"You take that back!"
Josh Sampson fell to the ground with a thud, tearing the knees of his new britches and skinning his hands. He growled at the boy who had pushed him, "No! I won't! It's true! Pa told me - "
"Then your pa is a liar!" Israel Boone rushed his friend and knocked him into the brittle brown grass. Though he was the smaller of the two, the anger the older boy's words had kindled in him had given him the greater strength. He straddled Josh and began to pummel him with his fists. "You take it back! You take it back now!"
"Israel. Israel! Stop it!"
Daniel Boone's son looked up to find Jericho Jones heading toward him. Earlier they had left the settlement - Jericho, Jemima, Josh and him - intending to hunt for game, when halfway to the stream, his sister had twisted her foot. The brown-haired girl had whined and said she needed to return to Widow McGrady's, and then insisted Jericho put his arm about her waist and take her there. Israel had rolled his eyes and asked to remain behind with Josh. As their companions disappeared into the trees, the two boys had begun to pitch stones and play hide and seek, enjoying one another's company. Until Mingo's name had come up.
Israel stared at Jericho and screamed, "You ain't my Pa! You can't tell me what to do!" Then he turned back to Josh and began to pound him again. "And you take back what you said about Mingo!"
"Whoa, Israel!" Jericho bolted forward, catching him about the waist and pulling him off of the other boy. "Now, sit still. Ouch!" As Israel's boots connected with his shins, he tightened his grip on the squirmy adolescent. "Cut that out!"
The white-haired boy's feet were flying. "No! I will not! Josh, you take it back!"
The other boy had risen to his feet. He wiped blood from his lip. "I ain't gonna take it back. He's a stinkin' savage, and what's worse, he ain't even true to his own. He's workin' for the British - that's what my pa says - and he ought to be strung up!" The Sampson boy darted in, meaning to retaliate against Israel, but instead his fist struck Jericho in the side. "He's a traitor!"
Jericho coughed and reached out with his other hand, catching the boy's arm. "You just settle down too. Nobody's proved nothin' about Mingo." He shook him, hoping to knock some sense into him. "We don't even know where he is."
The boy's brown eyes narrowed. "Yeah, my pa said that was 'spicious too."
"He could be hurt," Israel insisted as tears entered his eyes and his voice began to shake, "or lost. It don't mean he's done nothin' bad."
"Your pa helped him the last time they caught him red-handed." The older boy's smile was brutal. "My pa says he's got it comin' to him. Uppity In'jun." The boy spit on the ground. He stared Israel in the eye and then deliberately turned his back and started to walk away. "Uppity In'jun."
"You tell your pa to mind his mouth," Jericho called after him, still holding Dan's son tight. "Mingo could be innocent."
The boy glanced over his shoulder and made a rude gesture with his hand. Then he rounded the bend and vanished into the trees. Jericho felt Israel suddenly go limp in his arms as if the fight had gone out of him like a flame in the wind. He waited a moment and then asked, "You settled down now? Can I let you go? Or do I need to pitch you in the stream to cool you down?"
The boy's voice was small. "You can let me go. I ain't gonna do nothin'."
Jericho released him and waited until the boy turned to face him. "What made you start fightin' anyway?" Dan's son was chewing his cheek - a sure sign there was something on his mind. "Well?"
"Josh said Mingo was a traitor."
"So you decided to beat the stuffin' out of him? You know, Israel, Mingo can take care of himself. He's a grown - "
"You said 'could'."
Jericho frowned. "What?"
"You said Mingo 'could' be innocent?" The white-haired boy stared at him, a flicker of fear in his eyes. "Why'd you go and say 'could'?"
"Did I?" Jericho cleared his throat. " I meant to say, ' is innocent'. Sorry, I - "
Israel shook his head. "No, you didn't. You think Josh is right, don't you? About Mingo?"
A tear ran down the boy's cheek as a determined look settled on his face. "I'm goin' home."
"But you Ma ain't sent word yet. And Jemima - "
"I don't care." The boy ducked past Jericho and began to speed up the path towards his home. "I'm goin' home now."
"Israel," Jericho called, "maybe your Ma ain't ready for you to come home yet. Don't be surprised if she whups you!"
