Note: This is an excerpt of a Science
Fiction novel about slavery after a
world-wide natural disaster. Many
thanks to the author for letting us post it
on Writings of Leviticus.
Note: This is an excerpt of a Science
Fiction novel about slavery after a
world-wide natural disaster. Many
thanks to the author for letting us post it
on Writings of Leviticus.
Copyright © 2011 A.D.English
All rights reserved
Prologue: The End Of Everything
around the time that Caesar’s enemies plotted murder
But that ripple, of itself harmless to life, was ruinous to the dominant species.
Almost every semiconductor circuit on the planet was destroyed in an instant. Not a single piece of consumer TV or radio equipment remained functional; every computer chip that controlled a power station, a telephone network, a road vehicle engine, a refinery, or a video game was rendered useless. The result was that all the supporting infrastructure of modern society ceased to function in an instant; it was the end of everything.
With no electrical power, and no phone or other telecommunications, every community became an isolated pool of ungoverned humanity, free to find survival or death, redemption or damnation, in its own peculiar way.
A new dark age began.
Even in that dense darkness, life continued to assert its persistence. Babies were born, although without medical assistance. One of them was named Christie Anne Miller, and her parents shared the common assumption that light and the other comforts of technological civilisation would return long before she took her first steps.
They were terribly wrong.
Part One: Small Acres
1: The Ladies of Small Acres
frame creaking and its wheels turning slowly, the Dame de la Forêt made its
progress along the road to the small Scottish
Through the night they had plodded westwards from the coast, while their master had dozed intermittently on his seat over the cart’s front wheels. In another three miles they would reach their destination, and would be rested, but they were not aware of that fact. They only knew that they must keep moving, keep moving, leaning into their harnesses to roll the cart along behind them. And keep moving they did, for all knew the harsh touch of the whip, and they gave no thought to their unknown destination. In a condition of numbed and aching exhaustion their bodies worked on, with only their minds free to roam. Some replayed images of lost families in their heads, over and again, while others dwelt on the lands of their birth, and the cruel twists of fate that had taken them from places as diverse as the Russian steppe and the dry savannahs of Africa to a particularly arduous bondage.
Matters in the heads of his slaves were of no concern to the trader. He would get his goods to Craigbrae market, and the sufferings of his motive power troubled him not at all. Far from concerning him, their misery at his command was satisfying evidence of him being in the position he both desired and needed. In this new world he and others like him could find expression of a compulsion to dominate, to control, and to punish. He was a man as perfectly suited to this period of history as he would have been unsuited to the preceding period; then he might have been labelled a psychopath, now he could be a man at ease with himself, totally comfortable with who and what he was.
Shivering, he pulled a blanket around his shoulders as the Dame de la Forêt rolled on through the chill of a Scottish early morning on a road surface cracked by the frosts of many winters and only patchily repaired. Few of the fields the road passed between were cultivated, and the hedgerows had become widening strips of jungle that threatened to engulf the open spaces. Occasionally though, the cart passed areas of tended farmland, small islands in the abandoned sea of agricultural dereliction. Each of those working farms displayed a nameplate at its gates, titles that were often far too grandiose for the pathetic cluster of ramshackle buildings where someone was struggling to make a living. Standing up to stretch some feeling back into his legs, he saw the nameplate the cart was currently crawling past.
Small Acres was painted on a wooden board nailed to a gatepost, and beyond the gate he saw a short track leading to a neat-looking stone farmhouse and group of barns. Between the house and the barns was a small brick structure he assumed to be an outside toilet, and he reflected briefly that it would be a cold place to visit on a winter’s night. Sitting down again, he considered the notion of forcing more pace from his slaves, but rejected it. An experienced driver, he knew that slow certainty was always a better option than risking the death of one or more fairly valuable slaves. So his hand did not reach for his whip, and the Dame de la Forêt continued at funereal speed past the farm, drawing ever-closer to Craigbrae.
The small brick structure noticed by that passing trader was not, in fact, an outside toilet. It had been built for that purpose many years ago, had subsequently been used as a coal store, and more recently had been converted for a singular purpose. It was the farm’s jail, and as the French cart passed by on the road this Saturday morning it was the temporary abode of Norma Jean McBride.
Norma was the oldest woman at Small Acres, but powerful, with broad shoulders and long muscular arms. In the thin light of early morning her lined and sun-burned face under her cropped hair was impassive as she looked out through the small window set into the jail door. To the left she could see the slave shed, where her thirteen fellow bondswomen would still be sleeping in their bunks. Like her, they had all been sentenced in court to terms of slavery, and their time sold to the highest bidder. To her right was the farmhouse, where a lamp was already burning in the kitchen. That light, Norma knew, meant that she would soon be strapped to the thing she could see directly in front of the jail, the whipping post.
She was not much frightened by the prospect.
The other slaves knew Norma as a stone woman because she would not scream when whipped, as she had several times been for fighting, drunkenness, or stealing. But she was never insolent or disobedient to her master, and was a matchless worker, so she was highly valued. As she watched, her master Jack Hawkins crossed the yard from his house to the slave shed, where he unlocked the door and rang the brass bell that hung beside it. Wakened by the bell, the women inside groaned in a chorus as they stirred themselves from their bunks. While they dressed in the farm’s summer uniform of plaid skirts, linen shorts, and sleeveless tops, Hawkins made his way back to the house, where Christie was making breakfast in the kitchen.
Hawkins entered the kitchen, sat at the big table, and Christie put his plate of porridge and a mug of tea in front of him. 'There you are Jack. How's your leg today?'
He was slowly but surely being crippled by arthritis, with his right knee being especially badly affected.
'Not so bad,' he replied, and patted her bottom. 'I take it you're not eating? Well sit and have a cuppa with me before we sort the girls out, there's no hurry.'
Christie fetched her mug from the stove and sat at the table, and while Hawkins slowly spooned his porridge they discussed the day ahead. It was a market day, and Hawkins would use most of his slaves to pull a cart of produce to town. Their reward was that they would then be given a few hours to use as they wished. Some had family in town they could visit, others had men they would snatch a few hours with, most would enjoy a drink in a tavern.
'You'll want the full rig on the cart?' Christie asked. It could be configured for four, six, eight, or ten slaves. Ten would mean using all three of the bars, which clipped to the shaft.
Hawkins nodded. 'Yes, full rig today, you'll find something to keep the rest busy.'
There were twenty-four bags of rolled oats in the grain store to go to market, and they discussed what they hoped to buy. Soap, sugar, lamp oil, salt, and other basics of their existence they purchased on every market day. If there was tea in the market they would buy some, but often there was none. Like other once-commonplace imports, tea and coffee were now rare luxuries that arrived intermittently by mysterious routes from far corners of the world.
When they had finished their tea, Christie took the pan of porridge off the stove, grasping it with her hands wrapped in a towel. Hawkins opened the kitchen door for her, and she took the food across the yard to the slave shed. The women there were all dressed now, and had folded their bunks away and set out the trestle tables at which they ate. Christie filled their tin bowls with porridge, and then leaned with her back against the wall to watch them eat.
There was very little chatter. The slaves were tense and apprehensive because there was to be a punishment, and because it was market day. They all hated cart work, when they would have to strain with every sinew for over an hour pulling the load to market, knowing that any slackening would earn them a touch of the driving whip. Christie well understood their fears, but was indifferent to them. She had done her share of work as a beast of haulage, now it was their time on the cross. When the last spoon was put down, she pushed herself away from the wall and collected the bowls, making sure they were all empty. She pointed to a woman, 'Ellie, fill the mugs and put them out.'
The slave filled tin mugs from a water tap at the back of the shed and set them on the trestles. Again Christie watched to make sure every slave took her water, and then she had Ellie gather the mugs and put them away. When Ellie had resumed her seat, Christie clapped her hands, and thirteen anxious faces looked at her. It was the routine that Christie would now give them their orders for the day.
'Right then ladies,' she began. 'Ellie, Brook, Karen, and Shirley, you're staying today. Ellie and Brook, you're to clean the toilets here and at the house, and then clear all the washing. Feed the chickens, you can take two eggs each for lunch, and as much bread as you want because it's going stale. After that the afternoon is yours, you have loads of fun. Karen and Shirley, you can have a nice morning splitting logs, I want to see all the wood bins full, then you can have lunch and take the afternoon off. Between the four of you, make sure the kitchen stove stays hot, there will be big trouble if I come home and it's cold.'
'The rest of you,' Christie continued her dispositions, ‘will be the cart team.' Several heads dropped, and two women began to sob. 'Sit up and shut up you two,' Christie said with quiet menace. 'You'll have something to blub about if you keep that up.'
She then gave the slaves their team places. 'Bibiana and Klara, you'll be the front pair.'
as The Danzig Twins, although they were not from
'Kitty, Jean, and Sally,’ Christie barked, ‘you'll be on the middle row with Norma.'
Kitty had three years left of her sentence, Norma six months, Jean just two months, while Sally was almost a slave for life, with seventeen years left of a twenty year sentence for her part in a coin-forging racket. Despite the hopelessness of her position, Sally was rarely troublesome and always accepted her assignments without a word.
Christie turned her attention to the other women. 'The rest of you, Lorna, Angie, Beryl and Mavis, are the back row, but first you'll be needed at the grain stores.' Christie was almost finished. 'Now, the master's giving the cart team the afternoon in town, and I don't want anybody to be stupid. Don't get pregnant, don't get into fights, and don't get drunk. Tomorrow we're all going over to Spinney Lecht, and you can get drunk there. Right now, everybody outside for Norma's punishment.'
2: Stone Woman
When the slaves were stood in a row in facing the whipping post, Christie returned to the kitchen. Hawkins was waiting for her, a regulation punishment whip coiled on the table in front of him, its greasy sheen giving it the appearance of a sleeping snake.
'Everything OK?' he asked.
'They're all ready.' Christie replied, and then rested both hands on the table as she leaned towards Hawkins. 'Jack, do I have to give Norma her licks? I don't know why, but I just don't want to do it. Please Jack, can you do it today?'
Christie had finished the three years of service she had been sentenced to, but stayed on at Small Acres farm on an annual indenture to Hawkins. Effectively she sold herself into bondage every twelve months, thus securing her meals and a roof over her head. Hawkins used her as a supervisor, a job she excelled at, bringing a calm authority to her role as intermediary between master and slaves. The following Thursday Christie's second indenture would expire, and she had agreed to become Hawkins's wife on that day.
'I will if it's important to you,' Hawkins said. 'But in a few days you'll be the official mistress of those girls, and nobody knows better than you that they have to be disciplined. Hang it all, it was you who decided to punish Norma.' He held up a hand up to forestall whatever she was about to say. 'If you don't whip Norma she'll think it's because you're afraid of her. OK, I can understand if she scares you, she scares me too sometimes, but that's why we have to make sure we punish her when she steps out of line. It's about control, Christie, nothing is easier to lose.'
Christie was tight-lipped as she replied. 'I know that, Jack. But with Norma, it's like whipping a log or something, and I swear she hardly feels it. Look, I'll do it today, although I want you to promise me that we'll step it up it a bit for Norma if she gives any more trouble. A few licks with that regulation whip are nothing to her, nothing. You know what she needs, a taste of the cat.' She stood upright now, with her arms folded across her chest, staring a challenge at her husband-to-be.
Jack was silent for a moment before replying. 'I've never given a woman the cat, Christie, I don't even own a cat. But I'll think about what you've said.' He stood up and placed his hands on her shoulders. 'Come on now, and let's give Norma what she’s waiting for.'
With Hawkins carrying the whip, the two of them went across the yard to where the slaves waited, standing silently, with their heads lowered. He turned to Christie. 'Bring her out.'
Christie unlocked the door of the tiny jail, and stepped inside. 'On your feet, Norma,' she said.
Norma was now sitting on the floor against the back wall. She gave Christie a smile. 'Are you my torturer today?' she asked.
'I'm giving your punishment,' was Christie's reply. 'On your feet.'
'Did you volunteer?' Norma asked, still not moving.
'No Norma, I was ordered to do it,' Christie lied. 'Get on your feet.'
'No more orders for you soon, eh?' Norma spoke very softly. 'After you marry the boss, if you whip me then, or if you order me whipped, I promise you'll pay for it. Maybe it won't be until I'm released, but you will pay.'
Now Norma rose to her feet, and pushed Christie out of her way with a flat hand to her chest. She walked through the doorway and spoke to Hawkins. 'I'm here, Boss.' Of the slaves, only Norma called Hawkins anything other than Master, and it was a constant irritation to Christie that he allowed it.
Hawkins cleared his throat to make a formal pronouncement. 'Norma, I sentence you to four strokes of corporal punishment for the offence of stealing food, and to an additional six strokes for using violence in the course of that theft. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?'
'No, Boss,' Norma replied, but then added 'I was hungry.'
‘Take your off your top clothes and put them at your feet,' Hawkins commanded, and the woman obeyed him instantly, dropping her shirt and bra to the ground. Most of the women were not supplied with bras, but heavy-breasted Norma and a few others were given them for work efficiency reasons.
'Step up to the post Norma.' Hawkins ordered.
Norma obediently turned to the post, stood against it, and raised her arms over her head. One of the newer slaves, Karen, started to cry when she saw the scarring on Norma’s back, but stifled her sobs when Hawkins glared at her.
As Christie stretched up to fasten Norma's wrists to the short crossbar at the top of the post she was inevitably pressed closed against the woman, catching a strong whiff of her hairy armpits. Norma took the opportunity to issue further menace. 'Be careful Christie,' she whispered, 'if the whip touches my tits, I'll have you for it, you'll not see a first anniversary.'
With both wrist straps pulled tight, Christie stepped back, and Hawkins thrust the handle of the whip into her hand. 'You may give the punishment, I'll call the strokes.'
Norma had started the routine she used to cope with sessions on the post. Breathing slowly and deeply, she let her mind drift away.
Once she had been a free woman, a colourful local character with a noted appetite for booze and a penchant for violence. For some years she had been able to live like that quite happily, enjoying the protection of the militia sergeant for whom she was notionally a housekeeper. But the sergeant had died, and Norma had drifted into the company of those who could not or would not accept the rules of society. Inevitably she had been arrested, and just as inevitably she had been sentenced to three years service for public disorder.
The first stroke fell high on her shoulders. She felt the blow, but it was a fraction of a second before the hot pain came. Not too bad, she thought, I’ve had worse.
'One,' she heard Hawkins call.
Hawkins had bought that service, and had found Norma to be a very strong and useful woman. Her natural rowdiness and inclination to bully the other slaves was a slight problem, but he had been sorry when he returned her to the court as a free woman.
Again the braided leather lash bit her; she could feel it was a little lower than the first stroke.
She had stayed free for little over a year before the constables again took her to the Craigbrae jail, this time for throwing one of their colleagues off a bridge, and she had been sentenced to five years service. Hawkins had bid for her again, and had got her cheap because of her difficult reputation.
New pain blossomed on her back.
Early in her second and current term, Hawkins had discovered the special pleasure Norma was so expert at. She had been in the jail pending a whipping when she had first cradled his scrotum in her rough hands, applying light pressure to his testicles as she worked his penis with her lips and tongue until he ejaculated deep in her mouth.
She heard the whip sing through the air, and its loveless touch was a hot poker on her spine.
There had been younger and much prettier slaves, but Hawkins had told her nobody could make him come like she did. Most of the pleasure she gave him was oral, but sometimes he had liked to sit on her belly, rubbing his slick tumescence between her generous breasts until his hot sperm splashed over her face.
She jerked as the next stoke landed, and had to fight down the cry that rose in her throat.
No favour had been shown to her in return for the sexual bounty she delivered. If anything, Hawkins had worked her harder, and had never spared her the lash when she offended. But she had been happy with the situation, because she had been able to feel that this man who drove her in harness, and made her labour from dawn to dusk in the fields, he was somehow her man.
She gasped as the whip curled round her waist, and thought Christie was being cruel now.
Things had gone wrong in her eyes when Christie has finished her service, and had taken an indenture. It was inevitable that a woman living in the house would soon find her way to the master's bed, and would make sure he no longer took his pleasure among the slaves. She had marked Christie as an enemy, even as she continued to work enthusiastically for the master she loved.
She heard the sound of the whip across her shoulders again before she felt its fiery touch there, and knew she was writhing in her pain, but she did not scream, she would not scream.
All the time she was building her fearsome reputation among the slaves. Few would stand up to her, and none would seek to challenge her. When feeble Ellie had taken her evening meal the previous day to eat it by the stream and write a letter to her mother, she had followed, devouring her own chicken leg on the way. Ellie had not resisted being robbed, and would never have dared complain, but something about her frightened rabbit eyes was just too much provocation, and a battering had followed. By sheer chance Christie had found Ellie crawling bloodied and half-drowned from the stream, and had immediately decided a whipping was needed.
Again the whip cut across her back, and she shook as a dog will shake off water, an involuntary movement that did not ease the pain.
Just two more now, but she could feel her knees buckling. Didn't matter, the other slaves were seeing how a stone woman could take the lash, and she was certain that Christie was now afraid of her. The master would see that fear, she hoped, and he would know who he could rely on to oversee the farm, and it wouldn't be his weak bride.
She sagged as the whip bit into the lower part of her back.
She was hanging on the post by her wrists as the final stroke landed, but still conscious and determined to show no weakness.
'Ten. Let her down, Christie.' Hawkins commanded.
Christie unfastened the straps, and Norma dropped to her knees, but immediately used the post to haul herself upright. 'Thank you, Christie,' she said, ‘that was very nice indeed,’ and she turned to glare at the assembled slaves. There was joy in her heart when she saw that Ellie had fainted, and was being helped up by two other slaves.
Hawkins walked up to Norma and gripped her shoulders. Christie watched as she coiled the whip, and her face was stony.
'You're a strong and brave woman, Norma,' Hawkins said. 'And I'd like another ten of you. I'm sorry to have you whipped again, but I'm sure you know you deserved it.'
'Yes, Boss,' Norma replied. 'I did deserve it, but that chicken was delicious.' There was a small ripple of laughter among the slaves, not shared by Ellie.
He turned her around and looked at her back. The whip had cut her in four places, and the ridges from all the strokes, laid across and between the scars of previous whippings, were high and vivid red. 'It's not so bad, Norma,' he said. 'Just a little blood. I'll send you for breakfast now, then I'll decide if you can be on the cart team today.'
Norma dropped to her knees and seized his hand to make a fierce declaration of loyalty. 'Boss, you can take the skin off my back, and I will still pull your cart as far as you need me to, on my own if I have to.' She kissed his hand, and Christie turned away in disgust.
