The arrival at the logging plantation was almost as majestic as that at the Governor’s villa. A long, winding driveway had been landscaped out of the impenetrable jungle but it was now almost in darkness, so thick was the overhanging tree canopy. A beautiful fountain adorned the white portico entrance to the villa. Gabriel stood back from the car to observe that an upper story had several terraced rooms with shuttered windows from which lace curtains now billowed in the cool, mountain breeze. Manicured hedgerows bordered the property. They had been expertly landscaped by a team of busy gardeners to obscure the view of the slope below where loggers and their teams of assistants were carrying equipment to and from the logging front. It would spoil the view, he thought, as he absorbed the stunning vista. Looking east, there were rolling hills, now cleared of the morning mist, until the faint blue ribbon of the Caribbean could be discerned before vanishing into an infinite horizon.
Again Abraham jolted him out of this sublime moment. The tour of the property awaited and there were servants to be introduced, stables to be inspected, housemaids to meet. These were all essential cogs in the wheel of the Company’s enterprise. There were Mestizos, Maya and Creole, all enslaved in one form or another to the servitude of the Empire. They needed to be supervised however as they were unruly given the happenings on the estate over the last few months. Abraham proceeded to the house itself where he instructed Gabriel in the sequence of locks that secured the property. All had been reinforced to keep intruders out. Sensing the opportunity, Gabriel enquired:
“Why haven’t you issued me with guards, in order to protect me. Surely that’s a reasonable request given the dangers present here. From what you have told me, I will have no choice but to pick up where Murray left off and ensure that the men continue to log on tribal land. I am here to revive the operation’s fortunes and if it must be done by force then so be it but I should be afforded protection.”
Abraham spoke with a wry smile:
“I appreciate your concern, Mr. Howard, but I am afraid there is nothing we can do. As I told you the warriors are nocturnal and cannot be found during the day. It is futile to post armed guards on the property for they would only be shooting in the dark, probably more at risk of shooting each other than at the ghosts in there.” Abraham now raised his hand and pointed at the tangled mass of branches and undergrowth that bordered the property and indicated the beginning of the jungle. Too tired to argue, Gabriel was resigned to the security of the door locks. He rehearsed the sequence of bolts and locks under Abraham’s supervision and the house was impregnable or so it seemed.
Following a terse business meeting and the tying up of loose ends, Abraham informed Gabriel that Carlos would return in three days, to check up on him and to bring some basic provisions. He brusquely climbed into the sleek Austin and left in a hurry with Carlos at the wheel. He watched as the departing car disappeared into the cloud of dust left in its wake.
It was already late afternoon and having unpacked and refreshed following the long journey, he was unprepared for the sudden onset of darkness. Nightfall arrived earlier than expected. He was filled with despair when he saw the last rays of sunlight dip below the hills and darkness befell the property. He was now truly alone, as the few remaining servants retired to their quarters off site.
The long, dramatic day had begun to get the better of Gabriel as his energy waned and exhaustion set in. Yet, before retiring to bed he poured himself a nightcap, a stiff gin and tonic but without the ice. He stepped onto the front porch with its stately white portico frontage and lit his pipe, drawing the smooth tobacco smoke out while he looked into the blackness before him. The faint porch light was no match for the enveloping darkness that surrounded him. He could see nothing but the faint glow of distant Belize City and dotted lights like fireflies from hillside villages. Above him the stars were as brilliant as he had ever seen.
He reflected on his journey so far and how strange the day had been. The arrival at the port was a feast for the senses, followed by the lavish breakfast hosted by the Governor. Yet until Abraham had broken the news, there was nothing to alert him to the dangerous trap he had just walked into. He was committed to the cause of Empire but not at all costs. His life was not a price he was willing to pay. He now felt very alone but used the remaining thinking time to set a plan for the estate’s expansion: the acreage per day to be cleared, the number of mahogany trees per cleared unit and the projected timber yield should all go to plan and if there were any trees left. Within a month, he calculated, he would be in a position to approach the Governor for a transfer, perhaps to Jamaica, where a sugar cane plantation would be an easier and safer proposition. It was a long shot but at least it was a plan but first he had to prove his worth for Belize.
Downing his last gulp of gin and determined to draw the last from the dying ember of his pipe tobacco, his eye’s were suddenly averted away to the darkness where he could see faint flashes of colour. They came from beyond the perimeter of the property, in the jungle that bordered the villa. He could not discern the source of illumination for the porch light was too faint yet there were intermittent shimmers and flashes, almost like the glint of silver, emanating from the darkness in fits and bursts. He dared not to speak or call out. He felt frozen.
He hurriedly retreated from the porch and into the safety of the house. He shut the front door behind him and bolted the latch. Resting the back of his head now against the closed door, he swore to himself that it was the higher altitude, the new surroundings and the potent gin, now surging through his veins, that had caused the visions. The trace of fear accompanied him as he locked up, double-checking every bolt and it was still there as he prepared for bed.