Part the Second
Bella looked down at her small baby girl and saw only perfection. She knew that when Grantham had been told he had most likely first felt only a wave of disappointment. But Nerissa was simply perfect to her, with all ten fingers and ten toes and rose-cherry lips. At first she thought she would name the little girl for her mother—Renée—but Renée hadn’t been much of a mother to her. Alice hadn’t been much of a friend, so that name wasn’t tenable either. She thought of Esme, the horrible Rosalie, of the girls at school who hated her—Jessica Stanley, Lauren Mallory, sweet but insignificant Angela Weber, Emily Young who loved the werewolves despite what they’d done to her.
The female form of Patrick—Patricia—just made her shiver in horror.
In the end, she’d pulled out a collection of Shakespeare her eighth month of pregnancy and named the girl, quite at random, after a sea nymph, thinking it a strong name, and called the child Nerissa. That’s what old English families did, wasn’t it? Name children after dead relatives and Shakespeare characters?
Bella spent hours in the nursey, trying to nurse her child herself, but in the end was too weak and had to acquiesce to the Countess’s idea of a wetnurse (who she suspected was already on staff).
“There is no shame,” the Countess told her quietly when Agnes, her ladies’ maid, had her tucked back up in bed just after luncheon to “recover her spirits.” “Childbirth is a difficult thing for a woman who has suffered so much grief.”
Bella thought of her grief, her eyes straying to the miniature of Patrick Crawley. “He somehow knew I was with child,” she confessed to her husband’s cousin for the first time. “Patrick,” Bella admitted wryly, “like Lord Grantham, assumed it would be an heir to Downton, but he somehow knew despite how short a time we had been married.”
The Countess paused, her pretty face collecting in thought. “Patrick—” she hesitated “—sometimes he was blind to what was in front of him and sometimes the opposite.” She smiled her kind smile, free from artifice.
“You mean Mary.”
Bella was not blind to the similarities between them. They both possessed dark eyes and dark hair, pale skin and delicate features.
At this the Countess fussed with Bella’s sheets. “Men have their types, their beauties,” she murmured. “Sometimes they break from it.”
“Patrick did not.” She thought to her daughter, to her beautiful dark hair, like hers, but the light blue eyes of a baby. It was yet to be seen if they would remain blue and resemble her father’s eyes or darken into Bella’s chocolate-colored ones.
A memory flitted in her mind, of Edward Cullen asking her, her favorite color. She had answered brown. Now it was undoubtedly the blue of her husband and daughter’s eyes. The thought brought a smile to her face.
“Nerissa is indeed lovely,” the Countess murmured, correctly guessing at her thoughts.
Bella snuggled into the pillows, her eyes looking out at the snowless winter. It was just into the first full week of the New Year, and yet they had had little snow so far. Their Christmas had barely been a white one, at that, and Bella had been too afraid to sing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” under her breath—certain that it had yet to be written. She also couldn’t sing, not even Patrick blind enough with love would admit that she could.
She drifted off to slumber, only waking when her maid, Agnes, came up with the tea and the promise of seeing Nerissa if she were strong enough.
It was perhaps a cliché, but Bella had not known true, selfless love until she had held her daughter in her arms. She was simply the most beautiful and wonderous little creature Bella had ever met, with her baby blue eyes and wisps of dark hair.
The Countess joined her for tea that day along with Lady Sybil, a young girl of only seventeen years of age, who was naturally sweet tempered.
“Who is the new heir?” Bella couldn’t help but ask after she had counted each of Nerissa’s toes and cooed at her for a full five minutes. “Lord Grantham or Murray must have known in case—” She let the truth hang between them.
The Countess set down her cup with a small clink of china. It was elegant, refined, yet absolute.
“You don’t want to think about that. Not now, with your beautiful baby—” Lady Sybil tried to put off, but her mother shushed her.
“No, Mrs. Crawley deserves to know.—A third cousin of his lordship’s and a fourth cousin of your husband’s, Mrs. Crawley.” The Countess collected herself for a moment. “A Mr. Matthew Crawley.—Lord Grantham had a letter written, and he goes up to London tomorrow to meet Mr. Crawley to—” Now she seemed at a loss for words.
Bella took pity on her. “There seem more than enough rooms here at Downton Abbey if he is to visit,” she decided, looking about her own room. It was the same room she had when she first arrived in pale blues and whites, a room suited to a young woman and not a flighty debutante like the other ladies her age in the household.
