"Jemima. Jemima Boone, whatever is the matter with you?"
The girl jumped and dropped the curtain so it covered the window. She glanced at her mother and then started to move away. "Nothing."
Becky would have none of that. She quickly came to her daughterís side and as she caught her elbow with her hand, swept the curtain aside. She frowned; puzzled. Dan was standing by the old oak tree with Yad, talking to the man he had introduced to her as Cara-Mingo. She hadnít really gotten to know the native yet, but found him an interesting individual. It seemed he had White blood and had been educated in the Old World. She had invited him to supper that evening, and he had accepted. Turning back to her child, she said, "Nothing? Nothing is right. Thereís no one out there but your father and Yad, and that nice Cherokee man he brought...." Beckyís voice trailed off. Her daughter had jerked when she mentioned the native. "Jemima?"
The girlís head was down. She was twisting her apron with her fingers.
"Maíam," her brown eyes flicked up, "it just doesnít seem right."
Becky tilted her red head. "What doesnít seem right?"
Her mother waited. "Him, who?"
Jemima swallowed hard. "The Indian. I mean, what is Pa thinking?"
"What do you mean, what is he thinking?" Becky frowned. "Jemima Boone, are you prejudiced against that man just because he is an Indian?"
"No, Maíam." The girl moved away from her. "Itís not that Iím prejudiced, like you say, but Ma, no one wants him here." She turned and looked at her mother. "Katyís Pa was killed by Indians. Emily lost her brothers." Jemima took a step forward. "Billy, he watched while they killed his Ma...." She drew a deep breath and straightened her spine. "Even Reverend Keller says they are heathens who donít know the Good Book, and arenít to be trusted."
Becky closed her eyes and sighed. Most of what her daughter said was true. So many good men and women had been lost on the trek through the wilderness. But there was another side to the coin; the Indians had lost people too, as well as their homes and livelihoods. Some of them were just evil and enjoyed killing, but most were simply defending what they thought was theirs. In that way, the Indians and White men were no different. "The Reverend Keller also says all boys and girls are wicked and should be made to work from dawn to dusk to pay for their sins. Do you believe that? Are you wicked, Jemima?"
The girlís voice was quiet. "No, Maíam."
"No." Becky turned and glanced at the window. "Have you even spoken to him?"
"To who?" Her brown eyes were wide.
Jemima shook her head. "No."
Becky stepped up to her. "What is it about this that troubles you so? Your father has known natives before. They helped to teach him what he knows. Why is this different?"
"I donít know." Her eyes darted to her mother. "Maybe because Pa called him his friend."
"And maybe because you think heíll have to be your friend? And your other friends wouldnít like that. Is that it?"
The girl frowned. She didnít want to admit that it was. She didnít want to admit how much it mattered to her to fit in; to be a part of the other young people of the settlement. She had left so many friends behind in the more civilized part of the world. Now, when she had just made a few new ones, this frontier threatened to take it all away again. "No, Maíam." She was silent a moment. "Yes, Maíam."
Becky shoved a lock of red hair out of her eyes. "And what do you think the Good Book, that you know so much better than your fatherís new heathen friend, would say about that?"
"That I should love my neighbor as myself," she paused, "whether he has white skin or not?"
Her mother nodded. "Donít you have some chores to do? I think the water needs fetching."
Jemima nodded. "Yes, Maíam." She went to the table and picked up the bucket and headed for the door. "Ma?"
"Are you ashamed of me?"
Beckyís heart sank. She went to her daughter and wrapped her arms about her. "No, dear. This is a new world and there are new challenges to be met in it every day. We all meet them as we can. You have the stuff in you to rise to this. I know it. Believe in yourself. All right?"
Jemima sighed and nodded.
"I believe in you." Becky kissed her head and turned her towards the door. "Now go fetch the water. I need to clean the vegetables."
