Chapter 3
Bingley approved Elizabeth staying at Netherfield, as she would be looking after his friend’s beloved sister.  Bingley was well aware that his sister had no real desire to spend time with Georgiana, as her only desire was to become Mrs Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley.  But he knew it would never happen. 
Caroline was displeased with the news that Elizabeth would be staying at Netherfield, though she began thinking of ways she could manipulate the situation, making Elizabeth appear to be a fool.  And she could show the country nobody for the upstart that she was. 
Mrs Younge took a room at the inn in Meryton, as she had plans as well.  She had written several letters, declaring that Darcy had been led astray by Elizabeth.  The first letter was to Matlock, to Edgar Fitzwilliam, eldest son of Lord and Lady Matlock.  The second letter was to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the elder sister of Lord Matlock and Lady Anne Darcy.  Mrs Younge was certain that Lady Catherine would be furious, and that the lady would make her way to Hertfordshire, as quick as possible.
She also wrote a letter to someone who had been close to the Darcy family for many years.  The young man would be willing to assist in the plans to ruin Elizabeth Bennet’s betrothal and destroy faith in the young lady’s ability to protect Georgiana Darcy from harm.  George Wickham had aided in Mrs Younge acquiring the position, with all of his hints and guidance.  And, if all else failed, he would be happy to ruin Georgiana Darcy, simply to acquire her dowry of thirty thousand pounds.  She would make certain that Elizabeth Bennet never became Mrs Darcy.
~~ ** ~~
A letter was forwarded from Darcy House, announcing Richard Fitzwilliam’s return from France.  He had been injured and would arrive in Town within a fortnight, for rest and recovery.  Georgiana was frightened of her cousin’s injury, for she loved him dearly.  She could no sooner tolerate the thought of losing him than she could her brother.
“You will love Richard, Lizzy.” Georgiana declared.  “He is William’s closest friend and he makes my brother laugh.  William will be sorry to have missed Richard’s return.  We should write to him, and send it to Aunt Rebecca’s address in Dublin.”
“That would be wise.  I am not certain if your cousin is aware of his parents being in Ireland.  They will wish to know as much as your brother.  And Colonel Fitzwilliam will want to know of his father’s condition.”
“Would you write to Brother?  I am certain he will appreciate any letter from you.” Georgiana smiled.
“We are already engaged, Georgiana.  There is no need to play matchmaker.” Elizabeth teased the younger girl.  “I will use the desk in the music room, so I can listen to you practice.  Then I can tell your brother that you are being diligent with your practice.”
Georgiana sighed.  “Very well, Lizzy.  You are quite the task master.  None of my instructors ever expected so much practice.”
“Well, they say practice makes perfect.” Elizabeth laughed as she wrapped her arm lovingly around Georgiana’s shoulders.  “And Jane is to visit later today.  It will be nice to spend time with her, will it not?”
“Your sister is such a sweet lady.  Has she always been so good natured?”
“Always.  My mother used to say that the reason I was such an impertinent young lady was to make up for Jane being so perfect.”
Georgiana giggled.  “That is quite silly, Lizzy.”
~~ ** ~~
Two days later, there was a loud banging on the front door of Netherfield Park’s main house.  The butler quickly opened the door, just as an elder lady began to push her way inside the foyer.  “I demand to see my niece immediately.” She declared, loud enough that Elizabeth was certain that her family could hear the lady at Longbourn.
“Forgive me, Madame, just who might your niece be?” The butler asked.
“I am Lady Catherine de Bough, aunt to Miss Georgiana Darcy.  I demand she be brought to me this instant, and have her belongings packed. We will be leaving directly.”
Elizabeth had been coming down the steps when she heard the commotion and she made her way towards the pair.  “Lady Catherine, it is a pleasure to meet you.  I am Elizabeth Bennet…”
“You are the hussy who has manipulated my nephew?  Well, we will see that is corrected.  While my nephew is away, I will see that the situation is rectified and you are sent off somewhere he cannot find you.  Marrying you would be the ruination of our family.  I will not have it.” Lady Catherine was not one to mix words.  She got straight to the point of her thoughts, right or wrong, and spoke exactly what she thought.
“Forgive me, Lady Catherine, but it would be best if we took this conversation into one of the rooms, for some privacy.”
“There is no need for privacy.  I am here to tell everyone that you are not engaged to my nephew, as he is engaged to my daughter.  What have you to say to that?  You are not engaged, and have made a fool of yourself, ruining your family forever.  Your family will have you packed off to parts unknown, as soon as they learn the truth.”
