I had to really wrack my brains to com up for an idea with this one, but I was quite happy with the result. It’s safe to say that each story is going to be between 2500-3000 words by now and I swear, one day, I’ll learn how to end them gracefully!
Anyway, hope you enjoy this one.
The fields were burning, that was the first thing Samuel noticed upon regaining consciousness. The inferno added to the already humid air to recreate what, as Father Byrne might call it, the cursed air of Hell itself.
Samuel’s first worry was that his masters would punish he and his fellow slaves for this disaster but then, seeing what he did next, that didn’t concern him any more. It was one of the young men, Samuel couldn’t recall his name, and he was currently beating one of the overseers to death with a shovel. The overseer in question was a vile man, he had done unspeakable things to some of the African women, even some of the white girls that worked for the family in the big house, yet still he strolled into church every Sunday with a smile on his conceited face.
He was dead now for sure, his head wasn’t really held on to the rest of him by very much at all. The young man stopped beating the body as Samuel approached, looking at him with eyes filled with fire, reflecting the field around them.
“What is going on? Have you lost your mind, boy? They’ll kill us for sure!” Reprimanded Samuel, already fancying he could hear the sound of booted feet approaching.
“No they won’t, friend. They have no power here anymore, we’re hunting them down for a change!” The lad cackled in reply. Samuel couldn’t believe what he was hearing, had the regime fallen? Did they really have a shot at freedom? He asked the young man as much.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, friend! We don’t just have the overseers on the run, not even just the family, we got all of the French bastards on the back foot! With a good push, we can take this accursed island for our own!”
Samuel was flabbergasted, terrified and elated all at once. To live as a free man of colour, not answering to the French, making his own money and his own destiny, that had to be worth fighting for. Except there was one small issue he had to deal with before he took up arms.
“Very well, I’d be a fool to not be on board with this endeavor, but first I must find my wife, get her to safety”
His wife, Marie, had married him in secret, overseen by a few trusted fellow slaves and the ever saintly Father Byrne, the year before and, though he worked the fields and she in the big house, they somehow manged to make their secret union work. The thought of openly declaring his love for her filled his heart with hope.
“Your wife, does she work in the big house?” asked the shovel wielding rebel.
“Yes, her name is Marie. I will not do another thing until she is here with me” warned Samuel, an edge of steel to his voice sharp enough to rival that of the blood soaked shovel.
It’s wielder, much to Samuel’s relief, nodded agreement.
“Then I shall help you to find her, friend, maybe the other women there also. My name is Francois,” he said, offering a big hand. Samuel shook it warmly, a union had been forged.
It took a while to reach the big house, passing many more burning fields and bodies both black and white that had clearly fallen in battle. Samuel and his new friend avoided any signs of battle for the most part, not fancying facing down any militia squads armed with musket and bayonet with only a shovel. At one they even saw a troop of French cavalry, leaving a trail of dust as they thundered away from them down a winding track, the sound of a tinny bugle filling the air.
Yet, by some miracle, they reached the grand stone archway of the plantation house’s gardens in one piece. From their vantage point among sugar cane in an, as of yet, unburnt field they took stock of their mission.
“Looks like they have about twenty men at the gate, friend, and we would be caught climbing over the wall for sure. Damn it all, we’ll have to find another way!” growled Francois, knowing that the estate didn’t really have any other way in or out. The twenty men were a squad of militia, all armed and angry. An office led them, his white uniform pristine and his sword pommel shining as he led his horse back and forth.
“It makes sense that the family would have this rabble here, they always were popular with the…,” Samuel started, before the sound of cracking sugarcane made him whip around in surprise. He and Francois both were expecting an attack from the rear by the militia or overseers but, instead, found themselves facing a gang of fellow slaves. Their leader was a woman, her simple dress torn and dirty and a red bandanna wrapped around her head, a bloodstain adorning one side of it.
“Tell me you two weren’t thinking of attacking our Captain Boucher with only that shovel?” she teased. Her quiet words sounded harsh, yet her eyes were full of mischief.
“You shut your face, girl! We were coming up with a plan to rescue the womenfolk in the big house!” Francois snapped back, clearly a little needled at the teasing.
“He’s right, we’re trying to save my wife and anyone else stuck in there” Samuel added, hoping his calm voice would help to cool tensions.
