Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
France, Summer of 1779
Mingo stared at the young British seaman. He was the one the Marquis had pointed out, who had warned the French aristocrat of the threat against his life. Since the mutiny had been put down he had become a valued member of the crew, working alongside the American soldiers who had once been his enemies. “You mean to say there are men looking for me. Waiting for me in England? And perhaps in France as well? Come now, I am not that important.”
The seaman shrugged his shoulders. “According to what we were told, you are. You must have a powerful enemy, guv, or maybe more than one.”
Mingo frowned. “Who was it spoke to you? Do you know his name?”
“Bloke by the name of Leighton. He’s the one who recruited the captain.” The seaman grinned. “He promised us all our freedom if we went along. And a handsome bit of cash to go with it.”
“So you see, Mingo, it is not safe for you to return to your father’s country,” the Marquis said solemnly. “At least, not right away. Come with me. We can alter our course and debark at Brest. The journey overland to Paris will be longer, but we can ride fast and hard, and be there in something less than three days.”
Rebecca stood beside them. She had remained silent, trying to take it all in. This last statement made her comment. “Gilbert?”
“Won’t your wife be concerned if you don’t arrive where she expects you too?”
The Marquis laughed. “Adrienne knows I seldom do what is expected of me.”
She glanced at Mingo. “Now why does that sound familiar?”
The Marquis’s eyebrows rose toward his red hair. “It had been my understanding, from what General Washington said, that Colonel Boone was quite the reliable man.”
“Reliable, yes. But predictable? My husband has a habit of walking into a situation, and then coming up with a plan to deal with it.” Rebecca’s smile quickly faded. She reached out and gripped the side-rail and her eyes misted over.
Mingo knew instantly what was wrong. “Rebecca, I should take you home.”
The Marquis shook his head. “I would advise against it. At least, in the immediate future. Madame Boone would prove a most valuable hostage for the English. Come with me. My father-in-law, the Duke d’ Noailles,” the Marquis paused and his eyes sparkled, “if he is still speaking to me—is a powerful man with many connections.”
“Mingo….” Becky took hold of his hand. “I couldn’t go home, not knowing that Rachel is in danger. What if you’re returning with me cost her life?”
He frowned and glanced at the seaman who stood close by, attempting to appear as if he was not listening, before he continued. “But who would you say we are, Gilbert? The half-English, half-Cherokee son of an English earl, and the wife of an American hero? I hardly think so. And I hardly think you could explain us away as simple stowaways.”
The Marquis fingered his chin for a moment. Before answering, he dismissed the seaman with a nod. He watched him go and then turned back to Mingo. “Did you not say that once upon a time you were an actor?”
“Yes, what does that have to do with— ”
“I have seen Madame Boone in elegant attire. I do not think it would be difficult for her to pretend she was the wife of someone of some importance. Her manners and speech are impeccable.”
Rebecca beamed. “Why thank you.” Then Mingo saw it. She had realized the Marquis had said, ‘wife’. “Gilbert,” she asked warily, “what are you thinking?”
The Frenchman was thinking. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. “Ah, I have it!” he
They looked at one another. “It?” he and Rebecca asked in unison.
Mingo knew the man. He and Daniel had escorted the French patriot and a shipment of gold across the wilderness once upon a time. Beaumarchais was a friend of the Revolution and an outspoken champion of the common man. “I am not sure I follow you. Messier Beaumarchais is— ”
Gilbert smiled. “Just what we need.”
One day later just after dawn in Brest, France, a group of early morning travelers, as well as those who had come to bid them adieu, watched as a rather remarkable entourage disembarked from the fast-flying frigate, the Alliance. First came a group of American sailors leading their Captain in chains. They were followed by a cluster of English seamen also clad in irons, who were being watched over by other English seamen who walked free. Next came several French soldiers carrying a litter upon which a wounded officer lay. Trailing after them was a young valet dressed in fine satins, who dutifully checked the ramp to make certain there was nothing on it that might trip or bother his beloved master. And last of all, came a tall, elegant young man in the uniform of a Major General of the Continental Army of the United States. With him were two companions. The people on the pier turned and watched as the trio descended, caught in wonder. Even here the young Marquis was well-known, and before his booted feet had touched the soil of his beloved France, word was already flying to King Louis of his return.
The rumour-mill, however, was just beginning to turn on his companions.
The woman who walked on his right, with her bright copper hair piled high on her head and fastened with jeweled pins that sparkled in the sun, was cloaked in an elegant mantle so voluminous that only one bejeweled hand showed. In it she held a feathered masque that concealed the top portion of her face, while allowing her cherry-red lips and the beauty spot in the shape of a spade that marked her as one of the aristocracy to show. To the Marquis’ left walked another enigma. The man was raven-haired; tall and well-built. He too was dressed in elegant clothes, such as would have befitted any son of the nobility. His long dark hair was bound in a tail, as was the fashion, but he had decried the use of powder and such a choice marked him as something different. He nodded to the ladies as the troupe descended and smiled, showing white teeth cut in sharp contrast to his deeply-tanned skin.
Word immediately flew through the town that the pair must be a foreign dignitary and his lady-wife come from the Americas to plead the case for France’s entry into their country’s war.
By the time they had secured horses and prepared to leave the small port city, the tale being spun had taken on a new twist. No longer a dignitary, the handsome dark-haired man was now an Indian prince, for it was known the Marquis had had commerce with the Colonies’ native inhabitants, and it was assumed one had accompanied him back to meet the King. The redheaded woman, the townsfolk tittered, must be one of his many wives; perhaps a white woman spirited away from her people as a child and raised in captivity. Gilbert laughed when he heard the tale, even as Rebecca Boone blushed under the half-inch of make-up and powder she wore. Late in the day, they bid a sad farewell to Phillipe who, though he did not wish to leave his beloved Marquis, had volunteered to watch over Colonel La Marck until the loyal officer was well enough to travel.
