The New Mrs Harris (Part 2 of 3)

20Aug12

Oregon trail

Our story begins here.

It was two days before the wagons pulled out under the leadership of John West. He was the train captain and he let them know from the start that he meant to set a rapid pace.

Charlotte was still adjusting to life in a wagon and since Rosaline’s thrashing she hadn’t seen much of her new husband. With three women already sleeping in the wagon, he had opted for sleeping under it, if he ever slept at all that was.

Unlike most of the paintings Charlotte had ever seen, the wagons spread out once they reached open territory and Harris had positioned their wagon somewhere in the middle of a random procession of settlers going west. Although he, himself, rode a horse up and down the lines and seemed to have a role aiding John West with the other pilgrims. This left Charlotte to handle the wagon, something that she had had practice at from her upbringing on a farm, but which she was unused to and struggled with.

Rosaline, she noticed, had opted for walking behind the wagon and when she thought no one was looking rubbed her behind. Amelia tried to catch her mother’s eye when she saw this, but Charlotte kept her eyes steadfastly on the range ahead.

“Mother, do you think Mr Harris will ever… well you know?” Amelia ventured.

“I certainly don’t know, ever do what?” Charlotte snapped.

The wagon was hard to handle and she wished that Harris or Rosaline would take over.

“Oh get over,” she wailed in the direction of the lead horse.

“You’re getting it Charlotte,” Rosaline called out. “It’s better that you learn here than up ahead.”

Charlotte nodded, but under her breath she muttered, “Heavens above.”

Seeing that she would get no conversation out of her mother, Amelia dropped from the wagon and fell in beside Rosaline. The nearest wagon was barely in hailing distance and all across the grassland there were little plumes of dust marking each group of the train as it headed North West.

“Your father sure was mad the other day,” Amelia ventured. “Is it really that important that we travel light?”

“Each pound we carry is several pounds of grass and grain that the horses need. That will be important once things get scarce up yonder. Also there are places where the trail is steep and high. If the ropes don’t hold then we could lose a wagon altogether.” Rosaline didn’t take her eyes from Charlotte’s progress as she spoke.

This was part out of concern for her inexperienced stepmother and partly because she sensed where Amelia was going with her conversation and didn’t care to discuss it.

“So we were overloaded then?” Amelia watched Rosaline’s face carefully as she spoke. “That’s why your father was so mad. He was just looking out for us?”

Rosaline nodded.

“Did it hurt?” Amelia asked eagerly, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

Rosaline rounded on the girl with a horrified look and then seeing her eager face she broke into open laughter.

“You really are a little ghoul aren’t you?” She chuckled. “Of course it hurt. It was meant to. I had it coming I guess, but I only wish you hadn’t been there to watch.”

“Oh golly, I can see that,” Amelia said, her eyes wide. “I guess I had better watch my step from now on.”

Rosaline frowned, puzzled for a moment.

“I mean, Mr Harris is my father now too. He might… well one day he could…”

“Oh I see, no you don’t want to cross Pa,” Rosaline laughed, her hands openly clutching at her skirted bottom now. Then she added archly, “Your Ma neither.”

“Mother!” The word escaped Amelia with a gasp and her eyes were as wide now as storybook saucers.

“Oh, my Ma got plenty of lickings from Pa at the tailgate of the wagon and in their room back in the day.” The smiling reminiscence was interrupted by a cloud touching Rosaline’s face and she added, “When she was alive that was.”

“Oh golly,” Amelia said breathlessly her mind wondering off into one of her melodramas that she thought she had left behind at the staging post.

*

The wagons had all closed up for the night and were silhouetted against the dying embers of the sun like some great canvas-topped city. At each wagon was a small fire and women went about cooking and boiling water for washing to counter a whole day’s accumulation of dust; a task that would dwindle in the coming weeks as they realised the futility of it. But for now, in these early days, things were much as they had been back home. Children ran about while men drank and here and there people sang songs or played harmonicas.

Harris rode up at a lick and slid from his horse like a man with a purpose. He had been checking the perimeter for John West; things were still sloppy around the night watch, but this close to Missouri they could be, so he had left off to attend to other matters.

“You eating Pa?” Rosaline asked.

“Had mine,” he grunted with a shake of his head, more concerned with his saddle and bedding down his horse for the moment. “When you’re done eating and fixing the dishes you and Amelia can go and bed down with the Williams for the night.”

