By the day of the ball, all who were expected had arrived, some delayed because of the weather, but still there with enough time to settle. Added to their party were Captain Campbell, and Lord Andrew and Lady Alice, who both looked very sober, but had felt that some of the Fitzwilliam family should attend. Mrs. Annesley had sent her regrets regarding the ball, for she could only spare enough time away from her new family for the wedding itself.
Elizabeth felt the estate in its hum of activity, preparing for its largest event in many years, but knew from the look on Mrs. Reynolds's face that all was proceeding as planned; perhaps Mrs. Wright had been of true assistance. Elizabeth therefore went about her morning and afternoon, and then up to Sarah to be changed, with utmost calm.
She and Georgiana were the first to return downstairs – there was little joy to be had in dressing for this ball – and as Elizabeth passed the table in the entrance-hall, she realised that everyone had been so occupied on this day they had entirely neglected the post, so that several letters sat in the little gilded box. She commented on this to Georgiana, and picked up the letters. The first was a letter of business for Darcy, but Elizabeth was quite shocked to find the second was from Lord Brandon. It had been misdirected – Lord Brandon's hand was quite the opposite of his wife's – and Elizabeth had only just opened it when she became aware of its purpose.
"A fine carriage in the drive, ma'am, quite unexpected," Mr. Parker said, rushing up to her.
"It is far too early for any of the neighbours," Elizabeth said, following him, with Georgiana close behind her.
They could see as soon as they came out of the door that the coach had the Brandon arms, and Elizabeth wished that she had noticed the letter earlier, for she had no notion of who would alight the carriage, although her heart pounded at the thought that surely the Fitzwilliams would not have come all this way to deliver bad news in person. Lord Brandon came out first, and then assisted Lady Ellen down. He looked much as he usually did, but Lady Ellen seemed wan, and weary, although with a certain aspect of happiness to her countenance that must certainly mean –
"Edward!" Georgiana exclaimed, for Colonel Fitzwilliam could be seen behind his mother.
"Indeed! I understand there is to be a wedding, and I have yet to give my consent!" Colonel Fitzwilliam jumped down from the carriage and embraced Georgiana, looking quite healthy.
Except – Elizabeth's breath caught, and Georgiana must have noticed by now, although she could not say anything, nor was she likely to have anything at all to say, so filled with sobs of happiness was she. Colonel Fitzwilliam had suffered the fate they had feared for Captain Stanton – there was no sling on his arm, only his now-useless sleeve, pinned to his coat.
"We found him in one of the houses that been commandeered as a hospital in Brussels. The amputation had already occurred," Lady Ellen murmured to Elizabeth, her voice filled with tears at the word amputation. "He bears it exceedingly well, though, and we are far more fortunate than many families. It was the left arm, at least, and he is quite healthy, otherwise. It is far better than I feared, at times."
Once again, Elizabeth was surprised by an additional presence in a carriage in Pemberley's drive, for when the flurry of Colonel Fitzwilliam's appearance had paused, Lydia descended from the carriage, swooned, recovered, and cried, "My Wickham is dead!"
"My God – Lydia!" Elizabeth exclaimed.
"Lord Brandon, surely you told Mrs. Darcy that her sister travelled with us in your letter," Lady Ellen said.
"I have not even had the chance to read your letter," Elizabeth said. "It was misdirected at first, and I only just noticed it with our post. But we are very relieved to see you all. Please come and we shall sort everything out."
They all followed her into the blue drawing room, where they might close the doors for privacy, for all the guests were to gather in the yellow drawing room to go in to dinner. Elizabeth asked Mr. Parker to send for Darcy, her own parents, and Lord Andrew and Lady Alice; for she was quickly informed that the letter to her and Darcy had covered one for Colonel Fitzwilliam's brother, meant to apprise him of the same news they had all just become acquainted with.
The Fitzwilliams gave their deepest apologies for the letter's delay. Lord Brandon had written it during the passage to Ramsgate, on the Daphne, and they had posted it express from the inn where they had hired a carriage, but it seemed the proprietor had pocketed the extra money for the express, rather than sending it so. They had been certain the letter would outpace them as they returned to London for two nights, before setting out for Derbyshire. All was readily forgiven, and Elizabeth had asked for a better account of how they had come to find Lydia, when Mrs. Bennet entered, followed by the others.
