‘Mary Heald’ A monologue by Patsy Hudson

The Rows in 1762

MARY HEALD WALKS ALONG THE STREET AND SEES A CHEMIST’S SHOP AHEAD OF HER.  SHE STOPS:

Is this the shop?  (SHE COMES CLOSER)  Yes.  A few more steps and it becomes clearer, that yes, I’ve found it again.  When I passed it earlier with Constance I made sure not to show any interest – she must not know I’m here. 

I thought it would be easy to find again, but I couldn’t see anything from the stagecoach when we arrived, and all of these dark stinking passages look the same from the street.  

It would have been so much easier to go to the apothecary in Knutsford, but I dare not.   They might recognise me there, and even if they didn’t, a woman with this appearance would be too easy to find in a small town.

Dare I go in?  Within this shop lies the answer to my problems, but at what price?  And I don’t just mean the pennies in my pocket that were so hard to come by: a farthing less at the grocers’ now and again, and a ha’penny less at the butchers’, while keeping the portions on his plate the same as always.  

He hasn’t noticed a thing.  Hasn’t noticed my meagre rations.  As long as his appetites are sated he never gives a thought to me. Gnawing hunger has been my punishment for this deceit, but what of that?  I am well used to suffering, but now I can feast on hope instead.

The actor reading from a book outside the chemist
Amanda Newby as Mary Heald


But can I be certain?  This course I take, will it work, will it be the solution I crave? 

The farmers buy arsenic for the rats.  How much does it take to feed one big rat?  They might be buying for a hundred rats and I am buying for just one, but then my rat might be a hundred times bigger than theirs.  

I shall ask for enough arsenic for two hundred rats.  I cannot risk getting this wrong.

Can I do it?  Can I step inside?  As I am now, I am just the downtrodden wife of a ‘godly man’ – as anyone who looks on his dress and public piety would think.  But if I continue with my plan, I become, not just the sinned against, but a sinner myself. 

But surely a merciful God will not condemn me to a worse Hell than the life I now lead?  They say that we should quake at the word of the Lord but I quake at the thought of the life I live.

A CHURCH BELL STRIKES

Did the church clock just strike three?  Constance will be returning soon.  She was quick to believe that the journey at my age had wearied me too much to visit the pretty river described by Mr Defoe; she was happy to continue on there alone while I rested. But now the bells are summoning her back to meet me by the Cross, ready to catch the afternoon coach home, and my deed is not yet done.  

The hour gives urgency to my task and brings me courage; I push open the shop door.  (SHE OPENS A SHOP DOOR.  STANDS ON THE THRESHOLD)  From within I hear another bell ring.  

Does it toll for him, or for me?

SHE WALKS INSIDE.  THE DOOR SHUTS.

(MARY HEALD WAS THE LAST WOMAN TO BE BURNED AT THE STAKE IN CHESTER – FOR POISONING HER HUSBAND)