The threat was an empty one and Dan's son knew it. He turned back just before he entered the trees to yell, "You're wrong! You're all wrong! Mingo ain't no traitor! And I'm gonna prove it."
Jericho Jones sighed as Israel disappeared. He picked his hat up out of the dirt and dusted it off. Placing it on his head, he turned back towards the fort and Jemima.
"If only you could...."
"Taken by the French?" Becky was sitting near the fire. Her normally pale complexion had gone white as the snow that would soon lay on the fields outside their door. "The French? I thought this had to do with the British...." Her eyes went to the alcove where Mingo lay. She hadn't drawn the curtain all the way across. Should she let Mr. Oldham know he was there? Dan had told her they had been friends. And her husband thought they could trust him - still with everything that had happened, she felt uncertain as to where his loyalties lay. Deliberately she rose and walked to stand before the window, drawing his attention away from the room that lay behind him. "How can you be sure?"
Hugh Oldham was sitting at the table. His hands were shaking. There were pinched gray areas beneath his eyes and his skin seemed to have grown thin in the time he had been gone. He took a sip of the warm ale she had given him and sighed. "I waited the four hours your husband requested, and when he didn't appear, I went to the town. Mrs. Boone, I am not a man of stealth, nor am I acquainted with the business of spying, so I simply walked into the settlement claiming to be a lost traveler and asked for the local tavern. Due to our victory in the Seven Year's War, there was really little they could do but allow me to pass. Any French towns left in the area are under constant surveillance. They had no way of knowing whether what I said was true, or if I was there to report what I observed." He drew a breath and shifted back in the chair. "Whilst I was in the tavern several soldiers came in bragging of the capture of Daniel Boone." His eyes flew to Becky. "I am so sorry. If I could have done something to stop it - "
"Go on," she said as an icy chill snaked down her back.
"Evidently he was caught attempting to free Rachel. She was being held as a British spy - Mingo had been as well, though by this time he was gone. I am afraid I don't know where they took him. But your husband is to be transported with Rachel to the fort in Sandeski, Ohio at dusk tonight. I take it that it has not been shut down as most of their other outposts were." He downed the last of the warm liquid. "This Dulac - "
Becky's heart raced. "Not Phillipe Dulac?"
Hugh nodded. "I believe so. Why?"
She came to the table and picked up his empty mug. "Dan knows him. They were on opposite sides in the war. Dan was personally responsible for his being demoted. At the time he was sent back to France in disgrace. I...we didn't know he was back."
Oldham sighed again and ran his hand across his face.. "Ah, I see. And so he is using this opportunity...."
"To repay him." She put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. "Does this have anything to do with your niece, Mr. Oldham?"
The weary man raised his hands. "I know it looks bad, Mrs. Boone. I realize it looks as if Rachel came here with Gerard to draw Mingo and your husband into this tangled web of espionage and betrayal, but I know...." He stopped, and as he admitted his fear, seemed to age before her eyes. "No, I don't know. I believe Rachel is innocent."
"And Gerard?" She glanced towards the alcove where Mingo lay. With the curtain the way it was, the hand that lay atop the blanket was barely visible. So long as he didn't wake....
Hugh Oldham rose and leaned on the rough table. "My dear Madame, I never thought of myself as artless, but I believe I have totally misjudged Gerard. He and Kerr were excellent thespians, but I had not realized his acting went beyond the stage." He stood up straight. "I now believe that he has been in on this from the very beginning, and that he was the one who - for some unknown purpose of his own - informed the authorities of the documents in my brother's possession...."
"He used his knowledge of those documents to gain control over Rachel."
Becky looked up and gasped. Mingo was standing beside the bed. She had dressed him in one of Dan's night-shirts and where his skin showed, his deeply tanned complexion had grown almost as white as the muslin. "Mingo!"
Oldham spun about. His mouth fell open and he reached out to steady himself with a hand to the back of the chair. "Dear God, Kerr, what happened to you?"
The raven-haired man's smile was grim.
Daniel Boone shifted his long lanky frame and rose from the bare stone bed he occupied. He ran a hand through his brown hair and smiled a lop-sided smile as he pressed his hand to the middle of his back. It seemed British criminals must run a mite smaller than the average frontiersman. He had passed a miserable night alternately pacing the small area and lying wide awake, staring at the stars through the small barred window, trying to sort out the events that had taken place since their three English guests had arrived at the fort.
