Journeys End by Marla F. Fair
“He’ll be all right, son,” Dan said as he glanced at his old friend where he lay sleeping. He had retrieved several blankets from their abandoned camp and had wrapped Mingo in them to keep him warm. Before that he had opened the wound and drawn out as much of the poison as he could, and then applied a poultice of pounded snake root, binding it tightly against the place where the fangs had entered Mingo’s flesh. He had seen it work miracles before; now he prayed for one more. Dan placed his arm around the shoulder of the exhausted boy and directed him toward the fire, and then handed him a cup of the strong coffee he had boiled from some beans found among their ransacked provisions. “It’s best we leave him be for a while.”
Danny’s eyes remained on his father’s still form. “You mean that?” He glanced at him. “He will be all right?”
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep, son. Your father is a strong man. I have seen him survive much worse.” Dan studied the young man as he took a seat across the fire from him. He was tall for his age and slender. His hair was a pale yellow, the color of buttercups, and his eyes, a clear clean blue like his mother’s. His coloring was Mingo’s though; the same light golden tan the Cherokee had always worn in the Spring, before the summer sun arrived to bake him a rich reddish brown. “It would take more than a snake bite to stop Mingo.”
Danny had been staring at the coffee in his cup. He looked up. His eyes briefly flicked to the him before fastening on his father. Then the boy frowned. After a minute, Dan figured out why. This ‘Mingo’ he spoke of with such fondness was someone Danny didn’t know.
“Son? Would you like to— ”
Danny shook his head. “He did it to save me,” he said at last. “I should be lying there. Not him.”
“You’d have been dead, son. A bite like that would have killed a young’un. I remember once when a friend of Israel’s....” Dan stopped short. He couldn’t help it. Whenever he mentioned his son it felt like a stake was being driven through his heart and so, in order to keep from feeling the pain, he just didn’t mention him. “The venom is too much for a smaller frame. Your father knew what he was doing.” He looked at the boy, who was shivering. “Don’t just look at that coffee, Danny; drink some of it.”
Mingo’s son took a sip as ordered. He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “Mr. Boone?”
“Those people….” Danny’s voice was hesitant, “That man. The Indian. Would he really have killed me?”
Dan eyed the boy over the rim of his tin cup. He was putting up a good front, but he could tell he was shaken. “Desperate men will do desperate things. I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of that in the Highlands.”
Danny nodded. “I have seen them. Poor ragged creatures more dead than alive, eking out a living on a barren coastal plot by gathering and selling kelp.” He took another sip. “We help whenever we can. My father says it is important.”
The big man nodded and did the same, relishing the warm liquid as it slid down his throat. “He would.”
“Father said the Highlanders were not so different from his own people; that they
were being left behind by time.”
The boy’s eyes sought Dan’s. “He
wants to find his people again, Mr. Boone.
But if they are like that man....”
“Some are. Some aren’t. A man can be of the best character, Danny, but love of
family, or country, or something
like money can drive him to do things he wouldn’t otherwise do.
Sometimes a man can come to think that wrong is right if he wiggles it
all about in his mind until it suits him.”
“And is wrong ever right, Mr. Boone?”
“You know the answer to that, son.”
“Yes.” The boy nodded. “But sometimes it seems....” Danny struggled for the words, and couldn’t find them. Finally he said, “Don’t all men think they are right?”
Dan took another sip of the coffee. How could he explain it to him? At some time in each man or woman’s life a choice had to be made; a line had to be drawn in the dirt over which he or she would not step. The problem was each man or woman based where they drew that line on what they took for law. For some it was God’s law, pure and simple: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife or possessions, and if you did, your rights—and maybe your life were forfeit. For others it was Man’s law, and Man’s law dictated that whatever was necessary for survival was acceptable and right; the end justified the means. Unfortunately, too many good people got caught in the middle. Dan shifted and stretched his long legs out before him. For him, the choice had always been clear. Everything had always been black or white.
Until this matter with Israel.
“Mr. Boone? What do we do now?”
Dan looked up at the boy. The firelight was glinting off his blond hair and his dark eyes were wide. He was looking to him for courage; for hope and the will to go on. Just as his own son had done so many years before. Dan tossed the remainder of the coffee in the fire and rose to his feet. “I’m goin’ to check on your father, Danny, and then I think I had best go.”
“Go?” The boy stood as well. There was fear in his voice. “Where? I thought....”
“You said you had a friend with you?”
Danny paled, obviously mortified that he had forgotten. “Archie. My cousin.”
“Don’t you think it would be wise if I found him, and asked him to join our little party?”
As the boy started to nod, a soft moan reached their ears. Danny pivoted toward it. When he saw his father was awake, he ran to his side. “Dadaidh?” he whispered as he fell to his knees. “Father?”
Mingo lifted a trembling hand toward his son’s cheek. “Danny. You are all right.”
“I’m fine, Father. It is you who were— ”
“The snake. I know.” Mingo’s hand fell to his thigh and brushed the bandage that held the poultice tight against his feverish skin. He frowned. “Did you...?”
“No. That was me.”
Mingo blinked. Slowly his dark eyes rose to the tall form that towered over his son. His frown deepened, but then it changed into a weak smile as he remembered. “Daniel.”
Daniel Boone knelt and gripped his hand. “Hello, old friend.”
Archie hugged the bole of a large tree. He had found the horse, but had also found something else he had not expected; a small group of men camped in the middle of a clearing. He had almost hailed them, thinking perhaps Mrs. Boone had sent a search party after them, but then thought better of it. She could not have known they had run into trouble. Most likely she thought they had met up with her husband by now and were on their way back to Brushy Fork. The boy shifted so the shadows cast by the risen moon blanketed him and concealed his slender form from view. Besides, he thought as he watched one of the men draw a knife from his boot and finger its shining blade before sending it sailing into the bark of a nearby tree, he just didn’t like the look of them. They didn’t appear to be frontiersmen or even common travelers; they appeared to be men with a purpose. Every instinct he had told him they were dangerous, and if there was one thing his parents had taught him, it was to trust his instincts.