"Oh, Lydia! My child, you are returned to us!" she cried, embracing her daughter.
"Mama, my Wickham is dead! We searched all the hospitals, and could not find him. My poor, dear Wickham!"
With his wife and youngest daughter now openly weeping, Mr. Bennet sedately thanked Lord and Lady Brandon for looking after Mrs. Wickham, and seeing her returned to them. Lord Andrew and Lady Alice came in, and were most exceedingly shocked to find their brother there in the drawing room; Elizabeth was surprised to see Lord Andrew, whom she had always thought quite stoic, shed a few tears at the sight of his brother, and the Fitzwilliams took some time in embraces amongst their family before they would turn their attention to the others present.
All were seated, and the Fitzwilliams did then explain how they had come across Lydia quite by accident, for she was searching all the hospitals as they were, and they had overheard her ask about Mr. Wickham at one place, just after they had made their own inquiries. They had asked if she was Elizabeth Darcy's sister – she was – and they had all then united in their search of the hospitals.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was found, Ensign Wickham was not. After such an exhaustive search, for they had checked every house that had been commandeered, and even the barns closer to the war front, they had been forced to conclude that he would not be found in the Netherlands, and convinced Lydia to make the crossing with them. When he was not in Ramsgate, nor in London, they had begun to suspect he had died on the battlefield like so many others.
"Lizzy, do you have any black crepe about? If not, where may it be purchased?" Mrs. Bennet asked. "My poor, poor Lydia shall have to go into mourning. We all shall."
"My God, she is right," Elizabeth murmured to Darcy. "He was my brother. At least you and I will have to go into mourning. It is too late to do anything about the ball, but the wedding – "
"I absolutely will not have Georgiana's wedding postponed by that man," Darcy said, rather more loudly than he had intended.
"And why not, sir?" Mrs. Bennet cried. "He is your family, and he has died a hero! And you shall not go into mourning for him, as is proper?"
"That man made every attempt he could to slander my name, and very nearly ruined your family," Darcy said.
Of those in the room, only he, Elizabeth, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and of course Georgiana knew of the deeper wound he had inflicted upon the Darcys, although none would speak of it. And of them, it was Colonel Fitzwilliam who finally spoke, attempting a different approach:
"Ma'am, perhaps we should wait until it is absolutely certain. It is possible there were other hospitals we did not know to search, or that he has been taken in by a farmer somewhere. Or made the crossing into some other port, and has not yet been able to get word to Mrs. Wickham. I am sure you would not wish to mourn him and then learn later he is still alive."
Mrs. Bennet seemed mollified by this argument, but Lydia was unmoved, and spoke, with fresh tears, "He is dead, I am sure of it. I know it in my heart. He would have found me if he were still alive! You all may wait to go into mourning if you wish, but I will begin now, for I know my Wickham is gone."
With this settled, the Fitzwilliams and Lydia were encouraged to go upstairs and change for the quick dinner that would be held before the ball. Elizabeth could see Lydia's spirits warring over the thought of missing the ball, for she could hardly attend if in mourning, but to her sister's credit, she held fast, and said she would stay in her apartment after dinner.
As the rest of the group departed, Elizabeth, Darcy, Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam stayed behind. When the others had left, Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "I am glad Mrs. Wickham believes him dead, for in all likelihood he is dead, but it may take the army months to sort through everything and declare him so. I would not wish to give her false hope, but like Darcy, I will not see Georgiana's wedding postponed for that man, even if he is dead."
They left to make their way to the yellow drawing room, and were met on the way by Captain Stanton, who was quickly introduced to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"I heard you were returned, sir, and wished to express my happiness at the event," Captain Stanton said.
Colonel Fitzwilliam thanked him stiffly, and Captain Stanton seemed to notice the tension among the group, for he looked curiously at Georgiana. She took up his arm, and Elizabeth heard her murmur the news of Mr. Wickham's being missing, and likely dead, and of the discussion over when mourning should begin.
