Finally, the morning of the presentation came, and Clarissa was ready for her big day. With the help of her maid she put on her white dress, too nervous to eat more than a little bit before it was time to be off with Lady Lipton into the chaise and four to ride to St. James’ palace. And, since there was a considerable line of debutantes there who, like Clarissa, were making their entry into society, Clarissa had the opportunity to talk.
Clarissa expressed her hope that she would bump into an eligible gentleman while being presented, just as her foster mother had. Lady Lipton, in turn, replied that not everyone could expect the same sort of good fortune that she had when she bumped into Lord Lipton.
From there, there was a discussion of the other young women who were waiting in their open carriages, some of whom were friendly enough to wave at the others. Clarissa did not know any of the other young ladies who were being presented, but saw that they were dressed, as she was, in white and were largely the same age, and presumably of at least similar background being connected to gentry or noble families.
Lady Lipton was somewhat known to some of the ladies, who had taken notice of her during the last decade or so given the figure that Lord and Lady Lipton cut in London society as being loyal in their politics and also interested in high culture and high morals without being too ostentatious about it. Those people who knew Lady Lipon personally among the crowd of people waiting under the overcast but not rainy skies remembered their manners and indicated their pleasure to see Lady Lipton at the palace. She returned the politeness received in kind, although at such distances it was impossible to carry on polite conversation, so gestures had to do.
One by one it was the turn of young ladies to leave their carriages and enter into the palace, to make their curtsey before the king and those surrounding him, and then walk backwards out the door to make their return to the carriages to leave and return to their townhomes. Finally, only Clarissa was left and it was time for her to make her belated entrance.
Lady Lipton wondered at the scheduling and whether this was a slight to Clarissa’s birth and situation, and wondered whether it was worth complaining about or not, and she decided it was not worth bothering about, seeing as Clarissa herself did not seem to be offended about it, and so there was no point in starting an argument where none was necessary.
With grace, Clarissa stepped out of the carriage and entered St. James Palace for the first time. With a light step she approached the king on his throne, with his wife beside him, and curtsied elegantly before the king and those assembled. Before she could walk backwards to exit, she saw a man approaching who seemed diffident and not sure of where he was. To the surprise of the king and others, she kindly asked if she could be of help to him, and he replied in somewhat broken English that he was at the palace on an errand involving his son. Seeing his struggle with English, she switched to French to see if he would be able to respond better, and much to his surprise, when she switched to French she found out that he was an emigre noble and had entered the palace with permission to seek an officer’s commission for his son. Translating what the gentleman said into proper English, she saw to his pleasure and her own that the favor was granted, and with a smile she stepped backward out of the palace to return to the carriage.
Lady Lipton wondered to herself what was taking so long when she saw Clarissa with a pleased look on her face as she returned to the carriage.
“Was the ceremony everything you hoped it would be?”
“It was indeed. I am sorry if I took too long, but there was a French gentleman there who was on business seeking a commission for his son and so I translated for him since he was not confident in his English.”
“That was very considerate of you. Is that the gentleman?”
Clarissa looked to see the French gentleman, an aged man somewhat older than Lord Lipton but not by more than a decade or so stepped out of the palace and was walking, presumably because he did not have a carriage of his own. Lady Lipton waved and called out to him. “Would you care for a ride?” she asked in elegant French.
The gentleman looked a bit surprised but Clarissa made room on her side of the chaise and with Lady Lipton, Clarissa, their manservant, and the Frenchman, the carriage was full but not crowded. Lady Lipton introduced herself as well as her foster daughter, who smiled as she greeted the man. The gentleman in turn introduced himself as the poor emigre Marquis du Villebois. Lady Lipton found out where the man was going and had the chaise drop him off, giving him an invitation to the ball that they were having that night in honor of Clarissa, who had proven to be such a kind stranger to him in easing his way. The marquis gallantly accepted the invitation on behalf of himself and his son and obtained the direction to the townhouse of the Lord and Lady Lipton where the ball was to be held, as well as the hour of the evening when supper would begin, and with a bow he exited the chaise and entered into a club where anti-Jacobins were known to socialize with each other that Lady Lipton had visited before with her husband.
