The New Mrs Harris (part 1 of 3)

18Aug12

Oregon trailCharlotte had expected more. Why the street was little more than a muddy track and the sidewalks were all improvised from junkyard timbers set precariously between hastily constructed wooden buildings and even tents. If this was the so-called ‘edge of civilisation,’ then what would the Wild West look like? Heavens above, this was 1845 for goodness sake. The worst thing was the smell. For a town, it carried an odour that was a whole lot like a barnyard. She looked disdainfully at the shabby cattle on the other side of the street. Beyond them lay more wagons than she had ever seen; no all-in-all, Charlotte didn’t care much for Independence, Missouri.

“Golly,” Amelia Jane gushed in a decidedly vulgar tone, “I wonder which one is ours.”

“Don’t say Golly,” Charlotte chided, and then added sniffily, “Anyway, I don’t suppose any of those are ours.”

The girl might not be 21 yet, but she really should stop talking like a young street hoyden, Charlotte thought. If that was how she spoke with an eastern upbringing, then whatever would she be like after coming west? The thought depressed her and not for the first time. Still there was nothing for it. Her husband was dead, her late-husband, she corrected herself, and now she must make a new life in Oregon. If she ever got there, that was.

“Can I help you ma’am?” That a stranger would address her at all without an introduction was bad enough, but that someone as scruffy and downright… well common as the creature that now stood before her would do so was frankly beyond the pale.

“Ma’am,” the rather rough looking man spoke again. “You looking for someone?”

“I am Mrs Wilberforce, Charlotte Wilberforce,” she said imperiously.

“Mother,” Amelia Jane hissed under her breath.

“That is, I was. I am looking for Mr William Carlton Harris to whom I am…”

“Carlton,” the man roared, his face cracking with glee, “I never knowed that. Carlton.”

He chuckled on for some moments before winking at her.

“You must be the new Mrs Harris, that mail order bride of his,” the scruff took on a serious demeanour now and sized up the rather overdressed woman. “This your daughter I hear tell about?”

Charlotte blushed and glowered at the man. She didn’t care to have her business bandied about in the street, least of all by this man.

William Harris had heard his name and had turned to regard the strange conversation on the other side of the street. The woman was comely enough, even if she was dressed in her Sunday best on a Wednesday. Her hair and demeanour was a little severe, but her face and figure was that of an attractive woman who had not reached 40. So this was Charlotte Harris his wife, he mused.

He didn’t like the fact that she was still in mourning dress for her late husband, it wasn’t seemly, he thought, but he couldn’t fault that in other regards as she had been truthful in her letters. Perhaps she would serve as a fit wife and stepmother to his own daughter. At least, he noted, that her own girl had a softer and more pleasing outward appearance in contrast to her mother’s airs. What in hell either of them would make of Oregon or the trail there was anybody’s guess.

“Whiskey, stop harassing folks and help them with their bags.” Harris had decided to announce himself.

“Sure thing Mr Harris,” Whiskey said quickly and scurried over to the neatly placed luggage carefully stacked out of the mud on a plank.

Charlotte turned quietly thrilled and suddenly eager. The man who had spoken was tall and well set, although a little older than she had been expecting. But on reflection he might only be the 50 he had claimed, the western life probably aged a man. Not that he was unattractive or the least bit feeble looking. Only his grey-flecked hair and chiselled features suggested his age. His arms were a match for her late husband’s legs and he was well-favoured at the shoulder. Only his rather down-at-heel clothes caused her any concern, although even here she noted he was clean at least. Not like the Whiskey fellow manhandling her bags.

“You must be William Harris,” she said.

“Must be,” Harris drawled, “Although most folks just call me Harris or Mr Harris.”

“Then, Mr Harris it is,” Charlotte said.

Harris nodded and then offered Amelia a smile.

“I’ll show you to our wagon,” he said.

*

Rosaline looked up from examining the contents of the trunk to regard the arrival of her father and the two women. The older woman was younger than she had expected and a handsome one too. Her stern determined look might translate as unfriendly, but Rosaline had a hunch that it might bode well for the journey to Oregon.

The younger woman was just a slip of a thing and seemed to looking everywhere all at once with a sense of wonder. Perhaps she was stronger than she looked, Rosaline thought, weighing her up? She certainly hoped so.

“You must be Charlotte and Amelia.” Rosaline decided to speak up.

