With a friendly knock, Roland arrived at Clarissa’s flat, and was greeted by the butler and came inside for a family dinner. Though the place was the same as he had seen for the first time yesterday, the mood was very different. There was less pressure, and to some extent it felt like the main issues were already dealt with, although considerable questions remained.
Now that Roland felt under less pressure he was better able to see how the flat was organized. He found it to be cheerful, sunny even. Whether or not this indicated a natural sense of cheerfulness or considerable effort in maintaining happiness was something that Roland could not tell from the appearance of the wall or the objects of art themselves. Roland had, at least for most of his adult life, lived in a state of considerable austerity–whether during his time as a religious scholar near Nantes, as a refugee in England, or in the military. And it was not necessarily a bad thing to be austere, but this place most certainly was not.
Before too long, Roland was seated at a table and Clarissa came in dressed in a comfortable and lovely dress. The two of them exchanged greetings and got to talk about the apartment.
“I really enjoy what you have done here.”
“Yes, it seems very sunny and cheerful.”
“Most of this was already here when I arrived, but I liked the way that the decor was so I added more to it in the time I have been here.”
“Do you feel any sort of connection to the Mediterranean? I remember hearing about your mother not being from England, but do you know anything about her background?”
“I do not remember anything about her background, no. My mother was not the sort of person who wanted to talk about her past, or who mentioned where she came from, or who her people were. She was an entertainer with one of the unlicensed theaters in London and focused her attention on making people laugh and on living as secure a life as she could in such insecure conditions.”
“How did your mother and father get together?”
“My father had recently been widowed one season when he went to town, and from what I hear he was impressed with my mother and wanted to meet her. My mother, it must be admitted, was the sort of woman who was clearly looking for a secure place, and before too long apparently she accepted to be in a relationship with him, where I was born. My father always acknowledged me as his daughter at least with my mother, but did not mention me to his existing family for some time.”
“Did this cause some problems.”
“It did indeed.” She looked nervous, and Roland gently touched her hand.
“Nothing notable happened while my mother was alive. My father would come and visit whenever he was in town, which was for a few months every year, as has always been common among those who are better off in England, and he made sure we were well-supported and lacked for nothing. But when my mother died, I was brought to live with him and he did not at first let his sons know that I was their half-sister. Sadly, neither of them was perceptive enough to figure it out, and the two boys had the feeling that a young servant girl of uncertain background would be a perfect outlet for their amorous advances.”
Roland turned a bit red in the face.
“I was able to fend them off, with some difficulty, but they continued to try, unwilling to ask me who I was and not being restrained by anyone else. One morning they attempted to force me on the ground to submit to their advances but I was able to run outside and it was there that I ran into Lord Lipton and held on to him, seeking his protection. Although he was a perfect stranger to me his instincts were kind and he hugged me and let me hold onto him while he held off my brothers. Going inside, we all found out that he was our cousin, the son of our father’s elder sister, who had married into a noble family and gone off to live in the American colonies, and who I had never met. During the course of the day, it was uncovered what my brothers had been trying to do, and they were told who I was and the horror of what they had been trying to do. Rather than be angry at themselves, as they should have been, they were angry with me, as if I was seeking to bring them into shame, and so for my safety my father sent me and a servant to Lord Lipton’s estate without warning, in a hurry. He was eating his supper by himself when we arrived, and without being aware of all that was going on he took me in and treated me as a beloved daughter, making sure that I was raised like a lady, knowing foreign languages and music and riding ponies and horses and dressing nicely. Soon he married and his wife, who was about as old as I am now, treated me like a younger sister and showed me how to behave as a lady by example. During the first night I was at Lord Lipton’s house, he made sure that my servant and I ate, and it started with the soup I have prepared for you now. I have always loved that soup ever since that night, since it was a night where I felt safe and had found somewhere I belonged.”
With that, a large soup bowl was opened on the table and the two of them began to eat from bowls. It was a mild and hearty soup, one that was, for Clarissa, associated with the warm memories of her life with Lord and Lady Lipton.
