The Arcadia Experience
Author's note: This novella is set in the world of the novels ‘Arcadia’ and ‘The Arcadians’. Excerpts from both books are posted on WoL, and the full novels can be downloaded from Smashwords at Arcadia and The Arcadians.
Duncan had lived with his fiancée Jane for three years. He thought they were a good couple who looked well together, their relationship was mostly amicable, and Jane seemed happy lending her body to the sexual needs he had thus far revealed to her.
But Duncan had hidden depths.
Beneath the smooth and placid surface of his personality he concealed dark desires, and the fantasies that often thrashed and churned in his mind would have been extremely alarming for Jane if she had been able to glimpse them. Sustenance for Duncan’s secret dreams came mainly from illustrated periodicals he kept hidden in his desk at work, never daring to take them home and risk discovery by Jane.
Pornography, it has been often said, raises expectations it can never fulfil. And indeed, Duncan discovered his gateway to gratification not in the pages of his surreptitiously purchased magazines, but from an unexpected source.
As an employee of the English Government in London, where he worked in the military pensions department, Duncan received a copy of the civil service staff magazine The Civil Link, delivered to his desk every month. He was idly perusing that persistently tedious publication one wet afternoon in March when an advertisement caught his eye. On offer was a seven-day holiday described as The Real Arcadia Experience. Discerning travellers, the advertisement promised, could enjoy “the best of all that Arcadia is uniquely able to provide”, that best to include “unrivalled personal service” and “a range of excursions to working premises” including - and this is what most piqued Archie’s interest - a “five-mile servile transport trek”. Although the advertisement did not employ the word ‘slave’ and would not have been accepted by the magazine if it had done, it was a fact that the state of Arcadia was famous only for its determined clinging to institutional human bondage.
Around Duncan, amongst his work colleagues and social friends, everyone expressed hatred for slavery and deep loathing for the horrors that were supposedly its mainstays. Publicly, openly, Duncan agreed with those sentiments. He could pontificate with the best on how appalling it was for people to be held as property, subject to whipping, branding, or any other cruelty their owners could devise. But the secret being lurking inside Duncan, that shadowy creature who was fascinated and excited by slavery, viewed slave owners not with contempt but with fathomless envy.
The Real Arcadia advertisement did not appear in the subsequent issue of The Civil Link, and Duncan was not at all surprised. He supposed that someone on the magazine’s staff must have realised, as he had done, that the phrase “servile transport” could only be a reference to a slave-drawn vehicle and had declined to print it again. That did not matter to Duncan, for he had already posted an enquiry and eagerly awaited a reply from the holiday company.
After several weeks of keen anticipation a plain brown envelope appeared in Duncan’s mailbox, one bearing an Arcadia City postmark. Its contents were nothing if not discrete, consisting mainly of scenic views and illustrations of hotel accommodation, and as with the magazine advertisement, references to slavery were implied rather than directly stated. There was a schedule of available dates, and a price list making it very clear that the discerning travellers being sought would need to have deep pockets. That requirement would have deterred a more sensible man of very modest means from pursuing the matter, but Duncan was being driven by his inner demon, which was blithely unconcerned with finance but deeply interested in the prospect of close association with slave women.
In each of the previous two years Duncan and Jane had enjoyed a week at Bracklesham Bay in West Sussex, staying in a quiet guesthouse close to the shingle beach. Those holidays had been within their agreed budget, not costing more than one month’s worth of their combined salaries, whereas the expedition to slavery country would cost more than five times as much. The inner demon argued, and Duncan agreed with it, that if Jane was unaware of the true costs an examination of the real Arcadia would entail, then sordid finance might not be an obstacle. Accordingly, Duncan chose his moment and made his pitch.
‘I’ve been looking for some special holiday ideas for you,’ Duncan said to Jane casually after dinner one evening.
‘What’s wrong with Bracklesham Bay?’ Jane asked. ‘We always have a nice time there.’
‘True.’ Duncan nodded sagely. ‘But I want you to have a special holiday, the sort of thing we won’t be able to do when we’re married and the kids come along. You deserve it, Jane. I can’t believe my luck that you’re going to marry me, and I just want to give you some special memories.’
‘Aw, you can be so sweet.’ Jane smiled girlishly and patted his hand. ‘Do you have a holiday in mind?’
‘Not particularly,’ Duncan lied smoothly. ‘Although there is a trip to that place Arcadia I’ve seen advertised.’
Jane wrinkled her nose. ‘Isn’t that the place where they had a lot of trouble a few years ago, and all those people were killed? And they still have slaves, don’t they? I’m really not sure I’d like to go there.’
With a great effort, Duncan contrived to appear relaxed and unconcerned. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘they did have a spot of terrorist trouble, but I believe they’re well on top of the situation now. In any case, don’t we have our own security problems here in England? You can hardly go south of the river at all, and how safe did that sodding great bomb in Whitehall last week make you feel? As for the slavery thing, that’s all politics and nothing to do with us. But we can forget the idea if you prefer, Jane, that’s not a problem. I just wanted to take you somewhere special and interesting, that’s all.’
Jane’s eyes had crinkled with amusement as she watched him speak. ‘You know, Duncan,’ she said, ‘I think you really want to go there, and to show how much I love you I’ll agree. As long as it doesn’t cost too much, because we have our future to think of. But don’t expect me to like it, because I can never condone slavery, never, never, never.’
A sense of triumph that he dared not reveal welled up in Duncan. ‘I haven’t got as far as looking at what it would cost,’ he lied again. ‘But I believe it will be a little more than our holidays on the coast. I’ll check, and if it’s not too expensive we can talk about dates. OK?’
Duncan watched Jane undress for bed that night, and was pleased that she did not put on a nightdress. As he mounted her he idly wondered how much a young woman with such a fine body would sell for in Arcadia.
Duncan was very busy at work for the next few weeks. The small fields and sunken lanes of Devon and Somerset were proving to be a lethal zone for the English troops fighting the western rebellion, and bombs hidden in or beneath hedgerows were taking a fearful toll. A Casualty Notice Form 147B would arrive at the military pensions department every time an unfortunate soldier was shredded by a blast, and whether the casualty was dead or alive there was a requirement to check his entitlement to a disability pension or death benefit, to calculate the precise sum payable, and to notify his next of kin of the state’s largess to come their way.
Although accustomed to the stream of sad tidings that flowed across his desk, Duncan was occasionally jolted by reports of particularly gruesome injuries or dreadful circumstances. A file might note that Soldier X had died after being shot through the neck by a sniper, and that was bad enough, but sometimes the report would list insurgents killed in the follow-up operation, and Duncan would wonder how young children could bear arms against the state. Within London too the spectre of violence was becoming daily more muscular as the anarchist groups deployed new weaponry they had received from states hostile to the English Democratic Republic, and the sense that a descent into hell was in progress was all-pervading.
But Duncan remained focused on what had become his supreme objective, and he duly made a booking for The Real Arcadia Experience. Being short of disposable funds he made a furtive withdrawal from the couple’s savings account to pay for the trip, figuring that he would somehow find a way to make good the shortfall before Jane was likely to discover his crime.
And so on a Tuesday in mid-August the London couple arrived in the Scottish Union at Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station after a long journey on a crowded train that had broken down several times. Both feeling exhausted, and with Jane becoming rather fractious, they emerged onto the station concourse, where Duncan was much relieved to see a travel company courier holding up a board with six names on, Duncan’s included.
When the courier had gathered his six charges and their partners he led them out of the station and onto a small bus. Standing at the front, with one hand on the driver’s shoulder, he shook his head to clear his blonde hair from his eyes and introduced himself.
‘Hello everybody, my name is Tarquin. I work for Arcadian Tours and it’s my job to ensure you all have an absolutely super time. Okay? Outstanding. There’ll be plenty of time for me to get to know each of you, but right now I want to give you a little background on Arcadia. Okay, everyone?’ He gave a simpering smile as his small audience variously nodded or grunted their assent, and then he continued his talk as the bus lurched into motion.
‘First I want to explain a few things to you, beginning with our institution of servile labour, what people in England like to call slavery. You may have heard or read all kinds of crazy propaganda stories about our system, but you shouldn’t believe any of them. After all, I sometimes hear terrible stories about England, but do I believe them? No, my sweethearts, I believe what I see with my own eyes, and I’m sure you’re all sensible enough to make up your own minds up about things you see for yourselves. You’ll find that Arcadians are just ordinary decent people like you all are, and our society is just a little different from what you’re used to. Not bad, not wicked, definitely not evil, just different. Okay? Super.’
For Duncan, who thirsted for bad, ached for wicked, and was prepared to give evil a fair chance, this was not coming as good news.
The little bus, its engine knocking and its chassis creaking, rattled out of central Edinburgh and took the road south-west towards Peebles. Tarquin addressed his captive audience on Arcadia’s agriculture and other industries as one by one they fell asleep, and when Peebles was reached and passed the only wakeful person on board was the driver.
Duncan awoke to see Tarquin again standing at the front of the bus, now clapping his hands for attention. ‘Did we have a nice sleep, everybody? Great. We’re coming up to the Arcadian border now, and you must all have your documents ready for inspection. It’s nothing to worry about, just routine formalities. Are you all ready for that? Excellent.’
Jane yawned and stretched in her seat beside Duncan’s. ‘Where are we? How far have we come?’
‘I think we’re about fifty miles from Edinburgh,’ Duncan replied. ‘We’re at the border with Arcadia.’
The bus was in a short queue at the frontier. Ahead of them were three trucks and another bus, and while they waited a line of trucks pulled up behind them. There were no cars to be seen.
Among the passengers tension mounted as the minutes ticked by, all were taking a slightly brave step into what was for them the unknown.
Eventually a uniformed border officer, a thin man with a haggard face and an air of crushing weariness, boarded the bus and looked down the aisle at the blankly watching tourists. In his left hand he held a clipboard with a sheet of paper attached, and when all the passengers were silent and giving him their attention he read from it.
‘This vehicle will shortly cross the frontier between the Scottish Union and the independent state of Arcadia. Passengers should be aware that by remaining on this vehicle and crossing into Arcadia they will be passing beyond any protection or assistance the Scottish Union can provide its citizens and visitors.’ He looked up briefly, and then his dull eyes returned to his script.
‘The government of the Scottish Union does not recommend non-essential travel to Arcadia, and cautions those of you determined to do so against any close interaction with its inhabitants. If you have any doubts about your personal safety in Arcadia you should leave this vehicle now, and I will ask each of you separately if you wish to do so.’
‘This is so scary, Duncan,’ Jane whispered. ‘I’m frightened, honestly I am, and I think we should get off the bus.’
‘No.’ Duncan shook his head as he softly replied. ‘This is all just anti-Arcadia propaganda, and I’m not falling for it.’
Because they were in the front row of seats the border officer came to Duncan and Jane first, and spoke to both of them. ‘Are you going into Arcadia of your own free will?’
‘Of course,’ Duncan said, while Jane only nodded.
The officer leaned forward to speak directly to Jane. ‘Are you sure? You can place yourself under my protection and leave the bus, if you wish.’
‘No. I’m fine,’ Jane said.
‘Maybe now you think you’re fine.’ The officer looked at Jane with a facial expression that could have been pity. ‘Do you understand that Arcadia is a slave state, and that if you are seized there can be no outside help for you?’
Almost rigid with fear, Jean nodded again, and Duncan smiled weakly. ‘Really officer,’ he said. ‘We’ve paid for our holiday in Arcadia and we intend to enjoy it, whether you want us to or not.’
The officer straightened up. ‘You proceed into Arcadia at your own risk and without indemnity,’ he said, and moved on to the row behind.
‘I told you so,’ Jane hissed into Duncan’s ear. ‘What have you got us into?’
‘A damned good interesting holiday, that’s what I’ve got us into,’ Duncan replied. ‘And you shouldn’t let that goon frighten you. Just relax, will you?’
There was a mood of silent fearfulness on the bus when it eased under a raised barrier and into Arcadia. But then two young Arcadian border officers bounded aboard, and spirits lifted. These officers were all smiles and soft words, they casually glanced at documents, welcomed each and every passenger to their country, and were gone.
‘You see, Jane,’ Duncan said, ‘Those guys were fine. So Arcadians aren’t monsters, are they?’
Jane looked at him sullenly. ‘We just haven’t seen the monsters yet. But we will do.’
Immediately after crossing the border the bus passed through the small town of Thornhill, which to Duncan looked very much like any other country town, although strikingly clean and tidy. What few pedestrians were to be seen on the high street also looked like the denizens of any other town, and nowhere could he see any sign of Arcadia’s most notorious institution. The only notable feature, and one that had been apparent since entering Arcadia, was the lack of traffic, which he knew to be caused by a severe fuel shortage in the little state.
‘I suppose it all looks fairly normal,’ Jane grudgingly conceded as she watched a young couple walking along the pavement with two school-age children between them. ‘But when you think about it, we were never going to see the real Arcadia, were we? Obviously they’ve cleaned up the parts tourists see, hidden their guilty secrets away from outsider eyes.’
Duncan, for whom Arcadia’s guilty secrets were the whole reason for the trip, hoped she was wrong. He remained pensively silent as the bus headed southwards, speeding along a good highway through farmland to soon reach the outskirts of Dumfries, and then westwards to their hotel in Arcadia, situated on the edge of Dalbeattie.
Jane had dreaded, and Duncan had looked forward to, a scene from Gone With The Wind when they arrived at the hotel, with a small army of servants lined up to welcome the guests with curtsies and other obsequious gestures. But when the bus, now seemingly on its last legs, had chugged up the long driveway there was nobody to greet Tarquin’s group, just an empty expanse of gravel in front of the entrance doorway.
‘And here we are at Hotel Elysium,’ Tarquin squeaked girlishly. ‘Off the bus everyone, and take your first step onto Arcadian soil. You may kiss the ground if you want to, there’s no extra charge.’
As the bus disgorged its passengers two uniformed porters emerged from the hotel to unload luggage onto a trolley, and Tarquin called for the tourists to follow him into the building. Gripping Duncan’s hand tightly, Jane made a gloomy observation. ‘Elysium is the afterlife, isn’t it? Maybe we’re already dead.’
‘Yeah, that’s right Jane,’ Duncan replied cheerfully. ‘The bus crashed and we were killed, so now we’re entering heaven.’
The hotel lobby was not especially large or luxurious, but when they were shown to their first floor room overlooking the rear gardens and the river Urr both Duncan and Jane were almost overcome, having never in their lives seen such opulence. From the deep pile carpet to the oil paintings on the wall, everything was up to or exceeding the standard promised by the brochure, and the bathroom was larger than the entirety of the their London home.
Mariella, the maid who had shown them to the room, smiled. ‘I see you’re impressed. That’s excellent, and I’m pleased. Everyone at the hotel wants you to have a wonderful time, and to fall in love with Arcadia. Now, your luggage will be here shortly, and I can unpack for you unless you wish to do that for yourselves. Your tour guide will be hosting pre-dinner drinks soon, so when you’ve freshened up you can go down, there’s no hurry.’
‘I’ll deal with our luggage, thank you,’ Jane said, and Mariella nodded but made no move to leave.
‘Are you waiting for something?’ Jane asked, an edge of hostility creeping into her voice.
Mariella’s smile flickered. ‘I’m your maid while you’re here, Miss. Is there nothing I can do for you? Perhaps run a bath?’
‘No, nothing.’ Jane spoke firmly. ‘Please leave us now.’
Duncan grinned as the door closed behind Mariella. ‘I’ve never had a maid before, but I really like the idea.’