Obviously John Gerard was behind all of this. It seemed he was a double-agent, and was now playing one side against the other to his own ends - mainly the destruction of the man he had known ten years before in England; Kerr, Lord Dunsmore's heir, and his friend, Mingo. Apparently something had come between them in the Old World that had left him with a hate worthy of the most savage Indian or pitiless white man. The Englishman had traveled a great distance to seek revenge. Dan sighed and placed his hands on the bars. He didn't even know if Mingo was still alive.
Suddenly weary, he turned around and sat on the bench. If Dulac was involved in this, things were bound to go from bad to worse. He was a renegade even among his own, and only the good Lord knew what ends he might go to in order to find favor in the eyes of his government again. If that was his purpose. Knowing Dulac, he might have the opposite effect in mind; he might be trying to pay back his own people for disgracing him. Still, the fact that he was a prisoner and slated to be taken to the French fort in Ohio seemed to indicate the man was trying to curry favor. He bet Dulac's superiors were still mighty mad at him for his part in their downfall.
A sudden noise made him stand and face the door. He was in the shed he had seen earlier and knew now that the double-guard who had paraded before it, had been meant for him. One of the soldiers entered and stood ramrod straight at attention, his bayonet glinting in the early morning light.
A tall figure ducked and entered the small room. Impeccable as always, Phillipe Dulac's pale gray eyes stared at him from beneath a row of perfect white spit-curls. A self-satisfied smile sat comfortably on his thin pink lips.
"Ah, Monsieur Boone. We meet again. Let us hope, this time," the man nodded to the soldier who left the room and closed the door behind him, "that I may count it as a pleasure."
"So this man Gerard has made it look like you are working with the British? Mingo, how horrible!" Becky wrapped her arms about her slender frame and shuddered. "Dan said he didn't trust him."
"Daniel, as always, has shown that slow-moving does not mean slow-thinking." Mingo's smile was weak. "Still, I am afraid - like a surface of thin ice over a rushing river - labeling me as a spy is only the beginning. John's schemes are much more grandiose in scale. They involve not only me, but all of you - all of Boonesborough. Else he would not have had me bring Huntington to the fort." He shook his dark head. "I imagine he allowed one or two of the soldiers to live, so they could carry the tale of my betrayal of the Empire back to the Crown and my father." He sighed and rested his head in his hands. "Perhaps Daniel will have an idea of how the French fit into this...."
Becky's blue eyes flicked to Oldham's face. She saw it in his eyes as well. Mingo had not heard that Dan was being held captive. She frowned, uncertain of what to do. If she told him, he would go after him. And he wasn't well enough to go after him.
Still, if Mingo didn't go - who would?
"I believe," he continued, leaning back, "that John started as a British Intelligence agent, but somewhere along the way the French must have enticed him with money or some other promise of reward. It appears he is here now to sow dissent between the French and the English, as well as to implicate the native peoples of the region in treachery...."
"To what purpose?" Hugh looked at him, at his pallid complexion and the jagged gash across his forehead, noting as well the way his hands shook as he spoke. Almost moved to tears, he added, "What could he possibly hope - ?"
"To destroy me. And everything I hold dear: my honor, my name, my place among my own people." He met the bright blue eyes of his friend's wife. "My friends. And to destroy their faith in me."
"Mingo. I don't...."
"I can see it in your eyes, Rebecca. You don't know whether or not to trust me anymore."
She laid her hand on his arm. "Mingo, I - "
Suddenly the front door flew open and Israel burst into the room with the gale force of a hurricane. "Ma! Ma! Where are you, Ma? I gotta tell you - " The boy stopped abruptly as he drew near the table, and his mouth fell open as he recognized the short-haired stranger in his father's clothing. "Mingo?"
The sick man nodded. "Israel."
The boy took a step or two towards him. His face wore a puzzled expression. "Mingo, is it true?"
The dark-haired man shifted in his seat so he could meet his eyes. "Is what true, Israel?"
Israel nibbled his lip for a moment. "What happened to your hair?" he asked at last.
Mingo's hand went to his head. "It's a long story." He smiled briefly. "This is the way I used to wear it, when I was not much older than you."
