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Chapter 4—Slap and a Promise
Nalin dropped the newspaper into her lap. She could hardly believe what she’d just read. Susan B. Anthony, the most prominent leader and proponent of women’s suffrage, was coming to Texas. She would arrive in Dallas three months from then and speak at one of the largest conventions to take place in the west. The journey from Porter to Dallas would take Nalin two days by buggy, and many people would travel much greater distances to attend.
She couldn’t think of anything she wanted more than to go, save for having a baby. She must make Carter understand. In front of the mirror, Nalin practiced the speech she would deliver to him, listing point by point in a logical, articulate matter why he should permit her to embark on this journey.
Nalin prepared a hearty meal and set the table with silver and their fancy dishes. She baked honey bread, roasted red potatoes, and used the best cuts of steak for the main entrée. She tossed a salad with fresh tomatoes from her garden. For dessert, she baked his favorite: apple pie. She used ripe fruit from their tree out back. To add to the pleasure of the evening, she poured him a glass of whiskey and packed his pipe for him. She placed both next to his spot at the table. She poured a large shot of the bottled courage for herself and downed it in one gulp.
Next she slicked up. She donned her violet calico dress with crushed black velvet around the bodice and lace trim at the neck. She brushed her hair more than a hundred strokes, leaving it shining and smooth down her back and around her shoulders. She applied just a smidgen of rouge to each of her high cheekbones, which was scandalous, but Carter wouldn’t notice anything but her radiating face. Right before he showed up, she bit into a strawberry and smeared the red juice around her full lips, making sure to keep within the borders of her mouth. Observing herself in the mirror, she smiled. She thought she looked quite comely, and she thought her husband would probably think so too.
Carter walked in and stopped dead in his tracks when he looked up. He studied Nalin, then moved his eyes to the kitchen. During that time, she studied him too. She found her husband incredibly handsome, and her stomach fluttered whenever he walked into a room. He was almost as dark as she was because of the tan he acquired in the sun. His eyes usually twinkled, and when he smiled, he looked positively devilish with a boyish dimple that softened his sculpted face into a mischievous expression. He was a strong man due to the nature of his work, which was physically demanding, and his muscles rippled under his plain clothes.
Carter approached and took her into his arms. He gave her a long kiss. His tongue danced with hers, and she breathed in his scent, which smelled faintly of leather and apple. He drove her wild in that kiss. His palm pressed into the crushed velvet on her back, and his other hand grasped her right ass cheek, shoving her pelvis against his. She let out a small noise of pleasure. He released her lips and looked at her with his gorgeous smile. Both of his hands moved to palm her lower back, continuing to envelop her in his embrace. She almost panted.
He licked his lips. “You taste like strawberry whiskey. I didn’t know there was such a thing.” He chuckled. “So what is it that you want, missus?”
The kiss made her forget for a moment. Her immediate desire was to continue receiving her husband’s advances in order to satisfy the churning he’d just initiated in her nether regions. She looked up at Carter sheepishly through her lashes. The way his eyes twinkled told her he knew just how his kiss had affected her.
Attempting to regain composure, she answered him. “Can’t I just want to treat my handsome husband to a nice supper?”
He laughed. “Sure you can. I’m not going to complain about that.”
“Good. Now why don’t you sit down and let me fix you a plate?”
Carter moved to his seat at the table. He laughed again. “Since when have you ever packed my pipe? I didn’t know you knew how the steamer worked.”
“I’ve watched you do it every day for years. It was easy enough to mimic.”
Nalin piled a generous helping of food on a plate and set it down in front of him. She tried to walk away, but he pulled her back, set her on his left thigh, and circled his arms around her.
“Tell me what this is all about, Mrs. Barnes.”
“I’m not ready to yet,” she said. “First you have to taste the food.”
With one arm still encircled about her waist, he took a small bite and swallowed. “Delicious,” he stated, and fixed his eyes on her. “Now speak.”
“But Carter,” she protested, avoiding his eyes. “You didn’t eat very much. Plus there’s apple pie.”
“Out with it,” he insisted. “I’m sure as a gun not waiting until dessert.”
Nalin sighed and tried to get up, but his arms remained fixed around her.
“Carter, if you wish to know now, you must let me up. I have to be standing to give you my speech. That’s how I practiced it.”
He laughed and released her. She stood a short distance away while he held an arm over his ribs, bent over, and continued laughing.
Nalin observed him, feeling a little hurt. “I’m glad I amuse you so, husband.”
Carter caught his breath, stood, and took her in his arms once again. “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t mean to laugh at you.” He punctuated his next sentence with soft kisses around her face. “You are the most adorable, beautiful, enchanting, and infuriating woman. I couldn’t love you more than I do, you know.”
“Thank you. I love you too, and you look very dashing this evening. You actually shaved properly for a change today, didn’t you?”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “If you wish to flatter me, you might try doing so without adding the cheek.”
Nalin grinned and rephrased. “You look dashing this evening. I see you shaved properly like you do every day without fail.”
Carter snickered and waved her away from him. “Okay, okay. Get on with it then.”
She walked around the table and stood behind her stool, folding her hands in front of her. She fidgeted and looked down at them. Taking a deep breath, she opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She took a deep breath and looked at her hands again.
Carter took pity on her. “Honey, unless you ask me to kill someone, sell the ranch, or start going to church, the answer is yes.”
