Well, here we go again. But, before we start, there are a few things I need to say.

First, while many characters are borrowed from history to play parts in this little drama, please remember that THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. Do not accuse real people, long passed away, of the actions that I lay at their doors.

And now a WARNING: Very real events inspired this tale of fiction and some of them are more than unpleasant. There is even a rape in the background of our tale although you will not see it and it does not occur to or by any of our favorite characters. Other parts of my tale are also disturbing. This is D&E HEA, but there are characters who will not survive. For your peace of mind, I want to begin what I consider the worst up front, so you will not be dreading what is to come. It is exposed at the end of this post. That said, I will quote what Akers is about to say, "Trust me." The only things explicit that you will ever run into are of a pleasant nature.

Thank you FeliciaHM and Buzzy. All mistakes are mine. I don't just tinker after people have read this, I positively alter.


History Note: It was the time of the King's first madness, the fall of 1788. He had gone riding and was caught in a storm. He became very ill - fever and convulsions. Over the next weeks, he worsened. He suffered insomnia and delusions. He went from periods of vicious anger to strange calm. Then, he began trying to - importune - the Queen's ladies.

Chapter 1

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

October 15, 1811

Akers put the last pearl tipped pin into Miss Elizabeth's hair and stepped back. Perfection. The deep mahogany hair - so thick, so soft, so wavy - was magnificent to work with. Miss Elizabeth had objected to using the pearl pins for a country assembly, but Akers had prevailed.

"Madam, I will use only a few; just enough to add some shimmers in the candlelight tonight. Trust me."

Elizabeth had and there was no denying the results. It was not ostentatious or overdone. With a modest necklace as the only other jewelry, there could be no complaints that Elizabeth's adornments were above her company. After Akers helped her mistress into the soft green gown, the abigail was even more pleased. Although simple, the gown's fabric was slightly shimmery and draped Elizabeth's curves beautifully. But the neighborhood was well used to the fine fabrics that Elizabeth and Jane wore. There would no comments on Elizabeth's appearance other than how well she looked.

As Miss Elizabeth smiled at Akers through the mirror, she was even more pleased. This gown was just the match for her mistress' eyes, only a few shades lighter. Both the gown and the eyes helped each other sparkle. Yes. Her mistress looked very well indeed.

The pleasure of both mistress and servant was rudely interrupted when Elizabeth's dressing room door was flung open and bounced loudly off the wall. A huffing Lydia Bennet stared at her older sister.

"Lizzy! This is ridiculous! That footman won't let me into Jane's rooms!"

Robert. He has a name, Lydia.

"So, YOU must let me borrow things for tonight! And you must let me use Akers! Tawney is nothing to her!" Lydia stared defiantly at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth looked calmly back at her youngest sister. These particular demands were oft repeated. No girl of fifteen had any business being out, especially this one. She was wild, loud and altogether ill-mannered. Elizabeth's words to her father on the subject always fell on deaf ears. "It is no more that I expect. She is Fannie's daughter. Leave them to it." Easy for you to say, Father. You stay in your book-room and I must suffer her behavior in public.

"The rules are not mine, as you well know. I will not defy Father. If you have complaint, Lydia, you must go to him."

The two sisters stared at each other. Finally, Lydia gave way and with a loud "Humph!" stomped out of the room.

Elizabeth sighed and then determined to set it all from her mind. She had no control over Lydia, Fannie or her father.

"Thank you Akers. You should rest now if you can. Mother will not wish leave until the ball closes down. She is determined to acquire Mr. Bingley for one of her daughters. I am sure it will be very late when we come home." Elizabeth wanted to offer for Akers to retire for the night. This gown was an easy one and there would not be much to undressing herself. If she did need anything, Jane or Bartlett could help. However, Akers had never agreed when Elizabeth insisted that she not wait up. Tonight it would be even more completely out of the question. Akers would want to hear all about the famous Mr. Bingley.

