Chapter 7—Lickin’ Butter off a Knife
Carter wasn’t confident in his decision to press forward and attend the convention. He planned to keep a watchful eye on Nalin throughout the rest of the journey and during the event. He worried as they bumped along in the buggy the next day. Nalin had a determined set to her jaw that told him she was uncomfortable but working hard to hide it from him. She threw up twice in the morning but hadn’t done so for a few hours and had even eaten some lunch, which made him feel a little more at ease.
Although he felt uncertain about his decision, he was glad Nalin had let him be the one to make it. She probably would have chosen the same option. If the baby inside her died, she would have no cause to blame herself. He preferred to live with that than have Nalin suffer the guilt.
Not a single cloud dotted the sky to soften the blazing sun during their journey. The air was dry and windy, and the horse kicked up dirt that blew in their faces. Nalin wrapped a red bandanna around her mouth and nose and tilted her bonnet down to block the sun from her eyes. As their rough eight-hour journey was coming to an end, Carter noticed a wagon approaching, drawn by two horses. He suspected that the outfit came from Dallas, which he could see in the distance. The wagons neared each other, and he observed a couple of tough-looking young cowboys sitting in the front. Both parties pulled to a stop.
Carter exchanged howdys with the men, and Nalin nodded her hello.
“You boys coming from Dallas?” Carter asked.
“Yessiree. You don’t have much farther to go. What’s your business there?”
“We’re attending the women’s suffrage convention the next two days. Have you seen the setup or speakers?” Carter asked.
One of the cowboys chuckled. “Aye. We saw them ribs setting up. Lots of biddies are flooding the city. The sage hen beside you one of them?”
Nalin pulled her bandanna down from her mouth. “Yes, this hen is one of them,” she said scornfully. “The suffragettes are not ribs, I’ll have you know. I’d wager each of the women speaking tomorrow has more matter above the neck than a hundred of you saddle bums combined.”
Carter stared at her, then turned back to the cowboys. A red anger crept into the cheeks of the young man on the receiving end of his wife’s tongue-lashing. Addressing Carter, he said, “Might want to keep your big-mouthed biddy in check. She won’t speak again if she knows what’s good for her.”
Carter felt furious with his wife for her incivility, but he didn’t like the young man’s response to it either. “I hope that wasn’t a threat,” he said evenly.
“Not a threat, just a little advice. I’d hate for her to get in the way of my fist when it starts swingin’.”
Carter scowled. “That’s a threat for sure, and I don’t take kindly to threats to my wife. I suggest we all move along. I don’t wish to raise sand.”
“Fine by me. Have a good day, bucko. Same to your soiled dove.” The cowboy snapped a whip in the air, and his horses set off at a trot.
Carter turned his scowl on his wife. “What were you thinking, Nalin, insulting a perfect stranger like that?”
“He insulted me first,” she said, her eyes flashing at him. “And surely you heard him call me a prostitute just now.”
“I did, and I’m forcing myself to stay here and give you a seeing-to instead of slogging the daylights out of him, which would accomplish nothing. I demand to know how he insulted you first. I heard nothing of the sort from him.”
“He laughed scornfully about the convention. There was a sneer in his voice when he referred to educated ladies as ribs and biddies. I’ll have you know that’s insulting language. Also, he talked to you about me like I wasn’t here, like I’m not even a person! I couldn’t just sit and take it from that mush-head.”
Carter rubbed the back of his neck. “Nalin, at worst he gave you a nudge. You returned a wallop. A woman should know better than to attack a man’s pride like that. I won’t always be by your side to protect you from ill-mannered scamps.”
“A man should know better than to attack a woman’s pride too,” Nalin snapped. “That’s what you don’t seem to understand.”
Carter felt his jaw clench. “You give me great cause for worry, woman. How can you be so naïve? In all your wisdom, surely you understand the physical limitations of women. Women can’t go around sassing men who may or may not be honorable. It’s not safe.”
“It’s not fair is what it is. It’s not fair that a man can insult a woman just because he’s stronger. I can’t take it. I have more brains in my smallest toe than that man has in his whole head.”
“You can and you will take it, you hear me? Especially if I’m not around. Your brains won’t help you much in a physical fight. You hold that smart tongue of yours next time you feel insulted by a man. You can tell me about it after, and I’ll set the man straight if warranted.”
Nalin glared at him, then wrapped the bandanna around her mouth to indicate she was finished speaking with him and looked straight ahead.
Carter grabbed the bandanna down off her mouth. “Are you going to mind my words?”
“Yes,” she said, her eyes dark and fierce.
“Do you need a session over my knee to make sure of that? I’m not sure I’ve gotten through to you.”
“No, I’ve got it.”
“Very well.” Carter pushed the bandana back in front of her mouth in a vain attempt to keep her from speaking further and slapped the reins on the horse, who ambled forward.
“I know you wouldn’t spank me in my condition anyway,” Nalin said behind the cloth, her tone challenging. “So there’s no use threatening it.”
“That does it!” Carter pulled the horse to a stop again and lifted the brake. He stepped down and moved to the back of the buggy where he retrieved his quirt.
“Carter, what are you doing? Why have you—“
“Enough of your blather,” he said in a booming voice as he walked to her side of the buggy. “Get down now.” He held his hand out to her. Nalin ignored the proffered assistance, so he stepped up and grabbed her squirming body into his arms.
He held her waist perpendicular to his, balancing her on his hip with one arm and keeping her in a bent position with her face toward the ground behind him. She was unable to touch the dirt with her feet. She twisted but couldn’t release herself from his hold or even move much except to kick.