Hawkins was touched by the display, and he ran his fingers across her hair affectionately. 'I know that, but you'll not be serving me forever, Norma. What are you going to do when you're released?'
'Don't know, Boss.' Norma replied. 'Probably get a nice young man to play with, don't think I'll find a husband.' There was giggling from the other slaves, quickly silenced as they remembered how Norma could pummel them with her fists during the long slave shed nights. 'But really,' Norma continued, 'I want to stay on Small Acres, and if you send me away I'll have to get myself arrested and sentenced again.'
'Good girl, ' Hawkins said, 'get dressed now and go to the shed, I'll send some food over.'
He dismissed the other slaves and went to the kitchen, with Christie stalking angrily ahead of him. When they arrived there she threw the whip onto the table and turned to face him. 'That ugly old sow is playing you like a fish,' she said, 'And I believe it's not the first time she's been on her knees to you.'
Hawkins sighed, but he was determined not to get angry. 'Christie, I've just had her whipped, how can you say she's playing me? And before you there were several slave shed women, I'm a man, so what do you want me to say about that? I didn't want to marry any of them, only you.'
‘Well, that hideous old witch you didn’t want to marry is threatening to kill me,’ Christie snapped. ‘What do you say to that?’
‘When did she threaten you?’ Hawkins asked.
‘In the jail just now. She said she’d kill me if I cut her tits.’
‘Oh, I’m sure that was just bravado.’ Hawkins was dismissive. ‘When we get back from town I’ll have a word with her, put her straight. OK?’
Christie just stared at him, and then she looked down at her blouse, which was spotted with Norma's blood. 'I'm going up to change,' she said, and he heard her stamping up the stairs.
Sighing again, Hawkins left the kitchen, completely neglecting to send food for Norma. He went to collect the four slaves whom Christie had delegated as his grain store labour.
3: Off To Market
Christie was still fuming over Norma’s threats, and Hawkins’ reluctance to take them seriously, when she returned to the slave shed, now wearing a fresh white blouse.
‘Right, all of you on the cart team, including Norma. Get your arses to the barn, now.’
The designated cart slaves trooped glumly past her and through the door, except that she grabbed Norma’s arm to hold her back.
‘Norma, did you get something to eat?’ She asked.
Looking surprised, Norma replied ‘No, nothing.’
Christie slapped her full in the face. ‘What did you say?’
Norma’s instinct was to retaliate with infinitely greater violence, but she knew that would mean disaster, a confrontation she was not ready for. ‘Sorry Miss. I meant no, Miss, I’ve had nothing,’ she meekly replied.
‘It’s too late now,’ Christie said, ‘But hungry or not, sore back or not, I expect a solid day’s work from you. Fuck me about, lady, and I’ll be cutting your back again. Understood?’
‘Yes Miss’ Norma replied, and ran to catch up with the others.
Christie was feeling happier when she strolled into the barn where the cart and buggy were kept, thinking that perhaps Norma was getting the message. The slaves were awaiting her, and were already buckling their harness belts tight around their waists.
There was only one bar fitted to the cart's shaft, a long one for four slaves. Christie fitted the second long bar by dropping it into its slot and securing it with a pin, and then fitted a short bar at the front end of the shaft for the lead pair.
She harnessed Bibiana and Klara first, at the front of the rig. Each woman was fastened to her bar by short chains from either side of her harness belt, and each had both hands shackled to the bar. Being driven in harness was, Christie knew, a cruelly helpless experience of being completely under the driver's control. Her own worst moments in service had been when she was harnessed, unable to wipe the sweat from her eyes, tormented by flies and the driving whip, forced on and on when every muscle was on fire with pain. But she had survived it, and her experiences had immunised her against any fellow-feeling for those who now suffered. Norma, Kitty, Jean, and Sally she put on the middle row, working quickly and efficiently, hustling the slaves into position, her hands a blur as she clipped chains on and snapped shackles shut. The last step was to put head harnesses on Bibiana and Klara and attach the reins to them. She then did a quick double-check that every slave was securely fastened before climbing up onto the seat and pulling the long-handled driving whip handle from its holder.
She cracked the whip and the women leaned against their bars, then she released the brake and the cart moved easily forward.
Christie liked driving. From her own experience of being in harness she could see who in the team was working well and who wasn't, although the six she had in hand now were too experienced to test her patience. She let the lead pair go straight ahead out of the barn, and then pulled them to the left. They passed between the vegetable store and the jail, and then turned left behind the house towards the grain stores, where she could see Hawkins waiting with a stack of oat bags and the other four slaves. She stopped the cart at the stack, and jumped to the ground. Hawkins climbed up to take her place, and she could see his leg was paining him badly.
'Let's get loaded and moving, Christie,' Hawkins said as he reached down to take the driving whip from her hand.
Christie put Angie and Beryl in the back of the cart, and had Mavis and Lorna pass the bags of oats up to them one at a time. It took but ten minutes to load the cart, and then Christie harnessed the loaders onto the back row.
'Right ladies,' Hawkins spoke to the team as a whole. 'It's off to market for us now. Keep your heads and knees up, and I don't want to hear any talking.' He cracked the whip and the team leaned forward, but that was not enough to overcome the loaded cart’s inertia, they had to use muscle to get the wheels turning. Their feet scrabbled for grip as they got the cart up to the walking speed that was the pace of life in this ruined land.
Hawkins let the team struggle untidily at this stage. He knew they would get settled down and in-step on the smoother surface of the road, and once they were into the zombie zone of putting one foot after the other while their minds were somewhere else he did not plan on stopping until they reached the market
Christie ran ahead to open the gate at the roadway, and when the team and cart had passed through she closed it behind them and clambered aboard. Hawkins slid left across the seat to let her take the reins and whip, and she swung the team right onto the road, shouting to the slaves to keep moving, and letting them hear the whip split the air over their heads.
Hawkins leaned his back against the seat rest and stretched his right leg to ease the pain in his knee, quite content for Christie to do the driving. He looked across at her face, which always looked so intense when she was not smiling. She was letting her sand-coloured hair grow out, and had it fastened behind her head, pulled away from her freckled face. The sun did not tan her skin, only reddened it, and her freckles grew darker. This year the winter had persisted through into mid-April, but now in June they were in a spell of unusually hot weather, and Hawkins worried that the sun would cook Christie’s freckles until one of them turned into something treacherous and deadly. ‘I wish you’d wear a hat,’ he said to her, as he had done many times before.
‘Hats irritate me, you know that,’ she replied, and wrapped the whip cord around the handle with a practiced swirl of her hand. The slaves had settled into their slow high-stepping cart pace, their bodies swaying in unison as each moved from one foot to the other. Christie dropped the whip into its holder. At the moment the team was working well, even though some of the slaves were less than ideal for the purpose, being short on weight, strength, and training.
It was invariably the case that a new slave was useless for most work when she arrived on the farm. A season working the fields would build strength and endurance, and she would learn the meaning of discipline, but cart work needed the development of different muscle groups, and there was rarely time available for that training. In selecting the four to be left behind on the farm that day, Christie had not chosen those best suited for the chores she had given them, she had picked those least capable of leaning into a heavy load for an hour and a half, which was about the time it would take for the three-mile journey to market.
Once upon a time, three miles had been no distance at all. This road had then hummed with fast motor traffic, now the only sounds to be heard were the slap of slaves’ leathery feet on its surface, the jingle of their harness chains, and their laboured breathing as they sucked in air. They were all still living on the same planet that had seen the fast motor traffic, but in a different world, where power no longer came from electricity and oil but was extracted from human bodies, and the roar of engines had been replaced by the cries of slaves under the lash.
4: The Road to Craigbrae
The Small Acres farm cart proceeded westwards through a landscape strewn with stark reminders of a lost past. In one field a combine harvester was rusting away in a jungle of brambles, the words John Deere could just be made out on its cab. Abandoned fields revealed glimpses of other now-useless machinery. Harrows and scrapers, cultivators and rollers, all washed up by the tide of time, immobile since the tractors that had pulled and powered them coughed to a halt. They belonged to an age that, looking back, now seemed a wondrous and impossible dream.
The first winter after the end of everything, now just referred to as The End, had been a terrible one. Government had vanished, and anarchy reigned. Millions fled the dark chaos in the cities, but could find neither food nor shelter in the countryside, and perished there in ditches, woods, and open fields of exposure or starvation. Jack Hawkins, whose farm was supplied with water from a spring, and who burnt wood for heat, survived. His considerable store of potatoes, carrots, and onions, augmented by the rabbits and pigeons he shot, enabled him to keep his small family alive for the first winter.
came, Hawkins and his fellow farmers found
themselves ill-equipped for
farming in a post-mechanical age. They did not have
the draft animals of
earlier centuries, there were no cart horses,
donkeys, or oxen. The small
number of riding stable horses that had existed were
too good a food source to
be ignored, and did not long survived. Their only
recourse was to planting
vegetables with what little seed was then available,
and to hope that a good
crop would see them through the following winter.
The handful of still-active
farmers began to meet in their local town of
Winter came again, and because agriculture had virtually collapsed there was no stock of feed for sheep and cattle; the loss of livestock was near total. The second spring saw many corpses rotting in the houses of the town; the population had reduced to a little over one thousand. Even that small number existed on the outskirts of starvation, as farmers fought the land with only surviving family members as labour, and without machinery or the skills to farm manually they were ill-equipped to slay the dragon of famine.
Lengthening days had brought with them a new menace. Bands of marauders scourged the countryside, raping, robbing, and killing. A Craigbrae militia was formed, with both townsmen and farmers volunteering to fight fire with fire, blood with blood, and death with death. The Territorial Army centre had become the barracks, and armed from its considerable store of weapons and ammunition Craigbrae projected lethal authority. Across abandoned meadows strewn with the bones of cattle and sheep, through dank pine forests, and over desolate hills, the militia pursued the marauders, and when they found a camp they spared not a living soul. The marauders had not gone quietly, but had fallen on unguarded farms with their destructive spirits fired by vengeance. At one such farm, where the families of men away with the militia were gathered, the marauders had committed wholesale atrocity. One of their victims had been Hawkins’ wife, they cut her breasts off and left her to die in agony, and they threw his young son into a burning barn.
Superiority in arms, numbers, and organisation had turned the tide for the Craigbrae militia and against the marauders, and although there were to be sporadic raids for a few years, in general peace reigned.
After the marauders had been vanquished there had started to appear in the area bands of drifters and vagrants, varying in size from a couple of people to several dozen. They bore no arms and were essentially harmless, but the people of Craigbrae, and most especially the farmers, had not liked those strangers in the area, had resented their apparently carefree existence, and the militia had been used to chase them away. Whenever wisps of campfire smoke had told of a roving band living in the forest a militia sweep had been organised, a skirmish line combing the unwanted visitors out of Craigbrae’s hair. Yet other groups of vagrants still arrived in the area, and the frequent summoning of militiamen became a vexatious burden. At a town council meeting called to discuss the vagrant issue, Sheriff John Boone put forward an idea that was to have the profoundest consequences. ‘Why don’t we,’ he had asked, ‘use the men in the mine and the women as farm labour?’
The open-cast coal mine outside Craigbrae had closed long before the end, having been deemed both uneconomic and environmentally damaging. Its giant scoops had sat idle on the drag lines since then, but if its seam of coal could be worked by men with picks and shovels the townspeople would be spared the enormous effort of harvesting and moving firewood. Nobody at the meeting had opposed Boone’s suggestion, although at that time the word slavery was not mentioned. The Mayor, a natural administrator named Alan Reece, had insisted that a proper legal basis was required, that people must be charged and convicted before their labour could be disposed of. Accordingly it was agreed that the Sheriff’s court, which had stood in the town square for a hundred and forty years but had been closed since the end, would be reopened for justice to be dispensed.
With his bureaucratic instincts and his legalistic mind, Mayor Reece crafted a framework for the new order. He drafted new laws, the first of which made vagrancy an offence punishable by three years labour service. The limited time was intended to make it more attractive for a convict to complete their sentence than to go on the run and be hunted by the militia, and it was a mainly successful ploy. At the end of their sentence, every convict was to be offered full citizenship of Craigbrae, for Reece was a forward-thinking man who wanted to re-populate his town; he knew prosperity would not return to a vacuum.
The end had selectively culled the general population, ensuring that the elderly, the infirm, and those dependent on medications were the first to die. The sheer hardship of life in a vagrant group had also ensured that those who were brought to the Craigbrae court were ideally suited to hewing coal or working the land, they were fit young people who could work long hours at the hardest of labours. Boone’s idea, and Reece’s implementation of it, was a success. Soon, every major or minor offence carried a labour service tariff, giving another source of flesh. For the farmers to be able to buy convict labour, it had been clear that the then prevailing barter system would not suffice. Reece took the bold and imaginative step of creating a Craigbrae currency called the newmark, the initial value of which was set at one fiftieth of a bag of wheat grain. Market forces soon established what a bag of oats, or a rabbit, or anything else was worth. Farmers could sell their storable produce to the town, putting currency in their hands and a hedge against famine in the town’s control. When the farmers bought convict time, money flowed back to the town; a wealth creation cycle had begun.
At first the farmers had little notion of how to use their forced labour. They whipped hard and often but produced little, while stories of horrors inflicted on convict women were commonplace. But those who realised that spurious cruelty was counter-productive, and Jack Hawkins had been one of them, were soon producing surpluses, and the town market was re-established. Initially convicts carried produce in sacks on their backs, but then handcarts appeared, and soon farm carts designed to be hauled by humans were being produced by enterprising craftsmen.
After a series of mistreatment scandals the town council created a protective code, for the first time describing the convicts as slaves. Maximum punishments were laid down, a standard punishment whip was specified, and statutory protection against sexual abuse was provided. Living conditions were to meet a minimum standard, as were food and clothing. Gradually, slavery became an accepted part of society, and many saw it as nothing more than the return of an ancient way of life.
When but a few scores of slaves had been taken in the environs of Craigbrae, the supply dried up. As the demand from farmers was loud, and farmers still controlled the council, the militia was pressed into becoming a slave-raiding force. They would set out with the legal rationale that wherever their feet trod was Craigbrae territory, and any people they came across in distant villages and campsites were deemed to be vagrants. The physically suitable were brought back in chains, to be held at the barracks until the next market day, when they would be convicted in the morning and sold in the afternoon.
had been one of those caught in a militia
Christie had developed physically as Hawkins used her for agricultural tasks, for logging work, and in harness to his cart. By the end of her sentence she had become familiar with all the farm’s operations, and entirely settled to its routines. When Hawkins had suggested that she stay on as an indentured servant, to be his housekeeper and overseer, she had believed his promises of fair treatment, and had agreed, mainly because she had nowhere else to go. The year passed with both parties being satisfied with the arrangement, and a second indenture was signed. Hawkins had proposed marriage, because he wanted a son, and although Christie had at first refused, she had eventually agreed. She had come to realise how precarious her existence would be if and when Hawkins died, for Small Acres would then pass into other hands, leaving her homeless and in fact open to a vagrancy prosecution. As his wife, she would be joint-holder of the slaves, and would be his automatic heir to the property.
Christie reflected on the strange journey that had been her life as she looked down now on the straining slaves in front of her. As a schoolgirl she had joined protests against slavery, yet she was now very much part of a system that placed people in bondage. She rationalised the apparent contradiction by believing that without farm slavery it would not have been possible to maintain an organised society, that people would have been starved back to the Stone Age.
After passing the track that led to the campsite for visiting traders, the final approach to Craigbrae was up a half-mile incline, and Christie prepared for it by taking the driving whip from its holder and shaking loose the cord. If the cart stopped on the incline it would be very difficult to get it moving again, so she was not going to let that happen. She ordered the slaves to step up, but they were now weary, and she started to goad them with the whip, paying special attention to the lead pair. Bibiana and Klara, she was sure, would not take it personally, and she had to get them stepping faster for the team to follow. Hawkins came out of a doze and watched as Christie sent the tip of the whip dancing across the slave's backs, her face expressionless, just a woman doing her job. She was not really hurting them, merely stinging them on their shoulders. In unskilled hands it was all too easy for the whip to take eyes out, something that had happened several times in Craigbrae’s brief history of slavery. Christie’s hands were skilled, though, and Hawkins knew she would not do any damage.
Ahead of them, Hawkins could see the cart of his neighbour Libby Griffin. Steve Griffin had grown potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables very successfully on his Bright Star farm, but after his sudden death his widow had struggled. In the last year, Hawkins knew, Libby had lacked the funds to replace slaves as they were freed, and was in a vicious circle of declining production in which she had to abandon fields because she did not have the labour to work them.
Libby’s cart was slowing, and as Hawkins watched he saw the slave she used as a driver jump down off the seat and walk alongside the team, laying the lash across their backs.
Christie had already started to ease the Small Acres team to the centre of the road; she did not plan to be held up by Libby. The Bright Star slaves were screaming and shouting abuse at their heavy-handed driver; Christie knew for sure then that she would soon have a stalled cart in front of her, and steered her cart across the road to go past. Hawkins looked behind, and saw that other carts on the road were also pulling out to overtake. When he looked ahead again, Libby’s cart had stopped, and he heard the ratchet operate as she heaved on the brake lever to stop it rolling back.
Libby called across to Hawkins as his cart passed hers, asking him to take some of her load, but he was only stating the obvious when he replied that he could neither stop on an incline or add load weight.
‘The woman’s a fool.’ Christie commented, not bothering to keep her voice down.
Hawkins said nothing to that, but was certain Steve Griffin would have had the sense to diversify his crops if he had lived. Bulky and heavy vegetables were easy to grow, but Libby was now competing against people much closer to town, and when plentiful supplies were causing prices to fall. He doubted Libby would be able to keep Bright Star running for much longer.
At the top of the incline they passed through a militia checkpoint, which was unmanned, and then the market ground was in front of them. Without stopping them, the market inspector collected their 10 newmark entry fee and told them which stall they would have. Christie stopped the cart behind their stall and Hawkins checked his old Seiko mechanical watch. It was just turned eleven am; they had been on the road for an hour and twenty minutes.
When the slaves had been released from harness they unloaded the cart and then washed themselves from the bucket hanging at the back of the cart. Each woman carelessly stripped naked and sponged of the worst of her sweat and dirt, before Christie issued them with clean shift dresses to wear. Hawkins gave them 5 newmarks each to spend, and told them to be back at the cart by seven in the evening. The slaves then went off, mostly individually, although Bibiana and Klara stuck together as always. Jean, Christie noticed, took extra care to comb her hair neatly before leaving, no doubt to spend the afternoon with her fiancé Arthur Fletcher.