Jemima opened the door and stepped onto the porch. She glanced at her father and Yad, and then her eyes lingered on the native man. He was almost as tall as her Pa. His skin was not so dark as some of the natives she had seen coming and going in the Carolinas, but he had the same feathers in his hair and beads around his neck. On his belt was a ferocious-looking tomahawk like the one Billy McColl had described seeing cut into his Maís head. She thought of her own Ma and grew sick to her stomach. Turning away, she walked to the well and started to draw up the rope. As she did, she swayed. She remembered Emily talking about how her little brother had been scalped and visions of Israel, lying on the floor; his white hair a mass of blood, clouded her eyes. She placed her hand on the side of the well and waited with her head down for a second wave of nausea to pass.
Her eyes were closed. She didnít recognize the voice, but knew it wasnít her Pa, and couldnít have been Yad. Yad never called her Ďmissí. She swallowed. It had to be him.
But did savages use the word, Ďmissí?
"Is there something I can do to assist you? Are you all right?"
She blinked and then looked up at him. He had a kind face; open, with wide dark eyes. But looks could be misleading. That was another thing the Reverend had said. She nodded but said nothing.
The tall man glanced back the way he had come. "Would you like me to get your father?"
Jemima shook her head. She frowned. "You donít sound like an Indian."
He laughed. Then he noted her eyes which were taking in every detail of his clothes. "But I look like one. Do I not?"
She nodded again.
"I take it, you have not had commerce with," he paused, Ďmet many Indians. Are you frightened of me?"
The girl shook her head quickly. "No."
"Well, I am pleased. I would not want to frighten you. You are Jemima, are you not?"
Her brown eyes grew even wider. "Yes."
"Your father has spoken of you, and your brother."
"Israel is at a friendís," she said quickly as she turned back to the rope and started to draw the bucket up.
"May I help you with that?"
"No. I can do it myself." Her tone became harsh as she tried to hide her fear. She drew a deep breath and waited. He didnít go away. As the bucket came to the top of the well, she caught it and then turned to look at him. "Why are you here?"
"Here? In Boonesborough, you mean?" He smiled. "I came at the invitation of your father. Do you not approve?"
"It doesnít matter if I do or I donít," she said quietly. "Youíre here."
"Yes. Do you not like Indians, Miss Boone?"
Her eyes flicked to him as she bent to fill the bucket at her feet. "I donít know as I like or dislike them."
"Then, do you not like me?"
Some of the water sloshed over the edge of the wooden container. She watched it puddle on the ground and then straightened up and looked at him.
"Please, tell me the truth," he said softly.
"I donít know you well enough to like or dislike you either."
He was silent a moment; fingering his chin. "Then you donít trust me." At her look, he continued, "Ah, that is it. You are afraid I will endanger your family, or bring the settlement harm. I assure you, I mean you and your friends only good."
Billy had said that the Indian who had killed his Ma had been their friend. Or so they had thought. And then, one day, he had just up and left, and then the war party had come. She wrapped her hands about the bucket and moved past him. "Weíll see," was all she said.
The tall native watched her go; lost in thought. He didnít stir until a hand touched his back, and the slap that accompanied it made him take a step forward. He pivoted to find Daniel Booneís blond-haired friend Yadkin staring at him.
"Consarn, it, Mingo, ifín you donít look like a man whoís in desperate need of a drink. Daníl has gone down to the tavern to talk to Cincinnatus. You cominí?"
Mingo shook his head. "No, thank you, Yadkin. I rarely drink this early in the day."
The blond frowned. He looked at the sky. The sun was just cresting over the top of the trees and the birds were singing from within the shadows of their leaves. "Early? Why, it ainít early. You see that light over yonder?"
Mingo glanced at the horizon. "Yes. It is dawn."
"Shows how much you know. And here I thought you was an Ďed-dicatedí man. That ainít dawn. Far away in another valley some of them heathensóif you pardon the word, you beiní one of Ďem and allóare dancing round one of those great big fires they build. If you listen you can just hear the drums." He paused dramatically with his hand to his ear. "Every step they take, that fire leaps higher and higher. Thatís the glow you see." Yadkin smiled and winked. "Another hour or two, and it will be dark as the hind end of a black bear backiní out of a hollow log at midnight."
