King and Pawn
Before the sun rose, Mingo found himself in a saddle again. He and Daniel led twelve mounted British marines, twenty trotting Shawnee warriors, two bound prisoners on horseback, and one royal governor sitting in a carriage with a Shawnee chief to the York river. The trip was quiet and uneventful--the first pleasantly cool day the Kentuckians had experienced since their arrival in the Tidewater basin.
Mingo did not let the tall-grassed marshlands or the winged wildlife haloed by the dawn light distract his thoughts this day. Instead, he practiced all the things he should have said to his father the night before as if rehearsing the closing act of a tragic opera.
At the mouth of the river where it met the Chesapeake Bay, a British ship-of-the-line waited like a gray ghost hulk in the cool morning fog. Diving white seagulls at the ship's stern and the clang of the rigging against the three naked masts gave evidence that it was no phantom. Three decks of black gun ports gaped at its side like angry mouths warning of destruction and bloodletting to come.
A small skiff manned by two sailors waited at shore. The oarsmen shackled together the governor's prisoners, Ahner Breeden and Major Halpen, then rowed them through the low white mist to the ship.
In the idle moment, Mingo conversed with Daniel as they remained on their horses.
"I am surprised you are letting Dunsmore take Breeden," Mingo said. "It seems a waste to not have him tried in a court here and teach other would-be lords-of-lawlessness by example."
"I'm not happy about it," Daniel said with a crooked frown, "but I was out voted. Dunsmore showed me a law on the books that says traitors to the King must be tried in England. Cornstalk wanted Dunsmore to take Breeden to England. He feared killin' the man would cause unrest between the Shawnee and the whites on the frontier. I just wanted you and Yad to see Breeden hangin' from a noose."
"Did you speak to Breeden last night?" Mingo asked.
Daniel sighed and dropped his head. "Yep. His words are cankerous lies. He still claims Dunsmore sent him to Kentucky."
"That would explain why the governor denied knowledge of Ahner Breeden," Mingo said. "He admitted to me that he did know of him."
The frontiersman grimaced and pulled his coonskin cap up to scratch his head. After replacing his cap, and adjusting it carefully, he turned a weary face to his Cherokee friend. "Mingo, I've a pretty good idea of the explanation for that, but it's not worth airin'."
Mingo sat back on his horse and frowned at his friend. "Are you trying to protect me from the truth of my father's vices?"
Daniel grinned. "Dunsmore may--and I say this without sure proof—he may have had a relationship with Ahner's mother, Ahlouette Breeden. If you met the woman, you'd understand how that might happen to a green royal governor tryin' to win the allegiance of the planter class of Tidewater Virginia."
"If that were true," Mingo said, "then he may have sought to protect the son and cover up his activities."
Daniel nodded. He looked off towards the water. "The skiff's returning to retrieve the governor." The two friends dismounted and walked to the makeshift dock.
Dunsmore was dressed in the polished uniform of a British general. A black-ribboned queue at the back of his neck tamed his natural gray-streaked hair. His left hand rested on the hilt of a sword hung at his side, probably only for decorum. The governor seemed lost in contemplation as he stared off across the river that was quickly losing its blanket of fog. Was he troubled by remorse for his own actions, or like a battered victim, ticking off the list of affronts played upon him by his adversaries? Mingo surmised that given his father's propensity for looking into the future, the general was plotting schemes of attack and counterattack for regaining the rebellious colony of Virginia. Like an unruffled focused chess player, he would have already charted in his cunning mind all of his enemy's potential moves and his own endgame.
"We may see each other in battle, Captain Boone," Dunsmore said. "I am yet to know my orders."
Daniel smiled and leaned on his gun. He pushed his coonskin cap back on his head. "Most battles I know about, the generals sit in the back and the soldiers do all the killin' that's to be done. But I hear tell that you are a different sort of general who goes into the field and shares the dangers and the privations of war with his soldiers. If that be the case, General Dunsmore, I suggest you keep your head down."