"I agree that we should not delay the wedding on that man's account," he said, so particularly that Elizabeth felt certain her sister had told him of her history with Wickham at some point. "How do you take the news, my dear?"
"I do not know how to take it," Georgiana said. "He was not a good man, and he made every attempt to use me ill, and yet I cannot say that I would wish any man dead."
They all walked on in silence, Colonel Fitzwilliam leaving them to go change for dinner. The drawing room already contained all but their most recently arrived guests and Mrs. Bennet, who had gone up with Lydia, and they all looked expectantly at Elizabeth and Darcy as they entered. It was clear the news of the Brandon carriage's arrival had spread throughout the house. Darcy made a brief announcement, explaining the safe return of Colonel Fitzwilliam and the additions to their party, before noting that Ensign Wickham remained missing.
"Poor fellow,"Lady Tonbridge said. "We must all pray for his safe return. Mr. Stanton, perhaps you might lead us in something of the like?"
David Stanton obliged her, and then for a little while, the party relaxed into something resembling the conversation of the last few days. Elizabeth scanned the room to ensure that all were comfortable, and stopped with surprise when she saw Mary. For Mary's hair was styled without all of its usual severity, and for once it flattered her face – she actually looked quite pretty, and Elizabeth was glad to see her finally take some interest in her presentation.
The cause for this sudden interest became readily apparent, for Mary was approached by David Stanton, and soon enough the two of them were deep in conversation. Elizabeth found herself thinking back over the past few days and realised that they had often been seated together. If Mary were ever to be attracted to a man, he was precisely the sort Elizabeth thought she might go for – a quiet, conservative clergyman.
"Perhaps Mary may not wait so long to follow Catherine into marriage as we may have thought," Darcy whispered to her, watching them as well. "Stanton's brother is unmarried, is he not?"
"He is a widower," Elizabeth said. "But I do not think such a thing would be an issue for Mary."
"We will have to watch them both more closely, if he is indeed courting her."
"I am not sure if either of them thinks of it as a courtship yet, but yes, this did rather catch me by surprise."
They were interrupted by the arrival of the Fitzwilliams, followed shortly after by Lydia and Mrs. Bennet, and Elizabeth and Darcy busied themselves with introductions for the guests who were not already acquainted, which in Lydia's case was most of the party. Lydia had, thankfully, not yet managed to acquire any crepe, but she could not receive hopes from anyone of her husband's safe return without some degree of hysterics, both from herself and her mother. Elizabeth noticed Georgiana and Captain Stanton sitting on the edge of the room, looking grave, and was glad when Mrs. Reynolds entered and told her dinner was ready, so that she could call them all to make their entrance.
Dinner was a quick affair, but then, it had always been intended to be so, a comparably simple meal to hold them until supper. They had not attempted to recreate Lord Anglesey's trick of precedence in the dinners at Pemberley, and so as the dinner parties had grown, Georgiana found herself sitting farther and farther from her fiancé, but had not minded it so much until tonight. They had spent much time together in the last few weeks, and in three days, had the promise of so much more. Neither of them was well-situated for conversation on this evening, though, for he had been required to take Lady Catherine in, and it appeared that she had dominated conversation in that portion of the table, while Georgiana had endured the discomfort of sitting next to Lydia Wickham, who would speak of nothing but her poor husband.
It was impossible for Georgiana to turn her mind away from all the news of the day, and she still could not settle on how she felt about it. Certainly she felt the utmost happiness at seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam returned – tempered, of course, by the loss of his arm. But to think of Mr. Wickham as dead, as gone from the world, was very strange indeed. She could not help but feel relief for Lydia – although it did not seem that Mrs. Wickham felt that same relief – to no longer face a lifetime married to such a man.
The gentlemen were not long over their port – in less than half-an-hour, Elizabeth, Darcy, Georgiana and Captain Stanton would need to take up their places in the receiving line as the other guests began to arrive. Yet Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Stanton were not among them as they returned to the drawing room, and Fitzwilliam stopped beside Georgiana to tell her, "Edward and your fiancé have gone to my study. They wished to have a private conversation, but they will return in time for the receiving line."