“Mr Darcy stated that there was no engagement between him and his cousin.  He has signed legal papers declaring we are betrothed, and allowing me to act in his stead. And that includes making decisions for his sister, while he is away.” Elizabeth stood as tall as she could.
“The papers are not legal, as my nephew was not in his right mind.  No, Georgiana will be leaving this place, with me, immediately.  She will remain with me, at Rosings Park, until her brother returns and the marriage to my Anne is performed.”
“I am afraid that your desires will not be fulfilled, Lady Catherine.  I can send for the solicitor who drew up the papers, if you wish, but I can assure you, they are legal, and I have guardianship over Georgiana.  William wished for me to act as Mistress to his homes and care for his sister, until he could return, when we would marry.”
“More likely he wished for you to be mistress of his bed, for you must have enticed him with your womanly charms.  My daughter will be the next Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House.  I have already sent word to the housekeepers of both, requesting the Mistress’ chambers be readied for my daughter.  Now, I demand my niece come at once.  I wish to be on the road within the hour.  If necessary, we can have her trunks sent to Rosings.” Lady Catherine stuck her nose in the air.  “I will require some refreshments while I wait for my niece.”
“I cannot speak for Mr Bingley, as I am not the hostess of his home, but I in charge of Georgiana, and she will not be leaving with you.  It would be best if you were to take your leave.  You might be able to return to your home before nightfall.”
Lady Catherine’s eyes narrowed to a squint.  “Young lady, do not force me to call for the constable in this neighborhood.  I have no difficulty in sending for the local magistrate to have my demands followed.”
Elizabeth laughed.  “You will find no cooperation with the local magistrate, Lady Catherine.  His name is Thomas Bennet, and he is my father, as well as one of the witnesses to William’s documents making me guardian over Georgiana until his return.”
“This is not to be born.  I have brought your father’s heir with me.  He is my parson.  If you will not listen to reason, then I demand you marry your cousin.  I will pay for the two of you to take up residence elsewhere, far from my family.  Then the ruin of the false betrothal will not taint your sisters.  I will purchase a small property for Mr Collins, as a wedding gift, and give you money as well.  All that will be necessary for you to do is sign over all interest and claims you believe you had with my nephew.”
“I will not do as you ask, Lady Catherine.  I am engaged to your nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.  I love him and he loves me…”
“Love, what a silly sentiment.  No one in our level of society marries for love.  Marriages are business transactions.  The marriage between my nephew and my daughter will unify two of the largest estates in England.”
“Your nephew choses love rather than combining his estate with Rosings.  Now, I will return to my future sister.  She will be wondering to where I have disappeared.”
“I demand you take me to my niece.  She is coming with me today.  I will brook no opposition.” Lady Catherine made to follow Elizabeth.
As the ladies were speaking, Caroline made her way to Georgiana’s rooms.  Upon being asked to enter, Caroline opened the door.  “Oh, Miss Darcy, did you not receive word?  Your aunt is here to collect you.  She is insisting you come down to the front sitting room immediately.  I will have the maids pack your belongings quickly.”
“B…but I thought…William said… Lizzy is my guardian while William is away.” Georgiana was frightened.  She disliked her aunt, and had refrained visiting Rosings for many years.
“Your aunt is the closest relations you have, Miss Darcy.  She has the authority over you, as your brother is away.  And your uncle, the earl, is sick.  He might even have died, leaving your cousin to be the head of the family.  It would only be fitting for your aunt and your only female cousin to take you in while you wait for Mr Darcy to return.  And you must wish to spend time with your future sister, Miss de Bourgh.  Why, I just heard your aunt declare that your brother was to marry Miss de Bourgh, as it was your mother’s favorite wish to see the two married.”
“No, that cannot be.  William and Lizzy are to marry.  My aunt must be made to see the truth.  William and Anne would never be happy with each other.  My brother has told me that he would not marry our cousin, and he is betrothed to Lizzy.”
“Sometimes we cannot do as we wish, for our family demands our behaving a different way.  Your brother may have wished to marry elsewhere, but he will be marrying your cousin.  Now, you must hurry.  Your aunt will not be pleased if you dawdle about.  I will have the maid pack your trunks.”  Miss Bingley pushed Georgiana towards the door of her bedchamber.  When the door was opened, Caroline’s hopes were dashed.  There stood her brother.
