Read My Name Is Not Angelica Online

Authors: Scott O'Dell

My Name Is Not Angelica (9 page)

Under a turpentine tree I put the load on the ground and pulled out the spines. A drop of blood followed them. I wiped the blood away and as I did so, the thud of hoofs came from the stony trail below me. Quickly, I lay flat in the bushes.

Through the trees I saw two donkeys and their riders hurrying up the trail. With them was the boy I had seen on the trail. They came to the trees and stopped. The donkeys were sweating.

One of the men got off. He was white and had a pistol in one hand, his wig in the other, and was sweating like his donkey.

"What do you think?" he said to the other man, who was black.

"I think she got away," the man said.

"She had long legs, longer than yours, Daddy," the boy said. "She ran fast, faster than you did, Daddy. She was gone before you ever told me."

They searched for footsteps. The boy ran up and down. The white man mopped his head and put on his wig.

"She can have gone up the trail to Annaberg," he said.

"No," the black man said. "She didn't go up the trail. Here are her steps. Right here."

They all gazed at the mixed-up footsteps, some that belonged to the boy. They looked out at the spiny forest for a while.

When they had gone I walked toward the sounds the woodchoppers made. I walked sideways, then in a wide circle. I got lost and found a trail, then suddenly I broke out of the jungle into the runaway camp.

Screaming children ran toward me. They were pale under their black skin and their bones stuck out. Certain that I carried food, they would have pulled me down had not the woodchopper scared them with his ax.

At the threats and shouts, Konje ran across the clearing. He lifted me in his arms and put me down.

"What do you bring?" he said.

"Food and some gunpowder."

He grasped the bundle.

"Pot fish. I caught them at Whistling Cay. I caught a lot. Enough to keep me for a long time."

"A long time?" He tore the bundle open and spread the fish on my sleeping mat. "That time is upon us," he said.

He was surrounded now by runaways, by their wives and children. He told them to be quiet. He gave each of them a handful of pot fish.

"Do not eat them today," he said. "Eat them tomorrow. That way tonight you will have food to dream about."

Unhappy sounds came from the throng, but no one ate one fish that day.

I marveled at the way Konje ruled. More than one hundred and fifty runaways lived in the camp. One was a prince from the Gulf of Guinea. Yet Konje's word was law.

He had held the camp together from the beginning, I learned, through days when there was nothing to eat and drink but cactus pulp. Through a time when the prince threatened to leave and take the runaways to a different hideout. Konje had listened to his complaints, then drove him out of Mary Point.

My friend Lenta was here in the camp. She had
fled early from the plantation owned by the two brothers. They had forced themselves upon her and she had run away with her son when the drums first began to talk at Mary Point.

She was a fine cook, as I have said. Konje often came to our home in Barato just to eat her food. Before the day was out he sent me to work for her.

Everyone in the camp had work to do. Some of the women gathered wood. Some kept the fronts of the huts clear and the paths that ran between them, through a field of catch-and-deep, a hooked thorn bush that caught everything it touched, to the rocks at the edge of the cliff.

Others gathered organ cactus, twice as tall as a tall man, and cut it into chunks. It gave us the only water for the camp. Men went down to Maho Bay at night and set traps for pot fish. This was the food we ate most of the time.

More than a hundred of the men had muskets. Before supper that night, by the light of turpentine torches, they drilled at the cactus wall, the only place the plantation owners and the Civil Guard could force their way into the camp. They did not fire their muskets, because gunpowder was scarce, but Konje went up and down the lines and saw that they acted like warriors and not like men out to have a good time.

He sent young men to the cliff to hunt for bird eggs and any birds they could catch. For supper that night Lenta cooked up for the camp two big
iron pots of weevily flour, very old sea-bird eggs, and a dozen large birds. She sprinkled handfuls of ground-up kaleloo, a vine that grew everywhere and had a good taste, into the pot. Everyone said it was the best food they had eaten in many days.

While we were eating, drum talk came from the east. The drums wanted to know if Mary Point was ready for an attack. The Civil Guard, thirty of them, had gathered at Duurloo's.

Konje went to the big drum standing in front of the cookhouse—a hollow log with a tight goatskin cover. He sent out word that he was ready but to bring powder to the turpentine trees during the night.

