By Stevie Woods
Privileged young Pieter may have grown up on a sugar cane plantation, but that doesn't mean he agrees with the way his father runs things. He falls in love with Joss, one of his father's slaves, and their affair sets off a chain of events that is destined to tear them apart.
When Pieter's father dies, he returns home hoping to find Joss. It's too late for their love, but maybe it's not too late for Pieter to find happiness. As he makes his way to America, Pieter realizes old conflicts still rage, and even as he finds a new love, danger stalks his every move.
Can Pieter learn to overcome the hate and fear that threaten to tear his world apart?
Warm hands slid over his chest and down his flanks. Pieter sighed at the wonderful sensations flooding him. He reached up, pulling Joss' handsome head down so he could take those luscious lips in a passionate kiss, running his hands through that tight springy hair.
Pieter needed to breathe, and they parted. Pieter stared at his pale white hands framing the black skinned face of his lover. It didn't matter to him that the man he loved had a different color skin. To Pieter, this man was simply Joss.
The love he felt for the man in his arms never ceased to amaze him. It was incredible that the playmate he had teased and laughed with growing up had become this beautiful man, the most important person in Pieter's life.
Pieter knew they didn't have long; it was always a risk for them to meet like this, but their choices were limited. He dreaded what his father would say if they were ever discovered together but Pieter couldn't give up what he had found. Joss meant far too much to him.
Life at the Van Leydens' Spinnaker plantation on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten was timeless, or so it seemed to Pieter. His family had owned the plantation for over one hundred and fifty years; his relationship with one of its slaves would change nothing.
The island wasn't very large, only thirty-seven square miles in total, divided between the French who controlled the northern half, and the Dutch who controlled the south. It was a remarkably peaceful co-existence. The climate was perfect, warm most of the year but with the trade winds to keep any oppressive heat at bay. It did rain during the summer months, but luckily hurricanes were few and far between.
The Van Leyden money had been made during the infamous Tulipmania of the late 1630s, when huge sums of money were literally made and lost over the sale of one tulip bulb. In 1689, Gerrit Van Leyden had invested his profits in the new horizons of the Antilles, and, to honor where the money originally came from, Gerrit named the sugar plantation he created after the tulip that had brought wealth to his family.
After a slow start, the plantation had taken off during the eighteenth century, by the introduction of slave labor brought from Africa as part of the triangular trade route of the Dutch West India Company. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to collect captured Negroes from the West coast of Africa, taking those poor unfortunates to the Americas from where the company brought back sugar cane from the islands of the Dutch Antilles and from Surinam, their territory on the South American mainland.
Many years later, the plantation was still thriving, though not without difficulty. Much had changed. The market in the Caribbean for cane sugar had changed over the last twenty to thirty years, as other European countries had abolished slavery in their territories, which meant those still growing the crop with the use of slaves could garner a higher profit. Now, in 1855, only the Dutch and the plantation owners in the southern states of America still used slave labor.
The world might have changed around them, but for the Van Leyden family life went on, and it was expected that Pieter would take over running the plantation when the time came. He had never embraced the sugar trade the way his father had, let alone its ramifications, but it had always been an expectation he didn't know how to escape.
His father, Nicolaas, was the type of man to keep the reins of his business tightly in his own hand, which had meant he had had little time for his young son. Pieter's mother had been fragile, and she died when he was only four years old. He had been brought up mostly by Effie, his father's Negro housekeeper, and spent the vast majority of his time with her children as she kept the two-story plantation house in good order. The smell of baking and squares of golden sunshine falling through the tall windows, Effie's brisk voice drifting across the wide veranda surrounding the lower floor as she chivvied the housemaids about their duties formed the backdrop of so many of his childhood memories.
Matilda, whom everyone called Tillie, was three years older than Pieter, and it seemed to him that she had always been there, looking out for him. Joshua, her younger brother, had been born when Pieter wasn't much more than a baby himself. He was known as Joss, which was about as near as Pieter had been able to get to pronouncing Joshua when he was learning to speak. The three of them became inseparable as they grew up, running wild and free and happy together.
Pieter enjoyed playing with Tillie and Joss on the veranda or in the kitchen, but his favorite place was Effie's room at the top of the house, where the housekeeper and her children lived. It was a large room, simply furnished, but the old, well-polished wood of the two beds, chest and wardrobe and a rickety rocking chair shone in the warm light from the large window which almost filled one wall.
