Recap: Yehudis is reading a journal in her father’s office about a 14-year-old named Yishai who lived in Marietta during the time that Aaron Burr visited in the 1800s. Yishai’s father sent him to Marietta to try to convince his brother Ezra not to get involved with the charismatic but dangerous Mr. Burr and his schemes.
My first view of Marietta, as our boat pulled close to land, was a large mansion set on what appeared to be its own island. The luxurious house in the middle of the wilderness was striking. The man who had asked me why I was going West pointed and said, “That’s Blennerhassett Island. It’s actually considered part of Virginia over there. It’s near Marietta. They must have a lot of money to build something like that,” the man commented.
Ezra met me at the dock. “Hey, Yishai. You got taller.”
Dovid shrieked when he saw me. “Dovid!” I lifted him into the air.
Ezra loaded my suitcase into his carriage and I stepped inside, still holding Dovid in my arms.
“I live close to here but I figured you would have a suitcase.”
Ezra pointed out the sights as the horse clip-clopped along. There were neat brick homes spaced far apart, and tall white pines and Linden trees. I heard the high whistle of a black-capped chickadee.
We pulled up to a modest house with smoke rising out of the chimney and a neat garden of rows of daisies in front. Dovid pulled my arm. Ezra carried my suitcase and we entered the house.
Miriam appeared and greeted me. “Welcome, Yishai. I’m so glad you could come. We set your bed up in Dovid’s room.”
“Come see it.” Dovid pulled me towards his bedroom.
Dovid took a rubber ball and rolled it to me. We sat on the stone floor rolling the ball back and forth. Dovid squealed with delight every time he had the ball.
Miriam came into the room. “This house is tiny. Sorry we had to squish you in here with Dovid.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
Miriam pulled distractedly at her apron. “Soon we’ll have better means and be able to move to a better house. Dinner will be ready in around 15 minutes. Dovid, you need to go wash your face and hands.”
There was a bucket of water near the sink and I lifted him up so he could wash. I washed also.
That night, I asked Ezra if he wanted to learn with me.
“I’ve got some work to finish up. It’s never-ending, this job of mine.”
Miriam was drying dishes and she stepped back into the dining room. “Soon you can quit this shopkeeping. Soon.”
Ezra smiled. “Yes, very soon.”
This was my opening. I could say something. They must both be referring to the plan with Mr. Burr.
“Ezra, why do you say you will quit your shopkeeping?”
“I have a great opportunity. In fact I want to take you with me tonight to meet Mr. Blennerhassett. He’s the wealthiest man in these parts. He owns a mansion on his own island.”
He called to his wife. “Miri. I want to take Yishai to the Blennerhassetts.”
“Okay, but first Dovid needs you to go tuck him in and he’s asking for Yishai to come say goodnight.”
I watched my brother tuck his son in. “Good night, Dovid.”
Ezra moved towards the door.
“Aren’t you going to say Sh’ma with your son?” I asked my brother.
He shrugged. “You can do it if you want. I’ll wait for you by the boat dock outside.”
I sang HaMal’ach and Dovid watched me with his big blue eyes.
“I like that song.”
I sang it again and then I said Sh’ma softly for him and kissed him good night.
It was a clear night. There was a stillness on the water as we headed towards Blennerhassett Island. The only sound was the sound of the paddles as my brother dipped them into the river. The moon shone brightly and the sky was glittering with stars.
Time alone, I thought to myself. Time to try again. “Father sent me because he and Mama are worried.”
Ezra kept paddling. “About what?”
“This whole venture with Mr. Burr. They think he’s – they don’t trust him.”
“Mr. Burr was vice president of the country. He’s very trustworthy and smart. You should hear him talk.”
I asked Hashem to help me find the words. “Father says he’s trying to separate the Western states and it’s not a good thing. It could be considered treason.”
Ezra stopped paddling and looked at me. “No way. Look, he’s not my father, okay? You know that. My father died when I was nine. My father would understand what I was doing and say, “Great, go for it. This is your chance to get rich.”
“Ezra, he is our father. I mean he’s a stepfather, but he has always been like a father.”
“To you, since he is the only father you ever knew, but not to me.”
I was a baby when mother remarried, so it was true that I never knew my real father. “But mother is worried, too.”
“She is listening to him.” Ezra kept paddling. “Look ahead. You’ll see the most magnificent mansion. One day I want to build a house like that. It was built on land once owned by George Washington. The upper part of the island is 169 acres and he paid $4,500. Their island is part of Virginia so they have eight black slaves.”
I didn’t say it, but I thought to myself: It’s gashmiyus. Ezra is letting himself get caught in the web of wanting more and more physical things. Father would say that’s not what we should go after.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishing, 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers, 2020), Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines. Fiction serial Jewish Press Falling Star (2019).