his maternal uncle. He raised an eyebrow.

“I have long been expecting you.”

“I apologize for having made you wait. I did not think it would be any great expense for you to take care of my dear Clarissa.”

“It has been no great expense. Some clothing, some food, a pony, some books, nothing too outrageous.”

“But it was still wrong of me not to have communicated with you at least some of what kept me from talking to you.”

“And what was it that prevented you?”

“I was concerned about the issue of her dowry. I have no problem reimbursing you for her expenses. I scarcely think she will end up costing 100 pounds a year even with her governess included, but her dowry is a bit more of an issue.”

“What is the problem?”

“My estate, such as it is, is entailed to my male heirs by marriage, with certain limits on how much that estate may be dealt with, and by whose consent. Since I was never married to Clarissa’s mother, she has no portion from her mother to pass along to her in terms of a dowry, and I am rather limited as to what I can provide her myself out of my own savings.”

“This is a serious issue. How would you propose we deal with it?”

“Well, that is why I am here.”

“I am all ears.”

“What sort of dowry do you think would be acceptable for her.”

“I would think that, given her background, that she would likely need at least in the realm of twenty to thirty thousand pounds of dowry to attract someone of suitable rank and class, and even then it might be someone who was less fastidious than most about such matters as pedigree, which will be its own problem for its own time, I suppose.”

“I have a proposal on how such a sum can be obtained.”

“What sort of scheme is this?”

“I wish for you to hear me out before you jump to conclusions about it.”

“Very well then. Say on.”

“One of the family interests I have relates to sugar processing in the Caribbean. Recently the sugar trade itself has come under attack because of the rising hostility to slavery and the slave trade. You are no doubt familiar with such difficulties.”

“I am indeed.”

“I thought there might be some way of increasing the profitability of sugar while at the same time dealing with the concerns of slavery relating to its growing and manufacturing.”

“How so?”

“Well, you yourself helped settle freed slaves in various loyal colonies with freehold lands in the West Indies.”

“That I did, certainly.”

“How do you expect them to make a living?”

“I figure it would be necessary for them to engage in at least subsistence farming, but it might be possible for them to work for themselves to produce some more marketable product, I suppose.”

“Why so noncommital?”

“Well, there are certainly disadvantages in having small independent farmers try to grow sugar. The prices would likely be higher than that obtained by slave gangs working in near industrial conditions.”

“But there is a key difference here.”

“And what is that?”

“If we can provide verification that would suit the buying public that the sugar was planted, harvested, and processed at every step of the way by free labor, we would be able to overcome the boycott threatened by antislavery interests, and we would also be able to charge a higher price for the product since people would be inclined to spend more to signal their virtue that they had a more righteous sweetener than their less virtuous relatives and neighbors.”

Lord Lipton mulled this over a bit, thoughtfully scratching at his reddish beard.

“And you have enough sugar mills to provide enough of this slave-free sugar to capture a profitable share of the market?”

“I do indeed.”

“What did you need my help in?”

“The issue is the matter of working capital. I have sugar mills in places where there are free workers, it is just that such workers will need to be repaid and it will be necessary to prove that slavery was not involved in the growing and processing of the sugar and this would need to be advertised to the English public and as well there would need to be some sort of legal protection for the operation given the threat that it might have to more established sugar mills.”

“I am sure such a thing could be arranged without any great difficulty. We could start with the smaller expenses and work our way up as time went on. I also think it would not be too difficult to obtain legal cover. As far as advertising is concerned, I think it might be best to take advantage of the free advertising that would come from reformist pamphleteers who would be eager to show readers that there was a way for them to enjoy sweet sugar without having to feel as if one was a party to the lash and chain.”

“You think you would be able to obtain such notoriety without much trouble and expense?”

“I think it would be possible. There are only so many people who are willing to suffer for themselves in order to appear more righteous in the eyes of their neighbors and less enlightened relatives. By lowering the cost of making the appropriate social statement, we may encourage more people to be antislavery because it will be less of a difficulty for them to do so.”

“But do you think that those who have heretofore encouraged a boycott of sugar will be amenable to a solution that does not cause a clear break? Would people not prefer to be seen as ascetic and pure in their consciences?”

“I am sure there are such people whose ideals would preclude a practical solution like the one you have proposed. There are many more people, though, at least among the class of people who have enough money to spend on such economic goods as a pure conscience, who would be willing to spend a bit of money in order to show off that they were able to obtain their sugar without having to do it from slave labor. And there are plenty of people on the anti-slavery side who would happily write to their supporters and would-be supporters about the possibility of signaling their enlightened stance on such an issue without having to take the drastic step of not using sugar at all.”

