Age of Edward Contest

Pen name: sarahscriptor

Title: Marchgate

Type of Edward: Regencyward (1808 England)

Marchgate was bustling with activity in preparation for the forthcoming ball. Sir Carlisle Cullen, who had inherited the grand estate and subsequent position of baronet from his own worthy father, annually hosted the grand ball at his estate in Bedfordshire. Those in attendance were nothing less than the best and dearest of the Cullens' acquaintance, and in particular, always included the presence and family of one Lord Hale.

Lord Hale himself possessed an even grander estate in Kettering called Prescott Hall. He was a good and sensible man, evidenced by the dear friendship that he and Lady Hale kept with Sir Carlisle and Lady Cullen. Unfortunately, Lord Hale's one fault was that his three children were of a spoiled and manipulative nature, and he was not shrewd enough to detect it. Only the youngest, a daughter named Rosalie, had enough good characteristics to outweigh the bad. She was a beautiful girl, but sixteen, yet exceeding her elder sister Tanya in nearly every way. The oldest, named James, was a cunning yet charming young man at twenty. Very few but the most discerning natures were able to detect his perpetually selfish intents and foul heart.

One such nature belonged to Sir Carlisle's eldest son, Edward. Edward possessed all the attributes that anyone could hope to find in a young gentleman of nineteen; he was known to be very handsome, perfectly amiable, kind, respectful, and amusingly witty. His only flaws, if indeed he possessed them enough to be called such, were a passionate nature when affected, and a nearly too strong sense of duty and pride.

Sir Carlisle had two other children: Emmett, who although two years younger than his brother, was quite a bit greater in stature, and Alice, who at fifteen was blossoming into a lovely young woman with dark hair and bright blue eyes like her father.

It would be of little surprise to the reader, based upon the close connection of the two families, that the propriety of a match between one or more of the Cullen progeny with the Hales would be well pleasing to both Sir Carlisle and Lord Hale. In particular, Sir Carlisle had an interest in seeing his eldest son make a match with the oldest daughter of Lord Hale, Tanya. They were, therefore, frequently thrown together at such functions as the annual ball, much to Edward's annoyance. He could not help with his sterling judge of character, but to find Miss Hale wanting in any true manner of excellence.

Lady Esme Cullen was the youngest daughter of one Lord West, and was fortunate on two counts: to have the man she adored be enthusiastically approved by her father, and to have a handsome dowry with which to enter in. She possessed a kind and maternal nature, and was never one to look down upon someone for not being born into the privileged state which she so happily found herself in.

The widowed Admiral Peter Whitlock, along with his son Jasper and daughter Jane would be attending the ball again this year, as well as cousins and other close friends of the Cullens. The only new addition to their society would be the new clergyman, a Mr. Charles Swan, who had taken the vacant position at the church on the grounds of Marchgate, as well as his family. They were moving from a parish in Essex the very day the bulk of the preparations were going on, and would situate nicely in the more than adequate cottage there on the grounds of the estate.

The staff of the estate was, therefore, even more burdened with not only readying the house for the ball, but also preparing the cottage for the Swans' arrival. That evening as the fireplaces flickered happily in the cottage and all was righted, the carriage brought the family to their new home followed by the cart carrying all of their belongings.

Mr. Swan and his wife Renee had a lovely daughter named Isabella, who at eighteen, was a sweet-tempered girl with a quick wit and a selfless nature. Bella, as she much preferred to be called, was most happy to have her small pianoforte unloaded and placed carefully in the parlor. She was an accomplished musician with a lovely voice, however she was often shy in exhibiting it.

The following morning on the eve of the ball found Bella in her parlor playing and singing without restraint. Her father and mother had taken a walk about the grounds, allowing her to fully embrace her music in happy isolation.

We all to conq'ring beauty bow, Its pleasing pow'r admire;

But I ne'er knew a face till now that could like yours inspire.

Now I may say, I've met with one amazes all mankind;

And, like men gazing on the sun, with too much light am blind.

Love songs were her favorite, and she sang it so intently that she did not hear the knock at the door or the voice of their maid-of-all-work Angela announce her visitors.

Lady Cullen would under any normal circumstance pay the first visit to the Swans, and she would have most certainly done so if not for the overwhelming amount of preparations for the following night's ball. Instead, she reluctantly sought out her children to fulfill the obligation. Finding only Edward and Alice, as Emmett had gone off riding, she sent them in her stead.

Edward and Alice obediently took the stroll to call upon the Swans at the cottage, talking and joking the whole way. As they approached the cottage they heard beautiful music that grew louder and more lovely as they drew nearer.

"Mrs. Swan certainly plays very well," Alice mused as Edward agreed fervently. Lady Cullen had, in her distraction, failed to mention to them that the Swans had a daughter, which led to the misapprehension.

Edward had a great fondness for music, which unfortunately went without indulgence due to their being no one in the county or his sphere who could perform it well. He mused to himself, although he could never state it aloud, that Miss Hale sounded like a drowning cat when she attempted singing, and her clumsy playing was not any better.

The brother and sister knocked and announced their visit to the Swans' maid who led them into a parlor from where the lovely music originated. There was a young woman at the pianoforte playing so fervently, that she didn't hear the announcement. The maid excused herself, and both the siblings couldn't bear to interrupt the lady until her song was completed.

Edward took a closer look at the creature whose lovely fingers swept effortlessly over the keys and whose angelic and warm voice permeated the air. Her dark curls were swept up in a loose bun, her neck was very seemly, and her skin was like alabaster. He had not seen her face, but Edward was quite sure this woman must be lovely to sing and play so beautifully. He found himself on one hand not wanting the delightful song to end, and on the other wishing for a quick resolution so that he could make her acquaintance.

Soon enough, and all too soon, the final notes of the song no longer lingered in the air. Edward cleared his throat and Bella spun around with her hand steadying her pounding chest, quite frightened at the surprise visitors. She quickly gathered her wits, making haste to return their bow.

"Please, don't be frightened. I am Edward Cullen and this is my sister Alice. Your maid announced us, but we couldn't bear to interrupt your lovely song. You sing and play beautifully." Edward surprised himself by maintaining decorum when his breath was stolen by the beauty as she turned to face them. She was easily the loveliest woman he had ever seen. She had large expressive eyes, an attractive blush to her flawless skin, and a lovely full mouth.

"Mr. Cullen, Miss Cullen, I am terribly sorry I didn't hear the announcement. I get far too carried away with music, I'm afraid. I am Isabella Swan, won't you please sit down?"

"It is quite all right, Miss Swan. It is such a happy surprise to meet you! I hope we will become the very best of friends," Alice mused.

"Our mother sends her sincerest regrets that she was unable to greet you herself. She is much occupied with tomorrow night's ball. If you will permit me, Miss Swan, it would be a great honor to extend an invitation, on behalf of our family, to you and your parents to the ball tomorrow evening at six," Edward spoke.

Bella had never seen a more handsome gentleman in her entire life, and he was so kind and affable. For a moment it was easy to forget the differences in their status. As the future Sir Edward Cullen, Bt., he would no doubt seek the daughter of a wealthy and noble family for a wife. A clergyman's daughter, while perfectly respectable, could never be an advantageous match for such a man.

"You are very kind, both of you, thank you. I will extend the invitation to my parents as soon as they arrive home from their walk. I am not aware of us having any prior engagement. "

"We do hope you will come, Miss Swan. You could meet our brother, Emmett. And I know our dear mother will be quite taken with you," Alice beamed.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Miss Cullen," Bella answered happily while looking at Edward.

Minutes later, the siblings were enjoying the walk back to Marchgate.

"It would be wonderful to have a friend in so easy a distance from the house. She is a lovely girl, don't you agree?" Alice mused.

"Yes, sister. She is a lovely and sweet girl, and will make a very good friend to you."

"Indeed, I love you and Emmett dearly. But, apart from mother, female companionship is scarce in this county. And, we see the Hales but two or three times a year."

"I agree, and I look forward to making Miss Swan's better acquaintance. I am exceedingly fond of music, as you well know. Talent in that area is uncommonly scarce here as well, I'm afraid. She might well put an end to both accounts."

Lady Cullen, being quite distracted by preparations, failed to notice her eldest son's greater than usual reticence that evening. Edward retired early to his room, feeling that something was amiss within himself. His thoughts inevitably lingered on the cottage, a beautiful song, and the lovely girl there. His sound judgement correctly deemed her person everything good and lovely, and he could find no obvious flaw in her character. She was also very beautiful and exceptionally gifted with music, which was a particular draw for him.

As suddenly as these happy thoughts filled his mind, his unfailing sense of pride and duty broke in to turn mere contemplation into brooding. He was well aware, as he had been all of his life, that he was expected to marry well. Although he had never felt any attachment to either of the Miss Hales, he had always hoped that he would be fortunate on this count like his parents. His greatest hope was to give his whole heart to a woman worthy in every way to be the future Lady Cullen.

He could not deny, however, that he held a greater affection for Miss Swan than any woman he had ever met, and certainly more than was reasonable for a mere one day old acquaintance. And so it went, his passion warring with his pride, tormenting him as the time drew near for the grand ball.

Alice was the first to spot Bella as she and her parents entered into the ballroom, and she darted carefully through the crowd to get to her.

"Oh, Miss Swan! You look very well! I must say that color truly flatters your complexion," Alice gushed.

Bella wore an embroidered blue silk gown, and her hair was up in a slightly fancier style with ribbons and little white flowers adorning her dark curls.

"Miss Cullen, you look lovely as well this evening." Bella took Alice's hand with pleasure before being led by her to be introduced around the room.

