Sins of the Father
by Marla F. Fair
A knock on the door brought Becky’s head up so hard it made her neck hurt. Massaging it, she rose from her place on a chair beside the boy’s bed and peered out of the window. The new day had dawned, but it wasn’t Cincinnatus standing on her doorstep.
It was a Redcoat.
Becky released the curtain and moved into the shadows by the window. From the quick glimpse he looked like an officer, maybe a Lieutenant or Captain-Lieutenant. He had no epaulets, but had silver bars on the collar of his scarlet coat and a black solitaire tied around his white collar.
He pounded the door again. Becky looked at the boy, but it seemed unlikely he would wake and give them away. Then her eyes went to Dan’s extra rifle. It hung above the mantle. In order to reach it, she would have to chance giving her position and presence away.
“Mrs. Boone? If you are in the cabin, please open the door. Mrs. Boone?”
So he knew her name. Was that good, or bad?
“I have been to the fort. I was given instruction to reach here. I mean you no harm, you must believe me. I am seeking information on the regiment of foot that was in this area.” He paused and listened. “Mrs. Boone?”
His accent was schooled, educated – like Mingo’s and his father’s. She thought furiously and finally decided that pretending she was not home was going to do little good. He would just return later and ask the same questions.
But that didn’t mean she had to let him in.
“Who are you?” she called at last.
There was a pause, and then, “Lieutenant William Alexander, Madame, of His Majesty’s regiment of foot. Please, let me come in.”
“No. You can ask your questions through the door.”
She heard something like a sigh of frustration and then, “Very well. I was told in the town, by the local innkeeper, that you have a young man of my regiment here. I was detained in joining them.” She heard the pain in his voice. “I understand young James is the only one left alive. Is that correct?”
She turned and looked at the boy in the bed. What was Cincinnatus thinking, sending a Redcoat to her door? Then she had to admit that he was probably right. This man had a connection to the boy and could tell them who he was. There was no reason for Cincinnatus *not* to tell him.
Why, then, did it bother her that he had?
“Yes, he’s here.”
“Thank God! And still alive?”
“Mrs. Boone, I understand your caution. But the boy needs to be seen by a proper physician. The rest of the regiment is not far from here. I can send for the doctor and have him here in no time. Please, James is a special boy….”
Becky put her hand to the bar on the door. She hesitated, then removed it and lifted the latch. The man standing outside was not as old as she was, but he was probably over thirty. He had deep copper hair that was pulled back in a tight tale and clubbed as was the regulation for British officers. Everything about him was spit and polish clean. His face was beardless and slightly tanned, and he had bright blue eyes.
“Lieutenant Alexander?” she asked.
He nodded and bowed. “At your service.”
“Come in,” Becky said as she crossed to the bed, “the boy’s over here.” After a moment she turned back. Lieutenant Alexander had not moved. “Is something wrong?” she asked him.
His smile was genuine. For about two seconds. Then it took on the quality of a fat cat about to feast on a mouse. “My mother always taught me to ask first. I hope you don’t mind if I brought a few friends.”
He stepped aside and five other men entered – two in uniform and three in hunter’s frock coats. The frontiersmen had a hard, hungry look about them. The soldiers were a little better, but from the way they were leveling their rifles at her, she had a suspicion they were up to no good.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“Is that him?” one of the men wearing a hunting frock asked.
Alexander walked to the boy’s bedside. He seemed tense, but when he checked James’ pulse and then stared into his face, he nodded. “This is him. The other one was the counterfeit.”
“You sure this time, Alexander?” the man demanded, a hint of derision in his tone.
“Dunsmore was smart. The pair could have been brothers.”
“What is this all about?” Becky asked, looking from one to another.
Lieutenant Alexander turned to look at her. “Mrs. Boone, we hold nothing against you. This does not concern you. The less you know, the better.” He turned to the other men. “Now get him and let’s get out of here.”
“No!” Becky shouted. “You can’t! You’ll kill him.” She crossed to where the British officer stood. “The wound has not healed. He is feverish. If you reopen it, he will die.”
William Alexander looked at her. Then he threw the cover back and examined the young man’s leg. James moaned and shifted, but didn’t wake up. “It looks all right to me,” he said.