By the time they left, late in the evening, word flew ahead of them that the Marquis traveled with Royalty. Mingo was now the Emperor of all the Americas and Rebecca Boone, his queen.
It was four hundred miles from Brest to Versailles and they did it in slightly over two days. On the morning of the third, as dawn broke across the smoky sky of the great metropolis of Paris, painting the white stones of the Duke d’ Noailles home several shades of lavender, a trio of weary figures entered the mansion through the servants’ door. The Marquis had chosen to be cautious, not knowing what sort of welcome he might receive. He placed his finger to his lips and called for silence as he made his appearance in the kitchen and a matronly woman, with a round face and robust figure, first cried out in surprise and then squealed with delight when she recognized her young mistress’ husband. As she complied with his wishes, she anchored one hand on her hip and frowned. Then she wagged a chubby finger at him.
Gilbert ducked his head and grinned. “Suis je pardonné, Marie?” he asked.
Becky knew ‘pardonné’ meant ‘forgiven’. From close behind him, she watched the older woman scowl.
“Vous jeune rascal!” Marie shook her graying head as she moved forward to embrace him. Then she noticed the pair of shadows close by the door. “Mais, Marquis, qui est ceci?”
“Who is this?” Gilbert said, repeating her question in English for their benefit. “Friends, Marie. They will be staying with us for a time. We will speak the Anglais while they are here. Oui?”
“Fait le Duc....”
“Marie, no. English.”
The woman threw her hands in the air. “Does the Duke know you are home?”
The Marquis smiled. He held a hand to his ear and narrowed his eyes, pretending to listen. “I do not hear him bellowing like a mad bull in the rushes, so I do not think so. We have only just arrived.” He turned to Becky and offered her his hand. As she took it, he drew her forward into the light. “Marie, this is Rebecca Moray. And this,” he indicated Mingo who stepped forward as he spoke, “is Messier Kerr Moray. He has traveled here, with his lovely wife from the Colonies to join Beaumarchais’ troupe.”
“Beaumarchais?” Marie repeated even as her eyes widened as they took in Mingo’s tall, commanding figure. “Then you do not know? You did not hear in the Americas?”
“Hear what, Madame Marie?” Mingo asked.
The older woman giggled like a little girl. “Oh, Messier Moray, I am only Marie, the chatelaine of the Duke d’ Noailles. I do not deserve such respect.”
Becky smiled as Mingo stepped forward and took her hand. He bowed low over it and kissed her fingers. “Madame,” Mingo answered, his tone not stern but in earnest, “every woman, no matter what her station, deserves such respect.”
Gilbert glanced at Becky and rolled his eyes. She smiled and shook her head. From the look of things, Madame ‘Moray’ might have a time keeping her ‘husband’ to herself.
“Marie?” a voice called from beyond the kitchen door.
All four heads came up at once. Marie’s hand went to her mouth and then she turned to look at the Marquis. Becky wondered what was happening. The young man had paled. He shook his head and stepped back into the shadows, drawing the two of them after him. A moment later the door opened and a very young woman entered. She was still wearing her nightdress; a pale diaphanous gown of blue silk that fell from her shoulders to brush the floor. The deep brown hair that framed her elfin face was disheveled. Most of it fell softly about her shoulders and what little didn’t, the small child who was cradled in her arms was busy working to undo. She sighed as she came to stand beside the older woman.
“Marie. Je n’ai pas demandé le lait à Anastasie presque une heure il y a? Que vous a il gardé?”
“Anastasie?” A soft voice spoke from the shadows. “I cannot believe she is grown so already.”
The young woman froze. Her brown eyes went wide and she whirled toward the dark corner. “Gilbert?” she whispered.
“Adrienne.” As he stepped from the shadows, the Marquis hung his head like a little boy. “Can you ever forgive me?”
The young woman paled as if she had seen a ghost. She took a step forward and wavered. “Gilbert?” The baby in her arms looked up at her mother as if sensing something was wrong. Then the little tyke turned her blond head toward the father she had never seen and began to wail.
Becky recognized all the signs. “Gilbert,” she said softly, “quick! Your wife, she’s going to faint.”
Before the words had left her mouth, the blood had drained from Adrienne’s face and she started to plummet toward the floor. The Marquis leapt forward and caught both the child and his wife in his arms. He lowered them to the floor and then caught up the squalling child and held her out in front of him at a loss. At that moment, facing General Cornwallis and the might of the entire British Empire must have seemed a less daunting task than quieting this child he had helped to create. Anastasie kicked and screamed, obviously terrified by this man whom she felt had hurt her mother. Gilbert stared at Becky over the child’s tousled head.
The redhead clamped her lips together tightly and resisted the urge to laugh. She glanced at Mingo and knew he was doing the same. Finally, taking pity on the young man, Becky stepped forward and took the screaming child from him, even as Marie arrived at her mistress’s side with a cloth and a bowl of clear cold water. Gilbert leaned over his wife’s small form and took her hands in his own. Even as Marie wiped her face, he caressed her brow and planted a kiss on it.
“Adrienne,” the Marquis whispered. “Adrienne, it is I, Gilbert. I have come home.”
The young woman moaned. She opened her eyes. They focused on the beloved form above her. “Gilbert? Is it really you?”
He smiled as she gripped his fingers. “Yes. I am home.”
Suddenly Adrienne grew agitated. She glanced at their child who had quieted, but was still whimpering and trying to leave Becky’s arms to return to her. The young woman shook her head and turned toward the door. “No. You must go,” she said, speaking in English as he had done. “Now! Go! There are men without— ”
“Well, well.... What do we have here?”
Becky pivoted toward the door. A tall man of immense presence and power had entered the room. He was clothed in elegant silks and brocades and wore an elaborate white wig, coifed and powdered to perfection. At his knees and on his shoes were buckles that sparkled with diamonds and about his neck, a chain that boasted at least a half a dozen more. His face was not heavy but well-proportioned, as was his waist. Both showed that he was a man who had never lacked for food or any other creature comfort. He was accompanied by a contingent of the King’s Royal guard.