Archie moved by stealth from the base of one tree to the next in an attempt to draw close enough that he could hear what they were saying. Most of it was idle chatter. They were talking about London and business dealings they had had there. He listened briefly and then turned to go; certain he had misjudged them. Then he heard his name: MacKirdy. It might be a coincidence, but if it was, it was a highly unlikely one. He gripped the handle of his sgian dubh and drew it from his hose. Thankfully, he had found it lying at the top of the rise where Danny had dropped it when he had fallen. Feeling the familiar polished wood handle in his hand gave him some small sense of security. His father had taught him how to use it to defend himself, and he would if it came to it, though he had never taken up arms to harm another man before. The fingers of his other hand dug into the rough tree bark as he peered around its trunk. The horse had wandered away from the men and was near the edge of clearing, chewing on some sweet grass. Archie thought about it a moment, and then came to decision. Drawing a deep breath, he dashed across the short open space to the shelter of the next tree. Then he did the same thing—once, twice, three times more. When he stopped, he released the breath and smiled. He was barely twenty feet from the mare. The broken rope that had tethered her lay on the ground, almost within reach. A short crawl through the moonlit night would take him to it, and with luck, once he had her in hand, the two of them could slip away and go back and rescue Danny and his father. Falling to his knees, Archie worked his way toward the line. Just as his fingers closed about it the moon retreated behind the clouds and a dark shadow eclipsed him.
At least, he thought it was a shadow.
Archie swallowed hard and looked up. Towering over him was a tall, well-dressed man. He wore a deep green coat cut in the latest European fashion with an elegant silver waistcoat beneath, and had bright shiny riding boots that glistened like black oil in the light of the torch he carried. Archie jumped to his feet; his black dagger at the ready.
The man’s brown eyes ran the length of his form; kilt and all. “What have we here? A Highland warrior?” He shifted the torch so it illuminated Archie’s face, revealing his high cheek-bones and rich coppery skin. “Or an Indian one?” The man’s eyes flicked to one of the men who traveled with him and then back. “What’s your name, boy?”
Archie’s jaw tightened. For some reason, he hesitated to say. One of these men had mentioned his family name. Could it be they were looking for him? Or perhaps for his father, or someone else in his family? He paused and then answered, “Moray. Daniel Moray.”
The second man had drawn alongside the first to whisper something in his ear. The one who held the torch nodded. Then he turned back to him with a smile. “Well, Master Moray, some might call it fate; others coincidence. I call it Providence.
“We were just looking for you.”
As Archie tensed, the man nodded again, and as he did, another man moved up behind him to strike him with the blunt end of a pistol.
Archie fell to the earth without a sound.
Dan worked his way through the trees, ever alert for danger, even though his mind was not on the forest or the path he was taking, but with his old friend. Mingo had not stayed conscious very long. The snake root poultice had taken effect but it was evident he was still a very sick man. A full recovery would take at least a week. Dan frowned as he considered their options. Once he found the other boy they could all stay put, but that would mean that sooner or later—and probably sooner—Rebecca would have half of Brushy Fork out looking for them. And even if she didn’t, Rachel would. He remembered the little woman’s fire and her devotion to his long-time friend all too well. Also, according to Danny, this Archie’s folks would be following close behind and they were bound to be worried about their boy. Most likely once they found he was missing they would come after him. Now, them doing that wasn’t really a problem, except that the forest was no place for novices. Some Scottish folks knew their way about the wilderness and others were just plain city folk. Danny hadn’t said who this boy’s people were. It worried him they might get lost, and also, that they might run into natives. There were bound to be more about; just as frightened and dangerous as Running Fox.
So staying put didn’t seem such a good idea. Still, it was not going to be easy to move Mingo, and not wise to do so for long. Assuming he found the boy and the horse, he could take them down the trail to the Jeffers’ place; it was closer than the house, and he knew Hiram’s widow would be more than willing to look after the trio. But once again, that meant extra time spent going and coming, and it meant as well that one of them would have to travel back alone to let the folks in Brushy Fork know what they were doing.
Dan stopped and tipped his cap back. No, when he thought it through, there was nothing for it but to rig a litter and haul Mingo back across the miles to the house. He just hoped the arduous journey would not prove too much—or prove his promise to his old friend’s son false.
He ran a hand over his brow and gazed up at the sun. It was just topping the trees. The night had gone and dawn was at hand. The air was crisp but not cold, and an early morning mist still lay on the land. Dan narrowed his eyes and gazed at the endless green leaves that spread above it and wondered just where the lost boy might be. He had returned to Mingo’s camp and backtracked both Archie and the horse’s steps. They had led away from the falls. At one point both had crossed fresh tracks left by a small group of men and horses, about half-a-dozen strong.
That discovery had caused the hairs on the back of his neck to lift, which was God’s way of telling him that something was wrong.
Just then Dan heard a horse whinny and snort, and a man’s stern voice command it to behave. He dropped to his knees and slid into the tall grasses, welcoming the mist’s embrace, for he knew it hid him from view. Wrapping his fingers tightly about his rifle he waited. Several minutes later a small party appeared. They were moving slowly, as if they were unfamiliar with the territory. First came a man who sat a horse like a gentleman and was dressed in fine clothes. He wore a tricorn hat on his close-cropped black hair. After him came two more men on foot, and then another horse. On its back was a youth who looked to be about sixteen. He too was raven-haired. He was dressed in a kilt and wore a sash and bonnet. His skin was darkly tanned, and where it showed on his knees and legs above his patterned socks, it was bloodied. The boy’s face was haggard and one cheek was bruised. He had been gagged, and the hands that gripped the pommel of the saddle were bound tightly with rope. In spite of this, Dan couldn’t help but grin. The two who walked before him were battered as well. One had a black eye, and the other, his wrist in a sling.
It looked like Archie had put up quite a fight.
Dan shifted in the wet grass and watched as the boy passed him, following the other three men up a gentle hill and over the rise. Just then he noticed, bringing up the rear, another man who carried a flintlock pistol. Dan watched as the man lagged behind and stopped to glance back the way they had come as if looking for trouble.
Deciding to oblige him, the tall frontiersman backed away, making certain the grasses rustled noticeably. As he had hoped, the man became aware of it almost immediately. He turned toward his hiding place and raised the pistol and then warily, moved in. As he did Dan circled around and with very little effort, took him out. Then he tied the unconscious man’s hands together and left him face down in the mud.
Archie swayed in the saddle. His mother had often told him that wearing his emotions on his sleeve would get him in trouble. He winced as the horse misstepped and jarred him. He had misjudged the men who captured him. He had thought they were gentlemen. The one with the torch had treated him well enough after he had awakened, but then he had been turned over to the other two and soon found out they were nothing more than bullies or hired ruffians. The big one with the scar was an Indian-hater. His name was McIvers. He had made it clear what he thought of Archie himself, and then had made slurs about his parentage. Losing his temper, he had struck out at them with the ferocity of a rabid badger and been soundly beaten for his efforts. Then, as they picked him up off the forest floor and flung him on the horse’s back, it had dawned on him that the smaller man had made reference to his ‘heathen’ father.
