Dedicated to the memory of Sequoia C. Myers
y 9, 2000 
 

Crossing the Boundary
A Sci-fi/Social Science Web Novel

by Satya Gabriel
 
 

Chapter Five: Anacoana

1

I found it difficult to fall asleep on the hard, cold floor (amazing how the day could be so hot and muggy and the night so cold and moist). The mosquitoes were unrelenting. My face and arms were afire with itching. I imagined all manner of creepy, crawly things clambering about on the floor and over my body. I had imagined that I might just stay awake until the sunlight came through Henri Francois' paneless windows. So it was with some surprise that I found myself being awakened by Gibran. He was tapping my foot. Groggily I tried to see him in the darkness.

"Are you awake?" He asked, as I struggled to sit up.

"Yes," I whispered. "What is it?"

"Yes," Sequoia asked, "I'd like to know the answer to that question, too."

"The old man is gone," Gibran said.

I could hear Sequoia moving. "Gone?" She asked.

"Yes, he left several minutes ago. I thought maybe he was going to the outhouse, but he never came back. I think he would have come back by now."

There was silence for a moment, then Sequoia said, "Well, I doubt that it means anything, but I think we should be cautious all the same." She explained that she was going to the outhouse to check on Henri Francois.

"What if he isn't there?" I asked.

"Then I suggest we leave."

"And go where?" Gibran asked.

"We try to make it to Cabaret."

"In the dark?" I asked.

"In the dark," she replied.

When she had gone, I moved over and tried awakening Terzah, who had slept quite soundly through all our talking.

"What's wrong?" Terzah finally asked.

I explained that Henri Francois was missing and that Sequoia had gone hunting for him outside. Terzah seemed disoriented and said something incoherent. "You can remain here," I said firmly. "The rest of us are going."

"In the rain," she said, although it was no longer raining. I might have said "Yes, and in the pitch dark, as well" but instead I simply said, "It's not raining."

We all struggled to our feet in the dark. Terzah was now wide awake and obviously not willing to remain behind. I looked about but could make out nothing except the points of color that comprise pitch darkness, the illusion of light where no light exists. I don't think I've ever seen it so dark.

"How are we going to know where we're going?" Gibran asked. "Sequoia is crazy if she thinks we can make it to Cabaret in the dark. How will we even find the road?"

"We could visualize the walk from the road to the house," I said, and gave no further explanation of how we were to navigate in such blackness.

I had thought the darkness frightening, until I saw the light. The light was multicolored, bright, and to my right. It was coming from the window, I realized. It was flickering. And then we heard voices.

It felt very strange, in those moments before the door burst open, realizing that the relative calm was about to be shattered and that we were trapped inside the house with no knowledge of who was outside. Where was Sequoia? That was the last thought I had before the door burst open and the torches entered. 
 
 

2

I did not understand any of what was said to us as the men took hold of my arms, tied my hands and stuffed cloth into my mouth. They then pulled us out of the house. The men who held me, one on either side, had big, rough hands and strong body odors. We made our way with only the torchlights tossing illumination here and there. Among the objects illuminated were the harsh ghost-like faces of the men. When they looked at me, it was without compassion, to say the least. It seemed like a long walk, made all the longer by the lack of understanding, the fear of what might happen. To be completely honest, I could barely walk I was so weak with fear and the two big men nearly carried me the full distance to a road. I could feel the flatness of the earth, the rocks underfoot. I thought it was the road to Cabaret, but it was not. Instead we finally came to what had to be a mansion, lit by lanterns in the front and the light flowing out windows of various rooms on the first, second, and third floors. It was at the entrance that I finally could see the others, including Sequoia. We were gathered together at the base of stairs leading up to a long porch. I looked at Sequoia and she shook her head. Then our attention turned to the man who stepped out of the house and onto the porch.

