Virginia Colony – May 1653
"Are these bindings really necessary, sir?" Kathryn Foster called out as one of the crewmembers walked hurriedly past. The filthy sailor stopped and turned swiftly toward her, his eyes roaming over her in a fashion that could only be described as disgust. She wasn't sure what she could have possibly done to this man to earn such a response. Despite the terrors of the voyage, Kathryn had done her best to remain an exemplary passenger, not wanting to ruffle the feathers of any of the crew. Trying not to let his disdain bother her, she continued. "After all, I'm not a criminal, I volunteered for this voyage and the life before me, surely I shouldn't need to be chained in such a manner."
He strode toward her, a sneer curling one side of his lip. "You may not be a convicted criminal, lass, but you've not paid for the voyage. The captain can't have you running off without receiving payment for the trouble of escorting you across the ocean. You'll stay bound."
"But, sir, I assure you, I won't run off," she pleaded, feeling the rough metal breaking through the delicate skin at her wrists and ankles.
"I'll not be trustin' you," he grunted. Just as Kathryn was about to beg once more he turned and stalked off, ignoring the cries of the other woman displayed on deck.
Kathryn sighed in frustration, switching her weight to the other leg, as it was falling asleep from the uncomfortable position she was forced to stand in. A thick beam of wood was behind her, holding her posture straight. The chains at her ankles and wrists were twisted around the wood, ensuring she wouldn't go anywhere. Kathryn looked down at the dress she was wearing. It hugged her curves far too snugly, and was cut in a manner that showed a great deal more of her person than she was typically comfortable with wearing. And men are going to come and look over us like livestock, dressed in such a manner! The thought intensified her unease.
What in the world was I thinking when I volunteered for such a thing? Kathryn asked herself. But, as had been the case every other time she had asked, the answer flooded easily into her mind, she had been thinking about her sisters, Melanie and Allison. Being the eldest sister, she was the only one that could help keep Allison out of the workhouses. Her youngest sister was still only six years old, and therefore too young for the harsh labor there, but as she had been informed only three months earlier, the time would soon come when she would be forced to work. Kathryn had been distraught at the prospect, her younger sister was so innocent, so good, the workhouse would eat her alive. While trying to discover a solution, Kathryn had passed a board on the docks with an advertisement for women of good character to sail to the American Colony to be married.
Kathryn realized immediately that it was the opportunity she was looking for. She could venture to America, meet a nice, wealthy man, coax him into love and then ask him to pay for passage for her younger sisters. Melanie was not so sure it would work, but seeing as they had no other options, and both wanting so desperately to save Allie from the life they had both grown to hate, she agreed. A plan was made, and Kathryn snuck to the docks the day of the departure, her purpose ever present in her mind.
The journey had been brutal. Only a portion of the women who began on the ship remained, and those that had survived, looked sickly and thin, Kathryn included. Without a looking glass, or a clean pool of water, it was hard to tell just how altered she was, but Kathryn was certain she looked very different. When she felt her cheeks, they seemed hollow, mere bones protruding from her skin. Her arms were thin enough to snap, and her legs made her look like an old crone who had long lost the power to walk. How am I to entice a man in such a way? She thought, rocking restlessly on the balls of her feet.
Her thoughts would have continued in a similar manner, had not the thud of the gangplank hitting the dock disrupted them. Following that sound, men's voices raised with a shout. Dear Lord, please protect me. She prayed quickly, closing her eyes in reverence. When she opened them, she became more aware of her plight. She felt like a common animal, her dark hair hanging around her shoulders in a most inappropriate way. Her skin was gritty with salt from the bath that was thrust upon her as they prepared for the sale. Now, the crew that had been responsible for their safe transport acted as salesmen of the women on display.
Kathryn watched in horror as the young Americans put their faces in places they had no business. One man was licking the cheek of one of the women beside her. Kathryn asked the Lord again for protection. Without being able to move, resisting such advances would be impossible, bile rose in her throat. She had never envisioned something so vulgar when she had agreed to the venture so many months ago. Why had the advertisement asked for women of good character if they were meant to be treated in such a demeaning way?
Watching as more men boarded the ship, Kathryn watched an older man, who looked a great deal cleaner than the rest of the crowd approach her. The sailor that had refused to release her bonds was sauntering with her. "She's the only one this shipment," the sailor growled, keeping his eyes off Kathryn, but brining the man closer.
The older man nodded, circling around the post she was attached to. It was mortifying to be put under such an inspection, but at least he had not attacked her with his lips as of yet. He seemed well into his thirties, his hair already graying at his temples. Kathryn at only nineteen years of age shuddered to think herself married to such an older man. It's not as if it isn't done at home. She chided herself, remembering the earls and lords that married women at ages far younger than their own. Taking a steadying breath, she managed a smile for the man when he stood in front of her once more. He had gentle, kind eyes, a feature a great deal of the men aboard currently were lacking, and he was clean. Despite his age, she would go with him instantly if he desired.
His features changed from one of inspection and business to that of kindness and concern, the change in his countenance put Kathryn at ease for the first time since arriving. "May I have your permission to take you to my plantation?" he asked politely, gracing her with a warm smile.
Kathryn hesitated, was this the right man? The one who she could make fall in love with her, thus securing the futures of her sisters? A peace wafted over her, she had no anxiety about this man, and the fact that he had asked her permission comforted her further. It seemed that God was answering her question as she stood chained to the post. "You do, sir," she answered, swallowing harshly. During her short time on deck, she had seen men crudely swipe at women and make deals with the sailors without a word to their new bride. Kathryn already felt fortunate, and perhaps respected.