They really did think he was Danny.
Archie drew a deep breath and his fingers tightened on the pommel. He had to escape. He had to warn Danny and his father. As they traveled, following in the wake of the man with the elegant manners, the two ruffians had spoken together and some of their words had floated back to him. They wanted something from someone—it had to be his Uncle Kerr—and they meant to use his son’s capture to force his hand. There was some talk of a ‘past’ incident, though Archie couldn’t tell from what he had overheard if it had happened to these men or to someone else.
Archie closed his eyes and listened to the living forest awake about him. Young birds chirruped in the trees awaiting their mothers and food. Far away he could hear a chorus of frogs, singing like the monks on their way to matins. The breeze was gentle. Still, it was enough to stir the leaves and lift the hair on his head. He gnawed his lip and tried to decide what to do. His legs were free. He could pretend to fall off the horse and then run for all he was worth. But how far could he get? Archie opened his eyes to fasten them on the man who rode ahead of him. He knew a shining flintlock pistol lay across the pommel of his saddle. Would his cousin be considered a valuable enough commodity that the man wouldn’t shoot him if he ran? As he weighed his choices the object of his intense gaze drew his brown roan to a halt. The man turned back and ordered McIvers to catch Archie’s horse by the halter and hold it still. Then he sent the other bully back the way they had come. Archie frowned as he followed his progress, and then it dawned on him. There were only three of them.
The fourth was missing.
What could have happened? Had the man fallen, or perhaps been waylaid by Indians or highwaymen? Archie started to turn back, but just as he did someone spoke to him from within the safety of the softly sussurating leaves.
He stiffened. Keeping his eyes on the man who led the small company, he nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Can you keep your seat if I send this mare runnin’?”
The boy’s eyes went wide. His fingers gripped the pommel tight. He nodded again.
“First chance you get, where it looks soft, roll off and run into the trees.”
Archie pressed his knees against the saddle and prepared himself. The voice was unfamiliar, but its message was a welcome one as it promised freedom.
“Ready now? On a count of three. One...two...three.” There was a sharp crack as his unknown savior slapped the mare’s rump. She whinnied and reared up, and then took off running along the trail as if the devil himself was after her. As they flew past the well-dressed man, the brown roan panicked as well and unseated him. The man cried out sharply as the early morning mist swallowed him whole. During the ensuing chaos a rifle spoke, and the smaller of the two men who had mistreated Archie fell to the ground.
Dan reloaded and then stepped forward to look for the other one. He was gone. And so was the well-dressed man. He frowned and returned to the one he had shot, but he had done his work too well. The ruffian was as dead, as was whatever information he had been privy to.
Gripping his rifle, Dan took off at a trot in the direction the Scottish youth and his horse had gone. About a half mile along the trail he found mare, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. “Archie?” he called. “Archie?” When he received no reply, he began to back-track, walking slowly along the path, paying close attention for any signs that the boy had tumbled down a steep incline or fallen into a gully or ravine. Hampered by the mist, it took him some minutes to work his way back to the place where the body of the kidnapper lay growing cold. Dan drew a breath to shout again, and then stopped and grinned. The one he had rescued was blocking his path. The boy’s eyes were on the horse and there was a short black dagger in his hand.
“Aye,” the boy nodded warily. “An’ joost who migh’ ye be?”
Dan rested Ticklicker against a fallen trunk and held up his hands. “A friend.”
The Scot looked him up and down. “An’ hae ye proof o’ thot claim? Onie mon can nam’ himself a friend. Boot tae be ain, he moost prove it.”
Dan’s green eyes narrowed. He didn’t know why it hadn’t dawned on him before who this young man must be. The arithmetic was so simple ‘Mima’s youngest daughter, Tabitha, could have done it blindfolded. “Is your father’s name Alexander MacKirdy?”
Archie nodded again. “Aye.”
Dan frowned. That bit of information had only served to make the boy more uneasy. He added quickly, “And your mother a pretty native woman, name of Spicewood?”
“Spicewood? Nae.” There was fear in the boy’s brown eyes. He took a step back. “Tis not her nam’.”
Dan was stunned. “Your mother’s not a handsome young Cherokee woman from Kentucky then?” By Archie’s rich coppery skin and silky black hair, he knew he had to be right. “Daughter of Star and Oologiluh?”
The Scot frowned, but he retreated no further. “Richt th’ second time.”
“You’ve come here with Mingo.” Dan paused. “Or maybe you know him as ‘Kerr’. But you’ve come with him and his son, Danny. Am I right, boy?”’
“Aye. Richt ag’in.” The dagger wavered. “Why hae ye nae answered mah question?”
Dan’s brown brows winged toward his tousled hair. “Your question?” Then he remembered. “Oh, who am I?” He took a step toward the boy and offered his hand. “Boone. Daniel Boone. And you are Archie MacKirdy, right?”
The dagger fell with the boy’s hand as he lowered it to his side and, as it did, the fire seemed to go out of him. He touched his forehead with his fingers and gazed up at Dan; his eyes haunted. “Aye, thot’s mah nam’.”
Dan moved forward quickly to catch him by the arm as he staggered. Then he helped him to sit on the fallen tree trunk and offered him water from his canteen. The boy drank deeply and then filled his hands and wiped some of the refreshing liquid over his grimy face. As he did, Dan studied it. His cheek had been struck hard. The skin had bruised and had already turned a deep purple-blue. There was a jagged cut above his right eye where it looked like a ring or fingernail had caught him. If it had been a little lower, it might have damaged his sight. Dan suppressed a growl. There was no excuse for a grown man striking a boy to begin with, let alone that hard. He touched his shoulder. “Are you all right, son?”
The boy handed the canteen back to him and rose to his feet. “We moost gae,” he said as he swayed. “Danny an’ his faither aur in trooble. ”
“They’re fine, son.”
Archie met his eyes. “How woulds ye....”
“I just left them. Two, maybe three hours back along the trail.”
“An’ Uncle Kerr? How is he?”
So the boy did call Mingo by his English name. He had suspected as much. “He was doin’ all right. I tended to the snake bite.” Dan bent to retrieve his rifle which he had left leaning against the tree trunk. “Still, with these men about, I wouldn’t want to leave them alone very long. You able to travel?”
Archie straightened his tartan sash and nodded. “I am braw, sir.”
Dan knew that meant he was fine. The boy’s great-uncle, General Dungan MacDougall, had been mighty fond of that word when he had served with him in the French and Indian War. He took him at his word. “You want to walk or ride, Archie?”