“Caroline, what are you doing?”
“I came to hurry Miss Darcy downstairs.  Her aunt is here to collect her, and Lady Catherine is not one to be kept waiting.  Step aside, Charles, and I will see Miss Darcy to her aunt.”
“Miss Darcy is going nowhere.  She is not under the authority of Lady Catherine, you know perfectly well that Darcy signed papers, making Miss Elizabeth guardian in his place, while he is in Ireland.  I was just coming to inform Miss Darcy of her aunt’s arrival, and it is my opinion that she remain in her rooms, until Lady Catherine takes her leave.”
“Charles, it would be improper to keep Miss Darcy here, against the wishes of her blood relations.” Caroline attempted to convince her brother.
“That is enough.  I am not breaking my promise to Darcy.  He asked me to assist his betrothed and his sister, and that is what I am doing.” Bingley stood his ground with his sister, something he had not done in many years.  This was shocking to Caroline, who had usually been able to manipulate him to doing exactly as she wished.  It was her opinion that Hertfordshire had not been a good place for her brother.
Caroline decided she would have to give into her brother’s decision, at least for the moment.  She would find a way to work around him, and separate Georgiana from the Bennet chit.  “Very well, Charles.  I will make sure that Lady Catherine has all she requires.  I will have her put in the green guest room.”
“Lady Catherine is not remaining under my roof.  She was not invited, and she can return to Town before darkness sets.  Or she can take rooms at an inn.  My friend instructed me on how to deal with his aunt.  I have no plans on even offering her a cup of tea, as I am certain she has been quite rude to Miss Elizabeth.”
“Miss Eliza is nothing in comparison to the likes of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Brother, I insist you do nothing which would anger the grand lady.” Caroline did not wish to lose what standing they had built with the members of the ton.  She had traded on her brother’s connection with Darcy, and angering one of his family might ruin the Bingley reputation further than their fortune being from trade.
“I have nothing to fret over, Sister.  Now, I will ask you to leave Miss Darcy be for the moment.  You might wish to keep to your rooms as well, for I am about to speak with the woman.”
Caroline seethed all the way to her rooms.  She was furious, angrier than she had been in many years.  All of her plans were falling apart.  Why did her brother have to finally develop a spine?  She hated Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire, and anyone with the name Bennet.  They had foiled her plans, and it needed to stop.  Perhaps it was best for her to convince her brother to leave Netherfield and return to Town.,
~~ ** ~~
Bingley entered the sitting room, finding Lady Catherine extremely angered with Elizabeth.   “Miss Elizabeth, may I be of assistance to you?”
Lady Catherine turned her attention towards the man.  “Who are you to come to this chit’s assistance?  Are you her lover, come to protect your property?”
“How dare you speak of Miss Elizabeth in such a manner?  I am Charles Bingley, a close friend of Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is betrothed to Miss Elizabeth.  From what I overheard, I believe you are aware of the betrothal.”
“There is no betrothal to this nobody, as my nephew is betrothed to my daughter, Anne de Bourgh.  As such, this chit has no authority over my niece.  With both of Georgiana’s guardians out of the country, it is up to me to protect the girl from charlatans.  Since she refuses to bring my niece, you, as the so called master of this house, should bring Georgiana to me immediately.” Lady Catherine appeared smug, glancing at Elizabeth as if she had won the battle of wills.
“I am afraid I will be unable to fulfill your request, Lady Catherine.  Before he left for Ireland, to see to your brother’s care, Darcy made me swear to stand beside Miss Elizabeth in case you attempted such as this.  I have copies of the paperwork he signed, locked in my safe, as does Mr Bennet and the solicitor.  The constable in the neighborhood, Mr Farnsworth, has been alerted to your potential arrival and what you would demand.  If he comes here, it will be at my request, to remove you from my home.  Now, if you do not wish to be removed by force, I suggest you return to your carriage and leave the neighborhood immediately.”
Lady Catherine’s fury was tremendous.  The redness of her face spread down her neck and into her hair.  Elizabeth was worried the woman would suffer from an apoplexy.
“I have never been so ill-treated…and by the son of a tradesman.  Do you realize to whom you are speaking?  My father was an earl. His father was an earl, his father was an earl.  My brother is the current earl.  You are insignificant, with no ties to society, other than those you have made at my nephew’s coattails.” Lady Catherine stomped her walking stick against the floor.  “I demand my niece brought to me immediately.”
