Monday, October 18, 2010


Welcome to the home page of RUNAWAYS: A NOVEL OF JONKANOO

(The sequel to THE WITCH FROM THE SEA)

All Tory Lightfoot has ever wanted is her freedom. A half-white, half-Mohawk runaway from the intolerance and stifling gentility of a Boston orphanage, accidental seafarer Tory has washed up in the British Leeward Islands of the West Indies. Now that she and the man she loves, Jack—acrobat, failed actor, and expatriate Englishman—have survived the pirate trade together, they struggle to make an honest living as street performers and escape their dangerous past.

But freedom is a luxury in 1825 in the British colonial sugar islands, where fear of a slave rising, real or imagined, infests everything. With the help of the nimble and cultured former slave, Alphonse Belair, Jack and Tory learn to navigate both high and low society in the islands.

But even as Tory revels in the freedom of her life on the road, and her intoxicating nights with Jack, they are drawn into the simmering undercurrents of slave rebellion. As tensions mount in the islands between the slaves, the free people of color, and the authorities, Tory discovers the greatest jeopardy to her freedom is the color of her skin. Soon, she's trapped in a web of enslavement worse than anything she has ever imagined; regaining her freedom and protecting the man she loves will take the performance of a lifetime.

From rollicking holiday slave parades to the grand elegance of "the season" at the luxurious Bath Hotel, Runaways is both love story and thriller told with a dash of Dickensian humor.

To begin with Chapter One, scroll down to the bottom of the Blog Archive (left-hand menu), click on the second entry, January 3, 2010, and follow the story upwards through each installment. (At the end of each chapter, click on "Newer Posts" to read the next one.)

I love to hear from readers, so please do feel free to leave a comment below, or send an email to lisajensen(at) (Remember to substitute @ for (at)!)

Enjoy the adventure!

Lisa Jensen, Santa Cruz, CA, 2010

(Wheel of Fortune. Original drawing by Lisa Jensen © 2010.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


For all the goodbyes she had said in her life, Tory wondered that they never seemed to get any easier. But there was no time for sentiment now. Just before dawn, Cully ran into town to engage a carter from the docks; it were better if the players were not perceived to be breaking camp. Ada Bruce took the opportunity to embrace Jack in farewell. Jack entrusted Captain Billy with his letter of regret for the management of the hotel, and Billy provided him with several cards on which he scribbled notes of introduction to some of his theatrical connections in England.

"Capital business, England for the season," he beamed, as if their departure was an entirely professional decision. "We’ll look you up in London one day, I daresay!"

Edward was still asleep in the caravan when Jack and Tory went in. But Marcus was alert. His face lightened for an instant when he saw Jack, but he hung back from them both, his wide forehead furrowed with unhappiness, his dark eyes accusing. He must know they were leaving, and Tory could not blame him; she had scarcely been any older than Marcus when she'd lost her mama. She hugged him hard in goodbye, then waited by the door, in the shadows. Jack put out a hand toward the boy, where he sat on the edge of a little trundle cot, but when Marcus shrugged the gesture off, Jack crouched down beside him instead.

Marcus’ eyes flicked sideways at him. "Me know why you come."

Jack drew a breath. "I’m here to thank you. You did a man’s job last night. Tory told me all about it. You saved Alphonse’s life. You’ve made us all very proud."

"But you still going away."

"Not because I want to. Not because of anything you’ve done. You don’t think I would leave you if I didn’t have to?"

The child shrugged up his small shoulders, gazing at the floor.

"Marcus?" Jack pleaded.

"No." His small face tilted reluctantly toward Jack’s. "But me no want you to go."

"I don’t want to go either, not like this. But Alphonse needs our help. He isn’t safe here. We have to take him away." Jack made an effort to master his feelings and hurried on. "And now Cybele needs your help. She’ll depend on you more than ever."

"Me no play no more wit’out you," said Marcus.

"Of course you will. You have a very special gift, don’t you know that?" The child eyed him warily. "We’re leaving you your Pierrot costume and most of the props. They should last awhile, if you take care of them. And pretty soon, it will be time for you to teach Edward the trade."

"Edward!" Marcus hooted, in spite of himself. "Him too clumsy!"

"He’ll outgrow it, just like you did. You just have to be patient. You’ll make twice the profit," Jack pointed out.

Marcus cast a doubtful glance over at the smaller boy, then shrugged again. "When you come back?"

Jack’s eyes fell; he looked as if he’d been punched. "I...don’t know."

"Nevah," said Marcus, wistfully.

"Maybe not," Jack murmured.

"You fo’get all 'bout me."


Jack reached for him, and this time Marcus did not resist. Then Jack was straightening up, hugging the boy to his chest, unable to say any more. For a moment all of the child’s dark limbs were tightly wrapped around Jack, and his face was hidden in Jack’s neck.

"I’m going to miss you so much," Jack breathed against Marcus' curly hair.

"Me too," sniffed the boy. "Me wish you no have to go."

"Me too."

Then Marcus sat up with sudden resolution in Jack’s arms, and Jack set him back on his bed. The child was done with crying. He only watched wide-eyed as Jack turned and hurried past Tory to leap out of the caravan. She followed him outside, found him standing in the dark, staring at the ground.

"Cybele will take good care of him," she told him.

Jack nodded slowly. "I just wish...I had more to give him."

"You’ve given him a piece of your heart," Tory whispered. "And he’s smart enough to know it. There’s nothing more you can do."

Jack shook his head miserably. "It’s not enough."

Cybele came out of the wagon and glided up to them, pressing a packet secured with strings into Tory’s hand.

"This all I have left in the wagon. Can you find such things in England? I do not know. I write out the receipts, but I only know the French name for some things. Alphonse must translate."

Tory could not respond before she was enfolded in Cybele’s thick, strong arms. "I hate to leave you," Tory whispered.

"Your destiny lies another way from mine, cherie, away from these islands. But I have something for your journey." Cybele stood back and dug out of her apron pocket a fistful of pungent, papery dried herbs and crushed flowers. She sprinkled some over Tory’s hair and kissed her cheek, then turned to anoint and kiss Jack the same way. Then she took both of them by the hand.

"The Great Mother in all her many names protect you both, wherever you go." Cybele joined Tory’s hand to Jack’s. "Love a more blessed thing than gold, and more rare. As long as you care for each other, the Great Mother keep you from harm."

Tory felt light-headed, she was so near to crying, but Jack looked very sober. He drew her to him, right in front of Cybele, and kissed her deeply, then held onto her a moment longer. Tory burrowed into his embrace, delirious and embarrassed, salt tears leaking down her cheeks.

"Thank you," she heard Jack whisper to Cybele, but she was far beyond words by now. She could only hold him tighter.

Cybele, however, was once again her old pragmatic self. "I put some food in your pack. It be a long journey, and you must eat."

Jack nodded. "We’ve taken our costumes and some day clothing and a few props that we can carry. And two blankets. Everything left in the wagon, that’s for you and Calypso and the boys. Sell whatever you can’t use. The wagon and the horses are yours."

"But no! You be too generous to me already, you and Alphonse. You put all your profits into that wagon. I cannot accept."

"We can’t very well drive it across the Atlantic."

"Then I pay you—"

"No, Cybele, you've done so much for us, and you’ve a family to raise," Jack declared. "We have enough for our passage and a little left over for our landing. We’ll be all right."

Alphonse emerged from the shadows, folding a paper, which he handed to Cybele. "Take this document to Mr. Jepson when the season here is over. I have noted the address. He will be expecting you." Cybele nodded and secured the paper deep within her bodice.

"The wagon must remain here after we are gone," Alphonse hurried on. "If the militia comes back...when the militia comes back—"

But Cybele waved off his advice, whatever it might have been. "I deal with foolish men all my life."

Jack would have preferred any other conveyance than a troop ship. But a low-rated frigate, carrying its weary crew home from a tour of the Indies, was the only vessel leaving for England when they finally arrived at English Harbour. Her captain had seen Jack and Tory perform at one of the Commissioner’s dinners, and was glad enough to earn three fares of passage on his own account. Far from the aborted plot on Nevis, they were simply players sailing home to try their fortunes in England. When the formalities were concluded, each of them signed the manifest. Miss Victoria Lightfoot. Mr. Alphonse Belair. Mr. Jack Dance.

They had spent a day in the back of an oxcart, jouncing along the Round Road out of Charlestown for the windward coast. This was followed by a night in a creaky little sloop Alphonse had signaled, after dark from a hidden cove, that carried them to Falmouth Harbour on Antigua. He had thought to engage the sloop for two nights running, he told them, in case there were any strays from Gingerland. He never expected that he would be one of them.

"At least you know your money was well-spent," said Jack.

"But it is a very cruel kind of justice that I should escape when so many others must stay and bear their misery," Alphonse sighed.

It was no less cruel, Tory supposed, that Alphonse should find himself facing an Atlantic crossing when he had yet to recover from his night in the sloop. Efficient parties of sailors were racing to man the braces and sheets, and swarming up the shrouds into the rigging to make sail, when she spied Alphonse gripping the rail nearby with both hands. He was frowning out at the grey water under a cloudy sky, as the ship began to lurch and shiver under sail.

"I hope this won’t be a mistake," sighed Jack, standing beside her amidships.

Tory turned to look at him. "Surely even Alphonse won’t be ill for the entire voyage?"

"I meant...everything. It seems like every time we try to make a fresh start, it all blows up in our faces."

"But we can’t stop trying. We'll make it all up anew, as we always have. Like a play."

Jack shook his head. "But what about you, Rusty? England isn’t your home."

"My home," echoed Tory. "Well, had I stayed in my home, I suppose I might have become an underpaid governess by now. Or some grey-faced matron wed to a...a greengrocer’s apprentice at sixteen, who wakes up after thirty years have slipped by to wonder what’s become of her life. Instead of—"

"A rootless vagabond in a tattered pantomime adrift in the middle of the Atlantic?" Jack suggested.

"A life I choose. With the man I love," she corrected him. "I’d do it all again."

Alphonse was coming toward them with careful steps, even though there was not yet much of a pitch to the deck.

"I go below now to die in peace," he announced.

"We’re not out of port yet, Alphonse," said Jack.

"If you let these English cast my bones into this accursed sea, my miserable jumby come back to hound you round the world for all eternity."

They watched as he lowered himself down the hatchway with great dignity.

"Will he be all right in England?" Tory asked a moment later.

"Alphonse will do splendidly well. He has more manners and polish than I could ever hope to command."

Jack said nothing more for a few moments. The white of spreading canvas began to blot out the scrubby green landscape of English Harbour, now receding into the background on either side of the frigate. Tory could feel the stirring of power as the sails caught the breeze, and the ship stood for the harbor mouth and the open sea. From every direction, plain, hearty English voices were calling out orderly commands and crisp responses. No trace of island music could be heard in any of the voices, nor was there any idle jesting or laughter among the men. When Jack turned back to look at Tory, his eyes were full of apology.

"Ah, Rusty, it’s an awfully damned civilized place I’m taking you to."

"I’d march into the flames of Hell, so long as we could be together, hombre," she declared. "You know that."

"Aye, we’ll get there soon enough, at the rate we’re going."

