Class and social standing is very much a part of both historical works and my Regency romances. Showing the influence of my reading novels written during that timeframe, though, you’ll find servants who are almost members of the family. They have close relationships with the leading characters and are trusted confidants. This was true historically often enough despite the lines drawn by station.
The servants were children of previous staff members in many cases, binding families together across social lines by generations of tradition. These relationships appear both in historical and fictional accounts, often with characters growing up alongside each other and developing an unshakable trust. Well-known instances include the connection between a knight and his squire or an officer and his batman.
Willem is such a servant. Though his parentage never comes up, he’s been with the Scarborough family since childhood. He’s a hard worker, intelligent, and well liked. He does well in the Scarborough household, his position a result of his character.
As far as the novel is concerned, he is an integral part of the narrative. The lives of the Scarborough girls would have been much different without him to assist them.
His relationship with not just Daphne, but also her older sister Grace, comes from being their protector on the country estate. Less than five years older than Daphne, Willem had free run of the estate with the understanding that when the lord’s children were not in lessons, he would keep watch and steer them from harm. Thanks to Daphne’s nature, the last proved quite a chore.
This history is referenced in Beneath the Mask and shows in how both sisters trust him with their secrets. He proves worthy of that trust even at personal risk.
The conflict of station comes into play at several points as well, something you can discover yourself on the page. Sharp words speak what cuts the most while the bond between trusted friends can outgrow the strictures of station, bringing heartache in its wake.
Someday, Willem, though neither lord nor courting a lady, may get the tale he deserves as a companion novel. The pieces are there, for those curious enough to find them, but they stretch across the background of several novels.
Enjoy a glimpse of Willem’s relationship with Daphne that hints at the layers in conflict there.
Daphne collapsed into a sweating, clumsy lump, her legs shaking and her head aching.Willem stopped mid-note and came up beside her. “Maybe you should stop for the morning, my lady. You’re working yourself to death over this.”She raised her head to blink at him, her eyes squinting in pain as they found one of the lanterns. Daphne braced her head on one arm, too tired to rise. “You don’t understand. Monsieur Henre still doesn’t trust me. He checks every night that I’ve arrived on time and I can feel his stare as I perform. If I don’t do something different, something spectacular, he’ll decide I’m not worth the trouble. I’m sure of it.”Willem put his hands under her arms, a touch she should have resisted, but he’d helped her up often enough now that she barely noticed as he maneuvered her over to a chair to sit down. “Why would he give you up? I’ve heard tell you’re something special on that stage. It’s been all I could do to keep your secret and not blurt out that I know you.”That brought Daphne’s head up as she stared at the man in horror. “You wouldn’t.” she said, her voice a harsh whisper.He laughed, a casual, calm sound. “Of course not, Lady Daphne. I wouldn’t betray you for anything. Certainly not to bring more attention on my shoulders. I’ve got enough vying for my time.”Willem looked at her intently for a long while, but Daphne couldn’t tell what he sought from her. She shrugged, accepting his assurance. “I’m sorry. It’s just that this seems so much more difficult now than it was. Two days ago, I had to deny my sister a moment of my company for fear I’d be gone too long. I hardly see her at all anymore and keeping secrets from her burns me.”“So tell her,” Willem said, this time not looking at her. “It would do you good to share the secret with one of your own.”Daphne laughed, but her noise held little humor. “Grace isn’t the girl she used to be, Willem. If I were lucky, she’d urge me to speak with Father, to confess. If not, she’d march me before the two of them and force a confession. Heaven forbid the slightest hint of scandal mar her chances with that baron.”For a heartbeat, she remembered the day at Penelope’s house and how she felt a surge of interest as they described her sister’s future husband. If she could find someone like that, would she give up dancing? Could she find happiness in tending hearth and home?She shook off such unlikely and dangerous thoughts, vigorously rubbing her knee to loosen a knot.“Let me.” Willem put his warm hands over hers.Daphne pulled back a bit, but then relaxed into his soothing touch. “It’s not proper,” she whispered.He smiled up at her. “None of this is, my lady. And you can be sure I’d never do anything to hurt you. Never.”
For the rest of the story: