A Walk at Dusk, “Plans,” part 1

IV. Of Plans

 

Dear David,

If you are reading this during the week of the twenty-second, then I have missed you again, but that is perhaps a good thing. My father, I think, has warmed to you slightly (but I would say it is the warmth of old soup, not hot tea, if that makes any sense), but of course he would demand to chaperone even the most innocent of conversations since your brother fell ill. He trusts you and doesn’t trust you, or perhaps it is that he doesn’t trust me. I think also that the most innocent of conversations are all that would be allowed, so writing a letter is a better, safer way of saying things.

I do hope your brother is improving in his health. Sorry I could not accompany my father on a trip to your plantation to check up on him. My father told me that he was much improved, and I hope he was telling the truth. I pray for him at night.

I finished the final volume of Ivanhoe the other day. Everything turned out quite well. Indeed, I am prepared to thank you for the recommendation, if I can find you, and despite the wordiness of the middle volume. Alas, though, for that leaves my hands devoid of a book and idle. Out of boredom I have taken up needlework. Encased in this package you should find my latest handiwork, a hideous monogram of your initials on a handkerchief too fine for my work. It should be fitting, therefore, that you should offer the same to me should I need to blow my nose at some point.

With such poorly occupied hands, I now draw letters I should not. I miss you, terribly, and letters are no substitute for real conversation. If we do not find a way to speak face to face, even chaperoned or in poor circumstance, by Sunday the twenty-eighth, you must meet me where we first met on the twenty-ninth of February, at dusk. It is uncouth to keep a lady waiting, and the woods are dangerous at night, so your honor in attending is at stake.

 

Longingly yours,

 

Ezra Corning

 

David turned the letter over in his hand and put it carefully with the others that he had saved from Ezra. He looked at the handkerchief. It was pale blue piece of linen, wider than what he considered usual, with a well-hemmed edge. On one corner were the initials D-V-S written in script so that each letter intersected with the other.

“I wonder what on earth the ‘V’ stands for,” David said softly to himself. He folded up the handkerchief and put it in his jacket pocket, then reached for his own pen. He paused as he opened his inkwell and thought about what he wanted to write.

“Probably not a lot of point to a letter,” he said to himself. “If I’m going to meet her in a few days.” The prospect of a clandestine meeting made his heart race even sitting in the cool afternoon breeze by the open window of the study. His feelings were unsettled on the meeting, but he decided that he ought to pen a reply of some sort; he still had a low-level fear that he would somehow offended Ezra by not writing enough, or the right things. He made the letter short and formal, and avoided mentioning the meeting (in case her father read it), but alluded to how he might try to find mushrooms himself that week.

He passed Michael on his way past the fireplace, who was sitting idly by the window, an open book full of blank pages in his hands.

“Heading to town?” he asked, not bothering to takes his eyes from the window.

“Yes. There are some letters…” David paused, noticing the open and empty book. “What is that?”

“Mother got it for me. She thought it would be good for me to write my thoughts down. But I can’t think of anything nice.”

“Maybe try writing something not nice,” David said.

Michael chuckled slightly. “Yeah, we’ll see.” He finally looked over at David. “You going to see the doctor?”

“Hadn’t planned on it.”

Michael leaned back and closed his eyes, and didn’t speak again. David gazed at him for a moment, taking in the harder lines on his brother’s pale face, then rushed out the door towards the stables. He saw his brother Charles shouting at a slave and chose a wide path to avoid him; his moods had been dark with the coming spring. He saddled up his horse quickly, thinking of Michael and Charles, and rode out to town with the sun high overhead.

*

A week passed by, both slowly and quickly for David. During the days he found most of his free minutes occupied by either study or helping his father with plantation business, but no matter where the minutes went his thoughts were ever on things beyond the task at hand. He watched carefully Michael, who seemed as listless one day as the next, though he was eating better. He found himself avoiding Charles more, as a few times his eldest brother had come across him working David had found himself suddenly chastised over mistakes he was unsure whether he made at all. At family dinners Charles was his usual self, but David noticed a distraction in his brother’s eyes, when he wasn’t distracted himself.

The greatest part of David’s thoughts were given, of course, to Ezra and the clandestine meeting that loomed ahead of him. At times he found himself smiling for no reason, or shaking with anxiety. He wrote letters and crumpled them up. He wrote letters and put them to side, only the throw them away the next day. He gave up the attempt after a few days and decided he would say what he needed to say when he next saw Ezra.

It was from these proposed words, echoing in David’s mind in future forboding, that the boy found himself suddenly jolted by the voice of his mother while he was in the study.

“What?” David said.

“Ezra,” his mother repeated.

David shook his head. “What about her?”

“I take it by that you did not do your bible reading for the week.” His mother went to a desk in the corner of the study and returned with a few papers.

David sighed. “I’m sorry, I’ve had a lot-” He shut his mouth when his mother held up her hand.

“What about your philosophy?”

“I’ve been-”

“Excuses are for the slaves, David. You chose not to do your work. You must choose to do it now. Restricted privileges for three days.”

“Three days!” David said. “But I-”

“Take that time to complete your studies, young man.” She put the stack of papers down on the desk. “We cannot have an uneducated, faithless man lead this family in the future.”

“You don’t understand,” David stammered, standing up.

His mother pushed herself toward him, looking up at her son, now taller than herself, with eyes that were utterly unafraid. “I have raised three boys, two girls, tamed a husband, and kept a hundred slaves under the Lord’s watch. Now sit down and crack that bible.”

David obeyed, but thought with desperation about the following night. He turned to the back of the Old testament and tried to read it, but found the words running together as the afternoon passed. He looked at the papers his mother had given him, upon which were written a list of reflection questions in the wavering hand of Joseph, the local minister. When his mother left the room, David threw up his arms and slammed them down on his desk, tipping over his inkwell and staining the page edges of his bible.

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