Nalin’s head popped up and her jaw dropped. “Don’t tease me, Carter.”
“I’m not. I can see how much this means to you, whatever it is, so why don’t you forget about the speech and tell me straight out what you want.”
Her words tumbled out quickly. “I want to go to the women’s suffrage convention in Dallas. It’s in three months.” She held her breath.
Carter smiled broadly. “Well, how about that? I’m grateful for the opportunity to make up for the convention in Porter I caused you to miss. You may go, of course.”
“Oh, Carter!” She flew to him. She stood on her toes and put her arms around his neck. He lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. “Thank you so much. I’m ever so happy.”
“You make it hard for a man to say no. One thing, though, and I hope this doesn’t disappoint. I’m going with you.”
Nalin smiled. “It’ll be just like our honeymoon when we took a trip together.”
“I like the sound of that.”
“Let’s eat now. We can discuss the details over supper,” Nalin said, sliding off him and returning to her stool.
Carter chuckled as he sat. “I was about to tell you something, but I changed my mind about what I had to say.”
“What? Tell me anyway.”
Carter ran a hand over the stubble on his face that had grown in since morning. “I was going to say that next time you want something from me, you don’t need to go to all this trouble. But the truth is, I want you to. I’m going to enjoy this meal. And crimany, honey, it gives me a jolt seeing you titivating in that piece of calico, wearing a little slap on your face. After supper, you’re getting a good roll in the hay, I promise you that.”
Nalin cocked her head with surprise. “You can tell I painted on rouge?”
Carter looked at her with a similar expression. “Of course. Your cheeks are the color of…” He stopped before he finished his sentence.
She finished for him, a tease in her voice. “The color of something very red, ohpitsa?”
He winked at her. “That’s right. Something very red.”
Chapter 5—Sins of the Father
Nalin thought every day of the upcoming suffrage convention in Dallas. Being around other women who shared her passion for equal rights filled her with a sense of comradery and purpose, and she felt almost faint thinking about what an honor it was going to be hearing Susan B. Anthony speak. She also felt happy that Carter would be attending with her. She hoped he would come to understand the validity of the movement after listening to the speakers.
One thing Nalin didn’t have much hope in changing was the way Carter viewed her father Billy. The two of them were just a few insults short of becoming sworn enemies. That’s why when Billy stopped by for a visit in the middle of the afternoon, Nalin felt glad her husband wasn’t around. She’d tried to convince Carter that her father wasn’t a horrible person, but Carter, in his typical stubborn fashion, didn’t waver in his opinion. He argued that a man who neglects his family is the worst kind of man.
“Hi, Pa! What brings you here today?”
Billy took off his worn woolen hat. “It’s been a coon’s age since I’ve seen you. Why haven’t you visited?”
Nalin motioned for him to follow her inside and rolled her eyes out of his view. Her father had a way of making himself out to be the victim in every scenario. If he lost a bet, the winner was a cheat. The shoddy relationship he’d had with his wife was her fault because she didn’t speak good English, and his poor health was due to a fragile constitution, not because he drank too much.
Nalin poured her father some coffee and set a piece cherry pie on the table. “Sit and eat some pie, Pa. You know I don’t like to visit you at that hotel. It’s not got the best reputation. It’s better for you to visit here like you’re doing.”
Billy sat down at the table and grunted. “What you mean is that the high-falutin’ saddle stiff you call your husband doesn’t want you to visit a place he considers beneath him.”
She bristled. “He only wants me safe, Pa. Let’s not have this quarrel again.”
Nalin loved her father. He was her only blood relation left on earth as far as she knew, and she felt affection for him in the same way she might a lost puppy. He had never been like a father to her. For as long as she could remember, he was more like a brother or friend. She resented how he didn’t provide for her and her mother while she grew up, especially when she saw how worried and sad it made her ma. His selfishness was a bone of contention between them, but he loved her in his own way. He was good company too, as he always made her laugh.
Billy ate the pie in earnest. He looked skinnier than the last time she’d seen him, which worried her. She didn’t like the idea of him going hungry.
“I’ll make you some supper, Pa. I’ve got a plucked chicken in the keep.”
“Thanks, hon. I sure would like that.”
Nalin lit the fire of the stove and got to work cooking. She placed the rest of the cherry pie on the table. “Eat as much of that as you want. I’ll make another for Carter tomorrow. How you been?”
Nalin knew the answer to this question wouldn’t be good. She was sure to hear about his money troubles, but she would not be moved this time. She wouldn’t be giving him any more money behind Carter’s back like she had a month ago.
Although Carter didn’t know that Nalin had given her father money recently, a number of years ago, Billy had asked her for money when Carter wasn’t around. That time, Nalin told Carter about it, and he wasn’t pleased. He gave Billy some money for food along with a lecture to never ask his wife for money again. Carter also ordered her to always consult him like she had. She obeyed that order until a month ago, when Billy convinced her to hand out without Carter’s knowledge. He promised to pay her back in a week, but he broke that promise like so many others he’d made.
Billy didn’t have anything good to say about his life, despite having benefited from some extra cash. He reported, “Can’t say things are great. I’ve not had a fair shake in life, as you know, what with your ma dying on me so soon. It all went downhill from there. Now my business is crumbling.”
Nalin bit her tongue. She decided not to point out that he never paid his wife attention while she was alive. It certainly didn’t seem right to use her as a crutch in conversation about his misfortune. Nalin wondered which failing business he was referring to exactly.
