Sins of the Father

            by Marla F. Fair

 

 

Rebecca Boone whirled at the sound of their cabin door being booted open.  She reached for the rifle above the mantelpiece only to realize that the culprit seeking entry was her own husband.  In Dan’s strong arms was a slight form wearing a crimson coat which identified him as a Redcoat from the British Army.

            “Dan!  What is this?” she asked him as she came to his side.

            “There’s been an ambush, Becky.  Shawnee, angry at the British for some reason. God alone knows what.  The rest of the regiment is dead.  This young’un is in sad shape, but I think he has a chance to live.”

            “I thought the Shawnee worked with the British,” she said, turning and heading for the cabinet where she kept her additional stores, medicines, and strips of linen for binding wounds.

            “Most of the time, but lately there’s been bad blood between all the Indians and the English.  There are old wounds and hates left over from the last war with the French.  The Indians don’t trust the British, and the British barely trust them – they need them, but they don’t trust them.”

            “Put him on the bed, Dan.”

            It was late in the evening and the cabin’s light was supplied by a single lantern hanging overhead and a few tallow candles.  Normally they would have been in bed but she was waiting up for Mingo to return with the children.   He had taken them fishing on the Cherokee lands.  Dan, she had not expected home for several days.  It had been rumored there were Redcoats in the area, and her husband had set out to find out what they were doing near the fort.  Now, it seemed, they knew.

            Slaughtering Indians and being slaughtered in turn.

             Becky sat on the bed beside the young soldier.  His bearskin cap had fallen off when Dan came through the door with him.  Dan came to join her and together they removed his cross-belts, leather cartridge box, gaiters and shoes.  Dan lifted him up and she worked his arms out of the heavy scarlet coat and then unbuttoned his white vest and shirt and took them off as well.  The soldier made no sound.  He didn’t moan or move.  As they laid him back down she feared he had passed away, but when she placed her head on his bare chest, she heard the thready beat of a heart still trying to pump its precious blood.

            His white breeches they tore off.  He had taken a ball in the inner part of his thigh and they were soaked through with blood.  He had other injuries, but they were minor – a contusion on his temple where he had either been struck or perhaps hit a rock in falling, a split lip, and a blackened eye.

            Becky examined the bullet wound and applied a tourniquet to staunch the worst of the bleeding.  She looked up at her husband.  “We’ll have to get Cincinnatus, Dan.  The ball is still in there.”

            He nodded and then followed the gesture with a frown.  “I don’t want to leave you alone with him – and with whoever shot him and killed those other soldiers out there.”

            “Mingo should be here any time.  He and the children were due back at sunset.”  Becky drew a sharp breath.  It was hours past that.  “You don’t think….”

            “I think if any one can keep our children safe, it’s Mingo.”  He kissed her on the top of her head.  “From the look of this one, there’s no time to waste.  I best be goin’.”  Dan crossed to the door and picked the young man’s elegant bearskin cap up from the floor and placed it on a peg beside the crimson coat.  “Now, that’s a sight in the house of Daniel Boone!” he exclaimed, ending with a lop-sided grin.

            “Dan….”  Becky rose and approached him.

            “Darlin’?”

            “You’d best change.  You’re covered with blood.”

            He looked down.  The young man’s blood bathed him, staining his blue linen shirt a deep burgundy.  “You’re right  This might attract predators – four *and* two footed.”

            As Dan headed for the chest where he kept his shirts, Becky returned to the young man’s side.  There was little she could do to help him until Cincinnatus arrived.  She had taken musket balls out before, but always feared she would do something wrong – and an injury such as this could maim the young man for life.  Turning to the bedside table she lifted the candle and held it close to his face.  Dan heard her gasp as he stepped back into the room.

            “What is it, Becky?  Is he – ”

            “Dan, come and look.”

            He came to her side and stared down at the young man.  She agreed with his low whistle.

            “Why, Dan, he’s just a boy!”

