Monday, November 16, 2015

Turtle Island, Part 3 - A long night

For a while we stood to arms, expecting another attack but none came. Dusk was coming on and we agreed it wouldn’t be prudent to try to get back to the ship in the growing darkness. I feared for the safety of the few crewmen I had left on board, but we heard no firing from that direction and my first mate, a wise and experienced man was in charge there. We posted Jim and Seth to watch the front and back of the house from second floor windows. The maid, a young lass named Martha, tended to Seth’s wound and the housekeeper prepared a meal for us while Menting, Hector and I talked with Margarate about what had just happened. It seemed things had been even worse than she had hinted to her father in her letters. Her husband’s drinking and brutality disgusted her. He and his overseer worked the slaves without mercy, and at last a sickness took hold in the slave quarters. One of the slaves had been an important man in their land, a witch doctor of some sort. He undertook the care of the sick men but, despite his best efforts the slaves began to die, two or three a day at first and then ten or a dozen. The fool Colbert tried to bully the native, who soon grew cold and defiant. One night as he sat over his dinner the overseer insisted on speaking to him immediately. He reported that there were no fresh burials in the scrub land that had been set aside for the purpose. When he confronted the witch doctor the man smiled wickedly and assured him no graves were required.


The residents in the manor house were used to the sound of joyless singing coming from the slave quarters in the evening. When the sickness came the sound changed to something akin to a primitive worship service. The singing faded away over the next two days. The overseer, who alone could communicate with the slaves, feared to approach their quarters, and the next morning when the overseer failed to report for instructions, Colbert took his gun and stormed over to the man’s cabin in a rage. When he returned Margarate found him pale and shaken. He mumbled something about blood on the floor and the man being gone. Colbert lingered indoors for the rest of the day, drank himself into a stupor and fell asleep in the drawing room on the ground floor. Margarate retired and heard nothing during the night. When she awoke in the morning, he was gone. Later that same day our ship had arrived. She knew not whether he was dead or alive and she didn’t care.

She shared with us stories her mother had told her.
While we were talking, the black housekeeper brought food. She lingered around the room fussing with one thing or another until at last her mistress lost patience and told her to get out. Hector intervened and asked her what she had to say. I can scarcely credit what she told us even now. Haltingly at first, and then with more confidence as she found she was not being mocked, she shared with us stories that her mother had told her. Her mother had been brought from Africa as a slave and among the stories she told were tales of witch doctors who had the power to raise the dead and control them. She believed that our’s was such a man. Doctor Menting spoke then about the slave he had examined briefly during our fight that day. The man’s body gave every indication of having been dead for several days, and yet he had attacked our party. Hector then proposed that we take turns standing watch and be prepared to strike out for the ship at dawn.

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