Journeys End by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Four

  

            “It’s a boy!”

            Mingo turned and saw that Rebecca was standing in the doorway.  He had heard the baby cry and had held his breath as he did every time he was a witness to such an event, waiting for word that both the child and its mother had survived.  In his thirty-odd years on the earth he had observed both the joy and grief that the advent of a new life coming into the world brought, and each time had been forced to confront his own fears.  He did not know if he was brave enough to love and to chance losing, in this or any other way.

            He smiled at Dan’s wife.  “You look exhausted, Rebecca.  Can I get you something?  Tea, perhaps?”

            Becky ran her hands over her face.  “You know what, Mingo?  I am going to accept that offer.  I am very tired.”

            He crossed to her and placing his hand beneath her arm, began to direct her toward the heavily-embroidered wingback chair that rested before the hearth.

            “Not that tired....” she protested mildly even as she stumbled.

            “Oh, no?  I promised your husband I would look out for you, remember?  If I return to Boonesborough only to tell him you were injured catching your toe on a rug....”

            She laughed and then fought back tears.  The last thirty-six hours had been hard.  At one point the baby had been positioned incorrectly, but the doctor they had called had managed to turn it around and, in the end, Abigail had been delivered of a healthy nine pound boy. 

            “Wait here, it will not take a moment.” 

            The redhead nodded.  She sat heavily in the chair and watched as he disappeared behind a door to ask Susannah, the housemaid, to heat a kettle of water.  When he returned several minutes later she was lost in thought. 

“Rebecca, are you all right?” he asked as he handed her a china cup brimming with a rich amber liquid.

As she took it, she looked up at him.  “I’m fine.  Are you?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“When I came in, you looked,” she hesitated, “well…pained.”

            He sighed and sat on the ottoman opposite her.  “Am I so transparent?”

            “To me.”  She sipped the hot liquid and smiled as its warmth coursed through her, strengthening her.  “Besides, I remember what you have said before, about marriage not being for you.  Is this a part of it?  Do you not want children?  You seem so good with Israel and Jemima.”

            “Oh, no,” he shook his head.  “It is not that I do not want children.  It is just....  Well,” he glanced at the stairs and up toward the room where he knew Abigail lay resting, “it is just that it seems marriage brings women so much grief and pain.”

            “Did your father bring your mother pain?”

            He frowned.  “What?”

            “Mingo.”  Rebecca sat her cup on the small stand beside the chair and leaned forward to place her hand on his.  “Is that what you fear?  That you will bring Rachel pain?”

            “No.”  He shook her off and rose to his feet.  “Still, I do know that I could not having a woman cry out so—hurt so—because of me.”

            “But there is great joy as well.”  She rose and looked into his eyes for a moment.  Then she took his hand.  “Come with me.”

            As she started to pull him toward the stair, he stopped her.  “Where are you taking me?  Rebecca, no.”

            “Abigail asked me to bring you.  She has become quite fond of you, you know.”

            They had been in the older woman’s house a week now.  He had talked with Abigail many times and helped her with various chores which her husband would normally have performed; replacing loose slate on the roof, mending the gate latch, and strengthening the fence.  One night, they had even sung together while she played the harpsichord. 

            “Still, I am not certain....”

            Becky turned to confront him.  “You who have faced down Shawnee warriors, and defeated black bears with your bare hands, you mean to tell me you are afraid of one tiny little baby?”

            “It would not be seemly,” he countered.  “A stranger in the bedchamber.”

            “Oh, is that all?  Well, you can stop worrying then.  The baby isn’t in Abigail’s bedchamber.  She was exhausted, poor dear.  Susannah has him in the front guest room.”  Rebecca stared him down.  “Well?”

            Mingo raised his hands and admitted defeat.  A moment later as he climbed the stairs behind her, he muttered,  “I think Washington commissioned the wrong Boone.”

            Becky glanced at him over her shoulder.  “That’s because he already knew which one was in charge.”

 

                                                                                                ###

            They arrived at the top of the stairs, turned to the right, and entered the room.  Susannah, a pretty little brown-eyed blond with a waist a man could wrap ten fingers around, rose to her feet quickly and courtesied as she laid down her embroidery.  “Mrs. Boone.  Mr. Murray.”

            “Give us about fifteen minutes, Susannah.  Won’t you?”

            The girl nodded and with a lingering glance at the tall dark man, scooted out the door. 

            “Come here, Mingo.”

            Reluctantly he followed her across the room to the covered cradle.  Within it lay a tiny pink form swathed in fine white cloth.  As Becky shifted the fabric away from the boy’s chin, Mingo asked, “Has she given him a name yet?”

            “Yes.  Isaac, after her husband.”

            He watched as she lifted the infant from the cradle.  “Perhaps you should let him rest.”

            “He won’t wake up.”  Becky held the little bundle out.  “Here, take him.”

            “Rebecca, I....”  His protestations did him little good.  Before he knew it, she had placed the little living being in his arms and shown him how to cradle it in the crook of his elbow.  The baby cooed and snuggled in, and then lifted its tiny hand to take hold of Mingo’s finger.  She watched as his face softened.

He had felt the pulse of eternity running through it.

            Becky watched him a moment.  “You know, Dan told me you asked him once what he felt when each of his children was born.”

            Mingo glanced up at her.  “He did, did he?  I will have to take that up with him.” 

            Becky remained still, looking at the two of them, and then asked softly, “Do you want me to take him now?”

            Mingo didn’t answer at first.  Then he said, “I think I can manage—until Susannah returns.”

            “Good.  Then I will go check on Abigail.”  Becky patted his arm and walked quickly through the door.  She waited a moment and then peered back in.  Mingo had moved so he was standing by the open window that faced the harbor and was gazing out, a pensive look on his striking face.

Becky drew a deep breath and held it.  She had no more desire than Dan to see Mingo leave Boonesborough or the Colonies, but she knew he lived each day with a divided heart.  Not only was he a son without a father, and a man with two homes and yet none, he was a man who desperately needed to admit to himself that he was alone and lonely, and that he needed someone and something to call his own.

            Becky left him holding Isaac and told Susannah to take time to drink a cup of tea.

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            “I told her no,” Becky sighed resignedly, “but she wouldn’t hear of it.”

            “You look lovely.”

            “Thank you, Susannah, and thank you for doing my hair.”

            “I usually do my lady’s every morning.  It was no trouble, Madame.”

            The redhead gazed into the mirror and shifted the copper curls that framed her pale white face so they lay evenly spaced on her shoulders.  She straightened the body and stomacher on the emerald gown Abigail had had made for her as a ‘thank you’, and tilted her head.  Even though Mingo was a better dancer than Dan, and would probably turn more heads when he entered a room dressed to the nines, she wished her husband had been there to take her to the ball.  It had been nearly a month since she had left Boonesborough and she was missing Dan, her home, and her son.  She wondered how they were getting along without her, and frowned again at the fact that she had received no news.  She had thought maybe Dan would have found a way to get a note to her, but nothing had come.

            Nothing at all.

            “When is Mr. Murray coming for you?”

            Becky glanced at the ornate time-piece on the mantle-shelf.  “Soon.” 

            “I envy you, Madame.”

