This story is different from my other writing, but please give it a go! This is set AU, please see footer for A/N notes re characters. Thanks for reading this.
I had spent the afternoon with Constance picking out a dress for the evening. She was so kind, the way she had taken me under her wing when I had arrived in England was a testament to her gentle nature. It had been hard for me to leave Mama and Papa and board the ship for England but I knew they had my best interest at heart and that they were hoping I would enjoy my time in London with the Wildes.
Mama and I had been planning my trip to London for months. Having visited Europe herself before she had met and married Papa, she was keen to allow me this opportunity to see the world before I too settled down with a husband and a household of my own. Despite Mama's concerns with propriety she was still at heart the adventurer she had been in her youth.
I was to be accompanied on my journey by Mr and Mrs Fisher, friends of my parents whom I had known since I was an infant. They would be visiting Mr Fisher's family in Edinburgh and it was decided I would travel with them as far as London, where I would stay with Mama's cousin Lady Fanthorpe and then travel on to Edinburgh to meet the Fishers to continue our trip on to Paris, Rome and Vienna.
When we received the letter informing us that Lady Fanthorpe had fallen ill and would not be able to accommodate me in her London home I was bitterly disappointed. It was then that good luck smiled my way, or so i thought at the time.
Papa had met Mr. Wilde on his lecture tour of the States. He had been speaking on the 'Aesthetic Movement' of which he was a founder and Papa had found his lecture most entertaining. Later, when invited to dine with us, Mr. Wilde regaled us with stories of fashionable London and insisted that must stay with his family in London when I took my journey to England later that year. His wife, Constance loved company and he felt that i would be an excellent companion while he was often away, preoccupied with his writing. I was extremely flattered by this as he had described his wife as being one of the cleverest and kindest people he had ever met. Mr Wilde quizzed me on my favourite novels and declared to the table that he knew that Mrs Wilde and I would get along famously. My dream of seeing London was rekindled.
so it was with no little anticipation I disembarked the train at the magnificent building at Charing Cross. Mr and Mrs Fisher who had accompanied on the trip on the request of my parents bade me farewell at the station and continued on their trip to Scotland. Mr Wilde was nowhere to be seen and instead it was Mrs Wilde, she soon insisted I call her Constance, and her children, Cyril and Vyvyan who greeted me at the platform. They were delightful little boys who were much excited to hear of my journey from America on the great ship and much of the carriage journey to their house was taken up with their eager questions.
34 Tithe St. Chelsea was a home worthy of such a famous man. One of parlour rooms was furnished and decorated entirely in white. I had never been in such a fashionable house, despite Mama and Papa's money they were conservative in their preferences. Constance showed me to my new home for the next few months, a reasonable sized guest room on the second floor of the house. A large bunch of lilies adorned the dresser which faced the window out into the garden. The wallpaper was an ivory silk with a charming hand painted canary yellow peonies. The bed was similarly dressed in yellow and white silk and there was a large wardrobe in which to store my clothes.
While Constance supervised the maid in unpacking my trunk she explained to me that Oscar was throwing a little 'soiree' in my honour the next evening and, even though I had brought only my most fashionable clothes with me, she insisted that we go out shopping the very next day to buy a dress to 'show me off to perfection' as she put it.
The busy streets of London were a treat to me as we sped along glimpsing all the life which crowded into the capital. We stopped at several fashionable ladies' outfitters; the assistants bustled forward with their tape measures and chalk, displaying fabrics over their arms like sellers on an Indian bazaar. Constance refused them all and I was despairing that I would have to wear one of my old dresses when we finally stopped outside a small shop on Bond St.
The interior was an Aladdin's cave of clothing. Exquisite petticoats hung from the ceiling, suspended on their hoops by delicate chains which could be lowered for the customer's closer inspection. The proprietor assured us he could have a dress fitted and delivered to Tithe St by seven o clock this evening. Constance declared this perfect and selected for me a fabric of heavy silk in bold red and white stripes. I was shocked at the design of the fabric, preferring the subtler shades and patterns but Constance insisted that these colours would bring out the red in my chestnut hair and the brown of my eyes. In the end I acquiesced, after all she was the wife of Mr. Oscar Wilde, the most fashionable man in London and everyone said that he consulted her on his own fashions.
So it was not without some trepidation that I watched the maid carefully unpack the dress from the chiffon of its wrappings. It had been delivered on the dot of seven by a young man who was very much out of breath. Dinner was to be served at nine and I had plenty of time to prepare myself.
