A/N: You know how you read that someone's pulled a fic and published it, changing the names from Edward and Bella to Ryan and Sherrie or whatever? Well here, I've done it backward. This is a story I wrote a long time ago to publish as a short story but it lacked a market at the time. I have changed all the names TO Twi-names and am presenting it to you for your entertainment.
My thanks to Katmom for giving it a once-over to make sure I didn't leave any "MacNaughtons" lying about...
And to be kept back on such a motive! - I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.
- Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
1 May 1818, London
"Well, Marcus, I do hope they got your money's worth," Edward muttered under his breath as he entered St. Pancras Church. An ancient structure, it was still picturesque for a wedding. The matrimonials celebrated here today would be a double wedding and he, Edward Cullen, was not even an invited guest. He came out of sheer distrustful curiosity.
Though he was early, it seemed someone was more curious than even he. A female someone, sitting about three pews back from the stone-stepped dais in the front of the chapel. His steps echoed in the near-empty church, but the woman did not look back. Being thus ignored, he stood right next to her along the side aisle. "Good morning. Are you here to see the nuptials, as well? The Swan daughters?"
The woman stood and Edward did a swift inventory. Of medium height, dark of hair and eye with regular features, she was not a beauty by conventional standards, but she brought an air of assurance with her as she rose and then dropped in a brief curtsy. Her voice was even and utterly commonplace, to his practiced ear. "I am, yes. And yourself as well? Friend of either of the grooms, perhaps?"
"I have no acquaintance with those gentlemen, no. I am merely here to see the young ladies off."
"Friend of the Swan family?" she inquired, her brow lifting slightly. A smile lingered along pink lips, catching his attention.
"Actually, I was just curious."
He offered her what he hoped was a conspiratorial smile. "Yes. The Swan family recently came into a large fortune, I understand. Though the elder of the sisters is practically on the shelf, both young ladies were betrothed within weeks of their father's inheriting this fortune. I was curious, as I said. What kind of young ladies could only find husbands with such an inducement as twenty thousand pounds?"
He knew it was a mistake as soon as he uttered the words, but there had been something so involved in the woman's expression, so attentive, that he had let his tongue wag on to share what he was truly thinking. Even though it was not fit conversation for a church, not even for a dinner party. It was fit, perhaps, only for White's.
Chagrined, he felt color heating his cheeks, but in the shadowy interior of the venerable edifice, it would not be visible. His embarrassment was not lessened in any manner when the lady smiled slowly into his eyes.
"Perhaps we should be introduced," she said, extending her gloved hand.
He took it firmly in his own. "Yes, indeed. Please forgive me. I am Edward Cullen, recently returned from India. Currently," he added in order to lend himself credence, "I'm residing in Mayfair." He bowed correctly over her hand, lest she think that he had no manners whatsoever. "And you are...?"
"Isabella Swan, sister of the brides."
First, Mr. Cullen clutched her fingers almost spasmodically. Then, he dropped her hand. Isabella withheld the laughter that bubbled within, choosing instead to nod and dip in a very brief curtsy before returning to her seat.
The gossiping, green-eyed Mr. Cullen said not another word but retreated to the very rear of the chapel, which suited Isabella down to the ground. It was tempting to glance back over her shoulder to see how he was taking her nonverbal set-down, but she refrained. Instead, she adjusted the tawny lustring fabric of her gown and reminded herself to wait patiently. Her father had meant well, she was sure, in depositing her here early.
He had handed her up into the barouche that morning, with her maid sitting opposite. "Now then, daughter," he had said. "We have not spent enough time together since you arrived in Town, but I am sure that by this evening we'll have the opportunity to catch up. Will you feel quite safe at the church on your own?"
Isabella leaned forward around the leather side of the barouche's retractable top. "Father, I am twenty-one, not a girl in the schoolroom. I'll be fine."
"Very good then. I will see you at the ceremony." He instructed the coachman to drive on and returned immediately indoors, not even seeing her away.
