"I donít know, Daníl. It just ainít like him."
Daniel Boone smiled. Yadkin had only known the Cherokee a short time and he already thought he was an expert. But this time, he was right. "I agree. Mingo isnít the kind of man to say one thing and then do another." The frontiersman frowned as he gazed down the long lane before their cabin. "The trouble is, where do you start lookiní?"
"Well, them Injuns, Daníl, theyíre mighty hard to track even when they want you to foller Ďem. Wasnít he runniní a message for his chief?"
Dan nodded. "To the Shawnee."
Yadkin shook his head slowly from side to side. "The only thing the Shawnee in these parts like less than a White man is a Cherokee man. What was Menewa thinkiní?"
"Could just be routine; huntiní rights and such. Still, the fact that Mingo ainít back is a cause for concern." Dan turned and hollered loudly into the cabin. "Becky, fetch Ticklicker and come outside."
In a moment the redhead appeared, rifle in hand and a sour expression on her face. "Daniel Boone," she said as she handed the flintlock and his shot bag to him, "how am I ever going to teach your children proper manners with you bellowing like a grizzly bear and ordering your wife around like a serving girl?"
Dan looked chagrinned. He kissed her quick and then looked toward the sky and yelled again. "Bless you, Becky Boone," he cried, "and please and thank you!"
A moment later, as Becky struck him on the chest and walked past him to say hello to Yadkin, Daniel Booneís two children appeared at the door. Israel was bright-eyed, and both he and the coonskin cap perched on his head were bushy-tailed and ready for the day. His sister was dragging her heels. Dark circles cradled her eyes. She looked pale and wan. For a moment Dan forgot about his missing friend. He crossed to his daughter and placed his hand on her forehead. "You cominí down with somethiní, ĎMima?"
"Iím fine, Pa," she whispered as she moved past him. "I gotta go get some water from the well."
Dan watched her as she ducked under his hand and continued on with her head down, towards the well. He frowned and glanced at her mother as she came to his side. "Becky, what?"
"Iím not sure," she answered as she sent Israel off to catch Hannibal, his pet goose. She had seen the bird in the side yard and meant to confine him before he and Yadkin had a chance to revive their feud. It was too early in the day for either of them to be honking. She turned and glanced at her daughter. "I donít think itís anything that a clear conscience wouldnít cure."
Dan placed his arm about her and kissed her cheek. "Somethiní troubliní our girl?"
She nodded. "Mingo."
"Oh." He frowned. "Becky, I didnít mean to cause such trouble when I accepted his offer to help. For us or for him. I wonder now if it was the right choiceó "
She placed her fingers on his lips. "Hush. I think Mingo needed us as much as we needed him. Did you see how he enjoyed himself last night? And the more he is with us, the more at ease he seems."
"In the White manís world. But Becky, he wonít ever be accepted by that world; not so long as there are men like William McColl in it."
She gazed up at her husband. "Trouble?"
He nodded. "I think so. Mingo is a mighty intelligent man, probably too intelligent for his own sake. He put Will in his proper place yesterday morniní at the tavern, and I donít think he did himself any good."
"Heís very honest and straight-forward. I have noticed that. Those are qualities to be admired in a man." She smiled at her husband. "I should know. I married one of the best."
He kissed her forehead. "Mingoís one of the truest men I have ever known, Becky. Still, even those of us who are straight-forward have had to learn when to hold our tongue, or how to coat it with somethiní sweet, so the things we say donít raise the hackles on someoneís back."
"Something sweet?" She traced a fine white line on his cheek with her index finger. "As all these scars on that handsome face of yoursóand the fights that have gone with themógo to prove."
"But Iím not an Indian, Becky."
"Neither is Mingo, really. Only part."
He nodded. "But thatís the only part Will McColl can see."
Jemima was standing by the well with the empty bucket in her hands. So intent was she on her thoughts that she didnít even start when a shadow fell across her. A moment later she did jump as a hand caught the edge of the bucket and tugged on it. She looked up and then smiled weakly.
Her fatherís old friend narrowed his blue eyes. "Somethiní wrong with the water in this here well?"
