Beloved Ghost: Chapter 2

by Marla F. Fair

 

 

"There, Israel, behind the boulders-do you see him?"

The small boy held still, his tongue pressed between his teeth in concentration. He nodded without letting the bird out of his sight. Mingo's fingers were on the boy's, helping him keep the bow steady. He smiled as he felt the child reach out and will the animal to remain still. "That is good, Israel. You must become one with what you seek. Breathe the same air. Know it inside and out. Only then can you strike before it thinks to move."

"Gosh, Mingo," the boy shook his blond head, "you sure make it sound mysterious. Pa just says to have a steady hand and let go a half second before you think you should."

"Ah, yes, well...."

"But I like your way better. The words are prettier."

Mingo smiled at his friend's young son. He wanted so to be like his 'Pa', but he was a sensitive child, an artist at heart, who wore his feelings on his sleeve and all too often allowed others to tread on them. He had Rebecca's nature, more than Daniel's. Daniel was like the boulder the pheasant was hiding behind, tough and indestructible. Insults and expectations alike rolled off his back, falling to the earth where they turned to dust. Becky pretended to be tough, but she was not. She was strong and she was resilient, but a single word could sting her in such a way that the wound would never mend.

He understood that. It was his nature as well.

"Mingo, should I let it fly?"

His attention drawn back to the present, the native helped the boy pull the string on the bow taut. "What do you think? What do you feel, Israel?"

"Well, I think I'm hungry and I feel like I've been waiting for about a hundred years. I say we do it now."

"Then now it is." Mingo relaxed his grip and the arrow flew straight to the heart of its target.

"Wow!" the little boy exclaimed. "Did you see that?"

"I did indeed." He nodded toward the bird. "Now go claim your prize and we will share a supper fit for kings."

Israel stood and looked at him, tilting his head to one side.

"What is it?"

"I'm glad Pa didn't kill you."

Mingo hid the smile that attempted to curl his lips. The young man before him was extremely serious. "Your father saved me when first we met, Israel. You remember- "

"Oh, gosh, I know." He clambered over the fallen tree trunk they had been crouching behind. "It's just that with you being an In'jun and all. Well, its just a good thing he wasn't lookin' to shoot anybody that day."

Mingo placed his hand over his heart. "A very good thing." He nodded. "Go get your bird, Israel. And we will see if you have learned how to cook as well as shoot."

"Cookin's for women." The boy straightened his hat as he started toward the outcropping.

"And do you see any women with us today?"

The boy returned a moment later with the bird in hand. "Heck, no! We're huntin'."

The dark-skinned man nodded. "Precisely. And so who is to cook the bird?"

The boy scratched his head. "Oh."

Mingo laughed and swatted him on the behind. "Oh."

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

Becky Boone peeled her husband's large hands from her waist and moved to roll out the dough she had resting on the table. "Where did Mingo take Israel today?"

"Oh, up into the hills. He's keepin' to his own people's lands. They'll be fine."

She smacked his hand as he pinched a bit of the dough and rolled it into a ball, popping it into his mouth. "His people. Funny you should say that."

"Funny? How? You been carryin' on long conversations with the Cherokee lately?"

She slammed the rolling pin onto the table and worked a minute. Daniel laughed as a cloud of flour dust rose into the air to settle in the shining waves of her rich red hair. "No, I was talking about his other half."

"Other half? You mean the English?" Daniel stiffened. Englishmen in their territory usually meant trouble. Even when they were at peace with each other and the Indians.

"Yes. Cincinnatus said there are three travelers staying with him. Two men and a young woman."

Daniel snuck one of the apples she had sugared from her bowl and popped it in his mouth. "Soldiers?"

She shook her head. "He didn't know. They only arrived last night." Becky blew a strand of hair out of her face and rubbed her nose, leaving a white streak on her cheek. "He said one of the men seemed to be older, maybe a father...."

"And the other?"

"Seemed to think he was either a brother or a husband."

Daniel came around behind his wife and wrapped his arms about her waist again. "Well, now, Becky....there's a mite of difference between those two. If you know what I mean."

"Dan, no matter how much you flatter me, you will have to wait until the pies are done." She struck his fingers with the tip of the pin as they crawled towards the bowl once again. "Why don't you go outside and play with the boys?"

