Part the Sixth

The first time Bella had been married had been on the RMS Titanic and she had not been wearing white.  The second time had been in the village church and she had been a widow dressed in dove gray and mink furs despite the summer heat.  The two days could not have been more different, and she realized that she was happier this time around because the tide of death was not hanging in the sea air.

The wedding tour had only been to Scotland and had only lasted a fortnight as Bella had not wished to be away from Nessa (and Anthony had bowed to her desire not to be parted from her daughter)—and so it was that in a cool day in June she received a note from Downton Abbey that Cora would come to tea.

Bella stared at it for a moment as she still kept to her old schedule of tea in her boudoir, now a room of deep blues, often accompanied by her husband.  She looked up from the note that had come on a tray, at Agnes, her maid.

“Tell Cook we’ll have an extra for morning tea,” she murmured distractedly.  Then, as an afterthought, “And tell Nanny to bring down Nessa.  The Countess will surely like to see her.”

Agnes looked away again but did not bob a curtesy.

Bella noticed she was biting her lip in worry.  “No,” she told her firmly.  “My courses didn’t come in the night.”

“Shall I send for the doctor, m’lady?” Agnes asked, now looking her in the eye.  “My mam always said it’s better to know straight away.  And you were so sick and tired with Miss Nerissa.  Best to know straight away.”

Thinking for a long moment, Bella nodded.  “Have him come after lunch.  The Countess must have a particular reason for coming.”

“Shall I tell Sir Anthony that you’re to send for the doctor?”

Nodding, Bella then dismissed Agnes and took up her magazine.  The latest fashion from Paris was a little worrying with the hemline but it was 1914.  Surely war would be declared soon and the hemlines would get even shorter. 

She sighed when she remembered Sybil’s harem pants.  In a few short years the jean would be introduced in California to workers in goldmines.  Within another few decades, women would be wearing them in America.  Bella frowned.  By the 1950s, she would be in her 50s and not young enough to wear jeans, at least, not as a titled woman. 

Setting aside her magazine, she placed her hand over her stomach and took in a deep breath.  Then she let it out again.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Perhaps this time it would be a son… however, she didn’t have a mother’s intuition last time.  She might not be able to tell this time.  Some women could.  She’d heard of some cases.

… it felt like a son, though she didn’t know why.

“Are you quite all right, my darling?”

Bella’s eyes flew open and she looked up guiltily at Sir Anthony.  Opening her mouth, she found she couldn’t say anything.  He was standing in the door, a worried look hovering over his brow, and he came in when she failed to speak and sat down at her feet.  “Your maid said she was sending for Dr. Clarkson after lunch.”

At this, Bella’s breath stuttered out and she looked into Anthony’s wonderfully blue eyes.  “Yes.  I had a note from Lady Grantham that she was coming to tea in my boudoir, so I thought after lunch would be best.”

His eyes scanned her and rested on her fingers that were pressed over her stomach.  “Are you feeling unwell?  Did you eat something that upset you?” he asked solicitously.  He moved forward and pulled her duvet upward but left them just below her stomach so as not to cover her hands.  “I hope you’re not feeling unduly cold, dearest.”

She smiled at him and breathed out an almost laugh.  “No.  I’m well.”

“Then what?”


He looked at her so imploringly that she cleared her throat, seeing that saying nothing at all was making him worry more than was strictly necessary.  “I’m late, Anthony,” she blushed.  “More than three weeks now.  It might be too soon to tell—”

Her husband had been fretting with the edges of her covers, while giving her his full attention, but his blue eyes flashed up and he stilled immediately.  “Darling,” he breathed happily.  “Are you telling me—”

“It is only a possibility,” she hurried, reaching out and taking his hand in hers.  “I was so terribly tired with Nerissa that Agnes wanted to check early.”

Anthony took a moment to process this, but then squeezed her hand.  “All that I ask,” he told her quietly, “is that after taking tea in your boudoir, that you take your luncheon back up here.”  At the look that surely passed over her face, he quickly added, “I will happily join you with Nessa.  I do not wish you to exert yourself.  As you say, it may be too soon to know, but I should like to hear what Dr. Clarkson says.”  He gave her a reassuring smile, which she returned.

