Today I’m giving away an autographed copy of:
Embark on a seafaring adventure in a brand-new series from bestselling author MaryLu Tyndall. After witnessing the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, Colonel Blake Wallace is eager to leave his once precious Southern homeland for the pristine shores of Brazil and the prospect of a new utopian community. Widow Eliza Crawford seeks passage on Wallace’s ship harboring a dirty secret—and a blossoming hope for a fresh start. But will dangers from the sea and from man keep them from the peace and love they long for?
Excerpt of chapter one:
1 Samuel 15:22
Dedicated to every Jonah running from God.
Colonel Blake Wallace—leader and organizer of the expedition to Brazil and a decorated war hero wanted for war crimes by the Union. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eliza Crawford—widow and Confederate army nurse who signed on to nurse the colonists, married to a Yankee general, and disowned by her Southern, politician father.
James Callaway—Confederate army surgeon turned Baptist preacher who signed on as the colony’s only doctor but who suffers from an extreme fear of blood.
Hayden Gale—con man who has been searching for his father to execute revenge for the death of his mother. Believing the man is heading toward Brazil, Hayden stows away on board the New Hope.
Angeline Moore—signed on as the colony’s seamstress, Angeline is a broken woman who wants more than anything to put her past behind her. Unfortunately, there are a few passengers on board whom she recognizes from her prior life.
Magnolia Scott—Georgia plantation owner’s pampered daughter who doesn’t want to go to Brazil and will do anything to turn the ship around. Constantly belittled by her father, she is obsessed with her appearance.
Mr. and Mrs. Scott—once wealthy plantation owners who claim to have lost everything in the war, yet they still retain their haughty, patrician attitude toward others. They hope to regain their position and wealth in Brazil.
Sarah Jorden—seven months pregnant and a war widow, she signed on to teach the colony’s children.
Harman Graves—senator’s son and ex-politician from Maryland whose hopes to someday run for president were crushed when the South seceded from the Union.
Captain Barclay—old sea dog who was a blockade runner in the war and who captains and owns the ship New Hope.
Parson Bailey—signed on as the colony’s pastor and spiritual guide.
Emory Lewis—the colony’s carpenter who took to drink after losing his wife and child in the war.
Moses and Delia—a freed slave and his sister who, along with her two children, want to start over in a new land away from the memory of slavery.
Jesse and Rosa Jenkins—simple farmers who, with their young daughter, Henrietta, hope to have a chance at a good life away from the ravages of war.
Mable—slave to the Scotts.
May 29, 1866 Somewhere in the Caribbean
We shall all be in heaven or hell by night’s end!” Parson Bailey shouted above the din of the storm. “God save us. God save us.” His pudgy face swelled with each fateful phrase, while his eyes as wide as beacons, skittered around the tiny storeroom with each pound of wave and wind.
Eliza Crawford extracted herself from her friends huddling in the corner and made her way to the parson, intending to beg his silence. It did no good for him to say such things. Why, a parson of all people should comfort others, not increase their fears.
Thunder shook the ship. The deck canted, and instead of reaching Parson Bailey, Eliza tumbled into the arms of the very man she’d been trying to avoid since she boarded the New Hope almost three weeks ago— Wiley Dodd. Though of obvious means, evident in the fine broadcloth coat he wore and the gold watch he so often flaunted, something in his eyes, the way he looked at the women, made her stomach sour.
“In need of male comfort, Mrs. Crawford?” he asked. That sourness now turned to nausea as his arms encircled her. Not that she needed much assistance in the squeamish department. Her stomach had been convulsing since the storm began a few hours ago. But the perfumed Macassar oil Mr. Dodd slicked through his hair threatened to destroy all her efforts to keep her lunch from reappearing over his posh attire.
“We are done for.Done for,I say.”The parson continued his rambling as he clung to the mast pole.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Dodd.” Pushing against his chest, Eliza snapped from his clawing grip.
welcome to stay with me if you are frightened, my dear.”
“Yesterday you called me a Yankee whore, sir!”
His smile remained though he gave a little shrug. “Desperate times
and all that, you know.”
Lightning flashed through the porthole, masking his face in a
“Why are you not frightened?” she asked him.