            Becky’s smile was amused.  She had seen how Susannah watched Mingo as he moved through the house, and had caught her watching when he descended shirtless from the roof after repairing the slate.  She was certain the young girl did envy her.  “Well, my dear, I would gladly trade places with you, but your mistress insisted Mr. Murray and I accept this invitation in her stead.”  She laughed suddenly.  “It seems she remembered me writing in one of my posts that I missed dancing.”   The function was to take place at the Mayor’s house; a showy gathering of the supporters and heroes of the Revolution—both American and French.  The city had been free of the British for almost a year now, and in spite of the war raging on and rationing, and constant calls for thrift and self-denial, those who were used to elegant society and all of its rewards seemed to have found a way to continue to live the good life.  “Somehow it doesn’t hold the appeal it once did.  Still,” Becky watched her reflection as she swished the heavy damask fabric back and forth, “you know what they say....”

“Madame?”

“While in Philadelphia....”

 

                                                                                            ###

            An hour later, Becky was still waiting and beginning to wonder if she had been cast off like an old penny.  As she pulled the curtain aside and gazed out the window expectantly, she had no way of knowing that everything in her life was about to change, and that if she had been very wise she would have removed her fancy gown, tucked her golden slippers beneath her borrowed bed, climbed into it, and blown out the light.  Instead she paced for another twenty minutes and then, after telling Susannah not to wait up, tossed a heavy cape about her shoulders and stepped out of Abigail’s house into the night to set out in search of her missing friend.

 

                                                                                        ###

            Susannah watched the lovely redhead disappear down Swanson Street until her shapely form faded into the mist that was rising over the harbor.  As she did, she could not have guessed it would be more than three months before she would see her again. 

    

                                                                                      ###

           

            Mingo stamped his feet and wrapped his arms about his lean frame.  Even though it was late May, the night had turned chill and he could see his breath.  He was waiting on the wharf for a man he had an assignation with.  The day before a young soldier had stopped him on the street and asked him by name if he would join him for a drink.  He had used one of the official passwords and then, after they were seated in a back room, had told him that the soldier who had brought word to Daniel of General Washington’s intention to send him a message had also informed them that he, Mingo, would soon be bound for Philadelphia  with Colonel Boone’s wife.  In the meantime a matter of some importance had arisen.  They had been told to watch for his arrival and then, after giving the two of them time to settle in, to contact him.  If he agreed, he was to carry important documents back to Kentucky on their return journey, and from there to make certain they were delivered into the hands of Virginia’s incumbent governor, Patrick Henry.  Mingo had checked the soldier’s papers and found them accurate and up to date, at least in so far as he knew, and had recognized the General’s seal on the single envelope he was handed.  The soldier told him to bring it as proof of his identity when he came to collect the others just in case he, Major Thomas Mackay, was unable to come himself.  And so Mingo had agreed to meet the soldier, or one of his fellow officers, at the harbor at the appointed hour of eight o’clock, even though it meant he would be a trifle late picking up Rebecca for the gala at the Mayor’s residence. 

            The sonorous voice of a church bell tolled a quarter past nine and Mingo frowned.  He was beginning to question the wisdom of his choice and had just decided to leave, when he heard the sound of footsteps coming his way. 

            Too many footsteps.

            He glanced around, looking for a place to conceal himself, but settled for retreating into the shadows cast by a frigate moored nearby.  As he did a small band of Continental soldiers appeared from out of the mist, their rifles drawn and pointed toward him.  “Stay where you are,” their commanding officer called sharply.  “Halt!  I say, halt!”

            Mingo hesitated.  He did not leave the shadows.  “What is it you want?”

            The Lieutenant Colonel took a step forward.  The lamplight caught him and revealed him to be a young man with deep brown hair.  “Remain where you are and prepare to be searched.”

            “Searched?”  The document he carried weighed suddenly heavy in his pocket.  “What for?”

            The soldier started to respond, but then turned instead and watched as a small mongrel of a man emerged from the gloom.  He waited until he was by his side and then asked.  “You say this the man?”

            The man squinted and pretended he could just make Mingo out where he stood cloaked by the evening mist that was rolling off of the water.  “That’s him.  I saw him accept the stolen document from the other man’s hand at the tavern yester-eve.”

            Stolen document?

            Mingo took another step back.  He pressed his fingers to his coat.  If the document with the General’s seal had indeed been stolen, there was little he was going to be able to  do to prove he had not knowingly received it as such.  His first impulse was to run, but then he thought better of it.  He had learned that running only compounded an innocent man’s troubles.  He had steeled himself to move into the light just as a voice spoke from out of the shadows that lined the wharf.  

            “Mingo?”

            He started at the sound of his name and, even as the Lieutenant Colonel ordered him again to come into the light, he turned and found Major Thomas Mackay was directly behind him.  “What is this?” Mingo whispered. “Why did you give me a document that had been stolen from General Washington?”

            “I had no way of knowing.  It came from a trusted source.  I found out about the plot less than an hour ago.”

“Plot?  What plot?”

“There is no time for that now.  You must come with me.  I have friends who will help you get away.”

            Mingo glanced back at the advancing soldiers.  “No.  If I run, it will seem I am guilty.  I know the General.  He will not believe these lies.  I will ask to plead my case directly to him, or to the Congress.  Daniel knows many of the men there.”

            The young man fell silent.  Then he did a remarkable thing.  He rose to his feet and took aim with his weapon.  Before Mingo could open his mouth to protest, the weapon had discharged and the ranking officer fell, shot through the heart.

            “Run!  Mingo, run!” Mackay called loudly as he bolted into the shadows and the remaining soldiers opened fire.  Mingo darted sideways, barely managing to avoid being hit.  Still, a musket-ball caught the edge of his coat and grazed his arm as it passed through the fine blue fabric.  He realized quickly that he had to accept the fact that the situation had suddenly gotten out of hand.  There was no possible way the soldiers would listen to him now. 

In spite of everything that was in him screaming otherwise, Mingo turned and followed Mackay into the shadows that lined the pier.

 

                                                                                                ###

            Rebecca Boone found herself wandering the streets of the large Colonial town just as night claimed them.  Soon, in spite of the fact that she had walked them as a young girl, she realized she had gotten lost.  She had intended to follow Swanson street to its end, but instead had taken a wrong turn and ended up at the harbor.  Ships both small and tall loomed above her, casting deep shadows on the wharf, and travelers—both weary and filled with wonder—jostled and hastened on by her on their way to the relative comfort of Philadelphia’s numerous taverns and inns.  Becky continued to move forward until the avenues cleared and she found herself on a deserted pier, where the only sign of life seemed to be a candle burning in the window of a small wooden building perched precariously on its edge.  Becky approached it, thinking perhaps she could inquire of its occupant directions for making her way back to Abigail’s house.  As she did a pair of rough-looking seamen appeared, making their way toward the frigate that was moored nearby.  She drew a breath and disappeared into the shadows cast by the small structure, not knowing what kind of men there were, or what their intentions would be toward a single woman walking alone.  Her nose wrinkled as her fine slippers sank into something wet and clammy and she stifled a yelp.  Then, just as she thought to move, shots rang out and a contingent of soldiers went running by on the main avenue, shouting, their shining muskets in hand.  As she continued to watch, still concealed, others  followed carrying a wounded man in uniform.  Becky started to follow them, but then stopped as some inner sense warned her to remain where she was.  Almost immediately she saw that there were other figures moving through the mist, coming her way.  Pulling her hood forward, she shifted back and allowed the darkness to take her once again.  

