Sins of the Father

by Marla F. Fair

Chapter Two

 

            “Daniel!  Come here.”  Mingo stood with a moccasin in his hand.  He had located one of the natives who had attacked the British troops.  It had not been easy.  While the regiment had been decimated, the natives seemed to have taken few losses.  They had only found one dead –  which seemed to indicate that the British had been betrayed by someone with a knowledge of their movements and whereabouts.

            In other words, one of their own.

            “What is it, Mingo?”

            He held the moccasin out.  “This is not Shawanoese.”

            Dan glanced at the moccasin, and then at the man who had been wearing it.  “He looks Shawnee.”

            “Look more closely, Daniel.  I believe he is white.”

            The frontiersman tipped his cap back and whistled.  “Do tell.”

            “And even though he has imitated the paint and tattoos, as well as the garb of the Shawanoese, this moccasin is wrong.  It is made in three pieces with a puckered toe.  The design is Huron,” he said as he turned it over, admiring the beautiful beadwork in the midst of such ugliness and destruction.

            “Maybe he’s half-Shawnee, or Huron.”

            Mingo tossed the shoe to the ground.  “Perhaps, but it seems to me that someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make this appear as if it *was* a Shawnee attack.”

            “And they just ran one pair shy of shoes?”

            “Daniel, this is not a laughing matter,” he growled.  “Someone may be trying to instigate a war between the English Army and the Shawnee.  With Boonesborough and Chota caught in the middle!”

            “Whoa, Mingo!  Hold on,” his friend Daniel was frowning.  “What’s eatin’ at your craw?”

            Mingo pointed to the bodies lying on the ground, most of them Redcoats – most of them *very* young.  “Isn’t it enough that King George’s policies are setting brother against brother?  A few years ago these men could have been our fathers’ friends.  Our neighbors.  Just because your father – and mine for a time – came to the New World and established roots here, suddenly it is an excuse to act as strangers and slaughter one another.”

            “Well, we do have our reasons for fightin’,” Dan said quietly, his gaze fixed firmly on him.

            Mingo drew a deep breath.  He had to be careful.  His raw nerves were showing and Daniel Boone was no fool.  “I apologize, Daniel.  So many dead.  And so needlessly.  I detest waste!”

            Dan was leaning on his rifle, watching him.  “That all?  Or you got somethin’ else botherin’ you?”

            “No.”  He turned then and picked up one of the shovels they had brought with them.  “A shallow grave, no one to mourn or sing over them.  Bloated bodies and nameless faces.  Isn’t that more than enough?”  With that, Mingo walked into the trees and began to break the earth.

He had only been at it about ten minutes when he heard his friend call him.

“Mingo!  Come here!”

“Daniel, are you all right?” he asked as he rushed back to the path where the dead soldiers lay.

“Fine.  I got somethin’ I think you oughta see.”

“Where are you?”

“Left side of the road.  ‘Bout halfway down the bank.”

His friend’s voice did indeed come from part way down the hill.  Mingo slid down the grassy slope to his side.  At first he saw nothing.  Then he noted a body, lying on its back.  It was a boy, and it looked as if he had been rolled down the hill and into the ravine where he now lay.

“He’s not in uniform, Mingo,” Dan said quietly.  “And it looks like he was executed.  There’s a hole in the center of his forehead.”

Mingo approached the boy’s lifeless form.  He had black hair and was roughly the same size and build as the one who lay struggling for his life back at the Boone’s cabin.  But this one was dressed richly, more like a Duke or Earl’s son.  Dressed as *he* had been when still in England and under his father’s ‘thumb’.

“He looks wealthy,” Dan remarked.

“I would agree.  A son of the Peerage, or at least of one of the lesser nobles.”  Mingo crouched and looked in his face.  He even bore a resemblance to the wounded boy.  They could almost have been brothers.  “Did you note how much he looks like the boy you saved?”

“The thought crossed my mind.  Mingo, is there somethin’ you need to tell me?”

Mingo rose and looked at his friend.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, Mingo, one thing I have to say about you is that for a man mighty fond of talkin’, you clam up better than the tightest shell when there’s somethin’ you don’t want to talk about.  Somethin’, maybe, that you ain’t too *proud* of.”

The two men stood facing one another over the boy’s dead body.  “What are you implying, Daniel?”

“Nothin’, except that I think you ain’t told me the whole truth – leastwise as you know it.  Becky mentioned you lookin’ at a letter that boy at the house had in his pocket.  And a portrait.  Said you brought them with you.”  Dan’s hazel-green eyes narrowed.  “How come you ain’t mentioned either one of them to me?”