He smacked her on the bottom and as she yelped, palmed another apple slice. Then he winked. "I think I will do that. I could use a little practice with a bow and arrow."

Becky watched him leave and shook her head. "You could use a little practice with women." She spun about and opened a cupboard door and pulled out a large bowl of sugared apples, placing it on the tabletop.

"Men!"

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

"That's them over there, Dan'l. Least ways the men folk." Cincinnatus wiped his greasy hands on his apron. "The girl's still asleep."

"And all three are English, you say."

"With those 'high-fa-luting' accents and every sentence they speak soundin' like poetry? Can't think of what else they would be." He laughed and winked his eye. "They're too light-skinned for Cherokee."

"Have they had a drink yet?"

"Not tonight."

Daniel placed a coin on the table and nodded towards the pair. "Well, pour them one. Compliments of Boonesborough."

He watched the older man as he danced over to the table, playing the part of the jocund tavern-keeper to the hilt, and saw the elder of the two men turn to look his way. He raised his mug and nodded. A moment later, the gentleman rose and walked to his side.

"Mr. Boone, I presume?"

"You presume correctly. And you are?"

"A weary traveler. Grateful for the comfort of this establishment and the security of your fort. Oldham, is the name. Hugh Oldham." He lifted a lace-lined cuff and pointed to the table where the other man sat sipping his ale. "This is my second-cousin's son, John Gerard."

"And the young lady with you?"

Oldham's brows rose. "I see you are well informed."

"Well, it is my town."

The older man nodded. "And as such, you are concerned about any threat our presence might afford. I assure you, we are merely traveling through and will be gone in a day or two."

Daniel sipped his ale. "Well, we like travelers. And the young lady?"

"John's fiancée. Rachel. Rachel Cornell."

"Did I hear my name?"

Hugh spun about and a slow smile spread across his face. "Rachel, come meet our host."

The young woman glided forward. She stopped close to him and looked up into his face. She was small-boned and petite. Her head barely came to the middle of his chest. She looked something like the china figure Becky had on the mantle; the one they had brought from the east. Her face was small with a pointed chin and her eyes large and blue as the lakes that settled in the hills above the gap. Her skin was as white as the foam on Cincinnatus' kegs, and she was dressed in a rich silk that shifted from blue to purple as the sunlight that streamed in the windows struck it. Daniel wiped his hand on his pant leg and reached out to take hers.

"Miss."

"Mr. Boone. I have heard about you."

"Good things, I hope?"

She laughed. The sound of it was like a gentle fall of rain. "Only good. I never listen to the bad anyway. I would very much appreciate it if, while we are here, you would have time to show us your lovely countryside. It is very different from home," she seemed to grow wistful, "I have heard that once a man has it in his blood, he can never stay away for very long."

Daniel stared at her. "Well, yes, Miss, I would say that was true, but then, it does depend on the man. Some take to it like the air they breathe. Others, well, they don't take to it at all."

She smiled and tossed one of her golden curls. "And how does one know?"

"Miss?"

"The stuff of the soul, Mr. Boone; how does one know what they are made of?"

Daniel shook his head. Hugh Oldham looked at him and laughed. "Rachel is a deep thinker."

The tall man nodded. "For a moment there you sounded like my friend."

"You have an Englishman who is a friend?" John Gerard had risen to join them. Daniel looked at him and immediately found he didn't trust him. There was something about the way he held himself and his dark narrow eyes. What was this charming creature doing with him?

"Well, now, not exactly." He hesitated to mention Mingo, though he didn't know why. "Let's just say he's had a classical education?"

"An educated mountain-man," Gerard sniffed, "how droll."

"John."

"Oh, that's okay, Miss. When the night comes and there's a bear on one side, a pack of wolves on another, Indians behind and a cougar breathing down your neck, I'll take my education over yours any day." Daniel placed his coonskin cap on his head and nodded to the trio. "Later then, if you like. I'll give you the tour."

Hugh Oldham thanked him and taking Rachel's hand, moved towards their rooms. John Gerard sat down and stared at his hands, twisting and turning the mug of ale between them.

