To noctems, vanilladoubleshot, and windtrails, thank you for being there as I tread through the difficulties of real life, and for listening to me ramble, encouraging me when I want to scrap everything, and for your faith and support as I write. Thanks also for helping to keep me in the Victorian Era, and for reining in my comma splices and my other often-questionable punctuation/grammar. I'm going to owe you all big time by the end of this… To contreplongee, for her long-suffering and her love - not just of me but also of these silly characters.
Disclaimer: I just bought some half-price DVDs, so I can add those to the list of things I own. Unfortunately for my college fund, I can't add anything recognizably Twilight.
"Do you need anything before I help Rachel with the linens, Bella?" Righting one of the daguerreotypes that appeared to be out of place on the mantel, Angela sought Bella's gaze from where the older woman had draped herself across the chaise longue in the parlor.
"I'm fine; thank you, Angela." Smiling, Bella motioned to the stationery on the desk to her right. "I'm going to set about writing some letters soon. If I need you, I'll find you."
Angela left with a nod of her head, and Bella let her thoughts wander, musing on the things she wished to write to her friend Kate in France.
The weeks following she and Michael's first Sunday dinner had passed in a whirlwind of new experiences and growing familiarity for Bella. She was pleased at the way her life fell into an enjoyable daily routine, not even minding the mundane tasks, for she found herself growing quite fond of her staff. Writing up menus proved far more entertaining when doing so from a chair in the breakfast nook, where she could both see and hear Sue and Emily in the kitchen as they mirthfully went about their duties.
Emily, to Bella's observance, was not only beautiful to look at, but also companionable and pleasant. The older woman - whom Bella assessed to be about Rosalie's age - was full of stories, and Bella learned much of the men in her husband's service through Emily's affectionate retellings. Sue was gregarious and motherly – often running a smoothing hand over the concentration lines across Bella's forehead as she wrote her lists and menus - and it was easy to see that she saw to it that each of the staff were taken care of. She frequently sent meals to Edward at the carriage house, and Bella had noticed others taking meals to their respective quarters, though each small servant house employed a stove.
Angela had taken to Sue quite quickly, and Bella was glad for it. While she knew Angela was happy in her home, she also knew the quiet girl missed the constant warmth of her parents and younger brothers. Bella brought her along on her weekly Wednesday visits to the Governor's mansion, and arranged for her sweet friend to spend Saturday evenings there as well. One of her father's many servants delivered Angela to her again on Sunday afternoons after Church, and Bella delighted in the bright smiles that always accompanied her return.
On Sunday mornings Leah attended to Bella, and Bella was pleased to require the other woman's company. She'd flushed repentantly when confronted with her behavior regarding Angela, insisting that she'd no ill will for the girl, she simply lacked the ease for company that the younger girl exuded. Sue had affirmed her daughter's confession, assuring Bella that Leah was a homebody, having had no compulsions to seek companionship outside the staff she'd grown up with, and her family. Bella understood fully, having only Kate to speak of as a childhood friend apart from her cousins, Jasper and Angela, and members of the Governor's staff. Had Alice not befriended her first, Bella was quite sure she'd have never sought Kate's company on her own.
Leah'd promised to make amends, and had done so promptly. It was not uncommon to find Leah, Rachel, and Angela – as the unmarried female staff - taking meals together now, and Bella had come to learn the laugh lines around the older woman's eyes were well earned.
As well as the in-house staff, Bella made a point of getting to know some of the male workers about the grounds. Young Seth took her on a tour of her own gardens, pointing out various flowers and enlightening Bella on the importance of sunlight and soil temperature when plotting a successful piece of gardening land. His father Harry was head gardener, and it was not unusual to find Seth meandering about with the older man when he was not at work with Sam and the others in the stables or around the property. He spoke with great enthusiasm, and Bella genuinely enjoyed his exuberance.
Harry was equally as zealous when it came to anything grown in the earth, and Bella decided she rather liked the genial old man. He was insufferable when it came to teasing "his boys," as he called Sam and the entire lot of men and boys who maintained the grounds and property, and Bella quickly learned of his fondness for practical jokes. Inasmuch as Sue took on role of staff mother, her husband took on that of staff father.
