"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell 1995


      The red mule picked a way down to the cove, finding its best footing with a natural agility, needing no guidance on the reins. The trail was twisting and seamed with rock; quick brown lizards skittered through the shale on either side, away from the mule's carefully placed hooves. The trees on the hillside were sparsely set and there was little undergrowth. So unlike the thick jungle of the interior was this place, it might almost have been some European wood.
      The trail opened into a wide spread of tall lemon grass that sloped over the curve of the headland into the cove. From this vantage the doctor could see the sail of a little sloop making for the Le Cap harbor, around the point to the east. The day was still, and the water below was fantastically clear. Beneath its translucent turquoise, a shelf of white sand fanned out and dropped off into deeper, colder blues.
      The cove was empty, as he always found it. He unslung the reins from the white mule's neck and tied them to an overhanging branch of a zaman tree. The beach was lined with sea grape, a few coconuts, more zaman. Claire had told him of this place, where mulattoes had often come to bathe, before the trouble. Her pregnancy was too far advanced for her to come herself, or rather Doctor Hébert would not allow her to accompany him, although she gladly would have done. With the bands of wild blacks roaming the plains and the hills, no one came here latterly, but if the doctor was afraid the fear affected him as it would the lizards scattering from the path; it did not prevent his going.
      He undressed, folding his clothing meticulously and laying the garments all atop each other in the zaman's shade. The sand was mostly white, streaked with a laval black underlayer his feet disturbed as he walked toward the water. There was no surf, only the lightest lapping on the shore. He waded into the water waist-deep, then threw himself forward. The water was just cool enough to refresh him. He swam froglike, parallel to the beach. The salt of the water stung his hurt arm but it no longer put any hitch in his stroke.
      He rolled over in the water and floated on his back for a moment, then stood up. The water was just deep enough that the gentle swell of it shifted him on and off of his feet. The ship had passed out of sight around the headland, and the horizon was completely empty to the seaward side. On shore, the mule's pinkish ears revolved lazily in the shade of the zaman tree. The doctor had tied it loosely enough that it could lower its head to nuzzle the clear freshwater stream that wound out of the sea grape to join the great blue water.
      He rolled onto his stomach and swam out over the reef. His cut had adjusted to the brine now, so that he no longer felt the sting. He dropped his face into the water and looked down for as long as he could hold his breath. On a peak of the coral a few feet below, anemones waved their fronds to him; there were the black brittle glassine spikes of the sea urchins. He raised his head gasping and dropped it again, propelling himself further with a flutter of his feet. His eyes were burning from the salt. In a deep cleft of the reef was a Z-shaped basketwork fishtrap of the kind some blacks had learned to make from the extinguished Caribs. A long gray predatory something hovered over the trap, tail flicking in the current; the doctor couldn't make out what it was. A trio of opaque pink squids appeared at his left side, each no bigger than his hand. They wriggled their tentacles in a gay engaging manner, but when he moved to look more closely, they jetted nervously away.
      He swam back into shallower water where he could stand on the soft sand. A swarm of minnows clustered curiously around his knees and nipples. He raised the hurt arm from the water and inspected it. The wound was scarring over pinkly; the swim had softened the scab that still lined the center, and dissolved the itchy scales around the edges of the cut. There was no proud flesh at all. It was healing nicely with little more treatment than the ocean soaks and the herb poultices he'd learned while prisoner of the blacks; without these, he considered, he might well have elected to amputate, for such wounds were quick to go gangrenous in such a tropical clime. He laid the arm back on the surface and let it sink of its own weight, watching the minnows scatter from the movement. The water was so clear that he could see his feet, toes digging into the sand as he walked up onto the beach.
      He had brought no food, only a bottle of fresh water. Naked, he gathered a few pods fallen from the zaman trees along the shore. He sat on the pad of his folded trousers and shelled the nuts from their thick spongy husks and ate them slowly. His left hand stirred layers of the sand together, unconsciously mixing them to an even shade of brown. When the sun had dried him, he dressed and got back on the mule and rode up the trail again. Among the grasses on the headland a white-haired man was gathering latana and other herbs. The doctor thought he recognized him as the affranchi who lived in a hut by the town cemetery, a dokté-feuilles also supposed to be a sorceror. He called out a greeting as he rode by on the mule, but the old affranchi only looked at him as if he were some apparition and though the doctor hailed him again he could not get an answer.
      It was midafternoon when he reached the city and most people had fled indoors from the heat. He rode into Crozac's stableyard; when he had dismounted, Tullius came out wordlessly and led the mule to its stall. The doctor had the mule for hire. He had visited M. Bourgois to inquire if his sister had drawn any money during the fall; as there had been no draughts there was money to spare, enough that the doctor might have bought a horse to replace the lost Espoir, but he took only enough money to cover his most ordinary expenses.
      A voice called from Crozac's window, an unintelligible croak, and when he turned in that direction, he saw the slave woman Marie-Fon beckoning over the sill. Reluctantly, he walked that way. The door howled on its hinges as he entered the place. Inside it was dim and stale, ill- smelling. A chair was overturned by the table and a spiderweb connected its leg to the floor. In a moment the doctor's eyes adjusted to the change of light. Crozac was sitting up in his bed, bare feet sticking out straight in front of him, dressed only in his linen and an unfastened shirt.
      "Ah, you are no better?" the doctor said. He was loathe to make a closer approach.
      "Pas de tout." Crozac bent his head and spat onto the floor. A filament of drool spun down from his lip; after a moment he severed it with a trembling forefinger. The farrier had failed terribly since the summer. A wasting illness had burned most of the fat from him, his skin was jaundice-yellow and by his own account he had no strength, but it was not fever, not mal de Siam.
      "Have you been drinking the tisane?" said the doctor, who had furnished Crozac with various herbal preparations.
      "I drink it," Crozac said. "It give me no strength."
      The doctor thought for a moment, thumb and forefinger stroking his jawline to the point of his beard. "Who prepares it for you?"
      Crozac made a weak motion toward Marie-Fon. The black woman sat by the window with her long horny feet raised on the sill, smoking a little pipe with a bowl carved from a nut. Tullius leaned toward her through the dazzling rectangle of sunlight, speaking to her in a low, idle tone. Blue pipe smoke coiled around their heads. Their faces were angular, glossy like black polished stone; the doctor could not see their eyes or make out their expressions. Tightening his lips, he picked up the overset chair from the floor and moved it nearer to Crozac's bedside. He sat down.
      "You should prepare the tisane yourself," he said. "Even to fetching the water, entendu?"
      "Is this some witchcraft?" Crozac muttered. His breath was unpleasant. A large mosquito lit and battened on his waxy sweating forehead. Crozac seemed unaware of it, and the doctor could not bring himself to brush it away. He had always disliked the farrier, even before Claire told him of the part he had played in the rape and murder of les gens de couleur who'd lived around the Place d'Armes.
      "The simplest diet will serve you best," he said. "Eat only uncut fruit, or eggs boiled in the shell. No food but what your own hands can prepare, c'est entendu?"
      Crozac nodded indifferently, staring at the wall. The doctor felt eyes on the back of his neck; Marie Fon and Tullius had stopped their conversation and were regarding him with a particular attention. Of a sudden, Crozac snatched the sleeve of his upper arm and drew him down.
      "On the table," Crozac hissed, covering the doctor with septic air. "The letter there, you must take it for me."
      The doctor broke free and moved the table, glad of the pretext to separate himself. Next to a short candle stub lay a grubby trifold sheet sealed up with wax. The name inscribed was Philip Browne.
      "But I have no notion where I may find Mister Browne," he said. "He is not in the city-- very likely he is dead."
      "Take it to Ennery," Crozac croaked. "When you go there-- you will go."
      "As you like." The doctor put the letter in his pocket. "Meanwhile it will go better with you if you follow my instructions."
      He stood in the stableyard, blinking in the harsh glare of the sun. A rickety bay horse was switching flies and chewing splinters from the edge of its stall door. The doctor knew that Crozac would not follow his prescription. Being a petit blanc he undoubtedly knew how to care for himself well enough but he would never do it. It was the great vanity of men who owned no property but slaves to have themselves always served in all things.
      He might have gone to a different stable-- there were several Captain Maillart had recommended him. But he was interested to discover what would happen in this place. After everything, he was still curious. Still in his mind's eye he always saw the flayed man unfolded in the tree like a bloody flower; how could he tear his eyes from such a vision?


