The following day was a flurry of arrivals, greetings, and issues that arose at the last minute. Elizabeth barely had a moment to herself, but she did not mind. The busier she was, the quieter her mind. However, she was still suffering from fatigue and nausea, and it was difficult to find an escape, even for a few moments, to deal with the difficulties of early pregnancy. After lunch, Elizabeth found that she got a burst of energy and her stomach seemed to settle itself. She was grateful for the cessation of her symptoms and hoped that her luck would hold through the ball the following day.
The Bingleys and the Hursts arrived in the early afternoon. Elizabeth took advantage of her renewed energy and ran to greet them, ignoring Miss Bingley’s and Mrs. Hurst’s shared look over the impropriety of the mistress of the house running.
“Jane!” she said, embracing her sister. “I am so glad to see you.”
Remembering her manners, she turned to the remainder of the party. “You are all very welcome at Pemberley,” she said.
“Mrs. Darcy, we feared that you might hurt yourself, you approached the carriage with such speed!” said Miss Bingley, confirming Elizabeth’s suspicion that she had changed not one bit since the last time they were in one another’s presence.
“Thank you for your concern for my safety, but as you can see, I am quite well,” she said.
“But you do look pale,” said Miss Bingley with mock concern. “Are you able to get enough rest, or does management of Pemberley take up all your time?”
“Management of the estate does take up a portion of my time, but it is labor that I am happy to do. My health is quite well, but thank you for your concern,” Elizabeth said, giving Miss Bingley a tight smile that she hoped would end the conversation.
Miss Bingley seemed to decide that there was ample time to criticize her hostess later, and turned to follow her brother, sister, and brother-in-law into the house.
“How you bear it, I will never know,” said Elizabeth to Jane.
“I think she has realized that she is stuck with me, so she saves her words for other targets,” said Jane.
“Well, she shall not find a target in me.”
“But she will certainly try. Be cautious of her, Lizzy.”
“Miss Bingley’s unpleasantness is something that I can handle. Now, come inside. I have the most wonderful news to share with you.”
“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane said, tears in her eyes. “A child! You and Darcy are truly blessed. What did he say when you told him?”
“I have not told him yet,” Elizabeth said. “I want to wait for the calm after the ball is over.”
“Do you think that is the best idea? It seems he should know of your delicate condition.”
“I have only known for a short time,” said Elizabeth. “He will know within a few days.”
“I know better than to try and talk you out of it,” said Jane with a laugh. “I promise I will not tell a soul.”
“Yes, of course not Mama. Oh dear. With her first grandchild on the way, she will be even more animated than usual.”
“Shall we survive such a thing?” said Elizabeth, smiling. “Perhaps it is best that I will tell her in a letter. It is probably safest to be several counties away when she discovers it.”
“I am so very happy for you, Lizzy.”
“I hope the same happiness for you, Jane. The only thing that could increase my joy would be for you to share in it.”
The sisters embraced once again, delighted to be together. They allowed themselves a few more moments alone, and then headed downstairs to greet more guests.
Dinner was a large affair, with place settings added at the last moment to accommodate the guests who continued to arrive. Elizabeth suspected that some of the guests had taken lodging in Lambton and would be arriving the following day, so it appeared that the ball would be quite well attended.
Elizabeth managed to eat a hearty dinner, and her stomach seemed calmer than it had in days. She was able to relax just a bit and enjoy speaking with her guests. She glanced across the table to where Mrs. Bennet and Miss Bingley were seated next to each other, and had to stifle a smile. Mrs. Bennet seemed delighted with her dinner companion, peppering her with questions in between bragging about her daughters. She was testing the very limit of Miss Bingley’s tolerance. Elizabeth thought that it was good for Miss Bingley to learn to speak with all sorts of people. Seating the two of them next to one another was not the most selfless move on her part, but she considered that she would do it exactly the same way if she had it to do over.
After dinner, she and Darcy circulated amongst their guests while Mary and Georgiana took turns on the piano forte. Elizabeth noticed that Georgiana’s playing was proficient but not fancy, and she understood that her sister-in-law was working to not outshine her sister. She caught Georgiana’s eye and smiled in thanks.
It was pleasant to have time to speak with their guests, with most of the planning behind them. Elizabeth reflected that she was grateful to have servants on whom she could rely to follow her instructions.
After the guests were all settled in to their rooms, Darcy and Elizabeth were finally free to retire to their own suites. Elizabeth, knowing that she needed as much sleep as she could manage, opted to sleep in her own room. Darcy, who was bursting with pride over his wife’s adeptness at hospitality, told her that she should get some rest and gave her a thorough, but gentle, kiss goodnight, bidding her well until the morning.
