"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell


Continued ...

      "Sit down, you stupid whelp," said M. Cigny, seizing the hot gun from Pascal's powderblown fingers. "Go whimper in the corner if you must, but keep out of the way."
      From the street came a shout in creole to the effect that they did not open and surrender their valuables, the marauders would set the house on fire.
      "Well, it doesn't sound like he hit anyone," said the doctor.
      "No," said M. Cigny. "But I don't like those torches."
      They had blown out the lamps within at the first disturbance so they could be less easily seen from the street, and now the torchlight threw a gay red glow through the windows and onto the litter of broken glass in the middle of the carpet. The doctor picked up his rifle and went to the second floor salon, where the women were waiting. Isabel had crept to the window and was covertly observing the situation outside. As they came in, she turned toward them with pinched lips and her hands cocked on her hips.
      "My own footman, if you please. Come back to sack the house...."
      "And in his livery too," said the doctor. He settled himself beside the other window, kneeling down and bracing his heavy rifle barrel on the sill. There was a gang of twenty- some blacks on the street below him; he didn't know if they'd seen his movement, but they brandished their torches and cried out new threats.
      "He will certainly know where the plate is hidden," said Isabel.
      "Sans doute," said M. Cigny. "But come away from the window, please."
      The doctor leaned over his long gun and sighted on the footman, who was the largest man among the group, and, in his bright and fancy livery, far and away the most inviting target. Then he sat back on his heels, to take a more general view. Tullius was also in the group, barefoot, shirtless, dressed only in his ragged pair of striped trousers.
      "Tullius!" the doctor called. "You have no business with us-- we don't intend you any harm, but we are well-armed and ready to defend the place. It's I, Doctor Hébert. Leave us be, I say. Pass on."
      There was a stir among the blacks, with Tullius expostulating. Doctor Hébert could make out only the phrase, dokte feuilles, frequently repeated. He changed his angle (keeping his head well within the window frame) so he could peep down to the ground floor. Musket barrels belonging to Arnaud and Grandmont were lipped over the sills below.
      "Descendez-moi ce vilain-la." M. Cigny pointed at the footman.
      "But what if it only enrages them," said the doctor. "Perhaps a warning shot?"
      Among the gang, a fissure of disagreement seemed to have opened, with some who were swayed by Tullius willing to withdraw, while others influenced by the footman were urgent to press the attack. The doctor laid his cheek against the cool curve of his rifle stock. A triangle of silver brocade at the peak of the footman's tricorne hat seemed to make an appealing mark. When he closed one eye, the brocade seemed to leap to the very end of his gun barrel. He squeezed the trigger smoothly and the hat flew backward. The footman slapped at his head and howled.
      "Grand Seigneur!" said Cigny. "Arnaud did not exaggerate."
      The mob broke up and scattered either way along the street. The doctor was aware of Tullius's striped trousers, leading a reasonably dignified retreat. The punctured hat had fallen on a doorstep, near a dropped torch that slowly died, smothered by the dust of the unpaved thoroughfare.
      He stood up, passing the rifle to Claire to reload. The report of the shot had awakened the child, and the doctor took him from Claire's arms, seeing she was very weary. He walked up and down the hall outside the salon, murmuring and singing snatches of song that he remembered from his own childhood in Lyons-- odd how they returned at such a time. The baby's mouth was damp against his shirt and his collarbone, lips slackening as the child relaxed again toward sleep. The doctor's ears were ringing, and not only from the shot. He hoped his indisposition might be one of the more survivable malarias, not mal de Siam, but the headache worried him considerably.
      A couple of hours before dawn, a party of marauding sailors from the fleet approached the house. They did not threaten it with fire, but seemed willing to beat in the doors with axes that they carried. Inside, the men took up their firing positions as before.
      "Gentlemen," M. Cigny called from the second story window. "We are in total sympathy with your aims-- you are our liberators! Here's to the Governor General, Galbaud! Understand just the same that we are determined to protect our property. Trouble us and we won't hesitate to shoot you.
      "Open to us," said one of the sailors, "if you are friends, open and let us drink the health of the Governor General in your wine."
      "I don't think so," said M. Cigny, who might have laughed, if not for the strain. "But I can say you'll find the houses of the richest niggers near the Place D'Armes or the Place Clugny."
      When the sailors had gone by, there was no more unrest in their immediate vicinity. As the light began to blue into the day, the town slipped into its first full silence of the night. Claire led the doctor upstairs to the room she'd formerly occupied, and forced him to lie down, for she saw that he was sickening. For a couple of hours he slept fitfully, twisting through the weirdness of his dreams. But by midmorning he was awakened by the sound of a cannonade.

