Part the Fourth
Bella was surprised when one Thursday morning when she was about to go out with Nanny, Mary grabbed her at the base of the stairs and said, “Surely Miss Nerissa can be without you one morning.”
Shocked, Bella opened her mouth to say something cutting, but at the look in Mary’s eyes, she instead looked to Nanny—“I’ll catch up,” she promised. She then looked down into the pram and traced a finger along Nessa’s cheek and leaned down to kiss a dark curl.
The two cousins waited for Nanny to be well and truly gone before Mary pulled her into a side parlor where—strangely enough—was a small creature with soot on her hands. “Isabella,” Mary began, “this is Daisy, the kitchen maid. Daisy, you know Mrs. Crawley.”
The kitchen maid (Daisy, Mary had called her) curtseyed while wringing her hands and began, “I’m ever so sorry for your loss, Mrs. Crawley. We all are—downstairs.” She looked between the two, her lips pressed shut, as if uncertain to say more.
Taking pity on the girl, Bella sat down on a couch and smiled. “Thank you. That means ever so much. I hope Agnes gets along with you all downstairs.” It seemed like the sort of thing she should ask. Agnes was a girl who had been recommended by O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid. Agnes was a niece, or something, and had been the eldest of eight children, and so knew the signs of pregnancy and how best to soothe pregnant women. She’d been—quite frankly—a good find, as far as Bella could tell. She was quiet, unassuming, and never questioned any of Bella’s cravings or her need for rest or constant warmth.
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Crawley,” Daisy assured, wringing her hands. “Agnes is ever so nice, and always has a kind word for me.” She paused again and became silent.
At this new pause, Mary walked forward and said, “Daisy was telling me she was having nightmares again, not just of the Titanic, but of poor Mr. Pamuk who, as you remember, Isabella,” her voice cajoling for the benefit of someone other than Bella, “died here not three weeks past.”
Looking over at her ally and nearly-but-not-quite friend, Bella caught the glint in her eye. “Yes, terrible business,” she agreed. “Sometimes I lie in bed and wonder if I’ll die there. My poor Patrick,” (why was she laying it on so thick? At least Mary was looking sympathetic to her performance) “died at sea, so I thought I’d be safe here…” (really, it was too much, so she looked off to the side, and hoped she was giving Mary what she required for whatever performance they were putting on).
The poor kitchen maid wrung her hands and then blurted, “He didn’t.”
Bella looked over and Mary gasped (clearly for effect), and then they had it out of the poor girl.
It turned out that Daisy had seen Lady Grantham (that is Cora, the current Countess), Lady Edith, and Anna, the housemaid, carry a naked Mr. Pamuk out of none other than Lady Edith’s bedchamber several hours before he was discovered dead across the house in the bachelor’s corridor. “I know I shouldn’t’ve said,” Daisy apologized. “But I keep dreaming of it! Him dying! And poor Mr. Patrick!”
At the mention of her husband’s name, Bella rose and walked to the window, where she could see Nanny and the pram. The sight brought her comfort, and she heard Mary comforting the kitchen maid and promising her that she had done the right thing by telling—and it was all over now.
As the little kitchen maid left, Bella turned and gave the girl a kind smiled and thanked her.
With the door shut and the cousins alone, Bella slumped against the window. “Well?” she asked. “What are you going to do with that information?”
“She could be pregnant,” Mary stated, clearly thinking.
“Edith?” Bella wondered, aghast at the thought. Then she thought about it. “Do you think she’s that desperate for a man’s attention?”
Mary looked at her. “Cousin Matthew cut her just a day or so before,” she reminded Bella.
Bella turned it over in her mind. Then she remembered that it was 1913 and the prejudices everyone held. Praying to a god she didn’t believe in for forgiveness, she stated, quite firmly, “but a johnny foreigner?”
“A handsome johnny foreigner,” Mary corrected.
Mary did, of course, have a point.
“I’ll bribe Anna to watch for her courses,” Mary continued, as if it were as simple as that. “If she isn’t with child,” her dark eyes grew darker, “well, I’m in weekly correspondences with Evelyn.” At this she seemed quite pleased with herself.
For a moment, Bella compared her unfavorably with Rosalie Hale. However, that was another life. She had been thrown back in time through vampire mental experimentation, she had married, survived the sinking of the Titanic, and now she was a widow in 1913 Yorkshire. She was no longer the independent teenager who believed herself in love with a one-hundred-year-old vampire, angling to live in blissful vampiric vegetarianism for all eternity.
