A Lying Tongue
“There they go again. What did I tell you?”
“You’d wonder what her husband would think....”
“Well, he is gone every time you turn around. For weeks and weeks. Even months sometimes. I’ve spoken with her before. Told her she needs to make him understand.” The woman stopped to draw a breath. “But an...Indian?”
“What could she be thinking?” Her companion shook her head and made a ‘clucking’ noise with her tongue. “Still, he’s only half-Indian, I hear.”
The second woman paused. “The other half is English. What does that tell you?.”
“Her poor children....”
“Good morning, Miss Thompkins. Mrs. Potts.”
The duo nodded to Rebecca Boone as she walked by them on her way to the tavern. “Good morning Mrs. Boone,” they murmured in tandem.
Mingo followed close behind his friend’s wife, carrying several heavy sacks of grain. His richly tanned skin and muscled arms shone in the sunlight. With a tip of his feathered head, he nodded a greeting to the two. “Ladies,” he said.
Mary Potts inclined her white bonnet in return. Her companion smiled sourly, and then her unforgiving eyes followed the pair as they disappeared inside. Mary, who was about ten years younger than her friend and slightly near-sighted, shifted her wire-rim glasses on her upturned nose and sighed as she watched the tall native enter the tavern.
“Mary? Mary Potts!”
The mousy woman jumped. “Yes, Martha?”
The older woman gazed at the open door and then back. “Whatever are you thinking?”
Mary clutched her hymn book to her breast and said timorously, “Well, he is rather handsome.”
Martha Thompkins scowled. “You see what I mean? It’s the heathen influence. Puts a woman in mind of the wrong things.” She shook her finger at Cincinnatus’ establishment. “Have you ever noticed how often she frequents that den of iniquity?”
“Well, it is the general store, Martha—as well as a tavern.”
“She needn’t come. You’ve never seen me go in there. Now have you?”
The younger woman shook her head. “No, Martha. Heaven forbid.”
“Her man could go get those things for her.” Her companion caught up her dull gray skirts and, lifting them above the rain-soaked path, turned towards the settlement gate. “If he was ever home.” She paused as a sudden thought struck her. “Perhaps someone should make Mr. Daniel Boone aware of just what is going on when he isn’t. Come on, Mary.”
Her companion skittered after her. “Where are we going?”
“Back to see the preacher. And then....” She glanced at the tavern. Rebecca and Mingo were just exiting the building. She was leaning on his arm and they both were laughing.
“Then, we’ll see what we will see.”
“So you see, Israel, even though many people now believe otherwise, his own people thought that King Richard the third was a good man.”
The little boy frowned and gazed earnestly at the book in his hands. “Gosh, Mingo. Then why does this Mr. Shakespeare want us to think he was so mean?”
The tall Indian lowered himself to the edge of the porch and sat by his friend’s son. “You have to understand, Israel. History is most often written by the victors—in this case, the Tudors—and many people’s lives, the fate of nations in fact, have hung on the whisper of one idle word.” The Cherokee knit his hands together and looked toward the horizon. “It takes very little effort to start a rumor, and a great deal of effort to stop one.”
“Sort of like a fire? That’s why Pa tells me to be careful with the flint.”
He touched the boy’s shoulder. “Yes. You know all it takes is one little spark and....”
“You get a great big fire that’s near impossible to put out.”
“You are wise, Israel. And correct.”
Dan’s son looked at the book Mingo had brought with him again and turned a couple of the pages. Then he gazed up at his friend. “So why did King Richard kill those two little boys? The ones in the tower?”
The native frowned. “Israel. What did I just tell you? Were you not listening?”
“Sure I was, Mingo.” He closed the volume and stood. “But it’s here in this book. Don’t that mean it has to be true?”
Mingo sighed as the door opened behind them and Rebecca Boone stepped onto the porch. He touched the boy’s white hair. “Remind me to tell you sometime, Israel, about how wars begin....”
Becky tossed her head and chased a stray lock of red hair out of her eyes. She was dressed in a deep blue gown and looked radiant in the late afternoon sun. “Supper’s ready,” she said with a smile.
Mingo rose to his feet. “I really need to get going, Rebecca, if I am to return to the Cherokee village by nightfall.”
“On an empty stomach? You will do no such thing. You come in here and sit down and eat, and then you can go.” She placed her hands on her hips and tilted her head. “Or is the mighty hunter afraid to travel after dark?”
The Cherokee brushed his long dark hair aside. Then he looked at the sky. It was early autumn and the days were still running long. A moment later he grinned. “When you ask so sweetly, how can I say ‘no’?”
Becky grinned. “Maybe if you stay long enough, Dan can walk you home so you’ll feel safe.” As he laughed, she let out a sigh. “That man. He was supposed to have been here two hours ago. I suppose Tupper has him sitting somewhere with a fishing pole, trading stories about hunting or the war and how many Indians they killed— ” She stopped and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Mingo. Sometimes I....”
His dark eyes smiled. “Sometimes you forget I am an Indian?”
She nodded quickly. As she opened her mouth to say more, she paused. Mingo followed her puzzled gaze and saw one of Jemima’s friends advancing towards the cabin. The girl’s father was standing a little ways off waiting for her, his rifle in his hand.
“Why, it’s Jenny Garver,” Becky said as she stepped down off the porch. “What do you suppose she wants?”
Becky nodded to the petite blonde. “Jenny.”
“Ma’am, can I see Jemima?”
“She isn’t here, Jenny.” Becky wiped her hands on her apron. “Come to think of it, I thought she was with your sister, Ruth.”
“She was, Ma’am. But she left about noon.”
The redhead glanced at Mingo. “Why, that was hours ago....”
“So you last saw her at midday, Jennifer?” As the small-boned girl met his stare, he saw her stiffen. It amazed him how, after more than a year, many of the settlers in Boonesborough still had not grown accustomed to him. He glanced at the man waiting far down the path. But then he had to remember, many of them—like Jennifer’s father—were a bit...well...prejudiced when it came to his people. “Jennifer?”
“I’m sorry,” she squeaked. “I need to go. I was just going to give her this book. Ruth said she left it at the cabin. Will you....?”
Rebecca accepted the book from her hand. She stared at it a moment, her face growing ever more concerned.
