Hell Hath No Fury

May 30, 1896
Sarah Waters


The morning began like all the others. I awakened on the floor of his bedroom, tied to the foot of his bed. He kicked me in the side until I groaned, then he dumped a bucket of cold water on me. In the beginning I would scream and shudder, now I only raise my weary head. I glared up at him and for the hundredth time I wished he were dead.

“Get up.” Billy ordered.

I obeyed more out of habit than because I cared what he would do if I did not. He grabbed hold of my arms. They were bound tightly together by rope. He pulled a knife out of his belt and cut the rope in a single stroke. His grip did not loosen. He pulled me along with him as he walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen.

I expected he wanted me to fix breakfast. I gritted my teeth to do it, convincing myself if I was careless enough, he might just choke on it. This morning was different though. He pushed me toward the tub in the middle and as I stumbled against it I realized it was filled with warm water.
“Get in.” Billy ordered.

I stepped nervously into the tub, expecting to discover a hidden cruelty in the seemingly kind gesture. I settled in the warm water and despite my fears the tension slipped away from me. Billy threw a bar of soap into the water causing it to splash up in my face. I sputtered for a moment and glared at him.

“Wash.” Billy ordered.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because if you don’t, I will.”

I picked up the soap and began to lather my skin. It seemed a lifetime since I had last been clean. The act of bathing felt strikingly normal despite the gaze of my captor. I began slowly but scrubbed more enthusiastically as I felt the layers of dirt falling away. I could have stayed there the whole day had he allowed it.

Billy held out a small towel to me.

“Get out and dry off.” He ordered.

The towel was hardly equal to the task but I did what I could with it. I was amazed how much more alive I felt just for having a bath. No doubt it is wrong to be grateful to one’s captor, but I was regardless. I would have kissed him had he asked me to and it would have been willingly rather than grudgingly.

Once I was as dry as the towel would permit, Billy escorted me back to his room. On top of his bed was a box. Was it there before? I cannot recall with any clarity. Billy lifted the lid and inside was a blouse, a skirt, socks, shoes, and a hat. He lifted them out one at a time showing them to me. I dared to hope they would soon be something to wear rather than look at.

“I apologize for the lack of under things.” Billy said.

He handed me the blouse and I wasted no time getting into it. Next was the skirt and once it was in place I felt normal for the first time since that day on the mountain with Laura. Even without my customary bloomers and dressing gown it was a relief to no longer be totally exposed to every wandering eye.

I sat on the bed to pull on the socks and shoes. Billy placed the hat on my head himself and smiled toothily at me.

“Now you almost look like a lady. In fact if I didn’t know every square inch of your body beneath those things I would think you were.”

Leave it to Billy to be both flattering and insulting all in the same breath. It began to enter my thoughts that there was more to the morning’s bath and clothing than met the eye. From my perch on his bed I glanced out the window to notice the sun was only then rising. I considered asking what the occasion was but decided I would find out soon enough and it might be better if he thought I was oblivious to ulterior motives.

Billy produced a brush from somewhere and began to stroke it on my exposed hair. The tangled knots pulled fiercely from weeks without care. I wondered if he realized the hat should have been placed on after my hair was brushed and not before. If so, he gave not a sign of it. I chose to keep it to myself. He pulled my hair back into a tail and tied it with a yellow ribbon after a few minutes of what he must have considered futile brushing.

“There, you look something pretty.” He said.

“Thank you.” I smiled as best I could manage.

I expected to soon be cooking away again in the kitchen and was therefore surprised when he escorted me to the table instead. He pulled a chair out for me and gestured for me to sit in it. I was shocked for the courtesy as I sat.

From the kitchen I could smell the aroma and hear the sounds of breakfast being prepared. I glanced in the direction, curious who was preparing it. I recognized the young woman as Beatrice Patterson. She was not much older than me and married to one of the newest miners in our small town. Her bare back showed signs of a recent whipping and I fleeting wondered what she had done to deserve it. The answer of course is nothing at all. None of us deserved to be where we were.