She frowned and edged forward to peer into the darkness. "Is there?"
"Well ifín there ainít, itís probably feeliní a mite rejected by now. You been stariní at it all this time and it ainít never made the acquaintance of your bucket."
Jemima laughed at that. "Youíre funny, Yad."
He smiled and cocked his head. "There now. Thatís better. That long a face ainít proper on a Boone. Whatís eatiní at you, girl?"
She glanced back towards the house. Her mother and father had gone inside. "Yad...."
She laughed again. "How can two people believe somethiní different, and both of them be right?"
He frowned. "Can they?"
For a moment she looked startled, then she realized he was prompting her to go on. "You want me to explain?"
"Here, you give me that there bucket, and while I fill it, you tell me whatís wiggliní in your craw."
"You wonít tell Ma? Or Pa?"
Yadkin frowned. This was more serious than he thought. The Boone children rarely hid anything from their parents. "Ifín it donít put no one in danger, I swear," he crossed his heart with his fingers, "I wonít breathe a word."
She scrunched up her nose. "Well, I donít think anyone could be in danger." Then she shook her head. "I just donít understand, Yad."
Yad was lowering the bucket into the well. He watched as it struck the water and disappeared, and then looked back up at her. "This Ďcause of Mingo?"
Jemima nodded. "I like him."
"Well, I like him too. Heís a mite odd, what with usiní all them high-falutiní words I canít rightly understand. Not that I care too," he added gruffly, Ďplain old English is good enough for me." He stopped and thought about it a moment. "Donít seem right calliní it ĎEnglishí anymore, do it?" With a nod, he finished, "Plain old American is good enough for me."
The girl tried not to laugh. Plain old English was what the Cherokee spoke, and better than any of the rest of them. "But I shouldnít like him. Should I?"
"Why not?" Yad drew the bucket out and rested it on the side of the well.
"Heís an Indian. You shoot Indians. You and Pa."
Yad nodded. "I have shot my fair share, but never without cause. And not without them tryiní mighty hard to shoot me first."
"Why were they tryiní to shoot you? Did you do somethiní wrong?"
Yad looked uncomfortable. "Well, that depends on your point of view. >From my Ďspective, no. From theirs? I guess you might say I had."
"I donít understand."
Yadkin shifted uncomfortably and pulled at his mustache. These were deeper waters than he cared to tread in. "The Injuns, they have a different understandiní of what it means to Ďsellí land. You see, we bought this land here, fair and square. That means we own it now. They donít seem to understand that. They think when you sell land, you sell the right to Ďuseí it. So if someone ainít usiní it, they think they can move back in. And then when they try to move back in, those that owns it now sends Ďem packiní. Sometimes with buckshot or lead."
"Is that why Billy McCollís Ma was killed?"
Yad shrugged. "Ainít rightly heard. Williamís about as tight as a clam when it comes to his life afore Boonesborough. Is that what this is all about?"
She nodded, feeling only a little twinge of guilt. It was. Mostly. "Yes."
"You worried your friends ainít gonna want to be your friends ifín Mingo is around?"
"Israelís friends are little. They donít understand. All they see is an Indian they can talk to. They like the beads and the feathers, and the way he uses that whip. My friends...." She paused. "Well, they ainít...arenít happy heís here. Will lost his Ma. Katy her Pa...."
"But Mingo didnít kill Ďem."
She reached for the bucket. "No."
He held onto it for a moment and waited until she looked up at him. " ĎMima?"
"Ifín we judged every man by those around him, wouldnít none of us have any friends. I ainít exactly fond of the Indians, but meetiní Mingoís made me realize, they ainít all the same. White men ainít all the same either. I know you like that Billy McColl...." He watched as the girl blushed. "But you be careful around him, you hear? His Pa ainít exactly walkiní the fields with a full bag of seed. If you take my meaniní?"
She opened her mouth to say something, but as she did, her father stepped out of the cabin. "Yadkin, whatís keepiní you? You decided to court my daughter or what?" he called.