Tory smiled and slipped her hand into his behind the cover of her full skirt. Jack’s long fingers were warm and reassuring as they closed around hers. And the frigate bent her sails for England, the destination of all runaways from the Indies.

The End

(Top: Harlequinade Finale, Pollock's Toy Theatre Pantomime Characters, 19th C, as seen on Hand-colored by Lisa Jensen.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Tory sat perched on the stool in the dark of the wagon, as the minutes crawled by like centuries. Captain Billy had the idea to keep Alphonse and Calypso and the boys safe in his caravan, where they were not expected to be; if the militia came back, they would be far less likely to bully an English gentleman like Billy Bruce about the property in his wagon. Tory had begged Cybele and Ada to share her wagon, or let her sit up on watch with the rest of them, but Ada would not be parted from Captain Billy, nor Cybele from the place where her children were. But Tory knew they did not wish to intrude upon what was already perceived as her sorrow.

She jumped now, every time she heard a rider pounding down the road, or the distant howling of dogs. But whenever she raced to the window, all she ever saw was an empty track, and the late moon growing smaller and paler as she crossed the arc of the sky.

Oh, Goddess! Listen to my hopeful cries,
Your mortal sister. Do not turn away!

What rubbish. It seemed like a thousand years since she had chanted that rhyme. Every day of life would be an eternity without Jack. The devil was making play, all right, and she could do nothing but sit here, waiting. And she rushed to the window again, eyes straining into the night, trying somehow to mold the darkness into Jack’s familiar silhouette, loping along as if nothing were the matter. But all she could conjure out of the shadows was the shape of an officer bringing her bad news, or even a party of militiamen, drunk with their blood sport, bringing back a long, twisted body to fling into the dirt beneath the wagon as a warning to other meddlers.

Nonsense, she scolded herself, there was no reason for anyone to connect Jack with the slave conspirators. No reason except Alphonse. And his presence on the estate on the fateful day. If Jack was discovered as the conspirators’ hostage, would the militia be more or less convinced of his innocence? Would they take special pains to insure his safety because of his white skin, or sacrifice him willingly in the crossfire? And if Constable Raleigh was one of the militiamen who discovered Jack… There were so many ways for a man to die, that’s what Captain Hart always said. It was damned odd that she could not will the dark to assume Jack’s living shape before her eyes, when she could see him battered and lifeless in the dirt of some nameless roadside gully all too clearly.

A creak brought her head snapping round to face the door. It might have been the melancholy sigh of a tree limb in the wind, but the dark seam between the door and the frame seemed to widen. Tory tried to blink away the hallucination, but the door was moving. She leaped for the tinder box and the cold lantern on the shelf before her. A hand shot out of the darkness, closing on her wrist.

"No, Rusty, not yet."

She dropped the tinder box, clutched at Jack’s hand, lurched toward his ragged voice and found him in the dark, throwing her arms around him as he swayed against her. His shirt was soaked and smelled of sweat and smoke and ripe earth, his skin was hot and wet and his lungs heaved against her, struggling for air. She clung to him long enough to feel the racket of his heartbeat, the desperate strength in his arms wrapping around her. When she tried to step back to let him breathe, he would not let her go.

"Is…Alphonse back yet?" he managed to gasp, at last.

"Hours ago!" Her words burst out of her like a sob, the spell of fearful silence broken. "Oh, Jack, oh, God, I’ve been so frightened! When Alphonse came back alone—"

"I know, I know, I’m so sorry."

Her hands felt for his face with desperate gentleness. "Are you all right? You’re not hurt?"

"No, no," He bore her caress, then pressed his face into her hair. "A few scratches from crawling about in the scrub, but—"

"Alphonse said he saw Constable Raleigh."

"He did." Jack’s arms tensed around her. "Where is Alphonse? We must get him away from here."

"Now? Why?"

"He’s implicated in the slave plot—"

"By Venus, you mean?"

Jack’s head came up. " What do you know about her? No, but there’ll be other witnesses soon enough. Any one of those fellows they catch. I saw the soldiers trying to flog it out of 'em; they’ll get the names they want before long. I’m surprised the militia hasn’t been here already."

"But they have. Jack, listen to me. They were watching us all evening. They found Alphonse here, but they let him go."

Jack stared at her, puzzled; his face looked exhausted in the fragile moonlight.

"There were dozens of witnesses who swore he’d been here all night," Tory went on. "Including the militiamen."


"Marcus. He wore the Punch costume."

Jack continued to stare at her, speechless. Whatever reserve of strength had brought him this far was fast draining away.

"Come sit down, hombre." Tory steered him to the bunk and he sank down heavily on its edge. "I’ll fetch some water. Are you hungry...?" She started to turn away toward the water jug, but Jack caught her hand.

"In a minute," he whispered.

So she sat down beside him, cradling his hand in both of hers. "Why did you send Alphonse back alone?"

"There were militia all over the damned place, he had to get away from there. He was the one they suspected, not me. If he'd been found anywhere near the conspirators—" Jack shook his head. "Our Alphonse is a man of many gifts, but running like the wind is not among them."

Tory could not quite smile, but she pressed his hand against her cheek. She saw him wince in the same moment she felt his sticky palm against her own skin.

"Hellfire, Jack, what’s happened to your hand?" She drew his hand toward the moonlit window, saw a ragged scorched circle of dark blisters.

"It was hellfire." His voice was a dry rasp.

"I’m going to get Cybele—"

"No, Rusty, please. Stay. Please stay."

His desperate expression made her sit down again, slide her arms around him, hold him again for another long moment when neither of them could speak. His grip was like a drowning man clinging to his only lifeline. What terrible things had he seen on the mountain tonight?

"I’m going to take care of your hand," she said evenly, at last, stroking his damp hair. "Tell me what happened."

"It was Raleigh." Jack sat up wearily again as Tory slipped away to the shelf where Cybele kept her pots of balm.

"Raleigh did this to you?"

Jack shook his head. "Raleigh is dead."

Tory’s head spun around. "Are you sure?"


"By whose hand?" she demanded; her blood was crashing in her ears.

"His own. It was an accident."

Tory brought Jack a cup of drinking water and sat down beside him with a basin of washwater and strips of gauze and a pot of balm. She tended his burnt hand as he gulped down the water and described the inferno that had been Stephen Raleigh’s last moments of life on earth.

"It was Fortune," Tory whispered fiercely when the awful tale was over. "I wished him dead. I can’t say I’m sorry."

"No," Jack said grimly. "Odd, though, how little satisfaction there was in it."

Tory nodded, still cradling Jack’s bandaged hand in hers. She would have expected to feel triumphant in this moment, as if she had won a great victory, but she only felt sad and disheartened.

"In a peculiar way, I suppose he died for what he believed in," Jack suggested. "No less than Alphonse’s companions."

"He believed in nothing but his own hatred," Tory sighed.

"Aye. And that, unfortunately has not died with him."

Jack had slumped back against the wall, and Tory crept alongside him. She put her head on his chest and her arms around his middle, in spite of his rank clothing. The merry, charmed world of Harlequin and Colombine and Mr. Punch, gaily dancing the grateful slaves to freedom, now seemed very far away. What a foolish conceit it had been. Jack’s arms closed around her and they were both quiet.

"There’ll be nothing but blood and death and misery in these islands, soon, mi vida," Jack murmured. "Slavery can’t continue for much longer. The planters can’t keep flaunting their privilege in the face of the people whose labor supports them, and expect them to accept their lot gratefully, because it’s convenient. As if they lacked the dreams and the heart and the muscle of other men to want something better. But how it will end, and at what cost to whom, that’s the issue. If there’s a war between the blacks and the whites and the people of color, what will happen to you and me and Alphonse? What becomes of our partnership, then? How can we possibly choose sides?"

"You think it will be a war?"

"It is now, only the planters don’t know it." Jack sighed. "Yet. But I know this much. It’s time for us to go home."

"Home?" Tory echoed, her voice hollow. "Where’s that?"

"England. And we must take Alphonse with us."

Tory drew a deep, silent breath. "You could be hanged for a pirate, Jack."

"I’m more likely to be hanged for an actor. Besides, Jack Danzador, the scourge of the Spanish Main is long gone."

"What about the Bath Hotel?" Tory fenced.

"We must tender our regrets, and leave the Bruces to fill the bill with their usual panache. Most unprofessional of us, but we can scarcely take the engagement at the risk of Alphonse’s life."

"But why England?"

"Because it will be safer for Alphonse. We are running out of islands here. It’s only a matter of time before someone positively connects him to this slave plot. Or the next one. He’s not an easy figure to mistake. But no one owns slaves in England. Of course..." He frowned at her wistfully. "If it was just us, we might return to the sea."

Tory shook her head. "That part of our life is over, hombre. Besides, Alphonse is a terrible sailor."

Jack nodded. "We can make a living in England, I’ve done it before. Unless you'd rather go back to Boston."

"I’d sooner swing from a gibbet at Gallow’s Point!" Tory exclaimed.

She felt the hum of laughter in Jack’s chest. "You confound me, Rusty. Most women would be in a fit of hysterics by now."

"I was saving those for when you didn’t come back." But her own words chilled her and she leaned up to find Jack’s mouth, and kissed him to stop her own shivering. He clasped her tightly to him, then abruptly let her go, and she realized she was tasting dirt and soot.

"Sorry, Rusty. I’m completely foul."

"As if I cared." But she got up to retrieve the washbasin and pour more water, while he pulled off his shirt.

"Whose idea was it to send Marcus out as Punch?" Jack asked as she finished mopping down his back.

"Mine. Calypso altered the outfit."

"It was brilliant."

"It was nearly a disaster. The militia almost found him out."

"But they didn’t. Alphonse can thank you for saving his neck."

"It’s Marcus he must thank. Oh, Jack, he was so wonderful, never a moment’s nerves or hesitation. You would have been so proud of him. If he hadn’t been so convincing..." She shook her head as she wrung out her cloth. "I couldn’t stuff all the costumes."


She told him about the stuffed Harlequin. "I didn’t expect anyone to think it was you, exactly, but you can’t have a pantomime without Harlequin, can you? All the characters had to be accounted for, and the poem was meant to explain it."

"Poem?" Jack echoed, amazed.

"Oh, you know, a verse to set the scene, like you always write."

"You wrote a poem? Since this morning?" When she nodded, he smiled just a little. "Well, let’s have it."

"Oh, Jack, it’s so silly..." But he insisted she recite it from beginning to end. When she finished, he said nothing at all, making her even more uneasy. "I told you it was no good."

"It was perfect." He reached out to take both her hands in his. "I’ve sailed with few enough men who could have kept a cool head for as long as you did, tonight. And I’m damned if any of ‘em would have the wit to write a poem into the bargain. I only wish I could tell you the worst of it was over."

"It’ll never be over, not for us," Tory sighed. "Not in this place. But even Alphonse says it would look suspicious to leave tonight. You must try to sleep now, while you can."

But it was not a night for repose. The oppressive stillness had rolled off the mountain to embrace the town, and while Tory’s brain grew dull, her eyelids were on springs; she could not force them to close. She could feel Jack lying awake beside her, jerking himself out of every fitful doze before he could dream, until she put her arms around him and felt the tension under his cold flesh. Half-asleep herself, she maneuvered her hands gently down his sides, caught him by the hips and shifted under him. His arms closed like a vise beneath her, and her kindly impulse to calm him gave way to something more selfish.

