1779 – Seventeen years before
“But Becky, you could be away for Israel’s birthday.”
She scowled at him. “The baby doesn’t care.”
“Do you have to be there when it’s born? Couldn’t you just go when it’s toddlin’?”
“Daniel Boone. I think you are jealous.”
“No, he’s not, Rebecca,” Mingo laughed as he moved past her with yet another trunk in his arms. “He is despairing of having to eat his own cooking for several months.” The native paused and then leaned toward her and remarked in a stage whisper, “And I cannot blame him. I have eaten his cooking.”
Dan threw his hands in the air. “You’re a big help. I thought you were on my side.”
Mingo grinned. “Where Rebecca’s cooking is concerned, the only side I am on is my own. Now if you will excuse me, I shall have to see if I can squeeze this onto the back of the wagon,” he added as he headed for the door.
“There’s another one in the bedroom, Mingo,” Becky said as she headed for the cupboard to retrieve her shawl.
Mingo turned around and looked at her. “Rebecca Boone, they do have a few things in Philadelphia. You do not have to take Boonesborough lock and stock with us to Abigail’s.”
“And what would you suggest I leave behind?” she snapped as her hands went for her hips. “The clothes for the baby? Or perhaps that quilt that I spent all winter making? Or maybe my clothes.” She paused and a wicked smile lit her face. “How about the pots and pans and spices?”
Mingo held out one hand. “No, no. I take it back. Take anything you wish.” He gave a little nod and ducked out the door. “Now, if the flatboat just doesn’t sink....”
Becky was standing in the middle of the room, a finger to her pursed lips. “Now what am I forgetting?” she asked as she tapped her toe. “I know I am forgetting something.”
Dan circled her waist with his arms and kissed the back of her neck. “How about forgettin’ the whole idea?” As she squirmed and tried to pull away from him, he kissed her again. “I’ll dress up in my finest suit and take you to Salem instead. How’s that sound?”
“That’s it!” she said, so loud she made him jump.
“What’s it?” He looked dumb-founded. “What did I say?”
“Your blue suit. I need to pack it.”
Dan scratched his head as she moved past him and headed for the cedar box they kept their fine things in. “My suit? Becky, you need to tell me somethin’?”
She turned to look at him. “Dan, what are you talking about?”
“You plannin’ on travelin’ in my britches?”
She frowned and then laughed. “No, silly. It’s not for me, it’s for Mingo.”
As the native returned and headed for the package in the bedroom, Dan glanced at him. “Mingo? What’s an Indian need a Sunday suit for?”
His Cherokee friend grinned. “Well, certainly not for attending church. I think the Great Spirit might frown on that, or if not Him, then the parson certainly would.” He touched his hair. “The coiffure is not quite apropos.”
“Then what in tarnation do you need my blue suit for?” Dan watched his wife as she shook the coat out and then proceeded to lay it on the bed to air before packing it. “Becky?”
She turned and looked at him, and then came right up to him and stared up at his chin. “Daniel Boone, if you think I am going back to civilization, and think that for one minute I am just going to sit at Abigail’s house and twiddle my thumbs every evening, you have another think coming.”
Dan frowned. He turned toward his friend for help. “Mingo?”
“Are you being deliberately thick?” Rebecca thunked him on the chest. “I am going dancing.”
The big man’s eyes went to the native. He was wearing his usual feathers and beads, and his long raven hair, which was bound with both, fell in a wave over his broad shoulders and down his back. “With him?”
“Yes, with him.” She glanced at Mingo. “In your suit, he’ll be quite acceptable.”
“What about his hair?”
“Well,” she placed her finger on her chin again. “It is a little long....”
“No. No.” Mingo had his hands up in front of his face and was backing toward the door. “We agreed. No scissors this time.” He glanced at his friend. “I plan to pull it in a tail.”
Becky shrugged. “It will have to do.”
She turned back with her hands on her hips. “But what?”
Dan struggled for something. “I’m taller than he is.”
She shrugged. “So I’ll shorten the breeches. Hmmmmm.” She stopped and stared at the native man.
It made both him and Dan nervous.
“I will have to let out the arms, though.”
Her husband looked at her as though she were mad. “Let out the arms?”
Becky waltzed over to Mingo and squeezed his upper arm. “Just look at those muscles.” One red eyebrow rose and fell. “A woman could really melt over those.”
As Mingo’s coppery complexion grew even more red, Rebecca shot him a look that said he had better behave if he wanted her too.
Dan was silent a long time and when he did speak, his voice was laced with both sorrow and longing. “I take it the two of you are plannin’ on comin’ back. Israel’d be a mite lonely for his Ma if she just up and disappeared into the social whirl of Philadelphia society and forgot all about him and his ol’ pa.” He shook his tousled brown head. “I can see him now, sittin’ on the porch, with that sort of hangdog expression.” He pursed his lips and furrowed his brow in imitation of it. “Yep, him and me, we’d be pretty lonely.”
Rebecca stopped. She stared at him a minute and then came to his side. “You know I could never leave you and Israel. I was just having fun. Dan?”
His head was hanging down. He looked at her without lifting it. “Promise?”
She kissed him on the lips. “Of course, I promise.” Then she gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear. “But I’m still going dancing.”
Becky was standing near the wagon, securing the trunk that held her personal possessions. She turned toward her son. Almost as if in fulfillment of his father’s predictions, his small face wore a frown that would have melted the hardest of hearts. She drew a deep breath and steeled herself. She had been dreading this moment. “Yes, Israel?”
“Do you gotta go?”
Rebecca Boone came to her son’s side and sat next to him on the stoop. She crossed her hands in her lap and was silent a moment. Then she looked at him. “If you tell me not to go, I won’t.” Before the boy could open his mouth she added, “But you have to listen to what I have to say first. Agreed?”
The boy wrinkled up his nose. “Why? What do you haf’ta say?”
“I want to tell you a story.”
“Oh, is that all?” Israel seemed to relax. “I thought you was gonna preach at me.”
