Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
‘Whereas the Marquis de
Lafayette, out of his great zeal to the cause of liberty, in which the United
States are engaged,has left his family and connections and at his own expense
come over to offer his services to the United States without pension or
particular allowance, and is anxious to risk his life....’
Becky laid the official looking document from the Continental Congress on her lap. It was the ‘anxious to risk his life’ part that had her worried. More than a week had passed and in the last day or so, the young man had seemed to recover completely. Up until that time he had still been weak and unable to eat or stay on his feet for more than a few hours, but now, she felt obligated to tell him about the danger he was in. She also needed desperately to find Mingo. She had told the Marquis that a friend of hers had been brought onboard and was being held unfairly. He had sent Phillipe to find out what he could. So far the young valet had had no luck. Not only did his limited English hamper him, but so did the animosity of the mostly British crew toward him and his master. Phillipe had returned one time with a blackened eye, but had steadfastly refused to say who he had quarreled with and why. Gilbert had scolded him, and then hugged him warmly and made him a present of a bottle of wine from his own stores.
For Becky the time that had passed had been torture. She had had to evade the Marquis’s questions—and they were many—for days. She had never satisfactorily explained to him what she was doing on the ship. She had told him she came aboard to check on her friend and had inadvertently became trapped and unable to find her way out before it became too late to disembark, which was the truth. That, of course, had not explained the seamen’s clothing she had been wearing when he awoke and found her tending him. So she had said her dress had been ruined when she caught it in one of the boards on the lower deck, and one of the men had been kind enough to loan her his extra clothes. That made him wonder how she had made it into the hold without anyone seeing her in the first place. And just who was her friend, he asked? What was he accused of, and by whom? Finally, she had feigned feeling sick and retired to her bed. That ploy had lasted about two days. Fortunately, by the time she emerged from the stateroom looking a little pale and wan—mostly from lack of sleep and worry—Gilbert had become embroiled in the affairs of the frigate, and spent what energy he had talking and walking with the few Americans aboard, and with his French countrymen who were also journeying home. Bailey continued to allow the young Marquis to move about the ship freely so he would not suspect anything. That was not the case with her, however. Whenever she left the Captain’s quarters she was shadowed, and always a seaman was positioned outside. When the Marquis had questioned this, the Captain had told him it was for his own safety.
Becky’s head came up as the young man returned. The day was nearly gone and the pale wash of light that streamed in the portal indicated the sun was just about to plunge beneath the waves. Gilbert stopped and stared at her a moment, and then deliberately looked over his shoulder at the guard outside the door.
Becky frowned. He hadn’t called her that since the first day. She didn’t correct him, but folded her hands over the document and replied in kind. “Marquis.”
“I was wondering, did I ever tell you about the time General Clinton thought he would capture me, and take me back to his English King?”
Her knuckles went white. “No,” she said in a small voice.
He pushed the door to, but did not shut it tight, as though he wanted the man outside to hear every word. “It was nearly one year ago, at Barren Hill. He had been told that I was there, with only two thousand troops at my command. He did not like me much. You see, I was there to spy on him; to learn his intentions toward Philadelphia.” Gilbert sat on the edge of the bed and met her eyes. “Clinton had over ten thousand troops. Not the best of odds, would you say?”
Becky shook her head. “There was no hope.”
“No.” He glanced toward the door. “No hope at all. But do you know what?”
She drew a deep breath. “No. What?”
“I found a steep and little known path-way to the Schuyllkill River. By it, I led my men through the two advancing columns of the Redcoats—right past their noses—and we escaped. Without losing a man. It would have been a very bad thing if I had been captured.” He met her eyes as he rose to his feet and headed for the washstand. “In this head and in this breast,” Gilbert said as he gazed at the thin pale face reflected in the mirror that hung above it, “is much knowledge fat King George would love to have. With it, he could undermine your rebels and your revolution.” He untied his shoulder-length red hair and let it fall free. He was dressed in a simple shirt and breeches though the cloth was, of course, exquisite, and the knee and shoe buckles made of real gold studded with jewels. After a moment, Gilbert turned to look at her and smiled. Then he opened his hands wide. “So, how do I look? Am I not totally recovered?”
His voice was merry; almost flippant. Becky frowned, uncertain of his intent. For a passing moment she wondered if he had become feverish again. “Totally,” she said at last.
He laughed. “I cannot believe what insensé idées fever can place in one’s head.” At her look, he translated. “Insanity! Craziness! I cannot believe I was so distressed as to think my old ami, La Marck, had come on board with me, when he had not!”
Becky stiffened. His voice was smiling, but his eyes were filled with rage.
He knew. Somehow, at least about La Marck, he knew.
“I had a fever once,” she replied softly. “My friend Mingo brought a little Indian baby to our house. He didn’t know it was sick, poor thing. I became ill after tending to it,” she added, “but it died.”
He nodded, acknowledging her warning. “As I might have done.”
She held his eyes. “As you still could if you are not very careful.”
The Marquis was still a moment, then he said, “This friend of yours...Mingo?”
“He is le sauvage? The Indian?”
“Why, yes.” Becky was puzzled. “How did you know that?”
He didn’t answer. He had his finger to his lips and his eyes were narrowed. It seemed something had ‘clicked’.
His eyes went to the door. “Adrienne.”
“Your wife? How did she know?”
“Adrienne is of a very old family, the d’ Noailles. They are accepted in the court of the King. It is because of her, and her father, that I am where I am today. When I was but fourteen years of age, I went to live in her home.”
“Where are your parents?” Becky asked.
“Dead. My father died when I was but two. In the war you Americans call the ‘French and Indian’ war. He was killed by the Anglais. My mother died when I was very young.”
Becky hid her smile. He was still very young. “I am sorry.”
“I did not know her well. For eight years she lived at the court, making certain there would be a place for me. I had only known her a short time before she died.” He shrugged. “But I do not say these things to make you weep for me, Madame.”
No. She knew him well enough already to know that.
