Lord Lipton smiled when he saw the note arrive via a rider. He showed the note to his wife, and Lady Lipton got a smile out of it as well. They looked at each other and then pondered how it is that they would deal with this news. They had already discussed how they would manage to go to the Assembly tonight, and this added another wrinkle to it.
“I think I should bring the landau.”
“I can see why that would be useful.”
“If I am going with Clarissa and the boys, and Lottie wants to come as well, that would be a bit snug in the barouche.”
“That is certainly true.”
“I know you would like to come as well, but you should really stay off your feet.”
“I know, and I’m glad you are willing to take the kids. I am sure they will all have a great time.”
“We might need to discuss who is coming home with us, though.”
“I can see what you mean.”
“If we invite Roland back with us, he will need to have a room prepared for him.”
“I think we can arrange that without any difficulty, as long as the housekeepers know to prepare a room for a gentleman.”
“I think that would be easy for them to manage.”
“Why do you think the inn found it worthwhile to let us know that Roland had come?”
“It makes the most sense that Roland arrived at the inn and asked about us, and that the innkeeper thought it would be best to keep us in the loop.”
“If he arrived at Market Weighton, he may have been clued in to look for information about the Bennetts.”
“And he may have already talked with my uncle.”
“That seems quite likely.”
“I think we should discuss with the kids what we are doing tonight, so that everyone is aware of expectations.”
“I think that would be good, yes.”
The bell was pulled, and before too long four young people found themselves in the sitting room where Lord and Lady Lipton had been discussing matters. Quickest to come was Clarissa, who was holding some work in her hand. Rushing about behind her were William and Henry, aged eight and six, who were Lord Lipton’s heir and spare to his family estate, and who looked much like younger versions of Lord Lipton. Following the boys was Lottie, age 3, whose curly blond hair and generally sweet ways made her a favorite of all of them, though fortunately not spoiled rotten all the same. Lord Lipton smiled when everyone was assembled.
“I would like to briefly discuss our plans for the assembly tonight. As much as Lady Lipton would like to come with us, she has decided it would be best to stay off her feet and rest here tonight, as she does not have much time left before she will come to full term. All of you children are therefore coming with me in the landau this evening to Market Weighton for the Assembly. Lottie will stay close to me while we sit and talk, and William and Henry, you are free to run around outside the inn or talk with others around me. I assume you will not make a scene.”
The boys gave him a stiff nod, glad to have freedom and be able to go out and determined not to mess it up.
“That leaves Clarissa. I hope you have a wonderful dance. I know you have a lovely dress planned, but I also wished to inform you that I have just received word from the host of the assembly at the inn that Roland has arrived and checked into the inn, and so I expect that we may be bringing him home with us this evening.”
Clarissa blushed, and William and Henry looked at her and each other significantly.
“Though there will be some food at the assembly, it will be shared among many dozens of people, and so I think it would be best if we dine at home a bit early, dressed for the assembly, and then head out immediately after our meal in the landau to Market Weighton. We will be coming back tonight, though it may be a bit late. Of course, tonight everyone will be free from bedtime, though if you need to sleep, Lottie, I will be happy to hold you while you doze.” Lottie gave a satisfying nod to that. She didn’t want to miss anything but she was, even at three, smart enough to know that sometimes you are too tired to stay up anyway. With that the family meeting was adjourned.
Lord and Lady Lipton sat down in the sitting room to look at the rest of their notes and letters. Most of them concerned various mundane business and the two of them wrote replies as necessary after dividing the letters and notes by priority as to how urgently and importantly they needed to be answered. Before too long, it seemed, the housekeeper came to let them know that dinner was ready for them to enjoy and they got up to enter into the dining room.
As it turns out, the children had spent their time profitably. Lord Lipton was already dressed as he wished to attend the assembly, not being either a fussy or particularly fashionable man, but also being someone who dressed normally as he wished to be seen in public. William and Henry were dressed in a similar fashion to their father, albeit in smaller size, and no one who say them would doubt to which family they belonged when they attended the Assembly. Lottie was dressed in a cute baby dress that she much enjoyed. And Clarissa was dressed in a very beautiful powder blue dress that left everyone else in the party impressed. It was a simple dress, but elegant, and well suited for her slightly darker complexion and brown hair, and one that set her off as being a bit more exotic than most of her Yorkshire neighbors by a considerable degree.
