Thursday, August 15, 1782
He saw the lights of the bonfire and lanterns a good ways out; looked to be he was arriving in Boonesborough in time for a right decent celebration. He supposed there had just been a wedding; that would be the most obvious reason for merrymaking and the only one that made any sense, conditions in Kentucky being what they were. He figured the matter confirmed when he was close enough to hear fiddle playing coming from inside the fort. Feeling it uncouth to walk a packhorse loaded with pelts into a wedding reception, he dismounted his lead horse, a stout bay, and tied both animals at the trough outside the north gate.
A lantern hung close by. In the dim light he caught his rippled reflection in the trough’s water as his horses had a good pull. He rubbed a hand over his chin and examined his face. He looked a sight; scraggly beard, hair slathered with bear grease, plaited and clubbed, clothes torn and dirty. His distinctive features were buried beneath—long, slim nose, tight mouth, sharp cheekbones, deep-set, cold blue eyes—but he looked nothing like the clean-shaven, well-kept man who’d set out two months prior.
He turned to see a young boy staring at him—the Jacobs boy, if he recollected correctly. The child had probably gotten bored watching the adults frolic and wandered off to explore.
“Mind my horses till I get back, and you can peel off a beaver pelt for your trouble,” Boone proposed.
Young Jacobs examined the packhorse, stretching to the tips of his toes to better assess the situation; he noted the substantial, tight bundles of furs strapped to the animal, then looked back at Boone and nodded. Boone nodded back; perhaps the task would keep the boy from wandering too far from the fort. Then he pulled the wide brim of his felt hat low over his eyes, turned, and headed for the gate.
In the high season he would’ve ridden out and returned with three loaded down packhorses, but this was summer, and summer wasn’t the best time for hunting and trapping. He’d missed out on hunting in the fall and winter, having spent those months twiddling his thumbs in the legislature in Virginia. October had rolled around and Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown and there was all manner of carrying on in Richmond as if that meant the war was over. Boone knew different, as did all the representatives who lived further inland; there was a clear correlation between how close to the coast a man lived and his degree of ignorance on the matter.
By the time the session was over and he’d returned home in the spring, it was nearly time to lay in the crops. He found farming uninspiring and wanted nothing more than to grab his rifle and dogs and head into the woods; after all, he had children old enough now who could handle the planting. That would have been unseemly, though, so he resigned himself to the task and set his rifle aside for a few more months.
He reached the gate and found it neither locked nor guarded; he’d expected as much when he saw the Jacobs boy outside. Careless. He left the gate open a crack on the chance young Jacobs needed to rush inside in a hurry, and proceeded in himself.
He gave the fort a quick once-over. It wasn’t much to look at, but it had four solid walls that would hold; they’d proven as much when the Shawnee sieged the fort just two years after the rescue of Jemima and the Calloway sisters.
A platform had been erected for dancing, with lanterns hung from ropes strung from the posts at each corner. The fiddle playing Boone had heard earlier was coming from a little girl Boone recognized as Hannah, youngest of the Clements clan, who stood at the edge of the stage. She was pretty good; certainly a better fiddle player than the residents were dancers, and just as good as old Monk, who was now a free man with a family of his own and had moved on.
It was late enough in the evening that most of the older folks were tired out and the dance floor was populated by the young. Boone knew from experience that they’d dance and carry on until late at night, then return to their cabins and fall asleep instantly and soundly as young people are gifted to do. The adults sat around the dance floor, some the bonfire, conversing and laughing while passing around jugs of whiskey, certain among them happy to use the occasion as an excuse to overindulge.
The sound of a face-slapping popped from the platform. The dancers parted; Boone looked past them and spotted Susannah and William Hays. Will was rubbing his cheek and doing his best not to laugh. Susannah was yelling at him, the reason for which Boone couldn’t hear over the sound of the fiddle, Hannah Clements having the good sense to keep right on playing; Susannah and Will had public rows often enough that it was best not to let them be cause for distraction.