“How’s your intelligence helping you now, Nalin?”
Indignant, she continued to struggle, while Carter continued to hold her with little effort. “I asked you a question, young lady. How’s it helping you?”
“Let me go,” she said. “You’ve made your point.” She punched him on the back of his leg, which did little but annoy him.
“Have I?” Carter landed a stinging blow to her bottom with the whip, which made her cry out. He continued to hold her wiggling body off the ground.
“Yes, sir, you have.”
“Sure about that?” He snapped the whip on her backside again.
She stopped struggling. “Yes. I understand what you’re proving to me.”
He dipped her to her feet and released his hold. He pointed the quirt at the buggy seat. “Hide your ass on that seat before I decide to finish the whipping.”
Nalin’s wet eyes conveyed how betrayed she felt by his actions. Her hands closed into fists at her side. “How could you treat me so brutishly in my condition?”
“I don’t believe I’ve mistreated you, Nalin. I want you to remember your limitations. A man can take you in hand as easy as lickin’ butter off a knife. He would be at fault if he did, not you, and I’d make him sorry. But for you own safety, I’ll not allow you to provoke.”
“Carter, it’s not fair. You don’t know what it’s like to—“
“For heaven’s sake! Hush your mouth, woman. It may not be fair, but it’s the way it is. You must live in the real world, not some fairytale land you read about in your books.”
Carter offered his hand to assist her ascent. She again denied it and offered him in return a withering scowl before gathering her skirts and climbing to her seat. Carter rolled his eyes. He tossed the quirt in the back as he rounded the wagon and climbed up next to her.
Nalin spoke, her voice low and accusatory, “You reckon we’re going to lose the baby anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you’re rough with my person.”
Carter urged the horse forward. Her words angered him, partly because they were true. His voice held heat. “I wasn’t very rough with you, Nalin, but you’re right in a way. I don’t care about what’s growing inside of you at the moment. I only care about you, and harm will come to you if you continue with your brazen behavior.”
Nalin took in a sharp breath. “That’s real blunt to say you don’t care about our baby.” She raised her voice to a shout. “It’s downright wicked and unvirtuous not to care, Carter!”
“I never claimed to be virtuous,” Carter snapped back. “To blazes with having children. If it were up to me, you’d never be with child again. It just about ruins me every time I watch you suffer another loss. I hope this is the last time I’ll be forced to watch you dispel pieces of another half-baked creature.”
Nalin gasped. His words silenced her, and Carter soon regretted what he’d said. After a few minutes of hearing his harsh words repeated in his head, he groaned.
“Forgive me, Nalin. Everything I just said was ghastly and deplorable.”
A few more minutes went by before Nalin surprised him and laced her fingers through his and squeezed his hand. They held hands without speaking for some time. The wind howled and the horse continued at a smart clip along the path. The sun began to set in front of them, casting an orange glow over the outline of their destination city. Nalin released his hand and removed her sunbonnet. She tossed her head from side to side, fluffing her hair.
“By the way, my getting pregnant is up to you,” Nalin said. A tease crept into her voice. “You could stop pinning me on my back and poking me every chance you get. That would ensure an empty womb.”
Carter gave her a sidelong glance, filled with sudden lust at her crude description of sex as well as her wild hair that begged to be tamed. He scoffed. “Poppycock.”
“What do you mean, poppycock? You do know that’s how babies come about, don’t you?” A grin spread across her face.
“Yes, I’m well aware. I also know you wouldn’t last a week without my lovin’, little girl.”
Nalin laughed and scooted closer so that her thigh touched his. She tilted her head up for a kiss, which he gave to her while she rubbed the part of his trousers that covered his cock. It twitched to life under her hand.
When his lips released hers, she said in a purr, “You’re right. I need you.”
Carter’s deep voice rumbled back at her. “You’re naughty to tease me like that, Mrs. Barnes. Do you want another spanking?”
She unbuttoned his trousers and released his cock. It went from mostly hard to rock hard within seconds of her hand wrapping around it. “I’m not teasing, Mr. Barnes. It’s not only you who has power. There are some things I can do as easy as lickin’ butter off a knife. This isn’t much different from that, come to think of it.” She bent down, flattened her tongue against the base of his cock and dragged it to the tip, then looked up at him sideways with a cheeky smile. “See?”
Carter pulled the horse to a stop. “Have mercy, woman.”
Nalin licked her lips. “Keep an eye out for folks. I’ll be too busy down here to notice anybody.”
Carter closed his eyes as her lips tightened around his cock and her tongue grazed the tip again. He inwardly swore he’d lambast the first traveler on the path who interrupted the labor of her sweet mouth. Luckily, no one did, and he soon felt the shudder of pleasure go through him. He released a deep noise from his throat and watched as Nalin took his seed on her face. She settled her head on his thigh while he recovered.
After catching his breath, he laced his fingers through her hair and tilted her head to get the full view of her face. What he saw would never leave his memory. Her wanton smile brought his seed to gather around her chapped lips. Some of her dusty hair tangled around his hand and the rest blew in the wind. Her cheek and brow, smoldering in the setting Texas sun, glowed with her sweat and the results of his pleasure. Then there were her fierce eyes, brimming with love and looking straight into his very soul. The love he felt for her was profound.
“Your beauty is out of this world,” he said gruffly. “From heaven or hell, I’m not sure which.” He released her head and handed her a clean handkerchief from his pocket. Nalin poured water from the canteen onto it. While she cleaned her face, Carter adjusted himself back into his pants.
