"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell


August 19

      Better today from the spell of fever which has afflicted me sorely this last fortnight. I was able to rise early and go about the town, reaching even so far as the market at the Place d'Armes, where I purchased some fruits for myself. I must needs tend to my own requirements as Crozac is indifferent, and the "servant" as he would style his black wench most usually affects to misunderstand any request I make of her. Well it is only her insolence and were she under my direction I would know how to make her howl, though perhaps it would be useless, as Crozac uses her cruelly enough.
      Thus I made my marketing venture well enough alone and returned before the noon heat might have felled me, with two soursops (they keep but poorly) also 6 oranges and pamplemousse. These may help to restore my constitution; I am resolved to abstain from spirits-- also from coffee at least for a time.
      Passed the remainder of this day within doors and tediously enough. Crozac has gone out this even to a party of gambling, craving I would go along with him. I would not be enticed but remained here to rest and write, though the heat continues oppressive even after sundown.

August 20

      This morn I felt well enough to walk as far as the quai, where I found a merchant ship out from England, whose captain I knew. He had however no letters for me nor any intelligence of my family. I returned to these mean lodgings hoping for some shelter from the heat and slept, but uneasily, for about 2 hrs. Owing to the morning's encounter perhaps I dreamt myself abed with my wife but when I turned her to look into her face it had become the yellow color of the half-breed women here.
      From this I awake in a startle and had sweated through the sheets and remained in a state of agitation slow to leave me....
      I ought to have made way somehow back to Habitation Thibodet 2 weeks since, but illness has delayed me. Also I am made uneasy by rumors of disturbances along the way and had much prefer to travel in a party of strength-- some military expedition best of all. I must make this journey soon however, while my health holds. The business that brought me here has proved scarce sufficient to settle my debts, and the longer I remain I squander my little substance and am put forth into the path of manifold temptations.

August 21

      Disaster. I felt very well last even, almost gay, so was persuaded to join Crozac in going to a supper party at the inn. There were of course card players there as the people of this place scarce recognized another amusement than gambling. I having drunk some wine my reluctance was overcome and I was persuaded to join though I meant to stake only a few gourdes and quit the game while my head was clear-- O! I will not write it. Enough to say that after some extraordinary winnings my luck turned harshly so that I lost much more than I had about me and was obliged to give my note for it. In my despair I began drinking rum and had followed Crozac to a house of wicked women without knowing where he led me. There I refrained from sin though less from any resolution than that I feared the expense of it. All the same I was glad of it when I woke this morn. Drink would perhaps have rendered me incapable.... well it is one evil avoided but only one.
      Pain in my head this day (from drink) and a queasy stomach so that I fear I will again be set upon with fevers. I must return to Ennery as soon as may be. Must join with Delsart and try to wring another profit from the land beyond the master's, for I must redeem my note. It is even so throughout this country, and so the slaves are always overdriven. Well but I cannot help the world and its ways.
      I will stay in this night at least, though I am restless. The mosquitos are a constant torment. The finest netting will not keep them out.

August 22....