Mingo laid his hand on her shoulder. “I will go look for her, Rebecca. From Jennifer’s house I can follow the trail....”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Rebecca, no. You have Israel to look after. I am certain Jemima has simply forgotten to keep track of the time or become distracted— ”
Becky’s tone was adamant. “That’s why I am coming with you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She frowned. “That girl has had her head in the clouds lately, what with one boy and another courting her. First Jericho and now Richard Calloway’s boy....” She paused, her Irish ire up. “She may be old enough to be thinking of getting married, but her bottom hasn’t grown too big for a switch.”
As Israel giggled and covered his mouth with his hands, Mingo cleared his throat. “I take it this has happened before then? And recently?”
“Criminetly, Mingo,” the little boy blurted out, “she ain’t done any of her chores for the last couple’a days. I had’ta feed the chickens and sweep the porch and carry the water and— ”
Becky glared at her son and immediately the litany of the heinous tasks his mother had assigned him stopped. Then she turned back to the girl. “Jenny?”
“Will you and your father take Israel to the fort with you? You can leave him with Cincinnatus....”
“We just came from there, Ma’am. I didn’t see Jemima. Least ways, not at the tavern or in the Common.”
Becky’s blue eyes softened a bit as fear crept into them. “No?”
Jenny shook her head. “No, Ma’am.”
Rebecca drew a deep breath. “It’s an imposition, I know. But do you think your father would allow you to take Israel home with you?”
“Well, he has to leave tonight for Salem.
But Israel can stay with my sisters and my Ma and me.”
The little boy pouted and pulled on his mother’s skirt. “Aw, Ma! There won’t be nobody there but wimmen. They’ll pinch my cheeks and tell me how cute I am. Or have me holding the sheep’s wool while they spin!”
“Young man, you mind your manners.”
Mingo’s fingers found the boy’s shoulder. He waited until the great blue eyes sought his. “And your Mother.”
Israel scuffed his shoe on the ground. He sighed, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“I’m sure we can watch him,” Jenny said. “You gonna come get him yet tonight?”
Becky started to answer but had to stop in order to stifle a laugh when she saw the pathetic face her son had turned towards her. “If you don’t mind us arriving late. Either Dan or I will come. He should be home soon.” She glanced at Mingo. “You think three or four hours will be enough?”
Mingo nodded and picked up his rifle. “Since she’s not at the settlement with Jericho, she’s most likely at the Calloways or one of her other friends.”
Becky glanced at the sky. “It looks like more rain. Let me get my shawl.”
“There really is no need for you to go, Rebecca. I can bring Jemima back here....” As she turned on him, her hands planted firmly on her shapely hips, Mingo fell silent. A moment later he called softly to her son, “Israel?”
The little boy looked back. He had been dragging his heels as he followed after the Garver girl. Now that there seemed to be some hope of rescue, he brightened. “Yes?”
“Look at your mother.”
The boy did so. Rebecca’s jaw had tightened and there was a fierce expression on her beautiful face.
Mingo laughed. “This is how wars end.”
“Now that I think of it, it is good you came along, Rebecca. I might be able to track a bear, but one teenage girl with wanderlust could well prove beyond my limited skill.”
Becky shook her head. She was trying her best not to lose her temper. They had made their way straight from Jennifer’s house to the Calloways and had caught them about to turn in. Richard’s wife had told them her daughter had indeed visited their young son, Flanders. Unfortunately, as she asked about the two of them, Flanders himself came padding out of the back room in his stockings to tell her he had taken Jemima to the fort and left her there about midday. Now they were headed back towards the settlement and had at least a three to four hour walk in the pouring rain to look forward to.
“I’m sorry about this Mingo. I don’t know what’s got into the girl.” She sighed. “Just when you think you know your children, they up and turn into somebody else.”
“Jemima is a good girl. Are you certain she said nothing before she left? She is not usually the type to cause you undue distress. Perhaps....”
Becky stopped. Her hands went to her mouth.
Mingo shoved a lock of soaking wet hair out of his eyes. “Rebecca....”
The redhead smiled sweetly. “Have I told you lately how good a friend you are to us, Mingo?”
“Rebecca Boone. What is it you have remembered?”
“Yes? Do tell....”
She drew a breath and the words flew out in a tumble, like the waters of the swollen creek running behind them. “Jemima asked about a week ago if she could stay with the Andersons at the fort while their daughter Emily was visiting from Philadelphia. I told her ‘no’ as she had too many things she had overlooked lately, but then her father said ‘yes’, and finally we decided she could go.”
Mingo crossed his arms. “And just when was this visit to commence?”
She blinked. “What day is it?”
“The eighteenth. Wednesday.”
Becky’s narrow shoulders rose and fell. “That would be it then.” As the dark-haired man rolled his eyes, she started to babble. “Oh, Mingo, I’m so sorry. She did mention it, early this morning. But with everything going on—Israel complaining and the roof leaking and Dan being gone again and the fact that I had said ‘no’ the first time— it completely slipped my mind. What with the way the girl has been mooning over this boy and that, and not doing her chores, I thought she was just being— ”
“Forgetful? Irresponsible?” Mingo’s dark brows lifted. “Now where do you suppose she might have learned such a thing?”
Becky’s blue eyes searched his face. “Are you very mad at me?”
“Mad? Why would I be mad?” The tall man shook his jacket and his hair. “I am now approximately half a day from home. I am covered from head to foot in sodden buckskins that are not only rain-soaked and heavy as lead, but have begun to smell like a dead buck. My powder and shot are soaked, as am I. My flint and tinder are useless.” He watched her wince at his severe tone. “There is only one thing that could possibly make it any worse.”
“And that would be?” she asked meekly.
“If I was out here alone, without your delightful company.” At her smile he added gently, “Really, Rebecca. It could have happened to anyone. Now let’s get you home before you catch your death. That little shawl is doing nothing to keep you warm.”
He started to move forward again but she stopped him with a hand on his sodden sleeve. “You are so sweet.”
“Sweet? That is hardly the term one would employ to describe a warrior.”
“But it’s true. Dan would have given me a terrible time. He would have made some comment about my forgetting the nose on my face if it wasn’t attached or some other such thing. You tease sometimes, Mingo, but it’s different.”
