Chapter 26: Pie
James James lay upon a thick layer of needles that littered the ground under the low hanging boughs of a secluded pine tree and watched the dog trot down the alley towards him. The man was as grimy as the bedraggled dog. He was weary, worn, and hungry but more than that, he was filled with a smoldering hate that kept him focused on his one obsession—vengeance.
He wanted something back for all the times he'd been trodden upon, spat at, ignored, denied, disposed and reviled. He was convinced that the root of his every trouble was a woman, whether it was his bitch of a mother, his harridan grandmother, the various ship whores, but especially, the woman who lived in yon house, that Isabella Swan.
He hated her the most.
She thought she was so much better than he. She, who actually sold herself into servitude, who was from nothing and no one, thought she had been too fine for his attentions. She cost him his livelihood by tattling to the Captain's man about his friendly overtures. He learned since coming back to town that she'd wasted no time in making friendly overtures herself once she got to Maryland. So, now she'd wed her master? She was no better than a whore—a harlot and a drab.
But still it wasn't enough for her. No. She would take everything from him. It seemed the only friend he had in the world was that dammed dog. She, as had her predecessors, played the world against him and even today she was trying to woo the animal away with table scraps.
He had plans for the wench; he most certainly did.
"Give that to me," James said and grabbed the bone from the dog's mouth. "That will be my dinner, dog. Thank your new mistress kindly for me, won't you?"
Turning his back on the whining animal, he found a likely rock and slammed it down upon the large bone until it cracked. Pulling it apart, he greedily scooped out the marrow with his fingers, and then sucked the bone clean.
He had been starving since coming back to Annapolis. Everywhere he turned there was a member of the constable's force. He couldn't wander the town, sneaking in and out of dark corners, filching a pie here, or a loaf of bread there. He had to keep to the woods out of the way of people and, therefore, out of reach of easy victuals. It had been hard days lately and he knew it portended that his own time was coming to an end. It seemed as though he could already feel the noose around his neck.
But he'd get even before it came, even if it was upon his dying breath. Throwing the remains of the bones to the dog, he settled back down under the tree to wait. When the night came, he'd be on the move. Then, she'd see.
"Mr. Cullen, I do believe you are well prepared to face the bar." Samuel Chase put down the brief that Edward had written and looked over his spectacles at the young man who stood in front of his desk.
"Do you think I would do well enough to satisfy them?" Edward asked, trying hard not to wring his hands in uncertainty.
"Aye, indeed I do. I recommend that you to apply to the bar here in Annapolis as soon as may be. You know many there. I think knowing them personally might put you at your ease."
"Is one ever at ease at such occassions?"
"An astute observation, my friend." Samuel leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. "Perhaps you might not be precisely at your ease but simply easier than you if you should go to Philadelphia or New York for the examination."
"But if I wanted to practice in Maryland, I would have to be tested here just the same, would I not?"
"There is reciprocity between colonies, so if you pass the bar in one place, you pass it in the others. Be that as it may, I was wondering what you planned to do once you have received your credential?"
"I had thought to begin soliciting clientele in a small way here in Annapolis."
"Is that so? Then, sir, I have a proposition for you. I find my political duties take more and more of my time and I have less to spend on my actual lawyering. Would you consider working with me as a partner? There's none I'd trust more than you."
Edward could hardly believe what he was hearing. Samuel Chase was asking him to work in his very successful practice? It was more than he ever dared hope.
"I would be honored to work with you, sir. Thank you very much indeed."
"Then good; it's settled. Make the appointment for your examination as soon as may be, then we can begin our business together."
As Edward returned to his books, he realized the elation he felt centered on the fact that he couldn't wait to tell Bella what had transpired that day. Grinning, he picked up his quill. He remembered the look he had shared with her when they parted that afternoon, and felt Sir Edward stir. It seemed that this evening was bound to be memorable for many reasons.
In the mid-afternoon, a carriage stopped in front of the Charles Street house and a handsome swain popped out of the door and turned to hand a vibrant young woman out behind him. Taking her arm, they walked up the steps to the door leaving her maid to follow. Before they could knock, however, the door opened to the beaming smile of Rosalie Cullen.
"Why Mister and Mistress Jasper Whitlock, welcome!" Rosalie stepped aside to let them pass.
"And the best of days to you, Miss Cullen. Please allow me the honor of introducing my glorious bride." Jasper swept into a grand bow as he elegantly waved his arm in the direction of Alice, who then curtsied.
" 'Tis so very nice to see you again, Miss Cullen," Alice said as she arose from her curtsy.
"Oh please, call me Rosalie. As we shall be housemates, there should be no need to stand upon formalities. I shall have Angela prepare tea for you as soon as may be but I am sure you must wish to freshen up beforehand. Your room is ready. My sister was sure you'd prefer to have your old room, Jasper." She led the couple up stairs and Jessica followed carrying a small portmanteau.
"My old quarters will be more than sufficient, Rosalie. But where is Mrs. Cullen? I should have thought she'd be home," Jasper said.
"She is at home Jasper, but she's been feeling poorly of late and is resting in her room."
"I hope 'tis nothing too serious?"
"Nothing that time won't serve as the cure. It was my decision not to call her when I heard you arrive and I am sure she will be right put out that I didn't rouse her, but she does need her rest as the doctor ordered."
Quietly opening the Whitlock's bedroom door, she added, "Now, here is your room. There is hot water and some fresh linens on the wash stand. Tea will be awaiting you in the sitting room when you come down."
The carters were bringing up several trunks and between the ladies all was put as it should be. Jessica was shown the room she'd be using and she was quite pleased to have such comparatively roomy surroundings in the attic of the townhouse.
Finding that he was just in the way, Jasper decided to go down to the kitchen to tease Angela and to see if he couldn't cadge a treat or two while he waited for the ladies.
"Greetings, fair maid. How goes it with you?" Jasper called as he descended the last few steps into the kitchen.
Angela was startled as she poured hot water into the teapot to warm it. The tray had already been set with various tidbits and delicacies to be ready for when the bell rang. "Mr. Jasper! You startled me and here I almost poured hot water on your cakes from the fright."
"Have a care my dear, it wouldn't do to make a soggy cake; although I am sure I read that is the only way it is taken in England."
"Never do they, sir! There's nothing worse than a wet sponge and I am sure the English know it."
"They know of little but plaguing honest colonists of late. Be that as it may, I am sure they don't know the difference between a wet cake and a dry one, although I must say a mouthful of too dry a cake must be ghastly as well; as like a mouthful of sand, I am sure."
"I wouldn't know as I've tried neither."
Jasper wandered over to the table under the window and spied Mrs. Volturi's liver pie. "What have we here? It looks delectable indeed."
"Hands away from that, sir. 'Twas made especially for my mistress. 'Tis liver pie."
"Truly! I so enjoy a liver pie. I haven't had any in months. It seems the cooks I've been victimized by won't make it for some reason."
Angela sniffed, for she could imagine many a reason to avoid making the concoction, indeed. "You are japing me, sir. Besides, you seem a willing enough victim in most cases."
"'Tis true, I do enjoy my table pursuits very well. Surely, Mistress Cullen wouldn't miss a small sliver of this delicacy? Liver pie is a rare treat to me, for all that some do not care for it. My mouth fair waters from the aroma."
"I am learning 'tis often the case with offal; one either loves it or hates it, and no middle ground between. Now, Mr. Jasper, Mistress Volturi claims my lady will not have the good of the pie unless she devours every bit. I shall cut you a hunk of cheese instead. Would that satisfy you?"
Sighing like a bellows, Jasper said, "I suppose I have no recourse, then." He gave one last longing look at the thing. Perhaps he could inveigle a mort of the pie from Bella when she appeared. He was sure she wouldn't mind sharing. But for now, cheese would do well enough.
"Thank you kindly, miss. I knew you wouldn't leave me to starve."
"Never would I, sir. Now please, if you would, tell me of your travels since you last were here? Did you see any giants?"
Settling down on a stool at the table where Angela was working he said in an ominous voice, "Not one giant, miss, but I did see an old dragon…" and then he was off, spinning a yarn at his poor Godmother's expense, but much to the delight of the girl.
Rosalie was correct. Bella was unhappy that she hadn't awakened her when Jasper and Alice arrived but she could forgive her because she knew that Rose had her best interests at heart. She had taken a long bath after her picnic lunch with Edward, washed her hair and sat upon the divan in front of the banked fire brushing it until it was dry. She had only meant to shut her eyes for a short time but soon had fallen into a comfortable, rejuvenating sleep. She hadn't heard Jasper and Alice arrive but reckoned they had come when she heard footsteps walking across the floor above.
She quickly got dressed in her new gown, liking how the cut set off her small waist without the need of cumbersome panniers. As she brushed her hair, she was pleased to note it had finally reached the length that she could pin it up in a more elegant fashion with a little lace cap to set it off. She noticed also, that the color was back in her cheeks and she felt she soon would have all her strength if she continued to take proper care. But now, there was work to do and guests to welcome.
She found the Whitlocks and Rosalie at their ease in the sitting room. Seeing her in the doorway, Jasper jumped to his feet and bowed, "Mistress Cullen, 'tis a pleasure to behold you again."
"Welcome, Mr. Whitlock," Bella said as she curtsied first to Jasper then turning to Alice, curtsied again, "and to you, Mrs. Whitlock. Much happiness upon your nuptials."
"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen, but please be calling me Alice. I feel as though we are already dear friends."
"If I will call you Alice, then you shall call me Isabella. I am that glad the two of you have arrived. We have been looking forward to your coming for many days." Bella waved the Whitlocks back to their seats and sat down herself near the tea tray and began to pour out the tea.
Jasper spoke as she handed him his cup, "My dear Isabella, you are looking in the bloom of health, quite lovely in fact; but, Rosalie says you have been under the weather of late."
"Aye, that I have but only a little. I am feeling quite myself this afternoon and am hoping my malaise has completely passed. I do apologize for not being available to welcome you when you arrived. I know Rosalie served well in my place, however. I hope you found all to your liking?"
"We are well pleased, madam, well pleased indeed."
"Please do tell me of what has transpired since you were last in these parts. I know bits and pieces of your tale but I would have the whole of it now, if you would be so kind to tell us."
Jasper and Alice spent the better part of an hour regaling Bella and Rosalie with the tale of their elopement and marriage and because it was Jasper and his lively wife telling the saga, both of the Cullen ladies were soon wiping tears of laughter away with their handkerchiefs.
"Dear sir, my side hurts from laughing so much! From what you relate, I don't believe Williamsburg will ever be the same after your time there. It's a wonder your Godmother is still speaking to you."
"I've always been fortunate that, though she would be loath to admit it, Godmama loves my scamperous ways and takes great delight in regaling all her crone friends with my escapades for years after I have committed them."
Bella turned to Alice and said, "You've taken on quite a challenge with this rascal."
"Indeed I have, Isabella. I've soon learned, though, to fight fire with fire. I can out-scamp Mr. Whitlock when I have a need to."
Bella giggled at Jasper's stunned look and stood, "It seems you've met your match, Jasper. Now, I must go below stairs and see to things there. Please excuse me."
Rosalie also made her excuses and followed Bella downstairs to find her sister-in-law staring uncertainly at the pie their neighbor had brought her. Angela had been sent on an errand and so was not in the kitchen.
"You're not going to eat that are you?" Rose asked.
"To be truthful, I don't think I could stand it. My stomach is curling from just the sight and smell of the thing."
"'Tis horrid, isn't it? What are you going to tell Mrs. Volturi?"
"I am going to wash her dish as clean as can be, wrap up a dozen of my strawberry tarts and carry them over to her, thank her very kindly for her thoughtfulness, then ask if she noticed that the bloom in my cheek has returned and leave it at that."
"You're a sly one, sister, and I am sure no one here would tell her differently. But truly, Bella, do we have to keep the thing in here? I am sure the smell is enough to turn even Jasper off his food." Neither lady knew of the man's fondness for such fare.
"No, I shall take it outside and dump it in the slop bucket for Jake to pick up."
"Alas, he came just this morning and so the pie will sit out there for several days before he will return again."
Bella was standing near the window and from the corner of her eye saw a flash of movement in the yard. She looked to see the bedraggled dog back and nosing around her flower beds. A contemplative look settled on her face. "I do believe I know what I shall do with the pie. I am sure there are some creatures that aren't as particular as we are."
She picked up the pie and took it outside.
"You dog! Come. I've a treat for ye." Bella squatted down in a sheltered spot where she couldn't be seen from any of the surrounding houses—heaven forbid that Mrs. Volturi should see what she was doing—and put the pie down on the ground.
"Here ye go, you fine dog. I am sure you'll enjoy this. I've seen dogs eat worse in my day, I have." She half expected the dog to ravenously consume the treat but was surprised that after one sniff, he backed up and refused to take even the smallest bite.
"Come now, dog. Most other curs would have gobbled this up quicker than a sailor downing pint after a long voyage. Don't you want it?"
The dog backed up even more and whined.
In her most cajoling voice she said, "Of course you want this delicious pie. It's a favorite among your canine friends, I promise you. Take it! Enjoy!"
The dog still refused and with a yip, turned around and ran off.
"Hmmm, such strange behavior. Well, I shall leave it in slops bucket. The dog may change its mind and come back."
Bella brushed off her hands and returned to the house to find her husband had come home and was ensconced in the sitting room with the Whitlocks. Bella's smile was incandescent when she spied him as she entered the room. "Edward, this is an unexpected pleasure. You're back early from Mr. Chase's."
Edward and Jasper, like the gentlemen they were, had risen when Bella entered the room. Edward held out his hand to her and said, "I finished my tasks early, my dear. I was very glad to come home to find Jasper and Alice had arrived."
Taking his hand, she said,"'Tis a happy day for us, that's certain."
"And us as well." Jasper stood and offered his arm to his wife. "I think we shall go up to dress for the meal."
"We are none too formal on Charles Street, Jasper. Please be comfortable and we shall meet again at supper," Bella said as she took her husband's hand.
"That we will, Madam."
After the two had left the room, Edward turned to Bella and held her at arm's length. "You look beautifully, my Bella. That dress is very comely. You're so lovely that it takes my breath away."
"Thank you. It pleases me that I please you."
"I take delight in you in more than one way, wife. I've missed you." Since they were alone, he pulled her into his arms so that he could kiss her properly.
Bella said, "You act as though we've been parted for days rather than hours."
"It seems that way." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and then a not so gentle one on her lips. It always amazed her how quickly he could fan the flames of her desire for him.
"Alas, Edward," she whispered, "that we are not alone in this house for I am sorely tempted to put back supper." Her thumb traced the curve of his bottom lip.
He nipped at its tip and responded, "It is certain that I shall plead the need for an early night. I have a great yearning to have you in our bed. But, temptress that you are, I have news."
"Aye. Samuel Chase is of the opinion that I should stand before the bar sooner rather than later, and then join him in the practice of law as soon as may be."
"You don't mean it!" Bella gasped in delight.
"I do mean it, m'love. He proposed the idea to me today. We shall be in fine fettle soon enough." He was grinning in delight and started to dance her around the room. "We shall have not a worry in the world."
Bella laughed at his exuberance and let him literally sweep her off her feet.
"But first, sir, we must have our supper and I need to go down to see if Rosalie needs my assistance."
Just then, the knocker sounded on the front door and Emmett was welcomed into their midst. Jasper and Alice came down from their ablutions and it passed that the men were content to wait smoking their pipes in the library while the ladies put the finishing touches on the meal. Together, they all had a jolly supper, full of tales and laughter. As the last cover was being removed, Jasper cast a puzzled eye at Bella's plate and asked, "Madam Cullen, did you not partake of that delectable liver pie Mrs. Volturi brought you?"
Looking a little embarrassed, Bella admitted, "In truth, I couldn't stomach the thought of it, sir. Please do not let on to Mrs. Volturi that I couldn't eat it. I have no wish to hurt her feelings."
"Your secret is safe with me, I am sure, but since you don't want it, do you think I might partake? I dearly love liver pie."
"Oh, dear, I'm afraid I put it out for the dog that has been loitering in the back lately. Oddly enough, I offered it to him but he wouldn't touch it, imagine that?"
Jasper's face fell. "That's a very real shame. Who knew the dogs of Annapolis were so choosy? I suppose it is not salvagable?"
"No, sir. I fear I put it in the slops bucket," Bella said with a frown.