They had their muskets drawn.
One silver eyebrow cocked as the man looked at the pair on the floor, and then past them to Rebecca, who held his granddaughter, and to Mingo himself.
The Duke d’ Noailles cleared his throat. As he spoke, his eyes returned to the young Marquis.
“Ah, I see the prodigal has decided at last to come home.”
Becky sat on the bed beside Adrienne and tried to comfort her as she wept. One of her maids had taken little Anastasie, offering to rock her to sleep, and left the two of them alone. Mingo had remained with Gilbert and Adrienne’s father, the formidable Duke d’ Noailles, and was no doubt using his considerable intellect to embellish and verify the details of the story the young Marquis was weaving to explain their presence in the Duke’s home without invitation or proper announcement. She placed her hand over the young woman’s and noticed how small it was. Gilbert had told her Adrienne had only been fourteen when they had married; two years younger than Jemima had been when she had wed Flanders, and in her opinion, that had been much too young.
Becky drew a deep breath as pain stabbed her heart at the thought of her own daughter so far away, and of her son and husband.
She missed them so.
Abruptly the other woman grew quiet. She struck away the tears and leaned back against the elaborate headboard. “You are sad?” Adrienne asked.
Becky nodded. “I miss my husband, and my children.”
Adrienne frowned. “But I thought your husband was here? With you?”
The redhead frowned as well. She wasn’t going to be very good at this. “I….” Becky began again. “I mean, I am worried about my husband. He and Gilbert have been so long....” Her voice faded off. The other woman was staring at her; her brown eyes narrowed. “Yes?” she squeaked.
“You mention children. Where are they?”
“In the colonies. We had to leave them behind.”
Becky stood and turned away. “This tour. We felt it would be dangerous. We will be going to England.”
“So you mean to join Messier Beaumarchais for more than the acting? You are patriots?”
Becky looked at her. “Us? Oh no, my husband is simply a gifted singer and talented performer, nothing more.”
“Rebecca Moray, I think you lie, and that you do not do it very well.”
Becky’s brows peaked so high they met in the middle. “I beg your pardon?”
Adrienne laughed. “You are with Gilbert. Nothing matters to him but liberté, and aiding the cause of freedom, whether in the New World or the Old.” She was silent a moment. “You have come to arrange arms shipments to the colonials, no? And to petition the king on your country’s behalf?” The small woman rose and came to her side. Her small mouth quirked. “Or perhaps you are a spy?”
Becky’s hand went to her chest. “Heavens, no! Such ideas.” She turned toward the door. “Perhaps I had better check on Kerr.”
The one she had named was standing just without the room. The light from the elaborate sconces on either side of the doorway illuminated his tall figure as he stepped into it. He nodded at the Marquis’ wife and then came to her side. “Madame de Lafayette. Your husband has been taken to Versailles.”
Adrienne paled. She caught the bedpost and steadied herself. “Taken?”
Mingo held out his hand. “Forgive me, Madame, under the circumstances that was a poor choice of words. He is being escorted to the mansion of the prince de Poix. I understand the prince is giving a ball. Your father is with Gilbert.” Mingo smiled. “Have no fear. He is a hero, they cannot do more than chastise him.”
“To my cousin’s home?” She sat on the edge of the bed. “I wonder why.”
Mingo moved to stand beside her. “I understand there are men of influence there, who may help his cause. Also, remember, he carries letters from General Washington. One is to Benjamin Franklin. It contains word of Gilbert’s exploits and heroism, as well as his remarkable generosity and greatness of spirit. The Commander-in-chief has advised Ambassador Franklin to plead his cause before the King and ask that his rash departure, with its seeming disobedience to His Majesty Louis’s orders, be forgiven. The Marquis may not be allowed to return in triumph, though even that is not certain by any means, but they shall certainly not imprison him in the Bastille.” As her great brown eyes fastened on him, he apologized. “I am sorry. I am distressing you. I only meant to— ”
“Men,” Becky admonished, “you always say too much.” She sat beside the young Frenchwoman and took her hand. “What is to be done with Gilbert?”
Mingo moved to sit in the chair at the Marquise’s writing desk. “House arrest, I believe, for something more than a week.”
“House arrest? Why, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Becky looked at the young woman. She was shaking her head. “Adrienne?”
“Poor Gilbert,” the Marquis’ wife said. “It is too cruel.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“He would have preferred the Bastille. Not only can he not parade through the streets in triumph, but to be imprisoned with Papa for a week?” Adrienne laughed with relief. “It is a fate worse than death!”
Becky rose to her feet. She crossed the room to Mingo’s side and laid her hand on his shoulder. When he looked up, she asked him, “And what of us?”
“The conditions of the Marquis’ house arrest are that he see no one but family.” He looked at Adrienne and smiled. “You understand what that means?”
The young woman brightened. “We are related to half of France. And the half we are not related to, does not live at court. There is to be a party?”
Mingo nodded. “Tomorrow night. And, by a happy coincidence, it seems Beaumarchais’ troupe is scheduled to perform. Both the party and the performance will, of course, take place here at the Duke’s house. The troupe is still active, apparently, even though Pierre is himself imprisoned.”
Mingo’s voice shook with anger. Pierre Augustan Caron de Beaumarchais was now a Royal prisoner, incarcerated in St. Lazare. It seemed the plays he had written had offended both the King and his court. Both ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘The Barber of Seville’ presented the peasantry as more intelligent and able then the nobles who used and abused them, and instead of addressing the issues they raised, that same nobility had simply chosen to silence the voice that had raised them. Nothing, it seemed, had changed in the Old World. It was just as class-driven and unjust as when he had rejected it as a boy.
“We will be able to join them, and then journey on to England as soon as their tour here is ended,” he finished.