The first group she was introduced to included an Admiral Whitlock and his son and daughter. Alice confided to her in secret that the Admiral's wife died two years prior, causing him to retire to care for his children. Her death also, in effect, prevented their son, Mr. Jasper Whitlock, from fulfilling his fondest wish to join the Navy, feeling more needed at home than at sea. The Admiral had a prestigious career in the Navy and was a wealthy man.

While Bella was being introduced to all manner of unoccupied cousins and acquaintances, Edward was begrudgingly dancing the opening Minuet with Miss Hale after much persuasion from his father. He was, as always, polite and affable, but only as much as gentlemanly decorum dictated.

One of the cousins, a Mr. Newton, secured a dance with Bella during the next reel. Finally, the friends made their way around to the Cullens and Hales where Bella was properly introduced to the Cullens and Lord and Lady Hale. Lady Cullen in particular was enchanted by the sweet unaffected girl that reminded her much of herself.

Sir Carlisle and Lord Hale seemed aloof, yet not quite improperly so, with the introduction. Bella followed their eyes to the center of the room, and met with the image of Edward dancing with a tall blonde girl in a primrose and green satin gown. Bella correctly made the connection that the girl was Lord Hale's daughter, and she couldn't help but feel her heart sink right to her feet. It was clear to Bella, who had a quick mind to add to her many qualities, that a match between Miss Hale and Mr. Cullen would be well received by both parties.

Edward and Tanya returned to the grouping after their dance, as well as Lord Hale's other children. Bella smiled at Edward in friendly recognition, and he returned it fondly, noting that his memory of her beauty was no comparison to that in person. She was then introduced to Miss Tanya Hale, who inclined her head slightly then looked away, Miss Rosalie Hale who gave a curt greeting, and Mr. James Hale, who grinned crookedly at her and kissed her hand.

Edward cringed when he saw the predatory smile that James directed at Isabella. Just then his cousin Michael came to claim her hand for the reel, and James secured the following dance with her. Edward couldn't help the burning tension rising up in his chest at the interest that she was garnering from his male peers. He found a little ease in recalling that his cousin was noticeably vapid and simple minded, but he knew how cunning and manipulative that Mr. Hale could be. He could only hope that Miss Swan was perspicacious enough to avoid his advances.

He artfully dodged Miss Hale during the following two dances by occupying his sister and a cousin, and surreptitiously watched Isabella throughout. He noted that she was polite to Mr. Newton, but appeared bored. Later, he nearly turned the wrong way when he noticed her laughing quietly at something James said to her. His being the eldest son and future Lord Hale was certainly a threat for her attentions. James would inherit a great deal more than even he himself would, and Lord Hale was not likely to deny his spoiled son any trinket...even if it were a clergyman's daughter.

Lady Cullen kept a close watch on her children as she had always done, save the previous evening's distraction. Her eye drew to Emmett who was dancing with Miss Rosalie, and she noted that the dimples now making their appearance only shone with his happiest of smiles. Next she found her precious daughter bubbling with laughter as she danced the reel with Mr. Whitlock, who looked quite enchanted.

Finally, she found her Edward dancing with his quite plain cousin, Miss Lauren Mallory, and yet he was distracted. No one else would notice his furtive glances down the line of dancers, or his agitated manner. She followed the quick cast of his eye to the pretty girl in the blue dress, the very one that had enchanted her so just a half hour before. She saw plainly that her son's agitation was caused by the fact that the lovely Miss Swan was dancing with Mr. Hale.

"Oh, Edward," she sighed quietly.

Of all her children, Edward was the one she most fretted over. He was a great deal like her with his natural intuitiveness, excellent judgement of character, and passionate heart. He had, however, inherited a bit of his father's prideful nature. While, he, like his mother, would never slight anyone for their station in life, neither would he enter easily into a marriage with anyone deemed unworthy of him.

She saw plainly that he was at war within himself over the propriety of his affection for the charming Miss Swan. She felt sure that his love for the girl would win him over completely in time and vowed right then to help in any manner she could to facilitate the match. She wanted true happiness for all of her children, as she had been blessed with, and would not accept anything less for them.

Bella, Alice, and Edward rested for the next dance, retiring to Lady Cullen's table. The conversation was lively, and soon shifted to the topic of Bella's musical talents.

"Mother, Miss Swan is quite the songbird and plays the pianoforte very well," Alice chimed.

"Indeed!" Lady Cullen replied excitedly. "Then it is settled. You must come to Marchgate as often as you can and play for us. We have a fine Broadwood grand, but no one plays it. Isn't that a pity? We always keep it well tuned in hopes that someone will have mercy on our poor deprived souls."

Lady Cullen then gave her dear husband a gentle nudge, and Sir Carlisle lovingly took his dear wife's hand. He winced recalling Miss Hale's last exhibition, and the dreadful headache that followed. He turned to properly look upon Miss Swan, noting that she was a pretty, genteel looking girl, before smiling at her kindly.

"Yes, indeed, Miss Swan, it would be a great pleasure to hear beautiful music grace the halls of Marchgate."