“Preach? Would I do that?”
“You done it before.”
Becky hid her smile behind pursed lips as she took a moment to form her thoughts into words. She allowed her eyes to roam to Mingo and Dan where they stood talking softly near the heavily-laden wagon. She knew there was no one else in the world her husband would have trusted to take her on the three week journey over both water and land to Pennsylvania. Dan regretted that he couldn’t go himself, but Boonesborough had need of him. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was expecting a courier from General Washington himself, and had no way of knowing when they would arrive or what the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army might request of him.
Becky looked at her son. “Oh, yes,” she grinned, “my story.”
He started to rise. “We can skip it if you have somethin’ else to do....”
She frowned and indicated with a nod that he should resume his seat.
“Guess not.” Israel sighed as he did so and rested his chin on his fists.
His mother laughed. “You might like it, if you are willing to listen with an open mind, young man.”
“Now, once upon a time....”
He glanced up at her. “Is this a fairy tale?”
“No. Now, be quiet. Once upon a time there was a young girl named Rebecca who lived in Ireland. She wanted very much to come to the New World, and the only way to do that was to agree to work for other people who would pay for her passage.”
“That’s you, ain’t it? I thought this was a story....”
“Shh. Just listen. When Rebecca arrived in this country the man who had promised to take her on had died. She was left all alone. She didn’t know anyone and no one cared about her. She could have starved, or been bonded to someone cruel who would have hurt or misused her. She might even have been taken and made to work for evil men.” Becky shuddered. That possibility had been all too real. She knew other young girls who had gone that way and thanked God everyday that He had been so kind as to send a very human guardian angel her way. “Instead she found herself indentured to a tavern-keeper. He wasn’t a kind man, but he treated her fairly. Still, she was so very lonely. Every night she would sit in her small room and cry, and wonder if things would ever be different.”
Israel was getting interested in spite of himself. “And were they?”
Becky smiled. “Yes. The tavern-keeper had a sister. She was about ten years older than Rebecca and had come from Cornwall to Philadelphia when she was just sixteen. She had married a young man from Pennsylvania, but he was a soldier and had died before their first anniversary. After that she came to live with her brother, to help him look after the inn. Her name was Abigail.” She paused and looked at her son. “Do you know what ‘Abigail’ means?”
Israel frowned. He thought about it, and then he shook his head.
“It means ‘fountain of joy’, and Abigail was that, in spite of her own loss. She took Rebecca under her wing and treated her more like a sister than a servant. She even helped her, in time, to escape from her life of servitude by giving her part of the money that bought her freedom.” Becky fell silent, reflecting on the generosity of this woman who had owed her nothing.
“Gosh, Ma. That sure was nice of her.”
She nodded and sniffed, fighting back tears. “Rebecca wanted so to repay her, but Abigail wouldn’t hear of it. She refused until Rebecca said she would never feel truly free if she couldn’t do something important in return for her.” Becky met her son’s wide blue eyes. “Do you know what Abigail asked for in repayment?”
He shook his head. “What?”
“‘Rebecca,’ she said, ‘there is one thing you can do for me. If I should ever marry again—and have a family—you must promise me that you will come, no matter where I am, and be the child’s godmother. Will you swear to do this for me?’” Becky paused. “And do you know what Rebecca answered?”
Israel frowned. He knew what was coming. “You swore?”
His mother nodded. “I solemnly swore.” She leaned back against the porch-post. “Now, Israel, you have heard my story. What do you think I should do?”
The little boy drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, if’n you swore....” He dragged out the words. “I guess you gotta go.”
Becky touched his hand. “I guess I do.” She gave him a little hug and then rose to her feet. “Wait here a minute.”
“Just wait. I will be back shortly.”
As she disappeared into the cabin, his Pa came to his side. Israel stood and looked at him. He shook his white head. “Guess it’ll be just you and me, Pa, for awhile.”
Dan smiled. “You reckon that’ll be all right, son?”
Israel pondered it a moment and then nodded.
Dan ruffled his hair. “Your Ma explained to you why she feels she has to go?”
The boy crossed his arms and scuffed the rough wooden boards with the toe of his boot. “A promise is a promise, Pa. Even if I don’t like it.”
His father agreed. “Yes, a promise is a promise.” He glanced up as Rebecca returned with a small package in her hands. The mid-afternoon sunlight had caught her copper hair and set it ablaze. Dan drew a breath and held it, struck by her beauty.
Even if he didn’t like it either.
Dan shifted his long frame and nodded toward the box. “What’s that, Mrs. Boone?”
“Israel’s birthday present,” she said matter-of-factly.
The boy frowned. “But it ain’t my birthday for months, Ma.”
“I know.” Becky came to stand by him and placed it in his hands. “I wanted to give it to you now.”
Israel was quiet a moment. He stared at the box wrapped in brown paper and ribbon, and then his large blue eyes sought her face. “Do I haf’ta open it now?”
Dan watched as Rebecca’s eyes sought his and then returned to their son. He was as puzzled by the boy’s reaction as she was. They both knew Israel usually found his presents and opened them before they were given to him. “No, not if you don’t want to,” Becky said at last.
Israel nodded. His look was pensive. “I think I’ll keep it then, Ma. That way,” he glanced up at her, “if’n you are back by then—you can watch me open it.”
Dan grinned. So that was it. Like her promise to Abigail, this was his mother’s promise to him that she would return.
“What a lovely thought, Israel.” Mingo had come to stand by them. His dark eyes flicked to the redhead. “The wagon is ready, Rebecca. Are you?”
Becky drew a deep breath and nodded. She looked at him and then back to Mingo.
Mingo’s eyes said he understood her need. “Israel?” he called out.
The boy looked up. “Yes, Mingo?”
“Let me help you find somewhere safe to keep that. Then we will return and you can say goodbye to your mother.”
Israel hung his head. “All right, Mingo.” And with that he turned and entered the cabin.
