Historical Fiction

When Rivers Collide (Book 2 of Adventures of a Victorian Soldier Series)

By

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Synopsis

Ireland, 1856. Samuel Kingston cannot shake his guilt over his father’s death and becomes withdrawn to the consternation of his pregnant wife and family. When Sofia’s brother, Filipe, arrives from Nicaragua, his news of Walker’s Filibuster War stirs old nightmares, and the echo of religious bigotries stirs discord over the baby’s baptism.

When his aristocratic enemies freeze his funds, he becomes desperate for cash to save the family estate, but his plan to use the Baltimore documents to expose these Anglo-Irish lords falls asunder when Walker’s thugs steal the papers.

Walker deprives Cornelius Vanderbilt of the lucrative Trans-Nicaragua route and his license to build a canal linking in the Caribbean to the Pacific. Vanderbilt swears to destroy Walker.

Samuel has no choice but to make a bold with Vanderbilt to smuggle weapons to Costa Rica and arm Walker's foes. Battling bandits, nature, and filibusters to complete his mission, Samuel despairs when his enemies strike again and take all that is dear to him. Now he must convince the Costa Ricans to assault Walker’s forts on the river, even if he’s sailing straight into a deathtrap.

The second pulse-pounding book in the Adventures of a Victorian Soldier historical adventure series

The good Anglican worshippers seated in the wooden pews—men with pork chop sideburns in somber suits, mingled with women in feathered hats overseeing squirming children—despised Samuel Kingston. They despised him for killing one of their own, the Fifth Earl of Baltimore. They despised him for marrying a colored woman who was also a Catholic. And no matter what God or the reverend said this morning, none of this was likely to change soon.

Samuel tugged at his collar and tried to concentrate. He was there to pray. Afterward, he would speak with the reverend about this guilt that was destroying him—if his courage held. He’d attempted to approach the reverend before but lost his nerve. He couldn’t back out today, not after requesting a meeting.

High in his marble pulpit, Reverend Welby slid his wire spectacles up on his head and squinted down at his small congregation. “That concludes today’s service. Remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Ulster; may the Lord protect them from the rioting papists.”

Samuel’s eyes cut to the iron-studded door and the spring day waiting outside. Too late to escape. He stepped back to let his siblings, Jason and Emily pass into the aisle. “Wait for me outside, please.”

Emily squeezed his elbow as she brushed by. “More prayers, Brother? Why? You spend more time on your knees than the rest of us together. Or are you planning to donate some of that fortune you brought back from Nicaragua to the church?”

“Just a theological question, that’s all.” He faked a smile.

The church was too warm too inside, and by the cloying scent of polish, burning candles, and sweat added to Samuel’s discomfort. The congregation flowed from the sanctuary with a subdued shuffle of feet knocking kneelers and quiet coughs. Waiting for Reverend Welby to reappear from the vestry was like waiting for the headmaster in boarding school. Samuel quailed when the reverend finally appeared in his customary black suit, adjusting his white collar as he approached with pigeon-toed steps. He looked about fifty-five, but who could tell? Samuel had known him forever.

Reverend Welby slipped into the pew beside Samuel. “Master Kingston How’s your new wife? Is it . . .”

Samuel missed the rest. The tinnitus was louder than usual in his left ear; the ever-present hiss of rushing water a constant reminder of shattering his eardrum in Crimea eighteen months before. “Pardon, Reverend, I didn’t quite catch that.”

“I asked if Sofia is your wife’s name.”

“Yes, Reverend. Sofia.”

“Settling in, I hope? Quite a change, even the weather. She must find Ireland cold after Nicaragua.”

“Not at present, Reverend. I believe this is the hottest April I ever experienced.”

“And the baby? Must be due soon.”

“Any day now.” No more stalling. He’d just come out and say it.” Reverend, it’s about my Father’s—”

“Have you considered what I said about the christening?” Reverend Welby fidgeted in the pew.

Samuel shrank inside. No matter how he avoided it, this conflict kept finding him.

“You must raise your child as a Protestant.”

This damned baptism was diverting him from discussing his guilt . . . but reverend was right. He must raise his child as a Protestant. But Sofia was adamant about a Catholic baptism, and he’d grown tired of the argument, tired of tiptoeing around it like a warhorse in the drawing room.

He tilted forward; hands draped limply over the pew in front of him. “She knows I’m devoted to our church . . . much my religion means to me, but Catholic doctrine is clear and demanding. We’re at an impasse, and it’s a contentious one.”

The reverend raised his eyebrows.

“I’ve been out of sorts since returning from the war in Nicaragua.” Samuel fidgeted with his worn bible.

The reverend frowned at the tattered bible. “We’re talking about the baby’s baptism here, not a war on the other side of the world.” Samuel hadn’t mistreated the good book; it was a reminder of Mother, and he carried it on all his travels. It had been with him on every campaign.

“I’ll have a word with Sofia, Reverend.” Another thing to worry about, but now he’d ask for help with his feelings about Father; he might never pluck up the courage to do it again. “But I came to you to ask about my guilt for causing Father’s death; it’s unbearable. Everything reminds me of him—the land, the house, the monument Jason built for him . . . all are reminders that I failed him . . . that he died alone in Nicaragua when I should have saved him. And now this conflict over religion . . . I can’t bear to lose Sofia too.”

