An Unexpected Journey
by Marla F. Fair
"I am sorry I had to be the one to be here, Jemima. Daniel.... Your father should be the one delivering you to Mr. Calloway."
"Deliverin' me? You make me sound like a sack of potatoes, Mingo."
The tall native stopped and turned to look at his young charge. "I beg your pardon, Miss Boone. I should have said conveying - - "
Her full lips twitched. "So now you are going to just go and hand me off like a cart full of pelts?"
"No. That is not what I meant." He sighed, beginning to grow exasperated. Then he saw the imps in her eyes and realized she was just being Daniel's child. In other words, she was teasing him. "Or perhaps surrender might have been the better term to employ?"
Jemima laughed and tossed her brown head. "It's all right, Mingo. Flanders sometimes calls me his 'goods' anyway." She stepped over a fallen branch, lifting her skirts high.
"His 'goods'?' Mingo's dark brows lifted. "Whatever for?"
The girl shot him a knowing glance and then she let a snow-covered branch slap back into his chest.
He held up his hand. "Never mind. What I don't know, I don't have to tell your father."
The girl grinned at him and then the two of them fell silent as they continued to make their way through the dense woods that surrounded the settlement. It was late autumn and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, but the day was bright and beautiful, and it lifted their spirits as well as putting spirit in their step. They were headed for Colonel Richard Calloway's lands and the cabin which had been built there for his son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Daniel was to have taken her, but had to leave on sudden business for the Continental army. This was the last time Jemima would walk this path as a Boone, and Mingo felt curiously out of place; even uncomfortable in her father's shoes. He had accepted Rebecca's invitation to deliver... to take her reluctantly. Her mother was to join her in about a week-or as soon as her husband returned. The next time Jemima walked into Boonesborough, it would be as a bride.
"Mingo?" She had pulled ahead of him and suddenly stopped.
"How come you never got married?"
He paused and cleared his throat. "Any number of reasons...."
"Like what? Name one."
He drew a breath. "Perhaps I have never met the right woman."
"I see them lookin' at you."
He stopped moving. "I beg your pardon?"
She turned to look squarely at him and planted her hands on her hips in imitation of her mother. "The women. In the settlement."
He laughed. "Jemima, you are seeing things. I am an Indian...."
"A man's handsome if he's handsome. That's the truth, ain't it?" She tilted her head. "I've seen some of the Indian women lookin' at Pa too. It don't matter." She smiled sweetly. "Men. What's wrong with you? You don't use the brains God gave you."
Mingo cleared his throat, slightly embarrassed. A young bride on the way to greet her intended.... It was only natural her thoughts should be turning to...certain things. "Could we perhaps change the subject?"
"Well, I...." He shifted and nodded towards the horizon. "The sun is going down. We should keep moving. I want to get to the Calloways lands before nightfall."
She continued to stare at him a minute, not fooled at all by the sudden change of subject. Then she came to his side. He smiled and held his arm out, and together they began to move forward again..
Sometime later they sat beside a fire sharing a light supper. It had grown dark. The stars were shining in the heavens and Jemima was lost in thought. For some time she had been silent, sitting with her chin in her hands and her elbows on her knees, watching the dark-skinned man as he busied himself with various chores. Finally she stirred and stretched her legs before her, wiggling her toes near the warm flames.
He glanced up. He had been sharpening his hunting knife. "Yes, Jemima?"
"You never answered me."
"Oh," he sheathed the knife and looked at her, "about what?"
"About whether or not you had ever been in love."
"Oh. No, I didn't." He picked up his rifle and started to stand.
He stood very still, scanning the horizon as he hearkened to the voice of the night. Finally satisfied that everything was in order, he said, "Well what?"
She rolled her eyes. "Have you?"
"Have I what?" He hid his smile as he turned towards her.
"Been in love!" she all but shouted.
His dark eyes twinkled. The Boones were not the only ones who knew how to tease. Finally he nodded. "Many times."
"No." The girl shook her head. "Really in love. Like I am, with Flanders."
The Cherokee looked at Daniel's daughter. When she spoke the boy's name she became positively radiant. He could never have been that in love. He placed the butt of the rifle on the ground and leaned his weight on it. "I suppose I shall know no peace until I answer you."
She grinned and leaned back on her elbows. "Nope."
Mingo pursed his lips and his eyes assumed a far-away look, as though seeing through the veil of time. "Once, long ago, when I was in England, there was someone. A lovely young woman, about your age."
Her brown eyes lit with interest. "And you had to leave her? Gosh, how did you stand it? I don't know what I'd do if I had to leave Flanders, or if he left me. Do you know where she is now? Did she love you too?"
