Clarissa: Chapter Twenty

Roland was somewhat confused in what he was going to say to Clarissa. It was not particularly difficult to court a young woman like Clarissa most of the time, it must be admitted. But at the same time one wanted at least some time to think of what to say, especially when it came to such an important matter as engagement and marriage. Roland certainly did not take such a matter lightly, and he did not think that Clarissa was heedless and thoughtless in such matters, even if she was far more bold than he had supposed her to be by coming here to Gibraltar. And while coming to Gibraltar had made it easier for her to get information about him and to see his life as a soldier up close and to ease her own insecurities, it did not provide him with the sort of distance that allowed him the time to shape his thoughts in between letters sent over the distance. There was an advantage to long distance relationships, at least in terms of allowing people the chance to avoid the pressure of face to face conversations.

Roland, as he navigated the area around the barracks searching for where Clarissa lived, seeing as he did not in fact know exactly where that was, ended up asking some people where Clarissa lived, describing her as a new young lady who had moved to the area and lived alone, and eventually he came to a door, which he knocked at. After a little bit of a pause, the door was opened for him by the butler and he walked inside to see Clarissa looking at him a bit puzzled.

“How did you find out where I lived?”

“I found out from one of your neighbors.”

“And why have you come?”

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“And why did you not think it could wait until tomorrow?”

“Are you unhappy to see me?”

“I am a bit surprised that you did not wish to speak to me very much when you arrived but now wish to speak to me so urgently.”

“I must admit that conditions have somewhat changed since we talked last.”

“And what conditions are those?”

“I have been promoted to captain.”

“I am glad to hear that.”

“And I also had a good conversation with my commanding officer.”

“And what did he tell you?”

“He told me to come back to the barracks an engaged man.”

“I am afraid that your commanding officer is going to have to be disappointed.”

“And why is that?”

“Because a conversation like this is no way to conduct an engagement. Do you wish me to think that you only wish to marry me because your commanding officer tells you to do so?”

“I do not think that is a fair way of putting it.”

“How would you put it, then?”

“I would say that talking with my commanding officer helped me to clear up some things in my mind, and that gave me the peace of mind I needed to ask your hand in marriage.”

“What concerns did you have?”

“I did not think that on the salary of a lieutenant that I would be able to support a wife and family, certainly not in the style that you would be used to.”

“I see.”

There was a short pause after this short statement.

“But having been told that I would receive twice the salary of that as a captain, I had hope that whatever I was making, without even considering what you brought to the marriage, would be enough to live on without any trouble.”

“Do you think I would have trouble living on what I brought to the marriage?”

“Not at all, you seem to be living very well right now.”

“Indeed I am.”

“If you were concerned about whether or not we would have enough to live on as husband and wife, surely there were plenty of times that the subject could have been brought up before.”

“I did not wish to seem like a fortune hunter.”

“I would not think of you as such. Everyone who knows you is aware that you come from a noble family with plenty of property that is unfortunately quite fixed in enemy territory, and thus not able to support you at present. It is not as if you are some sort of debt-ridden charmer seeking to marry a wife to pay off an unsuccessful gambling habit.”

“That is quite true.”

“So why did you not ask me what sort of income we would have as a household when your own military income was combined with my own dowry?”

“I was embarrassed not to be contributing my share to the household’s income and depending on yours.”

As much as she hated to admit it, Clarissa could not help but to see the sense in this. She gathered her thoughts together. “I am sorry we have not begun our conversation tonight on the best of terms.”

“I am sorry for that as well.”

“I must admit I am feeling a bit irritated at the way that you acted today when you seemed in a hurry to get to the barracks and not to find some way of romantically proposing to me.”

“I must admit I was not prepared to get down on one knee. I did not expect to see you here.”

“How could you not? I have been sending letters for weeks talking about my travels here, my experiences in seeing the town, my lodgings, and the friends I have made among the officer’s wives.”

“I did not know that such letters existed until just a few minutes ago when my commanding officer handed them to me.” And as he said this he took out the unopened letters.

“You have not had the chance to read any of my letters?”

“No, Clarissa, I have not had the time.”

“Then please take the time to do so,” she said as she started to cry.

Roland looked at her abashed, wanting to comfort her but not knowing exactly how? “Did you not get any of my own letters as well?”

She shook her head, still sobbing. “I have heard nothing from you since before I left for here.”

