The Black Rose
R. W. Thompson
The story of The Black Rose begins in the year 1846, when an Irishman by the name of James Robert Fanning, came to Boston to escape the Great Famine in his home country.
James was an orphan, and he had worked for a wealthy family in Cork whose matron loved roses.
James’ job for the family was to grow and tend the garden where the family food was grown, and although
he was only fourteen, he was very good at it. Seeing his talent, the matron took him under her wing and taught him to read, and cultivate roses, particularly one that she called the Black Beauty. While it was not a true black rose, there is really no such
thing, it was such a deep red that it appeared black and it became famous throughout the country. James became a master horticulturist and created a beautiful rose garden on the estate. Other estates would send their gardeners to purchase cuttings so that
they might grow them, but none with the success that James had. His Black Rose was by far the most in demand!
By his twentieth year, James was a remarkable young man. He was well over six feet, with a square jaw, dark hair that
curled around the nape of his neck and piercing blue eyes. In that year the Great Potato Famine struck Ireland and many Irish left for America. By then, when he saw so many of his countrymen dying and others leaving for America, he decided that he would leave
as well. Before he could ask the Earl for help with the cost of passage, the Earl developed cholera and died. When he asked the lady for assistance, she refused, telling him, “You can never leave here, you are bound to the Black Rose!”
James was determined to go to America to seek his fortune and began to plot how he could do so. As part of his plan, he began to set aside several of the rooted cuttings from the best bushes in the garden. These would be his start in the
new world. As he was packing them away one evening, the lady of the estate surprised him.
“What are you doing with those cuttings?” she asked.
“I am taking them to America with me.
I created them and they belong to me. I will sell some in Dublin to pay for my passage since you will not help me. I am determined to go!”
“The roses are mine, you fool! If you leave this estate, I will place a curse
on you, you will never find success or true love, the Black Rose will always come between you.”
“There is no such thing as curses,” James replied. “I am leaving here tomorrow and you will not stop me.”
The old matron raised a bony finger and pointed it at James. “Then bad luck to you and may love never fall upon your shoulders, may the Black Rose drive those you care for to an early grave.”
by her curse, he turned and plunged the rose shears deep into her chest. As she fell the old lady ran her hand, now covered with her blood across the satchel that held the cuttings.
“With my blood I stain these cuttings
and place my curse on you James Fanning!” With that, the old woman passed. James was aghast! He stared at the old woman’s lifeless body for several minutes, not knowing what to do next. Then it came to him. He would take her body back to the manor
house and set the house on fire. He knew where the old lady kept her gold and it would be a welcome addition to help him in his new life in America. He rolled her body into a ground cloth, wiped her blood from the satchel, and
taking both, he started up the path to the great house. When he arrived he placed the old lady’s body in the parlor and quickly walked to the library where he knew the Earl kept the safe.
He pressed the panel just right
and it rolled open to reveal the front door of the safe. He seized a poker from the rack by the fire and attacked the hinge pins. As he pried them out, the safe door fell open, and his eyes grew large. There on the top shelf were several stacks of English
Gold Sovereigns, but all the others were filled with stacks of fifty and one hundred pound bank notes. James could not believe his good fortune. He took the satchel containing the cuttings and carefully placed them to one end, then
he filled the bag with the gold and the bank notes. It was heavy when he lifted it, but not so that he could not carry it.
James went back into the parlour, took one of the long linen curtains from a window and rolled it up
length wise. He placed several feet of it under the carpet, then stretched the remaining length to the fireplace and inserted it carefully by the smouldering coals. He watched only for a moment as the curtain caught fire and spread toward the carpet where
the old woman’s body lay. He hoisted the satchel and left the house. By week’s end he would be on a ship bound for the new world, and no one would know what had become of him. He quickly walked to the stable, harnessed a horse to the light carriage,
threw the satchel in by his feet and started from the estate. The night begin to glow from the flames as they spread through the house. As James looked back, he thought he saw someone standing in the parlour window pointing at him, but that could not be. He
slapped the reins against the horse and hurried down the road that would take him to Dublin and a new life in America.
The sailing to America went smooth, and with each day James forgot more of what had transpired in Ireland.
Along with the ability to read and garden, the old matron had seen to it that he had acquired the manners of a gentleman. As far as anyone on the boat knew, he was a young Irish lord who had lost his family in the famine and was going to America to start anew.
He first saw her on the afternoon of their fifth day at sea. She was standing by the rail peering aft as the ship plowed westward through the waves.
“Are you thinking of Ireland then?” he asked as
he stepped behind her. She turned and he was struck by her beauty. Her fiery bronze hair lay back in soft curls from her delicate ears. It framed a perfect face with soft creamy complexion, with a petite nose that sat below long curled eyelashes, gleaming
over stunning green eyes that shone with mischief. In her emerald cloak she seemed like summer come to life. He knew this was the woman he had to have for a wife.
“Why yes I was. How did you know? I was wondering if
I would ever see Ireland again, and what would life be like in America.”
“My name is James Fanning and you are?” he stated. Another good habit he had learned from the old matron,
never be shy about asking for something!
“My name is Rose Kelly, I am married to John Kelly and he will be joining me shortly. He needed to speak with the Captain this morning. He owns this ship and I am returning to Boston
with him to begin a new life in America. What do you do Mr. Fanning?”
