FALLEN WOMAN

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium


A story set in the early 1900's... a time when women who became pregnant out of wedlock were largely victimised and persecuted by society. Follow Mary on her mission to keep the child that her
family insisted she should give up.

Submitted: July 29, 2018

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Submitted: July 29, 2018

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At just eighteen years of age, Mary had worked for several years in domestic service as a housemaid for the wealthy Howard family in London. She was a loyal hard-working girl, though shy and nervous by nature. With a cloud of dark curls, a flawless, creamy complexion and large vulnerable dark eyes, she had a youthful yet delicate kind of beauty… an asset she was entirely unaware of.

When Thomas, a handsome young Footman joined the staff, he found Mary’s innocence endearing, her porcelain skin and huge dark eyes alluring, and her teenage curves desirable. Mary had been flattered by his attention... the attraction between them instant and magnetic. He had awakened a deep yearning inside her, feelings she had not experienced before.

Cook had taken her to one side. “You must be careful Mary, I don’t want you to get hurt. You’re young, and I have seen how your eyes light up whenever Thomas is around. Please take it slowly, get to know him. Believe me, over the years I have witnessed many a young girl, just like you, who had their lives ruined because of the consequence of a hasty love affair.” She tapped the side of her long nose for added emphasis.  

Mary had regarded her advice as being that of a jealous ‘old maid’… what did she know? His close proximity made her heart race and the bold look in his exquisite pale blue eyes sent pleasurable tingles coursing through her body.

It was one sunny summer’s day during some rare time off together, that they wandered hand in hand through the woods of the estate. Mary felt heady with desire, she had fallen under his spell and wanted him more than anything she had ever wanted in her life. Under the shade of a dense, leafy canopy, they lay down in the soft grass and surrendered to their primal need for each other.

************

In steadfast denial, Mary refused to acknowledge what her body was telling her, until she experienced the unmistakable first fluttering’s of life inside her.

Cook had noticed her sickly pallor and general lethargy. “Is there anything wrong, Mary?” she had asked, out of genuine concern.

Mary rounded on her. “Please stop prying,” she retorted, tears pooling in her dark eyes.

“I hope what I dreaded has not happened.”

Mary turned and fled from the kitchen, seeking the sanctuary of her room.

“Mary, is something wrong?” She ran headlong into the arms of Thomas, and let her tears flow. She then took him by the hand and led him into her cramped, dingy room and sat down on the pallet bed. “Thomas, I am with child.” Her huge eyes darted and her body shook involuntarily. 

Thomas sat beside her, pulled her to him and held her in his arms. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, without doubt.” She reached out a shaking hand and took his.

“Mary, look at me. I am here for you and our child. Now dry your eyes, I love you and everything will work out, I promise.”

That night, for the first time in weeks, Mary slept soundly.

The following morning, as Mary walked into the kitchen for breakfast, she noticed Thomas’s chair at the large, wooden table was empty.

Daisy, the scullery maid, noticed her shocked expression. “I take it you haven’t heard the news. Thomas has left… done a moonlight flit, he has.”

The next minute Cook was holding a bottle of smelling salts under Mary’s nose as she lay prostrate on the flagstone floor. “Oh Mary… I did try to warn you. The Mistress will have to be informed of your condition.”

“I am sorry Mary,” Mistress Howard began. “But in the circumstances, I cannot allow you to work here any longer. Please collect your belongings and leave at once.”

“But where will I go, my parents will disown me?” Mary pleaded.

“That is not my concern.”

Her Father paced the room in seething anger. “You are nothing but a strumpet, Mary. You have brought disgrace upon yourself and the family. You realise you will not be able to keep this… this bastard. You must get an application form the Foundling Hospital immediately to put your case forward… if you make a reasonable request, they will take the child on for you. In the circumstances, it is the only way to regain your self-respect. I cannot believe that a daughter of mine would bring such shame on the family. You must do as I say, there is no alternative. Do you understand?