‘I bet you do, but I’m not going to have her hanging around in here, and I certainly don’t want her rifling through our luggage. Duncan, you are going to start seriously pissing me off if you keep making your grubby thoughts so obvious.’
A porter arrived with their suitcases, and they bathed and changed their clothes before going downstairs. As they entered the lounge where Tarquin’s gathering was in progress, they heard him in full flow.
‘Just as you would not go to Russia and talk against the Emperor, so in Arcadia you shouldn’t make your opposition to our institutions obvious. It’s plain bad manners, apart from anything else. Ah, here’s Duncan and his lovely fiancée. Sit wherever you please and a maid will bring you sherry. Now, speaking of Arcadian institutions, almost nobody in Arcadia has slaves - does that surprise you?’ He giggled. ‘Farms have hands and people in town have servants. Most of the staff in this hotel, the maids, waitresses and suchlike, are servants, and tomorrow you’ll be seeing farm and forest hands working. You shouldn’t feel awkward about dealing with the hotel servants, by the way. Just treat them as you would staff in any hotel. Any questions so far?’
He waited but a moment before speaking again. ‘You not must touch servants deliberately or ask them any personal questions, that is most important. The proprietors of all the places you’ll be visiting have been given assurances of proper conduct. Of course I’m totally confident none of you would embarrass me and yourselves by breeching, but my employers do require me to mention the matter. They also require me to mention that the golden rule when in another country is this; do not interfere. It is possible, if very unlikely, that you will see something that distresses you. If that happens then look away, close your eyes. There is no possible good that can come from you interfering by word or action, and every possibility of lasting harm being done.’
As Duncan he had feared she would, Jane spoke up. ‘You want us to be wise monkeys, is that right?’
‘Excuse me?’ Tarquin gave every appearance of bafflement.
‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Tarquin, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.’ Jane took of swig of the sherry a maid had handed to her.
Tarquin cocked his head slightly to one side and looked at her for several seconds. ‘Maybe I do, but what I mean is that you are guests in Arcadia, paying guests it’s true,
but still guests. I only ask you to remember that simple fact, Jane.’
A chill went up Jane’s spine. She thought she had seen a side of Tarquin previously hidden, and that something of steel and menace had been on his face and in his voice.
‘May I speak?’ the only older woman in the tour group asked.
‘Why or course you may, Mrs Dyke.’ Tarquin was smiling again.
Tall, slightly stooped, and with grey hair styled in a bun, Mrs Dyke stood up to say her piece. ‘Well, even if that young lady,’ she looked at Jane, ‘has come here to criticise Arcadia, my husband and I haven’t. We’re already impressed by this lovely country, very impressed. It’s all so peaceful and well-ordered, not at all like where we come from, and we’re going to think about spending our retirement years here. Personally, I don’t see the point of coming on a holiday trip just to be objectionable. That’s all I wanted to say.’ She sat down to a smattering of applause.
‘Thanks for that, Mrs Dyke, it’s great you like Arcadia, and I’m sure Jane will come to love it when she’s seen a bit more.’ Tarquin’s smile swept across the tourists.
‘I bet I fucking-well won’t, you little shit,’ Jane murmured, but Duncan had the awful impression that everyone in the room had heard.
After dinner Jane and Duncan returned to their room, there to find that the towels they had used earlier had already been replaced, the bathroom restored to immaculate condition with not a drop of misplaced water to be seen, and in fact everything returned to perfection they had found on arrival. ‘They just have so many skivvies,’ Jane grumbled, ‘how many were there at dinner? I don’t want to eat with a slave girl stood behind my chair, it’s very off-putting, and I’m sure the poor thing was hoping I’d choke.’
‘Not a slave girl,’ Duncan said complacently. ‘A maid.’
‘An unpaid maid who can’t quit and has to work or suffer punishment. Duncan, you know that perfectly well.’
Duncan grinned and stretched out on the bed with his hands behind his head. ‘I know perfectly well that when you’re upset or angry, my luck’s in, because you’re going to fuck my brains out.’
Although not wanting to smile, Jane could not help doing so, and she began to undress. ‘I suppose so, you pig, it’s how I let the tension out.’
He let her take the initiative, sitting astride him and demonstrating a considerable amount of tension to be released as she worked pile driver style, her stomach muscles standing out rigidly and her face set in determination. Reaching her climax she bared her teeth as she always did at that moment, more a snarl than a smile, and tried to drop forward on him, but he held her up with his hands pressed against her breasts. ‘Keep going, babes,’ he said, ‘finish me,’ and she continued her movement until he gasped his own relief and twitched convulsively underneath her.
Jane left the bed to put her nightdress on, and now she smiled at him. ‘You’re an obnoxious bastard most of the time, Duncan,’ she said, ‘and if fucking you didn’t make me feel so good I’d find a better man.’
‘Pah, there’s no such thing as a better man than me.’ He turned onto his side as she got back into bed, and she wrapped her arms around him.
‘Goodnight, Pig,’ she said, and kissed the back of his head.
‘Goodnight, Princess,’ he mumbled, already feeling drowsy from tiredness, a good meal, and deeply satisfying sex. He was also smugly satisfied with his holiday choice, and looking forward to visiting a slave-worked farm the next day. But as he was sliding into sleep, he felt Jane shaking his shoulder.
‘Duncan,’ she whispered, ‘I have a premonition that something awful’s going to happen to us, and we’ll never see home again.’
‘Don’t be so stupid,’ he retorted. ‘What could happen? Nothing. Just let’s get to sleep now, we’ve had a long day.’
Jane persisted. ‘Have you noticed that our party is all young couples? Well, except for Mrs Dyke and her husband, but the others are our sort of age. Why is that?’
‘I suppose,’ Duncan replied, ‘that’s because this isn’t an ordinary holiday.’ He sat up, battered his pillows with his fists, and lay back down again. ‘It’s different, so it appeals mainly to younger people. And we know why the Dykes are here, don’t we? They’re combining the holiday with a retirement reconnaissance. Jane, I know what you’re suggesting, that you’re going to be kidnapped, but that’s ridiculous and it’s not going to happen, so please let me get to sleep.’
Duncan was soon sound asleep, but Jane lay awake for a long time. There were ten fit young people on the tour, which despite Duncan’s reasoning she could not believe was mere chance. It was if those enquiring about The Real Arcadia Experience had been carefully screened, filtered for a purpose so sinister it did not bear thinking about. And yet her horrific suspicions seemed to be negated by the presence of the elderly Dyke couple, unless, she thought, they were on the tour to camouflage its real evil purpose.
She would, she decided, keep her eyes and ears open, alert for any danger. If peril emerged from Arcadia’s dark shadows, then borders with the free soil of the Scottish Union or England were never very far away.
At first Jane was not sure if she was awake or dreaming when she went to the window. Dawn had broken, and the scene outside was bathed in the shadowless grey light of pre-sunrise. She rarely saw this time of day, and now she found it eerily disturbing, especially with the white mist spilling from the river onto the lawns. If there is an afterlife, she thought, called Elysium or anything else, it will look like this.
Opening the window, she dragged the morning’s crisply cold air into her lungs, and hearing hushed voices she leaned out and looked down. Below were three hotel servants, a porter and two maids, sharing a cigarette between them and talking in whispers.
Poor devils, she thought, I wonder what time they have to get up?
Another sound came to her ears then, one that she at first thought was a fox barking. It was distant, and thus very weak, but as she listened intently it resolved into what was clearly a human cry of anguish.
Oh dear God, they start the torture early in this hellish country. She looked down at the servants. All three were silently looking westwards, which was the direction the sound came from, and then the porter made a comment she could not make out. The maids giggled, clamped their hands to their mouths, and the group dispersed, the porter taking the cigarette with him.
From the farmland to the west the awful sound still came, and Jane just did not want to imagine the scene at its source. She closed the window and scampered back to bed.
All twelve tourists were in the breakfast room when Tarquin entered and used his usual attention-getting technique of clapping his hands. ‘Good morning everybody, did we all sleep well? Well today, my friends, we are going to be busy. First will be a visit to a sugar farm where we will have a talk with the owner and see work being done in his fields.’
Duncan felt a frisson of excitement, for he knew Arcadian farm hands were usually female. At last I get to see women worked under the lash.
‘The farm,’ Tarquin went on, ‘which is called Silver Birches, will also be providing us with lunch. On the way back here we shall visit a forestry centre and sawmill. Does that sound like a good day? Awesome. Okay folks, the bus will at the door by nine-thirty.’
On the way to Silver Birches, and quite unexpectedly, the tourists had their first sight of Arcadian slavery in the raw.
The bus had taken the obvious main road route towards Carlingwark, but after about five miles was diverted because of an accident ahead, and it turned onto a minor road, unpaved and little more than a track. Bumping along, swaying on the uneven surface, the bus was half a mile into the diversion when a body of water came into view on the right.
‘That’s Dalbeattie reservoir,’ Tarquin announced. ‘It’s very good trout fishing there, so if anyone would like a crack at it sometime I’ll make the arrangements. Dawn or dusk is best for trout, and some say those are the best times for any type of fishing, but I’m not so sure.’
None of the tourists were paying any attention to their guide, for between the track and the reservoir, completely ignored by Tarquin, was an encampment. Untethered horses grazed on the rough scrub among a motley collection of vehicles, none of which appeared to be motorised, and children played around a collection of ragged tents. A fire was burning smokily, attended by an old crone who poked it with a stick, and numerous dogs roamed, some barking at the passing traffic, others more intent on scratching themselves or sniffing their fellows’ nether regions.
The highlight of the shabby tableaux, what really caught the tourists’ attention, was a slave sale in progress.
Closely adjacent to the track stood a four wheeled wagon, its shafts lacking a horse, and on the bed of that wagon stood a completely naked young woman. There was a collar around her neck, from which a chain led to an anchor bolt on the wagon, and next to her stood the presumed seller, a swarthy and garishly dressed man who was engaged in an animated exchange with members of a small crowd gathered on the ground. The young woman’s face showed not fear or defiance, and not embarrassment that the world could gaze on her every intimate feature. There was only resigned indifference to the proceedings on her ordinary plain face framed by badly-cut hair as she looked down on the bidders and then across the intervening few yards into Duncan’s eyes.
He, the secret slavery enthusiast from the free city of London, was shocked by the eye contact, and was churned by conflicting emotions. Those eyes, he was sure, would have looked into hell many times, and would look into hell many times more. So he did feel sympathy, but he also felt envy that he did not own her and could not be out there bidding for her. He felt a pang of anguish that his life would pass without him ever knowing the delicious power of a slave owner, and he felt a surge of resentment against Jane, who in that instant he saw as the anchor keeping him stationed in a life of monotony.
Jane, it became immediately obvious, shared only one of her fiancée’s feelings, the sympathy. ‘Oh no,’ she cried out loud, ‘this is too awful. That could be me stood there on display like so much meat, it could be any poor soul.’ Standing, she called to Tarquin that he must halt the bus. ‘I need to get off, right here and right now, because I’m not going to see something like that and take no action.’
After telling the driver to continue, Tarquin stepped across to Joan, his face tight with anger. ‘We are not stopping, Jane, and you are not getting off here. Didn’t I speak earlier against the folly of interference? I understand you’re shocked, and actually so am I, because what we have all just seen should not be happening. But there’s nothing you or I can do unless we want to make a servant’s difficult day even more difficult. Do we want that? No, so please sit down, and I will explain more fully when we reach Silver Birches.’
Jane sat down without replying to Tarquin, and she glared at Duncan. ‘This is all your fault.’
‘My fault?’ he gasped, ‘how is it my fault?’
‘Because,’ she jabbed a finger into his ribs, ‘you wanted to come to this mediaeval hell-hole. I would have been happy to not see some poor little bitch sold to the highest bidder, and I would have been happy going to somewhere they treat people decently, somewhere like Bracklesham Bay. But no, dirty Duncan, filthy Duncan, kinky sod Duncan was too fascinated by the vileness of Arcadia. Admit it, Duncan, you were fascinated, weren’t you? And I got dragged along, so more fool me.’
‘Shut up,’ he snapped, ‘save it, you’re making a fool of yourself.’
‘No I’m not, Duncan, I’m making a fool of you.’ She smiled with mock sweetness. ‘You’d be no good as a slaver, would you? I really think that’s what you’d love to be, but you’re not man enough to control me, so how would you ever cope?’
Feeling totally humiliated, and seething with fury at Jane, Duncan sat silent until Silver Birches was reached.
The farm had a dozen or more buildings that were placed with no semblance of order, as if they had been thrown down by a giant hand. Tarquin led his charges into an empty barn and invited them to gather round him.
‘I want to apologise to each of you for what you saw at that traveller camp,’ he said. ‘Our routes are planned to avoid unsightly things like that, but today the traffic diversion gave us no choice about passing it. Even so, you should not have seen what you did see, because the public sale of servants is illegal, but what can I say? The police cannot be everywhere at every moment, and the travellers seem to enjoy flaunting their disregard of the law.’
‘Tarquin,’ it was Mrs Dyke speaking. ‘On behalf of every sensible member of this group I accept your apology. You were not responsible for the diversion or for the conduct of the travellers, so please don’t worry about it.’ There was a general murmur of approval for what she had said, and she continued. ‘Arcadia’s servile labour system is Arcadia’s business, and I’m not criticising it, but I want to ask you this. In a proper and legal sale, is it usual for servants to be shown nude? I’m not a prude, but I think I see enough pubic hair when I take a shower.’
Amidst laughter, Tarquin smiled. ‘No, that is absolutely not usual. I can assure you there is general decency and proper respect for feminine modesty at legitimate sales, and I want to say something else. Bad things happen in Arcadia, as they do everywhere, but just as a rape or murder occurring in England does not typify that nation and its people, a few isolated incidents of misconduct in Arcadia should not colour perceptions of Arcadian people. Enough said? Peerless.’
A man and a woman entered the barn, both looking at the tourists with curious expression. Tarquin again clapped for attention, quite unnecessarily, and introduced them. ‘Mister Lennox is the owner of this farm, and the young lady is his manager Katrina. They’ll give you an outline of what the farm does and how it’s organised, and then they’ll answer your questions. After that, if the rain holds off, Katrina will take you to see field work in progress. Happy with that? Marvellous.’
Lennox was well into beefy middle-age, and with his ruddy face he looked an archetypal farmer, while Duncan guessed Katrina to be in her mid-thirties. She was slightly taller and a lot thinner than her boss, and had very dark hair that contrasted with his wispy yellow thatch.
‘He’s fucking her,’ Jane whispered in Duncan’s ear as farmer and manager shuffled forward. ‘I can tell.’
‘Rather him than me,’ Duncan whispered back as the farmer wiped his mouth on a sleeve and then spoke.
‘Well hello and good morning to you all,’ Lennox began. ‘I thank you for visiting our proud and lovely Arcadia, and especially for coming to see my farm today. Here at Silver Birches our business is producing sugar beet, which a cooperative refinery processes into granular sugar, virtually all of it exported. Sugar is a very important crop for Arcadia, very important indeed, and you could even say it’s our lifeblood. So as well as running a business that’s been pretty successful so far, I’m also doing my bit for my country’s economy.’
He licked his lips, glanced sideways at Katrina, and continued. ‘Here in Arcadia almost all farming is based on manual methods, including sugar farming. Manual methods have advantages and disadvantages, but because mechanisation is not an option for us yet we’ve learned how to get excellent crop yields using what’s available. We have exactly forty hands to work the farm, all female, and as you’ll be well aware, they are not free people, they’re servile labour. There are also three overseers, two of them servile and one free, and at the top of the pyramid is my manager Katrina here, who of course reports to me.’