The blond straightened up. He started toward the house with the bucket in his hand. "Try to do somethiní kind to help out a neighbor, and what kind of thanks do it get you? Accusiní me of tryiní to take advantage of a sweet young thing like Jemima. I never in a hundred years heard of such a thingó "
"Donít you hush me up, Daníl Boone! I ainít never been so insulted in all my born days...."
It was too late. The toe of the blondís boot caught under an exposed root and he and the bucket went tumbling to the ground. The water sloshed out and soaked his hair and buckskin shirt thoroughly. He sat up sputtering and gazed up at his friend; an exasperated look on his face. "Now why didnít you go and try to warn a man before somethiní like that happened?"
Dan laughed as he bent and retrieved the bucket which had split a seam. He glanced at his daughter. "Looks like thatís one chore you wonít be doiní for a few hours, ĎMima."
"Arenít you gonna mend it, Pa? Ma needs the water. You know the other one has a hole in it."
"Guess I ainít been keepiní up with my chores. How about I fetch some with a pan or a kettle? You get your brother and go on about your chores. Berry-pickiní, wasnít it?"
Jemima laughed. "Wimmenís work, as Israel puts it."
Dan smiled. "After he battles a few of those thorny bushes, he may change his mind." He glanced at the sun which was already an hour or two past noon. "Iíll fetch that water, and then, Yad, I think you and me had best go lookiní for Mingo."
Jemima stiffened. "Mingo?" she squeaked.
Her father nodded, "He was supposed to have been here by noon. It ainít like Mingo to not show up. I hope nothiní has happened to him."
The girl frowned and turned just in time to see Yadkinís blue eyes fasten on her. She shook her head. What she had told him couldnít possibly have anything to do with Mingo going missing.
She thought about whatever it was Billy had taken from the Cherokeeís bag and wondered. Yad had seemed to indicate Billyís father was the kind of a man who was capable of just about anything. But would he hurt an innocent man? Just because he was Indian, or only part Indian?
Billyís cabin wasnít too far away from the stream that the berry bushes lined. If she could just bribe her brother to keep quiet, maybe by letting him go to a friendís house instead of helping her pick berries, she could sneak off to the McCollís and make Billy tell her just what he had been doing, and why he had stolen whatever it was he had stolen.
She turned and looked at her Pa. "Iíll tell Ma weíre going. I hope you find him Pa." She was silent a moment and then she added. "I like him."
He smiled at her. "So do I."
Mingo moaned and lifted his head. He blinked his brown eyes several times and then gazed about. He seemed to be alone. He frowned, trying to remember what had happened. He had supped at the Booneís and then started the trip to his lodge. There had been a noise; like someone in distress. He had stepped off the path and something had struck him hard from behind.
That was all he remembered until now.
He glanced at the sky. It was well past noon. He had had something to do by noon. Oh, yes, meet Daniel. The frontiersman would be wondering what had happened to him. He shifted, and it was only then that he realized he was bound hand and foot.
"Will, heís wakiní up."
Those four words painted a picture Mingo was not overjoyed to contemplate. They meant he was a captive and, unfortunately, he was fairly certain he knew who his captor was. He looked up to find William McColl staring down at him. The sandy-haired man was smiling. It was not a pleasant sight.
"Well, savage, I guess the tableís done been turned. You donít look so high and mighty now."
Mingo frowned. "It has never been my intention to appear Ďhigh and mightyí." He attempted to right himself and sit up. "I am no better than the next manó " His sentence was cut short as McColl knelt and with one swift movement, pinned him against the tree behind him and pressed a knife to his throat.
"You ainít as good as the next man. You ainít a man, at all. Youíre a beast, like all of Ďem. An animal with no understandiní of what it means to be a man."
Mingo drew a breath. This was nothing he had not heard before. "I beg to differ with you...."
McColl laughed. He eased up on the knife and stood. "Oh, youíll beg all right, Indian, before Iím done with you. You called me a Ďdevilí before." He smiled. "You ainít seen nothiní yet."
Billy McColl watched his Pa from across the camp. He was still having a hard time getting the image out of his head of him stepping out of the trees and striking the Indian on the back of the neck with the butt of his rifle with no warning. His Pa had taught him you didnít do that. You were always to give fair warning; even in a fight. You were to respect your opponent. But then, that was when your opponent was a man.