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," Edward stated, looking intently into Bella's shy gaze.

"You must play for us. I missed out on the visit yesterday, and have heard little except Miss Swan this or that. I'm sure the last time I heard any decent music that wasn't for a ball or a country dance, was last summer, in Bath," Emmett quipped.

"I would love to play so fine an instrument. I fear your dear children have greatly overstated my talent, but I would be happy to do so if it pleases all of you," Bella replied breaking off Edward's stare to regard Lady Cullen.

"Miss Swan, I would be honored if you would dance the next two dances with me," Edward requested once the others were again engaged in conversation.

He smiled widely and warmly when she agreed. They talked a little about her former home in Essex, their travels about, and what poetry they enjoyed. Edward listened intently to every word spoken between them, however he was transfixed by the brush of her gloved hand, and how her lovely scent lingered as they drew close and stepped back with the steps.

Bella, meanwhile, was lost in Edward's warm, soothing voice, mint green eyes glittering with excitement, and strong presence. Before they knew it, the two dances came to their inevitable end, and Edward escorted Bella back to the table where her parents were now seated as well.

Finally, a short time later, everyone stood up to dance the Boulanger, the final dance for the evening, before retiring.

The Hales were staying on for an additional two days before returning to Prescott Hall, giving Mr. Hale the opportunity he needed to make his attempt at wooing Miss Swan. His interest in her was solely of a selfish nature, naturally, and not born of any true affections. Lord Hale had been quite insistent of late that a man of his age and situation in life should make haste in finding a respectable wife.

His father would not be stringent on her particular situation in life, so long as she was of pristine character and good family. Lord Hale's position was largely due to the unfortunate situation the previous year where his son was discovered in a compromising position with the curate's daughter. Miss Swan only having lately arrived would be easy prey, having not yet formed any opinion of him, and she was indeed an attractive girl.

His sister, Tanya, had similar plans for the eldest Mr. Cullen. She was well aware of her father and Lord Carlisle being in favor of the match, and she was well pleased with the idea of becoming Lady Cullen. That Mr. Cullen was one of the handsomest men in England was a felicitous benefit.

The morning after the ball found Bella penning a letter to her cousin, Charlotte, in the drawing room. Angela escorted in and announced the arrival of Mr. Hale and Miss Rosalie Hale.

"Miss Swan, I hope you are well this morning," James greeted as he caught her eye as they all bowed in greeting.

"Quite well, thank you Mr. Hale. Good morning Miss Rosalie."

"Good morning," Rosalie replied. She was well aware that her presence was merely to escort her brother and Miss Swan, yet she thought well of the young lady that suddenly held her brother's interest. She believed Isabella to be much too good for her brother, but could never say so aloud without placing her family under scrutiny.

Bella was invited to accompany the brother and sister on a morning walk about the grounds. She sensed by the way that Mr. Hale dominated her attentions that he must have some particular interest in her. She found him to be attentive and kind company, as well as a witty and well-looking gentleman. Still, she felt a bit of unease in his presence that she couldn't readily explain.

She knew him to be from a very noble and respected family, and certainly very wealthy. She would be a silly girl indeed if she did not attempt to return his attentions. Yet, admittedly, when she recalled dancing with Mr. Cullen, she found that it was him and him alone that persisted in her heart and mind.

So, silly girl or no, with the basis of her intuitive caution and her affection for the eldest Cullen son, she decided to be quite careful in returning only friendly attentions to Mr. Hale. It was better in her judgement to remain a poor spinster than to betray her heart.

Edward was tasked with helping right the house after the ball that morning, and conveniently so was the eldest Miss Hale. He was moving chairs about the room and covertly attempting to avoid her. He paused his work when a movement out of one of the north facing windows caught his eye. He was livid when he noted that it was none other than James and Isabella with Rosalie a slight distance behind.

It was obvious to anyone that James was wasting no time seeking out Miss Swan's approval and attentions, and Edward of all people knew what James' intentions were in forming an attachment to her.

"Hale, you heartless libertine, you could never hope to deserve her," he quietly mumbled in the direction of the pedestrians.

Edward became determined to do whatever he could to help Isabella avoid what would no doubt be an unhappy attachment to James. He could not in good conscience attempt to secure her for himself, at least not until he had his parents approval to do so.

However, he had heard much ill gossip about Mr. Hale, and while it was not prudent to attend to such notions that are without evidence, he knew enough of his character to believe it to be true. It certainly would be improper of him to share idle gossip with Isabella or speak ill of James without just cause. He felt his only course of action was to speak with his dear mother who never failed to give him sound advice while promoting his happiness.

Lady Cullen certainly appeared to approve of Miss Swan heartily, and that allowed a measure of hope to swell in his heart that, if it were the case, she might be his champion in the cause. She was also the only one who could sway his father's opinion on a matter such as this. He found her in the sitting room alone going over lists of things to be done for the day.