Pieter didn't understand why the children's father wasn't around and when he asked Joss his friend just shook his head. Pieter frowned, puzzled that the boy didn't seem to know.
Turning to the housekeeper who was sitting in the corner sewing, he boldly asked, "Effie, where is your husband?"
Effie looked startled for a moment before giving a wistful smile. "My man isn't with us anymore."
"I don't understand. What does that mean?"
She gazed at him for a moment but she didn't say anything further.
It was many years later that he discovered that Effie didn't have a husband, as slaves weren't allowed to marry, but that her man had been sold to another plantation before Joss was born.
Pieter cheerfully joined in when Effie gave her children chores to do for the Master. Indeed, as a child Pieter never took much note of the fact that their skin color was different to his, and certainly never understood how it made their lives so different.
When Pieter was seven, Nicolaas had arranged for him to have some schooling, which irked the boy at first, because he wanted to be out playing with his friends. Also, now he was old enough, Pieter was expected to spend the early evenings in the company of his father, who read with him and tried to teach him how to play chess.
He was seated on the veranda reading one evening when he heard his father's angry voice.
"I have repeatedly told you I want Pieter to spend his evenings with me and waste less time with your brood," Nicolaas said harshly. "You know how it irks me that I can't spend more time with him."
Pieter edged closer to the open door.
His father's voice had calmed as he continued, "You know what he means to me. He is already showing a pleasing intelligence and I have great plans for him."
"I know, master, I'm sorry, it won't happen again." Effie sounded nervous.
"No, it won't," Van Leyden snapped. "Your children will have no time to distract my son. You will keep them better occupied, remind them that they are no different from any of my other slaves."
"Yes, master," Effie replied quietly.
That was the first time that Pieter really understood there was more of a difference between Joss, Tillie, and himself than just the color of their skin.
As the years passed, he saw still more differences in how his father, his guests and his overseers treated his friends and their mother. Not that it ever affected Pieter's attitude, for he still loved them like siblings.
When Pieter was about twelve, he began to visit the fields, to learn what his father's plantation was really all about. He didn't fully understand, but he did realize that it was hard work for the Negro people and that the white men who worked for his father bullied the workers and threatened them with the short whips they carried. Pieter asked his father why the white men carried whips and shouted at the workers, but Van Leyden just told him it was necessary to make the slaves do the work and that Pieter would understand when he was older.
Pieter grew to realize that the very clothes his friends wore were a kind of uniform. At fifteen, Tillie was given a dress identical to her mother, plain black with a round neck and elbow-length sleeves. As she was trained to serve meals in the dining room she also began to wear a white mobcap on her thick black hair.
As Joss grew he was made to wear stronger work trousers and a shirt of thick material in a nondescript brown color, and soon learned that the hard-wearing clothes were necessary when he began to work in the cane fields. At first, Joss would come home with his hands torn and bleeding and Effie would put a thick cream on them that she said it would help them to not only heal but would also harden his skin.
Pieter began to ask his father more questions, questions that Nicolaas found irritating coming from the young man who would one day run Spinnaker and control the lives of the many slaves who worked for them. Pieter confounded his father at every turn, asking time and again, how could any man consider another man his property? How could any man professing to be a Christian buy and sell and mistreat the bodies of other men?
Nicolaas' answer, that black people weren't considered to be really human and that you couldn't compare their treatment to that of white men, infuriated Pieter in turn. He could not understand such discrimination.
It was hard for Nicolaas to argue with his son; world opinion on the continuation of slavery was against the Dutch and part of him agreed with Pieter's protests, but he couldn't allow himself to think like that. Pieter needed to learn that philosophy and religion were all well and good, but life was based on mundane truths. Business and trade kept the world turning, not pretty fantasies and fanciful thinking. Nicolaas was of the firm opinion that Christianity and business worked very well together; after all, hard work was a Christian tenet, so providing hard work for others couldn't be wrong.
Nicolaas came to the inescapable conclusion that Pieter would never understand this simple fact when the only life he had known was living beside the very people he would one day own and manage.