"Was Edward serious about giving his consent to my marriage?"
"I believe your fiancé was more serious about requesting consent than the other way around," Fitzwilliam said. "Although I do think Edward wished to speak with him; they have hardly had a chance to be acquainted. You need not fear for your wedding date, though – none of us will brook any sort of delay, whether caused by Wickham or otherwise."
"Brother, what do you feel, about his death?"
"I know the proper thing to say would be sadness, but what I feel is relief, primarily, both for Lydia, and for you."
"He no longer had an affect on me, even before I learned of his death," Georgiana said. "I hope you did not worry of his sharing the story with my fiancé. I told Captain Stanton everything, the day he proposed. I could bear to have such a secret between us."
Fitzwilliam inhaled sharply, but said nothing, and Georgiana knew he must be thinking of what a risk she had taken.
"We played together as children, he and Colonel Fitzwilliam and I," her brother said. "I never could stop wondering where he went wrong. He had an excellent father, and far better expectations than most men of his station, and yet he threw them all away."
"He was not so different from Stephen Mallory," Georgiana said. "The only difference was Stephen Mallory had more fortune to dissipate."
"How do I prevent my own child from taking such a path?"
"You will raise him or her the same way you raised me, but you must remember it is not all under your control," Georgiana said, thinking of Mr. Wickham, raised by their own father after his father's death, and Captain Stanton, who had left home to be raised by others when he was so very young. By all rights, Captain Stanton should have been the one to turn out wild.
"Georgiana! Fitzwilliam! What are you speaking of?" Lady Catherine asked them, from across the room. "If it is the wedding, I wish to have my share in the conversation. We still have not covered all of the details, and I do not expect Mrs. Darcy – "
"Mrs. Darcy will have everything arranged to perfection, as she has this ball," Fitzwilliam said loudly, scowling at Lady Catherine, and leaving Georgiana with a reluctant look.
Everything was arranged to perfection, Georgiana thought as she looked down the drive with its torches blazing. This was the Pemberley of old, a Pemberley that had hardly existed during her lifetime, and she only faintly remembered, but something felt very right about it, as though the estate had been reawakened to its purpose. Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam looked every bit their part at the front of the line; Elizabeth seemed far more at ease there, although Georgiana might merely have been more attuned to her brother's discomfort, knowing that she felt much the same way he looked, knowing the crowds they would be required to greet.
Even so, with the assurance of Edward's safety, Georgiana found herself looking forward to the ball far more than she had earlier in the day. Indeed, the only thing missing was Captain Stanton, who took up his place beside her in the receiving line just as the first carriage pulled up. There followed a most intense half-hour, as the guests filed past all of them and must be continually introduced to Captain Stanton, and then give their best wishes for the wedding. There were gentlemen who wished to speak about the Polonais, and ladies who remembered Georgiana as a little girl, going about the estate with her mother, and could not believe she was all grown up and about to marry, and they all wished to speak of these topics at length.
Georgiana was already quite tired when they finally entered Pemberley's vast ballroom, but felt her spirits lift at the prospect of dancing, and even more at the prospect of her first partner. For she and Captain Stanton were to lead off the dance; he was unsure how long it would be before the lingering soreness in his leg and arm became bothersome, but he felt confident in being able to make it through the first set, at least.
"Now you must tell me if the pain is too much and we must step out," Georgiana told him as they made their way to the front of the ballroom, and bowed.
"We are leading the dance, my dearest. If we step out, they will all follow, and that will be the end of the set."
Georgiana giggled at the thought of it. "You are sure, then, that this will not be too much?"
"I shall be fine," he said. "But let us not choose a reel, if you please."
They bowed to the room, and began. Georgiana watched him carefully, but saw no sign of stiffness, and eventually relaxed, allowing herself to enjoy the dance.
"So did Colonel Fitzwilliam give his consent?" she asked, when they had settled into the figures.
"He did, almost immediately."
"You were gone for awhile, though," Georgiana said, before they separated.
