"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell


Continued ...

      The fire itself had not yet reached Crozac's stable, but the horses were beginning to panic from the smoke. Oule, called Tullius by the white people, sat on a step in the dooryard, wondering whether or not to let them free. From the living quarters, Crozac, who lay abed and awash in his own effluvia, occasionally called out for explanations or for aid. The horses neighed and whinnied, turned nervously in their stalls and kicked at the walls and doors. Still, Oule did not just know what he would do. His heart was riding very high, as it would do from time to time, when he was wanting a women very much-- so high it made it difficult for him to breathe or swallow.
      When Marie-Fon reappeared in the yard, returning from who knew what errand, Oule took her by the hand and led her into Crozac's rooms. The ailing farrier tried to push himself up in the bed; he had scarce the strength to raise himself onto an elbow.
      "Help me," he said said, in a wavering whisper. "The town's on fire, I would not be burned."
      Oule examined him. In the pocket of his striped trousers was a knife with a three inch blade, the point stuck in an old wine cork. It had been filed down so many times, the iron was worn away to almost nothing, but it was razor sharp.
      "Help him up," Oule said to Marie-Fon.
      Expressionless, the woman moved to sling Crozac's arm across her shoulders. In this manner, she dragged him to his feet. He swayed, unable to support himself. High in the room was a haze of smoke. Crozac began to cough.
      "Let him fall."
      Marie-Fon slipped out from Crozac's arm, and the farrier crumpled to the floor. Oule crouched down beside him, touching the round wood handle of the knife through the cloth of his trousers. His heart frogged up and almost closed his throat.
      "It's not so smoky on the floor," he said. "You can breathe better."
      "Help me." Crozac's eyes were half-closed. "Sauvez-moi."
      "It's too late to save you, whiteman." Oule reached with a thumb and forefiger, prised the nearer eye wide open. "You ought to have done what the dokte feuilles told you, but you were too stubborn. You are too stubborn, all you whitemen-- that is how you come to grief."
      "The fire," Crozac said, inattentively.
      Oule let go his eyelid and picked up his unresisting hand, turning it palm upward in his own. "I will help you from the fire at least, whiteman. Maybe you will burn in the fire the priests have laid for you in the next world, but you will not burn here."
      He cut vertically along the tendons inside Crozac's wrist, deeply but not too deep, then repeated the movements on the other arm. The blood was seeping, pooling, but it did not spurt. Marie-Fon reached out tentatively and touched the blood with her forefinger, then tasted it, smiling at Oule, with her tongue's tip.
      "Don't," Oule said. "It's poisoned. "
      His heart flopped against his throat and closed it altogether. He was rigid with excitement, through and through. Quickly he pulled his trousers down over his knees and his lean shanks, as Marie-Fon released the single cloth that covered her. On the floor beside the bleeding farrier, they enjoyed each other with great delight. When they had done, Crozac's eyes were glazed.


