Isn't it annoying when an author goes for months without updating? One normally has to read the entire story all over again to get any sense of it. I hate it myself. Anyway, to remind you it is May 1812 and we are hearing from Edward once again this chapter with a little of Rose thrown in because I love her so. This is un-beta ed so if you spot any glaring errors, please let me know. Enjoy!
The London street was dense with sound. Horses clopping by, pulling carriages that clattered harshly on the cobbles. Street vendors were everywhere it seemed, urging people to buy good fresh fish and best herbs. Urchins pushed underfoot and assorted jarveys threatened each other with strong words and threats of violence. Through all this Edward walked, hearing but not understanding, utterly removed from any other thought than the fact that in under an hour he would be proposing marriage, hanging all his hopes on the answer and although he had a fairly certain idea that he would be accepted, he could not banish the appalling notion that his suit would be shunned.
He had spent the greater part of a sleepless night thinking, turning over in his mind the many various indications that pointed to Mrs Brandon's regard. He had also plotted various ways in which he could please her better after they were married. A honeymoon on the Continent was not a realistic choice given the state of the War but certainly Paris would be safe and then a long tour of the Lakes…surely every lady loved the Lakes didn't they?
Alice was, it must be said, a shining beacon of hope as his thoughts trailed from melacholy to resilience. She was convinced of her mothers respect and fond regard of him and who could ask for much better then a steady appreciation of a partener good qualities when entering upon marriage? An effusion of flowery sentiment, unrealistic expectations and the awful spectre of Romance could not be expected when one reached middle age and while Edward secretly rather liked the idea of rose petals strewn for his beloved to tread upon in their private chambers, he could not really bring himself to the belief that such extravagance would meet with Isabella's approval. Not to mention that it would mean a devilish amount of work for the servants cleaning the mess up. Maybe a jewel every week for the first year that they were married would be a better idea. She would accept him. Of course she would, he had made his feelings for her so plain, a woman of her sense and intelligence could not fail to understand him. Why she had postively quivered in his arms as they danced last night at the ball. What would it be like to hold her again, to kiss her, to feel her heart beating under his hands…Oh God. Think of something else. Flowers! Should he take flowers perhaps? He rejected that idea almost immediately. A man always looked like an idiot carrying flowers and he was not prepared to make a cake of himself under any circumstances. Was it near three o'clock yet? Did he have time to stop off at his club for a small nip of Dutch courage? No, it would not do to turn up to a ladies house and propose marriage whilst smelling even faintly of brandy. He decided to forgo the liquour. He promised himself champagne tonight though and he would take his fiance to the opera in celebration of their betrothal. Perhaps Jasper and Alice would like to come along, maybe the celebration would finally nudge Jasper in the direction of proposing too. Surely as a step-father his good opinion of Alice's suitor would carry weight? Good old Jasper, the best of stout fellows…apart from Emmet that is and his own dear father.
The Earl could not fail to be pleased Edward was sure and Lady Carlisle was sweetly considerate in her praise of both Alice and her mother. He had made it clear to her that it was the mother and not the daughter that he was thinking of as the future Countess and Lady Carlisle was unurprised, certain in her knowledge of her son that a young maiden was not in Edwards particular vein at all but that a lady further along life's path would be the very thing for him. Bella was gracious and calm with a hint of fun that would only make life at Kirklands even more agreeable than it was already. Esme was already considering which set of apartments in the huge house would be given over to the newlywed's particular use.
Edward checked the time once more and found that there was precisely the right amount of time to stroll round to Grosvenor Square and finally make his happiness complete.
He handed his hat and cane over to Varner and knowing but disregarding the man's turn for the dramatic, failed to take into real consideration the portentious Look that the butler sent him. Thus it was that Edward was wholely unprepared when he entered the salon and saw his beloved sitting as primly as she knew how but with her face drawn and white from distress.
'Mrs Brandon. What ever is the matter?' He blurted with more concern than finesse. He paced the room quickly and took her hand in his. 'Tell me, who has upset you?'
Her denials were quick and utterly unconvincing and Edward leapt from one awful idea to another, encompassing everything from broken bones to bankruptcy in quick succession. So heartstopping was the idea of misfortune befalling his loved ones that it was everything he could do to stop himself from laughing out loud in relief when she announced only such excellent news as Alice's engagement.