This was an Indian.
Billy frowned and placed his head in his hands. The voices that danced in it were many and they confused him. His Pa had told him that all Indians were animals; unthinking savages, wild as bears and uncaring as panthers. He said the only thing to do with them was to put them down like rabid animals. After his Ma had been killed those words had been easy for him to hear. When it got to hurtiní so bad he thought he might die, he had imagined his hands around one of the savageís throats, and it had helped. For a while. But lately, Helen had tried to talk to him. Quietly, she had begun to counter the venom his father fed him. And two days ago, she had told him her secret. Her grandpa had been a Wyandot. He had looked at her with her dark hair and wide beautiful eyes, and he had seen it for the first time. His Pa didnít know. Neither did Mary or Abigail. She had trusted only him with the knowledge, hoping it would help him to grow.
He glanced up at his Pa and saw him kneeling in front of the Indian. His Pa had sent him to the Booneís cabin to steal something from the savageís bag so they could implicate him in some sort of a crime and force him to leave the area. He had gone reluctantly. Once it would have been easy for him to see the native as nothing more than a dirty Redskin, but since Helen had spoken to him, it wasnít so easy. She wasnít an animal. She was now his Ma. He had met his father in the woods as they had agreed, and given him the small knife in its beaded case. But then things had changed. His Pa hadnít left. Instead he had pulled him into the leaves and they had followed the Cherokee as he left the Booneís cabin, and waylaid him on the path to his lodge. Billy had stood staring down at him and thought about Helenís Pa. He would have been just like him; half-White, half-Red. And he hadnít been an animal either, but a man, and someone she lovedó just as he loved her.
Billy drew a breath and held it. His Pa was on his feet again and coming towards him. He stood as he drew abreast.
"I thought I told you to get some sleep, boy."
William McColl frowned. "What?"
"This ainít right. You know it ainít." "Billy," he placed a hand on his sonís shoulder, "that Injun is a threat to all we have,
and to all we know. I ainít gonna hurt him; just get rid of him, like youíd toss out a bad apple to keep it from contaminatiní the whole barrel."
"But he ainít an apple, Pa. Heís aó "
"Donít you say it, boy. He ainít a man. You get that kind of thought right out of that head of yours. Heís a savage; an animal."
"But Pa, he speaks English. I heard him at the Booneís cabin. And he was helpiní Jemima with the dishes. They werenít scared of him. I donító "
"Daniel Booneís a fool. You canít trust none of them. Theyíll act like theyíre your best friend, and then they stab you in the dark." He glanced back at Mingo who was sitting quietly in the shadow of the tree; his eyes on the flintlock rifle Isaac Clay was pointing at him. "And the educated ones are the worst. You take a bear. It ainít smart. You can sneak up on it and kill it quick enough. Most Injuns are like that. But this one...heís smart as a cougar." McCollís voice fell. "Itís the smart ones that are the most dangerous."
"One more word, boy, and youíll feel the backside of my hand. And donít you get any thoughts about telliní no one about this. You were the one in that cabin. Youíre the one the finger will point to if they figure it out."
Billy chewed his lip. He didnít know this man anymore. Sometimes it seemed when the Indians had killed his Ma, they had taken his Pa away too. He looked again at the man beneath the tree. Was he like the wild animals his Pa hated who had done that? Or was he like the man Helen remembered?
How could two people believe such different things, and both of them be right?
"What are you gonna do with him? You ainít gonna kill him, are you?"
"Ainít none of your business what I do, boy. Now, I think itís time for you to go home."
"I donít think you have the stomach for this. The frontier is a hard place. Hard choices have to be made. Can you make them, and stand by them?"
The boy nodded. "I donít want to go home."
William McColl stared at his son. He saw his Ma in the boy as he did every time he looked at him. She had been dark and small, like Billy, with great big blue eyes. He closed his own eyes and passed a hand over his face. This was right. This was good. And the sooner the boy saw it, the safer he would be.
