An Original Short Story
Mary Parry had been feeling in high spirits earlier that May evening, as she had walked along the towpath towards Llanfoist, breathing in the last of the warm sunshine.
Humming to herself, she had worn her prettiest dress. A crisp white pinafore smartly tied around a blue smock.
She felt in her pocket the crisp note. “Meet me Upper Yard Bridge at sunset – Thomas” it curiously had read.
A flutter in her stomach dared her to hope.
She permitted herself to imagine a small wedding at Llanelly Chapel, and she could barely contain her anticipation, the fears of the past few weeks felt like they were about to be lifted. Thomas was a stable groom and not yet earning a decent enough wage to afford them a good life, but he had promised faithfully that day would come when he became a head groom.
It was not; however, wise to be meeting Thomas without a chaperone. Despite her age of 21, the villagers would gossip, so she had taken her basket to collect flowers for pressing, something she often did.
Mary took great pleasure and pride in collecting wild flowers such as Canterbury bells and Wild Poppies, and she would carefully press them in her scrapbook, all of them tokens and memoirs of illicit meetings with Thomas.
Her passion for him besieged her.
They would meet when he walked the ponies along the canal where he would tie them up, and they would seize precious time together, watching the sun go down. Reading poetry together, talking, laughing and making love.
“Love”she whispered softly to herself as she looked down and tenderly touched the swelling beneath her pinafore.
She had been in despair in the recent weeks after discovering her condition. Mary’s father was a strict man. However, he was respected as a hard working farrier in the village and she, being the eldest of five girls, risked bringing her entire family into disrepute.
The alternative was too horrifying to consider.
To bear an illegitimate child in 1897 would almost certainly see any girl outcast from her family, the disgrace and social shame that wicked unmarried mothers brought to themselves, objects of vicious gossip and scandal, their bastard children born into a life of poverty, cruelty and abuse, filling up the workhouses for there were no alternatives, and all deserved in the eyes of society.
Nancy Price from Gilwern had born a son last year outside of the law. The image burned into her mind of the village women spitting venom as pitiful Nancy passed them in the street. The infant was said to have been sickly and died shortly after birth and Nancy was sent to live with her Aunt in London.
“The devil's work cannot be undone!” her mother had remarked at the time. The harsh words resonated in her mind.
Thomas was waiting there on the bridge. Approaching him, she noted the sun is gifting his glossy black hair a halo of light. She picked up the pace, her strained face, allowing a smile to materialize tenderly.
“Thomas!” she breathed, noting at once the happiness in her expression was not shared. His face was sapped, and his eyes did not meet hers. At once she took his hands. “Oh, Thomas, Tell me what is troubling you? My love, you look quite ill?”
The unease in her voice is causing it to falter, and as he pulled his hands away from her grasp, he stepped backward and shook his head.
“No. Nothing is wrong. I asked you to meet me so that I could deliver some news....” Wavering, he allowed himself a fleeting look at her, but if there were sentiment behind his eyes, it did not show.
“I am to marry. I am engaged to Miss Cynthia Jones of Newport. Her father has found employment for me as stable master, and I must leave next week.” He spoke quickly as if he might choke on the words if he took a breath.
The stunned silence between them was transient, as a yielding wail twisted into a nauseating scream...
“NO! Thomas NO!! Do you not love me? I have given myself to you my darling... Please, please I BEG you..!.”
Mary wept as she fell to her knees sobbing. As she looked up at Thomas, pleading with her eyes, she whispered, already sensing the hopelessness. “I am in a certain condition, you must know...?”
She begged for a reaction, but Thomas backed away.
Whilst making a desperate grapple, she tried to stop him but fell flat on her face as he cruelly kicked his leg backward out of her grasp.
Thomas looked at the wretched girl kneeling before him, muddied, trembling and sobbing but allowed himself no response. He weakly muttered something inaudible as he turned and walked away, his figure dissolving into the looming shadows of the dusk now closing in on the canal.
Mary watched silently as he got smaller and smaller and not once did he turn to look back at her. The flowers in her basket were wilting now... devoid of the life force that they sucked through their delicate stems from the earth, they withered, and the damp smell of decay was already manifesting under the setting sun.
Her face was washed clear of tears now, hours later. A beam of light from the night sky bounced off the murky, soundless water like torch light. Casting highlights upon long golden hair, swaying gently around trying to escape swollen white flesh. Lifeless eyes, fringed with the thickest lashes, her pupils black as the night sky itself, yet the white of her clothes dazzled back in rival luminosity.
Her soft hands cradled her belly, not stirring as fairy fern crept up over her.
The moon, magnanimous and tender, radiated down and its glistening white light reached out, kissing her stony cold cheeks and liberating from its depths, two hopeless souls.
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