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            The gentleman watched as two figures rounded the end of a building and marched onto the deserted pier.  One of them was Mackay.

The other was their prey.

“Whatever made you fire?” the tall, dark man demanded.  “Do you not realize what you have done?  You shot an  officer of the Continental army.”  The man who had to be Kerr Murray caught Mackay by the arm and spun him around.  “Even if they were mistaken in their beliefs, you had no reason to— ”

            “You are wrong,” Mackay said softly, not pulling away.  “I didn’t shoot him.  You did.”

            Murray froze.  “Me?  What are you talking about?”

            Major Thomas Mackay smiled as he took a step back.  “You, sir, are a traitor, and tonight’s actions will reveal you as such,” he said evenly.  “You are carrying a stolen document.  You ran from a party of soldiers who were only doing their duty, after attempting to kill their commanding officer.  You will be denounced, and a price placed on your head, and if you are caught, sir, you will hang.” 

            “I don’t understand.  Why are you doing this?  I don’t even know who you— ” Kerr Murray’s questions were cut short as the blunt end of a pistol came down on the back of his head and he fell to the slimed boards that made up the pier. 

The gentleman who had been watching looked down at his prone form of his victim and then back up to Mackay.   He narrowed his keen gray eyes and said with a smile, “Well done, Mackay.  Everly said you were efficient and would deliver.”  He held out his hand.  “Here is the first installment of your reward.  The other half will be paid once you have offered testimony against him.  You will go to this address and report to the lady of the house.”  He handed him a slip of paper as well as the gold, “Tell her ‘Oliver’ sent you.  She will understand and will instruct you from now on.”

“And where will you be?” Thomas Mackay asked as he pocketed the coins.

“I have other business to attend to, and then I will follow this one home, to England,” the gentleman kicked Kerr Murray’s still form as two other men appeared from out of the darkness and came to stand alongside them.  One was an American naval officer; the other a seamen.  As Mackay departed, the man turned to the officer and asked, “You have his place prepared?”

The American nodded.  “I saved him a nice spot, right next to the one where we are going to bind and shackle that French Frog.”

The gentleman laughed and clapped the officer on the back.  “Spoken like a true Patriot, Bailey.”

“I am a true Patriot.”  Bailey shook off the man’s hand.  “I will do anything to prevent this unholy alliance with the French.  We don’t need them or their filthy money and ships.”  He spat.  “They’re devils.  No two ways about it.”

The other man knew Bailey’s family had died at the hands of the French during the Seven Year’s War.  Old wounds made powerful enemies—and left weak men vulnerable, so they could be easily manipulated.  “Yes.  That is why it is so important that we prevent this ship from reaching France.”  He nodded toward the ship tethered close behind them.  “You have helped me with my ‘problem’, Bailey, now I will help you.  You did manage to get command of the Alliance?”

“It is next to a certainty.  The captain is about to be...detained.”

“And my men are in place.”  The gentleman paused.  “They have their orders.  Once the ship is underway, they will see to it that the ‘boy’ does not make it home.  If he hadn’t been so anxious to fly home to his fat King and that French tart he calls a wife in the first place, he might have checked on who had been pressed into service on the ship that was to take him there.  Most are British prisoners of war who have no desire to set foot on French soil, or languish in French jails.”  He laughed aloud.  “It will not be long, Bailey, before the Marquis de Lafayette is in King George’s hands.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

Becky drew a deep breath and pressed her fingers to her lips.  The Marquis de  Lafayette?  Wasn’t that was the sweet young Frenchman who had helped her and Dan in New Orleans only a couple of years before?  Horrified, she edged forward until she could see the faces of the two men who spoke.  The naval officer looked to be in his mid-twenties.  He was blond and had a sharp profile with long nose.  She couldn’t make out his rank.  The other was a gentleman, dressed in an elegant suit of a dark silk that shone in the lamp-light.  His hair was dark as well, and he had an angular hawkish face that was somehow impossibly familiar.  She couldn’t imagine where, but she felt certain she had seen him before.

Him or his brother.

“Pick this one up, and get him on board before the gala breaks up and the Marquis and his party start to arrive,” the stranger said as she inched forward in an attempt to see better.  “And Bailey....”

“Yes?”

“I want him buried so deep in that ship that God himself could not find him before it reaches land.”  The gentleman raised his arm and placed his hand on the officer’s shoulder. “You know what you are to do once you arrive in England?”

“Yes, I know.  I have the address here.”   The other man tapped his pocket.  “I am to secure this one in King’s Bench Prison, and then report to Oliver Gerard at his country estate in Kent.”

Becky’s blue eyes went wide. Gerard?  Dear God, that was it!  That was who the man  reminded her of, John Gerard, the man who had come to Boonesborough with Rachel Cornell and her uncle, Hugh Oldham, nearly two years before. 

The man who had tried to ruin Mingo and nearly gotten them all killed.

She watched as the gentleman knelt, disappearing into the mist, and then rose with an envelope in his hand.  “Keep this safe and give it to the old man,” he said as he handed it to the officer, “the fact that it is missing will prove this one’s guilt to the Colonials, and the fact that he was in possession of it at all, will damn him in England.  A pretty trap, don’t you think?”

“You’re a scoundrel, Leighton.”  The man in the naval uniform paused.  “But I like scoundrels.”

“I am loyal to my family, my land, and my king.  This man has offended all three, and he will pay for it with his life.”  He turned then and spoke to one of the seamen who had accompanied  the officer.  “Jones.”

The young man moved forward.

“Pick up the savage and carry him on board.”

Becky had been about to slip into the shadows, but at the word ‘savage’ a chill ran the length of her spine and she turned back.  Her breath caught in her throat and she waited as the seaman did as he was told.  She tried to see who it was he slung over his shoulder, but the mist and the murky light got in the way.  Still, she could tell he had long dark hair, and did manage to catch a glimpse of a deeply-tanned face.  The size and shape were right for Mingo. 

And if this was a relative of John Gerard, in spite of the different surname....

Becky swallowed hard as she gathered her cloak at the throat.  She was going to have to follow them on board and find out.  And then if it was Mingo, after she freed him, they  would have to find some way to warn the Marquis that his life was in danger and that, of all things, he must not board the Alliance.     

 

                                                                                ###

 

Daniel Boone was so frustrated he thought he might give in to a sigh.  He watched with impatience while the flatboat captain dickered with a man who had a team of oxen.  The boat had run aground about one hundred miles south of the Pennsylvania border.  The abundant rain of the week before had caused a tumble of rocks that had filled one of the river’s shallower areas and caught the bottom of the boat as it rode over it.  If Dan had thought it would have helped, he would have volunteered to get out and pull it himself, but he knew it wouldn’t—no more than losing his patience and taking his horse and setting out over the mountainous terrain would.  He simply had to bide his time and wait.

And yet with each minute that passed he felt Rebecca slipping farther away from him.  He didn’t know why he felt as he did, but he knew it was true.

“Becky,” Dan whispered as he gazed at the moon riding high in the liquid blue sky; the same moon that looked down on his wife wherever she was, “take care.  Watch yourself, and don’t do anything foolish.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

At that moment, that was precisely what she was doing.

Something foolish.

Becky left her elegant if besmirched shoes behind and, hitching up her skirts, climbed barefoot up the rope ladder that led to the spar deck of the sleek ship.  She had waited until the man named Leighton had disappeared and the naval officer, Bailey, had entered the small structure she had been hiding behind.  

