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L'Estranger: Chapter Two
L'Estranger: Chapter Two

L'Estranger: Chapter Two

Mitzi1776Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik

The watery gates of Haiti juddered open, forcing the sea aside and creating such an unnatural wave that caused our little boat to jolt harshly and for a moment – before my Captain (the Captain of La Fortune – the ship which had brought the company and me here from France) – dipped the rotting oars into the murky wave and swiftly pulled us a few yards closer to the docks.

As we approached the now open gates, the figures on the dock became clearer as my eyes adjusted to the greyish saffron of the late evening sunset. Most of them were black. That was the first thing that struck me; in Paris, there was nary a black man and those that there were lived in the other districts. At least three-quarters of the figures before me were black, and at least half of the rest were neither entirely black as the others were nor fully white as my Captain was.

“Captain?” I whispered.

“Yes, Mademoiselle?” he replied dutifully, if not in a harsh, coarse accent – I had not told him I was ever married, for it seemed so brief that I had almost forgotten.

“Nothing.” I swallowed, shaking my head, not wanting the ask what I had planned to for I already knew the answer. I had wanted to ask him why almost all of the black men on the docks were in chains, but I had heard the reason I suspected whispered around Paris throughout my life, though undoubtedly those of us who did not believe that slavery was for the good of Africans (such as Thierry) tried to distance their thoughts and actions from the institution. Perhaps in my own mind, I had wanted to appear chaste and innocent, untouched by the incredibly brutal, base world I had made the acquaintance of in the last few years to the Captain when I had thought to ask him. But I had thought better of it.

He powered us through the wide gap between the watery gates with the majesty of Poseidon. I elevated my gaze to the crumbling stone arch that heralded our entre into Port-au-Prince, which stood above the sea passage - Saint Domingue harshly moulded into the stone. I retracted my gaze almost immediately; it was terrible enough that such as place as this existed – I did not need to be reminded that France (my home, once) actually owned this or, for that matter, that the colony was named after the patron saint of astronomers for there seemed nothing fateful about Saint Domingue.

The sight which swam into view before me once I had passed under that archway told me that I was not in Paris anymore (if a near twelve-week voyage had not already suggested that). The harbour was full of lights; warm and tender, they reminded me of the firelight’s glow back on cold winter days in Paris. Odd, lush trees sprung up from the ground in a common shape I had never before encountered with thinner, more spindly trunks than the oak and beech trees that grew in the gardens of Versailles. Huge bluish-purple fields appeared as if they were alive with growth. Tiny houses and huts dotted oddly around the hillside as if there had been no plan to their construction contrasted with a few massive houses which had been painted distinctly white. And the breeze. It was half comforting as I could be sure that in this unfamiliar place, it was the same wind that blew in France, just warmer, but equally, I could be sure it was a trade wind – the same wind that blew in Jamaica.

The rowing boat was quickly anchored to the jetty, and I was helped out in all my pretty petticoats and riches, and then, as I stood on the wooden dock, I realised that I did not know why I was here. I knew, of course, I still had the disturbingly brief letter Lafayette had sent me, but it did not explain how I was to keep the colony of Saint Domingue in line, as he had put it. What could I do to control anything?

“Captain?” I called backwards towards the sea.

“Mademoiselle?” he replied again.

“What do I do now?” I asked timidly, my voice quavering.

“I will escort you to the Chateau.” He smiled. His smile was comforting to me and had been for our entire voyage. “Man!” He exclaimed to a black man working on the dock, “Have Mademsoilles Berger’s effects brought up to Château Blancs.” (I had decided to withhold my true surname from him).

“Chateau Blancs?” I asked.

“That’s where I was told to see you to.”

“Oh.” I looked away, realising he knew more than me about my journey.

The Captain and I began our ascent from the harbour up into the town filled with such an array of people; white men trying desperately to look kingly; a few white women with parasols; and rich men who were neither white nor black – now that was certainly a surprise. From the little Lafayette had told me, I had assumed that the white population – the masters, that is – were the primary holders of wealth here, but it seemed to me as if there was a surprisingly small number of white men actually here.

“How far is it to the Chateau?” I whispered to the Captain, who walked a step ahead of me as people always seemed to.

“Not far, Mademsoille Berger.” He replied, not looking back at me.

“Good.”

After walking about three hundred yards, the Captain to a sharp turn off the creaking wood of the dock and up down a narrow half cobbled street that appeared as if whoever had constructed it had merely given up halfway, leaving the higher half of the path bare. Even at this hour, the town was alive. The hazing twilight gave this place the distinct sense that something – anything – could and would happen now that one was here. The music fragmented my thoughts, and I shut my eyes, unable to cope with the vanguard of sensory abductions and let the Captain guide me blind up the jungle hill. The one thought I could maintain amid this cloying melody was that I did not know what I was going to, but it must be better than France.

I only reopened my eyes once most of the noise had subsided and found myself higher than when I had closed them; for now, I had made my way up the hill I had seen from my original position on the dock with its white chateaux. It was only then, as I briefly attempted to take in my new setting that I looked down the hill behind me. At least five black men had been employed (if one could call it that) to transport my belongings – luxury items gifted to me by the Revolution as their apparent hero – up the steaming pathway. I looked away again. I did not want to see that.

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About The Author
Mitzi1776
Mitzi Danielson-Kaslik
About This Story
Audience
18+
Posted
1 Jan, 2022
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1,166
Read Time
5 mins
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