The Beast by Marla F. Fair
Mingo frowned as he crouched in the tall brown grasses that lined the stream which ran beside the Cherokee village of Chota. Though the people of the village were walking the well beaten paths before their lodges and going about their daily business, something was wrong. At first he could not place what. Then he realized it had nothing to do with the sights of Chota, and everything to do with its *sound*.
There was none.
It was as if those he watched had drawn a collective breath, choosing to remain silent.
Beside him Daniel Boggs shifted uneasily and said, “I don’t like the feel of this.”
Mingo’s lips curled in an appreciative smile. The frontiersman had sharp senses. “All is not well.”
“Do you know what it is?”
Mingo shook his head. Then, in a flash, it came to him.
There were no children.
Rising up on his knees, Mingo looked again. The old women were busy grinding corn. Their younger selves – their daughters – were kneading the dough and cooking cakes over the fire. Their husbands, the young men, were occupied honing their weapons and their fathers – the elders of the tribe with their gnarled faces and wisdom eyes – were clustered close together speaking quietly among themselves.
Of a child – male or female – there was no sign.
Mingo turned back toward his companion. “Where are the children?” he asked.
Sergeant Boggs took a look and then quickly returned to a crouching position. “Hiding? Hidden?” he asked.
Mingo thought about it a moment. If there was a threat of imminent danger, the children would have been removed to a place of safety – but the women would have gone as well. The fact that they remained suggested that they – the children’s mothers and grandmothers – were the ones who had made the choice to remove and hide them from view. “Hidden,” he answered at last. “For some unknown purpose. The threat of the wolves, perhaps? Of this Beast?”
The touch of fingers on his arm made Mingo turn toward the other man. “It’s a beast, all right,” Sergeant Boggs agreed, nodding toward the village. “A very familiar kind of beast….”
Mingo looked. A party of some six or seven men was emerging from Menewa’s lodge.
Men in scarlet coats.
“Redcoats!” he breathed.
Boggs nodded. “Some of the same ones that chased us early on, if I’m not mistaken. What do you think they’re doing here, Mingo? You said your uncle had no love of the English.”
“Seeking aid, perhaps, though they will not find it here. Or more likely, information. My people have tales of changeling wolves. And no love of this ‘beast’ who walks their forest.” He rocked back on his heels so the shadows cast by the leafy foliage covered him. “The white settlers are not the only ones who have had women and children butchered.”
“Is that your chief?” Boggs asked.
Mingo glanced toward his uncle’s lodge. Menewa had emerged, in full dress, wearing his otter-skin cap with its white crane feathers, and bearing the swan staff of his office. The older man’s stern countenance broadcast his displeasure. “Yes, that is Menewa. He is the people’s voice, and the people also have no love of Redcoats.”
Sergeant Boggs’ light eyes reflected his concern. “This isn’t good. Redcoats this close to the Boone home. Maybe we were right in the first place. Maybe the Redcoats do know about the General’s presence here.”
Mingo considered it, then shook his head. “Daniel, you’re jumping to a conclusion we cannot verify. It could just as easily be a coincidence.”
“How old are you, Mingo?” Sergeant Boggs asked unexpectedly.
Mingo’s black brows rose sharply as he turned toward the other man. “I beg your pardon?”
“Just answer the question,” Boggs answered with a smile.
He shrugged. “I really don’t know precisely. My father said I was born somewhere around seventeen forty-four or five.”
“So, over thirty.”
“Yes.” Mingo’s frown deepened. Where was this leading?
Boggs pursed his lips and cocked one sandy brow. “Many Indians make it to thirty?”
“No. What in the world…. Ah!” Mingo laughed. “I have it now. You mean to say – ”
“I mean to say that a man of your years – and experience – knows better than to believe in ‘coincidence’. There is no such thing. There is Providence, and there are evil men hell-bent on obstructing its plans.” Sergeant Daniel Boggs hooked his rifle strap over his shoulder and adjusted the gun so it rested on his back, and then began to crawl along the edge of the tall grasses. After a moment, he glanced back. “I want to know what your chief knows, Mingo. You coming?”