Daniel nodded towards him and then at Cincinnatus. The other man understood. If Gerard so much as blew his nose on the wrong handkerchief, Daniel would know.

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

"Ma...."

Rebecca glanced up. Her daughter sounded exasperated. She knew, for once, it couldn't be her brother since he was out hunting with Mingo. She tossed the wet rag down on the table and looked up. "What is it, Jemima?"

"Raccoons!"

Becky Boone squealed. One of the little black-masked critters was sitting on her window sill, breaking the crust off of her freshly baked apple pie. She picked up a nearby broom and advanced towards it as if she were a soldier in the field defending her home territory-which in a way she was. "Shoo! Get away from there...."

"Ma. Don't scare him! He'll just- "

There was a loud chittering as the frightened creature leapt from the window and then a splat as the partially nibbled pie followed, landing with a flourish on the tarp still spread out below.

"Oh, no! That Dan! I'll- "

"You'll what?"

Rebecca drew a deep breath and whirled, her Irish ire up. "Daniel Boone, if I had half a mind, I'd take this broom to your backside...." Her voice fell away and her blue eyes widened.

Dan wasn't alone.

A petite young woman stood beside her tall husband, almost eclipsed by his form. Behind her, an older man was watching the scene with mild amusement. Upon seeing that she was embarrassed, he advanced into the room and held out his hand. "Mrs. Boone, I am Hugh Oldham. This is my niece, Rachel Cornell. Your husband has been kind enough to offer to show us some of the beautiful territory around your settlement."

"I thought I'd show them the cascade this afternoon." Dan winked at her and his smile was chagrinned. "I invited them over for some pie...."

"It's a good thing I made more than one," Becky said softly, "otherwise they'd be sitting knee-deep in water sharing it with a raccoon."

"'Mima, say hello to our guests."

The brown-haired girl curtseyed and came to stand next to her mother. "You're beautiful."

The older man laughed. "That's a compliment I seldom receive." Then as she started to blush, he apologized. "Forgive my sense of humor-it does get the best of me at times." He glanced over his shoulder at the young woman who accompanied him. "Yes, Rachel is very lovely. She looks like my sister, her mother." His face fell and a sadness seemed to overtake him.

"Did she die?" the girl asked.

"Jemima, mind you manners!" Her mother looked at her. "You don't ask personal questions of guests."

"No, it's quite all right." The man straightened and sighed. "Rachel's mother died long ago. She and her husband were killed in a boating accident when Rachel was just a baby. My eldest brother, Charles, took her in and raised her as his own. It is his fate which makes me sad."

Jemima glanced at her mother. "What happened to him?"

"He is imprisoned. Unjustly."

The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. "Your Pa is in prison? Oh, how awful!"

Rachel nodded. "Yes. It is a pain I carry with me everyday. There have been few men in my life whom I have dearly loved. And I have lost them all. Except for dear Uncle Hugh." She reached out and took his arm and kissed him on the cheek.

"And your fiancée, surely," Dan added as he winked at his daughter and nodded toward the remaining pies on the window sill.

The young woman laughed and nervously tossed her head. "Oh, yes. John."

"You will never find anyone more dedicated to and protective of the one he loves, than Gerard," Hugh added quickly.

"He didn't come with you today?" Becky asked.

Rachel shook her head, but her uncle answered, "He had business elsewhere."

"Are you to be married then?"

As her mother frowned at her, Jemima dipped again and then went to get some plates.

"When we return to England." Rachel took the seat Daniel offered her and arranged her blue skirts about her expensive shoes. "Soon."

"What brings you here. If you don't mind my asking?

"I...."

"I brought her on a tour. This is the last I will get to have her for my own. We have been together some time. Even before he was imprisoned, my brother traveled extensively. Since my wife died, she has lived with me on my estate."

Dan gazed at the Englishwoman as circumspectly as he could, thinking it odd she had made it to twenty-four or twenty-five without marrying. "I see."

Becky looked at her husband and recognized the furrow in his brow as the one that meant he was about to do some deep-thinking. And that usually meant an uncomfortable silence was about to ensue. She removed her apron and brought two mugs to the table. "And how are you enjoying Kentucky? Have you been to other places in America as well?"

