Note from the Author:
'Phoebe', originally named 'Loving my Master' was first written as a short erotic story with a loose non-consent theme. It did well on Literotica with some thirty-four thousand views and a rating of over four out of five stars. This humbles me, and the comments I have received over the years by those who read the original piece, have really made me take a look at it and commit to writing more.
The comment that stood out most "Not another Mulatto love story.", accompanied by a high rating was a somewhat mixed bag. But I can agree with it, and hope to write a more fulfilling story. In an era when women had few political rights and generally couldn't hope to choose the direction of their lives, we have Phoebe, a woman of colour born into servitude. Her path will never be an easy one, strewn with rose petals, but walk it she must and to what I hope will be a worthy end.
I therefore (after a considerable re-working of the plot) start her on her way.
Before we start, forgive me if I make a few points of note. As with the original, this story contains graphically depicted scenes of a sexual nature, violence and contains racial themes, and is therefore unsuitable for minors or anyone who may be offended by such. And although I am a lover of history, I am not a historian; history must therefore bow before the story.
Phoebe Gordon was a slave. It was a sad and sorry truth for any human to bear, but it was nevertheless true. In their hearts every black slave in the Americas was free, whether they were captured in Africa or born into their bonds. Freedom was the natural state of mankind, and the slaves did not forget, at least until their spirits were crushed and they were broken into beasts of burden. She stood with many such now, crowded into livestock pens in a large barn that stank of its previous occupants. Each pen was filled with slaves suited to a different task and for each, different stages of this descent into despair were made evident by the general air of its inhabitants.
Near the back of the barn, larger pens were filled with field hands or those who would work the sugar mills. Jobs infamous for bringing about the early death of slaves. If they didn't bring death, one could lose an arm in the rollers or get doused in the boiling syrup which would eat into the flesh, crueler and deeper than any whip. The furthest pen in the corner housed the dead meat, slaves that were bound for jobs that predicted death with a certainty, they were the most pitiful of all. Many bore the marks of serious floggings and other methods of punishment, their bodies overlaid with old scars. Slaves like those, the dangerous and rebellious ones weren't worth much and were sold cheaply to be used in the most deadly tasks, meat to be ground in the name of profit.
That end of the barn stank of death; Death and fear and abject sadness. It wasn't just that the Caribbean air was heavy and oppressive, or that they were hidden at the back where the light was poor and the touch of the wind muted. Each had soulless eyes, they shuffled mournfully in cruel shackles, resigned to their fate. Even the grease rubbed into their skin to make them glow with a healthy look did nothing to disguise how truly broken they were. They were dead inside, and all that lived was the pain and torment that their bodies encased.
Closer to her were fresh slaves, some newly indentured but most simply unbowed by years of grinding toil. They were typically young sons and daughters, taken from their families by owners recognising their value as a commodity. They'd be sold to new owners and transported away to different plantations where they were better suited to different crops, tasks or productions. In the pens surrounding her at the front of the barn were skilled workers, those with a trade or skill. Most were clothed and cared for by owners that understood it was better to keep the more expensive goods in the best condition possible. They were educated, but only in the area that was their expertise, for strict laws kept slaves in their place, most unable to read or write or do anything that weakened their dependency on the Masters.
There was a greater degree of grace in their bearing, necessary of those who lived in the household and worked closely with their owners. They were not nearly so bowed and broken, and instead looked out and about with curious eyes, only dropping them obediently when a freeman cast a glance at them.
Realising that she too had been gazing about, Phoebe turned her eyes down and shuffled further behind the woman in front of her. She had more pressing concerns to keep hidden and unobtrusive than just a reflex to appear submissive and obedient, she did not want to attract the attention that young female slaves often did, and her proximity to the light coming through the open doors was making the task difficult. It had been a worrying development to transform from just another little slave girl rushing about the plantation into what some might consider, an attractive young woman. As she grew older and had been taken as a maid by her old Mistress, her mother had worried, for under the eye of the Master it was not uncommon for a maid to also become his plaything. The old man had never seemed interested thankfully, and so she had been able to continue on, blossoming into full womanhood without interference.
Even then though, gentleman visitors to the house had been a danger to her, for they rarely accepted her refusal to their advances, slaves were meant to serve after all. She had no doubt that they had plenty of ideas on how she could serve them, after they'd dined at the Master's table and drank their fill of wine, whisky and rum. Luckily the watchful eye of old lady Jameson had saved her from abuse and she had maintained her dignity, or at least her modesty, for there was little dignity left to a slave.
