10. Layman

London, England
May, 1667

“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.”

“Amen,” repeated the congregation, bowing their heads collectively. There came a shuffling sound as the parishioners moved from their pews and towards the door.

Young William stood at his side, and William glanced at him. The boy’s eyes were distant, staring blankly toward the front of the church, where parishioners were beginning to slowly file out down the aisle toward them. Out of the corner of his eye, William watched him as he greeted the departing church members. A good number of them had words for Young William as well—the church members liked to call on the son just as often as they did the father.

The Milner boy was one of the last to leave the church, and William could see his eyes searching out in the churchyard for another—Anne Nesbit, his intended. William had known Thomas his whole life; his parents were some years younger than William, and had come to Aldgate when Mrs. Milner had been carrying Thomas. It had been only a few short months after his own child had been born. William remembered baptizing baby Thomas and wondering if Thomas would become a companion to his own child, who was at nurse in the next parish. It had taken a handful of years before Thomas and Young William met, but when they had, they’d become fast friends.

He watched as the two young men greeted each other, his son saying something in a low voice to the other young man as he nodded knowingly toward the door. The women, who left the church before the men, stood in the yard awaiting their escorts home, and Anne waved a gloved hand in the direction of the two. A wide smile spread across Thomas’s face, a much subtler one across his son’s.

Then the Milner boy was gone, bounding out of the church to take the arm of his intended, and William watched as a strange, wistful look clouded his son’s face.

As Thomas took the arm of his woman in the churchyard, and the two of them walked away slowly, William felt a tiny jerk in his own stomach. He’d hoped his son would marry early as well. Not because the boy needed a wife—his son was at times disturbingly skilled at women’s work. He was a good cook and dedicated housekeeper, and cared for William as though William was more his ward than his father.

But no. It was, if William admitted it, more superstition than anything. Even though Sarah had been young, and even though it was nothing out of the ordinary for a woman to lose her life in childbirth, he had always felt that if somehow he had married earlier, if he and Sarah had met sooner, he would not be standing at the back of a church, saying goodbye to his parishioners without his wife at his side. His son would have grown up knowing a mother’s care, perhaps have been challenged in his own ways by the presence of siblings.

If he’d married younger, he thought, the two of them would not be so alone.

As the last parishioners trickled their way out of the church, Young William moved toward the front of the church to collect the sacrament vessels. He would retreat with them to the small sacristy, clean them, and return to the vicarage to cook their supper, as their housekeeper was excused from work Sundays. The remainder of the day was to be rest for them both, typically spent reading.

His son was beginning to make his way up the aisle toward the altar.

“William?”

The boy whirled, his blue eyes flashing. For the briefest of moments William considered whether he ought to call him by the name he preferred. It would save these murderous glares every time he wanted to get his son’s attention.

“Ah. Wouldst thou…I was thinking that perhaps we ought leave the vessels just yet.”

His son’s eyebrows raised. “Leave them?”

“Yes. This work should not be done on the Sabbath, truly. Let us go in to the house and rest.”

Instead of compliance, William was met with a skeptical look.

“Leave the vessels.”

William nodded. “I wish to speak with thee awhile.”

The younger Cullen continued to frown, still backing slowly toward the front of the church. “I—I think it best if I at least lock them further into the church,” he said simply. “I’ll take them into the sacristy and lock them there, to guard against thievery.”

It was a reasonable thought. He nodded, and his son disappeared.

The other Cullen appeared again near the altar, having stowed the vessels safely. Still with the same doubtful look, he followed his father back to the vicarage. He offered to put on their afternoon supper, to which William agreed. The pottage today contained a good amount of venison, which the younger one had purchased from the butcher the day before. For a long while, they ate in silence, William unsure how to broach the topic.

“I understand the Milner boy is contracted?” William said at last.

His son snorted into his stew, a strangled sound that William couldn’t distinguish as to whether it was laughter or indignation.