He tore himself away from her slim hands, hoping by removing himself that he would remove the temptation just to gather her up in his arms and kiss her senseless. Instead he strove for his blandest tones to discuss the farcical notion that she believed that he loved her daughter instead of her incomparable self.
Slowly he pieced together the misdirections that she must have forced herself into, his every attention to Alice, to please her and make her fond of him was viewed in the light of a courtship – in the bewildering array of disjointed thoughts Edward spared himself the notion that it was a hugely fortunate thing that Jasper was on the scene as it were. How easy it was for such things to be misconstrued! But they were all safe and he only had this particular problem to address. It was a severe one, but Edward refused to baulk now when all his desires lay within his grasp. Mrs Brandon seemed greatly upset…too upset when one considered that her only beloved daughter had just contracted an engagement to a dashing and considerably richer by all accounts military man whose career could only be on the ascent. Heavens, the man could make a general for all they knew! No, there was more to this than met the eye.
"I arranged parties, was always in your company. How we enjoyed ourselves. I remember. And, of course I introduced my mother – a significant gesture indeed. And through all this you thought that I wished to impress the child when I only wanted to capture the heart of her beautiful Mamma."
He laughed at her confused expression
"How foolish I was! I had no idea you could misunderstand me, as clever as you are."
It seemed that her confusion was contagious and Edward's word became garbled as he sought to convince her.
"I saw at once that Alice was your whole world and I so desperately wanted to be part of that world. I wanted to show you what a fond Papa I could be, even though I have never married." His voice roughened and broke and he coughed slightly to clear the obstruction in his throat. Striving for a calmer note he remembered that his good friend had finally sorted out his affairs to great satisfaction and continued.
"Alice is a dear child and I am very glad she is marrying Whitlock: he is an excellent fellow and she will be has happy as a skylark gadding about the world with him. But, my own dear love, how could you possibly think that I would have eyes for her when you blinded me to all other women the second I laid eyes on you?"
There followed a stunned silence that stood for some minutes.
"Rose called me a great goose," Bella's whisper had the note of a child's confession and Edward's heart filled with love all over again.
Smiling fondly he replied "One always hesitates to contradict a lady." He lifted her chin with his fingertip and lost himself in her fathomless brown eyes. "I love you and I wish to marry you. May I kiss you Mrs Brandon?"
"Oh, indeed you may Lord Cullen.
It was time to face facts Rose thought to herself. At the age of thirty six, nearly thirty seven, it became incontrovertible that champagne was no longer at all friendly to her the morning after a ball. Gone were the days when she could dance until three and still wake up in time for a light hack on the bridle ways of Hyde Park at eight. Her headache had been severe and her mantle clock had just struck four when she left her quarters. Almost the entire day had been lost. Bella had probably spent the entire day fretting about how well Alice had taken which only went to show what a ninny she could be sometimes as a blind man could see that the child was a huge success. Rose remembered the glory of her own debut when all the world was at her feet, before she became aware of the difficulties attending a private resolve not to marry for anything other than the very deepest love and respect. Cullen was the only other who had it seemed taken a similar vow and it was amply clear to everyone (apart from Bella herself) that his days as an unmarried man were numbered. Rose sighed as she trod slowly down the impressive stairs
"Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore again?" Good old Benedick…or was it Oberon?. She needed Bella to set her right.
Rose caught sight of Varner hovering in the hall. There was obviously something on the man's mind and she was just about to commence grilling him when an impetous knock sounded on the front door. Alice sure to be, for such a little thing she had a knock like a bailiff and indeed it was Alice and in full cry apparently which was a prospect to daunt the bravest heart.
From her point on the second stair, Rose could see the girl almost tumble over the door. Laughing, apologising and shaking poor Varner by the hand until his dignity was even more ruffled than anything Bella had ever wrought upon him. Alice's maid slid around the pair, divested her mistress of her bonnet, spencer and gloves with silent efficiency and disappeared to the upper regions of the house while Alice was still twinkling at the stunned butler.
"Where is my mother Varner? I have so much to discuss with her! "
Varner took a breath to reply but was immediately run over by an Alice in full gallop. "I know that she has had an excessively trying day so perhaps some tea would be in order…unless chocolate would be better…or maybe sherry? Is it too early for sherry? I am sure you know best dear Varner but do bring something soon won't you? I can hardly put one foot in front of the other I have been so busy today. Did you tell me where Mamma was? Is she in the Green salon perhaps?"
