01 - 11

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 11

01 - 11

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11

IFLED.

When I returned to Titch’s residence, I found the rooms dark, not a candle burning. But under the closed door of Titch’s study I saw a crack of candlelight. I paused there in the hallway, listening, but there was no sound from within. I left him to his grief. I knew from what he had told me that his father had been everything to him, the very heart of his life.

I left him there and, making my way through the darkness, undressed and went to bed in silence.

In the morning I rose early. In the quiet of the house I collected a bucket and went out to fill it with water. I walked to Mister Philip’s door and left the usual porcelain bowl of water and clean towels on the pier table in the hall. Then I went to Titch’s bedroom and did the same. When I opened his door, though, I found his room empty, the bedding untouched.

I found him at last in his study, slouched over the mahogany desk, his chin smeared with fixative dust. I was met with the chemical smell of ink and damp skin. The room was silent and heavy; the drapes had been drawn crookedly shut. There was the soft tapping of a moth stunning itself against the locked window. A tower of pages lay piled by Titch’s elbow, the paper warped with ink and sticking in waves against each other like French pastry. What he had been writing I did not know; I trusted it had to do with his father. I set a soft hand on his shoulder and he gave a start. Raising his head, he turned to me in tight-browed grief.

“Wash,” said he.

“You fell asleep,” I said. “It is morning.”

He was in his shirtsleeves, and he drew the cuff of his left wrist across his mouth.

“Can I fetch you anything?” I said.

He shook his head. “Such a person, such a mind. I still cannot believe it. I simply cannot fathom it. Gone, truly? I—” He shook his head, glancing sadly at me. “He did not have the opportunity to see my Cloud-cutter.”

“He would have been very proud,” I ventured.

“And to stay on and run Faith?” He shook his head, his expression faintly contemptuous. “They must know it is madness.” He ran a nervous hand through his dark hair, and with his skin drawn slightly back like that, the white string of his scar was visible, like a harness rising from either side of his mouth. “Much as I love my mother, she is of difficult temperament. She really is too ecstatic. As a child, I found my father always from home, and I did not understand his constant absences.” He shook his head.

I said nothing, stood quietly there.

He frowned softly. “But it would seem I have no choice in the matter.”

I was silent some moments more, not knowing what to say. “I must begin preparing the breakfast.”

“Philip will be hungry,” he said, his voice edged with contempt. Then he seemed to check himself, shook his head. “It is not Philip’s fault. None of this is his doing.”

I was surprised he should be so forgiving of his cousin’s concealment of such news.

“I am sorry, Titch. About your father.”

He looked suddenly fragile, fear and resignation in his face. “Well.”

I began to move towards the door, feeling somehow disturbed. I feared I had overstepped my place, perhaps. But Titch called to me before I reached the hall. When I turned, he gestured me back to his side.

“I wanted to show you this,” he said.

He squared the sheets before him. I leaned into the plank of light falling across his desk. There were three blackening banana peels piled by his inkwell, folded neatly. I squinted at the page. Preliminary Remarks Regarding the Theory and Practice of Hydrogen-Powered Aerostation in the West Indies.

I made a noise of surprise. “It is finished, then? But that is wonderful, Titch.”

“Look closer.”

Then something caught my eye. Beneath the title, in a clean, fine hand, he had written, Authored by Christopher Wilde, Esq., & Illustrated by George Washington Black.

I glanced up at him, uncertain.

Titch gave me a sad, weary smile. “You are a man of science now, Wash. Or so you shall be, when this paper reaches the Royal Society.” He paused. “That was your Big Kit last night, at dinner. Looking very poorly, it’s true. But it was she, right there before us. Did you see her?”

I felt the blood rise to my face; I did not wish to tell Titch that I had not recognized her, nor that when I did, I was horrified to find her so disfigured and ill-used. I did not wish to tell him of the other boy, of the hurt I felt seeing them so close.

I must have looked startled, for he placed a gentle hand upon my shoulder, softened his expression. “Our science is not the sum of my work here,” he said quietly. Thumbing through his papers, he drew from beneath our treatise a thick sheaf. I leaned in: Catalogue of the Injustices and Cruelties Borne Upon the Persons and Minds of the Enslaved Negroes on a Barbadoes Plantation in the West Indies. I looked at him in some alarm.

