“Really, my love, I’m not at all feeling the thing.”
William stepped close to Mary, cupping her heart-shaped face in his hand. “Adam is with Willie and Eva, Sweetheart. He’s at peace.”
Dr. Buckland and his wife had just laid their nine-year-old son’s body in the Christ Church crypt, alongside those of their two older children.
“Darling,” he pleaded. “I’ve news to cheer you. Miss Anning has found a possible explanation for the bezoar stones–”
“Which are nothing more to me than the other dead things in my life.”
Mary gestured to the side table, groaning beneath the weight of fossils stacked upon each other in layers like they had lain in the earth before being dug up. The whole was lit by candles stuck in various vertebrae. “They are all wretched, reminding me of my beloved son.”
“Then let us begone from here,” her husband declared. “Let’s go to Lyme.”
“To see more dead things?”
“To see Miss Anning. She always cheers you.”
But once arrived at Lyme, Mary could only sit on a little rise, above the beach that was a “vast charnel house of the bones of the monsters that had once lived.”
Far below, she could see her husband picking through the sand. With him was a fellow geologist and well-known Lyme resident, Sir Henry de la Beche. He was a former military man whose illustrations made Miss Anning’s fossil collection famous.
“Mrs. Buckland, are you just going to sit up here, useless to us all?”
Mary looked up at Miss Anning’s approach. She was not troubled in the least by the other’s brusque manner. Indeed, she expected it from a woman who had struggled all her life. After all, Miss Anning had the distinction of being struck by lightning at the age of fifteen.
“I daresay I have been useless,” Mary answered. “You are fortunate, Miss Anning, in that you’ve no children of your own.”
The other shrugged and settled herself on the ground nearby, her thick walking boots sticking out unceremoniously from beneath her skirt.
Mary looked away once more to the beach below. “Sir Henry is devoted to you. Why do you not marry him?”
Miss Anning snorted. “I’m the daughter of a carpenter and a Dissenter, Mrs. Buckland. Our union would ruin us both and that would never do. Besides, we deal very well together without being married. He brings credit to my work that would otherwise go unnoticed.”
Nevertheless, Mary saw how Miss Anning looked down at her skirt, at hands unfashionably browned from the weather. Hands that twisted against each other and them fumbled for something concealed within the folds of the drab fabric.
Miss Anning drew out three brown rocks and handed them to Mary. “My bezoar stones.”
“More dead things?” Mary asked.
“Oh, my dear, have you not been attending? Your husband believes these are actually fossilized feces.” Miss Anning paused, her face beaming. “Those are not dead things. They are the leftovers of the living!”
“Upon my word,” Mary said, turning the stones over in her hands.
It was a new discovery. In its joy, Mary found reason to laugh again.