From The Stone That the Builder Refused

Copyright Madison Smartt Bell (c) 2004  all  rights reserved



                                                                            Chapter 28

La Crête à Pierrot


            The little painted pendant went on troubling Maillart, for he couldn't determine what to do with it.  As it would certainly be compromising to Antoine Hébert's sister, he ought probably to have got rid of it-- tossed it into the canal with the rest of the trinkets out of Toussaint's trophy box.  The order to treat any white woman who'd consorted with a black as a prostitute had rather shaken the major.  There'd be more than one colonial dame brought low if that directive were broadly applied.  More than one of Maillart's own acquaintance.  He wondered too, what lay behind it, what other disagreeable orders there might be.

            And still the pendant's image reminded him so of Isabelle that he could not quite bring himself to dispose of it.  It was not her portrait, yet it recalled the brightness of her eyes, the coyness in that finger laid over lips stung red by kissing.  At moments he thought private he'd cup the pendant in his hand and study the image on the small ceramic disc, wondering where Isabelle was now, if she had reached some place of safety.  He was confident she had, for Isabelle was a cat who fell on her feet, though by this time she might have consumed a few of her spare lives.  He'd caught young Captain Paltre a time or two, peering over his shoulder, trying to see into his palm, but then Maillart would fold his fingers over the teasing face and drop the pendant back in his coat pocket.  He could not quite control the habit of worrying it between his thumb and forefinger there, but the surface of the disc was thickly glazed, so that this handling did not wear away the image.

            They'd been on the march out of Port-au-Prince for several days, since news had come that General Debelle had been pushed back, with surprising losses, from a little fort above Petite Rivière.  Maillart knew the fort, and thought little of it.  The place was well chosen, to control a key point of entry to the interior via the Grand Cahos, but the fortification itself did not amount to much, and though it stood on a high cliff above the Artibonite River, it was too easily attacked across the inconsequential slope rising from the town.

            And yet it seemed to be their target.  Captain General Leclerc appeared to believe that here Toussaint had gone to ground.  Maillart did not much think so.  Toussaint did not willingly put his back to any set of walls.  But maybe he'd been forced to it; it might be true, and so the major kept his opinion to himself.  For the past two days they'd been maneuvering inland, and General Boudet had detached the advance guard to press as far east as Mirebalais, under command of the adjutant-General D'Henin, who'd taken some losses capturing a small redoubt, then found the town in ashes.  D'Henin returned to Boudet gray-faced, with a tale of three hundred white corpses weltering in their blood where they'd been hacked to death on Habitation Chirry, and all the countryside in flames.

            Now, toward the close of day, Boudet's reunited division moved along the south bank of the Artibonite toward the town of Verrettes.  Maillart contrived to feel mildly optimistic on this ride, despite the nervous whispering of D'Henin's men.  He rode along to Paltre's left, fingering the pendant in his pocket.  Verrettes was scarcely more than a village, but pleasantly situated not far from the river, and there a major might commandeer a roof for the night, perhaps even a bed.  Perhaps there would also be supplies to requisition.  They'd been travelling since Port-au-Prince on moldy biscuit from the ships.  Though Maillart had some skill in supplementing such rations, the pace of their march had been brisk enough that he'd been able to supply himself with no more than a few pieces of fruit.

            His stomach responded to the thought of a regular meal with a couple of interested growls.  Maillart tightened his diaphram and stood up in his stirrups, peering ahead.  On the outskirts of Verrettes a skirmish line had appeared, and a few shots were fired, though at such long range that the balls were spent when they reached the French column.  Pamphile de Lacroix ordered the drummer to beat the charge.  The skirmishers, mostly un-uniformed fieldhands, scattered easily enough, though some still sniped at the French flanks from the trees.

            "We are not so terrifying as we were," Lacroix muttered, as he made his way back down the line to Maillart.

            "That band of irregulars presents us no real threat," the major replied.

            "No," said Lacroix, with a distant smile.  "But I don't like their confidence.

            The departure of the skirmishers revealed a pall of smoke.  Maillart's heart sank.  Verrettes was burned too-- yes, the houses were destroyed from one end to the other, he saw as they rode to the central square.  The Place d'Armes was carpeted with the bodies of white men, women, children.  Some preserved an attitude of supplication in their deaths, kneeling slumped against the walls, their empty hands stretched out for mercy.  The blood was not yet dry on the ground.  Maillart saw a woman who seemed to have been slain by a bayonet or a lance that had first passed through the trunk of the infant she held to her bosom.  He looked away quickly but there was nowhere safe to look except for the darkening sky.

            Captain Paltre leaned sideways out of his saddle and puked on the ground, then straightened and rode on, his eyes glazed, a trail of vomit at the corner of his mouth.  Maillart wished he would collect himself enough to wipe it away.  Paltre had reported a similar scene when he'd entered Saint Marc with Boudet's division, just shortly after Dessalines had put the town to bayonet and torch.  Apparently he was not yet hardened to such spectacles.

            Buzzards walked comfortably among the dead, shrugging their black wings, like old men stooping in black tailcoats.  From their attentions, many of the corpses stared from empty eyesockets.  Against a tree in the center of the square, something flopped and groaned.  Lacroix hurried in that direction, then called for a farrier to come with tools to draw the heavy nails that transfixed the white man's palms to the living wood.  His swollen tongue hung out of his mouth.  Maillart gave him a drink of water.

            "Who did it?" Lacroix said.

            "Dessalines," the man said thickly.  "This morning, Dessalines was here."  When the second nail was drawn, he slumped to the ground in a faint.

            "He won't live," Lacroix said grimly.

            "Most likely not," Maillart agreed.  He was trying not to look at Paltre, who sat dumbstruck astride his halted horse.  Somehow the smear of vomit by Paltre's mouth distressed him more than all this scene of carnage.

            "My Christ."  Lacroix swept his arm around the panorama.  "The reports don't give one a proper idea...."

            Maillart said nothing.

            "They are not human," Lacroix said.  "Whoever did such thing cannot be human."

            "Don't say that," Maillart heard himself blurt.  "Never say it."

            Lacroix looked at him curiously, perhaps somewhat suspiciously, but Maillart said no more.  And anyway the order was coming down the line to evacuate the ruined town.

            He had no appetite that night, not even for his ration of hardtack.  They camped on the south bank of the Artibonite, squared off in battalions, to protect their equipment and horses at the center of each square.  At first the men had been moved to anger by the massacre, but after nightfall, their humor turned uneasy.  At midnight, Maillart was roused by Paltre's nervous movements.  Apparently there was a little gunfire around the edges of their camp, and the sentries were shooting back into the dark.

            "It's nothing," Maillart snapped at Paltre.  "They won't attack us in this strength.  They only mean to steal your sleep."