“What business is crumbling, Pa?”
“Don’t be smart, Nalin. You know I had a profitable moonshining business before the temperance skirts interfered.”
Nalin could see where this was headed, and she decided to stop it before it started. “I hope you know I can’t give you any more money, Pa. You promised you would pay me back in a jiffy last month so I could replace it before Carter noticed, but you haven’t. He could find out any day that the money’s missing, and he’ll have my hide if he discovers I gave it to you.”
Bill looked wounded. “The only reason I haven’t paid you back is because of a dirty lowdown cheat at the saloon. I wanted to double what you gave me so I could pay it back with interest, but he as good as stole it from me in a game of poker. I’m certain he had an ace up his sleeve. That’s why I need a bit more today—just to buy some vittles.”
“You gambled with it, Pa? I didn’t think you were gonna do that! I can’t give you any more.” She sighed. “You can come here whenever you’re hungry though. I’ll cook for you. Carter’s not one to deny a man a meal when he needs it, but he’d blister my behind if he knew I gave you money that you gambled away.”
“It’s not right, your husband giving you lickings,” Billy grumbled. “I never laid a hand on you or your ma.”
It was true, he hadn’t. Nalin didn’t mention that instead he handed them disappointment and neglect. A walloping every once in a while would have been preferable.
“He’s a different kind of man, Pa, but he’s good to me.”
Billy snorted. His contempt for her husband was palpable, and it was mutual. Carter generally kept a scowl on his face whenever her father was around and answered him in scornful, one-word sentences.
Billy and Nalin ate the meal together and turned their focus to pleasanter subjects. “Care for a cowboy cocktail, Pa?” Nalin asked with a grin, knowing what his answer would be.
“You have fire water here? You’ve been holding out on me, girl! Fill ‘er up.”
Nalin poured whiskey for them both. After a couple shots, Nalin felt giddy and lightheaded. Joking back and forth with Billy, the time passed quickly.
Nalin noticed it was nearly five o’clock. “Carter will be back soon, Pa. Stay and smoke a cigar with him. You seem in a jolly mood now. Maybe you and he can have a good jawing for once.”
“That’s the truth. I’m feeling quite jolly, thanks to your company and that bit of neck oil you got. You ain’t by any chance in a giving mood now, are you? Can’t you scare up a few bucks for your old pa?”
The whiskey had torn down Nalin’s resolve. “Oh, very well. Just a few dollars then.”
Nalin walked to the bedroom and opened the bottom dresser drawer, where she retrieved the wallet in the back. She removed the last of the money, which was fifty dollars. She handed her father the bill quickly, as though getting it out of her hand somehow released her from being responsible.
Her head was spinning, which only made her want to drink more. She picked up the bottle of whiskey on the counter. She poured another glass for herself and one for Billy. “You always get me in trouble,” she said.
Billy grinned at her. “Life’s too short to be good all the time, you know.”
A deep voice responded. “Life’s too short to waste on idleness and drink too.”
Nalin and Billy looked up as Carter closed the front door and took off his hat.
“Hi, honey,” Nalin said, immediately on edge. Her husband’s presence, which usually brought her delight, now felt like an unwelcome shock of reality, like being doused with cold water after playing in the mud.
Carter observed her. “You’re drunk, Nalin.”
Billy chortled. “Nothin’ wrong with that. Don’t be so crusty, Carter. You’re too young to be such a curmudgeon.”
Carter glowered at him and said nothing in response. He walked to where Nalin sat on the stool and kissed her cheek. He looked around the kitchen.
“There’s no chuck left,” he said, sounding disappointed.
Nalin looked at the counter and on the table. She groaned. “Pa, you weren’t supposed to eat the whole chicken.”
“I was hungry,” he said, shrugging. “I haven’t had good chow in a fortnight. Your husband gets three square meals a day. I don’t see why he should complain to miss one.”
“I work hard to ensure your daughter and I don’t miss a meal,” Carter snarled. “What are you doing here, Bill, besides bending your elbow and moppin’ the plates?”
Nalin got a sinking feeling that the afternoon was about to go very sour. Carter could barely tolerate her father on a full stomach, and he tended to become easily provoked when hungry. She tried to shake herself out of her tipsy state. It was often necessary for her to act as a clearheaded peacemaker between the two men.
Billy stood. “I’m here visiting my daughter, of course. But I can see I’m not welcome anymore, so I’ll take my leave.” He moved in the direction of the door.
Carter raised his voice and addressed him as though he were an errant child. “Not so fast.”
Billy turned to face him. Nalin observed the two men and was struck by the differences between them. Billy was much older, but he had a guilty, childlike look about him as though he were about to receive a dressing-down from a schoolmaster. His shoulders slouched, and he dipped his head.
Carter stood straight and tall, looking deadly confident and fierce as a lion about to attack his prey. Nalin felt sorry for her father, since she’d been on the receiving end of Carter’s predatory stare before and knew how intimidating it was. She appreciated that her husband was strong, but when he was wrathy, he wasn’t a person anyone felt comfortable being around.
“Are you here wanting anything, Bill? I hope you didn’t ask my wife for money again behind my back.”
Billy did his best to act offended, which wasn’t very convincing. “I can’t believe you think so low of me. I told you a few years ago I wouldn’t ask her again.”
