The boy turned towards him. “I can see her. She’s over there. Past the fire; near the trees.”
Mingo narrowed his eyes and concentrated. He could feel the ripples of heat brushing his skin, but still could see nothing clearly. He thought, perhaps, there was a flicker of flame; a sort of orange glow, but that might have been wishful thinking. A full day had passed and he was still blind.
“I am thinking, Israel.” He reached out and found the boy’s shoulder and placed his hand on it. “Can you see your father?”
“No.” Israel shifted and parted the leaves they were hiding behind. “No, wait. Yep, I can. He’s in that there tent.” The boy paused and glanced back at the native, suddenly remembering that he couldn’t see the tent. “I think it’s the captain’s. That mean-lookin’ Redcoat just went in it and lit a lantern. I can see Pa’s shadow.”
“You are certain it is your father?”
The boy laughed. “Ain’t nobody as tall as Pa.”
Mingo smiled grimly. The commander of the small contingent of British soldiers was no doubt attempting to interrogate Daniel. The native chuckled under his breath. He was also, no doubt, discovering the meaning of the word ‘stubborn.’ The frontiersman would tell him nothing.
Jemima was another matter. They needed to get her out of harm’s way.
“Is your sister alone?”
“There’s one Redcoat with her. He was talkin’ to her a minute ago. The rest of ‘em are sleepin’ or playin’ cards.”
Mingo nodded. “Good girl,” he said softly.
“What?” Israel turned to look at him.
“Most likely your sister is employing her feminine wiles to captivate the young man in an attempt to gain her freedom.” He started to rise. “I think we should aid her in this endeavor.”
“Huh? What do you mean her ‘wiles’?”
Mingo sat back. “Forgive me. I should have said her ‘charms’.”
The boy frowned. Then he looked at his sister. The firelight showed very clearly her dirty face and disheveled brown hair. “Charms? You mean like that stuff Monlutha carries in the bag he wears around his neck?”
“In his medicine bag?” The native shook his head. “No. A woman has no need of such things. Her charms are inherent.” As the boy made a scoffing noise, he added softly. “You will understand in eight or nine years time, Israel. Trust me.”
“Girls ain’t nothin’ but trouble,” Dan’s son pronounced. “Just look at you and me now. We gotta rescue ‘Mima.”
“And your father.”
“Criminetly, if it wasn’t for Jemima, Pa woulda had those Redcoats trussed up like pigs by now. You know that.”
Mingo hid his smile. He was certain what the boy said was true. “Possibly....” Israel was silent for a minute. Then he stood up and faced the Cherokee. “So I
guess it’s gotta be up to me to go get her outta there.”
The native stiffened. “Israel? What are you thinking?”
The boy’s hands went to his hips. “You can’t go. So I gotta.”
“Israel. I most certainly can ‘go’. Just because I can’t see, doesn’t mean.... Israel? ”
He had reached out and found the boy was no longer where he had been. “Israel?”
A tap on his chest made him jump. “You think not, Mingo?”
He reached for him, but he was gone again.
“I’m here now,” Israel said as he touched his back.
Mingo frowned. “I do not appreciate your playing tricks.”
“I ain’t playin’ tricks!” the boy whispered fiercely. “You’re hurt. You need to stay put. I can sneak up behind ‘Mima and get her away, and then Pa will be free to whup those Redcoats good. ”
“Israel, no! It is too dangerous. I need to go with you....” His voice trailed off as he realized how hopeless the situation was. He had followed Israel’s voice and turned in a circle, and now he hadn’t the slightest idea where the British camp lay. Suddenly overwhelmed, he stumbled and fell backward. Then he just sat on the ground. From one second to the next he had lost all hope.
“Mingo?” The little boy stared at his friend, confused. He had fallen silent and his rich copper skin had paled until he looked sick. Israel knelt beside him and touched his hand. “Mingo? Are you all right?”
The native simply shook his head. He had nothing to say.
Israel frowned. He took hold of his fingers and squeezed them. “Mingo, what is it?”
Within the Cherokee two disparate cultures were at war. When he had lived in England, he had known a man who had been blind. He had been a Peer of the realm; a friend of his father’s who had lost his sight as a result of warfare. No one had pitied him, and if they did, they received the imprint of his walking stick across their backside for their kindness. He had continued in the service of the King, advising his officers and mapping out strategy. In his mind’s eye, he could still see him using that same stick to move tin soldiers unerringly across a great board, as if he still had his sight.
But the way of the warrior was different. A Cherokee man, if he could not hunt and go to battle, was useless. There were those in his own tribe who had chosen death over a life lived in such a way. He recalled one warrior, a fiercely proud man whose prowess in battle was well-renowned, whose life could have been saved by the amputation of his arm. The man would have none of it. Instead, he had chosen to sicken and die. Another, who had fallen prey to the smallpox, had vowed to kill himself rather than live with the scarring on his face, and the disgrace and pity it would engender. When his family discovered this, they had confined him to his lodge and removed all sharp objects from his immediate vicinity.
In the end, he had chosen to starve to death.
Mingo shuddered. Which was he? The English Peer’s son, or the son of the Cherokee?
The boy’s small frightened voice finally managed to penetrate the abyss of self-pity he found himself in. He shuddered and looked up. “Israel, forgive me. I....”
“You’re feelin’ poorly, ain’t you?”
He hung his head, shamed by his own emotions.