      That morning Galbaud renewed the attack and, fighting steadily from the street to street, soon overcame the remaining resistance except for the defenders of the Jesuit House. Infuriated by their stubbornness, Galbaud brought up cannons from the fleet and began to bombard the building. Sonthonax, whose passions had plagued him so violently he had not slept a moment of the night, emerged onto a balcony to harangue the opposing troops-- being as ever a convinced believer in the powers of his own rhetoric. Galbaud had his gunners aim at him directly, and a cannonball must infallibly have carried him away, if Laveaux and Polverel had not dragged him back.
      The building was not defensible against artillery. Villatte, Laveaux, and Choufleur marshalled their tropps and managed to conduct an orderly retreat. The commissioners reached the fortified lines inland of the city with their small force intact, which under the circumstances was no mean achievement. Galbaud, meanwhile, was technically master of the town, though by no means in complete control of it. Apart from the troops of the line who'd deserted from the harbor forts, the discipline of his motley army was very poor, and once the real fighting had lulled, the general looting was redoubled. Looking in the direction of the harbor from the roof of the Cigny house, Arnaud and Grandmont could see isolated columns of smoke betokening houses set afire-- but seemed that there was still enough organization among the citizenry that these, if not completely extinguished, at least did not spread generally.
      The commissioners still held Cézar Galbaud-- this hostage was their best negotiating point. At noon, they dispatched an envoy, Polverel's son, across the sweltering flats between their lines and the town. The proposition was that Cézar be given up in exchange for Galbaud's complete withdrawal, and even Sonthonax had not laid much hope upon it. He was playing for time, though he did not yet know what use he would make of whatever time he could recover.
      Before they had word back from this sally, the commissioners removed their seat to Haut du Cap, and had taken over the grand'case of Bréda as their temporary headquarters. It was there that the envoy's escort reached them with the lugubrious intelligence that Galbaud, flouting the flag of truce, had made the junior Polverel his prisoner and now proposed to trade him for Cézar.
      Sonthonax had an unfailing instinct for the dramatic moment, even when his passions were only those of impotence. Twirling his coat-tails in the middle of the Bréda drawing room, he banged his right hand across his heart, stabbed his left hand toward the chandelier, and declared that the decision must pass to his colleague. "Tu es père," he declaimed. "Fais ce que tu dois, je consens à tout."*
      Polverel was not ordinarily given to such demonstrations, but now he was weeping openly, though he remained seated, stolidly as ever, in an armchair which had molded somewhat since Bayon de Libertat and his family had decamped.
      "J'adore mon fils," he said. "Il peut périr.... J'en fais le sacrifice à la République... Mon fils était une parlementaire traîtreusement arrêté par des révoltés... Galbaud a êté pris les armes à la main contre les déleguées de la France... Non, mon fils ne peut être échangé contre un coupable."**
      Hearing this, Sonthonax passed to an even greater height of exaltation. He looked as though he'd weep himself-- perhaps he did, a little.
      "My friend, your words do you great honor," he said. "They will not profit by this treachery. We will defeat them, against all odds." But this speech seemed to deflate him as he uttered it, and he crashed down into a chair opposite Polverel, who reached to press his hands.
      "I fear we have no hope of defeating them against the odds which we now face," said Polverel.
      Then Choufleur turned from the window-- for the last hour he'd been staring out, in what seemed a sort of rapture of ennui.
      "There is a way," he said.
      Sonthonax looked up at him, uncomprehending, his eyes sunken and dark from the sleepless night. Choufleur had not troubled to remove the cinnamon stick from his mouth; it continued to ride his lips as he spoke.
      "Pierrot and Macaya," he said laconically. "They are encamped not two miles distant- - with ten thousand men."
      Sonthonax stared at him, agape. He had not a word to say.
      "You will remember them, I think? Pierrot? Macaya?"
      "Absolutely." Sonthonax's teeth clicked as he set his jaw. "So," he said. "If we promise them liberty?"
      "I think so," said Choufleur. "I think you must also promise them the town."
      Sonthonax paled, even he, at that. "What do you mean?" Although of course, by then he knew.
      "They would never try to hold it," Choufelur said. "Only... a matter of a day, a few...." He took the cinnamon stick from his mouth and inspected it with an air of surprise, then looked at Sonthonax more sharply. "The choice is yours. I will arrange it, if you wish."