Mingo hid his grin. In many ways Daniel Boggs was like Daniel Boone – determined, sure of himself. No nonsense. He liked the man.
He just hoped that Sergeant Boggs – unlike Daniel Boone – had a plan.
“You aren’t leavin’ here, either of you!” Jemima Boone put her hands on her hips and sighed so hard her bangs flew up from her forehead. She was standing in the middle of the Boone cabin staring at two ornery cusses – in other words, her brother, Israel, and Major General Lafayette.
“Mima, ain’t nothin’ wrong with me!” Israel protested. Her brother was pale as a puddle of cow’s milk and trembling, but he was on his feet and halfway dressed. “There’s men’s work to be done!”
“When I see a man, I’ll ask him to do it!” she snapped back. Then she turned her attention to her other charge. The dark-haired Frenchman was on his feet as well, but fairing worse than her brother. General Lafayette was balanced precariously between the straight-back chair she had placed beside his bed and the bedstead itself. “And you,” she added, softening her tone, “you’ll kill yourself if you don’t rest. Henry said so.”
Lafayette’s gaze flicked about the room. He looked confused. He had only just awakened, perhaps a half hour before, after his fever had broken. “Henry?” he asked. “Henry is here?”
“He’s gone to find some medicinal plants Ma didn’t have in the chest. He told me to make sure you didn’t leave.” Her tone pleaded with him. “Please, get back in bed, Mr. Lafayette, the Cause needs you – ”
“The Cause?” The Frenchman bristled. “The Cause! And what exactly is ‘the Cause’, Mademoiselle Boone? It is a promise, an oath binding one to protect and preserve the life and liberty of others. Your mother is in danger. Your father and Mingo – who are just as important to the ‘Cause’ as I am – they are in peril! Not to mention my friends. I cannot sit here and do nothing!”
“The General’s right,” Israel added with a sniff as he snapped one of his suspenders into place. “We ain’t gonna take this lyin’ down. Are we, General?”
“Certainement, Private Boone. We are not!”
“And I suppose you great big strong men don’t care one little whit what happens to me?” Jemima asked, her tone changing as she tried another tact.
“Ce qui?” the general asked, frowning. “What?”
Jemima batted her eyelashes and tried to look demure. “You intend to leave me here alone? Defenseless?”
“You ain’t defenseless, Mima!” her brother declared defiantly as he pushed his arm into his coat. “Why, I seen you shoot the whiskers off a beaver at thirty paces before!”
Lafayette, on the other hand, looked defeated. “Henry is here,” he protested weakly.
“And you think Henry Abington can protect me against the likes of Jean Paul Devereux? And maybe the Redcoats and Indians to boot?” Jemima pouted – just a little bit. “I guess if you think so. You are a general after all.”
“Mon Dieu!” Lafayette declared as he fell back to the bed. Jemima watched as his gaze went to Israel. “At ease, Private Boone. It seems we will not be going on the march after all.”
At that moment there was a knock at the door. Jemima hurried over and, after getting the proper response to her question, unbarred it and admitted Henry Abington whose arms were laden with a bower of herbs and plants. The slightly plump New Englander was puffing with the effort. Henry’s red-brown hair was askew – a good half of it broken free of its brown ribbon to trail into his eyes. His gold-rimmed glasses were perched on the top of his head and slightly askew. He lowered them and looked at her first. Then his eyes went to Lafayette. And from there to her brother. The two were sitting submissively on their beds. Israel’s arms were wound tightly about his chest and he was pouting. Lafayette looked as if he had just suffered a major military defeat.
Henry looked at her and asked.
“Did I miss something?”
Rebecca Boone sat with her arms wrapped around her knees. Her wrists were bound as well as her ankles. She sat where Jean Paul Devereux had placed her just as the sun deserted the sky, beneath a tall weeping willow whose low hanging branches brushed the frosty ground. They had traveled in circles for most of the day until, when they stopped, she could not be certain where they were. She thought they were not very far from where they had started, but that was just a gut feeling. Jean Paul had secured her and than gone to sit on a flat boulder that jutted out over the narrow stream like a gray chin. About two hours before he had reached into his coat and produced a silver flask.
Then he set to drinking.
