A Walk at Dusk, “Heartsick,” part 6

David nodded. He went quickly inside, made a brief note to himself of his mother’s weeping in a nearby chair, fetched some spare oil for his lamp, a musket, his coat, and retrieved from his father’s sectretaire a small purse of petty money in case the doctor demanded payment up front. He hurried back out to the stable, quickly saddled up a horse and set out for the town. The waning moon began to rise, providing a blessedly clear view of the road.

A mile or so down the road from the plantation, David saw somebody walking along the road. It was hard to tell by the light of the moon, but she looked to have dark skin. He pulled up beside her and saw that it was the woman from the grove.

“I’m free,” she said loudly. “And going about my own.”

David, feeling a sudden compulsion, stopped the horse and turned around to face her.

“You’re a Voodoo queen.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her words had a strange accent to them, as if she were dropping all the last letters.

“Like hell you don’t,” David said. He felt a sudden anger that surprised himself. “Listen, do you sell charms? Fetishes? Potions? The sort of thing to make a man sick or well?”

Tabitha gave him a hard look.

“Mayhap. What you be needing?” She moved a heavy bag from around her back and opened it.

“Something to give a man a fever. Something to make him feel terrible.”

“You be having enemies, then, white man?” Her voice changed tone, to being almost mocking, but sweet enough to split the difference.

“Yes,” David said.

“Too bad,” Tabitha said. “I have something to make him loose his bowels, but most people be using that for other things than hurting their brothers.”

“What did you say?” David said. He unconsciously kicked his horse forward and reached for his gun.

Tabitha laughed and held up a strange fetish. “I got protection. Things get passed around, boy. Surprised it took you so long to figure him out.”

“Tell me what you know, witch! Who poisoned my brother!”

Tabitha’s expression suddenly changed. “His bowels will be right by tomorrow. And who else could poison him, if not you, eh?”

David shook his head. “No! His fever!” He found himself shouldering the gun and leveling it Tabitha. She recoiled and collapsed to the ground, half tripping in the rough grass beside the road.

“Please!” she cried out suddenly. “I didn’t do nothing!” The illusion shattered in David’s mind as her bag spilled out on the ground. Instead of a witch, he just saw a poor woman, trying to sell what she could to gullible fools.

David half grunted, half sighed, and kicked his horse forward again. The road shot by under horse’s hooves and the beast gave snorts and rears of its head as it began to tire, forcing David to put it into a cantor as it approached town. Lights were still on in lots of buildings, and there was even music coming from a bar that he trotted past, but the streets were deserted. He rode past the schoolhouse and dismounted at the doctor’s house, which was dark.

He walked up to the door and banged loudly on the frame. There was no reply. He tried again, this time shouting, “Hello! Doctor Corning! Are you home? I have an emergency!”

There was still no reaction. David kicked at the lowest step of the house, then an idea came to him. He walked around the outside to the back, and picked up a few small rocks off of the ground.

“Let’s see, third from the left,” he said to himself, and began throwing rocks at a second story window. After five or so, the window opened and Ezra, wearing a white dressing gown, pocked her head out.

In a harsh, whispered tone, she said. “David Smith! What are you doing throwing rocks at my window?” She smiled as she said this, and David couldn’t help, despite the gravity of the situation, smiling back.

“I went to the door, but nobody answered,” David said.

“You know better than to go to the door.” She laughed a little.

“I need your father,” David said.

“He’s away on a call,” Ezra said.

“Can you tell me where?” David said. “Please.”

“I’ll take you,” Ezra said. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

The window shut and David grunted in frustration. He circled back around to the front door, where is horse padded in the dirt aimlessly. He listened to the wind and watched the moon, which was of ill comfort to him and made him draw his jacket in more tightly. After what seemed a long time, Ezra emerged from the front door in a wool dress. She withdrew a brass key from a purse and locked the front door. David stood up as she exited.

“Couldn’t you have let me in?”

“Father said not to let anyone in, and I intend to obey my father,” She said, giving him a warm smile.

“Can’t you just tell me where the doctor is?” David said, almost immediately regretting opening his mouth.

“I could, but it wouldn’t do you any good as you wouldn’t know how to get there. Unless you visit the other farmsteads regularly,” Ezra said.

“I do.”

“Then you know where the Edwards’ farm is?”

“I do not,” David said.

“Then I will show you, of course. Now help me into the saddle.”

David shook his head. “What saddle?”

“The one on your horse,” Ezra said.

“What about your horse?” David said.

“My mother has it, and is visiting her parents for a week or two while school is on break.” She ambled up to the horse and held out her hand. David took a breath and helped push her up into the saddle. Her feet dangled above the stirrups, and she pushed herself back.

“Shall I run along aside?” David said.

“Methinks though dost protest too much,” Ezra said, and patted the saddle in front of her.

David sighed again and mounted the horse. Ezra wrapped her hands around his waist.

“To the south side of town,” Ezra said. “I know a good short-cut.”

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