Caught as she was between last-minute preparations for the ball and thinking about how their life would change with the arrival of a child, Elizabeth could scarcely believe how quickly the date of the ball arrived. In contrast to how long it had seemed before the Bingleys’ first visit, when hours had stretched into days, time seemed to spin the other way. Elizabeth was glad that time had passed so quickly; after the ball, she would no longer be compelled to keep her condition a secret from Darcy.
Her mother and sisters were the first guests to arrive. Elizabeth met them at their carriage, almost trembling with excitement. Lydia was the first one out of the carriage, with Kitty following at her heels as always.
“Lord, what an estate!” said Lydia, turning slowly in a circle. “You did well for yourself, Lizzy, did you not?”
Elizabeth hugged Kitty, and then turned to her mother who descended the carriage with an enormous smile on her face.
“I say, this is quite grand!” she said. “And you, the mistress of all this, Lizzy!”
“It certainly occupies my time,” Elizabeth said with a smile.
“I do not know why there had to be a ball,” said Mary as she stepped down. “It seems too extravagant. Could we not have visited without so very much disturbance, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth hugged her but had no intention of responding to complaints from any members of her family. “Come inside!” she said.
Elizabeth led them into the house. Mrs. Bennet made sure to inform Mr. Combes, who held the door, that she was Mrs. Darcy’s mother. In his unflappable tone, he welcomed her to Pemberley, and she giggled like a young girl.
Darcy descended the grand staircase as the Bennets entered the entrance hall. “Welcome to Pemberley,” he said, his voice rich with pride.
“Oh, my dear Darcy, do come here!” said Mrs. Bennet, and pulled him into an obviously undesired embrace. “How wonderful of you to throw us this ball!”
Darcy extricated himself with as much grace as possible. “I would like to show everyone how very lucky I am to have Elizabeth as my wife,” he said, smiling towards her.
Elizabeth smiled back, pleased to see that he was willing to be sentimental about their relationship in front of others, even if it was her family. It was certainly a start.
Lydia and Kitty were wandering about the hall, arm in arm.
“Kitty,” Lydia said in a loud whisper, “I may have to change my plan of marrying an officer. I think I might like to be the lady of an estate instead.”
Kitty giggled and said that it would be quite agreeable to live in such a house.
“Better than some old butcher, certainly, Lizzy!” said Lydia brightly.
Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead directed her family to their rooms. She saw that they were settled and slipped out before she could be engaged in another conversation; certainly she had missed them, at least in theory, but she realized that they had changed not one bit from when she left. Elizabeth suspected that she would need to deal with them in small doses.
Georgiana met her in the hall. “Has your family arrived? I am anxious to make their acquaintance,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, they have arrived. I have… told you about my family, have I not?” Elizabeth said, trying to keep her voice light and not succeeding especially well.
Georgiana lowered her voice. “Lydia is a flirt, Kitty follows whatever Lydia does, and Mary is much too serious for her own good. Did I get that right?”
“Perhaps you are ready to meet them,” said Elizabeth, smiling.
“They are your sisters, which means they are practically my sisters as well,” said Georgiana. “So whatever their faults, I will strive to love them, because I love you.”
Overcome with emotion, Elizabeth pulled Georgiana into an embrace. She was so grateful for Georgiana’s company and counsel. She was much less afraid of what might go wrong with her sister-in-law by her side.
“Well, there is one good thing,” she said, squeezing Georgiana’s hands. “Lydia will never be able to fit into your dresses, so at least your closet is safe. I hope.”
“I will bring them hats and ribbons,” Georgiana replied. “Perhaps that will keep them busy. And Mary can use my piano forte.”
“You are so kind, and I am lucky to have you,” said Elizabeth. “Let us go and meet them, for I think that I have prepared you as well as I can.”
The two linked arms and made their way to the Bennets’ rooms.
Dinner was an eventful meal. Mrs. Bennet spent the whole of it remarking loudly on how fine the silver and the crystal was, while Mary made a point of staring at their mother disapprovingly every time she spoke. Lydia felt the need to express her feelings about each course that was served, and Kitty spent the entire meal listening to every word Georgiana said. Elizabeth thought that Lydia might have some competition for Kitty’s attention.
Darcy remained quiet but good-humored. She was grateful for the fact that he was tolerating her family so easily. She had been worried about his ability to do so, but he managed quite well.
“When are the other guests to arrive?” Mrs. Bennet asked.
“They will arrive tomorrow,” Elizabeth said. She and Darcy had thought it best to have her family arrive prior to the rest of the guests; Elizabeth hoped that it would give her family the opportunity to settle in a bit. It would not do to have her mother speculating on the cost of the table settings in front of the other guests, although she realized that there was probably nothing she could do to prevent her mother from behaving exactly like she always did.
“I am so looking forward to the ball,” said Lydia with a wide smile. “Have you invited many unmarried men? I brought my best dress, and I just must show it off!”
“We have invited enough people that you are all assured of having a good time,” said Darcy, cutting Elizabeth off before she could respond crossly. “Mary, we were hoping that you would be willing to entertain our guests by playing the piano forte in the salon.”
Mary held her back straighter and tried to maintain her expression. “I suppose I could do so,” she said. “I did bring the piece that I have been working on.”
“Then it is settled,” said Darcy, and Mary gave him a stately nod.
Elizabeth caught his eye and smiled at him in thanks for the efforts he made towards her family. He looked back and her and briefly tapped his chest. His meaning was clear to his wife: because I love you.
Her hand moved to her stomach, and she considered telling him her secret that very evening. However, she knew that it would be best to wait until after the ball, when their attention was not drawn in all different directions. Her love for her husband and the family that they were creating settled in her heart, where she could hold it close until the moment was right to share it.