            The youth was pale now, gray as the ghost he was quickly becoming, but she could tell his skin was naturally a light tan.  He had hair as black as the soot from the chimney and a high-boned face, almost patrician in nature.  There was little else she could tell in the dim light, but one thing was certain – he could have been no more than thirteen at most.

            “Are the British recruiting so young?” she asked.

            “Well, they had heavy losses in the last war, but….”  Dan crossed to uniform coat and examined it.  He showed her the blue lapels and royal lace.  “I’d say from this he’s a drummer boy, or maybe a musician.  This isn’t a standard coat.”

            “A musician?”  Becky turned back to look.  The boy did have a sensitive look.  She picked up his hands and examined them.  “No calluses,” she said.  And his fingers were unusually long.

            “Didn’t expect there would be any.”  Dan was dressed now in a red shirt and had put his buckskin jacket on once again.  “I’d best get to the fort and get back here with Cincinnatus if he’s to have a chance.”

            She nodded.  “God speed, and be careful, Dan.  The Shawnee are likely to be near.”

            He grinned and pointed to his crimson shirt.  “Probably not the best choice of duds, considerin’ the circumstances.”

            Becky shook her head as she rose to her feet.  “Keep you coat laced and your eyes wide open, Daniel Boone.”

            She followed him to the door and saw him out and then closed it behind him.  Putting the bar in place, Becky returned to the wounded soldier on the bed.  How different was he from Jemima?  Or from what Israel would become?  Only in the way he thought.  Somewhere out there he had a family – a mother and father, sisters and brothers, maybe, who loved him and wondered where he was.  It was their Christian duty to care for him and get him back to them, healthy and whole.

            Picking up his leather cartridge box and other accoutrements, she crossed to where his coat hung and started to put them on the next peg.  Then she thought to herself that sometimes soldiers, far from home, carried letters or even small ivory portraits of those they had left behind.  If this boy had such a thing, it might be a clue to who he was.  At the moment they had no starting point – no where to even look to find someone to tell that he had survived –  he, alone, out of his entire regiment.

            She took the coat and bags and went to sit on the high-back bench near the fire and, with just a smidgen of guilt, began to rummage through the boy’s belongings.  At first there was little of import.  There were papers with musical notations in the bag, so the guess at him being some sort of a musician seemed right, and he had a few letters – several from a woman by the handwriting.  Not wanting to pry Becky looked no further than to see that the woman’s name was Catherine.  And then she found two things that deepened the mystery: a small painted portrait and a letter of introduction to someone at William and Mary University in Virginia….

            Signed by Lord Dunsmore.

            At that moment the boy stirred.  He groaned and began to pitch from side to side in pain.  Becky rose quickly, leaving the items on the bench, and started across the cabin.  Before she could get to him, there was a pounding at the door.

            “Rebecca, it is Mingo.  Open the door and let me in.”

            *Me?*  Becky’s heart skipped a beat.  The children weren’t with him!  Crossing quickly to the door, she removed the bar and opened it.  “Mingo”?

            “Have no fear,” the tall Cherokee said as he entered.  “The children are safe.  I took them to the fort, and then returned here on foot to check the perimeter of the cabin.  There has been a massacre – ”

            “I know,” she said softly and pointed toward the bed.  “Dan found one survivor and brought him here.”

            “Where is Daniel?”

            “You must have just missed him.  He went to the fort to get Cincinnatus.  The ball is still in the boy’s leg.  I don’t have the skill to remove it.”

            Mingo looked at the bed and then at her.  “Boy?”

            She nodded.  “Dan thinks he is a drummer boy or something.  Here, let me get his coat and cap.”  Becky knew Mingo knew something about the British Army since he had trained at the Royal Academy in England when he was a young man.  As she picked the coat up, the portrait and letter fell to the floor.  In her hurry, Becky missed the fact that they had.

            Mingo was standing at the bedside, watching the young man pitch and turn.  He pointed to the pile of blood-soaked rags beside the bed.  “He has lost a great deal of blood.”

