“Ma! Ma! It’s Pa. Pa’s home!”
“And Mingo!” Jemima joined her brother on the porch. Their father and his friend were walking towards the cabin side by side. Mingo was leading a horse on which a native woman was seated. Behind it trailed a litter. She couldn’t tell who was on it, but she had a good idea. She glanced at her brother.
“Gotta be Captain Cummins,” he said as he stepped off the porch and ran towards his father who was kneeling and opening his arms.
Jemima wasn’t far behind.
Dan laughed as the two of them practically knocked him over; then he rose to greet his redheaded wife who had stepped onto the porch. “Becky Boone, you are a sight for sore eyes.” He winced and glanced over his shoulder at his native friend. “Sorry, Mingo. Guess that expression has taken on a new meanin’ after what happened to you.”
Becky had come to his side and had her arm around her husband’s waist. After returning her husband’s kiss, she turned her attention to the tall Cherokee. “Mingo,” she said softly, noting the burns on his face and the tender skin around his eyes as well as his disheveled appearance, “the children told me what took place. Can you — ?”
“The grass is as green as the dress you are wearing, Rebecca,” he answered, his voice still touched with awe, “though it could never be as lovely.”
She smiled. “You can see then?”
He tilted his head. “After a fashion. Each hour there is some improvement, but I imagine it will be a few weeks before this Cherokee warrior is providing meat for anyone’s table — including his own.”
“Well, you have come to the right place then,” Becky remarked as she gazed at her two children. “Since their unanticipated adventure in the woods, Israel has ‘volunteered’ to obtain enough meat for the next two winters....”
The little boy glanced at his Pa and lowered his head.
“And his sister has graciously agreed to make certain it is all salted and cured, so we should have plenty to share.”
Jemima curtseyed quick and grabbed her brother by the arm. “I think we better go check on those squirrels, Israel.”
He nodded. “Glad you’re home, Pa. Mingo.” He tipped his cap at the native woman who had remained silent on the horse. “Ma’am.” His eyes flicked to his father. “Is that....?”
“You go finish your chores. You’ll find out who she is at supper.” His mother gave him a stern look that brooked no disobedience. “And be grateful you are having supper. Isn’t that right, young man?”
“Yes ‘Ma’am,” he squeaked.
A second later the two of them were gone.
Dan was shaking his head. “The Continental Army doesn’t know what’s it’s missin’, not conscripting women.”
“You’re not much better, Daniel Boone.” His Irish wife turned on him. “I send you off to find your children, and you’re gone how many days? And send the children back on their own, through hostile territory that is swarming with Redcoats and Shawnee, and Heaven only knows what else?” She looked up at the native woman who was watching her interaction with her husband with wide eyes. “And you have yet to introduce me to our guest.” Becky glanced behind the horse and saw a hand clutching the side of the litter. “Guests?”
Dan gave her a hug and planted a kiss the top of her red head. “It’s a long tale, heaped with a mess of action and adventure, Becky. Best told over a good meal and washed down with a cup of cider.”
She nodded. “Well, then, help the lady off the horse and come inside. It’s been waiting for you for two days.”
Jemima and Israel had held their tongues just about as long as they were able. Their parents had shared a lengthy meal with their guests during which their Pa had filled their Ma in on all that had happened. Becky’s alternate reactions of weeping over the romance of the whole thing, and being horrified at what her husband and children had done, caused much merriment and laughter. Captain Cummins — who was no longer a captain, it seemed, and said his name was going to be Osborn from now on — apologized several times for causing her such concern, and thanked both their Ma and Pa for their hospitality. Apparently the fact that he and the Indian lady had come to their cabin was considered dangerous. Still, their Pa had insisted. In a couple of days Mingo was going to take them to the Cherokee village, and then on into the mountains where they would be safe.
Israel thought about the tall Cherokee. He had been at the table the whole time, but had said little. He wondered how he was doing. He hadn’t had a chance to talk with him yet.
Or the woman, Tutka.
As his blue eyes found her, he whispered to his sister, “Did they ask her, do you think?”
She looked at him over the top of the plate she was drying. “I don’t know. Should we ask?”
“I don’t know either,” he answered quickly as he caught their mother eyeing them with one copper brow arched. The boy swallowed hard. “I ain’t sure Ma’s gonna let us do anythin’ other than chores for the next couple of years.”
“What are you two whispering about?”
Both young heads pivoted towards the hearth. After supper the grown-ups had gathered in front of it. The Englishman was sitting in their Pa’s chair, wrapped in a blanket. The Indian woman was at his feet. Mingo was standing a little ways apart, looking out of the window, and their Pa was staring at Mingo. Their mother had her hands on her hips and was looking right at them.
“Well? Is there something you would like to say?”
Jemima put the plate down. Her brother moved to stand next to her so they formed a united front. They looked at one another, and then both looked back at their mother and nodded.
Becky hid her smile. She tapped her toe. “Well, ask it then.”