“Many people came and went at the Duc d’Ayen’s house. One of them was a diplomat named Cornell. He had a daughter. Perhaps you know her....”
Gilbert nodded and continued, always with his eye to the door. “Rachel was the same age as Adrienne’s oldest sister. But it was Adrienne and Rachel who became friends. I know her as well. Before I came to America, she visited us. She spoke of this Mingo. He is a good man?”
“The best,” Becky answered without hesitation. “I am worried about him.”
“He should be here with me, on the ship, but I lost him,” she said quietly. “And I don’t know where he is.”
He frowned, and then he got it. “You seem, Madame, to have trouble keeping track of your friends. This one who is lost on the ship. This Mingo....”
“Ah, well. If he is a savage, most likely he can take care of himself, if necessary? The Indians of your great land are very resourceful, are they not?”
She drew a breath and held it. He was asking her permission. She hesitated and then said softly, “Probably as well as your friend, La Marck.”
Gilbert paled. He nodded. “Yes, he is ‘missing’ as well, in a way.” He moved to her side and placed his hand on her shoulder. “We would not want to lose either of them, but alas, the world is a sad and desperate place at times. And one must move on.” He paused when he heard footsteps approaching. “That is most likely Phillipe with supper. Will you join me?”
She gazed up at him. The young Frenchman had pretty much told her that he knew his life was in danger, and that he was about to do something about it. He would try his best to save their friends in the bargain, but time was running out and he was going to have to act. It was imperative he not fall into British hands.
Becky swallowed hard.
“I think I have lost my appetite.”
Mingo and La Marck sat in opposite corners of the cramped, foul-smelling locker. More than a week had passed since their confinement had begun, during which time they had come to know each other well. During the same time they had both grown weak and unwell, and La Marck had developed a cough. Each of them had been released only occasionally from their ‘cell’, and each time that had been so they could be interrogated by the Captain and his cronies. Both had steadfastly refused to tell them anything. La Marck had been beaten once, most likely due to his nationality. Mingo they had been content to insult and threaten. Apparently, according to Bailey, King George knew of his treachery and was awaiting his return. Bailey told him the Hanoverian King intended to personally lock the door to his cell in King’s Bench prison, and then throw the key in the Thames, and forget he existed.
Mingo drew a shuddering breath and leaned his head against the wall of the locker.
Would that Bailey would do the same.
“Eh, mon ami? You cannot sleep either?”
He lowered his head and looked at the other man. By now, the pitch blackness within the locker seemed like the light of an overcast day. Mingo wondered vaguely if his eyesight would ever recover. “No.”
“You are worried about what awaits you in England?”
Mingo shifted. “No, not really. I will deal with that when it comes. I have no wife; no children. If I die, I will be mourned, but I will leave no one unprotected or uncared for.”
“But your friend? Mrs. Boone....?”
“That is what worries me. Where is Rebecca? Do they have her in some stinking hole like this? Is she even alive?” He rose shakily to his feet and thrust open the small porthole. The sea air revived him a bit. “How can I face Daniel if— ”
The sound of a commotion outside the locker stopped him. He crossed to La Marck and helped him to his feet, and then the two of them turned toward the solid door. They listened a moment and then the Frenchman shook his head. “What is this?”
“Shh.” Mingo shifted forward. He pressed his ear to the crack beside it. “Someone is coming this way.”
At that moment from the other side, their guard’s voice sounded. “If one of you so much as sneezes, the woman is dead.”
“But Marquis, you cannot go down there! It is filthy. The footing is not always sound. There may be rats.” There was a pause during which the voice grew in alarm. “Some of the men have been ill. They are sequestered below. And you are only just recovered!”
“Well, of course, there has been sickness!” The Marquis raised his voice dramatically and pulled a fine silk handkerchief from his sleeve to cover his nose as he descended the stairs, “The food is atrocious! Cher Dieu dans le Ciel! Where is the cook? I must speak to him! Where did he learn the culinary arts? On a barge?”
Captain Bailey paused on the stair. The exasperated look on his face said it all. Gilbert turned away and grinned. Bailey had not had much contact with him, but still the crooked captain had not expected the ‘hero’ of the Revolution to be such a fop.
“The galley is not down there, Marquis!” Bailey sighed. “You are going the wrong way!”
Gilbert continued down the stair until he had reached the bottom and then stepped down and deliberately put the toe of his elegant silk slipper in a puddle of something dark and wet. He made a little strangled noise as if he had just realized it, and waved the handkerchief frantically. “Phillipe! Phillipe!”
His valet, who had been lagging behind them on the stair, shoved past Bailey and came running down as if his master’s life depended on it. “Marquis?”
The French aristocrat looked faint. He pointed with disgust to the floor. “What is that?”
Phillipe dutifully knelt to examined the offending liquid. He touched it and rolled it between his forefinger and thumb, and then tasted it. His nose wrinkled as he stood. “Bilge eau, Marquis.”
“Bilge water!” The young red-headed Marquis seemed to sway. “Ruined! They are ruined!” He started to hop on one foot down the narrow corridor toward the stern of the ship. It was dark and seemingly untenanted, except for three British seamen who were sitting in front of a closed door playing cards. Phillipe followed dutifully behind him, attempting to remove the soiled slipper. As they drew near the three men rose and Bailey bolted past and placed himself between them.
It was the confirmation the Marquis had been waiting for. He stumbled into the Captain, apologized profusely, and then—after his valet had dusted off a length of it—leaned against the wall opposite the closed door and allowed Philippe to remove the ruined slipper. He dismissed him then with a wave of his hand as Philippe tried to mop his brow. “You will bring the cook here. All of this excitement has fatigued me far too much to go to him.” He caught Bailey’s eye and waved both hands. “Go. Go. Vous faire ne me comprend pas?”
Bailey didn’t move. “This is a restricted portion of the ship, Marquis. We will escort you back to your cabin and have the cook come there.”
