Si ou mouri, ou gen tò. . . .
If you’re dead, you’re wrong. . . .
By the fall of 1798, Toussaint Louverture had seen the departures of three white representatives of the French Republic: Laveaux, Sonthonax, and Hédouville. His enemies claimed he had engineered these departures in order to extend his own power in the colony. Toussaint, however, alwaysmaintained his loyalty to France, where he had sent his two eldest sons for their education. He had certainly declined an offer of British support, tendered by General Maitland, in setting up Saint Domingue as an independent state, perhaps with himself as its king.
One official French agent still remained on the island, Roume, an elderly Creole from Grenada who had been part of various French commissions since the first slave rebellion in 1791, and who had represented the French interest in Spanish Santo Domingo since the signing of the Treaty of Basel. Toussaint now invited Roume to return to French Saint Domingue in the role of French commissioner, though his enemies claimed he did so only to give a shading of legitimacy to his own enterprise of setting up an essentially independent government.
By 1799, Toussaint’s most powerful enemy on the island was a recent ally, General Antoine Rigaud. During the repulse of the British invasion, Rigaud, a native of Les Cayes on the southern peninsula, had emerged as the principal leader of the colored minority, just as Toussaint emerged as the principal leader of the black majority. Rigaud and Toussaint might have come to blows eventually because of racial politics, but their conflict was accelerated and exacerbated by Agent Hédouville’s parting gesture: he formally instructed Rigaud to disregard Toussaint’s authority.
It was strange, because he was a blanc, while I, Riau, was fils Ginen, how sometimes I would feel myself to be walking in the same spirit with Doctor Antoine Hébert. I felt so very much that day at La Fossette, when he would not kill Choufleur, although he could have killed him easily, and with less danger to himself than it cost him not to do it. That was not because I wanted Choufleur to keep his feet walking on our earth, because he was a dangerous man who was sure to cause more trouble. It would be for the better if someone did kill him, but the doctor chose not to do it, and Riau was glad, and even the Captain Maillart felt that same harmony that was among all three of us as we came riding out of the swamp with its rotting smell of graves, the sun shining down on our backs in its rising out of the sea.
After this thing had happened I thought I would ask the doctor to be parrain to the child who had two fathers, when that child would be brought to the water of the whiteman’s church. It seemed to me that Guiaou would be for this idea as well because he had also worked with the doctor in healing, and with Riau too, and I did not think Merbillay would be against it. But none of us were able to go Ennery then, but instead we were all sent here or there all over the northern plain.
Hédouville had been driven away, and Toussaint sent a long letter after him to the masters of France, saying he had not meant to chase their agent from the country, whatever Hédouville claimed himself, and still there was no one above Toussaint after Hédouville had left, except for Roume, across the Spanish border. Also there was Rigaud in the south, but no one yet knew what he would do, and there were many mountains between him and Toussaint. In the north was peace, but Toussaint made himself very busy getting ready for more war, and he seemed to think that this war would come in French ships from over the sea, no matter what letters he sent.
War wants guns, and guns want money, and money wanted sugar and coffee to be brought out of the trees and the cane fields. For that, more of the grand blancs were coming back all the time, after Hédouville had gone. They agreed with Toussaint, now, even better than with the French, and that hurt the confidence that some felt in Toussaint, especially with Moyse, and a few others. I, Riau, I was doubtful too, although I kept the doubt hidden behind my head. I saw many of Toussaint’s letters and the letters which came to him, so I thought he was right that the war was not finished yet, and I knew we would need more guns, with powder and bullets to feed them.
For that, it happened that Captain Riau was sent with men to bring Michel Arnaud to his plantation on the plain again, with his wife who served the mysteries, because they had run away again from that place when the rising against Hédouville happened, and they did not know what they would find when they came back—if the place had been burned again or not, or if the people of the hoe there would have stayed. The doctor came with them also, to begin a hospital there for people who were sick or hurt. He had said to Arnaud that if he cared for the sick ones on his plantation, that would be a protection for himself, because people would return the good he did for them. Arnaud seemed to listen to this, although I thought it was against what was truly in him. No one was more savage to our people than Arnaud before the slaves broke off their chains.
But when we did come to Habitation Arnaud, the people had not burned the cane fields. The mill had been only partly rebuilt since they had knocked it down the first time, but they had not knocked down that part which had been raised again. And the people had stayed there instead of running away, in their cases around the borders of the cane pieces. The people seemed quiet to me, too quiet, and they turned their faces from us and lowered their heads when we came riding up that allée of stumps which led to the main compound.
Arnaud was happy—one could see his head lift up and his spine unkink itself—because he had expected it all to be destroyed. As for his woman, when she stepped down into the yard, she turned her head around and around like an owl, looking for that shed which was no longer there, and when her eyes found the burned patch where it had been, they rolled back white, and she fell away from herself toward the ground, but Arnaud came quickly and caught her up. The people of that place were watching from the hedges to see if the loa would rise up in her body, but she had only fainted, and Arnaud carried her into the house.
I, Riau, I had not seen the burning of the shed, but I had heard about it from the doctor and also from Flaville, and I knew what was in the shed before it had been burnt.
We stayed at Habitation Arnaud for eight days. As Captain, Riau might have slept in the grand’case with the doctor and the other blancs. Arnaud invited me to sleep there, but I did not want to stay in his house. Bouquart found a case down below the cane mill, and I went there at night to stay with him. In the day, I worked with the doctor and some of the men Arnaud had called in from the cane fields or the mill to help with raising the hospital. His woman Claudine came out then, and took an interest in what we would do; she asked for a brush arbor to be raised next to the room which would be for the hospital, where she might teach the children of those who worked the fields. Arnaud ordered this done to please her. All the time she walked high on her toes like a cat trying to cross water. It appeared that she was meant to stand over the leaf women who would tend the hospital, and the doctor taught her certain things to do. She was slow, but willing when she did these things, and she had a gentle touch. The children were drawn by this softness in her, so that they came willingly to the brush arbor when it was made to learn the letters in her book. Yet I wondered if this gentleness was really her own.
Arnaud thought it wasteful, this business of teaching the children. He said nothing, but his thought showed in the curl of his lip. He was suspicious of the hospital too, and so were the people who worked his fields. In the old days Arnaud had given himself to wounding, not healing. There was no great illness, and no one was badly hurt while we stayed there, but some of the men came to the hospital with the ordinary cuts on their hands and faces from the cane leaves. Claudine and the leaf women poulticed their cuts with gueri trop vite, so that they healed more quickly.
But one day there came to the hospital a runaway who had been caught by the maréchaussée and brought back to Arnaud during slavery time. She was an old woman now, or looked to be so. She did not come right into the hospital, but remained standing at the edge of the bush, with her breasts hanging slack against her ribs and the stumps where her hands were held up before her. Arnaud had cut off her hands as a punishment, when the maréchaussée brought her back to him. There was nothing to be done about it now, so the doctor turned his face to the wall, but Claudine did not look away, and the bolt of pain that passed between them was like thunder.
That handless woman stayed in her case all through her days because she could no longer do anything. Claudine persuaded Arnaud to take a girl out of the cane field to care for her in the daytime. Also she had made a wooden hook and a spoon to be fastened to those stumps, so that the woman could help herself a little. After Claudine had done those things, some of the other people began to meet her eyes more freely when she looked at them, and some of them would shyly touch her hands, although they were still fearful of her spirit.
On the fifth night that we stayed there one of my soldiers forced a woman from the plantation to open her legs for him, and I ordered him to be shot. There was nothing else to do about it. By dawn a great stir had begun among the woman’s family and spread all through Arnaud’s cultivators, and they would have risen against us if the man had not been punished. I shot him myself with my own pistol, but left it to others to bring his flesh to the cemetery. It was what Toussaint would have wanted and what he would have done, the same as if Toussaint himself were working through my hands, and in fact he told me so himself when I reported it to him. After this had been done, the people became calm again, and they went quietly back to work—too quietly.
I wondered if perhaps Arnaud practiced his old cruelties on them when no one else was there to see, but I learned from the people that this was not true. This I found out mostly from Bouquart, because he had taken up with a woman there, who gave herself to him freely, and that was a good way of getting the news. I teased him about Zabeth at Ennery, but there was not much heart in my teasing. Bouquart told me that the people were not downhearted for anything Arnaud had done to them, but because of Toussaint who had ordered that any man not in the army must work and stay on the land he worked for his whole life long, or else be punished by the soldiers with their guns. Also Toussaint had taken away many of the Sonthonax guns from the men who worked the land, saying he would return them if there was need to use them. No one said it was like slavery again, the way they had spoken about Hédouville, but I could feel them thinking so, although they would not say it to my face.
Bouquart was always away with his new woman at night, so I was alone in the case. I did not like this, and often I could not sleep. One night I rose as if a voice had called me and walked around the cane mill to the open yard before the grand’case. The moon was two days past the full, and in the light of it Claudine came drifting from the house and stopped in the burnt circle of the shed where Arnaud had once kept his slave-catching dog which the doctor had shot, and where later Claudine had murdered the maid named Mouche. She turned within the walls which were burned down, turning and turning under the moon.
From the shadow of the mill wall, I watched her. Arnaud was watching too, from a seat on the gallery of the grand’case. He sat very still—only the pommel of his twisted stick kept falling from one of his hands to the other. It made me uneasy to think that he probably saw me too, inside the shadow of the wall. Riau had more power than Arnaud then, but for that moment I did not quite believe it.
After a while I saw that someone else was watching too, a woman who stood inside a fringe of trees, across the clearing from the mill. I went to where she was standing, exposed to Arnaud’s eyes under the moon, though he made no sign that he had noticed me. The woman was Cléo, a mulattress who had been housekeeper here. I had known her in the camps of Grande Riviere, where she had run after Claudine slashed the throat of Mouche in the shed. It was Cléo who told me all that story.
“Zombi,” she said now, pointing her chin at Claudine where she turned, but I shook my head.
“No, she is waiting for Baron,” I said.
Cléo turned to me with her mouth round in surprise, and I told her what I had seen at Le Cap, in the hûnfor, how Baron, or sometimes Erzulie-gé-Rouge, would mount the head of this whitewoman.
When Cléo had understood this, she stepped out of the cover of the trees and went to Claudine and took one of her hands in her own and put the other hand at the base of Claudine’s head. A breath went out of Claudine like wind, and she let her head roll back against Cléo’s hand. Cléo led her slowly to the house. All the time Arnaud was watching from the gallery, as if he had expected all these things to happen, though it had been years since Cléo set her foot on that plantation.
Two days later we were riding back to Le Cap, the doctor and Bouquart and I, and the other men in my command, to report to Toussaint that soon Arnaud would be sending brown sugar to the port, along with many other planters on the plain. That sugar would be loaded onto ships for England and America and would be traded for more guns and powder and shot. But the people were cutting the cane and milling it to sugar under force from the army, and if they did not want to do it, perhaps there would be chains for them again, perhaps the whip. When they saw us riding toward them, they lowered their heads and turned away, because I, Riau, was a soldier of the gun, while they were only workers of the hoe. It was like I had myself turned into a blanc. When I thought this, I was cold all over, as though my spirit had gone away and left me to become a zombi, dead flesh forked across the saddle, my arms and legs answering to someone else’s will.
The Commissioner Roume had come to Le Cap by the time that we arrived there. Toussaint had sent for him across the mountains. I heard the blanc secretary Pascal and some others who muttered that Toussaint had done this only to hide the truth that it was really himself who did and commanded everything now. Roume was an old man then, and frail, but his heart was strong, and he spoke and acted by what he believed. He was a believer in Toussaint. But also, Roume wanted to make peace between Rigaud and Toussaint, or bring back the peace that Hédouville had broken between those two.
For that, he called Rigaud and Toussaint to meet at Port au Prince, and so Toussaint marched south, with a part of his army. We stopped for a day and a night at Ennery, where Toussaint saw his family, and Riau saw his. That child who had two fathers was born another girl child, and we had agreed among the three of us to name her Marielle. When we left Ennery for Port-au-Prince, Guiaou marched in my command, and I had put him in charge of a squad of men, because he was respected for his fighting and I knew the men would trust and follow him.
But there was not supposed to be any fighting on this march. Peace covered the whole way to Port-au-Prince, and the plantations of the Artibonite Valley were back at work, and so were those of the Cul de Sac plain. When we came to Port-au-Prince, Rigaud was there as expected, and there was a great celebration of the end of slavery. Beside Rigaud was Beauvais, and with Toussaint was Christophe Mornet and also Laplume, who had been leading Dieudonné’s men since Dieudonné was taken and killed. All of these chiefs made a contest who could shout the loudest—Gloire à la République! That night there was a big bamboche with drums and dancing, on the open ground above the town.
It seemed then that Rigaud and Toussaint might come back to the good understanding which had been between them before, as the agent Roume had wished it. Rigaud had a letter from Hédouville, which said he did not have to obey Toussaint any more. I, Riau, knew of this letter from Pascal and the doctor, but Rigaud had not showed it to the whole world yet. When he showed this letter to Roume, the old man told him that his own words were now stronger than the words of Hédouville, and that Rigaud must give obedience to Toussaint, even though in the south it was really Rigaud who commanded.
Rigaud did not like to hear this very much. Maybe he would have accepted it, though, if it had been a matter only of making words and a show of respect to the General-in-Chief. But Rigaud wanted Petit Goâve and Grand Goâve and Léogane to be a part of his command. These were the nearest towns to the south of Port-au-Prince, and they had all been places where Dieudonné was, before he was taken, and now Laplume commanded them in Toussaint’s name, so there was the same old trouble which began when Laplume gave himself to Toussaint instead of to Rigaud. Roume did not agree that Rigaud should have those towns, and Rigaud grew angry when he was refused, because his temper was too quick and hot. In anger he rushed out of Port-au-Prince with the men he had brought with him, and perhaps before he had well thought of what would follow.
Then there was a lot of confusion in Port-au-Prince, because it seemed that the people there might take the part of Rigaud. Even Christophe Mornet, who commanded for Toussaint at Port-au-Prince and who had served under him for a long time and won battles for Toussaint against the Spanish and the English too—the whisper was that Christophe Mornet was with Rigaud in his heart and making ready to betray Toussaint at any moment. Maybe it was true, or at least Toussaint believed it, because later on Christophe Mornet was arrested and killed with bayonets at Gonaives.
During this time there had been a rising against Rigaud near Jérémie, which was very far out on the southern peninsula where Rigaud was supreme. Rigaud had been all around Jérémie with his soldiers and believed he had driven the English away from that town, although it was also because of Toussaint’s talk with Maitland that the English sailed away. This rising was supposed to be in favor of Toussaint and some said it was begun by Toussaint’s secret hand, but the colored men put it down soon enough, and afterward there were forty black men who were crushed into a prison cell so tightly that, for want of air to breathe, they died.
Toussaint was very angry at this, and he declared that it was always the blacks who ended up dying in such affairs. Most times until then, Toussaint had not been so strictly bound to his own color, but had been as friendly to whites and blacks, and to colored men also if he trusted them. But this thing that happened in the prison was very bad. It made me think of Dieudonné, with the air smashed out of him by his chains, and when Guiaou heard of it, though he said nothing, I saw that he was thinking of the Swiss.
It was all so uneasy at Port-au-Prince that Roume thought we must move the government to Le Cap, where it was safer. Toussaint agreed to do this, but before he took the army away from Port-au-Prince, he called all the colored people to the church so that he could speak to them. Toussaint climbed to the high place where the priest stands in the church. His eyes were red and he shook with anger from his bootheels up and when he took off his general’s hat, he was wearing the red mouchwa têt beneath it, instead of the yellow one. I thought maybe war would begin that same day. I stood in the back of the church, with some of my men mixed with some of Laplume’s. Guiaou was near me, and Bouquart, and also Bienvenu who was then one of Laplume’s men, but Toussaint was speaking to the colored men and not to us.
“You colored people who have always betrayed the blacks from the beginning of the revolution—what is it that you want today? There is no one who does not know: you want to be masters of the colony, to exterminate the whites and enslave the blacks! But, perverse men that you are, youought to consider that you are forever dishonored already by the deportation and the murder of the those black troops who were known as the Swiss. Did you for one instant hesitate to sacrifice, to the hatred of the whites, those unfortunate men who had spilled their blood for your cause? Why did yousacrifice them?—because they were black.”
When Toussaint said that, I could feel Guiaou’s thought—that at last the Swiss would be avenged, and with his help, because it was Guiaou who had brought the story of the Swiss to Toussaint. I felt the thought flow over him, and his body moved like a tree in the wind.
“Why,” Toussaint shouted, “does General Rigaud refuse to obey me? Because I am black! Why else should he refuse to obey a French general like himself, and one who has contributed more than anyone else to the expulsion of the English? You colored men, through your treachery andyour insane pride, you have already lost the share of political power you once had. As for General Rigaud, he is utterly lost; I see him before my eyes in the depths of the abyss; rebel and traitor to his country, he will surely be devoured by the troops of liberty. You mulattos—” Toussaint raised his right arm high and closed his hand into a fist. “—I see to the bottom of your souls; you are ready to rise against me, but although my troops are leaving the west, I leave here my eye to watch you, and my arm, which will always know how to reach you.”
Then Toussaint brought his arm down like a sword cut and walked out of the church to his horse, which was held waiting for him while he spoke. We all of us rode north then, without stopping. Of course Toussaint’s words came quickly enough to the ears of Rigaud, and not long after, Rigaud showed Hédouville’s letter to everyone and laid claim to the powers that Hédouville had promised him. Then we all knew that the next war would not come from the whitemen over the sea, but that it would begin among ourselves.
In that close, blind, secret room of the Cigny house, Captain Maillart tumbled with Isabelle—his Isabelle again, or soon to be. It was midday, but no way to know in that windowless room with its shrouded lamps, except for the heat. Bathed in slicks of heavy sweat, they slithered against each other like eels. The thrill, so long deferred, bulged in the back of the captain’s throat. It took him some time to realize that the excitement was not reaching the rest of his body and that the most salient part of him had declined to respond to this great occasion.
He sat up, more puzzled than distressed; he’d never, ever had such a difficulty—well, not since his first inexperienced fumbling which now seemed several lifetimes in the past. Isabelle plunged her face in her hands and began to cry, her fingers knotting in her black curls, her pale shoulders heaving.
“It’s my fault, my fault,” she choked. “I wanted to use you . . .”
“But what?” Maillart laid his hand on her back. “I don’t understand you.”
“Oh, it’s all hopeless, I don’t know—only I am in such trouble.”
Maillart’s hand kept dropping on her back in a slow, steady rhythm; some hollow within her answered, like a drum.
“But tell, my dear,” he said. “What is your trouble?”
Isabelle straightened and turned to him her tear-streaked, distraught face. Her hips were caught in a pool of her skirt, her small bare breasts still alert from their unconsummated encounter.
“I’m with child.” She collapsed on his neck.
“Well now,” Maillart murmured. Their position was awkward. He sat on the edge of the divan where they’d struggled, with both his feet on the floor, his upper body twisted to support her. He glanced down at his numb and shriveled member. Could this portend some sudden vocation for the priesthood? He laughed, silently, at the absurdity. “Well, now,” he repeated. “How terrible can that be?”
“Oh, you don’t know.” She snuffled against his collarbone. Maillart’s fingers counted up the knobs of her spine. He rubbed her bowed neck. The chain was gone. He recalled the pendant that had shocked him before—that stone phallus more dependable than his own.
“Where did you get it?” he said absently. “That . . . thing, which you’re not wearing now.”
Isabelle pulled a little away from him. “I took it off for you,” she said. “It was a gift, from Joseph.”
Vomit squirted into the back of the captain’s gullet. He clapped both hands over his mouth and forced himself to swallow it back. His mind went through a series of sickening swoops. Flaville’s constant proximity, the quiet concentration of his power, like her shadow. Only because it was unthinkable had he failed to think of it before. An eruption of images fumed up at him like bats emerging from a cave: black limbs intertwined with white; her mouth on his, the red yawn of her nether lips. He gagged again, and with an effort calmed the convulsion of his belly.
“You see?” Isabelle was huddled in her own arms. “Even you reject me. The whole world will.”
“No,” said Maillart. “No.” The sweat on his face and forehead had turned chilly. “I don’t mean that . . . It’s something of a shock.”
He straightened his spine and looked at her carefully. She was still herself, still Isabelle. “You do have a difficulty,” he admitted.
Isabelle rocked forward, with fresh sobs.
“And your husband?”
“He’ll murder me,” Isabelle said simply, cutting off her tears. “Oh, there is much he overlooks, but he has his limits, and I know them.” She sat up, wiping her eyes on her forearm. “Incidentally, our children are his own.”
“Well, then,” Maillart looked away from her. “How far is it along? There are ways, I’m told . . .”
“No,” Isabelle said. “I cannot. If I did so, even God would turn His face from me.”
“I had not known you were so devout.”
“No,” she said. “But I too have my limits.”
“Ah,” said Maillart, rubbing his temples. “In that case, I don’t quite see . . .” He was still looking at the opposite wall. “Does Flaville know?”
“I don’t mean to tell him,” she said. “It would make trouble.”
“You’ve made your share of that, in any case.” Maillart smoothed his mustache with his thumb. “Well, perhaps you’re right.”
“Oh,” Isabelle wailed softly. “This time I am truly lost.”
“Wait,” said Maillart. “Don’t despair. I’ll get you out of it.”
“Yes,” he said, though his mind had locked. But there was a way, some way. He could feel it, if he could not yet see it. “Yes, I will.”
“Oh, my true friend, I knew only you would save me.” Isabelle drove her small body against his again, and with the greatest abandon ever—as he felt how wholly she abandoned herself to him, his male vigor returned full force. But he shifted from her, even as she began to croon over his return.
“No,” he said.
“But I want it!”
“No, we mustn’t—”
“Oh, do I disgust you so?”
“Not in the slightest, my dear—the evidence to the contrary is in your hand.” So saying Maillart disengaged himself cautiously from her hot grasp. “Only, as things are now, we mustn’t chance spoiling our friendship.”
The heat had begun to slacken a little by the time he left her. The captain walked down to the harbor front, to freshen himself in the sea breeze. Porters were laboring up the gangway of a cargo ship, bowed double under great sacks of sugar or coffee. A harbor pilot Maillart knew slightly hailed him from the bow of the ship. The captain responded with a nod and a flick of his hand and walked on, fidgeting unconsciously with the points of his mustache. When he had reached the Customs House he turned away from the water and began walking back into the town.
Bold as he’d been to say he’d solve her problem, no solution had come to him so far. Maillart was unaccustomed to worry, but he did worry now. He knew there must be some path out of the difficulty, but the route was far from evident to him. In a state of abstraction, unaware of anything around him, he walked all the way up the sloping streets to the casernes, where he found Doctor Hébert waiting for him. At that, it occurred to him that the doctor was probably the only white person in the colony to whom it would be safe to confide his quandary.
Maillart had a jug of rum in his quarters, and the doctor sat on the edge of a cot, sipping thoughtfully from a chipped glass, while the captain told as much of the story as he knew.
“Well, that is serious,” he muttered, at the end. “Well, what to do . . . There are certain herbs, I have been told, though I have not tested their use myself . . .”
“She wouldn’t,” the captain said. “That is, she won’t.”
“Ah well, I don’t much like the thought of it either.” The doctor hugged his knees and squinted through the open door. The light in the yard of the casernes was turning an ominous purple-streaked color, and the thunder rose from behind Morne du Cap.
“But where does that leave her?” the doctor said. “She must put herself out of the way somehow, so no one is there at the time of the birth . . . Who else knows about it, did you say?”
“I’d wager no one but myself,” the captain told him, and, thinking of the afternoon’s aborted dalliance, “I can testify, it doesn’t yet show.”
“So much the better,” the doctor said. “Hmmmm . . . You know, Nanon is in the same state.”
“Félicitations,” said Maillart. But at the doctor’s expression he bethought himself that this child too might have a somewhat irregular paternity.
“Yes,” said the doctor. “I had meant to bring her down to Ennery, as soon as it was possible to go with her myself. But that wouldn’t do for our Isabelle—she and my sister are great friends, but this would try their friendship sorely. Besides, there are too many visitors at Habitations Thibodet.”
He stood up and padded to the doorway and peered for a moment up at the sky. The thunder pounded once again. The doctor turned back to face the room. “If we could get her up into the interior somehow . . .”
“On what pretext?”
“Health, perhaps. The fever season is coming on—it’s healthier in the mountains, away from the swamps. Also there’s trouble brewing around Le Cap, I think—Rigaud’s partisans, you know. One of the reasons I’d like to get Nanon and Paul away.” He stooped to pour himself another short measure of rum. “Isabelle could always visit her own plantation with no need for a pretext at all.”
“Yes, but Cigny is there himself as often as not, now that the cane mills are working again,” said the captain. He twisted up the end of his mustache. “Arnaud certainly owes her hospitality.”
“But imagine his reaction when she presents the world with a Negro baby,” the doctor said. “You know, that child is apt to be black as your hat.”
The captain said nothing. He felt that the predicament had impaled him with a barb which no effort could draw.
“Now then,” the doctor mused. “Nanon has some connection in the mountains above Dondon, and at Vallière. I wouldn’t so much mind it if she went in that direction—at least till all this dispute with Rigaud is settled. If it goes poorly, there will be fighting all up and down the coast, and Ennery isn’t as far away as I should like.”
“True enough,” said the captain. “And it’s not likely to go well.”
“My thought, exactly,” the doctor said. “Well, let us say that Nanon is to go as far as Dondon. With Paul, and perhaps with Paulette. Then leave it to Isabelle to devise her pretext to go with her. I expect that will be within the range of her imagination.”
“Undoubtedly,” the captain, feeling somewhat more at ease. The doctor drained his glass and set it on the floor beside the jug. As he did so, the thunder rolled again and the sky opened all over the town. Both men stretched out on their parallel cots and lay half dozing, listening to the roar of the rain.
On the morning of June fifteenth, the doctor, asleep in the narrow attic room of the Cigny house, was roused by a shudder of the bed beneath him. Nanon turned toward him, without waking, and held him for an anchor. His pistols, arranged beneath the bed where another man might have left his slippers, skittered and clacked together. In the parlor downstairs, Isabelle braced herself against a doorframe and watched as the china bibelots on the mantel danced and rattled against each other and the small rococo clock. The mirror frame slapped once against the wall. Then her reflection steadied and all was still.
Before nightfall a courier came up from Gonaives with the news that Rigaud had published Hédouville’s letter generally, the letter which released him from Toussaint’s authority and left him sole and supreme commander of the Department of the South. According to the whisper, which traveled with Pascal, Roume was drafting a proclamation which would declare Rigaud a rebel and outlaw . . . for the second time. Toussaint’s reaction was unknown, as were his whereabouts.
The miniature earthquake was the first topic of discussion round the Cigny dining table that night. There had been more severe tremblements de terre in the region before now, strong enough to level buildings and start fires which consumed whole neighborhoods. Was the morning’s convulsion truly finished or was it a harbinger of worse to come? Monsieur Cigny opined the former—it was nothing, he assured the company; there would be no sequel. But Isabelle laid down her spoon and folded her little hands together.
“You know,” she said. “Although an earthquake is nothing to fear, I rather think that with all the other eruptions that seem likely to come our way, one might be well advised to retire from the town for a period.”
“Other eruptions?” Cigny inquired.
“The, er, political instability,” the doctor said rapidly, picking up the cue. “I think she may be right, at that.” He shot a covert glance at Maillart.
“Unfortunately, yes,” the captain added. “Even the loyalty of some of Toussaint’s officers has been cast into doubt.” He was thinking uneasily of Pierre Michel, though he did not say so. “And of course one must consider all the partisans of Villatte who have only been waiting for a favorable occasion.”
Major O’Farrel, who’d so recently adjusted his own allegiance, let the conversational bubble drift past him.
“I don’t call this occasion so favorable to the partisans of Villatte,” Cigny grunted, still plying his soup spoon. “They can assemble no plausible force against Toussaint’s black army.” He held out an empty hand for bread. Isabelle hurried to supply him.
“Not in the north, certainly,” Maillart agreed. “Nor in the Western Department. In the South, of course, Rigaud is master for the moment.”
Cigny stared. “One wearies of these conflicts,” he pronounced. “What profit is there in them—for anyone? It is a mere perversity of General Rigaud to refuse Toussaint’s authority.”
“It is the legacy of Agent Hédouville, and his cursed letter,” O’Farrel said unexpectedly. “He would divide, where he could not conquer.”
“But surely that must pass,” Cigny said. “Rigaud may be strong in his own region, but he has no force to reach us here.”
“Force of arms, no,” Maillart said, “but Hédouville has formally released him from Toussaint’s command. The letter gives him a position to promote dissension here, and have we not already heard the rumors he has loosed? Toussaint is in league with the proscribed émigrés—in thrall to them, I’ve heard it said. And Toussaint’s policy of forced labor, on which your enterprises depend, Monsieur, is no more than a ruse to restore slavery . . .”
Cigny laid down his chunk of bread untasted. “And Toussaint?”
He was looking at the doctor, who covered himself for a moment by gulping from his glass of water. Because of his secretarial privileges, people were apt to assume that he knew Toussaint’s mind, when nothing could be further from the truth. Toussaint’s mind was like a mirror in a lightless room, and no one knew whence came the light that gave it clarity . . . Of course, the doctor could not say this, and everyone was waiting.
“If trouble comes it will not find him unprepared,” he pronounced. “I believe in the end he will master this difficulty as he has mastered others.”
“‘In the end,’ you say. That is most comforting.” Isabelle tracked back toward her original intention. “For the moment, I wonder if it offers sufficient comfort.”
She glanced significantly at Captain Maillart, who narrowed his eyes and nodded his assent. With the corner of a napkin, Cigny meticulously cleaned a soup spill out of the curls of his beard. Isabelle rose from her place, circled the table, and laid her hands over Nanon’s bare shoulders.
“My friend is in a delicate condition,” Isabelle said. “I mean to care for her in her time of need. She ought to be taken away from the tremors and disruptions of the town, from whatever fresh disturbances may be in store, to some quiet place in the countryside.”
Cigny’s eyes widened slightly; he mashed the crumpled napkin under his pudgy hand. It was not so difficult for Maillart to read his thought: that his wife should make an issue of attending a mulatto trollop in her pregnancy? Perhaps she was laying it on a bit thick, at that.
Isabelle’s hands tightened slightly on Nanon’s shoulders, and Nanon raised her face, impassive, the heavy petals of her lips sealed together. My Christ, Maillart thought, has she told her? He was looking directly into the molasses swirl of Nanon’s eyes, but there was no divining what she knew or did not know.
“Hmmmph,” Cigny grunted, smoothing his beard down over his shirt front. “I mean to go tomorrow, in any event, to see about the mill at Haut de Trou. There is no reason why you should not accompany me if you so wish. Of course, you may invite anyone you choose.”
He lifted his spoon again and lowered his eyes to his soup bowl. Isabelle clicked her tongue, parted her lips as if she would say something more, but then apparently decided against it. She gave Nanon’s shoulders a parting squeeze, and went back to her own place at the table.
Bertrand Cigny went directly to his plantation on the following day—the place was reachable in a single long day’s ride. But as the ladies were to travel in a carriage, it was decided that they would break the journey with an overnight visit to Habitation Arnaud. There was the boy Paul too, riding with them in the carriage, or sometimes, to humor him, taken before Maillart on the saddle. Paulette had been detached from the expedition, since Isabelle, for reasons only the captain knew in full, did not want anyone else’s retainers to be part of her own entourage.
From the start their progress was painfully slow, since the roads were boggy from the rains. Every half-hour, it seemed, Maillart was obliged to dismount the black dragoons he’d brought along as an escort and help them cut brush to lay across some muddy slough so that the narrow wheels of the carriage might pass over without miring. Each delay fretted him; he was delighted to have been of use, but as eager for his own part in the affair to be finished. With Toussaint still unfindable, he’d left Le Cap on his own authority, and was uneasy about the situation in the town. The rumors of trouble had not been invented for the sake of Bertrand Cigny.
When they creaked into the Arnaud compound, late that afternoon, Maillart was somehow unsurprised to find Joseph Flaville already there, standing by his horse in a cluster of other riders, as if they too had just arrived or were departing. A tour of inspection, doubtless, to ensure that Arnaud’s field hands were faithful in their service. The captain saluted and turned smartly to hand Isabelle down from the carriage. Flaville swept off his hat and bowed to the ladies. Maillart felt Isabelle’s fingers flutter expressively over his palm. Flaville was offering his arm to help Nanon down the carriage step.
Claudine Arnaud had appeared on the low porch of the Arnaud grand’case, and Isabelle, with a contrived little cry of pleasure, went tripping across the yard toward her. Nanon followed; a footman lugging their portmanteaux brought up the rear.
