Clarissa: Chapter Nineteen

Roland entered the barracks to find his regiment already there. When he arrived, he was told that the general wanted to see him, and so after greeting his fellow officers and other soldiers, he went into the office of his commanding officer, and General Powell greeted him and invited him to sit down.

“I have heard a lot about the way that you helped to comfort and quiet the refugees from Toulon on our trip concerning their departure from France and what can be expected from them while they live in British territories.”

“I was simply giving them what comfort I could from my own personal experience.”

“And that is a very good thing, as it helped keep the refugees from stampeding or doing anything else dangerous that could have threatened their lives or others.”

Roland simply nodded at this.

“With the recent casualties that our regiment suffers and with your conspicuous bravery in the face of fire in coordinating and communicating with the town leaders in Toulon, I am promoting you to captain.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“We will have a short ceremony tomorrow dealing with the various promotions that have resulted from this past battle, as well as a discussion of how we plan to recuperate our forces until it is time for another campaign.”

“Thank you for letting me know, sir.”

“I do have some questions for you personally, though.”

“Personally, sir?”

“Yes,” the General takes out some letters and hands them to Roland.

“I imagine that you have already seen that one Clarissa Bennett is residing not far from here.”

“I did. I was quite surprised that I saw her when we landed.”

“I was not surprised, at least not after having looked at your mail and seen that some of it was labeled as coming from Gibraltar, at least the most recent letters. I did not read the contents of the letters, as that job is left to the military censors, but as I have been told by Lord Lipton to take care of Clarissa and her reputation, I wanted to know what you planned on doing with regards to Miss Bennett.”

“This is being very serious indeed.”

“When a young woman uproots herself from her own country and goes into an area to be nearer to one of my officers, I take an interest in such matters. She is obviously very serious about you. How do you intend to proceed?”

“I had thought to marry her, but figured it might take years of fighting in order to have a salary commensurate to the task of supporting a wife and family.”

“And so you figured it might take a lengthy engagement to sort out the pecuiniary details?”

“Yes, I figured that might be needed.”

“Well, if you want to talk about pecuniary details, let us do so now. As a lieutenant you got paid 4 shillings and some pence per day, and this was quite well enough for you, but perhaps not enough for you to think of marrying comfortably, right?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“As a captain, you will be paid nine shillings and some pence per day, more than doubling your previous pay. If you could live comfortably enough on your own as a lieutenant, you will be able to support a wife easily enough as a captain. And should you move to still higher ranks, you would be able to support a family in considerable style. As far as I know, you are not a gamester, nor do you appear to have other debts that would make it impossible to do so.”

“No, I do not have debts that would make it impossible to support myself on double my wage, nor, assuming that housing was easily available, supporting a family on such wages.”

“Nor have we taken into account family fortune. I understand that your own family resources are constrained because of your status as an emigre, but have you considered what sort of income that Clarissa herself would bring to the marriage?”

“I did not wish to view my relationship with her in such a mercenary light.”

“I can commend such disinterested motivations, but when calculating how much money you need to support a household, would not her dowry be a consideration?”

“I must admit I was not aware of the extent that this could have. I do not know what sort of dowry she would have, or what would be considered normal.”

“But you have never thought to ask?”

“No, indeed.”

“Most of the time women receive their dowries as a lump sum, and one that generates income at four percent per annum when invested, as it usually is, in government bonds. Your own salary would be roughly equivalent to a dowry of five thousand pounds. This is not something that would be unreasonable for any gentry young woman to have. I suspect that Miss Bennett’s dowry may be considerably larger than this, and would be well enough to support a good lifestyle.”

“And is this the sort of thing that English people talk and think about?”

“Absolutely. It is generally well known among English gentry and nobles what the terms are of someone’s income and property and what the source of it is, and whether someone has a share in an estate or not. I must admit that I do not know offhand what the arrangements would be in Miss Bennett’s family, but as she was raised by her cousin the viscount, who did not feel at all inconvenienced to provide her with a living, and, it should be noted, enough money to allow her to travel here without having to worry about how she would live, clearly such a man is not pinching pennies.”