Christie opened a bag of rolled oats and set up her weighing scale on the stall, while Hawkins wandered off to see who else was in town. At twelve the market opened to the public, and Christie did steady trade alone for an hour before Hawkins returned. They sold the bulk of their stock to farmers with slaves to feed, and the mine superintendent bought six bags, but the most profitable business was from loose oats sold in small bags to townspeople. At three in the afternoon Bibiana and Klara returned, and made their usual offer to take over the stall if they could keep half of the take. There were only five bags of oats left, so Hawkins readily agreed, and he took Christie for a lunch at the Riverside Inn.
Christie gobbled her food quickly, she wanted to get back to the market and buy something special for Norma.
5: The Cat
There was a smell of leather hanging in the air around Millie Spence’s stall. Millie sold hardware made by her blacksmith husband and leather goods made by her own nimble hands. She was the only source of the regulation whips allowed for punishing women slaves, and also had a variety of driving whips on display, along with shackles, chains, collars, and harness tack; every instrument and device a slave-holder could need.
Much to Christie’s disappointment, there were no multi-thong whips on display.
‘Millie,’ Christie said briskly, ‘We need a cat. Have you got one?’
Millie smiled slowly, revealing a row of blackened stumps. ‘I make them for the mine and the road gangs,’ she said, ‘but they’re not normally used on farms. Still, I’ll take your money for one if you insist.’
‘How much?’ Christie asked.
‘It’s ten newmarks for a twelve-ounce cord cat, that’s what the mine use, or I can make you something special in leather and have it ready for next week.’ Millie reached under her stall and produced an example of her standard cat, putting it on the counter for Christie to pick up. It had a short wooden handle, to which eight knotted cords were attached.
Hawkins was hovering behind Christie. ‘Ten newmarks for that?’ He exclaimed. ‘It looks like a kid made it, and this was his first attempt.’
‘My cats do good work.’ Millie did not seem disturbed by Harness’ comment. ‘Do you now how this type of whip got its name? It’s because of the marks it makes, as if a cat’s claws had been dragged across the skin. Isn’t that a cute story?’
Christie put a ten newmark coin on the counter. ‘Very cute, I love it. Does it come with a bag?’
Millie threw a cheap red cloth bag onto the counter. ‘That’s the traditional bag. It’s bad luck to let the cat out and not use it.’
As Hawkins frowned his disapproval Christie stuffed the cat into its bag and pulled its drawstrings closed. She turned to him. ‘OK, mister farmer. Now we need to see Sheriff Boone for a cat licence.’
‘Very well Christie, but the cat is only going to be a last resort, make no mistake about that.’ Hawkins chewed on his lower lip, reflecting on the difficulties that lay ahead of him.
From the market it was short walk up the high street to the town square, where the Sheriff’s Court was located. They did not go up the steps to the main entrance, but went down an alleyway at the side of the building to the Sheriff’s private doorway. The door was unlocked, as always, and inside they ascended the stairs to Boone’s office.
The office was dark, its small windows capturing little of the afternoon sunshine, and Boone was working at his desk by the light of a hissing pressure lamp. He looked up at his visitors with his coal-black eyes gleaming, and his swarthy face cracked into a smile. ‘Christie, Jack, it’s good to see you.’ He extended his hand and both his guests shook it.
‘You look busy,’ Hawkins began. ‘We can come back if we’re interrupting.’
‘No no,’ Boone replied. ‘I was just signing the sentencing papers from this morning’s court, I was nearly finished. What can I help you with?'
'I need a cat licence. It's for Norma McBride, you know she's a tough case, and...' He tailed off as the Boone held his hand up.
‘Whoa Jack, hold up a moment.’ Boone ran his fingers through his thinning black hair. 'I'm surprised you want to tear up a woman up with the cat, even old Norma. But let me give you some background on this. Next year I'm up for re-election, and Humane Recovery will put up a candidate against me. You know who they are?'
Hawkins nodded. 'Religious maniacs, anti-slavers.'
Boone gave a wry smile. 'Well some of them are religious, some aren't. The point is, they’re gradually taking control of the council, and they're all against our present system. They say it's cruel and unnecessary, they say people are being sentenced to slavery on the slightest pretext just to provide a supply of forced labour. And of course they're quite right, the system was introduced so farms could be worked without machinery, and there was overwhelming support. But opinions are changing. People see that nice girl who used to work in the bakery harnessed to a farm cart, they see the woman who delivered their baby lifting potatoes in a slave gang, and they don't like it. And there have been stories circulating, Jack, nasty stories, ugly stories, tales of rape and torture out on the farms.'
Hawkins shrugged. 'It was always bound to happen there would be some abuse, and I thought your office was supposed to enforce the rules. As for me and the farmers I know, we need the slaves fit for work, and we can't afford to have them running off, so we treat them the best we can. Is this a long way of telling me I can't have a cat licence?'
Boone nodded. 'I'm not giving any cat licences, and I'm not renewing existing ones as they expire, although there are only three. Look Jack, I happen to know you had Norma whipped by Christie this morning, and yet within hours you want authority to use a cat on her. If you can't control her with a standard whip, is it possible you're doing something wrong?'
'I can control her with the whip,' Hawkins began, but instantly regretted the words, for the Sheriff smiled broadly and concluded the sentence for him by saying 'but using a cat on her would be so much fun.'
'How did you know about Norma?' Hawkins asked, to slightly change the subject, for he could hardly argue that the cat was to reassure Christie.
'Word gets around.' The Sheriff replied. 'You farmers think you're running private kingdoms, but really everything gets out. Jack, I know you can't work slaves without discipline, never forget I'm on your side. I don't have to give in to HR on everything, but I have to make some concessions, and phasing out cat use is one of them. Much more serious is that it’s getting difficult for me to give slavery sentences, or if I do it has to be for cast-iron cases of serious offences.'
Hawkins thought for a moment. 'So the supply of slaves will dry up. We can't work the farms without them, Sheriff. This town lives on food produced by slaves, so do those people want to see their children starve?'
'You must not suppose,' Boone said carefully, ‘That our opponents are fools. They are not proposing immediate abolition, but they are loudly insisting that conditions are improved, that corporal punishment is very tightly controlled, and they want anyone sentenced for a trivial offence to be considered for early release. They also believe that we will have machines again before too many years, electrical machines that will do a lot of what you're using slaves for.'
'Poppycock.' Hawkins said, 'I'll believe in those machines when I see them working. In the meantime, I need to keep the slaves I have for their full terms, trivial offences or not, and I need to replace them as they're released.'
‘And I will be doing everything I can to make sure you and the other honest farmers are able to continue.’ Boone said brightly. ‘Onwards and upwards, eh? You two are going to be the model farm couple, that’s for sure. I bet you’ve got big plans for Small Acres?’
‘Without clearing some new fields,’ Hawkins replied glumly, ‘We’ll be looking at falling yields year-on-year. The soil’s exhausted because we’ve no fertilisers. But to clear fields we need labour, and that’s the second reason we’re here today. What will there be for sale today?’
‘Not a lot.’ Boone spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. ‘There were ten convictions, from which there are three men for the militia and two for the road gangs. Of the five women, one I had to impose a fine on, and give her time to pay; she’s got HR on her side, and it was a minor offence. Two are being retained for town service, so there are just two for sale.’
‘Then we’re going to be stuffed.’ Hawkins said flatly. ‘We just can’t carry on without you supplying enough slaves. Really, John, I have to ask just who you are taking orders from. You’re supposed to make independent judgements, aren’t you?’
‘I do.’ Boone replied stiffly. ‘But I have to take the political situation into account, that’s only being realistic. The council have appointed a new Slave Welfare Officer, her name’s Ellen Marshall. She’s a HR supporter and she’s right on my case. It’s her who’s reviewing sentences, and generally making my life hell. You’ll meet her, because she’s visiting all the slaveholders. Expect her to interview every one of your girls, inspect their quarters, that sort of thing. She’ll also look at every sentence, and where she thinks one of them has had a raw deal she’s very much inclined to parole them.’
‘Is she walking to all the farms?’ Christie asked.
‘No, she has the use of a town buggy, same as I do.’ Boone replied.
‘She sounds like a hypocrite to me,’ Christie grumbled. ‘Just wait till I meet her.’
Hawkins pushed his chair back, and stood up. ‘Well then John,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry to have wasted your time.’
‘It’s always a pleasure to see you both.’ Boone also stood up. ‘And don’t get downhearted, Jack, I have a scheme to resolve the labour issue, and I may be able to tell you more about it very soon. Anyhow, I’ll see you at your happy occasion.’ He cocked his head and smiled. ‘Unless you’ve called off the wedding?’
‘No chance.’ Christie was on her feet. ‘I’ll not let him get away now.’
Arm-in-arm, Christie and Hawkins descended the stairs to the alley, and then emerged back into the town square. There were a much greater number of people circulating than when they had previously passed through, patrons of the shops and cafes that lined the square.
‘Do you fancy a drink, love?’ Harness asked, gesturing at the Golden Grouse pub opposite them.
‘No, I need to get my shopping done before the market closes.’ Christie replied. ‘You go ahead, you’re bound to see someone in there to sup with.’
In the Golden Grouse, Hawkins was served by Arthur Fletcher, the publican. After placing Hawkins’ pint on his table, Trestle did not leave, but sat down and cleared his throat to speak. 'Can I have a word, Hawkins?'
'Of course you can, Arthur, although you usually call me Jack.'
'Well this is a difficult matter, formal you might say.' Fletcher replied. ‘It’s about Jean. Now I know you're working her in harness today, and I don't think that's fair for a woman who's almost free. But you’re her master for now, and the law gives you that right, so I'll not complain too much.' His face was growing redder as his voice grew louder. 'But Jean tells me your woman Christie is picking on her, threatening her with a whipping, and I'll not stand for that. First of all, an indentured servant has no right to order whippings, and since you know full well that Jean will be my wife soon, you ought to show her and me some consideration, not send her to her wedding all cut up.'
Fletcher had risen to his feet, and was shouting down at Hawkins now, with spittle flying in all directions as he vented his rage. 'I've seen my Jean's bare back, and the marks on it, the marks you put there, and if she finds herself on your whipping post again I will come for you Jack Hawkins. I will come for you, and I will stop your cruelty for good, for ever - do you understand me?'
Making an immense effort to stay calm, Hawkins took a sip from his drink, but his hand was shaking. 'Of course I understand you,' he said. 'You're saying that I cannot punish a bonded slave whose time I have paid for.' Putting his glass on the table, he stood up and placed his face close to Fletcher's. 'But I can promise you that if Jean is insolent, disobedient, lazy, or otherwise unsatisfactory, then I will punish her as is my legal right and my duty as her master.’
The two men stood nose to nose, each clenching his fists by his side. There was a general silence in the pub as customers and staff waited eagerly for the fight to start, although few could imagine any outcome other than the powerful Fletcher beating Hawkins to a pulp.
It was Hawkins who broke the silence. ‘You had better just make sure, Fletcher,’ he said, ‘that Jean is waiting by my cart at seven this evening.’ With that he stormed out of The Golden Grouse, knowing he would never be able to drink there again.
Fletcher glared around at the audience, who all turned their eyes from him, and then stamped up the stairs to his private quarters. He found Jean waiting for him on a sofa, and she jumped up when he entered the room.
‘Well?’ She asked, ‘did you speak to him?’
‘I lost my temper.’ Fletcher confessed. ‘I made a mess of it.’
God.’ Jean slumped back onto the sofa. ‘They’ll put
me through hell.
I can’t go back there, Arthur, I can’t.
Surely you could hide me while you sort things out
with the sheriff, or that
‘No, no, that would make things worse.’ Fletcher sighed and put his arms around her. ‘If he reports you as a runaway the sheriff could add time to your sentence, he’s a friend of Hawkins.’
Jean’s self-pity turned to anger. ‘A fine man you are,’ she complained. ‘You’re supposed to protect me, not abandon me to every cruel bastard who wants to torture me.’
Fletcher seized her shoulders and pulled her to her feet. ‘Now look,’ he said firmly. ‘You’ve just a few weeks to serve. Do your work, keep your mouth shut, and you’ll be fine. Jack Hawkins not a fool, and he won’t pick on you just to spite me. OK?’
Jean pushed past him without a word, descended the stairs, and left the Golden Grouse. She was angry at Fletcher, at Hawkins, and at every man in the world. But she knew that marriage to Fletcher was her best and only hope of a decent life when her sentence finished, and that her only realistic option was to do as he had said. Wiping away a tear, she headed for the Riverside Inn, where she knew she would find other slaves to drink with.
Hawkins saw Jean crossing the town square, and rejected his urge to confront her there and then. He instead wandered down to the market, where he came across Christie, who was haggling for a blouse. She held the garment up to him. 'What do you think of this, Jack? The man wants eight newmarks, so will you buy it for me? I want it for the party tomorrow, but we can call it an early Christmas present.'
'It's a bloody early present,' Hawkins replied, 'I'll give him seven.'
The trader, however, was confident of victory, and stuck to his price. Hawkins soon capitulated and handed over payment. As the couple walked away from the stall Hawkins took Christie's arm and wheeled her around to face him.
'What's happened with you and Jean?' He asked.
'Oh, nothing really.' Christie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. 'She was running off at the mouth this morning, so I slapped her down.'
'Right, I see,' said Hawkins, and he told her of his encounter with Fletcher.
Christie shrugged. 'I'd forget about it,' she said. 'Fletcher’s all mouth and trousers, and Jean won't want to take a whipping just to cause trouble for you. Leave her to me, and I'll keep her in line until her release day.'
'Quite honestly,' Hawkins said, 'I wish I could get rid of her now, Fletcher will be a dangerous enemy.'
'Well you can't,' Christie shrugged again. 'You release her on the prescribed date, and you've got custody of her until then. Do you think we'll be invited to her wedding?'
6: Slaves For
The market closed to the public at five, at which time the slave sale was conducted. Strictly speaking, only licensed slaveholders were allowed to be present, but invariably there were people who had no prospect of being allowed to buy but were curious to see the wares. Every farmer who had traded that day was in attendance, although all knew that the days when they could count on a fair number of slaves for sale were over. Most farmers were with their wives, some with their head slave/mistress, very few were alone. Hawkins was with Christie, and as the crowd waited for the prisoners to be brought from the courthouse they chatted with various people about farming matters and the impending labour crisis.
Hawkins wanted to have a replacement ready when Jean was freed, but had little hope he would be able to buy that day. With only two slaves to be sold, the prices would be high. He thought he could not possibly pay more than eight hundred newmarks, but wanted to at least see the quality of the goods. He was not interested in frail girls, but he knew he could put muscle on sturdy frames. It was his considered view that a woman did not attain her maximum power and endurance until at least her late twenties, and he would happily have a cart team of women in their forties.
trim young woman clattered up the steps of the sale
platform, flourishing a
sheaf of papers. ‘My name is Kiki Philips,’ she
announced, and paused to take a
round of mocking applause from those who knew her.
‘I am acting here today on
The constable led a woman up the steps. She was clearly of late middle years, and was wearing a jail-issue shapeless grey skirt and shirt. Her badly cut hair was a fitting cap for her worn face, which surveyed the crowd with glum resignation before she turned to the constable with a questioning look. He nodded, and she removed the shirt, letting it dangle from her left hand as the silent crowd gazed at small and widely-separated breasts hanging from a thin ribcage above a pot belly. This was ostensibly to allow buyers to appraise the physical condition of slaves. The constable then turned her around to show her back, which was ridged in the manner of a ploughed field from an old flogging.
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ Christie whispered. She had never seen such terrible scarring. ‘Whoever did that to her should have his cock cut off.’
grinned at the crowd, showing a gap between her
front teeth. She
cleared her throat, and then held up a sheet of
paper. ‘By order of the
‘Two hundred.’ Hawkins called, to Christie’s horror. ‘Are you crazy?’ She whispered, ‘or planning to start a granny farm?’
‘She could take over the housework from you,’ Hawkins replied. ‘You’re doing too much, or so you tell me.’
‘She’s too old, Jack. I know what will happen, she’ll be sat with her feet up while I make her cups of tea.’ Christie was furious.
The bidding had jumped to two hundred and fifty.
‘Three hundred,’ Hawkins called, and turned again to Christie. ‘Are you seriously telling me you couldn’t use a pair of hands in the house?’
‘Not those wrinkled old hands, no.’ Christie glared at Hawkins. ‘And if she was any trouble, how could we put that old lady on the post? She’s obviously suffered too much already. Drop out of this, Jack, please drop out.’
Hawkins pointedly thrust his hands into his pockets when the bidding went to three-fifty, at which price Josephine Collins was sold to a local fruit grower who notoriously only bought older women. He got them cheaply, kept their backs raw, and made such good profits that he was one of the few who expanded his cultivated acreage every year.
‘Collection will be from the jail, and must be within twenty-four hours or the sale is void.’ Philips was reading another script from another sheet of paper. ‘Payment will be cash only, thank you. Constable, can we have the next item?’
Collins was replaced on the platform by a very much younger woman, who gave Philips a glare of contemptuous defiance, and then turned to the crowd, smirking and wiggling her hips as she removed her shirt. The breasts and flat belly now displayed brought approving calls from the crown, and an unmarked back was shown to establish a whip-free past.
Christie snorted. ‘That girl is well known as a fuck-monkey, and most of the men here will know that. She could me made into a useful worker, but you just watch the bidding, she’ll be too pricey for us.’
‘By order of
the Craigbrae Sheriff Court,’
Philips read, ‘Cheryl Evans is to serve four years
agricultural slavery for the
crimes of disorderly conduct in a public place,
assaulting an officer of the
law, and resisting arrest, and I am duly authorised
to offer that service for
sale by auction. Evans is known to be twenty-two
years of age, suffers from no
known medical condition, and has no previous
convictions in this jurisdiction.’
She studied the paper before looking up. ‘
Christie had convinced Hawkins that the Evans girl would be beyond his reach, but when the bidding hung at eight-fifty, he entered the sale. ‘Nine hundred,’ he called. Unfortunately for him, this stimulated an immediate bidding frenzy, and the girl was shortly sold for seventeen hundred to a farmer named Ken Clements.
The Small Acres couple left the sale, with Hawkins grumbling bitterly. ‘That was silly money, plain silly. It just isn’t possible to get over four hundred a year of work out of any slave.’
‘We both know,’ Christie replied, ‘that Cheryl will have no intention of doing any work. It’s the system’s fault, you know. A good-looking girl can strike a bargain, and that’s what Cheryl just did. She made it obvious what services she offers, and that’s why Clements paid so much. So she won’t be doing any farm work, and Clements will whip his seventeen hundred out of his other slaves.’
‘You’re correct on all points,’ Hawkins said. ‘But why is it the system’s fault?’