Dunsmore smiled. "I'd have a hard time killing you, Captain Boone." He clasped his hands behind his back. Standing erect and confident as if the day was like any other for a King's agent, he said, "I want to give you a parting gift and I ardently wish that you will accept it--unlike your wife's dismissal of my previous generous offer."
"Well, now, that all depends on the strings attached," Daniel said with raised brows.
"On the afternoon I spent with Dr. Cleves, I gave him Porto Bello, my hunting lodge, but there was a rider to the transaction, which he readily accepted."
Daniel glanced with a puzzled look at Mingo.
"There is a room-size vault hidden behind a paneled wall in my study at the lodge. It contains about fourteen hundred pounds of gold coins and several deeds to property in the Ohio Valley. Whatever is in that vault is yours. The land will grow in value once the Ohio Valley is open to settlement."
Mingo felt his face flush with the familiar anger only his father could engender. "Land speculation in the Ohio Valley? Does Cornstalk know that you have bought his land while he yet resides upon it?"
"Now, Mingo," Dunsmore said with a sideways glance towards his son, "I was only doing what all the gentlemen of Virginia have been doing for the past ten years. You can ask those vaunted Virginians--Washington, Henry and Jefferson--to explain it."
"General," Daniel said, "the people of Kentuck don't take charity."
"Please, Captain Boone, it is but a small gesture. Given the state of affairs between the colonies and the Crown and the likelihood of war, I would like for some Americans to remember me as the honorable man I believe myself to be before they learn to hate me as God knows what labels the rebels will place upon my head."
"I'll accept your gracious gift on behalf of the many families of Boonesborough, as a gesture of goodwill. However, General, you have not bought their allegiance."
The governor lifted his chin and studied Daniel with narrowed eyes. "Of course not, Captain, I would not be so naive as to think that."
Daniel offered his hand to the departing general and they shook warmly. Dunsmore pulled a large packet from his coat pocket. "I wish for you to deliver this to Dr. Cleves at the hunting lodge. Captain, I recommend that you give it to him after you have the gold in your hands."
The frontiersman accepted the sealed packet and stuck it inside his hunting frock.
Daniel glanced at Mingo for a moment. "General, I have one question for you before we part."
"What is that Captain Boone?"
"What's to happen to your servants? I see you're not takin' them with you."
"I really don't know, nor do I care. The rebels will no doubt move that ungracious Patrick Henry into the residence in Williamsburg as soon as they trump up some title for him." The governor exhaled a sharp breath. "Something along the lines of Pickle-tongued Purveyor of Insidious Cant would be appropriate."
The frontiersman chuckled and turned to walk away leaving Mingo with his father, but he said to the Cherokee, "I'll be waitin' for you with the Shawnee. If you don't return in half-an-hour we're headin' home without ya."
Ten minutes later, Mingo step silently to the side of his frontier friend.
"That was quick," Daniel said.
"There was nothing left to say. He is gone. Thank you, Daniel."
"For being a simple honest man."
Daniel smiled and put his great arm across his Cherokee friend's shoulders. "Cornstalk, would you mind travelin' with us back to Boonesborough? I fear that Blackfish will have warriors waitin' at the pass for our return."
"I would be honored to do so," Cornstalk said. "I want to become better acquainted with this simple honest man Daniel Boone and his friend Cara-Mingo."
Mingo whispered to Daniel, "I don't know about you, but I cannot wait to see the look on Yadkin's face when he sees these Shawnee."
Daniel sighed. "I pray to Providence to hear him howl about it." He released his grip on the friend he was thankful not to have lost to England. Now he had to consider how they were to return safely through the Cumberland Trace. "Cornstalk, we need to make a stop a few miles west of here and pick up a load."
"The gold that Breeden stole from your people?"
Daniel was surprised that the old chief knew about that.
"Dunsmore told me in his letter. I and these warriors will go with you to retrieve the gold."
"Why Cornstalk, I don't know what to say…but thank you."
"Just remember me, Sheltowee. Remember me as a friend and a man of peace as I have remembered you by my presence here today. That is all I ask."
