March 19, 1896
I wonder how Jasper does it, sleep I mean. Horses do it all the time, on their feet, but with people we tend to lay down to sleep. I remember my grandmother could do it sitting down but what does it take to sleep when on one’s feet?
Billy left me tied to the post the night he whipped me. My legs had given out and it was only the rope binding my arms which kept me vertical. The weight of my body on my bound arms felt as though they should have ripped clean off. I did not have the will to ease the pain and so I rested against it, buried my heart in it.
It was a more peaceful place than the one my mind tried to travel. Laura crying in pain, huddled in a dark corner with a few kind hands trying to provide comfort. There was none they could really give her and there was nothing to be said. It was all my fault, she would live with the scar on her face but I could feel the same scar burning my soul for all eternity.
Perhaps in time she will forgive me, I never intended for harm to come to her. I was wrong to put her at risk but I saw no other choice. Now, when looking back, I see there was another choice. It was a choice I did not want to accept and that is why I did not acknowledge it. Will God forgive me my blindness? Perhaps the better question is should he?
A good first step in seeking forgiveness is to ask for it. Why is then I find myself unable to ask Laura for it? I suppose our friendship has ended but I think it really ended that afternoon we delivered laundry to Billy Buster and his gang. I certainly did not realize it at the time but in that single afternoon we drifted into different worlds, irreconcilable worlds.
It is funny to think now on the lesson my mother has been striving to me of late. I missed it entirely until I spent that sleepless night tied to the post. Sometimes it is not enough to be right. This is one of those times but I do not believe I should simply give up either. There is hope in darkness, else we would never know the light from the dark.
So, knowing now that being right is not enough, knowing that might can make right from wrong, what does it take to make right from right without might? If you can answer that you are smarter than I. For the moment I must accept the inevitable.
For a change, Billy was right. The day after my escape attempt he cut me down and I collapsed at his feet. He picked me up carefully almost as though I was a prized doll and held me close to his heart. He took me away from the barn and into the house where he and his men were living. Gently he laid me down on his bed.
I feared the worst but had no strength to fend him off. I accepted defeat and the humiliation it would bring but he did not take advantage. Instead he rolled me to my stomach and began cleansing the wounds on my back left by his whip. His kindness evoked more tears than his whip ever could. I wanted to flinch away from his touch but my body surrendered to it.
I relaxed in his care. My mind should have raged against him, fought him at every turn but I did not. I could blame it on exhaustion. I could say I had no choice. Truth be told, I craved the tenderness of his touch. I am ashamed.
When I awoke nearly a full day later, Billy was still at my bedside. I felt sheepish to be waking in his bed. I blushed furiously, realizing I was naked as well. Billy wore a wide grin. I suppose I should be flattered.
“Where are my clothes?” I asked.
“Gone.” He replied.
“That’s not an answer.”
“It’s the truth. I burned them.”
I felt fear creeping back.
“Why am I here?” I asked.
“Cause your not safe with the others no more.”
“And I’m safe with you?”
Billy laughed as I gestured at my nakedness.
“Safe enough. If your father’s as smart as they say, you’ll be going home soon enough.”
“My father would likely kill you if he saw me like this.”
“Well then, we’ll just have to make sure he don’t.”
“May I have some clothes?”
I felt panic in my throat. What does he intend to do with me, to me?
Billy stood up grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me up off his bed. I decided not to protest despite my rising embarrassment.
“You’re going to earn your keep.” He said.
“I didn’t ask to stay here.” I replied.
“Makes no difference to me. You’ll earn your keep or you’ll be whipped and still do it anyway. The choice is yours.”
“What do you expect me to do?” I asked hoping I would not regret it.
“My men need a decent cook. I assume you know how?”
I considered saying no but I doubt he would believe me.
“Yes.” I replied with a hint of irritation.
He slapped my face. I stared at him in surprise.
“Watch the tone, little lady.”
I nodded my understanding.
“So, you’ll cook for them and serve them.” He said.
“I will do it gladly, if you allow me to dress.” I negotiated.
Billy slapped me again. I tasted blood in my mouth as I inadvertently bit my cheek.
“You’ll do it gladly and you’ll do it stark naked.” He commanded.
“Say it.” He ordered.
“I’ll do it gladly.” I said with my head down in shame.
“Say all of it.” He ordered with a smirk on his face.
“I’ll do it gladly and naked.” I said, the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth.
“You’re learning.” He said in self-satisfaction.
He reached out and stroked my breasts with his hands as though I were a pet for his pleasure. I shuddered under his touch. Tears stung at my eyes but I bit my cheek harder and forced them back. I stared straight into his eyes and dared him to do more.
He gave a final squeeze to my right breast and then patted my butt with his rough hand.
“Come now, little lady. The kitchen awaits.” He said.
I walked out of the room in front of him, my legs trembling. Six steps later and I stood in a room full of his men. They stared unabashedly. They whistled their pleasure. I turned to ice and continued on my way to the kitchen. Fleetingly I wondered if matters could get worse.