Beloved Ghost: Chapter 3

by Marla F. Fair

 

 

"It has been a long time, Kerr."

Mingo's dark head came up. He gazed at the man who had left Daniel's cabin and was walking to his side. It was like seeing a ghost. "Hugh." He nodded and a sigh escaped him. "Yes, it has been that." Mingo turned slowly. He had been leaning on the fence near his friend's barn, watching the moon ride high above the trees. Anything to stay out of the cabin. "And I no longer use that name. I am not that man." He hesitated as a sad smile touched his lips. "Or boy."

"Cara-Mingo," Oldham came to stand by him, lacing his fingers and hanging them on the far side of the fence. "I remember. It seems now, at this ripe old age, that I was not much more than a boy myself then. Perhaps twenty-five."

"And working for my father." He worked to keep the anger from his tone. "Lord Dunsmore."

The man stared at him a moment. "You should be Lord Dunsmore. This," he glanced at the other man, at the outlandish costume he wore; the long hair braided with feathers and thongs. "This," he said quietly, 'is a waste. You were born for more."

"Born for what? To live the life of the privileged? To be waited on hand and foot by others as though my father's blood made me better than them? Hugh, you know that is not for me. It never was."

"You took to it once, well enough."

"I was a child!" Mingo snarled. Then he realized their voices had risen enough to carry to the house. He looked up to find Daniel Boone's lean frame filling the doorway.

In his usual fashion his friend gazed at them a moment - the wheels turning in his brown head - and then he walked towards them with measured steps. "Oldham. Mingo," he said as he arrived, "I take it you two know each other."

Mingo looked at the older man and then back to Daniel, his dark eyes unreadable. "How is Miss Cornell?"

Dan sensed something in his friend's tone. It was as if he was distancing himself. Almost as if he hadn't the courage to get too close. "Sleeping. The cat didn't hurt her, just scared her through and through. You can see her when she - "

Mingo shook his head. "I must go. I need to...." He glanced at the man who had once been like a father to him - more than Lord Dunsmore had ever been or cared to be. "I need to speak with you alone, Daniel. I will be at Cincinnatus' establishment."

"Aren't you going to see Rachel?" Hugh Oldham's face clouded. "She'll be asking about you."

"She'll be asking about Kerr. Tell her he's dead." He glanced at Daniel as he hefted his rifle. "I will wait an hour."

As the dark-haired man began to walk away, Dan ran his finger across his lip. He glanced at the older man who was staring after him, a disappointed expression on his face.

"So you do know each other?"

Oldham sighed and shook his head.

"Not anymore."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo arrived at Cincinnatus' tavern and ordered a large mug of ale. He downed it and then ordered another. The wily tavern-keeper stared at him with one eye narrowed and his owl-feather brows at attention. "Your father isn't visiting, now is he?"

The native's dark eyes fixed him. "Not that it is any of your business, but no."

"It's just you don't drink," the older man paused with his hand on the pitcher, "and I remember that last time...."

"Well, I do today." Mingo hesitated. His smile was crooked. "I promise not to break any of your furniture."

Abruptly, a clear voice cut through the air of the smoke-filled room. "Is it your custom to serve half-breed riff-raff, tavern-keeper? I would have thought it would have been Mr. Boone's desire that you run your establishment in such a fashion as to attract a more civilized kind of customer. Are cowardly bastard English Lords who run from their responsibilities often among your clientele?"

Cincinnatus watched as Mingo's deep brown eyes narrowed and his lips drew into a thin line. He touched the native's hand and swallowed. "You remember, Mingo? You promised not to break anything."

The other man drew a deep breath as his fingers touched the handle of the bullwhip on his shoulder. "I did not promise I would not break *his* head...." As he turned around, he felt the eyes of the locals on him. It was the end of another long hard day in Boonesborough, and all too many of Daniel's neighbors had come here to sit and talk and drink. He drew a breath and moved across the room until he stood toe to toe with this phantom from his past. "Gerard."

"Kerr."