Gilbert’s eyes took in the surrounding area. There was nothing here but the auxiliary shot locker and nearby, the cable tier. “Restricted?” He straightened up—without putting his sock on the floor—and became every inch the arrogant aristocrat. “Restricted! Restricted? Is this not my ship? Are these not my cables? Is this not my door!” Then, as if driven by righteous indignation, Gilbert strode across the corridor and banged hard on the shot locker door. “And is not whatever is behind this door mine as well? Open it! Now! I insist!”
“Marquis. I cannot.” Bailey stumbled for a reason. “There is no....”
One of the seamen finished it for him. “There’s no key, guv’nur. It’s lost.”
The young Frenchman froze and then he shook his head sadly. ‘Mon Dieu, this ship is run by incompetents. Phillipe!”
His valet came and knelt before him. “Marquis?”
“We are going now.” Gilbert held his foot out and indicated Phillipe should restore the sullied slipper. As he did, he frowned and wiggled his toes as if to see whether or not they would still work within it. “You will send the cook to my cabin immédiatement. Since my valet could cook a better stew with two dead cats and a sack of rotten potatoes, he will instruct him on how to prepare food properly for the nobility of France. And when I return home,” Gilbert walked haltingly toward the stairs, but then turned back and raised his hand, still clutching the handkerchief.
“King Louis will hear of this outrage!”
Becky rose at the sound of footsteps. Phillipe and the Marquis were at the door. Gilbert winked at her while leaning heavily on his valet. He moved into the room slowly as if he had been wounded and nodded to her as he passed, indicating she should push the door to behind them. She did so with a slightly puzzled look on her face, and then turned to look at him. Her puzzlement deepened as he fell to the ground and began to laugh, silently, holding his sides. He held up his hand and shook his red head indicating she needed to give him a moment. “I think,” he whispered as he wiped tears away, “that I have just done my country a terrible disservice today.”
Becky glanced at the door and the unseen guard outside.
He nodded. “You will admit the cook, Madame, when he deigns to arrive,” Gilbert said, raising his voice and broadening his accent. “And no one else. Phillipe?”
“Vous attendrez le cuisinier hors de la cabine. Garder la garde occupée, donc il n'écoute pas trop soigneusement.” As the valet bowed, the Marquis explained. “I have told him to wait outside the door for the cook’s arrival and to keep the guard occupied, so the English sailor would not listen too carefully to what he and Becky had to say.
As Phillipe noisily made his way out the door, Gilbert rose to his feet and began to make a fuss about his shoes. “Ruined! Do you see?” he asked as he took one off and hopped over to her. “I cannot even walk!” Becky caught him as he fell against her. “I have found them,” he said softly, “I do not know how they are faring.” He straightened up and flung the slipper at the door as Phillipe closed it behind him. “Bilge water, Madame! Can you imagine, bilge water on the foot of one who is permitted to walk before the king of all France?”
“You found them?” she mouthed. “Where?”
“What a horrid place that is, filled with dirty water. I shall instruct my shipbuilders from now on to put warning signs on the stairs. ‘Do not go below this mark,” they will say, “there is nothing here but the cables and an auxiliary locker for the shot.” Gilbert looked at her as he said it and nodded. “I would not allow men in that place, though Captain Bailey seems to think otherwise. He had three men positioned there, can you believe?”
“Three,” she said slowly. Dear Lord, three guards. How would they ever get them out? “How horrible.”
“Oui.” Gilbert smiled then, and she thought she saw something of the young man who had had the nerve and audacity to lead two thousand soldiers out from under the nose of the British general, Clinton. “We will not allow that anymore. Will we?”
Becky shook her head. But how? Then she stopped and turned toward the door behind her. Phillipe was squealing. She looked back at the Marquis.
He winked again. A knock came at the door. The Marquis sat down in the desk chair and assumed a regal pose. “Entrer!”
“You wanted to see me...eh...Mr. Lafayette?” a hesitant voice asked.
Becky whirled back around. It was the young seaman from Boston who had sent her to the Marquis’s room with a tray only the week before. As Phillipe bowed and closed the door behind him, Gilbert eyed her.
She nodded. And then she drew a breath. She had told the Marquis the cook was an American and that he had no time for the British. But she didn’t know if they could trust him.
Gilbert drew a deep breath and as he began to rail about the ship, the food, the water they sailed on and the very air they breathed, Becky stepped close to the man. “I don’t have much time, but I need your help,” she whispered.
Boston’s eyes went wide as he looked at her. He glanced at the Marquis who was indicating by a circular motion with his hand that they should make haste, and then back to Becky.
Several minutes later the young seaman walked out of the Captain’s cabin with his head down. The Marquis followed him but stopped in the doorway. “Phillipe! Aller avec lui. He will go with you, cook, and help you let your cats out of the sack, and show you what to do with them as well as with the rotten potatoes.”
As he turned back to his cabin, Gilbert glanced at the guard. The man looked mildly suspicious, but mostly annoyed. This would be the trickiest time. He had to estimate how long it would take the cook to get to the lower deck and secure the key, and then go with Phillipe to open the locker and set the prisoners free. If he waited too long, the guard might alert someone else to his suspicions, but if he took him out too soon then someone might discover he was missing and sound the alarm. The Marquis hesitated and glanced around. The navigator was paying them no mind and the end of the spar deck between the skylight and the cabin was clear. If it was not now, it might be never.
He waited. “Seaman!”
The man looked at the elegantly attired Marquis with disgust. “What’ya want, mate?”
Gilbert grinned. “Just this.” His fist caught the man under the chin with a sharp upper-cut. A moment later he hauled his unconscious body into the cabin where he dropped it at Becky’s feet.
The seaman from New York, whose name was Adams, drew a deep breath to steady his nerves and then headed for the British sailors who were dicing before the auxiliary shot locker door. In his hands he held a tray laden with three mugs. Adams smiled as they looked up at him and raised his eyebrows. “Drink, mates. The Captain thought you could use a break after that scene with the Marquis.”
