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 pacing test. In other words, if I cut this scene move too fast or slow down the story? I needed some help seeing it, but the scene slowed down what was otherwise a frenetic scene. So out it went. That being said, I still really love feel of the scene and wanted to share it with you. Hope you enjoy this little snippet, set right after the Rosings’ fire.
“The barn fire will be contained very soon. You must send for the surgeon and the apothecary.” Mary braced both hands hard on the ground as hot winds abraded her burns. She gritted her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut until the wave of agony passed. “Call for Mrs. Anderson, the vicar’s wife from the next parish, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Leighton, their housekeepers as well. See that the injured are taken to the manor—set up the servants’ hall for them. Check the stores. We will need lime-water and oils—linseed and sweet—yellow basilicum ointment and—”
“I am not sure what we have in the stores.” Parkes crouched beside her and steadied her. “I am certain we have no yellow basilicum.”
“Set one of the girls to make some. We will need it in great amounts.”
“I am not even sure how to make it.”
Mary slapped her forehead and sat back hard. She clenched her first and sucked in several deep breaths, counting until the harsh words on her tongue subsided.
Not everyone had lived with a physician who pontificated loud and long on preferred remedies and formulas. And the need to be prepared for the vicissitudes of life.
Apparently, those of high enough rank did not need to anticipate vicissitudes. She clutched her temples. Impatience with Parkes would serve no one well right now.
“Have you a copy of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine in the house?” Pray let at least that much be available.
“I am not sure. Lady Catherine has had a physician in attendance for so long that –”
“I see. Now is not the time to go digging about the library for one. I know there is one in the mistress’ parlor of the parsonage. Send someone to fetch the Collins’ housekeeper and have her bring it to me. After this is finished, you will make certain that there is a copy kept in your office. I will return to the house now and check the stores and still room myself.”
“Yes, of course.” Parkes waved down a young groom who looked anxious to be away from the dead and injured. Then she took a pile of wet sacks from a young maid and directed her run back to the manor with Mary.
“Start moving the casualties to the house immediately.” Mary called over her shoulder, forcing herself into a trot back to the house.
How was it possible that a place as large as Rosings could be so ill-prepared for such an event? Truly, it had nothing to do with adequacy of resources, and everything to do with the mentality of its mistress. It was one thing to rely upon the physician she patronized for major issues, but there was no reason the household should not be prepared to handle more mundane crises. No wonder Lizzy had always seen to the needs of the servants. How many of those needs could have been addressed by a simple copy of Buchan’s text? How much unnecessary expense at the apothecary’s could have been spared by preparing remedies at home?
She would address that matter with Fitzwilliam if—no when—when he recovered from his injuries. And with Michaels, too. Any new place to economize would be most welcome news to him.
She entered through the kitchen and lit a candle from the fireplace. Half eaten platters and dishes from dinner were scattered along the work tables, left where they landed when the kitchen staff answered the call of “Fire!” Empty halls echoing with unnatural stillness provided an eerie foil from the bedlam outside.
The still room—even more still than usual—invited her in with dusty herbal scents that hung upon the quiet, stuffy air. It should have been full, shelves brimming with baskets and jars, bundles of drying stuffs hanging from the rafters. The floor should have been a jumble of boxes, large earthenware crocks and more baskets. How long had it been since someone had actually seen to its stocks? One more thing to deal with later.
She picked along the walls, candle held close to the shelves, squinting in the flickering light. Pray let there be something useful here!
Yes! A half-full basket of dried poppies! Those would provide sufficient poppy tea to relieve the injured for at least a week, perhaps more. Several bottles of prepared calamine forgotten on a shelf! Dusty, but still useful.
On another wall, a high shelf offered a box of yellow wax, one of white resin and a jar with frankincense. Those would make sufficient yellow basilicum for the time being.
Excellent. It would not take too much time to prepare. If only—yes!—there it was! A box of quick lime on the floor, enough for gallons of lime-water.
Providence had granted enough to meet their immediate needs. Trials and hardships would always be there, but thankfulness was still a virtue she could hardly afford to do without.
A scullery maid, scent by Parkes, scurried in. They carried the supplies to the disordered kitchen where the maid quickly cleared a work table to receive them.
Proportions, what were the proportions? It had been a long time since she had helped Mama prepare the ointment. Mary paced in front of the low kitchen fire, pressing her temples and muttering to herself. Yes! One part yellow wax, one of frankincense and one of white resin to be melted together then added to four parts of melted lard.
She had not forgotten. She could do this.
The maid fed the fire, encouraging it to something more useful. A large melting pot went on the hob near several kettles of water. Those were for the poppy tea.
Now, lime water for washes. A pound, yes that was it, a pound of quick lime—that was close enough—and how much water? One gallon, no, that would not be enough. It must be two. She added the lime into a large basin and poured the water over, wincing at the violent reaction. Filter paper? Where would that be?
The maid ran for it and returned before Mary could even ask. She was a quick study. Perhaps it was time to move her into higher work, perhaps assign her to the still room.
“Bring me clean jugs and corks for the lime water while I finish the basilicum.” Mary added the lard to the melting pot and stirred until it was thoroughly incorporated. She removed the pot from the fire, covered it with a clean cloth and set it outside to cool.
The kettles were boiling. Where were the poppies? There. Why had they not been properly cleaned? Blast and botheration. She probably should be grateful that they were even available, but was it really too much to ask that they might have been properly prepared?
Had Parkes even noticed? Or was she kept too busy to properly manage the still room by Lady Catherine’s incessant demands?
Stop. That could be dealt with later. Focus on the immediate needs.
She plucked debris from the poppy heads and added them to the hot water. They would steep on their own on the hearth. Had it been long enough for the lime water to settle yet?
No, not yet.
She turned to the scullery maid. “I will return for the poppy tea shortly. Watch the lime-water and find me when all the lime has settled. See that no one touches any of this before I return.”
The girl nodded, a slight look of terror in her eyes.
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