Sins of the Father
By Marla F. Fair
At that moment James realized that none of it mattered. Whether his parents had loved one another. Why his father had left. What his mother had expected from him when she sent him to the Colonies.
What he expected from himself.
All of it came down to this – his father laying in a growing pool of his own blood, and the man who had shot him pointing a gun at his chest.
He was going to die. He was going to die without coming to know the man who had fathered him, without asking a single question or getting a single answer because his own stubborn pride and stiff-necked prejudice had prevented him from even speaking to him.
His mother *would* have been ashamed.
“Well, have you nothing to say, laddie? No last requests?” When James said nothing, William Alexander lifted the musket and sighted along its barrel. “Then tis time to say ‘goodbye’.”
James reached out and placed his hand on his father’s arm and closed his eyes as Alexander’s finger tightened on the trigger. He tensed, waiting – remembering the horror he had felt the last time as the lead ball ripped through his flesh. Then, when nothing happened, he opened his eyes and found he was no longer alone.
“I’d lower that rifle, if I was you, Lieutenant,” a familiar voice ordered as a tall lean man wearing a coonskin cap made an appearance behind the British officer. “And drop it to the ground. Unless you’d like a hole in your backside big enough for a bird to take roost in.”
James watched Alexander think about it, then come to the conclusion that Daniel Boone would cut him down before he could manage to fire a shot. With a curse, the lieutenant dropped his weapon and raised his hands to the sky.
As Daniel Boone took hold of Alexander’s arms and pulled them behind his back, he asked him, “How’s Mingo?”
James shook his head. He really didn’t know. There hadn’t been time to check.
“See what you can do for him,” Daniel said, his voice laced with concern. “I’ll tie Alexander to one of these trees and then be back.”
James watched him go, unmoving. Then he stirred and looked down. His hand was still on the fallen man’s arm. The touch wasn’t enough to tell him if Cara-Mingo was breathing. He shifted and leaned his head against his father’s chest and heard his heart beating, slow but steady. Shifting the older man’s vest aside, James saw that the ball had entered from the back and passed cleanly through his shoulder. If it hadn’t struck anything vital – and there had not been too much blood loss – he should survive. The regiment James traveled with had seen a little action, even before they were attacked outside Boonesborough. He had hung about the surgeon’s tent and showed enough interest and promise that the kind old man had taught him a few things. A ball that remained in the body was an imminent threat. One that made its way through could be a blessing.
As Daniel Boone fell to his knees beside him, James looked up. “I don’t think it’s too bad. The ball went through his shoulder.”
The older man probed the wound and then nodded. “Sounds like you got that about right, ‘Doctor’ Murray.” Daniel Boone pinned him with his hazel eyes. “And how are *you*, son?”
James felt the steady heartbeat of the man who had conceived him beneath his hand. He looked at his face – so like the one in the portrait and yet, so unalike. James shook his head. “I…. I don’t know.”
Dan smiled. He touched his shoulder briefly. “Now there’s an honest answer from an honest man.” He turned around and rummaged in his kit for a moment, and then held out a tin pan. “Can you fetch some water for me? We’ll need to clean his wound and bind it.”
James nodded. He took the pan and rose to his feet and then began to limp toward the stream.
“James, hold on. You’re wounded. Let me do that.”
He turned back. “I’m all right, Mr. Boone. It’s nothing.”
The older man’s eyes went to his leg. James knew he would see the bloodstain there, and thought he would try to stop him. But to his surprise, he simply nodded and added quietly, “Take your time, boy.”
When James returned he found Daniel Boone had moved his father from where he lay, placing him under a tree to shelter him from the rain which continued to fall noiselessly around them. Lieutenant William Alexander was tethered close by, but far enough away so as not to disturb them. An elegantly beaded bandoleer lay open at his father’s side. Spilling out from it were a number of herbs and several rolls of bandages. When the tall frontiersman heard him coming, he looked up and grinned.
“Just like Mingo to prepare ahead. Seems like if he don’t find trouble, it manages to find him.”
“He’s your friend, isn’t he?” James asked haltingly.
“Best one I got, son. Best man I know.” Dan paused and then added gently, “Any boy’d be lucky to have him for his father. You want to help me with this?”