She took a deep breath. “How is Mr. Napier?”
“Admiring,” Mary answered in satisfaction. “I just need a reason to see him.”
“There are always reasons,” Bella surmised, glancing out the window again.
She lost herself in thought again as she realized that Nanny was near the furthest part of her walk, and if she wanted a full constitutional, she would have to break off from her and Nerissa. As she was planning a route through her mind, Mary came up beside her, looking over at Bella instead of out at the park.
“You need new gloves for your wardrobe.”
Confused, Bella asked, “pardon?”
“We should go to London. Evelyn’s there. He’ll be sure to ask me to tea—and I’ll be sure he doesn’t neglect you as my chaperone.”
At this Bella turned. “I couldn’t be gone for more than a week. I shouldn’t like to leave Nessa and I don’t think she should be exposed to the air in London.”
Mary hummed as she linked their arms in sisterly comradery, the first time she had shown affection between them apart from snuggling together under the covers at night. Bella found she didn’t mind. “We can leave Sybil here with Cousin Matthew. Nerissa will be in care of Nanny and we’ll have Granny check on her every day for your comfort,” she promised. “And we’ll only be gone a week and a half.” This was the bargaining part of the discussion, it seemed.
Bella looked over at eyes that mirrored hers almost exactly in shape and color.
“We cannot ask Lord Grantham to open up the London House,” she mused.
“No,” Mary agreed. “I’ll write to Aunt Rosamunde. It’s time you meet your cousin.”
It was Bella who hummed this time in thought and then she nodded. “I’ll allow a fortnight if Mr. Napier is on the cusp of proposing but not a day longer—” she warned.
At that, Mary leaned over and kissed her cheek before rushing out of the room in joy to write the necessary letters or perhaps to inform her mother (Bella was under no delusion that Mary would ever ask). She looked away from the approaching form of Nanny, still far off, and down at her gloves, and realized that something perhaps a little prettier for summer might be in order.
A shopping trip for just one or two pairs of gloves was perhaps a little extravagant, but then again it was only a ruse for the real purpose—and that purpose was none other than to secure a proposal of marriage from the Honourable Evelyn Napier for one Lady Mary Crawley.
Bella looked over the letter that was waiting to go out and saw the direction. She picked it up and slid it under her furs and hoped that Mary would thank her afterwards. There was subtlety and then there was sheer vindictiveness.
Living around vampires who didn’t know the differences, Bella could appreciate the differences now.
She walked into Lady Rosamunde’s sitting room and looked over Mary critically for any flaw. “I haven’t decided why blush is in vogue this season,” she murmured as she went to sit by the fire that Lady Rosamunde had kindly ordered even though it was May—solely for her benefit.
Mary put away a pen she was playing with, no doubt mulling over the letters she had sent out, and looked up with her wide, brown eyes. It was uncanny, how alike the two of them were.
“I do prefer the darker tones,” Mary agreed, “but it is only afternoon.”
“And it is tea—at the Ritz,” Bella hummed delightedly, remembering an old Black and White film with Fred Astaire on that exact subject. “Mr. Napier wishes to be seen with you.”
“Yes,” Mary answered distractedly, looking about her for a moment before Bella indicated her beige gloves that had been laid out with her pocketbook on the end table. “You will be the proper chaperone?” It wasn’t quite a question, and yet neither was it a directive.
“I’ll be the undisputed wallflower,” Bella promised. She snuck a hand out and grasped Mary’s fingers as she saw that her friend was working herself up. “He cannot propose with me right there, not without indicating to me first that he means to.”
Mary looked at her anxiously. “Has he indicated?”
“To my knowledge,” Bella told her plainly, “he has yet to ask the Earl of Grantham for his permission. He is aware of my good opinion of him at the hunt and we had a lovely chat before he left to escort poor Mr. Pamuk’s body back to London.”
At the mention of Mr. Pamuk, Mary rolled her eyes. “I’ve done something about that.”
Wondering whether she should tip her hand, Bella saw how anxious Mary seemed at the idea of a proposal, and took the letter out form her furs. When Mary made to protest, she explained, “Shouldn’t your own prospects be quite settled before you ruin Edith’s first, Mary?” Bella couldn’t sound firm if she tried, but it seemed she was firm enough because Mary deflated.