“You know, Mingo, I reckon I know how you feel.” As the man’s dark eyes flicked up without direction, the boy added quickly, “I know I ain’t never been blind, but I sure do know what it is to feel like you ain’t good for nothin’.” He sat down beside his father’s friend and circled his knees with his arms. “You remember the time that big ol’ brown bear had Ma and ‘Mima trapped in that tree? You and Pa had gone out huntin’ and left me behind with the wimmen.” The boy shook his head. “Talk about feelin’ useless.”
“Israel,” Mingo drew a deep breath, ‘that is hardly comparable to — ”
“That ain’t what I mean. Hear me out.” He glanced at the native. The look out of Mingo’s eyes was kind of scary; like he might do something desperate. “Ma had that extra rifle of Pa’s, but she’d left it layin’ on the grass and she couldn’t get to it, and I was too little to pick it up or use it. I just stood there, watchin’ that ol’ bear gettin’ closer and closer. Ma looked real scared and ‘Mima was cryin’. I felt just plain awful and about two inches tall.
“Then I realized, maybe I wasn’t two inches tall, but I was small enough to fit through the old hollow log that was layin’ on it’s side and ran right up under that tree. The fat ol’ bear couldn’t fit in it. I grabbed that rifle and scooted into that log and started to make my way to the tree. That ol’ bear, he was hoppin’ mad. He jumped on that log and tried to reach in to get me.” The boy paused. “You remember what happened then?”
Mingo stirred. He remembered. He and Daniel had returned to find a most unusual scene unfolding before them. He could still see Rebecca leaning down; her white fingers closing on the tip of the barrel of the flintlock as the rifle seemed to mysteriously levitate into the air. He had turned to his friend and the big man had smiled and leaned on his own gun, and allowed his wife and son to save themselves.
The native nodded and said softly, “I remember.”
“You know why I was able to do that?”
He knew what the boy was fishing for. It was a favorite expression of his father’s. “Because you used what the good Lord gave you,” he admitted grudgingly.
“If’n I had been big like you or Pa, I wouldn’t never have been able to do that.” He touched the native’s hand. “God’s got a purpose for you, Mingo. Don’t you ever think He don’t. And,” the boy paused to swallow before he finished, “if you can’t never see again, He’s still got a purpose for you; maybe one you can only find if you can’t see.”
Mingo nodded. The small boy’s words were humbling. As he spoke, the unshed tears caught in his throat. “And what is it you intend to do, Master Boone?”
“To free your sister?”
Israel grinned. Mingo still wasn’t himself, but the tall native seemed to have walked through the fire and come out on the other side. “I figure I can snuck up behind her and free her if’n she’s tied up. Then if I can just distract that Redcoat, Pa can — ”
Mingo nodded. “Yes....”
“I may not be able to see, but I still have my legs, my ears and my voice. Perhaps together, if we ‘use what the good Lord gave us’....”
Israel frowned. He placed his hand on the Cherokee’s shoulder. “Now don’t you go gettin’ yourself into any trouble.”
“Trust me,” the dark-skinned man grinned, “that is exactly what I intend to do.”
Sergeant Tailor was speaking with the corporal standing guard. Cummins held his breath as he watched the young man incline his head, and then begin to make his way back to the tent he had used as his headquarters. With the exception of the two men, and perhaps another on patrol on its opposite side, the camp was quiet. A small fire burned in its center, but it only seemed to aid the shadows that crowded the clearing. He knew he was taking a calculated risk. Still, he had to try. Tailor was a reasonable man. He should be willing to listen. Although, after what the sergeant had overheard, he would be perfectly within his rights to shoot him on sight. Cummins gripped his flintlock pistol and watched as the soldier paused and looked back toward the trees. As he did, his former captain slipped silently into the tent’s interior.
John Tailor arrived at the tent that had belonged to his commanding officer and entered it. Tossing his tricorn hat onto the cot, he growled with frustration as he lit the lantern that hung above it. He had spent the better part of the day conducting a fruitless search for Andrew Cummins and was exhausted. He sat heavily on the cot and ran his hands over his face. Then he reached towards his sword-belt. Only one good thing had come of it.
They hadn’t found him.
As he began to unbuckle the belt, the shadows at the back of the tent shifted and the lantern-light glinted off of cold metal. He froze even before he recognized the voice.
Tailor closed his eyes. He drew in a deep breath and made certain his pistol was firmly in place behind his belt. Then he looked up. As he watched, his former captain advanced into the light. For a moment, he was unable to speak. Then, once he started, he couldn’t stop. “Dear God, Andrew, what are you doing here? Have you lost your mind? You know after what I heard that I will have to arrest you.” He rose to his feet. “Why aren’t you miles away from here by now?”
“I couldn’t leave.” Cummins’ voice was ragged. “I had to come warn you.”
“Warn me? Warn me about what?” Tailor took a step towards him. “What is this? Some kind of trick?”
“No.” The older man lowered the pistol. “No, trick. The Shawnee intend to attack the camp.”
The sergeant frowned. “The Shawnee? Not the Colonials?”
“John, you have every right to be angry with me; to hate and despise me.” He shook his head. “You are young. I don’t expect you to understand — ”
“Understand? I think I understand all too well. You sold us out. You betrayed your own.” Tailor’s voice was shaking. “Why, Andrew? Why?”
“They agreed. You were not to be harmed; you or the others. They were just to take the powder and the guns. You were to be held, and then exchanged for American prisoners of war.” Cummins drew a breath. “As to why I did this, there is no time to explain. Let it suffice to say that I am tired of killing. I wanted out, and you know, John, that there is no such thing as ‘retiring’ from His Majesty’s service. Once a soldier; always a soldier. It is kill until you are killed.”