Once she was on deck Becky stood still a moment getting her bearings, and then using the knowledge she had gained on her passage from Ireland, slipped through the shadows to the companionway and descended the stair which sank into the bowels of the ship.  If Mingo was a prisoner, she supposed he would be in the hold somewhere, in some dark corner that functioned as a jail cell.  Usually such horrid places were to be found on the lowest deck where the boards parted and allowed the sea to slip in.  Becky stopped and steadied herself.  She gazed down at the elegant gown she wore and thought how far she had come from that young girl—traveling on a borrowed sum—who had sat for hours holding the hand of an ailing woman whose foot had been trapped between the boards when the ship they sailed on suddenly listed starboard.  More than a day had passed before she could be moved, and by that time, it was too late.  The woman had died and her body been cast overboard.

That memory brought with it others she had long denied: the foul stench of so many bodies packed close together, the lack of light and clean air; the constant cries of frightened children and the want of food, the deaths...the loss.  Even if it wasn’t Mingo who had been brought on board against his will, she felt the need to help the poor soul.  No one should have to experience what she and so many others had.

Hugging the interior wall of the shot locker, Becky moved through a web of dangling ropes and waited amidst them for a pair of seamen to pass by.  They were young men.  American by their voices.  They were sharing tales of their adventures in the city and though what they said was enough to bring a blush to her cheeks, there seemed to be nothing sinister about them.  She wondered if perhaps not all of the men who sailed aboard the Alliance were in on this plot.  She thought about calling out to them, but hesitated.  The fairest-looking often proved the most foul.  Stepping over a coiled pile of rope, Becky looked back the way the men had come.  At the stern of the ship, there was a small room with a barred door.  From within its darkened interior shone a single meager flame.  She froze when she heard a man moan. 

“Mingo?” she whispered without moving forward.  “Is that you?”

The sound was repeated.  She thought there might have been a name in it.

“Mingo?”

As she moved forward, her hand caught the end of one of the dangling ropes and tugged on it.  She heard a rattle and, just before something heavy and solid descended toward her, felt a rush of air warning her that it was coming.  She looked up but too late.  A sackcloth bag, filled with sand, struck her squarely on the shoulder and the back of the neck knocking her to the floorboards.  Unconscious, Becky tumbled sideways into the shadows beside the cell and lay there like one dead.

 

                                                                                ###

The figure in the cell lifted its dark head.  He thought he had heard someone call his name, but as he became aware of his surroundings and remembered what had happened, he knew it must have been a dream. 

Laying his cheek against the filthy floor of his prison, Mingo wondered momentarily who Rebecca might have found to take her to the ball, and then he passed out.

 

                                                                            ###

 

Becky’s blue eyes opened.  For a moment she thought she was back on the ship that had brought her to America, but waking reminded her that she was not a girl of sixteen anymore, but an old married lady with two children and a wonderful husband.  Becky blinked and tried to recall just exactly what had happened and where she was.  Gingerly, she shifted her head.  It was pounding.  In spite of that, and the nausea that threatened to all but overwhelm her, she sat up and looked about.  Ropes like ghostly tendrils hung from the ceiling, and all about her were boxes and sacks filled with ammunitions and food.  She attempted to stand, but as she did, the floor lurched beneath her and she tumbled back down.  Then she heard the familiar sound of a ship’s wooden ribs groaning as it listed from side to side.  Full  awareness returned to her almost instantly.  She had followed the men carrying Mingo aboard—at least, she thought it was Mingo—and then something had hit her.  Becky looked up at the ropes.  Suspended above her were half a dozen sandbags.  She touched the back of her neck and realized it was swollen, as was her shoulder.  Glancing around she found the offending bag and kicked it with her bare foot.  Then she grew very still and listened.

The groaning had not lessened, but had built in intensity.  She could hear the waves lapping up against the ship, and felt it rise and fall beneath her. 

They were underway.

Dear God, she was on her way to France or—if the mutineers had their way—England.

Rising to her feet Becky ran across the short space to the cell.  The prisoner was gone.  She could only assume the man had either been moved, or killed and tossed overboard.  She placed a hand to her heart and told herself to remain calm.  If it was Mingo, why would they have gone to all the trouble of framing him only to kill him out-of-hand?  No, they must have moved him to some less conspicuous spot where neither the Marquis nor his men would accidentally stumble across him.

The Marquis!  Becky gripped one of the bars and steadied herself as the ship rose and fell again dramatically.  If he had come aboard, she had to get to him and warn him of the plot against his life.  Perhaps if she did this for him, he would help her find and free Mingo.  But how to do it?  How could she move about the ship freely without being spotted?  She glanced down at her now ruined emerald gown.  It was the first thing that would have to go.  Then she remembered a tale Cincinnatus had told, late one night when the Blue Thunder had been running free.  She had not known then whether to believe it or not.  It had been the story of a woman named Hannah who had served for five years as a marine, only to be discovered for what she was after being stripped for a flogging.

Becky smiled with grim determination.  It was not her intention to be flogged.

            She drew a breath and began to unfasten the hooks that held her overskirt on.  She would be able to move about in the darkness better in just her petticoats.

 

                                                                                                ###

            A short time later, dressed in some cast-off clothing she had found, with her red hair tied in a tail and the tail tucked into a cap, Becky worked her way through the ship as best she could, careful to remain hidden most of the time.  Once or twice she had been forced to walk with more calm than she felt across a corridor, or to climb a ladder in plain view, and each time her heart had pounded so hard she was certain the men who were working and laughing, or talking and eating nearby must have heard it.  But when fear almost overcame her, she thought of Hannah, the marine.  If she had done it for five years, then certainly Rebecca Bryan Boone could do it for a few weeks. 

Her first impulse had been to try to locate the Captain of the Alliance, but then she remembered the words that had passed between Leighton and the naval officer named Bailey.  If their schemes had come to fruition Bailey was the Captain, and she would find no help there.  Her only hope was to find the Marquis and appeal to him directly.  From what she recalled of the time they had spent together, he had seemed a kind young man.  Dan had said General Washington had grown as fond of him as if he had been his own son. 

            And coming from a man like Washington, that was high praise indeed.

            “Seaman.”

            Becky stiffened.  She was thankfully standing half in the shadows, near the ladders that led both up and farther down into the ship.  The galley stove was close by and she had just managed to grab a crust of bread and wash it down with some stale water before this man had noticed her.  She turned and looked at him and released the breath she had held.  He was not dressed as an officer, but much as she was.  “Yes?” she asked, pitching her voice as low as she could.

            “Are you on duty?”

            “No.”  She kept her answers as short as possible.  “I was heading for my bunk.”

            “Care to do something to help a fellow Yank?”

            She had thought he was not one of the British seamen pressed into service.  They tended to congregate together and always had an officer watching over them.  “What?”

            “Where do you hail from, mate?”

            Becky paused.  If God was with her, whatever place she chose would be on the other side of the world from his.  “Cain-tuck,” she said at last, deciding to stick to the truth.

            “New York for me.  Born and bred there.”

            ‘Close, but not too close,’ she thought.  Then, when it seemed he would engage her in further conversation, Becky yawned mightily and blinked her eyes as if she were about to fall asleep on her feet.

            “You’re that tired, are you?  The Captain workin’ you hard?”

