Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty

Book: Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate McCafferty
    “Then the day came when Mary and I were in the kitchen, boiling the linens and smallclothes: it was a Monday. In the big houses in the north countries they only do this twice a year, in good drying weather. But as you know, sir, we must launder often in the tropics, for the stench of the body, heated by cloth, develops quickly, even amongst gentry.” Coote flashes with sudden shame upon the shirt he wears, and will have to wear next evening. So strong is his desire to sniff for subtle and insulting odors that he misses some testimony, until, “… there stood the mistress in her nightshift and bare feet, slumped against the pantry door. She said dreamlike, ‘Mary, what is this cold wet thing on my leg?’ and stretched forth a hand full of clumps and blood. I got her into bed, while Mary sent Jenks to the next plantation for the master. But by the time he came it was all over. They figured five full months she’d held this one, much longer than the time before.
    “The mistress lost both blood and will. The doctor came from Bridgetown. As we had only fowl and swine, the mistress of another Big House sent a bullock, which the Africans knew how to drain daily for blood, yet keep alive. Our lady had to drink a goblet of warm blood twice daily. I held the crystal cup to her weak mouth, and it sparkled like claret in the firelight of her room. She was always cold, and we sweltered till we felt faint in attending her. The master would not come into her room. Less than one week after her mishap he rode off on his mare to Bridgetown, not knowing full well yet if she’d turn septic as do many highborns in the tropic countryside. But Mistress healed to rise again.
    “She rose again at sundown on an evening fair as any other. I was sweeping out the courtyard from the afternoon storm’s blow when Mary, more whey-faced than the mistress leaning on her, came through the open door and in a low voice told me, ‘Get Ardiss.’
    “Gaily I skipped through the sunshine of the yard to where the Scots girl, just back from the fields, sat in the door of her shed, dandling the fine fat child she’d borne the previous summer. ‘Ardiss, Mary needs you,’ I sang, and returned to finish swishing leaves into the ditches. Ardiss, baby on her hip, followed along. Meanwhile Mary had sent a pickaninny running for Jenks. He arrived hot and panting, breeches unlaced, blouse in one hand. He had been shaving.
    “ ‘What is it, Mistress Plackler?’ he inquired.
    “ ‘Take that child from its dam,’ she ordered sternly, ‘and fetch the mule cart.’ There was confusion. One by one we surmised, then rejected, her meaning. Jenks brought the cart around, tucking his shirttails down his breeches. The mule closed its eyes and chewed cud as it waited.
    “ ‘Please Mistress … why, Mistress? … No, no, no, Mistress,’ Ardiss cried as Jenks pulled the startled baby from her arms. Up the hillside in their huts the gangs were squatting at their evening rations when they heard the fierce commotion, saw the tugging, heard the child begin to cry. Just as Paudi Iasc reached the bottom of the incline we all saw Jenks thrust the screaming child into the straw on the cart bottom and at the same time, watched Ardiss raise her hand to strike the mistress.
    “It was Paudi Iasc who caught that hand in midswing, cursing; he who saved Ardiss from having the new life she carried flogged away. It was Paudi Iasc who leapt toward the cart, almost unseating Jenks with one rough push. For this he earned two nights and one day in the stocks, in the full sun of the yard.
    “The mistress gave her orders to Jenks. She told him to command the best price that he could for the baby somewhere along the way. Remember the child’s length of service was to be a full twenty-one years, as a bargain point, she said. Jenks was, in all events, to carry on to Bridgetown, after selling the child, and find his master. He was to bring him home where she had need of him: or

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