From The Stone That the Builder Refused
Copyright Madison Smartt Bell (c) 2004 all rights reserved
La Crête à Pierrot
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
are not so terrifying as we were," Lacroix muttered, as he made his way
back down the line to Maillart.
band of irregulars presents us no real threat," the major replied.
said Lacroix, with a distant smile. "But
I don't like their confidence.
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.
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.
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.
did it?" Lacroix said.
the man said thickly. "This
morning, Dessalines was here." When
the second nail was drawn, he slumped to the ground in a faint.
won't live," Lacroix said grimly.
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.
Christ." Lacroix swept his arm
around the panorama. "The reports don't give one a proper idea...."
are not human," Lacroix said. "Whoever
did such thing cannot be human."
say that," Maillart heard himself blurt.
"Never say it."
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.
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.
nothing," Maillart snapped at Paltre. "They
won't attack us in this strength. They
only mean to steal your sleep."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
get him when we cross the river," Boudet said.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
it be Dessalines?" he said.
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
we could only come at him now...." Lacroix
was flexing both his fists.
up the magazine," Pétion said. "That
will hurt them as much as anything, whoever they may be."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
said Descourtilz. "That looks
to be an entire division."
think you're right," said the doctor.
"Most likely they are maneuvering to attack from the direction of
pity Dessalines has come." The
naturalist looked pale and shaky. "He'll
murder us before he'll see us rescued."
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.
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.
said the naturalist. "Now
what does he mean to do."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
thrust the torch with both hands toward the open gate.
A few heads turned, but no man moved in that direction.
don't suppose we are included in that invitation," Descourtilz muttered.
Gaston, who'd lowered his violin, merely gaped.
those with the courage to die free men stay here with me," said Dessalines.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
an ambush," Pétion said softly.
ambush? Their defenses are all
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.
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."
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.
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.
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! is that Toussaint?" It
was Captain Paltre who spoke, jockeying his horse up to Maillart's.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
is the meaning of this?" Leclerc was sputtering.
"You yield before these unorganized savages?"
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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
straightened and offered his hand; Daspir clasped it briefly.
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."
gaped. Paltre struggled up and spat
out more blood.
going," he said. "If Daspir goes I go back too."
yourself," Maillart said. "You've
proved your courage! You can't go
on till the bleeding stops. There's
no sense in it."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
get my own hat back," Paltre muttered, and rode on.
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.
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.
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.
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
the seventh platoon of musketeers there," Lacroix said. "I'll wager
you can do some damage from that place."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
one is Leclerc?" Monpoint asked Morisset, but neither man had ever seen the
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
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.
me ride with them," Placide said suddenly.
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.
then," Morisset said. "Do
you need a fresh horse?"
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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--"
up, for Christ's sake," the doctor said.
"Be quiet and help me with these bandages."
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
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.
do you turn your back on such monstrosity?" Descourtilz finally said.
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
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."
violin struck a sour note, then limped back into tune.
The throng around the torturers sucked up a very deep breath.
are all savages," Descourtilz said bitterly.
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.
this festivity is over," he said, "they'll be as mild as little
children, most of them."
Dessalines," said Descourtilz, and paused.
"I know what you mean-- but isn't that the most horrible thing of
said the doctor. "No, I don't
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.
clairin," he said, offering a gourd.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.