            With that he rolled over, and flattened his cheek against the leather of his saddlebag.  But after all it was not so desirable to reenter his nightmares just now.  He lay feigning sleep for Paltre's benefit, remembering what he had said to Lacroix that evening.  To declare the enemy less than human opened the door to every horror.  Dessalines must have told himself the same today, before he put his victims to the bayonet: These are not human.  Maillart had not been able to hold himself back from touching that woman, stabbed to the heart through the child she held.  He had touched her on the cheek.  The skin had been warm, perhaps only from the sun, but it seemed to hold some fading warmth of life.

            ....that they should have always before them the hell that they deserve-- a phrase from Toussaint's letter, which Chancy had been caught carrying.  If the message had been intercepted, Dessalines was certainly acting in its spirit all the same.  And certainly there was a human intention behind it.  It was terrible, but not insane.  In fact it was quite a lucid intention, plain and bright.  Though he liked Pamphile de Lacroix a great deal, Maillart could never say so much to him.  It might after all be taken for treason.  Besides, his own ideas confused him.  He wished Antoine Hébert were near.  Antoine would have known better how to put it.  Really this style of thinking was more in the line of the doctor than Maillart.  Maillart did not like it when his thoughts boiled so.  The activity of the thoughts stopped him from sleeping. 

            Or even Riau, if Riau were here now.  He would say nothing on the subject, or very little, but Maillart thought Riau would understand what he himself could not formulate.  Riau had a facility for acting and being without any sign of reflection, and this the major had always appreciated.  But Riau had taken a message to Croix des Bouquets and had never come back from that errand.

            Maillart sat up suddenly.  Of course, Riau had gone back to Toussaint.  He had known it from the second day Riau failed to return to Port-au-Prince, but had not recognized the knowledge.  Well, there was nothing to be done about it.  The next time he and Riau met they probably would be obliged to try to kill each other.  Such was the soldier's lot.  But tonight, Maillart felt resentful of it.  It seemed more difficult to shrug it off than it had been when he was younger.  This obligation was the most atrocious aspect of it all, he thought.  But it could not bear much more thinking.

            Eclair snuffled across the earth toward him, raised hiss head and whickered.  Maillart clucked his tongue, stretched out again, balanced his head on the saddlebag.  Above him, stars revolved in spirals.  Eventually he slept.

            In the morning a handful of deserters from Toussaint's honor guard crossed the river, meaning to come over to the French.  They'd lured their captain along on some pretext, though apparently he was not privy to their scheme to change sides.  Among this party, Maillart recognized Saint James, one of the very few white men who rode in Toussaint's guard.  By Saint James' account, discreetly murmured to Boudet and his staff, Dessalines had recently conducted at Petite Rivière a slaughter similar to the one they'd just come upon at Verrettes.

            Boudet had been in a cold fury since the evening before, and at this news he rounded on the captain, who had been arrested but not yet restrained.  "How many men have you murdered at Petite Rivière!"  With these words Boudet snatched the captain's arm.  They struggled, chest to chest-- then Boudet sprang back with a cry.  He had been bitten in the thumb, bad enough to bleed.  The captain meanwhile rolled under the belly of the horse from which he'd lately dismounted, scrambled through the legs of other horses, and ran full tilt for the river.  He was a good swimmer, Maillart took note, and a swift one.  Though musket balls ploughed up the water all around him, none of them seemed to find a mark.  The captain emerged on the far bank and went on still at a run.  Some were still shooting at him, though the range was doubtful.  Maillart had his own pistol drawn but did not discharge it.  Then the black captain's running stride developed a hitch.  A lucky shot must have struck his leg.  Awkwardly slowing, like a loosewound clock, he managed a few paces more and then collapsed.

            "We'll get him when we cross the river," Boudet said.

            Saint James and the other men who'd come with him led Boudet's division up the river to the ford they'd used themselves that morning.  Snipers harried them from the woods as they marched, and a few horsemen rode feints along their flanks.  Maillart learned from the scouts that these were men of Charles Belair, the same who had broken his sleep with their raid the night before.  Boudet's troops were hot to pursue these harassers.  After what they'd seen the day before they wanted blood.  But Boudet and Lacroix kept them close in their ranks and marching forward.

            On the north bank of the ford the enemy appeared in sufficient force to trouble them with musket fire across the river.  Boudet formed his advance guard under command of Pétion, and ordered him to lead the crossing.  A number of Pétion's grenadiers were grumbling that it was always they who had to march in the van and risk the fire of ambushes.  Pétion turned on them and snapped, "It is your glory to have this place of honor-- now be silent and follow me."

            Indeed, Pétion was the first man into the river and the first man across.  Maillart watched him with an interested respect.  Pétion was a mulatto and an old Rigaudin; he'd just come out from France on the same boat that carried Rigaud and his other partisans.  He looked to be quite a capable and courageous officer, though Maillart was content, for his own part, to be marching well behind the vanguard.

            He joined the detachment that returned to the area of the bank where that black captain had fallen.  Though the leaves where he'd lain were all soaked with his blood, the man himself was nowhere to be seen.  Maillart supposed someone must have carried him off, for by the amount of blood soaking the ground, he'd have been to weak to shift on his own.  Angry at his escape, a few of the soldiers kicked up the bloody leaves.

            The ambushes had been swept away by the time they rejoined the main advance.  Boudet and Lacroix and most of the men were eager to press on to Petite Rivière, where they hoped they might engage Dessalines.  But Saint James and the others who'd deserted with him told the French generals of a large powder depot in the vicinity, and Boudet decided it would be best to capture it if possible.

            With Belair's raid, many of the men had got little sleep the night before, and marching under the full sun told on them quickly now. Soon their heavy wool uniforms were sweated through, so that all of them smelled like soggy sheep.  In the mountains the trails became too steep and narrow for them to continue dragging their few cannon.  Boudet called a halt to bury the artillery, that the enemy might not discover it.  Despite these delays, they reached Plassac a little before noon.

            A howling came from across the gorge from them-- some number of black irregulars appearing on an open bend of the trail that climbed the opposite hill.  Lacroix shaded his eyes to look.

            "Can it be Dessalines?" he said.

            Maillart accepted the spyglass Lacroix offered him and squinted into if for a moment.  "I recognize no uniforms," he said as he lowered the instrument.  "These might be anyone, but--"

            "If we could only come at him now...."  Lacroix was flexing both his fists.

            "Blow up the magazine," Pétion said.  "That will hurt them as much as anything, whoever they may be."

