Part the First
Two telegrams came the morning the paper announced that the RMS Titanic had—miraculously—sunk at sea. The Earl of Grantham opened the first and was so startled he almost upset his tea.
MARRIED ISABELLA SWAN STOP MORE TO FOLLOW IN NEW YORK STOP P CRAWLEY FULL STOP
How would he tell Mary?
That all became secondary with the next telegram—and then it became a question whether Mrs. Isabella Crawley survived and if—“She can’t be with child,” Cora stated in shock as she poured a cup of tea in her bedroom not an hour later when he had explained the situation as it stood.
“My dear,” he stated distractedly, “we do not even know if Mrs. Crawley lives.”
“But,” Cora pointed out with her American practical thinking that he so admired at times, “she was a woman in first class. If anyone got off, it would have been her. If she was enterprising enough to snag a future Earl and marry him in a matter of days, she may have been enterprising enough to get off a sinking ship.” Her brow lined in worry for a moment. “We know her birth name?”
Sighing, Grantham sat at the edge of his marriage bed. “Yes. Swan.”
Cora shrugged. The name, it appeared, meant nothing to her either. “You must contact Murray. She is our responsibility and if there was time enough for a child—”
A child, yes. It all hung on the marriage bed of a girl who may have drowned with Patrick and his father, James. For a moment, Grantham allowed himself to indulge in the idea of a child for the barest of moments, a great-nephew he could raise as good as a son because he would have no father.
His wife was watching him closely and he gave her a careful smile. “You were thinking about baby napkins.”
“If I was,” he answered, ever the Englishman, “your mind turned the same way.” He paused, thinking about the past that never was, of the son that now never could be despite his and his wife’s best intentions. “I told Carson to make sure the girls didn’t see the papers. The servants are sworn to silence. I best tell Mary.”
She nodded, sagely. “I’ll dress in black and be there when you tell Edith and Sybil. You’ll tell Mary—about Mrs. Crawley.”
“I’ll have to. It’s only right that the body—” He clenched his fist around the bedspread when he realized there wouldn’t be any bodies “—she was a Crawley, even if for less than a week. She’ll be memorialized here.”
Her hand pressed against his for the briefest of moments, not intruding on his grief. They both knew she could never understand. He had lost two heirs in one morning—and the possibility of yet another in the shapeless form of Isabella Crawley and any child she might carry. The marriage itself was a betrayal, but with the destruction of the Titanic, it was lessened to the barest hint of an ache.
With a nod, Grantham left his wife’s bedchamber, knowing O’Brien would soon be in to gossip and tell tales to the servants of the mysterious Mrs. Patrick Crawley.
Mary came and he barely got the words out—“James and Patrick were on the Titanic—” before she had exclaimed, “Do I have to wear black?”
He blinked, waylaid by the question. “He was your cousin.”
“No,” she responded and then realized, “yes. I meant, however, as a fiancée. I do so hate to go into full mourning.”
He took a deep breath, not wishing to ponder his daughter’s lack of feeling in that exact moment and instead picked up the first of the two telegrams. “It seems that Patrick had released you from any promise,” he told her, handing over the piece of paper.
Her dark eyes were questioning and then her thin fingers took the telegram gracefully, gaze darting down. Horror then jealousy reached into her usually impenetrable expression.
“We do not yet know,” Grantham started again, not wishing to get muddled in a case of female histrionics, “if Mrs. Isabella Crawley is among the survivors—but we have hope that the woman your cousin saw fit to marry did not perish.”
Mary swallowed delicately, her eyes tracing over the telegram once again, before flitting up to her father. “How long were they married?”
“We can only speculate at this point.” He turned away at the hurt on his daughter’s face and looked down at the blotter, which not half an hour ago held his own telegram, which had been promptly sent to his solicitor. “I have sent inquiries. It may be some days before we know if she survived.”
Her fingers dropped the telegram, her hands falling to her sides, and Grantham reached forward to carefully guide her to a chair. He already had a glass of brandy poured and set aside and held it out to her, and, as she drank it, he picked up the telegram off the carpet and put it back carefully on his desk.
“You mean for her to come and live at Downton Abbey.”
“It is too soon to say.—We do not know if she survived. We do not know if she should wish to come.”