Elizabeth settled into her bed, warm and satisfied with the results of the day. In her mind, she ran through the list of everything that needed to happen the following day. Her mental checklist told her that everything was as it should be. She relaxed into her pillow and whispered words of love to the babe growing in her belly. Only one more day until she could tell Darcy the good news.
Elizabeth awoke the following morning feeling refreshed and, thankfully, not the slightest bit nauseated. She whispered a prayer of thanks for her luck, dressed quickly, and descended to ensure that all preparations for the ball were being properly handled.
The general atmosphere, among servants and guests alike, was one of anticipation and gaiety. Although last-minute tasks needed to be completed and the kitchen was already working tirelessly, most of the preparations were complete and the excitement of the ball had already begun.
Elizabeth checked that the breakfast had been laid out for their guests, then set about the house ensuring that everything was in line to be ready for that evening. Along the way, she greeted guests, which slowed her progress down quite a bit. She had not seen her family, so she checked in on them. They were still in bed, with the breakfast trays that they had rung for.
“Lizzy, I think I might never leave,” said Lydia. “Perhaps I will marry a man from Derbyshire and live nearby, so I could visit often. Would that not be lovely?”
Elizabeth agreed that it would, if for no other reason than to not cause an argument on such an exciting day. She made a note to ask Georgiana who the more flirtatious of the single gentleman guests were, and to keep them far away from Lydia.
“Just wait until you see the ribbons that Georgiana brought me!” said Kitty excitedly. “They match my dress perfectly.”
“I am certain that you will be a picture of loveliness,” said Elizabeth, smiling.
“I have no need for ribbons,” sniffed Mary. “Foolishness and vanity.”
“Is your piano forte piece ready for tonight?” asked Elizabeth, turning to a subject that interested Mary.
“Yes, I believe that it is. Georgiana would also like me to play a duet with her,” Mary said.
“How lovely!” said Elizabeth, pleased that Georgiana had made such an effort to include Mary.
Once she was certain that her family was comfortable and well taken care of, she continued her rounds. As she passed Darcy’s office, she noticed that the door was open and he was sitting at his desk.
“Good morning,” she said to him from the doorway.
“Ah, here is my beautiful wife,” he said with a smile. He rose from the desk and walked over to close the door. Once they were assured of privacy, he took her face in his hands and kissed her until she was breathless.
“I missed you last night,” he said softly.
“And I you,” she replied, stroking his cheek.
“I suppose that there is not time now to make up for what we missed,” he said with a cheeky smile.
“Alas,” she said, returning the smile, “there are too many small tasks that I must accomplish before tonight. But you may make it up to me after the ball.”
“I will be counting the minutes,” he said, and kissed her deeply once again.
She practically floated out of his office and on to her other tasks.
After a midday nap, it was time for her to prepare herself for the ball. It seemed that Stewart was nearly as excited as Elizabeth. They chatted together as Stewart wrestled her unruly hair into a complicated style.
“There are still guests arriving,” reported Stewart.
“I think that nearly everyone we invited will be here,” said Elizabeth in amazement.
“It has been quite some time since there was a ball at Pemberley,” said Stewart. “Of course, people can come and tour the estate, but that is not quite the same as being invited to a ball here.”
“I can only hope that I managed to do Pemberley justice.”
“I am certain that you have, ma’am. As hard as you have worked, I cannot imagine that any detail missed your attention.”
“You are sweet, Stewart,” Elizabeth said, smiling at her lady’s maid in the mirror.
“There. Your hair is done, and it looks quite elegant, I think,” said Stewart.
“It looks lovely! Stewart, you are a magician. How you manage to tame my hair will always be a mystery to me. I have seen you do it many times, but I could never hope to do it myself.”
Stewart smiled, pleased with herself.
“Now let us finish getting you ready,” she said. She bustled around putting the finishing touches on Elizabeth’s outfit. “There you are,” she said. “You look beautiful.”
Elizabeth stepped in front of the mirror and gasped. The woman in the mirror bore a slight resemblance to herself, but between the hair, the fine jewelry, and the gold silk of her ballgown, she was quite transformed. She turned and marveled at how the silk of her dress rippled like water.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Elizabeth nodded to Stewart to open it. Darcy stood on the other side, dressed very finely.
“I have come to escort you,” he said, and then stopped, with his mouth slightly open. “You are a vision.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, beaming. “You look very handsome as well.”
“It would be my great honor to escort you downstairs, Mrs. Darcy.”
She took his arm and he bent down to kiss her forehead. He was rewarded with another smile. Elizabeth felt nearly giddy that the time of the ball was finally upon them. She followed Darcy’s lead as he escorted her downstairs to meet their guests.