I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means I tend to explore a lot of blind alleys, dead ends, and meandering interstate bypasses in my early drafts. Hence, plenty of deleted scenes from which to choose.
The one I’ve chosen here comes from a sequence that would have taken place pretty early in the book, after Lydia manipulated the deck to give Will back the money she’d fleeced him of and before the scene where she showed him her sleight-of-hand tricks.
At the semi-polite gaming club where their paths cross, she’s wrestling with her mixed feelings over having restored his money, and she elects to cope by drinking a whole lot of punch. He asks her to dance, perceives her condition, and contrives to get her into the supper room so he can make her eat something.
Drink hasn’t improved her temper. As the scene starts, she’s just plunked herself down, seized a bun from a nearby plate and bit into it “with feral gusto,” per Will’s observation.
Might you like a dish of soup to go with that bun?” He lifted the tureen’s lid at one side. “It appears to be turtle. There’s also fish, fowl, roast mutton, some sort of aspic, and turnips and peas. I had it all set down at once so you could choose.”
A sudden stagger came in the rhythm of her chewing. Heaven help him, he knew exactly what caused it. Nobody ever took care of her, she had not the least idea of how to respond to solicitous attention, and she did not welcome such attention from him. He’d seen it before, hadn’t he, on Tottenham Court Road and all the way to Somers Town.
She swallowed, and glared at the empty plate before her. “I don’t care very much for turtle soup.”
“Nor do I, in fact.” The tureen’s lid settled noiselessly into place. “May I carve a bit of this goose for you? I had it myself at supper. It’s really not bad.”
“If you like. Peas as well, perhaps.” Finally she put the bun down on her plate and let her hands sink out of sight to her lap. She sat stiffly, watching him make busy with the knife and fork. She might have been some child of savages, brought into civilization and struggling to master odd English table manners. “You’ve done this before.” Her gaze slanted from his hands to his face.
“Carved a goose? I should hope so.”
Intently she shook her head. “Fed someone. Compelled someone to eat.”
It wasn’t the first time this evening he’d felt himself the object of her avid attention. The look she’d turned on him, just before remarking on the scent of his new shaving soap, had been nearly enough to scorch his skin. Until he’d realized drink was behind it. “Indeed I have. Peas, you said?”
She nodded, eyes still fixed upon him as though she were sifting through all his secrets and only wishing they were written in a language she knew how to read.
She could thank God they weren’t. “Peas to accompany your roast fowl, madame.” He tipped the spoon and sent its little grey-green orbs rolling onto her plate. Another few months and there’d be fresh peas for supper, crisp and verdant in place of these pallid specimens.
“You don’t care to speak of it.” She hadn’t once bothered to glance down at the food as he filled her plate.
“Only it’s not very interesting to tell.” He shrugged the shoulder nearest her as he turned away to set the serving-spoon back down in the dish of peas. “Men would turn up drunk and I would see to it they got something on their stomachs. A staggering-drunk soldier isn’t much use, as you may imagine. Nor is one puking his guts out because he hasn’t bothered to put anything down his gullet besides gin, pardon the subject.” Though he’d a thousand times rather have a man puking his guts out from gin than from fear. To the former, he could at least offer food and perhaps a place to lie down. To the latter, he could offer no useful physic under the sun. A few hollow words of encouragement. Exhortations to be brave, as if the poor fellow might have forgot what demeanor was expected of him and only wanted reminding. Ineffectual rot, the whole of it.
A muffled clink told him he’d worked the spoon to the nethermost layer of peas and struck bottom. He let go the handle and threw a quick look to Miss Slaughter, who still watched him, hands in her lap. “Eat your food before it grows cold,” he said, and signaled to the footman for coffee.
She turned her attention to her knife and fork. “I don’t mind. I have things, too, of which I don’t care to speak.”
“That much, I already know.” To have a bit of history with her, to have subjects on which he might tease her, felt like a gift slipped into one of his pockets while he wasn’t looking. She pinned him somehow to the present hour, with their brief trifle of a shared history making a buffer between now and the history that had gone before. “May I hope you’ll make an exception regarding what transpired the last time we sat together at cards?”
One thing to be said for drink; it rendered her readable. She arched her brows in an exaggerated counterfeit of innocence, and spoke to the plate. “You had an admirable run of luck, as I recall.”
“Rubbish. You fed me those cards.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “You cued me to buy instead of twisting, and you saw to it I got back everything I’d lost to you the week before.”
She raised a forkful of goose and put it in her mouth, chewing so thoroughly as to make any reply impossible. He sat back as the coffee was delivered, his hands balanced on the table’s very edge.
“I won’t tell anyone, you know,” he said once the footman had retreated. “I only can’t think for the life of me how it was done, and I should like to find out.”
She eyed him for a moment, considering, and then speared a pea on each tine of her fork with great care. “No one besides you has ever accused me of cheating.”
“That’s because you’re so good at it, I expect.” He reached for her cup. “How do you take your coffee?”
Again she shifted in her chair, the savage-born girl squirming under polite attention. “I’ll manage it. Thank you.”
“Nonsense. I’ve already got started.” He spoke lightly, to cover the disproportionate sense of urgency that thundered through his veins. To minister so to another person, to perform small kindnesses in a clean, quiet room, was his own drink, his own opiate, the thing that shut out memory like a blanket of fog. Ten men with hot blacksmiths’ tongs couldn’t pry his fingers off this saucer now, let alone one woozy and unarmed girl. “Sugar, I should think? Milk?”