Mingo laid his hand on Becky’s shoulder briefly. “He will be fine, Rebecca. I will keep him occupied for a few moments—while you two say your ‘goodbyes’.”
Dan nodded. “Thanks, Mingo.” Then, as the Cherokee disappeared with his son into the cabin, he turned and looked at his wife. “Well, Rebecca, this is it.”
She started and turned toward him. Her blue eyes met his green ones and began to tear. Then she ran to him and grabbed him and held him tight.
“What’s this?” Dan asked as he placed his hand on her copper hair. “You havin’ second thoughts?”
She didn’t answer.
“You’ll be busy, Becky. Time will fly. You’ll be back here sooner than you know.”
Her head nodded against his chest. “Dan, I want to go. I have to go, for Abigail, but....” She was silent a moment. “It feels wrong to leave you two behind.”
“ ‘Mima will look after us.” He laughed. “In fact, I think she’s lookin’ forward to it.”
Becky smiled. “She’ll enjoy being the one in charge, that’s for certain.”
“And Mingo will have you shot at dawn if you don’t go after making him load that wagon.”
This time she laughed outloud, but then instantly sobered and looked up. “You will be all right without me?”
He met her eyes and shook his head. “No.”
“Rebecca Bryan Boone, I could never be ‘all right’ without you, but I will manage.
Israel and I will be fine. There’s plenty to do to keep us occupied while you’re gone. The fort needs repairin’, and there are the summer crops to plant and harvest. Before we know it, you’ll be home.” He caressed her cheek. “I’m sorry I can’t go with you, Becky.”
“I know.” She frowned. “This message Dan, do you even know what it’s about?”
He shook his head. “No. The soldier who came through just said a letter was comin’, from the General himself.”
Becky nodded and
gazed beyond him toward the fort. “And
you are needed here.”
“Yes. So are you,” he whispered. “Hurry back.”
Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I will. As soon as the baby comes—”
Dan hugged her close. “Give yourself some time, Becky. Enjoy your days among
the city-folk. But, promise me one thing....”
“What is that?”
“While you’re whirlin’ around that dance floor, I want you to promise me that you
will close your eyes and pretend it’s me who has you in his arms. And while you’re at it, tell everyone else to keep theirs closed too.”
Becky pulled away from him. “Dan, whatever are you talking about?”
He caught her chin with his fingers. “I wouldn’t want any of those dandies noticin’ just how beautiful you are. They might waltz away with you.”
“Oh, Dan,” Becky sighed as he dipped his head and their lips met.
They were still kissing when Mingo stepped back through the door. He cleared his throat and grinned when they started guiltily like two school children. “Israel is coming to say goodbye, Rebecca,” he told her as he headed toward the wagon.
Becky brushed her husband’s cheek with her fingers and then turned toward her son and opened her arms.
He fell into them. “Come back quick, Ma.”
“I will,” she whispered as she pulled him tight.
The little boy started to tell her he would miss her, but as he opened his mouth he caught his Pa’s eye over her shoulder. Mingo watched as Daniel shook his head and lifted his chin, indicating Israel should put on a brave front. His son nodded. “Not that we won’t be all right without ya.” Israel pulled away from his mother and placed his hands on his hips. “Why, it’ll be a plain relief not to have no wimmen underfoot. We’ll hunt and fish and hike and canoe....” As the little boy continued with his litany, he saw Rebecca glance at her husband. Apparently Daniel had not informed Israel of his sister Jemima’s intended homecoming. Mingo laughed.
It was a good thing they would be gone by the time he found out.
A moment later Israel finished with a flourish, “Criminetly, we’ll be having so much fun, we won’t even know you’re gone. Ain’t that right, Pa?”
Daniel came to his side and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “More than fine. Now you two had best get movin’, or the boat will leave without you.”
Mingo nodded. He followed Rebecca to the wagon and then helped her climb aboard. Once there she busied herself inventorying the boxes and trunks he had carefully packed and arranged, hiding her tears.
“Daniel,” Mingo said as he walked back to his friend’s side.
The big man took his hand. “Thanks for doin’ this for me, Mingo. There’s no one else I would have trusted— ”
“With such a treasure?” The native smiled. “You can be sure I will guard Rebecca as if she were my own.”
Dan nodded. Then he narrowed his green eyes. “Just don’t forget it’s my suit your borrowin’ and not my wife.”
Mingo laughed. “I promise, Daniel, if I do not bring her back, safe and sound, I will never show my face in Boonesborough again.”
It took the two of them nearly a week to reach the Ohio where a flatboat awaited them. From there they would travel overland to Philadelphia. In all, the journey was expected to take somewhere from three to four weeks. As they journeyed through Kentucky, Becky and Mingo grew to know one another better. Even though they had spent a good deal of time together over the last four years, in many ways they were still strangers. Frontier life had kept most of their interchanges brief, and though Dan and Mingo had grown to be brothers, the two of them had never really spent a great deal of time talking. Now, as they lay waiting to fall asleep under the stars, or sat sharing coffee over a fire, or bounced and jostled on the wagon in broad daylight, they found time to share their stories. Becky told Mingo of her flight from Ireland. She explained how she had come to be indentured and exactly who Abigail was, and why it was so important that she be at her side at this time. He, in exchange, told how he had been taken from his people as a boy by a father he hardly knew, and how he had returned as a man. She had heard bits and pieces of it from Dan but the full story was new to her, and it gave her a different insight into this man who seemed to be at home everywhere and nowhere at one and the same time.
They were camped now on the bank of the river, awaiting the arrival of the man who would captain their boat to Pennsylvania and a few others who would travel with them. Becky looked up from her plate of roasted rabbit to the handsome native sitting across from her. He was cleaning his flintlock and his thoughts seemed to be far away. She hesitated. Mingo was such a private man. Still, if she was going to broach the subject, it would have to be now—before they boarded the boat.
He glanced up at her. “Yes, Rebecca?”
“May I ask you a personal question?”