Assembly Rooms, Meryton

October 15, 1811

As the Netherfield party entered, silence fell over the entire room. Elizabeth immediately felt a keen embarrassment. What must these new neighbors feel to be so blatantly stared at by a room full of strangers? Her eyes searched in vain for at least some people who were exhibiting better behavior. No. They were all, every one of them, focused unabashedly on the newcomers. It was between sets, so there was not even the distraction of music or dancing. Of course everyone was curious. Rumors had run wild about the handsome bachelor that now resided among them. However, this was no excuse for such an appalling lack of manners. Worse still, Elizabeth could almost smell and taste the greed in the room. These are new neighbors, not supper!She would not be a party to this. She blushed and looked down at the floor.

The Darcys were a tall breed. Even from his position behind the Bingleys and the Hursts, Darcy was able to see the whole assembly. The present hush and the staring were nothing new. He had known how it would be. He was wealthy, powerful, handsome and single. First, the room would look him over. Next they would follow the predictable pattern. Slowly murmurings would start and soon the entire room would be discussing his wealth, his person, and how to get a part of him. Now, with price paid for such avarice so fresh and raw, he could hardly bear to be here. At least tonight Bingley will share in the attention. Maybe that will help.

He was not sure what drew his gaze to the petite brunette at the side of the room. Perhaps it was the movement of her head in an otherwise still room. She was not eying his party but was examining the rest of the assembly. As her face turned back toward Darcy's direction, he was able to see that she looked mortified. Her flush deepened and she finally stared down at the floor. Well, at least someone here recognizes poor behavior. The Ton should take a page from her book.

After what felt like ages but was in truth only a few moments, chatter began all around and was followed closely by the music starting up again. Elizabeth finally allowed her eyes to rise and go to the newcomers.

"And so, Charlotte, do you know who they are?"

As her good friend explained the identities and relationships of the fine people who were now speaking with Charlotte's father, Elizabeth formed her own first impressions. Mr. Bingley was indeed handsome. He was responding to Sir William in an eager, happy manner. He appeared genuinely delighted to be here.

His sisters were another matter entirely. They were elegantly dressed, much too elegantly for a country assembly. Both faces showed they thought little of their surroundings. Elizabeth sighed. Until this moment of disappointment, she had not known how much she had been wishing for new acquaintances with some intelligence and good sense. Meryton was such a confined society. Sadly, these sisters promised not to provide the good sense. Intelligence would be of questionable use without it. No, these women would not be pleasant and would not give Elizabeth what she had so unconsciously sought.

Any gloom was instantly forgot and Elizabeth had to withhold a chuckle as her eyes moved to the Mr. Hurst. With his paunch, jowls, ruddy nose and heavy-lidded eyes, he looked to be an exaggerated caricature of an indolent gentleman.

The Bingley party walked off with Sir William, undoubtedly for introductions. As they cleared away, the tall man in the back did not move and Elizabeth finally let her eyes fall on him. A frisson ran through her and her heart began to beat rapidly. Then, he moved. Elizabeth was mesmerized by the powerful way in which he strode. Even from this great distance she thought she could feel heat emanating from this dark-haired beast. Where did that ridiculous notion come from?

Elizabeth was just chastising herself to stop such strange thoughts when, suddenly, his eyes met her own. She was frozen under his intense stare. A wave of dizziness seemed to rise up through her belly and into her chest. She could hardly breathe. Ripping her eyes away, she once again looked to the floor. She shivered.

In a daze, Elizabeth felt a hand on her arm and allowed herself to be led away. Slowly her senses returned. Her sister Jane still held Elizabeth's arm and her mother's voice began to intrude. Internally, Elizabeth was berating herself. How could she be so affected by a stranger? It would not do. She was not used to being so unsettled and she would not let it happen now.