I lounged in my hot bath, my hair carefully piled up on my head so as not to get wet and observed the dress hanging on a tailor's dummy in the other room. The intricate folds and delicate buttons were a work of art alone and it astonished me that it had been made at such short notice, but then the Wildes were no doubt very prestigious customers and their patronage bring more than a few pounds through the door of any establishment they frequented. Still it was a beautiful dress.
Dried and perfumed, I stood before the long mirror as my maid helped me into my clothes. The corset pulled tightly in at my soft waist until it was just eighteen inches around, an inch for every year of my life. The whalebone nipped at my ribs and from the comfort of the bath I was once again confined in the slender cage which society deemed to be attractive for the female form. The maid smiled at me in the mirror as I turned slightly to see the true effect of the corset on my waist.
'You'll look beautiful Miss Isabella, 'she murmured shyly. I smiled, she had been kind to me during my short stay in the Wilde's home and I appreciated her careful way with the tight lacings of the corset. As I stepped into the dress and she pulled it over my shoulders to button it along the line of my spine I looked up into the mirror. It really was a beautiful dress.
The crimson bands showed out gaily against the pale silk of the delicate frill around the neck. Tiny pearl button crept from the waist of the dress over the curve of my breasts to nestle in the soft hollow of my throat. The sleeves billowed slightly out to nip in at the cuff in the modern 'leg o mutton' style. I slipped my slender feet into the silken scarlet shoes and looked down as my feet were again hidden in a swathe of crimson and ivory folds.
As I sat at my mirror, my maid coiling and fixing my hair with the diamonds Papa had given me for my birthday, Constance entered the room. The maid stood to leave but Constance motioned for her to continue her work. As the nimble fingers pinned my hair up into the latest style, fastening in a single crimson feather to curve around the nape of my neck Constance sat on the edge of the bed and looked at me.
I was surprised by this informality but I had noticed that the Wilde's were not like other people in their habits. And in truth it was nice to have her sit and speak to me as my maid passed me now the diamond choker and earrings which picked out the sparkle of the brilliants in my dark hair.
'Isabella, my dear you look beautiful. No doubt my husband will make a witty epigram on your name when you enter the room tonight.' She laughed pleasantly and I smiled with her as I smoothed a tiny touch of rose to my lips. 'Will you be wearing powder Isabella? I have the most delightfully scented powder which dear Oscar bought for me in Paris.' Constance rose to get the powder but I shook my head.
'Thank you Constance for your kind offer but I think I am not quite brave enough to wear powder like an actress.' I blushed at my boldness and Constance smiled at me, a teasing older sister.
'Oh when you meet The Jersey Lily you will no doubt realise how brave she really is,' giggled Constance, 'to be on the stage with all those men, looking at her! I don't think I could bear it.' She shook her head and we laughed together. She stood behind me, her hands upon my shoulders and our eyes locked in the mirror. I was suddenly overcome by her kindness to me, she hardly knew me and yet here she was, welcoming me to her home and buying me dresses. I reached to my shoulder where her pale fingers rested and held them in my own small hand.
'Constance, you have been too kind. I feel as though you are the older sister for whom I always longed.' I stood impulsively and hugged her to me. If my bold American ways surprised her she did not show it for she put her arms about me and hugged me back warmly.
'Sisters.' She agreed her mouth next to my ear, her gentle breath on my neck.
Men's voices could be heard from the elegant white drawing room as Constance and I carefully navigated the stairs. Our skirts where not the wide affairs that the older ladies wore back home but the refined fluted shape worn by the most fashionable ladies in London. How Mama would have stared if she'd seen her daughter in such a grown up dress. There was no bustle at the back, the dress showed more of my shape than I was used to and I was glad of the corset which pulled my waist in so prettily, instead there was a small pad at the bottom of the back which helped the drape of the skirt. Nevertheless the skirts were long and we were careful to hold the banister so as not to trip and fall.
As I came into the room behind Constance I was struck by the change wrought upon the room by the sunset burning through the wide window in lustres of vermillion and gold. The soft light played over the expensive silks and made the room even more breathtaking than it had been in its innocent white of the daytime. Mr Wilde was seated in a large armchair, the white velvet of the chair's cushions tinged with the ruby of the light contrasted with his yellow stockings and green velvet jacket. He was a large, fleshy man who would have been unattractive if it hadn't been for his exuberant personality. At our arrival he waved a hand which boasted a large ring with a striking gem perched on its apex.