"That is dark indeed." Mingo couldnít help but smile. "If I didnít know better, Yadkin, I would say you were given to hyperbole." As the unschooled frontiersman scratched his head and shifted uneasily, the native went on. "But since I do know you, and know of your penchant for veracity and utter truthfulness, perhaps I will accompany you to the tavern." As Yadkin began to pull on his mustache in the vain hope that it would help him decipher what the native had said, Mingo looked toward the Boone cabin. His new friendís young daughter was standing in the doorway, staring at him. When she noticed he was watching, she turned and went in. He sighed. He didnít really understand why her distrust and refusal to accept him bothered him so. She was just a young girl. It did not really matter; not in the greater scheme of things. "And perhaps I will have a pint after all."
"The first rounds on you," Yadkin agreed swiftly, glad to finally understand something the other man said. Then at Mingoís look, he added, "You heathen-types do have money, donít you? I mean, that that old goat will accept?"
The native nodded. "Gold is gold, Yadkin. People seldom judge its quality by the color of the skin of the man who carries it.
"Unlike the man himself."
Daniel Boone was leaning on the wooden counter in Cincinnatusís tavern when the two men entered. Mingo, being tall, had to stoop a bit to make certain his feathers cleared the lintel at the top. As he did, his eyes surreptitiously took in the motley mix of settlers and trappers. Many of them he had had some commerce with. Daniel had taken him along when he and Jacob Lewis had recently gone beaver trapping. Isaac Clay, who was sitting beside William McColl, had accompanied them on a fishing expedition. Still, each one of them turned and stared at him with suspicion as he entered, as if óeven though he was to be tolerated on Daniel Booneís accountóthey wanted him to know he was not welcome in their Ďpoliteí society. He suppressed a sigh and turned at the sound of one friendly voice.
"Mingo! Itís been a coonís age since I seen you! How have you been?"
The nativeís dark eyebrows arched. "Cincinnatus, I have a suspicion there is an ulterior motive to your rather exuberant greeting. I believe I saw you last night."
"Well, now," the wily tavern-keeper pulled his beard, "whoís to say how long a coonís age is? You donít normally come in here this early, Mingo. Whatís your pleasure?"
"Now old man," Yadkin cut in, "I just got done telliní Mingo here that it ainít morniní. He donít drink in the morniní. Lookíee at that sky out yonder." He pointed through one of the thick smoky windows. "Thatís the blessed glow of twilight, I tell ya. Pour my friend and me," he slapped Mingo on the back, Ďa round and keep yer trap shut."
Cincinnatus stared at the unlikely pair. "You payiní, Mingo?"
The native laughed and drew several coins out of his pouch. "Yes."
The older man grinned, "Well, in that case then, Iím pouriní."
"Which are ya payiní with, Redskin? Wampum beads or the Kingís gold?" A surly voice spoke from nearby. "Donít know which is worse, beiní part Injun or part Redcoat," the man muttered, his tone darkening. "I guess Iíd have to say itís beiní both."
Daniel Booneís green eyes fastened on his new friend. Mingo had tensed, but it was obvious the slur was nothing he hadnít heard before. Dan glanced at the sandy-haired man who occupied a nearby table. "Now, Will, donít you think itís a little early in the morniní to have already pickled your tongue so much that it donít know how to mind what itís sayiní?"
William McColl stared at him. His dark gaze flicked to Mingo and then back. "I ainít been drinkiní, Boone. Iím a God-feariní man. Not some drunken heathen."
Dan knew Willís first wife had been killed by natives, though he didnít know the circumstances. The Ulster-Scot had never made any secret of his feelings about Indians. He hated them, plain and simple. The tall frontiersman nodded to his two friends and went to stand beside the other man. He had spoken to Mingo about the abiding prejudice among many of the settlementís inhabitants. He had hoped, perhaps, that the educated Indianís presence among them would do something to dispel it.
Instead it had only seemed to increase their rage.
Dan raised a foot and put it on one of the empty chairs and leaned forward. "Now correct me if Iím wrong, Will, but ainít your Bible the same as mine? I think thereís something in there about loviní your neighbor as yourself."
"He ainít my neighbor," McCollís spat out. "He ainít even human."
"Daniel," Mingoís voice was quiet, "perhaps I should leave."
