Abbey sat on the uncomfortable table in the cold and industrial exam room. Her husband and the doctor had been gone for a while and fear gripped her insides because of what that could mean. A shiver rocked down her spine at the possibilities.
Since the “incident” 3 weeks ago her husband had been cold and demanding. He demanded that she see a doctor immediately to be sure an “abomination” was not growing inside her and cold towards her like it was her fault. She had only walked home from the woman’s club that night because he had refused to send the carriage. The message boy said that Phillip would need it for business and left her with no other explanation. Her friends had offered her an escort home but the night was warm and she thought the walk home would help clear her anger.
Another shiver gripped her at the memory and Abbey rubbed her arms. The door opened and the doctor and Phillip walked in. They were still carrying on their conversation as if Abbey wasn’t in the room. Phillip looked grim and serious as the doctor continued to talk.
“…the procedure is simple really Mr. Morgan. There would be minimal scaring and she would only be on bed rest for a month. If you are insistent on terminating the pregnancy then surgical abortion is the only option. I could help you but with the law… ” The doctor trailed off prompting her husband to insist on a hefty bonus for the doctor to perform the illegal abortion.
When Abbey had limped her way home with her clothes torn and tears streaming down her face on that late night 3 weeks ago she had expected her husband to be supportive, but instead he treated her with disgust. She had been violated by another man and the only words he said to her after he ordered the servants to help clean her up were “You better not have conceived a child.” Then when the morning sickness had started Phillip had made an appointment to see the doctor.
“Phillip” Abbey whispered with no response as the men continued to talk about her. “Phillip” she tried again, this time louder and successfully gained her husband’s attention. “I don’t want an abortion” She said in a whisper that brought a leer to her husband’s face.
“You will have the surgery because I said so!” He yelled. His sudden outburst caused her to jump and hold herself tighter. She had no choice and he made that clear. “Yes, dear” she whispered as she said a silent prayer.
According to the doctor, but contrary to Abby’s belief, the surgery had gone well. Laying in her bed two days after she decided she had never been in this much pain in her life. The doctor gave her some pain reliever but it did not help much. Phillip had only come to see her once and for a very short time, he had been distant since the surgery and it made her feel helpless.
Abbey thought that if she went along with Phillip’s wishes then it would fix there relationship and he would return to the loving husband he once was. She wanted him to hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. He had always showered her with fancy dresses and big jewels, but nothing since the incident. It must have been about three o’clock because the maid opened the door carrying a large basin of water and clean sheets. Every day at three o’clock she was given a sponge bath. Abbey dreaded this time of the day because the pain of moving always made her cry and scream.
“Where is Phillip?” She asked the maid quietly. He had promised her two days ago that he would help care for her.
“Mr. Morgan is away on business today, Madam.” The maid said politely as she readied the water and bathing supplies. “Of course he was.” Abbey thought to herself it was just another one of his excuses to avoid her.
After her bath the maid laid Abbey down gently, gathered her supplies and left to ready Abbey’s afternoon snack and pain medication. Even though the bath and the change of sheets hurt Abbey it was a relief to be clean and be in a clean bed again. The comfortable feeling had almost lulled Abbey into a nap when there was a sharp wrap on the bedroom door.
The loud noise startled Abbey out of her slumber and she winced at the sharp pain that accompanied the quick movement. Two police officers entered her bedroom dragging Abbey’s maid by her left arm.
“What is the meaning of this?” Abbey demanded while wondering what the maid had done wrong. The police ignored her question and addressed the young maid, “Is this the Lady of the house?” the chubbier officer asked forcefully. The maid looked frightened but nodded her head. The officer let go of her arm and instructing her to leave.
Both officers moved to the either side of Abbey’s bed and began removing the covers from Abbey.
“Mrs. Morgan you are under arrest for receiving an illegal abortion.” The chubby officer stated. Abbey’s stomach dropped, someone had turned her in for something her husband forced her to do.
