Sins of the Father

by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Nine

 

            So far, it had not gone exactly as he had hoped.

            James was willful and quick to anger, highly intelligent with his mother’s rapier wit and a sharp tongue.  He was obviously used to being cared for and had had instilled in him a sense of who he was and what he was about that was every inch Marcus Saynsberry.  That first night they had spoken only briefly before James tired and had to be helped back to the healer’s lodge.  Several days had passed since then and it seemed with James’ returning health, the resentment he had built up over his short lifetime for his absent father had returned as well.  When Mingo tried to speak to him, he rebuffed him.  He pouted very well, did James.  The girls in London would have flocked to him at that petulant look, seeking to comfort him and to salve his wounds.  And James in return would have granted them a shy smile, a hint of interest, and then walked away leaving them to curse him – even as they swooned.

            Mingo knew the game well.

            Once, it had been him who played it.

            Mingo’s uncle, Menewa, had no sympathy for him, and had told him in no uncertain terms that he was only reaping what he had sowed.  The first time James had pushed past, refusing to talk to him, the older man had shrugged his shoulders and reminded him of a conversation they had had many years before.  Lord Dunsmore had been visiting the area and Mingo, then a lad of twenty-two or three, had flatly refused to see him. Menewa then held up a trade mirror and told him to gaze into it, and to remember the young man he had been – the one full of anger and resentment, the one who had sworn he would *never* forgive.

            Mingo sighed.  And he hadn’t….

            Yet.

            Mingo glanced at the sky.  The day was drawing to a close.  Much to James’ chagrin, he had arranged with Menewa for them to take a hunting trip, thinking that the time alone together would give them a chance to get to know one another.  More likely, he knew, it would give them a chance to argue and shout out of everyone else’s hearing.

If it came to blows…well then, it came to blows.

            Mingo fingered his chin.  He seemed to remember Menewa decking him once.   The older man had a right hook better than most of the pugilists Mingo had contested with back in England.  His uncle had clipped him on the chin and knocked him flat on his back.

And he had deserved it.

            “Mingo!” a female voice called – excited, frightened.

            He turned to find Menewa’s adopted daughter, Tekawitha, running toward him.  James had been staying with them since he refused to share Mingo’s lodge.  Even before she spoke, he knew what had happened.  “James is gone,” he said with a sigh.

            “How did you know?” the dark-haired girl asked.

            Mingo laughed.  He placed a hand on her shoulder briefly.  “It is what I would have done.  Does Menewa have any notion of where James would be heading?”

            She shook her head.  “Back to the Boone’s cabin?”

            “Or to the river, perhaps.”   Mingo frowned, thinking of the route that would take him there – a route that passed through enemy territory and past the settlement.  “Is James still dressed as a native?”

            She nodded.  “His other clothes were ruined.  Menewa gave the to the women to strip for bandages.  James took his kit, though.”

            “So we can hope he is armed, at least with a knife.”  Mingo fingered his chin, thinking.  “Gather some food and a water-skin for me, if you will, Tekawitha.  And some of the herbs Galunadi has been using to treat James.  I am sure the boy is not so well as he thinks.  Return here as quickly as you can.”

            “What will you do?”

            Mingo’s smile was wistful.  “I have a few things stored in Menewa’s lodge which I need to gather.  One of them I mean to give to James.  When I have them in hand, I will return here and wait for you.”

            His uncle’s adopted daughter nodded once.  But then instead of going, she lingered at his side.

“Tekawitha?  What is it?”

“You don’t think he’s coming back, do you?”

Mingo shrugged.  “I do not know.  James must follow his own course, whether it is the course you or I would choose for him or not.”  When she still did not leave, he touched her shoulder again.  “Is there something you need to tell me?”

She nodded.  Tears escaped her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.  “It’s my fault he’s gone!  He tricked me.  I only left for a moment….”

Mingo shook his head as he squeezed her shoulder.  “Let it go.  I have put James in the Creator’s hands.  You must as well.  Perhaps this is what needed to happen.”  He sighed.  “We were not getting anywhere trapped here, together, in the village.”

She sniffed.  “You really think so?”

Mingo smiled broadly at her as he wiped away one of her tears.  “I *know* so.  Now, go and get that food.”

