Sins of the Father
by Marla F. Fair
Becky wrung out the cloth she had placed on the boy’s forehead and then dipped it in the cool water again. His fever was very high. Dangerously so. While the men had transported him to wherever they were, he had raved, even screaming one time. So much so that the men had fed him whiskey until he quieted. Later he had been sick, and she had held him as he shuddered and moaned and soiled his clothes with his own vomit.
Lieutenant Alexander had at least a modicum of decency in him. He had found a shirt for her to change the boy into and apologized for the actions of his men. The forest was a dangerous place, he explained. The boy crying out could not be tolerated.
They had traveled most of the night – some eight miles or so, as far as she could tell – away from their home. Now they were in a cave, though it had been furnished and turned into a sort of temporary home for the men she had been forced to accompany. It even had oil lamps driven into the wall.
Francis Billings had come and gone several times. He was a hard man, obviously interested in only one thing, and that was money. It seemed the boy she nursed was connected with immense wealth – and in some fashion, as she had guessed, with Mingo’s father, Lord Dunsmore. Billings had come up with the scheme to take him, and hold him for ransom. The other men, the ones who traveled with Billings and Alexander, had dressed up as Indians and killed the rest of the boy’s regiment, hoping to ignite a confrontation between the British and the Shawnee that would draw attention away from themselves and their scheme. It made Becky burn. They didn’t care who else their pretense caused to be hurt. How many Shawnee and British soldiers – not to mention settlers – might die in a false war. All they cared about was lining their pockets with lucre and getting away unscathed.
Becky placed the cloth on the boy’s forehead and then took his hand. He had been moaning and tossing from side to side as though close to waking. The journey had reopened his wound as she feared, but she had managed to staunch the bleeding fairly quickly. Now only time and God’s mercy would tell whether he lived or died.
“James?” she called quietly. “James, can you hear me?”
His near black eyes opened and he looked at her. “Who…are you?” he asked, licking his cracked lips.
She dipped the cloth again and squeezed a little of the cool water between them. He swallowed and thanked her.
“My name is Becky,” she said. “Becky Boone.”
“Becky?” He frowned. Then he asked, “Rebecca Boone?”
She smiled. “Only Mingo calls me that.”
“It must seem a strange name,” she admitted with a smile. “He’s Dan’s friend. A Cherokee.”
The boy hesitated, struggling it seemed to find what words to use. “Cherokee? Full-blooded?”
It seemed an odd question – and none of his business. But then again, perhaps Lord Dunsmore was not so close with his eldest son’s secrets. “Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“My mother…. Mother told me to…look up an old ‘friend’ of hers…in Kentucky…if I could.” His breathing was labored. “He was Cherokee…but only half.”
“Mingo’s father was white,” she said.
“And English?” he asked, his voice taking on an odd quality.
Becky nodded. “Yes.”
The boy looked pained.
“Please, James, don’t try to speak. You’re very ill.” She took the cloth and wet it again and returned it to his forehead.
“Thank you…for…looking after me.”
She smiled. “I have children of my own. You are no different.”
James closed his eyes for a moment, as if gathering strength. Then he spoke again, “This…Mingo. Is he…a good man?”
That seemed an odder question than the one before. “Why, yes. One of the best. Why do you want to know?”
“Mrs. Boone?” a male voice intruded.
She turned. William Alexander was watching them. “Yes?”
“What are you two talking about?”
“Well!” she snapped. “With a wounded boy who should have been left where he was – not escape, I can promise you that!”
Alexander was a little taken aback. “Is this what they call ‘country’ manners, Mrs. Boone?”
“Better country manners than city, where lies and deceit are the norm!” she growled as she straightened the cloth on James’ head. “I am just trying to give the boy some comfort. Is that acceptable?”
Alexander stared at the two of them for a moment, and then nodded. “Keep it loud enough one of us can hear,” was all he said.
“James?” she called quietly. The boy had drifted off again. “James?”
His black eyes opened and focused on her. “Mother sent me here,” he said. “To find him.”
“Him? Who do you mean?”
