"Lizzy, where shall these go? They are not on the list."
Jane entered the formal dining room, trailing behind her were four footmen all carrying varying arrangements of summer blooms.
"They should go on the long table under the chestnut tree please."
The footmen bowed and proceeded to follow their mistress' directions. Elizabeth smiled at Mrs. Reynolds who stood in conference with her before Jane's arrival.
"A moment if you please, Mrs. Reynolds."
The housekeeper smiled back and curtsied at Jane.
Elizabeth slipped her list inside the pocket of the apron she wore over her dress and took both her sister's hands in hers.
"Before I forget to tell you, thank you so very much for being here. I am sure I could not do any of this without you, Georgie, and Mrs. Reynolds to help me."
"Oh, Lizzy, how truly dramatic you are." Jane squeezed her hands smilingly. "I merely direct people as to where to put what. You have accomplished so much even before my arrival yesterday."
"No, that is not true, yesterday I had plans, today those plans are being executed even as we speak."
"Very well, it is fruitless to argue with you. And I might better use my time in finishing my list." Jane chuckled.
Elizabeth grinned. "I hope the Colonel or Charles keep each of their word and be here before the festival begins. Fitzwilliam is almost at his wits' end with all these females running around about him."
"I thought I heard my name?" A cheerful voice interrupted the sisters' conversation. Jane and Elizabeth turned to see one of the men they spoke of approaching then.
"Earlier than expected, my dear brother, you must have been quite missing Jane!" Elizabeth winked at her sister.
With his ears turning pink, Charles Bingley bent down to place a kiss on Jane's temple. The look he gave his wife could not speak any stronger an agreement to Elizabeth's words. With Jane's own cheeks turning pink, Bingley was welcomed to Pemberley with much warmth.
"Having passed all the projects being undertaken outside, my excitement for the summer festival can certainly match any child's!" Bingley bowed at Elizabeth. "I offer you my early congratulations, Lizzy. I am in no doubt of its success."
Pemberley's summer festival was an idea that came about from Darcy and Elizabeth's many casual conversations. On one afternoon, after Darcy had accompanied Elizabeth in her visit to one of their tenants, he watched as the family's six children trailed after her, lengthening their goodbyes until their mother smiled apologetically at her and gathered her children back. He saw how Elizabeth had donned the role of Mistress of Pemberley with significant ease. For despite all her worries, it had come naturally to her. Her genuine interest and obvious empathy for people made it thus so, he knew. Those who met her were drawn to her, but what he was not conscious of was the light in his eyes when he looked at Elizabeth, for this further moved all else to view her capabilities as Darcy did.
After that particular visit, as they had driven back in their phaeton, his wife had mentioned how grand an idea it would be to gather the children—indeed, everyone—in festivities. She had continued on with a wistful smile, describing activities and amusements for both young and old, refreshments and so on, until Darcy himself could envision the day.
And so what had begun as a small conversation led to the estate's hosting its first public celebration since the older Mr. and Mrs. Darcy's day. The estate's grounds would be opened to all; tenants, villagers, neighbors, and of course family and friends.
Leaving Bingley and Jane for the moment, Elizabeth brought her list out again and headed outside. Breathing deeply, she stopped to absorb the festive mood around her. Indeed, Bingley had been correct, though the festival had not yet begun, it seemed that all the faces she saw already considered it a success.
Elizabeth remembered Georgiana's tearful smile that morning as she saw the beginnings of the preparations. She had embraced Elizabeth and sobbed happily on her shoulder.
"I had never imagined that all of Pemberley could be quite so—so happy!"
Elizabeth had squeezed her sister's shoulders as Georgiana continued. "Mrs. Reynolds told me that there used to be festivals in Pemberley before mother became sickly, perhaps William even remembers some of them. But, well, everyone thought it had become inappropriate when mother–when she..."
Georgiana had moved back and dashed at her eyes. "I had always imagined those festivals to be as happy as this. You did this, Lizzy."
Speechless at the emotions she saw in Georgiana's eyes, Elizabeth had embraced the younger woman again.
"We all did this, Georgie. You, me, your brother, Mrs. Reynolds and indeed, each and every person on the estate."
