End of the Line

by Nanci Pattenden

  • Literary (Genre) Historical
  • Literary (Length) Medium (1000-3000 words)

A young woman, Elizabeth, recounts the circumstances leading to the killing of her husband.

End of the Line
by Nanci Pattenden

“I’m sorry Father, but I’m glad he’s dead. You can not imagine what my life was like.” Elizabeth turned and stared out the tiny, bare window, watching the horses as they clomped up the muddy road, splattering mud with each step. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud, making the drops of rain that clung to the top of the window glisten like a string of pearls. “There was no other way out.”

His grey, bushy eyebrows shot up in shock. “Surely you can’t mean that,” he gasped. The wood groaned as he dropped onto the seat of the small rocker that sat beside the bed; the leather on his old book crackling as he pressed it against his chest. He closed his eyes and his lips started to move, the words lost under the squeaking as he rocked back and forth. After a few moments the rocking stopped. Loosening his grip on the book, he turned his head towards Elizabeth. “Nothing can justify murder. The taking of life, no matter how evil the person may be, is a sin. Do you feel no remorse, no regrets?”

“Regrets? He left my body bruised almost every day. I could not hide them all. People whispered behind my back, but I heard their comments. Why should I have any regrets?”

“Come, sit here and tell me what happened.”

Elizabeth’s long skirt rustled as she crossed the floor, causing bits of dust to dance and twirl in the tiny strip of sunlight that momentarily entered through the window. She paused for a moment, then perched on the edge of the bed. Placing her hands on her lap, she sat in silence for a minute, then threw herself sideways and wept into the pillow. “I never meant for it to go that far, Father. It all happened so fast. I’m not even sure I loved him. Not really. I just had to get away.”

“There, there child.” He stood, dropping his book on the seat of the chair. He reached toward her, and hesitated momentarily before placing one hand on her back. He could feel her body twitching as she sobbed. He withdrew his hand and pulled a hanky from his pocket. Tucking it into her hand he said, “Dry your eyes. You must confess everything. It’s the only way to cleanse your soul.”

Elizabeth lay sobbing several minutes longer before she sat up. Her dingy grey stockings were exposed and her dress crumpled. She stood and straightened her dress, ensuring that her legs were properly covered. Once more she perched on the edge of the bed, looking like a bird preparing for flight. She dabbed at the corner of her eyes, folded the hanky, dropped it onto her lap, then tucked her hair back in place.

“After Mother died, I felt like a slave. It was up to me to care for the household; doing all the cooking, cleaning and housework. It was just too much. I was only sixteen and wanted to be with my friends. When Thomas came to town he swept me off my feet. He was older than me. A little dangerous. But that intrigued me. I wanted him to notice me and he did. He took me for buggy rides whenever I could sneak away. I was terribly naïve, but it was all so exciting. Never before had I seen anyone so handsome, and he paid attention to me. Listened to me. No one ever listened to me.”

A slight flush colored her cheeks and she lowered her voice. “I even let him kiss me. When he suggested getting married, I thought it would be a way to escape the farm. Escape the drudgery.”

“Elizabeth,” he said. “You can’t solve anything by running away. Maybe if you had said something, asked for help, it would not have turned out this way. I’m sure many of the neighbours would gladly have lent a hand. No one expected you to do so much all on your own.”

“I know that now, Father. I was young, angry, and still grieving for Mother. Thomas made it all go away. I felt guilty leaving my brothers behind, but I just had to get out. I packed a small carpet bag, and Thomas came for me in his buggy one afternoon when everyone was out in the fields. We rode to west towards Lindsay, stopped at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, and asked the minister to marry us. Reverend Marsh was reluctant, but as soon as he heard we would be travelling together overnight, and with no chaperone, he agreed. We left the church less than an hour later, as man and wife. We got back in the buggy and rode north until it started to get dark. It was very late by the time we rode into Cameron, but we were able to find a very kind lady who gave us a room. It wasn’t as fancy as a hotel, but it was clean and comfortable. I wanted to keep going. We needed to get farther way, so Thomas sold the horse and buggy the next morning. We had to find somewhere no one would think to look. There was more than enough money to buy two tickets here, to Haliburton, the end of the rail line. Little did I know that it would truly be the end of the line for me.”

Elizabeth hesitated and let out a small sigh. The corners of her mouth curved up as she thought back.

