Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

Her Ladyship's Conscience, an electronic edition

by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler [Fowler, Ellen Thorneycroft, 1860-1929]

date: 1913
source publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
collection: Genre Fiction

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FOR a moment Esther stood stunned by the shock. Then her nature reasserted itself, and as usual she thought of others rather than of herself.

"Her ladyship, Perkins!" she exclaimed. "She must not hear of this suddenly—it will be too much for her—no one must break it to her except me. I must tell her—and Lord Winfieldale—myself."

Perkins by this time was fairly crying. "Her ladyship has gone in the pony-cart—with his lordship—round by Grotham to Severnashe: they won't be back for an hour-and-a-half or two hours," he sobbed.

"Then let no one tell them anything when they come in. See to this yourself, Perkins. I dread the effect of such a shock upon her ladyship."

"I'll see to it, my lady—you can trust me. But won't your ladyship take something yourself—a little brandy or something—or shall I send Clark to your ladyship?"

But the dignity of a great sorrow had fallen upon Esther. She was set apart from her fellows, and utterly beyond their help. "No, thank you, Perkins: I am quite all right. Please leave me alone now; but be sure to tell me when you see her ladyship and the pony-cart coming over the hill, and I'll meet her and break it to her."

It went to Perkins's faithful heart to leave alone in | | 304 her sorrow the mistress whom he had served from the time that she was a little child: but w hen Lady Esther spoke in that tone nobody dared to disobey her. So Perkins went away, weeping audibly.

But Esther did not weep. She was past weeping. She sat very still, and tried to realize the blow that had fallen upon her: and with the realization there came a great calm.

For the Help that no man knows save he that receiveth it, was, in her hour of need, vouchsafed to her: and her soul stood upright and was not afraid.

First, she was conscious of a strange feeling of exaltation in that the worst had happened and she had been able to bear it; and yet not she, but that Power within her, Which she used to call Religion, but Which she now knew to be Christ. Once again she experienced that sense of His all-pervading Presence which makes us feel that even death itself is only a means of closer communion with Him; and that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers shall be able to separate us from His Love.

And with this wonderful sense of the Presence of Christ and of the unity of all things in Him, there came into Esther's soul a sense of relief—nay, almost of gladness—that now she and Wilfred need no longer struggle against their love for one another. It had ceased to be a sin: it had become once more the joy of their lives, and a joy which no man could take from them. The twain whom man could not put asunder had been put asunder by God: the troth, "till death us do part," had served its full sentence, and had come to its final end. The bond between Beryl and | | 305 Wilfred, so indissoluble in life, had by death been finally dissolved: and Esther's heart throbbed with joy at the thought that Wilfred was hers once more. Death had not taken him away, but had in reality given him back to her. He was once more hers, as he could never have been while he was Beryl's husband: and she vowed that the rest of her life should be spent in training his son in the way that Wilfred would wish him to go.

Esther was surprised—as perhaps most of us are surprised at least once in our lives—at the strange way Death sometimes has of giving back to us our loved ones instead of taking them away. Those who in life have gradually been separated from us by distance, or estrangement, or misunderstanding, or by the absorption of bodily affliction or the dulling effects of old age, pass over to the Other Side; and once again we feel they are our own, nearer and dearer than they ever were, and in the full zenith of their health and powers. They are not only ours once more, but ours at their best. And this not in any mystical or transcendental sense, such as is expressed in those most hopeless and depressing of all hopeless and depressing lines, "To live in hearts we love, is not to die." If our dear ones only live in the hearts they leave behind, then indeed they are dead, and we are of all men most miserable. Our faith and our preaching have been alike vain.

But we mean—we know—something infinitely more than this when we realize that Death has given them back to us: we mean that they are alive as they never were alive before, and that Death only came that they might have Life, and might have it more abundantly. This is the knowledge that we have concerning them. | | 306 And the seal of that knowledge is the same as that wherewith we sealed the stone of their sepulchre, which the Angel of the Resurrection shall one day roll away. On the one side of the seal runs the legend, "For as in Adam all die"; and on the other, " Even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

So the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, filled the soul of Esther Wyvern as she stood by the window that autumn morning and thought over the news of Wilfred's death. She felt that the worst had happened, and that in Christ's strength she had survived it; and so nothing could ever hurt her any more.

And as she stood wrapped in this ineffable calm, she was suddenly aroused by the sound of wheels coming up the drive.

"There is Mamma," she said to herself. "I must go and break the news to her and to Win." And it struck her as strange that there was anybody to whom the news had yet to be broken. To her it seemed that Wilfred and Beryl had been dead for ages and ages: she felt she could hardly remember the time when they had been alive, it was so long ago.

But when she went into the hall to meet her mother she found that she had been mistaken: the sound she had heard was not the pony-cart, but the bicycle of a telegraph boy. Perkins gave her the orange envelope, and she opened it mechanically: in the agony that had swept over her head since she heard of Wilfred's death, she had learned that—since the worst had happened—nothing could ever matter again. To all intents and purposes she felt she had died with him.

But again she was mistaken.

| | 307

The telegram was from a doctor in the town near to which the fatal accident had taken place: and it ran thus—

"Bad motor accident. Lady Westerham killed instantaneously. Lord Westerham alive, but still unconscious. Good hopes entertained of his recovery."

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