Sins of the Father

by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Six

 

            Mingo rose from his seat at James’ side and stretched.  It was early morning – early enough that Rebecca had not risen yet to begin the preparations for breaking the fast of the night before.  He checked the boy’s forehead, placing his hand on it, and frowned at the intense heat that was consuming his son.  Saynsberry’s regimental physician had looked at James but had left shaking his graying head, telling his commander there was nothing he could do and little hope that the boy would survive.  Marcus wanted to take James to the fort, and from there to transport him to some civilized place.  They had almost come to blows over it until Rebecca intervened, threatening to toss them both out on their ears if they did not learn to behave.

            Mingo smiled grimly.  Saynsberry had reacted to her correction like a thwarted child, threatening to marshal his forces, return, and take James by force if necessary.  He, on the other hand, had been grateful for the momentary reprieve.  He knew what he had to do, and knew Catherine’s brother would do everything in his power to stop him from doing it. 

            He had to take James to Chota, to the healer’s lodge.  If the white man’s wisdom condemned the boy to die, then they must leave it to the wisdom of the ages and to the one who created him to save him.

            Rebecca pushed aside the curtain that separated their bedroom from the common room as he headed to the front of the cabin.  He nodded, acknowledging her presence.  As he laid his hand to the bar that held the heavy door in place, she came to his side.

            “About last night,” she said, her voice still thick with sleep, “I wanted to apologize….”

            “There is nothing to apologize for, Rebecca.  You were right.”

            She smiled sadly and laid her hand on his arm.  “Dan told me.  About James.”  Her head shook.  “I still can’t believe it.  You, having a child.”

            “Neither can I.  But Marcus’ appearance and his claim to be James’ uncle have confirmed my suspicions.  Marcus is Catherine’s brother.”

            “Has he known, all this time?” she asked.  “Marcus, I mean?  About….  Well, about you?”

            “About who James’ father was?”  He almost laughed.  “Oh, he knew.  Marcus knew it had to be Kerr Murray – whether Catherine confirmed it or not, I have no way of knowing.  What he could not suspect was that ‘Kerr Murray’ is no more, and that James’ father would turn out to be the Cherokee warrior you see standing before you now.  I think the…adjustment has been a bit trying for dear Marcus.”

            “I sensed you two knew each other.  And that, well….”

            “That we hated one another?  Kerr Murray hated Marcus, and Marcus hated Kerr.”  His smile was chagrinned.  “The latter, not without reason.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Rebecca,” he said, placing a hand over hers, “I have not always been the man you see before you now.  Young Kerr was arrogant, even boastful at times.  The heir to centuries of wealth, prestige, and power.  For a while, I was *intoxicated* by it.  I sought to bury the longings of my heart for a simpler life in excess.  That is the time when I was introduced to Catherine.  Her brother believed I was using her.”  He pulled away and lifted the bar.  “And I was.”

            “It is so hard to imagine,” she said softly.

            “As hard as it is to admit.”  He looked at her.  “Rebecca, will you keep watch over James while I am gone?”

            “Why, where are you going?”

            Mingo hesitated.  “It is better if you do not know.”

            “Why?  Because I wouldn’t approve?” she asked.

            He shook his head.  “This way, no one will be to blame but me – for whatever happens.”

            “Mingo,” her tone conveyed her sudden concern, “what are you going to do?”

            He laid the bar aside and opened the door.  “Save my son.”

            It was his intention to make a litter to place the boy on, and then to take him to Chota.  The journey would be faster and of more ease for James if he could use his pony.  It was tethered not too far away.  When he had taken the children to the fort, he had left it in a place of safety, and then proceeded to the Boone cabin on foot in order to make certain the area was secure.  He had supplies with the speckled mare – food and water, bandages and medicinal herbs.  Enough to get them to his home.  No one would question him retrieving the pony.

            Now all he had to do was figure out how to get James out of the house – under Marcus’ well-bred and up turned nose.  Rebecca and Daniel would aid him, he knew, by turning a blind eye to what he did, but he hated to involve them.  If things did not go well – if James died….