Beatrice came out a few minutes later and I could see, like me, she had been stripped completely. She was still crying from the shame of it but she managed to pour coffee into our cups without incident. Our eyes met for a moment and while you would expect some sense of camaraderie between us there was none, only anger and hate directed at me. I felt sorry for her in spite of it.

Breakfast consisted of eggs and bacon and was by far the most I had eaten in the weeks of my captivity. It felt odd to have a full stomach again. My thoughts returned to the ulterior motivations I expected. Billy’s men seemed to have less of an appetite than usual but Billy ate his normal overindulgent quantities. I gathered the men were nervous about something. They all stared at me more than Beatrice which told me something must have to do with me.

Billy’s cockiness told me volumes as well. He no doubt felt he had matters well in hand and that could only mean he believed he would be putting the strike down for good. My presence suggested a meeting with my father to negotiate a return to work for the release of prisoners. I further assumed I would not be among the first released but would likely be used to show we had been well treated. That would indicate I was expected to be seen but not heard.

All suppositions based on limited facts but they seem logical and fitting enough. There is also the prominence of guns, rifles and ammunition. They have been scarce since I was brought to the house and seeing them scattered around and holstered on every hip told me Billy was planning on making a show of force.

The miners are not soldiers by any stretch of the imagination but you would be hard pressed to find a man, not to mention a woman or child over the age of 8, who was not capable of handling a gun in our small town. It may be different in the big cities and all but out on the frontier, knowing how to shoot a gun can be the difference between living and dying.

From the stories I have heard about Billy and his men, they are used to dealing with miners in more civilized parts of the country. I wonder if he understands how different the west really is.
After breakfast I simply sat at the table waiting. The men took turns pacing in and out of the house. Billy sat next to me, leaned back in his chair with his feet resting on the table. Nobody said a word. The sun warmed up the air and I began to perspire, probably because my body was no longer used to the insulation of clothing. Then again, maybe I was just nervous.

It was near midday when my theories proved true enough.

“We’re here, Mr. Howe.” I heard my father’s voice shout from outside.

Billy stood up so fast he sent the chair falling on its back. Frank, grabbed hold of my arm with a bruising grip and we all stepped outside. Frank and I stayed back a bit from the rest of the men but Frank held me in front of him so I was clearly visible to my father and the other miners with him.

They stood just at the edge of the tree line. My father was out in front, he held a rifle casually in his left hand. I recognized most of the other men behind him, including Laura’s father and Beatrice’s husband. They were all armed in some fashion, most with rifles, but some sported pistols as well.

Billy seemed oblivious to the arms, but I could tell his men were more than a little nervous at the sight before them. They were outnumbered by the miners and for the first time I think it was occurring to these men that they might have a real fight on their hands.

Billy stopped about a hundred feet back from my father and his men shored up a line behind him.
“I’m sure we can come to an amicable agreement, Mr. Waters.” Billy said across the distance.

“Release our women and daughters and we just might.” My father replied.

“First things first, Mr. Waters. Get your men back into the mine and I promise every single one of these girls will be home when you finish your first shift.”

“It’s not going to work that way, Mr. Howe. They leave here now.”

“In case you haven’t noticed I hold all the high cards.” Billy replied.

“You’ve been caught sleeping at the reigns. The whole mine is wired with dynamite and one word from me and your employer will spend at least a year trying to get back in it.” My father said.

Billy bristled with a touch of anger. My father had gotten through his cool exterior and it was nice to see.

“You do that and all these women will suffer for it. I think we both know these threats won’t end things and neither of us really wants to follow through with them.”

“I may not want to but don’t doubt my resolve and don’t think for a moment we will walk away from here empty handed.”

“We each have our agenda here, Mr. Waters. You aren’t going to see yours done today. So, for the sake of your daughter, why don’t you just back down now before someone gets hurt?”

“Don’t you threaten my sister!” Sam yelled stepping forward to stand at our father’s side.

I was glad to see him but I must admit surprised also. Billy made a gesture to Frank and I found myself being pushed forward still firmly in the ape’s grasp. He adjusted his grip as we came to stand beside Billy. With one hand he held my arms pinned behind my back and with other I could hear him unsnap his holster and pull out his gun.

“I’m going to give you to the count of five to drop your guns and head back to work.” Billy called out stubbornly.

