Authors: Beverly Jenkins
Tags: #Romance, #Historical
On Thursday last arrived from the coast of Africa, the brig
with a parcel of extremely fine, healthy, well limb’d Gold Coast slaves, men, women, boys and girls. They are to be seen on the vessel at Taylor’s Wharf. Apply to Thomas Teckle Taylor, Samuel & William Vernon….
June 6, 1763
It was beginning to rain, so Dominic LeVeq pushed the…
Clare Sullivan didn’t care for sea voyages. Traveling by ship…
With the meal now finished, Clare steeled herself for what…
Powder monkey Richmond Spelling also served as the captain’s aide,…
He was gone for such a long time, Clare thought…
Accustomed to rising early, Clare was up and dressed when…
Two days later, Clare was up on deck talking with…
Walking with Clare and Richmond by her side, Anna sniffed,…
Clare enjoyed the feast. There was wonderful food, there was…
He wanted to show her the island, so for the…
Later, after darkness spread over the island, they took a…
Clare was seated in the courtyard reading when he returned.
They spent the following two days, making love, playing in…
While Violet lay sleeping, Clare got up at dawn, dressed,…
Clare, Violet, and Dot arrived at the dock before dawn…
The sloop reached Liberté in the wee hours before dawn.
The lookout in the nest yelled, “Captain! There’s a canoe…
The sail home took less than six hours, and they…
He reached the sprawling stone castle just as thunder sounded and the skies opened up to release a pelting, cold downpour. Handing the stallion’s reins to one of the stable boys, he hurried up the stone steps to the heavy front door.
Inside, he was met by the family’s oldest retainer, the butler Martine Rousseau.
“Dominic!” he exclaimed, pulling the younger man into his aged arms. “Thank you for coming. Thank you.” The relief in his voice was apparent.
“Thank you for sending the note down to the dock. How are you, Martine?”
The butler stepped back and viewed Dominic with deep affection before taking his wet cloak. “I’m getting old, but still here by the grace of God. It is good to see you.”
“You as well. How did you know I was in port?”
“Cook saw your ship down on the wharf a few days ago when she was buying fish. When I learned the reading of the estate papers would be today, I sent the boy to find you with the hopes that you were still here.”
“I’m glad you did.”
The old, dark-skinned man shook his head sadly. “It was a terrible day for the House of LeVeq when your father passed away, but this day—this day…” He seemed unable to find the words to continue. “Your brother and Nancine are in the study. They will not be pleased that you are here.”
“Then nothing has changed.”
Martine smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Go, represent your father’s word. They certainly will not.”
Dominic nodded grimly and set off for the study. His boots echoed loudly against the marble floors as he made his way through the silent, dimly lit halls. Were it not for Martine’s summons, he would never have willingly entered the LeVeq ancestral home. He had no connection to the home established by the original duke during the fifteenth century, or to the ornately framed portraits of his descendants lining the walls. He was the bastard child of Antoine and his beloved mistress, Dominic’s mother, Marie, a manumitted slave. Dominic had visited this place a few times in his youth, but his mother of course had not. The only reason Antoine’s wife, Nancine, had allowed Dominic inside was that her husband wouldn’t visit without him. When Marie died on Martinique under suspicious circumstances, Antoine turned his back on Nancine, Eduard, and France forever and took to the sea. His death in England last month from pneumonia had come as a shock. Dominic had been certain the old man would live forever. He hadn’t attended the funeral because he knew Nancine would not have allowed his presence, so he and the other seamen who’d called Antoine LeVeq friend had honored his passing from afar.
When he opened the door to the study, one of the lawyers was reading the will aloud, but at Dominic’s unannounced entrance he stopped and stared, as did the others seated about the elegant book-lined room. “I see you started without me,” Dominic stated easily, closing the door behind him.
Eduard LeVeq shot to his feet. “What are you doing here?”
“It is good to see you, too,
Dominic tossed back sarcastically, before turning cold eyes on his late father’s wife. “Nancine,” he voiced with cool politeness. He didn’t expect her to acknowledge him. She didn’t disappoint, so he answered Eduard’s question, “I came to hear the will.”
The two lawyers quickly looked to each other in what appeared to be panic before regaining their composure. Their reactions put Dominic on notice that something was indeed afoot.
Eduard, whose blond hair and brown eyes mimicked his mother, Nancine’s, replied bitterly, “This has nothing to do with you. Leave us.”
Dominic countered, “I am a son of the House of LeVeq, and whether our father left me everything or nothing, I have the right to be here.” And he took a seat.
Eduard’s lips tightened. He looked as if he might say more, but Dominic ignored him and turned to the lawyers. “Continue.”
Neither man was familiar to Dominic. During Antoine LeVeq’s lifetime, all legal matters had been handled by a cadre of London-based solicitors who were also friends, but Eduard and Nancine had probably terminated their services even before the soil settled over the old duke’s grave.
