The Black Rose

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.” 

Angered 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. 

          “Thank 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.


The Owl Called


Hello, my name is John Hawksfeather. I am a member of the great nation of the Tsulagi, the people the white man call Cherokee.  I am a storyteller.  My family is of the Bird Clan.  We are one of the most important clans in the nation.  They have a very close association with all birds.  Particularly the Eagle (sacred bird of Yohowa), Hawk (the fastest bird in the sky and messenger of the Great Spirit) and the Great Owl (The smartest and the one who calls when your time has ended).  It is because of the owl's nocturnal nature and ghostly appearance that it earns an association with death. In some cases, the appearance of an owl -- especially during the daytime near a village or lodge -- was thought to signify impending death.

            This story is named The Owl Called, listen carefully and hear!


One night at the beginning of winter, I lay quietly in my bed listening to the wind moaning through the trees outside my window.  Unable to sleep, my mind wandering as I listened to the soft cries carried on the wind, “Whooo, whooo.”  Instantly, I recognized the voice of the Great Owl, he who tells man when his time on earth is done.  Covering my head, I refused to listen.  Again outside my window I heard, “Whooo, whooo!” 

            Unable to ignore it, I went to the window of my cabin and looked out. There, perched high in a tree was U’guku, the Great Owl.  Terrified, I asked, “Are you calling me great one?” The only answer that came was, “Whooo, Running Deer, it is you!”   

            I raced back to my bed and shivered in silence.  I knew Running Deer.  He was a strong man who had just reached his fortieth summer.  Surly, the Great Spirit was not ending his time on the earth. 

            I rose early and raced into the town to the cabin of our shaman.  His woman answered the door and told me he was not home.  He had risen with the sun and left for the Sacred Woods to prepare a place for Running Deer, whose heart had ceased to beat in the middle of the night.  This was hard to understand at first.  Running Deer was a strong man, how could his life end so soon.  Then, a stranger question came into my head.  Why had the Owl told me his life was ended?  I could not grasp the answer!

            That night the wind was howling even louder.  I added wood to the fire and went to bed early but sleep did not come.  I knew that tomorrow I would go to Running Deer’s funeral and afterwards for the next seven days his family and friends would go through a mourning and cleansing period.  How could I tell anyone I knew he was going to die?  As I lay covered, I thought I heard above the sound of the wind, the lamenting question, “Whooo, whooo?”  “This could not be,” I thought. “It is only my imagination.”  And again there came, “Whooo, whooo?”  I could not stand to go to the window again.  This must be in my head.  This could not happen two nights in a row.

            I eased the covers from my head and looked through the window.  Again I saw the great bird staring through my window and as my eyes were fixed on him he called, “Whooo, Dark Wolf, it is you!”  This could not be, Dark Wolf was one of the council, very wise and very healthy.  I had seen her just two days ago.  This was not right, I must be dreaming!  I jumped from my bed and screamed at him to go away.  Do not bring me news such as this.  I am a storyteller, not a messenger of death.  Leave me be!  In a flash the Great One was gone, leaving me to meditate upon the news he had left.  As I lay there in my bed, the dim glow from the embers cast strange shadows across the room.  Was I wrong or was that a warrior and maid pointing their finger at me.  Then I heard soft and low, “You knew and did not tell.  You should have told us so we could prepare.  You failed your friends!”

            I covered my head and screamed for them to leave.  “I did not know soon enough.  The Owl called your name at night when I was alone and I did not believe him.  Please understand and forgive me.”  I slid the blanket from my face, slowly opened my eyes and there was no one there.  Had I dreamed it?  Did the spirits of Running Deer and Dark Wolf come to point their fingers at me in accusation?  

            I rose early and headed to town.  This would be a sad day in our community.  I felt a need to be involved in it.  I knew the families of both well.  When I arrived at the Shaman’s cabin, he was just leaving his door.  He saw me and turned, “John, it is good you are here.  This is a sad day for our village as we have lost another this night.  We will need your skills to remind the people that dying is not the end. 

            “I know,” I replied.  “The Owl called another name to me last night.  It is Dark Wolf isn’t it?”  The shaman gasped and backed away.

            “How did you know?  Why would the Owl come to you and call names and not me?  What are you doing John, are you entreating the dark spirits?”   

            “No,” I said.  “I do not know why he comes to me.  That is my question for you, why would the Owl come to me?  I don’t understand and I am afraid.” 

            “I do not have an answer for you John Hawksfeather.  Only Yohowa, the Great Spirit can answer that.  When we are done with the mourning days, you should steam, cleanse your spirit and seek the answer.  I have some herbs that will help you.  Come and see me after the time has passed.  Now we have work to do.”  We left and went to the funerals of Running Deer and Dark Wolf.  

