"Have a drink, then." Crozac lifted the gourd from under the table and shook it in the other's face. Browne turned sideways and put a hand to his forehead.
"No, it won't do," he said. "My head hurts. And my stomach's rotten."
Crozac poured himself a drink and put the gourd on the floor again, balancing it against the table leg. Behind the screen the woman muttered in her sleep and the feet retracted, then stretched back out.
"Haven't you got another cigar?" Browne said.
Crozac took the stub from his mouth and offered the chewed spit-slimy end of it, grinning over his outstretched arm. Brown fanned it away with both hands. Crozac sat back, his chair cracking under him.
"I wouldn't mind a bite myself," he said. "Why shouldn't we go over to the inn?"
"It's no use," Browne said. "Stop talking of it."
"Au diable," said Crozac. "I don't know why you told him to come here."
"Why, I thought you'd want the business." Browne said.
Crozac snorted. "The business he doesn't know of is worth ten times the business he could bring." He picked up the dice and dropped them on the table carelessly. Brown glanced at their faded stipples, then swung his head toward the open window. Beyond it, the spotted pony was still tossing its head over the stall door, the pale splotches barely visible in the dark.
"My stomach hurts," Browne said. "I hope it's not my dysentery."
"O mon Christ," Crozac said. "I know where you can find a doctor, if you like." He hiccuped and got up from his seat, his belly swaying forward, unbalancing him on his short legs. The gourd slipped from its propped position and turned a semicircle on the rough board floor, but it was well corked and nothing spilled.
Blinking, Crozac lumbered toward the corner, sucking his cigar to a fresh red glow. He squatted laboriously and held the hot head near the arch of the woman's bare foot until it shriveled a little away from the heat. Chuckling softly, he grazed the coal along her instep, with the delicacy of a painter's brush stroke, the barest touch. She mumbled in her dream and bent her knee. The skin of her foot was ink black and the heel gray with callous. Crozac frowned, touched the cigar end to the pale soft skin of the arch and held it.
The woman knocked the screen over as she bucked up. She twisted and crouched, hissing. She was naked. Her head was shaved, her face a mask of tribal scarification, but she was young, her body lithe and quick.
"Wake up," Crozac said. "Caniche. Go get some food."
The woman's eyes came clear, as she collected herself and glanced across the room at Philip Browne, who was watching her avidly, every movement. She turned and stooped, pulling a length of printed cotton from the tangle of the bedclothes. Winking at Browne, Crozac made as if if to goad the cigar end into her taut buttock, but she felt the warmth as he brought it near and sidled away. She wound the cloth around her twice, knotted its corners over her high breasts.
"Enough for two," Crozac said. "Be quick about it, do you hear?"
Browne's head rolled automatically after the woman as she crossed the room. "What's her name?" he said, when she was through the door.
"Mary-Fon," Crozac said. "Mary-something, I forget. What does she need a name for?"
"She's ... well-assembled," Browne said slowly.
"If you like nigger women," Crozac said. "Do you?"
"I'm married, you know." Brown said. "I've a wife in England, and a son."
Crozac laughed. "That doesn't stop most people. England's a long way off. You may never see it again, who knows?"
"Don't." Browne closed the ledger and put it inside his coat, then plucked nervously at the buttons, checking their fastening, groping the pocket where he carried his purse.
"Franchement," Crozac said, "your delicacies disgust a man."
"I don't feel well," Browne said.
"You've mentioned that." Croxac leaned back and stuck his legs out. "What have you got to worry about?"
"There'll be questions. What if he misses the sheep?"
"What if who misses them? That doctor wouldn't know if there ever were any sheep at Habitation Thibodet."
"But he saw me at the broker's."
"You say he only saw your back. Besides, you've got a right to be there. You might have been shipping a packet to your precious wife, for instance."
Marie-Fon walked back into the room, carrying a plate covered with a handkerchief. A pair of green-bottle flies buzzed and looped around her hands. If her burned foot pained her she did not show it; she walked so regally erect she might have carried the plate on her head. When she had laid the platter on the table and removed the cloth, Crozac passed her his cigar end and she took it pinched between her thumb and forefinger. Twin jets of smoke thrust from her nostrils, dragonlike. She carried the nub of the cigar to the corner of the room, where she righted the screen and disappeared behind it.
Browne was chewing, a knot of muscle pumped in his long jaw. There were slices of stringy brown meat veined with yellow fat, dry pieces of flat bread, and a mound of sticky raisins.
"Mutton," Browne said indistinctly through his mouthful.
"Of course," Crozac said. "It might be one of the sheep you drove over here from Ennery."
Browne half-choked in swallowing, and his eyes showed white.
"You're a nervous idiot," Crozac said. "Vraiment." He unfolded a claspknife from his pocket and cut himself a morsel of the meat. "I tell you, there's nothing to be afraid of. The master's dead, the wife's gone whoring after her lover, and as for that drunken g‚rant- - you know Delsart as well as I do. He'll have too much to answer on his own account to worry about you."