“No, Lord Lipton never struck me as someone who was flashy in the way that he spent money or showed others how much he had, but in the time I spent around him he never seemed to be bothered or affected by anything, nor lacked for anything that he wanted.”

“You stayed at his house, and what was it like?”

“He had a lovely house, with some unusual buildings on it, including one that preserved ice for his sweetened ice tea that, from what I heard, was originally based off of a building in Persia. He had a comfortable library, a great amount of tasteful furniture, a beautiful garden, plenty of horses and ponies for himself and his family, several different types of carriages depending on the situation, plenty of comfortable servants. It is an enviable sort of lifestyle to have.”

“Do you think such a man is likely to leave a beloved ward struggling in want and poverty?”

“I do not think that Lord Lipton would let a tenant suffer want and poverty, much less a member of his family.”

“I happen to agree with you. So what has kept you from having a serious conversation about how much income a household of you and Clarissa would have?”

“I suppose a feeling of pride in that I did not want to depend on her income nor did I want to be or seem mercenary in seeking a wealthy heiress.”

“If you had your family’s wealth from France, would you consider yourself in need of a fortune?”

“No, I am sure I would have a great deal of income and would live much as Lord Lipton does, not a showy man who needs to overawe others with his income, but able to go where I pleased and do what I pleased without having to consider the expense of it.”

“Do you think that Lord Lipton and Clarissa would be aware of that?”

“I imagine they thought as much was the case when they cultivated the friendship of first my father and then myself.”

“Very well then. I want to see you back here by lights out, but I want you to go now to Miss Bennett’s place, and by the time you return here I want to know that you are an engaged man. Do you understand me?”

“I do indeed, sir.”

With that, Roland stood up, saluted General Powell, and then left.

Mr. Powell was left, alas, to a far less agreeable duty than to advise a young man on how he should live, but rather to deal with those who were no longer alive. He received the names of various women that had been waiting in vain for loved ones and who had been brought by the wives of other officers here to seek information about them. He looked at the names taken down by the duty officer at the entrance to the barracks and wrote notes about what he knew about them. So and so, buried at sea. So and so, prisoner of war in Toulon, possibly alive. so and so, buried at Toulon during the siege. Once he wrote down the notes about the people, all accounted for, no one shirking or deserting duty, but some in unknown prisons or known pits, he thought about what information he would need to know about them. Were these people married or simply cohabitating with soldiers? It might not make a difference to a soldier whether his girl was married or not by law when they were keeping house, but it mattered a great deal to His majesty when it came to paying out monies to their widows and children.

It had long been something that General Powell was aware of that soldiers, although in a very dangerous line of business, did not always think very soundly about their own interests or the interests of family members. There were ways that not only demonstrated bad morals but also poor wisdom when it came to making sure that one’s beloved women and children were able to live as best as possible should the worst come to happen in warfare. One of the reasons, indeed, that he had ordered Roland to sort matters out with Clarissa was that he did not wish her to be in a position where she had been bound to one of his officers by love and intimacy and affection, but not bound in such a way that would be recognized by His Majesty’s government when it came time to provide for widows and orphans left fatherless by those who fell in battle or died by disease in service, as was all too common. Even to be engaged was to have a formal relationship that was worthy of being rewarded, rather than the informal relationships that were all too common by the lower sorts of people who filled this regiment and many others.

Indeed, it struck General Powell, not a man given to think often about love, that one of the ways that people demonstrated their love most strongly was their willingness to tie themselves to others. Those people that liked to keep their relations informal were not doing so because they wanted their partners to feel free. Indeed, such people often went out of their way to make others feel entangled to them through financial obligations, to say nothing of the bonds of intimacy and affection, or the bonds that come from having children together, bonds that women in particular seemed to value strongly. Would an army accept soldiers on a casual verbal affirmation to fight whenever they felt like it? Not in the least. Soldiers and officers were instead bound to their regiments by contracts and oaths and obligations that could be enforced by the barrel of a gun and in courts of law. And those who did not consent to being connected to those they had duties and obligations to in like fashion were not thinking of the freedom of their loved ones at all, but only by their own selfish desires to escape being tied by obligation to those they were by honor already bound.

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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