Clarissa: Chapter Three

The aged Marquis du Villebois stepped into the club and was shown to his usual table, where his son was already seated. One of the appeals of this club for the older man, if not necessarily the younger, was that he could speak in his native French, as he had never felt entirely comfortable with English. His son was certainly more than capable of speaking in both English and French, but also thought it was worthwhile to keep up his French as a way of tying him to his home country, even if it was uncertain when they would ever be able to return home.

“You are back much sooner than I expected. I was hoping I would be able to snag an earlier meal before you walked here.”

“I am back early because I managed to get a ride.”

“I thought you frowned upon such luxuries as paying for a post chaise while we were in town.”

“I did, and I do. I was given a ride by a couple of lovely ladies.”

“This piques my interest considerably, dear father.”

“I imagined you would find much romantic intrigue in it. Alas, the truth is much more prosaic than romantic intrigue. While I was obtaining your commission, which I have–he handed it over to the younger man, who took it happily–I ran into a young lady who was being introduced to the king and court and she conversed with me in our native tongue. When I then ran into her and the lady heavy with child who appeared to be her mother, if very young for that office, I must admit, the lady gave me a ride here before they went off to their home.”

“Did you manage to catch their names?”

The marquis thought a minute to himself and then he took out the invitation from his pocket. He gave it to his son, who could easily read what it contained, a note by the Lord and Lady Lipton inviting the holder of the card to an invitation at their townhouse in a very good part of town at 8PM for a supper and a ball afterwards to celebrate the introduction of their foster daughter, Miss Clarissa Bennett, into society.

“Ah, you were right,” the son mused.

“I was right about what? I usually am right, you know.”

“The young lady you met was a Miss Clarissa Bennett, and the woman she was with was likely her foster mother, a Lady Lipton.”

“She would be rather young to be a foster mother. I wonder what the story is.”

“I am sure you would be able to find out if you conversed with the young lady about it at supper.”

“I hardly think that we would be seated very close to them. I would imagine they move in much higher parts of society than emigre circles.”

“Lord Lipton,” the young man thought to himself. “I have heard that name here before. I am trying to connect it to something, though.”

“I suppose, whether or not we are able to talk to any members of the family, that the dinner will be at lease useful. We know that it will have at least a couple of French speakers there, since both of the ladies were able to converse with me in French.”

“They are a family of culture then.”

“Very much so,” the father answered. “They are obviously a wealthy family, but they did not put on any airs. The young lady talked to me in a friendly, eager fashion, as if she had been raised to talk with older people and appreciate their company, without embarrassment or false modesty, but with genuine openness, and the older woman was clearly herself also not embarrassed to talk with me openly in French.”

“I look forward to knowing more about them, then.” He looked at the commission, seeing that he was to hold the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Lincolnshire. “Only a lieutenant, but an officer nonetheless.”

“I would happily have purchased a higher commission for you, but we all know that money is tight, and without a doubt gallantry would afford you faster rise than our diminishing funds would allow.”

“I am not bitter for it,” the son said, sighing a bit. “I am more impressed taht we managed to escape alive from the horrors that I hear about from those who fled after us. Can our country really have gone so crazy that the best people are being slaughtered day by day?”

“It would appear so. I did not believe it could be so bad.”

“It is hard to give credit to what we have been told, about the carts bringing nobles and anyone who runs afoul of the demoniacal leaders of Paris to be decapitated, but the stories are too numerous to be entirely made up.”

“How can we have lived to see such horrors as this?”

“I do not know.” A black pall seemed to hang over the table as the two men reflected over the madness that had fallen upon their homeland. As they struggled to find words to say, a man suddenly sat down with them.

“Greetings, Frenchmen.”

“Greetings,” the two replied to him.

“It has not escaped my attention that the two of you have been invited to a ball this evening.”

“That is true, a ball held by a Lord and Lady Lipton,” the father answered.

“And you have met some of the members of that family?”

“I met Lady Lipton and a Miss Clarissa Bennett.”

“Very good, and how did you find them?”

“They were perfectly friendly and unaffected.”

“I am glad you enjoyed their company. I think that they would be precisely the sort of people that you would want to know.”

“And why is that?”

“Lord Lipton is a Viscount and among the strongest members of government in sustaining our efforts against the Revolutionaries.”