When they had circled and come back together, he said, "Waterloo was a most horrific battle, Georgiana, and in addition to his more visible loss, Colonel Fitzwilliam also lost many of his comrades-in-arms."
"But he seems just as he ever was."
"He does not wish to worry his family."
"But he would speak of it to you? He is barely acquainted with you."
"We have both known battle. Life in the army and the navy may be quite different, on the face of it, but there is not so much difference in the fighting, and the loss."
"Will you promise me something, then?"
"What do you wish me to promise?"
"That you will never hold back for fear of worrying me."
"I will promise you that," he said, clasping her hand tightly before they separated again.
As the dance continued, Georgiana gained a better idea of who the other couples were. There were, of course, the married couples, although with Elizabeth choosing not to dance this evening, Fitzwilliam had obliged Lady Catherine. Lord Anglesey and Lady Tonbridge had danced together, Kitty Bennet and Captain Campbell, and Mrs. Bennet and Charles Bingley. Mr. Bennet had no interest in dancing, and Jane and Anne had retired with Lydia following dinner; Jane would begin her confinement immediately after the wedding, unless her health required her to do so before. Georgiana saw Mary Bennet last, dancing well down the floor with David Stanton, and looking quite a lot happier to be at a ball than Georgiana had ever seen her.
It seemed Captain Stanton had made the same observation, for he said, "Miss Bennet and my brother have been spending quite a lot of time together, and now they dance the first set."
"I think it could be a good match. Do you?"
"I do, now that I see them together. He has not written me of any ladies since he came out of mourning. Perhaps he is finally ready, and Miss Bennet is the only lady of my acquaintance who might engage him in the sort of conversation about theology he enjoys."
Georgiana had promised the second set to her brother, and he came over to claim her hand soon enough. They danced quietly; she did not wish to broach their conversation of earlier, for it seemed far too heavy a topic for a ballroom, and then he was handing her over to Lord Brandon.
Elizabeth approached Lady Ellen as Lord Brandon was leading Georgiana to the floor, and Darcy had gone over to where Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Stanton were standing.
"Aunt Ellen, these last few weeks must have been exhausting for you," Elizabeth said. "It will likely be a late night – please do not feel as though you need to stay through the whole of it."
"Oh, I believe I shall stay through the whole of it," Lady Ellen said. "There is nothing I needed quite so much right now as a fine English ball, after seeing the results of so much savagery."
"I cannot even fathom the things you must have seen."
"I was surprised at how quickly I became desensitized to it all. It is not as though I have not known death, but this was at a scale you cannot comprehend without seeing it," Lady Ellen said. "Constant streams of carts filled with the injured, and many of them so far gone I do not see how they could have survived. And as we got closer to the front, the smell, oh – "
Here Lady Ellen reached into her reticule and pulled out her smelling salts, taking a strong whiff of them, which disturbed Elizabeth quite thoroughly, for Lady Ellen was not the sort of woman to usually have need of salts.
"At least you found him," Elizabeth said. "I cannot tell you how worried we were, and how happy we are at his return."
"Yes, I cannot bear thought of what it would have been, to return without him," Lady Ellen said. "I feel so badly for your poor sister, that she had to do so."
"I cannot thank you enough, for your care for her. I know she can be – difficult, sometimes."
"She was not difficult at all," Lady Ellen said. "She had no more or less fortitude than I, in such a terrible situation, and she had a far more difficult outcome to deal with."
Georgiana danced every set before supper, for no gentleman of close acquaintance would see her sit out a dance. It was such a contrast to the Prince Regent's ball, to dance with Lord Andrew, Lord Anglesey, Captain Campbell, David Stanton, and Mr. Clark, all men she knew and trusted, and to be within Pemberley's vast but comfortable ballroom.
She would have been fully happy on the evening, but for two things. The first was that Captain Stanton sat out most of the dances, although he had danced a set with Kitty when he noticed she was without a partner. The second was that Edward did not dance at all, and spent much of his time sitting in the far corner of the ballroom, often talking with Captain Stanton, or Fitzwilliam. There were sights that cheered her, however. Georgiana had never seen Mary Bennet dance more than three sets at a ball, and yet she had continued dancing right through the supper set, which she danced with David Stanton. And there was Lady Ellen, who danced several sets and looked impossibly elegant, considering how exhausted she must have been.