‘And sucks his cock,’ Jane muttered under her breath, and then asked a question out loud. ‘When you use the term servile, can we be totally clear you actually mean slave labour?’
Lennox stared at Jane, and Katrina’s lips curled in amusement. It was Tarquin who replied. ‘Slave labour is an unpleasant term with distinctly political overtones, but the answer to your question is that Mister Lennox owns the property interest in his hands. Okay? Happy with that?’
Jane looked coolly at Lennox. ‘I bet the slaves aren’t happy being forced to work here for no pay, and in fact I bet they’re unhappy creatures, totally miserable.’
‘No, no, not at all,’ Lennox replied immediately. ‘You see, young lady, the hands are entirely accustomed to the life they have. It’s what they’re used to, and they expect nothing else. I would even say they are quite contented, probably more so than the average worker in England. They’re well fed, have comfortable accommodation, and of course they have total security.’
‘Are they contented when you whip them?’ Jane demanded.
Tarquin and Lennox exchanged sharp glances, and Duncan looked down at the floor, wishing it would swallow him up.
‘Look,’ it was Katrina who replied to Jane, in an accent suggesting English was not her mother tongue. ‘Every country, every society, has to respond to transgressors, and that response can never be pleasant, because it has to have deterrent value. If a hand commits a serious offence, maybe stealing, refusing to work, or attacking a workmate, then she is punished with the whip. But let me tell you that such things aren’t common, and it’s all over and done with in a few minutes, so it’s not like throwing someone in jail, it’s much kinder than that.’
‘Why are they all women?’ Mrs Dyke asked. ‘Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising Arcadia’s ways because they obviously work well, but wouldn’t men be better for farm work?’
Lennox was visibly happier with that question. ‘There are several reasons. We have female hands because they’re easier to work and control than men, less dangerous. This isn’t just a farm, it’s my home where my family live, and if we had forty male hands I would worry that my wife and children weren’t safe. Also, it’s against Arcadian law to house servile males and females at the same place of work, that’s to prevent uncontrolled breeding. It’s not humane to let servile women fall pregnant, because all children are born free in Arcadia under the free birth act, whereas the mother must still belong to her owner.’
‘Is that something you agree with?’ Duncan asked. ‘After all, if you own a sheep or a cow or something, you automatically own its offspring, don’t you? So why should it be different for a woman you own?’
Lennox blew out his cheeks as if undecided on how to reply. ‘Arcadia’s previous Chief Executive, our equivalent of a President, brought that law in to stop breeding for profit. Baby farming is a horrible thing, so I agree with the law’s intention. But it can work against businesses like mine. Let me explain. If one of my hands falls pregnant, which can happen because we have visiting tradesmen and suchlike, then inevitably I’m going to lose some work from her, meaning I lose money, and I’ll have the additional expense of raising the child. Is that fair?’
‘I expect you’d whip her for getting pregnant, wouldn’t you Mister Lennox?’ Jane was standing in a belligerent posture with her arms folded across her chest. ‘Costing you money? Good gracious, I’m sure anyone would think a pregnant woman should be flogged for that.’
Katrina spoke up again. ‘You seem very interested in whipping, and I hear that’s a popular leisure interest in London. Here in Arcadia we’re more focussed on business, so I suggest that we go now outside to see some work being done.’
Duncan pulled Jane close to him as Tarquin and the tourists followed Katrina out of the barn, and then turned her to face him. ‘Holy fucking cow, what are you doing? Your ruining this trip for everyone, woman, can’t you see that? If you can’t say anything positive, then just keep quiet. Arcadia isn’t going to abolish slavery because you come up from London and speak your mind, you know. All you’re doing is creating an awkward atmosphere for the people with us, and that’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to Tarquin, who’s only trying to do his job, and it’s not fair to me.’
Jane tugged away from him angrily, took a few steps, and then whirled about on her heel. ‘Quite a little speech, Duncan, very good. Well alright then, alright. I know I can’t change anything here, so from now on I’ll bite my tongue and keep my thoughts to myself. Can we catch up with the group now?’
Setting a cracking pace, walking so quickly that the tourists became strung out in a long line behind her, Katrina led the way along a narrow grassy lane between two fields, the boundaries of which were delineated by neatly painted fences. After a vigorous thirty minutes she stopped to allow the group to catch up with her. Duncan and Jane had not fallen far behind, and the other younger tourists were also soon on the scene, but it took a while for Mister and Mrs Dyke to come panting up to the group, with Tarquin supporting Mrs Dyke by an arm.
‘Tarquin,’ Mister Dyke’s voice had rarely been heard, but now he voiced complaint. ‘My wife and I weren’t told that this tour would involve rapid cross-country hikes, and quite honestly that’s not what we want to do.’
‘I’m so very sorry,’ Tarquin looked hard at Katrina as he spoke. ‘But we don’t have far to go now, do we Katrina?’
Standing with her hands clasped behind her back, rocking to and fro slightly, Katrina replied. ‘Not at all far, and it will just be a gentle stroll. Before we set off again, let me tell you something about the crop you see around us.’ She made a sweeping hand gesture drawing the tourists’ attention to the growth in the fields on either side, which was about a foot tall and had large bluish leaves supported by red stems. ‘Sugar beet, the saviour of Arcadia.’
‘Those plants are turned into sugar?’ A tourist asked.
‘Not the plant tops you can see now,’ Katrina explained. ‘But those tops have thick taproots just below the surface, and the roots are what we call beets. The beets contain sucrose, which is converted to sugar at the processing plant. The field on the left was planted a week before the one to the right, and the field we’re going to see worked was planted before either of these. We stagger our planting and harvesting because manual methods are slow, and we would need hundreds of hands to plant the whole farm in one go.’
‘But how economic is it to farm manually, when other countries are mechanising again?’ Jane asked a sensible question, temporarily intent on rehabilitating herself with both tourists and Arcadians.
Katrina looked at Jane with neither friendliness nor hostility on her face. ‘At the moment it’s more than economic, it’s very profitable. Manual working means we can plant in much closer rows than a mechanised farm can, meaning we get more beets per acre. And of course, there are no wage costs for the field hands, so when necessary they can be worked for long hours, sometimes ninety hours per week.’ She smiled quickly, showing crooked but fairly white teeth. ‘And they hardly ever complain.’
‘They have a tough life,’ observed Duncan.
Katrina nodded. ‘Yes. Tough, but not impossible. They always get a few rest days each month, because we want to keep them in good condition, and it’s not a hopeless life like outsiders always think. You might be amazed by how many Arcadian citizens were once owned as property, including me. We’ll move on now, if everyone’s ready.’
The Silver Birches field being worked was actually much further away then Katrina had suggested, but she was true to her word about it being a gentle stroll. Ambling along in a fairly tight group, tourists, guide, and farm manager exchanged small talk of weather conditions recently experienced and other trivialities, until they reached the point where they were to view the real meat in the day’s sandwich.
They stopped at a fence from where they could see a ragged line of hands, Jane counted twenty-four, at work on the crop. Each hand was stooped over a hoe, and it was immediately clear to even those completely ignorant of farming that weed control was in progress. Behind the line of hands an overseer watched, the handle of a short whip in her hand, with the lash tip trailing on the ground. Another overseer stood at the end of the line, this one with her whip coiled in front of her and held with both hands.
Duncan thought this a wonderful scene to behold, his only problem being that the hands were clothed and at least a hundred yards away.
‘This field was the first to be planted, so it will be the first harvested,’ Katrina explained. ‘It’s a fine judgement on when to lift the beets. Too soon, and the sucrose content is not as high as it could be, but if we leave it too late we risk frost damage.’
‘This early in the year?’ a tourist asked.
‘Oh yes, it’s unusual to see frost in August, but not unknown,’ Katrina replied. ‘Today the hands are weeding. Sugar beet is vulnerable to weed, especially in our wet soil, and even in the last stages of growth, so we like to stay well on top of it. This is another example of how the servile system gives us advantage, because farms in the south lack our labour, and herbicides are very expensive.’
‘Can we go into the field?’ Duncan asked. He wanted to be much closer to the hands, close enough to smell their sweaty bodies and to hopefully see marks of the lash on them.
Katrina shook her head. ‘No. The hands know how to step between the plant rows without causing damage, but this group trampling across the crop is something I can’t allow.’
Jane smiled in her most pleasant manner. ‘Would it be possible for us to have a chat with one of them, Katrina, if you call her over?’
With icy calmness, Katrina rejected the notion. ‘No, absolutely not, that’s out of the question, and you should have been told that before you came here.’
If looks could kill, Tarquin would have slain Jane for at least the third time that day.
Still with her open and honest expression in place, and still smilingly, Jane persisted. ‘I really don’t mean to be a pest, honestly. But as we’re visiting a farm, I don’t see why we shouldn’t speak to some of its people.’
Katrina shook her head again. ‘That’s an easy one for me to answer, because those hands are not people under our laws. They’re property of this farm, property I happen to be responsible for, and I will not expose them to harmful outside influences.’ Her face tensed briefly before relaxing and splitting into the broadest of smiles. ‘None of those girls has seen the light of Arcadian truth yet, Jane, and they’re not ready to see the benefits of the servile system. You can’t speak with them, and that is final.’
‘Great Scott,’ a mousey young woman tourist exclaimed. ‘I’ve just noticed – they’re working in bare feet!’
‘Yes,’ Katrina was beginning to look uncomfortable. ‘That is normal for field hands, I assure you. When the frost comes they’re given boots for the winter, but bare feet are safer for the crop.’
‘And cheaper, Katrina?’ Jane laughed mirthlessly as she cast her affable mask aside. ‘You don’t pay them, you don’t give them shoes, and from what little I can see from here, they’re dressed in rags. I’m going to give up having sugar in my tea when I get home, because no way do I want to support Arcadian slavery. I thought it was evil before I came here, and now I know it is.’
Tarquin clapped both hands to his face, dropped them to his side, and looked despairingly at Jane. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, thought for a moment, and then turned his smile on, although it looked distinctly weak. ‘So folks,’ he said to the group. ‘Now we’ve seen field hands at work, I’m sure we’re all ready for lunch. So let’s return to the farm and we’ll be able to sit down and get some food inside us. Fancy that? Stupendous.’
Lunch was served in a conservatory attached to the farm house. The tourist group was divided between three tables, one with Lennox as the Arcadian host, one with Tarquin, and the other with Katrina. To Duncan’s horror, he and Jane were seated with Katrina and he feared that sparks would fly, but his fiancée was again putting on a show of amicability, joining in the small talk without igniting controversy, which was easy because the topic of slavery did not come up. On the same table were Mrs and Mister Dyke, and a couple from Coventry who appeared to be the youngest tourists.
The food was plain fare, cold meats with potato salad, but a very good white wine was provided in seemingly unlimited quantities. Two maids, both middle-aged, served silently, topping-up wine glasses, vanishing used crockery, and promptly fulfilling requests for more of anything.
When everyone at the table had finished eating, and was relaxing into a warm wine-induced glow, Mrs Dyke turned the conversation in a possibly dangerous direction.
‘Katrina my dear, you said you were once a slave? Tell us how that happened, and how you progressed.’
‘That’s right.’ Katrina put her glass down and pulled an expression of distaste, as if she had just discovered a wasp in her mouth. ‘I was imported by traders from Dunakeszi, which is a small country, far away, of which you can know nothing. In those days servile stock was flooding into Arcadia, and I was sold at the Newton Stewart auction for just nine hundred dollars to the previous owner of Silver Birches. He bought me as a field hand, and I can tell you it was extra tough for me because I don’t have the build for farm work, I’m too tall and skinny. But I worked hard, I was obliged to work hard, and eventually I was made an overseer. When Mister Lennox took over the farm he said that if I gave him three good years as manager he would give me my freedom. And that is what happened. I kept my part of the bargain, and Mister Lennox kept his.’
Duncan had listened in fascination, and Jane in cynical silence, sure there was more to the Katrina and Lennox story than was being revealed.
‘Well I just become more impressed by Arcadia all the time,’ Mrs Dyke exclaimed, and reached across the table to pat Katrina’s hand. ‘Your story is really quite inspiring, because it shows that the best people can always rise from the lowliest of stations.’
‘You say you were obliged to work hard.’ Duncan looked at Katrina eagerly. ‘Does that mean you were whipped?’
Katrina looked down at her glass, picked it up, and took a sip before replying. ‘What do you want me to say to you? Here is a proverb from my old country. If you have to walk in the rain, you know you’re going to get wet.’
‘And you had to walk in the rain.’ Duncan said.
‘Yes.’ Katrina twirled the stem of her glass between her fingers. ‘So of course I got wet. Thank you so much for raising that subject.’
Jane half smiled. You got wet for Lennox, bitch, that’s why you’re a free woman. Out loud she asked a question. ‘So what do you really think about slavery now, Katrina? I’d love to hear your honest answer, because you’ve seen both sides of the institution.’
Katrina frowned pensively. ‘When I was a field hand I hated it, of course I did. But everyone’s views change as their situation changes, don’t they? As an overseer I came to see things quite differently, because it was obvious to me that the hands had to earn their food and the roofs over their heads, and their work also had to repay the money paid for them. And now I know much more about the financial side, and why the farms and Arcadia generally simply couldn’t operate without the servile system. If there was emancipation everything here would collapse, there would be chaos and starvation, so I have to say I’m a supporter of the institution. That’s my honest answer, Jane.’
‘And you’re not at all troubled by the cruelties involved?’ Jane asked the question lightly, not obviously seeking an argument.
‘There is not so much cruelty,’ Katrina shrugged. ‘And where is there life but never any suffering? Nowhere. This country has no unemployment, virtually no crime, and there is food for all. Could that be said of England or the Scottish Union? Not from what I’ve heard. Arcadia works, it’s as simple as that.’
Jane took a gulp of her wine, determinedly remaining calm and reasonable. ‘But it’s all built on slavery, and I just can’t understand how a woman who’s suffered in that awful bondage can now support it, and actually be the boss of slaves, with all that involves. Katrina, you’ve not shown us the whips and the branding irons, the shackles and the collars, but I’m damned sure the farm has those things.’
‘We have those things, and actually you did see whips carried by the overseers.’ Katrina now seemed amused, and her eyes sparkled. ‘But aren’t we back to your favourite subject? As I said to you earlier, Arcadia is focussed on business, this farm is focussed on business, and I am focussed on business. Consider this. Because stock is in short supply, a prime young field hand costs between three and four thousand dollars, so it’s not good business to damage one unnecessarily, surely you can see that? We are reasonable people up here, not sadists who take pleasure in punishment.’
Struggling now to keep herself from angry shouting, Jane pressed on. ‘I didn’t say you were a sadist, but how can you, a woman, subject other women to whipping? How can you shackle them, put punishment collars on them, burn marks into their flesh?’
‘They’re property, and I’m paid to put well-disciplined and productive gangs of hands into the fields.’ Katrina shrugged. ‘I do what is necessary, no more and no less. If a hand needs the whip, they get it, of course they do, and I have the option of ordering shackles and a punishment collar. And we don’t use hot irons as a punishment, but the law requires us to brand recovered runaways.’
Mister Dyke intervened. ‘Really, Jane, aren’t you being deliberately naive? And isn’t your outrage on the phoney side? Arcadia’s labouring class are slaves, and you knew that when you came here. Of course there are going to be unpleasant aspects to it, life’s like that. But I’m on holiday here, and I want to enjoy my time in Arcadia, not forever be listening to you stating the obvious. Grow up and shut up, will you, and give the rest of us a break.’