"What is this?" The man asked in impeccable French. As he stepped forward, I could see that his skin was the color of bronze and his hair curly black. I knew in that instance that this must be the mulatto, Rosalvo Bobo. "I asked you to bring them to me, not to abuse them. Untie them at once." And with that the men moved post-haste to take the ropes from our hands and the gag from our mouths. "I must apologize," Bobo said. "Let me introduce myself." I was not mistaken about his identity. He said his name as he came down the stairs and moved directly to Gibran. He extended his hand.

Gibran looked, wild-eyed, at Sequoia, who nodded, then turned to Bobo and said his own name.

"Gibran Harris," Bobo repeated. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He turned to Sequoia. "And you, my dear, may I have the privilege of knowing your name?"

Sequoia smiled. She rubbed her wrists and said, "Sequoia . . ." And she hesitated a moment and added, "Drexel." I frowned at hearing this fabricated last name, but immediately decided to lie when asked my name. I was certain that "Lakshmi" would not be a readily accepted moniker on this island. As Bobo took Sequoia's hand and kissed it gently, I ran through a number of possible pseudonyms. Bobo went to Terzah next, giving me even more time to narrow my choices. It seemed that Terzah had also gotten the message because she introduced herself as "Barbara McClintock," who I recognized as a 20th century geneticist. I immediately made a decision about who I would be. After kissing Terzah's hand, he came to me. He looked at me with narrowed eyes, as if squinting to see me better. "And you, my dear?"

"Florence Nightingale," I said.

He nodded, taking my hand and kissing it. "Please forgive these petite blanc who were a bit overzealous in carrying out my orders. I assure all of you, you are welcome guests here at Anacoana."

My heart had quieted somewhat and I felt relief at not being murdered in the woods. I was happy to be in Anacoana , whatever it was, so long as it was a refuge from all the horrors in my imagination. 
 
 

3

We were led by Rosalvo Bobo into the mansion. "I could not let you spend your night in Henri Francois' hovel," he explained. "I have plenty of room here in Anacoana for all of you. Here you shall have your own rooms, your own beds, and servants to meet your needs." A tall, dark-skinned man walked into the expansive foyer. "This is Bernard," Bobo said. "He is my right hand. If you need anything whatsoever, just ask him. I will leave you now, but I will meet all of you for breakfast and we can talk at length." He smiled, bowed and walked away, moving up a long winding staircase to the second floor.

Bernard showed each of us to our rooms on the second floor. First Sequoia, then Terzah, then me. I walked into the room, briefly watching as Bernard walked away with Gibran. I closed the door to the bedroom. It was a large room that smelled of flowers. A kerosene lantern burned on a table near the window. The bed looked very inviting. I did not realize how tired I was until I went to the bed and sat down. I don't remember anything else until the next morning. 
 
 

4

In the morning we had breakfast at one end of a long table in the dining room. Bobo sat at the head of the table, of course. Sequoia sat to his right and Terzah to his left. I sat next to Sequoia and opposite Gibran. Before the rest of us had arrived, Sequoia was already at the table talking to Bobo. As I entered the room, they were discussing our clothing. He said that he had never seen such fabric and Sequoia was explaining that it was from India.

"I hope you slept well," Bobo said, as Gibran, Terzah, and I joined them at the table. We all agreed that we had. "Sequoia has told me a little about you and I want you to consider Anacoana your home for as long as you desire it to be so. It was tragic that your ship would have wrecked upon our shores. It is not uncommon, I assure you. I am only glad that you survived."

"We are lucky to have found someone like you, Monsieur Bobo," Sequoia said graciously.

He smiled. He looked at Sequoia for a bit longer than one might have expected. "Well, the British have been of some service to our cause and I am happy to be of service to you," he said, finally turning his attention to the rest of us. "We live in difficult times here on Saint Domingue. I don't know if you are aware of this, but we are having some trouble with our blacks. In several parts of the island, there are renegade bands of blacks rampaging, killing civilized people, burning plantations. It is a very dangerous time."

"Why do you think the blacks are doing these things?" Gibran asked.