“Lots of sugar. No milk.” He hadn’t expected so ready a surrender. But devil take him if he would complain.
He transferred three sugar lumps from the bowl and stirred, assiduously, until every last grain must be dissolved. She grew more and more sober, watching, and when he set the cup before her she stared at it, so glum that he finally had to ask what was the matter.
“I’m in your debt again.” She made no move to take her coffee. “And I don’t want to be.”
“For a cup of coffee? Hardly.”
“For your kindness.” For God’s sake you’d think she’d been sentenced to a stretch in Newgate, her tone was so dour. “You were right. I’m in no state to gamble. I should have lost money if I’d tried. You spared me from that, and now… our accounts don’t balance.” Her eyes rose from the coffee to his face. She was beginning to sag all over, as though her chair sat in some bizarre zone with twice the usual dose of gravity.
“Come.” With two fingertips he nudged her saucer closer. “Drink your coffee. You owe me only one thing, and that’s another dance, because tonight’s was abysmal. Now that I know it was the liquor, I don’t mind saying you were half a step behind on every turn.”
That ought to have lightened things, or at least boosted her back to her livelier angry state. But she sagged a degree or two more. “I wish I hadn’t drunk all that punch,” she said. And with one awful shuddering breath, she began to cry.
“Here, now.” The words came on their own, as he fought to tamp down a flare of panic. “It’s not so bad as that. It’s one night of gaming missed.”
“I can’t miss even one night. And don’t tell me it’s not so bad. You don’t know.” She wiped at her face with the heel of her gloved hand before remembering her napkin, and snatching it up.
“You’re right. I don’t.” God, that horrible helpless feeling again. This, at least, he’d thought he’d left behind him. “But I promise you a good third of what you feel now is just the distorting effect of drink. It will pass. You’ll be sanguine in the morning, if not before.”
“No, I’ll never be sanguine again.” She hid her face in her napkin and sobbed like a child who’d just found her pet canary claws-up on the floor of its cage.
Will looked about the room. The lone footman stood against the wall, staring straight out in front of him with practiced indifference. The mortifying spectacle had no witnesses, but neither was any help ready to hand.
What could he do? Every muscle in his arms and torso twitched with the impulse toward what he could definitely not do, which was gather her into his lap and murmur indistinct words of comfort as she spent her grief on his shoulder. “Do you want me to fetch one of your friends?” He allowed himself to lean six inches nearer. “Some lady to sit with you?”
She shook her head, sobs unabated, face still hidden behind the cloth.
“Would you…” He cleared his throat. The words had caught on something halfway up. “Would you like me to send Mr. Roanoke to you?”
She shook her head even harder, and angled her body away.
He sat straight up, to give back the six inches of space. “Then, ah…” He’d thought that last question was the difficult one. But no, it was this. “Would you prefer to be left alone?”
Another shuddering breath, as she paused between sobs to decide. Then she nodded, with extra vigor to make the answer readable even from the back of her head. That was that. She wanted him to go.
He didn’t, though. He let her hear him rise from the chair and walk away, but he only went as far as the wall, where he stood, like a superfluous footman, out of her sight while she wept.
This was ludicrous. It was absurd. She’d be embarrassed when she finally came to herself, and they might have a good laugh over it the next time he saw her. Why then couldn’t he find it in him to be amused, or to feel anything at all besides helpless pity for her distress, and disgust at his own inability to console? If any man ought to have a proper sense of perspective on this scene, he was that man. Lord knows he’d seen stronger claims to pity and consolation, enough such claims to last him his life.
Nevertheless he stood, still and silent, until she finally dried her face and reached for the coffee. The stuff would be lukewarm at best, now. His fingers itched to stir three lumps of sugar into a fresh hot cup and set it before her. But then she’d know he hadn’t gone when she’d asked. So he stayed long enough to see her take the first swallow, and then slipped from the room and went home without playing a single hand of cards more. And when she turned up in his dreams that night it was only to waltz, not at a proper distance but wrapped in his arms, worn out from crying, her cheek on his shoulder and the weight of all her cares entrusted to his keeping, if only for the length of the dance.
This wound up being part of a 10,000-word cut (the drinking, the dancing, and assorted shenanigans went on for awhile), which was as painful as it sounds. But for a number of reasons, it had to go:
Several things from this scene survived to reappear elsewhere in the book, including nurturing-through-coffee (now in the scene where Lydia wakes up in Will’s bed to find covered cups of coffee and chocolate), the sobering-up of a glum drunk person with roast goose (this time with Will as the beneficiary), and, almost verbatim, the exchange about how she manipulated the cards to return his money.
Of the things I cut here, I was probably sorriest to lose “sobbed like a child who’d just found her pet canary claws-up on the floor of its cage.” I liked that image, and may wind up using it elsewhere someday. You’ll all have to pretend not to have seen it before :)
How do you all feel about deleted scenes? Do you watch them on DVDs? Do you like seeing this “behind the scenes” stuff, or is it like a visit to a sausage factory; something you’d rather not know?
Mel here! I am thrilled that you came over…I feel like one of those girls that just giggles at meeting Justin Bieber!!! Thanks and we would love to have you back in January as your next book, ‘A Woman Entangled’ hits the shelves!
Cecilia Grant can rock my romance world anytime and I hope she does yours with one copy of her ‘Gentleman’ which she’s giving away today!!