“We thought....” Israel started.
“We were gonna ask Miss Tutka...” Jemima continued.
Behind their mother the Indian woman stirred. She rose to her feet. Briefly, she touched the hand of the man she loved and then came to Becky’s side. She met the white woman’s eyes and then turned towards her children. “From what I have heard,” she said softly, “I owe your son and your daughter a debt. I would like to repay this.”
“A debt? ” Israel blurted out. “What in tarnation — ” At his mother’s look he clamped his hands over his mouth and fell silent.
Jemima shook her head. “You don’t owe us anything, Ma’am.”
The woman looked at their mother for permission and then, as Becky nodded, advanced towards the pair. “In my time with the Shawnee, I came to know what they believed. Do you know the word, ‘ka-tet’?”
Israel glanced at his sister. She shook her head. “No, Ma’am,” he answered, looking back. “We don’t.”
“Ka-tet is the work of the Great Spirit.” Tutka opened her hands wide. “Everything happens for a reason. If you not come to the woods,” she stopped, seeking better words for what she was trying to say. “If you not come to the place where Black Kettle meant to sell Tutka, I not be here now.”
“But Ma’am, if we hadn’t have been there, then you would just have been,” Jemima could hardly form the word, “sold to Captain Cummins. We caused you all kinds of trouble....”
“No. After taking the powder, Black Kettle would have killed the men in red coats. All of them. You, and your friend,” she nodded towards Mingo, “saved me.” Tutka smiled. “And Andrew.”
The two children exchanged glances. “Oh,” they said in unison.
Tutka sobered. “Now, what is reason you look for Tutka?”
Jemima turned towards the door. Her father smiled at her and then followed Mingo outside. She waited a moment and then asked, “Did you know Mingo, Ma’am, when he was a little boy?”
Tutka nodded. “Yama.”
“That’s ‘yes’ in Creek. Ain’t it?” her brother asked.
The woman nodded her dark head again. “Yes. I watched him grow.”
“But you ain’t that much older than Mingo. Are you?”
His blue eyes flicked to his mother and back to the Indian woman. “Sorry, Ma’am. It ain’t polite to ask a lady her age.”
Tutka smiled again. “I was a young girl when my brother took Talota for his bride.” She glanced at Jemima. “Your age. I was like you when Cara-Mingo was born.”
The two of them stiffened with anticipation. Jemima nodded and Israel stepped forward to say, “So do you remember when he was born?”
The Cherokee jumped as Daniel’s hand came down on his shoulder. He had been standing and staring at the trees. The sun had set behind them, painting them deep shades of lavender-blue and plum. Its golden light glinted through the chinks in their leaves like buried treasure.
“Daniel.” The native turned towards him. “I did not hear you come.”
“How are you?”
Mingo smiled. He was silent a moment and then he whispered, “Humbled.”
Dan moved forward and sat on the step that led up to the porch. “Mind explainin’ that?”
“We take so much for granted, Daniel. So many things we think of as commonplace, are rare gifts.”
“You mean bein’ able to see?”
“Yes.” He nodded, almost at a loss for words. He gestured towards the trees which had deepened to a violet-blue. “The beauty of the world around us. The grass. The sky. The stars and their sister-moon. But there is more....”
“And that would be?”
Mingo gazed back towards the cabin. “Your children.”
Dan shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“All of this, for me. So I could...belong.”
“Did you get a chance to talk to Tutka, about your birthday?”
The Cherokee nodded. “Yes. I asked her.”
Mingo’s smile was wistful. “She knew the month by the pattern of life at the time; which plants were being harvested and so on.” He paused and then added, “And by something my father had said.”
Dan rose to his feet. “So he knew? And just never told you?”
“I believe so. If I ever see him again, I shall certainly ask.”
The big man glanced back into the cabin where he knew his children were waiting. “But she didn’t know the exact day?”
Mingo shook his head. “We do not mark things in such a way. She could not know the date.”
“Is’rul is gonna be awful disappointed.”
The native laughed as a high-pitched ‘whoop’ cut through the air and his friend jumped. “I do not know about that, Daniel.”
Dan’s green eyes narrowed. “Mingo, what did you tell her to say?”
Israel Boone came barreling through the door; his blue eyes alight with delight. “Pa, where’s Mingo? Did he go? Huh, Pa?”
The Cherokee stepped out of the shadows. “I am here, Israel. Do you have something to tell me?”
“Mingo! It’s July! Did she tell you?”
The native looked appropriately surprised. “No. There was no time to speak of such things, what with the Redcoats and the Shawnee....” His dark eyes sought the boy’s father. Dan’s face was still a bit blurred, but he could tell he was smiling. “July, you say?”
The little boy nodded, even as his sister and mother’s forms filled the door. “And it’s on the nineteenth! That’s the same day as mine!”
Mingo caught him as he ran up to him and spun him in the air. He laughed as the boy gripped him hard.