They had returned to Pierre’s after some time, after the parties and the dances and the card games were done, and Marie’s purse was full. Pierre was morose, his fevers had returned and passed, and he was thinner and more jaundiced than ever before. The slaves were taciturn and the girl, Seraphine, was afraid but of what she would not say.
Pierre was too weak to ride, and Marie took over the running of the house and ordered chickens to be killed and broth to made and the bed chambers to be cleaned and aired. Pierre barely suffered her ministrations.
‘Leave me alone,’ he said, but when she packed her bags to go, he begged her to stay, and so she unpacked once again and watched the interminable rains.
‘What is the matter with this house?’ Pierre had gone to bed early, and Marie was waiting for dinner to be served. She rose and walked out back to the kitchens but no one was there. She felt a bolt of fear shoot through her and rushed into the house shouting for Seraphine.
The girl came up on her in the darkness, and Marie could see that she was rigid with fear.
‘Where are they?’ Marie asked.
‘Their houngan ran off, but when the search party captured him, they beat him to death. Oh Madame, they will come for Monsieur Pierre now.’
‘Where is the overseer?’
‘He is dead.’
‘The horse master?’
The girl shook her head.
‘Seraphine, dress Pierre immediately, get my jewels and my purse, leave everything else behind. I’ll bring the horses. And be quick.’
Marie went to Pierre’s study and removed a flintlock pistol. She loaded the barrels and prayed that it would not misfire if she needed to shot. On the landing, halfway down the stairs she felt a hand on her arm that made her jump out of her skin. The horse master put his finger to his lips and drew her back into the shadows.
‘Bring Pierre and the girl out front. Go down the path, I’ll be waiting with the horses,’ he said.
She nodded her head, and he was gone in an instant.
She took Pierre’s arm to support him, and Seraphine brought up the rear carrying their things. She rushed Pierre and he stumbled, righting himself. The night was eerie, silent, and thick with moisture, and she was afraid, though she stood firm for the girl, she said to herself, knowing she would not be as brave if she did not have to set an example. The horse master emerged from between the Live Oaks like an apparition of a long dead thing. Seraphine stifled a scream. The horse master held the animals, who sensing fear snorted and reared, the whites of their eyes showing.
‘Seraphine, watch me and do as I do,’ Marie instructed her, knowing the girl had never been on horse and was unsure of herself. She took her purse and jewelry roll from Seraphine to free her hands. The horse master went ahead walking his horse, searching out the path. Pierre lurched, waves of nausea overcoming him. ‘Over there,’ he said, indicating the way, but in the night they did not see the crowd closing in until it was upon them, torches glowing in the fog. The horse master, now mounted, spun his horse around, but they were surrounded.
‘I’ll draw them off, ‘ he said to Marie. ‘You and the girl ride for your lives, into the woods.’ He did not say what they both knew, that they were coming for Pierre and that is who they would go for first, which would give the women a moment to escape though they would be sacrificing Pierre. Marie acknowledged him, but her soul was uneasy and tormented. She sidled up to Seraphine and nodded, showing her how to take the reigns closely. ‘Kick him when I say so and follow me,’ she said.
The horse master readied himself and drawing a sword, spurred his horse riding through the crowd and scattering it.
‘Now,’ she shouted, and they were off before anyone could could catch them. She rode blindly into the night and turned to see Seraphine at her side, wild eyed and terrified. They rode until they were well into the woods, and then slowing she shouted, ‘Pull on the reigns!’ to Seraphine who had passed her.
‘Pierre?’ she asked when she caught up.
‘I saw Monsieur Pierre ride in after the horse master. Oh Madame,’ Seraphine was wracked with tremors.
‘Where will we go now, Madame?’ the girl asked looking around them at the wilderness.
‘We’ll find the river. Unless the Indians find us first.’