The other man stood and turned toward him. "Yeah, Will." "Give Billy your gun. He can watch the savage while I talk to you."
"You sure....?" "Yes, Iím sure." He placed his hand on his sonís shoulder. "Donít fail me. And donít listen to him. Heíll talk your ear off, and make you think the sky ainít blue and the grass ainít green if you let him. You want me to gag him?"
Billy shook his head. "No."
"If he tries to run or cry out, youíll have to kill him."
The boy swallowed hard. "I know."
The older man nodded. "Get goiní then. Iím trustiní you," he called after him.
Billy met the Indianís eyes as he took the gun from his fatherís friend. He pointed it straight between them. "I know."
"He isnít here?"
"Iím sorry, Jemima. No, neither Billy nor his father are here. They went hunting. I thought he would have told you that when he came to your cabin last night. But you can talk to Mary. As a matter of fact, I was about to send her to your place with those quilting squares. Now you can take them." She turned toward the cabin and then looked back at the girl. She seemed distracted. "Jemima?"
"Yes, Maíam. Iím sorry. I was just wanting to talk to Billy."
She stared at the dark-haired woman. "Nothing important. Why do you ask?"
Helen shook her head. "Billy seemed upset last night. I thought maybe you would know why."
"Before he left?"
"Yes. Jemima, what is it? Do you know something?"
"No, Maíam. Iíll just go say Ďhelloí to Mary then, and be on my way. I have to pick up Israel at the Lewisí, and then get these berries back home."
Helen eyed the basket the girl held. There were, perhaps, two dozen berries in it. She put her hand out. "I donít think your Ďhuntingí proved very fruitful. I have some extras. Why donít you let me fill that for you while you and Mary are talking."
Jemima dipped slightly. "Thank you, Maíam."
Mary McColl was just coming around the side of the cabin. When she saw Jemima her eyes lit up. She grabbed her and pulled her into the shadows and whispered conspiratorially, "Jemima, Iím so glad to see you. So what happened last night?"
Jemima frowned. "What do you mean?"
"With that Injun. Is he gone?"
"You mean Mingo?" She paled. "Why would he be gone?"
"Mingo? You call him by a name?" The girlís expression darkened. She tossed her ebon curls. "Well, I guess even animals have to have a name."
"Mingoís not an animal."
"Heís an Indian, isnít he? You sound like one of those Indian-lovers. Indians killed my Ma." She pushed her bangs aside and pointed to the scar beneath them. "They did this."
Jemima stood her ground. "But Mingo didnít."
"Whatís the matter with you?" the girl snapped testily. "I thought you were my friend."
"I am. But being a friend doesnít mean agreeing with you when youíre wrong." Jemima drew a deep breath. "Whereís Billy? What is he up to?"
Mary looked at her with disgust. "Iím not telling you anything. And hereís your Maís squares." She thrust the cloth out before her. "Iím not setting foot in your cabin while that ignorant savage is anywhere nearbyó "
"Ignorant?" Jemima was growing hot. "Iíll tell you who is ignorant. You are. You and your Pa. You canít hate a whole group of people just because of what one or two did."
Mary threw the squares at her feet. "I can. And I do. And I hate you. Go to your Indian friend and see if heíll walk to school with you, or run, or go berry-picking. After this, you wonít find anyone else who will."
With tears filling her eyes, Jemima bent to pick up the squares. Even as the girl turned her back on her and walked away, a slender shadow fell across one of the brightly colored pieces of cloth. She looked up to find Helen McColl. The older woman knelt to help her gather them up.
"You heard?" Jemima asked as she sniffed.
Helen nodded. "I am sorry. I try, but they wonít listen."
Jemima wiped her nose with her sleeve and stood up. As Helen handed her the last of the squares and rose to her feet, she asked her, "How come you married Mr. McColl?"
Helen was silent for a moment. Finally, she answered. "Will has good things about him. He cares deeply for his family. He wants what is best for them. He has made a home here," she looked around at the cabin and recently completed outbuildings; at the slender stalks of corn in the fields and the animals grazing nearby, "but he is blind on this one point. I thought, perhaps, I could help to heal the wound that had left him so. I know now I was wrong."