“E’ did, did ‘e?” The oldest of the three rose to his feet. “Why? We didn’t do nothin’.”
“Precisely.” Adams handed him a mug of ale. “Business as usual. Wouldn’t have wanted to make the Frenchie suspicious, eh?”
“E’ looked pretty suspicious to me,” one of the others laughed. The sandy-haired man stood and started hopping around with one hand on his foot and two fingers pinched on his nose. “Bilge water, ooh! Ooh! The stink! The stink!”
The third man laughed. “What a saucy mollie.” He reached for one of the mugs Adams carried. “A mollie that one is all right, if you ask me, married or not.”
The seaman nodded. “Aren’t they all?” he agreed as he handed the last mug to the second man.
“Here’s to the end of them, Yanks and Frogs alike!” The seaman gazed at Adams over the lip of his mug. “No offense, mate.”
Adams grinned. “None meant. None taken.” He watched them drain the mugs and then glanced over his shoulder. Phillipe was hidden in the shadows waiting for his signal. He drew another breath.
If Cain-tuck had been right about the potency of the herbs, they should be taking effect right about now....
Mingo lifted his head slowly. He climbed to his feet and moved past La Marck. The other man was semiconscious. His cough had worsened and he had developed a fever. Mingo felt little better, but didn’t consider himself ill, just debilitated from lack of clean air, food and sleep. He placed his head against the door and listened. Everything had been quiet since the scene the young Marquis had staged earlier. Even in his weakened condition, La Marck had had tears rolling down his cheeks from laughter. He had served with the Marquis’s father in the Seven Years War and had known Gilbert since he first toddled, and he assured Mingo that the French fop who had screamed and pounded on their door had done so only to let them know that he knew they were there.
And that he would be coming.
“La Marck,” he whispered.
The French officer stirred, “What is it?”
“I don’t know. Something....” Mingo stepped back even as a key was inserted in the lock and he heard the bolt being drawn away. He placed himself between La Marck and the door and shielded his eyes as it opened and an intense light spilled in. It was only a lantern’s fire, but he found it blinding after so many days in the dark.
“Coronel?” A young Frenchman, dressed in silks and satins, stepped forward. When he saw the officer laying on the floor in the midst of the filth and rotten food, he gasped. “Coronel La Marck!”
“Phillipe?” The soldier looked up. “The Marquis? L’est? Is he...?”
“The Marquis is well.” Seaman Adams stepped over one of the drugged Englishmen to enter the locker. He knelt beside the Colonel and then looked up at Mingo. “But this is not the time for questions. Are you able to walk on your own?”
Mingo nodded. Then, as he moved and his head spun, he added, “I believe so.”
“Phillipe. Help me.”
Language proved no barrier. Phillipe immediately fell in on the other side of the ill man as Adams knelt and put his arm around the Colonel.
Mingo caught the seaman’s arm. “What is happening?”
The man glanced at La Marck. “I don’t think you need worry about your young Marquis. He is single-handedly putting an end to an intended mutiny. He told me to take you two somewhere safe until it’s over.”
The man frowned. “Cain-tuck, you mean?” He smiled. “The Marquis told her to stay put in the captain’s cabin. She’s safe enough. Now, come on.”
Mingo laughed weakly. “Rebecca, stay put? If your ‘Cain-tuck’ is the woman I think she is, then she will be in the thick of it. Which way to the Captain’s cabin?”
“Mate, you can’t go up there. Look at yourself. You’re all but wasted away.” Adams nodded to Phillipe and together they lifted the colonel. “Follow me. There’s a small compartment in the sick bay that Bailey is most likely unaware of. I’m going to take you there.” And with that the two men carried the sick officer out of the noxious cell and down the corridor toward the bow of the ship.
Mingo hesitated. Weak as he was, he might prove more of a detriment to the Marquis’s plans than a help, but it was not his way to sit and let others fight for him. And so, holding on to the wall for support, he turned and went the other way, toward the stair.
As soon as it had become apparent what was happening, Captain Bailey had ordered his men to the cannons. The mutineers had loaded them in anticipation of taking over the ship as soon as they sighted land. It had been their intent, with the exception of the valuable Marquis, to shoot down all who were not in on their plot and then throw their bodies overboard before turning the ship toward England. Now all their well-laid plans had come to not and they were plunged into chaos. The Marquis had silently rallied all of the American sailors and French soldiers on board by using Phillipe and one young British seaman as go-betweens. The young Englishman had at first gone in with the mutineers, but had soon repented his decision. Meeting clandestinely as they walked the spar deck and chatted with those on board, the three men had agreed upon a signal, which he had just given. Now, together, the twenty or so men who were loyal to the Marquis advanced on the traitors who had intended to kill his men and to send him to torture and death.
Becky paced in the Captain’s cabin as it all began to unfold, unable to sit still. The Marquis had slowly wrung from her a promise that she would stay out of trouble, but it was all she could do to honor her word. She knew she was needed elsewhere. Her thoughts flew to Seaman Adams and young Phillipe, and she wondered if they had freed Mingo and La Marck in time. And what if the two men were ill from being so long confined? There was no one to doctor them but her. She chewed her lip and jumped as one of the cannons roared, shaking the deck. Her fingers drummed the top of the inlaid table the captain used as a desk. A moment later she stamped her foot and, grabbing the box of herbs and medicines Colonel La Marck had located for her, ran out of the door and onto the deck.
And straight into Bailey’s arms.
A minute or two later, his fine suit soaked with filth and discolored from smoke, Phillipe arrived breathless at the cabin. He had helped Adams conceal the Coronel and then run as quickly as he could back to his master’s side. The Marquis had sent him to check on Madame Boone. Philippe stumbled as he crossed the threshold and looked down to find the medicine chest broken and splintered on the deck. He knelt to examine it and as he did, a shadow fell across him. The young valet looked up to find a British seaman looming over him; a glistening cutlass in his hand. He steeled his flesh for the thrust, but it never came. As another cannon sounded, the Marquis de Lafayette came up behind the Englishman and ran him through.
