Mississippi Moonlight


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This is from Duke in Name Only (April 2023). Phillip plans to go upriver with Nan’s brother to search for jewelry or pawn shops in Saint Louis that might have word about his missing signet ring. He hasn’t told either of them he’s also studying commerce along the river, looking for investment opportunities. He’s determined to return to England with wealth he has build on his own rather than what was handed him.

*****

Sleep would not come.

The shaft of moonlight shooting through the tiny window at the top of the eaves above him didn’t help. If moonlight meant to keep him up, he may as well go out to meet it. He passed up the candle, unlit in is holder. He had gotten used to the smell of burning tallow but hadn’t learned to like it. Careful not to wake Nate, he felt his way down the stairs into the public room and out the door.

Archer’s Roost stood on a rocky rise above the river. The boat landing lay less than a quarter mile away. The stone-paved path to the town branched to the tavern at the landing, bringing business. The front of the tavern, however, was grassy and pleasant. A bench placed in an opening in the trees gave a view of the river making its unrelenting journey south. Evenings they had a view of sunset unlike any he’d ever experienced.

Tonight, however, the land across the river was shrouded in darkness. Moonlight glowed on the water, however, bright down the central channel, soft through the wisps of mist along the shores. He couldn’t make out the moon itself through the big elm to his right; moonglow drew him to the water where he stood behind the bench and turned his head south in search of it.

Lopsided, and just less than full, the moon shone over the big bend in the river.

“Beautiful, isn’t it.” Nan’s voice, soft and deep, washed through him, stirring up a physical reaction, as tender as it was powerful, to savor. It wasn’t the first time her voice had impacted him thus. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. She must be in the tree-shadowed spot behind and to his left. He didn’t turn; he waited for her to speak again.

“The moon,” she said, nearing him. “Beautiful.”

“Yes,” he murmured, heart pounding.

“You couldn’t sleep either,” she said, next to him now.

He opened his eyes then to find hers, level with his in the dark, lit by the moon that caressed her chestnut hair. So close that he could kiss her. He realized with an electric jolt that he wanted to, fiercely. What she wanted he couldn’t say. To do so would be a breach of trust. It might destroy his growing friendship with the Archers. With Nan. For one insane moment, he didn’t care.

She moved away and the moment passed. “You ought to be sleeping. You’re leaving at first light, Jamie told me.”

“Yes.” He wrenched his eyes from Nan and stared at the moon.

Neither spoke for a long time.

“Some folks think a waxing moon can bewitch you,” she murmured.

Her voice, not the moon, held Phillip in thrall. “No, I don’t think so. In a telescope it appears to be rock. There’s nothing fey about it.”

“A telescope,” she sighed. “I saw one once or twice. Riverboat captains carry them.”

Telescope. The word broke Phillip’s spell, outlining the differences in their world as it did. Probably not like the large ones at Oxford. He wished he could show her. He opened his mouth to describe the observatory and closed it again. It would sound like bragging and denigrate her pleasure in boat captains’ scopes. Besides, nothing was as glorious as what could be seen with the naked eye on a night like this.

Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!

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