His Father's Son

by Marla F. Fair

 

 

Daniel Boone pushed through the forested woods, his heart pounding in his chest. He reached out and with his hand brushed aside a branch that hung suspended over the path, barring his way.

The hand was trembling.

Somehow, he knew something was terribly wrong.

It wasn't just that Mingo had missed the rendezvous. That happened. He'd done it himself.

It wasn't just that he had found his friend's tracks leading off of the main trail and into the woods. That had happened before as well. Maybe there was a bear. Or something else unexpected.

No. Now, hours later, it was the ruby red drops that dotted the trail and increased in volume with every step he took. Ruby red drops that suggested a passing, a present and a coming storm.

Dan knelt to check again, though he knew the answer to his question. It was blood.

Mingo's blood. And there was a lot of it.

Rising to his feet the tall frontiersman took a moment to remove his cap and wipe his forehead, and then to take a swig of water to wet his parched throat. It was cooler now – though that was a relative term – well past midnight on a hot summer's day. Earlier it had been a scorcher. It felt like all the sweat he had had in him had been squeezed out by the unrelenting heat. He and Mingo had been exploring. Just enjoying being together. Traveling on the water and mapping out new territory. Becky was visiting a friend and had taken Jemima with her. Israel was staying with one of their neighbors who had six boys. Dan smiled in spite of his fear. The youngster thought it was pure heaven.

Dan put the cap back on and started to move forward again only to stop. The world about him was hushed, filled with quiet bird calls and the lazy drone of insects on a summer night.

And the buzz of flies.

He listened carefully, trying to discern the direction. Seemed to be not too far away. To his left. Down a shallow bank and toward the stream that ran nearby. He left the makeshift foot trail he had been following and silently crossed the dry, brittle grasses laced with flies and blood with a grace born of long experience and caution. Just at the edge there was a large field of cattails, waist-high and waving. Dan paused and lifted his rifle, loading and priming it before advancing. As he did, the buzzing stopped.

Dan drew a deep breath and then, taking one long arm, swept the cattails aside.

He would never forget the sight.

Mingo lay face-up in the water. His long black hair floating like weeds on the gently lapping waves. His hands pale as the moonlight that shone down on him, making him look like something out of one of the stories Israel's friends liked to tell about dead Injuns and haunted places.

Dan swallowed as he first glanced about and then placed Tick Licker on the bank. He drew a deep breath and moved forward, all the while watching for signs of life.

Mingo was still. Deathly so.

Taking hold of his friend's vest, he pulled him up and onto the bank. Dan was a strong man, but Mingo was near his height and weighted down with water and by the time he got them both out, Dan fell down beside him on the bank, panting.

Partly from fear.

Summoning more courage that he had to find when facing down the British or Shawnee, Dan reached out one hand and laid it on his friend's chest.

And sighed with relief. Mingo was alive. He felt for the pulse at the base of his throat. It was thin. Thready. And he was cold. Cold on a hot sultry night.

Dan rose and then bent to wrap his arms about his friend's body, and began to drag him away from the edge of the stream, noting the trail of blood left in their wake. The wound had to be in his back.

A sign that, whoever had attacked him, was a coward.

Dan gently placed his friend under a tree and then, taking the light blanket from his bedroll, covered him with it. After pausing a moment, he turned back to the bank. Even though Mingo needed immediate attention there was something else that had to be done first.

Tick Licker was still laying in the grass and whoever had attacked Mingo was still breathing.

Dan pivoted only to stop. A tall figure stood silhouetted against the moonlight. In its hand was a rifle.

His rifle.

"I take it this is what you were looking for? If I may offer a feeble paraphrase of Tusser, did no one ever tell you that 'a fool and his rifle are soon parted?'"

The voice was distinguished. Educated. English.

Unmistakable.

"Lord Dunsmore?" Dan said in disbelief.