Lady Sybil seemed thoughtful at this. “Patrick always stayed in the bachelor’s corridor,” she murmured after a moment.
Bella nodded, having read of such things in the numerous books she had read during pregnancy. By Lord Grantham’s account, she had gone through nearly a third of his personal library, which he had given her access to as she was a married lady and she had professed herself bored by the eighteenth-century novels Cora so kindly lent her.
Dr. Clarkson, upon a second examination and given her personal history (minus any knowledge of vampires or time travel), had prescribed her a hearty diet of liver and almost constant rest, to be broken up with a walk in the early morning air nearly every day. It had proved the perfect prescription for avoiding the daughters of the house and all of her new neighbors.
Bella had met Sybil multiple times, Edith half a dozen, and Mary just the once. Her shock at seeing the mirror image of herself in Lady Mary Crawley would have been more noticeable if her husband’s cousin hadn’t stilled at the same realization that Bella had been sifting through. The shape of their faces was almost identical, their coloring exact, their eyes both dark yet bright. Patrick Crawley had found Mary Crawley’s clumsy doppleganger in Isabella Marie Swan, one without a cutting wit and without a cruel bone in her make-up. Patrick Crawley had snapped her up before Bella might realize that he had a very clear design in marrying her.
However, Bella knew that he loved her for being more than just a kind-hearted, lost copy of Mary Crawley.
He might have been attracted to her at first sight, that much was obvious when his eyes fell on her that first afternoon and he wouldn’t let her leave the deck without gaining her name and a promise to let him escort her into dinner. That attraction, however, had deepened into love when he realized how uncomfortable she was with his attentions, how unworthy she felt when he kissed her hand, and how desperately she craved him to not give up on her despite her own discomfort with his compliments.
The Countess—now, here, in the room—shifted, forcing Bella to leave her wistful memories of her husband. “If Mr. Crawley comes to live at Downton, as is Lord Grantham’s desire, he will be at Crawley House—to establish himself. He has a mother, I understand, but no wife.”
Bella’s shoulders shivered at the immediate thought she had. “You mean him for one of your daughters, Lady Grantham,” she suggested, knowing how the world worked, “and why wouldn’t you?” She gave her cousin a small smile of encouragement and permission, if it was needed.
Not denying it, the Countess admitted, “He is said to be a younger man.”
“Mary shall not like it,” Sybil declared. “She never likes it when you tell her where she should place her affections. Remember Patri—” Her voice shriveled into her throat and she looked between her mother and Bella in horror. “Oh, Mrs. Crawley—I meant no offense,” she quickly apologized before her mother could shush her.
“None taken,” Bella told her kindly, looking instead at her beautiful baby. “Patrick told me before we were married.”
At this the Countess asked, shocked, “He did?”
“We had few, if any, secrets,” Bella told her, a wistful smile on her face.
She hadn’t told him of the Volturi, of vampires, of when or where she was born. She had told him that she was an American, of a previous attachment, how she was forced to play cards and had earned her passage in a game of chance. He had held her hands as she confessed all of it, none half so bad as the reality or if she hadn’t been a century before she was supposed to be, but he had digested it and kissed her temple, telling her she would never be put in such a position again if she were to agree to become his wife.
The words hadn’t proved true, but his intentions were unimpeachable. She could not fault him for the Titanic sinking, especially when she had intended to sink with it.
Now, looking into Nerissa’s beautiful blue eyes, she could only be glad she hadn’t followed that particular desire and had allowed her husband to carry her kicking and screaming to one of the few active lifeboats.
The day the Crawleys from Manchester came was a day like any other day. Bella had taken breakfast in bed and had spent the morning reading a particularly delightful book in French that she doubted Grantham would ever permit the Countess to read.
When it was time for Nanny to take Nerissa on her morning stroll, she readily allowed Agnes to dressed her in a black dress, her hair left down despite the English custom of placing it atop the head, and solid walking boots had been placed upon her feet.
She walked into the sitting room as was polite and saw that the Countess was at her writing desk penning a note. Lady Mary seemed to be particularly bored with that morning and the other two girls were engaged in ladylike pursuits.
“I’m with Nanny,” she informed the Countess who had looked up, “taking my morning constitutional.”
A smile lit the Countess’s face, not quite maternal but nearly there. “Do be certain to wrap up. We don’t want you catching cold.”