      Philip Browne woke with a queer feeling that something must be wrong, more wrong than usual, along with the hollow ache his fever left behind. He could not seem to completely rid himself of this fever but normally he would be free of it when he woke and at his most lucid until afternoon or evening when it returned. Today, however, something else was awry. He rolled his head to the side and blinked. The black woman Marie-Fon sat cross-legged at the table, smoking a tiny pipe with a bowl carved of a nut and looking at him with inexplicably rapt attention. Browne turned his head to the wall. It seemed to be day but the color of the light was ambiguous and he couldn't guess the time. When he twisted his head back toward the room he saw that the screen had been folded away and Crozac's bed was empty.
      "Don't look at me like that," he said to Marie-Fon. As he had spoken in English the woman of course did not react. She kept looking at him, mute and inexpressive, like a dull- eyed dog though without a dog's devotion. Through a hole worn in the shift she had on he could see the glossy obsidian curve where her breast joined her body. Pulling his eyes from this spot, he looked around the room until he saw where his trousers were hanging from a peg on the opposite wall. He returned Marie-Fon's blank gaze, wishing she might remove herself, or turn her head. But it was like staring down a stone. With a sigh he got up from the bed wearing only his shirt and dashed to his trousers and jumped into them. Slightly dizzy from the rapid effort, he turned to the woman again.
      "Go and fetch some coffee." This time he spoke in the clearest creole he could manage, but Marie-Fon affected not to understand him; she knew that his command of the argot was still poor. For such insolence Crozac would have seized her by the ears and battered her head against the table. Browne felt that he would quite like to witness something of that sort but he had no mind to try it himself. Besides, an odd smell in the room distracted him, like burning bread or overboiled coffee scorching in the pot.
      Massaging his temple with one hand he walked to the window that overlooked the stableyard. The spotted pony neighed wildly, whirled its head from the stall's half-door and kicked against the boards. It was weirdly dark without, the atmosphere so heavy that Browne thought it must be a storm brewing, a squall coming in off the bay, bad enough to panic the horses. Except that this smell was surely smoke. Tullius came half at a run to the stall and led the pony out, pulling it down by the halter as it began to rear. There was another black with him whom Browne thought he recognized without knowing his name. He stuck his head out the window and called out some question but the blacks were too occupied with the pony to attend to him.
      He could not see any source for the smoke, but he thought suddenly that the stable or the inn itself might be on fire. When he glanced over his shoulder at the stubbly round of Marie-Fon's shaven head she was still gazing raptly at the rumpled cover on the straw tick where he'd lately been lying, releasing small wisps of smoke from her pipe. Outside, the pony uttered a desperate whinny and bolted from the yard, trailing a rope Tullius had fastened to its halter, with both blacks pursuing. Browne gulped, choking on the smoky air, and ran out onto the street himself.
      Tullius and his companion were receding at the end of the street, chasing the rope's end the pony was trailing in the dirt. Browne stopped in the doorway, a hand over his mouth, looking after them. A strange silty precipitate was lowering from the charcoal sky. He picked bits of it from his collar and they dissolved, leaving an ashen stain on his fingers. Something stung his cheek, an insect bite, but when he pulled it free he saw it was a bit of burning cane straw. It singed his palm and he shook it away. From the other direction he began to notice the uproar of many voices crying out as they came nearer.
      The first to turn the corner into his view were two men, one middle-aged and the other younger, both well-dressed and running awkwardly in fancy buckle shoes. The elder gave Browne an imploring look and seemed about to gasp some phrase as they staggered abreast of him, but abruptly he dropped in his tracks as if struck by lightning. It took Browne a moment to register that he'd been struck on the back of the head by a square- cut stone flung out of the mob that now surged up and hemmed them in a semicircle against the building wall.
      Among them Browne saw several that he recognized from Crozac's circle of acquaintance, Faustin the baker, a bricklayer, a man who ran a fishery, also a good number of those who were mostly drunks and gamblers but now and then worked as pilots or slavecatchers, like the filibustiers and boucanniers of old. petit blancs all, and many of them sporting the pompon rouge on their hats or lapels. The elderly mulatto they had felled raised himself on one knee, looked at the crowd and decided to remain kneeling. Uncertainly he touched the abraded lump at the back of his head. Casting about, he caught sight of Browne standing in the open doorway and with startling alacrity jumped up and flung himself toward it. In his rush to close the door, Browne crushed it shut on his own leg, leaving a gap through which he could still see the younger colored man while he struggled to keep the elder out.
      The other was darker, a griffe most likely, standing with his open hands cocked tensely a little out from his hips, knees slightly bent and his eyes flicking from side to side. The older man gave up his effort with the door and swung partly around against the wall, shoulder to shoulder with the griffe as the space between them and the mob began to shrink. Faustin reached out to prod the old mulatto with a walking stick. "Faut le descendre," the griffe called out, but the old man shook his head paralytically. At that the griffe kicked off his shoes and as the men around him looked down puzzled he flipped back his jacket's hem and produced from his waistband a long knife with a curved double-edged blade. He held it up briefly for the mob to examine before he charged, swinging it clublike at their faces. A man sprang away, fingers to his cheek, as he broke through. A couple of the filibustiers started after the griffe but barefoot he was very fleet and it looked as if he would not be overtaken.
      It was the fishery man who had been cut; he pressed his hand over a shallow slash that crossed his cheekbone. Faustin jabbed the old mulatto with the point of his stick. The colored man held out his empty hands and began speaking in a low urgent tone, protesting that he was an equal sufferer with the whites in this affair and that his own property on the plain had been destroyed. In the midst of this one of the filibustiers reached with a long arm and struck a fist into his face and quickly withdrew. The mulatto licked a smear of blood from the corner of his mouth, and went on arguing, his eyes shifting queasily from one face to another. The whites of them were yellow and veined. Browne saw that Crozac had come around from the stableyard with two lengths of rope he was joining together with a bird's-eye knot.
      Some others of the group swung at the old mulatto now, and seeing he did not resist several of them caught him by the elbows while other hit him in the face and belly with stronger blows. Browne saw a tooth crack out of his mouth and tap against the wall of the building and disappear among shuffling feet. Someone reached into the mulatto's coat and discovered a little derringer and held it high, calling out, "Look here, he goes armed against us." Between his fingers the fishery man displayed his slight wound to all who would admire it. Someone held the little pistol against the mulatto's temple and he moaned and sagged into the wall. Eager hands tossed the rope over the wooden frame where depended the sign of Crozac's establishment. Crozac stepped in holding spread a loop he'd fashioned with a slipknot.
      They hoisted him, all hands pulling at the rope as if it swung a heavy bell. The rope thrummed and the stiff ends of the bird's-eye blindly thrust against Crozac's signboard. No one had thought to tie the mulatto's hands and so he could delay his strangulation with fingers clawing at the noose. Browne stepped out of the doorway and looked up, his face flushing as from a renewed attack of fever, heart pounding with some sensation he could not read. The hanging man kicked spasmodically, and Browne saw a scurvy youth he knew to be a fugitive sailor from an English merchantman snatch off his expensive shoes and hide them quickly in his shirtfront. Other were stripping off his trousers; a scuffle broke out over his purse. Out of the confusion a voice raised: We'll see he doesn't get another halfbreed bastard! The mulatto reached to grasp the rope above his head and pulled himself a little way up as a trio of knife points commenced a work of mutilation in his crotch. His effort was so tremendous that his eyes were bulging and veins stood out rootlike at the sides of his skull. By accident or design a blade struck into the artery inside his thigh and several of the white man leapt away from the fountain of blood while others, oblivious, pressed in nearer.
      Browne gagged, bent slightly from the waist, and splattered the wall at ground level with a dry vomitus. He straightened at once, drying his mouth with his fingers. The hanged man's head drooped crooked, his hands twitched faintly at his sides. His blackened tongue stood out from his mouth like a parasite emerging, swollen to the shape of a blood sausage. Browne felt the giddy resurgence he might feel if he had puked after too much rum. A fine spatter of blood was drying on his face and when he touched his dry lip with his tongue he tasted it. Crozac flung a heavy arm across his shoulder and began breathing garlic in his ear.
      "They're unteachable, these halfbreed swine," he said. "They learned nothing from what became of Ogé-- now we've to teach them all in person. Come on, let's get those yellow bitches."
      Browne disengaged himself from Crozac, meaning to ask for some more concrete explanation, but he saw that the other could not really hear him; his eyes had glazed and he wore a transfigured expression Browne had only seen before on the faces of certain blacks when they danced calenda. His own head swam, and as he gave half in to the dizzy dark he felt that he was back in a recurring dream that came to him these days, walking down the green slope toward a Devon village, mounting a stile which crossed the hedge and moving toward the churchyard wall within which a great yew tree grew. He came to himself with Crozac hustling and harrying him along and he let himself be carried in the midst of the thickening pack which was howling its way up toward the Place d'Armes.