"Mother, may I have a word with you?" Edward asked as he propped himself on the window sill looking out into the garden.

"Certainly, son. I didn't think it would be so soon, but this discussion was expected. Would this be concerning Miss Swan?" she smiled knowingly.

"H-how did you..." he regarded his mother and the twinkle in her eye before continuing, "I'm concerned for her mother. I believe that Mr. Hale has certain intentions with her."

"And well you should be concerned! I think we agree that such an attachment would not be in her best interests. And that you have no intentions as of yet to reveal your affection for her gives Mr. Hale quite the advantage in the situation. Yet, I believe that she will not easily be won to him."

"That is all my hope at the moment. I believe her to possess a sharp mind and an sensitive spirit."

"There is one other reason why I believe he will fail in his attempt. I believe that she shares your affection."

Edward was quiet for a moment, his heart thrumming powerfully at the thought that Isabella might reciprocate his feelings for her.

"What shall I do? I do not believe that father will approve of such an unsuitable match. I have not myself wholeheartedly acquiesced to the possibility of taking a wife below my station in life."

"Get off of your high horse, son. Would you then say that Miss Hale is the right choice for you, then? That she is a better woman than Miss Swan because of her breeding? What will your standard of judgement be, Edward? Situation or character? As for you father, you know well that I have an arsenal of charms and guiles with which to persuade him, and he does care for your happiness."

"You are quite right as always, mother...thank you. I am persuaded to give my attentions to Miss Swan with your aid," he smiled as he kissed her cheek.

"You will need to issue an invitation for her and her family to join us for dinner tomorrow night, with the hope that she shall exhibit for us."

"But, the Hales will still be here, is that wise?"

"Yes, for once your father sees, with my help, the many excellencies the lovely Miss Swan possesses contrasted with Miss Hales' attributes, I am certain that he will be moved to agree with us. Your father is nearly as fond of music as you are. Perhaps our dear songbird knows an Irish ballad, those are his favorites," she hinted.

The stroll around the parks of Marchgate was lovely, and Bella artfully avoided allowing James to monopolize her attentions by continually involving Rosalie in the discourse. Bella managed near the end to put more distance between herself and James and draw nearer to Rosalie's presence. It was not yet decided in Bella's mind whether she and the younger Miss Hale would ever be confidants, but they could certainly be friendly.

Bella returned to the cottage and found her mother in the parlour with her needlepoint.

"Hello, dearest. Did you enjoy your walk?" Mrs. Swan questioned looking up from her handiwork.

"Very much. It is quite lovely out today, and the grounds of the estate are lovely."

"Indeed they are. So, was that Mr. Hale calling on you this morning? He is a handsome gentleman, is he not?" she said, looking up brightly from her handiwork.

"Yes, he is fairly handsome. I also quite enjoyed Miss Hale's company," Bella deflected.

"Miss Hale, indeed! I'm certain she's a lovely girl, but consider, dear. Mr. Hale is from a noble family and he is very wealthy. If he has an interest in you...well, you certainly would be ill-advised to slight him."

"I am not ignorant such an advantageous prospect, however I can't help but feel questionable about his motivations."

"Dearest, your prospects as the daughter of a clergyman are limited. If you were so fortunate as to draw the eye of such a man, you should be well pleased to return his affection. Imagine, my daughter...the future Lady Hale."

"Mother! You cannot say such things! He has done nothing but show a particular interest in me, and I declare there is certainly no understanding. Besides, he is not the only gentleman of our acquaintance that holds the distinction of rank."

That very moment, a knock rang out on the cottage door. Moments later, Angela led Edward into the parlour. Proper greetings were observed, and Mrs. Swan offered a seat to him as he met Bella's eye with a charming smile.

"Thank you, ma'am. I hope you ladies are well."

"Yes, Mr. Cullen. We are very well," Mrs. Swan replied.

"Very good. I have come to invite you all to Marchgate for dinner tomorrow night at six-thirty. My family and I have particular hopes of hearing Miss Swan's musical talents."

"We would be very honored, sir," Mrs. Swan eagerly declared.

Directly, Mr. Swan called on his wife from the study.

"Excuse me for just a moment," she quickly said before bustling out of the room.

Edward and Bella looked at each other, then away as they shifted in their seats uncomfortably at being left unaccompanied. Edward cleared his throat working up the courage he needed to take advantage of the opportunity.

"My father is exceedingly fond of Irish ballads, do you know any?"

"Y-yes, I am quite sure I know a few," she responded blushing a bit in surprise at the turn of the conversation. She was also quite affected at being alone in the same room with the exceedingly handsome gentleman.

"Excellent. I am very much looking forward to it, Miss Swan." He stood, and she followed suit. She squealed, surprised when he stepped to her, bowed slightly, and took her hand to kiss it with ardor. He smiled, his eyes glowing as they met her own.

"Tomorrow then," he said softly.

"Tomorrow," she replied with a smile.

Her mother returned at that moment as Edward politely excused himself and glanced once more at Bella before taking his leave.