“La Marck?” Gilbert yelled over the cannon’s roar.
“Sur!” Philippe answered.
The Marquis nodded. Safe then. “And Mingo?”
The young man shook his head and shrugged.
Gilbert’s jaw tightened. “Mon Dieu,” he breathed. He glanced at the cabin then and indicated the medicine chest at his feet. “Madame Boone?”
“I have her. Here.”
The Marquis froze. Then he pivoted. Out of the shadows cast by the cabin, came Captain Bailey. One hand held Rebecca, and the other pointed a flintlock pistol at her head.
“Call your men off, Marquis. Or she dies.”
Lafayette hesitated. His pale blue eyes searched the deck for a miracle.
“Now, Marquis! I am not a patient man.” The captain cocked the hammer and shifted his finger toward the trigger. “I can promise you it will be a most painful and messy death.”
The Marquis’s eyes went to Becky. She shook her head almost imperceptibly. There was too much at stake, she seemed to say, to sacrifice it all for one woman.
Gilbert met the captain’s eyes and instinctively knew the man was not bluffing. He turned his sword handle first and gave it to Bailey, and then raised his hands. Then, as he opened his mouth to call to his men, the Marquis got his miracle.
Like a specter a man he could only suppose was Mingo rose up behind the turncoat officer. Though dressed as a colonial, in a filthy coat and breeches, he looked like one of the American Indians. The man had no weapon, so he laced his fingers together and made a fist, and threw every ounce of strength he had into striking the man on the back of the neck. It didn’t knock Bailey out, but it caused him to drop the pistol and release Becky. The man grabbed her as she stumbled free and literally fell to the deck with her on top of him, even as the weapon struck the deck and went off.
The ball took Bailey in the chest.
Gilbert watched Becky shift back as the Captain fell. Then he reclaimed his sword. She smiled and turned to her friend.
He had passed out.
“Philippe!” With a look the Marquis indicated his valet should tend to them and then, with a grin, he leapt back into the fray.
The next three weeks flew faster than the frigate, or so it seemed. The Marquis insisted on turning his borrowed cabin into a convalescent ward and personally helped to carry Colonel La Marck there. After that, he assumed command of the ship and, relying on the American seaman aboard who had remained loyal, set it on a course toward France and home. Becky was put in charge of the invalids and she tended to both men, as well as to some of the seamen who had been wounded during the fighting. Mingo was not in as good of shape as he thought. He was weak, and it took his eyes some time to adjust to the light. He had headaches and was unable to stay on his feet for more than a few hours at first. After two weeks he had sufficiently recovered to leave the cabin and take long walks on the deck, as well as to assist where he could. La Marck remained in bed and would do so until they reached land.
As the sun dawned in the sky, announcing a new day, Becky stepped onto the deck and shook her head, allowing her long copper hair to fly free. Mingo had disappeared and she imagined she would find him here. She looked for her friend and found his lean, dark figure silhouetted against the growing light. He was at the fore of the ship leaning on a railing, staring pensively forward. She came up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. He was still thin and gaunt, but beginning to look more like himself. “A farthing for your thoughts,” Becky said softly.
He laughed. “Good morning, Rebecca.”
She gazed out at the seemingly endless waves. According to the Marquis, they were no more than two days from France. “What are you thinking about?”
Mingo turned to face her. “That the decision has been taken out of my hands once again.”
“Decision?” she repeated. “What do you mean?”
The early morning air was cool. Mingo pulled the collar of his borrowed jacket close about his throat. “Rebecca, do you believe in fate?”
She was quiet a moment. Then she said, “I believe God has a plan for each of our lives and that, if we do not interfere or refuse to listen, one day that plan will come to fruition.”
He pursed his lips. “Boonesborough is very far away.” He nodded his head toward the stern of the ship and the lands that lay behind them. “Is this a part of God’s plan for you?”
She caught a stray lock of hair and wrapped it behind her ear. “I don’t know.” Then she glanced sideways at him. “Perhaps my being here is a part of his plan for you.” As he shifted uncomfortably, she asked him, “What will you do when we land in France?”
“I am responsible for you, Rebecca,” Mingo said as he turned and gripped the rail. “I must see you home.”
Becky frowned. “You won’t go to England? Even after what Gilbert said?”
She watched his knuckles go white. The Marquis had spoken briefly to Mingo once he had thought him well enough. He had told him of his wife’s letter, and of Rachel’s request. “Mingo. Rachel and your father; they need you.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Rebecca, do not make this difficult. I promised your husband— ”
“What if I choose to stay? Just for a little while?” Dan thought she was still in Philadelphia and didn’t expect her back for another month at the very least. Maybe if she could just get him there. If he just saw Rachel. “Mingo?”
The pair pivoted. The Marquis was behind them. He had taken to wearing his American uniform again and looked very dashing in the blue and buff suit. His red hair was tied in a tail and he had his tricorn hat in his hands. But that was not what she noticed first.
There was a serious-looking British seaman at his side.
“Gilbert, what is this?” she said as she stepped toward him.
The Marquis cleared his throat. “I am afraid I have some grave news.”
Kentucky, Spring 1796
Becky stirred at the soft sound of footsteps. Dan had gone into the cabin and she had remained behind sitting on the porch, thinking. She looked up to find Rachel standing behind her. She seemed weary. The skin under her eyes was pinched and she was even more pale than normal.
Becky started to rise. “Is everything all right?”
Rachel put a hand on her shoulder. “Everything is fine.” She spread her skirts and sat down beside her and fell silent as she stared toward the east where the sun was rising in the sky.
“How is Mingo?”
Rachel smiled. “Better. Danny is still pretty well shaken though.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Did you see what those men did to Archie?”
“Yes.” Becky laid her hand on the other woman’s. She looked at her face and saw that a tear was trailing down her cheek. “Rachel? What is it?”