            She nodded.

            “All I need, mate, is for you to walk to the companionway and take this tray up to Bailey’s cabin.”

            Becky stiffened.  Her blue eyes were wide.  “To the Captain?”
            “No, not to the Captain, to his cabin,” he frowned as he handed it to her. “The Marquis’s valet, Phillipe, will take it from you when you knock.  He don’t speak no English, so just hand it to him and leave.”

            She tried to hide her excitement.  “The Marquis?”

            The seaman laughed.  “What are you?  One of those noble-watchers?  Yes, ‘the’ Marquis.”

            “Will I get to see him?”

            The man shook his head.  “I doubt it.  He’s been in his bed near since we set sail.  According to ship’s gossip, he’s just survived an inflammatory malady that almost killed him.  They thought he was well, but it seems to have come back on him.”  He nodded toward his hands.  “That’s the reason for the slim rations.”

            She glanced down at the tray.  It contained a bowl with broth and some fresh bread.  Hardly the fare a French Nobleman would have been accustomed to. 

            “So, what’s it to be?”

            Becky started.  “What?”

            “You willin’ to take it or not?  I can’t trust any of King George’s pups with a Frenchman’s food, if you know what I mean.”

            She held out her hands and accepted the tray.  “Directions, mate?”

 

                                                                                    ###

 

            Within minutes Becky found herself on the spar deck at the stern of the fast moving ship.  The Captain’s cabin was behind the wheel, just before the skylight.  Outside the door was a man who appeared to be in his middle-thirties, wearing a black cocked hat and a white waistcoat accented with green.  His regimental coat, which was white and green as well, lay nearby.  He sat, staring out to sea, but rose and pointed his weapon in her direction as she approached.  She kept her head down.  Fortunately the day was overcast and the sun’s light diffused by thick banks of pendulous gray clouds which promised rain.

“Arrêt!” the man said.  “Qui va là-bas?  Déclare votre nom et but.”

Becky knew by his tone that he wanted her to stop.  She did so, and as she fought to keep the tray from rattling, she said, “Food, for the Marquis.”

“M’excuser.”  The man cleared his throat.  “Excuse me.  I forget to speak the English.  You are from the galley?”

“Yes.”

“And what is your name?”

Becky hesitated, lost for a moment.  Then she smiled.  “Seaman, second class Hannah, sir.”

He frowned.  “I do not remember seeing you before.”

“I’ve been on the lower decks, sir.  The cook sent me with food for the Marquis.”

The older man shook his head.  He appeared sad.   “That is kind.  However, I do not think he will eat it.”

The look on his face spoke louder than he did.  “He is not well?”

“No.”  The French soldier stood, and then suddenly—violently—struck the deck with the butt of his musket making her jump.  “Par le corps, de Dieu!  What sort of a navy sets a ship assail with no médecin onboard?”

“Médecin?” she repeated.

He shook his head, searching for the word.  “Doc-tor?”

Becky gnawed her lip.  Was this an answer to her unspoken prayer?  “If you like, I could take a look.  I have some knowledge.”

The soldier’s blue eyes narrowed.  He looked her up and down.  “You?”

“Where I come from, we have to look after our own,” she explained.

“And where would that be?”

“Kentucky.”

The Frenchman remained silent for a moment.  “How do I know I can trust you with the Marquis’s life?”

Becky had no way of knowing anything about this man other than the fact that he was obviously trusted by the young Marquis.  She glanced around at the officers and seamen wandering by them and noted the curious stares of a few.  She had no idea how long she could keep up the masquerade of being a man.  She had no knowledge of sailing the High Seas.  The first time she was called upon to tie a note or hoist a sail, she would be exposed.  Becky looked up and met his eyes and said clearly, in her normal voice.

“Could we step inside and finish this conversation?’

 

                                                                                ###

“Mon Dieu!”  The French officer walked in a circle around her.  She had removed her hat and untied her hair and allowed it to billow onto her shoulders.  “You are une femme.  A woman!”

“And entirely in your hands,” she glanced at the twin epaulettes he wore, uncertain whether it meant the same thing in the French army as it did in the Continental.  “Lieutenant?”   

He smiled.  “El coronel.  Or as you colonials say, ‘colonel’.  Colonel Jacque La Marck.”

“Colonel La Marck,” she held out her hand.  “Rebecca.  Rebecca Boone.”

“Boone?  And from Kentucky, you say?”  He frowned as if trying to place the name.  Then he looked surprised.  “Not the wife of the famous explorer?”

Becky nodded.  “One and the same.”

“But the Marquis, he has mentioned you.  Some affair a year or so before this?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  Yes!  Thank Heavens.  Now will you trust me, Colonel?”

“But what are you doing here?  On the Alliance?”

“That, Colonel La Marck, is a long story.”  Becky paused at the sound of a low moan and stiffened as the door to the Captain’s cabin opened and an agitated young man dressed in satins and dripping lace appeared.  He frowned when he saw her and quickly questioned La Marck in French.

The older man answered him and then turned back to her as the valet disappeared into the cabin.  “Phillipe says the Marquis’s fever has worsened.  Can you really—?”

Becky rolled up her sleeves.  “I can try.”

 

                                                                                ###

Becky sat with her head against one of the elegant wooden panels that lined the Captain’s chamber.  She had been with the young Frenchman for something close to an hour waiting for the Colonel to return with the herbs she had hoped he would be able to find in the galley, or in some seaman’s chest.  Philippe had been sent, after many protestations, to see what he could find out about the man who had been carried aboard and secreted away deep within the ship, whom she believed to be Mingo.  Her prayers had gone with both of them.

The Marquis himself was much as she remembered, though without his uniform and his powdered white wig, he seemed so very young and no different from any other twenty-one year old who had fallen ill very far away from home.  She was surprised to find that his real hair was as red as hers and already beginning to recede from his forehead.  He had a long nose and full lips and his skin, which normally must have been pale, was white as the sheet he lay upon.  Once he had stirred and looked at her, but there had been no recognition in his pale blue eyes, only pain.  She hadn’t known what to call him.  ‘Marquis’ seemed both too formal and absurd for the situation, and she didn’t know his Christian name, so she had simply taken both of his hands between her own and held them until he lost consciousness again.

A sudden sound brought her head up.  She rose to her feet and advanced to the door.  Leaning against it she listened for a moment and then whispered, “I have only one regret...”

There was a pause, and then a soft accented voice answered, “That I have only one life to give for my country.”

With a sigh of relief, Becky unlocked and opened the door.

Only to find Captain Bailey standing on the other side.

“Really, Mrs. Boone,” he said, “I’d think you rebels might have come up with something more inventive than that.”

 

                                                                                ###

 

Mingo started awake as the door to the auxiliary shot locker opened and a man was unceremoniously thrust inside.  The seaman who had done the thrusting, whose face leered in the light of the swinging oil lamp like a cathedral grotesque, made an obscene gesture, shouted something about a bloody Frog and then slammed the solid door.  Mingo heard the bolt slide back into place and then blinked as his eyes sought to recover from the sudden exposure to the light.  He heard his fellow prisoner curse and waited silently as he rose to his feet, walked to the door and banged on it, and retorted in French.  Mingo realized that, due to the fact that the only portal in the tiny room was barely a foot across and painted black with pitch, the man probably had no idea he was there.  He contemplated remaining silent, but then thought better of it.  After all, their hosts seemed to have considered them both worthy of these ‘unique’ accommodations, and therefore they must have something in common.