The big man held his hand up. "You ainít goiní nowhere, Mingo. Thereíve been Indians in the tavern before, Will, and they ainít raised your hackles. What is this?"
"They can do their business and get out, thatís what I say." McColl was looking at his hands. Then he raised his head and stared straight at Mingo. "Drinkiní and talkiní and pretendiní theyíre like us, thatís what I canít abide."
Mingoís dark eyes sparked. Yadkin who was standing next to him saw it happen. He shifted and reached for the nativeís arm. "Mingo, careful...."
The tall native shook free and walked to the table. He stared down at William McColl from his over-six foot advantage and waited until the other man met his eyes. Then he said quietly, "I assure you, Mr. McColl, that you have nothing to fear from me on that account. The last thing in the world I would desire is to be like you." He lifted his eyes to his friend. "Daniel. I will see you this evening for supper."
As Mingo turned and headed for the door, Will McColl exploded out of his seat. The native whirled, but even as his hand went for his whip, Dan caught the other man by the scruff of his neck and hauled him back. "Lookiní forward to it, Mingo," he said as he spun and tossed the hot-headed Ulster Scot into the corner where he landed with a thud on a pile of seed bags. "Beckyís puttiní out the fine china and polishiní up the silver. Well," he laughed, "polishiní the pewter to make it look like silver."
Mingo laughed as well. "Then I shall certainly arrive on time and be on my best behavior." His dark eyes flicked to the angry settler who was dusting himself off and staggering to his feet. "Perhaps, Mr. McColl, next time we meet you might offer some instruction on appropriate behavior. It appears your interpretation of it differs from mine. Does not the ĎGood Bookí say, ĎBe not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares?í" He paused. "Now, I may not be an angel, Mr. McColl, but I can spot a devil, even when he is wearing a White manís clothes."
Dan rolled his eyes as the native turned and exited the room. Yadkin was sputtering in his ale and Cincinnatus had begun to whistle and polish the counter with great vigor. Sometimes, it seemed the Cherokee liked to invite trouble. It was probably fortunate for the Colonies that he hadnít taken to life in the Old World; he would have made one mean opponent on the battlefield.
"Damned arrogant savage," McColl growled. "Someone oughta teach him a lesson. He canít talk to white folk like that."
"I donít know, Will, a white fool is no different from a red or a black one." Dan righted the chair that had been knocked over. "Heís still a fool."
"You always side with that Injun, Boone. Why is that?"
"I side with anyone whoís beiní accused unfairly, Will."
"That ainít it." McColl staggered toward him. "Itís more than that."
Dan planted his feet and faced the settler. "Will, Iíve known you for some time now. And except for this one thing, youíre a good man. Donít let blind prejudice ruin you and what youíre trying to build here; what weíre all tryiní to build here." He drew a breath. "You know as well as me, without the kindness of the Indians, we wouldnít be alive. And yes, Mingo is my friend. He helped us find this place and risked his life to make Boonesborough happen, just the same as me and the other men. And heís saved my life; more than once. Mingo ainít goiní nowhere, Will, not unless he wants to." His green eyes narrowed and his voice dropped in pitch. "I donít know as I can say the same for those who insist on makiní trouble where there need not be any."
"You threateniní me, Boone?"
Dan pursed his lips. "Take it as you will. Yad?"
Yadkin had poured another ale. He downed it and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Daníl?"
"Letís go check out that stand of timber. Itís early in the day and weíve got plenty of time to get there and back. Beckyís settiní out a feast tonight, and we donít want to be late."
"No sir-ee, Daníl. Between Israel and Mingo there wonít be a morsel left ifín weíre late." Yad turned to retrieve his hat and was faced down by the tavern-keeper who was rubbing his fingers together, indicating he owed him for the last pint he had consumed. Snatching his hat and slapping it on his head, Yad declared, "Werenít you listeniní, you old coot? Itís morning. A decent man donít drink this early in the day."
As the two men exited the tavern, William McColl sat down at the table and drummed it with his fist. Isaac Clay, who had watched the whole interchange in silence, shifted forward. "Never seen such an arrogant savage. Youíd think he owned the settlement instead of Boone; swaggering in here, buying drinks, and calliní righteous men Ďdevilsí. It ainít right."