“I’ll walk wi’ ye, sir.”
“Dan. You can call me, Dan.”
Less than an hour later the boy was seated on the horse’s back. The strain of the ordeal he had been through had begun to tell on him and Dan had insisted he ride. As he led the horse, and the two of them moved toward the place where he had left Mingo and his son, he asked Archie to tell him what he knew about the men who took him. There wasn’t much. They had been pretty close-mouthed. Still, the few words he had heard were enough to tell him one thing.
Mingo’s return to America might have come as a surprise to him, but to someone else it had been a matter of fact.
“They’ll find them, Rachel. You’ll see.” Becky laid her hand on the petite woman’s shoulder. “Most likely Dan and Mingo got so caught up in seeing each other again they forgot anyone would be back here worrying about them.”
“I’m sure you are right, Rebecca.” Rachel looked up at her. There were dark circles under her eyes. It was evident she had slept very little.
Becky laughed gently. “No, you’re not.”
The other woman laughed as well, though she sobered almost instantly. “It is just that I know my husband. He would not worry me without need.”
“No. He wouldn’t. That’s not the kind of man Mingo is.”
Rachel nodded. She looked pensive for a moment and then made a visible effort to brighten her aspect. She smiled and gestured toward the house; intentionally turning the subject away from the missing men. “I am afraid you have been invaded,” she said as her two daughters ran across the porch and disappeared into its interior. A moment later the shadow of another woman crossed in front of the window. There were now five within the house’s four simple walls. The night before Alexander MacKirdy had appeared at the door with word that his family’s passage had been blessed by fair weather, and they had arrived ahead of schedule and would be letting rooms at the inn. Becky had sent him back promptly to collect the others, insisting they stay with her and Dan. She said she would never forgive herself if they didn’t. “I thank you for your hospitality, Rebecca, and your kindness. Una will be more comfortable here, I am certain, than at the inn.”
The redhead turned toward the house. Thank goodness it was almost three times the size of the old cabin. “I only wish the occasion for this reunion was a more pleasant one.”
Rachel nodded and the frown returned. “Yes.”
Within the house’s rustic interior Alexander and Finlay MacKirdy’s mother lay sleeping, fatigued by a long journey across the ocean and through the wilderness. It had been decided, even if there had not been some question about the whereabouts of Mingo and the others, that she would remain in Brushy Fork for at least a week before starting out for the area near Boonesborough which had been her home. About an hour after Alexander had knocked on the door, he had returned. With him came his wife and his younger sister, Margaret. Following close behind was his mother, Una, who arrived leaning on the arm of her husband; a tall handsome Scotsman with silver-white hair and keen gray eyes. As soon as he had them settled, Alexander had asked after his son and had been stricken when he heard the boy, as well as Mingo and Danny, were overdue. He insisted on going after them without delay. His father said he would accompany him. And so, not long before dawn, after only taking a bite of food and gathering a few things for the journey through the forest, the two men had departed, leaving the women who loved them to sit and stare and worry, and to carry on as women have always done since the beginning of time whenever their men went into danger and left them behind.
Becky turned toward the house as the dark slender figure who had moved past the window earlier emerged and started toward them. She grinned and held out her hand. “Did you rest well?”
“Yes, thank you,” the woman answered as her fingers closed over Rebecca’s.
“And how are you feeling?” Becky paused; uncertain. “What shall I call you? I hear it isn’t Spicewood anymore.”
“It has not been to anyone but Alexander for many long years.” The Cherokee woman smiled at her. She was positively regal. Now nearly forty, she had grown both in beauty and in grace. She wore her dark hair in the current European fashion, which was to say the style imitated those found on the ancient statues of Greek women. Soft curls framed her striking face, set off by a crimson headband woven through raven locks that had been twisted and piled on her head. The scar on her temple was clearly visible. It seemed she no longer needed to conceal it as if it shamed her, but wore it as a badge of honor. Her gown was soft, of a deep red crepe that hugged her breasts and then fell straight to the ground. About her neck was the familiar silver crucifix. “Spicewood remained behind with my father and Cherry, and all that I had known as a Cherokee in Ken-tah-ten.” Her elegant fingers touched the chain at her neck. “In Scotland I am known as ‘Ruth’.” She grinned. “From the Bible.”
“For whither thou goest, I will go,” Becky quoted softly, “and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
The woman she had known as Spicewood nodded. “Yes.”
“And have you never regretted leaving all of that behind?”
She was silent a moment. “I am loved, and I have those I love who mean more to me than I can say. I do regret that Archibald never knew my father, Star, his grandfather.” Her dark eyes flicked to the narrow lane that ran before the house, the one her husband and father-in-law had taken hours before. “Do you think they will be...?”
Becky squeezed her fingers. “I was just telling Rachel that I am sure they are all right. You know how men can be. The sun can beat down on them and an open pocket-watch be in their hand, and they still won’t know what time it is.”
Becky noticed that she seemed distracted. Her thoughts seemed to have taken her elsewhere. “Spicewood...Ruth?”
“Rebecca, you may call me Spicewood, if you like. Somehow,” she paused as she took a step toward Rachel who waited near the fence, “it seems appropriate here.”
Becky nodded. “Spicewood, then. What were you thinking of just now?”
Spicewood’s eyes were sad. “I was thinking of my father. You asked if I had regrets.
I have never regretted going with Alexander and leaving behind the horrors I knew here, but I understand as well why Una wanted to return. This place is in my blood,” she said as she gazed at the lush green foliage and lifted her eyes to the crystal clear sky above her head. “I have missed it.”
Rachel had remained silent, staring at the road and the horizon beyond. Now she looked at Becky. “As you can imagine, Una and Spicewood have been very close. The paths they have chosen to walk are very much the same.”
“Wi’ th’ same rewards, an’ th’ same pain.”
The voice was soft, the accent Scottish. The woman who spoke, small and dark, and anything but. As Becky watched Unatsi MacKirdy emerge from the house, she wondered again at the Indian woman’s courage. The road Rachel spoke of could not have been an easy one. As a child Una had been torn from her family and had wandered for days, lost in the wilderness, after watching her mother and countless others die in a Creek raid on their village. She had eventually been found by a white man and taken in. He had let her live in his home, as if she were a poor relation, and though he had treated with kindness, she had been forced to deny her native heritage and made to live as a white. Sometime later Alexander MacKirdy’s father had met her and fallen in love, and even though she had only been sixteen at the time, he had bought her from the man and married her, and carried her across the sea to Scotland. In the nearly fifty years that had followed since she had borne six children and buried one of them, had learned to be a laird’s wife and to run a great estate, and had known a measure of happiness. She had never thought of leaving her chosen home to return to her native land—until now.