"Love me, Jack. I thought I’d lost you forever."

"I swore I would never leave you, mi vida."

She could feel him stirring, marshaling his strength, moving under her touch, coming to life. Her body arched high against his, warm and strong and heavy in her arms, as irresistible as a gale, but sweet, so sweet.

"Hold on to me, Rusty. Don’t let me go."

"Never, ever," she chanted back, "I swear it."

The slow, deep spasm of pleasure made her gasp. Part of her was ashamed for enjoying herself, enjoying Jack’s body, on such a night. But there was a kind of defiant triumph in it, too. This was the side she must always choose. Love. Survival. Life.

In another heartbeat, Jack shuddered to relief in her arms. She held on to him for a few more minutes until he sank into the exhausted sleep he needed, and for which there was so little time.

It was still dark when Alphonse came tapping at the wagon door. It seemed that only minutes had passed since they’d first crept into bed, but Tory rolled over groggily to see Jack already up and washing at the basin.

"Are you a child?" Alphonse demanded, when Jack let him in. "What did you mean, telling Victoria what you’d heard? Do you know what they do to those they suspect of having information?"

"You should have thought of that before you became involved," Jack retorted. "You, of all people! Why did you do it?"

Alphonse lowered his head and muttered something Tory could not hear. But the effect on Jack was electric. He stared down at Alphonse for a moment, then sank down to his haunches, as if the air had been let out of him, mouthing an oath. He put a hand on Alphonse’s shoulder, and mumbled something contrite.

"Because of me," Tory spoke softly from the bed. Both men turned to look at her, and she knew she had guessed right.

"I traded a pledge to find you, Victoria," Alphonse murmured. "It had to be redeemed. It was…a small price to pay." Jack’s bandaged hand slid off his shoulder, and Alphonse caught it and looked at it, and then up at Jack. "What happened yesterday was perhaps the most foolish thing you have ever done," he scolded Jack. "I owe you my life and many others far more valuable than mine. Do not think I am happy about it."

"It’s going to get worse," Jack sighed. "We’re going to England."

Tory rolled her eyes to the heavens, wondering why Jack had not thought to soften the news. Alphonse's gaze did not waver.

"We?" he echoed.

"All of us," Jack nodded. "You and me and Tory."

"To England? An entire nation of the English?"

"It’s only another island," said Jack. "An island without slaves."

Alphonse considered the proposition, folding his arms across his chest. "And I am expected to give up all my work here?"

"Your work here is finished," Jack declared, rising again. "You are too visible. The planters and their lawmakers may not know exactly what you’re up to, but they understand that you’re a threat to everything they believe in. Even if they can’t prove your involvement in Gingerland, they will never leave you alone after this."

"So I am to away."

"No. Continue your work in the only place where it might do some good," Jack urged, perching on the end of the bunk. "Escapes and risings won’t put an end to slavery, you know that. They will only create new martyrs. But the laws of England might, if enough voices agitate for it. It’s not a crime there to speak out for freedom."

Alphonse continued to gaze at him, saying nothing.

"There will be a reckoning in these islands in any event, and soon," Jack continued. "Would you not rather have a hand in the rebuilding? You have so much to teach these people, but you must stay alive. You can teach them nothing from the grave."

Alphonse considered. "And when must we go?"

"Soon. Before they can...persuade any conspirators into naming you."

Alphonse looked away. "Perhaps this is the best plan," he murmured. Then he turned again to look at them both. "But you need not come with me when your life is here."

Jack glanced at Tory. It had never occurred to them to separate from Alphonse, no more than they would have thought of parting from each other.

"Are we not partners?" said Jack.

"Even so, you must not uproot yourselves," Alphonse persisted, "leave all this behind..."

Jack glanced all round the wagon’s interior. Some creaking shelves, a few lopsided baskets of mismatched clothing, some plain sticks of hand-hewn furnishings. "It’s not so much," he grinned.

"But you would do this...for me?"

"Jack misses England," Tory explained to Alphonse. "He wants to go home."

Jack half-turned where he sat on the end of the bed, to look at her in mild surprise. She supposed the simple truth of it had never entered his mind.

"And what do you want, Victoria?" Alphonse asked her.

"I want you safe, both of you. And I want us to stay together. It doesn’t matter to me where we go."

Jack was still gazing at her. His hand crept across to where she sat and covered hers.

"It will be very different from the islands," he apologized.

"Colder, for one thing,” suggested Alphonse.

"Aye," Jack agreed. "And busier. And dirtier, at least in the towns."

"But we’ll be together," Tory said stoutly. "And we’ve been through worse."

"And what about the others?" Alphonse’s voice was very quiet, but his words echoed like cathedral bells all round the room.

"Why…we'll…take 'em with us," Jack faltered.

"Cybele will never leave the islands," said Tory. "This is her home."

"We cannot carry them off to a nation of the English without a penny to protect them," Alphonse agreed.

"Since when are you penniless?"

"Escapes are costly," muttered Alphonse. "Transport must be arranged, safe houses secured. Silences must be bought." He shook his head. "How soon can you be ready to leave?"

Jack looked at Tory, who nodded back. "Today. Now. But if there’s martial law—"

"Be ready in half an hour," Alphonse told them. "Sunup. Pack lightly. I know how to get off this island."

(Top: Homecoming, by Lisa Jensen © 2010)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chapter 37: RECKONING

It was far too quiet, unnaturally quiet. Fear descended like twilight over the mountain. There was no hum of activity anywhere on the estate, not in the stock pens, or the cook-house, or the slave cabins. Only the thick, manufactured quiet of held breaths and swallowed words, punctuated now and then by a stray shot, or the riot of passing hooves, or yelping dogs, or some other outcry of violence. Then the ominous quiet again. Like a nightmare.

Without Shadow’s firm footing, Jack had long since lost his way in the dense, darkening wood, maneuvering through the prickly scrub however he might. He could only keep battling his way downward, staying out of the open, and dodging for deeper cover at every sound. He had lost his bearings, his sense of time. He had lost his battle to save Alphonse’s companions.

"This is a military operation, now," he tried to convince them, after Alphonse had gone. "The men who find you here will be soldiers sniffing for blood, not planters and bookkeepers. They won’t negotiate. They won’t give you a hearing. They’ll be looking for targets, scapegoats, and you’re playing right into their hands!"

"I no listen to any more of your prattle!" Paris exploded, at last. "Belair was right, you come to warn us and you should not die for it. But I kill you me own self if you say anoter word." He waved a cutlass toward the door. "Go. Now!"

"Come with me! At least throw down your weapons, and take up your tools while there’s still time." A foolish thing to say, Jack knew. Their only weapons were their tools, cutlasses from the cane fields, axes, pikes. Henry’s musket was their only firearm. Their escape plan had needed no defense, only secrecy and stealth, but that was in shambles now. "They only want proof of a conspiracy to convict you. Don’t give it to them."

"Go, before you make cowards of us all!" cried Paris.

"They will make corpses of you all!" Jack had pleaded. "What will any of you achieve, hung up in a gibbet to die in the sun? What will that tell your people?"

"That we choose to die with honor," hissed Paris. Young Remus and Henry and the handful of others grunted their agreement. "This not your fight, buckra, no more than it was Belair's," Paris told him, his voice softened by fatalism. "Go."

And Jack had gone, slunk off into the scrub with only his bitter frustration for company. He tried to convince himself they might yet elect to save themselves, if there was no white man there to see it. But the first shot from above, some time ago now, told Jack they had been discovered at last, trying to fight or flee. The dogs he’d heard were surely flushing out the ones who had run off. He'd crept past a party of militiamen who had captured one conspirator, and heard the ringing cartwhips of their interrogation for what seemed like hours after. How long before one of these brutalized fellows coughed up Alphonse’s name? Jack could only pray to Christ that Alphonse had gotten off this cursed mountain in time.

Jack had already fallen once and muddied his clothing. If only he had some idea of where he was, and how to get off this mountain. As he felt his way along, he came to a sudden, sharp drop in the scrub, a declension too steep to climb down in the dark, possibly even a ravine. He made his way along this ridge until he came to a place where the brush gave way to a clearing of open, rocky ground. Peeping out, he saw he was on the far perimeter of the slave yard. Past a few plots of kitchen gardens, off to his left, he could make out the dark shapes of the cabins, with a few tentative lights within.

Far across the open yard, sloping up from the right, Jack saw a wall of maturing cane, its feathery tops stirring in the rising night breeze. He knew the lower border of this estate and its neighbors was the Round Road that circled this part of the mountain, the road that would take him back to Charlestown. Back to Tory. If he could make his way into the cane-pieces, he could follow their milder slope down to the road, and get out of here.

He glanced back up toward the cabins, focusing all his senses to try to pierce the eerie stillness. The militia must have a guard posted to watch the cabins, but where were they? The only lights were a few far-off dots inside the cabins, and the glow of a cookfire, hastily abandoned, at the edge of the kitchen gardens nearest him, banked but not yet out. Beneath charred, ashy wood and trash, something still glowed red within. The fire still fed.

Jack could see nothing, hear nothing. But the tension in the yard was alive for all the stillness, a thousand ghosts stirring in the air, waiting, hovering. Loas and jumbies, all the spirits of the dead, watching to see who would join them on this terrible night. A fierce night wind began to whistle now in the cane, an unearthly sound. But Jack would take his chances with the ghosts. He only hoped the militia near the cabins was too far away to notice him.

He started out slowly. Out in the open, he could better hear a distant murmur of harsh soldierly voices and sudden laughter from the direction of the cabins, and he moved more briskly for the cover of the cane. Halfway across the open field, his ear picked out an indistinct drumming of hoofbeats growing louder, shivering the ground under his feet. Jack spun around when something crashed out of the wood, behind him, an eruption of flailing limbs and stomping hooves and cursing and snorting that gradually resolved itself into a horse and rider.

"I said halt, ye damned brute!" bellowed the rider. He flailed some heavy thing across the horse’s nose, yanking so severely on the reins that the snorting, irritated animal hobbled about in two clumsy circles before the rider regained control. Derisive male laughter echoed down to them from the cabins, where the militia kept watch.

"Sodding half-wits—" fumed the rider, but his curses died away as he came about the second time and spied Jack in the darkness, inching toward the cane field.

"Halt there, you!" he cried, spurring his horse to cut off Jack’s progress. And Jack knew that he was trapped in the worst nightmare of his life. It was too dark to see the cold green eyes, but he knew the contemptuous voice of Stephen Raleigh. It made an awful kind of sense, finding him here. Funny, how the bastard kept popping up whenever there was trouble.

"You know you’re forbidden to leave the cabins," Raleigh continued. "What are you up to, hey? Answer me!"

Jack thought he might brazen it out if Raleigh did not recognize him in the dark. But this was not the night to play the part of a slave.

"Why, I’ve lost my way in the dark, officer." Jack tried his most civilized accent. "Be good enough to point me toward the road."

There was a beat of terrible silence. Then Raleigh’s hand clamped down on Jack’s filthy collar. "Oh, you’ve lost your way, all right. Mountebank. D’ye take me for a fool?"

