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Dead Letter

ISSUE:  Fall 2004

Coachy, to whom Papa Toussaint had given the two letters for Paul Louverture, led their way south from Point Samana toward Santo Domingo City. Coachy had been to that place before, not so long ago, when Papa Toussaint had sent his army to the Spanish side of the island for the first time, but Guiaou had not. He had not been to Point Samana either before that day, when Papa Toussaint had brought them to look at the ships of the French. It was the first time he had traveled so far across the border, but he had known Coachy for a long time and was content to follow him. Coachy rode in front, then Guerrier who had just been made a soldier by Papa Toussaint, and Guiaou third. Guiaou had never seen Guerrier before yesterday when Papa Toussaint tossed him the musket he carried now across his saddle bow, but he felt a warmth toward Guerrier because he remembered how, a long time ago, Papa Toussaint had taken him in when he was nearly naked and had made him a soldier too by giving him a gun. Guerrier rode well—he must have spent some time training horses at Toussaint’s hatte across the border—but he did not seem to know what to do with the musket. He kept turning it and flourishing it one way and another, and Guiaou’s horse twitched uneasily between his knees whenever the sunlight flashed on the barrel.

They had to ride some way inland along the north bank of the River Yuna to find a ford where they could cross. Even so the water was deeper than Guiaou liked, chest-deep on the horses in the middle of the river. It rose to touch Guiaou’s boot in the stirrup, cold water seeping through the seams of the uppers. The cold water climbed his shinbone toward his knee, spilling over the boot top. Guiaou closed his eyes and felt his teeth clench tight. He prayed, Gras lamiserikòd, loosening the rein and trusting his horse to follow the others without guidance. Gras lamiserikòd, Papa … The water climbed onto his thigh, and he waited for the sick lurch when the horse’s hooves would be uprooted from the bottom and the horse would begin to swim. But this did not happen. Instead the water began to sink, finally releasing its grip on his ankle, and Guiaou opened his eyes as the horse came scrambling up the southern bank of the river. He prayed his thanksgiving as he dumped the water from his boots and slung them over his saddlebow. The cloth of his trousers and the skin of his legs dried quickly as they rode east in the afternoon sun, warming against the drying hide of the horse.

On the south side of the bay the trail became narrow, difficult, running steeply up and down the cliffside above the ocean. Far to the east, where the bay’s mouth gave onto the open sea, appeared white splotches of bellying sails—ships of the blancs sailing toward Cape Engaño.

Ki moun yo yé?” Guerrier said. Who are they? The voice startled Guiaou, for there had been no word spoken among the three of them since they parted from Papa Toussaint, only the noise of the surf and the cries of the gulls diving down the black walls of the cliffs above the water.

Moun fransé,” Coachy told him. French people.

Poukisa y’ap vini?” Guerrier asked. What have they come for?

“To make us slaves again,” Coachy said shortly. Guerrier looked back over his shoulder, over the black, switching tail of his bay horse. His eyes caught Guiaou’s for a moment before he faced forward again, but he did not ask another question. They rode on.

The sun turned red and quickly fell behind the mountains to the west. They rode through the brief twilight and then, for a little while, under the stars. The trail was difficult in the faint light and they went slowly, often dismounting to lead their horses over the tricky ground. A warm, wet wind blew inland from the bay, carrying with it a shelf of cloud. By the time they had made their way down from the cliff trail to lower ground, the stars had all been darkened and they were making their way across a mangrove swamp by touch.

Nou pa kab vansé konsa!” Coachy announced. We cannot go on like this! He looked around himself—the writhing shadows of the mangroves stretched out in all directions. “We must stop for the night—in the dark we would miss the road.”

Guiaou said nothing, though a discontent settled on him—he pictured the blanc ships sailing on through the night, around Cape Engaño to the port of Santo Domingo City. But Coachy could not be disputed. It was a lucky thing that a horse had not already twisted a leg among the mangroves. Also it might be a long way before they found another broad, dry hummock like this one, where they might stop in comfort. There was even a scraggly coastal pine tree here, whose lower branches might be broken off for firewood.