Now that she was dying.
Becky continued to watch Una as she stepped into the early morning light and lifted her face so the sun warmed it. She wore a married woman’s kertch, or three-cornered hat, of white linen on her head. It was fastened to her once raven hair with golden pins. A fine plaid cloak of silk called an Arisaid fell from her shoulders, almost to the ground. It was belted at the waist and hid most of the simple linen gown she wore underneath. For the trip to America Una had set aside the English clothes her husband’s station required and had chosen to wear instead the traditional dress of the Highlands which more closely reflected that of her own people. Becky had talked to her briefly the night before and had realized then just how sick she was. Una’s skin was no longer red as the earth, but had grown sallow and was tightly stretched across her broad cheekbones. Dark shadows cradled her black eyes, and constant pain had formed deep lines in her brow. Still, in spite of her illness, she was beautiful. There was about her an inner fire, which even the knowledge of a her own end could not quench. As she reached the edge of the porch and stepped off it, she stumbled.
Even as Spicewood rushed toward her, she caught herself. “I am fine, lass,” Una assured her. “Ye need nae worry yer lovely head aboot me.”
Becky smiled as she came alongside the two women. Listening to Una speak, with her husky native voice and delightful Scot’s accent, was something she felt she might never tire of. “It is good to see you looking so well, Una. I— ”
“Mother,” a much different voice called from the doorway of the house, interrupting. “Are you all right?”
Becky frowned as her eyes went to the newcomer. This was the last woman in her house, and of them all, she was the one she was not so certain of. Alexander’s sister, Margaret, was tall and though not striking, had a comely appearance. Her eyes were gray and set far apart in a wide-boned face that hinted at her native heritage. Her skin was much lighter than her brothers’ and her hair—unlike theirs—was not black but a rich
honey-blond. She had inherited their father’s curls, as had her elder brother, but she kept them pulled back and trapped in a bun tightly under control, as she did her world.
“Mother, you should be resting.”
“I came haur, Margaret, tae see mah home; th’ forests an’ th’ sky which th’ Creator made, an’ gifted tae mah people. I came tae hear th’ Long Man roar ag’in.” Una rounded on her daughter and added softly, “How cans I dae these things frae inside a house?”
Margaret stepped off the porch, careful to lift her glazed cambric skirts so they would not drag in the dust. When she spoke her accent was English, indicating she had been educated abroad. “This is not Boonesborough. You need to save your strength.”
“I hae all th’ strength I need, lass. Stop fussin’ o’er me.” The older woman smiled as she remonstrated her daughter gently. “Gi’e some attention tae yerself. Tis a new worl’ ye aur in. Dinnae ye waste th’ chance tae find some happiness o’ yer own.”
“Mother.” Margaret’s eyes flicked to the other women. “Please....”
Una laughed. She turned toward Becky. “Mah Margaret will tell ye thot in all th’ years I hae been in Scotlain, I hae ne’er learned tae mind mah tongue. An’ I ne’er will.” She shook her head. “Life is tae short tae mince words.”
“My feelings exactly,” Becky agreed with a nod of her head. “I think you and I will get on splendidly, Mrs. MacKirdy.”
“Unatsi.” The woman’s dark eyes had grown moist. “Noo I am home, call me Unatsi.” She left them behind then and walked to the fence and, swinging open the gate, deliberately stepped beyond it. “I do regret I coulds nae travel when th’ snow was on th’ groond.” She paused and was still a moment, and then added softly, “Still, by th’ time I lie under it; twill come.”
Rachel caught Spicewood’s hand as she moved past her and held her back. She shook her head. Margaret simply looked uncomfortable as if she didn’t know what to do with her mother’s emotion, or her own. Becky moved to stand beside the remarkable woman. Together they watched the sun riding high in the sky over the Kentucky wilderness. “You are very brave,” Becky said at last.
Unatsi shook her head again. “I am pure tired. Mah life has been guid, boot I am ready tae gae. I only wont tae see mah home ag’in, an’ then I can die.”
Becky’s was silent a moment. “I feel it is only fair to warn you. You may not like what you find.”
“Th’ earth will still be thaur, an’ th’ hills...an’ th’ Creator.” She touched Becky’s hand and smiled. “An’ someain will be thaur, waitin’. I dinna kent who, boot someain.” Unatsi paused as her dark eyes met the white woman’s. “Someain waits thaur fur ye as well. Is thot nicht richt?”
The redhead started. “What? What are you saying?”
“Tis someain close.” The small woman paused. “A child perhaps?”
Becky was trembling. “How could you know?” She turned back toward the other women. “Rachel did you....”
As Rachel shook her head, Spicewood stepped forward. She laid her hand on the fence. “Unatsi’s clan is known for its wisewomen. Their sight reaches far.”
“An’ those closest tae death oft sees th’ world aboot them clearer than anyain else.” Unatsi lifted her hand to Becky’s heart. “Thaur is a sword pierces ye—haur is thaur nae?”
Becky nodded. “Israel. My son. I haven’t seen him in more than three years.”
“Ye will come wi’ us then.” Unatsi’s tone made it a statement, not a question.
“To Boonesborough, you mean?”
Rachel grinned. “Yes, do come. We will have to travel by wagon even if the men go ahead on foot. Come with us, Rebecca. We would so love to have you. Wouldn’t we, Margaret?”
Margaret had moved toward the house as her mother began to speak of things she couldn’t possibly know. She turned back at Rachel’s voice but her eyes went to Becky. “I suppose so.”
Becky stared back at her. The tall young woman was obviously unhappy. She wondered briefly what the cause of that unhappiness could be. “I’ll talk to Dan about it,” she said at last. “When he comes back....”
Spicewood drew a sudden breath and her hand went to the cross at her throat. She paled as if shamed that she had only just remembered something it should have been impossible to forget. “My precious Lord, let Archie be all right,” she whispered. “Let his father find him, and let them both come back safely.”
Her mother-in-law went to her and placed her arm about her shoulders. “Hae faith, child,” Unatsi said softly as she reached out and took Rachel’s hand as well. “An’ ye, lass. God will provide, ye shall see. All will be well.”
Dan sat with his back to the trees and his eyes on the two sleeping boys. Upon their return he and Archie had found Danny keeping guard over his father; his chin on his chest, and Mingo’s elegant Scottish Flintlock resting on his knees. The boy had started awake guiltily at their call, and then a huge grin had spread across his face as he recognized his cousin. It had been quickly replaced by a look of dismay when he saw how roughly Archie had been treated, and heard his tale.