Then the old lady had upped and died, and without much use for a lady's maid, the old man had sent her to be auctioned. Her last saviour and jailer was gone and here she was, leaving the plantation she'd known all her life to be shipped off somewhere else to an unknown end. But worse, her mother still lived on the Jameson plantation, suffering from ill-health born of years of toil and tragedy, and Phoebe couldn't say whether she'd ever meet her in this life again. Her only solace was that the Jameson's were as soft an owner as she was likely to get, and at least her last years would be easy, still, her eyes teared up at the thought.
As the purposeful tread of feet approached outside in the courtyard, she quieted her mind and assumed a placid bowed expression. The footsteps reached the doors and the sounds of men came with them, leather boots and rough conversation. These were the first customers of the day, and ones important enough to warrant the first choice of goods. She didn't know whereabouts on the island she was, but whoever these people were, they probably owned the most land and the biggest purses.
'I want a coupl'a strong un's, none of that tosh you sold me last time Samson. I need good hard lads to keep the mills running. The last storm battered 'em all to hell and I need them running at peak efficiency. Peak, you hear me boy?' A rough voice boomed. The accent was English, bastardised over a few generations in the Caribbean.
'I'll thank you not to call me boy, Cunning' retorted the voice that belonged to the head auctioneer 'I'm three years older than you myself as you very well know. These are good hard working lads and if they don't work I knows you'll take the whip to 'em good and hard as you usually do. They'll work, don't you worry'.
'Aye, I'll be the judge of that Samson. That I will. I'll take four. That fella there, these two, and the big ugly one there. As well as that lot we discussed in the other barn. Now, take me to see what you've got in the way of clerks, I need one to see to the papers. Richard lad, go find your mother a new handmaiden and see that the bitch isn't half dead.' Finished Cunning.
'As you say father' came a reply in a voice that was almost like honey.
Where the older men's voices grated and barked, this smooth tumble of words were beautiful on the ears, thick, husky and strong. The older man, the father, had none of the elegance of the son it would seem. Fortunes could be made in the Caribbean, and the difference in language was an obvious indication of the Cunnings' rise in station. Doubtless, Richard Cunning Snr had made enough money to send his son to school in England, and the experienced had certainly refined his character.
She chanced a glance over the shoulder in front of her, and saw the auctioneer lead off a tall, cruel looking man, his white hair bright against his darkened skin. Their departure revealed a young man, the speaker that had caught her attention. He was probably in his mid twenties, tall like his father with golden coloured hair, like a wreath of heavenly curls. As his voice had been honey, so was his skin, tanned to a rich brown in the endless Caribbean sun. His trousers were a light blue and a simple white cotton shirt lay open at the neck, where more sandy hair coiled darkly with sweat. He thrust a riding crop between his arm and chest as he lit a thin cigarillo, casually tossing the match to the barn floor and sucking in the plume of smoke that billowed about him as he puffed.
Only then had he turned to the pen that she was in and instinctively, she pulled her head back in from where she had craned her neck to see him. Casting her eyes down as he approached and was intercepted by the Auctioneer's lackey.
'What'll it be Sir? New maid is it? This one here is a right bargain if that's the case, knows everything your Ma might need. Housekeeping, hair, dressing, she's good with medicine too, which is a godsend in this part of the world, she can even birth a babe.' He said, jabbing his finger to an old slave at the front.
'Aye, I daresay she knows a thing or two. She looks like she's been around long enough, like to have seen babes grow old and die. It's not a skill that will be necessary anyway, my Father only fucks his mistress, which is to the good. I'm not interested in having any other claims on my inheritance.' Said the younger Cunning dismissively as he looked around the pen for something more to his liking.
Fearing to be seen, Phoebe edged sideways behind the old lady in front and could have cursed herself when she only succeeded in drawing attention.
'Whoa there little lady.' Richard Cunning called out 'where are you going? Come on now, I want to have a look at you.
'Move girl, you heard the man!' The lackey barked when she stood rooted to the spot.
