A short story
(c) Jennifer Mosher 2013
Only a few more hours and she would be on her way to freedom – after 31 years. A new life in America. New money, new friends, and peace. Her only fear was that perhaps George might still reach out from the grave and touch her.
George. When she’d married him at 16 he’d said gruffly, ‘Stop that blubbering, girl. It’s a wedding, not a damned funeral!’ When she’d murdered him at 39, he didn’t say a word – for the first time in 23 years.
All her married life he’d never called her by name, or used any endearments. For the first few years it was ‘Girl, bring me this’, or ‘Girl, I want that’. After she’d delivered him three fine children, he began instead to refer to her as ‘Woman’.
She often wondered why he’d married her. He gave her a pittance to live on, and begrudgingly, despite the fact that she had brought their comfortable Highgate house into the marriage. The house had been left to her by her mother’s unmarried uncle, but George seemed to think it only fair she contribute something of value to the marriage. She’d felt like a burden.
For 23 years she lived without his love or affection, and often without his presence. As a successful ‘promoter’ (as he liked to call himself) he regularly spent nights in London, or in the North, especially if he was touring with his boxing troupe. She would help him to think up catchy headlines for his billboards; he would thank her by telling her ‘It’s time you brought me my dinner, Woman’.
It was in the spring of 1904, when George was ‘on tour’ again, that she went down to the cellar to retrieve some preserving jars and, to her horror, discovered rats. Mr Cooper from the General Store on the Archway Road gave her a powder, telling her to ‘Use it sparingly, now, and be sure to keep it away from food and children – it could do untold harm!’
Within a day, the rats were either dead or gone. Whilst cleaning up, the idea came to her.
She found it less difficult than expected to lever a couple of flagstones up off the cellar floor. For the next five weeks, whenever George was away, she would dig furiously, piling the dirt behind a cupboard in a dark corner of the cellar.
Finally she was ready. As she sat knitting one evening, George issued his usual bedtime command. ‘Time for my hot toddy, Woman.’ In her usual obliging manner she brought him his toddy and watched fascinated as his face contorted with the pain of holes being burnt in his tongue, throat, stomach. When it was over, it took her just less than an hour to bury him, his best suit, hat, shoes, fob watch, and a few other small items which he would normally pack when travelling for just a few days.
That night, she slept better than she had done for years.
The next morning, she knocked on her neighbours’ doors, asking if they had seen or heard George leave during the night. Mrs Goodman was sympathetic. ‘No dear, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon. A man knows when he’s loved.’
Mrs Adams was a little less kind, saying, ‘If you don’t share the same room, how do you expect to keep the man happy?’
With one little question, she had created her own alibi and also satisfied herself that the neighbours had heard and suspected nothing.
After a week, she contacted the local constable. He, like Mrs Goodman, was sympathetic as he searched George’s things for clues. The carefully hidden scented handkerchief with the embroidered ‘E’ and the sweetly written note from ‘Emily’ in his sock drawer left the young constable consoling her. ‘Some men just don’t know when they’re well off, M’am. That’s all as I can say.’ He left, promising to do what he could to trace George, but telling her not to hold out too much hope.
And then, she waited. After six months, she engaged the services of a lawyer who set the wheels in motion to discover all of George’s assets, pending her divorce application. She sold her house and moved to Somerset to take up a post as a governess (she could no longer rely on family for handouts) while she waited some more.
By 1908, her lawyer had discovered cash and property assets in George’s name worth in excess of £400,000. She was astounded. By discreet enquiry her lawyer had ascertained that George had been a womaniser and a gambler, but contrary to appearances, a smart one who managed to hang on to most of his winnings and invest them wisely.
Her lawyer then discovered, to his astonishment, that George had not touched any of his assets or their income since he had abandoned her. It was this that prompted him to suggest that she apply to have George declared deceased after seven years. Perfect, she thought. The result she wanted without even having to ask for it.
For Christmas 1911, she gathered her family and told them that George had been declared dead. Whilst being generous to her now grown children, she managed to retain the larger part of George’s estate for her future. She then announced that that future would be in America, that she had waited all her life for a little luxury and adventure and that she would be sailing in the New Year.
The following spring, on a breezy afternoon, she was introduced to the captain as she boarded the liner which was to take her to her new life. ‘Welcome aboard, M’am. I hope you have a pleasant journey. Would you care to join me at the Captain’s table this evening?’ He was a man of experience, especially wealthy widows. She agreed, before following the porter to her stateroom, the most beautiful accommodation she had ever seen.
Later that evening, as she relaxed on the deck sipping champagne, she wondered what her new life would hold for her. And she wondered how peace and happiness might feel, as the setting sun shone on the polished portholes of the RMS Titanic.