Valets and maids played an integral part in the dynamics of the household during the Regency era. Often times, a lady’s maid knew more about her than her closest relatives or even her husband. And I’d like to think that despite their hierarchical differences, a gentleman and his valet would have to have a very good understanding of one another and even, in some cases, share a special bond. Unfortunately, we do not get to read much about them in Austen’s novels, but I have always been interested in writing about them in my novels.
In my second novel, To Love and Cherish, Wilkinson personifies my idea of a gentleman’s gentleman. He is Lord Paisley’s valet, but he is also his friend and confidant. He sometimes serves as his master’s conscience and, on certain occasions, he is His Lordship’s trusted advisor. Below is one of my own favourite excerpts from To Love and Cherish, where Wilkinson offers his master a new perspective and some sage advice. I hope you enjoy it!
At around the same time Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were discussing Lord Paisley, Wilkinson was summoned by His Lordship’s butler and requested to tend to His Lordship, who seemed, according to the old butler, not himself. His Lordship had returned to his townhouse an hour ago and was in his study. He had ordered the good butler to bring him “enough alcohol to drown an army.”
Wilkinson left the butler in the hallway and found His Lordship sitting in his study, seemingly unaware of his valet’s entrance. Wilkinson cleared his throat; Lord Paisley’s gray eyes moved in the direction of the sound and focused on his valet’s face.
“Oh, it…is you,” Lord Paisley finally said, gesturing to his valet to enter. “Wil…kinson.”
“What has happened, my lord?” Wilkinson asked, observing his master’s disheveled appearance with alarm.
“I am fantast… tic, Wilk…in…son,” he said, slurring his words.
“You are in your cups, my lord.”
“Would you… like to join me?” Lord Paisley stood from the chair and leaning against his large desk, raised the decanter toward his valet. “This is an excel…ent…drink.”
“You have not been in your cups for years, my lord!”
“Can I… pour… me… you a glass?” Lord Paisley asked, waving the decanter again.
“No, thank you, sir,” Wilkinson said as he walked forward and carefully removed the decanter from his master’s hand. “And if you permit me, sir, I must say, you ought not drink anymore either.”
“No?” His Lordship asked, trying in vain to balance his weight on his feet. “Why… not?”
“Allow me to help you to your room, my lord,” Wilkinson said, reaching for His Lordship’s arm and guiding him toward the door of the study. “You do not want the servants to see you like this, sir.”
“Why…not?” He chuckled. “Do you…not approve of…my…cravat?”
“You are in quite a state, my lord.”
“Quite an observation, Wilkin…son. And quite an under…statement.”
“I take it the evening was not a pleasurable one?” Wilkinson asked, helping his master climb the stairs.
“Was Miss Darcy in attendance?” Wilkinson asked cautiously.
“Miss… Darcy.” Lord Paisley smiled. “Miss… Darcy… smells… like gardenias.”
“Indeed, my lord,” Wilkinson said as he opened the door to His Lordship’s bedchambers. “This way, sir.”
“She… has the most … beautiful blue…” Lord Paisley sat on the bed.
“Was Miss Darcy at the ball, sir?”
“Miss Darcy… has dimples,” His Lordship whispered as he drew his face closer to his valet. “Shh! I… have… kissed… her dimples. And… her lips. She… tastes… like… honey.”
“I see.” Wilkinson rolled his eyes. “I believe a cold bath is in order, my lord.”
His Lordship was not prone to excessive drinking, and he seldom lost control. Nevertheless, having been in his master’s services since his green days, Wilkinson had occasionally seen him in such drunken states before. With the help of a footman, he put His Lordship in a cold bath and gave him strong coffee. Once he was able to speak coherently, Lord Paisley told his trusted valet about the events of the evening.
“I did not believe Mr. Brooks to have enough intelligence to scheme in this way,” Wilkinson said.
Lord Paisley smirked. “Neither did I. But perhaps it is not his scheme at all. Perhaps it is all Wickham’s ideas, and Brooks is simply enjoying himself.”
“What can he gain by this? Does he think you will abandon Miss Darcy if you find out about Wickham?”
“I do not think Brooks knows anything about Wickham’s past dealings with the Darcys,” Lord Paisley said, as he rubbed his temples that were now throbbing with pain. “Had he known anything, he would not have been able to stay quiet. He is too much of a gossipmonger.”
“Then what do you think he is playing at, my lord?”
“I am not certain.” Lord Paisley said. “Wickham is playing the devoted, jealous lover. Perhaps Brooks believes that Georgiana would spurn me in favor of Wickham.”
“Spurn you, my lord?” Mr. Wilkinson huffed with indignation. “What nonsense!”
“May I remind you that I was, in fact, spurned once before?” Lord Paisley smiled knowingly at his valet.
“That lady did not have the capacity to understand nor deserve your attention,” Wilkinson said with conviction. “Miss Darcy is another matter.”
“I take it that you approve of Miss Darcy?”
“Indeed, I do, sir. She is the future Lady Paisley, and as such, she will have my respect and loyalty.”
“I am very glad to hear that,” Lord Paisley said sarcastically. “It would have been very awkward if my valet did not approve of my wife. As it is, my lady does not wish for me or her brother to call the scoundrels out.”
“Then I must say I am doubly impressed.”
“Despite every inclination to find the culprits and rip them to pieces,” Lord Paisley said, his eyes suddenly bright, “I have agreed not to seek revenge through violence. What can you possibly be impressed with?”
“With Miss Darcy’s prudence,” Wilkinson replied. “And with your willingness to listen.”
Lord Paisley stared at his valet for a long time, inwardly battling with his emotions. He finally looked away, once again staring at the fire.
“You have agreed to respect the wishes of the woman you love, sir.”
“Her brother thinks me a coward. I do not blame him. As a gentleman, I cannot help but feel ashamed of myself.”
“You have no cause to repine, my lord,” Wilkinson said. “I believe you should take a look at your image in the mirror and see what I see.”
“And what do you see?”
“I see the man, my lord. No longer the boy. I see the Marquess of Dartfort. No longer the mask.”
Lord Paisley’s hands clenched and unclenched.
“The mask is off,” he finally conceded. “The boy had the mask. But what does the man have?”
“The man has the love of the lady with sapphire eyes, who tastes like honey and smells like Gardenias.”