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Less mortification sets in, he’ll be right a rain in about a week. It’ll keep him from traveling though – least ways if Becky has a word about it. That woman’d mother a wildcat and count herself lucky.” Dan gathered up a few of the herbs and crushed them between his fingers. “Wonder what he was carryin’ these for. They’re what the Cherokee use for wounds.”
James’ fingers brushed his thigh. “Probably for me,” he murmured.
“You two been travelin’ together?” Dan asked.
He shook his head. “I ran away,” he admitted. “He was hunting for me.”
“Well, whatever the reason, Mingo’s lucky he had these with him.” Dan picked up his knife. He pursed his lips and then said, “I’m gonna have to cauterize the wound. Then I’ll apply those in a poultice. I may need you to help me hold him down. Can you do that?”
James stood tall. “I have seen wounded men, before, Mr. Boone. And assisted the regiment’s physician, Dr. Sturgeon. I can take it.”
“Good. Oh, and it’s ‘Daniel’, son. We don’t stand on formality on the frontier.”
James stared down at his father for a moment and then said softly, “You’ll need some kindling to build a fire. I’ll see if I can find anything dry.”
Dan nodded. “Try between those two rocks where Mingo’d made camp. The rain’s pretty steady, but the wind’s fallen off. Hopefully there’s brush and wood there.”
James’ path took him past William Alexander. The man scowled at him through his gag as he passed, but he ignored him.
He had other things on his mind.
Coming to the rocks, James knelt and felt inside the niche. He found what he was looking for – dry grass and kindling which he quickly concealed in his pack. But he found several other things as well: another bandoleer like the one his father wore over his shoulder, his rifle decorated with beads and what looked like turkey feathers, and a large leather case. Curious he opened the case and found a guitar inside.
It had been his father he had heard singing.
Strangely disturbed by the discovery, James sealed the case and slung it over his shoulder. And then, with what Daniel needed safely in hand, he headed back to where the tall frontiersman waited.
By the time he returned the older man had started a fire. (How?) Daniel used the water James had fetched from the river to sterilize his knife and then beckoned him to his father’s side. James held the wounded man down as Daniel’s knife singed his flesh and he cried out, coming to for a few moments before lapsing back into silence. He was startled by his father’s strength. The power in Cara-Mingo’s arms was tremendous. It was all he could do to hold him down.
Once that was done – trembling, exhausted – James went to tear and pound the herbs as he had seen Galunadi do, to prepare a poultice to apply to his father’s wound to keep it from becoming infected.
“You better save some of that for yourself, James,” Daniel’s voice was soft as he crouched by his side. “You don’t look so good. I noticed the blood on your britches.”
“It’s stopped now. I’m all right,” James insisted, still grinding. “I just need some food.”
“And some sleep, I bet.” Daniel clapped his hand on his shoulder and then rose to his feet. “Once we get the poultice on Mingo’s shoulder, I’ll turn that pot to a better use and rustle us up some grub. Then you need to get some sleep. That’s an order, son”
It was an order the boy just couldn’t obey.
Daniel Boone rolled over and looked toward the tree under which Mingo lay sleeping. A dark form was silhouetted against the horizon halfway between them. Dan shifted and tossed off his cover and rose to his feet. Walking to the boy’s side he watched the wind rustle his black hair for a moment and then said softly, “James, there’s nothin’ you can do. Come back to bed.”
The boy looked up at him with tears in his eyes. “Why?” he whispered.
Dan hesitated. Why? Why what? Why had Mingo been wounded? Why had he come after James? Why had the boy’s mother sent him here?
Why had he been born?
Dan shook his head. “That’s a mighty short word with a mighty long answer, James. Come over here, out of the wind where it’s warm, and we’ll talk.”
“I don’t know if I want to,” the boy answered honestly.
Dan stared at him a moment. “I think the time for you *wantin’* to or not is past. You’ve got questions. You need answers – though some of them you are going to have to wait for Mingo to give you.”
James was silent a moment. Then he nodded and rose to his feet. Dan noticed the boy was shaky but said nothing. After all a musket ball through the leg, being kidnapped and drug through the wilderness, and a half-dozen nights sick would do that to a man. Let alone everything else the boy was having to deal with.
Dan waited until James had sunk onto the blanket he had laid out for him to sleep on and then sat himself, a few feet away. “Well?” he said.
James frowned. He started once and the stopped, and started again, “You found me – that’s what Menewa said – when I was hurt.”
Dan nodded. He knew what was coming.