Mingo hesitated.  “It’s a private matter.”

“Private?”  Dan turned and glanced up the slope to where the dead Redcoats lay.  “Seems a good many men might have had a part in that ‘private’ affair – and gave their lives for it.”  His friend hesitated and then asked point-blank, “Do you know who this boy is?”

Mingo shook his head.  “No.”

“The one back at the house?”

Again, a shake of his head.  “No.”

“But you have a suspicion?”

For a long time he was silent.  He looked at the young life at his feet that had been so summarily and senselessly snuffed out.  A boy not yet a man, dressed as if he was a child born to the ‘manor’, a son of class and distinction.  Then he thought of the letter and the portrait of the *familiar* young man the other boy had carried.  The two should have been together.  The fact that they were not indicated to him a subterfuge.  A substitution of one for the other.

This boy was not a son of the Peerage or lesser nobility, but the one close to dying back in the Boone’s cabin was.  And this one had given his life, for whatever reason, to protect him.

“Mingo?”

“Daniel,” he began, meeting his friend’s guarded stare, “I have no answers.  Only more questions.  I wish I could tell you something, but what I think is of no value without proof.  When I have proof, I will tell you.”

“Those are mighty fine words, Mingo.  High ones.  They sound right.  But they’ll bring little comfort to the widows and the orphans of those men who are dead, or to me, if your unwillingness to talk puts me and mine in danger.”

“I would never wittingly place you or your family in danger, Daniel,” he countered quickly.

“No, I know you wouldn’t.”  Dan lifted Ticklicker from the ground and headed back up the slope.  “It’s the *unwittin’* part I’m worried about.”

 

                                                    ###

 

Cincinnatus had come and gone, and promised to come again with the children in the morning when he thought it would be safe to conduct them through the woods.  Becky found herself alone in the cabin, with a strange boy who might be dying.  She stood now, looking down at him, wondering which he would prefer – living to find out that everyone but him was dead, or death with its peace and freedom from shame, regret, and guilt.

She had seen men before destroyed by less.  And he wasn’t even a man – just a boy at the beginning of his life.

Becky sat and took his hand in her own.  He was burning hot.  The fever was raging, and this night would probably tell whether he would live or die.  And he had no one but her.  No mother or father.  No sister or brother.  No one who knew him.  No one to whom he belonged, or who belonged to him.

A tear escaped her eye and trailed down her cheek.  “Dear Lord,” she whispered, “bring him through this, and bring him home.”  She pressed his hand to her lips, gently kissing it, and then laid it down on his chest.  He was dressed in one of Dan’s nightshirts now, with the quilt Jemima had made for them pulled up to his chin.  As she rose, he unexpectedly stirred and his eyes opened without focus.

“Mother?” he called.  His lips were parched and dry.  His throat rough as if with a winter cold.  “Mother….”

“No. Only me,” she said softly, sitting again.  “My name is Becky.  You are in my home.”

He blinked, but seemed not to hear her.  “May I go outside yet?” he asked.

“Do you want to?” she replied, trying to feel out where he thought he was.

“Yes.  It’s been so long….”  The boy fell silent, and for a minute she thought he had lapsed back into unconsciousness.  But then he spoke again, “I don’t like being sick.”

Becky almost laughed.  She squeezed his hand.  “No one does.  But hush now, you need your rest.”

He was silent again, and then his eyes flashed open, wild and wide.  “Thomas!  No!  It’s me they want!  Thomas.  *NO!*”

His strength surprised her.  He almost wrestled free of her grasp.  He was trying to get up and she knew that could prove fatal.  Cincinnatus had said that he must not, under *any* circumstances, be moved or the wound would open up again.

“You must listen to me!” she said, her voice commanding.  “You must not rise.  Listen to me.”  Then she remembered the letter and thought she would try it.  “James.  Listen to me!  James!”

At the sound of his name he quieted.  His eyes took on focus, for just a moment, and he looked at her.  *Really* looked at her.  “Who are you?” he asked as he fell back to the bed.

“Becky.  Becky Boone,” she answered.

“Boone?”  His eyelids fluttered as his head sunk into the pillow.  “Boone…my mother sent me….find you and….”

“Your mother?  James, who is your mother?  Tell me.  Maybe we can contact her.  James?”

He had fallen silent again.  His breathing all but stopped.  For a moment she feared he was dead, but when she placed her head on his chest, she could hear his heart beating rapidly.  She sat up and, as she did, he said something else which she missed.  Leaning in close, she asked him to repeat it and caught only the end.

            “father… Lord Dunsmore….”

