Episode 15 - "Sin and All"
by Camille LaGuire
"So you've told your son that you killed his father," said Mary. "And now he won't speak to you."
"He can't forgive me."
"But he hasn't told anyone?"
"No. He does love me, even with this." She paused, eyes cast down as if studying the weave of her skirt. "He's a thoughtful person. Much as he might want to lash out at me, he can see that he can't take it back once he's spoken. Like pulling a trigger, once it's done it's done." She looked up. "But it wouldn't be done and over, would it? He'd have to watch the slow and terrible consequences of a trial, and ... hanging."
"I shouldn't have told him, should I have?"
No, she shouldn't have but it wasn't Mary's place to judge anyone, and besides, it was done, wasn't it?
"How old is he?" she asked instead.
"It's still a burden, to bear it alone, no one to speak to," said Mary, shaking her head.
"There's Sherman. They get along quite well."
"You told Mr. Sherman too?" exclaimed Mary. That seemed like a real risk. The man seemed so correct.
"I had to tell someone I could trust, for your safety. If you were ever accused, and I was unable to testify...." Lady Ashton paused. "Sherman has been with my family for a long time. His father was with my grandfather in his later years, as a sort of 'accomplice,' mainly." She took a breath and looked up. "I shouldn't say that. Not when I'm the criminal of the family."
And with that she covered her face and began to weep. Mary stood and looked down at her, perplexed at the foolishness. And yet she did understand: Lady Ashton did not know how to be guilty. Which was fine in a person who wasn't guilty, but if you were you couldn't dither about it.
"Have you told anyone else?"
"No, although I think my father suspects," she said between sobs. "And possibly Loreen."
"Penelope," said Mary, using the woman's given name to get her attention. "I don't know about murder, but I do know about guilt. It's fine to let the guilt drive you. That should make you a better person. But you can't let it rule you. It'll make you do foolish things and it'll make you selfish."
"Selfish?" said Lady Ashton. She stopped weeping and looked up, not sure of what Mary was saying.
"When you dissolve into a puddle of guilt, that just forces people to sympathize with you. And that's not fair when you're the guilty party. You've got to be brave, and live with the choice you made."
Lady Ashton sat quietly a moment, and then finally spoke in a hushed voice.
"Mary, I'm ready to hang, if it comes to that," she said, now calm. "I consider my time to be borrowed. I know I have to make good use of that time. And my fortune."
"I dread asking this," said Mary, "but is it your fortune, or your son's?"
"Oh, no, I don't touch his money!" said Lady Ashton. "I have a fortune of my own. My grandfather didn't trust Roland, and he put protections on the money he left for me. I think, considering what a great man my grandfather was...." Her voice cracked, and she paused to gather herself. "I need to do right with his money."
"Dunno how right it is, but I'm grateful for your help to me," said Mary. "And there's a boat full of sailors happy with the bonus you gave them, and at the start of the voyage, too. I don't think they're used being trusted."
"That's terrible," said Lady Ashton, wiping her eyes.
"But it's probably reasonable."
"It would make grandfather happy, then, to know where his money was going. He was an artist himself, and he always said he hated the respectability our family had fallen into."
Stay Tuned For Episode 16 - "The Sick House"
The Test of Freedom ebook available at major retailers in December 2012. It may be rewritten from the version you see here.
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