“What inspired that? I thought I offended you terribly.”
Nalin swallowed the water she was drinking. She looked at him with shimmering eyes. “You love me. You love me more than you want a child.”
“Of course, Nalin. Surely you knew that already.”
“I didn’t realize how much my suffering hurt you. You seem so unemotional during the miscarriages. I never know what you’re thinking or if you even feel sad.”
“Oh, Nalin. If I seem unemotional, it’s because I try to be strong for you, not because I don’t feel sad.”
Nalin looked deeply into his eyes and said with total sincerity, “I accused you of being unvirtuous for not caring about our baby. I’m ever so grateful to you for being unvirtuous and caring so much about me instead.”
Carter scratched his head and looked at her for a moment before he smiled. “First of all, young lady, if it’s unvirtuous to care about you, then I’m pure evil. And secondly,” he continued, pulling her to him to growl the next words in her ear. “My dick and I are grateful for your lack of virtue too, Mrs. Barnes.”
“Carter!” Nalin gasped, her body stiffening. She was somehow more scandalized by hearing the word to describe his manhood than by her mouth milking it minutes ago. She pulled away from his embrace and burst out laughing.
“I love making you laugh like that,” Carter said, still smiling.
“You slay me.” Her tone became serious again. “Carter, I’m glad you’re with me and that you protect me. I’m sorry I’ve been a difficult traveling companion.”
“The thing about you, darlin’, is that you are a delight, even when you’re a challenge. I love every bit of you, the whole kit and caboodle. Now, let’s get a wiggle on. We’re only two whoops and a holler away.”
Chapter 8—Reluctant Volunteer
Nalin held her husband’s hand and surveyed the crowd. She felt tired and nauseated but also thrilled to be at such a momentous event. Women far outnumbered men in the street, but men were also present. Husbands of suffragettes like her own dotted the scene. A raised platform had been erected in the center of Main Street, and the dense crowd lined the street in six blocks going both directions from the stage. The organizers of the event could be distinguished by their white sashes, which spelled out their names. One such organizer made her way through the masses handing out green sashes for the attendees that said “Votes for Women.”
“Welcome, ma’am,” the woman said to Nalin. “I’m Mrs. Elizabeth Stanton.”
Elizabeth was several decades older than she and Carter. Her voice was soft, and she had a matronly, kind look about her. Nalin took a shine to her right away.
“I’m Nalin Barnes, and this is my husband, Carter. I’m honored to meet an organizer of this great event, Mrs. Stanton.”
Elizabeth shook Nalin’s hand and then Carter’s. Nalin placed the green sash over her head.
“Mrs. Barnes, we’re honored by your attendance here too. We need all the support we can get.” Turning to Carter, she said, “We’re grateful to you also, sir, for being here with your wife. Would you care for a sash as well?”
Carter took it and wrapped it around his chest good-naturedly, and Mrs. Stanton smiled widely in appreciation of his gesture.
“Does Miss Susan B. Anthony still plan to speak today?” Nalin asked.
“Yes, she’s the second speaker. You won’t want to miss her. A more intelligent, persuasive women never existed.”
A ruckus nearby interrupted their conversation and averted their attentions. Law officers corralled a group of screaming women and fastened cuffs to their wrists. One deputy punched a woman who refused to still herself for the cuffing, sending her to the ground and leaving her face bloody.
Nalin felt fear, and she gripped her husband’s arm. She turned to Elizabeth. “What did those women do wrong?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Nothing much, probably. Most of the deputies are overzealous and misogynistic. Avoid them if you can. Many women will be arrested and imprisoned today, but we will ensure their release tomorrow. I must continue to hand out sashes. Take care, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. Very nice to meet you.”
Nalin looked up at Carter, who was frowning in the direction of the arrests. He addressed her, his brow furrowed. “Let’s move back a little, Nalin.”
Nalin wished to move forward toward the platform but didn’t argue. Carter was already upset about their hotel arrangement. There were no hotel rooms available nearby, forcing them to take up at hotel two miles from the convention, which they’d have to walk to at the end of the day. Their horse and buggy were in the livery stable a block from the hotel, the only stable not completely filled in the general vicinity. Consequently, there was no place for Nalin to rest during the convention if she became ill or tired. Nalin tried to assure Carter that she’d be fine, but he wasn’t convinced and wore a fixed scowl on his face.
Nalin felt invigorated seeing the determined faces of so many women united in a common goal. Many women held signs. A popular one stated, “To Ask for Freedom Is Not a Crime.” Nalin thought those particular signs must be a result of the arrests that happened at every convention.
A hush befell the crowd, and Nalin observed the first speaker climbing the steps to stage. She introduced herself as Miss Victoria Smith. After formalities and welcoming words, she got to her main point:
“Suffragettes, my call to action today is for you to vote in the upcoming election. I must warn you that it is illegal for women to do so most places. You may be arrested. If you are, we urge you to file suit in federal courts demanding that your right to vote be recognized. I realize this requires a great deal of courage, but courage is required if we are to experience change.”
Nalin felt in awe of the woman speaking. She wondered whether she would ever possess the courage to do such a bold thing as vote illegally. She looked over to find Carter frowning at her, most likely wondering the same thing. Carter held her gaze for only a moment, then returned to scanning the crowd, clearly disturbed by the mayhem, which only became worse. Two deputies stormed the stage and slapped handcuffs on the speaker. The crowd reacted with boos and shouting. Expletives exited the mouths of women all around them, and some people threw food at the deputies in protest.