“Shows what you know then,” she countered angrily. “I helped take the musket ball out, and bind the wound. I wouldn’t chance moving him if I were you – if he’s that important.”
Alexander turned to the man in the coat. “Francis, what do you think?”
“I think we’re playing with fire,” the frontiersman answered. “We need to get moving. Who knows when Boone and that Indian of his will show up.”
Or the children, Becky thought. They were due any time! She glanced at the young man on the bed. But could she trade his life for her children’s? He was someone’s son as well.
“You had better make up your mind,” she said. “Dan is due back any time.”
Alexander looked at her. “She could be lying.”
“I could be,” Becky countered. “But you’ll never know.”
The lieutenant walked back to the boy’s side. He stood by the bed for a minute, stroking his chin. Then he looked at her. “Since you are so concerned for the young man’s welfare, Mrs. Boone. You can come with us. Get your shawl and whatever medical items you need. If the wound reopens, as you say it will, then we will have you to tend him.”
Becky faltered, looking at the other evil-looking man. “What about your own doctor?”
“There ain’t one,” the frontiersman growled. “Get your things. And hurry. Or I’ll wait around until those kids of yours get home, and leave one of them lookin’ like *him*.” He nodded toward James.
The lieutenant drew in a breath. It was evident he did not care for his compatriot. “Mrs. Boone, this is Francis Billings, sometimes privateer and erstwhile mercenary. He means what he says. I want to see no more violence occur than is absolutely necessary. Now, get your things.”
“Tell that to the families of the soldiers you killed!” Becky snapped. Then she picked up a kindling basket from near the boy’s bed and, emptying it, crossed to the cabinet where she kept some spare flour, her spices, and the medicinal herbs and bandages. Billings watched her closely while Alexander and several of the other men wrapped the boy in blankets, and then picked him up, using another blanket as a litter.
“Are you ready, Mrs. Boone?”
Becky glared at the lieutenant and pushed past him to take a place at the boy’s side. She had hurried as much as she could. She did *not* want these men around when Jemima and Israel arrived.
“Ready,” she replied.
Outside the day was dawning. The sun promised to make it a bright and beautiful one. Becky stepped off the porch and followed her captors toward the trees at the edge of their yard.
If she was lucky, they wouldn’t notice. And if the chance she took was blessed, she and her captors would soon move into those trees and their leafy shadows would hide the thin line of yellow-brown wheat flour that was leaking – oh, so slowly – from her basket, marking the path they took.
Daniel and Mingo were on their way back to the cabin. They had rested for a few hours only and then started the return journey, both uneasy with the staged massacre and what such a thing represented. Both agreed the boy had been the object of whatever had happened, but as to why they had no idea. Neither did they understand why the Shawnee in particular had been used as a scapegoat – though since most of the native tribes in the area had supported the French during the last war, it might have been intended to be taken as a simple reprisal.
But was the object of the raid to kill the boy? Or to abduct him? Both things had happened.
Mingo tended toward the latter thought. If one boy was the master and the other the servant, then they might have switched places in order to protect the one who was nobly born – the one who now lay wounded in the Boone’s cabin.
The one who might very well turn out to be his brother.
“James” was one of the family names, carried through the Murray line for generations. He thought about the other name – that of the woman who signed the letters. Catherine. Try as he might he could not remember any ‘Catherine’ in his father’s life at that time – and his father had been more than casual in his affairs. Charlotte, his step-mother, was aware of all of them. Mingo frowned as he considered all the possibilities. He would have been about seventeen or eighteen then, and in the Academy. He had not yet met Rachel Cornell. He was living the rake’s life – indulging a young man’s whims and fancies in every way. His father had a rather bottomless purse and, so long as he was doing what Lord Dunsmore deemed ‘right and proper’, there was no end to the amount of money he could spend, or limit to the amount – or kind – of things he could buy. He had met most of his father’s paramours, and there was not a ‘Catherine’ among them he could recall.
“Mingo.” Daniel’s hand caught his shoulder and brought him to a halt. The frontiersman pulled him into the shadows of the leaves and then nodded toward the cabin. “The front door’s open.”