“Naught but a summer squall,” he shouted over the ensuing roar of
thunder. “I have experienced many such storms.”
Eliza wondered how often a sheriff would have been to sea. Even so,
he’d still chosen to remain below instead of help above with the other men. The ship careened upward as if it were but a toy in a child’s hands. Eliza stumbled again and struck the bulkhead. A wall of water slammed against the porthole, creating a perverted dance of seething foam that lasted far longer than it should.
Was the ship sinking? Her lungs seized at the thought.
“The end is near. Near, I tell you!” the parson ranted.
The wave retreated. Leaden sky took its place, and Eliza scrambled
on hands and knees back to her position beside a massive crate strapped to the bulkhead. Back to her only friends on this ill-fated ship. Mrs. Sarah Jorden and Miss Angeline Moore received her with open arms, neither one sobbing as one would expect of genteel ladies in such harrowing circumstances. Besides, there was sobbing enough coming from the other side of the room, where the wealthy plantation owners, Mr. and Mrs. Scott, and their pampered daughter, Magnolia, clung to each other in a desperate barbarism contrary to their elevated station. In fact, Mr. Scott had not opened his eyes in hours. Perhaps he attempted to drown out his wife’s incessant howling, which elevated to a piercing level after each of the parson’s decrees of doom. Tears streamed down Magnolia’s fair cheeks, pricking Eliza’s heart.
She should be angry at the young lady for exposing Eliza’s ruse. But all she felt was pity.
Sitting beside the wealthy planters, Magnolia’s personal slave hunched with folded hands and moving lips as if she were praying. Eliza hoped so. They needed all the prayers they could get. She had already lifted her petitions to the Almighty. Still, she whispered one more appeal, just in case, as she scanned the rest of the passengers crowded in the tiny storeroom—sent below by the captain when the seas had grown rough.
Next to him, Mr. Emory Lewis, a carpenter, if Eliza remembered correctly, kept plucking a flask from his pocket, taking a sip, and putting it back, only to repeat the ritual over again.
The eerie whistle of wind through rigging tore at Eliza’s remaining courage. She shivered, and Sarah squeezed her arm, whispering something in her ear that was lost in the boom of another wave pounding the hull.
A child’s whimper brought her gaze to her left, where Delia, a freed Negress, hugged her two young children close. A flash of lightning accentuated the fear tightening the woman’s coffee-colored face. The fear of death—a fear they all felt at the moment. A fear that was no respecter of class or race. A fear that broke through all social barriers. For yesterday, the Scotts, as well as some of the others present, would not have agreed to be in the same room with a freed slave.
Or even with Eliza.
Thunder bellowed, barely audible above the explosion of wind and wave. How did this tiny brig withstand such a beating? Surely the timbers would burst any moment, splintering and filling the room with the mad gush of the sea. Locking her arms with the ladies on either side, she closed her eyes as the galloping ship tossed them like rag dolls over the hard deck.
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” Parson Bailey had taken to quoting scripture, which only caused Mrs. Scott to howl even louder.
Then why, in her darkest hour as she faced a suffocating death in the middle of the Caribbean, was it Colonel Wallace who drew her thoughts? Not just her thoughts, but her concern—fear for his safety. Fear that she wouldn’t have a chance to explain why she had lied, wouldn’t have a chance to win back the affection that had so recently blossomed in both their hearts. She rubbed her tired eyes.
But what did it matter now? He hated her for who she was. No, for whom she had married. In fact, as she glanced over the terrified faces in the room, only loathing shot back at her. To them she was the enemy. An enemy they were risking their lives to escape. And now they were all going to die. Together in the middle of the sea. With no one to mourn them. No one who would know their fate. Not even Eliza’s father or Uncle James and Aunt Sophia or little Alfred, Rachel, or Henry. Not that they would care. To them, she was already dead.
Disowned. Disinherited. Forsaken.