            Boudet nodded, then gave his orders.  A couple of Pétion's grenadiers laid the fuse, as the rest of the troops marched down the defile.  Maillart turned his head as he passed and saw the flame hissing backward.  At the bottom of the descent they halted and looked back to see the magazine erupt from the mountainside with a tremendous flash and roar.  A little stone dust rained down on them.  A few of the men cheered, while others cursed Dessalines.  The echo of the explosion persisted in Maillart's ears as they went on.  He could just see the last of the black irregulars rounding the bend of the trail out of range above them, like the tail of a banded snake slipping into the jungle.  They saw no more of the enemy for the rest of that day, though sometimes they were fired upon from cover.  At sundown they had come within a cannon shot of La Crête à Pierrot.


            Doctor Hébert came awake at first light, with the unpleasantly startled feeling familiar to him since the killings at Petite Rivière.  He lay face down, palms flat on the mat, until his heartbeat slowed.  Under his hands was the softness of the earth he'd broken to bury his weapons.  At last he sat up and sniffed the damp air.  The chatter of crows came from beyond the parapets.  He wished for coffee, uselessly.  Rations were already short.  General Vernet had not been able to supply them with the quantity of water expected.   And the night before, Dessalines had returned to the fort in a towering rage.  A French advance had crossed the river near Verrettes and cut him off before he could reach Plassac; he'd been unable to resupply from the powder magazine there, and feared the French might have discovered it. 

            Amidst the crow talk began the thin scrape of a violin tuning.  The doctor wished the man would desist.  His head ached slightly, for want of coffee.  He got up, though, and walked toward the sound.  The naturalist Descourtilz squatted by the wall talking to the violinist.  Dessalines had brought in an odd assortment of Toussaint's musicians the night before: two trumpeters, a drummer and the violinist-- white men all.  It seemed that Toussaint had abandoned his whole orchestra on some plantation nearby, in the hurry of his march north.  The others had tried to get away to the coast, but these four had stayed behind, to be scooped up by Dessalines.

            The doctor knew the violinist, from Toussaint's fêtes at Le Cap.  What was his name?  Gaston, possibly.  He nodded, rendered a thin smile.  Bienvenu also looked on, fascinated, as Gaston scraped his bow across the strings.  The other musicians lay sprawled and snoring beside their instruments on the ground.

            "Look there."  Descourtilz tilted his chin toward one of the embrasures.  The doctor peered along the cannon barrel. Tucked in the river's bend, below the fort, was a long column of French soldiers marching toward the trees that screened the town of Petite Rivière.  The doctor felt a certain chill.  He took his face away from the embrasure, lips formed in a silent whistle.

            "Yes," said Descourtilz.  "That looks to be an entire division."

            "I think you're right," said the doctor.  "Most likely they are maneuvering to attack from the direction of the town."

            "A pity Dessalines has come."  The naturalist looked pale and shaky.  "He'll murder us before he'll see us rescued."

            The doctor shook his head as he glanced at Gaston.  Better to leave such thoughts unvoiced.  If the violinist was alarmed at Descourtilz's remark he did not show it, but went on scraping out some melancholy air, under Bienvenu's rapt gaze.

            "Come," the doctor said to Bienvenu.  "Let us build up the fire."  There some wounded men to be tended, from the engagement with Debelle a few days before.  His own head wound needed its dressing changed also, though now it was nearly closed.  Descourtilz might lend some assistance and take his mind of his fretting.  But Descourtilz was staring at the powder magazine.

            "Christ," said the naturalist.  "Now what does he mean to do."

            Dessalines was striding up toward the magazine, a blazing torch in his right hand.  Lamartinière and Magny walked on either side of him.  The few hundred soldiers of the garrison followed, like iron dust drawn by a magnet.

            Dessalines pushed open the door to the magazine and peered inside.  A sulphur smell came wafting out, wrinkling the doctor's nose.  The torch in Dessalines' hand sputtered and sparked.  Descourtilz flinched against the wall and reflexively covered his ears with his hands.

            "Open the gate," Dessalines said in a ringing voice.  At the lower end of the fort, two puzzled sentries swung the two halves of the gate slowly outward.

            Dessalines sat down on a pyramid of cannonballs beside the magazine's open door.  He held the torch with both hands between his knees and narrowed his eyes on the flame.  Now he spoke in a much lower tone, so that everyone must press closer and lean in to hear him.

            "I will have no one with me but the brave," he said.  "We will be attacked this morning.  Let all who want to be slaves of the French again leave the fort now."

            He thrust the torch with both hands toward the open gate.  A few heads turned, but no man moved in that direction.

            "I don't suppose we are included in that invitation," Descourtilz muttered.  Gaston, who'd lowered his violin, merely gaped. 

            "Let those with the courage to die free men stay here with me," said Dessalines.

            A cheer went up: We will all die for Liberty!  The doctor noticed that Marie-Jeanne, Lamartinière's wife, cried the affirmation as loud as any man.  She was a tall and striking colored woman; he was rather astonished to see she was still here.

            "Quiet."  Dessalines chopped a hand in the air to cut off the cheer, then swung the torch toward the magazine's open door.  "If the French get over the wall, I will blow them all to Hell, and us to Guinée," he said.  "Now, all of you, get down against the walls, and no man let himself be seen."


            In the cool damp of the early morning, Maillart got up and washed his face in the river and moved out in the midst of Boudet's column, his bones a little creaky from sleeping on the ground.  On the cliff above them, the unremarkable fort was quiet, half-hidden in lifting swirls of morning mist.  Boudet's men filed into the strip of woods outside Petite Rivière.  A stench of smoke and scorched flesh lowered over them; this town had been burned, like the others.

            Boudet called a halt outside the town.  With Pétion, Maillart and Saint James, he rode out of the ranks up the low grade until they were just out of musket range of the first earthwork, outside the fort.  Cannon mouths showed at the embrasure, but no guard was visible anywhere.  There was no flag flying anywhere, though Maillart thought he could pick out a thin thread of smoke rising somewhere within the walls. 

            Boudet scrutinized the position with a spyglass.  "It looks deserted," he declared.  "These murderers will not stand to fight.  I think they've spiked their guns and run away."

            "Beware an ambush," Pétion said softly.

            "What ambush?  Their defenses are all apparent here."

            The sun broke fully over the peak of the hill and the walls of the fort.  Raising one hand, Boudet shaded his eyes against the blaze. 

            "Leclerc is supposed to come out from Saint Marc to join us," he said, twisting in the saddle to look toward the west.  "No sign of him as yet....  I think we may as well take this place.  We'll carry it, if it's manned or not."

            They'd ridden halfway back to their ranks when firing began in the trees to the west.  Pamphile de Lacroix, scouting through the woods above the town, had come upon an enemy camp and, as it seemed at first, routed it.  The blacks were in full flight as they broke from the trees and rushed across the open slope toward the fort, with the French troops pursuing them full tilt, already hooking and thrusting with their bayonets.