Nalin felt horrified and scared once again. “Carter, why are they arresting Miss Smith?”
Carter shook his head. “I don’t know, honey.”
“Do you think it’s because she asked us to break the law?”
“That would be my guess, though it’s not right if so. She’s allowed free speech, even if it’s not agreeable to some people’s ears.”
Nalin felt her heart swell with pride at her husband’s words. His sense of right and wrong didn’t waver, despite his skepticism over the women’s suffrage cause. She realized then that her husband’s stubborn streak, which didn’t allow for much sway in opinion, was also responsible for his steadfast morality.
Nalin felt a strong wave of nausea. “Oh no,” she said under her breath.
She released Carter’s hand and moved away from him quickly. She hated for her husband to see her vomit. It was vain, she knew, but she didn’t relish the thought of him seeing sick spewing from the same lips that kissed him. Having successfully struggled a distance away from him, she searched desperately for a place to be sick. She couldn’t see a single empty spot on the ground. People crowded around her and she felt herself get carried away by them. Desperate, she pushed through with all her might, trying to get to the edge of the masses before throwing up. She didn’t make it. Sinking to the ground, she heaved into the dirt and onto an unlucky woman’s shoe.
“Damn it,” she said. “I’m so sor—” Before she could apologize, she was throwing up again. Oh, the mortification. She felt like every eye was upon her, and people accidentally kicked her in the tight shuffle. From her spot on the ground, she looked around but didn’t see Carter. Billowing skirts allowed for no visual insight past a few feet, and she deeply regretted letting go of his hand. Tears stung her eyes. How would she find him now?
Apologizing to the strangers around her, she stood and pushed toward a place that looked free from people, gasping for air. Finally she found herself in an empty alley with a stray dog. She fell to her knees and threw up again. Exhausted, she moved away from the vomit but remained seated in the dirt. She leaned against the side of the building in the alley. She needed water, but Carter held the canteen. Her throat felt like she’d swallowed sand, and she thought with some amusement that she’d probably done just that while gasping for air on the ground. The dog licked her face and she gave him a scratch on the head. He lied down and flipped on his back, and Nalin rubbed the dog’s belly while she thought about what to do.
She knew she needed to muster up the energy to find Carter in the crowd. If she couldn’t find him, she needed to go somewhere he would think to look. The only logical meeting place Nalin could think of was the hotel. She decided that after hearing Miss Anthony’s speech, she would try to see if she could spot him, and if she couldn’t, she’d walk the two miles to the hotel and wait for him there. Eventually he would show up if he hadn’t already had the same thought and beaten her there.
Nalin stayed in the alley with the dog, feeling comforted by the animal’s simple friendship amongst so much complexity and chaos. She gave him the bread and cheese she had on her person, since she didn’t feel like eating it anyway. A booming female voice brought her to attention. The voice introduced herself as Susan B. Anthony. With some effort, Nalin stood to her feet and tried to catch a glimpse of her. She strained her eyes and was just barely able to see the tall, dark-haired lady with the confident voice.
“As you have just observed, my friend and fellow suffragette has been taken into custody. No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For that we’ve been cruelly abused, condemned, and antagonized. I am saddened that you witnessed this today, but I also think it important. You’ve now seen with your own eyes the injustice delivered to women who wish only to speak their minds and to have their ideas given equal credence to men’s. We wish no more than men, but no less than them either. These are the most basic principles of equality.”
Nalin continued to listen to the end with unremitting attention. Anthony made her points in a strong yet compassionate manner. Nalin wondered if Carter was listening and if he felt any shift in his beliefs after hearing her words. She desperately wished her husband was by her side. She scanned the multitude of people. For being a tall man amongst women, he was dreadfully hidden, but she recognized that her vantage point wasn’t good. She was short, and she couldn’t see to the top or other side of the crowd. Nearly depleted of energy, she didn’t have the strength to insert herself back amongst the people. She decided to delay the journey to the hotel no longer. She felt sick, thirsty, and more tired than she could ever remember feeling before. Upon scanning the crowd one last time in the hopes of seeing Carter, to no avail, she turned and left the convention.
The walk seemed to take an hour, but it took no longer than half that. Nalin felt grateful that the innkeeper recognized her and let her into their room even though Carter held the key. She worried over the fact that Carter had not yet returned to the hotel, which meant he was still looking for her in the crowd. This knowledge gave Nalin pause. She wondered if her decision to return to the hotel was the right one after all. She sighed wearily. Regardless, it would have to be good enough. She didn’t have the energy to return to the convention.
Nalin took a long drink from the pitcher of water in their room. The dust kicked up by the crowd clung to her sweaty skin and dress. She thought about requesting hot water for a bath but decided she was too tired and wished only to sleep. She stripped out of all of her clothes except her shift and drawers and climbed into the bed. Although it wasn’t as comfortable as the bed from the previous hotel, exhaustion ensured she fell into an immediate deep sleep.
Carter couldn’t find Nalin anywhere. One moment she was holding his hand, the next she was gone. He pushed to the edge of the crowd. He stood on a mounting block near a water trough to observe the masses of people. He couldn’t spot her. Rubbing a hand around his face, he thought about how best to find her. He knew she was excited to listen to Susan B. Anthony’s speech, so she likely would be stationary at that time, which meant he should search for her then. If they were both searching and moving about at the same time, they’d be more likely to miss each other in passing.
Using that line of thought, he stayed in one place, constantly scanning the crowd from his perch on the block until Miss Anthony took the stage. While she spoke, he forged into the masses to perform an up-close search. No luck. When the speech ended, of which he hadn’t heard a word, he questioned people. Describing his wife, he asked everyone in the general vicinity of where they’d been standing if they’d seen her. After a half hour, he received some helpful information.