The brig twisted and spun around as if caught in a whirlpool. Angeline’s trembling body crashed into Eliza on one side while Sarah’s smashed into her from the other, making Eliza feel like a garment run through a clothespress. An explosion of thunder cracked the sky wide open, followed by an eerie silence, as if all of nature had been stunned by the angry shout of God. Or maybe they were all dead. But then the wind outside the hull and the whimpers of fear within resumed. Angeline pressed Stowy, her cat, tightly against her chest while Sarah’s free hand clutched her belly swollen with child. Seven months along. How worried she must be for her wee one!
“Repent, for the end is at hand!” Parson Bailey’s flashing eyes speared Eliza with a look of hatred. She knew what he was thinking. What they all were thinking.
That she was the reason for the storm.
Another thunderous blast and Eliza squeezed her eyes shut again, wishing—praying—this was only a bad dream. How did she get herself into this mess? Why, oh why, did she ever think she could start afresh in Brazil?
“It’s you!” he raged, glancing over the others. “God told me this Yankee is the cause of the storm!”
Though all eyes shot toward the parson, no one said a word. Hopefully they were too busy holding on and too frightened for their lives to do anything about it. Mr. Graves, however, staggered to his feet, slipped the amulet into his pocket, and glanced at Eliza like a cougar eyeing a rabbit.
She tried to swallow, but her throat felt like sand. Mr. Dodd grinned. “I say we toss her over!”
“Aye, she’s our Jonah!” Mr. Graves added. “Precisely.” Parson Bailey nodded.
Though the freed Negress’s eyes widened even farther, only the farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, offered any protests. Protests that were lost in the thunderous boom of the storm.
“Don’t be absurd, Parson!” Sarah added from beside Eliza. “God cares not a whit whether Eliza is a Yankee or a Rebel!” Yet, no sooner had the words fled her mouth than thunder exploded so loud it seemed God disagreed with the young teacher’s pronouncement.
Eliza frowned.For goodness’sake,whose side was God on,anyway?
The ship bucked, and Eliza’s bottom lifted from the deck then slammed back again. A rope snapped, and a crate slid across the room. Mr. Dodd halted it with his boot then glanced at Mr. Graves while jerking his head toward Eliza.
“Jonah must go overboard for the seas to calm!”The parson howled above the storm, though he seemed unwilling to let go of the mast pole to carry out his depraved decree.
Angeline squeezed Eliza’s arm. “I won’t let them take you!”
As much as she appreciated her friend’s courageous stance, Eliza knew what she must do. She must leave, get out of this room, out from under these incriminating eyes, before these men dragged her above and did just what they threatened.
But then again, when had she ever obeyed God?
The burning prick of conscience was instantly doused by a cascade of seawater crashing down the companionway ladder. The mad surge grabbed her feet and swept them from beneath her. Gripping the railing, she hung on for dear life as she floated off the deck. Seawater filled her mouth. Thoughts of her imminent demise filled her mind. But then her body dropped to the sodden wood. Eliza gasped and spit the salty taste from her mouth.
Thunder roared, shaking the railing beneath her hand. The brig jerked and flung her against the ladder. Struggling to her feet, she dragged her dripping gown up the steps, unprepared for the sight that met her eyes.
Waves of towering heights surrounded the ship, their foamy tips scattering like spears in the wind. Rain fell in thick panels, making it nearly impossible to see anything except blurry, distorted shapes that surely must be the crew hard at work. Wind crashed into Eliza, stealing her breath and howling in her ears. Rain pelted her like hail. The ship pitched over a swell. Eliza toppled to the deck then rolled as if she weighed no more than a feather. She bumped into a small boat and gripped the slippery moorings anchoring it to the deck.
Salt! Salt everywhere. It filled her mouth. It filled her nose. It stung her eyes. It was all she could smell. And taste. That and fear. Not just her own. Fear saturated the air like the rain and waves. It boomed in the muffled shouts ricocheting across the ship. Buzzed in the electric charge of lightning. Clinging to the moorings, her gown flapping like a torn sail, she squinted and searched for the captain, hoping his calm expression would soothe her fears. Yet from his rigid stance on the quarterdeck and his viselike grip on the wheel, Eliza’s hopes were swept away with the wind.