Mary sat down and took the missive, flipped it over, and then ripped it in two, only to shove it under a cushion when Mr. Napier was announced.
Of course, Bella was aware of what her position of chaperone entailed. She was also well aware of the figure she cut of pure unadulterated blacks and furs in the end of spring. Her photograph had been all over the papers when she had returned to England and she was hailed as a tragic young beauty and survivor… and England society had a long memory.
The maître d’ took no time in pouring her a strong cup of Earl Grey before seeing to the cakes, and Bella sat back happily to watch the conversation unfold over the topic of whether Jane Austen was qualified to write of marriage when she had never been married herself. When the character of Mrs. Weston came up, Bella finally entered the conversation: “I must confess I do find her comical, although I do not believe that was Miss Austen’s intention.”
Mary looked at her, pleasantly surprised. “Oh? Do tell us, Isabella?”
“Pleasantly matched by Emma and so taking up matching herself? She was a governess and an old maid! She knows nothing of life but marrying a widower who gave away his own son long before they met! She knows nothing of the son! She resents Frank Churchill’s aunt for his hold on him and yet it is his aunt which gives him the respectability to be suitor to Miss Emma Wodehouse. Strange, don’t you think it?”
Mary looked at her a moment and then smiled toward Mr. Napier. “I think Isabella puts the argument quite perfectly.”
He smiled slightly, it failing to make him handsome, which was unfortunate. “Are you not a bit of a matchmaker yourself, Mrs. Crawley?”
“Not at all,” Bella smiled. “I’ve unmatched, if anything.”
He paused, thinking. “Were you not happily matched yourself?”
She exchanged a glance with Mary, before explaining, “My husband matched us. I was just as surprised as anybody else that his gaze should land on me!” Her mind turned inward, to a gaze so blue it was truer than the Atlantic, but she pulled herself forcefully back to the present.
“Then,” Mr. Napier began carefully, turning toward Mary and taking her in openly, “Mr. Crawley and I have that in common.”
Mary’s expression turned pleased and she inclined her head in recognition.
At that moment, Bella would have given anything to see Mrs. Molly Brown—a fellow Titanic survivor—in the tea room so that she could claim friendship and leave the courting couple alone, but she saw no one she could claim even a passing acquaintance.
She should not have worried, however, for Mr. Napier spoke. “Do you believe, Mrs. Crawley, that I might have a private interview with your cousin before luncheon tomorrow—say—at 10 in the morning? Would it much upset her aunt’s plans?”
Bella blinked rapidly for a moment and her mind went blank as she forgot their entire social schedule. Fortunately, she felt Mary kick her under the table and she came back to herself. “I’m certain,” she began, and then cleared her throat lightly to collect herself, “that Lady Rosamunde would be happy to change any plans. I will be in the house in case I am wanted but you shall find Lady Mary at home. Ten o’clock tomorrow,” she repeated, for all involved.
Fortunately, they had to part ways and he could not escort them back, and they immediately went to send a telegram to Downton Abbey to apprise Lord Grantham of the latest developments.
Mary took the paper and pencil.
TOMORROW E NAPIER WILL PROPOSE STOP CERTAINTY STOP WILL SEND CONFIRMATION STOP M CRAWLEY FULL STOP
She showed it to Bella who looked it over ruefully. “I remember a similar telegram that Patrick sent your father, though that was a full day and a half after the marriage.” She got out the necessary coins to pay for the telegram as Mary wrote the direction.
“I saw it,” Mary confessed. “I think I dropped it in my shock.”
Bella turned to leave and the two linked arms as they walked out of the Royal Post Office. “You did mean to marry him, then,” Bella murmured.
“It was only partially that,” Mary confessed. It was not an apology. “It was only that we learnt that very morning that Cousins James and Patrick were dead—and that Patrick had married—it was all too much.—They were dead, but there could still be an heir if you—an unknown—survived.”
“And there was only Nessa,” Bella murmured, her fingers reaching to her empty abdomen that had once housed her child.
“I believe,” Mary stated carefully, “that Patrick would have doted on that girl.”
Thinking, Bella admitted, “Yes. He would have adored her because I had given her to him.”
