"All Souls Rising," The Writer's Cut

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell 1995


      Via the institution of slavery, Doctor Hébert observed, the farrier Crozac was able to make use of ten men to do the work of two. The moment he rode into the yard, two blacks raced each other to his horse's head; a third stooped and laced his fingers to make a second stirrup to aid him in his dismount. The doctor bypassed this assistance, however, and slid directly to the ground. His legs were watery after the long ride. Just within sight of Le Cap the bay gelding Espoir had thrown a shoe, and coming into the city the horse had gone slightly lame, so that the doctor thought to bring him here directly, before finding an inn or pursuing his business. He'd been told by the Englishman whom Thibodet had hired as a clerk that Crozac kept a clean stable and a blacksmith's shop as well.
      Rocking forward on his shaky legs to loosen Espoir's girth, the doctor was anticipated by another black, whom Crozac, shouting orders and abuse from a stool beside the forge, addressed by the fanciful name of Tullius. The slave himself moved with a quieter authority, directing the other blacks with nods or signals of his hand, under the stream of Crozac's ranting. Tullius was barefoot and wore a pair of striped canvas breeches cinched to his waist with a twist of old rope. He was thin and stringy as an old chicken, but the doctor admired how the horse quieted under his certain touch.
      As a slave carried the saddle away toward the stable, Crozac pushed himself up from the stool and began his approach. He was big-bellied, bowlegged, and virtually neckless. His dress was absurdly elegant for his trade, though none too clean. The doctor took passing note of the red cockade pinned to the crown of his broadbrimmed round hat. His eyes were small and sunken behind wedges of flesh like white fatty slabs of bacon. The doctor grew somewhat uneasy under their chill inspection.
      "If I may serve you...." Crozac said, but still with a certain hauteur. Two slaves stood in waiting just behind him, one carrying the stool and the other his box of tools.
      "Only one shoe lost," the doctor said, and touched the horse on the withers. "He seemed a little tender on that foot too."
      Crozac grunted, and indicated a spot for the stool to be set down, then called for the slave to make a slight adjustment. When he was satisfied he lowered his broad buttocks to the seat and spread his vast stomach over his thighs like an apron. It was another slave who lifted the horse's foot and held it pinched between his knees, presented to the farrier's inspection. Another moved nearer with the toolbox and presented instruments as they were needed. Crozac cursed him occasionally, more from habit it seemed than for any apparent error. The farrier was hamhanded with the hoofpick, the doctor saw, working around the tender frog. Espoir shivered and tossed his head, but Tullius stroked his palm down the horse's neck and smoothed away the tension. It was also Tullius, the doctor noticed, who signalled the other slave with a glance or a gesture to let him know which new tool would be wanted.
      "He's skilled, your man there," the doctor said, when Crozac had dispatched Tullius to the forge to find a shoe in place of the lost one.
      "Not mine," Crozac said, straining over his own guts to reach the foot. "Though I've taught him much." He trimmed a long curve of horn away from the hoof's ragged edge.
      "An affranchi."
      "Pardon?" said the doctor.
      "He's a freedman, Tullius." Crozac's lip lifted from a blackened canine. "So he says. He comes and goes." He spat on the ground and accepted the new shoe from Tullius, who'd returned, and fit it on the smooth line of the fresh- cut hoof. His hammer made a shallow tacking sound, driving the narrow nails through. With pliers he snapped off the nail points and beat them back into the horn. Briskly he rasped the hoof-edge even with the shoe, then handed the file back to the slave and stood up.
      The slave who all this while had held himself in a half crouch to support the foot at the right position now let it down and straightened. Espoir readjusted his weight to four legs, snorted and lifted his head against the halter rope. Tullius rubbed his nose and whispered something to him.
      "You'll take him now?" Crozac said to the doctor. In spite of all the assistance proffered him, the farrier was in a mighty sweat. A runnel flowed from his ear and dampened the grimy frill of his neckcloth. Looking at him, the doctor felt himself more oppressed by the heat as well. He loosened the drawstring of his purse and gave Crozac one coin, then another.
      "I want to stable him," he said. "Let him be fed and let him rest. I'll go on foot at least until evening."
      "As you say," Crozac said, pushing the coins across his plump palm so that they clicked together. "You'll stay how long?"
      "I can't be certain," the doctor said. "I'll stop here again before evening."
      Crozac answered him with only a nod, pocketing the coins as he waddled back toward the forge, his slaves carrying his equipment after him. The doctor hesitated, but when Tullius caught his eye and nodded he felt better assured. The black clucked to the horse, turned and led him toward a stall. Watching Espoir's hooves, the doctor thought that the limp had lessened. The metal of the new shoe blinked in the sunlight. Under the tattered cuffs of his breeches, Tullius's high-arched feet set down silently one after the other, crossing the packed earth of the yard.