“This is the last time I will ask you politely, Lady Catherine.  Please remove yourself from my home, or I will have you removed.” Bingley stood his ground, though inside, he was quaking.
Lady Catherine stormed to the door of the sitting room, bellowing out orders to the servants.  “Have Georgiana Darcy brought to me at once.  I do not care about her belongings being packed, they can be sent to Rosings.  But I am taking my niece from here this very moment.”
The butler took hold of the footman’s arm, giving the young man a slight shake of the head.  “Excuse me, Madame, doing so would go against my master’s orders.  Miss Darcy is to remain here, at Netherfield.”
“You are a servant, and I demand you do as I instructed.  I will not be denied by a servant, a son of a tradesman, or the daughter of some country nobody.”  Lady Catherine stormed towards the staircase, intending to search for Georgiana herself.
Bingley motioned to the butler and two large footmen appeared, each taking hold of one of Lady Catherine’s arms, dragging the struggling woman out of the opened front door.  The men did not stop until they tossed her, unceremoniously, inside her carriage, giving directions to the driver to continue driving until they were far from Netherfield.
The driver was fearful for his position, as he did not wish to lose his job.  He knew the location of the estate where his employer’s parson had been left, just before arriving at Netherfield.  The driver thought it would be safe to take Lady Catherine there.
The carriage was soon arriving in front of the Bennet home.  Lady Catherine was in no mood to show any politeness, storming her way inside Longbourn, as soon as Mrs Hill had opened the door.  The housekeeper fell backwards, unable to announce Lady Catherine to the family, who were in the parlor with Mr Collins.
“Ah, here is my esteemed patroness.  She is such a wise lady, and she will be able to set this matter to rest.” Mr Collins declared to Mr and Mrs Bennet.  “Lady Catherine, I was just explaining to my cousins that their daughter must be sent away, for her ruination from her behavior with your nephew will bring shame down upon all of her relations.  It is terrible enough for herself, but what of her sisters?  None would be able to marry well, and, when Mr Bennet has left his earthly remains and gone to heaven, who will care for the poor souls?”
“I care not.” Lady Catherine declared.  Turning her attention to Mr Bennet, she made her announcement.  “I assume you are the father of that creature who is residing at Netherfield, insisting on ruining my nephew and niece.”
“My daughter, Elizabeth, who is engaged to Mr Darcy, is residing at Netherfield at the moment.  She is caring for Miss Darcy, as was his request before departing for Ireland.” Mr Bennet was prepared for the grand lady, after listening to his toady of a cousin for the past hour.
“I will make this offer to you once, and only once.  You will have your daughter marry Mr Collins immediately.  I have purchased a special license for them to wed.  They will move to my property in Scotland, taking the living there.  And your daughter is never to return to England.  If you do as I just told you, I will give you a bank draft for twenty thousand pounds.  When you are dead, Mr Collins will return to England, and take up his rightful place as Master of this estate, but your daughter will remain in Scotland.  She is to have no contact with my nephew or my niece.  Am I understood?”
“I understand what you are telling me, Madame, though I do not intend to follow your orders.” Mr Bennet stated.
“Mr Bennet.” Mrs Bennet was dumbstruck.  How could her husband turn down such a sum?  Such an amount could see her comfortable when her husband passed on.  “Perhaps it is wise to consider the matter.  If Mr Darcy is going to abandon our Lizzy, we would be ruined.  It would protect us, when you are gone.  You should consider the matter carefully.”
“There is nothing to consider.” Mr Bennet stated.  “The papers are already signed, the only thing left to do is to have the church service.  Mr Darcy has no intention of deserting our daughter, not even if he was pressured by his relations.  He made his position clear, before he left.  And he made sure that Lizzy was protected from his aunt, so there is little she could do that would cause our family harm.”
“Do not underestimate me.  I will not allow your family to destroy the future of my family.  I will see you living in the hedgerow first.”
“My dear cousin, you should listen to your wife.  You should take my patroness’ offer.  It is very generous of the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh to make such an offer.  Just think of the protection it will provide your family, especially in the wake of your demise.  They will be taken care of, and have a roof over their heads.”
“Mr Darcy has already seen to protecting my family.  His settlement for Lizzy was drawn up, along with the codicil to his will, should he die.  All the legal matters were addressed, and there is no reason for any changes to be made, especially changes as to whom the groom will be.  Elizabeth will be marrying Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley.”