The officers pulled her from bed and wrenched her arms behind her back causing pain to lacerate every inch of her body. Blackness threatened to take over her vision from the intensity of the pain, but she fought the darkness and began screaming.
“Phillip! I want my husband! Phillip! You can’t do this!” Abbey was taken to the police carriage and thrown in. She was only in her white night gown and she hugged herself tightly to keep out the cold and ease the pain. The situation was surreal and it left Abbey dumbfounded. Tears began to pour down her cheeks as the carriage began moving down the cobbled street towards the jail house.
Crack. Crack. Crack. “Order” The judge’s gavel vibrated through the court room and made Abbey jump in her chair. She had become very jumpy lately. She sat in center of the room in a rickety wooden chair as the state attorney listed off her crime and why she should be punished.
Even though her predicament looked bad Abbey was still grateful to be in fresh air. She had spent two nights in the smelly jail house in a cell packed with other women that had committed horrible crimes. She briefly spoke with a woman that had stabbed her husband in the eye with a spoon because he had insulted her beef stew. Another woman had assaulted a guard because he had refused to let her enter the men’s club. After that Abbey kept to herself and huddled close to the corner.
Phillip was not at Abbey’s court hearing, she had hoped that he would change his mind about the divorce, but his absence stated otherwise. He had visited Abbey in jail the night after she had been inducted with another man dressed in a sharp suit and carrying a brief case.
“I want a divorce.” Phillip had stated simply. He did not say anything else to her as the attorney handed her a packet of papers from his brief case through the bars for her to sign. Abbey choked back tears while she signed on the indicated line. The life that she had loved had crumbled around her and nobody was there to help her pick up the pieces. Her husband that pledged himself to her had turned his back on her when she could really blame this all on him. If he had only sent the carriage for her that night none of this would have happened.
Crack. Crack. “Order!” The judge shouted again bringing Abbey out of her depressing musings. The state attorney had gotten out of hand with his argument again. He was an adamant man about illegal abortion and he saw Abbey as a disgrace to women.
“I need no further arguments I have made my decision. Abbey Morgan,” The judge said and Abbey stood, “I sentence you to a life with lack of virtue and honesty that reflects equally the crime that you have committed. You will be shipped to Australia to live out your life in the convict camp to ease the fornication needs of the male convicts. I have made my decision.” The judge cracked his gavel one last time, making Abbey jump again, and left the room.
The officers that attended the hearing took Abbey to the police carriage that took her to the docks to load her on the ship that would take her to Australia. The ship was large but Abbey was taken to the lowest deck and thrown in a small cell filled to the brim with the convicted women. She had to come to grips that she was a convicted felon and she would be treated that way forever. She was devastated that the judge would sentence her to a life of prostitution, but she should have guessed. The government had started sending women with less serious crimes over to help ease the unbalanced male to female ratio. Phillip must have anticipated the sentence thus the reason he quickly divorced her.
The voyage took two months to reach Australia and during the trip Abbey battled sea sickness, cat fights, poor rations, and rough treatment from the ship’s crew. When they arrived on land Abbey was hustled onto steady ground, when she stumbled the man that escorted her pushed her harder to keep moving, and when she fell he pulled her up by her hair. When Abbey would protest the man would just laugh and shove her forward.
The camp was muddy and surrounded by barbed wire fence. She was taken to a small tent on the outskirts of the camp. Abbey was relieved to find that she didn’t share a tent with anyone. During her trip she had prayed constantly for strength to endure her punishment.
“You have two days to rest before you will be turned over to the gents.” Abbey’s escort said snidely, he was a crude man with big arms and a bald head. He wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve and left Abbey in peace. “Only two days until Hell,” Abbey thought bitterly and collapsed miserably on the tent floor. All hope was lost.
After the two days of rest the days following began to blend together in an endless succession of men and foul treatment for Abbey. Born into the high society of England she never would have imagined her life this way. She always had the best treatment, from the finest dresses to dozens of servants.
