“Funny,” David said aloud, reading the post-script.
“What?” Charles said, suddenly picking up his head.
David, realizing he had spoken, said, “Do you know much about James Fennimore Cooper?”
“I know he’s a poor imitator of Sir Walter Scott,” Charles said with a chuckle. “But I bet mom has you reading Shakespeare still, eh?”
“Yeah. Do we have any of Walter Scott’s books?”
“I have a few. You want to read one?”
“Yes. What’s a good one?”
Charles took the book off his own lap and handed it to David. “This one is pretty famous. I’ve read it too many times though. Doesn’t interest me at the moment.”
David looked at the leather cover. It said plainly on it, Ivanhoe.
“That’s the first of three volumes, by the way,” Charles said. “Lots of words. It’ll keep you busy.”
“Thanks,” David said. He cracked open the book and started reading. It wasn’t the easiest read, at least compared to Cooper, but he found it much easier than Shakespeare. Eventually the fire died and he had to put himself to bed.
He plowed through the first volume in the days that followed, and picked up the second. He maneuvered with his father to go to town with Charles for some various supplies, and wrapped the first volume of Ivanhoe up in a large piece of brown paper, sealing it with yellow wax from a candle, and drawing a clumsy “D” on the drop. He duplicated this with a letter, written as well as he thought he could write one.
When they got to town, Charles went first to one of the general stores with which the plantation liked to do business. David hopped off the wagon and headed for the post. When he got there he spoke again to Walter, the postmaster.
“I have something for Ezra,” he said. “You don’t have to deliver. She’ll pick it up.”
“Sure thing,” the postmaster said.
David handed him the package, but hesitated with the letter. He held it out to Walter for a lingering moment, then put it back in his pocket.
As he turned to go, the postmaster said, “You know what the great thing about a letter is? Once you send it, you don’t have to worry about the words being right.”
David nodded and pulled the letter back out of his pocket and handed it to the postmaster. He left in a hurry, as if to avoid his own nervousness betraying him again. He didn’t seek out Ezra, nor did he try to casually walk past the school. He went directly back to the store and assisted his brother with loading a few barrels of oats and some new tools into the wagon. Contrary to the words of the postmaster, letting the letter go did not lessen his anxiety, except that he knew he must accept that it was now out of his control.
A few days later another letter arrived, with a parcel addressed again only to “David,” Though the script this time was flowing with additions, looking like something out of a church manuscript rather than the flat front of an envelope. This oddity was overlooked, however, as Michael had been falling ill, dragging himself for two days before refusing to leave bed. David saw his brother drenched in sweat on the morning the parcel came, flushed and coughing. At a threat from his father he pulled himself up, but was soon collapsed in a chair near the hearth.
There he remained for a few hours, shivering and sweating while Mayem brought him tea. Feeling a bit put-off, and nonetheless somewhat thankful that Michael was not in a state to tease him about the letter, David withdrew to the study and opened his parcel. Inside was a worn copy of Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper. David put it to the side and carefully opened the letter which he knew was from Ezra.
Thank you for your swift and eloquent reply. You should be a writer. I’m already a competent reader, so that should be my role, don’t you think?
I hope you find the attached parcel. It is the next in the series, but written before the “Deerslayer.” I actually like it much better, but of course my mother thinks it is as much rubbish as the first.
I also started reading Ivanhoe. It is much less dense than Milton. Enjoyable, even, despite the poetry. I will keep on. You should send me the next volume when you are able. I find myself with an excess of time now; my mother thinks it is best that I not go outside as much as I’m becoming “too old for children’s games.” So it’s either read or play the piano, and I’m dreadful at music.
Your Coy Mistress,
P.S. I liked your coat the other day. It fits your shoulders well and I think it makes you look dashing.
With a sigh, David put away the letter and got back to his school work, expecting his mother to come check on him. After what seemed like a long stretch of time (but was in reality a half an hour, had David bothered to check the clock on the wall), David conceded that his mother was likely tending to Michael, and he would be free to see to things as he would. With a smile, he put away his book on science and natural philosophy and opened The Last of the Mohicans. Before he began, however, he obeyed a compulsion to read Ezra’s letter again. This time he noticed the smell of the paper, which seemed to hint at perfume.