“Pa?” Rosaline threw back at him, startled and wondering if there was trouble between Charlotte and him already.

“Don’t argue, just get it done,” Harris growled. But his demeanour was more shifty than angry.

“Yes Pa.” She exchanged a glance with Amelia and shrugged.

Charlotte licked her lips and straightened her dress.

“Is there something wrong Mr Harris?” She asked.

“We’re married ain’t we? There’s things that need tending to,” his voice was gruff and he couldn’t meet her eyes.

Charlotte frowned and looked inward so that her face seemed hopelessly lost in puzzlement. Ever since she had come west her life had been an onrush of readjustment and it seemed to her that she had barely understood one aspect of her new life when another hitherto unknown task was heaped upon her. What was she missing now?

Amelia too was completely confused and it crossed her mind that Mr Harris meant to give her mother a whipping for something. Her imagination raced with possibilities and she wasn’t as horrified by the idea as she should have been. She looked at Rosaline for a clue and slowly saw one growing there.

Rosaline smirked and took Amelia’s arm.

“Come on,” she said, “We can finish up here tomorrow I reckon.”

Reluctantly, Amelia allowed herself to be lead away, but she was almost overwhelmed by curiosity.

“Why have you sent the girls away?” Charlotte asked, but she too was beginning to have an inkling.

“I think you know Mrs Harris,” Harris said as he stripped off his gloves.

“Here?” Charlotte said incredulously, “I mean to say…”

“In the wagon,” Harris said.

“But I mean… not here on the trail?” Charlotte flushed and clutched at herself nervously.

“You fixing to wait to Oregon before we…?” Harris stepped back and gaped at her.

Charlotte opened her mouth to speak and closed it again to look at the ground. She offered him a small shake of head. She supposed not.

“Come Mrs Harris, it is time we got acquainted,” Harris said as gallantly as he could and taking her arm led her to the wagon.

“Can I…? I mean to say… can I go ahead and… prepare?” Charlotte was stalling.

Harris remembered his first wife and nodded. Women were always a little shy about these things; at first anyway.

He waited for as long as it took for a smoke of his pipe and then he stripped to his breeches and followed her.

She was there at the far end of the wagon hugging a blanket to cover her shift, now her only attire. Her air was a dark cascade over one shoulder and something grew and tried to escape within his chest. Lower too something twitched.

“Can we? Must we?” Charlotte knew it was her duty and what she had bargained for, but Harris was a stranger of mere days’ acquaintance.

“I reckon we won’t go all the way, so to speak, not yet a while,” he said hesitantly.

The relief was like a wagon’s weight off her shoulders and even Harris saw it in her eyes.

“I meant it ain’t wise to risk a child this early on the trail,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “I mean there are Indian ways to… well, prevent an issue but I figure you’re too much of a lady.”

“Yes of course,” Charlotte said with a nod. Of course it was too much to expect that the man had a spark of gallantry. She did not dare even think about the ‘Indian ways’ he spoke about.

He closed with her and took her by the shoulders.

“You are quite the beauty Mrs Harris,” he whispered.

She didn’t respond and fixed her eyes on a spot on the inside of the canvas wall.

He went to kiss her as tenderly as he knew but her head turned away at the last moment to offer him her cheek.

“I used to be good at this,” he whispered.

“One’s duty is a fine thing,” she replied as she tensed up.

“Duty?” He pulled away. “There is pleasure too, surely?”

Charlotte had heard it said, but as much as she had loved her husband, it had rarely been so with him.

“Is it not a wife’s duty to…?”

Harris looked long and hard at her and then he left.

She watched the hard V of his back and shoulders. Even marred here and there with small scars as they were, he was a strong handsome man and for a moment she regretted his leaving. Then as she hugged herself under the blanket, her hand brushed her sex and found it wet. Her heart thumped hard in her chest as she snatched her hand away and thoughts of the first days with her late husband came unbidden to her mind.

*

The women did not see much of Harris in the days that followed. It seemed that there was always some task of John West’s that took him away or some other settlers that had troubles that needed his attention.

Occasionally he rode up and snatched a drink of cool water from the barrel that hung between the wheels or to exchange a cheery word with Rosaline. Even Amelia rated a smile or two. But to Charlotte he just nodded politely or mumbled a cursory, “Good morning Mrs Harris.”

“Mr Harris,” she would reply with a slight inclination of her head.

Then he would ride away as if all the devils of hell were on his tail.