Sailors, ropes tied about their waists, crisscrossed the deck in a tangled fury. By the foredeck, Hayden, their stowaway, his long dark hair thrashing around his face, held fast to a line that led up to the yards. In the distance, Eliza made out James Callaway clinging to the ratlines as he slowly made his way up to the tops. How could anyone hold on in this wind? Especially James, who was a doctor, not a sailor.
But where was Blake. . .Colonel Wallace? Fighting against the assault of seawater in her eyes, she scanned the deck, the tops. Dear God, please. Please let him be all right.
She must find him. Or discover his fate. She must talk to the captain. If they were going to sink, she’d rather know than cling to false hope. Bracing against the wind and rain, she rose to her knees, struggling against her multiple petticoats and crinolette. Inconvenient contraptions! If she stayed low, she may be able to crawl to the quarterdeck ladder and make her way up to the captain.
The ship rolled then plunged into a trough. The timbers creaked and groaned under the strain. Rain stabbed her back. Wind shrieked through the rigging like a death dirge. A massive wave rose before the ship. The bow leaped into it. Eliza dropped to the deck and dug her nails into the wood. Oh God. No! The ship lurched to near vertical. Lightning etched a jagged bolt across Eliza’s eyelids.
Her body slammed into the railing. The ship canted. She rolled over the bulwarks, flung her hand out in one last effort to save herself. Her fingers met wood. She latched on. The salivating sea reached up to grab her legs, tugging her down.
Her fingers slipped. Pain radiated into her palms, her wrists. The brig heaved and canted again like a bucking horse.
God, is this how I am to die? Perhaps it was. She’d run from God long enough.
Rain slapped her face, filled her nose. She couldn’t breathe. Her fingers slipped again. She couldn’t hold on much longer.
A strong hand grabbed her wrist. A face appeared over the railing. “Hang on! I’ve got you.”
May 10, 1866 Nineteen days earlier Charleston, South Carolina
The hand that gripped Eliza’s was strong, firm, rough like a warrior’s, yet gentle. He lifted her gloved fingers to his lips and kissed them while eyes as gray and tumultuous as a storm assessed her. “Welcome aboard, Mrs. Crawford.” The voice equaled the strength that exuded from the man. No, not any man. A colonel, she had heard, a graduate of West Point.Though he was not broadcasting that fact to the Union authorities scouring Charleston.
“I’m”—he coughed into his hand—“Mr. Roberts, the overseer of this expedition.You are a nurse,if memory serves?”He assisted her from the plank onto the deck of the brig, where the scent of perspiration, tar, and aged wood swirled about her.
Mr. Roberts, indeed. She knew his true identity to be that of Colonel Blake Wallace, a decorated hero of the war, but his secret was safe with her. She smiled.“You are correct, sir.” Thankful for his firm grip, Eliza steadied herself against the motion of the ship. Her heart needed steadying as well, as the colonel continued to gaze at her as if she’d sprouted angel wings. A flood of heat rose up her neck, and she tugged from his grip.
“Forgive me, Mrs. Crawford.” He shook his head as if in a daze and turned to welcome another passenger on board, giving Eliza a chance to study the man who’d organized this daring adventure. In the early morning sunlight, his hair glistened in waves of onyx down to his stiff collar where the strands curled slightly. Drawn along the lines of a soldier, his body displayed a strength only hinted at by the pull of his white shirt and black waistcoat across broad shoulders. Matching trousers stretched over firm thighs before disappearing inside tall leather boots. He turned and caught her staring at him. And then smiled—a glorious smile that was part rogue and part saint, if there was such a thing. Either way, it did terrible, marvelous things to her stomach. Or was that the rock of the ship?
“Do you have luggage, Mrs. Crawford?” Dark eyebrows rose over those stormy eyes, and Eliza thought it best not to stare at the man any longer. She was a widow, after all. A single woman. And she wouldn’t want anyone getting the wrong impression of her character. “Over there.” She pointed her gloved finger to a large trunk perched on the edge of the dock.
“Very well.” Turning, he shouted to a man standing by the railing. “Mr. Mitchel. Would you bring that trunk to the master’s cabin?”
“Aye, aye.” The man darted across the plank.
The colonel nodded toward her and seemed about to say something when a burly man with a tablet stole his attention with a question.