At this Mary laughed mirthlessly. “Well, at least no one will think to question why I do not go into full mourning.” She set the glass aside and stood, looking about the study with dispassionate eyes. “I would have married him for Downton’s sake. He had nothing else to recommend him.”
Grantham knew his daughter’s reasons for entering an engagement were purely mercenary, but he did not like them spelled out quite so plainly at such a time. “Other women might have found him charming.”
“Patrick? Charming?” Mary asked, clearly disbelieving.
He picked up a pen in his left hand. “Your sister Edith sometimes thought so.”
“Edith has no taste.”
To that, Grantham failed to have an answer.
After the conversation, he looked at the telegram again and wondered, for what must have been the fiftieth time, who Mrs. Isabella Crawley actually was and if he would ever get to meet his cousin’s widow.
Bella Swan’s brain was defective. She always thought so. When Edward joked that only she would believe that something was wrong with herself when he couldn’t read her mind, well, he’d been wrong in the end. It wasn’t his gift that malfunctioned. It was her brain that was—different.
When Edward had attempted to force the Volturi’s hand and commit suicide via proxy, Bella had gotten on a plane to Volterra and been captured along with Alice Cullen. This had caused one of the Volturi kings to test various vampiric gifts on her—and one had reacted badly to Bella’s defective brain.
To this day, months later, Bella still wasn’t sure which gift exactly had been the one to react unexpectedly, but then again, she wasn’t entirely certain that it mattered… in the end.
It had taken Bella two days to realize she wasn’t having a nightmare and that she had—inexplicably—time traveled.
It had taken Bella another full day to convince some lowlifes to let her enter a card game in Volterra… and she began to hop from city to city across Europe… from card game to card game… from hôtel to hôtel.
The card game in Southampton was not a respectable one, but none of the card games she played had been as no respectable card game would take her.
Bella, as luck would have it, had a knack for cards. It had nothing to do with reading minds (like Edward). It had nothing to do with her defective brain (which would remain a mystery). It had everything to do with watching Charlie play cards with Billy Black and Harry Clearwater when they thought she was watching football or talking with Jake.
She hadn’t realized that it was April 10, 1912. She hadn’t realized that the ticket for First Class to America was aboard the Titanic. And when she walked up to the ship three hours before the gate closed in her satin dress with her one trunk (she had a bit of rope tied to the handle and pulled it along behind her à la Becky Sharpe), she decided that it was fate remedying her unlikely existence.
In another time, she would have tried to warn someone, but she couldn’t remember what day the ship would sink, and no one listened to women who didn’t have a chaperone and did not have a respectable family name.
However, Mr. Patrick Crawley danced with her even though she had two left feet, and when he asked her to marry him on April 12th, she said ‘yes,’ because she didn’t want to die alone and a virgin. It was petty and selfish, but he looked at her as if she were important to him—not as if she were a science experiment.
Bella understood the difference now.
If she fell a little in love with his blue eyes and wanted him to kiss her so badly that first evening that she almost cried in relief when he did, she kept those thoughts locked in her heart. She was, after all, a silly teenager who had her heart broken once before. The ocean would surely break it this time around, but she would kiss Patrick and be his wife for the short time that she had. If he told her that he loved her on their wedding night and if she whispered it back, no one had to know that she secretly meant it…
Patrick called her “Isabella” because it was her “Christian name” and he respected her as a woman, and she somehow found she could not hate him when he called her that.
After he was dead, she never uttered the nickname “Bella” again in remembrance of him. She never corrected Lord Grantham either when he called her, “Mrs. Isabella Crawley.” Her name, strangely, became Bella’s silent memorial to her husband. No one knew, and no one asked. However, she kept the knowledge wrapped in her heart, where it was safe in her keeping.
Bella had been asleep when they hit the ice.
She had been awake and crying when she had been lifted into a lifeboat and had only the memory of her husband’s kisses on her lips. Patrick’s signet ring had been around her thumb, the only proper ring he had to use at the ceremony performed by the captain two days earlier.
When the survivors were picked up hours later, flares tearing across the sky, Bella wondered if the telegram had gotten through to his cousin—Robert, she thought he was called—and if she had anywhere to go or if she would wander from hotel to hotel, card game to card game, as she had before her marriage.
The world was a daze as she gave her name in the list of survivors—Isabella Crawley—and Bella was placed on another boat headed to New York. She had nothing but the dress on her back, a pale blue with white stripes.
