The White Witch of Rosehall

Chapter 10: The Explosion

With rapid stride and sinuous swinging of the hips Millicent took her way towards the book-keepers’ quarters. She knew she would find Robert in his room tonight, for Burbridge would sit up in the still-house. Tomorrow night would be Robert’s turn, if he wished to undertake the work. For it was no longer compulsory for him, and she had heard that another book-keeper would be about on the following day. Mr. Rutherford was being allowed to do much as he pleased.

When she reached the little house she perceived a light shining through the crevices. She was going to the room which she had, without invitation or specific permission, made her own, when she changed her mind. She knocked at Robert’s door.

“Come in,” his voice bade her, and she entered to find him sitting by his table, a glass of rum and water by his hand. He had thrown off his jacket and was taking a “night-cap” prior to going to bed.

“Well, Millicent, what’s all the news?” he asked her cordially; “what brings you here at this time of night?”

“You know I live here, in de next room,” said Millicent, looking down at him, “an’ I thought as I would ask how you are, an’ tell you good night.”

“I am very well, thank you, Millie, though I have had a pretty strenuous week of it.”

She did not know what “strenuous” meant, but guessed its meaning.

“You was up last night?” The inquiry was really an affirmation.

“Yes, mentor; I was up some part of the night.”

“You didn’t come in till morning, an’ you work all day today. That don’t good for you, Marse Robert; don’t you know you may get sick, an’ die?”

“It is possible. But I say, Millie, I never imagined when I left England that I should find here a brown lady to take such an interest in my welfare, and lecture me on the error of my ways. Is that customary with housekeepers?”

“Yes; if they like you. Tell me something, Marse Robert.”

“What is it?”

“You ever say anything to Mrs. Palmer about me? You ever tell her I am looking after you?”

“I haven’t mentioned you, no,” said Robert, conscious now that he had deliberately refrained from saying anything about Millicent to Annie. She of course had asked him who was attending to his creature comforts in his quarters, and he had assured her that Burbridge had made ample arrangements for him. Mrs. Palmer had come to the conclusion that Burbridge’s servant was attending upon Robert also.

“Don’t tell her.”


“Because she might want to stop me. She can prevent me coming here, you know.”

“Of course. But frankly, Millie, why shouldn’t she if she wants to?”

“You want her to?” asked the girl plaintively.

Robert looked at her. She was undeniably pretty, and though he guessed she could hold her own and did not lack for strength of character, she was very gentle in dealing with him. He felt he should be very sorry if Millicent were to leave his service. “Well, no, I don’t want her to,” he admitted.

The girl’s face lightened in a flash. A happy smile showed her white, gleaming, even teeth and shone in her eyes. “Then you like me, Marse Robert!” she cried confidently. “You like me, or you wouldn’t mind whether I go or stay. Don’t I right?”

“I think I have told you before that I do like you, Millie,” he laughed, sipping his rum and water, “though you have been awfully cheeky.”

“Because I tell you about Mrs. Palmer?”

“Yes. Had you been a man, Millie, you would have been out of this place long ago. But I am afraid I am weak where a woman is concerned, especially a pretty woman.”

She came nearer to him. “You think I am pretty?”

“You know you are.”

“Yes, I know I are; but I want to know if you think so too. You think so?”

“I am sure you are, Millie.”

“Yet you like the mistress better than me. Because she is white an’ you are white? But she don’t love you better than I do, and she is wicked, I tell you, wicked——”


“I don’t care! It is true. An’ I tell you so because I love you an’ I am afraid about what might happen to you. You don’t know everything. You running a big risk; it may kill you.”