              “Bonjour, mon ami,” he said softly.   The man instantly grew silent.  Mingo could almost feel his eyes searching the darkened space. 

“Qui?” he said at last, and then added, “Who is there?”

            “A friend of liberté.”  Mingo rose to his feet and put his hand out against the wall to steady himself.  Since he had awakened in the small locker he had found that the stifling air.  —added to the blow he had taken—had left him a bit light in the head.  “As I imagine you are.”

            There was a pause.  “You are English?”

            “My father is English.  Actually, my mother was Cherokee.”

            “Ah.”  The soldier walked toward him.  He stopped several feet away.  “You are Mingo then.  I am Colonel LaMarck.”

            It was Mingo’s turn to be startled.  “How would you know that?”

            “Your lovely friend has been so gracious as to attend to the Marquis.  I was on a mission to locate herbs for her when I was overtaken by the capitaine and his English curs.”  His voice was filled with disgust.  “While we were on deck, one of the sailors walking by recognized the fact that she was not a man.”

            “She?  What are you talking about?”  Mingo had thought his head was reeling before.  “And what Marquis?”

            “The Marquis de Lafayette.  Did you not know that this is his ship, the Alliance, bound for France?”  LamArck paused and his voice grew angry.  “Though if your lovely friend is right, we will never make it there.  A plot if afoot to take over the ship and deliver the Marquis into King George’s fat hands.  Mrs. Boone was so good as to bring it to my attention, though now that I am in here, I fear for her life at the hands of the scoundrels who have planned this dastardly deed. ”

            “Mrs. Boone?”  He reached out and took hold of the other man’s arm.  “Rebecca?  Rebecca is here?”

            “Oui.”  Colonel La Marck supported Mingo as his legs gave out from under him, and  then lowered him to the floor.  The Frenchman stared at him a moment and then asked softly,  “You did not know?”

            “No.”  Mingo ran his hands over his face.  Dear God, who was behind this?  Who hated him enough to ruin him in the Colonies, and to finance his transportation all the way back to England so they could make his destruction complete?  And how had Rebecca become involved? 

“No,” he repeated, “I did not know.” 

 

                                                                                            ###

 

            Becky paced the length of the captain’s cabin.  Bailey had left her there to care for the Marquis on threat of Mingo’s life, saying he would kill him if she dared to mention to the French aristocrat any word of the plot she had overheard.  So far keeping her mouth shut had not been a problem, not only had the Marquis not awakened, but the only other person she had been allowed to see had been his valet, Phillipe, who spoke little or no English.  The young Frenchman was terribly worried about his master.  He had come to his bedside and taken his hands in his own and tried to speak to him, but finally had given up and retired to his bed in an adjoining stateroom. 

            Becky stretched her arms out and tried to shake some of the tension from them.  One of Bailey’s men had brought her the requested herbs and she had brewed a tea from them and fed it by the spoonful to the young Marquis.  Since then his rest had seemed more natural.  She stifled a yawn and rolled her head from side to side.  She hadn’t slept since she had awakened on the floor amidst the sandbags and ropes the day before, and could hardly hold her eyes open.  Crossing to the young man’s bed, she checked his forehead for fever.   It had fallen as well.

            He shifted when she touched him and his eyelids fluttered.  “Adrienne?” he whispered through parched lips.

            She sat on the bed beside him.  “No,” she said softly.  “Who is Adrienne?”

            His blue eyes seemed to focus on her and he frowned.  “Maman?”

            Becky smiled.  That one she knew from the children of the French traders who sometimes came through Boonesborough.  She cocked her head.  “I am not quite old enough to be your mother, young man.  My name is Rebecca, and what I am is a friend.”

            “Un ami?”  He lifted his head from the pillow and attempted to sit up, but almost immediately fell back, exhausted.

            “You have been very sick, Marquis.  You shouldn’t tax yourself so soon.”  Becky reached for a cup of water and helped him to sip a little of it.  “Besides, we are at sea.  There is little to do now but rest and grow stronger until we make landfall.”  She bit her lip and resisted adding, ‘Wherever that might be.’ 

            “At sea?”  The Marquis glanced about the room and realized her words were true.  “Oh, oui, now I remember.  I am on the Alliance.”  His smile was self-deprecating.  “What a fool I was ever to have left home and to have come out here to feed the codfishes.” 

            Becky laid her hand on his.  “You are better, Marquis.  You won’t be feeding the codfishes anytime soon.”

            “Gilbert,” he said softly.

            “Zheel-bare?” she repeated.

            “My name.  You cannot continue to call me ‘Marquis’.”

            She nodded.  “And you must call me Becky.”

            The young man lifted his head again and this time she helped him to sit up, propping several pillows behind his back.  The effort made him shake.  As she sat back down, he asked, “Do I know you?”

            She smiled.  “Not really, though we have met.  In— ”

            “Nouvelle Orléans.”

            “Yes.”  She was surprised.  “You remembered?”

            He suddenly became serious.  “I would never forget a patriot.  Or his beautiful wife.  Not only am I indebted to you both, but the General as well.”

            Becky knew by the way he said ‘the’ general, he could only mean George Washington.  Just as to those in the Colonies he was the only ‘Marquis’.  “But it is I that am indebted to you.  You saved Dan’s life.”

            “Then we are even and we can be simply friends.”  He held out his hand.  “I am Marie Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette.”  The young man laughed at her look.  “Many names for one so tender and seemingly young as I.  No?”

            “Rebecca Bryan Boone,” she said, taking it.  “Three is more than enough for me to remember.” 

            He ran a trembling hand through his red hair and glanced toward the stateroom door.  “Where is Phillipe?”

            “Sleeping.”  Becky stifled another yawn.

            “And La Marck?  Is he without?”

            Becky hesitated.  She wasn’t certain what had become of the kind French officer.  “He left some time ago.  He didn’t say where he was going.”

            Gilbert’s eyes narrowed.  “Is something wrong?”

            She shook her head.  He was perceptive for someone barely past being a boy.  “Wrong?  What could be wrong?”  Becky was all too aware that outside the door to the Captain’s quarters one of Bailey’s men sat, monitoring their conversation.  Eventually she would have to find some way to communicate with the young Major-general, but looking at him now, she thought it would be too soon.  If what she had heard about him was true, once she told him of the pending plot to take them to England, he would be on his feet with sword in hand.  And then probably just as quickly flat on the floor.

No, once his health had improved she would find some way to tell him, and  together they would find a way out of this that wouldn’t cost both Mingo and Colonel La Marck their lives.

            “You seem disturbed.”

            “I was thinking of home,” Becky answered.  It wasn’t a lie.  Right now she was wishing, for about the thousandth time, that she had never set foot out of Boonesborough, and she swore that if she got back there, she would never leave again. “Who is Adrienne?”

            Gilbert seemed startled.  Then he smiled.  “I spoke her name, did I not?  Adrienne is my wife.  I have not seen her in almost a year and a half.”

            “You have sacrificed much to aid us.  I hope you know how much we all appreciate it.  You did not have to come— ”

            “Oh, but I did.  Adrienne understood even though her father, and the King, did not.   I was forced to slip out in the middle of the night, and could not even tell her I was going.”  He paused a moment as if thinking how hard that must have been on her.  “But she had agreed before.  She knew what I was about to do was right.”  He looked at her.  “Without liberty, there is no life.  I only hope my own country will follow the example of yours one day, and then, the poor, the down-trodden, and those who have no voice, will know the meaning of freedom.”

