We put ashore as the sun rose over the ocean. A stirring sight - even more so as it brought such annihilating heat to the two of us. I overturned the longboat in a lagoon, making a solid shade for the day. We rested in low tide, little fish swimming and wriggling through our clothes as crabs pinched at our dead flesh... We awoke looking like we'd crawled seven miles through brambles!
"How far from Cap Francois are we?" asked Anna
"Damned if we're going back there!" I snapped, pulling off my boots to drain the seawater.
"Are we to live in the jungle then? Like maroons?" She smiled. That still beautiful smile - so rare and loveless by then - turned my stomach.
Idiota... "Not a bad idea."
We didn't, of course. But we found the next best thing - a sugarcane plantation! Just one of the hundreds dotting Hispaniola, crawling all day with slaves while the planter and his family sat with their feet up in a house to make Louis XIV envious... You'd think we'd be turned away, coming as we did in the dead of night, our fine city clothes ruined by water and wilderness. But no sooner had an elderly Negress answered the door than my Anna fell into an inspired performance -
"Oh, pity on poor travelers!" she cried, throwing herself at the surprised house slave's feet. "God's grace and pity! Our carriage was overturned and looted by maroons! And if not for my brave uncle, they'd have had my virtue too!"
The Negress immediately went for her master - who was asleep, so she had to settle for the lady of the house. A sentimental old biddy who about fainted as Anna repeated her lurid tale. With more embellishment, naturally - "A dozen mad maroons! Screaming voodoo prayers to Beelzebub! My brave uncle beat them all off with a root he tore from the ground!"
Such a clever girl...
We received a royal welcome after that. Madame Bullet put Anna up in a fine room once occupied by her daughter - who'd since been married off to some other planter somewhere. Anna had her pick of the dresses left behind and the Negress brought me some of Monsieur’s older suits that didn't fit anymore. Even then, they hung a bit too loosely around my waist and shoulders. I took the guest room, an equally lavish cavern decorated liberally with every furniture and fashion to come out of Paris in the last fifty years...
And outside, perhaps the most important boon, a banquet of slave blood. The Bullet plantation was ringed with gulleys, deep and steep and filled with the dead and dying. Monsieur Bullet had so many slaves he didn't have to bother with their health! Those that suffered from disease or injury or too many whippings, those that couldn't swing a machete at the sugarcane anymore were cast into the gullies to be claimed by the island. Any who thought to bring them food or water lost the giving hand straight off before receiving a stern talking to...
Bullet was fond of talking, as we learned the following evening. We awoke to a grotesquely obese man, bustling about the mansion, putting on a great show of his management skill for us rare visitors - "Sweep out this mess!" he shouted to an old Negress, already sweeping. "We have company, by God!"
Turning to us, "Ah, Monsieur et Mademoiselle! How long you slept! I was about to send for a doctor. This jungle air can be hard on the humors, you know..."
"I fear my niece suffers from a disorder that makes the light of day unbearable," I told him. "I myself find it difficult, owing to many voyages across the North Sea."
He straightened up - not an easy feat with such girth - "A sailing man, eh? But not a sailor, surely!"
"I've captained a ship or two," I replied.
"Ah-ha, I knew it!" He led us into the front room, where Madame Bullet waited to entertain us, a younger Negress at her beck and call with a tray full of fruits and sweet meats. "You have the look, if you don't mind my saying. You've got the sharp eyes of a master... One master to another, eh? Ah-hah! I almost captained a ship myself, not too long ago. It was that or this land and - no offense, monsieur - but land is a much better investment than a ship. Of course I suspect you'd agree with me after last night..."
Fond of his own voice, to tell the truth... , a petite bourgeois who'd bought his land for centimes an acre and worked it to desolation.
If Sothanax was a crude hypocrite, Bullet was simply crude... Loudly celebrating the sanctity of wealth and station, sputtering at the mere mention of "Natural Rights" or any other "Jacobin merde! Those sly devils, thinking themselves equal to who God Himself has ordained! Why, were I a younger man, I'd set sail for France this very night! Pledge myself to King Louis! Show those low and treasonous enfillates what for!"