No, the only way for Pieter to learn, to understand, was to see another kind of life. Nicolaas decided to send Pieter to his cousin's family back in Amsterdam to further his education. He had much to learn and not only in the classroom. Three or four years living and learning in one of the most diverse cities in Europe should teach Pieter everything he needed to know about life in the modern world.
Pieter had been reluctant to leave his small island home, which was all he had ever known, to travel half way around the world to see a strange country and strange people, even if they were supposed to be his family. At the same time, Pieter had been excited at the idea of how much he would see, how much he could experience.
* * * *
Pieter felt out of place when he first arrived in Amsterdam. His family helped him to gradually fit in to the vastly different society of a European city. Pieter had always thought the plantation house at Spinnaker was large; it was certainly one of the larger houses on Sint Maarten, but compared to the Van Leyden merchant's house on Herengracht, his home was modest.
Willem Van Leyden's house was so large that it comfortably housed the three generations of the family, their servants—of which there were many—and still the top two floors were kept for storage. The style of house wasn't called a merchant's house for nothing; time was those floors were used as warehousing. The house had a narrow frontage, mostly of red brick with some sandstone facades around the windows and doors, but it was very tall, having five stories, and Pieter knew they could take him in and probably never notice the addition.
Their house was in the most fashionable area of the city and they entertained only the best people. Though at first Pieter was uncomfortable with the formality of these people, he quickly learned what they expected and how to behave.
He also developed friends among the other students at the university he attended; others were from far flung Dutch holdings in other parts of the world and they supported each other until they found their niche. Eventually, Pieter made a very particular friend, a native of Amsterdam called Barend Courtlandt, who was a couple of years old than Pieter. They gravitated toward each other, spending more and more time together, and they gained the nickname of ebony and ivory, which Pieter found ironic.
Barend had a dark complexion for a Dutchman, with eyes so dark brown as to be almost black and his hair had that blue-black sheen that invited hands to run through it to see if it felt as soft as it looked. In comparison, Pieter was very fair-skinned, with piercing blue eyes and fine features and, though his hair was still fair, it was a little darker than it had been as a child, almost golden now. They made a very handsome pair and the longer they knew each other, the closer they became.
It was Barend who helped him learn the truth about himself. Pieter felt closer to Barend than anyone else he had ever met, except for his childhood friends back home on Spinnaker. He found himself missing his new Dutch friend when they weren't together, thinking about the handsome young man more and more. When he realized that he thought a lot about the way Barend looked, the way he moved, how often they each seemed to touch each other casually, even lean against each other without any specific need, Pieter was puzzled and even a little afraid of how odd it seemed, odd and yet somehow right.
When Pieter was twenty, the dreams began. Pieter was confused and upset and knew he had to speak to someone; yet the person he shared everything with was the one person Pieter didn't think he could talk to about this. How could he tell Barend about the erotic dreams about him, how Pieter woke up as he climaxed following a highly charged fantasy of Barend leaning into him, both of them naked and touching each other?
Pieter wasn't stupid, he knew that it was possible, though wholly unacceptable, to have sexual feelings for another man. However, he had no idea if his thoughts and dreams were just a passing phase that all men went through or if he had a more serious problem.
He had to talk about it and his choices were seriously limited. Pieter couldn't possibly approach his cousin or a priest; that was unthinkable. The only person he could speak to was Barend, but he was afraid of his friend's reaction, but he didn't know what else to do. For days Pieter harbored his fears until Barend challenged him.
It was late one night as they were returning to the Van Leyden house, crossing the bridge across the Amstel that led to the wide avenue where the house was located. Barend's own home was in the same district. They were halfway across the bridge when Pieter stopped, moved to one side and looked down into the dark water below.
Barend stood alongside him, his back to the bridge parapet as he looked at his friend's profile, concerned by the pensive look in his eyes. "Tell me, Piet, I hate to see you look so worried."
Pieter turned, smiling at the diminutive of his name that only his father called him before Barend had taken to using it. "I'm worried because of what I have to confess, Barend. I'm afraid to lose your friendship."
"Lose my friendship? Piet, you could never do that. I... You mean too much to me, don't you know that?"
"Yes, I think I do. You're my friend, but what I've been feeling...what I... It's more than friendship and I don't understand... I don't know if it's real, if I'm just..."
