David read the book as best as he could, finding the choice of words as well as the grammar employed to be nearly impossible to decipher. The boys’ parents, along with Charles, talked in the parlor for a long time after the departure of the Weatherbys. When their muffled conversation finally ended, David and Michael closed the books and headed toward bed, notes in hand.
Michael offered David a drop of the coffin water, but he refused, trusting the voodoo potion less now that he knew it might actually be effective. As he lay awake and stared up at the dim moonlit ceiling, fearful of falling asleep, he regretted his decision, but after a long hour of fitfulness he fell asleep despite himself.
His only dream was a pleasant one. He watched fish as they swam in the clear water calm cove of a wide water. The sun was setting.
David woke up with the sun streaming in through his bedroom window, feeling refreshed and positive, until he remembered the task of the night before. He dressed quickly and walked down to Michael’s room. He found his brother sitting up in bed, the book by Lord Marton open in his lap.
He looked up and caught his brother’s eye. “You see her again?”
“No,” David said. “Maybe it was just a dream after all.”
“That, or maybe the witch’s attention was elsewhere.”
David left his brother’s room and went downstairs to find that he had once again missed breakfast. Like before, he found leftovers put aside by Mayem in the kitchen and helped himself. After a quick look around the house, he found his youngest sister Ophelia sitting at the piano, not playing.
“Ophelia, where is mother?” David said.
The girl looked up with surprise. “She left with Laura and went to town. Something with the wedding, maybe?”
“Right,” David said. “What are you doing down here?”
“Ma told me to practice piano while she was away, but… I just didn’t feel like it. Don’t tell.”
“I won’t,” David said. “I think you can do what you like for now. Why not go read a book?”
Ophelia nodded. “If you say it’s okay.”
“I do. Have you seen Charles?”
Ophelia shook her head. “Shouldn’t you be studying?”
“Of course.” He held up a hunk of bread. “Had to breakfast first.”
David rushed back upstairs, chewing on the hunk of bread. He passed by Michael’s room to see an empty bed and backtracked to the study, where he found his brother sitting up with the same books, another blank piece of paper beside him. David pulled a chair up to the big desk.
“Michael, I was thinking of taking this book, the odd one, over to let Ezra have a looksy.”
Michael chuckled. “Two goodies trying to figure out witchcraft. Why not? Of course, there’ll be hell to pay once Pa catches out.”
David shrugged. “Everyone’s out busy with something else. Ophelia’s not being hounded by Ma, for once. I daresay she might even find herself doing something enjoyable within the hour.”
“You’re welcome to test your luck, but I would still cook up some excuse to leave. Say one of them left something – maybe that middle daughter – and you’re going to run to post to have it run over.”
David nodded. “Sounds good.” David got up to leave, then paused. “It’s a school day.”
“Get goody to play hooky,” Michael said. “God knows it’d be good for both of you.”
“Psst!” David crouched by a big rock on the outer edge of the lawn. He saw Ezra look up from her book and gaze around as she sat at the white picnic table, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder.
“Ezra!” David said again hoarsely.
Ezra looked over to him and narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing here, David Smith? And why are you whispering a shout? You are neither intelligible, nor quiet.” She turned her head away from him, but David still perceived on her reddening cheek a smile.
“Ezra,” David said aloud.
“You might as well come out in the open,” Ezra said. “Nobody cares that a boy is on the lawn of the school.”
David grumbled, but did as she suggested. He removed his hat as he approached.
“Ezra,” David said. He closed his mouth and looked around. “I don’t want to talk about it here.”
“Well here is where I am.” She half-turned her face, but kept an eye on him, along with a half-smile.
David sighed. “I was hoping you would help me with something. Something secret.”
Her eyes widened as she turned to him. “What sort of secret?”
“It has to do with the-” David hesitated as he was going to say witch. “With Michael. And the coffin water.”
“I told you it was no good going to that voodoo woman.
“And I knew you were right, but I made a promise.”
Ezra nodded. “What do you need.”
“I need you to help me read a book. And I need that book you talked about. The voodoo one.”
“Thank goodness. Let’s go then.”
“Go? In the middle of the day?” Ezra said. “You must have me confused with a different sort of girl entirely.”
“I said it was important,” David said. “You can play hooky for one day.”
“With my mother as the school teacher? Have you lost your memory along with your sense?”
David grumbled and bit his lip. “Can we just get to it? I can’t stay out all day. I wouldn’t have been able to get out here at all if it weren’t for all the business of my brother, and the wedding, and the war. Please, Ezra.”
“Wedding?” Ezra said.
“Charles is getting married to-” David got flustered as he forgot the name of his brother’s fiancé. “One of the Weatherbys.”
“Not that Battleax Helen, I hope.”
“No, not her, the older one.”
“Of course,” Ezra said. “I’m sure they’re planning on fixing you up with Helen.”
“Jesus, let’s hope not,” David said.
“Excuse me?” Ezra said. “We may be dealing with voodoo, but you should not be taking the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Sorry,” David said.
“I’m not the one you should be asking for forgiveness,” Ezra said.
“Can we just go?”
“I told you it was absolutely out of the question.”
“You did not tell me that,” David said.
“Says the boy with the failing memory,” Ezra said. She smiled and gripped David’s hand. “I really can’t play hooky, even for hansom boys. But if you give me the book I can look at it during the reading block. I’ll pretend I’m trying to read Paradise Lost again. I can meet you at the post after three.”
David shrugged. “Very well, but what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“My mother says boys never short of finding things to do, even nice boys, that are more interesting than school. Now I suggest you leave, before we are called back for the end of lunch.”
Enjoying this story? Consider checking out my historical fiction novel, Muramasa: Blood Drinker, which is set in Feudal Japan and contains many supernatural elements.