Carter was no fool. He narrowed his eyes at Nalin for a moment, and Nalin wondered if she appeared as guilty as she felt. Carter then turned his attention back to Billy. “Stay where you are.”
As he strode into the bedroom, Nalin and Billy exchanged looks. Billy appeared a bit uncomfortable, but Nalin felt positively terrified. Her heartbeat quickened when she heard the bottom drawer of the dresser open. A moment later, it slammed shut.
Carter walked back wearing a grim expression. He stood in front of Billy and held out his palm. “Your jig is up. Hand it over.”
Billy let out a sigh, retrieved the fifty dollars from his pocket, and placed it in Carter’s open hand. Carter looked at it. “Don’t play games with me, Bill,” he barked. “Give me the rest.”
Billy’s voice turned into a whine. “That’s all I have.”
“Bosh! I had more than three hundred dollars in there. Hand it over before I lose my temper.”
Nalin felt sick to her stomach. “Carter,” she said in a small voice, “The rest is gone.”
Carter turned his scowl in her direction. “Say that again, Nalin?”
She shifted on her feet and looked down. She knew she was up a tree and had no choice but to confess. “I gave the rest to Pa a month ago. I thought he would pay it back before you noticed, but he lost it gambling.”
She looked up to see a dark cloud descend over Carter’s face. He turned to Billy and pointed at the door. “Get out.” His voice was even, but low and dangerous.
“Is that any way to treat your father-in-law?”
Nalin couldn’t believe Billy’s nerve. She felt ashamed of her father and ashamed of herself.
Carter took a step toward him. “You’re nary but a bunko artist to me. You’d better high-tail it out of here before I clean your plow and drag you to the marshal. I could see you imprisoned for theft.”
“I didn’t steal the money,” Billy argued. “Nalin gave it to me.”
Carter looked livid and two shakes away from thrashing him. “It wasn’t hers to give, as you well know. I won’t tell you again to leave.”
Billy walked to the door. Before he left, he turned and spoke in defense of his daughter. “Don’t be too hard on her. You and me, we’re men. We know the worth of three hundred dollars. Nalin’s just a woman. She doesn’t know it’s a cowhand’s six-month salary, and I didn’t let on how much it was.”
Carter took another step toward him. “So now you want to look after and protect her? And from me? How dare you!” Carter shouted, his voice shaking with rage. “Get the hell out of my house. The only person in this room Nalin needs protection from is her lily-livered father. You’ve taken food off your own daughter’s plate by stealing that money. Even the most despicable men don’t generally do that to their own offspring.”
Billy finally left, hanging his head like a whipped dog. The door closed behind him. Carter stood still and stared at it, his back facing Nalin.
When he spoke, his words sliced through her heart like a knife. “You’re the last person I thought would betray me. I trusted you.”
“Oh, Carter, I didn’t mean—“
“Not another word.” His voice was cold as steel. Turning, he gave her a hard look. While removing his buckskin work gloves, he said, “Go to the bedroom and close the door behind you. I want you out of my sight.”
Nalin burst into tears and left his presence. She had never seen her husband look so angry. Worse, he looked hurt.
She didn’t know how long she stayed in the room, but it was long enough for her to become completely sober. For a few minutes, she heard the sound of dishes being cleared from the table, but she didn’t hear anything after that. Either Carter had left the cabin or he wasn’t moving. She wanted nothing more than to beg him for forgiveness, but she didn’t dare open the door before he fetched her. She had a horrible feeling that this misdeed was beyond forgiveness and that Carter would never trust her again.
The door opened suddenly in the middle of her racing thoughts. “All right, Nalin, I’ve calmed down. Are you sober?”
“Then it’s time to talk about a few things. Follow me.” He walked to the kitchen next to the table.
She stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. His expression was stony. She couldn’t find a trace of tenderness.
“I’m sorry, Carter,” she said, tears flowing freely. “Please punish me, I deserve it. But please don’t hate me.”
Carter didn’t respond right away, and each second that ticked by filled Nalin with increasing fear that he would never forgive her.
“Why would you ask me not to hate you? I’m angry enough, Nalin, without that nonsense.”
Nalin could tell he was struggling to keep his voice level. “I’m sorry,” she said, crying. “But Carter, I’m so afraid. Tell me my wicked deed hasn’t caused you to lose your love for me. I beg you to tell me that before you punish me. I’ve never seen that look on your face. It looks like you hate me and will never forgive me. I can’t bear it!”
Carter raised his voice to a bellow, which took her by surprise, since he rarely yelled at her. “This is the look of a husband who feels betrayed by his wife! It’s the look of a man angry with himself for not stowing that money properly at the bank or in a safe. It’s the look of a business owner worried about the future of his business and his ability to pay his employees. It is not, I repeat, not, the look of a man who hates you.”
In a stern voice closer to its usual volume, he added, “I will always love you. Is that what you need to hear, young lady?”
“Y-yes. Thank you, Carter.” She hiccupped.
He scowled at her. “Say it. Say, ‘My husband will always love me’.”
Nalin did so in a quiet, trembling voice.
“Say it again. Louder and with confidence.”
“My husband will always love me,” she repeated, trying to settle her sobs.
“Again!” he shouted, and slammed his palm down on the kitchen table.
“My husband will always love me!”
“Do you believe it? You will repeat it until you do, even if it takes all night.”
“Yes, sir. I-I believe it.”