            Boudet gave a quick order to send his own men into the charge.  Maillart could feel the force of their rage as the first line swept around his horse.  This charge would wipe out the shame and horror of the Verrettes massacre, wash all that away in blood.  But then the fleeing blacks all jumped down into the ditches and the cannons of the fort belched out mitraille across the suddenly cleared field.

            A hundred men must have gone down in that first volley.  Maillart's heart flipped over in his chest.  But the line closed up its gaps at once and kept advancing, the pace of the charge barely slackened, all the way to the edge of the first ditch.

            "There, there! is that Toussaint?"  It was Captain Paltre who spoke, jockeying his horse up to Maillart's.

            The walls of the fort now swarmed with the enemy.  Dessalines appeared on the rampart, brandishing a sword in one hand and a torch in the other.   He'd stripped off coat and shirt to show his scars, but still wore a tall hat with fantastic plumes.

            "It is Dessalines," said Maillart, "but he will do."  He drew his pistol.  A dozen shots were fired at the black general at the same time as his, all of them without effect.  By the legs of Maillart's the dancing Eclair a couple of grenadiers, felled by mitraille, were trying to drag themselves backward, but the infantry line trampled them down as it moved ahead.  Paltre galloped his horse to the rim of the first ditch, jumped down, and with a wide sweep of his arm skimmed his hat beyond all the earthworks, over the wall and into the fort. 

            "Follow me," he called out hoarsely, and plunged into the ditch.  Amazed, Maillart saw him emerge on the other side.  He crossed the other ditches miraculously unharmed and pulled himself to the top of the wall.  About thirty other grenadiers had followed him, making a wedge across the ditches.  Maillart rode to the edge of the earthworks, undecided whether to join the assault on foot.  On the rampart, Dessalines split a man's head with his sword and at the same time jabbed his torch into the face of another soldier assailing him.  Maillart loosed his reins to reload his pistol.  Another grenadier reached the top of the wall and was pierced by ten bayonets at once.  A black smashed Paltre in the face with a musket stock and Paltre crumpled over backward into the ditch.  Another round of mitraille roared from the cannon.   Maillart's horse bucked and threw him.

            He floundered on the edge of the ditch, fumbling to recover his pistol among the milling feet of the infantry.  The charge had broken under the last round of mitraille.  Paltre came swimming up from the ditch, his face pouring blood from a broken nose.  Maillart caught the back of his collar and hauled him out.  He stood, supporting Paltre with one hand, the unloaded pistol dangling from the other.  All around him the ranks had been shattered into complete disorder.

            From the walls a trumpet sounded, a drum rolled and the gate swung open.  Laying planks across the ditches, the blacks now charged the French with their bayonets.  In the melée, Maillart's horse brushed by him and he managed to catch the trailing reins.  He mounted and dragged the half-stunned Paltre across the withers.  Halfway down the slope the French had reformed and returned to the charge, repelling the blacks, pursuing them again.  Again they disappeared into the ditch, and this time the volley of mitraille did such terrible damage that the French could not rally.

            Maillart saw General Boudet sitting on the ground, hands wrapped around the toe of his boot and blood streaming through the fingers.  He rode toward the wounded general, but before he could reach him another horseman had caught him up and was carrying him out of the fray.  Behind the retreat of their general, the French line completely shattered.  Again the trumpet sounded from the walls, and this time it was answered from the forest to the west.  Out of trees came galloping several hundred horsemen of Toussaint's honor guard, sabers shining in the full morning light.

            Maillart recognized Morriset at the head of the cavalry, and he thought he saw Placide Louverture riding behind.  He drew his own saber.  But he was encumbered by his wounded passenger, and the French infantry had been stampeded completely by this fresh cavalry charge.  Nothing for it but to ride to the rear, if there was any rear to ride to.  Morisset's horsemen pursued the French to the town and into the plain beyond it.  For a few dreadful minutes Maillart believed that Boudet's whole division was about to be completely destroyed.  But then they found themselves supported by Leclerc himself, just marching in from Saint Marc with Debelle's division, now commanded by General Dugua.

            Maillart deposited Paltre behind the newly solidified infantry line.  At the sight of the French reinforcement, Morisset had withdrawn his cavalry up the Grand Cahos road.  The French advanced again, to the town and beyond, and halted just out of range of the fort's cannon.  Now the French tricolor flew from the walls.  From within the fort came wild shouts of triumph from the blacks.  The wide slope below the ditches was strewn with six hundred French corpses.


            In the moment before the battle was joined, Dessalines had stirred up the sleeping musicians from the ground with the point of his sword.  It would be a rough awakening, the doctor thought, to open your eyes to Dessalines bestriding you, probing your ribs with his blade, a torch smoking in his other hand, his old whip-scars writhing on his back like fat white snakes.  When Dessalines bared his torso for a battle, it was a bloody sign.

            But at first Dessalines seemed in great good humor, as if he anticipated some fine entertainment, a favorite dance like the carabinier.  He tickled the musicians into a row, though he did not yet command them to play.  The doctor watched from the shade of his ajoupa, Descourtilz crouching beside him there.  The cannoneers squatted low beside their gun carriages.  At Dessalines's signal, the fuses had been lit. 

            Outside the fort came a roar like the wind.  The French troopers were shouting their indignation as they charged.  Descourtilz got up to peer over the wall, and the doctor cautiously followed suit.  He was in time to see the retreating black skirmishers dive into the ditches just under the walls.

            "Feu!" Dessalines voice boomed, almost simultaneously with the cannon.  The guns recoiled and the air filled with burnt-powder smoke.  Grapeshot tore great gaps in the ranks of the French.  A week previously, Debelle's troops had broken at this moment, but these new soldiers did not falter.  They closed their ranks, and when the second volley laid waste to them again, they closed ranks once more and kept advancing.

            At the first volley Dessalines had prompted the musicians to strike up a martial air by smacking them on the calves with the flat of his sword.  The drum and trumpets made themselves faintly heard, but the violin was completely inaudible over the noise of artillery, however desperately Gaston sawed it.  Dessalines moved behind the players, grinning.  The French advance had come to the edge of the ditches.  The doctor saw an officer with a dimly familiar face sail his hat over the walls of the fort, then charge after it, with some shouted exhortation.  There was a humming around his head, like bees; he didn't realize it was bullets till Descourtilz pulled him down from his perch.

            Together they crawled toward the wall of the powder magazine for better cover.  But Dessalines, who'd lost his smile, had resumed his post by the open door.  "Turn them back!" he shouted, "Or--"  He shook his torch toward the open doorway.  Half a dozen French grenadiers had reached the top of the wall and were fighting hand to hand with the defenders there.   Dessalines appeared to change his strategy; with a shout he rushed into that fight.  The doctor saw him dance atop the wall.  A bullet sheered off one of the tall feathers in his hat, but except for that he seemed untouchable.