As a bustling sound from the rear of the chapel reached her, Isabella put her ruminations away and stood to see perfect strangers enter. She knew virtually no one in town, so it was more with curiosity than anything else that she watched those who were guests at her sisters' wedding.
Curiosity. Very much like Mr. Cullen's own, perhaps? She slanted a glance in his direction only to see his auburn head very much turned – to admire the women entering, she supposed.
The gowns on the ladies arriving in the worn wooden pews were much like hers, she judged. She herself had relied on the latest fashion publications from Town in the frenzied week before her leaving the country. Three girls had been brought in as seamstresses to make sure she was outfitted accordingly for what would be, in essence, her first Season. Apparently, she had chosen well.
The grooms entered with the vicar of St. Pancras, standing there at the head of the narrow building. One of them had to be Benjamin Cheney of Hertfordshire, Angela's groom, of whom her father had written. The other would be Jasper Whitlock, Esquire, of County Cork, Ireland. He had been a recent addition to the family party, having had his proposal accepted after Isabella's father had written. A hasty betrothal indeed. Isabella saw the justice, certainly, in Mr. Cullen's remarks. How could she not? She herself knew how very "on the shelf" her sisters had been.
. . .
4 March, 1811
Still brushing the dust from her riding habit, Isabella met her governess near the shrubbery. "Miss Hale! I rode Chocolate today and did very well!"
Hale, a woman of educated middle years, nodded. "Of course you did. And did you remember not to outdistance your groom?"
The girl blushed. "He caught me quickly, truly he did."
The conversation was conducted entirely in French, as it was the language Miss Isabella was currently studying. However, the governess switched to English as they moved indoors and up to her charge's room to change into a clean dress. "Your parents wish to see you before they leave in the morning for London."
"Are they taking Angela, too?" Isabella sighed, thinking how lonely the house would be over the rest of the spring and into summer.
The governess nodded and followed her charge up the stairs. "Indeed. Your mother says that sixteen is a good age to have some experience of Town, and your sister Alice will certainly appreciate having her."
Pulling off her boots, Isabella could only grunt a soft acknowledgment. "So, when I am sixteen, perhaps I will get to see London, too?"
"As to that, I cannot say. But I think you and I will do well enough here, this year. Who knows, perhaps Alice will receive a proposal and we'll get to go to Town together for her wedding!"
Barefoot and now standing in a corset and pantaloons, thick dark hair in a curtain down her back, Isabella laughed with the idea of it. "That would be splendid!"
Since she had never really put her hopes in this enterprise, she was not at all disappointed that Alice and Angela returned in the summer, with nary a wedding in sight.
. . .
1 May 1818
It had been years since he had lodged his boot in his mouth quite so thoroughly, and Edward acknowledged that to himself with utter honesty as he sat on the edge of the pew in the rear of the historic chapel. Whether the family had taken immediate and obvious advantage of the inheritance Marcus had left them was none of his concern, in truth. It was legal and even sensible and he, Edward Cullen, had nothing to fault Marc with, since Swan was actually Marcus' nephew and Marc himself had no other family. Who else should inherit a nabob's fortune?
Sniping about young women he had no personal acquaintance with had been foolish in such a place. Sniping about them to their sister was quite possibly disastrous. He had not been in Town long enough to know much of the Ton, but if Miss Isabella Swan were so inclined, she could make him rather uncomfortable in society for a time.
Did he try to amend things or did he leave it be, hoping to be forgotten?
Edward snorted softly to himself and stared at his boots until the vicar came in. Time to see the men who were taking advantage of Marcus' money. Men about his age, dressed well enough, he supposed. Looking pleased with themselves, certainly.
Movement behind Edward had him turning to see a lean man with, yes, something of Marc about the eyes and chin. Edward sighed a little. Truly the heir, then. The young ladies with him were utterly entitled to the inheritance.