They all sat down to eat in their somewhat dressy clothes, and enjoyed some greens from the garden as well as a hearty soup. After that came a dish of potatoes and meat, and with full bellies and content appetites, Lord Lipton took his troop of young people out of the house, giving a kiss to Lady Lipton along the way, and getting into the landau to head to Market Weighton, a couple of hours or so away at a reasonable pace.
The drive was, as always, a beautiful one. Lord Lipton and Clarissa, both of whom were fond of looking at the woods and admiring the fine quality of trees to be found, were accompanied by younger children whose fondness for useful and beautiful creation had not been fully formed yet. The boys were at least old enough to start picking up some of the habits of their father, while Lottie was too young to do more than to notice and try to understand what the big people around her were doing and to be, at least for a little while longer, the center of attention and affection, at least until the new baby came along.
Before too long they had managed to arrive at the _________, and to make their appearance to the crowds that were already gathering there. They were introduced and made their bows and found suitable places to sit along with the leaders of the town and the other nobles and gentry of the area, who were pleased to see Lord Lipton arrive with his children. While some tongues wagged about the absence of the pregnant Lady Lipton, her situation was explained easily enough by those who knew the family. Clarissa’s beauty similarly attracted its fair share of notice, and it was especially striking how quickly Roland came up to claim her hand to dance, which was accepted with a smile and blushing cheeks.
The boys watched the way that their father examined the room, making sure to talk to his uncle and cousin, who were happy to talk to him about their common business efforts in the West Indies with some of the freed blacks who had small farms of their own, with plans to expand the operation if abolition ever took hold in the area, as it was thought that freed workers would need a good deal of help if they were to grow sugar and other crops to the same level as before when they were driven to produce by the lash. William and Henry saw the way that other adults deferred to their father, even if their father was not a particularly bossy person, he clearly commanded a room without very much effort, and they thought to themselves that it was not a bad thing to be treated with such respect.
Lottie was played with by the girls who were not quite old enough to be seen as out, but who still wanted to enjoy the public attention for being ready for adulthood soon enough, and she was well-behaved and easy for the girls to pet and hold and talk to. Lord Lipton and the boys, and Clarissa herself, paid attention to her from afar and saw that she was having a good time and were largely left free to their own social business, which gratified all of them.
William and Henry were particularly pleased to find that among the other gentry and fine folk there a few boys of similar age were interested in playing some baseball outside, which occupied the hours while the older people talked and danced, and such social ties gratified the adults who watched over them to make sure that the play was fair and avoided descending into violence. Fortunately for all involved, it was as orderly a game as could be demanded of boys of that age.
Clarissa herself was asked to dance every dance, dancing enough with Roland to draw the attention of the others there, who recognized some sort of prior attachment between the two. It was not enough to be thought of as rude by others, and if some of the young men were disappointed that Clarissa was so occupied by her French officer, and some of the young women were a bit disappointed that the officer did not ask them to dance because his eyes were only for Miss Bennett, the parents of the young people involved were pleased to see that two outsiders who could have threatened their own plans for happy matrimony for their sons and daughters were so obviously enamored with each other that their presence did not disturb the matchmaking efforts of those around them. It was as it should be, at least in their eyes.
When the dance was done, before it became too late, this being a public town and still subject to various curfiews, the good men and women of the town bid farewell to each other and to those who like Lord Lipton and his family had come from outside the town, and Lord Lipton helped his family, and Roland, into his elegant carriage. He praised the innkeeper for his information and gave him a tip for being so hospitable to Roland and to everyone else, and the group of them, all of them tired after the long day, rode for Orient House. It was too dark to do more than notice the trees as they stood against a glorious sky full of stars, and when the landau arrived home, everyone was happy to go to bed without any further conversation, too overjoyed to complain, and too tired to talk. Lord Lipton came into his room to see his wife sleeping happily, and he smiled and got into bed beside her.