“Your father is right, Mary,” her mother echoed, in stone-faced agreement.

**************

After a long and painful labour, Mary finally gave birth to a baby daughter, which the midwife immediately handed to her waiting stoic, mother.

“Please Mother, just let me hold her,” Mary pleaded, her voice desperate. “I know what I must do, so please do not deny me some precious time with her before I have to give her up.”

Mary noticed the hard, steely glint in her mother’s eyes soften. She grasped the opportunity and held out her arms expectantly.

As she cradled her tiny daughter, a wave of love so strong swept through her. “Mother, please let me keep her, I’m begging you.”

“No, Mary,” her mother retorted, her features once again, tight and hard. “We are all agreed on the course of action. The child must be cared for by the Foundling Hospital.”

At that moment, Mary made a decision. She would write a letter to her daughter, explaining how she had been forced to give her up, she would then hand her over to the hospital with the letter, and afterwards, throw herself under a train.

During her period of confinement, Cook visited Mary at the family home. “It is very sad, but in the long term, I have to agree with your parents. Once this is over and done with, I will put in a good word for you with the Mistress, after all, you were such a good, loyal worker. When is the baby to be handed over?”

“On Friday morning at ten o’clock. It has all been agreed.” Mary replied with tired resignation, her eyes huge dark pools of sorrow.

With a heavy heart, Mary stepped down from the train and took a taxi-cab to the hospital, cradling her baby close to her for the last time. The thought of life without her only strengthened her resolve to carry out her plan… after all, she had nothing left to live for.

As she approached the entrance, she heard her name being called… the voice unmistakable. “Mary, thank goodness I caught you in time.”

She spun round and stared into those familiar pale blue eyes. “What… what are you doing here?”

“Please forgive me, Mary. I chose to leave before the Mistress ordered me to, but I have not stopped thinking about you since. I have been working hard to save money, so we can be together. I went to see Cook, who thankfully gave me of the date and time you were to hand our baby over. I love you Mary, come with me now, we can make a new life together as a family.

Tears slid down his cheeks, as he gently took his tiny daughter in his arms.

************

At Southampton docks, they stared up in awe at the grand ship they were about to board, on a voyage across the Atlantic.

“They say The Titanic is unsinkable,” Thomas remarked as he handed over a ticket for their third-class accommodation.

“Well that’s a comforting thought,” said Mary, glancing down with pride at the sleeping Dora, cradled in her arms.

After they had made their way down the stairs and on towards the third-class cabins, Thomas came to a sudden stop. “Mary, when we are settled in our new life, will you marry me?” He asked, bending down on one knee. “I don’t care how long I have to wait… please say yes.”

Mary beamed with happiness. “Oh, Thomas. Yes… yes, of course.”

The sound of applause and cheers echoed around them, as other passengers joined in the celebration.

They quickly settled into their functional cabin, and began to enjoy the social life with fellow passengers in the communal lounge. Some of them played instruments, prompting much merriment, singing and dancing which Mary and Thomas joined in with eager enthusiasm. Little Dora soon became accustomed to the noise, and slept soundly through it. For the first time in her life, Mary revelled in her new-found freedom… a life free from rules, control and compliance. She felt blessed to have the love of Thomas and little Dora, and excited at the prospect of his marriage proposal.

“Something must have happened, I can hear raised voices,” Thomas called from the doorway of their cabin. “You stay here with Dora, while I find out what is going on.”

Thomas opened the door to a stampede of terrified passengers racing along the passage. “What’s happened,” he asked, tugging the sleeve of Albert’s jumper, who pushed him roughly away. “An ice berg… the ship has hit an ice berg,” he yelled, above the panic and mayhem.

Mary ran over to Thomas, a worried frown creasing her brow.

“No need to worry, this ship is unsinkable. It seems the ship could have sailed too close to an ice-berg. It only takes one person to panic, and everyone else follows suit. I think we should stay here until everything has calmed down.”

“If you are sure. Actually, come to think of it, I did feel the ship sort of vibrate earlier, but thought nothing of it.”