Katrina smiled slowly, while Mrs Dyke made a silent clapping motion with her hands. The young couple from Coventry looked away at the other tables, and Duncan put his hand on Jane’s. ‘Don’t upset yourself, love, just simmer down now.’
Jane was silent, lost in her own thoughts, during the bus ride to the forestry centre. On arrival there she claimed to have a sick headache and remained on the bus while the rest of the group, Duncan included, spent two disappointing hours on the premises.
They did see trees, a lot of trees, as they were marched along a winding forest path, and they saw a lot of cut and planed timber in the sawmill yard, massive stacks of it. But no work was actually in progress, the huge steel circular saw blade was still and silent, and no workers were to be seen.
A gift shop offered carved wooden souvenirs, ornamental brass, and other commonplace trash, almost none of it made in Arcadia. Even Mrs Dyke was unimpressed. ‘This a tourist trap,’ she loudly complained. ‘And we’ve been caught. Tarquin, the farm visit was most excellent, and I think we got a real flavour of Arcadia there. But this, my boy, is an insult to us and makes a mockery of what we paid for the trip.’
Tarquin cringed. ‘Please bear with me, Mrs Dyke. There’s lots more great stuff you’ll see in Arcadia.’
But the forestry centre tedium was not yet over, for next they were led into a purpose built lecture room, there to listen as a forest manager spoke in a monotone of tree growth, felling and replacement, resin fouling of blades, and other matters that interested nobody.
It was with relief that the tourists rejoined Jane on the bus
‘I’m not going down to dinner, Duncan.’ Flopped on the bed, Jane looked pale and tired. ‘Arcadia is upsetting me, and I suppose I shouldn’t have come here. But you go down, please.’
‘Maybe you’ll feel better tomorrow,’ Duncan said. ‘As I keep saying, you can’t change the way they do things here, so you may as well just unwind and try to enjoy the holiday. Anyway, I’ll see that a sandwich or something is sent up for you.’
Nobody in the dining room commented on Joan’s absence, and Duncan, again seated with the Mrs Dyke, her husband, and the young couple from Coventry, soon found himself having a pleasant time.
Mister Dyke had a dry wit, and his pithy observations caused gales of laughter, while Mrs Dyke revealed a surprisingly coarse sense of humour as she told anecdotes about her time as a young woman running a bar on the Costa Brava. The Coventry couple, Mike and Gloria, also came out of their shells and proved to be good company, and Duncan wondered guiltily if life was automatically better for him without the restraining influence of Jane.
‘Your fiancée, Duncan,’ Mrs Dyke grinned slyly, ‘is a lovely girl, but she knows how to inflict her opinions on all around, doesn’t she?’
Duncan could only nod sheepishly. For the first time in years he gave serious thought to becoming single again, free to enjoy life with normal people who did not take everything too seriously, people like Gloria, for instance. Voluptuous of figure, and with an enchanting smile as she relaxed among friends, Gloria was infinitely desirable to Duncan, who envied the stocky Mike both the pleasures of his marital bed and the company of a woman who did not feel compelled to be the loud-mouthed conscience of the world.
After dinner the evening continued in the bar, and there was much merriment. But later on, as the tourists drifted away to their rooms, Duncan realised he was about to be left on his own there, and after saying goodnight to the couple he was with, although he had clean forgotten their names, he reluctantly made his return to Jane.
The bed was crumpled but empty when Duncan entered the room, and he almost hoped she had stormed away home, leaving Arcadia in her angry wake, but then he saw her standing at the window with her back to him.
‘Ah, there you are,’ she said without turning around. ‘Did you have a nice time? I’m really pleased if you did. Duncan, early this morning I opened this window, and I heard someone screaming out there. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, but I’m sure it was a slave.’
‘I don’t need this, Jane,’ Duncan said wearily. ‘We know what happens in Arcadia, of course we do, but there’s no point to going on and on about it.'
‘I know you don’t want to listen to what I have to say, but please please please hear me out.’ She turned to face him. ‘Will you listen? Will you credit me with some intelligence and give serious thought to what I say?’
Duncan sat at the end of the bed, pulling his shoes off. ‘Of course I know you’re an intelligent woman, so say what you have to say, why not?’
‘It’s a jigsaw puzzle,’ she said, staring at him. ‘And we haven’t seen all the pieces.’
Dumbfounded, he waited for illumination.
‘Look at us as the first piece,’ she said, crossing to the bed and sitting beside him. ‘Neither of us have any family at home, do we?
‘So?’ he raised his eyebrows at her.
‘So I’m betting that nobody else in the group has close family, either.’
‘Aha, gotcha. Mrs Dyke has a son in Brighton, she mentioned him this evening,’ Duncan said triumphantly.
‘But do you really know that son exists?’ Jane asked, to Duncan’s amazement. ‘Anyhow, Mrs Dyke and her husband are an odd-shaped piece in the puzzle, and I can’t yet see where they fit. Probably they slipped through the net, and their booking should never have been accepted.’
‘Go on then. What’s your next piece,’ Duncan was sure he already knew where Jane was going with this.
‘Katrina is my next piece.’ Her face close to Duncan’s, Jane looked at him intently. ‘Do you remember her silly crack about people in London being too interested in whipping? Well how did she know I’m from London?’
‘From your accent?’ Duncan suggested.
‘Never.’ She shook her head emphatically. ‘She’s from some far away little country nobody’s ever heard of, and not for a moment do I believe she could tell a London accent from a Manchester one, or from any other part of England. No, she knows where we’re from because the tour company passed all our details to her.’ Duncan was mystified. ‘Why would they do that?’
‘I’ll get to that.’ Jane was speaking almost excitedly now. ‘But what else did Katrina tell us, or let slip?’
‘Nothing, really,’ Duncan replied.
‘Yes she did, oh yes she did. She told us that years ago Arcadia had lots of slaves coming in, and the farm paid only nine hundred dollars for her, remember? But now, she said, a field hand can cost four thousand dollars, because Arcadia is short of stock. Stock! They actually see slaves as livestock, the sick bastards. Duncan, are you ready for my final piece, and my conclusion?’
Duncan nodded. ‘I’m all ears.’
‘They’re not that big. My final piece is this hotel. We’re just not paying enough to stay in a place like this, even if they do use slave labour. A huge and lovely room with a great view, with all our food and drinks for free? And the excursions included? Something is wrong, my love, something is terribly wrong, and you must seriously consider what I’m about to say, not dismiss it out of hand. I think that when we’re taken to places like Silver Birches farm, and the forest centre, we’re actually the exhibits, goods in a travelling shop. Potential buyers are being given to the opportunity to assess our physiques and fitness, and I suppose our looks if someone wants to buy a concubine.’
‘Assess our physiques and fitness?’ Duncan snorted. ‘That’s just crazy talk.’
Jane stuck to her guns. ‘Why else did Katrina take us on that speed walk? That’s just another piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Think about all the pieces I’ve shown you. We can be disappeared, Duncan, I really think we will be disappeared, and there’ll be no fuss at home, nobody to kick up a stink about lost relatives. The people we knew at work will soon forget us, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives as livestock in Arcadia.’
‘No, Jane, no. What you say may make sense to you at the moment, but when we talk about it in the cold light of day tomorrow, I’m sure you’ll realise you’ve got things wrong.’
Jane was silent for a moment, gazing sadly at her fiancée. ‘As you wish,’ she said eventually. ‘We’ll talk tomorrow.’
Duncan had actually enjoyed listening to Jane’s speculation, and almost regretted that he could not tell how much the holiday had really cost, thus destroying one of her key puzzle pieces. Her whole theory of a sinister conspiracy to enslave innocent tourists he thought ridiculous, absurd beyond words. His doubts only began at breakfast the next morning, when Mike and Gloria were missing.
It was not a warm night, Arcadian nights never are, but Silver Birches’ manager was comfortable to be outside without a coat.
It was most unusual for Katrina to be up so late, but the tourist visit had given her much to think about, and she liked to walk as she pondered things. This had been only the third tour visit to Silver Birches, and previously Lennox had handled the entire contact, but now he had become bored, as he always became bored with everything, and he was handing that aspect of the farm’s business over to Katrina. The next tourist group would not see the farm’s owner at all, only his loyal manager.
Katrina did not object to hosting tourists because she quite enjoyed talking with people from far away, even though she knew they tended to see Arcadia through patronising eyes, always with the arrogant assumption that wherever they came from was more advanced and civilised. Today’s group, though, had seemed more sympathetic to the Arcadian cause, except for that Jane woman.
Would it feel good to subdue Jane’s pride? It would. To let her feel the lash cutting across her back just below the shoulder blades, exactly where it seemed to cause the most pain and the loudest squealing. Oh yes, that would be satisfying.
But what had Simmons the beekeeper said to her only the previous week? Any disturbance to the hive, especially the entry of outsiders, can cause great turmoil among the workers. He had been counselling her against the tour visits, of course, but that decision rested with Lennox, not with her. Still, she had taken Simmons’s advice to heart, and tonight the hands were locked in their quarters, a security measure rarely taken. And tomorrow, if she sensed the slightest abnormality in any of them, any hint of odd behaviour or foolish and entirely unnecessary thinking, she would come down hard.
'Nothing teaches like the whip does,' she muttered. 'It was the Arcadian education that got me where I am today.'
Although still living in a wretched overseer’s cabin, Katrina considered that things were going well for her. A free woman earning a fair if not generous salary, her savings were mounting month by month, and she had no concerns for the future. Feeling herself to be Arcadian to the core now, she certainly did not contemplate a return to Dunakeszi.
She reached the farm’s jail, a brick building ten feet by ten, five feet high and with one tiny doorway. When she had been brought to this farm, she and five other hands had spent their first thirty nights in this tiny building while the quarters were being expanded. Crouching slightly, she peered through the barred aperture in the door, and was just about able to discern a single form asleep on the earth floor. That was Linda, a hand Lennox had bought in Carlingwark the previous year. Periodically Linda would protest that she was not rightfully a slave, and that she had been kidnapped in the English city of Carlisle.
True or false, it was a dangerous claim to make, and having parted with his money it was not something Lennox could tolerate. So Linda had twice been whipped at the post, the second time severely enough to leave her a semi-conscious hunk of raw meat. Katrina suspected that the cycle of offence and punishment would be repeated, because she did not doubt the story was true.
Why would it not be true?
Most of the hands at Silver Birches had been born of slave mothers before the free birth act had been passed, but others had fallen into slavery through sheer misfortune, as had Katrina herself. Why Linda should think herself something special was quite beyond Katrina, and she wondered how much punishment would be needed to teach the woman it was better to knuckle down and work her way through slavery.
But for now Linda was the problem hand, and whenever a tour group was due she was put in the jail to eliminate any possibility of her approaching visitors with her alarming tale. Tomorrow Katrina would send her back to the fields, although she was always worked in shackles.
Outside the jail was the whipping post, a column of ash wood with an iron loop through its top. A hand to be punished would have her wrists tied to the loop, and then, usually with all the other hands watching and learning, her bare back would be lashed.
Katrina ran her hands over the smooth wood of the post, and slid them up to grip the ring. How she had suffered here, how she had screamed, how wide her mouth had stretched in the rictus of agony, how happy she now was that she would never be tied to it again. But she had no resentful bitterness, and was certain of the whipping post’s necessity to the prosperity of the farm that now put money in her pocket. Farms had to prosper for Arcadia to flourish and grow as its citizens, Katrina among them, needed, so she considered that a few hands getting a taste of leather on their backs was a small price to pay.
She loved the sound of the country’s name, for it could not be mumbled, only said with a proudly open mouth.
‘I am an Arcadian,’ she said out loud as he continued on her walk.
Jane returned to her mind. The English girl had been annoying, and her smug sense of moral superiority had been infuriating, but Katrina thought she would dearly like to meet her again, albeit under very different circumstances.
‘Good morning, everyone. Are we all feeling fine?’ Tarquin bounded into the breakfast room as toast was being buttered, scrambled eggs served, and more adventurous visitors were tackling Arbroath smokies. ‘And are we are ready for another fantastic Arcadian day? Smashing. First though, I have to tell you that Mike and Gloria are no longer with us. There was a family crisis at home, somebody very ill, so they had to leave the hotel early this morning and they won’t be returning.’
‘So we’re down to ten,’ Jane muttered softly. ‘Family crisis my arse. Duncan, they’ve been grabbed, just as I said would happen.’
‘It’s a big shame,’ Tarquin went on, ‘and I’m sure we’ll all miss them. But these things can happen, can’t they? Anyhow, today the group has to be split up, that’s because the servile transport trek can only accommodate two people. So the rest of us will be visiting Carlingwark and the costal village of Carsluith instead, but don’t worry, everyone will get a chance do everything as the days go by. Now, who wants to do the servile trek today?’
Mrs Dyke immediately thrust an arm into the air in the manner of a primary school child seeking permission to visit the toilet. ‘Tarquin,’ she bellowed, ‘it’s best we older folk go first, because we never know how long we’ve got to live.’
Tarquin hesitated before nodding agreement. ‘Okay then, Mrs Dyke, but you really shouldn’t say things like that. Many a true word is spoken in jest.’
A cab arrived for the servile trek passengers almost while Tarquin’s words were in the air, and Mrs and Mister Dyke was hustled out to it, both complaining very loudly that they hadn’t been given a chance to finish their breakfast.
The rest of the tourists were able to complete their meal before the bus drew up to the hotel, and then they were all on their way to Carlingwark. As Jane squeezed in beside Duncan she leaned over to speak directly into his ear. ‘I’m only coming along today because I’m frightened to be left alone. Safety in numbers may be our only hope now.’
‘You’re still being silly, Jane.’ Duncan replied. ‘Family problems do happen, and they’re always inconvenient, so there’s no reason to not believe Tarquin.’
And yet Duncan did not solidly believe what they had been told about Mike and Gloria, and he realised that Jane now had another very big piece of her jigsaw puzzle. The picture it was forming was a dark and terrifying one, and he felt worry gnawing in the pit of his stomach.
Carlingwark, Tarquin explained during the short journey, had for centuries been known as Castle Douglas, but had now reverted to a more ancient name that was eponymous with the loch it was situated on. ‘It’s a lovely little town,’ he said, ‘a perfect sample of Arcadia. In addition to seeing some historic buildings in the town itself, we’ll also be visiting Threave Castle, which is on an island in the River Dee there. After lunch we travel to Carsluith, where we’ll see granite quarries and an especially interesting fortified tower house, and then we’ll have a jolly cruise along the coast, weather permitting.’
On reaching Carlingwark the bus parked outside an octagonal stone building of curious appearance. Tarquin got to his feet, slung his tour bag over his shoulder, and called for the tourists to follow him off the bus. When all had alighted and gathered to him he gestured at the stone building. ‘This interesting building is the livestock market ring, which was built in the first year of the twentieth century and is still in use today. Horses and donkeys are sold here every second Wednesday, but obviously not today, and other classes of livestock on other scheduled days. Every weekend there’s a flea market, always terrific fun. We’ll be returning on Saturday for that, so save a few pennies to spend.’
‘Do the other classes of livestock you mentioned include slaves?’ Jane asked with an innocent face.
‘Servile labour is traded,’ Tarquin agreed, a frown forming on his face and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘On the third Friday of each month. You’ll be aware that this coming Friday is actually the fourth of the month, so there will be no such sale this week.’
‘But this is a place for a local farmer to buy, say, a couple of field hands?’ Jane further enquired.