The petite woman rose quickly to her feet and began to pace. “It is still John. Always and forever John.” Her fingers formed into fists. “Will he never let us be?”
“Rachel,” Becky rose as well. “John Gerard is dead. He has been for a long time.”
“Is he? Truly?” Her blue eyes were on fire. “Rebecca, do you know what the Cherokee believe happens to evil people when they die?”
“Heavens, no. Do you?”
She nodded. “Mingo told me about it after the other.... After what happened in England with Leighton. It is an ancient belief, though still subscribed to by many. The Cherokee believe that all who are free from certain sins will go, at death, to be with the Creator in a place where there will always be light and everything will be pleasant.” Her aspect darkened. “But witches and murderers and thieves go to the Place of Bad Spirits, where they will always scream in torment, and whoop and yell and fly around in the air with their heads down; always wanting to alight, but never being permitted to do so.”
“So you are saying John Gerard’s spirit can never find rest.”
She wrung her hands. “Not so long as Mingo and I are happy. John wants to destroy us. He won’t rest until he has.”
Becky crossed to her and took her by the shoulders. “Rachel. Get hold of yourself.”
The other woman was weeping. “I am sorry. I was so frightened. Dear God, I could have lost them both.”
Becky placed her arm around her. “I don’t for one minute believe John Gerard is still on this earth haunting and hunting you, but even if—even if he were—you are failing to take into account someone who is far more powerful than him or his hate.”
Rachel’s eyes were wide as a small child’s. “And who is that?”
Becky gave her a little squeeze.
“Boot, faither, nae! Ye cannae make me stay.”
Alexander looked at his son. His mind was made up. “I can, Archie. Tis nae a decision I hae come tae withoot thought. I ken how close ye aur wi’ Daniel, an tha’ ye nae wont tae be left behin’.”
“Ye make me feel like a wee bairn who cannae take caur o’ himself. Dids I nae prove thot I can?”
“Archie.” The boy was attempting to remain calm and to state his case in convincing way, but as he continued to plead, all his father could see were the scars and bruises left by the beating he had taken. “Tis nae thot. I fear— ”
“Aye, ye fear. Tis yer fears whot aur keepin’ me haur.” Archie’s coppery skin had gone red with anger. His dark eyes blazed. “Tis no fair.”
Alexander paused. “Nae, tis ‘no’ fair. Boot I wiltnae change mah min’.” His son held his gaze for a moment and then pivoted and stormed away. Alexander watched him as he threw himself down beneath a tree and rested his chin on his hands. Danny, who had been standing nearby listening, started to walk toward him.
“He’s right, Alexander. You should let the boy go with his friend.”
The dark-haired Scot rolled his eyes. This was not what he needed at this moment. “Faither,” Alexander said, barely controlling his temper, “tis nicht yer place tae tell me whot I shoulds ur shoulds nae allaw wi’ mah ain son.”
“I am not telling you, Alec. I am asking.”
Alexander’s dark eyes went to his father’s face. The older man seldom used the pet name his mother had given him. He was usually more formal. “I dinnae un’erstand.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” The elder Archibald MacKirdy, the boy’s namesake, held his son’s gaze. “He is not your brother.”
“Your son, Archie, is not your brother Archibald.”
“Och, o’ course he is nae.”
“Then stop treating him like he was.”
Alexander bristled. “Whot dae ye— ”
“I will give you credit,” his father said as he glanced at the boy where he lay tossing his dirk into the grass, “you let him sail with the Morays. Though, as I watched you on the ship, I was not certain you would survive the journey here without him.” He turned back. “You have to stop acting like the boy will perish the moment you let him out of your sight. If you don’t, Alexander, he will never grow into a man.”
“How dare ye— ”
“I dare because I care.” His father met his eyes. “About both of you.”
Alexander was silent a moment. “Boot whot joost happened. Th’ kidnappin’. Th’ danger....”
“All you can see is the negative. Look at what just happened. The boy was strong. He fought his attackers off. He was bold and he fled when the opportunity presented itself. Mr. Boone tells me he was ready and able to defend himself. Those are all positives. Give your son some credit.”
Alexander stared at him. “If ye felt like this....”
“Why have I never said anything before? He is your son, but I know....” The elder MacKirdy fell silent for a moment. “I know the battle the boy will have to face. I faced it with my own sons.” He looked away then, toward the setting sun. “He must be strong to survive; not pampered.”
Alexander laughed. “An’ dae ye thin’ I pamper him?”
His father looked back. His gaze was steady. “Yes.”
“Ye woulds hae had him in th’ military by noo. Woulds ye nicht? An made a mon o’ him?” It was a sore point between them. Alexander knew his father saw his own rejection of a life in the service as a rejection of him. When the older man said nothing, his son frowned. “Faither?”
“I was wrong about that.”
Alexander was stunned. “Wrang?
His father’s smile was sharp. “About that. But I am not wrong about this.” He inclined his head toward the two boys. “Let them go with Daniel Boone and Kerr. They will be in good hands. And if luck is with them, they may meet up with your brother along the way.”
Alexander couldn’t help but smile. Finlay was to meet them in Boonesborough. He and his wife Aileen had come to the New World to live a decade before and had settled in Pennsylvania. She was remaining behind with their children, but his brother intended to join them so he could be with their mother when she returned to the place she had called home. “Aye....” He was silent a moment. Then he drew a deep breath and nodded. “I guess a body has tae be able tae admit when he is wrang.”
His father’s gray eyes crinkled. “Yes, he does.”
Alexander lifted his hand and beckoned to the two boys. “Archie. Daniel. Come haur!”
Danny’s blond head came up. He pulled Archie to his feet and dragged him, reluctantly, to his father’s side. “Uncle Alec?”
The boy didn’t look up. He was not happy. “Aye, faither?”
“Wills ye obey me?” His son was silent a moment and then he lifted his head. The battered cheek and eye tugged at Alexander’s resolve, but he shoved his fears aside. “Well?”