Reverend Welby’s bushy eyebrows wormed together, and his features softened. “You can’t blame yourself for John’s death. That’s on Lord Baltimore. But if you fail to save this baby’s soul, that’s on you.”

“But I-I don’t want—I mean, it’s not my choice to raise our child this way, but I hardly think a baby’s soul—”

Reverend Welby stopped tapping his fingers on the back of the pew in front of him. “I’m sure your young wife’s better than most, but Catholics are suspicious, indolent people. They worship false idols . . . saints.” Reverend Welby’s hands curled. “And their Virgin Mary . . . Can you fathom that for paganism? If you allow them to claim this innocent soul, you’ll both be denied the joys of heaven.”

This was eighteen eighty-six. Samuel seriously doubted that he was responsible for sending anyone to hell, but the reverend sounded so certain. Could he really be jeopardizing his unborn child’s soul? He covered his face with his hands. “I love her so much, but I love the Lord too. I don’t know what to do.”

The reverend placed a hand on his shoulder. “I believe you do, my son, and you’ll make the correct decision.”

Samuel peered through his fingers.

“I’ll pray for you.”


CHAPTER TWO







Rings swished across the curtain rail, and daylight flooded Samuel’s gummy eyes.

“You’re not going to lie here all day again?”

Another whoosh as Sofia opened the curtains of the second bay window. He groaned and pulled the covers over his head. He just wanted to stay in bed today . . . to be alone.

Her hard boots clacked along the wooden floor in quick steps approaching the bed. “So tell me, Samuel, what did you say to Father Mulcahy? Some parish priest he is, refusing to baptize our baby without your consent.”

Of course, Father Mulcahy had to back him, after Samuel had delivered a ton of Father’s grain to the starving refugees at the workhouse in Skibbereen in the height of the famine. One baby’s soul was a small price to repay Father’s support of Catholic peasants back in those terrible times. Samuel squeezed his eyes tightly. But now he faced another argument about the baby’s religion. It never ended.

“Our child will be born in two months, and God forbid something should happen to it before it’s baptized. Do you want to our baby to end up in limbo?”

The Romish Doctrine concerning purgatory and limbo is a fond thing, Reverend Welby had told him, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. Samuel turned his face away. Such vainly invented beliefs didn’t come from the scripture, and they made him uncomfortable. She had no right to muddle his child with them. “Limbo! There’s no such place as limbo; that’s a ridiculous notion. It’s unreasonable not to consider my right to raise the child as a Protestant.”

The atmosphere chilled.

“Unreasonable?” she switched to her native Spanish as she always did when she was angry.

He shouldn’t have said anything at all. Now they would argue, when all he wanted to do was curl up and sleep again.

“This is not a nicety; it’s the law of my church.” Sofia picked his socks off the floor. “I’m going to ask you again, Samuel. What did you say to Father Mulcahy?”

“Nothing. We’ve not met in ages.”

“And yet he refuses to baptize our baby without your agreement.” She flipped through the pairs of trousers hanging in the closet “You’d best talk to him and sort this out.”

He sat up and gathered the bedclothes about him. “Perhaps Father Mulcahy’s hesitant because the family has helped him out in the past, when we delivered grain to the poorhouse during the famine. But you and I, Sofia, must come to an agreement. I’ve rights—”

“You drag me over here to a strange country and demand that I raise my child as heathen? I’ve a good mind—”

“Sofia, Sofia . . . Not now. I don’t feel well. I don’t wish to discuss this now.” He collapsed back onto the pillow.

Petticoats rustled as she tossed his trousers onto the bed and sat beside them. The haze of rose-scented woman stirred him despite their conflict. “You never want to discuss it. Get out of bed. Filipe will be here any minute, and I don’t want him to see you like this.”

He’d forgotten her brother arrived today. He closed his eyes. “I’ll see him tomorrow. He’ll be here for months, and I need rest now.”

“He looks up to you, and you better not disappoint him.”

Another reminder of Nicaragua, the place he was desperate to forget. She stooped to kiss him, and he turned away, curling his fingers in the blanket as he drew it up to his neck.

She lunged off the bed. “What’s the matter with you? You haven’t put a hand on me in months.” She touched her swollen belly. “Is it this? You think I’m ugly now?”

He was being unfair. “Of course not, my love. You’re beautiful, and with child, you’re perfectly radiant.”

She plucked at her skirts. “But something’s bothering you. All you do is sit in the drawing room and stare at the sea. Or you hide in your bedroom. At least get up so Molly can tidy the room.”

He groaned.

“Samuel! You stink. Get up and bathe. I’m tired of living like this.” She slammed the door behind her.

He sat up, hating himself. She didn’t deserve this—none of them did. He had to get up.

Get up, then.

He threw his bare legs over the mattress. The wooden floor was smooth and cold on the soles of his feet. She was right: The bedroom stank of stale whiskey, cigarettes, and sweat.

He slinked out of bed and padded to the bathroom where Peadar, the footman, was filling the bath.

“There you are, Master Samuel, nice and hot, just as you like it.” The veteran soldier looked at Samuel’s four-day stubble and tutted. “Would you like a shave, sir? And those bags under your eyes . . . I could fetch a cold—”

“No need,” Samuel snapped. “Clear off and leave me in peace.”