James was stunned for a moment. How could this be, how could this woman be placed as an opportunity in front of him one minute and be gone the next?
The words rang in his head, “You will never be successful in love!” This could not be true, curses were not real. But, here in front of him stood the woman he wanted and could never have. It was a coincidence he thought. He should
have known that a woman this beautiful would have a husband. He regained his composure and spoke.
“I am an orphan who lost his family and home in a terrible fire and am traveling to America to
start a new life. I sold the land to the estate and will be looking for some investments when we reach Boston. Perhaps your husband would be willing to offer me some advice.”
“I’m sure that he would, and you
may ask him yourself as he is coming across the deck now.” James turned and saw a short, rotund man crossing the deck toward them.
“Rose,” he called. “Did I not warn you about
talking to strangers on this trip? Not all the passengers on board are safe to have a conversation with you know. And who are you, Sir?”
James was just about to introduce himself when Rose did it for him. “John, calm
down. This man is Mr. James Fanning. He lost his family in a fire and is traveling to America to start a new life. He is looking for someone to help him with investments, and I said that you would be glad to.”
As James listened
to her voice, his mind automatically placed John Kelly as a rival. Rivals to him were good for only one thing, to be used and then gotten rid of. He offered his hand and found the other’s like a cold wet fish. Kelly was a weak man, this much he could
tell from the way he shook hands. He would find a way to use this man and then be rid of him! Deep in his mind he began to think of ways that he could rid the world of Mr. John Kelly. It would have to be some way that no one could trace to him.
“Mr. Fanning, it is my pleasure to meet you. I would be delighted to assist you with investments. America is a rich land offering many opportunities, particularly in Boston. Why I myself am looking for a
partner in my shipping business. Do you know much about ships, Sir?” Kelly almost licked his lips while waiting for an answer. His captain on this ship had already told him about Mr. James Fanning. He knew that he had paid for a first class fare in gold
and was occupying the only other suite in the ship, directly across from his. He also knew that his family had died in a fire and that he had sold the land and was very well off from that sale. The man had stayed in his cabin for the first days of the voyage,
and this was the first time he had set eyes on him. Carefully appraising him, John Kelly thought he appeared to be a dangerous man.
you Mr. Kelly, I know very little about ships, except that they float, and this one is taking me to America,” and he laughed. “As far as advice, I would appreciate it if you could recommend a bank in Boston when we arrive.”
“Why Sir, the only bank to do business with is the First Bank of Boston, that is where I have my money, and you will find they are very accommodating to a gentleman such as yourself. I will be glad to introduce you when we arrive. I see you
have already met my wife. Would you consider joining the captain and us for dinner tonight? Then perhaps after my wife retires we could discuss this some more.”
“I would be glad to accept your invitation,” James
replied. “Until then Sir.” Again he took the limp hand in his, only this time he gripped it a little firmer until he saw the owner wince in pain. James released his grip and turned to Rose. Taking her hand gently, he bent and brushed it with his
lips, “Until tonight, Madame,” he said softly. Turning, he left for his cabin. He had many things to think about before tonight.
James retired to his cabin to prepare for dinner. As he washed and shaved, he stared
in the mirror. Was it his imagination or did a gray old hag look back, pointing her finger at him? He shook his head and turned his gaze again toward the mirror, there was nothing there! His mind blurred, there must be some way to remove John Kelly from this
picture. He would think about this carefully, there had to be someone who might be willing to do the deed for the right amount.
When he was shown into the ship’s dining room that evening, he was astounded! Rose Kelly had
appeared beautiful that afternoon, but in the candlelight she was stunning! He must find a way to remove her husband.
After dinner, Rose Kelly excused herself and left for her room. The discussion moved to the city of Boston and
how much it had grown and the opportunities for an astute business man. James listened intently, but his mind was on something else. He finally excused himself and went up to walk on the deck.
When he arrived, he saw two of the
sailors at the ship’s wheel. He approached them, introduced himself and began a conversation. In time, he asked them their opinion of the ship’s captain and then the owner. Both men had very positive things to say about their Captain. He was an
excellent seaman, very fair and honest and treated his crew well. One had nothing to say about the owner, but the other was quick to express his dislike.
“The man is a weak despot, he cares nothing about us, and his only
concern is the money we can make for him. On our trip across, he had the cabin boy whipped because he spilled coffee on him at dinner. His time will come you can be sure of that!” At that point, John Kelly came on deck and saw them. He motioned for James
to come and join him and walked toward the back of the ship. James excused himself from the seamen and strode toward Kelly with a confident bearing. He would remember the seaman’s name, and when they reached Boston, he would have to find a way to approach
him. Perhaps this seaman would be interested in doing the job for the right price.
James approached Kelly and they walked toward the rail at the ship’s stern. As James turned to speak to the
man, his face tightened in fear. Staring at him, with a bony finger extended toward him, her face gray and haggard was the old matron of Rose Hall.
“I told you that you would never have success or find true love and you
will be doomed forever!” Her face was the last thing he saw as he fell screaming over the rail into the sea.
The seamen, yelling for assistance, rushed forward to help, but when they arrived they could not see him
in the cold dark waters. When the Captain and others came on deck and questioned them, they reported what they had seen.
“The gentleman was talking to us sir, suddenly he left us, went to the stern and jumped without saying
a thing. The only thing we found was this,” and he showed the Captain a long stem Black Rose.