“I did not simply run away,” said he. “Well, yes, it’s true, I did run away, but not for need of personal freedom.” He glanced in caution at the door. “My dearest friend Samuel, in London, he said if there is any possibility of your travelling to your family plantation, do so. He asked me frankly to make notes on all I saw. You see, we have colleagues, Wash, many of them, greatly interested in seeing an end to all this, in seeing you, your people, free. A group of us are gathering notes, recording each and every cruelty we observe. These reports we will eventually hand over to a very influential friend in Parliament.” He paused to measure my expression, then with his long, jointed fingers flipped through the pages to the end. “Look, see here. I have just this evening added your Kit to my notes. Her wretched condition will not fail to move. I also expect your own scientific work will prove useful.”

I did not speak, so surprised was I. I could not fathom when he had had the time to make his observations, never mind to record them.

The skin around his eyes tightened. He shook his head. “Negroes are God’s creatures also, with all due rights and freedoms. Slavery is a moral stain against us. If anything will keep white men from their heaven, it is this.”

Only years later would his phrasing strike me. In that moment I only thought with horror of the master’s discovery of these reports.

“I shall ask my brother to release you permanently,” said he, weighing my expression. “Does that please you?”

I made no answer, so shocked was I.

“You would rather remain the property of my brother?”

“Oh, no, Titch, I would rather be your property,” said I, eagerly. I did not understand the pained look that crossed his face.

“Well,” said he. “Well. We shall talk more on it again, Wash. Yes.”

But he seemed troubled, somehow, and in my innocence I could make no sense of it. I had thought I was saying what he wished to hear.

— “YOU ARE JOKING, brother. Look at the creature. He is a monstrosity.”

The master raised his long pheasant gun to his shoulder and, squinting his right eye shut, let off a shot, grey smoke rolling from the barrel. “Damn,” he said, scowling. He lowered the gun, massaged his shoulder, glanced back at Mister Philip and Titch. They were the three of them out shooting that day in the scrub and hills at the base of Corvus Peak.

A full week had passed since Mister Philip’s announcement. In those grim days Titch had kept firmly to his rooms, only emerging to dine alone in the evenings long after Mister Philip had retired. Then one morning the master arrived at the house, and in my fear I rushed to fetch Titch, who consented, finally, to sitting down with his brother.

They spent an afternoon out on the verandah, talking over glasses of warm rum I replenished by the hour. In those sad hours of reminiscence some healing seemed to take place. Mister Philip wandered out to join them, and the three sat gently laughing over the escapades of the late Mister Wilde, his eccentricities and brilliances.

The next day they decided to go hunting, and it was here that we found ourselves, deep into the scrub under Corvus Peak.

“No, it would be cruel to remove him to England,” the master continued. Recognizing that his father’s death would allow him to return home, he had been in the brightest of moods, as though some well-thought-of dog, not a father, had died. “What good would come of it? In any case, it is I, not you, who will return to England. And I certainly have no use for him there.”

I felt a heat rise to my cheeks. Titch had not mentioned the possibility of England to me.

Titch hesitated. “Events do not have to unfold as Philip dictates. It makes far more sense for you to stay here and look after Faith, while I return to Granbourne. Think of it. It is this plantation that affords the other homes their luxuries. What if something were to go wrong?”

“It is your mother who dictates, not I,” said Mister Philip.

But the master was not finished. “A nigger slave at Granbourne.” He levelled his pale eyes on Titch. “Come now, man. The proper servants would eat the poor creature alive. They are rather proud, you know.”

“Which servants, exactly?”

The master raised his weapon. “A position at Granbourne, at Hawksworth, Sanderley—all are positions of stature, such as they are. You must know this.”

“I think you are rather more familiar with servants than we,” said Mister Philip, smiling.

“Erasmus is a great collector of knowledge,” said Titch tartly.

“Knowledge about certain servants, perhaps. Maids and such.”

The master frowned at the teasing. “It is a privilege to serve a great family.”

“A great family’s cock,” said Mister Philip.

Titch smiled despite himself. “I’d think they would care more about fine treatment and solid pay than position.”

“Erasmus does all the positions,” said Mister Philip.

“Oh, don’t be so naive, Christopher,” snapped the master. “Everyone cares about their station.”

“I do not,” said Titch.

“Because you do not need to. No, I will not let you have the boy. You may continue to borrow him for the duration of your stay here. Then, upon my return, if he is still alive, you will give me back my worker.” He shook out his trigger hand. “Tell me, have you had a chance to examine the ledgers I had sent over? You will have to understand how to read them, eventually.”