Roland reached to give her a hug. “I tried to tell, without giving away too many details, the seriousness of the siege, the horrors I had seen, my efforts at communicating between the British army and the French leaders of the town, and our efforts to evacuate as many people as possible from what were sure to be angry and violent French soldiers. I did not include the worst of the details, but it was horrifying enough.”

“Where are your letters?”

“I do not know.”

At this Clarissa paused to think.

“If you promise to read my letters tonight, would you prefer to talk tomorrow here over a comfortable dinner where we may talk about these matters again?”

“I promise to read your letters and be better prepared tomorrow.”

“Then I will see you then,” she said, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Roland then bowed graciously and left the well-appointed sitting room. He left the terrace where she lived and then found himself a quiet cafe to sit and read the letters before returning to the barracks. When he read the letters, he saw the text where Clarissa unburdened her heart about her anxiety for his well-being, her sadness at not having heard a word from him and her fears that some harm had come to him or to their love. He read about her loneliness in Gibraltar, and how it was that she had gradually found people in the same position as she was in that were able to encourage her about the life of being an officer’s wife, even as she continued to wonder what was going on with him.

For her own part, after Roland left, Clarissa slumped down in a chair and continued to cry. Roland had come to her, had put his confidence at risk, and had been crushed. She thought to herself how she had almost ruined any chance of a happy resolution with her anger at him for not writing to her for so long. And yet he had written, apparently, according to his claims, and she had no reason to disbelieve him. It was not as if he had any other woman in town that she had heard about, at least, there being no hint of scandal about his conduct in town. And yet she had let her own insecurities, and her offense at the way he handled the surprise of his seeing her, and his making her wait without realizing it, behave coldly towards the man she loved and wanted to marry, and had traveled a long way simply to see, so that she might be closer to him.

She had not realized she was the sort of person who was bothered so much by silence. She thought that she was made of sterner stuff than to be so dependent on the encouragement received from frequent interaction with a loved one, but she found much to her surprise and disappointment that she held his silence against him as if he had not cared about her, not realizing that writing in a war zone might be impeded by the inability of ships to be willing or able to carry private mail back and forth under fire, especially in the dangers of the last stages of a deadly siege. She regretted that she had not written her foster father about this sort of eventuality, as she figured (correctly) that he might have had some wise advice to give her about such matters.

She did not have too long to think, though, because before too long she heard another knock at the door. She sat up a bit annoyed, but indicated to her butler to open the door, and in stepped a middle aged stranger to her, dressed in a uniform that suggested he was a man of considerable rank.

“I hope I do not offend you too much by my coming unannounced to you. I am General Powell of the 69th Lincolnshire, the commander of the regiment where Roland serves as an officer.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Clarissa said evenly. “I am Miss Clarissa Bennett. Roland recently spoke to me about you.”

“And did you make him the happiest of men?”

“I did not.” After a slight pause, she continued. “But I hope that happiness is only slightly deferred and not altogether foreclosed.”

“Very well then. I do not wish to intrude upon your private time, but I thought I may be of service in one thing. Well, perhaps in two. For one, Roland is not only a brave and conscientious officer but also one whose life is lived in the highest Christian character. And for another, I believe I have some letters that by right should belong to you. They have been read by the regimental censor and resealed, but I hope you may find them worthwhile.” He handed her the letters and departed with a bow.

While General Powell made his way back to the barracks, he saw Roland sitting and looking thoughtful and touched his hat. Roland saluted and picked up his letters and walked towards him. In silent solidarity the two men walked to the barracks and went inside, each to their own places to prepare for supper and then to rest for the night.

For her part, Clarissa opened the letters and began to read. She read about the horrors of life in a besieged city, about the peril that surrounded Roland every day, about his nightmares of death and imprisonment followed by death at the hand of French revolutionaries who would view him as the worst kind of traitor, fit only for torture and execution, and about the horrors he had seen even as he went about his work in delivering messages back and forth between British military and town leaders as the siege went increasingly badly. She shuddered at what she read, as she saw Roland honestly express his fears that he had offended her by speaking too openly and too honestly about the true nature of warfare and its effect on men. Rather than being offended at the honesty, though, she felt terrible for having responded to him so coldly and so rudely, but she also realized that he had been seriously affected by what he saw, and even considerably damaged by the experience of war, and this also concerned her even as it engaged her womanly sympathies.

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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