“Good. You’re going to need to remember how much I love you during this punishment. Bend over the table and lift your skirts.”
It was the longest, most painful punishment Nalin had ever endured. When it finally ended, she straightened from her bent position over the kitchen table. Her skirt and petticoat fell from her back in a wrinkled heap over her scorched rear end. He had spanked her for what seemed like ages. She didn’t think it would ever end. He used his belt for the licking and snapped it again and again on her bare bottom. He then lowered his punishment to her upper thighs. He didn’t spare a single tender area from fewer than three licks delivered by the swinging leather.
From where she stood bawling with her hands in her face, she heard Carter looping his belt back around his waist and buckling it. Her bottom and legs felt like they were on fire. She couldn’t stop crying. That was the harshest Carter had ever been with her. Even in the couple times she could remember him taking his belt to her, he hadn’t delivered more than ten licks. She was certain this time he’d administered at least thirty, though she’d lost count along the way, unable to focus on anything but the pain. Still sobbing, she wiped her face with her hands and looked over at him. He half-leaned, half-sat on the arm of the sofa. His arms were crossed, and he was watching her.
Catching her eye, he delivered his stern, even-toned lecture. “That was no small theft, Nalin. That money was for grain for the animals. It was to buy food for us. It was for mandatory supplies. You compromised the workings of this ranch and the salaries of my men, not to mention your own security for the future. I won’t be able to recover that money. I want to provide and care for you in the best way that I can, and I need you on my side to do that. Instead, you betrayed me by acting like a common criminal. Do I need to lock away money from my own wife, the one person I have always trusted?”
“N-no, Carter. I’ll never do it again,” she sobbed. “Can you forgive me?”
“Yes. But I need to know that you understand what you’ve done. Do you understand how serious it is for a business to lose that much money?”
“I d-didn’t understand. I thought you said it was emergency money for us.”
“It was in a way. It’s what I saved up in the last year to prepare for lack of future income. Drought and dry grasslands are anticipated for the next two years according to Farmers’ Almanac.”
“I didn’t know,” she said, sobbing harder. Her words came out in pitiful hiccups. “I thought it was extra and that my pa needed it more than we did.” She covered her face with her hands, too ashamed to look at him.
“I see.” Carter’s sighed. “That’s not for you to decide, honey. You know that.”
Nalin continued weeping, her face still in her hands.
“Come to me so I can comfort you, Nalin love, or go to bed and cry it out. Those are your two options. I’ll not have you standing there bawling in the kitchen a minute more.”
Nalin couldn’t decide which to do, so she remained in the same place. She felt too unworthy of Carter’s comfort to seek his embrace and too devastated not to. Carter strode to her after a couple minutes. He pushed her back into the bent position over the table, tossed up her skirts, and slapped his palm across her flaming behind.
“No, wait! I’ll go to bed,” she cried.
“Yes, you will. After another spanking.”
The swats rained down at a steady pace during his lecture. “That wasn’t a suggestion, young lady. I gave you an order to come to me or go to bed. You will listen to my words! You will obey when I speak them. And you’ll do so without delay. Disobeying gets you punished. Dawdling also gets you punished. You’re to be especially biddable following a spanking, to show me that you’ve learned something and are of the mind to be obedient going forward. Am I making myself clear enough, or do I need to take off my belt again?”
She reached back with both hands to clutch her bottom. The sting from his slaps after the belting was intense. She hopped from one foot to the other, practically running in place. “It’s clear, Carter,” she cried. “Please no more.”
The swats ceased. He pulled her into an upright position by her shoulders and turned her in the direction of their bedroom. Now, young lady, you take your dawdling little ass to bed, and think about what you’ve done. Remember the smarting you feel now in case you’re tempted to disobey me in the future.” He spanked her one more time. “Git!”
Nalin walked at a quick clip to the room. Once inside, she undressed. Her bottom throbbed. She crawled naked into the bed and lay on her stomach, where she planted her face into the pillow. The soft quilt that covered her felt like sandpaper against her tender posterior. She had never felt so punished or so remorseful.
She hated lying in bed after a spanking without first receiving Carter’s comfort. She felt unsettled. A sad thought struck her. It was unlikely Carter would take her to the suffrage convention in Dallas. If he was worried about affording food, he wouldn’t be willing to pay for hotels. The familiar feeling of failure came over her, giving her a new reason to cry. Again she had failed as a wife. Again she would fail as a suffragette. She didn’t know how much time passed before she was finally able to stop crying. It was pitch black in the room. Carter hadn’t come to bed, and she was sure it was quite late.
Hissing as she maneuvered to the edge of the bed and her bottom came in contact with bedding, she stood and pulled a nightdress over her head. She opened the door and peered into the darkness of the cabin’s main room. She couldn’t see or hear a thing. Nalin felt her way to a lamp and lit it, bringing a soft glow to the room. She looked around. Carter wasn’t there.
She found him outside sitting on the porch bench, smoking his pipe. He looked up when she walked out. “Trouble sleeping?”
She nodded. “I didn’t mean to betray you, ohpitsa. I mean it when I say I’ll never go behind your back again, and I’m sorry I did. I’m sorry to have caused you worry.”
“Aw, honey,” he said, leaning back in his chair and taking a puff of his pipe. “I know you’re sorry. Thank you for saying it. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Why haven’t you come to bed?”