Mingo held up his hand. "Slow and steady, Jemima. That team of horses that is hitched to your tongue is bound to tire some time." He drew a breath. "Now, let me see. One. Yes, I had to leave her. Two. I stood it as best I could. Three was about you and Flanders, I believe." He shifted and sat wearily on a nearby tree stump. "Four, I don't know where she is now - the most likely scenario is that she is happily married with six or seven boisterous inquisitive children." He paused again. "And five...." His voice grew quiet. "Yes, I believe she loved me."
"Do you still love her?"
He drew another breath. He was not good at intimate conversations. Perhaps that was why he avoided prolonged contact with the opposite sex. "Sixth question and one too many," he pinned her with his dark eyes. "I think it is about time you went to sleep.... Don't you?"
She wrinkled her nose and sat up. "Was I being impertinent?"
That made him laugh. "Where did you become acquainted with that term?"
"Ma. She says impertinence is in the blood of the Bryan women." The girl hesitated. "I'm sorry, Mingo. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
He shifted off the log and leaned back against it, settling in with his rifle on his knees. "Oh, I am not embarrassed, Jemima. It is just - "
"Yes, you are. You're blushin'." She swallowed hard and her hand went to her lips. "I'm sorry. Did I do it again?"
His fingers closed on the cold metal and polished wood as she pulled a blanket tight about her shoulders and quickly lay down to sleep.
"Good night, Jemima." He stared at her a moment and the whispered quietly, "And yes, you did."
An hour or two later something awoke him. He was instantly alert and on his feet. After surveying the immediate area, he glanced at the sleeping girl. She lay curled in a ball beneath the brightly patterned blanket he had brought with them, her brown curls spilling about her pale white face. He gripped his firearm tight and waited. It was his call. Leave her to seek out the danger, or stay put and let it come to them.
He almost jumped. His dark head turned. Jemima was sitting up, the blanket clutched beneath her chin. He stepped around the smoldering embers of the small fire and moved to her side. Once there he crouched down so they could speak softly. "Yes, Jemima?"
"There's somethin' out there, isn't there?"
He nodded. "I believe so. Or some one."
"Maybe it's just an animal."
He frowned. Most likely one on two feet. He thought he had heard a twig snap. The creatures who dwelt in the forest-panthers, bears and wolves-seldom if ever snapped twigs. He pulled his knife from its sheath and handed it to her handle first. "Can you use this?"
She stared at the large sharp weapon and then took it in both of her small hands. A grin lit her face. "I am Daniel Boone's daughter, you know."
Mingo looked at her determined face and laughed. He touched her arm briefly. "Yes, I know. No one would ever think anything else." He stood then and took a step towards the fallen trunk. "I need to make a quick circuit of the woods. Will you be all right?"
Jemima nodded once. It wasn't very convincing..
He turned back. "Are you certain? Would you rather come with me?"
She stood quickly. "Can I?"
The Cherokee drew a breath. "Perhaps it would be better if you did." He nodded as he accepted his knife back and noted her relieved expression. "I cannot protect you if you are here alone."
"And I can't look out for you either."
Mingo was caught off-guard. He had misjudged her. She wasn't afraid. She was worried about him. He smiled gently and gave her a little bow. "Come take your place, Miss Boone. By my side. We shall go together."
As they moved warily through the close-set trees, glancing from side to side, the young girl whispered, "I always wondered what you and Pa did when you went off into the woods; when we were camping or hunting and Ma and I would stay behind with Israel. Did you just walk in circles like this and," her head jerked to the left as an owl hooted, "jump at every sound?"
"Ah, that is a great part of what men do." He laughed. "We spend much of our lives walking in circles. And we do jump-though not quite so quickly as the female of the species."
Jemima nodded, deadly serious. "I thought so. Ma says men are just as afraid as women. They are just too afraid to show it."
Mingo paused as he checked a thick bush that had been rustling with the barrel of his rifle. It had only been the wind. "Your mother is a woman of wisdom. You will be the same. Your Flanders is quite a fortunate young man."
The girl fell silent for a moment. "You really think so?"
The tall native stopped and turned to look at her. "Jemima. You are a most remarkable young woman."
Her eyes went to the forest floor. "I'm just ordinary. I'm not smart like you, or beautiful like Ma. Or even bright like Israel." She toed the ground with her shoe. "Sometimes I wonder what it is Flanders sees in me."
Mingo closed his eyes briefly. This was neither the place nor the time for a deep discussion. With one eye on the ever-shifting foliage, he said, "Jemima, look at me."
She hesitated and then lifted her eyes. "Yes?"