The convict camp warden had assigned her and another woman, Wendy, to a tent inhabited by four men, but the four men that “owned” her didn’t stop the other men from visiting her at all hours for their enjoyment. She was to not only to provide the four men in her assigned tent with entertainment whenever they pleased, but she was also supposed to do their laundry, bathe them, and keep the tent as clean as possible. The male convicts carried out their sentences by working the land for ranchers and farmers, but were also required to keep their living quarters up to a certain slandered, hence the need for women.
Wendy was shy and usually cried herself to sleep while she lay beside Abbey on the floor every night. It took some gentle prodding on Abbey’s part but Wendy finally confessed why she had been sent to the Camp. She had come from a poor family in England and after her husband had passed from sickness she was left with nothing and no way to provide for herself. In an act of desperation Wendy tried to steal a loaf of bread from the market and was caught. Even though stealing was a petty crime it did not change her fate.
“You, Blondie,” The broader, alpha man that shared the tent pointed to Abbey who was scrubbing some trousers in a wash bucket in the corner of the tent, “Get out” he demanded. Abbey glanced at Wendy apologetically who was making the beds and gathered the wash to take outside. The man caught sight of the look and slapped Abbey across her face sending her stumbling out the tent door.
When she was a good distance from the tent and could no longer hear the noises of “enjoyment” Abbey set down her bucket of wash and sat in the dirt to cry. Her face burned from the slap and she felt filthy. She hated herself for not being stronger and the fact that she could not change her fate.
Abbey had ceased to be jumpy after the first week she had been in the Camp. Nothing surprised her anymore, so when a gentle hand was laid on her shoulder and a man’s deep voice asked, “What’s wrong ma’am?” She turned to look into another man’s face with no fear and acceptance of the inevitable.
“What can I do for you mister?” she asked with distain, she was so tired of men using her but was powerless to stop it. Abbey did notice that the man crouching beside her was clean, muscled and didn’t wear clothes of a convict. However, not being a convict didn’t stop the use of her body by other men.
The man smiled at her tone and handed her his white, cotton handkerchief, “I am not the one crying.” He stated while standing and offered his hand to Abbey to help her stand. The man’s nice treatment had Abbey on edge, no one was nice to her and she repeated her question, “What can I do for you mister?”
The man smiled and even chuckled a little, “Ok, you can tell me how a pretty woman like you ended up in this place.” Abbey rolled her eyes, he was definitely after something and talk wasn’t one of them. No man here wanted to talk and know her story. If he wasn’t going to just be a man and state what he wanted Abbey wasn’t going to give him the time of day. She turned and picked up her washing bucket and started to walk away.
“Wait a minute,” He said attempting to follow her, Abbey was started in get annoyed. Stopping abruptly she turned to face the man, who almost bumped into her.
“What do you want?” She demanded, “Just tell me how I can pleasure you and then leave me in peace!”
Abbey didn’t know what startled him more, the fact that she had been so forward or that she had yelled at him. Tears were starting to prickle her eyes again and her face was burning more than ever, if he didn’t leave her alone soon she would lose what little strength she had.
They stood facing each other just staring; Abbey’s stare was a silent challenge and his was a measure. When he had saw her crying in the dirt something in him had snapped. He had no desire to ever marry, he had a ranch to run, but seeing her gave him an un-ignorable urge to help her. She obviously was a convict or she wouldn’t be in the camp and he was extremely aware of why she was sent here. Maybe he should take pity on her and show her a new life. He had more than enough room on his ranch. He could keep her safe and care for her. But, the only legal way to get her out of the Camp was to marry her, did he dare?
“Marry Me” The Rancher blurted, “That’s what you can do for me.” Abbey was completely shocked, a marriage proposal was the last thing she expected in this rotten place, but why would he want to marry her?