“Must you go so soon?” Adrienne’s voice seemed small.
Becky returned to her side. “Once you have your husband back, you will not even know we are gone.”
Adrienne smiled and then said suddenly, “Ah, Marie.”
Mingo stood and turned toward the door even as the short stout chatelaine entered. She curtseyed and then said something in French.
Adrienne nodded. “It seems your— ”
He nodded and turned toward Rebecca. She took his hand as he held it out. “It appears our room is ready, my dear.”
Becky’s blue eyes widened. She swallowed. “Thank you, Marie.”
As the Marquis’s wife eyed them suspiciously, Mingo slipped his arm around Rebecca’s waist and pulled her tight. “It has been an exceedingly long day. I am certain we are both ready for a good night’s sleep.”
Two hours later they lay side by side, wide awake. Mingo had wanted to sleep on the floor, but Becky had insisted otherwise. Not only did they have to keep up appearances; she knew he was as exhausted as she was. She shifted on the slick silk sheets and tried to get comfortable.
“Rebecca,” Mingo looked at her but remained stiff as a board, “I am sorry for this.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mingo. It’s sort of exciting. Here I am in Paris, France, in the house of one of the wealthiest men in Europe, pretending to be the wife of a famous opera singer; suspected by the Duke’s young daughter of being a spy, and about to join a troupe of actors who will carry me off to London.” She gave an exagerated sigh. “It certainly beats tanning hides with a deer’s brains and gutting chickens.”
Mingo laughed. “I always suspected that you had aspirations to a calling higher than that of a frontier wife.” He grew suddenly sober. “In many ways, your beauty and intelligence are wasted in Boonesborough.”
Becky rolled over onto her side and looked at him. She had to smile at the fact that he was still fully dressed. “Is that what you think? Really? That I am wasting my life?”
“Rebecca, no. I didn’t mean that as it sounded.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn’t. I only meant to say that you are capable of so much more than gutting chickens and skinning deer....”
“Maybe I enjoy it.”
Mingo frowned. “What? But you just said....”
“I said this was exciting, but life can’t be exciting every day.” She puffed and blew a lock of red hair out of her eyes. “And if it was, it would no longer be exciting. If you see what I mean?”
Mingo placed his hands to either side of his long frame and pushed himself up until he was in a seated position. Then he turned and stared at her. “So you are saying that even though you complain about gutting chickens and employing a deer’s mashed brains to soften leather, you prefer it to this?” He rolled his eyes and leaned back. “You are making my head hurt, Rebecca.”
“It’s not what I do, but why I do it. And who I do it for. This adventure and all it brings with it,” she indicated the room they lay within and all its elegant appointments, “would be without meaning unless I was doing it for a purpose, and for someone I care for. I do care about you, Mingo. You know that, don’t you?”
“If I had, I might have taken off my boots,” he muttered.
Becky gasped. She picked up one of the satin pillows and struck him so hard with it that she almost knocked him off the bed. “Just because you are pretending to be my husband, you don’t have to act as ornery as Dan. You know what I mean.” She laughed and then leaned on her hand and gazed hard at him. “I think Rachel would feel the same way.”
The full moon shining through the windowpanes cast his profile into silhouette. Mingo lifted a hand and ran it through his hair. “How did Rachel come into this?”
“She’s never very far away, is she? Well? Is she?” Becky rolled onto her back and looked at the ceiling. It was frescoed with scantily-clad cherubs dancing through a field of swaying flowers. Apparently someone had hoped to give them some ideas. She turned her face toward him and pressed on. “Did you think Rachel would tire of gutting chickens and scrapping skins, and leave you one day?”
He was silent.
“Or that if she stayed, she would waste her life because she loved you?”
“Rebecca....” His tone was dark.
“Did you even ask her what she wanted?”
“Rebecca Boone,” Mingo said firmly. “I have no desire to discuss this with you.”
“Fine. You don’t have to. But you do have to think about it.” Becky caught the heavily-embroidered coverlet in her fingers and rolled over, pulling it up under her chin, and turned so she was facing the wall. “Don’t you?”
Several hours later she awoke to find him gone. Puzzled, Becky pulled her borrowed robe about her shoulders and rose. She glanced about the room, waiting as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then realized with a start that the balcony door was open. Walking between the billowing draperies, she glanced out and saw him. Mingo was in the Duke’s garden. Apparently he had climbed over the balustrade and dropped the ten or so feet to the ground. Becky watched him for some time as he moved beneath the stars and wondered if he would ever find peace. She believed God’s hand was on his life as well as hers. They were both here for a reason.
Now if she could only discover what it was.
“Put it over there, love, and be quick about it. The Duke is not a patient man.” The woman who was in charge of the troupe of actors that had descended on the Duke d’ Noailles house reached up and placed a brass ring over one of the hooks on the rack they used for their backdrop. “He expects the proceedings to begin on the hour and I, for one, do not intend to disappoint him.”
“Ah, ‘love’,” the young man who had been carrying a heavy gilded chair dropped it where he stood and walked over to encircle the slender redhead’s tightly-corseted waist with his hands, “I doobt ye hae e’er disappointed onie mon, Duke, King, ur Earl.”
The woman drew a deep breath. “And would those be your fingers I would be feeling about my ribs, Dougray McAllister?”
“Aye. Thot they aur.”
“And would you like to be keeping them, then?”
“Aye. Thot I woulds.” The tousled-haired Scot stiffened. “Ma’am.”
“Then, perhaps you should remove them from my waist and put them to some use. Say, placing that chair where I requested.” As he complied with her wishes, the woman turned to look at him. He was ruddy-cheeked and barely more than a boy. She shook her head. She was old enough to be his mother. The last year had marked the middle of her fourth decade on this earth. By the standards of many, she was old. She frowned and called him back. “Dougray?”
The young man had just put the chair in place. “Ma’am?”
