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As a way to show my gratitude to you, my readers, I am offering a look at the first three chapters of Escape, the final book in my Bedlam Series.
[Please note that these chapters are under copyright law (full details at the end of these chapters) and cannot be reproduced.]
ESCAPE by Jacqueline Davis
Dublin, Ireland, 1867
The heavy fog slithered and crept along the streets of Dublin, Ireland, on its way to the safe house door. In the darkness, it coiled around the corners, swirling upward until it reached the door’s latch. It peered in the keyhole, and seeing the group of young men gathered, dived into the dimly lit room, a smokey tail slipping along behind it.
Rolling over the rough wood of the floor, the smooth fog was barely noticed by those above it, men speaking in hushed tones. The fog found their worn boots, caked with mud and refuse from the streets, and wrapped around them. It took its time, slowly climbing the length of each man’s leg, enveloping those who seemed intent on their work.
One man in particular, dark-haired, whose scowl brought his eyebrows so close they nearly touched, slammed his fist on the table, snuffing out the invading fog, ending its journey.
“The time is nigh, gentlemen,” he was saying. “Now is not the time to slip up.” He pointed at a tattered map and tapped it twice. “Here. The guns must be delivered here before the Johnny Raws take their shift.”
He raised his eyes, pinning another man’s with them. “I’m puttin’ ya in charge,” he said and shoved a bag, awkward and heavy, into the arms of Sean McGuire, a fellow brother in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
“Michael,” Sean said to the man who’d just entrusted him with something of such value, “I will be quick.”
Michael Barrett nodded, a look that told Sean that Michael would be safe without him by his side, as long as he hurried.
Sean sped out of the safe house and into the streets. He was at once proud and surprised to have been entrusted with this mission. He was also proud to have Michael as his circle’s centre. The centre was the leader of a circle, a group of men in the Brotherhood. This person needed to be quick in decisions, sharp as an arrow, and cunning as a thief. Michael fit the description, and Sean was happy for this.
He dashed around the corner of a pub, thankful for the fog’s cover against the city’s watchful eye of the police, the Johnny Raws. These men were assigned the late night beats, and they were ever-alert for Brotherhood activity. The fog was Sean’s protection.
Sean knew the value of protection. His role each day was to protect Michael. The centre was the target of all Brotherhood circles, the prize to be won by the police. Each centre needed protection, and Sean had been chosen by Michael to be his defender. It was an honor that Sean, at the young age of twenty-eight, held deeply in his heart.
It was also something by which he was paid. He spent his days watching Michael, his nights guarding him. There wasn’t time for any other work. Sean had put his dustman days behind him, leaving them in London for someone else.
A noise ahead froze Sean in his tracks. He steadied his breathing, making slimmer the white puffs from his mouth in the bitter air, and slipped into the shadows of a building, leaning his back against the cold brick of the shop. He waited. Footsteps neared, but through he fog, Sean saw nothing. He gripped the bag to his chest with one hand and reached for his gun with his other. His fingers wrapped around the wooden grip of his six-shot revolver as the echoing footsteps slowed.
Sean held his breath, the blood in his veins ready for action. He knew the Johnny Raws were on to him. Something deep within whispered it. For the briefest of moments, Sean considered what life without him would be, and a sliver of fear crept in for the future of the Brotherhood.
No, he reprimanded himself. He shook his head and steadied his gun. A soft meow made its way to Sean’s ear from near his feet, and he inched away from a nearby cat. He was desperate not to be noticed by the Johnny Raw. A small window expanded through the fog, allowing Sean to see the silhouette of the policeman whose back was to Sean.
Although Sean had been in more precarious situations in both London and Dublin, fighting for his life and protecting those he loved, he still got a rush through his body when the man slightly turned his head in Sean’s direction. On instinct, Sean kicked the cat in the policeman’s direction, momentarily distracting the man.
As quickly as his feet would take him, he ran in the direction of the next safe house. He heard a deep shout behind him, followed by another, as he rushed from the Johnny Raw. Sean knew better than anybody that habeas corpus had been suspended the year prior, replaced by a state of emergency in Ireland. This meant that the police could call for internment of any member of the Brotherhood without trial. Sean wasn’t about to be the next body hanging from a rope.
He swore he’d never allow that to happen to him or any of the centres he protected. When he’d been asked to protect Michael, Sean assumed he’d be the only centre he would ever protect. But recently Michael had been saying things that led Sean to believe Michael would be leaving soon. To where, Sean didn’t know. Sean only hoped he’d be able to go with him as his defender.
Michael was like a brother to him. More than like, actually, if it were possible to be closer than brothers. Sean would die for Michael, and he was pretty certain Michael would do the same for him. Needing to get back to protect him, Sean raced to the safe house door and gave the known knock. After a whispered question and answer in return, the door clicked open, and Sean slid inside.
He was safe for now.
✶ ✶ ✶
Michael was buying dried lavender again. From his watching spot, Sean flipped up the collar of his overcoat to fight off the cold wind, keeping an attentive eye on Michael’s transaction. Winter was a rough season for flower girls, who often struggled during the cold months’ attack on their trade, finding other work, but a few of the older ones remained.
Little girls and a few boys, most of whom seemed under the age of ten, ran around to whoever came near, selling what they could. A woman on her way to the market or a man hailing a cab could be accosted by the little sellers.
A small thing with a dark frock as her shield from the cold ran with bare feet to a carriage as it slowed on the street. She thrust a dirty hand at the window. “Please, gentleman, buy my flowers. Poor little girl! Please!” was her tinny cry as the carriage sped away, the horse hooves kicking up gravel and tossing it the girl’s way. She turned, an unreadable expression on her face. Sean couldn’t tell if it was dejection, pain, or acceptance. Or perhaps all three. She spotted him as he watched her.
“Please, kind sir. My flowers. Please! Poor little girl!” She was inches from him, her rosy cheeks bunched in a smile. Her blue eyes sparkled despite the conditions of the weather, or her life for that matter. She ran a hand, dirty fingernails encrusted with mud, over her tangled hair.