They tied their horses and built a small fire, though there was nothing to be cooked. Guerrier brought some dried beef out of his bundle—there was much smoking of beef at the hatte he had come from. Guiaou had some morsels of cassava bread wrapped in a rag inside his shirt, and Coachy brought out two shriveled, pulpy mangoes. They shared the food and ate it slowly, reserving about half of the dried beef for the next day.

After eating, Coachy and Guiaou reclined on their elbows beside the fire, while Guerrier sat up cross-legged, caressing the barrel of his musket intently, as if it were a cat. The knobs of his knees stuck out from the faded rags of his tricolor trousers. He told them how he had once been a slave on a coffee farm in the hills above Ouanaminthe, how he had run away across the Spanish border and lived for years as a maroon in the mountains near Santiago. When Coachy and Guiaou did not volunteer anything about themselves, Guerrier asked how they had come to know each other.

Nou tuyé blan ansanm,” Coachy grunted, rolling up on one hip to scratch his back. We killed whites together.

Wi, blan ak milat, nou tuyé yo.” The words sounded from his mouth without Guiaou’s intention—Yes, whites and mulattos, we killed them … He had first met Coachy during a raid on the English on the outskirts of Saint Marc, a long time ago, before Papa Toussaint had chased all the English out of the country. In those days Guiaou had had an especially lively hatred of mixed-blood people—he still did when he thought about it—and that day he and Coachy had been able to kill many of them up close with their knives. That raid was led by Moyse, who was dead now, shot by a firing squad at Port de Paix, because he had dared to raise a rebellion against his uncle, Papa Toussaint.

It took Guiaou some time to think all of these thoughts, and during that time no one said anything more. There was no sound except the whine of the mosquitoes, which were very plentiful here in the mangrove swamp. Coachy sat up to put a damp, leafy branch onto the fire. The smoke thickened, but it did not discourage the mosquitoes very much. Guerrier coughed and spat to one side.

“Why did the general give you two letters?” he said.

Let-sa-a bay menti,” Coachy answered, pulling out a corner of the letter he carried in his outside pocket. This letter tells lies. He moved his hand to pat the second letter, which he held hidden under his shirt. “This is the letter which tells the truth.”

“What does the letter say truly?” Guerrier said. “And what does the letter say which is not true?”

Guiaou felt that Guerrier asked too many questions, and asked them too directly. He would never have asked such questions himself, not even in his thoughts, but Coachy did not seem unwilling to answer, and Guiaou found that he himself was curious to know.

Coachy brushed his outer pocket. “This one says that the general Paul must welcome the French as brothers and friends and do all that they say.” He smiled and tapped the letter tucked into his waistband. “This one says that he must burn Santo Domingo City, kill the blancs and retreat to San Raphael.”

At that Guerrier only nodded and stretched out on the ground beside his musket. The fire burned down to its last coals. Guiaou lay with his eyes closed, listening to the plop of frogs in the swamp, the horses snuffling at the brackish water along the edge of the mangroves, finally the familiar sound of Coachy’s snoring. After a blank period his eyes came open on the mist of a grey dawn. The others slept, but one-eyed Ghede was there, sitting in the shadow of the salt-withered pine tree, greedily scooping up food from a bowl with the fingers of his right hand. His left hand reached out as if to gather and protect another bowl, but Guiaou saw with a pulse of alarm that Ghede’s left hand was hovering above the head of sleeping Coachy. It seemed to him then that Ghede wore the face of Moyse, who had lost an eye in battle with the blancs, so that the lid sagged wrinkled and grey into the empty socket, but Moyse had gone to be with the dead already—Guiaou rolled awake so quickly that his own horse snorted and jerked at its tether. It was still night, but the clouds had dissipated, and a slender new moon had risen among the stars. In the cold light the path lay palely visible, running from hummock to hummock through the mangroves.

Guiaou walked around the cold, feathery ashes of their fire and stooped to rock Coachy by the shoulder.

Ann alé,” he hissed. Let’s go.

Coachy came awake with a grumble. He slapped at a clutch of mosquitoes that battened on his neck and wiped the wreckage of their legs and wings in a bloodsmear over his collarbone. His eyes came clear enough to take in the new moonlight and the plain lie of the path between the hummocks.

