During the day, I learned how to keep house. It was almost fun, at first. I enjoyed preparing meals for Aaron, humming to myself as I fried his eggs or stirred his porridge in the pot over the open flame. I was becoming quite adept at cooking over the hearth, and Aaron had rigged it so that my setup was quite manageable. Still, I did watch wistfully as Geraldine or ma cooked over their stoves, and wished for one of my own.
I wasn’t the only one who wished for a stove. Part of my problem was that I was so intent on getting everything done quickly that I didn’t always pay attention to what I was doing. And not paying attention when cooking over an open hearth could yield devastating results. The hearth was extremely hot, fiery, and dangerous, and I’d been warned clearly to exercise caution.
Aaron had punished me a few times, and he’d threatened to do so a few more times. His ever-present authority over me was very real. I respected him. In the evenings by the fire, when I mended his socks or worked on my knitting, he would say in his low voice, “Time for bed, Pearl.” I always obeyed him, then, as there was something comforting about his insistence in bringing me to bed. On days when I was tired from having worked long hours, it was not uncommon for him to say, “Time for me to put you to bed, little one.” It did not make me feel like a child. No. I felt cared for when he spoke to me that way.
And when he chided me for acting impulsively, or raised a brow because of my rude tone or for speaking out of turn, I quieted and obeyed him. It wasn’t because I was a passive or meek woman. I was hardly a meek little angel. It was because I yearned so to please him.
But I had a lot to learn.
One morning, I woke later than I intended. I’d slept poorly and rose in a bad temper. Aaron was already dressed and heading out, and I hurried to warm my frigid hands by the fire he’d started. My fingers were so cold I could barely button my dress, and by the time I went to the fire, I was irritable. My apron strings were hanging loosely about me as I scurried about the kitchen. Geraldine and ma were coming to visit, and I needed to prepare our little home for their coming. I pulled out the flour and milk, prepared to make biscuits, and I was moving so quickly, the heel of my boot caught on my petticoats. I heard a rip and I nearly tumbled straight into Aaron.
“Easy, now, Pearl,” he said, catching me in his strong arms and setting me upright. “What’s got you rushing about so?”
“Oh, your mother and that… that good-for-nothing nitwit are coming to visit today!” I said. His eyes widened.
I sighed. “Oh, Aaron, she’s so mean and spiteful. Must I have her visit?”
He frowned. “Well, no. What’s she done that’s got you so worked up?”
I hung my head as I continued my breakfast preparations.
“She told me yesterday my knitting looked like it’d been drug around by the barn cat, and that my hair was as wild as a mountain lion’s.” My hair was wild and I knew it, so long and thick I would tame it daily into braids I twisted at the nape of my neck, but the pesky curls would tug free, forming a veritable halo around my head later in the day. It was inevitable.
Aaron frowned. “Phillip should take a hand to that girl’s backside,” he muttered.
“Hmmph,” I replied. “Wouldn’t I like to see that!”
He grinned. “No sympathy for little girls being put in their place, is it?”
I shook my head. “None!”
He sat down on the chair by the table, tugging on one of his worn boots. “Now, you don’t need to have her come here. I’ve no doubt ma would love to visit, and I’m not sure how you can keep Geraldine away. If she were mine, I’d have a thing or two to say, but it’s difficult for me to tell her she’s not welcome here because she made an offhand comment about your knittin’ and hair.” He pulled the other boot on. “Seems to me that’d make you seem like you were childish or bitter. Better for you to be the bigger person and ignore such comments.”
“Ignore her!” I protested. He paused in his dressing and focused a stern eye upon me.
“Are you talkin’ back to me, little girl?”
Usually, an admonition from Aaron was enough to make me behave myself. But I was angry at him. I’d taken his comment to mean that he didn’t much care about the way she treated me, and it wasn’t fair. He thought I was being childish and overreacting. That hurt. Still, I well knew the warning was for my own good, and landing belly-down over his thighs for a paddling before our day had even begun was not how I wanted the morning to go.
I sighed. “No, sir.” But, still angry and irritable, I turned to the stove, hiking up my skirts so the torn petticoat wouldn’t trip me. It took a long time to get the water boiling in the lidded pot deep in the embers, and I’d become quite adept at stoking the fire and cooking efficiently.
“Girl, you change out of that torn dress before you trip and fall into those flames,” he scolded.
“It’s not my dress that’s torn,” I muttered, low enough that I doubt he heard me. What did menfolk know of such things, anyway? “Doesn’t even know the difference between a dress and a petticoat,” I nearly whispered to myself. Mending my torn petticoat would take time, much longer than I had when I needed to get breakfast going before my visitors arrived. I’d planned to bake a cake to have for tea when they came.
