Dark bags layered beneath Daniel’s eyes, his hair was a mess and his clothes were wrinkled, and naturally when he stepped into the dining room that morning our mother turned to give me and gave me a blatantly disappointed look that brought a sigh from me as I rose to my feet, walking towards my brother, and putting an arm around his shoulders to lead him from the room.
For a sudden moment, I expected him to push me away, but he instead leaned against my side and into my embrace, and I tightened my hold on him. I suppose I should have felt some sort of emptiness at the fact he was only searching for comfort from me because he was being forced into a marriage he wanted no part of, but I was so pleased that he was finally letting me near him without glaring that I could care less of the reasons.
I found a clean shirt from his wardrobe and sat him down at the foot of his bed before handing the clothes to him with the order to change, then picked the bristled comb from his dresser and worked to clear the tangles from his hair, brushing it back away from his face much like the style our father’s hair was in, as well as mine. It was a practical way to style your hair, so that the bangs wouldn’t hang in your eyes, but Daniel never seemed to care for the neat and well-mannered look.
He moved lethargically as he shed his wrinkled shirt, I acted as if I didn’t notice the red marks on his neck and chest, a direct result of indecent activities. Any other time I would question Daniel, but there was an echo in his eyes that kept me silent, buttoning the front of his shirt when I decided he was taking too long and smoothing the collar before running my hand through his hair to smooth the strands that were stubbornly sticking out.
When I was finished, and he looked somewhat presentable, I pulled a chair in front of him and sat down, “This is a shock for you, I understand, but arranged marriages are common for families of wealth,” his eyes rose to me, tired and tortured, and I swallowed the tightness in my throat before continuing, “It was going to happen someday, better you marry Temperance rather than a woman you’ve never met.”
“You can’t lie to me, Henry,” Daniel said, and I sat straighter.
“I would never lie to you.”
“You love her,” he stated, and I stared at him, unsure of what to say in response, “I can tell, because the way you look at her,” hesitation, his eyes lowered, “You look at Miss Temperance the same way Josiah looks at me.”
I couldn’t fight the scoff, “Then it isn’t love.”
Daniel had never been violent, he just wasn’t that kind of person, so when my cheek began to burn from the slap, I could only sit there and stare off over his shoulder, eyes wide as he hissed at me, “I feel sorry for you, Henry. I know you’re in love with her, but you have no intentions of fighting for her? Instead you want to criticize me and invalidate my love because you’re too scared of our father to validate your own!”
My hand rose instinctively like I was about to slap him back, and instead of flinching he sat straighter as if to challenge me, and my fingers curled against my palm to make a fist before I forced it down and pressed my knuckles against the seat of my chair.
“I am trying to protect you, Daniel,” I said in a frustrated voice, and he looked away with a scowl on his lips, “All I want is what’s best for you! Why can’t you understand?”
“Your version of what’s best for me is brainwashing me into believing the same lies you were tricked into believing,” he snapped, “Why can’t you understand? What do I have to do to prove that what Josiah and I have is pure.”
“Nothing,” I breathed, “He’s dangerous, he’s brainwashed you, he is a slave, we own him, he is property, he has no rights because he is not human!”
“Who are you trying to convince, Henry?” Daniel asked unexpectedly, “Me? Or yourself?”
He stood up and stepped past me, and I ran a hand over my face, back through my hair as I took to my feet and caught him as he reached his door. He didn’t acknowledge that I was standing there and instead pulled the door open, both of us pausing when Temperance was revealed just on in the hall, a hand lifted in the shape of a fist in preparation of knocking.
Her cheeks darkened with rose and she pulled her hand back against her chest as she averted her eyes from mine, “Ah, forgive me, I-.”
“You were looking for your fiancé,” I stated, and instead of getting flustered as I’d expected, she lifted her head in defiance and sent me a furious glare, as if I’d insulted her.
She turned on her heel with a scoff, “Your mother sent me to find the both of you, breakfast has been served, unless you’re already full from your ego.”
“Thank you, Temperance.”
“You’re welcome, Daniel.”
We both watched her leave before Daniel turned to me, “You see? She is as thrilled about this arrangement as I am. Do you know why?” I opened and closed my mouth without answering, so he just continued, “Because she loves you,” he turned and started to walk down the hall towards the stairs, “God bless her patience. At least you have a right to contest the arrangement, as a woman she has no power with her own voice, if she argued her father’s decision, she would be shamed,” with that said he paused in his steps and looked back at me, “You realize what that means, yes? It’s your duty to speak for her, to protect her. Stop obsessing over me, because I am not in danger, but Temperance would be miserable if she married me, and I would be too. Fight our father’s decision, speak for yourself and fight for yourself. Fight for her.”