Dakò,” he said. All right.

Guiaou woke Guerrier by tapping the flat of his coutelas across the ball of the sleeping man’s bare foot. Guerrier came up into consciousness without a whisper. There was no coffee to be brewed, so they were on their way at once, going single file among the mangroves. By the time first light had begun to lift the blue herons and white egrets out of the hummocks and into the air, they had come to the edge of the swamp and reached the junction of a broad road which ran south through the lowlands from the edge of the bay.

In this spot they paused long enough for Guerrier to share out the last of his dried beef. They rode on, at a brisk trot. The road was wide enough for them to ride all three abreast. Guiaou wished for greater speed—he feared ships would be outdistancing them around the cape, and the lingering images of his dream filled his head with chilly fog. One did not meet Ghede in dreams without a reason. But Coachy was the better horseman and more knowledgeable of the country where they were and the distance they had yet to go, and he would not press their pace for fear of overheating the horses. It was true that the heat rose very fast once the sun had cleared the mountains east of the wide savannah where they rode. Guiaou held his morsel of dried beef in his mouth, encouraging it to dissolve slowly, with just an occasional pump of his jaw.

By midday, the taste of that beef was not even a memory. They came in sight of a small cabin seated some twenty yards from the road. Though they’d passed several small herds of cattle grazing untended, this was the first evidence of human habitation they had met. A small black boy stood at the roadside watching their approach, covered to his knees in a dirt-brown canvas smock.

Salwé,” Coachy said as they drew near, and when the creole greeting drew no answer, “Hóla.” The boy turned and ran for the house, dashing in the open door. Two kerchiefed heads of women peeked out the doorway and as quickly withdrew. Then a white man dressed in a pair of loose cotton trousers stepped barefoot into the dooryard and stood yawning and scratching at the hair above his waistband as he inspected them. A young woman came out behind him, carrying a pail. With her free hand she traced a line of string that ran from the house to a small cocotier off to the left. Beside the tree she stopped and began drawing water from the well.

The white man left off his scratching and beckoned. Guiaou would have returned to the road. But Coachy clucked to his horse and rode down into the packed earth of the yard, dismounting without waiting for an invitation.

“You come from Toussaint?” By his accent it was plain he was a Spaniard, though he spoke in creole.

“No,” said Coachy. “We come from Clervaux, at Santiago.”

It was a good answer, Guiaou thought, a lie well chosen. A dispatch from Clervaux’s garrison at Santiago to Paul Louverture would be no more than routine. But he saw the Spaniard’s eyes flick from the faded tricolor rosette Coachy wore pinned to the frayed lapel of his short jacket to the guardsman’s helmet that crowned Guiaou. Guiaou had been tremendously proud of this helmet ever since Toussaint had elevated him to his honor guard, but now he took it off and tucked it under his arm, wishing very much that he could make it invisible.

“How far is it to Santo Domingo City?” Coachy said.

“Oh,” said the Spaniard, “not so far at all. You are quite near. But have something to eat before you go on, and you must fodder your horses, certainly.”

“You are kind—” Coachy began, but Guaiou broke in, “Let us go on.”

The Spaniard looked sharply into Guaiou’s face. “Is your mission so urgent?” His fingers worked the sprigs of hair on his pointed chin; they did not quite amount to a beard. As his gaze lowered from Guiaou it caught for a moment on the red wax seal of the letter visible in Coachy’s pocket.

“Not at all,” Coachy said. He turned in Guiaou’s direction but without quite meeting his eyes. “Though, after all, we must not stay long.”

“Very good,” the Spaniard said. The young woman was coming back from the well with her pail slopping onto the dirt, free hand still running over the string. From the fixed regard when she came near, Guiaou guessed she must be blind. She had pleasant features, but these were confused by many dark red blotches on her face, from some disease.

Two larger boys, both of them white, were peeking around the door frame now. “Take these horses to the barn,” the Spaniard said. “And bring some eggs to feed our visitors.”

Unhappily Guiaou slid down from the saddle; Guerrier followed suit.