Sam leveled his rifle off in the general direction of Billy.

“I’m giving you to the count of three to let my sister go.” He shouted back.

My stomach turned in knots. Frank rested the barrel of his gun against my temple. I saw the look in my father’s eyes and the determination in my brother’s stance. This was not going to end well and Billy was a fool to think he could use me to make my father back down.

I could see it all. Sam would kill Billy and Frank would kill me. It would not be the end of the killing, just the beginning. The men were beyond the points where they could back down and I could see my father and brother did not believe Billy would release me or anyone else whether they returned to the mines or not. Billy could not see it, maybe it was because he did not realize he was already dead.

I had prepared myself for this eventuality while waiting in the house. I knew the odds were not in my favor, but I would rather be damned than give up without a fight.

“One.” Billy counted.

“Two.” Sam responded.

“Three!” I shouted and stomped my heal on Frank’s toe.

He yelped. I slammed my head back into his chin and he lost his balance. His gun waved wildly from my head and fired into the dirt. I continued to shove backward until I felt him lose his grip on my arms. The men on both sides began firing their guns and running for cover. I spun around bring my arms together in front of me in a double fist and with all my might I swung into Frank’s face and sent him reeling backward and sideways to the ground.

“Sarah! Get down!” My father yelled from somewhere behind me.

I dove to the ground hearing the whistle of bullets in the air all around me. I rolled to my side toward the house.

“Somebody grab her!” Billy shouted.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Frank the ape, back on his feet and charging after me. Just as he dived at the ground for me I spun on my back and kick up with both feet. The impact of his face on my feet jarred my knees but by the groans he was making on the ground nearby I would say it jarred his face more.

I scrambled up on my feet, keeping as low as I could and ran for the house. As I reached the steps and grabbed hold of the door I felt a searing burn across my back. My thoughts flickered back to Billy’s whip but I did not turn to look. I pulled the door open and nearly fell inside.

Beatrice sat crouched in a corner, her arms wrapped around her knees. She did not seem to even notice me as she rocked back and forth, tears streaming down her cheeks. I grabbed one of the spare rifles leaning up against the wall and a box of bullets. I checked the rifle was loaded and then shoved the box into my blouse at the waist. It was less than perfect but it kept my hands free.

I crouched below a window with a view to the main fight and the barn. Carefully I peeked out to assess the situation. Billy’s men were scattered like rats, but the miners were hardly better organized. Only men would come armed to the teeth and unprepared to fight. Toward the barn I could see Billy and Jackson along with another man running.

I realized without a single doubt how Billy intended to end things. None of the miners were in a position to stop him and things were going to get real bad if he was not. Staying low I crawled toward the side door knowing it would give me a fairly safe and direct approach to the barn.
Just as I reached it, I heard the front door slam open and the heavy footsteps of a man clap on the wooden floor. I turned my direction back to the main room.

“Don’t hurt me.” Beatrice cried.

The man’s back was too me but I would recognize ape man from any angle. He was wavering his pistol at Beatrice as though trying to make up his mind if he wanted to shoot her or not.

“Drop it.” I ordered despite my every instinct telling me to shoot.

Frank let out a low guttural laugh. I kept my rifle aimed squarely on him, not trusting him for a second.

Suddenly he spun around toward me and shot. The bullet splintered the wood above my head. I pulled the trigger and heard a roar twice as loud as it should have been. Frank’s side exploded and he stared dumbfounded at me for a moment before collapsing face down on the floor.

A creak of wood at the doorstep and I turned my gaze and aim to the front door. Sam stepped through carefully. I breathed a sigh of relief. A second look at Frank and I realized we had shot him at the same time.

“Sarah! Are you all right?” Sam asked running to me.

I smiled a real smile and said, “Yes, I am fine now.”

For a moment I forgot we were in the middle of a war. I threw my arms around Sam and hugged him to me. It felt like years since he had held me and perhaps in some way it was. Time has a different definition without freedom.

“The barn.” I said suddenly remembering Billy.

“What about the barn?” Sam asked pushing me back to arms length.

“That’s where everyone is and Billy is headed there right now.”

“Billy?” He asked surprised at the informal name.