“I simply refer to this because I thought that it might be of interest to you. I watched the two of you speaking today.”

“Thomas is my friend. Of course we spoke. It has nothing to do with Anne.”

William didn’t say anything further, and for a long several minutes, the only sounds in the kitchen were their spoons scraping against their bowls, the occasional slurp of a bit of broth, his son’s breathy gulps of his beer.

“Doest thou think of marriage?” William asked timidly at last.

His son’s head snapped up. “I beg you?”

“Marriage. Doest thou think on it?”

The younger Cullen gave him a look. It wasn’t contempt, or anger, but…wariness? That was it. He looked suspicious.

“Of course I do,” he said, his voice careful.

“Ah. Well, I was merely thinking, William.”

“Carlisle.”

His face grew hot. “That is not what I named thee.”

“It is what thou Christened me.”

William looked across the table to find his son scowling at him. When their gazes met, his son averted his eyes. He swallowed. He hadn’t expected this conversation to go smoothly, but the reaction seemed extreme, and he didn’t know why. But he went on anyway.

“What of Miss Connor? She seems lovely.”

And interested in thee, he thought to himself. The Connor girl, who was of maybe sixteen or seventeen, William couldn’t remember, had made it a point today to detour to say goodbye to his son. She would make a good housewife, young and strong enough to bear several children. He noticed that she had been raised to give alms each week.

“She would be a good wife to thee,” he continued. “She knows the church. She would do well serving alongside you.”

A strange, pained look flashed across his son’s face. For a long moment, he did not meet William’s eyes, and when he spoke, his voice was tight.

“Wishest thou to be my matchmaker, Father? That ought be the job of my mother.” He scowled downward. “Except I have none.”

“That is not my doing,” William snapped. Except…hadn’t that been just what he’d been thinking as they stood in the nave? That somehow, if he had done things differently, Sarah would be here. What kind of son would he have, if today there were three at this table instead of two? Or perhaps even more, for surely he and Sarah would have conceived again. They had spoken of six, or maybe seven, depending on how many sons the Lord would grant them. Their plan had been to have a large family; not for William to sit here with their only son, utterly alone.

As he took the spoon to have another bite of the pottage, his hand trembled so violently that his fingers lost their grip, sending the spoon splashing into the bowl, handle and all. His son shot to his feet, and William hardly had time to register what had happened before a rag appeared to clean the mess.

This was the urgency, William thought as his son replaced his utensil, a confused expression clouding his face. The time to have his son succeed him, to study at seminary, marry, perhaps even produce a son of his own—it grew shorter and shorter by the day. William didn’t have time to wait for the younger Cullen to come around to his ways of thinking. He didn’t have time to hold off while his son behaved as he had, going to seminary, burying himself in his studies, and only once he served a parish, beginning to think about a wife. Despite whatever the barber-surgeon might tell him, William knew his future was certain. And that meant his son’s needed to be, as well.

“I only wish thy happiness, like that of thy friend,” he said.

“No, Father, thou wishest for me to be like thee,” his son snarled. “That would not make me happy.” The younger one’s stool screeched as it shoved backward against the stone floor. His bowl was empty, as was his cup.

William bristled. “Thou shalt refer to me as you.”

His son’s jaw flexed.

“I will marry,” he said finally. “But I will do so when I wish to. I need not your help, nor that of anyone else. You may wish me to be exactly like you, Father. But it is fully my intention not to make your mistakes.”

And then he was gone, the door opening and closing behind him. When William turned back to his stew, he found it had gone cold.

~||x||~

Carlisle’s fists were still clenching and unclenching of their own accord nearly an hour later as he walked toward Elizabeth’s. He’d told William he planned to take a walk and would be gone awhile; William had seemed only too glad to be rid of him.

He’d lashed out, which was unusual for him, and more than a little unreasonable, he knew. His father knew nothing of Elizabeth Bradshawe, and that was all Carlisle’s doing. She was still his secret. Some part of him felt that to tell his father that he was courting would be to destroy all the beauty of the act. He was like some fiendish animal, hording the goodness away from someone he wasn’t even sure would take it away.

