Supper came with disappointments. Father sat me beside Agatha while Daniel was across the table beside Temperance, who seemed to be trying her best not to meet anyone’s eye as she picked at the food on her plate. Daniel was acting quite the same way, slumped unattractively against the table and rolling his peas around the plate, piling them onto the mound of mashed potatoes like they were tiny green people climbing a mountain. Temperance snorted a little when she noticed he was playing with his food, and decided to join in, making sure her parents weren’t looking before nudging her elbow against Daniel’s side and pushing the carrots on her plate into the mashed potatoes.
I was slightly aghast at the way she was supporting my brother’s bad manners. We were all adults, we should all act our age. Old enough to know not to play with our food! The two of them seemed to be having fun, so I figured it was up to me to actually pay attention to the conversation going on between our fathers. It was a dull talk of business, the cotton trade in Europe and the fact the Taylor family wanted to expand further into America.
Just by sitting silently and listening to the experts planning on how to make more money by taking the cotton business to different states was rather fascinating. This was precisely what I was in school to learn, the ways of business, what moves to make to further our investments and expand the company, what offers that were best to pass up because the risk was not worth the benefit.
I was grateful that our parents were so distracted with talk of business that they didn’t notice Temperance and Daniel making fold of themselves, God knows I would have been the one yelled at for my brother’s disrespect around our business partners. I was finally able to relax when supper ended and we settled in the drawing room for tea.
I was sitting between Daniel and our mother on one of the couches, and across from us sat Temperance and her mother and cousin, all of us holding cups of tea while the older men stood near the fireplace with pipes, finally getting down to discussing the real reason the Taylor family had come to visit.
“This is where our arrangement comes in,” Mr Taylor was saying, and I straightened as Temperance frowned and glanced over at her father, a slight grimace on her face and her lips in a tight line as she tightened her hold on her teacup.
“Indeed, old friend,” my father agreed, “In the letter you sent you said there was a change in what we originally planned?”
“That’s right,” Mr Taylor leaned forward, waving his pipe a little, “See here, Elias, you remember the original arrangement, for your son Henry to wed my only daughter?”
Temperance blushed a deep red and bowed her head, and I tried not to feel too pleased that the thought of our marriage so affected her, forcing myself not to stare at her as I concentrated fully on my father, who nodded, filling his pipe with tobacco.
“I remember. What here has changed?” he paused, eyes shifting to Taylor, “You haven’t gone back on your word, have you? My son is honorable, he’s studying in the city just like I did at that age, he’s a worthy man for your daughter.”
Pride made my heart swell, and I turned to smile at Temperance, frowning at the smile she gave me in return. It didn’t look quite right, and she appeared to be in some sort of pain as she averted her gaze from mine to stare into her tea, which I noticed now she hadn’t even tasted. It just made me even more uneasy, believing that something was wrong.
No, did she have reservations concerning the marriage? Of course, I wouldn’t hold it against her, but the thought that she didn’t care for me even a minor amount had my throat closing. Temperance was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, from a young age I was rather fond of her, and many times she would show similar agreement. Through the years we wrote each other, discussing the marriage, dreaming together.
It made both of us equally happy that we were arranged to marry people we already knew and cared about. She was as excited as I was for this, or at least she had been in the last letter she mailed me. What had changed? Perhaps she was sick? Even if she was I would still marry her.
“Goodness, Elias, I would never dream of going back on my word. This marriage is a smart move for both of us, our businesses would be married as would our children, I’ve been excited for this since the moment my daughter was born,” he gave a sharp nod, “My daughter will marry your son,” I began to relax again, until he continued, “Just not the way we planned.”
“Explain,” my father urged, and Mr Taylor turned with a smile.
“Not only must we marry Temperance off, but my sister entrusted me with her daughter’s future,” he turned back to my father, “You have two sons, old friend. If we should marry both at the same time, imagine the coverage! My brother-in-law had business relations in England whom I’ve kept in contact with since taking in Agatha, I’ve already developed business relations with them, but should your family be married to her, those relations would be directly yours as they are mine.”
“That…,” my father paused, before absolutely beaming, “That is a magnificent idea, Mr Taylor!”
“Thought you might like it,” Mr Taylor grinned, biting his pipe and pushing his other hand into the pocket of his vest.
I dared to look to my left where Daniel was sitting, to gage his reaction, but he seemed distracted by something, dazed, staring down at his cup as if he were still attempting to process what had just been said. Our father had just effectively promised Daniel’s hand in marriage, somehow my mind stopped at the conversation I had witnessed between he and Josiah.