Dan narrowed his eyes and glanced at the sun where it hung above the clearing. It was just shy of noon and that meant it was time to move on. At his insistence they had traveled all night, and pressed on through the early morning hours without stopping. The journey had not been easy on any of them. Near the end the boys had been staggering and since he had laid them side by side and covered them with a blanket, neither one of them had moved or made a sound. Mingo was sleeping normally now as well. He lay on a hastily-rigged litter close by them. While they traveled Dan had been careful to check on him every hour or so. The first few times his old friend had been restless and uncomfortable, but toward the end, he had opened his eyes and they had even exchanged a few words. As he had promised Danny, his father’s recovery seemed certain. Mingo would be weak for a few days and forced to rest when they got back to the house, but then, that wasn’t a bad thing.
The two of them had a lot of catching up to do.
Dan stood and leaned his rifle against the boulder he occupied and then stretched his long arms out before him. As he did, the cold barrel of a pistol was laid against his jaw and a hand reached around and drew his hunting knife from its sheath. Dan drew a breath and held it as the man who had got the drop on him rounded the boulder and came to stand before him. He fully expected to see a young slender man of moderate height, with raven hair and an elegant green coat, just as Archie had described. Instead, the man who stood before him had to be in his late sixties, maybe seventy or more, and was at least six foot tall. He had curly silver-white hair that spilled over onto his forehead to trouble his pale gray eye, a long straight nose, and a mouth which—though it had evidently seen many years of laughter—was now turned down in a frown. He was wearing a blue and green plaid cloak pinned at the shoulder and belted at the waist, over a coat and a pair of matching skin-tight trousers. Below the trousers, his hose and shoes were much like the ones the boy Archie wore. Dan heard the hammer cock on the pistol and he watched as one of the man’s dark eyebrows rose to meet the unruly cascade of snowy hair.
“I would challenge you to give me one good reason why I should not send a musket ball through your despicable carcass, and revel in your destruction as it strikes the ground.”
For a moment Dan was stunned into silence. He had expected a thick Scottish brogue, not a cultured English accent. But then he remembered meeting Mingo’s father, Lord Dunsmore, and how he had talked, and he thought he understood. “I take it you are here with the MacKirdys,” he said at last.
“I take it you think I am an idiot.” The man shifted impatiently. “You have my grandson. The fact that you know my name does not impress me in the slightest.”
“Grandson?” Dan paused. Then this had to be the senior MacKirdy; Alexander and Finlay’s father. He was just as formidable as his son had painted him. The frontiersman shook his head. “I am afraid there has been a bit of a misunderstandin’ here.”
“More than a bit.” The flintlock touched the lacings of his buckskin shirt. MacKirdy’s gray eyes narrowed and the edge of his lip curled as his finger did the same about the trigger. “No one misuses a member of my family and lives to tell about it.” He glanced over his shoulder at the sleeping figures, and then back to Dan. “If you have harmed one hair on that boy’s head....”
“Mr. MacKirdy— ”
“Faither,” a lyrical voice spoke from close behind them. “Put doon th’ pistol. Tis nae as ye think.”
Dan’s head pivoted and he grinned. A familiar figure was making its way through the trees toward him. Alexander was not quite so slender as he had been at thirty, and there were streaks of silver at his temples, but otherwise he was much the same as when he had last seen him more than a decade and a half before. He was dressed similarly to his father, with the exception that he wore a kilt instead of trousers and had no cloak. “Alexander.” The frontiersman’s grin was lop-sided. He inclined his head toward the stern man with the pistol. “I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to see you.”
The older man’s gaze fell on his son. “You know this man?”
Alexander laughed. “Aye, all tae well. Faither, ‘tis Daniel Boone ye aur holdin’ thot pistol on. Did ye nae ken it was he frae mah description?”
The senior MacKirdy took a step back and sized up the tall man before him. Then he frowned. “There is something missing.”
“’Tis your cap, Daniel,” the Scot said as he slapped him on the back. “I hardly kent ye withoot it, either. Ur yer rifle.” Alexander caught Ticklicker’s barrel in his fingers and handed the weapon to the frontiersman. “Noo, whaur’s mah son?”
Dan’s eyes flicked to the place where he slept beside Danny beneath the cover of the leaves. “Archie’s fine, but I should tell you— ”
He never had a chance. Alexander spotted the two boys and took off at a run. Then, just as he arrived at their side, the Scot stopped and turned abruptly to the left. He had spotted Mingo, laying several yards away on the litter. “God’s wounds,” he whispered, and then made his way to his cousin’s side. As Dan and his father came up behind him, he knelt by his side. “Cara-Mingo?” he whispered. “Aur ye all richt?”
Mingo stirred and opened his eyes. He caught Alexander’s hand. “Alec, so you made it.”
“Fair winds an’ nae foul weather. Boot whot happened tae ye?” Alexander pulled at the poultice and then looked up at Dan. “Tis whot I thin’?”
“Snake bite. Probably a water moccasin, though I didn’t see it. The venom worked pretty fast.” Dan smiled down at his old friend, “But I was faster.”
“An’ th’ boys?” Alexander stood and looked past his father. The two slender forms had not moved.
“Just plum tuckered out.” Dan leaned on Ticklicker. “They’ve had quite an adventure since landin’ on these shores.”
“Seems tae gae wi’ th’ territory,” Alexander said as he stepped away from the litter. “I’ll joost gae an’ wake ‘em.”
Dan’s hand was on his shoulder. “Aye?”
“I’d let them sleep. I made them travel through the night and on past dawn.”
The elder MacKirdy slipped his pistol behind his waistband, and then locked his hands behind his back. His posture was martial. “And why was that?”
“Well, sir,” Dan thought about how to phrase what he had to say, “because I didn’t want to take a chance that the men who took Archie would come back and find us vulnerable. With Mingo bein’ as he is, I couldn’t exactly tell them to run.”
Alexander’s muscles stiffened. “Took Archie?”
Mingo had shifted into a half-seated position. He acknowledged Alexander’s father arrival with a formal, “Mr. MacKirdy.”
“Kerr.” The man nodded back.
Dan looked from one to the other, sensing something between them, and then back to his old friend. “Did your son tell you about it, Mingo?”