            “I know.  Here,” she handed him the coat and then checked to make certain the tourniquet she had applied to the boy’s thigh was tight enough to keep the flow in check.  “Do you know it?”

            He studied the markings and the coat’s cut, and then the cap, which was especially elegant with its King’s crest of silver metal on a black background.  Mingo frowned, “I would agree with Daniel.  This is not the coat of a foot soldier.  Young boys have been known to serve as fifers and drummers.”

            She looked at him.  Whenever Mingo spoke of his years in England, the pain in his voice was evident.  “I’m sorry to remind you….”

            “It is all right, Rebecca.  I am the man I am now, because of the boy and man I was.  Not everything about England was bad.”

            “No?”

            His dark eyes sparkled and he looked slightly chagrinned.  “For a time I was not so different from this young lad.  Bent on a life in the Army, and battle from which I would emerge with accolades and a laurel wreath placed round my head.  Craving glory and the acceptance of my peers.”  His voice grew quiet, reminiscent.  “For a time I accepted the path my father chose for me – did what every Earl’s son did.  Some of it I can still honor.”

            “Some of it?” she asked.

             “And of some I am ashamed.”

            “Mingo?”

            He shook his head and then moved away, replacing the coat on the bench.  “I will go outside and bring in some firewood, and get a fire blazing.  Daniel should return soon, and this boy could use the warmth.”

“Thank you, Mingo.  I know you must be tired.”

“Not so tired as I shall be.”  Mingo glanced at the boy.  “I do not think any of us will get much sleep this night.”

 

                                                                ###

 

            Mingo was on the porch bringing in the second armload of wood when his friend Daniel appeared with the crusty tavernkeeper Cincinnatus in tow.  The tall Cherokee stepped into the moonlight and remained still until Daniel had seen him, not wanting to startle or worry the frontiersman.

            “Mingo,” Dan acknowledged him with a nod.

            “Daniel.  Good evening, Cincinnatus.”

            “It ain’t so good an evenin’,” the older man complained.  “Hauled out of my bed to come and take care of a Redcoat!  What is this world comin’ to?”

            Mingo shifted the wood in his arms.  “Cincinnatus, when I was a boy, I would have been very much the same.  Would you have let me die because I wore a scarlet coat and beat a drum, or carried a musket for His Majesty?” he asked softly.

            “Well, if’n I had,  these old ears would have had a mite more rest what with you not showin’ up at my tavern.”  The old man winked.  “And Boonesborough would have been a more peaceful place.  Ain’t that right, Dan’l?”

            Dan laughed.  “But poorer for the loss,” he said.  “Mingo, I’m goin’ to go check on Becky and the boy.  Then I think you and I ought to go take a look at the site of that massacre.”  He paused.  “And there’s some men there, unknown to us but loved by someone – ”

            “Who need a decent burial,” Mingo finished.

            Dan nodded.

            “I will get the fire stoked and be ready when you are Daniel,” he said.  “Oh, did you see the children?”

            “They’re all tucked in a the Widow McGreevy’s.  Thank for takin’ them there, Mingo.”

            He smiled.  “What are friends for?”

            Mingo followed Daniel and the older man into the cabin.  Within seconds Cincinnatus’ protestations were hushed by the prospect of a young life on the line, whose fate lay in his hands.  With Becky assisting they began to probe for the musket ball lodged in the boys’s leg.  Unconscious or not, the boy wailed and began to thrash violently.  Mingo watched as Daniel leant a hand and Becky rose to get some whiskey from the cabinet.

            With a sigh, Mingo carried the wood to the wood-box near the hearth and then knelt to rebuild the fire.  It had been allowed to go to coals since the family had expected to turn in.  It was early autumn and there was a slight chill in the air.  The weather had been unseasonably warm, and then two days before had decided to turn colder, informing them that winter was on its way.  The cabin was more than tolerable to him, but for one wounded, it would seem as cold as the threat of the grave.

