Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
“It seems a shame somehow.”
Mingo glanced at the lovely redhead beside him. Daniel’s wife had been
wide-eyed as the ship pulled into Blackwell to transfer its cargo and passengers to various smaller ships for the trip up the Thames, and nervously excited as they sailed the river, gliding through Wapping, past the Execution Dock to Lower Pool, Wapping by the Stairs. Now as they approached their destination, a noisy wharf in the heart of the great city itself, situated on the north side of the river between Tower and London Bridges, she had grown quiet and wistful. As the anchor was lowered and the officers and seamen began to hustle and bustle about the upper deck, preparing for landfall, Rebecca leaned on the side-rail and silently drank it all in.
She had told him she had never been to London.
Mingo glanced at the towering spires and crowded houses whose upper stories jutted out over the streets and the milling throngs below. He remembered them. He remembered as well how terrifying it had all seemed to one small boy with his hair freshly cut, who had been given a strange name and dressed in a stranger’s clothes. Below the spires and beyond the houses were dozens upon dozens of glass-fronted shops offering an endless variety of wares, along with hundreds of coffeehouses and taverns, and thousands of alehouses. There were hay and fish markets as well, and others for the selling of leather, meat, and vegetables. And each and every one of them was frequented by the over five hundred thousand souls who called the city their home and gave their custom to such places. In the space of an afternoon’s perambulation one might see both noblemen and lesser gentry, their servants and wastrel sons, working class women and their weary sun-browned common-law husbands; doctors, lawyers, magistrates, soldiers, and sometimes, kings. To those who knew no better, London was the perfect gem in England’s crown. But there was another side to the city; one that seldom saw the light of day. There one would find the poor, the destitute; the man ruined for the theft of a loaf of bread to feed his children and the young girl fallen on hard times, forced to service her betters in one of its many brothels.
In the years he had lived in the city Mingo had seen it all, and rejected it for the clean, clear air of Kentucky and her virgin wilderness.
“A shame? What would that be, Rebecca?”
She turned and leaned her back against the railing. “I always wanted to see London, but I was hoping Dan would be with me.”
He reached out and touched her arm. “I am sorry my troubles have kept you two apart for so long. Daniel must be half out of his mind by now. The Marquis promised to send him word by the fastest frigate he could find, but I am afraid it will still be weeks before he knows anything for certain.”
“And weeks before we get home again.” Becky pushed off the rail and came to stand at his side. “I think my craving for adventure has been more than satisfied. It’s not so much that I am worried about Dan. He’ll be fine. He always is. It’s Jemima. And Israel. I missed his birthday....” Her voice trailed off.
He took her hands and pressed them between his own. “When we find my father, I will have him send you home.”
“Oh, Mingo, what a lovely thought. If I knew both you and Rachel were all right, I might....” She hesitated. “But still, there might not be a ship for weeks. ”
“Then I’ll buy one for you.”
Becky laughed. “Buy one?”
Mingo shrugged. “All that money that I stand to inherit has to be good for something.”
Becky shifted back and looked at him. The Marquis had insisted while they were with him, that he be allowed to supply them with clothing. He said it was the least he could do. He had ordered an army of tailors and seamstresses to the Duke’s home and they had proceeded to outfit them royally. She had chosen to wear a deep crimson sacque dress this day, covered by a fine black cloak. Mingo was dressed in a rich brown velvet suit; its jacket lavishly embroidered at the cuffs and hem. His long black hair was bound in a tail and tied with a golden ribbon. He looked very handsome, and every bit the nobleman. She shook her head. “I forget sometimes that you are a Gentleman; a Lord’s son.”
Mingo gazed at the city again. The great dome of St. Paul’s cathedral had just come into view. He had been in his early twenties the last time he had seen it. He had thought then that he had bid it, and the Supreme City, farewell forever. “Gentleman,” he spat. “Those I knew in this place who bore that title were anything but. And as to being a Lord’s son.... I renounced that heritage long ago. I am Cara-Mingo, a Cherokee. Not Kerr, the Earl’s son.”
She looked thoughtful. “I never asked you, Mingo. Do you have brothers and sisters? Here?”
He nodded. “Yes. After a fashion.”
Becky frowned. “After a ‘fashion’? What does that mean?”
“The life of a Peer’s child is not an easy one. My father brought me here when Charlotte’s children were very small. I was immediately entered in the military academy and sequestered with tutors day and night. My father was, er…rather determined to beat the Cherokee out of me.” He paused as he rubbed his backside. “Some of my tutors took his instruction quite literally. By the time I was ‘emancipated’, I was a young man. Catherine was ten years younger than me, and she was the eldest. George, Alex and John were little boys when I fled with Star and Arrowkeeper. The other four— ”
“Other four? My goodness, your father has been a busy man.”
“It is all a part of the age-old game of conquest and control; wedding and bedding and combining fortunes.”
“I see,” she said. “And not because he loves children.”
Mingo shook his head. “I do not believe love of children is one of my father’s strong points. We were mostly reared by tutors and nursemaids”
“Oh.” She was silent a moment. “The four youngest? You were saying?”
“What? Oh, yes. The four youngest I have never met. One was born in Virginia, I understand, during the time Charlotte lived in the Governor’s Palace.”
“Eight of them. And yet, you could have the title? If you wanted it?”
He leaned against the railing and watched as another ship glided toward the monstrous pier. “So my father says. Though I imagine George might object. A heritage of centuries, he told me. And then he said it was waiting for me. A heritage of centuries....” Mingo struck his hand against the worn wood. “Centuries of brutality and mindless obedience to archaic rules and rituals, meant to elevate one undeserving group of people above another and keep them there. That is something of which I want no part.”
Becky was staring at him. “Mingo, I don’t know if I have ever seen you so angry.”
He looked at his hands. His knuckles were white. “Yes. Well....”
“There had to be something good about your years here. Some saving grace.”
He smiled and looked at her sideways. “Well, there was Rachel.”
“The pale doe-eyed primrose-haired, blue-blooded child?” A voice spoke sharply from behind them. “And will I get to meet this angelic creature? Or dare I hope that the Heavens have opened, and the angels and all the Saints have come to take her back to her own?”
Mingo turned with a smile. He laughed. “Isabella. And here I was beginning to think you were going to break with tradition.”
“Tradition?” Becky asked as the actress turned to look at the seamen who were readying the gangplank.
The dark-haired man grinned. “Isabella is always the first one off the ship.”
“And the first one to kiss the ground and thank Saint Brendan for making sure I walked it again,” the actress added, crossing herself.
“Always,” he said solemnly.
“I thought that was the Captain’s choice.”
Isabella put a hand to her fashionable straw hat to keep it from blowing away with the breeze, even as the skirts of the deep green open-robed dress she wore, billowed in it. “Aye. That it is.”
Becky’s hands went to her hips. “Then how do you manage it?”
Mingo lowered his voice and raised one black eyebrow. “Isabella is always the Captain’s choice.”
Becky frowned. Then when he started to laugh, she blushed. “Mingo!”
The actress glanced at Mingo and then at her. A smile lit her face, but it was rueful. “After losing this one, darlin’, they’re all the same.” Isabella turned then and, with a swish of her cork rump, headed for the tall white-haired man in uniform who had just arrived on deck.
Silence fell between the two of them as they watched her go. Becky broke it first. “She’s in love with you, you know?”
