“What do you say, we take the automobile to the beach? It will only take a couple hours to get there.” Wilbur said to me.
I shook my head in the negative. Wilbur looked frustrated. It was third idea of his I had shot down in less than five minutes. He was doing his best to distract me from the meeting taking place in father’s study behind closed doors. I would guess he feels as shunned as I do, perhaps even more so. Our older brother, James was permitted but we were not.
I recognized one of the men as he entered which is why I even care in the first place. It is not uncommon for father to have private meetings at the house and certainly not uncommon for them to be absolutely unimportant to me, but this time was different. The man was a member of the school board of Brown University and Primrose College. There were others as well but my intuition tells me the subject matter is directly related to my school, if not myself.
Wilbur tried to assure me it was only my imagination and that one man’s presence from my college hardly constitutes evidence of the subject matter. My thoughts and emotions are probably being unduly influence by remnants of guilt I feel over having disappointed my father in my actions in front of the school board. He would of course be right except I do not feel any guilt over my actions. I firmly believe my father has overreacted due to his unyielding political views which often cloud his ability to see events for what they are. Must everything have duplicitous implications? Not for me but for my father this is the reality of his world.
I drained my glass of lemonade and quietly made my way down the hallway to part of the wall shared with father’s study. Wilbur gave me a questioning look, to which I only smiled. I placed the glass against the wall and my ear to the bottom of the glass. Who says science class is not useful? Memories of Lucy and Jenny polluted my thoughts for a moment.
“The movement is getting out of hand. The time is coming for decisive action.” A man’s voice said in the room.
“I agree.” Came another.
“We should wait until after the election. I am assured Mr. McKinley will restore rationality.” Another man’s voice said.
“Waiting is what brought us to this point.” The first man responded.
“Gentlemen, we must have patience. Wars are not won in a single night nor a single battle and make no mistake, we are at war here. We must choose our positions and battles carefully. Events are all ready in motion and we have yet to see success or failure. Let us not make hasty judgments and take action where none is needed.” James said.
“My son is correct. For now we will wait and observe. We shall only take action if and when the situation reveals itself as necessary. It is still possible and I believe likely, they will defeat themselves without any assistance from us.” My father said.
“I don’t like it.” The first man replied.
“You don’t have to. Just do as your told.” James said.
“You can’t really hear anything can you?” Wilbur asked.
I nearly dropped the glass and stopped long enough to glare at him. I placed my finger to my lips and hushed him. Unfortunately, it was too late. The study door burst open and the men filed out. I quickly righted my glass and grabbed Wilbur’s arm. He played along smoothly and we watched the men leave without any suspicion being leveled on us.
The men were all gone except one still talking on the doorstep with James. They were whispering and I could not hear a thing. I guided Wilbur to walk us closer. James caught sight of us though and waved us over. I did my best to not look guilty but the initial shock must have shown on my face.
“Mr. Parker, I’d like to introduce my little brother, Wilbur and my baby sister, Penelope.” James said.
“Pleased to meet you.” Mr. Parker said.
He shook Wilbur’s hand and kissed mine with a slight bow.
“What do you do, Mr. Parker?” I asked.
James gave me a subtle nudge of warning.
“I deal in energy and labor, both are in short supply.” He replied.
“Very interesting. No doubt you have an opinion about the rampant strikes and unionizing of laborers across the country.” I said.
“Indeed I do, but it would take a good deal of time to explain and I am afraid you would not comprehend most of it.”
“No doubt, still it is fascinating and I understand it is a major contributor to the economic troubles of our country.”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. These things have a way of working themselves out for the best. I am sure we could find more pleasant and entertaining topics for conversation than economics and politics.”
“I am certain you are right.” James said before I could respond.
I gave his a dirty look but he chose to ignore me.
“Unfortunately, I must be going. It was a pleasure, Miss Sumter, Wilbur, James.” Mr. Parker said with a nod of his head.
When he was gone and we were back inside the house I turned to James.
“Interesting company you are keeping James. Who was he?” I asked.
He grabbed my wrist, the one holding the empty glass and twisted it.
“Let go, James! You are hurting me.”
“You were being nosy. You have always been a brat but what happened to you at that school? You come back and it’s like you’ve forgotten your manners and your place.” James said.