Another man sped past Eliza, bumping into her and begging her pardon. Clutching her pocketbook, she stepped closer to the capstan, out of the way of sailors who scrambled across the deck of the two- masted brig, preparing the ship to sail and helping passengers and their luggage on board. The squawk of seagulls along with the thud of bare feet over the wooden planks accompanied the shouts of dockworkers and crewmen. Beyond the wharf, a group of citizens huddled on shore watching the goings-on from Bay Street.
Furniture, sewing machines, and a plethora of farming implements, along with trunks, lockers, and crates were soon hauled aboard. A pulley system, erected over the yards above, lowered a squealing pig through a hatch into the hold below.
Adjusting her bonnet to shade her eyes from the rising sun while fanning herself against the rising heat, Eliza studied the oncoming passengers. An elderly couple, dressed far too elegantly for sailing, boarded with a lady about Eliza’s age whom she assumed to be their daughter. Wearing a pink taffeta gown with a low neckline trimmed in Chantilly lace, the young woman drew the attention of nearly every man on board, including several sailors who stopped to gape at her. Eliza couldn’t blame them. With hair that rivaled the luster of ivory and skin as creamy as milk, she was the epitome of a Southern belle. Only her red-rimmed eyes marred an otherwise perfect face. That and her frown. She seemed oddly familiar to Eliza, as if they’d met before. Behind them, a young Negress, bent beneath the burden of a large valise, dragged a portmanteau as she struggled to keep up.
All strangers, yet soon they would become her bunkmates, her neighbors, her companions—perhaps even her friends.
That was, if she could keep her past a secret.
The colonel turned her way again, snapping his fingers at another man crossing the deck. “Forgive me, Mrs. Crawford. Max will see you to your cabin, where”—he scanned the deck—“I believe Mr. Mitchel has already taken your trunk. I trust we shall have a chance to become better acquainted after we set sail?”
She wanted to say she would enjoy that, but that would be too forward. Instead, she merely smiled and thanked him as the man led the way below deck. Standing at the companionway ladder, Eliza cast one last glance over her shoulder and found the colonel’s eyes still on her. Ah, so he had taken note of her. As if reading her thoughts, he chuckled, coughed into his hand, and limped away.
Eliza had never been on a ship before. Born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, she had no reason to take to the sea. As a war nurse, she’d traveled on a train or a coach. Now as she descended below deck and the sunlight abandoned her and the halls squeezed her from both sides, her nerves spun into knots. And they weren’t even out at sea yet! Her skirts swished against the sides of the narrow corridor, and she pressed them down, lest she snag the fabric on the rough wood. They passed another hatchway leading below, and the scent of something altogether unpleasant filled her nose. Thankful that the man didn’t take her in that direction, Eliza followed him to an open door.
Sunlight filtered in from a small porthole, casting oscillating shafts of light over the cabin as small as a wardrobe. A woman, sitting on the only chair, looked up as Eliza stepped inside.
“Hello, I’m Angeline Moore.”
“Eliza Crawford.” Untying the ribbons beneath her chin, she eased off her bonnet. “Pleased to meet you. I suppose we shall be bunkmates?” “Yes, and one other lady, I believe.” Angeline stood. Copper curls
quivered about her neck. Her smile was pleasant, her cheeks rosy, and her violet eyes alluring. And what Eliza wouldn’t give for such feminine curves as hers. Or would she? Despite her dalliance with the colonel above, she had no interest in attracting men. She’d already tried her hand at marriage, and that had ended miserably.
“One more lady. . .in here?” Eliza glanced at her trunk, which took up nearly half the room. “With your luggage and the other lady’s, we will be packed in here like apples in a crate.” Her stomach tightened at the thought.
“I don’t have a trunk. Everything I own is right in here.” Angeline pointed to a small, embroidered valise on the table beside her.
Eliza thought it strange to have so little, but she didn’t want to pry. Setting down her pocketbook, she planted her hands at her waist. “But where are the beds?”
Angeline pointed to three pairs of hooks on the deck head. “Hammocks, I believe.” Her lips slanted.
