"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell 1995


      "You are fortunate," M. Bourgois informed the doctor, "or they are fortunate on whose behalf you manage these affairs..... That Thibodet brown sugar was certainly one of the last cargos to be safely embarked; were you to arrive with it today, we scarce could contrive a secure passage. But as it is...."
      M. Bourgois reversed the ledger on his desk, so that the doctor might examine it. His face was even ruddier than Doctor Hébert remembered it, the cobweb of burst capillaries spreading further from his nostrils across his cheeks. The négociant gave his amiable smile and stood up as the doctor leaned forward to peruse the latest figures. A tidy balance in the favor of Habitation Thibodet was there recorded. At his usual somnolent, drifting pace, M. Bourgois had reached his drinking cabinet.
      Doctor Hébert looked up. "I am obliged to you," he said, "and to Captain Maillart, of course-- especially for correcting that diversion which had been intended."
      Slowly, nodding to himself, M. Bourgois drew out his watch chain, with its golden key. "Yes," he said. "You really ought to do something about that English rogue."
      "Certainly he was much to blame in the matter," said the doctor. "But I find him a weak man, easily led. His weakness, or one of them, is for play. Crozac lured him into gambling debts and so controlled him."
      "This Crozac has been known for a long time here as a cheat and a thief." M. Bourgois inserted the key into the lock and turned it with a minute click. The door yielded to him; he surveyed the contents of the cupboard. "One of the worst of our petit blanc canaille-- even the others seldom trust him. Though in truth he has been too ill of late to manage any significant chicanery."
      "Yes, I know," said the doctor. "I had endeavored to treat him when last I was in the city."
      "Oh indeed," said M. Bourgois, turning momentarily from the cabinet. "You are more charitable than I, I'll grant you. Have you an opinion as to his case? Some say that it must be slow poisoning. But that fear is so general here it passes every bound of reason."
      "In this case it may be quite correct," the doctor said. "I advised him to take no nourishment but what came from his own hands. Yet I fear M. Crozac might truly rather die than wait upon himself."
      "Ah, what a country," said M. Bourgois, but in a rather exalted tone. "Here one may study every shape of human folly...." He stepped from the cabinet, holding a brandy bottle in his right hand, two tumblers pinched together in his left. ""But let us turn to a more pleasant subject-- let us toast your most excellent profit."
      "Vous êtes gentille," said the doctor, as Bourgois poured the first measure. "I think I must accept."
      "Santé," said M. Bourgois. They clicked their glasses. The doctor sipped and lowered his glass to rest beside the open ledger. Noticing the heavy book, M. Bourgois folded it shut and slipped it into a desk drawer. Hitching halfway around in his chair, he turned his hazy regard to the window. The doctor followed the direction of his glance, enjoying the threads of alcoholic warmth that spread through his belly from the drink. The middle of the afternoon was just passing, with some slight abatement of the heat. Beyond the casements, the air was brilliant, clear, and still.
      "No word of Madame Thibodet?" said M. Bourgois.
      "I have had none whatever," the doctor said. "I suppose I need not ask if there has been any result to your inquiries."
      "Not the slightest." M. Bourgois tilted the bottleneck to pour them each another glass. "I'm told that you have been most assiduous in your searching."
      "One may say that I have fairly quartered the country." The doctor delivered himself of a wintry smile. "Whether by accident or design."
      "I fear for her, and the child most of all." M. Bourgois's eyes were welling, the doctor was surprised to see. Perhaps only from the sudden vigor with which he took his brandy. "There have been so many atrocities since the time they chose to vanish...."
      "Oh, I have hope still she may have escaped all that," said doctor. "It maybe they were out of the country before the troubles came."
      "But it's I who ought to be reassuring you," said M. Bourgois. "I ask your pardon."
      "Well, never mind it," the doctor began. But just then came the sound of heavy feet upon the stairs, and an urgent rapping on the office door. M. Bourgois called to the knocker that the door was open. His black beard bristling, M. Cigny strode into the room.
      "You're in a state," said M. Bourgois. "What is it, man? You'd better have some brandy."