Archie bit his lip. Then he nodded. “Aye. I wills.”
Alexander placed his hand on his shoulder and smiled. “Ye can gae wi’ Danny an’ his faither. An’ Mr. Boone.”
The boy didn’t seem to hear him at first. Then his eyes flicked to his face. “Whot?”
“Ye heard me.”
Archie shot a look at his grandfather who kept a face that would have won him a fortune at Whist. “Gran’faither?”
“This is your father’s decision. I had nothing to do with it, Archibald.”
He turned back to his father. “Ye mean it? I can gae?”
“Aye. Noo, gae bid farewell tae yer mither. Daniel an’ yer uncle aur waitin’.”
The boy touched his hand briefly and then shot off toward the cabin. Alexander watched him go with Danny trailing behind like a devoted puppy. “Spicewood is gaun tae skin me,” he said at last.
His father was silent a moment. “A palpable threat. I hear the Cherokee are very good at that.”
It had been decided that Daniel and Mingo, along with the two boys, would travel ahead of the others on foot. In this way they could move faster and would have time to secure adequate lodging for the women before they arrived. They could, as well, make certain it was safe for their party to enter the area of the settlement. Alexander and his father would follow with the rest of their party in about five days time.
Daniel told him that the fort and its surrounds had not changed tremendously in the seventeen years that had passed. As the old-timers died newcomers arrived, and so its population had remained about the same. He said there were still a good many homes in the outlying areas; farms belonging mostly to white men and to the few ‘civilized’ Indians who had managed to hold onto the parcels of land either deeded to them for service in the war, or passed on through inheritance. Most of the tribes, though, had been driven out long before, and Daniel had had to admit to him that he didn’t think Chota even still existed.
Mingo, who was about ninety percent recovered from his snakebite, sat across the fire from his old friend. He became very still.
“We heard about the trouble with Dragging Canoe and the Chickamauga when we navigated the Ohio. I take it my people and his are still at war as well.” Mingo’s dark eyes flicked to Daniel’s face. “Is it as bad as people say? I know Archie drew more than his fair share of stares and angry looks.”
“Where the Indians have chosen to fight, Mingo, the fightin’s been fierce. For a while the Wyandots, Delaware, Hurons, Mohawks and Dakota were all in it as well. It was called ‘Little Turtle’s War’ and it ranged across the whole Ohio Valley.”
“Little Turtle?” He thought a moment. “Ah, yes. He is Miami, is he not?”
“And a fierce fighter. The rumors were the Spanish were supportin’ him and his people, but they abandoned them here about two years ago. Several of the leaders died or were killed battlin’ government forces.” Dan glanced at him. “It wasn’t much different with the Cherokee until they signed the Tellico Treaty earlier this year and pledged to stop fightin’ with the Chickamauga.”
“Brother against brother, Daniel.” An old pain came into his face. “Once the two tribes were one.”
Dan nodded. “And both still sore as a hammered toe at the white man.”
“Can you blame them?” Mingo reached for a cup of coffee. “You have had your own experience with broken promises, I hear.” Daniel had had lands stolen from him, or so Rebecca had said.
His friend nodded. “Yep. But you have to put it behind you and go on.”
“You say that because you can go on. There will be no new lands for the Cherokee.” Mingo frowned. As they traveled the reality of what he might find when he came to Boonesborough had begun to weigh heavily on him. “Perhaps you can explain something to me that I have never understood, Daniel.”
Dan had poured himself another cup of coffee and was blowing on it to cool it down. “What is that?”
“When the white man came to these shores, the native peoples welcomed him. But the white man, here—as in the Old World—was not satisfied to be a neighbor; he had to be the master and owner. The white man took up guns to chase the people from their land. The people defended themselves. They fought bravely for their way of life, their homes and their families; for their children’s future and their freedom.” He glanced at his son where he lay sleeping and wondered what Danny’s life would have been like if Rachel had come to live here with him, instead of the other way around. “How is that different from what we fought for in the War? And why now are men ‘heroes’ when they burn down Native villages like Nickajack and slaughter innocent women and children, and yet men like Little Turtle who are defending those same villages are not?”
Nickajack had been an Indian village in Tennessee. The attack on it served as the turning point in a long battle between the Whites and the Indians. The village had been attacked while most of the men were at a party in the town. They wanted to pursue the killers, but were talked out of it by the relatives of the ones killed. It was after this that the Spanish suggested maybe another way should be found to settle their differences with the Americans and their government.
Dan was silent. He gazed into the fire. Finally he said softly, “You sound like Israel.”
Mingo’s anger abated a bit. He had been waiting for right moment to talk to his friend about his relationship with his son. “You have not spoken of him since that first night.”
He pursed his lips. “It’s hard. We haven’t talked in nigh onto three years.”
“Why not? Daniel?”
“When we do, nothin’ comes of it. The boy is dead-set in his ways.”
Mingo waited, but nothing more was forthcoming. “And what are his ways?” he prodded.
Dan frowned. “I taught him to stand up for what he believes and to defend it to the death. I guess that’s what he’s doin’, in his own way.”
Again there was a pause. Mingo tossed the remainder of his coffee into the brush. “But?”
His friend’s green eyes met his. “He’s turned his back on everythin’ I worked to give him, Mingo. On everythin’ I worked my whole life for. He could have had land and been a man of substance.... But he chose another path, and in that choosin’ so much as said to me that my life wasn’t worth the effort it would take to spit at it.”
Mingo was staring at the tall frontiersman, but he saw another man. In his mind’s eyes the silver-haired nobleman sat with his head down. Behind him a tall window opened on a field of purple heather that danced beneath a sapphire-blue sky. The man turned and looked at him, and simply asked, ‘Why?’ He shook himself and the vision faded, but the memory of that last meeting with his father lingered even as he said, “Daniel, I am certain that is not what he meant.”
“No?” A rare fire lit the big man’s eyes. “The last time I faced that boy, he stood squarely before me and told me what I had done—coming here to the wilderness—had been a mistake. He told me I had caused people to be hurt; good people.”
