Elizabeth looked over the grounds, her eyes arrested by the sight of the lake, and woods, and mountains, magnificent as they were. It was summer now, the woods a solid block of green, interspersed with pink and white from the late blossoms. The lake reflected the willows trailing its surface, dotted with the bright yellow of water lilies.
Lost in thoughts as she was, Elizabeth failed to notice a man dive into the lake, and disappear into the depths. So it gave her a fright when she saw a sodden, curly head emerge from the water, closely followed by the rest of the soaking wet Mr Darcy.
Elizabeth chuckled to herself, remembering the last time she had seen Mr Darcy emerge from the lake after a swim. She didn't know who had been more surprised, him or her, at encountering the other at Pemberly. She had the impression that he was only to return the next day. He, as he had confessed to her later, had thought he was dreaming, because it looked so natural for Elizabeth to be walking the grounds of his beloved Pemberly. And strange as it had been then, in the eight months since she had taken up residence there, it had become extremely natural.
Elizabeth sat back down to finish her letter to her sister, now Jane Bingley. Jane had sent an express, with a short scrawl form her husband to his friend, informing Elizabeth of two very happy events. The first is being that Charles had found an estate not two hours away from Pemberly, so they would be moving. The second was that Jane was pregnant, three months already, so they would be moving in the next month, so she would have time to settle down before the baby was born. For a moment, Elizabeth recalled the first time she had been at Pemberly, how that had let to Jane's engagement, which had led to her engagement. One celebration caused the next.
As she finished writing inviting Jane to come and stay at Pemberly for as long as it would take for Charles and Fitzwilliam to sort out the necessaries at Wilford Park, a now dry Mr Darcy poked his head round her door.
'Enjoy your swim?'
'Very much, my darling.'
'Jane sent me an express thin morning, with a short note for you from Charles. Better stay here to read it in case I need to clarify some things from Jane's letter.'
She handed her husband the note, and amused herself for a few minutes watching him squint at the letter, trying to make it out. Eventually he put it down and said,
'He was going ... on something about a baby, and an estate starting with a "w".'
'Let me put you out of your misery,' Elizabeth said, observing the extremely puzzled look on his face. 'Jane is pregnant, and they have bought an estate named Wilford Park, about two hours from here. Jane wants to move soon, so I have invited them to stay here while you and Charles sort out the estate.'
'Charles has bought Wilford?' he exclaimed, in great surprise. 'That used to be my Aunt Catherine's residence, before her and Sir Lewis mover to Rosings. It is about 25 miles by road, but the estates are actually back to back. You remember the dirt track that leads out of the woods through the meadows?' Elizabeth nodded. 'That leads right to the back boundary fence of Wilford, not more than a half hour drive.'
Elizabeth was prevented from expressing her delight by a sudden wave of nausea, which her husband noticed, and quickly helped her to their room.
One such morning, as the two ladies sat down to their breakfast, Jane noticed how little Elizabeth was eating. She remarked on it, saying how odd it was as Elizabeth usually ate vociferously at breakfast.
'Jane, I have been feeling a little woozy in the mornings. I'm only glad that Fitzwilliam has not been here to see it.' Her not so subtle glance at Jane's slowly distending middle gave away her suspicions.
Jane was delighted. The doctor was called that very morning to confirm it.
As it turned out, Elizabeth was right, and all was well and normal. The doctor already being there, and him being the one who would deliver Jane's baby as well, they decided to let him examine Jane as well. As he concluded, Elizabeth looked at Jane, and then requested from Dr Smith to please mention only the second part of his visit if he should meet either of the gentlemen.
Just as well. As he was walking down the drive, he met Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy, to whose urgent enquiries he gave Elizabeth's answer.
Later that evening, as Elizabeth crawled into bed, she thought of how she could tell her husband of his impending joy. Fortunately, he opened the subject.
'It will be good to have Bingley so near, what with business and things. I greatly enjoyed his company at university, and I dare say that thanks to you and your sister, the company will be almost as frequent.'
'I am delighted to have Jane so near again. When we were little girls, we would always imagine that when we married we would live next door to one another, just like at Longbourne. Somehow, as we grew older we just wished to marry, disregarding other concerns.'
'I dare say you will be pleased to be with her when her time comes, as she will be with you when someday your turn comes.'
'Darling, what if we gave 'someday' a rough date.'
'Well, what if I said to you that your 'someday' were actually going to be around next March.'
For a moment, Darcy looked at her uncomprehendingly, before enveloping her in a fierce, protective hug.
By early December, the sisters found that neither were up to such frequent visits. Each house appointed a footman to be a messenger, carrying notes up and down between both the men and the women.
Fortunately for them, Mary was finally conducting a courtship, with the new clergyman in Meryton. This meant that Kitty was sent to Derbyshire, supposedly to help her older sisters, but really to be out of Mary's way and to find herself a husband. Mrs Bennett herself was prevented from coming in order to make sure Mary's romance actually came to something.
Kitty was to start off at Wilford, as Jane was due first. So it was from there that the three sisters set out for Lambton to shop for nursery accessories.
There they met Dr Smith, who was introduced to Kitty. He was availed of the plan that Kitty would be present at both births, Elizabeth at the birth of Baby Bingley, and depending on how early or late both women went into labour, Jane would also attend Elizabeth. The doctor had no objections to Kitty's presence, but doubted the wisdom of Elizabeth being present so soon before her own time.
His advice was noted, but not agreed to. Instead, Elizabeth asked him to an inpromptu dinner party to be held that evening, with a significant look at Jane and a glance at Kitty.
The evening was a great success. While Mrs Darcy and Mrs Bingley told their husbands of the nursery colours, Kitty gave her attention to Dr Smith.
'Darce, are you scared?'
'Of childbirth and babies and bringing up children.'
'Right now I can't get past the childbirth part, Bingley. I suppose I am scared. Strangely enough, I'm more worried than Elizabeth.'
'You've got it exactly. Jane waddles around, calm as you please, while I run after her pleading with her to take it easy. I sometimes...'
His sentence was cut short by Elizabeth's entrance.
'Charles, Jane would like to see you for a second.' Bingley jumped up and ran up the stairs without a word. 'Darling, I think you had better find Kitty and the doctor.' Darcy looked at her wordlessly for a second, before he too bolted, in the direction of the front door.
The birth went smoothly. After a full 10 hours of Kitty's fussing, the doctor's minstrations and Elizabeth's constant messages to the library, Grace Elizabeth Bingley was born, so named for her paternal grandmother and her aunt.
Elizabeth spent a week at Wilford before Darcy could prevail on her to return home. It took many assurances that Jane, and Grace, were safe and well cared for, and that they were just half an hour away should she need them, before she would even consider it. It was Darcy's insistence that she must not overdo herself, for her own safety and the safety of their child, that eventually persuaded her to return to Pemberly.
Jane was strong, and recovered quickly, and so was able, after three weeks, to take her daughter to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth was, like Jane, considerate enough to go into labour while her sister was present. Strangely enough, Grace Bingley provided a distraction for Darcy. That didn't stop him from almost wearing a hole in the library carpet, but Elizabeth, never having been as patient as Jane, delivered in 6 hours, also a baby girl, named Anne Jane Darcy.
Georgiana Darcy, seated at the piano, looked around the room. Smiling across at her was her fiance, adoringly holding her niece with her brother hovering behind him. The newly married Mary was similarly accupied with her almost niece, Grace. In this company Georgiana felt comfortable, at home, with her own people.
Jane Bingley and Elizabeth Darcy were also surveying the scene. Looking around her Elizabeth quietly said to her sister, 'One celebration really does lead to another.'
'Truly, it does.'