"You’re a long way from Basseterre, Constable," Jack muttered. "Who’s terrorizing the market women while you’re away?"

"I’ve had a run of ill luck in Basseterre." Raleigh was seething, but still in command of his temper. His grip was still strong. Jack could smell the oily rag wrapped round the end of the club he now cradled against his side as he clutched the reins. A torch. His restless fellows in the militia, itching for sport, must have chased him off on patrol before he could light it. "But my fortunes will change once I bring you up on charges."

"What charges? Wandering in a wood is not a crime."

"Sedition is a crime. Collusion with the damned darkies. Threatening an officer of the law in his own rooms is a very serious crime. And so is aiding a rebellion."

"There’s no rebellion here. You fellows are chasing your tails."

"There’s a rebellion, by God, or I wouldn’t find you here. And I’ll have it out of your hide, every detail. We’ll get our proof."

"If I’m you’re only proof, you won’t have much to show for your pains. The entire militia mustered to rout out one paltry white man? This operation will be the laughingstock of the islands."

But this goad had a more violent effect than Jack expected.

"No one will be laughing! Least of all you, Mountebank." His fist knotted more tightly into Jack’s collar. "And how is your colored whore these days?" he needled viciously.

"She is very well indeed. Far away from here."

For an instant, Raleigh’s grip trembled. "You lie!" he hissed. "Getting rid of that insolent wench is the best day’s work I ever did. Sending you to the gallows will make my triumph complete. Your kind are a contagion, infecting the whole of the Indies with your liberality. Conspiring with the damned slaves until they think they’re as good as men—"

"They are men," Jack interrupted. "They have a right to live."

"Not on my watch! I’ll root 'em all out, as I’ve rooted out you and your whore, all the darkies and the damned free coloreds, all the sodding trash with their airs until the pits of Hell overflow—"

Jack could not help staring at this outpouring of bile. Even Raleigh must have realized he was raving and his voice faded.

"Go home, constable," Jack urged quietly. "There’ll be no trouble here tonight unless you start it."

Raleigh stared down at him in mute rage. Then there was a horrible lightening of his demeanor; Jack could feel it in the very air, as dark as it was. "That’s right, by God. Mustn’t let a good rebellion go bad for want of a little proof," Raleigh rasped. "I’ll give 'em proof they’ll never forget!"

He pushed Jack aside, grasped the end of his cold torch and brandished it in the air. A tiny voice of sanity in Jack’s brain told him to dive for the cover of the cane and get away when he had the chance, but he leaped for Raleigh’s arm instead, struggling to wrest the torch out of his grip. But he only succeeded in pulling loose a tail of oiled cloth before Raleigh kicked him in the chest, and rode over to the cookfire, to shove the end of his torch into the glowing embers until it flamed up in the dark. Jack scrambled up to run after him. But by the time Jack got there, Raleigh had come about and was spurring his mount toward the cane field, his flaming torch aloft.

Igniting a cane-piece was the signal for a slave rising, that's what Alphonse had told him. At the first sight of flames the militia would have license to murder at will. There were no rules for quelling a rising; any presumption of innocence would be lost, and no further "proof" needed. The restless militia might proceed directly to the punishment phase, which would be swift and brutal, wreaked upon children and women alike, every family in the yard, because they were slaves at the site of a rising.

Jack could not outrun a horse, he was already wheezing from Raleigh’s kick. With only seconds to act and none to think, he seized a fist-sized stone from the circle beneath the red ashes of the cookfire. He couldn't spare an instant to feel the searing pain as it scorched his hand, but raced a few steps after Raleigh and threw the hot stone with a juggler’s precision and all his strength.

He heard the smack and the hiss against the horse’s rump, and saw the animal rear up with a shriek, prancing backwards on its hind hooves, still some distance from the cane. Raleigh struggled to hold on, lost his grip on the torch, but caught it up again much higher, closer to the flame. It blazed up ferociously in the breeze, and the frightened horse bucked again.

Then a sudden hot, dry wind gusted in fiercely off the cane; from far behind the horse, Jack could feel the heat on his face. He could see the flames blaze backward along the loose strip of oily cloth, engulfing Raleigh’s hand and wrist. The horse finally wrenched itself free of it’s burden, and Raleigh fell backward with a scream, as the wind blew the flames back along his sleeve. He tried to cast the torch away as he fell, but the flames welded it to his grasp. He wasn’t able to roll away under the horse’s stamping hooves, pinned there by the animal’s fury, flailing his burning arm. The maddened animal twisted around and bucked one last time, and Jack saw the hooves crash down on the man underneath. The horse bolted off into the dark, but there was no more shrieking or writhing from the figure on the ground. Other patches of his clothing sparked, smoked, ignited. The toasty scent of burning linen mingled with more sickening odors. Stephen Raleigh was the only thing ablaze in the dark, open field.

Jack found himself racing toward the hellish tableau, with the crazed idea of doing something, anything, but he hadn't any implements for beating off a blaze, and the heat forced him back. The shouting from the cabins was suddenly louder and nearer; sick with horror, Jack could only keep running into the protection of the tall cane, running blindly away from the eerie glow and the crackle of flames, from ghosts and death. There was no appeasing the gods of death, there never would be, not in the Indies. This nightmare was far from over.

(Top: Slave Rebellion handbill; Jamaica, 1832. Image Reference PRO-5, as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


It was a different sort of custom than they had played to last season in Charlestown. Tory noticed it even as she juggled pins in her opening business. The island quality and their grand carriages were entirely absent, off to the ball—or at least, the ladies. There were no able-bodied white men of any station present, so it must be true, what Jack had overheard. They were all turned out for the island militia. They would have made Gingerland by now.

That left an audience of mostly brown and black townsfolk from the free colored communities, tradespeople, laborers and children, a smattering of country servants attached to the ball-goers, and the usual curiosity seekers up from the docks. Tory recognized a bluff, grizzled, one-legged English seadog who called himself Salty, and whose chief occupation was trading stories for drinks in the grog shops. And most were in a jolly humor, eager for diversion. The fate of a few unruly slaves up in the hills was no affair of theirs. Or mine, Tory reminded herself, forcing a smile onto her face.

Marcus had cartwheeled all round the stage in his Pierrot rig. Now he made his first appearance in the Punch costume, juggling hoops. Tory couldn’t take hers eyes off the peculiar slope to one of Mr. Punch’s shoulders where the padding sagged, and the paste mask sat at an odd angle; suppose it slid down over the boy’s eyes, blinding him, or fell off his face altogether? Then Punch tossed her a hoop, and she had to concentrate on the business at hand. Toward the end of their routine, Marcus dropped a hoop and Tory’s heart froze, but he caught it up again so deftly on the first bounce, it was possible no one had noticed. Scarcely remembering to bow to the applause, she hurried Marcus offstage to make way for Captain Billy.

Ada Bruce was halfway through her hornpipe when Tory saw a signal from Cybele in her stall by the road. Peeping out from behind their stage, Tory spotted them too, white faces at the back of the crowd, three or four younger men flanking an older gentleman in the type of brassy frock coat favored by deputized officers of the militia. Were they watching for Alphonse? Did that mean they hadn’t caught him? Or were they lying in wait for Jack?

Tory could not bear to watch when she sent Marcus back onstage for the Punch solo. She busied herself backstage, alert to every murmur and titter from the audience, waiting for the collective groan or gasp that would tell her calamity had befallen the boy. But he came skipping off, exactly on cue. And then it was her turn to fling open the curtain and take the stage as Columbine.

"Poor Harlequin was spying on the moon,
Offending fair Diana’s modesty.

Moonstruck, he’s fallen deep into a swoon,

Insensible to earthly cares, and me."

A limp bit of doggerel, this, but she hadn’t had much time to compose it, and it would have to serve. The audience had been promised a recitation, after all. The waning moon would not be up for hours, but she pitched her words to a strategically placed torch, by whose flickering light the outline of the Harlequin outfit was just visible. It was stuffed with straw in an attitude of sprawling torpor at the back of the stage. A rather mangy cocked hat from Captain Billy’s wardrobe rested atop one crooked sleeve, so the figure would not appear to be headless.

"Without his magic bat to keep me safe,
That rascal, Mr. Punch, will try his odds,"

Tory continued, turning full into the pool of torchlight and stretching her arms imploringly to the audience. Then she set her hands on her hips in a saucy gesture.

"I’ll dance the foolish clown a merry chase
And send this boy to plead before the gods."

Marcus trotted out as Pierrot, and somersaulted to his knees at her feet. Tory pantomimed sending him off on a journey, and the boy leaped up, danced a jubilant figure around her, and cartwheeled off. Tory made herself count slowly—take your time, draw them in, that’s what Jack would say—as she turned again to the spectators, marched downstage, and threw up her arms toward the "moon."

"Oh, Goddess! Listen to my hopeful cries,
Your mortal sister! Do not turn away!

For when the gods to mortals close their eyes

All fellows know the Devil, him make play!"

There were hoots of appreciation in the audience for this bit of island patois, and expectations were high for the devil to come. Tory ran to grab two of Columbine’s kitchen spoons from a pile of utensils in a corner, then ran back to the supine Harlequin, clapping the spoons together over him, and waiting, poised, as if for a response.

Then Punch raced in from the other side of the stage, lost his footing, and lurched into the pile of kitchenware with a crash that made the audience jump, then laugh. Punch righted himself, Tory breathed again, and he grabbed up a ladle and a rolling pin, paused to mime a leer in her direction, and the chase round the stage began.

Between the tumbling and the slapstick, and the breakneck feats, and the exits and entrances, along with Columbine’s periodic cries of "Lo! Harlequin wakes!" to fool Mr. Punch and the audience, Tory lost track of the militiamen in the audience. Once, she heard the hoofbeats of a rider in the road, and relief pumped into her throat so fast, she nearly choked on it. Jack, it must be Jack! But when she stole a look, it was only another man in a military coat, sliding off his mount to talk to his fellows.

Anxiety clung like weights to her limbs and her heart, but Tory pressed on. She didn’t even know what she was doing onstage any more, her business was all rote by now. She only counted the beats until she could finally get off this damned stage and find out what was going on. In another minute, maybe two—

Then she suddenly realized Marcus had missed his cue to return to the stage. Well, it was a lot to ask of the boy, but he’d get there in the end. She pirouetted around the stage a second time, juggling higher, kicking up her skirts. On her third go-round, Punch finally appeared again. He did a handspring, a forward roll and two cartwheels, as if in apology, then dove again for the prop pile, coming up with two spoons and a rusted carving knife. Damn, she'd told him no knives! But he was putting on a hell of a display with it. Tory only hoped his showing off wouldn’t ruin them all. He was chasing her across the stage, to the audible delight of the crowd, when a shout came up from its midst.

"Ho, there! Halt in the name of the Captain-General!"

All four militiamen and both officers were marching through the crowd toward the stage; it was a nightmarish repeat of that day in Basseterre. Tory ran downstage without a backward glance, still clutching her props. Surely Marcus would have sense enough to slip away behind her.

"What, sir, is the pantomime unlawful in Charlestown?" she addressed the officers, broadly, as if she could transform the scene into a part of the play and control it.