Maillart turned to Flaville. He felt nothing of what he’d expected to feel. No trace of the nausea which had assailed him when he’d first learned the situation, no anger, no real resentment, but only curiosity. He knew that Flaville had attended that savage ceremony at Bois Cayman where the first revolt of the slaves was planned. He’d been a co-conspirator with Boukman, had presided over the sack and burning of plantations and massacre of their inhabitants, had no doubt painted his naked flanks with the blood of slaughtered whites. In the eight years since, he’d evolved into a capable, even an honorable officer, and if his dependability were ever in doubt, Maillart believed, that was only because his ferocity for the freedom of his people superseded every other loyalty. How all these qualities could coexist in the same individual was truly a subject for wonder.
“Have you got word?” Maillart said. “Rigaud’s in rebellion.”
Flaville folded his arms over his uniform tunic. “When?”
“We learned of it yesterday,” said Maillart. “He’s refused obedience to the General-in-Chief—no fighting yet, that I know of.”
“Invisible.” Maillart shrugged. “Introuvable. Or he was when I left Le Cap. Are you stopping here for the night?”
“I think not,” said Flaville. “We were bound for Limbé, and by what you tell me, I think we ought to get there that much faster.”
He swung his leg over the saddle and saluted. “Thank you for the news,” he said, and led the other riders out.
Maillart was wearier than he’d recognized, his legs rubbery from the day’s ride. He walked up the steps to the gallery and dropped onto a chair. The wind that came before the rain was shivering all the trees, and the guinea fowl pecking and scratching in the yard began to scatter. It made the captain feel hungry to look at them.
Isabelle came out of the house and handed him a glass of limeade laced with rum. He tasted gratefully, cleared his throat. She remained standing, near his side, looking out over the darkening compound. The captain was moved, by her grace and her fortitude. Isabelle was at her best in tight situations, he thought. Possibly that was why she’d been so fond of entertaining her lovers under her husband’s nose. He wondered what she would have been like as a man.
“You said that an earthquake is nothing to fear,” he reminded her. When she turned to him, he saw the thread of chain slip on her throat, and thought of Flaville with her, and dismissed the thought.
“Are you afraid of earthquakes?” she said.
Maillart reached for his drink. He had never admitted fear of anything to anyone, and certainly not to a woman. “There is no defense against an earthquake,” he said finally.
“And for that, no reason to fear them,” Isabelle said, with a click of her tongue, as if impatient at his lack of insight. But she stayed, her fingertips grazing the table, very near to his own hand which was curled around the glass. The air kept thickening, denser and denser, till the whole sky opened and the rain came down.
They stayed at Habitation Arnaud all through the next day and night, at the insistence of their hosts, who wished to make a token repayment of all the nights they’d spent under Isabelle’s roof in town, and also wanted to display their projects. Maillart chafed as he was shown around the mill. He sensed that the whole country was drawing itself in for another violent explosion, while he was stuck in these doldrums. It would take two more days to get the women and Paul even as far as Dondon, with the planned stopover at Habitation Cigny.
At the lowest terrace of the mill, Arnaud dipped his hand into a large wooden basin, and lifted it, spilling white granules over the pale mound inside.
“Do you see?”
“It is sugar,” the captain said, indifferently.
“White sugar.” Arnaud seethed with enthusiasm. “Do you know there are not five planters left on the plain who can refine it? All the skilled men have been killed, or disappeared into the hills.”
Maillart examined the sugar again with slightly quickened interest. True enough, it was pretty stuff. And it would please Toussaint to know that it existed. Arnaud whistled up his refiners to be introduced. Both were smiling, and seemed pleased and proud of their positions. One, he noticed, lacked an arm, which had been severed near the shoulder.
As Arnaud must go on with the work in the mill, Maillart excused himself and went to find the ladies at the school which Claudine was managing for the smaller Negro children, in the lean-to next to the new infirmary. He reached them at the moment of dismissal, for she let them go before it grew too hot—the heat muddied their attention, she had said. They were pressing around her now before they parted, and she gave them bits of hardened brown sugar to suck, and some of them kissed her fingers before they ran away. Maillart noticed that she carried her maimed hand without self-consciousness, and that it was less noticeable to him now than when she’d worn the glove.
“At eight years they must go to the fields,” Claudine was explaining to Isabelle and Nanon. “That took some argument with Arnaud, who would send them at six. Still, it is something.” She smiled, dimpling, and led them into the infirmary. In her renascent bloom, she even looked somewhat younger than before.
In the evening, Maillart was alone for a time with Isabelle on the gallery. Arnaud was detained at the mill, and Nanon and Claudine were with Cléo, the mulattress housekeeper, in the kitchen. Much as the delay annoyed him, the captain was looking forward to his supper; the night before Cléo had proved herself to be quite a remarkable cook.
“I must admit,” he said to Isabelle, “I don’t quite understand the situation here. One would take them for a pair of missionaries now. But in the old days there was no one in the colony with a worse reputation for cruelty to his slaves than Michel Arnaud. And the wife thought to be a gibbering lunatic . . .”
Isabelle nodded. “Some men improve under the pressure of necessity,” she said. “Arnaud has a strong will, and formerly there was nothing to oppose it. Now he seems to take a certain pleasure in his work, but then there was nothing for him to do—all was done for him. It is the same case with many Creoles . . .” She laughed, with little mirth, and shook her head. “For that reason, I chose to marry a Frenchman.”
Maillart could compose no reply to that. After a moment, Isabelle went on.
“Concerning Claudine, there was apparently a priest who assigned her the care of small children as a penance. As she has been faithful in the task, it seems that her sanity is restored.”
“Indeed she is greatly changed, and for the better.”
“And when one considers where she started—she was once a terrible figure.”
“I know it,” Maillart said. The tale in which Claudine hacked off her own ring finger to appease the bloodthirsty swarm of rebel slaves had been very widely told.
“Oh, I wonder if you do,” Isabelle said. “I learned what I know of it myself only during this visit. It seems that Arnaud, like many men of his type, was in the habit of amusing himself with the Negro women here. Claudine, like many wives so situated, grew weary of seeing the product of his indiscretions scattered through her household. Also apparently he mocked her own lack of fecundity, or she felt that he did so by his actions. A housemaid he had given her was carrying his child. One day when Arnaud was absent on his affairs, Claudine dragged the maid out to that shed.” Isabelle gestured toward the empty space, as if the structure she’d named were still standing. “She cut the infant out of the womb, and killed the maid with a razor. From this followed her insanity, and her carelessness of her own survival.”
“My God,” Maillart said. “She confessed this to you?”
“Hardly,” Isabelle said. “Cléo was housekeeper at that time too. She did not tell me, but she told Nanon.”
“So that’s how it goes,” Maillart said.
“They know everything, you see?” Isabelle said. “One has no secrets.” She smiled ruefully, looking away from him. “In the old days, I never kept a personal servant long.”
Maillart again had nothing to say.
“Cléo bore Arnaud’s children herself,” Isabelle told him, “and saw them sold away to other plantations, once they grew large enough to irk the master with the family resemblance.”
“And after all that she came back here?”
“It is a little surprising,” Isabelle said. “Of course, Cléo was something of a terror herself, in the camps of Grande Rivière. She took white women who had been so many times raped by the black chiefs that they had lost their attraction, and sent them into the river to do her washing. She had them beaten for small faults—like any Creole dame.”
“I see,” said Maillart. He had begun to feel a little chilly.
“An eye for an eye,” Isabelle said. “They understand each other here. They’ve shared things. Claudine once said that it must all be washed away in blood. That was in her madness, but I begin to think it quite a reasonable remark.”
“How did you come to know?” Maillart said. “About Cléo, in the camps, I mean.”
“Joseph told me.” As if unconsciously, Isabelle passed a hand over her abdomen. “Joseph knows that whole history of Claudine as well—I’m sure of it, although he never told me.”
Next morning they set out at an early hour for Habitation Cigny. Paul became restless by the time the sun was high; whether he shared the carriage with the women or Maillart’s saddle, he could not be still. When the opportunity presented itself, the captain bought a donkey from a drover who was bringing a string of them down to market, and set Paul astride, bareback, with an improvised rope bridle. The boy could manage his new mount well enough, and the work of it relieved his boredom. Since they still had the constant difficulty of negotiating the carriage across tricky places in the road, the donkey had no trouble keeping up with the rest of their caravan.
When they reached the Cigny plantation at Haut de Trou, Isabelle and her husband began to quarrel straightaway, though in muted voices and, as far as possible, out of earshot of their guests. Over dinner they continued to snipe obscurely at each other. The captain grasped that Isabelle had found undone a great deal of restoration she expected to have been accomplished at her father’s house and gardens. Cigny’s position seemed to be that every available hand was needed to produce cash crops. He had graver matters on his mind besides: the rumors Maillart had described had already reached his atelier. Cigny’s field hands had been roused to rebellion during the disturbances leading to Hédouville’s flight, and now they showed considerable discontent with Toussaint’s still more stringent labor policy, though so far they’d remained at their hoes.
After everyone had retired for the night, the marital dispute continued, at a higher pitch. The partitions were thin, so Maillart could hear the querulous burr of their voices, though he was only able to distinguish a few words. Finally he heard Cigny raise his voice to a shrill and breaking pitch.
“You will not!”
“I will,” said Isabelle.
Then silence, and the captain slept.
At first light he had gone to see to the state of the carriage, whose left rear wheel had developed a worrisome wobble in the course of the previous day, when he heard her voice behind him.
“We’ll leave that thing for firewood. We shall ride.”
“You can’t mean it,” he began.
“Come,” said Isabelle. “Consider the road to Dondon. And beyond?”
The captain saw that a groom was already leading out a mare and a gelding, each improbably outfitted with a sidesaddle.
“But—” He was thinking of the danger, but Isabelle’s expression told him, with unspeakable clarity, And what if I did lose this child? He swallowed, and turned around in a circle. Cigny was nowhere in sight, but Paul’s donkey had also been brought out, along with his own saddle-horse. Isabelle mounted the gelding, brushing aside the assistance of the groom, and then Nanon got onto her mare with the ease of a countrywoman getting aboard a donkey.
They rode out, attended by the cries of the little cocks hidden beneath the hedges on either side. As they reached the road, Maillart bethought himself that Nanon was pregnant too, and wondered if she shared Isabelle’s attitude. But after all, they’d not get a worse jolting horseback than they would have done in the carriage.
He rode on the inside of the black cavalrymen, flanking Isabelle and a few paces behind, where he could admire her slim, straight back, sprouting from the saddle like a green tree. He imagined her a man, a soldier. Brave to the point of recklessness, but without quite crossing that line. Some reckless men would crumble if the danger they courted responded to them, but Isabelle was of the type that grew more firm and steely in such circumstances. Through the thundering cloud of his other emotions, he could see that her affair with Flaville must have been her own most extreme means of daring the devil. Might he have done the same, in her place? But here his imagination failed him.
Dondon was boiling when they reached it, with soldiers rushing in all directions, preparing to move out.
“What are you doing here, Captain?” Moyse called harshly, fixing Maillart with his stubby finger. “No matter—take your men and report to Vaublanc.”
Maillart told Isabelle and Nanon to wait where they were. He slipped to the ground and led his horse diagonally to the point where he saw Vaublanc assembling his troop.
“What the devil?” he inquired, though in truth he was not so very surprised.
“Rigaud has attacked Petit Goâve,” Vaublanc told him. “Surprised Laplume and drove him back to Léogane.”
Vaublanc swept his hand around the bustling square. “As you see. Toussaint has already crossed the Ester—we are to join him at Port-au-Prince. Dessalines is with him too, as best we know. How many men have you?”
“Six,” said Maillart. “They are well mounted.”
“Excellent,” Vaublanc said. “I hope the horses are fresh—we’ll be riding a long way in a short time.”
“Allow me a moment,” Maillart said. “I have these women . . .”
He turned and in a flash of panic realized he could no longer see Isabelle sitting her horse. But there was Nanon, Paul too. For some reason both of them had climbed into a wagon alongside a tall and rather elegant-looking mulatto woman. Maillart handed the reins of his horse to one of his men and cut back across the square toward them. He felt himself raked by Moyse’s regard, the good eye and the crater of the missing one. Moyse was wont to uncover the empty socket before riding into battle. A general superstition among the black rank-and-file held that the lost eye looked always into the underworld.
Distracted, the captain cannoned into Isabelle before he saw her. They clutched each other by the shoulders to keep from falling down.
“It’s all right,” she said. “We’ve found friends.” She turned her chin toward the wagon. “Nanon knows this woman—so does Antoine. They will take us to Maltrot’s old property at Vallière.”
“But Choufleur!” Maillart blurted.
“You told me yourself he is with Rigaud—he will be otherwise engaged. And we will be protected. But you have orders—you must go.”
She raised herself on her toes to embrace him, laying her cheek to his. There was a dampness through the dust. Then her sharp fingers pushed him back.
“Go quickly.” She’d already turned away.
Maillart returned to his men and his horse. By the time he had mounted, the wagon had left the square. She was gone from him, into the unknown; he could not predict whether she’d emerge from it again. But it was no time for sentiment, and that, he reflected as Moyse led them down from Dondon, was doubtless a good thing.
Toussaint’s sweep south to Port-au-Prince was so rapid and relentless that there was no thought of a stop at Ennery; the doctor, welded to his saddle after twelve hours’ hard riding, congratulated himself on having sent Nanon and Paul out of the way . . . supposing they had safely arrived where they were meant to have gone. At any rate he was too exhausted to worry much when, in the train of Toussaint’s cavalry, he rode into Port-au-Prince. Toussaint went directly into a war council, but the doctor was given leave to retire. He found a billet in the casernes, and despite his weariness went for clean water and changed the dressing on his left arm. The wound from Choufleur’s pistol ball was slight, but slow to heal, and in this climate it could not be neglected. With the fresh bandage tightened, he stretched out and lay motionless as a plank. In the night he had fleeting dreams of Suzanne Louverture and her three sons, tucked safely away on the central plateau, across the Spanish border, during that period before Toussaint had entered French service; the lingering images of those dreams reassured him next morning when he woke to the rattle and clash of new arrivals.
Moyse had just brought in his regiment, and Captains Vaublanc and Maillart soon searched the doctor out. His question must have been plainly legible on his face, for Maillart was quick to tell him that all was well.
“They found a friend to take them to Vallière,” he said. “A tall mulattress—she seemed a person of substance. I had not time to learn her name, but Isabelle told me that you’d know her.”
“That would be Madame Fortier,” the doctor said, considerably relieved. He squeezed Maillart on the shoulders. “I’m in your debt.”
Maillart nodded dizzily, dragging the back of his wrist across his sweaty and dust-streaked face. He pulled off his boots and collapsed on the cot the doctor had just vacated.
At the well, where he went to wash his face, the doctor met Riau and got the news. Rigaud had attacked Laplume at Petit Goâve with a superior force and driven him back to Léogane—Laplume’s men were mostly scattered and he’d barely missed being captured himself. The whites of Grand and Petit Goâve had been massacred, and the invaders had taken special care to slit the throats of landowners of whatever color who were known to have accepted the grace and favor of Toussaint for the restoration of their plantations. The mulatto Pétion, who served under Laplume but was believed by Toussaint to be a more valuable officer than his commander, had gone over to Rigaud’s faction, whether out of loyalty to his caste or out of doubt that Toussaint would continue to trust him. Indeed Toussaint, as Riau whispered from a shadowed face, was already arresting certain of his black subordinates whose allegiance seemed dubious to him. But Pétion’s defection galled him especially, for Pétion had been well placed to report on Toussaint’s strength and disposition.
The colored General Beauvais, long Rigaud’s second in the south, had gone to his post at Jacmel on the south coast immediately following Toussaint’s tirade against the mulattoes from the cathedral pulpit at Port-au-Prince. He remained there, declining to announce himself in favor of either Toussaint or Rigaud, as if he hoped to conserve neutrality—and a doomed hope too, the doctor was certain. But Riau told him also, in a lowered tone, that Moyse seemed to be in a parallel frame of mind with Beauvais; Moyse felt small enthusiasm for what he saw as a war between brothers, though certainly he would do as Toussaint ordered him, being the next thing to Toussaint’s blood kin.
Before noon their combined force pushed on to Léogane, twenty thousand strong or better. Numbers were firmly in their favor, but Toussaint was taking pains in his plan for a counterattack. He had a healthy respect for the talent in Rigaud’s officer cadre and the motivation of his men—fresh from a victory and with much to fear from a defeat. But before he could mobilize further, word came from the north that mulatto rebellions had broken out all through the Artibonite to the north coast and west to Môle Saint Nicolas on the farthest tip of the peninsula.
There were rumors of trouble at Le Cap, and the agent, Roume, was horribly agitated. Even Gonaives was restless—the town which had been Toussaint’s best bastion on the coast since he was serving under the Spanish. Toussaint called out his secretaries to inscribe his commands; the doctor was assigned the fair copy of a letter to the commander of Le Cap, Henri Christophe, which concluded thus:
The arrondissement of the east must still be the object of your solicitude in such critical circumstances. You know how volatile the inhabitants of that area are; set up camps which will keep order respected in that place, and you must even bring armed cultivators down from the mountains as you need them, to guarantee the security of the area; the colored men are as dangerous as they are vindictive; you must not take any half-measures with them, but have them arrested and even punished by death, whoever among them seems tempted to begin the least machination; Vallière should also be the object of your closest attention . . . I count more than ever on your imperturbable severity. Let nothing escape your vigilance.
Toussaint put Dessalines in charge of the force facing Rigaud, demoting the defeated Laplume in his favor, and whipped north, bringing with him Moyse and all his men. There were revolts in favor of Rigaud at Arcahaye and all across the Artibonite Valley, but Toussaint smashed them to flinders as he galloped through, disarming all ablebodied mulattos not already a part of his own forces, and executing exemplary numbers of them, without the formality of trial; some were led in front of cannon and mowed down with grapeshot, while certain others simply were bayoneted, and others were taken out to sea and drowned.
When they arrived at Arcahaye, the doctor saw Toussaint shudder, groan, even seem to weep, at the discovery that his orders along these lines had been exceeded. “Aii,” he was heard to moan, before numerous auditors, “the people here are terrible. I told them to trim the tree, not to uproot it.”
In fact a frightening number of colored men had been done away with before Toussaint reached the town; on whose authority was somewhat unclear. The doctor, moved by shock to make inquiry, was unable to discover if the orders came directly from Toussaint. “What does he want?” was all Riau would say. “When it rains, everyone gets wet.”
So the doctor could not know if Toussaint was shedding crocodile tears or real ones—a mixture of both, he was inclined to think. In a strange contortion of their usual attitudes, mulattoes seeking clemency now found more compassion from Moyse than from Toussaint. On the other hand, Toussaint harmed no colored women or children, though Rigaud was quick to accuse him of doing so (and though the colored women were often found up to their necks in conspiracy).
What was one to expect, indeed? The doctor worried and gnawed on the question in his mind, dreamy with exhaustion as they rode farther north day after day. The mention of Vallière in Toussaint’s letter had made him ill at ease, though he had a high regard for Christophe (who was also, fortunately, acquainted with Nanon). But what if the Fortiers were for Rigaud, or by some unhappy chance could falsely be connected to him? All over that region of the country, the Rigaudins were celebrating the fall of Toussaint, whose ruthlessless, when he reappeared, was meant to make them understand the extent of their prematurity. Wherever he advanced, Toussaint roused the field workers with the announcement that Rigaud and his partisans meant to restore slavery, and he gave them back the guns he’d promised to return whenever such an emergency arose. The whites of the areas Toussaint retook continued to be respected, and some were able to negotiate mercy for their colored children. But at the same time, all the white men fit to bear arms were drafted into the army on an emergency basis and sent south to report to Dessalines, while Toussaint continued his drive north.
Thus far, the campaign had presented itself to the doctor’s view more as a police action than a real war. There’d been no battles, properly speaking, only arrests and executions, except at Pont d’Ester, where they’d met with some resistance when they crossed the river. But on the western peninsula it would be war indeed. The Rigaudins, who had raised the rebellion at Môle Saint Nicolas, had mounted a full-bore attack on Port-de-Paix, where Maurepas commanded for Toussaint. Word was that Maurepas was badly outnumbered, and hard pressed to hold on.
At night in the tent they usually shared, the doctor was kept awake by Maillart’s uneasy fretting. The captain was not one to jump at shadows, but he was worried now that Toussaint might have made a strategic error in responding to the diversion in the north. The real threat, he proposed, came from Rigaud, who with sufficient resolve might break Dessalines’s cordon at Léogane and attack Toussaint from the rear.
“But Dessalines has ten thousand men between Léogane and the mountains of Jacmel,” the doctor objected. “Rigaud has not half that number.”
“No, but consider their quality,” the captain muttered. “Those are crack troops in Rigaud’s command, and the smaller force is more mobile too. Think what Toussaint was able to accomplish in the old days with only four thousand men. And Rigaud has more reason to be bold—if he hesitates now, he will be crushed.”
“I would not like the assignment of forcing a way through Dessalines,” the doctor said. “Dessalines is not to be underestimated.”
“That he certainly is not,” the captain said. “Only I fear that, just now, Rigaud is more in danger of underestimation.” He turned on his blanket, banged his elbow on a protruding root, cursed and went on grumbling while the doctor struggled to sleep. He was tired and ennervated by the constant state of alarm, and when he ought to have been sleeping, the ache and itch of his hurt arm annoyed him. He only hoped they would soon make their way to the seacoast, where he could bathe the wound in brine.
Often enough they moved at night. After the mass of the army had camped and cooked its provisions, Toussaint was apt to strike the tents of his immediate staff and move to some other location, away from the main bivouac. Sometimes he shifted his position more than once under cover of darkness; no one was ever quite sure where he slept—if he did sleep.
That night at Gros Morne, the doctor was unsurprised when Riau roused him by shaking his foot. He rose and poured himself into the habitual routines, saddling the mare, tying up the metal fittings of both saddle and bridle with rags to stop their jingling. Maillart was mutely furling up the tentcloth, then strapping the roll behind his saddle.
At this height, at this hour, it was rather chilly. A sliver of moon hung over the bowl where the army had camped, like a shaving of ice—but the men were gone. The main force had been filtered out earlier, in what direction the doctor did not know. Toussaint’s little entourage was following a different route, apparently, for no one else was near them.
In silence, single file, they rode down a rocky defile in the general direction of Jean Rabel. The doctor stroked the withers of his mare. She had grown somewhat calmer, these last months, and was actually easier to manage by night, when less was visible to alarm her nervous eye. The doctor yawned, but quietly as a cat. At a turn of the descending path, he caught a glimpse of Toussaint. The size of his warhorse set him above the others, but he was not wearing his general’s hat tonight, only the less conspicious madras headcloth.
At the bottom of the ravine, the trees closed over them; they moved on through thick, damp darkness, silent but for the whirring insects and the sigh of horses’ breath. It was warmer here, and the road underfoot was damp and plashy, and there were a few mosquitoes, whose whine and sting would rouse the doctor from the doze into which he kept drifting. Just behind him in the dark, he thought he heard the rasp of Maillart’s snore.
Then for some reason the horses bunched up, jostling each other as they clustered. The doctor raised his head from a nod, as someone at the head of the column struck a light, revealing for an instant the great bole of a tree knocked down across the trail. At Toussaint’s hissed order the light was extinguished. But immediately there flared up a great silent bloom of red and orange light, and the doctor’s mare let out a hideously human-sounding scream as she reared and bucked. He was airborne before he heard the roar of the cannon and explosion of the shell. He seemed to float for a long time, and in his trajectory he saw a man struck dead in the saddle, his horse falling with him as he went down. Then the earth struck him all across the back like a barn door, knocking the wind so completely from him that he was paralyzed, though hooves were lashing dangerously near him as the panicked horses reared and milled amid the blaze and racket and the reek of blood and smoke. When he heard more shrapnel tearing overhead, he managed a painful inhalation, rolled over and wormed his way to shelter in the flank of a downed horse, whose hindquarters were still twitching though the animal was dead.
Above the trail, the trees were full of fiery light, and the doctor caught a glimpse of his mare running full tilt into the middle distance—his long gun still scabbarded by the saddle, he recalled with sudden distress. But his pistols were in his belt, and his coat pocket was full of spare cartridges. He drew a pistol and crept up the bell of the horse’s ribcage. His free hand, groping, came back to him sticky with warm blood. A dead man was flung backward over the horse’s tail. All around them came isolated cracks of muskets, and the doctor trained his pistol on the firelight, but there was no target; the enemy was not visible. He seemed to feel a nudge at his side, perhaps a last expiring twitch of the dead horse. A shot would be useless, would only call attention to himself.
He slipped down to a better-covered position below the horse’s belly. On the other side of him from that fresh cadaver was another living body, which exuded calm, like the form of a peaceful sleeper. The doctor turned on his hip and found himself looking into Toussaint’s eyes, glittering with the red firelight, below the tight crease of his headcloth. He remembered the warning nudge he had felt. Toussaint held a pistol in one hand and a dagger and the other, but he seemed to have drawn the same conclusion that at present these weapons were best left unused.
In the first dim light of the dawn they found only two men dead, though several others were lightly wounded by shell fragments. Three horses had been killed or crippled and two more run away. They doubled on the mounts that remained to them. The doctor took charge of Maillart’s horse and let the captain ride behind him, for Maillart had been wounded slightly in the great muscle of his thigh.
“Now who’s to be credited with that ambush?” Maillart said, grunting as the rough trail jostled his injury. “I suppose it’s obvious enough. The Rigaudins have small hope of victory on the battlefield here.”
“So they naturally turn to assassination.” The doctor completed his thought.
“Naturally,” Maillart agreed, and after a moment, “I suppose that won’t be last of them either.”
Toussaint, perhaps moved by similar reasoning, had changed the direction of his march. That day they set up a discreet command post in a cleft of the Cahos Mountains. He had divided his army in two. Moyse had gone to the relief of Maurepas at Port-de-Paix, while Clervaux, a mulatto officer still loyal to Toussaint, was taking the direct route to Môle Saint Nicolas. Both divisions were supported by throngs of field hands that Toussaint had hastily rearmed and brought along in his train.
Moyse, in a vigorous assault, relieved the siege of Port-de-Paix, and drove the Rigaudins back to Jean Rabel. In the aftermath of this engagement, Maurepas bound his prisoners across cannon mouths and blew them out to sea with grapeshot volleys; though the style of execution might seem savage, it had been introduced to the colony, a couple of years earlier, by the eminently civilized British General Maitland. Clervaux’s advance, meanwhile, was delayed by the resistance of Bombarde, but artillery and assault reduced the post. Moyse broke the last Rigaudin bands at Jean Rabel, and their remnants went into hiding in the mountains. Moyse advanced westward along the Côtes de Fer, meeting little opposition now, meaning to converge with Clervaux at Le Môle.
Riau had been sent with Moyse, but after Port-de-Paix was retaken, he returned to Toussaint’s headquarters in the Cahos. He had nothing to say about the battles he’d just fought, but he was leading the doctor’s mare behind his own horse. The mare had the same trappings she’d worn when she bolted, and even the long gun was still in the scabbard, though its pouch of cartridges was empty. The rifle had been left out in the rain, so that its lock was stiff with rust, but the doctor took it apart and cleaned and oiled it until it moved smoothly once again. It seemed unlikely that in the present situation he would face attack, so long as Toussaint chose to direct the campaign from the Cahos, but still he felt more secure when the long gun was near at hand.
The Rigaudins at Le Môle held out for a week’s time under a steady barrage from Moyse’s cannon, but there was no hope for them against the reunited forces of Moyse and Clervaux—ten thousand regularly trained troops, plus an indeterminate number of freshly armed cultivators, completely surrounding the town (by land). Le Môle was also blockaded by a few French ships at sea, but the two chief officers loaded a canoe with as much of the local treasury as it would float, and on a night when clouds hid the moon they discreetly paddled out through the blockade and eventually made their way to the south. The day after their escape, Moyse and Clervaux took over Le Môle, putting to the sword all those who had obviously taken Rigaud’s part. Toussaint’s partisans, including the aged Monsieur Monot (who’d survived a month of very rough treatment), were set free from the prison.
On September twenty-fifth, Toussaint came to Le Môle in person, and published a proclamation which denounced Rigaud for raising armed rebellion in the south and for sending his agents everywhere else to spread sedition. Rigaud’s principle (according to Toussaint) was that the mulattoes were the only true natives of Saint Domingue (since France belonged to the whites and Africa to the blacks)—yet the blacks still ought to support Rigaud rather than Toussaint, for Toussaint had always favored the white masters who had long been the cruelest enemies of the blacks, and who certainly meant to restore slavery . . . To all this Toussaint rejoined that blacks and whites had been created to love one another—the very existence of mulattoes proved this point. No, it was Rigaud who despised the black race, believing his own to be superior; Rigaud’s unwillingness to obey a black (Toussaint) had caused the whole rebellion! Did Rigaud accuse Toussaint of scheming to exterminate the mulattoes? One had only to look at the number of colored men and officers in Toussaint’s own army to know this calumny was false.
Doctor Hébert, who took a peculiarly interested view of the situation, could confirm that Toussaint’s reprisals on the western peninsula, while heavy, were not indiscriminate. No women or children were harmed at his order. When Monsieur Monot reclaimed his house and possessions, his delicious housekeeper Agathe was also returned to him, intact. Toussaint’s proclamation was papered all over the town, and nailed to trees as the army progressed from Le Môle back eastward across the peninsula. It was true that a fair number of colored men and officers remained incorporated in Toussaint’s force. It was equally true (as the doctor silently observed) that the colored prisoners of the northwest campaign had been handed over to the field hands who followed in Toussaint’s train; barefoot, half naked, half starved and stumbling, they were subjected to all sorts of mistreatment from their captors, as the army moved down to Le Cap.
Michel Arnaud, who had come into Le Cap with a load of his sugar, rose early on a Sunday morning, meaning to escort his wife to morning mass. They had the use of the Cigny house in the absence of the owners, and it was not a very long walk from there to the white church on the hill. In the first yellowing light of the morning, it was still reasonably cool, with a salt breeze blowing in from the harbor, and gulls hanging on the wind overhead. Arnaud adjusted his step to that of Claudine, whose fingers rested lightly on the crook of his arm. There was a balance between them, something like contentment. Together they climbed the spiral path, but the white church at the top was empty, and no bell rang.
Claudine pressed his forearm and released it; he could sense her uneasiness, though she did not speak. Detached from each other, they walked down over the broken ground toward the cluster of houses behind the church. Arnaud’s spine prickled as he passed the palm panels enclosing the hûnfor. The lakou was just beginning to stir as they reached it; all seemed as usual except that there was no sign of Fontelle or her children or any other paler face.
Maman Maig’ sat on a low stool beside an open doorway of a case, her vast darkness absorbing all the sun that fell upon her. Arnaud approached, somewhat hesitantly, the woman was so imposing.
“Salwé.” That was Claudine’s voice, speaking from behind him. Maman Maig’ raised her head and returned the greeting. Excluded, Arnaud felt a flicker of irritation.
“Koté Fontelle ak ti moun li?” he asked brusquely. Where are Fontelle and her children?
“Solda yo mené yo nan prison.” Maman Maig’s reply was ready enough, though not especially friendly. The soldiers have taken them to prison.
“Ki bo prison sa yé?” Claudine came up beside him as she spoke. What prison, where?
“Nan La Fossette.”
Maman Maig’ tilted her head back against the whitewashed wall of the case. They’d hear no more from her, for the moment. Arnaud released his breath, and Claudine coaxed him back down the path they’d come by.
He might have thought it, thought of it sooner—why had he not thought of it? He knew that Christophe, in exercising the vigilance Toussaint had recommended to him, had incarcerated most of the colored people of Le Cap and the surrounding area, and that daily he executed a few who were thought to be tainted with conspiracy. Claudine had known too, or at any rate she had been exposed to the information, though often it was hard for Arnaud to tell just how far her attention penetrated.
She seemed to understand the situation, though they said little to one another as they returned to the Cigny house. Aided by the servants, Arnaud hitched one of the wagons he’d used to haul the sugar. With Claudine beside him on the box, he drove toward La Fossette. As they came in view of the barracoons, there was a rattling volley of gunfire, ripping unevenly like the tearing of cloth. A squad of soldiers broke out of their formation, shouldering their muskets. From a little distance a lone officer watched them from his horse.
Arnaud pulled up beside the barracoons, his face twisted in an expression of irony. In former times, he had arrived here in a much more elegant vehicle—to inspect fresh bossale slaves in whom he might be interested, before they were brought to the block. He would have them turn about at his order, and probe their features with the point of his cane. Now he set the cane’s tip in the damp sod and used it to balance his descent from the wagon box, then turned to assist Claudine.
The members of the firing squad were dragging bodies over the soggy ground and tumbling them into a slow stream that bordered the swamp. Arnaud turned his face from them and walked toward the gate of the barracoons. From the buildings came the stench of human ordure and the musk of people too closely confined. A black sentry jumped up. Arnaud began speaking without breaking his stride.
“You have some of my people here—”
The guard stopped him with a bayonet—the point denting in the fabric of his coat. Arnaud’s temples pulsed, he could feel the flush of anger darkening his face. Claudine caught up and restrained him with soothing motions of her hand along his back. Arnaud’s hand was tight on the pommel of his cane; he wanted terribly to strike down the musket but knew he must not. Claudine drew him back, disengaging him from the point of the bayonet. The squad of soldiers had formed up to march back to the town. Arnaud called out and whirled his cane over his head. At first this action had no result, but then the mounted officer turned his horse and jogged toward them.