The tall figure advanced until his face was struck full by the moonlight. It was weary. Haggard. The face of a man haunted by a ghost or some great grief. He paused and then advanced to Dan and handed him his rifle. Moving to Mingo's side, he knelt. Dunsmore's head hung for a moment and then he whispered, his voice breaking. "My son."

Dan came to stand by him. "I don't understand. What are you doing out here, Governor? Do you know what's happened?"

Dunsmore's hand rested on his son's chest. His stiff figure eased a bit as he felt the beat of Mingo's heart. He remained still a moment and then said, without looking up. "He was shot. In the back."

Dan knelt as well. "Do you know who did this?" he asked, his voice shaking with fury.

Lord Dunsmore did look up then, his eyes deep wells of inexpressible grief.

"I did."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It took them nearly a day to get him back to the cabin. They rigged a travois and took turns dragging it. Mingo was heavy and the day was hot, and neither was able to think of much else but putting one foot in front of the other. Dan had wanted to explode. To rant. To scream at the older man, but something in Lord Dunsmore's eyes had stopped him. His grief was real. When he was not dragging the litter, he walked beside it, his head down, his eyes on the still form it contained.

Dan wished now that Becky had not gone away. He knew some doctorin' – had had to learn it to survive – but not so much as she did. And taking a bullet out of the back of his best friend was not something he wanted to try. It turned out that Lord Dunsmore was well-acquainted with gunshot wounds from his years in His Majesty's service. He took one look and shook his head. The bullet was in deep. Near the spine. It would take a surgeon.

Meaning the shot had come from close range.

There was no time to ask the million and two questions that whirled about in his head. Dan left the older man sitting, holding his son's hand, and headed for the fort to get Cincinnatus. All he told the tavern-keeper was that Mingo had been shot and that it was bad. Cincinnatus had been sleeping, but he came wide awake in seconds. As he dressed, Dan threw together salves and medicines, and gathered the tools that would be needed for surgery.

Listening to the sound of Cincinnatus splashing water on his face and shinnying into his pants, Dan paused, struck again by the fleeting nature of life. This time the night before he and Mingo had been sitting by a stream, roasting fish, talking and laughing. Mingo had struck up an impromptu song and Dan had done his best to accompany him with a tree trunk and two sticks. His friend had been happy, healthy and strong. Now he lay in a bed, less than a mile away.

Dying.

Dan shuddered and closed the bag he had placed the tools in as Cincinnatus came to his side. With a nod they headed out the door and into the dawning day. Mingo had awakened him with a hand to the shoulder half way through the night, telling him he needed to check something out. Dan had asked if he wanted him to go with him, but the tall Indian had laughed and said he did not need a nurse-maid.

That was the last he had seen him.

Less than half an hour later they arrived at the cabin. Lord Dunsmore had not moved but sat, Mingo's hand in one of his and the other caressing his son's pallid forehead. He rose as they entered and made way for Cincinnatus and then, with a look that would have broken Becky's heart, but only roused Dan's suspicions, turned and walked out the door.

Cincinnatus took a look. He moaned and clicked his tongue against his teeth and then set about his business. Dan asked if he could help and was told he couldn't, and so he followed the English Lord out the door, half-expecting him to have vanished.

He hadn't. He sat, silent, his head down and his hands hanging between his knees, on the steps of the porch.

As Dan came to a rest behind him he said, not too kindly, "You want to tell me what happened?"

Lord Dunsmore was silent a moment. Then he shuddered and reached out to take hold of the porch post to steady himself. "If by that question, Mr. Boone, you imply I have a choice...."

"No. I don't."

Lord Dunsmore sighed. "I didn't think you did." He rose and took a few steps forward, gazing into the dawning light. "It is a glorious day, is it not?"

"Your son may be dyin' in there. Don't you care?" Anger laced Dan's tone and made his voice rise.

"I have seen many men die, Mr. Boone, and sent many of them to their deaths."

Dan's teeth were gritted. "You said you shot him?"

Dunsmore's stately form stiffened. "Yes."