“Is that all you think of me?” Tailor flung at him. “And these men; the men you brought into this wilderness? If they are in danger, who have you to blame but yourself?”
Cummins took a step toward him. “John. There is no time for this. The Shawnee — ”
“And why should I believe you?” Tailor swallowed hard. Seeing the older man, whom he had looked up to as a mentor, had brought back all of the shock and dismay he had felt when he had first heard him speaking treason. “Perhaps there are no Shawnee. Perhaps you just want to speed us along towards your rendezvous with the Continental Army!”
“No,” Cummins shook his head. “I don’t care what direction you go. But you must take the men and leave. Now.”
“How can I believe you, when everything I thought I knew about you was a lie? How could the man I know have done this thing?”
The older man paused. He smiled sadly. “How could he have not?”
Tailor shook his head. “What?”
“John, you must believe me. This is who I — ” Cummins stopped. “Wait. What is that?”
The sergeant was between his former captain and the front of the tent. He pivoted and took a step towards it. As he did, an arrow winged past him; so close he felt its feathers brush his skin. He dropped to his knees and lifted his flintlock pistol from behind his belt and fired it. There was a sharp cry and a Shawnee warrior fell to the ground not a hundred feet away. As he reloaded another appeared with a tomahawk in his hand. The man screamed a battle cry and then leapt over his fallen companion and headed for the tent.
“Andrew,” Tailor cried as rammed the rod down the musket’s barrel, “fire! For God’s sake, fire before he reaches the tent. Andrew?”
The sergeant glanced over his shoulder. His former captain was on the ground. He was pale, but conscious; his fingers wrapped around the shaft of the Shawnee’s arrow and his blood soaking the floor.
The girl blinked. She glanced at the young soldier who was guarding her and then blinked again. He was sitting a couple of yards away. He had been telling her about England and she had been pretending to be interested, but he wasn’t saying anything now. He noticed her looking and smiled. She smiled back. “Go on,” she said.
“‘Mima?” the whisper came again.
This time she recognized the voice and where it came from. With her eyes on the young Englishman she nodded to let Israel know she did.
Her brother’s fingers touched her bound hands. “I’m gonna cut the cord that’s around your wrists. Mingo’s gonna do somethin’ to get the Redcoats attention and when he does, you and me are s’posed to go to the tent and — ” Israel clamped his hand over his mouth and his eyes shot to the soldier he could just see through the curtain of leaves. ‘Mima didn’t know the Cherokee was all right. If she started or cried out...
He didn’t need to worry. All she did was close her eyes and give quiet thanks. Then she sniffed as a tear trailed down her cheek.
“Are you all right, Miss Boone?”
The young English soldier was on his feet and had turned towards her. She started to nod, but then a familiar melodious voice spoke from behind her. “Jemima, tell him ‘no’. Then tell him something that will bring him into the trees.”
She fought the urge to smile. Her eyes flicked from the advancing soldier to his companions who were either resting or busy with various tasks and not paying any attention to her. Apparently they believed she had no hope of escape.
She put on her most terrified look and whimpered, “No.”
He knelt beside her. He was a handsome boy; probably not much older than Flanders. He had big blue eyes and a mop of sandy hair that tumbled onto his forehead. He wasn’t very tan, so it seemed he hadn’t been soldiering very long. “What is it, Miss?”
She leaned towards him and whispered; her brown eyes wide. “I heard something in the bushes.”
“Something?” He glanced behind her.
She nodded. “Back there. It could just be a raccoon or something. But it might be a snake. I’m so scared of snakes.” She batted her long black lashes several times. “Could you look for me? Please?”
The young man rose to his feet and lowered his musket so the short bayonet was aimed at the tall grasses. He then indicated she should scoot aside. “There’s nothing to fear, I assure you, Miss Boone. Private Samuel Lowe will dispatch any serpent he finds post — ” As the young man stepped into the trees he spied a white-haired boy crouching in the underbrush. “What? Who are you?”
Israel put his thumbs in his ears and wiggled his fingers. Then he wrinkled his freckled nose and said quietly, “Now, Mingo. He’s right in front of you!”
The young man started to pivot. Before he could a hand caught his shoulder and another was clamped over his mouth. A few seconds later his unconscious form was dragged into the woods. Israel went along to tie the young man’s hands and feet, and then both he and Mingo reappeared. Israel knelt beside his sister. “Jemima?”
She didn’t turn towards him. Her eyes were on the camp. So far none of the soldiers were looking. “Yes?”
“Mingo wants you to stay where you are until he enters the camp.”
“Why is he doing that?”
“Shh. Ain’t no time to tell you.” The boy turned back to the tall native. “You sure about this?”
Mingo nodded. “Yes. Help your sister to the woods outside the tent where your father is being held. Do what you have to, and then rejoin her.”
“What about you? Ain’t I s’posed to help you?”
“Israel,” he reached out and found the boy’s shoulder and squeezed it. “You must take care of your own. Now,” the native rose to his feet, “take me to the edge of the encampment and then come back for your sister.” He steeled himself for the distasteful thing he was about to do.
“It’s time to begin.”