A woman furrowed her brow. “I may have seen her. Not sure whether she’s one and the same, but a woman fitting that description fell on the dirt and threw up on someone’s shoe.”
Carter felt sadness hit him. That had to be Nalin, and he knew that experience would have been mortifying for her. “What happened to her after that?”
“Sorry, mister, I can’t say for sure. Last I saw, she was struggling to get to the edge of the assembly, probably trying to find a better place to be sick.”
“Which way did she go?”
The woman pointed. Carter thanked her and headed in that direction. He reached an alleyway where a dog sat and thumped his tail at him in greeting. His eyes fell on what he guessed was Nalin’s vomit on the ground. He looked around but didn’t see her. He closed his eyes and tried not to panic. His wife was alone and sick, and he couldn’t think of how to find her. Not knowing what else to do, he continued to search for another hour without success.
He witnessed four women being arrested roughly and suddenly felt a new kind of concern. She wouldn’t have gotten arrested, would she have? No, that was impossible, he assured himself, trying to settle his panicked thoughts. His wife had a mouth on her and a rebellious streak, but she showed real fear at witnessing a brutal arrest earlier, and he didn’t think she’d put herself in that kind of danger. Still, he didn’t have any better ideas, so he found his way to the jail. He told the sheriff his predicament and asked that he be allowed to check the cells to make sure his wife wasn’t locked in one of them. Carter could hardly believe what he was asking. Never in his wildest imagination would he have guessed he would one day ask to see whether his wife was behind bars.
The sheriff reluctantly agreed and took him to the back hall, which was lined with cells. Carter felt ill at the sight and the smell. At least a hundred women had been stuffed into the cramped spaces. They were so packed in that not all of them could sit at the same time. They looked at him with hopeful expressions, which didn’t make sense to Carter. He was a stranger to them and a man of forbidding appearance. Men of his rough look were what got them here.
The hall had no windows and was hotter than the air outside. He immediately began sweating profusely. He didn’t see water, let alone food for the prisoners. A full pot of waste was present in each cell. The human waste, combined with body odor produced by sweating in the blazing temperature, filled the hall with a gut-wrenching stench. Women’s moans and coughs echoed from the walls. Carter knew after moments spent observing each cell that Nalin was not one of the unfortunate lot. He felt relieved not to find her there but also concerned that his search was going nowhere.
Although he wasn’t particularly in the mood to be chivalrous or even civilized, he decided to comment on the prisoners’ conditions. Addressing the sheriff after they’d returned to the front of the jail, he said, “Sir, I would ask that you provide these women with water immediately and empty their chamber pots in a timely fashion. What’s happening here isn’t proper. Animals are treated better.”
The sheriff glowered at him. “I don’t have enough deputies to maintain order in this damned flusteration, let alone one to play nursemaid. Care to volunteer for the tasks?”
Carter closed his eyes, feeling frustrated and impatient. He wished only to search for Nalin, not to become involved in the workings of the jail. That he felt a sense of duty and compassion toward the prisoners enraged him, especially because he couldn’t ignore it.
“I guess I volunteer, sheriff,” he said through his teeth. “Point me to the well.”
The sheriff did so and Carter went about pumping water into the first large bucket. He scratched his chest and felt that he was still wearing the suffrage sash. It dawned on him. No wonder the women looked at him like he was their knight in shining armor. Fisting the green material, he ripped it off and threw it onto the ground next to the well. He would not be associated with this suffrage nonsense! He would only ensure that none of those blasted women died from lack of water. Then he would find Nalin and get her the hell out of this place.
He lugged a bucket into each cell. The women swarmed around them. They drank water desperately from their hands in the absence of cups, another shame forced upon them, but at least they wouldn’t die of thirst. He planted a bucket into the final cell.
A hoarse voice addressed him. “Thank you, Mr. Barnes.”
Carter’s head snapped up, shocked to hear his name amongst so many unfamiliar faces. A woman stepped forward. He recognized her as Elizabeth Stanton, the event organizer who gave the sashes to him and his wife. Her lip bled, and her left eye was swollen nearly shut. Carter felt furious upon seeing the condition of her face. He had met her only briefly, but he couldn’t imagine how the soft-spoken older woman could have done anything that warranted such rough treatment by the authorities.
“I’m a very reluctant volunteer, Mrs. Stanton, but you’re welcome for the water. These conditions are appalling, and I couldn’t very well do nothing.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. You could have. Most people do just that, Mr. Barnes—nothing. The spirits of many women will break tonight in these cells, which is the point of the arrests, but at least no one will suffer dehydration thanks to you. What brings you to the jail?”
Carter briefly explained his hunt for Nalin. He told her the name of the hotel where they were staying and how it was two miles away. He explained how the distance wouldn’t allow Nalin to take breaks and rest like she should in her pregnant state. Worse, now she was sick and lost in the crowd.
“I’m sorry you haven’t found her yet,” she said. “But try not to worry. I saw fire in that little girl’s eyes. She knows how to take care of herself. Men sometimes forget that women aren’t helpless.”
He shook the hand she offered him through the bars. “I’m grateful to you for reminding me of that, Mrs. Stanton. Best of luck to you and your cause.”
She smiled, wincing when she did, having forgotten about her split lip. “I hope one day you’ll see it as your cause too, Mr. Barnes. I saw fire in your wife’s eyes, and I see integrity in yours.”