‘Because,’ Christie hesitated before continuing. ‘Because the whole slave system gives men power over women, that’s why. Men will always favour a nice-looking girl, and think nothing of working a plain-Jane to death. If our system of slavery is an unfair necessity, as it must be, then the way it works in practice is even more unfair.’
‘So you’ll be joining HR then?’ Hawkins asked easily.
‘Maybe I will.’ Christie looked at him and laughed.
All of the harness slaves were present and correct at the cart, and had changed back into their working clothes. Jean was sitting on the driving seat, but jumped down when she saw Hawkins and Christie approach. A small group was gathered around Norma, and loud sniggers suggested she was telling a dirty story.
Hawkins went straight up to Jean. ‘You know Arthur’s had his say to me, and that’s fair enough,’ he said. ‘But you and I are stuck together for a little while yet, and I don’t blame you for what Arthur said, so can we just carry on as normal while we have to?’
Relief flooded Jean’s face. ‘Yes, master,’ she replied, and then glanced at Christie, who smiled wryly at her. To Hawkins’ astonishment, the two women hugged then. He felt that a bomb had been defused, or that a dark cloud had dispersed.
Christie quickly harnessed the slaves, and then drove the cart away from the market.
As the afternoon died into evening the hot air clung heavily and lifelessly to the land, with not a breath of movement to relieve the oppressive feel of it. When they were clear of the town Hawkins had Christie remove the slaves' tops and throw them into the cart. They would complete the journey bare-breasted, sunny-side-up as Christie liked to say. Christie too removed her top when she was back on the cart, and Hawkins saw her breasts were shining with sweat. 'Walk on,' she called to the team, cracked the whip twice, and leaned her head to whisper in Hawkins' ear. 'Shall we have some fun now? Whip them up a bit?'
'An hour ago you were saying how unfair slavery is,' Hawkins replied very softly. 'Now you want to be queen of the lash. Just keep them moving, Christie, and we'll be home soon enough.'
Feeling drowsy and fighting to keep his eyes open, he listened to the routine sounds of his world. The solid rubber tyres on the cart’s wheels were virtually silent on the road surface, but picked up small stones and dropped them again with an intermittent patter. Creaks and groans emanated from the cart frame as it flexed, and harness chains rattled. Occasionally a beetle or other winged insect would drone past, and there was the continuous slapping of slaves’ feet on the road, with sometimes a half-heard mutter from one of the women.
There was cut beneath Norma’s right shoulder blade, he noticed, and it wept tiny tears of blood that ran down until being soaked up by her bra strap. His eyes were then drawn to Jean. Like all the slaves, farm work had made her lean and muscular, probably stronger than he was. She was tanned from being worked in the fields and in harness, really in tremendous physical condition. As Hawkins could recall, she had only once been whipped at the post, but few strokes had cut her, and there was little visible scarring. As Fletcher's wife her body would soon become pallid, soft, and flabby. 'What a waste,' he whispered, as he drifted into sleep.
Christie saw his head slump forward, and thought that he looked even older than he actually was in that condition. Ignoring what he had said, she let the slaves hear the whip whistle over their heads. Not satisfied with the response, she gave Bibiana and Klara a touch each across their sun-bronzed shoulders, they both squealed and the whole team surged, keeping in step with the Polish girls to maintain a good pace back to Small Acres.
Hawkins slumbered on as the road rolled by under the cart, and Christie hummed happily.
7: Sunday Morning
Christie awoke before dawn, feeling cheerful but not knowing why. Then she left her bed and crossed the corridor to Hawkins' room. She climbed into bed with him, and used her hand to arouse him as he slowly came awake. When she felt he was almost at climax she took his penis in her mouth and finished him that way; remembering what Jean had said about her being the master's cocksucker, she giggled as she pulled herself alongside Hawkins and rested her head on his shoulder.
'What's funny?' he asked.
'Nothing,' she said, 'I've come to congratulate you on choosing such a fine wife. And I want to tell you that I will be the wife you want me to be, Jack, you must have no doubts about me.'
'Doubts?' He replied. 'That's a strange thing to say, and I hope you don’t have any.' He glanced at the window. 'Dawn’s coming on, best time for rabbits. Get me some girls on the buggy, and I’ll go get us our lunch.'
Christie made no move. ‘Jack Hawkins,’ she said, ‘it’s Sunday and it’s not light yet. Let those poor wretches sleep, will you? I’ve got some chicken stock I can make lunch with. And have you forgotten we’re going to Spinney Lecht this afternoon?'
‘I suppose you’re right,’ Hawkins said resignedly. ‘I should give them one late morning a week. ’
‘Exactly.’ Christie said, putting a hand down to his crotch again, trying produce something she could sit on. ‘And I’ve been thinking about this afternoon, I think you should go over to Spinney Lecht in the buggy. I’ll get three volunteers to pull it, and I’ll walk the rest of them over there.’
‘It doesn’t seem fair.’ Hawkins was dubious. ‘Making slaves haul me today, and it’s not much over a mile, I could easily walk.’
‘You couldn’t easily walk that far, don’t be silly.’ Christie was feeling signs of life in her hand. ‘And you weren’t worried about fairness a few minutes ago, when you wanted to drive a team all over the hills after rabbits.’ She swung a leg over him, pulled her nightdress over her head, and eased herself down onto his erection.
Reaching up for her small breasts, Hawkins did not reply to her. He knew she had drained him so he wouldn’t ejaculate too quickly when she wanted an orgasm, and he was happy with that. He was happy too with her strong body, the firm stomach muscles that now stood out as she worked her hips, her wet vagina sliding up and down his penis. She moved quicker and quicker, her eyes closed and her bottom lip between her clenched teeth. With her head back and her throat thrust out, she worked urgently to reach a climax, and as she passed through that and collapsed down on him Hawkins thought that the look on a woman’s face at these moments of sexual pleasure was identical to the look of agony she would have when flogged.
As Hawkins and Christie exchanged body fluids, in the slave shed Norma lay back on her bunk with young Brook astride her. Any other slave would have lain on her front so soon after being whipped, but it was part of Norma’s image that she would always ignore pain and it was most comfortable for her big breasts to lie this way.
Brook wiggled a little, dragging her crotch on Norma’s belly, and Norma worked on Brook’s breasts with both hands. The nipples were engorged, and Norma alternately pulled softly on them and gently squeezed behind the areolas, working patiently for the little miracle she knew would come. At last there was a squirt of milk from the left nipple, and Norma dragged it down to her mouth, squeezing the breast and drinking the flow greedily. For the next few minutes she swapped between breasts until she had consumed every drop, and then she pushed Brook off her. ‘Go back you your bunk now, little flower, your Norma needs to sleep.’
The girl pouted, but climbed off Norma and the bunk. ‘Did I do well, Norma, did I please you?’ she asked.
Norma heaved her blanket over her body, then reached up and patted the girl’s face. ‘You were gorgeous and delicious. Get some sleep now, go on.’
Brook returned to her own bunk, which was on the opposite wall to Norma’s. The slave shed had twenty bunks, ten on either side, which folded down from the wall. When Norma had first arrived at Small Acres, only eight bunks were in use, but now only six were empty; Hawkins had expanded his operation.
Norma thought of her master as a clever man who combined kindness and necessary cruelty in exactly the right formula to make a success of farming with slaves, and she had no doubt he would be bringing in more slaves to work more fields and haul bigger surpluses to market. She wanted to be a part of his success, but not as slave shed meat. For although she actually enjoyed much of the farm work, she felt that her true place was in the house, and to achieve that she had to somehow overthrow Christie.
To see who had been watching her fun with Brook, she raised her head a little and peered around. On the darkest nights the gloom in the shed would be totally impenetrable, for that reason there was always an oil lamp burning, suspended below the roof. The other women were all sleeping, or pretending to sleep, except that Norma thought she saw Ellie quickly pull her blanket over her head. Fuck her, thought Norma, she won’t say anything, and I’ll break her neck if she does.
In every slave shed on every farm there was a code of blind silence. See nothing and say nothing was the unwritten rule that allowed the women to have some part of their lives that was not controlled by their masters or mistresses. When the shed door closed, whatever happened there stayed there, and the foolish slave who tittle-tattled about it would have her life made impossible.
Norma drifted into sleep as Christie was waking after an hour dozing fitfully in Harness’s arms. Leaving the bed, she went to gaze out of the window. She looked at the surrounding gentle hills, which were now being flooded with light, and across the yard to the slave shed. In that shed she had experienced the most intense pleasures of her life, when her body had been in the hands of other women. Turning away from the window she looked at Hawkins, who was asleep and cranking his snores up to maximum volume. He was fundamentally a good man, she thought, with probably the same weaknesses as all of his kind. If she was to survive and be comfortable he would be the right husband for her, a lifeboat in dangerous waters. Still, she missed her shed sisters terribly, and although she had a companion for life she felt totally alone.
Christie retrieved her nightdress from where it had fallen by the bed, but did not put in on. Quietly, she returned to her own room to get dressed. Descending to the kitchen, her earlier good humour completely evaporated, she opened the stove front and peered inside. The ash was warm to the touch, and when she raked it over with a poker there were glowing spots visible. She gathered a few kindling sticks from the basket beside the stove and placed them strategically on the hot spots, and when they burst into flame with a satisfying crackle she loaded dry logs in before slamming the door shut. That job done, she opened the drop-down door at the bottom of the stove and pulled out the ash pan. Gripping the weighty pan in both hands she took it outside, and emptied it, then refitted it, washed her hands, and set about making breakfast for sixteen mouths.
Other farms of Small Acres’ size, she knew, had maids to do all of this, and she slightly regretted not letting Hawkins buy the flogged old woman. He had consistently refused to use someone from the slave shed for housework, arguing that the farm could not afford to lose any labour. So here she was, working dawn to dusk every single day of the year, and with no respite in sight. She slammed a large saucepan onto the stove top, threw a knob of butter into it, and while it melted she cracked two dozen eggs into a bowl and beat them furiously with a fork. The stove had not yet heated enough to melt the butter, so she took the time to cross the yard and unlock the slave shed, although she did not ring the bell.
On Small Acres and most other farms Sunday was a special day. Instead of being fed in the shed, the slaves would come to the kitchen for their breakfast, which unlike every other day of the week would not be porridge. Christie tried to ring the changes by stirring various jams into the porridge, but it was inevitably boring having it six days per week, so Sunday breakfast was always a treat.
Returning to the kitchen, she put some rashers of bacon on the grill above the flames. Before the rashers had started to sizzle and curl the first the first two slaves wandered into the kitchen, the usual ever-hungry suspects. Christie scooped some of the beaten eggs into the saucepan and added a few slices of bread to the grill, and then grabbed the kettle and set it to fill under the tap. ‘Will one of you get some plates out?’ she asked, and then quickly stirred the eggs to stop them sticking and burning.
There was only seating for eight at the kitchen table, so allowing the women to stroll over for breakfast when it suited them was convenient for Christie. She did not take much notice of who was at the table at any time, and if anyone ate two breakfasts she did not care. For the next two hours she cooked and served scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast, pressing whoever was in the kitchen to brew and pour tea. The tea and butter were luxuries, and only given to the slaves on Sundays. Eggs were more commonly eaten, and the farm usually had plenty of bread.
The last two slaves to arrive for breakfast were Norma and Brook, who walked into the kitchen hand-in-hand. Christie raised her eyebrows but said nothing as she cracked and scrambled another six eggs. When those two had gone she cooked the last of the scrambled eggs, spread those over two slices of toast, and put the food on a tray with a mug of tea. She climbed the stairs wearily and gave Hawkins his usual Sunday breakfast in bed, and then she sat on the window ledge and sipped her own tea as he ate.
‘I thought I could smell bacon,’ Hawkins said.
‘You could,’ Christie replied. ‘Sorry, it’s all gone.’
‘So the slaves get priority over me?’ Hawkins asked. ‘Little do those HR abolitionists know what a good life we give them.’
‘We agreed we should try to give them a one good day a week,’ Christie replied softly. ‘They get a lot of tough ones.’
‘What’s up love?’ Hawkins asked. ‘You sound a bit down.’
‘I’m just tired.’ Christie said.
‘That’s because you don’t eat,’ Hawkins said, folding a whole slice of toast into his mouth.
‘I eat enough.’ Christie replied, then turned her head as movement in the yard below caught her eye. ‘Oh no, we’ve got company. It’s Craigbrae’s finest, our fearless militia leader, tamer of wild places, protector of the guilty, and slayer of the innocent.’
Hawkins swallowed hard to force a wad of semi-chewed toast down his throat. ‘Roger Wheatley is a good man,’ he said, ‘Make him a cuppa, will you, and I’ll get dressed now.’
Christie put her own mug on the tray. ‘Please, please, please Jack, don’t ask him to stay for lunch. If I hear him talking again about the runaways he’s tracked and killed, and the ears he’s cut off, I shall ram a fork down his throat. Sideways.’ She lifted the tray and flounced out.
8: One of the Bad Girls
When Hawkins got down to the kitchen he found Wheatley sitting at the table with a mug of tea in front of him. Behind him, Christie was leaning with her back against the sink and her arms folded in front of her; the silence between the two of them was palpable.
‘Good to see you, Roger,’ Hawkins said heartily, stretching a hand out. ‘To what to do we owe the pleasure?’
Wheatley’s long face made the fanged semblance of a smile as he shook Hawkins’ hand. A young professional deer stalker before the end, Wheatley had since become a legend for his determined endurance in the pursuit of runaway slaves and marauders. With his loping cross-country stride, and sleeping but a few hours per night, he had never failed to catch up with a quarry, and when they were within range of his beloved Remington 700 rifle they could only offer their surrender. But Wheatley was not famous for bringing back prisoners, only for the small canvas bag in which he carried their severed ears as proof of his kills.
‘The pleasure is all mine,’ Wheatley said, as he made the effort to break Hawkins’ fingers, ‘But I need to get straight to the point of my visit. I’ve a patrol overdue, it’s probably nothing, but we have to take appropriate measures.’ His voice was surprisingly high, almost feminine, and completely at odds with the rugged appearance he cultivated.
Hawkins pulled up a chair and sat opposite Wheatley. ‘What are the circumstances with the patrol?’ he asked.
Wheatley put his mug down and wiped his yellowing whiskers with the back of a big hand. His protuberant blue eyes, which always seemed to be staring, fixed on Hawkins’ face. ‘It was an eight-man squad led by Archie Clooney,’ he said. ‘I sent them out sixteen days ago. They were well-armed, including a gimpy, but a bit short on rations because they were carrying tents. They were supposed to cross the hills on the northwest route, and then go four days west looking for camps, settlements, basically any signs of undesirables over there. We need to know who’s skulking around, isn’t that right Jack? There haven’t been any hot contacts these last ten years, but still we send the patrols out, just to be safe.
furthest point west they were to head southeast to a
re-supply point in
the hills, where we had arranged for Bobby Ferguson
to meet and resupply them
at noon on Friday. After that the plan was for them
to do another dog-leg, this
time to the southwest. So
‘So right now the patrol is less than forty-eight hours overdue.’ Hawkins said. ‘It could just be that one of the boys has broken a leg, and they have to carry him. Will Bobby go back to the rendezvous?’
‘Yes,’ Wheatley nodded vigorously, ‘I sent the runner back asking him to go again today and tomorrow. I take your point about them being delayed by an injured man, that was my first thought, but I’m getting uneasy, I think it’s more serious than that. If the patrol isn’t seen by tomorrow, it can only be because they’re dead, Jack. Eight dead would hit the town hard, but we have to be unsentimental and plan how we will react. By late tomorrow we’ll have a picket line of volunteer militia just this side of the hills, centred on Ferguson’s base camp, and there’ll be a guard on all the bridges between the town and there. I’ve sent the rest of the regular militia, eighteen men, out to follow what should have been Archie’s route west.’
It was clear to Hawkins that the militia commander was revelling in this apparent emergency. ‘Roger,’ he asked, ‘what does the militia need from me? I appreciate you briefing me, but I don’t think you really came here to do that, and my legs aren’t up to chasing around the hills any more.’
finished, Wheatley leaned back in his chair.
‘Briefing you was most certainly
my intention, Jack,
you’re an important man and an old
friend. Now the details. We’ve had two standing
patrols close-in to the south
and north, and this morning I’ve been to recall the
southern one, I’ve sent
them straight to
Hawkins lowered his head briefly. He needed all his labour force all of the time, and taking a cart of supplies west of Craigbrae would probably mean a two-day return trip. Wheatley, he was sure, was talking up any potential danger to justify his own position and the funds the town used to maintain a standing militia. Yet he did not want to appear unwilling to help, for there was some slim chance that there was a band of marauders to be dealt with. He sighed and lifted his head. ‘Very well Roger. If it’s really and absolutely necessary I’ll take my share of the load, but not more than one trip per fortnight, because I’ve got a farm to run.’
‘I knew I could count on you, Jack.’ Wheatley got to his feet, and hoisted his pack from under the table. ‘One more thing, I want you to make it very clear to your slaves that assisting fugitives or hostiles in any way incurs severe penalties. Similarly, if any of them thinks it’s a good idea to run away while the militia is busy, then they need to know that I personally will come after them, and that there is zero chance they will escape.’
‘They all know that, Roger,’ Hawkins was solemn. ‘You don’t have to worry about my girls.’
‘And this sullen one,’ Wheatley jerked his thumb at Christie, ‘who thinks she can tell a militia commander to leave his rifle outside the house, should be flogged.’
Hawkins did not smile as he replied. ‘She’s my fiancée, Roger, and she doesn’t like loaded guns in the house.’
Wheatley was through the doorway now, and reaching for his rifle leaning against the wall. ‘She should still be flogged,’ he said, and slung the weapon over his shoulder. ‘Goodbye now, Jack, it’s been good to see you.’
‘Goodbye Roger.’ Hawkins said, without offering his hand. He stepped outside to watch Wheatley walk along the front of the house and then turn at the corner. Back in the kitchen he found Christie still leaning against the sink, still with her arms folded in front of her, her face was white and red blotches of fury burned on her cheeks. Hawkins quickly kissed her forehead. ‘Thanks for saying nothing,’ he said.
‘Why don’t you get your rifle and kill him?’ She demanded. ‘He treated me as shit right in front of your eyes. Perhaps you’ll lend me your gun and I’ll do it.’
Hawkins tried to make a joke of it. ‘No, you’d only miss, but he wouldn’t miss when he returned fire. Come on, let’s go upstairs and see which way he’s heading.’