Charlotte avoided all questions on the matter, instead retreated into a growing rage. Why does he anger me so, she seethed; didn’t I want him to just go?

At night she would replay the scene in her head, over and over, convincing herself that he was the one who had failed in his duty and not her. But what had he said?

“There is pleasure too, surely?”

Sometimes her hands strayed to where they once had when she was a girl. She had always been reckless in her passions in her youth and had been spanked for it more than once. Through her mind ran images of spankings and bare bottoms writhing on her mother’s lap, no his lap. Her hand left her sex as if it were the fire, which in a sense it was, and Charlotte looked about her in panic in case Amelia or Rosaline had noticed anything. But in the dark there was only breathing and other night sounds.

Not far away, Harris sat by the fire studying the wagon as if it were a far fortress to be conquered. He wondered about the woman within and what disappointment had driven her to accept a loveless marriage with a stranger. Then he would rage at himself again. Fool, oh bloody fool, how could you be so clumsy? But wasn’t she a widow? What did I do? Surely… then around again it would go in his head until the dawn beckoned or it was his turn to stand watch at the perimeter.

“Hell, I would rather wrestle a bear,” he said with a scowl to no one in particular, leaving a trail of very puzzled early-rising men in his wake.

*

Most of the men and a good many of the women had been up all night. The train’s cattle herd had been nervous all day and positively rattled by nightfall. Some said the party was being stalked by Indians and others said it was wolves. John West didn’t give either possibility much house room this early on the trail, but there was no doubt something was spooking them.

“What’s the hold-up Pa?” Rosaline asked nervously.

“John wants me to do a sweep north to have a look-see before we get going,” Harris informed his women. “Stay close to the wagon and stay the hell away from those doggies, they are looking mean today,” And then without dismounting he rode away again.

“What dogs is he talking about?” Amelia asked.

“He means the cattle,” Rosaline replied.

“The cows,” Amelia said in surprise, “How could they possibly hurt us?”

“They’re a bit riled and there’s a couple of hundred of them. If they get spooked they can turn a whole wagon right over. You certainly don’t want to be in their way when they stampede,” Rosaline said. “That’s why some of the younger men are watching them so closely.”

“Oh. Like who exactly?” Amelia said casually as if butter wouldn’t melt.

Rosaline gave her stepsister a sideways glance and weighed up her words until Amelia shrugged under the scrutiny. Then she said, “I know where we can trade for some cider.”

“Cider?” Amelia wondered aloud.

“I expect some of those boys watching the cattle could use some about now.”

Amelia bit her lower lip to hide the mischief in her smile as she pondered the possibilities of Rosaline’s suggestion.

Most of the men watching the herd were gathered at a tree at the edge of where the train had stopped for the night. Most of them were armed and looked impatient to get going again. As the girls got nearer, on further inspection most of them were little more than boys.

“I’m gonna get me one of them Indians,” a redheaded boy of around 18 said as he brandished a rather battered musket.

The rest of his fellows had an array of similar weapons although one or two had the ever reliable Brown Bess or even a Hawken Rifle, although such technicalities were lost on the girls.

“My, what a lot big brave boys,” Rosaline said half-mocking and half provocatively.

“Rosaline,” Amelia gasped, thoroughly scandalised by her stepsister’s brazen tone.

The redheaded boy suddenly looked nervous and shoved his hands in his pockets.

“You looking for someone?” One of the older boys said with a languid smile.

Amelia glanced around and realised that most of the men their own age or a little older were further out.

“Not callow youths, anyway,” she said, trying to sound like her mother when she put someone down.

“What you got there?” One of the others said, eyeing up the cider jug.

“This is for men only,” Rosaline said, fixing her eyes on the oldest of the group, a young man a year or two her senior.

Just then a bull started bucking and the herd shifted ready to break. Everybody stood stock still for a long minute and the moment past.

“That was a close run thing,” one of the boys said in relief.

He might have said more, but John West and Harris came galloping up at a lick glaring at the assembled young folk.

“You boys get back to work,” West growled. “What are you girls doing here?”

“They’re with me I’m afraid,” Harris groaned.

“Get ‘em away from here,” West muttered.

The girls didn’t need telling twice. One look at Harris’s face and they quailed where they stood and trotted after him behind his horse back to the wagon.

*

“What’s happened?” Charlotte asked.

“Damn women making cow-eyes at the men we left to watch the cattle,” Harris muttered.