They did not look fair to match Miss Isabella Swan, who was their sister, however. Oh, they shared the Swan chin, yes. But they appeared markedly older, these two in their silken gowns, walking with their father.
He compared Miss Isabella with them. He could see her as she watched them approach the altar. Where they were dressed in something white, she wore that rich golden color. They had a profusion of ribbons and flounces, of course, as it was their wedding day, but Miss Isabella needed no such furbelows. Her own figure was enough of an adornment to her gown.
Irritated with himself, Edward frowned and sat down to watch the wedding.
. . .
5 April 1813
"Well?" Alice inquired of their father. As the eldest at nineteen, she claimed her place as representative. "Do we go to Town?"
Father plowed his fingers through his hair. This past year of mourning had been difficult, Isabella understood. Swan Manor without Mother had been...empty. For months, desolation had pressed in from every side, but... But it was spring. The fields were bringing forth new life and she took it as a signal that it was indeed time for life to move forward.
After all, there were still three daughters to marry off. Father would not be able to support them forever, would he?
"Aye, we go to Town. I'll have my solicitor look into a house to rent for the Season."
Isabella felt her pulse leap in her body. She would go to Town! She had never been, but she was sixteen now and Mother had always said –
"– But you'll be staying here, Isabella."
She stared, uncomprehending, at her father. "But, Mother always said that sixteen was a good age to go to Town, to learn about it before coming out," she protested.
Father leapt to his feet, eyes flashing. "Your mother is not here!"
Contrite, Isabella pushed down any further argument. Angela took her by the hand. "Besides, Isabella, we won't be having too many parties or anything, as we've just come out of mourning." She leaned forward a little and whispered, "And, you won't be made to leave if we have any gentleman calling on us!"
A few days later, Isabella watched the carriages take her father and sisters away, as well as their personal servants and prudently-chosen wardrobes and chests. One could not be too careful when trying to attract a husband, she had been told. She had just so wished that she could learn that for herself!
With a heartfelt sigh, she turned to climb the cracking stone steps. "Only one more year until I'm seventeen. Then I'll get to go."
. . .
1 May 1818
Her sisters were now well and truly married. They waved to her as they left on the arms of their husbands. The wedding luncheon was to be held at the Swan's London house; the servants were even now preparing against the arrival of the guests.
"Well, Isabella, what will we do without them?"
Her father arrived next to her, crooking his arm in invitation for her to take it so that he could escort her from the church. They barely reached the green grass outside the chapel, where the nearby river could be heard rushing along its banks, when they were stopped.
"Mr. Swan, who is your companion? I saw her during the wedding service – lovely service, by the way, and I am sure I am wish them much joy in their marriages – and thought perhaps you had found your consolation for your losses."
Isabella felt herself blush slightly in chagrin. This is what came from not becoming acquainted before one was presented to Society. Even in so sideways a manner as this.
Her father did not seem to notice her discomfort. "Indeed, she is a consolation, Mrs. Stanley. Please accept my introduction of my youngest daughter, Isabella. Isabella, this is Mrs. Jessica Stanley."
Mrs. Stanley's sharp, narrow eyes widened in surprise. "Ah, my good fellow. I didn't know your youngest had become such a fine young woman."
Isabella dipped a curtsey out of respect for an older woman and a friend of the family. A friend she didn't even know. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance," she said.
. . .
29 March 1814
Isabella crashed a cacophonous chord on the pianoforte, making her governess wince. "Miss Hale, he says I am not to go." She swallowed back a little cry of disappointment and rested her hands in her lap. "Having the youngest daughter out in Society before the eldest is married is bad form, he said." Though her father had so pronounced this as fact, the young woman looked beseechingly to her governess for a contradiction.
It didn't come. "That is a traditional notion," she reminded her student. She had known this would happen.
"It's not fair," the young woman decided, her voice low and rough as she allowed the injustice of it to wash over her. "It's not. Alice had her come-out when she was my age. So did Angela."