Bella nodded in thought, thinking about the cold of the Atlantic water. “I’ll put on an extra scarf and gloves,” she promised.
Not quite dismissing her, the Countess turned to her eldest daughter, “Are you certain I cannot persuade you?”
Lady Mary only lifted a brow in response and so the Countess turned to her cousin—that is, Bella—who was still hovering in the doorway. “Would you be a dear and break off from Nanny to deliver a letter to Crawley House?”
Startled, Bella asked, “Which one is that?”
“On the high road,” the Countess informed, sealing her letter. “The house has a name placard and there should be a motor in front.” She looked up expectantly and Bella kept back a sigh.
She did not wish to meet the Crawleys from Manchester, but she was given an opportunity to do so on her own terms and not with Lady Mary to stir the pot at a dinner with several people there to watch. This, certainly, was preferable. She reached out for the note in silent agreement, and then left without another word, hoping no one would mind a widow with an odd penchant for leaving her hair down and bundling up in furs—although it was March in Yorkshire.
With a kiss goodbye to Nerissa, she broke from Nanny to make for the village not twenty minutes later, the missive secured inside her muff, which she had brought along when Carson kindly suggested that the wind was particularly nippy that morning.
It was easy enough when asking passersby to find Crawley House, which indeed had a placard upon the garden wall with its name proudly displayed upon it. Bella thought it a wonder that the house had been there the whole time and she hadn’t realized it, although she herself had been in residence at Downton for nearly a year, but she supposed the pregnancy was a valid excuse.
The motor, indeed, was outside the house, and when Bella knocked on the door, a servant answered. “A letter,” she told the man, “from the Countess of Grantham for,” she looked at it and read ‘Give this to Mr. Matthew yourself, Isabella.’” She deflated slightly. Looking up at the man, she smiled slightly. “My cousin wishes me to give it over myself to Mr. Matthew Crawley.”
“Mrs. Crawley,” the servant greeted, his bald spot shining slightly with sweat. “May I offer my condolences on your loss, belated though they may be.”
“Thank you,” she accepted graciously as he let her in. When he made to take her coat, she murmured, “I’m always cold.”
“Of course,” he told her and then escorted her down the hall, which she looked around at with interest, liking the recent paint job she knew that the Countess had consulted upon. She heard voices up ahead, but she didn’t take much notice until her name was announced.
Sweeping into the room, she was met with the stunned face of the young man that was undoubtedly Mr. Matthew Crawley and she bobbed a proper courtesy. “Forgive me for not handing your man my coat,” she greeted. “The Atlantic Ocean has yet to leave my bones.”
This seemed to startle him into speech and he reached out to take a hand she wasn’t offering, but she found herself reaching out to offer it to him nonetheless. “How t-t-terrible for you,” he blundered, immediately offering her a chair. “My mother,” he introduced, “Mrs. Isobel Crawley.”
Startled, Bella looked up. “This will be awkward,” she greeted. “I’m Mrs. Isabella Crawley.”
“I see,” the matron nodded, “that your parents had a flair for the dramatic.”
“My grandmother’s parents had a flair for the dramatic,” she corrected. “I was named after both of my grandmothers.” She grimaced at the memory of the dream she once had of transforming into her grandmother Marie. She supposed it would now come true, in a way. She would be as old as Grandma Marie—if not older—if she lived to 2005.
“I understand,” Isobel tried again, “that you have a beautiful baby girl.”
This was the perfect subject, and the pinched look that had come into Bella’s eyes immediately shifted to warmth. “Nerissa Caroline,” she told her new cousins. “She’s the most beautiful baby you will have ever laid eyes upon, I promise.” At this, she picked one of her gloved hands out of the muff where they had both retreated and gestured with it. “I call her Nessa.”
“How lovely,” Isobel enthused. “I always wanted a daughter.”
Bella nodded at this. “I would highly recommend it, although she’s only a few months old. She’s so sweet at this age. She lets me tell her stories for hours on end with very little complaint.—I hope her eyes stay blue. Like Patrick’s eyes.” Her eyes flitted up to see a kind look in Isobel’s and a wondrous wide-eyed look of admiration in Mr. Crawley’s. “My husband’s eyes were blue,” she explained.
Her fingers twisted with the letter and she quickly held it out before either of them could respond. “From the Countess.”