“This is not to be born.” Lady Catherine stamped her foot.  “I will not allow that country nobody to usurp my daughter’s position as Mistress of Pemberley.  It is my daughter’s rightful place, and that is all there is to it.  If you will not do as I have commanded, I will know how to act.  I will not allow my nephew’s courtesan to ruin him and his sister.  Come, Mr Collins, we are to Town.”
Pleading with his cousin to reconsider the offer, Mr Collins followed after his patroness.
Mrs Bennet was fretting.  “Thomas Bennet, you may have just ruined out entire family, all for Elizabeth.”  She made her way up the stairs and into her rooms, wailing all the way of the ruination Elizabeth would bring on the family.  Mrs Hill heard her Mistress crying for her smelling salts and tea.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~

Chapter 4
The following week brought the arrival of the militia to Meryton.  With the group was a new member, Lieutenant George Wickham.  He made a point of learning as much as he could about the Bennet family, especially about Elizabeth Bennet, from those in the neighborhood.  He wished to know all he could before he made his move towards befriending her and becoming closer to Miss Georgiana Darcy.
The militia was in high demand for dinner parties and teas, card games, and any other gatherings in the neighborhood.  This allowed Wickham to blend in with everyone.  The Bennet family was one of the most predominant members of the neighborhood, so were constantly in company at the gatherings.  The only members of the family that were absent were Mr Bennet, for he preferred to spend his time in his bookroom, which was peaceful while his wife and daughters were out, and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had decided to refrain from socializing at gatherings that Georgiana could not attend.  Though the girl was the same age as Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia, Miss Darcy was not out in society and could not attend society gatherings that were not held by her family.  When the Bingleys hosted the militia to dine, Georgiana was allowed to dine with the group, though she and Elizabeth retired to their rooms after the meal was consumed.  It was more than a fortnight before Wickham was finally introduced to Elizabeth, as she was leaving Longbourn, after visiting her father.
“A pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Elizabeth.  I have heard many wonderful things about you.  I can see that I was not given false tales of your beauty.” Wickham said as he bowed over her hand.
“Sir, you are obviously in need of glasses, for I am far from being the beautiful member of my family.  That would be my sister, Jane.”
“But your beauty is as great as your sister’s.  Some prefer the elegance and fair coloring of your sister.  Others, like myself, prefer a more natural beauty.  You would be easily mistaken for a woodland fairy, belonging in nature’s gardens.”
“I believe you are quite the sweet talker, Mr…what was your name again?”
“Wickham.  George Wickham, from Derbyshire.”
“Derbyshire. Where in the county do you hail from?” Elizabeth inquired, her curiosity peaked. 
“My father was the steward for an estate called Pemberley.  I have many fond memories of my years growing up there.” Wickham knew he had said enough to interest the lady.
“Then you know the Darcy family.”
“Indeed.  The late Mr Darcy was my godfather.  He paid for me to attend school, along with his son.  A better man you would never meet.  His son, well, he has turned out different from his father.  It is sad to say, but his father would be disappointed in Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
Elizabeth was certain the man was too smooth to be honest.  “How so?  Why would Mr Darcy’s father disapprove of him?”
“I really should not say, for it is indelicate for a young lady, such as you, to hear such information.”
“Please, enlighten me.  I know Mr Darcy, and would wish to protect my family if he is dangerous.”
Wickham was surprised with Elizabeth’s behavior.  “As I shared rooms with him at university, I was forced to endure his debauchery and depravity.  He was notorious for gambling and drinking.  And… well, I dare not speak of his activities with women.”
“I am not a fragile flower, wilting in the heat, Mr Wickham.  If Mr Darcy is the sort of man you have suggested, then I should be made aware of the situation.”
“Well, I will tell you that Mr Darcy has ruined more than a few young ladies.  Maids at Pemberley and Darcy House were let go from service when it was discovered that they were with his children.  He has several, which are hidden away from polite society.  Poor Mr Darcy, he was devastated by his son’s carnal appetites.  He saw to the care of the natural children of his son, but hid them so the son could make a better match.  It is expected that he is to marry his cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh.  Her estate combined with Pemberley will give the current Mr Darcy extreme power.  But if Miss de Bourgh’s mother learned the truth of her nephew’s behavior, the match will be dissolve.”
“Interesting.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh was recently here, and, from what she said, she has not difficulties with Mr Darcy having a mistress, as long as he marries her daughter.”
Wickham was shocked.  “I find that difficult to believe, as the lady was vocal on her opinion when she visited the Darcy estate years ago.”