“What’s that?” he said, his hand on the latch to the door before he left.
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled. I couldn’t even bring myself to turn and look at him. I heard the door open and close.
“Crickets and cattails,” I fumed. “First, I’ve got to open my door to that cow. Then I’ve got to get breakfast going. And now he wants me to change out of my petticoat? As if I have time?” Quickly, stepping around the tear so that I could splash buttermilk on my biscuit dough, I began preparing breakfast. My plan was to hightail it to my bedroom and pin up my petticoat before he returned for breakfast. But I forgot. I’d merely tucked it up and moved along with my hasty preparations.
I don’t know how it happened. One minute, I was stirring the porridge, enjoying the warmth of the embers on my cold hands, and the next, I was turning, about to stand, when the toe of my boot went straight through the tear in my petticoat, and I lost my footing. I’d have fallen straight into the flame and no help for it, if I hadn’t caught the toe of my boot on the bellows and stick I’d laid carelessly in front of the hearth.
I’d never heard the door of the cabin open, and didn’t know Aaron was there. I heard him shout and I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the inevitable. I was going to fall into the fire. I was going to be burned, badly. In the split-second interval between falling and Aaron catching me, I prepared myself for the worst, but fell at an awkward angle and near enough to Aaron that only the very edge of my petticoat grazed the fire.
Aaron yanked me to him, stomping on the flames, pulling me away from the danger and into the middle of the room. I huddled against his chest, sure now that I would not be harmed by the fire, but certain of his wrath. I was not mistaken in my expectation.
“Pearl!” he shouted, both hands on my shoulders, shaking me, not roughly, but none too gently either. “What on earth were you thinkin’!” He never raised his voice to me, but now he positively bellowed. I felt tears come to my eyes as I shook my head.
“I wasn’t thinking,” I said. “I was careless. I’m so sorry.”
He pulled me into his arms as he sat cross-legged straight on the floor, inspecting me all over to make sure that I was indeed unharmed. He kissed the top of my head fiercely as he rocked me, and I could feel the pounding of his own heart.
“How did that happen? What caused you to fall?”
My stomach sank and I could not bring myself to look at him. I buried my head on his chest.
“Pearl,” he warned. I swallowed, but as I lifted my face to speak to him, his eyes fell on the torn petticoat. His eyes narrowed, his lips thinning, his puckered brow so foreboding my breath caught in my throat. I’d not incurred the wrath of my husband so since the time he’d rescued me from drowning. And I knew in my heart this would be a very similar situation. When he spoke, his voice was calm and controlled, but deadly quiet.
“Didn’t I tell you to change?” he asked. “Didn’t I tell you not to go near the fire with a torn dress?”
I decided it was not time to correct him and point out that it wasn’t my dress, but the petticoat.
“Yes, sir,” I whispered.
“And did you not tell me you would?”
I nodded and cast my eyes down. I couldn’t look at him. Would he pull me over his lap right there in the kitchen? My heart was thundering in my chest. The only sounds in the cabin were my labored breathing and the crackle of the fire several yards away. Finally, he stood and pulled me along with him. I could hardly keep up with his long strides.
“You go to our bedroom,” he said in a low voice. “You will strip off your clothing, and lay yourself belly down on our bed. You will wear nothing but your chemise. Am I clear?”
My eyes widened as I looked up at my furious husband. I could hardly breathe. I merely nodded, hung my head, and walked to our bedroom.
I told myself that a warmed bottom, which I was certain to receive, was certainly preferable to having been burned badly by the fire. I’d heard tell of a young child, several years younger than Matthew, who’d fallen headfirst into the flames of the open hearth and suffered crippling injuries. A man nearby caught his whole cabin in fire, burning it to the ground. Devastating accidents, damage to the home, and death were not unheard of when it came to open fires. The hearths were our source of life and our bane.
My fingers trembled, not from cold but fear, as I removed my dress. I slipped it on the hook on the wall, then removed my petticoats, my head hung in shame. If I’d only minded him, I wouldn’t have had such trouble. Next, I removed my drawers and folded them over the edge of the bed. My stays followed, then my shoes, and lastly my stockings, until I was dressed exactly as Aaron had instructed, nothing but the white cotton chemise protecting me from Aaron and whatever chastisement he had planned.