"Oh, yes, we disembarked in Philadelphia and visited your governor there. We have been traveling for some time." The young woman leaned on her hand and suddenly looked weary. "Though I am not ready to go home...."

Jemima shifted between Oldham and his niece and laid two pewter plates down. The ones they kept for company. Then she gave each of them a fork. "I would love to see the world. Where do you come from in England?"

"Recently?" Hugh Oldham smiled as Becky gave him a slice of the pie that filled his plate and offered him a cup of fresh water. "You are a blessing, Ma'am." Then he looked at Jemima. "We came directly from London."

"London?" The girl's eyes were huge. "Oh, my.... The only other person I know who has been to London is Mingo, and he doesn't want to talk about it much."

"Mingo?" The older man's fork stopped half-buried in the pie. "That is an unusual name for a man from the Kentucky territories." He took another bite. "Why, Mrs. Boone, this is delicious! As fine as the chefs of the city prepare. Perhaps better!"

As Becky blushed, Daniel caught his daughter's arm. " 'Mima, why don't you go see if you can find your brother. He should be heading home by now. Tell him and Mingo," his green eyes flicked to their guests and back, "tell them we have company."

She nodded, a little confused. "Okay, Pa." Then she whispered, "Did I say something wrong?" as she kissed him goodbye.

He gave her a little tap on the rump and smiled. "No, darlin'. Just make sure you tell them there's pie waitin'."

She smiled and curtseyed again and then rushed out the door.

Hugh Oldham put his fork down. His plate was empty. He noticed his niece had hardly touched her food, but seemed to be picking at it, lost in thought. "Is this - Mingo, your friend with the classical education?" he asked off-hand. "Does he hail from around here?"

Daniel pursed his lips and gazed into the man's eyes. He seemed honest enough. But there was something about the way he had pronounced Mingo's name that sent the hair on the back of his neck flying like it did when a cougar was stalking him. And the girl was hiding something, he was sure of it. He rested his fingers on his chin and nodded.

"Well, now, I guess you could put it that way."

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

"Thank you, Mr. Boone, for showing us this incredible sight."

The two men stood close by the cascade. The white water was pounding over a rock-fall some twenty or thirty feet in height and splashing into a shallow pool ten feet below. A rainbow stood at its center. Daniel nodded. "It is mighty pretty." He glanced back towards the line of trees behind them, imagining Becky sitting with the young Englishwoman. The sun was on the far side of noon and the day had grown warm and the two fair-skinned ladies had decided to seek the shade while the men walked on ahead. "I think the Indians name for it means 'dancin' sunlight walks on water'.

"The Indians. Yes, you have quite a few tribes in this territory, don't you? Creek and Shawnee, I believe. And the Cherokee?"

"Those and a couple of dozen others who migrate in and out and claim the land for their own."

"But you are friends with the Cherokee?"

Daniel smiled and tossed a stone into the bubbling stream. "Friends? Well, that's a powerful word, Mr. Oldham. Let's just say we have found a way to live with one another."

"A tenuous peace at best, then?"

"We have a treaty. So far it hasn't been broken." Dan paused. "By either side."

Hugh Oldham swung about and sat on one of the boulders by the stream. He removed his hat so the sun streamed down on his salt and pepper hair, making the silver at his temples gleam. He was a handsome man with weathered skin that indicated years in the field or on the sea. Perhaps both. He was attired as a gentleman, but had about him an easy air, as though he counted his birth a privilege and not a right.

"I did not mean to impugn the Cherokee or any other tribe, Mr. Boone. Actually, I have a great deal of respect for the peoples native to this land."

"Not your ordinary Englishman, then?"

Oldham's pale blue eyes narrowed and for just a moment his nationalistic pride surfaced in anger, but then he realized he was being baited. He replaced his hat and then turned to dip his hand in the cool water. "Concerning many of my fellow countrymen, your assessment would be correct."

"Like Gerard?"

The other man lifted the clear water to his lips and drank. Then he wiped his hand on a silk handkerchief and tucked it back in his sleeve. "Gerard loves my niece. I have no doubt of that. He is an able man, a soldier and a scholar. His father was a minor noble, a successful businessman who saw to it that his son was well-educated." He paused and then stood. "He has loved Rachel for many years."