Mr. Darcy's subsequent behavior was of great help to Elizabeth as she strove to overcome her strange reactions. First, he practically refused to stand up with her, actually walking away in the middle of Mrs. Bennet's machinations. Then, as the evening wore on, he prowled the edges of the room, dancing and speaking with no one except those in his own party. He had not even looked at her again. Elizabeth almost rejoiced as she listened to the gossiping of the crowd. Their initial admiration of his wealth and his fine person was rapidly giving way to disgust at his rude behavior. Still, he disturbed her in a way never felt before. She could not join her neighbors in their derision nor could she dismiss him from her mind.

Thankfully, Jane provided a welcome distraction. It was clear that she was smitten with the handsome Mr. Bingley and he seemed likewise mesmerized by the beautiful Miss Bennet.

This left Elizabeth feeling lighter somehow, more her normal self. She firmly decided just to enjoy the evening. Her eyes betrayed her and constantly sought the tall, aloof man.

What little time Darcy spent not buried in his private hell was still miserable. This gathering was everything abhorrent. It was the combination of the ignorant lower classes and greedy people clamoring for favor. Bingley owed him a great deal for appearing here tonight.

But that is not quite right! Something was niggling at his mind. Something in his awareness was starting to shift, had shifted. Darcy realized that he had automatically given voice to his parents' beliefs. They had taught him, from early years, that he occupied a superior and God-given position among men; that he should think meanly of the value of others. But he realized that his disdain this evening would be no different if he were in the ballroom of a Duke. It had nothing to do with who these people were but rather with what they were doing! They, the Ton, Wickham – even my own relations! They are all the same! What had happened to Georgiana was bringing everything into clear relief. Almost no one on the face of earth actually cared about Darcy or Georgiana. They were simply game for fortune hunters of all shapes and sizes.

Not everyone. Darcy mind went back to that petite brunette who had shown clearly that she was not part of this. And her eyes! Where was she? He searched the room. Who was she? His mind flew to that Mrs. Bennet he had met. During the introduction, he thought he had seen the brunette out of the corner of his eye. He had no time to look at her then. No. He had been focused on quashing the pretensions of that vulgar Bennet woman. Was the brunette really near her? Yes, she might have been. Did I slight her? Can she be related to that loud woman? Surely not.

Suddenly Bingley was at his elbow. His new angel. Yes, she is handsome. You want me to dance? You cannot be serious. Which creature do you mean? Luckily Darcy bit back his scathing response and took enough time to look over at the girl in question. It is she!

"Thank you, Bingley. I would welcome the introduction."

Lucas Lodge, Hertfordshire

October 22, 1811

He found his eyes returning to her again and again. Something about the little creature pulled at him. He was aware of his entire body, from the rub of his lawn shirt against his chest to the silk of the stockings on his legs to the restriction of his neck cloth as he swallowed. When he raised a glass of wine to his lips, he felt the tension in each finger and every small flexing of the muscles in his hand. The cool of the glass met the sensitive skin on his lip. Then he felt every place in his mouth that the wine touched. When Darcy let his eyes wander to her bosom, he was not surprised by his body's more visceral reaction.

He turned away to control himself, but in a few moments he was seeking her out again. He enjoyed the creamy shoulders, the trim and elegant arms, that mass of dark, luxuriant curls that threatened to escape its confines, and that magnificent chest moving and swelling in time with its owner's song. Saving the best for last, he would now indulge in the sparkle of those intelligent eyes. As he allowed his eyes to go to her face, he started. He was spellbound by her pure, innocent pleasure. In this tiny, countrified gathering, she was completely immersed in the music.

Darcy felt a lump rise in his throat. How would it be to be able to feel such a carefree moment of pleasure? It had been so long. All the present darkness in his life came crashing back to him. But, in that brief moment before he could be lost to despair, she finished playing and he heard her laugh.

The warm, happy sound reached him, washed over him, grabbed hold of him and somehow stopped his spiral into grief. Could he have recognized what he was feeling at the moment, Darcy would have known hope, hope that some happiness was still possible. As it was, he only reacted instinctively. His eyes sought hers, desperate and hungry to hold onto this small touch of real light.

Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire

November 16, 1811

He was determinedly fixed on the pages before him. I will not look at her again! Darcy had been battling this attraction for weeks. She was intelligent, witty, charming and certainly desirable. Her manners and comportment were of the highest standard. Yes, she was playful, but always a lady. Moreover, the way she dealt with all of Miss Bingley's slurs showed a true grace. And now, he was almost completely done in by the love and devotion that Elizabeth had shown her sister. But Mrs. Bennet! Her sisters! Her connections! No one even knows who her real mother is! No! I will not look at her again. His mind willed his eyes to behave, but they would not. They rose and turned to stare again at the soft vision that sat not ten feet from him.

Her deep mahogany hair was a sharp contrast to the softness of all the other shades about her. One long curl had escaped its pins. Darcy's traitorous eyes followed it down, past the creamy expanse of her chest, to where it flowed right over one of her breasts. His mind unfastened her dress, loosened her corset, and pulled down everything down; exposing that magnificent bosom to the light. One mound fully visible, the now embarrassed nipple contracted while the other nipple remained covered by that glorious dark curl.

Suddenly her hand came up, gathering the curl to twist it in her fingers. Darcy's immediate thought was that she was purposefully torturing him. His eyes flew to her face. Her eyes were not on him. She was completely concentrating on her book. No, she does not torture me. She seems unaware that I am even here. No. No. I have felt it; seen it. She is not unmoved! No. She was unsuitable. An alliance would be a disgrace. He would not go there again.

How had he come to this, aching like a school boy for a woman so beneath him, a woman who alternately completely ignored or teased him? How had he come to any of this, waiting at Bingley's small estate for words of relief or doom? So much for the controlled life of Fitzwilliam Darcy! He signed loudly in disgust.

Elizabeth Bennet was well aware that Darcy was in the room. At his loud sigh, her eyes flew up from her page and over to the confusing man.

His signals were too mixed to allow her to make him out. Sometimes she was certain that he admired her. At other times she was equally certain he held her in contempt. But, there was no mistaking the severe disapproval that this loud sigh had just voiced. She had just started to wonder what she had done now to be further subject to disdain, when she noticed that he was not really looking at her. His eyes were pointed in her direction, but they were distant. Yes, they were filled with loathing, but it was not directed at her. Then she saw an intense pain there, so deep and strong that she softly gasped.

Elizabeth had seen this man briefly at the Meryton Assembly and again at Lucas Lodge. This was the man who had called to her soul when he caught her eyes. On top of the physical pull that she felt towards him, these looks had been too much. No matter what anyone said, no matter how much he was disliked in the neighborhood, Elizabeth bore a powerful, tender feeling for him. Even all of Mr. Darcy's arrogant behavior had not washed the feeling away. She had tried to build a wall around her heart, but she knew he had already claimed a place there. She was painfully sorry for it and had tried to distance herself from him as much as possible. Even if he did admire her, she was too far beneath him for him to ever act on it. Nonetheless, she ached at this rejection and knew she would ache even more when he finally left the neighborhood.

In the meantime, her pride refused to let him know how he affected her. Luckily, the sound of her gasp was covered by a knock on the library door. Mr. Bingley's ever efficient butler delivered a letter to Mr. Darcy's hands. Elizabeth saw him read the envelope. His face lost all its color and Elizabeth thought the man might actually faint.

"Oh, Mr. Darcy!" The shrill, false tones of Miss Bingley cut clearly into the room. She must be in the hallways, somewhere nearby.

"Not her. Not now." Darcy's voice was calm and controlled, but Elizabeth felt his desperation. "Please, do not give me away." He stood up suddenly and, crumbling the letter in his fist, made his way to a panel by the bookcases and disappeared inside.

Miss Bingley sauntered into the room, obviously trying to move in a most seductive fashion. She came up sharply when she saw not her conquest but her unwanted houseguest before her.

"Miss Eliza." Caroline nearly spat the words. "What a surprise to see you here. Dear Jane must be recovered for you to leave her side."