Titch frowned across at Mister Philip.

“I understand you will have much studying to do, Christopher,” said Mister Philip.

“I have not yet decided,” said Titch. “If I will take over the running of Faith, that is.”

“You speak as though there is another option,” said Mister Philip.

“My mother can manage perfectly well. Indeed, what recourse has she had in your absence, brother? Surely there are trustworthy tenants. Solicitors. Accountants. Others she can rely on.”

“Mother is old, Christopher.” The master lowered his gun and, setting the stock on the rocky ground at their feet, held out his hand for a flask of wine. I hurried forward. “It is one thing to engage others for a period, and quite another to rely upon them indefinitely after a master’s death. It must be stressed to all the tenants that order still reigns at Granbourne. I must go. I cannot allow you to go in my stead. You will make a shambles of it.”

“You cannot allow it?”

“No.”

Titch laughed a sharp, angry laugh. I had not heard such a sound from him before. I looked quickly up, but he was staring out at the sky and I could not see his face.

“Erasmus’s passage is already booked,” said Mister Philip, and there was something beseeching in his voice. “We will return at month’s end. Before the wrathful winds begin in earnest.”

“One may wait five weeks to mention a death,” said Titch, “but time is now of the essence.”

The master shook his head. “I do not understand your sharp tone, Christopher. We shall not disrespect Mother’s wishes, that is the end of it.”

Now Mister Philip stepped forward and for the first time, seeing him and Titch together, I noticed the startling physical disparity between the two. There was a power to Mister Philip’s broad shoulders, a strength that dwarfed my master. Mister Philip set a thick hand on Titch’s shoulder, and it struck me as somehow threatening.

“I promised your mother I would bring him back,” Mister Philip said. “It is my honour on the line here also, cousin. Think of me in this.”

“Ah, yes,” said Titch. “I should not wish to sully your name.”

The master was blinking. “Do not think for a minute that I do not share in this grief, Christopher. He was my father too. You mustn’t take it out on me. I am only concerned for the future of the estates, as should you be.”

Mister Philip crouched, resting his knee against a slab of yellow stone. He raised his gun and fired. The air shuddered with a great, violent punch, and we all glanced out at the bleached sky. The brown silhouette of a grouse clapped onwards, its wings beating, untouched.

“Damn it all,” Mister Philip muttered.

“Is that how you are taught to shoot in London, cousin?” laughed the master. “And for a man who takes such prodigious care of his gun…” He shook his head.

“Your bag is as empty as mine,” said Mister Philip. “Only Christopher has had any luck.”

“It is the trained eye of the man of science,” said the master. “Luck, nothing.”

Titch looked away.

Mister Philip coughed, spat a long yellow thread into the grass. He squinted against the sun at Titch. “Think of your mother, man. She is quite vulnerable now—every cheat will try and take advantage. If only on a practical level, it is dearly pressing for Erasmus to return. Just until arrangements for the estate might be made.”

Titch did not answer.

“He is cross that I do not make the burnt creature a gift,” said the master. “Look how sullen he is become.”

Mister Philip smiled. “Why do you not buy the creature from Erasmus?” He turned to the master. “What would you sell the boy for?”

“Let us leave it be,” said Titch quietly.

“Why is he of such value to my brother?” the master mused. “You do not imagine he has formed an unsavoury attachment?” The master paused, feigning shock, then looked over at me and called, “Is he unnatural with you, boy? Do you make the beast with two backs?”

“Leave him be, Erasmus,” said Titch.

Mister Philip tsked. “Oh, just sell him the boy and be done with it. If it will bring him peace of mind—”

“I think not,” interrupted the master. “No.”

“He is of no worth to you. Look at him.”

“Rather the contrary.” The master folded his long, thin fingers over the mouth of his gun, shrugging. “Titch has taught the creature to make fine illustrations, and that is of enormous use. Dr. Quinn will come from Liverpool this year. For a heavy sum I’ve promised him access to ten of my slaves for his experiments. Putrid fever, you see. He’s trying to invent an inoculation against it. Surely he will be in need of faithful diagrams.”

Suddenly Mister Philip dropped to one knee and, swinging his gun to his shoulder, fired, letting off a second powerful thunder and the stench of metal, a cloud of ghostly brown smoke. In the distance a smudge plummeted from the sky.

The dogs were loosed, disappearing into the brush at once, barking in frenzy.