Dan nodded as they began to walk again. "She's a beautiful young woman. Hard to imagine she wasn't snapped up before this."

"Snapped up?" He looked puzzled a moment and then nodded. "Married, you mean? Rachel was engaged once, long ago. It didn't work out." He pointed toward a large bird that winged through the sky and smiled. "An eagle?"

Dan nodded. "Hard to find a more fierce predator or a more beautiful creature." He paused. "That's too bad about your niece. She seems-well-like a sweet girl."

Hugh Oldham sighed. "She is something close to the sweetest person you will ever meet, Mr. Boone. It is her virtue and her vice. Even now, she resists marrying John. But it will be good for her. I am getting older...."

"You seem plenty young and vital, Mr. Oldham."

"Ah, well. Appearances can be deceiving." He fell silent then as they topped a ridge and looked back down to where they had left the two women. "Are they safe?" he asked suddenly, "my niece and your wife? Alone?"

"Well, now... You'd have to get up pretty early in the morning to get the drop on Becky, and I left my rifle with her." He grinned. "And if that woman yells, you'll hear her." He laughed then. "Why they can probably hear her all the way into Boonesborough. Besides, we're only a little ways from the cabin."

"Where your charming children are. What was the boy's name?"

"Israel."

"Ah, yes. 'He strives with God and prevails.' A fitting name for the son of one who has crossed his own Jordan."

Daniel gazed at the other man and frowned. He couldn't pin him down. He had seemed suspicious back at the cabin, and had asked even more questions when Israel had come barreling in the door with his sister in tow. It turned out Mingo had left him at the top of the ridge, saying he would return by sun-down. He hadn't explained to the boy what he was doing, but told him he would have a present for Dan when he appeared. Israel had assumed he had gone hunting for bigger game.

His father knew better. On the frontier, you never assumed anything.

After that he had suggested Becky and Miss Cornell join them for a walk, knowing that way, he could speak with Oldham alone. And now here they were, standing, watching as the sun set and painted the churning water the color of blood.

"Mr. Oldham," Dan said suddenly.

"Yes?"

"Why is it exactly that you've come?"

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

"I came here to escape marrying John."

Becky looked at the petite girl sitting beside her. She was barely larger than a child and in some ways, seemed as young. "Escape?"

She nodded. "But it won't work. He wasn't to have come with us, but he found out, and...." Her voice trailed off. "I don't want to get married. Not to him."

Rebecca brushed the girl's golden ringlets back from her face in a motherly gesture. "Is there someone else?"

Rachel laid her hands in her lap. She sniffed and then sighed. "There was. Long ago."

The other woman bit her lower lip. It was none of her business. Still, that little demon that drove her daughter to ask impertinent questions had been inherited from her mother's Irish side. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

She shook her head. Then she stood and moved a few steps away. "I was very young," she said in a small voice, "not much older than your daughter. And naive, I suppose. John says I was."

"You knew him then?"

She laughed. "Oh yes. He was in love with me then, like now. But I thought of him only as a friend. His father knew my father well."

"But you didn't love him. Don't love him."

"No." She turned to face Becky and the late afternoon sun set her hair on fire. "And I never will. My heart belongs to another."

"May I ask," Becky said as she rose, "what happened to him?"

Rachel's chin touched her chest. "I never knew. He disappeared one night and I never saw him again. John says he was a coward." Her words were harsh, but sorrow softened their edges.

"Do you think he was?"

The girl moved into the shadows cast by the brace of trees they had rested beneath, and as she did, she failed to notice the faint rustling sound that accompanied her movements. "I think he had a reason, else he would not have left."

Becky's heart was breaking for her. "Did he tell you nothing?" She tried to imagine how she would have felt if Dan had simply disappeared one night without a word, but found she couldn't.

"We spoke once before he left. I thought at the time that something was wrong. He was nervous, not himself. He said he had to go away." Her clear blue eyes sought Becky's. "I didn't believe him. I thought he loved me too much." She looked away. "Perhaps that was the problem."

"What?"

"Everyone else-my father included-assumed Kerr left because he didn't really love me. I don't think that was it at all."

"No?" Becky shifted and as she did, the leaves above her swayed as if driven by a sudden wind and the branch bowed.