He hesitated a moment and then smiled warily. “And what is it about me that has piqued your curiosity?”
Becky laid her plate down and crossed her hands in her lap. “Why didn’t you go with Rachel when she returned to England? You love her and she loves you.” She watched him stiffen. “I know I am being bold, Mingo, but I care about you both. And you are so unhappy.”
The Cherokee man stared at her. “I am not unhappy.”
Becky bit her lip. “Well, if not unhappy—you are certainly incomplete.”
He stopped with the cleaning rod halfway down the barrel to turn and look at her. “Why would you say that? I am a part of my tribe. I hunt and fish and bring food to the table. I give thanks each day to the Creator for the sun and earth and sky.” He rested the butt of the rifle on the ground. “I have good friends and live in a land I love. Why would you say I am incomplete?”
“Because you are alone.”
He frowned. “Alone?”
“You have no one to call your own. No family. No—”
“Woman?” Mingo laughed. “You mean Adam is incomplete without his Eve?”
She nodded. “Doesn’t your Creator want you to have a mate?”
He didn’t answer, but returned to cleaning his gun.
Becky was silent a moment. But only for a moment. “Have you even heard from Rachel since she returned to England?”
Mingo finished. He laid his rifle aside and began to put the items he had used to clean it back in his kit. “A few times. She wrote to tell me that Hugh died not long after they returned. She inherited his estates. Her father is living with her now. She cares for him, and manages the land and the servants.”
“I see.” She paused. “And is she happy?”
Mingo shook his head. Then he met her eyes. “Rebecca Boone, if I did not know better I would think you were trying to get rid of me.”
Becky held his gaze. “Answer my question, Mingo. Is Rachel happy?”
The Cherokee frowned. “No,” he said at last. “She is not happy.”
“Mingo, there is something else. This is probably none of my business....”
His dark eyebrows winged toward his raven bangs. “You mean the other was?”
Becky ignored him. She shifted and covered her feet with her skirts. For May, the night was cool. “Do you want to know what I think?”
He fastened the flap on his haversack and muttered. “I am afraid to ask....”
“I think you have remained here in America because of your father.”
That stopped him. He turned toward her. “My father? I beg your pardon?”
“Why else would you still be here when your heart is in England?”
Mingo’s frown deepened. “Rebecca, my father has no influence over what I say or do.”
“Are you certain?” Her blue eyes narrowed. “Are you sure your staying here is not a means to an end. That you are not punishing him? I wonder....”
“I wonder if even your choosing to side with the Colonies in this revolution is not meant to hurt him in some way.”
“My involvement in the Revolution is a matter of conscience.”
“Yes, I know that. But for all men—and women—there is always a personal reason as well for what they choose. Someone you admired. Someone you disdain....” Becky frowned and shoved her copper bangs back from her forehead with her palm. “Your mother’s people support the British, don’t they?”
“Not Menewa.” Mingo shifted uncomfortably and rose to his feet. “But most of the Cherokee do, yes. When I was young even my uncle fought on their side against the French. But what exactly are you getting at, Rebecca?”
“Why did you decide to support the Colonists?”
“I decided to support the cause of freedom.”
“You could fight for freedom in England too. From what I understand, you would have great power and influence as an Earl’s son and heir. If you married,” her voice was soft, “could you not teach your sons to use that power for good?”
“You don’t understand, Rebecca.” He reached into the wagon and drew out a blanket. “Things are different in London. Nothing is clear. Everything is painted in murky shades of gray. If I had sons,” he added slowly as he tossed the patterned wool about his shoulders, “I would not want them raised there. I would not want them tainted by its vacuous and callous evil.”
She was silent a moment. “Have you never wondered why your father didn’t come after you—when you left as a young man, I mean?”
He had started to turn away, but pivoted now to look at her. “What?”
“Why did your father not hunt you down and force you to go back? He’s a powerful man.” Becky met his dark stare. “He didn’t even seek you out when he became the governor of Virginia. You had to go to him. He could have found you, you know.” She paused to let that thought sink in, and then added quietly, “Why do you think that was?”
He snorted. “Because he didn’t care.”
“Or maybe because he did.” Becky gnawed her lip a moment before continuing. “You know, Mingo, I never knew any real peace until I had reconciled with my father. I blamed him for so many things; things that were not really his fault. And I fought forgiving him tooth and nail, but I was wrong.”
The Cherokee was silent for a long time. When at last he spoke, he asked, “Why are you saying these things to me?”
Becky rose to her feet and came to stand by him. “I care about you, Mingo. You are a good and a dear friend. I feel... Well, I feel that on this journey I have come to know you well enough to be honest.” She touched his arm. “Behind your smile is a pain that never goes away. I just want to see you content.”
“Rebecca, I— ”
She shook her head. “You don’t need to say anything. Just think about what I said. Don’t spend your life running from those who mean the most to you. After all, what really matters?”
What really matters?
Mingo sighed and rolled onto his side. Rebecca’s words haunted him. He had been certain his reasons for remaining in the colonies were as sound as the earth beneath his feet, but her soft suggestions had begun to erode that sure foundation. Had he sided with the Colonists to spite his father—at least in part? And was that why he had chosen to become so personally involved, even risking his life to carry out missions others would not undertake? His uncle and other members of the tribe had cautioned him; warning him the path he walked was a dangerous one. If he was Cherokee, he should be content to let the white men fight their own battles. Soon they would kill each other off and then the land would come back to the People. The problem was, he was a white man. At least in part. And even though he had tried to deny it for most of his life, there was no escaping the fact that John Murray was a part of him.
And always would be.
Even though Mingo had not seen his father since the older man’s despicable ploy to rob the Boonesborough settlers of their land, he had kept track of the English Peer. Lord Dunsmore had remained governor of Virginia for a very short time and then had returned to England to attend to his estates. Now, it was rumored, he was soon to be made Royal Governor of the West Indies; a post from which it was likely he would never return. He was not a young man.
If it was true, it was likely they would never see each other again.