“There, that is how it is done,” cried Mister Philip, beginning to laugh. He swung his gun down and rose heavily, turning to his cousins. “Did you see? A fine shot indeed. A London shot, I should call it. A London shot.”

— THE VERY NEXT DAY the weather turned.

The sky blackened, went dark as tea. But then the afternoon passed without rain, and the clouds drifted gently out to sea. The following day was the same. All this Titch watched with a judging eye, making the long trek up to the Cloud-cutter most mornings. I dutifully recorded his anxious observations as best I could, in my rudimentary language.

The men and women laboured here and there all across the peak, their pale clothes grass-stained at the knees, calling to each other in our pidgin tongue. I stared at the cutter, the immense punctured lung of it, the netted rubberized skin hanging from it. It was, I knew, a thing of wonder and beauty. It was true that the season was coming to an end, true that the hurricane days would soon be upon us. But Titch did not want to accept this.

“Can you not put a tarp over it during the bad season?” I said. “It will be an enormous labour to have it all brought down again, only to have to carry it back up after the storms pass.”

He gave me a curious look then, and I understood he was surprised that even I had condemned him to stay here into next winter.

Still, it was a kind of relief, for me, to observe Titch animated again, moved by his own work, absorbed in its problems. In the immediate days following the news of his father he had gone into a grey stupor, wanting to talk neither of his father’s death nor of England. Now he was at least interested, though still quite worried about how to manage under the insistent pressure from his family. He kept mumbling how devastated he felt that his father would never see this, the work of his life, their shared passion for flight made whole by his own hands.

“Do you know what should be done?” he said, his eyes wide and distant-looking. “Some commemoration should be made for my father at his place of rest, in the Arctic. Someone ought to travel out there and erect a marker for him. Peter, his assistant, is his only companion up there, and Peter is not a man given to sentimental gestures. My father did so much to enlighten men about the world. Can it really be that he will pass from it without so much as a shudder?” He glanced at me. “It is not natural. It is not right.”

Without awaiting an answer, he bent again to his measurements, and we passed the morning in silent work. Some hours in, I thought I heard a cry in the distance—hoarse, resigned, like some final expiration. I raised my face, squinting down into the roiling cane.

These cries had been a feature of my life in the field; how shocked I was to realize how rarely I now heard them. My face flushed with the pain and shame of it, the half-healed skin throbbing.

Titch lifted his face to the sky, and decided then we would go down early. We did not speak, but drifted down through the dry yellow grass, disappointed, tired.

— TITCH AND I HAD nearly reached the base of Corvus Peak when we caught sight of a silhouette shivering in the bleached afternoon light. Titch paused, placed a hand on my chest to stop me walking. We squinted at the figures, the woman’s dress fluttering against her skinny calves, the bow-legged child beside her, their faces cancelled in shadow.

Yes, there was the white scar across the face. Esther. She trudged stolidly forward in her starched kitchen whites, gripping the child by the shoulder, a viciousness to her mouth despite her expressionless eyes. The boy I did not know; he walked beside her, wiry and thin. He was chewing on a strand of sargassum weed, which he spat nervously out as he reached us.

“Esther. You will be looking for me, I trust.” Titch studied the boy. “Good morning, son.”

“Sir,” came the response, the boy’s face trained on his shoes.

His shoes had been polished to a high shine and looked two sizes too large. He moved in them awkwardly, like a creature trapped in mud.

“Well? What is it?” Titch held his hat in place in the soft wind. “What has happened?”

Esther stood before him, blinking. “Master Erasmus is sent over your new boy, sir.” Her voice was beautiful, I realized suddenly, low-pitched, musical.

The darkening clouds were moving past us overhead. Titch stood frowning against the warm wind. “But I have not asked for a new boy,” he said slowly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do inform your master that I am quite satisfied with my present boy.”

She lowered her face but did not move.

“Esther? Did you not hear me?”

“Master Erasmus gives you this boy in exchange for that one,” she said stubbornly. “He wants the burnt one back, Master Wilde, sir.”

I turned quickly, glanced at Titch.

Titch appeared unruffled. “That I had already understood. This is a discussion for your master and myself to continue. He ought not to have involved you, Esther.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You may tell him to expect me in the coming days. We will discuss it further.”

Glaring at the ground, sounding now almost frustrated, Esther said, “Master Erasmus was quite insistent, sir, if you will. He will not have this boy back. He orders you to send over the burnt boy at once.”

