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Various Veins

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Have you read Charlotte Gray's novel, The Massey Murder? It raises so many thoughts I feel compelled to write about it. I'll try not to spoil the end.

Gray tells us she has written about people who's lives shifted the course of history. She chose to write the story of someone few, if any, have heard about. She chose Carrie Davies, an English girl who came to Canada just before WWI broke out.

In the days before that war changed the tides of lives, the roles of men and women were complementary. Men earned the living for the family, women kept the house and cared for the children. Of course this is too simple, wealthy folk could hire people to do the labour. Carrie's family was not wealthy.

Carrie was trained to fill the role of a maid servant, and taught to keep men from seducing her because her chance of attracting a husband depended on virginity.

So prepared, Carrie came to Toronto, Canada to join her married sister. She was taken on as the sole maidservant in the home of Bert Massey and his wife Rhoda. There was one son who lived at home.

No, it's not what you think, but the son did play a key role in the events.

Most of us have heard of Hart Massey who provided the wealth to leave landmarks in the city, Hart House on the campus of U of T being one. Gray reports it wasn't philanthropy that inspired his generosity, more selfish hopes moved him.

Vincent Massey, too, is well known as the first Canadian to serve as Governor-General in 1952.

Bert Massey was a car salesman, not filthy rich as evidenced by the small household staff, and probably never to be heard of if he hadn't gotten a bullet lodged in his aorta.

As I read how the roles of women changed in the British Empire, when World War I sent men to war and the women took up much of the work that had to be done, I became aware that Martha's life paralleled that of young Carrie Davies. Martha never worked as a domestic before she married me, but she filled the role in her own home after her mother died. Martha was 10 years old.

Martha worked as a clerk in the Eden general store for a short time, and as a telephone operator for four years. During those years young swains, myself included, mooned over her. She, like Carrie Davies, was well aware of the fact that young men were allowed, expected even, to sow their wild oats. Young women risked becoming old maids if they dared become part of those proverbial grain fields.

The late Buddy Hackett once said, "It's a far, far better thing to take a bad little girl and help her to be bad than to take a good little girl and talk her into it."

There came a night when Bert, after a lively party in his home, tried to seduce Carrie. Rhoda was away on a trip. Carrie prepared and served the food and drink for a raunchy party.

Carrie was given a ring, a token of Bert's appreciation for her work, and he managed to kiss her. She shoved him aside and locked herself in her room. Gray doesn't outright say he was drunk, but it seems likely or she couldn't have slipped his clutches.

Next morning she stayed out of sight until Bert left for work. Then she went to her sister's home and described her misadventure. Her brother-in-law gave her advice. He told her to go back because since she'd been well treated for two years it was unlikely her employer would abuse her when he'd sobered up.

When Carrie saw Bert coming toward home, she panicked. This is where the son's actions came into the story. He practiced shooting in the basement, showed the girl how to load the revolver, but she never fired it until she ran to get it from his room to defend herself. She put five bullets in the cylinder.

When Bert unlocked his door, Carrie opened it and started shooting wildly. After two shots the gun misfired but the first slug cut the artery. Bert was heard to shout "Oh!" by a newsboy who had just been paid by the victim for his week's delivery. He staggered back to the street and fell. Carrie testified she didn't know she'd killed him. His body was hidden, all but his head, by the snowbanks.

By today's laws we'd not say Bert was murdered, there being no premeditation or intent beyond avoiding "a fate worse than death."

I promised not to spoil the story. I recommend you read it for yourself.

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