Mrs. Swan gave her daughter a knowing look and began laughing. "Indeed, this has been an interesting day!"

Edward couldn't help but smirk at his mother's ingenuity. Lady Cullen had artfully arranged the seating of her guests to put the two eldest Hale children at the far end of the table from herself next to their father on Sir Carlisle's right. To her own right sat her eldest son and Bella next to him, and to her left, her youngest daughter was seated next to Mr. and Mrs. Swan. Emmett was on Bella's right beside Rosalie and Lady Hale.

Throughout dinner, Bella was utterly aware of Edward's warm proximity, and she blushed deeply when their legs accidentally brushed under the table. Edward took in a deep breath and inclined his head toward her instinctively before turning to his mother who looked upon them with an amused twinkle in her eye.

On the far opposite side of the table, James and Tanya scowled at the pair observing their behavior toward one another. Sir Carlisle was far too engrossed in a discussion with Lord Hale about hunting rifles to take notice.

Finally, the group retired to the very large drawing room where the Broadwood grand resided. Bella was happily situated beside Alice, therefore, Edward took the seat across the room anticipating the best view of the pianoforte and Isabella as she played. He was seated but a moment when the eldest Miss Hale took the seat directly to his left. He shifted a bit away from her seeking out conversation with whomever was on his right in an attempt to avoid her attentions. It happened to be none other than her brother, who regarded him with a cold glare.

Edward considered his options, deciding on taking a stroll about the room when Tanya spoke suddenly.

"Lady Cullen, how I have missed your lovely pianoforte. Ours at Prescott Hall is but half that size," Tanya baited.

"Indeed, Miss Hale! Well then, surely you must play for us."

Lady Cullen received a harrowed look at her proposal from her dear husband, but she paid it little mind. Tanya stepped quickly to the instrument as everyone turned to hear her exhibition.

Bella listened as Miss Hale stumbled through her song, and she was shocked to say the least. All the ladies in Essex could play at least a little, and she thought it very odd that not one of these ladies appeared to be very musically inclined.

The solitary bird of night, through the thick shades now wings his flight,

And quits his time-shook tow'r; and quits his time-shook tow'r;

Where, shelter'd from the blaze of day, in philosophic gloom he lay,

Beneath is ivy bow'r, beneath his ivy bow'r.

Her voice strained as she attempted to force the high notes, and the resulting sound caused Bella's hair to stand on end. Carlisle recoiled, and attempted to control his reaction so that it wouldn't be obvious to Lord and Lady Hale.

Fortunately, the song was of short duration, and Carlisle quickly spoke before Tanya could begin a new song.

"Indeed, Miss Hale, I believe you have improved since you played for us last. Miss Swan, would you care to relieve Miss Hale? We do not wish for her to suffer exhaustion from entertaining us so."

Tanya sneered at Bella as they passed each other, and Carlisle took notice. He had heard both Alice and Edward continually praise Isabella's talents. He considered that if it were even partly so, it would be a welcome relief indeed.

Bella met Edward's warm gaze before steadying her nerves and turning to the magnificent instrument. She recalled Edward mentioning that his father loved Irish ballads, so she chose one and began to play.

Near Banbridge town, in the County Down

One morning in July

Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen

And she smiled as she passed me by.

She looked so sweet from her two white feet

To the sheen of her nut-brown hair

Such a coaxing elf, I'd to shake myself

To make sure I was standing there.

From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay

And from Galway to Dublin town

No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen

That I met in the County Down.

She continued playing and singing the beautiful, lilting melody for the entire four verses. When she stopped she cast her eye to Edward who wore a glowing smile and eyes filled with happiness. Before she could fully stand from the stool, Carlisle was by her side with a tear in his eye.

"Dearest Miss Swan, permit me to say that our children did in no way overstate your talents. They were modest, if anything. That was quite lovely, and I do so love Irish ballads. I do hope after you rest that you play for us again this evening?"

"If it pleases you, Sir," Bella replied before Sir Carlisle escorted her to the nearest seat, just beside Edward.

All but a few in the party spent the evening in lively conversation, and enjoyment of Bella's second song, "Barbara Allen". Lady Cullen was quite happy with the turn of events, and noticed her husband's warm affection for Bella's talent and her excellent character only now apparent to him. She took note of Emmett and Rosalie's smiles and gentle laughter, and of Edward and Isabella's nervous but apparently affectionate conversation.

Her keen eye did not fail to take note of a brother and sister who sat quite unhappily beside each other speaking lowly and intensely, while taking in the scene of Edward and Bella's mutually affectionate manner. Both couldn't help but feel slighted and desperate, but both also knew that their departure the following day would leave them far too little time to attempt to do anything about it.

As Bella dressed for bed and retired to her bedchamber for the night, she thought about Edward's attentive and affectionate manner toward her. Not once did she see him pay any particular respects to Miss Hale besides that which propriety dictated. His focus had been altogether on her, and he profusely complimented her exhibition.

