They say never try to con a con-man, but there are several people messing with the legend of Ocean Born Mary in Henniker, New Hampshire. Sam Miller and Martha Sanborn are at it again when Martha’s brother and his buddy come to town and buy the old Ocean Born Mary house, with hopes of reviving the legend. The appearance of a woman claiming to be a direct descendent of Mary adds a twist to the story, which leads to murder. Sam and Martha make a desperate search for the killer, but the only witness may be a ghost
Steven P. Marini crafts a twist about the eighteenth century New Hampshire legend of Ocean Born Mary. Combining murder, mystery and ghosts, Marini takes us back and forth from 1720 to 1975 for a clever page turner. A highly enjoyable read.
--Barbara Eppich Struna
International best selling author of The Old Cape House and The Old Cape Tea Pot
Early July, 1720, off the New England Coast
“She’s no match for us, Captain,” said the mate. “We’ll be alongside shortly.”
The captain kept his gaze on the prey. “Yes, another immigrant ship loaded with fools bound for New England. How good of them to bring us their belongings, everything they own in the world. They’ll have no use for any of it where they are going.”
“Aye, to the bottom for them,” laughed the mate.
The captain nodded, his eyes showing grim determination.
“She’s heaving to, sir. We’ve got her,” said the mate.
The calm sea made the task of overtaking the immigrant ship an easy one for the pirate brigantine. Dozens of Scots-Irish people, mostly young families, were headed for a new life in the colonies. They were full of optimism and high spirits, qualities required for those willing to take the gamble of crossing the vast sea in pursuit of a dream. But dreams can be dashed quickly.
“Stand ready with grappling hooks,” ordered the young captain, standing tall and confident, as his ship pulled alongside the vessel about to be plundered. His smooth, youthful face had fooled many an enemy in his less than twenty years. But his deep, booming voice and tall, muscular frame served him as a fighter. His intelligence and quick thinking made him a respected leader to those who served under him.
He always hoped to go to sea. He believed, like many an ambitious youth, that nothing would stand in the way of his dream. But he’d never expected to fall in love. A beautiful young lady named Mary, with emerald eyes unlike any he had ever seen, took his heart by storm in his seventeenth year. She changed the course of his life. His love for her was immeasurable. He vowed to spend his years with her, exerting his fullest efforts to earn what would be needed to keep her in comfort and happiness.
For seven months, their love grew. But, as is true with many young lovers, their passion for each other made them blind to the events around them. When sickness took her, his despair was as deep as anyone could imagine. His sadness grew into anger. When a drunken sailor crossed his path one night in a tavern, the young man lost control, his temper erupted and his dagger found the sailor’s heart.
In hasty flight, the young man made his way to the docks. He stowed away aboard a tall ship bound for the Caribbean. Though soon discovered, his strength of spirit and strong physique won over the captain, who agreed to allow him to work as a ship’s hand and earn his passage. Once in the New World, the young seaman, embittered by the loss of his Mary, took up with pirates. Within a year he rose as a leader, taking his own command. Coveting the coat of a Spaniard who had the name Don Pedro sewn into the left sleeve, he slew the man while attacking the man’s ship. From that time forward, his followers called him by that name, Don Pedro.
On Don Pedro’s order, the hooks were flung over the side, clutching at the ship full of Ulster immigrants. Their ship was laden with cargo and passengers, not guns. It offered no resistance to the pirates, whose brigantine soon overtook its prey.
Thirty pirates followed Don Pedro onto the captured sloop. They searched for any valued cargo. Three men took over the helm, while the frightened crewmen obeyed orders to drop all sails. Once that was done, movement about the ship was easier, and the pirates went below decks to relieve the schooner of its food stores and fresh water. Passenger belongings were searched. A modest amount of jewelry, silverware and gold coins were found. Pirates took possession of any clothing that suited them, since time at sea wore out such things quickly.