"Yet neither have so much as had a marriage proposal, my dear. Your father goes to great expense to see to their future security. To bring you out as well could be injurious to your sisters' chances."
Isabella frowned. "Why?"
Miss Hale gave her a rueful smile. "When there is too much of something, the value is less than if it is more rare, Isabella."
"So I'm staying home to make my sisters appear more valuable?" It was past belief, but if her governess – a woman of far experience and wisdom – said so, it must be true.
When the carriages pulled away this year, Isabella remained indoors, doing whitework for a matronly cap. Hopefully, one of her sisters would need it before the summer.
. . .
1 May 1818
He waited in the verdant shade of a drooping churchyard willow, having decided to make his apologies to Miss Swan. Chatter from older women caught his ear, but his eyes were on the rugged vestibule of the chapel. Swan emerged into the sunlight eventually, his daughter on his arm as a slender, youngish woman hurried ahead to the barouche that had been waiting since he, Edward, had begun his brief vigil. A woman went to speak to them. Edward waited until they were finished talking, smiling, laughing, with the outward courtesies necessary to Society at large.
Stepping forward, he removed his carriage hat. "Mr. Swan. Congratulations on the nuptials of your daughters. I wondered if I might have a word with Miss Swan?"
Swan eyed him quizzically. "And you are...?"
"This is Mr. Edward Cullen, Father. A neighbor of ours on Green Street, it would seem. He is newly returned from India."
Edward felt himself staring at her in sheer appreciation of her aplomb. As if she had known him for weeks, instead of having had to listen to him denigrate her sisters on their wedding day. When Swan coughed, Edward turned his attention.
"Cullen from India? Ah, I had an uncle who was in India," he stated expansively. "Did well for himself."
"Yes, well. Isabella, if you've no objection?"
Relieved, Edward offered her his arm as her father moved ahead to the open barouche. The two of them, he and Miss Swan, followed with slow steps. "I wanted to beg your pardon, Miss Swan, for my heedless remarks, earlier."
He did not dare to look at her, but felt her hesitation before she responded. "No need to apologize for an honest curiosity, Mr. Cullen."
Though he waited, she said nothing more, so he thanked her for her time and handed her up into the carriage where her father and the maid waited. It wasn't until she was driving off that he thought to ask her one more question. "How'd you know I was your neighbor?" he called, belatedly incredulous.
In answer, she put her finger to her lips as the barouche drove around the bend.
"Ah, sister," a melodic masculine voice said, just inside the drawing room.
Isabella started at the claimed relationship, but Mr. Cheney was now her brother-in-law and so was, indeed, entitled. "Mr. Cheney," she said in return. "May I wish you joy?"
He stepped forward, a man in his middle thirties with a pleasant, round sort of face and a slightly receding hairline. His suit was nothing out of the ordinary, being black with trousers as opposed to breeches, which was a little adventurous of him, she supposed. His neckcloth was knotted in what she had learned was an "oriental." He looked, to her eye, subdued and fashionable. Bending over her hand, he assured her he appreciated the wish. "It is good to meet you," he stated. Nodding, he added, "I had heard that Angela's younger sister was still in the country, and I," he added with a self-deprecating smile, "assumed that meant you were still in the schoolroom."
"I assure you I am not, Mr. Cheney. In fact, my governess left me years ago."
He bowed as Angela came down the slightly curving staircase. "Ah, well if we were staying in Town, I am sure your sister and I would be happy to show you around."
Reaching the tiled floor, Angela smiled up at her new husband. Now in a lovely light muslin, she seemed very content to Isabella's view. "Oh, yes. Acquiring some Town bronze is helpful in maneuvering during the Season, Isabella. I am sorry we shan't be able to help! But with Father here, I am sure you won't lack for anything."
Angela tugged her husband through to the dining room, leaving Isabella there to wonder if she had time to change her gown or not.
A bell rang. She supposed the decision had been made for her, as had so many others.
. . .