“What is your name?” Abbey asked, she wanted to know who this man was, the man that was offering her a way out of the Camp. Even if his proposal was a joke she had already allowed herself the possibility of hope, the possibility of a better life because any life outside the camp would be better.
“My name’s Ralph, ma’am. I know this seems forward, but I want to help you. I own a ranch that is a day’s ride from here. I can offer you a nice home. It’s a small home. I never really saw myself getting married, but for some odd reason I was drawn to you. I won’t expect anything from you just a place to live out your life in peace as friends.” As the rancher babbled he twisted a small frayed string on his shirt sleeve. His discomfort gently eased the suspicions Abbey had towards his motives. She believed every word he said and from his build and dress he was clearly a hard working, successful ranch man. Having a wife around the ranch would surely inconvenience him, but he was willing to take her in and help her escape.
“Alright, Ralph, I will marry you.” Abbey responded with a tinge of hysteria. She never expected her day would turn out this way but she wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like this one even if it was a bit strange. Ralph gave a slight smile and motioned her to follow him towards the main office. Abbey left the wash on the ground leaving all of her misery behind and started to follow Ralph.
As they walked side by side Abbey began to day dream about what her life would be like from this day on. She pictured a small two bedroom cabin next to a small stream and green fields. The fields would be dotted with cattle and wild flowers. To pass her time should would sit and read in a wicker chair under the tree in the front yard, enjoying the cool breeze on her skin and the smell of the flowers. She would decorate her own room in purple accents and enjoy the serenity of peace offered by the rancher.
“Did you get all of the meat unloaded, Jack?” Ralph hollered to the camp cook who was unloading a wagon of packaged cattle meat. Ralph’s voice pulled Abbey out of her day dream bringing her focus to the situation at present. Abbey now understood what brought Ralph to the convict camp; he supplied the camp with beef. He was a respectable man that was about to marry a prostituted convict. The cook waved in agreement and put the back latch up on the wagon.
Ralph gently took Abbey’s hand and pulled her up the wooden stairs into the main office. Two large men sat behind two desks laughing hysterically at an unknown joke, but when they saw Ralph and Abbey their laughter was cut short.
“Gentlemen,” Ralph addressed the men with a nod, “Is there someone at this camp that can marry me to this woman?”
In a flurry of excitement Ralph convinced the warden that he was sure of his decision to marry Abbey. The two of them were ushered to the chapel tent where they exchanged their vows and signed the appropriate paper work for Abbey’s release. In the midst of all of the excitement Abbey was sure Ralph would change his mind, but he didn’t. He stood by his decision to marry her even through the humiliation of having to ask her name to say his vows.
When it was all finished Abbey couldn’t help smile, she was free from her personal hell by a man that she decided was her personal angel.
Ralph helped Abbey into the wagon and they were soon off to her paradise. The journey to the ranch was a long day’s ride but when they arrived Abbey could see by the light of the full moon that her personal day dream while walking in the camp was a reality.
Standing in her long white dress and looking at her reflection, Abbey couldn’t help but reminisce about the years that had passed. Forty years to the day Ralph took pity on Abbey and brought her to his ranch in Australia promising her a better life from the one she was living in a convict camp. When Abbey accepted the rancher’s marriage proposal she never had plans to love another man again after her husband in England had betrayed her, but as the many years passed things started changing between Abbey and Ralph.
When Abbey and Ralph arrived late at night at his farm for the first time, Abbey was elated to see that the ranch was everything she could have hoped for. It had a nice, big tree in the front yard that would be perfect to set a chair under and read, and in the moon light she could see that cows dotted the fields and were about as plentiful as the wild flowers that perfumed the air. Ralph took Abbey inside the cabin and showed her to her new room. It was small but very comfortable with a window facing the east and although rough, had the same luxuries from England.
“You can decorate however you want. Tell me what you will need and I will get it the next time I go to town. But, for now I am going to bed. My room is down the hall to the left if you need me. Night” Said Ralph and he closed the door behind him.
