Pigment

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Chapter 2

“How many times must I tell you this? Don’t get friendly with the slaves,” I was scolding Daniel, sitting on the edge of his bed with my elbows propped against my knees, hands held out in front of me as he changed his clothes behind me.

“Why not?” he asked, and I shook my head, holding my hands higher towards my head.

“Because they start getting individual thoughts, they start… thinking. They start believing they’re more than slaves, they assume they’re your friends and start disobeying orders. Playing nice with them will cause anarchy, Daniel, father has told you this, he’s told both of us to stay away from the slaves unless we are giving a direct order.”

Daniel gave a heavy sigh and stepped in front of me, reaching out to slap his hands onto my cheeks a few times, “Henry, what do you believe for yourself? Those are father’s rules, not mine. I see nothing wrong with working alongside the people who sweat under the sun for hours making money we take for ourselves.”

I scoffed a bit at his words, “The way you say that makes us sound like thieves,” I stood up, reaching out and buttoning up the front of his shirt, straightening the collar around his neck and smoothing it out, “We own them, Daniel, those slaves are the property of the Elias estate, it’s our right to order them.”

Daniel pushed my hands away and took a step back, looking me dead in the eye before purposely messing up his collar in a sign of defiance, “Well, that is your opinion. I like working with them, I like talking to them. They aren’t rising in defiance just because I’m nice to them!”

“We’re plenty nice to them,” I argued, “I’m very nice to them, father was nice enough to give them homes and jobs, he gives them food and clothes, mother is terribly nice to them!”

Daniel rolled his eyes and spun away from me, “I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not making problems for anyone, father doesn’t even realize I help the workers, he’s so busy working and mother is always either in town shopping or sleeping the days away, so what does it matter what I do with my time?”

“Oh,” I breathed the word a little, rubbing my neck and closing my eyes.

It was no wonder Daniel was straying like this. For the past year I’d been away studying, father and mother were so busy with their own lives they never bothered with Daniel, so he was left alone this entire time. What else could he have done besides make friends in the only place he could reach? He had absentee parents, so he found family somewhere else.

Well, that would stop now. I was home, I’d keep an eye on him like I was supposed to, keep him on track and keep him company so he didn’t ever think about getting himself dirty spending time around those… people.

I shook my head and stepped towards the door, wrapping an arm around Daniel’s shoulders and hugging him against my side, “Whether father has noticed yet or not makes no difference, because one of these days he will figure it out. He’ll take a walk to check over the progress in the fields, see you there, and you would get in trouble. Not to mention I would be yelled at for not paying better attention to you.

“You have studies, Daniel, you need to be educated to help me with the business when father is gone. There is a right and wrong way of doing things in this line of work, in our class of wealth, and involving yourself with slaves on a personal and friendly level is the wrong way of doing things. You’ll end up embarrassing yourself, and the rest of the family, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

I slid my arm away from his shoulders, standing in front of him and taking his shoulders with my hands instead, “It’s my job to protect you, I’m only doing what’s right for you.”

The look Daniel gave me was a mix of exhaustion and frustration, I could tell he didn’t enjoy the lecture I was giving him, but it had to be said. He needed to understand that the position he held in our family gave him responsibility he had to cater to. It didn’t matter that he was the youngest, that gave him no right to go around doing whatever he wanted.

“At least tell me you’ve been studying?” I asked, and Daniel pushed past me with a sigh.

“I’ve been studying, Henry. I read every book mother and father give me, the tutor comes once a week and I finish every assignment he gives me. I can study and work with the others at the same time.”

“From now on I want you to focus solely on studying,” I decided, reaching out and ruffling his hair before taking a moment to comb the blond locks back with my fingers, trying to smooth it out and get it as neat as I could so he looked presentable, “If you get lonely I can spend some time with you, I promise I won’t let work keep me from my duty as your older brother.”

The smallest smile pulled at one corner of Daniel’s lips, and he nodded, “I really appreciate that. I know you try your hardest to be a good brother and son,” he turned, reaching up to tangle his fingers through his hair, messing it up and giving me a grin, “That won’t stop me from spending time with the workers, though.”

I frowned at the blatant defiance and waited for him to leave the room before giving an irritated huff, raking my fingers through my hair to smooth it back before following after him, towards the drawing room where our parents were.

Our mother was sitting in a red satin armchair, holding a teacup and saucer as my father stood near the window, staring out at the failing light and loading tobacco into a pipe he was holding carefully between his fingers. The same little slave girl from before was setting out the tea cups and porcelain pot of tea, as well as a little plate of pastries. When she heard our footsteps she glanced up, smiling and giving Daniel a tiny wave before hugging the empty platter to her chest and leaving the room, head ducking down as she passed me.

“There are my boys,” mother greeted us in a melodic voice, “You’ve been studying hard, haven’t you Daniel?”

“Yes ma’am,” Daniel lied smoothly, sitting on the couch across from our mother’s chair and picking up the tea pot.