There was also the money she had time to hide in her stays, which she almost forgotten about until she had time to give herself a sponge bath on the ship that carried her the rest of the way to America.
The Carpathia came into port in New York and she had a telegram waiting for her. At the post office there was another ticket back to England, should she wish to take it. The Earl of Grantham, her cousin, had not forgotten her. She had several days to wait, but she was frightened of the sea, so she was glad to not have to face the ocean again so soon.
She thought of going to Chicago, to see Edward, but he was just a child, she realized, and all love for him had died in her heart with a single true kiss from Patrick Crawley.
In the days between, there was trying on gowns for mourning and back alleys and card games. At least she would have a dowry to present to Lord Grantham, although Patrick hadn’t cared for anything but her shy smiles and soft touches in the darkness.
Bella arrived back in England on the first of May and although the air was now growing warmer, Bella could only feel the cold of the ocean (colder than Edward’s hard and impersonal kisses) inside her bones. Bella was a widow for longer than she had been married, and she was back in Europe although she had thought to leave it when the opportunity presented itself.
Still, her time in New York was well spent, playing for cash and purchasing three mourning dresses. She now was a wealthy widow with a dowry and a beaten-up trunk that she pulled by a piece of rope. Patrick had teased her about her last trunk, and this one brought a bittersweet smile to her face.
Bella was still aboard ship, staring out the porthole, preparing herself mentally to disembark when there was a knock on her door. Her eyes felt damp and she reached up to touch her cheek and realized she had been crying silently again. She looked around her cabin and called out before she turned back to the window.
Blinking, she realized the door had opened and the sound of a voice clearing had echoed into the room. “Is it time to go?” Bella asked, her voice hoarse to her own ears.
“Not at all,” the unfamiliar voice responded, and she turned to see a stranger.
However, there was something about the chin and the blue eyes that reminded her of—she cocked her head to the side and asked, “Are you a Crawley?”
He smiled slightly, this stranger. “I am at that. Robert Crawley, the seventh Earl of Grantham. I am your cousin and protector, Mrs. Crawley. I’ve come to fetch you.”
She nodded and took in a deep breath. Bella stood and took up her coat, which had been Patrick’s. Bella had thought to purchase a new one in New York but in the end couldn’t bring herself to relegate this one as an optional wardrobe piece.
Grantham came up and took it from her hands, placing it on her thin shoulders.
“Thank you, Lord Grantham,” she murmured, remembering her niceties from reading Brontë and Austen. Swallowing, she looked into his kind, sad eyes. “I find I cannot part with Patrick’s coat as it was the last gift he gave me.”
“Quite understandable, Mrs. Crawley,” Grantham answered. “Now, if it is agreeable to you, we shall go to Grantham House in London for the night. My wife, who is also American if I am correct in detecting your accent, is waiting there with a hot supper. We can discuss your preferences from there.”
She gave him a weak smile. “You are most kind, Lord Grantham,” she murmured, the blue eyes of Patrick flashing in her memory, his warm hand in hers now just a memory. “I hope not to be a burden.”
“You are family,” Grantham promised, and offered her his arm.
She took his elbow, and Bella wondered how much more she would survive—first a vampire bite, then the Volturi, and now the Titanic. What next?
Sometimes when Bella slept, she forgot.
It wasn’t constant, and it was relative.
Sometimes she thought she was still in her bedroom in Arizona and she would wake up to the sound of the fire alarm, her hairbrained mother having attempted to make coconut and banana walnut pancakes again.
Sometimes, if she felt cold, she would think that Edward was lying beside her, and a wave of panic would grip her throat at the thought of death and how close she had come to it when she had been his girlfriend.
Sometimes she thought she was still sailing across the Atlantic and that Patrick would wake her up by kissing her temple or stroking the side of her face with the back of his hand. She didn’t deserve him. She thought she could show her devotion by ending together in a watery grave. In the end, he had placed a hand on her stomach and told her to live for their son.—a son he believed was a possibility, and with each day became more of a potential in Bella’s mind.
It was too soon, of course. It had been only a few weeks, but Bella had missed her courses. She hadn’t told anyone. She thought she’d wait until—well, at some point she’d ask for a doctor. That’s what was done here. There were no home pregnancy tests.