She crooked her little finger at him and indicated with a nod that he should return. He did so with alacrity, reminding her of one of the French Queen’s pampered pups called to her lap to receive a pat on the head and a bone. Her fingers dropped to the silk ribbons that bound her bodice over her ample breasts and toyed with them. “And do you find me attractive, then?”
The young man looked frightened.
“Tis not a trick question. Give us an honest answer.”
Her painted brows peaked beneath her frizzed hair which was powdered a fiery
orange-red in imitation of its true color. “No?”
“Onie ordinary hen might be called attractife, Ma’am. Ye aur an angel; a goddess.
Diana an’ Aphrodite woulds hide thaur heads fer shame if they had tae share a room wi’ ye.”
A slow smile spread across the beautiful face of Pierre Beaumarchais’ current partner. “A goddess?”
“Aye, Ma’am.” His brown eyes were wide. “If ye’ll pardon me sayin’ tis sae.”
One corner of her mouth, colored heavily with red pomatum, quirked in amusement. She opened it to reply, but fell silent as the Duke d’ Noailles entered the room. He turned and invited the dozen or so couples that followed him into the grand salon, which for the purposes of the evening’s entertainment had been transformed into a makeshift theater. As the sons and daughters of the wealthiest and highest-born families of France filtered in, she took her place to the side of the stage. She was not acting tonight. She had not, in fact, chosen to undertake a role since the old man who had brought her to France had been taken by the King’s men and unfairly incarcerated in Lazare Prison. She had promised him in a tearful scene that she would watch over his actors and see that their current tour was completed. The kind old man had been concerned that they would starve, and that perhaps the young men and women—like Dougray—would end up on the streets selling themselves for bread. She smiled again at the young Scot as he blew her a kiss before disappearing behind the curtain.
Whatever she was paying him, it wasn’t enough.
She retreated into the shadows as the candles in the lushly appointed room were extinguished one by one, and inspected the crowd. Most were the typical bored and disaffected children of wealth; heavily powdered and pomaded, prone to laugh when it suited them and yawn long before the opening of the second act. Fortunately, among the last minute stragglers who were just entering the room, there were a few lively faces. One of them was the young Marquis. The performance this evening of Pierre’s ‘The Barber of Seville’, though by necessity the revised version permitted by the King, had been at his request. Already Gilbert du Montier had a reputation as a champion of the poor and underprivileged. She liked him. His exuberance and rebellious spirit brought a breath of fresh air to the otherwise stuffy and decayed elegance of the courts of France. She had had just about enough of them. One more week and it would be time to go home.
She nodded her red head as the last of the candles were extinguished. It was time to begin. Before the play there would be a short program of songs and monologues, requested by the lady of the house. As Joseph, their baritone, bowed to a round of applause, yet another couple entered the room. The Marquis saw them and waved them to the front. She frowned as she watched them move forward. The woman, unlike all the other ladies in attendance, wore her hair au natural. It had been teased and curled and piled high on her head, and the copper waves bore a small ship of a hat perched precariously on them, ready to set sail, but there was something different about the way she wore it; something different about her. She squinted as the lights that lined the temporary stage were lit and Joseph began to sing an old French Aire, and tried to make out the man who accompanied her. He was seated now, as was the woman, but the Marquis was leaning in front of him. As she shifted forward and caught a glimpse of dark skin and raven hair with very little powder pulled back in a tail, her heart skipped a beat. She blinked and shook her head and meant to look again, but before she could Dougray McAllister caught her by the arm and demanded her attention.
“Miss Pursglove?” he whispered.
She gave an exagerated sigh and turned toward him. “Dougray?”
“Mary Anne cannae play her part.”
The redhead frowned. “And why not?”
The young man winced as if he expected her to strike him. “She isnae haur?”
Isabella Pursglove shook her frizzed head. “And what is it this time? She can’t have missed the carriage, she’s living in the Duke’s house.” Mary Anne Mabry was a talented young actress, but she was always a day late and a few pence short. “Well? What is it this time? Plague or providence?”
Dougray shrugged his shoulders. “Try a prince.”
The English-bred Irish woman’s green eyes rolled. “Bring me her costume, laddie. I already know the script.”
“Ming...” Becky cleared her throat as she glanced at Adrienne who sat at her side. “My dear, whatever are you staring at?” Her blue eyes darted to the Marquis, but he was paying them no mind. He was clapping and laughing at the antics of those on the stage. She leaned closer to Mingo and whispered from behind her fan. “You look like you just rounded a corner and came face to face with a grizzly bear. What’s wrong?”
He nodded toward the stage even as he raised a hand to shield his face. The young Rosina, Almaviva’s love interest, had just appeared at the curtain that served as a window with a letter in hand. She was a petite beauty dressed in a pale yellow silk wrapping gown with a tight bodice and round neckline that showed a great amount of décolletage. Mountains of frizzed red hair framed a heart-shaped face and fell onto her shoulders, and when she spoke, her French pronunciation was bad enough to make even an Englishman wince. “That woman,” he said.
Becky raised up in her seat to look. “She’s lovely. What about her?”
“I know her.”
As the crowd burst into laughter and the room thundered with applause she gasped, “Mingo! I’m shocked.”
He turned to stare at her. “What?”
“You mean to tell me you actually had more than one woman in your life?”
The raven-haired man sighed. “Rebecca.”
She almost giggled. “Who is she?”
Mingo’s dark eyes fastened on the buxom beauty as she turned to confront her guardian, who was being played by a very young Dougray McAllister wearing a suit two sizes too large for him and a very worn gray beard. “Not who,” he whispered, “what.”
She watched him shift so his face was turned into the darkness. “Well, what is she then?”