He nodded. “I am not your husband.”
She stared at him a second. “No, you and Dan are very different. Sometimes I wonder why you are friends.” She grew sober as they began to walk again. “Do you think we would still be friends, even if you two weren’t?”
“If we had met in another place, at another time, who can say? As I was telling Israel, the outcome of history is influenced by many random factors.” He pointed to a thick branch lying across their chosen path, indicating she should take care. “Still, current social conventions in Boonesborough would hardly permit such a— Rebecca!”
“Look out!” He pulled his knife and watched as the branch shifted, revealing its long sleek bronze form was not stiff, but pliable. Rebecca’s foot was nearly on it. “Copperhead!”
Becky jerked back and let Mingo slip between her and the snake. She watched as he considered how great a threat it was and whether or not to tackle the slithering creature. Laying her hand on her chest, she shifted away from him in order to give him room and took another step back.
Unfortunately she was at the edge of a steep ravine. And a moment later was plunging down its side.
Mingo heard a sharp squeal and turned to find her gone.
Daniel Boone stood by the door of his cabin scratching his head. Its interior was dark which caused him a little bit of concern. So far as he knew Becky should have been there with the children, and from what he had understood that morning, Mingo had intended to stay as well to keep watch over them. Still, he guessed the Cherokee might have headed home since the hour had grown so late—his own errand taking more time than he had expected. Carefully opening the door, he went in. The first thing he noticed was that nothing was disturbed.
That gave him a little peace of mind.
Lighting one of the lamps Becky kept handy, he moved to the table and sat it down. Propped on the polished wood was one of Israel’s slates with a message chalked onto it.
“Gone with Mingo. Becky,” it read.
The big man stared at the writing and frowned. It was at least eleven o’clock at night. Just where had his wife gone with Mingo this late? And why?
He placed his cap back on his head and thought a moment. Jemima was supposed to be with the Anderson girl, so that accounted for her. But even if Becky had gone with Mingo for some odd reason, where was Israel? Was he with them?
Gripping Tick Licker in his hand, he returned to the door and stepped out into the night, bent on reaching the settlement in record time.
Ignoring the snake, Mingo plunged over the edge of the trail and slid down the rain-soaked hill. As he quickly descended, what little light had illuminated the path disappeared. Here, in the heart of the wood, the star’s brilliant faces were turned away and it was pitch black. He came to a sudden jarring stop and fell to his knees. As his hands struck the rich Kentucky mud, he called softly, “Rebecca? Rebecca Boone, answer me. ” At first there was no answer. He caught his breath and tried again. “Rebecca?”
Rising to his feet, he cupped his hands about his mouth intending to call as loudly as he could. If there were any other natives out in this miserable weather, they had to be more insane than him and therefore posed very little, if any threat. “Rebecca!”
This time he heard a soft moan. “Mmmmmmm.....Dan?”
The tall Indian froze. “Rebecca, Daniel is not here. You know that. It’s Mingo. Where are you?”
He heard something shift in the dark to his left and give a small cry. “Over here,” came the weak reply.
As gratitude flooded through him, he began to move forward, winding his way around unseen boulders and pitfalls. “Keep talking. I can follow your voice. Are you hurt?”
There was a moment of silence. “I’m here, a little farther on,” she said softly. “I can just see you. Keep coming.”
She paused as he heard her suck in air. “Rebecca, what is it?”
“Keep coming. You’re just about....”
He felt her fingers touch his leg. He crouched immediately. “Thank God. Rebecca Boone, you terrified me more than an advancing line of British soldiers. Here allow me to help you up— ”
He stopped with his hand on her arm. “Don’t?” He could feel her trembling. “Rebecca?”
“Don’t pull me up.”
The Cherokee drew a breath. “Why not?”
Her voice was very small and somewhat frightened. “I think my leg is broken.”
“Cincinnatus! Cincinnatus, wake up! Get our of bed, you old goat! I need to talk to you!” Dan continued to hammer on the door of the tavern, making enough racket to wake the dead buried in Salem let alone the settlers who lived within the confines of the fort. As oil lamps and candles were lit in the surrounding cabins, he called again, “Cincinnatus!”
A moment later a light appeared in the tavern window and then the door opened. A graying head topped with a triangular cloth cap quickly followed. “Dan?” The older man wiped his eyes with his fists and then planted them on his hips. “Tarnation, Daniel Boone. Do you know what time it is?”
“Time for old men who drink too much and sleep too sound to get up and get movin’.” Dan said with a crooked smile. “Cincinnatus?”
“You seen my family lately?”
The pale eyes blinked. “Your family? Well, ain’t they in the cabin where’n they’re supposed to be?”
Dan took off his hat and ran a hand through his thick brown hair. “Well, now, that’s just the problem. They ain’t, and I have this powerful desire to know where they are. Was there trouble here at the fort today? Indians? The French? Or the English, maybe?”
“Nope. Quiet day so far as I know.” The tavern-keeper pulled his beard. “Rebecca was in earlier and brung Mingo toting some of that extra grain you had to sell. And come to think of it, Jemima is with the Andersons. Their daughter is visitin’ ”
Dan nodded. He had remembered that correctly. “That’s one. What about Israel?”
“Now that ye mention it,” Cincinnatus snapped his fingers. “He’s at the Garver’s place. John was in tonight on his way to Salem and he mentioned Becky asking his daughter to mind the boy.”
Dan nodded again. “All right, that’s two. Now what about Becky?”
The tavern-keeper paused, his sharp mind working its way back through the day’s gossip. “I think she went somewhere with Mingo.”
“I know that.” The tall man sighed. “She left me a message on Israel’s work slate. ‘Gone with Mingo.’ But what is that supposed to mean?”
The older man cocked his head and smiled as he spread his thin arms wide, “She got tired a’ waitin’ for ya, and they run off together?”
As Dan opened his mouth to reply, a sharp feminine voice remarked clearly, “That is precisely what it means.”