I shook my head, my frustration rising, “I cannot go against our father any more than you can.”
“On the contrary,” Daniel said, mild amusement in his voice as he turned his back to me and began to hike down the stairs, “I go against him every chance I get.”
“Which is why I’m the one who is constantly getting into trouble,” I argued, following him, and he sighed.
“Which isn’t fair for you. Just because you’re my brother, doesn’t mean it’s your job to raise me. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t, our oh so loving parents were just so busy with themselves that they didn’t care enough about the fact children shouldn’t be raising children. Face facts, Henry, our mother and father are petty and pretentious and so distracted with themselves that they forced you to raise me because they didn’t want to. It was a job you shouldn’t have had, they stole your childhood, and that wasn’t fair.”
Instead of defensively arguing for our parent’s sake, I simply felt numb, stopping in my steps halfway down the stairs, “I didn’t mind being the one to raise you, Daniel,” I argued, and he paused at the last step, “Look at the kind of man you are now. Independent, smarter than I could hope to be, you’re an individual and I admire everything about you,” I stopped, shaking my head and rubbing my hands together as they began to ache and hurrying the rest of the way down the stairs, “My only failure is that I slacked, I didn’t pay near enough attention and I didn’t spend enough time with you, so you looked for companionship with the slaves. That was my one failure as your brother.”
“I didn’t spend time with the workers because I was lonely, Henry,” he argued, “I spent time with them because they were the ones who seemed lonely, and because I liked them. They’re deep and intelligent people, they are worth so much more than they are credited.”
“No, I know you were lonely,” I looked over my shoulder at him, “because I was the same,” his eyes widened, and I realized then I had never talked to him about mama before, “That was stopped before I could be brainwashed, mother and father both were very vigilant in raising me when the offender had been dealt with.”
I rubbed my hands together again and looked down at them, at the scars, and Daniel whispered, “Oh Henry…”
“They’re waiting for us, Daniel,” I snapped, storming forward away from him, “Any longer and father will be furious.”
“Show me around your home, Mister Henry Elias,” Agatha requested, and I fought the sour taste in my mouth as I offered her a smile.
We were standing outside near the back of the house, father had taken Mister Taylor out to the fields to show off the productivity of the slaves, and our mothers were inside. They’d left the four of us to bond with our betrothed, but I was having no fun of it. Daniel was with Temperance near the barn, holding what looked to be kittens from the distance we stood at.
“There is hardly enough to show,” I said finally, stepping forward, “The orchard is to the right, on the other side of the house, and the barn is just ahead. Beyond that are the fields, and the slave residency.”
“My uncle tells me you have the best slaves,” Agatha noted, quickly following me, and I held back the sigh as I smiled.
“We take pride in it, ma’am.”
“Henry come look!” Temperance called me when I was within earshot, cradling a little tabby kitten against her chest, “Daniel says they were born only a few weeks ago!”
“One of the workers was looking after the mother,” Daniel explained, holding up the little black kitten in his hands and smiling up at it, “He told me she gave birth and I was so excited.”
“You speak with your property?” Agatha asked, and Daniel and I both turned to look at her as she scoffed, “They are slaves, they cannot speak.”
“Maybe because you don’t know how to listen,” Daniel stated, and Agatha drew back as he turned away.
Temperance gave me an expectant look, as if she was waiting for me to add my opinion, and I turned to Agatha, “He’s a silly boy, pay him no mind. Most his days are spent dreaming frivolously, he meant no disrespect,” I looked to Temperance as if for praise that I’d said the right thing, but the disgust on her face told me I hadn’t, and I watched as she walked away from me, following Daniel.
“Who is that one?” I turned to look where Agatha was pointing, utterly infuriated when my eyes fell on Josiah, who seemed to be mending the wheel on my father’s wagon, “What do you call him?”
“My brother names him Josiah,” I said with a sigh, turning back to watch Temperance as Agatha hummed in curiosity.
“Is he a good worker? Obedient?”
“He is,” I answered honestly, for all his indiscretions, he was undisputedly the best worker we had, both in productivity and obedience; he followed every order, finished every task in record time, never once spoke back to the family, in fact before I caught him with Daniel, I didn’t know he could speak at all.
I believed him to be illiterate and daft, but as it turns out he had an unusually elegant way of speech, and could read quite well. Something told me that Daniel was the reason behind that strange occurrence, and my eyes closed with a sigh as I realized that my brother had taught a slave to read behind the back of our parents and against all rule of the age.
“What is he doing now?” Agatha asked, and I fought the groan as I turned back to her, nodding towards Josiah.
“As you can see, he appears to be mending the wheel of my father’s carriage. Josiah oversees and joins in the basic labor and maintenance of the carriages, buildings, and fences on the property.”