“Orders me, does he?” A tightness had crept into Titch’s voice. “Does he also state the consequences of my non-compliance?”

Esther said nothing, just raised her hard face with its passionless eyes, its white earthworm scar. I knew the master would beat her if she returned with Titch’s message. I watched but said nothing.

Titch too seemed to understand. He sighed, taking the boy by the shoulder. “Let us go now to Wilde Hall, then. Esther, you will return with Wash.” He handed me his sack of instruments. “Please take these back to the house, Wash, and begin preparations for lunch.” He looked warily at the boy, who kept his head bowed. “And what is your name, son?”

A pause, then in a whisper: “Eugenio, sir.”

“Eugenio. Let us go back to Wilde Hall.”

They set off in the direction of the master’s house. Watching them go, I thought they looked very much how Titch and I must appear together, two awkward forms pouring through the darkened fields like shadows.

— HOW DO I explain the events that followed? I have weighed that afternoon in my mind these seven years and found myself unable to give a clean accounting of it. I was young and terrified and confused, it is true. But it is also true that the nature of what happened isn’t fixed; it shifts and warps with the years.

I do not know how long Esther and I trod through the brush, only that the late afternoon air was cooling pleasantly, and that we did not speak. She seemed neither preoccupied nor uneasy; her silence was marked by a held-in rage that I have only now, several years later, come to understand as the suppression of will. For she was a ferociously intelligent woman, and it strained her to have to conceal it. She sometimes spoke as no slave should speak; the scar on her face was some testament to this. In Titch’s household she found tolerance and a patient ear, though even he sometimes grew irritated and urged her to remember her place.

She kept her face forward, breathing softly with the exercise, the hem of her dress snagging on passing weeds. Occasionally her damp arm would brush mine, but she did not move away. Above us, the birds wheeled blackly in the starched light. I stopped to clutch a fistful of wildflowers, the petals crumbling with a satisfying reek like burnt parsley. I was trying to still my mind, trying not to dwell on the master’s alarming request to have me returned to him. A fine shiver went through me.

Then, as from nowhere, a voice called out.

“Boy! You! Boy!”

We paused, turning in the blanched light to see him striding full towards us. We did not look at each other. I watched instead the glint in his thick hands, the freshly oiled steel that had been engineered to survive every destruction, dark and blunt and final. Mister Philip and his gun. He moved sluggishly in his beautiful clothes, the gun in his red-knuckled fingers, an intensity to his eyes despite his calm expression. I paused, awaiting his approach, my heart thudding.

He reached us breathing heavily. His voice, when he’d called out, had sounded threatening. Now, pausing before us, he appeared blurred, rundown, diminished, as if a soft grey air had settled upon him. His black hair was matted across his forehead, and fine blue veins stood out at his temples.

He studied Esther a long while, so that it became uncomfortable. “Run along with you now,” he said finally, but with no force.

She tipped her chin back, surveying him without expression, her white scar like a string tied about her face. Without looking at me, she turned and continued alone back to the house.

I glanced quickly past Mister Philip; Titch was very far now, so that I could no longer see him. I peered nervously up at Mister Philip. He was frowning, his eyes glassy and reddened as with drink.

Terror cut through me; I swallowed it down. “Titch has bade me return to the house, sir. If you go that way yourself, sir, I can bring some refreshments out to you on the verandah, if you please.”

Mister Philip was staring behind me at the distant scrub as though he had not heard. I turned; there was nothing to see, only the dry yellow grass rattling in the dusty air, Esther’s fading silhouette. Slowly, he looked down at me, smiling in a tight grimace. “Here, boy. Gather this up.”

Nervously, I reached for the provisions he held out. “This may not be the weather for a hunt, sir,” I said, thinking perhaps I might disrupt whatever plan he had in mind, though I knew it was too forward of me to speak it. “Titch believes it will rain.”

His face darkened. “You have some audacity to address me so.”

I lowered my face, awaiting a blow.

He merely gestured for me to follow him, mumbling. “When the slaves forget they are slaves…” He shook his head.

We walked in silence, me following his lope through the fields towards the scrublands fringing Corvus Peak, the hunting grounds. I was terrified; I could scarcely walk for the fear. What did he mean by all this? If he intended to hunt, where were the hounds? I only hoped Esther would alert Titch to what had happened and that he would come in search of me. Mister Philip’s provisions were heavy, and though I did not dare set them down, I would lower my head every few paces to take the good cool air on my neck. I would raise my face and stare out to the scrublands, trying not to look at his gun.