      Doctor Hébert crossed the Place d'Armes and walked on the unpaved street toward the quay. At the height of the afternoon heat there were few people abroad, and those he did pass seemed bent on their business, whatever it was. The gaggles of brightly dressed mulatto women he had admired when he first passed through the city must be seeking shade indoors until evening. The buildings which lined his way were mostly of stone and none high enough to cast a shadow. The street was dotted here and there with animal ordures and cracked in rigid geometric patterns from the drought and heat. The doctor's boots kicked up little whispers of dust as he went along. The heat pressed down on him, like a damp thumb; he took off his stained duster and carried it over his arm.
      When at length he emerged on the Quai St. Louis, the breeze off the harbor did something to relieve the sodden heat. The quay was busy, ships unloading or taking on cargo at most of the available moorings. The doctor turned north and walked along the paved sea wall, passing through a short promenade of stunted trees, whose branches twisted in the salty air. Another ship was taking on water at the Fontaine d'Estaing, and he paused there to watch the procedure, stroking his sweat-matted beard. After a time he put aside his dignity and cupped his hands into the fountain and bathed his face and head. He went on his way with his damp beard stringing and the tonsure band of hair that remained to him plastered wetly to his sunburned skull.
      The house of M. Bourgois, who had been Thibodet's broker, was only a couple of blocks away on the Rue Neuve, but by the time the doctor had reached it he was sweating again, through the glaze of cool fountain water which had scarcely dried on his skin. This building had a second story, so that M. Bourgois's private office caught the harbor breeze. The negociant himself was an older man than Doctor Hébert would have expected (though why he should have expected anything was a mystery too) with watery eyes and a red nose that spread and softened along his cheekbones like waterlogged cork. He replied to the news of Thibodet's death with strictly formal condolences, and after the slightest pause began to quiz the doctor about crops and deliveries. Doctor Hébert found himself promising to provide particular quantities of brown sugar, particular quantities of white, by certain dates which Thibodet apparently had arranged much earlier.
      In this respect at least, the broker seemed to have his wits about him. The doctor, meanwhile, had only the faintest idea of what he was discussing and agreeing to. These matters would have to be taken up with Thibodet's g,rant, or his replacement, if he must be replaced....
      "Et Madame Thibodet?" the broker said, resuming his tone of formal politesse. "Et la petite?"
      "La petite?" the doctor repeated stupidly.
      "The daughter," M. Bourgois said. "There is a daughter, is there not?" A strange avuncular smile. "Would she be six months old, or is it four?"
      "My God." The doctor got up and walked to the open casements. Over the low roofs of the intervening buildings he watched a ship under half-sail angle in to the quay. Given the length of the crossing to France it was quite possible this news might have failed to arrive before his own departure. Why Thibodet might have kept silent about the birth was harder to comprehend.
      "Madame Thibodet--" Doctor Hébert turned from the window, took a step in the direction of M. Bourgois' desk. "Elise, my sister--" He stopped again, passing his palm across his forehead and pausing to inspect the dampness gathered there. As he had anticipated, it was difficult to begin. He cleared his throat. "I have not seen her, not since I came to the colony. I do not know where she is at all. Nor did her husband before he died."
      "I see...." M. Bourgois's expression seemed to blur as he turned his head to the left, directing his dim gaze over the doctor's shoulder to the open windows behind him. Hair lifted coolly on the back of the doctor's neck, maybe from the humid breeze.
      "I had intended to ask you," he said, "if she had come here. To draw money perhaps. She might have done that."
      "Ah." M. Bourgois braced his hands on the arms of his chair and pushed himself to his feet. Gingerly he walked to a mahogany cupboard-- lamed by gout, the doctor surmised. He opened the cabinet with a small key from his watchchain and took out a bottle of brandy.
      "Will you join me?"
      "No, thank you," the doctor said.
      M. Bourgois inclined his head and poured from the bottle into a straight tumbler, two fingers' worth. From a carafe on the desk corner he added a lesser measure of water and drank off the mixture in a single draught.
      "S'il vous plait," he said to the doctor, stroking the bottle he'd set down beside the carafe and glass. "If you should reconsider-- allow me a moment." M. Bourgois limped goutily to the door and crossed the landing into the clerk's chamber, leaving both doors ajar.
      Shifting through the casements, the harbor breeze disturbed some papers on the desk. The doctor walked over and shifted a polished stone to secure them. He picked up the brandy bottle and sniffed the cork: good well-aged spirit and assuredly from the metropole. Beside the brown-stained drinking glass sat a hard-shelled iridescent beetle, big as a baby's fist. Just as the doctor noticed it, the beetle clicked out transparent wings from under the halves of its carapace and flew with a whirring sound toward the door. His eye tracked it, and he saw a stooping figure dressed in gray move from the clerks' room hastily toward the stairwell; it looked like Thibodet's English bookkeeper, Philip Browne. The doctor set the bottle down and swung through the doorway, calling out to the man, who was already halfway down the stairs.
      "Mister Browne?" he said. "Mister Browne, is it you?"
      The other turned his head reflexively, but not enough to show his face. At the turn of the stairs he stumbled, then was gone. Bemused, the doctor cocked a fist on his hip. M. Bourgois had limped up to his elbow, and when he noticed the broker he followed him back into the private office.
      "It's as I thought," M. Bourgois said. "As I remembered. She drew on us two months ago, and for a considerable sum." He handed a folded slip of paper across the desk. When the doctor opened it, his lips formed a round and he exhaled with a sound like wind across a bottleneck.
      "Indeed," he said. "More than considerable."
      "We love luxury here, some of us do...." M. Bourgois fanned his fleshy hands. "One cannot say. For such a price one might obtain... a lady's maid, perhaps, already trained. They're dear. Perhaps she had some other notion."
      "She may have planned a journey...." "It's possible," M. Bourgois said. "Of course it would not become me to ask intrusive questions of Madame Thibodet. A Madame Cigny, however, I know to have been her intimate friend; she stayed at the Cigny house whenever she was in the city." He wrote the address on the slip of paper below the figure and the doctor thanked him for it.
      "Our house has agents in Port au Prince and Les Cayes," M. Bourgois said. "Also at Guadeloupe, and Martinique. I could make inquiry, on your behalf."
      "Discreetly," said the doctor.
      The same flying beetle or another like it flew in the window, whirring and bumbling toward the desk. M. Bourgois swatted at it with the back of his hand and almost as if by accident knocked it stunned into a corner. The doctor picked it up and carried it to the casements to look at it in better light, but before he could make a close examination the insect recovered itself and flew. He turned again to the desk.
      "You're absolutely sure there was a child," he said.
      "Without a doubt," said M. Bourgois. "Why, I've met her myself, chez Madame Cigny. A little dumpling."
      The doctor stared at his empty palm, the creases crossing it, he could still feel the pricking of insect legs on the skin. "I've reconsidered," he said. "May I take some brandy?"
      "Of course." M. Bourgois nodded to the bottle. The doctor poured himself a short measure and sipped it undiluted.
      "She's got black hair, your niece," M. Bourgois said. "Brown eyes, but they had a light. I saw her on her mother's knee and she looked me through and through.... I'm fond of children. And yourself?"
      "It's human nature," the doctor said, and set down his glass. "I'm grateful for your patience and discretion." He made his farewell and went down to the street.