"You are beautiful. Why, look at you." He stepped back and held his hand out, encompassing her frame. "Your figure is lovely. You are intelligent and quick-witted. But what is more, you have a sweet and disarming personality. Why, in the courts of London the young men would be vying for your hand."
The girl's lips quirked in a tiny smile. "Would they fight duels over me, you think?"
He grinned. "My Lady, the line of suitors laying at your feet would rival your father's winter catch. Although the pelts of the nobility of England are not quite so attractive as beaver, and they smell considerably worse...."
She giggled. "You're silly."
"I am serious. Don't underestimate...."
He saw her face darken. "What?"
She pointed and he pivoted to find several painted faces glaring at them from out of the underbrush. He recognized the cut of their buckskins and the distinctive way they wore their raven locks.
"Don't move, Jemima."
She caught hold of his arm and drew close. "Who are they?"
The tall native sighed as he pitched his rifle to the ground and held up his hands.
"No! Let me go! Mingo!"
The dark-haired man gritted his teeth and turned his head. The Shawnee had turned out to belong to a small hunting party. There was one older man-perhaps twenty-five-and another four or five younger bucks. If he had been alone, he could have handled them with ease, but with Jemima in peril, he had had to surrender his weapons and allow them to stake him to the ground. They had stripped him of his shirt, his knife and his whip, and doused him with cold water and were now laughing and whooping as they turned to leave with their female captive in tow.
"Jemima! Don't fight them. They won't hurt you if you cooperate. I will come for you!"
The girl screamed again as one of the young braves kicked the Cherokee in the side to silence him. Then he pulled his knife and held it at his throat.
"You leave him alone!" she shouted. "I'll go with you. Just don't hurt him!"
The Shawnee glanced at the older man and then back to her. "What is he to you? This Cherokee dog?"
"He's...." The girl stuttered. "He's...." She fell silent, at a loss for words.
"Does he belong to you?"
Jemima stifled a sob as tears run down her face.
"Yes. He does."
The moon was riding high in the sky, bathing the Kentucky wilderness with its cool white light. Jemima sat huddled in a blanket across the fire from the young brave who had asked her about Mingo, watching him watch her. She bit her lip and whispered a quick prayer. She was worried about the older man. She knew the braves had left him soaking wet, and knew as well it had grown cold enough that the dew had frozen on the leaves that whispered above her head. She had to get back to him before something bad happened. The hunting party had marched her about five hours to the north, in the direction opposite the Calloways, and she figured they were taking her back to their village. Since they were Shawnee, that was probably near the Ohio border. She shivered and hugged her arms tight about her chest. So far they hadn't done anything to her.
Her eyes flicked the young Indian who watched her. She just hoped it stayed that way.
As she shivered again the brave rose to his feet and came to her side. He stood looking down at her for a moment, and then crouched before her and offered her a strip of charred rabbit meat.
"I'm not hungry." She shook her head.
He held it out again.
"You must eat."
"I said, I'm not hungry."
He frowned. "You will not be able to walk if you do not eat."
"I don't want to walk." She pointed to the north. "At least not in that direction."
He followed her finger. "That direction is home."
She shook her head. "Not for me."
The young Indian rocked back on his heels and stared at her. Then he reached out to touch her light brown hair. She batted his hand away before she had time to think of what she was doing. As he frowned, she cringed and pulled away, expecting to be struck or maybe even scalped. Instead the young man smiled and reached out for her again.
She hit him again. Harder.
He laughed. "You are brave. You will make a good wife. And have brave sons."
Jemima closed her eyes, thinking of Flanders. They were to have arrived in the morning. He would be so worried when they didn't. Maybe he would even set out to look for her. "I guess I'll never know," she spat back. "Because of you I may never have a husband. I was on my way to get married when you took me." She drew a deep breath and pleaded as tears entered her eyes. "Won't you let me go? Please...."
He held the meat out again. "Eat. The march is long tomorrow. If you fall behind they will kill you." He tossed his head at the other braves who were sitting in a close circle across the small clearing.
Daniel Boone's daughter bit her lip. They, he had said. Not we. She gazed into his eyes without fear and then, mustering everything her father had taught her, asked sweetly, "You mean you wouldn't?"
The young brave's dark eyes gleamed as she reached out and took the meat he offered and began to chew on it. He reached for her hair again and she didn't pull away as he fingered the light brown curls. "I do not wish you...harm."
Jemima batted her lashes. She smiled at him. "Thank you And thank you...for this." She took another bite of the meat. "It's very good. You are a mighty hunter."
The young brave beamed. "I will get you more."