Patrick had explained everything to her the morning before he proposed (although, really, it had only been two hours between the explanation and the proposal, and another hour and a half before the afternoon wedding)—Downton Abbey, the title, his cousin Mary, the hopes and dreams and the weight of it all.
It now hung around Bella’s slim neck.
She didn’t look for meaning or purpose in it all. She didn’t believe in luck outside of a hand of cards, and now she had to be respectable and couldn’t play except when fashion permitted.
At least she had nearly fifteen thousand in her stays when the ship sank, to serve as dowry. Then there had been the money she had won in New York. She had given it to the solicitor in London after she had asked for a moment to retrieve it from her person and her trunk. She thought it best not to keep it in one place in case another tragedy were to befall her.
“I’m wearing some of it,” she explained. “How else should I have carried it?”
Grantham and Murray looked at each other in surprise, but Lady Grantham had a maid who at least was helpful in this way. It was placed in the bank, and Bella’s future with the family was at least secure. She was far from a pauper or a charity case.
The gray light filtered in and Bella counted her fingers and her toes and stretched. Taking in the curtains around her bed, she reminded herself that this was Downton Abbey. They had arrived the night before and she had asked for a tray—only after the Countess had offered—and had fallen asleep after O’Brien had seen to her.
She hadn’t felt up to meeting the girls.
Who was of higher rank? she wondered.
Lady Mary, as daughter to the house? Or Bella, as mother to a future Earl?
Her fingers crept over her stomach and she felt the warmth there, a smile creeping over her face. Eight weeks and three days since she had had her courses, she counted in her head. Well over seven weeks since she had been married and the Titanic had sunk. A month since she should have started bleeding. She promised herself she should wait until Downton or the first day of the month, which ever came first, and now she was at Downton Abbey.
A giggle tumbled out of her lips and an unmistakable moment of elation escaped her and she breathed out, surprised at herself. Her fingers pressed at her stomach through her shift. “Well,” she murmured, “Hello in there, nudger.” The warmth in her stomach did not nudge back, but that would have been positively supernatural, Bella realized, and she and Patrick were boringly human.
Bella smiled wider. She liked it like that—a boringly human husband and a boringly human child.
After several long minutes in bed, Bella found a shawl near the end and got to her feet, draping it over her shoulders. She walked to the window and looked out over the park, at the early morning sunlight. She slowly watched the sun rise, the sky slowly suffusing to blue, and Bella startled when there was a knock on the door.
Bella had lost herself in thoughts again, remembering the softness of Patrick’s eyes—a similar blue, and yet a bit darker.
“Come in,” she called.
Looking up, she saw O’Brien come in with a tray with her preferred porridge and a pot of tea. “Ah, I see you’re awake, Mrs. Crawley.”
Bella nodded, walking over to the bed and sitting down. She had been informed her first evening in London that married ladies in the house were permitted breakfast in bed, and she was too emotionally wrung out to try to test that. There would only have been Grantham in London for that first week when they saw to finances and legalities, and here—here, she didn’t quite want to meet the daughters over breakfast—especially Lady Mary. Grantham admitted there was also a Dowager Countess. Lady Grantham had called her a “curmudgeon.”
Biting her lip, Bella took a deep breath and reached a finger out to taste the porridge—trusting O’Brien would have had it made up lukewarm the way she liked it. “What are they saying?” she whispered, not sure if O’Brien would wish to speak to her about the family. She seemed pleasant enough but also devoted to the Countess.
However, O’Brien’s eyes lit up at the question. “Well, Madam,” she said, folding her hands in front of herself. “They’re wondering downstairs if you’ll be having your own maid.”
Bella had popped the finger in her mouth, but she quickly took it out again when O’Brien poured her a cup of tea. “I wouldn’t know.”
“I know, Madam,” O’Brien told her kindly but firmly. “I’ve told them downstairs you’re still in grief and have more to think of than ladies’ maids.” She stood up again, spine tall. “I told them you’ll be having your own ideas when you have time to consider.”
Her brown eyes met O’Brien’s and she saw that O’Brien was telling her subtly what she should do as a lady of consequence and she nodded in thanks.
Sipping at her tea, she admitted, “I think I’m feeling a bit—indisposed,” (that sounded like the correct word) “from the journey. Who should I ask about a doctor?”
