Lyndon Holborn, Master of Friendship Estate, lay on his deathbed on the 19th of August in the year of our Lord, 1786. Dawn was creeping over the mountains and would soon light up the Caribbean Sea. He could see the waves from his bed and tried to concentrate on breathing in with each incoming wave and out as it kissed the sandy shore and turned back toward the pull of the sea. He knew he was dying, but he still had things to do before he closed his eyes forever.
His second wife was much younger than he was. He had set aside his English wife and three children when he met her. Sent them back to England with enough money and a promise that he would never hear from them again. As the ship sailed out of the Jamaican harbor, he took for his wife, the love of his life, Anne Beauchamp. She was born in Haiti, and he met her there when he traveled to her father’s estate to buy slaves. Her father was a Basque Prince from the Kingdom of Navarre. The small principality occupied lands on either side of the Western Pyrenees along the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and France.
Anne’s mother was a slave, but when the Prince laid eyes on her, he married her the next day. He could have taken her without marrying her, as was his right as Master of the plantation, but he was so madly in love and out of his mind with lust for her that only the marriage bond would satisfy him and be acceptable to her. It was whispered that Anne and her mother practiced magic deep from the heart of Africa, so powerful they could bend the will of any man. Given how they were able to entice rich and powerful men to fall in love with them seemingly overnight, the rumor took flight as their fortunes improved. Anne bore Lyndon a daughter, she christened Sabine. Lyndon didn’t think he could love anyone more than he loved Anne until he saw the perfect bundle the midwife laid in his arms with flawless mocha skin, a rosebud of a mouth, and beautiful dark eyes, the mirror of his own Anne’s eyes. He fell in love all over again and vowed he would give this child everything he had. He spared no expense in bringing tutors to the island of Jamaica to ensure she could read, write, and speak English and French fluently, debate the history and politics of any nation, understand the science of crops, yields, harvests and manage her finances, which included the most abundant sugar plantation on the west coast of Jamaica. He worked to ensure that she would never have to rely on anyone for her livelihood. He raised her as he would have his only male heir.
Now, as he lay at death’s door, he worried that he had failed her. His English breeding and enormous wealth had purchased her acceptance into Jamaican plantocracy society. But would it be enough to silence the whispers of ‘half-caste’ and ‘browning’ that occasionally floated to his ears? He had done the unthinkable in Jamaica’s polite society; he had put aside his white family and made his life with his darkie family. He now worried that he would bring the life he had created crashing down around them with his death.
He had one card left to play, one given to him by his father-in-law, the Prince of Navarre. He asked his friend and confidante, Dr. Richard Chapman, to attend him today so he could play his last hand in protecting the child he loved.
“Richard, thank you for coming,” Lyndon was pulled from his reverie as his friend took the seat next to his bed. He tried to raise himself to shake his hand, but a coughing fit left him weak and spasming as he fell back against his pillow. Anne rushed to his side and gently propped him up against her so he could speak.
“I’m afraid I have little time left in this world, and I need to ask you a favor, my friend.”
“Anything Lyndon, anything for you,” Richard addressed the older man earnestly. Richard Chapman had arrived from England, battered and broken. He came from a good family in England, not royalty or gentry, but hard-working folk who had improved their lot from storekeeper to proprietors of a shipping fleet to learned doctors and lawyers. He had just finished his studies as a doctor and was to join a flourishing practice in London when his father was disgraced and died in a mysterious fire that killed his mother and young sisters.
His father lost a shipment of slaves at sea. He had undertaken the venture on the word of a nobleman who he later learned was penniless and needed the money from the sale of slaves he had procured off the coast of Africa. Richard’s father sent all his ships without a deposit or guarantee from the nobleman and with great reluctance, because it was during the height of hurricane season. The vessels were all lost at sea along with their cargo, and the nobleman held his father responsible. He used his influence to get a judgment against his father, claiming all his assets except the family home. Richard could never prove it, but he knew it was the nobleman’s lackeys who set the fire that killed his family.