Before he could help himself, Sean pulled a small coin from his pocket and placed it in her palm. “Keep the flowers, sweet girl. Make more money off them,” he said, his heart returning to his childhood. After his father had been killed in London by English bricklayers who’d tried stealing his day’s wage, after young Sean had watched the London police strike down the Irish workers, bludgeoning them to death, he’d had to make it on his own. As a child, he’d been a mudlark, scavenging the Thames for anything to sell, then an errand runner for adults. He’d finally found work as a dustman, cleaning dust bins for the more wealthy. All of it had been back-breaking work, and none of it had guaranteed him any money or food.
The little girl rolled the coin in her fingers then ran off, trying desperately to make another quick sale.
Sean returned his gaze to the flower sellers, particularly the girl Michael seemed infatuated with. She was by far the oldest, and for that, Sean had to rein in his judgment. Often, the only girls her age selling flowers were selling more than flowers to men. Sean studied her, a girl he suspected to be about twenty years old. A skirt and bodice the color of moss was bunched around her frame, hiding her body’s shape. She was not the first owner of this ensemble; that was clear. She pulled a thinning shawl about her shoulders. Not that it could help in this weather, Sean thought and cast a quick look at the gray sky.
The flower seller stood among the other girls on the street, crowded against an iron gate, separating them from a church’s premises. Some of the women were standing, arms extended to passersby, who were few and far between. Occasionally when a little girl or boy would run up to them, they’d offer a quick reply and send the child away. Future flower sellers these children were, inheriting a lifetime of scraps from their mothers.
A couple of flower-selling women stood near the one Michael seemed to be wooing. Some squatted, arranging their baskets filled with wilting ivy and laurel. With swift hands, the women put the best looking ones out front, burying the dying plants. They spun oranges with their fingers, finding the smoothest and brightest skin to display. These ladies were eyeing Michael as he spoke to the girl they seemed to envy. Michael had given her more money and attention over time than Sean had found necessary or even appropriate.
The girl ran her fingers along the floral hoop she was holding, a ring of artificial flowers selling for a penny apiece. Michael looked at the artificial flowers and must have inquired about them, for she said, “It’s a symbol of true love that lasts forever, without end.” She gave a surprisingly seductive smile, and Sean swore Michael was under her spell.
While Sean vowed never to be distracted by a female again — after his experience in London with a woman he had loved and was forced to leave — he couldn’t help but notice the flower girl’s beauty. Her deep red hair was pulled off a cream face that was accentuated with the slightest pink in her cheeks and tip of her nose due to the cold. Her smile crinkled her green eyes, so bright Sean could see them from his watching spot. As she placed a lavender bunch in Michael’s palm, she grazed his hand. Michael leaned near and whispered something to her. Her response was a nod. He turned and walked Sean’s way.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say that flower girl enjoys your company,” Sean said, as they fell in step together.
Michael grunted and kept walking, seemingly trying to put distance between them.
Sean laughed. “Your silence tells me ya might enjoy her company as well.”
“It’s not what it seems,” Michael said, tossing the lavender at Sean.
Sean took a moment as the two men wound their way through the streets to inhale the lavender’s pleasant aroma. If any woman ever smelled this lovely, I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off her.
“It’s obvious ya like spendin’ time with her, even if she is only a flower girl,” Sean commented.
Michael whirled on him. “Shut your mouth. This isn’t about class or money.”
Sean never knew how to shut his mouth. “You have to admit it looks suspicious to have a man dressed as you, a man who by all appearances has more money than he knows what to do with, talkin’ with a poor girl like that. It might look like you’re askin’ for more than just flowers from her.”
Michael held Sean’s gaze for several seconds, fire behind his eyes. “How dare ya disrespect her.”
Sean had found what he was looking for: evidence that Michael might be attracted to the flower girl. “My apologies. I won’t say another word,” Sean offered.
“That’s a lie, and ya know it,” Michael scoffed, but Sean gathered a hint of laughter in his voice.
They walked on for a few more streets, Sean’s hand near his gun, his eyes darting about. Keeping a low profile among the rest of the Dubliners was tricky for centres and their protectors. Most members of the Brotherhood held normal occupations, but centres had to make their sole focus the Uprising, the rebellion the Brotherhood had been planning for years, the act that would bring Ireland its freedom from England. And it was close.
✶ ✶ ✶
As a centre and his defender, they needed to blend in with the rest of Dublin, which was why they were headed to the Kildare Street Gentleman’s Club, the exclusive club for Dublin’s elite.
Michael Barrett was considered part of the elite. Sean didn’t know how Michael got his money. He felt safer not knowing. It was common knowledge among the Brotherhood that the Brotherhood’s High Command in Belfast provided guns and ammunition, the easiest way to finance being that they robbed banks at gunpoint. They had yet to be caught, always staying one step ahead of the Irish Constabulary and the British Army. They were cunning, and Sean admired that.
No one in the Brotherhood spoke of the bank robberies. They were just known. Sean wasn’t certain that Michael had gotten his money from the High Command in order to be a member of the Kildare Club. A lot had happened in London during their undercover stay there that Sean didn’t know about. He wouldn’t be surprised if Michael had come by his money through illegal or immoral deeds.
In Ireland, Michael Barrett called himself William Jackson. It covered his past and was what he needed to get in to the Kildare Club, the most prestigious of clubs around. He had received admission to membership of the club with the guise of old money and a good made-up name. Michael wasn’t above saying what was necessary to get what he needed.
And right now, Michael needed to get in with the rich boys.
The men would sit in the plush leather furniture of the card room, surrounded by elegance, drinking coffee and reading. During a game of billiards, they’d discuss politics, with some hinting at their opposition to British rule but none ever coming straight out and saying they hated the idea of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Sometimes the men would go out to the courtyard to play Quoits, and after a glass or two of sherry, they’d be cursing and discussing women and money. When Michael, known as William, had first joined the club, the men had seemed wary of a man they’d never heard of before, of someone claiming to be the eldest son of landed gentry. After enough time spent together, however, and enough drink in them, the men hadn’t suspected a thing, and Sean trusted his centre’s judgment. Michael was crafty and artful, what a leader should be for the Brotherhood. He’d exit the Kildare Club, smelling of tobacco and alcohol and richer in knowledge.