“You trust him with that much?” she asked, and I turned.
“That’s all I trust him with.”
She seemed to be distracted, so I wandered from her and over to where my brother was sitting with Temperance, young kittens playing at their feet. Her eyes lifted to me when she heard me, but turned her nose away when I sat on her other side, fighting the smile when a tiny gray kitten padded over to me.
“What are you discussing without me?” I asked, bending down and picking up the little thing, looking around instinctively to watch for my father before turning my attention to the animal as Temperance hummed.
“Nothing of importance to you,” she said, and I nodded.
She made a noise of absolute disgust and rose to her feet, spinning to me, “You are the most unbelievable and infuriating man I have ever met!” she yelled, and I gaped at her with wide eyes before looking to Daniel for help, but he just leaned back with a kitten in both hands.
“Oh?” I decided to speak on my own, standing and dropping the kitten down, “And you think you’re any easier to deal with? Honestly, I feel sorry for Daniel, that he has to put up with you.”
Temperance laughed, setting her hands on her hips, “Oh yes, because you weren’t looking forward to dealing with me yourself. You seemed excited in the last letter you sent me.”
“I was just being nice for your sake,” I argued, “Women are frivolous creatures, all they want is to get married, never mind to who.”
“You are disgusting!”
“Should I leave you two be to finish your lovers quarrel?” Daniel asked, and both Temperance and I spun on him.
“No!” I pointed at Temperance, “You don’t tell him what to do,” then at Daniel, “You’re not leaving my sight.”
He mumbled under his breath and slipped off the bench to sit in the dirt with his legs crossed, collecting each of the kittens and placing them in his lap between his legs, essentially trapping them so he could play with all seven at once.
A breath fell from my lips and I turned back to Temperance, who was watching Daniel with an amused, maybe jealous glint in her eyes, like she wanted to sit in the dirt with an army of cats as well.
“Temperance,” I started quietly, and she turned her eyes to me, frowning, “This is not what I had planned,” I insisted, “I didn’t know your father was planning this, I had no idea you even had a cousin. My whole life, you were the one I wanted to marry.”
Her eyes left mine and she glared off to the side, “Oh? You weren’t just being nice?”
I opened my mouth, turning to glare at Daniel when he snorted before looking back at Temperance and holding my hands out, “Listen, what am I supposed to say or do in this situation? Our fathers already arranged everything. It was always a plan that you would marry into this family, that hasn’t changed, but power is a dangerous temptation, and my father wants the influence that would come from Agatha’s dowry.”
“I don’t care,” Temperance said, “I have no desire to marry Daniel, and he feels the same.”
I opened my mouth before sighing and finally speaking, “I know that, believe me.”
“Then why can’t I be with you?” she asked me weakly, “I would still be marrying into your family, and Daniel can just marry Agatha!”
“Daniel doesn’t want to marry at all,” I revealed, and Temperance gave me a surprised look.
“What? Why? Isn’t that what all men want?”
“I’m in love with someone else,” Daniel explained, “I have no plans of marrying unless it is to them.”
“Never mind that,” I held an arm out in front of Temperance to pull her attention away from my brother, “The point is there’s no other way to do things.”
“Yes, there is,” Temperance argued, “I marry you, Daniel marries whoever he wishes, and Agatha moves back to London,” she smiled, putting her hands together, “Lovely plan.”
“Lovely,” Daniel agreed, and I rubbed my hands over my face.
They just didn’t understand. Why didn’t they understand?
“Speaking of,” Temperance looked around, a slight frown on her lips, “Where has my cousin gone off to?”
My hands fell from my face, “She was watching the slaves work,” I explained, and Temperance gave me an alarmed look an instant before screams filled the area.
Daniel shot to his feet immediately and Temperance turned, the three of us watching as Agatha staggered out of the barn, falling to her knees, her hair a mess with bits of hay stuck in it, her skirts dirty and ripped, hands holding the petticoat up against her chest as she sobbed and screamed as if she’d witnessed a murder.
Our mothers came rushing from the house as our fathers came around with them, and Mister Taylor dropped to his knees in front of Agatha as the three of us hurried to join them and the inconsolable woman choked on her sobs, mumbling nonsense we couldn’t understand as ugly tears poured from her eyes.
“What happened, tell me!” Mister Taylor demanded, shaking her shoulders, and she took several gulping breaths as she finally whispered.
“He hurt me, uncle, he touched me!” all eyes turned to me, and I was about to lose my mind entirely from fury at being accused of such a thing before Agatha continued, “The slave, uncle! The one fixing the wagon! He dragged me into the barn and… and…”
She burst out into sobs, and Mister Taylor wrapped her in his arms. I had never seen a man so angry. I could understand his next words.
“Lynch him, Elias.”