“Danny said something about ruffians having waylaid his cousin.” Mingo accepted Alexander’s offer and gripped his hand as he helped him to sit all the way up. “But why would anyone want to kidnap Archie? No one would have had any way of knowing he was going to be here.” Mingo paused when he saw the look on Dan’s face. “Daniel?”
Dan glanced at Alexander and his father and then knelt by Mingo’s side. “They weren’t after Archie.”
Mingo’s skin grew a shade paler. “No?”
“No.” He reached out and laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “They were after your son.”
“I don’t understand, Daniel. No one could have known.”
Dan nodded. The two of them were sitting together at the base of a large old oak. The late afternoon sun had turned its leaves to gold. A gentle breeze rustled through the branches, causing their shadows to dance at their feet. They were alone. Archie and Danny had pleaded to go into the forest a little ways to gather kindling and they had allowed it, knowing the two boys were frightened enough to be cautious and wary. Earlier Alexander and his father had departed as well, determined to find what was left of the bodies of the kidnappers he had killed. The two MacKirdys thought perhaps they might recognize one of them and find some means of unraveling the mystery. They also hoped to find some trace of what had happened to the two men who escaped.
Before he left Alexander had roused his son. The boy had begged to go with him, but he had said ‘no’. Instead he had handed Archie his pistol and told him to stay put and keep watch over Danny. When Alexander had returned to their side, his face had been drawn, and his rage barely contained. Dan almost found it within himself to pity the two highwaymen if the Highlander did manage to find them.
He shifted his fingers on his rifle and looked at Mingo. His friend’s coloring was some better, though he was still weak and not able to stay on his feet more than a few minutes at a time. “No one knew?”
Mingo shook his head. “We were very careful. The plans for our departure were revealed only to the immediate family, and we set sail from a private bay; on a private ship.”
Dan supposed by ‘immediate family’ he meant Alexander’s and his own. “But Alexander came the regular way? Not by private ship, I mean?”
“There was no need.” Mingo straightened his back against the tree, and then grinned sheepishly. “No one is after him.”
Dan’s brown eyebrows peaked in the middle. “You mean, after all these years, you’re still.... Well, still a ‘popular’ man?”
“Popular? You are too kind, Daniel. Wanted is more like it. The English have long memories.” He touched his throat. “And long ropes.”
“It’s not much different in these united states.” The big man was silent a moment; remembering. When he spoke at last, it was with something like regret in his voice. “I can’t say I wasn’t surprised to see you.”
“You mean lying flat on my back in a patch of Kentucky blue-grass?”
Dan laughed. “That too. But you know what I mean.”
Mingo frowned. “They didn’t believe you, then? That I was innocent.”
“Some did.” Dan shifted and ringed his long legs with his hands. “Others didn’t. When you didn’t come back to offer any defense...”
“They took it as an admission of guilt.” The dark-haired man sighed and leaned his head back against the rough bark. “Perhaps I was wrong to come back at all, Daniel. It is just.... Well, when Alexander said he was coming and returning to the Cherokee lands— ”
“They aren’t Cherokee anymore, Mingo. Not by a long shot.” He looked him in the eye. “Most of your people have gone south to the Carolinas.”
“Those who have survived the dawning of this age of ‘progress’ and Jefferson’s policies of civilizing the tribes, you mean. What is it about man, Daniel, that he cannot let his fellow man live in peace?” Mingo’s voice grew angry. “It has been much the same in Scotland. The English are determined to destroy the culture of the Highlands.” He paused and then added, somewhat chagrinned. “I can tell you it has not been comfortable for me to be a part of the oppressing class.”
“I don’t get what you mean.”
Mingo was silent a moment. “I mean, Mr. MacKirdy.”
Dan cleared his throat. His lips pursed and he nodded. “Quite an impressive man.”
“Impressive, yes. And oppressive. He has kept his lands and preserved his family, but only by compromise. He is more English than Scottish.”
“I noticed.” Dan glanced at his friend. “He reminded me of someone I met once.”
Mingo smiled. “So, you noticed that too? There are many similarities.” He shifted his body and sighed. “Perhaps I am too hard on him. Archibald did what he had to, to survive, and to protect his own. If I had been in his position, who knows?”
“Some men live to a higher standard.”
Mingo gazed long and hard at him. “Yes. And most often they lose everything.” He put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “But enough of this. How are you, old friend? You have not said. And how is Rebecca? I spoke to her briefly before we left.”
“Feisty as ever and twice as beautiful.”
“And Jemima? I imagine she is a lovely young woman by now.”
“Yep. With seven young’uns of her own.”
“Seven?” Mingo’s laugh was genuinely delighted. “I would think that would make for a full house at times.”
Dan nodded. “Full and fair.”
“And Israel? How is he? I have missed him.” Mingo waited through an awkward silence. “Daniel?”
Dan’s eyes were focused on the horizon. “I wouldn’t know,” he said as he rose to his feet. “’Bout time I check on Archie and your son, don’t you think? They should be back from collectin’ that kindlin’ by now.”
As Mingo watched him go, he noticed how his old friend walked with his shoulders stooped as if he carried a great weight. He didn’t bother to press him. He knew from experience that when the big frontiersman was ready to talk; he would.
Still, he couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly have come between Dan and his beloved son.
“Rebecca. Rebecca, come here, please.”
Becky stopped what she was doing. She put down the cloth she had been using to polish the pewter plates that hung on the wall above the mantle-piece and went to the door. Another day had passed and the sun was slowly sinking behind the trees. Unatsi had wrapped a patterned cloak about her thin frame an hour before and had gone to sit on the porch to watch it set. It was she who had called. Becky stepped out of the house and turned toward the native woman. It had sounded urgent. “Unatsi?”
Unatsi was standing by the rail. She turned her dark eyes on her. “Th’ men aur
Becky went to stand by her. She gazed down the road. Alexander and his father were approaching the house. The elder of the two men was leading a horse and on its back were two boys. Becky raised her hand and shielded her eyes against the glint of the dying sun, and then saw what she was looking for; her husband walking close behind. His cap was on his head and his rifle over his shoulder, as was his habit. Smiling with relief, she said, “I’ll go get Spicewood and Rachel.” Then she fell silent and her hand went to her mouth.
Unatsi nodded. “I dinnae see Cara.”
“Rebecca, what is it?”
Both women turned. Rachel had stepped from the house. Every night about this
time she went to the fence and stared down the road toward the trees, hoping for the return of those who were most dear to her. Tonight was no different.
Rachel frowned at their concerned faces. “Unatsi? What is it?”
“Ha’e courage, lass.”