Never mind this petite-bourgeoisie owed his livelihood to such Jacobin merde...
Oh, he was a rotten sort! Talking himself up, running down his neighbors, bragging about his own fine clothes and how only a fine gentleman such as himself - "And honored guests!" - could wear them properly... I tell you, Doctor - give any common imbecile a little money and he'll start prancing about like you've just crowned him king of the dandies!
Bullet's only other passion? Tormenting the blacks. He collected slave heads like lesser men collect stamps, skewering them all around his vast estate as decoration. He beat and raped black children whenever he drank too much taifa - or not enough. Even his wife - that sentimental Madame who doted over Anna and I! - she had their cook thrown into his own oven one evening when a pie crust was not to her liking!
Anna and I witnessed all of this without comment... As did one other. One of Bullet's many slaves, a middle-aged Negro he called Jeannot - an intentionally diminutive name, and the Negro knew it. He kept the house, commanded its staff of flinching and twitching Negresses, and bore the brunt of every one of Bullet's rotten whims.
"Oh Jeannot?" Bullet would call, all snickering malice. "Jeannot, what do you make of this vintage?" and he would hold out whatever he happened to be drinking at the time. Wine when he wanted to look particularly sophisticated, but usually taifa...
Jeannot would look at the offered drink, then look back at his master with a weary caution. "Ain't supposed to drank, messer," he'd say, his voice a tired quaver.
"Oh don't be such a stick in the mud! Of course you can drink!" Bullet would persist. And they would go back and forth like this - Bullet sometimes winking at us - until Jeannot obeyed.
And Bullet had him wiped. Because slaves weren't allowed to drink in his house...
It does something to a man - a grown man! - to suffer such constant humiliations. Whipped for drinking or whipped for looking too long at Madame Bullet or whipped just because it was a Tuesday... Bullet drove Jeannot enough to inspire a brutal hatred, but not as badly as he did the rest. For starters, Jeannot still had both hands...
And he had this look to his eyes. Cold, hard, biding time... I can't say if the Negro ever planned to do anything about his situation but his eyes said it plain - he wanted to. Oh how he wanted to!
"I hear him in the early morning," Anna said to me once. "He whispers what he would do to that enfillate, if he could..."
"Idle talk," I replied dismissively. "He's no match for all of those whip-hands employed by El Mala Hostia and he knows it..."
And maybe that's why my Anna gave him such a bloody gift...
One hot evening out in the fields - we took our blood from the slaves who'd collapsed during the day, left there by their fellows for fear of the overseers - when I heard a terrible screaming from the house. Fearing another of Anna's indiscretions, I made a dash back through the sugar cane, barely touching the the ground.
Oh it was one of her indiscretions alright. The most overt yet! I denied her making any more of our kind and had thought that to be the end of it. Like a fool... In the open ground at the front of the Maison Bullet, Jeannot had just pulled an overseer in half with his bare hands! The screams came form Madame Bullet, who he fell upon next, silencing her with a swift bite!
And up on the porch, beside an ashen with terror Bullet, my Anna smiling at her handiwork. Gah, esta coña idiota! She'd turned that battered Negro into one of us!
I sprang up the steps, ready to knock her block clean off. "Te demonia! What have you done now!"
"Don't tell me they don't deserve it," she said coquettishly, still admiring her handiwork
Jeannot, dripping overseer gore, lurched his way up the steps to the big house. His black eyes - so like mine, so like Anna's - looked right through me to the cowering Bullet. "Out of the way..." he commanded, his voice a far away atrocity.
"Oh l'aide!" squealed Bullet, stumbling back into the house he'd built off so many other brutalized Negros. Like Jeannot. "L'aide!"
I glared back at Jeannot, seeing all that misery and hunger for vengeance he'd held so tightly no flowing through his every movement... I thought of Bullet and his prancing and his misquoting and his self-satisfaction... And I stood aside, welcoming Jeannot into the house with an "All yours, mon frere!"
Read the book that just got four stars on Smashwords! Thanks, Julia!
And here's an honest-to-god paperback for all you luddites!
|Ships within the week. Kitchen table not included.|