Rose felt that it was past time to intervene, poor Varner indeed and if the lower servants saw him so befuddled it would take him at least a week of the most repressive spirits to bring the maids back to order. So it was in her clearest and calmest tones that she adressed her butler.
"Varner. Tea please and macaroons in the Green salon. I will take Miss Alice and if you would be so good as to invite Mrs Brandon to join us if she is not there already"
Varners shoulders, which were starting to hunch under Alice's onslaught lifted and slid back into his customary poise. "Very good, madam." And went about his task with the utmost relief.
If Rose heard one word in four of the speech that Alice then poured forth it was not enough to make any sense at all.
"Alice, I must insist that you stop." Rose said firmly
Alice stopped chattering.
"Now calmly, walk with me to the green room, sit down on a comfortable chair, for the Lord's sake take a breath and then slowly let me know precisely what adventure had befallen you that has turned you into something that customarily belongs in a cage."
Chastened, Alice fell quiet and did as she was bid, pausing only in her tale for the entrance of a footman bearing the tray – obviously Varner was not going to attempt Alice's presence until dinner – and sat, still brighteyed and quivering with supressed excitement but quiet at least while Rose took a restorative sip of tea.
"And where in all this is your mother?" Rose wondered.
"I am here Rose," came Bella's soft voice as she entered the room on the arm of Lord Cullen.
They stood, shy as infants before the company for one moment until Cullen lifted Bella's hand from his arm and kissed it deliberately under the spellbound gaze of all the women in the room.
With happiness woven richly though his tone, he said "Cousin Rose, and dear little one – you may wish us joy."
Alice gave a queer little gasp and flew to the couple, kissing her mother and embracing Cullen with a muffled cry of Papa!
Rose gave thanks that she was sitting down, for although this was not a complete surprise, the brilliance of their happiness was so transparent, so radiant that it was suddenly all she could do not to weep. She stared hard into the fireplace, strangling back the tears. The hearth was empty and cold. She really should get the maids to place an arrangement of flowers there. Something pretty to hide the stone and iron. Roses perhaps. She could hear Alice chirping once more nineteen to the dozen and realised that her congratulations were bordering on the tardy. She jumped only slightly to find Cullen far nearer than she previously thought and was infact crouching before her chair.
"If it happened for me then it can happen for you too you know," he murmured.
"I have no doubt that you and dear Bella will have a long and happy life together my lord and provoke the envy of bachelors and spinsters where ever you may go. I wish you joy my lord from the bottom of my heart."
"That most certainly will be granted me with Bella as my bride and please, since we are to become family will you at least call me Cullen, even if you cannot bring yourself to call me Edward?
"Cullen" she replied flatly
"Edward?" he replied in a wheedling tone
""Ned" Rose countered
"No" this time with heavy patience
"Teddy?" Rose smiled
"See how much better Cullen sounds now?"
"Indeed it does," he said with relief
Rose was relieved too. It happened far too often on the occasion of engagements that someone would twit her on 'being the next to go' or some other such nonsense and she was pleased to have diverted the teasing with so little effort. Normally it took the showing of her famous claws for people to get the hint. Alice was still in transports and had wrapped the betrothed pair up in grand schemes which Rose had no doubt that Bella would quietly and tactfully squash. Under the cover of these outrageous plans however, Rose took the opportunity to leave the room and order a special supper with her housekeeper. More champagne…another headache tomorrow. But at least there was joy tonight and weddings to plan… and if she had a lonely house to look forward to enduring once more when her visitors had gone, well those kind of thoughts had no place in the present happiness. Her business with Mrs Varner was concluded swiftly and Rose took a deep breath before she re-entered the green room. She pinned her beautiful smile in place and glided into the family party.
"So we have a double betrothal party to plan! And I have some splendid ideas! Edward, may I send a note to your mamma and invite her to supper, we must have all the family involved…"
There will be at least one more chapter to this story, but realistically the chances of it being posted soon are terribly slim.
For those of you who have me on author alert I wanted to let you know that the next time I post will probably be a Harry Potter ff because, lets face it, Alan Rickman was sexy when Mr Pattinson was still in nappies (and I am finding that HP is what is floating my ff boat right now). Thanks for sticking with me! xx