Clarissa: Chapter Fifteen

The uncertain pace of letters and her own worries led Clarissa to become very concerned about how Roland was doing, and so she went to Lord Lipton to talk. One evening, after supper was finished, she asked to speak to him in his library, and concerned about how she was doing, he agreed.

“Have you ever been in a siege?”

“I have, actually.”

“You did? When was that?”

“It has happened to me three times. Once, the siege was more of an informal siege, when I was in Charleston, South Carolina, during a time when it was the last area in that state held by the British during the end of the rebellion. The second time was when I was called to New Providence when it was put under siege by the Spanish. The third time was when New Providence was besieged and successfully retaken by the English just before peace had been agreed to in the war.”

“What kind of experience is it?”

“It’s a pretty nerve-wracking experience. There are often cannons firing and defenders firing back. You are stuck inside the city and can’t go out, and sometimes food and water are limited. Attacks can come at any time day or night, and there is often constant bombardment. None of those aspects are very fun.”

“So you don’t think it’s a bad thing that I’m anxious about how Roland is doing while he is fighting in a siege?”

“Not at all.”

“You’re not going to make fun of my womanly weakness for being afraid for someone’s safety?”

“No, plenty of men are frightened about sieges as well. I am sure that if you were in a siege you would bravely deal with the conditions as best as you were able, but I have known men whose nerves were shattered at the thought of defending a city against larger numbers of attackers, so it is not something that is determined by your sex.”

“What can be done about it?”

“That is the critical question. I think, and this is my own private theory and not something that is known for sure, that anxiety most often results from our inability to feel as if we are doing anything about something negative that may occur. When we are dealing with negative things that are occurring, there is usually something that can be done, and doing that thing relieves the anxiety and worry. Once bad has happened, you can take various steps and make the best of it. It is the anticipation that makes things harder.”

“Well, what can I do about Roland’s safety?”

“Right now, you can pray for him, you can send him encouragement in letters, and that is about it. Do you mind if I talk to some other people about how you feel? I suspect that there are women whose loved ones have been in war who have figured out ways to cope with it as best as possible.”

“Can I come with you if you talk to them?”

“If you wish. I will write some letters first, and then it may come to ghat if we talk about some suggestions that people have based on what they have done themselves.”

Lord Lipton was good to his promise to do something to help Clarissa figure out how she may best deal with the fact that her beloved Roland was fighting in a dangerous siege and was off to war. Lord Lipton’s query of the War Department on what kind of advice that ladies had to other women concerning their loved ones fighting in war and how they relieved the anxiety and worry of the experience had a surprising result, since few people had thought to ask the question before, apparently. Generals and admirals asked their wives how they had best dealt with stress while the husbands were away at war, and got some striking responses about how the women had busied themselves with campaigns to ensure the well-being of the troops, and how some had sought to be closer to the front, so as to be less subject to the delays of knowing what was wrong. Some admirals’ wives reminded their husbands about the worth of a wife sharing the experience of being on the seas, so as to not worry about the storms or battles their husbands faced. Generals’ wives as well commented that it could be less stressful being on a post than it was back at home where one might have to wait for weeks or months to hear reports about what was going on.

Lord Lipton was told these responses, and gathered that what inflamed the stress of many wives of these high officers in the army and navy–and no doubt what the wives of lower ranks thought as well, although they were not here consulted–was the lack of knowledge of what was going on with their loved ones. This was as Lord Lipton figured, that it was ignorance and not a weaker nature which made women a prey to their emotions. He brought up the matter with his wife.

“I hope I have not been boring you with the reports I have heard from the War Department about the experience of women in the home front.”

“Not at all. It seems to have been exactly what you expected, and that is a credit to you.”

“If I were posted as a governor in some distant colony, would you want to be there as well?”

“I would absolutely want to share in the experience. If the place was not very healthy, perhaps I would prefer for the older children to go to school here in England while we roughed it abroad, but I would want at least myself and the younger children to share in the experience and in each other’s love.”

“I am glad you have such a sense of adventure.”

“I think most of us would feel that way. We women are not delicate flowers who need to be kept from the dangers of the world. If we do not want to share in your battles, we at least want to share in your experience of the difficulties of the world, that we may provide encouragement and support to you in your struggles and not have to weep and mourn over your broken bodies and minds when you return home.”