Wiping her eyes, Georgiana had kissed her sister on the cheek and laughed. "I can not wait for the next! We must have this every summer, it must me a yearly thing! Oh please say yes, Lizzy!"
Laughing aloud, Elizabeth had taken Georgiana's hand in hers and answered grinning. "And so it shall be! Every summer after this one!"
In her mind, she had seen Pemberley play host to this new tradition they created. Her heart had warmed as her dreams added to the vision; her own children running hand in hand with their father to join the others in celebration. Her Fitwilliam a father, she a mother. Her heart had almost melted at the thought.
Now, standing on the lawn, Elizabeth watched as the butler escorted Jane's group of footmen to their assignations. Sweeping her gaze across the sea of activity in the grounds, she watched mirthfully as Nibley debated with an under gardener the correct height of the maypole. Not far from them, cook, with the rest of the kitchen staff and two footmen, were busy arranging the vast quantities of food and refreshments they had been working on since that morning. Creating much noise were Garrick and the stablehands as they shouted over each other while realigning the various tents they had earlier set up.
The myriad of noise and activity surrounding her added to by the merry laughter of the gardener's and groom's children, had Elizabeth feeling as though it was the start of something joyous, of something important, a unity of sorts. A rush of warmth and excitement settled in her heart as she watched people that she had come to care for turn Pemberley grounds—part of the home that she truly loved—into a festive and welcoming sight.
So engrossed was she in watching them, that the arm that encircled her waist took her quite by surprise. Her heart leaped, her skin tingled as it always had when her husband touched her. If asked to describe the love she felt for him, Elizabeth would not be up to the task, for it spanned every feeling she had, every thought, indeed, it encompassed her.
Her smile widened as she turned to look at Darcy. "You have been quite busy, Mr. Darcy. I had not seen you in hours."
"I will venture to say, not as busy as you, Mrs. Darcy." He leaned down and pressed a kiss on her nose making his wife giggle.
Then noticing for the first time that his coat had been shed, she feigned a frown and tried to look disapproving. "And where is your coat, sir?"
"Alas, it has said its final farewell and succumbed to old age."
"Oh, but that is sad news, you know how I adore that coat on you." She said a little sadly.
They spoke of what Darcy's valet, Dawson, referred to as his work coat, for indeed, it was not an uncommon sight to see the master donning it to help repair a roof, or a bridge, or even assist in a mare's foaling when needed. It was the same coat that he had acquired during their secret assignation in Surrey. Indeed, Elizabeth had grown quite sentimental with regards to the garment that Darcy had decided to keep it, telling a slightly frowning Dawson that he would use it during laborious tasks.
Darcy kissed her temple. "We shall have to assign a new one." Darcy smiled.
"Dawson, will not be pleased." Elizabeth chuckled, then biting her lip, she continued. "But before he completely disposes of it, might I have a scrap of the fabric?"
Laughing, Darcy embraced her and swung her around, earning a surprised peal of laughter from Elizabeth and warm indulgent looks from those who saw them.
"You shall have the whole garment such as it is if you wish it, my love."
As the afternoon wore on and all the preparations were completed, the estate saw the arrival of people, some on foot, others on carts and curricles.
The master and mistress stood to greet them all. Hands clasped together, Darcy watched the first of the visitors arrive. Leaning towards Elizabeth, he let her see the pride he felt for all that she had done, then he kissed her.
"I love you, Mrs. Darcy."
On the second year of the summer festival, Elizabeth watched as the evening neared its end. Seated on one of the chairs arranged under a group of chestnut trees, she rested her hands on her stomach. The quick movement she felt warmed her heart. Soon she would be a mother, Darcy a father.
Twilight creeped in the horizon, the first stars winked from their position in the heavens, lending the surroundings a dreamlike feeling.
One by one, the guests had congratulated the master and mistress on yet another successful festival. Friends and family had said their goodbyes, children were dragged away from playmates, some even crying for their enjoyment had come to an end. Soon after the last guest had departed, the tidying up had started. Elizabeth watched and smiled, knowing that the next one would be just as happy, just as vibrant and exciting.