It didn’t take long for Abbey to find her place in Ralph’s ranch routine. Everyday Ralph would get up early and tend to his herd with the ranch hands and Abbey would wake and make breakfast for them. After breakfast Ralph and the men would leave for the day leaving Abbey to do what she pleased. Relaxation and enjoyment became her goals in life and to pass the time she would read, do light cleaning, bake, decorate or really anything she wanted. Ralph never pushed her to do anything she didn’t want to and never asked her to take on any ranch responsibility.
But, the day he did ask brought a smile to Abbey’s face as she tucked a stray hair back into her intricate braid. Ralph had been gone for a few days in town. Abbey never went with him into town because she never wanted to see the camp again. It was pouring rain when Abbey heard the wagon arrive, supper was on the table and she was sewing a new dress while she waited. Ralph walked through the front door, rain dripping from his slicker and hat with a broad smile on his face.
“I have a surprise for you. Come with me.” Ralph said with a ting of excitement in his voice. Abbey was reluctant to walk out into the rain but Ralph took a heavy slicker from the hanger by the door a draped it around her shoulders. He took her hand gently and pulled her out into the pouring rain. He led her to the barn and down the short rows of stalls. Abbey had never been in the barn and she really had no wish to be. The lamps we already blazing and even though it was raining outside it almost seemed cozy inside the wood structure, but not enough for Abbey to wish to stay there long.
Ralph stopped in front of a stall where a beautiful grey mare stood. She was drenched from the rain but she perked her ears at her company and walked to the stall door. Abbey had never been around animals much and was a little nervous to be near such a large creature, but the horse was so pretty she couldn’t help but want to touch her.
The horse gently nudged Abbey’s outstretched hand and blew warm breath into her palm. Abbey gazed at the horse’s eyes and saw a gentle, caring creature that instantly melted Abbey’s fear.
“Do you like her?” Ralph asked. He was standing behind Abbey watching the exchange between woman and beast.
“She is very sweet.” Abbey answered as she started stroking the horse’s soft neck.
“Good,” Ralph said, “She’s yours.”
What? Abbey thought frantically. She didn’t know one thing about horses let alone how to ride one. What did Ralph expect of her? Did he think her time at the ranch had been too easy and now it’s her turn to help? She could just picture herself in men’s pants covered in dirt and grime herding cattle like the other ranch hands. This was too much to ask of a woman. Abbey whirled around to face Ralph spooking the grey mare and drew in a huge breath of air to give the rancher a piece of her mind.
The look on Abbey’s face was of pure rage and Ralph knew instantly Abbey hadn’t taken the gift how he had hoped.
“Wait!” Ralph yelped before Abbey could start her rant. He was holding his hands up defensively and had even ducked a little.
“Why did you by me a horse, Ralph?” Abbey said sternly. She had her fists on her hips and she still looked angry, but she didn’t start yelling.
“I thought it would be nice for you to have company while I was away all of the time. She seemed so gentle and sweet she reminded me of you. I could teach you to ride and maybe you could join us when we go on long cattle drives.” Ralph was playing with his frayed string as he spoke. Obviously talking to a woman still made him nervous even though Abbey had been around for a couple years already.
“I am not going to work like a ranch hand, Ralph” There was warning in Abbey’s voice and Ralph instantly knew what Abbey had thought when he mentioned the horse.
“No, I never dreamed that you would. We would bring a tent for you and you could just be company.”
Abbey snickered a little at the memory and shook her head. She was so silly back then making Ralph walk on egg shells to please her. Good thing he had nipped that in the butt eventually.
Abbey had started sleeping late on most days, not even bothering to attempt to get up for breakfast or clean the cabin, let alone take care of her horse, who she named Mist. The pampered life Ralph had provided her was starting to make her lazy.
