Port St. Francois, St. Domingue, 1705
Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
Phillip Mortier worried a great deal about many things that fell under his authority on the island of St. Domingue. Today his concern was the failure of the company ship, Barbara, to arrive on schedule. The fact that she was a week late and there was still no word of her, made his current situation appear bleak indeed. It could be that her departure from France had been delayed, but, in this time of war over the Spanish succession, she was more likely having problems running the strangling blockade of the West Indies by the Dutch and the English. It was also possible that they had been picked off by one of the multitude of privateers, licensed by both crowns and infesting the waters of the Caribbean. The business of shipping was risky at best in these times and to make matters worse the storm season would soon be upon them, further increasing the chances of losing a ship, not to mention it’s cargo and passengers. But the loss of the Barbara would be especially acute, for she carried gold from France to support the colony. Gold that was intended to pay for the salaries of his small detachment of soldiers, his growing staff of employees, the ships, captains and sailors the colony depended on for trade and, not least of all, himself. Phillip grimaced with anger and, under his breath, for he was a religious man, cursed his own nation and king for not being more supportive of the new company and the colonies it served. For not providing Naval escort for company ships like the Barbara, who were so vital to their survival in this remote sea.
Phillip had lied to Paul Arnaut about the missing ship. He had better plans for Masseur Arnaut and his sloop than to have him sailing about the Caribbean searching for the Barbara and her gold. He was certain, anyway, that if Paul Arnaut found her first, the company would never recover its gold. Paul Arnaut was politically powerful enough to cost Phillip his job. It would be a mistake to accuse him, or even challenge him over such an eventuality. No, Phillip had better plans. Any attempt he could make to resist the British blockade, or hunt down her privateers would be a foolish waste, but, on the off chance that the Barbara’s disappearance might involve the nest of vermin that occupied the island of Tortuga, Phillip might find Masseur Arnaut’s help both useful and welcome.
In better times Paul Arnaut had used his sloop for light trade between the many French islands of the West Indies. Phillip hoped that in the near future this would be possible again, though, at the moment, it didn’t seem likely. As a business man, Arnaut knew that the King of France could not afford to allow this colony to be lost to another European power. The colonies of the Caribbean were much too important to the economic stability of the mother country, but without better support of his own efforts to secure the island and its trade, Phillip feared the worst. The truth was that the growing threat imposed by the buccaneers on Tortuga was his highest priority right now, but he was left with no way to transport his garrison of soldiers to the island in order to clear them out. He errantly believed that Paul Arnaut shared his concern. As an added bonus it would remove the garrison a short distance from the capital, providing him enough time to borrow the necessary money to pay their wages.
“Damn!” He cursed out loud, this time slamming his fist on his desk for emphasis.
There was also the matter of the “maron”, runaway slaves that infested the island’s deep jungles. It was because of them and not for trade that Paul Arnaut kept his sloop in a constant state of readiness, though it was little used of late. Masseur Arnaut could well afford to maintain ship and crew in order to man her at a moments notice even though he dismissed the claims of some plantation owners that there was a coming slave revolt as being “fear mongering”. He contended that the African Negroes were incapable of joining together in such an endeavor, or planning anything as complex as a serious revolt. He had been heard to say, “They haven’t the intelligence, nor do they have the means. Besides, they don’t trust each other enough to cooperate together in anything as perilous as battle.”
Still, Aventura’s readiness assured him a quick escape for his family should the maron prevail over their shortcomings and mount an attack. The wealth he retained from his days of piracy and privateering, the income Chateau Verettes provided and the occasional large purses brought in by his fighter, the slave known as Henri, all these sources insured the riches necessary to maintain such a ship. Today, Phillip Mortier was determined to manipulate Aventura’s good use. He rose from his desk and walked to the window of his small office, overlooking the small anchorage and quay on the west end of St. Francois’ harbor. He was staring, nearly mesmerized by the sun’s glittering reflection on the quiet waters of the harbor, when the Arnaut sloop glided smoothly into his line of vision. Biting his lower lip, Phillip left his office and walked to the dock to greet his friend and adversary, Paul Arnaut. The morning air was not yet oppressive with tropical heat. A brisk breeze blew in from the southeast, churning the waters outside the reef that protected the harbor from the churning sea beyond. Thick tropical moisture filled the air, carrying with it a reminder of the approaching season.
The voyage along the coast from Chateau Verettes had been brisk. Paul Arnaut was exhilarated by it. Henri was also feeling quite good about their brief voyage. Though it took less than a day to sail from Port Mara to the cape at Port St. Francois, the voyage had given time for him to once again hone and demonstrate the sailing and navigation skills he’d learned aboard the Arthur. The open sea and fresh air brought those memories vividly back to him, causing Henri to wonder again about his friends, Richy and Ahlwoert, where they might be and how they were doing.
He was very proud of all the things he’d learned since leaving the jungles of Africa. He was determined to continue to learn everything he could from the white jackals. It pleased him to do so, and it pleased the master, who seemed especially pleased about one thing Henri had learned years ago, before his banishment to the mill. Liana Royer had taught him that his name was “Henri”, not Nwoye as he had always believed. During his time at the mill camp, Henri vowed to his dead father and to the ancestors that he would make this new name one to be remembered by friends and enemies alike. Today even in his youth, he stood confident and strong at the bow of the ship, as if he were in command, looking aft, as Aventura entered the harbor at Port St. Francois, free to remember his past. Free to remember his roots. Free to feed the fire that continued to burn in his soul.
Phillip stood at the quay, watching the mostly Negro crew of Aventura secure the ship. All except the big navigator, Henri. Search as he might, Phillip had not been able to replace his own fighter. He could find no man, slave or free, who would go up against Arnaut’s fighter after his victory two years prior. It was a pity on this day when he so desperately needed to win his money back. Standing there he thought back over the past thirty years that he and Paul Arnaut had been associated, remembering a time on Tortuga when they both came to know that they could trust one another. Not that they could ever be called friends, but occasional allies who had a deep respect for one another, who could be trusted because of mutual interests, were sometimes better than friends.