"That will be 120 pounds," the sailor announced, "I'll release her when you've delivered the funds."
"I've come prepared, my wagon is down yonder. I'll get it unloaded and be back for her in thirty minutes. While I'm gone, perhaps you could unbind her. It seems her wrists have been terribly cut up by those horrible scraps."
Kathryn felt a smile begging to be released, but she fought the urge, hoping to avoid the scorn of the vile sailor. Unfortunately, the sailor did not heed the man's advice and left her chained until he had received confirmation of the tobacco being delivered. Just as the man who bought her resurfaced on the ship's deck, Kathryn was released. "You're free, missy," he snarled, walking away before she could comment.
Kathryn stretched, thankful to be free of the chains that had been holding her captive for more than two hours. While she might have been free from her bindings, she was not at all free. She had just been sold to a stranger. That was rather far from free in her mind. But images of Melanie and Allison swam in her mind as they had for her entire trip, she would do this for them, she had to succeed. Trying to remain graceful, she walked toward the man who had just paid 120 pounds of tobacco for her. He smiled again, offering his arm. "You'll have to get used to land again, miss." His smile was gentle and genuine and Kathryn found herself accepting his help without hesitation. She was thankful he wasn't like the other men that had come aboard, dirty and uncivilized, leering at the women as if they were cattle.
When they arrived at his wagon, he lifted her into it with ease, and then situated himself beside her, taking control of the reigns. Once they were away from the bustle of the docks, the gentleman beside her cleared his throat. "I suppose I should tell you that I have no intention of marrying you," he stated, bluntly.
Kathryn looked at him in terror. How could I have misjudged his character so greatly? He had been so much nicer than all the other gentlemen buying women for themselves. That must have been a rouse to make me feel at ease. Now he is going to use me ill! I'll never be able to persuade him to send for my sisters if I'm just a mistress for his pleasure, nor could my conscious bear such a thing. "Mister, you'll have to turn around, perhaps you can get your tobacco back. I'll not be offering myself as mistress to you or any other man, it would be a sin in the eyes of God and I'll surely not be committing it." She prayed more than believed that he would heed her request. The truth was, she belonged to him now, and he could use her in any way he liked.
The man let out a hearty chuckle, shaking the bench upon which they sat with his laughter. She stared at him, completely perplexed. It seemed cruel that he would laugh at her discomfort.
"You misunderstand me, miss. I've purchased you to be the wife of my brother, Luke. I am already married and was not looking on my own behalf."
She sighed in relief. "Why didn't your brother come to choose his own wife? Is he of such an easy manner that any woman would do?"
"No, no, that's not it at all… Excuse me, but in my eagerness to get you away from those docks, I seem to have forgotten to ask your name."
"I'm Kathryn, Miss Kathryn Foster."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Foster, I'm Jonathan Reid. To answer your question, I'm afraid Luke didn't come to purchase a wife, because he doesn't want one"
This will never work! Her faith was shaken. "Mr. Reid, I must ask you to turn around. I can't agree to live with your brother if he doesn't want a wife. It simply isn't appropriate. If you take me back to the ship, perhaps I can find another man looking for a wife, a man who wants a wife."
Mr. Reid pulled back on the reigns and looked at Kathryn with compassion. "I'm sorry, Miss Foster, I'm doing a terrible job of explaining the situation. Luke is not looking for a wife, but he needs one, desperately. Despite many attempts at getting him to the docks to inspect brides, he would not come. Claiming that every female aboard is a no good criminal, and that he won't allow such a woman under his roof. Of course, that's just an excuse. So after months of struggling with him, I decided to get one for him. I've been to the ship on three different occasions hoping to find a woman who was not a convict, knowing my brother would refuse to marry a criminal. You are the first to fit that description."
"But what if he will not marry me? I can't live in his house, that would be improper and sinful."
"I'll admit that Luke will not like the situation, and he'll be fiercely mad at me, but he'll marry you. He might not intend to perform all the acts a husband should, but he realizes he needs someone to help around the house, especially with that daughter of his."
A child! Merciful heavens, what have I gotten myself into?
"I promise, Miss Foster, you will be protected and I believe with all my heart that Luke will come around eventually, it just might take some time to soften him. Now, I'll take you back to the ship if you like, because I would never dream of forcing you into something you don't want, but I hope you'll choose to come. I also don't think it hurts to mention that you'll be headed back to the likes of men that gamble away their life and drink away their happiness as well as their sorrow. No other man scouring the dock of that ship is worthy of your upstanding character."
Kathryn closed her eyes. It might take some time to soften him, she repeated in her mind. I don't have time! Allie could be working in the workhouse in less than two years. How am I to manage a man who doesn't want me and get him to agree to send for my sisters? Using everything within her, she silenced her nerves as the wagon continued moving. Dear Lord, please tell me if this is what I'm meant to do. Help me see through the confusion. Is this the only way? She remained quiet for another moment, and felt nothing but a quiet peace pulse throughout her. Taking that as a sign along with the fact that the thought of being married to one of the other men she'd seen sent her skin crawling, she asked. "Is your brother as respectable as you?"
Mr. Reid nodded. "He is dealing with the terrible issue of grief, but he's a good man. Hard working, knows his business, and bathes himself regularly."
Kathryn closed her eyes a moment more her thoughts were troubling, but she still felt a sense of peace about the situation. This was where she was supposed to be, she knew it, she only hoped she wasn't being asked to give up the cause of her sisters. "I'll come," she answered quietly. "Tell me what I should know about your brother."
A new story that I am super excited about! Life is still busy, but I stumbled back on this story and have decided that starting to post might fan the flames of creativity a bit more! Please let me know what you think, and as always, thanks for reading!