Amelia chewed at her lower lip and threw a nervous glance at Rosaline.

“Amelia Jane…” Charlotte was flabbergasted and flew at her daughter like some avenging bird.

“It was kind of my fault Charlotte,” Rosaline said with unaccustomed timidity.

“We both went,” Amelia managed, but it sounded equally meek rather than the defiance she was striving for.

Charlotte was getting ready to fly into a rage when she saw Harris dismount and begin unhooking his belt.

“Get to the back of the wagon, both of you,” he ordered.

Charlotte swallowed and blinking hard she wondered if she should intercede.

Downcast, Rosaline walked with slow steps to the wagon’s tailgate while Amelia looked frantically from Harris to her mother.

The wagon was a good way off from its neighbour, but anyone taking the trouble to look would have a pretty good idea of what was going on. Rosaline juggled stares between the two nearest wagons, trying to remember who was in each and whether there were any young men or boys. What if one of the outriders chances by? Her eyes were wide with the horror of it, but she knew that there was no arguing with her Pa.

“Mama, you can’t let him,” Amelia said wringing her hands. She hadn’t yet given up on a reprieve.

Charlotte worked her mouth, torn between concern for Amelia at Harris’s hands and her daughter’s unladylike behaviour.

“If those cattle had spooked, there then wouldn’t be much left of them,” Harris said, seeing his wife’s dilemma.

She nodded and hugged herself against the coming brutality. There was so much to come to terms with in this new life of theirs.

“Amelia, attend Mr Harris,” she finally said.

Amelia gaped at her mother for a moment longer and then saw Harris’s heavy demeanour and she quailed. She all but tripped over her feet to scurry to the back of the wagon where Rosaline had already stepped out her draws.

“Mrs Harris,” Harris called, standing with his back to the two girls. “This will go easier on everyone if you pin up their skirts in back.”

Rosaline, already frayed at the seams, if resigned to her fate, suddenly went a little ashen. She knew from past experience what that meant and took another wild look at the landscape for any obvious witnesses.

Charlotte hated being placed in the role of an accomplice to the affair, but reasoned she either stood with Mr Harris on the matter or she opposed him; there was no middle ground. So taking some pins she kept handy in a useful box by the wagon seat, she moved purposefully to help the girls with their attire, eager to get things resolved.

Both girls looked decidedly uncomfortable with their draws in their hands and feeling their nudity under their skirts, a circumstance that was only heightened as layer by layer their legs and bottoms were unveiled to the open grasslands.

“Won’t someone see?” Charlotte put in, in a half-hearted attempt to delay the inevitable.

“The others are a way off and I aim to teach these girls to stay close to the wagon in future,” Harris growled, adding, “Besides, it ain’t anyone else’s affair.”

Charlotte nodded grimly at this and then seeing the last appeal etched on Amelia’s blushing face, she said in exasperation, “Well you would play the harlot young lady.”

Amelia who like Rosaline had been striving to keep her back turned towards the back of the wagon as much as possible looked at her feet.

“Turn around and bend over that tailgate,” Harris said at last.

He folded his belt and took up a stance behind the wagon while Charlotte backed away with her arms crossed across her chest.

The two young women turned exposing their bare bottoms and leaned forward. Even as Rosaline squeezed Amelia’s hand in sympathy, the younger women felt the same inexplicable rush of excitement she had felt on witnessing Rosaline’s earlier chastisement.

“Get your backsides up and back a little more,” Harris barked, as Charlotte winced at the crudity of his words.

The two girls brought their heels closer together and moved to comply. The well-travelled Rosaline keeping her bottom as tucked in as she dared. However, the more naïve Amelia obeyed with startling alacrity and pushed her bare bottom back and up in an almost obscene display that drew a cough from suddenly uncomfortable Harris.

If Charlotte noticed, she didn’t say, so Harris covered his discomfort by saying, “A little more Rosaline, if you please.”

Rosaline glowered at a fixed point inside the wagon and reluctantly wriggled her behind back a little.

Charlotte pushed the knuckle of her thumb into her mouth and found herself comparing the two girls’ bottoms and unbidden came the thought, ‘how would I look side-by-side like that?’ She blushed in horror.

Harris laid the first of the leather across Amelia’s obliging bottom and she gasped, “Golly.”

Harris nodded in appreciation of her courage before adding another two or three red swathes to her behind, which she took in silence.

