When he woke up the next morning, Lord Lipton kissed his wife on her head and changed into some clean riding clothes, as he expected that there would be time for conversation on horseback. He went into his dining room to grab a quick bite to eat and saw Roland waiting for him, dressed nicely as well.
“During the course of the day, would it be acceptable for me to talk to you in your library?”
“I think we can find the time to talk. I hope we can, at least.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Lord Lipton invited him to eat a bit and the two of them walked outside to see Clarissa dressed for riding as well. She smiled at the two, blushing a little, and went to eat a bit herself. When she was done, Lord Lipton looked to see William and Henry coming in their own riding costumes, as well.
“Does everyone want to go riding today?” Lord Lipton asked.
He turned his head to see a variety of nods, and smiled to himself, waiting until everyone had eaten a little before the troop walked out of Orient House towards the stable. Lord Lipton’s chief groomsman looked with some concern at the troop, and Lord Lipton ensured that everyone had a suitable mount to ride, even if he had hoped to have a bit more privacy for his conversations with Roland and Clarissa. Sometimes privacy was not to be, though, since it appeared that everyone knew that something was up and wanted to hear what was going on.
Lord Lipton took the opportunity to play tour guide to Roland, riding gently around the estate and showing the various locations of importance, from the commons where the Lord’s tenants farmed to various villages within the grounds, the economic buildings of importance like mills, and finally the parish church where the family attended services. Roland seemed intent on observing the scene with considerable seriousness. When they arrived at the church, Lord Lipton was somewhat surprised to see a conversation already taking place between the rector and some of the Lord’s tenants.
“What have we here?”
The group of people discussing matters, apparently somewhat heatedly, turned to see Lord Lipton, with evident surprise on their faces. One face seemed a bit red, others more than a bit white.
The rector gathered his thoughts and replied. “Lord Lipton, I have two things to discuss with you this morning.”
“And what would those be?”
“First, and least important, have you read the papers this morning?”
“I have not. I simply grabbed a quick bite to eat and then rode with my family and our guest,” he pointed to Roland, dressed in his officer’s uniform. The faces that were white turned considerably more so.
“Then you should probably take a look at this.” He handed the newspaper over to Lord Lipton, who saw with concern an article about the dance the previous evening which seemed to indicate that it was a good thing that bastard girls and unwanted immigrants would seek each other’s company and favor and affection rather than spoiling good moral English households with their corruption. With pursed lips he handed the paper back to the rector.
“I must admit I have no interest in gossip rags.”
“You do not see the harm in what it says?”
“My dear ward Clarissa cannot help the circumstances of her birth, as much as we all might wish that was the case. And as she had no say in the matter, she has no blame in the matter. Concerning Roland, I have gone on record in supporting the need for England to be hospitable to all those who are fleeing from revolutionary anarchy and terror, and especially for those who are willing to risk their lives in our own military forces to fight against the contagion of revolution that threatens all good government here and elsewhere, and not only in France.”
“So you wish to say nothing more about how your foster daughter and guest are seen by your neighbors.”
“If they harbor bitterness and hatred in their heart for their neighbor, they will have to answer for it themselves when they stand before the eternal judge who holds us all accountable for how we live our lives.”
“Very well then. There is another matter, though, more serious I think, that needs to be discussed. These men here represent your tenants, and they might wish to present their concerns and demands before you directly.”
“We do,” the spokesman said.
“Demands?” Lord Lipton asked, his lips remaining pursed. “I did not know that my tenants were in the position to make any demands.”
The Lord’s party blinked, and an uncomfortable silence hung over the discussion for a bit. Finally, feeling the need to speak, the spokesman for the tenants spoke up, albeit ignoring the pregnant question, “A significant number of your tenants are concerned that the behavior of lords elsewhere will be copied here.”
“And what behavior would that be that you are concerned about?”
“We are concerned that we will be burdened with rack rents, that the commons will be enclosed for the profit of Lord Lipton, that the ancient woods will be cut down for profit and denied for firewood for our cottages, and that we will be cast aside from our homes and forced as vagrants to flee to the city to beg and scrape for our daily bread.”
“Have I ever alluded to any desire or plan to conduct my affairs thusly?”
“No, sir, we have not heard of any plans that you should do so, but we have read and heard that these are common practices and we wished to keep them out of our area.”
“And so you wished to demand that I keep up the customary terms that I and my grandfather before me have kept here with you all, to allow you to farm the common land on generous rents, to allow you to pick up the sticks that fall in my forest for you to burn in your fireplaces to keep warm during the winters, and to pay rents at fixed rates for several years at a time, or even at times for an entire generation for those who have long been here?”