      Captain Maillart rode about aimlessly from quarter to quarter of the town; he had been doing so for a little better than an hour. Together with the saber and dragoon's pistol he commonly carried, he had equipped himself with an infantryman's musket, carried in makeshift sling against his saddle skirt. He had been one of the small scouting party that went out into the plain at dawn as the first refugees straggled in from the countryside, and one of a few to escape a misfortunate encounter with a huge band of brigand blacks. Badly as he'd been shaken by what he'd seen then, he'd volunteered at once for the expedition to Limbé, but Thouzard had detached him along with some few others to remain and keep order in the town-- now a plainly impossible project.
      Most of the other soldiers had shut themselves in the barracks to wait for the riots to wear themselves out, knowing that the petit blancs might attack them, in their weakened numbers, almost as readily as they'd set upon mulattos or blacks. Maillart, however, preferred to remain on the move, though unsupported as he was he could do little of real use. The town's small body of regular police had either joined with the rioters or barred themselves behind their doors to wait it out. Some householders had banded together to do what they might to contain the present danger of fire, wetting down roofs and wooden walls and smothering hot cinders before they could ignite. The wind that brought the coals and ash in from the plain could spread a fire quickly all over the city if ever a fire was well-started.
      His horse at least was a steady campaigner, unafraid of smoke or sparks. But at the edge of the town even this horse grew restive, shifting its hooves and flaring its nostrils. Captain Maillart himself felt a shock to the roots of his system repeated each time he looked at the spectacle there. Beyond the ridge of Morne du Cap was something that his imagination could only compare with a storm over some brimstone lake of hell. A hundred degrees of the horizon were luridly edged with a red fire glow. Above this smoldering ring rose great black billows of smoke like thunderheads with long tongues of flame stabbing up through them to lick the belly of the sky. But there was no sky, only the sooty haze from which the ash and coals kept hailing down.
      Here some few other officers of the regiment du Cap were ministering to the survivors still intermittently trickling out of this inferno. Most were advised to seek shelter in the houses of friends, if they had friends, since the hospital and the convent were already overcrowded. Captain Maillart overlooked their soot-streaked staring faces. He would have liked to inquire about his friend Antoine Hébert, but he saw little hope in doing so. Most who survived were women and children and these could report that their men had been mostly slain on the spot, before their eyes. Maillart knew from the events of the morning that women and children would not always be spared either.

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