“Like I said, Lady Catherine was here recently, and she was extremely clear on her view.”
“Perhaps you misunderstood her meaning.  Or perhaps she has learned to accept her nephew’s proclivities so that she can gain control over Pemberley.”
“She is the sort who wishes to be in control of everything and everyone.” Elizabeth gave a slight snort as she spoke.  “But she had no control over her niece, which is what she wished for when she visited here.”
“Miss Darcy is here?  I remember her as such a sweet girl.  She enjoyed my visits, when I would read to her or tell her stories.  What a kind girl she was.  Is she still as good natured?”
“Indeed.  She is delightful.”
Wickham attempted to move forward.  “Would it be too much to ask where she is staying?  I wish to pay her a visit, if it is possible.  Her brother would disapprove, as he was angered with me for informing his father of his behavior with one of the maids.  But I understand that Mr Darcy is not in the neighborhood.”
“He is not, but his betrothed is usually with his sister, so I do not believe you would be allowed to visit her.” Elizabeth said.
“Miss de Bourgh is here?  I would love to see her again, as it has been many years since I last saw her.”
“Miss de Bourgh is not here as she is not engaged to Mr Darcy.  As I said, I do not believe you would be allowed to visit Miss Darcy.  Now I must leave.”
Wickham was displeased with his meeting, as he could tell Elizabeth Bennet did not approve of him.  Her reluctance to even acknowledge her engagement to Darcy was evidence that she did not trust what she was being told.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Elizabeth.  I look forward to seeing you again.  And, if you see Miss Darcy, would you extend my best wishes for her health and happiness?”
“Perhaps, Mr Wickham.  If I see Miss Darcy.”
~~ ** ~~
Arriving back at Netherfield, Elizabeth was pleased to see that Georgiana had taken her suggestion and went for a ride with Bingley and his sister, Caroline.  Though neither Elizabeth nor Georgiana cared for Caroline, Bingley’s presence would keep Miss Bingley from making improper comments.
Elizabeth entered the drawing room to find Louisa Hurst arranging some flowers in a vase.  “Miss Elizabeth.  Some mail came for you, one of them is an express that arrived an hour ago.”
“Thank you, Mrs Hurst. I will take the mail to my room.  When Georgiana returns, would you ask her to join me?”
Mrs Hurst nodded her head.
“By the way, those flowers are beautiful.  You have quite a talent for arranging them to bring out the natural beauty of each variety, complimenting them.”
“Thank you, Miss Elizabeth.” Mrs Hurst was surprised with Elizabeth’s compliment.  “I have always enjoyed arranging flowers.”
“You have a perfect touch for the task.”  Elizabeth stepped to the hall and found the mail on the silver salver, placed on the table near the bottom of the staircase.
There were three letters, and Elizabeth smiled at the first two being from William.  She had been sad that she had not received any letters from him for some days, but she noticed that there was smudges in the ink, making the writing difficult to read. 
The third letter was the express.  She did not recognize the handwriting on the exterior of the letter, and she was curious as to whom had written her, especially at Netherfield.
Walking up the staircase, Elizabeth asked one of the maids if she could bring some cool water to the sitting room connected to her chambers.  Elizabeth took her seat on a sofa, and broke the seal on the express.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet,
Please forgive me for writing to you, as we have yet to be introduced.  What I have to tell you is far more important than propriety.  I am Lady Matlock, aunt to Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy.  It was at my request that Fitzwilliam left you and my niece.
I do not know how to tell you the following, but I must.  We received word this morning that the ship Fitzwilliam was sailing on was damaged during a storm.  The ship sunk, at least the part of the ship that was not destroyed in the storm. There was no survivors found.  A ship that was sailing the day after found the debris and was able to identify some of the items that were recovered to be those of Fitzwilliam’s and the captain of the ship.  The man we had at the docks, waiting for our nephew’s arrival, learned of the news, bringing the items to us. 
It breaks my heart to learn of my nephew’s death, especially at this time, when he has found love and had planned to marry you.  Writing this letter has been difficult, as I can only imagine the pain it will bring you. 
My husband is beginning to recover, though the news has taken his spirits so low, that I worry for him having a relapse.  When he is well enough, we will return to England.  We received word that our son, Richard, was to arrive in Town.  I have sent word to him of the shipwreck, and where to find you and Georgiana.  He will most likely arrive shortly after learning the news.  I am certain he will wish to take Georgiana to Darcy House, and make arrangements for her future.  We will join them as soon as it is possible.