Mingo looked. Indeed, it was. It was early morning and sometimes Rebecca had a habit of airing out the small cramped space. Still, with the mystery of the boy and the supposed Shawnee attack, it seemed unlikely she would leave it standing open unless she or one of the children was on the porch or close by in the yard. “Do you think something is wrong?”
Dan nodded. “Doesn’t feel right.”
His friend’s instincts were seldom incorrect. Especially when it came to his family. And he sensed it as well. A forlorn feeling. As if the cabin was uninhabited. “What do you think we should – ” Mingo stopped. It was his turn to touch Daniel’s shoulder and indicate where he should look.
Cincinnatus was coming down the well-worn footpath with Israel and Jemima.
“Should we intercept them before they get to the cabin?”
Dan rose to his feet. “I’ll go. You check the cabin.”
The words were tight in his friend’s throat. For all they knew Rebecca could be laying dead, even scalped, on the floor. Though it seemed more likely at this point that the culprits would be white rather than native. Mingo nodded and watched as Daniel slipped from the trees and headed down the path. He heard the children’s shouts of recognition and joy even as he left the bower of leaves and headed for the open door and whatever lay within.
It was with a mixed sense of relief and growing concern that he left the cabin a few minutes later to greet his friend. Daniel had told the children something was wrong. He could tell by their hushed voices and worried faces. As the three of them came up to the cabin, with Cincinnatus trailing a few yards behind, he greeted them with a nod.
“There is no one within, Daniel. As you suspected. *No* one.”
“The boy’s gone too?”
Mingo nodded. “They picked him up with the blankets and carried him out. I imagine Rebecca was taken as a nursemaid, or doctor.”
“But by who? Pa?” Jemima’s face was stained with tears. “Was it Indians?”
“We don’t know, darlin’,” her father said softly. “We just don’t know.”
The frontiersman looked at him.
Dan nodded. “Cincinnatus, take the children in and have them gather up their things – whatever you’ll need for a long stay at the fort.” As they protested, he kissed each one on the head. “No arguin’. I can’t find your Ma if I’m worryin’ myself about you.”
With a nod and a sniff the two children walked slowly into the cabin, their feet dragging as if facing the empty rooms would only lend reality to what seemed at this moment still a dream or nightmare.
“What is it, Mingo?”
He shook his head. “There were no natives here. By the boot marks, there were several soldiers, and – I would guess – frontiersmen.”
He nodded. “All of which tells us little. Did they come and, finding the boy, assume we had taken him, and arrest Rebecca? Or – ”
“Or were these the men who slaughtered those soldiers, *for* the boy, and they have taken Becky to make certain he stays alive?” Dan finished.
“I admit,” Mingo sighed, “I would tend to think the latter scenario more plausible.”
Dan faced him squarely. “So you never said who you think he is, and why he’s carryin’ a portrait of you around. The time’s come for answers, Mingo.”
He stared at his friend and then nodded. Then he went to stand before the fire where this had all started, where he had found the letter and the oval portrait. “You agree that the boys switched places? The one who died doing so to protect the other?”
“I agree. To protect the ‘Earl’s son. Which Earl, Mingo?”
He drew a deep breath. “Daniel, I think the boy may be my brother.”
Dan’s brows winged toward the wave of brown hair brushing his forehead. “Brother?”
“If my father sent him here, to the Colonies, having him pass through Kentucky on his way, there would have been no way for the boy to find me other than with the portrait. I am not sure why my father would have done this – ‘family ties’ are not usually uppermost in his mind.”
“A brother. By his wife?”
Mingo shook his head. “Most likely not.”
“The woman’s name was ‘Catherine’. She one of his….”
“Mistresses? Not that I remember. But most likely that is what happened. For some reason he has obviously taken an interest in the boy – much as he did me. If he has given him his name and educated him, and is sending him now to the Colonies for further education, there must be something special about him.”
“And you think somehow someone got wind of him coming and killed the regiment with the intention of….”
“Kidnap? Ransom? My father has many enemies.” Mingo smiled grimly. “Some say I count amongst them.”
