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 for a different sort of reason. After doing some research I discovered that women did sometimes attend funerals during the regency era. (Click here for a fascinating article on the topic.) It seemed very much in character for Mary when I originally wrote it. Trouble is, that in writing fiction, it’s not just about historical accuracy, but what will pull a reader out of a story–or keep them in. This scene rode the border of that. Since the common belief is that women did not attend funerals, it ran the risk of yanking readers out of the story and rankling their ire. In the end, it wasn’t an important enough scene to be worth the risk. So it got cut. I still think the scene shows an important side of Mary though, and thought you might enjoy it too. Hope you enjoy this little snippet, set immediately before Charlotte’s labor.
The pallbearers placed the lids on the coffins and lifted them to their shoulders. In perfect step they marched single file from the sitting room to the hall and out the front door, into to the lingering fog and to the wagon waiting to carry the coffins to the church. The mourners followed in a slow, dignified procession.
Mary fell into step with them, drawing strength from the comforting ritual.
Just behind her, Fitzwilliam tried to convince Charlotte to stay behind, but she refused. If Mary was going, so would she. Stubborn, foolish woman. Mourning was no contest.
At least she did accept the use of the little white phaeton that Anne and Lady Catherine had often used. Fitzwilliam was right, Charlotte probably could not accomplish the walk to the church. But it meant that Mary was now compelled to drive the phaeton when she would much rather have had the walk for silent reflection.
It was not Fitzwilliam’s fault. He was trying to be a good host.
At least he had got the trying part right.
Mary dragged her hand down her face. She really needed to try harder. Gratitude and graciousness were what she needed today. Bitterness served none well.
Charlotte endured all the bumps and jostling of the ride to the church with nary a word. Her posture offered all the complaints necessary. But she was very pale, her face often knotted with a faraway expression. She really ought to be back at the manor resting.
How did Fitzwilliam manage to get to the church before they did and still have strength enough to tie up the horses and assist Mrs. Collins down from the phaeton? The way he grimaced, though, suggested the effort cost him dearly.
He handed Mary down as well, glancing at the phaeton’s reins with a touch of chagrin.
At least he understood he had been highhanded. She nodded at him. That made the corner of his lips lift a mite as he escorted them inside.
Except for the predominance of black garb and black bands around arms and hats, the church looked no different than it always did: grey stones and dark wood, strong and reliable. Mourners parted and made way for them, bowed heads acknowledging their grief. Such open acknowledgment and acceptance—a knot tightened in Mary’s throat.
“Are you well, Mrs. Collins?” Colonel Fitzwilliam ushered her into her customary pew.
Charlotte grimaced and fell into the pew.
“Are you having pains?” Mary whispered in her ear.
“It is nothing. They are the same ones that have come and gone for the last month.”
“I am not so certain.” Mary slid in beside her.
“It will be well. Do not worry on my account.” Charlotte fixed her eyes on the front of the church.
That was easy for Charlotte to say. She might be the one near her time, but Mary would be the one needed to manage everything when it came.
One more ungracious thought. She rubbed the base of her skull—a headache was among the last things she needed now.
The vicar began with a reading of the traditional funeral Psalms. Mary silently mouthed the words with him. The familiar litany soothed the deep ache in her heart just enough to render it bearable. Sharing responses with the rest of the mourners helped, too. Though none might share her exact grief, their common sorrow gathered her in warm, embracing arms. For at least a few moments, she was not alone. Final prayers, offered by the group in one voice, one purpose, echoed with the sharp, poignant sting. It was probably silly, but it seemed as though the very stones of the walls cried out along with them.
Charlotte clutched her belly and hunched forward, a soft, low moan escaping her lip.
No! No! No!
What child chose to be born on the day of his father’s funeral? What kind of a twisted humor would choose now to bring life into the world?
The service was dismissed and Mary waved Fitzwilliam to them. “Pray help her into the phaeton and send for the midwife. It is her time.”
“Now?” He withered at her look.
Good. He could hardly have chosen a more stupid thing to have said.
She climbed into the shaky old phaeton and urged the horse into as fast a clip as she dared—which was hardly a brisk pace— along the rutted, uneven lane. The old phaeton springs and the barely cushioned seats offered little to soften the jarring ride.
Charlotte wrapped one arm across her belly and clutched at the seat with the other. “Oh, oh! Mary, I do not think I can do this.”
“Neither of us have very much choice in the matter. We will endure what must be.” She probably ought to be more comforting …
“But the dinner guests will hear my travail!” Her words ended in a wail. “A woman should be silent at such a time, penitent—”
“Stop—I want no such rhetoric.” Mr. Collins was not going speak from the grave before he was even buried. “If you need to cry out, so be it. Collins never had a right to try to govern such a time as this.”
“But Lady Catherine—”
“Will have a suitable dose of laudanum to keep her quiet and comfortable for as long as is necessary. She has no place to dictate how any of this is to go, either.”
“But it is her house!”
“Charlotte, that is entirely enough. I have never known you prone to hysteria. I will not stand by and allow you to take that path now. Take a deep breath, like that, and another. Find that well of good-sense I know you have and dwell there. You have an heir to birth, one who will take on his father’s legacy.” And if she were wrong, they would deal with that when it came. For now, Charlotte did not need another worry or distraction.
And neither did she.
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