“Come in, come in!” The Spaniard beckoned. Guiaou let his horse be taken from him, led around the corner of the cabin. Clutching his musket to him still, Guerrier followed Coachy into the house. Guiaou looked back and saw that the Spaniard had walked closer to the boys as they led the horses off, to give them some further instruction.

Guiaou stepped over the threshold, cradling his helmet, blinking in the dim interior.

“Sit down,” the Spaniard said, waving his arms at a rough-hewn table against the wall. The others were already seated there. Guiaou lowered himself gingerly to a three-legged stool and pushed his helmet under the table, out of sight.

The Spaniard rattled off a phrase of his own tongue to the older woman, the one who was not blind. She grunted something in reply and stooped to lift an iron tripod and a kettle. Guiaou moved to take the tripod, an excuse to follow her out the back door. Another string, he noticed, ran from the door frame to a small barn at the crest of a little rise behind the house. The horses had been taken there, he thought. He did not see the horses, but the figure of one of the white boys flashed for a second across the rise, running down toward a dark tree line beyond it.

Very slowly, the old woman was arranging the tripod, the kettle, the pan below the kettle which would be spooned full of coals, once the fire which had yet to be kindled had produced the coals. It would all take too much time, Guiaou thought. He stepped back into the house. The Spaniard had picked up his helmet and was turning it in his hands, muttering the phrase embossed on the front of it: Qui pourra en venir à bout?

Guiaou moved to whisper to Coachy that they must not wait for this promised meal, but the Spaniard seemed to intercept his thought.

“Where are those boys?” he said, his beard wisps lifting in a rubbery smile. “Our hens are all half wild, you see? They hide their eggs, and it takes time to find them.”

“I will help,” Guiaou said. Coachy sat looking vacantly out the doorway, eyes half shut. He had put one hand under his shirt tail to warm his belly for the reception of hot food. Guiaou could not get his attention. He reached for the helmet, but the white man’s hands stuck to it, his fingertips lingering on the raised motto.

Who will be able to come through to the end?” he said with the same uneasy smile. “It is a curious phrase.”

Guiaou twisted the helmet away from his clinging hands. “I will put eggs in it,” he said, to cover the roughness of his action. He jerked his head at Guerrier as he went out the door. The older woman was still puttering over the business of lighting the fire. Guiaou marched quickly up the rise. The Spaniard’s voice sounded behind him and he looked back once. The blind girl was following him, but slowly, finger on the string.

The string ran from stall to stall in the lean-to area on the far side of the barn and stopped at the door of a raised-floor room closed with a wooden latch, where fodder must have been stored. The three horses, tethered by a brace of oxen, were tossing their heads over a small wisp of hay. There was no sign of the two boys, nor any hens nor eggs. This Guiaou had expected. And now there was something like a rumble in the ground. He could not really hear it yet but felt it in a prickle from his heels through his spine. He stepped clear of the barn and looked down the road they’d been traveling before they’d stopped here.

Nothing at first, then a crawling speck on the road, a dust cloud, horses, many horsemen. Guiaou ran into the barn and began to untie the horses, fumbling in his hurry. He’d put his helmet on, to free his hands. It was awkward leading all three horses at once, and the animals picked up his nervousness. One of them twisted around to bite another on the haunch, and the bitten horse whinnied and made to rear. Before Guiaou came to Toussaint he had been afraid of horses as much as of water, and now it seemed to him that the skill and confidence he’d gained since might drain away and leave him helpless, like the blind girl frozen on her string halfway between the barn and the house. The yard was empty except for her—the older woman must have gone back in. Guiaou remembered the conch shell he carried in a saddlebag. He yanked it out and sounded it. At the harsh tone, Guerrier’s horse pulled free. Guiaou could not chase it—he started toward the house leading the two others, and the third horse followed, as he should have known it would do.

He mounted and rode down toward the yard at a trot, trailing the second horse by the reins. Guerrier came dashing out of the house, carrying his musket. The horsemen on the road were near enough to be counted, and there were more than fifty of them, white men all, with the look of Spanish militia. But one of them wore the blue coat and epaulettes of a French cavalry officer, though it seemed impossible that those ships could have landed anyone this soon.