            Then Dessalines came panting back and ordered the musicians to sound the charge.  Unbelievably, the gates were pushing open for a sortie.  The doctor risked another peep over the wall.  Now it was Dessalines' men chasing the French down the slope, jabbing bayonets in their kidneys.  The French made a rally, turning the tide, but mitraille blew away this charge like the others, as the blacks again took cover in the ditches.  And now, as the trumpets continued to blare, Morisset led the cavalry out of the woods to sweep the field.

            The doctor dropped down to the earth of the fort.  Though the cannons had quieted, his ears still rang.   Descourtilz hunkered by the ajoupa, scraping together a heap of the musket balls that lay on the ground like hailstones.  Finally the trumpeters stopped blowing, one of them laying his palm over his deflated chest as he lowered his instrument.  Dessalines was leading a cheer, stabbing his torch high into the air.  Black soldiers in the highest state of excitement were dancing their victory on the edges of the parapets.   Bienvenu returned to the doctor, breathless, sweating, streaked with blood that seemed not be his own. 

            See to the fire, the doctor reminded himself, and the herbs and poultices and bandage rolls.  Behind Bienvenu came the fresh wounded; there would be much work to do.


            Captain Daspir was riding with Leclerc's staff when they met Boudet's division in near complete rout by the black cavalry, a hundred yards below Petite Rivière.  There passed a moment of sick confusion; then Daspir and Cyprien set themselves to rallying the fresh troops into squares, as the fleeing men took cover behind them.  In fact the cavalry charge did not press them very hard once their lines were well-formed, but retreated up the road west of the town.

            "What is the meaning of this?" Leclerc was sputtering.  "You yield before these unorganized savages?" 

            He was berating General Boudet, who came hopping toward him on one leg, supported by a lieutenant on his left, his hurt leg swinging, his face drawn and pale with pain.

            "See for yourself," Boudet said through his gritted teeth, and sank to a sitting position on a cartridge case.  A surgeon knelt before him and began cutting away the blood-stained leather of his boot. 

            "Forward," Leclerc ordered, trembling.  Daspir and Cyprien joined the march, which proceeded south of Petite Rivière.  In the ravines between the town and the river they discovered the putrefying corpses of several hundred slaughtered white civilians.  Some of the men began to curse, others to vomit, but Daspir had no reaction left in him, after similar scenes at Saint Marc and elsewhere, although here the odor was most unpleasant, and the corpses hopped with vultures and crawled with flies.  He exchanged one stupefied glance with Cyprien and rode on.  Presently they reached a new scene of carnage: hundreds of fresh-slain French soldiers carpeting the slope below la Crête à Pierrot.

            Stunned silence obtained as the men moved into line.  Above, the noon-day sun was broiling.  Within the fort, the French flag snapped on a long staff.  Cries of mockery came from the walls.  Daspir's heart thumped uncomfortably against his ribs.  His mouth was brassy; he took a sip of tepid water from his canteen.  The black cavalrymen had also flown the tricolor, he remembered.  A youth with a red headcloth had carried it into the charge.

            Leclerc shook his head slightly as he surveyed the field, his small, delicate features stiff with anger.  "We will avenge these men within the hour," he said, then turned to Daspir and Cyprien.  "Go back and bring up the ammunition wagons.  Who commands in Boudet's stead, Lacroix?  Let him bring what men he finds able to the field." 

            They left Leclerc conferring with General Dugua, who had assumed the wounded Debelle's command.  Their detour to avoid the ravine of the massacre brought them nearer to the dully smoldering ruins of the town.  Cyprien covered his face with a scented handkerchief; Daspir simply tolerated his cough as they passed.  He rode toward the supply wagons, but paused a moment to watch the surgeon working over Boudet's foot.  The general had had his toes shot away, it appeared, and he also had a nasty suppurating wound on one hand.  Behind him, a weathered-looking officer with long mustaches and a major's epaulettes was remolding a captain's broken nose between his thumb and forefinger.  Daspir took a second glance at the wounded captain and recognized the disfigured Paltre.

            "My God, what has happened to you?"  Daspir jumped down from his horse at once.  Paltre made an effort to answer but could only spit out blood.

            "Be still," Maillart said, and turned to Daspir.  "It's all from his nose, he won't die of it.  A friend of yours?  He's a lucky man, and a brave one too-- if not a bit of a fool.  You might go get his hat for him, if you're returning to the attack."

            "His hat?"

            Maillart straightened and offered his hand; Daspir clasped it briefly.

            "He threw his hat into the fort and tried to go after it," Maillart said.  "It's a miracle he's hurt no worse than this.  I think every man who followed him died."

            Daspir gaped.  Paltre struggled up and spat out more blood.

            "I'm going," he said.  "If Daspir goes I go back too."

            "Calm yourself," Maillart said.  "You've proved your courage!  You can't go on till the bleeding stops.  There's no sense in it."

            Daspir opened his mouth to explain their bet and the competition.  Was it likely Toussaint was in that fort?  Leclerc had certainly thought to find him when they marched this way from Saint Marc.  He would have asked Paltre to confirm it, but at that moment Cyprien rode up to remind him that he should be hurrying the wagons up to the line.


            The fort was silent, motionless, though the cannon mouths breathed a little smoke, and Maillart's ears still hummed with the din of the recent battle.  The carpet of dead men on the slope appeared to wriggle.  Maybe it was only the shimmer of the broiling noon heat.  But no, a couple of wounded men were trying to crawl down the slope to the new French line.  Three men broke from Leclerc's ranks to help them, but one was immediately picked off by a marksman hidden in the fort-- dead before he hit the ground, though his heels still drummed in the dust.  The other two soldiers shook their fists as they skipped back.  Another long shot dispatched one of the wounded men who'd kept on crawling. 

            There's a man with a rifle, Maillart thought.  He considered his friend Antoine Hébert, such a surprisingly good marksman with his long American gun.  The notion momentarily froze him, but of course the doctor would not be anywhere near this place and in any case would not be firing on the French if he were; he was always reluctant to use his unexpected talent against human life.  But surely the sniper in the fort must be armed with a similar weapon.

            Leclerc had brought a good number of black troops with him out of Saint Marc, men of the Ninth Demibrigade, incorporated into Debelle's force after the surrender of Maurepas.  Some hailed from the Thirteenth Demibrigade was well.  Leclerc had put them in the front line, but they seemed a little reluctant to advance across this killing ground.  Maillart knew these were no cowards.  He had trained some of them himself, in earlier days, when Toussaint first began to organize a real army.  Under Maurepas they'd repulsed both Debelle and Humbert, defeated them really, and inflicted considerable losses too.  In fact, Maurepas might never have surrendered if Lubin Golart had not turned his coat and joined the French generals.  Golart had been a subcommander of the Ninth and was able to bring his regiment over to the French; he'd hated any partisan of Toussaint's ever since the War of Knives; and moreover he knew the terrain around Port de Paix as well or better than Maurepas.  These men of the Ninth were brave and well-trained, Maillart knew, well-seasoned in battle also, and if they hesitated now it was because they knew what was going to happen.

