Nov 16, 1811
Caroline dipped in a curtsey. Graceful, but hardly gracious. And the little chit did not even know the difference. Good thing she was pretty enough for a little country town or with manners like that, Lydia Bennet would surely have no hope of any kind of future.
She pinched her temples. The ill-mannered audacity of it all! Asking when the invitations would be sent! And Charles was no help. ‘When Nicholls has made enough white soup’—what kind of an answer was that?
Had she not disabused him of that particular joke earlier?
Thank heavens he had agreed to walk the entire gaggle of Bennet sisters home, and she was rid of the whole lot of them at once.
Perhaps now she might get on with her business. There was no time to be lost in frivolous chattering and gadding about. She pulled her housekeeping journal from her reticule. At least she had an ally in her efforts.
Nicholls had proven herself a treasure. Not only was she able to suggest where qualified additional help might be hired—at least two scullery maids, two kitchen maids, and additional man to help polish the silver and attend the men’s retiring room, and a pair of maids for everything else—Nicholls also crafted a very suitable menu for the evening—all sixty-three dishes of it. What was more, she identified the best local resources for everything the ball required. And the list of requirements was long.
To think Charles initially balked at the salary the housekeeper demanded. To be sure he was willing to pay handsomely for his valet when he could honestly make do with a far less expensive man, but one never, ever skimped on a housekeeper.
And this one was worth her weight in sugar, beeswax candles and the ice she knew remained in the ice house. Without her help and better, her experience, the event would be entirely impossible. Nicholls was, without a doubt, to date the best housekeeper they had ever enjoyed.
She even kept the guest list from the ball thrown by Netherfield’s last tenants. To be sure it was two years old, but it was a place to start. That foresight saved Caroline at least two hours’ time in her efforts, two hours she desperately needed.
It would take at least that long to engage the musicians Nicholls recommended and the artist to chalk the floors. Caroline flipped to the back of her book. Thank heavens, the sketch she had made of tall ships and starry skies remained tucked in place. Done by a proper artist, it would be the perfect complement to a candlelit ball room. Not to mention it would help cover those scratches and stains on the floorboards that no one had bothered to notice until she checked under the carpeting. Ah well, Nicholls could not be perfect, could she?
Oh the chandler! Botheration, she nearly forgot. That shop was on the way to the musician’s. She really ought to stop there first. Best insure sufficient six hour candles were available. It was entirely possible she might have to enlist the services of a second chandler in this sleepy little village. Who could predict what kind of stock would be available here? Surely it would be unusual for them to fill very large orders. Balls like this one could not happen more than once a season, if that often.
If only she had time to go to London—
She pinched the bridge of her nose. That conversation had not gone well. Charles had been so agreeable until that point. Why would he balk at a perfectly reasonable suggestion?
Capitulating had been mortifying, but permitting him to cancel the ball would have been far worse. Their reputation might never recover were that to happen.
At least Mr. Darcy had calmed Charles when the wine seller’s bill arrived. What did he expect her to make punch and negus from? What would a ball be without iced punch served to cool the dancers between each set?
Dear Mr. Darcy had agreed with her and convinced Charles to give her her head with everything else. What would this ball be without him to convince Charles of the desperate need to make this the event of the season?
Why it would be little different than that dreadful assembly attended by every shopkeeper and apprentice in the country where one could not always tell them from the gentlemen. To think whom she had agreed to dance with that night! Poor clerks should not be permitted to wear excellent suits and pass themselves off as more genteel than their occupation renders them.
And Charles thought it such a fine joke, even going so far as to suggest she might wish to invite him so that she might dance with him again.
Perish the thought. The Netherfield ball would be everything a proper, private, ball should be. Excellent company, excellent music, excellent victuals. All the height of fashion and refinement.
Well, perhaps not all the guests. The Bennets and the utterly garish Sir William Lucas and family had to be invited after all.
Nonetheless, this would be her opportunity to show Hertfordshire—and Mr. Darcy—what a proper mistress could do for Netherfield Park.
She paused and drew a deep breath. That was a far more agreeable thought to dwell upon. Mr. Darcy, with his fine figure, his excellent manners and extensive grounds. If she could impress him, show him she had all the qualities necessary for the mistress of a grand estate, perhaps then he would pursue her more seriously.
Clearly that was his intent. The conversations they shared, the snide remarks he offered for her enjoyment along, he must considering her. Surely concern for her fitness to manage his home had been the reason he hesitated. As cakey as Charles could be, Mr. Darcy must need concrete assurances that she would reflect well upon him in society.
And he would have it. The Netherfield ball would be every bit as grand as if it were held in London. She would prove herself a credit to her brother…and to any man who would make her mistress of his estate.
Yes, that would make all this inconvenience and bother entirely and completely worthwhile.
She tucked her journal back into her basket and turned into the chandler’s shop. About three hundred candles would do very nicely.