Robert thought that it was treason to Annie for him to allow this coloured damsel to run on in the way she was doing, to permit her to traduce the woman to whom he had sworn eternal devotion; and yet, he asked himself, how could he prevent it? She was retailing lies, of course, but she believed them; and if she repeated them it was because of her sincere affection for him. He could not be a brute and order her away! He loved Annie—(an uneasy questioning in his mind made him wonder whether he loved Annie as much as he said he did and as he clearly ought, but again, as on previous occasions, he tried to dismiss this question from his mind). But he liked this girl also; with something like comic dismay he had discovered that, in spite of all he had believed to the contrary, a man could care for more than one woman at the same time, even if not with the same degree of intensity. He did not realise that Annie Palmer fascinated him but that he did not love her with such devotion that no other woman mattered to him; he was not sophisticated. He had faced for a few moments the question of marrying Annie. He had hurriedly dismissed it. He had accepted the existing situation, had noticed too that Annie herself never once mentioned marriage, but seemed content with their present irregular relations. His father would not approve of them? No; but his father was thousands of miles away, in a different land, in a different world. Why should he bother to think of what was so distant? This was Jamaica, and why would he not do in Jamaica as others did? To be a model of virtue here would be merely to make oneself ridiculous. In the meantime here was Millicent, and her society was not unpleasant.

“I am not afraid of being killed,” he said with a laugh. He finished his drink of rum and water, and mixed himself another. He rather liked the flavour of Jamaica rum.

“You don’t believe what I tell you?”

“Of course not! I am not going to believe every lie that you have heard, Millie.”

“Some day she will know that I looking after you, an’ she will order me not to come back to dis place. What you will say then?”

“Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof, Millie. Meantime you are still here, and, as you want to be here, that should content you.”

“Very well, Marse Robert.” She looked at him in silence for a few moments, then added, in a low voice, “good night.”

“So soon?” he asked and drained his glass. “Why don’t you stay a little longer?”

“You mean it? You want me to stay?” Millicent asked eagerly.

“Of course I do. Take a chair. Better still——” He drew her down to him and sat her on his knee, laughing the while. Then he kissed her. She threw her arms wildly about his neck and kissed him in passionate return.

Millicent’s eyes were shining now. Her grandfather had told her, only the day before, that she would become the young book-keeper’s “real” housekeeper, and it seemed as though this prediction were in the way of being fulfilled.

Robert stroked her cheek gently. Then he slipped his left arm round the girl’s waist. “You want to know if I think you pretty, eh?” he asked. “I think you very sweet and lovable, Millie, and I am glad that you care for me. Do you like to hear that?”

For answer she kissed him; then:

“You will leave here, Marse Robert?”

“Leave here; but why?”

“If you love me more than you love she, you will. But I wouldn’t mind so much if she was different. The two of us could have you. It is because I am afraid that I want you to leave. Don’t you understand? She may kill you an’ me together—she will hate me, and if she think you don’t love her as you should——”

“Don’t talk about Mrs. Palmer, Millie!”

“All right” (with a sigh). “But you like me all the same?”

“Yes; I do, and I am going to keep you with me always, do you hear? You are going to stay with me and I am going to care for you.” (“Why not?” he muttered to himself. “Other men do the same. Why should I be a prude?”)

“You don’t want me to—to go into my own room tonight?”

“No; you are going to stay with me. You don’t mind?”

“I want to,” she said simply, and her arm stole round his neck once more.

*     *     *     *     *

Not more than ten minutes had passed before they heard the sound of a galloping horse. It approached and halted before the book-keepers’ quarters. Someone alighted, came up the steps; then there was a sharp rap on the door.

“Who is that?” Robert called out sharply.

“I. Can I see you for a few minutes?”

“Mrs. Palmer!” whispered Robert, startled and guiltily ill at ease. “Slip into the next room, Millie, and be quick, for God’s sake.”

“In a moment!” he said aloud.

In a couple of minutes he opened the door and stepped outside; but Annie Palmer did not choose to talk with him on the veranda. She passed into the room, he following. She glanced keenly around, noticed the door that led into the adjoining apartment and pointed to it. “Who lives in there?” she asked directly.