Daniel Boone pivoted to find a rather formidable-looking group had assembled behind him. The ringleader was Martha Thompkins, a newcomer to the settlement—as big a busybody as he had ever known—and a professional gossip who had done more harm to Boonesborough with her tongue in the two months she had been there than the French and the Indians and the English combined had been able to do in almost two years. She had Mary Potts with her. Mary was a one year veteran of the wilderness; a sweet meek woman who had had supper with them once or twice. By herself, she was fine. But when she was with Martha—as the Indians put it—her voice was not her own. Dan shifted and nodded a greeting to the two women. Unfortunately, they were not alone. Several other families had been roused by his noisy arrival, and in the middle of them all was the newest member of the borough; Abraham Martins, a preacher who had ridden into the fort fresh from a mission trip to convert the heathens of the Ohio Valley to his own particular way of thinkin’.
Dan drew a breath. “Ladies. Reverend Martins. Friends.”
“I understand your wife is missing, Mr. Boone.”
He looked at the gray-haired woman. “Yes, she is Miss Thompkins, and I am a mite worried about her.” He glanced at the murmuring crowd. “Now folks, this is my business. No need for you to lose a good night’s sleep. You should all be in your beds. Why don’t y’all go home?”
“We might ask the same of you, Mr. Boone,” she shot back quickly.
“Well, you might.” He slipped his cap back on his head. “But I might choose not to answer.”
Martha Thompkins picked up her skirts and advanced on him like the forerunner of an approaching army. “Mr. Boone, I have warned you before about treating that heathen as a friend, and allowing him under your roof. I told you no good would come of such a charitable—if misguided—act of kindness on your part. And now look at what has happened.”
Dan leaned on Tick Licker and counted to five before answering. “Well, yes, you have, Miss. Thompkins. But Mingo is far from a heathen— ”
“Does he believe in God?” the sour man in black asked.
Dan looked at him. The Reverend Martins had a face that could have curdled milk. “Well, yes, Reverend, I believe he does.”
“Hmmph.” The older woman crossed her arms. “And precisely what God would that be, Mr. Boone? Certainly not the white man’s God.”
“Well, Miss Thompkins,” this time he counted to seven, “I don’t really see as that is any of my business or yours— ”
“Mr. Boone,” Martins said ominously, “ if you consort with devils you will have to pay the Devil’s price.”
Cincinnatus watched as the big man stiffened. He was beginning to grow angry. Most likely he was up to a count of ten by now. And with Dan that meant, if the party progressed into the tavern, he had maybe another two or three minutes to get all the breakables out of the way.
“Preacher, are you callin’ my friend a devil?”
“If the shoe fits, Mr. Boone.” It was Martha speaking again. Mary remained silent but supportive.
Dan had to bite his lip to keep from telling the spinster exactly where she could fit that shoe. He straightened up and caught his rifle in his hand. “So you two are telling me... you three....”
Mary nodded quickly.
“That you think Mingo ran off with Becky?” He frowned. “Kidnapped her like?”
“Well, she is a beautiful woman, Mr. Boone,” the Reverend Martins began, “and savages have been known to— ”
Before he could finish, Martha Thompkins stopped him with a hand to his arm. “That is not what we are saying at all.”
“It’s not?” the preacher asked, his bushy eyebrows peaking above a hawk-like nose.
“No?” Dan drew a very long breath. “Then why don’t you say what you mean to say, Miss Thompkins, and stop beatin’ around the bush?”
The formidable woman drew herself up to her full height of five foot two and wagged a finger under his chin.
“Your wife and that savage have run off together. What’s happening has been under your nose all along, Daniel Boone. If you were ever home, you’d have seen it yourself and been able to stop it. But now it’s too late.”
“Here, let me carry you.”
“Mingo, no. I can walk.” Becky bit her lip and stifled a moan as she tried to put her weight on her foot in order to rise. “If I can just lean on your arm....”
“If you lean on my arm and try to move under your own power, you are liable to fall and injure yourself further.”
“I don’t want to be a burden.”
The Cherokee sighed. Why was it people who wanted to keep from burdening you were the ones who seemed to be the most proficient at it? “Rebecca,” he said patiently, “if I can carry your husband, you will be no trouble at— ”
“Have you done that?”
Mingo stopped. “Have I done what?”
“Carried Dan.” She frowned at him. “I know you two aren’t that different in size, but somehow I can’t picture that. I can’t picture anyone carrying Dan, he’s so tall....”
“May I make a request?”
The redhead winced as she tried her leg again. “Yes?”
“What? Mingo, no.... Don’t you dare!” He had put one arm about her waist and was bending to place the other behind her knees, taking as much care as he could. At the tone of her voice he stopped.
“It wouldn’t be proper.”
The Cherokee hesitated. “Proper?”
“Out here in the night...alone. You carrying me.... I’m a married woman.”
He straightened back up. “Yes, and an exasperating one. So, what would be proper? Walking and injuring your leg so you are crippled the rest of your life? Staying here and waiting for the Wyandot or the Shawnee or the Creek or any of the other dozen hostile tribes in the area to happen upon us and take our scalps?” He sighed and threw his hands wide. “Or perhaps it would be proper to just sit down here and wait for the Copperhead to return with his friends.”
She winced. “Are you angry with me?”
He rolled his dark eyes. “Yes!” Then he stopped and drew a breath, calming himself. “Rebecca, I assure you, I can restrain myself. Simply holding you about the waist and legs is not going to bring me to betray Daniel. While you are a handsome woman....”
She blinked. “You think so?”
Mingo frowned. “Of course. While you are a handsome woman, I would not....”
“Oh, I wasn’t worried about you.”
“Rebecca....” His frown deepened. “What are you talking about?”
She paused and gnawed her lower lip. “I mean...what will people say?’
He stared at her. “And which people in particular are you concerned about at the moment? The squirrels? The otter or the beaver? Please let me know and I will tell them to avert their eyes.” He placed his arm about her waist again and felt her stiffen.
“You are making fun of me.”
“Rebecca, I usually take you very seriously, but at the moment you are behaving like a school girl. So, yes, I am making fun of you. Now hold still, and take a deep breath. This will most likely hurt.”
He caught her under the knees and raised her up and as he did her hands tightened on his neck and then fell away.
She had passed out.
Dan stood at the door of the Calloway’s cabin. He had roused the Colonel and his wife from a sound sleep, and while they were cooperative, he could tell they were just a mite upset. Apparently Becky and Mingo had been by earlier; supposedly checking on Jemima’s whereabouts. But then, Becky knew Jemima was supposed to be at the Andersons, so that didn’t make any sense.