But the bath did little to ease the ache in his left leg, a constant reminder of the Crimean War in ’86. Hard to believe it had been two years now—the memories, the pain, the regrets made it seem like yesterday. Stropping the razor was too much bother; he viciously scraped the stubble from his chin, missing a spot or two, and climbed from the tub, sloshing a gallon of water across the wooden floor, vaguely aware of hooves clattering up the driveway.

His breeches were too tight to button, and the next pair didn’t fit either. He flopped back on the bed and stared at the cornice. A boy’s laugher tinkled up from the courtyard, and he threw an arm over his eyes. Filipe was a good kid; he’d make an effort to welcome the lad. Besides, Sofia would be angry if he didn’t come down. The only breeches that fit were the ones crumpled on the floor. He dragged them on. Sofia would berate him for wearing rags. Why did he need to dress up? He never left the house anymore.

He reached under the mattress for his tobacco and rolled an uneven cigarette. He scored a lucifer with his thumbnail and squinted at the smoke as he took a deep drag. The smoke burned his lungs and made him cough. Christ, when would he get the hang of it? He blew out a stream of smoke. Yes, he needed that. It took time to finish dressing; everything took longer these days. Finally, he pulled on his slippers and shambled onto the landing.

Averting his eyes from Father’s portrait over the stairs, he winced at the lilting brogue drifting up from below. He didn’t want to face Padraig’s concerned expression; he didn’t want to see any of them. He’d have to find an excuse to escape dinner early. Damned Fred Kiernan, the bugger needed to get moving and finish the new house. Samuel was pouring money into it, but the walls were rising no quicker. They needed to move out of Springbough; he longed for the quiet of his own space.

He paused in the dining room doorway. Even with the purple saber scar across his nose, Padraig was still handsome. His unruly mop of straw-colored hair and freckled face assured his popularity with girls, and he certainly took advantage of that. At twenty-two years old, he was the same age as Samuel, but he looked more like fifteen-year-old Filipe, seated beside him at the dining room table.

Filipe had Sofia’s honey-colored eyes, and they brightened when he caught Samuel dithering in the doorway. He jumped to his feet and dragged a hand through his black hair. “Samuel, felicidades on your marriage. Ahora somos familia—now I’m related to the hero of the Battle of La Virgen.”

Filipe spoke Castilian, the language of the Spanish elite and unusual for a Nicaraguan, but not surprising, as his father owned one of the largest haciendas in Central America. He also spoke English perfectly.

Samuel waved a hand. “Hero, my backside. We won that battle for the wrong side. I should have shot Walker, not fought for him. Nicaragua would be far better off.” He marched to his chair. “Not my problem anymore. The lot of them can drown in the San Juan River, for all I care.”

Filipe’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? Papa says William Walker’s a visionary. He will make Nicaragua greater than—”

“Poppycock!” Padraig said with a sneer. “That leech will enslave every one of you and—”

Sofia’s silverware clunked on her plate. “Por favor, no politics. Let’s enjoy our lunch, Filipe. And you’re in Ireland now; practice your English.”

Samuel shrugged. Padraig’s father, Jerry Kerr, had fought with the Royal Irish Dragoons in the Peninsular Wars and met his wife in Talavera. He’d managed the Kingston estate for years, and when Samuel’s mother had died in childbirth, María had nursed Samuel along with Padraig, who was a month younger than he was. She’d raised both boys to be fluent in both English and Spanish, and the conversation could continue in either language as far as Samuel was concerned. In fact, he’d prefer no talk at all.

Padraig fiddled with his teaspoon. “How are you, Samuel? I see little of you these days.”

Samuel twisted his wedding ring and looked out the open window at the paddock.

“Are you dodging me?” Padraig grinned. “We go must go hunting again. Your mare’s getting fat.”

Poor Belle. Perhaps Filipe could exercise her. The sea breeze fluttered the curtains with a pungent twang of seaweed and salt. “Been terribly busy around here.”

“Jason and Dad are in the stables, and Mam’s fussing in the kitchen. Apparently, no food’s good enough for Sofia’s little brother. She’ll drive the cook crazy.” Padraig rolled his eyes then peered more closely at Samuel. “You all right?”

“Course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Sofia tugged at her green blouse and looked away.

How could Padraig be so dense? Father lay in a jungle grave half a world away, and he knew it was Samuel’s fault. He had to know what was wrong.

But Padraig nattered on. “Filipe is telling us about the war. When Costa Rica declared war on Walker’s filibusters back in November, I thought President Mora was all talk. Costa Rica is a fart of a country with a population of fewer than one hundred and twelve thousand people.”

Of course, know-it-all Padraig would have that fact on the tip of his tongue. Samuel didn’t care about Costa Rica. He glanced at Sofia, pouring more tea for her brother. He’d better not slip away early, not if he wanted peace that evening.

Filipe shoveled a third spoonful of sugar into his tea. The Nicaraguans were gluttons for the stuff. “Papa said Costa Rica wants to seize control of the San Juan River. If the Costas build the canal, they’ll get the profits instead of us. That’s why President Mora marched four thousand men into Nicaragua and captured Rivas.”

“I’ll bet that pissed Walker off.” Padraig swirled the red wine in his crystal glass.

“Of course not,” Filipe said. “Nothing scares General Walker. He counterattacked, but he hadn’t a hope with six hundred men against two thousand Costas.”

“The Costa Ricans control the south now?” Padraig looked ridiculous as he put down his wine and lifted a china teacup, pinching the fragile handle between a beefy finger and thumb.