“Trust me, people are over reacting.”  

Dora began to cry lustily. “Is it feed time already, sweetheart?” Mary scooped her up, kissing her plump, rosy cheek.

“Well, while you feed her, I think I might go up on deck just to satisfy my curiosity. I will be back shortly.”

Thomas made his way through the long passageway towards the staircase, leading up to the deck. As he turned the corner, what he saw sent shivers up his spine. He stopped in his tracks as a pool of murky water crept slowly along the floor until the ice-cold liquid soaked his shoes. He could now hear raised voices, and quickened his pace towards the altercation taking place.

A group of his friends had grabbed anything they could lay their hands on to batter the locked gates that prevented them accessing the stairs, while a member of the ship’s crew on the other side, ordered them to return to their cabins.  

Through the metal gates, Thomas glimpsed water cascading down the steps and realised at that moment, the unsinkable ship must have sustained serious damage. With superhuman effort, he pushed himself through the marauding, hysterical mob, to find himself pinned against the locked gates. “Please Officer, I’m begging you, I have the love of a good woman and a baby daughter, please, for pity’s sake, open the gates.”

Thomas watched in horror as the Officer turned, and disappeared up the staircase without a backward glance.

Nausea rose in him, constricted his throat. He stumbled, retched… he had to get back to Mary and Dora, they were his priority, he would do everything in his power to save them… he had to.

With the icy water rising by the minute, he fled through it towards their cabin. As he turned the corner, he saw Mary trying to wade through, with the baby clutched tight to her. “Thomas, what are we to do? You said this ship was unsinkable, that we would be safe.”

He looked into her eyes, at the abject terror that burned in them. “That’s what they said, Mary, but the ship has been seriously damaged. Wait here for a moment while I fetch our life jackets, then we must try to make our way up on deck, to the life-boats. Stop worrying, Mary, we will be safe,” he lied.

With Dora cradled in the crook of one arm, he pulled Mary along with the other… the water now rising at an alarming rate. As they approached the stairs, a triumphant shout went up and the crowd surged forward. The gates had finally surrendered to the relentless battering, but it was every man for himself. They battled their way up, clinging desperately to one another, fearful of being pushed over and trampled by their fellow passengers… their new friends, now their rivals.

Once out on deck, chaos reigned… people were running back and forth, crew members trying in vain to restore some semblance of order. Cries of ‘women and children first’ barely audible above the frantic hysteria.

Thomas noticed a small boy sitting on the deck, dazed and alone. “Mary, take hold of his hand, we cannot leave him there.”

Mary grabbed his hand, but he pulled back, looking desperately around him for his parents.

“What is your name” Mary asked.

“Arthur,” he whispered.

“Listen to me, Arthur. You need to come with us, we will help you find your parents.” He stood up, gripped her hand, and gave her a wan smile.

As they fought their way through the mayhem, Mary suddenly stopped. “Thomas, did you hear what he just said?”

“Who?”

She pointed. “The Officer over there, he said there are not enough life-boats. I heard him telling his colleague.”

“You must have miss-heard.”

“No, Thomas. I heard him, loud and clear. That must be why they are calling for women and children first.”

“No, Mary. In an emergency, it is always women and children first. A flash of realisation hit Thomas like a sledge hammer, he now knew exactly why the gates to the third-class deck had been locked. They had been locked in and left to drown, while first-class passengers took precedence in the race for places in the available life-boats. As human beings, they were expendable. Rage consumed him at the injustice of their actions.

As murmurings of inadequate life-boats spread, hysteria reached fever pitch. Thomas grabbed Arthur’s small hand. “Come on, Mary, no time to waste.”

She followed him towards a queue of women and children desperately trying to clamber into one of the life-boats. Mary noticed some of the women still wore their fine evening dresses and priceless jewellery.

“You and the children must leave now.”

Tears sprang into her eyes. “But I can’t leave without you.”

