Sins of the Father

by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Five

By the time he reached the summit night had fallen.  Mingo moved with caution as he crested the hill.  The darkness was not yet complete, but it was dark enough to notice the unnatural pale yellow light spilling from a cave set deep into the hill’s rocky face.  He paused, crouching behind a boulder, and watched, trying to get a feel for who was in the cave and what their numbers were.  From the tracks on the cabin floor he guessed the kidnappers were at least a half-dozen strong – three soldiers and three men in the kind of boots trappers usually wore.  The odds were *not* in his favor.  Not even if Daniel had still been with him.  The only good thing about it was that with these six men there were bound to be two leaders – one military and one civilian – and by now, odds were, they were at each other’s throats.

He would have to think of something to draw at least half of them out of the cave and into his territory.  Once outside, he could pick them off one by one.  The three that remained he could manage with Rebecca’s help.  A slow grin lit his face.  Knowing Rebecca she probably already had them brow-beaten and wishing they had chosen to bring with them a more complacent and less quarrelsome female.

Mingo rocked back on his heels and glanced at the sky.  Daniel would be heading to their rendezvous point.  He had left signs along the way to show the frontiersman the trail he had followed, still – if Daniel had done as he suggested – he was at least two to four hours away.  He had to think clearly.  It would not do to be rash and save his son, but lose Rebecca.  Not only would Daniel never forgive him, he would never forgive himself.

But the boy was severely injured.  He recalled watching him where he lay on the bed, noting the pile of blood-soaked rags and his skin which was pallid – almost the color of a winding sheet. 

Did James have four hours?  What had the journey done to him?  Had his wound reopened?

Was he even alive?

Mingo drew a deep breath to steady his nerves.  Then, a noise drew his attention.  He shifted and peered around the boulder.  One of the civilians had left the cave.  As he watched a second man – a soldier – joined him.  They spoke for a few minutes and then took off in opposite directions on patrol.  That meant there were four at most left in the cave itself.

One more than he had hoped.

Clutching his rifle Mingo slipped through the underbrush and drew closer to the cave’s opening.  He listened as he moved for the sound of the sentries.  He needed to know how wide the circuit they were patrolling was – a hundred yards, two hundred, or more?  He would have to time it correctly if he was to confront those within, overcome them, bind or kill them, and leave with Becky and the boy.

“A rather *large* shopping list,” he jested to himself. 

He was now within earshot of the cave and could hear Rebecca’s voice.  Not surprisingly, Daniel’s Irish wife was *not* happy.  He tried to catch the matter of her words, but most of them were lost to the echo of the cavern.  With sudden inspiration, he reached into his bandoleer and pulled out a trade mirror.  In a moment, using the thongs he kept there to bind feathers and beads, he had it mounted on the end of his rifle.  Carefully extending the barrel into the open area before the cave, far enough but not too far, he shifted the angle until he could see Rebecca and her captors.

There were only two men, and only one in uniform, so that meant that two of them were gone.  Their pairing – a soldier with a frontiersman – seemed to indicate he was right.  Obviously the two parties didn’t trust one another.  The other pair was probably delivering the ransom note.

Retracting the rifle, Mingo removed the mirror and slid it back into his bandoleer.  Then he backed into the dark leaves and waited, mentally ticking off the minutes before the sentries reappeared.  It was about twenty to twenty-five.  Enough time to do what he had to do – but barely.  He waited until they had greeted one another and moved off in the opposite direction and then, like a shadow himself, slipped into the cave.

“Mrs. Boone, I have tried to be patient with you,” he heard the slender copper-haired soldier remark, his tone exasperated.  “But I find you are now trying *my* patience.  The way I handle this affair is none of your business.”

“Trusting that man!” Becky huffed.  “You’d have to have been born in a mud-puddle and raised with the toads not to see Francis Billings for what he is.  A greedy, avaricious scoundrel!  Lieutenant Alexander, I don’t understand how a man like you got mixed up with the likes of him!”

“Capital, Mrs. Boone.  Plain and simple.  Francis is good at making money.”

“And killing people.  How could you let him slaughter all those men?  You don’t seem the type.”

“The ‘type’,” he scoffed, his voice dropping in tone and changing in timbre as he shed his veneer of civility.  “And what ‘type’ do I seem to be?  Well-bred.  Mannered?  A man of breeding and culture?”

Mingo had the same reaction as Rebecca.  Shock.  In one second the man standing between them had changed.  He was no longer English, but a Highland Scot – and an angry defiant one.