Tarquin nodded slowly.
‘Or if that same farmer wanted a juicy girl for his bed,’ an edge was coming into Jane’s voice, ‘he could pop along to this interesting livestock market ring that was built in the first year of the twentieth century, when, incidentally, slavery was illegal and people thought that progress was being made. Is that right?’
Now Tarquin’s patience began to show visible signs of wear. ‘Is what right, Jane? What is your point? Really, you’ve made your thoughts on Arcadia’s systems clear at every possible opportunity, and there comes a time when repetition simply bores those who have to hear you.’
Duncan tried to interject a placatory remark, but Jane was going straight back at the guide. ‘Boring, am I? Gosh I am so sorry to bore you with home truths you don’t want to hear, and I’ll spare you my boring company for the rest of the day. I don’t want to trudge around looking at this dump’s miserable apology for historic buildings, because where I come from we’ve got real history on show.’
Again Duncan tried to get a word in, but she gave him no chance. ‘Duncan and I will stay in Carlingwark, and the bus can pick us up on its way back to the hotel. Is that okay for you, Tarquin? We’re free people, and we can’t be compelled to look at crumbling piles of stones or visit some lousy village, now can we?’
Tarquin shrugged, and replied coldly. ‘Yes, of course you’re free to do as you choose. I just think you’ll be missing out, but if that’s what you want, fine. Be on this spot at five this afternoon, please, to meet the bus.’
Duncan and Jane watched as the tour group walked away along Queen Street in the direction of the loch and soon disappeared. Each of them looked at the other, fiancée waiting for fiancée to speak, and as usual, it was Jane who broke the silence. ‘If you think I’ve fucked up, Duncan, if I’ve spoiled your day, then I’m sorry.’
‘I’m not sure that you’ve spoiled anything. Neither of us is into grotty old buildings, and you’d have been horribly sick at sea on a small boat.’ He half smiled.
‘You’re not such a bad bloke, Duncan.’ She leaned forward to kiss his lips with little more than a fleeting contact. ‘We can have a nice day together can’t we?’
‘Sure we can.’ He nodded. ‘And I suggest we begin the traditional English way.’
‘You mean with a nice cup of tea, don’t you?’ Jane giggled, and then the couple set off hand-in-hand to find a café.
Queen Street, they found, was devoid of any public facilities, but the parallel road of King Street offered more. It was by no means smart, having the same air of dilapidation as the rest of the town, but they did find a café.
An empty table was easy to find in the New Arcadian Pantry, because there were no other customers. Duncan went to the counter to order two teas with buttered fruit scones while Jane settled in a seat, her coat hung over its back and her shoulder bag tucked underneath. Pushing out the seat opposite her for Duncan, she saw a small booklet on it, reached over to pick it up, and was looking through it when Duncan came over and sat down.
‘Duncan,’ she said without looking up, ‘This is fucking unbelievable. It’s the catalogue for last week’s slave sale, listen to this:
A rare opportunity to purchase three very prime field hands aged 19, 20, and 24, all in excellent condition and almost unmarked. From the same mother on the estate of the late Arthur Riley, these hands will be a productive asset on any farm and a sound investment for the successful bidder...
‘Holy fuck.’ Duncan gave a low whistle. ‘The mind boggles.’ He was thinking of what he could do with three sisters at his command, what wonderfully deviant avenues could be explored.
Jane read out another item description.
Gretel, a field hand worked for the last seven years on sugar, and prior to that on general produce. Believed to be about 38 years of age, she is much-marked by the whip and is missing one eye.
Duncan pulled a sour downturned mouth face. ‘Poor Gretel. I wonder if the eye was whipped out?’
‘It’s not a joke, Duncan,’ Jane snapped. ‘That could be me in a few years, and this could be you.’
Arturus, a strong forestry hand, also suitable for other heavy work. He is 29 years of age and shows evidence of flogging, but is reasonably docile if worked in a disciplined environment.’
‘Fancy that, do you Duncan? A disciplined environment?’
‘It’s the evidence of flogging that worries me,’ Duncan replied.
Jane folded the catalogue and stowed it in her shoulder bag. ‘I’m keeping this for anyone who doubts that Arcadia is run by and for sadistic maniacs. Duncan, if there’s even only a chance of me being right about a conspiracy to kidnap us, then we can’t just wait for something to happen. We have to think about what we’re actually going to do.’
‘It’s hard to think of exactly what we can do.’
‘No, it’s not hard to think of at all.’ Jane paused as a waitress arrived to deposit two cups of tea and plate of scones on the table, and then she continued. ‘What we do is flee.’
‘We flee?’ Duncan chuckled. ‘Crikey, what an old-fashioned word. Fleeing was a popular thing a few hundred years ago.’
Jane leaned across the table and spoke with quiet intensity. ‘Alright you piss-taking bastard, we run away. We escape. We take flight. We make off. The point is that we cannot fight Arcadia, so we have to get the fuck out.’
‘OK babes, I wasn’t mocking you, and I agree there seems to be something a bit fishy about this tour, although I’m not sure it’s what you think. But in case it is, I have a cunning plan.’
‘Which is what?’ Jane asked eagerly.
‘When we meet up with Tarquin and the group later, you curry favour, and I’ll put us forward for the servile trek tomorrow, because that means a cab journey.’ He did not state that the servile transport trek had been his main reason for visiting Arcadia. ‘Obviously tonight we’ll be on our guard, and tomorrow after the trek, if we still think there’s dirty work afoot, we’ll ask the cab driver to take us to Gretna.’
‘Do you think he’ll do that?’ Jane asked doubtfully.
‘Of course he will,’ Duncan replied confidently. ‘He’s a cabbie, and they always do what the punter’s prepared to pay for. Anyway, back to my plan. We make sure we take our travel papers with us in the morning, so once we’re at Gretna we can just walk over the border into England.’
‘Duncan,’ Jane whispered. ‘I don’t know where Gretna is.’
‘You don’t?’ Duncan chuckled again. ‘It’s only a dot on the map, but years ago it was one of the most famous towns in Scotland, for runaway weddings, actually. But to answer your question, it’s about forty miles east of here, so about an hour in a cab. And once across the border, Carlisle will be just ten miles south.’
‘Wooh!’ Jane wriggled her shoulders excitedly. ‘It’s hard to realise we’ve only spent two nights in Arcadia, isn’t it? I feel like I’ve been trapped here forever, but now I know I’ll be back in good old England tomorrow I’m starting to feel good again.’
Duncan raised his teacup. ‘If you’re feeling good, then I’m feeling good. Let’s drink to a safe return home then.’
Jane also lifted her cup. ‘To a safe return home,’ she repeated.
It was exactly five in the afternoon when the tour bus pulled up outside the market ring.
Duncan and Jane bounced aboard with smiles on their faces, and before taking their seats they stood together facing the other passengers while Jane made a carefully rehearsed short speech. ‘I owe all you good people an apology, and I hope you will accept it. This morning I behaved very badly. I was rude to poor Tarquin, and I started everyone’s day on a sour note. For that I am very, very sorry. Everyone I’ve met in Arcadia has been kind to me, and I’ve thrown their kindness in their faces.’ She looked sorrowful, but then her face lit up in a smile.
‘But I want to put all that behind me and just enjoy Arcadia with an open mind from now on. So please forgive me, and I promise to stop being the bad egg on the tour. Thank you.’
Being English, the small audience did not react in any visible way to Jane’s apology, but Duncan had the feeling it had been well-received. As Jane settled into her usual place and the driver wrestled with the gearbox to get the bus in motion, he stood beside Tarquin’s seat and clapped a hand on the guide’s shoulder. ‘Tarquin old chap, I want you to know that Jane was totally sincere in what she said.’
‘Really?’ Tarquin did not appear convinced.
‘Yes, really.’ Duncan leaned forward to whisper. ‘She was cranky the past couple of days because of women’s problems, you know what I mean? But she’ll be fine now, you’ll see.’
‘Ah, yes. I suppose I do see.’ Tarquin nodded. ‘That explains a lot.’
‘Yup,’ Duncan swayed as the bus turned onto the road to Dalbeattie. ‘Now she’s started looking forward to things, especially the servile trek. Can we do that tomorrow?’
‘I’ve already promised that for another couple, but hey, what the hell? If it helps keep Jane happy, of course you can do the servile trek tomorrow.’ Tarquin’s face relaxed into what was either its normal happy expression or the mask he routinely wore. ‘I just know you’ll have an unforgettable day.’
Although expected back at the hotel before the main group, Mrs Dyke and her husband were not there when the bus arrived. Duncan noticed that fact immediately, but decided against drawing Jane’s attention to it.
At dinner, however, more than one person raised the subject of another missing couple, and there was humorous comment about it. Jane did not share in the jocularity, only tightly gripped Duncan’s hand under the table, and he could guess what she was thinking.
As dessert, a strawberry cheesecake, was being served, Tarquin stood on his chair and tapped a wine glass with a spoon. ‘You’re attention please, everybody, your attention. I have some information for you.’
A hush fell, and all eyes turned towards the tour guide.
‘I’ve just been told that Mister Dyke became ill in the cab to the servile trek, and the driver, quite rightly, diverted to a rather super hospital in Dumfries, the Founder’s Clinic. So Mister Dyke is getting the best possible care, and of course Mrs Dyke is staying with him until he’s well enough to be moved to England.’
‘And then there were eight,’ Jane said out loud.
‘Yes Jane, there are just eight tourists left.’ Tarquin frowned. ‘Are you suggesting there is more to this?’
Jane beamed at him. ‘Of course not. I’m just keeping tally.’
‘Hmm.’ Tarquin looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Well, I can only say we’ve had a streak of bad luck on this tour, but I’m sure it’s finished now. So let’s all enjoy our delicious cheesecake and afterwards relax over a drink in the bar. Okay? Peachy.'
Duncan and Jane stayed no longer in the bar than was required to demonstrate continued affability from the group’s former black sheep, and then they went to their room.
‘Jane, Jane, Jane,’ Duncan said as soon as the door was closed behind them, ‘I know what you’re going to say, but this Dyke illness thing cannot be part of the conspiracy you’re suggesting.’
‘It can’t not be,’ Jane retorted. ‘In the last twenty-four hours, two couples from our group have vanished. First Mike and Gloria, and now Mister and Mrs Dyke. Coincidence? Yeah, right. There has to be a connection, there just has to be.’
‘Come on, Jane,’ Duncan scoffed. ‘What would that old couple be worth to slavers?’
‘Nothing at all. But if you remember, Tarquin wasn’t keen for them to do the servile ride. But Mrs Dyke insisted, didn’t she? So I reckon they’ve been knocked on the head, and probably buried in shallow graves. They were thinking of moving to here, and now I think they’re here forever.’
Duncan rolled his eyes. ‘But why, Jane, why? Why bother to do anything with them?’
‘So there’ll be nobody returning to England to raise the alarm. Then the next carefully selected tour group will arrive here, and Tarquin’s company will make another nice wad of cash from selling them. I’ve pointed out all the clues, so I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn about admitting I must be right.’
‘You’ve made a strong case, and I grant you it all fits together well enough to scare the bollocks off me. And yet, and yet, oh Jane, maybe there’s a piece missing from your puzzle.’
‘What piece is missing?’ she asked. ‘I’ve surely got enough of it to say we’ll be doing the sensible thing when we return to the sweet free soil of England, where we belong.’
‘It’s the nature of jigsaw puzzles that you don’t know what pieces are missing until you fit them into the picture. But Jane, there is something wrong with your theory, and it’s the money.’
‘Yes, I can’t see that there’s enough of it to be made. Look Jane, suppose there are ten tour groups per year coming to Arcadia, and that each contains ten mug punters. Well even at three grand per head, that’s only three hundred grand.’
‘Sod off,’ Jane snorted. ‘Only three hundred grand? Duncan, that’s an enormous amount of money, especially in Arcadia. And there might be, say, twenty tour groups per year, with an average of twenty members. Doing the same sums, that would be over a million dollars. And we don’t know they only run one tour at a time, do we? Why, there could be another six tours in various areas of Arcadia at this very moment.’
Duncan clenched his fists in frustration, ‘Fucking hell, how could anyone get their head around this situation? If we don’t know what’s happening, how can we know what to do?’
Jane had sat on the bed with her knees tucked under her chin and her arms wrapped around them. ‘I think,’ she said, ‘that we’re just babes lost in a evil wood, with no sure idea of what the real danger is or what direction it will come at us from.’
Something in her tone, or perhaps it was the dreamy look on her face, sent a chill down Duncan’s spine.
‘We’ll do the servile trek tomorrow,’ Jane continued assertively, ‘because as you said, it gets us into a taxi without arousing suspicion. During the trek, which I am not looking forward to, we’ll be alert for any trickery, and if anything untoward happens we’ll handle it as best we can. Afterwards, and unless we have a damned convincing reason to believe there’s no threat, we’ll follow your plan to escape via Gretna. Agreed?’
Duncan nodded. ‘Agreed.’ He had been afraid she would refuse to go on the trek.
‘I want you to make me a promise, Duncan.’ She looked at him very seriously. ‘I want you to promise that if something happens tomorrow you won’t abandon me, even to save your own life. And if we can’t help being separated, and you get away, you will never forget me, and you’ll never stop searching for me. Do you promise, Duncan? Because you’re all I have in the world, and I utterly depend on you.’
The lump in his throat bordered on painful, and he had to blink a tear away. ‘I do promise, Jane. I will never abandon you, and I will never forget you. If I lose you I will dedicate my life to getting you back.’
Quite inevitably, the emotional exchange soon led to sexual coupling. But it was not a great or even good experience for Jane because Duncan’s urgent thrusting meant it was all over before she even felt very involved. He fell asleep immediately after, but Jane lay awake in the mood of frustrated anger known to every woman.
Thoughts of the next day whirled through her mind, of a generally vague nature because she found it hard to imagine how the servile trek would be conducted, or how any move to seize them would be made. The worst possibility, she considered, was that the cab would take them not to the servile trek at all, but to a stockyard where they would be put in shackles and have the rest of their lives stolen from them. Will another tour group see me standing naked on a traveller’s wagon?
She lay awake until dawn, worried, frightened of what might be to come, not at all sure she would ever again share a bed with a man who did not own her. As the room brightened with early morning light she rubbed Duncan awake and mounted him, blatantly using his erection to find the grunting and gasping relief from tension she needed.
The proprietor of Crystal Fields was waiting to welcome Duncan and Jane when they alighted from the cab. ‘My name’s Dolly Craig, and I’m very pleased to meet you. Come into the house, and we’ll have a friendly chat before we get going.’
Dolly Craig was of average height, very stocky build, and indeterminate age. Duncan was fascinated by her weathered skin, which he believed could form the material of some particularly hard-wearing shoes or gloves. Laced with fine wrinkles, it was brownish of colour with dark red highlights on her forehead and cheekbones, appearing to have been scorched by the suns of many summers and blasted by the bitterest winds of countless winters.
They entered a small and quite dark kitchen with a well-used wooden table at its centre. After waving her guests into chairs Dolly put a kettle on the stove top and set out cups and saucers. ‘I ain’t got a maid or anything, wouldn’t waste the money.’ She grinned, revealing alarmingly white dentures. ‘When I can’t make a cuppa, well that’ll be the time for me to dig a grave and lie down in it. Sugar?’
‘Two spoons, please,’ Duncan said.
‘Not for me, I don’t like where it comes from,’ Jane said.
‘I get it from Higgson’s store in Kirkbean.’ Dolly said. What don’t you like about that place?’