“Mary, you must do what is right for Dora and young Arthur here. I will survive, I promise. I love you… hold on to our dream.” He said with more conviction than he felt.

“I want my Mummy and Daddy,” Arthur whimpered.

“Arthur, you must get into the life-boat with Mary and Dora, it will be exciting, and you will see Mummy and Daddy quite soon.” 

Thomas watched as the life-boat slowly inched its way down into the inky black, freezing ocean, Mary’s huge, sad eyes about to become an indelible image etched on his mind. He turned and focused on what he needed to do to give himself the best possible chance of survival.

On every deck, frenzied crowds desperate for survival, surged forward in an attempt to secure places in life-boats. Fights were breaking out between passengers and warning shots fired into the night sky in a futile attempt to restore order. Thomas could almost smell the fear, the confusion and the uncertainty as people, driven wild with fear were prepared to sacrifice the lives of others, to save their own.

After finally making his way up on to the top deck, amongst the panic and mayhem, he observed an elderly, well dressed couple, walking as if taking in the night air with their arms linked, either in denial or acceptance of their fate.

Despite the turmoil all around them, a quartet of violinists calmly and valiantly continued to play their up-beat music.

He passed an Officer staring over the ship’s rail into the freezing depths beneath. “Why were there insufficient life-boats? Thomas enquired. “So many more lives could be saved… what went wrong?”

Thomas saw fury blazing in his eyes. “They said the ship was unsinkable, but they were wrong.” He then lifted a pistol to his temple.

“NO!” Thomas yelled, recoiling in horror, his body shaking violently, his clothes and face splattered in blood.

A sudden and massive list, sent everything sliding down towards the waterlogged bow of the ship… he watched helplessly as people who lost their footing or grip, went skidding past him along with items of furniture and personal effects. Thomas clung to the ship’s rail for all he was worth, crawling his way up towards the stern, for safety. He had to survive, he had promised Mary. Images of his tiny daughter flashed before him… he would not, could not, let them down.

He steeled himself, his mind racing. He was a strong swimmer and when the ship finally succumbed to its resting place on the sea bed, there would be floating debris on which to take refuge. He would not allow himself to think the worst, he had to make it... he would survive, somehow he would survive.

Screams of panic were momentarily masked by the horrendous sound of the unsinkable ship as it split into two halves. Thomas watched in horror as the bow was swallowed up, as if in the jaws of a ravenous beast. The ship’s stern then rose up until it was almost vertical. People all around him were screaming and falling, but Thomas clung desperately to the ship’s rail, focused only on self-preservation. The upended stern seemed to pause ominously… to Thomas split-seconds passed as if in slow motion, while he waited for the right moment to take a leap of faith. If he left it too late, he would be dragged under by the pull of the sinking ship. He sensed a sudden gathering of speed, as the ship descended vertically on its way into the icy depths of the ocean. After counting down from five to zero and, taking in a deep breath, he launched himself into the abyss.

Contact with the freezing water felt like hundreds of knives piercing his body. The next second he was spinning round and round, descending deeper and deeper and when he felt his lungs were about burst, he surfaced… gasping. He tried desperately to focus his mind on swimming to safety; dead bodies and those fighting for survival, surrounded him. Thomas knew he too had only a few more minutes in the freezing water before his organs would begin to shut down, and he would join them.

Although they felt leaden, he forced his limbs to move through the water, but in spite of his dogged determination, his icy opponent soon got the upper hand.  I promised her and I let her down again, was his last thought as he began to flail and choke.

Thomas became vaguely aware of voices…

“I think this one might still be alive.”

He managed to raise a hand in acknowledgement, before being hauled to safety.

“He is in a bad way,” he heard someone say. “Try to get him dry, we need to get all the critical survivors on to the rescue ship Carpathia as a matter of priority.”

*************

As the life boat pulled alongside Carpathia, Mary with Dora cradled safely in her arms, and young Arthur in front of her, mounted the steps to safety. They were issued with blankets, food and a hot drink. She knew she should be grateful… she was safe, had survived the disaster, unlike other poor souls who had lost their lives. But until she had news of Thomas, she could not feel gratitude or anything else, for that matter. She hoped and prayed that he was safe, but if not… it was just too painful to contemplate.