      Calling upon Mme. Cigny he found no one at home, and saw no use to leave a note since so far he had not found lodging. A little footsore now, to complement his saddlesoreness, the doctor walked back toward the Place d'Armes and engaged a room at an inn near Crozac's establishment. This business done, he crossed the way and entered the stable to see to his horse.
      Espoir had been brushed to a sleek shine, tangles combed out of his mane and tail. There was hay in the manger and a trace of grain in the feedbox. The doctor was pleased. He lingered, savoring the quiet and the warm horse smell. Outside the light was falling quickly and it was quite dark within the stall. He stroked his horse and fed it sugar; odd how easily he thought of it as his, when properly it belonged to-- not Thibodet, who could own nothing any longer. To Thibodet's widow, or failing that, his child. It bore in on the doctor that for the time being he was responsible and alone. There would be much to do and to learn. He wondered why Philip Browne had behaved so strangely, but then perhaps he'd been mistaken as to the identity of the man he'd seen; the light in the stairwell had been poor.
      At the inn he ate a dish of chicken served in the common dining room, and drank half a bottle of sour red wine, all that was available there. He was alone at his table and the only one dining, though several parties of men had come to drink and gamble, both white and colored, though they did not mix. Yet at a table among white men playing cards was one the doctor could not place. His skin was pale, but covered with a skein of freckles spiraling like a weird brown galaxy. But for color his nose and cheekbones were those of a negro, and still his eyes were green. A sacatra? or a griffe? The doctor had not learned all the dozens of classifications for mixed blood and in fact he doubted if anyone fully understood the system well enough to apply it on no more evidence than sight.
      The chicken tasted good to him, though its peppery seasoning was unfamiliar. There were sweet potatoes too, and fried plantain. He ate slowly, though he was very hungry, and quietly looked about the room. At an open hatch which communicated with the courtyard he saw the head and shoulders of Tullius appear. The black man had put on a loose- necked cotton shirt, stark white against the jet of his skin. He seemed to see the doctor, but without even a blink of recognition. The innkeeper took a long-necked calabash from him and filled it from a barrel of rum and returned it in exchange for the coin Tullius offered. The black fell away from the hatch, carrying the gourd, leaving the hatch a square of darkness. The doctor continued his meal in silence. To his left, the strangely speckled mulatto, if mulatto he were, tossed down his cards with a whispered curse.

      The doctor's legs had stiffened while he sat at the table, and his saddlesore thighs chafed in their tight breeches as he strolled toward the theater. There was little to distinguish the building from any other from without and he might have missed it altogether if Captain Maillart had not been waiting for him outside. Their embrace was warmer than the doctor might have looked for; they'd known each other from childhood, both being Lyonnaisse, but had never been close friends.
      Maillart held him at arm's length. "The sun's told on you," he cried, examining the doctor's peeling scalp. "But you look well. Where do you stay?"
      Doctor Hébert mentioned Crozac and the inn. Maillart jerked his jaw with a cross emphasis. "I'd have found you a better farrier in the regiment," he said. "But it's a whole thieves' alley thereabouts, no wonder. You'd be better off with a berth on a ship, or a billet with me at Les Cazernes. But never mind, we'll find something for you."

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