Elizabeth had the habit of going missing after dinner, but Bella didn’t much pay attention. Without Jane’s good-natured influence, Elizabeth tended to be more mean spirited, so Bella was more than glad to not have to deal with her teasing comments. She feared the day when she had to leave the tender Kitty and the flighty Lydia to her influence. With her marriage, Catherine would be Coming Out in the New Year, and Lydia would be under review for the Summer or the Autumn depending on a variety of factors.
Still, there was another matter: Georgiana.
A week before the wedding, when Bella was considering hemlines and trousseaus, she received an invitation for an “apple pie luncheon” at Netherfield Hall. The invitation was so specific that she rather suspected it was meant as a cover—but a cover for what? She remembered the initial conversation with Mr. Bingley at the first Assembly in October, just two months previously, for a picnic where she might be invited with none of her sisters. A tête-à-tête as it were.
She would have accepted in any case, but she planned her toilette carefully, as if it were battle armour.
When she was admitted to the house, she found Caroline, as expected, her fiancé… and a gentleman she had never met.
It turned out the gentleman was one of Darcy’s cousins, a Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, who was also co-guardian of Darcy’s sister much younger, Georgiana.
The luncheon (which consisted of apple tarts, apple pies, apple butter with various cakes, and even apple stuffed pig) was for Darcy, Fitzwilliam, and herself.
“Is this a conference?” she asked openly as she had her first bite of apple butter and tried not to moan at the heavenly taste.
“A war court,” the Colonel agreed, helping himself to something. “It’s Georgiana.”
She looked between the men. “I have not had the pleasure. Nor do I expect to have the pleasure until the wedding—Is she not away with her companion, a Mrs. Ainsley?”
Darcy was unusually silent and wasn’t even particularly eating, although he had served himself.
Bella wasn’t entirely certain what to make of the situation.
It seemed the Colonel was regarding her now instead of his cousin. “Wickham,” he spat, “convinced Georgiana she was in love with him—” (“Oh dear,” Bella admitted, not quite certain what else to say, but guessing where this was going now that he had died.). “’Oh dear,’ I’m afraid, Miss Bennet, doesn’t even cover it.” He ate some fried apples.
“Miss Isabelle Mary,” Darcy corrected.
The Colonel looked at him.
Darcy didn’t even return his gaze, his eyes holding steadily on Bella. “My fiancée is the third sister. The second sister is currently Miss Bennet, but Isabelle Mary prefers never to be addressed as ‘Miss Bennet’ even when she has precedence. She is never simply ‘Isabelle.’ Her full name is to be used in compliment with itself.” His green eyes flashed toward a pile of apple strudel and then back to Bella in approval, and she smiled at him.
“Tell me of Miss Darcy,” Bella asked.
“She took it hard,” the Colonel said uncomfortably. “She’s barely spoken since the failed elopement. She now wishes to take religious orders.”
Bella paused and then nodded. “In the Church of England,” she checked.
“Yes,” the Colonel confirmed.
“How old is Miss Darcy?” She served herself some apple pie as there were no servants to give them complete privacy and took a sip of her chilled apple cider.
It was Darcy who answered. “Sixteen.”
Bella hummed. “She cannot take orders, then. They won’t let her.” She sipped her cider. “Forgive me, gentlemen. I am the peacemaker of four other sisters. I say, give her what she wants. She cannot take vows until she is eighteen. Let her sample religious life and hope she snaps out of it. Otherwise, she might resent you for not,” she paused, “taking her emotional pain seriously. This way, you are supportive. Hopefully, she’ll wake up and realize she’s being overdramatic in a few months.”
The Colonel cleared his throat. “What do we tell everyone?”
“She’s continuing her education outside of London society. That is correct, is it not?” She pinned him with a stare. “She’ll read, she’ll pray, she’ll learn that these romantic notions are inconsequential as he was a rake and gambler and a murderer. You shan’t have to worry she’ll run away with one of the nuns.” She gave him a small smile. Then it occurred to her, “She doesn’t wish to attend the wedding.”
“No,” the Colonel answered for Darcy, who looked uncomfortable.