The pirates hauled their catch onto their own ship, using the cases and bags belonging to the passengers as containers. Unwanted items were dropped onto the ship’s floor or tossed over the side. “Don Pedro,” said one of his mates, “shall we take the flag?” Gazing up at the British banner, Don Pedro laughed. “How many of those do we have in our hold already? No, leave it be. It can rest comfortably on the ocean floor, along with the rest of this mess.”
Don Pedro ordered all the sloop’s crew amidships. He looked them over, assessing their fitness. “Any of you mates wish to join my crew, you will be welcomed aboard. I can promise you a better life than what you’ll get in His Majesty’s service. Of course, I’m talking about seamen only. Officers need not apply.” The pirate crew burst out in laughter. A handful of the captured crewmen thanked Don Pedro and accepted his offer, pledging their loyalty to him. The rest cursed their shipmates and were restrained from attacking the turncoats by pirate swords held at their bellies.
“Back to our ship, men,” cried Don Pedro. “Our work here is done.”
“Hold on, there.” The captain of the captured ship stepped forward, pushing off the pirates who reached for him. “You’ve taken all our food and water. You can’t expect us to survive out here like that, without rations.”
“Oh, good Captain, I don’t expect you to survive like that at all,” assured Don Pedro, his hands on his hips. “But I’ll make it easy and swift for you by sending
you to the bottom of the sea.”
The remainder of the captured crew quickly reversed their thinking and offered to switch loyalties.
“Ah-ha, too late, gentlemen,” cried Don Pedro. “I’m afraid your earlier display of loyalty to your current captain and ship has put you in the unqualified for duty category. Off we go.”
The captured passengers and seamen fell silent, suddenly taken by the reality before them. In a moment, however, the silence was broken. Don Pedro stopped in his tracks, cocking his head in an effort to hear the noise. He was struck by cries of a baby.
He turned to the doors leading below decks, following the sound to the captain’s quarters. Accompanied by a mate, he burst through the doors and stared at the sight before him. A woman lay weeping in the bed, holding a newborn baby. A midwife stood to one side, and the woman’s husband to the other. Don Pedro stared at the child as he walked closer to the bed. The midwife shrank away as he moved in. He ordered her to leave the cabin. A pounding started in his chest as he gazed into the eyes of the baby. They were emerald green. His throat went dry and his face turned pale, as if he had seen his Mary reincarnated before him.
No one spoke. Don Pedro eased himself onto the edge of the bed and gently brushed the baby’s head of thick red hair with his hand. Withdrawing his hand, he curled it into a fist and pressed his knuckle against his mouth. Memories of his beloved Mary rushed through his brain. His eyes watered. His breathing became labored, and he needed a moment to compose himself before he stood.
“What is your name, good woman?”
“Elizabeth Wilson,” she replied. “This is my husband, James,” she continued, pointing to him.
“What about the baby, have you named it?”
“No, sir. It’s a girl, and we haven’t named her yet. We truly hoped for a boy and believed we would have one, so we neglected to choose a girl’s name.”
Don Pedro motioned for his man. He whispered an order into the crewman’s ear. The sailor nodded obedience and rushed away.
The pirate captain stood tall, his body stiff. His jaw tightened. In a moment, after again gazing into the child’s eyes, he spoke. “Listen to me and listen carefully.” He looked at Elizabeth Wilson and motioned her husband to sit at her side. “I will spare this ship and all the people on board under the following conditions. First, you must give me your solemn word that you will name this child Mary. Do not ask me why. I have my reasons, and they are mine alone.” His eyes went to his mates, who stood in the doorway. “I will tell you my second condition momentarily, when my crewmate returns.”
James and Elizabeth Wilson stared into each other’s eyes, clutching their hands. All were silent until Don Pedro’s mate returned. A leather bag was at his side. He offered it to his captain, who received it gently into his hands. The pirate unhitched the strap that sealed the bag and eased his hand inside, withdrawing from it a bundle of green Chinese silk.