Henri Christophe. An imposing figure, in the saddle as well as on foot. He had a natural air of dignity, which had served him well in former times, when he was headwaiter at the Hotel Couronne—an establishment which Arnaud had regularly patronized. He did his best now to keep any trace of that memory from showing in his expression. Christophe had been already a freeman when he used to show Arnaud to his table at the Couronne. He had been free since the 1770s, when he’d attended the American Revolution with the regiment of the Comte d’Estaing. Arnaud had been vehemently against the whole notion of including slaves or even black freemen (especially black freemen) on that mission. And now look at their trouble . . . but that was another thought he must not let betray itself on his face.
“Ki sa ou vlé?” Christophe said, with no sign he particularly recognized whom he was talking to. “Blanc, you have no business here.”
“I’m told that some of my people have been wrongfully imprisoned,” Arnaud said.
“Your people,” Christophe said pointedly. “Yours?”
Christophe’s horse snorted and tossed its head to shake off a fly. Arnaud took a step back from the burst of warm breath.
“Ours—as it were—of the same family.” That was Claudine, moving up to stand beside him.
Christophe studied her for a moment, in silence, his expression grave. Arnaud wondered just what he might be thinking. Claudine had a general notoriety in Le Cap as Madame Skin-Inside-Out—the white woman who went to the African temples.
“Of your same family,” Christophe repeated finally. “What people might these be?”
“The woman Fontelle, and her children.”
“Who are also the children of Père Bonne-chance,” Claudine added.
Christophe transferred the reins to his left hand and stroked his jawline with his right. The soldiers of the firing squad had formed in a wedge behind his horse, and waited with their musket butts resting on the ground. In the farther distance, Arnaud noticed three or four longeared black swine exploring the stream bank where the bodies had been rolled. His stomach turned. There was nothing, he knew, a hog would not eat.
Christophe turned his head and called an order to the sentry at the gate. Presently Fontelle was brought out, with Paulette and her older sisters, Fanchette and Marie-Hélène. The older girls gave evidence of the charms which might move a priest to break his holy vows. In their present situation they would of course be targets of molestation, though there was no outward sign they had been harmed so far. From the second building, another guard produced Moustique. The boy was bruised around the mouth, and his hands were tied behind him with a straggling end of rope. The guard encouraged him forward with a couple of kicks to his rear.
“You claim kinship with these people?” Christophe inquired. There was a trace of sarcasm in his tone. Arnaud looked past him. The pigs at the stream bed had begun to squeal and lunge at each other, disputing the spoil they’d found. Nearby, a couple of white egrets stood motionless, bone-white, indifferent. Arnaud’s tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth.
“Yes,” Claudine said clearly. “Yes, we do.”
“They are suspect in the rebellion of Rigaud,” Christophe announced. “If you are engaged with them, you too may be colored”—he smiled to underline his pun—“with the same suspicion. Ought I to let them go with you, or shut you up with them?”
At his words, the men of the firing squad raised their muskets. Arnaud, with a turn of his wrist, cocked his cane against his upper arm, as if to parry. He had no other weapon. It had become inadvisable for a civilian white man to go armed.
“Take them, then.” Christophe seemed to lose interest in the whole question as he spoke. He turned his horse away and called an order to his men, who re-formed their ranks and began marching after him in the direction of the town.
With numb hands, Arnaud helped Fontelle and her daughters climb into the wagon. The boards of the floor were bare. The provisions they’d bought for their return to the plain had been left at the Cigny house, but after what had just occurred, he was not much inclined to go back for them.
“We must find some straw for the wagonbed,” Claudine said, “when we go back for our other things.” She was untying Moustique’s wrists. Freed, the boy rubbed his hands together disconsolately.
“Eh? But no,” Arnaud said, with a glance at Christophe’s soldiers marching away toward the town gate. “I think it better not to return for anything, today.”
“But we ought, if only for the straw.” Claudine looked from him to the women in the wagon.
“Is their comfort so important?” Arnaud said. “I call them lucky to be alive.”
“They can be hidden under the straw,” Claudine said patiently. “In case we should meet any incident on the road.”
Arnaud reflected, as he climbed after her onto the wagon box, that she had experience in such matters which he himself lacked. At the price of her ring finger she’d brought a wagonload of white women out of the burning plain in ninety-one . . . As usual his imagination failed him on the threshold of this scene.
“Perhaps you’re right,” he said, and, clucking to his horses, he started the wagon for the town. Claudine sat rigidly erect beside him, and now and then he stole a glance at her, in between scanning the road and the horizon for anything that might threaten their passengers in the rear. The usual questions flickered through his mind—how had she brought herself to do those dreadful things she’d done when they were separated? What power drew her to the African dances? How did she reconcile her actions there with her Christian devotion and the prescriptions of Père Bonne-chance? But he had never voiced these questions to her, and did not do so now, because he feared that to ask them when she was calm as she seemed might overset her reason, because they would be overheard by Fontelle and her family, because (as he’d admit to himself in his moments of greatest honesty) he was afraid of the answers she might offer.
Toussaint and his army passed Fort Picolet and entered Le Cap an hour after sundown drenched to the bone from the afternoon rain. The soldiers filled the casernes to overflowing, leaving the mulatto prisoners huddled in the cobbled court. Doctor Hébert and Captain Maillart slipped away to the Cigny house, where the servants were glad enough to admit them, though the owners were absent. From the servants they learned the curious story of Arnaud’s rescue of Fontelle and her family. They dried themselves at the kitchen fire, ate a plain supper of chicken and yams, then fell into bed where they slept like two stones.
In the morning, the doctor changed the dressing on Maillart’s wounded thigh, and, having admonished the captain to rest his leg, set out to learn the news of the town. From Pascal, he learned that Roume and Toussaint were at odds since last night’s interview, not only over the war with Rigaud, which all Roume’s influence could not seem to arrest, but also over Toussaint’s dealings with the North American Republic.
For some months, Toussaint had had his own representative in Philadelphia, on some mission whose details had never quite come to light, and more recently the American president had sent Edward Stevens to Le Cap in the role of consul. Roume was especially piqued, by Pascal’s account, that Stevens was delegated to wait upon Toussaint rather than himself, and that the trade agreement with the Americans had apparently been broken by General Maitland—when France and Britain were still at war!
By Pascal’s account, there was no formal treaty—nothing for which Toussaint might later be called to account—but instead a discreet understanding that Toussaint would prevent French privateers from troubling American shipping in the waters of Saint Domingue. For their part, the Americans would let pass any French ship which carried Toussaint’s safe-conduct.
“You may imagine, Roume was absolutely frothing,” Pascal explained. “Toussaint’s own safe-conduct—as if he were a king.”
“I see,” said the doctor. “Then again, such transactions are best judged by their results.”
“You are right.” Pascal drew out his watch and opened the lid. “But why should we not go down to the port? There is a ship just in from Philadelphia, which should be unloading still.”
Indeed, when they turned the corner by the Customs House onto the waterfront, they found a great-bellied merchantman with the American colors snapping at the masthead. Gangs of porters were lugging long shallow packing cases down the gangplank—so heavy that two men were needed to heft each case.
“Muskets,” said Pascal. “American made, of the first quality. Two thousand, six hundred and eighty of them—I saw the bill of lading myself. Of course there are casks of powder to match. And by way of a compliment, the ship will leave her ballast here.”
“Oh?” said the doctor.
“The ballast is lead,” said Pascal. “To be remolded into musket balls.”
“Of course,” said the doctor. “Why did I need to ask?” In fact the only aspect which mildly surprised him was the port of call. Since the withdrawal of the English there had been a steady stream of American ships delivering muskets, powder and shot to Gonaives.
In the afternoon, when the doctor waited upon Toussaint at the Governor’s house, he found the general busy examining a group of white children, scions of the landowners on the northern plain, who were supposed to have been preparing for their first communion. Toussaint was not pleased with their performance, did not find their answers ready or confident enough. They must study their catechism much harder, he admonished them as he sent them out, for he meant to see them again, on Sunday at the church.
It struck the doctor that if Toussaint had leisure to preoccupy himself with devotional matters, the time might be right for him to ask leave to travel to Vallière. Approaching with his hat in his hand, he put the question.
“No,” Toussaint said at once. “No, I shall want you here.” He tilted his head to peer out the window at the angle of the sun. “It is already Friday, and you would be absent for four days at least—No, I cannot spare you, now.”
The doctor bowed wordlessly and turned to depart.
“I may tell you that there has been no trouble in the region of Vallière.” Toussaint passed a hand across his mouth and his lower jaw. “I have information which I trust—it is very calm there.”
At the Cigny house the doctor learned that Maillart had gone out, against his instructions to rest his injured thigh. He found the captain at a tavern on the Rue Espagnole, counting up his winnings from a card game. His companions in play had already left, disgusted with their luck.
“Your leg,” the doctor said, frowning.
“No more than a nuisance.” Maillart stacked coins, happily.
“I want you to take a sea bath daily.”
Maillart looked at him with total disbelief.
“Or fetch me my saw.” The doctor grinned.
“And what of your arm, O my physician?”
The doctor pushed back his sleeve to show the pink pucker of healed flesh. “It has mended, thanks to the same treatment I recommend to you.”
“Oh well, in that case . . .” Maillart muttered. “Well, where have you been all the day?”
The doctor told him.
“Have you any news of the south?”
“Little enough,” the doctor said. “Some fighting around the Goâves, but there has been no important change of position—as far as anyone knows here.”
“I do not understand Rigaud,” said the captain. “It’s all or nothing for him now—he ought to strike, and hang the risk! The risk has already been taken.”
“Well, as we are fighting on the other side, we must profit from his error, if error it be,” the doctor said. “Some say that Rigaud is waiting for help from France.”
“A fantasy,” said Maillart. “He has put too much trust in that letter of Hédouville’s.”
“Yes,” said the doctor. “I think you are right.”
“And meanwhile Toussaint passes his hours catechizing first communicants?”
The doctor shrugged. “He takes his religion seriously.”
Although Toussaint would not give him permission to leave town, he also made no call on the doctor’s services for the next two days. There was time enough for him to drag the captain to the sandy cove across the headland. Maillart, it turned out, did not know how to swim and was embarrassed by that failing, but the doctor pointed out that he would get the same benefit by standing waist-deep in the water, and after two days of this practice the wound did begin to improve.
On Sunday everyone was specially enjoined to attend the mass. Toussaint’s soldiers lined the roadways, filled in all four sides of the Place d’Armes. In the middle of the square, all the mulatto prisoners of the northwest had been collected, and those from the Le Cap region had been brought up from La Fossette. Each group seemed further disheartened to meet the other—it looked as if they had been summoned to their own execution.
From the steps of the church, Toussaint Louverture presided over the square. When the little phalanx of first communicants arrived, all bearing lighted candles in their hands for the occasion, he stopped them before they could enter, and in a voice which carried to all four corners of the Place d’Armes, addressed them on the duties of mercy and the blessings of compassion. He expounded on these central Christian virtues for nearly twenty minutes, while the doctor and the captain exchanged glances of perplexity, and the priest and his acolytes looked out the door with barely suppressed impatience, and candle wax dripped down on the hands of the mystified children.
Finally, Toussaint let it be known, as an example of his general precept, that the colored people had now been punished enough. According to the duty of mercy and forgiveness, they would now be released. They were to be given a change of clothes (for the captives from the northwest were by then in a state of abject near-nakedness) and allowed to return to their homes, be it even as far as Môle Saint Nicolas, without interference from black soldier or black citizen. Still more, they must be treated as brothers by all who met them along their way.
They left Le Cap at dawn next day, Toussaint and the better part of his army, in urgent haste for the southern front. That night they spent at Gonaives, and left in good time the following morning. Toussaint chose to travel by coach across the Savane Désolée and the Artibonite lowlands, with the doctor seated across from him, listening to dictation. The doctor had Toussaint’s portable writing desk shakily balanced on his knees, and was taking notes as best he could, though he knew his sheet would amount to no more than a maze of blots and illegible scrawling. He’d have been happier in the saddle, where he hoped to return; a couple of Toussaint’s honor guard were leading their horses behind the coach.
At Saint Marc they stopped for a meal and to water the horses. Then Toussaint pressed on, ahead of his main force, escorted by twenty men of his honor guard and a few staff officers, including Maillart. The doctor and Toussaint had resumed their places in the coach. But on the outskirts of Arcahaye, Toussaint stopped speaking and let his head loll back on the hard leather cushion. For perhaps ten minutes he seemed to doze, or otherwise depart from consciousness (though his eyes stayed open just a crack). Then his head snapped forward and his eyes went wide.
“That mare of yours,” he said to the doctor. “She still gives trouble?”
“What?” said the doctor. “Oh, it is hardly worth mentioning.”
“But let me see if I can correct her.” Toussaint grinned and called to the coachman to halt.
Stiffly, the doctor climbed down to the roadbed. One of the helmeted guardsmen brought up both the mare and Toussaint’s white charger.
“Ou mèt alé,” Toussaint advised his driver. The coach rolled off, following the group of horsemen at the head of the line.
With a smile, Toussaint indicated Bel Argent. The doctor swallowed, let out the stirrup as far as it would go, and swung himself up with more of a show of confidence than he really felt. The white stallion shifted under him like an earthquake. This was more horse than he was used to, but he nodded to the guardsman, who released his grip on Bel Argent’s bridle.
Toussaint was whispering or breathing into the ear of the doctor’s mare. He had left his general’s hat in the coach, and without it he looked quite nondescript, except for his uniform coat, and even that was unornamented beyond the simplest insignia of his rank. He bestrode the mare and rode her forward. The coach had turned a bend in the road and was momentarily out of sight.
The doctor found that the best way to manage Bel Argent was to let himself be managed, as one allows oneself to be led by a superior dance partner. A case where the horse knew more than the rider. They were bringing up the very rear. Ahead, the mare spooked at something, maybe a glint of reflection from the stream beside the road, and commenced that skating sideways step, but Toussaint drooped forward over her mane, murmuring something which seemed to calm her. Then he came straight in the saddle again. Without the hat, in his red headcloth, he might have been some ordinary peasant, except of course for the quality of his horsemanship.
The light was slanting through the trees that lined the road as they came down into the area called Sources Puantes. The air was thick with the sulfur smell of the springs that gave the place its name. The doctor found himself unnerved, for no good reason he could think of. He stared glazedly at Toussaint’s red mouchwa têt. The brimstone smell oppressed him; his skin began to crawl. Of a sudden he remembered that Maillart was at the head of the column, though he could not have said why this thought so alarmed him. A light squeeze of his calves was enough to bring Bel Argent into a smooth canter. They flowed forward, passing the coach.
Beyond the first riders in the column was a declivity in the road. The trees to the west were tall and thick-boled and regularly spaced. Red-gold sunlight spilled between them over the roadway, and the dark bars of the tree’s shadows filled the doctor with a reasonless foreboding.
“Come to the rear,” he called to the captain. Maillart looked at him, then curiously at the white stallion, then again at the doctor’s face.
“Come quickly—you are wanted,” the doctor said.
He turned Bel Argent and rode back down the line, passing the coach in the opposite direction; the coachman raised a hand to greet him. He looked back once and saw that Maillart was following. For seventy yards the road was empty, then came more guardsmen, and finally Toussaint, riding even slower than before, his eyes fixed forward as if upon some dream.
Captain Maillart fell in with the doctor, behind Toussaint. “What is it?” he said. “Who sent for me?”
But already they heard the snapping of gunfire and someone’s outraged shout. The rear guard was galloping forward toward the sound, and Maillart, grimacing, spurred his force to overtake them. Toussaint, however, kept on at the same leisurely trot, as if he had heard nothing and had no concern. The doctor drew abreast, then passed him.
Around the bend of the road, the two guardsmen were racing the runaway coach, while several others had dismounted and were firing on fleeing attackers through the trees at either side of the road. The doctor gave Bel Argent his head. The white stallion overtook the coach just as one of the guardsmen leaned down to catch the harness of the nearest horse and jerk the whole equipage to a halt.
The driver had fallen from the box and lay doubled over the left shaft of the coach, his fingers dragging furrows in the dirt. The coach doors were shot to splinters on either side. Toussaint’s hat still lay on the seat, its red and white plumes broken by bullets, and the leather upholstery was perforated like a sieve.
Maillart reined up beside the doctor. “Antoine,” he said. “Antoine.” But the doctor had no answer to the question in his eyes. He did not know himself how he had known.
Only the coachman had been killed. The guardsmen made their report to Toussaint in low voices: one of the assassins had been shot down but the rest had managed to escape into the surrounding brush.
Toussaint did not seem astonished by anything they told him. He listened gravely to the report, but made no reply. Retrieving his hat from the shattered coach, he plucked out the broken feathers, and settled it on his head. They rode on, speechless, into the gathering dark.
That first morning when she woke in the inn at Dondon, Isabelle was seized with nausea the moment she sat up. Her throat bubbled up, and she hunched over, spilling vomit onto a square of cloth she had just time to snatch under her chin. She spat, swallowed, and regained partial composure, though her eyes watered still and her gullet burned.
Nanon was asleep, or feigning to be, and without any servant at all, Isabelle hardly know what to do next. She felt ashamed. But she rolled up the cloth into a damp, foul-smelling package, and, holding it away from herself in her left hand, she tiptoed outdoors, barefoot and wearing only her shift.
It was still very early and quite cool. The town was unusually quiet, since almost all the soldiers had poured out of it the day before. A few chickens scratched in the dust of the main square and at the well several women were filling clay vessels and swinging them to a graceful balance atop their heads. Isabelle was ashamed to approach them, though water was what she wanted. In the other direction she could hear the sound of a stream and so she turned and walked toward it.
A few black women sitting on their doorsteps looked at her curiously. The cloths that covered their doorways had been cinched in the middle, like a woman’s waist, for light and ventilation indoors. After two blocks of low houses like these, a ravine bordered the edge of the town. Isabelle peered over the edge and decided she could manage to get down there, skipping from boulder to boulder and holding onto the hanging vines. The effort focused her, and by the time she reached the level spit of gravel by the water, the last traces of her nausea had receded. She knelt at the streambed and let the current wash clean her soiled cloth. The stain came out easily enough when she rubbed it over the stones. She washed her face in the cold water, and took a cautious sip—only enough to moisten her throat. She wanted next to nothing in her stomach, still.
With the damp cloth wrapped around her wrist, she walked downstream, looking for an easier way to climb back to the town. As she followed the stream around a bend, she came face to face with another woman, younger than herself and bare to the waist as she labored over her own washing. Startled, the other woman broke into a bright white smile. Isabelle curtsied, blushing at the absurdity of her gesture, which still somehow felt right. The black woman straightened, her hands on her hips, her full breasts trembling as she threw back her head to laugh.
Behind her, two small children played on a strip of fine sand. The infant boy was bare-naked, his polished skin a rich, iridescent black. Whenever he crawled for the water’s edge, the older child retrieved him. It was a sweet moment, and the sun was warming on her back, but when she heard a bell begin to ring in the town, Isabelle knew she had better return.
“Koté m kab monté?” she asked, and the other woman smiled again, and turned to point farther down the stream, where Isabelle could see the foot of a much more feasible trail than the one she’d descended. She made her thanks and walked by. Halfway up the trail, she stopped and looked down through the hanging lianas, and waved the free end of the cloth at the woman and her children, but they were all unaware of her now. Nevertheless, her feeling of exhilaration sustained itself. At this instant she had nothing, was constrained by nothing but her body and the cloth that covered it, and there was no connection to her history here, except Nanon, who was herself such a mystery.
The feeling could not last forever, and already she began to feel oppressed as she walked back toward the tavern in the mounting heat. The others were eating a morning meal which she declined to share (though Madame Fortier cautioned her she’d see no more till nightfall): bananas and warm, runny eggs and pork dried on the boucan. Her stomach writhed at the odor. Monsieur Fortier seemed to be looking with disapproval at her bare, dusty feet. She went to the room she’d shared with Nanon and put on more confining clothing, along with her shoes and a bonnet which hid her hair and most of her face.
Madame Fortier sat on the wagon box beside her husband, while Nanon and Isabelle used the bed, which was three-quarters full with provisions purchased or bartered for in the town. There were various clay vessels packed in straw, and barrels of dried fish and peas and salt meat, and several rolls of calico against which they could recline, so they were not so terribly uncomfortable, though nothing could completely blunt the jouncing of the wagon over the worst parts of the road.
By midday, Isabelle’s stomach had begun to turn, for all the pains she’d taken to leave it empty. The hollowness cramped upon itself, and the heat made everything worse. She found herself hanging over the edge of the wagon, coughing and retching up clots of burning foam. A line of Fortier retainers who were following the wagon with baskets balanced on their heads carefully sidestepped around the wet spots in the dust. Nanon rose to her knees and laid a gentle hand on Isabelle’s shoulder.
Then the wagon lurched to a halt, so that Isabelle bruised her breastbone against the siderail. Presently she felt a hard grip on the back of her neck, thumb gouging, probing between the tendons at the base of her head. She was lifted, and the same grip dug harshly into the underside of her wrists. It was painful, but the nausea receded. Madame Fortier was holding her by the chin and peering at her face in the shade of the bonnet.
“How long has it been?”
“What do you mean?” Isabelle began weakly, but the evasion seemed pointless under Madame Fortier’s firm hand and keen eye. She pulled back and covered her face with her forearm. “Between two months and three—I can’t be certain.”
She felt the tang of vinegar on her lips; Madame Fortier had moved her arm aside and was cleaning her face. The sharp smell of the vinegar brightened her.
“Eat this,” the older women said, pressing a wedge of cassava into her hand. “Or only hold it in your mouth—it will do you good.” She folded the fingers of Isabelle’s other hand over the soaked rag. “And use the vinegar.” She pointed to one of the stoppered clay jars.
“Yes,” said Isabelle. “I’ll do as you say. And thank you.”
The firm hands squeezed her shoulders, then withdrew. Cautiously, Isabelle nibbled a corner of the cassava. Her stomach clenched, and she simply held the bread in her mouth, letting its faint sweetness dissolve. Monsieur Fortier muttered something to his mules, and the wagon wheels began to turn. Isabelle lay back, propped against one of the long bolts of cloth. They had stopped just short of a peak in the zig-zag trial, and as they passed into the descent, the wagon began to roll faster, with Monsieur Fortier grunting from time to time as he pulled back on the long bar of the brake. The barefoot women behind the wagon swung into a rhythmic trot to match the quicker pace, singing as they jogged along, words which Isabelle could not completely understand. If the nausea rose, a sniff of the vinegar rag seemed to quell it, and it was true that the cassava bread had put a more stable foundation beneath her stomach; without realizing it, she seemed to have eaten it all.
She became aware that Nanon was watching her with her usual air of self-enclosed composure, a moment before the other woman spoke.
“Is it always so with you?” she said. “When you are expecting a new child?”
“Not always,” said Isabelle. “With the first, but not the second.”
“Ah,” said Nanon. “Robert.” Her molasses tongue softened the name so wonderfully: Wobè . . . “I remember him well from the time when I first came to your house. And the second, Héloïse, was only a baby then.”
“Let us not speak of it.” Isabelle’s eyes were pricking; she turned her face away and looked out blurrily over the precipitous fall of jungled escarpments, down into the basin of Grande Rivière. She could still hear the strange singing of the women who trotted behind the wagon. Some language of Africa; it was not ordinary Creole. She felt a terrible loneliness that seemed to come from her own hollow core. The moment she’d shared with the black woman and her children by the river returned to her. It seemed to her now that never in her whole life had she been so free as that woman was, unless in her earliest childhood. Perhaps even then her sense of liberty had been illusion.
Then a shadow blocked the sun, and she felt Nanon’s warm weight settle against her side. The soft, rather heavy arm about her shoulders drew her in.
“When Paul was lost from me,” Nanon murmured, “I was sad two times each day. In the morning when I woke, and at night, before sleeping.”
“How terrible it is, sometimes.” Isabelle heard her own whisper, as if from a long, echoing distance, returned to her from the vertiginous valley below.
“At night was worse,” Nanon said. “But the morning was bad too.”
Isabelle stirred against her, drowsily. She felt herself beginning to drift. Long ago, a lifetime it seemed, she had had an intense romantic friendship with a colored girl of her father’s household in Haut de Trou. They had been permitted great intimacy, and had adventured considerably into one another’s bodies, before either of them had ever known a man. Isabelle did not know what had become of the girl afterward.
This was not that. But it was pleasant. A kind of mother comfort—how long since she’d known that? She let herself be cuddled, like a little cat, feeling Nanon’s fingers loosening her bonnet strings and walking the taut tendons of her neck. She let her head slip down to Nanon’s shoulder. Before she knew it, she was sleeping, so soundly that she did not wake until that evening as the wagon began to climb the rim of Haut de Trou.
Madame Fortier claimed the front bedchamber, which Nanon had formerly occupied with Choufleur, for herself and her husband to share. Nanon had no objection, while Isabelle was in no position to object. Nanon sensed this, though she had no certain knowledge. The charade of Isabelle supervising her pregnancy had seemed rather thin from the beginning, and since Isabelle’s own condition had been discovered, Nanon supposed there must be something irregular about it, though she did not give her notion any further thought.
On the evening of their arrival, Madame Fortier inspected the front bedchamber with her lips pursed and her nostrils flaring. She ordered all the bedding to be aired, and the mattress to be thoroughly beaten. With an air of distaste she fingered the collar of scars which Nanon’s chain had left on the heavy mahogany bedpost during that time when she’d been left to circle the room like a dog tied to a tree and abandoned.
Next morning, Nanon found Salomon working round and round the the bedpost with a file made of sharkskin wrapped round a lathe. His eyes flashed white when he noticed her, and then he bent more closely over his work, giving her his shoulder. By the end of that day he’d ground down both posts at the bed’s foot to the same degree, so that they remained symmetrical; he oiled them so carefully that scarcely any trace of the alteration could be seen.
Nanon had spied Madame Fortier, sitting on the gallery with a couple of mildewed ledgers under her hand; as she had no refreshment by her, Nanon went at once to the kitchen herself. The women were preparing coffee, but Nanon took the task out of their hands. She prepared a tray with two cups, a pot, a bowl of brown sugar, some wedges of cassava bread, and a sprig of bougainvillea in a vase.
Madame Fortier looked up abstractedly as Nanon placed the cup before her and poured. “My son, your particular friend, was not a great hand with his accounting,” she said. “All this is the work of his father.” She turned the pages fretfully. The paper was worm-holed through and through, but still mostly legible; scrambling over the lace-like sheets Nanon could recognize the pale, insectine script of the Sieur Maltrot.
“Jean-Michel never opened this book, I don’t imagine,” Madame Fortier said. “It’s been years since any note was made at all.” Peevishly she slammed the ledger shut and looked up. “Well?”
“C’est pour Monsieur,” Nanon said, glancing at the second cup.
“Oh,” said Madame Fortier. “He has gone to the terraces, long ago. The second coffee is yours, my dear. Sit down and drink it.”
Nanon obeyed. After she had taken her first sip, Madame Fortier covered her hand with her own. “You are not to play the servant, child,” she said. “You are at home, as much as anyone here.”
Nanon felt a warmth spread across her face. She lowered her head and looked at the dark swirl of her coffee. Madame Fortier applied a light pressure to the back of her hand. Then they both turned toward the interior of the house, their hands slipping apart, as they heard the distantly disagreeable sound of Isabelle retching.
In the next weeks, Monsieur Fortier labored mightily in the coffee terraces, which had fallen into desuetude once again, since Choufleur had vanished from the scene. For her part Madame Fortier took inventory of the main-d’oeuvre, comparing the slave lists of the Sieur Maltrot (which were detailed and thorough) with the present population of free blacks on the plantation. The discrepancy was less, she told Nanon and Isabelle, than she might have expected. Toussaint’s orders were generally respected in this region, and most of the former field hands remained on the property, though many of them, perhaps more than half, seemed much more inclined to work their own gardens for their own benefit, rather than trouble themselves with the coffee. Also there had been more births, and more surviving children.
There was at first some difficulty in returning a sufficient work force to the coffee groves, but after certain messages had been sent down the mountain, a troop of Moyse’s regiment appeared from Ouanaminthe, and stayed long enough to remind the field hands that work was the price of freedom. By the time Isabelle had passed through her phase of morning sickness, the coffee trees had been carefully freed of parasitic vines and weeded round their trunks and returned to a state of productivity.
Nanon’s own pregnancy went more smoothly; she had no nausea to contend with, and though she was further along than Isabelle, she carried the child more easily. Of course, she was the larger woman, if not so clearly the stronger. Isabelle was more resilient, far less fragile than she looked; Nanon knew her toughness well. But this pregnancy looked as if it would try her strength severely. Even Madame Fortier whispered, privately to Nanon, that it had been inadvisable for the blanche to have come on horseback as far as Dondon.
For a month, six weeks, it did go badly with Isabelle. She could scarcely eat, so she lost her strength and grew spectrally thin, with the bones standing out on her face, as if the flesh were no more than a veil for her skull. She began to avoid the mirrors of the house for that reason—it was no aspect for a pregnant woman, though maybe not so inappropriate for her case. Maybe the child would starve in the womb, come rattling out like a dry, shriveled pea. But she could not quite bring herself to wish for that. Even the bitter remark she’d made from the saddle to Captain Maillart had only been half-intended. She could feel the child’s life fully wrapped around her own, and she still clung to life herself, in spite of everything.
Then the period of illness passed, and she could eat again, and she did eat—like a tiger, to the frank amazement of Nanon and Madame Fortier. Even Monsieur Fortier, usually so inexpressive, would study her with interest at the table, stroking his beard with his long, graceful hand and humming to himself, as Isabelle demolished entire platters of food.
Her color came back, and so did her strength. Useless, for she had no future. The outcome of her situation was something which her thought rejected. Fortunately, this middle phase of pregnancy always made her stupid. She could feel, but could not think, and she embraced her feeling.
Nanon began to take her around the countryside. They might do whatever they liked all day, as the Fortiers required nothing of them at all, but indulged them like two spoiled children. For some few blissful weeks, Isabelle felt herself carried back to her own childhood, a time when no could gainsay her—her mother had died soon after her birth and her father had no will to oppose her. She had been the princess of Habitation Reynaud, admired and obeyed by all her father’s six hundred slaves. The slaves had mostly been fond of her, for, though capricious, she had not been cruel. Now, as she went rambling with Nanon, she remembered with a strange emotion certain kindnesses they’d shown her, which she had not recalled for many years.
She and Nanon got the use of two little donkeys, and rode them all around the country in the style of two market women—sidesaddle but without stirrups, the forward knee hooked up over the animal’s shoulder. Nanon showed her the tombs of the caciques, and the places where one could gather wild orchids or, better yet, wild mushrooms. She took Isabelle to a cavern full of Indian relics, now inhabited only by bats—which were reputed to smoke pipes of tobaccos, like ghosts of the old caciques. The two women giggled like girls over this tale, but afterwards were perhaps a little frightened by it.
Then one bright morning Nanon brought Isabelle to a new place. Isabelle had felt, from the moment they set out, that her friend had some particular plan. Nanon had packed an elaborate lunch in one of her donkey’s panniers, and had put two blankets in the other. They rode an unfamiliar path, and soon Isabelle began to hear the sound of rushing water. They came out into a green glade in the center of which was a deep, foaming pool, fed by a twenty-foot waterfall.
“Oh,” Isabelle said. “Oh . . .” She could say nothing more at all, the place was so very special, like a gift.
Nanon was tying up the donkeys, on long tethers so that they had space to graze. She spread one of the blankets over the grass, and set the basket of food and the other folded blanket on top of it. Then she took Isabelle by the hand.
“Come,” she said, and Isabelle let herself be led. They climbed alongside the waterfall to about half its height, with the help of hands and footholds worn in the stone by long years of use. Ten feet up, they balanced on a ledge, and Nanon thrust her free arm to the elbow into the curtain of falling water.
“Come,” she said, and she drew Isabelle forward into the current, before she could think of resisting. The cold drenched her, shocked her to the bone. Then she was through. She and Nanon stood in a little grotto behind the fall, hugging each other for warmth and laughing from excitement.
The sun, filtered through the falling water, covered them with a strange liquid light. Nanon pulled her dress over her head and balled it up and hurled it through the barrier. She turned to Isabelle and kissed her on the corner of the mouth.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. Then she stepped through the veil, as she were herself translated into water, and disappeared into the tumbling light.
Isabelle stood poised a moment, with her finger laid on her open mouth where she had been touched. The waterfall made a weird window, through which everything appeared magnified, distorted, rearranged by the ropes of crystal fluid. She could not really see what lay beyond it.
She took off her own dress and jumped through the waterfall, holding the garment stretched out at arm’s length like a flag. As she launched into the bright air, she shouted out a mixture of joy and fear and surprise at the chill water washing over her again. The water of the pool was warmer than she had expected when she went under, though it was very deep. She came up spluttering. Nanon reached out her hand to pull her up over the bank into the glow of the sunshine.