“I’ve been doing some figuring in my head, trying to think of how to pay for things. I figured out a way to still take you to that convention in Dallas.”
“No,” she said sadly. “Don’t worry about it, Carter. I know I don’t deserve to go.”
Carter patted his leg. “Do you want to try and sit on my lap?”
Nalin wanted nothing more. She sat down gingerly. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. Nalin breathed in his masculine scent combined with cherry tobacco and the soap he used on his face. She immediately felt comforted and loved.
“I believe I’ve already punished you soundly, haven’t I?”
Nalin nodded into his shirt.
“I don’t wish to punish you further. I want to make this trip happen. I’m not going to lie, we’ll be in debt for a bit. I’ll have to use credit to pay for the hotels and to pay my foreman extra while I’m away, but I have a good history with the bank. They’ll trust me to pay it off.”
“Thank you,” she said, touched by her husband’s kindness and ashamed that she hadn’t done anything to earn it. “It was rotten of me to give my pa money behind your back.”
“How did it come about, Nalin?”
She sat up straight so she could look at him. “He said he desperately needed it. He said he was going to get ousted from his room at the hotel and that he hadn’t been able to buy food for a week. I took pity on him.”
“And you thought he needed three hundred dollars? Do you realize twenty would have solved that problem for him?”
Nalin looked down at her hands. “No. I thought hotels cost a lot more.”
Carter took another puff from his pipe. “I’ve scolded you enough, but I think it bears repeating that you need to consult me about money matters. I’m the man. It’s my job to know these things, not yours. When it comes to business, you’re at sea.” He sounded exasperated. “You don’t even know the cost of living.”
Nalin continued to stare at her hands. “I won’t interfere again. You’re right I don’t know about business. It’s not anything I’d be good at.”
“Can you see how confusing it is to me, then, that you insist on fighting for women’s equal participation in all things government and business, which are activities best left to men?”
Nalin felt distressed by his words, which she didn’t know how to argue against in that moment. She felt bewildered and sad, and she wondered if perhaps he was right. Maybe the women’s rights movement was nonsense after all.
Carter seemed to sense her distress, and he pulled her back into his chest. “Forget what I said, Nalin love. I’m just thinking out loud.” He redirected the conversation. “You know I don’t care much for your father, but I wouldn’t let the man starve. You only had to ask. I would have helped him, just like last time, if only for your sake.”
“I know, but he didn’t want you to know about it. He said it would hurt his pride to ask you for money to buy food, and I wanted to spare him your scorn.”
The tone of Carter’s response was heavy with the very scorn she’d wanted to protect her father from. “So that was his excuse to get so much money for drink and gambling. He thought nothing of bamboozling his own daughter into thinking he was a proud man desperate for a meal. He’s a disgrace.” He paused for a moment, then conceded, “I know you love him, though. There must be some good there that I don’t see.”
“I do love him,” she agreed. “Sometimes I don’t know why, like right now, but I can’t help it.”
Carter gave her a squeeze. “I can’t fault you for loving your own father. I just wish he deserved it.”
“Thank you for forgiving me, Carter.”
“I love you, Nalin, so I always will.”
Nalin sat up again. “Love and forgiveness don’t always go hand in hand. I’ve never forgiven my pa for the hardship he caused my ma, but I still love him. I worry sometimes that you might love me but not forgive me for something. I worry that you may resent me for not being a good wife or that you may sometimes feel disgusted that I’m not woman enough to carry your baby.”
“Disgusted? Nalin, what absolute hogwash. Careful what you say.”
She knew that speaking badly about herself would displease him. She also knew that he wouldn’t be so cruel as to spank her again, so it felt like a good time to bring up her feelings.
“I know what you’re thinking, Nalin, and I can always find a different way to punish you. I’m very creative.”
Nalin smiled in spite of the seriousness of the conversation. He read her mind often.
Her smile brought one from him before he cleared his throat and became serious again. “You can’t forgive your pa because he hasn’t apologized and he’s still a scoundrel. You’re a good person and make decisions with the right intentions, so I can easily forgive you. As for not feeling like you’re a good wife or woman, will you please at least try to believe me when I say I feel like the luckiest man alive to be your husband?”
Nalin smiled broadly, moved and comforted by his words. “Thank you for saying that, Carter. I’ll try to believe it.”
“Try hard, honey,” he said, with a bit of danger in his voice. “Try very hard.”
Chapter 6—The Decision
Two months later, on the morning they were to leave for the women’s suffrage convention, Nalin felt nauseated and threw up. Her period was six weeks past due. Although her cycle had always been irregular, the vomiting indicated that she was almost certainly experiencing the early stages of pregnancy. The timing enraged her, and she tried to convince herself she’d eaten something that had gone bad.
The last time she became pregnant, even after all her previous miscarriages, she felt hopeful. This time, though, she felt betrayed by her own body. Finally she’d found something to look forward to that didn’t involve starting a family, and her body mocked her for it, reminding her of her one, true unfulfilled desire.
She knew she shouldn’t travel. The doctor had told her that due to how difficult it was for her body to carry a baby to term, she should confine herself to bed the minute she learned of her pregnant state. But the doctor’s admonishment felt hollow to her ears. He had recommended the same for years, and all of her efforts to save the babies resulted in the same loss. This new baby would die too. She felt that she might as well attend the conference in Dallas to gain some joy to counter the certain sadness.