There was a curious edge to his tone. "Yes. Why?" The boy started to breath heavily and his blue eyes filled with tears. Mingo reached towards him. "Israel, what is it?"
"Mrs. Boone! Mrs. Boone!"
Becky stood quickly, upsetting the dishes on the table. "Has everything on Earth decided to come down around my head at once?" She could see Jericho's shadow on the porch. He would be in the door in a second. Taking hold of Mingo's arm, she began to pull him towards the bedroom. "You need to get out of sight."
"I have no reason to hide, Rebecca."
Israel had come to stand by her and was pulling on her skirt. "Ma? Why do you want him to hide? Ma? Why?"
"Mrs. Boone, I have to talk to you - " Jericho Jones stepped into the room. His face was flushed and it was obvious he had been running. When he saw Mingo, he stopped dead.
The dark head nodded. "Jericho."
The young man took his hat off and threw it to the floor. "Gosh, darn it, Mrs. Boone, you could'a told me."
Israel was still tugging at her dress. Becky pressed her hands to her temples and counted to ten, then she caught his fingers and pulled them loose. Turning the boy, she directed him towards the back door. "Hush, Israel. Go outside."
"Now, young man!"
That stern tone was one the boy knew. He obeyed her reluctantly, dragging his feet. At the door he hesitated, turning to look at the stranger who had taken Mingo's place. And then he was gone.
Mingo stood and faced the young man who waited near the door. "Well, Jericho, speak what is on your mind."
The other man's eyes narrowed. He took a deep breath and then spoke slowly and deliberately, as if daring Dan's friend to deny what he had seen with his own eyes. "I saw you with the British."
Mingo sighed. "Yes."
"You don't deny it?"
He laughed then. "What good would that do? I was there."
"Giving away the secrets of the fort?"
Becky turned towards him. "What?"
Mingo paused. A moment later his dark brown eyes met hers. "Gerard threatened to turn Rachel over to the British, to have her executed for being a spy. I couldn't think clearly. This wretched fever...." He paused as he swayed. "I gave Huntington as little in the way of specifics as I could. There were only a few things I could not lie about. Those things Daniel will need to alter before - " He stopped. His hand went white on the back of the chair. "Rebecca, where is Daniel?"
Becky bit her lip and remained silent.
"That's part of what I came to tell you, Mrs. Boone...." Dan's wife was shaking her head, but he ignored her. "There are French soldiers in Boonesborough. They came to say that they arrested Dan for trespass. They intend to leave a 'presence' here, as they put it. Because of what Dan did and...." he glanced at Mingo "because they say Mingo here is a British spy."
"What utter nonsense," Hugh Oldham had remained silent up to this point, lost in thought. He glanced at his old friend. "Gerard is the spy."
"Gerard? John Gerard?"
Jericho frowned. "Well, your friend Gerard was the one who brought the news to the French, and he told them that the British are looking for Mingo too. They claim he was working with the French; that he set their soldiers up for the ambush and then ran away."
"But he was injured and ill," Becky protested. "He almost died."
"That proves nothing, Rebecca." Mingo fell back into his chair and rested his head in his hands. "Is that all?"
Jericho glanced behind him. He had heard a noise, but realized it was must have been Israel on the porch. "No. Because you were involved, the British think the Cherokee are plotting with the French. They attacked the camp last night."
Mingo's head came up. "The Cherokee camp? And?"
The boy shook his head. "A couple of braves were killed."
Becky's eyes grew huge. She paled and sat down. "I sent Cincinnatus to see your chief last night."
She shook her head. "You needed to get out of here. It isn't safe. I thought maybe your own people - "
"They won't have him, Becky."
Jericho's eyes flew to the open door. It hadn't been Israel, but the tavern-keeper whose presence he had sensed. The older man looked weary and his clothes were unkempt, and he was covered with dust from the road. "Cincinnatus?"
Becky moved to his side and placed her hand on his arm. "Thank goodness you aren't hurt. What happened? What do you mean, they won't 'have him?' "
"I only made it to the edge of the camp before the soldiers showed." He glanced at Mingo. "There were some other Indians with them, too. Creek, I think."
Mingo's jaw was tight. "Go on, Cincinnatus."
He shook his head. "For British soldiers they acted awful sneaky. And after they was done, they talked among themselves. I heard them mention your name."
