Writers have a saying, ‘You have to kill your darlings’, which means stuff gets cut in the editing process. It’s tough, but it has to be done.
Scenes get cut for number of different reasons. This one suffered the axe when I applied the ‘does it make a difference’ test. In other words, if I cut this scene does it make any difference in the story? In this case the answer was no, it made absolutely impact at all, so out it went. That being said, I still like the scene and wanted to share it with you. Hope you enjoy this little snippet, set in the middle of Charlotte’s labor.
Tending Lady Catherine
The maid all but ran along at Mary’s side to Lady Catherine’s chamber at the opposite end of the house, their steps lost in the heavy carpeting. Mary paused twice, leaning on one of the dozens of hall chairs along the way, to catch her breath. At least there was absolutely no worry that Lady Catherine might hear anything from Charlotte’s travail.
As Lady Catherine’s carved mahogany door came in sight, shrill demands pierced the air.
“She has heard the guests downstairs and is insisting on attending them,” the maid whispered, face pale. “She was half-dressed when I was sent for you. She asked about the bandages and tried to remove them. It is as if she does not feel the pain.”
“Find Parkes and fetch fresh bandages and ointment.” She propelled the girl toward the nearest servants’ door.
“Who did this to me? I demand to know! Who did this? Why were they permitted to do such a thing?” Lady Catherine’s shrieks cut through the closed door like a freshly-honed knife.
Mary strode in. As long as she looked confident, Lady Catherine was likely to go along with whatever she said. How she actually felt was mostly irrelevant.
Candles—far more than necessary lit every corner of the room, heating it nearly as much as the fire in Charlotte’s room. Flickering light glittered off the ormolu that covered nearly article in the room including the fireplace furnishings. The fireplace itself was dressed in marble that matched the front stairs. Every piece of wood—the bed, small round table, chairs and curved-front press—was carved and gilded or painted with Egyptian themes matching the garish sphinxes on her “throne” downstairs. Bed curtains and draperies—pulled shut over the tall windows—all matched: rich embroidered deep wine-colored wool. There could be no mistaking that this was Lady Catherine’s chamber.
“Why will no one tell me what happened? You there, Bennet girl, tell me why has someone wrapped me in these horrid things?” Lady Catherine stopped pacing in the middle of the room and extended her burnt arm. Her sweat-soaked nightdress clung indecently to her boney frame.
Near the bed, Mrs. Jenkinson huddled in a large arm chair, pleading with strained eyes. The lady’s maid cowered in a corner as though ready to hide behind the curtains to avoid detection.
Why did everyone expect she would know what to do?
“Lady Catherine, pray sit down. We would not have you hurt yourself further. You have been so very brave and stoic through all this, such an example to all of us.” Mary took Lady Catherine’s uninjured elbow and guided her to Mrs. Jenkinson’s chair. Mrs. Jenkinson jumped aside and helped Lady Catherine to sit.
“Of course I have. It is my place to set an example for those around me. I am glad someone here recognizes what I do.”
Mary ducked as she waved her arms, emphasizing her point.
“Indeed we all do and we are very thankful for your gracious condescension even in the time of your own tribulation.” Mary peeled away the disheveled bandages from her arm.
Lady Catherine stared as though seeing it for the first time. “That does look like quite a tribulation.” She stretched out her arm turned it this way and that. “Are you certain that it is mine? The arm does not look like mine.”
“You are indeed too brave, your ladyship.” Mary patted her other hand.
The maid scurried in with fresh bandages and a pot of yellow basilicum. Mary took them and dismissed her with a wave. The girl was far too rattled to be of any use. She beckoned Mrs. Jenkinson nearer. Lady Catherine’s lady’s maid joined them as well.
“It is time to freshen your bandages, before you take your rest.” The wounds had not begun to fester, that was a good sign—very surprising, but good.
“It is not the time for rest. There are guests downstairs. I must attend them.” Lady Catherine started to rise.