Fearing the worst but unable to free herself from their staring eyes, she stepped out from her hiding place and was coaxed towards them, step by step at their urging. Up close, the figure that was Richard Cunning took greater form. With her eyes downcast she first took in the heavy knots of his calves pressed against the blue of his trousers and his neat feet in black boots, but she dare not raise her eyes. Instead she took in his smell for the first time above the stink of animals in the barn, a healthy smell of sweat and leather predominated, perfumed with the warm fragrances of spiced rum and the cigarillo he smoked. She almost flinched when a hand shot out and took her chin in a firm grip.
He brought her chin up so the light from the barn doors played across the chestnut skin of her face. She avoided his eyes but his fingers were insistent, jerking her until she met them. She was shocked at their colour, at first they seemed a solid grey, but under deeper inspection they blossomed with blue, all shot with white flecks. They were as pale as sun dried pebbles, hungrily drinking in the light. They were beautiful it was true, mocking and inviting, but they searched her face with a almost voracious intensity that scared her. No angel looked like that, or could look at someone like that. Those eyes bore into her, eyes that covered her in fire so hot it chilled her. Their paleness was disconcerting, and would be almost lifeless if it wasn't for the energy that glittered in them. That was the scariest part, for she couldn't tell whether they were fired by malice, lust or madness. She gasped and stepped back from his reach so that a shocked murmur ran through the slaves, near instantly silenced by their own desire not to attract attention. She bowed her head quickly, wary that by jerking away she was liable to be punished.
Instead of the strike from his crop that she expected to fall at any second, a deep grumble built in his chest. A chuckle so full and throaty that it seemed impossible for this golden boy to possess. His youthful face split into a bright grin that wrinkled his eyes into something wizened. She gaped at him, her mouth opening as the air caught I'm her throat, unsure whether to feel more uneasy at his levity.
The Auctioneer's Assistant was not so lenient as to chuckle, instead he leered at her as he spoke, grasping at the cloth covering her chest and tugging so that her breasts bulged out.
'This one more to your liking is she? Come here nigger bitch, this gentleman wants to examine you.'
Phoebe was not likely to push her luck again and move out of range, even if she had been quick enough to dodge away. The youth's fingers pressed into her bodice, scratching her chest as he yanked her towards them.
In an instant Richard Cunning's crop was in hand, and he laid it against the assistants chest with more than a little force, provoking a look of shock from the man. Richard however looked at nobody but her as he spoke.
'That won't be necessary, I can see her quality already, get her ready with the rest.' He finished, before stalking after his father on long powerful legs.
The trip to the cunning plantation didn't take long, even for the train of people, horses and goods. Phoebe was afforded a place on one of the wagons, something that came with what little station she had. Those bought for manual labour followed behind on foot, bound in two lines with rope. These bonds would prove feeble if any real attempt of escape was made, though the men made no effort to do so. Even if the slaves slipped their bonds, where would they go? All about them stretched plantations, and while some might be able to hide in the tall sugarcane, they couldn't outrun the mounted militia for long. Eventually someone would come across the runaway slaves and round them up, and although some might find rugged places to hide in the mountains and tropical woods, they could not escape. Jamaica was an island after all, and a man could not walk on water. Their only escape was to join the Maroon communities, formed of the remnants of the island's native inhabitants, mulattos and escaped slaves. But these groups often incurred the wrath of the British by raiding plantations, so it was not only a hard life living on the fringes, but a dangerous one.
Her new masters, the Cunning's, lived some fifteen mile out of town, their plantations sprawling over the landscape, a patchwork of sugar fields tended by black figures and oversaw by white men on tall horses. She would later learn that the father of Richard Cunning Snr, one John Cunning, had cobbled together five hundred English pounds to buy one hundred acres and enough slaves to work it.
A new age of global trade had fed people's desires, and none so more than the Europeans. Tobacco was a new world crop that had long been a profitable venture. Tea, coffee and chocolate were all favourites in London, Amsterdam and Paris. But nothing compared to that which was used to make them all more palatable; sugar was king. The consumption of sugar rose every year, and the demand in Europe was almost exclusively met by the Caribbean isles. The five hundred pounds that the Cunning's had invested would pay out the same amount every year that they kept the mills turning, and that had been before they expanded.
The men of the family had the same keen instinct for business that their forebear had, and used any advantage they could to press themselves forward. They had schemed, coerced, bullied, outmanoeuvred and at times clambered right over the top of their competitors to the point that they now sat on an extensive money making estate that dwarfed all others in the area. They were by no means the biggest fish in the sea, but their profits increased each year and nothing short of a blight, a collapse in the market it the wrath of god was likely to bring that to an end.
