I learned quickly that jumping right into my lectures would not be wise. When I pulled Daniel aside that night to discuss Josiah with him, he watched me with no emotion whatsoever in his eyes, he appeared not to care for my opinion on what he was doing with the slave one way or the other, but when I moved the conversation towards the Elias family’s superiority over the lower-class slaves, Daniel snapped.
“People who believe themselves in the right to be master of others have egos so large they wouldn’t be able to see their downfall until they were blinded by the sun,” he stated, pushing past me before storming up the stairs and into his bedroom.
This lead to my decision of tact. Daniel wouldn’t listen to me unless he was staring the truth in the face, or cut of completely from the offenders who were a danger to him. Therefore, the next morning, I woke early, waiting beside my door until I head the creak of hinges and hurrying out into the hall to catch him before he could leave the house to spend any more time with those slaves.
“Daniel!” I took him by his arm and he turned to me with a somewhat exasperated expression, “Where are you off to? Don’t you have work?”
“I was planning on taking a walk,” Daniel explained, pulling his arm from me, and I quickly took a place at his side.
“Then I will walk with you.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“Nonsense!” I hooked my arm with his and pulled him along, “I was away for so long to study, you must have been lonely without me, but I’m back now. We can spend time together like we used to. I know, how about after my walk, you help me with my paperwork? I can teach you the basics of business that I learned away at school. What do you say?”
I was giving him a beaming smile, but there was suspicion in his eyes and a grimace on his face, “I don’t… I believe I have my own studies to attend to.”
“I’ll help you then, as a tutor,” I decided, “I brought quite a few novels home with me that I’m sure you’d enjoy as well. Dumas and Dostoyevsky, brilliant authors.”
Daniel gave a sigh, defeated, and for that day I was able to keep him distracted. He left the house only once, and I had been with him, so we stayed within the parameter of the front yard, closed in by the white picket fence that Josiah just happened to be mending. When Daniel noticed the slave, he seemed to brighten with life, but I quickly put a stop to it before it could begin and turned him back towards the house, ushering him inside and to the dining hall for breakfast.
After that I kept him busy with books, warmth blooming in my chest like pride when he seemed genuinely intrigued by the novels I brought out of my suitcase for him to borrow. The excitement died to boredom when I sat him down at my desk and showed him the stocks as well as the papers of business transactions I’d supervised myself, rates and money and things like that. I became so engrossed in explaining the importance of trade with Europe that I didn’t notice he’d fallen asleep, elbow against the desktop and chin in his hand.
I managed to keep him with me for three days, by either showing him my work or helping to tutor him with his. I noticed on the second day that he was becoming more and more fidgety and restless, pacing around the room I’d confined us in and changing books every page because he couldn’t concentrate on one thing at a time. If I wasn’t paying close enough attention then he would wander and sit in the chair beside whatever window we were closest to, staring out at the fields as if he actually wanted to be out there beneath the scorching sun.
Whenever I caught him at the window I pulled him away and drew the curtains, and he’d spin on his heel away from me, dropping into a different chair and holding an open book so close to his face it was painfully obvious he was attempting to shut me out and ignore me.
Why was he so upset? I was only doing what was best for him as his older brother. It was my job to protect him and lead him down the right path, a path of light and opportunity, but if he continued to mingle with common property, then he would be seen as a slave empathizer, therefore a traitor, and he would never get a job!
What’s worse, our own father could end up kicking him out of the house and disowning him, so not only would he have no means of finance through employment, but he would have no fortune to fall back on when our father passed away.
Not to mention how dangerous those people were in general. Josiah had defiled him, forced him into positions no man should ever allow. The Elias men were not submissive, Josiah had brainwashed and wounded my brother, and I would not allow that to happen ever again if I had any control over it.
“Henry, I enjoy spending time with you,” Daniel spoke up and broke the silence, it was the fourth day, and I smiled at his words, though it faded to a tight-lipped frown when he continued, “but I know what you’re trying to do.”
“What could you possibly mean?” I asked innocently, closing the book I’d been reading to give Daniel my complete attention, “I never did spend enough time with you, but we are brother’s, aren’t we? Of course I would like to bond with you of my own choice and become a better brother.”
“No, you’re keeping me inside to make it easier on yourself to watch me, to make sure I stay away from the workers,” Daniel argued, and I tensed at the accusation, though it was true, “Why is it so persecuted to wish to befriend them and spend time with them?”