For a moment they stood side by side, studying each other’s bodies, each pear-shaped from pregnancy. Nanon set her arm against Isabelle’s; they were now almost the same honey shade, for in these last weeks Isabelle had abandoned all her usual precautions against the sun. Only her breasts and belly were still pallid, of course, and the parts of her limbs which were usually covered, and soon they were both giggling at the effect of this. Then they turned and stood side by side, looking into the pool, where their dresses floated like two great crumpled water lilies.
“The water is not so cold as I thought,” Isabelle said. “And it seems to get warmer the deeper you go.”
“A warm spring feeds it from below,” Nanon said. She wrinkled her nose, and Isabelle thought she caught a hint of sulfur in the air.
“But come,” Nanon said, “you will burn.”
She led Isabelle to the spread blanket and covered her with the folded one. They stretched out on their backs, side by side, with their fingers lightly laced and the sun red against their eyelids.
Later, when they roused from their doze, they were both very hungry. Isabelle busied herself laying out the cold chicken, bread and fruit, while Nanon hooked their dresses from the pool with a long stick and spread them on the grass to dry. Then she climbed again to the grotto behind the waterfall. When she came out this time, she was brandishing a bottle of white wine.
“Miracle,” Isabelle said, when she had tasted it. “But this is very good, it is certainly French. How is it possible?”
Nanon gave her only a sly smile. For a time they went on eating and drinking and silence.
“But it must be witchcraft,” Isabelle said finally, as she drained her glass.
“No,” said Nanon, a little sadly, it seemed. “No witchcraft. Choufleur kept his wine here, so it would not sour in the heat. Now I am the only one that knows.” She smiled distantly. “There are still a great many bottles hidden there. I think I shall not tell the Fortiers.”
“All this place must be your secret, then.”
“It was one of the first secrets I shared with him. Later, after he had changed, it was all destroyed for me.” Nanon turned to Isabelle, her heavy red lips curving. “But now I can love it again, because of you.”
“Why, you touch my heart,” Isabelle said. As she spoke, she felt a shadow pass over her. She leaned back on her elbows. A hawk was circling the crown of the sky, but the hawk could not have cast such a shadow.
“No,” said Nanon, as if to answer the unspoken question. “I would rather remember him as he was then.”
“You speak of him as if he were dead.”
“Yes,” Nanon said slowly. “I suppose I do.” She stood up and walked over to her dress, which had dried by then, and slowly stooped to lift it, like a burden she was reluctant to resume.
When Nanon’s child was born, Isabelle assisted her as she had promised. The birth was uncomplicated, and Madame Fortier, though older and more experienced in midwifery, stepped back at the last moment, so it was Isabelle who received the bloody infant into her own hands. A boy. She slapped his back to start him crying, as she’d seen others do, then cleaned and dried him all over and swaddled him carefully in soft white cloth. Nanon was insensible; Isabelle passed the baby to Madame Fortier for a moment while she dried her own hands. When she looked again, the older woman seemed to be in the grip of some interior struggle, her hands trembling, her face tightly drawn, so that Isabelle took the infant back at once, and so quickly that she almost snatched him away.
During the next three days, the newborn began to take on the face he would wear through life. His features were very much those of his father’s, and it was plain enough to Isabelle that this father must be Choufleur, rather than Antoine Hébert, though no one spoke openly of the matter. Madame Fortier had none of the affection one might have expected for a grandson. She handled the baby seldom, and whenever she did pick him up, Isabelle had the disturbing impression that Madame Fortier could barely restrain herself from dashing his brains out on the floor.
At the end of three days, Nanon was on her feet again, and Madame Fortier announced her own departure. She and her husband must go, she said, to see to their holdings near Dondon. Here at Vallière, all was now in satisfactorily good order. Salomon had the field workers well in hand and (Madame Fortier implied) the two younger women would know well enough how to manage him.
At this announcement, Nanon merely lowered her head with her usual self-obscuring modesty, but Isabelle found a moment alone with Madame Fortier, just before they left.
“It is only a child,” she said carefully, having chosen her words in advance. “Only a baby—and given to us to make the best we can of him.”
“Is it so?” said Madame Fortier, drawing herself up to such a sharpness that Isabelle quailed, believing for an instant that the other woman had penetrated her own secret.
“A mother may fully give her love,” Madame Fortier said, in a terrible voice. “But there is blood too, and nothing—nothing!—will wash blood away.”
Then she softened ever so lightly. “But perhaps you are right,” she said more quietly. “In any case, I admire your sentiment, though what this child will do for a father, I do not know. I do not say I am leaving forever, though it’s best that I leave now, for a time.”
She stood up, and with her usual stately grace went down from the gallery into the garden. Beyond the open gateway, Fortier was already waiting on the wagon seat. But Madame Fortier paused at the foot of the stairs, and beckoned Isabelle to come down within earshot of her whisper.
“For your sake too, it may be better that I leave now, young woman.”
Inwardly, Isabelle wilted again, though she thought she kept her expression calm.
“You may find that Nanon has small enough experience in certain practical matters,” Madame Fortier said, with a dubious smile. “If you are in trouble, when your time comes, you must send for a woman called Man Jouba.”
“But where?” said Isabelle, who’d grasped her meaning well enough.
“Only say her name. They will bring her, out of the mountains.” Without saying anything more, Madame Fortier glided across the garden, her back faultlessly erect, like a soldier’s, as she stepped up into the wagon.
The management of the plantation now fell into the hands of the two women, which meant that it fell into Isabelle’s. Madame Fortier had judged Nanon correctly, at least to this extent. But Isabelle took up the ledgers where Madame Fortier had laid them down. In the older woman’s hand she found a meticulous record of all events on the plantation: the weather, positions of the stars and phases of the moon, progress of work in the coffee groves and drying sheds, a thorough record of illness, death and birth (not only among the people but for the animals too). Of the new child in the grand’case she had written this: “To the quarteronée woman, Nanon, was born, 6 January 1800, a male child, quarteroné, to be called François.”
There were no more excursions, no larks in the countryside. Not only because of the burden of management, but because Isabelle felt the weight of her pregnancy much more heavily now. In fact she was ill, and full of foreboding. That halcyon day by the waterfall seemed eons away from her now.
One morning at the breakfast table, she felt herself give way, but not till she saw Nanon’s startled face did she look down and see her skirts all stained with blood.
“Now let me die,” she said.
“Oh, what can you mean?” said Nanon, shocked. But she bypassed her own question and called a housemaid to help Isabelle to her bed.
The contractions, convulsions rather, came quickly, then subsided, then came again in viciously stabbing sets. So it went all through the morning, afternoon, into the night and the next day. The child was not descending properly. Isabelle felt that her own body would crush it to a lifeless pulp, and take her with it too. She held the name of the midwife to her like a secret weapon she would not draw. At last she passed from consciousness into fevered dream. It was night again when she awoke, enough to be aware of Nanon dabbing her temples and her lips with a cool cloth. In the light of a candle behind her head, Nanon whispered to her to hold on.
“No,” said Isabelle. “It is better I should die, and the child too.”
“You can’t mean that,” Nanon said to her.
“Oh yes,” said Isabelle. “If you knew the father.”
“No father could merit such a wish. No matter who.”
“It is Joseph Flaville.”
She felt Nanon draw back. For a moment she knew herself abandoned, utterly alone, and she wished she had not spoken. Then Nanon took one of her hands in both of hers, and pressed and rubbed it till Isabelle began to feel a thread of energy returning to her through this contact.
“Even so,” Nanon said. “Even so, we shall find some way.”
“There is no way,” said Isabelle. “From the day it happened I was ruined.”
“There is. You will live for your children already born, Robert and Héloïse.”
Isabelle felt the wetness of her tears against the pillow. “If I live,” she said, “I will ruin them too.”
“Do not say that!” Nanon hissed. “Listen to me. I will not let you go this way. When I was alone, and with child, and helpless, when the whites were killing women of my kind all through the streets of Le Cap, you took me in and saved my life and you saved Paul.”
“But . . .” Isabelle was thinking that she had not taken Nanon in with her whole heart, but had done it at the doctor’s insistence, and that at the time she had partly resented it. But there was no way for her to say such a thing, not now. So she did not, but let Nanon go on massaging her hand, until she began to feel that maybe Nanon was right about everything.
“Man Jouba,” she muttered at last.
“What?” Nanon’s breath was warm and sweet against her ear.
“Send for Man Jouba,” Isabelle said. Then she slipped backward, toppling into the delirium of her pain, and for a long time she knew nothing more.
When she came to herself again, it was night and she was alone. All the house was very quiet. She did not know if it were the same night, but thought it must be at least the next. Nothing in her memory was clear. There had been dreadful pain, which had now abated. The memory of pain was never perfect.
Outdoors, the wind shivered the leaves and branches, and a cool current swirled through her room. Somewhere in the house nearby an infant voice began to wail, but was as quickly muffled by a breast.
She rose, but was stopped for a moment by a thrust of the pain she had forgotten. She bowed over, pressing both hands against the spot, gathering her flattened, slackened belly. It passed, and she straightened and reached for her robe. Fastening it around her, she crossed the hall to the opposite bedchamber. In the orb of light of a single candle, Nanon lay abed, suckling a tiny jet-black infant.
“You see,” she said, as if she’d been expecting Isabelle’s appearance at that moment. “He is already strong. Oh, he is like a little bull.”
“Li foncé anpil,” Isabelle remarked.
“C’est ça,” Nanon agreed. “He is very dark.” She looked up. “He has already needed his strength,” she said. “The cord was wrapped two times around his neck. Without Man Jouba, you would both be dead.”
“Yes,” said Isabelle. “I shall certainly send her a present.” She paused. “I must do it quickly, before my husband learns of this event, and I am murdered.”
“This child will be mine,” Nanon said calmly. “Brother to my François, but you shall name him.”
“Gabriel,” said Isabelle. “Let us call him Gabriel.” She studied the black baby, who pummeled the breast with one hand as he sucked.
“But it is all impossible, this scheme,” Isabelle said. “The servants know, and Madame Fortier . . .”
“Madame Fortier has taken good care to know nothing for certain,” Nanon said. “What she may know, or suppose, she will not tell. I think no one at all understood your condition, before we had reached Dondon?—but if need be, we will say that your child was born dead.” Nanon shook her glossy black hair back over her pillow. “That much is near enough to the truth, besides.”
“But Man Jouba.” Isabelle said. “The servants.”
“Man Jouba has gone back to the mountains, where no one will find her if she does not want to be found. The servants will not speak of it, not to anyone who might harm you.”
“Nanon,” Isabelle said quietly. “What of yourself, and your own situation?”
If a shade crossed Nanon’s face, it did not linger.
“Now that is a thought for another day,” she said. “Tonight I am thinking only of you, and of these two children.”
As if she had signaled him, François began to cry. When Nanon shifted to reach for him, the black infant lost his hold on the breast, slipped down and began to wail.
Isabelle lifted the crying baby and held him to her. He was not comforted by the movement, but howled louder than before. He felt much heavier than the other infant, denser, as if he were entirely carved from the cliff rock of the mountains. Tears were running down her face, and her own milk had started, seeping out through her robe.
“No,” Nanon said. “You must give him up. Give him to me.”
Isabelle obeyed her. She settled Gabriel at Nanon’s other breast, so that he and François could nurse together.
“Marassa yo,” Nanon said with a crooked smile. “You see? They are my twins.”
Isabelle saw. She knew she must not reach for what she saw. She must be grateful for her life and whatever it gave her, for the two children fastened to her friend’s breasts, and the dark hand groping blindly toward the light one.
In the late morning, Doctor Hébert came riding up the tattered allée to Habitation Arnaud, yawning and half asleep in the saddle. These last weeks he had been whipsawed all over the country by Toussaint, who needed to be everywhere at once to discourage Rigaudin conspiracies; since the cluster of attempts on his life, Toussaint had also become still more chary than usual of staying too long (more than nine or ten hours) in any one place.
But today Toussaint was on his way to Port-au-Prince (or so he’d claimed, though he might just as well appear somewhere else) while the doctor had been detached from the immediate staff and was traveling now under escort of Joseph Flaville and a small cavalry squadron. They did not hurry. In the fields of the plantation, men were cutting cane and loading it onto ox-drawn wagons. Flaville took a detour and selected a stalk, peeled and tasted it with a critical expression. For the past year, Flaville had had the management of a couple of nearby plantations whose original owners had not made bold to reappear, and so had become a student of the quality of the crop. He chewed and after a moment smiled his approval. He sectioned out a length of cane to distribute among his men, who bit great sweet chunks from their shares and laughed as they rode on through the warm sunshine.
As they came clattering into the main compound, the doctor was roused from his doze and pulled his mare up sharply. A work of construction was afoot, exactly where that shed had been, and Moustique was busy directing it.
“Ki sa y’ap fé?” he inquired of the boy who came out from the stable to take charge of his mount. What are they doing?
“They are raising a church,” the boy told him, with a brilliant grin. One of Claudine’s catechumens, the doctor imagined.
He dismounted, took off his straw hat, and began unconsciously to scratch at his dry scalp as he considered the history of that square of ground. Once it had housed Arnaud’s vicious slave-catching mastiff. Then Claudine had used it to martyr her maid. Now it looked as if Moustique meant to place the very sanctuary of his chapel exactly there. Perhaps it was fitting. Moustique noticed him and waved, with a smile. The doctor wondered how he’d hit on the spot, if someone had told him, or if he had simply been drawn to it somehow. There was a numinosity to places where blood had been shed.
Flaville had also noticed the construction and ridden in a wide ellipse around it, toward the cane mill. The doctor replaced his hat and followed him, on foot. He found Arnaud in the lower level of the mill, supervising the hands as they spooned with their long ladles from the tanks. The two skilled refiners had gone out to meet Flaville, almost as if they had expected him to come.
“What news?” said Arnaud, genially enough, as he wiped his hands on his shirttail.
“Beauvais has left Jacmel,” the doctor said, after a moment’s consideration. There was other news, in fact more urgent, but he was not eager to deliver it.
Arnaud stepped a little nearer, so he could lower his voice. “Has he come over to our side at last?”
“No,” said the doctor. Interesting, he thought, that Arnaud should identify Toussaint’s side as his own. “He’s fled the country, since Roume declared him in rebellion. Apparently he means to go to plead his case in France.”
“Ridiculous.” Arnaud walked out from under the roof’s overhang and spat on the ground. “He was a fool to think he could conserve his neutrality in such a situation.”
“Oh, Beauvais is a man of honor,” the doctor said. “One might say, meanwhile, that his conscience has given him a twisted path to follow.” He cleared his throat. “His men are very discontented with him, according to the spies.”
“So Jacmel will come over.”
“Unfortunately, no. Jacmel has declared for Rigaud and set in for a siege. I’m not sure who commands there now, perhaps Pétion.”
Arnaud grimaced. “The man is capable.”
“Yes,” said the doctor. “But gravely outnumbered all the same. Dessalines has the town completely encircled by land, and Toussaint hopes for help from the Americans at sea.”
“That’s something,” Arnaud said.
“It may be a great deal. Rigaud was ill advised to send his corsairs against the American merchantmen.”
“Let’s have a drink on it, then.”
Somewhat to the doctor’s surprise, Arnaud began walking away from the grand’case. He followed, along a rocky trail, toward the invisible rippling of a spring. Yellow butterflies flickered around the shoots of red ginger at their feet. The doctor began to smell smoke, and fermentation. They turned a bend in the trail and came in view of a rectangular open shed covering a fire, a cauldron, hood and coil. An old women tended the cauldron, using wooden implements strapped to the stumps of her hands. She did not look at them.
Arnaud lifted a bottle from the coil’s tip and in the same motion replaced it with a long-necked gourd. He drank and offered the bottle to the doctor. The rum was clear, thick, extremely strong.
“You have made great strides here since my last visit,” the doctor said cheerfully. He glanced sidelong at the woman who keeled the great kettle over the fire.
“We make every effort,” Arnaud said. They took another drink apiece and then they returned in the direction of the mill.
It was the hour of midday repose. Flaville had gone off, with his men, to one of the neighboring plantations. The doctor checked on his mare in the stable, drank a mouthful of water, and found himself a hammock strung in a grove beyond the grand’case.
The shadows were long when he awoke, and he could hear the voices of children singing at Claudine’s little school. He rolled out of the hammock, pulled on his boots, and strolled idly toward the sound. A girl’s voice called out a greeting; he turned, still groggy with his sleep, and saw Fontelle and Paulette under the roof of the kitchen ajoupa, turning a young pig on a spit.
During what remained of the day, he heard the recitation of Claudine’s students, and inspected the infirmary, where all seemed to have gone smoothly since his last call there. Paulette, whose skills he knew, had taken over some of the duties of nursing, but under the gentler regime there was less injury and illness for her to see to. After darkness had fallen, they all gathered in the main room of the grand’case to eat. The assembly was sizable, including Cléo, Fontelle, Moustique and his three sisters; a long puncheon table had been knocked together to provide places for them all. Before falling to, they all joined hands while Moustique muttered a mostly inaudible prayer.
The food was good, and plentiful: rice and beans and fried plantain, a piquant sauce with soft green cashews to complement the pork. There was little conversation. At Fontelle’s glance or the flick of her finger, one or another of her daughters would rise to refill platters or refresh drinks. In former times, the doctor reflected privately, Arnaud would not conceivably have allowed any colored person to sit down at his table—not even Cléo, though she had certainly shared his bed, in the bad old days. Now all of them, even Claudine, seemed entirely at ease in their positions. The doctor’s only discomfort was that he had been sent to interrupt this harmony.
When the meal was done, Claudine and the other women set about cleaning up after it. Arnaud beckoned the doctor outdoors. A bottle glinted in the starlight. The doctor reached for it gladly.
“We are a little rough here, still,” Arnaud said. “Concerning the amenities.”
“Ah, but the rum is good,” the doctor said. “Shall we go up?” He pointed to the path ascending behind the house. Arnaud gave him a startled look.
“Oh, there’s no danger.” The doctor slapped at the back of his neck. “Only, the mosquitoes down here.”
They climbed single file up the trail to the pocket in the cliff which Arnaud had made his last line of defense, and sat down on the rocks, passing the bottle between them at slow intervals. The night was very quiet and clear. Under the starlight in the compound below, the doctor could see the progress made on Moustique’s chapel. The sanctuary was now enclosed by three walls of woven palm leaf, and rows of benches had been placed before it, in the open air. Above, a bright, pale crescent rocked the darker orb of the old moon.
“Toussaint has declared a new distribution,” the doctor said reluctantly.
“Everything is to go into the government treasury,” the doctor said, “save the quarter share of the cultivators, and the costs of production.”
Arnaud’s jaw clicked shut. “I shall have trouble with my people.”
“It’s for the war,” the doctor said. “The soldiers must be paid . . . sometimes, something.” He stood up and caught water from the spring in his cupped hands and sipped at it, to cut the rum. “You won’t have to deal with it directly.”
Arnaud stared at him. “And why is that?”
“You’ve been conscripted. I’m meant to bring you with me down to Port-au-Prince.”
Arnaud exhaled heavily. As the air went out of him, he slumped forward, elbows digging into his knees. “The property will go to ruin,” he said. “And after all our trouble.”
“No, no,” the doctor said. “Flaville will be here to manage it for you.”
“Oh, undoubtedly.” Arnaud jumped up, slapping the tight fabric of his breeches, and began to pace the narrow area. “I am certain that Flaville will manage very well—for himself, as so many of Toussaint’s officers have begun to do. While I am sent away to be shot in their wars.”
“Calm yourself,” the doctor said.
“It is easy for you to recommend it.”
“After all, you are not intended to be cannon fodder,” the doctor said. “You’ll be given a command, parallel to Captains Vaublanc and Maillart, for example. Toussaint wants to rally all the experienced officers.”
“That means he must be expecting heavy losses,” Arnaud snapped. “And I have had no part of the military in all my life.”
“He knows that you served in the militia, and in the maréchaussée.”
“And I know that he served as Bayon de Libertat’s coachman,” Arnaud said. “My Christ, but the world has turned upside down.”
“So it has,” the doctor said. “Which way do you like it better?”
“Which way do I—” Arnaud stopped in his tracks, and sat down on a boulder.
“You won’t go unrepresented here,” the doctor pointed out. “There is Claudine, and Fontelle.” He paused. “And Cléo.”
Arnaud thumbed his jawline, looking down over the compound. “I am to serve under Dessalines, then.”
“Yes, under Dessalines,” said the doctor. “Along with the others I mentioned.”
Shifting his seat and stretching out his legs, Arnaud studied the half-built chapel where it lay bathed in starlight. “When must we go?”
“As soon as possible,” the doctor said.
“Let it be Monday.” Arnaud sniffed. “Our bush priest means to consecrate his church the day before.”
“I had not known you to be so fervent in religion,” the doctor said.
“Oh, I shall be like a medieval baron, it seems, with my own prelate, and a chapel within the walls,” Arnaud said, with a dry laugh. “All this religiosity—it may be a little too much for me, but it appears to be healthful for Claudine.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, as he reached for the bottle. “She does seem to do much better now.” Better than when the world was right side up, he thought, but did not say it.
Claudine rose, in the first thin light that leaked in through the jalousies, and slipped on a shift and a calico dress. She turned, facing the bed, and as the light began to grow in the room she watched her husband sleeping. Under his lids, Arnaud’s eyes slipped and darted. His face assumed an aspect of ire, then shock. He flung up an arm as if to ward off an attack. Then his face drained into calm, and he rolled over onto his side and went on sleeping.
She left the bedchamber, closing the door delicately behind her. Arnaud had ordered a strong cabinet to be built of mahogany and fitted into a rear corner of the central room where they ate their meals. Claudine unlocked it with a small key from the ring at her waist. The cabinet was meant for the safekeeping of silver and fine china, but whatever such articles she’d once possessed had been stolen or smashed when the plantation was sacked in ninety-one. Now it held only some homefired crockery, some utensils and cheap glassware.
She stooped and lifted the folded stole from the bottom shelf, and also gathered the gourd cup beside it. She’d got the cup by arrangement with a woman with a special skill in binding calabashes. There were two round protuberances at either end of a long neck. The gourd could be balanced on the smaller of these, and the larger one was cut across the hemisphere so that the whole resembled a large brown wineglass. Carrying these two items, she left the house.
Outdoors, Cléo was lighting the kitchen fire. She stood up as Claudine passed, and raised a hand in greeting. Claudine smiled her reply, and walked on. The dust on the path was loose and cool beneath her bare feet. As the mist lifted, the breeze set the fronds of the young coconut trees to trembling. Farther along, the dense expanse of the cane fields absorbed the tremor. She hesitated, closed her eyes and looked again. There was no smoke, no fire, but only the green cane standing, raising its leaves like the blades of spears.
She passed the cane mill and turned in the opposite direction from Arnaud’s new distillery. The odor of burned sugar and rum gave her a momentary pang, but the breeze turned and carried the smell away from her. She went through a screen of mango and corrosol trees to the place where the rows of slave cabins had once stood. Most of them were now marked only by a few scraps of charred, decaying board amid squares of ash overgrown by new greenery. Small lizards were busy everywhere in these ruins. Those of the former slaves who still remained on the plantation had raised new ajoupas on the borders of gardens they’d cleared for their own benefit. Of the few little cases that had been rebuilt here, Fontelle and her children now occupied the nearest.
Moustique slept in the open air, apart from his sisters, on a pallet of leaves in the shelter of a lean-to roof against the rear wall of the case. Claudine inspected him for a moment, as she had studied the sleeping form of her husband. Moustique took his rest more calmly than Arnaud. His face was milk-colored, with the faintest tinge of coffee. There was but small trace of the blunt, rounded features of the Père Bonne-chance; he had the long nose and long jaw of his mother.
When she knelt to set the cup and stole beside the pallet, Moustique’s eyes came quietly open. His gaze took in the objects, then expanded to include Claudine. He sat up and gathered his knees in his arms, leaning against the wattled wall of the case. If he’d been startled, he did not show it, but there was a question in his eyes.
“A gift for the church,” Claudine began. She settled herself on the ground, crossing her legs under her calico skirt. She lifted the stole and unfolded the ribbon of fabric across her lap.
“This I sewed for you myself,” she said, with a hint of shyness.
Moustique reached out his forefinger and touched the embroidered pattern of doves descending, scarlet on a white background.
“I am not a good seamstress,” Claudine said. “Often I prick myself with the needle. I am sorry for those brown flecks, but they are marks of blood.”
“Your work is very fine,” Moustique said. He lifted the gourd cup and peered into the fibrous windings of its interior.
“When the spirit is present,” Claudine said, “one has no need of precious metal.”
Moustique set down the gourd and looked at her inquiringly.
“With these things you may replace the stole and the silver chalice, which ought to be returned to l’Abbé Delahaye.”
Moustique cast his eyes down, looking at her bare feet and the pale film of dust which covered them. Claudine drew her legs in farther, so that her feet were hidden in the pool of her long skirt.
“How to begin . . .” she said. “What do you remember of your father?”
Moustique bowed his head, then raised it, his eyes full of pain.
“Yes,” she told me. “I was there too. I saw how he suffered. But there was more.”
Moustique lifted the gourd cup again and stared into the bottom of it. “He was kind,” he said. “Indulgent, careless—even my mother complained of that. If something or someone outraged him, his anger could be terrible. But to us he was always kind.”
“And to me as well,” Claudine said. “He gave me absolution and brought the grace of the Holy Spirit to heal the disorder of my mind. You must understand, I had done the unforgivable. Wherever I looked, I saw burning.”
With his two hands, Moustique drew the gourd cup against his breastbone and looked at her across the rim of it.
“You must know, he was an innocent,” she went on. “When they broke him on the wheel, his blood washed away my agony.” She raised her left thumb, pricked and swollen from her clumsiness with the needle. “Do you not see? Through bloodshed it is to be washed clean and through fire it will be purified.”
Moustique’s eyes narrowed. “When Baron mounts upon your head, he says that it must be for four hundred years.”
“So many have told me,” Claudine said. “But we do not know where in those years we live. The Angel of Apocalypse says there shall be no more time.”
Inside the case, Fontelle’s voice was faintly audible, and the answer of one of the girls. Presently Paulette came out of the house, a clay vessel smoothly riding on top of her head, going to fetch water from the stream. She glanced at them once and then away.
“Meanwhile,” Claudine said, “we must live our days. Where there is sin there must be atonement. I am given to tell you that they suffer worse who are not permitted to atone. Your father gave me a penance, but this penance has become my joy. I cannot bring a child from my own body, but now I have many children here.”
Moustique’s face slipped and shifted in the glaze of tears that covered her eyes. She blinked them free.
“You yourself are father to a child,” she told him. “A son, who has now four years.”
Moustique colored and looked away. His blush was the rose shade of a white person’s, she noticed. His lashes were long and delicate, like his sisters’.
“A priest is not meant to father children,” Moustique muttered.
“That may be so,” Claudine said, “but if all priests were faithful in that rule, you would not exist yourself.”
Moustique set aside the gourd cup and stood up, dusting himself and looking about as if he could not choose a direction.
“Sit down,” Claudine said. “From your own experience, you must know you would be wrong to leave your child without a father.”
Moustique remained on his feet, arms folded over his chest.
“Return the articles which were stolen and accept these in their place—they are freely given,” Claudine said. “Then you may claim your child, and the mother.”
“You have been speaking to l’Abbé Delahaye, have you not?”
“I have seen him,” Claudine said. “If you do as I suggest, he will not harm or prevent you.”
“He will believe I am sold to the devil,” Moustique muttered.
“Because you also serve the spirits?” Claudine raised her eyebrows. “But you should believe what you yourself teach: that one may serve Bon Dieu and the mysteries of Guinée together, without contradiction.”
She stood up and shook out her long skirt. “Also,” she said, “this is no scheme of l’Abbé Delahaye, but the motion of the Holy Spirit, which came through your father to me and which now moves through me to you.”
Moustique gaped. She curtsied to him, smiled, and walked away.
That night the three women prepared the meal together as before, but when they had cleared away the dishes, all three of them disappeared, leaving their men with their rum on the dirt-floored porch. Arnaud and the doctor sat in silence, for a time, on three-legged stools against the wall. When the drums began, it felt to the doctor as if he had been hearing them all the while in the beat of his blood.
Below, the women entered the compound from the foot of the trail that led down through the stand of bamboo from the house. Cléo, Fontelle and Claudine, all dressed in white and wearing white headcloths. They walked together in a leftward loop around the rear of the church and joined a column of other white-clad women which was snaking its way up the far slope into the jungle.
Arnaud sat speechless, with a fixed regard, balancing his twisted cane on its point and letting it fall from one hand to the other. Now and then he tasted his rum. The doctor, who could think of no word to say to him, was silent also. When the first cry of the possessed rang down from the hill, Arnaud trembled as if he had himself received the shock. The doctor got up then, and laid a hand on his shoulder. Arnaud glanced up at him as if he might speak, but did not. After a moment he shifted just enough to break the contact. The doctor thanked him for his hospitality and went indoors to sleep.
At dawn the next morning they were summoned to the church by someone clanging on a pot lid. Claudine sat on the front bench, to Cléo’s left, surrounded by the children she instructed. Arnaud took his seat beside her; the doctor settled across the aisle. Most of last night’s celebrants were also present, still wearing their white garments. Claudine’s face was haggard from her sleepless night, but she looked exalted.
“God is relation,” Moustique preached. “God is others. God is love.” He wore a different stole, the doctor noticed, embroidered with awkward, lumpy doves in red. The silver chalice was gone too; it had been replaced by a gourd.
The doctor bowed his head as the sermon went on. He felt the heaviness of his breathing, the darkness of his interrupted sleep. All through the night he had rolled on the wave of the distant drumming, but now he could not remember his dreams.
Moustique raised the circle of cassava above his head and tore it down the middle. He passed his hands over the gourd cup, singing the Latin words of the consecration. Behind him, to his left, a young boy thumped a drum to match his movements. Through the tingling haze of his drowsiness, the doctor moved forward and knelt at the rail to take communion. He glimpsed Claudine kneeling near him, her face shining and running with tears. Then the leathery bread was in his mouth, and Moustique brought the gourd chalice to his lips. The water was heavy, cool and sweet. Moustique put his hand on the doctor’s forehead, applying a quick, firm pressure as he repeated the principal text of his sermon: It is no longer I who live, but the Christ that lives in me.
Next morning the doctor was witness to a scene of tenderness between Claudine and Arnaud as they parted on the wooden gallery of the grand’case. He sat his slightly restless mare and looked at them sidelong and reflected on the ties that bound them. The man’s hand lingered on the woman’s cheek. Then Arnaud turned quickly away and came with rapid steps to his own horse.
They rode out. Arnaud made no further complaint against his conscription; he did not mention it at all, though his face tightened as he surveyed the workers in his cane fields on their way down to the main road. In their earlier conversation the doctor had not found it necessary to make the point that Toussaint, amid all the current turmoil, had suffered a moment of mistrust in his alliances with the old grand blancs. While it was true that capable officers were always in acute demand, it was even more true that Toussaint did not want to leave any one of Arnaud’s class in a position to engage in conspiracies or even raise open revolt behind his lines. The doctor imagined that Arnaud understood all this well enough and that there was no use speaking of it.
Three days later, the two of them had joined Dessalines’s encampment surrounding Jacmel. Despite his first reaction, Arnaud fell into his service with a will. Toussaint had seconded him to Christophe rather than Dessalines, an arrangement he seemed to prefer. As for the doctor, he was kept thoroughly occupied in the hospital tents, for the resistance at Jacmel was desperate in proportion to its hopelessness, and there were many casualties, as Arnaud had predicted.
The morale of the black soldiers was not at its best. Moyse’s notion, that this conflict was a misbegotten war of brother against brother, had caught on among them. Prior to his descent on Jacmel, Dessalines had rallied his troops by night on the plain of Léogane. While the supplies and ammunition were being distributed, stars had begun falling all over the sky, like a rain of burning fire. The men were thrown into terror by the starfall, which they took as an omen that their spirits had turned against them. Also, on the more practical side of the matter, Jacmel was one of the best-fortified towns of the colony, and Beauvais had prepared it well for a siege before he decamped.
Toussaint himself arrived to direct the early phase of the assault. Under heavy fire from the Jacmel forts, he built his own redoubts along the beach, to discourage any relief effort that might come by sea. Then he sent Christophe and Laplume on a night attack against Grand Fort and Fort Tavigne, which lay outside the entrenchments of the Rigaudins. In this engagement, Arnaud distinguished himself by successfully exhorting his men to hold Tavigne, continuing to face fire himself, though wounded in the shoulder. Grand Fort was also taken in the first rush, but a desperate effort of the defenders recovered it for Jacmel before the night was done.
No matter. Toussaint brought his heaviest artillery to Fort Tavigne, and from that height commenced to shell that town. The fiery rain, he pointed out to the troops under Dessalines, was now falling on their enemies.