For blending in wasn’t Michael’s only reason for attending the club. He was also secretly recruiting for the Brotherhood.
Sean blended in by staying with the help outside, for Sean’s guise in Dublin was as Michael’s valet. Today, Sean walked as far as the stairs leading to the entrance of the Kildare Club, then stayed behind with the rest of the help. Often, these men complained of the families they worked for or the weather they had to endure. Sometimes, they spoke of the women they were eyeing but knew they’d never have. Sean would occasionally join them in conversation. There was always crass joking and tall tales, such that Sean felt safe enough to tell them about a former love back in London, the daughter of a certain doctor. The other men had laughed when he’d told them of their time together, sarcastically agreeing that it was a love of the ages. Little did they know it had been, and there were days Sean’s heart ached with memories of her.
He leaned against a stone pillar, under carvings of monkeys playing billiards, and crossed his arms. He whistled a quiet tune, one that took him back to his days in London.
Sean walked the streets of The Dials in London of 1860, a beauty on his arm. Her name was Katherine Whittemore. They hadn’t much in common, she coming from money, he a dirty dustman. But they were both young and trying to survive. He was taking her to the pub, their pub, the place they’d shared many dances. He couldn’t wait to take her in his arms again, their bodies moving in rhythm to the music, her smile ever so close to his. Once there, the strings of the violins filled the air, the smell of ale mingling with that of other poor folk like them, all celebrating another day of life. Perhaps their last.
Every dance Sean had with Katherine could have been his last, and he treated it as such. He took in her every move, every look, and allowed himself to drown in it. When he spun her around the floor and she let out a laugh, he thought she never looked so beautiful and free. Her dark hair, loose and lovely, spun with her. When they slowed, she raised a hand to brush the locks from her face, and Sean followed suit, his hand resting on hers.
She stepped closer, her body only a breath away. He wrapped an arm around her waist, closing the distance between them, and she offered another one of her captivating smiles, one of pure delight. She placed her palm on his chest, and the heat of her body on his nearly did him in. She was the sun, and he never wanted to leave her radiance.
And time froze, as it did every time he was near her. Her deep ebony eyes drew him in, a force he couldn’t explain, something he didn’t want to understand. He simply knew he must never leave her side, never allow her to be out of his life. And he knew he’d never be the same.
“I know what you’re doing,” came a gravelly, accusatory voice. It shocked Sean out of his trance.
He pushed off the pillar, his hand instinctually going for his revolver.
“Now calm down, Mr. McGuire,” said the man as he neared him. He held out palms in a surrendering way.
Sean recognized him immediately, and his nose curled. The man was Patrick Mullany, notorious criminal of Ireland with a reputation of being on both sides of blackmail. He was quick to take a bribe, quick to give one. He looked with beady eyes, seemingly intent on finding another situation to manipulate, as he neared Sean.
“Mr. Mullany, what business have ya in these parts?” Sean asked. The man deserved to live in the streets among the refuse and vermin.
The side of Mullany’s mouth turned up. “I’ve been watching this place, its comings and goings.”
“Doesn’t surprise me.” Sean’s hand didn’t leave his gun, and even though Mullany noticed, he stepped closer. Sean stiffened and gripped tighter.
“I’ve been waiting to have this conversation with you. Waiting for the right time. For us to be alone to discuss this.”
Sean looked around. They were alone. He could easily hurt Mullany if he needed to and perhaps even be applauded for it by the Brotherhood. He considered this option. “You cheating bastard. I’m not going to allow ya to find some way to blackmail me. I’ve got nothin’ ya want. Leave now.”
Mullany laughed loudly. “Bastard? All right. Not the worst I’ve been called. You know what I call myself? Observant. And you know what I’ve been observing? Your friend William Jackson. Shows up out of nowhere, claiming to be an inheritor of thousands of pounds of family money. Dressing in those clothes and acting as if he belonged to the men in this building, as if he weren’t the child of some poor farmer in Fermanagh.”
Sean swallowed. “What care have ya with the men in the Kildare Club?”
“Not the men, Mr. McGuire. Just one. William Jackson. Or should I say Michael Barrett?”
Sean felt the blood drain from his face. His heart rate picked up. “I don’t know what ya are referin’ to. I know no one by that name.”
“Come now, McGuire.” Mullany was speaking to him as if he were a child. “You seriously believe I’ve made all my fortune on being daft? On believing what I’m told? I trust my eyes, what I see. My ears, what I hear. And right now, I’m seeing and hearing all I need from you to go to the police with my information. You know the price they’re paying for any information on centres.”
Sean’s mouth went dry. He knows Michael is a centre.
“What proof have ya of any of this?” Sean asked, able to find his voice again.
“As if the police are relying on proof these days!” Mullany laughed out. “They’ll arrest any of the Brotherhood on mere speculation. And I’ve got more than that on both of you.”
“I could easily kill ya right now, and then this information stays safe.” It would be his first kill, and he’d be happy to do it.
Both men turned at the sound of some men leaving the club. Mullany turned back with an all-knowing smile playing on his lips. “You have no idea if I’ve kept this a secret myself. If you kill me, you will spend the rest of your life wondering who else knows, wondering how many more men you will need to kill. Is the Uprising worth it?”
He knows of the Uprising. He knows too much. “What do ya want?” Sean asked.
“From you? More than what the police will pay for this information.” He named his price.
Sean’s heart seared. It was practically everything he made in a month. But it was either that or be found out. “All right.”
“Are ya mad?” Sean yelled, closing the gap between them with his gun.
“You’d be mad not to take me up on my deal. It’s either that, or off to the gallows you go. Have we a deal?”
Sean felt panic soar through his limbs. His mind went numb. Behind Mullany, he could see Michael in the distance, chatting with another man on the stairs of the club. They were laughing. Sean knew the Uprising was close. He knew of Michael’s passion for it. He knew the fate of the Brotherhood could be in his hands at this very moment. So he did what he had to.
