This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.
On a bitterly cold afternoon that December, Jarvis the butler heard the large bell ringing at the main door. He slipped on his formal frock coat, and went to open it. In front of him was a short girl, ginger curls bursting out from under her small bonnet, and a face white and frozen with the cold. She managed a cursory curtsey, and put down a cloth bundle as she handed him a letter. He saw it was addressed to Oscar Dakin, so showed the girl how to enter by the trades entrance at the back, telling her to wait in the kitchen.
Oscar read the letter twice, shaking his head. It was from Abraham, and introduced the girl as his wife, Aileen Mackenzie. She was the daughter of a tavern-keeper, and barely sixteen years old, almost half Abraham’s age. She was at least three months with child, his child, and Abraham had done the decent thing, with a hurried wedding in a parish church outside of Edinburgh. He had then sent the girl south by mail coach to London, and from there to Colchester, where he had told her to hire a carter to bring her to Dakin Hall. He pleaded with Oscar to care for her, and to welcome her into the family. She could read and write, he said, and would prove to be a loyal wife, he was sure.
Jarvis was told to bring the girl to the study, where she sat gazing in fear at Oscar’s eye patch, and disfigured face. He explained the domestic situation to her, and told her that Agatha and Esmerelda would have to take charge of her, to educate her in the ways of a lady of consequence. Not knowing what to say or do, and exhausted from her journey, Aileen showed Oscar the cheap wedding band on her finger, and thanked him for his kindness. As she was led away by Mrs Knight, the new housekeeper, Oscar called out that she should be fed, bathed, and given a change of clothing.
Fionn heard the news two days after the event. There had been trouble to the south. The slaves were in revolt, and white men were being killed. Houses and crops had burned, and rumour was that a substantial slave army was roaming the countryside almost unopposed. At the plantation where he worked, inland from Cap Haitien, the owners and managers were getting a militia together to defend their interests, as they themselves prepared to escape the island. All the slaves were now ordered to be shackled or tied together at all times, even when working in the fields. Any white man willing to fight for pay was being employed as extra guards, from the pickpockets of the coastal towns, down to released prisoners and local vagrants. Fionn was now in charge of a team of unsavoury characters, all well-armed, and edgy and nervous too.
Nobody was prepared for the sheer size of the slave army that quickly moved across the north of the island, killing and burning as they went. On Fionn’s plantation, they felt secure behind their well-constructed defences, but with some sixty white men available to fight, and most untested in battle of any kind, the news that almost one hundred thousand were against them left them in no doubt what to do. They chained the slaves together inside their huts, and ran for the coast. Fionn was hoping to get on a ship to anywhere, with enough plunder taken from the plantation house to pay his passage. But with an old winded horse, and the whole area in turmoil, he was forced to hide in some undergrowth, still a good distance from any port.
They found him still sleeping, but their shouts woke him up. He knew better than to try to buy them off, so made a fight of it as best as he could. The first three to appear through the thick leaves were shot down by his musket and pistols. But there was no time to reload, as the next dozen or more charged him. In moments, he was hacked to pieces, by ex-slaves using the very pangas they had once been given to cut the sugar cane.
They left his body where it was, took his weapons and horse, and moved on.
Agatha was bleeding again. As she woke up that morning, she could sense the sticky mess between her legs, and under her nightwear. What had started weeks earlier as an annoying occasional drip, was fast becoming a nightly flood. For days now, it had got so bad that she had instructed the maids to just burn the sheets, as they could no longer get them clean. Standing in front of her dressing mirror, she ran a hand around her gaunt face, feeling the hard jawbone stretching the skin. She could put it off no longer.
A message was sent to the surgeon in Colchester. He should attend at his earliest convenience.