Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl

Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty Page B

Book: Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kate McCafferty
truth, we all understood that,” says Cot Quashey. “The truth was the creation of our masters. Everybody knew. But we also had a duty to, in small silent ways, do what we could to behave other than the masters’ truth.”
    “You babble,” Coote reminds sternly.
    “For not keeping right behavior—this is why I’ve had to bear the guilt of Paudi Iasc these many years. For once my back had healed and I returned to second gang, I found the other bondspeople accepted me in a way they had not done before. It was the welts upon my back. A kind of respect had come from surviving the ceremony of the whip, like some reversed communion of unjust pain between us. But also, those higher in rank who might have used Eugenia Plackler’s ire as excuse to wield the whip, desisted. For the master had begun to favor me.
    “Oh, not one word was said directly, but Dora and Jenks could sense that he did not want to see another mark upon me. Yet even from this dually strengthened position, when Paudi Iasc called out to me for a sip of water on his second day in the stocks, I lowered my head and skirted his suffering without reply. Even the Roman soldiers gave Christ a sponge of vinegar. But I would not chance to help my countryman the least, and even glared in anger at his face. For I was afraid.
    “I was afraid,” the Irishwoman cants, “to lose all I had gained. For once again I felt the manic demiurge called hope. The master had begun to visit me most nights. From the open stable to a disused stall I moved, and Master Henry bade me use whatever was at hand to make myself comfortable. I dragged bale after bale of old honey-scented hay to build my roost. I made a bed of sorts, raised knee-height from the floor to discourage rats; and pushing bales up onto this first platform I made the seat where Master came to sit and talk. From my deserted pallet Mary brought me my father’s coat, my mother’s whistle hidden still in its deep pocket; and also brought a coverlet which had been set aside for polishing. At my master’s orders she brought a sconce for tallow wicks. We hung it from the very spike I had been tied to for my chastisement. Which slowly, so desperate was I, I began to bless; for it was the flogging that had brought me to my master’s eye.
    “Who do we love, as much as the deliverer?” she muses. Coote glances up acutely. The Irishwoman’s staring into some deep void in front of her. “And what pain lingers longer than being despised?
    “From my mistress and her recurring madness, he brought me laughter. The first door to shut since I had been trepanned: there was a half-door on my disused stall—this was the door I proudly opened when I heard his boots approaching in the dark. I was a child, a girl child. The first bauble he brought me was the riband, the very blue riband I had not stolen: he fetched it to me. ‘There Cot,’ he said, ‘that justifies something.’ He tied it in my hair, then pulled the ribboned coil toward him and sunk his nose in it. Only one week before had he first unbound my cap to touch my curls. ‘I remember you,’ he said then, dreamily, spreading one hand through my ringlets and snarls. ‘That afternoon in Bridgetown when they brought you from the ship, and I bought you, gray rags and all, even then I took note of this hair.’
    “In the stable I learned about my looks. My master owned me, truth, labor, and looks. Thus he commanded me to bathe in the stream every Saturday afternoon, and in the stable to keep my cap off, my hair unbound, the riband looped to tie it up. Keep the first buttons of my bodice undone because he found the white flesh at my neck startling: ‘That such a one should have such skin,’ he murmured, as I sat upon his knee.”
    Coote’s lips tighten and turn down at her words. His trousers rub uncomfortably against his thighs.
    “Yes, sir, I sat upon his knee, as he bade me do. I took off the faded too-tight bodice, and laced on the ivory cambric corselet that he

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