“Was…did anyone else survive?”
The boy’s voice was small, and full of hope Dan hated to dash. “No, son. There was no one but you.”
“No one?” James eyes teared. “Thomas….”
“Gave his life to save you. That’s the bravest deed a man can do for a friend.”
Dan watched the boy take what he had said into him, and watched him pass quickly from disbelief, to grief, to rage as he made it a part of him. “No!” James fingers balled into fists. “No! I won’t believe it. I can’t believe it.” His voice broke as the grief returned, overcoming his anger, making it nothing more than a whisper. “He was like a brother to me….”
Dan pursed his lips and nodded again. “Life has a way of balancing things. Somethin’ is gained, and somethin’ lost. You *had* a brother. Now you have a father.”
“He’s not a father to me,” the boy muttered, growing angry again. “How could he be?”
“Well, it sure won’t happen if you won’t even give it a chance. What are you afraid of, James? That you might like Mingo?”
“Mingo.” James’ frowned, as if the word was distasteful. “What kind of a name is that?”
“A Cherokee name. A good name for a good man.” Dan paused and then continued, “You know what the Indians think about names, James?”
The dark eyes lifted to his face. “What?”
“They don’t often have just one. A man gets a new name as he makes it for himself. For Mingo, his old name ‘Kerr Murray’ belonged to a different man. The one who lived in England.”
“A better man,” James snapped.
“No. Not better or worse – just different.” Dan leaned back, sizing up the boy, thinking of the world in which he had been bred and of the things that Marcus Saynsberry would have put in his head. “You heard from Menewa about Mingo’s story?”
James nodded. “His mother was the daughter of the chief, Menewa’s sister. When she was dying, she sent for his father to come and take him away to England. Lord Dunsmore accepted him as his son and was willing to make him his heir.” The boy looked at him. “I don’t understand why he chose this…this place…over that.”
“And if he hadn’t left England, you might have gotten to know him. Right?”
James’ head went down. He didn’t answer.
“I can pretty much guarantee you, James, that if you had met Kerr Murray, you wouldn’t have liked him much.”
The boy looked at him again. “Why?”
“From what Mingo says he was a different man when he lived there – arrogant, proud, callow. The son of an Earl who thought the world was his to do with as he pleased. To use.”
“Like his father did my grandmother, ” James growled. “Like *he* did my mother.”
“You’ll have to ask Mingo about that. I don’t know what feelin’s he had for your mother. He was a young’un, not much older than you.” Dan’s hazel eyes narrowed. “You think you’re gonna live your life without makin’ a few mistakes?”
James jaw was tight. “I *am* the mistake….”
“No, James. You are the only good thing to come out of my time in England,” a soft silken voice spoke from close behind him.
“Mingo!” Dan grinned. Then he sobered and warned, “You shouldn’t be on your feet. You oughta be sleepin’.”
“Along with everyone else here. It seems this is not a night for sleep.” Mingo looked at his son. “Daniel….”
Dan rose to his feet. “I kept a place warm for you, Mingo. Now, I think I’ll follow my own advice and get some shut-eye. James,” he finished with a grin, “I’m lookin’ forward to getting’ to know you better.”
James glanced up at him and nodded; then looked back down at his feet.
Dan touched his friend briefly on the shoulder before drifting into the shadows to seek his bed.
Mingo waited. When James said nothing he waited longer.
Finally, he won.
“Did my mother mean anything to you?” James blurted out at last, his lip quivering with anger.
Mingo drew a breath and asked him back, “Are you man enough to hear the truth? Or do you want a falsehood that will make you feel better?”
James seemed a little taken aback. “I…I want the truth.”
“Your mother was a beautiful charming woman whose company I adored. We shared a love of music and art, and for a time I was infatuated with her. She was older than me by about two years and was the first woman I was…involved with.”
“Did you love her?”
“I thought I did. Now, I know I did not.” At the boy’s startled expression he added, “I have watched Daniel and Rebecca and learned from them that the bond of love between a man and woman is much deeper than sharing a bed and a few quick kisses in the dark. It involves self-sacrifice.” He waited and then asked again, “Are you certain you want the truth?”
James was silent for a moment. Then he nodded slowly. “Did you know about me?”
“James…no. I had no idea.”
“Why did you leave England?”
Mingo pursed his lips and thought about it. “Why? The answer is complicated….”