"It doesn't say much for your palate, friend, that a dog would refuse what you would savor," Edward teased.
Bella reached out and put her hand over Jasper's as it lay upon the table and said, "I am sorry Jasper. I shall ask the method of Mrs. Volturi and make you your own pie."
"Over my dying body," Rosalie muttered. "It was a foul stench it created." Bella didn't echo Rose's sentiments but she heartily agreed with her in silence. It would be a trial indeed to prepare the pie but she had no heart to deny such an engaging rascal and friend something he relished.
As they were cleaning up after supper, Bella was given yet another thing to puzzle. When she went out to put the table scraps in the slops bucket, she was surprised to find it was now completely empty.
The liver pie was gone. There was not a crumb left.
AN: The bar was an actual place. Think of a railing with the men administering the examination sitting behind a table on one side, and the nervous prospective lawyer on the other. This test was not written as it was an oral exam and very grueling, lasting days sometimes. If you knew your examiners, perhaps they'd cut you some slack, or perhaps they wouldn't if they didn't like you.
In order to make a proper pot of tea, Bella taught Angela to fill the teapot with hot water to warm it first. The hot water is then dumped and then fresh steaming water is added to actually brew the tea.
Chapter 27: Cordiality and Bedlamites
Bella sat at her dressing table and brushed her hair. She was glad to have washed it this afternoon because the candle light seemed to bring out its luster even more than usual. She sighed happily as she looked around the chamber. The drapes were drawn, the fire banked and their bed turned down. She was dressed in what she hoped was her most fetching nightgown. Now, all that was needed was her husband to appreciate it.
Remembering their heated looks and kisses they had shared earlier in the day, she didn't think he'd be too long in appearing. After their supper, Emmett had said his goodbyes as he had an early start the next morning. Jasper and Edward had disappeared into the study and she, Rosalie and Alice, all a-giggle, had made their way upstairs. Jessica had followed her lady into her chamber to help Alice prepare for the night to come.
Bella had arched her brow as she watched the door shut on the mistress and her maid. She had wondered what it would be like to have a lady's maid. In truth, she couldn't see the need for it herself, unless one tended to wear complicated clothing. As Bella made all of her own garments, she purposely constructed them to be convenient for her to deal with on her own. She rather preferred it that way. Besides, she didn't want any other woman to observe the trouble she was taking to look especially winsome for her husband this evening.
Finally, she heard the gentlemen's steps as they ascended the stairs. There was laughter and goodnights, then the chamber door opened and Edward quietly entered, closing it behind him.
Leaning against the door he said, "I thought you would already be abed, my love."
"I waited for you." Bella arose and turned to face him. The candlelight cast a glow about her and her soft beauty caused Edward's breath to catch for a moment.
He swallowed the sudden knot in his throat and smiled, "I am glad for that. I shall join you shortly."
He quickly disrobed as Bella climbed into their bed and sat up against the bolster pillow, her hands folded demurely in her lap while her not so demure eyes watched as he peeled off his garments. He was such a fine looking man and she marveled at her luck in being his wife. She was truly blessed. Her love overflowed and she was buoyed upon the flood of it.
As he got into bed, she leaned over and blew out the candles sending the room into darkness leaving only the moon's glow sifting through the gap in the drapes to shine upon them in their resting place. She contentedly placed her head upon his shoulder as he pulled her into his arms.
He pushed the hair back from her brow and looked down into her moonlit features. Reverently, he quoted,
"More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azured arms:
Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air
And none but thou shalt be my paramour."
His finger traced her features, noting the sudden tears that appeared in her eyes. "Why dost thou weep?"
"For joy, my heart," she whispered and then weaving her fingers through his hair, she pressed her lips to his with an intensity she'd never shown before. Soon, he was proving to her that she was indeed his fair paramour as night shirt and gown were discarded and hearts, souls, and bodies joined in the blissful dance of perfect love.
There was something satisfying about kneading, Bella thought. Her skilled hands worked the dough against the floured board as it smoothed and stretched until it was just right. Her body was as sure as her hands in doing what was needed to produce perfect loaves for her baking that day.
She was doing the morning baking as well as preparing the berry tarts she had thought to give the Volturis when she would return their dish later in the day. She looked over at the bowl of strawberries Angela had picked first thing that morning smiling at their ruby-colored skin. The tarts seemed to be a favorite of all who had tried them and she hoped her neighbors would agree. She wasn't quite sure, however. The Volturis' tastes seemed to be of a peculiar nature to her. After all, Mrs. Volturi had promised her liver pie was something to savor but Bella didn't quite see the appeal. Her stomach gave a small lurch when she thought of the noxious concoction she had thrown out the day before. But evidently someone or something must have enjoyed it, for it was missing from the slop bucket soon after it had been put there.
The loaves needed to rise once more before she could put them into the oven, so she sat them to the side and went to the sink to wash her hands. She looked out of the window and was surprised that her little dog friend was nowhere to be seen. He was usually hanging about this time of day, hoping for a scrap or two. Perhaps he'd appear later. She purposefully scraped the remains of breakfast into an old, cracked plate that she'd give to him when he would finally appear.
She had forgotten to discuss the dog with Edward last night. She smiled as she remembered she had most certainly been distracted. In fact, the pleasantness of the activity was a puzzle to her. She wasn't sure that marital relations were supposed to be so enjoyable. Didn't the ladies in Mrs. Cope's shop do nothing but complain about them? But maybe their husbands weren't as handsome and loving as Edward. That was probably the case, for surely there would be none to compare to her dear man.
She was lucky indeed. She prayed that her life would continue along such a happy vein.
Jane paid the carriageman as she alighted from the conveyance in front of her home. She had spent most of yesterday and last evening with Miss Lucy Steele, an idiot of a girl who was always importuning herself upon any she perceived to be high in the instep. Evidently, Miss Steele considered Jane Volturi as one of those. There had been an evening of cards and dancing and Jane was glad to have the excuse to be away from home that particular night. No one would suspect her if she hadn't been at home, would they?
She looked about the street in anticipation. If all went well, the hussy next door would have all ready met the Almighty and then she could sweep in and comfort the widower; she would become his angel of mercy. She smiled to herself as she thought of his certain gratitude in the aftermath. But as she looked, she realized that all seemed to be quiet on Charles Street. The Cullens' house appeared as though nothing was out of the ordinary at the moment but then, houses could hide a story or two, couldn't they? Hers certainly had for years.
She turned to climb the stairs to her home and was surprised to see the shutters still closed. That was odd indeed. Though a rather empty-headed woman, her mother was meticulous about household routines and the shutters should have been opened long since. Even more strange was that the front door was locked when she tried it.
She knocked and stood awaiting an answer to her summons but no one came to the door. Could they all be out? But no, she couldn't remember anything on her mother's appointment book for the morning. In fact, her mother asked her to be sure to be back before noon as they both had to attend the dressmakers after dinner. She knocked again wondering what could be amiss until she finally went down the porch stairs and around to the kitchen door in the back of the house.
She found it unlocked but there was no sign of Demetri and Chelsea in the kitchen at a time when someone should have been working on the midday meal. As Jane walked into the kitchen, a horrible stench enveloped her and she fairly gagged from the odor. She dug around in her reticule for her handkerchief and held it to her nose as she investigated the source of the stink.
Peering into their servant's chamber, she saw two still figures lying abed, with basins filled with vomitus on either side of their bedstead. She groaned in disgust. She knew they had been raiding her father's wine cellar nightly and this must be the result of another evening spent in this pursuit. They were worthless thieves. She would have to convince father to sack them.
Outraged, she spun around and stormed up the stairs to the main floor. It was no longer a mystery as to why nothing had been accomplished in the house that day. Her parents were probably in their chambers, still resting. It wasn't unusual for her father to be abed this late. However, her mother must have taken a stronger dose than usual of laudanum to send her to sleep last evening and its effects had led to a later than usual morning.
She opened the shutters that fronted the house thinking the sunlight would dispel the gloom that seemed to fill the house and perhaps some of the smell. As she turned from the windows in the dining room, she saw the supper dishes from the night before were still on the table. That was very strange. She'd never heard of such sloppy housekeeping happening before. Her mother would never stand for it.
But then her blue eyes widened as she noticed the empty plate sitting upon the side board. With a faltering step, she picked up the dish and examined it closely. She knew it to be the vessel used to make large meat pies in. Fear caused her hand to shake as she tried to discern what had been in the dish. She gasped when she recognized the bits and pieces that were left.
In horror, she dropped the plate and it shattered on the floor. Liver pie was eaten in this house? It was supposed to have been for the whore next door but, no. It was consumed here—in her home—by her family. A cold hand of dread gripped her throat as she realized what could be the result of this debacle.
"Mother!" she cried as she wheeled around and stumbled out of the room.
"Mr. Cullen, I see no use for you to tarry here when you can easily accomplish your preparations at home. In fact, it may be easier for you there since you would be without the dulcet noises of my children's play as they thunder about in their nursery above stairs."
Just then, there was a particularly loud crash above them followed by shrieks of childish laughter. Edward grimaced but with a smile on his face, "You do have a point, Samuel. I can revise at home quite well, I think."
"You have a week's time to prepare?"
"A little less than that. I hope I shall be prepared."
"It would make no matter if you had a year to prepare. You would always feel as though it weren't enough."
"'Tis the nature of the beast, I suppose."
Bidding Mr. Chase goodbye, Edward quickly gathered his materials and left for home. He hoped that the distraction there in the form of his lovely wife wouldn't be more of an interruption that the Chase children were here, although he knew she very well could be without meaning to. His self-discipline would be tested to the highest degree to keep his nose in his books and his hands off of his woman. But it would be pleasant to be close to her, just the same. He couldn't wait to see the smile on her face when he arrived home earlier than usual.
Jane dashed into her mother's bedroom to find the lady prostrate upon her bed.
"Mother!" Jane called as she put one knee upon the mattress. "Mother! Can you hear me?"
Sulpicia raised a weak hand and mumbled, "Oh, child…so sick."
"Did you eat the liver pie?" Jane's voice shook with urgency.
"Liv…er pie?" was the weak response.
"Yes, mother, the pie that was to be sent to Mistress Cullen. Did you eat it instead?"
"What do you mean?" Jane grabbed one of her mother's hands to will strength into her and sense into her words.
"Stupid girl…bought beef's liver instead of calves'. Too much for small pie so…we made a big one and shared…" Her voice dwindled to a faint moan.
"You used the spices that I had set out?"
"Ah…yes…doubled them…ergg. So sick. Janey…have the doctor come…"
"Oh mother! The pie was meant for her, not you."
"What?" The sick woman shook her head, not able to process what Jane said. "Get…doctor." Sulpicia's voice was a whisper now.
Jane stood and shook her head. "Oh, mother. I can't do that. Then they will know."
Sulpicia's dimming sight watched without understanding as Jane backed out of the room. She hoped her daughter would get help soon. She was not able to believe Jane would fail her in this. The poor woman then shut her eyes, giving over to the illness that was consuming her.
Jane left her mother's room, her mind aflurry. When she peeked into her father's room, she saw him moaning in agony, completely unaware that she was in his room. Not wanting to talk to him, she shut the door noiselessly. What a doomed moment it was when she decided to trust her stupid mother and an even more senseless maid to prepare the pie for Mrs. Cullen. She had laid out the method so easily for them and they hadn't followed it just the same. She stamped her foot. It served them right to be falling ill and it would serve them right if they should die.
Jane's only hope now was that Isabella Cullen ate her share as well. That much tainted spice should be enough to kill. Perhaps something could be salvaged from this mess.
The tarts freshly baked, Bella arranged them on the scoured plate that Sulpicia had brought the pie in the day before and covered them with a starched napkin.
"Angela, put the other tarts away in the larder and make sure Mr. Jasper doesn't know they're about. I'd like to serve them at tea time today and if he knows of their existance, we'll never keep him from nibbling, the scoundrel."
Angela laughed and did as she was told. Bella climbed the stairs to put on her bonnet before making a morning visit next door. Usually, she'd never dream of making a house call this earlyin the day but since Mrs. Volturi herself had done it before, she felt it wouldn't be out of place for her to do the same.
She knocked on the neighbor's door and was surprised at how long it took for her hail to finally be answered. Finally, she heard steps approach and the door was surprisingly opened by the daughter of the house, Miss Jane.
But the girl was seemingly even more surprised than Bella. Instead of a sociable welcome, Jane's eyes widened in shock and she hissed, "YOU!"
High in the instep means upper class or someone who considers themselves as such. The theory went that those sorts had high insteps as they didn't have to do hard physical labor that would cause their arches to fall. No Dr. Scholls in those days, I am afraid.
Bedlamites - From Bedlam, alternative name of the English lunatic asylum, Bethlem Royal Hospital (royal hospital from 1375, mental hospital from 1403) (earlier St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, hospice in existence from 1329, priory established 1247), sense used to mean "a place or situation of madness and chaos". Bedlam as name of hospital attested 1450. Phonologically, corruption of Bethlem, itself a corruption of Bethlehem.
Chapter 28: Amanita Phalloides
Jane's face drained of all color and her eyes were wide in shock.
"Aye, Miss Jane, 'tis me, Mistress Cullen. I've come to return the dish in which your mother sent the pie and share some fresh berry tarts with your family." Bella was astonished at the girl's behavior. It was as though she had seen a ghost.
Jane gaped at her for a moment, not moving, not saying anything more. Bella decided to help her along, so she said slowly, "Is your dear mother at home this morning?"
Blinking rapidly, Jane inhaled deeply as though snapping out of her torpor and stepped to the side, her expression quickly smoothing over into one of acquiescence. "Please do come in, Mrs. Cullen."
Bella followed the girl into the sitting room and sat on the chair Jane indicated. Bella couldn't help but notice a strange odor in the air, as though something had spoiled in the larder. It must be pretty rank for the smell to reach the front of the house. It was passing strange.
"My mother is unwell this morning and so I am afraid she will be unable to attend you."
"Oh, my dear, I am sorry to hear it! Is there anything I can do for the lady?" Perhaps sickness had been the source of the reek.
"No. I think time will be the only answer to her misery." Jane spoke as thought she'd no wish to continue the subject. The girl stared at the dish Bella was still holding and a crafty look flashed across Jane's face as she asked, "How did you find the liver pie, madam?"
Bella's color rose. She hated to prevaricate. "In truth, I am not fond of liver and couldn't enjoy the dish, I am afraid. I do, however, truly appreciate the kindness in which you and your mother gave me. Indeed, I thank you."
"So you did not partake of the pie?"
"No. I am afraid I did not."
"Did anyone in your household try it?"
Bella was wondering at the girl's persistence but she answered honestly, "No, it did not seem to suit anyone in the house, or so I thought. Later on, Mr. Whitlock mentioned he had quite a liking for the dish but by that point, the pie had been put out. I promised to get the receipt from your dear mother this morn, if she would be so kind, so that I could make a pie especially for him."
"I will be happy to share the method with you. Please excuse me so that I may fetch it hither." Jane rose as Bella nodded her compliance.
As Jane went from the room, her mind was in turmoil. Her plans had been thoroughly thwarted. Isabella Cullen had thrown out the poisoned liver pie and her family ate their share instead. What a thorough-going farce!
Jane felt her anger begin to bloom. First her mother's stupid mishandling of the tainted pie and now this? How dare that sniveling Isabella Swan come here with her tarts! She should be dead and her husband in need of solace. Jane now realized she should have undertaken the poisoning herself and not trusted the maid and her mother to do it effectively. It was evident she'd now have to take matters into her own hands.
Instead of going down to the kitchen to fetch the recipe, she went into her father's study, opened his desk drawer, and pulled out a small case. Fortunately, her father had seen fit to show her how to use the item contained within. She could hear his nasal voice now, "'Tis best you know how to use the like of this, in the event I am not about to protect you." Surely her father would understand the necessity of her use of it now. She had her future to protect.
She picked up the flint-lock pistol out of its case and carefully loaded it with the gunpowder and a ball-shaped bullet that were stored within in small compartments. When the pistol was loaded, she hid it behind her back and returned to the sitting room where Bella was patiently awaiting her.
"I am sorry, madam, I can't seem to locate the receipt. Perhaps I can send it later?"
Jane had taken a few steps into the room but she made no move to sit back down. Since it was impolite for Bella to remain seated, she stood. There was something about Jane Volturi that gave her goose-flesh in the worst way. Perhaps she had now stayed long enough that she could now make her excuses, leave the tarts, and go home. With her duty done, she said, "That would be most kind of you. Now, I must leave as I am sure you have your hands full with your mother being unwell."