Mary laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Colonel Fitzwilliam does not wish you to tax yourself with guests. He is managing them very well.”
“Him? He has no sense of etiquette or order. I will be humiliated! I will not have it. And you still have not told me, who did this to me? The magistrate and constable must be called! They cannot go unpunished.” Lady Catherine waved her injured arm.
Mary caught her wrist and pointed with her chin to the lady’s maid who scooped up the ointment and began to coat Lady Catherine’s burns.
“There was an accident, your ladyship. No one did this to you. Your gown, it caught fire.” That was the truth, even if it was missing in a few key details.
“My gown? Which gown? How? A fireplace? A candle?” Lady Catherine shrank back in her chair, her voice shrinking with her. “I have always been afraid of fire.”
Mary wrapped bandages, starting at the wrist. “That is a very sensible thing to fear. I think we all dread the possibility.”
“Father used to warn me so very strictly that I was to keep a safe distance from the fireplaces and never, never to read in my bed. That is why I rarely read you see—did you know that? I do not like to read because it requires candles so often, and candles cause fires, very dreadful ones, you know.”
“I shall remember what you have said. It is very wise. I thank you for sharing it with me.” Mary, throat so tight she could hardly speak, tied off the bandage and moved to Lady Catherine’s leg. “May I change these as well?”
Lady Catherine stretched out her leg, studying her foot closely. “It must have been very indecorous—did anyone see?”
“No one of any importance, your ladyship. And those who did were struck by your bravery.” Mary undid the knot holding the bandages.
Lady Catherine touched Mary’s arm. “Was … was there anyone else…”
Mary bit her lip and held her breath.
“That is not for you to worry yourself with, your ladyship.” Mrs. Jenkinson took over wrapping Lady Catherine’s wounds.
Mary rose, legs shaking far more than they should. Luckily the bedpost was in reach. A few deep breaths steadied her for the journey to the press, where she had left the bottle of laudanum. Clever maid—she had brought a small crystal glass of red wine and water along with the bandages. Mary measured in the medicine by drops.
There, that should keep her asleep through Charlotte’s labor … at least if it continued to progress as quickly as it seemed to be going.
“What is that you are doing, you, Bennet girl? I must know what you are doing.”
“I am preparing your cordial, Lady Catherine. Here. The surgeon, Mr. Peters, said you are to have it when we change your bandages.”
“Surgeon? What surgeon? I have seen no surgeon. Nor have I seen the apothecary about. Where have they been?” Lady Catherine’s eyes flashed. A temper tantrum was in the offing.
“Here now, your hand is shaking. Let me help you.” She lifted the cup to Lady Catherine’s lips.
“But I am not sure—” She tried to push the cup away.
“That is why we sought the surgeon’s recommendations. He is sure.” Mary gently pressed the cup at her.
Sputtering slightly, she drank. “But I did not see him. I must see him. I insist! He is devious and must be watched, you know. I insist on seeing him when he is next at Rosings.”
“Of course, Lady Catherine. We will make it so. Now, pray, let us help you back to bed. The cordial makes you sleepy, and you say it is unladylike to fall asleep in a chair.”
“Of course it is! A lady should never be found asleep by anyone! It is undignified. What will people think?” Her bandaged arm waved drunkenly.
Mrs. Jenkinson took one arm, and Mary grasped under Lady Catherine’s other shoulder and helped her to rise.
How thin and frail she had become. Had it been just since the fire, or had her fine clothes been hiding the frailty very well?
Lady Catherine tottered like a child first learning to walk, barely making it to her bed before she fell, almost too weak to continue. There was something poignant about seeing the great lady so reduced.
A tap on her shoulder—again?
“Mrs. Grant says you are wanted most urgently.” The young maid cringed.
“Mrs. Jenkinson, stay with her until she is well and truly asleep. See that she is not left alone after that.” Mary followed the girl out into the bright cool hallway. “Has something gone amiss?”
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