— “PERHAPS IT IS easier for you.”

I looked warily across at him. “Sir?”

Mister Philip did not answer, merely sat heavily on an outcropping at the base of the mountain, awkwardly balancing his gun on his round thighs.

Less than an hour had passed, though it felt a lifetime, and we sat in the scree at the base of Corvus Peak, the crickets already creaking in the darkening air. All this time he had not taken a single shot, not even raised his gun. His stride had slowed and slowed, his wide shoulders rounding, his eyes growing hazier, more distant. He was pensive, grave, and the few glances he spared me seemed nearly apologetic, as if he regretted the outing. He carried his gun low at his thigh, and every time he changed hands I would stare uneasily at his fingers, then look away and count the blades of grass under my breath.

By the time we had settled in the rocky outcrop, I was beyond frightened. I could barely hear his voice, which in any case was quiet and thoughtful, hollowed out almost, as though he were thirsty. An unnatural stillness had come over me, like an extension of fear. The rock on which I sat bored painfully into my thighs. I could smell the wild lemongrass in the last of the day’s heat, feel the bite of mosquitoes on my shins.

Across from me Mister Philip stared out at the distant tamarinds, their tops bowing in the dull wind. There were red fissures in the whites of his eyes, and under the mountain’s shadow his skin appeared grey. I noticed the flaking red knuckles, so strange on a man of leisure, and the mesmerizing whiteness of his teeth; I saw the oddity of a body used for nothing but satisfying urges, bloated and ethereal as sea foam, as if it might break apart. He smelled of molasses and salted cod, and of the fine sweetness of mangoes in the hot season. I eyed him uneasily.

He glanced at me from under his darkened brow. “Perhaps it is easier for you,” he said again. “Everything is taken care of for you. You needn’t worry about what the coming days will hold, as every day is the same. Your only expectations are the expectations your master lays out for you. It is a simple-enough life, what.”

It was as though he had spoken the words to determine their truth. He shook his head irritably.

I stilled my face. I said nothing.

He exhaled harshly, dragging the gun up his thighs. I looked at his hands, the pallor of them on the dark metal.

“I am sorry.” His voice was so soft I barely heard him. He gestured with his chin. “Your face.”

I stared, feeling the soft tremor of my hands in my lap.

“I was in Vienna, some months before coming here,” he continued in the same hushed voice. “In Vienna, the bread is a wonder. Everyone says Paris, but the true artistry is to be found in the Viennese dough. It is their yeast perhaps, or their manner of kneading it.” He stared quietly down at the gun. “There was a very fine cemetery there, at the edge of a church. I’d grown tired that day, the light made my head ache, and I sat on a bench beyond the surrounding wrought iron fence, and ate my bread.” He moistened his lips. “The streets were utterly silent, deserted. But after a time I heard the clopping of a horse approaching, and raised my face.

“The horse’s flesh—there was something wrong with it. It glowed pink through the white pelt, diseased. A rather miserable four-wheeler dragged along behind it, the broken spoke slapping along the cobblestones. There was no driver.”

He paused, staring a long while in silence at his hands. “Curious,” he murmured. “Curious. Unsettling. I watched the horse trot by, a knot of flies at its face. The noise of its hooves on the stones faded, the scrape of the broken spoke. I shall never forget the eeriness of it, the sound.” He shook his head.

“Some minutes later, a man appeared from round the corner of the cemetery. The owner of the horse, I presumed. He neared slowly, at no hurry. He was short, and very poorly dressed. His frock coat was green, his trousers yellow, the dress of someone from another century. I recall vividly he was chewing on a carrot. As he neared me, he started to tip his hat, but then he paused, staring at me. He had small eyes, ugly eyes.

“I bid him good day, but he only kept staring. Finally he said, ‘I just passed your grave. I just passed your monument.’

“I imagined he was jesting.

“ ‘Come,’ he said, waving the carrot at me. ‘I will show you.’

“I followed him into the cemetery. He brought me to a small cedar grove sloping away from the main path. And in that place, I came face-to-face with my stone likeness.”

Mister Philip paused, staring still at the length of gun on his thighs. “There I was, carved in stone: the same hair, the same eyes, same mouth, same chin. Everything. I studied the gravestone. The man had died fifty years earlier, on the exact day of my birth.”

He shrugged in resignation. “What is the truth, I ask you?”