It seemed like I waited forever. Would he ever come? Was he purposefully making me wait to increase my trepidation, and affect the impact of the punishment without having to thrash me more severely? Or was he preparing a severe whipping? I shuddered as I squeezed my eyes shut. He’d punished me with his bare hand when I’d fallen in the water, and the sting of that had lasted well into the following days. But I’d not been punished often. Would deliberate disobedience and risking danger to myself, now as his wife, make my situation even worse?
But as I waited for him, even then, as I feared my impending punishment, I did not fear Aaron.
I trusted him. Countless other emotions surfaced but at the moment, my only concern was facing him bravely.
I heard the door of our bedroom creak open, and Aaron’s heavy footsteps behind me. I did not move. A warm rush of air followed him, lifting my chemise ever so slightly. Our room was cooler than the main room of the cabin. It seemed fitting he brought the warmth in with him, as if his presence alone could heat the room.
“Very good,” he said, his voice thick with anger. “Good to see you obey at least one of my instructions.” He paused. “You’ll stay in position while I punish you.”
Would he not take me over his lap, then?
I kept my eyes shut tight, and tears clogged my throat. I did so hate to disappoint him, or make him angry. And it was much harder than I’d anticipated, lying over the bed with no touch from him, without feeling his strength beneath me. I felt removed, as if he didn’t want anything to do with me.
I heard the jingle of his belt buckle. My breath caught, my limbs shaking. He’d never taken his belt to me before, and I feared the sting of leather. I heard him pulling it through the loops of his trousers. I imagined he was folding it over in his hand as he prowled closer to the bed. I jumped as I felt a warm hand on my lower back.
“You jump as if you’re frightened. Are you frightened, girl?”
I swallowed, my voice shaking as I responded. “Yes, sir.”
He stood then. His voice hardened. “Good. You ought to be. I don’t want to have to do this again. Twelve sound licks with my belt ought to form a lasting memory.” My chemise was yanked up and I was bared to him.
And with that, the first searing lash of his belt fell. I gasped. It stung much harder than his hand had, and it was quite a different sensation. I felt it deep, my skin burning, and I’d hardly recovered from the first bite of his belt before another one fell, lower this time, on my upper thigh, and the pain was intense. I cried out at the third, and after that I lost count.
There were several seconds in between each swish through the air and punishing whap. I gasped with each stroke. I tried to maintain my position, to be brave, and to take my punishment well. But after the first several licks, I felt as if I could not bear the pain. I don’t think it was even a conscious decision, I just knew I had to get away. The lash of his belt fell again, and I scrambled across the bed. I could not bear it. It was too much. It hurt too badly. But in the split second it took me to register that I’d disobeyed him in the middle of the punishment, I felt a pang of fear. Would he intensify the licking because I’d tried to get away?
Aaron was quiet as he came to me. I heard his belt buckle hit the side of the bed as he picked me up in his arms, sat down on the bed, and laid me across his knee.
“You’ve gotten six. I said twelve, and I mean to finish your punishment.”
But this time he held me over his lap, and one strong hand wrapped around my waist, anchoring me. I grasped his leg, dangling over his knee, and heard him pick up his belt again. He released my waist for a moment and I was dimly aware of him wrapping his belt around his hand, before his hand returned to me. The tears that threatened to fall began then, a slow trickle as I squeezed my eyes shut and held onto him with everything I had.
“Six more licks,” he stated, and I felt his arm raise before I felt the biting sting of his belt again. I took it, each hard lash burning my skin, as he spoke to me.
“You’ll not disobey me.” Whap! I gasped as he raised his belt again. “You’ll take care not to hurt yourself, most especially when I’m not here.” Whap! It felt like fire, my skin was aflame, and the licks hurt no less than they had when he was standing behind me. “You could’ve burned yourself badly.” Whap! “And so help me, you’ll take care of what’s mine.” Another searing zing.
I could not count. I did not know how many swats he’d given me. All I knew was that I needed the pain to end.
“And if you ever do such a thing again, you’ll get a whippin’ with my quirt. Am I clear?” His quirt was a stout whip I wanted no part of.
“Yes, sir,” I moaned, crying freely now. His belt dropped to the floor.
“Good!” He punctuated his words with a resounding wallop from his hand, and atop the pain of my strapping, it hurt like the dickens. I howled as he delivered several more swats with his hand. His hand upon my already sore skin was unbearable. But then he was done.