"Ignorance," Bobo answered immediately. "These people are savages," he elaborated, if you can call it that. "They do not respect property or the advantages we have afforded them. And they are being instigated by the God-less Jacobins in France."

"Have you had any problems with your slaves?" Terzah asked.

Bobo looked at her for what seemed a long time, then said, "I have no problems. My slaves are well behaved. Isn't that correct, Bernard?" I had not noticed Bernard come into the room.

"Yes, it is quite correct," Bernard responded. After a moment, he asked if we were ready for breakfast to be brought in.

Bobo waved his hand, "Yes, yes. I'm sure our guests are quite hungry by now."

Bernard rang a tiny bell and three slave women, dressed in white dresses and head scarfs, entered the room carrying trays of food. On one tray were slices of various melons surrounding a carved pineapple. On other trays were slices of French bread and pastries with little bowls of honey, chocolate, and fruit preserves to spread on them. And finally there were trays of delicate cuts of meat surrounded by boiled eggs and green leaves. 

Bobo continued on the issue of the "problems" with slaves. "The most serious trouble is in the North. Indeed, two summers ago an alliance was formed between the mulatre planters and the grand blanc planters to put down this trouble in the North. In exchange for our participation, the grand blanc had to agree to accept the decree from Paris that we were to be admitted to the franchise. Thus, you see, the Blacks accidentally helped us." He laughed. "Even from bad things, good can sometimes come, yes?"

"The grand blanc are the white planters?" Terzah asked.

"Yes. They are the old aristocrats. We hommes des coleur are the new aristocrats."

"The hommes des coleur and the grand blanc have a common interest in maintaining the status quo ante," Gibran said.

"Of course," Bobo said. "It is not so different from the situation of the landed aristocracy in France, which has been forced to seek broad based alliances to survive. Is that not in the nature of maintaining an elite? One must forge alliances of convenience. Indeed, we have had to teach the petite blanc that it is in their interest to, as you say, maintain the status quo."

"How have you achieved that?" Terzah asked.

Disgusted by the meat, I nibbled at the fruit and then tried the wine and nearly choked. My throat seemed to involuntarily shut off the flow of air and I felt tears forming in my eyes. I tried to die quietly, so as not to disturb the others. If only I could have had a glass of water . . . a glass of clean water. I accepted that I would have to adjust to the taste of the wine.

"On this island, color and aristocracy have become intertwined," Bobo replied, not noticing my discomfort. "In France, the petite blanc are the lowest of the low, but here they can be above the blacks. This is their reward for supporting the goals of the aristocracy."

"Divide and conquer," I said.

"Yes," he agreed. "Exactly correct, Mademoiselle Nightingale. Slavery produces the wealth that sustains the aristocracy and slavery would not be possible here or anywhere else without the cooperation of the petite blanc."

"As I understand it," Sequoia said, "the new government in France has declared all men free. Is that not the intent of the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen' which was royally assented to on Oct. 5, 1790 by Louis XVI? How does that effect you?"

"This Declaration has been a boon to my people."

"But not to the slaves," Gibran added.

"Monsieur Harris, if I am not mistaken then you are hommes de couleur, a mulatre, as I am. It is my understanding that the British are not quite as enlightened as the French on the treatment of such men as us. By the way, how did you come to have your freedom?"

"Gibran was born free," Sequoia answered for him. "His parents are both teachers in London."

"I see," Bobo said, looking first at Sequoia, then at Gibran. His eyes indicated some degree of suspicion or so I surmised. "Your parents would find little work on Saint Domingue. We have no schools on the island."

"No schools?" Gibran frowned.

"Education has no value on Saint Domingue. The labor is simple. Management is simple. Education would be a waste of time and resources. It would add precious little to the output of the slaves if the managers were educated and everyone knows that educating the slaves themselves would be disastrous."

"Why?" Terzah asked.