            Becky felt the fire of his convictions and thought him a most remarkable young man.  But even as she nodded, she swayed.  Fatigue was overcoming caution.  She caught herself and started to rise.

            The Marquis rose up in the bed.  “Madame Boone, you are exhausted.  You must sleep, or it is you who will be feeding the codfishes.”

            “No, I am all right....”

            Before she could stop him, he clapped his hands and shouted, “Phillipe! Vous l'escroc paresseux. Venir ici immédiatement!”  Suddenly the soft-spoken young man had turned into an aristocrat, born to command.  Becky turned and watched as the valet came quickly to the door.  Phillipe rubbed his eyes and then beamed from ear to ear when he saw his master was awake.  Gilbert held out his hand and the young man moved forward to take it.  Phillipe kissed it tenderly and then fell to his knee.  The Marquis grinned somewhat self-consciously.  “A far cry from Valley Forge, is it not?”

Becky nodded.  She had heard how the Frenchman had shared the hardships of the army during the long winter the army had spent in that horrible place.  “Yes,” she said softly.

Gilbert laid his hand on his valet’s head and waited until he looked up.  “Phillipe, elle vous prendra le lit. Vous pouvez dormir par terre par moi.”  He caught Becky’s eye.  “You will take his bed.  He can sleep on the floor by me.”

            “No, I couldn’t.”

            “Phillipe will consider it an insult if you do not.”  He then addressed the valet again, who immediately went scooting off into the adjoining stateroom.  “I have told him to lay a gown out for you, Madame Boone.”

            “Becky,” she corrected.

            “Becky.”

            She gave in at last.  “Thank you,” she whispered, and with that meekly followed Phillipe into the adjoining chamber and within minutes was fast asleep.

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            The young Marquis lay still for some time, thinking, and then after sending Phillipe for some more hot broth, swung his long legs over the edge of the bed and placed his bare feet on the floor.  He caught hold of the table and steadied himself, and then moved slowly from table to chair, and chair to desk, finally arriving at the portal which looked out on the vast ocean they sailed.  The Alliance was a 38-gun frigate, newly commissioned, and with luck, she would take them to France in something under a month.  It could not be soon enough for him.  He was weary and worn.  He had come to the Colonies with high hopes, only to have them dashed when the Continental Congress dismissed him—without even meeting him or giving him an audience—as a high-handed foreigner intent on making a name for himself.  He had gone quickly from that low to being commissioned a Major-general in the Continental army after he had offered to serve without pay.  And then he had met the General.  Anything would have been worth that.  Still, over the next few months he had been wounded during the disgraceful retreat of the army at Brandywine, had had his ideas about an invasion of Canada ignored and sneered at, and had almost fallen into the clutches of a band of unscrupulous men who meant to use him to undermine the Commander-in-chief’s authority.  And then, at the last, he had been used as an errand boy to go between the General and the arrogant Admiral d’Estaing, and after months of dealing with the commander of the French Navy, had feared all of his efforts to bring the two men—and their countries—together would prove futile.

The heaviest blow had come, though, in a letter from his wife delayed almost a year in delivery.  Little Henriette, his eldest child, had died even as a second daughter was born, and he had not been there for either the one’s beginning or the other’s end.  After that he had fallen ill and been delirious for many weeks.  In fact, he had almost died. 

But now, at last, he was going home.

He stared at the glistening waves and then raised his eyes to the stars and thought of France and of the young wife who awaited his return.  So much had happened since he had sailed away to the Colonies against the wishes of many powerful men, including the King, that he did not know if he returned a hero, or a common criminal.  Would he be welcomed with parades and showered with accolades as a hero of two worlds, or clapped in irons and tossed into the Bastille? 

            Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette sighed and turned toward the room where the wife of the American patriot, Daniel Boone, lay sleeping.  It didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that he continued to fight for freedom and liberty and equality as long as his heart beat and he had breath in his body.

            He walked slowly across the room and took hold of the stateroom door and began to pull it to, intending to grant Becky the privacy she deserved, but then he stopped.  A frown wrinkled his brow, and instead he pushed the door open and stepped into the room and went to her side.

            It had only just occurred to him.

What was she doing on his ship?

   

                                                                                ### 

 

Abigail took a step back.  The skies had opened and a drenching rain soaked the earth and ran through the streets carrying offal from the butcher’s shops, dung, dead animals and turnip tops with it.  It had proven to be one of the worst early summer storms they had even seen in Philadelphia, and in the midst of it—unbelievably—someone had come to her door.  She had hesitantly opened it to find a tall man on the stoop, his brown hair dripping and his fur cap in his hands.  He inclined his head and opened his mouth to address her, but before he could, she blurted out, “Mr. Boone?  Daniel Boone?”

Dan nodded.  “Yes, Ma’am.  And are you Abigail Watkins?”

“Oh, Mr. Boone, thank the Lord you have come at last.”

                                                                                ###

 

Several minutes later Dan found himself camped before a blazing fire.  Abigail had insisted on lighting one so he could dry out.  With the rain the summer had turned cold, and the night air carried a chill.  She was worried for his health.

She was also worried about his wife and her friend.

“They just up and disappeared?  Both of them?”  he asked as he ran a towel over his hair.

Abby was wringing her hands.  “Yes.  One moment they were here, and then the next....”  She sat down beside him.  “Oh, Mr. Boone, I fear something dreadful has happened.  This is not like Rebecca.”

He put the towel down.  “It’s not like Mingo either.”

“Mingo?”

            “That’s what I call, Mister....”

            “Murray?”  The older woman frowned.  “It seems a curious nickname.”

            “It’s long story.”  Dan rose and moved to the window that overlooked the harbor.  He glanced out it for a minute and then turned back to her.  “You say this Susannah saw Becky leave the house, and that she was goin’ to look for Min...Mr. Murray because he was overdue?”

            “He was to have taken her to the gala at the Mayor’s residence at eight.  By nine, he had still not shown.  I have asked around.  One man, a shopkeeper, thought he had seen her that night on the pier.  But why would she have gone there, to that horrible place where brigands and thieves abound?  It certainly would not be suitable, or safe for a lady.”

            Dan frowned.  “This man.  Do you think I could talk to him?  What’s his name?”

            Abby thought a moment.  “Eberly?  No, Everly.  He’s opening a tea shop on the Swanson Road near the park.”

 

                                                                                                ###

 

            Dan ducked as he entered the door of the tea shop and removed his cap.  It was brand-spanking new and chock full of expensive teas, and silver and china pots to serve them from.  He walked slowly across the room, eyeing the rosewood chests with their elaborate locks and shiny brass keys, calculating just how much it would have taken to set the place up.  As he did, a scrawny man with a face like a rat and a nervous twitch came scrambling out of the back room, waving his hands.

            “No trade today.  No trade!  Come back tomorrow.  We ain’t open yet.”  He headed for the door and indicated by his motions that Dan should do the same.  “Tomorrow, I say.” 

            “Everly?  Are you Jacob Everly?”

            The man stopped.  He glanced from side to side as if expecting someone to pop out of the woodwork and say he was not.  Finally he answered, “Yes.  Who are you?”