She nodded then and asked, “If I—am,” she asked.  “You don’t mind if it’s too soon?”

“It’s never too soon for children,” he told her before hastily adding, “in our circumstances.  This is a second marriage—for both of us.”  He leaned forward and kissed her sweetly.  “I couldn’t be happier if it’s the case.”

She paused and leaned her forehead against his.  “I wanted to wait until I knew.”

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, his breath against her cheek.  “I was worried.  I rushed you telling me your suspicions.”

In acceptance of his words, she reached up and cradled his cheek, realizing how dear to her he had become, and they sat there, just the two of them, until Agnes came to ready her for the day.

She had had another letter from Mary.  She had been married for well over a year and was having difficulty conceiving—going so far as to see a specialist.  Bella felt a little bit guilty, seeing as she had conceived within 72 hours of marrying Patrick Crawley and within two months, it seemed, of marry Sir Anthony Strallan.  She supposed she was a fertile woman and with a twist of her mouth she wondered how that would have played out if she had remained romantically entangled with Edward Cullen.

Nessa was brought out for tea, happily toddling about the room and greeting the Countess (whom she called “County”).

“She grows more beautiful every day,” Lady Grantham complimented after she had admired Nessa’s favorite doll.  “You must be so proud, Isabella.”

“I am,” she agreed.  “Nessa’s so terribly clever as well.”

Anthony sat back happily with his cup of tea.  “She’ll break half the hearts of London at her debut.”

“Of that I have no doubt,” the Countess agreed.  She set down her cup, ready to start the reason for her visit.  “One of them may be my future son, the next Viscount Downton.”

Bella blinked and looked at her and then, quite conspicuously, at her midsection.  “Cora?” she breathed, using her Christian name for the first time. 

At the smile spreading across the Countess’s face, she could see that it was true—the Countess, who had three grown daughters, was expecting another child.

Not bothering to see where she put down her plate, Bella launched herself at her late husband’s cousin and whispered congratulations in her ear.  When she finally pulled back, she stared at the Countess’s stomach in wonder and murmured, “Grantham must be pleased as punch.”

Laughing, the Countess replied: “That’s one way of putting it.”

“You know,” Bella murmured, sitting back, “I didn’t know if Nessa was a boy or a girl.  But I know some women just know.  It’s certainly a boy?”

“I know,” the Countess confirmed, her eyes slanted in certainty.  “In my gut.  As I knew all three of my daughters were girls.”

At this, Anthony chimed in, “My heartfelt congratulations, Lady Grantham.”  He offered his hand and smiled at her.  “The most wonderful news.”

His eyes flitted towards Bella but he made no mention of her suspicions, the three of them sitting back and drinking more tea, now that Nanny had taken away Nessa and Agnes had come in with a fresh pot of tea.

“Robert,” the Countess was saying, “is offering Matthew a lifetime stake in Crawley House, as Sybil intends the engagement to stand.”

“Indeed,” Anthony commented.  “They do seem a love match.”

“He can be one of her causes,” Bella suggested.  “She can remake him to run for parliament or—something of the sort.”  She attempted not to grimace, but she could see plainly how their marriage might play out.

The Countess sat forward slightly.  “I made a similar remark to them.  The wedding, as you remember, is in a little over a month.”

“It’s in our social calendar,” Bella promised.

Anthony smiled.  Bella knew he enjoyed having a shared social calendar not just with a wife—but with her specifically.  He’d confessed as such when she’d wanted to sync their diaries when they’d gotten back from the wedding tour.  She had never thought a man would enjoy something so domestic.  The only man she had ever lived with was Charlie, her father, and then only for about a year when she was in high school… but Anthony enjoyed the small domesticities, the merging of two lives, and he took his responsibilities as father to Nessa seriously.

She’d caught him more than once reading Nessa’s doll a story or playing tea with her, which made Bella fall a little more in love with him—or the idea of having a family with him—and she couldn’t seem to mind.