            As Leclerc should have known also, or at least Dugua.  Maillart's mind began to race.  He was still quivering from the shock of Boudet's rout and his own forced flight before that cavalry charge.  The same thing that had happened to Boudet this morning must have happened to Debelle the week before.  Dugua ought certainly to have learned that much when he assumed Debelle's command.  Now Leclerc was reforming his line, replacing the black troops with French, who were all more than eager enough for a charge.  Leclerc was going to march blithely into the same trap for a third time.

            A mostly naked black man appeared on the wall of the fort, wearing Paltre's hat, and a rag of a breechclout.  He capered like a goat on the parapets, dancing the chica, wriggling his spine and flapping his arms, thrusting out his chest and hooking his pelvis upward.  From inside the walls came clapping and chanting and laughter.  The man's muscles gleamed as if they had been oiled.  A few men fired from Leclerc's lines, unbidden, but he ignored the shots.  Finally he turned his back and gave his buttocks an infuriating wriggle before he jumped down into shelter behind the wall.  The hat was raised once more, twitched teasingly, before it disappeared.

            "Take that fort!" Leclerc, livid with rage, was screaming.  He stepped ahead of his line, whipping his sword forward and down.  At once the line swept past him.  Drums beat the charge.  Maillart watched Captain Daspir riding into the stream.  He held his own horse back.  Someone bumped against him-- Paltre, who'd managed to remount.  His nose was held in place with a blood-soaked bandage which gave him the look of a demented agouti.

            "I'll get my own hat back," Paltre muttered, and rode on. 

            Maillart grasped at him, angry-- he was moved to pursue, but held himself in.  Better not to let his anger sweep him along, as it was sweeping everyone else on the field.  He had never liked Paltre much anyway, not since the days of Hédouville, but today he'd been impressed with the young captain's lunatic bravery.  And since he'd invested something in saving Paltre's life, he didn't like to see it wasted now.

            Still he stayed where he was and watched, a little surprised at his own detachment.  Leclerc's small, incongruously dapper figure was setting an example for his men.  He was well to the fore, his life on the line, urging, encouraging.  It was what Napoleon would have done, in the days when his men worshiped him as the Little Corporal.  Maillart had heard those tales from a distance.  The men who'd landed at Port-au-Prince with Boudet were full of them.  But it was an ill moment for Leclerc to be enacting such a dream, however bravely.  This charge was driven by rage, contempt, and incomprehension of the enemy.  Most of the troops had been piloted over the country by overseers or landowners of Arnaud's old stripe, who still somehow managed to believe they had only to show their slaves the whip to return them to abject submission.  In the end it was misleading guidance.

            The former slaves stood calmly, neck deep in the ditches before the fort, elbows bracing their muskets on the ground.  They held their fire till the very last moment, and when they did fire the effect was withering, yet the French charge did not abate.  Now it was all hand to hand fighting in those trenches, and the momentum of the charge had carried a couple of dozen grenadiers to the base of walls.  But now, of course, came the mitraille, mauling the French advance beyond the ditches.  The storming party was cut off, and would be slaughtered.

            "Look there."  It was General Lacroix, leaning into Maillart's shoulder and pointing as he shouted in his ear, toward a small round hilltop north of the fort, covered by a sparse grove of slender trees.  "Do you see that eminence?"

            Maillart nodded.

            "Take the seventh platoon of musketeers there," Lacroix said. "I'll wager you can do some damage from that place."

            Maillart saluted; Lacroix thumped his shoulder and moved on.  The maneuver was accomplished quickly enough, and proved to have been very well-conceived.  From the little hilltop Maillart could see plainly down into the fort, boiling like an anthill disturbed by a boot.  After a moment he discerned that no cannon were aimed to cover the hill, and that Dessalines sat on the step of the powder magazine, conducting the fight with a lit torch he held in his right hand.

            "Kill that general," Maillart said, and fired his own pistol among the muskets, but too quickly.  The range was a little long for these small arms; cannon would have been more useful.  Dessalines lifted a hot musket ball from the ground at his feet, then smiled up at the hilltop.  At once he got to his feet and ordered two cannon to be rolled to the embrasures facing the hill.

            Maillart reloaded, fired again, again to no effect.  Either the range was simply too long or Dessalines was protected today by some enchantment.  He could hear the black general's voice very plainly, bullying his cannoneers--what do you mean by this sluggishness!  Yet they seemed to be bringing the guns around quickly enough.  One of Maillart's musketeers jostled him and pointed.  Beyond the fort, below the bluff, some hundreds of black irregulars were climbing from the river bank onto the main battlefield to attack Leclerc's left flank.  It was not a very well-organized movement but there were a lot of men involved in it, and Leclerc's men were already falling into disarray under the constant battering of mitraille.

            Dessalines grinned, and over his shoulder Maillart noticed a miserable quartet of white musicians sweating out one of his favorite martial airs, and unbelievably he thought he got a glimpse of Doctor Hébert flashing from the cover of one ajoupa to another, a roll of bandage trailing from his arm.  He most definitely saw Dessalines, himself, lower a flame to a touch-hole.  Mitraille snapped the slender trunks of half the little trees on their hilltop.  One of the musketeers dropped to the ground, clutching his knee.

            "Retreat!" Maillart saw to it someone helped the wounded man away.  There was no hope for this position once cannon had been brought to bear on it, though it might be worth trying to return with their own artillery. 

            Mitraille still raked the main battlefield below the fort.  Returning, Maillart saw Daspir's horse shot out from under him.  He rode in.  Daspir was pinned, one leg caught under his saddle and the horse's withers, trying to pry himself loose with his sword.  As Maillart reached him, the horse rolled away.  Daspir's leg must not have been too badly hurt, for he was able to scramble up behind with a little assist from Maillart's arm.

            Excellent, Maillart thought, now I own two of these reckless puppies.  He looked around but did not see Paltre.  To the left of the field, the new black irregulars were enthusiastically bayoneting those of Leclerc's troops too bewildered by the mitraille to resist in an organized way.  In fact, the whole situation was fast becoming desperate.  General Dugua, bleeding in two places, was being carried off the field on a stretcher.  Pamphile de Lacroix had joined Leclerc, and Maillart spurred his horse in that direction.  Behind, Daspir lurched off-center, then quickly regained his balance, pressing his chest into Maillart's back.