Daniel didn’t want to be forced into an arranged marriage, certainly not with a woman. He wanted to run away with Josiah. While I felt pity for him, at the same time I was silently pleased with this sudden turn of events. If Daniel were to marry, then he would be completely distracted by his wife, he would never have the time to waste with the unclean slaves, and even more pleasing, Josiah would be out of the picture. Daniel would be safe.
“Taylor, I have to ask, how old is your niece?”
I pulled my eyes away from Daniel to look back at my father and Mr Taylor, who was blowing smoke from his nose as he pulled the pipe from his lips, “Nearing her twenty-fourth year.”
“I see,” my father had a frown on his face, but I already knew what this conversation was leading to before he continued, and I finally understood why Temperance wouldn’t look at me, “Your daughter is barely twenty. So, this is the change then?”
“Naturally age must be considered in marriage,” Mr Taylor agreed, “The eldest promised to the eldest, youngest to the youngest. Henry will marry Agatha, while Daniel should marry Temperance.”
I stopped breathing, and when the porcelain shattered, for a moment I thought I had been the one to drop my cup, until my mother snapped, “Daniel! You clumsy boy!”
My eyes moved to my brother, who was holding his hands positioned as if he were still holding his cup, but it was at his feet, and his fingers curled to his palms as he stood up and turned away, leaving the room before anything more could be said to him.
“I apologize for him, Taylor, bit of a disappointment if I should be honest,” my father sighed, “Lucky I can marry him off at all, he’s not like Henry,” he turned, “Henry, find a slave and have them clean this mess, and find your brother. Talk some sense into him!”
“Sense?” I questioned, still in the midst of being dumbstruck myself, and my father snarled his teeth at me, so I quickly took to my feet and set me cup down, “Yes, sir,” I paused as I stood straighter, watching Temperance for a lingering moment and noting the way she was refusing to look up, her cup quivering between her shaking hands, before forcing myself to turn and follow Daniel out.
The relief I felt for Daniel was gone, now I just felt numb. It seemed I was incapable of keeping the things I truly yearned for. I loved my brother, realistically I knew he had no say in the decision of marriage, even more I understood how little he wanted to do with this family as a whole, yet I couldn’t keep myself from hating him just a little.
Even so, he was my brother, and as long as he was happy, safe away from that slave who’d manipulated him and tainted his innocence, then I could deal with him taking the woman I loved. It was my job as his brother to protect him, and if taking Temperance was what would keep him safe, I would grin and bear it; I was good at that.
I sent the same slave girl from before to the drawing room to clean the mess Daniel had made, before hiking up the stairs to his room, my knuckles rapping against the surface of his door and waiting patiently for a moment before sighing when there was no response. Was he hiding, purposely ignoring me? Such a childish thing to do.
“Daniel, open the door,” I called, “You need to face this like an adult. It’s just marriage, it would be good for you to start a relationship with an actual human. You like Temperance, don’t you? She’s a lovely woman, you would make a wonderful couple,” my eyes closed at the words, and I cleared my throat before pushing the door open to reveal a darkened room, “Daniel?”
I didn’t need to be a scholar to realize the room was empty, and I groaned with a hand on my face. I took my eye off him for a moment, let him leave the room barely a minute, and he ran to Josiah. It was pitch black outside already, they were probably in the barn, so I snuck out through the kitchen door, not even bothering to take a lantern as I was so frustrated. It wasn’t clear what lead me away from the door of the barn and instead to the far side, but it turned out to be a wise decision on my part, as it was easy to find the window leading to the storage room.
The candle was burning on the table just in front of the window, and I snuck beneath it, ducking just under the sill before reaching up and quietly cracking open the window. Peering inside I witnessed much the same as I had the last time, but instead of being pressed against the wall, Daniel was on the cot with Josiah hovering over him, their lips connected in a deep kiss.
Both Daniel and Josiah were without their shirts, and Josiah was dragging his dirty black hands all over Daniel’s chest and sides, leaving him breathless as their kiss broke, and I furiously wondered how they could have gotten so far in just a few minutes. I thought about interrupting them as I had done before, I don’t know why I didn’t.
Perhaps I was still mad at Daniel for unwittingly stealing my love from me, and it made me feel better to see him with someone else, or maybe I didn’t want to see him glare at me the way he had the last time. Maybe I let them be because I knew it would likely be the last time, and figured Daniel deserved one last night of infidelity with a wretch. The first thing he did after being told he was set in an arranged marriage was commit adultery with a slave, somehow it felt as if he was trying to get back at my father, he didn’t want to marry Temperance, and knowing that made me feel better as well.