He was still surprised at his father’s choice of topic—they had never once talked about the likelihood of Carlisle choosing a wife. Never before had William in any way indicated that he was even interested in the matter. Although…he remembered back to Thomas’s words, the day he’d asked for help crafting that first letter to Elizabeth. “And here your father worries he will die with you still a bachelor.”

What did that mean exactly? It wasn’t something Carlisle thought much about, if he were completely honest with himself. His earliest memories were of his fathers’ stern guidance, teaching him to memorize scripture before he was able to read it, to work hard on the six days of the week and to work equally hard on more spiritual pursuits on the Sabbath. He’d learned to care for the church as he grew, first simply sweeping the nave and the doorsteps, and progressing to digging the graves in the modest burial yard by the time he was a young teenager. He had played on occasion with the other children of the parish, like Thomas, but it had been rare. William’s entire existence was grooming his son to take the helm of his church. It was the only thing of which they ever seemed to speak.

So what was this business about Carlisle marrying, he wondered. And why had it come on so suddenly? Yes, it was true that Thomas and Anne came to church together now, separating only to sit in their appointed men’s and women’s pews. Carlisle had watched them this morning from where he sat toward the front of the church. Thomas would steal a glance over his shoulder at Anne, who would sneak him a shy smile in return before looking down again into her apron. Their visits were growing more and more unchaperoned by the day, and it was common now for Thomas to go to Anne’s home to bundle with her as they slept.

He was jealous, if he admitted it. But it was different than covetousness. He didn’t covet Anne. She was a fine woman for Thomas, but Carlisle preferred Elizabeth—the way she gently teased him, the way she seemed to know everything about him before he even opened his mouth. The way she stood up to her brother, who had been appointed their chaperone on more than one occasion. This, Carlisle had discovered, was actually a good thing. Christopher seemed to have better things to do than watch his sister, and it wasn’t unheard of for him to duck into a tavern and agree to meet them a bit later, leaving Carlisle and Elizabeth to their own devices for a blissful hour or two.

The conversation about whether Carlisle would be permitted to court Elizabeth had been short and to the point, at the coffee house one evening three weeks before. Carlisle had been reading the newspaper when a body dropped onto the bench next to him, shaking the table so that the cups rattled.

“My mother tells me you wish to court my younger sister.”

Carlisle raised his eyebrows, attempting to sip his coffee and appear unruffled, but he could feel the heat beginning at the bottom of his neck and knew he would be entirely red in the face before long. But he managed to keep his voice from squeaking as he said, “Your mother is correct.”

Christopher stared at him. “What are thy intentions for her?”

He closed his eyes briefly then. His intentions. Carlisle wasn’t one to remember dreams, at least, not terribly often. This had served him well in childhood, when at times his fathers’ preaching of demons and devils lurking in the streets of London had led to nights of interrupted sleep, and of course, after that horrible day at Tyburn, he had been grateful for his amnesia when he found himself suddenly awake in the dark of night.

Yet this one he’d remembered, and held with him for weeks. Like all dreams, it had been imperfect and short. The woman he’d dreamed wasn’t quite Elizabeth, although some part of his dream-mind knew it to be her. She’d lacked the fine features, but had the dark hair and the gentle laughter. But the thing Carlisle remembered was the feeling—the love so intense it caused a physical ache in his belly that stayed with him long after he awoke. And then there had been the object of both their adoration. He couldn’t remember the face, and this bothered him, but he remembered the feel of a small hand in his own, the heat of a body against his chest. Jonathan, they had both called him. And as Carlisle had walked hand-in-hand with the dream-Elizabeth, the little thing had sped away from them on surprisingly steady legs, dancing and bobbing around them and giggling in the same high laugh of his mother.