Afterwards little gombee drums were brought out. We sang songs of Africa but did not dance. Beneath the songs were fear and sadness.

21

Drums were talking. The talk came from all directions, from one hill to another. From Hurricane Hole in the east, to Ram's Head, along the coast to Great Cruz Bay, to Little Cinnamon, at last to Duurloo's fort.

Konje said, "There's so much talk it's hard to tell one word from another. It's clear that slaves have revolted at some of the plantations, but where?"

In midmorning more news came. A lone figure stumbled into camp, waving an ironwood club. He wandered to the cooking hut, fell down in the dust, and didn't move until late that day. It was Nero, van Prok's bomba.

He had a flask of Kill Devil rum in his pocket. With it Konje got him to speak. He beat upon the ground with his club, opened his mouth, and made noises. Finally, with the last of the rum inside him, between long pauses he told Konje more about the revolt.

Runaway slaves were moving west from Ram's
Head, moving along the coast toward us, looting and killing as they came. At Duurloo's, his eighty-seven slaves were fighting among themselves. Duurloo had taken his family along with himself to Duurloo Cays.

Governor Gardelin, Nero said, had issued an order giving fifty rigsdalers for every runaway brought in to Duurloo's fort, dead or alive, which meant that dozens of loyal slaves would be searching for runaways, killing them if necessary.

Nero had left van Prok's at dawn. The news he brought was therefore fresh. It was also true, Konje felt, because Nero appeared to have changed his loyalty from the whites to the runaways.

"We can handle the runaways if they come this way," Konje said. "But it's those who are out to collect the fifty rigsdalers we must watch for. It's hard to tell whether a slave is loyal to his master or not."

I glanced at the bomba sitting by the fire with his ironwood club across his knees. It was possible that he was still loyal to Master van Prok. Konje thought so too and kept an eye on him until he went to sleep.

Early in the morning the next day Preacher Gronnewold walked into camp. He had to leave his donkey in the turpentine trees. Behind him he led two goats he had found along the trail. They were not fat and not thin and covered with spines.

Isaak Gronnewold tied them up and spoke to
Konje. "I left Duurloo's this morning at dawn. The Civil Guard is getting ready to attack Mary Point. But not today. Not until they have more powder for their cannon. That's coming from Little Cruz and won't be there until tomorrow."

Nero said, "But look for them tonight."

Konje had come to trust him. His back was covered with puffy, red burns. Van Prok, for a reason Nero never told us, had used red-hot pincers on him.

Konje took Nero's advice and sent a man out to the turpentine trees. If he saw or heard Civil Guards coming up the trail from Duurloo's, the sentry was to give a parrot's ringing squawk.

Late in the afternoon, while the goats were roasting in a pit and most of the camp stood around watching, sniffing in the wonderful smells, we heard a parrot cry. Guards had been sighted. Then there were ten quick cries and two long ones.

Konje doubled the number of cries and said, "Twenty Civil Guards are on the trail, dragging two cannons."

He ordered the women into their huts. Lenta stayed by the pit, behind the stones where the goats were roasting, and I stood beside her. We both had knives.

The men ran for their muskets. Konje divided them into two bands and placed a band at each end of the cactus wall. Behind him he placed men who carried long knives used for cutting sugar cane.

We waited. It was almost dusk when the first cannon roared.

"Gardelin has sent them some good powder," Konje said.

A cannonball burst through the wall, sending strips of cactus flying through the air. A second shot widened the gap and sped past our huts toward the cliff.

The path the cannon had made was wide and strewn with thorny chunks. A Civil Guard appeared, far back along the path, slowly picking his way toward us. A musket brought him down. Guards pulled him away and disappeared.

They fired ten more cannon shots that did no harm. No other guards showed themselves along the path, but they yelled at us and said they would return when they had more powder. We did not yell back. Instead we celebrated our victory.

22

While the sun went down, we tasted the good smells from the roasting meat. Everyone sang and danced to the sounds of the gombee drums. Konje and I danced together. For me it was like dancing with the north wind when it blew down from the jungle across Barato and I couldn't breathe.