She wondered too at his strange declaration about his father's particular preference of music styles the previous day. It did seem that Sir Carlisle was very liberal with affection and compliments toward her after she played the song, where he had been nearly oblivious to her presence before. She wondered briefly if Edward was attempting to earn his father's favor in regards to her. Then she considered that she should not allow her hope to rise when such a thing was so unlikely.

The Hales departed the next day without delay, for Lord Hale had business to attend to. A ritual also began that day that Edward and Alice, sometimes along with Emmett, would invite Bella on a walk in the morning or riding in the afternoon. She and her parents also came to be invited to dinner at least twice a week at Marchgate, and she often played the lovely pianoforte to the delight of the family.

Over the next several months, Bella had also taken to teaching Alice how to better play the instrument. No one was more surprised or delighted than Sir Carlisle to discover that his daughter had quite a lovely singing voice. Edward was most always near, and as affectionate as ever. Still, she couldn't help but think he was waiting for something, since nothing had really progressed between them.

Sir Carlisle was reading in his study where his wife found him one morning. She had determined that now was the time to act on behalf of the happiness of her son. She felt sure that her husband would now be reasonable, and if he were not, at least she had a proper support of evidence in favor of Isabella.

"Hello, dear. Are you very busy?" Esme asked coyly.

"I will never be too busy for you, darling. What can I help you with?"

"Carlisle, I'm certain by now you have witnessed our son's obvious attachment to Miss Swan."

"I have. I admit that I can see the draw, but he must also know that she is not the most prudent match for him."

"He loves her, I'm sure of it. Would you have him marry someone that he does not love. Perhaps even someone he nearly Miss Hale?"

"I would expect him to consider all aspects of the decision, and specifically his position."

"Carlisle, we were very fortunate. We each fell in love with someone good enough. Would you have loved me had I not been the daughter of a Viscount?"

"Yes, I believe so. But I cannot say, that was not the case."

"You cannot say that she is in anyway other than situation unworthy of him."

"No, you are right on that score. Indeed if she were of a noble family, she would be far too good for him," he laughed.

"He wants your approval to secure her."

Carlisle sighed and rubbed his face with his hands wearily. He wanted happiness for all of his children, to be sure. He also had the noble title entrusted to him by his own father and grandfather to protect. Could Isabella be good enough to be a future Lady Cullen? Society would always want to devaluate her due to her family's less than stellar connections, and by extension Edward would be affected.

Could he allow his eldest son to marry the daughter of a clergyman? If it had been asked of him months ago, he would have aggressively protested. But, he knew Miss Swan was an excellent woman, and when he compared her to the women of breeding and rank in their society, she indeed stood out from them all.

"Then he has it," was all he said before returning his book.

The following morning, Bella woke and walked to the dining room for breakfast. As she passed by her father's study, he stopped her and bid her to come in. She was naturally very curious as to what it was concerning.

"You missed Mr. Cullen. He paid a visit to me early this morning on his way out...said he was leaving for London this morning."

"Indeed?" Bella replied confused.

"I must say I was most astonished at his visit. He had a matter of great import to discuss with me, and he left a letter for you. I'm sure the nature of our discussion will be faithfully outlined."

Bella took the letter with a shaky hand knowing that it would contain the words that would either bring about her fondest wishes, or tear her heart out.

"Thank you, father."

She took the letter to her room where she would have the most privacy, and lay upon her bed. She fondled the letter, afraid of opening it, but knowing she must. Why was he leaving town? Was he attempting to put distance between them and lessen their connection?

She reflected on her own name, Miss Isabella Swan, and the red wax seal that bore his initials in his family crest. Tentatively, she broke the seal, removed the pages, and began to read:

Dearest Isabella,

I hope you are well this morning. I regret that I was unable to see you before I took my leave for London, but there was nothing to be done. I am certain that your father mentioned my visit to him and that we discussed a matter of great significance. I requested that he not give any details until you read this letter. Now to the point.

You surely cannot be oblivious to my admiration and affection for you. I am persuaded that it is an affection you share, if with less intensity. The very day I first made your acquaintance, I was enchanted by you. Upon closer observation, you proved even more alluring. I believed, however, that any match between us was impossible due to the burden placed upon me by my birthright.

It was not until I witnessed Mr. Hale's advances that I desperately began to seek out a solution. I requested aid from none other than my own good mother, who loves you quite as her own. She felt certain that with time and her influence, that my father would see the wonderful creature that is held so dear in the hearts of many at Marchgate, including my own.

I desired his approval before making any declaration to you, and thanks in part to my dear mother, and entirely upon your own excellencies, I have it. And so we come to the heart of the matter.

I love you, Isabella. It is my fondest wish that when I return, you will consent to be my wife and future Lady Cullen. You are the only woman, apart from my dear mother, truly worthy of it.