It is my desire to thank you for the love you gave our dear nephew.  You saw him for the precious gem he was, not what his wealth could bring.  Fitzwilliam wrote to tell me of his plans to ask you to marry him, and it pleased me that you accepted him.  His final months were filled with a love we all wished for him.  One day, I wish to meet you and know you better.  I will be forever grateful to you.
I must return to my husband.  I will inform you of our return to England, when it is arranged.  Forgive me for being the bearer of such heartbreaking news.
With great sympathy
Lady Rebecca Fitzwilliam, Lady Matlock
Elizabeth’s hands trembled, as tears poured from her eyes.  No, it cannot be.  It is a mistake.  I have letters from William, they just arrived.  It is not possible that he is…no, I will not believe he is gone.  No, he is not… he is not… Oh, William, please.  You cannot be gone.  I cannot believe your aunt’s words.  You are alive, I am certain.  You are alive, and will come back to me.  Please, God, bring William back to me.
The sounds of footsteps coming towards her room was heard.  No, Georgiana has returned. How am I to tell her?  How am I to break her heart with such news?  Dear God in Heaven, please give me strength.  My sis…no, she is not my sister.  She will never be my sister, not now.  I will never be Mrs Darcy.  I will never have his children.  I will never…never…
The door of her sitting room opened and Georgiana entered the room.  The girl’s excitement was written on her expression.  “Oh, Lizzy, I had the greatest time riding with Mr Bingley and his sister.  It was so refreshing, making me feel as I do when I am riding with Brother at Pemberley.  It was such a beautiful day, and we rode…” the girl suddenly realized that Elizabeth’s cheeks were wet from tears streaming down them. “Lizzy, what has happened? Is it your family?  Has someone taken ill or had an accient?”
“No, Georgiana, all are well at Longbourn.  Please, come take a seat beside me.” Elizabeth patted the space beside her on the sofa.  Hearing a knock on the door, Elizabeth called for the person to enter.  She had believed the person would be the maid with the water.  Instead, Charles Bingley entered the sitting room.
“Miss Elizabeth, my sister informed me that an express arrived for you.  I pray that all is well.” Seeing that Elizabeth was distraught, Bingley moved towards the chair that was close to the sofa.  “Good God, what has happened?  Is Miss Bennet well?”
“My sister is well, Mr Bingley.  Please, sit.  You should be made aware of the contents of the letter I received.” Elizabeth said, pulling her handkerchief from her pocket.  “Perhaps it would be best if you were to read the letter, Mr Bingley.”
He took the proffered letter, reading it quickly.  His expression changed drastically, as his eyes welled.  This caused Georgiana to become agitated. 
“Please, Lizzy, tell me what has happened.  Has my uncle died?”
Elizabeth shook her head.  “Your aunt wrote the letter to me.  Your uncle is beginning to recover.  It is…William…”
“NO!  NO!” Georgiana shook her head.  “I will not listen to you if you are trying to tell me something has happened to my brother.  I will not believe you.  William is fine, he is in Ireland, tending to our relations.  He will be back soon, and you will be married.  Please, Lizzy, tell me that all is well…tell me about the plans your mother is making for the wedding.”
“I cannot, Georgiana.  I wish I could.  God in Heaven, I wish I could.  The ship…there was a storm…”
“No, no, no. I will not listen to you.” Georgiana stood, preparing to flee the room.  “If you love my brother, you will not tell me these lies.  William will be home soon, and he will not be happy at your telling me lies.” Tears were flowing openly, and no one in the room was immune.
“Do not ever doubt my love for William.  My heart is shattered by the letter your aunt sent.  I do not wish to believe what she says.  Do you not realize how painful this is for me?” Elizabeth pleaded with the girl.
Georgiana was sobbing.  “Please, Lizzy, tell me this is a nightmare, and I will wake to find none of this is true.”
“I wish you would tell me the same.” Elizabeth went to Georgiana’s side, engulfing the girl in her embrace.  “I wish the very same thing, my dear girl.”
Bingley was in a state of shock.  “I will send word to Longbourn for Mr Bennet and Miss Bennet to join us.  And it would be best for us to send word to Mr Phillips.  We will need to prepare ourselves for another visit from Lady Catherine, as soon as she learns the news.”
Georgiana’s fears doubled in a moment.  She looked at Elizabeth, pleading for assistance.  “My aunt cannot take me to Rosings, can she?  William would not have me placed with Aunt Catherine.  Please tell me I do not have to live with her.”
