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Authors: Hugh Cave

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Conquering Kilmarni

BOOK: Conquering Kilmarni
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Hugh B. Cave



Published by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital

Copyright 2011 Hugh B. Cave estate

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ere it is, Peter," said Mr. Campbell, a little out of breath from the climb. "It's not the only tree that came down in yesterday's blow, but, as I said, it's got the field number on it."

Peter stood there, looking at the fallen tree. It was a silk oak at least forty feet long—some Jamaicans called them silky oaks—and had damaged a number of coffee bushes when it fell. But most of the coffee would recover, and the coffee cherries grew only on new wood, anyway.

According to the radio, the storm responsible for the tree's falling had been a hurricane. Born in the eastern Caribbean, it had screamed its way west across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and the island of Jamaica had seemed to be squarely in its path. Even now Peter could see his father standing in the old Great House living room, a look of despair on his tired face as he listened anxiously to each new bulletin.

Then, at the last moment, the storm had veered to the north, and except for high winds, the island had been spared.

He still remembered, though, his father's grim words on turning away from the radio at last. Obviously thinking of Mom and Mark, though both had been dead for more than three years now, Dad had said with a look of wildness in his eyes, "I thought—I thought I was going to lose the plantation, too, Peter. I couldn't believe the good Lord would hand me another such blow, but it seemed as if he was going to. . . ."

"What do you think, Peter?" the headman was saying.

Peter snapped out of his reverie. "What, Mr. Campbell?"

"That other silky oak over there. Wouldn't you say that's the best tree to put the new number on?"

By asking his advice, the headman was paying him a kind of compliment, Peter knew—probably because he, twelve-year-old Peter Devon, was the one who had persuaded his father to replace the old, rusty field numbers in the first place.

Since Mark's death, Peter had been attending a private boarding school in Florida and spending holidays and summer vacations here with Dad. He hated being in Florida when Dad was here, but Dad had insisted. This year, on coming for the summer, he had found that the plantation warehouse had been reroofed with aluminum and some sheets were left over.

"What I ought to do, Dad, is cut up a sheet or two and make some new aluminum numbers for the coffee fields. Those old zinc ones are rusting out around the nail holes."

"Good. You know, Peter, you're a big help. I'm glad school's over for a while and you can be here with me."

Dad's saying that had meant a lot because Mark had always been the one he looked to for help on the plantation. Five years older than Peter, Mark had been fourteen when he died.

Suddenly inspired, Peter had blurted out, "I wish I didn't have to go back to Florida, Dad. I'd rather stay here with you!"


"I could go to school at Knox again, like I did with Mark." Knox was a fine old Jamaican establishment that now, in 1989, was as good as any school anywhere. He and his brother had boarded during the week but had been able to spend weekends on the Kilmarnie plantation because Dad or Mr. Campbell would come for them. But when Mark died, Dad had thought it best for Peter to live with his grandmother Devon in Florida.

"Well, we'll see," Dad had replied after a silence long enough to make Peter feel hopeful. "I'll think about it, son...."

"You ready?" Mr. Campbell asked, again interrupting Peter's thoughts.

Peter slid the knapsack from his shoulder and took out the rest of the numbers. He and Mr. Campbell had already replaced the first fourteen. He found the ten-inch square of aluminum on which he had painted the number fifteen in black enamel. Then he and Mr. Campbell went around
the fallen tree, which would be removed later by workmen with machetes, and headed for the tree the headman had selected.

Suddenly the mountain silence was shattered by a loud report, and both of them stopped short. Mr. Campbell turned his head so fast that Peter thought his neck might snap. In his sixties, Winston Campbell usually was slow and deliberate in his movements.

"Peter, that sounded like a shot!"

The question, if it was one, was answered by the echoes. It had been a shot, all right, and from a gun not too far away. As the sound rebounded from the surrounding mountainsides, Mr. Campbell's long face took on a scowl.

"Now, who would be using a gun up here, Peter? Everyone knows your father doesn't allow shooting on the Kilmarnie property."

That was true. Walter Devon was a lover of wildlife, and there were No Hunting signs posted on all the coffee-field paths, or "tracks." In any case, guns were a danger to the men working in the fields and, in season, to the women who picked the ripe coffee cherries.