Now, at last, Coachy came through the door. With a sweep of his head he took in the approaching riders. The Spaniard came scurrying after him, his messy mouth open and his arms spread out in some remonstrance. Coachy pulled out his dragoon’s pistol, took time to steady the barrel over his right wrist, and shot the other man in his shirtless chest. The range was so short that the impact sent the Spaniard cartwheeling backward, oversetting the iron kettle and tripod into the fire as he fell. The older woman stood screaming in the door frame.

At the shot, the horse Guiaou was leading reared and broke the reins, but Guerrier ran up on it before it could go far, caught the mane, and vaulted one-handed into the saddle, always clutching the musket with the other. The third horse had bolted all the way to the horizon. Guiaou screamed wordlessly to Coachy, who was taking a slow, deliberate time to charge his pistol. A shot sounded from the approaching riders, and Guerrier fired his musket wild into the sky. Taking a carefully studied aim, Coachy shot one of the militiamen out of the saddle. His fall broke the advance of the others. Their horses milled. Coachy turned and walked toward Guiaou, in no obvious hurry, though he did not stop to reload his pistol now.

The French officer was shouting orders, and the militiamen were regrouping for a charge. Guiaou, who had pushed his horse to a canter, pulled out his own pistol and fired into the cluster without seeing the effect of his shot. Coachy was reaching for his free hand, to pull himself up behind. As their fingers touched several shots went off and Coachy’s hand jerked back as if it had been burned. Guerrier was twisting his musket around helplessly; it was too long for him to reload in the saddle. Coachy pulled his hand away from his shoulder and reached for Guiaou again but his fingers were all slippery with blood and the shock of the colliding horses separated them.

Guiaou gained a moment by smashing his pistol barrel into the face of the nearest militiaman, feeling the dampened crunch as cartilage gave way. Guerrier had set the stock of his empty musket to his shoulder and galloped in, guiding his horse with only his knees. His bayonet struck another Spaniard and swept him backward over the tail of his own horse. But Guiaou could not find Coachy. He wheeled his horse out of the mêlée and turned. Now he saw Coachy getting up from the dirt, one arm swinging loose from the bloody shoulder and the other reaching. Guiaou switched his discharged pistol for his coutelas and glanced at Guerrier, who rode at the Spanish again with his bayonet fixed as before. Guiaou moved toward Coachy, who made a spring to reach him, but as he jumped there was a whole volley of shots and Coachy’s arm was limp, jelly-like when Guiaou’s hand grasped at it. The arm seemed to run through his fingers like water and Coachy slipped down under the hooves as the horses shocked together again. Guiaou took a tremendous blow to his helmet, from a saber or gun butt he didn’t know, but it was hard enough to blur his sight. He swung his horse into the clear. There were too many, too many to fight.

His vision resolved and he saw that he was riding on the blind girl now, who still stood paralyzed and mute, the red blots much darker against the sudden pallor of her skin. If one of the boys who’d betrayed them had been standing in her place, Guiaou would have cut him down with joy, but he turned away from the girl at the last moment, slashed her guide string and rode through, with a quick glance over his shoulder to see that Guerrier was following. Further back, the French officer and another militiaman had jumped down to flip over Coachy’s body, which lay facedown in the dirt, but the rest of the Spaniards were pursuing.

In a flash Guiaou and Guerrier had crossed the tree line. Green branches whipped Guiaou across the face. He plastered his upper body along the horse’s neck. There was space enough among the pines for them to hold their pace, and they had the better horses. When they’d lost the Spaniards deep in the pines, they cut back in the direction of the road, halting finally at a point a quarter mile north of the house. Guiaou took the time to load his pistol. He was still breathless, so he only motioned to Guerrier, who seemed to take his meaning well enough. They rode behind the screen of pines until the barn had lined up with the house, and then came out into the open, urging their horses to the gallop as they crossed the rise. Only two militiamen had stayed by the house, and they did not have time to reach their horses. Guiaou hacked the first one down with his coutelas, and Guerrier pinned the other to the house wall with the bayonet.