Becky shifted and licked dried blood from the corner of her lower lip. Before they arrived at this place the Frenchman had struck her for trying to make a break. They had traveled for hours through the thickly forested land. When they reached the top of a steep ravine, she had thrown herself down it without hesitation, rolling over rock and thorny underbrush in a desperate attempt to escape. For a moment, as she ran along the bottom of the slope, she thought she was free. Then Jean Paul Devereux had arisen from the tall brown grasses like The Devil incarnate to catch her in a steely grip. The villain backhanded her, knocking her senseless. When she awakened it was here, beneath this tree, trussed like a prize pig awaiting the slaughter.
“Dan,” she sighed, “come soon.”
“What was that, Madame Boone?” Jean Paul had slipped off the rock’s surface and was approaching her. The sun’s dying gasp caught him and lit his sharp features, painting him a fiend. “Did you beckon?” he asked even as he stumbled.
Becky bit her lip and tried to gauge just how intoxicated he was. From all appearance, the Frenchman was far gone. Still, she knew from experience how a quick judgment could bring disaster. A man might seem to be so far in his cups that he was incapable of movement one second and then, in the next, would awaken to take you by the throat.
The frontier was a hard teacher.
But a good one.
Becky shifted so the light of the rising moon temptingly caressed her shoulders and chest. Then, in a small petulant and inviting voice, she said, “My hands hurt. The rope is too tight.”
Jean Paul halted some two yards away from her. He tipped his head back, apparently to drain the flask dry. As he wiped his lip and capped it, he replied, “And what am I to do about it? Untie you?”
Becky’s teeth worked their way further into the bruised flesh of her lip. Devereux had bound both her hands and feet, but had not linked them together. She had some range of movement.
If she could just get him to come close enough….
“I thought, maybe,” she continued in the demure, come-hither voice, “you could loosen them? After all, a strong determined man like you certainly has nothing to fear from the likes of someone like me.” Becky batted her eyelashes. “Besides, with my feet and hands tied, I can’t go anywhere, now can I? I am completely in your power.”
Jean Paul’s words slurred, thick with liquor and hunger. “This is a trick. No?”
“No,” Becky answered firmly. “You’re too smart for that. I tried to escape and look where it got me.” She held up her hands. “Please.”
The Frenchman eyed her hungrily as he tucked the flask back in his coat. She could only hope that the drink – and his lust – would prove stronger than his naturally suspicious nature.
“I’m waiting,” she said.
Jean Paul stumbled as he drew near and then came to a halt before her. Becky held very still, careful not to transmit her fear and loathing as his fingers trailed along her neck and down her shoulder before reaching awkwardly for the ropes that bound her wrists. She watched her enemy closely, as Dan had taught her, calculating her next move.
She only had one shot.
As Jean Paul Devereux leaned over her, his intoxication throwing him slightly off-balance, Becky drew a deep breath, bit her lip hard and then, leaning forward, brought both hands up between his legs with all the strength she had.
The Frenchman yelped and crumbled. She knew she had only a moment before he would recover. Catching sight of the silver flask that had fallen from his coat, she caught it in her fingers and brought the edge of the hard metal container down on her captor’s skull with a satisfying thud. Jean Paul groaned. He stared at her briefly as if amazed, and then closed his eyes and slumped unconscious to the grass.
“I’m sure your mother told you that liquor is bad for you,” Becky smirked in triumph as she tossed the flask aside. Searching the pouch at his belt she located a knife and, wedging it between two stones, used the blade to free her hands and then her feet.
Then, without another look at the unconscious Frenchman, Rebecca Boone turned and fled into the trees.
Tekawitha McCloud sat in Menewa’s lodge close by its rear wall, awaiting her adopted father’s return. Menewa had defied the British officers and insisted she remain during their interview. Every time she was forced into contact with white men, she found she liked them less. Although, she had to admit, she still had a soft place in her heart for the big frontiersman, Daniel Boone. When he had found out she was the daughter of his former sweetheart, taken as a child by the Indians, Daniel Boone had become determined to return her to her mother’s people – in spite of her own wishes to the contrary. Still, Boone’s motives had been pure and noble. He had only wanted to help.
Unlike these men.