Mingo sat up. He straightened the blanket about his shoulders and stared at Rebecca where she lay fast asleep beneath the wagon. She murmured and reached out as if seeking her husband, and then curled into a ball when she found he was not there. He closed his eyes and thought of Rachel and of that night when, in the midst of the turmoil John Gerard had loosed upon them, he had lain in the circle of her arms. Even though the world had been spinning about them and uncertainty had dogged their every step, still he had known contentment.
He had been complete.
As he settled back against a tree trunk and prepared to try to fall asleep, his mind flew to the words of the Shakespearean Sonnet he had read by the campfire several nights before. It was a familiar one, but for some reason it had struck him hard that night. He had even read it aloud to Rebecca as she sat stirring a pot of stew, and he knew by the look in her eyes that she understood why he did—the Bard might have been speaking of him.
in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
Mingo wrapped the blanket tightly about his frame and leaned his head back and, closing his dark eyes, passed from the waking world into a dream of the one he had left behind.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. The two of them arose and, shaking off the lingering shadows of the night, boarded the flat boat eager to begin the next leg of their journey.
Back home in Boonesborough, Daniel Boone had risen long before the sun and was hard at work hewing logs. The last attack on the fort by hostile Indians had left part of its northern end burnt and weak, and it was imperative they replace the damaged posts as soon as possible. He and several of the men had agreed to donate timber and time to get it done. Israel was off playing with his sister’s little girl, Sarah. After getting over the initial shock of finding out he would have to do as Jemima told him for as long as she stayed with them, Israel had actually come to enjoy the idea of having her around again. She was in the cabin now, cooking and singing. Dan paused to listen to her and, as he did, he caught the sound of a horse’s hooves thundering his way. He stopped, put down his ax, and reached for his shirt where it lay tossed across the stump of a tree. He wiped his brow with it and then pulled it over his head just as the horse and rider came into view.
It was a soldier in a fancy blue and white uniform. Beneath his black tricorn hat, his reddish-brown hair was struggling to escape the ribbon that held it. His face and hands were splashed with mud. His coat—decorated with crimson and white lace—was new, but it too had seen better days. It seemed he had ridden long and hard. Dan picked up the tin cup full of water he had left resting on the tree stump and offered it to him as he drew to a halt by his side.
“You look mighty thirsty, son.”
The young man, who appeared to be no more than eighteen at most, accepted the cup with thanks. When he had drained it, he handed it back. Then he removed his hat in deference, and asked in a thick French accent, “Are you Coronel Daniel Boone?”
Dan brushed his brown bangs back and nodded.
“If you will then, messier,” the soldier said formally, “answer this: ‘Those who would give up essential liberté to purchase a little temporary safety....”
“Deserve neither freedom nor safety.” Dan recognized the quote as one of Ben Franklin’s. It was sometimes used as an identification code. “You’re French, aren’t you, son?”
“Yes, sir. Does that disturb you?”
The big man laughed. “Well, not now that you are on our side. Have you come from General Washington?”
The young man nodded. “From his camp, sir. I am Lieutenant Roch d’Estaing.”
Dan’s eyebrows went up. He stared at the young man, amused. “Lieutenant D’Estaing? Not ‘Admiral’?”
“Oh, no, sir. Only a poor cousin.” The young man smiled. “Very poor. I came to your country with Jhilbert....” He hesitated, and then corrected himself, “With the Marquis de Lafayette.”
Dan nodded. He remembered the Marquis well. He had met him briefly in New Orleans when he and Becky had gone to that city to try to take a delayed honeymoon. The trip had turned into an adventure full of murder and intrigue, and in the end, the young Marquis had saved his life. “We’ve met.”
“Ah, then, sir, you will know his seal.” The soldier reached into his pouch and produced a small packet tied with ribbon. He handed it to Dan. Then he withdrew another from the leather satchel and handed it to him as well.
Dan took it and recognized it. “And this is the one from the General I was to expect?”
“Yes, sir. I was told both are of the utmost importance.” Roch frowned. “The one from the Marquis is addressed to someone named...Meen-go?”
The big man frowned as he turned the letter over. He hadn’t looked at the name written in elegant script on the outside. Sure enough, it was addressed not to him but to his friend. “I’m afraid you have arrived a little late, son,” Dan said. “Mingo left for Philadelphia about a week ago. You may have passed him on the trail.”
The young man looked horrified. “This is not good. I was told it was of the utmost importance he receive this letter as quickly as possible. But I cannot return to Pennsylvania.” Roch touched the heavy pouch. It was obviously laden with other correspondence. “I have other messages to deliver.”
Dan turned the packet over in his fingers. “Does the Marquis know Mingo?” He looked up at the soldier. If the native knew the young French major-general, he was unaware of it.
“I do not think so.” Roch frowned. “Within that letter is another. It arrived a week or so ago in the post from France. It was in the Marquis’s wife’s hand.” He smiled at Dan’s perplexed look and tipped his powdered head apologetically. “And how would a poor lowly aide-de-camp be privilege to such knowledge? Adrienne and I, we are related; two cousins from distant branches of the same noble family. And through her, the Marquis and I are cousins as well. I saw the letter.”
Dan frowned, uncertain of how proceed.
“Will they return soon?” the young man asked.
The big man shook his head. “No. Not for a long time.”
“Quel l'honte! It is a pity.” The young man returned his hat to his head and nodded smartly. “I will have to leave you with this puzzle, Mr. Boone. I must ride on.”
“Without a rest?”
A brilliant smile lit the young man’s face. “Someone once said, ‘there is no rest for the wicked’. Or the weary.” He laughed as he turned his mount toward the gate of the settlement and began to move away.
“Tell the Marquis hello when you see him again,” Dan called after him.
Roch reined in his mount and turned back to face him. “That would be an even longer time than you will wait for your friend’s return. Jhilbert Lafayette sets sail for home this very month. He goes to plead this young country’s case before the king.” The Frenchman pressed his heels into the horse’s flesh and spurred it forward. “As well as to see his pretty young wife. I think he will make that ship sail very fast indeed!” He tipped his hat, laughed heartily, and then was gone.