Daniel Boone found he was getting mighty tired of the popinjay of a British officer the Crown had elected to send out to hunt down Andrew Cummins. If this was the best the English army had to offer, then the war would surely be won before the New Year. Banks was arrogant and over-confident, and full of enough hot wind to power the entire British fleet. He shook his head and shifted his long legs. He was standing before the captain in the middle the officer’s tent; his hands bound behind his back. If it hadn’t been for Jemima being held captive, he would have been more than happy to have taken some of that wind out of his sails.
The man had just launched into another tirade about the superiority of the British army and how absurd it was for Yankee chawbacons and ignorant savages to think they could possible fall prey to their pathetic schemes, when a commotion broke out in the camp. As the officer turned and went to the tent opening, Dan moved to stand behind him, fearful for his daughter. Banks turned and stared daggers at him, and as he did, the big man looked over his shoulder and saw she was still sitting by the trees. He also saw something else.
After breathing a sigh of relief that the Cherokee was all right, Dan found himself frowning. The native had entered the camp in the company of a British soldier and had stumbled and fallen to the ground. His behavior was puzzling. He didn’t rise, but waited for the soldier to reach down and offer him a hand up, and even when he found his feet, he made no move, but stared about as if he didn’t know or understand where he was. Dan narrowed his green eyes and thought about it. Then he had it. Mingo must have a scheme; maybe something that would help Jemima to escape. As he glanced in his daughter’s direction again, he caught a flash of white. Most likely he and Israel had run across each other, and the two of them had something cooked up. He grinned and decided to play along.
“Is this one of the savage’s ploys you were talkin’ about, Captain?”
“Shut up, Boone.” Banks placed his hat on his head and straightened his sword-belt. As he emerged from the tent, he nodded to the young private outside. “Keep an eye on him, Harrison. If he escapes, it will be your neck.” And with that he proceeded to march smartly across the camp.
Dan smiled as the short thin soldier indicated he should move back and take a seat on the ground near the tent wall. The boy’s fingers had gone white on his musket. “Don’t mind me, son. We chawbacons know better than to take on the might of His Majesty’s finest.”
Captain Banks had come abreast Mingo who was now flanked by two soldiers. He inspected him, noting his unkempt state, and then turned to the young man who had brought him in. “Well, corporal? What have you to say for yourself? Who is this man?”
“I found him wandering in the woods, sir. It appears he is blind.”
“Blind?” The captain circled the trio. “I don’t believe I have ever heard of a blind native before. I thought their warrior nature prohibited that sort of thing. What’s your name, savage?”
“Cara,” the dark-skinned man replied.
Banks stopped in front of him. “Well, Cara, what were you doing near my camp? I could have you shot, you know, for trespass.”
Mingo was silent for a moment. He was actually listening. When he didn’t hear what he was waiting for, he said softly, “Cara not want to die.” He had decided to speak in broken English, hoping the Captain would not put two and two together and guess he was the cultured native often referred to as Boone’s ‘Injun’.
“Are you blind?” he asked abruptly.
Mingo nodded. “Yes.”
Banks lifted his flintlock and pointed it straight between the native’s eyes. When the man didn’t flinch, he studied him more closely, noting the burns on his face and the reddened condition of his eyes. “You have obviously not been blind since birth,” the captain said as he let the pistol’s barrel fall to the man’s vest and lifted the tattered remnants with it. “What happened to you?”
“Bright light from sky hit wagon. Brighter light make Cara no see.”
Banks frowned. “Wagon? You mean the supply wagon?” He grew excited. “Were you with Captain Cummins? Are you Shawnee?”
“Sir,” the corporal cleared his throat, “I think by his garb he is Cherokee.”
“And how would you know?” Banks snapped. “Are you an expert on savages, corporal?”
The man’s brown eyes flicked to his commanding officer. He stiffened and looked straight ahead. “No, sir.”
Banks smirked. “I thought not. Speak when you are spoken to, Corporal. Otherwise, hold your tongue.”
“Now,” Banks said as he turned back to the native man, “are you Shawnee?”
Mingo nodded. “Hahhah,” he answered, using the Shawnee word for ‘yes’.
“I thought so. You are one of the ones who came to treat with that traitor, Cummins, are you not? Bringing that woman in exchange for the powder.” To the native’s stunned silence, he added, “You see we are not without resources. I know all about it. Within your own people are those who owe the King their allegiance and their lives.”
The British officer paused. He placed the tip of his pistol against the Indian’s chest. “Would you like to save your worthless life, savage?”
Mingo’s head was reeling. He had only begun to digest the captain’s words when he heard what he had been waiting for; a familiar bird call. That meant Israel had managed to slip his knife to his father and Daniel had freed himself. Hopefully it also meant the children were safely out of the way. Of course, if they were, it also meant that at any moment one of the British soldiers was likely to realize both Jemima and her young guard were missing.
The Cherokee nodded very deliberately and prayed Daniel would know the gesture was meant for him. Then he said, “Yes. Cara want to save his life. Cara tell you where Cummins is. Take you there.” He reached out suddenly and grabbed the officer’s arm. “You be Cara’s eyes. We go now.” And with that he started to drag Banks after him.
As he had anticipated the stuffy officer, who had no intention of placing himself in danger, reared back and attempted to pull free. Mingo pretended that by doing so he had knocked him off balance. He yelped and fell sideways, striking the young corporal and knocking him to the ground. As Banks shouted at the other enlisted man who flanked him, he aimed himself towards the captain’s shrill voice and came up hard and fast, and caught him under the chin with his head. Spinning for real this time, he fell to the ground even as the officer did. He began to crawl away, but before he had gone three yards, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He froze, and then he heard a familiar laugh.