Rachel’s eyes found the small party advancing steadily toward them. She drew a breath at the sight of her son, alive and well, and then continued to hold it when she noticed her husband’s absence. Unatsi reached for her but it was too late. Rachel had left the porch and began to run.
Becky started after her, but the older woman caught her hand and held her back. “Listen,” she said softly, “th’ laddies aur laughin’. Woulds nae be so, if somethin’ had happened tae Cara-Mingo.”
The redhead halted. She could hear it; a light lilting sound, free of care or concern. “You’re right,” she said and then, with her eyes still on the group that was advancing toward them, Becky asked the native woman, “Have you always called him that?”
“Cara-Mingo, ye mean?”
Unatsi’s dark eyes sparkled. “Aye, ‘tis th’ nam’ his mither ga’e him. In her honor, I dae th’ same.”
“Wait,” Becky breathed. “Rachel is there.”
The petite blond woman was out of breath. Her hair was askew and the bottom of her blue silk dress painted brown with the dust of the road. As she came abreast Alexander he caught her by the shoulders and held her back, and met her wild gaze.
“Dinnae fear,” he said. “Tis nae sae bad as it looks.”
She blinked. “So bad?”
“Th’ journey has nae been an easy ain.”
Rachel looked past him and saw that the horse the boys rode was dragging some sort of a litter behind it, on which a figure lay. She looked up at her son. He smiled but tears welled in his blue eyes. She could only guess what horrors he had seen. “Danny?” she whispered as she reached toward him. “How are you, my heart?”
“He’s braw,” Archie answered for his cousin. He grinned as her eyes went to him and she gasped, noting the condition he was in. He laughed again and touched the place where his face had turned a sick purplish-blue. “An’ I am braw as well. Dinnae ye worry aboot us.”
Rachel’s mouth was hanging open. The boy had obviously been beaten. She rounded on Alexander. “What happened? Who did this?”
He caught her hand. “I’ll tell ye later. ‘Twill keep fur noo. Danny is braw as mah adventurous son has told ye.” Alexander grinned and looked up at the boy. “He’s a mon noo, an’ has nae more need fur a woman’s tears. Am I richt, lad?”
Danny sniffed and nodded.
As Rachel began to protest, Alexander drew her around the side of the horse. “Boot haur’s a mon whot kent th’ truth; we ne’er outgrow th’ need fur a gentle word an’ a woman’s lovin’ touch.”
She found herself looking at Daniel Boone. Then he took a step back and nodded toward the ground. Her eyes followed the gesture to her husband. Mingo was lying on the litter; his lean form covered with blankets. He was pale and seemed to have lost weight. When he saw her looking at him, he smiled weakly and lifted his hand. Rachel dropped to her knees beside him and took it and pressed it to her lips. “Thank God,” she whispered. “Thank God.”
“It was a snake bite,” Dan said from behind her. “He took it for the boy.”
She glanced up at him, still holding her husband’s hand. “And what happened to Archie? That was no snake, unless your American ones have grown arms and learned to wield a cudgel.”
“Now that’s the Rachel I remember,” Dan laughed. Then he sobered. “We did run into a mite of trouble with snakes, of the two-footed kind.”
Rachel looked back at Mingo and frowned. “And here I thought you went with the boys to keep them out of trouble.” She touched her husband’s cheek and lovingly brushed the hair off of his forehead. “It does seem to find you wherever you go, my love.”
Dan turned away as she leaned down to kiss him. As he did he saw his wife, Rebecca, charging down the road a the head of a contingent of MacKirdy and Moray women. Dan whistled and tipped his cap back.
“I think it’s about to find all of us.”
“Dan.” Rebecca Boone left the house and moved across the yard to stand by her husband who was brushing down the horse the boys had ridden. She placed her hand beside his on its neck. “Is this what it seems?”
Dan kept brushing steadily for a moment, thinking, and then he asked her, “And what exactly do you think ‘this’ is?”
“Mingo.” She turned toward the house. “Is he in danger? He and his family?”
“ ‘Pears so, Becky.”
“After all these years? Do you really think someone would recognize him? I hardly did.” She turned back. “And why bother? The war has been over for a long time.”
“Not for some men, Becky.” Dan turned and put his arm about her shoulders, and together the two of them headed back toward the house. “For some men, it will never be over.”
She caught his fingers in her own. “Would the warrants still hold? I mean, if he was caught would they hang him, or shoot him as a spy?”
“I tried to get those erased, Becky; you know that. But when he didn’t show, didn’t try to defend himself or his actions.... Well, I am afraid my voice carried very little weight.” Dan stopped just short of the porch and turned to watch the sun as it rose above the trees, wondering what this new day would bring. “General Washington understood. The Marquis wrote to him. But the others....” He shook his head. “I am afraid there was always prejudice against Mingo, even before the events that led to him stayin’ away.”
“Because he was Cherokee?” she asked.
Dan looked at her. He shook his head. “Because he was British. Blood runs deep. There are those who never believed he could turn his back on all of that. You know the accusations involved his father as well.”
Becky laughed. “And couldn’t have been farther from the truth.” Her red head tilted and she looked at her husband. His profile was cut against the rising sun. Mingo and his father had used their last meeting to mend the rift between them. Now, if only Dan and Israel could do the same.
Thinking of her son brought a tear to her eye. She struck it away.
She sat on the edge of the porch and patted it, indicating Dan should sit beside her. Their guests, with the exception of Margaret who was reading in the parlor, were still sleeping. “When I first saw Mingo, I couldn’t believe it,” she said softly.
Dan nodded. “I know. He asked us to tell everyone he was dead, and I think I had come to believe he was.”
She took his hand in hers. “You never mentioned him, not after we returned.”
He was silent a moment, and then he shook his head.
She laid hers on his shoulder and sighed. She understood. It was the same with Israel. It hurt too much. “Do you remember the day it all started?”
“How could I forget?” Dan laughed gently and pulled her toward him. “You were fixin’ to leave me.”
She pouted and swatted him. “For seven or eight weeks.”
“Might as well have been a lifetime, Rebecca Bryan Boone.” He brushed her face with his fingertips. “As it turned out, it was a mite longer.”
Becky closed her eyes and rested in the circle of her husband’s arms. For a while she had despaired of ever being there again. A ‘mite’, he said. In the end it had been nearly four months and by the time they were reunited she had survived a mutiny at sea, been rescued by, and tended to, a French Marquis, been presented to Paris society as the wife of a great opera singer, and seen and experienced both the best and the worst of a city half a world away called London.
And it had all started so simply; with her desire to help an old friend, and hold her newborn child.
- Continued in Chapter Three -