The lawyer who’d been interrupted by Dom’s entrance cleared his throat. “As I was saying, everything has been left to you, Eduard.” He turned to Dominic and repeated pointedly, “Everything.” Moving his focus back to the smug-faced Eduard, he added, “I have looked into the situation in the Indies as you requested, and the courts agree that because there is nothing in the will freeing the Blacks, they are now owned by you.”
Dominic froze. “What Blacks?”
Eduard answered, “The ones in Martinique.”
“Father freed them the day I was born.”
Eduard’s ice blue eyes glittered. “Not according to the courts, and as soon as these papers are sealed and filed, they belong to me.”
Dominic shot the lawyers a deadly stare, and they looked so uncomfortable they wouldn’t or couldn’t meet his gaze.
Eduard continued smoothly, “As Father’s only legitimate son, I inherit those Blacks, and although he may not have cared whether those cane fields produced a profit, I do. I will be dismissing the present overseers, who are obviously too soft, and replace them with ones who will work those Africans from sunup to death if they have to.”
Dominic was on him in an instant and dragged him by his coat collar across the desk so there’d be no mistaking what he was about to say. “Go through with this heinous plan and I will do everything in my power to break you!”
Eduard sneered, “How? You’re the bastard of a slave. You have no power.”
Dominic flung him away. Fury raging within like a gale, he took in the wide-eyed lawyers and then Nancine, who offered him a nasty little smile.
To prevent himself from doing something that would dishonor his father’s name, Dominic turned and exited the study without another word.
As he regained the foyer, Martine appeared, took one look at Dominic’s furious face, and asked with concern, “It is true then?”
Dominic nodded tightly.
Martine was from Martinique and had family members working in the LeVeq fields. “He is going to enslave my daughters? My grandchildren?”
“Only if he can sail to Martinique faster than I. Is the
still docked?” he asked, referring to Antoine’s schooner.
“As far as I know, yes. You are going to stop this,
“Oh yes, and if you would like to come along, you are welcome.”
“When and where?” Age seemed to have slid away from Martine’s face. He stood before Dominic with determination in his eyes and declared, “I will kill him myself before letting him enslave my grandchildren.”
Dominic gave him the name of a tavern near the docks where the
was moored. “Meet me there in three days. I should have a crew in place by then.”
Eduard suddenly appeared at the far end of the hall and barked, “What are you doing still here! Get out before I call the gendarmes!”
Dominic ignored him. “Three days, Martine.”
“I’ll be there.”
Dominic strode back out in the rain.
Three days later, the
and a Spanish ship named the
left France for the island of Martinique.
The voyage across the brooding Atlantic Ocean took weeks, giving Dominic ample time to weigh the ramifications of the actions he intended to set into motion. He knew in his heart that the rightness of his plan far outweighed any consequences Eduard or the legal authorities might demand in response. And besides, in order to mete out any punishment, they’d have to find him first. Oceans covered the world, and on every continent in between there were places to hide.
The two, three-hundred-ton vessels arrived at midday. After dropping anchor offshore, Dominic and crews from both ships were met on the beach by a group of workers and the LeVeq overseer, a fugitive slave from the American colonies named Washington Julian.
“Welcome home, Dominic, but I thought you weren’t returning until autumn.”
“Seeing my brother warranted a change in plans.”
Julian asked warily, “What’s happened?”
Dominic explained, and when he was done, Washington swore, “That bastard. These people have been free for decades.”
“I know. Do you think you can get everyone gathered so I can relate Eduard’s intentions?”
Less than an hour later, Dominic looked out over the assemblage of people he’d grown up among and told them of Eduard’s terrible plan for their future.
Gasps of disbelief were heard. A woman cried out in fear. Men raised their voices in anger.
Dom sought to calm them. “My father would rise from the grave if he knew of Eduard’s perfidy, so the ships are here to take away all who wish to leave here.”
A murmur went through the crowd.
“But where will we go?” asked a woman named Anna Spelling. He knew her well. She’d been a friend of his mother, Marie. Beside Anna stood her young grandson, Richmond.
“East. And once we arrive, we’ll have to start over. We’ll have to clear fields, plant, build homes.”
A murmur went through the crowd.
“It will not be easy, but it will not be slavery.”
And with that, the decision was made.
It took two days of around-the-clock work to load the ships. Caged chickens, milk cows, and oxen shared space on the decks with axes, plows, and the machetes used for harvesting sugarcane, along with seed and many barrels of fresh water. Household items like crockery and cooking pots were taken aboard, along with the personal items of the families. Dominic, with the help of his crew, removed some of the more treasured furniture from the house his parents had resided in, particularly their bed and his father’s weathered but stately desk, and added them to the other items in the
s hold. Everyone worked with urgency because they had no idea if Eduard had already set sail from France to review his newly inherited Martinique property and slaves.
By the end of the second day they were finished loading all the two ships could carry safely, but Dominic had one last thing to do. He knew his brother would be furious to find the place deserted and the workers gone, but to make sure it would not be easy to bring the vast sugarcane plantation back to life, he set fire to almost everything that remained. He hadn’t the heart to torch his parents’ home.
Now, standing on the deck of the
Dominic LeVeq watched the flames glow bright against the night sky, then he and his people sailed east to sanctuary.