            Morisset had made it a point of honor for Placide to carry the flag he'd captured in that last raid on Gonaives into all subsequent engagements.  Sawed short for the purpose, the flagstaff could be seated securely in a long scabbard strapped to the saddle, leaving Placide's hands free to shoot or strike.  In the first charge of that morning, he'd fired no shot and struck no blow, though he'd ridden down several of the bolting French troopers, and maybe they'd been killed by the hooves of his horse, or finished off by others riding behind him. 

            When the column of fresh troops appeared from the west, Morisset had pulled his cavalry out of the battle; they rode to the shelter of the woods beyond the town to rest their horses.  Placide got down and walked his mount to cool for half an hour before he let it drink.  This reflexive action calmed him as much as it did his horse.  He unfastened the red headcloth Guiaou had given him, mopped off his face with it, and folded it in a triangle to put in his pocket.  The electric thrill of the fight still ran all through the guardsmen; the grove was heavy with the odor of their anger and sweat, mingling with the hot smell of the horses.

            Only one squadron of cavalry had entered the first charge; the second, commanded by Monpoint, waited in reserve.  The two commanders watched the second French advance on the fort from the cover of the trees.

            "Which one is Leclerc?" Monpoint asked Morisset, but neither man had ever seen the French general.

            "There," said Placide, pointing to where Leclerc had just stepped out of the ranks, to initiate the charge.  Morisset grunted an acknowledgement.  He shaded his eyes to squint at Leclerc where he stood with Dugua, directing the battle.

            Somehow the sight of Leclerc drained Placide of all feeling, even that uncategorizable quaver that the recent action had left in his limbs.  He felt as empty as a bottle, washed and let dry.  Through this emptiness, action might flow without thought.  When the French charge faltered at the ditches, and Gottereau had brought his throng of armed fieldhands to take their share in the slaughter, Monpoint began mounting the men of his squadron for another charge.

            "Let me ride with them," Placide said suddenly.

            Morisset looked at him, uncertain at first.  Placide turned into the wind, opened his headcloth into the air that fanned back over his head, and tightened the knot on the base of his neck.

            "Go, then," Morisset said.  "Do you need a fresh horse?"

            Placide shook his head.  "No, mine has rested."  Though the bay he rode was not Bel Argent, it did come from Toussaint's personal stable, and Placide thought it stouter than most of the honor guard's horses, though the guard was generally well-mounted.  Morisset stretched out a hand and brushed the knot of the headcloth, letting his hand slip down from Placide's shoulder as Placide trotted away.

            They entered the field at a gallop from the Grand Cahos Road.  Placide, a length behind Monpoint, managed the staff of the flag with his left hand and the reins with his right.  At the first shock he seated the staff in the scabbard, switched hands on the reins, and drew the sword Napoleon had given him.  His eye had tightened on Leclerc from the moment they rode into view.  Later he would reason through his motives: how Toussaint always took care to blame Leclerc personally for this war, rather than the French nation or its leader.  How strangely suitable it would be all the same for Leclerc to be struck down with the weapon Napoleon's treacherous hand had placed in Placide's.  But at this moment there was no such notion in his head; there was nothing at all, only the wind flowing in and out of the bottle.


            Maillart was a dozen yards away when the little group surrounding Leclerc disappeared in a cloud of dust.  At first he thought the Captain-General had been directly hit by a cannonball or an exploding shell.  Later on it turned out that the ball had struck somewhat short and thrown up a fist-sized stone into Leclerc's groin; not a lethal injury but more than enough to flatten him.  Daspir picked him out first where he lay, and scrambled down from Maillart's horse, landing at a run.  He'd managed to hang onto his sword amid all the confusion when his own horse had been shot down.  Now the trumpets blared from the fort behind them, and were answered again from the tree line across the way, and already the silver-helmed horsemen of Toussaint's guard were thundering down on them.  Daspir had learned to flinch at this sight.  He forced himself to keep going.  Leclerc lay foetally curled, breathless, clutching his groin, his pale face smudged with dust.  Maillart fought to control his dancing horse.  He could not see General Lacroix anywhere.  He turned Monpoint's blade with his own as the black commander barreled past him, thinking, Damn it! Remember all the rum we've shared?  The next rider carried Maillart's own flag, and he thought, Riau, Riau; it was what he had dreaded, and Riau often wore such a red rag into battle, but the face under the tight band of the headcloth belonged to Placide Louverture.

            Maillart was frozen.  He would not strike the boy.  But Placide was riding for Leclerc, whom Daspir had assisted first to his knees, then, unsteadily, to his feet, as Placide rode downon him with his head floating empty under the red cloth and his whole being poured into his right arm, the force and direction of the blow.  Daspir just managed to get his own sword up, awkwardly angling his blade above his own head, like raising an umbrella in a rainstorm.  Placide's falling blade snagged on Daspir's hilt, and Daspir, with his arm crooked over his head, unbalanced by Leclerc's weight on the other side, felt the muscle tear behind his right shoulder in the instant before Placide's horse struck him in the back and knocked him winding into the dirt.

            Look at him ride, Maillart was thinking, imagining that Toussaint would feel the same surprised pleasure if he could see his son now.  Placide had managed to turn his horse in an unbelievably short space, the animal's hindquarters scrubbing the ground, then thrusting up again into the charge.  Unconsciously, Maillart spurred up Eclair.  He'd have to meet Placide this time, now Daspir had been knocked out of the action and Leclerc stood bewildered, dust-blinded, no weapon in his empty hands, with Placide bearing down on him, admirably singleminded on his target.  As Maillart recognized that he himself would be inevitably too slow, too late, the cavalry commander Dalton appeared from the dustcloud and snatched Leclerc across his saddle-bow like a sack of meal (due to the nature of his hurt, the Captain-General would be unable to bestride a horse for many days).  Placide's sword flashed through the space where Leclerc had been a split second before, with such force and penetration that the point hacked a divot from the ground.

            Maillart rode by.  He could not wheel his horse in twice the time it took Placide-- the boy was going to catch him from behind.  But instead Placide rode past, ignoring Maillart, bent on Dalton as he carried Leclerc away.  All of the French were routed again.  Daspir popped up under Maillart's horse, spitting a mouthful of grit.  When Maillart caught his right arm to help him up,  Daspir's face went a stark cold white.  He managed to scramble up behind Maillart, then fainted dead away from the pain as soon as he was seated. 

            To his surprise, Maillart saw that he was overtaking Placide now.  He did not raise his weapon.  It was too difficult, when he had to hold the unconscious Daspir on by clamping the arm wrapped around his waist.  He passed Placide.  They were running, all the French were in full flight; they would not stop before they reached the ferry landing at the river below the town.  Placide was losing ground on them, Maillart could see over his shoulder.  Now only a splotch of the red rag was visible, now only the flag high on its staff.  Then he was gone.  At last Placide's concentration admitted the voice of Monpoint, shouting for him to slow down, turn back.  He had too much outdistanced the rest of his squadron, and now the bay was flagging.  He drew on the reins and walked the horse, still staring after the stampeded French army.  The only thought his mind would hold was that after all he had been wrong, not to have changed horses.