            He wedged the logs together in a triangular shape and then began to add kindling beneath, shifting and stirring the coals as he did.  And then he waited, still kneeling, watching until the orange, blue and blush-pink flames rose to ignite the dry seasoned wood.  Standing then, he went to sit on the bench, intending to remain until he was certain it would not go out, but as he approached the tall wooden seat, he noticed something laying on the floor beside the soldier’s abandoned cartridge box.

            Bending he picked up the letter and the small oval portrait in a gold filigree frame.

            Looking at the letter first he saw it was an introduction for someone named James to one of the members of the board of William and Mary University.  Mingo frowned when he saw his father’s signature at the end.  His dark eyes went to the boy struggling for his life.  Was this a child of one of his father’s friends?  Or perhaps of one of Lord Dunsmore’s mistresses?  It was a sad fact of life, but noblemen were expected to marry for property and place, and to have their mistresses for love.  His father was no different, and if it had not been for the miracle that saved him – when he discovered who he really was – the course his life had taken would not have been very different from that of his father, John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunsmore.

He read on quickly, his eyes scanning each line.  The boy was a musician – a gifted one who had already written several concertos which had been performed at the Academy.  He was also an artist.

And his last name was Murray.  James Murray.

Mingo sat heavily and leaned against the back of the wooden bench.  Could this be a half-brother –  like Johnny and the others he had left behind in England?  Or perhaps a child of his father’s by his wife, Charlotte, born after he had left?  If the boy was thirteen or fourteen, he would have been born in about 1763 or 1764.  About three years before he left England.  So there was no way he could be Charlotte’s son.  Mingo looked at the letter again and then remembered the portrait which he held clenched in his left hand.  Rising he went to the fire to examine it, thinking it might hold a clue.

“Mingo, you about ready?” Daniel called.

He looked at his friend who was standing by the door.  “How is the boy?”

“The ball is out and Cincinnatus is binding the wound.  He’s unconscious.”

“As the Bard said, ‘Sleep.  Oh, sleep, thou gentle nurse.’  It is for the best.”  Mingo glanced at the fire, it was growing, but not yet fully ablaze.  “I want to add another log before we leave.  Then I will join you.”

“Good enough.  I’ve already said my goodbyes,” Dan grinned as he put on his coonskin cap.  “I’ll be waitin’ on the porch.”

Mingo nodded and as Daniel left the room, turned back to the portrait.  From its depths a young man of sharp intellect, with keen black eyes and ebon hair cut short, and just the hint of an arrogant smile stared at him.

A *very* familiar young man.

“Mingo?”

He jumped, and then worked hard to recover his composure before he turned.  “Yes, Rebecca?”

“There was a letter here.  Did you see it?”  She was shifting the boy’s coat and other belongings.

“I have it,” he answered.  “It was on the floor with this.”

“Oh, the portrait.  I didn’t get a chance to look at it.”  She held out her hand.

Mingo stared at Rebecca’s fingers as if they were a snake about to bite him.

She frowned.  “Is there something wrong?”

“No.  No.”  He handed the portrait to her and held his breath.

She studied the young man, painted in watercolors on ivory, and saw him for what he was, a stranger – to her.  “He’s very handsome.  Who do you suppose he is?”  She said as she handed it back.

“From the letter, someone my father knows,” he answered quietly.  “If you do not mind, Rebecca, I will take these with me. We might run into someone – a soldier perhaps who ran and escaped the slaughter – one who would recognize them.”

She thought about it a minute, turning to look at the boy.  “Well, I suppose he won’t miss them before you get back.  He will be out for quite a while.  Cincinnatus said he is still not out of danger.  Mortification may set in.”  Becky turned and walked to the young man’s side.  She brushed the dark hair off his forehead and stared at him.  “I can’t help thinking I have seen him before.  There’s something about his mouth.  What do you think, Mingo?”

“Mingo?”

            He heard her call him from his position on the path and was gone before she reached the door.