The boy was drifting off. Losing focus. His words were mumbled, almost like one caught in a dream. “My father…” he said, and then he was unconscious.
His father? Lord Dunsmore? Why would the woman, Catherine, send a boy to Kentucky to find the Governor-general of Virginia, especially when he was set to end up at William and Mary, just a stone’s throw from the Governor’s Palace? She thought about the portrait again, and the letter Mingo had taken. She supposed he had thought the same thing – that the boy was a child of his father’s.
But maybe, there had been something more.
Becky’s lips formed a round ‘o’. She looked at the boy and thought about his age, and his likeness to the man in the portrait.
Dear God! Was it possible?
Daniel was as shocked as he was. Mingo nodded. “I believe so.”
His friend sat down on the porch beside him. For a long time, they remained silent. Finally Dan stirred, “Mingo, I don’t quite know what to say….”
Mingo actually laughed. “Neither do I.”
“This woman, Catherine, she was…?”
“I loved her – as a boy thinks of love. She was older than me by several years. The daughter of my father’s favorite…” he hesitated and then finished with a wince, “…mistress.”
In the world of Daniel Boone, a world of fresh air and wild countryside, a world as yet untainted by centuries of class and breeding – or one man falsely elevating himself above another – a world where the work of your hands was everything and your faith and following it a part of who and what you were…such things must have seemed impossible. But they were not in the world Kerr Murray had come from. A world where class and breeding were everything, and the work of your hands counted for nothing.
After all, there were servants for that.
Mingo cleared his throat. “I wish it had been different. I wish I had first loved someone like Rebecca, and remained with her for all my days. What I knew wasn’t love, it was youthful folly. I never imagined…” his voice trailed off. “She never told me.” Mingo clenched the letter in his fist. “My father never told me.”
“You think, from the other letter, the one Lord Dunsmore signed, that this is a *sure* thing?”
Mingo stood and looked toward the horizon. The sun was near its zenith. It was almost noon. “At the least, Daniel, he is my brother. At most….” He hesitated, almost unable to express it aloud. “I have a son.”
Dan rose to his feet. He dropped his hand on his shoulder. “Well, we aren’t going to find the answers sitting here. Becky’s left us a trail. What’s say we follow it and found out just what, and *who*, waits at the end.”
Mingo nodded. “Daniel….”
His friend’s hazel eyes were on him. “Yep?”
Dan shook his head. “For what?”
“For your acceptance. For your lack of condemnation.”
“Well, I could just say ‘boys will be boys’, but knowin’ you, that ain’t the case.” Dan laughed but sobered quickly. “I know you, Mingo. You’re only showin’ about a tenth of what you’re feelin’. This has to hurt.”
He fought the tears that welled in his eyes. “So many years…lost. A son alone without a father. As I was.” He shook his head. “It is not the way I would have had it.”
Dan hesitated, then he said quietly. “Maybe it ain’t the way your father would have had it either. You ever think of that, Mingo?”
No. He hadn’t.
“Come on, Mingo. There’s plenty of time for kickin’ yourself in the britches if need be. Let’s go save Becky, *and* the boy.”
Mingo rose to his feet and placed the letter in a safe place in his bandoleer, near the other letter and the portrait. As he followed Daniel off the porch, he said softly, “*If* he is still alive.”
“Providence brought him here, Mingo, and I think Providence will preserve him until you get to know one another.” Dan grinned. “I can’t think of a man who’d make a better father than you.”
With that his friend turned and began to scan the ground, following Rebecca’s clever trail.
A father? Him? It was something he had never considered, had in fact, thought to avoid – feeling he could never be a father since, in essence, he had never *had* one.
Now fate, and perhaps Daniel’s divine Providence, had chosen to prove him wrong.
But would he measure up to the task?
“Come on, Mingo. We ain’t got all day,” Daniel called as he entered the shadows of the trees that edged the yard.
Mingo touched the place where the letter lay, safe, secure, and then gripping his rifle began to run after his friend.
At first the flour trail Becky left was solid, consistent. Then it began to grow sporadic and, in the end, they would find a line – perhaps six or seven inches long – and then nothing for several hundred feet.