“Daddy,” screamed Arthur, racing towards a slumped figure on the deck, huddled in a blanket. 

The ashen faced man turned to face the boy. “Arthur… my dear, dear boy.”

Mary watched with tear filled eyes as father and son embraced. She stood up, and walked towards them with tentative steps.

“Daddy, Mary has been looking after me. Where’s Mummy?”

“I do not know, Arthur.”

The stranger looked up at Mary through hollow, haunted eyes. ”Thank you for caring for my son… in the chaos, we lost him. My wife, she refused to get into the life-boat without him. We searched frantically, but he seemed to vanish into thin air. Then when the ship upended, she...” His voice faltered as he swallowed back tears. “I tried with all my might to hold on to her, but slipped from my grasp… I, I watched her fall, along with many others.”

“Mary’s mind raced as she pieced together the events. “We found Arthur, he was lost and alone so we took him with us. Thomas insisted I took the life-boat with the children to safety. I am so sorry but it is possible that while you were searching for him, Arthur was already with me and my baby daughter in the life-boat.” Rivers of tears streamed down her cheeks unchecked.

“Mary, what you did was honourable and compassionate. This terrible disaster… so many lives lost…  I am in total shock. Is there any news of Thomas?”

“No, not yet. We were on our way to start a new life together as a family. I don’t know what we will do if he didn’t survive.”

As the stranger comforted his sobbing son, his hollow eyes met Mary’s. “You were there for Arthur and I will be there for you.”

An Officer approached them, armed with an official looking clip-board. “Name please?” he asked Mary, his tone business-like.

“Mary and Dora Weston.” She replied.

“And is that Mrs Weston?

“No, Miss Mary Weston and my baby daughter, Dora Weston,” she clarified.

She heard a loud sigh of disapproval, and watched his face change into a tight lipped, pious mask of contempt, as he added their names to the list on his clip-board.

“Please sir, can you tell me if Thomas Grainger is among those who have been rescued?”

“I will check the up-to-date list of those on board. Thomas Grainger you say… and what relation is he to you.”

“He is my fiancé and the father of my child.”

“I see,” he said, raising his bushy eyebrows in condemnation of her brazen reply.

Witnessing his judgmental attitude to Mary, Noel stepped in to her defence. “Please sir, show the lady some respect, she saved my son… she is honourable and does not deserve such self-righteous disapproval.”

“And your name, is?”

“Noel and Arthur Burton. My wife Olivia… I watched her fall.” His voice faltered, and his eyes again welled with tears. “I do not think she could have survived.”

“I am so sorry to hear that, but I will check to see if her name is listed. Please do not give up hope, they are still out there searching.”

“Did you hear that Mary, we must not give up hope?” Noel touched her hand gently, but in his eyes, Mary could see only defeat and loss.

Together, they searched the decks of Carpathia, frantically scrutinising the haunted faces of the huddled figures swathed in blankets but, alas, there was no sign of their loved ones.

“If all the people from Titanic are now on here, then Mummy must be here somewhere.” Arthur reasoned.

Noel stooped down, placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders and looked deep into his wide, hopeful eyes. “Arthur, not everyone could be saved, so we must be prepared for bad news.”

“You mean Mummy could have died?”

“Yes, Arthur, it is a strong possibility.”

Father and son surrendered to their grief, as they joined in the mournful lament that echoed around decks of the ship.

As Mary observed their grief, she felt a kind of detachment from it. She was determined to hang on to the belief that Thomas had survived… it was all she had left, and she would not give up on it. He had promised, she could still hear his voice telling her to hold on to their dream, and she intended to do just that.

Dora’s cries of hunger interrupted her reverie. “Noel, I have to feed Dora… I will return shortly.”