He shook his head. “That was a long time ago, Rebecca. Nearly a lifetime.”
“No,” her blue eyes sought his dark ones. “I mean now. She still is.”
He glanced at the actress who was standing at the Captain’s side, waiting to descend the plank the moment it touched the wharf. “No.”
Becky laughed. “Mingo, you never cease to amaze me.”
He frowned. “Why is that?”
“Here I thought you were so different from Dan, and you’re not.”
One black eyebrow lifted. “I am not?”
“No, you have just as thick a skull, and are just as blind when it comes to women. Heaven help me, you must all be the same.”
“I think I have just been insulted.”
She laid her hand on his jacket. “Not really. We wouldn’t want you any other way.” She raised up on tiptoe and gave his cheek a peck. Then she held out her arm. “Now, Mr. Murray, I believe it is time to escort your wife off the ship.”
Once on the wharf itself, she clung tightly to him. There had to have been at least a thousand people milling about; more than she had seen in the last five years put together. As they jostled through the shoulder to shoulder crowds, Becky wondered how they stood it. She had grown so used to the wide-open spaces, to the prairies and fields; the emerald trees and the sapphire skies, that she thought if she stayed her too long, she would suffocate. Or maybe just wither and die. Each time she drew a deep breath, she coughed. It was the height of the summer season and apparently an afternoon in London-town was worse by far than any day in Kentucky downwind of Boonesborough.
Mingo clenched the hand of his friend’s wife tightly. They were looking for Isabella. The actress had bustled off to find the series of coaches she had hired to bear the acting company to their next destination. They intended to lay over in London for a few days, and he hoped during that time to seek out his father’s home near Berkeley Square. The older man should be there and, with any luck, he would find Rachel there as well. Apparently a friendship had formed between the unlikely pair, and deepened after Rachel returned from the Colonies. For some time she had lived in peace, managing Hugh Oldham’s estates, but lately—according to the Marquis’s young wife—she had had to rely on the Earl’s patronage and protection more and more. John Gerard’s hand was long. It reached out from the grave to affect them even still. The old charges of her collaboration with the French had resurfaced, and there was a now an added accusation of treason involving the Americans and their struggle for independence.
The government had been reminded of who her fiancée had been and informed of what he was doing now.
The most frightening aspect of it all was that the charges were true. If any of the several dozen soldiers milling about the wharf had known—or even suspected who he really was—his life, as well as Rebecca’s, would have been forfeit. They were going to have to be very careful.
Very careful indeed.
Mingo started. A hand had come down on his shoulder. He squeezed Rebecca’s elbow and tried to hurry her forward.
Another man blocked their way.
Becky gazed up at him. “Kerr?” she whispered.
“Excuse me,” he said to the man in front of him, “we have a coach to catch.”
“Are you Kerr Moray?” the man asked.
Mingo could feel Daniel’s wife grow stiff with fear. His eyes still seeking Isabella and the other members of the troupe, he answered calmly, “No, my name is Murray. I am afraid you have mistaken me for someone else.”
“I don’t think so, sir. I was told to look for a tall dark-haired man with deeply-tanned skin, who would be accompanied by a lovely redheaded woman. You are the only one I see on the wharf who comes close to fitting that description.”
Mingo looked at the man. He was wearing a dark cloak. A uniformed sleeve peeked out from under it. There was no insignia visible to indicate who or what he was. Mingo’s eyes went to his face. He read no anger in it, no sign of malice; just a sort of open curiosity. Perhaps it was just a case of mistaken identity. Still, the man had known his name. “And if I was this, Kerr Moray, what were you instructed to do with me?”
“You are to come with us, sir. There is someone who is very much looking forward to seeing you again.”
“Kerr....” Becky began.
He patted her hand for reassurance. “I have only just arrived. How could someone be looking for me?”
“Word was sent, sir, of your impending arrival.” The first man nodded to the one who had remained silent behind them. “We have a message for you.”
Mingo glanced at the second stranger. He did not wear a cloak, but was dressed in a great surcoat that hung below his knees. His hair was unpowdered and his hat, uncocked. The brim hid his face. By the mud on his leather breeches it was obvious he had been riding long and hard. “A message?”
“Yes.” The first man nodded sharply—it was almost a salute—and stepped away. He did not leave their immediate vicinity, but turned and watched them; his hand resting on the handle of a pistol concealed beneath his cloak.
The man in the great coat drew closer. He seemed young; perhaps no older than eighteen or nineteen. He stared at the pair for a moment and then in a soft cultured voice asked softly, “You do not remember me?”
Mingo shook his head. “What little I can see of you is unfamiliar.”
The young man laughed and doffed his hat. He ran a hand through his short cropped hair to straighten it. He had an open face and large expressive dark eyes. And when he smiled, the gesture lit both his face and those eyes. “Perhaps then, you will remember this. I will set the scene: A young woman. A young man. They met in the rose garden. They thought they were alone, but alas, it was not so. Small eyes were watching, and small hands were busy. The young lady went to get her reticule, which she had so foolishly laid on the empty bench, and when she picked it up it no longer held only her bergamot sachet, but several rather nasty-looking, wart-covered— ”
The young man laughed. “Yes. Toads. I have wondered to this day if Rachel ever got warts on her fingers. Do you know?”
Becky looked from the young man to him. Mingo knew he had grown almost as pale as she was. “Kerr?” she asked.
“My God,” Mingo whispered. “Johnny?”
“Yes. Father thought that by sending me— ”
He laughed again. “Yes, big brother, it is me.”
On the same wharf, not far away, two men moved through the teeming hordes of barkers and hawkers, porters and customs officers, vagabonds and thieves. The taller of them walked with great long strides. His companion took more steps, but had no trouble keeping up with him. They had collected what baggage they had and then set out to hire a coach to carry them to the heart of the great city.
“Is that where the public coaches wait?”
The shorter of the two looked over several bent heads. “Yes. If there is not one for hire, there will be in another minute. Will you try to hail one? I need to check with the wharf-master and see if my cargo did indeed proceed me. I won’t be a minute.”
The other man nodded. “Will do.”
“Tell him we’ll be heading for Threadneedle, and then Cornhill after that. And tell him, I will have need of his services for the duration of the day.” He grinned. “I intend to show you the city before the sun sets.”
“Mighty kind of you, friend,” the tall man answered. He tipped his tricorn hat and then he turned and walked away.
Geoffrey Leighton watched Daniel Boone as he moved into the crowd. At least he would not be hard to find. The frontiersman was head and shoulders above most of the Londoners. He saw him draw near the lane where the coachmen waited and then he turned, eager to locate his man and hear what news he had to tell.
“So you won’t be travelin’ with us after all?” Isabella was sadly disappointed.
“Rebecca will. I have need of haste. My....” Mingo glanced behind his back, still somewhat stunned to have been greeted by his young brother. “My friend has gone to hire two horses. We will be riding on ahead.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“Tis a long ride, love. You’re sure this old man you told me about will make it worth my while? I’m canceling a lucrative contract just to act as coachman to your lady love here.”
“Mingo, I can ride...”
“Rebecca, no. It is not safe. This city has a way of destroying anything that is pure and beautiful. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you.”
“But, Mingo.... I mean, Kerr.” She stamped her foot. “I will never get used to that.”