From the window of Christie’s room they saw Wheatley walk between the grain stores and then wade through the stream beyond. ‘Oh good,’ Christie remarked, ‘he’s got wet feet now. What time’s my flogging then? Surely you’re going to do as that good man says?’ She continued to watch Wheatley, who was now ascending the slope up towards their grain fields, his powerful stride unimpeded by the gradient. ‘Base camps and picket lines my arse, what a pile of crap. He’s playing soldiers, and he won’t be happy until some poor harmless sods are dead.’
Hawkins sat heavily on the bed. ‘Look Christie, you won the battle, you made him leave his rifle outside. Now forget it, will you? The man’s an attack dog, but he’s our attack dog, he’s on our side.’
Christie turned away from the window and towards Hawkins. ‘If he’s our finest, then we have got to be on the wrong side. What if those phantoms he’s fighting are the good guys? What if we’re the evil-doers, with our whipping posts and our slaves?’
Hawkins thought for a moment before replying. ‘Christie, if you can look me in the eye and tell me you don’t enjoy working slaves in the field, and you don’t love driving slaves in harness, then I might think you have a point. Otherwise, I’ll carry on thinking that if Roger Wheatley and I are two of the bad guys, you are definitely one of the bad girls.’
Christie stared at him for a moment, and then looked down at her hands as if to visualise the blood on them. ‘I’ve got to start thinking about lunch,’ she said.
9: Spinney Lecht
Hawkins drove to Spinney Lecht, a nearby farm, in his buggy, pulled by Norma, Mavis, and Beryl, his three strongest slaves. The buggy had been built in Craigbrae to his specification, and was very similar to those used by council officials, having two wheels four feet in diameter, their wire spokes supporting eight-inch rims clad with solid rubber tyres. For stability the wheels were set five feet apart, and the seat offered ample room for two. With the right livestock to pull it a buggy of this sort was a distance-eater, but Small Acres farm had no such highly-trained creatures. Their slaves could pull the buggy at a slow walking pace or a fast walking place, no more than that, for none of them had been trained or conditioned to trot, and to force them would invite disastrous injury.
A mile from Small Acres in the direction of Craigbrae, he swung the buggy off the main road and onto the track leading to Spinney Lecht. There was a steep gradient for the first hundred yards of the track, and the ground was so broken and rutted that the buggy slowed almost to a stop as the slaves picked their way along. Then there was an almost flat stretch of two hundred yards before the track terminated in the yard of Spinney Lecht, where he found Christie waiting for him.
After un-harnessing the buggy slaves, Christie took their party clothes from the back of the buggy, and led them to a shed that had been provided as a crude changing room. All three of them stripped and washed themselves as Christie watched. Mavis and Beryl then paid careful attention to their hair, which Norma had no need to do.
‘Will we have to pull the master back to Small Acres tonight?’ Mavis asked anxiously.
Christie shook her head. ‘No. He’ll be staying here tonight, and so will you.’
‘I bet we’ll be sleeping on straw in a barn,’ Norma grumbled.
‘No you won’t,’ Christie replied. ‘Molly’s put up some beds for you, so you can stop complaining. OK then, are we all ready? Let’s go and show everyone how Small Acres ladies can dance.’
Spinney Lecht was owned by David and Molly Steading, a couple in their early fifties. With their daughter Karen and eight slaves they grew winter feed for the dairy and beef herds that were being re-established in the area, and were also significant providers of dairy products. Molly was one of the very few farm people who were prepared to speak openly against slavery, while Karen was an active campaigner against it. David was an easy-going man who tolerated his family’s views, and had a standing challenge to Molly to find a way to run the business without slaves. He was also as kind as any farmer could afford to be, and never gave a punishment without Molly’s grudging consent. Karen abhorred the whip, and would absent herself from the farm when it was to be used, for she could not bear to hear the screams.
The party was being held for the release of a Spinney Lecht slave, Margot, who had served six years for her part in a burglary gang. It had become customary for farms to stage such celebrations on a slave’s release, and only the most mean-spirited resisted them. The slave would receive gifts from her owner, from her fellow slaves on the farm, and from guests at the party. Invariably there would be a céilidh band, and drink would flow freely. The atmosphere would be highly informal, making an ideal opportunity for the single men of the area to meet eligible women. It was entirely common for a slave to meet her future husband at such events, and former farm slaves were regarded as being very desirable wives.
Hawkins always discretely watched the attention paid to his slaves, sometimes with amusement, sometimes with a pang of jealousy. Often a young man would ask his consent to court a slave, but he would do everything in his power to prevent romance leading to pregnancy. A slave becoming pregnant was far from unknown, but it was a trial for all concerned. The slave would be given a twelve-month break from her service, and then the baby would have to be fostered while she completed her sentence with the twelve months added on. Every slave knew the anguish of separation a pregnancy would lead to, and would try to avoid such a disaster, but at social events such as release parties it was very easy for nature to take its course.
Above the big lawn behind the rambling Spinney Lecht farmhouse lanterns were suspended from wires and glowing weakly in the fading light, while beneath them dancers whirled to the band’s lively music; at this early and sober stage of the evening they were all female. Hawkins and Christie drifted around the tables bordering the lawn, stopping here and there to sit and have a drink with friends. At one table they were surprised to see the sheriff, who did not usually attend release parties on the grounds that they rewarded crime. He was sitting with a small fair-haired woman, and rose to invite the Small Acres couple to join them.
‘Jack, Christie, I’d like you to meet Ellen Marshall.’ The sheriff’s face was already glowing with the effects of drink, and his forehead had a sheen of perspiration.
Ellen stood for the usual round of hand-shaking, and immediately initiated a conversation. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you two, and I’m looking forward to visiting Small Acres.’
‘How will you get to us?’ Christie asked with an innocent face.
Ellen smiled slowly. ‘I’m sure you know I have the use of a buggy.’
‘You mean a buggy pulled by slaves?’ asked Christie, ‘slaves who wouldn’t move an inch if they weren’t driven with a whip?’
‘Yes,’ Ellen agreed, ‘that sort of buggy.’
‘It’s just that we’ve heard you are rather against slavery, so I just can’t imagine you driving people like that.’ Christie’s face was hardening, much to Hawkins’ dismay. He saw no point in making an enemy of a woman who had considerable influence on their livelihood.
‘I’m sure I don’t drive them hard, or cruelly.’ Ellen appeared to be still totally at ease, and handling Christie’s attack with cool confidence. ‘If you want to hear me say the words, then yes, I use the whip when it’s needed. And whatever you’ve heard, I am not automatically against slavery. I am opposed to senseless brutality, however, and as I know you’ve been flogged I’m sure you will agree with that.’
Hawkins was now wishing for the ground to swallow him, as Christie flushed angrily and responded. ‘That’s right, Ellen, Jack whipped me for running away, and it was the right thing to do. If you were our slave and you ran away, it would be my pleasure to put some stripes on your back.’
‘I notice you use the word pleasure in the context of corporal punishment.’ Ellen moved her chair back from the table so she could cock one leg over the other, revealing a lot of shapely thigh and a brief glimpse of silk panties. ‘And I wonder how much of the suffering inflicted on slaves is precisely because their masters and mistresses do take pleasure in it.’
‘Rubbish. People like you just don’t grasp that farmers know exactly how to run their businesses.’ Christie made an effort to be calm. ‘Jack’s taught me how to handle slaves, and I can assure you there’s no element of pleasure in punishment decisions, it’s all about keeping control. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve promised to help Molly in the kitchen. It was lovely to meet you.’
Ellen had her glass to her lips, and she looked across the top of it as she replied. ‘It was lovely to meet you too, Christie, and I’m sure I’ll see you again very soon.’
Boone leaned forward in a confidential manner as Christie vanished in the direction of the house. ‘I never know whether to be embarrassed or entertained when two ladies are going at it,’ he said. ‘Are you treating Christie right, Jack? She seems ready to explode.’
‘Christie’s fine.’ Jack was defensive. ‘Everyone on a farm is under pressure just now because of the political situation. We’ve got no new labour coming along, and we’re under attack for the way we use the labour we’ve got. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.’
‘Nobody’s attacking you personally.’ Ellen regarded him solemnly. ‘I hear you’re one of the best farmers, and I’m sure that’s what I’ll find when I visit you. And you shouldn’t worry about a labour shortage, Jack, because there are things in the pipeline.’
‘I keep hearing there are things happening,’ Jack complained, ‘it would be nice if someone told me what the plans are.’
‘Fair enough.’ Boone shifted in his seat. ‘There’s no reason I can’t take you into my confidence. As a matter of fact, I’m only here today to progress our plans, I’m on a mission.’
Ellen had stood up. ‘I’ll leave you men to discuss all that, while I circulate a little. Jack, I’m expect we’ll speak again before the evening is over.’
Boone watched as Ellen walked away. ‘How would you like a shot at that little piece, Jack? Not like tumbling some sweaty slave in a barn, eh? I bet her muff’s as tight as a velvet mousetrap.’’
‘I’m quite happy with Christie,’ Hawkins, who was uncomfortable with smutty talk, replied stiffly. ‘Let me hear what the plan is.’
‘Yes, OK. What is being mooted is the total abolition of our slave system.’ Boone looked slyly at Hawkins, and when no eruption ensued he continued. ‘I won’t be giving slavery sentences after that, just fines and maybe whippings as criminal punishments. Go on, Jack, ask me the obvious question.’
Hawkins obliged. ‘So under your plan, where will farm labour come from?’
‘On the understanding this is confidential for now, I’ll explain.’ Boone paused as a maid stopped at the table to refill their glasses. ‘But it’s not my plan, it’s Ellen’s. You see, Jack, our slave welfare officer has a surprising past.’
going to tell me she was a pole dancer in
‘No, Jack. She was something we don’t have here. Yet. Can you guess what that is?’
‘Will you just get on with it?’ Irritation gave an edge to Hawkins’ voice.
a slave dealer, Jack. Can you imagine that?
Apparently, she worked with her
father, buying them in North Africa and selling them
‘The slaves she was trading in, do I assume they were black?’ Hawkins queried.
‘That’s interesting,’ Hawkins conceded, ‘but I can see a few objections. Surely HR won’t accept the replacement of one set of slaves by another? In fact, life slavery would have them shouting louder than ever, wouldn’t it?’
‘I take your point, but I really think that whereas the hard-core HR people would still make an issue, the bulk of their support would vanish.’ Boone spoke very earnestly. ‘At the moment, slavery is a threat to almost everyone. But if it was something that happened to foreigners, not to nice local people, then a lot of folk would find it more acceptable, it’s obvious. Once people don’t have to worry that someone in their own family will fall into slavery, things will look different.’
As Hawkins chewed his lower lip doubtfully, Boone continued. ‘And if we can spread the ownership of slaves, which we could do with sufficient numbers, we’ll change the whole culture of the area and get more and more people on side. A servant in every home will be our objective, for who’s going to campaign for abolition when they’ve got domestics waiting on them hand and foot?’
‘If you’re right in what you say,’ Hawkins mused, ‘that could leave HR as a small fringe of cranks. We hope. Still, there are loads of other issues with life slavery. There would be some babies, would they be slaves? And what would happen when slaves got old and useless? It also occurs to me that a life slave has got to be an expensive purchase, and I can’t see where farmers like me would get the capital.’
‘Of course there would be issues to face.’ Boone’s complacent face suggested no real concern. ‘I would suggest that babies should stay with their mothers until fourteen or so, and then be free. Something like that, it might depend on how much labour we needed. And we’re humane people, so I’m sure we could come up with a scheme for the care of elderly slaves. The money angle is something the mayor and I have looked at, we’ll be proposing that the town provides zero-interest finance on slaves for essential purposes such as farming. Questions answered?’
‘Yes.’ Hawkins nodded thoughtfully. ‘It would be nice to have some continuity with slaves, it really would. In the present situation it takes a year of training before they’re any real use, and then I don’t have them for long.’
‘Exactly.’ Boone beamed. ‘It will be good for you, and even good for the slaves. Here they’ll have the benefit of welfare regulation, so everyone’s a winner.’
Hawkins was beginning to feel optimistic. ‘When does it all start, John? And who else knows about it?’
with the when.’ Boone drank lustily from his glass.
‘One of Ellen’s
contacts was at the market yesterday, and he told
her there’s a shipment for
‘So you’ve not spoken to any other farmers?’
‘No.’ Boone replied. ‘I wanted to sound out a few people this evening, and you’re the first. With enough support we’ll be able to push this through very soon, I’m calling a meeting between farmers and the council on Tuesday. Maybe you’ll speak to some of the guys you know?’
‘I’ll certainly do that.’ Hawkins raised his glass. ‘To the future, then, onwards and upwards.’
10: An Unexpected Kiss
While Boone was confiding in Hawkins, Ellen made her way to the farmhouse kitchen. She found Christie there, not helping with anything, but in earnest conversation with Molly Steading. As Ellen entered, the two women fell silent, giving the clear impression that she had been the topic of conversation.
Christie looked at Ellen without expression, but Molly took the bull by the horns in her usual direct fashion. ‘You two girls have got off to a bad start by the sound of things,’ she said with the ghost of a smile. ‘So I’m going to leave you together to get sensible, OK?’ She picked up a tray of fried chicken wings from a table. ‘I have my hostess duties to attend to, but I’ll see both of you later. No hair-pulling or biting, remember, it’s just not civilised.’ And with that she pushed the door open with her shoulder and was gone.
‘I suppose you think me a fool for what I said out there.’ Christie folded her arms across her chest and waited for Ellen to give a smart reply.
Half-smiling, Ellen clasped her hands behind her back. ‘No, Christie. I think you’re a very interesting person, and that’s why I’ve come to find you. We could be friends, we should be friends. Are you willing to make that happen?’
‘Why not?’ Christie affected a careless toss of her head. ‘I suppose so.’
A smile blossomed on Ellen’s face, and Christie suddenly realised how attractive she was. Blue-eyed and with perfect teeth, her face complimented her petit figure. It was easy to see how she would have charmed the mayor into giving her the slave welfare job, probably in preference to better qualified but unattractive candidates.
‘Come on then,’ Ellen held out her arms. ‘Let’s hug on it.’
Christie knew she was being commanded and controlled, but a silly grin spread over her face as she stepped across the kitchen and into Ellen’s arms. They performed the ritual of each briefly brushing the other’s cheeks with her lips while making kissing noises, and then separated, except that Christie was unexpectedly aware of Ellen holding both her hands.
‘I said you were an interesting person.’ The smile was gone from Ellen’s face, replaced by a look of intensity. She released Christie’s hands, and put her own behind the taller woman’s head. All Christie could see was the face turned up towards her, closer and closer until their parted lips met and Ellen’s tongue was in her mouth.
Christie began positioning herself to take things further, but feeling the movement, Ellen broke away. ‘Not here, Christie, not now,’ she said seriously. ‘The time will come for us to taste each other properly.’ Then she smiled again at Christie’s dazed expression. ‘Snap out of it, will you? You look like I just finger-fucked you.’ She put two fingers to her lips, kissed them, and pressed to them to Christie’s cheek. ‘Bye for now,’ she said, and left the kitchen.
Shocked and delighted, excited and confused, Christie could not return to the party immediately. Instead she left the house by the front door and wandered around the darkening yard, replaying her few minutes with Ellen over and over in her head. She did not regret the encounter, on the contrary, and her lack of enthusiasm for marriage to Jack Hawkins was turning into serious doubt.
As night fell the yard became a grey place in which the murky shapes of carts and buggies were hard to distinguish. From the far side, away from the house, a light shone, and Christie was drawn towards it in a moth-like fashion, curious to know who was at Spinney Lecht but not at the party. From many visits to this farm, she already knew that there were two small barns used as slave quarters. The Small Acres buggy team Hawkins had used were to be housed in one of them for the night, although she did not know which one. Scattered around the area in the haphazard manner that was usual on farms were a number of smaller buildings, and it was from the open doorway of one of those that the light emanated.
Christie looked through the doorway to see a group of six women sat on a coarse wooden floor. A hurricane lamp hung from a hook in the ceiling, casting its yellow glow over them. All of them had blankets wrapped around their upper bodies, and all wore the distinctive short red skirts of town council property. Their muscular legs told a story of long hours in training, and the hardened soles of their feet spoke of road work. Each had her hair cut in the same simple way, pulled back into a ponytail held by a red ribbon. They were conversing in low tones, but fell silent when Christie entered, and turned their heads towards her with their eyes widening.
‘It’s OK,’ Christie said, ‘I’m Christie from Small Acres farm, and you don’t have to worry about me. You’re town council slaves, aren’t you?’
For a few seconds there was silence, and Christie was seized with the absurd and gruesome notion that the slaves’ tongues might have been cut out, but then the woman sitting furthest from her spoke. ‘Yes, Miss, we’re Miss Ellen’s buggy team. I’m Holly, the harness leader.’
Holly, Christie guessed, was in her early thirties, and spoke with a Glaswegian accent. Her face was plain, and marred by several missing teeth, as was common among slaves.
Christie switched on a friendly smile. ‘Oh, you don’t have to call me Miss. I’m just the same as you, really, and I’ve been in harness. How do you like working for Ellen?’
There was another pause before Holly replied. ‘Look, when you’re chained to a buggy, and somebody with a whip is deciding where you go, how fast you go, when you can stop for a piss, and if you get anything to eat – you don’t love that somebody. But Miss Ellen is an OK boss, she treats us fair.’
‘So why aren’t you at the party?’ Christie asked brightly.
Holly replied without expression. ‘Miss Ellen is returning to town tonight, and she wants us fresh.’ She held up her left wrist, which was fastened to a chain. ‘Besides, it’s hard to dance like this.’ She shook the chain, and Christie saw the other end of it was locked to another slave’s ankle. ‘We’re chained together,’ Holly unnecessarily explained.
Christie was angry. ‘That’s bloody awful. Leave it to me, I’ll soon get you out of here,’ she exclaimed.
‘Please, Christie, don’t say anything, the boss would not be happy.’ Holly looked very anxious. ‘I’ve got six months left to serve, and I just want to get through them without any trouble.’
Christie clenched her fists at her side as her mind whirled with the contradictions that were Ellen Marshall. ‘Very well then,’ she said, ‘I’ll say nothing and do nothing that might harm you.’ No further words suggested themselves, and she turned away, through the doorway and out into the yard again. After standing for a moment to gather her thoughts, she strode towards the sounds of the party.
Darkness and alcohol had worked their magic on the revellers when Christie again arrived on the rear lawn of Spinney Lecht. The dancing couples were almost all mixed-sex now, and moving with their bodies pressed closely together and their hands moving in urgent exploration.