Elizabeth schooled her features. She would have time later to consider all that she had just seen. For now, she had a very strong desire to protect Mr. Darcy from this fortune hunting shrew. Ignoring her own pain, she would concentrate only on his situation. He needed her at the moment and she would not fail him.

"Yes, Miss Bingley. She sleeps now, but she is decidedly better. Hopefully we shall be able to return home tomorrow. We are most grateful for all your hospitality."

Caroline actually gave a small nod in acceptance of Elizabeth's thanks, but Caroline's eyes were darting all around the room. They came to rest on the book Mr. Darcy had abandoned on the settee. Suspicion was all over her face as she looked again at Elizabeth.

"I am looking for Mr. Darcy. I understood he was within." Her voice was full of accusation.

"Indeed, he was here briefly, Miss Bingley." Elizabeth emphasized the word briefly. "I believe he received a letter. Perhaps he has gone off to read it."

Caroline's eyes searched the library and she took one step forward. For a moment, Elizabeth was sure the witch would look behind every bookcase and piece of furniture. However, she must have thought the better of it because she suddenly turned and huffily left the room.

Elizabeth waited a few moments as the loud swishes Miss Bingley's skirts faded away. Then, Elizabeth rose and went to the panel. After knocking softly, she said, "It is Miss Elizabeth, sir. She is gone."

The panel opened partway to reveal an embarrassed Mr. Darcy who was still holding the crumpled letter. "Forgive me for further importuning you, Miss Elizabeth, but she will be back. Would you mind, do I ask too much..? Could you possibly bring me a candle? Miss Bingley does not seem to know about this room. I must read this letter."

His eyes were pleading. Elizabeth could only nod. She picked up a candle and lit it from the fireplace. Holding her hand behind it to protect the flame, she carefully returned to the panel and wordlessly handed it to Mr. Darcy.

He nodded his thanks and retreated into what Elizabeth now saw to be a little room, complete with settee, chair, tables and bookcases. Her manners overrode her curiosity and she withdrew, gently closing the panel behind her.

Needless to say, her own book could no longer hold her attention. She was, however, determined to pretend that it did. If Mr. Darcy was right, Miss Bingley would soon return in her quest to discover him. Elizabeth had no idea what was behind Mr. Darcy's desperation, but she would not allow Miss Bingley to intrude. The man needed privacy and he was going to get it. Elizabeth Bennet, temporary protector and guardian of Fitzwilliam Darcy, squared her little shoulders.

Miss Bingley did indeed return. This time she entered the library without even acknowledging Elizabeth. The woman did wander all about the room, not missing a single place where someone might be hidden. Elizabeth's heart beat faster as Caroline slowly passed the concealed room. Finally, after making sure her prey was truly not in the library, Miss Bingley left.

Moments later, Elizabeth heard harsh whispering in the hallway outside the library doors. She rose and moved closer, hoping to be able to hear the words.

"Well, you are now stationed right here! Do not dare move until Mr. Darcy returns. Then come and tell me at once! I will be in the drawing room."

Oh, my! She is having a footman stand guard. I will have to distract him when Mr. Darcy wants to escape the library.

Elizabeth had barely settled back into her chair when she heard a deep moan. It must have come from Mr. Darcy! She held a debate in her head. Surely the man's pride would not tolerate her seeing his misery, but her heart urged offering comfort. What could possibly cause such anguish in the controlled, arrogant man?

Suddenly she heard what must have been a sob. All other thoughts flew away. She must go to him.

He was on the settee, his head in his hands. Even in this obvious state of misery, he was a powerful presence. He seemed to take up so much of this tiny room.

The letter lay at his feet. Elizabeth quietly closed the door and moved over to sit beside him. She gently laid her hand on his arm. He slowly turned his head and looked at her hand. Long moments passed as he stared at it. In reassurance, she gave his arm a gentle squeeze. Suddenly he slid to floor, threw his arms around her, buried his head in her waist and began to sob.