Dan frowned and crossed his hands over the barrel of his rifle as he leaned on it. Fortunately the two ladies and their bloodhound, the Reverend Martins, had not wanted to accompany him into the wilderness and the pouring rain. So, he found himself alone, with only his thoughts for company. He wished now Tupper had come back to the settlement with him, but the blond-haired man had been set on setting his traps early, and had disappeared shortly before he had sighted his cabin.
His empty cabin.
He sighed and caught his rifle up and began to move forward again. Apparently the Calloways had sent Mingo and Rebecca back to the fort. But if that was the case, they should have been there by the time he arrived—or he should have passed them on the way.
They weren’t. And he hadn’t.
All about him the trees rustled and sighed with the rain and the strong breeze, carrying tales.
But theirs were not the only whispers he heard.
Becky came around slowly. As she shifted and moaned, a cool hand touched her forehead. “Rebecca,” a mellow voice called softly, “Rebecca Boone.”
The redhead’s eyelashes fluttered until the man came into focus. His dark brown eyes were filled with concern. “Mingo,” she whispered.
“How do you feel?”
She licked her lips. “Not so good.”
“Well, I have one bit of news that might brighten your outlook.”
“Oh?” She shifted and bit back a moan.
“Your leg is not broken.”
“Your leg. It is not broken.”
Her hand went to his arm as her blue eyes lit with hope. “Oh, Mingo...it’s not?”
“No, but it is badly strained.”
She reached down. “But it hurts so....”
“That is because there is a deep gash in it. I believe you must have fallen on a pointed branch or jagged stone.” He frowned. “There is still cause for concern. The wound could become infected.” He rocked back on his heels and sighed. “And I cannot keep you warm. I have not been able to build a fire. My implements are too wet.”
Becky looked around. “Where are we?”
“A cave.” Mingo stood and walked to the opening. Outside the rain was falling in sheets. “The storm has broken. We are trapped for the time being.”
The redhead lifted her skirt to look at her leg. A portion of her petticoat had been torn away and used to bind the wound. The bandage was already soaked through with blood.
He turned back. “For what? For tending to you?” He laughed. “And just how many times, Mrs. Rebecca Boone, have you done the same for me?”
She smiled and leaned her head back on the cave wall as she watched him kneel close by. “Well, there was that bear last fall. And that time after your brother....” Becky stopped.
Mingo ignored her last statement. “And the time with Simon Gore.” He looked at her then and his eyes were troubled. “I have never apologized for that. Bringing that madman to your door.”
“Well, where else would you have gone? Wounded like that?”
“Somewhere where there were not people dear to me.” He shook his head as he returned to her side. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Becky looked towards the entrance of the cave, “You were just thinking of making it home.”
His brows rose. “Home? Rebecca, my home is in the opposite direction.”
“No, its not. It’s with us. You know that.”
Mingo stopped in the middle of pounding some leaves he had gathered. He closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them and said softly, “I will have to change that bandage soon. Perhaps you should get some more sleep. It will be a long and a rough way back.”
Becky frowned and turned her eyes on him. “Way back? How can we— Mingo! You don’t intend to carry me all the way to the cabin, do you?”
“If necessary. Though I would imagine Daniel is there by now. He will be looking for you.”
“But how will he find us? I mean, I know Dan is the most skilled woodsman in Kentucky, ” she smiled sweetly, “—present company excluded—but surely this storm has wiped away any signs I might have left when I fell. Or that you followed me. Even Dan can’t read signs that aren’t there.”
Mingo heard the tremble in her voice. He knew she was weak and wounded and in need of food and warmth, and there was really very little he could do to provide her with any of them at the moment. He shifted to her side and, with a nod from his patient, began to undo the binding he had wrapped about her leg only a few hours before. “I don’t think he will need to ‘read’ anything, Rebecca.”
The dark-haired man smiled. His hand was under her leg, lifting it. “If I had a wife as lovely as you, and as warm and caring, I would not need my eyes to find her. Her gracious beauty would be impressed upon my heart, and I would only need follow it.”
Becky turned towards him and for just a moment, as their eyes met, a thought flew unbidden through her mind. She wondered—ever so briefly—what her life would have been like if she had not married the big slow-moving, single-minded, determined Daniel Boone and had instead married someone like him. Not the Indian, but the man—a gentle soul, who understood women; a man who would listen, really listen, when she had something to say.
“Rebecca? Are you all right?”
She started guiltily. Then she nodded. “I’m fine.”
“So far the wound looks clean,” he said as he finished the dressing, “but then it has only been a few hours. Does it hurt terribly?”
His dark eyes sought hers. “Are you uncomfortable?”
She stared at him and bit her lip.
Dan stood on the top of the rise looking down at the cabin he had built with his own hands. Beyond it was the fort he had raised. Two trips on the path to and from them and still he had seen no sign of his wife or his Indian friend. He knew he should wait until morning before searching again. In the daylight he might find a sign he had overlooked in the dark—though most likely the pounding rain had washed them all away.
If there was anything to wash away.
He sighed and shook his head. That Thompkins woman’s words were like a slow poison. He knew Rebecca. Knew Mingo too—and trusted them both. Still, the last thing she had said kept echoing in his head.
‘If you were ever home, you’d have seen it yourself and been able to stop it. Now it’s too late.’
Had he neglected Becky? Had he been so bent on building a future for her that he had forgotten to pay attention to her along the way?
Genuinely struck to the core, Daniel Boone turned back towards the trees and began to walk the path for the third time.
“Rebecca, I thought we had been over this territory before. You are shivering. And there is nothing else here to keep you warm.”
She stared at him. “But it’s not....”
“Proper?” He sighed. “One would think you were the one who had been raised in the aristocracy. I thought the sort of person who chose to settle on the frontier was the sort who dared to break the rules.”
Rebecca bit her lip. She was still troubled by her momentary lapse. “Mingo, I don’t know....”
“Well, I do. I will not return you to Daniel with pneumonia.” When she still didn’t give him permission, he added, “Think of your children then. You would not want them to be motherless?”
That did it. She nodded her head once quickly.
