Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Twenty-Six

During this time Lord Lipton spent a great deal of time with the Sydneys. He enjoyed card parties where he learned about card games that were popular in England, without any money changing hands on bets because that was not the sort of conduct that either of them engaged in. He enjoyed reading books and getting familiar with newspapers and acquiring a knowledge of how things were going in England.

Among the more enjoyable activities he enjoyed with the Sydney family were related to matters of art. Sarah was an accomplished harpist, and so she would play her harp while the two of them engaged in personal conversation. The sound of the harp, with the elegant plucking of the young woman, serves both as a demonstration of her elegance as well as the above-board nature of their interactions, as everything going on between them was in the full view of others, but also providing a bit of sound to allow for a slight bit of privacy to their conversations.

This is not to say that such privacy was necessary. There was nothing that the two of them talked about in private that it was necessary to screen or disguise. That both of them enjoyed each other’s company immensely was obvious. That both of them could talk easily was evident, whether it was about life experiences and stories, or about mutual interests, and their mutual pleasure in each other was a source of pleasure to others. But it was not clear how far this pleasure spread. That the two of them would be companionable with each other, enjoy going out to see the same sorts of plays when they were in London or having long evenings of enjoyable conversations or time spent where Lord Lipton would read a book with a pleasant countenance while Sarah played her harp when they were in Yorkshire.

Yet it was not precisely clear how this would come to be. How many pleasant evenings could pass while listening to Italian operas or French and English plays, how many conversations full of smiles and glowing faces, how much food would be eaten without the two of them being open and acknowledged lovers? This question filled the minds of the people who enjoyed spending time with them. That the two of them would be quite good together was quite evident to all, but at the same time it was not clear how they were to end up together. What was necessary to bring the two to an understanding of each other’s hearts, to a willingness or even an eagerness to make those promises that lovers most earnestly desire to make?

Lady Sydney, one afternoon while having tea with her foster daughter, thought it was appropriate to have a conversation with her daughter about the sake of her heart.

“I have something I would like to talk about with you, Sarah.”

“Please, do tell me, then.”

“You look alarmed, do not think I am trying to criticize what you are doing or what you have done. I do not have lectures for you, only questions.”

“I am relieved then, but do I have answers?”

“I am not sure if you have answers, but if you do, I hope that you will be so kind as to let me know of them.”

“I will do my best.”

“What are your feelings for Lord Lipton?”

“You begin with a very difficult question.” She gathered her thoughts for a minute. “I like him, I esteem him. I enjoy his wit, his kindness, his affectionate ways. I appreciate his character and intelligence and the warmth of his feeling, even if it is often restrained in its expression. I would greatly enjoy to be the Lady Lipton, to be sure.”

“Is this your aim?”

“I did not know that it was something to aim at.”

“I am not sure it should be something you should aim at, but is it something you think about and would like?”

“I would like it very much.”

“I would like it very much as well.”

Sarah was startled to think that her mother wanted her to marry Lord Lipton. She had long been sure that Lord Lipton was enjoyed as company, but had thought that this was due to the fact that he was a political ally, and that he was someone who had been a loyal servant of the colonial office during his own youth and young adulthood. The thought that Lady Sydney could have been thinking about how the two of them would be as husband and wife, and that far from disliking the thought that she could join the two families together by matrimony and relished the thought was something that Sarah had to ponder over and reconsider.

After thinking for a moment, Sarah responded. “But does the Lord know his own heart?”

“I do not know,” said the mother, and this concluded the interview, as they ate scones and drank tea in thoughtful silence, each more aware of the substance of the other’s heart and wishes, having been communicated without causing offense or leading to disagreement.

At this time Lord Lipton did not fully know or acknowledge the state of his own heart, and he lacked an intimate friend who was able to tell him about such a thing. A man given to love and affection does not remain outside of marriage for four decades without there being some defect in communication. The defect need not be external, though that is easy enough to understand. Sometimes the defect is in the difference between what one knows about oneself and what others are able to successfully infer.

Lord Lipton had not been joking when he told the family of Lord and Lady Sydney about the way that things had gone in his abortive efforts at courtship thus far. He had not even been exaggerating to any great degree. Indeed, it was obvious for others to tell that he was interested in someone long before he had acknowledged such an interest in himself. And he was at that time pondering the extent to which he wished to lay his heart on the line and propose marriage to Sarah. He did not think that his interest was unwelcome, for he was sure that if he could sense his own interest in her, his own attraction, his own fondness for her observations and company and his own desire to never be separated from her except from inevitable and hopefully long belated death, then he was sure that it was not a secret to himself alone.

The question was, what was to be done? Could she be supposed to be as interested in him as he was by her? He had known people who wanted him to be their son-in-law, but the daughters did not agree. This was a source of suffering for him, to be sure, but he had never wished to imprison someone else in a relationship with him. If someone would rather flee to a different area to avoid the contemplation of the horrors of what it would be like to marry him, this was a burden that must be borne with as much philosophy as possible.

He did not think that Sarah would flee into another country to avoid him. Indeed, she quite enjoyed it, at least as far as he could tell, when he placed himself by her stationary harp to listen to her fingers pluck the strings with considerable skill while the two of them had witty and humorous conversations about their lives, their education, their interests. It was clear that she was friendly and gracious and enjoyed their interactions and viewed them with pleasure. It remained unclear, though, the full nature of that friendship. He was sure that so long as the two of them remained people of decent character and open friendliness and affection that they should enjoy a life together, but could such a young woman as Sarah be supposed to be in love with a man as broken down as he was, as hobbled as he often was, dependent on his walking stick to navigate painfully from one chair to another. How were his own concerns and anxieties, his desire to know the state of her heart without putting her under undo pressure, to be communicated to her? Being perhaps a bit more hostile to the pressure that others brought to bear to make their way than other people were, he was more reluctant than most to push his considerable weight to obtain his wishes.

But if he did not push his weight, how would he obtain what he wanted, and not only what he wanted for his own personal sake, what he needed to fulfill the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, untrammeled by any blasphemous Malthusian fears, and more to the point to provide the nearly extinct family of which he was a part with some heirs of the body, lest their house should be extinguished from the earth. Surely he was not a person of great handsomeness, and his looks many hundreds of pleasant and attractive women had withstood without any great palpitations of the heart. He was a plain man, not repulsively ugly, with a pleasant face when it smiled, some remnants of sandy hair and a bit of fuzz on the top, mostly cut short. His charm was similarly something that many of the fair sex had been immune to. If enough people had enjoyed his company for hours or days at a time, it did not appear to be something that many people thought that they would want to be subjected to for a lifetime. Would such a wit as he possessed be cruel and cutting to others and make fun of their follies and foibles and put them in a ridiculous light? Could he be trusted for his kindness and gentleness? Could he be supposed to be the sort of generous lover who could provide a wife with great happiness? This remained in doubt, not merely to the fair ladies of the world that Lord Lipton had encountered, but also to the man himself. How were these worries and insecurities to be communicated to someone else, in whom such hopes and plans of happiness rested?

But to what extent, he pondered within himself, had his own awkwardness and restraint been a threat to his own happiness? Surely there were dozens of gentlemen in London who would be happy to swoop in and propose marriage to Sarah, and who would not take more than a few days of friendly conversation to do so. So far, at least, the Lord and Lady had themselves restrained their company to family friends, and people like himself. He clearly had been blessed with the first opportunity to propose to a young woman of considerable character, intelligence, warm feeling, affection, and beauty. Would such an opportunity be taken by a man as shy and diffident as he was. Would such an opportunity remain available long enough for it to be taken? If missed, would such a chance be likely to happen 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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