Jane's entire demeanor changed in a heartbeat from calm placidity to animal fury as she snarled, "Yes, you must leave—in fact, you must leave the face of the earth; the sooner, the better."
With that, Jane brought the gun from behind her back and leveled it at the astounded Bella. Smirking, the crazed girl squinted one eye, aimed at Bella's heart and, just as her father had taught her, slowly squeezed the trigger.
Edward whistled as he bounded up his Charles Street porch stairs and used the key he kept in his pocketbook to open the front door.
"Isabella, I'm home!" he shouted merrily. There was no answer, but he could hear someone climbing the stairs from the kitchen below and soon Jasper was joining him in the foyer. The rascally man was wiping crumbs from his lips with a handkerchief.
"Good morning, Edward. Your lovely bride has gone next door to pay a call on Mrs. Volturi. She was bringing a plate over to them to return the favor of their liver pie."
Edward nodded. He expected Bella would do such a thing. It was all part and parcel of being a good neighbor. "So what did she bring to the Volturis?" Edward was eyeing the smudge of strawberry filling Jasper still had on the corner of his mouth.
"Simply the most delicious berry tarts I have ever had the pleasure of tasting! Your wife can sure bake a treat, Edward. I know I shall put on three stone living under your roof."
Edward clapped his friend on the back and laughed. "I think we all shall be victims of good eating at the tender hands of our lady-folk—but, tell me, how long has Mrs. Cullen been away from home?"
"Oh, I saw her as she left before I went down to the kitchen to ferret out the source of that delicious aroma. I would suppose she's been gone more than a quarter of an hour. I must say, Missy Angela was miffed that I discovered the tarts hiding in the larder. What are they for, if not to eat?" Jasper looked a bit put out.
Though Edward commiserated with his friend about the purpose of tarts, irate maids notwithstanding, he was still thinking about his wife and so steered the subject back. "Perhaps, I should go over to join Isabella in her visit?" He wanted to see her as soon as he could.
"You'd brave that lion's den? I wouldn't if I were you. You couldn't find a more painfully pretentious family if you searched the whole of Maryland. If you go, the visit will be unnecessarily prolonged, I am sure. As it stands, Isabella has spent her obligatory fifteen minutes and can leave soon. Why don't you wait? Surely, she'll be home in a trice."
Edward started to answer, when the unmistakable pop of a firearm could be heard coming from the direction of the Volturi's household through the foyer's open windows. His breath stopped as he stared at Jasper's surprised face, and then without thinking further, dashed out of his house desperately calling out his wife's name with Jasper following closely upon his heels.
Bella watched Jane level the pistol at her and thought, "What in God's name does that girl think she's doing?"
But instead of shocking Bella into inaction, the hoyden's crazed behavior sent the doughty lady back to her roots. Isabella Maria Swan Cullen may be a gentleman's wife now but there was a time when she had to live closer to the earth, as one might say. She knew not to allow circumstances to control her and she knew how to dissuade an attack.
The moment Jane cocked her head to aim, Bella took the heavy tart-laden dish she was holding and flung it as hard as she could at Jane's upraised arm. The platter crashed into the girl just as she fired causing the ball to fly wide of its mark.
"She actually tried to harm me! She must be mad! How dare she?" Bella thought.
She felt her temper explode and without thinking further, she flew at Jane, knocking her to floor amidst the broken plate and ruined tarts. Jane dropped the pistol in the melee and it skidded out of reach across the floor. Bella straddled the prone, befuddled girl and wrenched her arms up behind her back to hold her captive.
"How now, miss! What, by Jove's witness, were you trying to do?" Bella asked, her flaring temper making her voice raspy. As Jane's shock at the sudden turn of events evaporated, she started to struggle but before she could answer, Edward and Jasper burst into the room.
"Isabella! What's to do here?" Both gentlemen stood and gaped at the scene the girls presented. Bella's skirts were hoisted around her hips, her well-shaped and bestockinged legs were gripping the struggling Miss Volturi's hips as her hands held the young miss' arms behind her back. The remains of several strawberry tarts had left their fillings in streaks along the floor and across Miss Jane's peeved face. Bella's own countenance was red from temper and there was a determined look about her as she bent Jane to her will.
Bella looked up at her bemused and amazed husband and exclaimed, "This vixen tried to shoot me!"
"We heard the shot," Edward said as he reached to help his wife.
"Miss Jane, you will behave yourself and we'll assist you. Do you comprehend?" Jasper stooped down, ready to grab her if she should decide not to cooperate.
The girl grunted in frustration but stopped struggling. When the men were sure she had ceased, Edward helped Bella to her feet as Jasper assisted Jane.
"I've never seen a body take on so over a rejected dish afore," Bella said huffily as she straightened her skirts and smoothed her cap.
"What?" Edward and Jasper chorused.
"Miss Jane had asked me point blank if I had eaten the liver pie her mother had brought me yesterday and I had explained that I couldn't as it didn't agree with me. I did tell her, though, that I wanted the recipe for you, Mr. Jasper. She left the room to get it but instead came back with that pistol yonder and tried to shoot me with it." Bella stamped her foot in anger as she spoke and glared at Jane.
Edward was half aghast at Bella's close call and half in awe at her gloriousness. He had always loved and esteemed her but at this moment he fairly worshipped her. Her eyes were sparkling with righteous fury and the color was high in her cheeks. She was magnificent in appearance and disposition and he felt entirely unworthy of her.
But before he could get lost in his adoration, Jane growled and said, "I cared not about the liver pie, you adder, but you should have eaten it. You should be dead. In fact, you must die!"
She lunged towards Bella but Edward intervened and grabbed her arms to hold her back. "Now, enough of that, miss. You are making no sense at all. Where are your parents?"
Jane struggled as she said, "They are abed and sick unto death. They ate the pie, you see. They are the ones dead and dying as she was supposed to but no… it was them."
Then, Jane let out a wail and collapsed in Edward's arms. He was able to shuffle her over to a chair where he set her down gently. She slumped over to the side and stayed that way.
Turning to his wife he said, "Isabella, I will stay here and watch Miss Jane. Could you and Jasper go and check upon Mr. and Mrs. Volturi? I can hardly believe her tale." Edward stayed behind as he wanted to insure Jane couldn't further her attack on Bella.
Nodding, Bella went out into the hall. Jasper, who looked at the spoiled tarts scattered across the floor regretfully, followed her.
Jane started to moan and rock back and forth but she kept her eyes tightly shut as Edward watched her. He was astounded at what had just transpired and didn't know exactly what to think. A few minutes later, Jasper rushed in the room, a grave look on his face.
Edward asked, "Where's my wife?"
"She stayed upstairs with Mrs. Volturi, who is indeed very ill. Bella asks that we fetch the doctor as soon as may be."
Jasper looked askance at Jane and then added softly, "Alas, a doctor would not now serve Mr. Volturi nor the servants. They are no longer of this world."
Edward gasped in horror and said, "Dear friend, could you fetch the doctor and then ask the constable to attend us here? Let the ladies next door know what has happened, as well. Bella will need their help. I will keep my own eye on Miss Jane until the authorities have come."
Jasper nodded and was quickly off to attend to his various errands, Edward turned to watch Jane, who had now opened her eyes and was staring at him as she absently used the corner of her apron to wipe the remains of berry tart from her face.
He sat down nearby but didn't utter a word. He hardly had a clue as to how he should talk to the girl. It was clear she had committed a series of heinous crimes but, in his opinion, it was equally clear she had lost her mind entirely. What does one say to someone so utterly deranged?
His internal discussion became moot when Jane herself started a conversation. "We shall have such a bonnie life, Mr. Cullen, after all this has passed."
"A bonnie life? What do you mean?"
"When we shall marry, of course—we shall go along so beautifully. Of course, we shall have to wait a suitable time after she dies before we wed. It wouldn't do to have people gossip."
It was like looking at a snake, Edward thought. Her flat eyes showed no emotion and only her hands twisting her apron into knots betrayed any agitation. He decided just to go along with her, fearing another outburst if he thwarted her. "It never would do to incite gossip, that is true."
"But Mr. Cullen, why did you have to marry that servant? She would have served well enough in a less exalted capacity. It was certainly a shame you did so and I've had to go to so much trouble because of it. I would have looked the other way had you decided upon a liaison with her. I know men do these things."
"You are most generous, miss." Edward could hardly form the words.
"My father will be glad to call you son. He will be sure to indulge your every wish as long as I am happy."
"I shall thank him for his kindness."
Jane paused, a puzzled look on her brow. "But he is dead now, isn't he? Isn't that what Mr. Whitlock claimed? My father is dead?"
Edward nodded. "How did he die, do you think?"
"It was the pie. He ate the pie, that fool. I had added some Amanita to the liver pie my mother…" she stopped as if struck with a thought. "Where is my mother, Mr. Cullen, do you know?"
"I believe she is upstairs in her chamber."
"Ah, it is very late for her to still be abed. Perhaps she took too much laudanum last night?"
Edward shrugged. "Perhaps. So, pray tell, what is Amanita? I have never heard of it."
"Amanita Phalloides. You may know it as the death cap mushroom. They are harvested in the late winter or early spring and there was a bumper crop of them this past season." She laughed as she stared at her fingers not aware of the look of revulsion on Edward's face at her words.
"I suppose one must be careful not to pick the wrong fungus at that time of the year?" Edward said, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Aye, that's certain. It only takes a little to destroy a family." She chuckled. "Just ask your Aunt Abigail, she would know!" Her giggles quickly grew into insane laughter.
"What do you mean? What did Aunt Abigail have to do with the mushrooms?" He felt a sense of dread as the details of his aunt's demise occurred to him.
"Old Peter always had a craving for wild mushrooms, didn't you know? So, I brought him a basketfull one day last winter. He was so pleased, he had Charlotte cook them up right away and the whole family partook."
She laughed again. "I was surprised at how efficacious they were. I only wanted your Aunt to die from them but it was just as well to get the girls out of the way, too. Peter and Charlotte were old and it was past time for them to die. They didn't matter." Her off-handedness at her deeds stunned him. She was a monster who acted without mercy.
"But why did you want my aunt to die? I don't understand."
"It was simple, really. I had heard her tell my mother that you were her heir and that you were to marry one of her daughters. You had just left Annapolis for Alexandria and it was uncertain when you'd return, if ever. I knew that if Abigail Cullen died you'd have to return and, even better, claim your estate and live here, just the next door over from me. It seemed so simple, so perfect, and it was for a time. But then, you had to marry that…that…that slattern. I shall take care of her, as well, don't you worry. I've more of the mushrooms in my chest."
Edward felt his stomach heave as though he was going to puke. He could no longer sit and listen to her so calmly detail the deaths of his Aunt and her family and her threats against his Bella. He could hardly stand to be in the same room; nay, even the same house as this vile creature. As soon as the authorities came, he was going to take Bella and leave. He shuddered to think he could have lost his love to this child's deluded fantasies.
Soon, Rosalie and Alice appeared, and went to work assisting Bella and righting the horror that had happened in that house. With them, Mrs. Crowley bustled in, a severe look on her face as she surveyed Jane. "Leave the lass to me, Mr. Cullen. You are needed elsewhere."
The quiet Charles Street soon became frenzied chaos with the constable and his men taking charge and onlookers hanging about, trying to see what had happened and to whom it had happened to. The constable took a detailed account of Jane revelations from Edward and asked Bella to relate her near escape to him as well. Jane was insensible again and would howl for Edward at some times or for her mother at others.
The doctor determined that Mrs. Volturi had a chance of surviving as apparently she didn't eat more than a bite of the pie. It was fortunate that the effects of the laudanum she took daily left her with little appetite but she was going to have a very difficult few days just the same. The Physician recruited some experienced neighbor ladies to tend to Sulpicia and relieved Mrs. Whitlock and the Cullen ladies of her care.
Eventually, the remains of Demetri, Chelsea and Aro were laid out in the front room and arrangements for their quick burials were made for the next morning. Eventually, the constable took Miss Jane away to be locked up in gaol. And since there was now nothing much to look at, the gapers and lay abouts wandered away leaving Charles Street to its quiet once again.
Mrs. Crowley had organized some of her friends to tidy up the Volturi residence and so at last, Bella and Edward were able to return to their home. Earlier in the day, Rosalie and Angela had prepared a light luncheon for all who were at the Volturi's house but that was hours ago. It was now fairly close to supper.
As they entered their home, Bella turned to Edward and said, "I must go down to the kitchen to check on supper's progress. With all the distress, I've not even thought of it until now."
Edward reached for her hand and said, "Belay that a moment, my dear."
He led her into his study and shut the door, then pulled her into his arms and just held her. "To think how closely I came to losing you, Isabella. It hardly bears contemplating."
"The good Lord was watching out for us all, Edward. It is fortunate that Mrs. Volturi didn't deliver a beef steak pie instead. I dearly love those."
"We avoided disaster here, thank God, but what a tragedy for Mrs. Volturi. I had no notion at how deranged young Jane was, did you?"
"She never spoke much in company and seemed like an ordinary sort of girl just out in society but I will admit there was something strange about her. I could never put my finger on it but she made the fine hair stand on my neck whenever she was about."
Edward kissed Bella's brow then lifted her chin so he could reach her lips. "I shall never let you out of my sight again."
"I think you shall live a most dull life, then. My daily tasks are fairly mundane."
"Nothing can be boring for me when I am with you but I am earnest when I say I shall not leave your side until James James has been accounted for."
Bella gasped. "I had forgotten about him! And to think the greatest danger was next door all along and we never knew it."
"There is still the danger of Mr. James, however, and we well know of his threat. Please let me be your companion until my fear is eased. It would slay me if a hair on your head were harmed."
"I do understand your fear and I will let you shepherd me…I trust you'll get bored before too long, even if Mr. Chase doesn't miss you."
"The very man has released me to study at home for my examination. That's why I arrived at the Volturis when I did. I am sure I can carry a book with me as I follow you about."
She laughed. "Edward, I promise not to be out of your sight but I shall endeavor not to make you look foolish, as well. I can't imagine what the men of Annapolis would think of you always trailing my skirts."
"I care not."
"You will if you need their custom as a lawyer."
By the expression on his face, she could tell he hadn't thought that far along. She patted his cheek. "Don't fret, I will be looking about for you just as you are for me." She stood on her tip toes and kissed him, relishing the softness of his lips and undercurrent of passion that was ever present when she was close to him.
Sighing, she whispered, "Now, I must see to supper."
They both left the study and went down to the kitchen. Bella found all in order there, supper not needing to be put back too much longer than usual. Rose and Angela were busy preparing the various dishes for the evening and so she suggested that Edward sit at the table near the window-and out of the way-and she would bring him a cup of tea. As she was filling the kettle with water from the pump, she happened to notice her little dog friend pacing around in the back yard. She was relieved to see him apparently healthy. Evidently, he wasn't the one to have eaten the fatal pie.
"Oh Edward, I wish for you to meet someone." She picked up the plate she had made up with scraps from breakfast earlier in the day and led Edward outside to meet the pup.
"Here, lad! I've got you some bits and pieces," she called. The dog ran towards Bella but paid no attention to the plate she sat down for him. He barked and ran to the alley along the back of their property.
"That's so surprising. Yesterday, he did the same when I offered him the liver pie. He wouldn't take it, perhaps he could smell the poison in it, but this food is fine as we made it ourselves. I am sure he is hungry now."
"He's such a bedraggled dog." Edward was doubtful.
"But he's very sweet, truly Edward. I want to keep him, if you will agree."
"I can find you a much nicer dog than that."
Bella looked askance at her husband, "But he's the one I want. He's a good, friendly animal."
Edward smiled, shrugged his shoulders at the strangeness of women and said, "Whatever you wish."
The dog saw the couple hadn't followed him and so he ran back and barked frantically then ran to the alley again. Edward and Bella watched him curiously.
"It seems he wants us to follow him," Bella said.
"He's quite insistent, isn't he?" The couple started to follow the dog that then gave a yip and ran, hell for leather, down the alleyway to a grove of pine trees at the end of the lane. He ran under a low hanging bough, paused, then scampered back to the two following him, then turned to return to the tree.
"There's something there," Edward said, making out a dark shape lying next to the trunk of the tree. The dog sat and whined until Edward and Bella got close.
