HF - 03 - The Devil's Own

HF - 03 - The Devil's Own by Christopher Nicole

Book: HF - 03 - The Devil's Own by Christopher Nicole Read Free Book Online
Authors: Christopher Nicole
Tags: Historical Novel
no reason for either. There were only sighs and curses. And in the jungle something had moved, not twenty feet away.
    'A Spanish scout, you think?' Jean whispered.
    'I doubt it. They can have no doubts where we are and in which direction we are headed.' Kit dropped to his knees, cautiously parted the bushes to make his way forward. 'By Christ.'
    Jean was at his side, peering into the gloom. And drawing his breath sharply. In front of them was a large bird, with brightly coloured wings, one of which seemed broken, for it could do no more than drag itself through the bushes.
    'What is it?' Jean whispered.
    'Some kind of pheasant, perhaps,' Kit said.
    'But it will be good to eat.'
    'Aye. You go that way.' Cautiously he wormed his way through the grass behind the bird, his knife in his hand. His powder was too damp to fire, and in any event, he had no wish to alert anyone else to his prize. His mind was entirely caught up with the problems of his own belly.
    The bird had heard him coming. It turned and scuttled through the trees, away from Jean as well, moving much faster than they could. He rose to his feet in frustration, threw himself full length, missed the tail feathers by inches, and listened to the squawk of terror. He reared back on his heels, and gazed at the black man. He had seen him before, marked him for his size and his demeanour, for he was about the biggest man he had ever seen, and carried himself with a studied dignity. His face was long, and the colour of midnight, which he accentuated by wearing a white bandanna. His expression was bland and disinterested, even now, as he held the fluttering bird in his hands. Like everyone else, he wore only a pair of breeches and his feet were bare. Unlike most of the others, however, his only weapon was his cutlass. Perhaps he knew sufficient about tropical forests to understand that powder was not a reliable commodity in these conditions.
    Now he grinned at the two young men, and with a sudden twist of his wrists ended the pheasant's life.
    'We saw him first,' Jean muttered, rising from the bushes to the left.
    The giant continued to smile. 'We saw him together, Monsieur DuCasse,' he said, his voice quiet. 'But we will have to share him raw.'
    Kit frowned at him. 'You do not claim him as your own?'
    I will share him with you two gentlemen, Master Hilton,' he said. 'But no others.' He squatted, was already plucking at the feathers.
    'How are you called?' Jean asked.
    The Negro shrugged. 'I no longer have a name of my own, sir. I was given a title by my late owner. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. How does that sound, sir?'
    'By God,' Kit said. 'He had a sense of humour, your owner.'
    Agrippa shrugged again, and tore off a wing, which he offered to Kit. 'He was a devil, Master Hilton. You will still find the m arks of his whip on my back.'
    "Where was this?' 'Barbados , sir.'
    Now Jean was also eating, the blood rolling down his chin. 'And you made your way from Barbados to Port Royal?'
    'Indeed, sir. After being a slave, and having escaped, all other aspects of life come easy.'
    Kit stared at the man. There had been no slaves on Tortuga; there had been no reason for them. And the knowledge that they were employed in the islands farther south, and in Jamaica as well, for that matter, had never really meant much to him before. He had put them down as a people apart, black people. But here was a black man speaking with a more educated choice of words than anyone in the fleet.
    Agrippa was smiling at him. 'Because I was a slave, Master Hilton, does not mean that I am a mindless savage. I do not come from the great river, from the great bay. My lands are farther north. I am a Mandingo, sir. There is Arab blood in my veins.'
    'And where did you learn such good English?'
    'My master taught me. He was an intelligent man, and he perceived my own intelligence, and so taught me more.'
    And yet scarred your back,' Jean observed.
    'Have you not observed,

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