"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell


continued ...

      He headed his horse back into the town, where the prospect was no more encouraging. The streets were awash with a surf of petit blancs, scouring the neighborhoods for new victims, some now openly breaking into mulatto houses. There were no blacks or gens de couleur abroad, save those who hung bloody and loll-tongued from window embrasures and posts. The current of feeling among the petit blancs was that the mulattos had conspired to provoke the risings on the plain, but by now the wave of murderous retaliation had mostly passed over, leaving a festival of rape and looting in its wake. Maillart was not an especially canny political analyst but he did understand that these outrages stemmed as much from resentment of mulatto wealth as from any connection les gens de couleur might have had to the slave rebellion. Also he recognized, exchanging glances with the pop-eyed dangling men he passed, that many in the mob would be as glad to see him swing among them.
      In his unhappiness over the likely doom of the doctor, Captain Maillart began to think of Claire and the other mulatto women who were variously attached to his regiment. Immediately he felt certain of what must have already happened to them, but just the same he nudged his horse into a trot and rode up to the area below the Place d'Armes where most of these women kept their lodgings. As he'd expected, the door to Claire's rooms was stove in. He dismounted and stepped over the threshold, holding the horse at the length of the unslung reins. The front room was dim and quiet, there seemed to be some scurrying noise in the back. In the poor light he stepped on something and almost lost his footing: a pawn from the chess set that shot out from under the edge of his boot and twirled into a corner. The room was a ruin, all the frail furniture overturned and dismembered, hangings slashed, the glass all hammered out of the mirror frames. At the sound of his movement a squirrel face poked out from the bedroom, a looter rolling opulent dresses into a large bundle.
      "Come out of there," Maillart called brusquely, but the looter only dodged behind the doorframe. The captain cursed and looked over his shoulder at the horse; he didn't dare step away from animal, certainly not leave him tethered. He called a warning, drew his pistol and after a moment's pause fired through the inner doorway. The looter did not stir or show himself but the ball struck loose a hinge from a bamboo jalousie and through the window thus uncovered Maillart could see some commotion in the inner courtyard. He reloaded his pistol and primed it and remounted and rode around to investigate.
      Immediately he recognized the woman Fleur, with whom he'd enjoyed the occasional most exquisite dalliance; she was lying on her back near the central well with a number of men raping her in turn. There seemed no longer any need to hold her down; her arms shivered loosely in the dust like the wings of a hen under treading, and her eyes showed only white, as if she were dead. Captain Maillart wondered if she were not dead, in fact. With each lunge of the man who'd presently skewered her, the top of her head knocked against the well's bricked rim. In the shadows under a shanty lean-to against the rear wall of a house a great fat black woman in a white headcloth stood watching the scene impassively with her heavy lips set firmly together. Near her two shirtless blacks stood similarly immobile, one holding a spotted pony on a rope. They seemed no more interested than the animal they held, but Maillart was no more appalled by their indifference than by his own. He could feel nothing and he thought that there was nothing he could do. With a snort one rapist withdrew and another assumed his place and despite his grunts and the mutters of those encouraging him the sound of Fleur's head bumping on the bricks seemed louder than anything else.
      He would likely have done no more than ride away at this point, but just then someone burst out of the lean-to, a woman with her hands held out to him. He was distracted for a moment because the spotted pony had begun to kick and buck, jockeying the two blacks halfway across the courtyard to the well as they strove to control it. But the woman was Claire; they must have hidden her there, beneath that heap of tattered sailcloth someone had been remaking into slave clothes. Her face was a welter of snot and tears and she called out chokingly for him to save her from the men who'd already diverted themselves from Fleur to seize her and tear at her clothing. There was Faustin the baker and a man Maillart had never seen and the disreputable farrier Crozac. Maillart shouted for them to stop and took the musket from its sling without waiting to see their response.
      Faustin caught Claire by the wrist and she spun half around with both arms spread wide; she had not quite reached Maillart's horse. The captain chopped out another order and deftly fixed the bayonet to the musket. He sat the horse, balancing the unfamiliar weapon with one hand round the trigger-guard. Claire could not break Faustin's grip, but she drew her captured wrist toward her face and closed her wide mouth over his hand, crunching down on the small bones clustered like a chicken back. Faustin shouted and let go; he would have hit her with his unhurt fist but he saw the bayonet probing for his face and he fell back, along with the third man. The dozen or so other men in the yard had formed a loose line around Maillart's horse and were waiting to see what would happen.
      Crozac rushed up and clutched at Claire's hair, yanking her head back by the scalp, exposing her long pulsing neck and a taut face distorted by the sudden pain. Maillart spoke to him crisply, not too loud, trying for the tone of authority which these folk would often follow before they fully knew they would obey, but Crozac was beyond this. His eyes were furrowed shut like badly sutured scars and his face looked nothing but a mask of bad teeth. In his unconsciousness he had pressed the woman full against the saddle skirt and Maillart's booted foot. The captain touched him with the bayonet point, at the neckless join of Crozac's head and shoulders, but the man did not seem aware of him at all. Maillart returned the glance of some of the whites watching him and thought of the hanged men who'd be his blind and silent companions if his choice of action proved to be mistaken. He reversed the musket and gripped it with both hands about the barrel and brought it down with maybe half his force into the center of the farrier's forehead.
      Crozac sat down sharply with a whumpf and a puff of dust. His eyes jumped further open with the blow and he took a noisy breath in through his mouth. Maillart held out a hand to Claire and she swarmed up his whole arm at once, swinging a leg over the saddle and splitting her skirt as her weight settled down. The captain lifted the reins with his left hand and with the other brandished the musket over his head like a javelin. Her arms cinched around his waist as he dug heels in the horse's side and cantered out of the yard.
      During the stillness that followed, a couple of chickens walked out from under the lean-to and began scratching for gravel in the ashflecked dust. Crozac sat bolt upright where he'd been dropped, blinking his fat eyes slowly while the others looked at him. He exhaled with a sound like snoring and a fine thread of blood ran from each of his nostrils. As he stood up he wiped the threads away on his wrist and spat a web of blood and spittle on the ground. His eyes tracked across their faces and stopped on Vergil, who had helped to calm the spotted pony and was still holding it by the halter.
      "What are you looking at?" Crozac croaked. He crossed the space between them, and stood nose to nose with Vergil, who still looked back at him, unflinching. Crozac took from his pocket the derringer the hanged mulatto had been carrying and laid the muzzle to the side of Vergil's head, turning to the other white men as he did so.
      "This horse was stolen from my stable," he pronounced, and without looking pulled the trigger.
      A disc of haired bone blasted out from the opposite side of Vergil's head. Tullius ducked under it and at once ran after the pony, who'd bolted again, tearing the halter from Vergil's dead fingers. He caught its mane and scrambled astride, not riding it so much as becoming a passive partner in its flight. Crozac tracked him from the yard with the smoking barrel of the empty derringer, then let it drop to his arm's length.
      In Philip Browne's ear the shot kept whining, buzzing like a hostile insect, while the first clap of it appeared to have broken the magnetic bonds that had kept this little mob together and on course. The men began to drift away separately, not looking at one another or exchanging any word. Crozac too. Browne remained, alone except for the fat black woman, who'd withdrawn to a squat within the lean-to, but perhaps still watched.
      He remained standing where he had been, near the well and Fleur, for he had not yet had his turn with her when Maillart came riding in. He stood now sideways to her, almost between her feet. She'd scarcely moved, but he could see her breathing and though her eyes looked closed he thought she might be watching him behind the lashes. One leg was twisted out from her hip as if dislocated. Her dress was ripped up to the neck and her thighs and belly and exposed vulva were coated with a paste of dirt and ejaculate and a froth of pinkish blood.
      Browne could not seem to move from the spot. His fever was on him again, lighting the scene with a queer distant clarity, while his ears still maddeningly whined. A garish red and black hen kept picking up a hot cinder and juggling it awkwardly in its beak and dropping it and picking it up again. Browne looked at the hen and he looked at Fleur. In part he wanted to minister to her and give her comfort and see if her injuries might be mended; he was relieved that he had not shared in her rape but also disappointed. The spell of devouring cruelty had in falling from him left a gape he didn't know how to assuage. He didn't know what he might do. He felt that although eyes were watching him he still could do whatever he would, but this did not give him the sensation of power he believed it supplied to other men such as Crozac, unless he was immediately in their company. In some deeper spiral of his fevered brain he was again present by the churchyard wall, standing in the cold shade of yew tree's spreading branches. Near him on the lush Devon greensward stood mysteriously the brokenhorned ram of the flock he'd stolen from Thibodet's plantation. The ram regarded him yellowly and seemed to urge him with its eyes to gather boughs from the yew and eat them, and indeed Browne was tempted to do this although he knew the tree was poisonous to men. In this state he remained for a long confused time until he began to hear a voice calling his name.