“It’s no wonder, with what you’ve been going through,” O’Brien commiserated. “But why don’t you write a note to his Lordship, and I’ll bring it down to him immediately before I go and see about her ladyship’s hair.”
Bella hesitated, suddenly feeling terribly alone.
She remembered the feel of Patrick’s hand in hers as they were married, finding it strange that she never thought to protest the idea of marriage when faced with an icy death… as long as it meant that someone wanted her in her last few days of life. “You’ll stay with me?”
O’Brien looked barely flustered, as if the request was unexpected and yet expected at the same time. “Of course, Madam. It wouldn’t be proper for you to be alone with the doctor.”
Bella nodded and got up to go to the writing desk and scribbled a note, uncertain what to say—not wanting anyone to worry, not wishing to give false hope. In the end, she wrote, “I’ve missed my courses and I think it’s time to check. Forgive the indelicacy, but I’d like to see your doctor.” She didn’t know that this would bring a laugh from her husband’s cousin and a wide smile as he sent the second footman at a run to the local hospital.
O’Brien was sent for immediately (she barely had time to leave the room, or so Bella was later told) and Bella was put in a robe and her hair brushed out, her porridge forgotten as her stomach had turned a bit at the sight of her usual favorite.
Bella was looking at a miniature of Patrick Crawley, when Dr. Clarkson arrived with bag in hand. She set it aside carefully, it being a gift from the Countess when they had first met, and then she gave him a small smile and recounted the necessary dates he might find pertinent.
“Well,” Dr. Clarkson declared in short order after examining her. “I think I can say, Mrs. Crawley, that congratulations are in order. Just about seven or eight weeks, I would wager.” He smiled at her kindly.
Although she had suspected all morning and Patrick had put the thought in her mind that horrible night in April, it still sent a frisson of shock through Bella. A child—made of her and of her husband, who was floating somewhere at the bottom of the ocean.
“He won’t mind,” she murmured, licking her lips, “Patrick, if I name him for my father.” It wasn’t really a question, but more of a statement, as she allowed herself to really think about it. Her hands were hovering lightly over her stomach and she looked down, a soft smile on her face.
Dr. Clarkson hesitated, but it was O’Brien who answered. “I am certain Mr. Crawley would be pleased that you and your child are well. Everything else, I’m sure, can be considered in due course.”
Bella looked up and her smile grew a little larger. “Yes,” she agreed and pressed her fingers a little more firmly to her stomach. Then, at a thought, her face fell. “I’ll be in mourning when the baby is born. Does the baby have to go into mourning for his father?”
“I—” Dr. Clarkson hedged, “don’t believe that’s the custom, Mrs. Crawley.”
She nodded. Her brain was overloading. Fortunately, Dr. Clarkson seemed to understand, and left after whispering to O’Brien for a moment.
Soon, Bella was tucked back into bed with a hot water bottle and she found she had a fresh supply of tea. The smile never left her face.
Mary broke her china saucer when she was informed that the unseen Mrs. Crawley was expecting a child. “I beg your pardon?” she asked Papa from where she was sitting.
“Mrs. Isabella Crawley,” he responded, smiling, “is with child. She’s upstairs right now, being fretted over.”
Edith, the ever simpering Edith, set down her cup of tea unbroken and swallowed. “I do hope she finds her room comfortable.”
Searching for words, Mary asked, “Is it certain?”
Grantham took a breath, not trying to hide his smile. “It seems that Mrs. Crawley wanted to wait until we left London before getting a doctor’s opinion. She probably wanted to feel a sense of permanence.”
“No wonder,” Edith agreed, and Mary fought the urge to glare at her next-younger sister. “With the Titanic, and then going to New York, then back to London. She probably doesn’t know which way is up or down.”
She certainly knew which way a title lay, Mary thought uncharitably. The Titanic was at sea for less than five days, and Isabella Crawley was courted, married, and became with child in those five days… to none other than Mary’s intended… not that she wanted him if a better offer arrived.
Edith cleared her throat to bring attention to herself, and Mary didn’t give her the satisfaction. “Her maid must have perished.”
Mary rolled her eyes. No one but the ladies of first class survived. It was a foregone conclusion.
“Indeed,” Grantham agreed. “We will see to it immediately. Mrs. Crawley must be made comfortable.”
Thinking quickly, Mary asked, “She will remain at Downton?”