“Let us hope you have no need to. Ah, Johnny,” Mingo turned as the young man came walking up to them, leading two fine black horses, “they’re beautiful.” The animals were obviously in excellent shape; well-muscled, sleek and healthy. The larger of the two was striking the ground with its hoof and tossing its head as if to indicate it thought standing still was almost more than it should be made to bear.
His brother grinned. “Dada gave me the cheque-book. He told me to be wise and exercise discretion.”
Mingo ran his hand along the silken coat of the smaller animal. “And is there any money left in the cheque-book?”
Johnny shrugged. “Enough to stop at a few coffeehouses on our way.”
Before Mingo could open his mouth to reply, Isabella pressed her way through and walked straight up to his brother. Since he was tall, and she was small, Johnny couldn’t do much of anything but stare straight down at her and her heaving bosom. “M-madame,” he stuttered and then cleared his throat.
She looked back at Mingo. “And just who might this strappin’ lad be, I’m wonderin’?”
“Isabella,” Mingo cautioned. “He’s not for you.”
“Oh, no? And who is he? A bleedin’ Earl or something?” she snapped.
“Well, I might be…someday,” Johnny answered. “Though it’s not on the agenda at the moment.”
Isabella paused, looking from one to the other. One green eye narrowed, even as the red brow above the other one peaked. “You’re missin’ the lovely copper tan, laddie, but the eyes are the same. Are the two of you related?”
Mingo sighed. “If you must know, Isabella, this is my younger brother, Johnny.”
The other eyebrow rose in imitation of the first. “So, you’ve been holdin’ out on me, have you?”
“Isabella, he was barely six when I returned to the Colonies. I hardly think he would have been your type back then.”
She cocked her head and grinned as the young man tipped his hat to her and then made a quick retreat to take a seat on the smaller of the two horses. “He certainly is now.”
“Isabella….” Mingo warned.
The redhead adopted her most innocent look; the one she had used whenever she played Juliet. “I am deeply hurt, Kerr. Do I look like the type of woman who would take advantage of an inexperienced younger man?”
Mingo stared at her, noting the well-placed beauty mark high on her ample bosom, the cinched-tight waist and lightly powdered red hair. “Yes.” He turned to Becky. “I think I need you to watch her, as much as I thought I needed her to watch over you.”
Becky turned and looked at the handsome young man who was turning his mount’s head in the opposite direction, readying to leave. “Well, he is awfully cute.”
The two women burst into laughter. Becky stepped forward and kissed him once on the cheek. “God Speed, Mingo.”
He nodded. “And to you. I will see you at the Estate.”
“Tell Rachel I am looking forward to seeing her again.”
“If she is with my father. Johnny says he doesn’t know for certain that she is. They were forced to flee the city under cover of darkness and may have taken separate carriages. He says he saw no one but my father’s valet and footman with him.” His brother had been sent to tell him the situation had grown grave. It had become too dangerous for his father and his former fiancée to stay in the city. They had fled the night before in his father’s chariot and were already on their way to the Airth in Stirlingshire, to the house Lord Dunsmore kept there. The manor in Dunsmore Park had been one of Mingo’s favorites as a young man, but then he had always felt more at home in Scotland than he had in London, or anywhere else in England. “May the Creator watch over you, Rebecca. And you, Miss Isabella Catherine Mary Pursglove.” He planted a kiss on the actress’ red head and then wagged a finger at her. “And once you arrive at the Estate, you will leave my brother alone.”
“By Jesus, Mary and Joseph, ” Isabella swore, crossing her rather ample bosom with her fingers, “I’ll behave just as a saint.”
He nodded. Despite her rather exuberant personality and bohemian nature, he knew Isabella’s faith held deep meaning for her. If he was to get any sort of a promise out of her, that one was about the best he could hope for. “Until we meet again,” he said softly, and then turned and headed for the horse whose reins his brother held. Mingo mounted it and with a nod, the two of them disappeared into the crowds that lined the wharf.
A minute later Isabella was still standing with her hands on her hips. She produced a loud, long sigh.
“What is it?” Becky asked, concerned.
“Ah, Rebecca, I was just thinkin’ that cancellin’ that contract may have been worthwhile after all.” She grinned and then moved toward the coach which was waiting for them. Dougray McAllister was already seated beside the driver and had been watching the proceedings through thinly masked jealousy. Becky gathered up her borrowed skirts. She had just turned to follow her, when a finger tapped her shoulder
“Excuse me, Madame. Do you think you could find room in that coach for one more?”
Becky stiffened. The voice was deep and impossibly familiar. She pivoted and her blue eyes went wide. There, before her, was her husband. “Dan!” she squealed. “Oh, Dan! You came after me? All this way?”
He caught her in his arms even as he nodded, and kissed her long and hard. A moment later, Dan broke away from her and began to speak but, before he could, she caught his face in her hands and pulled him into another kiss; barely giving him time to breathe.
A tap on her shoulder made her start. Still in her husband’s embrace, Becky pivoted to find Isabella watching them. “Yes?” she asked.
Isabella’s hands had found her hips. “I think you might have some explainin’ to do, Mrs. Murray. Who exactly is this great oak of a man?”
“Oh, Isabella. I— ”
Dan turned her around in his arms. His green eyes were narrowed in mock anger. “Mrs. Murray? I take it you forgot to send me an invitation.”
She smacked him hard. “Oh, Dan. Stop it.” As he grinned, she took his hand and led him up to the petite redhead. “Isabella Pursglove, this is my husband—my real husband, Daniel B— ”
Dan had poked her in the side with his elbow. “Daniel Brown,” he said as he extended his other hand to her. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Pursglove. I understand you’re an actress, and a mighty fine one.”
Isabella’s blue eyes widened and her hand went to her chest. “You have heard of me?” she asked, surprised. Then she said, “Oh, from Cara-Mingo.”
“No, Miss. Another former acquaintance of yours spoke highly of you. Alexander MacKirdy.”
“Alec?” Her smile turned into a grin. “You’ve seen Alec?”
Becky nodded. “Last year. He returned to the colonies, looking for Mingo.... ” She fell silent as her husband released her waist and raised his hand to beckon someone over. “Dan, what are you doing?”
“It’s a friend of mine. We were gonna travel together. He was gonna help me find Lord Dunsmore’s house, and maybe you and Mingo in the bargain.”
“Dan, it’s Kerr here,” she corrected him quickly as the other man, a handsome hawkish-looking individual in his later thirties or early forties walked up to them.
He took off his hat and made a short bow. “Ladies. Daniel.”
“You find your cargo, Geoffrey?”
The man shook his head. “It is nearby. I should have it in hand within the day. And these lovely ladies would be?”
“This beautiful one is my wife, Rebecca,” Dan said as he wrapped his arm about her waist again. “And her friend is— ”
“Isabella,” the actress said as she took his hand. Her green eyes sized him up. “And who might you be?”
“Geoffrey Leighton,” Dan answered for him. “We met on the ship. We’re both in the fur exportin’ trade,” he said with a sidelong glance at Becky, “and we thought we might travel together. Looks now like that won’t be necessary.”
“So you have found what you were looking for, Daniel? I thought there was an older man as well. A nobleman, wasn’t it?”
Her husband nodded. “Lord Dunsmore.” He indicated the coach waiting behind them. “ ‘Pears we’re headed his way.” Dan glanced about then. “I think maybe Scotland will be more to my likin’ then London, anyway.”
Becky’s eyes went to her husband. There was fear in them. “Dan....”
“It’s all right, Becky. Leighton here is a friend. What will you do now, Geoffrey?”