Charlotte bristled at the familiarity shown by the young woman standing at the back of the wagon and returned a hard stare. The girl was a little older than Amelia and had an impertinent look. She was clean and simply dressed in ankle-length dark grey woollen skirt that fell just short of a neat pair of side-buttoned flat heeled boots. Charlotte noted that one stray hair had escaped her otherwise neatly piled coiffure and danced about her forehead; a rogue element that the girl unconscious blew at as she straightened up.

“You must be Rosaline Harris, my…”

“Your stepdaughter, yes. Mighty pleased to meet you ma’am,” Rosaline said as she stepped forward to extend her hand.

“Quite,” Charlotte said, only half-heartedly taking the proffered hand as she still looked the young woman up and down.

“I’m Amelia Jane,” Amelia said brightly, taking an opportunist turn at shaking Rosaline’s hand uninvited.

“Amelia, how lovely,” Rosaline returned with a smile, “I can see we will be great friends.”

“Is this our wagon, golly, it’s so big,” Amelia gushed staring up at the great canvas arch of the rough-planked hauler.

“It won’t seem so big after a week on the trail,” Harris put in.

He was feeling a little awkward around so many womenfolk. He was used to getting his way with few words and all this small-talk was wasting time.

“You packed yet?” Harris asked Rosaline.

“Reckon I am, Pa,” Rosaline said.

She sensed her father’s mood and hoped he would go and let her and Charlotte get acquainted.

Harris nodded with a grunt and said, “Whiskey will be along with Mrs Harris’s bags and then you can help sort those and decided what to take and what to leave.”

“What do you mean, what to leave?” Charlotte turned on Harris with a glare and for a moment everyone could see the passionate women that dwelt beneath the prim eastern exterior.

Harris looked at her as if she was crazy and then his face relaxed a little and he sighed. He had forgotten how women could be about ‘things.’

“Don’t worry Pa, I’m sure everything will be just fine and dandy,” Rosaline said hastily as she took Charlotte’s arm and tried to lead her away.

Charlotte pulled away and took steps towards her new husband demanding an answer with her eyes.

“You had an awful lot of trunks and things ma’am,” Harris said.

“Don’t ma’am me, I had no more than is…”

“Mrs Harris, please, let’s see what is what and then argue about what to leave,” Harris growled pushing at the space between them. Hell, maybe you had some horse feed in some of those bags. Now that would be mighty useful to take.”

If he had hoped his joke would placate her, he was wrong, but seeing Rosaline step between them with an encouraging smile Harris took the opportunity to leave and turned on his heel before striding away. The matter now closed as far as he was concerned.

*

By the time Whiskey arrived with the bags, Charlotte had finished seething and shooting hard looks in the direction Harris had gone, mostly while Rosaline had danced around her trying to calm her down.

In the end they had managed to get most of Charlotte and Amelia’s possessions into the wagon in the existing bags by simply repacking everything. Two treasured carpet bags had been emptied and laid flat under some suppliers where Harris wouldn’t see them and Rosaline had found some space for shoes and hats among her own gear.

Finally, they had reduced the surplus to one shabby half-filled trunk that Charlotte reluctantly agreed to part with and a large pile of old books that Amelia said she had no need of and ‘could not think’ why she had brought them.

“Most of the dresses will hang-up like curtains to give us some privacy,” Rosaline said happily. “Dual use see, Pa likes that on the trail.”

“The trail, you mean to Oregon?” Charlotte said sharply. “You make it sound as if you have done this before.”

“We came out from Ohio in ’38. That was all wagons and mighty hard. Then two years ago we went part ways to Oregon,” Rosaline said.

The set of her mouth was tight and she paused to glance westwards.

“Part of the way, you say?” Charlotte softened, seeing the girl’s distress.

“Ma died and I got sick. That was ’43.” Rosaline shrugged. “Pa turned back. It has stuck in his craw ever since.”

“Ah, I hadn’t realised that you had actually set out,” Charlotte said quietly. “Your father seems a hard man; a determined man.”

“Oh he is,” Rosaline said, suddenly alive, “That’s why it’s foolhardy to cross him. I only hope he don’t take it against us for taking too much.”

“You still think we packed too much?” Charlotte asked incredulously.

“Well…” Rosaline shuffled her feet and glanced nervously back at the wagon, “Maybe.”