“Abbey!” Ralph bellowed through the small cabin. His rumbling voice woke Abbey with a start. Ralph’s stomping footsteps thundered down the hall and he burst through Abbey’s bedroom door. Ralph’s hair had begun to turn grey and his face was taking on the characteristics of an older, hard working man. He was handsome any other time, but at that moment he was almost frightening.
“You lazy woman! Your horse is out of food and water. Get up!” Ralph had never been rough with Abbey, let alone yell at her. She was dazed at his behavior. Getting impatient at Abbey’s laziness, Ralph grabbed Abbey by the arm and towed her outside in only her night gown. It was late afternoon and Ralph and the ranch hands were home from their long day of work.
“You can neglect me, you can even neglect yourself, but you will not neglect your horse.” Ralph wasn’t yelling anymore, but he continued to drag Abbey by her arm. He drug her all the way to the barn and dumped her in front of Mist’s stall. Abbey was so bewildered she didn’t know what to say, but she quickly began to tend to her horse.
She was fumbling with the heavy water bucket and was sloshing water all over her thin, white night gown and bare feet, when Ralph gently took the bucket from her and lifted it into place in Mist’s stall. Abbey was angry with Ralph for treating her the way he did, but in other ways she wasn’t. He never asked her to do anything for him. He had gotten her this horse out of kindness and all he asked of her was to take care of it. She had become so lazy she not only neglected her horse, but herself. What was she doing to herself?
“I am sorry.” Abbey whispered as Ralph passed her to exit the stall.
“I am sorry to.” Ralph said and left the barn and Abbey to finish taking care of Mist.
From that day on Abbey made it a priority to take care of Mist, herself and Ralph. She even decided to start learning how to ride. Every evening Ralph would come home and he would take Abbey out to a small clearing in the pasture and give her riding lessons. It was hard work, but Abbey enjoyed every minute of it.
After a year of lessons and much pleading Abbey agreed to accompany Ralph on a cattle drive. A sigh escaped Abbey’s lips as she remembered that blissful event. That was when things really started changing between her and Ralph. They were no longer just friends, a small crush had formed. They spent nights around the fire laughing and enjoying each other’s company. She loved hearing his stories about the ranch and the fun times he had with his men. That’s when the addiction to cattle drives began for Abbey. From then on she went on every one she could with Ralph.
“Ma’am, we are ready for you.” Said the small inn keeper; Abbey didn’t even hear her enter her room.
“Alright, I will be right down.” As the innkeeper left Abbey took one more look at her reflection and smiled. Today was a happy day because this time it was real.
The years with Ralph had passed so quickly, before she knew if her and Ralph had turned grey. With no children Ralph had started passing on the ranch duties to a younger, trusted ranch hand and started spending his days with Abbey at the cabin. Their bond only grew stronger and one evening after supper Ralph took Abbey’s hand.
“I have a surprise for you.” He said softly and led her to the barn. Silently Ralph saddled their horses and strapped a loaded saddle bag to his saddle.
They rode out to a small hill deep in the field where everyone usually gathered for fires and festivities. Ralph built a fire and laid out a quilt and dessert. Abbey’s life with Ralph was a happy one, he promised her a better life and he provided. They sat on the blanket in silence just enjoying the cool night and each other’s company, but eventually Ralph spoke.
“Abbey, when we married I told you I didn’t want a wife. That I was too busy, but I wanted to give you a better life. But, you are the one who gave me a better life. The years I have spent with you have been wonderful and joyous. You gave me purpose and a friend. I know we are already married, but I love you and will you marry me again?” Ralph was on bended knee holding a small ring that glittered in the fire light. He had been so kind to her throughout their years together it had proven difficult to not fall in love with him to.
“I love you, Ralph.” Abbey responded and threw her arms around his neck to share their first kiss.
Abbey stood at the doorway of the small church. Ralph was standing at the alter and all their friends had come to join in their happy day. Abbey’s hair was grey and her skin wrinkled but she felt beautiful with Ralph’s eyes on her. Like the day they first met when he had taken pity on her petty crime.