By the overturned kettle the older woman lay across the body of her husband, her shoulders heaving silently. Further off, the blind girl turned in a widening spiral, her arms outstretched, with nothing to grasp. Guerrier covered her with his musket, but Guiaou pushed the barrel aside. He dropped to his knees beside Coachy’s body. Coachy’s eyes were showing white and his mouth hung slack and there was a paste of blood and dirt on his teeth. Guiaou turned out all his pockets—empty. The true letter was gone from his waistband as well.

Guerrier stood looking unhappily at the twisted bayonet on his musket. He’d broken off the point with the force of his charge against the house wall. Now he picked up the musket of one of the dead militiamen and compared it to his own to see if it would do. Meanwhile Guiaou was searching those bodies as quickly as he could, but the letters were not there. The French officer must have taken them, and he was riding back toward the house now, leading the Spanish horsemen on a wild charge out of the trees.

Guiaou stood up, his head gone red inside from frustration and rage. He might have shot the blind girl or stabbed the grieving woman in the back. Instead he caught up a brand from the cook fire and set three corners of the house thatch alight. The fire was burning hungrily by the time he got onto his horse, and several of the militiamen had to stop to try to put it out. As for the rest, Guerrier and Guiaou still had the better horses. They rode in a wide curve around their pursuers and lost themselves in the pine forest once more.

All through that afternoon they picked a way through the pine woods, headed generally south, still toward Santo Domingo City, though under the trees one could not reckon by the sun, and they could not be certain that the edge of the forest was parallel to the road they’d been travelling earlier that day. It was Coachy who had known this country. Coachy had fought with Guiaou more times for more years than could be counted now. They had both been so concentrated on the work of killing white men and mulattos that their heads were one red blaze together in each fight. Now Coachy was dead, because he had wanted to eat a fresh egg, or because Ghede had been ready to take him this day, down below the mirror of the ocean to the Island Below Sea.

They stopped that night by a pooling stream, still within the shelter of the woods. As Guiaou dipped water to wash himself, he thought of Coachy on the other side, and the cold clasp of the water on his wrist seemed like the handgrip of Baron Cimitière, that same shadow who had drifted through his dream the night before. With a snatch of both arms he swirled away the ghost of his reflection from the surface of the pool and threw water in his face to drown the thought.

Guerrier, who’d submerged himself completely in the pool, watched Guiaou rinse his shoulders and torso with the water he dipped from his kneeling position on the grassy bank. Guiaou knew that Guerrier was looking at his scars and wondering why he did not come all the way into the water himself.

“What happened to you there?” Guerrier said, pointing at the ragged tears that showed stone-white on Guiaou’s rib cage and underneath his arm.

Reken,” Guiaou said shortly. Shark. He raised his forearm to a warding position over his head to show how the cut on the inner arm flowed into the deep furrow across his cheek and down his shoulder. “That one was a sword cut from a blanc.”

Guerrier nodded and asked no more, turning in the water to face the declining sunlight in the west.

“I thought you were not a soldier before yesterday,” Guiaou said, to show he was not offended by the question. “You fought well today. And how well you ride!”

Guerrier smiled up at him from the sunset-reddened water. “I spent much time training horses at the hatte of Papa Toussaint.” He climbed out of the pool and shook himself briskly, hurling water in all directions, then drew on his trousers and dried his hands on his shirt. Sitting down cross-legged, he drew the musket captured from the Spanish militia onto his knees and began to unfasten its bayonet.

“Why do you not use that musket instead?” Guiaou asked him. “It is a newer make than the other.”

“Is it?” asked Guerrier. He had now undone the broken bayonet from the musket he had started with. “But this one was given me by Papa Toussaint.”

Guiaou was silent, considering this. The lock of the first musket given him by Toussaint had broken irreparably long ago, so that weapon had been discarded. But that musket had only been issued to him at Toussaint’s order; it had not come direct from Toussaint’s hand like Guerrier’s. He sat cross-legged opposite Guerrier, fondling his helmet in his lap. There was a deep dent in the front of it, and though Guiaou had something of a headache now, he thought that without the helmet his head would have been split in two.