A hammer cocked and Daniel Boone spoke, “Captain, I’d appreciate it if you would be so obligin’ as to get to your feet. And if I was you, I’d tell your men to put up their muskets. Unless you think they’d prefer to see this Yankee chawbacon fill you full of holes. Which is a distinct possibility if I read my faces right. Eh, Mingo?”
The native rose to his feet. He turned in the direction of his friend’s voice and then started as a rifle was shoved into his hands. “Daniel....” he began.
“Good to see you up and movin’, Mingo. I heard you’d had a hard time of it.” The frontiersman began to move away. “Come on. I need you to keep an eye out while I tie this group up.”
The native reached out for his friend, but he was already gone. Apparently whatever he had heard; it had not come from his son. Gripping the rifle tightly, Mingo frowned and followed the sound of his voice. He stopped when his foot encountered one of the ropes that tied down the tent. “Daniel?”
“Hold on a minute, Mingo. I just need to secure their hands and feet.” Dan had herded the six Redcoats into the tent and was busy tying the captain’s hands behind his back. He glanced at the tall native who was standing and staring blankly at him. “You think you might want to give me a hand with this?”
The Cherokee’s fingers whitened on his rifle. It would not do to let the British think he really was blind. They, like Daniel, no doubt believed now it had all been a ruse. “No, I think I will just keep watch. Besides, you know that you tie better knots than I do.”
The big man frowned. The Cherokee sure was in an odd mood. “Suit yourself.”
A few moments later as Dan left the confines of the officer’s tent, Mingo tried to talk to him. “Daniel,” he began.
“You seen ‘Mima or Is’rul?”
The Cherokee did not fail to catch the irony of the question. “No, I have not seen them for some time. Daniel, there is something I must tell you — ”
“Can you hold that thought?” The big man grinned. “It’s amazin’ but those two must have actually listened to me and stayed put. I’m gonna take one of the Redcoat’s horses and put them on its back, and aim them toward home.” His words faded as he moved into the woods. “You keep an eye on our friend Banks there. I’ll be back.”
Mingo opened his mouth to protest, but before he could, his friend was gone. He drew a deep breath and turned towards the tent and prayed he was pointing the rifle in the right direction. “Do not even consider trying anything,” he said firmly, and then he held his position; every muscle in his body tensed.
By the time his friend returned nearly three-quarters of an hour later, he was ready to collapse.
“Jemima and Is’rul are away, and that’s the last of these fellows.”
Mingo stepped back as Daniel moved past him. “The ‘last’?”
He thrust the two soldiers forward. “The young’un you left trussed up in the woods, and the guard I left layin’ behind the tent. That makes eight all together. That all of them, you think?”
“I do not know. Daniel....”
“And you,” Dan laughed and laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder, “whatever made you think of pretendin’ to be blind?” When Mingo didn’t respond in the usual way, he stepped back and sized him up. Everything had happened so fast since Israel had freed him, that he hadn’t really stopped to look at the other man. The usually immaculate native was filthy. His clothes were ragged and torn. The big man stared into his face and saw, for the first time, that his skin was not just dirty, but burned. “Mingo?”
He reached out and clumsily caught his friend’s arm. “Daniel, walk with me out of earshot of our...’guests’.”
Dan frowned. “All right.” The frontiersman began to move forward and noticed as he did, that the other man didn’t let go. About a hundred paces later he stopped. “Far enough?”
Mingo turned back the way they had come. “You tell me.”
“We’re out of earshot if that’s what you’re worried about.” As the native released his arm, Dan asked him, “Mingo, what’s wrong?”
The Cherokee sighed. “As much as I would like to sustain the illusion that I am one of the greatest actors to come along since David Garrick, I have a confession to make.”
“I am blind.”
Dan tipped his cap back and stared at his friend. “You’re what?”
“Blind. I can see nothing but indistinct shapes. Everything is a blur. I was near the supply wagon when a freak bolt of lightning struck it and ignited the powder.” He was silent for a moment. “I have no way of knowing if it is permanent or not.”
“You mean,” Dan turned back toward the camp and the crowded tent, “when I left you alone there, a while back, guarding those soldiers....”
“Well, yes.” Mingo cleared his throat. “I did try to tell you. Fortunately the British have no way of knowing I trod the boards once upon a time.” He grinned and suddenly seemed more himself. “Unless, of course, one of them attended my performances at Oxford.”
“Well, when we remove their gags, we’ll ask ‘em.” Dan joked. Then he fell silent, studying his friend. If he knew him — and he did — pity was about the last thing he would want. “You comfortable pretendin’ to be able to see for a little while longer?”
Mingo turned towards him. “What?”
“I want you to guard those Redcoats again.”
“Daniel. I would be more than happy to, but don’t you think — ”
“Mingo, I think I ain’t never seen anyone could track a man better in the dark than you. I always thought you had to have some sort of ‘inner’ sight.” He laid his hand on his shoulder. “We’ll just have to count on that for now.”
“And where would you be going?”
“First of all, to make certain Jemima and Is’rul hightailed it out of here like I told them too. And then, I think, maybe we should break up that little English tea party goin’ on back there.” He paused. The wind carried the soldiers’ voices to them. Most likely they were plotting their escape. “Don’t you?”
Mingo nodded. “Yes. And thank you, Daniel.”
The big man clapped the Cherokee on the back and aimed him the right way. “What else are friends for?”
“Captain Cummins? Andrew?”