"In the back?" Dan's tone was incredulous. "I never took you for a coward – "

"I did not know it was him! God forgive me...." His voice trailed off in tears. "I did not know it was him."

"How can a man not know his own son?" Dan asked softly.

Lord Dunsmore's grief-stricken face turned back toward the mounting light. "Indeed," was all he said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cincinnatus had come out to get him. The bullet was out. It had been deep and lodged against the bone. Dan didn't know what it would do to Mingo. He had seen the same kind of wounds during the war. The tall, strong Cherokee might walk again.

And he might not.

Dan drew a deep breath as he sat down by his friend. Lord Dunsmore had taken a walk. The older man had said he needed to clear his head. It seemed he had not come here seeking Mingo but, like the time before, had come seeking to parlay and bargain with the local Indian tribes in hopes of enlisting them in the war against the 'rebels'. The negotiations had not gone well. His aide was killed and his men scattered, and as they ran and fought and tried to survive he had shot an Indian who was standing with his back to him, rifle in hand. It was war and in war anything goes.

And then he had realized it was his son.

The fighting had swept over them and by the time Lord Dunsmore had tried to reach Mingo's side, his son had vanished, never knowing his own father had shot him.

Dunsmore had been hunting Mingo when Dan had found him. Hunting him and praying with every step that it was not a corpse he found; not another body to place in the Cherokee burial ground.

Dan suspected that Lord Dunsmore's footsteps might have taken him to that very spot this night.

A low moan attracted his attention. He looked and Mingo's eyelids were fluttering, the dark eyes beneath them opening to stare at a strange world. "Daniel?" he whispered, his voice without strength.

"Don't try to talk, Mingo." Dan reached over and picked up a cup of water and held it to his friend's lips. "Drink this."

Mingo took a sip but then shook his head. "What...happened?" his friend asked as he put the cup back.

"You were shot," Dan answered.

The dark eyes closed and then reopened. "Yes.... There was fighting. Shawnee. Redcoats. Behind and before me."

"Mingo. Don't wear yourself out. You need to rest."

Mingo's eyes closed again even as his lips turned up in a rueful smile. "I do not know which shot me."

"Well, you won't sort it out tonight," Dan said lightly. He rose and blew out the lamp Cincinnatus had lit to help with the surgery. Once the curtain was pulled, the bedroom would darken and hopefully his friend would sleep and draw strength. "'Night, Mingo."

As he walked away, Mingo called him back, "Daniel?"

"What is it, Mingo?" he asked, turning.

The Indian's eyes were still closed. His voice was soft, almost as if he spoke from the midst of the dream. "I had the strangest vision. I was...a little boy again. I had fallen and my father was there...looking down at me....He picked me up."

Dan's jaw was tight. "Go to sleep, Mingo. Get some rest. I'll come and check on you in a while."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Becky and 'Mima came home and he told them the same thing he had told Cincinnatus: that Mingo had been shot and nobody knew by who. Mingo didn't know what had happened. It wasn't fair to tell anyone else.

Lord Dunsmore would have to do that.

The two women clucked with worry and cooed with concern, and then set about coddling their patient as only women can. Mingo took their ministrations as they were meant – besides, he couldn't protest too much. He was too weak. Too weak to complain. Too weak almost to lift his head.

Much too weak to try to walk.

And so, they still didn't know what damage the bullet had done.

Lord Dunsmore had still not returned as the sun began to set and the moon to rise. Dan didn't really think he had run away – though he was certain the older man would have liked to. He knew where to find him and he went there, knowing the Cherokee wouldn't question his respect or sincerity.

He found the older man sitting on a tree stump in the Cherokee Burial Ground, staring at the raised platform that bore the desiccated remains of his Indian wife and Mingo's mother.

Lord Dunsmore's face was tear-stained as he turned it to him. "Mingo?" he asked.

"Awake. Asleep again. Mendin'."