Pulling himself back to the coffee house and to Christopher, he answered quietly, “Only the most honorable. Marriage, if she’ll have me. Children, thereafter.”

Christopher studied him. “And of your work?”

“My work?”

“You wish to become a solicitor, but your father wishes you to go to the seminary, am I correct?”

Carlisle nodded.

“And you are apprenticed to Mr. Tyne.”

Carlisle nodded again.

The cup of coffee in Christopher’s hands turned around once before he set it on the table again, still frowning. It took him a long time to speak. “I should think, Mr. Cullen, that it not be proper for my sister to marry a carpenter,” he said at last. “But she would be an excellent wife to a solicitor. Or a minister. If those be your intended occupations, then I see no reason to bar my sister’s wishes.”

His sister’s wishes. Carlisle’s heart jerked. So Elizabeth had spoken to her brother and indicated a preference for him. The heat crept upward from his neck again.

Christopher was already standing, gathering his coffee and his own newspaper to move to a table which contained men he knew better. But he stopped a moment, leaning back. “And Mr. Cullen?”

“Yes?”

“If I should discover that you have opened her legs before you are properly wed, not only will you not have my sister, I will see to it personally that you are disfigured such that no woman in England will want you.”

And then he had disappeared, off to another table in the coffee house, from which he had studied Carlisle for the remainder of the evening.

Carlisle had seen Elizabeth nearly every day since, stopping by the small house when his days’ work was finished at the carpentry shop. He grew to look forward to the way her eyes would alight when she saw him over the half-door. Her younger brother George, known to all as Georgie, seemed to enjoy him, too—on one excursion with Elizabeth not long after Carlisle began his courtship, they had walked a mile with Georgie to a field to play a bit of ball. Carlisle had thoroughly enjoyed himself, running up and down the field and kicking the ball back and forth with Georgie as Elizabeth and Mrs. Bradshawe looked on. Asked about it later, Carlisle had explained sheepishly that his father had forbade him to do such frivolous things as play ball as a child, and so the opportunity to make up for lost time was more than welcome.

Today, his feet seemed to find their way toward Elizabeth’s of their own accord, his fingers running carefully across the item in his pocket. It was a small box, made of cherry and holly, with a little lid that slid on in two pieces, like a puzzle. Carlisle had fashioned it himself in stolen moments during the week, between work on a large scroll desk ordered by the butcher. Inside the box, he had scribbled a verse from the Song of Songs: “As the lillie among thornes, so is my love among the daughters.” Thomas had scoffed at him, encouraging him to choose one of the scriptures’ more suggestive verses, or better yet, a bawdy limerick. But Carlisle stood his ground, and so it was this small verse he carried across London’s busy streets.

Elizabeth was waiting for him when he arrived, standing in the doorway. Her hair was pulled away from her face, but just enough had been left to trail over her neck so that Carlisle felt a warm feeling start in his belly. He had taken to wearing his hose as tight as he could manage it, so that in the instance his body got away from his mind, this fact would at least remain hidden.

He was glad for it now as Elizabeth caught his eye, a wide smile spreading across her face. As he reached her, he bowed his head in a polite nod to her.

“Miss Bradshawe.”

She rolled her eyes, pointedly answering, “Carlisle.” She took his hand and squeezed it, and Carlisle felt an odd coolness shoot down his spine from his collar. Her hands were pliant in his, and he recognized the feel of soft cloth at once. He was unable to suppress his smile.

“You wear my gloves,” he said, delighted.

She blinked at him, frowning. “Is that not what you intended? If you would prefer, I will leave them home so that no one will see that I have them.”

He choked and swallowed, but before he was able to squeak out the lie that of course he wouldn’t mind if she didn’t wear them, he realized Elizabeth was laughing.

Oh. He was being teased.