"I thought I knew Daníl better." McColl shook his head. "Whatís he thinkiní? We got women and children here. You know how it is. If thereís one savage, thereíll soon be a whole mess of Ďem. If they hear the pickinís are easy in Boonesborough, we wonít never get rid of Ďem."
"Maybe somethiní oughta happen to that Injun of Daníl Booneís."
Isaacís words fell into silence. McColl leaned back and contemplated them. After a minute or two, a grin broke out on his face.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Maybe somethiní oughta happen to Booneís Injun."
Jemima jumped as she dropped the plate she had been drying. Her eyes went to her mother even as the tall native beside her bent and retrieved it from the floor and handed it to her. He had offered to help her clean up while her father and Yadkin completed the map of the stand of timber they had surveyed that morning. The man named Mingo smiled as she took it from his hand. "My apologies," he said softly.
The girl frowned. "Whatever for?"
"For my presence making you so nervous."
"It isnít that," she began. "Itís just.... Well...." She tried to think of something to say, but couldnít, and so she fell silent.
"I see your parents have taught you not to lie." The nativeís smile broadened. "I was reared much the same. I remember, when I was not much older than your brother, Israel, that I told what I believe you would call a Ďwhopperí." He laughed. "I blamed another small boy for starting a fire that consumed a field. My father found out about it." Mingo winced and patted his backside. "I had no idea an English riding crop could leave such a lasting impression."
"Yes, Jemima. Is it all right if I call you Jemima?" As she nodded, he added, "I had a father. And a mother."
The girl paled. "I know you did. Iím sorry. I just...."
"It has often been my experience that we fear what we do not know. You have heard many things about Indians. Bad things?"
"Oh, no, I couldnít." She went back to drying the dish in her hand which was already dry. "They arenít...."
"Theyíre true," she snapped. Her head came up. "But youíre company, and it ainít.... It isnít polite to be rude to company."
"Even if they give you permission to be Ďrudeí?" Mingoís eyes flicked to her father. The frontiersman had been watching them. He nodded almost imperceptibly as he
kissed his wife and sent her to check on their son. "Yad and I are steppiní outside. You cominí, Mingo?"
"In a moment, Daniel." He waited until the two men had exited and then turned to the young girl. "Well?"
She chewed her lip. "I donít know."
"Perhaps I can assist you, Jemima." Mingo shifted and crossed his arms. "You have heard tales of Indians who have attacked settlers from out of nowhere, and with no apparent motive; of men and women who have been slaughtered, and their bodies burned. Of wives and mother, brothers and sisters who have been brutally slain; their scalps taken and sometimes hung on poles, or displayed while their killers danced and offered thanks to their God."
The girlís brown eyes were round as the plate she held. She swallowed hard. "You arenít gonna deny it?"
"No. I donít deny it. I have witnessed these, and many other sad events." The tall native shook his head and fell silent.
"Others?" Jemima asked after a minute.
Mingo leaned against the cupboard and looked towards the open door. "Yes. I have seen young native girls, no older than you, taken from their villages by white men, to be sold to other white men for gain. I have seen old natives, men and women, cheated of all they have, left with nothing but the skins on their backs and a few glass beads." He drew a breath and his tone darkened as if he fought for control. "I have seen native children left alone to weep over the broken bodies of their parents, whose only crime was to live on a fertile piece of land. Violence begets violence, Jemima. Hatred begets hatred. Somewhere, someone has to have the courage to say, ĎEnough is enough. I will not hate all because of the actions of one, or of a few.í" He paused and turned to meet her troubled stare. "I think that is a part of why I am here. I am both white and red. I think it is your fatherís hopeóI know it is mineóthat I can act as a sort of bridge between the two."
Jemima was silent. A tear trailed down her cheek. She started to say something, but all that came out was, "Iím sorry."
Mingo straightened up and reached towards her. When she didnít flinch, he brushed away the tear. "Donít be sorry. Just remain open." He held out his hand and nodded towards it. "Friends?" he asked.
