Part the Eighth

Bella blinked and looked between the Countess and Lady Sybil, who had appeared in her boudoir just three minutes earlier, asking her to usher out the children. 

“Let me get the right of it,” Bella stated carefully, “Edith ran off with one of the convalescing soldiers.”  She took a deep breath.  “To Scotland.”

“Gretna Green,” Sybil told her, sitting down as if she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders.  “A Major Charles Bryant.”

Cora took her example and sat.

Bella could do nothing but offer them tea as they were both clearly in shock.  “But they’re back.”

“Yes,” Cora agreed.  “Back, happy, and it appears they’ve been having an affair for over a month!”  This seemed to be the main problem, then.  Not the fact that they didn’t ask for consent, but that there had been a protract affair before the elopement.

“At least they’re happy,” Sybil told her.  “And he’s from a good, Yorkshire family.  Not our sort, but solid.”  She turned back to Bella.  “He goes back to the front day after tomorrow, so we invited Mr. and Mrs. Bryant to dinner tomorrow.  Say you’ll come.”

Bella was blinking and a bit shocked.  “Of course, I’ll come.”  Really, there was no other correct answer.  “Lady Edith has chosen… and, we must make allowances in times of war,” she decided quickly, hiding her confusion with a sip of her tea. 

“What if she’s pregnant?” Cora asked desperately, startling Bella so much she almost upset her tea. 

“Then she solved the problem?”  This, fortunately, was Sybil.  She set down her teacup.  “You cannot deny that Major Bryant isn’t dashing and doesn’t have a way with the ladies—including Edith, apparently.”

Kemal Pamuk had been dashing as well, Bella thought slightly uncharitably.  Major Bryant, however, was English. 

“They’re home, at Downton?”

“Yes,” Cora agreed, a small smile on her face.  “Lord Grantham is—coming around to the situation.  I know your support will go a long way to easing any doubts he may still have.”

Bella grimaced. 

She knew she held a certain position in the household, as wife to the lost heir and representation of hopes for the future that were unrealized until Young Patrick’s birth.  Bella sighed and thought about eating a biscuit, just to give herself something to do.  “Have I even met Major Bryant?” she asked after a pause.

“Probably not,” Cora conceded.  “You would have no reason to have met him.”

Sybil turned fully to her.  “He’s handsome.  And charming.”  She’d said that before.  “He has a way with the servants, I understand, but Mrs. Hughes put a stop to that early on.”

Bella took a deep breath.  “—So Major Bryant turned his attention to a more socially advantageous dalliance?”

Sybil looked lost.  Then she paused, took a sip of her tea, and set it down again.  “Yes?”

Not believing she was about to say this, Bella stated what had been said earlier, “His family are good, respectable people.”  She turned to the side, looking out the window.  “He’s a Major.  They must be.”  England was rather backwards in that way.  The aristocracy and the gentry…  People of family, mostly, had positions of rank in the armed forces.  Cousin Matthew was a Captain, for instance.  Her husband, with his superior rank and his experience in the Boer War, was a Colonel in North Africa.  Sergeant Barrow who had been a servant at Downton Abbey barely had his rank, and only because he ran the hospital.  The young man who married the kitchen maid had little to no rank and had been Cousin Matthew’s servant or some such in France, and he had been just as able-bodied, just born to a lesser family, had the wrong job, the wrong accent, and the wrong name. 

These things meant something in Britain.

They never meant anything to Bella in America in the early twenty-first century.  The difference between vampire, wolf, human … pale face, Quileute… none of it mattered.

She sighed and breathed in deeply through her nose, wondering when Bella Swan would have ceased to recognize the woman she had become.  “I don’t see, just knowing the bare facts, any problem.  The war has become—somewhat—of an equalizer.  Edith had little to no prospects.”  She set aside her tea.  “If she is pregnant, or if there is that possibility, then this is certainly better than what happened the last time.”  Her eyes connected with Cora’s blue ones, her message plain.

Sybil leaned forward, looking between them.  “The last time?” she questioned.

Cora looked over at her youngest daughter.  “Those rumors were unfortunately true, Sybil darling.”

Her daughter seemed just as confused, but she didn’t say anything further.  She chose, in true English fashion, to take a sip of her cold tea instead.

