Twenty-Four

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Twenty-Four

 

A Knock on the Door

 

“The well-to-do invested in stocks and bonds, expecting to make a killing in radio, or steel or nickel through their brokers in Toronto, Montreal or Wall Street. Ordinary working men and women pursued theirs pots of gold at the ends of cheaper but no less gaudy rainbows. At race tracks across the country the thoroughbreds might be owned by the rich, but most of the two dollar bets were placed by the

 

February 1925

 

Mary was far more tired since she’d taken on a part-time job. It had been a long day and Ross had tried her patience, as only a two-and-a-half-year old knows how to do. She was preparing supper while he played underfoot with his building blocks. Setting the table was a challenge as she sidestepped and dodged the tall stack of blocks that resembled a pyramid.

     There was a knock at the door and Mary quickly went to answer, hoping Jim hadn’t been disturbed. She opened the door. A tall moustached police officer was standing there.

     “I’m looking for James Church,” he said briskly.

     The tone of his voice frightened her. “Just a minute, I’ll get him,” she said, closing the door and leaving the policeman standing on the front porch. She ran to the bedroom and woke her sleeping husband. “Jim, there’s a policeman at the door and he wants to see you,” she said nervously.

     Jim was groggy from having been awakened from a deep sleep. He got up and threw on his trousers, his suspenders hanging down. Barefoot and shirtless, he went to the door. “Officer, what can I do for you?” he asked.

     “Are you James Church?”

     “Yes.”

     “You’re under arrest. I’m taking you down to the station.”

     “There must be a mistake,” he said raising his voice. “What have I done?”

     “Get your coat, you’re coming with me.”

     Mary watched in silence as Jim grabbed his shirt hanging on the back of the bedroom door and put on his socks and shoes. He turned to his wife. “I’ll be home in a couple of hours. There’s nothing to worry about,” he said quietly. Ross started to follow his father and Mary intercepted him, scooping up the squirmy toddler. She held him tightly as Jim threw on his coat and closed the door behind him.

     Mary fed Ross, read him “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and tucked him into bed. She put their untouched dinner away and waited for Jim to come home. In later years she was unable to recall the sequence of events that unfolded which changed her life forever.

     Mary went to visit Jim the next day, but had trouble finding a babysitter. The girl who usually minded Ross refused to come and her mother acted strange when she spoke to her. She finally had to take him next door to her neighbour.

     The Barton Street jail is a stately three-storey, white brick building that she had passed many times taking the streetcar downtown. The building could have housed government offices or been a well-maintained boarding house. A black wrought-iron fence surrounded the premises and it hardly looked like a place to confine criminals. Behind closed doors Mary was told that her husband had been charged with carnal knowledge, sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent or mentally disabled and therefore prohibited by law. Mary was so horrified that she almost went into a state of shock. Jim assured her that there’d been a terrible mistake and his lawyer would clear it up.

     In the days that followed, Mary moved through her daily routines as though she had been swept into a bad dream. She held her head high, continued to work, and asked her friend Mrs. Harkness to help with Ross, assuring her that these arrangements would be temporary. Mary visited Jim as often as she could. He maintained his innocence and she believed him.

     Two months went by in a blur. On Tuesday, April 14, Jim had his day in court. Mary remembered feeling so alone, so overwhelmed as she climbed the steps of the Wentworth County Court House. The main courtroom was on the second floor and Mary sat in the back row. The room was huge and the ceiling was probably thirty feet high. Large windows on two sides of the building lit the room, as well as a dome skylight in the centre of the ceiling.

     Two guards led Jim into the courtroom. He was in restraints and looked tired and drawn. Mary wanted to shout out that somebody had made a mistake. He was a good man, a husband, and a father, and he needed to come home. The judge came in and asked Jim to stand for sentencing. He explained that any crime committed and deemed punishable by more than two years must be served in a federal institution. Mary couldn’t understand why he was saying this and was so frightened she was holding her breath. She would never forget the judge’s words as long as she lived.

     “James Allan Church, you have been found guilty of carnal knowledge.” Her husband was convicted of a crime that he claimed he did not commit and was sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary. Mary was devastated. How could this have happened? It made no sense to her. How could her husband have such little regard for himself, if not for his family?

     Everyone was asked to rise. Mary remembered leaning on the back of the chair in front of her, her legs buckling as she watched two policemen lead Jim out, handcuffed and shackled. As he past her, he reached out and she drew back. Mary looked him squarely in the eye as he mouthed the words “I love you.” Then he was gone.

     Mary felt so betrayed. All along she’d believed in his innocence. How could she question the decision of a respected judge in a court of law? Jim had convinced her that he wasn’t guilty but after what she heard that day, she would never trust him again. Inside was a hollow, empty feeling like the one she had when Mona died. Mary ran out. Everything was a blur. The future had seemed so promising when they married in the Woodstock County Courthouse twenty years ago. Now it had been shredded apart in another courthouse.

     Mary couldn’t remember taking the streetcar home or picking up her son. She had no one to turn to and no one to tell her that everything would be all right. Her emotions swung back and forth from tears to anger, and she finally cried herself to sleep, being careful not to wake Ross.

     The next morning Mary sat at the kitchen table, wrapped in a frayed blue housecoat, her fingers laced around her coffee cup for warmth. She watched Ross innocently play on the floor at her feet. Her coffee grew cold and she poured it down the sink. Nervously twisting her wedding band, she looked out the window at the cloudless sky, as if hoping it might provide some answers. She’d vowed never to take her wedding ring off and somehow could not bring herself to break that promise. Although the laws had changed and it was easier for a woman to divorce her husband, Mary never considered it.

     In her mind she was a forty-year old widow with a young son to raise. There was no point in looking back on what could have been or what should have been. She’d already lost her daughter and now her husband. In barely an audible whisper she said, “Who will be next?