When Daniel, Mingo and the Shawnee reached Porto Bello, everything was quiet and peaceful with no hint of the raging mob that had hidden there the day before.
"There doesn't appear to be anyone here, Daniel," Mingo said.
"If it's all the same to you," Daniel said, "I'm goin' to take a look around. Tell Cornstalk to keep his warriors out o' sight 'til I signal them."
"What are you expecting? It is only Dr. Cleves we are to meet."
Daniel grunted. "Mingo, seems to me you'd a-learned by now how to read a white man's eyes and know the color of his heart."
Mingo stiffened at the implication of Daniel's statement. "You suspect that soft-handed gracious Cleves of some duplicity towards us?"
"Yep. Let's hope I'm wrong. Look here along this sandy road. Fresh tracks of many horses, and multiple carriages." Daniel gripped his rifle in one hand and trotted off behind the house towards the stables.
The Cherokee waited and watched with Cornstalk behind tall brush.
Soon, Daniel returned, trotting back behind the cover of the bushes. "Horses and carriages are in the stable—multiple foot tracks to the house. I'd say there's close to twenty men in there."
"Thieves?" Mingo asked.
"Nah. If it was plunderin' they were about they wouldn't be goin' about it so quiet like. Well, I reckon the only way to find out what's goin' on is for you and me to go knock on the door. Perhaps we are expected. Don't let anyone take your weapons, though."
Daniel turned to Cornstalk. "Watch our backs, friend." The chief nodded.
Mingo and Daniel stood at the door and waited after banging the knocker. They heard muffled voices, then footsteps. The paneled door creaked on its hinges as it opened slowly to reveal Dr. Meriwether Cleves.
"Mr. Boone? Mingo? How wonderful to see you."
"Doctor," Daniel said. "You all right?"
"Quite. Please come inside. There are no servants, but I do have some brandy on hand if you would like to share it with me."
"Thanks," Daniel said, "but we just come for the gold."
The doctor's gray-streaked eyebrows arched. He glanced to the side as if expecting someone to speak from behind. "The gold?"
"Yep. Lord Dunsmore said--"
"Oh, yes, yes, of course. Please accept my apology. I have been distracted of late."
Cleves walked stiffly to a side door and opened it. "The gold is in here, Mr. Boone."
Daniel glanced at his native companion who smirked to indicate his disapproval but both men stepped forward keeping Dr. Cleves in front of them.
The doctor continued inside the adjacent room and put out his hand into the darkened space beyond the door. "Please enter, gentlemen."
Daniel stuck his head through the door opening, as a gesture of reconnaissance. He turned back towards Mingo and smiled. The tall frontiersman removed his coonskin cap and stuck in his belt. The Cherokee cocked the flintlock of his loaded rifle and followed his friend into the room.
A large group of stern faces greeted them with silence; their eyes riveted upon the two newcomers. By the dress of the men, it was clear they were colonials—planters, or merchants of some wealth--but their purpose was clandestine. The windows were draped, making the room dark but for some scattered lanterns. Some men sat at a table that was laden with papers and a strongbox. The Cherokee was leery, but he uncocked his gun and sat the heel of it on the floor between his feet.
"Mr. Washington," Daniel said addressing a tall gentleman in military uniform, "It's mighty good to see you again, sir. I hope your family is well."
"Quite well, Daniel, thank you. Please come in. Your friend is welcome, too."
The men complied. Cleves closed the door behind them and stepped forward to face Daniel and Mingo. "Mr. Boone, I am sure your mind is filled with uncertainty and dread--"
"No. Doctor we had an agreement that I wouldn't pry into your affairs if you didn't pry into mine. I shan't ask any questions."
Cleves turned and smiled to the other men. Then he slumped and removed his white wig revealing a head covered with dark chestnut hair. He pulled his eyebrows and sideburns off, removed the wrinkles from his forehead then threw the disguise at his feet. As he loosened his silk cravat, he ventured a shy glance at the guests. "Mr. Boone, I simply can not continue this dastardly deception after everything you have been through."
