Oule, called Tullius by the whitemen, passed through the open interior of the block behind the inn, swinging the gurgling gourd low at his arm's length. Across the yard several slaves were gathered around the coals of a cooking fire, under the low rear eaves of a private house whose front opened on another street.
"Ehé," someone hailed him from the group. Oule changed course and crossed the yard. It was Maman-maigre, whose name was a joke, she being hugely fat, a creole-born slave, who worked as a cook.
"Ehé," Maman-maigre repeated. She sat easily on her heels, stirring an iron kettle that rested directly on the coals. "Ké ou ten'la?" She nodded at the calabash. "What you have?"
"Ben," said Oule. "Ba mwê gout-la." He signalled her iron kettle. "You give me something."
Maman-maigre peered at the calabash under the line of her headcloth, so tightly bound it raised a black ripple of flesh on her forehead. She lifted slightly in her squat and with calloused fingers hard as rock she reached into the pot and drew out a small joint of meat by its bone. Oule took it, wincing a little from the heat; it might have been chicken, but was crazily cut. Consideringly he gnawed the meat from the bone and sucked the marrow;, then reinspected the tongue-polished section.
"Cat," he said. "Oh Maman-maig', did you cook cat again?"
"You--" said Maman-maigre. "You, Oule. I know to make my callalou."
Oule dropped the bone in the fire, uncorked the calabash and took a long drink, throwing his head back and letting his Adam's apple bob. He passed the gourd to Maman- maigre, who drank from it more discreetly, though doubtless taking just as much. Oule licked his lips; raw tafia burned down his gullet and roiled around the bit of meat he'd eaten. He took the gourd back and had another smaller sip.
"Ehé," said Maman-maigre, with satisfaction now. Oule spat accurately into the gourd's neck and hawked deeply and spat into the gourd again.
"Piss in it," a man said from the shadows on the other side of the fire. "Piss in it, now."
Oule laughed softly as he stood up, pushing the stopper back into the gourd.
"Are you going to La Fossette?" the other man said.
"Oh yes," Oule said. "Oh yes, you'll see me there." He smiled in the dark, moving his tongue inward over the points of his teeth, and crossed back over the yard. He came back into the street and went over into Crozac's stableyard, to the door of the living quarters next to the barn. A spotted pony hung its head over a half door and whinnied, but Oule ignored it. He gave a soft knock on the house door and when he heard Crozac grunt something inside he pushed it open. Crozac was sitting at a table beside a fat tallowy candle that cast a guttering light all around the room. There was a heap of money on the table by the clay candlestick; Crozac picked up a copper and gave it to Oule as he took the gourd. Oule lowered his head and grinned stupidly at the floor.
"You've been gone long enough," Crozac said. "You left us dry. What about that doctor?"
"He's at the inn," Oule said. "He's eating."
"Eating, is he? Was he sober?"
"Don't know, m'siu," Oule said. He put the coin in the big baggy pocket of his canvas pants, where it clicked against a conch shell he was also carrying there.
"In the common room? Oh," Philip Browne said in a distracted tone, from the chair where he sat well back from the candle's light. "He'll be there all night, no doubt."
Crozac twisted the gourd down between his meaty thighs, freeing his hands to search for a cigar stub in the pockets of his coat, which was slung over the back of his chair. The neck of the calabash jibbed crazily with his movement, throwing a crooked shadow on the wall. He righted himself, the butt in hand, and glared at Oule.
"What are waiting for?"
"Drink you happy, m'siu," Oule said, a barely audible whisper. Crozac was not attending to him. Oule backed to the door and went back out, covering a smile with his hand.
"Here, have a drink." Crozac unplugged the gourd and reached across the table to pour into the clay mug in front of Philip Browne. He splashed a measure into his own cup and swallowed it with a sigh. Browne took a more delicate sip, his skinny wrist wavering in his cuff as he lifted the mug. Though his face was framed in sweat, he'd kept on his grey coat and it was buttoned to the neck. He set the mug down and stirred it with a fingertip.
"There's something in it," he said querulously.
"There's rum in it," Crozac said. "You silly chicken." He poured himself little more. His sweat-stained shirt was open to the waist; when he had drunk he slipped his hand inside and scratched at a mosquito welt beside his ogive navel. "Encore un coup de dés?" he said, and scooped the heap of coins nearer to him.
"I'm hungry," Browne said.
"Then go over to the inn and have your supper."