“I’ll tell you about your men of ‘breeding’ and culture, Mrs. Boone.  You’re so worried about this lad over here - this *well-mannered* and *well-bred* boy.  In five years he’ll be no better than the one that sired him.”  Alexander made a gesture of dismissal with his hand.  “Mannered men.  *Noble* men.  Men who burn their workers cottages to the ground and kill their sheep, so they can steal their land.  Who rape their women and slaughter their children.  Who would feed their well-bred and well-mannered *dogs* before they would give a scrap or crumb to those who work the land!”

Alexander would be about the right age to be a child of the Scottish Clearances, though he would have been small enough that the list of grievances he recited would have to have been learned by rote at his mother or grandmother’s knee.

 Mingo bowed his head.  His own father had been guilty of such crimes and by association, so was he.

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said softly.  “I come from Ireland.  I have seen such poverty and loss, and grief brought about by greed.  But you can’t blame this boy.”

“I don’t.”  Lieutenant Alexander turned away.  “I blame his father, Lord Dunsmore.”

So that explained it.  The kidnappers thought James his father’s son, and expected the Governor-general of Virginia to pay a King’s ransom to get him back.  Well, they might be right in that, even if they had the rest of it wrong.

James *was* his grandchild.

The frontiersman who had remained behind with Alexander had been listening to the heated discussion, calmly smoking a clay pipe.  He put it aside and asked, “How long did Francis say they’d be gone?”

“To take the note to the closest outpost?  About a day,” Alexander answered turning toward him.

So the other two wouldn’t be coming back.  Then it was just him against four men – the two outside on patrol, and these two within.

Without warning James cried out.  Mingo listened and thought he heard the boy call the name ‘Thomas’.  Rebecca crossed to him and sat beside him, taking his son’s hand in hers. 

“There.  There,” she cooed.  “It will be all right.”

Lieutenant Alexander had turned his back.  The other man was busy pouring himself a mug of coffee.  Mingo calculated he had perhaps twenty minutes left before the guards returned.  Time enough.

He hoped.

Rising from his place of hiding Mingo held his rifle before him and boldly walked into the cave.

“Gentlemen!  If you would care to drop your weapons.”

 

                                                    ###

 

Daniel Boone crouched in the bushes not so far from where he and Mingo had parted.  He had started into the eastern hills as intended, but had stopped when two men appeared on the trail before him – one a British junior officer and the other a hungry-looking man in a deep blue hunting frock named Billings.  He heard them before he saw them, arguing.  From what the officer said the British soldier had little love –  and less trust –  for his traveling companion.  Dan couldn’t blame him.  Billings looked like a man with a chip on his shoulder about the size of the Henderson Purchase.  The dark-haired man with about three days worth of stubble on his square jaw didn’t talk – he growled.  The two men had been heading south but something had stopped them.  They turned and began to retrace their steps.

Heading the way Mingo had gone.

Fear for his friend had made him follow them – that and the fact that the sight of them had made the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up in warning.  These men had something to do with Becky’s disappearance, he was sure of it.  And most likely with the kidnapping of the boy, as well as the massacre of James’ regiment.

Dan continued to shadow the pair and continued to listen.  Apparently they had been headed to the closest British regimental post to deliver a ransom note.  The soldier was to have pretended that he found Billings and was escorting him in.  But something in the note itself had not satisfied the burly frontiersman.  Billings insisted they go back and ‘have it out with Alexander’ before he would go any further.  The junior officer then insisted that his commander would never cheat anyone.

Francis Billings had snorted and spit on the ground.

At the bottom of the hill the two men paused.  So did Dan.  He shifted into place behind a shoulder-high boulder, hugging its cool shadows and crouching so his lanky frame all but disappeared.  Still, one of the pair must have heard or sensed something.  Dan heard a hammer cock and one of the voices draw close.  As he gripped Ticklicker tightly, a shadow fell across the moonlit earth beside the boulder.

Then, without warning, a doe shot out of the thick clustered leaves, followed closely by her fawn.  Dan heard Billings curse, and then watched as the shadow moved away.

Suppressing a sigh of relief, Dan peered around the edge of his stone screen about a minute later.  The men were heading up the hill.  Dan turned and tipped his cap in the direction of the deer in thanks, and then returned to the foliage and following the villainous pair.

As the men neared the halfway point up the rise, Dan watched the two stop to exchange a word with another man who seemed to be acting as a sentry.  The man shook his head and pointed up toward a dimly lit area.  Then he moved on.  The junior officer refused to move, indicating to Billings that this was as far as he would go.  Billings cursed again and shoved past him, and headed up the hill alone.  Dan hesitated for only a second and then followed him, certain where the greatest danger lay.