Filipe puffed out his chest. “No way. They drove us back, but we slaughtered eight hundred of them as we retreated. Walker’s yanquis know how to fight. Papa says we’ll take Rivas back because disease drove the Costa Ricans back to their own country.”

“Oh, the cholera,” Padraig said.

“It decimated the Costa garrisons in San Juan del Sur, Rivas, and La Virgen, and it forced President Mora to retreat. They won’t come back.” Filipe raised his chin. “Every day, more volunteers arrive from the United States to reinforce Walker. If the Costas return, we’ll hammer them.”

Samuel grimaced and looked out the window. Walker may have hoodwinked Colonel Valle and Filipe, but it wasn’t his problem anymore. He felt Padraig’s eyes on him and looked up. His childhood friend was, indeed, observing him. Padraig better not start fussing again.

“The disease has been a terrible burden for our people,” Sofia said soberly.

“Hundreds of Costa Ricans died from cholera while waiting for ships in San Juan, and only five hundred made it home.” Filipe chortled and slapped the table. “The joke was on President Mora. His men brought the disease back to Costa Rica, and it killed another ten thousand people there. He won’t be in such a hurry to invade us again.”

“Enough!” Samuel pushed away his plate. “I’m tired of hearing about Nicaragua.”

Filipe’s grin wavered, and his eyes bounced from his sister to Padraig. “I was only explaining how we were the ones who really beat the Costa Ricans, not the other way around, as the American newspapers reported. Papa said it was all part of Walker’s genius plan to lure them to their deaths. We were the deciding force.”

Sofia’s lips curled. “‘We’? What do you mean, ‘we’?”

“Papa allowed me to fight with the Colonel Machado’s company,” Filipe said. “I wish I’d been with the Americans. That coward Machado fled the plaza as soon as the Costa Ricans fired on us.”

Sofia bit back an exclamation and clasped both hands tightly in her lap. “Why’s Father still supporting Walker? He knows Walker intends to repeal the abolition of slavery.”

“That’s propaganda,” Filipe said. “Walker’s considering a form of indentured servitude to get the country back on its feet, but it’ll only be temporary.”

Samuel glanced at Sofia. Her nostrils flared as she stared at her plate.

“And what then?” Padraig asked.

“Father says we must support Walker against the traitors who’ve invited every country in Central America to invade us.”

Sofia huffed. “Then they’ve tricked you, little brother. Father supports Walker out of fear he’ll lose his estates if Walker falls.”

“That’s not true!”

“It most assuredly is,” she replied. “What do you think, Samuel?”

“We’re safe here in Ireland.” Samuel looked at his hands. “I don’t care what happens over there. Change the topic.”

Padraig looked down at his plate, and Sofia shook her head. They ate to the hollow tick of the clock for an awkward minute.

Filipe turned his attention to Padraig. “Do you really have a steamboat or were you teasing me on the ride down from Cork?”

Padraig bumped him with his shoulder. “I do. I called her the San Carlos, because I used some of Walker’s gold to purchase her.”

Filipe hooted. “I can’t believe you robbed a fortune in gold from the filibusters. That makes us enemies.” He grinned mischievously.

But taking the gold hadn’t stopped Walker; the man had nine lives. Samuel slammed his cup down on the saucer. “No more about that, please, Filipe. I’m serious.”

Filipe shrugged. “So how big is your steamboat, Padraig?”

“Sixty feet long, big enough to motor far offshore for the big catch.” Padraig pointed to the sun-speckled sea beyond the paddocks. “Hundreds of years back, when the O’Driscoll clan ruled in West Cork, they made a fortune from the fishing here. This boat will change how fishing’s done in these parts. If it works, I’ll buy a fleet of them.”

Sofia murmured something approving behind her napkin.

“Yes, we should go see!” Filipe twisted to his sister. “Can we go out on his boat? Please?”

“We could take her out tomorrow, if you wish,” Padraig said.

Filipe looked at Samuel. “Will you come along? You must. It’ll be great fun.”

Samuel pushed back from the table with a grunt. Filipe’s arrival was a raw reminder that Father’s body lay in a lonely grave far from home. “I’ve things to do.”

He ignored the disapproving eyes that followed him as he dropped his napkin beside his plate and slouched from the dining room. He would retreat to his ledgers. At least the numbers wouldn’t prattle endlessly of the past.




***




But weeks later, Samuel wasn’t so sure the numbers hadn’t aligned to plot against him too. He groaned and looked up from the ledger. Rows and rows, with hardly a difference between them. It was so confusing. Outside, another June day panted beneath the clear blue sky. Christ, it was sweltering. With all the money the builder was spending on the new manor, it should’ve been finished, yet they hadn’t even started on the roof.

It was almost ten by the clock over the fireplace. He’d summoned the builder, Fred Kiernan, who should’ve been here by now. Kiernan had better have a good reason for the additional expenditures and be able to present a convincing plan for getting construction back on track.

The whack of wooden swords and intermittent grunts coming from outside were most distracting. Did Padraig have to train Filipe in the courtyard? He’d told them to ride to Oak Tree field for that. Jesus, they were giving him a headache.

Filipe’s high-pitched squeal of laughter, piercing like a needle, was the last straw. Samuel flung his pen onto the ledger, spitting turquoise ink across the ranks of numbers. He couldn’t work like this; he’d put a stop to these ridiculous antics.