Tekawitha returned the smile and then trotted away as if a burden had been lifted from her young shoulders.  He watched her slender dark-haired form until it disappeared into his uncle’s lodge.  She was a brave girl who felt things deeply.  Mingo was certain that, in the time James had been in Chota, she had formed an attachment to him.  She was worried about James.

            So was he.

            The streets of London were a wilderness, but a very different kind from the hills and hollows of Ken-tah-ten, the dark and bloody ground.  Mingo closed his eyes against the flood of memories that washed over him whenever he thought of England and the time he had spent there.  It was painful.  So painful in fact that he had never told Daniel – or anyone else – much about it.  He had run away once and become lost on London’s wicked streets.  His rebellion had nearly cost his life.  Still, he had put James in the Creator’s hands, and he would not believe that the One who had made him would restore his son to him only to have him perish at the hand of some footpad or warrior from a rival tribe.  The fact that James was attired as a Cherokee was not good.  It made him a target not only for other natives, but for the vast majority of settlers and soldiers occupying these parts.

            Mingo walked with deliberation to Menewa’s lodge.  His uncle was out scouting with some of the younger warriors of the tribe.  He quickly crossed the structure’s dirt and reed-covered floor and knelt before a brass-studded wooden trunk that occupied one of its corners.  The trunk had come with him from England and held all that was left of Kerr Murray.  His past was buried deep beneath his uncle’s ceremonial robes and the other emblems of his office as chief – the swan staff, the otter skin hat and arm bands.  Mingo reverently removed these items and then searched through what lay beneath, taking a small journal from the interior and placing it in his bandoleer before lifting a large object in a leather case from the bottom.  Unwrapping it, Mingo laid his hand on the instrument’s polished wooden surface and brushed his fingers over the pearl and ebony embellishments.  It would need restringing.  He smiled, remembering a certain walk on the promenade when he had serenaded Catherine Saynsberry.  Her brother had been furious.  They had laughed and used the opportunity to tease Marcus mercilessly, kissing and carrying on.

The next day his father had been incensed and punished him for not returning home the night before.

Mingo slipped the guitar back into its case and then rose, slinging it over his back.  Then he turned and left his uncle’s lodge.

 Tekawitha was there when he returned, with everything he needed.

“I put in some corncakes that I baked today so you would have something fresh,” she said.  “There are dried nuts and berries and smoked meat.   And here’s the water-skin.”  She hesitated, then asked, “You will bring James back?  Won’t you, Mingo?”

            He touched her face with his fingers.  “If he wants to come.”

            “And if he doesn’t?” she asked quietly.

            Mingo sighed as caught hold of the strap that crossed his chest and shifted the heavy case, thinking of the treasure within.  “Then I will take him wherever he wants to go.  It will be up to James to decide if he wants to know who he is – or if, instead, he wishes to hide from his Cherokee heritage.

“And from me.”

           

                                                                ###

           

            James turned the gold filigree frame that Menewa had returned to him over and over in his hands.  He stared at the image of the darkly handsome man painted on ivory that it held.  His mother had kept the secret of who his father was hidden from him for most of his life, surrendering it only when she knew she was going to die.

            She was probably dead now.

            Dead.

            He drew a deep breath and ran a finger along the gold edge.  Everything had happened so fast.  It had been less than a year, and in that time everything he knew – everything he counted on – had either changed or was gone.  He had always wondered why a man of power and might, like Lord Dunsmore, had taken such an interest in him.  Though he had supposed it was because of his Grandmama Saynsberry.  All the servants whispered that she had been the Earl’s favorite paramour.  Lord Dunsmore’s money had paid for his education and gotten him appointed to the Academy.  James smiled sadly.  His Uncle Marcus had been so proud.  Marcus had wanted him to be a soldier like he was.  It had been a bit of a disappointment when it turned out that not only was he *not* interested – but he was not very good at it.  What he excelled in was music.  Marcus had not been too impressed.  For some reason, at first, his talent had made his Uncle angry.  But slowly Marcus had grown used to the idea – especially after James was called on to play for the King’s brother.