There was a moment of silence during which Cincinnatus rounded the bar to bring Mingo the drink he had asked for and placed it on the table between them. Then he looked up at the other man. "Mister, is there something I can do for you....?"

John Gerard's lips twisted in an unpleasant quirk. "You can leave us alone."

The older man sputtered. "Now wait a minute. I don't know what has got the hair up on your backs - and it ain't my business to ask - but this is my place and I won't have the two of you busting it up - "

"Cincinnatus. Do as he says."

He looked from one man to the other. Mingo's fingers were almost white on the bullwhip. His guest's face was unreadable, though a poet might have remarked that the Englishman's expression lingered somewhere between repugnance and delight. "I'll just get going then," he stammered as he backed away, but instead of returning to the bar, he headed for the door, "you watch the place for me, Mingo.... I'll just go get Dan'l...."

"Cincinnatus, no! Leave Daniel - "

But the other man was gone.

For a moment they simply stared at each other. Gerard with his deep blue coat thrust back, his hand on his pistol, and Mingo fingering his whip. Then the native nodded towards a corner and an empty table. As they began to move, his mind flew across the years and the Atlantic ocean to the last time they had stood just so - the night he had left England and Kerr, the heir of Lord Dunsmore, behind forever.

"There is little time," he remarked curtly as they sat, "Daniel will be here shortly."

Gerard removed the pistol from his pocket and pointed it at the other man under the table. "Enough time to kill you."

Mingo laughed. "If that was your intention, John, I would already be dead. You were always the better shot. I do not imagine the years have altered that."

The other man laughed. "As they have altered you. Wait until Rachel sees you. All these years we thought you had come here to live as a civilized man. And here you are, playing at being the native...."

The son of Talota snarled. "I would suppose that would depend a great deal on your definition of 'civilized'. If you are civilized, Gerard, then it is not something I would choose to be."

"No, you chose to be the coward. To run rather than face the choice you had made." His finger played with the silver handle. "I still don't understand what Rachel sees in you."

"Saw. Not sees," Mingo corrected him. "The man she loved is dead. As she is to me."

Gerard's dark eyes narrowed. His head jerked as he heard the door open. He quickly concealed the pistol within his waistcoat and then whispered as he stood, "See that you keep it that way."

"Mingo. Gerard."

Mingo sighed and looked up. "Daniel."

"So is this another reunion?"

John Gerard laughed. The smile he turned on Daniel was brilliant. "Christ Church, class of '64. Remember the old black gown and gold tassel, Kerr?" he threw over his shoulder at Mingo, "your...er...choice of garb then was just as distinctive as it is now."

Daniel Boone stared at the Englishman a moment, then he planted his boot on a chair and leaned forward with his long fingers laced over his knee. "Cincinnatus seemed to think you two were about to rearrange the furniture in here."

Mingo shook his head. "I think he misinterpreted what he saw, Daniel."

"And heard? I hear you called my friend a half-breed," Dan's voice was firm, uncompromising, "and a coward?"

The Englishman shrugged as Hugh Oldham entered the tavern and came to stand just behind the frontiersman. "A jest, Mr. Boone, between old friends."

"I see." Dan met Mingo's eyes and deliberately held them as he spoke. "Well, I guess I will have to accept that as fact. Since I know Mingo here wouldn't lie to me, him being Cherokee and all." His green eyes flicked to the Englishman and back to the other man. "Will you vouch for Mr. Gerard?"

Mingo hesitated. Then he said slowly, "I know him like the back of my hand, Daniel. He will do nothing to upset the status quo. You have nothing to fear from him."

The tall man shifted his foot off the chair and rose to his full height. He held his friend's eyes a moment or two, and then nodded. "In that case, Miss Cornell is asking for you, Mr. Gerard." Dan thought he saw a flicker of pain - or was it disappointment - in his friend's dark eyes, but it was quickly masked. "She's awake now."

John Gerard nodded. He glanced at Mingo, his hand still gripping the pistol beneath his coat. "Later then."

Mingo smiled. "It will be my pleasure."