The rumor that Pétion was commanding at Jacmel, which the doctor had reported to Arnaud, proved to be incorrect. Up until the taking of Fort Tavigne, another officer named Birot had been in charge of the town. After the fort was overrun and the bombardment began, Birot and his officers concluded it would be best to evacuate as best they might; however, the men in the ranks refused to follow them. With a handful of officers who shared his pessimistic view, Birot slipped out of Jacmel in a small boat and sailed west to Les Cayes, where he reported to Rigaud the parlous situation in the besieged town.
For months, Rigaud had done little enough to prosecute the war he had started. Above all he hoped for relief from France, if only in the form of an endorsement. While he waited for news, he could not settle on a course of action, but rather poured himself into his pleasures, which were various and exotic. But now he set out to relieve Jacmel, though with a contingent of only five hundred men. This mad sally was shattered by the regiments of Dessalines and Charles Belair. No matter how many were killed, the black soldiers of the north kept coming down, till finally Rigaud’s troops broke under the wave and began to flee. Rigaud dismounted his horse and snatched at their shoulders or their coattails, trying to turn them back to the battle. When he failed, he began to scream at them: Run then, you cowards, since honor is not enough to make you face death. Finally Rigaud himself was dragged from the field by his own officers, lest he be killed or taken prisoner.
Following this catastrophe, Rigaud sent Pétion to Jacmel by sea; he managed to reach the town intact, paddling a canoe underneath the cannonfire from Toussaint’s new batteries on the shore. The situation when Pétion arrived was still worse than what Birot had described. The soldiers were so weak from privation they had barely strength to hold up their weapons, and ammunition was so low they had to gather the missiles that rained down on them day and night to fire them back from their own guns.
All this news was vaguely known to the besiegers through several spies inside the town. And yet the resistance was still very stubborn. Christophe’s best effort to take the Grand Fort a second time had been deflected, with heavy losses. Every day there were heavy losses, and the doctor labored hour after hour in the infirmary tent, up to his elbows and shoulders in blood. He had insisted that both Giaou and Riau be sent down from the front line to help him in these efforts.
Picking bullets out of Arnaud had become a regular activity for these three. Arnaud was hit half a dozen times, but never fatally, in spite of his enthusiasm for exposing himself to the enemy guns. “Creole courage,” Captain Maillart muttered, at night under the tent he shared with the doctor. “You may call him cruel, call him foolhardy—call him a wastrel of the lives of his men. But the man will stand and fight.”
The canvas of the tent flared red in the light of a shell bursting over the town. Maillart’s face appeared, drawn and exhausted, in the crimson flash. The doctor knew he hated the siege, the spectacle of their opponents hemmed in to suffer and starve like rats in a trap. They might all hate it equally, but it made no difference—the doctor could barely register his own feeling, through the layers of his fatigue.
Arnaud would return to combat as soon as the doctor had him bandaged. No wound he took seemed to affect him, till finally, at the end of another terrible, interminable day, he came stumbling into camp with a look so deathly that the doctor thought he must have been hit in the vitals at last. But Arnaud protested that he was unhurt, and he didn’t seem to be bleeding anywhere.
Both the doctor and captain offered to share their small portions of cornmeal mush. By that time rations were short even for the besiegers, whose numbers had picked the surrounding area nearly clean. In the shadows at the edge of the ring of firelight, Riau and Guiaou were probing goat bones for their marrow. From the infirmary shelter, a bit farther off, came cries of delirium and occasional groans of pain. Arnaud would accept no nourishment, but when rum was produced, he reached for it eagerly. Finally, in fragments, his story spilled out.
That afternoon, Pétion in his growing desperation had concluded to send the women and children out of Jacmel to throw themselves on the mercy of the enemy. Some three thousand of them had drifted toward Christophe’s position. The order was given to fire on them with grapeshot.
“The women?” Maillart hissed, leaning forward.
“Indeed,” said Arnaud, “and also the starving infants they had at the breast.” But not all of them had been killed. For the survivors, Christophe had scattered some old bread on the ground. “They pecked it up like chickens,” Arnaud said. He stopped, and stared into the fire as if it were alive with devils.
“And then?” the doctor asked unwillingly.
Arnaud pulled on the gourd of rum. “The surviving women were rounded up and herded to Habitation Ogé. There they were forced to descend into a dry well, covered with firewood and burned alive.”
Captain Maillart was on his feet. “I cannot believe that Christophe ordered such a thing.”
“Where the order came from, I can’t say,” Arnaud told him. “But you may believe that he carried it out. And what would you believe of me?”
Maillart lowered his eyes, looked this way and that. The doctor was frozen, cross-legged on the ground. Guiaou and Riau held their goat bones unconsciously in their tallow-streaked hands.
“What choice did you have?” Maillart muttered.
“What indeed?” Arnaud said, and rose himself. “I feel that I should have found some alternative. But perhaps I am best suited for such work.” He turned and left the circle of firelight.
“Wait, man, wait,” the captain called after him, but the doctor caught him before he could follow.
“Let him go,” the doctor said, and with a bewildered shake of his head, Maillart subsided.
It had been six weeks since Pétion had come to the relief of Jacmel, and soon after the ill-fated exodus of the women, he concluded that the men must try to fight their way out. One of the garrison had told him of a little-used path which led out of Jacmel across Habitation Ogé on a short route to the mountains. Throughout the day, Pétion bombarded the road in the opposite direction, as a diversion, and after nightfall he led his men out by the other way suggested to him, under cover of a fort called the blockhouse.
One of the spies had escaped Jacmel the day before, and informed Dessalines of Pétion’s escape route. So Dessalines’s response to the diversion was itself no more than a pretense. Once the darkness was complete, Dessalines shifted the entire twenty thousand men of his command to block the retreat of the Jacmel garrison, now reduced to fourteen hundred. Against those odds, and with no hope of quarter, Pétion’s men fought to the death and even, almost, beyond it. Tumbled in the mêlée, the doctor saw more than one man spurting blood from a severed arm and continuing to do battle with the other. Dessalines was impressed as well, enough to call a cease-fire. But the men of Jacmel used the respite to re-form themselves for one last desperate effort—they cut through Dessalines’s lines to reach the mountains and the jungle.
Of the fourteen hundred who’d left Jacmel, only six hundred survived the battle. “What I could do,” the doctor heard Dessalines remark, “if I had such men in my command.”
For all his ruthlessness, his thorough mistrust of white blood, Dessalines respected courage wherever he found it. Before the campaign against Jacmel had begun, a young mulatto officer in Port-au-Prince had broken his own sword over his knee, to demonstrate his refusal to put his arms in the service of the invading army from the north. But Dessalines had adopted this youth into his command and made him a special protégé.
On March 13, 1800, the army of the north marched into Jacmel. The mood was less of triumph than of exhaustion, and the doctor had more work than ever before, for the acres of wounded soldiers surrounding him were compounded by hundreds of sick and starved civilians who had survived by a breath or two. The streets and squares were littered with the carcasses of mules and donkeys and draft horses which in the last days of the siege had been devoured to their ligaments. Vultures lined the rooftops, hungry for more death.
In a couple of days Toussaint rode in, to take formal possession of the town. Within the week he’d ordered Dessalines on the attack again, to press the advantage against Rigaud. Dessalines marched against Grand Goâve. Toussaint, meanwhile, summoned the doctor and some others of his staff, and told them to make ready for a fast gallop to Le Cap, where a new commission from France had recently arrived.
The casernes of Le Cap were not so crowded as usual, since so many men had been dispatched to the south, but there was still a strong garrison in the barracks, and the doctor, with Maillart and Arnaud, made a private retreat to the Cigny house, where accommodations would be more congenial. The house was dusty when they arrived, and the news was thin. Monsieur Cigny had been in town within the week, but according to the servants he had no recent word from his wife, nor any apparent concern about her silence. The indifference which covered her romantic adventures must cut two ways, the doctor reflected. Cigny had deposited a quantity of brown sugar with his broker and then, after two days, returned to his plantation.
“So he was not conscripted,” Arnaud began to grumble.
“He is well past the age for military service,” Maillart pointed out.
“Yes, and he can only produce brown sugar now, while I was sending out white.”
“One could hardly imagine him absorbing even a single musket ball,” the captain said. “Much less half a dozen, like yourself.”
As Arnaud began to soften under the warmth of this flattery, the doctor followed the servants into the yard. There was one old woman who had a particular fondness for Isabelle, whom she’d known since childhood. And she did have news, but it had come by a long and crooked route. Someone in the harbor at Fort Liberté had spoken to someone who’d brought out a load of coffee from the mountains of Vallière, and that person had passed the word to another, and so it had traveled from mouth to ear until it reached the Place Clugny in Le Cap. All was calm enough at Vallière; there had been no raids, no disturbances or revolts, and that plantation which had passed from the late Sieur de Maltrot to Choufleur was even producing a good deal of coffee now. A woman in the grand’case there was supposed to have had great trouble in childbirth, so severe that they’d had to send for the wisest leaf woman in the hills.
“Did she live? What of the child?” the doctor blurted. “Tell me, grann, was it Nanon?”
Here the old woman’s lips closed to a thin seam; she gave the doctor a canny look, but she would say no more.
That night the doctor slept uneasily, though exhausted from the last couple of days in the saddle; Toussaint had pushed them from Jacmel to Le Cap in half the time humanly possible. He kept starting awake in a flush of fear, for the child he knew (but Paul was safe at Habitation Thibodet) and for the child he might never know . . . At dawn he rose and washed and dressed and went to Government House to look for Pascal.
“There are three of them this time,” Pascal advised him. They strolled the avenue by Government House, keeping their distance from others on the promenade. “General Michel, Julien Raimond whom you know, and Colonel Vincent.”
“The engineer,” the doctor said. “I know him too.”
“They landed in Spanish Santo Domingo,” Pascal said. “When they crossed the border they were arrested!—by Moyse, I believe. Michel is so overwrought at this treatment that I think he will return to France at the first opportunity.”
“He was dragged over the mountains at the end of a rope—made to run along behind Moyse’s cavalry. Atrocious, you know.” Pascal raised his thumb toward his teeth, then lowered it, at the doctor’s glance. “He seems to have borne up very well,” he went on. “Hardly even to have taken offense, if you can believe it.”
“A resilient fellow,” the doctor said. “I like that in him.”
“Yes . . . he is with Toussaint even now.”
“And what are his orders?” the doctor inquired. “Toussaint was concerned, as you know—and that rumor of a whole fleet on the way? Is there a regular military expedition following these people?”
They had just turned into the court of Government House, and Pascal lowered his voice as they approached the loiterers on the steps. “I don’t know anything about a fleet. As for the orders, I haven’t seen them. But Toussaint is to continue as General-in-Chief.”
“So . . .” the doctor sighed as they climbed the stairs and entered the corridor. “Then Toussaint is justified. And Rigaud has waited for nothing.”
“It would seem so,” Pascal murmured. “There are other details, but I do not know them. Only there is some sort of new government in France—I don’t understand exactly what.”
As they walked into Toussaint’s anteroom, Pascal stopped talking, for others were already waiting there. He and the doctor sat down in chairs along the wall, inclining their heads toward the heavy doors of the inner cabinet, through which they could hear nothing.
“My dear friend,” Toussaint said, turning his kerchiefed head to one side and carefully looking at Vincent from the corner of his eye. “I am so very sorry for the accident of your reception. All a great misunderstanding—and Moyse is impetuous, as you know.”
Vincent brushed down the front of his coat. “I know it better than ever before.”
“I will speak to him,” Toussaint said. “Yes . . . very seriously.” He stroked his jaw. “But why did you land in Santo Domingo, instead of coming to Le Cap? It must have been this that provoked his suspicion.”
For a moment, neither of them spoke; the voices of cart haulers came in from the street. They both knew that Hédouville had taken the same approach through Santo Domingo upon his first arrival in the colony.
“One did not quite know the state of things here,” Vincent said carefully. “There were rumors of rebellion from Le Cap all the way to Môle Saint Nicolas.”
“There is no reason for concern,” Toussaint said. “Everything is in perfect order, as you see.”
“Oh, you have my absolute confidence.” Vincent rocked slightly in his chair, shifting the weight from his blistered heels. “As well as that of the First Consul.”
Toussaint leaned sharply forward, like a jockey urging his horse on. “Then why does he send a fleet with soldiers?”
“Oh, that?” Vincent said. “General, I am surprised to find you taken in. That story was a rumor planted to deceive our enemies in Europe. In reality, that fleet is bound for Egypt, to carry reinforcements to our armies there.”
“Ah,” said Toussaint, leaning back. He spread his hand over the dispatch case which Vincent had set on the table before him, the moment he entered the room. “So he is cunning, your First Consul. Rusé.”
“He is a military man,” Vincent, again with care. “Much like yourself.”
Pursing his lips slightly, Toussaint lifted his hand from the dispatch case.
“I have seen your sons,” Vincent said, in an easier tone. “They are healthy and prosperous, and thrive in their studies—especially Placide. Isaac is . . . rather the more volatile of the two.”
“Well, I am pleased,” Toussaint said. “You are kind to visit them.”
“They are with the fleet.”
Toussaint made a movement of surprise. Then he settled himself and said contemplatively, “So they will see Guinée.”
“At least they will see Egypt, if only from shipboard,” Vincent told him. “It will contribute to their education, certainly. And General Saguenat has been instructed to care for them like his own children. They are kept in the most perfect security.”
“Yes,” said Toussaint. “I know.”
Absently he touched the knot which secured his headcloth at the nape of his neck. Vincent looked into his molasses-colored, red-rimmed eyes. From outside the door there was a scraping of chairs as other people found seats in the waiting room.
“But truly,” Vincent said, with a gesture at the dispatch case. “France supports you absolutely, as it has always supported the cause of the blacks.”
Toussaint masked the beginning of his smile with the usual movement of his hand. Sober, he opened the dispatch case and lifted out the documents. Raising the papers near to his eyes, he began to sort through them.
“You see,” Vincent told him. “All is in order.”
“Yes,” said Toussaint. He laid down the sheaf of papers and stood up, moving around the desk. “I believe I ought to bring in our friends.”
He drew the double doors inward, glanced around the anteroom, and beckoned to the doctor and Pascal, leaving the others to wait. Pascal pushed the doors shut behind him, while the doctor embrace Vincent with a genuine warmth. Tousaint, who had returned to his seat behind the desk, lifted a document from among the dispatches and began to read aloud.
Citizens, a constitution which has not been able to sustain itself against multiple violations is now replaced by a new pact designed to affirm liberty.
Article ninety-one carries the principle that the French colonies shall be ruled by special laws.
That disposition derives from the nature of things, and from the difference of climates.
Toussaint slid one sheet of paper beneath another and went on reading from the top of the next page. His voice was harsh and surprisingly loud.
The difference of habits, of morals, of interests, the diversity of soil, agriculture, production, requires various modifications.
One of the first acts of the new legislature will be the drafting of new laws designed to rule you.
Toussaint stopped, and turned back to the previous page.
“Special laws,” he said. “This idea has been put forward before in Saint Domingue.” He looked at Vincent. “Though of course, that was before you had ever visited our colony.” He licked his tongue and leafed through the papers. “I see among the members of the new government names I recognize from former times,” he said. He laid down the papers and covered them with his hand. “You assure me,” he said, “that these gentlemen support the cause of the blacks, as they have always done.”
The three white men shifted their feet and looked over each other’s shoulders. All three of them knew perfectly well that the men Toussaint mentioned had been slave owners and ferocious defenders of their practice. The doctor wondered if Vincent knew (as Toussaint implied he did not) that the whole question of “special laws” had been a device to maintain slavery in the colonies at the same time that the French Revolution was proclaiming the universal rights of man.
“I have heard that the First Consul has a wife,” Toussaint remarked.
“Josephine,” Vincent said. “A lady worthy in every respect of her husband’s great capabilities. Though I can attest that she is not only intelligent and perspicacious, but perfectly natural in her manner.”
“Ah,” Toussaint said, leaning back and stroking his jawline. “Then you are acquainted with her.”
“That is my honor.” Vincent coughed. “Only slightly, to be sure.”
“She is herself a Creole, I have heard,” Toussaint went on. “She has her substance from some great plantation in the colonies. And so she must have a particular understanding of the need for special laws to govern them.”
“General, you are exceedingly well informed,” Vincent said, while Pascal and the doctor exchanged a private look of horror. “Of course, you also know that numerous such Creole whites serve loyally in your own armies, as we speak.”
Toussaint stood stock still. His hand floated evenly, suspended a quarter-inch above the desktop. He had disappeared completely into his wide interior reservoir of stillness. Such moments always gave the doctor a combination of anticipation and fear.
“The First Consul’s lady takes a particular interest in your sons,” Vincent said, in a more moderate tone. “As does the First Consul himself, of course.”
“Yes,” said Toussaint. “I know.”
“And General, you have only to observe . . .” Vincent leaned across the desk to indicate another passage in the document. Toussaint raised the sheet toward his nose and read.
The following words: «Brave blacks, remember that only the French people recognize your liberty and the equality of your rights» shall be written in letters of gold on all the batallion flags of the national guard of the colony of Saint Domingue.’ ”
Toussaint laid the papers aside, face down. “Such an impressive sentiment,” he said, and waited. “I wonder, if the First Consul considers me his equal, why does he not write directly to me.”
Vincent colored slightly. “He sends me to assure you of the strength of his regard.”
Toussaint studied him through lidded eyes. “Of course,” he said finally, hand sweeping across the vestigial smile. “When such assurance comes from you, Colonel Vincent, I accept it, with all confidence.”
Vincent smiled, with the hint of a bow. Toussaint picked up the papers and passed them to the doctor, his thumb anchoring the page from which he’d last read. “And your opinion?”
“An impressive sentiment,” the doctor echoed. “Perhaps a little lengthy to be sewn upon a flag.”
“You are correct,” Toussaint said. “It will take some time to do so.”
When the others had been dismissed, the doctor lingered, hovering at the side of the desk, trying to gauge if Toussaint’s humor was auspicious for his request. But surely, on balance, Vincent’s news had been good. And there might not be a better moment any time soon.
“General,” he said. “If it is possible, I should very much like—
“—to go to Vallière.” Toussaint looked up sharply. “It is not possible. All is well at Vallière, but you must return to the south, no later than tomorrow. There will be more wounds for you to bind.” He reached up for the doctor’s right hand and held it without pressure, looking up into his eyes. “You are needed there,” he said, “and no one knows it better than yourself.”
By the time the doctor rejoined the army in the south, Dessalines had occupied the ashes of Grand Goâve, at the cost of six hundred of his own men dead and another four hundred wounded and waiting for care. As neither Guiaou nor Riau had been slain or hurt, the doctor engineered their reassignment from the battle lines to the medical service. With the number of injured so great and conditions so crowded, they lost nearly half of them to infection, dysentery and incidental fevers.
Despite the loss of his forward positions, and especially Jacmel, so crucial to defending the entry to the whole southern peninsula, Rigaud was not disposed to concede defeat. Whatever news he might have had of Vincent’s mission had not swayed him toward submission to Toussaint. It was rumored he had sent his own agents to France and continued to hope for a better report from them.
Dessalines, meanwhile, pressed his advantage, via his usual tactic of moving his men at horrible speeds over terrain believed by the enemy to be impassable. Soon he had occupied the heights surrounding Petit Goâve, where the Rigaudins had retreated. They might also have been annihilated there, except that their commander sent two of his men to an outpost in the guise of messengers from Toussaint—Dessalines was to wait for reinforcement before he advanced. The ruse produced enough hesitation for the Rigaudins to slip out of the trap and regroup at the bridge of Miragoâne.
That was a strong position, especially after Pétion had cut the bridge and dug entrenchments on the bank he defended. The most suicidal determination of Dessalines’s men could not carry them across the ford, under the constant barrage of grapeshot which refilled the hospitals every day and transformed the surrounding swamps into a cesspool of blood and putrefying corpses. A thousand men were lost in a single day.
While continuing this frontal assault, Dessalines sent a part of his force across the inland mountains and down through a mangrove swamp to the rivershore. Rigaud had raised no defense in this area, but the swamp was not so impenetrable as he had believed. By night, Dessalines infiltrated more than half his army to the rear of the Rigaudins. At dawn, Pétion saw that he had been outflanked; he spiked his cannon and abandoned his position at the bridge. Rigaud, with a separate force directly under his own command, engaged his enemy on a field nearby, but by the end of the day was obliged to give up Miragoâne. Dessalines pursued the Rigaudins as far as Saint Michel and had soon taken this town as well.
There, Toussaint ordered him to halt, on the theory that Rigaud must now be ready to sue for peace. But Rigaud had no such intention. Wherever he was made to withdraw, he left the land a desert, burning the fields and fouling the wells with the carcasses of dead horses or cattle. Leave the trees with their roots in the air was always his parting order.
Toussaint had moved south to Port-au-Prince, where he was obliged to unravel another conspiracy to assassinate him. Furious at the latest attempt, he sent Dessalines back to the attack. Of the thirty thousand men that had composed the army of the north, less than half now remained effective, but still the Rigaudins were outnumbered by a factor of ten to one and were roundly defeated on the plain called Fond des Nègres.
“Is he mad, or drunk, or both at the same time?” Captain Maillart inquired at the end of the day. Seasoned soldier that he was, the carnage had made him miserable.
“Who can tell?” the doctor answered, as he scrubbed the blood of the wounded from his forearms. “Maybe he is insane with pride.” He dried off, stretched out on his back and looked up at the night sky. “Or maybe Toussaint was right, that Rigaud truly believes his is the superior race. After all, there was a time when the French army and the colonial militia believed that one white man was the equal in battle of ten, or twenty, or fifty blacks . . .”
At that the captain bit his lip and glanced across the campfire at Arnaud, who volunteered no reaction; perhaps he had not heard.
Rigaud had fallen back to the town of Aquin, where he ranged the remnants of his men for another hopeless battle on the open field. Mounted at the head of his cavalry, he led charge after charge, breaking against the mass of Dessalines’s troops like surf against the ironbound cliffs, till all his clothing was ragged with bullet holes. In the end all of his men were scattered, and Rigaud himself was driven to headlong flight, amid a general rout, all the way to the town of Les Cayes. Over the debris of the battle, Dessalines’s men pursued the work of extermination against a few isolated pockets of Rigaudins who’d failed to find any escape route.
In the last hour of that day, Arnaud appeared at the hospital with a summons for the doctor. Dessalines wanted him on the battlefield. When the doctor asked his reason, Arnaud only shook his head. Somewhat ill at ease with this mystery, the doctor brought Riau along with him, leaving Guiaou to manage the wounded as best he might.
Flanked by Arnaud and Riau, he crossed the field of battle, which was littered everywhere with corpses and the carcasses of animals, and still adrift with clouds of smoke, though most of the shooting had stopped. Waste, waste was everywhere. How much Toussaint objected to such wantonness, the doctor thought, and touched the pistols on his belt. Here and there were tatters of musketry, shouts of rage and other cries. Amid a cluster of men ahead, the doctor saw the winking metal of Dessalines’s plumed helmet.
Despite the brutal desperation of all that campaign, Dessalines’s appearance had assumed a greater and greater magnificence throughout. But now he was divesting himself of his splendor. A lieutenant stood by, receiving his vestments: the helmet polished to a mirror sheen, the lavishly decorated uniform coat. Finally the shirt as well. Over the heavy muscles of his back, the net of ropy white whip scars contracted and released.
Some half a dozen Rigaudins stood by, surrounded by three times their number of the men of Dessalines. They had been disarmed but not otherwise restrained. One of them, a sacatra by his skin tone, sat cross-legged on the ground, eyes fixed dully on his lap, his right hand clasped over a seeping wound on his left arm. The doctor’s attention was drawn to this. He did not know why he had been summoned. He did not want to look at Choufleur, who stood balanced forward on the balls of his feet, his coat removed and his shirt loosened, holding his cavalry sword with its point toward the ground.
Maillart was in charge of the guard party; the doctor shot him a questioning look, but the captain seemed unwilling to risk so much as a blink or a shrug. As the lieutenant handed Dessalines his sword, a sort of sigh ran round the men, and they shifted and widened the circle. With the swirling motion common among the black stick fighters, Dessalines rotated the blade one time around the outside of his arm. When the blade came up, it caught the red light of sun.
Darkness. The doctor coughed—smoke had got caught in his throat. The dark was only his exhaustion, rushing up behind his eyes. Why had he been called here? He did not want to be here. Choufleur’s face was very pale, though streaked with smoke and dirt. He was looking only at Dessalines, not at the man’s black visage but at the space between hip and shoulder, whence the blade would come. Choufleur’s right foot advanced, sliding over blood-caked dirt. His blade was low. Against the pallor of his face the freckles were compressed as husks of burned-out stars.
Dessalines stepped in screaming, the blade whipping around like a tornado, but Choufleur stopped it with a more economical parry, and slashed down on Dessalines’s blade at his hand, his teeth showing a tight white line with the movement, but Dessalines’s hilt held. They separated. Choufleur circled to the right. Dessalines’s expression clouded, compressed. He closed, the force of the rush pressing Choufleur against the ring of onlookers, which gave way to give him room. Again the thrust was parried, and Choufleur slipped under the blade with a back slash against Dessalines’s calf, which cut into his boot leather.
It was clear enough that Choufleur was the better fencer. Dessalines, though heavier, was certainly as quick on his feet, but Choufleur had the more practiced arm and hand. Dessalines’s men had begun to clap and sway, humming to their rhythm. The Rigaudins dared make no such demonstration in favor of their champion. The wounded man had been excluded from the circle, and between the legs of the others the doctor caught just a glimpse of him. He had lain or fallen on his side, with the wounded arm uppermost.
Dessalines rushed, with a complex under-and-over attack. Choufleur was inside the pattern of his sword, a little ahead of it even, for as Dessalines’s blade came down, the point of Choufleur’s sword opened a red line on his inner forearm from the elbow to the wrist, then caught the hilt of Dessalines’s weapon and twirled it out of his hand.
Amid the excited shouts of the Rigaudins, the doctor thought he heard Maillart’s cry of approbation—the sheer skill of the maneuver—but when he looked that way the captain had stifled his approval, his eyes lowered. Choufleur’s blade was centered upon Dessalines’s navel. The insolent smile. Perhaps a yard’s distance between them. Dessalines stood with his wounded arm forward. If he was concerned at the shift of position, he did not show it. When he flexed the fingers of his right hand, blood came running into his palm. Unarmed, he moved to close.
Choufleur stepped back and dropped his own sword on the ground.
After an instant of shocked silence, the black soldiers began to clap and sway again. The doctor glanced at Riau, who wore his most masked expression. Riau’s body swayed with the others around him, bending with the wind that moved them all, though he had not taken up the clapping or the chanting. Dessalines and Choufleur moved around each other. A rush and they were joined, struggling at each other’s shoulders, bowed legs straining. Dessalines’s wounded forearm smeared an arc of blood all over the back of Choufleur’s shirt.
Then the two men were on the ground, tumbling over each other, and somehow a knife had come into play, in Choufleur’s hand; it hummed slightly, shallowly, over Dessalines’s back, unrolling a new hammock of red lines over the white lines of the whip scars. Dessalines did not seem to be much affected by the deft cuts. He got an arm around Choufleur’s back, lifted and dropped, driving his shoulder into Choufleur’s midsection. Choufleur’s mouth came open, tongue thrusting out. When they separated, Dessalines held the knife.
Darkness. Once the doctor’s eyes had cleared, he saw Dessalines and Choufleur both on their feet, circling, Choufleur breathing painfully by the look on his face, bruised from the deep blow to his chest. His movement had become a little dull. Dessalines feinted with the knife, then grinned and threw it up and away, out of the ring. Gone. Beads of blood stood out all over his back, on the fresh lines which had just been cut. He ran his left thumb along his inner forearm, tasted his own blood and charged.
Choufleur’s abdomen was caught between Dessalines’s scissoring legs, so that he writhed and strained for breath. Twisting, he got his hip engaged against Dessalines’s thigh, caught a breath—his arms were useless, pinned in a bear hug against his sides. He sank his teeth into the black man’s throat.
The clapping and chanting stopped. There was a horrible, motionless moment. The witnesses closed tighter around the men who struggled on the ground. Dessalines strained and squeezed with arms and legs, but Choufleur’s jaws did not loosen. The doctor wondered with an astral detachment whether the teeth might not actually find an important blood vessel.
Dessalines took one hand out of his octopus grip and caught hold of Choufleur’s ear. He wrenched, lifting, twisting; the pain must have been unimaginable, but Choufleur kept working with his teeth, a rime of blood running around his jaws. When the ear tore loose, flowering blood, Choufleur lost his jawhold for just a second, enough for Dessalines to push his chin up, wrap an arm snake-like around his neck. He turned on his hip, cradling Choufleur’s purpling face with a strange air of gentleness. Squeeze and relax. The clapping and chanting had resumed. With each relaxation Choufleur sucked for air while his ear poured blood down Dessalines’s forearm. With each squeeze, Choufleur’s face turned scarlet. The impulsion of the black man’s movement seemed to come from the net of scars, with blood flowing over them, the scars binding and loosening, more than the man. The scars refused to release the pressure, and Choufleur’s face went from purple to black. His boot heels drummed a tattoo on the ground. Dessalines shifted his grip, catching Choufleur’s chin and the back of his head, and with an unwinding movement of both arms rotated the head around until, following a dreadful ripping, crunching sound, it hung flaccid from the broken neck. With a sigh, he rolled away from the body.
Silence. Dessalines was up on his knees, the hollow of his chest pumping. They could all hear him breathe, like a saw on a log. The doctor began to consider his wounds. The cuts on his back were probably inconsequential, though of course one must treat them against infection. Was this the task for which he had been summoned? The sword cut on the inner forearm might very well be more serious, though from appearances it had severed no important ligament or tendon. Unless Dessalines had gone on using his hurt arm and hand by the sheer implacable force of his will alone. But the bite would be the worst of all, undoubtedly a very nasty thing.
The sun threw a red stain over the ground, darkening as the rain clouds began to blow up. Buzzards came flopping down out of the sky like stinking ragbags, hopping from one corpse to the next. Dessalines was on his feet, retrieving Choufleur’s sword. He stopped and lifted one of Choufleur’s limp, dead legs, and inserted the sword point into the seam between his buttocks. With a quick, muscular thrust, pulling back on the leg he held at the same time, he impaled the body all the way up to the throat. The slack head rolled sideways and disgorged a little blood.
The doctor gulped. He could not seem to close his eyes or move his head. Riau stood by him, neither more nor less expressive than a tree. Dessalines levered the sword upward with the sound of breaking bone, cutting through Choufleur’s sex and his trunk all the way to the join of his rib cage. With a twist of the sword point, he spun the guts out over the ground.
Silence. Dessalines held the sword horizontally between both hands and snapped up his knee to break it. He dropped the pieces on the body. The ring of men watching slackened, began to dissolve. That same lieutenant came forward and began handing Dessalines the various articles of his clothing, which he assumed with a queer formality, as though he were being dressed by a valet. If he wanted medical help, he did not say so, and the doctor felt reluctant to approach him without invitation. Arnaud was on his hands and knees, vomiting in the bloody dirt. No one seemed to look at him, but Captain Maillart helped him up when he was finished.
The doctor thought then of the wounded mulatto officer—perhaps he could do something for him now—but the man had bled to death during the fight, or at any rate was now dead. The other prisoners stood looking dully at their boots. With his wounded arm, Dessalines made a short, chopping gesture in their direction.
“Fé pyè yo sauté tè.”
They began to move across the plain toward the camp, the hospital, leaving a squad behind with the prisoners. Presently there was another quick rattle of musketry, then the firing squad rejoined them at a brisk, energetic trot. Make their feet jump off the earth, Dessalines had said. It was certainly a vivid expression.
Red, the sun cracked against the horizon like the yolk of a spoiled egg. They were walking into the hot blaze of it. Now and then the doctor stumbled over something he did not especially want to identify. Riau’s hand would come under his elbow to steady him. Already the smell of putrescence was general—decay ran so rapidly in this country. The first plump raindrop smashed into his face. Let it rain, he thought, let it all be washed away; he did not care if his pistols were wet nor even if he took fever.
The image of Choufleur’s impaled, eviscerated body was ever present to his mind. Whether he opened or closed his eyes, he went on seeing it. There was nothing to do about it or to think about it. It was simply there, a part of himself, forever. A person must be composed of such moments—all he had seen, all he had known. Without knowing why he thought of Madame Fortier, wished that he could be in her presence and hear her voice. But for the moment he was alone, shoulder to shoulder with his speechless friends. They’d all seen such sights before, he thought, and doubtless they would go on seeing them.
Colonel Vincent, with the cheerful insouciance which caused so many of his acquaintances to love him, volunteered to go on a conciliatory mission to Rigaud. Toussaint concurred and the agent Roume wrote a safe-conduct for him. With this document as his only defense, Vincent debarked from a schooner off the south coast and rowed himself into the harbor at Les Cayes.
The safe-conduct did no more than inspire his immediate arrest. He was brought before Rigaud. When the colored general had grasped the essence of his message—that France continued to support Toussaint’s authority over him, and that Toussaint’s current order relieved him of his command—he produced a dagger from his clothes and made to stab Vincent on the spot.