"Thank God." Lord Dunsmore rose and took a few steps toward his wife's bier. "Nothing has changed since last I was here."

"No," Dan agreed. "Nothing here. And nothing between you and your son."

Dunsmore's silvered head fell to his chest. He ran a hand across his neck and then shook his head. "It cannot."

"Can not? Or won't?"

"My son will have none of me. And now...." The older man shuddered again. "I should leave."

"Without facin' him? Without knowin' he's well?" Dan paused. His words were hard. "I don't take to Redcoats, but they're not what one would normally call 'cowards'."

"Are you calling me a 'coward'?" There was some fire in his voice.

Dan nodded. "If you leave. I guess I rightly am."

"I am certain I am not welcome in your home."

"Did I say so?"

Lord Dunsmore frowned. "After what happened last year, with Boonesborough, I assumed – "

Dan walked over to the older man and looked at him, searching for some semblance to his friend. It was hard to find. "Now, I wouldn't rightly call myself a fan of yours, Governor, but Mingo is family and that makes you – in a way – family too. You are welcome to stay with us as long as you need – just so as you don't go invitin' too many of your countryman to the cabin. I might advise you get rid of that red coat, though. Some of the townsfolk might not think the same way I do."

Lord Dunsmore looked at his coat; at the stripes and finery. "And how, Mr. Boone, would you explain away my accent?"

"Friend of Mingo's. A dean at Oxford maybe?"

Dunsmore laughed. He removed his coat and walking with it, placed it at the bottom of the bier.

Dan frowned. "What are you doing?"

The older man returned to his side; his look guarded and unreadable.

"Placing it here, at her feet," Lord Dunsmore said softly, "with all my hopes and dreams."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They walked back to the cabin in silence. Dan went inside, but the tall Englishman remained outside as if both unable and unwilling to face his son. Becky left the cabin on an excuse that she needed to gather more water, but really went in search of him. She found the tall, distinguished Englishman leaning on the well, watching the rising moon.

"Lord Dunsmore," she said softly.

He shook his head. "John, dear lady. I left Lord Dunsmore at Talota's feet."

"John?"

This time he laughed. "I do have a name other than 'governor' or 'Lord'. John Murray."

"Oh. I guess I never thought about Mingo having a last name."

"He has scorned it. His first name as well. And the life that went with both."

"And that makes you angry?" she asked as she moved toward the well, resting the bucket on its side.

"Angry?" He stood. "I suppose it does. But more than angering, it saddens me. Here," he added, reaching for the bucket, "allow me."

"No, I couldn't."

"Dear Madame, I may have received my commission because of my parentage, but I have spent a life in the field. I have fetched water and washed wounds and cooked over an open fire." He took the bucket and began to lower it into the well. "I rather find I enjoy it."

"I imagine there is a lot of pressure in being a Lord and a governor general," she said, watching.

"It can be a little confining at times," he said as the bucket hit the water. "One must conform to certain circumstances...there are certain requirements; duties that must be discharged."

"I imagine that is why Mingo did not want it. He doesn't like being confined. And he certainly is an individual."

Lord Dunsmore finished filling the bucket and began to haul it back up. He sat the bucket on the edge with a sharp movement that caused the water to slosh over the edge. "A rebel, you mean! My son has never been one to conform – to anything. No matter what the reason or need."

Becky realized she had hit a nerve. "I'm sorry...John. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."

He indicated the cabin with his hand. "Dear lady, being here brings everything to the surface. You are only the momentary catalyst. My son and I.... Well, you know, we are not close."

She nodded and began to walk with him. He insisted on carrying the bucket. "Were you when he was a little boy?"

They reached the porch before he answered. "For a time."

"Would you tell me about it?" She asked softly as he placed the bucket on the edge of the porch. As Lord Dunsmore's eyes went to the cabin, she saw the thought of his injured son in his eyes. The pain was deep; deeper than she had expected. "John?"