He stalked downstairs, unmoved by the aroma of fresh-baked bread from the kitchen and sparing no greeting for Cookie as she bent over the cast iron cookstove, and stepped into the yard.

White shirts clinging to their sweating bodies, Padraig and Filipe advanced and retreated across the worn flagstones with dancing steps, thrusting and warding with the heavy wooden sabers Samuel had used as a child. Fencing and riding every day since he’d arrived nearly a month ago had added muscle to Filipe’s gangly frame. He stamped forward and cut at Padraig. Padraig warded off the blow and sent his saber whistling down at Filipe’s knee. Filipe blocked. The boy had fast hands.

Padraig dangled his blade between them. “Come on, get past me.”

Filipe grinned and slashed at Padraig’s horizontal blade. Padraig twisted his wrist, and Filipe missed his saber.

“Not fair!” Filipe skipped back a step. “How did you do that?”

Padraig’s blade was already back in between them. “I’m watching your eyes. You signaled that move. Try again.”

Filipe brushed his long black hair from his eyes and hacked at Padraig’s suspended blade again. Padraig dipped his wrist, and Filipe’s blade missed. Filipe gave up that move and attacked with rapid slashes, high and low, and the ash weapons thunked as they cut and parried.

A weight settled inside Samuel. This was a waste of time. All his weapons training and seven years of campaign experience hadn’t saved Father when it mattered. This was vanity.

“Padraig, I told you to train in the Oak Tree field.” He knew he shouldn’t be so petty, but Padraig should’ve respected his wishes, damn it. “I can’t concentrate with that racket. If you dislike the Oak Tree field, you’d think you could find somewhere secluded on a fifteen-hundred-acre estate.”

Padraig’s jaw fell slack as the fencers halted. “This is where you and I always practiced.”

Typical. Samuel crossed his arms. “I don’t care.”

Padraig lowered his saber and took a step closer. “You’ve been acting like a wasp since . . .” He flicked a glance at Filipe and returned his eyes to Samuel. “Look, can we talk? I need to—”

Wheels rumbled and tack jingled down the driveway as a gray mare pulled a two-wheel trap into sight. Samuel tilted his head at the diversion. He didn’t need to chitchat with Padraig.

“There’s Kiernan at last,” he said. “Late, as usual. Be good fellows and train elsewhere.”

He hoped they would move off as he rounded the house to greet the driver who dismounted and left the chestnut mare in the care of Mickey Spillane. Samuel had known Fred Kiernan for the last fifteen years, and he never seemed to age. He looked forty, but he could’ve been anywhere between thirty and sixty.

Samuel shook hands. “Mr. Kiernan, thanks for coming.”

“Good morning, sir.” Kiernan broke eye contact.

“I hope you bring good news about the progress,” Samuel said. “I’m eager for my child to grow up in its own home, out from under his uncle’s feet.”

Kiernan opened his mouth but closed it again.

Samuel steeled himself for a round of excuses. “Is something the matter?”

“I’ve received an alarming note from Boyd, manager at the Trustee Saving Bank.”

Kiernan gulped and rubbed his chin. “Your bank has refused to honor your last money order.”

Samuel’s skin tingled from the back of his neck across his face. “Are you certain?”

“I’m sure it’s some mistake,” Kiernan agreed. “But I must be paid.”

“It’s a mistake. I assure you, I’ve more than ample funds.” He, Sofia, and Padraig had stolen a fortune in gold Louis Greenfell that his aristocrat cronies had sent to Walker in return for the filibuster’s promise of vast estates in Nicaragua and his promise to allow the use of slaves to work the land—money meant to fund Walker’s filthy war.

Kiernan drew a letter from the breast pocket of his rumpled overcoat. “Here, read it for yourself if you like.”

Samuel skimmed the letter, his finger tapping energetically. Sure enough, the bank said his funds were unavailable.

“I’d like to help you out, Mr. Kingston, truly I would,” Kiernan said, “but if I’m not paid, I must stop working on your home. I’ve expenses. Men to pay.”

This was preposterous. Samuel was the richest man in Clonakilty now. “No need for that. I’m sure it’s a stupid mistake.” He glanced at his pocket watch. “Ten thirty. I’ll ride to Cork and sort this out. You must keep your men at work.”

Kiernan showed his palms and shrugged. “These are tough times, Mr. Kingston.”

Samuel sighed and pinched his nose between his fingers. How was this possible? He still had close to two hundred thousand pounds in the bank, enough to buy half of West Cork. “I promise you’ll have your payment this very evening.”

“I’ll stay on the job until tomorrow, but if it’s not sorted by then, we must stop.”

“Look, this is nonsense.” Samuel grabbed Kiernan’s sleeve. “Even if there were some bizarre issue at the bank, my brother’s credit—”

“The entire county knows there’s a hefty lien on Springbough Manor.” Kiernan shook Samuel’s hand off and stepped toward his trap. “Your brother’s in no position to help you.”

“My brother’s affairs are none of yours, sir. Your business is with me. If you don’t work on my home, I’ll find somebody else.”

Kiernan opened the door to the trap, and his face slackened. “Sorry, Mr. Kingston. Everyone’s struggling since the famine, and I’ve a family to feed. As you say, it’s probably a mix-up by the banker in Cork. I’ll wait until tomorrow.”

“Very well.”

“I wish you luck in Cork. Good day to you.”