Carter tipped his hat. Next he went about dumping the waste from each cell’s chamber pot. He returned the pots empty for further use. He uttered curses the entire time he spent performing the chores instead of searching for Nalin. Finished with dumping the waste after twenty long minutes, Carter scrubbed his hands with soap and water and strode back outside to the fresher-smelling chaos to continue his search. Another hour passed without luck.
Carter leaned against a beam at a storefront and tried to think. He held his forehead in his hand until an idea struck him. Perhaps she grew tired and returned to the hotel. He’d been operating under the assumption that she would ignore all signs of discomfort and weariness in favor of staying at the convention until the end, but it was possible she paid attention to her needs and thought to get some rest. Inspired by this new idea, he practically ran the two miles to the hotel, praying he would find her there. Taking two steps at a time, he climbed the stairs to their room and unlocked the door.
Carter’s eyes settled on her, and he could have wept. Nalin slept soundly in the bed, not even stirring at the noise of his entrance. He closed the door quietly and sank into a chair at the small round table. He stared at her, relief flooding every part of his body and relaxing his tense muscles.
She breathed heavily with sleep. Minutes went by during which he sat and did nothing but observe her. He noticed the way some of her hair fell onto her face and how each exhale fluffed a wisp of it away from her mouth. He observed her sleeping position, the one he knew well, where her knees curled up in a right angle to her waist, making her appear even smaller than she was. She looked exceptionally dirty. Light dirt dusted her dark hair, and her face needed a thorough soaping.
When able to remove his gaze from her, he removed his boots, hat, and shirt. He washed his face. He took a long drink of water, after which he ate a generous helping of cheese, four slices of bread and butter, and two apples. Next he packed his pipe and smoked it by the open window. He glanced at Nalin often, comforted by her presence. His wife was safe and in bed, which was right where he wished her to be. He’d had enough of the convention and wondered how much fight she’d give him when he told her he wanted to leave tomorrow instead of attending the second day of it. If she wasn’t up to traveling, he wished her to stay in the room and rest.
She would give him hell, he grumbled to himself. That was as certain as the sunrise. Nothing was ever easy with that infuriating woman. He gazed at her peaceful form and felt an urge to grab her awake and throw her over his knee for good spanking, just for being so damn loveable and worrying the hell out of him.
Carter removed the rest of his clothes and slid into bed behind her. He pulled her into his arms and kissed the back of her neck.
“Mm,” she said sleepily. “You found me.”
“Eventually. You gave me quite the scare, honey.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice heavy and slurred. “I got sick on someone’s foot. It was awful.”
Carter breathed in the musky scent of her neck and kissed it again. “Not as awful as a great many things, sweet girl. Go back to sleep.”
He waited until he heard her patterned breathing again before he allowed himself to drift into sleep with her.
Chapter 9—Submissive Suffragette
Nalin awoke to an empty bed and sun streaming into the room. She bolted to an upright position. How late was it? It had to be hours past dawn judging by the brightness of the sun and the heat in the room. Her heart sank, realizing she’d likely missed hours of the second day’s events. She’d missed most of the convention the day before too. She felt disappointed, but she also felt much better physically than the previous day. She could hardly wait to get back to the excitement. Rushing to the basin, she scrubbed her face.
Carter opened the door and walked in holding a tray containing breakfast. On it were oranges, milk, coffee, toast, and bacon. He set the tray on the table. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” he drawled, smiling at her.
She didn’t greet him back. She spoke with a sense of urgency. “I can’t believe I slept for so long. Why didn’t you rouse me? Let’s make haste to the convention.”
“Not so fast. Eat and drink something. I’d like to talk to you.” He pulled out a chair for her and sat in the one next to it.
She uttered curses in her head but did as she was told and sat down. She didn’t want to waste time talking or eating, but arguing with Carter wouldn’t hurry things any. It would take longer to argue with him than it would to eat and answer his questions. She bit into a piece of toast, chewing quickly. Finished with the toast in less than a minute, she moved to the bacon, not tasting a thing.
“Don’t eat in such a hurry,” Carter said.
Nalin bit back a frustrated retort. He was eating slower than molasses in January, which made her want to scream. Carter took a very small, very relaxed sip of coffee, which filled her with such fury she almost snarled.
“When did you come to the hotel yesterday?” he asked.
“Right after Miss Anthony’s speech. I was so tired by the time I arrived that I fell right to sleep.”
Carter let out a low whistle. “Honey, you were dragged out and sewn up. You slept for almost twenty-four hours.”
That surprised Nalin. She hadn’t thought about it in terms of hours. “Guess I was dash tuckered,” she said with a slight smile. She gulped down the milk.
“I want you to rest today, Nalin. I don’t think we should go back to the convention.”
She slammed down her glass with a start, rattling the silverware on the table. “No, Carter, don’t say that. I’ve rested enough.”
Carter frowned. “You’re unwell, and the convention is a bad place to be when you might throw up at any moment, as you’ve already discovered. Plus it got even more rowdy and dangerous after you left yesterday. I have a feeling it’ll be worse today.”
Nalin saw his frown and raised it a scowl. “I wish more than anything to attend, Carter. It’s cruel of you not to allow it when I traveled so far and in such discomfort.”
“I beg your pardon? Do you remember our agreement when you asked me to make this decision? You agreed to rest when I said.”
“I didn’t think you would force me to rest for an entire day! That’s unreasonable.”
Carter leaned back in his chair and regarded her before relenting with a sigh. “All right, Nalin. Finish your meal and we’ll go for a couple hours.”