The man tossed his unruly bangs back and returned his hat to his head. “I will miss your company, Daniel, but I must be about my business. So you are to stay at the Earl’s residence? In Dunsmore Park? If so, I might be able to look you up later. I have business in Stirlingshire.”
She nodded slowly. “I think that is what Kerr said.”
“Thanks for your offer of help, Leighton,” Dan said, extending his hand. “I’m mighty sorry to be partin’ so soon.”
Leighton took his hand and shook it. “The feeling is mutual.” He tipped his hat. “Daniel. Mrs. Brown.”
And with that, he turned and vanished into the crowds.
Dan released his wife’s waist and started to move toward the coach. When she didn’t follow, he turned back. “Becky? Somethin’ wrong?”
She was frowning. “Dan, are you sure of that man?”
He came back to her side. “Don’t know why I shouldn’t be. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “He seems familiar somehow.”
He glanced at the throng passing before them. Leighton had vanished into it. “Probably reminds you of someone else.”
Becky nodded. “I guess that’s it.” She turned to her husband then and took both his hands. “You just missed Mingo.”
“I was wonderin’. He’s all right then? From what I was able to find out, it seemed he had been kidnapped. I thought the same about you.”
“I’m fine. So is he,” she hesitated, “at least physically.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean, Mrs. Boone?”
Becky hooked her arm around his waist and together they headed for the coach. “It’s a long ride to Scotland, Dan, and I’ve a long tale to tell.”
“Ah, real coffee. I had almost forgotten.”
Johnny looked at his long lost brother over the rim of his cup. Before heading out of the city they had stopped to obtain supplies. While waiting for the order to be filled, he had taken Kerr by the arm and dragged him several doors down to one of the coffee-houses he sometimes frequented. The journey they were about to undertake would be a long, hard one with few breaks and, since there was nothing more pressing, he suggested they share a cup and take a few minutes to become reacquainted.
“I understand on the frontier, it is...boiled?”
Mingo smiled. “Beaten with a rock and tossed in a tin pot, and then boiled until done.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures, I take it.” John put his cup down and leaned back. He laced his fingers together behind his head and kicked his chair back on two legs. “And this is the world that called you so you had to leave us?”
Mingo placed his own cup on the table and used his index finger to ring it. He was quiet for a moment, and then he looked up. “I am sorry if I hurt you, Johnny.”
“You hurt all of us. But father most of all.”
His brother nodded. “I suppose in a way, we benefited it. I am sure George did. He sat the front legs of the chair back down and leaned forward, “Still, it was a high price to pay.”
“It?” Mingo prompted.
“Losing you.” Johnny cupped his hands around the warm china cup. “After you disappeared, Father began to pay more attention to us. I suppose.... I suppose he understood, perhaps for the first time, that he might lose the rest of us too.” He lifted his dark brown eyes to his eldest brother’s face. After a moment, he asked, “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“That you live in the colonies as a savage? That you are,” he paused, not seeming to know how to put it delicately, “you are a— ”
“Savage?” Mingo leaned back. “It depends on your definition of the word, Johnny. If you mean I live as my mother’s people lived then, yes, I am a savage. This is not my normal attire.” He pointed to the dark brown suit and elegantly embroidered waistcoat.
The young man’s eyes lit with interest. “You wear feathers and beads then? And paint?”
“Only on special occasions,” he laughed. “I dress as a Cherokee, which is what I am. I am a Cherokee warrior, as was my mother’s brother, and her father.”
Johnny frowned. “What about your father?”
His brother took another sip of the smooth rich coffee. “He and I have never seen eye to eye.” Mingo shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Why, because I am young? Because I am not Cherokee?” Johnny paused, contemplating whether to go on.
“What? Say what is on your mind.”
“Very well. You have a certain arrogance about you, brother. Are you aware of that?”
His older brother was stunned. “I
beg your pardon.”
“Oh, I do not fault you for rejecting this life. I have watched George. I thank God every day I was not born our father’s second son. I have no desire to be the fifth Earl of Dunsmore, or Viscount of anything.” Johnny picked his cup up and took another sip. “But I have not rejected who I am. Nor who my father is.”
“You are white, John. You wouldn’t understand.”
“You said that before.” He put the cup down so hard the spoon on the table beside it jumped. “But you listen to me. I’ll tell you what I don’t understand; a man who runs away from the people who love him. From the father who loves him.” Johnny pushed back from the table and turned in his chair to look out of the glass shop-front. “I think he loves you more than any of us.”
“Yes.” He didn’t look at him. “Mother knows. She knows about the Indian woman.”
Mingo frowned. “Did she tell you?”
He leaned his chin on his hand. “No. Idle rumor. Tales in the nursery, and then the academy. Soldiers whose fathers had come back from the colonies all those years ago with stories of Lord Dunsmore’s illegitimate son.” Johnny glanced at him. “And lately, rumor of an Oxford-educated Indian in Kentucky, walking at the side of this man named Boone. That’s how I knew.”
“But why, then, say your mother knows?”
He shrugged. “I have seen it in her eyes. Hers is a marriage of convenience. She honors our father. Respects him. But there is little love. There can never be.” Johnny turned in his seat and met his brother’s dark eyes. “His heart is still in the colonies, and you do him wrong if you do not believe it.”
His brother glanced at his hands. Johnny noticed they were trembling. Then he opened his mouth to say something, but as he did, the boy the seller had sent arrived with their supplies. Johnny paid him and then rose to his feet. “The horses will have been watered and fed by now. We will barely make it out of London proper by nightfall. Do you mean to ride through the night?”
“I want to catch up to the carriage. How far ahead did the man say....” Mingo hesitated. Johnny knew what word would not come. It was one thing to speak of his father, but another thing entirely for his brother to call Lord Dunsmore by that name.
“How far ahead was Father’s carriage? Half a day, or so I was told. But he has taken the chariot. It is smaller and lighter and can do, perhaps, six to seven miles per hour. Riding, we should overtake them just after dawn—if we only stop to rest or exchange the horses. Of course, it will depend on whether or not they choose to stop.”
As he rose, he shouldered the provisions the boy had brought.
“What will you say to him when you see him?”
Mingo paused. The last time he had seen his father, he had laughed in his face;
delighted to have triumphed over the man and to have been a part of defeating his scheme to oust the Boonesborough settlers from their land. The older man had taken it well enough, much as if he had been defeated at cards, or at chess.
Still, they had parted as strangers.
“What will I say?” he whispered. “I have no idea.”
They rode hard through the rest of the day and into the night, covering nearly seventy-five miles before they were forced to rest. After only a couple of hours sleep, they started out again with fresh horses. In the town where they stopped, they had news from the locals of an elegant carriage passing through no more than six hours before. Apparently Lord Dunsmore had decided not too tarry long in any one place either. Mingo had asked if there had been a woman within. No one had seen one. Just the two young lads who tended the Lord’s needs, they said, and the handsome silver-haired man himself. Johnny, taking after his father, had managed to charm the local baker’s daughter in something short of a half hour and when they rode off, it was with their bags full of sweet-smelling rolls, some cheese, and a bottle of wine.