“I fell in love with this town the moment we arrived. So many warm, friendly people. We were happy at first. There was a cozy little rooming house at the north end of town that had an empty room. Such a pretty little white two-story house, with a picket fence and a garden full of flowers of every colour. Thomas found a job at Malloy and Bryans Mill, but he only lasted a few months. He was not cut out for hard labor. I did not even know what type of work he was used to. His hands were never rough or calloused. Thinking back, I really did not know very much about him. He always had a little money, but he never seemed to work anywhere for long."

Her smile faded and a few tears ran down her cheeks. “I was such a fool, Father.” Elizabeth quickly wiped at the tears with the handkerchief and dropped it on the bed. “Thomas changed. I started to see a side of him that he had kept hidden from me. At first I though he was just lazy. We needed money so I had to find a job. I started cleaning at The Grand Central Hotel, working only a few days a week at first. Once I became friendly with some of the ladies in town I worked up the courage to ask them if they had any work I could do. I took in sewing for some of the older ladies whose eyes were failing. The younger women with large families also needed help. After about a year and a half, we managed to save enough to put a deposit on a little cottage of our own, just on the outskirts of town. Not a grand house, and it needed some work, but it was ours. Thomas began drinking. At first I didn’t really notice. It was very gradual and I tried to ignore it. I begged him to find a job. I even inquired at Gorrie’s store. Thomas was furious. That was the first time he hit me.”

She touched her cheek and gently rubbed the bruise that had almost faded. Her eyes started to glisten as she fought back the tears. Elizabeth picked up the hanky and started to twist and pull at it.

“The whiskey started to consume him. Thomas stayed out late most nights. When he came home, he reeked of the drink. There was talk that one of the men had a still. He was over there quite often during the day, and most nights too. He wasn’t even looking for work any longer. I took in as much sewing as I could. The Grand Central had hired me on full time after I had been there for a few months. With only my meager salary it was hard to keep food on the table. Any time I asked him when he was going to start to look for a job, he would hit me. After a few months, he hit me practically every day. The next day he would say he was sorry and it would never happen again. He was always sorry, but it didn’t stop. At first he would hit me with his fist, but he soon began to use whatever was close at hand. Once Thomas even broke my arm. I told Dr. Giles that I tripped, but he saw the other marks on my arm. He looked at me sympathetically, but never said a word.”

Elizabeth raised herself off the bed and started to pace around the small room, stopping at the window. She gazed outside, not really looking at anything.

“Thomas had been out of work for over a year and we needed money, so we took in a boarder. Philip was a god-send. He would try to stop Thomas from hitting me. Even got a few black eyes for his effort, but he still protected me whenever he could. Philip also did odd jobs around the house. Thomas never bothered. When he was home, he was either intoxicated or sleeping off the effects of the night before. It’s a wonder the roof never came down on us. Philip was such a nice young man. We fell in love. We didn’t mean for it to happen, it just did. We even talked about running away. Seems I’m always running from something.”

The sudden sounds of hammering startled Elizabeth, and her eyes moved towards the noise. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She took a step back, unable to stop looking at what she saw being built outside. Tears welled up in her eyes again.

“One night Thomas came home drunker than I’d ever seen him before. He was so violent. He knocked things over and even picked up one of the kitchen chairs and smashed it against the wall. When he came at me, Philip tried to stop him, but couldn’t. Thomas picked up a broken chair leg and brought it down on Philip’s head. Then he turned back to me. He tripped over the broken chair so I ran towards the fireplace and pulled the Winchester off the rack. I grabbed a handful of shots from the box and shoved them in the rifle. My hands were shaking, and a few hit my foot as they dropped to the floor, but I managed to load five or six. One thing I learned from my brothers was how to shoot. I could have shot Thomas in the leg to stop him, but I was tired of the abuse. I aimed the rifle at his head and fired. The second shot went into his chest. I fired two more shots, just to be sure.”

She covered her face with her hands and started to weep. “What have I done? I didn’t mean to do it, it just happened. Please forgive me, Father.”

Picking up the book from the chair, he walked towards Elizabeth. Opening it to a page he had marked with a deep purple ribbon, he began to read.

“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The priest removed a small silver crucifix from his pocket and gently placed it around her neck. Elizabeth took one last look out the cell window at the shadow of the gallows that stretched across the courtyard. Tears flowed from her eyes as she crumpled to the floor.

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