Elizabeth was frozen from shock. This was beyond inappropriate. Never had a man touched her in such a way. But soon, much sooner than she could have imagined, Elizabeth's need to comfort him overrode any other thought. She patted his back and soothingly ran her fingers through his hair. He clasped his arms more tightly around her and eventually he quieted but did not let her go.

Then something shifted. Before, she had felt almost as if he were a small boy clinging to her in his need. Now, Elizabeth could feel the parts of a man; the silky hair between her fingers, the muscles in his arms, each finger that clung to her back, the heat from his head, the rise and fall of his chest as it lay on her thighs. He must have also felt the change for he slowly released her, pulled back, stood up and turned so she could not see his face.

What must he think of me allowing such familiarity?

"Forgive me Miss Bennet. I have failed my sister and all my forefathers and now I have failed you, too." He came and sat down beside her, taking her hand. When he spoke again, he looked at her hand and not her face. "Forgive me. I should have never touched you in such a way, should have never importuned you so. I will be honorable."

Surprised by his words, she needed to speak and found her voice. "Mr. Darcy, you are forgiven. Please do not speak so. I am not compromised. Clearly you were not yourself. You have more excuse than I. I am the one who should have pushed you away. If you behaved improperly then so did I. Yet, let us be honest. You have not harmed me and my reputation is intact. No one else need ever know what just happened."

Darcy knew full well that any other woman would have welcomed any chance, no matter how remote, of trapping him. His despair would have meant nothing. Not his Elizabeth. He gently squeezed her hand, released it and leaned back against the settee, closing his eyes.

After a few moments, he rose and began to pace. Now and then he would stop and look at her. She knew there were things he wanted to say but could not bring himself to do so. His misery, his sheer physical presence, her confusion, it was all just too much. Elizabeth needed to escape, but first she had to see him to safety.

"Mr. Darcy." It was barely a squeak and he did not seem to register that she had spoken. Control yourself! "Mr. Darcy." There. That was better and he did turn to look at her. "Miss Bingley is truly gone for now, but she has set a footman at the door to watch for you. I will distract him for a minute and you can escape."

He stared at her for the longest time and then finally nodded.

Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire

November 17, 1811

The eastern sky was barely turning from black to grey, but Darcy was fully dressed and ready for this day.

He had kept to his rooms after leaving the library yesterday. Surprisingly, he had been able to eat the supper that had been brought to him and then had fallen into a deep sleep. He first woke a few hours ago knowing, with utmost certainty, what he needed to do.

It must be done early this morning. The Misses Bennet would leave Netherfield today. This was his opportunity. Thompson was sure that Elizabeth's Akers could be trusted. She would wake Elizabeth and ask her to meet him at dawn.

"Mr. Darcy."

He turned toward her soft voice. She was so beautiful. Even with those dark rings under her eyes, she was a vision. All the hours by her sister and, he knew, his behavior had left her very tired. Yet when he had asked for her, so very early, here she was. If she consented, he would strive every day to let her know how much it all, how much she, meant to him.

"Miss Elizabeth. Thank you for meeting me so early. I am not used to speaking freely about things that are personal, so I hope you can bear with me if I stumble."

Elizabeth could only nod.

Darcy cast his eyes away from hers, seemingly somewhere over her shoulder. Then, he began to speak.

"There is a man who grew up with me. He was the son of our steward and my father was his godfather."

Elizabeth found herself hearing a tale of what seemed to be two people. One was a beloved godson and friend, the other an increasingly selfish and cruel little monster. All through the painful account of growing up with this boy, Mr. Darcy kept his eyes distant. Then, he paused and looked at her for a moment. Whatever he saw must have encouraged him, for he took a deep breath and went on.