            The responsibility should be his alone.

            He stepped onto the porch and had reached the ground before he felt, more than saw, someone stir in the cabin’s cast shadows.  Mingo gripped his rifle from habit, but knew it was unnecessary – as much as he knew who it was that approached.

            “Murray, I need to talk to you.”

            Stifling a sigh, he turned to face Catherine’s brother.  Marcus had been nineteen when he had first met him, and he, about two years younger.  The Saynsberrys had a lineage stretching back to the Magna Carta, but the family had fallen on hard times.  Poor business deals and a father who had chosen the wrong side to support in one of England’s many wars, had left them land rich but cash poor.  As his father’s favorite, Catherine’s mother had used her influence to secure her son’s place.  Lord Dunsmore paid for Marcus’ education and commission in the army.  Marcus had resented his father’s interference in their lives – while still enjoying the benefits of the Earl’s custom and favor. 

            It had actually come to a duel in the end, with Marcus declaring publicly that Kerr had besmirched his sister’s honor.  They planned to meet at dawn on the south lawn of the Saynsberry’s ancestral home.  Two young idiots and pistols at fifteen paces.  Mingo shook his head at the rash foolishness of youth.  Luckily his father had gotten wind of it and intervened.  Lord Dunsmore sent one of his men to collect his hot-headed son and shipped him off to Scotland for the remainder of the year.  By the time he returned to England and the Academy, Marcus had his commission and had left the country.

            This was the first time they had spoken since then.

            Mingo drew a breath and faced Major Marcus Saynsberry – and his past.  “I no longer use that name.”

            “Oh.  Right.  ‘Mingo’, isn’t it?  What sort of a name is that?”

             “A proud one,” he answered quietly.  “Given to me by my mother.”

            “Lord Dunsmore’s Cherokee whore,” Marcus sniffed.

            Mingo’s fingers tensed on his rifle.  He resisted the urge to tell the other man that his mother had married Lord Dunsmore in a Cherokee ceremony, knowing it would do no good.  He shook his head.  “I no longer fight duels, Marcus.  If you are looking to renew our quarrel.”

            “I am looking for satisfaction!  How dare James be sent here to look you up!  As if all the years can be made up in a moment.  The boy has no need of a father who ran away, let alone one who has chosen to deny his duty so he can prance around in the woods and play at being a savage!” 

            “You mean he has no need to find out that *he* is part savage,” Mingo countered quietly.

            “You were objectionable enough, Murray, when you were a pampered brat of the Peerage.  This,” Marcus indicated his clothes, his hair, “is *totally* unacceptable!”

            “What are you afraid of, Marcus?  That James will be drawn to his Cherokee heritage?”

            “What I am afraid of, *Kerr*, is that others will find out.   The boy has had a hard enough time of it.  No father.  Constant questions about *who* his father was.”

            “And you never told him?” 

            “I told him Kerr Murray was dead.  And that’s the way it should have remained,” Marcus growled.  “Unfortunately, my sister disagreed.  And now, well…  I shall have to honor her final wishes, ridiculous as they are.”

            Mingo frowned.  Then the sudden, sad truth occurred to him.  “Catherine,” he asked softly, “is she – ?”

              “My sister is dying.  Dead, most likely by this time.”  Marcus glared at him and then looked toward the trees.  “She arranged this trip with Lord Dunsmore, for the boy to come to the Colonies and attend university in Virginia.  And then had the gall to make me promise to escort him through this god-forsaken wilderness.  I wondered at the time, ‘Why Kentucky?’”  Catherine’s brother turned back to him.  “Now, I guess I know.”

            “How did she know I was here?”

            “God alone knows.  Women!  Who can understand them?”

            Who indeed?  Who could understand a mother’s sense?  A mother’s love?  A mother’s burden.  Mingo steeled himself as images of his own mother, dying, sending Menewa to find his father, to call John Murray back, to *make* him take responsibility for his son, threatened to unman him.