The two Crawley ladies left soon after with promises all around to see each other on the morrow and Bella was left to her thoughts.

It was later that afternoon when she unpacked the rose dress that she found the note, left for her over a week earlier.  “What’s it like to be in love and throw caution to the wind?—Edith.”

What, indeed? Bella thought.

She secreted it aside and looked at the dress, which was not remotely worn and began to make plans to make it over for her daughter, knowing she could save the entirety of the skirt for later alterations.

Perhaps she should have expected the new Lady Edith Bryant later that afternoon, and she set aside her sewing and greeted her in her boudoir where her mother and sister had been guests not five hours earlier.  “That’s coming along well,” Edith complimented, looking at the dress.

“I found your note this morning, after your mother left,” Bella told her.  “I see you followed my example without waiting for a response.”

Edith sat and sighed.  “I’m not going to apologize.”  She seemed to hold herself a little stiffly, as if expecting Bella to berate her, but Bella had no intention to.  She wouldn’t judge a woman who took her own destiny in her hands—as she had done aboard the RMS Titanic five years earlier.

“I was only going to congratulate you, Lady Edith Bryant,” she told her, leaning forward, “and wish you well.”

Immediately, Edith deflated.  “I half expected you to say something snide—like Mary.”

Bella pondered that.  “I’m not Mary,” she decided on.

“But you’re such good chums.”

“Allies,” she corrected, “turned friends.”  She stood up and rang the bell, so that she could order some refreshment.  “Since Patrick’s death, the Crawleys have been my only family,” she told Edith quite plainly, “and my position was quite precarious.  I accepted friendship whenever it was offered.”

Edith looked down at her hands.  “And Mary and I were always at war.”

“You were,” Bella agreed.  Agnes came in and Bella ordered tea and some cakes before turning her attention to Edith.  “I did put a stop to some of it, though, not that you were aware.” 

Edith clearly didn’t know what to say, so Bella pushed on:

“Is Major Bryant as charming as your sister says?”

At this, Edith blushed, and Bella had her answer.

The next night it was apparent.  Major Bryant was as charming as he was handsome.  His father, Horace Bryant, was loud and brash but happy at the wedding although he wished he had been given notice.  His wife—whose name Bella never learnt—was quiet and clearly overridden in all things by her husband.  She loved her boy, though, and so she loved Edith.

Captain Matthew Crawley was propped up in a wheelchair and was congenial enough to remain silent and give one word answers, which Bella supposed was better than nothing.

The next day, Major Bryant returned to the front.  Within a month, Lady Edith was a widow.  Within two months, it was clear that she was to be a mother.

Mary wrote several acerbic letters on the subject from London, which Bella answered—less acerbically. 

I shall be up for Christmas, of course, Mary wrote, to see you and the children—and Sir AnthonyBut I shall have to see her in her triumph, my stomach as flat as ever.

It would be less of a triumph for Edith, Bella thought, than a sad reminder that she was a widow, but she didn’t contradict Mary’s ideas in her answering letter.  She didn’t know the bitterness of never being able to conceive when she so desperately wanted to.  Nerissa had been a complete surprise and Charles had been unplanned and most likely conceived in Scotland on honeymoon.

She saw that pain of loss, of widowhood, whenever Edith came to her boudoir for tea, which was more and more often—even without her mother, the Countess of Grantham, or her sister, Lady Sybil Crawley.

It was with great surprise in November 1918, which Bella was certain was close to Armistice Day, that Lord Grantham came with his wife to tea in her boudoir.  He was quiet for most of tea and he sent Cora away with Nerissa and Charles after half an hour and then seemed to be uncertain what to say.

“What is it?” she asked, knowing it couldn’t be Sir Anthony—she would have been informed directly.

“We have a patient, at Downton,” he told her, “who claims to be Patrick.”

For a moment, Bella looked at him and then—for no reason other than sheer shock—she threw back her head and laughed.  Quickly sobering, she cleared her throat, looked down at her hands, and then glanced up at him to see him grimly smiling.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “My thoughts exactly.”

“It’s preposterous.”

“His story is vague, he doesn’t remember details of childhood at all, and he approached a grief-stricken Edith, of all people.  He seems to have remembered after speaking with her three times that he should have wanted to marry her instead of Mary.”  His lips thinned.  “He hasn’t mentioned you, his own wife, at all.  He is clearly an imposter.”  His face softening a bit, he looked at her with Patrick’s blue eyes.  “I’ve spoken to Dr. Clarkson and he’s being removed later this week from Downton, and I’ve telegraphed our lawyer to inform him of the situation.”