Vincent, whose confidence in the safe-conduct had not been very great, had provided himself with another instrument: a letter from one of Rigaud’s sons, who was being educated in France on a program similar to that of Toussaint’s children. In this letter, the young Rigaud addressed Vincent as his “second father.” When he had read this far, Rigaud reversed the dagger in his hand and offered the pommel to Vincent, crying, “Take my blood!—it belongs to you!” As Vincent declined the honor, Rigaud tried to stab himself. His subalterns disarmed him and hauled him away.
The Rigaudins were sick of war and knew they could not win it. Much of their property had been ruined by the general’s scorched-earth tactic. When the content of Vincent’s missives became known, Rigaud’s last supporters fell away. The next time he rang the tocsin to summon his troops, next to no one responded to the alarm. Rigaud slipped out of Les Cayes by sea, meaning to make his way to France to plead his case. Shortly thereafter, Toussaint marched into Les Cayes without a battle and proclaimed a general amnesty for all the rebels who survived.
In dream he heard birdsong, and the purling of water; he was half asleep, half waking, turning on the bed. A harsh green voice spoke near his ear, Ba’m manjé, then after a moment, M’ap prié pou’w. The sound of the stream was a filament of dream that sought to draw him down again, but he shifted, opened his eyes with a start. For a moment he was unsure where he was. Paul stood at the end of the bed watching him soberly. The great green parrot, perched with its claws wrapped round the boy’s forearm, gave him the air of some tiny antique falconer.
“Ba’m manjé,” the parrot repeated. Give me food.
The doctor shook his head and pushed himself up against the headboard, rubbing the point of his beard with his thumb. He spread his arms, and as Paul came forward into his embrace, the parrot flopped down onto the floor. Tocquet had acquired the bird from a trapper in the mountains, complete with clipped wings and a few Creole phrases, to amuse the children—though Elise affected to detest this pet. The doctor inhaled the warm scent that rose from his son’s neck. Sophie hung in the doorway, dark curls flung across her face, putting her head into the room and then withdrawing it with a giggle. The doctor opened his right arm to invite her to him also, but she blushed and darted out into the hall. Paul followed. The parrot hopped across the board floor after the children.
Barefoot, his shirt hanging loose over his trousers, the doctor walked out onto the gallery with a yawn. Whatever he’d dreamed was lost to him now . . . Elise, already seated at the table, poured out a cup of coffee as he approached. A pack train of charcoal burners was just circling the pool toward the rear of the house, their ash-powdered donkeys bearing the fuel for the day. The doctor plucked a small banane-figue from the stalk in the center of the table and cut into the peel with his thumbnail.
Elise drew back slightly as the parrot lofted itself onto the table with a pump of its trimmed wings.
“Oh, the brute,” she said, exasperated. Her face was full and flush, for she was three months pregnant. The parrot twisted its head to the side, riveting one eye on the banana stalk, which Elise pulled away. The children pressed against the table, giggling.
“Ba’m manjé,” the parrot said, and Paul extended a scrap of sweet cassava bread.
“Child, your fingers,” Elise hissed at him. But the parrot accepted the bread quite decorously as Paul snatched back his hand. He and Sophie collapsed together, round-eyed.
“What was Xavier thinking?” Elise complained. “To introduce this creature to my house. Look. That beak is like a razor. And with a child to come.”
“M’ap prié pou’w,” the parrot said, having finished the morsel of cassava. I will pray for you.
“After all, it is very devout,” the doctor said, “especially for a parrot.” He drained his cup and reached for the pot. “Most other parrots I have known have no such refinement—their conversation would be quite unsuitable for children.”
“Oh,” said Elise, withdrawing the banana stalk onto her lap as the parrot sidestepped toward it. “You may have the benefit of that thing’s prayers all the way to Vallière. And leave it in the jungle if you like. Xavier,” she said, for Tocquet was just then mounting the gallery steps. “Would you kindly get your harpy off the table?”
The parrot beat its wings again, and landed on the top of Tocquet’s head. Grimacing, Tocquet disengaged its talons from his long hair, and shifted the bird down onto his shoulder, where it settled and began to preen.
Zabeth came out from the kitchen and set down a platter of fried eggs. Elise, with a resentful glare at the parrot, began to serve.
“Paul,” she called. “Sophie, come—Paul, at least you must eat something before you go.”
But the children had already run down the stairs and were splashing around the border of the pool.
“It is the excitement,” the doctor said, wiping up egg yolk with a piece of cassava. “Of course, I’ll carry something for him.”
“You must,” Elise said. She laid down her spoon, and straightened, poised. “Be careful—both of you.”
“Of course, we take all precautions,” the doctor said. “For the moment there seems to be nothing to fear.”
A splintered sunbeam fell through the tossing fronds of coconut to warm them where they sat around the table. The doctor took more coffee, stirred in sugar. The trickle of water feeding the pool was the same sound he had been hearing through his dream. He yawned, abruptly covering his mouth. Tocquet served the parrot a bit of frizzled egg white from the tines of his fork. Elise glowered at him.
“M’ap prié pou’w,” the parrot said. The round eye glittered.
“As you know, my dear, and have often told me,” Tocquet said, “I need all the prayers I can get.”
“Oh, he is a little green-feathered Tartuffe, your parrot,” Elise snapped, but she was smiling.
With a clink of harness, Bazau and Gros-jean led the doctor’s mare and Tocquet’s gelding into the yard below the pool. Paul and Sophie stopped their play and looked at the horses, suddenly solemn. Behind, a groom held Paul’s donkey, which wore a small saddle of red Spanish leather which Tocquet had obtained during one of his obscure missions over the mountains.
The doctor excused himself and went into the house. He drew on his boots and, with a certain weariness, strapped on his pistols. Trailing the long gun, his saddlebags slung across his shoulder, he crossed the gallery and went down to his mare.
“Take these,” Elise said, holding up the remaining bananas and a whole round of cassava. “For Paul.”
The doctor climbed back to the porch rail to accept the food. The mare jibbed a little at the irregular shape of the banana stalk. The doctor put it into his saddlebag and stroked the mare’s nose, murmuring. Tocquet broke from a long, slow hug with Elise, and trotted down the steps. With an unlit cheroot screwed into his mouth, he swung a leg over his horse. The parrot was still riding on his shoulder.
“Come, Paul,” the doctor called. “We’re going to say good-bye to your cousin.”
Paul stopped his play and straightened, facing Sophie and touching her shoulder. He gave her two kisses, one on each cheek. They were still small enough that embarrassment did not prevent such demonstrations of affection. Paul marched to his donkey, brushing away the groom’s attempt to help him up. With a firm grip on the mane, he mounted on his own, then leaned down to adjust the stirrups on the red saddle.
The doctor ran his finger under the girth that encircled his mare. She jibbed a little, again, as he got on. He stroked her withers absently. Sophie stood solemnly by the pool, a finger laid across her cheek, watching. Zabeth and Elise were at the top of the gallery steps, the black woman a bit more apparently pregnant than the white. Tocquet wheeled his horse in their direction. He touched his fingers to his hat brim, then, less obviously, to his lips.
They rode out, through the thickening coffee groves. Tocquet and Elise and the doctor had more or less abandoned sugarcane at Habitation Thibodet. In these times, when the armies ceaselessly requisitioned both men and nourishment, it was easier to turn a profit on the coffee. They’d put the low ground into yams and beans. Now, now that things were calmer, it might be possible to shift again to sugar.
A party of five, with Gros-jean and Bazau—they took no other escort, though the grown men were all armed. The doctor had been in the colony for eight years now, but this was the first time that no war was being waged anywhere within its boundaries, that he knew. Wherever they rode that day, it was warm and sunny and peaceful, with men and women working in the fields.
They had made a slightly late departure and, because of the boy, they did not press too hard, eager as the doctor was to reach their destination. In the afternoon they stopped at Marmelade. The doctor spent the evening exchanging botanical notes with l’Abbé Delahaye. He also learned that Moustique had been there not so long before, to return the stole and the silver chalice, and to claim Marie-Noelle and her child. Beyond these scraps of information, Delahaye had no remark to make on the subject of his rebel protégé.
At first light they saddled their horses and reloaded the short pack train; Tocquet had three donkeys, bearing coffee and some panniers of indigo he had scouted out somewhere, for trade across the Spanish border. They rode out through the morning mists and up into the mountains. Toward noon they were stopped on a high narrow trail by a patrol of Moyse’s men, running out from Dondon. The officer, unknown to any of them, made a close inspection of Tocquet’s goods, and asked him a number of narrow questions about where he was going with his wares and what he meant to do when he got there—they were not headed in the direction of a port.
Dismounted by the head of his mare, the doctor waited, irritated at the delay. He took off his straw hat and untied his sweat-drenched headcloth, then began to massage his peeling scalp with his fingers. One of the black soldiers looked at him closely, then went to whisper to his superior, who was interrogating Tocquet. The officer listened, then seemed to put a question; Tocquet nodded his assent.
“Ou mèt alé,” the officer said. You may go on. He closed the packs which had been opened for inspection, and ordered his men to clear the trail.
They rode on. Tocquet was leading, the parrot rocking on his shoulder. Paul followed directly behind, then the doctor, finally Bazau and Gros-jean, flanking the pack animals. An hour later, when they stopped for water, the doctor asked Tocquet what he had said to the patrol.
“Nothing,” Tocquet told him. “It was you. You are a person of influence—Toussaint’s doctor. It may be that you are even a wizard of some kind. In any case you are not be impeded on your way.”
Though he supposed he ought to have been pleased, the doctor had a rather uncomfortable feeling of exposure. He had come to prize the anonymity of his passages. Tocquet rinsed out his mouth and spat.
“Everything is very regulated nowadays,” he said. He flipped his long hair back over his shoulder; the parrot squawked and shifted its claws. “I suppose that for a family man, and a man of property, it is a good thing.”
They rode on. Tocquet would now meet both of those qualifications, the doctor reflected, though he did not seem to have been speaking of himself.
Toward evening they came into Dondon. There was an air of tension in the town, as if some action were in the offing, but no one interfered with them, and they found lodging for the night without difficulty. The doctor called upon Moyse at his headquarters, and put a question about the Fortiers.
“Caché,” Moyse said briefly. Hidden.
“Oh?” said the doctor. “At their place near here, or at Vallière?”
“Pa konnen,” Moyse said. He did not know, or would not say. His good eye was fixed firmly on the doctor’s face; the loose lids wrinkled round the gray socket of the missing one. Moyse was not inclined to wear a patch.
“No one will harm them,” Moyse finally said. “They are safe enough, wherever they are.”
Accepting this statement, the doctor withdrew. He knew that the amnesty Toussaint had declared for the mulattoes was observed with less than perfect fidelity. In fact, there were rumors of massacres, though these were more likely to happen in the south, or along the coast. The Fortiers were remote from those troubles, and unlikely to be involved in conspiracy either. But to seek them out at their plantation near Dondon would amount to a day’s delay. He would not make the detour, he concluded.
From Dondon to Vallière the road was more difficult (when it existed) and the route less evident. At one vexatious crossroads the four men argued over which way to go. The doctor, who was confident, persuaded the others; Tocquet assented with a shrug. Forty minutes later, when they emerged on the road he had predicted, Tocquet gave him a brief curious glance over his shoulder, but said nothing. The doctor was equally surprised at his own assurance. Formerly he might be lost for days at a stretch, whenever he rode out the gate of some plantation. Now it seemed that he had every peak and crevice, every crossroads firmly fastened in his memory.
Though the distance was negligible, the way was slow, and sometimes they had to stop and cut brush, or jack away fallen trees that blocked their passage. Today they kept going at the best pace they could manage, unwilling to spend the night in the jungle. Paul, who had soldiered on with great fortitude, finally grew too weary to keep riding. Bazau tied his donkey into the pack train, and the doctor took him aboard the mare. Paul collapsed against him, sleeping profoundly, his arms hanging slack and his loose mouth warm and damp against the doctor’s shirt front. That afternoon there was no rain. At last they came riding up the rim of Trou Vilain under the light of a sickle moon.
Isabelle was all astir when she saw them come in, a whirlwind of hostess activity. She called the servants to bring more plates, stoke the kitchen fire again, wring the neck of another chicken. Paul had run to Nanon’s skirts, before the doctor had a chance to greet her. He could not quite fix on his emotion. Instead of joy or relief, he felt an odd foreboding. Something was a little off-center—Isabelle too effervescent, Nanon too quietly reserved. No more than his fatigue, perhaps. Certainly his legs were watery beneath him, after that long day’s ride. A chair was drawn up for him; there would be fruit, while they waited for chicken.
“Ehm,” the doctor said awkwardly, glancing at Nanon’s slim waist, still on his feet. “I believe . . . apparently . . . there has been an event.”
“But of course,” Isabelle cried cheerily. Was there something especially pointed in the look she gave Nanon? “Of course, you must see your children.”
Lowering her head, Nanon turned from the table; she was not exactly beckoning, but the doctor followed. As they crossed the threshold, he took hold of her hand. Paul was nudging up behind them, alert now after his nap in the saddle, curious and eager. The doctor felt a flutter of nerves in his belly and throat. He’d noticed the plural, and thought now of a damaged twin, illness or some deformity. Nanon’s hand was warm and firm in his own, and yet it expressed nothing. He stopped her for a moment.
“Ma chère, I was afraid for you,” he said. “There was a story that reached Le Cap, of a woman in trouble with childbirth.”
He thought he felt her weight shift toward him. But she reversed herself, with a slight pressure on his hand. “Come.”
He followed her into the dark bedroom. She lit a candle, cupping the flame in her hand. She shushed Paul, who had surged up to the edge of the cradle. In the flickering light, the doctor saw two children curled together, sleeping. They looked healthy enough, though one would not have taken them for twins. The lighter boy had a curious pigmentation: a current of black pinpoints running over the milky skin of his face. The other, smaller one was almost altogether black.
“But they seem to be very well,” the doctor said. Now he did feel the relief he wanted, though he was not sure why. He put his finger into the cradle and lightly touched the cheek of the bigger infant. The baby stirred, though without waking; the small hand came up automatically and closed around his finger.
“Do not wake them,” Nanon murmured. “They will cry.”
He turned to her, wondering. Her closed face. Again he felt himself on the brink of understanding, but it seemed better that he not cross over.
“Paul,” he said gently, “go and get your supper.”
When the boy had left, he disengaged his hand from the cradle and with the same finger lifted a heavy lock of hair from Nanon’s face. There was an ache all through him—blend of a strange sadness with desire. She looked up at him. He cupped her ear.
“I wish to be married,” he said.
Nanon turned, disengaging herself from his touch. Her face lowered like a flower wilting on the long stem of her neck.
“But what is it?” he said, confused, alarmed. Then he realized what she must be thinking: that he had found some eligible white woman and meant therefore to put her aside.
“No, no,” he said. Both hands now on both her shoulders, to turn and bring her nearer to him. “I mean, to you.”
He hung in darkness, over a torrent which roared in the sulfurous bowels of a cavern, twirling, left to a limit, then right to a limit, and very near to falling with each turn. He was hanging by just his left forefinger, and it was only the grip of the paler child, François, which kept him from pitching into the laval flow. Worst of all was his horrible, parching thirst. He had no strength to struggle, but somehow felt himself drawn upward. There was hope, then light. A gray light like the dawn. He saw the face of the black child, Gabriel, but larger, fixed like a stone idol. His own face was coming nearer to the parted lips of the child. At the moment of their kiss an immense flow of cool water poured from the infant’s mouth into his own, quenching his thirst and refreshing him.
He woke like a shot, sweating and trembling, yet at the same time happy and assured. Nanon was twined completely around him, her body touching every surface of his own. This was sweet, but in reality he was quite desperately thirsty. Carefully he untangled himself, stroking her long back as she murmured in her sleep. He pulled on his breeches and groped toward the door. His blind hands found a water jug on a stand. He lifted it and drank deeply and wet his fingers to stroke them over his face and the few remaining sprigs of hair on his head. Through the crack in the door he could see a light on the gallery, and he slipped out of the room and went toward it.
Tocquet was sitting at the table, turning the pages of a heavy ledger in the light of a small oil lamp. The parrot perched on the top rail of his chair, both eyes closed and apparently sleeping.
“Salut,” Tocquet said as the doctor came up.
The doctor sat down across the table from him, without replying. The banana stalk from Thibodet was on the table, slightly blackened after three days in the saddlebag. After the exertions of the day and evening, the doctor was rather hungry. He peeled a banana and began to eat.
“This Fortier woman knows her business,” Tocquet said, studying the close lines of script. “Someone has been making a good thing out of this place, and I do believe it must have been her. And her records are very meticulous. The plantings, the harvest, purchases and shipping. Every death and every birth—if it’s only a cat, she has written it.”
In the dark hills beyond the house, the siffleur montagne sang in a voice like water. The doctor inclined his head toward the sound.
“Of course, our lovely ladies of leisure have not been quite so exacting since. At least, not with the ledger.”
“Isabelle is not to be discounted,” the doctor observed.
“No,” Tocquet said. “Nor yet Nanon.” He turned back pages in the book. “But this is the hand of the other.” He reversed the book, holding it open for the doctor’s inspection. The words seemed to flutter in the wavering lamplight. The doctor leaned nearer, squinting.
To the quarteronée woman, Nanon, was born, 6 January 1800, a male child, quarteroné, to be called François.
“Well, then.” The doctor sat back, noncommittal. Tocquet picked up a cheroot from the table and bent to light it from the flame of the lamp.
“You have the name of an eccentric fellow,” he said, blowing smoke up toward the still fan blades overhead. “Yet he who takes you for a fool would be the greater fool himself.”
“You flatter me,” the doctor said.
“Do you flatter yourself? I know your dislike of the formula, but the union of a quarteronée with a blanc does not produce another quarteroné. Madame Fortier deduces a mixed-blood father. I am impressed with her perspicacity. Moreover, if two children had been born on this day, she would hardly have failed to make note of the second. As you are a master of medical science, it cannot have escaped you that those two children in there are not quite the same age, and that no kinship is apparent between them.”
“Oh,” said the doctor, tilting his head. The birdsong, which had stopped, now resumed again.
“I am satisfied that they are my children,” he said.
“You are.” Tocquet looked at him with a hint of a smile.
“You take what you’re given,” the doctor said. “As they are offered to me, I claim them.”
Tocquet looked as if he would say something, but he did not. He got up and tipped ash from his cheroot over the gallery rail, then came and stood beside the doctor. Again he failed to find a word, but he was smiling openly now. He gave the doctor a couple of heavy pats on his bare shoulder, as one might reward a reliable horse or dog. Speechless still, he went into the house.
The parrot was still roosted on the chair rail, and part of a glass of rum remained on the table near Tocquet’s place. The doctor reached for it and sipped. In the trees, the nightbird went on singing. The parrot stirred, ruffling the feathers of its neck. It turned its head to the right and the left, inspecting the doctor with one eye and then the other.
“M’ap prié pou’w,” the parrot said.
The war against the gens de couleur in the south was the bitterest, the angriest, that there had been since the first rising, but I, Riau, I did not own this anger. It was all around me, like the wind before the rain, but it did not blow inside of me. Other men were full of the spirit of rage. That same storm of anger took the colored men also, and threw them against our people like scraps of bagasse on the wind. There was such hate that men would throw down their guns and attack each other hand to hand. For that, some people called it the War of Knives, but as often men would throw the knives away too and fight with nails and teeth. That fight where Dessalines killed Choufleur was not the first of its kind, and not the last one either. But after Aquin no one wanted to listen to Rigaud any more, and the colored men could not call together enough men for a battle. We hunted them across the land like goats.
Sometimes, the war spirit came to Riau’s head—Ogûn-Feraille, with his iron sword flashing points like shells exploding in the sky. It was that way at Grand Goâve, when Ogûn rode the body of Riau into the fighting, so that afterward I did not know what had passed, unless someone told me. That way also at the bridge of Miragoâne—without a spirit in the head a man could not go into that bloody water under the cannon, the slaughter was too frightening. But Riau was not many days in that battle before the doctor called me out to work in the hospital again, and Guiaou also.
After Aquin, after Rigaud ran away on his boat and Toussaint came to Les Cayes, the doctor left very quickly to go north, because he was hungry to find his woman again if he could. Toussaint went north again also, not long after, leaving Dessalines in command of the Grande Anse and all of the Southern Department. Since the army of the colored men was broken, no more of our men were being hurt, or very few. Those who were in the hospitals had either got better or died, so Riau and Guiaou were taken out of the hospital and sent back to the work of killing again.
There still was much killing to be done, and it was ugly work, and I, Riau, did not like it. Rigaud had kept his word in tearing up all the trees and poisoning all the streams everywhere on the Grande Anse where he retreated, and it was for us to paint that desert with another coat of blood of all the men he left behind when he sailed away, some said to France, until all the south was like the hell where Jesus sends the people who have made him angry. Dessalines ordered many men killed in the same way he had killed Choufleur, only without first breaking the neck. One must put the sword point into the bounda of the living man and drive the sword all the way up as far as it would go. Sometimes there would be hundreds killed that way in a single day, and sometimes it took them a long time to die, after the sword had been pulled out. There were no hospitals for them.
At other times boatloads of colored men were taken out on the ocean to be drowned. I liked this way even less than the other, because of the sharks, and the story Guiaou told of the Swiss and what became of them, all but him. The colored men went into the water with their throats cut sometimes, or with only light cuts about the arms and body, bleeding enough to bring the sharks. Sometimes Guiaou was on those boats himself, or not there really—Agwé would be riding in his head, because without his spirit he had great trouble crossing water. With the sunlight burning from the water, I saw how the curved coutelas rose and fell in Guiaou’s hand, and I wondered, but Guiaou was only serving the colored men the way that they had served the Swiss. Afterward, we never spoke of it. It was a long time after before I would eat fish again, because I could not stop the thought of what the fish had been feeding on.
If a colored man stood firm and showed himself ready to fight to the death, sometimes Dessalines would not kill him. He found places for such people in the army, and they were well accepted there. But those who begged for mercy did not find it. Toussaint had published a promise of mercy from Les Cayes, but that promise was not very much respected. All during that time, Toussaint was somewhere else. When news came to him of the killings, he would throw up his hands and put on a face of misery and say, I told him to trim the tree, not uproot it. Often there were some whitemen watching when he said this, or one of the priests who were always near him in those days. Of course it was not possible that Toussaint did not know what Dessalines was doing. Still, it was Rigaud who had left all the trees in the south with their roots in the air, Rigaud who had sent his men to try to kill Toussaint so many times, when Toussaint was coming through the crossroads.
It was not possible, either, to leave the gens de couleur with men enough to make another army. Toussaint was thinking that if Rigaud had gone to France, maybe France would be persuaded to send out soldiers for Rigaud. I saw him thinking this, though he did not say it where I could hear, and I do not think he said it to anyone out loud. I saw myself that it was possible, and that we must do what we were doing in case it did happen. But I was glad when the order came from Toussaint to come away from that bloody place and bring my men back to Ennery.
At that time there were riding with me—Guiaou, Bouquart and Bienvenu. There were sixteen others too, under Captain Riau’s order, but among those sixteen there were often changes, for sometimes some of them would be killed in a battle, or sent into someone else’s command, or one of them might even run off to be a marron again, if there was still a place in the country where marrons could hide from Toussaint’s army. Guiaou and Bouquart and Bienvenu were always there and none of them was ever badly hurt in the fighting. Also Quamba and Couachy, who were like brothers with Guiaou. Any one of these could lead the men, if Captain Riau was called to the hospital instead of to the battle. Bouquart especially led them well, because the other men admired his great strength and his fearlessness.
It did not take us very long to reach Ennery from the Grande Anse, because all of us had good horses now, taken from the colored men who had been killed. I looked for the doctor when I came to Thibodet, although I knew he would not be there, unless perhaps he had brought Nanon back from Vallière already, but there had not been time enough for that. Tocquet was gone from the plantation also, and they had taken the doctor’s son Paul with them on this journey. So only the doctor’s sister was there, with her child Sophie, but she received Riau into the house, as she would have any white officer. I saw that her spirit was very much changed since the time when she had driven Nanon away from Thibodet, and she seemed happier too, unless it was only the child in her belly that had softened her face.
Zabeth was carrying a new child too. This made Bouquart very proud, and he walked about picking his knees up high, like a warhorse on parade.
Captain Riau stayed in the grand’case, though for one night only. It seemed better to me, when the doctor’s sister invited me. I did not want to refuse her offer, and also that way Guiaou could be the first to greet Merbillay and the children, which would please him. That night I dined with Elise on the gallery—no other guests had come but Riau. I did not know what I would say to her, without the doctor or any of the white officers there. But she spoke to me very naturally and asked questions in a way which made it easy for me to answer, with news of the south and other things she seemed to want to know about. Soon I was speaking as easily to her as to anyone, though I did not pretend to be making love to her when we talked, as Maillart or Vaublanc would sometimes do when they were there.
Afterward I lay in the room where the doctor slept when he was staying at Habitation Thibodet. The bed was fine, with a mattress made of feathers, which was too hot for the weather. We had been riding long that day, and in the evening I was drinking rum, but still my ti bon ange would not leave my body to go into the world of dreams. I lay thinking, I could not stop, I heard the house creak around its pegs, and outside the wind blowing through the long blades of the leaves. There was a crafty knocking at the back of the house, and I heard Zabeth giggling as she went out to be with Bouquart.
Riau must not think of Guiaou with Merbillay, he must divide himself from such a thought, and cover his mind with darkness, though the thought with its pictures would keep trying to push itself in, like a djab, a devil at the door. For Guiaou it must be the same, when he knew Riau was with Merbillay. Still it was better that neither of us had had to kill the other, the way Choufleur had finally had to die, even though the doctor would not kill him when he could have. Guiaou and Riau trusted each other, fighting in a battle or treating the sick. That was good. Also there were two men for the children instead of just one. It was only when we were at Thibodet at the same time that it was hard. Maybe that was only because it did not happen often that way, and that if we could build a lakou together to live there forever, it would go more easily, after a time.
In the morning when I woke, our children came running through the grand’case as if it were their own—Caco and Yoyo, because Marielle was too small for such games. Sophie had made a friend of Caco by way of Paul, and now that Paul was away she wanted these other friends to be with her still more. They ran screaming and laughing through the house, and afterward played by the pool where the doctor had set his floating flowers, while Riau took bread and coffee with Elise. It made me glad to see them, but I said to Elise that I would not return to the grand’case that night, because it was better that I sleep nearer to my men.
Who I slept with then was Merbillay, and the small one Marielle, and I did not think of anything but them. The next night I spent in the other ajoupa, where Bouquart and Bienvenu were staying, except that Bouquart had gone somewhere else with Zabeth. I played the banza there, and sang soft songs with Bienvenu, until it was time for sleeping. So it went for five or six days, a night in one place and a night in the other, and I saw Guiaou only by daylight. Then Toussaint called me to see him at that plantation he had bought for his family nearby, and he told me to ride with my men to Dondon.
All the way we rode, the country was quiet. Big gangs of people were working at every plantation which we passed. Toussaint had made new orders now. All the country was governed like the army. For those in the fields, the men of the hoe, it was now the same as for the men of the gun in the army. They must stay at their work, to which they were ordered, and if they ran away from the work they could be shot, like deserters from the army. Also the orders kept people from clearing new ground to make gardens for themselves and their families. Everyone was ordered to work cane or coffee, to make money to pay for the war. Except now there was not any war.
All the people looked peaceful, working this way. No whips snapped over them in the fields, and they had no other mistreatment. There was plenty of food for all, and no one was made to work at night, and the time of rest in the day’s hot middle was respected everywhere. Still, the new orders seemed very tight to me. Sometimes we heard the people singing in the fields, and no one was whipping them to make them sing, but still there was the tightness in their voices.
Toussaint had made Dessalines captain-general to carry out those work orders in the south and in the west, along with all the other things Dessalines was doing there. In the north, he made Moyse the captain-general. I, Riau, did not know how Moyse would like the tightness of the orders. Toussaint had sent Riau to report to Moyse, but I felt that he wanted me to report to him about Moyse also, although he did not say so openly. But by the time we reached Dondon, a rising had already started.
This was a rising of all the field workers, and it poured down on to Le Cap like a wave, gathering more and more men as it passed over the plain, like the rising that had come against Hédouville. Moyse did not try to stop it. No, it was Moyse who had made it start. But I saw soon enough it was not a real soulèvement. There was much noise and waving of cane knives and torches, but no one was cut, and nothing was burned. It was my patrol, along with many others sent out by Moyse, that was charged to be certain there was no killing or burning and that the blancs at their plantations on the plain would not be harmed. They were not harmed, or their property either, but the blancs on the plain were very much frightened, and reminded that they were not master anymore.
Toussaint was master. It was his hand that moved Moyse in this affair. The rising was against the agent Roume, who had taken back the order he had once given which allowed Toussaint to take control of the Spanish side of the island. Moyse had stirred up all the field workers with the thought that the Spanish still held slaves, and that they were stealing people from our side, to make them slaves again across the border. That much was true, and I could join in that cry, but only with half my heart, because it was not a real soulèvement.
For Agent Roume, though, it was real enough. He was brought back to Dondon and shut up in a chicken house, until he gave the answer Toussaint wanted.
After it was over, there were big bamboches at Dondon and all over the plain. The people were happy, because they had a holiday from working in the fields, and they had shown their power, or believed that they had. There was rum and feasting, and cows and goats were killed for the loa, but I, Riau, I did not go to the drums that night. I stayed with myself, thinking coldly. I did not know where Toussaint was, but I saw the idea in his mind—Moyse might make a false soulèvement into a real one. I saw that Toussaint expected me to warn him if that happened. But Moyse had done no more than what Toussaint had wanted him to do.
Soon after, we started across the Spanish mountains with a large part of the army, eight thousand men. Half went south under Paul Louverture, but I was with Moyse, striking north toward Santiago. We had all made our hearts tight and bloody for the idea of killing more whitemen who still held slaves. It was different than the war against the colored people. I felt so, and I could see that Moyse felt the same. We were all very much ready to fight, but in the end there was not much fighting. We met the Spaniards at the river called Guayabin, but the fight there did not last as much as half an hour before they ran away. There was one other fight, less than one hour, along that road, and then Santiago was surrendered to Moyse without any more fighting at all.
Moyse put the General Pageot in charge of the town, and we went on to join Paul Louverture at Santo Domingo City. Toussaint had crossed the border himself by then, and he was moving more men along the way his brother had opened. They had not much fighting to do on those roads either. It seemed there were not many people east of the mountains at all, neither whitemen nor their slaves. Nothing was there but cattle where we passed following Moyse, or horses and mules running half wild, and once in a long way a single herdsman’s hut standing by a corral. In the towns there were more people, but they were not meaning to give any fight.
At Santo Domingo City, the Spanish General Don García made his surrender to Toussaint without any trouble. Anyway it had all been settled before by a peace paper between white people across the sea. So there was no reason for a battle. It must have been sweet for Toussaint to beat Don García so easily. All the time that Toussaint had been fighting for the Spanish, Don García had set Jean-François and Biassou above him. Now those two had disappeared, and Toussaint stood above the man who’d been their master, though it was in the name of France. Still, all of us who came with Moyse had seen Roume in that chicken house.
Toussaint ordered that there would be no vengeance taken on the Spanish people, the same as he had said about the mulattoes at Les Cayes. Here in Santo Domingo, the order was respected. I noticed this very much and I saw that Moyse had noticed it too.
It had been long, a very long time, since my spirit had mounted on my head. I had not gone to the drums after the false rising Moyse had begun to frighten Roume. There was no bamboche nor any drums after the Spanish gave up their country at Santo Domingo City. Toussaint would not allow it. It must be all quiet and strict discipline, as in the whitemen’s army. All this time I had been alone with myself, Riau, thinking in ticks like that officer’s watch which I kept always tightly wound in my pocket. This was loneliness. When I slept, I was wrapped in the dark, and no part of me traveled away into dream.
After the Spanish had surrendered, Toussaint told Moyse to divide his men in small patrols and send them around the northeast part to root out any Spanish soldiers who might not know of the surrender. I was to lead one such patrol myself, at the head of my twenty men.
This news lightened the weight I had been feeling on me for a long time then. The night before we set out on this errand, I dreamed. My ti-bon-ange was flying like a hawk among high mountains, with such swoops and sharp descents that my heart was many times swollen with fear. Those mountains were high and jagged and wrinkled like the mountains of Saint Domingue, but no trees were on their peaks, only mounds of snow and edges of ice. The sky was cold blue and there was no cloud, no sign of rain, and the cold was like the death when all the blood stops running in your body. In the life of my flesh I never had seen snow nor ice, though I had heard of these things from the whitemen. In my dream it struck me that the whitemen carried the seeds of this ice somewhere inside them, wherever else they went in the world, and the cold stabbed out through the blue of their eyes.