“Where are you headed, Murray?” Marcus asked.  “I thought I would have to pry you from the boy’s side.”

“To gather my things,” Mingo said, pushing past him.  “I won’t be gone more than an hour or so.”

Marcus looked at him oddly.

“What?” Mingo asked.

“I say, do you think that red-headed vixen Boone is married to will allow me in the house?”

Rebecca had almost thrown them *both* out – she *had* ordered Saynsberry to leave.  It seemed Catherine’s brother still had a penchant for stating his mind, and after declaring Daniel’s Irish wife a piece of ‘ignorant interfering baggage’ she had ordered him from the cabin.

“She’s a good Christian woman,” Mingo replied with a hint of a smile.  “Rebecca will forgive you – but she will not forget.”

“How was he…how was James when you left him?”

It was hard for Mingo to accept, but Marcus had apparently acted as a surrogate father to James for all the years he had been absent.  He cared about him.  And according to most Saynsberry’s claim would be stronger than his own, which was nothing more than a blood-tie thirteen years removed.  “Sleeping.  Feverish,” he replied.

Marcus nodded.  “I will go in and say ‘goodbye’ then.”

“Goodbye?” Mingo asked, surprised.

“A court of inquiry has been called.  My superior officer is convening it in Boonesborough.  The men we caught will be tried and summarily hanged.  And then we must search for Billings.”  Marcus looked toward the cabin.  “While he is free, James is not safe.  Francis Billings is a malcontent.  He has spent more of his life imprisoned than he has in the free air.  He will not let this insult – this failure stand without attempting reprisal”

“You sound like you know a lot about him.”

“I should.  He used to be one of my men.  Billings is a deserter.  It probably delighted him no end to bring about the deaths of so many good and honest soldiers.”  Marcus met his eyes, his own intense and searching.  “Can I trust you, Murray, to watch over the boy until I return?  It will be a few days.”

Mingo nodded.  “You can trust that I will do what is best for James.  He is my son.”

Marcus’ jaw grew tight.  He nodded once and then turned and marched down the path, away from the cabin and toward the town.  Several of his men fell in at the gate and followed him.

Mingo released the breath he had not  known he held.  That was the first hurdle.

Now he had to get James past Rebecca.

 

                                                    ###

           

            “You want to *what?*” she exclaimed.

            Mingo had returned with the pony.  Trailing behind it was a litter made of branches and ropes.  He had padded it with moss and placed a number of blankets on it in preparation for transporting the boy to Chota.  Then he had gone inside and informed Rebecca of his decision.

            “I said, ‘I am taking my son to his People.’ ”

            “Mingo, no!”

            “Your white medicine has given up on him, Rebecca.  ‘There is nothing that can be done’.  Those were the doctor’s words.  Among my people we do not give up until the last breath is taken, and then we accept it as the will of the Creator.”

            “He’ll die if you move him,” she cautioned.

            “Then he dies – if it is the Creator’s will.  But I must do what I can for James, and that is not sitting here, watching him die without at least attempting to save him.”

            She shook her head.  “I don’t know….”

            “Let him go, Becky,” a rough voice spoke from behind her shoulder.  Mingo looked up to see his friend, Daniel.  The frontiersman had awakened and joined them.  Daniel’s brown hair was tousled and he was still in his nightshirt.  He placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders and nodded a greeting, “Mingo.”

            “Daniel.”

            “What does the boy’s uncle think about this?” Dan asked.

            Mingo smiled.  “Marcus has gone to question and execute the men who harmed James.  He will not return for several days.”

            “In other words, he doesn’t know.”

            “He is my…son, Daniel.”  Saying it, he still found it hard to believe.  “I do not know how to explain it.  I *know* this is right.”

            “You think the boy can survive the journey?”

            “Lying here, waiting for death to take him, is no better.”

            Dan headed for their bedroom.  “Hang on until I can get dressed.  I’ll go with you.”