'Ah my darling wife! Ah La Belle Swan! The beautiful swan!' he enthused in a dramatic voice. The other gentlemen in the room turned to look at us. One of them was a tall, well built man. His thick moustache curved over his top lip to meet his beard below, covering half of his face in thick fur like a bear. In fact he reminded me most profoundly of a bear I had once seen stuffed in the hallway of an aunt whom I had visited when I was a child. He smiled a friendly smile and took my hand as I held it out to him.
'This,' waved Oscar from his chair,' is Mr. Bram Stoker, business manager of the Lyceum Theatre and aspiring novelist.' He indicated the man besides Mr. Stoker, a smaller gentleman whose sideburns were long and bushy. The smaller man had quick bright eyes and he took no time in taking in my whole person in his gaze. 'This is Mr. Sheridan Le Fanu, writer of the gothic and the horrible.' Mr Le Fanu smiled shyly, I found myself warming to the two men as they rose and Mr. Stoker crossed to ring the bell for a servant to pour us a glass of wine.
'I trust Miss Swan you are enjoying the sights of London town,' his moustache rose and I assumed this was a smile. His voice was deep and with a slight cadence I had also noticed present in the voice of Mr. Wilde.
'We are all Irishmen here Miss Swan,' said the softly spoken Mr. Le Fanu as he passed me my glass, 'perhaps this is the only house where you would find such a gathering of Irish writers.' He raised his glass to me as I took a sip of the wine. The taste was something I was not used to, being only allowed to drink water and tea with Mama. I was terrified that it would 'go to my head' as I had heard that it might, I took another cautious sip and checked myself to see if I could discern any effect. I could find none and so I continued to sip.
'Ah, La Belle Swan appreciates the grape gentlemen!' Oscar laughed and daringly clinked my glass with his own spilling a little onto my white glove. I blushed and the gentlemen laughed again until Constance gently scolded them for their teasing. I was standing enjoying the new taste of the wine and the new experience of being treated as a young lady by this sophisticated company when a servant announced the arrival of two more gentlemen.
'Ah, now the evening can really begin!' Oscar strode across the room to the door. The light in the room had dimmed and the sun had set leaving the room more mysterious with its quivering gaslight. Our shadows loomed large on the wall behind us. Constance, tall and statuesque moving gently in the gaslight next to Oscar's broad and exuberant silhouette. Mr Le Fanu and Mr. Stoker, small and large beside each other, like a grizzly bear and a little gnome. My own outline, slender and delicate like a lily shivering in the flickering light. Added to these came two new shadows, one of a young man his hair curled like an angel and his companion whose darkness towered over him, brooding and dark.
Oscar was clasping the hand of the angel haired young man and as he walked into the light I saw his hair was as golden as a cherub's and his face was beautiful and smiling.
'My dear Bosie,' Oscar enthused, turning to me he swept his arm wide, 'La Belle Swan, this is my good friend Lord Alfred Douglas.' I curtseyed as well as I was able in the tight confines of my corset and narrow skirt. The young man smiled an open smile to me and put out his hand to grasp mine. He pulled me gently to my feet.
'We'll have none of that here, Miss Swan, not in Oscar's house where we are all equals.' He beamed at Oscar the depth of their friendship showing in their smiles to each other. Oscar turned to Bosie's companion and clapped him on the back in a familiar fashion.
'And the dangerous rake about town, Mr Edward Cullen!' Oscar's laugh boomed out as he brought the other man forward with a sweep of his hand. He lowered his voice in a mock whisper, 'beware Miss Swan, for Mr Cullen eats young innocents like you for his breakfast!' The party laughed and the young man raised his eyebrows in amusement.
'All young innocents isn't it Edward?' chimed Lord Alfred's sweet voice, 'not just the ones like Miss Swan!' Oscar laughed even more uproariously at this. Edward Cullen nodded to me and turned to Lord Alfred.
'I eat them before breakfast Bosie, after breakfast I meet you at the Savoy!' Everyone laughed at his clever comment and we went in to dinner.
I had dreamed of my first real dinner party for a long time. When Mama and Papa had told me of their decision that I should take a trip to Europe after my birthday I had imagined an evening just like this one. The food had been delightful and I was getting quite a taste for the wine. The dining room was furnished in reds and golds and, in the bright lights of the gas lanterns, the silver and glasses sparkled like a fairytale land. I was seated with Mr. Le Fanu on my right and Constance on my left. To her left, Oscar took the head of the table as naturally as a king to a throne. He laughed his way though dinner, though I noticed he ate all of what was put upon his plate. He made witty remark after witty remark and I laughed so much that I feared I would faint from lack of breath between the laughing and my tight corset. Beside him sat Lord Alfred Douglas, I could not wait to tell Mama that I had sat at dinner with a real live Lord! Mr. Cullen sat opposite me and Mr. Stoker on his right.