“It’s not what’s done, Daniel,” I said simply, setting my book aside, “We are of a high and successful class of wealth, our color and our prosperity makes us superior to the black skinned slaves we own. They’re property, Daniel, you do not sympathize with property.”
“And who was it again who told you all of that?” he asked me, and my brow furrowed.
“Father!” Daniel held his hands out, “The most pretentious and prejudiced man you could likely ever meet! You take his every word as gospel, but do you ever consider perhaps his opinions are wrong? That his morals are dark and twisted? That maybe thinking a race of people being inferior and worth dirt makes your worth even less than that?”
I tensed up at his word and scoffed, “Daniel regardless of how you see him, he’s still our father, and he deserves both of our respect.”
“For what?” he asked me on a laugh, “What has he ever done to deserve my respect? Take away freedom? Take away the human rights of an entire race of people? Earn money through lying and cheating and blackmail? Emotionally abuse his children and brainwash them into believing the same screwed up shit he believes in?”
“Why? Are you uncomfortable because you know I’m right?” Daniel rubbed his hands over his face and sighed, “I can’t respect a man like that, Henry,” he decided, dropping his hands to his lap and meeting my eye, “and if you keep doing this, I might lose the respect I have for you.”
It took all of my will not to jump to my feet and start yelling, taking a deep and sudden inhale through my nose and closing my eyes to calm myself down before speaking, “Daniel, I’m just trying to protect you,” I started, and Daniel scoffed, throwing his hand up and slumping back against his seat, “You’ve been spending too much time with those people! They’re slaves, they’re property, and they’re dangerous! The one you’ve been spending so much time with, he’s been manipulating you and forcing you into positions that make you feel weak.”
“His name is Josiah, and he has never forced me to do anything,” Daniel snarled at me, “and maybe he does make me feel weak, but Josiah feels weak all the time, he deserves to feel in control now and then.”
“How could you say that?!” I demanded, “This is exactly what I meant, he’s manipulated and brainwashed you into thinking what he’s been doing to you is right, but it’s not! Daniel he’s sexually assaulted you, I saw it!”
“Oh?” Daniel snorted, “Did you ever consider maybe what you saw in the barn the other night wasn’t forced? Did you ever think I wanted it?”
That got me to my feet, and Daniel pushed himself against the back of his seat as I stepped over to him, leaning down and grabbing his shoulder, “Don’t you see this is the problem?!” I nearly yelled, glancing over at the door before looking back at my brother, “He is a slave, Daniel, he is property, and he is a man. He’s illiterate, he has no money, he’s absolute filth and all he’s doing is trying to get inside your head, make you feel sorry for him so he can manipulate your position in this family and steal away with your fortune! If father found out, Josiah would be lynched.”
Daniel lifted his head to stare at me in horror, “Don’t say that,” he whispered, and I stood straighter, satisfied with the shock factor of that slave being killed.
“You know what will happen if father finds out about what you’ve been doing with that slave, you aren’t an idiot. So, what do you plan on doing?” Daniel clenched his hands into fists and looked down, “You love him, right?’ I asked with a scoff, “Then you should do everything in your power to protect him. That’s how relationships work.”
“Father won’t find out,” Daniel decided, standing to face me directly, “I don’t plan on telling him, and for the past two years I’ve been discreet enough that no one has ever caught us. The only way father would find our would be if someone else told him,” he took a step forward and I backed up on instinct, “Do you plan on telling him?”
“You said two years,” I stated, “I’ve only been gone eleven months,” the realization of what that meant made me back up another step and sit down, “You’ve been hiding this for two years?”
“And if I have?” Daniel asked, and I shook my head at him.
“Daniel this is crazy! You-!”
“Boys!” I tensed and rose to my feet as our mother stepped into the room, “The Taylor’s will be arriving in minutes, we need to be ready,” she clapped her hands, “Daniel darling, change your shirt, there’s a stain. Oh, Henry make sure he does change. We’ll be waiting outside for you!”
A sigh fell from my lips and I closed my eyes, taking Daniel by the hand and dragging him out of the room and up the stairs to make sure he changed into a better shirt. For now, he was safe from my lectures, but the conversation was not over yet. There was far too much I didn’t like about the situation, my mind felt like oatmeal from the prospect of two men being in an intimate relationship, so I was grateful for this rather pleasant and welcome distraction.