            Dan’s brown brows lifted toward his tousled hair.  “Well, I guess—fortunately for you—I am not a customer.  My name is Boone.  Daniel Boone.”  He watched the man carefully.  At the mention of his name, the shopkeeper started guiltily.  Giving credit where it was due though, he recovered faster than most.  “That sound familiar to you?”

            “No.  Should it be?  Do I know you?”

            Dan ran his fingers over his mouth.  “I reckon not.  I just had a question I wanted to ask you.  Seems you reported seeing my wife on the pier a couple of nights ago.”

            Everly frowned.  “Your wife?”

            “ ‘Bout this height,” Dan indicated somewhere between chest and chin-high.  “Bright red hair, green dress.  She went missin’ somewhere around nine o’clock.” 

            “Ah, yes.  The redhead.  Very pretty, Mr. Boone.”  Everly turned away and busied himself opening a wooden crate marked ‘Ireland’.  “If I were you, I wouldn’t let such a pretty woman wander the streets alone.”  He glanced over his shoulder and then turned back to the tea.  “If you know what I mean...”

            Dan moved up quietly behind him and laid his broad hand on his shoulder.  “No.  Tell me what you mean.”

            Everly stiffened.  He ducked and moved away, carrying the box to another shelf.  “Just that Philadelphia can be a mighty dangerous place.  People have been known to disappear off its streets before, and never be seen again.”

            Dan took that in.  Then he added, “My wife might have had a friend with her, a man—‘bout my height—well-dressed and well-spoken, with black hair.  You see him at all?”

            “No.  No man.”  The words came quickly.  Too quickly.  “Just the woman.”

            “But you didn’t see where she went?”

            “No.  Now, will you leave me alone?”  Everly bustled from one side of the shop to the other.  “I have work to do.”

            Dan took another long look around.  “You’re openin’ tomorrow, you say?”   

            “Yes, as if it is any business of yours.”  The man pulled a bright shining watch out of his vest pocket and looked at it.  “I have an appointment to keep, Mr. Boone.  Now, if you would kindly leave my shop.”

            Dan nodded.  He turned and started to walk to the door.  Then he stopped and indicated the full shelves.  “You must have, what, a couple of hundred pounds of tea here?  And all that silver and china?  Makes one wonder where a man might have found the capital to start such a venture in the middle of a war.  If you know what I mean....”

            Everly turned and stared at him.  “What are you suggesting, Mr. Boone?”

            “Just an observation,” Dan said as he placed his cap on his head and walked through the door.  Then he turned back to add, “You’ll see me again, Mr. Everly, when I get the itch for some fine English tea.”

 

                                                                                            ####

           

            Dan turned a corner and waited in the shadows, but he didn’t have to wait long.  Within minutes Everly had hung a sign out saying he would be back later and was hopping down the street like a frightened rabbit.  Dan gripped the handle of the flintlock pistol he had exchanged his long-rifle for, lifted it from behind his belt, and followed him.  The path the shopkeeper took wound down to the harbor’s edge and then back up a hill to a modest house with a white fence and a profusion of blossoms in the yard.  When the door opened, a servant girl escorted him in.  He stayed no more than five minutes and then reappeared and scooted down the road.  A raven-haired woman came to the door and stared after him.  She remained there a moment, and then—almost as if she had some preternatural sense—turned and fixed Dan with her keen eyes.  She inclined her head, and then turned and disappeared inside.

            Dan hesitated, uncertain of how to proceed.  Finally deciding it was more likely Everly would crack, he forgot the mystery woman and followed the bandy-legged little rascal down the street until he entered the Black Dog inn.  Like a menacing shadow he tailed him as he disappeared into a back room, and caught him by the scruff of the neck just before an attempted escape through the rear door.

            “I’ve come for my tea, Mr. Everly.”

            “Boone, let me go,” Everly cried out as he kicked his feet several inches above the floor.  “I will call for the landlord.”

            “You do that, and I’ll call for the captain of the guard.  I’ve got a feelin’ he might be interested in whatever it was you had to do to earn the money to set-up that shop.”

            “I don’t know what you mean....”

            “I checked around, Mr. Everly.  You are a man with a reputation.”  Dan paused and lowered his voice.  “And I have a feelin’ that tea shop of yours is built on blood-money.  Am I right?” 

            “Blood money,” Everly spat.  “An honest day’s pay...

“For a dirty night’s dealin’.”  Dan tightened his grip on the man’s collar and pressed him further up the side of the rough tavern wall. “I doubt you even know the meanin’ of the word ‘honest’, Mr. Everly.  Now, where’s my wife?”

            “I don’t know.”   The little man was trembling now.  “I saw her on the wharf, like I said, and that’s all.”

            “And just couldn’t resist addin’ another coin to your purse?  The reward Abigail offered for information was just too much to pass up, wasn’t it?  Greed has brought about many a scoundrel’s downfall.”

            “I am a respectable businessman...”

            “Then prove it.”  Since the man was going red in the face, Dan let his boots touch the floor.  Just.  “Do business with me.  What about my friend?  The man who came to town with my wife?”

            Everly looked truly frightened.  “I can’t....” he whispered as he shook his head.

            “You can.  You will.”  Dan banged his head against the wall.  “You got it?”

            He was trembling.  “Leighton will kill me.”

            Dan smiled grimly.  “And what makes you think I won’t?”  Dan knew the other man was most likely unaware of how empty a threat that was.  He could kill—had many times— but not in cold blood.

            Fortunately, Everly had no way of knowing that.

            “Well?  What’s your answer?”

 

                                                                                                ###

           

            A short time later Daniel Boone stood at the edge of the wharf where the Alliance had lately been moored, staring off into the sea.  The man had been frightened enough; he was pretty certain what he had told him was true.  Dan had asked him who the dark-haired woman on the hill was and Everly had said he didn’t know.  He had just been told to report to her, and she paid him for whatever information he brought.  Dan had asked him then what that information was.  Most of it had been inconsequential.  Still, the man was spying on the young government and seeking, by his actions, to undermine everything they were attempting to build.  He would inform the local constabulary before he went back to Abigail’s, but he suspected by tomorrow the owner of the new tea shop would be gone, along with the finest of his china and silver serving pieces.

            Dan ran a hand through his hair and tried to piece together what the man had told him about Becky and Mingo.  Apparently this Leighton was in thick with the men who wanted to destroy his friend.  Together they had tricked him into accepting some sort of damning evidence, and then cemented his treachery by killing the officer who had been sent to arrest him.  After that, it all became clear as mud.  Mingo disappeared and so did Becky.  End of story. 

            Or the beginning.

            One other man, a boy really, had reported finding a pair of elegant golden slippers beside the wharf, caught in one of the ropes that had been used to bind the Alliance to the wharf.  The ship had been bound for France.  It was a gift to the young  Marquis de Lafayette from the Congress and the Colonies, and was even now bearing him home.

            Dan drew the letter from Rachel Cornell out of his pocket and read it again.  Even with that information, he couldn’t think of any place better to start.  He had an address for the young Englishwoman, and from what she said, thought she would know how to find this French Marquis.  If Becky and Mingo were alive, his instincts told him he would find them all together.

            Dan frowned and replaced the letter, and headed for the building that housed the Continental Congress to call in a few favors he was owed.

            He was going to need a very fast ship.

            And a lot of luck.

 

           - Continued in Chapter Five -