Dishes done, table set for tomorrow’s breakfast, Madeline O’Shea climbed heavily up the stairs to her room. “G’night, dear,” her father called from his study. She did not answer. She dressed in the dark, trying not to touch herself, fat thighs and growing belly hidden within a flowing jumper she made on the old Singer. By the dim glow of a painted night light Madeline hung her clothes on a closet peg, pulled a flannel nightshirt over her head and settled into bed. Overhead hung a 1945 Marshall County High pennant and a bulletin board painted in school colors. The bulletin board held a few fading programs from choir recitals, notices of scholastic honors and a yellowing snapshot taken at the Latin Club’s toga party last year. In that photo Madeline was laughing, lifting a ceramic goblet in salute. She had tacked up nothing new since then.
Sleep would not come. Madeline snapped on the bedside lamp and took a small, pink book from the table drawer.
Dear Diary, she wrote. Another day. I am so tired. I wish Mama were alive, but even if she were I don’t know what – Madeline dropped the pen. She turned on the little bedside-table radio just as Glenn Miller’s band was playing the middle notes of “Mood Indigo,” and quickly turned it off. She tried reading a few pages of “Wuthering Heights”, but found herself unable to concentrate. With a sigh that slid unnoticed into the corners of the quiet house, Madeline O’Shea pulled up the covers and closed her eyes.
Downstairs, her father took his day-book from the shelf where it lay beside the family Bible. The two bore almost equal weight with Dr. O’Shea. The day-book was opened to that date: November 28, 1946.
Quiet day, he wrote. Met for an hour with James McDougal, who has fallen behind in his work; he should manage a passing grade for the semester. I certainly hope so, as Father Matthew asked me to help him along. Difficult to find extra time for students while maintaining my lecture schedule and study regimen.
It continues very lonely here. Madeline’s schoolwork is adequate, though, and she keeps the house quite well, so I cannot complain. Perhaps we shall have some company at Christmas. Madeline used to enjoy entertaining but we’ve had few guests of late.
Dr. O’Shea tapped a tooth with the end of his pen, staring absently out the darkened window. Then with a sigh of his own he closed the day-book, turned off the light, checked the embers behind the fire screen and climbed the stairs to his room. Sleep came quickly.
A few blocks away, across the frozen yards of the quiet town, another diary was being lifted from its shelf.
28 Nov, ’46 – Blistering headache interrupted my night’s sleep. Worried too much, I suppose, over the paper for tomorrow’s Phi Beta Kappa dinner. I should limit speaking engagements, though admittedly they bring benefits. I remain proud of my achievements and see no reason to be overly modest.
Strangest development yesterday. M. came to the house with utterly incredible tale that she “may be 6 or 7 months” gone with a baby resulting from our little dalliance last spring when I was working so hard to help with her Latin project. Should never have let myself get out of control. Deuced mess. As she’s quite plump, I presume this could be so; certainly M. is not the sort to make up tales. I told her she must go straightaway to see Dr. Weatherell. Gave her all the cash I had in the house, told her I would pay for all arrangements at some place where she could have the baby and put it up for adoption. M. seems quite distracted...
* * *
From The Virginia Herald, 1988
J-M Professor Linked to Long-past Tragedy
Richmond, March 17 – Scholars cataloging the works of reclusive John Marshall College classics professor Edwin Murchison, who died last month at 82, discovered a diary entry that apparently links the nationally-acclaimed professor to a tragedy that shook the small, tight-knit Marshallville community four decades ago.
Stories in The Herald and the Marshall County Monitor of that time record details of the case, which began with discovery of an abandoned infant on the steps of First Presbyterian Church the morning of December 2, 1946. Though carefully wrapped in a newly-purchased blanket, the baby was dead of exposure when found. A premature girl, the child was nevertheless believed to have been alive at birth. Attempts to identify the mother were unsuccessful.
Two days after discovery of the baby the town was again rocked by news that Marshall County High senior Madeline O’Shea had hanged herself in the family garage. There was no note. An autopsy reportedly showed that she had recently delivered a baby, but this was never confirmed. Madeline, who lived with her widowed father, a colleague and close friend of Murchison’s, was described in stories of the time as a well-liked but shy girl who did not date. An outstanding student, she was posthumously awarded the Latin Prize at graduation ceremonies of 1947.
Long-time Marshallville residents now say that it was about that time that Dr. Murchison stopped accepting social invitations and reduced to a minimum his academic appearances, though he continued to meet his classes and write for scholarly journals. In his latter years he was seldom seen to leave his small house at the edge of the campus.
Patrick O’Shea, Madeline’s father, died of natural causes only months after his daughter’s suicide, leaving his own extensive collection of journals now housed in the college archives. Their pages stop, however, with the entry for November 28, 1946, which notes Madeline’s academic success.
The full text of Dr. Murchison’s diary entry of that same date is printed below. There is no reference to “M” after that.
Causes Fran Johns Supports
Compassion & Choices of N.CA
San Francisco Interfaith Council