"Oh, my stars, Edward. 'Tis a man!"
"Wait here and I will see." Bella stayed a few yards off as Edward bent down and rolled the man over.
As she gingerly edged closer, Bella could see more of the man's features and gasped.
"'Tis Mr. James!"
Edward looked sharply at his wife, "Is it? What befell him?"
Bella pointed to the remains of the infamous liver pie that was lying next to the body. "It seems Mr. James was the one who took the pie I threw out into the slop bucket last night. Jane unwittingly found another victim."
"Truly, it couldn't have found a more deserving target. We must report this to the constable immediately, my love. Come."
As they hurried up the alley, Edward said, "The dog must have been James' companion."
"It seems so."
"How long has it been loitering in our back yard?"
"Must be I noticed him a week or more ago."
Edward suddenly sat down on a low stone wall that bordered the lane and put his head in his hands.
"What's amiss, my love?" Bella asked in surprise.
He shook his head and muttered, "It seems that death was all around you and I did nothing to keep you safe. 'Twas the reason I so impetuously married you, so that I could protect you from danger, and I failed."
Bella blinked, then put her hand on Edward's shoulder and said, "You may have married me to keep me safe but I married you for other reasons entirely. I had fallen in love with you and desired nothing more than to live my life with you. These last months have been as paradise to me. You've made me a very happy woman."
He raised his head and gazed into her eyes, "I should have done more to protect you."
"Edward, look at me. Am I not hale and hearty? James was about, it is true, but his whereabouts were unbeknownst to us—as well as the constable, mind you—but you kept me safe from him, didn't you? He never laid a hand on me. Jane's madness was a danger that we couldn't have predicted but I daresay, if you hadn't have kept me safe, she would have acted weeks ago. We will never know the times you saved me by your devotion and forethought."
She paused a moment and studied him thoughtfully. "Tell me, sir, would you have wed me even had I not been in danger?"
He stood and took her hands in his. "I would have, with my whole heart and soul. Maybe not for some time; perhaps after I had become more solvent and could better support you so you wouldn't have to work as hard as you've had to but I had thought of nothing else from almost the beginning."
She grinned teasingly. "And aren't you glad you didn't have to wait that long? It happens that I love taking care of you and our home. I love sharing our meals. I love mending and making your clothes, but especially, I love sharing our bed. I am that glad I didn't have to wait for our life together to begin. I wouldn't have my life—and you—any other way. You and I were fated to be, Edward Cullen, now and forever more."
His love for her blazed in his eyes and, even though they were standing in the lane during broad daylight and could easily be seen by the casual observer, he crushed her to his chest and kissed her with every bit of adoration and love that he posessed.
After some intense, breathless moments, he said, "Now, let us see to that sad man and find a place for our dog to sleep."
And with her hand tenderly tucked into his elbow, Edward escorted his lady back home.
AN: Men used pocket books in those days. They were actually large walletish sorts of things that folded shut sort of like books, were made out of cloth or leather, and were kept in their coat pockets; hence, pocket books. Clever, eh?
British people still weigh themselves in stones. One stone equals fourteen pounds (or about 6.4 kg). I am not going to tell you how many stones I weigh but it's pretty close to an entire quarry.
Amanita Phalloides actually do exist and this is the Latin name for Death Cap Mushrooms.
Chapter 29: Epilogue: April 2, 1771
Annapolis, Maryland, April 2nd, 1771
Angela bustled into the sitting room and set the tray down on a low table next to Bella's chair. Her mistress smiled her thanks as she peered over the top of Mother Esme's chatty letter that she had received that day. Angela had grown much over the past year and now knew the household routines as well as Bella. She wasn't quite as skilled as Bella but that would only take time and practice. She had proven to be a most valuable servant.
It was a cold, wet morning and outside the windows on Charles Street a fog obscured everything in a damp, grey mist. Angela poked the fire and added a few more logs to keep the room warm for her mistress. The pop and crackle of the flames sounded homey in the silence of the morning.
"Thank you, Angela," Bella murmured as the girl shyly smiled, bobbed a curtsy and scurried out of the room. Bella knew the maid had plenty of work to do for there was no one to help her any longer. As of last month, all their friends had left and it was oddly quiet around the house. She smiled to realize there seemed to be just as much work to do in caring for three people as there was in caring for the eight that they had housed for close to half a year.
Bella rested her feet on a small footstool and leaned back in her chair with a small huff of vexation. Sitting still simply wasn't in her nature. She had been cautioned to take her ease but she found it a more onerous task than cleaning this house had been for the first time.
She sighed happily as she thought of the year past. It had been a year ago that she first set foot on Maryland soil and met her destiny in the form of one Edward Cullen. She was reminded of this anniversary earlier that morning when she was kissed awake by her sweet husband.
"A year ago today was the beginning of the best of my life," he whispered.
"'Twas?" she mumbled, sleep and love making her voice husky. "How so?"
"It was the first day I saw your sweet countenance, the first day I heard your dear voice, the first day you arrived on Charles Street."
"Now that you mention it, I suppose it was and, my how I've turned your life topsy-turvy since!" The happiness in her eyes was echoed by the smile on his face.
"I've a wish to celebrate it," he said as his fingers traced down her back to cup her bottom.
"And I do believe I know the proper manner in which to do so."
"Do you, madam?" He teased her night gown up to her waist.
"Indeed, I do." With that she sat up, pushed him over onto his back, and crawled over his body until she straddled his hips. Leaning over she rubbed against Sir Edward, who of course was ever ready to do his duty, and whispered, "Just like this…"
Her kiss was fervent as her fingers combed his hair and their bodies reconnected in love and desire and joy. They had found this arrangement was easier in recent weeks. Bella was also pleased to discover that being the mistress over the master of her heart was satisfying in its own way. She loved to watch as he arched his back and rolled his head into the bolster when he reached his climax. It seemed lately she could never have enough of this—of him. So, it wasn't very surprising at all that they were tardy in getting downstairs that morning but she thought the time was well spent.
Bella smiled to think of when she saw him for the very first time. Even though he had been suffering from the after-effects of too many bottles the night before, she was instantly drawn to him but then, most women would have been. He was comely for certain and, though young, had an air of command about him. Still, it had taken him a little longer to warm up to her but soon his feelings for her echoed hers for him.
The events that surrounded their first months together still caused her to wonder how they had survived but they did, thank the Blessed Lord. Recent months had been less danger-filled but not less eventful.
She pulled her wool shawl tighter around her shoulders as she gazed into the fire and remembered. Poor Sulpicia Volturi. She had barely recovered from her accidental poisoning, only to find her husband and servants had died and the center of her life, her daughter, had been the cause of it. It became obvious to anyone who saw Jane after her plot to marry Edward had been foiled that the girl had lost her mind. It had been easy for the doctor to declare her insane and she had been shipped off to a hospital for mental disturbances in Philadelphia where she was doomed to spend the rest of her life.
Mrs. Volturi had decided that she would sell out in Annapolis and move back to Philadelphia to be closer to her family connections and so that she could visit Jane in the asylum. Bella would never forget the frail woman as she had paid her final visit before leaving town. Gone were the flamboyant clothes, the superior attitude, and the flighty mannerisms. She had reminded Bella of a ship that had lost the wind, its once proud sails hanging limply from the skeleton of its masts, adrift, rudderless and doomed.
The poor woman had suffered blow after blow, the final one had been to discover that her husband had gambled away the majority of their fortune during his nightly pursuits. Even the wine cellar that he had bought from Edward was, for all intents and purposes, gone. It seemed that Demetri and Chelsea had spent their last months in a constant state of inebriation. All had been shocked to discover the wine vault was nearly bare. Edward had bought the few bottles that had remained back from Sulpicia in an attempt to help ease her financial woes but it hadn't raised much.
However, after the poor woman had moved away, that left a fine Charles Street residence empty. Emmett's father, consummate businessman that he was, had decided it was a good investment and so he had bought it at a bargain price. Typically, potential buyers would shy away from a house where a triple murder had been committed and so, that was why the price had been set so low; however, Rosalie and Emmett were from sensible stock and had no qualms about living there. They had moved into it a few months after they had married. They seemed happy enough and it was quite nice having family just next door.
However, though her mother-in-law would never admit it, Bella thought she had caught Esme shuffling an Anglican priest into the old Volturi residence before the young couple had taken residence. Dear Esme had wanted to insure her children's lives weren't blighted by lingering evil spirits that may have been left behind.
Edward had successfully stood before the bar, though it had been a nerve-wracking experience as it was meant to be. Bella had been proud to make his lawyering robes and had ordered the finest wig to wear with it. She had to admit, her husband looked kingly in his judicial regalia.
Though he knew it was part of the required costume, Edward didn't like wearing wigs. He claimed they caused his blood to boil over, as they did for many. In fact, most men of fashion wore wigs and eased their accompanying over-heating by shaving themselves bald and affixing the wig onto their heads with beeswax. Bella was very glad that Edward had decided not to follow their example. She loved his hair and would have grieved had it been shorn.
Without him ever saying, she knew he bore with the discomfort of the wig because she preferred him with hair. Therefore, she made sure she was always ready at the end of a day in court, to take lavender scented water and wash his hair clean. He had told her it wasn't necessary but she loved to do it. Caring for him had become a remarkable joy for her.
Now that he was practicing alongside Mr. Chase, he found he was doing the lion's share of work. Samuel was becoming more and more entangled in the political fortunes of the colony and it took him away from Annapolis as often as not. But it was a good thing; for it more than made up the income Edward had lost from the McCarty's and Whitlock's rent.
There had been some sad news during that happy time as well. At the beginning of Lent, word came that Jasper's father had unexpectedly succumbed to an apoplexy and, thus, their very good friends had to leave Annapolis for Alexandria to allow Jasper to take over the reins of his family's enterprises.
That was an unhappy day for Bella indeed, for she had developed quite a fondness for the charming couple. She had sent them off with a box of tarts made from strawberries she had preserved during the previous summer. She had actually hidden them in her linen cupboard to keep Jasper's keen appetite and blandishments from finding and consuming the whole lot. Never was there a more grateful person than Mr. Whitlock when he saw what the box contained. He'd never quite gotten over Bella spoiling the tarts the day Jane's nefarious plot had been exposed.
She could still hear Alice's fervent promise to return to help when she was needed. Of course, Mother Esme was planning on moving into Charles Street in a month or so and soon she had no doubt the peace she and Edward were enjoying now would evaporate as quickly as the morning mist seemed to be fading outside.
Tired of sitting for the moment, she arose to stand at the window and watch the sun push its strengthening rays through the fog. She basked in an errant beam that had found its way through the clouds. The calendar claimed that spring was here but it couldn't be told by the weather. Perhaps this warming sun was its harbinger? Bella certainly hoped so. The winter mists had chilled her right to her bones.
Peering down the street, she could make out two figures hurrying toward her home. Her heart leaped gladly when she recognized one of them as her husband. It was early for him to return. But who was with him? She'd never seen the man before in her life.
She turned to ring the bell for Angela to ask for fresh refreshments to be prepared for the men. She peeked into the mirror above the mantel to check that her hair, which had finally grown out to a more womanly length, was in order. Pinching her cheeks she turned to await the gentlemen whom she could hear just entering the house.
"Isabella!" Edward called as he ushered his companion into her cozy sitting room. "How do you go, this morning?"
"As well as ever, my dear." She smiled warmly at her husband, then turned to the man who was with him.
"Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Jonathan Fines, late from Portsmouth."
"Portsmouth? That is my old home, sir!" Bella exclaimed as she curtsied.
Mr. Fines courteously sketched a bow. "Well do I know it, Mrs. Cullen. 'Tis a pleasure to meet ye at last."
Bella was surprised. "Oh? Have you come all this way a purpose to meet me?"
"That I have, madam. I have quite a tale to tell ye."
At that moment, Angela arrived and Bella gave her swift instructions to bring up a tray and some fresh tea. Then, turning to Mr. Fines and Edward she said, "Please do make yourself at ease, sir. I know that tale telling is an arduous task, so let me fortify you before you attempt the chore."
She carefully sank down into her own chair and smiled at the man, truly curious as to his visit.
"It seems my dear, your old vessel, The Patience, once again docked in Annapolis yesterday with Mr. Fines aboard as a passenger," Edward said.
"That is almost a year to the day of my own arrival! I trust your passage was smoothly as my own did?"
"Aye, madam, it did. Captain Laurent is as a canny sailor as any there are. We made a good voyage."
Though Bella was burning with curiosity, she remembered her manners and made polite conversation until after Angela brought up a fresh tray. As Bella poured both men their tea, Mr. Fines said, "Mrs. Cullen, I have come here as an emissary for both your Godmother, who is safe and well, and Lord John Wallop, the Earl of Portsmouth."
Bella almost dropped the teapot, she was so startled. Edward reached over to take it from her grasp as she stared in shock at Mr. Fines. "My Godmother? The…the… Earl of Portsmouth?"
She remembered seeing the fancy carriage now and again with the Earl's coat of arms emblazoned on the side as it had been driven through town but she had never had any dealings with the noble family. They had circulated in entirely different spheres than she. In fact, she was sure she had been as noticeable to them as a fly would have been to her father's old bull.
"Aye, madam. His Lordship is keenly interested in doing some business with you but first, your Godmother wishes you to read this letter." He reached into his coat pocket and fetched out a thick packet and handed it to the stunned lady.
"In the year since I've arrived in Annapolis, I had not heard a word of my dear Godmother. I've been so troubled about her."
"She is well, madam, but it seems the letters you wrote to both Mrs. Cope and Mrs. Cheney went astray. You had addressed them to the ladies in Portsmouth, it is true, but the post misdirected them to Portsmouth, Virginia rather than Portsmouth, England. Your letters sat on this side of the Atlantic, unopened and unread for many months until finally someone who had more wit than hair realized the error and sent them on to England. Both ladies received all of your correspondence at once just a few months ago. Since there was a matter of import of which you needed to be aware, it was decided to send me with Mrs. Cope's letter, thus insuring nothing would go amiss with it barring a foul sea. Thanks be to God, the seas were smooth and here I am and here it is."
"Amen, indeed, sir. But didn't my friends write to me over this past year?"
"Aye, that they did—again another confusion—but they wrote to Miss Isabella Swan. By the time the letters had arrived here there was no such lady in Annapolis but there was a Mrs. Isabella Cullen."
"Mr. Fines and I stopped by the post office and found your way-layed mail, my love." Edward pulled a stack of letters out of his pocket and sat them down on a nearby table.
Bella was amazed as she looked from Mr. Fines to the letter she held in her hand and the letters Edward had put upon the table. Tears arose in her eyes from relief and happiness. She didn't realize how anxious she had been about her dear mentor until Mr. Fines revealed her circumstances.
"I'm so overcome, I am sure I don't know what to say, sir, but thank you so very much, indeed," she said.
"I have to see to some business whilst I am in town, so I shall leave ye to your letters now. May I return tomorrow and we can discuss what ye find within?"
"I'm sure that will be well and good, sir. Please do come for dinner, if convenient for you."
"That would be delightful, ma'am." He rose to his feet and bowed, "Good day to you, madam, sir."
Angela was awaiting him in the hall and showed him out. After he left, Edward turned to his wife with an expectant look but was surprised to find her in tears.
"Why are you weeping?" He knelt beside her and took her hands.
"Edward, how I fretted over Mrs. Cope's fate this year past! My tears have come because it's such a relief to know she is safe. I wonder what happened to her?"
"The best way to discover that is to read her letter," he said and tenderly stroked her cheek.
"Would you read it to me? My heart is a-thumping with excitement, I am not sure I'd make good work of it."
"Certainly my dear, but come, let us read together." He pulled her to her feet then led her to the wing chair that was nearby. Sitting down, he held his arms open so that she could sit on his lap.
"Oh, Edward I'm much so unwieldy for such."
"Never, my love. Come, let me hold you." She carefully sat upon his lap and nestled against his chest.
"I had forgotten how blissful this felt," she said. His arms held her close and she rested her head on his chest listening to the beat of his steady heart.
"Then we should do this twice a day, so you will not forget again." He kissed her temple as he took the letter from her hands and lifted the seal that had held it shut. He looked at the cramped script and read:
Shrove Tuesday, 1771
My dearest Isabella,
I cannot begin to tell you, my dear, of all the times I have thought of you this year past. I prayed to God daily to protect you and it seemed that he deigned to answer my prayers most joyously. My heart rejoiced to learn of your kind and good situation in Maryland and I went directly to church to give thanks for His protection and blessings in your life.