As Oldham and Gerard walked out the door, Daniel turned to his Cherokee friend and asked, "So what was that all about?"

"It is my business, Daniel. It is none of your concern."

He caught Mingo's arm and stopped him, emphasizing the importance of his words. "Well, now, I might agree with that if we were in Philadelphia or even London. But we're not. We're in my town and everything that happens here concerns me." The tall man released him and sat heavily in the chair. He nodded to Cincinnatus for a drink. "Besides, Mingo, you're my friend. I want to help."

The dark-haired man remained silent for a moment. Then he sighed. "There is nothing you can do." He paused and then added quietly, "But there is something else. The reason I called you here."

"Mingo, don't go changing the subject - "

His brown eyes flicked to the door through which his one-time friend had vanished. He smiled grimly. "I'm not. This concerns Gerard...."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Becky Boone sat at the young Englishwoman's bedside, her pearl-white teeth planted firmly in her lip. She had sent the children out to gather firewood and water and knew she only had a few moments to sort out what was going on. The petite woman had awakened just as Cincinnatus came looking for Dan. They had both overheard him say there was some sort of trouble at the tavern and that Mingo was involved. She had watched the pale girl's skin blanch impossibly white and seen the look she exchanged with her uncle before he headed out the door a few minutes later.

Much as it pained her to admit it, she was going to die if she didn't find out for certain what this was all about.

"Rachel?"

The young woman stirred. She had been lying curled in a ball with her face turned to the wall. "Is John here?" she asked as she rolled onto her back.

Rebecca shook her head. "No. Not yet."

"Uncle Hugh and your husband...they are both gone?"

"Yes. Dan went to see what was happening...."

"With this..." The young woman sat up. Her voice seemed strangely strangled. "This...Mingo?"

Becky nodded as she handed her a cup of water. "Yes."

"Who is he?"

The red-head watched her sip and then placed the cup on the table beside the bed. "Mingo? A friend of the family."

"Is he the one who...saved me?"

Rebecca smiled. "Yes. That was him. I didn't know if you saw him - "

"Not really. It was all a blur," she shuddered. "That animal...."

"Well, when you are better, you can go outside and stomp on him with your heels," Daniel's wife laughed. "My husband skinned him. We'll have a new rug in front of the fire before long."

Rachel didn't seem impressed. Rather, she seemed preoccupied. "Your friend...he seemed...unusual."

"Mingo?" Becky stood and walked to the fire in order to check on the stew she had cooking. "That's one way of putting it."

"Is he white?"

Rebecca stopped with the spoon near her lips. Was the girl prejudiced? She frowned and blew on the bubbling mixture of vegetables and meat. Now, how exactly should she answer that question? Dan had seemed hesitant to give them too much information about their one-time countryman.

"He is a Cherokee warrior," she said at last, skirting the issue.

"He spoke English."

Becky sighed. "Yes."

"...beautifully," the girl added.

Jemima poked her head in the door, "Ma. We're done. Can we - "

Becky hastily grabbed the kindling basket and crossed the room to hand it to the girl. As she did, she held her finger up before her in a gesture her daughter recognized.

The brunette nodded and said, "Israel wanted to get some fish for supper. We're going to the stream. Is that okay?"

Becky kissed her on the head. "That will be just fine. And keep an eye out for your father. He'll be heading back from town." She turned from the door quickly and fixed their guest with her bright blue eyes, "You were saying...."

"How well this Mingo speaks English. Has he always lived here?"

Rebecca returned to Rachel's side and stared at her. She was never going to get any information out of she didn't give a little. "Mingo was educated in England."

The young woman didn't move. "In England? Where in England?"

"Oxford, I think he said. He's always quoting some old bit of poetry. You never know what you are going to get with that man, native wisdom or - " Becky stopped at a loss for words.

Rachel had begun to cry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"You're certain it was Gerard."

Mingo's lips pursed. "Now that I have seen him here, in the flesh, yes. When I left Israel and began to trail him, I had no idea. I only knew he was the man who had been trailing us."