“We have a deal.”
Birmingham, England, 1867
“Whoa, whoa, careful,” Katherine Whittemore Blair cautioned. “Mind the bureau.” She cringed when she saw how close her husband, Dr. James Blair, was to the piece.
James was walking backward, a large piece of furniture in his hands, trying as he might to maneuver his way through their home. On the other side of the furniture, bearing some of the weight and bulkiness, was Kat’s father and James’s best friend, Andrew Whittemore.
He peered over the top of the piece they were carrying and said, “Only a few more steps, James, and we’ll be there.”
Kat scurried in front of them, moving away odds and ends that might trip them up. She picked up a spinning top and wooden toy horse and tossed them to the side.
James grunted and shifted the furniture’s weight in his arms. “Kat, darling, how close?”
She placed her hands on his shoulders and guided him into the small bedroom, where the men dropped the load onto the floor.
A delighted squeal let out from the corner of the room. Kat turned to see her seven-year-old son Edward jumping for joy and clapping. She scooped him up and spun him around. “Are you happy?” she asked, laughing along with him.
“Yes!” he cried. “Your Papa is living here now!”
She placed him back on the floor and tousled his blond hair as he ran out of the room.
Kat replaced some of her dark, fallen hair back into pins and looked about the room. James was sliding the cast iron bed frame they’d just hauled in over to a corner, and Papa was rubbing his lower back. James straightened and glanced at Papa. “Getting too old for this?”
“Of course not,” Papa said.
“No. I’m talking about me. I’m getting too old for this,” James said, making Papa laugh aloud.
He patted the doctor on the back and said, “Better keep up with this old man. I have a few more items left in my room at the sanitorium to move in here.” The two men headed for the door.
On his way out, James wrapped an arm around Kat’s waist and kissed her ear. “Your father is keeping me busy.”
“I love seeing him in this state,” she said, as they watched Papa walk away.
“As do I.” He squeezed her side and followed his father-in-law out the front door.
Edward raced in front of the men, giggling and tripping over his excited feet. Kat was certain he was going to try to be one of the men and carry in furniture with them. Papa was moving into their home, small as it was, and Kat’s heart warmed at the thought. She and James and Edward lived in a small home on the grounds of Yardley Green Street Sanitorium where James was the resident physician. The house sat among weeping willows and plane trees, encasing them in their own private sanctuary. It was just big enough for the three of them, but they were determined to make room for Papa. He would take Edward’s room, and Edward would sleep on the floor of James and Kat’s bedchamber when he was not at boarding school. It was important for Papa to be with them, especially now that he was well.
Suffering from typhoid fever many years prior, there was a question of Papa regaining his health. When Kat married James and moved to Yardley Green, she spent her days visiting Papa as he lay in his bath chair in the sun, reading him books, allowing Edward to sit on his lap.
Kat believed it was Edward who truly healed her father. For the first time in years, news of her pregnancy, despite its timing, had made Papa seem hopeful. Instead of finding shame that his daughter had become pregnant before marriage, Papa had embraced the news as a reason to fight for his own life. He’d nearly given up his will to live after suffering the deaths of his wife and daughter Eleanor, but Edward had brought him strength. At that time, much was right with the world. If only Kat could fix one other issue, her life would be complete.
✶ ✶ ✶
Kat mindlessly drew the dish cloth in a slow circle around the wet bowl as she watched her son through their kitchen window. He played in the back garden, chasing squirrels and dodging the swing which hung from a tree’s branch. James had hung the swing when they’d first moved in. Kat recalled how when she’d been a patient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, she’d swung on the hospital’s swing, her hopes flying as high as her body.
Kat had been held as a patient at Bethlem, London’s notorious asylum for the mad, against her will. She’d arrived seeking refuge after escaping the slums of Seven Dials. The Dials were the harshest of places in London, where she’d learned of her own strength, fighting conditions intent on killing her. But they were bad enough that she’d sought escape at Bethlem, where James was serving as medical officer.
Instead of seeing her arrival to Bethlem as an escape, the doctors had thought her mad, and rightly so. She’d suffered hallucinations in the years following her mother’s death. Dr. William Charles Hood, Bethlem Resident Physician Superintendent, had used a new form of treatment to help her enough to be released as a patient. Leaving that hospital had been one of Kat’s greatest joys.
As if it were just days ago and not years, she could almost feel the wind rushing by her as she kicked out her feet and leaned back on the swing at Bethlem. She remembered with near accuracy how she’d spotted James while she was swinging. They hadn’t seen each other or spoken with each other for several months, and just seeing him had caused her to forget what she was doing. They’d locked eyes in that moment, and her heart had jumped in her chest.
There had been many times like that since, where the very image of James had sent Kat’s blood racing, her chest pounding. Seven years of marriage had cooled that feeling a bit for Kat. It wasn’t that she was no longer attracted to James. He was the love of her life and would be forever, and he had a way of speaking to her and calming her and touching her that rivaled no other man. Couples could settle into routines, however, and that’s what had happened to Kat and James. With that comes a level of comfort and predictability, and Kat was thankful for this. She’d had enough adventures and instability for several lifetimes.
She set the dish aside and grabbed another, her eyes not leaving Edward in his play. He relished life, took all he could from it, and her heart swelled with this knowledge. While James could be characterized as serious and hard-working, Edward was carefree and risk-taking. For the briefest of moments, Kat thought of Sean McGuire — something she didn’t often allow — a man from The Dials she had once loved. She thought of how he had lived life grazing the edge of the cliff. She wondered if he was still alive, and with a heavy heart she assumed not. She distracted herself again with Edward, his blond hair flying backward as he ran, and her smile resumed.
“Thank you for cooking tonight,” came James’s low voice. He slid his arms around her waist from behind and nuzzled her neck. His beard rubbed her chin. “It was delicious.”
Kat turned in his arms to look at him. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“Always,” he said and placed a soft kiss on her lips. He placed another on her neck while removing the dish from her hand. He pulled her toward him.