"It's easy for you," Browne said.
"It's easy for both of us." Crozac flicked a fly away from plate and went on feeding himself meat scraps from the point of his knife. "That plantation only wants us to harvest it. Not just provisions either. Not just skimming. You need to find a way to take the sugar."
"Impossible," Browne said. "You know they attend to that if nothing else."
"Who does? Delsart thinks only of rum and women. He's rotten with the pox besides, he won't live out the year. Your doctor knows nothing of the business and there's no one to tell him anything about it. Who's the bookkeeper? You are."
"There's commandeurs in the field and in the sugar mill."
"Do they know figuring? They won't be listened to, en tout cas. Any white man's word is better than a nigger's, even yours."
"If you're wrong, we'll go to prison." Browne raised his shaky hand. Breadcrumbs collected at one corner of his mouth. "We might be hung." He stood up and paced along the wall. A mosquito dropped from the ceiling and hummed around his head; he flailed at it and reversed his direction.
"There's fortunes to be made in this country," Crozac said softly, "but only by the bold. Don't you know in France they've taken down the prisons stone by stone? No need grovel before fine gentlemen any longer. Their day's done-- in France and in Saint Domingue."
The mosquito wafted down and whined around the candle flame, throwing a monstrous manylegged shadow across the wall. Browne flinched away from it, caught his balance with one hand. Crozac laughed at him.
"Come." He lifted the bones and shook them, put them down. The little cubes were mishapen, worn and untrue. "Sit down with me," Crozac said. "Un coup de dés. What have you got to lose?"
"I've lost too much to you already," Browne said, but he took his seat. Crozac reached across the table and knocked the back of his knuckles against the area of cloth where Browne believed his purse was hidden.
"You've sold thirty head of sheep today," he said. "A fine fat flock. Come, let's see the color of your money." He took a fresh cigar from the coat on the chair, bit off the tip and lit it from the candle. Browne watched the process with resentful eyes, but he said nothing.
Oule crossed the Place de Clugny, the square still littered with debris from the marché des negres held there every day. His bare feet kicked over a bundle of feathers and he crouched to examine it. A parrot brought to market that had died. The corpse was light, desiccated in the dry heat. Almost mummified, it carried only the faintest tang of rot. The good feathers had already been plucked, and the feet cut off. Oule tossed it away, straightened and looked overhead. The night was moonless and a canopy of brilliant stars was fastened down to the four walls of the square like a net.
In the first block beyond the Place de Clugny, he heard the sound of a baby crying, and traced it to a barred window, no more than a handspan wide, low in the rear wall of a building. A woman's voice whispered in the dark behind the crossbar, the same few phrases repeated and remodulated in the language of Dahomey. Oule recognized the tongue from his own childhood, though he could not understand the words. He thought that the woman must have been sold that week, that day even, out of the baracoons beyond the city.
"O woman of Guin‚e," he said, but scarcely loud enough to carry. He knew she would not understand him either, although she was his countrywoman, in a way. Oule took the conch from his pocket and sounded it once softly. On the instant, the crying stopped, he heard a curious whimper, then no sound, though the concentration in the dark beyond the window felt acute. He blew another muted note on the shell and slipped away.
The sound of rada drumming came to him well before he was in sight of the tiny chapel and the gravediggers' shed that framed the gateway into La Fossette. The ajoupa of the hûngan Bonneau was nearby but it was dark, and so was the hûnfor; they were drummming inside the graveyard tonight. Oule passed between them and walked cat- footed over the uneven marshy ground of the cemetery, the rhythms quickening, strumming in his blood. There were few monuments to the dead, who were too numerous for such observances. Every third year saw the whole plot plowed under and reseeded with fresh corpses end to end. The air was foul and cloudy with mosquitoes, but Oule did not notice that.
From a distance he could not see hands or feet or faces of the dancers, only the pale clothing writhing ghostlike in the dark around the mapou tree. They were many, so many had come this night to feed the loa. Oule dissolved into the fringes of the dance, feeling his bones begin to soften, but he would not go so far tonight, he would not be ridden. The man he'd talked to at Maman-maigre's fire was coming toward him, stiltlike on locked knees. In his waking life he had the absurd slave name of Vergil, but now he had been mounted by Ghede, in his aspect of Baron CimitiŠre, and it was the Baron whose shackle- like hand clamped over Oule's upper arm.
"Ki koté ou vini? Ki koté ou alé?" said Baron Cimitière. "Where did you come from? Where will you go?"
"I'm here," said Oule.
"Are you going to Bois Cayman?"
"I'm going," Oule said. "O, I'm going there." Baron CimitiŠre let go his arm and he danced away in a circle, head slung back, staring far above the crown of the mapou tree toward where the peak of Morne du Cap cut across the starline.
"Ki koté ou vini?" Ghede repeated, "Ki koté ou alé?"d lit it from the candle. Browne watched the process with resentful eyes, but he said nothing.