The Marriage Bed(3)

By: Stephanie Mittman

And that would keep him safe.

Chapter One

Maple Stand, Wisconsin

April 1897

Olivia loitered in the corner of Zephin's Mercantile where the United States Post Office stood, the letter in her hand.

"Mail it," her sister-in-law, Bess Sacotte, urged, nudging her less than gently toward the counter where Emma Zephin waited. "Send it and deal with Spencer later, when there's nothing he can do about it."

"Will you stop it," Olivia whispered, brushing at Bess's hands and then straightening her coat in an effort to restore her dignity. "This is not like sending for a new pair of commonsense boots, you know."

"It's sending for a whole new life, Olivia Williamson, and it's high time you did it. Why, if I could fix all my troubles by sending away for something, don't you think I would?" She rubbed at her ample hip and grimaced. "Bet it'll be quite a storm tonight."

"You're too young to be telling the weather with your bones, Bess," Olivia said. "It isn't fair."

"Married to Spencer Williamson and you talk to me about life being fair? Seems to me the snow is calling the ice cold."

Olivia said nothing. What was there to say? Bess would never understand that Spencer didn't mean to be unkind. He was still just hurting. If Livvy could give him the time he needed to heal, she didn't see why her sister-in-law, and everyone else in Maple Stand, couldn't be more patient.

"Can I help you ladies?" Emma asked, still standing behind the counter, her feather duster poised in midair so that she wouldn't miss a word. Emma was Charlie Zephin's oldest daughter. His other girls had all married and were raising families of their own. But Emma, who was even uglier than Charlie's other daughters, was an old maid.

"Mail that for you?" Emma asked, reaching across the counter for the letter. Olivia couldn't seem to let the envelope go, allowing it only enough leeway to slip inch by precious inch through her fingers. "Mrs. Williamson?"

"Yes," Bess said, pushing Olivia's arm toward the counter like a puppeteer. "She wants it to go out today, if possible."

"That right?" Emma asked Olivia, who nodded, then looked at her sister-in-law, disgusted.

"He isn't going to like this."

"He doesn't like anything," Bess said sharply, and Emma let a snicker escape her lips before quickly covering her mouth with her hand.

"How are you doing anyways, Emma?" Olivia asked, anxious to change the subject. "You over that cold?"

"Finally," Emma said. "I think it was that spring-green soup of yours that did the trick. My papa swears you spent the whole winter curing other people's children since you haven't—" Emma's hand flew again to her mouth as if she wanted to pull the words back in.

"It's all right," Olivia assured her.

"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings or anything. I suppose Papa's right and there's just no hope for me. Often as not, I seem to say the wrong thing."

"Don't worry, Emma," Bess said, patting the woman's hand gently but looking straight at Olivia. "You can't hurt Olivia's feelings. She's plum numb. And it's time she got thawed out and started living.''

No feelings. Is that how she seemed to all of them? just because she refused to break down and cry at every last little thing? Why, she had so much feeling inside sometimes she thought she'd just burst apart from the pain of it all. But there was enough sadness in her house. Spencer had the rights to all the misery there. With what he'd been through, most of her little dissatisfactions seemed petty and unimportant.

All except one.

And that was why she was standing in Zephin's Mercantile when she should have been baking Belgian pies for the church and getting a jump on her spring cleaning. There wasn't much hope that the problem would just take care of itself. After all, they'd been trying for three years and she wasn't getting any younger. She felt that today, especially.

It was hard to swallow around the lump that formed in her throat. No babies. Even if taking a new wife hadn't made Spencer happy, surely a new baby would. A new baby to replace the pain he carried like a newborn against his heart.

And so she was doing the next best thing. If there wasn't any hope for children of her own, Olivia didn't see any reason for denying the pleas of her brother-in-law any longer. With her sister, Marion, dead almost three years, Julian had found it impossible to take care of their children alone. Of course he was right not to try to move across the entire country and get resettled with three little ones in tow to look after. Who better to raise the children than their Aunt Olivia and Uncle Spencer? Her sister's children were bound to need her love almost as much as she needed theirs.