Phoebe looked about with big brown eyes that shone in the bright sunlight, and all she saw for miles upon end was sugarcane. It took an age for the crop to come to term, even in the wet tropical heat, and required continuous work by the slaves. When ready for cutting it could stand at a staggering twenty feet tall, the mother of all crops, and the most valuable commodity a man could grow in these parts, or anywhere. That was why such effort was made to bring in African slaves, one commodity would be reaped by another, and it didn't take a genius to figure out which was worth more. The life of a slave was cheap.
The Plantation House that rose from out of the cane was new and built in the centre of the land that the family now owned. The old Cunning house she would find, was miles away on their original plantation, long outgrown by the up-and-coming family. The new build was named Winston House after the Mistress, it was her family's Surname, and brought with it more respect than the dubious and rather new name of Cunning. It was said that the Cunning's themselves dated back to before the Norman conquest of England, but nobody new if that was true and invoking the more prestigious name of Winston did no harm. The Mistress, Margaret Cunning née Winston was the only other member of the family, and the large house would've been empty were it not for the numerous servants.
When they drew close to the house, the field hands were led off to to the slave town that could be seen at the bottom of a gently sloping depression. The shacks and halls were newly built as well, and looked nicer to live in than many slaves could claim, nevertheless they would sleep pressed together like a great family, living in a collective that afforded little space and less privacy. Phoebe wouldn't stay with them though, as the carts were instead pulled into the yard towards the back of the house, which was laid with new cobbles that hadn't yet been worn in. She had to grip the wooden bench to stop herself from being thrown about painfully as the wooden wheels jarred on the stones, and she was thankful when the cart came to a stop.
Two other slaves remained with her, a seamstress and the clerk that the Master had wanted. They clambered out of the cart, which was no easy feat for someone as short as she was. The clerk held out a hand for her, which she took gratefully, but it was still too far for her to step out and she had to make a small leap. Her black shoes were serviceable, but clunky, and they caught in the cobbles as she landed, twisting her ankle slightly and making her fall forwards so that only her skirts cushioned the blow.
It was at that moment that the younger Richard rode into the courtyard on a big grey horse. The pain in her knees was muted for a moment as she knelt on all fours and watched his golden hair dance about his head. His white cloth shirt was dark about the chest as sweat soaked it through, and he wiped away the droplets that had formed on his forehead as well. Some Europeans wilted in the tropical weather, many dying before their first year was out. The blacks suffered too, but many had come from similar conditions and adapted well. He was different from his kind though, and like her had been born on the island. The weather agreed with him, and he glowed with a healthy light. His shoulders were wide, his hair shining and his skin healthy.
She must've stayed on her hands and knees staring at him as the seconds ticked by, long enough for the clerk to ask if she was okay. He had been holding a hand out to her for some time, though she had only just realised. Richard Cunning hopped from his horse with all the grace and energy of youth, his well made boots having no trouble on the stones. It was then that he saw her, on her knees in front of him, mouth open and looking at him with awe. She blushed, realising that she looked as if she was abasing herself to him, bowing low in reverence; and as he looked down on her his lips twitched into a grin, or was it a smirk? She clambered to her feet, clutching her gown to her chest as she realised her breasts had been fully on display from his vantage point; just another reason to feel ashamed.
His mouth opened as if to speak, but his words never left his mouth for another cut over him. The deep voice was that of his mother, who had observed the scene from the inner courtyard railings. Her stance was matriarchal, tall and imperious. Her eyes were black, and unlike her son's, they were cold and joyless. The dress she wore was green, heavy for the warmth of the island and covering her whole body. Even her long neck was covered with dark lace and clasped with a silver and emerald brooch.
'Richard.' She said, though her eyes were fixed on Phoebe, 'Attend me.'
'Aye, Mother.' He replied, and swept from the courtyard casually without giving anyone a second look, but Margaret Cunning continued to look at her, forcing Phoebe to drop her eyes. If this was the lady that she was to attend, life might have taken a turn for the worst. Though she could not find space in her mind to feel any more dread or fear. It was already crammed full of emotions, each vying for her attention until her head throbbed and her body felt tense and tired. She took a breath but felt no better, and so as all slaves must, she set about learning her new tasks and buried her thoughts behind the facade of a docile servant.
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