Jane did not care to explain about her distaste for the sugar farm they had seen. ‘Nothing, I’ve haven’t been there. Never mind, Dolly, I’ll just take one spoon, please.’
Tea was poured, and Duncan sipped it immediately. ‘Hot and wet, just how I like it. Dolly, I’ll certainly be interested to see your servile stock. How many do you have?’
‘Servile stock?’ Dolly cackled. ‘I guess I don’t go for that kind of political talk. I’ve got eight slaves, and I make my living with them. I make their living, too, so I reckon they’ve got no complaints. ’
Wanting to avoid any debate about slavery, Jane tried to change the subject. ‘How did you come to be on this place, Dolly?’
‘Hah! Everyone asks me that.’ Dolly grinned happily. ‘You drink that tea, and I’ll tell you. My family’s owned this land since before the First World War. But Crystal Fields as a farm began about thirty years ago, after what was called the end of everything. All of a sudden one day the electricity was gone, and in a few days after that the fuel ran out. We were fucked, completely butt-shagged, and figured we were soon to die in the dark.’
‘A lot of people died, I know,’ Jane said solemnly.
‘Most people died.’ Dolly did not seem disturbed by the memory. ‘But there’s one thing I can tell you for sure about this world. However many people die there always seem to be plenty left, maybe too many. Before that happened my daddy was an accountant with an office in Dumfries, and our land was a wooded garden where I played with my brothers. But daddy was determined his family would survive, and he planted food crops. Potato, cabbage, carrot, swede - you name it and daddy grew it. All of us kids had to work on the land, although as the operation grew bigger daddy started buying slaves.
‘Daddy was a harsh man, and the slaves were worked hard, very hard, so he did well, very well. He bought more land, and more slaves to work it, until he was working more than twenty hands. But things changed, and Crystal Fields went into decline.’
‘What set the place back?’ Duncan asked.
‘It was a combination of things. But I guess there were too many vegetable growers, and prices fell so it was almost not worth taking them to market. Daddy had to sell off some of the land and slaves, and I can tell you that some of them were glad to go, and some just cried and cried. You figure it out. It was just me and him in the family by then, my brothers had gone off to God knows where, although I did hear one of them was hanged in Glasgow.’ She shrugged. ‘Well, daddy died about the time the sugar boom started, he just conked out right here in this kitchen, it was thump, bump, and he was dead on the floor. Did that give me a shock. Where was I? The sugar boom. I’ve never got into that crop at all, because my soil’s not very suited and anyway I couldn’t do it on a big enough scale. I grow some vegetables and keep chickens to feed my slaves, but my cash crop now is fruit. Apples, pears, and plums are my mainstay, and just this year I’ve started with soft fruits. As of next year I’ll be producing Crystal Fields preserves for the export market, and I’ll see how that goes.’
Dolly slurped at her tea before continuing. ‘And of course I do tourist rides, although this is the first year I’ve done those. A guy from the tourist board came round and asked if I had any activity I could show visitors. At first I said no, but then I remembered the cart I used to take produce to market in, and I thought why not? The tour company only pays me a pittance, but every little helps.’ Putting her cup down, she lumbered to her feet. ‘We’ll be leaving soon, I’ll just get my stuff ready.’
She left the room, returning almost immediately with a wicker hamper she slammed down on the table. ‘I give you lunch, that’ll be about halfway through the trek. There are egg, chicken, and cheese sandwiches, and a flask of tea. Don’t you just love to eat in the open air? City people usually do. Not country folk, we hate it.’ From a cupboard in the corner she then produced a double-barrel shotgun, a long weapon with external hammers and two triggers.
‘What’s the gun for, Dolly?’ Duncan asked uneasily.
‘Renegades,’ was Dolly’s cryptic answer.
The city people exchanged alarmed glances.
‘Renegades? What do you mean?’ Duncan asked.
‘Renegades are renegades.’ Dolly grinned. ‘Scum. Utter scum. Slaves escaped from forestry camps, deserters from the English army, all sorts of scum. There aren’t many of them and mostly they stay over the border, but sometimes they can appear in these parts.’
‘And they’re really dangerous?’ Duncan asked anxiously.
‘Yup. They’d kill me, I guess. Steal my girls, rape them probably even though they’re ugly sows, and sell them.’
‘Now I’m not at all sure the trek will be a good idea.’ Jane exclaimed. ‘Nobody told us we were likely to be ambushed by bandits.’
‘Likely? I didn’t say likely, and actually I’ve never seen any,’ Dolly replied. ‘But a few years ago the police caught three of them not twenty miles from here, so I prefer to be prepared.’ She thumbed back the gun’s hammers and pulled both triggers, cackling again as her visitors jumped in fright. ‘It’s not loaded yet, see?’ She opened the gun to reveal empty chambers.
Duncan was itching for the servile transport trek, and did not want Jane scared off by alarmist talk of renegades. ‘Years ago and twenty miles away, you say? And you’ve never even seen a renegade? It sounds safe enough to me.’
‘Of course it’s safe,’ Dolly replied reasonably. ‘I wouldn’t go if it wasn’t. So, if you’re ready, I’m ready. I’ll bring the cart up from the barn, and then it’s whip-crack-away.’
Duncan and Jane sat opposite one another on benches in the back of the cart, the body of which was only about five feet square, while Dolly perched precariously on a board at its front, her right hand holding the long stock of her driving whip.
Motive power was provided by six of Dolly’s slaves. They were arranged in three pairs, with one slave of the pair on each side of a central shaft. There were three round wooden bars mounted across the central shaft, one for each pair, and each woman grasped the bar in front of her with both hands. Each slave was manacled, a wide iron cuff locked on her inside wrist connected to the center shaft by a short chain. Each wore a coarse brown skirt and halter top, leaving their shoulders and upper backs exposed. Their feet were bare.
Horrified, Jane saw an anti-slavery testament written in the scars every one of the slaves carried, while Duncan, although also shocked, felt a sick excitement in his stomach, and a renewed sense that he was missing out on life’s darkest pleasures.
Seeing Jane stare at the whip marks, Dolly hastened to explain. ‘Hey, that’s not all my handiwork. I buy older stock from the big sugar farms, and they come to me like that. If you could speak to any of my girls, not that I’ll let you, they’d tell you I’m very fair to them, and it’s not often there’s a whipping at Crystal Fields.’
‘What counts as older to a sugar farm?’ Duncan asked with genuine interest.
‘Well, those places like to buy a girl at about eighteen, when she’s reached her full size. They work the hell out of them for maybe ten years, and sell them on while they’re still worth something. But they’ll buy an import who’s twenty-something, and still try to get ten years out of her, so I can’t give you a certain age.’
Duncan was fascinated. ‘And how long can you work them for?’
‘I ain’t really found out yet,’ Dolly mused. ‘My girls really have pretty soft lives, for slaves, which is why I don’t have a runaway problem. My oldest is about forty-eight, and she can still work as well as any of them.’
‘You say you don’t have a runaway problem,’ Jane pointed out, ‘but you’ve got them shackled right now.’
‘Yeah.’ Dolly rubbed her chin. ‘But working them on the cart is different. For one thing, they all hate it, and for another thing, I take them miles from home. Could be temptation there, see? Anyhow, we’ll set off now.’ Quite casually, she brought her whip in a wide sweeping motion across the backs of her slaves. It was clearly not a stroke to mark the skin, but the slaves certainly received the message, and the cart began to move forward. ‘Let’s get up to speed, girls,’ Dolly called, and repeated the stroke in the opposite direction.
In a few paces the cart was rolling along at a walking pace, which was clearly the speed Dolly had been aiming at, for she coiled the whip’s lash and rested the instrument of encouragement across her lap. ‘The secret of a slave cart,’ she said, swivelling to look at her passengers, ‘is that the slaves move it with their weight, not their muscles. See? They lean into the load to shift it, and their legs sort of follow on.’
Duncan smiled at her happily. This was what he had come for, and he thought it could only get better if Dolly let him drive. He wondered if he dared ask.
Considerably less impressed, and thinking the trek was an unusually cruel form of insanity, Jane gripped the bench she was seated on to steady herself against the cart’s violent rocking motion, and asked a question.
‘Dolly, I’ve ridden in Arcadian buses and cabs, and I’ve seen a fair number of horses here. Why on earth are we being hauled along by chained slaves? Isn’t it a bit weird?’
Dolly produced an apple from a pocket of her voluminous skirt, polished it, and took a bite. ‘Well now, let’s see. You’re being hauled along by chained slaves because you’re on a tour with a servile transport ride included. Is it weird? Could be. I wouldn’t go on a tour like that, but you did.’ Her dentures and some half-chewed apple were displayed in a hideous leer that Jane looked away from, shaking her head and muttering something neither Duncan nor Dolly could hear.
Still munching on the apple, Dolly continued to answer Jane’s question in her own way.
‘Thirty years ago, when we’d lost all our power and machinery, there simply weren’t many horses and donkeys or whatever around in this part of the world, because people had used tractors on the land and cars on the road. But if someone had a few slaves they could hitch them to a cart and give their feet a rest. As I said to you, I used to take my fruit to market in this cart, and although horses soon became available, why would I pay a lot of money for one and have all the trouble of stabling it, feeding it and so on, when I could use the labour I already had?’
‘But you don’t go to market in it now?’ Duncan asked.
‘Nope.’ Dolly hurled her apple core away. ‘There’s a truck that collects my fruit these days. Anyhow, servile transport, as the politicians call it, is banned from towns and public roads now. Arcadia wants to keep slaves out of sight as much as possible, I reckon. But lots of farms still use slave carts, especially the small places. For someone who maybe can’t walk too good they’re ideal for getting around, and quite a few people just enjoy driving them.’
The first mile of the trek was along level ground, the route passing between neat fields of crops. To their right, the west, and beyond the arable land, a thickly-wooded hill rose, while ahead of them the sparkling blue-green water of the sea came into view.
‘That’s not the open ocean you can see,’ Dolly said. ‘It’s the Solway Firth, and when we get up higher you might be able to see across it to the English coast, if the air’s clear enough.’
The next mile was a gentle downward incline, descending almost to sea level, and its foot they saw the exposed sands of an estuary stretching away into the distance. ‘You can see this is low tide,’ Dolly commented. ‘When the tide is very high this spot can be under water. We stop here for a couple of minutes, and then we’ve a bit of a climb up to the lost museum, where we’ll be having lunch.’
Although the cart had been in motion for less than an hour, the purpose of the stop was immediately clear. Each slave pulled her skirt up with her one free hand and squatted to discharge urine, a sight Duncan found both repellent and mesmerising; he did not want to watch, but he could not look away. ‘Obviously they don’t wear knickers, babes,’ he said to Jane, who had lifted her face to stare up at the sky.
‘Really,’ Jane replied. ‘That’s very interesting.’
From a box mounted at the rear of cart Dolly took two plastic containers of water, and carefully ensured that every slave took a few good gulps. She talked softly to the slaves as she did this, patted a few cheeks, and smiled at more than one of them.
‘I think she really cares for them,’ Duncan said.
‘No,’ Jane replied. ‘I’m sure she doesn’t.’
Dolly threw the water bottles back in the box, slammed its lid, and looked up at the tourists. ‘Right, we’ll be away again now.’ But she did not climb back up to her previous position, only retrieved her driving whip from it. ‘Because it’s uphill for a while, I won’t be riding. But don’t you two worry, because I’ll still be in control.’
The gradient was not ferociously steep, and actually climbed little over a hundred feet in a mile, but even without Dolly’s weight on the cart the slaves could not for long maintain their previous pace. Their mistress walked alongside her team when track width allowed, and at other times between them and the cart body, constantly urging them on with shouts and occasional touches of the whip.
Duncan now believed he was getting his money’s worth, and he watched avidly, desperately envious of Dolly.
Jane studious looked at the increasingly wooded scenery, refusing to let her eyes fall on the slave mistress determinedly forcing her property to work so hard. For what she admits is a pittance, she puts those women through this ordeal?
More than once Jane considered alighting from the cart to lessen the hauled load, but she did not know how long the climb would be, and the day was warming fast. She remained on board, her humane instincts not strong enough to make her a pedestrian, and she began to rationalise her failure to help the slaves. It was what they were used to, she told herself, and they had spent all or most of their lives in bondage. Freedom and fairness had to be abstract concepts they could hardly grasp, and it was in Dolly’s strong financial interest to keep them in reasonable condition, and to certainly not work them to death.
On and on the slaves plodded, sweating profusely, gasping to breathe, constantly goaded by Dolly, until eventually, and after a solid hour, the cart emerged from trees into a large clearing. Here a large two-storey building dominated the scene, its stone walls intact but its roof partially collapsed and most of its window glass gone. Serene and vaguely sinister, the building seemed almost to float over the surrounding lawns and ornamental shrubs that were locked in mortal combat with returning native growth.
The cart stopped and the urination and watering procedure was gone through again, and then Dolly climbed onto the cart and favoured the tourists with a grin. ‘Here we are, folks,’ she said, ‘the lost museum.'
The cart was parked on a grassy patch carpeted with daisies, and Dolly asked if her guests would mind laying out the picnic while she further attended to her slaves. Jane shrugged and set about that small task, while Duncan pretended to help but actually spent more time watching Dolly take the slaves and the cart to a shady spot some yards away, where she sat them down. She took a light chain and a bag of padlocks from the box on the cart and linked the women together by locking a loop of chain around their necks. She locked the end of the chain around a small tree before she released the women's wrists. Then she stripped the slaves’ tops off so that she could sponge each of them down using water from her store, working quickly from their close-cropped hair to their waists.
The flesh on show was of women older than Jane and not remotely as pretty, and Duncan did not even see a pair of breasts he would particularly want to fondle, but that was not the point. The powerful erotic attraction he felt was due to his looking at women who were property, owned under Arcadian law in the same way as any other animals.
After the wipe-down, and leaving the slaves to rest, Dolly joined the picnic. Sitting down heavily, she looked slyly at Duncan. ‘Enjoy the show, young man? Fair enough, but that ain’t entertainment, it’s to prevent sweat sores, although it doesn’t always work. Which one did you fancy?’
‘I didn’t fancy any of them,’ Duncan said quickly. ‘I wasn’t looking.’
Dolly threw her head back and cackled. ‘You were looking, that’s for sure. Wasn’t he looking, Jane?’
‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ Jane replied coldly. ‘Dolly, is there a ladies room around here?’
‘Sure there is,’ Dolly had started a chicken sandwich and a flap of the bird’s skin was stuck to her lip. ‘The trees in any direction, or closer than that if you’re not too shy.’
‘This awful, outrageous.’ Jane got to her feet. ‘The tour company is going to get a very stiff letter about dumping people miles from proper facilities.’ She stalked away, her shoulder bag swinging and banging against her hip.
Dolly watched Jane cross the clearing and vanish into the trees, and then turned her face to Duncan. ‘You’re not eating. Got to keep your strength up, you know. And don’t look so glum, Jane hasn’t gone forever. Or at least, I don’t think so.’
Left alone with the slave mistress, Duncan was uneasy for reasons he could not pin down. He could see spare manacles hanging from hooks on the back of the cart, and also a chain with several collars on it. Surely the ironmongery was not for Jane and him?
No way is a woman going to put me in chains.
But she did look a powerful woman.
Tea was poured, and the two sipped in silence. With increasing frequency, and with mounting nervousness, Duncan looked at the section of forest Jane had vanished into, and wondered why she had not yet returned.
Because she’s been grabbed.
Finished with her tea, Dolly started on another sandwich, and Duncan got to his feet, brushing ants and loose grass off his trousers. ‘I’m going to find Jane,’ he announced.
