THE WOMEN'S REBELLION
Copyright © 2006 by Leah Kelley
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Emily sat against the far wall of the jail cell, her legs pulled in close, and wept. Her stomach was churning so badly she feared she’d vomit right there in the floor.
Eliza stopped her pacing to peer down at her and roll her eyes. Emily put her head down onto her knees and prayed. Meg came over to sit beside her, touching her arm gently.
“Come on, Emily. Everything will be fine. We’ll all stick together and we’ll be fine.”
“I’m scared Meg. I’ve never been in jail before. When Jake gets here...” Emily’s whispered voice trailed off and she shuddered.
“Maybe they’ll find Roger first,” Meg soothed. “He’ll take us all home and Jake won’t have to know anything about it.”
The jail cell full of women all turned in unison when the sheriff appeared and unlocked the barred door. An angry looking man stood with him.
“Mrs. Lincoln,” the sheriff called.
One of the women walked stiffly out of the cell. The angry man grasped her by the arm, causing her to wince. The sheriff nodded his approval. “What they all need is a good whipping,” he muttered, “That’d stop all this nonsense right away.”
“I shouldn’t have done this,” Emily cried. “I shouldn’t have.”
“I declare, Emily. I never took you for such a coward. Anything worthwhile involves a little pain. It’ll be worth it in the end,” Eliza said.
That, Emily thought sourly, was easy for Eliza to say. She was married to Edward – poor sweet Edward who seemed more afraid of his wife than in charge of her.
Besides, Emily wasn’t a coward. She’d faced more hardship in her twenty-one years than most bore in their entire lives. She’d followed a mountain man across the Appalachians since she was thirteen, facing wildcats and bears, horrible weather and all manner of snakes, cliffs and drop offs, and wild Indians. Most recently she’d followed her husband over the hard terrain of the Kansas Territory to settle near a small town called Boulder. But the one thing that still frightened Emily Cole to her very core was one stern look from her own dear husband. Emily wrapped her arms tighter around her knees and put her head back down.
“Here comes another one,” announced one of the women who stood peering out the cell window. Meg struggled to her feet and peered out. Emily raised her head, her heart pounding.
Please be Edward. Please. Or Roger. Let it be Roger.
“It’s Jake,” Meg said quietly.
Emily groaned and came to her feet. Her stomach cramped and churned as she paced. In only a few minutes, the sheriff again appeared, Jake in tow. His dark eyes were full of promise when he looked at her. She held to the bars as a wave of dizziness assailed her.
“Mrs. Barker, Mrs. Barker, and ... Mrs. Cole,” the sheriff said. He made no comment this time, but he actually gave Emily a sympathetic look. Emily, Meg, and Eliza exited the jail cell and followed Jake Cole to his wagon.
The ride home was silent. Every now and then Meg reached over and patted Emily’s hand. “We’ll stick together,” she said. Emily appreciated Meg’s effort to comfort her, but she knew there was nothing that could be done.
She’d been married to Jake Cole since she was a scraggly thirteen year old her father had offered in marriage to settle a gambling debt. She still didn’t know why Jake took the offer, but she rode away that day with a dark and seemingly dangerous stranger, terrified. She soon learned Jake, though stern and quiet, could be gentle and caring to a thirteen year old child, and since he provided her with food to eat, clothing and shoes to wear, and warmth from a fire or himself, she was happier with Jake than she’d been her alcoholic father.
He taught her discipline. In her father’s cabin, all she had to do was avoid her father’s fist when he was drunk. Otherwise she ran wild as she pleased. Jake taught her the proper behavior of a young woman. His discipline was harsh, but she only needed to worry about it if she’d done wrong. When she’d gotten older and Jake took her as a wife in truth, the discipline continued. She knew no other way. But she did know that if Jake decided to punish her, neither Meg nor Eliza nor anyone else could stop him.
Emily’s heart lodged in her throat when the wagon stopped. She was the last woman Jake helped from the wagon, only he didn’t turn her loose. As he propelled her toward the house they shared with the other two couples, she heard Meg and Eliza whispering.
“Mr. Cole,” Eliza called. “Mr. Cole, may I have a word with you please?”
Jake ignored her. He led Emily into the house, past the curious stares of Roger and Edward, and into the bedroom where he shut the door with an air of finality. Emily found it hard to breathe when she turned to face her husband. His dark eyes took in her appearance from head to toe. Her face heated with shame. She’d been so foolish. She’d turned the beautiful expensive fabric he’d allowed her to purchase into a “Bloomer Outfit” as worn by many of the other Women’s Rights activists. The bottoms of the outfit strongly resembled men’s pants. Her husband’s expression told her he didn’t find the new outfit appealing.
“Remove those clothes,” he ordered, and she jumped to comply. “Burn them,” he said when she stood before him in nothing more than the short slip she’d adjusted to work with the outfit.
Trembling, she placed the expensive outfit into the fireplace that still glowed with hot embers and watched as the lovely fabric caught fire and melted into flames.
Her heart pounded in her ears as she once again faced him. A cry escaped her throat when his hand moved to unbuckle his belt.
“Grab hold of that bedpost,” he told her as he pulled the leather smoothly from his pants and wrapped the buckle end a couple of times around his hand.
A belt-whipping! Her skin tingled and crawled in horrible anticipation as she slowly turned to grasp the bedpost, too afraid to do anything but obey.
“Please, Sir” she pleaded over her shoulder, “please don’t whip me! Please!”
She closed her eyes when Jake pulled his arm back, heard a swish, and the heavy leather wrapped around her hind parts with a snap.