When Lady Grantham left with smiles and promises to keep everyone informed of the (publicly acknowledged) pregnancy, Bella retired to her room.  Nessa was brought to her and soon Anthony was there to play at being a knight in a waistcoat (making both ladies laugh), and they had a picnic on the bed.

Anthony only led Nessa out when Dr. Clarkson arrived.

“Well,” the good doctor said, looking at his timepiece, “what’s this I hear?”

“Three weeks and four days,” she told him quite seriously.  “I could put off Agnes no longer.”

“Ah,” he teased.  “What we do for our lady’s maids.”  He set down his bag.  “That should be just enough time for us to tell.  Have you informed Sir Anthony of your suspicions?”

Bella blushed, giving Dr. Clarkson the only answer he needed.

“Well, then.  Tell me what you’ve been experiencing.”

An exhaustive fifty minutes later, and Bella had her answer.  She was expecting a Strallan baby—and in her gut she knew it was a son, she just wasn’t going to tell anyone that (unlike the Countess of Grantham who was telling everyone that she believed she was carrying the long expected and long overdue heir).

Agnes came in and she decided to take dinner in her rooms as Dr. Clarkson had prescribed rest for the next month until the Crawley wedding and then her usual schedule of morning rest and only light exercise.

It was only a few days later, just before the garden party, when Agnes woke her up from her morning nap. “Come quick,” she told her, setting out a fashionable skirt and scoop neck blouse.  Bella blinked the sleep out of her eyes and did as she was bid, not even thinking to question that her husband had the personal motor out for her when she arrived downstairs not ten minutes later, her hair still unbound and free.

“Lady Grantham,” he told her quietly as he settled her in, “had a fall, but the baby seems to be unharmed.  She’s asking for you.”

Taking a deep breath, Bella nodded.  The Countess had to be in her early forties—at the youngest—and a pregnancy at that time of life, without modern medical attention, had to be difficult.  Her favorite daughter was away in London, Edith would be of little help, and Sybil was too young and inexperienced.  That left her cousin by marriage, Isabella, Lady Strallan.

The ride to Downton Abbey was quick but tense, and Bella quickly made her way inside, allowing Carson to show her inside.

“What happened?” she demanded of O’Brien as she was shown into Lady Grantham’s private rooms.

“A bar of soap slipped out of the bath—two bars,” she amended.  “I only saw the one.  She slipped on the other.”  She bit on the back of her knuckles in an uncharacteristic sign of emotion.  “It must have been hidden under the tub.  She never uses more than one bar of soap to bathe, m’lady,” she swore, and Bella nodded.

Not needing any further explanation, she went into the room to see Lady Grantham on a chaise, decidedly not in bed, although fortunately dressed in a nightgown and several shawls.  At least she was comfortable.  “Oh, Isabella,” she sighed as she reached out.

Bella reached back immediately and sat in a chair that had been placed for her.  “I came as soon as I heard.  You’re not hurt?” she checked, looking the Countess over herself for signs of injury.

“My ankle is twisted—and my pride,” the Countess said wearily.  “I don’t know why the second bar of soap was even out.  I’ve been so—”  She searched for the word and then seem to have given up.  “I’ve been doing this with everything.  Extra salt on my fish.  An extra dollop of crème on my soup. I’ve been going through perfume like nothing else.  I don’t know where my head is at.”

“Your mind,” Bella reminded her, “has been on more important things.”

“Yes,” the Countess agreed, letting her free hand go to her abdomen.  “But it almost cost me.”

“You know now to be careful,” Bella soothed, one expectant mother to another (secret) expectant mother.  “Give yourself some credit.  Your body didn’t want to lose this child—and so it held on.”

At this reasoning, a smile curved on the Countess’s face.  “No, my body didn’t want to lose this child.  My future Viscount.”  She frowned a moment.  “With your permission, I thought I’d name him Patrick—for the heir my husband lost.”

For a moment, Bella was speechless, but then a hesitant smile began to form on her lips.  “I think Patrick would have been honored.”

The Countess looked up then, taking in Bella’s face then, trying to read her thoughts.  “What do you think?”

“If Nerissa had been the son and heir your husband had hoped, she would have been given another name,” she admitted.  “I had no claim to it.”