As they set out the pale pink fingers of dawn were drawn across the sky. They rode hard for another five hours and had just agreed to rest and take a light lunch, when they rounded a bend in the road and pulled to a sharp stop. Backing up quickly, they took cover in the shade of a nearby thicket of trees. A sleek covered carriage was parked in the middle of the road. Beside it, on the grass, lay a body, face-down. A lace-cuffed hand was extended through the side window and a flintlock discharged even as the footman, who had apparently been riding at his station on the back, rounded the vehicle and climbed into the driver’s seat. There was some commotion as the door started to open, but before the man inside could step out, the footman snapped the reins smartly against the horses’ rumps and sent the chariot careening forward. As he did, a trio of riders emerged from another stand of trees in hot pursuit.
“That is Father’s coach. They are under attack. Dear God!” Johnny started forward, but Mingo caught the reins of his horse and held him back. “What are you doing?”
“Think, Johnny! Flying after them, fully revealed.... Just how much help do you think we would be?”
The young man nodded. “But we have to do something.”
“Yes. But first, a lesson from a ‘savage’,” Mingo smiled grimly. “Those who fight in a fashion the British Army would consider ‘dirty’, live to fight another day.”
“What are you saying?”
Mingo indicated the ribbon of water glinting in the dawning light. It was just beyond the next bend. On the other side of the road was a low hill. “You see that?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“They will have to pause before crossing.”
“We will fly as fast as we can over the hill and lay in wait for them in the cover of the trees.” He lifted the flintlock his brother had purchased for him from behind his belt and held it to the ready. “We will waylay them.”
Johnny grinned as he drew his in like fashion. “Ambush the ambushers, you mean? From cover and without warning?”
His younger brother shook his head as they put their heels to their steeds. “It’s no wonder your Yanks are winning the war.”
Several minutes later they were in place. They had barely outpaced the carriage and were looking on it now as it flew toward them, bumping and jostling the small figure that fought desperately to keep hold of the reins, and the carriage under control. One of the riders was closing the gap between them and, as a flintlock discharged, the footman flinched. Mingo wasn’t certain the missile had hit him, but if it hadn’t, it had certainly come close.
He rose up in the saddle and gazed back at the duo that was just rounding the bend. “John, do you think you can protect my back?”
Mingo placed his flintlock back behind his belt. “I am going take control of the carriage.” The footman had slumped in the seat, but was still managing to keep the horses on the road. “I need you to take out the one who is closest and hold off the other two. I will assist you as soon as I am able.”
Johnny nodded. “Well, I
did take honors in marksmanship at the Academy....”
“In that case, all the pounds father spent to send you there were definitely not wasted.” Mingo clapped his brother on the back and then pressed his heels into the horses’ sides and exploded from the greenery. Johnny watched him descend with grace and ease, and then maneuvered his horse so he would come out just behind the chief pursuer and hopefully catch him off-guard.
Mingo’s eyes were on the carriage. He didn’t dare spare time or thought for the flintlocks that were undoubtedly aimed at his back. So long as he continued to bob and weave, following an erratic path, it was unlikely they would hit him. But once he left the horse and climbed onto the carriage, he would be an easy target.
Hopefully his little brother was as good a shot as he claimed.
As he approached it, Mingo watched the chariot’s wheels, estimating its speed. The lace-cuffed hand came out of the side window again and, even as Johnny broke from cover, the flintlock spat and his closest pursuer fell. As his brother wheeled to face the other two, Mingo caught hold of the ornate gilded fretwork on the side of the carriage and leapt from the horse. For a moment his feet swung free. Then he landed one of them on the fender above the wheel. The other he placed on a perplexed cherub’s head carved of wood. He took a second to catch his breath, and then swung up into the seat. Even as he did a weapon discharged. He glanced back to see Johnny reloading as he rode in hot pursuit of the lone highwayman who remained.
His father’s servant had slumped to the floor of the well where the driver’s feet normally rested and was dangling half over the side. Only the fact that the tails of his elegant coat had caught on the gilded ornamentation of the carriage had kept him in place. Mingo took up the reins and pulled back on them with all of his strength, calling out to the horses as he did in the way his uncle had taught him. At first the frightened animals paid no mind and continued to run madly; terrified. Then, slowly, the rhythmic chanting penetrated their fear and they began to slow. Finally, they walked, and after a few yards, they stopped. Mingo drew a deep breath and tied the reins off and then pivoted to check on his brother. The young man was just returning; alone. As he frowned, wondering if Johnny had killed the other man or if he had simply gotten away, his father appeared beside the carriage.
Lord Dunsmore was frantic. “I say, sir. The boy? Is he all right? He insisted on taking the seat and set the horses to running before I could stop him.”
His father didn’t recognize him. Not that he should have been surprised. He was dressed as an English gentleman and not as a Cherokee warrior as he had been when last they met. “I haven’t had a moment to check,” Mingo answered; his voice low. He turned and placed his hands under the slender form and rolled it gently over. The boy’s head rolled sideways into the shadows, but not before he could see blood in the tangle of straight blond hair escaping from a ribboned ponytail. “He’s been struck, sir,” he said. “Though the wound doesn’t appear to be too deep.”
Mingo nodded to Johnny as the young man drew up alongside the carriage and then shifted back onto the seat with the boy in his arms. As he did, the youth’s hat fell off and his head lolled against his chest.
The rising sunlight struck a familiar heart-shaped face that had gone deathly pale.
Mingo gasped. “Rachel! My God.”
After ascertaining that Rachel’s injuries were not life-threatening, he had carried her into the shadows of the nearby trees while his brother concealed the carriage and their father took off on horseback in pursuit of the remaining highwayman. Johnny was certain he had winged the man. In spite of this, he had managed to get away. Johnny had been slightly wounded in the arm himself, but had laughed it off and insisted he was fine. Still, Mingo noticed that now—an hour or so later—his brother had fallen asleep under one of the tall Alder trees. Fortunately his father had had the presence of mind to carry medical supplies. Lord Dunsmore had informed him that he would find them concealed under one of the seats. He had—along with a flintlock, several daggers, and a small velvet pouch filled with gold.
Mingo laughed. That was his father, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunsmore. Not a man to be caught off-guard. And yet, these highwaymen had surprised him. As he placed a freshly wrung cloth on Rachel’s forehead, he wondered again who they had been and whether their appearance at this time had had anything to do with his own. Once Johnny awoke, he intended to ask him if he was well enough to ride back the way they had come to warn Isabella and the others. He feared for Rebecca’s safety, as well as that of the small troublesome Irishwoman and her players.
As Johnny moaned and shifted nearby, Mingo rocked back on his heels and stared at the petite woman before him. In some ways, he couldn’t believe it was her. In his mind’s eye Rachel had always been sitting quietly in a bower, or in the midst of a sea of roses, reading or working on some fine piece of stitchery; dressed in silks and satins, with her pale blond curls cascading over her shoulders. Now, here she was, dressed as his father’s footman; a fugitive on the run. The Earl had said she insisted on riding on the back of the carriage whenever they came to a town. As they had passed the last one, these three men had begun to follow them. There had been no opportunity to bring her inside. The driver had set the horses flying and for a time, they had made good their escape. Then, shortly before he and Johnny had arrived, one of the highwayman had killed the driver and, before he knew it, Rachel had climbed past him into the seat and taken control.
Mingo smiled as he pushed a stray wisp of hair out of her eyes. Rachel wore no make-up or powder. Her hair was the pale gold he remembered, but the curls had been tamed and pulled into a short clubbed tail. They had even bound her chest to make her look more like a boy. As he shook his head at her fortitude and pluck, and cursed the independent nature that had caused her to take such a risk, Rachel stirred and opened her eyes. They were slightly unfocused. Mingo reached out and touched her arm. She started and reared up, and began to struggle to escape.