Christie saw Hawkins was loading a plate at a table of food, in company with a group of farming buddies. The sheriff was still sitting at the same table as before, but now with a young woman on his lap, and both were laughing uproariously. All three members of the Steading family were with a large and noisy group that had evidently pushed three tables together to accommodate their gathering; from where Christie was it looked as if they were all talking and gesturing at once. She recognised three of the Small Acres slaves with the group, and was pleased to see them having a good time.
Her eyes could not find the one face she sought, the lovely face of Ellen Marshall.
A hand clutched her arm, and she whirled around to see Norma’s face. ‘You want to dance with me, Christie?’ asked Norma, slurring the words.
‘Another time, Norma,’ Christie replied, but the hand still gripped her arm, and Norma pressed in closer.
‘Frightened, Christie?’ Norma sneered, ‘I won’t hurt you in front of all these people.’ She pulled Christie sharply towards her, and then released her arm and stepped aside.
Christie found herself sprawling on the lawn. A hand reached down to help her up, and she angrily pushed it away before realising it was not Norma’s. Bob Ward, a local farmer, was looking down at her. ‘One too many, Christie?’ he asked jovially. She scrambled to her feet without replying, and walked to the farmhouse with as much dignity as she could muster.
In the kitchen she attempted to sponge the grass stains off her skirt and precious new blouse, but soon realised she was making matters worse and more obvious. Tears of rage and frustration welled in her eyes as she rinsed her hands, for she felt that she would look silly and weak if she complained to Hawkins about Norma, while Norma would be telling every slave in the area of her petty triumph. ‘Damn the fucking woman,’ she said out loud as she dried her hands, and threw the towel down.
‘I hope that doesn’t mean me.’ Ellen’s voice came from the doorway, and Christie turned around quickly, fighting to regain her composure.
‘Where did you spring from?’ Christie asked. ‘I was looking for you outside.’
‘I’ve been having a cosy chat with a few local people in the living room.’ Ellen strolled across the stone floor of the kitchen and gazed at the marks on Christie’s clothes. ‘What happened to you? Have I missed a fight?’
‘Not a fight,’ Christie said, ‘I slipped on the lawn.’
Ellen’s eyebrows rose. ‘So you slipped on the lawn, and then came in here to curse about a woman? Methinks the slip and the mystery lady could be connected.’
Christie scowled, but then smiled sheepishly. ‘All right,’ she said, ‘it was a slave I’ve been having trouble with. She pushed me over.’
‘So you’ve learned at least two things, haven’t you?’ Ellen dropped into a chair. ‘Never try to fool me, and don’t socialise with slaves, especially troublesome ones.’
‘I am really baffled by you.’ Christie had also taken a seat. ‘You’re supposed to be Miss-kindness-to-slaves, and then you say it’s wrong to bring them to a party. Farmers are worried about you giving their slaves early release, and yet I just saw your buggy slaves chained in a shed. So what exactly are you?’
‘First of all,’ Ellen said, ‘I asked David Steading to rest my buggy team somewhere, but I didn’t ask him to chain them. That’s OK though, because probably he doesn’t want one of them to go walkabout from his property, and it won’t hurt them. I wanted them rested because I don’t think it’s a really good idea for slaves to be over-familiar with those who govern them. It may work some of the time, even for most of the time, but it reduces the distance I see as essential for discipline. Yet I do believe in kindness, and I detest deliberate cruelty, there’s really no contradiction.’
Christie leaned forward. ‘So how, in your thinking, should I react to being pushed over by a slave?’
Ellen smiled. ‘You contributed by putting yourself in a position where that could happen. By bringing her to an event where you knew she could drink, and then thinking you could rub shoulders with her in a social setting, you were inviting some unpleasantness to occur. Now the unpleasantness has happened, the easiest but weakest thing you can do is let her get away with it.’
‘Go on.’ Christie said.
‘You should have her shackled, right now, Christie, to recover your position. You’ll have to consult with Jack about how to punish her. Rest assured your Slave Welfare Officer will back you.’
‘She was whipped only yesterday,’ Christie whispered, ‘I don’t know how tough we can be with her.’
Solemn-faced, and rising to her feet, Ellen repeated her words. ‘Rest assured your Slave Welfare Officer will back you. I must go and show my face around the party now, Christie, speak to a few people.’
The two women embraced quickly and exchanged chaste cheek kisses, and then Ellen left the kitchen. Wishing for a stiff drink to bolster her courage, Christie looked around the kitchen for a bottle, but there was none. Looking down at her ruined blouse provided her with enough motivation, however, and she walked quickly from the kitchen and out onto the lawn.
The Steadings were still with the same group of people around the cluster of tables, but David looked up when Christie approached, and responded to her urgent gesture by coming to meet her. ‘What’s up, Christie?’ he asked, looking at the grass stains.
‘One of my girls is pissed and getting out of hand.’ Christie tried to sound resolute. ‘I need to get her locked up, if that’s OK with you.’
‘Sure thing.’ David nodded. ‘You know the two barns we use as quarters? To the left of them is a brick building I’ve sometimes used as a jail, take her there and I’ll meet you with some ironmongery.’
‘Thanks David.’ Christie patted his arm, and then set off to find Norma.
A complete circuit of the lawn failed to reveal the difficult slave, and Christie was obliged to make enquiries of other Small Acres women. She was pointed to an area of shrubbery in the darkness beyond the lawn, and after finding a lantern in the farmhouse she came upon Norma performing oral sex for a boy in his teens. The boy pulled up his trousers in a panic, but Norma remained knelt on the ground, and screwed up her eyes against the lantern’s glare. ‘Christie? What the fuck do you want?’
‘Get up, Norma.’ Christie barked, and turned to the boy. ‘Piss off now, and I won’t report you for raping a slave.’
‘Will I get my money back?’ The boy asked, but then clearly thought discretion was the better part of valour. He turned and ran.
Norma stood up close to Christie. ‘We’re supposed to get some freedom at parties and anyone except a total shit like you would have given me privacy.’
‘Privacy for prostitution?’ Christie was pleased to have caught Norma in such a compromised position, she felt it gave her an extra edge.
‘I need to make money for my release,’ Norma retorted, ‘The boss always gave me a few coins when I sucked him off, and he’s paying you big-time, isn’t he?’
‘You have so totally fucked up,’ Christie barked, ‘and I am going to give you hell for it. Follow me, now.’
Back onto and across the lawn Christie marched, with Norma stamping along angrily behind her. In the darkness of the yard Christie half-expected to feel strong hands seize her neck in a fatal grip, and was relieved to see Steading silhouetted in the doorway of the brick building. He stepped aside as the two women passed inside, and then followed them in. Swiftly and with a practiced ease, he put a collar around Norma’s neck and locked it to a chain, the other end of which was attached to a ring set in the wall.
‘What’s happening here?’ Norma glared at Christie. ‘Does my master know?’
‘Just shut up.’ Christie snapped. ‘In the morning you’ll be taken back to Small Acres and punished for assault, it won’t be something you forget in a hurry.’
Norma sneered, and turned to Steading. ‘Can I have a blanket?’ she asked.
‘No,’ Steading replied, ‘you can think warm thoughts. And if I hear a sound from you during the night I’ll make you very sorry. Understood?’
Slumping down against the wall, Norma nodded. She looked up at Christie. ‘This only shows I’m stronger than you,’ she said. ‘And if I’m whipped again that will just be another score for me to settle. I’m not afraid.’
Leaving Norma in darkness behind a bolted door, Christie and Steading returned to the lawn. Along the way, Steading gave his opinion that Norma was too dangerous to be kept on a farm. ‘Let the sheriff deal with her,’ he advised. ‘He can extend her sentence, and transfer her to council use. Chained on a road gang, she’ll do no harm.’
‘No.’ Christie spoke firmly. ‘We can’t afford to lose a slave, so I’ll break her or die trying. But thanks for your help, David, you’re a pal.’
They joined Hawkins, who was now at a table with the sheriff and Ellen Marshall. Christie told Hawkins what had happened, and he agreed to back her in whatever punishment of Norma she decided on. Neither mentioned the cat.
‘I’ll put her in the jail in the morning,’ Hawkins said, and the subject was dropped.
For the next hours conversation buzzed around the table as wine and brandy were poured down throats. A number of other people joined them, each with their own contribution to the general banter, but all eyes were on the person who effortlessly held the stage. Ellen had a fund of stories about her travels in various parts of the world, and was tremendously entertaining as she illustrated them by mimicking accents and gestures. The men at the table were clearly fascinated, while Christie was mesmerised, and slid willingly into a hopeless crush on the woman.
Shortly after midnight Christie looked at her watch, and at the wild mêlée on the dance area, before reluctantly rising from her chair.
‘I’ll have to take the girls home soon, Jack,’ she said, ‘half of them are totally wrecked, and they’ll be out of it if they stay any longer. Take it easy in the morning with the buggy slaves, will you? I need them tomorrow in the top field. I’ve asked Molly to get them harnessed for you, and I’ve told her not to feed them. You have breakfast here if you feel up to it, or I can make you some when you get home.’
She went around the table to say her farewells, shaking hands with some and embracing others. Ellen stood to kiss her cheek, and said she hoped Christie would come to town with Hawkins for the meeting on Tuesday. ‘We can have lunch while the men are talking crap,’ she said, with a look on her face that suggested more.
‘I’d love that, it’s a date,’ Christie replied enthusiastically.
Hawkins got up to exchange a quick goodbye kiss with Christie before she went to thank their hosts.
Molly Steading took Christie’s impending departure as the signal to close the party. After silencing the band, she stood on a table to make a brief speech thanking everyone for coming, offering Margot best wishes for the future, and ending with the customary toast to them all meeting again in happier times. There followed a tearfully emotional mass rendition of Flower Of Scotland to the accompaniment of a lone piper, before the lawn emptied and the bulk of the crowd took to the dark road for their homeward journeys.
11: Mind Games
Ellen and Boone each took their farewells of Hawkins, and he found himself sitting alone, one of the few guests who were to stay the night at Spinney Lecht. He reflected on the crowd song that still seemed to hang in the air, and wondered how a battle fought more than seven hundred years earlier could echo across an ocean of time with such poignancy. An arm reached over his shoulder from behind and placed a pewter box on the table. ‘Smokes,’ a voice said, and Karen Steading rounded the table to sit opposite him. ‘Do you mind if I sit with you, Jack?’ she asked as she flipped the lid of the box open. ‘Mum rolls these with special ingredients she grows. Try one, and I’ll test my theory on you.’
‘Of course you’re welcome to sit with me,’ Hawkins reached for a cigarette. ‘Especially as you come bearing gifts. What’s your theory?’
Karen also took a cigarette, and then produced an envelope of matches from a pocket on the front of her smock. She lit for both of them, shook the match out, and her small pointed face, made even smaller by her large wire-framed spectacles, gazed at Hawkins.
‘Jack,’ she said, ‘do you ever wake up in the morning and think that everything’s a bit odd, unreal? Like perhaps you’re a lab rat, being observed by boffins in white coats?’
Hawkins thought the cigarette tasted foul, and he suspected the tobacco content was very low. ‘Now that’s an amazing question, Karen,’ he replied. ‘I won’t think I’m a lab rat until I start growing a tail. What do you mean by odd?’
‘All sorts of things are odd.’ Karen said. ‘Everything’s odd.’ She took quick, nervous-seeming puffs at her cigarette. ‘These smokes are great, aren’t they? I shouldn’t, mind you, because I’ll be coughing in the morning. What I mean Jack, is how odd is it that in all the years since the end, this area has made no progress whatsoever?’
‘What?’ Hawkins could not accept that. ‘We’ve made huge progress, we’ve come from starvation and chaos, man kill man and dog eat dog, to a stable community with democratic structures. We’re a people on the rise, Karen.’
‘No Jack, I really think we’re a people stuck at a medieval level and nobody wants to progress.’ Karen’s eyebrows were raised slightly as she gazed intently at Hawkins. ‘For instance, why is there no telephone system? OK, we can’t get the digital exchanges and the cellular networks going, but for a basic phone you don’t need much more than a battery and some wire, but nobody’s done it. Why not? And why hasn’t somebody got a radio working, then we’d know if there are still stations on the air somewhere? After all, humanity still has all the knowledge it ever had, however hard some may want to forget it.’
Molly arrived at the table, topped up Hawkins’ glass, and sat next to her daughter. Hawkins knew he was semi-drunk, and could feel plant alkaloids starting to work on his brain, but was not displeased by the sensation. ‘I’m sure you understate the technical difficulties, Karen.’ He said. ‘Probably making a phone is more complicated than you think. And you say about getting a radio going, but everybody’s batteries died years ago.’
Karen took her spectacles off to rub her eyes, and as she replaced them she half-smiled at Hawkins. ‘Are you patronising me? A long enough wire will deliver enough radio signal to power a pair of headphones, and their must be thousands of those still around. Wind a coil, make a crude diode – you don’t want to hear this, do you?’
‘I’m sure you’re a very clever girl,’ Hawkins replied. ‘And when those things are possible they’ll be done.’
‘The point I’m making is that they’re possible now.’ Karen laughed harshly. ‘Everybody’s cars were useless when the fuel ran out, right? And for years all the streets in town had them parked and going rusty. They’re all gone now, and I suppose they used slaves to haul them away. Every one of those cars was filled with useful resources, but what I want you to think about is that they all had powerful high-capacity batteries, and lots of motors, including the big one that started the engine. Are you with me, Jack?’
Harness nodded slowly. ‘You’re about to suggest electric vehicles, and I’m going to say that batteries need charging, they need an electricity supply.’
‘Where does the power for your mill come from?’ Karen leaned across the table, a sharp-eyed raptor closing in on her prey.
‘You know I have a water-wheel,’ Hawkins said testily, ‘but slowly turning mill machinery is a world away from spinning generators that we haven’t got.’
‘But there’s a generator in every one of those cars.’ Karen leaned back, and her face became very calm. ‘Each was specifically designed to charge a car battery, and you could easily gear up your water-wheel to spin it. Given that the area has several fast-flowing rivers, it wouldn’t take a mechanical genius to run enough generators to power a fleet of electric vehicles.’
‘So what do you want me say?’ Hawkins replied. ‘I’m a farmer, not a mechanic or technician, there must be a reason the things you suggest can’t be done.’
Karen took a drag on her cigarette that made the tip glow fiercely, but then coughed sharply, expelling the smoke and waving a hand in front of her face to clear the air. ‘Suppose I say that you are the reason? You and all the other men who run things now?’
‘But I don’t run anything, except my farm,’ Hawkins protested.
‘Yes you do,’ Karen said. ‘You and the other farmers are the power elite. The sheriff and mayor wouldn’t scratch their arses without getting your approval, that’s a fact. And you like things just the way they are.’
‘Rubbish,’ Hawkins retorted. ‘You’ve no basis for saying that.’
‘Don’t I?’ Karen took another searing lungful of smoke, and let it spill from her mouth as she pressed on with her argument. ‘Let me ask you a question. If you had to choose between having a car and tractor again, and keeping your shed full of slaves, then not for one second do I believe you’d give up the whips and shackles. Am I right?’
Hawkins was very edgy as he replied. ‘You’re going too far, Karen, too far.’
‘And you can’t punish me for it?’ Karen giggled. ‘You’ve become a slave-owning class, and throughout history such classes have been opposed to change. And as all your slaves are women, each of you has been able to act out his sexual fantasies. You ride in buggies and carts hauled by women slaves, and which of you would want to replace them with a whining electric motor? None of you would, that’s the truth of it. Not you, not my dad, none of you.’
Hawkins emptied his glass. ‘Being in a farming family, you must know how slave labour is used to produce food. It’s only us who have saved Craigbrae from starvation, but you give us no credit.’
‘It’s not a question of credit for the food you produce.’ Karen looked at him crossly. ‘It’s a question of asking if you would ever willingly swap the driving whip for a steering wheel, and we know you wouldn’t. That’s my theory of why there is no progress, because you men have all the power and you don’t want change.’
‘So where do the boffins in white coats come into your theory?’
Karen smiled a secret smile. ‘Because your fantasy world ought to be unsustainable. It’s so full of ridiculous notions that it should have collapsed. Unless, of course, it’s all some vast experiment in social engineering, run by scientists who observe our weird behaviour. Those guys, the puppet masters, would not want to see any technical progress, so that’s why simple things like phones and electrical power are not being reintroduced. ’ She stood up. ‘And now I shall take to my cold lonely bed. Goodnight, Mister Hawkins, goodnight Mum.’
Molly was Hawkins’ sole remaining companion. She moved into the seat Karen had vacated, so she was facing him. Giving him the benefit of a weary smile, she dipped her hand into the pewter box. ‘At least she’s left the smokes,’ she said, and lit two at once in her mouth, before passing one across to Hawkins.
‘Well Molly,’ Hawkins said. ‘Your daughter has some strong opinions and some strange ideas. Puppet masters indeed, what do you think of all that?’
‘Women do have brains, Jack,’ said Molly, while pouring a liberal measure of brandy into his glass, ‘And I think that Karen makes a good point about men not wanting change because they like things as they are.’ She tilted her head back and blew a stream of smoke into the air. ‘And I could put forward a theory on the basis of that.’
‘Go on then,’ Hawkins said. ‘I’m pissed and stoned, and I’ll listen to anything.’
‘OK then,’ Molly said, ‘You need to accept the basic truth of what Karen said, which is that being a slave master is a fix for a craving you have.’
‘I admit that I find it satisfying,’ Hawkins replied, ‘no more than that.’
‘Oh come on, Jack.’ Molly looked at him scornfully. ‘Will you not admit to getting sexual stimulation from controlling women?’
Hawkins shook his head and took a swallow of his drink, the move allowing him to hide his face behind his hand.
‘I’m quite sure I’m right about this, Jack, and that this whole situation we have is something you yearned for before it happened.’ Molly paused, but Hawkins remained silent, so she continued. ‘Is it really plausible that your ideal world could actually come to exist? Is it? All of a sudden something called The End happens, and then you’re living in a bondage theme park? Isn’t it more likely that the whole thing is constructed in your head, and that you’ve retreated into a fantasy of your own creation?’
‘I wouldn’t construct a fantasy with you in it to sit there and torment me.’ Hawkins objected.
Molly laughed, sounding uncannily like her daughter. ‘Of course you would, Jack, you’d want a free woman to challenge you, so you can find a way to tie me up and beat me. Or maybe you want me to overthrow and beat you, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that you need some such bondage scenario so you can achieve and maintain an erection. Tell me Jack, when did you last have sex with a woman you didn’t own?’
‘I don’t own Christie.’ Hawkins heard himself say, as he was suddenly aware of a distant echoing roar in his ears, and acute difficulty in focusing his eyes.