Nodding, the Countess wondered, “Your own father, perhaps?”

“Perhaps,” Bella agreed.  Taking a deep breath, she admitted as both of her hands withdrew to her own abdomen, “This one might have use of the name.  Sir Charles—do you think it has a nice sound to it?”

At first, a wrinkle formed between the Countess’s brows, but then it nearly smoothed out, before crinkling again into laugh lines.  “You’re pregnant!” she announced.

“I was resting when I got your message as Dr. Clarkson prescribed,” Bella informed in a stern tone both women knew she didn’t mean.  He was coming every morning just to check on her and had been hinting that they should have a telephone put in (the hospital was getting one) so that he could send a nurse and get the readings that way every morning.

After telling the Countess of the story, Lady Grantham admitted Downton’s own recent adventure with the telephone.

“Robert’s having one put in,” the Countess told her after they broke off from their giggles.  “If your Sir Anthony gets one, I could have just—telephoned you.”

Bella breathed out, remembering her cell phone in 2005 and how she could just text Edward between classes, and how a telephone in the hall was not the innovation everyone believed it to be… at least, not to her.  “I could telephone Mary in London,” she mused, more for her own benefit than for the Countess.  “I wouldn’t have to wait for the post to arrive.”  Of course, she adored letters, and liked waiting for the post to arrive.

With the Countess well, the two took tea, and then Bella was bundled back up to the motor and taken home after luncheon, where she promised her husband that she would rest—and think of nothing but rest for the next several days.

The next few days were lazy, spent mainly in the company of her husband and her little girl, and she counted down the days until war with Germany was declared—which was also the day of the Grantham’s Garden Party—if she had her dates correct.

The Crawley aunt, Lady Rosamunde Painswick, was coming up as were the Honourable Evelyn Napier and his wife, the Lady Mary Napier… but the date hung in Bella’s mind, much as the destruction of the Titanic once had. 

Of course, she knew there was an afterward. She knew she and her daughter would survive it relatively unscathed and that up in Yorkshire they would be safe.  She knew her husband was not young and so would hopefully not be in the trenches—and if he were, Downton would not leave her unprotected.

It was a curse knowing history before it came to pass, for against the great machinations of time there was nothing she could do.  If she had gone to Parliament and screamed until someone had listened, they would have taken away her respectability and her child.  If she had gone to Austria-Hungary to prevent the assassination, she might have been arrested.  If she had gone back even further, she might have lost herself completely.

Bella Swan had already ceased to exist, what would have happened to Isabella, Lady Strallan?

“Well,” Mary stated plainly when the Strallans arrived for the Garden Party, “I know I’m doing something wrong.”  The two friends kissed on the cheek and smiled at one another—not the polite smile of the English, but the true smile of friends.

“What are you talking about?” Sir Anthony greeted her warmly.

“Mama—Isabella—why not me?” she asked, her voice firm in her conviction.  “I have been married for more than a twelve-month!”

Bella sighed and looked over at her husband fondly, only to see him looking back.  “Perhaps it’s the water?” she suggested before remembering her wedding tour to Scotland.  “Or perhaps it’s the fact that we married good Yorkshire men?  That explains the birth of Nerissa as well.”

Mary rolled her eyes, but they were glittering in amusement.  Changing the subject, she informed them, “Mama is holding court on a chaise that has been brought down for her.  I don’t want her left without an attendant for too long.”

Bella nodded.  “Duly understood.”

She breathed in the fresh air before going to see the Countess and accepted a glass of water that Thomas, the footman, brought to her (the staff at Downton well knew her dislike of alcohol when she was with child).  There was a bit of commotion with Sybil, Branson, and a housemaid, but it all changed when a telegram arrived declaring war with Germany.

Closing her eyes, Bella waited for the inevitable cold to drop into her blood, but it never came.  Instead, she felt the warm arms of her husband come around her and she pressed her face into his shoulder. 

Slowly, sound came up around her again, and she found that they were being invited to stay for a family dinner after the party, which was slowly breaking up.

No one bothered to dress for it.  The usual pretenses of polite society were forgotten—and the principal topic of conversation was Matthew and Sybil’s wedding.