She watched as he walked away. He was hardly more than a boy. Probably her age or maybe even a little younger. He was really kind of handsome in a dark earthy sort of way. Jemima drew a breath as she thought of Flanders and just how easy it was to turn his head. Sometimes with just the turn of an ankle. This boy was probably not that much different after all.
Mingo pulled at the straps that held him down. He was trembling, not only from the cold, but from exhaustion and fear; fear for Daniel's young daughter. It did not take much imagination to know what the braves who had taken her had in mind. He had to get loose. Had to stop them. Still, as he continued to work the leather thongs that bound his wrists, he realized it was hopeless. The Shawnee had been expert at their work.
Beyond hope, he rested his head on the cold hard earth, and in time, passed out of consciousness.
"Could you and I...maybe go somewhere more private?"
The young Indian brave frowned. "Pri-vate?"
She leaned forward as she took another piece of roasted rabbit from his fingers and turned her large brown eyes on him. "Alone?"
Understanding dawned in his eyes. Then he gazed at his fellow hunters. They were not paying any attention, but were busy casting dice on the ground. When he turned back, she had her hand out, waiting for him to take it. He did so immediately, and pulled her to her feet. The older man who led the party saw, out of the corner of his eye, the two of them rise and begin to move into the bushes. He elbowed his companion and laughed. A moment later the entire party broke into laughter and the game continued uninterrupted.
Jemima counted her steps as they walked away, seeking to keep her composure. She was playing a dangerous game, but it was one she was determined to win. Her Pa had always told her the Indians were like children. She knew she had fooled this one into thinking she liked him, but she could upset him just as easily-in a second-and then his interest in her would turn to anger. In less time than it would take to bring an ax down on a chicken's neck, she could be dead.
She glanced at his waist as they continued to move and saw he had a knife hanging from his belt-and a piece of twine. He also wore a pouch and carried a skin that was probably used to hold water. If she could just get the knife from him, she could use it, and then tie him up and run away.
Jemima looked sideways at him and wondered just how much like Flanders he really was.
As he began to slow down, looking for a soft spot, she took a step forward and, listing slightly to one side, gave a little yelp. Then she went down. After hitting the ground, she rolled over and sat up, and-lifting her skirts to reveal her legs-grabbed her ankle with both hands. Then she began to cry.
The young Indian stared at her for a moment at a loss and then squatted on the ground.
She turned her big brown eyes on him as more tears rolled down her cheeks. "I think it's broken," she whispered.
His eyes weren't on her ankles, but on her legs.
She shifted, daring to lift the skirt a little higher. "Can you see? Is the bone through the skin?" Jemima sniffed and ran her hand along her leg slowly. "I can't tell." The young brave was staring at her, mesmerized. She reached toward him and took his hand in hers. "Here. Why don't you see if you can find out...."
As he leaned forward and his hand began to run up, instead of down her leg, she snatched his knife and brought it up under his chin. He drew a breath and froze in surprise.
"Flanders tried that once and I gave him a black eye," she snarled. "And I love him."
Mingo stirred. The birds were singing in the trees and the sun was shining. It's warm rays had melted the dew on the trees and caused the fresh cold water to drip from the leaves onto his face, waking him. He shifted and bit back a moan. His muscles were exhausted. He was thirsty and hungry and-worst of all-without hope. Closing his eyes he let his head sink back to the ground.
It was better that he die than face Daniel. He would never forgive him, and rightly so.
He would never forgive himself.
Suddenly he heard a rustling of leaves and the sound of someone moving hurriedly through the trees. Painfully he lifted his head and nearly passed out again as a very disheveled but very alive Jemima Boone came hurtling into the glade.
"Jemima!" he whispered, his throat hoarse.
"Mingo! Oh, Mingo, thank God you're alive!" The girl fell to her knees beside him and began to saw through the thongs that bound him to the stakes which the Shawnee had pounded into the ground. "I'll have you loose in a minute...."
"Jemima, no! Keep running. They must be right behind you- "
"No." She cut through one of the restraints and fell backwards onto her bottom. Without stopping to take a breath, she shifted onto her knees and started on the next one. "I've been running for about five hours. I never heard anyone." She paused and the impish glint that spoke of her Irish heritage returned to her eyes. "I think the brave I got away from will be way too embarrassed to tell them what happened."
Mingo's dark eyes narrowed as he sat up stiffly and rubbed his wrists. "Jemima Boone, what have you done?"
She smiled as she sliced through the third thong.
"I believe I was...impertinent."
"No. No, you must let me...."