Now the new bayonet was fixed. Guerrier raised the musket and sighted it across the darkening surface of the pool. With a satisfied grunt he laid the weapon down beside him and felt a pocket of his trousers.

“I have a tinderbox,” he said, looking at Guiaou.

“We have no food to cook, after all.” Guiaou felt his stomach draw up as he said it. “Better not to show a light.”

The horses were tethered away in the pines, and Guiaou walked down and felt in the straw macoute strung to his saddle. He took out a brace of pistols and gave them to Guerrier. He’d harvested four pistols in all from the dead men around the cabin that day, and a purse of coins he had not yet examined.

“That is good,” Guerrier said. Holding the pistols near him, he lay down on a drift of pine needles where they would both sleep. “What will we do now?” he said.

“We must go to Paul Louverture if we can, and tell him the truth of the true letter face to face,” Guiaou said. “Because the French officer will be bringing him the lying letter, that is sure.”

In the next days they kept traveling toward the south coast, but indirectly, since they did not know the way, and it seemed safer to go by night, especially after the second day, when they found a handbill nailed to a tree by a crossroads they’d come upon. The first glimpse of it made Guiaou cold in the belly because it looked so much like the warnings of runaways that had been posted so during slavery time. The pictures at the top might have been any two men, and Guiaou could not read much of the text. Riau had taught him his letters in different camps where they were together, but he could only make out a few words of this, and it hurt his head to do that much. Still, after staring at the paper for a long time he seemed to understand that he and Guerrier were denounced as brigands and murderers, though not by their names, and that his scars were described well enough that he was likely to be recognized.

From then on he went somewhere to hide whenever Guerrier needed to go to ask directions. When he must lie hidden, he would close his eyes and listen to the nearby breathing of his horse and picture the blind Spanish girl closing her hands on the empty air, with all her guide strings severed, limp, invisible at her feet. What if Guerrier did not return? But Guerrier did come back each time, though his directions were not usually clear or accurate.

In this way they finally reached the south coast, losing count of the days it had taken them to get there. In the darkness, while Guiaou hid himself, Guerrier approached the gate of one of the forts protecting Santo Domingo City and Ozama Bay. When he called up the name of Toussaint Louverture, he was answered by a volley, one musket ball whining past his ear like an angry bee, and he came running back to tell Guiaou that the Spanish blancs and sang-mélés had seized the fort and meant to hand it over to a large French army commanded by General Kerverseau.

At that, Guiaou was chilled all over. It plagued him to have abandoned the body of Coachy, though there had been no choice. And why had not Coachy done as Toussaint must have meant for him to do? He might have shown the false letter to the militia when they came and so won a safe passage with the true one. Or maybe it was Guiaou himself, his action that had put them in the place where they could only run or fight. And maybe the ruse would have failed anyway. But Santo Domingo City would not be burned now. He had no more hope of reaching Paul Louverture if the French were already landing there, and he and Guerrier could not burn it all alone. But they could go back to San Raphael, as the true letter ordered Paul Louverture to do.

This journey too was difficult, indirect, and slow. They had to steal their food from the fields by night. There were gold coins in the looted purse, but it was too dangerous to spend them. All the country this side of the border seemed to have turned in favor of the French Army, and once when Guerrier risked a turn through a village market, he learned that Clervaux, who commanded for Toussaint at Santiago, had been persuaded by the bishop Malveille to accept the French as friends, and so most of the garrisons from Santiago down to Santo Domingo City had done the same, and Paul Louverture also, it was said.

For that, they turned away from Santiago and rode across the wide, grassy central plateau toward the French part of the island, but when they came near to San Raphael, they met streams of people running out of the town with a story that General Rochambeau was coming with a French army that would make them slaves. Those people were running toward Dondon, or to Grande Rivière, where Sans Souci was fighting. No one knew where Toussaint had gone, or where his other armies were to be found. It was plain enough to Guiaou and Guerrier that they did not want to be caught up in the current of these fugitives, and Guiaou knew another route, through the mountains to Gonaives on the western coast, by way of the steep and narrow Ravine à Couleuvre.


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