Her arm found its way into his, and they walked together between the houses to the tiny yard at the back. This was one of the few places they were allowed without a chaperone, mostly because Elizabeth’s mother and brother could see them from the back of the house. The yard was mostly dry dirt, with a small patch given over to where Elizabeth and her mother tended a small patch of vegetables and herbs. The Bradshawes also owned two hens, who wandered the yard and stayed out of the garden thanks to a small fence erected by Christopher. But importantly, there was a beech tree, which due to some force of nature, had grown one branch out sideways for nearly two feet before it stretched upward. The branch made a perfect seat for two, and the bright green leaves above them a bower.

They sat there together awhile, her knee against his. The branch was just high enough that Elizabeth’s feet did not touch the ground, and his grazed it just barely, if he pointed his toes. More often, though, he let his feet swing freely, as he did today, staring down at them as the toe of his boot became scuffed with dirt.

“You seem quiet today,” she said after a moment.

This startled him. “Seem I?”

“You are always quiet,” she answered, leaning into him a bit so that the swell of her breast brushed his side, which made him shiver. “But today, you seem more so.”

He sighed, looking upward into the tree. Its branches swayed back and forth, leaving a shifting, dappled shadow on the earth beneath them. “My father and I quarreled,” he said to the sky.

“Quarreled about?”

You, Carlisle wanted to answer, but that wasn’t true. William had absolutely no idea that Carlisle was courting anyone. He’d hidden this for fear his father would find it displeasing. But now he wondered if disclosing this would be harmful or good.

“He wishes for me to marry.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Well, he’s not alone in wishing for that.”

This made Carlisle jerk upright. “I—your pardon?”

“Merely a thought.” She patted his arm. “I am sorry you quarreled.”

He stared up into the trees again.

“Wouldst thou marry a carpenter?” he asked at last.

“Do not you wish to be a solicitor?”

“My father is set against it, and thy brother is set against my trade.”

At this, Elizabeth smiled. “Christopher worries overly much for me.”

Of course, there was a way around both of these, Carlisle thought. Christopher would be satisfied if Carlisle became a minister, and so would his father be, also. If his father were still living, there might be reason to take a parish somewhere other than Aldgate. Perhaps even out of London entirely. But he ignored this thought, and instead spoke of the Sunday, of his frustration with his father. She filled in with her week, with tales of caring for Georgie and helping her mother, the most recent places Christopher seemed to have ducked off to when she needed to run an errand. Elizabeth’s leg rubbed his own as they sat, and the feeling was so warm and comfortable that Carlisle couldn’t help but inch closer. They chatted easily as the sun began to set, making the shadows of their legs stretch alongside the shadow of the branches, as though they, too, were simply one part of the tree.

It was as he shifted his body closer to her that he remembered the box in his pocket.

“Oh,” he said quietly. “I brought something for you.” He rocked his body a bit so that he could reach and pulled out the small box. He pressed it into Elizabeth’s palm, and she explored it with tentative fingers, turning it over in the light. It took her all of a minute to work the simple puzzle which opened the top. Her smile became even wider as she read the inscription.

“It’s beautiful.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t too difficult.”

“I do not take thee at thy word on that, Mr. Cullen.” She leaned closer to him, and his face flushed with heat. “Thank you,” she whispered, so close that her breath tickled his face.

He shifted uncomfortably. Did he move toward her? Allow her to get closer?

“It is my pleasure,” he mumbled indistinctly, looking down, hoping she wouldn’t notice his reddening cheeks. But she did not take the signal, instead leaning into him further.

“Christ was a carpenter, you know,” she said, closing her eyes and leaning toward him.

A chill rushed down his spine as she brushed her lips against his, and, startled, he jerked back at once. But she merely giggled, closing the gap between them once more, and did it again.

Elizabeth’s lips searched his, pressing insistently but gently. It took him a good few moments to overcome his shock, but then he found that by some miracle, his own lips knew what to do in answer. The two of them kissed hungrily, impatiently, and it was only when he’d nearly run out of breath that he muttered, “What if thy mother sees?”