“He is hostile to them?”

“Very much so, without being deranged about it, it must be admitted.”

“What sort of experience would he have?”

“Ah, it is not polite of a man to tell another man’s stories. You should hear that from himself personally.”

“You think he would be interested in talking to me personally?”

“Very much so.”

“I am glad to hear it. We cannot be unkind to any potential friends.”

“I think he would be a very good friend for you to have, and he would be willing to be so, I would think.”

“How do you know that?”

“I have spent enough time listening to his speeches in Parliament and seeing his conversation in various clubs to know that he takes an avid interest in those who have suffered from revolutions in their home countries.”

“That is a comfort in times like these.”

“Indeed it is.” And with a tip of his hat the strange gentleman was off.

“Who was he?”

“He did not introduce himself and I thought it best not to pry.”

“This city is full of spies and informers.”

“The same is true of every capital city.”

“I must defer to your superior experience in that matter.”

“It was the same way in Versailles when I was around there.”

“Wherever the body is, there the vultures will gather.”

“Very much so, and such bodies are thick on the ground in places where kings and Parliaments sit.”

The two of them turned to order some food from someone who stood a bit off, trying not to intrude, to make sure at least that they filled their bellies with at least one good meal before facing an afternoon without anything to dine until supper at Lord Lipton’s, which they wanted to eat without appearing to be too famished. As the two of them ate, they saw a gentleman sitting alone and speaking to the person who had waited on them, who then came over to them again.

“That gentleman wants to speak to you.”

“He can come over if he wishes,” the father said. After the lady spoke with the gentleman, he came over to the table, with a slight limp.

“Greetings, I am Lord Lipton. May I have a seat?”

“You may,” the father said with a smile. “I am the Marquis du Villebois, at your service. I believe I met your wife and foster daughter earlier today?”

“You did indeed. They told me about it when they got home, and so I told them I would make a stop here and introduce myself to you.”

“We were told that you were the sort of person we would want to befriend, and that you were hostile to the Revolution in France.”

“I am not sure who that person was, but you heard correctly.”

“I am curious about two things.”

“What two things are those?”

“First, what is the relationship between you and Miss Clarissa Bennett.”

“She is my foster daughter; I have raised her for almost a decade. She also happens to be my first cousin on my mother’s side, though she is considerably younger than I am.”

“So you are the wealthy relative who helps out the rest of his blood?”

“Something like that,” Lord Lipton said with a sardonic smile. “At least since 1783 that has been the case.”

“And what were you before that?”

“I was merely a private gentleman who was the only child of the deceased second son of a Viscount, an ordinary gentleman albeit one well-connected.”

“And where did you live then?”

“East Florida, mostly, with some time spent in the other southern colonies as well as in the Bahamas towards the end, and some time spent in other Caribbean islands.”

“So you lived in that area before and during the American Revolution?”

“That is correct.”

“And I take it you were not a supporter of that revolution?”

“Not at all.”

“That makes considerably more sense then,” the marquis said thoughtfully to himself. “So you know what it is like to lose something of home and comfort as a result of revolution.”

“That is correct.”

“We would have been on opposite sides during those years.”

“I imagine so, but times have changed. Even the Marquis de Lafayette has fled France, and he was among the most notable Frenchmen in favor of the American revolutionaries.”

“That is so, we were the same sort of people as he was, liberal nobles raised on the rhetoric of reform and the hopes of a constitutional monarchy that addressed what needed to be fixed in French society. But what has happened is beyond my wildest nightmares. I never thought it would go like this.”

“No one ever does. I do not fault those in France or abroad who saw things that needed to be changed and supported moderate efforts at reform only to find things getting out of hand. Few people knew it would come to this, but it has certainly discouraged many who might seek reforms here and elsewhere because of the precedent.”

“So many of us have lost so much of what we had. Is it truly impossible that we should hope to go back again?”

“I am not sure what would allow things to go back as they were, but I am no prophet, just someone trying to survive like everyone else.”

“Do you think we will have the chance to talk more tonight?”

“I do believe so,” Lord Lipton said with a smile. “I do not think my wife invited you just to have a couple of French people at our dance.” And with that Lord Lipton left them, pondering what other questions they had for him, and what it is that they wanted from him.

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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