“So are we, and if we happen upon the family…,” grunted a huge man from just behind his leader, armed with a stolen musket. The woman held up a hand irritably in reply.
“Shut your damned mouth, Phillip! You remember what I said? You can kill him, you can kill her and you can most certainly kill their son, as well as all of the overseers and toadies you like, but nobody touches the little girl!”
Samuel approved of her ground rules. The family’s daughter, Amelie, was only ten and was guilty of no wrongdoings, in fact her mother had once beaten her severely for befriending a black child. Samuel didn’t want to think about what had happened to her as a result.
“Sounds fine to me woman. What’s your plan, exactly?” asked Francois.
“Firstly, my name is not woman, it is Simone,” she admonished, “and the plan is simply to charge them and close the gap before they know what’s hit them. I’m afraid we only have weapons enough for us, however, so you may have to share that shovel”
So it was, a few moments later, as thirty four rebel slaves burst out of the sugar cane and charged as fast as they humanly could at twenty one horrified French militiamen. Samuel could feel only the beating of hi heart as they closed the gap, as the infamous Captain Boucher screamed at his men to open fire. Yet their roar of defiance was louder and, even though a few muskets discharged, filling the air with acrid black smoke, Samuel was able to get in among them unharmed, with Simone at one shoulder and the hulking Phillip at the other. Francois was the first to get into the melee, swinging his shovel in a great arc that hit nothing but succeeded in pushing the white men back and spooking Boucher’s white stallion as he tried to draw his pistol. Samuel’s contribution was to charge one of the musket armed men head on, tackling him into the dirt and forcing him to let go of his longarm before raining punches down onto his face. The man tried to lock his own hands around Samuel’s throat but was unable to gain any purchase before his assailant had beat the life out of him. Shaking with an undirected anger, Samuel got back to his feet, scooping up the bayonet tipped musket and quickly took stock of his surroundings. Most of the militiamen were down, being finished off by Simone’s force, yet Bloucher seemed to have got free and was now starting away from them down the road. Without much thought, Samuel raised the musket to his shoulder, just like he had seen the overseers do during drill practice, hurriedly took aim and fired after the officer.
The smoke hadn’t even cleared and he knew what had happened, for his fellow rebels let out a howl of triumph, by some absolute miracle his amateurish musket shot had taken down the man responsible for many beatings, hangings and mutilations among his people. He was elated to see Boucher lay crumpled upon the road, a blossom of red spreading across the back of his gold embroidered jacket.
“Anansi protect us, that was one hell of a shot!” Cackled an older, wiry fellow with long, white hair, clapping Samuel on the shoulder, “go fetch his weapons man, they’re yours now!”
“I don’t need them, friend, this will be more than enough to end this” he replied calmly, hefting the musket before joining the others, the grinning older man following him.
“He ain’t here for any prizes, he just wants his woman!” Laughed Francois, who had chosen to retain his shovel over a musket but had instead stolen a dead soldier’s tricorne hat, which he wore at a jaunty angle.
“Stop messing around, you damned fools, the overseers could regroup at any moment, we have to press the attack!” Simone shouted from the plantation house’s huge, orange front doors, which were evidently locked as Phillip and two other men were laying into it with axes taken from the nearby log shed. Samuel knew that the girl was right, the overseers may be abominable human beings yet some of them did not lack courage, never mind the fact that they all considered themselves above the black Africans that were currently coming after them with cudgel and blade. But they would not prevail, this might well be the only chance Saint Domingue would ever have of overthrowing the brutal French and claiming some kind of freedom, just like the USA had done with the British some years ago, though that was a war between two powerful white factions.
As the axe wielders worked on the doors, Samuel found himself examining the front lawn’s main talking point, a large fountain with a statue of an unidentified woman atop it, pouring water out from an urn balanced on her shoulder. He recalled seeing this water feature when he had first been brought here by his captors some years ago, in fact that had dragged him across the front of it so the head of the family, Mister Deacon, could examine him. The old man had wanted a manservant but, after examining Samuel as well as many others, had decided that a black man was simply not good enough for taking out into town, especially as his friends all had white manservants. And so he had been thrown into the fields instead, though not before meeting his love Maria. The fountain always reminded him of her, he hoped that it survived the insurrection. At the foot of the fountain, in a small flower bed, grew purple tulips. Apparently the lady of the house liked them and had the seeds imported from Europe annually. He remembered stealing one from that flower bed and giving it to Marie, one night in the shanty town where the slaves were bivouacked. She had loved the gesture, planting the delicate flower just outside Samuel’s cabin.