“My other condition is that you promise that on the day of her wedding, she will wear a gown made of this cloth, the color of her eyes. Promise me these things, and you all will be allowed to live. I will return half of your food and water. Do you agree?”
The coupled nodded. Tears filled their eyes, and Elizabeth clutched her baby to her breast.
Don Pedro took one last look into the child’s eyes, entranced by the emerald green hue. He then turned and sped away. In a few moments, the pirate and his ship were gone, leaving the stunned captives relieved after their close call with death.
Henniker, New Hampshire, July 7, 1975
Here I was, thirty-something Martha Sanborn, waiting for Sam on a Friday night in July. I was grateful it was the weekend.
He arrived at my two-story apartment at six o’clock, wearing jean shorts, sandals and a yellow golf shirt. He had showered and shaven, and was relaxed and ready for his night with me. I felt like a young woman about to enjoy a weekend thrill with my guy. He rang the bell before entering.
I was barefoot, wearing tight cutoffs and working a hand towel as I appeared from the kitchen. “How many times do I have to tell you there’s no need to ring, silly?”
Sam shook his head as he strolled toward me, sweeping me up in an embrace. I flung my arms around his neck. He pulled me up, and my feet left the floor.
“Old habit, I guess,” he said. Our kiss was long and lustful. As he let me slide back onto my feet, his hands caressed my backside. He sniffed the air. “What’s cookin’, my lady?”
“That’s a roast. I’ve had it in the slow-cooker since around noon. Real easy. It cooks while we’re at work and is just about ready when I get home. And the place smells great as a bonus.” I hugged and kissed him again before easing away. “Let’s not let the dinner overcook.”
“Luckily for your cooking plans, I’m hungry as a horse,” he said. “Let’s take one treat at a time.”
“Okay, big guy, why don’t you go put the roast on a platter, and I’ll open some wine. We can eat at the kitchen table tonight. The places are all set. Just carve up some beef and spoon out the veggies. How about a pinot noir?”
“That works,” said Sam as he followed my instructions. In just a moment we were seated and enjoying our meal and the start of a summer weekend. Then the phone rang.
I shrugged, as if I had no idea who might be calling. I pushed away from the table and made it to the wall phone across the room in three rings.
“Hello, Martha Sanborn.”
“Hey, Mart, it’s brother Bart. How’s it going?” Bart used his pet name for me. He was the only family member who ever called me that, playing off his own name.
“Well, what do you know? You’re alive,” I said.
“Okay, okay, don’t rub it in. I know I’m not good at keeping in touch.”
I looked over at Sam to show my surprised face. He acknowledged me and went back to carving the roast.
“To what do I owe this untimely call, big brother?”
“Untimely? Uh oh, I hope you aren’t in the middle of maneuvers, if you get my drift.”
“No, Bart. Sam and I just sat down to dinner. But that’s all right. It’s always good to hear from family. It doesn’t happen that often.”
“Well, I’ll be brief. Don’t want your dinner to get cold. I just wanted to see if you’ll be around tomorrow. I’ve got some news for you and thought I’d stop by for a visit. Early afternoon be okay?”
I gazed at Sam again while speaking. “Yeah, early afternoon will be fine. I’ll be here. It’ll be good to see you, Bart. Where are you now? What’s the big surprise?”
“I’m in Boston with friends. Hey, I can’t tell you the news over the phone or it won’t be a surprise. It’ll be a quick visit. I got a lot going on right now, so don’t fix any food or anything like that. I can’t wait to see you, Mart.”
“Likewise, big brother. Okay, no more questions. I’ll hold ’em all for tomorrow. Can you give me an idea of what is early afternoon?”
“Oh, I’d say between one-thirty and two,” said Bart.
“Fine,” said Martha. “See you then.”
I eased the phone back onto its holder and rejoined Sam at the small table. “Well, at least I pinned him down to a reasonable time. He usually shows up anytime he chooses.”
