Nov 14, 1811
The garish Bennet women finally trundled out of Netherfield’s parlor. Not a moment too soon. Caroline pressed her eyes with thumb and forefinger. They had already overstayed their allotted quarter hour by that much again.
How much trouble had that wrought? What disaster might ensue if they stayed any longer? Pray they not choose to call again.
Had it not been enough to play hostess to two of the Bennet women, the two least offensive to be sure, but still—this latest affront was too much to be borne.
“Charles, a word if you please.” Caroline beckoned him to follow, nodded to Mr. Darcy and strode from the parlor.
She led him to the morning room and shut the door firmly behind them. One, two three, four. She must control her temper. A proper lady did not give voice to the vitriol that bubbled within. That did not mean she would not struggle in the effort. Perhaps if she kept her back to him, hands firmly knotted together that would help.
“Caroline? Caro, are you well? Is there something wrong?” Heavy, booted footfalls approached.
She drew a deep breath and turned very slowly to face him. An open palm stopped his advance. “Is there something wrong? Is that all you can say?”
Charles pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘What is not to your liking now?”
“You do not know? Oh, Charles.” She stalked away. Was he truly that uninformed or did he just take some perverse pleasure in vexing her just because he could?
He pulled a chair from under the table and sat down, bracing elbows on knees. “Pray, just tell me, what have I done?”
He was right, her voice had become more of a shriek. She must master that. It would not do to have the rest of the household hear her use such an unladylike tone.
“Did you not tell me you wished to host a ball once we settled in?” He picked at the tablecloth, refusing to meet her gaze.
“Yes I did.”
“Then pray tell me what is the problem?”
“Problems, brother, problems.” She paced along the windows. If he did not know, how was she to begin?
“Just tell me, do not keep me here like a child to be scolded or I shall leave directly.”
She whirled and took two steps toward him. “Why did you allow that little Bennet chit to choose the date of the ball?”
“Is that all?” He shook his head and rolled his eyes.
“How can you say such a thing?”
“It is only a date. Is not one as good as the next?”
“I am mistress of your house, Charles, you should have given me the task.” She folded her arms across her chest and pulled herself up to her full height.
“Why does it matter? Are you truly so small minded you would begrudge—”
“Did you take note of the date she selected?”
“What date is it now?”
“Do you not see the problem?”
He pressed his temples. “Just tell me. I have no desire to play guessing games with you.”
“How long have I to plan and execute this ball?”
“I still do not see the fuss. You have an entire fortnight to accomplish what you need to do.”
She pulled out a chair and placed it facing his. Five, six, seven, eight. She sat down across from him, knees nearly touching his. Nine, ten.
“When should we send invitations out?” She forced her lips to curve up. It helped moderate her tone.
“I do not know.” He twitched his hands between them. “When ample white soup has been made?”
She covered half her face with her hand, pressing her fingertips into her forehead. “Let me start at another point. What exactly do you think needs to be done to carry off this event we are committed to?”
“Hire a few musicians, invite the neighbors…”
At least he had the good sense to stop talking before he made a complete fool of himself.
“Consider, just for a moment the invitations. To begin with, a proper ball invitation is sent a month, and better six weeks in advance, after having been professionally printed by a copper plate. How long do you think it takes to get invitations printed for an event?”
His eyes widened and jaw dropped. “I…I…I…”
“The best I can hope for now is that the printer will have some sort of general invitations available that require the specific details to be handwritten in. And if those are available, do you have any idea how long it will take to see them all written?”
“I…I can assist…”
“With your handwriting? You must be joking. Bad enough they should not be printed. If you wrote them, who knows what day our guests would arrive!”
“I am sorry…”
“If I leave to consult with the printer this very moment, I would count myself very fortunate to have the task finished by tomorrow evening. So, at very best, the invitations cannot go out less than ten days before the event. Ten days! Can you imagine what the neighbors will say?”
“I had no idea.”
“Clearly. Have you any idea of what else must be done—no—do not bother to answer. I already know you do not.”
He sprang to his feet and took her place pacing in the sunbeam. “What is to be done? Shall I call upon the Bennets and explain?”
“Certainly not. The very notion. I have no doubt Miss Lydia will have told the entire population of Hertfordshire by now. To revoke the invitation or even change the date would be a stain upon our reputation.”
“Surely you exaggerate.”
“Indeed I do not. This ball will be the singular social event of the year. Our standing in this dreary patch of country will be made or broken by the ball. I will not have you ruin it before we have even begun.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
“Open your wallet, close your mouth, ask no questions, and stay out of my way. I have a ball to arrange.”
Charles stared at her and gulped.
“And thank me when it is all over and I have made you and the Netherfield Ball the talk of the county.”
He jumped back as she swept out of the room.