Daniel and Mingo looked at each other with furrowed brows as Cleves suddenly lost twenty years of age right before their eyes.
"I see," Daniel said. "Might you tell us who you really are then?"
"My name is Meriwether Cleves and I have a medical practice in Williamsburg, but I was never a friend of Governor Dunsmore." The doctor smirked. "I am a spy. It was a sordid affair, but as they say…someone had to do it." Cleves glanced shyly at Mingo, but did not hold his gaze.
"I reckon that's your business, Dr. Cleves," Daniel said. "And Percy?"
The doctor dropped his head and clasped his hands behind his back. "Percy is my younger brother not my nephew." Cleves lifted his head and stared with unblinking steady young eyes at Daniel. "I'm afraid it is now your business as well. This gold has been confiscated by the Virginia representatives to the Continental Congress to be applied towards the resupply of the capital's stock of gunpowder and weapons. The governor's residence in Williamsburg, his servants, the furnishings and this property will be sold as well."
Cleaves blinked and swallowed. "I explained to these gentlemen your circumstances and how you were simply caught unawares in a snare that was none of your own making—"
"Snare?" Daniel asked.
Dr. Cleves was almost panting. He could not hold Daniel's steady gaze. "Oh Mr. Boone, Mingo, I am so sorry. I am so sorry about all of this. It was never intended to turn into murder and mayhem on the frontier."
Daniel grew alert. He stood up straight.
Staring at the worn rug at his feet, Cleves continued, "The plan was to simply uncover the governor's own duplicity in his land dealings and his contrivance to ally with the Shawnee against Virginians. It all went terribly wrong. We lost control when this Ahner Breeden who purported to be a ship's captain and knowledgeable of the frontier--and your friend--decided to seek his own gain. He deceived us."
A lanky sharp-boned man of tall stature stepped forward from the rear of the room. "Mr. Boone, my name is Patrick Henry."
Daniel nodded and remained silent.
"What Dr. Cleves is trying to explain," Henry said, "is that we are responsible for Ahner Breeden's presence in Kentucky and his subsequent debauchery."
The tall Kentuckian stood thoughtful for a moment. "Ahner kept telling me that Dunsmore sent him to Kentucky."
"He was led to believe that by my carefully cultivated friendship with the governor," Cleves said, "and the fact that Major Halpen was easily bought. Everyone in Williamsburg considers me a loyal subject of King George--a Tory."
"Dr. Cleves serves his country by merely practicing a talent he developed as a part-time thespian at Harvard," Mr. Henry said.
Daniel puckered his lips and furrowed his brow. "So, Breeden never knew who was behind his orders?"
"That is correct," Henry said.
"It added greatly to the calamity," Cleves said, "that the governor chose to ignore Breeden's activities though he knew full well from his own spies what was going on in Kentucky. I am still at a loss to explain that."
Mingo shared a knowing look with Daniel, but the frontiersman did not speak what he knew of Dunsmore's possible affair with Breeden's mother. Daniel would consider that gossip-mongering.
"That's all very interestin'," Daniel said. "but the way I see it, you gentlemen owe the good people of Boonesborough nine hundred pounds in some form, preferably the gold they were expecting to receive for their hard-earned skins and furs. You simply pay us what we come for and we'll leave and pretend we never met you."
Henry pivoted to face the other assembled men, turning his back to the frontiersman. "We are confiscating the gold found here for the Cause."
"For whose cause, Mr. Henry," Daniel asked.
"The cause of liberty, Mr. Boone," Henry boomed as he turned his head to stare with cold blue eyes at Daniel over his shoulder. "We require arms and gunpowder to convince the British that we mean to be free of their King's yoke."
"Well that might be a worthy cause," Daniel said, "but how are you goin' to convince the common man to take up your cause if you think so little of his life as to deprive him of his earnin's?"