Sam had met my brother once the previous year. The murder in Henniker, and everything surrounding it, caught his attention, and he showed up unexpectedly to check on his little sister. Sam wasn’t overly impressed with Bart, but could clearly see I loved my brother—even if my respect for his wandering lifestyle and lousy business track record was not high.
I saw Sam’s less-than-excited expression. “Don’t worry, mister. You don’t have to be here for the family reunion.”
“That’s all right, dear Martha. I know you care a lot for him, and I’ll be glad to say hello. It should be a fun time for you, and I’d like to participate. It’ll be good. What’s the special occasion?”
I sighed and helped myself to the food. I took my time filling a plate with about half as much dinner as Sam’s portion. “He didn’t want to tell me over the phone. He said it was a surprise and didn’t want to spoil it.”
Sam sipped his wine between swallowing some roast. “You think he’s finally getting married, perhaps?”
The idea snuck up on me. “Gee, I didn’t think of that. That would be great news. He could use a good woman at his side, like a lot of guys.” My eyes glared at Sam like a laser beam.
“What are you looking at me for? I’ve got one by my side, and I know it.”
I grinned and raised my wine glass. “Here’s to good partnerships, Sammy.”
Our glasses touched with a soft tingle.
“But seriously, it really would be a good move for Bart. He’s had so many screw ups in his life, including bad choices with women and business deals that went sour. Even the ones that start out okay eventually go south. I just don’t know where he goes wrong. He’s bright and personable, but just can’t seem to pull things together in the long run. I hope that whatever this is about, it’s positive.”
Sam gave me a short smile as he worked down more dinner.
After our dinner was done and the dishes cleaned, we refreshed our wine glasses and moved to the living room, where I turned on the television. Watching the local news for a while gave us a chance to let our dinner settle. Soon we were closer together and decided that there was a better way to entertain ourselves.
Saturday morning arrived with bright sunshine and warm air, not overly hot, just comfortably warm. The humidity was low. Everything pointed to a good day ahead.
By noontime, I had cleaned the downstairs and went out with Sam for some snacks and a six-pack of beer, just in case brother Bart wanted some. He liked Molson’s.
The downtown area was quiet, what with it being a July weekend in a college town. Sam found an open parking space right in front of Papa’s Market and Deli, which occupied the same building as the pharmacy in an old, two-story wooden building in the center of town. As we left his car and made our way to the storefront door, Sam spied a large figure coming through it.
Ian Barnstead was Sam’s best friend in Henniker. He was the head of the History Department. Tall and husky, Ian had a booming voice and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
“How goes it, Mr. Sam, Martha? Staying out of trouble, are you?”
“So far, so good, but the day is young,” said Sam.
“Oh, oh. That sounds like something’s brewing.”
“Just an expression, old buddy. I’m cool.”
Sam’s expression didn’t convince Ian.
“Somehow, Sam, I think you’ve got something going. You sure you don’t have some new adventure up your sleeve? One minute you’re the coolest guy on the planet, and the next you’re knee deep in something top secret. I don’t know.” Ian shook his head.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I said. “I’m getting a visit from my brother, Bart, today. That’s all. I got a surprise call from him last night. I’m getting some beer and stuff so I can be a good hostess.”
Ian put his hands on his hips and stretched his body, as if trying the reach his full height. The grin left his face. Ian was familiar with my brother and his reputation. I know he saw Bart as a ne’er-do-well.
“Oh boy, I hope this isn’t the start of another one of his schemes. Keep your money in your pocket, both of you.” He looked right at me. “You’re a smart lady, Martha, but sisterly love can blind a person. I don’t know. See you later.”
I forced a smile as Ian moved on. We went into the market and fetched the six-pack, along with chips and dip. A moment later we were winding through the Henniker roads in Sam’s car, back to my place.
“I know Ian is better acquainted with your brother than I am and we both know Ian is a good guy. I think he was just showing concern.”
“I know, Sam. I know.”