Richard’s society fiancé had refused to marry him after the scandal because he had nothing left in England. In disgrace, he had fled to Jamaica. His luck changed the day he met Lyndon Holborn, who asked nothing of him except friendship, until this day, the day he lay dying in his bed.
“Tell me, my friend, how may I help you?” Richard asked gently. He knew Lyndon was dying and was anxious to ease the anxiety he had seen on the old man’s face as he attended him this past week. He moved into the Greathouse to be close to his friend in case he needed anything.
“Do you know the law of Primogeniture? What it entails?” Lyndon asked.
“I do, yes. According to English law, the firstborn legitimate son will inherit your entire estate,” Richard started.
“Yes, correct, that is it,” Lyndon cut him off.
“Are you worried that your son will come from England to claim your estate?” Richard asked.
“No, my firstborn son is dead, years past of dysentery and my English daughters have married well and have lives of their own. I suspect they have happily forgotten about me and about Jamaica years ago.” Another coughing fit overcame Lyndon, and he stopped to take a drink from the cup Anne held to his lips.
“I want to talk to you about the law of Absolute Primogeniture; it is from the Basques, written in the laws that govern the Kingdom of Navarre. Anne’s father was a Prince of Navarre. Absolute Primogeniture allows me to transfer the title of my property to any child of mine, regardless of their sex.”
“Lyndon, all your property is in Jamaica, thus governed by the laws of England,” Richard started.
But Lyndon interrupted him. “Anne, give him the document,” Lyndon instructed. From behind her, Anne produced a long leather tube. Richard could see the insignia of the Kingdom of Navarre engraved into the leather. “Read this and let me know if you understand what it says,” Lyndon instructed.
Richard carefully removed the fragile parchment and laid it out at the foot of the bed to see it better from the window's light. He read carefully, looking at Lyndon and Anne from time to time. Their eyes never left his face. When he finished reading, he walked to the window, but he saw nothing of the beautiful vista in front of him. He could not believe what he had just read.
Friendship Estate and all on it was the sole property of the Kingdom of Navarre and its heirs born in the colonies. As an only child, Anne owned it all, and as her sole heir, so would Sabine.
“There is no way this will hold up in an English court of law,” Richard stated.
“It already has,” Lyndon said. He was tired, and his energy was fading fast. “When I married Anne, her father petitioned King George to ratify that document, which he did. It does not have to go through the English courts; it is by royal decree.”
“This will create a scandal that Anne and Sabine will never recover from. What have you done, Lyndon?” Richard asked.
“Anne is my other half, my equal, my better in many ways,” he smiled and kissed his wife’s hand as he said this. “My daughter is my only heir. She will inherit Friendship Estate and do wonderful things with it, I am sure. But I need your help.”
“My help? How can I help?” Richard asked incredulously.
Lyndon took a deep breath before answering. “After a reasonable period following my death, I want you to marry Anne.”
“What?” Anne and Richard exclaimed together.
“Anne, you have no family in Jamaica,” Lyndon explained. “Your father turned his plantation over to your mother’s family upon his death. That property is now a freehold, as it should be. Jamaica is a mixed-race island, Anne. We both know it. There are fewer pure Africans each year as they are fewer pure Englishmen. The abolition of slavery is around the corner, and I need you, Sabine and Richard, to prepare this plantation, hell! Prepare the island that bore our daughter for what is to come,” Lyndon lay back, his energy spent. The resolve in his outburst had surprised them all.
Anne and Richard looked at each other. They were close in age, Richard being two years older than Anne. The only thing they had in common was their love for Lyndon, and they both understood why he wanted this marriage. Richard’s name and white skin would protect Anne and Sabine. He would give them the legitimacy they needed to live life as they had, and no one in Jamaica would question them. It was the perfect solution for their bona fide continued existence. With tears in her eyes, Anne nodded her head in agreement. Richard followed suit as Lyndon hugged them both to him. Richard and Anne looked at each other over his head. What choice did they have but to grant the man they owed everything to his dying wish?
They were still looking at each other when Lyndon took his last breath.