Padraig and Filipe were still watching as the builder cracked his whip and the trap lurched away.

Samuel waved his hand. “It’s nothing. Get on about your business. Filipe, before you go, please ask Mickey to saddle Belle. I must ride to Cork.”

“I’ll come with you,” Padraig said. “You won’t reach Cork until late afternoon, so you’ll have to ride home in the dark, and the roads aren’t safe these days. Not with highway men roaming the county.”

A ten-hour inquisition was the last thing Samuel needed. “I’ll be fine.”

“Let me come, please?” Filipe asked.

“You should stay with Padraig.”

“Please? I want to see the city.”

“I said no.” Samuel spun on his heel. First the damned bank, and now Filipe.

Padraig drew him aside. “What is it, really? You’ve not been the same for months . . . since Nicaragua, in fact.”

Samuel had heard it all before, from Sofia, from Jason, and from Emily. He shook his head. “Nothing . . . Nothing. I prefer to ride alone. Jesus, I survived the Charge of the Light Brigade and fought one thousand Nicaraguans in Rivas. You think I can’t handle a highwayman?”

Padraig didn’t look at him but gave a small nod and strode back to Filipe. “That’s enough for today. We’ll go to the Oak Tree field tomorrow.”

Filipe appeared at Samuel’s elbow as he stalked toward the main house. “Please take me with you. I’ve never seen the city. Padraig plucked me off the steamer in Queenstown and hustled me here.”

Samuel kept his eyes on the cobblestones. “It’s not his fault. I told him to bring you directly here.”

“But—”

“You can’t come. Go clean up, Filipe. You’re a sweaty mess.”




***




Belle threw up her head and whickered a greeting, her mane shimmering like coal in the sunlight.

Samuel hugged her wet muzzle. “Sorry, old girl. I’ve been neglecting you.”

He nodded to Mickey Spillane and mounted.

“She’s as fit as a fiddle, Master Samuel,” Mickey said. “Mistress Sofia exercises her every day, even in the rain.”

Samuel’s eyes narrowed. Was that some sort of admonition? He feigned a smile. “Thanks. Tell Mistress Sofia I’ll be back some time tonight.”

The sun’s warmth was a stranger on his face, but he forgot his woes as he reveled in the smooth rhythm of Belle’s gait in the summer air. The sleek mare needed no guidance as they trotted westward around Clonakilty Bay, where the sea, calm and blue, and the flooding tide spat tiny silver-crested wavelets onto the gray sand. Gulls wheeled in the cloudless sky and hurled their high-pitched cries into the balmy air. The hedgerows sagged with juicy blackberries, ripe for the picking, and the last of the yellow daffodils waved farewell from the fields.

Samuel looked to the rolling green pastures and fields of ripening crops and sighed. He loved Springbough Manor, but it was time to leave the nest. Even together, the three farms he bought with the Nicaraguan gold were small compared to Springbough Manor’s estate, and his new manor would be smaller too. The new estate would be infinitely more secure than Springbough, and that was what mattered. The outer walls would be ten feet high, and double steel gates would guard both entrances. His family would be well protected, so important now that the baby was coming.

A baby . . . If it was a boy, would he be six feet tall and broad-shouldered like his father? He’d certainly have a dark complexion, for Sofia’s silken skin was the color of honey and Samuel was dark as a Spaniard. Eyes as dark as a pint of Guinness, Cousin William used to jest. Black Irish. But the baby might have Sofia’s—

A sixth sense honed by years of combat raised the hair on the nape of his neck. He was being followed. He glanced over his shoulder. The rutted road was empty, but that prickle in his scalp was a warning. He halted Belle, dismounted, and feigned tightening his girth to steal a glance behind him.

Back where the boughs of beech trees arched across the road, shaking hands, a rider trotted into the sunlit-flecked tunnel, then hastily backed out of sight. Samuel’s heart skipped a beat. He mounted and spurred Belle down the road. Half a mile ahead, the laneway leading to the ruined cottage would offer a hiding place.

He reined in at the ruined building and moved closer, where thorny bushes laden with blackberries smothered the entrance. He prodded Belle behind the briars, petting her warm, damp neck. The warhorse was a real jewel. She would remain quiet.

Hoofbeats grew louder, and Samuel rose in the saddle. His Navy Colt was locked away at home, damn it, now that he’d sworn not to bear arms again. Not after Nicaragua. If this was a highwayman, his only defense would be surprise—and Belle. The clever Jerry Kerr had trained her to bite and fight.

Harness jingling, a familiar chestnut mare ambled into sight, her rider’s face shadowed beneath a wide-brimmed hat.

Samuel released his pent-up breath. “Filipe!”

Filipe flinched in the saddle, reached under his frock coat, and halted. “Samuel?”

“Bloody hell, what are you doing?” Samuel nudged Belle onto the road. “Following me?”

Filipe’s hand flickered back to the reins. “I want to go to Cork. I thought if I followed behind a while, you would relent.”

“You shouldn’t have come.” Samuel brushed away a fly and looked back down the empty road. “These roads aren’t safe for a foreigner. Robbers would kill you for Goldie, and Sofia will be furious you took her mare.”

“Please don’t send me back.”

“God damn you, I don’t need this distraction,” Samuel snarled. If anything happened to the boy, he’d never forgive himself, and he’d endured enough of that shade of guilt already. He spurred Belle ahead without waiting for an answer. “Fall in, then, but don’t let me hear your nattering the entire way to Cork. Mark my words, you’ll pay for this when we get back tonight.”