Bella’s eyebrows furrowed.  “He hasn’t mentioned a wife—at all?”

“No,” Grantham informed her.  “Edith held it back.  She’s clever.  She doesn’t often show it, but she didn’t let her emotions sway her when it’s someone else on the line.”  He took a deep breath.  “She asked him about the Titanic and—nothing.  Even if you had been an imposter,” (Bella’s heart skipped a beat) “which you are not, we have the telegram mentioning Patrick’s marriage to someone named Isabella Swan.”

Her lips twisted.  “I remember that telegram.  I remember almost telling him that no one called me ‘Isabella,’ but he so liked saying it.  I’ve been Isabella ever since.”

Surprised, Grantham looked at her.  “You had a pet name before your marriage?”

“Indeed,” she agreed calmly.  “It drowned with my husband.”  Her thoughts turned dark and watery and cold, before her eyes looked up to him.  “It was my wedding gift to him—my name: Isabella.”  Bella’s lips now lifted into a smile.  “It’s strange, when you love someone, how beautiful your name sounds on his lips.”

Grantham’s lips mirrored her smile.  “Yes.  I found the same with my wife.—I was called ‘Downton.’  However, I desired nothing more than to have her call me ‘Robert.’”

She leaned back.  “English titles are so strange to us Americans,” she told him, “but I’m sure you know that as Cora is American herself.”

“Yes,” he agreed.  “As Mary constantly reminded her before she went off and married Napier.”  He sighed.  “I shall leave you.  I’ll send a note when the imposter is gone.  If you could stay away.—the children as well.  We shall visit you, as the ladies already do.”  He stood and took her hand.  “You are our cousin, and we wish you safe and happy.”

“Thank you,” she told him firmly.  “I could not have wished for a better adopted family than the Crawleys of Downton Abbey.”

He nodded and then with a last squeeze of her hand, he left.

She was alone—until her children came in and hugged her around her waist, asking her about their afternoon lessons.

Nerissa was wearing her new Christmas dress and she’d put Charlie in his best jacket.  Armistice Day had been a day of joy and Anthony was coming home for good.  She’d spoken to the gamekeeper and a large fir was cut down and placed in the hall, the children having decorated it three days earlier in preparation of their father coming home.

They were now waiting in her boudoir and she was decidedly keeping the children away from the window as they had been checking every half minute just a half hour ago.

She thought she heard a motorcar door, but she didn’t look up from the needlework she’d learnt when pregnant with Nessa.

Charles was playing with blocks.

Nerissa was reading Jane Eyre, which Bella knew was well beyond her age group reading level.

Her ears pricked as the front door opened downstairs, and Charles looked up.  Bella looked over at him, and said, “You may tidy, if you like.”  He did so without any further question.  Nessa continued to read for a few moments then took her ribbon to mark her place.  She must have been finishing her paragraph.

The two stood and came by Bella’s side and she finished a stitch and set it aside.

Looking over her children, she saw that they were neat and presentable.

She took in a deep breath.  “Remember,” she murmured.  “Your father is surely tired, and he has seen a great many things.”

“But he wishes to see us,” Nessa said equally as quietly.

“Of course,” Charles whined, and Bella looked up at him sharply.

There were footsteps in the hall and Bella forced herself to remain still. 

A knock on the door—

And then he was standing there, his hair a blondish white, his face a rugged brown from the sun, and she nearly burst into tears of joy.

It was Charles who reacted first, running into his father’s arms.  Nessa was soon after him, both children in his embrace, and Bella smiled at the sight, her eyes meeting the familiar blue of her husband’s as he peeked out over Charles’s shoulder to look at her.

“Is it truly you I see, my darling?” he asked her carefully ten minutes later when he was seated by her side, Charles on his knee and Nessa between them.

She reached out, her fingers covered in a lace glove, but the touch nonetheless intimate.  “You look just as handsome as when you left,” she promised him.

“I think Papa looks handsomer,” Nessa disagreed with a small smile on her lips.  “He’s a hero now, a true Englishman.”