I will be in London for a week, as I attend to business that will secure a future for us. I do this in confidence of your returned affection. I will miss you greatly while I am away. I look forward to nothing more than holding you when you tell me for certain that, at long last, you are forever mine.



She attempted to keep her flowing tears from spoiling the document that contained her happy future with the man who had declared his love therein. She dabbed her face with a handkerchief and rushed down the stairs with the letter in hand. She came to a stop only when she reached the open door of her father's study. She smiled broadly and he returned it.

"Please, father. Tell me that you consented."

"I wouldn't have given you the letter otherwise. I would be a fool indeed not to approve of such a match for you. Be happy, child," he whispered as he walked toward her and kissed her forehead.

Alice faithfully called upon Bella that afternoon, and they took their usual stroll about the gardens.

"Marchgate has been abuzz with talk of a possible wedding in the near future. What do you know of it, Isabella?" she amusingly asked her dear friend.

"Your brother has indeed made me a proposal of marriage."

"And shall you accept him?" Alice beamed.

Bella was overwhelmed at the thought, though she knew that she would never deny him. Marrying Edward would mean that, one day, the grand estate and its beautiful grounds would be her home. Edward was in effect giving her a kingdom, and she brought nothing of consequence to the match.

"Of course I will accept him, although I cannot understand why he should settle for me. I'm no one of consequence, and I have nothing of worth to bring to the match."

"Do you love my brother?"

"Yes, I love him," Bella blushed as she admitted her feelings out loud for the first time.

"Then that is all he will ever want for. Anyway, you are very wrong. You are a person of great consequence to all of us, even father. My brother and mother are excellent judges of character. The fact that both of them find you to be perfection itself speaks volumes. You should hear the way Emmett speaks of you. In addition, you are my dearest friend, and that says everything."

"Alice, I in no way deserve such praise, but I thank you for it all the same. I will do my very best to make your brother happy."

"I cannot believe you shall be my sister!" Alice squealed as they laughed and continued their afternoon walk.

As the days past, Bella spent time with Alice and Emmett taking walks and riding around the estate. Having never had any siblings herself, she looked upon them both very much as her own brother and sister. She looked forward to being able to one day truly call them so.

Mrs. Swan was very well pleased with her daughter's advantageous match. She frequently revealed her happiness with the match by broaching the topic of Edward's attributes at every opportunity.

"Mr. Cullen is such a handsome, amiable young man, is he not? And he is so attentive to our Isabella; so agreeable. To think, of our little Bella...the future Lady Cullen. I'm so happy that I can hardly bear it!"

Bella was too on edge that evening to think much of her mother's recent incessant ramblings about her soon to be intended. He would be returning soon, but she did not know exactly when. He said a week, and tomorrow will have been seven days exactly since he left this very house and the letter that had changed her life.

Edward was exhausted from riding all day when his home finally came into view. He awoke just as the sun breached the eastern horizon and rode straight for nearly ten hours. The roughly fifty miles seemed to pass much slower than any time he could ever recall taking the trip, as he was so anxious to get back to Isabella and have it all finally resolved.

He decided to go home and wash up a bit before calling upon Isabella. He quickly did so and, having his strength bolstered with excited anticipation, made his way to the cottage. He smiled, hearing the pianoforte playing as he neared. He remembered fondly the first time they met, and how very much everything had changed since the beautiful songbird in the cottage entered his life.

Bella heard the knock on the door this time, so intent was she on listening for it. She stopped her playing instantly and stood. She smoothed her hair and dress as Angela greeted the visitor. Then, when she heard his voice her heart pounded in her chest and her feet instinctively took steps toward him.

When he came into view and removed his hat, she couldn't help but leap into his arms and embrace him. He held her there firmly for a moment, quite surprised at her gesture, but also very pleased. He stepped back slightly, looking her ardently in the eyes before speaking.

"I suppose you received my letter?"

"Yes, it was the loveliest letter I have ever received," she gushed.

"Isabella, I can wait no longer. I need to know if you return my affections, if you will be my wife," he stated intently, absentmindedly stroking her cheek.

"I do return your affections...that is I do love you. Nothing would make me happier than to be your wife, Edward."

He wiped the tear that fell down her cheek with his thumb as he held her face in his hands. The held each other's gaze, only closing their eyes the moment before their lips met. The kiss they shared served to solidify the rightness of their union, and increase their already immense joy.

The pair were married a short time later on a warm August day to the delight of their friends and family. There were but two people in attendance who were sorely disappointed, but that is to be expected with their like.

The couple departed to begin their new lives together on the small estate just ten miles from Marchgate that Edward purchased as Bella's wedding present. It was to be the home where their love would blossom and bear the fruit of a thousand laughs, uncounted embraces, and several pair of pitter-pattering feet.

Indeed, happiness is for those are capable of loving to such a degree that it overcomes all barriers, all doubts, and all all selfish intents of the heart. Happiness finds good people like Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cullen who hope against hope for it, and by fair-mindedness avoid those who seek to destroy it.