***




The offices of Allen and Norton, the Kingston family’s solicitors in Cork City, enshrouded its occupants in an aura of old parchment, leather bindings, and dust.

Peter Norton plucked at his gray pork chop sideburns and gave Samuel a deep sigh. “There is nothing we can do. The Earl of Lucan is the legally appointed representative of the Nicaraguan government here, and his claim states you stole that gold from them. The magistrate insists the bank freezes those funds until the court addresses the dispute. I can—”

“William Walker is not the Nicaraguan government,” Samuel said. “He’s little more than a pirate that the Democrats were foolish enough to hire for their civil war, and now he pulls the strings of the puppet president, Patricio Rivas.”

Norton looked at him blankly.

Samuel dragged a hand through his hair. It was impossible. No one in Ireland had ever heard of Nicaragua, never mind the civil war.

Norton raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps if you gave some background, I could help.”

Samuel stilled his foot tapping under the table. This wasn’t Norton’s fault. “Everything I say is confidential? Strictly between us?”

“Of course.” Norton tapped his forehead. “Every word goes into the vault.”

“Good.” Samuel looked at the door. “Nicaragua’s location in Central America, with a narrow isthmus dividing the Caribbean from the Pacific Ocean, makes it the fastest route between the East and West Coasts of the United States. You may have heard of it for that reason.”

Norton shrugged vaguely.

“The opposing political parties there are the Democrats and the Legitimists, like the Whigs and Tories here. I can’t see much difference between their policies. I think they’re fighting to control the wealth. One faction will conquer a district, then confiscate the land from their opponents.”

He took out his tobacco tin. “Three years ago, when the Democrat Party candidate won the election for the position of supreme director, the Legitimists claimed election fraud. Civil war broke out. The Democrats invited William Walker to raise an army of American volunteers to fight for them, but they brought a cuckoo into the nest, for Walker believes in manifest destiny. He planned to annex Nicaragua and add it to the United States, just like Texas, but once he tasted power, he grew determined to take it for himself.”

Samuel finished rolling his cigarette and paused to lick the paper.

“The expectations for responsible men of leadership are evidently different there and, dare I say, a bit backward,” Norton said with a sniff. “Not like here.”

“Oh, there’s plenty like here over there,” Samuel said. “Walker partnered with a British consortium, mainly Anglo-Irish aristocrats, including the Earl of Baltimore—Louis Greenfell—the Earl of Lucan, and the Earl of Sligo. Some British, too. Lord Paget, for example.”

Norton’s face crumpled. “That can’t be. These are reputable men, powerful men. You mustn’t say such things. What—”

“I have proof,” Samuel said. “Baltimore framed Father for treason. You’ll remember that?”

“Of course I do, but what has that to do with—” Norton’s eyes bulged. “Oh, so the rumor is true.”

Samuel raised an eyebrow.

“You killed Lord Baltimore?” Norton asked.

Samuel’s hands curled together. “He kidnapped Father and dragged him off to Nicaragua. Father died alone, devastated by cholera.” And if Samuel had acted faster, Father would still be alive today.

Norton put his palms on the table. “So, you killed Greenfell?”

“Yes.” Samuel rummaged in his pocket for matches. “But in a fair fight after I learned he kidnapped Father. I had to stop him delivering a fortune in gold to Walker.”

“Why would Greenfell give gold to Walker?” Norton’s eyes flicked to the door. No wonder, such intrigue never happened in Cork.

“Greenfell and his crony lords sent three hundred thousand dollars to Walker in Nicaragua to fund—”

“Three hundred thousand dollars!” Norton tugged his jacket firmly in place. “That’s a king’s ransom; you could buy up half the county.”

Samuel’s ear’s reddened. Norton made him sound crooked. “Listen. They paid Walker that gold in return for his promise to give them thousands of acres of land confiscated from the legitimate owners. In short, they tried to steal a country. Worse, the wretches insisted that Walker abolish the slavery ban so they could bring slaves from Africa and enslave the native population later. Walker planned to use that gold to fund his war, so I confiscated it to stop him.”

Norton scoffed. “That can’t be so. Good men of the union would never—”

“I have their correspondence.”

Norton sat back to absorb this information. “So you discovered what they were about, and that’s when you went after the lot of them?”

Samuel nodded curtly. “I turned on Walker, even though I knew it might cause Father’s death.” He lit his cigarette and dragged on it. There it was, the truth. Father had died because of Samuel’s high-and-mighty principles.

“You took the gold, sold it, and deposited the money in the bank.” Norton gave a small yelp. “That’s why Lucan and the others are helping Walker come after you . . . but why now? Why not a year ago?”

“I already threatened to publish my evidence of their involvement in this land theft and slavery if they moved against me. That frightened them, especially Lucan, which is why I’m puzzled why he’s acting now.” Samuel sagged back in the seat. “What can you do? That’s my money, the spoils of war. You’re my solicitor. It’s urgent you get it back for me.” He stabbed a finger at the documents on the table. “I need access to my funds to pay the builder for expenses, and there’s the matter of the debts on Springbough. I promised Jason I’d settle those.”

“I’ll get to work on it.” Norton gathered the documents into a neat pile. “But in the interim, you must find another way to cover your expenses. The court can tie up your funds for years.”