Then, I returned to write this to you for, knowing you as though you were my own daughter, I am sure you were just as worried for me as I for you.
Firstly, I shall tell you of my own circumstances, for they have been much better than we ever expected when we last met.
It was a very good thing that you applied to Mrs. Cheney for advice before you left for Maryland. Not only did she see to your safety and comfort on your journey, but it spurred her to action on my behalf. Immediately when you left to board your ship, she visited me in my sad circumstances and cajoled me into giving her a list of all who were indebted to me. She paid a visit to everyone who had neglected their bill and in that way was able to raise enough funds for me to pay my way out of my trouble plus enough for me to live in a small but comfortable manner.
Mrs. Cheney claimed she always enjoyed my company and proposed that I should come to live with her and we could take our ease together. Starting another shop was out of the question for I can no longer see to sew a fine seam any longer. I accepted her offer with much satisfaction, as you can imagine, and there I have lived ever since. We get along very well together, the three of us: Mrs. Cheney, Nancy and myself.
But this isn't the end of my story, Isabella. When Mrs. Cheney paid a visit to Lady Caroline Wallop, the Earl of Portsmouth's sister, she was greeted with incredulity. The noble lady remarked that she was quite surprised I had gone through the fortune in jewels she had given me to settle one of her bills. Upon further discussion, it was discovered that that old necklace I gave you—you remember, the pearl necklace with the golden B?—was a family heirloom. It seemed one season, Lady Wallop had overspent her allowance and disliked going to her brother for more money to settle her business with me, which I will admit, was considerable. So, she gave me that necklace. I never thought much more about it until I needed the wherewithal and was greatly disappointed when the pawnsman told me it was worthless. Little did I know that man was of little Christian fiber for he attempted to trick me out of the worth of it by telling me it was worth a pittance. You know this story.
But, Isabella, that necklace is valuable indeed for, according to her ladyship, it was owned at one time by old Queen Anne Boleyn herself. In fact, there are paintings in London of the Queen wearing just that necklace. As you can imagine, it is worth a considerable fortune. It seems that one of the Wallop ancestors on their mother's side had been a lady in waiting to the old Queen and before King Henry had separated his lady's body from her head, she gave the bauble to the Wallop and it has been passed down through the family ever since. I hope you have it still for with this letter comes an emissary of the Earl. When it was discovered that Caroline Wallop had disposed of the jewel, the Earl was much displeased and was determined to recover it at any cost.
Of course the necklace is yours, my dear, and you should keep it or dispose of it as you wish but it may ease your fortunes somewhat if you can come to terms with the Earl.
I am so happy for you, Isabella, that you have such a good and blessed life. You deserve no less. I am sure your new husband feels much benefit in having you for his wife for there's none so good as thee.
In your letter you write that I should come and stay with you and I thank you for it my dear, but I am well settled in Portsmouth and I would dread the sea voyage. I am not as spry as I once was and I fear the journey would be too perilous for my old bones. We shall write each other and take joy in it. I look forward to your next letter with much delight.
I shall close for now, for I am fast running out of paper and crossing my letters makes my always questionable penmanship that much more difficult to decipher.
With great affection,
I remain your loving Godmother,
Edward folded the letter and looked down at his wife. "It seems Mr. Banner had surmised correctly and we now have proof the necklace is what he suspected. What will you do with it, Bella?"
Bella had no qualms at all. "Why, sell it of course. I'd be afraid to keep it, much-the-less, wear it again. But, my dear husband, don't you remember? The necklace no longer belongs to me. You bought it from me for the price of my indenture."
"I had forgotten! You sold it to me so that we would be free to marry; therefore, its worth is beyond rubies to me. I am not sure I wish to part with it."
Bella sat up in his arms and looked at him as though he had gone daft. Sentiment had its place but truly, the necklace was more of a burden than anything else. She didn't notice the teasing sparkle in his eye at first but when she did, she gave his arm a small pinch. "You rogue. You were japing me."
"Of course, I was." His wife was more precious than any amount of pearls, gold, or Earl's ransom to him. The love in his heart always spilled over into his eyes whenever he looked at her. He had known what he would do with the Boleyn necklace from the first moment he was told of its origin.
"I think the jewel belongs back in England, for it is their heritage, not ours. We are of the New World, Isabella, not of the old. The fact we can benefit from the sale of it, is all to the better."
He gently placed his hand over Bella's burgeoning belly and added, "It would be good to have a legacy to offer our child that doesn't depend solely upon my ability to argue points of law in front of biased or disinterested judges."
Bella placed her hand over his and said, "I am sure baby will have a secure future simply because you are his father. No child could be more fortunate and no wife as privileged."
Suddenly, they both felt a fluttering kick against their joined hands. Bella laughed and said, "I believe, my love, our baby agrees."
In some Commonwealth countries, legal types still wear robes and wigs, I believe. At least that's what they were wearing on Rumpole of the Bailey when I used to watch it.
In fact, no one really knows what happened to Anne Boleyn's necklace. Since Anne was executed as a traitor, it wouldn't have been very wise for people to flaunt her belongings, whoever got her stuff. You would have thought her daughter, Elizabeth, got her jewels and perhaps she did but there's no record of her having that particular necklace. There are pictures of Elizabeth wearing two seperate initial necklaces; one with an AH and another with an A. But the B necklace disappeared. The only records we have of the necklace are the several paintings of Anne wearing it. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had pulled it apart, melted down the metal and made it over into something less remarkable.
People frequently kept track of the times of the year according to the liturgical calendar which the Anglican Church follows as well as the Roman Catholic church. The Anglican Church also calls their ministers priests.
Crossing letters. Paper was very valuable and when people wrote letters, instead of adding another sheet, they'd just turn the one they were using ninety degrees and start writing, crossing the lines they've already written. I've seen letters written like that before. They were very hard to read.
The following Chapters where written several months after I had finished the above story. I was in search of my muse. Though short, they are still about our two favorite Colonials, Edward and Bella.
Chapter 30: A Modest Proposal
"Y'see, Mr. Cullen, I must ensure my children have someone to care for them. Sabrina, God rest her soul, was a doughty woman and certainly my help meet but now that she's gone, 'tis the children I must look to."
"And how many children do you have, sir?" Edward asked, his professional demeanor at the fore.
Mr. Clapp had been staring out of Edward's study window as he spoke, then turned to the young man at his inquiry.
"I have half the dozen, sir, a fine quiversful if I must say myself." The gentleman puffed his chest as he expounded. "My dear late wife presented me with the first not yet a year into our marriage and a child followed every year until this last."
"You have my sincere condolences, sir. What caused the lady's passing?"
"Unfortunately, God took my dear one to be with Him after the birthing of our last child. She developed child bed fever and was gone not a day after the wee babe was born." He sighed.
"'Tis a terrible, loss, I am sure, sir." Little did the gentlemen realize that he was speaking to Edward's greatest fear. His own Bella was to be delivered of a child in the near future and he was well aware that it was a perilous time for both mother and babe. If anything ever happened to his beautiful Nightingale, he'd think the grief would slay him indeed. It was a cold fear that constantly gripped his heart these days. But for the nonce, there was business to deal with. Pushing his fear aside, Edward swallowed and said, "How is it that I can assist you, sir?"
"As I said, I need to provide for my children. They require someone to care for them as their own mother is no longer here."
"Aye sir, so you have said but I don't understand how I can be of service to you." Edward was truly puzzled. He was a lawyer, not a servant broker.
"You have a maid in your employ that I think could suit my needs."
"That's the one. I've seen her in the market with your wife and she seems a competent enough lass."
"She is, sir, but she is certainly an important figure in our household. I'm not sure that we will be able to part with her service."
"I am not asking for her as a servant, sir. I am asking for her as a wife."
Edward gaped at the man. He was old enough to be Angela's father. "Your wife?"
"Aye. She's active and young and knows enough to be useful but not too much so as to be fretful. I can bend the twig as I see fit, don't ye see. I don't require a dowry and can give her a fine home to be mistress of. It would be a good offer for her."
"But why are you asking me?"
"She is a member of your household; therefore, you have authority over her."
"You expect me to order her life for her?"
"Of course. What man wouldn't do so? You are the man in your house, aren't you?"
Edward scowled at him. "Aye. I am the man in my house but that does not mean I am a tyrant to those living within it. I will present this proposition to Miss Crowley. If it is appealing to her, then I wish you both well. If it isn't, then sir, you shall have to look elsewhere for someone to tend your brood."
Mr. Clapp harrumphed at Edward's forthright statement but he simply nodded. There wasn't much else he could do. "I shall return tomorrow to see as to the girl's disposition, sir. I pray that you shall prevail on her to make the wise choice."
Edward escorted Mr. Clapp to his door and watched him shove his tricorne upon his head as he stumped up the street. As he gazed after the man, Angela appeared behind him at the top of the kitchen stairs and said, "Oh, sir, I was coming to see if you and the gentleman needed refreshment."
Edward turned and said, "No, his business was brief."
Taking a moment to study his maid, he realized that in the year she had been in service in his household, she had grown into a fine young woman. She had a lithe figure and clear skin. Her dark hair was pulled back under her mob cap, but he remembered it being a lustrous shade. He was surprised to suddenly notice she was no longer the girl he thought of when he considered her. Perhaps she would be willing to take Mr. Clapp up on his offer after all. For a girl with no dowry, it would be unlikely for her to find a better offer.
Sighing he said, "Angela, there is something I wish to discuss with you. Could you come into my study for the moment?"
AN: Angela is now fourteen and certainly old enough to marry in those days. Mr. Clapp is a lecher, in any case.
Chapter 31: Waiting Room
Isabella sat in her morning room and placed almost invisible stiches in the lace cap that she was making for her coming baby. A gentle smile touched her lips as she thought about the little face that, God willing, would soon be peeping out from under the frills. As though the baby understood its mother's thoughts, Bella felt a kick and she giggled as she put her hand over her burgeoning belly.
"I am sure you're carrying a fine boy, Isabella. He kicks so strongly and fills your womb to bursting seems like," remarked Esme, who was sitting across from her while working on some embroidery of her own. Carlisle and Esme, Edward's parents had come to Annapolis just the day before to be on hand when their first grandchild made his or her appearance.
Bella smiled and said, "Aye as maybe, Mother Esme, but I shall be happy with a daughter as well as a son, as long as the babe is hale and hearty."
"Surely, you would wish for a son for Edward?" Esme paused, her needle poised in the air as she frowned at her daughter-in-law.
"I suppose I would but, then, the man himself assures me he neither cares either way as long as we both the babe and I get through to the other side of it in good stead."
"That sounds like Edward. He's such a thoughtful and devoted husband."
"He'll never worry about himself, never put himself before his wife, so that is why his wife should look to seeing things in his favor."
After being wed to Edward for nigh on a year, Bella was well used to Esme's methods and forebore to comment except to say, "Indeed, though I cannot have an influence over the sex of any baby we may have, I do ensure the events I have influence over I always choose in Edward's favor. To see my dear man happy brings gladness to my heart like nothing else."
Just then, there was a knock at the door immediately followed by an agitated Angela begging entrance. "Madam, I ask leave to visit my mother for a bit. Something has arisen that I need to discuss with her."
"Oh Angela, you look that put out. What be the problem?"
"Madam, I cannot say at the moment. Could I speak to my mother, please?"
Not wishing to pry, Bella asked, "Have you set out the dough to rise?"
"Aye madam, and I shall be back in time to beat it down, I do promise."
"Then, of course. Please bid Mrs. Crowley a fond hello."
"That I will ma'am." With a curtsy, Angela departed.
"What ails that girl?" Esme asked.
"I'm not sure, mother. Her manner was most unusual."
Edward chose that moment to enter his wife's domain. "My dear, I shall be attending court this afternoon. I expect to be home before supper but please don't hesitate to call for me if the need arises."
"I am sure I shall be fine but first, before you go, do you know why Angela is so overset?
"Then will you tell it?"
"'Tis not mine to tell."
"I do hope 'tis not ill news."
"It could be good news for the lass, I am thinking, but bad news for us. Never-the-less, I mayn't say more until given leave and with that, I shall depart."
He bent to kiss his wife on her cheek, resting one hand on her belly and caressing the back of her neck with his other. When he pulled back he looked into her eyes and was lost in love for a moment until his mother said, "Edward, see that you come home at a good time. 'Tisn't just to make us wait to partake of our meal until your arrival."
Recalled to his surroundings, Edward blinked, smiled softly at his wife, then turned to his mother. "If my return is delayed, I shall send word. There's no need to wait for me and there are times I can't predict the vagaries of the law, mother. Good day, ladies."
Bowing, he left the room. Bella couldn't help but to sigh. Even if he was gone just down the road to the courthouse, she still missed him.
"I wonder what it is with your maid, Isabella? It must be fair strange that even Edward wouldn't shed light on it."
"I suppose we'll discover it in due time, mother." Holding up the cap to study it closely, she said, "I think I'm finished with this, what do you think I should make next?"
"Have you plenty of gowns? I found I could never have too many when my children were babes…" and so, successfully changing the subject to one of layettes, Bella was left to ponder the mystery of Angela's troubles in silence.
Chapter 32: Deliberations
"La, deary. 'Tis a great offer you have been given. We must consider wisely. Mr. Clapp has a very fine home that you'd be mistress of, and ye've always liked little children."
Angela had sought her mother out in Mr. Banner's kitchen in whose home she had been raised. Mrs. Crowley had found herself a widow not long after Angela's younger brother, Tyler, was born just around the same time that Mr. Banner found he was in need of a housekeeper and so a satisfactory arrangement was made between the two of them. Mr. Banner was content to leave the operations of his household completely to Mrs. Crowley and even developed an avuncular fondness for the two children she brought with her. Though he was happiest left alone, he cared for the well-being of his little household from the exalted distance of his study.
Mrs. Crowley, canny woman that she was, recognized the hermetic nature of her employer so she made sure to keep herself and the children from underfoot. It was a remarkably comfortable arrangement for everyone.
This day, Angela found her mother sitting at her kitchen table shelling peas for the supper meal. After a hurried explanation of the news that Mr. Josiah Clapp had asked her employer for her hand in marriage, Mrs. Crowley's first reaction was one of revulsion. She knew her Angela was a fine young woman but never considered her on the market for marriage. She was young but many girls were married off as soon as they bled, although she had no tolerance for such a practice herself. Angela had been a woman in body for nigh on a year but in her heart, Mrs. Crowley felt that her daughter was still more a girl.
But then, just as quickly, she realized this was an opportunity for the young woman, one that she never dreamed she would have. She knew, due to the circumstances of her daughter's upbringing that there was a slim chance that she could make a good marriage. Aye, she could marry one who was in equal to status as she but that would mean a life of poverty. Most well set men, or their families for that matter, would wish a dowry to accompany a bride and there was none of that for Angela. Mrs. Crowley knew that the best thing Angela could hope for would be to work in-service to a good family and she was happy to know that indeed had been where her daughter found herself now. The Cullens were about as good a family as a servant could have wished.
For all the benefits Mrs. Crowley was listing, her face wore a worried expression. "Indeed, my girl, 'tis unlikely you'd ever get a better offer or even an offer at all."
"But mama, I don't like the gentleman," Angela cried.
"What's to like or not like? He's a man like any other. No matter whom you'd marry, you'd have the same chores and duties. The only difference is in the surroundings you have to do them in, and Mr. Clapp offers a very bonny household. Besides at his age, you'll most likely outlive him and then, look at all you'd have!"
"But mother, he's got heirs. I'd like as not get anything as I cannot bring anything to him. Besides, mother, the way the man looks at me gives my stomach an ache."
"And when has he had the opportunity to look at ye, child?" Mrs. Crowley knew that it was unlikely Angela had had any dealings with the man.
"In Church, he turns in his pew and gives me such a look, as though he could rend the flesh from my bones."
"He looks at ye in anger?"
"No, not anger. As though I'm a piece of horseflesh he could ride or a joint of beef he would eat."
"I'm that surprised you even noticed him or the manner of his gaze."
"I most likely wouldn't have, mother, had he not ran into me in the market."
"Ran into you? How do you mean?"