Will couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. Susannah glared at him and put her hands on her hips. Will bent forward and kissed her forehead. A moment passed. Then she jumped into his arms and kissed him hard on the lips as he threw his arms around her waist. Suddenly they were dancing again, oblivious to the fact, or uncaring, that they’d given everyone a show. The others on the dance floor looked at each other and laughed or shrugged or both and resumed dancing themselves.
Boone grinned and shook his head; at least the argument had kept folks from noticing him so he could continue with the fun he had planned. As he passed the dance floor he saw Susannah and Will’s children—Elizabeth, Jemima, and William—sitting to the side and laughing at their parents. Elizabeth, now six, caught sight of her grandfather. Her laughter stopped and she stared at him quizzically. Daniel wasn’t sure if she recognized him or not through all his scruff, but he put a finger to his lips anyway to instruct her to be quiet. She mimicked the gesture, then smiled. Daniel winked and pointed to a group standing by the bonfire as if to say watch this.
Rebecca Boone was at the center of the group, fielding questions from the friends and neighbors ringed around her; she was well-liked by near everyone in Boonesborough, and her day-to-day presence had been missed since she and the Boone clan moved from the village that was their namesake and established Boone Station six miles northwest.
Rebecca was now forty-three and as striking as ever, taller than average for a woman and above averagely built. The rhythm of her black hair was broken by the occasional strand of white, which, rather than aging her, simply added texture to her beauty and mystery. Of all Daniel Boone’s accomplishments, that he’d managed to convince a woman as resourceful and fetching as Rebecca to marry him was his most admired, and the only of which he bragged.
She was wearing a new blue dress—Daniel remembered she’d finally gotten around to starting it just before he’d left, using fabric they’d brought back from North Carolina three years earlier. He marveled that she’d found time to finish it while he was away, what with summer days being long and there being so much to tend to both indoors and out. Then he reminded himself that circumstances were different now than they’d been in the early days when he’d go off exploring and Rebecca would be left to wrangle their young children along with the crops, chores, and cooking, oftentimes having to do hunting of her own to put meat on the table. Nowadays, what children they had living at home were old enough to pitch in, aside from their youngest, Nathan, who Daniel noticed was sleeping soundly in a vegetable basket at Rebecca’s feet, oblivious to the activity about him, swaddled in his mother’s scarf.
Rebecca’s pregnancy had been a surprise to everyone, Rebecca and Daniel included. When their last child, William, died shortly after birth in 1775, the couple swore off having another. As the years passed it began to look as if the pain and difficulty Rebecca had gone through while delivering William had left her incapable of conceiving again regardless. But nature, as it turned out, was only taking a pause.
Facing the bonfire, Rebecca had half finished answering a friend’s question when she suddenly felt a hand at her waist. Shocked, she smacked the hand and spun full around, then looked up to see the hand belonged to a dirty, grizzled old hunter whom she didn’t recognize, his hat low over his eyes, half his face concealed in deep, dancing shadows created by the light of the fire, the other half lit unnaturally by the same. He put his other hand on her waist and held her tight, smiling at her in a too-familiar manner; clearly, he’d had several pulls of whiskey too many. She squirmed and tried to push him away.
“Get your—. Sir, I’m willing to forgive your drunkenness, but—”
She kicked him in the shin. Wincing, he turned her loose and hopped back a few paces while rubbing his leg.
“Lord, woman,” he said. Then he righted himself and chuckled. “Madame, don’t deny me a dance. Why, you have danced with me many a time on nights such as this,” he sprang close to her and whispered, “observed and alone.”
Rebecca recognized her husband immediately upon hearing his voice. She punched him in the chest, then hugged him and kissed him on the lips. The stunned onlookers could scarcely believe what they were seeing; Rebecca Boone kissing a dirty old woodsman. A handful, however, were beginning to catch on. Laughing, Daniel turned to address the crowd.
“Friends, I realize I’m hidden under many a layer of wilderness and time,” he removed his hat, “but don’t force me to prove my identity with an exhibition of my lackluster dancing.”