David left the post office and mounted his horse. He trotted down the lane toward the schoolhouse, finding a crowd of younger children ambling away. He could not find Ezra among them.
“Hey David!” It was Ben, one of Michael’s friends in passing. He had a big gap in the front of his teeth where one had rotten or been knocked out, giving his consonants a leaky, breathy whistle. He was walking with a pair of fish hanging from a pole over his shoulder.
“Ho, Benjamin,” David said. “I guess fishing’s the word?”
“Sure is,” Ben said. “What are you doing here?”
“Running some errands for my father. Say, you wouldn’t know Ezra Corning would you?”
“Yeah, I knows her,” Ben said. “She’s the teacher’s kid. Goody-goody in the worst way. She’ll tattle on you for farting.”
“You should know better than to fart in front of ladies,” David said, laughing.
“You would say something like that. You got a bad case of the manners too. What do you want with Ezzy?”
“Just wondering if you might tell her I said hello, or something like that. Tell her I came to return her book but her father took it from me instead. Tell her… just tell her I was calling, alright?”
“Why should I?” Ben said.
“Because you like me,” David said.
“That’s a lie,” Ben said.
“Fine,” David said. He reached his pocket and found a penny. He tossed it down to the other boy. “A penny for a few words.”
Ben shrugged. “Fine, I’ll tell miss goody you fancy her.”
“That’s not what I said. I didn’t say I fancy her.”
“Do ya?” Ben said. “I’m thinking you do, and that’s just what you would tell her, if you had the guts.”
“Fine,” David said. He was ready to turn away and let Ben say whatever he wanted, but with a grumble, he dug out another penny and threw it at Ben. “Just say what I said. That I was calling for her, but her father got the book, alright?”
Ben laughed and nodded. “I’ll see you round, Davey.”
David rode out of town, peering round himself at the people coming and going, then set the horse to a gallop on the hard packed road. He saw the sun flirting with the tops of the trees in the west. Though his mind said it was irrational, his heart kept his heels on the sides of the horse. He did not want dusk to fall while he was riding back.
Some days later, Father sent Michael to the post. He said to Charles and David it was because of his sulking, and that though he knew the boy would likely stray from his task, he had to “be given some tasks that he could accomplish without failure.” David looked back on what his father said years later and understood the truth of it, and pondered the inequity of talent even within a family. His father was a shrewd man, for any other faults he had.
Michael returned within sufficient time to satisfy his father, who gave him a few pennies allowance for the chore. He had a stack of letters when he came in the house.
“This one is for David!” Michael said, waving around an unaddressed sealed envelope.
Father snatched it out of Michael’s hand. He looked at the name on the front, which read only, David. “Here, boy,” he said, handing it to David. David turned it over in his hands for a moment, then placed it carefully in his jacket pocket.
“Not going to read it?” Michael said.
“Later,” David said. “I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t wait.”
Later that evening, after a rich supper of steak (for Michael had also been tasked with visiting the butcher shop), David withdrew to a corner of the large living room, near at hand to the large hearth. Charles built a fire in it, and stared into the flames, a closed book on his lap, as he was wont to do of late. David took the letter out of his pocket. His name was writing in what he thought of as a nice script, and the “D” was embellished by a few twists of a long-nibbed pen.
He broke the simple seal on it and opened the letter. It was, as he had desired, from Ezra, the doctor’s daughter.
Thank you for returning the book. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I apologize that my father did not let us talk about it. Perhaps you could write your impressions down and give them to Walter, the postman. He’s a very nice chap, and was willing to give this letter to you without any stamps. I will check with him from time to time in wait of your response. It is probably best if you don’t tell my father you are enquiring about me. He is a polite and gentile man, but I believe there is a rift between your father and him.
I must also tell you, regretting of course to offend you, that I haven’t read much of “Paradise Lost.” It is just too boring for me. I am sorry. Perhaps you can recommend something better. My mother is encouraging me to read the works of certain English writers now, and I’m afraid I will die of boredom before finding something better to consume.
Awaiting your reply,
P.S. My window is the third from the left on the southern side of the house, second story, should you find the post closed.