On the cold, cliff side was a sacrifice to Baron, bones hanging in chains against the stone. These were bones of a man, I saw, when my ti-bon-ange swooped near. Across a deep frozen gorge from the bones was a whiteman’s fort built on a peak, with all the roofs and walls piled up with snow. The voice of Toussaint was in my ears, though Toussaint was nowhere to be seen. Is it not to cut off a man’s legs and command him to walk? The voice was gentle and warm on the side of my head, but still it struck me through with fear. Is it not to cut out a man’s tongue and command him to speak? The wings of my ti-bon-ange banked along the wall of the fort, and I saw within a small barred hole a figure of something I took to be an animal at first, but then it appeared to be a whitewoman, bony and shriveled, her hair in strings and her face all streaked with caca. She stared at the bones across the gorge, with eyes that had no understanding. Her eyes were more blunt and stupid than any animal eyes I knew.
Is it not to bury a man alive?
Toussaint’s voice was still at my ear, so gentle it seemed I could not bear it. My dream sucked up into the cold sky, in a spiral like the flight of the malfini, until the world below was no more than a smudge.
When I woke, the watch had stopped, and I did not rewind it. My spirit was more clear than it had been for a long time, and it seemed to me that I knew the future. Or better, that there was no future, nor yet any past, but everything was already happening in the way that was to come. When I saluted Moyse at our parting, I saw his death and the part Riau must play in it. Moyse had been one-eyed for a long time now, and he was very near, that day, the place where he was bound to go. No power could change this for him, but on that morning even my sadness was as clear as glass. We rode up to the north, toward the coast and Puerto del Plata.
Old silver mines were in the mountains there, but these had long been abandoned. The mine holes were full of the bones of the Tainos whom the Spanish had made to work until they died. Farther on we met a squad of Spanish soldiers who stood ready to fight. They fired on us, but I, Riau, sat my horse unmoving, like Halaou with his bull’s tail or his white cock in his arms, and the bullets bent their paths to go around me. The Spanish broke and ran away, pursued by their own fear. We did not trouble to chase them down and kill them.
On the third day we came to a small plantation in the hill where they were growing tobacco. There were slaves there still, with only a few white people over them. Just one family of blancs lived there, the father and two sons and the wife and abuelita both dressed in Spanish black. We let this head blanc know that France had taken his part of the island and so slavery was finished there now. The black people who were in our hearing did not seem very excited by this news, though they looked curiously at our horses and our weapons, and some of the young women gave us shy and secret smiles.
I thought maybe these people did not understand our language, so I told the head blanc he must repeat the words in Spanish. It seemed to me that he did so truly, though I did not have so very much Spanish in my head myself. Still there was no great movement among the black people when he spoke. I told the blanc we must bring the news to the others who were in the fields, and this we did. There were not so many slaves on this habitation anyway, something less than thirty men, sixty altogether with the women and the children.
At the drying shed we found the smuggler Tocquet, with Gros-jean and Bazau, and one of the white sons who was helping them to load their donkeys with leaf tobacco. Tocquet saluted me, with his cayman smile, and I took his hand. I was glad enough to see him, and especially Gros-jean and Bazau. As if they were marrons themselves, those three had never paid much attention to the border.
The head blanc spoke to the workers in Spanish with the words that I had given him to say. When he had finished, the slaves shrugged at each other and went to sit down on felled logs outside the shed. They smiled and muttered among themselves, but it did not appear that any great change had fallen upon them. They looked like they might go back to the same work once they had rested for a while.
Because I knew he understood Spanish better than I, I asked Bazau if the blanc had spoken truly. Bazau answered that he had.
Then I did not know what to think. I took off the tall hat I had got from the English hussar and rubbed the back of my head with my hand. The clarity of my dream was gone, for that moment. But there was another place which I heard of, not far off. Tocquet and his pack train started back to the west, but Riau and his patrol kept riding toward the north coast.
I thought, as we rode, that it was not all for nothing. At my left side was Bienvenu, whom I had set free from the headstall when he ran away from Habitation Arnaud before the rising. At my right side was Bouquart, whom I had freed from his nabots. And in the rear was always Guiaou, and it could be understood that Riau and Guiaou had each made the other more free than either one had been before.
At dusk we came to the last hills above a narrow plain which ran flat to the sea. This plain was a small, tight pocket with two mountain ranges between it and Fort Dauphin. I had heard that it was here, but never before seen it. We stopped, under cover of the trees. A ship was at anchor off the beach, and it seemed some sailors were camped on the shore. Nearer the mountains were clay houses, and the small green squares of rice fields, and the long, low shape of a barracoon. When the wind blew from the sea, we caught the sour smell of the people shut up there.
I kept my men well hidden under the trees, but later, long after darkness, when the fires in the camp had burned low, I slipped down with Bienvenu to look. About two dozen men were there, whitemen of the lowest type and a few blacks and mulattoes. The sailors in the beach camp made ten more. One could not tell how many were closed in that barracoon, and there were also some other slaves who were not shut up there, but were working in the rice. There was one small brass cannon covering the trail which led into the mountains to the west, and another one on the beach. The first cannon was watched by two men, but both were sleeping, and Bienvenu wanted to kill them then and there. This we could have easily done. I, Riau, had slipped into whitemen’s camps by night, with Dessalines himself, and Moyse and some others, to do this work with knives. But tonight I did not want to do it. If the watch was changed before morning, the whole camp would take alarm.
We crossed a mud dike of the rizières to get back into the mountains. Those other slaves were standing on the dikes around us, unmoving, white-eyed, still as egrets standing in a swamp or horses sleeping on their feet in the field. They did not need to sleep like ordinary people, because they were already dead.
The hair was walking by itself on my neck and my arms when we passed among them, and this feeling in me reached out to greet the same feeling in Bienvenu. Zombi. It was true. Biassou had kept this place for a long time before he left the country, and it was said that Jean-François also had used to sell slaves from the island, and still the same thing was always going on. Riau had heard of it for a long time, and knew more of it than he was willing to remember.
The sureness of my dream came back to me, but at the same time I needed to think and to plan as Toussaint would have done it. Four parties of five men each. Bienvenu would take his men to seize that cannon in the mountains and move it quickly to the cliffs above the sea. Bouquart and his men would break into the barracoon. Guiaou would lead a charge on horseback across the dike of the rizières. I, Riau, and my five men would handle the boats and the camp on the beach.
We moved an hour before full dawn, just as the light was turning blue. On the beach I waited for the shot that meant Bienvenu had got the cannon. It was easy enough to kill the blancs on the beach as they struggled up from their sleep, but the most important thing was to smash in the three longboats drawn up there and aim the cannon at the ship. I did not know how many men might be on that ship, or if there were more boats or cannon there.
The whitemen inshore had jumped up to meet Guiaou coming across the rice field and now they were being cut down by swords from horseback. The barracoons were open already, and the parties under Bouquart and Bienvenu had joined in this killing. The zombis were all still standing white-eyed and motionless in the rizières, except for two who walked stiffly toward the barracoons with buckets hanging from their arms, carrying grain and water. They did not seem to understand that the barracoons had been emptied out. There were no chains. The people had been coffled up with ropes and wooden yokes, so it was easy enough to cut them free.
Then the ship did fire a cannon, and we answered quickly from the beach, but our shot miscarried. Couachy, on the heights above, was the better gunner, and he managed to drop a ball from the cliffs onto the ship’s deck. The ship’s cannon fired another time, but without hitting anything that mattered. Then the ship loosed its moorings and sailed away without doing anything more.
It was over, except the zombi-master was hemmed up in a corner of the rice field, with the zombis gathered tightly around him. Guiaou’s men were keeping well back, because they were all afraid of the zombis, and none more than Guaiou. The zombi-master was a blackman like us, and I knew him from the camps of Biassou, from long before I went to Bahoruco, though I did not care to remember his name. He was wearing a Spanish uniform still, with many ribbons and coins pinned over the front of it. I think he knew me also, for he seemed about to say my name, but I shot him twice, a pistol in each hand, and he fell over backward into the swamp.
Let the crabs take him. I loaded my pistols and put them in my belt. Now the zombis were all moving aimlessly around like ants do when one has kicked over the hill. Everything rushed up at me, swooping as in my dream, this zombi farm and the barracoon and the slave ship still waiting on the beach and the men in the tobacco who scarcely cared if they were free and Moyse’s death bound soon to come and all the people across the border working quietly, tightly, under Toussaint’s order. All this at once, and the same voice in my ear, but now the words were different.
What they did to us, we have learned to do to ourselves.
Where would it end? There could be no end. I saw this plainly at that moment, but I had always in my pocket the bag of salt I had gathered from the pans below Gonaives.
All my men were hanging back, afraid of the zombis still. The people freed from the barracoon were afraid of them too. I saw this had been the way of the zombi-master, using this fear to keep them down. All those people had been captured near the border, one at a time or in little groups, when they strayed too far from their villages, in the direction of the Rivière Massacre. They were mostly women, and children of all ages. Some of the older boys had taken up the guns of the dead whitemen.
It was true that the zombis looked frightening. There were thirteen of them, naked except for a cloth at the waist. They were starved to skin and bone and the cords that strung the bones together, and their eyes were more empty than the eyes of animals, like the eyes of that blanche I had seen in my dream.
I took some salt into my hand and went to the nearest zombi, holding him by his upper arm. He understood nothing, and I had to rub the grains against his mouth. But when he had once tasted it, a thread of life came into his eyes, and the stiffness began to leave his body, and he pushed at me for more. Then they were all pressing up around me, pushing, nuzzling, spilling the mound of yellow salt from my two cupped hands, their lips heavy and loose as the lips of horses.
All but one.
The people, my soldiers and those from the barracoon, were all looking upon Riau as if he were BonDyé himself. As they awoke, the zombis began to mingle with the people we had freed. They were given clothes from the dead men. It seemed that some of them were recognized from lives they’d lived before they were brought here to be among the dead. Some of the freed women from the barracoon had opened the supplies of the slave traders and were beginning to cook food. They had tapped a barrel of rum as well, so the mood was that of a bamboche, even though it was just barely morning. In the east, the sun had just pushed its edge above the sea.
I went to the last zombi, who had been, in his life, Chacha Godard. He moved away as I came near, moving a step for each step of mine, keeping our distance equal, as if an invisible stake was lashed between us. Perhaps it was so, for I had seen Chacha put into the ground, a corpse, and seen his body raised again, by Biassou, and made to move and to labor. I had wanted to see all those things at that time, but afterward there was nothing I could do to scrape the sight off my eyes.
Biassou had been gone for a long time now. He was supposed to have been killed in Florida. But still all this went on without him, and maybe it would take more than a handful of salt to undo it.
When Chacha struck the wall of the barracoon, he could not go backward anymore, and so I closed the distance. When I lifted my hand with the salt, his eyes rolled white, and his head whipped back and forth like the head of a panicked horse. He bit me when I forced the salt between his jaws, though not enough to break the skin. My hand jerked back, spilling salt upon the ground, but enough had passed his lips. His jaw worked and his body trembled. On the wet red of his lower lip, I saw the pieces of salt dissolving. Light came into his eyes then, and recognition, but no joy.
He turned from the wall, away from me, and began walking down toward the water. It was not the stiff zombi walk any longer. His hips and his shoulders swung with his step now, but still he walked very steadily, and his head and his eyes were fixed. Without breaking his pace, he passed the broken longboats on the shore and walked into the shallow surf, knee-deep, waist-deep, deeper. The sun was on the water, so bright one could hardly bear to look, and his head very black against it. A few people were quietly watching him, but many others were busy eating and drinking rum and so noticed nothing. Chacha kept walking into that bright mirror surface until the water sealed itself above his head.
At that moment a women on the beach was taken by Erzulie, and she began to sway and sing.
Tout kò-m se lò
Tout kò-m se lò
Tout kò-m se lò
Ezili sòti nan lamè-a
Tout kò-m se lò . . .
Erzulie of the Waters. People by the cookfire began to sway and clap their hands. They took up the singing too, though they had not seen what had begun it. They had not seen Chacha Godard go beneath the waters, but still they sang.
All my body is gold
All my body is gold
All my body is gold
Ezili comes out of the ocean
All my body is gold . . .
There was nothing to see in the ocean any longer, only the bright, tight surface of the water, like a sheet of hammered brass.
At a small mahogany secretary in his bedroom at the Governor’s Residence in Le Cap, Toussaint sat writing, alone for once. He wrote in his own hand, for the matter was unsuitable for dictation. The high arched wooden doors had been opened onto the balcony by the servant who had brought in his coffee, so that daylight illuminated his hand and his page. It was early in the morning, still cool, and a small moist breeze moved through the garden.
“My dear sons, Placide and Isaac,” he wrote, “I salute you from the country of your birth, your nation—” He stopped and blotted out the last phrase, “your nation,” so heavily it was in no way legible. “May this letter find you healthy and industrious in the bosom of our great Republic, France.”
He dipped his pen and lifted it from the well, tilting the nib for the excess to run off. Abstractedly he looked out over the balcony rail. In the sun-gilded garden, a servant was slowly sweeping up dried curls of leaves that had been blown down from the trees in the night.
“I wish always that both of you should make good use of the opportunity I must still deny myself, to live among the deepest roots of our fatherland, which is France.” This statement was flawless, from the point of the view of the censors and spies who would certainly be reading it before (most likely) or after it reached the addressees.
“But duty, and the work I owe the nation, retain me here in Saint Domingue. I do not know what you have heard of our recent civil war. Nor is it right or necessary that you should know too much of that, although I hope and expect that you will profit from your schoolmasters’ instruction in the art of war, that you will read and study Clausewitz and the other writers on this subject, and with your full attention.”
The last quarter-inch of coffee in his cup had gone cold, but there was still a vestige of warmth in the cup on the tray. He poured and stirred in sugar, but forgot to taste the mixture, as the next phrase came to him. “Suffice it to say that the civil war which has just ended here, with victory to your old father’s arms, has proved (if further proof were needed) that no conflict is more bitter than strife between brothers. As if the closer the kinship, the uglier and more ruinous the quarrel.”
A wash of sadness spilled over him, unexpected. This was the very thought, if not the words, of Moyse. But that predicament, at the moment, did not bear thinking of. He must concentrate on another sadness—five years since he had seen his older boys. What did he know of them now? They wrote to him often enough, it was true. Their letters were correctly spelled, increasingly elegant in their penmanship and even in their style, and thoroughly unrevealing. The differences between the boys were flattened by this correspondence. Isaac, though the younger, was the bolder, more impetuous, braver (perhaps), certainly more foolhardy. Tête bœuf, Toussaint had called him formerly, bullhead, with a rap of his knuckles on the boy’s hard skull, and not without a certain admiring recognition. Yet Placide, more hesitant, cautious, yielding in his manner, had also the greater capability, Toussaint believed. In Placide’s instinct for self-effacement, he saw something of himself. Beneath those currents of elusiveness might be a tenacity greater than Isaac’s. Or so it had seemed at the time of their departure. But what if the differences between the boys had really been rubbed away by their education? In the old days, before the Revolution in France, mulatto children sent for their education there had been neatly tapped into the mold of French chevaliers, until little remained of them but a set of borrowed morals and manners and assumptions which they did not realize would be useless, even harmful to them, when they returned to the colony . . . Lowering his pen to the paper, Toussaint glided into a Biblical homily, as smoothly as he might have done if the boys had actually been in his presence.
“I trust you remember the story of Jacob and Esau, which we read many times in our old cabin at Bréda when you were very small. How Jacob through his deception stole the blessing and the birthright of his brother, disguising himself in the rough skin of a beast.”
His thought wandered. Had Rigaud reached Paris, had he begun his intrigues there? On this subject, Toussaint’s intelligencers had given no report.
“Be always honest, practice no deception, in your dealings with the world, but especially with one another. No matter what skin you are given to wear, be true to yourself, beneath it.”
There. That was a nice piece of doubling. The censor could find nothing objectionable in this sermonette, but the message, the pwen, would fly past to reach, at least, Placide.
“I am pleased to tell you that peace and prosperity reign from one end of our colony to the other. Those disturbances you knew when you were small are at an end, once and for all. And how eagerly your mother and I look forward to your return!”
He stopped, bathed in a bitterness like gall. It was not so very long since he had actually tried to get the boys back. He had sent Huin, the French general whom he’d trusted with so many delicate negotiations, on a secret mission to spirit them out of their college and across the English Channel, where Maitland was waiting to receive them—under the protection of the entire British navy. Both boys, or at the least, Placide . . . but Huin had found no opportunity. Toussaint had felt himself suspected, if not detected outright in the scheme. And a failed attempt would have spoiled everything.
“But it is not for us to fix the day or the hour for that delightful event,” he wrote doggedly. “Your parents must follow duty rather than desire, and you must complete your education thoroughly, for your country will have need of your most skillful services, when finally you do return.
“Your brother, Saint-Jean, is well and sends his greetings. Your mother sends her kisses, and I mine.”
He signed, with the flourishing backward loop enclosing the customary three dots, lifted the sheet and flagged it in the air to dry the ink.
The anteroom to the private office in Government House had been furnished with a pair of tables so as to become, temporarily, a secretaries’ suite. There the doctor, Riau, Pascal, and several other scribes labored over fair copies of the Constitution which Toussaint had recently engineered for Saint Domingue. Riau worked impassively, and the doctor envied his concentration—letter by letter, leaf by leaf. In such a task it was better not to see the forest for the trees. As for himself, if he winced at some especially terrifying clause, he was apt to drop a blot and spoil his page. Pascal, across the table, had gnawed his thumb to such a miserable state that the wound drew flies.
The door opened, and Toussaint walked in, alone, wearing his ordinary undecorated uniform, plumed bicorne in his hand, his head bound up in yellow madras. There was an excited burr of petitioners in the corridor (for the time being they were not admitted even to the anteroom), but Toussaint shut the door and cut it off. He circled the tables, looking over the shoulder of one scribe, then another, humming noncommittally. When he came to the doctor, he tapped him on the sleeve and beckoned. The doctor rose and followed him into the inner cabinet.
Toussaint produced a folded paper from inside his coat and held it out. “A fair copy only,” he said, “there is no need to adjust the phrasing.” His hand covered a rather ingenuine cough. “Of course you will make sure of the spelling.”
The letter came unfolded as the doctor accepted into his hand, and he caught a glimpse of Toussaint’s broken orthography, sépa pou nou precisé lajour ni leure pou . . . Fluent as Toussaint was in his language—he knew how to word the subtleties of his thought—his spelling was strictly phonetic; perhaps it had even worsened somewhat since his use of secretaries had increased. He wrote to his sons in his own hand, but always required a fair copy to be made—discreetly—lest his poor orthography embarrass him before the young collegians. The doctor was familiar with this work, and was rather flattered to be given it. He had mastered Toussaint’s odd renderings to the point that he hardly ever needed to ask for a clarification of a word.
He sat down at the place Toussaint indicated—this task would not be performed in the anteroom—arranged a fresh sheet beside Toussaint’s creased paper, and began the corrected copy. Toussaint pushed open the window behind his own desk. The cry of a crow came in with a wave of warm air, and the voices of carters encouraging one another beyond the wall.
The doctor wrote carefully. He was rather pleased to have been relieved of the Constitution for a time. The document had been approved by a committee of men whom all observers thought reduced to puppets. Its main thrust was to assign near-absolute powers to Toussaint Louverture, for the duration of his life, along with the right to appoint his successor. Who would perhaps be one of those sons to whom Toussaint had written today.
A tap on the door, and Riau presented himself, a sheaf of papers in his hand. He murmured that the Constitution was ready for the printer. The doctor felt himself begin to flinch, and he laid down his pen.
“Yes,” said Toussaint. “Send it down.”
Riau saluted and turned from the door, which Toussaint closed. The doctor, feeling that his tremor had passed, picked up the pen and went on writing. Before Toussaint could resume his seat, another tap came on the door. Pascal, announcing the arrival of Colonel Vincent.
“Yes,” said Toussaint, in the same tone as before, as Pascal gnawed anxiously at the edge of his thumb’s wound. “Let him come in.”
Vincent closed the door behind him and turned to face the desk, shaking his head ruefully. “General,” he began, “is there any way that I can dissuade you from this document you have prepared?”
“I think not,” Toussaint told him. “For it is not my doing, but the work of the Assembly.”
“The Assembly!” Vincent blurted out. “Raimond, Borgella—forgive me, General, I make no such accusation myself, but the men of the Assembly are perceived to be completely in your thrall, and that perception is likely to continue in France. Observe, this constitution gives you powers that a king might envy—might have envied even in the days before the Revolution. You have sole power to propose all laws, to conduct all enforcement, to bind and to loose—and this for the duration of your life? In effect, it is a declaration of independence.”
“It is no such thing,” Toussaint said quietly.
“How not?” said Vincent. “Sir, you assume to yourself every power of the state, save that to negotiate independently with foreign governments—which in truth you have done already, with England and the North American Republic—”
“Special laws.” Toussaint raised his voice slightly, and moved to the edge of his seat. “The First Consul has himself declared the need for special laws to govern the colonies. The Assembly has drafted special laws to present for his approval. We are responding to the need he has . . . indicated.”
Vincent took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “If it is approval you sincerely seek,” he said, “you would do better not to put this constitution into effect before approval has been obtained.”
The doctor, though he could not quite render himself deaf, felt that he was approaching what he’d imagined Riau’s state of mind to be: he looked no farther than the lines he must draw to make one letter, connect it to another letter to form a word. One word after another. In this way he was able to continue copying without a fault. When he had finished the copy, he would be able to leave the room, perhaps free to leave the building. Nanon and the children were waiting for him at the Cigny house.
Toussaint relaxed against the back of his chair, and set the tips of his long fingers together. “If the First Consul is uncertain of my Constitution,” he said, “he will send out commissioners to negotiate with me.”
“Say rather that he should send ambassadors,” Vincent said. “As if to treat with a foreign power.”
“Colonel Vincent,” Toussaint said. “You of all people know how deep and abiding is my loyalty to France. I have fought and bled on many battlefields to conserve this colony for the French Republic. In taking command of the island’s eastern part, I have more than doubled the territory belonging to France. I have restored peace, and a measure of prosperity—there will be more to follow. My Constitution is meant to do no more than to consolidate these gains—to France’s benefit. All this you have seen with your own eyes.”
Vincent opened his mouth, but no word emerged.
“Colonel, you know my heart, and my intention must be clear to you. I ask you to bring my Constitution before the First Consul and present it to him as I designed it—my ultimate service to the French Republic.”
Vincent swallowed a mouthful of air, gasping like a fish hooked out of the water. “Of course,” he said. “I shall do my best to satisfy your wish. But—”
“Excellent,” said Toussaint, with his smile unconcealed for once. The teeth were uneven in his jaw. He disconnected his fingertips and spread his palms on the table. “With you as my emissary, I need fear no misunderstanding,” he said. “Only, your departure may be slightly delayed, until the Constitution has come back from the printer.”
“You have ordered it printed?” Vincent blanched. “General, to have it printed and promulgated before its approval—” With a sag of his shoulders, he cut himself off.
By dint of a massive effort of concentration, the doctor had completed his copy. He swiveled on his stool and presented it wordlessly to Toussaint, who spread it on the desk and signed it with his usual triple-dotted flourish. Folding the letter in three, Toussaint applied a wax seal and held it toward Vincent.
“I venture to add this private mission to your public one,” he said. “A letter to my sons. And in this affair as in the other, I trust you absolutely.”
Vincent clicked his heels and bowed. “I shall endeavor to be worthy of your trust.”
With Moustique, Marie-Noelle, and Riau, the doctor walked into the Place Clugny. At first light the square was nearly empty, though a few of the market women had already begun to appear, beginning to furnish their stalls. One tall and stately woman with a basket of soursops balanced on her head, another leading a donkey with panniers of green oranges . . . Marie-Noelle’s little son, called Jean-Baptiste, came trotting along behind the others. The dawn breeze coming from the sea ruffled the leaves of the figuiers planted round the edges of the square.
Moustique stopped, to the left of the central fountain, and handed Jean-Baptiste the gourd of water he had carried from the hunfor.
“Alé,” he said.
The boy looked up at him, quizzical. He had a sweet, milk-chocolate colored face. His stomach protruded slightly under his shirt.
Moustique nodded. The boy moved in a leftward circle, pouring out the water till the gourd was empty and a damp ring in the dust had closed upon itself. He looked up, smiling, dangling the gourd.
“Poukisa n’ap fé konsa?” he said. Why do we do like this?
The doctor felt the quiet of attention of the market women who had continued to drift into the square while the child performed this small ceremony of remembrance. He did not look at them, but he felt their eyes.
“For the spirit of your grandfather,” Moustique said. “He was killed here by the blancs, right on this spot.”
“But my grandfather was a blanc.”
Moustique’s face screwed up, then relaxed and cleared. “It is so,” he said, going down on one knee beside the boy. “Still the other blancs killed him. He was a priest of God, an innocent man, and a martyr.”
“The blood is of the martyrs,” said Jean-Baptiste, in the recitative voice of catechism.
“It is so,” said Moustique, “but water is greater. Greater than either blood or wine.” He touched the child on his head, and stood up.
“Lamou pi fò pasé lahaine,” Jean-Baptiste said.
“Yes,” said Moustique, with some difficulty, as another contortion ran over his face. “Love is stronger than hate.”
“Well,” said the doctor, “he has learned a great deal since he came into your care.” He glanced from Moustique to Marie-Noelle, who stood with her legs set slightly apart, rooted. A beautiful girl, with large clear eyes. She was pregnant again, and it became her.
The doctor lowered his eyes and looked at the ring of water sinking into the dust. Moustique had told him how such an offering of water might raise a spirit from its resting place. And at this moment he did feel the presence of the Père Bonne-chance, a sort of hum between the tendons at the back of his neck. A short, burly, balding man, with a smile that split his bullet head from one ear to the other. He had been a worldly man, excessively so for a priest (though the priests of Saint Domingue were quite an irregular lot). If one judged by his death, which had been slow and gruesome, he had hardly lived up to his name for good luck, and yet in his worldliness he had done, in small, barely noticeable increments, considerable good. In his worldliness, he would certainly have appreciated the woman who had captured his son’s fancy. Lamou pi fò pasé lahaine, indeed.
The moment had passed. Marie-Noelle twitched out a basket from behind her hip and ducked her head, with a smile. Taking Jean-Baptiste by the hand, she went off to do her marketing.
With Riau and Moustique, the doctor went out riding. The mission was to gather herbs, but they took a desultory way. For once there was no need for special caution—all was calm in all directions—and in any case both he and Riau carried their customary weapons, though they were not needed. Around noon, they swam in a spring-fed pool, and afterward ate the cold yams from their saddlebags with unusual relish.
Once they had eaten, Moustique seemed of a mind to turn back. But Riau lured them on ahead. Pi devan, he kept saying. A little farther . . . In fact there were attractions he seemed to have known in advance. Here a quantity of herbe à crabe, a specific against diarrhea, there a stand of belle de nuit, useful as a poultice to reduce the swelling of sprains. At last he brought them to a damp, shaded glen full of wild mushrooms enough to feed all the guests at the Cigny house and most of Moustique’s lakou.
With their saddlebags bulging, they rode on, down the slopes of Morne Rouge, with the afternoon sunlight beginning to slant between the heavy, dark boles of the trees. Riau pulled his horse up before a great mapou tree, contemplated it for a long moment, then dismounted. From somewhere on his person he produced a whole egg, which he placed softly in a wooden bowl which lay before the mazy opening of the tree’s branching roots. He walked on, leading his horse into the clearing.
It was an unremarkable spot, a wide space of packed earth, with a painted post driven in near the center. The doctor had learned enough of such matters to recognize a hûnfor, but that was not enough to explain the prickling he felt at the back of his neck—a stirring, collapsing sensation in the hollow just at the base of his skull. But it was Moustique, who also seemed somewhat out of equilibrium, who put the question.
“What is this place?”
“Bois Cayman,” Riau said. He stood by his horse, with a casual air, not far from the poteau mitan. The doctor looked at the ground more closely. The dirt had been pounded smooth by many feet, but why did he feel this had happened quite recently? There were patches of sticky, cakey stain near the center post, some shards of broken clay vessels, and a scattering of black bristles.
“Bois Cayman,” Moustique said in a shivering tone. “Why have we come here?”
Riau inclined his head, politely. “You brought me to see your son pour water,” he said. “Sometimes, too, I serve in your mother’s house on the hill, so in my turn I have brought you here, where Ogûn spoke through the mouth of Boukman, to inspire our first rising.”
The tingling at the base of his head was a compound of fear and attraction—a mixture the doctor knew very well. He spoke without knowing he would do so. “Here is where the massacre of the white people was planned.”
“No.” Riau’s voice was sharp enough to echo, but from what? There was no barrier anywhere to produce the ricochet.
“It is here that the spirits joined us to make one people,” Riau said. “All we who are children of Guinée, and showed us how we must take our freedom.”
The doctor stopped himself from replying. He saw that from Riau’s point of view the slaying of a few hundred whites had been no more than a minor side-effect of the movement over the road toward liberty . . . as perhaps the destruction of thousands of Africans was only an unpleasant by-product of the manufacture of sugar. But that was another way of looking at it. His sense of disorientation increased.
“Lamou pi fò pasé lahaine,” Riau said, looking over his shoulder and all around. “There is a spirit who walks with you too.” He was speaking directly to the doctor. “Balendjo, the traveler. Even now, he is near.”
“But all this was long ago,” the doctor said. “In ninety-one.” His lips felt thick and awkward. He was speaking in spite of his sense that what Riau described was going on invisibly around him even now.
“They come here every year, I think,” Moustique was saying. “August, at the middle of the month, so it has been, perhaps, six weeks?”
“No,” said Riau, gathering in the space around him with an encirclement of both hands. His horse stirred its head at this movement, jingling the rings of the bit.
“It is now,” Riau said. “Still, and always.”
The doctor glanced at Moustique and saw that he was only feigning comprehension.
“Our dead do not leave us,” Riau said. “They do not go away into the sky like spirits of dead blancs.”
At this Moustique nodded, for they both knew this litany.
“They are with us here, although invisible, les Morts et les Mystères,” Riau said. He drew his sword and pierced the ground with its point. “They have their home beneath the surface of the earth—they are waiting beyond the gate, on the opposite side of the crossroads.”
The doctor, who knew some portion of this reasoning from his conversations with Moustique, felt the small hairs rising on his forearms nonetheless. Moustique went on nodding rhythmically in the flow of Riau’s words.
“At dawn or sunset, when the light makes the sea a mirror,” Riau said, “then they are very near, les Invisibles, beneath the surface of the waters.” He withdrew his sword from the ground and brushed the crust of dirt from its point. “When they come through the crossroads, then they move us,” Riau said, looking very pointedly at the doctor. “That is how it is at Bois Cayman. And we must move as we are moved.”
The doctor saw that Moustique had stopped nodding; the boy understood this last remark no better than he did himself. But Riau seemed satisfied, or finished, anyway. He turned, leading his horse after him out of the clearing. Under the trees again, he vaulted into the saddle, and took them on a spiraling route back home.
I, Riau, I did not know why I brought them to Bois Cayman at first, or even that I meant to do it. It was first one leaf, and then the other, the mushrooms, then we had arrived. Afterward I saw that I had wanted them to know, but especially the doctor, what was going to happen, what was happening already even then. I, Riau, had served at Bois Cayman once more this year, and with my spirit in my head. Six weeks before as Moustique had said, but that meant nothing. Time was nothing in that place. If Riau had brought his watch, it would have stopped ticking there, but I did not bring it. They did not understand what it all meant, but I was not sorry for bringing them there. I took them in and out again by such a twisted way that neither could have found the place again, alone.
At that time the division between Moyse and Toussaint was always growing greater. Moyse was made captain of the plantations in all the north, but he would not drive the men of the hoe to work as Dessalines did in the south and the west. Dessalines would drive, Dessalines would whip, Dessalines would kill any man who rebelled, and sometimes with torture equal to what the worst blanc could have dreamed. Dessalines had tasted it all in his own flesh, or much of it, and it seemed that he was willing to give it all back, and that he did not care in what direction he would give it. It began to be said that ten men who awaited an inspection from Dessalines could do the work of thirty under slavery.
Moyse looked at all this and said, My old uncle can do what he wants, but I will not be the executioner of my people.
By then, some people had begun to believe that Moyse really was Toussaint’s nephew, because Toussaint was always so easy with him. Maybe Moyse believed it himself. But in truth, Toussaint was Moyse’s parrain as he was mine, from our days at Bréda, and Toussaint had no blood tie with Moyse, any more than with Riau.
Moyse did not want to drive the men of the hoe to work, even on the lands which he now owned. He gave those lands to some whitemen to manage, and took a part of the money and did nothing more. Toussaint was very angry at this, and he let Moyse feel his anger. As captain of plantations in the north, Moyse ought to be managing his own land and making an example of how to squeeze more and more work from the men of the hoe, as Dessalines was doing in all the other parts of the country. Toussaint made his anger known, but Moyse was not in the humor to take that warning.
Moyse did not get much credit from the blancs for being captain-general of the north. He liked the blancs even less than they liked him, but still when he came to Le Cap he noticed how the blancs all preferred Christophe, who was commandant of the town at that time and had a more pleasant manner with white people. That was because Christophe had been a waiter in a blanc hotel, during slavery time, although I don’t know how many white people understood this.