"Riot and rebellion are unlawful in Charlestown, Miss," grunted the newly arrived officer of the militia, as he leaped up on the stage. "Stand aside," he commanded her. "I’ll have a look at your little darky there."

Damn, Punch was still lingering upstage. But when Tory moved instinctively to block the officer’s path, and buy an extra second of time, the man shoved her aside and into the grasp of another of the militiamen. who were now swarming across the stage. Scarcely aware of being handled, she was calculating how quickly she might throw off her guard and tumble into the officer before...

But then Punch too was in custody, grabbed from behind by a militiaman who emerged out of the shadows. Tory wrenched herself forward, dragging her guard with her. They must not discover Marcus in Alphonse’s costume, it would look like the ruse it was. What an idiotic idea this was, now they would all be implicated in a slave conspiracy, all of them, and it was her fault. Jack had been a fool to leave it in her hands.

The officer yanked off Punch’s conical hat and tore away his mask. He took one step backward as if from a blow when Alphonse's face, shiny with exertion, tilted up to gaze at him.

"Gentlemen," said Alphonse.

Tory was ready to swoon with relief, but she dared not waste an instant of her advantage.

"Please, sir, be good enough to tell me what the matter is," she exclaimed, half-turning to the curious audience, who were crowding in around the stage.

The officer dragged Alphonse downstage by the shoulder, toward a pool of torchlight, for a better look. But he stopped short of the spot when he noticed the dozens of onlookers’ faces ringing the stage.

"I have information that this fellow is implicated in a rising," he declared. That set the crowd to prattling.

"Where?" Tory demanded, aping surprise. "When?"

"This evening, in Gingerland," the officer responded. "But the conspiracy was discovered in time, and the ringleaders are being dealt with," he added, to the crowd. "No property has been lost. There is nothing to fear."

Dealt with. The words made a sinister pounding in Tory’s head. Where the hell was Jack?

"But Gingerland is miles from here," she protested, in her most innocent and reasonable voice. "And we’ve been playing here since nightfall."

This produced affirmative noises from the crowd.

"Aye, and the little Punch, too!" roared old Salty, drumming his wooden stump upon the ground. "Took after the wench with a roller pin, 'e did. I wanted to see 'ow it all come out!"

"It’s true, sir," muttered the young fellow who still gripped Tory by the shoulders. "They’ve been at it all night. We’ve seen 'em. Him and the lady, and that musical couple. And the lad."

The Bruces had come out from backstage to lend whatever support they could. Marcus stood between them, dressed as Pierrot.

The officer let go of Alphonse, with a huff of impatience.

"Somebody’s eyes are playing tricks," he growled. But he could scarcely dispute the eyewitness account of his own men. "We shall sort out whose in the morning. And you had better make yourself available for further questioning," he told Alphonse. "Who has charge of this enterprise?"

"I do, sir," cried Captain Billy, hurrying forward before Tory could think of any more plausible response. The militia officer sized up Billy Bruce, and seemed to relax a bit.

"I must close you down for tonight, on orders of the Captain-General of the Leewards. Between you and me," he went on, in a much lower voice, "there may be more violence done tonight, before we catch the last of 'em. Best to get all the ladies indoors."

"Capital suggestion, sir. I quite agree," nodded Captain Billy.

It was slow torture for Tory to have to behave as if everything were all right, picking up the props and clearing the stage while the militiamen dispersed the audience from the clearing. Gazing back once toward their campsite, Tory spotted Shadow tethered with the other horses, cropping idly at the green scrub. But she could see no trace of Jack. At last, when the remaining militiamen were standing far off, Tory found Alphonse behind the curtain.

"Are you all right?" she breathed, grasping his hands.

"Yes, yes. I’m sorry—"

"Where’s Jack?"

Alphonse’s dark face furrowed with trouble. "Victoria, I do not know."

"It was never a rising," Alphonse declared, when they were finally alone, and he'd told her how he and Jack had parted. "It was an escape. Since Jack told you the rumor, I owe you at least the truth. But it was never my intention to involve any of you."

"But why?" Tory begged. "After Whitehall? Why?"

Alphonse shifted uncomfortably. "I...owed it. To a friend."

They sat on the floor of the wagon, the lamp very low, the door open to the campsite. Cybele was setting out pallets for those who would keep watch tonight—Captain Billy, Cully, herself. Horsemen passed now and then on the road, and once Tory heard the echo of baying hounds from the mountain. The militia hunting down the last of those who had tried to escape.

"What will happen to them?" she asked uneasily. "The stragglers?"

"Shot, if they run. Sentenced to hang if they are taken. Running off alone is one thing, but if they are caught in a plot—"

"And the others?"

"Most had the sense to return to their cabins. Scores were ready to escape, if it could be done in secret, but less than a dozen chose to fight or run. The rest were able to save their lives. Because of Jack."

Tory closed her eyes against despair. It had been hours.

"He is a white man," Alphonse told her gently. "He will not be shot on sight."

"Unless they mistake his clothing in the dark," she murmured. "Or storm the place he’s being held."

"Paris will let him go before then, he is not a monster. And if the militia captures him, he can claim he was a hostage in a...rising," Aphonse spat out the word. "They will not harm him. But more likely, he has slipped away already."

Tory only nodded at such cold comfort.

"It might have succeeded," Alphonse sighed, almost to himself. "So many of them were determined to go; they had been preparing their hidden escape routes off the mountain for months. After dark, when the masters were all away in town. I had only to provide transport off-island, and safe houses, until they might make their ways to English Harbour to take ship for England."

"England?" Tory echoed. Most runaway were fortunate to get off-island, let alone across the ocean.

"Do you know that a runaway cannot be reclaimed by his master in England?" Alphonse replied. "It is the law. They had only to bide their time in hiding for a few weeks until the shipping lanes reopened and enough shipping came through English Harbour to carry them out of the Leewards. It should have worked."

"Why didn’t it?" Tory asked. "Who would betray them?"

"Jack would not tell Paris, but he told me. A field girl. Venus."

"But, I know this girl." Cybele was standing in the doorway. "Venus. She come see me all the time."

"What for?"

"Why, the same thing you come to me for, cherie. She crave motherhood no more than you, for all that she only a poor slave."

"She has a lover?" Tory asked.

"If that what you call it when a bull put to the cow," Cybele snorted. "Her master lock up the young slave men and women together at night, according to a schedule."

"His great experiment, improving the strain for field work, as he calls it," Alphonse agreed. "It is the worst kept secret in the Leewards."

"But why should Venus betray the others to a master who uses her so?" Tory wondered.

"For freedom." Alphonse's voice was bitter.

"But they might have all escaped—" Tory protested.

"Ah, but escapes often go wrong," said Cybele. "Plots go wrong every day. But the grand blancs so terrified of a rising these days that any slave who betray such a plot to her master almost certain to be freed for it. How else can a dark-skinned girl like Venus gain her freedom without having to bear a child she no want?"

Tory closed her eyes again. How indeed? How could anyone survive in these beautiful and benighted islands?

"Is it safe for you to stay here tonight?" she asked Alphonse.

"If they had any evidence against me besides hearsay, they would have taken me off that stage when they had the chance. For now, I look more guilty if I run away."

He shifted up to his feet when Calypso opened the door of the Bruces’ caravan, where she had put the younger boys to bed. Stepping to the threshold, he paused to look back at Tory.

"There more thing," he told her, his expression grim. "There are many troops of militia all over the mountain tonight. But coming down the trail, I recognized one man in particular. It may come to nothing, their paths may never cross—"

Tory could not have looked any more stricken. Alphonse had to avert his eyes.

"It was Constable Raleigh of Basseterre."

(Top: Columbina, by Tony Banfield, based on the illustrations of William West. As seen on

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


It was too much to think about all at once; she would go mad. She must solve one problem at a time, Tory told herself, and keep going. Carrying Captain Billy’s coat and hat back to the Bruces’ caravan, she noticed a faint whiff of rum on the damp collar, and had her first inspiration.

"Jack is...indisposed," she told them, leaking just a trace of irritation into her voice. Neither of them had ever seen Jack drunk, but she dare not endanger them with the truth.

"Not seriously, I hope?" chirped Ada.

"Oh, a simple combination of heat and nerves, I suspect," Tory shrugged, in a tone that implied she was putting the best face on it. "But if he’s still, um, unwell by curtain time tonight, I thought you might like to have an extra routine or two prepared. Just in case."

"My dear, we are professionals!" Captain Billy declared. "We shall sing and dance until dawn, if that is what’s required!"

Cybele had taken the other children into town, to deliver some herbal remedies and fancywork promised to some ladies in time for the ball. But Tory saw Marcus under a stand of acacias with an open satchel of props, juggling furiously to an inner rhythm pounding away in his own head. The wiry boy had not grown much taller in these last months, but his trunk and arms and legs, once so thin, had thickened with noticeable new strength. Soon he would spurt up like Cully had, his limbs stretching to their full length. But for now... she stared hard at the boy. Hellfire, it might work.

"That’s fine, Marcus!" she called to him. "Do you know any of the Punch business?"

"Handsprings," he replied eagerly, "tree in a row! Me can somersa’t all round the stage, and juggle the bat and the club. And..." he hesitated for an instant, then his grin widened, "... me roll under you skirt and tief you big cookspoon!"

"Good," Tory laughed. "We’ll have to do twice as much tonight, if... until the others get back. I’ll come out and practice with you as soon as I can. When Cybele returns, ask Calypso to come see me."

She was sorting out costumes when Calypso found her in the wagon.

"Alphonse no return today," Calypso said without preamble at the door. "You know where he is?"

Tory measured her reply. "Do you?"

Calypso shook her head.

"Jack does. He’s gone to find him. Don’t ask me to tell you any more."

Calypso nodded and Tory held up the little Punch costume. "Can you alter this to fit Marcus? Can you do it by this evening?"

Calypso gazed at the little white tunic, with its flounced black edging and dancing bells, and at the short leggings.

"I can. But it no look like Alphonse."

Tory blinked. The alert girl was already a step ahead of her.

"If I tuck it in to fit that boy, it only show off how they be different."

"Can you pad it?" Tory suggested. "A little roll of scraps or straw sewn inside, to fill the chest and shoulders? In the trousers, just above the knees?" A little ox, that was how Jack had once described Alphonse, thickset and powerful in the shoulders and thighs.

"Yes, I tink so."

"Nothing heavy or awkward," Tory hurried on. "Marcus must be able to move. Only enough to—"

"Trick the eye," murmured Calypso, taking up the costume.

Tory choked down another wave of unease. This would never work. But it must, she told herself. Their audience would not expect to see anyone but Alphonse in the Punch costume, and Alphonse they would see. She would have to rehearse Marcus carefully in the padded costume, but he already knew how to work in a mask. Still, she must not let him try anything too dangerous that might injure him or give them away; no torches or knives. They were in no position to thrill a crowd, with their two daredevils absent. She had better come up with some knockabout comedy business, to take up the slack. Not that she was in much of a laughing mood.