Perhaps things hadn’t cooled completely in the last seven years. She wrapped her arms around his middle and deeply looked into his eyes. She kissed him, then lay her head on his shoulder.
“I need to call Edward in for bed,” she said against him.
“Can’t you spare another moment? Or more?” he asked, and Kat recognized that tone. She pulled back and looked into hungry eyes. James signaled with his head to their bedchamber.
“Now? With Edward still running around?” Kat asked.
“He’ll be fine.”
She escaped his embrace and looked out the window, her eyes drawn. “James, he leaves in two days. I need this time with him.”
James’s mouth was a line. He looked away and let out a frustrated sigh.
“You can’t possibly be angry about this,” Kat said, starting to feel the distance between them.
“I’m not,” he said. “I just want to be with my wife. Is that so absurd a desire?”
Kat’s eyes drifted to Papa’s room, where he’d retired for the night. “Quiet. He’ll hear you.”
“I don’t care, Kat. We are married. And you’re pushing me away.”
“I’m not. It’s only until after Edward leaves for that school.”
“Why do you say it in that manner? Placing him in boarding school was a decision we made together.”
Kat scoffed. “Together. No, you told me that the boarding school you attended molded you into the man you are today, that not doing this for our son would be hindering him somehow.”
“And you agreed.”
“It’s never felt right, sending our child off to London. I have never thought of him being hindered by being in the presence of his parents every day.”
“On the grounds of a sanitorium. This is no place to raise a child, Kat.”
Tears welled up in Kat’s eyes. “I just want to be with my son.”
James’s shoulders softened, and he closed the gap between them. Taking her into his arms, he said, “I understand.”
Although she didn’t think James could possibly understand how a mother felt when her child was away from her, how it felt as if the very thought of him wrung out her insides, she found peace in his attempt at comfort.
“Go,” James said. “Be with him now.” He kissed the top of her head and left the room.
✶ ✶ ✶
Kat placed her copy of Children’s and Household Tales, the book her father had read her when she was a child, to the side upon hearing her son’s slow, steady breathing.
He often fell asleep while she read to him, and she relished in his warm body curled against hers. They sat on his makeshift bed on the floor of the bedchamber she shared with James. This would be Edward’s bed for the remainder of the weekend now that Papa had taken over his room. Kat didn’t mind. She loved the fact that Edward wanted to sleep in her room. In the night, she could peek over at him while he slept, could lie in her own bed surrounded by the beautiful music of her son’s breathing, could be awakened by him jumping into their bed in the early morning hours.
She pulled the bed clothes up to his chin and slid away from him. He stirred and mumbled something. She shushed him, stroking his hair back and kissing his forehead.
As she stood to leave, she heard a faint, “Mama?”
She sat back down. “Yes?”
“I like this. I miss you when I’m gone,” he said.
Kat wrapped an arm about him, and he laid his head on her chest. “I miss you terribly,” she managed, her voice thick. She tried blinking away tears. “That’s why we write each other so much.”
“I like your letters,” he said, placing his arm over her middle.
“We write all the time until we see each other. It’s a good plan.” Kat fought the urge to fix their situation. When Edward had turned seven, she and James had sent him to boarding school. Kat wished she could talk to James’s now-deceased mother to know if it had destroyed her the way it was killing Kat, letting a son go. “We have two more days together for this holiday. Let’s make them count,” she whispered.
Edward nodded against her, and Kat let the tears stream down her face as he fell asleep.
Not wanting to let go but needing to, Kat crept out of the room. Silently walking past what was now her father’s bedchamber, she wrapped her mantle around herself and made her way to the back garden where she met James at their special spot.
Every night, James and Kat made it a point to meet on the bench beneath the willow tree behind their house. It was how they stayed connected, discussing their daily lives, hopes, fears, dreams. They’d look at the stars, searching for Kat’s favorite constellation, Leo.
The ground crunched beneath her feet as she approached, and James turned. He extended a hand and held hers as she rounded the bench, snuggling into his side as always. He pulled a throw around them, drawing her nearer.
“He’s asleep,” Kat said, her eyes on the heavens. Leo gave her strength. She needed it after tucking in a precious boy, one that she’d soon be saying goodbye to again.
“Good,” came James’s reply. He tilted his head in her direction. “Are you all right?”
She nodded, intent on ending the subject. He knew keeping Edward at boarding school was devastating to her, yet he wouldn’t budge on the subject. “It’s for the best, and we want the best for him,” was always his reply. There was no use in arguing the matter or even speaking of it anymore. She’d continue her letters and cherish the moments she had with her son while he was home.
“I never thought a day would come when Papa would be whole again,” Kat said, changing the subject.
“He’s nearly there. I suspect we will occasionally see glimpses of the scars left on him by typhoid fever: memory loss or at the very least confusion. His body chose to heal completely. It’s his mind I’m watching right now.”
“James, you needn’t be Dr. Blair right now. Can’t you stop your mind from viewing all things as medical and simply be a man who is happy his wife’s father is well enough to move out of a hospital?”
James laughed. “I wish it were that easy. I feel I will forever view life through the eyes of a doctor.”
A bit of silence hung in the air, memories of their past arguments surfacing. They’d fought over Kat’s insistence that James was always trying to cure her. She had suffered through years of mental instability, hearing voices and seeing people who weren’t actually there. The last several years of their marriage had been wrought with treatments, some of which had proven their worth, some of which Kat despised. She felt much better mentally, but she suspected James was always waiting for her madness to return.
Sean decided not to tell Michael about the deal he had made with Mullany. His centre had enough to think about without adding a blackmailer to the list. Sean would have to make do with no money until after the Uprising when Ireland would be free of England, and his life could start anew.
He was thinking these things as he waited again for Michael to finish his transaction with the flower girl. The way she looked at Michael reminded Sean of the way Katherine had looked upon him at one time, as if he possessed something grand she desired.