22 January 1815
"It was lovely for the vicar to pray for our Miss Hale," Alice remarked as they walked home from the parish church.
Isabella nodded in agreement. "I think she's quite brave to go as a missionary to Africa. I don't think I could ever do such a thing." Miss Hale had said she felt called to go, though, and nothing Isabella had been able to say had turned her an inch from that determination.
"Besides," the older woman had said, a sad sort of smile touching her lips, "You are too old for a governess, my dear. Your father has been kind to keep me on this past year, and we have rubbed along well together, but..."
The sisters discussed this among themselves during the cold walk home. Once they reached their own lane, Isabella moved up to take her father's arm. "So this Spring, Father... Will I be going with you and my sisters to Town? I'll be eighteen, you know. And well able to –."
Her father had glanced over at her and patted her hand. "I am making arrangements for you to attend a Ladies' Academy in York."
He patted her hand again. "It is a genteel place, my dear. I know you've been restless, and I understand that, so this will give you the opportunity to meet young ladies of your age. It will do you good."
Resentment twisted in her middle, begging for expression. Isabella, however, could not say a word beyond, "But –!"
Later that winter, her sisters and father stood on the steps to watch the carriage convey her away from Swan Manor.
. . .
1 May 1818
Dusk settled lightly over Mayfair as Isabella watched from the front steps. Her maid, Mallory , called, "Miss Swan, you should come in. It isn't done to just stand about here in London like we do at home."
Isabella, though, was tired of being told what she could and couldn't do. "I am within this small excuse for a fence, Mallory ," she responded after counting to ten. "Surely, I shan't come to harm, here. You may stay on the watch, if you would like. Or, better yet, ask my father to do so. He did say he wished to spend some time together this evening."
"I heard from his man that he meant the theatre, miss. Not the street."
Something bitter sat on the end of Isabella's tongue, but she gave it no voice. There was nothing to be gained by sniping at her maid. Still, she remained on the steps until the darkness increased visibly.
A familiar carriage hat atop a familiar auburn-haired fellow rode by as she turned to go inside. She did not choose to acknowledge him.
1 May 1818
He was still new to White's, so he was pleased enough to find a chair in a corner, near some young bucks who were just now placing odds as to whether it would rain before the morning or not. Ridiculous waste of money, but in his short time in London, Edward had seen much that was ridiculous among this set. Before too long, one of the younger men stopped speculating on the weather long enough to recognize him.
"Cullen, good evening. Care to place a wager on the rain?" The younger man's blue eyes sparked with amusement.
He held up a hand. "No, thank you, Newton. I already lost a private wager with myself once today and don't feel my luck."
"Heard you were watching where your inheritance went?"
Edward slivered a glare at the cheeky speaker. Another youngster who would do well with some time spent aboard a merchant ship. Most of them would do well in that kind of work for a year or three. It did a marvelous job of clearing the mind. "Well I did see where some blunt went, aye," he said slowly, his childhood burr making a slight appearance. "Well enough spent, I daresay."
"Heard too," a mustachioed fellow inserted, "that there's another sister, new-come to Town, who has a fortune of her own, eh? Cullen, you said you saw her?"
Caution kept him brief. "Aye, I did."
Then, a light twinkled in another young man's clear brown eyes. "I know! We can put a wager on the Book! I wager she'll be snared for her twenty-thousand pounds before the month's end."
"Sooner," Edward blurted before he thought.
All eyes in the vicinity turned his way, including some newcomers who – hearing the words book and wager – had hastened to join them.
"Ah, got a march on us then, didn't you?" The young men chortled. "Well, maybe we needn't put the wager in the book, lads. Looks like Cullen has already won!"
Irritated with them, disgusted with himself, Edward shook his head and rose to his feet. One of the staff observed him and immediately retrieved his hat and gloves. Edward put a business-smile on his face. "No, I can assure you I have not."
Still, the young men were speculating as he left them and White's behind him.
There are three parts to this little story and they're all written. Honest!