“If I did not have your luck, perhaps I had my own,” Clarissa said thoughtfully as the carriage made its way back to their home.
“I think you were blessed. That was not mere fortune, but it was providence,” Lady Lipton replied.
“What is the difference between luck and providence?” Clarissa answered.
“Luck, to the extent that it exists, is mere fortuna, time and chance. But to have the opportunity to be of service to one’s fellow human being in a way that one is qualified for and that allows one to make new and worthwhile connections, that sort of opportunity comes from God above, and not mere probability.”
“Are you saying it is like the chance meeting I had with Lord Lipton that first day he arrived back in England, when I was running away from my brothers?”
“Yes, that is precisely the sort of providence I mean. This man is a refugee on our shores, has lost who knows how much of the fortune he had before, in search of a safe place and perhaps the chance to make a fresh start out of life, and he came across your path, a fond reminder that not all of England is filled with people who are equipped to talk only to geese and not in the other tongues that people use. Let us hope the encounter filled him with some hope of a better time for himself and his family here.”
“I do hope he and his son are able to come to the party.”
“I trust it shall not be hard for him to do so, but we will see tonight if the invitation is a pleasing one.”
With daydreams of a dashing young gentleman in his regimentals, Clarissa smiled as the carriage returned to their home and Lady Lipton and the young lady were helped out and made their way into the house. Much to their surprise, Lord Lipton was at home and was curious to know how their trip had gone.
Clarissa told him breathlessly about the waiting and all of the waving and then about meeting the French emigre noble, and Lord Lipton was pleased that she had made such a positive impression on a noble refugee as well as the king and his court in being so concerned with putting a stranger at ease, something they could perhaps be encouraged to do should she find herself again there.
Lady Lipton told them that they had dropped the man off at a known anti-Jacobin club, and Lord Lipton agreed to drop in there a bit later to get to know him if he showed himself as friendly to him as he had been to the ladies of his household. Together the Lord and Lady and Clarissa discussed what needed to be done to prepare for the ball and wondered how many couples there would be. Lord Lipton said that in Lady Lipton’s state she would not be doing any dancing, but that he would be willing to stand up with Clarissa to introduce her to the rest of the people there if it would not embarrass her, and Clarissa was happy that Lord Lipton was willing to smooth her path into accepted society.
With that happy errand out of the way, the three of them enjoyed a bit of tea and bread, since the nerves of the morning for all of them had calmed down and they were not inclined to wait hours and hours until it was time to dine, and Lord Lipton looked through his letters to see what sort of social calls he would be making during the early afternoon, while Lady Lipton prepared to sit at home on a couch and hope that the baby would remain still and comfortable while people came to visit them.
And so it was that for the next few hours there were plenty of well-wishers who came along to congratulate Lady Lipton on the soon-coming birth of her fourth child and for Clarissa on her presentation, allowing her to be out in society without any difficulties or embarrassment. If Lady Lipton was not spry or energetic enough to return all of the visits, at least not right away, then others knew those visits would eventually be returned and so a temporary failure to reciprocate would not cause social difficulties.
Clarissa had witnessed this type of scene for years, though seen and not heard for most of that time. If she understood the way that visits and conversation provided the material for one’s thoughts and behavior, and gave oneself or others many ways to demonstrate their pleasure or displeasure with you, she had not been made cynical by her awareness of the rules. Like most sensible people, she understood the claims that society had on people, took it as natural that such claims existed, and sought to express herself honestly within the appropriate ways. If it had not occurred to her that her society made it less than easy to have open and honest communication, she can be forgiven for not realizing it because she had been raised in a household where precisely that sort of communication was prized and appreciated. To grow up in a good household can be as much of a handicap as growing up in a bad household, depending on how you look at the importance of understanding how life is.