"In front of some of my people, no doubt." Mingo struck the table with his fist and the dishes jumped. "Rebecca, where are my clothes?"
Hugh Oldham came to stand by him. "Kerr, you can't - "
"You're not well, Mingo. You can't travel." Becky met his eyes and saw the torture in them. Her voice was quiet. "You'll kill yourself."
"Gerard has already done that for me, Rebecca. Whether I am Kerr," he glanced at Hugh, "or Cara-Mingo, it matters little; both are dead. Gerard has succeeded. He has taken from me everything that matters."
Becky bit her lip. He was too calm. She realized at this moment that he stood at the eye of the storm. "Not everything. Rachel is still alive. Won't he...?"
Mingo began to unbutton the neck of the night-shirt. "I should have thought of it sooner. I don't believe now that John will harm her. She has only been a means to an end. And that end has come." He took a step away from the table. "I need clothing, Rebecca. The extra vest and coat I have here and some of Daniel's things...."
"You can't go!" There were tears in her eyes. "Mingo...."
"Rebecca, I can't stay." He turned back to her and reaching out, took her by the hand. "I cannot continue to place you in danger. You, and the children. And I cannot abandon Daniel. These things I have done, the choices I have made have put you all in danger. And if Daniel dies, I may as well have been the one who put his finger to the hammer and let the volley fly."
"Liar! Traitor!" Israel exploded into the room, his small fists flying. "I hate you! I hate you! I wish you were dead. Josh was right, you've betrayed us! Traitor!" Tears were flowing freely down the little boy's cheeks. "I want my Pa. Where's Pa?"
His mother reached for him, but Mingo held her back. "No, Rebecca. The boy is right." He dropped to his knees before him. "Israel, look at me."
Daniel's son was shaking with fear and rage. He tossed his head from side to side. "No, I won't. I don't want to - "
The boy fell silent. He sniffed and then he raised his head and looked the short-haired stranger in the eye. Mingo glanced at the young man who waited by the door. He held his hand out. "Jericho, give me your knife."
Becky started. "Mingo, whatever are you - ?"
He spoke without looking away from her son. "Do you trust me, Rebecca?"
She glanced at Hugh Oldham and then to Cincinnatus. Then she nodded. "Yes."
Mingo's lips lifted slightly at the edges. "Thank you for that, Rebecca. Jericho?"
The other man pulled his knife from its sheath and offered it to him, handle first.
He took it and showed it to Daniel's son. "Do you see this, Israel?" he said, as he held his arm out towards the boy. As he nodded, Mingo took the sharpened edge and ran it across his arm.
"Mingo!" Becky exclaimed as a crimson stream began to run down his tanned flesh., "Don't!"
"By the blood that runs red in these veins, Israel, by all that I hold sacred - my loyalty and fidelity to you and your family, and my tribe - I swear I will not return here alive without your father. My life is as nothing to me this day. It is forfeit." He handed the blade to Daniel's son. The boy accepted it, his blue eyes wide. "Guard that for me, and do not surrender it to any other than your father, when he returns."
The boy ran a sleeve across his reddened nose. "When you both return...."
Mingo smiled sadly. He stood and placed his hand on the boy's head. "I do not think, Israel, that I shall be doing that...."
"You cannot imagine, Monsieur Boone, how much pleasure it gives me to entertain you in such a fashion." Dulac opened his hands to encompass the cell, with its four bare walls and stone floor. "I trust there was nothing you lacked during the night...."
"Only one thing, Captain." Dan was careful not to put too much emphasis on the man's demoted rank - but just enough to let know that he knew.
"And what is that?" The question was curt.
"The truth." Dan squinted and stared at the smart uniform and powdered wig. "About what you are doing here."
"I live here, Monsieur Boone. You know as well as I," he drew a breath, "that there is no military force per se in the Colonies anymore. We are here merely to guard what is ours."
"No thanks to you, Dulac. I know you didn't agree with the surrender. I wouldn't be surprised if you were here for the sole purpose of undermining the treaty your people signed with the English."
"Oh, come now, Boone, I am one man. What could I do?"
"Rile up the Indians. Turn them and the British on one another. Turn both on the colonists." Daniel winked. "You're a smart man, Dulac. You could find a way if you wanted."