Leaving Dan with a mystery on his hands.
Several hours later Dan sat in his cabin. Both letters lay open in his lap. He had returned home after a hard day’s work to the familiar and much-missed bickering of his children. Almost immediately Jemima and her brother had fallen into their old pattern of scolding and chiding each other in love. The three of them, along with little Sarah, had shared a hearty supper during which the two young’uns got into a food-tossing contest. They ended up dismissed from the table and sent to bed early. Dan had laughed aloud at their antics and at his daughter’s adult disgust and then, after the two little ones had fallen asleep and Jemima had begun to rede up the dishes, he had gone to sit before the fire. First he had opened the letter from the General that was addressed to him. He was surprised to find that it was not about official business as he had expected, but was a personal note. Its contents only served to darken the mystery that was already unfolding. In it was a warning that Mingo was in danger. The General had gotten to know the Cherokee fairly well when they had traveled together in his carriage after the native had been injured helping to prevent an assassination attempt on his life. General Washington had heard certain rumors, of a dark nature, and thought Dan should be made aware of them. Personally, Washington said, he did not believe them to be true, but with the tide of war still riding against the Colonies and other well-educated men—both English and American—suspected of traitorous acts, he knew there would be men who might well think otherwise. Dan closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wooden back of the bench he occupied. John Gerard had done his work well. The scheme he had begun two years before to brand Mingo as a double-agent was bearing fruit. Men had been captured—English men who had known him as Lord Dunsmore’s son in London—who had presented evidence that corroborated the lies Gerard had woven.
Washington wanted the two of them to come to Philadelphia as soon as possible to refute them.
In light of this disturbing information, Dan had broken his own rules and opened his friend’s mail. Within the packet were two letters. The first was from the Marquis. It was short and to the point. After a word of introduction, he referred the recipient to the other letter and suggested he acquiesce to the writer’s request. Added in a hastily scribbled post-script was an apology for the fact that more than a month had passed since he had received his wife’s communication.
And the post-script itself was dated the middle of April.
Dan glanced up and realized Jemima was standing in the shadows watching him. “Yes, darlin’?”
“Is somethin’ wrong?” She was drying her hands on her apron. The washing up was done and she had come to find him. “You look like somethin’ mighty heavy is weighin’ on your mind.”
He patted the bench and indicated she should sit beside him. When she did, he placed his arm about her shoulders. “Somethin’s wrong, ‘Mima, but I don’t know exactly what. And I guess it’s the not knowin’ that is weighin’ me down the most.” He paused and looked at her. She was only eighteen, but had blossomed with marriage into a beautiful young woman. ‘Mima, I need to ask you for a favor.”
“What is it, Pa?” She gripped his hand. “You know I’ll do whatever you ask.”
He laughed. “Now don’t go commitin’ yourself before you know. It’s a mighty big one.”
“And what could that be?” Jemima smiled gently and placed her finger on the tip of her chin. “Let’s see, make Israel eat his vegetables, or maybe make Sarah sit still for half an hour?”
Dan grinned. “Pretty nigh unto that. Do you think Flanders would put up with you havin’ another young’un in the cabin for a spell?”
“You mean Israel?” Jemima’s smile faded. “You gotta go somewhere?”
He nodded. “Philadelphia. I need to talk to Mingo.”
She was silent a moment. “Well, Ma will be right happy to see you.” Jemima stood and turned toward the loft where Israel and Sarah lay sleeping. “But it will be awful hard on Israel.” She turned back. “Do you gotta go, Pa?”
He nodded. “I reckon. There are some very bad men tellin’ lies about Mingo. He is in danger, and that means so is your....”
Dan nodded again.
Jemima’s brown eyes went to the letters on his lap. “Can you tell me what it’s all about?”
“I could,’ he said as he began to fold them and put them back in the packet.
“But you won’t.”
“I don’t think I should, ‘Mima.
It’s best you not know.”
“So I don’t have to lie if anyone comes askin’.”
Dan grinned as he rose to his feet. “Now just who taught you so well, young lady?”
Jemima stood on tiptoe and kissed him. “You will let me know, Pa, won’t you? When you go?”
He nodded. “There’s no need for slippin’ off in the middle of the night on this end. I’ll pack a few things and set everything right before I leave. Now, you go get some sleep, Mrs. Callaway.”
Jemima took his hand and squeezed it, as he had so often done to hers. “Good night, Pa. I love you.”
He watched her disappear into the shadows. “I love you too.”
Several minutes later he stood on the porch of the cabin looking at the stars twinkling in the deep blue sky. The words of the second letter, addressed by Adrienne de Lafayette but written by another, were burnt in his mind with the same clarity and brilliance. The script was elegant; the wording concise and intelligent, and the paper infused with the familiar scent of Neroli and Bergamot. “My dearest one,” it began.
“My dearest one, I write these words to
you in haste, for I fear for my life and yours.
We had thought the shadow of John Gerard had passed from our lives with
his death, but we were wrong. From
the grave he reaches out to haunt, and to hurt us.
His lies breed like flies, and due to the choices we have both made, are
as sweet to the lips of our enemies as honey.
I am compromised. It is no
longer safe for me to remain in England, and yet, I fear I cannot leave.
My father is not well and cannot travel.
I cannot come to you.
you come to me?
I have continued to visit your father. Since he has returned to England, he had been under siege as well, and I fear his friendship with me is not the least of the causes. There are men who wish to hurt him and they will use me, and you, to do it. Most recently they have begun to use your grandfather’s Jacobite sympathies to undermine him. This, as well as your open involvement in the American's cause and the knowledge of my friendship with the La Rivieres and the La Fayettes, threaten to destroy him.