“If you don’t want to tell me – ”
“It’s not that. It is simply as I said – complicated.” Mingo adjusted the blanket around his shoulders and winced with his wound. He thought a moment. “Do you like being looked after, James? Fawned over?”
“No,” he answered quickly. “It makes me feel…. Well, it makes me uncomfortable.”
Mingo hid his smile. He was happy to hear that. Perhaps Marcus had not corrupted the boy *too* much.
“Well, I did like it for a time. I was pampered as the Earl’s son. No one knew who my mother was. My father lied and said she had been Spanish. I was treated as his legitimate heir and I can tell you, it was intoxicating. But slowly, the ‘privilege’ I lived with began to bother me. Why was *I* privileged over another man’s son? Why were there boys who polished my boots and powdered my hair and brought me food on silver platters when they had no food, no fancy clothes, no life of their own? I saw them beaten for dropping a piece of toast. Sent to bed with no supper for forgetting to bank my coals, or failing to show two hours before I woke to stoke them to life so my feet would not fall on a cold floor. I knew….” He drew a deep breath, praying he could communicate what he felt to this boy who needed to know him. “I knew, somehow, that it was wrong.”
“Wrong? Wrong, how?” James asked.
“Wrong. No man is better than another. We are all the Creator’s. I was not put here to be waited on, but to wait on others. To *do* for others. Do you understand?”
The boy shook his head. “No.”
Mingo shifted again. He was growing weary, but he was not about to give up. “Did Menewa tell you why I left England?”
“Something about a man named Star….”
“Star and Arrowkeeper. A Cherokee and a Creek. Torn from their own homes here in America, bound and caged, transported across the seas to perform in shows like beasts – to be forced to kill one another for the white man’s pleasure in front of an audience of addle-pated nobles and drunken school boys.”
“That really happened?”
“It did. It does.” His voice was sad with the remembering. “I was one of those schoolboys. What I saw there changed my life. What I saw and experienced – the mindless brutality, the stink of gain, the corruption of everything that is good in man – compelled me to run away. To come back here, to my mother’s people. To who I was.”
James was silent for a long time. Then he asked softly, his anger gone. “And who *are* you?”
“Talota’s son, and John Murray’s. Cara-Mingo and Kerr. The best of both, I hope.” He paused and then added, “In England, I was the worst. If I had stayed, you might have had a father, though I doubt the 5th Earl of Dunsmore would have been allowed to marry your mother. But if I had stayed, I would not be the man you are meeting now. And I do not think you would have liked the one you would have met.” When James said nothing, he asked him, “Has it been so hard for you?”
The boy didn’t lift his head, but he began to speak, slowly. “I’ve had pretty much everything I wanted. Well, everything but the *one* thing I wanted which was to – ”
James looked at him. “Yes. To belong. I wasn’t part of the nobility, but I’m not common either. The peers’ sons, well, they jeered at me. Made fun of me. Called my mother names….” He drew a breath. “And the common boys, they thought I was rich and privileged, and they hated me for it.”
“You have no brothers or sisters?”
He shook his head. “Mother never married.”
Mingo realized his father had given James their family name, else he would not have been called ‘Murray’. But it had never occurred to him that Catherine had not married. “Did she say why?”
It was the first time he had seen James smile. “Mother said she was waiting for a man, and that there were none to be found in England.”
It was Mingo’s turn to fall silent. When he spoke at last, his voice was choked. “I…I wish I had known her better.”
“You know she’s probably dead.”
Mingo nodded. “Yes, and James, there is something I have to tell you.”
He could see the boy steel himself. His deep brown eyes grew wary. “What?”
“Your uncle came looking for you. He traveled with us for a while.” Mingo drew a deep breath. “Marcus died saving my life.”
What color the boy had in his face drained away. “Uncle Marcus is dead?”
“Yes. Francis Billings, the man who kidnapped you along with Alexander, shot him. He was aiming at me.”
“Then I’m all alone,” James said, his voice shaking with a mixture of grief and fear.
Mingo wanted to rush to him, to take him in his arms, but he didn’t. “No,” he said softly, “you are only alone if you want to be. I am here, but I will not force myself on you. You will have to come to me.” With that Mingo rose to his feet. “The day will be here soon. You should get some sleep. James?”
His son nodded but did not move.An hour later Mingo found James in the same spot sound asleep and tossed a woolen blanket over him to keep him warm