Sam was a good-natured man, and Bella found him agreeable to talk to. He was knowledgeable in just about every subject she could think of, and the few questions she'd stumped him with he'd found answers for. He took his responsibility as grounds keeper seriously, and it was clear that he was well respected. Bella quite liked him, and it warmed her heart to see that he'd befriended Edward.
Aside from getting to know the people who worked for her, getting to know her husband was something else entirely. Discovering who she was as a wife, in and outside of Michael's presence, also proved an interesting pastime.
Michael worked hard, both from his study at home and in an office he took up in town near his father. Bella knew little more of his professional dealings than she had before their marriage, though he had offered some explanation one evening over supper. While finding it interesting that he would be required to make occasional trips to Europe, as well as domestic trips to and from New York, Bella felt no need to understand the details of his work. She knew enough to speak of him with the knowledge and pride necessary in public company, and that – to her opinion – was enough.
Michael was eager to please, and Bella smiled at the thought of his cheerful disposition. He was considerate and thoughtful, and though Bella knew he suffered her notions on dealing with those in their hire, he found no harm in allowing her the familiarities she desired.
She was learning how to respond to his playful banter, and Bella had begun to look forward to evenings with him in the parlor. Some nights he would ask her to play piano while he read quietly to himself, other times he requested that she read aloud to him while he wrote letters and notes. He was quick to bestow compliments, and Bella had come to expect his hand warm at the small of her back whenever they had cause to stand or walk side by side.
Overall, Bella believed her marriage to be more than she expected given the anxieties she'd harbored before and even after the wedding. Waking up to Michael beside her still caught her off guard on some mornings, but she had grown more familiar with his weight above hers on the evenings when he took his pleasure; his hands fisted in the nightgown about her waist and palmed around her breast below her neckline.
Face warming at her thoughts, Bella cleared her throat, taking in the parlor around her. She and Michael had sat for a new daguerreotype – the one that Angela had righted before taking her leave – and Bella stared at it for a moment before moving to sit at the desk.
How long she'd sat lost in her own mind, she wasn't sure, but as she uncapped her pen, dipping it in the ink well to begin her letter to Kate, the movement of the morning shadows across the parlor floor - signifying the onset of afternoon - did not escape her attention.
She wrote to her friend of all the thoughts she'd pondered, adding some lines in French for her own amusement and no doubt to the would-be chagrin of the brunette currently keeping residence in Paris. She wrote also of the Charity Society, knowing that the other woman would be pleased to hear of her volunteerism.
The passing weeks had given her opportunity to become better acquainted with the other ladies, and after some deliberation, it was decided that Bella would work alongside Esme for a time. As director, as it were, of the society, Esme took part in all various goings on, and though Bella'd expressed interest in working with women or children, Esme felt it best that she experience all areas of service before committing to just one.
After the supper the Cullens had attended at her home, Bella couldn't begrudge the genteel lady her decision. Having spent the better part of that evening listening to Dr. and Mrs. Cullen speak of their love for society's downtrodden – class be damned, pardon their vulgarity – Bella had taken great interest in the opportunity to spend time alone with Esme.
Thus far – as Bella wrote to Kate – she'd helped to take inventory of all the donated items the Charity Society had received since the beginning of summer. A task that had taken several full days, old winter petticoats and shawls; shoes that had seen little wear, just enough that men and women of social standing would no longer suffer them; boiler hats with the satin or felt ripped on the inside; men and women's gloves, missing their complements or stained, such were the items that Bella entered into a log for Esme.
Even such trinkets as broken fountain pens – of no value or re-giving worth – and Waltham pocket watches with hands that had long since stopped telling time, were recorded for posterity. Knowing a local horologist specializing in watchmaking, Carlisle collected the pocket watches with the hopes that even factory working men could boast a Waltham in their ragged Sunday best.
She'd accompanied Esme on two visits to elderly, widowed shut-ins, during which she'd faced the up-close realities that faced many who were far removed from her own social station. The stench in one home – a squat apartment that was little more than a closet with a rudely fashioned stove, a pallet to sleep on, and an overused chamber pot – caused her eyes to water, and had it not been for the perfumed handkerchief that Esme had discreetly pressed into her trembling hand, Bella feared she'd have emptied her stomach on the old woman's dirty floor.
"How does she live in such a manner?" Bella asked of Esme, well out the elderly woman's range of hearing.