Carter whistled as he packed their things into the back of the buggy. He brushed Thunder, the horse who would pull it, and gave him extra grain. He took an empty sack to the apple tree and filled it with red apples to bring along in addition to the cheese and bread Nalin packed for them.
Nalin threw up behind the barn out of Carter’s range of hearing, then rushed to the cabin after to rinse out her mouth and splash water on her face. Taking a deep breath, she walked outside toward him and the buggy.
“Ready to skedaddle?” Carter asked her with a smile.
Nalin smiled back in a way that she hoped didn’t appear as weak as she felt. “I can hardly wait.”
Carter clasped her around her waist and swung her up to the seat playfully, which almost made her hurl again. He climbed up after her.
“I’m happy to be doing this with you, darlin’. I’m looking forward to the convention because it means I get to be with my girl nonstop for days.”
“I’m looking forward to the speeches,” she replied with sass.
Carter laughed. “You are such a brat, I swear.”
After six hours in the buggy, Nalin felt sore and unwell. The jolts of the seat beneath her seemed more violent the longer they traveled. She concentrated on not vomiting, and Carter noticed she was quiet.
“You all right, honey? Tired?”
“I’m fine, just a bit peckish,” she said, which she immediately regretted because Carter reached into the sack and handed her an apple. She didn’t want to eat it. She stared at the fruit like it was foul-tasting medicine.”
Aware that he was watching her, she took a small bite. “That’s good,” she said, though she meant the opposite. She chewed slowly and took another bite. Carter seemed satisfied and looked ahead.
Halfway through the apple, Nalin realized she wouldn’t be able to hide her nausea any longer. “Stop, Carter. Stop now!”
“Whoa,” Carter said, reining the horse to a sudden halt.
He pulled up the brake as Nalin clamored down and almost fell off the step. She dropped the apple in the dirt and rushed to the edge of the path, where she bent over and vomited into the bushes. Carter strode to her side.
“Don’t watch me,” she hissed at him before heaving again.
“Aw, honey,” he sighed. “Okay, I’ll be a few steps away.”
Nalin heaved time and time again, until she was shedding her guts. There wasn’t much food in her stomach, so it felt agonizing. When she finally stopped, she strode past Carter without looking at him, wiping away the tears that streamed down her face from the exertion. Taking the canteen from the back of the buggy, she rinsed out her mouth and angrily spat into the dirt. She stepped up to the seat and settled into it with a straight back, hands folded in her lap and head facing forward. Though she knew it was next to impossible, she prayed Carter would ignore what had just happened and continue in the direction of the convention. They would soon reach the town of Bartow, where they’d planned to stop for the night. After that, there were only eight more hours of travel time before they reached Dallas. They had almost traveled halfway, and turning around would feel like a horrible waste of effort.
Nalin felt Carter climb in and sit next to her. She turned her head slightly to the side to avoid meeting his eyes, which she knew were fixed on her. Carter said nothing. He released the brake and clucked to the horse. They continued toward Bartow. She allowed herself to feel hope that their plans weren’t ruined and that Carter had not just figured out she was pregnant.
“We’d like a room,” Carter said to the innkeeper. “Just for one night.”
“No problem, sir. I’ll just get your key. Will you and the missus be needing a bath drawn?”
“Yes, thank you,” Carter said.
Carter had already taken the horse to the livery stable a few blocks down. Nalin looked forward to resting on a surface that wouldn’t bump beneath her. She felt her husband’s hand on the small of her back. He moved it up and wrapped it around her shoulder, and she leaned closer into his embrace. He kissed the top of her head.
The innkeeper handed Carter the room key. “I’ll have my lad take up your pack. Won’t be but a minute.”
“Much obliged,” Carter said.
They waited until the room was made ready for them and the bath was drawn. Once the innkeeper gave them the go-ahead, they entered together and closed the door. The room felt inviting. Black and white paisley wallpaper covered the walls, and the bed, which was donned with a thick white quilt, looked soft. Steam rose from the bath.
Carter unbuttoned the back of Nalin’s dress. He hadn’t said more than two words to her since she had vomited into the bushes, and he continued to say nothing. He helped her out of the frock, then lifted her shift over her head, baring her breasts and back. Next he pulled down her petticoat. She stepped out. She still wore her drawers as he lifted her and set her on the bed. He removed each of her shoes and set them aside, one at a time, then rolled her dusty stockings off her legs. Taking her hands in his, he pulled her to her feet, where he kissed her while pulling the ribbon to release her drawers, leaving her completely naked in front of him. He wore all of his clothes, even his boots and hat. The contrast between her undressed state and Carter’s fully clothed state left Nalin feeling more exposed than usual while naked in front of him.
He lifted her into his arms and settled her into the bath, where she closed her eyes in a moment of bliss. Never had water felt so wonderful to her. All her aches from the bumpy journey felt soothed away by the hot water. Carter removed his hat, boots, and shirt. He moved a wooden chair next to the bath and sat down. Nalin looked into his eyes. She couldn’t read his mood, but she knew something was wrong, and it almost certainly had to do with her throwing up.
“What is it, ohpitsa?” she asked. She ran her fingertips across the scar on his torso, which he’d received several years ago when he fell from a spooked stallion and was charged by a bull. Nalin reached for his hand.
He took hers and kissed it. “Let’s get you clean, darlin’.”
