Clarissa: Chapter Twenty-Four

A flurry of letters started from Gibraltar and then other areas to deal with the logistics of the wedding and its communication and invitations and the repercussions of it. At first, a notable stream of those letters went between Gibraltar and Orient House as well as Market Weighton in North Yorkshire. Information went back and forth about financial arrangements and discussions about the wedding and when and where the reception would be. These letters determined the scope of the wedding that was to come and included a great deal of congratulations as well.

North Yorkshire itself became the center of another group of letters that was sent off, as Lord Lipton wanted to make sure that his patronage of Roland was felt, as it soon was, with congratulations going to Roland’s father, who was still living in London and going to his usual club on a regular basis, having a tough time learning English, but still happy that his son was doing well, and that he would have a daughter-in-law at least that knew French and would be able to and interested in talking with him. It can be an unpleasant thing to have a wedding where there was a chance for the father of the groom to have no one who was able to talk with him, but then he remembered that he would at least be able to talk with Lord Lipton and his family, and that made the thought of an English wedding a bit easier to handle.

Before too long there came a discussion about wedding clothes, and Lady Lipton was able to provide the insight that was necessary to ensure that Clarissa would end up with her wedding clothes in a way that would do credit to her as a bride. Lady Lipton knew what Clarissa would like, and as a result, the wedding clothes were the blues and greens and other colors that she would want to wear with the sorts of clothing that she would also want to wear. When that trunk arrived in Gibraltar, Clarissa enjoyed seeing what it contained, given that it was clothing made in the sizes that she had provided to her foster mother.

Other letters made their way in more official channels, by no means as large a circle as the letters that had gone between Gibraltar and North Yorkshire. These letters confirmed that Roland had been promoted to a captain, and that Clarissa was to be recognized as his widow in case Roland should be killed or incapacitated in military service, as was not unusual during the time. Roland being a foreign citizen promoted some commentary, but given Roland’s connections it was thought possible that he would be considered to be a loyal British citizen as a result of his hostility to the Revolution, and it would not be thought difficult for him to acquire whatever identity was necessary.

Another small set of letters went about between the clergy in Gibraltar and London about the possibility of future weddings and what sort of standards existed between brides and grooms. In this particular case, the wedding had the full permission of everyone involved with it, but it was possible that weddings would take place in the future where a French-born soldier did not have any history of religious involvement with Anglican clergy, and where the bride was herself not above criticism as was the case with Clarissa.

Due to the status of the bride, at least, the upcoming wedding was announced in the newspapers in Gibraltar, London, as well as North Yorkshire. This news was taken philosophically. In Gibraltar it was seen as desirable and enjoyable that there should be a high society wedding taking place in a town that was often forgotten by important people and not always viewed as being the most socially highbrow place within the British empire, even less so than the noted balls of Antigua that took place for the planters there. In London, among the French emigre population it was thought to be a moment of glory that one of their own could be considered a worthwhile husband for a young woman of quality. Among the friends and family of Lord Lipton it was considered to be desirable that the family had acquired still more useful and possibly far-flung connections and also that Clarissa had found a dashing and brave husband. For the notable people of Market Weighton who did not know Clarissa as well personally, they were pleased that someone of such dubious parentage as she had was not marrying their own sons and harming their own plans for less questionable marriages. Indeed, everyone was more or less pleased to hear about the upcoming wedding, and at the very least were philosophical about it.

Soon, an unexpected set of letters found its way from London to Vienna, where the court of the most Christian Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire himself was informed that the brother of one of the emigres at his court was getting married in Gibraltar. While it was no problem to get someone from London or Yorkshire to Gibraltar, it was considerably more effort to get someone there from Vienna, not least given the severity of the winters that existed in that part of the continent. But the emperor was pleased to honor someone who had the ear and the regard of his allies in the English, and so it happened that when a diplomatic slot opened up with the Knights of Malta, that Roland’s brother Robert de Villebois was chosen to fill that position, which required that he be able to travel to Malta. And since Malta was not far away from Gibraltar, he was also asked to travel to Gibraltar to consult with the British admiralty about what sort of action the allies were going to take in the coming campaign season in the Mediterranean, which was of limited interest to Austria, it is true, but of interest to plenty of Austria’s allies, at the very least.