“Yes, we wished to make that demand.”
Lord Lipton paused, evidently unhappy. “Such a demand is not necessary, but if you wish to turn our customary verbal contracts into written ones, that can be arranged. He turned to the rector. “Would you be willing to write out and keep a record of the terms that these tenants have with me, and make three copies of each document for all of the tenants, one copy for them to keep and hold themselves to, one copy to keep at the parish church along with the records of births, marriages, and deaths, so that anyone can go to the church to see that everything is in order about the rights and obligations of my tenants, so that no one need be afraid of any evil innovations, and the last copy to remain with me?”
“I can do that, but it will take some time.”
“I understand that such writing cannot be the work of an instant, but does this sound fair to you all?”
The rector nodded and so did the spokesman and the remaining tenants.
“Are the rights that you mentioned–the right to have level rents over a defined period, the right to farm in the commons undisturbed, and the right to glean firewood from the lord’s forests unimpaired–the rights that you are most concerned about?”
“That we are, sir.”
“Very well, let them be written. Let us also not forget to ensure that included in the terms is the tithe that is owed to the rector, so that this custom is not neglected in being written down.”
This too proved to be agreeable to all, and the spokesman and the group of tenants prepared to leave.
“I am not done yet, though,” Lord Lipton said, startling the crowd.
A brief silence hung over the crowd. Lord Lipton then continued. “It is all well and good that you should seek to improve your own security in these troubled times. But in improving your own security I will not neglect my own. I am appalled that instead of asking me whether I planned on changing the ancient and established terms by which my family has always dealt with you as tenants you sought to make demands of me, probably threatening the rector by assuming he was my agent in this matter. Do you believe in a time when lords in France have been threatened with their lives and freedoms by revolutionary mobs that such effrontery would be borne?”
The spokesman and the tenants, seeing the sort of trouble that now threatened them, begged the pardon of the Lord and hoped that he would not be too angry with them.
Lord Lipton was having none of it. He continued, “Let us also include a guarantee that prohibits any revolutionary combination among any tenants, or any aiding and abetting of crimes against the person or property of Lord Lipton or any members of his household. Should any rumor reach our ears about there being something of that nature being afoot, or if any tenants of ours are reading revolutionary tracts or giving safety or succor to those who have committed crimes elsewhere, and such a thing is found to be indeed true upon investigation, the lease of the tenant or tenants responsible and their whole families is to be null and void and they are to be removed from the protection of this parish and are to be tried and punished for their crimes to the fullest severity of the law.”
There was silence at this. The rector was the first to speak. “Do you wish this to be written as well?”
“And for the written terms to be acceptable to you, it must include the guarantees made to you, to me, and to all your tenants?”
“That is correct.”
“You wish to make it publicly known and acknowledged that the spirit of the revolution is unwelcome and seen as an enemy on all of your lands?”
“I do indeed wish that to be openly known and publicly acknowledged.”
“Very well then, I will write it, and will make an arrangement for all tenants to sign their terms.”
The spokesman, somewhat shaken, but not entirely cowed, took this as the chance to speak up. “How often are such terms to be reconfirmed?”
“How often would you wish them to be reconfirmed?” Lord Lipton queried.
“I think it would be good to have these terms read aloud and reconfirmed every year, so as to provide comfort to the residents that they will be safe and secure in their ancient rights and freedoms for another year.”
The Lord and rector looked at each other, pleased with the suggestion. Lord Lipton replied. “Let us take the chance every year during the fall harvest, to call every tenant together in a feast where we will slaughter animals and cook from the food that we have harvested and reconfirm these terms, so that before winter comes everyone may know that they will be able to survive in peace and comfort for another year.”
“That would be much appreciated,” the spokesman replied.
“So let it be done,” Lord Lipton answered. And with that, the spokesman and tenants nodded, glad to have remained in possession of their necks and leases for at least the moment, and moved to return to their cottages. The rector stayed behind, wondering if Lord Lipton wished to say anything more, but Lord Lipton appeared to be lost in his thoughts. The rest of the party, seeing Lord Lipton so distracted, fell into a quiet reverie of their own. Roland thought about the heavy burden dealt with by a lord in uch revolutionary times, and how it was that Lord Lipton sought to maintain both a sense of justice as well as his own dignity, while William and Henry themselves pondered how they would deal with the peasants when they were older. Clarissa looked between Lord Lipton and Roland and saw the same kind of look on their serious faces, and made the gentle suggestion that perhaps they should all return home, a suggestion that was accepted graciously but also quietly by all of them.