She turned to her cousin to see a far off look in her eye. “Yes,” Mary finally murmured, “I think you might be right.” Her dark eyes then focused on Bella, squeezing her fingers, and the two walked back toward Rosamunde’s townhouse.
Of course, Lady Rosamunde was overjoyed at the news of tomorrow’s appointment and made certain she had an alternate appointment at ten the next morning so as not to clutter the place. “I’m superfluous,” she declared over dinner joyfully. “But I shall leave an invitation to dinner tomorrow—for when he asks and when you accept. A family affair. He won’t mind dining us with us ladies en famille, I hope.”
The cousins shared a room and had only brought Agnes, which suited Bella, as it meant more warmth in the night when the two frenemies curled around each other.
“What’s it like?” Mary asked in the darkness. “Marriage?”
“I shall tell you,” Bella promised, thinking of a different kind of press of bodies in the darkness, “after he has asked, and after you have accepted.”
Mary surely pouted in the darkness. “Edith probably knows.”
“Edith shouldn’t know,” Bella countered, thinking it was all humdrum but this was 1913, and if she didn’t live within the prescribed strictures, she’d find herself out in the streets. “If she does, your father will have something to say.”
Mary seemed to be thinking as she became suddenly still. “Quite right. We’ll tell him. Writing to the Turkish Ambassador was petulant and would only hurt the family.”
An expectancy hung between them.
Bella felt decidedly uncomfortable but finally agreed: “You know I’ll tell him. I’ll back you up” (not that she was sure anyone used that terminology in the 1910s) “because he’s my daughter’s godfather.”
She could feel Mary nod from beside her. “And,” Mary added, “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Is it, though?” Bella wondered.
“She could be pregnant.”
“You haven’t had any letters from Anna saying she’s missed her courses,” Bella continued. Granted it had only been a few weeks, so it was too soon to tell. The child though would have to be gotten rid of. His skin would be too dark to pass off as English. It was a cruel world, but it was the world in which they lived, nonetheless.
If Bella hadn’t married Patrick, if the marriage had been repudiated or not recognized when she had arrived in America, well, she could have passed herself off as a widow, but what would she have done?
—played cards and attempted to give her daughter a good life, but Edith didn’t have that.
Bella must have fallen off into a fitful sleep because she awoke with Mary getting out of bed to have breakfast downstairs with her aunt. She lay abed awhile until her own breakfast was brought up on a tray before getting dressed for reading that morning.
Just before ten she went downstairs to greet Mr. Napier and have light conversation before withdrawing, allowing him the opportunity to propose.
She was only twenty years of age, not yet twenty-one, and already she was a widowed cousin who had nothing to look forward to but the love affairs of others. She wondered if she met Edward if he was still just a manchild, or if resembled the person she had mistakenly fallen in love with. But what could she do? She couldn’t save him from sickness. She could stop Carlisle Cullen from changing him… but that would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. His tortured soul would die from Spanish Influenza… and she would never have met him or believed that she had loved him nearly a century later.
Edward Cullen playacted at love, though… and Isabella Crawley, now, had loved and lost in truth. Nearly drowning at sea and having a child truly had put her life into perspective.
She had sat down with a copy of Jane Austen’s Emma when Mary rushed in with a genuine smile on her face and hugged her in her spontaneous joy and the couple announced their engagement to their first true ally.
Of course, another telegram was written, and was dispatched with the butler who then came out with a bottle of champagne. Mr. Napier accepted the invitation to dinner and the three compatriots began to plan happier daydreams and hunts, and how their children would always be the best of friends.
“Well,” Granny murmured the following August as they admired Mary, now Lady Mary Napier, cut her wedding cake, “you arranged that quite nicely, but to what purpose?”
Their eyes slid away from the happy couple over to Lady Sybil who was dressed in pale blue and smiling with Mr. Matthew Crawley, who was admiring her hat. “Yes, Granny. I have no idea what I was thinking,” she answered acerbically.
“Foresight is only for those who have lived, child,” Granny chided, but she softened it with a smile.
“I am married and widowed, Granny,” Bella responded. “If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.” She moved down the row of wedding gifts, glancing at a card before moving on.
“Well, I have one granddaughter happily married. I have another with a worthwhile flirtation.” Their eyes turned again to Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley who were now whispering about something to one another, smiles on their faces. “Yes, that is quite an interesting development. Quite—intriguing.” She tapped Bella’s gloved wrist with her fan. “You must tell me your secret.” Then, switching topics completely, she greeted someone hovering over on Bella’s other side, “Sir Anthony. Have you met my great-niece?”