She placed her small white fingers in his long red ones and looked up.
The girl jumped and turned towards the front of the cabin. Billy McColl was standing in the open doorway, staring at her; his young face caught somewhere between surprise and disbelief. "Billy," she said as her fingers quickly retreated from the Indianís. She undid her apron, laid it on the top of the wash-stand, and then moved towards him. "You didnít say youíd be cominí."
"I got done with my chores early." His blue eyes were on the tall native. "Whoís your friend?"
She didnít miss the emphasis on the word. "This is my País friend, Mingo."
The Cherokee turned toward him. "Pleased to meet you, Master McColl."
The boy didnít say anything. He simply continued to stare.
As Daniel Boone stepped back into the room, Mingo cleared his throat. He smiled wryly at his friendís unspoken question. "Like father, like son, it seems," he muttered to himself as he turned to Jemima. "If you will excuse me, I have one or two things to discuss with your father, and then I must be on my way. My chief has asked me to run a message for him. Rebecca," he added as the redhead emerged from the curtained alcove and began to make her way across the cabin, Ďthank you. It has been many years since I have been welcomed and fed in such a manner. The master chefs of Europe must be grateful you emigrated. You put them to shame."
She beamed as she came to stand before him. "And you must have some Irish blood in you, Mingo."
One dark brow arced. "Oh?"
"You are so touched with the blarney." As he laughed, Becky turned toward the door and the young man who was standing just without it. "Come on in, Billy."
The boy shook his head. "I just came to talk to Jemima. Iíll wait out here."
Mingo reached his side in several long strides. "It is all right, Master McColl." He nodded at Daniel who ducked back through the door. "I need to speak with Jemimaís father. You may step in." The tall native glanced at his rifle and the shot bag and beaded bandoleer that hung from it, all of which were propped against the cabin wall on the other side of the boy. He decided he could retrieve them later, before he left. There was really no need to agitate the young man further at this time.
Becky eyed her daughter and her young friend as Mingo stepped outside. Both were stiff as starched shirts left too long to dry in the sun. She shoved a stray lock of hair from her eyes and shook her head, and then went to the high-backed bench beside the fire and picked up the square of fabric she had been quilting. "How is your mother, Billy?" she asked as she sat down.
"My Maís dead," he answered softly.
"I meant Helen." Helen was Billyís step-mother. Fortunately for the boy they were fairly close. Still, he had already been tainted by his fatherís legacy of unrelenting rage.
"Sheís fine, Maíam." His dark eyes flicked to Jemimaís face. "She sends her regards." As Billy spoke, he turned toward the items propped against the wall and began to edge closer to them.
Jemima frowned. What was he doing? "Billy?"
One finger went to his lips as he took hold of the bandoleer and began to lift the flap. "She said she almost has that set of squares done. Sheíll send them over with Mary tomorrow."
Mary was his eldest sister. She too had been home when the Indians attacked and had a scar over her left eye from where one of the warriors had laid his knife to her skin. Jemima shook her head as his fingers closed on something and he nodded. ĎWhat are you doing?í she mouthed.
"Thatíll be fine," Becky answered without looking. "Was there anything else?"
"I wanted to ask if Jemima could go to the dance at the tavern with me on Saturday." He quickly pocketed the item. "Do you think she could?"
Oblivious to what was happening, Becky Boone laughed. "Jemima is too young for courting. So are you." She took a couple of stitches. "What silly notions you young people have sometimes. But you can be certain weíll see you there. Whether or not Jemima saves you a dance.... Well, thatís up to her."
Billy held Jemimaís gaze. "Then, I guess Iíve got everything I came for then. Iíll be going now."
As the boy backed toward the door, Daniel Boone stepped into the cabin. He nodded at Billy, who moved out of the way, and reached for Mingoís rifle, the shot bag and bandoleer. "You on your way, son?"
"Yes, sir. My Pa donít want me out alone after it gets dark." He frowned and glanced out the door. "Whereís the In.... Whereís your friend, Mr. Boone?"
"Mingoís waitiní on the path to the village. Iím sure heíd walk you part way. Youíre cabin lies the same direction heís goiní."