He sat on the step and linked his hands. "I loved Talota deeply. How could I not love her son? I married her and meant to live my life with her, but then home...and duty called."

"And you left?"

"Yes. Intending to come back." He hung his head. "I never did. Not while she still lived."

Becky thought of Israel, her son, asleep inside. He had returned home and been devastated to find what had happened to Mingo. He was asleep on a blanket on the floor by the native's bed. "You must have some happy memories."

He thought a moment and then smiled. "I can see the two of them by the river. I had been away for some time. Though only three or four, Cara had grown like a weed! It seemed he was twice the size he had been when I left. The morning light was shining on the grain in the fields, on the silken hair of the corn, on the water that ran swiftly behind Talota's slender form like a golden band. She turned and saw me. Her face lit with a smile and her beauty rivaled that of any woman of London, of any Countess or fine lady of the court. She said something to the boy and he turned to greet me as well. Cara took several steps forward, his skin brown as a berry, his hair black as the night, and then he gave me the sharpest military salute of any man I have ever known!" Lord Dunsmore laughed and then he sobered as he remembered. "We spent the evening reading Cervantes."

It was Becky's turn to laugh. "A four year old? Reading Cervantes?"

Dunsmore's grin was genuine. "Well, I did the reading. But he listened. The boy has a mind like a steel trap – sharp, keen, well beyond average...." He stopped. "Had. He is a man now. And therein lies the problem."

Becky stood and held out her hand. "Dan says you have not been in to see him since the bullet came out. Will you not come?"

He shook his head. "No."

"But why?"

The tall Englishman looked stricken. "I cannot. Not...yet."

"Becky," a voice called from behind them.

She and Lord Dunsmore pivoted as one. "Dan?" From his face she could tell something was wrong. "What? Is it Mingo?"

He nodded, his own look grim. "He just tried to stand. His legs wouldn't hold him." Dan's eyes strayed to Lord Dunsmore. Anger smoldered in them. "It may be temporary, but he's not listenin' to any of that. I'm afraid he'll reopen his wound. I thought maybe you could calm him." With that, he turned and headed back into the house where she could hear her children's voices raised, speaking to Mingo.

Becky nodded and lifting her skirts, bolted up the stairs. She turned back to the Englishman who stood, alone, outside. "Are you coming?"

When she didn't get an answer, Becky went inside and slammed the door.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It must have been nearly a week later. It was three or four o'clock in the morning. The Boones had left the door unlocked as always, knowing he was sleeping on the porch. On this night Lord Dunsmore opened the door and stepped into the hushed cabin, and walked to the curtained area where his son slept. Daniel Boone's small son, it seemed, had been banished once again to his loft for he was not on the floor just outside the curtain. Rebecca and her husband were bedded down for the night, though he knew Boone would have heard him enter and knew he was there. With a deep breath, he took hold of the curtain and silently drew it aside. His son was sleeping. He was pale – almost as pale as his father – and his breathing was shallow. The shadow of fever that followed close after a wound was on him, but Lord Dunsmore knew that was not the danger.

Mingo had shown little improvement. He had not left the bed. If his son thought he would never walk again, there was the chance he would try to kill himself. Rebecca had said he would not eat. To an Indian such an injury was unacceptable. There was no old age, no golden days of retirement, no resting on one's laurels. If one could not fend for himself, fight and care for himself, he was useless.

A burden.

He crossed to the chair that rested beside his son's bed and sat in it. He looked at him a moment and then reached out and brushed the sweat-soaked hair from his forehead. Mingo moaned and shifted. Lord Dunsmore almost rose from the chair and bolted for the door, but with the discipline of a soldier, he stood his ground.

Mingo's eyelids fluttered. He groaned again as he glanced his way. At first he could not focus, but then he saw him. "Then I was not dreaming?" he whispered.

"The Boones didn't tell you I was here?"

"No. Well, I do not know really. I remember little of the last week."

"Do you remember being shot?" Dunsmore asked, his throat tight.