"Let's see," Daniel rubbed his chin. "He left here near noon, about the time I first took Oldham and the young woman to the cabin." He watched his friend closely, but noticed no discernable reaction when Miss Cornell was mentioned. "That gives him about seven hours to work whatever mischief he was about."

"Gerard would not need seven hours. He is very bright. Or at least he was."

"You want to talk about this?"

The dark-haired man started to become defensive, but stopped himself. He briefly touched his friend's arm. "Daniel, if there was anyone I wanted to talk to about this...it would be you." His face was grim. "But I don't want to talk about it."

"Not now?"

Mingo shook his head. "Not ever."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Oh, my dear!" Becky put her hand on the golden head as the young Englishwoman fell into her arms. She was sobbing as if her heart might break. "What is this? Hush, now, hush." She felt as if she were soothing a child. "It can't be as bad as all that."

Rachel sniffed and raised her face. It was pale and round as the full moon. "If only I could tell you...."

"Rachel."

The two women started as if guilty. Rebecca stood and blocked Gerard's line of sight in order to give the other woman time to pull herself together. "Mr. Gerard. I didn't hear you open the door."

He tried to glance behind her. "Hugh has sent me to fetch Rachel. We have taken advantage of your hospitality long enough. It is time we went back to the inn and left your family in peace. Since she is not really hurt...."

Becky planted her hands on her hips. "You will do no such thing. I won't hear of it. Your fiancée's had an awful fright and oft times that can be as dangerous as a blow." She felt her fingers curling into fists and forced herself to take several deep breaths. What was it about this man that simply got under her skin? "Do you want her to get sick? It's a cold night and there is no reason for her to go."

John Gerard seemed taken aback.

"Well? Do you have something to say, Mr. Gerard?"

He paused and seemed to collect himself. "Where I come from, Madame," he said, his voice stern, " woman are taught to keep their place."

One red eyebrow rose and Becky cocked her head. "Well, where I come from, Mr. Gerard, men are taught to treat women with respect and to mind their manners." She stood squarely before the bed, like a mother lioness protecting her cub. "Obviously we come from two different places."

"Rebecca, maybe I should go...."

"You too?" She turned to face Rachel. "I won't hear of it. Neither would Dan. Another day at least."

The young woman's eyes flicked to the man she traveled with. She drew a deep breath. One more day of freedom. One more day before what she was forced to do condemned her in Mrs. Boone's lovely blue eyes and in her own.

"Please, John.... I promise I will be good."

Gerard frowned. Then he nodded.

"See that you are."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo hesitated at the fork in the path that led to Daniel's cabin. The air was chill. A strong wind had arisen, promising rain. The moon was full and it rode the coat-tail of the night, casting its argent light over the tops of the trees so they glistened as they rustled and swayed. Their familiar voice spoke of secrets, of wisdom they had to impart.

He knew none of it could touch the matter of his heart.

She was here. Here. Not a mile away, not ten thousand, but here. Wearily, he turned away and, moving like the deer, quickly made his way through the underbrush until he stood at the edge of the stream close by where the great cat had fallen. Once there, he slowly approached it and then sat on the rough boulder that thrust out over its shining surface like an angry fist. Then he looked down.

A rugged face, framed by jet-black braids and burnt brown from ten years in the sun, stared back at him. Once, a lifetime before, it had been fairer and had reflected more his absent father's race than the people of the mother who had borne and loved him. When Talota had passed into the spirit world, she had left him with a promise on his lips which should never have been made.

A promise he had regretted all of his days.

He drew a breath and stood, raising his eyes to the sky, seeking the cleansing touch of mother-earth. When it did not come, he turned away and headed into the brush, sensing that what lay before him was not so much a puzzle, as kismet.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"How long have you known Mingo?"

Hugh Oldham watched the man the world knew as Daniel Boone turn and twist the mug of ale between his long fingers. He sat opposite him at the table. Only a moment before he had entered the tavern just as Mingo left and Boone had heard the two of them trade a few curt words. "Mingo?" The Englishman sighed. "Little Cara-Mingo, do you mean? Or Kerr, Lord Dunsmore's heir?"