They were now well past the supper set, and Georgiana stood beside Elizabeth and her brother during a break in the dancing. Georgiana admired Elizabeth, who had not danced, but had been a most active hostess, considering her condition. Now, however, she looked quite tired, and indeed the hour was growing late.
"I believe we will make this the last set," Elizabeth said.
"I had been hoping the last three sets would be the last set," Fitzwilliam said.
"This is Pemberley's first ball in a great many years, Darcy. You know we cannot leave them thinking it was underdone."
"Very true. No one could complain of such a thing now."
"Will you help me go around and let everyone know this is the last dance, and it is to be a waltz?"
"A waltz? Elizabeth, you forget we are not in town."
"The waltz must make its way to the country someday, Darcy. It may as well be now," Elizabeth said, turning to Georgiana and giving her a little wink.
It was for her! Georgiana tried to keep from smiling openly. Of course Elizabeth had remembered that embarrassing night; of course she had remembered that Georgiana and Captain Stanton had never danced this dance.
"You will scandalise the county," Darcy said, although his countenance showed he was not entirely serious.
"Most of these families spend time in town. They will hardly consider it a scandal. Now, will you help me make it known?" Elizabeth said, then, turning to Georgiana. "You had better go find your partner."
Georgiana looked about the room to find Captain Stanton, and saw he was still in the corner, speaking with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She approached them shyly, not wishing to interrupt, but they both noticed her right away.
"Miss Darcy, there you are," Captain Stanton said. "How have your dances been?"
"Very pleasant," Georgiana said, suddenly unsure of what to say, for she very much wanted to dance, but did not wish him to feel he had to, if he was not well enough for it.
"Is it time for the waltz, then?" Captain Stanton asked.
"It is. How did you – "
"Your sister filled me in on her plans earlier. I have been sitting out more dances than I might have otherwise, to ensure I would be ready for this one."
"She had this planned all along, then."
"I cannot say how long she had it planned," Captain Stanton said. "But I know she apprised me of it after the first set."
He offered her his arm, and they were about to make their way to the floor, when Kitty Bennet came up to them, looking quite resolute.
"Why yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I will dance the waltz with you."
"I did not – I cannot – " Colonel Fitzwilliam sputtered, quite taken aback.
"Come, a young, healthy man like yourself cannot spend an entire ball without dancing," Kitty said, holding out her hand. "And you know I am an engaged woman, so you need not fear me."
"Miss Bennet, I will assume you have noticed that I only have one arm, now."
"You still have two legs. We will manage," Kitty said firmly, still holding out her hand. Finally, Colonel Fitzwilliam extended his, and they followed Georgiana and Captain Stanton to the floor.
"She may have done him more good there than an entire evening's worth of talking," Captain Stanton murmured to Georgiana, when they had distanced themselves a bit from the other couples.
"Do not discount your own help," Georgiana said. "But yes, although I dearly wish Captain Ramsey could have been here, I think perhaps he was not meant to be, because Kitty was meant to – well, be Kitty."
They both laughed, but Georgiana began to feel that the attention of much of the ballroom was focused on her, and glanced around to see that it was so.
"They look to us to lead," she whispered, feeling her face grow warm at the attention.
"Well, then, lead we must," he said, putting his right hand on her back, and holding out his left in the waltz position. Georgiana stepped closer, and took up his hand, placing her other hand on his shoulder, in the location that had so pained her at the viscountess's ball. There was no pain this time, only a little thrill deep inside her at the closeness, and at the thought that in three days they would be man and wife, and even closer than this.
The music began, and Georgiana was quite pleasantly surprised to find he was very good at this dance; it required excellent timing and rhythm, something they each had earned through years of musical experience, and something which was not lost among those who were not dancing, for the couple were much commented on.
They wound their way down the ballroom, and Georgiana gazed at her fiancé with all the joyfulness she felt, all the chaos and news from earlier in the day quite forgotten, and she found his countenance mirrored every bit of happiness and tenderness that she felt. They did not speak, but they danced just as two people who were very much in love should dance.