"Daniel," Washington said, "we are all being called upon to make sacrifices. There is not a man in this room that doesn't feel the King's noose upon his neck or has not come to the awareness, upon reflection, that his life, his family, his property is at stake. I would have thought that you understood the risks of living upon the frontier and being the forefront of Virginia's defense."
"Sir," Daniel said, "I do know of what you speak, but you are in essence pullin' the rug out from under my feet. If I return to the settlement without that gold, you're goin' to see a massive migration out of Kentucky back into southern Virginia and those folk might let their ill-treatment determine their side of this war."
A tall red-headed youthful gentleman at the back of the room said quietly, "General Washington, he is right. You cannot overburden these small farmers and expect them to join this Cause."
"General?" Daniel asked suprised.
"Yes, Mr. Boone," Henry swung about on his heels and snarled impatiently, "General Washington is the commander of the newly formed Continental Army."
Henry walked stiffly forward towards Mingo and inspected him as if he were a newly bought slave, or at least that is how the prickly scrutiny made the Cherokee feel.
A voice from the shadows at the rear of the room said, "The last thing we need is more small farmers squatting on land they don't own. Why Dunsmore could turn that into a fighting force right on our own soil. Add the Indians and the slaves to that and we could not defend ourselves."
"Who is defending you now, sir, if I may ask," Daniel said. "Is it not my kind that defends Virginia? Last time I answered a militia muster, I don't recall any of your faces being present."
"Now Daniel," Washington said, "of course the efforts of the Long Knives on the frontier are greatly needed and appreciated."
"Some of us served in the Second Continental Congress, Boone," Henry said, "taking a stand of defense against what is essentially an invasion of a tyrant who has usurped our rights as freeborn Englishmen. We are merely making decisions to provide for our defense. You can't fight a war without munitions, arms, ships and you can't turn tobacco into gunpowder, especially with England controlling where it can be sold and to whom. An arsenal of weaponry may be purchased immediately with the gold. The property will take longer to recover its value for our purposes."
"Mr. Henry," the red-headed youth said so low it caused everyone in the room to strain to hear him, "you will never persuade Virginians to fight your war. You simply cannot make a Virginian do what he doesn't want to do."
"Mr. Jefferson," Henry said, "now is not the time--"
As all eyes focused on the youth, his freckled face turned red.
"Mr. Boone," a silver-haired gentleman boomed, interrupting Mr. Henry, "did you know you saved two lives today—Lord Dunsmore's and Patrick Henry's."
The room erupted in quiet chuckles and murmurs.
Henry rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Mr. Boone, allow me to introduce my distinguished colleague, Mr. George Mason."
Mr. Mason, the oldest man in the room, continued his sally, undaunted, "Why, Mr. Boone, if you had not so conveniently arrived upon the scene to shuttle Mr. Dunsmore to safety, those two would have made a spectacle of themselves on the town green--butting heads like two old bulls."
"George," Mr. Washington said, "Daniel has provided a much greater service then merely removing an inconvenient royal governor. He removed an embarrassment--Ahner Breeden--from his reign of glory-seeking anarchy."
"Well then, I vote to pay the man for his services," Mason said with a flourish of his lace-cuffed hand.
Patrick Henry was still studying the Cherokee. "Indian, pray tell us, why are you here?"
"Well, since you asked." Mingo pulled the worn newspaper from his bandolier and turned it to show the Virginian the headline.
The lawyer squinted his eyes and jutted out his bony jaw. His thin lips remained an unerring straight line on his face. "That is a bit of my rhetoric. I can't very well deny it."
The other men chuckled.
"What do you mean by this?" the Cherokee asked.
Henry, with a pronounced scowl upon his face said, "It is a call to arms, sir. I use words to stir the hearts of men that they might march their feet in the defense of this country. In the case of Virginians, it takes strong words, as stirring their hearts, and their feet from their warm firesides, is akin to stirring a pot of cold pitch."
"The honorable Mr. Henry is our official brow-beater and bum-kicker, sir," Mr. Mason said eliciting laughter from the assembled men.
