“This is an excellent sized room for such an occasion, is it not?”
Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled as she looked up at her husband. “Indeed it is, Mr Darcy, but I believe you are fishing for compliments on the excellence of your arrangements.”
They parted, and when the music brought them together again, he was grinning. “Oh, forgive me, Mrs Darcy, I thought it customary on such occasions to mention the size of the room. I believe there are at least twenty couples accommodated comfortably.”
“Surely there are twenty five,” she replied.
The music swelled, and they parted again. Elizabeth moved between the other dancers, her eyes taking in the scene. Her husband had not been eagerly awaiting this night, but he did seem happier than she had ever known him to be at a ball. They were surrounded by his family and many of her new acquaintances - some more desirable than others, it had to be said.
Her sister Lydia moved past, beaming with pride and her eyes fixed on her partner - Colonel Forster. She had been surprised to hear of her youngest sister’s engagement, but was delighted to see her so happy. Her mother had happily informed her by letter of the estate Colonel Forster was to inherit and the three thousand pounds a year it would bring him in income. Until then, the couple would make do on his militia pay, but he had promised to take a house for her in Brighton, where the regiment was to spend the summer. Lydia was thrilled at this prospect more than anything, and seemed very fond of her betrothed. She had spoken to Elizabeth about it when she arrived in town.
“I am not merely marrying him for his coat,” she had announced seriously, and then added, “though he does look very fine in it, does he not?” She had composed herself before continuing. “But he is a good man, and he has been very kind to me about everything. He does not think less of me, or think me very silly. And he does so love balls and parties, so I shall be sure to be able to throw many!”
Elizabeth was happy that her sister had not lost all of her vivacity, even though she was a vast deal more sensible now than she had been months before. And she believed that Colonel Forster would be a good match for her.
“What are you thinking of, dearest?” her husband asked.
Elizabeth shook herself as Darcy took her hand. The dance was coming to a close. “Nothing of importance,” she said. They bowed to each other as the music faded, and he escorted her from the dance floor.
“Good evening, nephew,” Lady Catherine greeted. She was still somewhat cold to Elizabeth, but the visit to Rosings over Easter had done much to improve relations between the two. Elizabeth had detected a hint of respect growing in Lady Catherine every time she had refused to cow to the older woman. “Mrs Darcy.”
She was even able to address those words to Elizabeth without much difficulty.
“Lady Catherine,” Elizabeth greeted. “I hope you are enjoying yourself this evening.”
“I am,” she said. “It is very well put together. I had not high expectations, but you will be pleased to know you exceeded them.”
Elizabeth managed a smile. “I thank you, Lady Catherine. Your suggestions were most welcome, and I took them all into consideration.”
Lady Catherine gave a short nod, and then moved across the room. Elizabeth and Darcy made their way through the crowd, stopping for an occasional exchange with their guests. At the door to the hall, Elizabeth peered out. A number of guests milled about out there, but her eyes were drawn upwards, to the little face pressed against the railings. She smiled fondly, and touched Darcy’s arm, leading him into the hall and nodding upstairs.
His eyes followed hers and he smiled, lifting his arm to wave at his daughter. Elizabeth followed his example, and Julia beamed when she saw them, waving happily. Elizabeth was happy that she had bonded with her step-daughter so quickly. She knew many families did not adjust to such a change with ease.
The music began again, and Elizabeth turned to her husband. “We must return,” she said, with a last wave at Julia.
“Indeed,” her husband replied, taking her hand and leading her back into the ballroom.