      From the Cigny roof, Doctor Hébert and Grandmont could see very well how the fires proceeded, lashed by the strengthening wind from roof to roof, and constantly joining with each other to form one larger, more colossal fire. Fish crows flew screaming, ragged- winged, through the black cinders that rose up to blot the sky. The fire was not two houses from Cigny's-- it was not even one. The roof next to theirs was already blazing, with a heat so great the doctor felt his eyebrows singing, his lips begin to parch and flake. He wet his shirt tail in one of the the buckets they'd brought up to dampen the roof and pulled the wet cloth across his nose and mouth. Smashed horizontal by the wind, the flames on the next roof sped across the gap between the houses to flutter over the Cigny shingles. On the lower floors, the window glass began exploding from the heat.
      Grandmont stood tall and heaved his bucket hopelessly into the fire on the next house. Then he ducked inside through the dormer window. Breaking his horrid fascination with some difficulty, the doctor followed him.
      On the second floor, Isabel Cigny was folding garments into a trunk, aided by the children's nurse; Robert and Héloise were watching her, frightened but quiet, clinging to the nurse's skirt. M. Cigny also looked on; the doctor paused beside him. Stooping over the trunk, Isabel felt a stray lock of hair tumbling in her face. She straightened and turned to the mirror to adjust it, without either haste or lingering, then went back to her work.
      "Look at her," said M. Cigny, laying his hammy hand on the doctor's forearm. "Say what you will about creole women-- what should I care for the horns she gives me?"
      Even under these extraordinary circumstances, the doctor thought it unwise to respond to that question. A spatter of gunfire from outside distracted them all. The doctor stepped to the shattered window to see. A squad of sailors was retreating down the street toward the harbor, hotly pursued by seventy or eighty blacks who could just barely be held at a distance by small-arms fire-- there were enough of them to choke the street.
      Isabel had closed the trunk, M. Cigny swung it up onto his shoulder and carried toward the stairs. He seemed to handle its weight and awkwardness with ease, though he could not be much used to physical work, the doctor thought; no white man could be, in this country.
      It was chokingly hot going down the stairs, from fire already pressing against the near wall. M. Cigny descended first, balancing the trunk. The nurse led the two children after him. Her eyes were closed, and through her tight jaws came a keening sound, with now and then a word of creole, song or maybe a vodûn supplication. The doctor followed them down. On the ground floor, Arnaud, Grandmont and Pascal had hoisted bundles and bags of the Cigny belongings. The horses of the household had bolted or been stolen earlier in the day, so they must make their way to the harbor on foot.
      The doctor took the child from Claire, and arranged his loads, two pistols in his belt, the rifle in his right hand, child in his left arm, forked across his hip. Balancing a bundle on her head with her unique grace, Claire glided through the door onto the street. In the approach of his evening delirium, the doctor thought he saw her as he'd seen her first, striding ahead of him through the throngs at the market in the Place de Clugny, wearing the monkey's cage like a tiara. But the men who pressed around her now had less benign intentions.
      The rifle discharged as he dropped it-- the range was too short for him to use it now, even if he could have managed it onehanded. The doctor shot the nearest one point-blank in the face and handed the pistol to Isabel Cigny to reload and drew the other to shoot the next man in the chest, twisting sideways to shelter the child on his hip the best he could. Isabel handed him the first pistol reprimed and he dropped another man with a shot to the temple and the others ran away. There had been six of them, stragglers from the larger mob that had just passed through.
      The doctor sank down onto one knee, heavily; his head hurt horribly and his fever was suddenly very much worse. The child clung to him, pressing his face against his chest. It had all taken hardly an instant, was over faster than any of the other men had even been able to train their arms, but this time no one paid the doctor any compliments on his marksmanship. He could not make which were the men he had just killed because there were so many other corpses littering the street. Blood and scorched flesh covered them with its stench. The doctor saw that Robert, clinging to his nurse's arm, was looking at the bodies too.
      "Come quickly," said M. Cigny.
      The doctor stood up. Claire had reloaded his second pistol; he took it from her and tucked it in his waistband. In the house next to the Cigny's a beam gave way and the entire roof collapsed in a cascade of sparks.
      "We are not going to the ships," the doctor said. "We have concluded to go instead to Ennery."
      Isabel Cigny dropped what she was carrying and took a step nearer him. "You're delirious," she said. She looked at Claire. "This man's insane."
      Claire gazed at her steadily; she could not gesture with her head, or the bundle would have fallen. "We have spoken of it earlier," she said calmly. "It's as he told you."
      Isabel walked closer to the doctor. The fire illumined her face with a strange red glow; he thought that she might scratch him with her nails. "Is it your romance?" she said. "Is it love? Don't be a fool. In another country she could pass for white."
      The doctor looked from her face to the others. In the hellfire light cast all about them, there was no longer any skin tone; Isabel was exactly the same hue as her black servant. The doctor could not speak at all. Stupid, brutal as a beast, he only shook his head.
      Isabel Cigny turned again to Claire. "The man's insane," she said again. "But save yourself. You must come with us."
      When Claire had murmured her refusal, Madame Cigny's shoulders clenched as with a sob. It was the first time, the doctor thought cloudily, that he'd seen her show the faintest sign of weakness. Her husband's admiration might have been well-placed. He watched as she leaned forward to kiss Claire on the lips.
      "God help you then," she said. "I will not see you again upon this earth."