“Rachel, lie still. You’ve been injured.” Mingo caught her arms and held her down. “Rachel,” he repeated, his tone firm, “You must listen to me. You are safe. The men are gone.”
With her eyes closed and her head pressed against his chest, she whispered, “Safe?”
“Yes.” As he cradled her head gently with one hand, he frowned at the fresh blood on the cloth that bound her wound. “With me.”
Rachel blinked several times and then, with a slight moan, shifted her head and looked up. “Who?” The light that filtered through the trees was dappled, but it illuminated his face. She drew a sharp breath. “Kerr?”
He laughed at her instinctive use of his English name. When they had last parted, at Daniel’s cabin, she had conceded—along with him—that Kerr was dead. Looking at her now, he was not so certain that concession had not been premature. “Yes, it is me.”
Rachel remained still for a moment and then her hands slipped under his arms and she embraced him, holding him tight. Her fingers dug into the soft brown fabric of his jacket, twisting it, as if she feared he might disappear as he had before. “I prayed you would come.”
“I am here,” he assured her as he stroked her hair. “I am not going anywhere.”
Rachel stiffened. She reared back; her fingers still clutching the fabric tight. “You promise?”
Mingo remembered another time she had asked for his promise and he had given it to her. He had been a young man at the time and not understood the meaning of the word. And when the day had come where he had to chose between his own needs and hers, he had broken it and sailed away. He looked into her eyes now and saw the pain their separation had brought her. It was much the same with him, but he had always managed to bury it. There had always been something that needed doing, whether it was hunting, trapping, running messages for his chief, fighting alongside the other warriors, or undertaking missions for the young country he had chosen to call home.
Suddenly that image of her, alone in the garden, seemed incredibly sad.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she laid her head against his shoulder. “I shouldn’t have asked. It is just I have missed you so. I will be grateful for what time we have.... ”
She glanced up. “What?”
He smiled as he touched her cheek with his fingers. “I will promise you this. Wherever I end, you will be by my side.”
For a moment, Rachel was utterly silent. She neither moved nor spoke. Then a single tear ran down her cheek as she placed her hand over his. “Is that a proposal, Mister Murray?”
He laughed. “I have no blanket to toss over your shoulders or venison to present to your family, so words alone will have to do. I spoke them once before. Long ago.”
She nodded. “A lifetime.”
“Rachel, I love you. I have always loved you. I was just afraid— ”
She put her finger on his lips. “You talk too much.” And with that, Rachel caught his face in her hands and pulled him down into a passionate kiss.
“And here I am, without any toads,” a light tenor voice remarked a minute or so later, causing them to break apart and look up. Johnny was standing over them, grinning. “I’m afraid I shall have to report you to father, Kerr. Running off with the footman, really.”
Mingo laughed. Rachel was leaning on his shoulder and, just then, nothing else mattered in the world. He had no idea where he was going from here and for once, he didn’t care. Still, somehow he knew the moment would not last long. He could see his father riding toward them; a tall martial figure sitting straight and proud in the saddle. He watched as his brother followed his gaze and then nodded.
Johnny tilted his head toward the older man. “Do you want me to— ”
Mingo shook his head. “No. He and I need to talk. If you will look after Rachel, Johnny, I would appreciate it— ”
Her fingers tightened on his arm. “No.” She made as if to rise. “I’ll come with you.”
“Rachel,” Mingo said, holding her down, “I need to talk to my father, and you need to rest. I believe you may have a slight concussion.”
“No!” She had grown somewhat frantic. “Please.”
He took her hand and pressed it. “John will sit with you until I return. I won’t be out of your sight. You understand? I need to talk to my father. Alone.”
Rachel drew a shuddering breath and then released him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered a second later. “I must seem a frightful ninny.”
“You seem a very brave woman who has been through quite an ordeal. If I had known it was you driving that carriage....” Mingo rose and then leaned down to plant a kiss on her hair. “I shall return in a moment.”
As she nodded, he turned. His father had drawn the horse to a halt within the cover of the leaves and dismounted. When he saw his eldest son watching him, he halted and waited by its side. Mingo drew a deep breath and went over to greet him. After a short pause, he said, “Father.”
One of the older man’s silver brows lifted. “Father? Not the eminent Lord Dunsmore?”
Mingo stiffened. Those words came from the last exchange they had had. It had been a heated one, as had most of their exchanges throughout the years. “Would you prefer I call you something else, sir?”
Dunsmore held his hand up. When he spoke, his voice was touched with sadness. “No. No. It is merely.... You took me by surprise. That is all.” He shifted and locked his hands behind his back. “And what am I to call you? Kerr? Or Mingo?”
His son tilted his head. “You would honor a Cherokee brave, far from his home, by using his borrowed name?”
The older man nodded. His look showed that he too regretted the words that had passed between them as they stood at the foot of his mother’s grave. “Yes. It is a name as proud as the Cherokee nation.”
“I thank you for that.” Mingo drew a deep breath. “But for the moment, I am afraid it must be Kerr. England is still, after all, for Englishmen.”
His father nodded and then inclined his head toward Rachel. She was sitting up with her back against one of the trees. She had accepted some coffee from Johnny and was sipping it. “I deeply regret what happened. It should have been me in that seat.” He paused. “How is Rachel?”
“Weak,” Mingo said as he too looked at her, “but I believe she will mend quickly. And as for stopping her, I doubt even the King’s private guard would have succeeded.” Mingo’s dark eyes returned to his father. “That is another thing I must thank you for.”
“Two in one day?” Lord Dunsmore’s lips twitched. “Perhaps I should order a parade.” At his son’s look, he sobered. “And what would that be?”
“Accepting Rachel. Protecting her when I could not.”
His father frowned. Then he nodded once and looked away.
Mingo knew that Rachel had long been a bone of contention between them. Her family was not without means, but she had possessed neither the wealth nor the connections necessary to be considered a ‘suitable’ mate for the position he would one day hold as the fifth Earl of Dunsmore. His father had never given their relationship his official approval, and had flatly refused to give it his blessing. Mingo stared at the him. And yet, John Murray, before he had become the fourth Earl of Dunsmore, had thought that way too. He had fallen in love with a beautiful dark-eyed Cherokee woman, and intended too spend the rest of his life with her. But honor, and duty to a tradition centuries old had compelled him to take another road, to return to England, and to take a wife who would assure the continuance of the line.
Even though he didn’t love her.
That was something Mingo could never have done. His father had still not moved. He was fingering his mustache; a pensive look on his face.
“Father?” Mingo asked.
The older man turned toward him. A smile tickled the edge of his lip. “Rachel is a remarkable woman,” he said at last. “She reminds me in many ways of your mother.”
Mingo’s dark brows rose. “My mother?”
His father laughed. “On, not to look at. Though there is something about Rachel’s eyes.... But it is her spirit. Her will to endure. Her silent strength.” John Murray hesitated and then continued, his eyes locked on his son’s. “Rachel has been a comfort to me in my old age, for through her I have had a link; a connection to you.”
Mingo stared at the his father and, for perhaps the first time in his life, was able to see him as just that—a man. Before he had represented so many thing: the Empire, obligation to the Crown, duty before honor, and blind obedience to a system wrought with injustice and prejudice. Mingo had never forgiven him for taking him from his mother’s people and his home. But for a moment—this moment—all of that had faded in the face of one simple reality.