The look he gave Terzah was one that would have been appropriate for an adult looking at a child who has asked a comical question. "Educated slaves are discontented slaves," he said. "Whatever troubles we have currently would be magnified by a great factor if the slaves were educated."

"You seem very well educated," Terzah said.

"Thank you, Mademoiselle. Those, such as myself, who must obtain the education of a gentleman, must go to France. This guarantees that education is restricted to a small portion of the population who are deserving. Widespread education, on the other hand, can only ruin the simple life we have here."

Terzah continued to stare at Bobo, which I must admit made me a bit uncomfortable. "You said that you are a mulatre." she said.

"That is obvious enough, my dear. In any event, my mother was a slave from Guinea and my father was her master, a very wealthy planter named Raymond Blanchard. I was the favorite of my father's bastard children. I was even sent to France to be educated since, as I've said, there are no schools in Saint Domingue, even for white children. "

"You seem very wealthy for someone who is not grand blanc," Gibran said.

"You are not acquainted with the conditions on Saint Domingue, I can see. On this island, the hommes des coleur have acquired a good deal of wealth. As for me, I acquired my first landholding as an inheritance from my father. My own industriousness and good business sense has allowed me to transform Anacoana into one of the largest plantations in this part of the island. It has not been easy, I assure you. Slaves are lazy and need constant attention. I expend a good deal of resources on the management of the slaves. This draws resources away from more fruitful uses, such as more land or new equipment and buildings. The problem of getting work out of slaves is a constant worry of my overseers." He turned and looked at Bernard. "Bernard was, for a time, one of my field overseers. He was particularly efficient at getting work out of the slaves. It was with some difficulty that I decided to bring him to the main house to work beside me. I feared that I might be losing a good deal of output by doing so." Bernard did not smile or otherwise show any emotion. Bobo turned back to us. "Bernard keeps things running in this house. He is very stern with the house slaves, but understands that they require a more delicate touch than those working in the fields. And he manages the field overseers for me. It frees me for more intellectual pursuits."

"It is very hot in the fields," Terzah said. "How do your slaves take the heat and humidity . . . and the mosquitoes?" Yes, I thought, how do they take the mosquitoes?

"They are born to such work," Bobo replied. "They are hardier than Europeans. Nevertheless, many of them die prematurely, leaving me with the need to find replacements. That is not, however, much of a problem. The supply is plentiful. We import thousands of Africans every year. I think perhaps that is part of the problem in the North, too much supply has resulted in problems."

"Perhaps," Sequoia said, "the oversupply has only resulted in overseers working the slaves too hard, realizing that they are easily replaced. This overwork may cause slaves to revolt."

Bobo nodded. "That is a theory," he said, thoughtfully.

"What will happen if the slaves prevail?" Gibran asked.

"Impossible," Bobo responded immediately. "Without Saint Domingue, France's economic progress would be severely crippled. Our slaves produce two-thirds of the export earnings of France. They produce most of the coffee and sugar used in Europe. The dye stuffs and precious woods our slaves make available are now world renowned. France uses the earnings from our slaves to increase industry, to build new mansions for the French aristocrats, to put in new roads and harbors, to fund schools and universities, and to pay the legions of civil servants and soldiers needed for Imperial France. French prosperity is founded upon the labor of our slaves. No, the slaves cannot prevail. If we cannot stop them, then France will stop them." He leaned back in his chair. "I do not believe it will come to that, however. I am confident that we can eliminate this threat to civility on Saint Domingue." He smiled. "I am certain that your country will do what it can to help us in this endeavor."

Sequoia nodded agreeably.

"Why are you not married?" Terzah asked.

"I was married, to a French woman named Marie." He smiled and looked away for a moment, as if in deep contemplation. "Before I married Marie, I bought a letters-patent which certified my whiteness." I thought he was about to laugh, but then he looked serious and stared at Gibran. "Again, this is not something available to you Gibran. The British are far too rigid on such issues. Even if you are free, you can never be certified white in Britain."