Our mother let out a sigh and set her saucer and cup down with a clack, “Daniel, what have I told you? Don’t pour your own tea, you could burn yourself.”

My brother gave her a sweetly innocent look, holding the pot up, “Would you like to pour it then, mother?”

I felt the need to smack the back of his head at the look that lifted onto our mother’s face, and pinched the bridge of my nose as Daniel smiled as he poured the tea into his cup before setting the pot down and leaned back with his drink. Our father snorted and stepped towards us, taking a seat in his own armchair as he lit his pipe.

“So, Henry, tell us about your studies.”

“I love the city,” I started, sitting down beside Daniel and setting my case on my lap, flipping the latches open and grinning, “My professors were brilliant, and of course I met some influential people,” I opened the case and pulled out the stocks, holding them out for my father, who held his pipe between his teeth so he had both hands free to take the papers from me, flipping through them as I simply held my breath and watched, waited for approval or something worse.

“Well done, Henry,” he ended up saying, and I beamed as he folded the papers and handed them back to me, “Be sure to file those tomorrow.”

“Thank you, father,” I took the stocks and set them back in my case, closing and locking it before setting it down at my feet, “You had news as well, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yes we do,” mother grinned, leaning over and patting my father’s arm, “Tell them.”

Daniel pulled his cup away from his lips, looking uncertain enough that I was sure he knew about as much as I did about this exciting development. Father pulled the pipe from his lips and waved a dismissive hand towards my mother as he leaned forward.

“You remember the Taylor family, don’t you boys? They’re a highly wealthy and influential family who’ve invested quite a bit of money into our business,” he pointed at my case with his pipe, “Those stocks compared to everything the Taylor’s have done for us are nothing but small coins.”

While hearing that made me feel rather unworthy and quite like a failure, enough to make me physically cringe, I smiled, “I remember them, yes,” I answered, “What about them?”

“They’ll be coming to visit us here,” father explained simply, putting his pipe between his lips, “They should be arriving in a few days time and staying over the summer,” he smiled around his pipe, “I’m sure you know what that means, yes?”

“Miss Temperance will be coming,” Daniel was the one to answer, nudging my side with his elbow as father’s eyes flashed to him; I could tell he was irritated I wasn’t the one to answer him, and that Daniel had spoken without being addressed first.

Thankfully our mother reacted before our father could, squealing a little in excitement, hands clasping together in front of her chest, “Oh I’m terribly excited! We’ve all been waiting for this, haven’t we Henry?”

“Yes,” I agreed with a genuine smile, and my father grunted a little.

“There are a few changes to the arrangements of marriage of course, but we can discuss those when they’ve arrived.”

“Changes,” I repeated, my smile falling into a slight frown, “What changes?”

“Never mind that, darling,” mother picked her teacup back into her hands, holding it to her lips, “Like your father said, it will be discussed when the Taylor’s arrive. Until then, I’m sure you have plenty of work to keep yourselves busy, yes?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Daniel agreed, and my hands curled into loose fists.

I didn’t like not knowing things, especially when they involved me, especially when it had to do with the Taylor’s, and my future. My father had arranged my marriage to Temperance Taylor when I was still young, so I’d been expecting it, but these “changes” were something I had not been anticipating, and it put me on edge.

I wanted to demand answers, but of course I knew better than to question my father, so I simply nodded to both he and mother before taking hold of my case and rising to my feet, “Understood. I have papers to file myself, so I’ll be retiring early.”

“Well planned, my boy,” father nodded, “I’ll have the slaves bring you dinner.”

“Thank you.”

Daniel followed me when I left the room, grabbing onto my elbow as I started up the stairs, “Are you alright?” he asked me, and I gave him a confused look.

“Daniel, you know I’ve been preparing for this marriage since I was a child, I have no reservations and no regrets going into it. The marriage is beneficial to both our companies, so-.”

“No, no, Henry,” Daniel laughed softly, shaking his head, “I was referring to what father said, about the stocks being worth less than the Taylor’s investments,” I didn’t answer, but that seemed to be answer enough, and he sighed, “Henry, you’re always trying too hard to please father. I know you want to make him proud, but you’re sacrificing your own happiness just to hear him say words he has never once spoken before.”

His statement made me tense up, turning away as I spoke, “It has nothing to do with you, and I don’t want to hear any more regarding this subject.”

“Henry!” Daniel pulled at my arm a little harder, forcing me to turn back to him and grabbing my shirt, “There is so much I’ve learned while being alive on this earth, but nothing has stuck with me more than this; you should never live your life working to make your parents love you, because that is something that should not be earned. A parent should love their child regardless. Live for the people who love you unconditionally, and live for yourself.”

He slowly released his hold on me, and I eyed him as he passed me on the stairs, heading for his own bedroom. I’d never heard him say anything like that before, he was younger than me, therefore I always assumed I knew better, I was wiser than him, yet his words made sense to me. Even so, I didn’t have the luxury of living for myself, and one of these days Daniel needed to learn that he didn’t have that luxury either.

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