“Israel said such things?” This was not the young boy Mingo remembered. Israel had, at times, been prone to say things in haste and then regret them, but he had always found the inner strength to admit he was wrong and apologize. “I cannot imagine why, but Israel must have thought he had cause.” His friend’s eyes flicked to him and, for just a moment, Mingo sensed some of the anger behind them was directed at him. “Daniel?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Mingo sensed the time was not yet right to press his friend. “Very well.” As Daniel fell silent, he suggested, “You seem tired. I will stand the first watch.”
Dan nodded, but didn’t say a word. His thoughts had already carried him far away.
Mingo hefted his rifle and went to check on Danny and Archie. They were both asleep; worn out by a long day of walking and talking. He briefly touched his son’s hair and wondered what he would do if one day Danny challenged him and everything he believed.
Mingo thought again of his own father and hoped he would be big enough to accept the challenge.
Mingo walked some distance away and positioned himself on a rock over-looking the campsite. Resting his rifle on the boulder beside him, he ran his hands over his face. They were about a day and a half out from Boonesborough and, even though the land was much more traveled and somewhat more civilized than it had been nearly twenty years before, the growing tensions between the Whites and the country’s Native population—as well as the threat of wild beasts—meant he needed to remain alert. He still had a tendency to become fatigued more rapidly that he was accustomed to; a lingering result of the snake’s venom. And so, when he heard something stir behind him in the brush, it took him a millisecond longer than it should have to reach for his weapon. By the time his fingers had brushed it, another hand had picked it up and held it pointed at him. Mingo turned and looked at who.
It was a native.
The man was dressed in a combination of well-worn clothing of both European and native design. His cloth leggings disappeared into a pair of buckskin swamp-boots and the full-sleeved linen shirt he wore was covered by a patterned blanket coat. In his long hair were feathers and around his neck, beads. He was tall but undernourished, and covered with dust and dirt as though he had been on the road for a long time.
“Di-wa-yi ga-lv-la-di, Yo-ne-ga,” he said as he pointed the rifle at him.
Mingo raised his hands as he had been instructed. “Tla Yo-ne-ga,” he said clearly, shaking his head. “Not White. Tsalagi.”
The man frowned. He looked Mingo up and down. “You lie. You are not of the People.”
“May I?” Mingo asked. At the man’s nod, he slid off the boulder to his feet. “I am of the People. My name is Cara-Mingo. I was born, here, in Ken-tah-ten. My mother was of Chota.”
The native was skeptical. “And your father?”
“His father is from England. Name of Dunsmore,” a light tenor voice spoke from out of the safety of the leaves as a shadowy figure appeared and turned toward their camp. The fire that backlit him was no more than a glow, but its presence indicated he was not alone. “Who are you travelin’ with?” he asked.
Mingo frowned as he sought to penetrate the shadows. “No one.”
There was a pause. The man laughed and then said, “You were never very good at lying. Are you with Daniel Boone?”
When Mingo failed to answer, the native holding his rifle poked him with it. “I told you, I travel alone,” he insisted as he shifted uneasily. “May I ask who you are?”
There was a pause. “You can ask, but that don’t mean I’ll tell you.” The figure stepped back and became one with the trees. From out of them his voice sounded one final time.
Within minutes they had arrived at the edge of a natural hollow. Mingo could hear a waterfall crashing somewhere close by. The shadowy figure ordered him to be blindfolded and then proceeded to lead them on for another quarter of an hour. During this brief journey he was spun about several times and when the blindfold was removed, Mingo had no more idea of where he was than of how to bake a cake. The man who held his weapon took him by the arm and led him under the waterfall. Behind it there was a passageway that opened into a natural amphitheater. The sound of the falls echoed gently within it. Trees and other brush banked up against the sheer stone walls muffled what might otherwise have been a deafening roar.
The native nodded and continued to move forward. As Mingo followed him, he realized the hollow was home, not to a small group of renegade natives, but to a small village. There were at least a dozen women visible and, lying under a bower of trees on his left hand side on series of patterned blankets, at least twice as many young children. The woman who watched them stared at him as he walked by. Mingo noticed after they had passed, she rose to her feet and followed.
Shortly after that they drew to a halt before a small pool. A man stood at its edge, his lean figure silhouetted against the reflection of the moon as it shone on the still surface. As he turned, Mingo caught a glimpse of something white near his shoulders.
“They haven’t hurt you?” the man asked.
“No. Why have you brought me here?”
“I had to get you away from there.”
“It will do you little good,” Mingo replied. “When my friend discovers I am gone, he will come looking for me.”
“I thought you said you were alone.”
Mingo shrugged. “I thought you said you didn’t believe me.”
“Well,” the man paused to skip a stone across the surface of the pool. It landed five times before sinking, “The way I see it, I reckon we’ll have you back before he misses you.” He turned toward him then. “You just started your watch. We should have two or three hours at least.”
Mingo knew from his words that they had been watching him and obviously knew who he traveled with. That made him fear for the boys. “To do what?”
“Talk. From what I remember, Mingo, you always liked to talk. Got you in trouble sometimes though.” The man took a step toward him. “Is that what happened? Is that why you never came back?”
Mingo drew a deep breath. “No. It can’t be....”
The figure left the shadows and stepped into the moonlight. He was dressed much like his compatriot, in a linen shirt and leggings, but over the top of the leggings was a breechcloth and over his shoulder, a matching bandoleer. Both were lavishly decorated with beads in swirling floral patterns that showed not only talent, but a loving hand. He wore a weapons belt and from it hung a pipe tomahawk and several knives. On his head was a colored band from which feathers dangled and below the feathers, slender twin braids fell to his shoulders. The rest of his hair was long and straight.
It was still white.
Words failed as the young man stepped forward and offered him his hand.
“Criminetly, Mingo,” Israel said with a laugh, “you look like you seen a ghost.”
- Continued in Chapter Six -