It’s the evening of the Netherfield Ball and Darcy’s valet is in a swivet over his master’s odd behaviour…
November 26, 1811
“Mr. Jennings, is there something amiss with your dinner?”
Jennings came to an awareness of his setting with an almost audible thump.
“Ah…not at all Mrs. Nicholls, quite to the contrary, the dinner is delicious. I was merely contemplating which waistcoats I should lay out for my master. With all the work you have done for the ball, I would want the master to be an ornament to honour your efforts, but I am not sure of my choice…I don’t know why I should worry, for the master will make his own choices, and very elegant they will be, but, as you know, I may be able to influence him by my selection of several from which he can choose.” He forced himself to give her a smile, which he knew must look forced (perhaps even simpering!) and was relieved when she smiled graciously upon his compliments.
What he had, in truth, been contemplating was the very odd behaviour of his master. He had never known Mr. Darcy to fuss over his toilette…to the contrary (as he had commented to Mrs. Nicholls). Darcy’s clothes were all of the first style of elegance, tailored by Weston to fit his form like a second skin. The master insisted on quality, made sure his cravat was perfectly tied…then he forgot about his clothes. He did not check his appearance in every mirror he passed like the Bond Street Beaux, nor did he try to skimp by with flashy but inferior goods. But never—not in his entire eight years of service—had Jennings ever seen Mr. Darcy in such a state as he now was.
Naturally, he had not said anything to the master, since he did not seem to want to discuss it, but he had been as resty the past two days as a three-legged dog in a butcher shop. Pacing, unable to sit down for more than a few moments, and trying very hard to avoid the Bingleys…not that he could blame him for that since Miss Bingley had been excoriating the staff mercilessly all week to make sure the ball was up to her standards. He was sure Hertfordshire had never seen such an entertainment before, but she had been a sore trial to her servants and, undoubtedly, to her family and friends.
Still, he did not think that Miss Bingley’s ill-humour was to blame for his master’s mood. He seemed to be thinking about something which absorbed all his attention and made it impossible for him to concentrate long enough to even choose a waistcoat in the morning, veering from intense particularity over his choice to sudden insensibility within seconds.
Now that he thought about it, the master had been a bit out of sorts since that Miss Bennet went home after her unfortunate illness. Wait a minute…surely his master could not be falling for Miss Bennet himself? He would never perform such a turn on his friend…would not even look at Miss Bennet after Mr. Bingley had chosen her as his favourite in Hertfordshire. No…no, it was not possible…but it would certainly explain Mr. Darcy’s mood if he had developed a tendre for Miss Bennet.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet he set aside. She, while a lively and attractive young lady, was in no way up to the master’s standards for female pulchritude. Why, Mr. Darcy could have any young lady he wanted and the peak of the ton’s debutantes would fling themselves at his feet at the first sign of of interest! Of course, he did not seem to be interested in those young women…He frowned over his pudding as he thought.
The servants, every one, felt that both Misses Bennet were Quality, in spite of their appalling mother and sisters, all of whom had invaded Netherfield while Miss Bennet was ill, giving the servants a great deal to talk about belowstairs. The local servants had much to say about the Bennet family, but the plain truth was that they were bad ton, barely scraping by as gentry and in the unfortunate position of being too poor to overcome their low connections when it came to the Marriage Mart.
Still and yet, the two eldest Bennets were the beauties of the county and the heart did not always listen to the head. He was stricken with a sudden chill as he thought of the possibility of Mr. Darcy developing a tendre for a country miss. How could he hold up his head in the servants’ hall if his master was taken in by a pretty face attached to vastly inferior birth. It was not to be thought of.
He must try to observe the guests during the ball. Once this accursed meal was over he would find a discreet position from where he could spy on…well perhaps he would stick with the word “observe”…his master and see if he could determine his thoughts.