            Becky waited until he was soundly asleep and then turned and looked toward the fire.  She remembered Mingo standing there.  She frowned as she thought of their friend and of the portrait he had so reluctantly handed her.  It might have been an older version of this young man, or a younger version of Mingo.

            Becky  turned back to the boy.

            Could James be another of Lord Dunsmore’s sons?

 

                                                                ###

 

“You feel like talkin’ yet, Mingo?”  Dan looked at his Indian friend who was busy polishing his rifle.  They had finished burying the British dead in a shallow grave, after first stripping them of anything that might help identify them or their regiment.  There had been a few letters, enough to indicate that the group had come from England recently and not been stationed in the Colonies.  One older man, their Captain no doubt, had orders on him, but they were just the usual thing – although it seemed they had been ferrying one of the young’uns to William and Mary University on their way to their assignment.  On the boy dressed in the princely clothes, they had found a letter written to a ‘James Murray’.  It was from a woman named Catherine – seemed like she was his mother.

Murray was Mingo’s English name.

His companion had been more silent than ever, as silent as the grave of the soldiers he had insisted singing over.  Dan had sat and listened to Mingo’s deep baritone carry through the forest.  The haunting sound had hushed everything about them – as if the earth itself mourned.

He kept quiet when Mingo returned, tired and pensive.  And remained so during the long supper they had shared, and while Mingo took his rifle apart and put it back together.  But now, the time had come.  Mingo knew something, and Dan wasn’t about to let his friend’s pride, or private nature, put him and his town – maybe his family – in danger.

“Mingo?  I’m waitin’.”

The Cherokee warrior paused in his polishing, his hand gripping the cloth and barrel.  “Daniel, there is nothing I am certain of.  I have no more than suspicions.”  He looked at him.  “It is like a puzzle, where none of the pieces fit, and yet, there is the shadow of the thing it will become.”

“That’s mighty poetic, Mingo, but not very helpful.”

Mingo ran the cloth one last time over the barrel and then placed his rifle on the ground by his side.  He drew a breath and then launched into – at least – a portion of the truth.  From long experience Dan knew his friend didn’t give in *that* easy.

“I believe the boy we found here, and the one at the cabin, exchanged places.  I do not know why they would have done this, other than for protection.”

“So the boy back at the cabin?  He’s the one bein’ sent to the university – the wealthy one?”

“I believe so.  And from the coat, my guess would be that the boy who died was the drummer.”

“So someone must be after that young’un.”

“That is the part that puzzles me.  Who would care if the son of an Earl was going to university?  Enough to put on this elaborate charade of a native attack?  And to try to place the blame on the Shawnee?  It makes no sense.”  Mingo shifted and reached for his drink.  “What could a boy of thirteen or so years have done to warrant such attention?”

“Or what could his father have done?” Dan asked quietly.  He paused and then, with meaning, added, “So he’s an *Earl’s* son?  How’d you figure that?”

Mingo’s eyes met his, lit with just a hint of chagrin.  “I did say that.  Did I not?”

“Yep.”  Dan shifted and leaned back.  “So, who is he?”

Mingo shook his head. “Again, this is only supposition.”  He turned and reached into his bandoleer and drew out a letter.  “Read this first.”

Dan took the letter.  He looked at the address.  It was to the president of the college in Virginia.  It started with the usual polite compliments and necessary flattering, but then moved on to talk about the boy who carried it.

‘The boy, James, should make an excellent addition to your university.  He is bright, clever, and has already been schooled privately in Scotland near Stirlingshire for two years.  He is a gifted musician, playing not only the harpsichord, but several other instruments.  Several of his compositions have already been performed and applauded by the King’s brother who was in attendance.  Rather than make him continue to pursue the military life to which his nature is not suited, I have decided to send him to the Colonies.  There, though I know music may not be a major subject of study, he may indulge his desire to continue with it while learning something useful, like the law.

‘Signed, John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunsmore, Duke of Athol, Marquis of Tullibardine, & etc..’

Dan’s hazel green eyes must have been wide as the full moon shining above them in the sky.  “Lord Dunsmore?  Your father?”

“Yes.”  Mingo hesitated, and then handed him the portrait.

It was dark, but the light of the moon painted the land in shades of silver-blue. He could make out the face enough to see the resemblance.  “This the boy?” he asked.

Mingo shook his head.  “No.”

Dan frowned.  “Your father then, when he was young?”

The Cherokee hesitated a moment before again saying, “No.”

“Well, who is it then?”  Dan looked up.  Mingo had turned away and was staring at the stars.  His face was at a three-quarter angle.  Just like the one in the portrait.  Dan whistled.  “Mingo, by God – ”

            He nodded.  “It is me.”