Billy shook his head. "I ainít goiní home."
Becky frowned at him. "I thought you said your Paó "
"Heís waitiní for me, Maíam. Weíre goiní huntiní tonight." Billyís blue eyes flicked to Jemima. He held her stare for a second and then nodded to her parents. "I best be goiní. Good night, Mrs. Boone. Mr. Boone."
And with that he was gone.
Beckyís hand found its familiar spot on her hip. "Now, isnít that odd. I expected at least some sort of an argument out of him. Donít you think he seemed rather preoccupied, Dan?"
Dan started and turned toward the door. His Cherokee friend was standing in the opening. "Sorry, Mingo. I know you need to get going." He handed him his rifle and the two bags. "Iíll see you Ďbout noon?"
Mingo nodded. "I should have returned by then. I am only running a message to the Shawnee village beyond the river."
"Only?" Dan grinned. "You sure those Shawnee will let you go?"
Mingo laughed. "If they do not, it will mean war. My uncle is very fond of me. Jemima. Rebecca. Again, my thanks."
As he turned to go, the young girl stepped forward. "Mr. Mingo...."
He turned back with a smile. "Just Mingo. Yes?"
She opened her mouth, but the words she wanted to say wouldnít come out. "It was nice to get to know you better. Iím sorry about before."
"You have nothing to be sorry for. I hope we can be friends, in time. When you are ready." He shifted the strap on his shoulder and nodded to the three of them. "Oh, and tell Israel I will demonstrate the whip for him tomorrow. I believe he dared me to pick a freckle off of his nose...." Laughing at Rebeccaís astonished expression he added, "Good night. Thank you for making me feel welcome."
Later that night Rebecca Boone woke with an uncomfortable feeling. She couldnít place what it was, but it was enough to compel her to rise from her bed and softly draw the curtain aside. When she did she saw her daughter standing by the window, staring out into the night. She watched her for a moment and then called her name quietly, so as not to startle her or wake Dan or Israel.
"Jemima?" At first the girl didnít seem to hear her. Then she glanced her way, but quickly turned back. As she did, Becky noted that her cheeks were wet. The tears glistened in the moonlight that streamed through the window. She walked quickly to her side. "What is it?"
Jemima shook her head.
"Why, Ma?" Her voice trembled. "Why is everything so hard? Why canít things just be clear, one way or the other?"
"Whatever are you talking about?"
"I donít know. Nothing," she whispered. "Everything."
"Does this have to do with your fatherís new friend? Or with Billy McColl?" At her daughterís distressed look, she added gently, "Or with both?"
"It isnít fair, Ma. I shouldnít have to choose. I donít want to choose."
Becky placed her hands on her daughterís shoulders and gazed out the window at the blazing stars that inhabited the night sky. "No, dear, life isnít fair. And the sooner you learn that, the happier you will be. Do you want to tell me whatís worrying you?"
Jemima was still a moment. Then she shook her head. "No."
"Then I guess you will just have to sort it out for yourself. But if you donít get to bed and get some sleep, young lady, you are going to find it very hard to do your chores tomorrow. Are you coming to bed?"
Jemima looked over her shoulder at her. "Do I have to?"
Becky touched her cheek. "No. But worrying never solved anything. You have to decide, and then take action. Do you understand?"
Becky kissed her daughterís forehead. "Whatever you choose, I know it will be right. Good night, dear."
Jemima watched her mother return to the curtained alcove where she slept with her father. She heard his deep voice speak briefly and then the cabin fell silent. She turned back to the window. She was waiting for the dawn. Tomorrow she would find some way. She would make up some reason to visit the McColls, and then she would ask Billy why he had taken something from the tall Cherokeeís bag. Somehow she didnít think he meant it for her País new friendís good. She knew she should have told him. Or at least told her Pa. Or her Ma.... But if she had, then they would have gone after Billy, and he would have known that she had chosen the Indian over him, and he wouldnít be her friend anymore. And neither would his sister Mary, or Katy, or any of the others.
Jemima sighed and went to sit on the bench by the hearth.
It just wasnít fair.
Continued in Two