      Doctor Hébert and his battered and exhausted party had reached Le Cap at last, exactly when he could not say. The cinder-black sky gave no clue of the time and he felt himself to be passing within some sort of damned eternity. The Flaville family kept a house in town where the women might retreat but after the doctor had escorted them there he excused himself, and headed for the Place D'Armes, going afoot and leading his spent horse by the reins. The scenes through which he passed defeated his understanding. There was as much ruin and death about as if the slaves had overrun the town although he had been told that this had been prevented. Whatever rage had swept the place had drifted into its doldrums and he was alone on the streets now except for the dead. He was itching to find Claire; though there was no vestige of passion in him or even interest really, he felt a blunt obligation to see to her safety if he could.
      He hitched his horse to a rail by her broken door and walked across the gutted ruin of her rooms. The floor was carpeted with splinters of furniture and chunks of broken mirror glass. The doctor stooped and picked up one of these, just large enought to show him his own eye. A heap of fresh human excrement fumed warmly near one wall. Everything that was not stolen had been carefully insulted and destroyed. The bed was stripped and marked with crisscrossing streaks of urine. The doctor stepped through the back door into the courtyard, where he saw a woman struggling feebly to get up onto her knees. She looked to have been raped to ribbons, and the doctor was becoming so inured to such sights that it took him a moment to realize that this was Claire's sometime companion, Fleur. Behind her, the clerk Philip Brown had sunk into a half crouch and was fidgeting with his trouser buttons.
      "Mister Browne," the doctor called. "What are you doing, Mister Browne?" As he moved toward the well he almost tripped over the form of a black who had prostrated himself in the attitude of a Muslim praying; he stopped for a moment but soon observed that this man had been shot through the temples and was quite dead.
      "Nothing," Browne said. "Why nothing. At all."
      "Help me with this woman then," the doctor said, and moved to lift Fleur by the shoulders, but she would not or could not stand. Her lassitude was more uncooperative than dead weight.

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