“You’re going Thursday mornin’, you little baggage. There’s nothing you can do about it.” Beth’s eyes froze in shock.
Elizabeth Hawley stared, aghast. “George, she’s almost six months gone. She’ll never make it the whole way before the baby comes.”
Hawley sneered. “No thanks to you. Delay, delay. Well she’s goin’ now. She only needs to make it to Chicago. She can have the baby there and wait for her new husband to come for her. I telegraphed him. He’s on his way. There’s wagon trains headin’ west all summer to take the newlyweds back to .”
“But you promised she didn’t have to go until the weather broke.”
“The weather’s fine. It’s time.”
Beth had to get word of this disaster to Ethan. She would cajole, threaten, even beat Emily, the servant girl, to get her to take a message tonight.
“Start packing your things, girl. You leave at first light Thursday. Ethridge will take you to the C&O canal. Most of the ice is gone and barge traffic is movin’ again.”
Beth wanted to argue, but she had long since realized the futility of it. Resistance to her step-father only produced rage. She had to make her own plans.
Hawley called after her. “I’m locking you in your room tonight. Don’t want no sleepwalkin’.”
It was after eleven when Emily, the servant, found the courage to creep down the back stairs to the kitchen. She had pulled on two coats against the freezing chill of night. In the pocket of the outer one, the blanket coat, she held Miss Katherine’s letter tightly in her right hand.
Earlier in the day, she had slathered lard on the back door hinges to keep them from creaking. The rear door opened without a sound. She stepped onto the back porch and tiptoed toward the stairs. The clouds had diminished and the moon provided sufficient illumination to navigate the streets with ease. She had just reached the top step when a familiar voice rasped from the dark.
“Bit late for a stroll, Emily.” The floorboards of the porch creaked as George Hawley loomed out of the shadows. His big hand looked like a bunch of pale sausages as it reached out to her. “Give it to me.”
“Don’t even waste yer breath. Just give me the note.” With a hand whose shaking had nothing to do with the cold, Emily handed Hawley the folded paper.
“Who’s it for?”
Emily’s small voice replied, “Billy Anspach.”
“Now go back to bed and don’t breathe a word of this to Katherine. If she asks you, the note was delivered. Understand?”
Emily nodded and flew through the door before Hawley could think of a punishment.
A Lucifer match flared in the gloom and Hawley lit the oil lamp that sat on a crude table at the end of the porch.
Dearest Ethan, my so-called father has done the unthinkable. We cannot leave tomorrow night. He is sending me away Thursday morning and I will be locked in my room until then. Do not come here. I’m afraid he suspects something. You must try to intercept me on the . Somehow, we’ll slip the hounds and raise our baby away from all this madness.
All my love,
Hawley’s eyes gleamed in the lamplight. He had been right. “Our baby.” The little trollop had given herself to Billy Anspach. Here held proof of their sins. And this game of calling themselves Ethan and Bethany. It must be code in case their letters got intercepted.
Hawley’s thick lips worked into a sneer as he set paper to flame. In the sudden light, the sweat on Hawley’s face sparkled like frost. The paper burned out and Hawley dropped the ash to the planking where tiny sparks winked across its surface for several seconds. Hawley squeezed out the lamp wick between thumb and forefinger.