‘Yes you do, Jack.’ Molly came right back at him. ‘Until Thursday she is legally your property as an indentured servant. Whatever promises you have made to her, and whatever agreements you have between you, you could send her to your post and have yourself some sport with the whip, now couldn’t you? If she resisted you would have the full force of the law behind you. Such a detailed fantasy, Jack, and every part of it working in your favour. In real life, as opposed to the dream world of a sexual psychopath, there would be limits to your power, there would be all manner of obstacles.’
‘This is real life.’ Hawkins said. ‘And there are all manner of obstacles. But how can you prove your case that my world is my fantasy?’
‘Now you are asking fundamental questions about the nature of reality.’ Molly tilted her head back, and blew a perfect smoke ring. ‘These are good smokes, Jack, but not good enough to open the doors of perception. I cannot prove to you that all you perceive as your personal history since the end is in reality just a few seconds of a wet dream, and that shortly you will wake up with a slimy mess on the sheets. I merely offer the notion, and I don’t believe you can prove it wrong.’
She flicked her cigarette away and stood up. With her face suddenly solemn she leaned over the table towards him. ‘Let me tell you something, Jack Hawkins. Things are never as certain as we want to think. All our realities may crack suddenly, Jackie boy, so you watch out for another end.’
Hawkins felt a chill as Molly moved away across the lawn, her form appearing to dissolve in the gloom, but with her tinkling laughter still audible when she had vanished.
12: Secret Partner
When she had been appointed to the slave welfare role Ellen Marshall had been a welcome load for the council’s buggy slaves, simply because she was much lighter than the sheriff or mayor. Another point in Ellen’s favour was that she took the time to speak to each slave as an individual, to enquire about their future plans and promise them assistance with resettlement after release. She always harnessed them herself, making sure straps were properly fitted, invariably had six in harness to reduce the load on each, and she had never made unreasonable demands or used the driving whip spitefully.
Always she had Holly as her single lead slave, with two women on the second bar and three on the third. With this classic arrow-head formation in front of her Ellen was able to cover distance, sometimes more than twenty miles in a day, moving at average speeds far in excess of what a farm cart could achieve. She used her soft and comforting voice as her main instrument of control, speaking her orders to Holly.
‘Step lively now, Holly,’ she would say, or ‘ease up now, Holly.’
And Holly would respond to command, only rarely needing a touch of the whip to keep her pulling hard when every muscle in her body was screaming for rest. Like all the team, Holly appreciated Ellen’s driving style, for they had all too often suffered under the clumsier hands of those who would constantly lash them however hard they worked. But tonight, after leaving Spinney Lecht, Ellen was unusually impatient. Again and again the driving whip licked hungrily across helpless shoulders as she drove the team at a furious pace along the road back to Craigbrae. The moon had set, and the team ran into the pool of yellow light thrown by the buggy’s lamps, passing though clouds of midges and having moths strike their faces. Twice they caught up with teams that had set off before them, and Ellen eased off slightly to pull out and overtake at the trot, before again ordering Holly to stretch her stride.
Less than ten minutes after leaving Spinney Lecht the buggy was coming to the outskirts of Craigbrae, but instead of continuing on to the militia barracks, Ellen steered the team into the lane leading to the traveller’s camp. ‘Easy, Holly, careful,’ she called, for the surface here was unmade and very rough, with great ankle-breaking potential.
As Ellen knew, only one traveller remained on the camp ground. Paul Leroy had sold cigarettes, French brandy, and Spanish-made gold jewellery at the market, and had shown a good profit even after loading the Dame de la Forêt with local goods, mostly food for his harness slaves. He had been expecting Ellen’s visit, and as the lights of her buggy emerged from the entrance lane onto the field he stood by his camp fire and watched her approach.
Ellen stopped the buggy about fifty yards from Leroy’s fire and tent, for she did not want her harness team listening to her conversation. Leroy walked forward to meet her, and they embraced quickly in greeting. Then, and without a trace of embarrassment, Leroy inspected the team, lifting skirts and squeezing breasts, while the objects of his examination stared woodenly ahead.
‘These are superb animals,’ Leroy commented in French, ‘quite excellent.’
‘Come on,’ Leroy said. ‘I have coffee in my tent.’
a few seconds to throw blankets from the buggy over
her slaves’ shoulders,
and then followed Leroy to the same old tent she had
seen, and sometimes
shared, in snowstorms east of the
‘So,’ Leroy asked as Ellen sipped her bitter coffee, ‘how are you getting on with your new friends?’
‘Very well, very well indeed.’ Ellen ignored the fact that Leroy was blatantly looking up her skirt. ‘They’re so keen to get some new meat that I’ve had to promise the first batch this year, in August or September. It was that or risk them going cool on the idea.’
‘There is a problem with that, little beauty,’ Leroy said, ‘I can’t deliver many this year.’
‘Really? Have prices gone up too much?’ Ellen stared him.
‘No, prices are still flat.’ Leroy replied. ‘But for these people of yours, and especially with the first delivery, I need to provide quality stock to get them hooked on the supply, and that means paying top prices.’
‘We always knew that,’ Ellen pointed out, ‘so why is it suddenly a problem?’
‘Because it’s moved along so fast.’ Leroy put his coffee down and lit a thin cheroot. ‘To make a delivery here in August, we can only afford to buy another ten or maybe fifteen slaves. The return we’ll get on those will mean the following delivery will also be small, and so it will go. We need more capital, tiny one, because we need to be moving fifty plus to make good margins. Would one of your friends here care to become an investor?’
‘No. This is going to be a gold mine, and I’m not sharing it.’ Ellen frowned. ‘Paul, this is not good. I suppose you’ll just have to leave it to me to come up with something.’
‘You usually solve problems by fucking someone,’ Leroy leered. ‘How little those men know about you. Is that your plan this time?’
‘And you usually solve problems by murdering someone,’ Ellen snapped. ‘Like I said, Paul, just leave it to me.’ She thought for a moment. ‘Let me see the stock list.’
ledger Leroy produced showed that Marshall
‘What have we got at Abbeville?’ She asked. ‘Does that twenty-two include all the Hungarians we bought?’
Leroy nodded. ‘Most of them, I’m using two on the cart. There’s a couple of blacks I bought from Dupré, but all the rest are ones you’ve seen. They’re all good stock, and well-hardened now, it’s just a shame we don’t have more. It all comes down to money.’
‘So,’ Ellen rubbed her forehead thoughtfully. ‘We have those twenty-two on hand and the money for about a dozen more, so we can say about thirty five. But we need to ship fifty - is there a good source of supply?’
Paul nodded. ‘Of course. The big ugly bitches the farmers here like to work are not so popular at home, you know that. Even so, nobody’s giving them away. But if we can come up with the money, the stock will be available.’
Leroy’s words when he had inspected Ellen’s buggy team came back into her head. Ces animaux sont superbes. An idea was forming and hardening in her mind. It would mean a radical and immediate change to her plans, but her father had taught her that missed opportunities tended never to return.
She reached her decision. ‘Paul,’ she said, ‘I’m going now. Will you be leaving in the morning?’
‘My beasts have been asleep all day,’ Leroy replied. ‘I meant to get them in harness and move on after seeing you. Do you want me to stay until morning?’
‘No. Definitely not.’ The details of her plan were taking shape in Ellen’s mind. ‘Do you remember the wood where you camped on your way here in the spring? The place near the burned-out village?’
‘Be there Tuesday evening, and wait until dark.’ Ellen was smiling. ‘Be sure you’re ready to move by then, this could be a tricky operation.’
‘Tricky? Does that mean someone will be shooting at me?’ Leroy had been in too many tight situations to relish the prospect.
‘No, I just mean you won’t be able to hang around for trouble.’ Ellen was already pushing the tent flap aside to make her exit. ‘Just be there, Paul, and with the cart ready to roll.’
Leroy did not escort her back to the buggy. She quickly took the blankets from the slaves’ shoulders and the hobble from Holly’s legs, and resumed her place on the driving seat. Taking the whip in her hand, she released the brake. ‘Walk on, Holly,’ she commanded.
Holly was tired, all of the buggy slaves were. They had been roused from their bunks at the militia barracks at sunrise on Sunday, and used to take Ellen on a number of social visits before the party at Spinney Lecht. Even now, with Monday’s dawn not very far away, they had no idea of when they would eat and sleep. Their mistress had demonstrated that she was in no mood to tolerate less than maximum effort, and for the unforgivable crime of voicing any objection she could have them flogged in the cobbled courtyard of the barracks.
As Ellen took the buggy in a wide circle back towards the entrance of the site, its lamps cast a glow under the canvas shelters where the trader’s cart slaves were chained. Holly could see them, and smell them. At that moment she felt glad of being a Craigbrae slave, with a release date to look forward to, and the prospect of a joyful reunion with her husband and children. She could hardly imagine the horror of being a slave for life, to be worked and whipped and traded until the sweet release of death. It was with great relief for Holly that Ellen walked the team into Craigbrae and turned them into the militia barracks. When she was taken out of harness she staggered dizzily, and was helped into the slave quarters by the duty housekeeper. ‘It’s just exhaustion,’ she heard Ellen say; ‘I’ve had to work them hard today.’
The slaves were each given a mug of soup, but Holly was able to drink very little before throwing it up. They then had sixty seconds in the communal shower, hot water being a precious commodity, after which they were inspected by the housekeeper and had cuts attended to. As was her custom, Ellen came to see them before they settled down for the night, and she brought two bottles of wine with her. Holly assumed, correctly, that the wine had been filched from the party.
‘I want to thank you all for a brilliant day’s work,’ Ellen said. ‘I’ve got my job to do, and you’ve got yours, so I won’t apologise for driving you hard. But to show I appreciate you, I’m giving you a rest day tomorrow, and I’ll give you vouchers for lunch in town. Enjoy the wine, and have a good day tomorrow.’
She stood at the end of the room, and held her arms out. Each of the slaves received a hug in a ritual that Ellen had established immediately on her arrival in Craigbrae. They all had reason to resent or even hate her, but each was at least partially disarmed by being embraced in that manner, and by hearing soft words whispered in their ears.
‘God bless you, Bruna.’
‘Kelly, sweetie, you’re a gem.’
Ellen knew every name, and knew also that it cost her nothing to appear close and caring, even affectionate. After leaving the slaves, she went up to her own quarters. She had been allotted a three-room flat that had previously been occupied by Roger Wheatley, until he had moved out to share a house with his sister. A cold meal had been left for her, but she took one look at it and threw it away. The council had refused her request for a maid, and although the housekeepers provided basic services such as washing and ironing her clothes, she had to perform for herself all the tasks she had previously had a servant to do. She ran a bath while laying out her clothes for the next day, and after soaking briefly in the lukewarm water she covered herself with a thick towelling dressing gown and stepped out onto the narrow iron balcony outside the living room, a glass of brandy in her hand.
Alone and unobserved, and with her makeup washed off, her face relaxed into its natural state. Any of her Craigbrae acquaintances who saw her now would think she looked slightly older than when she appeared among them, with harder eyes and thinner lips. Her wet hair looked darker, and although she was still undeniably lovely, without its usual frame of golden locks her face lost much of the magic she used to such powerful effect. Looking to the east, where the sky was already lightening as the short northern summer night drew to a close, she could visualise the Dame de la Forêt on its coast-bound journey. It would be several miles from Craigbrae now, she knew, and felt a pang of longing for her old life on the road. Close at hand, and to the west, lay the dark sleeping mass of Craigbrae, where just a few lights showed from windows.
A cool breeze was picking up, and she retreated to the living room.
The sheriff had given her his draft proposal for the meeting on Tuesday, when the changes to Craigbrae’s slavery laws would be put forward. She worked on that for an hour before going to bed, toning down Boone’s emphasis on the economic advantages, and stressing the community benefits that would arise from no longer having citizens taken into slavery. As was unknown to all but Leroy and herself, she had a very strong financial interest in the proposal being passed. Apart from that consideration she cared nothing for the meeting, for she no longer had any intention of being there, her secret mission in Craigbrae was completed.
Hawkins awoke at Spinney Lecht shortly after eight in the morning, far later than his usual hour. He had not slept well, having been strangely troubled by Karen Steading’s suggestion that his whole world was controlled by secret overlords, and by her mother’s alternative idea that his reality was but a fantasy in his own mind. As he looked around at the tiny attic room he had slept in he could not remember where he was for a few moments, and left the bed with his heart pounding.
Going downstairs with some difficulty, his knee being very stiff, he found the house deserted, with only a simmering pan of porridge on the stove to signify that anyone had remembered his presence. Realising that the other overnight guests must have left, and that the family would be about the farm’s business, he took the porridge pan off the stove, but could not face eating any. Out in the yard he was pleased to find his buggy waiting with his slaves standing silently in harness. Moments later, those three strong backs and six muscular legs were hauling him back to Small Acres. The short journey refreshed his self-confidence, and he pulled into his own farmyard with the feeling that his reality was beyond question.
Christie was not in the house, and the slave shed was empty, so he knew she must be working the slaves somewhere on the farm. He remembered her saying something about the top field, and also suddenly remembered Norma’s transgression of the previous evening. He drove the buggy into a barn, sent Mavis and Beryl to the slave shed, and ordered Norma to the jail, following her to the small building in order to lock her in. When she reached the jail Norma turned to face her master. ‘Please Boss, you do it. Do it now,’ she said, and began to undress.
‘Keep your clothes on, Norma,’ Hawkins said curtly. ‘I decide when you’re whipped.’
For the first time ever, Norma directly disobeyed him. She threw her top clothes onto the ground, and looked him directly in the eye. ‘You’re my master, so if I’m to be whipped, you should do it. I’ve been a good slave for you, you owe me that.’
‘I owe you nothing.’ Hawkins opened the jail door, and Norma reluctantly stepped inside. He locked the door, and Norma’s face appeared at the bars. ‘I can take any punishment for you, Boss,’ she said, and she smiled. ‘I just wish you were man enough to do it yourself.’
Trembling with anger, Hawkins went to the house. He sat at the kitchen table, and wished Christie was around to talk things over with. The cat from Millie Spencer was on the table, still in its red bag. He took it out and shook the tails loose, knowing Christie would demand that Norma be flogged with the thing, and decided that he would agree, although the words of the Steading women came back to him. He was now planning to scourge the skin off a woman’s back, to tear at her flesh with knotted cords. Was he a sexual psychopath, as had been suggested? Was he using a trivial incident at the party to justify acting out a particularly brutal fantasy flogging? He preferred to think he was a responsible master who had to deal firmly with a refractory slave, but was racked by self-doubt. An immense tiredness came over him, although he had been awake for less than an hour. He stuffed the cat back into its bag, threw it in a cupboard, and went up to bed.
Sleep was again a disturbed affair, and a few times he half woke, drifting between dreams and reality with no clear distinction between the two. When he roused himself at about midday and came downstairs he found Christie in the kitchen, she was poring over their slave ledger and noting some figures on a piece of paper. She looked up at him, her forehead wrinkled.
‘I’ve been looking at release dates,’ she said, ‘and even without Ellen paroling slaves, by this time next year we won’t have enough labour to keep going. If we do have to release some early, then we’ll be in trouble this year.’
Hawkins shrugged. ‘The sheriff assures me there’ll be a reliable supply from Ellen’s contacts. We’ll have to trust him, Christie.’
‘It’s all slipping away from you and the rest of the old gang isn’t it?’ Christie had put her pencil down, and was flicking at her fringe, as she often did when worried. ‘The Mayor, the Sheriff, the farmers, you were calling all the shots for years, making up the rules. But now Ellen Marshall rules the roost, doesn’t she? She’s pulling all the strings.’
Pulling a chair away from the table, and slumping down into it, Hawkins placed his hands under his chin. ‘Slipping away is right, I don’t know what’s really happening anymore, I only worry it’s all beyond my control. Have you got any smokes?’
‘No I haven’t. Smoking shit at a party is one thing, but if you make it a regular thing you’ll really screw your head up.’ Christie abruptly banged a hand on the table. ‘Come on Jack, get a grip, will you? You get up halfway through the day, and you’ve not asked me what’s happening on the farm, where the girls are.’
‘Alright then,’ Hawkins raised his hands in surrender. ‘What’s happening? Where are the girls?’
‘That’s better.’ Christie smiled. ‘I’ve got them all, including the two you left in the shed for no good reason, hoeing the top oat field. They’re battling the bindweed, with Bibiana as gang boss.’
‘Bibiana?’ Hawkins snorted. ‘She’ll be useless, they’ll run rings round her. You’ve wasted them today, I’m sorry but you have. Well, I’ll have to go up there and sort things out.’
Christie still smiled. ‘No I haven’t wasted them, Jack. We agreed that we needed to elevate one of the slaves, and Bibiana is a natural for that. If you’ve any sense you’ll stay here and let her find her feet, which I am confident she will do.’
‘Is she carrying a whip?’ Hawkins asked.
‘Of course not.’ Christie frowned. ‘She’s carrying your authority, she’ll be fine.’
‘You want her to come back and say she’s had trouble with Norma, don’t you?’ Hawkins’ face was thunder. ‘You want to force my hand on dealing with Norma, and you’re prepared for the farm to lose a day’s work so you can triumph over a slave. Fuck it all, Christie, we’re going to have to work together better than this if our marriage is going to be a success.’
Christie’s smile had vanished, replaced by a look of concern. ‘Jack, Norma is in the jail where you put her, surely you hadn’t forgotten that?
Hawkins’ stomach turned over as he realised that something so big had slipped his mind. He struggled to make a reply, but before he could speak there was a knock on the door, and it opened.
The young slave Shirley appeared in the doorway. ‘Excuse me, Miss, Master. There’s been an accident with the food you gave us for our lunch, so I’ve come here for more.’
‘An accident with the food?’ Christie’s face contorted with anger. ‘That’s ridiculous, what can have happened to it?’
‘I don’t know Miss,’ Shirley replied calmly, ‘but Bibiana said most of it was spoiled, and she sent me here for more.’
‘Very well then,’ Christie spoke crossly. ‘There’s some bread sliced, and I can wrap some ham and cheese. But Bibiana had better have a bloody good story when I see her, or there’s going to be trouble.’ She tried to ignore the smirk on Hawkins’ face.
Hawkins studied the girl. She had been on Small Acres for almost a year, and had been almost invisible. Only once had she drawn attention to herself, by throwing a tantrum over being sent to work in the wood yard. She had been punished for that, and had become invisible again. ‘Tell me your secret, Shirley,’ he said.
She looked startled. ‘What secret, Master? I haven’t got a secret.’
‘Of course you have, Shirley,’ he said. ‘You’re always so calm and happy, and there must be a secret to that.’
‘Oh, I can tell you that secret, Master.’ Shirley looked relaxed again. ‘No matter what happens to me, however bad things get, I always know that nothing can really harm me.’ She hesitated, her eyes flicking from Hawkins to Christie and back again, and she continued. ‘Whips can’t really hurt me, and even fire can’t really burn me.’ A sly smile flickered over her lips, crinkled her eyes, and was gone in flash. ‘Because I’m not a real person.’
Hawkins was shocked to his core. His mind raced to anticipate the explanation of Shirley’s announcement. She was some kind of automaton sent by the puppeteers, she was a hologram, she was a cluster of cancer cells in his brain, or she was the last hallucination of an oxygen-starved consciousness. Nothing was as he had thought, his whole existence was imploding.
Christie put the last of the food in the sack. ‘Oh no, Shirley?’ she said. ‘So if you’re not a real person, what are you?’
Shirley’s grin went more up one side of her face than the other, slightly but noticeably. It could have been an ugly thing on some people, but it gave her plain face an attractive mischievousness. ‘I’m just a character in a story someone made up, do you see, Miss? If I don’t really exist, I can’t be damaged or destroyed.’
‘That’s an interesting philosophy, Shirley, but a fatalistic one.’ Christie handed the bag of food to the girl. ‘It would mean your destiny is for someone else to write.’
As the door swung shut behind Shirley, Christie turned to Hawkins and laughed. ‘What a crazy character that girl is, I think she’s great.’
Hawkins was not amused. ‘She’s crazy alright, characters in a story indeed, how ridiculous. Do you think she was taking the piss out of us?’
‘No,’ Christie scoffed, ‘she’s nice crazy, not nasty crazy. I’m pissed off about food being wasted though, we just can’t afford to do that, and all the slaves must know it.’
Hawkins’ smirk returned. ‘Well, you wanted to put Bibiana in charge, didn’t you?’
‘I’m sure it’s not her fault,’ Christie replied archly, ‘but I think I’ll take a walk up there, just to see what’s happening.’
They glared at each other for a second, and then they both laughed. Christie made to leave the kitchen, but Hawkins called her back. ‘Stay and talk to me, love. I’m sure you’re right, and Bibiana will have everything under control.’
Christie put the kettle on, and over a cup of tea Hawkins told her of the theories put to him by the Steading women. ‘I know I’d been drinking, and smoking some kind of hooky cigarettes,’ he said, ‘but somehow they’ve really got to me, I just can’t get it out of my head that I’m not in a real world.’
‘Well I can’t prove you’re in a real world.’ Christie was unsympathetic. ‘But I know we’ve got a real aggressive bitch in the jail to deal with, so you might want to come out of your dope dreams and think about that. The time for pissing about is over, and I say we get some blood on the cat. Agreed?’
‘I suppose so,’ Hawkins said glumly, ‘although we’ll be breaking the law.’
‘Sod the law. Ellen said she’ll back us, and nobody else could give us any trouble.’ Christie gazed at Hawkins calmly. ‘What do you say to fifty licks?’
‘Fifty with the cat?’ Hawkins’ eyebrows rose. ‘Do you want to kill her?’
‘I’d rather she were dead than still causing trouble.’ Christie took a sip of her tea. ‘But no, I don’t want to kill her, and I don’t think fifty will do that.’
There was a short silence between them before Christie put her cup down hard, cracking it on the table. ‘Of course, I’m only an indentured servant, so I don’t suppose my views count.’
‘Take it easy, Christie,’ Hawkins said, ‘You know I respect your views. But it is my decision, and I need to think about it. OK?’
‘Fair enough,’ Christie said replied. ‘You’re the master, and it’s up to you how Norma is punished.’ She grinned. ‘You think about it, and then we’ll put her on the post. Come on now, let’s see if we can catch some rays.’
They took chairs from the kitchen out into the yard, and Christie mixed wine with her home-made lemonade to make long drinks. Sitting in broken sunshine, each mulled their own thoughts in silence until Christie spoke.
‘This is how things should be, Jack,’ she said. ‘You and I relaxing a little, with an overseer taking the load of running the farm. We deserve that, and I’ll need to be here when the babies come along, not in the fields.’
‘You’re right,’ Hawkins agreed. ‘We’ll have an overseer, and if we can possibly afford it I’ll get you a maid.’
‘Thanks Jack.’ Christie sipped at her drink. ‘Thanks for being so good to me.’
As the sun dropped below the hills to the west, the slaves returned from their work, in a line with Bibiana at the head. The Polish girl approached Hawkins and Christie as the slaves went to put their tools away. ‘Good afternoon, my master and mistress, the work is completed fine, and all the girls have worked well. May I ask how is Shirley?’
Christie’s brow furrowed. ‘Isn’t she with you? I sent her back with the food.’
Bibiana’s broad face wrinkled into a mask of puzzlement. ‘Food? She was ill, with stomach pains, so down to you I sent her, my mistress.’
‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’ Christie leapt to her feet. ‘She’s a runner, I’ll have the skin off your back for this, you stupid foreign bitch.’
‘You’ll do no such thing.’ Hawkins took charge. ‘Get Norma out of the jail and put together a buggy team with her as lead and four others. I’ll probably be gone all night, so make sure I’ve plenty of water for them.’ He held up a hand. ‘Just do it, Christie, don’t argue.’
When Christie pulled the buggy up outside the house she found Hawkins waiting with a chain and steel collar in one hand, and his shotgun in the other. She jumped down off the buggy and spoke to him anxiously. ‘Oh God, Jack, you’re not going to shoot her?’
‘I’ll do what I have to do,’ Hawkins replied stiffly. ‘If I find her, she can run, but I can’t. I’ll aim for her legs if I need to shoot.’
‘Shall I just wait here?’ Christie asked helplessly.
Hawkins grimaced. ‘There’s nothing else you can do, is there? I’ve locked the rest of the slaves in the shed, don’t feed or speak to them. Maybe one of them knows something about Shirley, and I want them to sweat over it before I question them.’
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘You’ve done enough today, we’ve got a runaway because of you.’ He climbed up onto the driving seat, and looked down at her coldly.
‘That’s not fair, Jack,’ Christie exclaimed. ‘You were there when Shirley came to the kitchen, and you believed her.’
Hawkins shook his head. ‘That’s not the point. You put Bibiana in charge of the slaves, and that was a costly mistake resulting in Shirley running off with a four-hour start. Stay in the house and don’t go to bed, I’ll deal with you on my return.’
Christie watched as Hawkins drove the buggy away, wondering fearfully if he was angry enough to punish her.
14: Mice In Straw
Hawkins’ thinking was that Shirley could only run east, rather than risk being seen in the environs of Craigbrae, and although he did not imagine she would be on the road he was sure she would be close to it. North or south of the road the country was very difficult to progress through on foot, only the narrow strip of land that bordered it seemed a likely avenue of escape.
When dawn broke, he was about seven miles east of Small Acres, and driving a team on the verge of collapse. He had rested and watered them frequently, but had forced them to cover far more distance than they were used to, and this had taken a toll of their endurance. Now they were plodding slowly along, and only Norma was still capable of responding to the driving whip, while the others could cry out, but there was no reserve of strength in them. During the rainy night he had explored most of the road’s turn-offs, thinking that Shirley might have taken shelter in one of the many derelict farms along the route. His hope now was not that he would be able to spot her in hiding, but that cold and tired if definitely not hungry, she would take the opportunity to give herself up and beg for mercy. There was a track off to the left, and he took it, with a vague memory of there being an abandoned sawmill at the end of it.
As the buggy crawled up the track it was watched by Hawkins’ quarry, and she was not alone. Militiaman Duncan Keefe lay beside Shirley on the fringe of a gorse clump, the barrel of his rifle moving slowly as his aim tracked Hawkins’ neck, where he intended to send a bullet to destroy the spine or airway.
him. ‘Take the shot,
‘Of course it hurts,’ he replied quietly, ‘that’s why they did it.’
The buggy was level with them now, the strained faces of the slaves clearly visible as they worked up the incline some two hundred yards away. Damp and chilly air carried the thin snapping sound of whipcord on skin, and then the buggy passed behind a screen of trees, out of the watchers’ sight.
On guard duty at the militia patrol’s overnight camp, it had been easy for Keefe to stage a brief fire fight with non-existent raiders, and just as easy for him to subsequently slip away from the patrol as it plunged eastwards in pursuit of phantoms. The whole escape plan had waited several months for an occasion when he was with a patrol far enough west of Craigbrae to create a militia-free vacuum in the east.
The two lovers kissed now, looked at each other with searching eyes, kissed again and pulled apart.
‘He’ll be back down soon,’ Shirley said in a more normal voice. ‘Will you shoot him then?’
‘No. Not unless he sees something,’ Keefe replied in a level tone.
‘Why not?’ Shirley was annoyed. ‘Did you see the state of those poor cows pulling him? He’s torturing them, shoot him for their sakes.’
‘If I kill him, someone else will torture them.’ Keefe eased up onto his elbow to face Shirley. ‘Look, at the moment we’re a deserter and a runaway. We’ll be big news around here for a little while and then soon forgotten. But murder of a farmer will not be forgotten, not ever. Wherever we go, it could catch up with us. And then? I’d be shot or hanged, Shirley, and things would be worse for you.’
whipped to hell anyway if I’m caught,’ Shirley said.
‘At least promise you’ll
shoot me rather then see me captured,
‘I do promise that.’ The words caught in Keefe’s throat, and he touched a finger softly to her lips. ‘Nobody’s ever going to hurt you again.’
up in Shirley’s eyes, and she fought them, biting
her hand and shaking
her head. ‘Oh my God,
‘Hush now,’ he replied. ‘I can hear the buggy coming back.’
They watched intently as Hawkins’ slaves negotiated the downward slope and drew their burden back to the main road. There were two sighs of relief as the buggy turned to the west, beginning its long homeward journey.
Keefe waited until the buggy was out of sight before he spoke. ‘He’s given up, that’s the last you’ll ever see of your beloved master.’
Shirley scrambled to her feet. ‘Come on now,’ she said, ‘let’s get out of these wet clothes.’
Their camouflaged bivouac tent, recently liberated from the militia, was located under trees only a few yards from the track Hawkins had passed along. They crawled into it and undressed quickly if awkwardly in the very confined space. Shirley wriggled out of her shorts as Keefe watched. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t shave for you,’ she said shyly. ‘The other girls would have realised something was up.’
Keefe gazed at her slit. ‘Something’s up now,’ he said, ‘and it’s all for you.’ He grinned as he as pressed against her. ‘So, did your master have you every night?’
She gave his head a mock slap. ‘No, you pig, there’s only been you, there only ever will be you.’ Tears filled her eyes again. ‘Jesus fucking God, Duncan, I love you so much.’
He slid into the moist warmth of her, gasping at the intensity of the sensation. She wrapped her legs around him, and just kept kissing him savagely until his liquid spurted and they shuddered together.
Throughout the day they were curled together, sleeping with the oblivious content of mice in straw.
Hawkins arrived back at Small Acres when the sun was well risen. Christie ran out of the house, where she had spent the night worrying, to take care of the buggy slaves.
‘No luck, Jack?’ She enquired, although the answer was obvious from the lack of a terrified girl on a chain behind the buggy.
He ignored her question. ‘Put this lot in a barn, and chain them. I’ll need a fresh team for the meeting in town later.’
‘Please, Boss, take me again,’ Norma asked. ‘I’ll be strong for you.’
‘Very well,’ Hawkins said. ‘Christie, I want the team ready at twelve, use Norma as lead slave. I’ll sleep until then.’ He entered the house without another word.
Feeling exhausted and very nervous, Christie was waiting outside the house with the buggy when Hawkins emerged at twelve sharp. ‘Jack,’ she asked. ‘Am I not to go with you? I told Ellen I’d see her for lunch today.’
Hawkins took his seat on the buggy before replying coldly. ‘No, I don’t think that would be appropriate.’ He cracked the whip and drove away.
A despondent Christie went into the kitchen, where she almost immediately fell asleep with her head on her crossed arms on the kitchen table. Some two hours after Hawkins’ departure, the door opened and she awoke with a start to see Ellen Marshall looking at her with a surprised expression.
‘Christie?’ Ellen’s surprised look vanished, and there was an edge of irritation in her voice. ‘I thought you’d be in town with Jack.’
‘So why are you here?’ Christie was bewildered. ‘Is it about our runaway?’
‘I know nothing about any runaway,’ Ellen snapped, ‘and don’t think you can interrogate me, Christie, I’m here to ask questions, not to answer them.’
‘I only asked a reasonable question,’ Christie protested, shocked at her new friend’s aggressive tone. ‘Sorry I spoke.’
‘Never mind, tell me about the runaway.’ Ellen sat at the table and placed a briefcase on it. She lifted its lid, and then closed it after retrieving a pack of cigarettes; her hands were shaking as she lit one.
Christie related the story of Shirley vanishing, including the ruse to obtain supplies, and of Hawkins’ failed pursuit.
Ellen laughed harshly. ‘She sounds like the sharpest lady in the area, I hope she gets away. This just has to tie in with Wheatley’s missing patrol, I should think.’
With a crack that made Christie jump, Ellen’s hand slapped down on her briefcase. ‘Now, Christie, I’m here to inspect and interview the Small Acres slaves, so I may as well start with you. Get undressed please.’
‘But I’m not a slave.’ Christie began to sense her world slipping away.
‘Christie, do not make the mistake of defying me.’ Ellen’s words were soft, but hypnotically commanding. ‘You may think yourself the high and mighty landowner’s lady, but as an indentured servant your legal status is no different to that of the other women here, and you come under my regulatory authority. If you disobey me you commit an offence.’ She flicked ash onto the floor. ‘I shall not repeat my order.’
All confidence drained from Christie. She had worked so hard to build a new life, but now this woman was treating her like a common field slave. Ellen, she did not doubt, could order her taken away and punished at the militia barracks, and there would be nothing Hawkins could do to prevent it. In hopeless resignation, she undressed and put her clothes on the table.
When Christie was stood naked in front of her, Ellen sat back in her chair and surveyed her. ‘You’re a well-made woman, and I can see why you were chosen as your master’s concubine.’
Christie’s face tightened with anger, but she did not dare reply.
Ellen stubbed her cigarette out and opened her briefcase. Taking a file from it, she looked up at Christie. ‘I have a few questions for you, and then I’ll be making a physical examination.’ She opened the file and began working through her list. ‘Have you ever had a pregnancy?’
‘Just once, when I was fifteen.’ Christie sighed, and her eyes were misty with tears. ‘I had an abortion.’
‘Do you have sexual relations with your master?’
Christie was moved to protest. ‘Ellen, you know I do, you’re just torturing me with these questions.’
Ellen’s quiet voice was an instrument of discipline. ‘I think we should put this on a more formal basis. You will address me as Miss, and you will answer my questions without insolence. Do you have sexual relations with your master?’
‘Is that with your consent?’
On and on went the questioning, and Christie was relieved when Ellen moved on to the physical examination, which was mercifully brief. With her morale totally destroyed, she was dumbly obedient when Ellen told her to get dressed and fetch the slaves from the shed, one at a time.
Christie was not present when any of the slaves was interviewed, but she noticed that none of them were with Ellen as long as she had been. When the last of them had been returned to the shed, Ellen appeared in the kitchen doorway and motioned Christie to join her.
Christie entered, and saw that the cat she had bought was now on the table. Clearly, Ellen had made a search of the cupboards.
‘What’s this, Christie?’ Ellen poked at the cat with one finger.
Ellen’s face pulled into an angry mask. ‘Don’t try to be clever, I can see it’s a cat. Why is it here?’
Hoping that her ordeal must be coming to an end, and that her tormentor would soon be gone, Christie gave a completely honest answer. When she fell silent, Ellen paced up and down the floor for a few moments, her heels clicking loudly. Then she opened her briefcase and glanced through some files, while a knot of tension tightened in Christie’s chest.
Abruptly, Ellen slammed the briefcase shut, and looked at Christie. ‘Well Christie, I’m just not happy with what I’ve found at here at Small Acres, not all happy. By your own admission, and supported by physical evidence, there is a conspiracy to beat a slave with an illegal instrument, and to conceal that act by making a false entry in your punishment book. For that alone, Jack Hawkins could lose his licence to hold slaves, and as his accomplice you could find yourself sold in the market next Saturday.
‘But there’s more. You’ve had slaves locked in your shed who have not been fed for twenty four hours. That is a clear breach of the standard conditions under which slaves are sold. And the slave Brooke has had lactation induced, which is a distasteful abuse and prohibited by the slave welfare code.’
‘I know nothing of that, Miss,’ said Christie, ‘but things happen between women in a slave shed, you could say it’s normal.’
‘We obviously have very different ideas of what is acceptable and normal.’ Ellen lifted her briefcase from the table and tucked it under one arm. ‘Fortunately, I have the authority to enforce proper standards of treatment for those entrusted to your care, and my duty is clear. I am immediately removing all slaves from this property. Please go and get them, while I prepare a chain.’
With that, Ellen left the kitchen, sweeping out imperiously and leaving a stunned Christie to gape open-mouthed after her.
When Christie brought the slaves out to Ellen’s buggy she found that a chain had been attached to its rear and was laid out on the ground. Quickly, and looking very practiced, Ellen fastened each slave’s right wrist to the chain. When all eight were secured, Christie saw that the chain terminated in a double shackle.
‘Hold your wrists out, Christie.’ Ellen smiled as Christie had seen her do in Molly Steading’s kitchen, with the same slightly amused glint in her eyes. The shackles snapped shut, and at that moment Christie knew everything.
‘That was nice and easy,’ Ellen said, still smiling. ‘Once a slave, always a slave, and what obedient property you are.’
Ellen walked quickly along the chain, checking that all was in order, and then climbed onto the buggy. She stood on it facing her chained captives and spoke to them. ‘Listen to me, all of you. Nothing has changed in your situations. You were slaves when I arrived here, and that is what you still are, but no longer the property of Jack Hawkins. Not for one second should you think I will tolerate any misbehaviour from you. If you are a drag on my buggy, I will hurt you. If you speak, I will gag you. If you become lame, I will shoot you. That’s all you need to know.’
She took her seat, released the brake, and took the driving whip in her hand. ‘Walk on, Holly,’ she commanded.
At the farm gate, the buggy did not turn towards Craigbrae. Christie was not surprised. Ellen took her buggy team and her chain of livestock eastwards, towards a rendezvous with Paul Leroy and a forced march to the coast.
When the six buggy slaves and nine Small Acres women had been loaded into the stinking hold of a trawler at Peterhead, Christie looked upwards as the hatches closed. She saw Ellen Marshall gazing down at her with a perfectly inscrutable face.
Part Two: Lost In
END OF SAMPLE
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