Katherine had made Sean feel worthy of being desired. Sure, he had felt desired by women before, but it had been purely carnal, a desire to be bedded by him. And he had done the act with each one because his body had needed it. It wasn’t until Katherine, however, that he knew what love was, knew what it meant to put another’s needs and desires above his own. He hadn’t wanted to bed Katherine because he had wanted what they had to be special. But when they had reached a point in their relationship where they knew it was based on mutual love and respect for each other, they had allowed it. And it had been the best moment of his adult life.
He could see it in the flower girl’s eyes now. She looked at Michael with what was more than carnal desire or admiration. That a man of his class would choose not only to acknowledge her but engage in frequent conversations with her meant something. It was a look of love. At times the flower seller and Michael seemed to have serious conversations. At others, it appeared they truly enjoyed each other’s company.
Because the events of Sean’s life had forced him to become a strict observer of things, he noticed how Michael would surreptitiously lay gentle touches on the flower girl, and she in return. No one could see but Sean.
“I think ya are playin’ with fire,” Sean said when the two men had returned to the safe house they shared. Michael had entered by the front door, Sean by the scullery. In their part of Dublin, they were forced to continue their charade of elite man with a valet, especially to the watchful eyes of their neighbor, Mrs. Walsh. Given her children were grown and her husband busy, she spent her days watching their street and noting anything peculiar. So Michael, known to Mrs. Walsh as William Jackson, and Sean played their parts in front of her. Once behind closed doors, however, they were simply friends. They were also Brothers on the dawn of a revolution.
“What are ya talkin’ about?” Michael hung up his overcoat.
“You’re spendin’ too much time with that flower girl. If ya are tryin’ to blend in, that’s not the way to do it.”
“You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“You’ve worked too hard to be William Jackson, man of reputation and money, to be spendin’ your days with someone like that.”
As he picked up a lantern, lighting it, Michael asked, “You think I’m only talkin’ to her because I might find her attractive? You know my sole purpose is what the Brotherhood is doin’, right?” His words were harsh. “Nothin’ I do is outside of the future of the Brotherhood.” The glow of the lantern illuminated his serious face. “I will live and die by this cause. You mark my words.”
He turned on his heels and walked up the staircase, his words lingering on the ground storey, surrounding Sean in swirling motions, their darkness settling upon him and burrowing into his soul.
✶ ✶ ✶
Sean was making another run to a different safe house. Michael had instructed him to go in the cover of night to deliver additional guns to another circle. This circle was one of the most tightly held secrets in Ireland, and Sean was proud to be trusted with the knowledge of their whereabouts. They contained some of the top leaders of the Brotherhood, the strategists of the Uprising.
When Sean arrived, he was led into a room off the corridor. A man like him, another defender of a center, took the bag from Sean’s arms and tossed it to a third man. The defender then made Sean spread out his arms. He searched his clothing and body and took Sean’s gun and the knife he carried in his boot and placed them on a table.
“Stay here while we check out what you’ve brought,” he ordered Sean. He took Sean’s weapons and left the room with the defender carrying the bag.
Sean looked around the empty room. It boasted only of a table and one chair. He heard distant voices in another room. Taking his chances, he peered into the hallway and saw dim light coming from down the hall. Ensuring no one was near, he crept through the darkness to the door from which light spilled. Several men were speaking, nearly at once.
“The plan should center around action in Dublin,” one of them was saying. His voice was full of passion. “We focus the Brotherhood on the military arsenals.”
“Mr. Stephens, really,” pleaded another man. His voice was deeper, older.
“Here me out,” Mr. Stephens stopped him. “My plan is better than the mad one John Devoy devised. He wanted to infiltrate the army, have our men pose as soldiers, then mutiny. My plan is not as dangerous.”
Sean stepped closer.
“Here’s what I propose,” Mr. Stephens began. “We incite our brothers to a storm and seizure of the arsenals: Pigeon House Fort, Magazine Fort, Portobello barracks. If we have power there, we have power everywhere. No one’ll be able to stop us.”
“It can’t happen,” the other man said.
“What do you mean, General Millen, that it can’t happen?” Mr. Stephens asked.
“The Brotherhood hasn’t the arms to complete the task.”
“I think it can work. We are getting weapons weekly from Belfast and money to buy more arms.”
“He haven’t time for that. Listen, here’s what needs to happen. I have a plan of my own.”
Sean took a quick glance down the hall.
“It’s a two-step plan. Stage one: draw out the British forces from Dublin. Stage two: insurrection of the city.”
“How do you propose we draw out the enemy? They’ve only increased in number in recent years, intent on putting a stop to us. They’d never leave the city.”
“They would if they thought the battle was happening elsewhere. Now listen in,” the General said, and Sean leaned his ear closer.
“First, we cut all rail and road communication. We create bands of fifteen to twenty men who will create small ambuscades in order to cut off the British soldiers. Then we mobilize.”
The sound of paper unfolding preceded what Sean heard next. “We have our bands move toward Tallaght, as a decoy. This will draw out the British forces. Once they meet us in Tallaght, the rest of the Brotherhood, those who have not mobilized, will move into Dublin and take back the city.”
There was silence but for the sound of Sean’s heart.
Mr. Stephens finally spoke. “This could work.”
✶ ✶ ✶
After retrieving back his gun and knife and being approved to leave, Sean raced back to the house he shared with Michael, anxious to tell of what he’d heard. He only hoped that Michael was in the right state of mind to listen. He’d become obsessed with that flower girl, and Sean feared it was getting in the way of their mission. Hadn’t Michael always warned him against letting a woman come in the way of the Brotherhood?
Sean sped through the scullery door and up the kitchen stairs. As he burst into the entryway, he skidded to a stop. A woman, dressed in the finest evening dress he’d seen, stood at the base of the stairway, her eyes to the first storey. Her deep red hair was pulled off her neck with tiny tendrils falling around her jawbone. She turned at his entrance, laying sparkling green eyes upon him.
Sean immediately knew who she was, and his stomach tightened.