The British soldiers only wanted to help themselves.
Tekawitha shifted and started to rise, determined to take a look outside and see what was keeping Menewa. She stopped as, unexpectedly, strong fingers reached through a chink low in the wall of the lodge to grip her ankle. Trained by her adopted people, the Cherokee, not to shout in fear or yelp with alarm, she swallowed the scream that welled up within her and pivoted sharply and brought her foot down on the man’s hand.
“Show yourself!” she demanded.
“Tekawitha, it is I. Mingo,” a soft voice answered with a grunt of pain.
She knew that. She should have known it by his touch alone. Mingo’s hand had comforted her so many times as she fought her way through grief and doubt to find her way back to his people, and as she sought to let go of the longing for her first home that Daniel Boone’s ‘pure and noble’ motives had stirred within her.
“Mingo!” she yelped, lifting her foot and releasing his hand. “You must go. There are Redcoats here!”
“I know,” his melodic voice answered. “Do you know what they want?”
She knelt and pressed her hand against the wall. “They seek a man. A dark man from France.”
“Did they give the man a name?” a stranger’s voice inquired.
Tekawitha frowned. “Mingo. Who is that?”
“Sergeant Daniel Boggs. A friend.” Mingo paused and then said, firmly. “Answer his question, my sister.”
She smiled. They were really more like cousins, since Menewa was Mingo’s uncle and her adopted father. But Mingo always called her his ‘sister’ to make her feel that she belonged. “Devereux,” she said. “Jean, I think. Maybe Paul….”
There was a pause. Then Mingo asked, “Is that all? They mentioned no one else?”
Tekawitha frowned as she tried to remember all of the heated words that had flown between the English soldiers and her father. “No. I don’t think so. Why?”
Mingo’s voice rang with a little of its usual music, as if her answer pleased him. “My friend here has another friend. We were concerned that he was their intended target. If not – if the Redcoats are truly after only Devereux then, in a strange way, we and the British have become allies.”
“Can you tell me what is happening?” she asked as she spread a bit of the mud and branches that lined the lodge’s wall apart with her fingers so she could see his face. “Mingo?”
His dark eyes shone in the moonlight and he smiled as he caught hold of her fingers. “Tekawitha, if we are successful in stopping Devereux, you will know. But now, there is no time. Sergeant Boggs and I must go. We must follow the Redcoats and see what mischief they are up to. Tell my uncle what we do.”
“Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Mingo paused and then laughed. “Can you locate some of my clothes and pass them through the opening? I find I have had my fill of being a Redcoat.”
Her eyes widened as she noted his scarlet coat. She nodded and went to a wooden chest and drew out some of the clothing Menewa kept there. As Mingo thanked her, she squeezed his fingers and then released them. “The Creator keep you safe from harm, my brother,” Tekawitha whispered.Then she rose to her feet and went to find her adopted father to deliver his sister-son’s message.
Several miles away Rebecca Boone hesitated on a foot-worn path in an attempt to get her bearings. She had traveled by moonlight for some time – circling back, darting through trees, climbing over rock falls and natural fences – fearful that Jean Paul Devereux would somehow predict her course, that he would out pace her and be waiting around the bend.
So far her fears had proven unfounded.
Unfortunately the night had grown cloudy with the promise of more snow, and there were few stars to steer her course by. Becky thought she was headed in the direction of the cabin, but couldn’t be certain. She had just made a decision to plop down on the crisp grass and admit defeat when the moon unexpectedly broke free of its cloudy mooring to cast a cold light over the forested land. Seizing the opportunity, she moved with haste along the frosty path only to halt a few minutes later when she sensed motion ahead. Palming a thick branch that lay on the ground and using an old oak trunk as a screen, she waited and watched as a slender upright figure sprinted past, heading back the direction she had come.
A slender upright figure followed by a pack of fleet, four-footed gray and black shadows.
“Merle,” Becky breathed. No doubt the Frenchwoman was on the track of Jean Paul Devereux. Feeling rather uncharitable Becky wished her well, and then turned her attention once again to the path before her. It was an old Indian trail, well used and beaten flat by the passage of hundreds of years of feet wearing moccasins. All too aware of the innate wisdom of the Kentucky’s original inhabitants, she put her foot to it, knowing it would most likely lead her to a pond or salt lick.
