The room was still. Susan had just slipped under the covers and stretched out, trying to make herself relax enough for sleep. The day had been a long one. She had been reading her sisters’ letters, trying to make sense of their contents. Reading them over again didn’t seem to help. They contained different versions of the same event, her mother’s death. Her father had passed away and her mother remarried about five years later.
Her mother, Ellen, was a lonely woman after her husband died. They had always been together, over years of hard work and personal trials, and Ellen felt almost betrayed by his death. She was not that far along in years that she wanted to be alone without a partner.
Visiting the local post office that was a fifteen foot square building on the side of the road, she met her future husband. This tiny town had one public government building, a post office. Her old friend was the post mistress, so she visited often. Today was just one of those ordinary visits until she saw a nice appearing gentleman looking at the postcard rack. Postmistress Jennie spoke up, “Ellen, I’d like you to meet Robert Mays. He’s visiting from Mississippi.”
The man tipped his fedora style hat and said “Good morning, ma’am.” Ellen noticed he was dressed neatly and his Southern drawl charmed her immediately. She blushed slightly as he noticed her staring. He turned back to the postcards and picked one of the nearby river. “Is this the same river about a half mile from here?”
“Why, yes it is, the Button River. You can even see it from here.” The man seemed interested and Jennie continued. “I could take you there on my lunch break if you want.”
Ellen seized the opportunity and blurted out, “I can take you there right now if you like, I’m free.” Almost surprised at her forwardness, she stepped back towards the door, Jennie gave her a look, but Ellen ignored it.
“Well that would be very nice of you, ma’am,” the stranger replied. He walked nearer to Ellen which was only a couple of steps in that small building. ” I appreciate your offer, shall we go?” He opened the door and took Ellen’s arm to guide her through.
“Thank you, Mr. Mays.”
“Please, call me Robert.”
“All right, Ellen is my name.” She felt instantly at ease with this southern gentleman, but not sure why. It wasn’t like her to be so relaxed around men. They walked the half mile or so to the river, and he took out his handkerchief and dusted off a large boulder so she could rest. A giddiness overcame her at such an old fashioned gesture, but admitted to herself she liked it. Robert admired the river. He also admired Ellen and it was beginning to bother him a bit. He was just visiting, returning home immediately when business was done.
“Beautiful isn’t it? The water so clear. It got its name from all the rounded stones you can see in the bottom.” Robert glanced at the river and it was beautiful, but his main interest was Ellen.
Robert and Ellen married shortly after their first meeting. They seemed happy and made frequent trips from Mississippi to New York State, where Ellen grew up. This seemed the ideal future for them until Ellen’s health failed. She wanted to be by her daughters because she felt near to death. She and Robert moved into a nice home in upstate New York, close to her family.
The daughters called frequently, but Robert always answered the phone giving them their mother’s regrets in not answering. Trying to visit, it seemed Ellen was always resting, not to be disturbed. A few times he would be out for groceries or some other needed items, and one of them would sneak in to see her. She didn’t seem to be herself, asking them why they never call or visit. They were worried her sickness was affecting her mind. Questioning Robert, he agreed, professing she might need to be hospitalized.
Busy with their own families, they didn’t seem to notice time passing quickly. Susan lived over a thousand miles away, so she wasn’t able to visit. Their attempts at visiting or calling their mother lessened. Robert would never let them speak to her anymore. One of her daughters grew desperate and demanded to see her mother. She was shocked to see how Ellen’s health had deteriorated in a matter of days. Ellen seemed to be in a slight stupor, hardly recognizing her oldest child. Then she started accusing her of abandoning her in her illness. When her daughter tried to explain, Ellen got so agitated she had to leave.
Shortly after this episode, Ellen was moved to a hospital and in a few days, she passed away. Robert seemed quite calm about everything. He planned a huge funeral, seemingly ostentatious for a small town. His outward show of affection for Ellen’s family surprised them all.
Ellen’s three daughters were naturally saddened and shocked when Robert decided to sell all of Ellen’s personal possessions without their knowledge. Even old family papers and books the girls would loved to have were sold to strangers. Robert further distanced himself from them and sold the New York home and everything in it.
A few weeks later, the girls were contacted by Robert’s lawyer. They were to sign over any claims to Ellen’s property and holdings. They didn’t even realize she had these things. It seems when they married, Robert convinced Ellen to buy certain properties under her name only. Apparently he had previous legal issues and was barred from doing contracts under his name. The girls started to compare notes and realized their mother’s marriage involved insurance fraud. They each wrote Susan immediately.
Susan and her sisters decided an autopsy was needed to insure their mother’s death was a natural one. The results came back that it was. Even with that information, they did not trust that Robert had not contributed to Ellen’s death. The lawyer insisted the paperwork be signed and so they did. Robert was never seen around their town again. No one was more suspicious of him than the postmistress. Nothing could actually be proven as to his guilt, and there was no money to search out the truth if he was guilty.