"I'm sorry," Dan finished his ale and raised his hand, indicating to Cincinnatus that he didn't want a refill - or to be disturbed. "Kerr?"

The other man's smile was long in coming. "I met the one and..." He paused to take a sip, "I suppose in a way I created the other."

Dan scooted his chair back, so his long legs were more comfortable. "You want to take a minute to explain that."

The other man removed his hat and laid it on the table. Then he ran a hand through his silvered hair. "I was roughly twenty-five. A young soldier and seaman attached to Lord Dunsmore's second survey team when it set out for the New World. There had been another mission a dozen or so years before; I'm sure you are aware of that. Now, suddenly, he was set to return." Oldham frowned and fingered the brim of his hat. "He was not an easy man to work for, though he treated us well. He was...well...unbending."

"Yes?" Dan remained still. "Go on."

"Or should I say, rigid and intractable." Oldham put his mug down. "Or so I thought. You see, we were fellow noblemen, though the estate he stood to inherit far outshone anything I or my brothers might ever possess. In my youth, my family fell on hard times. That was why I - as a second son - had taken to soldiering." He paused and his eyes seemed to fly out the window, over the waters to his youth. "Still, I suppose that is why he thought he could trust me."

"Trust you?"

Oldham nodded. "With his son."

"You mean Mingo?" Daniel glanced around the tavern. Since his friend had left - and the other man - none of the locals seemed to be paying them any mind.

"Cara-Mingo, he was called then. A fierce young warrior of twelve or thirteen. There was no exact birth-date. Dunsmore put it closer to twelve." Oldham could still see the boy and remembered his defiant stare. He remembered the hatred in the brown eyes as he looked at the father he barely knew, and at his attendant, who had come to take him from everything he held dear. "His mother had just died. Somehow, she had gotten word to him - Dunsmore - through soldiers, diplomats...friends. She had made the boy promise to go with him, to save him."

Dan shifted. He ran a hand across his face and straightened in his chair. These were the things Mingo would not speak of. It made him just a little uneasy that he was hearing them from a man who was practically a stranger. Still, having seen the look in Gerard's eyes, he figured the breaking of that trust would be worth it in the end.

If Mingo ever forgave him.

"Save him?"

"Her first husband, a Creek warrior, had been killed soon after their son was born. Other male relatives died in the various uprisings, or from illness and plague. Some were put to death for collaborating with the French. She thought the boy would be safe with his father, that he would not have to die a senseless death on a field somewhere with no one knowing his name. Or so his lordship told me afterward."

Dan leaned forward. "Afterward?"

"After we took him away. It was near the end of our mission. The two of us had traveled alone several weeks to find him. Dunsmore swore me to secrecy before we arrived, and as we departed, he made me promise that I would support the lie."

The big man's voice was quiet. "And that was?"

"That the boy was white." He closed his eyes. He could still see the child's lip trembling as his father had cut his long shining black hair and forced him to don the uniform of one the aide-de-camps. The ill-fitting, uncomfortable clothes had hung on his thin frame. The winter had not been good to the Cherokee. Still, it was that moment - the loss of his identity - which had broken his spirit. Hugh remembered thinking he had watched it die like hope in the eyes of a caged animal. "We told some tale of his mother being an immigrant - Scottish, I believe. Perhaps he mentioned the fable of the Spanish Armada - I am not sure anymore. The young soldiers believed it, but the seasoned men who had traveled with him before remembered the winsome Indian girl who had visited his tent, and the nights his bed had not been slept in." Oldham paused as Boone shifted uncomfortably. "Is this disturbing you?"

"Only because I know Mingo is a very private person." Dan ran his fingers along a crack in the table. "He just may not forgive me for talkin' to you. Still, I'm concerned about him." He glanced up. "There is one thing I need to know, though, Mr. Oldham, before we go any further...."