"Yes," Gibran said, "it is tragic that the British have not been more enlightened on such issues."

"Where is Marie now?" Terzah asked.

Bobo looked surprised at the question. "Ah, I failed to mention that Marie died. She could not adapt to the climate, I suppose." I sensed that he was hiding something, but was not about to ask any personal questions for fear he would also ask such questions of me. "You have so many questions," he continued, then smiled. "Are you sure you are not British spies?"

"I assure you, Monsieur Bobo, we are not spies," Sequoia said.

Bobo nodded. "Yes, I am quite certain that you are not a spy," he said directly to Sequoia. "The British may be smart, but not quite that smart." 
 
 

5

After dinner we were taken on a tour of the plantation. Only Sequoia was able to ride a horse, so she and Bobo rode while the rest of us climbed into a one-horse drawn wagon driven by Bernard. The ride was uncomfortable and I thought I would get motion sickness. Nevertheless, I tried to pay attention to the surroundings. The plantation was large with numerous buildings. The starting point of our tour, Bobo's mansion, was surrounded by elaborate gardens full of lemon, orange, and banana trees. We also observed vegetable gardens tended by African women in thin dresses. The lifeblood of the plantation was the sugar cane fields that surrounded the center portion of the plantation where the mansion was situated. The Africans working in the fields ---men mostly bare-chested and women in the same thin dresses as we'd seen near the plantation house---were covered in perspiration, even though the worst of the heat was yet to come. We watched as one of the overseers yelled at one poor woman who had collapsed in the heat. The man was about to hit the woman with a whip until he noticed our little tour group. Bobo told Bernard to talk to the man. "Bernard," Bobo said, "please remind him that we have guests." And to us Bobo said, "Sometimes they become a bit overzealous in their efforts. As I've said, it is not always easy to get the slaves to work. They tend to work very slowly unless a bit of incentive is added."

The heat and humidity were intense, even in the morning. And the mosquitoes were no less active in the day than they had been the night before, or so it seemed. I wondered if the slaves were ever given water. I could not imagine working in such conditions without lots of water, but I never saw anyone stop to drink.

The slaves had cabins and small patches of land surrounding them to raise vegetables for their own consumption. The slaves were responsible for feeding themselves in the little time they had after working Bobo's fields. We were also shown buildings for processing the sugar cane and making rum. "Tonight I shall see to it that you have plenty of rum to drink," Bobo promised, although I cannot say I looked forward to this. There were also buildings for workshops to build things necessary for the plantation and repair machinery. Terzah asked if the Africans were allowed to learn skills, such as Henri Francois had demonstrated, and to buy their freedom. "Henri Francois was a special case," he said. "My father allowed him to construct furniture. He had a gift for it. Normally we do not allow slaves to perform crafts. It is not their place. The petite blanc are hired to perform wood work, metal smithing and other such trades. It is important for the petite blanc to feel that this plantation is vital to sustaining their families."

"The creation of loyalty," Sequoia said.

"That's correct," Bobo said.

"Caste," I muttered, mostly to myself, although Bobo heard the comment.

"What is caste?" He asked.

"It is a term from India," I said. "It means to assign individuals certain types of work based upon their . . ." I hesitated, not sure of the word to use, realizing that I could not use genetic heritage.

"birth," Sequoia completed my sentence for me.

Bobo nodded. "We are all born to certain rights and responsibilities, yes? This is as it should be. Like in Plato."

"The Republic."Sequoia said.

"You've read it?"

"Yes," Sequoia replied.

He nodded. "You constantly surprise me, Mademoiselle."

We watched as the overseer and Bernard ordered a couple of male slaves to pick up the sick woman and carry her to a cart designed for transporting sugar cane.

"What are the things that make us human?" He asked, watching this event. "It has been a question that I have asked many times, starting in my childhood."

"And do you have an answer?" Sequoia asked.

He shook his head. "Sadly," he said, "no." 
 
 
 
 

 

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