“How do you propose that this be done?”

“I will write to associates who are hostile to slavery, and tell them about this plan. I will let them know which sugar mills in which areas meet the qualifications of being slave free and will request that someone from the Anti-Slavery Board take a trip to the West Indies to see those mills and the farms of free laborers who will be providing the sugar cane. The person will write and draw and otherwise record such an account as will be published and will be shared with others through lecture tours and mass publishing, and the end result will likely be a ready market for the sugar you will provide at a higher price to properly reward free labor as well as provide a healthy profit for virtuous production.”

“And it is from that profit that we will fund Clarissa’s dowry.”

“Let us hope it works out well. I would appreciate your more timely and frequent correspondence or visiting in order to ensure that we were able to coordinate efforts.”

“Well, I will be better at this in the future. I did not wish to come to you until I figured I would be able to get everything under control when it came to the proposal. I wanted to make sure it was airtight and watertight before subjecting it to your scrutiny.”

“I suppose that was wise, but you could have at least hinted at it.”

“There were reasons not to do that. I figured that if it became known that you were involved in business with me concerning sugar that it might increase the criticism that you were under.”

“You have read that vile trash?”

“I could not help but hear it, especially since I was being mocked along with it. Though newspapers in York refused to print it, plenty of people sent me newspaper articles involving the libels and I have had to deal with it for some time now.”

“That is very unfortunate.”

“My sons seem to think it is all very funny that you should be accused of what they wanted to do.”

“I suppose they would. Boys of that age do not have the sense of shame of most of the rest of humanity.”

“No, I do not believe so either.”

“How are your sons doing, by the way? Are they improving at all?”

“Well, my younger son has just gotten old enough to start his education in the military arts. I figured it would be better to send him to the army than to the navy. He is currently working to get his marks and education up to such a level where he can attend a military academy and then graduate as an officer in the East India Regiments.”

“That sounds fantastic. I suppose he has to be involved in the family business in some fashion. It would scarcely serve for us to have a generation of the family that were homebodies that never saw or interacted with the wider world.”

“It has been some time since that was the case. In your own family you are at least the fourth generation involved in such foreign trade.”

“Very much so. I suspect there was a lot more interest earlier on, perhaps in the cloth trade in Europe or something like that.”

“I suppose that would be the case for us as well. It was what drew our families together in the first place, you know, the shared interest in foreign trade and the desire to have trustworthy people who were well connected in the family to engage in such efforts with.”

“And we are continuing such efforts now for yet another generation.”

“I do not object to that in the slightest. You are a fair-minded person and easy to work with. I am glad that you have proven to be so willing to help me with my own family difficulties.”

“I am glad that you are thankful and appreciative for the help. I was concerned that you took it for granted.”

“I would never take such warm family feeling for granted. Not every newly risen Viscount would want to acknowledge his relatives in trade, much less take such an active interest in providing through trade for the well-being of a relative about whom some have made such nasty libels.”

“Anyone who wishes to harm Clarissa is truly monstrous.”

“I agree with you there.”

“Not all generations have had the same romantic touch that Clarissa has or likely will have.”

“Are you talking about my parents?”

“Yes, that I am.”

“My mother did not give me all the details, but my father always claimed that courtship included any attempt to get to know more about someone else–which means I have a good deal more experience in courtship than I always figured to be the case–and my mother did mention that my father asked her something like sixty questions all written out longhand when they first talked with each other. My father got the answers he wanted and so he ended up with his wife.”

“Yes, it was something of that nature. I was quite young when they married, as you know, but we always teased your father for being a bit overly rigid in how he dealt with others.”

“I suppose it can hardly be helped. We all react to aspects of our upbringing in different ways.”

“Yes, I suppose that is the case,” Mr. Bennett agreed.

“Do you want to see how your Clarissa is doing? I suppose it might be time at this point to enjoy a bit of tea and you have come all this way to London to talk with us, so it would be a shame if you could not see your daughter before returning home.”

“I am not so far away from you as that.”

“Really, where are you?”

“I have my own rented house in Cheapside. It is in a different part of town but hardly extremely far.”

“There are many people who would not be caught dead anywhere close to there who live around you.”

“But I know you are not such a snob.”

“That is true, I am not. But it is good you have a house in the area. That means that we will be able to converse often during the course of this season as we spend it together in town.”

“I would like that very much.”

And with that the private portion of the interview was done, and it was time to spend more time with the rest of the household and enjoy lighter subjects of conversation.

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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