I know it is not fair to do so,
but I ask you to come home. Adrienne,
my childhood friend, has said she will forward this note to her husband, and
that he will be able to get it to you. She
has told Gilbert a little bit about you. He
laughed when she called you a ‘savage’. He has often been called that himself. I think the two of you would have much in common.
I pray one day you will be able to meet.
Mingo. Kerr. Please
come to me. I need you.
I am desperate.
Dan’s fingers closed into fists. A voice out of the past, and one it would have been hard for his friend to ignore.
Within the week, with his son’s strident protests still ringing in his ears, Daniel Boone set out for the Ohio river on horseback. Even if he encountered no delays, and the sun continued to shine and he had fair weather, he was still almost a full two weeks behind Rebecca and Mingo. Using the horse where he could, he might—if he was lucky—narrow that gap to a week and a half. Still, that would mean ten days. Ten days in which anything could happen. Dan shuddered as he rode, haunted by the thought that he might find the wagon abandoned or burned, or encounter something worse along the way. Becky and Mingo could have been overtaken anywhere by a contingent of Continental soldiers. In their righteous anger and zeal, the young men might have hung the soft-spoken native on the spot.
Pushing aside his fears, Dan focused on covering the miles as quickly as he could. He would ride fast and furious until he could ride no longer, and then walk until his eyelids drooped and he fell asleep on his feet. He knew ‘Mima’s prayers were walking with him and he felt them covering him.
His own prayer was that they would reach out and cover his wife and his friend as well.
Rebecca watched as Mingo thanked the captain of the flatboat and gave him a few extra coins to pay for his help in unloading their heavily-laden wagon filled with her multitudinous trunks and cases. The journey had been an interesting one. Along with the stares and whispers occasioned by a native man, albeit an educated English-speaking one, traveling with a lovely redheaded white woman, there had been the usual occurrences such as always happened when any group of people were cooped up together with nowhere in particular to go. Several brawls had broken out, a baby had been born, a brown bear had attempted to ‘book’ passage without permission and, while they were hunting for game, two young slave boys had attempted to make an escape. Fortunately the man who owned them was kindly, and he had allowed their father to track them down and bring them back. Becky had admired the man, as much as she could anyone who owned slaves. The boys’ mother was there as well.
At least he had had the decency to keep their family together.
The journey had gone smoothly for a trek up the Ohio. They had not hit any dry areas as sometimes happened in the late Spring. Of course, they had paid for this boon by being drenched with rain most of the time they had traveled. Still, it was better to be rested and wet, rather than to have to wait for the water to rise, or to pay a local drayman to pull the flatboat across the dry spots, or manage it themselves. Mingo told her he had only made the trip a few times in his life and that this was one of the easier ones.
She had laughed and said she was glad she had missed the hard ones.
Another week brought them to the outskirts of Philadelphia. They made camp
with plans to start again with the first light, so the last leg of their journey could be a leisurely one. Becky was busy cooking their supper and it was some time before she
realized that Mingo had disappeared. When she did, she rose to her feet and blew the hair out of her eyes, and turned in a complete circle seeking him. The sun was just setting in the West and its golden light filled the small glade. She rested one hand on her hip and
shielded her eyes against the brilliant light with the other as she called him. At first
there was no answer, but then she heard her name.
Becky whirled so she faced the trees and then grinned broadly. “Why, Mingo it suits you!”
The native she had journeyed with thus far had disappeared. In his place was a handsome raven-haired man in colonial dress; wearing a blue coat, a sleeved waistcoat, and a pair of dark breeches. His hair had been captured and pulled into a single tail, and on his head, set at a jaunty angle, was a black tricorn hat with a single feather. Mingo executed a flawless bow as he came to stand before her. “You dance partner awaits your pleasure, Madame Boone.”
She laughed. “Why now?”
He cocked his head and smiled. “I have had...er...experience with entering ‘civilized’ towns in my native garb. Let us say, I thought this change might make the rest of the journey less eventful for the both of us.”
Becky laughed. “We did turn a few heads on the flat boat.”
“And a few rifles,” he added with wry amusement.
“Oh, I don’t think that man would really have shot you if I hadn’t come along and offered an explanation.” She said with a hint of mischief in her tone. “Do you? After all, he hadn’t put his finger on the trigger yet.”
“Let us just say I am grateful you vouched for me so quickly, Rebecca, explaining how I was a poor orphan that your Irish parents had taken in and raised from a tiny wee thing as a foster brother, and how they had ‘humored’ me by allowing me to dress as a native....”
“You know, Mingo, you do a passable Irish accent when hard-pressed,” Becky grinned.
“And you are gifted with the blarney, Rebecca Boone.”
Becky stepped back and inspected him from top to toe. “Dan’s suit suits you, Mingo. Though I might have left the breeches a little long.”
“In the candlelight, no one will notice. At least, not in the social circles we will be ‘whirling’ in.” Mingo smiled and offered her his arm. “Milady, may I lead you to table?”
She hooked her arm about his. “Why certainly, sir. You are most gallant.”
And with that, the two of them moved to the fire and enjoyed a lavish banquet of biscuits and beans.
“Rebecca Bryan! Or no, it’s Boone now, isn’t it?” The older woman pushed past the young serving girl who had opened the door to the narrow townhouse and rushed forward to embrace her. “Welcome, my dear! Welcome!”
Becky laughed as she hugged her back. She could only get so close. She stepped back and indicated Abigail’s round middle. “I see the baby has not arrived yet.”
Abigail placed her hand on her stomach. “No, the little one is being stubborn. No doubt, he or she will be just like their father.” She laughed. “The doctor says it is natural for first children to be late, even in one so ancient as I.”
Becky took her friend’s hand. “You are as young at heart as I am, Abby. It is good to see you looking so well.”
There were streaks of silver in the woman’s black hair and wrinkles from laughter cradled her light brown eyes, but she looked hale and hearty, and nearly ten years younger than her forty-two years. “Thank you, my dear.” She squeezed Becky’s fingers and then turned into the noonday sun. “Now where is that husband of yours? I have heard much of this tall frontiersman, Daniel Boone, and his coonskin cap and buck— ” The woman fell silent as a dark figure opened the gate and walked down the lane toward them. He was tall, but wore neither a coonskin cap nor buckskins, and his black hair shone blue in the brilliant light.