      "You'd better lock up your bottle and come along to the quai," Cigny said. "Something's happening-- in the harbor."
      M. Bourgois stood up with unusual alacrity. "Galbaud."
      "What of Galbaud?" said the doctor. "I thought he had been deported."
      "He took ship, but has not left the harbor," said Cigny. "There were boats going back and forth from ship to ship for half the night, and on into the morning."
      "More deportations, doubtless," Bourgois said. "It no longer requires even a word against these Jacobins-- if only a thought should cross one's mind, then Sonthonax descends."
      "Yes, but I think he has overstepped himself this time," said Cigny. "You know how his mulatto troops have been harassing the sailors on the quai... I think it is more than their pride will bear. But you would do well to come see for yourself."
      Through the open casements of Bourgois's window, the doctor could see only an irregularly shaped section of the harbor, bounded by roofs of the intervening buildings. A pair of warships anchored in the area of his view were lowering longboats full of men-- one, two, three.... It was difficult to tell from this angle (and now M. Bourgois had thrust his head through the windowframe, interrupting more of the doctor's view) but the boats seemed to be making in the direction of Fort Bizoton.
      "Come down," said M. Cigny impatiently. "You can't see anything here."
      There were a good many other onlookers already hurrying out of the warehouses all along the waterfront, though not enough to constitute a crowd. Some were already raising shouts of excitement, or dismay. It seemed that every ship was lowering its boats and all the boats were full of armed men. Some few of them were rowing toward the harbor forts and the rest were coming straight for the quai, toward a point near the fountain some way to the left of where the doctor and his companions stood to watch.
      "How many sailors with the fleet?" the doctor asked.
      "Two thousand, three thousand." Cigny's teeth flashed in his beard. "You may count them for yourself."
      "Then there are the deportees, who knows how many hundreds?" said Bourgois. "All the ships of the harbor are cramful of those."
      "I believe they have decided to undeport themselves," said Cigny. "Look there-- they have reached the fort."
      "The soldiers are not firing on them," Bourgois said wonderingly.
      "No, and I don't think they will," M. Cigny said. "Those are troops of the line in those forts-- the last shreds of the old regiments. Sonthonax stuck them there to be out of the way, you see? so they would not interfere with the oppressions of his colored army in the town...."
      "Let him reap the fruit of that wisdom now." M. Bourgois was grinning too.
      "Indeed. Galbaud is still Governor General to those soldiers," said M. Cigny. "No matter what fault that slithering weasel of a law-parsing Sonthonax may have found with his commission-- and be damned to every trick clause hidden in the disgusting loi de quatre avril."
      The doctor stared. The men in the boats so rapidly approaching appeared to him as on the opposite side of a thick glass wall; doubtless the humidity promoted this odd sensation. He took off his hat and wiped a film of sweat from his balding dome. The beginnings of an unpleasant headache were focussing behind his eyes. The men laid on their oars so smartly that the boats almost seemed to leap from the water, and now the doctor could hear the goading shouts of a coxswain as the boats drew near. M. Cigny had laid a brotherly arm around each of their shoulders.
      "Mes amis," he said, "I think we shall see a great righting of wrongs this day."
      Smoothly, M. Bourgois disengaged himself. "J'éspère que vous avez raison," he said. "Still, each must look to his own good now. I know for a fact those navy men have not had one pay in six these last nine months...."
      "Evidemment," said Cigny. "There will be looting, certainly."
      "Therefore I beg you to excuse me." M. Bourgois set off for his offices, at a high bounding step. The doctor remained in M. Cigny's peculiar embrace.
      "He's right about the looting," said Cigny. "On verra des dégâts, sans doute. You had better round up your colored harlot and her brat and bring them back to our house, for the moment. Oh, they have been comfortable enough there before, have they not? No, don't say a word-- we should be glad of another arm." Still holding the doctor in the crook of his elbow, Cigny winked at him. "Arnaud has told us of your prodigies of marksmanship. You would be doing us a favor."
      "Is it so?" The doctor freed himself, ducking under Cigny's arm. "You have a curious way of asking it."