Dolly shrugged. ‘Why not?’ And then she too jumped to her feet, with remarkable agility for a heavily-built woman, and with alarm on her face. ‘Hold on,’ she said, laying a hand on Duncan’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think you should go over there. To the left of where Jane went into the trees, about fifty yards maybe, I just saw movement, and I’m sure it was a person.’
‘Well maybe it was Jane,’ Duncan said.
‘Nah, why would she piss about there? She’d just come out, wouldn’t she?’ Dolly retorted. ‘I’m telling you, there’s something up. Come and help me put my girls back on the cart, we may have to get out of here in a hurry.’
Duncan was now presented with a dilemma. He could run across the clearing and plunge into the forest to seek his fiancée, or he could take what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to handle slave women.
He took the opportunity.
Dolly thrust a key into Duncan’s hand, and as he released slaves from their neck chain she hustled them over to the cart, holding each by the neck, and fastened a wrist to the shaft. None of the slaves spoke to him, only looked at him with sullen hostility, but not defiance. It was delicious for him, the total compliance of the women was both expected and amazing, and he felt a pang of regret when they were all secured to the cart.
After gathering up the slaves’ tops Dolly threw them into the back of the cart and climbed up to her driving position. ‘Get in, Duncan,’ she commanded, ‘did you get the picnic stuff?’
‘You didn’t ask me to,’ he replied as he clambered aboard.
She made no comment on that, only stared at the tree line with screwed-up eyes. ‘I think there’s two or three of them,’ she said.
‘Two or three of what, Dolly?’ Duncan could still not see the suspicious figures she spoke of.
‘It could be renegades, but how should I know?’ Dolly reached down to release the brake, and picked up her whip. Turning her head she spoke directly to Duncan. ‘If they are renegades they’ve already got Jane, and there’s nothing we can do.’
The whip was flicked across the slaves, once, twice, three times, and the cart was rolling across the clearing, its wheels bumping over thick tufts of vegetation.
Standing behind Dolly and holding onto the board she sat on, Duncan spoke in her ear. ‘Stop the cart, stop it. We can’t just bugger off before Jane gets back.’
‘We have to,’ Dolly snarled. ‘I’ve lost sight of the renegades or whoever they are, so they could be circling the clearing to cut us off. Like I said, your girlfriend has probably already been taken, and if she hasn’t then she can find her own way out of here. Now you shut your big English gob or get off my cart.’ She used the whip again, quite viciously, extracting squeals from the slaves it touched.
Furious, Duncan seized her shoulders and shook her. ‘Dolly, stop this fucking cart, will you?’
She leaned forward and wriggled to shake his hands off her. ‘Don’t touch me,’ she yelled, ‘don’t you dare touch me. Without my girls I’ll be finished, so I have to get them away.’
As Dolly’s right arm was raised to lash the slaves again Duncan grabbed it at the wrist and elbow. ‘You have to stop, Dolly,’ he shouted, and then her hand found his shirt collar, pulled him closer to her, and she head-butted him in, her forehead connecting with his nose and sending him staggering back.
Although almost blinded by watering eyes, and with blood gushing from his nose, he lunged at her, but she was ready for him. She struck out with the whip stock, cracking it first against his forehead, and then against the side of his head. Reeling, he clutched at the side of the cart, and then he toppled over it. Hitting the ground, he immediately rose to his knees and saw the cart retreating fast, it had reached the edge of the clearing and was taking a forest track opposite the one they had arrived on. Making a supreme effort, he got to his feet, but then stooped over to throw up, and as he straightened again he was overcome by dizziness. He fought briefly for balance, and then collapsed, semi-conscious.
Jane finished her personal business in the forest and began wending her way back through the trees to the picnic. When she had almost reached the clearing she was alarmed to hear voices, and stopped to listen. At least two men were exchanging words, although she could not quite distinguish what was being said, but it was obvious they were coming closer, for now she could hear their crunching footfalls as they stepped on dry tree litter. Whoever they were, she felt sure she did not want to meet them, and half-crouching, she backed away from their voices.
Suddenly, through a thicket of saplings, she saw one of the men, and not thirty feet from her.
Dressed in forest boots and green overalls he was a scruffy individual. The thick stubble on his face was a colour match for the ginger hair that hung, lank and greasy, over his ears and forehead, and his eyes of penetrating blue were sharply alert. Turning his head slowly from side to side he stepped carefully forward, holding across his chest a rifle of clearly military design.
Jane tensed but held still, afraid to attract his attention by moving.
Closer he came, as Jane’s heart thumped ever-faster and she prepared for wild flight. But he stopped and whirled as a companion joined him from the direction of the clearing.
‘There are two people having a picnic over by the museum,’ the new arrival, who was similarly dressed and armed as the ginger man, said softly. ‘Looks like a woman and her son.’ He pulled a sour face, his mouth downturned. ‘The fuckers have got a bunch of slaves with them, maybe half a dozen. So what do you think? Hit them or not?’
The ginger man rubbed his rough chin as he replied. ‘It’s not what we’re here for, but I don’t mind topping them, they probably deserve it. Trouble is, we’d have to do the poor fucking slaves as well, and that wouldn’t be right.’
‘We could turn the slaves loose,’ the new arrival suggested.
‘No, they’d soon be recaptured, and they’d know too much about us.’ The ginger man was speaking decisively, and appeared to be in command. ‘We’ll wait for the picnickers to fuck off, and then we’ll go to the museum and get our stuff. Happy?’
The new arrival nodded agreement. ‘Sounds like a plan.’
The voices of the two men faded as they moved away from Jane’s position and towards the clearing, and that gave her a problem. If they were happy to contemplate killing Dolly and Duncan, as was the case, then she could not possibly go near them.
What then was she to do?
She allowed her body to slide down the tree she was pressed against, and sat at its base with her legs curled under her. Her only viable option, she decided, was to wait until the coast was clear, but then a terrible thought struck her. What if Duncan came looking for her? He surely would do when she failed to return, and quite likely run into the murderous villains. But she could think of no way to prevent that happening, in fact could think of doing nothing but sitting tight until it seemed safe to move.
After just a few minutes of uncomprehending stupor Duncan struggled up onto his hands and knees, retched again, and remained in that position as he waited for his head to clear. When the wooziness had faded he turned, still on hands and knees, to look back into the clearing. What he saw caused him to drop into a face-down prone position. Two armed men were crossing the clearing, not walking in his direction but towards the museum.
Who were they?
In civilian clothes but carrying those weapons, he thought they were vastly more likely to be bad news than deer hunters, and because they had appeared after his fiancée had vanished there was a clear conclusion to draw. ‘Oh, Jane,’ he whispered, ‘I’ve lost you, haven’t I?’
Any thought of looking for Jane now had to be chased from Duncan’s head, his only imperative was to escape and survive.
Escape to where, that was the question facing him. Making his way back to Crystal Fields was out of the question, for tackling a female gorilla protecting her young would surely be easier than meeting up with Dolly Craig again. The Elysium hotel was not a huge distance away, perhaps ten or twelve miles as the crow flew, but going there raised the question of Tarquin. Was the tour guide part of or even the evil heart of a conspiracy to consign innocent tourists to a hellish life in which the cold hand of death would seem attractive?
Duncan’s instinct was still to believe any such conspiracy most unlikely. But hadn’t Mike and Gloria vanished from the tour group? Followed by Mister and Mrs Dyke? And wasn’t Jane now missing? If he included himself among the disappeared, then fully half of the tour group was gone. There had to be a linking factor, and Tarquin was the obvious suspect.
The two armed men disappeared into the museum, much to Duncan’s relief. They had clearly not been searching for him, and had not once even glanced in his direction, so he could believe they were unaware of his existence. Good. If there was a conspiracy, as the evidence suggested, then Duncan could not believe it to be widespread. There was no reason for him to think Arcadia itself was his enemy, just a criminal band within the country. And he had his ID papers in his belt, and money in his wallet, so with nothing to fear from officialdom there was no reason he should not terminate his holiday and return home.
He struggled to his feet, swayed a little, and then started walking east. There would be villages with inns he could stay at, he was sure, and although he was not accustomed to walking far he knew there was no great distance to cover.
Six days after entering Arcadia, Duncan walked back into England near Gretna, as he had planned to do with Jane. Standing on English soil again he remembered his lost love, and was completely overcome by emotion.
Time passed with a slowness Jane was unable to measure, for she did not have a watch, but when she judged an hour had passed she became certain that Duncan was not going to come in search of her. The bastard. But were the men with rifles still lurking? She did not and could not know, but native caution told her to stay silently where she was for a lot longer, and she hunkered down to stick it out.
Her mind mulled over two questions.
Who were the men? Renegades? Criminals? Terrorists?
And what was at the lost museum? Stolen goods? Arms? Drugs?
Jane suspected the answers would remain forever a mystery to her, and if only she was able to escape from this situation and get back safely to England she would be happy with that.
More time slowly passed.
Exhausted by strain, Jane tended to doze, only to wake with a heart-pounding start, jerk her head up, and listen for danger. Each time there was nothing, and slowly her head would droop again.
A light breeze began to rustle the trees, and its freshness brought her fully awake. How long have I been in the forest? she wondered, and she promised herself that when she got back to England she would dip into her and Duncan’s wedding fund to buy a watch, a good reliable timepiece. Although she did not plan to ever again be in a similar situation, if it did happen she would at least know what the time was.
Was it safe to move yet?
She concentrated on listening, for a voice or voices, for footfalls, or for any non-natural sound that might serve as an alarm. There was nothing, and slowly she got to her feet, and when she was upright she stood for a while and listened again. Still there was nothing, and she began to creep towards the clearing, treading very carefully to minimise the noise she made.
It had not been possible for Jane to expect that the cart would still be in the clearing, but when she saw it was definitely gone, and that there was no sign of Duncan, Dolly, and the unfortunate slaves, she still felt disappointment.
Stepping out into the clearing took a determined effort of will, and once clear of the trees Jane felt very exposed and vulnerable. Could a man who was in the museum building, be he a terrorist, a renegade, or simply a man with a taste for killing, pick her off with his rifle? She had no idea what the lethal range of such a weapon might be, but she was sure a moving target would be harder to hit, and she set off towards the picnic site at a run.
Reaching the abandoned wicker hamper on the picnic rug, and seeing the cheap crockery around it made Jane feel acutely forlorn. What did I expect to find here? she wondered. A note from Duncan? Dear Jane, I’ve fucked off and left you.
‘I knew you would, Duncan,’ she breathed. ‘Probably I always knew.’
No sharp crack of rifle shot had echoed around the clearing, so she no longer expected to be felled by a bullet. The museum still appeared lifeless, standing implacably majestic in its dereliction for all the world as if it had been built as a ruin. Possibly, Jane thought, there might be something useful to her in there, but entering and exploring would be a step too far for her courage. The only thing she could do was to get going, although she did not know the best place to head for or what direction to take, and most alarmingly, the sun was becoming low in the sky.
She wandered over to the track on which the cart had entered the clearing, and noticed there was another track opposite. The words entrance and exit suggested themselves, leading her to decide against retracing the cart’s route. She ran across the clearing and onto the opposite track.
Here the trees were thicker, and the track seemed darker with every step, but Jane felt committed to her course and refused to turn about. She plodded on as the sun set and the amount of light penetrating the forest canopy fell off a cliff, until suddenly she froze, standing stock still in terror.
A horse rider, a man, was coming towards her. Jane stepped quickly off the track and crouched down behind a gorse bush, watching and waiting. As the rider drew closer she saw that fixed to his saddle was a coffle chain to which a man and three women were fastened by shackles on their wrists.
Just what I fucking need, a slave-trader.
The words of a softly sung song mingled with the sounds of the horse’s hooves and the slaves’ feet.
We are a band of brothers
Native to the soil
Fighting for the property
We gained by honest toil
As the horse and rider drew level with Jane she crouched down tighter, forming a ball, but she pulled back sharply as her face pressed into the thorny gorse and toppled backwards, sprawling out onto a bed of forest litter.
The horse stopped and a voice boomed out. ‘You girl, what are you doing here?’
Too terrified to speak, Jane only stared at him from her supine position.
‘Are you a runaway, girl?’ The man asked. ‘Speak the truth, and I’ll ask your owner to spare you a flogging.’
Finding her voice, Jane replied. ‘No, I’m not a runaway, I’m a free woman.’
The man got down from his horse. ‘I don’t too much agree with whipping women. Sometimes it has to be done, but it’s a cruel and ugly thing, and I wouldn’t like to think you were going to be all cut up. I’ll give you another chance to tell the truth so I can ask mercy for you.’
Jane stood up, pulled her shoulders back, and spoke defiantly. ‘I’ve told you the truth, I have. I’m a free woman from England. Look, you can see my papers.’ She reached into her shoulder bag.
Handing the papers over with trembling hands, Jane knew what she risked. If this man simply tore them up and shackled her with the rest of his stock, she would be forever lost.
A match flared as a lantern was lit, and the man examined the papers most carefully. While he did so, Jane looked at the chained slaves, none of whom met her eye, and all of whom radiated apathetic weariness. First on the chain, and thus nearest to her, was a woman of perhaps forty years, with greying hair tied behind her head, a deeply lined face, and pendulous breasts hanging in her cheap dress. She was the only one of the slaves to wear an iron collar, Jane assumed it to be a punishment, and it had rubbed the skin off her lower neck, causing a weal that oozed a trickle of blood.
Is that me? Am I seeing my future?
The man folded Jane’s papers and handed them back to her. Seeing that Jane had been looking at his slaves, he offered an explanation.
‘Jane from England, I know what this looks like, but I’m not a dirty trader. The girls are field hands of mine who’ve been on loan to a family friend for a few weeks, and now I’m taking them home. The boy I bought in Gatehouse as a forest hand, for my timber operation.’
‘They’re the property you gained by honest toil?’ Jane dared to suggest.
He smiled, showing strong white teeth. ‘Yes, or some of it. Did you like my song, Jane? It’s from long ago, and far away, but there’s the spirit of modern Arcadia in it. My name is Anthony Christos, by the way, and I’m at your service.’
Cautiously, Jane returned the smile. ‘I’m pleased to meet you, Mister Christos.’
‘And for some reason I’m pleased to meet you, very pleased. If I’m wondering why a free woman should be hiding at the side of a track, and with night coming on, then I would not dream of possibly embarrassing you by asking the reason. All I will do is offer you the hospitality and safety of Tranquillity Bay, my home, for surely you don’t intend to spend the night in the forest?’
‘I don’t really have any intentions.’ Jane did not know if she should run away from Christos as fast as her legs would carry her or trust him with her liberty and her life. ‘It seems I’ve mislaid them.’
‘That’s fine Jane, I won’t press you for answers. Anyway, we’re just two miles from Tranquillity Bay. Can you ride? I’ll gladly let you have my horse.’
‘No, I don’t ride. But I want to accept your offer, and I’ll just walk to your home.’
‘Excellent.’ Christos remounted the horse. ‘If you need to stop for a rest, or if I’m going too fast for you, just holler out.’
He moved off on his horse, the chain jerking his slaves into motion. As the last slave on the chain, the man, passed Jane, he leaned his head over to whisper at her. ‘Are you crazy, girl? You want a back looking like mine? You should run. Run, run, run,’ and he was repeating the word as he was dragged out of earshot.
Jane stared after the slave owner and his stumbling property, her mind a cauldron of doubts and terrors, and then, fearfully, she followed them into the night.