"Do you not think it dishonest to claim to be enslaved while you hold men in chains?" Mingo asked.
Henry raised a dark eyebrow. "You make a good point, of course. I have already been beaten about the head by my northern brethren on that account. Am I speaking to an English abolitionist, then?"
"I am an American, but you, sir...I have learned of late...are a Virginian." Mingo drawled the last word with a contemptuous snarl.
Henry chuckled without smiling.
"Two points for the Cherokee, none for the feisty lawyer from Virginia," Mason cackled, once again leading the other men to laughter.
Henry stepped closer to Mingo and peered with hard eyes upon the native's face. "Tell me then, sir, as an American, what stand do you take in this conflict?"
Mingo looked down and filled his lungs with air then lifted his eyes to glare at the stern mastiff before him. "Well, Mr. Henry, the truth is I find myself undecided."
The Virginia lawyer's eyes widened, his lips quivered as if they might form a smile, or at least they showed signs of a remembrance of having done so at some time in his life. "Indeed? How delightful. Did you hear that, gentlemen? Oh to have a boatload of such undecided men instead of the mass of disinterested ballast that fills our hull."
"Sir," Daniel said calmly addressing the tallest of the men, General Washington, "the people of Kentuck are willin' to make their contributions to your effort. But lettin' them be robbed, whipped, shot and starved then thinkin' that an appropriate sacrifice is not a cause I wish to be part of."
The revolutionaries blinked at each other.
"Pardon my plain English, gentlemen, but here's how it's goin' to be," Daniel continued. "I've got twenty Shawnee outside that I'm goin' to send in here to retrieve exactly nine hundred pounds of gold and then we're goin' to be on our way back to Kentuck."
The men became agitated upon those words. Those seated stood abruptly. Chairs fell over with a clatter on the floor.
"Mr. Boone, what are you saying?" Henry said, all of his attention now riveted upon the tall backwoodsman.
"I spoke plain English, Mr. Henry," Daniel said.
"You have no right," Henry roared. "That would be theft of rightfully owned property. Dr. Cleves this is your property is it not? You have the title in hand? Bring it forth." The lawyer thrust his hand out, palm up, as if expecting immediate obedience.
"Well, Mr. Henry…not exactly," Cleves whined.
Daniel smiled and pulled a packet out of his hunting frock, unsealed it, studied it for a moment then held it up. "I just happen to have the title here in my hand. It says right here, on this fancy piece of paper, this property and all it contains belongs to one John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunsmore his heirs and assigns. Well, gentlemen, Mingo here is Mr. Murray's son, firstborn to be exact, his rightful heir, and it even lists him right here."
Henry's jaw dropped. "You are the son of that Royal Purveyor of Pernicious Proclamations?"
Mingo couldn't help taking a gander at the paper in Daniel's hand and sure enough he found his name listed as sole heir. He smiled and bowed his head to Mr. Henry to acknowledge the lawyer's accusation.
"Now," Daniel continued, "we can wait here and send a letter to the gentleman--or the royal purveyor…as you may have it--and ask his leave, or you can simply comply with his wishes as they were dictated to me when he handed me this title."
This turn of events begat a warm debate between the radicals. The room veritably exploded with talk. Mr. Henry turned an angry scowl upon Dr. Cleves who slunk down in a nearby chair as if trying to disappear.
There was a muffled chuckle, the voices silenced and all eyes turned to the reserved Washington. "Gentlemen, it seems apparent that we have been bested by our equals. Mr. Boone and Mr. Murray, we are at your mercy." The tall Virginian bowed to the men. "If you would be so kind as to allow us to keep our scalps, and perhaps consider donating the rest of this estate to our fledgling Cause, which we fervently wish to have you both join unfettered and with true hearts, we surrender to your wishes."
Daniel grinned and glanced askance at Mingo who couldn't keep from smiling at the turn of events. "General Washington, I shall confer with Mr. Murray as to his wishes for the disposition of his property, but I believe that can be arranged."
