Betrothal in Santo Domingo
Heinrich von Kleist
Translated by Juan LePuen
First published in 1811 as “Die Verlobung in St. Domingo”
English translation copyright 2013 Juan LePuen and Fario
Published at Smashwords by Fario
In Port-au-Prince, on the French side of the island of Santo Domingo, there lived, at the beginning of the century, when the blacks were killing the whites, on the plantation of Monsieur Guillaume de Villeneuve, a dreadful old Negro by the name of Congo Hoango. This man from the Gold Coast of Africa, who in his youth seemed to be of a loyal and upright disposition, had been favored greatly by his master, since on a crossing to Cuba he had once saved his life. Not only had M. Guillaume given him his freedom on the spot and allotted him house and home; a few years later, he also made him, contrary to the customs of the country, overseer of his considerable estate, and instead of a wife, since he didn’t want to marry again, he sent him, from his plantation, an old mulatto woman, whose name was Babekan, to whom he was distantly related through his late wife. Well, when the Negro had reached his sixtieth year, he put him on a handsome pension and even capped the favor he had showed him by leaving him a bequest in his testament; and yet all of these tokens of M. Villeneuve’s gratitude were not enough to spare him this fierce man’s wrath. In the pervasive frenzy of vengeance on these plantations that followed the imprudent steps taken by the Convention nationale, Congo Hoango was among the first to grab a rifle and, keeping in mind the tyranny that had torn him from his native land, put a bullet through his master’s head. He set fire to the house, in which the man’s wife and her children and the remaining whites from the settlement had taken refuge, destroyed the entire plantation, which the heirs, who lived in Port-au-Prince, could have laid claim to, and, once the establishments belonging to the estate had been likewise reduced to rubble, roved around the countryside with the Negroes he had rustled up and armed to help his brothers in their fight against the whites. Now he was lying in wait for the travelers who were crossing the country in armed parties; now, even in broad daylight, he was attacking planters holed up in their compounds and dispatching everyone he came across. In his inhuman thirst for vengeance, he went so far as to compel Old Babekan and her daughter Toni, a fifteen-year-old half-blood, to take part in that cruel war, which was making him feel altogether younger; and since the main house of the plantation, where he lived now, was on an isolated stretch of road and in his absence white or Creole refuges often turned up in search of food or accommodation, he told the women to keep those white dogs, as he called them, with courtesies and encouragement until his return. For these cases, Babekan, who suffered from tuberculosis as a result of a savage punishment she had been given in her youth, would keep young Toni, whose complexion, verging on yellowish, made her especially well suited to this horrible ruse, decked out in her finest clothes; she encouraged her not to deny the strangers any caresses, but for the ultimate one, which was forbidden her on pain of death: and when Congo Hoango and his band of Negroes returned from their forays into the area, immediate death was the lot of the wretches who had let themselves be fooled by this ruse.