“Never mind that now, we have to hurry or he’ll start killing them. He’s ruthless, you won’t believe what he did to Laura.”

“You did it! You did it! All of this was your fault!” Beatrice shrieked.

Sam and I had not noticed her move but she had. She held Frank’s discarded gun in her shaking hands and it was aimed mostly at me. Sam eyed her carefully and as she stepped close enough he grabbed her arms and wrestled her to the floor. The gun went off.

Sam had hold of the gun and threw it across the room. He slapped Beatrice hard and she collapsed limp to the floor. The bullet had gone wild in my direction. My hat fell off to the floor and my hair felt warm and sticky as my hand touched the side of my head. Pulling my hand away I stared at it. A cold shiver ran down my spine as I recognized the red on my hand as my own blood.

Sam’s face went pale and he scrambled toward me.

“There’s no time. You have to get to the barn, now.” I said.

He hesitated for a moment and then said, “Don’t move. I’ll be back for you.”

He grabbed his rifle and went out the side door.

Feeling crept back into my head. It pulsed in tune with an imaginary marching band keeping time in my head. I stared at Beatrice, unconscious on the floor and her angry words echoed in my ears. Was I to blame? In the dazed light I could see I was and was not.

The balance seemed unsettled between right and wrong. The confused thought entered my head suggesting that neither of us were wrong but that did not make either of us right. My thoughts returned to the barn and I decided Sam might need help. There were three of them out there after all if not more.

I picked up my rifle from the floor and stood up. I wavered, unsteady on my feet for a moment and reached out for the wall. The world stopped spinning. I ran through the side door following after Sam.

I reached the barn in the nick of time. I crouched to the side of the open door. I could hear women crying.

“Drop your gun boy or this one is dead.” I heard Jackson say.

I peeked inside to see him holding Laura by her hair, his pistol against her scarred cheek. She looked like she wanted him to pull the trigger. I turned the corner into the barn with the rifle barrel leading the way. To my left I saw Sam crouched behind a wooden post for cover. My father’s voice rang in my ears as I took my aim.

“You always pull up and to the right when you shoot, so aim a little low and to the left.” He had said to me.

I took his advice and squeezed the trigger without hesitation.

Jackson blinked once and then fell to the ground a trickle of blood running down his forehead into his eyes. I kept walking forward, cocking the rifle as I went. I swung around the side of the hay expecting to find Billy or the other man laying in wait. Instead it was empty and I realized only then they had used my own escape route to escape.

I rolled through the busted wood in time to watch Billy and two of his men ride away into the forest. I heard a pistol’s hammer draw back behind me and froze in my tracks.

“Drop the rifle, Sarah.” A familiar voice ordered.

Without dropping my rifle I glance slowly over my shoulder. I recognized the sheriff well enough. I considered my options carefully, he had me cold but if really wanted me dead I would be.

“You might want to rethink pointing that gun at my daughter.” My father’s voice came from around the corner of the barn.

I could not see him but the sheriff turned to face him. His gun was no longer aimed at me but at my father. I turned around to face him and pointed the rifle in my hands at him.

“Drop it sheriff.” I ordered.

Instead of dropping his gun he dropped his entire body to the ground and fired two shots toward my father at the same time. I heard a single shot in the distance which must have been my father’s. I struggled to re-aim my rifle at the sheriff but he was too close and he rolled into my legs knocking me to the ground.

He ripped the rifle out of my grip and then turned its butt on my head. I slumped against the barn’s outer wall dazed. The sheriff ran off for his horse and disappeared into the woods.

I crawled shakily around the corner to see my father laying still in the grass. I tried to run to him but each time I got my feet under me I fell again to the ground. I crawled slowly toward him every inch a painstaking journey into eternity.

At last I reached him. His chest was covered in blood his eyes were dim and dark. The air felt suddenly cold and a shadow seemed to loom over us despite the sun being high in the sky. My hand brushed a stray lock of hair out his eyes.

“Father.” I cried.

He blinked at me as though only then realizing I was there. He smiled faintly and his hand grasped mine. Tears stung at my disbelieving eyes.

“My angel.” He said with his last breath.

