“George, she’s just a girl. You can’t send her off in the cold. It’s the middle of January.” Elizabeth Hawley sat on the edge of their bed as George Hawley hauled on his suspenders and threaded a wide leather belt through the belt loops of his clean pants.
“I want her out of town before she starts to show. She’s growing a belly.”
“It’s your imagination. Under a dress it can’t be seen. She’s only four months gone. She has two months before the baby will become noticeable.”
“The baby? You mean the bastard.”
“It’s our grandchild no matter where it came from. How can you be so cold about this?”
“How can you be so ignorant? People will talk. Then they’ll laugh. I’ll not be laughed at, . If people don’t respect a man, they don’t do business with him. And if I lose this army contract, everything I’ve worked for will go bust.” He buttoned up the red flannel shirt that Emily had washed the previous day.
“You think people aren’t already gossiping about this, George? You think you can keep this a secret when you shout about it at the top of your lungs?”
“What people think and what they know are two different things. With that wench gone, talk will die out, but if she’s here and has that bastard, she rubs their faces in it. Rumor I can deal with; fact I can’t.”
“Let the weather warm, George. It thaws in March and she’ll only be six months along. People will still be wearing coats and nobody will notice a thing. Don’t make her go now. I’ll never forgive you if you do.” The force in Elizabeth Hawley’s voice surprised even her.
“Don’t you feel shame at this?”
“Yes. I feel shame. But even more I feel disgust at what you are about to do.”
felt giddy from the confrontation. She never argued with her husband. She stayed in her place, minded her own business, let him rut against her when it became unavoidable. But her maternal instincts had risen at the threat to her daughter, putting her in a state of mind she had never imagined possible.
“Watch your tongue, woman.” He stalked across the rag carpet toward the bed, using his bulk to intimidate his much smaller wife.
stood up from her perch on the bed. She drew her right index finger like a sword and leveled it at her husband’s chest. “George, your almighty business is built on my inheritance. This land and this house were my father’s and are in my name. The cash he left when he died is what you used to buy your first breeding horses. If I were you, I’d be thinking that the risk to my business came more from my wife than my daughter.”
“You never fail to make that point. But hear me, George. You wait until spring thaw or I swear I’ll wreck your business worse than any town gossip.” Her finger jabbed into his belly for emphasis.
Hawley’s eyes bored into his wife. “What could you do? You’re just an addle-headed woman.”
“Not so addled I don’t see what’s going on around here. Not so addled I don’t notice how your hands round up stray army horses after a battle, change the brand markings, and re-sell them to the army. The right word down in could raise hob with your contract. I have my own money, George, and by God, I’ll run your business into the ground if you force me to.” Elizabeth Hawley’s long face flushed and her fists clenched in front of her. Her husband had never seen her like this.
Confronted with something far outside his experience, Hawley controlled his temper for one of the few times in his life. His pig eyes squinted, trying to gauge how far he could push before his wife made good her threats.
Feeling on thin ice, alone in a place she had never been, retreated slightly. “I feel shame at her pregnancy too. I agree she should leave town. I hope in a few years she can come home, bring her husband. If she’s married, the past will never come up. But I don’t want her in danger. Wait until after the thaw.”
Hawley’s right hand pulled at his jowls. “All right. I’ll live with it.”