Mingo masked the smile in his eyes as he sat down beside her. He opened his arms and waited. “Rebecca?”
She sighed and then shifted towards him, stiffening as he encircled her with his arms. Then, as the warmth of his body began to course into hers, she gave in and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Is that better?”
She nodded and murmured, “Mm hmm. Much.”
For some time they remained still, listening to the rain as it pounded outside the cave. The light was beginning to break and a new day was dawning.
Finally she stirred. “Mingo?”
“Do you ever wonder about the choices you made in your life?”
The Cherokee laughed. “Look at me, Rebecca. Once I dined with nobles and sat at king’s tables. Now I wear feathers and carry a whip, run with mule skinners and trappers, and share my supper with natives in breech-cloths who sleep beneath the stars. I wonder every day,” he sighed and shifted, “but I have no regrets.”
“No? That’s nice....”
There was something in her voice. Something different. It startled him. “Do you?”
She shifted her head so her long red hair fell softly across his vest and looked towards the cave mouth. “Sometimes....”
“Sometimes I wonder. What would it have been like if I had married someone different; a gentleman perhaps, with a fine house and fine clothes? With a carriage to take me to town, and to dances and balls.” She sighed and moved closer to him. “I wonder sometimes what it would be like to let my children out of my sight without fear. And to not feel this empty pit in my stomach every time my husband goes out the door, wondering if he will come in it again.” Her voice was soft. “If I will ever see him again.”
The tall native remained silent.
“I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to be married to a man who listened to me—really listened.” She yawned. “Like you do.”
Mingo drew a deep breath. “I am not so different from Daniel.”
“Oh, yes, you are.” She glanced up at him, blinking languidly as sleep sought to overtake her. “Dan is all fire and action. You are like cool water. And water that runs deep.”
He shifted suddenly and pulled a little away from her.
That woke her a bit. “Mingo?”
“Nothing, Rebecca. Just a kink in my arm. Go to sleep.”
As she returned her head to his shoulder, he frowned.
It was the first time that day he had lied.
Morning had come and still there was no sign. And what was worse, the Reverend Martins had joined him with several of the men from the settlement. They were looking ugly. He could just imagine what the nosey spinster had told their wives, and their wives had told them.
“Now hold on,” he began in answer to their angry shouts. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this. Maybe they got lost— ”
“A Cherokee? In the woods atween his home and yours? You know better’n that Dan.” Matt Lewis said.
Daniel swallowed the unreasonable fears he had been battling the whole night. He was exhausted, having gone thirty hours with very little sleep, and his mind was playing tricks on him. “You all know Becky. Your wives are friends of hers. “How can you— ”
“It ain’t your woman we’re questionin’. It’s that savage. You shouldn’t have ever brung him here, Dan. They ain’t to be trusted.”
“You think Mingo took Becky?” He didn’t know whether to be appalled or relieved. At least Mrs. Thompkins’ venom hadn’t infected all of them.
“That’s right, took her against her will.” The man before him paused and looked at his fellows. “Least ways, that’s the most reasonable explanation....” His voice trailed off as he avoided Dan’s eyes.
The redhead started and sat up. She had been laying by herself with Mingo’s thick buckskin jacket over her. The tall native stood by the cave entrance. A small fire was burning near her feet. She smiled and held out her hands. “Mingo, how?”
“The sun is up. Once I could see, I was able to locate a few dry leaves and twigs deep within a crevice inside the cave mouth. My flint was dry and so was the bit of fabric from your petticoats....”
“And food!” She noticed a roasted rabbit laying near the fire. Then she smiled. “I am usually doing this for you.”
“Turn about is fair play, Rebecca. I have already eaten. Please....”
She shifted and moaned as she reached forward.
“Rebecca. Stay where you are. I was forgetting. Here.” He crossed to the fire and pulled the shoulder of the rabbit free and handed it to her. Then he crouched and looked into her eyes. “How are you?”
She took a nibble and then rested the joint on her skirt. “Not very hungry after all.” She hesitated and then added quietly, “About last night. You know I love Dan...?”
“With all your heart and soul.” He smiled. “Yes.”
He touched her hand briefly. “We all dream what it would be like to walk in another’s shoes—or moccasins.”
She laughed. “Yes....”
“I have thought, from time to time, what it would be like to be your husband.” He paused and then quickly rephrased the sentence. “To be like Dan, married, with a wife and a family.”
“You would make a good husband, Mingo. Caring. Considerate.” She frowned. “Why aren’t you married?”
“Rebecca.” The tall native rose to his feet. “I don’t like the look in your eye....”
“Have you seen that new girl in town? The one living with the Petersons?”
“She was educated in England...” At his look, she laughed gently. “Well, she was....”
“Thank you, no. I have had more than my fill of intelligent women and their conversation for quite some time to come.” He offered her his hand. “Do you think you can stand?”
She drew a deep breath. “I can try.”
“I checked your leg. Its healing nicely,” he remarked as he helped her to her feet. “There is no infection.”
“Thank goodness.” She smiled at him and then gasped as her head began to spin. “Oh dear....”
He reached out to steady her. “You haven’t had enough food.”
“I can’t eat. I’m too worried about Dan and the children— ”
“—being worried about you.”
Becky nodded. “I’d like to go home.”
“If you will just give me a moment to gather my things, I will pick you up again— ”
“Mingo! You don’t mean to carry me all the way back to the cabin after all....”
“Do you have any another suggestions?” He glanced at her. “I assure you I am open to any that have merit.”
Becky thought a moment. Then she sighed. “Not really....”
“Well then, milady....” He locked his rifle over his shoulder and opened his arms. “Your coach awaits.”
Dan found it hard to contain himself. He had spied something at last. Near the edge of the road there were distinct marks in the mud; one, if not two sets of feet had struck it hard and slid to the bottom of the ravine. The most likely explanation was that someone had fallen and someone else had gone to rescue them.
Dan narrowed his green eyes as he fingered the tracks and sighed. Now if he had just been alone.
The big man pivoted slowly, wondering what sort of punishment Jehovah would mete out to him for leading a reverend and a bunch of ‘righteous’ men down the wrong path.
“So, Mr. Boone. Did you find anything?”
Dan tipped his coonskin cap back and shook his head. “I think I am going to have to admit you were right, Reverend....”
