(Good news, Better news, A bad bargain, and Nothing to fear)
Admiral Walter hadn't seen much of the Paddy since Peter had gone away with all his mechanical monst-- his machines. Hadn't heard much out of her since her suggestion for apology. Now she came into his office with something plaguing her mind. She was wan and weak. Definitely green about the gills. And prone to cling to sturdy furniture when it was available.
"Whatever's bit you?" he asked.
"...may i sit?" she quavered.
Reginaldfield let her. He owed her something for giving him an avenue of communication with his second wife again. Ebigail had begun writing back to him. Her wording was cautious and tentative where it wasn't actively testing. Besides, she looked like she was about to collapse outright.
"You need not pester the other maids," she whispered. "Colonel Walter and I were... intimate... the afternoon before he was called to war. And I'm fairly certain I'm with child."
Oho. The news got better and better. It was almost too good to be true... Which meant that it probably was.
"That would be splendid news - if I could be certain it's his," he said, also keeping his voice low. "I know you Paddies. Greedy, grasping, lazy louts, the lot of you. Wouldn't put it past you to rent out your bloomers on your day off to cash in on that thousand dollars in the offing."
"What? No. I don't want a penny of that money. I don't care for any dividend."
"Of course not. You filthy Paddies never know when you're in on a good thing."
"All I care about is Peter. You give up on your threat to shove him in an asylum, and I continue to remain... with child."
"What? You can't threaten any such thing."
"I know you dislike Peter for his... little peculiarities. You'd much rather have your legacy without him in the way. I know my physic. Just as much as I know that I never knew a man before I knew him. To speak biblically. There's thousands of things that could end your legacy. Right now. Many of them are easily within my reach."
He’d heard rumours about such. Women going off to have discreet meetings with herbalists and witches and the like and walking away with a lighter step. Disgraced maidens getting their honour back by the bottle. “What do you want?” he murmured.
"I want a written guarantee. Signed and witnessed. Peter retains his freedom and I retain... My delicate condition."
"And you forfeit any claim to the thousand dollars."
"If he survives the trip home."
"Yes. And if he doesn't... I also want it guaranteed that I am legally recognised as the child's mother. I will have a hand in how it's raised and the last say in how it's raised. Or I take my chances with it on the streets."
Reginaldfield looked at her. Really looked at her. Something had happened between the time he hired her and the moment she sat in front of him now. She hadn't weakened in her trials by fire. She had tempered and hardened. Now she was as rigid and sharp as Damascus steel.
"Of course, if it isn't his, you lose everything."
"There's no ifs about it, Admiral. Colonel Peter Walter is the only man I have ever been intimate with. He is my first and, with any luck, my only."
And absolutely fearless, with it. "Those scientist suffragettes at that girl's college have tests. I'll pay for all of them."
"Run every last one you please," she said. Utterly fearless. She wasn't bluffing with a hand full of twos and fives. She was staring him down with an ace-high royal flush. "So long as they don't put your future heirs in peril."
And then, very delicately, she was sick into his waste basket. Nothing more than a brief splash of bile. She recovered herself and added, “I will not have you telling him a thing about this. Your manners and sense of discretion leave much to be desired.”
She knew he couldn't fire her. Not with an heir in the offing. “So I've been informed,” he rumbled. From the best potential news in his life to backed into a corner by a soiled dove. “I’ll keep my peace. But be warned, that boy couldn't take a hint if you wrapped it for his birthday. You will have to be blunt.”
She daubed at her lips with her handkerchief. “Perhaps… But I will take the news to him, myself. And tell him in my own way.”
He went back to his paperwork. “Talk to Mrs Clambridge about whatever you need. You'll be keeping his floor tidy in his absence.” Light enough work for someone in her state. “I’ll talk to the suffragettes about their tests, tomorrow.”
“I’ll be ready whenever they are.”
Fearless. Utterly fearless. Either she had nothing to fear, or she was too daft to be afraid.
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