Yadkin opened his eyes but squeezed them shut quickly. He was sure he was in one of those nightmares where Shawnee warriors hover over his dead body with hatchets and knives. Opening his eyes a slit, he shook his disheveled head, but the Shawnee didn't go away. They stood about the bed and were trying to lift him from it with warm hands. He thought that must mean that he and they were alive or at least it would be best to assume so. He kicked and struggled with the warriors. As loud as his lungs would allow, he bellowed like a bull, "'Natus! 'Natus! Shawnee! Shawnee have me!"
The bewhiskered Cincinnatus ran into the room. "Hush up, Yad, you're goin' to upset the whole town."
The warriors gave up on the struggling man in the bed and fell to laughing, which didn't make Yadkin feel any better.
"Well maybe it needs upsettin', 'Natus, if they're lettin' laughin' Shawnee just walk in on a fella and carry him off."
Daniel stuck his head in the door, grinning. "Yadkin these gentlemen are just going to put you in a wagon out here so we can tote you and the gold home. You're a heavy fella. It takes twelve Indians to lift ya."
"You got the gold? These fellas give it back?"
"Yes, we have the gold, but no these fellas weren't the Shawnee that took it, but they are our pass home, so be nice."
Daniel's head disappeared.
"Be nice to Shaw-NEE?"
Mingo stepped through the door smiling. "I believe that is what Daniel said, Yadkin. Are you going to do what he asks this time?"
"Ahh." Yadkin blew a puff of frustrated air out from his cheeks. "'Natus, did the whole world turn up-side-down while I was knocked-out?"
"Peers so, Yad. We are now at war and the Shawnee are our friends. Beats the tar out of me how that happened, but I'm not goin' to argue with it 'till I get home. Dan'l and Mingo seem quite comfortable with these fellers so I reckon we gotta follow suit. There's bed o' hay all ready for you on that wagon Dan'l hired out there. You wanta go home or not?"
"I reckon." Yadkin took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He lay back and put his arms close to his long body and his legs together then closed his eyes and gave up his sinful soul to Providence. "All right, take me away, boys."
The bronze-skinned young Shawnee grinned at each other as they lifted the brawny blond-haired man from the bed and carried him out coffin style to the waiting wagon. After he was deposited on the hay, Daniel said, "Yad, you can open your eyes now. You comfortable there?"
The convalescent looked up at Daniel's grinning face. "Just fine, Dan'l." He surveyed the scene around the wagon and saw the many Shawnee milling about and the chief, Cornstalk, talking to Mingo. "I sure hope you know what you're doin'."
"I reckon we'll know when we get through the pass unmolested."
"Is Breeden still out there?"
"Nope. He's on his way to England to be tried for his crimes along with his co-conspirator, and your good friend, Major Halpen."
"You trustin' the British to hang that thievin' lyin' murderin' yahoo?"
Daniel didn't answer.
"Well I'm sorry, Dan'l," Yad grumbled, "you must a-been plumb worn out from your walk when you got to that part."
The coonskin-capped man laughed. "Yad, are you doubtin' my judgment again?"
"Now Dan'l, I know I done a foolish thing gettin' shot, turnin' my back on the enemy and all--"
"Whoa. That reminds me." Daniel bent over the wagon and grabbed Yadkin by the thick tuff of curly blond hair on his head. "Carolina E. Yadkin you listen to me good--you --you--wild-cat walkin' on two legs! Don't you ever do a stupid fool thing like that again!" He popped Yad's head back on the hay making him dizzy.
Cincinnatus hopped up on the wagon seat, grabbed the reins, and released the wheel brake with his foot. "That's tellin' him, Dan'l. Won't do no good, though."
Mingo jauntily strolled up smiling. "Are we ready to go? I asked around town and everyone that has been through the pass lately said there was no Shawnee sign. A trapper said he just came from Boonesborough and all is calm there as well."
"I've got one more feller I'm worried about, Mingo."
"Yep. Let's head home."