His son nodded. "I was on the top of a rise. There were natives to my left, and men in red coats moving through the trees to my right. I had paused to take up my spyglass and then fire exploded in my back and I fell."

He could see it, and the sight sickened him. "Did you see who shot you?"

Mingo's jaw tightened. "No. If I knew his face, I would seek him."

"And kill him?"

Mingo's eyes were filled with anger. "If it is not war, then it is murder, you mean? I would seek vengeance for what has been done to me."

Lord Dunsmore reached out. His hand gripped his son's. "And I will see to it that you find it – when you are strong enough."

"You know as I that day will not come. My legs are useless." Mingo turned his face into the pillow. "I am useless."

"You are my son. You will not let this stop you."

Mingo turned back. "What do you know! You are not lying here, unable to lift your legs!"

His son's words came in fierce whispers, but Lord Dunsmore knew the Boones were most likely listening. "It is not said that the English are cowards. Nor the Cherokee. Are you a coward, my son?"

"I am a realist! It is what you taught me to be!" Lord Dunsmore's face softened. "And what would your mother say about that?"

Mingo fell silent.

"Do you remember, Mingo? One of your mother's favorite books? Cervantes 'Don Quixote'?"

"I have read it," his son mumbled.

"Cervantes was in prison when he wrote, 'I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is... Pain, misery, hunger... cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from the taverns and the moans from the bundles of filth in the streets. I have been a soldier and have seen my comrades fall in battle, or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I held them in my arms at the final moment. These men saw life as it is , yet they died despairing. No glory, no gallant last words........ only their eyes filled with confusion, whimpering the question, 'why?'.... . I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams, this may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is - and not as it should be!'"

"What has this to do with me?" his son growled.

"Do you want to walk?"

Mingo's jaw was tight. "Of course, I do."

"Then you will walk. Do not see 'life as it is', Mingo, but as you mother saw it, full of endless possibilities. I have seen this kind of injury before. A lad under my command, here in the New World actually, shot in the spine. He could not walk. But with time – and great effort – was made to."

"I cannot feel my legs." His son's voice was small – that of the little boy he had loved –and it tugged at his heart.

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, I'm certain. I cannot move them."

"Cannot 'move' and cannot 'feel' are not the same thing." Lord Dunsmore threw the blankets back. He held his breath against how thin his son had become; his muscles already atrophying from lack of movement. He glanced around and saw that Rebecca Boone had left her sewing on the table by the bed. He took hold of one of the needles. One salt and pepper eyebrow was lifted. "May I?"

Mingo frowned, looking intrigued. He nodded.

With a prayer on his lips, Lord Dunsmore took hold of his son's foot and gently pressed the needle against it. "Can you feel anything?"

The frown deepened. "No." The pin pushed into the skin farther, but did not penetrate. "Now?"

Mingo shook his head. "Harder," he said, looking determined.

Lord Dunsmore hesitated. Why? He had killed men. What was shoving one little needle into the flesh of a foot?

His son's foot.

"Father. Do it!"

Lord Dunsmore smiled. Father. And then he shoved it in all the way.

And was rewarded with a yelp that woke the whole cabin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It took several weeks, but eventually he was able to walk again. Haltingly. With aid.

The first trip he wanted to take was to his mother's grave.

Mingo looked at his father. The older man had journeyed with him, being patient as he limped and leaned on a walking stick. He was quiet and pensive. His father left him seated on a rock and went to stand at the foot of his mother's grave. He remained there some time and then, bent to the earth and retrieved something.

It was his red coat.

As he returned to his side, his father began to speak, haltingly. "Son, there is something I must tell you.... Something I am ashamed of. Something...."

"That is was you who shot me?" Mingo said softly.

Surprise and then anger registered on his father's face. "Did Daniel Boone tell you? He promised...."

"No, Daniel said nothing. I figured it out on my own."

"How?"