“That is quite correct,” Bella agreed, her eyes drinking in her husband, who was staring at her just as hungrily.  “He came back to us a hero of the first order.”

“I didn’t do anything much,” he demurred, but Bella could see the shadows in his blue eyes, and they exchanged a sad but hopeful smile.

The afternoon and the evening were for the children.  Anthony seemed pleased when they all dined together and told an enraptured audience how he injured his arm in a negotiation gone wrong the day before peace was declared.

“Does it hurt much?” Charles asked as he took in the sling that Anthony was wearing. 

“Oh no,” he promised.  “And as you could tell from earlier, I can still give the warmest of hugs.”  His eyes glimmered and Bella signaled for Nessa to do just that—get up from her seat from the dinner table and give her father a warm hug.

It was that night, after the children had retired, that Bella heard the full of it.  “Bullet to the upper arm.”  He flexed the fingers of his right hand and she tentatively reached out and grasped them firmly.  “I just can’t go shooting and shouldn’t take you out in the motor.  Not safe—I don’t have full use of the humerus bone.”

“But I might take you out in the motor,” she countered, giving him a small smile.  “I learnt, you know, along with Lady Edith Bryant.”

“Ah,” he smiled.  “It seems I missed some local news and that my wife has some skills I know nothing about.”

She kissed him softly, having not kissed him in over eight months.  “We all learned new things, and forgot some old ones,” she murmured when she pulled away.  “But I just want to look at you and remember every reason why I fell in love with you, Anthony.”

“I never forgot a single reason I fell in love with you, my darling,” he promised.  “All those horrible nights in the desert.  The women,” he cursed under his breath.  “So strange.  So un English.”

“I’m not English,” she reminded him quietly, kissing him again gently.

“You had married English when we met,” he teased her, his usual easy smile on his lips.  “Your speech is more English than the Countess’s.  If I hadn’t been told, I might not have guessed.”  His good hand came up and his fingers took a stray strand of her long dark hair, that hadn’t been cut since before the Titanic except for the odd trim and pushed it behind the ear.  “I have dreamt of you, my dearest.”

“You need not dream tonight.”  The statement was bold.

They smiled at each other, a familiar smile, of a couple who knew each other, who trusted each other, who had few (if any) secrets.

“My arm might change things,” he apologized.

She didn’t even bother to look at it.  “Not in the ways that matter,” she swore to him, leaning in to kiss him again, even though they were still in the drawing room.

Cousin Matthew had a note sent to Bella and she ventured out with her husband and children one morning in late February.  Anthony wrapped her up and she smiled into a morning kiss, the children looking on happily at their parents, not having any of the shyness about them that most children had when relegated exclusively to the nursery.

Lady Edith was no longer acting as hostess to the Convalescent hospital, nearing her fifth month of pregnancy, but Captain Matthew Crawley was still in residence as a patient.

Nessa came in with Bella initially to give her cousin a book of poetry from the library (which Bella made certain was marked), and then Bella sat beside his bed.  “I can feel my toes,” he told her, “on my left foot.”

She blinked.  “Have you told Dr. Clarkson?”

“Not yet,” he told her, licking his lips.  “I don’t want to get my wife’s hopes up.”

Holding in a sigh, she looked him over.  “Tell him.  Your wife is a very competent nurse.  They cannot help you if you do not tell them.”

He looked at her guiltily and then his gaze seemed to stick.  “You’re looking uncommonly well.”  He paused.  “Having Sir Anthony home must agree with you.”

“It does,” she agreed with the statement.  She also hadn’t had her courses since just after Christmas and it was now mid-February.  Bella wasn’t feeling tired, however, so she didn’t feel the need to call for Doctor Clarkson quite yet.

The war, strangely, had improved Bella’s health—or, rather, her need for self-reliance with her husband absent in the African theatre.  Perhaps enough time had passed since the Titanic had passed.  Or, perhaps, she had just been actively loved, even from afar, and it had done wonders for her health.  Before—before—she had suffered when Edward Cullen’s love had been withdrawn.  Perhaps the same had happened when Patrick Crawley’s love had suddenly evaporated from her life.  Anthony’s had remained constant and true… despite their separation on two separate continents.

She couldn’t, however, prove any of it.

It was all supposition.