“I have had this soup before,” Roland said.
“Yes. Lord Lipton had it the night of the dance where we met.”
“He did. That is right, he was trying to cook food that reminded me of comfortable and happy times.”
“So while you associate with soup with your becoming a lady and moving up in the world, I associate this soup with meeting you, and enjoying a fine meal rather than having to scrimp and save to make it in London where we only had one reliable meal a day.”
“I am glad you enjoy the soup as well and associate it with happy memories.”
“I always will. But while I am happy that Lord Lipton took you in, I am a bit unhappy about your father, and very angry about your brothers.”
“I have never had the relationship with my brothers that I ought to have had. It began on the wrong foot and sometimes you simply cannot recover from such a disastrous beginning. My father was daring enough to pursue a relationship with an entertainer outside of marriage but with some degree of loyalty and responsibility but not daring enough to introduce me as his daughter to his more respectable and proper family. The people of the town have never really been able to accept me as one of their own. I have always been an outsider and a foreigner to them.”
“I had no idea you had such sources of suffering. You are a beautiful and elegant young woman, seemingly coming from a warm and caring family, living a life of wealth and happiness. Who could know the secret sadness and loneliness that you had suffered?”
“No one knew except those who were around back then, or had heard about things from those who were around, or those whom I chose to tell. Most of us, I think, live lives of secret sadness, putting on a smile and a brave face for an uncaring world and keeping our sadness locked deep within.”
“Do you think that you can be happy with me?”
“I do.” There was a short pause.
“You do, but what?”
“I do, but I am concerned about your own dark and secret sadness. I remember that when I lived with Lord Lipton there were many nights where I had nightmares about my brothers and the sorts of things they had intended to do to me. It appears that your own experiences in war have given you the same sort of nightmares that I have had, where you live out your own worst fears and horrors.”
“That is correct. I had no idea that you could understand such things from your own experience.”
“I do understand, but because I understand I have some serious concerns about your response to what you have seen and what you continue to feel about it.”
“What concerns are those?”
“I want you to promise me something.”
“What do you want me to promise?”
“I want you to promise me two things. One, that you will never take to the bottle or to any other substance to try to obliterate the memory of what you have seen. I want you to be courageous, to face your nightmares and your fears bravely. Do whatever you need to do in order to deal with how you feel openly and honestly, with whatever strength God may give you. I will give you all the encouragement I can, but you most not try to blot such things out from your mind.”
“I promise you that I will not become enslaved to the bottle or any other substance to try to wipe away what I have seen and survived.”
“And one more thing. Promise me that you will never take out your fear and anger upon me or upon our future children. They must never know or fear the violence that we have suffered, to the greatest extent possible. Whatever we have dealt with, we must shield them from how it has affected us.”
“I promise to never raise a hand in violence against you or any of our children or anyone else in our household, and to save such violence for those who, like me, are engaged in it on a professional level.”
“So long as you remain faithful to your promises to me, present and future, I will be content to live with you, wherever you may be posted, to bind your wounds of body and soul, to love you and encourage you and support you and honor you in your most glorious and in your darkest hours, and to bear your children and be your beloved wife and treasured confidant.”
“This is more than I could have hoped for or could ever deserve.”
“And this is what I will give to you.”
The two of them held each held each other’s hands tightly, unwilling to break the spell of the moment with foolish or careless words.
“There is one more thing that we need to discuss now.”
“And what is that?”
“We need to discuss how we are to live. I have been given thirty thousand pounds as a settlement upon me, and it is off of those proceeds that I may live for the rest of my days. Now that we are engaged, we will need to go to my barristers and come to some kind of terms with them about how this income may best be preserved as well as used during our life together. It comes out to a bit more than one thousand pounds a year, quite enough for us to live comfortably, especially when it is added to your own income, and to the income you may yet attain if you are promoted in your profession.”
“And that is to say nothing of what may happen if my family’s estate ever becomes unencumbered as well.”
“That would be an added blessing, but what we have is already a very good start.”
“It is indeed a very good start.”