Elizabeth stood at the edge of the empty ballroom, the candelabra in her hand barely lighting what had been so brilliant an hour ago. It was two in the morning, and yet she could not bring herself to retire.
She fingered the pendant of her newest necklace, and thought back to the waltz, and how although a part of her had longed to dance, she had also enjoyed standing beside her husband, watching a progression of couples that quite delighted her. There were, of course, Georgiana and Captain Stanton, her primary purpose for including the dance. But there had also been Kitty and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had been required to change positions to accommodate for Colonel Fitzwilliam's arm, and so appeared to the opposite of all the other couples in the ballroom, but otherwise managed quite nicely. There were Lord and Lady Brandon, who had waltzed as those who were veterans of many a season, although Lady Ellen could not help but look over at her younger son occasionally with a look of deep contentment on her face. And there were Mary Bennet and David Stanton, who would not waltz, but stood at the edge of the ballroom, deep in conversation.
"There you are," said the giver of the necklace, stepping up close behind her and wrapping his arms around her so that he could rest his hands on the slight little bump on her stomach. "Surveying the scene of your latest triumph?"
"I would hardly call it a triumph."
"I shall. It will be the talk of Derbyshire for some time."
"Well certainly, given we scandalised the county." Elizabeth teased, in saying this – in truth, although they did not make up her fondest memories of the ball, she had felt a certain happiness on the evening in seeing all of the local families enjoying themselves so, particularly those who had gathered around her aunt Gardiner in order to reminisce. And rather more of them than she had expected had taken up their place in the waltz – it had helped that many of the older couples had already been lured off to the yellow drawing room, for the tea and final little kickshaws served there.
"I will own that they do not seem to have been very scandalised," he said. "And even if they were, it would have been worth it, if just for Georgiana's countenance."
"It is so wonderful to see her so happy – and they are not even married yet."
"Indeed, and I know the event will be complete for her, now, with both Edward and I there to give her away," he said. "And what of you – are you happy?"
Elizabeth had an easy answer to this question, and it was not only caused by seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam returned to them. She had spent so much time at the beginning of her marriage sacrificing herself for her sisters, and she still felt it was worthwhile – even Mary had her chance, now – but now it was time to turn to her own happiness, and her own family, and she looked forward to the events that were to come with a great deal of joyful anticipation.
"I am," she said, covering his hands with her free hand. "I am so very happy to be Mrs. Darcy."
"I am more happy you are my Elizabeth," he said, leaning to kiss her shoulder. "Now come to bed, my darling Elizabeth."
+ End +
Some final notes about this chapter: I know some readers might be upset by Colonel Fitzwilliam's losing an arm. I didn't think it realistic, though, for all of the military characters to make it through the Hundred Days with no lasting injuries, particularly Waterloo. It also creates a lot of dramatic possibilities for his character in the upcoming sequels (as well as the opportunity in this one for Kitty's intervention), which I intend to pursue.
Further research into the waltz during the Regency (what an odd phrase I never expected I would write), has shown me that I have not been portraying it quite right – it underwent a fair amount of evolution after the Regency. What is shown in this story is something closer to the Victorian waltz, but I did not want to attempt to correct in the last chapter for fear it would cause confusion.
And yes, that is the end of "A Constant Love." For those of you who have stuck with it for all this time, thank you so much for reading! For those of you who have taken that extra step to give me feedback, or say you were enjoying it, I cannot thank you enough for making this process of posting the story as fun as it was to write it, and for your role in making it better. After all the effort that went into it, it is a true joy to know that it gave readers at least some manner of diversion.
This is not it, though. As I have mentioned already, I have loose plans for three sequels, and have already started writing the first. What do we have in store for the upcoming stories?
(Warning: mild spoilers ahead)
Among other things: a budding romance (the one you'd expect), babies (the ones you'd expect), a succession crisis (probably not the one you'd expect), and sister trouble (definitely not the one you'd expect). Also, Wickham's fate, and two P&P retellings within one story (the upcoming sequel).
So hopefully I'll see you all again, after a rather substantial period of writing!