They were father and son.
Mingo nodded, not finding any words to say.
His father stepped forward and briefly laid his hand on his shoulder before heading for Rachel and his brother. “Welcome home, son,” he said in passing. “You have been missed.”
A lone figure stood before the mansion on Cornhill Street. Geoffrey Leighton hesitated a moment and then lifted his hand and caught hold of the brass knocker, and struck the door sharply three times. Then he waited. The day had taken a turn for the worse. The gray clouds that hung on the horizon had moved over the city and given way to weeping as they often did. Though it was barely two in the afternoon, it might as well have been midnight. He scowled at the mud that stained his boots and cloak as he shivered with the chill. Then he reached out and struck the door again. It was his usual habit to enter unannounced, but recent events had caused the door to be barred at this, and almost every hour. He stepped back and frowned, looking at the large Palladian window just above the door. There was a light on in the study. Most likely that was an indication he was home.
Leighton had just about decided to pick a stone up from the street and toss it at the glass when he heard the bar withdrawn and a key turn in the lock. The door crept hesitantly inward and a cold pale light spilled out. A narrow face appeared in the crack. “Aye, and what might you want?”
The maid’s voice was as thin as she. “Mary, tell the old man it’s Geoffrey, and then fetch me a warm ale,” he said.
Mary frowned and opened the door wider. She looked him over and then backed out of the doorway and allowed him to pass. As she took his mud-caked cloak, she apologized. “I am so sorry, Master Geoffrey. We didn’t expect you back for another week.”
Leighton sat down and pulled off his boots, turning them upside down to let the water run out of them. “He is here, isn’t he?”
She nodded and curtsied. “I’ll tell him you’re here, Master Geoffrey.”
She turned back. Her hands fluttered about her apron like a frightened bird’s. “Yes,
“Oh! Yes, sir.”
The woman disappeared through a grand wooden arch decorated with cherub’s heads and rose laurels, heading for the kitchen. He watched her go and then returned to the Chippendale settee to remove his soaked stockings before putting his boots back on.
“I would suggest strongly that you set those by the fire, and put these on instead,” a deep voice intoned.
Geoffrey Leighton came quickly to his feet. “Father.”
Oliver Gerard moved to embrace him. “It is good to see you, my son.” He stepped back and looked him over. “You haven’t taken a chill?”
“Well, you had best put these on. A good soaking can bring on a chill that will take a man as quick as any bullet.” Gerard held out a pair of handsomely embroidered slippers. “Thank you.” Geoffrey sat again and put them on. “How is mother?”
“Well. Away with her sister in the country, getting some air.”
“I see. I am sorry I missed her.” He stood and ran a hair through his wet bangs, forcing them back into their proper place. “And how is business?”
“Profits are high. Inventory low. We have more orders than we can fill.” The older man beamed. “Need I say more?”
“A good season, then?”
Oliver Gerard turned toward the stair and indicated the other man should follow him as he began to climb it. “And only getting better. Anderson arrived shortly before you did.”
“Any luck?” Leighton said as he took hold of the rail.
“A half dozen bears. The cocks and badgers bring in pence and shillings. Those bears will mean gold. We must take care to make certain they last as long as possible.” He shook his head. “Obtaining them is damnably expensive.”
They had reached the top of the stairs and turned into the study. It was a comfortable space; its wainscoted walls lined with trophies, and the stuffed and mounted heads of animals. A smattering of books, mostly ledgers and accounts, occupied one low shelf. At its heart was a large gaming table set with cards.
“You are expecting guests?” Geoffrey asked.
“I am always expecting someone. You know that, Geoff.” Oliver Gerard popped the cork on a bottle of wine and poured two glasses. He offered one to him. “It seems Mary has forgotten your ale.”
He accepted the wine and nodded as he took a sip. “A fine year. She was most likely detained in the kitchen. It’s all right.”
“No, it is not.”
Geoffrey’s head came up. Poor Mary.
“Now, if you will, I was composing a letter when you arrived. I would like to complete it.”
“Certainly, sir. I will use the time to collect my thoughts.”
Oliver nodded. “And then we will talk.”
As his step-father went to sit behind his ornate ormolu desk, Geoffrey Leighton leaned back in his chair. He was weary. After leaving the tall frontiersman and his wife, he had doubled back and followed their coach, making certain they were headed out of the city. He had then returned and questioned the other drivers, as well as the seamen and the captains of all the ships that had come into port that day. He felt almost completely certain the man they were traveling to Dunsmore Park to meet up with was Lord Dunsmore’s eldest son, Kerr.
Kerr. The man who had stolen valuable property from his step-father some fifteen years before, humiliating him and costing him a great deal of money and prestige.
Kerr. The man who had murdered the caretaker of the theater Oliver Gerard had owned, and left his brother, John, to take the blame.
The man who had, in the end, murdered John.
Leighton shifted so he could watch his stepfather. Oliver was dressed in a fine frock coat of pale sprigged velvet the color of the leaves in Spring, and leather breeches. Both were costly garments and decorated with the finest embroidery worked with real gold thread. His clothes, along with his white wig with its side curls and ponytail, were out of date, but newly made. His stepfather felt the fashions of the first fifty years of the century were more fitting, and offered a more ostentatious show of the wealth it had taken him nearly the same amount of time to secure.
Leighton frowned and took another sip of the wine, relishing its taste on his tongue. Oliver Gerard was not his real father. He had never taken his name as had his brother, John. His father had been a soldier. Major Geoffrey Leighton had seldom been home, but still he remembered him with fondness. He had died in the colonies during the Seven Year’s War; unfairly executed on spurious charges that he had collaborated with the savages. He had been a boy of only six when his mother had married Gerard.
Unlike him, his younger brother had taken no pride in their father and his career. John had wanted to divorce himself from the major and his ‘checkered’ past. John had stubbornly refused to accept anything that might have been his—land, property, goods—anything that had a connection with their father’s family. Not that there had been much. A traitor had few rights in England, but what was left of the estate had come to him, including the ancestral manor house. John had instead thrown himself whole-heartedly into being a ‘Gerard’. Still, when John had been accepted at Oxford, it had left him to be the one to learn the Gerard family business. He started apprenticing when he was about twelve, and it hadn’t taken him long to find out that his step-father’s wealth was not the result of importing and exporting soap and tea.
Geoffrey remembered well the first human cargo he had helped to uncrate. Two of the savages had been dead.
As he grew older and became more and more involved in the company’s illegal activities, his quick wit and intelligence—as well as his penchant for being able to deflect any inquiries into the nature of their business—caused Oliver Gerard to send him to law school. He had graduated with honors, and since that time had served as the firm’s legal representative. This was the reason he had been sent to the Colonies. His step-father knew he would make certain the charges being trumped up against John’s killer would be as cold and hard and impossible to break as the iron chains they would bind the savage with.
Leighton sighed and put the glass down. But then, in the end, the savage had not needed to break them. Someone else had done it for him. He cursed the chance of fate that had brought the Marquis de Lafayette to Bailey’s frigate. With the help of the Frenchman Lord Cornwallis had dubbed ‘the boy’, Lord Dunsmore’s son had escaped. Geoffrey Leighton’s eyes flicked to the man he more often called ‘Sir’ than Father. Oliver had to have known he had failed. The ship had never put into port.