“You two seemed to make up a bit when he was here earlier this year.”
The smile faded. “Some. It is hard, Daniel, to explain what it is like. Being a bastard child. Even though Lord Dunsmore married my mother in a Cherokee ceremony, in European eyes, that is what I am. Like the boy. To never fit in, never truly belong even though you are thrust into positions and places where you *must* fit, and the longing to please a father who is distant, removed from you by God knows what. When I was a boy among the Cherokee, I thought my father did not want me, or love me. That I was an accident, a thing to be tossed away.”
“You know different now.”
“Yes. But if I had only known *sooner*. Who knows what path I might have chosen, how different my life might have been. What I might have become….”
Dan turned to find Jemima and Israel standing side by side with their belongings packed. He walked up to them. Both were wearing forlorn frowns. Their father took his two index fingers and lifted one end of each of their mouths. “How about a smile?” he asked.
“Pa…what if Ma….what if they hurt her?” Jemima asked.
“Whoever they are, Mima, they need your Ma. If they want to keep the boy alive.”
She was looking at the bloodstained rags thrown carelessly across the bed. “Was he hurt bad, Pa?”
He nodded. “Yep. Like to die for want of someone takin’ care of him.”
“Then maybe God sent Ma with him so he wouldn’t die,” Israel said quietly.
Dan kissed him on the head. “Maybe.” Then he looked at Cincinnatus. “You take care of them.”
“I will, Dan’l. Don’t even think about it. You think about Becky and bringin’ her home.”
Mingo watched as the two old friends shook hands and then the tavernkeeper herded the children toward the door. Seconds later they were out of sight. He waited a moment and then asked his friend, “What now?”
Dan thought for a minute. “You check in here for signs. I’ll go outside and see what I can find in the way of boot-prints and the like.”
As his friend left Mingo made another quick circuit of the main room of the cabin, but found little he had not already seen. When he came to the bench before the fire, he picked up the young man’s coat and, as he did, several more letters fell to the floor. Kneeling, he lifted them gently from the roughly-hewn boards and then carried them to the window in order to read them in the morning light.
‘My Dear James’, they all began, and all were signed, ‘with love, Catherine.’ He filed through them scanning each line. The penmanship was fine. Obviously the woman was educated. Then, in the last one, he found the reference he had been hunting. In the last paragraph, there was a line –
‘Always remember me, your loving and devoted mother’, and then a space and the name ‘Catherine.’
So she *was* his mother. Mingo sat the other letters down on the table and proceeded to read the last in its entirety. Catherine talked about James’ journey to America. About what an opportunity it was. And she mentioned the portrait. It had been a gift from her.
Mingo frowned. Where would one of his father’s mistresses have gotten a portrait of him as a young man of twenty. And why? Just to introduce him to her son? That seemed unlikely.
Mingo rifled through the pages. There was something else. A passage with a mention of Oxford he had skipped in his haste. He held the letter underneath the window and read it carefully.
‘Though I have never seen Oxford, your father told me of the dark façade beneath its seeming glittering exterior. He spoke of it with distaste. But his native land he spoke of with only joy, seeming to remember its beauty as one would a dream.’
His native land?
“Mingo, come here. I found something. Mingo?”
He stirred, like someone coming *out* of a dream, “Daniel? What?”
Dan was standing in the doorway. “Becky’s left us a trail to follow.”
Mingo folded the letter and placed it within his vest, and then he followed his friend onto the porch. Dan was kneeling on the ground, running his fingers over a thin vein of earth, lighter in color than the rest.
“What is it?” Mingo asked.
“Flour. Becky’s found a way to let a stream of it fall while she’s walking. All we have to do is follow.” Dan paused, looking at him. “Mingo, is something wrong?”
Catherine Saynsberry. The eldest daughter of his father’s ‘favorite’.
Catherine. The one who had been chosen to usher him into adulthood. To make him a ‘man’ as his father put it.
Mingo sat down heavily on the porch, the letter pulled from his vest and dangling in his hand.
“Mingo?” Dan came to his side. “Mingo, what’s wrong?”
James Murray. *That* was what was wrong. James was not his brother –
He was his son.