Robert, glancing at her face, saw it dark with anger and suspicion. Another thing about her surprised him. She was dressed in man’s clothing, in a black suit which had evidently been made for her. Millicent had told him that she was in the habit of riding about the estates at night, habited like a man, but he had thought that this was but one of the inventions of the slaves, who felt that their mistress’s eyes were always upon them. Now he knew that it was but the sober truth. Annie, looking more diminutive than ever in her man’s clothes, stood before him, a heavy riding whip in her hand. And her manner was imperative and stormy.

He was about to answer her question, saying that the apartment was occupied by the girl who looked after his meals and room, when she suddenly walked over to the door and gave it a push. It yielded, after a slight resistance; for Millicent realised that nothing was to be gained by her struggling against Mrs. Palmer’s determined resolve to enter.

Millicent was standing and breathing heavily. Annie Palmer looked her up and down with a wide-eyed contemptuous stare. “So you have Ashman’s woman as your servant and “housekeeper”?” was the question she flung at Robert.

“I am not Mr. Ashman’s woman,” volleyed back Millicent, stung to a spirited protest by Mrs. Palmer’s assertion. She looked sharply at Robert to see how he took this remark.

“Speak when you are spoken to!” ordered Mrs. Palmer. She turned to Robert. “I could not sleep; I thought I would go for a ride about the estate; I have to do that sometimes, to see that everything is in order. I fancied that perhaps you might like to come with me. You didn’t tell me it was this woman who was looking after your room, Robert, or I would have told you she is the last person that I care to have on Rosehall. She is a well-known character about here. I suppose she is trying to get you to make her your “housekeeper”, isn’t she? And has perhaps already succeeded?” Annie spoke with an effort at composure, thinking no more about what Millicent might feel than she would have done had she been speaking about a dog. “If you want one of this type,” she went on, “you might select a better specimen. This one is rather notorious. Anyhow, if I had known she was here I should have seen to it that she did not remain. I only hope she hasn’t yet stolen anything from you. They all steal.”

“I am not a thief, Mrs. Palmer!” cried Millicent, furious now beyond the restraint of fear. “I am neither a thief or a murderer, an’ that is more than everybody can say!”


“Yes; an’ the reason why you don’t want the Squire to have me for his housekeeper is because you want him for you’self an’ you are jealous!”

“Jealous of you, of a creature like you—you? Girl, are you mad? Do you want to be whipped within an inch of your life? Do you remember who you are talking to? Dirt that you are, how dare you! Leave Rosehall this minute, or——”

“I won’t!”

“You won’t?” shrilled Mrs. Palmer, and that shrilling voice was new to Robert and shocked him. “You won’t! Surely you must be mad!”

“I am not one of your slaves. Dis place is yours, but the Squire is a free man an’ a white man, an’ if he say I am to stay here tonight I can stay. And you can’t flog me. You can’t!”

“We’ll test that now,” said Annie softly, narrowing her eyes. She lifted her riding whip and brought it down sharply on the girl’s shoulders. Swiftly she raised it again for another blow.

Robert darted between them.

“Annie, Annie,” he implored, “remember your position.”

“I am a mistress of slaves, that is my position,” she retorted; “and this woman is little better than a slave. Leave me to deal with her, Robert; I know her kind.”

“If you touch me again I will dash your brain out,” shrieked Millicent, seizing a chair. “I am free like you are, and, so help me God, I rather die than let you beat me!”

“We shall see,” replied Annie, shaking off Robert’s arm. Her face was set; there was a light in her eye which indicated an irrevocable determination to chastise and humiliate this girl in the young man’s presence. Robert realised her resolve, and nerved himself to frustrate it. He felt sick, ashamed, loathing himself and the scene in which he played a part. Yet Annie seemed to have no reproaches for him. It was the girl alone upon whom she was bent upon exhausting all her fury.

“You cannot help her, Robert,” she said with icy finality. “She has to be flogged for her impertinence, and if not by me it will be by one of my drivers.”

“Annie be reasonable: she will do you hurt!”

“She wouldn’t dare. Stand aside. She won’t lift a finger to me.”