The drama had ended and all the glittering jeweled and jaded nobility, as well as the players, had gathered in the Duke’s garden around the young Marquis, eager to hear the tales of the part he had played in the Rebel’s war in America. As he began to speak, Rebecca Boone ‘Moray’ found herself turning in a circle in search of her missing ‘husband’. As soon as the gilded candelabras had been lit, he had risen to his feet and disappeared into the crowd. Becky was leery of being on her own. Idle chatter did not come to her that easily to her in Boonesborough, let alone in the midst of a crowd of elegant party-goers who spoke mostly French. She continued to hide behind her fan as she worked her way through the group, nodding and smiling as she went. She had almost made it to Adrienne’s side when she found her path blocked by the buxom beauty from the stage. Becky acknowledged her presence with a smile and then started to move around her.
The woman shifted and cut her off.
Becky could see over her shoulder that Adrienne was beginning to move away. “Excuse me,” she said softly, “ I need to catch the Marquis’s wife.”
“Not so fast.” The woman narrowed her green eyes. “And would you be the wife of Kerr Moray?”
Becky blinked. She almost asked, ‘who?’, but then she remembered who and what she was supposed to be. “Why, yes.” She frowned. “Can I help you?”
“Tall man, is he? Dark-skinned and darker-haired?”
“Well, Kerr is tall.” Her frown deepened. What had Mingo meant when he said this woman was ‘trouble’? “Shorter than some I know.” She tried to push past her again. “If you will excuse me...”
“Did he used to go by the name Montagne? About ten years ago?”
“I didn’t know him ten years ago, but no, I don’t think so.”
“Well, I did.” The actress carried a fan as well, as was the custom. She folded hers with a dramatic snap and pressed its tip into Becky’s shoulder. “Begging your pardon, but you don’t look like a ‘pale doe-eyed primrose-haired blue-blooded child’ to me. Who are you? When and where did you meet him?”
Becky glanced down at the fan and used two fingers to move it aside. “Begging your pardon, I don’t think that is any of your business. Who are you?”
Isabella backed up and planted her hands on her hips. She inspected Rebecca from head to toe and then shook her head in disgust. “A poor substitute, if you ask me.”
She scowled. “Exactly who are you calling ‘a poor substitute’?”
The actress pressed a finger to her nose. “Ah, I have it. Fresh off the boat, were you now, and walking the streets looking for a man? He’s a kind one, is Kerr, but innocent as a lamb and easily taken advantage of.”
Becky’s fists sought her hips as well. “And what exactly is it you are implying?”
Isabella leaned in close. “Implying, my dear? Why, nothing. It’s telling you I am. I lost him once and I don’t intend to do so again. Whatever claws you put out to hook him, you had best draw them back in, or use them to fight to keep him.”
“That’s my husband you’re talking about,” Becky growled. Then as soon as she realized what she had said, she blushed. A moment later she began to laugh.
Isabella thought she was laughing at her and her anger boiled over. “So the jest is on me, is it? We’ll see how funny it is when I’ve wiped that smile off your face.”
Becky stepped back as the petite woman reached out suddenly for her hair. Before she could take hold of it, a strong hand shot out and caught her arm. Isabella spun, ready to let loose with a barrage of Irish curses, but fell silent when she found herself face to face with a memory. The actress blinked and reached out toward him with her other hand. “Kerr?” she whispered.
He nodded. “Hello, Isabella. It has been a long time.”
She glanced at Becky and then back to him. “So where are the feathers? And the war paint?”
“In my wife’s reticule?” Mingo’s smile faded at her fierce look. He glanced about as a cheer went up from the crowd followed by a round of riotous laughter. Becky glanced at the Marquis. He was apparently using the party-goers to illustrate how he had escaped from under the nose of ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Howe and his British troops. “Is there somewhere quiet we could go?” Mingo asked.
Isabella continued to stare at him a moment. Then she raised up on her tip-toes and kissed him full on the lips. And then, with nary a glance at the woman who was supposed to be his wife, she caught his hand and began to draw him into the house.
“I thought you’d never ask, love.”
As they left the room, a young man separated from the riotous group crowding around the Marquis. He excused himself to the young lady who had brought him to the party and said he would return post-haste.
Then he followed the trio into the house.
Isabella’s skepticism had deepened. She looked from her old friend Kerr to the woman and back again. “So, you’re expecting me to believe that you traveled all the way here, from America, to join up with the very troupe I happen to be in charge of? Because you felt stifled in the Colonies?”
“It is very hard to make a living as an actor or any other kind of a performer in a country that finds itself in a state of war.” Mingo glanced at Becky. “Isn’t that right, my dear?”
Rebecca had been doing the same thing as Isabella; looking from Mingo to the petite but fiery redhead and wondering what this was all about. “Pardon?” she asked.
Mingo crossed to her and put his arm about her waist. “You need to pay a little closer attention, my dear,” he said as he squeezed her.
Isabella didn’t seem convinced. “And how did you get to know Messier Beaumarchais to begin with?”
“He was traveling through Kentucky, where I have been lately...employed.” Mingo drew a breath. Lying was an art he had never cared to master. He could do it, after a fashion, but found one thing always led to another, and it was very easy to set a trap and put your own foot into it without warning. “We had occasion to meet, and he invited me to join his troupe anytime I desired. Isn’t that right, Rebecca?”
She laid her hand possessively on his chest and looked up at him. “My husband is so talented,” she sighed. “Acting, singing, dancing....” Becky’s blue eyes sought the other woman. Isabella Pursglove stood tapping the toe of her expensive slipper, indignant, and wearing a self-important air. Becky drew a deep breath and then finished with a flourish. “He does everything well.”
Mingo winced as he drew a breath and prepared for Isabella’s retort. And he had
thought being caught between the
Wyandot and Shawnee had been dangerous.
“Does he now? And would what he does well include spyin’?” The actress’ colored lips pursed. “You see, I am not blind to Messier Beaumarchais’ other enterprises.”
Becky stiffened. “Spying?”
Mingo separated from her and went to stand before the petite woman. “Isabella,” he began, “please, keep your voice down....”