"Your dad won't like this," Mr. Campbell said. "Let's have a look." But after taking a couple of steps toward the nearest track, he glanced back. "Be careful, though. If someone is hunting wild pigs up here, he may shoot at the noise we make without waiting to see what's making it."

Almost as in answer, a second shot shattered the still
ness, and again the echoes played tag along the slopes. But this time the headman was not taken by surprise and raised an arm to point.

"Up there, Peter. In field seventeen, it sounded like."

After reaching the track, they went on it slowly with Mr. Campbell in the lead. There were no more shots. There were no sounds at all, except the hum of insects in the noon heat, as they passed field sixteen and reached the start of seventeen. Then—footsteps.

Toward them, around a bend, trotted a barefoot Jamaican boy about Peter's age. The knees were out of his ragged khaki pants, and his shirt was in shreds. In both dark hands he clutched a shotgun whose rusty barrel and homemade stock were held together with windings of wire. Skidding to a halt, he stood, wide-eyed with sudden fright.

Mr. Campbell stepped toward him. "Zackie Leonard! What are you doing here with that gun? You know hunting is not allowed on this property!"

Defiant in spite of his fright, the boy stood his ground. "Me nuh hunting birds, Mr. Campbell."

"What else could a boy like you be hunting?"

"Me did see a wild pig up here yesterday."

"And came after it with this thing?" The headman reached for the weapon, then continued to hold it while shifting his gaze back to the boy's face. "Zackie, I don't believe you."

Peter stared at the boy, too, trying to recall where he had seen him before. In Rainy Ridge, that was it. One day
he had walked into a village shop there and heard the Chinese shopkeeper, Mr. Lee, accusing Zackie Leonard of stealing. Racing out the door, the boy had almost knocked Peter over. Still, the face Peter gazed at now was a good one with bold, bright eyes and a look of—well, determination. Even if grime did cover it like a mask.

"Me don't have any better gun," Zackie said with a shrug.

Mr. Campbell made a snorting sound. "And did you find this marvelous pig?"

The bold brown eyes grew wary. "Me did see it, yes, and did shoot at it, but this old gun don't shoot true. The pig get away."

"Which is probably a very good thing," the headman said. "Don't you know a wounded pig is dangerous? I'm sure you've heard what they do to hunters' dogs sometimes."

Zackie nodded. "Is why me nuh bring Mongoose with me."

"Why you didn't bring who?"

"Mongoose. Me dog."

"Oh. Well, consider yourself lucky you missed. Especially with this worthless shotgun." Mr. Campbell handed the weapon back. "All right, Zackie. Get on home with you now, and don't bring a gun onto this property again, for any reason. You hear?"

"Yes, suh." Snatching the gun, the boy darted past him and raced on down the track.

Both Peter and the headman watched him until he disappeared.

"Do you know that boy, Peter?" Mr. Campbell asked then.

"Not really. I saw him in Mr. Lee's shop once. Mr. Lee called him 'a wild one' and said he was stealing."

"He has a right to be wild, I'd say. When he was very young, his mother handed him over to
mother and disappeared." Mr. Campbell shook his head and frowned. "Of course, that isn't unusual among country folk. It's a common thing for young women to leave their children with their mothers and go off to the city to look for work. But now Zackie's grandmother is dead, and he lives alone with a drunken, no-good father and has no friends because the village kids are afraid of his father's temper. Well"—the headman looked at his watch—"let's finish up these numbers, shall we?"

They returned to field fifteen, where the Jamaican boy's shotgun had interrupted them. With the new aluminum number shining brightly on its chosen tree there, they climbed to the next field and then, Peter in the lead, to the one in which Zackie Leonard had shot at and missed the wild pig.

A strange buzzing caught Peter's attention, and he stopped. The sound seemed to come from a thicket of the prickly fern Jamaicans called ferrel, a few yards off the track. It was made by a cloud of flies, he discovered when he pushed in to investigate. Hundreds of flies were swarming around layers of fern that had been carefully placed there to hide or protect something.

Protect something from what? The big black turkey buzzards called John Crows, most likely, because the John Crows could spot anything dead from high in the sky. And the object under the ferrel
dead, Peter saw when he pulled some of the ferns away. It resembled a powerful black dog with short legs, but it was no dog. It was a pig.

BOOK: Conquering Kilmarni
5.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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