"It's hard to understand, I know. Think though, Bella, of the meager life Widow Siebert would be living had she not the provisions she does. She's nearly blind in both eyes, if you did not take notice. Perhaps as her sight waned her olfactory perceptions left her as well. We cannot know for sure, but we mustn't pity her. She does the very best – and with great pride – that she can."
Bella had noticed the milky white film covering the widow's eyes, and though doing her best to hold her hands – and thus the handkerchief – near her nose at all times, she'd felt the way the old woman's hands had traced the back of hers, as if learning Bella's story through the pale, smooth skin there.
Feeling her stomach churn unpleasantly at the memory of the visit to Widow Siebert, Bella chose to write little of those details to Kate.
Setting her pen down so she could stretch her cramping fingers, Bella stole a glance out the window beside the desk. The sun was now full in the center of the sky, and she knew that Edward would be with Sam out to pasture with the horses. Worrying her lower lip, Bella pressed her hands one last time into the firm bone of the corset beneath her pale green bodice, before allowing her thoughts to linger, at last, on the man who'd finally allowed her some leisure into his more casual acquaintance.
Bella had succeeded in gathering information about the young man from Esme, up until such time as she asked questions about his family and his truncated university attendance. With a warm smile and a shake of her head, Esme refused to delve into Edward's life beyond what Bella'd already known from her father and father-in-law.
Edward had relaxed noticeably in her presence, but Bella was still quite aware of a remaining air of formality to their friendliness. He indulged her and her queries about carriage driving and horse maintenance, even consenting to her company a few times as he leaned against the fence posts to watch the horses in the afternoon before dinner. He would ask questions about her visits and her work, smiling and humming agreeingly as she prattled on in response. His laugh was clear, and his eyes – so she was beginning to realize - spoke volumes when his voice was silent.
Bella was learning him, just as she was learning the others.
Looking down at her letter, Bella brought one hand to her mouth, tracing the lines of her languid smile with the tips of her non ink-smudged fingers. She heard Angela's quiet footsteps just moments before the light rush of air from her attendant's arriving presence tickled the fine curls at the back of her neck.
"It's nearly time for dinner, Bella." The younger girl smelled of soap and sunlight.
"Thank you, Angela. I've just about finished here, though I successfully managed to complete but a single correspondence." Determining to leave her nascent friendship with Edward from her writing, Bella jotted a few more lines in her small, loopy script, before signing it with a flourish. As expected, Angela laughed, and Bella leaned back into her chair, mindful to keep her stained fingers clear of the expensive material of her clothes.
"It's a lovely day for daydreaming. Perhaps your letter will carry some whimsy to its reader." Dancing her fingertips in an away motion, Angela squeezed Bella's shoulder.
"Perhaps! However, I fear this pen will no longer imbue any whimsy or feelings otherwise in any letters again." Flicking the overused fountain pen, Bella sat up, rubbing at the black on her hand.
"You've many other pens, Bella, all of which should be equally predisposed to story telling." Winking, Angela motioned toward the doorway. "I've already prepared a vinegar mixture to remove the ink."
"Of course you have." Smiling at Angela's assiduous nature, Bella stood to follow her from the room.
After successfully scrubbing the ink from her fingers with the vinegar mixture that Angela had readied for her, Bella soaked her hand in a bowl of hot water to remove the lingering pungent odor from her skin, before sitting down to dinner alone.
Having eaten her fill of the roast beef, boiled potatoes, wax beans, and bread Emily had served, Bella dismissed herself from the table; curtsying to her invisible dining partners. Sam's voice echoed from the kitchen as she made her way across the room to take her leave. Overhearing that Edward was tending to the last of the horses before taking his meal, Bella paused to reach for an apple from the ever-stocked bowl near the window; a stop by the stables at the beginning of her afternoon walk seemed in order.
Parasol in one hand, bright red apple in the other, Bella strolled leisurely in the direction of the stables. Seth lifted his hat in greeting as he ran past her when she rounded the stable's corner to the wide horse entrance, and Edward's laughter carried to her ears moments before he came in focus before her.
"Good afternoon, Edward."
"Good day, Ma'am!" He exclaimed, still laughing as he removed the horse's halter. Creating a loop in the lead and slipping it over its head, he tied the other end in a loose knot around a stall post within drinking distance of a large barrel of water.