As he worked his way up the steep incline, Dan frowned.  It bothered him that he hadn’t run into Mingo.  There were about three reasons he could think of that he hadn’t.  One, Mingo had gone in another direction.  But the stones, laid in a sort of loose arrow-shaped pattern, he had passed along the way seemed to indicate otherwise.  Two, the Cherokee warrior was close by, in the underbrush somewhere, doing what he was.  But he hadn’t heard or seen him.  And three, Mingo was already in the cave with Rebecca and the boy and whoever Billings was so all-fired mad at, probably thinking he had the situation in hand.

Number three didn’t look so good, but it looked to be the most likely explanation.

Francis Billings was moving fast.  Dan didn’t really think there was any way he could move through the leaves and the underbrush and manage to get in front of him.  He would just have to hope that Mingo heard the man coming and got out of his way.  He could follow from the rear and be there within a minute or two.  The trouble was –

A minute was more than enough time to shoot a man in the back.

 

                                                    ###

 

As Mingo advanced, he saw Rebecca recognize him and start to run to his side.  “Stay where you are, Rebecca,” he called.  “We wouldn’t want to give Alexander or his friend a chance to use you as a shield.”  He glanced at the forlorn figure in the corner, laying on a mat of blankets.  “Make certain he does not attempt it with James either.”

She nodded her understanding and remained where she was. 

Mingo pointed the flintlock at Alexander.  “Your weapons, Lieutenant.  And your man’s.  Toss them at Rebecca’s feet.”

“Why should I?  Who are you?” the British officer demanded.

Mingo smiled and cocked one eyebrow.  “Who am I?  Why, the man who is holding a rifle on you.  That is all you need to know.”  When Alexander hesitated, he added quietly, “I am not known to miss.”

Lieutenant Alexander hesitated and then lifted his pistol from his belt and tossed it at Rebecca’s feet.  He nodded for the frontiersman to do the same.  The man grumbled, but he obeyed, scooting both a pistol and a rifle across the floor. 

“Pick them up, Rebecca,” Mingo ordered as he began to inch toward her.  As she complied he said, “Load and aim one of them – at Alexander, I believe.  I think the good lieutenant values his life more than your other ‘host’.”  “I will get James,” he said as he arrived at her side.

“She can only shoot one of us,” Alexander scoffed as Becky primed one of the pistols.  “And she is a woman – who knows if she can even hit what she aims at.”

Mingo glanced at his friend’s wife and smiled.  “Lieutenant Alexander, if I wasn’t afraid of wasting ammunition and time, I would let Rebecca demonstrate just how *well* the wife of Daniel Boone can shoot.”

Mingo went to his son’s side and knelt by him.  He shifted the wool felt blanket covering James and looked at his wound.  It was fiery and still oozing blood.  It would be dangerous to move him further.  He glanced at the British lieutenant and his companion.  Dangerous, yes.  But greater danger lay in leaving him here.

As he gathered James in his arms, he heard Rebecca warn softly, “Mingo, the boy shouldn’t be moved.”

“I know.”  For a moment he was overwhelmed as he held the boy’s frail feverish form in his arms, but then he put his own thoughts – his suspicions and dreams – on hold until they were away and safe.  “Rebecca, begin to back out of the cave.”

“Shouldn’t we tie them up, Mingo?”

“There is no time.  The sentries will return any minute.  Bring all the weapons.  Other than that caution, we will just have to take our chances.”  Mingo nodded to the outraged British officer as he backed out of the cave.  “Lieutenant Alexander, I would thank you for your hospitality, but seeing as you have done so poorly by your guests….” 

Mingo swung about, anxious to take James and Rebecca and fly into the masking safety of the trees.

But someone was in his way.

 

                                                    ###

 

He was too late.  Dan halted as the concussion and spark of a pistol firing filled the night.  He gritted his teeth and pushed with every ounce of his strength to make it up the remainder of the hill in just a few seconds.  The acrid smell of gunpowder greeted him as he dashed into the cave mouth and came to a screeching halt four feet away from a rather disappointed looking Becky Boone who was still holding the smoking pistol with both her hands.

On the ground, not far into the cave mouth, Francis Billings was writhing – his hands clutching his left thigh.  Blood stained his buckskin leggings and filled his boot.  Billings’ rifle had fallen as he did and lay about ten feet behind him.  Dan picked it up and placed it under his arm.

“Rebecca Boone, you are a sight for mighty sore eyes,” he said.  Then Dan added with a wink, “Sure looks like you been practicin’.”

Becky smiled at him.  Then she shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I was aiming a *little* higher.”

With his and Francis Billings arrival, whatever stalemate had been in place in the cave was broken.  The two men who had been standing to the side of the cave with their hands raised, dashed toward its opening.  Dan quickly dropped Ticklicker and palmed Billings unfired weapon. 

