A Walk at Dusk, “Curses and Hexes,” part 4

David walked casually into the post office. The two men were at the front desk, looking over a map with Walter Sheppard, the postmaster. The bald half-indian was leaning against the wall, spinning his rifle casually by the muzzle as the buttstock teetered on the floor.

“What’s over here, though?” The younger man said. He opened his mouth to show a row of white teeth that mismatched his rough beard.

The postmaster rubbed his mustaches. “That’s all swampy woods as far as I know. Most you’re likely to find is raccoons and the occasional white tail.”

“What about this road penciled in here?”

“Not sure,” the Walter said. “Might be running to watering hole out by one of the further flung farms. Yes, that’s I think it likely is.”

The half Indian spoke up. “Furthest farm southeast is the Tanner plantation. No roads through his place. No need as there’s a creek running split through the property.”

“Then I don’t know,” the postmaster said. “Anyone that’s not in town proper has to come in for mail.  I don’t make a habit of checking every road. More than half of them lead to nothing at all. Ah, Mister Smith.” The postmaster caught David’s eyes over the shoulder of the younger man.

“Afternoon, mister Sheppard. I can come back if you’re busy,” David said.

“No need,” the postmaster said. “What can I do for you?”

“Just need to drop something off.” David placed on the table a worn copy of Deerslayer that Ezra had been carrying with her when they met.

“I’ll see the marm gets it,” the postmaster said.

“Haven’t seen you around town yet,” the half-Indian said. He smiled. “Where are my manners? I’m Daniel, and this is my brother Fred.” He gestured to the younger man

“Half-brother,” Fred said.

“Are you from out of town?” Daniel said.

“I live a little-way south,” David said.

Daniel smiled and looked at the postman, then back to David. “Then maybe you can help us. Have a good lay of the land?”

“Not much of one,” David said. “At least, I know my own land.” He nodded to the map. “What are you looking for?”

“An old homestead that belonged once to our father. Of course now the woods have overrun it. We were coming back to see if the claim still had any value. Here.” Daniel brought the map over so David could get a look at it. It looked like a territorial map, made by lithograph, but seemed only vaguely recognizable. Daniel pointed to a spot on the bottom of the map. “Know your way around down there?”

David shook his head. “I don’t usually go too far south of our plantation. No reason to, except to run business to the Cooks or MacDonnells. If this is the old road, they’re both about here.” David pointed to a spot well up from the bottom. “Have you considered that someone else built on that land?”

The younger man shrugged. “Figured maybe, since we can’t find the…” He gave a quick glance to Daniel. “The cabin.”

“Yeah, that’s what we thought would be out there,” Daniel said. “Could be on somebody else’s place now though, that you mention it. Who was it who lives down there?”

David bit his lip and thought for a moment. “I don’t think pressing a claim to land with anyone around here is going to go well. Deeds are signed and legal, from the territory days.”

“We’re not looking for any trouble,” Fred said. “We just were hoping we might get back to where our pa’ was born, that’s all. If it’s gone to somebody else, that’s the way it is. Who lives down here again?” The young man pointed to the empty southern end of the map.

“The Macdonnells, the cooks, and the Peabodies, thought the Peabodies don’t hold any slaves,” the postmaster said. “They all come in once or twice a week like David here.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said to Mister Sheppard. “If you send them my way I’d be obliged.”

The postmaster nodded. Quickly, Fred rolled up the map and headed for the exit. Daniel nodded to David, who returned the gesture.

“Thanks for the tip,” the half-Indian said as he headed to the door. “Maybe we’ll see you later.”

“Interesting lot, them,” the postmaster said as the door shut behind Daniel.

“Dangerous,” David said. “I wouldn’t normally say such, but I saw them creeping around Witch’s Grave a few nights past. With shovels”

“And just what were you doing out that way, hmn?”

David sighed. “Looking for mushrooms.”

Sheppard laughed and leaned back. “I’m sure you were.”

“Just be wary.”

“I always am. Also discreet, usually. Those two are boarding up the Hayworth house.”

“What about the third one?”

Sheppard scratched his nose and said, “Third one? I’ve just seen those two.”

“I overheard them talking about their boss.”

“Noted.”

David nodded and headed out the door.

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