      By the close of that day, Le Cap seemed on the verge of calm, at least from the windows of the Cigny house. The doctor was feeling better, able to drink some broth, and pace the floor. He was thinking it might soon be safe enough for him to go and recover his medicine bags, which he would have liked to accomplish before dark. When night fell, he expected his fever to worsen.
      Above the harbor, the sun had slipped away through a slit in the cloud cover. A great trunk of cloud sprouted up from the horizon line, expanding at the top into a bloom or an explosion. Diffuse sunset radiance tinted this whole mass of vapor with rose and a sulphurous yellow. In a fever just high enough to make him slightly giddy, the doctor gazed upon this spectacle.
      It was very still, until a hearstricken cry went up from the roof, where Grandmont and Arnaud had gone for their hourly exploration. Without thinking, the doctor snatched up a pistol and ran to the top floor, where he scrambled out a dormer to see whatever it was they saw. He joined the other two men astride the rooftree.
      Both Arnaud and Grandmont were staring, aghast, in the direction of Morne du Cap; they both seemed petrified, but at the first the doctor could not make out what it was that had so transfixed them. From the fever, his vision was rather blurry, but he squinted and rubbed his eyes. There was a movement on the face of the mountain, as if all Morne du Cap were a vast ant hill, with marching columns of army ants all swarming out of its core.
      "What is it?" The doctor said, for if he saw, he did not quite believe it.
      "The brigands." Grandmont's voice was strangled to a whisper. He cleared his throat but it didn't seem to help. "Do you see? No one is defending the line-- they have already passed it."
      The air stirred now, some draft opening in the thick wet suck of the humidity. A land breeze was starting up, combing back their hair and and cooling the sweat on their faces. It was true what Grandmont said. The first wave of the huge black mass had already passed the landward earthworks and was coming to the fringes of the town, across the lowlands around La Fossette.
      Arnaud pointed his pistol in the air and pulled the trigger. "The brigands!" he shrieked. "The brigands are coming!" No one heard him. The hot wet air closed over his words. Arnaud kept holding the pistol high, as if despair immobilized his arm. The wisp of smoke from the warm barrel broke up into particles and slowly sailed away down to the water.
      The men of Macaya and Pierrot had no vestige of military organization, nor were they especially well-armed, but these disadvantages didn't matter much, because Galbaud's troops were dispersed and mostly drunk by the time the first wave of the attack struck into the town. Besides, the numbers of the blacks were completely overwhelming; it was one of those mad beserker charges, like the suicidal charges against cannon in the revolt's first days. But now the few cannons available were not in position to do them any harm.
      From the peristyle of the hounfor by the cemetery, the hûngan Bonneau watched them pass, cradling one of his particolored cats in his arms muttering to it as he stroked between its ears and down its spine. The pace of the descending blacks accelerated as they crossed the waste ground; when they reached the first houses they would break into a run. Bonneau lowered his head and breathed in the cat's scent. They had been waiting for this long time, he told the cat. It should have happened in Le Cap when the revolution first broke out, but the colons and their soldiers thought that they had stopped it. Now let them see what they could stop. He, Bonneau, would not go to join the sack of the town, because he was not so thirsty for blood or for loot. Besides, the victors would bring him a share of the spoil before long, for they must come to feed the loa.
      Bonneau set down the cat and watched run among the hummocks of damp grass. Above a clump of weed, the cat poised itself and pounced, slapping its paws down and stiffening its tale. A bird's nest, or possibly a lemming. The flood of charging black men remained uninterrupted all the way from the mountain to the outskirts of the town. THe great church bell had begun to toll alarm, the iron shank of its tongue licking at the chiming walls of it, but it was useless, hopeless as the bellowing of a cow in the slaughterhouse.

      They had seen it all before, among the plantations on the plain, though never on such a grand scale as this. Never till now had they breached one of the cities of the coast. Still, the order of operations was much the same as elsewhere: kill, rape, loot and burn.
      Some of Galbaud's men held out better than others. There were pockets of stubborn fighting, house to house and street to street, up until nightfall. But in the end the white men could not hold. The attackers were innumerable and they seemed to come directly out of the fire, like salamanders, or like legendary demons. Fire was general now in the town, driven ahead of the strengthening land breeze, down toward the harbor. Now it was night, but there was no darkness.

*   "You are a father. Do what you must; I agree to anything."

**   I adore my son ... He might perish ... I will make that sacrifice to the Republic ... My son was a parliamentarian treacherously arrested by rebels ... [Cézar] Galbaud was taken with arms in his hand against the delegates of France ... No, my son cannot be exchanged for a guilty party."

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