“What do you take me for, a fool? That woman is no more your wife than you are the King of France. You may have fooled the others—playing games is the very breath of life in this country and this society—but there’s no pullin’ the wool over the eyes of Isabella Mary Catherine Pursglove.” She stuck her finger in the center of his lace jabot to emphasize her point. “What are you really here for, and what is it you are up to, Kerr-a-Mingo?”
Becky’s blue eyes went wide. “Mingo?” she asked as she took a step toward the pair.
Isabella’s triumphant look was quickly replaced by puzzlement as another soft voice spoke from the door.
The trio turned to find the Marquis’s young wife, Adrienne, standing in the doorway.
“Adrienne?” Mingo said. “We didn’t hear you….”
“I was going to check on Anastasie when I heard you speaking.” Adrienne stepped into the room. She walked directly to Mingo and faced him. “Is your name really Cara-Mingo?”
He had not known whether her husband had told her who they really were or not. Since she was a friend of Rachel’s, he suspected that he had. Now he knew different. Perhaps, with his own troubles with the King, Gilbert had had no time to do so. “Yes,” he admitted.
He nodded. “Yes,” he said softly.
“Rachel?” Isabella looked at Becky. “So, ‘Mrs. Moray’, I see you’re to be tossed-off as well.”
Becky stifled a laugh and hid her smile behind her fan. This was a side of Mingo she had never seen. It appeared he had a rather interesting effect on the women he had acquaintance with. She shrugged her shoulders playfully. “All stratagems in love and war are lawful.”
As Isabella let loose with a hearty laugh, the man who had followed them into the house drew close. He had listened to their earlier conversation and then left briefly to retrieve his cloak from the Duke’s servant, and now was preparing to leave. He glanced in the study as he passed by and noted the arrival of the French Marquis’s wife.
His employer would pay handsomely for such information. And for the tall dark-haired man who stood in the center of the room, illuminated by candlelight; this was just another nail in his coffin.
And the coffin of the one who awaited him in London-town.
At that moment, in another study, across the unpredictable and sometimes perilous English channel, just within the outskirts of the city of London, a young woman stood beside a tall narrow set of glass doors staring at the stars where they danced in the night sky. She was dressed in the fashion of the age; in a royal blue gown drawn, back over a cork rump, that revealed her low-heeled shoes and black stockings. Her hair was not frizzed, as was the common style, but was pulled back from her face in a tail in the newest rage, with soft curls spilling about her heart-shaped face and framing her wide blue eyes. She fingered the single strand of pearls at her neck for a moment before opening the doors and stepping out onto the balcony. The letter should have been in his hands by now. He should be on his way, if he was not already here. That was, if he was coming.
If he still cared.
The woman turned her back on the night’s blazing eyes and leaned against the cold stone balustrade. She had had word that the Marquis had returned from the Colonies, and that there had been strangers with him. The report had puzzled her as it said there was both a man and a woman; reportedly husband and wife. Still, she held out hope that it was him. Though if it had been, where was he? The days were passing. France was only hours away, though she knew sometimes the channel could prove treacherous, stretching that short span into days, or even weeks.
If he took too long, it would be too late.
They would be gone.
Rachel Cornell looked up and smiled wanly. “Did I wake you with my pacing?”
The older man shook his head. “No. It has been my habit to come here when thoughts preoccupy me, to look at the stars, and to wrestle with the fates.”
She watched as he came to the balustrade and stood beside her. He straightened the lace cuffs that showed beneath his elegant banyan, and then placed his hands on the stone. Rachel stared at his profile. Though his son’s heritage was mixed, she could still see him there. And even if there had not been a fleeting resemblance, she would still have known it by their shared strength of character and determination. “So there is still no word?” Rachel asked.
John Murray, Peer of the Realm and father of the man she loved, glanced at her briefly. “Nothing official. Only that the Marquis is back. Though I did hear an interesting tale.”
“It seems there was a mutiny aboard the ship that brought the young Lafayette home. It was put down with the help of this man and his wife.” The man also known as Lord Dunsmore paused as he noted her reaction to the term. “One of my men spoke to a seamen who was on board the Alliance.”
When he did not go on, she prompted, “And?”
“It seems the ‘wife’ is a very attractive woman, with red hair and a rather adventurous nature. According to this man, she was a stowaway and, for a short time, went by the name of ‘Kaintuck’.” He laughed at her expression. “Yes, I think it was Rebecca Boone; a formidable lady and a worthy adversary for any man.”
“And the man who is said to be her ‘husband’?”
“Dark-haired. Dark-skinned.” He did not look at her. “He was brought on board as a prisoner.”
Rachel’s hand went to her throat. “Prisoner?”
The older man was silent for a moment, then he turned and laid his hand on her arm. “You must understand, my dear, this is a tale told by a seaman who most likely would say anything to earn a shilling, but the tale he tells is of a corrupt captain and a corrupted crew, bribed by a man named Leighton, whose scheme it was to take this man and bring him here to stand trial for treason.”
Rachel paled. “Leighton.”
“Ah, yes. I see you know the name as well.” John Murray left her and went to sit on the stone seat that was built into the balcony wall.
“I should,” she whispered as she came to stand before him. “I was engaged to his half-brother.”
Cara-Mingo’s father nodded. “John Gerard.”
Rachel sat heavily beside him. “It is worse than we suspected then.”
He took her hand. “Yes. I think it best if we set out in the morning.”
“No. One more day at least. Please. You know how the channel can be.” Her lip trembled. “If we know he is here....”
Lord Dunsmore stood and pulled her up after him. “It would be better if Kerr never came to London. It is too dangerous for someone like him; only part White, and known to be heavily involved in the Rebel’s cause. I have men positioned at each of the piers. They know to watch for a tall dark-skinned man accompanied by a beautiful redheaded woman. If they see him, they will approach him. They have been given information only I would know. He will be told to meet us in Stirlingshire. He will know the place.”