"He near run me over! I was at the market with Mrs. Cullen, carrying her basket and this man rushed out of a shop and smashed right into me! And mother, the whole time he was helping me back onto my feet he'd grab me in places there was no need to and he ne'er said a word to me. He spoke to Mrs. Cullen but he didn't take his eyes off a me. I had a nightmare 'bout him that ev'en."
"Hmmm. What has Mr. Cullen said?"
"Mr. Cullen told me that I was to do as I wished but that it would be a sad day that I left them but he'd ne'er stand in the way of my happiness."
"Happiness? No one is promised happiness, child. But this man offers you a sureity, something you don't have now-could never have in your current situation. You'd get used to him well enough. Truly, men only care about three things, my daughter: a propserous place to put their time, a toothsome place to put their fork, and a warm place to put their cock. If you keep that in mind, then you shan't go wrong in your marriage. You will even prosper."
Angela didn't answer right away. She realized what opportunity she'd be throwing away but the thought of that man touching her made her soul curdle like milk left out too long.
"Mother, would you be very disappointed if I refused him?"
Mrs. Crowley sighed and said, "For what reason, lass?"
"My heart is not touched by Mr. Clapp."
Her mother snorted indelicately. "And so? What's your heart got to do with a thing?"
"I thought that be the reason man and maid married."
"Only in fairy tales, lass, not in life."
"But Mr. and Mrs. Cullen? She was a maid much as I and married Mr. Cullen without a dowry. They seem very happy."
Mrs. Crowley suddenly felt very old and she shook her head slowly. "In some lives such happiness exists but 'tis rare. You won't find the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Cullen often, and for them, it was only because Mr. Cullen's family gave no objection to the match but I don't know of another family that exists that would agree with them."
"Didn't you love father?"
"Herman Crowley? Hah! We met the day before we wed. Our parents made that match. But I grew to love him and he to love me. 'Tis all in the way you go about it. Now, you'd be foolish turning down such an offer from Mr. Clapp."
"But mother..." There were tears in Angela's eyes.
"None of that girl. Women in our station can't be holding out for princes for there's many more of us than there ever were of them. We have to use our common sense. You must accept Mr. Clapp. 'Tis for the best, my dear. You'll see. Now go. Get ye back to your labor for I'm sure there's none doing it for you."
Chapter 33: Doctoring
"Mrs. Cullen, as far as I can tell, 'tis my opinion that your babe will arrive anon. I will be but a step away when I am needed. Just send word and I shall be here within the hour."
Bella looked askance at the man. The closer she was to him the more he repulsed her.
Though, he was known in Annapolis for being a relief to women in "delicate situations," there was nothing about him that comforted her. Ever the tidy person, Bella couldn't help but observe that underneath his fancy coat and lace cuffs, he was filthy. He wore the heavy eau de toilet that was popular in fashionable circles but Bella knew was designed to cover the stench of unwashed flesh. The fact he kept on adjusting his powdered wig was a sign that there were vermin living under it. She shuddered.
He had requested to examine her before the birthing but once he got in her house, Bella knew there was no way on earth that she was going to allow this man anywhere near her and her baby.
"Why thank you, Dr. Jenks. I shall keep that under advisement." She stood to usher the man out of her sitting room.
"One cannot be too careful when it comes to birthing. There's been a rash of child bed fever in Annapolis these past six months. It seems that most every prospective mother has fallen sick with it. If only I had been called sooner, I may have been able to rectify those situations." He looked greatly pained at his patient's negligence.
Bella's eyes went wide. "That's tragedy indeed! I thank you for your time in calling upon me. I shall pray that this house is spared such sadness."
She had rung the bell a few minutes before and was relieved when the chamber door opened. "Ah, here's Angela, she'll show you out. Good day, sir."
As soon as the door was shut on the man, Bella turned to her mother–in-law who had been present during the doctor's visit and said in no uncertain terms, "That man will not touch a hair on my baby's head."
"But Isabella, you heard him. There's an epidemic of fever! You needs must have the best care for your lying-in."
"And I am sure Dr. Jenks will not provide it. I will be well content with Mrs. Crowley next door. She and her friend, Dorcas Kent, have delivered plenty of babies and, besides, Mrs. Crowley is tidy about her person."
"Pish, girl. He's an educated doctor."
"He's filthy of hands and I am sure of spirit as well. No, thank you."
"Of earth are we born and to earth we shall return. There's no harm in a little soil."
"They also do say Cleanliness is next to Godliness, madam, and so I choose the Godly way. No, that man will not attend me. Now, if you will excuse me, I must see to supper." And with that, Bella left her mother-in-law to stew.
Bella went down to the kitchen to find Angela on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor.
"Well-a-day, Angela, I thought you cleaned the floor this morn?"
"I did, ma'am, but I decided it needed doing again."
Bella was surprised at the girl's activity but shrugged. She knew how it was when something needed doing. There was no use putting off as the task would just prey upon one's mind until it was done.
Bella bent over to check the roast that was browning well and after pulling it back a bit from the fire she stood and happened to catch Angela mopping at her eyes with the back of her sleeve.
"Angela? What's troubling you, lass?" It was very unusual for Angela to be tearful so Bella was worried there was something terribly wrong in the girl's world.
The girl rose to her knees and looked woefully at Bella and cried, "Me mother says I must marry old Mr. Clapp!"
Bella sank down onto a chair, truly shocked. "How did this come about?"
"Mr. Clapp came here this morning and asked Mr. Cullen for me to marry."
Bella's shock fast grew to disbelief. "And what did Mr. Cullen say? Surely he didn't agree to such a scheme!"
"Mr. Cullen bid me I must do what I thought best but that if I chose to leave your home, I'd be missed. He suggested that I confer with my mother about it." Angela paused to sniff again.
"So that is why you asked to go to your mother this afternoon?"
"Yes, ma'am." Angela's lip trembled and tears filled her eyes.
Bella reached to take the girl's hand, lifted her to her feet and eased her over to the other chair. "And what did she say?"
"Sh-sh-she s-s-said that I must marry him!" And with that Angela burst into tears.
"Oh dear, dear. Shhhh…" Bella rose to comfort her maid. "Why did she say it would be a good match?"
"She said it was likely it would be my only offer and that Mr. Clapp has a fine house and I'd be in good stead as mistress there. But, madam, Mr. Clapp is near thirty years old and has six children and his wife is but two months in the grave and he looks at me as though I was his next meal!"
"You don't wish to marry him?"
"No, madam, I do not."
"Then, my dear, you must know that you'll always have a place here. You have a choice. I would be most grieved to see you leave us, just as Mr. Cullen would."
"But my mother…" Angela's brows knit together.
"Don't worry about your mother. She just wants what 'tis best for you. I shall speak to her, shall I?"
"Of course." Bella knew something that perhaps Mrs. Crowley didn't. Angela's hopes weren't quite as bleak as her mother supposed.
"Oh, madam, thank you!" Angela threw herself into Bella's arms and cried in relief.
Later that evening as Edward and Bella were climbing into bed, Bella took a moment to acquaint her husband with what had passed that afternoon.
"…and I told your mother the man would not be allowed to attend me. I hope you agree, Edward. He was filthy. I'd not have him touch me."
"But, my dear, he comes highly recommended."
"Well, Mrs. Sapp, said he was able to cut her labors in half with his elixirs."
"Have you spoke much to Mrs. Sapp?"
"To be truthful, only to tip my hat of a Sunday."
"Aye, then you'd not see her t'other days of the week. It would be my guess she likes Dr. Jenks' elixirs so much is because they're mostly composed of spirits. Mrs. Sapp is also mostly composed of spirits, so much so that I've rarely hear an unslurred word from her mouth."
"She's an inebriate?" Edward was surprised.
"Aye. My dear, truly I shall be well with Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Kent. I know it in my heart as well as my head."
Edward held his arms out so that Bella could lie close to him. He pulled her closer still. "As you wish, m'dear. I will write the gentleman tomorrow morning and tell him his services will not be needed."
"Thank you." Bella settled her head down on Edward's shoulder. Then she said, "Oh, and there is one more letter you must compose."
"To one Mr. Clapp."
"The man who wants Angela to marry?"
"The very one. Tell him that his proposal, though kindly offered, unfortunately will not suit."
"That was what she and her mother decided?"
"To be honest, Mrs. Crowley told her to take him because she believed there would be no other offer for Angela due to a lack of dowry and the like. But I had no dowry and look at my happy circumstance."
"It was providence, my dear." Edward softly caressed his wife's back.
"And I do believe that providence will provide for our Angela, as well." Bella smiled, not willing to disclose what she'd been observing for the last many months.
Perhaps she could move things along in the proper direction with a hint or two. Sighing, she nestled into her husband's chest and prepared to drift off to sleep, content with what she had decided to do.
Sometimes providence needed assistance, she found.
Chapter 34: AVisitng
"'Tis a real pleasure for you to come a-visiting, Mrs. Cullen, but one in your condition…?" Mrs. Annabelle Crowley helped Bella into a chair, a worried frown on her normally jovial face.
"Oh la, Mrs. Crowley. I'm that tired of sitting in my morning room knitting yet another bootie or bonnet. I've done not much else these last two months and I'm feeling so pent up. Besides, your kitchen is but a step away from my own and surely the fresh air will do me very well indeed."
"Ah, but my dear when ye be feeling as though ye must turn the world upside down, that's one of the first signs your time be near!"
"And I shall have you to succor me, Mrs. Crowley. I am not a-feared besides I've missed our gossips."
"A fine lady such as ye shouldn't be gossiping with the likes of me."
"Pish. Mrs. Crowley, you were my first friend when I arrived upon these shores and I shall not reject you for any reason. Now come, no more of this and tell me how you are faring."
Pouring tea for them both, Mrs. Crowley sighed and sat across the plain deal table from her visitor. "All is as it all ways is here at Mr. Banner's but it do seem my children have found their places in the world, can you imagine? It's been a sincere worry to me for years but now that they are settled I shall fret no longer."
"You have been fretting over your children, mistress? But they are two bonny sprites. You've done well by them, I am thinking."
"But I have been worried for them, my dear. My old employer doesn't get younger and when St. Peter finally calls his name, then where will we be? There aren't many households that will take on me and my children as Mr. Banner has. It's been a great relief that their positions are soon to be secured."
Though Bella knew about Angela's plight, she didn't know of any plans for little Tyler. "What settlement has been decided for your children, then?"
"As I am sure you know, Mr. Clapp has offered for my daughter's hand. She will be well set up after she marries."
Bella's eyebrows rose. She had something to say about that situation. "And your son?"
"Ah, Tyler has been offered a place as a cabin boy on Mr. Caius' vessel. It leaves for Africky in two weeks time."
"Oh madam, that be a slaver ship!" In her distress, Bella reverted to her Portsmouth way of talking.
A shadow crossed Mrs. Crowley's face. "I do know that but it's a start for him. 'Tis hard to get a good place unless there's a stake hold for a boy. As you know, I have nothing of the like and Mr. Caius does not require such."
"But, madam, what respectable shipmaster would have a mate off of a slaver? None that I know of. Poor Tyler will be doomed to trade in men and their suffering for the rest of his life and all know that the poor creatures shipped aboard in such a manner soon spread sickness among all on the vessel, slaves and sailors alike!"
Mrs. Crowley began to tear up at Bella's words. "Well do I know it but what else am I to do?"
"Mrs. Crowley, these are such dire futures for your children. 'Tis not at all a necessisty, my dear friend, not at all." Bella reached across the table and put her hand upon the older woman's.
"How can you say otherwise? Mr. Banner isn't long for this world, I am sure. He's been coughing more than breathing lately and has started to refuse his food. The doctor just shakes his head saying the only thing that ails him is his age. I must get my children seen to before we find ourselves on the streets again. That happened once before and I will never have them go through that again."
"Annabelle, Angela will always have a place with us. We shall always do well by her, you must know this."
"I do know that, and thank ye, but Mr. Clapp offers her a household of her own. That can't compare to working as a housemaid. I mean no disparagement of your offer, my friend, 'tis just no comparison between the two."
"I think Mr. Clapp's offer, though titled as being his 'wife,' will more than likely translate to something less pleasurable for your daughter—Mr. Clapp sees her more as his unpaid servant, nurse for his children, and a fresh bit of company for his bed. She's too young for that, you must agree."
Mrs. Crowley wrung her hands and said, "She is but in her fifteenth year, I well know, but I was married at that age and she was born a year after."
"But you did like Mr. Crowley, didn't you? I think Mr. Clapp frightens Angela."
"I thought well enough of my husband, that's true, even before we wed."
"I believe Angela's life will be very hard if she marries Mr. Clapp. Annabelle, she can stop with us. Tyler can too, if it comes to that, but last I saw Mr. Banner he was a spry as a goat."
"Lately, he's been sounding more like a goat than moving like one. Listen, there he goes again."
Bella could hear Mr. Banner's hacking cough coming from above stairs. He did sound poorly, she had to admit. "Has the doctor offered any medicine to ease his trouble?"
"That Doctor Jenks prescribes nothing but that it is mostly spirits. My master is refusing to take any more of the mess and now the doctor has washed his hands of him."
"It's just as well. I've never met a more disgusting physician. I shall tell you what, Mrs. Crowley, I shall concoct my mother's cure-all for your master. I am sure it will ease his distress."
"You are most kind, my dear."
"And, Annabelle, please put aside the plans you have for your children. I pledge you that Mr. Cullen and I will see them in good stead. They both will have a settled future; besides I am not sure that Mr. Clapp's offer will be the only one Angela can ever expect."
"What do you mean by that?" The woman's eyes were round with surprise.
"I mean the next time young Jacob Black arrives to trade your scraps, note how he deals with your daughter. I do believe Cupid's bow is drawn and soon he will let his arrow fly."
"Truly! Why, I never thought the like. Jacob Black? He's a fine young man. Do ye think his family will approve?"
"I've no idea but as I remember, Jacob's sister married one of their hands last year, didn't she? They can't be too concerned with rank, if that were the case."
"That's true! That's very true!" Mrs. Crowley seemed over joyed. "What good news you bring, Mrs. Cullen. I thank you so very much."
"'Tis only good should happen to such fine people as you all are. I will never forget the help you gave me when I first arrived and I treasure our friendship. But now, I must be home. I am sure I am missed by now."
Smiling, Bella arose from her seat only to suddenly feel a flood gush down her legs.
In shock, Bella exclaimed as she looked down at the growing puddle on the floor, "Oh deary me! I've pissed myself!"
AN: For all of you who commented that you wished Ben Cheney would rush to Angela's rescue, you may remember that Captain Benjamin Cheney's widow assisted Bella at the beginning of this tale, so there's no Ben for Angie.
Love you all and thank you for your lovely comments and reviews.
Chapter 35: Awaiting
"Mother, have you seen Isabella?" Edward had been looking for his wife within the house but to no avail.
"Isn't she resting in her chamber?" Esme gazed up at her son while she worked upon her embroidery as she sat in the front sitting room of his Charles Street house.
"No, she's not there." Edward's brow was creased with concern.
"Then perhaps she's below stairs in the kitchen? I've told her to leave those chores to the maid but she has yet to do it."
"I've never known you to turn your kitchen over to another, mother. Mayhap her diligence is the sign of a good wife?"
Esme huffed and said, "She shall end up having that babe in the scullery if she's not more prudent."
Edward didn't answer as he was already scrambling down the kitchen stairs to find his wife but the only person there was the maid.
"Angela, have you seen Mrs. Cullen?"
"Why, yes I have, sir. She's gone next door to visit my mother for a spell. She said she'd be back in just a bit. Shall I fetch her?"
"No, Angela. I shall find her, thank you." But just as Edward went out the back door into the yard, he saw his wife gingerly making her way from Mr. Banner's house while being supported by Mrs. Crowley.
"Isabella, is all well?" Edward rushed to her side.
"Oh my dear, the day we have awaited is here. Mrs. Crowley says my waters have ruptured and the babe will arrive shortly."
"Isabella!" Edward cried as he scooped her up into his arms. "I shall carry you to our room."
Bella laughed and said, "Sir, you are forever sweeping me off my feet but I am well able to walk."
"You must save your strength for what comes." Edward carried her into the kitchen with Mrs. Crowley close upon his heels.
"Do take her upstairs, Mr. Cullen. Angela and I will get things started down here. Angela lass, put the water on and then set aside the cloths that have been made ready. Afterwards, go you to Mr. Banner's and carry him his dinner. Please explain what I am about and have Tyler run for Mistress Webber. He should tell her Mrs. Cullen's time has come."