“But I don’t have another source of income. I resigned my commission in the Seventeenth Lancers,” Samuel said. “You know my affairs, you know that. They’ll come after Jason and Springbough now too. I need that money back.”

“Lord Lucan is a powerful man. We may not win against him.”

Samuel drummed his fingers on the polished desk. One thing at a time. “How long can we stall the debt on the estate?”

Norton wiped his glistening brow with a silk handkerchief. “Baltimore’s heir is a young rake from Sussex named Bentley. I know nothing more about him, but he should take title within the next twelve months. I’d guess he’ll call in the debt on Springbough then.”

Samuel shook his head. “This will devastate Jason. I assured him I’d clear the debt as soon as Baltimore’s heir showed up.”

“That can’t be too far away now, I’m afraid.”

Samuel slammed a fist onto the desk. “That bastard Baltimore still haunts me from the grave.” He rose decisively. “Contact Lucan. Tell him I’ll send Baltimore’s papers to the London Times unless he releases my money. He and his conspirators won’t survive the scandal.”

“The Baltimore papers?” Norton’s eyebrows shot up.

“My wife found the incriminating correspondence—their references to buying stolen land and bringing back slavery—in Baltimore’s possession, that’s why I call the evidence the Baltimore papers.”

Norton rose as well, fussing with his pince-nez glasses. “My God, you’re playing a dangerous—”

“I’ve held these papers as insurance against exactly this event. Now it’s time to put them to work. Do it.”




***




Filipe sprang up from his seat in Norton’s reception room and followed Samuel. “May we walk around now? I want to go into that fancy hotel where we stabled the horses—the Imperial, is it?”

Samuel ignored him and stalked in the direction of the stables. The little pest should’ve stayed in Clonakilty.

“Samuel? Can’t we go see? I’d like to tour the city.”

“We’re going home,” Samuel said. “The horses have only had two hours’ rest, but that must suffice. If we leave now, we’ll still have daylight most of the way.”

“But we’re right here—”

Samuel’s scowl silenced the boy.

Once clear of the carts rumbling into town to the markets, Samuel held the horses to a steady pace. Why would Lucan choose to move against him now? He knew Samuel still possessed the Earl of Baltimore’s papers, outlining their plan to revoke the 1826 act abolishing slavery and buy African “apprentices” from the French colonies. Publication of that correspondence would ruin Lucan. Why would he move against Samuel with those risks at stake?

As the last light leaked from the evening sky two hours later, he took the lonely road to Clonakilty after passing through Bandon Town. Still ruminating on his troubles, he scratched the back of his head; the swarms of tiny midges were as irritating as mosquitoes. Filipe sulked beside him. He hadn’t spoken since they left Cork. Samuel shifted in the saddle to ease his stiff thighs. This was the first time he’d ridden a long distance in months, and damnation, he was out of condition.

A masked rider burst from a gap in the briars ahead with a pistol in hand, its muzzle a black dot aimed at Samuel’s breast. “Halt, or I’ll shoot!”

Hooves drummed on the road behind them, and Samuel craned around. A broad-shouldered man in a top hat had ridden from behind the ditch to block their escape.

Samuel raised his hands slowly. It was hopeless to resist.

The man in the top hat rode closer. “Can’t believe we took the great Captain Kingston so easily.” He snorted and waved his pistol. “Off yer horses, both of yous.” The scarf covering his nose and mouth muffled his speech.

They clearly knew him, but Samuel didn’t recognize the voices at all. “What do you want? I’ve—”

“Shut you yourself up and dismount,” Top Hat roared. “You too, boy. Who the hell are you? Billy, yous said he’d be alone.”

This was no random robbery. Samuel looked about for more men or other travelers.

Filipe spat in the mud. “Go to hell. I’ll do nothing for you.”

Billy lunged forward and struck Filipe across the face, knocking him from the saddle. Filipe hit the dirt with a thud.

These men meant to kill them. The scene about to unfold flashed before Samuel’s eyes. He’d failed once more to protect his own family: first Father, now Filipe.

Samuel caught the acrid stench of Billy’s body odor as the highwayman dismounted and approached Filipe.

“Don’t harm the boy.” Samuel swung down for the saddle. “I’ll do whatever you ask.”

“Kill them, now,” Top Hat said. “The others will soon finish their raid on the manor.”

Filipe rolled onto his back, and flame lit the dusk as a pistol blazed in his hand. Billy crumbled the ground and dropped his own pistol. Samuel lunged for it.

Scooping up Billy’s pistol, Samuel shot Top Hat in the head, and the highwayman tumbled out of the saddle with a grunt.

Filipe was frozen two feet away with a smoking pistol, lips quivering, slowly sweeping his head right and left. Top Hat was prone on the ground; a cup of blood leaking from the hole in his head.

Samuel stooped over Billy, who was moaning in the mud. There was a black stain on his shirt, and the smell of coppery blood wrinkled Samuel’s nose. It was a fatal wound. “Who sent you?”

Billy’s blue eyes dulled.

Samuel shook him roughly. “Who sent you?”

About the author

I was born in Ireland and lived in the USA before moving to Costa Rica. My adventures as an international yacht racer and professional deep-sea diver provided the hair-rising experiences that allow me to share the raw emotions of fear and conflict with readers. view profile

Published on January 10, 2021

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Historical Fiction