            “Daniel, no.  This is for me to do – ”

            “Mingo, arguin’ with me won’t get you much farther than it did with Becky.  You’re not thinkin’ straight.  First off, you’re liable to need help just getting’ the boy there, over the roads and through the trees.  Secondly, Francis Billings is still out there.”  Dan turned back as he reached the curtain that separated the bedroom from the rest of the cabin.  “I don’t want that boy wakin’ up to find the father he came all this way to meet is lyin’ dead beside him.  Or worse, to have to bury you both.”

            Daniel was right.  He hadn’t thought of that.

            “I am sorry, Rebecca,” Mingo said softly, turning toward her.

            She looked puzzled.  “About what?”

            “I am afraid I will have to accept your husband’s offer.  Marcus told me about Francis Billings.  He is a desperate man.”

            Dan returned to take his wife’s hands.  He made her meet his gaze.  “Rebecca, I want you to go to the fort.”

            “Dan, no!”

            “The children are there.  They need their mother, and I need to know that I don’t have to worry about any of you.”  He turned and looked at him.  “I’ll see Becky there first, Mingo, while you get things ready, and then we can be on our way.”

            As the pair headed away, intent on gathering a few things, Mingo turned toward the bed where his newly found son lay fighting for his life.

            “Mingo?”  Daniel said softly, calling him back.

“What is it, Daniel?”

            The frontiersman held his gaze.  “I need your word that you won’t leave without me.”

            Mingo cocked an eyebrow.  “Would I do that?”

            “Sure as the sun will rise in the east in the mornin’,” Dan replied.  “Do I have your word?”

            He held his hand out.  “You have the word of Cara-Mingo of Chota, as well as that of Kerr Murray, late of Stirlingshire and London.”

            “That’s a mighty *weighty* word,” Dan said with a smile, taking his hand and shaking it.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

            Close to an hour later Mingo saw them out the door, and then returned to his son’s bedside to sit with him and wait.  James was restive, tossing and turning with the fever, his skin waxen and coated with a thin sheen of sweat.  Mingo took the boy’s hand in his own and held it tightly.  He looked at James and could not help but see himself.  A mother dead.  A father he did not know.  Cast adrift in a world that was as foreign to him as London had once been to Talota’s twelve year old son.  Perhaps James wanted to die. At times *he* had thought death his only escape.

            “I am here, James,” he said softly, brushing the boy’s soaked hair away from his forehead.  “Son, I am here.”

            Slowly, but without warning, James’ eyes opened.  He licked his lips and turned his head toward him.  Mingo had to wonder what the boy would do when he saw him.  There was no way James could equate the Cherokee warrior, wearing beads and feathers, dressed in buckskin and wool felt, with the man his mother must have told him about.  Dark lashes veiled his feverish eyes, but Mingo could see that they were a deep brown, reminiscent of his own.  In many ways it was like looking in a mirror – one coated in longing and polished with regret.

            “Where?” James asked, his voice thick with pain.

            “You are in the Boones’ cabin.  Do not try to speak.  You are very ill.”

            “How?”

            “Daniel found you and brought you here.”

            He licked his cracked lips again.  “And…the others?”

            Mingo had expected that question.  His father had taught him that lying was a sin, but his mother had told him it could also be a blessing.  “They are in a safe place.  No one can harm them now,” he answered.

            “Thank God,” the boy whispered, “Thomas….”

            “He took your place?  Did he not?”

            His head barely moved, indicating ‘yes’.  “I didn’t…want him…to.”

            Mingo owed the dead boy, Thomas, a debt that could not be repaid.  “His bravery will be remembered.”

            “Who…”  James blinked again and his head fall sideways on the pillow.  “Who are…you?  Do I know…you….”

            James closed his eyes.  Even when open, they had not really seen him.  Mingo placed his hand on his son’s head and rose to gently kiss his sweat-soaked hair.

            “No.  Not yet.  But you will.”