"What has Seth in such spirits? He nearly overturned me just now." Closing her parasol under the stable roof and leaning it against the wall, Bella watched as Edward bent to run his hands up and down the horse's hind legs.
"I told him I'd teach him how to properly gee and haw a carriage horse." Looking up at her, Edward smiled. "What brings you by the stables this afternoon?"
"I brought the horse an apple." Holding the apple out to him, with the raise of an eyebrow Bella dared the young man in front of her to argue her reasoning. Knowing it was rather poor, Bella added, "I also wanted to remind you that tomorrow is Tuesday."
"Tuesday appears to be a weekly phenomenon." Edward straightened to full height, resting an arm out along the horse's back. "What is the importance of Tuesday, again?"
"I do believe you're teasing me." Waving the apple a bit, Bella felt as though her smile could very well split her face.
"I would never." Shaking his head, Edward gestured to her outstretched hand. "As far your apple, I am quite inclined to believe that this horse would rather receive her gift from your own hand, not mine."
"I couldn't possibly feed this animal." Eyes widening, Bella stepped back, glancing down to be sure her skirts were not in danger of brushing into anything.
"Holly is a good horse," Edward assured, moving to stand near her head, "I'll stand right beside you to insure your safety."
"Edward, Holly, as you called her, is many times the size of my person, even with these many skirts I'm wearing."
"Yes, Holly; she has a dark design across her muzzle, bearing a striking resemblance to a leaf from a holly plant." Edward beckoned Bella forward, "I promise she won't hurt you. Come now, Mrs. Newton."
"I really don't-" Bella was silenced by Edward's hand on her arm, pulling on her gently before letting go. "Edward…"
"The beauty of a horse is something that every person should experience firsthand." His eyes were piercing and Bella felt herself move forward.
"Yes, yes. Alright." Clearing her throat, Bella brought her free hand to her neck. "What if she bites my fingers off?"
"Forgive me, Ma'am, but that apple is far more appetizing to Holly than your fingers."
"Show me how?" Bella held her in front of her awkwardly. She'd never stood this close to a horse before, not without the security of harnesses and saddles and reins.
Plucking the apple from her grasp, Edward gently turned her hand so her palm was facing upward. "Keep your hand flat like this, and your fingers together." Waiting for her nod of acknowledgment, Edward wrapped his fingers around her wrist. "Are you ready?"
"Yes?" More of a question than an answer, Bella breathed her response as Edward drew her arm forward, placing the apple on the center of her palm. Dropping her free hand from her neck to her abdomen, Bella gasped as Holly's lips curled upward to reveal big, square teeth. She hardly had time to react before the fruit had disappeared from her hand, a wet spot from the horse's mouth remaining.
"I told you that you'd keep your fingers." Releasing her wrist from his grasp, Edward touched her palm with his thumb. "You can pet her; I'm certain she's pleased to make your acquaintance."
As if in agreement, Holly whinnied, turning her head to nuzzle Bella's arm. Worrying her bottom lip, Bella glanced at Edward's face. He was watching her with a smile, his eyes lit with amusement and something Bella couldn't define. Bringing her hands tentatively to either side of Holly's jaw, Bella took a step closer to the animal.
"Thank you for not eating my fingers." She whispered, running her left hand up to rub against Holly's muzzle. "I appreciate your consideration greatly." Tracing the holly pattern that indeed decorated the horse's face, Bella watched as Edward moved to rub down the beast's front legs before opening the stall door and leaning backwards against it.
The stable was quiet for a time, the sounds of Holly's contented sniffing and her hooves dragging across the dirt almost echoing in the open space. Bravery increasing as the moments ticked by, Bella ran her hands down the horse's neck - over the lead line - to its well-defined shoulder.
Holly whinnied again, and feeling the rolling of taut muscle beneath her touch, Bella marveled at the strength and power bridled in the animal before her. She knew then that Edward was right; this sort of majestic beauty had to be experienced. Resting her forehead against the horse's neck, Bella sighed.
"I knew that she'd bewitch you." Edward had untied Holly's lead from the stall post, and Bella moved so he could slip it off her neck. Guiding the mare into the stall with a pat at her hip, he latched the door before once again leaning back against it.
"I've never been so close to a horse before; I've never had any interest in them other than for transportation's sake." Bella watched as the animal in question turned about in her stall.