Bella turned to see an older gentleman with a kind face—and eyes nearly as blue as Patrick’s. She looked at him, considering, and then curtseyed to him in politeness, offering her hand.
He bowed to her and took her hand between both of his. “This must be the inestimable Mrs. Patrick Crawley,” he greeted, going so far as to kiss her glove. “I understand you played matchmaker to our happy couple.”
Only Mary was putting about that story, and Bella had no idea why. Taking a slight step forward, she leaned toward him and told him plainly: “Don’t believe everything the bride tells you in her happiness, Sir Anthony,” and then she gave him a small smile to take away the sting of her words.
He chuckled good naturedly. “She told me you were charming, and I find I’m not disappointed.”
This, certainly, surprised Bella.
“Tell me, what did you get the couple?”
Taking in a breath so as not to laugh, she told him, “A signed copy of Jane Austen’s Complete Works.” She indicated the present further along the table. “It’s a bit of a—joke—between myself and the bride. On the day before her engagement, Lady Mary compared me to Mrs. Weston.”
“Ah,” Sir Anthony commented. “Emma, if I rightly remember.”
“Exactly,” Bella agreed, pleasantly surprised that a man should know his Austen.
“If I remember correctly, Mrs. Weston mismatched Emma with her stepson, and the gentleman was happily matched with another.”
A pleased smile graced her face. “Also correct.”
Granny was smiling as she looked between the two of them and Bella looked over at her accusingly. “Oh, my dear, I’m just enjoying the jovial spirit of the wedding. I do not profess myself to be Mrs. Weston, or any other Jane Austen character who would match unsuspecting souls at another’s wedding.” She smiled at her knowingly and then, with an effusive swing of her cane, walked off, leaving Bella with Sir Anthony.
He took a moment and then murmured, “May I offer my condolences on your sad bereavement, Mrs. Crawley? I, too, lost Lady Strallan not four years past. The sting is gone—but I doubt the ache ever quite leaves us.”
She looked up at him, surprised, and realized that her Granny knew exactly what she was about if she was to be matched at all. “Thank you. I offer similar condolences.”
He bowed his head. Then, he admitted, “However, your cousin looks beautiful on her wedding day. I have not seen a happier bride in years.”
“Nor I,” Bella agreed, thinking that her mother had been the last bride, and that had been down at the courthouse. Renée Dwyer had worn white jeans and a halter top. Lady Mary Napier was certainly more elegant. “I am only sorry that Lady Edith is traveling on the continent.”
She knew there were questions, but Mary had indeed been correct. Edith’s courses had not come, and the secret had not been kept secret for long. Mary and Bella had informed Lord and Lady Grantham of what they knew… and it had been hushed up by the family. It had been gotten rid of, and now Edith was taking time in France to recuperate her spirits.
It had been a tragedy, but one that had been unavoidable.
As Mary had put it, the child would have been neither English nor a “Moslem.” It would have had no place. Bella didn’t quite understand, but after having spent a year as a “vampire girl” visiting Tribal lands, she did grasp the general concept. She just found the whole situation heartbreaking.
“I must confess,” Sir Anthony admitted as he followed along after Bella as she inspected the gifts, “I had believed that you were the third Crawley sister. You look like the bride’s twin, only dressed in black instead of white—two sides of the same coin, as it were.” He smiled, politely and yet kindly, the smile reaching his blue eyes.
She laughed into the back of her hand and then grinned up at him, finding him charming and amusing. “It is peculiar, is it not? When Lady Mary and I first set eyes on each other, we were struck quite dumb.”
He smiled at her charmingly as they investigated a silver tea service from Lord and Lady Merton and suggested, “Could you have been stolen away at birth?”
She pretended to think about it. “I think, Sir Anthony, you might have hit upon the mark.” She grinned at him. “I think my father might have mentioned something if I had been.”
Sir Anthony’s smile, however, never left his face. “I shall declare it fate, then, Mrs. Crawley.”
“And I,” she stated, gesturing to a set of silver teaspoons with the couple’s initials engraved on them, “may declare these the perfect wedding gift.” She had already checked the card. They were from Sir Anthony Strallan himself.
He blushed ever so slightly, and she found that more charming than ever.
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