He bowed, and
then took her hand and kissed it. “Madame.
Abigail’s eyes went to Rebecca. “Is this...?”
Becky was tempted to savor the moment—Abigail’s bemused expression was
priceless—but she took pity on the older woman. “Dan couldn’t come. This is....” She paused, uncertain of what to say, or how to introduce him.
“Kerr Murray, at your service. I am a friend of Rebecca’s and her husband. When he could not come, I volunteered to bring her.”
“American-born, English-bred,” he said, and added with a smile, “and a rebel to the core.”
Abigail nodded. “My husband is away with the army. But I can tell you, sir, even if you had been a Tory, you would have been welcomed as Rebecca’s friend.” She hesitated and then added with a smile, “Though you might have found your bread burnt and your milk a little sour in the morning.”
Mingo laughed. “I see you know how to overcome an enemy, Madame. Through his stomach.”
“Call me Abby, please.”
“Abby then. And please call me Kerr.”
The older woman raised her hand and gazed into the bright light, noticing their wagon. “Do you have trunks to bring in? Can I get you some help?”
Mingo glanced at Becky and then back to their hostess. “Perhaps you have a small army at hand?”
That night as Mingo and Becky settled in and shared a light supper with Abigail, Daniel Boone stood on the banks of the Ohio. He had made the trip in slightly under two weeks. A violent thunderstorm had slowed him down at one point, causing him to lose a whole day, and from that point forward the constant rain had slowed his progress. He handed the captain of the flatboat some coins and asked if he had accommodations for his horse. He would need the animal once he set foot in Pennsylvania; that and all the speed he could muster.
Several hours later, sitting on the deck in the midst of a group of Irish men and women who were singing and dancing a jig, he was struck with a deep longing for the company of his wife. He wished now he had simply gone with her, but then, if he had, the letters he carried in his pocket would have found no one at home, and he would not have known that Mingo’s liberty, and even his very life, were in jeopardy.
As Dan settled back to listen to the lively music with a sad smile on his face, a small bandy-legged mongrel of a man entered a tavern on the east side of Philadelphia and passed quietly and without notice into one of its smoke-filled back rooms. In the corner a lean well-dressed gentleman sat; his chin resting on one hand, while the fingers of the other impatiently drummed the top of the polished table before him. The man looked up and noted with disgust the entry of the other, and then reached into a pocket and drew out a silk bag stuffed with rose petals. Breathing deeply, he filled his nostrils with their scent before the stench of the man could reach them. Then he laid it aside and scooted his chair back, and placed his hand near the English Flintlock that lay hidden behind a stack of books and a pitcher of ale.
“Everly. I take it you have something to report at last.” The gentleman spoke softly, trying as best he could to mask the British accent that colored his words. “I pray it is what I want to hear.”
“They have arrived.” The man’s eager grin showed he was lacking several teeth. “A redheaded woman and a man with black hair. But....”
“But?” Keen gray eyes pinned him. “But what?”
“He ain’t no Indian. He’s a gentleman. Well-bred by the look of him.”
The other man smiled and relaxed. “Oh, he is that. But he is an Indian as well. His skin was dark, yes?”
“Well,” the small man shrugged his shoulders, “he’s mighty tanned, like a surveyor.”
“Yes, that is how he accomplished his deception before.”
“Pretending to be a white man. I believe the story was that his mother had been of Spanish decent, a Scottish lass who died before his father brought him back to England.” The gentleman shifted and reached into his pocket. “They had luggage, trunks and such?”
The mongrel nodded. “Looks to be enough for ten.”
“Then Mrs. Boone intends to stay for a while. Perfect. We do not have to make our move in an overly-hasty fashion. There is time for...finesse.”
“Yes.” The Englishman stood and indicated the other man should hold out his hand. He dropped a sovereign into it. “You are to tell no one about this.”
The scrawny man’s eyes went wide. “This is more than you promised.”
“Bring me good news each time you come and there will be even more. Enough to keep you and that measly brood of yours in silk and lace for the century.” The gentleman’s gray eyes sparkled like a hawk’s when spotting a weak and easily obtained prey. “I believe you intended to buy your way into a trade. Make something useful of yourself?”
The man was still staring at the sovereign. “Yes, sir,” he said in a whisper.
“You know what to do next?”
Everly’s head came up. He nodded. “Keep watch.”
“Make sure no one sees me doing it.”
“Correct on both counts. You are to tell me everything; when he comes and goes, and where. Your friend is here? The one who will make the delivery?”
“Yes, sir!” The scrawny man grinned. “He’s just itchin’ to pay back those Yankee Doodles. You can trust him.”
The gentleman frowned. Since Concord and Lexington that phrase had ceased to be music to the ears of the British. Once it had been used to deride the Colonials and make them the butt of a joke, but since the Crown’s troops had been run off by the farmers and riff-raff of Massachusetts in 1775, it had been turned around and used as a thing of pride by their enemies. Still, it reminded him that in all ventures there was a certain amount of risk. “Yes. Well, we shall certainly supply him with ample opportunity. Have him meet me, here—in uniform—next week at this time. By then, everything should be in place.” He placed his hat on his head and reached for the flintlock. As he tucked it behind his belt, he dismissed the other man. “Now, get out of here.”
Like a kicked dog with his tail between his legs, the little man backed out of the room. The Englishman watched him go and then removed a packet of documents from his inner jacket pocket. He sat back down and untied the string that bound it, and removed the papers. As his fingers traced the official seal of the Commander-in-chief of the Continental army, a grim determined look settled on his face. He had paid dearly for them, losing a beloved friend and confidant in the process. He quickly returned the letters to the packet, tied it up and placed it in his pocket.
The Indian was going to pay.
- Continued in Chapter Four -