            After, I spent the rest of the day telling stories and talking to people, mostly the families of the deceased.  As I told the stories, I thought about the two people who had no time to say goodbye to those they loved or tell them what they meant to them.  I decided that I would go and visit with my family the next day and spend some time with them.

            Late that night I walked to my cabin alone.  The night was still and cold.  As I approached my door, I looked and perched above was the same Great Owl that had visited me for the last two nights.  It looked straight at me and again softly cried, “Whooo, whooo?”

            After a difficult two days, days in which I saw two friends taken from this world before their time, my nerves were raw.  I yelled at him, “I don’t want to know who great one, I can’t take the loss of another friend, and I want you to go away!” 

            His ghostly dark eyes gazed down his long beak as he lifted in flight toward me.  As he sailed over my head, he uttered one last message, “Whooo, whooo, John it is you!"  At that moment I looked and saw Dark Wolf at the edge of the woods, beckoning to me. I do not remember anything else until my presence here with you. 

            So when you hear the Great Owl on a cold and lonely night, do not ask for whom he calls.  The answer may not be one you want to hear!







Stories From My Past & Present

3/20/2015 A true story!

The Hawk and the Golf Shot

     Last summer I was out on the course enjoying a great day with friends.  I was hitting the ball very well, (does not happen all the time) had gotten my first career hole-in-one on the 3rd hole, and after 5 holes on the front, I was 2 under par.  As I prepared to tee off at the sixth, a par three 190 yard hole, in the middle of my downswing, I heard a screech that caused me to jerk left and push the ball right, into the trees. 

     I looked behind me to my left and saw a Red-Tailed Hawk that had mistaken a piece of paper for a small animal.  He was still engaged with it, furious that it was not real.  The screech was his scream at discovering his mistake I guess.  At that moment, I was angry due to the missed shot and yelled at him to go away.  He looked up at me, gave me another screech and flew across the fairway and landed in the top of a tree in the general vicinity of the area where my tee shot had landed.  I tried to shake off the mistake and started walking down to look for my ball, all the while peering at this hawk sitting in the top of a pine tree, staring back at me.  I wondered what might happen next, and sure enough as I approached the area, he started flapping his wings and screeching again.

     While watching and listening to him, I stepped on something firm, moved my foot and discovered my ball in the first cut of rough right under the tree, about 45 yards from the pin.   By this time, (my partner who was laughing about it all the while) and I had gotten over it, and I was trying to just regain focus and get the damn ball on the green.  So, I softly asked the hawk if he would be quiet and just go away.  Now I know there will be unbelievers out there who refuse to accept what happened next, but that hawk screeched one more time, then flew down and landed in a tree overlooking the green.

     I was just happy he had left and did not think much more about it as I took a couple of practice swings to prepare to hit my next shot.  I stepped up to the ball, made my swing in a silent peaceful field and was amazed when the ball hit on the front edge of the green, rolled up and dropped in the hole for a birdie.  As soon as that happened, the hawk left the tree, swooped down toward the green, and then climbed straight skyward and flew off to the west.  I stood transfixed for a few moments as the whole event played back through my mind, and I swear that hawk was apologizing to me for making me miss the tee shot.  Did it really happen or was I just imagining it.  I think he did.  I know this, I went on that day to shoot a 76, the best round of my life and win first place money.  This is just another reason why I feel an affinity for Red-Tails and maybe understand some of the truth in my grandmother's stories. 


     This is the legend of the Hawks feather as told to me by my grandmother, who was part Cherokee. There are 7 clans of the Cherokee and she believed her family was from the Small Bird Clan. Stories change from clan to clan and even among the clan as various families have their own totems. My grandmother often told me that mine was the Red-Tailed Hawk.

                      Legend of the Hawks Feather

     Thousands of years ago, the Creator, Yo Ho Wah looked upon the earth one day and saw that the people of the Bird clan were not having many children and this troubled him greatly, for he knew that tribes must have children to remain strong. So, he sent the swift and virile Hawk, brother to the Eagle, and the fastest bird in the sky to bring his blessing upon the men of that clan.
     Hawk flew over the village in the cover of darkness and left a feather over many homes. Wherever he dropped a feather, the men in that house became very strong and virile and that house was blessed with many children, who grew strong and productive for the clan.
     It is said that a maiden, if given a hawk's feather before her marriage will be blessed with a strong and virile husband. You should place it over your bed and leave it always.

The members of this clan became the messengers of the Cherokee. They are responsible for teaching the importance of recognizing the whole pattern of life regarding positive and negative events. They teach keen observation, sharing and giving, interpretation of dreams, the birds, interpretation of their messages and their willingness for self-sacrifice for the sake of the two legged ones. They are responsible for collecting feathers earned by others because they were the only ones authorized to collect them.