"Whatever it was that drove him away, I think it was because he was afraid I would be hurt- "

Rebecca held her hand up. She stopped and sniffed the air and then whispered, "Where did I leave Dan's gun?"

The girl's eyes widened. "Under the tree. Why?"

"I don't know. I think there is something up in the- "

A moment later Becky squealed. Two gold eyes pierced the shadows.

They were watching her.

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

Daniel's head pivoted and he began to run.

"Boone?"

"That's Becky," he tossed back over his shoulder, "something's wrong."

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

"What is it?" Rachel retreated a step.

"Move slowly. Don't do anything sudden." Rebecca Boone was shaking but she knew she had to remain calm. If the young woman took off running, the cat would most likely chase her. "I think it's a cougar. They rarely attack, but this one may be hurt or hungry." She bit her lip and blew a lock of hair from her eyes. "I need to get Dan's gun."

"How can you? It's under the tree!"

The girl's voice was strained. Becky glanced at her, knowing she must be terrified. She turned back towards the tree trying to assess the situation and then, a moment later, spun back around. The Englishwoman was more than terrified; she was about to break into a run.

"Rachel, no! Don't run. Dan will have heard me. He'll be here soon.... Rachel!"

It was too late. The girl had panicked. Her blue skirts rustled, making a soft swishing noise as she ran, and her golden hair bobbed about her shoulders. Just the sort of toys the big cat would be looking for. As she heard it shift its position above her, she told herself that the only thing she could do was run for Tick Licker the moment it took flight and shoot as fast and as clean as she could. Bracing herself, she watched the branch shudder and a dark form cast itself into the air.

"Rebecca, get down!"

The voice had come from out of nowhere. A moment later, she recognized it and with relief, threw herself to the ground. "Mingo, it's after the girl!"

Halfway to the line of trees that stood like black bars against the horizon, the young woman froze. She turned around and stared back the way she had come. As she watched a dark form emerged from the nearby brush. It fell to one knee and raised a longbow, drawing back the string and fitting it with an arrow. "Miss," it cried, "get down! I must have a clear shot."

She remained still for a moment and then shook herself as the great cat-a powerhouse of muscle and sinew a full six or seven feet in length-sprinted out of the shadows towards her. It reared up and stretched out its sharp claws just as an arrow pierced its heart. Its forward momentum carried it into her and the two of them tumbled to the ground.

Mingo paused near Rebecca and touched her shoulder with his hand. "Are you all right?"

Her red hair was in her eyes and she was deathly pale and shaking, but she nodded. "Check the girl," she said breathlessly.

The dark-skinned man closed his fingers briefly on her arm and then dashed across the field to the girl's side. The cat was laying half on top of her, twitching in its death throes. She was screaming; her head thrashing from side to side. He cast the cat away and took hold of her arms. "Miss?" he asked, "Miss, can you hear me? You are all right. The cat is dead. Miss?"

She continued to scream and thrash and as he took hold of her, her fear and rage were played out against him. She beat his chest with her hands and clawed his exposed flesh until at last she fell silent, exhausted and deathly still. Mingo glanced up and saw Daniel and another man advancing along the path. In a minute or two they would be by his side. He drew a breath and shook the woman gently. "Miss, are you all right?"

Rachel stirred. She lifted her head slowly and then she started. "The cat? Is it?"

"It is dead. Here, beside you. You are safe."

She shivered and then sighed. Then she realized she was in a strange man's arms. Shifting quickly, she pulled back to look into his face. "I'm sorry," she whispered, "I lost my head. Thank you for- "

The last rays of the sun struck his face, revealing the strong wide cheekbones and deep haunting eyes. The lips were as she remembered, full, with a tendency to laugh or cry with little provocation. She raised her hand and touched his face and whispered, "Kerr?"

Mingo stiffened. That was a name he had not heard in more than ten years. He glanced at the man who fell to his knees beside the girl and recognized the face, though it was lined and weather-beaten now and marked with an inner pain that knew no voice. He felt the world grind to a halt as he remembered the name Rebecca had cried out, just before the cat dropped from the tree.

"Rachel?"

She didn't hear him. She had fainted in his arms.

 

Continued in Chapter Three