Mourning

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Mrs. Pearce had spoken to a quiet assembly of all their servants, from the grooms to the gardeners to the cook. They had stood uncomfortably in the drawing room for a mere two minutes while she shared the information about the death of Mr. Dabney. She asked their forgiveness for the unneeded work they'd been through to prepare for the wedding, but now some help would be needed to sew and hang some black mourning crepe. Then she'd tried vainly to stifle a sob, and failing, cried aloud. Susan had led her out of the room, one arm cradling their good mistress as if she were a child with a skinned knee.

Rachel had stood in the hall, overhearing the report. As the servants walked out, the men tipped their caps and the ladies patted her arm or squeezed her hand. She knew they wanted to offer comfort, but kept their distance.

The sound of hoof beats in the yard drew her to the front door. John was riding up, and Rachel eagerly stepped outside and was near him the moment he jumped off his horse. He gathered her up in his arms, tightly pressing her to his chest. She sighed.

"How is she?" he whispered.

"Amanda's only come to her senses once or twice. She either cries uncontrollably until she is asleep again, or stares in a way that makes us think her mind is lost. We are all worried. She hasn't eaten since yesterday." Rachel sniffled, then forced a smile and looked up at him.

"I've only come for a moment," John said. "Another express came with information from Dabney's father. He's set the funeral for Saturday and would like your father to come, if he's able."

"Come in. We'll talk to Father."

They walked through the entry, their footsteps ringing loudly in the dreadfully solemn house. Rachel went to the study door, knocked quietly, and heard no reply. She knocked again and then cracked the door open.

"Father?" She glanced around. He sat, not in his usual chair, but in an upholstered wood chair, looking out the window. He had a great view of the pastures full of horses, but his staring eyes did not follow their movements. "Father, John is here with some information for you."

He turned, realizing someone was there. "Rachel, John, come in." He moved behind his desk and sat down.

"Vicar Pearce, I have had a note from Dabney's father. The inquest is finished, and declared the death an accident. Lord Dabney is bringing him home, and has set the funeral for Saturday evening."

"Three days? Hmm." He rubbed the stubble on his chin and said no more.

"Father, should we be part of the funeral procession? Or attend the church service?"

"No, probably not Amanda, nor any of my daughters. Perhaps Mrs. Pearce and I could go."

"Sir, my father and I will be traveling there. We leave in a few hours. Please, come with us."

"That is kind, yes." He nodded absently.After a moment of staring, he looked up, as if realizing they were still there. "Uh...what time would your coach leave?"

"We shall call at 3:00, sir."

"Thank you." He stood and they shook hands, then Rachel followed John out of the house.

"Please be careful on your journey," she said, smiling tightly, but with eyes that pleaded for reassurance.

"I will be. Our coach and four will get us there in a day, and your father will be of some comfort to them, I'm sure."

Rachel nodded. John squeezed her hand, then went to take his horse from the hitching post. He mounted, tipped his hat to Rachel, then trotted down the drive.

Back in the house, Rachel found her father pacing in the drawing room. "What worries you?'

"Oh, the funeral trip will be fine. Cartwright can come over and preach on Sunday. Clyde will handle the horses while I'm gone. But I've had a note from the constable during the inquest. It seems that Dabney's valet made several statements about how poorly the team of horses traveled, that they shouldn't have been sold to Dabney when they were so ill-bred. It's concerning."

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