Then there was nothing at all.
They had traveled about seven miles from the cabin. To one side was the sun, still giving off an anemic light, and to the other the moon. Soon it would be night and they would be forced to stop.
That was, *if* he could stop Mingo.
Dan tried to put himself in his friend’s moccasins, but found it was hard. Not that he couldn’t imagine having a son he had never known. But to be such a *son*, to have known that loss and loneliness for yourself, and then to suddenly realize that a child you created – whether you knew it or not – had experienced the same kind of pain, had to be all but overwhelming.
And that was what *he* would have felt like. Mingo, he knew, was another matter.
They hadn’t known each other all that long, but after what they had gone through together, first with Lord Dunsmore and then with his half-brother, Tara-Mingo, well…Dan thought he knew the English-Cherokee pretty well. Mingo was a man in conflict with himself. He was torn between two worlds, never fitting in, pretending he didn’t want to, but always wishing that he could. He took everything to heart, and if it was possible for him to somehow take the blame for something that wasn’t his fault, well, he’d do that too. There was a deep sense of loss in him, an emptiness that was never filled – no matter how much love he and Becky and the kids poured into it.
Maybe if it was true. Maybe this boy….
Mingo stood beside him with his hands on his hips, staring at the rolling hills ahead. He was panting lightly from running. Dan felt like he’d been kicked in the side keeping up with him. He was in good shape, but Mingo was in better.
“Daniel,” he said, “now what?”
Dan eyed the sky. “We got about an hour, maybe two of light.”
Mingo nodded. “And no trail to follow. These hills are full of caves. They could be anywhere.”
“You thinkin’ maybe we should split up?”
“Well, we could cover more ground that way.”
“And lose havin’ someone to cover our backs.” Dan hefted Ticklicker and tucked her under his arm. “You gonna be able to stop?”
Mingo pursed his lips. He said nothing.
“That’s what I thought.” Dan thought a moment and then suggested, “How about this? We travel two different directions for those two hours and then, if we’ve found nothin’, meet in the middle somewhere – say, the top of that rise.” He nodded toward a tree-crowned hill in the distance. “Looks to be as good a place as any.”
“It is easy to find. Very well.” Mingo caught his rifle up from the ground where he had rested it against a boulder. “The trail seemed to indicate we are in the right place. I will canvas the hills to the west.”
“And that means I’m takin’ the east.” Dan slid his cap back on his head and started walking. “See you in about four hours, Mingo. I’ll have supper waitin’.”
Mingo watched his friend until he disappeared around a bend. Then he turned to the western hills and stared at them. Everything in him screamed to keep moving, to search every pocket, to turn over every rock and uproot each tree, but not only was that impossible, it was foolish. It was the white man’s way.
And he was no longer a white man. No longer that willful, arrogant, pampered son his father had hoped for. He was Talota’s son, and he would let her wisdom guide him.
Mingo looked around and spotting a boulder that jutted out of the side of the hill, climbed up on it and sat with his legs crossed, his rifle and his hands resting on his knees. He listened to the sounds around him – the song of the birds, the hum of insects, and the soft seeking steps of a fox or wolf in the underbrush, wondering what he was about. He sought to still his pounding heart, to quell the sense of hopelessness and loss, of a presumed grief, of fear. He breathed deeply, reconciling what he must do with the need to run, pell-mell, searching, seeking for something – someone – that was finally his own.
And as he did, growing ever more silent, ever more still, he heard something. A body shifting. A sigh. A word.
Deeper, deeper into it he went, seeking not only who, but where. “Where are you, my son,” he whispered. “Where?”
A sudden sound, close by where he sat, startled him and he opened his eyes. A mother deer stood, not five feet away, staring at him; her black eyes wide with concern. He had been so still she had not sensed him until she had almost been upon him. At her side was a fawn. He smiled but did not move, allowing her to see that, in him, she would find no menace. She held his gaze for, perhaps, ten or twelve heartbeats and then – her fawn at her side – bounded up the slope toward the top of the hill.
He had his answer.
Slipping off the boulder, Mingo shouldered his gun and began to climb.