Michael trotted down the stairs. “My apologies, my dear,” he began, then froze upon seeing Sean. He adjusted his cufflinks and smoothed out his dress coat. He looked between Sean and the young woman. “Sean, may I introduce you to Miss Allen?” Michael gestured to the lady, who held out her gloved hand to Sean, as Michael descended the rest of the stairs.
Sean wrapped his fingers around hers and placed a soft kiss on her hand, looking into her face. As she straightened from her curtsey, they locked eyes, and Sean could barely control the myriad of questions circling his brain.
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he offered. “I didn’t realize you had plans tonight, Michael.”
“The theater, of course. We discussed this. Miss Allen, please excuse us.” Michael pulled him to the side and spoke in hushed tones. “You must go along with this. I wish I could have told ya sooner about these plans.”
“I’m all for the theater and posin’ like one of the Dubliners. But with this woman?”
“I needed a lady to be on my arm tonight, Sean.”
“The flower girl?”
“She doesn’t appear as a flower girl tonight,” Michael said with a look of admiration at Miss Allen. “Besides, who else would I bring? You know any women in the Brotherhood?”
“I suppose you bought that dress and purse?”
Michael quickly turned back to him. “What I do with my money is my business.”
“Why did she meet you here? If this is for show, why didn’t you pick her up as is proper?”
“Too many questions,” was all Michael offered.
“Mr. Jackson?” Miss Allen interrupted them, uttering the name Michael used in public.
“Please,” Michael said, soothingly, as he extended his hand to her. “Call me William.” He pulled out his pocket watch. “It is nearly time. Sean, are you changing? We must hurry.”
“It seems it slipped my mind that I was going along.” Sean glared at Michael, who simply smiled in return.
“I wouldn’t think otherwise than having you join us. Hurry, then, or we’ll be late to the Royal.”
✶ ✶ ✶
Although Michael hadn’t called for a cab, one was waiting for them near their home. The driver atop called to them in a thick accent, then hopped down from his seat. He opened the door for them, watching them behind glasses that rested on his beak-like nose. He gripped Miss Allen’s gloved hand and helped her into the coach, and as he did so, his polka dot scarf fell from his neck. He quickly picked it up and brushed it off, retying it around his neck as he climbed up to his seat.
With a jolt, the coach bounded off into the night toward the Theatre Royal, carrying within its belly Michael Barrett, posing as William Jackson, Sean McGuire, posing as one of Dublin’s elite, and Miss Allen, posing as a lady with money. They were a troupe of charlatans.
As they bounced along the roads leading to Hawkins Street, Sean watched Michael and Miss Allen carefully as he sat across from them in the carriage. They chatted politely, and she would laugh at his comments. Michael would smile and occasionally brush the back of his hand against her arm.
It would be easy for Sean to think that watching this affair would make the seat next to him feel empty and cold. Quite the opposite. He hadn’t time or desire for a woman’s company, not with a woman as pretty as the flower girl, and not with the Uprising so close. Once Ireland was freed, and he’d had his revenge for his father’s death, he’d settle down. Perhaps he’d find a home somewhere in the country, far from the chaos of city life, and establish a quiet life with a woman by his side.
He hadn’t known quiet in life ever. As a child in Dublin, he’d witnessed panic and survival as those with nothing starved to death at the stingy hand of the English during the Famine. When his family had fled Ireland and gone to London as a reprieve, despite hating the English, his father had found work, and his family had tried to establish a living there. His father’s martyrdom was what fueled the fire within Sean. It had been burning brightly since. He wasn’t going to let a woman put that out now.
They arrived at the Royal and stepped out into the bustle of other wealthy patrons intent on an entertaining evening at one of the most prestigious and serious venues of Dublin. Having been given the royal patent by King George IV, the Royal boasted of Ireland’s more distinguished performers of its time, and its guests reflected its tastes. Sean hoped his trio blended in.
Once inside, Sean followed Michael and Miss Allen up the stone steps, his watchful eye ever on the crowd. He wasn't concerned for Michael’s safety among the people; it was the sudden arrests that worried him. Knowing at any moment a Johnny Raw could, without warrant, arrest Michael was enough to keep Sean on constant guard. He couldn’t imagine losing his centre and hated the thought of gaining a new one.
Michael led Miss Allen up the grand staircase, one step ahead as was proper, which placed Sean in the back. He was near enough he could hear her gentle laugh, close enough to breathe in her pleasant aroma. No doubt from the lavender she sells, he thought.
Sean was hoping he, Michael, and Miss Allen didn’t stand out. He watched faces as they ascended the stairs, trying to pick out the trusted from the mistrusted: a mustached man with a glance their way, a lady adjusting her gloves, a head nod from an elderly gentleman as he adjusted his vest, the stare of a woman covered in jewels. Michael and Sean had spent years under the guise of different lives in London. They were used to the act, to pretending they were people they weren’t. Miss Allen, however, was just a flower girl in a pretty dress. Sean hoped she could continue the act of high society.
They took their seats near the top of the balcony. Michael had chosen the last row to ensure no one would be behind them. This gave Sean full view of any threats.
“To appear ordinary,” was Michael's whispered response when he’d placed Miss Allen between the men, making Sean grumble inside that he couldn’t give full protection to Michael a seat away.
Instead, he sat between a lovely smelling Miss Allen and a rather large gentleman who’d come into the theatre as the lights had dimmed and applause had started. He’d grunted an apology as he settled into his seat, forcing Sean to slide closer to Miss Allen.
“My apologies, Miss Allen,” Sean muttered, as his arm grazed hers.
She pulled her arm into herself and offered a small smile.
Michael handed Miss Allen a program. “Danielle,” he whispered, and Sean’s senses perked at Michael’s familiar use of her name. He couldn’t hear any more of what Michael said due to the opening lines of the play being spoken. He turned his face toward the stage to appear to watch the show.
Danielle flipped through her program, and Sean wondered if she knew how to read. He’d been given enough of an education that he could read most things. But a flower girl? She had little hope of reading.
“I hadn’t realized this takes place in London,” Danielle, her eyes scanning the program, whispered back to Michael, who nodded.