His mother was musical.  So that side of him could have come from her.  But he had always suspected his talent came from his father.  When his mother had told him at last that his father was Lord Dunsmore’s son, it had all made sense.  At least for a time.  Until he found out that the young man in the painting was not at all what he thought.  His mother told him his father, Kerr Murray, had left everything behind and sailed to the Colonies as a young man.  She assured James he had not known about him – she had kept her maternal condition a secret, not wanting to tie him down.  Kerry Murray was probably a famous actor and singer now, his mother said.  He had been reported living first in Williamsburg and then in the Virginia Territory.

            It was her wish that James would go there too and meet him.

            And so she had asked Lord Dunsmore to sponsor his application to William and Mary.  It was his mother’s hope that he would learn a respectable profession like the law and keep up with his music on the side.

It was her wish that he would meet and come to know, and love his father.

            His father….

While he lay in the healer’s tent mending from his wounds, the old man – Menewa – had visited him several times.  Menewa sat with him and spoke softly, calling him back from the edge of death.  When he was well enough, the Cherokee chief had begun to tell him tales that at first he thought were a fiction – about a young surveyor and a chief’s daughter who fell in love and had a son, about that son who went upon his mother’s death to live in another world but chose to reject it, and, at last, to come back to his own.

But it wasn’t fiction.  The tale was the story of Cara-Mingo.

His Father.

            How dare he!  How *dare* he refuse to be the Earl’s son!  How could his father possible forsake all of the advantages, the privilege and power of the Peerage?  And for what?  James fingered the simple shirt he wore and looked at the painted leather leggings that ended in moccasins, at the beaded belt and bandoleer.  He thought of the village of Chota with its mud huts and untamed children running bare-naked through rows of corn  and beans, of its fierce warriors fitted with their knives and bows ready for the hunt, dancing like wild men to the beat of a pagan drum, and of his father wearing wool felt pants and a painted animal skin vest with beads around his neck and feathers in his hair.

Why?

What could *possibly* have compelled the handsome, Oxford-educated son of the Peerage in the portrait to become the longhaired savage who had spoken to him the first night he awoke?

            James felt a rage rise up within him, so strong it all but sickened him.  He rose to his feet and, gripping the portrait tightly in his trembling hand, threw it as far into the tall grasses as he could.

            And then he burst into tears.

            A few moments later, sniffing, James looked up at the sky.  The day was just about done.  The ‘hunting trip’ that he was to have gone on with – he couldn’t call him his father – with Cara-Mingo had been planned for the next morning.  Menewa had insisted he have another good night’s sleep before they departed.  He had taken advantage of the old chief’s absence, and Tekawitha’s good nature, to escape.  He had asked her for some berries, and then left the moment she disappeared through the door of the lodge to go and hunt them.  It had been an unkind thing to do.  His mother would have been ashamed.

            “Mother….”

            James sniffed again.  He turned and shouldered his pack, wincing as the strap fell across one of the blisters the old healer Galunadi had made to cure him.  He would have to seek shelter for the night and then he could head for the Boone’s cabin in the morning.  He had talked to some of the younger Cherokee who knew Daniel Boone’s son Israel and who had visited the homestead, and he had a general idea of the direction.  Once there he would ask Daniel Boone about the rest of his regiment before seeking the river and a ship back home.  Menewa had told him that Mr. Boone was the one who had found him and saved his life.  He had to find out what had happened to all the other men – and to Thomas most of all.

            James frowned as he began to walk.  When he had asked Menewa about Thomas, he had said very little.  In fact no one in the village had been willing to give him a straight answer.  Cara-Mingo might have, but since he wasn’t speaking to the tall dark-haired man, he hadn’t been able to question him.  Something Menewa had said had made James think that Marcus Saynsberry had come looking for him.  Maybe Uncle Marcus knew.  It was his regiment after all.

Marcus might not have been his father, but at least he had been there for him while he grew up.  Kerr Murray hadn’t been.  Kerr Murray was a coward who had run away from his responsibilities to hide in the wilderness of Kentucky and pretend at being an Indian.

            The truth was, everything in the last year had been a lie.  His father was dead like he had always thought – like Uncle Marcus had said. 

Kerr Murray was dead.

And he didn’t really know – or want to know who this Cara-Mingo was.

            James grimaced with each step he took over the uneven ground.  His leg wound made him limp.  Galunadi had told him as he left the healer’s tent that he might *always* limp, but that was something he didn’t want to think about.  The healer had told him as well that he shouldn’t stay on his feet for more than a few hours at a time.     But he just couldn’t stay in Chota any longer.