In the privacy of a quiet corner, Dora sucked greedily at her breast. For the first time since her birth, Mary could see Thomas etched in her tiny face… the colour of her eyes, the curve of her mouth… he was so proud of her. Tears leaked slowly from the corner of her eyes; oh, how their lives had spun out of control in the space of a few hours… so many people doomed to a watery grave, so many dreams shattered, all because the unsinkable ship sank. The unsinkable ship, equipped with too few life boats… the unsinkable ship that had somehow collided with an ice berg. How could it possibly have happened? But it had!

With Dora’s appetite satisfied, Mary made her way back towards Noel and Arthur. Noel, she noticed, was deep in conversation with the Officer who had questioned them earlier. As they watched her approach, the look in their eyes made her heart quicken, her stomach lurch and a sense of dread engulf her.

“Miss Weston, can you please come with me, I may have news of your… your… fiancée.”

“Is he alive? Please tell me he is alive.” Her dread evaporated instantly as a sudden burst of euphoria coursed through her.

“Miss Weston,” he repeated, his tone level. “There are a number of survivors who required immediate medical assistance by the ship’s doctor. Among those who remain in a critical condition is a patient who managed to inform those who saved him his name, which coincidently, is Thomas. We cannot be certain if he is your fiancée, but would ask if you would be willing to help identify him.”

“Thomas is alive,” Mary said, her eyes wide and incredulous.

“As I said, we are still unsure of his identity.”

“Mary, you must go with the Officer… where there is life, there is hope,” Noel encouraged.

“Please, come this way, Miss Weston.”

With her mind reeling, Mary dutifully followed the Officer along several passageways and into a large, cabin turned into a temporary ward, with six beds. There was a lady keeping a silent vigil at the bedside of a loved one, while a doctor hovered over a patient in the far corner with a stethoscope. When he saw Mary, he beckoned her over.

As she approached the bed, Mary instantly recognised the strawberry blond curls of Thomas… she hurried to the bedside where he lay, gasping for every breath, his pallor deathly white.

“Yes, this is Thomas Grainger, my fiancée and the father of my child.” At the sound of her voice, his eyelids flickered. She sat beside him and took his hand… tears splashed down her face as she watched his desperate fight for life.

“I’m here Thomas, with Dora. Please don’t leave us.”

His pale blue eyes flickered open… “M-Mary,” he gasped.

“Thomas. You cannot leave us, we need and love you so much. You made me a promise, remember, and you damn well need to keep it. Do you hear me?”

Sensing her mother’s agitation, Dora began to scream in terror. “Listen to her, Thomas… listen to your daughter… please do not give up the fight.”

Mary stood up and rocked her daughter to and fro, trying to soothe and calm her, and when her cries had subsided she resumed her vigil. At first, she couldn’t be sure, but his breathing seemed slightly less laboured.

She summoned the doctor, who responded immediately, thinking the worse. “Look, his breathing has steadied,” she said, excitement shining in her eyes.

“I do believe you are right.”

She watched as he took his temperature, his pulse, listened to his chest and then wrapped a contraption around his arm, which he pumped up and listened to with a stethoscope. “I believe he has survived the crisis… his vital signs have improved, but he will need to rest.”

“Doctor, does this mean he is going to recover?”

“It is looking a lot more hopeful.”

Mary sat down by his side and squeezed his hand. “I knew you would keep your promise.”

She noticed a hint of a smile form on his lips, felt his fingers wrap gently around her hand.

“This is wonderful news, Mary… a miracle, no less,” Noel enthused.

Arthur looked up at his Father, with wide innocent eyes. “Maybe a miracle could bring Mummy back too.”

“We will wait and see son… we will have to wait and see.”

(4800 words)

THE END

 

This story contains historical facts of the doomed ship Titanic on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, from Southampton UK to New York City, in April 1912. However, the characters and their personal story of survival is entirely fictional.

Of the 2,208 passengers on The Titanic… on that fateful day, 1,503 perished!


© Copyright 2018 Sue Harris. All rights reserved.

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