*

Harris, as yet, hadn’t said much.

Next to the battered trunk and the books already set aside for sale or disposal was another trunk, a large suitcase, a pile of dresses and a red velvet and lace top coat that had more about it to challenge fashion than any true winter.

Charlotte had fumed impotently at first, but Harris had resisted all attempts to engage in a conversation.

“What did I tell you?” Harris growled in the direction of his daughter.

“This has nothing to do…” Charlotte began

“Be quiet,” Harris snapped, “You at least have the excuse that you don’t know any better.”

The hard glare that accompanied his words silenced Charlotte who visibly gulped under her husband’s gaze.

“There are such lovely things and I know…” Rosaline wailed.

But she knew her father was right.

“I have seen bogged down wagons, death and misery enough not to see us fail before we have even begun,” Harris said wearily. “Let’s have you.”

Rosaline’s eyes started in her head and she looked as if she would flee. She dare not even look at Charlotte or Amelia, instead opted for hovering like a wounded bird as she blushed.

“They’ll see often enough before we reach Oregon,” Harris said sharply, “Besides, you know my views on airing our sins.”

As he spoke, Harris began to work at the buckle of his belt. At the same time, Rosaline turned to face the lowered backboard of the wagon and began to draw up the lengths of her grey skirts, reaching under them to unfasten her underwear.

The wagon was backed into a corner formed by two other wagons and from behind the rig no one else but Charlotte and Amelia could see what was about to happen.

“You can’t mean to…” Charlotte gaped.

“She knows better and now she had a licking coming, don’t you girl?” Harris said sadly.

“Yes Pa,” Rosaline squeaked.

The belt was folded double in his hand now and his daughter was bent forward across the rear flap of the wagon with her skirts and petticoats rolled at her waist. As they watched her cotton draws slipped down her thighs to reveal the stark white flesh of her legs and the pale marble-smooth contours of her exposed bottom.

“Golly,” Amelia gasped.

“Please Mr Harris, surely…”

“What, it is your fault? Was that what you were going to say?” Harris growled. “I would think on that if I were you.”

The belt struck with a sharp crack, delivered with a smooth roll of Harris’s shoulder as he put a fraction of his weight into the blow.

Rosaline received the stroke with a grunt and shook at her place behind the wagon. A swathe of red appeared almost at once on her firm sun-shy flesh that continued to deeper and grow even as the next lash of the belt fell.

She took eight or nine blows before she began to wail a little, by which time her bare bottom was fully red with welt-edged bands crossing on and under the rounds of her behind.

“Mr Harris, your zealousy as a father is commendable, but perhaps…” Charlotte tried again to intercede.

“Mrs Harris, I suggest you hold your tongue,” Harris growled as lay on three more hard lashes. “I intend that my daughter will not sit easily for at least a week on the trail. I promise she will arrive safely if she has to walk all the way there.”

“Oh golly,” Amelia said for the umpteenth time.

Charlotte pressed a knuckle to her mouth and looked on in something between awe and dismay at Rosaline’s chastisement.

The strapping took some time and Harris went slowly, not stopping until Rosaline heaved a sob and had begun crying. Then he took one step back as if contemplating his work and then replaced his belt.

Charlotte noted the wide-eyed wonder on Amelia’s face and recalled some of her own lickings as a girl, a fate that apart from the occasional application of a hairbrush, Amelia had never shared.

“Come now,” Charlotte soothed, stepping forward to help Rosaline upright. “Let’s see if we can’t unload more of the unnecessary belongings.”

to be continued



6 Responses to “The New Mrs Harris (part 1 of 3)”

  1. 1 paul1510

    Damion,
    always great to find a new story of yours in my inbox. 😀
    This one looks very promising indeed. 😉
    Paul.

  2. Great start Your Westerns are always top notch, DJ.

  3. I am not sure which I prefer, reading this text or knowing there are two more to come and plenty of possibilities…

  4. I’m looking forward,to part 2 x

  5. 5 DJ

    Thanks – P2 is now out and three will appear here on Wednesday.

    DJ 🙂

  6. 6 Old Tom

    Excellent how refreshing to read a story in 2012 that understands exactly how women and girls should be treated. Rosaline knew what she had to do and didn’t do it so if a good hiding was due this was the time. She must be given credit though she took her punishment well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: