A Walk at Dusk, “Books and Bones,” part 4

“Oh, it’s you,” she said, closing the book and hopping off the wooden seat of the swing. She trotted forward, splashing mud around her boots. “What are you doing here?”

“Your father’s fixing up a man of ours,” David said. “He didn’t want me to see… I don’t know what.”

“Is he a slave?” she said.

“Yeah.”

Ezra frowned for a moment, then shrugged.

“What are you reading?” David asked.

“Last of the Mohicans,” Ezra said. “By James Fenimore Cooper. I told you about him.”

“Right. I remember.”

“What are you reading?”

David thought for a moment. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By William Shakespeare. At least, that’s what I’m supposed to read.”

“Shakespeare.” Ezra stuck her tongue out with a scowl. “I hate him, personally. I know he’s supposed to be high art and all that, but I can’t stand reading him.”

“You’re like my brother, then,” David said. “He called him a rotten ninny bastard.”

“Watch your mouth!” Ezra said. She smiled, but her voice carried every bit of seriousness that was possible for a young girl to issue.

“What?” David said. “There’s nobody around to care. Besides, it’s Michael’s words, not mine.”

“Repeating evil is the same as believing it, as my mother says. She used to be an actor, so she loves Shakespeare. She has us – the children I mean, at least the older ones, plus me, I suppose, since I’m younger than the others but read as well – anyway, she has us act out the parts. We did the Tragedy of Julius Ceasar, and I played Brutus.”

Thinking of his history lessons, David said, “Wasn’t Brutus a boy – I mean, a man?”

Ezra said, “Yes, well I wanted the part of the murderer. Villains are much more interesting than heroes. Don’t you agree?”

“I don’t know,” David said. “I was just thinking that it was odd for a girl to play a boy is all.”

“Did you know that in opera, sometimes girls play boys and boys play girls? It’s because of castration in Italy.”

“What? That’s what they do to cattle. No, you’re trying to pull one on me now.”

Ezra laughed “It’s true. I read about it in a book on music. It’s all very hush-hush, you understand.”

“I’d expect cutting a man’s balls off to be a bit hushy,” David said.

“Your language!”

The conversation went on like that as Ezra lead David over to the schoolhouse. When they got there they trotted up inside. It was empty except for a lone boy in the corner writing on a thick stack of paper. He noticed them but said nothing. Ezra pointed out the bookcase, which stood some eight feet high with a ladder to reach the upper shelves. She withdrew from one of the lower shelves a book and handed it to David.

“The Deerslayer,” David said, turning the book over in his hands.

“It’s the newest, but the oldest,” Ezra said. She went on, though David offered no expression of misunderstanding. “Let me explain. This is the latest book to come out – I only just read it this year – but it is the first in the series, because Cooper wrote the books out of order.”

“I see,” David said. “What do you want me to do with it?”

“Read it, of course,” Ezra said. “You said you read.”

“I do, but usually I read what mother has for me.”

“Which is Shakespeare.” Ezra stuck her tongue out again.

David chuckled at her and said, “Well, that was just… today, actually.”

“What was the last thing you read?”

“My history textbook,” David said.

“No,” Ezra said. “What was the last story you read?”

“History is about stories. True stories,” David said. He looked at Ezra, who narrowed her eyes in what he thought was an attempt at seriousness. He thought for a moment. “Paradise Lost, by Milton.”

“What?” Ezra said, scrunching up her face.

David turned and looked at the bookcase. He pointed to a large leather-bound book on the top shelf. “There it is,” he said. He stepped up the ladder and grabbed the book. He blew the dust off and handed it to Ezra. She opened the cover.

“Egad, what is this?” she said.

“It’s an epic poem,” David said. “It’s a story, but also a poem. Like Homer.”

“What’s it about?”

“The devil,” David said.

Ezra shut the book and held it at arm’s length. “Why do we have it here?”

David laughed and snatched the book from her. “It’s not like that. The devil is the villain. You said you liked villains, right? Well the devil is the worst of the lot.”

“You actually read this?” Ezra said, taking back the book.

“Every damn word,” David said. “It’s a classic. At least, my mother says it’s a classic. Michael hated it, but he hates most things. My other brother, Charles, who’s in with your Pa, he thinks its brilliant.”

“Very well,” Ezra said. “I’ll read this, but you have to read that.”

“Can I just take it?” David said.

“As long as you return it, of course,” Ezra said. “It’s a library, you borrow, you return, and borrow again.”

David agreed and they went back to the lawn beside the doctor’s house, where they sat on a dry tuft under an oak and flipped through the books. As the sun was setting, Charles came out with Ely and fetched David. The doctor gave the boy a strange frown as he ran past, book under his arm, then hurried his daughter into the kitchen. David followed Charles into the larger room past the kitchen, where Tiny lay. His leg was splinted, the cloth from his pants ripped away to allow for the binding of leather and two slats of wood that immobilized the leg. His eyes were closed, and he looked like he was sleeping.

If you are enjoying this story, please consider heading to Amazon and buying my Historical Fantasy book, Muramasa: Blood Drinker. I appreciate it!

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