Hello! Thanks for coming and giving my latest story a try :). It's not like anything I've ever written before and that fact terrifies me. I've almost deleted the whole thing several times over the past week, but then I decided to just get on with it, so here it is, *bites nails*. I've researched to the best of my abilities, but sometimes the internet just won't play ball, so I apologise for any inaccuracies!
Huge thanks to Chocaholic123 and Claire Bamboozle for their help and support!
I don't intend this to be a huge fic, but it's not all written yet, so I'm not going to make any predictions about finish dates, etc.
My intended update schedule is weekly
I hope you enjoy :)
Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer!
England - November, 1891
I gasped as my foot slipped through the icy crust of the soft mud and plunged into the freezing water below. I inadvertently let go of my skirts, the layers of material slipping from my numb hands, as a series of shivers ran through my body. The carts that travelled down the lane made little difference in summer, but come winter the wheels made deep furrows in the muddy ground. These ruts filled with water, and then froze when the deep chill of winter spread across the land. My sure-footedness had failed me more than once on the lengthy journey, as my woefully inadequate footwear became sodden, sinking through what appeared to be thoroughly frozen ground into the bitter puddles beyond. Now, it appeared, my skirts were to suffer too, the dirty water already soaking up into the layers of cotton.
Lifting my head I saw the welcoming plumes of smoke that twisted from the chimney pots of the gamekeeper's cottage. Watching my footing carefully this time, I speeded up, eager to embrace the warmth of the fire and my family, the familiar smell drifting down from the rooftop, making me all the more eager to see them and find out exactly what had been going on in my absence.
As I approached the old, pitted wooden door, I considered knocking to announce my presence, but impatience, and the horrifying thought of rapping my painfully cold fingers against the solid wood, drove me determinedly forward.
"I got your message!" The words tumbled out as I burst through the front door of the cottage. "What on earth happened?" I unfastened my bonnet, setting it on a coat peg, and shrugged out of my thick, mustard shawl. Winter had set in determinedly, turning the ground to stone and unleashing a ferocious bite into the air.
"Isabella!" My mother looked up from the over-shirt she was repairing in front of the fire. "Whatever are you doing here?"
"Mrs Cope said I should come," I told her. "She said I was of no use to her, fretting so."
Mother frowned at me and shook her head, her mouth set in a thin line of disapproval.
"You always were a worrier," she said. "As for your father, the fool got himself caught by his own man-trap; it snagged one of his limbs in Gas Wood. It would have been a lot worse if he hadn't had on those leather gaiters he insists on wearing. The wounds aren't terribly deep. The doctor says he's to keep them clean, and rest."
A look of worry embedded itself in her soft features, because we both knew Charles Swan, gamekeeper, and if there was one thing he didn't do well, it was rest.
"Is he in bed?" I asked.
"For now. He's fussing about his pheasants. Says as soon as folks know he's bed-ridden, they'll be poaching his birds left, right and centre."
"He's probably right," I conceded. "It's a miracle he made it home. However did he get free?"
I busy myself, setting the copper kettle to boil above the steady and welcome heat of the flames.
"He was fortunate one of the young farm labourers happened by at dawn. Got him free, and all but carried him home. He'd have still been stuck fast now, if it wasn't for the youngest Cullen boy."
I stopped short, waiting for my heart to catch up.
"Cullen?" I asked. "Edward Cullen?"
My mind darted to the last few times I'd seen him - strong, capable arms carrying out the heavy work of the farm in the fields along the roadside and the open farmyard further along the way. Each time I'd looked quickly away as his eyes found me watching him, my lungs briefly starved of air as his attention stole away my ability to breathe properly. The way he looked at me made my stomach flip like a fish pulled from the river, dropped floundering at the feet of the heron whose sole intention is to devour it. Thinking of it now made me feel much the same way.
Mother looked at me for a long moment before seeds of mirth scattered across her face, and sprouted into a wide smile.
"Why, Isabella. I do believe your cheeks have grown red."
I took on a haughty air, my skirts swirling as I spun around, turning my back on her.
"Pfft. It's the heat of the fire thawing the chill from outdoors. Nothing more," I scolded her with a glance back over my shoulder.
"Whatever you say," she appeased me, turning her gaze back to her work, although the smile didn't leave her lips.
"Where's Alice?" I asked, as eager to see my twelve year old sister as I was to change the direction of the conversation. Of all the things I missed about living at home since I left to take up residence on Lord Newton's estate as a dairymaid, I missed her the most.
"She's not home from school yet. She's taken to walking with that youngest Whitlock boy. The blond one."
"Jasper?" I asked.
"Yes! That's it. He's teaching her all about songbirds."
I looked at her sceptically and she raised her brow in answer. Alice and I had been taught all there was to know about birds from our father by the time we were five years old. If there was anything left for Jasper to teach her that she didn't already know, I'd be most surprised.
"Are you hungry?" Mother asked. "There's a little bread."
"I'm fine," I reassured her. "I think I'll go up and look in on Father," I told her, moving towards the stairs.
"Don't wake him if he's sleeping!" she called after me.
The bedroom was in darkness, the curtains drawn to shut out the chill draughts that cut through the house at this time of year, as much as the light. A fire burned warm in the grate, and the metallic smell of the burning coal grazed my nostrils as I entered.
"Father?" I whispered, minding my mother's orders.
"I thought I heard your voice, Isabella," my father said, his voice hoarse. The pile of blankets on the bed stirring as he tried to push himself upright. I heard him grunt and rushed to his side.
"Here, let me help," I insisted, catching his thick arm and hoisting him as best I could.
"Thank you," he said. "You're a good girl."
"And you're an old fool. What were you thinking, setting man traps? You know they're not allowed. What would have happened to you if the policeman were to have found out?" I demanded.
"It doesn't matter now, I caught my man," he said with grimace.
"You caught yourself," I reminded him. "Do you have a fever?" I placed my hand, still chilled from being outdoors, against his forehead. It felt warm, but his skin was neither clammy nor burning. He pushed my arm away.
"I caught him when he came by that way and found me," he told me with little patience. "Why else would he be out in Gas Wood at dawn?"
"Maybe he was working," I suggested. "Carlisle Cullen always winters his sheep on those ten acres at the far side of the wood. Is it so hard to imagine he was checking his father's livestock?"
"Maybe not if it was this alone. I've watched the boy though, Isabella, and I know a man who's up to no good when I see one."
"Nonsense," I scolded him, refusing to meet his eye as I fussed around, tucking the blankets around him. "I've known him all my life. He's a decent enough fellow, and really, I doubt he has the quickness of mind to succeed at poaching."
I knew this was far from the truth, but from nowhere I had the overwhelming desire to defend him to my father.
"You're too trusting and quick to believe the best in people, child," my father told me.
"Or perhaps you're too quick to fear the worst," I challenged him.
"Have you seen those dogs he's taken to keeping?" he asked, deliberately ignoring my last remark. "Great, rough-coated lurchers. They're not for herding sheep, that's for certain. There's only one reason a man keeps dogs like that, and that's hunting."
"I'll bring you a cup of tea," I told him as I turned and left the room, taking my doubts about the decent nature of Edward Cullen's character with me.
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