The preacher’s narrow face was smug. “Yes, Mr. Boone?”
The frontiersman raised his voice so his neighbors would just happen to overhear. “About one thing. Becky and Mingo must not have come back this way. I think we are just going to have to go on lookin’ until we find them.”
The Reverend Martins eyed him suspiciously. “From what I have heard about you, Mr. Boone, you are not a man to give up this easily. This does not sound like you.”
“Well, it isn’t everyday a man’s wife disappears with his best friend.” He continued on in the same vein. “You know?”
“This heathen is your ‘best’ friend?”
“I’d say so. At least, up until now.” That last line made him squirm a bit. He knew he was adding fuel to the fire, but he needed desperately to get rid of them. Later on he would find a way to put it out, once and for all. “Reverend Martins, can we speak man to man?” He inclined his head toward the half dozen settlers who were pretending not to listen. “Apart from the others?”
The reverend nodded. “Certainly, Mr. Boone.”
They moved to the side of the trail and stopped beneath an old oak tree which was dripping with the remnants of the night’s storm. Dan placed his hand on the man’s black coat. “Now I ain’t sayin’ I believe anythin’ bad about Mingo or Becky. But I haven’t been home as much as I might, and I can see her doin’ this to sort of spite me.”
“Spite you, Mr. Boone....”
Dan pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Well, Becky is Irish, you know? By blood. When the mood suits her, that woman could go up against a polecat and scare it back a month of Sundays.” He drew closer to the preacher and lowered his voice. “Now, what I need from you, Reverend, is a little help. I’d like to send those boys on towards the west and find my wife by myself.”
“But Mr. Boone....”
“She is my responsibility, after all.” His eyebrows arced. “Isn’t that what the Good Book says?”
Dan moved even closer. “And if I have to deal with something.... Shouldn’t that be between me and her? Or me and Mingo?”
The gray-haired man thought a moment. “I suppose so.”
“Well, Reverend. What I am going to do is tell those men the signs all point away from the fort. Then I want you to take charge.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Fall back as soon as I can without being noticed, and search these woods.”
“You are not asking me to lie. Are you, Mr. Boone?”
“No, Reverend.” Dan wrapped his fingers around Tick Licker and smiled. “Just to keep your mouth shut.”
Mingo paused to draw a breath. He had been walking steadily for nearly an hour, carrying Rebecca. All around them the woods were waking. The sun was streaming down and the day was actually growing warm.
“Where are we?” the redhead asked.
“Near where you fell. The cave I took you to was actually in the opposite direction from the settlement, but I knew it was there, and so I made for it rather than hunting a closer one in the rain.”
She lifted her arms from his neck. “You can put me down now.”
“Let me try to walk. You look exhausted.”
The tall Cherokee sighed. He was exhausted. He hadn’t eaten much or slept for nearly thirty-six hours. “No. I can continue....”
“Mingo. Now.” She used the stern voice she was often forced to employ with her headstrong son. “You do remember what you told Israel?”
The raven-haired man laughed. “I surrender. This is one battle I cannot possibly win. The enemy is entirely too disarming.”
Swinging her down, he gently planted her feet on the wet earth and then watched as she put her weight on her injured leg. She glanced at him and then bit her lip and paled. A moment late she started to fall. Mingo reached out for her and lost his balance in the soggy grass, and the two of them landed in a jumbled heap on the ground.
“Well,” a familiar voice remarked casually, “perhaps there is somethin’ to those rumors after all.”
The two looked up with a start.
Daniel Boone grinned at his disheveled wife. Her hair was tumbling in matted clusters about her face. Her white skin was smeared with mud, and his favorite blue dress was ripped so her petticoats were showing.
He had never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
He nodded to his Cherokee friend who was busy trying to extricate himself from under her.
“Daniel...” The tall native cleared his throat. “Rebecca fell. We had to seek shelter for the night. This is not....”
Dan held up his hand. “No need for explanations between friends.” Then he noticed the blood smeared on Mingo’s hands and vest. “You hurt, Mingo?”
He followed his stare. “Not this time,” he said, “it’s Rebecca. She has injured her leg.”
The big man’s face had had a playful smile plastered on it, but he sobered instantly when he heard she had been hurt. He strode to his wife’s side and, handing his rifle to his friend, tenderly lifted her skirts to look at her expertly bandaged wound. After a moment, he reached out and touched her cheek. “Becky, are you all right?”
She frowned at his expression. She could tell he was angry. “Dan?”
Mingo was puzzled as well. “It was a snake, Daniel. It frightened her and she fell from the path. There is no one to blame— ”
“Oh, yes, there is.” He stood with his wife in his arms. “A different kind of snake. But one whose poison is just as deadly.”
“Let’s get Becky somewhere warm. You and I have got a little plannin’ to do.”
“Miss Thompkins. Miss Thompkins?”
The cabin door opened slowly and a puzzled gray face appeared. The woman blinked. “Why, Mr. Boone? Whatever are you doing here? And at this hour of the morning?” She was still in her cap and gown and had obviously just risen from bed a short time before.
He had his coonskin cap in his hand and was looking contrite. “Well, Miss.... My wife has a powerful need to talk to you.”
“You wife?” The spinster’s eyes widened. “You mean you found her?”
“Was she with that heathen?”
Dan seemed to frown. “Well, yes and no. I’ll let her tell you about that—you bein’ another woman and all. It seems she’d spoken with you before....at one of the choir meetin’s.”
The woman nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
Dan ran a hand through his thick hair and looked chagrinned. “I guess she decided to show me I was bein’ a mite neglectful. Overlookin’ her, you might say.”
“This was all a prank, Mr. Boone?” The woman was a bit appalled.
He winked and replaced his cap. “Well, after all, Miss...she is Irish.”
Miss Thompkins had insisted on taking a moment to throw her long coat about her nightgown, but Dan had refused to allow her time to change. Her gray hair was loose and unkempt and as they walked she hugged her Bible to her chest like a shield. Momentarily, she asked the tall man beside her, “Just exactly where is your wife, Mr. Boone? This is not the path to your cabin, is it?”
“Well, Miss. No, it isn’t. I had to leave her at the Calloways. She’s injured her leg and couldn’t walk.”
