The day was looking to be a bust, even though beaver signs were evident along the banks of the stream. Beaver were getting scarce in most places, but Josiah Brown knew this small area of the stream was not well-known to trappers, and still had beaver to be found. Even so, this knowledge would do him little good, if he couldn’t catch his elusive quarry.
Josiah sighed as the last of his traps came up empty. “They ain’t coming to medicine,” he muttered dully. Josiah’s bait usually proved successful, but today the furry animals were staying away, and it only added to the trapper’s consternation. Nothing seemed to be going right, and by the way things were transpiring, the rest of his day would probably be filled with the same bad luck.
The surface of the water broke nearby and Josiah’s eye caught sight of a brown animal quickly diving back to the underwater entrance of its lodge.
“I’ll git you yet,” he promised the beaver, as he waded out of the water and headed for his pants. Pulling on the last of his buckskins, the unexpected sound of a gunshot cracked through the air, jerking Josiah’s head up in attention. Instinctively, he grabbed his Hawken rifle, and scanned the line of timber on both sides of the stream.
Josiah frowned. The wildlife had gone quiet, and he had been too busy with the beaver to even notice it until now. It was dangerous for a man to be caught off guard, and Josiah silently scolded himself for being taken by surprise. The gunshot had been nearby, and the sound of it carried easily against the Rocky Mountains flanking him on either side. Lightly tensing his muscles in readiness, Josiah placed his rifle in the crook of his arm and gathered the last of his gear. Even though he was expecting his companions any day now, until Josiah knew who had fired the shot, he would not rest easy.
As Josiah cautiously picked his way through the trees and peered onto the open stretch of plain before him, he spotted a man sprawled on the ground beside a wagon. The man wasn’t moving, and even from this distance, Josiah saw the bloody scalp where someone had ripped his hair away as a trophy.
Josiah lowered his Hawken rifle. The man’s attackers were already gone, and there was little to do but dig a hole and put what was left of the unfortunate man beneath the ground. As he moved toward the carnage, Josiah mused to himself. It was odd to find immigrants so far North, and he was almost glad the man had been stopped. Josiah hoped the frontier would never be tamed, and a part of him laughed for even thinking it might. If everyone was as crazy as this here immigrant, he didn’t have anything to worry about! Fool man. Trying to cross the Rockies where there wasn’t passage, and getting himself killed by the first Indian he come across. This was a wild land, and you couldn’t survive unless you had some hardness in you. Josiah nudged the bloody form with his moccasin. Like this here immigrant. He didn’t have what it took to be a mountain man, and likely never would, even if he had survived his attackers.
“Poor old fool,” muttered Josiah in a fit of pity. His assailants had cut away a circle of his scalp, exposing his white skull to the sun. Josiah bent down to see if the pockets of his shirt held anything valuable, when the immigrant’s face twitched to life, and two startled eyes locked with Josiah’s.
“Please,” the man rasped, “my daughter! They took my daughter!” He caught hold of Josiah’s buckskin shirt and held him fast with a blood covered hand. “Save her!”
This sudden coming to life had startled Josiah, though his face betrayed little emotion. Instead, he raised his eyes to the plain, as if trying to see what he had been unable to before. “Which way did they head?” he asked.
When the man could find no breath to speak, his eyes pointed North.
If a body kept going in that direction, he would find himself in Blackfoot country. Though they were out of their usual territory, it made sense to Josiah that this immigrant had been attacked by Blackfoot Indians. Their hatred of the white man had only grown since trappers discovered beaver was more plentiful in their lands; Blackfoot gave no quarter to neighboring Indians nor white man, and almost always killed any trespassers they found.
“Headed North, was they?” muttered Josiah.
The immigrant’s eyesight was dimmed by his fast approaching death, and he couldn’t see the man dressed in skins before him. If he had, he would’ve had reason to fear that his daughter might be exchanging one trouble for another.
“I’m afeared you’re done in,” Josiah informed the dying man.
“I realize it,” he gasped. “Leave me… save her!” The hand turned Josiah’s shirt loose, and it clutched his own bloodstained chest before it finally dropped to the ground in one last fit of agony.
Josiah straightened himself, and looked down at the lifeless form at his feet. “They was in a hurry, Mister. You would’ve been cut up something turrible, if they hadn’t.” With a sigh, Josiah strode back to his horse and pack animal. If the immigrant’s daughter didn’t catch the Blackfoots’ fancy, he knew she wouldn’t last very long. The Blackfoot had a respectable head start, and it would take some doing if he were to catch up with them before nightfall.
Emma Perkins kept trying to look behind her, struggling to get a glimpse of the father that she was hoping would come and save her. She had seen his torture, but a ragged hope kept tugging at her that maybe he had survived. But no Pa appeared, and as her captors took her farther and farther away from the wagon, she knew that he was dead. Emma never felt so alone in her entire life, but the will to survive kept her from dwelling on grief for very long. Her leg had been injured during the attack, and it had bled for quite some time before drying to the petticoats beneath her dark blue one-piece dress. With every jolting step of her mount, pain shot through her leg and threatened her consciousness.
Seated behind her on the horse, an Indian kept his arm around her torso, making sure that she couldn’t escape. Riding a sorrel, a younger Indian proudly trotted beside them, attracting as much of Emma’s attention as he could by displaying his horsemanship with trick riding and loud whooping calls.
Even though she tried to avoid direct eye contact with her captors, Emma observed them whenever she had the chance. She felt a strange fascination for these men with long hair and greasy buckskins, and it mixed with the numb horror of what she had seen them do to her father. What kind of man could do such a thing, as to take the scalp of another human– especially before he was dead? Emma was sure she didn’t want to know. These men had ripped apart her world without warning, and now she was helplessly in their hands.