"I feel, Monsieur Boone, like you are interrogating me...."
"When did you meet Gerard?"
The lightly lavender-scented skin above the Frenchman's eyebrows furrowed. "Me? Gerard who?"
"You know full well who. John Gerard." Dan paused. "The intended of the girl you have locked up in that outbuilding."
"Ah, Miss Cornell.... Now we come to the heart of the matter."
Dan frowned. "What do you mean?"
Dulac pivoted. He raised his hand and struck the wood door. A second later it opened. "Bring in the girl."
The big woodsman stood and faced the door. A moment later the petite figure he had last seen lying in his own bed stepped through, lifting her skirts above her ankles. She dropped the blue fabric and then raised her head and acknowledged his presence.
She smiled sadly. "Mr. Boone.
Dan's eyes went from the Captain to Mingo's former love. "Tell me what? Miss Cornell, what -? "
She lifted her face so the midmorning light struck it, revealing the dark circles beneath the haunting blue eyes. "The British were right, Mr. Boone. I have been working with the French."
"We're pullin' everybody in, Becky - lock, stock and barrel. Get Israel and come to the fort." Cincinnatus looked at her. She was watching the curtain, waiting for Mingo to reappear.
When she realized he was staring, she said, "He isn't strong enough to travel."
The older man shook his head. "Becky, you heard what Jericho said. The French and the British are both lookin' for him. He can't come into the fort. The settlers would wring his neck. And now, he can't even go to his own people....."
"I am a dead man."
Rebecca drew a deep breath. She looked at her friend and sighed. "Somehow, it just isn't the same."
Mingo allowed himself the shadow of a smile. He was dressed in a pair of Daniel's buckskins, but the vest, coat and ornaments were his own - spares he had left with them for just such emergencies as this. He had the bullwhip he had given to Daniel and his friend's extra gun. One small leather strap with a pair of tiny feathers was tied in his short hair.
He came to rest beside her. "In this, Gerard has accomplished one thing he did not count on."
Becky drew close to him. "And what is that?"
"He has made me dangerous. A dead man can know no fear. He has no one to care for, and no one who cares." He looked at Hugh Oldham. "The man you knew, Kerr, died long ago." He touched his hair. "Cara-Mingo before that. Now, Mingo is dead as well, and in death, the three have become one."
Within the shadows of the forested world that surrounded Boonesborough, another shadow moved as the white wolf does against snow; silent and unseen. It paused to listen to the settlers who waited at the gate, huddled together, seeking safety from the approaching storm. Their words were as the jackal, harsh and cruel, and spoken with the intent to destroy.
Mingo's name was on their lips, as well as Boone's. There was fear for the one and fear of the other.
The shadow's fingers clenched tight at the thought of the part his people had played in this, and reddened at the idea of the man who had mysteriously reappeared, suddenly and inexorably drawing so many disparate parts together into one well-constructed and impossibly intricate knot.
A moment later the feathered head turned towards the path that led to the Boone's cabin and the shadow melted into one with its dark brothers.
The night had a thousand eyes. They followed him as he walked with the wind. The tears they shed struck his skin, cooling the fever that raged inside. Their haunting light illumined his path, as beside him their sister stream rushed on, its hushed voice urging him to make haste.
Haste: yes, he had to make haste, for he feared he would come too late. He feared that by the time he arrived there would be nothing left, nothing but a shade - a shadow of the man he had known and loved, which would look at him with hate-filled eyes and never forgive, never pardon, but torment him for the rest of his days as it pointed a bony finger at the ones left behind. The ones it had loved.
The ones he had failed.
He was afraid. That was not a word a warrior used. And yet he admitted it, for in fear, he found his strength. It was fear that drove him forward when fatigue and shame and remorse would have bid him die - when the thing he had done lay like a blanket on his heart.
He could still see Israel's eyes. 'Traitor', he had said. Betrayer.
Yes. Betrayed. He had betrayed them all, and now it had come to this.
His fingers felt the cold metal of the rifle beneath them. The bullwhip was heavy on his hip. He felt the leather stretched taut across his heaving chest and touched his furrowed brow to wipe away the sweat. The day was hot, but his heart was ice.
"Daniel. What have I done?"
Continued in Chapter Ten