"They're intelligent and fastidious creatures." Lifting his hat to scratch at the top of his head, Edward took a deep breath. "I see their allowing us to bridle them as an exhibition of kinship."
Averting her eyes to meet Edward's, Bella held his gaze. "Edward, may I ask you a question?"
"Yes, Ma'am." He cocked his head to the side.
"What is it that changed your mind about our being friends?" Clasping her hands in front of her, Bella noticed a twitch in Edward's jaw.
"Are we friends, Mrs. Newton?" His reply.
Looking away, Bella suddenly felt foolish. She'd no explanation for the draw she felt to Edward's presence. She was happy to make new friends, the disinterest from her childhood giving way to the desire to feel significant to people outside familiar obligation, but there was something about the quiet and gentle man she met in Edward that set him apart. Something about him called to her interest much as the sirens she'd learned of, calling to sailors out at sea. Perhaps she was wrong in assuming he shared such an interest in her as well – if any interest at all.
Edward's silence felt as if it lasted for centuries, until finally, he spoke.
"Excuse me, that was very rude. I apologize." Stepping toward her, Edward buried his hands in the pocket of his trousers. "I would like us to be friends, Ma'am, but you must realize that I'm first and foremost in your husband's employment. There is a certain amount of respect that's due a lady of your position; even more so as you are the wife of the man who pays my salary."
"I do realize that, Edward, I do." Furrowing her brow, Bella sighed. "I simply do not see any of the men and women in my service as only servants. I find great pleasure in being friends with many of you, and that is all the respect I feel I need. You're men and women with great insights; I only want to know you, and your thoughts. I know that I'm naïve to many things outside of the protection of my social circle, but from my childhood I've longed to learn. I yearn to be more than a Governor's daughter and a businessman's wife, though I do not begrudge my being either. To me, you're no different than Mr. Newton, or Mr. Whitlock, or even the Governor himself; the only difference is a title, Mr. Masen."
Bella felt the flush of her cheeks after her speech, and would have found herself quite embarrassed if it were not for the admiration written across Edward's face.
"You do me a great honor by holding me in the esteem of men such as your father. Thank you." Tilting his head back to study something on the ceiling, Edward brought both hands to his chest. "I enjoy your company, Miss. I do not wish to keep away from you." He offered.
"And I enjoy yours, Edward. Will you never address me by my name?" Bella implored.
"There may come a day when I use your Christian name, Ma'am. Allow me the time it takes for me to find peace in doing so?" Head bowing in question, Edward met her gaze before directing it behind her.
"Miss Bella?" Sam spoke, and Bella turned.
"Sam, is everything alright?" She asked. The look shared between the two men did not escape Bella's attention.
"Yes Ma'am, everything is fine." Lifting his hat, Sam turned back to Edward. "Sue has dinner waiting for you. I came to see if there was a problem with the horse; you've been seeing to her for quite some time now."
"Ah, yes. Thank you, Sam. Mrs. Newton brought Holly an apple, I suppose we lost track of time. I'll wash up and go in for dinner now." Excusing himself, Edward took his leave casting an apologetic glance in Bella's direction.
"I wager you're Holly's favorite now." Sam grinned, "Apples are her favorite treat."
"Yes, she seemed to like it very well." Smiling in return, Bella retrieved her parasol and made to exit the stable. "I think I'll have my walk now, if you'd excuse me."
Sam nodded and Bella quit the stable hurriedly, keeping with her quicker pace until she was winded and far enough away – near the property's edge - to be hidden from anyone's sight.
Dropping her parasol and pressing her hands, in fists, against the corset that dug painfully into her heaving ribcage, Bella swallowed thickly. Nothing about the interaction that Sam had interrupted was questionable in nature, but chagrin burned red across her cheeks just the same. Feeling her caged lungs take in air more comfortably, she set out for the gardens, hoping to lose her cares amidst the beauty there.
It was there that Michael found her, with a collection of – ironically named – Hollyhocks in her lap.
"Isabella, here you are." Ambling up beside where she sat, Michael let his hand hover near the back of her head before returning it to its place in his pocket.
"Oh, Michael!" Startled, Bella felt her fingers curl around one of the deep-purple flowers.
"I did not intend to sneak up on you," Michael smiled, motioning questioningly at the empty space beside her on the bench.