“We will have to discuss all of this with my uncle.  He will know more about the legal aspects of… of…” A new wave of tears overtook her.  “And your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, is in England again.  He has authority over you.  I am certain he would not wish for you to live with Lady Catherine.  When he comes, we will learn what he plans for the future.”
“I love Richard, but he is not William.  William was more than my brother.” Georgiana sobbed as her head rested on Elizabeth’s chest.
Bingley noticed two letters on the floor, near the front edge of the sofa.  “Miss Elizabeth, are those your letters?”
Suddenly remembering the letters from William, she scooped them into her hands and brought them to her chest.  These were the last words he would ever write to her, the last time he would tell her of their future and his love for her. 
“They arrived today.  The directions on them were smeared, and difficult to read.”  She looked at the two letters, now too painful to open and read, knowing what had happened to the man who wrote them.  “They were from William.”
Nodding his head, Bingley left the room, leaving Elizabeth and Georgiana alone.
“Lizzy, would you prefer I leave you alone to read your letters?”
Elizabeth looked at the girl.  “I do not wish to read them at the moment.  It would be too painful.  Thank you for your kindness, Georgiana.”
“I know how much William loved you.  He told me how dear you were to him, and his dreams of your living with us at Pemberley.”
Tears were streaming once again.  Elizabeth could not believe she could cry more, surely she would become dehydrated from shedding so many tears.  “I loved William dearly.  My dreams were filled with living at Pemberley with him, and with you.  But those dreams are over.  They will never come true.  Pemberley is your home, as I am certain that you are to inherit the estate.  Colonel Fitzwilliam will be able to assist you, until you are an adult and find a husband.”
“But Lizzy, I wish for you to live there with me.  I cannot imagine living there without you.  Please, tell me you will move there, live with me.”
“I will think about your request, Georgiana.  But I am not sure it would be wise for me to do so.  Remember, I was to come to Pemberley as Mrs Darcy.  The position of Mistress of Pemberley will be yours, not mine.  All I would be is your friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.  And living in the home your brother loved so dearly, seeing the sights he will never again see, I am not certain that I am able to be strong enough.”
“You are rightfully the Mistress, Elizabeth.  I know Brother would want you to care for Pemberley.  Did he not tell you that he wished for you to handle any problems while he was away?”
“He did not realize that he would not be returning, Georgiana.  If I make mistakes, he will not be returning to put things to right.  No, it is best that Colonel Fitzwilliam aids you to make decisions of what is best for Pemberley.”  The conversation was growing unbearable for Elizabeth.  “Forgive me, Georgiana, I wish to refresh myself before my family arrives.”  She moved quickly to the bedchamber door and was inside the room in an instant.  Closing the door behind her, Elizabeth sank to the floor in despair.
~~ ** ~~
“Caroline, we will be having several people coming to meet with Miss Darcy and Miss Elizabeth.  One of the people is Colonel Fitzwilliam, and he will require rooms to stay until decisions are made.”
“What sort of decisions, Charles?” Caroline was curious. 
“The express that arrived…it was from Lady Matlock.  Darcy’s ship, it sank.  There were no survivors.”
Caroline Bingley’s eyes grew round and large.  “Mr Darcy is dead? This cannot be.  No, Charles, I cannot believe this to be true.  Mr Darcy is alive, and he will return.  I know he will be grateful for my friendship to his sister, and he will break off his engagement to country nobody and wish to marry me.”
“You must stop this immediately, Caroline.  Darcy is dead.  He will not be returning.  Do not cause his sister any more pain than she is already suffering.  I will not have you giving the girl false hopes.  She is in enough pain as it is, losing a beloved brother.  Now, see to the preparations of rooms for Colonel Fitzwilliam.  And have anyone looking to speak to me come to Miss Elizabeth’s sitting room.  That is where we will meet for the present.  It is a much more relaxed atmosphere for the ladies.”
“Of course.  And Miss Eliza will be leaving, after the colonel arrives?”
“Miss Elizabeth is welcome to remain here as long as she needs.  I am not certain what the future holds for her, but I will not have her leave Netherfield, simply due to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arrival.”
Bingley turned and left his sister in the music room.  Caroline’s mind was turning, coming up with plans for making herself indispensable to Georgiana Darcy.  She was certain that Darcy was still alive, and she intended to have him find her being the comforting friend to his beloved sister.  That would win his heart, she was certain.