Calypso retired to her sewing basket, and Tory pawed through the rest of their costumes. At the bottom of the pile was Jack’s patchwork Harlequin outfit, unused since St. John’s. Who among them could fill it? She lifted out the shirt and trousers, held them up, inspected them. She could still make out some faded rusty stains on the right side of the shirt, could see where Calypso’s clever fingers had mended the patches back together. With an effort, Tory forced the image of Jack’s beaten, bloody body out of her mind, and flung the costume into a corner. Calypso looked up, then away. But Tory continued to stare at its twisted rag-doll shape on the floor.

Then she retrieved her Columbine skirt and petticoat. There might be a way, after all, if she could only make it work. She must come up with the performance of a lifetime, for lives depended upon it, a triumph in the art of stage illusion. A quartet for two. If only she played bravely enough. And she reached for her logbook.

Jack kept Shadow to the high road, traveling due east, as they climbed into the foothills surrounding the central cone of Nevis. He knew enough to keep the silhouette of Saddle Hill well to southward, past a distinctive fork in the road Marcus had described, and bore away to the left above a ravine. The higher they climbed, the more relaxed the horse began to feel beneath him. These must be the back roads where Shadow had plied his trade as a cart horse in his former life.

When Jack reckoned they were near the borderlands of the estate he sought, perhaps even on the place, according to the signposts, he gave Shadow his head. Within moments, the animal turned off the high road for a hidden path through the wild scrub, just wide enough for a narrow cart. A path some wainman must have forged to hide his progress until he was ready to appear; Tory had told him how slaves cherished every moment out of their master’s eye. Jack was just as glad to stay out of sight of the main house and mill works now. He had already passed several carriages in the road, trundling down the mountain for town, but could not be sure the people from this place were among them. The sun had already passed its zenith as well, so the slaves were no longer in the fields, but were off enjoying their traditional Saturday afternoon holiday before the Sunday market. But where would they be? To what private place would they have gone to set their plan into motion?

The path wound through the brush, skirting wide, sprawling cane pieces. Most were fallow in this season, or just beginning to be holed and planted, while others boasted green cane as tall as a man, that had been too young to harvest last year. Soon, Jack saw the big house in the distance, and the mill works beyond, deserted at this time of year. Riding on, he passed above flimsy slave cabins, down in a gully. In the still, hot afternoon, he could hear the thin wailing of babies. Surely the plotters would not meet there, in the middle of the day, endangering their children.

The trail gave on to a stable yard, and Jack had to pull Shadow back into the protection of the scrubby woods, away from the cabins, up into the high ground, searching now for watchman’s huts or a patch of provision ground hidden from the estate below. He passed one dilapidated shack and a few tiers of vegetable plots; he must be going in the right direction. Then he came to the edge of a cleared, plowed field on a broad plateau, hidden from below by a dense treeline. The field was planted in all kinds of small food crops, but there was a path through the middle of it. Across the clearing, at the other end of the path and almost hidden in more leafy woods, Jack spied some kind of outbuilding. Long and low, like a barracks. Well hidden. Defensible. That was where he would plot, far away from any overseer’s prying eyes.

But he would have to cross the open clearing to reach it. He might search for hours to find a roundabout path through the increasingly steep and treacherous hills, and the dense woods, but he didn’t have hours to spare. Alphonse could not spare them. Jack reined in Shadow, and sat still and upright, peering across the flat, neat rows of the leafy green tops of root vegetables and long, flowering runners of beans and peas. He could not see any activity in the long, low building hidden in the underbrush, but he could sense it. That was where they were.

What if Alphonse had already taken himself away, possibly off the island? That would explain why he had not turned up this morning. Alphonse knew first-hand what a rising might lead to; the sensible thing to do would be to disappear. But if Alphonse were acting sensibly, he would never have become involved in this plot. What could have induced him to ignore his bitter memories of Whitehall to join another group of plotters? And in that event, what if he were still with them, now? If plantation families were already making their way into town for the ball, the militia might be making its way up the mountain at this very moment. Alphonse had failed at Whitehall by not warning the people in time that they had been betrayed. Jack could not make that same mistake.

Tory’s face swam suddenly into his mind, the way he had last seen her, tense, anxious, biting back words she dared not speak. He wished now that he had held her for a moment, coaxed a smile from her to carry with him now. That had been no way to say goodbye. But he shook off the thought before it paralyzed him. He could never have found Tory again if not for Alphonse. He owed him everything. And he nudged Shadow out of the cover of the trees and into the open field.

"But the Neck be too nearby," complained William Ibo, leader of the field gang. "Ol’ Mas’ take a fishing boat and come find we."

"If he has any reason to suspect you are there," Alphonse replied patiently. "Which he will not. He will assume you have all fled into the bush here on Nevis, and spend all of his time and energy trying to hound you out, again, while you are safe away on St. Kitts."

"Why we all no go direct to English Harbour?" asked Mama Lizzy, the hothouse nurse, sucking on the stem of her corncob pipe.

Alphonse glanced again at Paris, who looked back at him expectantly, like the others, as if he, too, needed to be convinced. Again. Even now, with the time so short.

"The military ships weathering the season there cannot absorb so many recruits, unless it is wartime. Send one or two of your boatmen to find work now, at the Dockyard, and they can help those who follow them later. But dozens of people appearing all at once, without papers and seeking passage or employment, will incite suspicion."

"The sooner away, the better off we be," muttered Paris.

"You will be away, in the safe places I have found for you. In the Neck on St. Kitts and other villages on Antigua, where there are people to help you. The people you place in the Dockyard now can report back as soon as shipping arrives in English Harbour bound for England. Or Cuba, or Jamaica, where there are large enough populations of free people to take you in. If only you wait—"

"We wait too long, already," grumbled William Ibo, and several of the others nodded in agreement.

"It is only a little while longer. And once you are off Nevis..."

A sudden, low thumping on the outside of the wooden wall cut short Alphonse’s plea. Paris sprang to the door and threw the bolt and in tumbled Remus, one of the athletic twins from the boiling house sent to keep watch in the brush, panting out a message.

"A buckra stranger in the woods! Him come this way."

The others were on their feet on the instant, crowding to the high, narrow window that faced the provision grounds, the only means of approach to this hidden storehouse.

"Where?" "Alone?" "Armed?"

The questions snapped at Remus, who could only splutter back that the fellow was on horseback and carrying no weapon that could be seen. The click of a musket sent a charge of ice up Alphonse’s spine. He had never contracted to be a party to murder, but these people were fighting for their lives now, not only their freedom. If they were discovered here in the thick of a conspiracy, it would be the gallows for all of them. He saw Henry, the senior watchman, prop the long snout of the musket on the window sill and sight down the barrel. It was an older weapon, the kind assigned to only the most loyal watchkeepers for scaring off pigs and cattle from neighboring estates foraging in the borderlands. But Henry had cleaned and cared for it and taught himself expert marksmanship. He drew a breath and the others breathed with him, hushed now, watching. The stranger was in sight. In another moment he would be in range.

Alphonse might have peeked out a knothole in the wall below the high window into the field, like the others. But he turned away.

"You do not approve?" Paris challenged him.

"Should we not find out who he is?" Alphonse suggested.

"No white man ride among us today of all days on any innocent business," Paris replied. "We have too much at stake."

Alphonse gazed down at his clenched hands, tensed for the report of the shot. What a hypocrite he was. How could he preach freedom to these people and not expect them to fight for it? What other choice did they have? And yet he was so thoroughly, bitterly sick of the killing...

Henry's finger stretched toward the trigger. But in the instant before he squeezed it, Alphonse heard the fragment of a song, incongruously cheerful, wafting toward them on the hot, still air.

"...and we will go to the merry greenwood
To see what they do there—O..."

"No!" Alphonse cried, bounding to the window, his entire body a clenched fist of furious strength. He slammed into Henry so hard, the marksman could scarcely hang on to his weapon, as the shot erupted high into the air. The singing stopped outside. Alphonse clambered to the window sill, and saw the familiar straw-hatted figure astride one of the draft horses halted in the clearing, and still sitting upright. Waiting. Then the others were grabbing at him, their faces seething with outrage.

"I know this man!" Alphonse exclaimed, rebounding on them all from the window. "He means you no harm. I stake my life on it."

"And our lives?" spat Paris.

"Yes! Kill me if I lie, but give him a hearing!"

Jack was still waiting outside. The wild shot had neither frightened him off, nor flushed out any unseen confederates from the brush. Everyone looked at Paris, whose eyes narrowed in angry frustration, but he nodded once to Alphonse. The little man stood up in the window and made a motion, and the stranger rode quickly across the rest of the field toward them.

"You are betrayed," Jack told them, when he had hidden Shadow in the underbrush and darted inside.

"At what?" asked Paris. "Tending our provisions on a Saturday afternoon?"

"The planters know of your plot here. They’re setting a trap. After they send their families to the ball, the island militia is coming back here to surprise you in the act. All of you."

A murmur of alarm rippled through them, but Paris’ scornful voice carried above the rest. "They nevah know to come here."
Turning to Jack, he added, "But you do." And he glared at Alphonse.

"Alphonse would not have confessed your plot to God Almighty on his deathbed," Jack retorted. "I found my own way here."

"A spy!" cried Remus. "Ol’ Mas' send him here to trap we!"

William Ibo, heavily muscled from the field, took a menacing step toward Jack. Henry was quietly reloading his musket.

"Hear him out," cautioned Alphonse. "You may kill us both if he lies, but you are all in grave danger if he tells the truth."

"What you hear?" demanded Mama Lizzy.

And Jack explained about the three men in the tavern, the blustery, impatient fellow, the reasonable, but sinister one, and the older fellow, melancholy and cultured, who must have been the owner. "I only wish there were some other way," Jack mimicked the man's weary voice. "Paris is like my own son."

There was absolute silence in the close, dark little room. Paris was staring at Jack with a molten mix of defiance and despair.

"If he keep his son in chains," Paris whispered in a voice as dry as scrub.

"Him be Ol’ Mas’ to the life," whispered another, staring at Jack.

"And Justice Shepherd," nodded William Ibo. "And the manager from Dunbar’s."

The plotters began to exchange uneasy glances.

"Who betray us?" Paris demanded.

"It doesn’t matter, they’re on your trail now," said Jack. "That shot won’t make it any harder to find you. You must disband—"

"No!" seethed Paris. "It be a plot to break us up! Because we be too strong. But they no keep us here, not any longer!"

There was some agreement with this show of defiance.

"It’s the island militia," Jack repeated emphatically. "Scores of armed men. Whatever you’re planning, you can not win. If you are found here together, you are all dead. Your only hope is to get back to your houses before—"

"Why should we trust the word of a white man?"

"Why would he risk his life to come here if he were not in earnest?" Alphonse countered.

"To defeat us!" cried Paris. "To destroy us!"

There were more voices seconding Paris’ now, and still others raised in anxiety and doubt.

"We are not a mob." It was Alphonse’s clear voice piercing the hubbub of confusion. "Leaders from all the gangs are present— house, field, kitchen, mill, boiling-house. We must vote what to do."

"I vote to stand and fight!" declared Paris.

"Fight?" echoed Alphonse. "This is not a rising!"