“Leave her alone, James.” Wilbur said defending me.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll disappear right now, Will.” James said.
Wilbur looked between me and James and I could tell by the look in his eyes he was closer to punching James than walking away.
“Just go Wilbur. I’ll be fine. James and I need to have a talk.” I said.
Wilbur looked at me for a moment longer and then nodded.
“I’m going, but if you hurt her James, I’ll break your arm.” Wilbur said.
James was nonplussed by the threat and simply ignored it. He pulled me into father’s study which was empty and closed the doors. He turned the key in the lock and then turned to me.
“What did you hear?” He asked.
“Nothing important. Just a lot gibberish that sounded like politics.” I replied.
His hand slapped across my face leaving a stinging burn on my cheek.
“What did you hear?” He asked again.
“Nothing.” I said.
He slapped me again.
“What did you hear?”
“Nothing, James, Nothing.”
He slapped me again and I started to cry.
“I didn’t hear anything. Please, I’m sorry James.” I said.
“You will be. Get that dress off and bend over the desk.” He ordered.
There was a time I would have argued with him. Now I know there is no escaping him. If James is of a mind to discipline me then I will be disciplined. Father will not even listen, should I have a legitimate grievance and with matters today he would likely give me a second whipping himself if he knew what I had done.
I quickly let my dress fall to the floor and leaned over the desk. The hard wood was little comfort but at least it offered strength to hold on to. James retrieved a leather strap from a drawer and swished it through the air. He slapped it down on the desk beside my face. I remained still and unmoved which must have frustrated him because he grunted and then swung hard at the lower part of my buttocks.
White hot pain seared through my bloomers and if I had not been holding onto the desk I might well have jumped high enough to hit my head on the ceiling. James did not stop there though. He followed the first with a second, third and fourth all in the exact same spot and all delivered within seconds of the first.
I writhed on the desk and screamed in discomfort. My tears fell hot against my cheeks.
“What did you hear?” James asked.
“Nothing.” I cried.
He landed another four a little lower at the meeting of buttocks and thighs. I gritted my teeth and refused to scream out anymore. The tears continued to fall, but I blinked through them and the pain.
“What did you hear?” James asked again.
“Nothing.” I replied again.
Four more stripes were added, this time wholly on my thighs. I bit my cheeks and tasted blood, but I kept silent. My resolve to beat him grew stronger with every stroke of the strap.
“What did you hear?” He asked yet again.
I remained silent this time. My answer would not change and there was no further point in repeating myself.
“What did you hear?” He repeated.
I breathed slowly through my nose concentrating on the rhythm of in and out and I married it to the pulsating throbs of pain in my bottom and thighs.
Eight more strokes came, all spaced from my thighs to the middle of my bottom. I breathed through them. Suddenly I felt his hands on my bloomers and an instant later they were spread open, baring my buttocks.
“What did you hear?” He asked.
I tightened my grip on the desk until my knuckles whitened. There was nothing to say.
James started swinging the strap like a mad man. It bounced off my bottom only to slap against it again and again. The strokes became uneven and the stinging became a massive burning of near unbearable heat.
“Stop it!” I screamed at last.
James ignored me and kept swinging. My thighs were getting hit more and more and I could no longer keep my legs still. I began kicking them about and screaming. My tears fell faster.
He kept swinging as though he did not care about the pain he was inflicting. Something in me snapped and I pushed myself up. James tried to shove me back down but I resisted and pushed him off balance. His face was red with rage.
Regaining his balance, he started back toward me.
“Stop it, James!” I shouted through tears.
He raised the strap as if to strike my face with it. I swung my open palm at his cheek and the room fell quiet after the resounding slap echoed in the air. James looked at me with what appeared to be hatred.
We stared at each other in silence for a long moment and then James turned away from me. He put the strap away and unlocked the door and walked out without a further word to me.
I redressed myself and ran to my bedroom. I lay face down and cried into my pillow while trying to massage my tortured flesh back to normal. It was hopeless but I could not help but try.
As my tears dried, my thoughts returned to the men and the meeting and the few words I did over hear. None of it made any sense to me. Never in my life have I seen James so out of control as he was when he realized I had been eavesdropping. I wonder just what it is, he is afraid I overheard?