"Yes, mother!" the girl exclaimed.
Edward looked into his wife's face as he carried her through the kitchen and asked, "Are you in pain, my dear."
"Not yet, but Mrs. Crowley assures me it will come."
But as Edward began to carry her up the stairs, Bella said, "Wait a moment, my love."
He paused as she called to the servant, "Angela, when you make my mother's restorative for me, make enough for Mr. Banner as well. It will do us both good."
"Yes, ma'am," Angela replied as she bobbed a curtsy.
Edward continued up the stairs. Esme had heard the commotion and came out of the sitting room to investigate the cause. "What's to do?" she asked.
"The time has come, Mother," Edward explained. "I am taking Isabella to our chamber."
"I shall send for the doctor," Esme said.
Bella clung tightly to Edward's neck and protested, "No, Mother Esme. Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Webber will attend me. I do not want the attentions of Mr. Jenks."
"But, my dear, you need the best of care."
Bella said, "I will have the best of care, thank you. No Mr. Jenks."
Edward continued carrying Bella up the stairs until he could gently lay her on their bed. He leaned over and brushed some loose curls from her forehead. "I will insure that Mr. Jenks will not come, my dear. Have no fear of that."
"Thank you, Edward. I can't imagine anything worse than having that man touch me or our child."
Before he could respond, Bella's face suddenly contorted and Mrs. Crowley, who had entered the room behind them said, "Ah, I see your pains are upon you. Now, Mr. Cullen, you leave this to us women. We'll let you know when you are needed."
Edward hated to leave the side of his wife but he knew his presence would be a distraction as she labored. "I shall be in my study, then. Please don't hesitate to call upon me if there is any need."
"You shall be the first person we inform, sir. Now, off with you so I can see to your sweet wife."
Bending over to kiss Bella on her forehead, he said simply, "God be with you, my darling," and then left the room.
Bella smiled and watched him go but then a thought struck her. "Mrs. Crowley, we neglected to tell Angela of your new opinion concerning Mr. Clapp."
As Mrs. Crowley helped Bella to her feet in order to help her disrobe she said, "Oh my dear, there will be time enough to tell her after we are done with our work here. Now, put that out of your mind my girl, we have much to do."
Edward slowly walked down the stairs to find both of his parents standing in the foyer with expectant faces.
"All we can do now is wait," he said.
"Edward, don't you think we should send for the doctor just the same?" It was clear that Esme was worried about her daughter-in-law and grandchild left to the devices of the two midwives.
"No mother, I agree with my wife. Mr. Jenks is not welcome here."
"But Edward, what do you know about the vagaries of child birth?"
"Not much, I realize, but between Mrs. Webber and Mrs. Crowley I believe my wife and child will be in good hands."
"Tch." Esme was not amused but there was little she could do when the master of the house and father of the babe in question said no. "Well then, I shall see if the maid needs assistance below."
After she bustled down the stairs, her sharp footsteps underscoring her ire, Edward turned to his father and said, "Shall we repair to my study? I believe some libation is in order."
"Of course, my son. 'Tis the only thing a gentleman can do at times like these."
Several hours later, a puffed up pigeon of a man strode up the steps of the Cullen household and rapped upon the door with the knob of his cane. After a few minutes, Angela opened the door and immediately her eyes widened and all the color drained from her face when she recognized the identity of the gentleman.
"Ah my dear, you are just the person I wished to see," Mr. Clapp pushed his way inside. Angela stood beside the doorway with her head down and hands clasped in front as though in supplication.
"Is there a place we can repair so that we can discuss something of great import?" Mr. Clapp eyed the little piece of feminine sweetness in front of him, her very youth calling to him the basest manner.
Angela looked about her and realized that though Mr. Cullen and his father were in the study, Mrs. Esme had deserted the sitting room to attend the activities upstairs.
"I believe, sir, we can go in here," she said in a shaky voice.
She led the way into the room very much like a criminal going to the gallows and certainly with close to the same fear. Though she had purposefully left the door ajar, she was distressed when Mr. Clapp shut it behind them. She gulped trying to swallow the bile that had unexpectedly arisen in her throat.
Mr. Clapp rubbed his hands together as he stalked over to where the poor girl stood. He was very pleased with what he presumed would be his future without even asking first, for truly, how could the girl refuse such a prize as he?
"Now, let us get down to business…"
Chapter 36: A Fine Mess
A Fine Mess
Rosalie was surprised when her knock on the Cullen's door wasn't answered. 'Twas most unusual. She found it was unlocked, though, as it normally was during the daylight hours. She had been to market and bought a surfeit of fresh peas, more than she knew to do with, so she decided to share with her brother's household.
It was quiet inside and Rosalie's puzzlement grew when she saw both Edward's study and Bella's sitting room doors closed. That was also unusual during the warmer months when the fire's heat wasn't needed to be trapped within. Most likely the women of the household were in the sitting room and so, she set her basket of goods on the sideboard in the foyer and went to the sitting room door and opened it.
The scene she was presented with was shocking indeed and Rosalie found herself speechless at first before her better senses returned and she exclaimed, "What is the meaning of this?"
There before her was that horrid man, Mr. Clapp, upon his knee before the maid. In quick appraisal, she noted the handkerchief that had been spread upon the floor before the man knelt down. His arms were flung wide as though he was expounding upon some weighty manner. The maid just stood there as though she was made of stone, her eyes downcast and every bit of color drained from her face.
Mr. Clapp scrambled red-faced to his feet, and spluttered, "A man intent upon matrimony needs privacy during the act, of course!"
"Matrimony?" exclaimed Rosalie. "To little Angela?"
The man shifted his eyes from side to side and answered, "She is of age. Your brother had no trouble with the concept."
"Pish posh. Angela Crowley is young enough to be your daughter. I am sure my brother did not give his approval on this matter. How could he?"
Angela's soft voice could barely be heard when she said, "Your brother told me that I should do as I might in accepting Mr. Clapp, ma'am."
"And is this what you want?" Rosalie asked, her voice echoing her disbelief.
"M-my mother says I should accept him."
Rosalie huffed, "Your mother isn't the one who would have to marry him. What do you wish, child?"
Angela swallowed nervously and her hands were visibly shaking, "I-I-I am quite honored that Mr. Clapp would consider me in such a manner."
"See there," Mr. Clapp interjected, "She's honored to be my wife." He bent over and snatched his handkerchief from the floor.
Rosalie was flummoxed. She could see the young girl was not at all happy with this "honor" but she understood there were other aspects to consider. Just then, a a loud groan echoed throughout the house.
"Oh my word, what's that?" Rosalie asked, her eyes round as saucers.
Angela ran for the door, "'Tis madam. The babe is coming."
Rosalie hurriedly followed Angela out leaving a befuddled Mr. Clapp behind them. The study door flew open at the same time and Edward and his father stumbled out into the foyer.
"Is there something amiss?" Edward asked. He had shed his coat, his vest was unbuttoned, and his stock was loosened at his throat.
"Ah, Rosalie, you have arrived! Your sister is soon to be delivered and we but await the event," Carlisle said. He didn't appear to be as agitated as his son.
"'Tis happy news, then," Rosalie said.
"I'll be happier when 'tis over." Edward's hands worried his disordered locks as he gazed up the stairs to the second story.
"Sister, can you go up to inquire as to my wife? How goes it with her?" Edward implored.
"Aye, I shall." Rosalie nodded then turned to Angela and ignored Mr. Clapp who had followed them out into the hallway. "Could you see to these peas I've brought, my dear?"
"Yes ma'am. I shall right away." Angela took the peas and went downstairs. She was happy to escape her importuning suitor. She knew he couldn't follow her down into the servant's domain and she was fine to leave him to the devices of those above. She was relieved she hadn't had to give him her answer and happy to delay it as long as she could.
The very thought of pledging herself to that man made her stomach roil. If only there was a way to refuse him but she couldn't so dishonor her dear mother's wishes. On the surface of it she could see her mother's wisdom in making the match but oh, how she hated to do it. She knew what would be expected of her if she married him. Her mother had explained the nature of marital congress soon after she began to show blood. The thought of that man with his ample lips and thick fingers touching her body, his own flesh tearing into hers during the act caused her knees to weaken. Suddenly she found herself slumped over the kitchen table with her head in her hands as she broke down in frightened tears.
She didn't know how long she cried but eventually she was able to pull herself together enough to be about her business. She started her kitchen chores, knowing that supper would be put off tonight and most likely would only consist of a cold collation besides. She could assemble that meal quickly from the foods that were already made.
She decided to bring Mr. Banner his supper as her mother was unable to do it. Mrs. Swan's cure-all restorative had been prepared and Angela would soak some good brown bread in it to tempt his appetite a bit. Plus, though she knew it was a cowardly thing to do, going next door would put her completely out of Mr. Clapp's reach for the moment.
Mr. Banner rarely paid much attention to his household, content to let the competent Mrs. Crowley run it. On the occasion that he had any interaction with his servant's children, he was mildly avuncular and totally absent minded. Angela felt he was content to ignore their existence as long as his life ran smoothly. Her mother made sure it did.
"How's Mr. Banner doing, Tyler?" Angela asked as she climbed the stairs to the old man's first floor.
Tyler kept out from under Mr. Banner's feet but made sure to be near at hand in case he was needed. At the moment he was sitting in a hall chair reading one of the gentleman's many books.
"He's in his library working he says but he continues to cough. He's taken nothing but watered wine today."
Tyler was a handsome boy, soon to have ten summers to his credit. Angela didn't know what she would do when he finally went to sea. She recognized that one didn't pick their relatives but if she had been given the power, she would have picked Tyler. He was her playmate, friend, companion, and when necessary, champion. She knew that it would be infrequent indeed if she ever saw him after he left Annapolis for the sea and it fair broke her heart.
What a sad future they both had to look forward to.
Angela pulled her mind from such gloomy thoughts and said, "I shall take his supper to him. I hope I can tempt him to eat tonight."
Angela tapped on the door and when the old man bid her enter, she opened it and went in with Tyler close behind her.
"Mr. Banner, I have brought you some delicious soup sent by Mrs. Cullen. She claims her old mother used it to great success in easing the pains of her people in Virginia."
"Ah, did she? That's very kind of her, the dear lady. I understand a new leaf on the Cullen family tree is making its appearance this day."
"Aye, Mrs. Cullen was taken abed this morning. My mother is serving as midwife, sir, so I hope you don't mind me helping you this evening."
"No, to tell the truth young Miss Angela, I've missed your presence here."
He peered at her through his spectacles, his brow furrrowing in thought. Though an aging man, he saw a lot more than he ever revealed. The first thing he noticed the girl today was that her eyes were red and puffy and the downward turn of her mouth indicated unhappiness.
Mr. Banner was ever the analytical man. He knew that there could be two reasons for the girl's expression: she could be unhappy or she could be ill. It was time to discover which.
"How is your health, Miss?" he asked as he spooned the broth into his mouth.
"That's to the good, then, isn't it?"
"Aye, sir. I've been blessed."
He took another spoonful as he thoughtfully studied her. After he swallowed he said, "So then, dear Angela, why have you been crying?"
In surprise, Angela's gaze lifted from the carpet and looked into his kind, intelligent eyes. "Oh sir,'tisn't anything for you to worry."
"But I do worry, my dear. You are a child of my household and I would know if there is aught troubling you."
Angela just shook her head.
"Are the Cullens mistreating you?" There was steel in his voice.
"Oh no, sir! They are better than good to me."
"Then why the tears, my girl? Stop prevaricating and out with it."
"Oh sir, my mother says I must marry Mr. Clapp."
Mr. Banner was well and truly shocked. Angela was just a girl. Much too young to marry the likes of Josiah Clapp. That man was an imbecil, besides.
"Your mother says so?" He was incredulous.
"Aye. She says as I have no dowry this is the only chance I would ever have to marry and have a household of my own."
"You have no dowry?"
"No, sir. How could a girl such as I garner such as that?"
Mr. Banner shook his head. "This is a fine mess and I shall have to set it straight and I shall! Young Tyler! Bring me my hat and my coat. I must make a call next door."
Chapter 37: A Child Is Born
"Truly, Mother Esme, I doubt I can go on!" Bella's face was twisted in pain as she clung to Esme's hand. Her face was flushed and her body was contorted from the wave of pain that washed over her. Over the past hour, the pains had increased in frequency and duration and seemed overwhelming to the suffering woman.
"I do think we all felt that way in our time, my dear, but I do assure you the end is in sight. Just squeeze my hand as tightly as you please when the pains come. It will help you."
Esme's encouragement comforted a bit but Bella still shut her eyes and groaned. "I may break your hand in two."
Esme laughed. "Have no concern of that. Just bear with it and it will soon be over."
Mrs. Webber, the midwife, bustled about the room as she prepared the birthing stool and remarked, "The knife we placed under the tick has cut your pain, my dear Mrs. Cullen. Just think what it would have been like, else."
Bella grimaced, thinking the pain couldn't have been worse. Suddenly another overtook her. She clutched Esme's hand and groaned louder and louder as the contraction progressed. A good minute passed before it eased.
"That's good, madam," Mrs. Crowley said. "It won't be long until you can bring your baby into the world. The pain will ease some once you can work against it."
Bella started panting, finding that the rapid breaths helped ease her but before she knew it another pain rose up and she felt as though she would split asunder.
"Oh, holy saints above!" she cried and she felt she'd drown in the onslaught of her agony. To her surprise though, the cresting pain suddenly shifted and she felt a terrible need to move her bowels.
"Mrs. Crowley," she spluttered in surprsie, "I need the pot!"
"Oh, no you don't, dear heart. Your baby is now ready to make his appearance. Ladies, help me move Madam to the stool."
The women gathered round the bed, helped Bella to her feet and supported her as she waddled over to the short legged birthing chair waiting near the fireplace. As Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Webber settled Bella on the stool, Esme gathered up the ends of her daughter-in-law's night gown and knotted it above her waist to keep it out of the way.
There was a soft knock on the door. The midwives and Esme exchanged a glance and nodding, Esme answered the door. Rosalie was standing there trying to peer into the room over her mother's shoulder.
"Mother, how does Isabella fare?"
"She progresses well. It will soon be over but I am needed now. Tell Edward to be at ease. Soon, he will be a father." Esme smiled and gently shut the door in the curious Rosalie's face. Though Rose was wed, she was not yet a mother and Esme felt it was best she be shielded from Bella's ordeal lest she become afeared when her time eventually came.
Mrs. Crowley was speaking softly to Bella. "Grasp the handles there, madam and when you feel the pressure, push down as hard as you will as long as you may. It won't be long 'til you'll be holding your wee babe."
As chief midwife, Mrs. Webber had spread cloths under the stool and now knelt down at the front.
The birthing chair or stool was a sturdy wooden bench that sat low to the ground and enabled a woman to be supported in a squatting position with her feet flat on the floor. The seat was open in the bottom and front, so that a baby could be born unimpeded and the midwife could easily catch him. Wooden handles were built in along the sides that Bella could grasp for leverage as she pushed the baby out.
Settled on the stool, Bella felt as though the world had contracted to just this small seat, her pain, and the strength in her legs and arms and body. She was overcome with a fierce determination she had never felt before. It ran in her and around her and through her as the compulsion to groan and press and push her baby into life. She grabbed the handles, grit her teeth and pushed, pushed, and pushed.
"Aye, madam! That's good work. Keep going." Mrs. Webber watched as the crown of the baby's head appeared, just sparse dark curls showing at first. The contraction passed and Bella threw her head back and gasped.
Esme stood on one side and watched with a lump in her throat as her grandchild began to appear. She dabbed at Bella's perspiring forehead with a lavender scented handkerchief, the aroma intended to relax and strengthen as the woman labored.
The urge to push once again rose in Bella. Gasping once, she tucked her chin, grabbed the handles and again pushed with all her might.
"Ah, madam, the head appears. What a sweet face your babe has! So dear! Bear down again, my girl, bear down!" Mrs. Webber placed her hands under the baby's head and helped guide as the shoulders were delivered.
"Again, Mrs. Cullen, again!" Mrs. Crowley cried.
Inhaling deeply, Bella bore down one more time and suddenly the baby slid into the waiting hands of the midwife.
Esme cried, "'Tis a wee lad, my daughter, a dear boy! God be praised."