"Two years of my life I give to this plan. I work and study every day to free us from this place," Paris countered. "For what? Must I bide the rest of my life in Ol’ Mas’ house? Do all his bidding, fetch and carry, feed on his scraps like livestock? The son he treat like a dog? And all the time, I dress him in his fine cloting, watch him fatten on my provision at his table, hear how he speak to his guests about the right of a man to choose his master, profit from his labor, live like a man. But I be noting in this place. I have noting. My labor come to noting. Evahting belong to Ol’ Mas’ until the day I die. And I say sooner bettah than later. I no go back to live like a dog. I rather die."

"And how many others must die for your pride?" muttered Jack.

Paris’ clenched fist smacked like a shot across Jack’s face. "Buckra know noting about it!"

"I know that when the militia gets here, people will die!" Jack spat back, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. "Don’t sacrifice yourselves like pigs. Think of your children—"

"Our children belong to Ol’ Mas to use as him please!" hissed Mama Lizzy.

"And our women," cried Remus.

"But will they be any better off without you? Don’t abandon them to make some futile gesture." Jack pleaded. "Your plan for today is exploded, whatever it was. You can’t save it. But you can still save your lives if you act quickly."

"I have seen what happens," Alphonse agreed. "Every man will have a musket or a pistol. Most will have horses. They are so afraid, they will run down anyone at all, man or woman or...child. They will not ask questions. Whoever is not shot now will be hanged later. I have seen it all before."

"And I see enough of this life to know I nevah return to it," declared Paris. "Who is with me?"

"Me bring too many of you into this world to see you shot down like dogs," muttered Mama Lizzy. She clamped her few remaining teeth onto her pipe and strode to the door.

"Me got a wife and pickneys to tink of," murmured William Ibo. "If we run off togeter, it be wort the risk, but me no see them killed for no reason." He shook his head. "Me go back to me cabin."

"Me fight!" cried Remus.

"And me," added Henry, cradling his musket in the crook of his elbow. "Not all the dead be black when this day ovah."

Most of the others elected to return to their cabins and slunk off through the underbrush without further delay. A few still wished to attempt an escape, and Alphonse lingered among them, describing the hidden bay where the boat would come and the safe houses to search for across the Narrows on St. Kitts. Jack waited in quiet agitation at the door, while Paris and his handful of defiant followers made their last, hasty plans. Then the door creaked open, and a breathless William Ibo poked his face back inside.

"Horsemen!" he hissed at them all. "On the Upper Round Road, only half hour away!" And then he was gone.

Jack caught Alphonse’s eye over the ensuing commotion. Those few still determined to flee thundered out the door, and melted into the bush. Alphonse grabbed his hat. But as Jack pushed the door open for them, Paris’ voice split the charged air behind them.

"Don’t go yet, buckra."

Jack turned at the door to glance back. Henry, the marksman, was standing with his musket leveled at Jack’s midsection.

"Do not be a fool, Paris," Alphonse hissed. "He came to warn you."

"And he still useful to us, Belair. His militia maybe no shoot so fast if we have a buckra hostage."

"It’s not my militia," Jack pointed out. "I doubt they’ll hesitate on my account."

"We see," shrugged Paris. The musket clicked again.

"But what use is a hostage?" protested Alphonse. "There are too few of you to fight. You cannot make demands."

"But we be heard, if only for a short time. Others will hear what we do. We will die like men, not dogs."

"Fair enough," agreed Jack. "If Alphonse goes now."

Alphonse turned to frown up at him.

"One of us must get back to the others," Jack muttered to him, "and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be me."

"He’s right," Paris said to Alphonse. "You honor your pledge. But this not your fight any more. Go." He nodded toward the door.

"But this is nonsense," Alphonse fumed. "The only useful hostage is one your enemy cares about keeping alive. Jack is only a player. He has no value to them, or to you."

"But for his white skin. It be very funny how they can nevah bear to see any harm come to one of their own."

"If there’s no performance tonight, we'll all be under suspicion," Jack whispered to Alphonse. "Tory can't do it all by herself."

"Oh, hellfire," muttered Alphonse, and pushed out the door.

He suffered Jack to set him up on Shadow’s back, to exchange their last, hasty, covert words. Hugging tight with his short legs, and leaving very little play in his grip of the reins, Alphonse kept upright as the horse carried him across the open ground and back to the hidden trail. Jostled along in the underbrush as the trail wound down its long, slow descent, he was roundly cursing every misfortune that had brought him to this day when Shadow whuffled and hesitated. Muted noises came from a gap they were passing in the scrub.

Alphonse peered into it and saw that they were on a wooded ridge some little way above an open road. A troop of militia was passing in the road below. And what Alphonse saw in their midst made him pull up and drag on the reins with all of his strength.

But Shadow only shook off this annoyance, and continued his dogged descent down the trail in an irritated trot, so that it was all Alphonse could do to keep his seat. It was beyond his power to turn the obstinate beast around. There was no way to warn Jack now.

(Top: Plantation Slave House, Surinam, 1839. Image Reference BEN-C, as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Their first few days alone together back on Nevis reminded Tory of the first carefree months she and Jack had spent in the Leewards, traveling the back roads of St. Kitts, with only the clothes on their backs and little more to worry about than earning their next meal. It was like that now in Charlestown, as Nevis began to shake off the doldrums of the gale season. Anxious to be gone from the military base at Antigua, they had come to Charlestown early —no wagon, no children, no pantomime, no purpose. They would resume their formal playing with the others soon enough, when the season began at the Bath Hotel, but for now, they were simply enjoying themselves, juggling and tumbling on street corners in happy anonymity, playing wherever the spirit took them.

But Tory remembered the folly of happiness on the morning she and Jack came laughing round the corner of a side street and found themselves face to face with Alphonse, walking with a mulatto man with fierce dark eyes in the neat livery of a well-kept house slave. Tory's cry of relief curdled in her throat at Alphonse's taut expression; for a tense instant, it looked as if he might not acknowledge them at all.

Jack and Alphonse locked eyes. No one spoke, but the current of tension between the three of them alerted Alphonse’s companion. Youth was fading from his proud, face, and his gaze slid over Tory like a chill, but his expression turned to ice when he looked at Jack. The mulatto slowed, and his hand rose to the hem of his waistcoat, but Alphonse’s small, dark hand came out to stay his arm.

"It is all right, Paris," Alphonse murmured. Then he turned to give Jack and Tory a brief, civil nod. Jack nodded back, but his hand closed on Tory’s elbow, propelling her on to the end of the street without breaking stride. They did not look behind them again, but Tory could feel the cold eyes of Alphonse’s companion boring into their backs.

"What was that all about?" she breathed, when they had turned the next corner.

"I don’t know. I don’t!" Jack insisted, to her accusing look. "I saw Alphonse speaking to someone in the wood on the morning before he left St. John’s, but it wasn’t this fellow."

"Why didn’t you tell me?"

"Alphonse speaks to strangers all the time, most of 'em slaves. If he had taken me into his confidence about some dangerous business, do you think I would try to hide it from you?" When Tory sighed and shook her head, Jack hurried on. "Well, he’s seen us now. If he wants us to know what he’s up to, he’ll tell us."

But Alphonse was not much more forthcoming when he materialized out of the shadows outside their lodgings that evening.

"You are early for our appointment," he greeted them.

"And we’re so pleased to see you, as well," Tory snapped back, jittery with unease.

"Of course, it is good to find you both well," Alphonse sighed. "I am grateful for your discretion this morning."

"We wouldn’t dream of interfering with a man enjoying his holiday," said Jack.

"I am here at the request of an acquaintance for whom I am doing a small favor. It is not worth speaking of." Alphonse shrugged the matter away. "But why are you not on Antigua?"

"The ships are leaving English Harbour. There’s more trade here," Jack offered. He did not mention Mr. Nash.

"You are performing already?"

"Well, we’ve been larking about the marketplace," said Jack. "The others will be along directly. There'll be nothing to hold the Bruces there, once the officers leave the station, and Marcus will be in a great hurry to rejoin us."

"So it appears our season here has begun." Alphonse sighed again. Tory thought she saw a glint of distress in his carefully composed expression.

"We can look after ourselves if you've business to conclude," said Jack.

"But if we are all in Charlestown, we are expected to perform together," Alphonse reasoned. "It looks odd if we do not."

"To whom?" Jack frowned.

"If we are not to be taken up for vagrants before the season opens at the hotel, we must find some employment."

"We could begin the pantomime when the wagon arrives," Tory suggested.

"No." Alphonse said quickly. "We must leave poor Harlequin in his box for now. But I will join you at the market until the others arrive. We shall need to practice in any event."

He waved a hand toward the tavern where they had their room, beginning to hum now with its usual evening custom. "But first," he went on, with a show of heartiness. "I shall buy us a bottle of wine, and you may tell me your plans for the Bath Hotel."

When the others arrived, Jack decided to set up their stage at their old campsite off the road to the hotel. He had worked up some lively verbal duets from Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to add to their scenes from Hamlet, Macbeth and Twelfth Night, and composed a few couplets to introduce each one. Learning her parts kept Tory too busy to fret. Alphonse materialized again to help Jack, Captain Billy and Cully wrestle the planks down from the wagon; it took them only an hour or two to get the contraption set up and functional. After the wagons were sorted out, and the horses seen to, and the pallets put out to air, and the kindling collected for the cook-fire, and after Marcus showed Jack and Alphonse all the new tricks he had perfected, they all sat down to a meal together to drink a toast to a fortunate season at the Bath Hotel.

"They’re holding some sort of fandango Saturday night at the Court House in Charlestown," Jack announced to Tory a few days later, returning from an errand in town. "Some rich merchant is the host, and planters from all round the island are invited."

"And me without a stitch to wear," Tory observed.

"I don’t mean we ought to go, but we should give our first performance that evening, here on our own stage."

"Why, if everyone’s off to the ball?"

"The planters and their ladies and families will be off to the ball," Jack elaborated. "It’s the first of the season, so everyone will attend. Which leaves a great many coachmen, slaves and servants milling about the neighborhood for many idle hours, not to speak of the common folk sure to be out in force to catch a glimpse of the ton in their glory."

"So we’re to give one of our low performances?" Tory teased.

"Well, we might as well have fun and get in some practice before the hotel guests arrive. After that, we’ll be obliged to rattle off verse and socialize for the rest of the season. It would be a shame to miss this chance to make a little something extra on our own account. Cybele can set up a stall with her cards. It’ll be festive, like a fair."

"But how are we to lure them here if everyone’s down the road, outside the ball?"

"We must get their attention," Jack declared. "We must have bills." He pulled a crumpled scrap of paper out of his shirt, unfolded it and handed it to her. On it, he had scribbled the text of a playbill,

Public Performance. Juggling, Comedy and Recitations. Sentimental Songs and Lively Dancing. Featuring the extraordinary antics of Mr. Punch. In the Park Land, north of the Thermal Springs, Main Street, Charlestown. Saturday evening, dusk. Public Invited.

Tory glanced up from the paper. "Is it wise to mention Punch?" They had not dared to play the Harlequinade in the streets of Charlestown last year, after their altercation on St. Kitts, saving the pantomime for Christmas at the hotel.

"But Alphonse has been performing as Punch on this island for years," Jack replied. "He has quite a following. He’s our biggest draw. And I doubt if we’ve anything left to fear from our chief constable back on Basseterre. For all he knows, he’s sold you to smugglers and I’ve died of grief."

Tory handed back the paper. "Then I suppose this will do."