So that was why I didn’t interrupt them or stop them, in fact I was going to leave, but stopped when Josiah broke his kiss with Daniel, reaching up to take the hand Daniel had against the slave’s neck, attempting to hold him in the kiss but unsuccessful.
“You’re never like this,” Josiah noted, and it made me pause as I was turning, looking back into the room as Josiah watched Daniel with such concern on his face, “Did something happen?”
“No,” Daniel said quickly, “It’s just been too long since I could see you. H-Henry wouldn’t let me out of his sight, a-and now the Taylor family is here, I-I won’t be able to spend as much time with you.”
Josiah shook his head a little, “I believe you, but there’s more, I know there is.”
“Yes, there is,” Daniel whispered, “I promise I will tell you, but please don’t make me tell you now,” his hands slipped across Josiah’s cheek bones, “All I want is you, Josiah, please.”
The slave hesitated visibly before nodding, and the duo slipped beneath the covers of the cot for warmth, sinking against each other in embrace where Josiah was above Daniel, their chest’s together. Josiah wrapped an arm beneath Daniel’s shoulders to hold him, watching with lidded eyes as the blond head tilted back over that arm and into the pillows, hands braced against Josiah’s shoulders as a gasp tore from his throat, his back arching.
For an innocent moment, I wondered what they could be doing and what could have made my brother tense and jolt the way he had, before my mind caught up with my eyes and I had to sit back on my heels to calm down. My brother was only nineteen, yet he was sexually active, intimate with a slave. Until that point I’d tried to lie to myself, told myself that although I had seen them kiss, many times, that perhaps Daniel hadn’t done any more than that.
That dream was gone now, it was painfully obvious to me that they had done this many times before, and I had to close my eyes when I remembered what Daniel had revealed, that he’d been doing these things with Josiah for not just the eleven months I’d been gone, but two years. How had I been so blind to this?
“I love you,” Daniel’s breathless voice pulled my attention back to the room, where he had one arm hooked behind Josiah’s neck, his other hand against the side of his face, sweat gluing the honey blond bangs to his forehead as he gave the man a smile that should never be shown to a slave, “So much.”
“I love you, Daniel,” Josiah returned, the first time I ever heard him say those words to my brother, and with such emotion behind it as well.
“I want to run away with you,” Daniel said in a whimper, head rolling to the side as he gasped out, jolting, “Ah, Josiah.”
The slave bowed his head towards Daniel’s ear and whispered, “I know,” as Daniel came completely undone in his arms.
I turned away, hand against my mouth as my dinner made uncomfortable rounds in my stomach, making my chest burn as I forced the meal to stay down, calming myself before looking back into the room where Daniel was lying against Josiah, who had settled beside Daniel with his arms around the smaller man’s body, one hand in his hair.
“Tell me now, Daniel, what was bothering you so much,” he urged, and Daniel rolled towards him, pressing against his chest.
“It’s nothing,” he decided, “I want to sleep with you a moment, I know I have to go back to the house soon, but just a moment of silence with you.”
“Please tell me what has you upset,” Josiah whispered, and Daniel hid his face in his hands, prompting the slave into taking his face with his hands.
“Father has arranged a marriage for me,” Daniel whispered, and Josiah pulled his hands back before returning them to Daniel’s cheeks.
“Don’t cry,” he urged, “We knew it was a possibility.”
“I won’t do it,” Daniel said in a stiff voice, “I refuse to marry someone I do not love. I don’t care if it is a smart business move, I don’t care nearly enough about this family to sacrifice my own happiness for them.”
“They’ll be angry,” Josiah warned, and Daniel just sighed, wrapping his arms around the slave’s waist.
“I could care less,” his lips pressed against Josiah’s chest, just above his heart, and curved into a smile, “You’re who I love, Josiah. I’ll die before letting the morals of my father rule my heart.”
They seemed to be basking in the afterglow of their sin, so I left them, my feet dragging along the ground as my eyes remained on the sky. Daniel was so happy to put himself in danger like this, letting a man who was nothing but muck lay with him intimately and having the audacity to say he would rather a slave rape him than marry the woman of our father’s choosing. It wasn’t even the topic of choice those words regarded to, it was the fact Daniel was brave enough to say them.
How could he have such a strong view of himself without any influence from our parents? I just… I just didn’t understand.