When the dancing stopped, Konje went to check on his sentry. He thought that the Guards might come back in the dark. While he was gone, I boldly asked Preacher Gronnewold if he would marry us. No matter what happened, we would be together.

After Konje returned, Minister Gronnewold took us by the arms. He told us to hold hands. He opened his Bible. But an odd look came over Konje's face and slowly, he backed away.

"What's wrong?" Isaak Gronnewold asked him.

Konje didn't answer. It seemed that he couldn't think of a word to say.

"In Barato," I explained, "a man can't marry until he's thirty years old. Konje is only twenty-eight."

Preacher Gronnewold laughed. "Listen, young man, you are not in Africa and likely you never will be. Step up here and give me your hand."

Konje still was silent. A crowd of women, who had gathered around us, began to make fun of him. "He looks forty years old," one of them said. "Fifty years old," another said.

I went out and sat down by the fire, far from tears but angry. I turned away from Konje so he couldn't see my face. Suddenly I was swept into the air and whirled around and around. The north wind was blowing through the jungle again.

Isaak Gronnewold smiled and told us to put our hands together. He opened his Bible. He read some words and Konje said something and I said, "Yes."

"You are now man and wife," the preacher told us.

A small silver moon hung low overhead. Streamers of black clouds, rain clouds, hovered around it. A night bird called to its mate and was answered.

"Good omens," Konje said, with a kiss.

Toward dawn, as I lay tight in his arms, I heard a wind in the monkey-pod trees, rattling the pods. Then it was quiet. Then the wind swept down upon the camp, lifting the leaves on the roofs. From Whistling Cay came shrieks and moans that sounded like tortured people.

The sun rose in clouds of fire. The clouds turned black and tumbled across the sky. Gently, it began
to rain. Then the rain ceased and started again. By nightfall water was running through the camp, pouring over the cliff in a muddy stream.

It rained for more than a week. The meadow became a lake. The files of cactus, taller than men, turned a bright green. You could feel them drinking up the rain, storing water for the next drought.

The wind never ceased. The moans and shrieks that came from Whistling Cay were so loud that we couldn't tell whether Duurloo's drums were talking or the far-off drums at Little Cruz and Coral Bay.

Konje, sure that his papa drum would be heard despite the wind, sent out messages. They were always the same: "Slaves, we need you at Mary Point. Bring guns, bring food. Do not wait."

A woman came, bringing ten loaves of bread she had baked with stolen flour over a fire in the hills. Two men came with food they had stolen at Great Cruz Bay—hundreds of hard biscuits wrapped in cloth sheets, sheets stained with blood. They also brought news they had gathered along the coast.

The storm had washed cliffs into the sea and destroyed all the trails. Fighting at Great Cruz Bay had stopped. At Duurloo's fort loyal slaves watched the runaways across a wreckage of trees, stone, and mud. The Civil Guards waited for powder from Governor Gardelin in St. Thomas.

Konje had a meeting at suppertime with Isaak Gronnewold and Nero. It was the first time since
I had been in the camp that he had asked for advice. The three of them sat on the ground in front of the cooking hut, eating the daily pot fish.

Konje said, "I hear from the men who brought us fish this morning that the trail from Maho Bay is washed out. When the Civil Guards get their powder from Gardelin and start up the trail with their cannon they'll go no farther than Maho Bay, not until the trail can be used. Which means that we have a few days to get ready for another attack."

Isaak Gronnewold shook his head. "This time they'll come with more men. With more cannon and more powder. If you run them off, if you kill all of them, Governor Gardelin will send more men. He'll not stop until there's not a single runaway left on Mary Point. If by chance he fails, the King of Denmark will send a governor who will not fail."

Konje stared at the preacher. He did not believe what he had heard. "You mean that we should give up and return to the plantations? Have our legs cut off? Have our bones broken with a hammer?"

"No," Isaak Gronnewold said. "I'll go to St. Thomas and talk to the governor. I'll tell him that hundreds will die if the fighting goes on at Mary Point. That you are strong here. That the runaways at Great Cruz Bay are strong. They have already killed planters. It's wise, I will say to him, that the harsh punishments he wrote into law be
rewritten so the slaves are treated like humans instead of like beasts of the jungle."

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