Birthing chairs were commonly used up until the time when men started taking over the delivery room and felt they could see better if the mother was flat on her back on a bed rather than squatting on the floor. However, it is harder to give birth while one is reclining. If you study delivery tables, you'll see they are set up with the elevated stirrups, etc., to imitate the squatting position but with a mother still flat on her back, so gravity can't assist her. Some may comment that Bella only had to push three times to bring her son into the world—and that's pretty close to the way it happens if you DON'T get an epidural, at least that's what I've observed. I think it only took four or five pushes for me to deliver my twelve pound son.
Chapter 38: Impatient Papa
Edward watched his sister climb the stairs to the chamber above—the room that held all he most cherished. He'd had a silent prayer running through his heart this whole day hoping God would protect and ease his Bella. He couldn't bear to think of anything else.
Remembering his duties, he turned to his guest and said, "Good day to you, Mr. Clapp, I do apologize for not greeting you upon your arrival. I did not realize you were calling."
"No apology is needed, sir. I was here to make my proposal to Miss Crowley, so I did not see the necessity to impose upon you at this time."
"Ah. I see. Won't you join my father and me in the study for a glass? I've uncorked some very fine Madeira."
A gleam sparked in Mr. Clapp's eye and he nodded. "I won't say no to that, sir, and thank ye." And he followed the Cullen men back into Edward's book room.
As Edward decanted the wine, Mr. Clapp asked, "I understand your wife is presenting you with your first born this day."
"God willing," Edward replied—his simple response a prayer as well.
Just then, Rosalie entered the room.
"How goes my wife, sister?" Edward rushed over to her side.
"Mother said all is well at hand and you will soon be a father but bids us all patience. Do you mind if I sit with you in here? I've no wish to sit by myself until the babe comes."
"Your company is welcomed but I'm not so sure mine will be all that sanguine. I find I am filled with apprehension."
"'Tis only natural for us all to be nervous and excited, brother." Rosalie smiled and patted him on his arm.
Edward sighed as Rosalie went to select something from her work basket and take a seat near the window to make use of the good light to stitch by.
Mr. Clapp said, "I well remember when my dear wife, God rest her soul, presented me with my first born. 'Twas such a momentous day and 'twas quite a momentous child as well. Certainly he was befitting as heir to my dynasty."
Carlisle leaned back in his chair and sipped his wine, studying this pompous man who seemed impervious to social niceties. He knew his son was in no mind to entertain their guest so the burden fell to him.
"How so, sir?" he asked, his voice not conveying the disgust he felt.
"He weighed nearly three-quarters of a stone at birth."
"That's quite a healthy weight for a babe," Carlisle said, his eyes wide. Newborn babies usually weighed closer to half a stone if that much.
"Aye. It took two days for him to come into the world. My wife was fair torn in twain by the time he made his appearance and we like to lose her then. As it was, it took months before she could rise from her bed agian." The idiot man sighed and mournfully shook his head.
Edward had been pacing the floor and glancing out of the doorway to the staircase beyond, trying to discern by the creaks of the floorboards above what was occurring in the birthing chamber. However, when he heard Mr. Clapp he stopped and turned to his father, his face ashen and eyes dark with worry.
Ever the gentleman, Carlisle refrained from saying what he thought of Mr. Clapp and his untimely comments and tried to put his son's fear at ease. "That was a most unusual occurrence I am sure, Mr. Clapp.
"I well remember your birth though, son. Your mother took to her bed in the morning and by tea time you were here. As a matter of fact, when I was invited into the chamber to see you for the first time, I was surprised to see your mother sitting up in bed, sipping her tea as though given birth was nothing more than yawning." Carlisle hoped Esme never heard what he had just said for there would sure to be retribution of a wifely kind from his description of her labor that day. He was sure her recounting would be somewhat different.
But Edward appeared relieved by his father's reassurance and so he resumed pacing and was determined to ignore the stupid man who had descended upon them at this most inconvenient time.
A few minutes later there was a scrabbling at the front door and, surprised, Edward went to answer it. There on the porch stood Mr. Banner, supported on each side by one of the Crowley children. More visitors? Were they having a fete today that he had not been invited to? Was the whole town going to descend upon them this day?
He stopped wool-gathering and his manners resurfaced. "Good evening Mr. Banner. 'Tis good to see you again."
"Pish posh, young man. I am sure ye are wishing me at the devil this day and I'd never presume to intrude on ye at this time except that there's a matter of the utmost urgency that must be resolved without fail."
"Without fail? Why then, Mr. Banner, please do enter. It seems we are gathering in my study."
Edward bowed graciously with his arm extended towards that room and Mr. Banner and his entourage shuffled within.
"Ah… and there she is, my bride!" Mr. Clapp exclaimed as Angela entered the room. Edward wasn't so lost in his wife's travails that he didn't note the look of fear that crossed Angela's face.
"Your bride?" Mr. Banner said. "I think you be putting that cart well before that horse, my good man." Mr. Banner leaned heavily on Angela's arm as she helped him into the armchair Carlisle had just vacated for the old gentleman.
"How say you so? I have spoken to her employer and the girl herself. All is in order. She will wed me as soon as may be."
"Ah, you spoke did you—but did you listen?" Mr. Banner lowered his head and peered at the hapless Clapp sitting across from him.
"I did, sir! Mr. Cullen gave me his blessing…"
Here Edward had to interrupt, "Actually Mr. Clapp, all I said was that Miss Crowley was free to wed as she chose and I would not sway her one way or the other."
Mr. Clapp shrugged. "And isn't that as good as permission?"
"I gave you permission to inquire, sir, not permission to wed. That is entirely up to the lass." Edward hadn't been aware that Mr. Clapp was quite so thick-headed.
"Well, I did ask the maid and she agreed to marry me."
Mr. Banner addressed the girl who was standing quietly beside his chair. "And did you agree to wed him, young woman?"
"No, sir. I only said my mother told me I should accept his offer."
"Your mother…" the gentleman shook his head. "Where is your mother?"
"She's still upstairs attending Mrs. Cullen."
Mr. Banner grasped Angela's hand in his gnarled one and asked earnestly, "My dear, did you answer the man yea or nay?"
"Mrs. McCarty interrupted us before I could answer one way or t'other, sir."
"So he's not received your final word?"
"And what will your word be?"
"Enough of this!" Mr. Clapp cried out. "It matters not what she says for those in majority over the girl have agreed."
Edward was completely out of patience with this ridiculous man. "Sir, in this house Angela is in charge of her own destiny. I bid you hold your tongue and let the girl answer for herself."
Turning to Angela he asked, "Will you have him or will you not?"
All attention focused on the girl and her throat closed and she found she couldn't speak a word. She just looked from person to person in the room with tears welling in her eyes.
Just then, the wail of a new baby echoed through the house.
"The babe is here!" Edward announced.
Madiera is actually a fortified wine along the lines of Sherry and Port.
Chapter 39: A Bonny Baby
Bella sat back, exhaustion descending upon her like a blanket. She could barely gasp out, "A son?"
"Aye, a bonny boy," Esme answered, tears in her eyes as she gazed at the baby.
Mrs. Webber cleared the baby's mouth and nose, which didn't please the babe and so he gave a lusty cry.
Laughing, the midwife placed him in Bella's arms. "Here's your lad, mother. I've got a bit more to do below and then we can put you both at ease.
Bella gazed down into the face of her little boy amazed that he was hers. "How'd ye do, little man?" Her arms gently embraced him as he blinked up at her. His eyes were wise in the way of newly born infants and she became instantly enamored. It was a miracle and one she wanted to share with Edward.
"Mother Esme, could you bring Edward to me, please?"
"Of course, I will. Let us get you and the babe settled and I'm sure he'll be storming the door soon enough." Esme put her arm around her daughter-in-law and kissed her on the forehead. "I am that proud of you, lass. He's such a fine boy."
It didn't take the ladies long to arrange all so that Bella and her baby were comfortably tucked into bed.
Mrs. Crowley gathered the armful of soiled linens in a basket and said, "I'll get these to the scullery and put to soak. Mrs. Esme, I'm sure you'd be the one to share the news, though. Are ye free to come?"
"Yes. I'll go down now."
But no sooner had the two ladies descended the stairs when Edward met them at the bottom. The rest of those currently in the house clustered at the doorway of the study.
"Well, mother? What news? Is she well?" Edward reached for his mother's hand.
Esme was beaming with joy and nodded. "Aye, my boy. You have a son. God be praised, he's hale and hearty."
Those listening gave a small cry of gladness but Edward pressed on. "Is Isabella safe? Is she well?"
Esme laughed. "Yes, Edward. She's right as rain. Go on up and see for yourself."
With that, Edward stepped aside to let the ladies complete their descent and then dashed up the stairs two at the time, any sense of decorum long forgotten.
Esme went to her husband's side, her happiness and excitement reflected in his eyes. "So all is well, my dear?" Carlisle asked.
"Yes. All is well. He's a bonny babe."
She looked around in surprise at the assembled guests. "I'd no idea we had company, though."
She curtsied to Mr. Clapp and Mr. Banner. Behind the scenes, Mrs. Crowley jerked her head at her daughter and made to pass by down to the kitchen.
"Just a moment, Mrs. Crowley. There seems to be a contretemps and we need your attention," Carlisle explained as he led his wife into the study. "It seems that Mr. Clapp has offered for little Angela and we await her answer."
"Angela?" Esme's normally cultured voice rose in pitch before she realized it. "She's a might young, isn't she?"
"She's of age," Mr. Clapp interjected.
Angela was still as stone and staring down at the carpet. Her mother, having sat down the basket of linens in the hall followed the rest into the room and stood, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Well ye see, Mr. Clapp, sir…"
Mr. Banner cleared his throat. "Please allow me to set everyone's mind at ease. Mrs. Crowley, I understand you believe I'm at death's door and you will soon be homeless on the event of my demise?"
Mrs. Crowley blushed and looked away. "It will be a sad day for us, Mr. Banner, when that happens and not just because of our precarious situation. You've been a good master and kind. We'll miss you very much."
"Well, well, well. 'Tis nice to know that I am appreciated for something other than my earthly treasure but why must you think I'll shed all human decency when that event occurs? I have no natural heirs, so what makes you think I won't provide for you and yours after my death?"
"But sir, I am but your servant."
"You are more than that, madam. You and yours are the closest thing to family that I have and I have left my estate accordingly. My will states that young Tyler will inherit my house and I've settled a stipend upon you and your daughter. I will see to your son's education and will provide a modest dowry for your daughter. There's no reason to farm your children out to less than pleasant circumstances. If Angela has no wish to marry that gentleman or any other, she won't have the need."
They were all astounded at the old gentleman's revelations. This was indeed an amazing turnabout.
"Sir!" Mrs. Crowley managed to say. "I am so confounded. I never expected such generous kindness. I thank ye most kindly." She ran to him and threw her arms about his frail shoulders as he sat in his chair.
"Harrumph, well, well…all's well then, woman." Mr. Banner muttered uncomfortably at Mrs. Crowley's expressions of joy.
Carlisle chuckled. "This certainly changes things, doesn't it little Miss Angela? Have you an answer for Mr. Clapp now?"
The girl heaved a relieved sigh, gathered her skirts and with head high, approached Mr. Clapp and curtsied.
"Sir," she said, "I am very mindful of the great honor you have done me by asking me to be your wife but I find I cannot accept you. I don't feel up to the great task of being your helpmeet and new mother to all your many children and I am sure you would soon tire of me in that position."
Mr. Clapp was astounded. All his plans were being turned wrong way out and now this morsel was slipping through his fingers. "I would ne'er tire of thee. You are all I shall ever want in a wife."
"Sir, I am flattered to hear that you believe you would never tire of me but let me affirm in front of all these people that I am sure I should soon tire of you. I will not marry you."
And with another swift curtsy, she swept out of the room leaving all to either admire or bemoan her spirit as their desires dictated.
Edward took the stairs two at a time and remembered himself just before bursting into the bedchamber. Taking a deep breath he paused and then rapped gently on the door. Mrs. Webber answered, her grin revealing several missing teeth.
"Ah, 'tis the proud papa, Mrs. Cullen. I must go below stairs to get your broth. Do come in Mr. Cullen and meet your fine son. I shall leave you alone, now."
Shutting the door behind him, Edward, whose eyes hadn't left those of his wife, quietly and carefully approached the bed. He had never seen such a stirring sight. It struck him to the core. She was breath taking in her beauty, her hair had been neatly brushed and laid in curls around her shoulders. He had thought he loved her entirely before but now, after seeing her arrive safely on the other side of child birth and all the fears that entailed, he realized his love was even more encompassing that he could have ever dreamed. He could scarcely breathe he was so overcome with emotion. He sat gingerly at his wife's side and only then looked down at the bundle she held.
"Little Master Cullen, I am honored to introduce you to your wonderful papa. Edward, here is your son."
She pulled the blanket away from the baby to reveal the little round face, pursed lips, tiny nose and fine strawberry blonde hair of their son.
"He's got your hair, I am thinking," Bella said.
Edward was struck speechless as he looked in wonder at the little mite. He slowly lifted his finger and gently caressed the little cheek.
"He's so soft," he whispered.
Bella smiled as she recognized the same look of wonder and adoration on Edward's face as was on her own for the lad.
"Would you like to hold him?"
"Oh…ah…not right now, I fear to harm him but let me do this…" Edward shifted closer to Bella so he could put his arm about them both and hold them close to his heart. He put his other hand on top of Bella's as it lay upon the swaddled baby and couldn't help but to tenderly kiss his wife's head. His elation knew no bounds.
"Bliss such as thee and this, man should ne'er ask for more," Edward quoted.
Bella nestled into Edward's arms and said, "Baby is very dear, isn't he?"
"Aye. In that he takes after his mother. Isabella, my dearest Bella…how my heart swells with love for you. Was it very bad?"
"'Twasn't easy but now I would declare it was worth every pain."
"Are you hurting?"
"Nothing to speak of. The greater of the pain seemed to pass with his birth. I feel a little soreness is all. 'Twas no worse than having a tooth pulled."
Edward frowned, "As bad as that?"
"Or, kicked by a milk cow." Bella had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, wondering if he'd remember the last time she spoke of such.
"That must have been painful." Edward swallowed, sure he didn't like to hear of her struggle and was beginning to wonder if they could somehow prevent the occasion from happening in the future.
"Almost the same as getting one's thumb caught in the door jam." She almost giggled but managed to hold back.
Edward was silent for a moment, then bent over to peer into his wife's impish face. "Isabella, you are a rogue! I well remember when you last told me such a tale!"
He leaned in to nip at her ear and blew raspberries on her neck. "If you weren't holding the babe, I'd show you how I deal with rascals such as thee!"
She laughed in delight. "You worry too much about me, my Edward. All was as it should have been during our baby's arrival and though there was pain, it is largely gone. What lingers Mrs. Kent says will pass quickly and by next week, I shall be as right as rain and can return to my housewifery."
"My love, you will have my mother, Rosalie and I am sure Alice making her appearance anon to deal with the duties of our household. I wish for you to be at ease and enjoy the pleasures of motherhood for a time before being saddled with those old burdens."
"You are very good to me, Mr. Cullen, but I fear I shall find it hard to stay abed for long."
"You've never cared for a wee one before. Wait and see how that taxes your strength before you make that decision. Besides, he needs your your tender attentions."
The baby shifted and stretched a little, then his eyes fluttered open and he stared up at his parent's faces with a very wise and wondering expression.
"Hello, our dear baby. What a handsome lad you are," Edward said.
The two doting parents gazed at their offspring and wondered if all parents felt this way over their children or were they unique in their adoration. If so, it was a wonder the world wasn't running amok with spoiled and over indulged children.
Meanwhile downstairs, Esme Cullen managed to dispatch Mr. Clapp after Angela's resounding refusal and she hoped that would be the last of that miserable man. Mr. Banner requested that Tyler help him back home and so all were gone from the place except for family. It was Esme's turn to pace as she waited a considerate time for Edward to reunite with Isabella and meet his son.
After thirty long minutes, she could wait no more. "I do believe we've given them time to acquaint themselves. Let us go upstairs and see him ourselves."
Esme, Carlisle and Rosalie trooped up the stairs and knocked softly at Edward and Bella's bedroom door and after hearing a soft welcome, filed inside.
Edward stood from the bed, bowed, and said, "My dear family, Isabella and I would like to introduce you to our son, Charles Carlisle Cullen. If he becomes half the man of his grandfathers surely he shall be considered great among the people of this new country, this America.