Harriet had waited after that final breath, just looking at her daughter’s face. She held Claudia’s torn dress in one hand and her fingers played with the ripped cloth as her heart, which had been hammering away for the past several minutes, slowed back down to its normal rhythm. Finally she stepped away into the hallway, stopping in her own room to place the dress upon her bed before walking over to the doctor’s house. She may have told him to stay away when he departed earlier that day; however, there now was nothing more to argue about in regard to Olivia’s care. She also knew that in modern times such as the ones she now lived in, a doctor’s confirmation of a person’s death, at least in a town setting such as Hiawatha, was almost a requirement. That, and she was going to need assistance again, as much as she was reluctant to admit it. Closing her eyes briefly before doing so, she knocked on the doctor’s door. As persons in that profession seem able to, he had sensed the situation without asking as soon as he opened the door, grabbing his medical bag and then Harriet’s arm as they walked back toward her house. After confirming the death, he turned toward Harriet.
“Not exactly unexpected but rather abrupt.” His eyes asked an unspoken question.
“Yes, well, I think we all know that she was in rapid decline. It surely did not seem abrupt to me. I feel as though she has been sick for ages.”
The doctor did not reply, continuing to look down at Olivia’s body on the bed. Slowly his eyes wandered toward the nightstand, where the tea cup sat slightly off the edge, awkwardly balanced and threatening to fall. Several seconds later Harriet stepped over and picked it up.
“I’ll just clean up in here then before I take care of her body. Can you arrange a carriage for me doctor? And ask Hank to send a casket over with them?”
“I don’t suppose you will let me send the undertaker then? They can embalm,”
Harriet held up her hand. “Let’s not talk of that foolishness. I will wash her and dress her, just as my family always has, and then I will walk with her body down to the cemetery. Now, can you arrange the other?”
“Very well. I have to go out and see John Davis today, his wife is ill. I’m sure he will spare the time to drive a carriage over. I’ll have him stop at the general store for the casket. What time?”
Harriet shook her head. “Not today. It’s late and anyway that wouldn’t matter. I have to sit with her tonight of course. Tomorrow morning at ten a.m. will be fine.”
Doctor Warren paused before leaving, looking down once again at Olivia’s body. “Very abrupt,” he commented slowly, before turning and walking out.
It took the rest of the day for Harriet to clean and prepare her daughter for the grave. As she had seen her own mother do, and had done herself more times than she wished, she began by undressing Olivia and washing her body thoroughly with a sponge and warm water. Standing up to go prepare a light oil infusion with juniper, she also took the clothing Olivia had been wearing out of the room with her. Returning after giving the body time to dry, she rubbed the oil lightly over it and then carefully dressed her daughter in a dark blue, high-collared dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs. Crossing the arms over the stomach, she slipped sprigs of rosemary into the sleeves before tucking Claudia’s picture behind the left arm. With that work done, Harriet set the tea kettle on the stove and made a light lunch for herself before returning to sit with Olivia’s body. She stayed that way, through the evening and night, falling asleep in the chair sometime after one a.m. and being awoken by the light of the morning. With a slight flutter of her heart she looked over at the bed, seeing that all remained as it had been the night before. Her daughter truly was dead.
Preparing herself for the walk to the cemetery, Harriet put on her mourning dress and veil, along with a pair of boots suitable for the walk and the weather. Although little snow had fallen and the streets remained clear, the air was cold and regular shoes were not going to provide enough protection. Donning a coat, and grabbing a cup of tea, she went to sit on the porch to await the carriage, which pulled up a few minutes before ten o’clock.
John Davis had driven a simple affair for the mission today, a county-style wagon with a covered driver’s seat and plenty of room for the pine casket that sat in the back. He had another man with him, one that Harriet did not know, but the extra muscle would be useful today.
“Good morning ma’am. Are you set then? And don’t you have someone to go with you? A relative or friend?”
Harriet rose and straightened out her dress and coat. “No, no I do not. I shall be walking by myself, but thank you.”
John glanced back at his carriage and gestured toward it with his thumb. “You’re welcome to sit up on top with me. Jimmy can sit in the back.”
“I will walk, as my family has always done on days like this.”
Shrugging, John looked up at the sky. “Cold enough, but at least it’s sunny out. I stopped by and spoke to Henry McClinton. He says the ground was fairly easy to dig, so he’s ready for us anytime. Is she, well, I mean, may we go in then?”
“Yes, yes you may.”
Harriet remained standing while John and Jimmy hauled down the casket and then went in to bring the body out, affirming with a slight nod their adherence to her other requests that the body leave feet first and out the back door. As they passed by her she motioned them to stop, rearranging the dress on Olivia’s body and then securing the picture behind her folded hands. After they had affixed the lid and placed the casket back in the carriage, Harriet walked down and stood behind it, head bowed and hands clasped over her heart. As she nodded up at John she overhead, but ignored Jimmy’s mumbled comment.
“It’s gonna be one damn long ride over to that cemetery.”
…to be continued