The older man stirred and opened his eyes. At first the world about him was unfocused. Then, as his vision cleared, he recognized Tailor, but not the place they were in. “Sergeant?” He tried to sit up and felt a wave of sickness wash over him.
Then he noticed the arrow in his shoulder.
“I didn’t want to remove it for fear of blood loss,” Tailor said as he knelt beside him.
Cummins nodded. “Understood.” He glanced about. “Where are we?”
The other man pulled his former captain’s shirt aside and wiped away some of the congealed blood that clung to the truncated shaft. “Not far from the camp.”
He looked into the young man’s face. Grief was written into every line. “Are we the only ones?”
“I think Milligan made it. I saw him running into the woods.” Tailor closed his eyes against the other things he had seen, the brutalized bodies; men scalped and burned. He ran a grimy hand across his face. “I slit the back of the tent and pulled you out. We had just made it into the underbrush before the savages set it on fire. I believe.... I hope they think we were burnt with it.”
“I’m sorry, Tailor. It’s all my fault.”
“I hold you to account for the Colonials. But, I assume these savages were angry because they didn’t get the powder — ”
“That I promised to them.”
“For their loyalty, yes.”
“No. For my own purposes.” At the other man’s look he added quietly, “You remember that Indian woman I told you about?”
Tailor frowned. He started to say he didn’t, but, then he did. One of the reasons Cummins’ betrayal had hurt him so deeply was that he thought of the older man not only as his commanding officer, but as a friend. One night, when they had been keeping watch together, they had talked candidly of their lives and loves. Cummins had mentioned a native woman and how, through unfair circumstances, they had come to be parted. “The Creek woman, you mean?”
“Yes. The night the lightning struck, I wasn’t buying the Shawnee’s loyalty....”
“You were buying her?”
“Yes.” Cummins lowered his head. “I had no right. But, yes.”
Tailor rocked back on his heels. Now he began to understand. “How many years did you say it had been?”
The older man sighed and let his head fall back to the ground. “Too many. More than twenty. A life-time.” He closed his eyes. “I dared to hope; dared to dream that I might at last find happiness. But not at such a cost.”
Tailor’s hand closed on his arm. “The Shawnee attacking was not your fault, Andrew. The King did instruct you to bargain with the savages to retain their loyalty. Who is to say trading powder for this woman would not have done that.” The young man paused. “But this other. Bargaining with the Colonials....”
Cummins laughed weakly. “Is another matter. I know.” He opened his eyes again and struggled until he was propped up on one elbow. “John, you are an intelligent, learned man. What do you think of this rebellion? You have seen the caliber of the men who believe in it. They are hardy, determined, persistent and unshakable. In all honesty, do you think they will ever give in? Can the Crown triumph?”
Tailor was silent for a long time. “Can England win, you mean? Only if the King is willing to commit many men for many years. And many are willing to die.”
Cummins nodded. “And you know why that is, don’t you, John?”
The sergeant rose to his feet and stared at the crisp blue sky filled with stars above his head. “These men are not fighting for a sovereign, but for themselves. They fight for their freedom, for their homes and wives, and their children’s future.” He looked down at the wounded man. “Once we fought for the same thing. But here, we fight only so our King can continue to conquer and possess. Here, we are far from our homes, and wives, and our lives. Our hearts are not in it; not like theirs.” Tailor smiled and then he said softly, “ ‘Blandishments will not fascinate us, nor will threats of a ‘halter’ intimidate. For, under God, we are determined that wheresoever, whensoever, or howsoever we shall be called to make our exit, we will die free men.’ ”
“Those don’t sound like the words of an Englishman.”
“They aren’t. I quote Josiah Quincy of Boston. I heard him argue the American cause in England. I understand he died on the journey home.” He shook his head. “A shame. He was a brilliant man. You know, his words reminded me of what another man, William Cowper once said — ”
“ ‘Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall.’ ”
The sergeant nodded. “Yes. I think, perhaps, we are not so different after all.”
Cummins’ words were quiet. “And how many more, John, do you think will die before the King recognizes that?”
Tailor looked at him. “Too many. Andrew, I understand your sentiments. But — ”
“I am still a traitor.” He winced as he lowered himself back to the ground. “I understand. Though if you intend to cart me all the way back to England, I think you will present King George with nothing but a corpse.”
“I don’t intend anything of the kind....” Tailor fell silent. At Cummins’ look he held up his hand and called for silence.
Someone was coming
Dan moved stealthily through the trees. Mingo followed hard on his heels. He noticed, as they traveled, that the Cherokee seemed to grow in confidence. The only times he had to help him were when their passage required stealth and Mingo could no longer hear his footsteps, or his softly whispered commands.
Once he had made certain his children had obeyed him and were on their way back to the settlement, he had returned to the British camp and, one by one, taken the young English soldiers and deposited them well away from one another. Most of them he had left in caves or other sheltered places. Captain Banks he had left perched in a tree. After that, the two of them had set out to track the Shawnee. As they traveled, he had filled Mingo in on everything he and Andrew Cummins had overheard, and told him the older man had gone to find and free the woman he loved. Mingo, in turn, repeated all Tutka had said and explained how she had come to be in the hands of the Shawnee. Dan could tell what it cost his friend to admit to the fact that his being blind had made him incapable of caring for and protecting her. He knew putting it into words made him face the sobering reality that he might never be able to care for, or protect, anyone in that way again.