Then switching targets, he brought the strap hard under Rosaline’s bottom and watched her claw at the wood as she winced under the assault.

“You are the most culpable, you could have both been killed,” he said sharply as he added a half dozen more swats.

“Yes Pa,” Rosaline wailed.

Then turning back to Amelia he struck thrice before growling, “Your mother thinks you are being punished for chasing boys, but I told you to stay away from the cattle, didn’t I?”

“Yes Sir,” Amelia squeaked.

“Yes sir,” he repeated, “I will have you mind me.”

“Yes Sir,” Amelia gasped, her words sounding decidedly wet now.

Mindful that this was her first real leathering, Harris spent the next few minutes laying on three or four moderate blasts to Amelia’s bottom to every five or six heavy ones to Rosaline’s.

“Will you mind me?” He roared as he brought the licking to an end.

“Yes Sir,” the girls wailed in unison, both shedding open tears now.

For Charlotte it was the horrified fascination of the purple-red rash that grazed both girls’ bottoms that held her attention and the realisation that unless she was very cruel, she would be driving the wagon alone for several days to come.

“Right,” Harris snapped, “You can both wait there until we get going and then you’ll walk behind the wagon just as you are until nightfall, do you hear me?”

“Yes Sir,” both sobbed together.

Then Amelia added with a voice edged in awe, “Golly.”

The hard wooden board of the tailgate shook gently beneath them as they both lay folded and sobbing prone across it. The prairie breeze caressing their sizzled behinds did nothing just then to allay the pulsing throb they both felt. Amelia was so overwhelmed that she could only be happy that her chastisement was at an end although Rosaline had the presence of mind to feel self-conscious of who might have seen her disgrace and might yet behold her exposed nakedness.

Charlotte’s mind raced with the downright primeval earthiness of punitive ritual that should have shocked her far more and perhaps would have done had she seen such a thing back east. But her daughter’s abortive sexual adventure stood as a parody of her own resistance and troubled feelings where Harris was concerned. Then there was the danger that Amelia had so readily ignored that stood in contrast to her own sense of fear. So instead of offering comfort, she left the girls to their much deserved misery and distracted herself with last minute tasks around the wagon in preparation for the train’s departure.

Finally a horn sounded and there was a distant cry of “Wagon’s Ho,” which was echoed up and down the line as wagons began to get underway.

Moments later Harris rode up and told Charlotte to get moving, telling the girls to shift themselves and fall in behind.

“Pa might we not…?” Rosaline asked meekly as she tugged at her skirts.

Both women had turned their backsides away from him and blushed furiously.

“Not ‘til day’s end,” he growled, “Perhaps you’ll learn to stay with the wagon in future.”

“Ooh Pa,” Rosaline wailed with a stamp of her foot, but she made no attempt to remove the pins holding her skirts off her exposed bottom in back.

“Ooh golly,” Amelia exclaimed.

As the wagons got underway, it turned into the beginning of a long day for the girls. At first, walking with a throbbing behind was hard enough and their stiff gaits alone would tip the experienced eye off to their predicament even at a distance. But a rider would have to come close to be sure to see the exposed nature of their punishment. Even so, some wagons were not so very far off and every rattle of the traces or clank of chains set Rosaline and Amelia’s heads spinning around to confront any possible witness.

“Someone’s is bound to see before the day is out,” Amelia whined.

“Bound to,” Rosaline agreed, “We can only hope it is not one of the outriders or one of those boys. Still the wagons are a ways off and there are other things to concern those folk.”

“But if somebody does it will be the talk of the trail,” Amelia wailed.

“Then we had best keep close in and our tails turned away from trouble then,” Rosaline said impatiently. After all it wasn’t as if we didn’t have it coming.

“Oh gosh,” Amelia sighed.

To be continued



2 Responses to “The New Mrs Harris (Part 2 of 3)”

  1. 1 paul1510

    Damian,
    I can only emulate Amelia, oh gosh. 🙂
    Mind you, a good belting teaches a stern lesson, and could well save their lives. 😉
    Charlotte next?
    Paul.

  2. 2 Old Tom

    Oh Golly indeed. My word that Harris is a man after my own heart. I am sure he must be an ancestor of mine in some way. Those two girls were so far out of order it was off the planet. They behaved badly in every way and placed themselves in danger against his instruction. The belting they got and the extremely humiliating punishment that followed were well deserved and appropriate.


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