Excerpt of The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke
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The Polished Hoe
"MY NAME IS MARY. People in this Village call me Mary-Mathilda. Or, Tilda, for short. To my mother I was Mary-girl. My names I am christen with are Mary Gertrude Mathilda, but I don't use Gertrude, because my maid has the same name. My surname that people 'bout-here uses, is either Paul, or Bellfeels, depending who you speak to. . . "
"Everybody in Flagstaff Village knows you as Miss Bellfeels, ma'am," the Constable says. "And they respects you."
"Nevertheless, Bellfeels is not the name I want attach to this Statement that I giving you. . . "
"I will write-down that, ma'am, as you tell it to me. But. .
"This Sunday evening," she says, interrupting him, "a little earlier, round seven o'clock, I walked outta here, taking the track through the valley; past the two stables converted into a cottage; past the sheep pens and the goat pens, and fowl coops; and through the grove of fruit trees until I came to the Front-Road, walking between two fields of canes. In total darkness. But I knew the way, like the back of my two hands. Now, where we are in this Great House is the extremity of the Plantation Houses, meaning the furtherest away from the Main House, with six other houses, intervening. These consist of the house the Book-keeper occupies; one for the Overseer, Mr. Lawrence Burkhart, who we call the Driver - that's the smallest house; one for the Assistant Manager, a Englishman, which is the third biggest after the Main House; and there is a lil hut for the watchman, Watchie; and then there is this Great House where we are. The Main House have three floors, to look over the entire estate of the Plantation, like a tower in a castle. To spy on everybody. Every-other house has two floors. Like this one. That would give you, in case you never been so close to this Plantation before, the lay of the land and of things; the division of work and of household."
"I sees this Plantation only from a distance, ma'am. I know it from a distance only," the Constable says.
"It was dark, and I couldn't see even my two hands outstretch in front of me. I took the way from here, right through the valley where the track cuts through it. I could make out the canes on both sides of me; and I could hear them shaking, as there was a steady wind the whole evening; the kind of wind that comes just before a heavy downpour of rain, like before a hurricane. They were 'arrows' shooting-out from the tops of canes. Crop-Season, as you well-know, is in full swing; and the Factory grinding canes, day and night. You could smell the crack-liquor, the fresh cane juice, strong-strong! What a sweet, but sickening smell cane juice is, when you smell it from near!
"Wilberforce, my son, who was home earlier, is my witness to the hour I left ...
"Have I told you about Wilberforce, yet? No? Pardon me. The memory is fading, Constable, the memory. The mind not sharp no more, and ... very often ... What was I telling you about?"
"You was talking about your son, Mr. Wilberforce, the doctor, ma am.
"Yes! Wilberforce! My first-born. He isn't really the first of my children I give birth to. He's the one outta the three who lived past childbirth.
"Wilberforce, always with his head always inside a book, I keep telling him that with all that book-learning retain in his bead, if he's not careful, he going burst his blasted brains!
"He, I gave birth to, in the year nineteen ... I told you that, didn't I?"
"You didn't tell me when Mr. Wilberforce born, ma'am."
"Nevertheless. Two more children I had. A boy and a girl. I gave them the names I intended to christen them with, if they had live. William Henry. Two names I took from a English magazine. And Rachelle Sarah Prudence, the girl. Lovely English names I named my two dead children with. One died eighteen months after the first one. The boy.
From The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.