"I finally saw the real depth of Wickham's viciousness and of his ability to deceive one afternoon in my father's study. My father had me sitting at his desk, going over ledgers about which he would later question me, while he and George played a game of chess. My father was already ill with that which would carry him away. I enjoyed hearing his laughter as the game went on. From my chair, I could see Wickham's face. His eyes were shining with love and goodwill towards my father. In those moments, I began to doubt some of my feelings. I had seen so much of George's depravity that I had removed myself from his company years before. I temporarily forgot that he was a master at using charm. All I could see was the light he was bringing to my father at that moment. Then, Father got up to leave the room. George was looking at his retreating back. His eyes were cold and hard. I have never seen such hatred. Suddenly he turned to look at me. I was aghast and he knew it. He simply smirked and said 'Too bad you can never let the old bastard know, Darcy. In all your goodness you would never break his heart.' Laughing, he also left the room."

Darcy again looked off into the distance and he appeared lost for a moment in the memory. Then he went on to tell of his father's death, Wickham refusing the legacy of a living and Darcy paying him an enormous sum for its value. For a while, Wickham disappeared from Darcy's life.

"My sister Georgiana and I are all that are left of my line of Darcys. She is more than 10 years my junior."

Oh, no. His young sister. What did this Wickham do?

"I have truly failed her. When she finished school, I formed an establishment for her. I was deceived about the character of her new companion. But I, I am the one who hired this woman. I can never be forgiven for that. She turns out to have been a confederate of Mr. Wickham. The ladies went last summer to enjoy the sea air at Ramsgate. I decided to join them for a few days. When I arrived, the house was empty. It took most of that day for me to track down the servants who had been dismissed. To my horror, I learned that Georgiana had eloped with Mr. Wickham. Mrs. Younge, the companion, had gone with them to Scotland."

"She must be a child!"

"Fifteen. There was no moon, so I had to wait until near daylight to set out. I travelled hard and more quickly than I thought possible. When I arrived at Gretna Green, I found them right away. Wickham made sure that it was easy for me to do so. He needed me to discover them. When I burst into the room, my sister raced into my arms. She was crying and shaking. She could not speak. As I held her and comforted her, I looked over at Wickham. Once again he smirked. He loudly said 'You can take the little cold fish. Just leave me the check for her thirty thousand pounds. It is mine now.' Poor Georgie heard and cried all the more. I took great satisfaction in removing the smirk from his face. I told him that he had made a great error. Georgiana's dowry could not be released without my and my cousin's approval, not until she was thirty years old. When he recovered from this shock, he began to laugh. He exclaimed that I would voluntarily turn it over to him or he would keep my sister. It was his right as her husband."

Darcy paused and looked at Elizabeth. "Forgive my crudeness, Miss Elizabeth, but he vowed to use her most vilely until he had her funds."

Elizabeth had tears in her eyes. "Oh, Mr. Darcy. No. It is all too horrible. The poor child. And to think she heard him. Tell me. Please tell me he does not have her."

For the first time today, Elizabeth saw a small smile on Darcy's face.

"No, Miss Elizabeth. He does not have her. I am, forgive me for saying this, but I am a very powerful man. I explained to Wickham that I WAS taking my sister with me and there was nothing he could do. No magistrate and no court would force me to turn my young sister over to the scheming son of servant. I took poor Georgiana and left a screaming Wickham behind."

He stood quietly, again staring off into the distance.

"And the letter, sir?"

His eyes dropped to the ground and he spoke softly, almost a whisper. "We were waiting to see if there would be any – result from the elopement. I knew that Georgiana and I would do our best to love and take care of any child, but it would so cruel for her to have a daily reminder of this man. My housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, is like a mother to us. She finally sent me away. I - my anxiety and guilt were making the atmosphere oppressive. She felt it would do only good if I came to Bingley for a while."

He paused again, took a deep, shuddering breath and then continued. "The letter says that it, a child, apparently was there, but has now been lost. Mrs. Reynolds tells me that it was painful and Georgiana – lost much blood. However, the doctor and the midwife seem sure she will recover. What they found though…" His voice broke and once again he was robbed of speech. He closed his eyes momentarily and began to speak again as he opened them. "Oh, Miss Elizabeth. They believe she may have the French Disease."