Nalin squinted her eyes at him suspiciously. “Just like that you changed your mind?”
He shrugged. “I have to agree it’s unreasonable to keep you away from the whole thing today, though that’s my admittedly selfish preference after the mayhem yesterday.”
Nalin pressed her thumbnail into one of the oranges and peeled it in round strips. “Were you searching for me long?”
Carter snorted. “Oh, not long. Just hours and hours.”
“I’m sorry, ohpitsa. You must have been worried.” She handed him the peeled orange and smiled. “Peace offering?”
“I was certainly worried, though that doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word for it. And I will accept, thank you.” He took the fruit and winked at her.
“Carter, have you changed your mind at all about the suffrage movement since we came? Do you think it has validity? Do you think women should have the right to vote?”
He grunted. “You just asked me three questions. Ask one and I might answer.”
“Okay. Do you think women should have the right to vote?”
Frowning, he said, “I don’t understand why it’s necessary for women to vote. A man votes for his family. Why should his wife duplicate his vote?”
His words saddened her, and she looked down at the tablecloth. She felt a burning in her nose like she might cry. She had really hoped he might come to view things the same as she did after attending the convention.
“Nalin?” He sounded incredulous. “You’re not crying, are you?”
“No,” she said, as tears formed in her eyes.
Carter groaned. He scooted his chair back and reached for her hand. He pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t let my opinion make you cry, honey. What do I know? I’ve been dusted by a bucking bronco more times than I’ve picked up a book.”
Nalin hated herself for getting emotional, which only gave credence to her husband’s view of women as the weaker sex. She tried to speak with a strong voice, but it came out trembling. “Maybe in our case the wife should be the one to vote for the family. I’m more involved in politics than you. But I don’t have that right.”
Carter kissed her cheek. His three-day-old stubble irritated her skin. “That’s a good point, honey. I changed my mind. You should be allowed to vote instead of me.”
Instead of appeasing her, his words infuriated her. Nalin huffed. “You’re out-and-out flippant about a serious matter. It’s maddening.” She pushed herself off his lap and stormed away. “I’m finished eating. I’d like to go to the convention now. Perhaps if you could finish your breakfast before sundown, we might hear a speech or two.”
Carter laughed. “You’re such a temperamental little thing. Come back here. You need a spanking.”
Nalin pulled her dress over her head and glared at him. “And to be in my good favor, you need to believe in women’s rights. Looks like neither of us is going to get what we need.” She stomped back and stood with her back facing him, indicating with a wave of her hand that he was to button her dress for her. Carter laughed again.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded.
“You, darlin’. I just told you to come to me for a spanking, and you presented yourself in front of me, hind-side first. I’m mighty pleased with your accidental obedience, little girl.” He flipped her over his lap. He tossed up her skirts and planted firm swats over her drawers, sending her warmth without the sting. She forgot her outrage and found herself in a much more pleasant state of mind.
“You like your good girl spankings, don’t you?” he asked, his hand coming down briskly and peppering her tender areas with licks that felt like the most amazing rough caresses.
“Yes,” she admitted.
Carter stopped and rubbed her bottom, then gave her a pat.
“By the way, I do believe women should have rights, but men are natural leaders. Women are submissive, or so they should be.”
“I’m not submissive,” she said, trying to convince herself.
Carter laughed heartily and resumed the mild spanking. “You are, honey, though I know you loathe to admit it. Surely you see the irony in what you just said while enjoying getting your little ass spanked.”
Nalin most definitely saw the irony and had for months. She didn’t know how to respond. She felt confused by her desire to submit to her husband and her desire to be treated as a man’s equal.
Carter gave her a few more swats. “Good girl. Not so snarly now, are you?”
“No,” she said, smiling.
He gave her one final swat. “Up you go then, little firecracker.”
She climbed off his lap. He remained seated and buttoned her dress from the bodice up. He buttoned the final button at the nape and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her back to his chest.
“I think men should be the voters only because they’re the natural leaders, not because they’re better than women. But I stand by what I just said. You are one woman who should be allowed to vote because you’re special. And smart.”
Nalin’s ire returned and she whirled around to face him. “Carter Barnes, so you think I’m smart and special? Big deal. Are you so conceited as to think you’re the only man who has a smart, special wife? Shouldn’t other men’s wives be given the same regard? And shouldn’t an unmarried woman be treated as a capable person without needing a man to bless her specialness and intelligence?”
Nalin bore her eyes into his, willing him to hear the truth in what she’d said. It was probably the best argument she’d ever managed to make in support of women’s rights. Maybe this time he would be moved. Carter stared back at her and looked like he was about to speak, but he didn’t get the chance. A knock interrupted their discussion. Nalin rushed to the mirror to try to tame her hair and appear presentable for whomever was knocking, while Carter answered the door. A vaguely familiar woman’s voice spoke.
“Mr. Barnes, we hope we’re not disturbing you. We were just going to leave this for you downstairs, but the innkeeper told us you were still here and we wanted to express our gratitude in person. Please allow me to introduce you to Miss Susan Anthony.”
Nalin’s hand froze on the hair she was trying to tame. She straightened and walked to her husband’s side and viewed the two women standing before them. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton smiled broadly at Carter, and Susan shook his hand. Elizabeth held out a pie to him, then lightly touched below her eye in a self-conscious manner. Nalin noticed a bruise there.
Carter took the pie. “That’s right generous of you ladies. Unnecessary too, but far be it from me to say no to pie. Come in and eat it with us.” He moved over to allow them entrance. Nalin stood in place in front of the door, shocked.