      Arnaud said nothing to the doctor as they parted; he could not think of anything to say. Armed with a pistol and a musket, he was bringing up the rear of the Cigny group. At the first corner, he looked back and saw the doctor and Claire still standing near the burning houses; when he looked again, thirty paces further, they had gone. In the next block, the Cignys fell in with a platoon of regular army soldiers who were still making forays into the town to evacuate what citizens they could. There were several other families already in their charge, and in this strength they made their way to the harbor in greater safety than they could have hoped.
      The ink-black surface of the water threw back eerie reflections of the flames that blanketed the town. Still, the fire would not pass across the wide stone esplanade dividing the harbor from the burning warehouses. Some hundreds of white refugees were clustered on the paving stones, babbling, weeping, or cursing their enemies-- all those not struck completely dumb by what was passing. Eastward along the waterfront, a double line of soldiers fired alternating volleys in a regular one-two rhythm, holding off some two thousand of the blacks.
      There were not enough boats, and too many people were trying to get into those they were. Someone was crying out in loud disgust that Galbaud himself had been seen to fling himself into the water in his urgency to secure a place in one of those few boats. Arnaud listened without attending. He had not thought of his wife all day, but now her image ballooned to fill his mind.

      Within the walls of Les Ursulines, the nuns were at vespers, singing and praying for deliverance, but Claudine Arnaud had remained in the small cell she paid them for, embroidering a little dress for the layette of the infant she expected, in whose existence only she believed. When the fires overarched the convent roof, one of the sisters, F‚licit‚, came in and urged Madame Arnaud to flee the place with them. Claudine ignored her. She had lately come to dislike the nuns, because they stole her baby clothes while she was sleeping, hoping thus to distract her from her mania.
      "Maybe you have the right of it." Sister Félicité was weeping, tears scalding on her round pale cheeks as the ovenlike heat from the stone walls blasted them. "It won't go much better for us outside than in."
      But Sister Félicité was not long gone before the furnace heat drove Claudine out also. The nuns were descending the steps of the convent in orderly single file, demure in their black robes and white wimples, hands folded before them in prayer. As they reached the foot of the stair, the blacks laid hold of them and yanked their skirts above their heads to rape them, or sometimes simply slit their throats.
      At the head of the stairs, Claudine Arnaud drew up her skirts and pushed her hands against the bare skin of her shrunken belly. All around her burning embers were crashing down from the roof.
      "C'est enfin l'enfer, petite," she cried to the thing she addressed inside her. "Now at last you can be born."
      One of the blacks mounted the stairs to snatch at her. Claudine picked up a burning stake and stabbed it at his face, her skirts dropping around her legs again when she released them. The first attacker fell away, but another came from the other side; it seemed to her that he was that same Congo, from the other time, though he was no longer dressed in women's clothes. She swiped the burning stake at him, but he grinned and swayed back from his hips, mocking her with this dancer's grace, letting the fire pass over him, then springing back to his place. She thought to show him the stump of her finger then, but he only laughed at that.
      She saw that she must show him something more. It was only a light shift that she had on; with one hand she could rip it to the hem. When she'd shrugged out of it entirely, she stooped and picked up a second brand, holding it by its hot coal, for its whole length was afire. She rubbed the flames over her bared skin, smiling to show her indifference to the pain and harm of it. Then she began to dance and shriek in much the same manner as the blacks all around her. Seeing her to be possessed by some spirit too powerful for him to master, the Congo ran off, and was followed by the others.
      When Arnaud reached the convent, she had just had the inspiration of setting her hair aflame. He saw her in that fiery halo, raising a blazing sword above her head in her two joined hands. She stood on tiptoe, her head thrown back and to one side, resting on her collarbone, bare scorched breasts lifting and her muscles strained as if she were depending from a hook somewhere above her. Arnaud recognized her posture but without knowing why. When he called to her she did not seem to hear him. But when he was near enough, she brought her flaming sword down on him with all her force.

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