"Say it, Piet, tell me what you feel. Don't be afraid. I think I understand."
Nervous but trusting this man he'd come to care for, Pieter confessed. "I have... feelings for you, more than just as a friend. I...I've had thoughts, dreams that... I should be ashamed," Pieter lifted his head and stared into Barend's dark eyes and somehow he wasn't afraid any more, "but I'm not. It doesn't feel wrong, Barend. It feels so right. Do you understand?"
"More than you know," Barend smiled. He lifted a hand to Pieter's face and stopped a bare inch away. "Can I touch you? I have longed to touch you, to kiss those wonderful lips."
Pieter gasped and Barend's fingers brushed his cheek and then feather-light they caressed his lips.
That was how it began, a simple caress, two men confessing the unacceptable. Then slowly, carefully, Barend showed Pieter how wonderful it could be to love a man. He discovered that a man's lips were eminently kissable, that a man's skin was as soft as velvet and that lying naked against a male lover aroused him so much more than anything ever had before. Barend showed him how wonderful it was for his cock to be kissed, licked, and sucked, how to pleasure his lover the same way. His friend taught him the many ways one man could enjoy another until Pieter felt confident enough to allow Barend to penetrate him. Barend was a very generous partner making sure that whatever he showed his younger lover, Pieter learned to do to him.
Pieter never told Barend he loved him. His friend seemed to understand that, though Pieter cared for his friend very much, it wasn't the all-consuming love that Pieter believed existed and that one day he would feel. Barend never used the word love, either, though he frequently called Pieter his lover; both men accepted they had feelings beyond friendship. Barend also knew that Pieter would have to return home one day soon and he once told Pieter that he wouldn't allow himself to fall in love with him.
Barend confessed that he loved Pieter as a friend, and that he hoped they would meet again one day, but fenced this declaration around with realities as he saw them.
"Of course, we will both takes wives, even if they are that only in name."
Pieter shook his head, saying, "I can't imagine feeling for a woman what I feel for you; no woman has ever assaulted my senses the way you do."
"I know; I feel the same. You know I've had lovers before, I know I prefer men, but I also know that would make me an outcast and that I refuse to be. It might be reprehensible of me but I intend to do my duty and take a wife, and yet still have a lover. I can't imagine surviving without a man in my bed."
Pieter stared at his friend, not knowing if he could live like that.
When it was time to go home to Spinnaker a few months later, he wondered if that was what his own future would be like.
* * * *
The young man who returned home to Sint Maarten shortly before his twenty-second birthday had learned so very much in the four years he had been away. He was very loving, very polite to his father, but he didn't tell the man all the thoughts in his head. Pieter had learned circumspection among the society of Holland's capital city, though it wasn't the most important, or the most surprising lesson he had learned.
* * * *
Pieter had been home for barely a day before he saw Joss again. Pieter had learned from one of the overseers where the young slave was working, and finding him on his own stacking tools at the edge of the field was perfect. For Pieter, the difference four years had made to the young man was breathtaking. Joss had always been tall and slim with lively dark eyes, but now he had added muscle and carried himself with grace. The twenty-year-old Joss brought only one word to Pieter's mind—beautiful.
They stared at each other, both smiling and apparently unsure of what to say or do. Then without conscious thought, they found themselves wrapped up in each other's arms, laughing and both talking at once.
Tillie's voice behind him sent shivers of warmth up Pieter's spine. She was carrying a large basket of food, lunch for the overseers, Pieter guessed. He had missed her so much. He had wanted to embrace her when he first saw her on his return, but with his father's presence in the room it hadn't been possible. With a last squeeze to the shoulders, he released Joss and turned to Tillie. Pieter swung his surrogate sister around, grinning happily.
"Oh God, I have missed you two so much!" Pieter said but found his gaze kept drifting toward Joss.
When Pieter had discovered his penchant for men in Amsterdam, everything had finally made sense for him. He had always assumed he was simply shy when it came to the girls he'd met growing up. The only one he had ever felt comfortable with was Tillie, but Pieter came to realize that he simply wasn't interested in women that way. He gravitated toward men and they to him. Barend had keyed him into the truth. The same truth Pieter recognized as he looked at Joss now. The young slave couldn't take his eyes from Pieter, either.