Finding the soap, he lathered it up and washed the lengths of her arms, then under them. He moved to her back and massaged her with his soapy hands. Next he washed her breasts and the areas around them in a tender but nonsexual way. Nalin thought this might be the first time he had touched her breasts without pinching her nipples or massaging them in a way that aroused her. His touch felt so relaxing that she allowed herself to silently enjoy it, despite the dread she felt about him knowing her condition.
He cleaned every inch of her. She marveled and blushed a little as he spent time between her legs, using his fingers to rub her clean around the folds of her womanhood. It felt intimate on a different level from sex. Her body was his to strip and clean. She looked at him, and he smiled at her in a kind way that let her know he understood how his touch made her feel. He washed her hair, kneading the lathered soap into her scalp, then rinsing it out with cups of water.
“Stand up, sweet girl.”
She stood and stepped into the towel he held open for her. His ministrations continued. He rubbed her body dry, then rubbed her hair until it was damp and no longer wet. Opening their pack, he removed her nightdress and helped her slip into it. Next he guided her to sit on the chair next to the bath and brushed her hair, starting at the tips in downward strokes and working his way up through the tangles. Nalin looked longingly at the bed.
Carter walked to it and pulled back the quilt. He motioned for her to get in. She obeyed and he pulled the coverlet around her. A bed had never felt so good to her.
“I’ll join you in two shakes,” he said, and gave her a kiss.
He bathed in the leftover water, scrubbing himself quickly without pleasure, as the water had grown cool. Nalin watched him and felt powerful love for her husband. He didn’t understand the importance of the suffrage movement to her, but he always put her needs first. She knew that not every man did that for his wife. His father had not once shown her mother such kindness, and Carter showed her kindness every day.
He rubbed himself dry and shrugged into his nightclothes before joining her in the bed. She sidled up to him. He pulled her into his arms and she laid her head on his chest. Carter finally spoke the words she didn’t want to hear. He said them gently.
“Did you know you were pregnant before we left?”
Nalin pulled away and sat up. She pivoted her body to face him and bent her knees up to her chest. She prepared herself to use her remaining energy to argue with her husband, knowing that he would head back to their cabin the next morning if she admitted she was pregnant. Then she noticed the look on his face and the fight left her. He looked pained and conflicted. It would hurt him to disappoint her and turn back, she realized. He didn’t want her pregnancy to be a fact either.
She responded, looking past him at a paisley design on the wall. “I was pretty sure, but I hoped it wasn’t true. That’s why I didn’t let on.”
Carter reached to take her hand. “I know how you must have felt. The whole time we rode here after you got sick, I tried to convince myself something else caused you to throw up. Like the apple I gave you.”
Nalin smiled bitterly. “No, not a bad apple. A bad egg. They’re all bad eggs that never become anything more. This one will be the same.”
“I know that might be true, honey,” he said. “It’s terribly unfortunate. You so looked forward to this trip.”
Nalin waited for Carter to tell her they would return home tomorrow, but his next sentence surprised her. “Do you still want to go to the convention, Nalin? I’ll leave it up to you.”
She couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. She stared at him. Before hearing his words, she viewed Carter as a barrier she needed to climb in order to get to the convention. He had always taken care of her, which included making decisions that involved her health and safety. It was a new experience, having to decide for herself.
Now that the choice was hers, she felt overwhelmed. She wanted to do the right thing, which she felt was probably to return home. She also wanted to go to the convention, meet the leaders of the suffrage movement, and open her mind to new experiences. The baby wouldn’t survive anyway, she kept thinking. Still, what if it would this time if she obeyed the doctor’s order? How could she ever know if she disregarded it?
Carter was still lying on his back, his eyes on her face. He released her hand and reached up to touch her cheek. “I know it’s a hard decision, sweet girl. If you don’t want to make it, tell me and I’ll decide.”
Nalin’s teared up a little. “You are such a good man, Carter. I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”
“Nonsense. I hit pay dirt with you too.” He took her hand again and said gently but with some sternness, “The time to decide is now. I’ll have your decision or else your agreement to obey what I choose.”
“Carter, I’m frustrated with myself. I’m a terrible example of a proponent for women’s rights. I have an important choice to make, and I want a man to make it. This is what I mean when I say I have failed as a suffragette. What if I make the wrong decision? Please, you decide. I will obey.”
Carter sat up and held her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. “I’m getting sour on you describing yourself as a failure. Making a decision like this is new to you, just like not making it is new to me. Be a little patient with yourself. You hear me?”
Nalin tried to nod her head. “Yes, sir.”
Carter released her chin. “Okay. This is my decision. We’ll continue on to the convention. I’ll book a room near it, and any time you feel tired or sick, we’ll return to the hotel so you can rest. Also,” he continued, growing sterner, “You will rest in the room whenever I think you seem tired, even if you disagree with my assessment.”
That was not the decision she expected him to make. She grabbed his hands. “Thank you. I don’t know what else to say but thank you for deciding that for me.”
“Say you’ll stop being so hard on yourself. It angers me.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling. “I don’t wish to make you angry.”
His expression softened and he winked at her. “It’s never a good idea.”
“Let’s get some sleep,” she said, happiness adding a lilt to her voice. She laid back down facing away from him and pulled the quilt over her shoulders.
“Yes, ma’am.” He snuggled up behind her and pulled her into his arms. They drifted into sleep.
Hope you enjoyed the second episode of The Submissive Suffragette!
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