“Injured? Nothing that savage— ”
“Now Miss, I know you have it in for Mingo for some reason,” he countered, “and I ain’t sayin’ you haven’t got a right to your feelins’, but he really is a decent sort of fella.”
“He’s an Indian, Mr. Boone. The Good Book says, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.’ After all....”
Ignoring her, Dan held his hand up suddenly. “What was that?”
The woman paled. “What?”
“There. That bird. You hear it?”
She moved a tiny bit closer to him. “Isn’t that just a bobwhite?”
“Well, Miss, I think not. Not here and at this time of day.” He glanced sideways at her, hoping her wilderness training was as poor as her manners. “Might be one Cherokee or Shawnee calling to another one.”
“Indians? Here? In the broad daylight?” Her voice squeaked.
“Yes, Miss.” Dan took her hand and laid it on his arm. “Why don’t you just stay right close to me and that way I can keep you safe from harm?”
The spinster looked up at him and nodded her thanks.
Dan looked ahead. They were almost at the fork.
Now, if Mingo was just on time.
“Do you mind if I sit down, Mr. Boone? I am quite worn out. Is it much farther to the Calloways?”
“Why no, Miss.” Dan patted her hand. “How about this rock over here?” As he was leading her forward he heard the unmistakable sound of a bobwhite again, but this time the song was reversed from the normal order.
The woman jerked. “Is that another Indian?”
He frowned. “Well, it might be, Miss. Perhaps I had better— ”
“I hear something, Mr. Boone. Someone is coming through the trees!”
“Yes, they are.” He took hold of her waist and briefly met her eyes. Then he said in a loud voice, “We better get down. We wouldn’t want anyone to see us.”
A moment later the men from the settlement, led by the Reverend Martins, burst through the foliage and came to a dead stop.
Martha Potts was laying on the ground, in her nightgown, with her hair undone, underneath Daniel Boone.
“Miss Thompkins! Really!”
The woman’s eyes went wide. Dan excused himself and stood up to face the other men. His eyes sought Mingo’s. The Indian was lingering at the back of the crowd, his arms crossed; a disapproving expression on his face. He had felt it only right to tell him and Becky about the trouble the spinster had been brewing, and together they had concocted this scheme to see if they could get her to understand just how serious such unfounded accusations could be. Fortunately, it seemed, for once the settlers hadn’t tried to string his friend up. He’d have to ask Mingo later how he convinced them he was telling the truth.
As the woman began to babble, he held out his hands. “Now hold on, just what do you seem to think is goin’ on here, Reverend?”
“Well, Mr. Boone. We find you and an unmarried woman, alone in the wilderness, in a compromising position,” he glanced back at the Indian, “when we know your wife has just been rescued....”
Dan ducked his head and glanced at the shaken woman. “Well, when you put it that way. I suppose it does look kinda suspicious....”
Mingo moved through the crowd. He came to stand beside his friend. “I can assure you there is nothing to this.” He caught the woman’s eye. “Daniel told me he was going to get Miss Thompkins so she could speak with Rebecca. You already know she is at the Calloway’s. I am sure something happened to startle one or the other of them—something like a snake causing a woman to fall over a ledge or the threat of attack. Things are not always what they seem.” He held her gaze; his own uncompromising. “We wouldn’t want a woman’s reputation ruined due to idle gossip and whispers.... Now would we, Miss Thompkins?”
The older woman had grown very pale. “No.”
“I believe,” Mingo continued as he moved to tower over her and touched his finger to the muddied black leather book she held, “that the Bible says in Psalms fifty-two that ‘the tongue deviseth mischiefs, like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.” He paused to draw a breath, lifting a dark eyebrow. “And there is another one—among many—Proverbs Eighteen: twenty-one. ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.’ ”
The woman looked up at him, amazed. “You know the Bible?”
“It is a very old acquaintance of mine, Miss Thompkins. As is its author.”
“Well, it took a bit of convincing, Daniel, but once I was able to persuade them of the veracity of my tale and led them to the Calloway’s cabin where they were able to speak to Rebecca, they put the rope away.” Mingo’s grin was only half-humorous.
“Imagine. That woman thinking you and I....” Becky’s voice fell off as her husband shot her an amused look. They were back in their own home, but had left the children at the neighbors’ for the rest of the day. Israel actually had not wanted to leave the Garver’s. Their youngest daughter had taken his fancy. His father had laughed when he told her, saying they would have to drag the boy away. “Daniel Boone, what are you thinking?”
“Well, I was just thinkin’, Becky, that if you was to run away with anyone—I’m glad you had the good sense to choose Mingo. Least wise I know he could take care of you.” He paused. “Since you can’t seem to take care of yourself.”
“Ohhhh,” she threw her knitting at him. “You! You....” Her blue eyes flashed and she turned to Mingo exasperated. “Do you see what I mean?”
The tall native simply smiled and began to excuse himself.
“See what you mean?” Dan looked from one to the other. “You been talkin’ about me? The two of you?” He crossed his arms. “Now I ain’t exactly sure as that’s fair.”
“Well, Daniel. You did get to have that delightful stroll with Miss Thompkins. And though I am certain it cannot compare to a night in the woods with your lovely wife.... Still, I am certain the conversation was most stimulating. Rebecca and I....” He stopped as he met her eyes and for a moment fell silent.
Dan looked from one of them to the other.
Mingo cleared his throat. “Rebecca and I were miserable and wet the entire night, and she did nothing but talk about how much she longed to be home.” He crossed to the redhead and leaned down to plant a brotherly kiss on her hair. Then he looked at her husband. “Her heart is here, Daniel, in this house, in this place—with you. Never doubt that.”
The big man stood and came to their side. He placed one hand on Mingo’s shoulder and the other on his wife’s. “Thanks for takin’ care of her.”
The Cherokee nodded. With one last glance at Rebecca, he headed out the door.
Dan watched him go and then closed it behind him. He turned and leaned on it, and crossing his arms, looked at his wife.
“What?” Her blue eyes narrowed. “Daniel Boone, what are you thinking?”
He came and knelt beside her, taking her hand in his. He gave her a long passionate kiss and then whispered....
“That next to you, trust is the most beautiful thing in the world.”