"But he's there. You know. He'll see me."
"Well, you're a white man, aren't you?" Crozac leaned forward and cupped the candle's flame to light his cigar end. For that instant the walls and ceiling of the room were barred with the heavy shadows of his fingers. "You can go wherever it pleases you."
"But he'd want to know why I was at the broker's. I haven't even a reason to be here in Le Cap."
"How's he to know that," Crozac said, and picked up the pair of dice. The calabash rolled around on his lap; its bottom was too round to stay upright. He replugged it, set it on the floor, the neck propped against the table leg. "Come on, let's play," he said, and tossed the dice an inch in the air and caught them together with a tap.
Browne's eyes tracked uneasily around the room, with a glitter not quite that of fever. Mosquitos were stationed all over the walls, their shadows stretching a long way from them in the candlelight, which magnified them. Many had been squashed on the whitewashed wall, smeared brown with their borrowed blood. From behind a screen in the corner of the room, a black woman's feet stuck out, partly swaddled in a sheet. Browne reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a long thin ledger, leatherbound and cracked across the cover, and laid on the table.
Crozac sighed. "Toujours ça?"
Browne ignored him, taking from the same inner pocket a glass bottle of ink and a rusted pen nib lashed to a bamboo splint with brown fiber. Ink clung to the glass when he turned the bottle near the candlelight; it was still moist, but had begun to cake.
"Is there no water?" Browne said querulously.
Crozac grunted. "Use rum if you must...."
Browne nodded and tilted a splash of liquor from his cup into the ink bottle, screwed the lid tight and gave it a shake. He opened the bottle, sniffed and nodded, dipped his nib and set to the page.
Third August, 1791
Three days I have been arrived here in Le Cap, but have not written since I came here. It may be that I lack fortitude to regard my own reflection in these pages.... But let that pass. Our journey coastward from Ennery was uneventful, mercifully so, though I the only white among black drovers and must needs look to them for guidance, as I was unsure of our way. Well, we are safely here, yet I feel misdirected still. I have not far to look for answer, although it seems to come off well enough-- our business. Bourgois suspected nothing. Only, Thibodet's beau-frère, that doctor out from France, caught sight of me today as I left the house of Bourgois, and somehow I feared to face him.
Browne paused and absently rested the nib between his lips, starting at the oddly blended taste of rum and ink. He dipped the pen again, continued.
Without reason. Why, he can know nothing of our business, mine! Bourgois himself suspected nothing, I am confident-- how then this perfect stranger? C. says so and thus far I may believe him.
No, but still I may discover the reason of my feeling. It is the baseness, which--
"Inutile, ça," Crozac remarked, stretching the gourdneck toward his cup. "Who will ever read it."
Browne glanced at him briefly. "It shapes my thoughts." He dipped his pen.
--baseness, which is foreign to my nature. How then, have I come to such conduct? Is it dishonest to blame circumstance?
Well might I curse the day of my arrival in this island, where the opportunities are nothing like what they had told me in Jamaica. Nor has there been fit company for me here. These grand blancs have too few to despise ever to admit a man like me to their society, and as for the artisan class in these parts! C. himself is a fair example, unclean, slothful, lustful, brutal and stupid as beast there where he sits across the table from me (O I am confident he cannot read tho he can cipher well enough). Was clever enough, as well, to cozen me into debt with cards and dice. Without which I had not come to such a pass. The lesson there is plain enough. I must eschew this vice of gaming, and save what I may gain for a passage out, for I no longer feel that I will prosper here.
A ticking sound distracted him; Browne paused over the notebook and looked sidelong at the dice that chattered in Crozac's palm. The farrier grinned at him with his discolored teeth.
"I'd rather play cards," Browne said. He scraped the pen over the paper.
Would that a little money did not warm my pocket so....
"They'll have a card game going for you at the inn," Crozac said. "But he'll see me there, you know," said Browne. "I can't talk to him...."
"Christ our Savior," Crozac said. In the corner of his mouth, the cigar stub glowed and faded. "Stop your whining."
Browne lifted his pen again.
...so that I must bear insult from such a man, low creature. O, this is a bestial place! And it has made a ruin of my health. Were it not for these lowland fevers which continually plague me.... It is better at Ennery than here on the coast but O it is useless I shall not go on.
Holding the page near to his lips, he blew carefully on the damp twists of ink, tested the last line with a fingertip, then closed the book. "My head's not clear," he said. "I need something."