"Good," Jack beamed. "I called in at the printer’s on the way back from town. I would have consulted with you and Alphonse first, but with so few days until Saturday, I chanced I would have your approval. And who knows when we’ll see Alphonse again?"

Indeed, Saturday morning found Jack hot and fuming inside Billy Bruce’s grey tailcoat. He had thought to look respectable when calling at the printer’s for the new bills announcing tonight’s performance, so the printer might give a good account of him, if pressed. But now it seemed a lot of bother for nothing. Alphonse had failed to meet them in the square this morning to promote the event, as planned, and had sent no word. If he failed to turn up tonight there would not be much of a performance, bills or no bills.

Tory and Marcus had danced off anyway, to post the bills as if nothing were amiss. Jack had lingered behind, in case Alphonse appeared, promising to meet them later at the wagon. But now Jack was furious. If Alphonse had wearied of their partnership, he ought to say so, not play these foolish disappearing pranks. That it was so unlike him to miss an appointment only proved to Jack how preoccupied Alphonse had become with his private affairs.

On top of everything else, it was most damnably hot; the trades had been slacking off since sunup. Jack tugged at the brim of Captain Billy’s topper, and cast about in mid-stride for more suitable shade. The blinding white wall of the Court House loomed up just ahead, and turning away from it, Jack spied a cool, covered breezeway down a side street. He struck off in that direction for an arched doorway, through which wafted the muted clattering of pottery and glass, and the low murmuring of a public house, and he ducked gratefully inside.

It was not the sort of groggery he was accustomed to; the furnishings were mahogany, the chairs padded, the ceiling high and the upper walls perforated with windows, to catch every breeze. The custom were white, well-dressed gentlemen in pursuit of their midmorning fortification. Jack thought it might be a private club, but he had come this far, and no one seemed disposed to accost him, not the way he was dressed.

He settled into a shadowy corner, and ordered rum and lime from the potboy, hoping to burn off the heat of his anger. He tossed off a long draught, and stared into his drink, willing himself to calm down. No little part of his anger was due to Alphonse’s failure to confide in him, after all they had been through. Jack had dragged Tory back from the brink of her freedom on the sea to fulfill what he considered his obligation to Alphonse and his work, and now Alphonse treated him in this cavalier manner, as if Jack were some intrusive buckra who could not be trusted. If he failed to appear tonight...

"Tonight!" a low voice snorted, so nearby that Jack jumped; he was more wound up than he thought. "Damned waste of time to wait until tonight, when we know there holed up there somewhere at this very moment, plotting against us!" the voice blustered on.

"By law, we must catch them in the act," came a hushed, reasonable reply. "You can’t hang 'em on suspicion any more."

Jack had them picked out now, three gentlemen planters or their agents with the burned, ruddy complexions of those who had spent all their lives in the West Indian sun. They huddled together round their Madeira at the next table but one, and Jack wondered if he ought to move off. He had troubles enough of his own without soaking up theirs.

"Time was when a man had the right to discipline his own niggers," harrumphed the first speaker. "The law had nothing to say about it."

"Aye, but that was before the abolitionists and the missionaries began spreading their rubbish, giving the darkies ideas," replied the reasonable voice. "But there’ll be discipline enough tonight, once we catch their leaders, depend upon it."

"But why wait? Must all of Gingerland burn to the ground before the law allows..."

"There will be no burning," the reasonable voice insisted. "These fellows are too cowardly to act in the daylight, and in any case, the militia is already standing by. We have only to pack the ladies off to the Court House this evening, out of harm’s way, then we’ll double back and surprise 'em before they can get up to any mischief. We’ll have their ringleaders right where we want them in the middle of things. Nothing will go awry."

"If our information is correct."

"Venus is a good girl, she would never fabricate such a tale," came a third voice, more melancholy than the other two. "I only wish there were some other way."

"Devil the man!" barked the blusterer. "We’ve been through all this before!"

"And yet, I can scarcely credit it," the melancholy voice sighed on. "My most trusted mulatto, raised in the house since he was a boy. Why, Paris is like my own son."

Jack’s blood turned to ice. Alphonse’s small black hand on a tense brown arm. It is all right, Paris.

"Oh, aye, they’re all good sons, until they get a notion to torch your house and fields, rape your women, and murder you in your bed," scoffed the blusterer. "Blood will tell, that’s what I say, and a savage is a savage for all his fine livery."

"We don’t know it’s a rising," the reasonable voice pointed out. "The wench only said there’d been meetings."

"As if that weren’t damning enough. Whatever we find 'em up to tonight, it’ll be enough to identify the troublemakers and send 'em to the gallows. Then we may all rest more easily."

"Have a care how you speak of my property, gentlemen," sighed the melancholy voice. "Slaves are expensive."

"Not to worry," chuckled the blusterer. "We’ll be sure to leave you a buck and a doe for your experiments."

"It is only your slaves that we know about," chimed in the other. "We must wait until tonight to see who else we turn up."

"I know who I’d like to find with his hand in the jam pot," declared the blusterer. "That confounded little darky."

"Which one?"

"Oh, you know, that buskering fellow with the jumped-up Frenchy name. That black dwarf who comes round every year to agitate the niggers. We can’t take the wench’s word alone, but if we were to discover him in amongst the plotters, what a prize he’d make for the hangman."

Jack sat very still, his face without expression, and signaled for another drink. He sat back, nodded to the boy, and took one slow, careless sip, and then another, like any other preoccupied gentleman of business, while the blood thundered in his ears and his stomach dropped away to somewhere deep within the core of the earth. It was no good now cursing Alphonse’s dangerous games, or wondering how they had come to this pass. He must think fast and flawlessly. There could be no miscalculation in his plan; he would get no second chance. He’d be damned fortunate to get a first.

After downing a final toast to their successful enterprise, the gentleman planters departed. Jack took his time settling his bill, and ambled out into the fierce, mocking sunlight a few minutes later. He strolled into the Main Street and up the rise out of town before dodging into the protection of the tree-lined brush and breaking into a run.

Knee-deep in costumes and last-minute plans, Tory nearly jumped out of her skin when Jack thundered up the step into the wagon, and slammed the door behind him.

"God Almighty, Jack, you look as if the hounds of hell—"

"Rusty, listen, there’s not much time," he panted, tossing Captain Billy’s topper on the bed and shrugging out of the tailcoat. His damp shirt clung to him like sagging flesh, as he tore at his stock. "There’s a slave rebellion planned at some outlying plantation tonight, when everyone’s here at the ball. But it’s a trap, the planters know all about it, I overheard them in a tavern. They’re planning an ambush."

"But what—?"

"Alphonse is involved." Jack seized his old plantation linens off a shelf, and pulled them on. "Don't ask me why or how. That fellow Paris is one of the leaders."

"Alphonse would never take part in a rising!"

"It may not be a rising, but the planters think it is. The militia is standing by." He finished dressing, and rooted out his battered straw hat.

"But it doesn’t make any sense! Why would Alphonse—?"

"I don't know why," Jack grimaced. "It doesn’t matter why. Anyone they take tonight will be hanged."

Tory swallowed her next protest. "What are we going to do?"

"You are going to stay here," said Jack. "I’m going to warn them."


Jack turned away toward the water jug.

"How do you know where they are?" Tory demanded.

"Gingerland," Jack muttered, pouring water into the basin.

"That's an entire district! You’ll never find—"

"I described the planter to Marcus. He’ll turn up some carter or stable hand who knows which estate is his. I’ll find them."

"And then what?" Tory could scarcely think through her own hot, rising panic, but she remembered all too vividly the cold hatred in Paris’ eyes. "You’re a white Englishman, and a stranger. If they are plotting a rising...they’ll kill you, Jack."

"Not if Alphonse is with them."

"But what if he’s not?"

"But what if he is?" Jack straightened up from the basin; his eyes were desperate. "I can’t let him walk into a trap if I can stop it." He seized a towel, and rubbed it over his face.

" promised me," Tory pleaded.

"Hellfire, Rusty, what else can I do?"

"Let me go," she urged him. "They’ll take me for mulatta."

"Oh aye, I’m to sit idly by while you’re off getting yourself raped and murdered on some lonely mountain road—"

"That’s what you expect me to do!" Tory cried.

"I expect you to stay here and put on a performance."

She stared at him as if she had never before heard the word.

"No one is supposed to know anything about this rising, or the ambush," Jack pressed on, flinging the towel away. "It would look odd if we canceled our performance with all the bills posted, especially for Alphonse. They suspect he’s involved, but they must catch him with the conspirators to make their accusations stick."

"But...he won’t be here," Tory protested. "You won’t be here."

"We might. It’s some hours yet to nightfall. Rusty, please," he went on quickly. "Who else can I trust?"

Tory bit back her foolish whining. "What do you want me to do?"

"You must stage-manage some sort of show, tonight. You have the Bruces and Marcus. Cybele and her stall. You must all work around us somehow until we get back." He plucked up his straw hat, and stuck his knife in his waistband. "The point is, whatever you set up must look like the performance we planned from the start. It mustn’t look as if anything at all is amiss."

Tory nodded slowly, as they stood where they were, eyes locked across the room, separated by the vast expanse of words there was no time to say. Then the door swung open and Marcus tumbled in.

"You be in luck, Jack, evahbody know that fellow!" And in pleased, breathless bursts, the boy described the landmarks that would lead Jack to the estate, and whatever fate awaited him there.

"Well done," Jack beamed at him. "I knew I could depend on you."

"What you got to go there for?" Marcus asked.

"There’s someone there to whom I owe a great debt of honor. It must be paid today."

"But what about tonight?" Marcus’ face clouded a little.

"A man must pay his debts," Jack shrugged, feigning lightness. "You may have to fill in a little onstage until I get back. If you’re up to it."

Marcus broke into a grin. "Me do anyting you want. You see!"

"Good. Do whatever Tory asks. We’ll see what you’ve learned."

The boy scampered off and Jack pulled the door to behind him, and faced Tory again.

"I’m taking Shadow, he knows these back roads." The strain of maintaining his nonchalance for Marcus’ sake now showed plainly in Jack’s eyes as they searched her face. "I don’t have to tell you that this conversation never took place."

Tory nodded, afraid to open her mouth for all the fear that would come pouring out.

"Stand by tonight, in case we have to leave suddenly. Don’t answer any questions. If there’s no word by morning—"


"Stay with the Bruces. Return to English Harbour, it will be safer there. Don’t," he whispered, when she opened her mouth again. "There’s no time."

And he was gone.

Tory stood as if bolted to the floor, staring at the doorway where Jack had been. She had not kissed him, had not even touched him. She hadn’t said goodbye. Then mobility returned and she sprang to the door and flung it all the way outward, just in time to see Jack righting himself on Shadow’s broad back, tugging his bridle toward the road. They trotted through the palms, opened into a full gallop and disappeared up the slope toward the Bath Hotel and the high road behind it, leaving only an echo of percussive hoofbeats behind. Tory’s heart pounded in response, as if it would burst her ribs apart. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. She clutched at the door frame for support, and stared into the empty road. The one thought pounding in her head escaped her lips in a fierce whisper.

"Come back to me, Jack."

(Top: Harlequin On Horseback, German school, 19th C, as seen on