He just couldn’t.

            As James walked, following a narrow stream that wound through the grassy plain, he searched the area for a safe place to spend the night.  He wasn’t a fool.  Even though he knew little about Kentucky, he had learned enough as the regiment marched over its endless rolling hills to know that he had best find a cave or rocky ridge where he could cover his back since he had no one else to watch it.  Unlike the English and Scottish cities he was accustomed to, there were bears here in the Colonies and panthers, as well as snakes and other unseen threats.

            And then there was always man.

            James halted to shift the strap of his kit again so it was less irritating.  As he did, a grin lit his pale, sweat and dirt stained face.  Just wait until Thomas heard all about his adventures!  What a time they would have exchanging tales.  Thomas could tell him all about his narrow escape from the Indians, and he could tell him about…well….

            He wouldn’t tell him all of it.

            James decided to take a drink and, as he uncapped the water-skin, remembered the moment when the world had gone mad.  The Indians had broken through the trees whooping and brandishing their shining weapons.  He had never seen anything so frightening in his life!  Thomas was a Scot and had grown up in the Hebrides.  He said their Shawnee yell was nothing compared to a band of Highlanders charging down a hill.  Thomas had smiled at him as the savages approached and then stepped in front of him, identifying himself as James Murray and demanding to know what they wanted.  When they answered ‘you’, James’ blood had run cold.  Then, as he ran away, he had felt the ball enter his flesh, and known no more until he woke up in the Boone’s cabin.

They meant to kidnap him and hold him for ransom.  If Uncle Marcus was here, it was likely he had received a note.  He would have brought whatever money they wanted and seen that Thomas was returned, safe and sound.

            Thomas had to be all right.  If he wasn’t….  Well, if he *wasn’t* –

            It was all his fault.

           

                                                               ###

           

            Mingo knelt on the grassy plain and examined it for tracks.  The sun was nearly down and he would soon be forced to make a decision – did he wait for the light so he could continue to read the signs, or continue on with only the sense of his son to guide him?  James had only a few hours’ lead on him and the boy was not used to the terrain.  The odds were he was not that far in front of him.  It appeared he was headed for the Boone cabin after all.

James probably thought he would find Marcus there waiting for him.

            Mingo suffered a small pang of guilt for not having immediately told James the whole truth about what had happened to his regiment and to Saynsberry.  But Galunadi had warned him the boy was not well enough.  The old healer had encouraged him to wait until James was healed from the first wound before inflicting another, deeper one.

Mingo rose and turned his face toward the dying light.  As he did the sun’s rays struck something buried in the grass and made it spark like gold-fire.  Keeping his eye on the place where he had seen it, he moved through the knee-high grasses until he stood on the edge of the ribbon of water that meandered lazily through the plain.  At first he thought the flash nothing more than the tell-tale glint of a shell well-polished by tumbling in the flowing water.  Then he saw it.

            A small oval frame of gilded filigree.

            Mingo knelt and picked up the portrait and turned it over in his hand.  There he was again.  The intense young man he had once been.  Catherine Saynsberry’s lover.  James’ father.

            Rejected. Tossed away.

            Dead.

            Tucking the portrait into his bandoleer, Mingo searched the ground to ascertain the direction his son had taken and then started after him, determined to confront the young man’s demons –

            And his own.

 

                                                                ###

           

            James halted on the pebbled bank of the stream.  Until now there had been no shelter to find – no cave or other sanctuary away from the approaching night with its thousand eyes and strange, frightening calls.  But just as the sun sank behind the towering  green trees that lined the horizon, he had spotted an ancient tree half-suspended over the water’s edge.  It had been struck by lightning long ago and its great bole hollowed out by fire.  It was most likely dry and probably nested with leaves and soft moss.  James shivered as he made his way toward it.  There was a mist was in the air that suggested approaching rain and his teeth were already chattering from the cold.  He had to admit that he was not as well as he would have liked to think.  His shoulder throbbed from the blister and there was a fire in his thigh.

The wound had begun to bleed again.