“I spoke to Rev. Salisbury,” Grantham said as he was the last to enter.  “He can marry you on Monday as he only needs to read the banns once more.”

Sybil and Matthew looked at each other, a silent conversation, before she said, “I don’t need a large wedding.  I just need Matthew.”  She reached for his hand, and he took it, pressing his fingers lovingly against hers.

“If they call us up,” he murmured, “then the earliest will be Monday.  They won’t be able to find fault if I don’t come before the afternoon.”

Grantham looked solemn.  “It will take a little longer, but you two deserve a little of married life.”

“Oh, my poor darling,” the Countess sighed as she reached out for her youngest daughter.

Mary discreetly rolled her eyes at the display, but Bella caught it and sent her a look, which only caused her to smile.  As they were the only two married ladies in the room of their generation, they had a certain responsibility to the younger Lady Sybil Crawley. 

“Come to my boudoir after church,” Bella invited, “at Loxley House.”  Clearing her throat, she added, “Lady Mary, as well.—Lady Grantham might have you tonight?”  The last was a question to make sure she wasn’t infringing upon a mother’s right to speak to her own daughter.

The Countess nodded and brushed a piece of hair into place on Sybil’s forehead.  “You shall be beautiful despite it being such short notice,” she promised.

… And Sybil was beautiful.  The ceremony was well attended by the local gentry and the people of the town, and if the wedding breakfast was not as grand as it would have been or even if it was subdued because war had just been declared, no one mentioned it.

Lady Grantham presided over the breakfast from her chaise, smiling happily, and Sir Anthony convinced Bella to dance one waltz with him before she herself sat down for the rest of the breakfast.

The couple retired to Crawley House, Mrs. Isobel Crawley being welcomed into the Dowager House of all places for the three nights before the newly minted Captain Matthew Crawley reported to his regiment.  In a note that Sybil wrote off to Bella, she mentioned that Captain Crawley was posted to France.

Bella swallowed upon reading the words.  She knew that’s where the worst of it was.  She remembered seeing pictures of the trenches, of men living in the dirt.  Then Anthony was called up and she thought her heart might ache, but at least he was a Colonel—surely that meant something.

Although Dr. Clarkson said she should stay in bed now that she was five months along and it was approaching Christmas, she went downstairs to see Anthony off. She held Nerissa’s hand and they waved goodbye, and she wondered if she would be made a widow a second time in this world that wasn’t quite her own.

Sybil, wanting to do something, became a nurse.  Her mother-in-law agreed with the notion whole-heartedly, although she was only nineteen years of age and recently married.  She was attached to the local hospital, but she spent most of her time checking in on Bella because Dr. Clarkson did not have the time in his Rota to visit her nearly every day as her condition required.

In April 1915, Isabella Marie Strallan gave birth to a health son, Charles Anthony Strallan, whom she named after her own father whom she had always taken for granted until he was ripped from her life.  She had Sybil write a letter to France that morning to tell Anthony all about their son as she was so tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep, but she wanted to get the news out as quickly as possible.  Letters got lost in the trenches, sometimes taking weeks if not months to arrive.

“Charlie,” she whispered to the little boy, whose eyes were as blue as his father’s.  “I might just have to call you ‘Charlie’ like your grandfather.”

Nessa had climbed into bed with her, now a two-year-old girl with chocolate curls and eyes a piercing blue like Patrick Crawley.  “He’s bigger than Patrick.”

Bella hummed in agreement.  “He is.”  Then she added, “But he’s your little brother.”

Nessa squirmed in delight.  “Is he?”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “He was in my belly.”  She tapped on it for good measure despite the ache, “and now he’s come out to say ‘hello’ to you and to play with you when he gets older.”

Nessa thought about this for a long moment.  “He’s not going back in.”

“No,” Bella told her quite firmly.  “He’s too big now.  You can see that, surely?”

Peering at the baby, Nessa then nodded.  “Hello, Charlie,” she greeted and then kissed his forehead without any prompting.

Bella smiled at her two beautiful children.  She only now needed her husband back from France to complete the picture.

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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