"And what is that?"

"Just why are you willing to tell me all of this?"

The Englishman sighed and studied his hands. "Have you never heard, Mr. Boone, that confession is good for the soul?"

"Well, now, Mr. Oldham, my wife's folks may come from county Clare, but I am not a priest."

"That is quite all right, Mr. Boone." The older man shifted his chair and stood. "The only one who can forgive me...is me."

Dan frowned. "Forgive you? For what?"

The silver-haired man gazed out the window at the brilliantly lit night. Then he sighed. "Could we walk outside, Mr. Boone? I find I am feeling...a bit confined."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo stopped and ducked into a thicket. He had returned to the cabin just in time to see John Gerard walk out the door and head into the hills. Rebecca was still on the porch, her hands characteristically on her hips. She watched him a minute, and then after voicing some Irish curse he could only half hear, turned and walked back into the cabin. A moment later she closed the door, barring it as Daniel had instructed her.

Laughing, he turned his attention to Gerard and noted the man's deliberate step. He noted as well how he was intentionally moving in a direction away from the fort and the tavern and his bed. His curiosity piqued, he decided to follow him, wishing he could leave the mass of conflicting emotions the cabin's unseen occupant aroused in him behind as easily as he did its welcoming lights and the promise of warm food and ale.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Apparently Talota was a beautiful woman, light-skinned herself for a Cherokee. Her son was every bit as striking. I remember thinking that if I had not known - if I had met him for the first time coming off of the ship, as he stepped onto the wharf in London - I would have had no idea. And that was Dunsmore's intention. We left the Cherokee village behind and returned to camp. A day later we set sail, and once we set foot on the ship, Cara-Mingo died and Kerr was born. The boy was quickly forbidden to speak anything but English, of which he knew precious little. He was made to eat foreign foods, which he often was unable to keep down. He was whipped when he disobeyed. And the more he was whipped, the more he disobeyed. Soon father and son were beyond speech. Dunsmore was at a loss and the boy was locked in his cabin as punishment for his recalcitrant behavior." The Englishman paused to lick his lips. "Then he became ill."

Dan thought of his own boy, sick - lost and alone - cast adrift with strangers who didn't know him and didn't care. He actually shivered.

"I believe to this day that the illness was one more of spirit, than of flesh. But it was his flesh his father feared - and yet secretly hoped, I believe - might die."

"Dunsmore wanted him dead? His own son?" Dan was horrified.

"No. I should re-phrase that." Oldham paused just outside the livery and leaned on its fence, gathering his thoughts. "I am being unfair to the Earl. I believe that if the boy had died, he would have been relieved to be free of the responsibility. He already had a wife and family in England. He didn't know what to do with him." As they began to walk again, he added, "I think, in the end, that is why he gave him over to me."

"To you. That's why you said you 'created' Kerr?"

The older man nodded. "I went to him and tried - in my humble fashion - to restore his will to live." Oldham closed his eyes. He could still see him, lying on the bunk, vomit clinging to his deeply tanned skin, which had grown white as paste. "I cleaned him and wrapped him in a warm woolen blanket - something I felt might have been familiar - and spoke to him in his own language." At Dan's look he smiled. "I had been to the colonies before. I found the natives charming - far more intelligent than many of my comrades - with a ready sense of humor and wisdom deep as the earth. At first he was sullen and quiet, but then he began to correct my Cherokee...." Oldham laughed. "And I began to teach him the sort of English the son of a young Lord would need to know.

"In time, I believe, we grew to be friends. But still, before we stepped on shore, the blanket had to go, and the stiff uncomfortable uniform of an Earl's son had to be put on. And there was one final thing, Mr. Boone...."

"And what was that?"

"He had to be taught how to lie." The Englishman sighed. "From the moment we left the ship, Cara-Mingo was no more. Not only did I have to accept that and pretend otherwise, the boy did as well. He was introduced to his step-mother and her children under a false name - made to renounce the mother and the people he had loved - and forced to embrace a way of life that was completely foreign to him. Sometimes, I marveled that he survived."