This did hurt Bella, but Elizabeth was her sister, so little could be worse than that fate. “Then,” she decided slowly, “Miss Darcy is indisposed—as she is in actuality.” She turned back to her apples. “But you shall represent Darcy’s family, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
She turned the conversation, ending the discussion on Georgiana completely as there had been no objections to her course of action at that particular moment.
“My brother, Viscount Maldon, shall be in attendance, as well,” the Colonel promised.
“Lady Catherine de Bourg, our aunt, who approves of your sister so whole heartedly, has condescended to come—” Darcy’s voice trailed off as if there was more to that particular story, as there undoubtedly was, but Bella did not push it. She knew that Lady Catherine had a notion that her daughter Anne would do well as Darcy’s wife, but that it was simply that… a notion, and while Bella’s family did not have esteemed rank, she was from a respectable family.
“I look forward to making all of their acquaintance,” she told them both warmly.
“You are to be one of the first women of Derbyshire, along with my mother, the Countess of Matlock,” the Colonel told her warmly.
She blushed a little, not so much at the inherent compliment, but more at the Herculean task in front of her once she settled into married life.
“My only wish is to prove a successful wife to Fitzwilliam Darcy,” she told the Colonel firmly before looking over at her fiancé warmly, her dark eyes bright and shining.
Then the three began to eat their apple confections happily, conversation turning to Napoleon and the continent, to the probability of the Viscount Maldon taking a bride in the next decade, and whether or not the man the Colonel saw the previous evening was the new surgeon—for he seemed too refined for a mere country doctor.
One week before Christmas, Isabelle Mary Bennet (dressed in a dark pink and a cream bonnet) married Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Esquire of Pemberley House. Although a small affair, there was a Viscount present, and it was rumoured that the Prince Regent sent the bride a bouquet of flowers. For years to come, everyone agreed that Isabelle Mary—if not the handsomest of the Bennet sisters—was certainly the luckiest of them.
The eldest, after all, only married a cleric, although they retired (upon the death of Mr. Bennet) to Longbourn House. Mrs. Bennet, at that point, retired to Derbyshire to live with her favourite daughter, Mrs. Darcy, and her family. Another of her daughters, Mrs. Catherine Bingley, lived just in the same county.
The second daughter, Elizabeth, married a doctor, but moved away to London or some other metropolis soon after the wedding. If they were seen in Italy several decades later, looking much unchanged, that was merely rumor.
Finally, there was Lydia who married a widowed officer by the name of Tilney. He liked her tolerable enough, and she liked his uniform—so the marriage, as they say, was made in heaven.
The year was 2005 and Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife, Elizabeth, had moved to Olympic Crescent. Elizabeth had an adopted younger brother, Edward, who Elizabeth could not see die from Spanish Influenza, but their family had remained just the three of them. Elizabeth wasn’t particularly maternal and Carlisle didn’t wish to attract attention. With their fair coloring, all having blond or bronze hair, they looked like siblings.
As such, Carlisle and Elizabeth were husband and wife (as they were in actuality since that day in 1812 when a bold Elizabeth Bennet told Carlisle she knew he was a demon but she would rather go to hell for all eternity with him than spend one more dull day on earth alone). Edward posed as Elizabeth’s younger brother who was still in high school. He thought of Carlisle as a father and idolized him as such, and so the three formed a family, of sorts, more than a coven of vampires.
One day in Edward’s second week of high school, he came home with a flyer and left it in the kitchen that Elizabeth used for storage. She picked it up and started when she saw a photograph of her human sister ‘Isabelle Mary.’ Only, it was labeled “Isabella Marie Swan” or “Bella.” It was also decidedly modern.
Even after all these years, even with her human memories dulled from venom, Elizabeth Bennet Cullen would recognized her most annoying sister in a heartbeat – or what might have been a heartbeat if she had a heart.
She crumpled it in her hand and threw it in the trash.
Hopefully Edward wouldn’t bring another home and Carlisle had only met her once. Elizabeth hoped her husband wouldn’t recognize her, and it was impossible anyway. Isabelle Mary had died years ago—Elizabeth and Carlisle had visited all of her sisters’ graves, one by one, to say goodbye …
Sleeping dogs were meant to stay sleeping.
And Isabelle Mary had died centuries earlier… hadn’t she?