He would not be happy.
The older man put his pen down. He folded the parchment and placed it in an envelope. He dropped wax on it and then impressed it with his stamp. The sawdust was sprinkled and he blew it away, and then placed the letter with care at the foot of the gold and onyx lamp whose light he had composed it by. Pushing back from the desk, he laced his thick fingers together over his unbuttoned silk waistcoat and then looked up to meet his eyes. “So the savage has escaped.”
Leighton straightened in his seat. “Yes, sir.”
“And your excuse?”
“No excuse, sir. Bailey was apparently not the man for the task.”
Oliver Gerard scowled at him over the rim of his glasses. “Apparently not.”
“Still, it was one of the seamen who broke ranks and alerted the Marquis. Bailey was unable to control him.”
“Apparently Captain Bailey had the same difficulty choosing men who were, ‘for the task’.”
He swallowed. “Yes, sir. However, sir, I know where the savage is.”
Gerard rolled his double-chins between his thumb and forefinger in a thoughtful gesture. “Do you now?”
Leighton nodded. “Yes, sir. On his way to Airth in Stirlingshire. To Lord Dunsmore’s estate.”
Gerard’s top lips curled in a derisive smile. “Dunsmore’s ‘Folly’, you mean?”
Geoffrey laughed. “I think Dunsmore’s folly happened nearly forty years ago in the colonies, sir, and is walking this land even now.”
Oliver Gerard had been maintaining a stern countenance. At that he burst into laughter. “Well said, Geoffrey.” He slapped his hand on the desk’s leather blotter. “Well put, indeed!”
Leighton accepted the compliment. He grinned. “Yes, sir.”
“And the other matter?” Gerard stood. He picked up the letter and moved to the front of the desk where he leaned on it.
“Taken care of. Our man has brought our case to the Earl’s peers in the House of Lords. By the time he finishes giving his eye-witness account, Lord Dunsmore will have more need of a silver tongue than a silver spoon. That is, if it is his desire not to undertake a personal, and extended tour of the Tower.”
“Ah, yes. This matter of the loss of this Kentucky territory?”
“Yes.” Leighton stood and moved to the great Palladian window and looked out. It was still raining. “Our man says Dunsmore could have retained it for the Crown if he had not put his bastard son and his interests before the King’s.” He glanced at his stepfather. “Then, of course, there are the questionable choices he made while Governor of Virginia; the dissolution of the House of Burgesses and the removal of their store of gunpowder to the man-of-war, where he was later forced to take refuge due to threats on his life. That error cost the Crown a pretty penny.” Leighton turned back to look at the other man. “Add to that these rumors of a renewed sympathy for his Jacobite father. And the matter of the company he had chosen to keep of late.”
Oliver Gerard, who had started those rumors, nodded slowly. “The woman. Yes. I hear she escaped from the city.”
“But in the end, sir, can that not only help us?” Leighton leaned on the gaming table. “Lord Dunsmore is fleeing the city, this moment, in the company of a woman who has already been marked as a French sympathizer. Most everyone knows her father merely took the punishment for her crime. Dear God, she was practically raised with the Rivieres! The very family into which that red-headed young savage from the Provinces married.” He drew a breath. “In close pursuit is the American ‘hero’, Daniel Boone, and his lovely wife. Traitors both to their mother country.”
Gerard nodded. “Yes....”
“And then, there is his ‘son’. His heir. His Cherokee bastard. He went flying after the woman.” Leighton touched his jacket. “I have here the papers he was to obtain from the courier I intercepted and dispatched. His name is in them, as is Boone’s, and they bear the traitor, Washington’s, signature. Mingo, as he is called in the colonies, is known for being a Rebel sympathizer. There is suspicion he had been carrying out covert operations for their ‘government’. We would not even have to call up the specter of what happened fifteen-odd years ago to have him hanged twice over.”
“No.” Gerard shook his head. “I do not want him hanged.”
Geoffrey frowned. “Sir, I thought his death....”
“Death is an escape, Geoff. No. I do not want him dead. I want him to suffer. I will destroy his father and the woman he loves, and I will lay that destruction at his feet. I will destroy his friends as well. Then, when I see him looking out at me from behind the bars of a cage such as he left John in, I will laugh as he begs me to kill him.” Oliver’s viper’s smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of pure hatred. “Perhaps, I might even find a use for him on the stage. He could take the place of those two savages he stole from me.”
Leighton straightened up. He knew the other man was not making a joke. ‘Why not?” he agreed. “I hear he was a passing fair actor—once upon a time. What am I to do now, sir?”
Gerard handed him the sealed letter. “Take this to our operative. It contains the funds he will need to buy his commission back.” His hand caught his step-son’s arm as he took it. “And thank him. His services will, no doubt, prove invaluable.”
“Sir. And then?”
“Then, I want you to follow Boone to Dunsmore Park. You have a fast horse?”
“Since they are on a common coach, they can have done no more than three miles a day, and in this weather perhaps not even that. You will catch up to them and stay with them.”
“Boone expects he may see me. I told him I had business in Stirlingshire.”
Gerard opened his arms as he laughed. “And so you do. Now, come, embrace me.”
“Father,” he whispered as the older man’s arms closed about him.
“You have done well, my son.”
“Can you not ride with me?” Rachel turned her face toward him. The early evening light that filtered through the carriage window painted it a pale blue and made her look unwell. She reached up and pushed her golden hair back from her face. “Please?”
Mingo sighed. He had just spent the last quarter of an hour arguing with his brother. The young man had not wanted to leave them unprotected. Mingo had finally convinced Johnny that he would not rest unless he rode back to warn Isabella and Rebecca about the very real possibility of pursuit. He had watched him ride away and then climbed into the carriage to check on Rachel.
He had not expected another argument.
“I am needed in the driver’s seat.”
“Can’t your father drive?”
Mingo’s dark brows lifted. “The eminent Lord Dunsmore, a Peer of the Realm, drive his own chariot? Rachel, where is your sense of propriety?”
“It is quite fashionable, you know.” She grinned. “All the young noblemen are taking up the reins and racing one another. It has become a hazard simply to venture out onto the road.” Her voice dropped in pitch. “It will make him believe he is young again.”
“I am afraid nothing could do that, my dear,” Lord Dunsmore said as he came alongside the coach. He rested his hand on the fretwork that decorated the inside of the door and smiled. “Unless it be grandchildren to grace my old age.”
As Rachel giggled, Mingo reared up and hit his head on the ceiling of the carriage. “Father!”
The older man laughed. “But you are quite right, my dear. It is the fashion.” He slapped the outside of the painted cab with his hand as his pale blue eyes took in the elegant stream-lined vehicle. “I think I would like to try my hand at it.”
“Father, you can’t,” Mingo protested.
John Murray’s left eyebrow winged upward. “Can’t? I think, young man, that it is still I who calls the shots in this family. And I say I shall.” And with that, he stepped back smartly and closed the door, sealing the two of them in.
Rachel smiled at Mingo’s startled expression. “It is a gift; a moment of peace. We have known so very few, and we may not know many more. Who knows what lies ahead?” She held her hand out. “Sit with me. Hold me.”
Mingo hesitated only a moment. Then he nodded and took her hand. And as the carriage began to bump and jolt along the road, he sat close beside her and wrapped her in his arms.
- Continued in Chapter Nine -