As ‘lady of the house’ for brother, Charles, Caroline Bingley must have been very conflicted. On the one hand she was the center of attention and was given a free hand to run the household. A position she, no doubt, relished when it came to visiting and entertaining the English aristocracy in London. At the same time it was a constant reminder that her place in his household existed only because she had no house of her own (which meant, of course, she had no husband) and her brother had no wife. Hanging over her at all times was the fact that the moment he married she would be reduced to his spinster sister and would surely be pushed aside. But it wasn’t until he rented Netherfield that the possibility of that became very real.
So when Charles decided to host a ball there, she made every attempt to discourage him in what she must have seen as a great folly. It was insupportable to her that he wanted to mingle with the country gentry who she saw as insipid, self-important and crass. Being around these people forced her to remember that her brother’s wealth was a direct result of her father’s trade. A fact she preferred to keep hidden even in her own mind.
There were other considerations as well. Her brother’s infatuation with a local beauty was getting in the way of Caroline’s plan to marry Charles off to Georgiana Darcy, which was the first step in her plan to marry Mr. Darcy.
Still, planning and hosting an elegant and refined ball in this crude country setting would give her the opportunity to show Mr. Darcy that she could be the perfect mistress of Pemberley.
And so Caroline Bingley, with the help of her sister, Louisa began the preparations. First, the invitations.
The hardest, no doubt being this one.
The menu would include dressed lamb, chickens with tongues, buttered prawns, plaice. Fricassee of turnips, asparagus and macaroni. And the promised white soup.
To six quarts of water put in a knuckle of veal, a large fowl, and a pound of lean bacon, and half a pound of rice, with two anchovies, a few pepper corns, two or three onions, a bundle of sweet herbs (thyme, marjoram and tarragon), three or four heads of celery in slices. Stew all together till your soup is as strong as you choose it, then strain it through a hair sieve into a clean earthen pot. Let it stand all night then take off the scum and pour it clear off into a tossing-pan, put in half a pound of Jordan almonds beat fine, boil it a little and run it through a lawn sieve. Then put in a pint of cream and the yolk of an egg. Serve it hot.
The piece de resistance of the meal would be the sweets table. A looking glass surrounded by greens and flowers would create a pond like centerpiece for the table with the addition of marzipan trees (edible of course) for a small woodland area and a few porcelain figurines to populate the tableau. The sweets would run the entire gamut from an elegant trifle; to a rustic apple pie; a rich Malaga laced pound cake; some light ratafia cakes and to top it all off…ice-cream. Beverages would include tea, negus and raspberry cordial.
Music was another major consideration. A ball without dance wasn’t a ball at all, in spite of her declaration that it would be much more rational to have conversation rather than dancing (another failed attempt to attract Mr. Darcy’s attention). In London she would have secured the services of a full orchestra but here in the unsophisticated wilds of England a trio made up of piano, flute and violin would have to do.
Staffing would include extra footmen for serving, extra grooms for tending the horses and torch bearers to light the drive.
Finally her gown would have to surpass all others Mr. Darcy had ever seen if she was to make an impression.
Once the festivities of the ball were over, Caroline was distraught. Although the event was a great success it became clear that Charles was in love with Jane Bennet and in spite of all her best efforts Mr. Darcy had eyes only for Elizabeth Bennet. Never once did he commend her preparations for the ball. Of course, she didn’t understand that his silence was the ultimate compliment Mr. Darcy could have given her. He would expect a really accomplished woman to execute such an affair with style and grace. But she wanted his approval, his attention; she wanted him to pet her.
And while the Bingley sisters and Mr. Darcy, in an attempt to separate him from Jane, were able to convince Charles to return to London immediately after the ball, it was only a temporary fix.
Ah, the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry…poor Caroline Bingley.
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