He crouched and put his hand out and brought Mingo to a halt. The Cherokee’s nostrils flared. He had caught the scent of what his friend had seen.
“Death,” he whispered. “I smell death. We are too late?”
Dan swallowed hard. A young private lay across the path; his head a bloody mass. “At least for this young’un, we are. I’ll be back.” As he started to rise, his friend reached out and touched his arm. “Yes?”
“Take care, Daniel.”
He nodded. “Always. Back shortly.”
Mingo waited, all too aware of the overwhelming silence. He could smell both blood and burnt flesh. He knew the work of the Shawnee and did not need his eyes to conjure up the images his friend was witness to.
Several minutes later the big man returned and knelt by him. “I found six or seven dead. The camp surgeon was holed up not far away. He managed to save two of the others; though one of them is in bad shape. He said the last time he had seen Cummins and his sergeant, they were in the tent.”
He heard the hesitation in his friend’s voice. “And the tent?”
“Burned to the ground.” Dan answered Mingo’s question before he asked it, “No bones there. I checked.”
“So they did not perish in the blaze?”
Mingo wiped his eyes. They were watering again. He blinked and gazed up at the sky. He wasn’t certain, but momentarily, it seemed he could tell it was dark blue.
“Are you in pain?” Dan asked quietly.
The Cherokee shook his head. “I have known worse.”
The big man nodded, accepting that.
“Did you see any Shawnee?” Mingo lowered his eyes and squinted. He still couldn’t make out his friend. Perhaps the blue sky had only been an illusion.
“Those Redcoats of Cummins’ knew how to shoot. There were a half dozen Shawnee dead.”
Dan rocked back on his heels. “Nope.”
Mingo drew a deep breath. “Tutka?”
“No women. I did find signs of someone small-footed being dragged away. I think she’s with two of them. I couldn’t tell if they were hurt. There was blood.” He paused to wipe his own eyes free of soot. “But then there’s blood everywhere.” He glanced at his friend. “You want to wait here while I go — ”
“If I keep watch over the dead, Daniel, I shall become one of them.” He shook his head. “I dare not give in. If once I do, I may never find the courage to begin again.”
The big man took that in. Then he nodded. “Well, we’ll just have to ‘let the end try the man’, won’t we?”
Mingo laughed; surprised. “Shakespeare, Daniel? I didn’t know you had ever read ‘Henry the Fourth’.”
Dan grinned. “Not me, General Washington. Back when we was fightin’ the French and the Indians. He said there was a lot to be learned from the English.” He laughed. “I think those who gave him his formal education might be regrettin’ it about now. You ready?”
The Cherokee nodded. “Yes. I think it is high time that you and I teach Black Kettle a lesson he will not forget.”
The woman cried out as she was thrust to her knees. The Shawnee who held her placed one hand on her throat and pressed his knife-blade to her heart. His leader came to stand beside him and lifted his rifle into the air. “You will show yourselves, white eyes,” he shouted, “or she will die!” He knew the two Redcoats were hiding somewhere nearby. They had tracked them easily from the edge of the camp to this place. Black Kettle suspected the man who had bargained with him was one of them. He had not been among those left dead at the camp. He glanced at the woman, Tutka. For some reason, she was important to him; important enough to pay for her life with the precious black powder. He would come for her. And when he did, he too would die. “Come out now!” He glanced at his brother and nodded. The other man grinned as the blade broke her flesh.
“Stop! We are here.”
Black Kettle swung around. From the trees behind him came two white men in red coats. The older one leaned on the younger. Both were filthy; their fine uniforms covered with soot. The man with the graying hair had been wounded. The broken shaft of an arrow protruded from his shoulder. Though they had not met, Black Kettle knew from Long Shanks’ description that this one was Andrew Cummins.
Cummins was not looking at him; his eyes were on the Creek woman the other man held. “Let her go.” He nodded towards the young sergeant who supported him. “Let Tailor go. I promise you I won’t run.”
“Andrew, no!” Tutka’s cry was cut short as the man who held her tightened his grip on her throat. Tears spilled down her cheeks and she began to sob. This was the first she had seen him and she feared it would only be to say goodbye. Her dark eyes went to the man who owned her; pleading.
He spat at her feet. “This you chose? This white man?” He turned from her and crossed over to stand directly in front of the wounded officer. Cummins summoned his strength and stood on his own to face him. Black Kettle was still for a moment and then his hand shot out and he caught hold of the shaft of the arrow and twisted it. Andrew Cummins went white as a sheet and fell to his knees with Tailor supporting him. As he gasped and pitched forward, the sergeant struck out to catch hold of the Shawnee, but the man moved too fast. He danced away and laughed. “So superior, you English. So much better than us.” He raised his rifle and pointed it at Tailor’s head. “The only thing you do better than us is die.” He glanced back at Tutka as the barrel moved from Tailor’s to Cummins’ head. “And which dies first?” He turned and pointed the weapon at the woman and nodded for his man to back away. “No, I think this one,” he said as he moved toward her.
The Shawnee jerked. His head pivoted in the direction of the voice, while his weapon remained pointed at the woman. He frowned. It was the blind Cherokee he had pitched into the ravine. The fool was standing in the open, aiming a rifle at him. The Shawnee warrior started to laugh, but then, as he moved away from the British soldiers and toward the woman, he fell silent. The barrel of the Cherokee’s flintlock had followed him unerringly. Black Kettle stopped and Mingo stopped. He began to move forward again and the other man did as well.
“You cannot escape, Black Kettle,” Mingo called. “Better to surrender and live to fight another day.”