A sudden staccato of loud bangs snapped him out of his thoughts, the others had managed to smash one of the doors from its hinges, only to be met with a round of musket fire from inside. Two of the men died instantly, thrown back onto the expensively paved pathway. Phillip seemed to have survived, though he had dropped his axe and was clutching at one shoulder, blood oozing from between his fingers
“What are you doing? Charge!” Screamed Simone, seemingly ready to take on the overseers herself. Samuel, Francois and the others snapped out of it, falling in behind the petite, incredibly angry woman.
Samuel had only been in the big house once or twice during his time as a slave. The opulence of the place had always amazed him, for there must be thousands of francs worth of goods all crammed under that roof. Marie had told him that much of it came from France and was very, very old, indeed totally irreplaceable.
He was willing to bet that the original owners would be worried at that moment, however, for the great hall was burning. The wadding from the overseer’s musket volley had landed among something flammable (which was probably most things in the house) and it was spreading quickly, the overseers themselves too worried about the incoming attack to move and stop it. Deacon was at the top of the stairs, shrieking abuse at his own men even as the rebels stormed the room. This time the enemy were ready for them, but there thankfully only five or six of them. They went down quickly, sadly taking one young rebel with them. Samuel was secretly glad that he didn’t get to them himself, Simone and Francois took two of them and a few more that he didn’t yet know dealt with the rest. He did, however, see that Deacon had drawn an ornate, gold plated pistol and was pulling back the flint in preparation to fire into the crowd. Leaving his accomplices to deal with the overseers he launched himself up to the stairs, fully expecting to be hit by a lead ball before he got halfway up.
The pistol did discharge, for he heard the crack, yet Mister Deacon, their hopefully former owner, had missed him, the ball whipping over his head by inches. Samuel closed the gap quickly, not allowing his quarry to escape, and rammed home the wickedly sharp bayonet into his ribcage, he felt the metal scrape across Deacon’s ribs, reveled in the horrified look in the man’s eyes. This monster would never hurt anyone again, Samuel thought as, instead of removing the bayonet, he simply pushed it further into Deacon, sending him pitching over the banister to land with a crash in the burning foyer underneath, musket and all.
Feeling suddenly sick to his stomach at what he was doing, Samuel steadied himself on the mahogany railing and forced himself to look down. Deacon was definitely dead, lay on his side with the gun still sticking out of his chest, his life blood adding to that of his overseers that had tried to hold the front door. The rest of the rebels seemed to have vanished, no doubt moved further into the house to slake their thirst for revenge. Yet nobody had followed him up the stairs, maybe they were trying to block all of the exits to stop the rest of the family escaping? The front hall was slowly being consumed by fire anyway so it would soon stop being viable as an exit itself. Deciding to leave the pack to their rampage, hoping that they would prioritize rescuing the house servants over killing overseers, he instead picked up the gold plated pistol, holding it like a cudgel, and started to explore the upper level of the house.
Most of the rooms were well appointed, all no doubt styled after Versailles or similar and mostly devoid of life. At one point he encountered a white cat, which was hiding under a large four poster bed, but it bolted before he got a good look at it, hopefully it managed to get through the front door before the foyer was fully ablaze. He was about to pass through another door when he heard a voice, it sounded like somebody arguing.
“Get back inside! If you step out of that door again I’ll break your legs!” snarled a male voice, with that special anger borne of fear.
“I’m telling you, I can smell smoke! The house might be on fire, you know that her breathing…,” a woman’s voice, could it be Marie? It certainly sounded like her.
Overcome with worry to the point of no longer caring for his own safety, Samuel quickly opened the door and barged out into another corridor. The two arguing people were just ahead of him, at another door and, sure enough, one of them was his Marie. Tall, slight and, at that moment, staring down an overseer who was carrying a long dagger in one hand.