            Balancing his pack on his good shoulder, James carefully picked his way across the shallow stream, hopping from rock to rock, until he reached the other side.  Using the tree’s twisted roots as a ladder, he hauled himself up and into its belly.  Once inside he pulled the Indian blanket from his kit that he had ‘borrowed’ from Menewa to use as a bedroll.  Tossing it over his shoulders instead, he sunk into its warmth and clutched it tightly to his shuddering frame.  Then he laid his head on his knees and fell into a restive sleep.

            Not long after, or so it seemed to him as he raised his head, he was awakened by a sweet but melancholy sound.  James blinked and pinched himself to make certain he was not dreaming, and then slowly shifted his aching body until he stood straight up within the giant tree’s heart.

Someone was singing.

He listened for a moment more and then, with a frown, slid down the network of roots to the rain-soaked bank and followed the sound like a moth drawn to a flame.

 

                                                                ###

 

            Mingo stopped singing and wiped away an unexpected tear.  Then he placed his hand on the finely polished and inlaid surface of the guitar his father had bought for him some twenty-odd years before.  It had come from Italy and had double-metal strings.  The neck was of mother-of-pearl and the back, which curved gently out instead of being flat, was heavily decorated in ebony and ivory.  It had cost a king’s ransom, but his father had been wise – John Murray had known how much his half-breed son loved music, and how that music spoke for the lost boy when he could not find words of his own.

He had settled down for the night in the niche of two rocks nearby the stream’s edge, knowing his son could not be that far away.  After a cold supper, he had strung the guitar and tuned it by ear, and then sat softly strumming it before beginning to sing.  The song was one he had known in England, though it had been written in the Colonies.  Hugh Oldham, a member of his father’s surveying team, had taught it to him on the trip over from America when he was a boy.  Even though Hugh’s voice had been rough and untrained, the sound of it had been sweet.  The older man had sung to him while he lay in the ship’s berth during the crossing, green to the gills and unable to rise.  The words had held little meaning to a young Cherokee boy who spoke only broken English.  Later, as a young *man*, he had come at first to disdain them, and then to sing them longingly, as his heart yearned for something he could not name.  It was called, ‘My Days Have Been so Wondrous Free’.

 

            My days have been so wondrous free,

The little birds that fly
With careless ease from tree to tree,
Were but as blest as I, were but as blest as I.
Ask the gliding waters, if a tear of mine
Increased their stream,
And ask the breathing gales
If ever I lent a sigh to them, if I lent a sigh to them.

 

Mingo put his hands to the strings again but paused as he heard a rustling nearby

in the brush.  He placed the guitar in its leather case, sealing it, and rose to his feet.  With a frown he scanned the tall grasses and the line of trees beyond.  The noise could have been anything from a deer to a young boy too shy to make himself known.

            As he moved forward out of his shelter and into the rain, he listened.  The sound was repeated and then ceased almost as if whatever – or whoever made it – had seen him.  He hesitated, but then called out quietly, “James?  James, is that you?”  Mingo waited but there was no answer.

Until he heard a metallic click and a flock of birds buried deep in the green grasses shot frantically into the sky.

            Mingo tensed and pivoted to grasp his rifle.  At that instant he heard the explosion of a musket being fired.  Even as the sound registered, the ball took him in the shoulder and spun him around before dropping him in place.

Moments later a slender figured limped  out of the tall grasses on the opposite side of the stream.  James crossed the shallow water and then halted on the bank, panting hard.  He had heard the shot and started running, inexorably drawn toward the sound though he had no idea why.  Above the waxing moon shone, illuminating the surface of the water and painting the wild world about it an argent-blue.  A cold wind slapped him hard and a steady rain began to fall as he stumbled forward toward what looked like the branch of a tree covered in moss and trailing vines lying by the stream’s side.

Then he realized it was a man.

And then, he realized just *what* man it was.

“Father!” James cried as he rushed forward and knelt at the side of the dark-haired man who lay supine on the bank.  Then he saw the blood and realized, a second too late, that whoever had shot his father was still there, in the grasses.

Watching him.

“Well, well, what dae we have here?” a voice thick with the brogue of the Highlands said as a slender coppery haired figure dressed in a tattered scarlet coat and white breeches emerged from the tall grasses carrying a smoking rifle.  A sadistic glee entered the eyes of Lieutenant William Alexander as he leveled the barrel of the weapon at James’ chest and placed his finger on the trigger.

“Two birds of the peerage with one stone.”