Carter took her hand and guided her out of their way by bringing her to his side. “This is my wife, Nalin,” he said.
Susan and Elizabeth stepped in, and Elizabeth turned her smile to Nalin. “Glad your husband found you, Mrs. Barnes. He was sick with worry yesterday.”
Nalin managed to exchange pleasantries with Elizabeth and shake Susan’s hand without gaping at her too obviously. The four of them agreed to address each other with friendship by their first names.
“I’ll pour you both some coffee,” Nalin said when she found her tongue. “What an honor to see you again, Elizabeth. And to meet you, Susan. I’ve read all your speeches and have a great deal of respect for the work that you do.”
Nalin’s eyes flitted around, embarrassed by the unmade bed and unkempt state of their room, not to mention the unkempt state of her person. She caught Carter’s eye and looked at him quizzically before she picked up the two mugs they’d been drinking from. She washed them and poured coffee for the visitors. Carter invited the ladies to sit at the small table. He sliced the pie and served pieces to them.
“The sheriff released most of us from the jail this morning,” Elizabeth said between bites. “Five women are suffering heatstroke, but they’ll recover. No one was seriously injured last night in the arrests, and there have been no deaths reported at this time.”
Susan spoke next. “Carter, if it weren’t for you, I’ve no doubt some women would have become seriously ill or even perished in the cells overnight. This is why we need men on our side. I tried to visit the jail to ensure the women were under proper care, but the sheriff wouldn’t permit me entrance to the back. We are exceedingly grateful you did what we couldn’t.”
Nalin stood to the side away from the table, observing the three of them. She became more confused with every passing second. Arrests? Heatstroke? Jail cells? She could see that Carter felt uncomfortable hearing Susan’s praise, whatever it was for. He didn’t respond. Instead he took a bite of pie.
Nalin spoke, removing the attention from her embarrassed husband. “Will someone please tell me what in the Sam Hill went on yesterday? What is this about jail and women becoming ill?”
The two visitors looked at her with surprise, then looked at Carter. A bit sheepishly, he said, “I haven’t yet told my wife of my activities yesterday.”
The visitors laughed. Susan said, “No wonder you’re looking at us like we have two heads, Nalin. Allow us to explain. You should know your husband is a hero of the women’s suffrage cause.”
Nalin’s confusion deepened. “He is?”
Carter said “no” at the same time Elizabeth said “yes.”
Elizabeth explained what happened at the jail. She explained how Carter lugged in buckets of water, saving them from dehydration, and how he made their cells more sanitary. When Elizabeth finished speaking, Nalin turned her stunned expression to Carter, who was observing her state of shock with a small, smug grin.
Nalin felt immense pride that her husband had done something so noble. To the women, she said, “Carter is a good man, if not an outright supporter of women’s suffrage. I shouldn’t be at all surprised by what he did.”
He cleared his throat. “Enough. You skirts are annoying me now. I suggest you use your tongues to taste this delicious pie, not to lick my boots.”
The women laughed, and Nalin addressed the suffragettes again. “He’s a good man, but he’s still a man. Bossy and ornery as all get-out, as you can see.”
Carter’s eyes twinkled, and he bossed her further. “Come sit at the table, Nalin. Why are you still standing over there like someone might bite you?”
Nalin joined them, wearing a smile. Upon sitting, she said to the women, “I’m curious. What do you say to men who don’t believe a woman should have the right to vote?”
Susan thought for a moment. “Not just one thing in particular. The reasons for that belief are complicated and differ from man to man, so I have to modify my argument. For some men, the reason is religion, stuff they read from the Bible, so I have to argue from that perspective.”
Elizabeth added, “Some men don’t have a good reason. A man may just plain hate women. Maybe his mama beat him or a gal broke his heart. There’s nothing we can really say to those men.”
Susan’s voice turned very gentle. She glanced at Carter before looking at Nalin. “Some men see women as weak or fragile since they’re not as physically strong. But we believe that physical power doesn’t have any bearing on a person’s strength of spirit or mind, which are the requirements for voting. Voting doesn’t require lifting anything heavier than a pencil. That’s the long and short of it.”
Nalin was filled with awe at Susan’s clearheaded, logical words. “Thanks for explaining that. I wish I had your gift of eloquence. I get teary and emotional while trying to explain why women should have the right to vote.”
“That’s natural,” Elizabeth said, touching Nalin’s arm. “Although we’re politically minded, this movement is deeply personal to all of us. To not be valued or respected in government is a denial of our worth to society.”
Carter didn’t say anything. He wore a troubled frown and focused on finishing his pie.
Susan stood. “Elizabeth and I must return to our work. I’m supposed to give a speech very soon. Care to ride with us in our buggy?”
The four of them set out for the convention in the suffragettes’ buggy. Before parting ways, Susan and Elizabeth again expressed their gratitude to Carter. A true friendship was formed between the four of them that day. The suffragettes promised to write and inform them the next time they came to Texas.
Susan gave a speech shortly after they arrived, and Nalin was happy to hear it with Carter. She tried to read his face to see whether his opinion had changed at all, but he mostly frowned and looked around for possible danger. He held her hand too tightly, causing it to ache a little.
He always thought to protect her. Nalin wondered why this wasn’t enough for her. Did it really matter that Carter didn’t share her view on women’s rights? He respected and loved her. She desired to submit to him like an obedient wife, which was the way he believed things should be. What she wanted, she realized, was the option not to if she were a different kind of woman. But she wasn’t. So why did it even matter to her that he understand and support women’s rights?
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