After returning from Arcadia, Duncan tried through proper channels to find out what had happened to Jane.
The police in London rebuffed him very firmly indeed. They had their own serious issues to contend with and had no jurisdiction in Arcadia, no official liaison with law and order in that country, and no legal or moral obligation to investigate the fate of someone who had travelled with complete disregard for safety advice issued by the English government. Further, if Duncan persisted in trying to waste police time he would be arrested and charged.
A letter to the tour company was responded to by a statement that servile trek operator Dolly Craig had lost contact with her passengers during an incident with suspected renegades, and they as tour operators could provide no further information on the matter. As per the disclaimers and waivers Duncan had signed they could accept no liability, but they hoped that Duncan would be pleased to learn Ms Craig was currently in rude health and still providing servile treks for them. Another letter produced a repetition of that statement, while third and subsequent letters were ignored.
Duncan wrote to the Arcadian Chief Executive, and received a reply from a senior secretary regretting that no assistance could be provided because missing persons were a police matter. He wrote to Arcadia’s police HQ, who after a long delay advised that Carlingwark police should be consulted. Carlingwark police told him his fiancée had never been reported missing, and that he would have to make such a report in Arcadia or no investigation could be launched.
The reply Duncan received from the Justice Minister of the Scottish Union had been the most discouraging of all.
I regret your loss, but there is no assistance I or this government can offer you. Our citizens are advised that a family member lost to Arcadian slavery should be regarded as dead, and I say the same to you. You must mourn your fiancée and then move on with your life.
Time brought no solace to Duncan. Plagued by guilt, feeling the bitterest remorse that he had abandoned Jane to Arcadian slavery, he came to feel that the only way to make amends would be to find and rescue her, or to die in the attempt.
Six months after returning from Arcadia, Duncan had saved enough money to make another trip to that strange country. Not a tour, that would be impossible to afford even if he wanted to, but it seemed possible to take the train to Edinburgh, and then hop onto a new bus service direct to Arcadia City. There were economical hotels he had seen small advertisements for in The Arcadian newspaper, which he now had posted to his home each week, and gradually his plans took shape.
The first thing for him to decide was where to start looking, and he had desperately few ideas.
He imagined a woman as attractive as Jane would not be put to work on the land, so he could hardly believe that his fiancée would now be labouring like the unfortunate creatures he had seen at Silver Birches. What had Katrina said? They were worked for up to ninety hours per week, and when they needed the whip then of course they got it, those had been her exact words. And yet distressing as it was for him to think that Jane might now be a whip-scarred scarecrow working the fields, it was even worse for him to contemplate the likely alternative that she had been sold for domestic service. For in that environment, in the sight of a man with absolute power over her, she could easily have become a concubine satisfying the sexual demands of her owner and anyone he offered her to.
On balance, Duncan would prefer that Jane was suffering hard labour and the lash rather than that she was opening her legs and her sweet lips for her master’s pleasure. He sourced a pistol and fifty rounds of ammunition from an army contact, quite determined that when he found the man who owned Jane, the beast would die. He also resolved that the cold-hearted powers of Arcadia would not take him alive or recapture Jane with her heart still beating. Stripping the pistol, cleaning it again and again, loading and unloading it, Duncan mulled over the very difficult problem of locating Jane. How many slaves were there in Arcadia, and how many slave owners? He had no idea. Would it be worthwhile scouring auction listings?
Eventually and quite inevitably he realised there was an obvious place to start. Tarquin, slimy, evil, duplicitous Tarquin, would surely have priceless knowledge, and could be persuaded to divulge it. Perhaps a mere threat would suffice, and if that failed a kneecap shattered by a bullet would step up the pressure.
On a Saturday very close to his planned departure date Duncan was wondering along Oxford Street on a mission to buy stout boots to wear in Arcadia, foreseeing that desperate cross-country flight might occur. A couple walking along the pavement towards him seemed at first only slightly familiar, but then he realised they were the two people in the world he least expected to see.
He stopped to give an astonished greeting. ‘Mike, Gloria, I’m just gobsmacked to see you. How are you? What happened? How did you escape?’
The couple exchanged serious glances before Mike replied. ‘Escape from what? You’re Duncan, right? What are you talking about?
‘The hotel Elysium, in Arcadia,’ Duncan blurted out. ‘Did you leave there because of a family crisis?’
Mike looked at Duncan coldly. ‘Yes, my mother had a heart attack, but she was dead before we got home.’
‘Oh, shit,’ Duncan did his best to look sad. ‘I’m very sorry to hear that. Look, have you come across anyone else who was on the tour?’
‘Surprisingly, yes.’ Mike was still looking at Duncan as he might at a deranged and babbling fool. 'Do you remember Mrs Dyke? In Arcadia we exchanged addresses with her, and a few weeks ago she came to see us. Her husband got back home, but he’s dead now, of a stroke, which is a shame because he was a nice old codger. She’s moving to Arcadia soon, buying a little bungalow near Loch Ryan, on the west coast. We’re going to visit her when she’s settled in.’
Gloria nodded happily. ‘Yes, it will be wonderful to see Arcadia again, absolutely wonderful. It’s such a lovely, peaceful place, and people there seemed much more contented that they are here.’
Mike patted Duncan’s shoulder. ‘It was great to see you, but we must be getting along now. Take care of yourself.’
The lost-but-not-lost couple vanished from Duncan’s life for the last time.
Duncan’s view of reality had been violently tilted, and he leaned against a wall to consider his new perspective.
Mike and Gloria had not been abducted, had not been put in chains and consigned to abject slavery.
Mrs Dyke and her husband had not been knocked on the head and buried in shallow graves.
So certainly the conspiracy theory was dead. He would not need the pistol and bullets, and because he would not be fleeing for his life across those far Arcadian fields, there was no need to buy hiking boots.
Bumping into Mike and Gloria had answered all questions, except the one that really mattered.
Where was Jane?
It was spring in Arcadia, a lovely time of apple and cherry blossom, of lambs racing and playing on hillsides, of a general sense of natural renewal taking place. But it was a busy time on the Tranquillity Bay sugar farm, and few there could appreciate the beauties of nature around them.
There were fields to be planted, and planted quickly without wasting expensive seed. When one field was finished there was another to be planted, and another and another and another, by which time the first planted field had to be revisited to deal with weed growth that would strangle the beet seedlings if given the chance. On then, to plant more fields that would also soon need hoeing.
The workload was massive.
As the days lengthened the hands were worked harder and harder. At dawn they were taken to the fields, and apart from a short meal break around noon they worked until the sun had set, and gradually tensions rose between hands who were being driven at the limit of human endurance and their hard-pressed overseers. Heat of the moment abuse hurled and protests made were usually ignored, both because Anthony Christos was always reluctant to have a woman flogged and because it was seen as more important to keep the workflow going than to have a disruptive punishment.
Inevitably, and as on other farms, there came a point when it was decided that discipline had to be restored, and a field hand was sentenced to a whipping. The nominal reason for the punishment was wastage of seed, but it was also highly relevant that the selected hand was quite new to farm labour, and while she was laid up for her lacerations to heal, or even if she died from shock, blood loss, and infection, the farm’s productive capacity would not be too badly affected.
Jane’s face showed no emotion whatsoever, it was set in an iron mask as the overseer shook the lash out, whirled it around his head, and sent it snaking through the air. Braided leather struck skin at near-supersonic speed, cut through it, and bit into the sweet flesh below. Jane blinked, and her lips parted, but she made no sound.
The lash was jerked back, bringing slivers of bloody skin with it, and then it was whistling through the air again. That second stroke, which seemed to be louder, produced a piecing shriek of agony that filled the air, and Jane stepped forward to grasp the overseer’s whip arm. ‘Take it easy, Mister Scrivener, please. She’s not a particularly good hand, but she’ll be worth nothing at all if you kill her.’
Scrivener wiped a splash of the hand’s blood from his face. ‘So what exactly do you want, Miss Jane? I could take her to the river meadow and we could pick wild flowers together.’
‘That’s enough of your bloody cheek, Mister Scrivener,’ Jane snapped. ‘I want you to give her the strokes she’s been sentenced to, but sensibly. It’s not Christmas and you’re not carving a turkey. Got that?’
After taking a last look at the naked woman writhing on the whipping post, whose bladder had released a stream of urine down her legs, Jane walked back to the house, all the way hearing the sound of the overseer’s whip doing its gory work, every crack it made followed by another scream.
Sometimes it was necessary for an individual to suffer, she knew that now, it had become obvious. Whipping the hand would snap all of her fellows back to a frightened concentration on their work, completely dispelling the dangerously agitated mood that had infected the slave quarters. With work proceeding smoothly the farm’s profitability would be assured, and profitable farms meant a secure and prosperous Arcadia. So, when Jane had sentenced the hand to be whipped she had been acting not just in the financial interest of Tranquillity Bay, but to the benefit of the whole population, slaves included. It had been for the greater good.
But it had been hard, so very hard, to see the weeping hand stripped of her pathetic clothes, and painful to hear her pleading for mercy as she was tied to the post.
Jane was troubled as she walked along the gravelled path from the quarters to the house, and had to firmly repel the regrets nibbling at her conscience.
At the house Jane was pleased to see Christos had returned from town, and her mood brightened instantly. They embraced and kissed, and then she laid her head on his shoulder as he tousled her hair.
‘You’re trembling,’ he said. ‘Did I tell you it would be a cruel and ugly thing?’
‘You did,’ she murmured, ‘but it was still worse than I expected, much, much worse. The slave actually pissed herself, and there was so much blood. I tried to restrain Scrivener, but he takes little notice of me.’
‘The man’s a swine and a brute,’ Christos said. ‘And it never seems right to have a man punish females, because they get to take pleasure in it. But once we have a manager in place we can get shot of him, and you can distance yourself from the field operation.’
‘I still have my doubts, you know.’ Jane pulled her head from his shoulder to look up at him. ‘Of course what we’re doing is right, but the doubts keep popping up and making me feel guilty.’
‘Just knock them back down again,’ Christos kissed her forehead. ‘You have nothing to feel guilty about, nothing. Having that hand punished took courage, and I’m proud of you. You did your duty to the family we’re going to have and you served Arcadia, because what we do is for the greater good, remember?’
‘The greater good,’ she echoed. ‘Three words to keep me on the right path. I’ll be fine Anthony, honestly I will. I know whose side I’m on. Look, if you want to get across to the lumber depot now, I’ll see the last job applicant alone.’
‘You sure? Her background looks terrific. And experienced manager looking to run a bigger farm, well, I think she’s a real prospect, so I don’t mind staying.’
‘No, really.’ Jane smiled. ‘I’m looking forward to seeing this one.’
Christos departed the house again and Jane went to sit behind the desk in the study to await the applicant. On the desk was a booklet provided to those applying for Arcadian citizenship, a group of people who were immigrants or freed slaves. The preface to the slim volume had been written by the Chief Executive, herself an immigrant to Arcadia. The words were very familiar to Jane because she had read them so many times, and now she did so again, mouthing the words as she read them.
What is right?
What is wrong?
The philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong, and we in Arcadia agree with those words. That is why we can be certain that Arcadia’s social and political arrangements, including our wise and beneficial system of servile labour, are right. They are right because they meet the criteria of providing the greatest happiness of the greatest number; they are for the greater good.
The backbone of Arcadia is the farming community, which generates much of our national wealth and provides our resilient ability to feed both ourselves and increasing numbers in other lands. Our farms have the benefit of, and depend upon, a servile labour force. It would be foolish to deny that maintenance of discipline occasionally results in petty suffering, but equally foolish to claim that the derived benefits are not worth paying that small price. The benefits are a well-fed and secure population, servile labour included, and a vigorous and successful nation offering its citizens enormous opportunities to achieve their goals in life.
New citizens should therefore embrace and defend the right to hold servile property. They may be confident in the knowledge that Arcadia is in the right, and its opponents, who would destroy us by destroying our institutions, are completely in the wrong.
What is right?
What is wrong?
The philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote that the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the measure of right and wrong, and we in Arcadia agree with those words. That is why we can be certain that Arcadia’s social and political arrangements, including our wise and beneficial system of servile labour, are right. They are right because they meet the criteria of providing the greatest happiness of the greatest number; they are for the greater good.
The backbone of Arcadia is the farming community, which generates much of our national wealth and provides our resilient ability to feed both ourselves and increasing numbers in other lands. Our farms have the benefit of, and depend upon, a servile labour force. It would be foolish to deny that maintenance of discipline occasionally results in petty suffering, but equally foolish to claim that the derived benefits are not worth paying that small price. The benefits are a well-fed and secure population, servile labour included, and a vigorous and successful nation offering its citizens enormous opportunities to achieve their goals in life.
New citizens should therefore embrace and defend the right to hold servile property. They may be confident in the knowledge that Arcadia is in the right, and its opponents, who would destroy us by destroying our institutions, are completely in the wrong.
Jane closed the booklet and laid a hand on it thoughtfully. Certainly she understood the reasoning it expressed, and now she was committed to supporting its logic until the end of her days.
Since that first night with Christos, when she had taken his thick stubby penis into her willingly but nervously, she had known there was a special spark between them, a sympathetic mutual understanding and attraction she could not have imagined when with Duncan.
Everything else had flowed from that.
In days she had gone from Tranquillity Bay visitor to acknowledged mistress of the house, and had become Mrs Christos a few weeks later. At some point she must have decided to accept that Arcadian slavery was an evil necessity, although she could not now recall when that point had occurred. Similarly, she could not now recall exactly when it had been that she ceased to regard slavery as evil, but that change of heart had certainly occurred. And although sincere in her new beliefs, she would have been embarrassed to inform Duncan of them. Let him know she had taken back all she had said about slavery? Never!
If the naïve Jane who had come up to Arcadia the previous summer could have pressed a button to end slavery forever she would have done so. But the present day Jane would do no such thing, for to destroy the institution would be to destroy the prosperous future she was determined her children would enjoy. A golden life with her husband and family lay in prospect, and if that meant, as it did, that sometimes a slave would have to suffer agony under the lash, then so be it. As the booklet said, it was a small price to pay.
Selena, Jane’s widowed mother-in-law, poked her head around the study door. ‘Jane, sweetie, that woman’s here for the manager job. Are ready to see her?’
‘I’m rip-roaring ready to go, Selena. Please send her in.’
Very shortly a knock on the door was followed by it opening. The applicant, a tall and thin woman with very dark hair, appeared, but stopped in the doorway. Her lips parted in shock, her eyes widened, and her eyebrows headed towards her hairline. ‘You’re Mrs Jane Christos?’ she gasped.
Jane rose from her seat, smiling. ‘I am. It’s lovely to see you again, Katrina.’
'This is a surprise. I thought you were married to that man you were with on the tour.'
'Duncan? No, we were engaged, but we encountered a bit of trouble a few days after we met you and he abandoned me. I suppose he went back to England as he planned, but that's all in the past. Let's discuss what I expect from a manager.'
At the conclusion of the interview, and after Jane had made it very clear that Katrina would be offered the job, the successful applicant asked a question.
‘May I ask you something personal, Miss Jane?’
Jane lifted her shoulders. ‘As long as it’s not too personal.’
‘When we spoke at Silver Birches, you were completely against servile labour, and you were so angry about women being disciplined with the whip. And now?’ Katrina’s voice trailed off.
Jane’s face creased into the broadest of grins, and she spread her hands in the universal gesture of helplessness. ‘What can I say? Life in Arcadia is a whole new experience.’
Copyright© 2013 by A.D.English. All rights reserved. I welcome your comments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org