They crossed the mountains and the great expanse of open empty land that led to the isolated settlement of Boonesborough. Along the way, Daniel and Mingo passed the time relating to Yad and Cincinnatus their adventure in Williamsburg. The friends' hooting and laughter echoed over the hills. Yad pointed out a couple of Shawnee, standing in plain sight on a nearby hill. Apparently, Blackfishes scouts were content to just watch the odd alliance of white and Shawnee go by.
When the fort's gates opened, Becky, Israel, Jemima and Jericho were standing before them. The degree of their apparent anticipation--yelping, crying, hugging each other--reminded the men they had been gone from home for nearly a month.
Daniel kissed Becky for a whole minute then hugged his children. After sneaking a packet of ribbons to Jemima with a wink, he stood before Jericho. "Mr. Jones, I remember tellin' you to put this fort on alert."
"Ah Mr. Boone, I told them but nobody would listen to me. They did what I said for 'bout three days then the wives and husbands started to quarrelin' and the single men started getting' into fights. Why, I was no match for it. I swung the gates open and told 'em the Shawnee could have their sorry scalps I sure wasn't goin' to care no more."
Daniel smiled. He slapped a hand on the boy's cheek and shook his head good-naturedly. "That's all right. We just need to work a mite on your authorative presence."
Jericho stood up straight and puffed out his chest. "My authorative presence?"
"Yep. The one you don't have yet."
"Is that Jericho Jones?" Yad asked from the wagon. He scooted himself up to a seated position and leaned back against the wagon seat.
"Mr. Yadkin, you're alive!" Jericho yelled, staring at the blond frontiersman with astonished wide eyes.
"Why, 'course I is youngin'. It's you that's the holy miracle."
"Yad," Israel hollered as he bounded up into the wagon and into the trapper's strong arms. "I sure have missed you."
"I missed you too, boy. It's good to be home."
Daniel announced to the gathered settlers in the fort, "Folks, this here is Chief Cornstalk. He is a peaceful Shawnee from the north. He and his warriors saw us safely home from Williamsburg with your money."
The crowd cheered.
"I want you to be hospitable to our guests and not too picky about where they sleep or how they eat. Give 'em plenty of victuals. They're on their way home and will be leavin' out tomorrow."
Daniel turned to his wife. "Becky, do you think you could whip up a meal at the cabin for Cornstalk, Mingo and me?"
Becky was petting Yadkin on the head, much to Daniel's consternation. "Why Daniel, I'm surprised at you. What about poor Yad here? Who's goin' to take care of him?"
"Yeah, Pa," Israel said, "What about Yad?"
"Why Cincinnatus and Jericho can give him all the care he needs. They can unload him and the gold from this wagon, too."
"Pa, that's no way to treat Yadkin, he's family," Jemima whined.
Yadkin, bearing his most angelic blue-eyed face, piped up, "Ah now, I don't need no one fussin' over me. I'm all but well. I'll show you and get out o' this wagon myself." He struggled up onto his wobbly long legs.
"Yad, if you fall and break your neck, I'm not liftin' a finger to save ya," Cincinnatus grumbled.
The injured man thought better about it. He got down on his knees and crawled out of the wagon. As he leaned against it to keep from falling, Israel stood behind him on the wagon bed and wrapped his arms around Yad's neck.
"Oh for cryin' out loud," Daniel exclaimed. "All right. Yad can come home with us for a few days."
The children yelped with glee.
"Come on Yad," Mingo said, "lean on me. I'll help you to the cabin."
"Much obliged, Mingo. I can just taste that butter meltin' on Becky's cornbread right now."
"So can I."
"That's about right," mumbled Daniel. "It took twelve Indians to get Yad into the wagon, but only one to get him to Becky's cookin'."
Becky slapped Daniel playfully on his bottom.
"So, Mingo, your pappy done up and left?" Yadkin asked.
"Yes. He was no longer welcome in Williamsburg."
"What's goin' on?"
"You are asking the wrong man, Yad. I don't fully understand it myself."
"We are at war, Yad," Daniel said.
"With the British?"
"You just cain't trust them British."