“We are better off than most.” A voice coming from the hallway preceded a brown-haired woman with a belly ripe with child. A ray of sunlight speared the porthole and struck the gold cross hanging around her neck, causing Eliza to blink.
Pleasantries were exchanged between the ladies whom Eliza hoped would soon become good friends.
“I am a nurse,” Eliza offered, sitting down on her trunk. “And you, Mrs. Jorden? What brings you on this adventure?” She patted the spot beside her.
“Please call me Sarah. And I am the teacher.” She smiled, sliding onto the seat. Brown hair drawn back in a bun circled an oval face with plain but pleasant features.
“Are there children coming aboard?” Angeline asked.
“I believe so. Several, in fact,” Sarah said.
Angeline returned to her seat and began fingering the embroidery
on her valise. “A teacher and a nurse.” She sighed. “I fear I bring no such useful skills to our adventure. I am only a seamstress and not a very good one at that. In fact, it is unclear why I was even accepted for the journey.”
“Oh rubbish, dear.” Sarah tugged off her gloves. “We shall simply have to discover what talents God has given you.”
A wave of red washed over Angeline’s face. Odd. Perhaps she was just nervous about the journey—the unknown, the new beginning in a strange land. Certainly, being a single woman all alone made it all the more frightening. Or it should. Yet Eliza felt more excitement than fear. The sparkle in Sarah’s eyes indicated she felt the same.
Reaching over, Eliza pulled the pamphlet out from her valise. The pamphlet she’d read so many times during the past two weeks, she knew it by heart. The pamphlet she had prayed over, thought about, agonized
overBrazil! Brazil! Land of dreams.Land of hope.Land of beginnings! Fertile land available at only 22 cents an acre. Farmers, bring your tools; bring your implements, household items, and furniture; bring as many varieties of seeds as you can. People of every age and skill needed to recreate the Southern utopia stolen from us by the North. Become wealthy in a land of plenty, which Providence has blessed more than any land I have seen. Brazil welcomes you with open arms, a land of mild temperatures, rich soil, and perfect freedom. A land where dreams come true.
Was there such a thing outside of heaven?
Blake Wallace squeezed his eyes shut, not only to block out the sight of the port authority officer but to give himself a moment to think. He wanted another five hundred dollars?
That was nearly half of his remaining savings. He couldn’t very well ask his passengers to pay more than the forty-two dollars he’d already charged them for the trip. Most of them were as poor or poorer than he was. In fact, many of the wealthiest families in the South had been stripped of their money, their belongings, even their property. Their homes had been ransacked and burned, their servants and slaves scattered, their dignity stolen. His jaw bunched at the memory of his own white-columned, two-story family home in Atlanta burned to nothing but ash and debris. And then two months ago, the land purchased by Yankees for pennies.
His family dead.
Most people had nowhere to live and little food to eat. They sought refuge under trees or in borrowed tents. Railroads were torn up, schools closed, banks insolvent, towns and cities reduced to rubble, and jobs nonexistent.
Now as he stood before this Yankee port authority officer in his fancy brass-buttoned jacket, it took all of Blake’s strength, all his will, not to strangle him on the spot.
“There is the alternative. . . .” The man’s voice was as slimy as his character.
Blake opened his eyes. A drop of tobacco perched in the corner of the man’s mouth.
Though his stomach churned, Blake allowed no reaction to reach his stoic expression. Was it that obvious?
“Yeah, I can tell.” The man spit a wad of tobacco to the side. “I can spot you Reb soldiers a mile away, and you officers give off a certain stink.” He scrunched his nose for effect.
Blake narrowed his eyes, flexing his fingers at his sides to keep them from fisting the buffoon. A drop of sweat trickled down his back.
The port officer shrugged. “Have it your way. The new colonel in charge of Charleston won’t rest till he ferrets out all you Rebs and either imprisons you or, better yet, hangs you.”
Blake resisted the impulse to rub his throat. He didn’t relish dangling at the end of a rope or rotting in a Union prison. And he knew if he stayed, that would be his fate. He’d been too visible in the war, had inflicted too much damage on the enemy. So it had been no surprise that a month ago, his name had appeared on the Union’s most-wanted list for war crimes.