Moyse was not happy about Toussaint’s Constitution. He heard what was in that paper from Riau, before it was printed and taken to France by Vincent, and after it was printed, the paper went on stinging him. This Constitution was a hard rule for the men of the hoe, because it bound them to stay working on the plantations for all of their lives under the hands of the army. The paper also said that Toussaint had power to bring more men into the country to work with the hoe, which meant that he would buy them as slaves. When they came here they must be made free, but it began to look like a strange kind of freedom.
From Toussaint’s councils I knew that he did not really mean to put those new people into the fields. That part of the paper was meant to fool the blancs in France. What Toussaint planned was to bring in twenty thousand new men and put them into the army, to replace all the men who had been killed by the war in the south, because he was afraid a new army would come against us out of France, or maybe he already knew this was going to happen. Still, it meant that he would be paying to steal more people out of Guinée, as Riau and many others had been stolen.
Moyse was at Bois Cayman that year, and Joseph Flaville, and other officers of the army of the north, though not all of them. Toussaint did not know that they had gone there. Toussaint was not in the spirit of Bois Cayman anymore, or he did not seem to be.
I did not know what I would do when the thing began. At that time I had much freedom to move around the north with my horse soldiers. Even though Captain Riau was under command of higher officers, with the favor of Toussaint and the friendship of Moyse, I could often choose where I would be, sometimes at Ennery, or Dondon, or Le Cap.
Until the last day I thought that maybe I would take off my uniform coat and draw out my coutelas and begin killing whitemen again like before. Moyse expected this of Riau, and of Flaville also. That last day, I still did not know for certain, until we had passed Limbé, where Flaville commanded. There my heart turned cold and shrunken, and I knew my spirit was going to move me in another direction from Moyse.
We were going down to Ennery that day. But when we had come to Pilboreau, I took Guiaou away from the others, and told him he must ride without stopping to find Toussaint at Verrettes—he must not stop even for a moment at Ennery to see Merbillay and the children. Nothing was going to happen at Ennery, but he must tell Toussaint that the ateliers had risen and were killing whites all across the mountains from Limbé to Dondon, and all across the northern plain as well.
Guiaou looked at me without understanding. We had passed Limbé some hours before, and there was not any killing there. Guiaou had been at Bois Cayman that year himself, but since Agwé was riding his head the whole time, he did not remember anything afterward, himself, about what had happened or what it had meant.
“They are killing the blancs,” I told him carefully. “But truly, it is a rising against Toussaint.”
Guiaou’s nose opened wider to breathe in my words.
“Go without stopping,” I told him again. “Remember to tell him you come from me.”
Guiaou nodded and turned his horse—I watched him canter down the slopes of Pilboreau. From Quamba I knew he had been afraid of horses when he first had joined Toussaint, but he was a good rider now, and his horse was strong. It would take death to stop him from reaching Verrettes. Toussaint had given him revenge for his scars and for the Swiss, and Guiaou was for Toussaint without any question.
With the rest of my men I rode east from Pilboreau to Marmelade. There was some confusion there, and when it ended, Bienvenu and Bouquart and four of the men who were close to them had disappeared into the dust. They were marrons in their hearts, those two, and I thought they must have returned to Limbé. Though darkness had come, and the rain too, I took the other men on through the passes onto the plain again, until we came to Habitation Arnaud, because I knew the doctor was meaning to go there.
I found him already arrived, with Nanon and Captain Maillart and Isabelle Cigny. They were all making ready for bed, but I made them get up again, to return to Le Cap if they wanted to keep on living in their bodies. Moyse had come across the plain that same day toward Dondon, and everywhere he passed the ateliers would be rising, and Arnaud’s people were going to rise too, whether or not he wanted to believe it.
At first only the doctor trusted what I told them—if he had not understood at Bois Cayman, he understood quickly now. He went outside at once and saddled his horse. Captain Maillart had been carrying on his love with the blanche Isabelle again, since she had come back from Vallière, and he did not want to go back to Le Cap so soon, where her husband was staying in her house, but with some talk I made him understand that it was necessary. With Arnaud, the trouble was that Flaville had protected him until now, but this time Flaville was very busy at Limbé, where three hundred blancs were killed that same night.
There was moon enough to see our road plainly. In time we began to see fires on the horizon, and after that there were not any more complaints. By morning we came through the lower gate into Le Cap. No one had attacked us. Twice there were bands who came near with knives and torches, but when they saw so many horse soldiers they went away again.
There was a rising in the town too, but Christophe took his men to put it down. I did nothing after those white people had been delivered, but took my men into the casernes. We had all been riding two days without a rest. When Christophe came in, he looked at me strangely, but he said nothing. Then there was nothing to do but wait. In another day, Bouquart and Bienvenu and the men who had gone off with them returned. I did not ask any questions of them, and they said nothing to me either.
If Moyse had had a little more time, even as much as one more day, he might have taken all the Cordon de l’Ouest from Limbé de Dondon and given Toussaint some real trouble. That chain of mountains had been the root of Toussaint’s power from the beginning, and maybe Moyse thought the power would wither if the root were cut, or he might be able to take it for himself. But Dessalines, who was following Toussaint’s order, brought his soldiers into Plaisance right away and broke the line. Wherever he went after that, Dessalines killed a great many of the men of the hoe who had rebelled, and Toussaint, who was coming up toward Le Cap from Gonaives, did the same thing.
When Toussaint came into the town, he ordered all the soldiers to parade on the Place d’Armes. I, Riau, stood at attention among my men, breathing as deeply as I could so that no part of my body would tremble. I had not seen Guiaou since I sent him to Verrettes, so I did not know what might be coming to me, but Toussaint was more terrible than I had ever seen him. People thought he was mounted by Baron de la Croix. He threw his plumed hat on the ground and tore the red cloth from his head and crushed it tightly in his fist, many times folded over.
“Here I stand,” he screamed in a breaking voice. “The man that Moyse claimed would restore slavery. I stand before you—assassin of my brothers. Traitor to the French Republic. He who would make himself a king to rule a heap of corpses.”
Toussaint was shaking from his heels to his shoulders as he paced the ranks of soldiers drawn up on the square. His mouth was bloody at the corners because his teeth had bitten into his cheeks. I thought he was coming straight for me.
“Step forward,” Toussaint said, through gritted teeth.
But it was Bouquart who stepped out of the ranks from his place at my left side.
“Shoot yourself,” Toussaint commanded.
Bouquart, standing very straight, picked up his pistol and blew his brains out through his ear. He fell down dead on the bloody stones. Toussaint walked on. Toussaint gave the same order many times. When it was enough for him, he ordered the ranks of soldiers to part. At one end of the square appeared three cannon. At the other came Joseph Flaville, bound among other prisoners Toussaint had taken on his way. All those cannon were loaded with grapeshot so that afterward no one could tell which scraps of meat and bone had belonged to one man or another.
In the echo of the shots I heard the high, shrill scream of a blanche. I turned to see Isabelle falling in a faint. The Captain Maillart caught her in his arms and carried her away. I did not know how she had managed to get herself there to see the killing, though I did know her reason. All the black people knew that she had borne a son of Flaville’s at Vallière and afterward given it to Nanon, though none of the white people seemed to know it.
I was sorry that Bouquart was killed, and that Zabeth would have to find another father for the child they had made together. In the days that followed, I sometimes thought of Chacha Godard’s head going down beneath the waters, and the same words in my mind— what they did to us, we have learned to do to ourselves. But I was not sorry that it had not been my time to go, that I could keep on breathing and living and sometimes kiss my children.
Moyse was not killed at once, even after so many others had died under Toussaint’s rage. Toussaint met with him once in a friendly way, and pretended to believe that Moyse was not to blame for the rebellion. He even sent Moyse out with a party of soldiers to put down small risings that were still going on in corners of the plain and to the west of Le Cap. I thought then that Toussaint really did love Moyse, as much as his sons who had been taken away to France, and that he wanted Moyse to go off and hide in the mountains and save his life. But Moyse did not do this, either because he did not understand, or because he did not care anymore what happened to him. Instead he went to Port-de-Paix with his patrol, and there Maurepas arrested him and put him into the guardhouse.
There was a trial for Moyse at Le Cap, but all that time Moyse was kept in the fort at Port-de-Paix. Toussaint did not go to see him die, as he had watched Flaville and the others be blown to little rags of flesh, but he sent Riau in his place to watch it. I had no choice but to go. It was a lucky thing that Toussaint did not order me to be one of the firing squad.
When Moyse stood facing the guns in the Port-de-Paix fort, he called out in a loud, strong voice. Maurepas heard him, everyone did, but I thought his words were meant for Riau.
“Tell my old uncle,” Moyse shouted. “Tell him my one eye has been looking into the other world for a long time. Tell him I see him walking there as well, among the shadows.”
Then Moyse called on the men to shoot. Feu! mes amis, feu! he said. The muskets spoke together, and Moyse was silent.
I did not bring this message to Toussaint, and no one else did either. But it fell to Riau to tell Toussaint that Moyse was dead, which I had seen with both my eyes. When he heard this news, Toussaint put his face in his hands and wept without sound, and the water ran out from between his fingers. He had given the order himself, as I knew, but this time his grief was real.
The doctor threw the back of his hand half consciously toward the other side of his bed, and woke completely with a start of alarm when he found it cool and empty. Where was he? He sat up, bracing his back on the headboard, collecting himself one scrap at a time. The Cigny house, but he was still unused to the larger room he and Nanon now occupied on the second floor.
She was not there, but not lost either. Elise, who was also staying in the house at the moment, had insisted that he not see her all that day. This seemed a fond notion, given all the circumstances, but Nanon had accepted it with a secret smile, and if it pleased her the doctor had no reason to object. On the contrary, he was grateful for his sister’s good will toward the enterprise, even if she had chosen to manage it with a very firm hand. In fact, all three women in the house had formed a temporary cabal, had shut themselves up in a room for the night and barred the door against the men.
He rubbed the fuzz on the back of his head, and shifted his bare feet to the floor. A warm band of sunshine came through a crack in the tall wooden doors to the balcony. He put on trousers and a loose shirt and went out to stand overlooking the street. Queer tremors of anticipation ran over him, though he laughed at this reaction. It was to be his wedding day.
The balcony doors of the next room were open wide, and the doctor put his head in cautiously to check the room before he entered. Paul and Paulette were sitting cross-legged on the bed nearest the window, telling each other a story in low whispers. On a smaller bed, wedged into the corner lest they should fall, François and Gabriel were sleeping. With a familiar twinge of slight anxiety the doctor tilted his head toward them to verify that they were breathing.
Gabriel was still somewhat the smaller, though he would not be so for long. Already he was heavier than François, as if a greater weight had been compressed into the smaller space of his compact, dark body. François was longer, leaner, and seemed in all ways more tentative, more fragile. Now Gabriel, snuffing, turned on his side and thrust a stubby black arm across the belly of his pale-skinned brother. François’s mouth worked, as if at the breast. They stirred, nestled together, went on sleeping.
With a suppressed giggle, Paul and Paulette scurried out of the room, leaving the doctor alone with the smaller children. With a crafty hand, he enclosed one small rib cage, then the other, feeling the pump of respiration, the faint, steady beat of the heart. He had only to close his hand to extinguish the life. In his time he had seen infants this age or still younger impaled and hoisted upon spears. White, African, mulatto . . . it was the way in which one race announced its intention to wipe another wholly from the face of the earth.
The doctor raised his hands from the bed and looked at his tingling palms. The remembered horror did not frighten him today. It was part and parcel of the things he knew, a truth of the world he had come to live in. He was engaged to defend the lives of Gabriel and François and Paul with whatever power was in him. With that thought his hands grazed around his waist, but he had not yet put on his belt this morning, much less his pistols. He did not mean to bring his hand near any weapon, not today.
On the stairs he found himself thinking of a bit of prestidigitation Toussaint had recently adopted, since the latest rebellion and the executions of Flaville and Moyse. Toussaint before a throng of field hands or a division of the army, holding a glass container with a few grains of white rice sprinkled over unhulled brown, or a handful of white beans layered atop a quantity of dark-roast, unground coffee.
“Do you fear I am too close to the whites?” he was wont to ask. “Do you fear the whites will come to rule this country once again?”
It was, of course, a rhetorical question. A few brisk shakes of the jar, and the white grains disappeared entirely among the dark.
Downstairs, his way was blocked by Elise. Over her shoulder the doctor could see Paul and Paulette eating bananas, their eyes bright with amusement.
“What a creature,” his sister chirped. “Do you mean to be underfoot all morning? Go out and find something to do with yourself.”
“Let me take the boy, then,” the doctor said mildly. He beckoned to Paul, and Elise removed her arm from the door frame to let the boy come through to him.
Together they walked down the slope toward the quay. On the waterfront, they turned in the direction of the Customs House. Profiting from the cool of the morning, the porters were busy in all directions. Some merchantmen of the North American Republic were taking on loads of coffee and raw sugar and molasses, while others disgorged barrels of flour, casks of wine or gunpowder, long, flat cases needing two men to carry, which the doctor knew contained new muskets. He called Paul nearer to him and took him by the hand. Whenever they came down to the port together, he was reminded of those weeks the boy had spent alone and abandoned in this area, surviving on the wits he could muster. Paul had never said much about it, though he had frequent nightmares in the first months following his recovery. Now he chafed at the restraint and soon broke free of the doctor’s hand to scamper on ahead.
They passed the Customs House. Paul had stopped to gape at the cannon in the battery opposite the grove of trees which ornamented this area of the waterfront. The gunners smiled and saluted him. The doctor’s son was well known to all of them. Paul came nearer, shyly at first, and was allowed to bestride a cannon and try the touch hole with his finger. The doctor took a seat beneath the trees. The sun, just fully risen in the east, struck metal reflections from the water. Against the dazzle he could make out sails coming in at the harbor mouth, and when he shaded his eyes, he could also see the smaller pilot boats bringing them in.
A porpoise broke the surface of the water, out ahead of the pilot boats. One rolling fin, then three, then five. One of them jumped clear of the water in a shower of shining droplets and fell back sideways with a tremendous splash. The doctor looked for Paul, to show him, but the boy had run farther along onto the parade ground between the Batterie Circulaire and the Arsenal.
The doctor leaned back beneath the trees, adjusting the brim of his straw hat against the glare. The increasing sun brought waves of warmth, and the breeze of the morning was dying. He felt calm, even drowsy, though at the same time he could still feel the wings of the butterflies stirring in his stomach. He turned his head idly in the direction of the town and saw a tall, erect figure approaching. As he watched, this form resolved itself into the person of Captain Maillart, wearing his best dress uniform complete with various decorations for valor he had lately been given, topped off with a dizzying orchid pinned to his lapel.
“Ah, you have absconded,” he said, coming up to the doctor’s bench, “but you won’t evade capture. They’ll have you penned up properly by the end of the day.”
“I suppose you are right,” said the doctor. “Let me say I am content to be made prisoner.”
“Sooner you than me, my friend.” The bench rails throbbed under the sudden shock of the captain’s weight. “Well, bon courage.” Maillart produced his flask from an inner coat pocket. The doctor unscrewed the top and sipped and arched his eyebrows in surprise.
“That makes a change, does it not?” the captain said. “Corn whiskey, just in from Virginia.”
The doctor sat back, withdrawing under his hat brim. The warmth of the whiskey spread in him. Despite the captain’s teasing, he did not especially feel cornered. Though if he had not elected this marriage himself, he might have been brought to it by other means. During this oasis of peace, Toussaint had found time to turn his attention to the observance of proprieties (as his outward devotion turned ever more conservatively Catholic) and in consequence a great many men of whatever hue had found themselves contracting marriage with their long-term concubines, sometimes under a certain degree of duress. The doctor was content to have volunteered for his own mission before being conscripted—Toussaint had also appeared to be pleased. For once, he was in tune with the times.
They sat in a pattern of sunshine and shade. A flicker of warm breeze lifting the leaves around them suffused them with a citrus sent.
“Permit me to offer you a cigar.”
Tocquet’s voice. The doctor blinked his eyes open. Maillart had already accepted the proffer and was biting off the end of his cheroot with a great wrench of his slightly yellowed teeth.
“I did not expect to find you out and about so early,” the doctor said.
In fact Tocquet had gone out the previous evening for a long night of gambling and who knew what else—seeing that the women of the Cigny house were disinclined to male society. He had invited the doctor, who had declined. Though he had stayed up late enough, comparing his botanical notes to a book on a similar theme he had recently acquired, Tocquet had not returned by the time he put out his candle.
“What is one to do?” Tocquet said. “The house is still untenable—the women.” He snorted, cupping fire to Maillart’s cigar and then to his own. “We shall all be relieved when you have settled your affair.”
“Undoubtedly,” the doctor said. “This once, as it is a special occasion, I accept your cigar.”
Tocquet passed one to him and stooped down to light it. The doctor inhaled shallowly, and let out a rich plume of smoke, suppressing his impulse to cough. Tobacco was one vice he had never managed to acquire. The smoke rather dried his tongue. Maillart’s flask went round again, and Tocquet kissed his fingers appreciatively at its savor, then turned to offer it to Riau, who had appeared, silently, imperceptibly, at his left hand. With a quick, bird-like toss of his head, Riau drank, and sat down, smiling, on the doctor’s other side. Tocquet, who remained on his feet, leaned down to offer him a cigar and a light. Riau took it between his teeth and drew fire to the tip. He sat back, expansively fuming blue smoke. He too wore a dress uniform, with decorations derived from several services in addition to the French, and was crowned with the tall hussar’s hat, which looked to have been given an extra-careful brushing for the occasion.
The doctor reclined against the bench rail, puffing his cigar infrequently, just enough to keep it alight. Captain Maillart began telling some story he had heard that morning from a seaman on his way across the docks. The doctor let his eyes sink, half attending. Paul, who had spotted Riau’s tall hat, came running to his knee. Riau reached into his coat pocket and gave him something: a little pig fashioned from a piece of corncob, with sticks for legs and tail. Delighted, Paul ran with the toy back to the parade ground.
The voices of the children playing mingled with the shrieks of gulls. The doctor closed his eyes completely, pushed back his hat brim and let the red warmth play over his closed lids, listening to the drone of Maillart’s voice and Tocquet’s occasional remark. Between the cigar and the whiskey, he had become extremely thirsty.
Tocquet and Maillart broke off their talk. When the doctor opened his eyes, he saw that they were both watching Riau, who was balancing his way across the narrow aqueduct which fed the Fountain d’Estaing, placed in the harbor near the Batterie Circulaire to provision ships with fresh water. Riau stooped, into the glare that rebounded from the ocean’s surface, and rose again and came toward them.
The others awaited him, with a certain solemnity. Riau reached them, holding a tortoise-shell dipper in both hands. With a barely perceptible flick of his fingernail, he spilled a few drops of water on the ground, then drank and offered it to the doctor, who gratefully tasted the cool, sweet water and passed the dipper on.
Slowly the conversation resumed; the flask made another circuit. The doctor’s cigar was mostly consumed; he dropped it and ground out the spark with his boot heel. A moment later, Elise appeared, standing with her arms akimbo, under a parasol Zabeth held above the two of them.
“The pair of you,” she said, meaning apparently the doctor and Tocquet. “What are you thinking—you are not dressed!”
The doctor looked down at his shabby trousers. “Ma sœur,” he said mildly, “it was you who expelled me from the house.”
Unmoved by this reasoning, Elise stamped her foot and beckoned. Tocquet and the doctor followed her in the direction of the wardrobe.
At the makeshift altar in the white church on the hill, the doctor stood beside Tocquet, observing the benches with half his attention, wrinkling his nose at the scented water which Isabelle had dashed on his collar before he could prevent it—“It may cover the smell of drink,” she’d said dulcetly as she made her retreat. Moustique held the Bible open in both his hands, discoursing on varieties of love: eros, caritas, agape. The doctor was struck by the evidence that he and Nanon had enough friends and wellwishers to fill a small hall. There was of course Maillart, with Vaublanc and the indestructible Major O’Farrel, also Riau with most of his cavalry troop. Toussaint was absent; he’d left the town on one of his lightning tours of inspection to some destination where he would be least expected, but Christophe was there, and Maurepas, who had come over from Port-de-Paix on a military errand. There were Elise and Arnaud and Claudette and Isabelle (though Monsieur Cigny was away, on his plantation at Haut de Trou), and there were Zabeth and Fontelle and her older daughters and Maman Maig’ and a great many people from the lakou behind the church, whose names the doctor did not know.
A drum and a fiddle and a wooden flute took up a rickety version of a minuet, and to this music Paulette came down the aisle, walking slowly, with a shy pride, her hair pinned high on top of her head and her hand buried in an extravagant burst of orchids. Behind her stepped Nanon, her head veiled and demurely lowered. Save for the sinuous flow of her hips, she seemed completely disembodied by the wedding dress Elise had designed for her, its fabric rendered just slightly off-white by a brief drenching in weak tea, in token of the fact that Nanon’s condition was other than perfectly virginal.
She reached his side. He could feel her warmth, and her scent was natural—again he regretted the splash of perfume. It all went very quickly: the vows, a bit of fumbling with the ring. Moustique raised a hand above them.
“Now we see through a glass darkly,” he pronounced, “but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
It was finished. At any rate, people were leaving the church. Tocquet had gone to join Elise, and the doctor and Nanon were bringing up the rear. Her hand on his elbow steadied him, for after all he was a little drunk. They emerged into the open air and paused on the first step below the doorsill, above the wedding guests, who had fanned out over the apron of ground before the church. There was Paul, observing Paulette in her transformation, with a certain covert admiration. Farther on, François rode Elise’s hip, while Isabelle cradled Gabriel in her arms.
The breeze had freshened from the harbor, and the three crosses on the brow of the hill leaned into the wind. The doctor felt the hum in the hollow at the back of his neck, and with that the dead began to appear; intermingled with the living: nearest the crosses the Père Bonne-chance with his genial, slightly sheepish smile, and Moyse, the loose lid sagging over his missing eye, standing near Riau, and between Isabelle and Captain Maillart the figure of Joseph Flaville, and Choufleur was there too, looking more amiable than had been his custom, and the spirits of slaughtered children and those of the many men who had died under the doctor’s hands when his skill was not sufficient to save them and those of other men he had killed with his weapons at moments of necessity or rage or fear. So many of them had been unwilling to share the world with one another—they had rather die—but after all, they had not left the world; they were still here, unseen among the living, the Invisible Ones, les Morts et les Mystères, and now, if for this moment only, they seemed disposed to harmony.
It occurred to Doctor Hébert that he had not yet kissed his bride. If not for her solid weight balancing his own and the warm touch of her hand in the crook of his elbow, he might have drifted away among the shades surrounding him. But he was happy now, and grateful, glad to be alive. He turned to her, and loosened the veil from the pins in her hair, and began to raise it from her face. As she lifted her face toward him, there was a sigh from their friends who were watching, and the wind caught the veil and tugged it free, light, airy, floating from the crown of the hill above the red roofs of the town.
Fort de Joux, France September 1802
“You are unwell,” Toussaint observed.
Caffarelli, who sat diagonally across the table from him, removed his handkerchief from his nostril to reply. Toussaint had placed himself with his back to the fire. Caffarelli was farther from the meager heat, nearer to that raw stone wall with its constant, dreary seepage.
“It is nothing,” he said, honking slightly. “A cold.”
“Take care lest it become more serious.” Toussaint smiled. “You must take every care.”
An unfolding movement of his hand seemed to indicate for Caffarelli’s benefit all of the frosty, insalubrious conditions beyond the walls, surrounding the mountaintop and the Fort de Joux. To be patronized so, by the prisoner! It was outrageous. Caffarelli blew his nose, delicately, for his nostrils were chafed, and folded the handkerchief into his pocket.
“Oh,” he said casually. “Once I have returned to the lowlands, I shall recover easily enough.”
Toussaint said nothing.
“It is still warm there, below these heights,” Caffarelli said. “You understand, it is only autumn, and a mild one too, once one has left these mountaintops.” As you can never hope to do, he added with a silent smirk.
“Allow me to wish you a safe and pleasant journey,” Toussaint said.
An unpleasant pressure spread beneath Caffarelli’s cheekbones, behind his eyes and the bones of his forehead. He sniffed, swallowed the disagreeable slime.
“I shall not see you again, General,” he said.
“No,” Toussaint agreed. “I regret the loss of your company.” He reached inside his coat and drew out two folded papers sealed with wax. “I ask you to deliver two letters for me,” he said. “One to the First Consul. The other to my wife. If you would render me this small service . . .”
“Of course,” said Caffarelli, in a milder tone than before. He glanced at the letters, then pocketed them. “I shall send you news of your family, as soon as I may. But even now I can assure you that they are treated with all consideration.”
“Thank you,” Toussaint said. “I will be glad of any news of them.” He pressed the madras cloth to the side of his jaw.
“As we shall not meet again,” Caffarelli repeated, “I wonder, General, that you do not take the opportunity to tell me something more substantial.”
“But I have nothing more to tell,” said Toussaint. “You have my memoir.” He dipped his chin. “My letters.”
“Yes, of course,” Caffarelli said, and added in a flash of irritation, “for what little they may be worth.”
But Toussaint only looked at him with his slightly rheumy brown eyes.
“Your secret pact with the English,” Caffarelli said wearily.
“There is no such secret, as I have told you many times,” Toussaint said. “You know all my dealings with the English, and they are clear as glass.”
“Your treasure,” Caffarelli said.
Toussaint blew out a fluttering, contemptuous breath, which made the flame of the candle waver.
“I have no wealth, in money,” he said.
“But in your own memoir you record that at the outbreak of the revolt you possessed six hundred and forty-eight thousand francs.”
“Sir, that was more than ten years ago, and surely you know the costs of war. That sum was all spent on the army, down to the very last sou.”
“But what of the profits of your commerce since? Your exportations, the sugar and the coffee?”
“Commerce?” Toussaint’s eyebrows lifted. “I was a planter, not a commerçant. What property I enjoy is not in money, but in land.” He paused, considering. “In fact, I owe money which for the moment I am not able to pay. For purchase of those lands of which I have told you. For one plantation I still owe four hundred portugaises, and on another, seven hundred and fifty, I believe.”
“And what of Habitation Sancey?” Caffarelli said quickly.
“Pardon?” said Toussaint. “What, indeed?”
“It was there that your chests of treasure were buried, is it not so?” Caffarelli lunged. “Fifteen million francs, General—and the Negroes who buried it were afterward shot.”
Toussaint drew himself up. “I am long since exhausted with responding to that atrocious lie.”
“Fifteen million francs, General,” Caffarelli said again. “The sum which was voted by your central Assembly and paid into your treasury and of which no trace has been found since.”
“You are bleeding,” Toussaint informed him.
A tickle on his upper lip. Caffarelli tasted a thread of blood. He touched the area below his nose, and his finger came away stickily red. He smothered a curse as he reached for his handkerchief.
“The altitude,” Toussaint said silkily. “And of course, your cold. But you will do better, as you say, when you have left the mountain.”
Caffarelli, his whole face muffled in his handkerchief, made no reply.
“White people,” Toussaint said, tilting an ear toward the grinding lock. “You blancs always believe that there is a gold mine hidden from you somewhere.”
Outside, the castle bell began to toll. Under cover of the sound, Baille entered the cell, a long cloth bag slung over his shoulder, and relocked the door with his clattering key ring. He turned and faced the table and the fireplace. Caffarelli greeted him with a lift of his chin, swallowing blood as he did so.
“I have brought you fresh clothing,” Baille told Toussaint, laying out garments on the table as he spoke. Civilian clothes, coarse woolens, brown trousers and a long, loose shirt such as a peasant would wear in his field.
“New orders have come, for your maintenance,” Baille said. “If you please, put on this clothes at once, and I will take away the others. Also, I must take your watch.”
Toussaint glanced up at him, then lowered his eyes to the rough clothing. “As you prefer,” he said. He detached his watch chain from a buttonhole and laid the instrument on the table.
Baille cleared his throat. “I must also ask you for your razor,” he said.
Toussaint was on his feet and trembling from head to heel. “Who is it who dares suspect I lack the courage to bear my misfortune? And even if I had no courage, I have a family, and my religion—which forbids me any attempt on my own life.”
Baille’s mouth came open and worked in a moist silence.
“Please leave me,” Toussaint said. Baille obeyed.
Cautiously Caffarelli lowered his blood-stained handkerchief. If he kept his head tilted back, the bleeding did not resume, but he must strain his eyes against the lower rim of their sockets to see Toussaint, who had thrown his coat on the bed and was tearing off his linen. His upper body was taut and wiry, the black skin punctuated with a great many grayish white puckers and slashes.
“How many times have I been wounded in the service of my country?” Toussaint said. He touched his jaw. “A cannonball struck me full in my face, and yet it did not destroy me. The ball knocked out many of my teeth, and those that remain give me great pain to this day—although I have never complained of it before.” He turned out his palm. “This hand was shattered in the siege of Saint Marc, but still it will draw a sword and fire a pistol.”
Cafarelli stuttered without achieving a word. A gout of blood splashed out on his face; again he snatched up the handkerchief. Toussaint unbuttoned his trousers and let them fall. “Enough metal to fill a coffee cup was taken out just here, from my right hip,” he said, “and still, several pieces remain in my flesh. That was when I was struck by mitraille —I did not leave the battle that day till I had won it.” He flicked his finger here and there, from one scar to another on his torso and thighs. “From seventeen wounds in all (if I have not miscounted), my blood has flowed on the battlefield—and all of it spilled for France. You may so inform the First Consul.”
Caffarelli found no answer. With a jerk, Toussaint pulled on the brown trousers Baille had provided. He shrugged into the shirt and sat down with a thump, leaning with his palms braced on the table top.
“Tell my jailer he may come for my possessions,” Toussaint said. “One day there will be an accounting of all that has been taken from me, and of how my service has been repaid.” He sat back, wrapping his arms around his chest. “You may go or remain—you are free to choose. Our conversation is at an end.”
Caffarelli departed, though he had no heart to travel, that afternoon, even so far as Pontarlier. He stopped at the postal relay station at the mountain’s foot. His nosebleed had dried and clotted unpleasantly, his head ached, he had a touch of ague, and he was unable to taste his food. It was a cold, no more than a cold. In a matter of days he would regain full health and vigor, but for the moment he could not shake off the oppressive sense of his own mortality.
Of course he had taken the best private room the post hotel had to offer, which was not, however, so very fine or luxurious. Still there was a good fire in the grate, and the alpine chill of the Fort de Joux was already at a distance. By candle and the light of the fire, he struggled to finish his written report. His accounting to Napoleon would not be an agreeable one as, from almost any angle, it was a report of failure. The First Consul would not fail to recognize it as such. Caffarelli had come away without the information he’d been sent to obtain, and the Consul’s sympathy for any failed effort, however strenuous, was notoriously low.
But after all, one must remember who was victorious and who defeated, who was master now, and who was in chains. Caffarelli dipped his pen for the final paragraph.
His prison is cold, sound, and very secure. He looked at the paper, and added, with next to no enjoyment of the irony: He does not communicate with anyone.
In the evening Toussaint’s fever had returned, although he was not bothered by it. On the contrary, he had come almost to enjoy the sensation, as another man might enjoy the effects of wine or rum—pleasures which Toussaint had almost always denied himself. If this were weakness, it was weakness of the flesh. His body, faithful mount that it had been, had carried him a long way now, and he thought that it would not have to carry him much farther.
The fever repelled the cold of the damp cell. It was always succeeded by bouts of chills during which he must shudder and tremble, clutching the thin blanket to himself, while his loose teeth chattered painfully. The rattling of his teeth became the sound of the drums, and he heard the thin, high keening voice of a woman, calling upon Attibon Legba to open the road, to open the gate.
I am Toussaint of the Opening . . .
His arms spread expansively, in the form of the cross, and then regathered themselves around him. Now he was warm and still all over. The fire was still burning at his back (Baille, who grew more stingy by the hour, had complained again that he used too much wood) but the warmth came from within the molten core of fever. The damp wall opposite caught red glints of firelight, shimmered and ran before his eyes. Sometimes it seemed insubstantial as the laced roots of a mapou tree, or a curtain of vines or a hanging veil of water.
In the coziness of his fever, Toussaint chuckled at the thought of Caffarelli, his dumb persistence toward the buried gold he and his master imagined. He would have done better to look for buried iron. Toussaint had spent every coin he could scrape together packing the hills of Saint Domingue with iron—great caches of guns and the bullets to feed them. But as he had claimed to Caffarelli, there was no secret anymore. The weapons were all uncovered now; they were in active use.
The wall opened and the men began to emerge through the veil as from a cane field at the long day’s end, pouring out in their hundreds, their thousands, through the corridors they had cut in the cane. Their skin was black and their chests and faces were marked with brands of ownership or punishment and also by the random slashes of the cane leaves. Some of them he knew by name and others were unknown to him except in the potency of their spirits, but to each alike he gave a musket, with the same words repeated, every time: Take this, hold it, keep it always—This! This is your liberty.