Sean eyed her, questions forming in his mind. Just who is this woman? Sean didn’t trust her for Michael’s sake. She could be a con artist just like him. A flower girl who can read? She was either really good at hiding her lack of education or —
“Oh, dear,” she said, interrupting Sean’s investigative work. “It seems I’ve dropped my program.”
Sean snapped back to attention and bent to retrieve the paper. His hand brushed the folds of Danielle’s cerulean and slate-colored dress. He paused. It had been a long time since he’d touched a woman’s dress, and he’d never touched a nice gown. Given his living situations in The Dials, the slums of London, he’d never felt anything so delicate or silky against him. He quickly brought up the program and placed it gently in Danielle’s hand. She smiled at him.
The lead character of the play offered a humorous line, eliciting a laugh from the audience. Danielle and Michael joined in. Sean was faithful to watch Michael and their surroundings. Often when he looked in Michael’s direction, he was smiling, either at the events on the stage or at Danielle. The look they shared reminded him of looks he’d seen on Katherine, the woman he had had to leave in The Dials on her own all those years ago. He and Michael had received word from their former centre that they were needed back in Dublin. It had been sudden. They’d needed to leave within moments of getting word, but Sean had stolen a last embrace with Kat before he’d left. He remembered it clearly.
“Sean, wake up.” Michael shook him out of his sleep. He jumped up in bed, one of the many beds in the men’s quarters of The Bruce House lodging house, and his hand immediately went for the gun at his belt.
“Shh, it’s time,” Michael said, pulling Sean’s shirt and dragging him out of bed. “The boat’s waitin’.”
Sean began throwing handfuls of clothing and personal effects in a bag, which were quickly shoved from his hand.
“We haven’t time for that. There’ll be all this and more waiting for us in Dublin. Hurry, now.” Michael headed for the door. Sean was right behind, then stopped.
“Katherine,” he whispered, and his heart seared with pain. Just the day before, she’d allowed him to fully show his love to her, when they’d come together as one. It had been unlike any other encounter he’d had with a woman, someone to be treasured, something of a lifetime. He groaned at the timing of it all. “Wait.”
Michael turned, confusion on his face. “There's no time to wait.”
“I have one thing I must do.”
Michael ran a hand down his face. His nostrils flared. “So help me if this about that girl. I’ll be waitin’ out back. If you’re not there in five minutes, I’m leavin’ without ya.” Turning, he said, “She better not make a sound, ya hear? Or we’ll all be dead.” He raced down the stairs.
Sean ran to the women’s sleeping quarters and rushed to Katherine’s bed. It was empty. He grabbed his hair, his heart pounding. He sped downstairs and stopped in the barren front room. Where was she? His heart squeezed. He could hear the seconds ticking by, deep within him, the gongs of his life with Katherine resonating within his soul, resounding their painful message. He ran to the kitchen, and there she was.
He longed to cry out, but he knew he had to be quick and silent. He rushed her from behind, covering her mouth with his hand, and unexpectedly startling her. Her body tensed in his, and he gripped her harder as she writhed, trying to calm her. She yanked away from him, and after being accused of being a monster due to a nightmare she’d just had, she relaxed against him, tears forming.
“I have somethin’ to tell ya. Somethin’ secret and urgent,” he said. He could see that the truth of his presence was hitting her that he was leaving. He could barely speak the next words. “It’s time, Katherine. Time for me to be leavin’ ya.”
They spoke more, but all Sean really recalled from their last moments together was how he didn’t know if he had the strength to physically leave her. And when she kissed him, that kiss spoke more to him than a thousand words. He pulled her hard into himself, wanting desperately never to let go.
“Sean!” came Michael’s voice from outside.
One last kiss. “I’ll always love ya, Katherine. Always.”
“Sean,” Michael said, this time in present day, and a finger nudged him. “We’ve got to go.”
Sean was back in the Theatre Royal, Michael standing and helping Miss Allen to her feet. The show was in the middle of the first act.
“What’s happening? Why are we leavin’?” Sean asked.
“Trust me,” Michael said. He spoke quietly to him that it was getting dangerous.
The three of them rushed from their seats, Sean looking around at the crowd, searching for a threat. Several disgruntled audience members turned in their direction, sour faces and whispers. A man standing near a curtained exit across the theater glared at them. Another man blocked a different exit. Sean’s heart rate picked up as they neared another exit. He herded Michael and Danielle out into the grand hallway and toward the stairs. An older man exited behind them, two others from another direction. Sean’s hand went to his gun.
“Not them,” Michael hissed. “And stop making a scene.”
They slowed a little and plastered on smiles, eager for the door to the street. Once outside, they breathed deeply, quickly glanced around, and spotted a cab.
“Let’s go,” Michael ordered and stepped toward it.
“Wait,” Sean warned and stilled them with an outstretched arm. The driver looks familiar. He beheld the same mustache, same polka dot scarf as the one who’d driven them to the theater. “Did you ask our driver to wait for us?”
“It’s the same man as before.” Something about him set off a warning signal within Sean. “Somethin’ isn’t right about this.”
The cab driver waved and shouted at them. “Gentlemen, my cab is available.”
“We are walkin’ tonight, sir.” Sean tipped his hat to him.
“Certainly a young lady would like a ride,” offered the cab driver.
“We’d like to walk. Such a fine night,” Sean said and discretely led Michael and Danielle in the opposite direction.
“Chance of rain, I can tell,” replied the cab driver. “Can feel it in my bones. Very trustworthy. Sure you don’t want a ride?”
“Quite sure. Thank you.” Sean hurried their group along the cobbled street, crossing in order to be on the opposite side.
The cab driver stared after them. Something was wrong. Sean didn’t know if it was a British spy on to them, something they’d been trained to spot, or if Mullany had put a man on him to make certain he didn’t take off with money promised. Either way, seeing that man left an unsettled feeling within Sean as they made their way back to the safe house. He was determined to find out just exactly who this man was.
Copyright © 2018 by Jacqueline Davis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission of the author.
Cover designed by ALB Designs
Author photo by Elizabeth Hutson Photography
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Printed in the United States of America