“For the present,” her father told the two sisters, Sybil being upstairs with their mother at that moment. “I had thought to offer her Crawley House if she desired to make her own establishment, but Dr. Clarkson thought she should not be moved for the next week or so. The journey from London seems to have tired her after the journey from New York.” He did not mention the Titanic nor the wreckage, but the knowledge of it hung in the air like an iceberg, unseen through fog.
Mary imagined a child—like Patrick—with pale blue eyes and hair that was neither ginger nor blond nor russet. He would be strong and impish, alive in a way his father no longer could be. Mary swallowed at the thought of this child—this boy—and wondered what his mother looked like, and realized she was utterly irrelevant. Of course, the child would favor Patrick. Nothing else would suit. Of course, the child would be a boy and steal away her inheritance.
She should have married Patrick before he had sailed, or at least solidified the engagement. It should have been announced in The Times so he could not have gone back on his word… his word that she would not let him give so that she, herself, could go back on it.
She was 21 years of age, and already she was feeling old, left on the shelf, for someone much younger, perhaps prettier.
“I wonder where her people are from,” Edith murmured, clearly a thought to herself, and Mary looked up as she had nearly had that very thought in that next moment.
Grantham looked at his second daughter and a soft smile, nearly fond, crossed his face. “She’s American—like your mother.”
Something cold and hard settled in Mary’s stomach, and her lips thinned into a hard line. Still, she didn’t say anything although she was certain she could have found a cutting remark.
“Oh?” Edith asked instead, insipid as always. “And she still came back after everything?” Edith seemed lost in that moment, and Mary didn’t blame her.
She picked up her teacup, which had been refilled, the saucer whisked away, and stated, “Her parents likely died in the tragedy. Where else would she go but here?” There was a hard edge to her voice that she didn’t like. It betrayed her dislike, but the girl upstairs had stolen the man she might have married if nothing better had come along—and the baby inside of her was stealing her title and lands.
“Your mother,” Grantham stated with a long-suffering sigh, “looked up the Swans. Land, and a lot of it, on the frontier. It seems like Charles Swan was from a side branch, however. Mrs. Crawley only said that they had gone on a brief tour of Italy before she was due to come out in a Chicago Season—she’s only nineteen.”
Trying not to let it show on her face, Mary reminded herself that she had been nineteen not too long ago, and that she was still the daughter of an Earl. She was still beautiful and clever and a daughter of the house. It was more than Edith could say and even dearest Sybil.
A knock on the door interrupted her train of thoughts, and Mary became aware that her emotions were showing on her face. Worse than that, Edith appeared to have noticed, and was watching her closely.
“My lord.” It was Carson.
Mary plastered a smile on her face, or an approximation of one, and a note was brought in.
It appeared that Mama was informing them that Mrs. Crawley intended to be down for dinner.
Later in the day, when she went up to change, Mary sat and looked at her reflection as Anna did her hair, and she thought she looked older than she had the morning they had first received the news. “What’s she like?” she asked Anna, filling the silence. “This Mrs. Crawley? Do you know?”
“I haven’t met her,” Anna admitted carefully, not looking up from where she was setting a pin in a curl. “And O’Brien hasn’t said much.”
Mary nodded slightly, careful not to disturb her hair. “She’s seeing to her though—O’Brien.”
“For now,” Anna agreed. “I believe her ladyship plans to have a new lady’s maid sent for, but I don’t know the specifics.”
It had, after all, been only a day, Mary thought, and O’Brien had been with her for over a week in London. Mary had asked Anna only on the off chance.
Still, Mary hated wearing black, and there would only be more black in the days to come. Still, in four months she would be allowed purples and gray, and she could be seen more in society. She might even go to Aunt Rosamunde’s in London if she found Mrs. Isabella Crawley to be too painful of a reminder of everything she was not and could never have been.
In the weeks and months to come, she would watch a woman’s stomach grow and hope it was a daughter and yet profess that her hopes were for a son. This faceless lady would make her duplicitous and a liar to her own family, and she already hated her for it. As first her sister Sybil and then Edith joined her, both speculating on Mrs. Isabella Crawley as they had every night since the sinking of the Titanic, in her heart of hearts Mary hoped that Dr. Clarkson had been mistaken and there was no heir… and she wondered if that made her a sinner before the eyes of God.