General Henry Watson Powell smiled as he looked up from his letter. He had not even had the chance to meet his new French emigre officer who was joining up with his regiment and already the young officer had managed to inspire some conversation. Though he was by no means a personal friend of Viscount Lipton, he of course knew the noble by reputation as a patriotic man who had served his country loyally during the American Revolution, albeit in a different theater than he himself had been a part of, and he also had to hand it to the man for his sense of style in writing a letter.
One might not think that the romantic lives of young army officers and even younger women would be worth the time spent writing about it for a titled lord, or in reading about it for the leader of a regiment of troops, but the general found such correspondence to be worthwhile. Any letter, or any other form of communication that was sent to him, was information that was useful to know about the behavior of his officers and how they reflected on the regiment as a whole, and indeed on the British Empire as a whole. Powell had served a long time in the army, and like many career officers, he had a high view of the moral importance of officers in a regiment. It did not bother him in the least that a young officer had formed an attachment with a young woman, this was to be praised, as it gave such people a tie to life and to moral decency. It would, of course, bother him a great deal if he had to report that such an officer as had formed an attachment with a noble’s ward, on the other hand, ended up with some kind of pox from a prostitute, and so he wanted to see what sort of man his new officer was.
Roland, of course, was unaware that his reputation had preceded him with his new regiment, and when he arrived at Newcastle at the makeshift barracks where he had been called to join part of his new regiment and get up to speed on what was going on with them, he was a bit surprised to be called into the office of his commanding officer. He entered into the office, was introduced, and made a quick bow.
“Roland de Villebois, reporting for duty.”
“Come, sit. I have already heard of you.”
“Is it good news or bad, sir?”
“As far as we are both concerned, it is good news. You did not rush to get here, but spent some time getting to know a young woman.”
“Ah, I assume you are talking about Miss Clarissa Bennett.”
“You remember the name, this is very good.”
“I would hope to, since I spent a considerable time around her and her family.”
“You only had two weeks to report here. How much time did you spend with them?”
“I spent an evening at a dance with them, a night at the assembly, and a bit more than the following day with them.”
“That is certainly long enough to form an attachment, in my observation. How often did you dance with the young lady. I assume not above a dozen times?”
Roland blushed a little. “At the assembly I may have danced with her a bit more often than would be considered normal.”
“Did no one tell you that if you danced more than twice with someone you might as well get down on one knee and propose to the girl?”
“Not in those words, exactly.”
“Still, you did not do too badly for yourself. You would not have stayed at Orient House if you had not made a positive impression on the family.”
“Lord Lipton has been very generous to me, without a doubt.”
“I suppose you are inclined to be worthy of that attention.”
“As worthy as I can, sir.”
“Very well, then. I have nothing further of that nature to discuss with you further. We will be heading out soon to post in the Mediterranean, and I hope you have your sea legs before too long.”
“I have seldom been on sea, but at least so far I have not found myself struggling with seasickness.”
“That is good to hear. I hope you will be able to keep the contents of the mess inside of your belly while we sail to Gibraltar. Once we are there, there will be more to discuss.”
“Is there any sort of training that I will need to do?”
“Not at present. When we get the battalion together, there will be more time for some marching and some training. Our regiment is used to being combined between old dogs and new pups, and people get into line before too long.”
“I am glad you express such confidence in me.”
“You will be motivated in the fighting we do, and that will count for a lot. We want you to survive and be of service to His most Christian majesty.”
“I intend on surviving.”
“Very well then, welcome to the regiment.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Truth be told, Roland had not expected to have such a consequential discussion with his commanding officer, and he was glad to be dismissed to go to his quarters. When he arrived at his quarters, he found it to be much like the housing he shared with his father in London. It may indeed be a dashing thing to be an officer in the military, and the uniform may be a benefit to one’s romantic hopes as opposed to the more boring and mundane jobs that other men had, but the life of a soldier was hardly the life of luxury that people wished for. This is not to say that soldiers never lived such a life, for one gained a fair amount of luxury if one had the chance to loot a defeated city, but that sort of luxury came after a great deal of peril, and no one looked forward to sieges.
As far as his part was concerned, General Powell was pleased with his new officer. If he was a gallant Frenchman, all the better in these times where Frenchmen were viewed not as gallant and polite Chrisitan gentleman but as revolutionary brigands and would-be terrorists, he was by no means the sort of person who seemed accomplished at seduction. He seemed to be a conscientious young man, and just the sort of person who was wanted in such dangerous times as these. One could drag up any number of debt-ridden ne’er-do-wells to serve as officers, and many regiments were driven to such lengths, but when one had someone with genuine counter-revolutionary fervor, that was to be celebrated and appreciated, and certainly taken advantage of.
And so it was with no degree of difficulty or negativity that General Powell corresponded in return with Lord Lipton. He was able to say with confidence that Roland was a decent and upstanding young man, had spoken creditably about the young woman and his feelings for her, as well as showing due appreciation for the generosity shown by Lord Lipton to someone who was comparatively of little importance in the world at present. He promised that he would take an interest in the well-being of the young man and keep watch over him as best as possible, and he was glad to give any sort of report that Lord Lipton would want. This letter, like Lord Lipton’s previous letter, had the desired result on both sides, as it brought together the interests of a successful British officer and that of a noble English lord, who both had more reasons then they had previously had to correspond to each other and to ensure conversation about their common interests.
Had Roland known it, he might have been able to reflect on the similarities between his own experience and that of Clarissa’s next older brother, who was himself a young officer in the Madras regiment. Perhaps had Clarissa been on better terms with her brother, he could have shared a discussion of what it was like to be posted in one place as opposed to another, and how an officer dealt with the life of a soldier in spending most of one’s time in camp and the rest of one’s time in mortal peril in battles and sieges. As it was, Clarissa had not been in touch with that brother for some time, and knew only that he was alive and serving the interests of king and country and family in the East Indies interests of the family, while his older brother was learning how to serve the West Indies interests of the family, a pretty typical division of labor, it must be admitted.
Lord Lipton was pleased with the correspondence as well. He had managed to confirm his view that Roland was a decent young man and would hopefully make a fine officer. He had also managed to form a new and worthwhile connection that, if cultivated, could lead to further intelligence about the British military for use in Parliamentary speeches and votes. Clarissa received some comfort and encouragement that Roland was being looked after and had spoken well of her to others, something that proved of great comfort in coming weeks, as opportunities for soldiers to write letters, especially when posting to dangerous areas, was admittedly somewhat limited, and those letters, it must also be admitted, took a long time to reach Orient House. Here too things were done to Lord Lipton’s satisfaction, as the first letter which came from Roland was addressed to him personally, and with his permission, Roland was allowed to correspond directly with Clarissa and share his impressions of military life without the pressure of direct supervision. Lord Lipton figured, even if no mischief was planned by the young people, that an absence of obvious surveillance was for the best, as young people deserved not to be treated like prisoners when they had been guilty of no crime.