She laughed, the sound oddly muffled by his lips. He could feel her breath escaping the corners of her mouth as it tickled his own cheeks.

“Were she angry with thee, I would imagine she would come out,” she answered, “instead of standing at the window smiling at us.”

His head jerked up. Sure enough, Mrs. Bradshawe stood at the back of the house, gazing out the window at them with a smile on her face. When she noticed Carlisle looking at her, she waved briefly, and then, as though to assuage him, turned away. Elizabeth chuckled, her face still mere inches from his.

“Mr. Cullen,” she whispered through her laughter, “I do not believe I have ever seen a man turn quite this shade of red.”

Then her lips were on his again, and he let himself quite forget about her mother.

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Chapter notes

§ 9 Responses to 10. Layman"

  • sisterglitch says:

    An absolute delight, as usual!
    I tell you, the restraint upon Carlisle is PAINFUL to witness.
    Makes you appreciate the times you live in, eh?

    It was satisfying, however, that he finally lashed out at his father.
    Poor boy hasn’t been allowed to have a life, a mind, a will!

    Sons have it so much harder than daughters, methinks…
    so much of a burden they are expected to carry, plus they have their own egos to deal with.

    And to be pressured to follow in the steps of such an unworthy father…

    But, I did appreciate that you gave William Sr. a little bit (very little) of humanness in my eyes when he thinks about his regrets and how life might have been different for himself as well as his son… though I really don’t believe he ever gives much thought to Carlisle’s needs above his own desire for status and image.

    Now, to read it over again….

    Thank you!

    • giselle says:

      Hee. I got a kick out of reading “It was satisfying, however, that he finally lashed out at his father.” Writing Carlisle upset is one of my favorite things to do, because he comes to a boil so slowly. Yet, as you point out, William isn’t being entirely unreasonable; he just really doesn’t see how to take care of his son in a way his son would really benefit from.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Tina says:

    The dream is heartbreaking. I adore Carlisle as the head of the Cullen clan, but after reading the dream, I wish he could have had Elizabeth.

    Edward isn’t the child from the dream, but after all of his years alone, Carlisle needed a son – had probably yearned for one for centuries.

    And the kisses. Why do I love that Elizabeth was the one to initiate them? He needed the push. :)

    I’m wondering how William will react when he learns that Carlisle has been courting in secret. Not a good thing, I’m sure.

    • giselle says:

      Yep. This really is the start of a long trek for him of yearning for a family of his own, which isn’t really realized until 2007. In a way, maybe Edward is the child from the dream.

      And you have more insight than many into how William is going to react… :fiendish grin:

  • Emma says:

    This is such a delightful chapter! It looks like Carlisle is finally starting to head toward a certain direction – that is, he’s (unconsciously) realising his true goal. I can totally feel the relationship between him and his father getting tenser by the minute and I’m eager to find out what happens later.

    It’s so sweet to see Carlisle courting Elizabeth, how he’s so careful yet romantic, like the gentle man he is.

    I hope to receive an update alert soon!

    • giselle says:

      I had fun with this one (and let me tell you, it’s been torture to sit on it, once I wrote that first kiss). I’m excited for your excitement. I never want more to drop everything and just write more than I do the day I post. :) I’ll do my best with the update speed.

  • Jessica says:

    I am thoroughly impressed with this story so far. maybe one of the best fanfictions I’ve ever read. The attention to detail and the authenticity are incredible. I appreciate reading something so thoroughly researched and accurate. Plus, I’m also a huge Carlisle fan. Thanks for the story!

    • giselle says:

      Aww, thank you. :blushes: I’m a class-A nerd, so doing all the research to make this what it is is at least half the fun.

  • soonermom says:

    After reading about Carlisle and Elizabeth, I fear I may start inserting her in place of Esme when I read fic. I have nothing against Esme, but I just *adore* Elizabeth! Everything from her personality to how she is a seemingly perfect compliment to Carlisle just draws me in. Thank you so much for sharing!

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