A warm hand came to rest on Elizabeth's shoulder, looking up, she smiled at her husband's smiling face. Darcy bent down to kiss her. Then kneeling down, he carefully placed his hands on her stomach and kissed it.
"I congratulate you, Mrs. Darcy, on another successful festival."
"I hardly lifted a finger this year, nobody would let me!"
Darcy chuckled and kissed her lips, then he held out a hand. "Come into the house with me, my Lizzy."
"I would like that, William."
They walked hand in hand. Savoring the last moments of the day, they talked of the event, laughed quietly at silly little happenings, and spoke of new activities they might introduce on the next year.
As the night grew deep, husband and wife settled themselves in bed, ready to retire from the long but happy day. Darcy pulled Elizabeth to him, her back flush against him. Wrapped in his arms, she sighed contentedly.
Looking at his beloved, Darcy could ask for nothing more. The past two years were undoubtedly the happiest in his life, and he knew that the years to come would bring even more happiness. His hands roamed Elizabeth's stomach and once again in response, his baby moved.
"Oh, you are awake, little one." He murmured in his wife's ear."
Elizabeth chuckled. "And it did not even take a song this time."
Darcy laughed softly, recalling how the last time he had done just that, the baby's movements increased as if showing appreciation of Darcy's singing. That, unfortunately, had proved not so very efficient for bringing Elizabeth sleep.
He kissed the back of her neck and settled closer. Darcy breathed in Elizabeth's scent, then he told her how much he loved her, how because of her he knew a life such as this, a life worth more than any other life he had lived before.
Elizabeth pressed his palm against her lips. "I love you so, my William. You are everything to me, you and this baby I carry within me."
Once again, a quick movement in her stomach was all the reply they needed. Laughing again, Elizabeth moved Darcy's hands over the baby.
"Perhaps, I shall tell you a story, little one." Elizabeth whispered.
Outside, the moon beamed down on the land, all was quiet as the whole of Pemberley finally rested.
Elizabeth's whispered words mesmerized Darcy, her voice alone could command him. For she told of a story that he knew well in his own heart.
"Precious love, let me tell you the story of a girl who misjudged a boy so completely that she almost lost a chance at a great friendship, at a great love..."
Darcy stopped walking, the scene before him rendering him sentimental. He watched from a distance as his children ran the fields of Pemberley, he watched as his older boys, James and Bennet ran from his third-born and eldest daughter, Isabella, as she attempted to put daisy chains on their heads. The younger Georgiana squealed in delight, cheering her sister on.
If he could but freeze this moment, he would. Instead he etched it in his mind, stored it with the many other memories that made his a life well lived. His children, his living legacies of love.
Some distance from them, a movement caught his eye, indeed, caught his breath. Elizabeth walked towards their children, in her arms young Henry waved at his older brothers and sisters, in her hair was a daisy chain.
A breeze drifted around her, lifting tendrils of hair away from her face. The sun turned the grass silver, showering it with life. Darcy watched as Elizabeth moved across the land, across the fields that knew her as mistress. She moved as she had into his heart. It seemed such a long time now since he had imagined her thus, hopeless as he was on that fateful day when he had surrendered everything and followed her as she walked away from Pemberley.
He watched her until she lifted her head and smiled at him. For everything that he had done, heaven deemed him worthy enough of such a prize, and not a day passed by when he did not give thanks for all that he had.
Reaching his family, Darcy smiled and took the hand that Elizabeth held outstretched to him.
It took me five years to finish this, my goodness. I can honestly say that the person who began this story is not the same person who finished it. So much has happened in the span of five years, and I feel those reflected in my writing. I started with a scene in my mind (the one from the 2005 movie), the next chapters just flowed after that. But there were times when I was stumped as to how to proceed, sometimes feeling like I could not find a way to link what I had in mind to what I had previously written, sometimes needing time and the actual willingness to write.
This was my first attempt at writing stories (discounting those I wrote as a child!), and I will honestly say that there were days when it scared me. Seeing review alerts made my heart stop, what would people say? Slowly, I also realized that though I appreciated people's reactions to my stories, I also knew that I wrote for myself and for the love of these characters.
Thank you so much for staying with me these past five years. I am so glad that there are so many of us who love Darcy and Elizabeth.
Health and happiness to all!