"How? How does a son know his father? How can he not when he is a part of him? I knew there was something. As I rested from one of our 'sessions', I overheard you speaking to Daniel of the day I was shot. I couldn't understand the deep grief associated with it. Rebecca had mentioned noticing the same thing."

He nodded. "She is a perceptive woman."

Mingo smiled. "Yes. And a bit nosey. She asked around and was regaled with tales of the recent slaughter of the Indians by the Redcoats – by another Redcoat drinking in the tavern."

"There was no slaughter," Dunsmore admitted grudgingly. "We were routed to the man."

"Well this one survived apparently."

"Who was he? I'll have him shot." Dunsmore winced and fell silent.

Mingo continued, his voice dry. "He told of seeing you on the field of battle. He feared you were dead as you had disappeared. The last time he had seen you, you were gallantly fighting, and had just taken out a filthy redskin by shooting the animal in the back."

Lord Dunsmore was like a rock. But then the rock split at the truth of his words and tears began to trail down his cheeks. "My God...my son...."

John Murray, his father, the governor general of all Virginia and a Peer of the Realm, fell to his knees and began to cry.

Mingo sat very still for a moment and then he reached out and laid his hand on his father's shoulder. "I know you did not mean to do it."

Dunsmore's head shot up. "But I did! You were nothing to me. Nothing but a savage! An animal that deserved extermination." He buried his head in his hands. "How could I have forgotten? How?"

"Forgotten?" Mingo asked.

His father turned toward the grave. "Her. Our love. My love for her people. For you."

"There is no room for love in the life of a Peer. It is why I rejected it. And reject it still."

For a moment they sat in silence. Then Mingo asked gently, "Father?"

"You would still call me that? Knowing what you know? Knowing what I did and why?"

"I have done things I am ashamed of. If we learn from them, then they no longer hold shame."

Lord Dunsmore pulled himself together. He wiped his eyes and rose to his feet. "What would you know?"

Mingo inclined his head. He indicated the red coat. "Will you put it on again?"

The older man plucked the garment from the ground. He touched the red cloth, the gold braid. "It is who I am."

Mingo nodded. He asked his father then to help him to his feet, and together they went to his mother's grave.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mingo saw her before he heard her; her red hair blazing in the sun.

"Dan. There he is!"

He watched as she caught her husband's arm. They had been worried, he knew. He and his father had disappeared hours before. And now he came limping alone out of the woods, relying heavily on his cane. In spite of his best efforts, as he neared the cabin, he fell to his knees.

The two of them ran to his side.

Becky knelt beside him. "Mingo? Are you all right?"

He smiled wearily. "Not really. But I will be."

"Where is Lord Dunsmore?" Dan asked as he helped his friend to stand.

"Gone."

Dan frowned. "Mingo," he began, "I had hoped he would tell you, but if he's run away, I had better – "

"There is no need, Daniel. Between my father and I there are no secrets."

"You know then? Everything?"

"Yes."

Becky frowned as they spoke. She was, as his father said, a perceptive woman. She knew something more had passed between them than the words she had heard. "I don't understand. What are you two talking about?"

At Dan's uneasy look, Mingo answered, "It seems my father held himself responsible for my injury. It was one of his regiment who...shot me."

"Oh, Mingo, how awful! Was it that dreadful man in the tavern?"

"No. But someone very like him."

"Your father knew him then? Where is this man now?"

Mingo gazed at the cabin and the path before it, remembering his father's arm about him, lending him strength; recalling his words in his ear – strong and unbending – demanding he move his feet, his legs, that he bear the pain. He remembered the patient kind man who had tended him, a man he did not know.

"He's has gone back to England. To life as it is." Mingo swayed on his feet. "I am tired, Rebecca. Daniel. I would like to go inside."

Becky knew there was something more, but she let it go. "I'll go get some tea ready," she said. She squeezed his hand briefly and then turned toward the cabin.

Dan met his eyes. He offered his arm for support and said, "Let's go home."

 

The End