And from there to her home.
Before she could move a light flickered into existence down the path, its golden glow running along the frosted tips of the leafy underbrush toward her. She waited, breathless, knowing she couldn’t outrun whoever it was.
They were too close.
Seconds later there was shout and several men appeared. Their faces were blessedly familiar. They were from Boonesborough. The men were armed with pitchforks and hoes, knives, and what looked to be at least half of the firearms from the armory. As their torchlight struck her, she heard several in-drawn breaths and one blessedly familiar voice. A moment later a man with a straggly beard and tricorn hat appeared, his hands wrapped lovingly around the stock of his ancient blunderbuss.
“Cincinnatus!” she exclaimed with relief.
“Ree-becca Boone! What in tarnation are you doin’ out here? Is Dan’l with you?” Cincinnatus hurried to her side. “It ain’t safe out here in these woods, Becky. Not with that Beast on the loose!”
Could he mean Merle? Had they been chasing the swift-footed Frenchwoman and her kin.
“Beast?” she asked innocently.
“The one that’s been tearin’ up the God-fearin’ folk of our town!” One of the men, a distant neighbor she recognized named Willam McFadden pushed forward and declared, “That she-devil! Leadin’ a pack of devils!”
“No! You have it wrong,” Becky protested, facing him. “Merle is good. She’s trying to stop the man who is doing the killing. His name is –”
“So you know her by name!” Will McFadden declared as he seized her arm. “Maybe she’s bewitched you! I bet you know where she is. Tell us. Now!”
Becky had begun to shake. “I don’t know where she is, just that she’s trying to stop Devereux. You have to listen to me! Please….”
McFadden looked at her and then spit on the ground before shoving her toward Cincinnatus. The tavernkeeper caught her before she could stumble to the ground. “You keep her out of the way, old man! Bullets will be flyin’ soon. We wouldn’t want Dan’l Boone’s woman getting’ hit by accident, now would we?”
She fought against her friend’s grip. “No! Cincinnatus, let me go! Merle – ”
“Think of what Dan’l would want you to do,” he whispered close to her ear. “Think of your children. They need you.”
She stiffened and stopped struggling. Cincinnatus was right. Her children needed her. And even though Merle needed her too, there was really little she could do for her – and the Frenchwoman had already proven she was more than capable of taking care of herself. Jemima and Israel were probably terrified. Most likely they thought she was dead.
Becky nodded her head. “All right.”
“How’d you come to be out here, anyhow, Rebecca?” he asked as he linked his arm in hers and turned her toward home.
“It’s a long story,” she answered, feeling suddenly incredibly weary.
Cincinnatus patted her hand and then placed his arm about her shoulders to hold her up. “Well, we got a long walk back. So you can tell it nice and slow….”
Mingo nodded to Sergeant Boggs and the two of them moved toward the tents pitched close by the edge of the stream. They had followed the Redcoats as they left Chota, traveling through the night until the sun crested on the eastern horizon, announcing the dawn, and the soldiers made camp. Just as the day broke they arrived at this place.
Boggs nodded back and then slipped into the cast shadows by the largest tent. Mingo followed, but halted quickly as a shadow passed over the side of the tent – not the shadow of a bird or leafy branch –
But the shadow of a man.
“Boggs!” His whisper was fierce. At the sound of it Sergeant Boggs pivoted. The frontiersman’s face shone white in the dawning light for an instant, and then he rolled to the side and disappeared into the underbrush.
It was only then that Mingo realized it was he who was in danger,
“Hands up! Turn around and stand up! Come into the light!”
The words were barked by an inexperienced British private whose hands were shaking on the gun.
Mingo pivoted slowly and did as he was told. As he stood, the light fell on a figure half cast in shadow behind the young man. It was a British colonel. Most likely the one in charge and the owner of the tent.
The man moved in front of the private and cocked his head, staring at him. The stare went on for several heartbeats and just as Mingo began to feel uncomfortable, the man slapped his thigh and declared.“Good Lord! If it isn’t ‘in-a-hurry-Murray’! From Oxford!”