Startled, Mr. Crawley took it and saw the personal note written on it, his eyes flicking up to her without comment, and then he opened it. “Ah,” he murmured, glancing to his mother. Then, his attention focused again on Bella. “Will you be at d-d-dinner” (again, he tripped over the word) “at the Big House?”
“Tonight?” she asked, shoving her hand back into the muff and sinking into the chair where she was sitting. “Yes. If it’s one of the Countess’s special dinners, which this seems to be, then certainly. I try not to make myself too much of a bother by upsetting numbers for no apparent reason.” She smiled to herself, thinking how far she had come from the clumsy girl who would avoid her own birthday party with the flimsiest of excuses. “I retire directly after dinner,” she warned, not quite certain why it mattered.
She looked between the two, seeing the obvious family resemblance.
Pausing a moment, she warned, “There is a plan for you to marry one of the daughters, Mr. Crawley.” He didn’t look remotely surprised. “Naturally, I know nothing about the subject.”
He took a moment, considering his words, before saying: “I am surprised there wasn’t a similar plan for your husband.” He was staring at her quite openly, not quite with lust, but something just a shade away from it. She wasn’t entirely certain she approved of him looking at her in such a way when she was still in mourning for her husband… not that she intended to leave mourning even though a year would soon be over.
Going back to the subject at hand, she admitted, “There was. It is perhaps one of the many reasons Lady Mary dislikes me. But then again,” (and now she stood, and he followed suit a little too quickly) “perhaps she dislikes everyone.” She curtseyed. “Mr. Crawley. Mrs. Crawley.” With that she swept from the room.
She nodded to the servant on the way out and got directions back to the ‘Big House.’ She took a slow stroll through the town, knowing she was conspicuous in her black furs and dark flowing hair. When Bella returned, she told the footman—Tom Barrow, she believed—to tell her ladyship that the invitation had been accepted—and took the stairs at two at a time up to the nursery.
Nerissa was asleep in her crib, but she took the chair closest to her and just watched her trusting face, wondering if Patrick would be pleased with a daughter if he had been sitting there beside her. Would lean over and kiss Bella’s neck as he often had done when she was reading, or would he have been too wrapped up in the sight of their daughter as she was?
Would he have called Matthew Crawley out for his impertinence or thrashed him at the card tables? Did he even play cards more than just as a gentleman’s pleasantry? Bella didn’t know… she didn’t have time to find out…
Still, she watched Nerissa’s sleeping face and silent tears fell down her face, unheeded and unchecked.
Bella told Agnes that she wanted to have her hair done as simply as possible while still being appropriate for evening. When she looked in the mirror not ten minutes later, she thought that Agnes had performed admirably. The signet ring, on a gold chain around her neck, was her only adornment.
She had purchased the dress in New York and she once again fit into it after her pregnancy, not caring if it was last season. It was black. That was all that mattered. She would be wearing black gloves and black furs even though she would be inside. Bella still felt the cold. The brand of vampire teeth on her wrist seared even colder to the touch, but it was fortunately hidden by her evening glove.
Nipping into the Nursery to kiss Nerissa goodnight, she went downstairs and knew from the murmur below stairs and the sound of opening and closing doors that the Manchester Crawleys must have arrived.
“How is the angel?” Granny—the Dowager Countess who had taken an instant liking to her—asked when Bella slipped into the room without fanfare. “Is she the reason for your fashionable lateness?”
“Nerissa was sleeping,” she admitted, pulling her furs a little closer around her as she sat down next to her favorite Crawley. “I didn’t know babies were so serene.”
“She was conceived on the rocking of the sea,” Granny stated, “of course she’s serene. It’s in her blood.”
The thought made Bella laugh a little into her hand, the sound just loud enough to draw the attention of the others around her. Soon, Grantham was greeting her with a kiss to the back of her hand, Edith giving her a kiss to her cheek, and Sybil did so just a few moments later. Mary ignored her and then nodded when her father gave her stern glance.
“Mrs. Patrick,” Isobel greeted, reaching out a hand in friendship.
Bella released one from its covering in furs to likewise take it. “Mrs. Reginald.”
The two women smiled at each other at their solution, the two looking quite different from the other. One older, the other younger. One with paler hair and blue eyes. The other dark in both regards. One dressed modestly but in the latest fashions. The other expensively in furs but draped in black a season old.