      When the doctor had gone, Crozac soon fell into a queasy doze. Oule, called Tullius by the white people, came in and poured a glass of water and a glass of rum and set them both on a stool beside the sick man's bed. Crozac twitched and muttered in his unhappy sleep; his lips were writhing, and Oule bent his ear to them. When he received a curse and groan, he gave an inward smile of satisfaction. Before he stood up he spat once into the water glass.
      Marie-Fon came out from behind the screen, clothed in a dress of brilliant white, her head wrapped in a white turban like a hounsi. Together she and Oule set out for La Fossette. The afternoon was waning and the heat enough diminished that people were emerging from their houses sullenly to pursue their affairs. A sour mood prevailed among the white people of the town since hope of ending the rebellion had again receded, and most were equally disenchanted with the French commission and their own assembly. The round of executions of suspected blacks and mulattoes continued by unenthusiastic rote. There still were many waystations marked by corpses swinging from their gibbets. Oule and Marie-Fon passed obliviously beneath them.
      A patch of rain-blue cloud had blown up on the western wind, and the sun streaked the haze with orange as it dropped toward the mountain; its hot circle was distinct as the edges of a coin. As they came near to the cemetery and Bonneau's hut, a starveling cat jumped up from a pile of stones and straw to hiss and screech at them. Oule sidetracked himself to investigate. A litter of six parti-colored kittens lay in the straw. They were newborn, their eyes still sealed. Oule stooped to pick one up and then thought better of it. Marie-Fon had gone on ahead of him, and was waiting near the hounfor, a wall-less structure roofed with bundles of sticks, between Bonneau's hut and the cemetery proper. Within the peristyle, vévés had already been drawn to mark where the drums would be set for that night's ceremony.
      Bonneau's door swung half open. Oule rapped on the frame and waited and then pushed the door inward on the sagging leather straps that were its hinges.
      "You've come early," Bonneau said. He was sitting crosslegged in a corner, tightening the goatskin head of a big rada drum. Oule stooped and entered the hut, Marie-Fon following him. His head brushed against bundles of herbs and dessicated fish and animal bits that hung from the ceiling on colored strings. He squatted down beside the drum. Marie-Fon remained standing just inside the door, her white clothes glowing, her face a featureless black oval. "The white man has grown very sick," Oule said eventually.
      Bonneau manipulated the cords that bound the drum-head. "Bon ça."
      "A doctor has been," said Oule.
      "White doctors." Bonneau continued to gaze absently through the open doorway into the peristyle, where Damballah and Aida Wedo twined together down the poteau mitan into the ground. "They are excellent for sawing off your arms and legs." His white beard crinkled on his cheeks with his smile.
      "This one is different," Oule said. "It is that little one from France."
      "Ah, that one," said Bonneau. "Ouais, it is true that he has been in the jungle." He flexed his gnarly fingers over the drum head without touching it. "But how much does he truly understand?"

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