      The troops of the line in the harbor forts went over to Galbaud's party without the slightest hesitation, and soon had joined the assault on the town. With his brother Cézar leading part of his force, Galbaud struck first at the arsenal, which was easily taken, none of the whites of the town being minded to defend it from them. Most of the petit blancs went over to Galbaud's faction immediately, acting in concert with the grand blancs on this one rare occasion.
      Sonthonax himself, however, was not to be so easily taken. The National Guards, under Laveaux's command, remained loyal to the Commissioners, and the mulatto brigades were fighting well enough-- so well that Cézar Galbaud, who'd overextended himself in their vicinity, was made prisoner before the end of that first day. To further boost the Commissioners' morale, all the black slaves of Le Cap spontaneously volunteered to fight in support of the affranchi and mulatto troops.
      "Slavemaster! Whoremaster! Traitor to France!" Sonthonax was in such an apoplectic state that he sprayed Cézar Galbaud with spittle when the prisoner was paraded before him in the old Jesuit House where the Commissioners were in residence. "Chain him! Let him taste iron for himself, and feel the shackle. But best of all, get him out of my sight."
      Cézar, speechless, was taken out. From a corner, Choufleur observed the scene, chewing on a cinnamon stick and half-concealing his sardonic smile behind his fingers. Laveaux and Polverel sat soberly, though both were electrified by the general tension.
      "Those ingrates who called themselves Jacobins-- their treason is most bitter." Sonthonax was traversing the room in a series of short lunges from his desk, like a wild dog roped to a tree. "I brought them the rights of French republicans, but they are all repulsive traitors, all aristocrates de la peau...."
      "Yes, of course," Polverel said, a trifle wearily. The older Commissioner saw no use in observing that Sonthonax had disbanded the local Jacobin Club months before and since then had used his mulatto troops to hold its former members under martial law.
      Sonthonax spun toward them, his pale face shining under the usual slick of sweat. "The slaves have joined us-- good," he said. "Now, we must lay open the prisons." he aimed a vibrating finger at Laveaux. "Go at once and-- no, you are worse needed here." Sonthonax rushed over to Choufleur and hauled him up by his elbow. "You will go and liberate the prisons..." Together, they left the room; Laveaux and Polverel could hear Sonthonax's voice still raving on the landing beyond the door.
      "It's not my place to say it," said Laveaux, "but this decision strikes me as intemperate."
      "He is in a transport, as you can easily see," said Polverel. "It may be that he believes this will be a reprise of the storming of the Bastille-- I think he regrets missing it the first time...."

      Galbaud was unable to reduce the Jesuit House that day; at nightfall, he withdrew most of his force to the safety of the ships. The town was not left precisely quiet, however, for there were parties of sailors still roaming the streets in search of pillage, skirmishing with bands of the local slaves who were abroad on similar missions of their own.
      The night was busy with scattered shots, isolated cries. At the Cigny house, no one even tried to sleep. Arnaud and Grandmont had joined in the defense of the place, along with the doctor; Arnaud had tried to bring his wife to this shelter, but she insisted on remaining at Les Ursulines. Pascal, Madame Cigny's disfavored young dandy, had also sought refuge chez Cigny. The men would periodically climb onto the roof to stare toward the harbor, and to soak the shakes with water; no fires had broken out near them as yet, but fire was their great fear, in this disorder. There were no slaves to perform this labor now, since all the household slaves but the children's nurse had absconded to loot, or join the Commissioners.
      M. Cigny, for his part, seemed less irascible than usual at passing the entire evening in his own salon. He and the doctor whiled away the time by teaching Isabel and Claire to load and prime the firearms. The doctor was feeling too unwell to join the bucket brigade on the roof. His strange sensations of the afternoon seemed to be flowering into fever, and now he very much regretted that he had not taken time, in going for Claire and the child, to collect his herb stores from his makeshift laboratory.
      Sometime short of midnight, there was a commotion on the street, and someone lobbed a stone through one of the Cignys' ground floor windows. Pascal, who'd been increasingly agitated for most of the night, returned fire with a pistol shot taken targetless from the middle of the room, before doctor could move, somewhat woozily, to prevent him.

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