Now his hand smoothed over my flaming hot, sore bottom. I laid like that for a while, his hand rubbing out the sting in soothing circles, as I wept. Now that he was done, the floodgates opened. I cried and cried. I could not stop. That was when he did what I’d hoped he would the first time he punished me by the water. Lifting me up, he laid me across his lap so that my head fell to his chest. He cradled me then, rocking gently back and forth. I’d wondered how it would feel, having been firmly punished by his hand, then held in his arms while I wept, my head on his chest as he rocked me. I was unprepared for how it felt.
My tears flowed freely, but they were not merely tears of remorse. They were tears from something deeper, something that had lain dormant perhaps my whole life. The knowledge that this man, my husband and my lover, cared enough about me that he’d taken on the role of disciplinarian, moved me. He loved me so, he did not want me to harm myself. He’d whipped me, but he’d been in control the whole time, even taking me over his knee when I could not face the chastisement alone. And now he soothed me. Now he allowed me the cleansing cry with my head upon his chest.
His shirt dampened with my tears. I sniffled as the lump in my throat and chest dissolved. Never had I felt more cherished than I did then, his whiskery kiss upon my forehead, his strong arms holding me in his.
“There, shhh,” he whispered as I wept.
“I’m-I’m—sorry,” I wailed. “I-I—don’t mean to weep so, and get—my tears—all over you.”
“Shh, little one.” His low voice was like balm to me. “Let it out, now. Just get it out while I hold you.”
I cried until I had no more tears to give.
I was not one to cry. When the Fitzgeralds hurt me, I would scurry away and fume, wishing all sorts of ill upon them. I would plot my vengeance or ignore them altogether. When I hurt myself, I rarely cried. The only time I recalled crying when I lived back there was the time I’d helped deliver four little puppies in the barn, and the tiniest one struggled and tried to make it, but died in my hands, a wee, helpless little thing. It had seemed a devastating loss then, as if I’d personally been responsible for its death. But now the tears were different. Now the tears were for me.
I felt sorrow for not having had the nurture and care I needed as a child. Sorrow for having been punished by the man I loved. But something more. Thankfulness for his discipline that I knew was deeply rooted in his love for me. If he didn’t love me, why would he discipline me? He wouldn’t care for my well-being or my obedience if he wasn’t bent on my protection.
“You need to go,” I said. “I know we need to eat breakfast, and you have chores.” I sniffed, my voice wavering. “And—and you don’t have to keep holding me like this.” I felt guilty for holding him up, as I couldn’t stop the flow of tears.
“No, darlin’,” he whispered softly. “You take as long as you need.”
His assurance at meeting my needs then made my tears start afresh.
How could someone so stern be so gentle? How could he have taken his belt to my backside, but now be so soothing? The tears weren’t from the pain of the whipping, though. It was more than that. No, I was capable of taking pain in stride without tears. These tears came from something far deeper than that. And Aaron knew it.
When the tears finally stopped, a calmness settled upon me. He handed me his handkerchief and I blew my nose. I closed my eyes, my head against his chest. I could hear his heartbeat and feel the light prickle of the hairs on his chest beneath his dampened shirt. I felt the strength of his arms around me. He smelled like hay, sunshine, and coffee. He lifted me then and laid me upon the bed.
“Sweet girl,” he crooned, bending down to kiss me. I felt his hardness as he pressed against me. Had punishing me aroused him? It was an odd thought, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I shoved it away as his mouth plundered mine.
“You don’t like being punished,” he murmured, taking my wrists in his hands and pinning them above my head.
“No, sir,” I whispered.
His mouth traveled to my neck and his tongue flicked out. I moaned, shifting beneath him, my senses roused by the variety of feelings he was provoking within me. As one strong hand held my wrist, the other traveled between my legs, his hand unabashedly dipping between my folds and stroking. I was shocked at how easily he moved his fingers, and how quickly my arousal flamed. Had the punishment excited me? I hadn’t thought so. But now, my body seemed to think otherwise.
I yearned for him, even as I shifted with the pain still lingering on my heated bottom.
“Please, sir,” I begged.
“Please what?” he whispered, his tongue dipping lower and flicking at one of my nipples.
“I want you in me.”
His eyes crinkled with a wicked grin. He released my wrists, his fingers nimbly unbuttoning his shirt. It fell to the floor as he undressed, unfastening his trousers next as he slipped out of them. He came back to me and held my wrists again. I loved when he did that, as it sparked excitement in me. There was something about knowing that he was more powerful than I, stronger, that evoked every feminine emotion within me.
Wasting no time, he thrust into me. He made love in a savage, reckless way, almost painful but not quite. I toppled over the edge into ecstasy as he did, my senses on alert, my limbs weak from the feelings he wrought from me.
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