But before the travel could take place, plenty of letters needed to be written. The Chancellor of the Austrian court wrote letters to the various border posts along the internal territory of the Emperor’s territories, to smooth the way for his new envoy, and Robert was also given letters for the Doge of Venice in order to help speed his way to Malta and then to Gibraltar. The only problem, though, is that this did not include a letter from the Austrian ruler to anyone in Gibraltar.

Communication is difficult. It is hard to manage the task correctly. Letters were easy to misunderstand, and it was hard to communicate the right information to people one did not know well and trust. Where people did know each other well and trust each other, one had the lag in time between when a letter was written and when it was received and replied to and that reply was received. It was fortunate that no one involved was trying to micromanage affairs, as the delay between when a condition was recognized and when it was responded to made it impossible to answer the concerns through letters from distant people. The letters were sufficient to inform people of a wedding that was to occur in months, to allow for that wedding to happen in an acceptable fashion to everyone, and to allow people enough time to travel a considerable distance to get there. More than that was not possible to manage, and it was for the best that it was not tried.

The problem, of course, was that not everyone involved in this delicate deluge of letters was sufficiently aware of what was going on with others. As was often the case, a great deal of surprise would have been avoided had people been able to communicate effectively with others. It must be admitted, though, that people did not always know who they needed to talk to. Robert and Roland, if they knew what countries the other was in, did not know the precise address of the other in order to communicate with each other, even if they had possessed the time and inclination to write each other. Did anyone expect busy brothers to stay in close contact with each other? Anyone who did would be sorely disappointed.

Yet it must not be thought that this problem was the fault of letters. While anyone who has written a large quantity of letters has seen obvious messages missed and twisted beyond all recognition, and private confidences shared with those who were unworthy to see them confirmed in print, it is not as if we can blame letters for this. Any communication efforts are fraught with danger. We are not at all entirely clear to ourselves, much less to anyone else. Nor would we want to be clear and obvious to others, for we value our privacy, and that privacy requires that we reveal ourselves to others and that others reveal themselves to us through some sort of imperfect communication that will be imperfectly done and imperfectly understood. It is not as if face to face communication is always perfectly done or perfectly understood.

At any rate, what was communicated was certainly good enough to fulfill its purposes. The people doing the communicating communicated honestly, if not perfectly, and both the writing and the reading were done with a high degree of goodwill in most cases, at least among those whose opinion mattered to those doing the communication. Who cared, after all, if some old bitty from a household in Market Weighton thought it was not right that the illegitimate daughter of an entertainer of unknown parentage and mysterious origin should be treated like the daughter of a gentleman and be allowed to marry someone who came from actual titled, if French, ancestry? No one cared about such opinions anyway, at least no one whose opinion mattered.

To those whose opinion mattered, Clarissa was counted the luckiest of young women, and Roland the luckiest of men. People could remain unmarried until their forties and be unable to find people who sought to understand and appreciate each other the way that Clarissa and Roland did. To find people who could make an oath not to take to drink or other drugs to mask the horrors of war or sexual assault and to take such oaths as serious commitments was by no means an easy thing. To find people who could see the burdens that you carried and the wounds that seared your soul and respond not with cutting wit and cruel teasing but rather with kind words and tender affection was not something that some people ever found over the course of their lonely and difficult lives, and yet Clarissa found such a person when she was a young woman.

One of the few people who could have understood how Clarissa felt was Lady Lipton herself. She, after all, had on the day she was introduced to society met Lord Lipton and bumped into him. It did not require any great difficulty to recognize that if Lord Lipton was not a particularly handsome person, he had a bright smile and a heart full of kindness, as well as being intelligent and a conscientious person. If it was not love at first sight, it was certainly not a difficult decision to recognize that such a man was well worth marrying, and if no one had seen that and acted on it successful over more than thirty years, she could profit from their failure, and so she did. And in ten years of marriage, with four children born, she had no reason to regret her decision. If Lord Lipton was not the most fleet of foot of men, he remained as intelligent and as tender as ever. She had chosen wisely, and if it meant she may spend years alone after the death of Lord Lipton missing his warm embraces and loving kisses and caresses, that was just the way things went. This was something that Clarissa well understood and openly faced with a husband-to-be who was in the regulars and who had made himself the open enemy of a revolutionary state. But she was sure she would rather have a short time with a good man and a great man than a lifetime with a bad one. And who could blame her for deciding on such feelings in the hope that there would be many years for them to enjoy each other’s love?

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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