The Shawnee had begun to shake. “You cannot see,” he shouted. “You are blind.”
“Yes. But I can see you. Your evil cries out to the heavens, Black Kettle. Your cowardice brought ruin to your men; not their own actions. The Thunderbirds knew you meant to cheat the English. They knew you meant to kill them all along. That is why they came when they did; to warn the others about you. That is why their flashing eyes blinded me, so I could see with their vision; with their eyes and not my own.”
Black Kettle ducked suddenly. A second later Mingo’s rifle followed. He tried hard to keep it from shaking. He nodded as he heard Dan whisper that the Shawnee was taking a step back towards Tutka. “Leave the woman be,” he said sternly.
Daniel Boone crouched in the tall grasses at Mingo’s feet. He had quickly seen there had been no way he could have taken out both Black Kettle and his man without either Cummins or Tutka being killed. It had simply been more than one man could do. When he explained the situation to Mingo, his friend had suggested they play on Black Kettle’s superstitious nature. He said he would show himself and claim the Thunderbirds were directing his actions. If they could make the Shawnee warrior believe his gods had deserted him, they might be able to unnerve him and prompt him into making a fatal mistake. Dan had agreed, with some reservations, and now he knelt beside the Cherokee whispering instructions to him so it would seem to the Shawnee that he could somehow ‘see’ in spite of being blind. So far the plan seemed to be working, but it had brought them to nothing more than an impasse.
“Black Kettle, I said to let the woman be.”
Dan glanced up at Mingo. The Cherokee’s hands were trembling and he was blinking his eyes as if a sudden gust of wind had blown dirt or debris into them. Sweat streamed down his face as he frowned. Dan started to ask him if something was wrong when a sudden movement drew his attention back to the Shawnee warrior. He looked up just in time to see him lunge toward the woman. As he did, Cummins staggered to his feet and, thrusting Tailor out of the way, started for him. Black Kettle sensed this and pivoted. The warrior’s hand went for his knife and he raised it to throw it. Dan swallowed hard. Everything was happening too fast; there was no time to tell Mingo.
“No!” he cried as he leapt to his feet, but even as he did, Mingo’s rifle went off. Dan turned towards the trio and watched as the Shawnee spun in a circle, and then collapsed to the ground with a look of disbelief on his dark face.
Dan pulled his cap off his head and ran a hand through his tousled brown hair even as Black Kettle’s man took off at a run, and Cummins staggered and fell into Tutka’s arms. He started towards them, but then turned back to his friend. Mingo was laughing. Tears were running down his coppery cheeks, mingling with the sweat.
The Cherokee raised his eyes to the sky. “It is night,” he whispered. “The moon is shining.
“I can see.”
Sometime later Dan sat beside the fire with Sergeant Tailor sharing a cup of coffee. Tutka had searched through the woods and found several plants, one of which she had used to make a solution which she had then instructed Mingo to apply to his eyes. It had greatly reduced the pain and redness and finally, out of sheer exhaustion, the Cherokee had fallen asleep. Even before that the native woman had seen to Andrew Cummins’ wound. The arrow had, fortunately, penetrated the fleshy part of his shoulder and the wound, so long as it was properly looked after, would not prove life-threatening. He too was sleeping. Tutka sat between the two of them, softly singing and keeping watch.
Dan narrowed his green eyes and looked at the young Englishman. He was staring in the direction of his former captain; a concerned look on his face.
The man jumped and then turned towards him. His face was sober. “No. Not here. Not tonight.” He glanced at the quickening sky. “Or I should say, not today. Today I am only John Tailor; the man, and not the soldier.”
“Then you are going to let him go?”
Tailor smiled. “You mean there was a possibility that I could have returned with him; that you would have turned him over to me — and to His Majesty’s justice — without a fight?”
Dan tossed what was left of his coffee into the grass. He returned the smile. “Well, now, not without a fight. We Kentuckians love a good fight.”
Tailor nodded. “All of you Americans love a good fight; as His Majesty is discovering to his eternal regret and consternation.” He glanced at Cummins. Tutka was leaning over him; her hand touching his face. “Andrew Cummins is dead. He was killed by the Shawnee when his tent was burnt to the ground.” The young man placed his cup on the grass and stood. “And if they need proof, I will have it.”
“You are going back?” Dan rose as well. “To the camp?”
John Tailor straightened his sword-belt and nodded his head. “I need to locate Milligan and see who else survived the Shawnee raid.” He frowned. “And I believe there is a certain officer I might need to extricate from a rather embarrassing situation.” As Dan laughed, he added soberly, “And then there is the matter of the powder and guns, though I would imagine the savages....” He hesitated as he looked once again at Tutka. “...the natives have ‘appropriated’ it by now.”
“Or the Continental Army.”
Tailor nodded. “There is that possibility; if they came looking for Andrew when he did not meet them as scheduled.”
“And what will you tell the British of his treason?”
The other man was silent a moment. Then he nodded and raised his hand. Dan followed his eyes. Cummins was awake and sitting up. Tutka held him in her arms. “And what treason would that be, Mr. Boone? All I see is a man who was desperate to save his own, and used every means at his command to accomplish the impossible. King George has many soldiers and, in reality, more powder and weapons than he knows what to do with. They have only each other. Now, if you will excuse me, it is time for me to say goodbye.”
Dan nodded and watched him move away. Then he turned towards the north and east and home.
And time for him to say hello.
Continued in the Epilogue