Daniel turned away from him to gaze at the moon, remembering the times his friend's pain had been visible in his dark eyes; the times when he had been forced to choose between the Cherokee and the settlers, or Dan and his family and obedience to his chief. A dozen or more times the eloquent native had chosen to honor their friendship over everything else - including what he knew was expected of him as a warrior and a member of his clan. His eyes returned to the pale stranger beside him. Did he have this man to thank for that? Had his example - his simple gestures of kindness and concern to a poor lost child - been enough to keep that child from being lost?

"Yes, Mingo survived," Dan agreed, nodding his brown head, "but sometimes I wonder - at what cost?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo's dark eyes shone bright in the moonlight. He walked with the shadows and they became one. Gerard had drawn to a halt. He stood before a brace of trees, waiting. As the native watched, the leaves behind his old friend stirred and a man wearing a bright red coat stepped into the clearing. He held an envelope out. Gerard took it and opened it, reading its contents. Then he put it back and handed it to the soldier.

Above his head an owl hooted. He shivered and crouched down. Owl was one of the last animals to be given power. It was his to prey on the waking creatures of the day that dared to walk the night.

The omen was not good.

At that very moment John Gerard turned towards him and his brow furrowed as he gazed in his direction. Then he said something to the soldier and the two of them moved off into the woods, heading away from his hiding place. Mingo waited a moment and then stepped from the brush and stood straight and tall. The sound of a twig snapping made him pivot. He found himself face to face with a member of his Majesty's royal fusiliers. His hand reached for his bullwhip just as the butt of the man's rifle contacted his chin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Rachel?"

The young woman was standing by the window, staring at the moon. She didn't move. "Yes, Rebecca?"

"Come and sit by the fire." The children had gone to bed in the loft and they were alone again. "Won't you tell me what is troubling you?"

The Englishwoman did look at her then. The pale moonlight emphasized her high-boned cheeks and made her appear fragile, like a Dresden figurine. "No," she answered softly.

Becky had mentioned to Dan that she thought there might have been a connection between their guest and their friend. Tonight had cinched it. She rested her sewing in her lap and said softly, "It's Mingo, isn't it?"

Rachel moved to sit across from her. Her large blue eyes glistened in the firelight. "Mingo?"

"He's the one you knew in London. The one who left."

Her head went down. She picked at a loose thread on her skirt. "Yes."

"Do you still love him?"

Her fingers were shaking. "I am engaged...."

"Rachel."

She glanced up. Then she laughed sadly. "Mrs. Boone, you are not a woman easily misled." Her golden head bobbed once. "Yes, I love him still. That is why I have not married all these years. I was waiting - foolishly it now seems - for his return."

"To England?" Becky was surprised. She had never considered that Mingo might go back. "You thought he -? "

The girl stood and began to pace about the cabin nervously. "I couldn't imagine what there could be here to hold him. He had everything in London: wealth, power, fame. Did you know he was known as the best shot at Oxford for two years running?" She tossed her head. "Although I lost a year of my life each time there was a duel...."

"Dueling? Mingo?" Becky grinned. She couldn't imagine Mingo being involved in anything so frivolous. Then she sobered. "You're serious."

The young woman nodded. "He stood to inherit a great estate, to possess vast wealth. Simply everything and anything anyone could want..." Her voice grew quiet "...me. And he threw it all away. And for what?" She began to move again. "Trees? Sleeping beneath the stars? Eagle's feathers?" Her voice rose in anger and she clenched her fists. "Perhaps John was right."

"About what?" Becky stood. She walked to her side. "About Mingo?"

"Yes. About Mingo. John says he was - is - a coward and that he never cared." There were tears in her eyes and her lip was trembling. "He knows I am here, Rebecca," she said suddenly. "If he cares, where is he?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

John Gerard stood over his old friend's unconscious form. He kicked him in the side and lifted his head by grasping one of the long black braids. "This will have to go first," he remarked to the soldier beside him. "For now, bind him and bring him along."