            The two trumpeters and the drummer were windbroken and exhausted from blowing and beating through the whole day's fighting.  Gaston, however, sat up crosslegged like a grasshopper, still bowing his fiddle through slow, melancholy, country airs that scarcely varied one to the next.  The noise was nerve-wracking, but it did mask the screams of the men of the Ninth, who had been turned over to Lamartinière after their capture.

            Bienvenu had passed a hard day in the fighting, and the doctor excused him from nursing duties, that he might go to watch the tortures which were this evening's entertainment for the troops.  During the day the doctor had got some nursing help from Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière, when she was not occupied by sniping on the wounded French below the walls, using a long rifle much like the doctor's, with a skill all the men applauded.  Yet when she nursed, there was a forcefulness in her calm that seemed to make a man stop bleeding at her touch. 

            This evening, however, Marie Jeanne had gone to join her husband.  Encouraged by Dessalines, himself somewhat irritated by a chest wound he'd acquired from falling against a stake, Lamartinière was visiting the worst punishments anyone could imagine on the men of the Ninth who'd turned their coats to fight for French.  From all this, the doctor had averted his eye, but Descourtilz spied on the proceedings for a little while, then crept back to the doctor's post to whisper the details: the first was skinned alive, then they tore out his heart and drank his blood; the second was castrated and had his guts pulled out of his belly into the fire while he still lived; they broke all the bones of the third and then--"

            "Shut up, for Christ's sake," the doctor said.  "Be quiet and help me with these bandages."

            Descourtilz left off his narrative, and joined in the work.  They had organized a hospital shelter along the north wall of the powder magazine.  The area was easiest to protect from the sun, and if Dessalines did blow up the fort, the end for the wounded would at least be quick.

            At the opposite end of the fort, most of the garrison clustered around the men who were being tortured.  Lamartinière had taken a high tone, at the beginning: I want to have the satisfaction of destroying, myself, these miserable traitors who've served in the ranks of the French, against the liberty of their brothers.  But as he moved into the work, a blood-rage transformed him; he ceased to resemble his civilized self.  The throng of men blocked the doctor's view, though if he glanced in the direction of the moaning, he could see the red flickering glow of the fire at the center of the ring.  The crowd expanded or contracted, shuddered or rippled, shouting or sighing its appreciation of each fresh extravagance of cruelty.  Above it all, the violin whined.

            "How do you turn your back on such monstrosity?" Descourtilz finally said.

            "It won't be altered by my looking at it," the doctor said.  The work was finished; he sat on the ground with his back against the rough stone wall of the magazine.  A few stars gleamed above the shattered saplings on the hill beyond the wall.  He scratched at the edge of his head wound, under the bandage.

            "In ninety-one I was prisoner in the camps of Grande Rivière," he said.  "What I saw there was most likely beyond the imagining of anyone we have here.  And I missed being done away with here as narrowly as you, down there in the town...."  He hesitated.  "In the end I think there's no good facing it.  I know it's there.  But I don't want my mind filled with the images."

            The violin struck a sour note, then limped back into tune.  The throng around the torturers sucked up a very deep breath.

            "They are all savages," Descourtilz said bitterly.

            "They are a people of extremes," the doctor said.  At that moment he believed that he might rip someone's heart out himself if the action would win him a drink of rum.  He felt that Descourtilz's assertion was wrong, but it was difficult to articulate his reasons.

            "When this festivity is over," he said, "they'll be as mild as little children, most of them."

            "Not Dessalines," said Descourtilz, and paused.  "I know what you mean-- but isn't that the most horrible thing of all?"

            "No," said the doctor.  "No, I don't think so."

            Descourtilz merely grunted, then stretched out on his side.  A few minutes later, Gaston left off his fiddling.  It was finished; the men were drifting away from the embers of the fire.  Bienvenu came slinking along the wall toward the doctor's ajoupa, a little abashed, like a dog that's done mischief.

            "Gegne clairin," he said, offering a gourd.  There's rum.

            The doctor took the gourd with an inexpressible gratitude.  After his first gulp he discovered his fingers had got all sticky with blood from brushing Bienvenu's hand.  Quickly he scrubbed them off in the dirt.  Bienvenu had gone to sleep instantly, peacefully; he lay on his back and snored.  The doctor took another, more contemplative swallow of rum and weighed the gourd in the palm of his hand, guessing it to be half-full at least.  Carefully he stoppered it and put it out of sight, in the straw bag where he kept his healing herbs.

            Though he was exhausted, he could not sleep.  Maybe it was the blood-smell steaming from Bienvenu that disturbed him.  For half an hour he twisted one way or another on his mat.  At last he sat up and took one more short sip of rum, then began walking along the wall in the direction of the gate.  The stars were now brighter overhead, and he could pick out a few constellations: the Corona Borealis, Hydra, the Crab.  By the last coals of the bonfire, Dessalines and Lamartinière sat muttering.  The doctor turned his face from them as he passed.  The rum put a distance between him and the idea that had come to him on the mat: he was not very likely to leave this situation alive.

            At an embrasure beside the gate he stopped and looked out along the cannon barrel.  Under the rounded roof of stare he could discern some indistinct movement among the hundreds of corpses scattered over the field.  His glasses were smudged but when he took them off to clean them they slipped through his numb fingers, rang off the cannon barrel and went spinning away.  When he leaned out to snatch for them he overbalanced and was falling too, whirling, nauseous... he saw the glasses shatter against a stone.  Then he was on his feet again, suffused in the warm smell of Nanon, and Nanon was handing him his glasses.

            The doctor blinked and caught his breath.  He steadied himself against the wall.  Where he'd thought he'd seen Nanon stood the commander Magny, looking at him with mild interest or concern.  His glasses were in his hand, unbroken.  He polished them on the hem of his shirt and put them on.


            Was it himself or Magny who had spoken, or maybe the sentry who had just joined them from the gate?  In any case the dogs were there, great bristling, brindled casques out of the mountains, packs of them, moving among the cadavers to feed.

            "It is not acceptable," Magny said.  He looked at the doctor, as if for confirmation, but the doctor could not draw his eyes from the view.  In the bluish light of the icy stars, the wild dogs hunched their shoulders and lowered their heads and jerked their jaws to loosen and gulp cold chunks of human flesh.

            "We'll put an end to this."  Magny turned and muttered something to the sentry.  Ten minutes later they were leading a sortie from the fort, to drive away the dogs and stack the bodies between stacks of wood for burning.