The whip was raised again. It was about to descend when it was suddenly seized.

She swung round, furious and astonished. A tall, gaunt, savage-looking black man, with grizzled hair and heavy features, held the whip. Deep-set eyes glowed as they answered the glare from Mrs. Palmer’s eyes; a long, deeply-lined upper lip closed firmly over the projecting lower lip; old though he was there was nothing feeble about his appearance.

“Takoo!” The name came in a gasp from Mrs. Palmer.

“Grandpa!” cried Millicent, frantically joyous.

Robert gazed at the man bewildered. To him it was a thing astonishing that a negro should thus have dared to stay the hand of Annie Palmer.

“Patience, missis,” said the old man calmly. “Remember Millie is my gran’-child; I am begging you, for my sake to spare her.”

He spoke very good English, but though his words were humble his demeanour was not particularly so. He still held the whip.

“What are you doing here, Takoo?” demanded Mrs. Palmer.

“I was about you’ estate tonight, as you sometimes allow me to come, missis. I knew Millie was this new massa’s housekeeper, an’ I wanted to see how she was getting on. I was out there for some time; I see you ride up. We didn’t know you would have any objection to Millie; but as you object I will take her away.”

But Millicent, who was never a coward, would not stand silently by and hear her fate decided by others. “Grandpa,” she sobbed, “Mrs. Palmer say all sort of bad things about me. I never had anything to do wid Mr. Ashman. I love the young squire, an’ the squire love me——”

“You fool!” Mrs. Palmer burst out. “How could a gentleman love you? Do you still forget yourself?”

“Patience, missis, I beg you to have a little patience. She is my gran’daughter,” said Takoo. “Get your clothes an’ come, Millie.”

Millicent glanced at Robert, but knew in her heart that from the doom pronounced there could be no appeal. He could not help her. She was to go, and that immediately. Just when she had triumphed her cup of joy was dashed from her lips.

She went into her own room to gather her few articles of apparel, while the others waited silent. She returned within a couple of minutes, and looked with open-eyed malignancy at Annie Palmer. She passed out of the room, followed by her grandfather, but at the steps of the veranda she turned round and flung out her hand with a fierce gesture.

“You will try to murder Marse Robert as you murder you’ husbands,” she hurled at the stern woman who stood tapping the table with her whip. “I done tell him all about you, you bloody witch! Some day I will live to see them hang you in Montego Bay?”

Old Takoo uttered a cry of warning and anger, and literally pushed his granddaughter down the steps; Annie made no reply, but a rush of blood to her head showed itself in the sudden crimsoning of her complexion. The accusation, openly and defiantly thrown at her, was terrible: that it should have come from a native woman constituted the quintessence of an unbearable insult. This girl regarded her as a rival, had dared to struggle with her for the affection of her own book-keeper. She trembled with passion, held now in restraint by an almost superhuman effort of will. But she said never a word.

“Fool,” hissed old Takoo to his niece, “you want to dead? She will never forgive you!”

“I don’t care!” exclaimed Millicent. “If there is a God in heaven He will see that she is a beast. An’ sooner or later she will kill him, Tata.”

“She may kill you first,” muttered the old man, as they hurried away. “You must go far from here, Millie, an’ you must go tonight. It is hell you have to face now.”

“I don’t care.”

“So you say now, but wait.”

“She is a she-devil. She is a witch!”

“Yes; an’ what that mean for you?”

“I have you, gran’pa; you can protect me, and bring the young squire back to me.”

Takoo answered nothing; he was thinking of the blow with the whip which Annie Palmer had dealt to the one being on earth whom he cared for. He was thinking also of Annie’s certain future vengeance for the words so daringly spoken by Millicent. He knew the mistress of Rosehall; she would strike at Millicent; such an affront could never be forgiven.

He had been Mrs. Palmer’s tool more than once; they had been secret allies. Now he saw her as an enemy and an antagonist. And he feared her.



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This work (The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser) is free of known copyright restrictions.