"What happened, Maíam? To his wife, I mean. Do you know?" The dark-haired woman took a few steps toward the fence and leaned on one of its posts and gazed toward the horizon. "Yes. It was a sad affair from what I have heard, though admittedly Willís telling of it is, by its very nature, biased. He had a friend it seems, a Seneca named Two Skies. He was a scout for the English in the War against the French, and that was where they met. When Will married and went to homesteading, Two Skies went with him." Helen paused again. "They were close. Like brothers."
"Mr. McColl and an Indian?" Jemima was astonished.
"Love and hate are funny things, Jemima. Youíll find out as you grow just how close one is to the other. Two Skies fell ill and stayed behind when Will went trapping one winter. Willís wife tended him." She shook her head. "I take it when he came back, Will felt that his friend and his wife had gotten to know each other a little too well."
The girlís eyes were wide. "Had they?"
"I donít think so. Will is a jealous man and he has a terrible temper. There was some trouble, and Two Skies was killed. The Seneca blamed Will. They sought blood-revenge. He wasnít home, and so it was his wife who paid the price. And his children." She sighed. "They are still paying."
She turned to look at the girl, "Yes, Jemima?"
"Do you know where Billy and his Pa are?"
Helen nodded. "I think so. Will was going to meet him at your cabin, and then he said they were headed for the falls. The one near the old French fort."
Jemima nodded. She knew where that was. "I have to go."
She remembered her motherís words to her. ĎYou have to decide, and then take action.í That was just what she was going to do. "Iíve done something awful, Maíam. Will you send Mary to the Lewisí and see that my brother gets home?"
Helen took a step toward her. "Jemima, you canít go into the wilderness alone."
"I have to, Maíam. If something happens to Mingo, itíll be my fault."
"Mingo?" She frowned. "Who?"
"Tell my Ma and Pa Iím sorry, will you?"
But it was too late. The trees had swallowed her and she was gone.
Mingo stared at the young man who sullenly occupied a nearby boulder, watching him. His fingers were white on the borrowed rifle he held, and he was sweating. The day had grown hot for September, but he suspected that was not the reason for the boyís discomfort. He remembered seeing him at the Booneís cabin the night before and knew he was William McCollís son. He was probably just waiting for a chance to insult him, or for a reason to shoot him. He knew his mother had been killed in an Indian raid. The native shifted and glanced at the boyís father. His back was turned and he was deep in conversation with his companion. He decided to chance it. Of the three, the boy was his only hope. "You seem ill-at-ease, Billy."
The boy frowned. "Shut your trap."
"Somehow I donít think my remaining quiet will make you any more comfortable. Am I right? Is there something you would like to ask me?"
"No." Billy gripped the rifle tight. "There ainít nothiní you know that I would want to hear. Besides, my Pa warned me about you."
"About me?" Mingoís smile was wry. "He doesnít know me. How could he warn you?"
"He knows you well enough. He said youíd try to talk to me; to confuse me."
The native sighed and leaned his head against the tree. "I see. So your father is afraid of what I might say."
"He ainít afraid of anything."
Mingo shook his head sadly. "Unless it be himself."
"What?" Billy slid off the boulder and came to stand beside him. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"
He looked at the boy. "Only a man who is uneasy in his soul can hate with such a blind passion, Billy. There is something your father cannot face, and he is using his hate as a shield, so he does not have to face it."
The boy was frowning. "How come you talk like that?"
Mingoís dark brows arched. "Like what?"
"Like a teacher. You ainít a teacher. Youíre an Indian. You ainít supposed to be smart."
"So says your father?" The Cherokee pursed his lips. "Well, fathers say many things, not all of which are true. My father was an Englishman. My mother, Cherokee. I lived in her world when I was your age, but was educated in his, and remained there until I became a man."
"You lived as a White man?"
"Yes." Mingo shifted again. "Ironic, is it not?" "And you chose to come back here, to be an Indian? Why?"
"At times like this," he pulled at the cords that bound his hands, "I find myself asking the same question. Billy, I have found that among white men you are judged by what you do, by what you possess, and not by who you are."