I was enjoying nearly all of my evening. I say nearly all because, but for one small thing, my enjoyment would have been complete. That one small thing was Mr Cullen. I found myself quite able to join the conversation, indeed I had made even Oscar laugh of which I was very proud, but when I attempted to engage Mr. Cullen I found he ignored me completely. His face would turn stony at my glance and he would force the conversation along a path he must know I had not the experience to follow. He was plainly ill mannered and his ignoring me was made quite worse by the fact that, at any moment he thought me otherwise engaged, he would stare at me with an intensity I found quite startling. The first time I caught him looking so openly at me he coughed into his hand and waved for more wine. The second time I felt quite certain that he was not looking at me, by which I mean he was not looking at my face, but that he was looking with that same obsessive fascination at my person. I crossed my hands, feigning to play with an earring in an attempt to shield myself from his gaze. He looked away, but it soon became clear to me that, once I turned to speak to Constance or to answer a question about America put to me by Lord Alfred, his eyes would once again bore out from under his thick brows to devour my appearance.
It was with great relief I accepted Mr. Le Fanu's arm and allowed him to escort me into the drawing room for drinks. Even so, I felt Mr. Cullen's eyes upon me as though he were roving my body with his long white hands. I shivered slightly and Mr Le Fanu, misunderstanding my shudder, kindly directed me so that i could sit in close proximity to the roaring fire which cheered the drawing room.
In the drawing room conversation turned to Mr. Stoker's latest writing, a story of gothic horror about a poor English lawyer who is sent to the wild, inhospitable lands of Eastern Europe and the terrible things which await him there.
'I'm sure one could meet a terrible monster just as easily at the Savoy as in Transylvania, wherever that is,' laughed Oscar. 'Your poor lawyer, what's his name, needn't have suffered the train journey!' everyone laughed.
'His name is Jonathan Harker,' explained Mr. Stoker, swirling his brandy in the bottom of his glass so the amber light of it caught in the firelight. The colour reminded me of something and I tried to imagine what it was. It seemed quite late and I was feeling a little tired. The gaslight and the fire flames sparkled with a little more vigour than they had seemed to before dinner and I felt warm and heavy. In my effort to remember where I had seen the shade before my eyes travelled the room lazily, taking in the scene before me. Everyone was standing or sitting around the fire, listening to the conversation, intent on the company, brandy in their hands as they laughed in the golden light. Every pair of eyes were on Mr Stoker as he began to weave his dark tale of mysterious creatures and foreign lands. Every pair of eyes but one, a pair of eyes as amber as the brandy in the firelight, Mr. Cullen was looking at me again with such a look of hunger in his eyes that I jumped and dropped my glass.
At once Constance was by my side.
'Gentlemen, I fear we have over tired our guest with the late hour, the brandy and the stories, 'she looked with reproach at Mr. Stoker who was standing and sheepishly apologising for the scare he presumed to have given me. 'Miss Swan and I will retire for the evening I think.' She gently took my arm and led me from the room; I smiled weakly as we left.
Once outside Constance took my hand and led me up the stairs. She undid my hair from its pins, taking off my jewellery and laying it on the dresser. Sitting me on the edge of the bed she undid each pearl button of the dress until it fell forward almost as though I was shedding another skin. With quick hands she unlaced my corset and my lungs filled out with a deep yawn as she smoothed my nightdress over my head and laid me gently on the bed. She stoked my hair until I feel asleep.
That was the first night i dreamt of Mr Edward Cullen.
A/N in case you're not sure of the characters here's quick summary:
Oscar Wilde is a Victorian, Irish born writer best known for his comedic plays and being witty ('I have nothing to declare but my genius' is one of his sayings). He was arrested and put in prison for his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie to his friends)
Mr Bram Stoker wrote 'Dracula' and Mr Sheridan Le Fanu wrote one of the first vampire stories with his story about 'Carmilla', a female vampire.
Thanks to Rin, Meg and Wolfpup for their continued support!
Also big thanks to Hmonster4 who read it through for me and has been super friendly and helpful!
And to feathersmmm who told me to go ahead and write it!
Send me a review and let me know what you think of this new idea! There will be more debauchery to come I promise! Next chapter - Edward's POV!