Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Page Straight From...


The spot where she met Philippe, where they lay together, was a tiny knoll of higher ground, surrounded by water oak and tupelo gum and hidden by a tangle of vines. The gums were barren of leaves now, but the rise was still concealed by the underbrush, 
Today she didn’t dismount to open the secret passageway and lead Empress inside. Instead she sat for a moment thinking of Philippe 
Guinevere ran to the bushed ahead, smelling the ground nearby. She growled and the mare stomped and snorted. 
From behind the vines came an answering nicker. Madeline's eyes brightened. He'd come after all!
She slid off the mare and pulled back the vines, leading Empress through the tunnel of green and yellow growth into a tiny clearing. Guinevere dashed in ahead of them and began barking excitedly.
Madelaine stopped short. A huge white horse confronted her, his neck smeared with rusty stains. Guinevere circled warily about something on the ground beside the horse, whining.
"Oh!" The exclamation was jolted from Madelaine, her hands flying to her mouth too late to hold it back.
A black man lay unmoving in the yellow grass. Blood soaked his blue shirt and trousers and pooled on the ground beside him. Near his feet—Madelaine bit her lip to prevent herself from screaming—was a severed arm laying palm outstretched, a long bladed knife next to it. Unmistakably he'd cut off his own arm just below the elbow.
When Guinevere nudged the arm with her nose, bile rose to Madelaine's throat. Hurriedly she called the dog to her. She knew the man had to be a rebel slave. She must gallop back to La Belle and . . .
He raised his head and looked at her, his eyes glazed and dull from pain and loss of blood. She saw that he was a giant of a man, and noticed with dismay the tattoo marks on his cheeks. She recognized him.
The black she'd danced with at the voodoo.
He was too weak to stop her, she could easily mount Empress and rush from the clearing, but Madelaine didn't move. There was something in his eyes—not a plea for help, not a threat, but something she'd seen in the glare of captured hawks. A fierce pride.
Had he been a candio, a chief, in Africa? They'd hang him. Already captured black rebels dangled from trees across the river as a warning to the other slaves. 
Madelaine swallowed. Slowly she approached him, averting her eyes from the severed arm. His head dropped back, his eyes closed. She was frightened, but something drove her on.
She could see that he'd tried to bandage the stump of his right arm, but had apparently been too weak to complete the grisly task. The rag was soggy with blood. 
Madelaine took a deep breath, fighting to control nausea. She retreated behind Empress and lifted up her riding skirt to tear at her petticoat. The cotton was too strong for her to rip. Gagging, she retrieved the black's cane knife with its discolored blade and slashed at her petticoat, tearing a wide strip from the bottom.
She wrapped the white cotton around the stump, seeing with horror that the bloody tissue looked charred. She pulled the bandage tight, remembering how Odalie always applied pressure to a wound to stop the bleeding. 
The black groaned once, but showed no other sign of consciousness. She used the knife again to cut the ends of the cotton into small strips, tying them around the bandage to hold it on.
Blood oozed from the stump, staining the white cotton. As she put the knife on the ground, she noticed that its blade was blackened rather than blood stained. She saw the remains of a small fire. Understanding flooded through her. He'd deliberately seared the stump with the heated blade of his knife in an effort to stop the bleeding.
The severed arm caught her eye, and before she could wrench her gaze away, she saw why he'd cut it off. There was a terrible wound above the wrist where the ends of shattered bones protruded. 
She stood up, staring down at the black. He couldn't stay here, for surely Philippe would come—if not tomorrow, the next day. Besides, Guinevere knew he was here and Guy often took the dog out with him. The dog would likely lead her brother here, Madelaine decided. She knelt beside the man again and whispered into his ear.
"Candio" she said. "Candio, listen to me. You must listen. I'll bring food, a blanket. But then you must take your horse and find another hiding place. They will find you here."
She couldn't tell if he heard, or if he understood. His eyelids quivered, but he made no other move, no sound.

1 comment:

Margaret Tanner said...

Wow Jane, that is a compelling excerpt.



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