"Mingo, no. You mind me and sit there while I fix you some tea." She opened the pouch she had taken from the young Indian when she had left him tied up in the bushes and dropped a few of the dried herbs she recognized into the pot. "You were pretty near froze to death."
He pulled the blanket close about his shoulders and sighed. He had insisted they move away from the glade and the place where he had been lying before stopping to rest and refresh themselves. He was still not warm, even though they had kindled a new fire and he was sitting perilously close to it. "Thank you, Jemima."
The girl looked up.
"For saving me."
She stopped, clutching the stick she was using to stir the leaves in the pot. Then she smiled. "I did. Didn't I?"
He laughed and then coughed before saying, "In my village you would be honored as a war woman. It is not an easy thing to overcome a Shawnee brave."
"He was just a silly boy. Like any other." She shook her head. "They only want one thing."
Mingo tensed, sensing they were entering dangerous territory. "Is there something I shouldn't know, so I don't have to tell your father?"
She stared at him a minute and then blushed. "Gosh, no. I wouldn't.... I didn't...."
An awkward silence fell between them. The girl rose and brought him a cup of tea and then returned to tend the fire. He watched her, realizing at that moment how much of a woman she had become. Her hair was undone, the brown waves tumbling lose about her face. She had scratches on her cheeks and dirt caked on her hands.
But she was beautiful.
A moment later he shifted and sighed. "Jemima, will you come here?" As the young girl looked up, the Cherokee stifled a smile. She suddenly looked like the child he had first met so many years before. "You are not in trouble, my dear. You can wipe that horrified look off of your face."
She laughed self-consciously and said, "I was makin' some more tea. It will burn dry."
"Let it. I want to talk to you."
Jemima bit her lip and brushed the hair out of her eyes. Then she pulled the pot off of the fire. A moment later she stood and walked to his side.
"Sit. Here, by me."
She did. Near him, but with a space of two or three feet between them.
He paused and then drew a deep long breath that he let out in a sigh. "Jemima, this is not easy for me. You know that, don't you?"
"What?" She blinked.
"I am not your father. He should be here."
"Well," she shrugged, "he's not."
Mingo smiled. The directness of a child in a woman's frame. "I am troubled by what you said about men only wanting one thing. Do you really believe that?"
She shrugged again. "I don't know. I guess so...."
"Is that all Flanders wants?"
She was silent a minute. "It's a part of it."
"But you have said 'no' to him?" Mingo held his breath and waited. He would rather have faced down the entire Shawnee nation than sat there, across from her, anticipating her answer.
She bit her lip. "Yes. I told him he has to wait."
"And rightly so." The Cherokee nodded, relieved. "And still he wants to marry you. Why do you think that is?"
"Well," she thought a moment. "To be with me. To share things, I guess. Like Ma and Pa do."
"And bad." She paused and pushed the hair out of her eyes again. Then she looked into his. "Life's funny, you know that?"
He shifted. "Is it?"
She nodded. "Like the Shawnee taking me. If they hadn't I wouldn't have realized how much you mean to me."
Mingo was stunned. This was not what he had expected. "What do you mean?"
"You remember, when that brave put his knife to your throat. He asked if you belonged to me."
The Cherokee nodded. "I remember you said 'yes'."
Jemima smiled sweetly. Then she reached out and laid her hand on his arm. "You do. You belong to me and Israel. And to Ma and Pa. I don't know what we'd do without you. You're always there when we need you. Like now." She squeezed his sleeve and added softly, "If I can't have Pa, I'm glad you're here with me."
The dark-haired man closed his eyes. Even if he hadn't been weak and exhausted, there would have been tears in them.
"It's all right." She shifted closer and leaned her head on his shoulder. "You don't need to say anything."
For a long time they sat together in the stillness of the morning, listening as the world awoke and the birds sang joyfully in the trees, heralding the new day. Finally Jemima took the Indian's hand and closed her fingers about it.
"That girl in England..."
He laid his hand on her hair. "Yes."
"I bet she's waiting for you."
He smiled. "Oh, you think so?"
"She'd be crazy if she didn't."
That afternoon as they moved slowly forward they ran into Flanders Calloway and his father and several other men. The boy was as disheveled and unkempt as his intended and looked as if it had been him who had been kidnapped by the Shawnee instead of his bride-to-be. Jemima ran to his arms when she saw him and hugged him tight, and then with a glance at Mingo to make sure he was being looked after, she took his hand and began to walk with him towards his father's farm and the future.
The tall Indian waved her on and then attempted to swallow over the lump in his throat.
"Thank you, Daniel," he whispered, "for this unexpected journey."
Jemima had been right. Life was funny.
He could not have loved her more had she been his own.