Which was why he changed his name, moved to Charleston, and decided to leave the States. Organizing and leading an expedition to Brazil, where he hoped to start and head a new colony, seemed the opportunity of a lifetime. And his last chance at a new life. At a good life. If such a thing even existed anymore.
Blake counted out the gold coins into the man’s hand, clamping his jaw tight against a volcano of exploding anger.
“Where do you think you’re going anyway, you and your pack of mindless Rebs? ’Specially in that old ship?” The port master jerked his head toward the brig. “You ain’t even got steam power.”
“Brazil,” Blake said absently as he watched a dark-haired man hobble over the railing of the New Hope and drop below. Probably one of the passengers. Regardless of its age, the ship was a beauty. Fine-lined and sturdy, a square-sailed, two-masted brig of 213 tons, refitted with extra cabins for passengers, and owned and sailed by a seasoned mariner, Captain Barclay, an old sea dog to whom Blake had taken an immediate liking.
As he scanned the deck, Blake caught a flicker of brown hair the color of maple syrup. Mrs. Eliza Crawford stood against the larboard railing, the wind fluttering the ribbons of her bonnet.
The port officer’s caustic voice drew Blake’s gaze once again. “Not to mention everyone knows Brazilians are crossbred with Negroes!” He shook his head and chuckled. “Poisonous insects, scorching heat, too much rain, diseases like leprosy and elephantiasis—no wonder we won the war. You Rebs are dumber than a sack of horse manure.”
Ignoring him, Blake finished counting the coins. “This is robbery, and you know it.”
“You’re the ones that robbed our country of her young men. Seems fittin’ justice.”
Sunlight glinted off something in the distance, temporarily blinding Blake. Two Yankee soldiers strolled down Bay Street, their dark blue uniforms crisp and tight, their brass buttons and buckles shining, and their service swords winking at Blake in the bright light. His heart lurched.
A nervous buzz skittered up his back. “Are we settled?”
“Yes, sail away, dear Rebel, sail away!” the man began to sing, but Blake didn’t stay to hear the next chorus, though it haunted him down the wharf.
“Good riddance to ye, ye Rebel, sail away!”
Halfway to the ship, Blake sneaked a glance over his shoulder.
The soldiers had stopped to speak to the port authority officer.
Would he turn Blake in? Of course he would. And keep the reward money as well as Blake’s extortion fee.
Blake rubbed his neck again at the thought of his impending fate. He tried to swallow, but it felt like the rope had already tightened around his throat. Even so, hanging would be a kind sentence. The Union had done far worse to some of his fellow officers. Which was only one more reason for Blake to leave his Southern homeland.
That and the fact that everyone he knew and loved was dead.
The memory stabbed a part of his mind awake—the part he preferred to keep asleep. The part that, like an angry bear, tried to rip the flesh from his bones when disturbed. This bear, however, seemed more interested in tearing Blake’s soul from his body as clips of deathly scenes flashed across his mind. Cannons thundered in his head, reverberating down his back. Men’s tortured screams. Blood and fire everywhere.
But his mind was awhirl with flashes of musket fire, mutilated body parts, the vacant look in a dead man’s eyes. He stumbled. Shook his head. Not now. He could not pass out now. His passengers needed him. They’d put their trust in him to lead them to the promised land. Besides, he wasn’t ready to die.
Blake thought about praying, but he’d given that up long ago. The day he’d received word that his baby brother had been killed at the Battle of Antietam. His only brother. The pride and joy of the entire family. He was only seventeen.
Blake drew in a deep breath and continued onward. The visions faded and his mind cleared. Perhaps God was looking out for him after all. He marched—limped—forward as nonchalantly as he could, trying to signal Captain Barclay on the quarterdeck to begin hoisting sail. But the old sea dog must’ve already assessed the situation, as sailors leaped to the tops to unfurl canvas. The plank had been removed, and men lined the railing, their stances and faces tight, their eyes suddenly widening at something behind Blake.
Only then did he hear the thumping of boots and feel the dock tremble beneath him.
A hand clutched Blake’s arm and spun him around. Two Union solders stared him down. “And where do you think you’re going, Johnny Reb?”
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