“Hey!” Samuel shouted, getting their attention, “break my legs if you can, you fucking coward!”
Marie knew exactly what to do then. A look of worry and gratitude on her face, she dived back into the room she had come out of, slamming closed the door as the angered overseer faced up to Samuel, holding the dagger before him threateningly.
“I’ve seen that pistol before, did you kill the boss?” he demanded, not taking his eyes from the ostentatious weapon. Samuel had no idea what do do then, the pistol would definitely do some harm if it made contact with the overseer’s head but he seemed pretty comfortable with that dagger, it was a fast weapon and far more capable of doing ham than his own.
It was fortuitous, then, that Francois chose that moment to appear from around the next corner, behind the man’s back, and began to sneak into shovel swinging range.
“I killed him, yes, and I’ll kill you too!” spat Samuel, keeping his assailant focused on him.
“Try it, slave! I’ll stab up your woman in there too after I’m done with you!”
Francois chose that moment to swing the shovel down vertically, right onto the man’s head. Samuel fought the urge to vomit as the overseer fell to the carpeted floor, blood pumping from his split skull as Francois wrenched his makeshift weapon free again.
“Sorry brother, almost forgot my promise with all of this excitement. Let’s find your wife and get out of here” he smiled grimly.
“Thank you friend, but I think I’ve already found her” Samuel replied, pointing toward the door that Marie had fled through.
Slapping him on the shoulder, Francois stepped aside, letting Samuel do the honours.
Marie’s face went from dread to elation in a second as the two men entered the room and she threw herself into her husband’s arms without hesitation.
“You’re alive, thank every damned god in the world you’re alive!” She cried as Samuel spun her around.
“Marie, my love, we need to leave this place now, it’s too dangerous!” He tried to explain, but she had something else on her mind.
“Yes, husband, we will go. But we need to take her too, they’ll kill her if we don’t hide her or get her to a ship or…,”
Samuel understood then, for the family’s young daughter was in the room as well, Marie must have been protecting her from the violence. The waifish little thing was dressed in Parisian high fashion that made her look like an exquisite doll and she was staring at Francois and his bloodied shovel as if he were the devil himself.
“Oh, child, do not fear me,” the young man said soothingly, lowering his weapon, “I’m not here to hurt you. We’re here to get you to safety”
“Then let’s do that. We need to get her far away from here, then we can work out what to do with her,” nodded Marie, scooping up the terrified child in her arms and heading for the door,
“I hope that the others make it out safely, the milita will be hinting us all down for sure”
“The milita are the ones being hunted my love, the whole of Saint Domingue seems to be rising up against the French” Samuel replied as they retraced their steps back to the grand stairwell Unfortunately the entire room was ablaze by the time they reached it, exiting through the front door and avoiding the rest of the slaughter was not going to be an option.
“Cover her eyes sister, there’s something down here that she won’t want to see” said Francois, recalling that the girl’s father lay dead just ahead with a musket sticking out of his chest.
As it happened they were able to escape out of a servant entrance that led off from the kitchens, where they also encountered Simone and a few of the other rebels, along with a crowd of frightened and cautiously optimistic looking house staff, some of whom were wielding kitchen utensils as weapons. Simone agreed with them that the girl was to be taken to safety whilst the insurrection, hopefully, paid off and the French were driven back into the Caribbean. After things settled they would find a way to get the poor thing home.
As the group headed back into the fields, passing the fountain and the now merrily burning manor house, Samuel picked one of the tulips, placing it into the band of his hat. Whatever happened in the future, it was always good to be reminded of your past, reminded of family and the ones you love amidst a world full of violence and anger.
Saint Domingue would, in the end, become its own nation, run by African ex slaves. It changed its name to Haiti and, despite the best efforts of the French army, kept it’s independence to this day.
Samuel and Marie lived out their lives in peace, as did Francois and most of the other rebels. Phillip and many others died fighting the French army, their legacies never forgotten.
Amelie Deacon returned to France with the estate’s pastor, Father Byrne, and grew up to be a passionate campaigner for an end to of slavery of any kind, affected by the time she spent with the free men and women of Haiti. Her name was lost to time, an embarrassment to the powerful people of France, yet the children of Samuel and Marie often heard about her, her adventures read from the letters she sent to them over her lifetime.