His hand fell from mine, cold. His eyes stared unflinchingly into mine, but there was no spark left, no recognition, no love, only emptiness. My heart broke and I screamed at the heavens.

My grief was interrupted by footsteps in the grass. I grabbed my father’s rifle and pulled it from his cold hands. I blinked the tears from my eyes and aimed at the sound of the steps. Sam emerged from around the side of the barn. I lowered the rifle.

He ran to me and knelt beside our father. He brushed his hand over father’s eyes and closed them for the last time. Anger and hate consumed my soul and I stood up. I ignored the dizziness threatening to overwhelm me and began walking back toward the house. The sounds of gunfire no longer rang out. Scattered in the dirt and grass were the bodies of men. Some I knew, some I did not and I was no more moved by one than the other.

The women who had been held with me began exiting the barn cautiously. Some ran crying to the men on the ground others ran to the arms of men still standing. I felt nothing for them. I cared not of their fate anymore.

I threw open the side door of the house as I reached it. Inside I walked deliberately for Billy’s room where he had kept my saddle in plain sight to taunt me with. I picked it up and exited the front door. I could feel the stares of everyone upon me.

“Where are you going, Sarah?” Sam asked from behind me.

I ignored him and kept walking toward the corral where Jasper still waited. I pulled open the gate and swung it back nearly hitting Sam. Jasper took a position near the rails and nodded at me. I tossed the saddle on his back as though it weighed nothing. My fingers set about tightening up the buckles.

“Sarah!” Sam shouted at me.

I took the box of bullets from my blouse and reloaded father’s rifle. Sam grabbed hold my arm and started to shake me. I shoved him off and he nearly fell to the ground.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

His eyes and voice were begging me to acknowledge him, to speak to him. I climbed up on the rail and straddled Jasper. I rested the rifle across his back and grabbed the reigns.

“Sarah, the fight is over!” Sam shouted desperately at me.

“Not yet.” I said and prodded Jasper into a gallop.

We swerved in and out of the trees making our way back to home. I cannot say why but somehow I just knew they were there. As we approached I could see four horses near the house. At the road I dismounted Jasper and walked the remaining distance.

I kept the rifle ready in my hands. On the door step I saw what I expected, what I dreaded. The sheriff stood there with my mother. She was in tears as no doubt he had told her about my father. She saw me approaching.

“Sarah!” She shouted and it sounded like anger in her voice.

“Get away from him mother!” I shouted back.

The sheriff turned to me an evil grin on his face.

“What have you done Sarah?” My mother shouted through tears.

“Draw your gun, sheriff!” I shouted ignoring my hysterical mother.

“Everything is over Sarah. Lay your gun down now and I won’t even arrest you for murdering your father.” He shouted back at me.

Only then did I realize the devilish game afoot. The truth would come out but not soon enough to stop them from all getting away. The lies would mix with the truth and there would always be whispers in dark corners.

I decided it would not matter what I did now, the damage was all ready done.

“Draw!” I shouted in anger.

The sheriff laughed.

“Draw!” I shrieked.

He turned his back to me. I closed my eyes in frustration. I heard a creak and my eyes snapped back open to see the sheriff spinning toward me pistol in his hand. I squeezed the trigger.
The air echoed with three shots at once. The sheriff fell to the ground and Billy stepped out from inside my home. He holstered his pistol and tipped his hat at me.

“It’s over,. Miss Waters.”

“Not until you are all dead!” I shouted.

Billy chuckled and turned his back on me. He walked confidently to his horse as did the two remaining men with him. They mounted up, ignoring me and my bewildered mother.

“Until we meet again, Miss Sarah Waters.” Billy said and rode off down the road.

I aimed father’s rifle at him for a moment before surrendering to reality. I could not kill him and in part it was because as much as I hated him, I also loved him. I dropped to my knees and sobbed for the painful truth.

2 comments:

Paul said...

Melanie, an excellent episode, is everybody using the Stockholm Syndrome.
Warm hugs,
Paul.

Jen said...

It is sad she loses her father, I almost cried. I really enjoyed this even though there was not a spanking to be found. I am eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Sarah's adventures.

Can I safely assume we've not seen the last of Billy?