He greeted the pair with it and a lop-sided grin.  “And just where do you two boys think you’re off to?”

The copper-haired lieutenant halted.  He held his hand out indicating the other man should do the same.  “You can only shoot one of us, Boone,” he said.

Dan slouched, affecting a casual, careless pose.  “Well, why don’t you two just take your time and draw straws to see who goes first then?  I got all night.”  Then he straightened up and drew close to the officer.  “Or on second thought, soldier, I think maybe we’ll just truss both of you up, and make sure you don’t cause any more trouble.”

“Daniel, there are two more.  Sentries,” Mingo warned as he came alongside his friend.

“I seen one of ‘em, headin’ the opposite direction.  We get these two tied up, I can go out and take care of them.”  He looked at his wife.  “Mrs. Boone?”

Becky came to his side.  He nodded toward a length of rope lying near one of the men’s bedrolls.  “If you would do the honors?”

  As Becky turned to pick up the rope, her gaze fell on the ground behind him.  She gasped.  “Dan, Billings!  He’s gone!”

He looked.  With a frown he turned back to Mingo.  “Ain’t no time to worry about that now.  We’d best do the same.  Becky, make those knots fancy, but tie ‘em quick!”

Once the British officer and the other man were bound and gagged the three of them – with Mingo carrying James – slipped into the cover of the leaves.  They needed to move.  Pursuit would come hot on their heels once the sentries returned.  Still, Dan could tell that with each jolt, each hurried step, the boy’s life moved a second closer to its end.  If they were forced to keep running –

“Daniel!”

He halted and turned at Mingo’s word.  Mingo nodded toward the trees before them.  A brown-haired man in a scarlet officer’s coat, shorn of most of its finery, with a bi-corn hat and silver epaulets on his shoulders had emerged from the trees and was blocking the path, the muskets of the men who flanked him pointed at them.  For a moment Dan feared it was the soldier who had traveled with Billings, even though they had left him trussed like a pig, but then he realized it couldn’t be.  This man was a Captain, or maybe a Major.  It was hard to tell in the moonlight.

“Daniel Boone?” the officer asked, his tone imperative.

“Don’t think lyin’ will do me much good in this situation.”  Dan nodded.  “Yep, that’s me.”

The soldier looked at Becky.  “*And* Mrs. Boone.  Thank God.”

It was Becky’s turn.  “Thank God?” she asked, confused.

“We have been tracking you.  The man at the tavern pointed the way to your home, but when we got there, we could tell we were too late.”  He frowned as he looked over her shoulder at Mingo who was standing behind them, veiled in shadow.  “Is James all right?”

 “He’s wounded badly,” Dan answered.  “These men they – ”

“Were holding him for ransom.”  The British officer nodded.  He continued to stare at Mingo, his frown deepening into puzzlement.  A few seconds later he seemed to dismiss whatever he was thinking and went on.  “It appears William Alexander made a pretence of taking my place.  He told your tavernkeeper that he was the boy’s uncle and the keep sent him to your cabin.  I was to have seen James safely to William and Mary, but my ship was delayed in sailing.  These men plotted to kidnap my nephew and to blackmail not only Lord Dunsmore, but my sister as well.  We have caught three men already – one disgrace in uniform and two other men.  How many were there all together?”

“Mingo?” Dan called over his shoulder.

“Six,” was all his friend said.

“Then one has gotten away.”

“Billings,” Becky said, her voice hushed and frightened.  She drew close to him and took hold of his arm.  “Dan, it has to be Billings.  I shot him, but….”

“Francis Billings, dear God!”  The officer declared.  He shook his head.  “The man should walk on four legs, he is *so* low.”

“Daniel,” Mingo said, speaking at last.  “We need to get James to shelter, and medical care.”

The officer nodded.  “Forgive me.  My personal physician is waiting at your cabin.  My men will help to bear him there.  We can arrange a litter.”

“I will carry him,” Mingo said, his tone brooking no argument.

The officer was taken aback.  “And who, might I ask, sir, are you to challenge my orders?”

“You first,” Dan said, sizing up the attractive man in scarlet   The officer was tall, well-built and obviously used to getting his own way.  It looked in the moonlight that his eyes were as brown as his hair, and he was tanned, as though he had seen service.  “You ain’t told us *your* name yet.”

The officer snapped his heels together smartly and answered with a salute.  “Captain Marcus Saynsberry, light company, out of London on special service for John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunsmore.  And your…Indian friend….Mr. Boone.  Who is he?”

Mingo stepped right up to him.  His jaw was set.

“Kerr Murray, the *5th* Earl of Dunsmore.  And James’ father.”