The boy was still frowning. "Indians donít do that?"
"Some do," he admitted, "but on the whole, no. Among my people it is who we are that counts. We do not own. We do not possess. We simply are. We live, we use what we must, replace what we can, and when we die, we pass into the Creatorís hands."
Billy was silent a moment. He had just been in the Reverend Kellerís class the day before. During the lesson, the stern old man had intoned almost without emotion some of the most beautiful words he had ever heard. "Consider the lilies, how they grow," he mumbled.
"They toil not, they spin not, and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
The boyís blue eyes narrowed. "Whereíd you learn that?"
Mingo laughed. "From my father. You see, Billy, we are not so different after all."
The boy jumped. "Yes, Pa?"
William McColl took a step toward him. "What are you doiní?" Billy straightened up. Unconsciously, he placed himself between the Indian and his
father. "Just checkiní his ropes, Pa."
The sandy-haired man came to his side. He glared at Mingo and then turned
toward his son. "I want you to go with Isaac. We need some meat."
"Do as I say."
The boy glanced at the native. He swallowed hard and then began to walk away. "Yes, Pa."
McColl watched him join the other man and vanish into the leaves. Then he turned back to the Indian. "I heard you talkiní to my boy. How about you and me have a little chat, Injun." In his hand he held a short whip; the kind a man would use to discipline a dog. "Thereís a couple of things Iíd like to know."
Rebecca Boone nearly jumped out of her skin. Someone was pounding on the cabin door frantically and calling her name. She put down the rabbit she had been about to clean and wiped her hands on her apron as she moved towards the front of the cabin. "Hold on. Iím coming."
The pounding stopped as she lifted the board from its moorings and placed it beside the door. At first she had feared it had been one of her children, but then she realized they wouldnít have called her ĎRebeccaí. She pulled the heavy door open and was surprised to find a very upset Helen McColl standing on her porch.
"Rebecca, is Jemima here?"
"No. She was going to the stream to pick berries, and then to your place." Fear struck her and made her heart pound. "What is it? Whatís happened?"
Helen swayed. "May I come in?"
"Oh, forgive me. Here, come sit by the fire." It was early evening, before the sun had fully set, but after the air had begun to grow chill. Becky walked her to the bench and then sat down across from her. "Now tell me...."
"Who is Mingo?"
Becky blinked. "Mingo? A friend of Danís. Why?"
Helen frowned. Her fingers fidgeted with her deep green gown. "Just a friend? Why would Will have anything against a friend of your husbandís? I donít understand."
"Will?" The redhead felt sick to her stomach. "Mingo is an Indian."
"Oh." Helenís hand went to her mouth. "Not the one he got into the fight with at the tavern ?"
"Will was furious. He swore he was going to kill him. I tried to get him to calm down. He seemed to. Then he said he was going hunting." Her dark eyes grew wide. "Dear God."
"Iíll go get Dan." Becky was unfastening her apron. "Heís cutting timber with Yadkin. He canó " She stopped dead and turned back to look at the other woman. "Whereís Israel? And what about Jemima?"
"Israel is at the Lewisí. At least, thatís what Jemima said before she took off."
Beckyís head was spinning. It made no sense, but at least one of her children was safe. "Took off?"
Helen rose to her feet. "She said she had done something awful. She seemed to think whatever it was had put this Mingo in danger." The woman paused. "I think she meant to put it right. Becky, Will would never hurt her...."
"If heís in his right mind. Do you think he is, Helen?"
The dark-haired woman stared at her long and hard.
Jemimaís face was scratched. Her cheek was bleeding and her dress was ragged and torn, but she had made her way through the woods and found Mr. McCollís camp. It was quiet. A fire burned low at the center. She could just make out a figure lying on the ground. Another was keeping watch. She frowned and moved in closer, hoping to see who it was. As she did, she spotted a third. A tall lean man was bound to a tree. He was half-standing and half-hanging. There was just enough light to see the broken beads around his neck and the feathers dangling in his hair.
It was Mingo. He had been beaten.
And it was her fault.
Continued in Chapter Three