“I do not think that is an unfair or unreasonable position to take. I do not think one should be so harsh on those men who wanted to protect their wives and daughters and mothers from the horrors of war. War is horrible, for any of us who have seen its results. But you are right that as women are not shielded from the aftermath of war, they ought to give encouragement, and ought to be in a place where they feel they can do something and not be paralyzed by worry and anxiety.”

“Are you still thinking about what Clarissa can do herself?”

“I am.”

“And what do you think she should do?”

“I think she should go to be as close to him as possible.”

“Where would that be?”

“I don’t know right now, but when we find out, I think we can act then.”

“Are you going to let her know what you have found out.”

“Indeed I will.”

And indeed he did. The next day, Lord Lipton called Clarissa into his library to talk during the morning.

“I wanted to let you know about the information I received from other women whose loved ones have served in warfare abroad on land and sea.”

“What did you find out?”

“I found out that there were a few things that such women did to ease the anxiety. For one, they tended to try to live as close as possible to where their loved ones were posted, so as to have the best information about conditions and the last amount of time spent waiting and worrying. And for another, they sought to involve themselves in causes to help the well-being of their loved ones, to give them something to do.”

“But I thought that a lady was not supposed to have too much to do.”

“Well, it is true that most of us are an idle sort of being. The goal of being a gentleman or gentlewoman is to put oneself beyond the need to labor. But when one’s loved ones are in danger, it is precisely having something to do that is necessary for us to find purpose. A man can find something to do easily enough, no matter how rich he is, simply by running for Parliament or joining some sort of civic association. For women, though, it is often more difficult of a task to do something while also remaining ladylike, though here too civic associations can help with the need to do something.”

“Are there any associations you think I should help out with?”

Lord Lipton did, and gave her the names of several associations related to the well-being of soldiers as well as the French emigre community.

“Is there anything else you think I should do?”

“Yes, there is. I think you should marry Roland, assuming things work out well, and then try to make sure you can live at his base if possible. I’m not sure if the conditions will be what you would be used to, but living off your four percents you should be able to live well wherever he is posted, especially if he is promoted to higher rank.”

“Do you think that likely?”

“I think he has the skills and the connections to rise in the ranks, certainly.”

“Do you count yourself among the connections?”

“Indeed I do.”

“So is he based in Gibraltar now?”

“He is, at least from what he has said in his letters. Who knows how long he will be posted there, though?”

“Do regiments move around a lot?”

“They do indeed. I have seen cases where regiments have been transferred from Canada to the West Indies, from Europe to India, all over the place really.”

“So you do not know where he will be moved next?”

“I do not know, no, nor do I know where he will be posted, as it is not always the case that people are sent where everyone else goes.”

“You will always keep me as well-informed as possible.”

“I will indeed.”

“Do you think I should go to Gibraltar then?”

“You wish to marry him as soon as his present campaign is over?”

“What needs is there to wait for him to be posted here to England?”

“I do not suppose there is any need to wait, so long as you are sure that you can make a home with him where he is posted.”

“I am sure I can deal with whatever conditions exist. If my beloved Roland can endure the conditions, I am sure that I can manage.”

“I admire your courage. I will see which of the servants of the household are willing to accompany you. At least one gentleman and lady should be sufficient to start.”

“Do you think there will be any willing to travel like this on such notice?”

“Let us ask.”

Lord Lipton called his chief housekeeper to the library and discussed with her what Clarissa planned to do. The housekeeper was similarly impressed and talked about the matter with the other servants in the household. After the matter was sufficiently well discussed among the servants, it was determined that one of the young manservants who had been working alongside the butler as an assistant was willing to work with Clarissa as her butler and Clarissa’s lady maid was likewise willing to continue working as her maid and to add to her tasks, if necessary, by overseeing a local cook assuming one could be found. Before too long the housekeeper returned with the two servants to Lord Lipton and Clarissa, and everything was accepted. Lord Lipton wrote a few quick notes and sent them off to make sure that Clarissa would have access to her funds in Gibraltar when she landed, and handed her another note and some money so that she would be able to get a ticket to Gibraltar from Hull, the nearest port to their estate, and one that Lord Lipton knew well from his own travels. As Clarissa prepared to pack her chest and the household whirred into action to send the young lady on her way into the world, Clarissa hugged and kissed her family goodbye for she knew not how long, and then bravely set out in Lord Lipton’s carriage for her travels.

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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