"Please, sit." Smiling in return, Bella adjusted her skirts discreetly. "How was your day? I never even heard you return home."
"The day passed without excitement, so I'd say it went rather well. I spoke with Dr. Cullen today; I happened to come upon him at the bank." Crossing his arms, Michael continued, "He mentioned that Mrs. Cullen will be taking you along to the orphanage tomorrow; apparently the children are very excited to meet you."
At his revelation, Bella felt her smile grow. "How wonderful! I have been so looking forward to meeting them as well."
"Yes, I told the doctor as much. He and his wife are both rather fond of you, I believe. I'd say that you've made quite the impression on them." There was pride in Michael's tone, and Bella bowed her head humbly.
"I'm quite fond of Esme as well, and I'm sure the more I get to know the doctor, I will like him just the same." Bringing one of the flowers to her nose, Bella inhaled the sweetness of its scent.
"I'm sure. How was your day, Izzie? I'm sorry that you were unable to visit with Jasper and Alice as per usual on Mondays."
Jasper had claimed Monday for his own, much to Bella's delight, and her visits tended to extend from late morning far into the afternoon to include Alice as well. Jasper had sent word first thing that her cousin was feeling a bit under the weather, and the day's visit had been canceled to allow her some rest.
"I was sad to miss our visit, but I was able to write a letter to Kate, which I'd been meaning to do for days now. I also fed one of the horses."
"You were with the horses?" Leaning forward slightly, Michael raised an eyebrow, "Why on Earth would you want to spend time in the stables? I have men and boys who take care of the horses; in fact, I pay them quite generously to do so."
"Oh, I know. I stopped by to remind Edward about my carriage for tomorrow, and I took an apple for the horse." Brushing a fingertip across the soft petals in her hand, Bella smiled at the memory of the soft warmth of Holly's muzzle.
Michael remained quiet for a moment, and Bella looked up to find a curious look on his face and an uncharacteristic frown tugging at his mouth.
"I have a feeling that Edward – by this time – has your weekly schedule committed to memory, Isabella." Uncrossing his arms, Michael leaned forward further, sighing discontentedly. "I don't like the idea of you distracting the help while they're meant to be working."
"But I wasn't distracting." Her rebuttal escaping her lips before she could think about the tone she was taking h her husband, Bella met his gaze. "Edward doesn't mind if I visit sometimes. Just as Sue does not mind if I sit in the kitchen while she's cooking. I like observing, and talking with him."
"It is one thing to be in the kitchen with the women, and quite another to be out in the stable with a man." Eyes softening at the question in his wife's eyes, Michael reached to rest a hand on her shoulder. "You know I find your fondness of the staff endearing, Izzie, I find them all to be agreeable myself; but I'm going to make it clear that I do not approve of your spending time alone with the unmarried men."
"I am alone with Edward nearly every day, Michael." Bella pointed out, referring of course to her carriage travel.
"Please do not make this difficult; you know the type of fraternization of which I am speaking, Isabella." Standing, Michael brushed at the back of his suit. "I am not suggesting your behavior is reproachable, but it is improper. That you spend hours alone with a married man is enough. I must insist that you honor my wishes in this."
"Jasper is my best friend." Bella felt a rush of irritation swirl in her belly. "He is practically my brother; you can hardly find my spending time with him uncomfortable."
"Forgive me for upsetting you, I spoke out of turn in regards to Jasper. However, I do not want to hear of more stable visits to feed horses." Michael's words held a tone of finality, signaling the end of their discussion.
"As you wish." Bella sighed, tears prickling the back of her throat. "I was unaware that your feelings were so strong on the matter, or I assure you I would have respected them."
"All is well." Michael smiled, no doubt trying to assuage any guilt Bella felt. "Come into the house now, Izzie, and have Angela help you change before supper; it would be unpleasant to have the smell of toast challenged with that of a horse."
Bella stood, slipping her arm into Michael's. As they walked towards their house, she keeping her eyes clear with thoughts of the orphans she would meet the following day, Bella felt something sticky on her palm. Opening her hand, she looked down to see a purple smear across her skin.
She had crushed the petals in her fist.
AN: As always, thank you for reading and for all the alerts! I have gotten some of the most amazing reviews and PM's - you all make my day. : )
If you're so inclined, I just got a twitter account. You can follow _lemoulin for general silliness, and story updates.