“Mrs. Crawley,” Mr. Crawley greeted, his words firm under the scrutiny of others.
Bella turned away from his mother and offered him a tight smile, meant to be friendly but altogether not inviting for further familiarities. She’d practiced it in the mirror after studying Mary early on in her stay at Downton Abbey. “Mr. Matthew Crawley,” she returned. “I hope you find Downton everything you had hoped.” The quiet threat was there but he tilted his head to acknowledge it.
“You should sit closer to the fire. I can see you are cold.” His words were kind and solicitous, but she didn’t like them.
“I’m with my great-aunt,” she informed him, which caused the Dowager Countess to preen.
Granny patted her on the knee. “You’re a good girl, but I wouldn’t want you to be cold.”
“Not cold,” she promised the Dowager Countess, pulling the furs even closer. “I’m all wrapped up.” Her eyes turned to Matthew Crawley, as if daring him to say anything else on the subject. When he didn’t offer any further suggestion, she turned back to her great-aunt. “As I said, Nerissa was sleeping, not a single fret or trouble to bother her.”
“Neither Robert nor Rosamunde were so easy as children,” Granny told her as Matthew took a seat near them to join the conversation. “Rosamunde was never an easy child. Then she went and married beneath her. You haven’t met our Rosamunde, dear Isabella?”
Bella shook her head. “She wrote a note upon Nessa’s birth. Quite lovely.”
Mr. Crawley hummed. “Lady Rosamunde Painswick?” he inquired. Upon Granny’s assent, he added, “We had a lovely letter from her as well, waiting for us when we arrived. She’s your daughter, Countess?”
“Yes,” Granny informed him, “the current Earl of Grantham’s only sibling. No children.” She shared a look with Bella which seemed to say, Rosamunde did not have your good fortune or good timing.
“Her husband died young,” Bella mused, “didn’t he?” This was directed at Granny, who wasn’t her granny but a great-aunt by marriage.
“Fifty-two,” Granny stated imperiously, “is not young by anyone’s standards.”
Bella seemed to recall that Lady Rosamunde had been a widow for well over a decade, and couldn’t be past fifty herself, so there must be quite an age gab. Not that she would say anything to the contrary. “We widows,” she decided, “shall establish a club. You, Granny, shall be our president. Mrs. Crawley shall join. I shall serve as Secretary. Lady Rosamunde can join by correspondence.” She gave her a large smile, her eyes twinkling.
“Dear, I don’t intend for you to be widowed long,” Granny promised.
“Not your list,” she sighed, remembering the topic that had come up over tea just a week before. “Sir Anthony Strallan? Really? Help me, Mr. Crawley, in my time of need.”
“He’s never met Sir Anthony,” Granny stated imperiously. “He has no opinion.” She sniffed, looking him over. “He would never be crass enough, as your husband’s cousin, to offer himself.”
As usual, Granny had hit the nail quite on the head, deducing the situation before it had become… a situation.
Bella had no visible reaction to her great-aunt’s non accusation. Mr. Crawley was attempting not to be flustered. Granny was looking all too pleased with herself. Of course she was.
It was then that Carson announced dinner and Grantham offered Bella his arm, as he usually did as a sign of respect for her place in the household and because he always felt she was about to blow over at the slightest draught. According to Dr. Clarkson, he may not be completely overreacting. Bella knew they weren’t telling her everything, but she knew that Nerissa was hale and healthy, and that’s all that mattered. Her life had always been secondary to her child’s, since the moment the Titanic actually hit that iceberg and she agreed to get off of the sinking ship.
When she was seated, she noticed that Mary looked like she had eaten more than the usual amount of lemons. Well, a small amount of jealousy and perhaps she’d suddenly chase after Matthew Crawley and give the Crawley Family what they wanted—the title marrying back into the main line.
Bella didn’t mind, not for herself and not for her daughter. Nerissa was perfect as she was, and she had Grantham’s assurances that she always had a place at Downton—and then at the Dowager House—while the Countess lived. After that, well, she had her cards.
If Bella minded for Patrick, she didn’t let herself think it. He had felt that Downton was a proverbial albatross around his neck and the Titanic was almost a blessing. He had drowned without his fears—that he would fail as the next Earl—ever having been realized. Bella would have helped him as best she could, but she knew a war was coming and she knew the world was changing… she just wasn’t certain how quickly it would affect the pile of bricks that she and her daughter now called home.