She just hoped she didn’t have the “glow” her mother had gone on and on about one summer when her yoga instructor had gotten pregnant.  Bella had been nine at the time.  She unfortunately still remembered Renée’s happiness and eerie smile whenever the subject came up (which was far too often, for Bella’s liking).

Clearing her throat, Bella agreed, “It certainly does.  It also agrees with the children.”

Captain Crawley nodded distractedly.

“You should tell Dr. Clarkson.  He needs to aid with the recovery.  What hope do you have of ever being a full husband to your wife—as you wish to be—if you withhold pertinent information?”

“He’ll tell her,” he groaned.

“Not, perhaps,” she reasoned, “if you ask him not to.”

At this, she stood.  “Nessa picked that out for you specifically.”  She looked pointedly at the book of Byron that was far too advanced for a child of just six and a half to understand, but Bella suspected that Nessa understood every word.

She walked out of the room, a smudge of black against a background of sickness and pain.  Looking for her husband, she found him visiting with the Countess and Lady Edith in the private part of the residence.

“It’s too awful,” Cora was saying as she nodded in greeting.  “He’s been accused of murder.”

At this, Bella looked at her askance, and accepted a chair.  “Who?” she wondered aloud.

“Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet.”  She sighed.  “Molesley, Captain Crawley’s valet, has kindly stepped in, but this is too much, really.”

Bella looked at her husband in question, as she clearly had no idea what the backstory it was.

Anthony looked at the Countess for permission, and she nodded slightly, sighing again.  Turning to his wife, he stated, “It seems like Bates and his wife had a tumultuous relationship.”

“His lordship insists on his innocence,” Cora said of her husband as she handed over a cup of tea, exactly the way Bella took it.  “O’Brien isn’t entirely certain.”

Taking a sip of her milky tea, Bella murmured, “I’ve always trusted O’Brien’s instincts, at least when it comes to the hiring of ladies’ maids.”  O’Brien, after all, had found her Agnes, and had also found the Dowager Countess’s lady’s maid for her several years earlier.  “Will it go to trial?”

“Murray says ‘yes,’” Edith told them when Cora just looked despondent.  “It seems pretty clear, at least at this point.”

Bella gave into her childhood habit and chewed on her lower lip, which she had stopped doing as soon as she realized, at the age of seventeen, that Edward Cullen might be a vampire.  Thoughts flitted in her mind, not having met this Bates, and it was fortunately her husband who seemed to have the semblance of thought to put them into words—“Should Downton Abbey not… distance itself,” he asked, a half-smile on his face, all affability as usual, “from the situation?”

“His lordship says not,” Cora half-apologized, worry in her eyes, “although I agree with you whole-heartedly.”

“Well,” Anthony stated, and Bella reached over for his good hand, which he took and kissed somewhat impulsively.  “If that’s what Grantham thinks is best.”

Cora leaned forward a little.  “I told him, with Matthew still being recently injured and Major Bryant having lost his life.”

“And the baby,” Edith said under her breath.

“—and the baby,” Cora added apologetically, “but he insists that in wartime we should stand with our own, even if it’s not strictly war anymore.”

“It’s most distressing,” Edith put in, her hands on her baby bump. 

Whatever was it called now? Bella wondered to herself.

Dismissing the thought from her head, she asked, “How are you feeling, Edith.”

“Quite well,” she answered, a smile forming on her lips genuinely.  “I know Mama could tell with Young Patrick that he was a boy, but I honestly have no idea.”

Bella gave her a small smile.  “I didn’t know with Nessa,” she admitted.  “I had somewhat of an idea with Charles, but I played my cards close to my chest.”  When she realized what she said, what metaphor she used, she almost grimaced, but fortunately didn’t.

No one in Yorkshire knew she had ever played cards to get by in the early twentieth century and they never would know.  If they learnt of it, she could deny it—and she would.  Wholeheartedly.  She’d never been able to lie until she found herself faced with the Crawley family and had to somehow convince them she’d been born in the late nineteenth century and that she was gently born, which was the furthest thing from the truth.

“You know,” Cora mentioned, looking from her daughter to Bella, “you look quite well today.  There’s almost—a glow about you.”  She smiled.

Bella decided she’d be ringing for Doctor Clarkson as soon as she arrived back at Loxley House.  There was nothing else to be done, as now Edith was agreeing with her mother, the Countess.

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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