Rachel nodded as he began to lead her into the house. “Do you think we can get away? Isn’t the mansion being watched? Oliver Gerard would like nothing better than to have me arrested. It has only been your kindness and patronage that has prevented it.”
He laughed. “No, my dear, it has been my power and the connections I have made over a lifetime. I am a Peer of the Realm. Oliver Gerard is a wealthy man, but he is self-made, and dares not openly accuse one who is above him in station. Still,” he added as his smile turned to a frown, “his insinuations were part of what cost me my post in the New World.”
“Because your father was a Jacobite with rebel sympathies?”
“And because of my son’s tendency to follow in his grandfather’s rebel footsteps.” Lord Dunsmore’s face was inscrutable.
“Are you in danger then?”
The older man’s eyes sparkled. “As the Bard had Gloucester say to King Henry at Agincourt, ‘Tis true that we are in great danger; the greater therefore should our courage be. There is some soul of goodness in things evil.’”
Rachel turned back to him as he followed her into the room. She nodded with finality. “So it is tomorrow then. What am I to do?”
Lord Dunsmore paused as they headed across the narrow book-lined room, filled with trophies and medals and a thousand other things that somehow did not seem to matter anymore. “Perhaps a disguise would be in order,” he said as he hooked her small hand over his arm. “You look to be about my footman’s size....”
“And so you are going?”
Mingo met the Marquis’ steady gaze and nodded. “Yes, it has all been arranged.” He glanced at the redheaded actress where she stood to the side carrying on an animated conversation with Daniel’s wife, “Miss Pursglove has kindly agreed to allow us to travel with her troupe.”
“Ah, then, all is well that end’s well?”
The tall dark-haired man laughed. “Let us hope all does end well. I still have to locate Rachel. I take it from what her last letter to your wife said, that she is with my father. Either in London, or at his estate in Scotland.”
“And you will go to London first? Though it means a terrible danger?”
“I must. I have no way of knowing where they are. And if she has been taken,” he drew a breath, “she will be imprisoned in the city.”
Adrienne stepped forward. Anastasie was on her hip. “We wish you all the best, Cara-Mingo. Rebecca.”
Becky had crossed the room to stand at her ‘husband’s’ side. “Thank you for everything, Adrienne. Gilbert. We are in your debt.”
“That is two you owe me, Madame,” the young man said with a grin. “Perhaps I will call the debt one day.”
Her smile was brilliant. “You be sure to do that. Please, do come visit us when you return. And bring you lovely wife and child.”
“If time and duty will permit, and the cry of my people does not keep me here, I will do so. It is a promise.”
Dougray McAllister had come into the room. He was heavily weighed-down with hat-boxes and Isabella’s various make-up and dressing cases. The redheaded actress spoke to him briefly and then turned to the newest members of her troupe. “The carriage is ready, Kerr. Are you two?”
Dan’s wife nodded. She reached out and touched Anastasie’s small head and then gave her a kiss. “Adieu,” she whispered.
“Au revoir, Madame Boone,” Gilbert caught her hand and kissed it as well. “Until we meet again.”
Daniel Boone stood on the deck of the swift-flying frigate the members of Congress had been kind enough to secure him passage on, and stared toward the horizon. Somewhere out there was the world his father had sailed from so many years before. Somewhere out there were his wife and his best friend, and untold danger. The thought of it didn’t daunt him, but the fear that it had overtaken the two of them in the time it had taken him to follow, did. He rested his hands on the railing and counted the days. It had been nearly seven weeks since Rebecca and Mingo had set out from Boonesborough, and though he had managed to catch up, he felt as if the gulf that separated them might well prove impassable.
Dan had decided to go to London. Before he had set foot on the ship, he had bought some fancy duds to replace the ones Mingo had borrowed. He was wearing them now, hoping the outward appearance was enough to hide the inward man, and that no one would identify him with the tall buckskin-clad, coonskin cap-wearing frontiersman who was wanted by the British for treason and other crimes against the Crown. And though his accent and the words he spoke would reveal his Colonial origins, thanks to a fellow passenger he would at least set foot in the ‘supreme city’ with a legitimate excuse. The story he had settled on, even before he met him, was that he was Daniel Brown, a purveyor of furs who wanted nothing to do with the war; whose only concern was keeping open the trade between their two countries. The other man, an Englishman, had lived in the Colonies for many years. He was a tea merchant and was interested in much the same thing. They had met several times on shipboard over the course of several weeks and shared several meals, and finally, it had been decided they would travel together. The Englishman knew London and the provinces surrounding it, and Dan figured he would need someone with that sort of expertise if he was to locate Lord Dunsmore, and hopefully Rachel Cornell, in a city of over five hundred-thousand souls.
A soft footfall made him turn. The man he had been thinking about must have been thinking of him at the same time. He had come to find him. Dan straightened up and nodded his head. “Geoffrey.”
“Daniel. The captain says we should make landfall in two days.”
“You mean, be in London herself?”
“Yes.” Geoffrey smiled. “We’ll transfer to a smaller ship at Woolrich, and that vessel in turn will take us into the town proper. Your baggage...?”
He opened his hands wide. “Not much but what you see. I travel light. What I have, I can carry myself.”
The other man nodded. “It is the same with me. My goods proceeded me. I would imagine they have been here nearly a week now.” He walked to Daniel’s side and leaned on the railing. His eyes sought the east. “God willing they landed in the proper hands.”
Dan nodded. “God willing.” He too stared at the horizon for the space of several heartbeats; then he stretched his arms and yawned. “I think I’m about ready to call it a night. How about you?”
“Soon. Good night, Daniel. Sleep well.”
Dan took a step toward the open hatch that contained the stair. “Same to you, Leighton, and thanks.”
The dark-haired man turned and leaned his back against the railing, and watched until the frontiersman’s long lanky form disappeared below the deck. When it had, a sly smile broke out on his face.“No, Mr. Boone. Thank you.”
- Continued in Chapter Eight -