I shifted on the rock, saying nothing.

“Who is the ghost in that tale?” Mister Philip glanced up, and the deadness of his eyes dried up anything I might utter. His pupils were large, black. He stared as if struggling to see through me, as if I were a sudden obstruction.

Oh how I wanted to run from all this, to quit the dark, weed-strewn grove, its oppressive trees already silvering in the dusk. Above us a flock of gulls screeched, keening towards the sea. In the soft breeze, the grasses began to rattle.

Something was wrong. All at once Mister Philip rose with the gun swinging upwards in his fists, his shadow black and blunt against the failing sun. How did I know what was coming? I threw my hands over my face, as if to obscure the horror, my heart stamping in my ribs, and though I opened my mouth to yell, no sound came out.

— A GREAT, SHUDDERING BLAST, then all went white, the explosion dying sharply out. The sky emptied itself, the seabirds disappeared, and on the air the reek of fresh meat and chalk was pungent. The grasses wrestled to and fro, and in the brisk wind I felt a wetness on my face, smelled the sudden iron stink of blood. I was clutching myself on the outcrop, my body cowering in a ball, and I could not move. I listened for his breath, listened for any sound or movement. I felt small, wet shards on my arm and raised my face, staring in the dusk at the muck on me.

It was teeth, or pieces of bone, other parts of his shattered face. In horror I swiped it away and stood, shivering—not from the sudden violence, which had been with me since birth, but from the terrible fact that I alone had been present at the death of a white man.

Brushing at my clothes, I felt myself almost choking, and I did not look directly at what I could glimpse by the side of my eye: the whiteness of his large open palm, the dull grey sheen of his boots. And yet, leaving, I could not help but glance back. The flesh of his face was folded viciously away from the skull, like leather freshly cut. In the distance, a rook called out.

I ran.

— TITCH AT FIRST did not understand a word of it.

“I was just now coming in search of you,” he was saying when I rushed into his candlelit study from the fields. “But what’s this?” said he, rising immediately, his face blanching. “Dear god, Wash. Come, come—you will need to be examined at once. My god, that is a great deal of blood.”

I could hear myself speaking but had no sense of my words. I was vaguely aware of the room’s warmth, its faint smell of fresh-cut hibiscus, its flickering candlelight and the odd bright spot on the wall that always looked as if someone had just that minute scrubbed it clean. I sensed my teeth tapping harshly against each other, and I tried to regain control of myself.

Titch sank onto his haunches. “Where is the injury?” he said, examining me. “Show me the wound.”

My teeth were chattering painfully, but I managed somehow to make plain that it was not my blood.

Titch stiffened. “Wash,” he said quietly.

Stuttering, I made to explain. And I watched as his confusion turned to slow disbelief. His lips parted gently, a slow frown growing on his drained face. Abruptly, he rose, wrenching a tense hand through his dark hair. He stood some seconds staring at the balding rug.

Then, quite suddenly, he began to breathe noisily through his lips, rubbing at his forehead. I could not discern his thoughts and this panicked me beyond everything; I wanted to tell him again that I had done nothing, that I had been forced to watch, that Mister Philip had wrought his vicious end himself. This Titch already knew; this I had already said many times; and yet I wanted to emphasize it, to confirm that Titch truly accepted it.

“Esther,” said he, his expression unreadable. “She came to Wilde Hall while I was with Erasmus. She informed us both that you had gone away with him, with Philip.”

I was still shaking softly, and did not answer.

“Why would he take you along?” he said softly.

Still I said nothing.

He stared thoughtfully at me. “Where is he?”

I moistened my lips, but it was some while before I could speak. “At the hunting grounds, still. In the scrub of Corvus Peak.”

“You must take me to him at once.”

I blinked and blinked—how could I will myself to go back there?

He closed his eyes a long while. Opening them, he looked faintly surprised to find himself still in this room. He came forward and placed a hand on my collarbone, his palm cool and gentle. “I cannot find him unless you show me.”

I breathed out; I knew I could never return there.

“Wash. Please.”

And so I found myself walking to the door, and I stood waiting as Titch pulled on his frock coat to go out into the soft evening air. At the threshold he frowned down at me, uneasiness in his waxen face.

I followed him out. He moved slowly, stiffly, and in the reluctance of his gestures I saw Mister Philip’s own slow passage through the grass, his steps ghostly, belaboured, as though he were savouring the rustle and cries of those green fields one last time.

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