Temperance Taylor was a childhood friend, her family had been in business with mine for over three decades. She was the only daughter born of the Taylor’s, and for the duration of our time knowing each other, we’d both been aware of our arranged marriage.
It was strictly for business, I understood that and was fully prepared for it, but I was not prepared for the carriage to stop. Daniel was standing beside me pulling at the tight collar of his shirt, and I was holding back the need to grab at his hands to make him stop, my back straightening out as the door of the carriage was pulled open, and Mr. Tanner stepped down with his wife just behind him.
My father went to greet them, and my eyes inevitably snapped to the side when I noticed Josiah step forward with another slave to take the bags and trunks from the back of the carriage. I glanced down at Daniel to see he was watching the slave with heavy eyes, and again had to control myself from kicking him or hitting the back of his head, instead opting to whisper harshly.
“Pay attention, these are important guests, don’t get me in trouble.”
He sighed, rolling his eyes and reaching up to scratch his head, messing up his hair. I turned to scold him for tangling it after I’d spent so long trying to comb it back neatly, but snapped my attention forward when Mr. Taylor held his hand out for me.
“It’s been a long time, Henry. I see you’ve grown into a fine man.”
“Yes, sir,” I took his hand firmly in my own and shook it, offering him my best smile, “You’re looking well yourself Mr. Tanner,” I took his wife’s hand when she reached us and bent my head to kiss the back of it, “and you are as beautiful as ever, ma’am.”
She laughed at me before the two of them turned to Daniel, and I barely sensed his discomfort before my attention fell back on the carriage, my smile falling as Temperance stepped down the steps, taking my father’s hand for help and thanking him with a smile that could have stopped wars.
The little Temperance I used to know had grown into a flower of exquisite beauty. Her hair was in dark ringlets that framed her face, the back pinned up, and her eyes were pools of molasses, her skin porcelain with an undertone of rose that took its home along the curve of her cheeks and the bride of her nose. The dark purple dress she wore complimented each of her assets, and she held a fan up to hide behind as those enamoring eyes met me. The fan closed to show a smile painted with red, and I was suddenly lightheaded.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it Hen?”
I choked a little on my breath and cleared my throat, smiling crookedly as she came up to me, “Aren’t we both a little too old for nicknames, milady?” I asked, taking her hand, and she laughed, a sound like bluebells, as I lifted her hand to my lips, lingering against the silk of her glove as she reopened her fan to hide an obvious blush.
She turned quickly when I’d released her hand and lowered the fan from her face to smile at Daniel, “And if it isn’t little Danny!” she stepped over to him and grabbed his hands, causing a sudden unexpected pang of jealousy to hit my chest like a dart, “You used to be so little, but you’ve grown quite handsome, haven’t you?”
Daniel laughed uneasily, reaching up to mess his hair up even more, “You’ve also gotten very pretty, Miss Temperance. It’s good to see you again.”
I was so distracted watching them I didn’t realize a fourth person had stepped out of the carriage until my father snapped his fingers in front of my face, prompting me to turn and greet the woman who had approached me. She was unfamiliar to me, but her hair was about as dark as Temperance’s, although it seemed lackluster.
In fact, this woman, compared to Temperance, was completely lackluster. Her hair was pin straight and heavy, her eyes were the color of swampy water, and her lips sagged even when she smiled. I suppose she was still pretty, but my head had already been turned. I was polite, took her hand and brought it to my lips for a quick kiss, and Mr. Taylor came up behind her.
“May I introduce my niece, Agatha Flores,” he held his arm out towards me, effectively separating me from Temperance and my brother and prompting me to lift my hand so Agatha could take it, like we were shaking hands, “Agatha was born and raised in London, you see, and her parents recently passed, so she’s come to us for stability.”
“On your sister’s side of the family?” my father asked, and Mr. Taylor nodded.
“Quite. She’s lovely, isn’t she?”
“Yes, sir,” I agreed politely, and Agatha smiled brightly.
I looked over to Temperance, who was standing to the side with her hands folded and holding onto her closed fan, her head bowed in some form of forced acceptance. Something wasn’t right.
“Well! Let’s not waste time, we’ve prepared a lovely dinner to discuss the marriage over,” my father said, and I smiled at Temperance, who refused to meet my eye as my father clapped his hands, “Boy! Take those bags to the guest bedrooms!”
Josiah bowed his head, I noticed Daniel bristling, so I reached out behind him and pinched his arm. There was no way I would let him ruin this for me.