Except for the few Indians Emma had seen from a safe distance back in Indiana, and the ones who had stared at her at trading posts along the way, these were the first she had ever closely encountered. Emma didn’t know what to do, but here she caught herself. She could pray. She could always pray, and with every pang of grief she felt for her father, she also offered a prayer to Heaven for herself.
As the shadows started growing longer, Emma’s thoughts turned to what nightfall might bring. The Indians were keeping her alive for a reason, and Emma didn’t like to think what that reason might be.
His mount was getting tired, but Josiah pressed on. Light was fading fast, and if he didn’t find the immigrant’s daughter soon, he would have to stop and make camp until morning. As nightfall swallowed the Rocky Mountains, it occurred to Josiah that a campfire would show up well against the vast darkness. The Blackfoot would only light a night fire if they didn’t think they were being pursued, and Josiah was pretty certain they didn’t know about him yet. These Indians were in a hurry to get back to their tribe, and Josiah figured that meant they were also a little careless. If only they could be so careless as to leave a fire burning, long enough for him to get a bead on their location.
Since he was having a string of bad luck that day, Josiah figured he wouldn’t find hide nor hair of the Blackfoot, and would be forced to make camp until morning. Then he saw it. Flickering in the distance, a small campfire burning against the night sky. A faint grin flashed across Josiah’s face. Maybe his luck was turning for the better after all.
Her two captors had eaten, and now they sat around the campfire intently talking with each other and repeatedly nodding in Emma’s direction. They had left her tied to a nearby tree, and placed her on a bed of pine needles covered with a buffalo robe. Huddled against the tree, Emma sat on the robe and struggled to keep her eyes open. She was exhausted, but didn’t dare fall asleep. As their talk turned to argument, Emma had a suspicion they were debating who would get her first.
“Please, God,” she prayed into the night wind, “take my life first, and let me die!” Emma tried to remember the word from a certain Bible verse, but couldn’t recall the words, so she added, “Thy will be done.”
Suddenly, a cold wind came up from the plain behind them and rushed over the campsite, stirring grass and leaves, and nearly putting out their fire. As one Indian reached out to throw more wood onto the flame, his arm stopped in midair. Alarmed, he nodded to his companion, and both scrambled for their rifles.
A man emerged from the darkness and approached the ring of light surrounding their fire.
From her vantage, Emma strained her eyes to see who this newcomer was. Even though she realized how foolish the hope was, for a fleeting moment, she thought it was her father. As the fire cast its light on the tall set of buckskins approaching the fire, Emma’s hopes of rescue quickly evaporated and her heart sank. It was another Indian.
Josiah held his rifle in a casual manner to show the Blackfoot that he was friendly. He spoke Blackfoot fluently, though the two Indians saw that he was dressed more in the style of a mountain man, than a Blackfoot warrior. The two alert Indians eyed Josiah warily. “I’ve come far,” Josiah spoke to them in Blackfoot, “from the land to the South.” He motioned to his stomach. “No buffalo for many moons. Much hunger.”
One Indian motioned for him to come closer to the fire.
Cautiously peering from around her tree, Emma squinted her eyes to see what was going on. A while back, her spectacles had been lost when she and her father had crossed a fast moving river in their wagon. Though the water had also swept away most of her belongings, she had missed her spectacles and their family Bible the most.
After trading a few handfuls of coffee beans for some freshly killed elk meat, the two Blackfoot allowed Josiah to join them at the fire. While Josiah cooked his meat and turned it every now and then, he told them of his miserable luck. “No beaver,” he sighed. “Traps all empty.”
The two Indians laughed. “White man’s medicine is no good.”
Josiah pulled at the small wooden bottle hanging from his belt and tossed it to the nearest Indian. “Blackfoot medicine,” he pointed to the bottle.
The Blackfoot opened it and took a quick sniff of the rank odor. “Traps bad,” he concluded, and tossed it back to Josiah.
“Traps good,” Josiah insisted. “Luck bad.” His gaze returned to the meat cooking near the fire. Out of the corner of his eye, he could dimly make out a woman’s form crouched beside a tree a little ways from the campfire. Her arms were wrapped around a portion of the tree’s wide trunk, while rope finished the distance between her bound hands, making it impossible for her to move or even lay down. “Luck very bad,” he repeated to himself slowly, knowing that the two Blackfoot were still listening. “Need to get drunk.”
At this, the two Indians sat alert and at attention. “Whiskey?” asked one. “You have whiskey?”
“I have whiskey,” nodded Josiah.
“You give whiskey,” the older Indian demanded.
Calmly, Josiah regarded the cooking meat. “Can’t get drunk,” he shook his head gravely. “Just half a jug.”
“You give,” insisted the Indian once more.
Josiah thought it over, and slowly shook his head. “Last jug is worth much.” The Blackfoot waited for Josiah to name his price.
“Much bad luck,” Josiah sighed. “Need woman to make happy again. Need wife.”
The older of the two Blackfoot suspiciously narrowed his eyes at Josiah. Then he looked at Emma and then back at Josiah again. “You come to free white woman,” he deduced, his hand gripping the rifle that remained in his lap. Hearing this, the younger Indian suddenly lifted his weapon and pointed it at Josiah.
Josiah’s face remained undisturbed. He turned the cooking meat over and shook his head. “Need wife,” he repeated sadly. “Need woman more than whiskey.” At this, the younger Indian laughed, but kept his rifle aimed at Josiah’s belly.
“We have woman,” the older Indian informed Josiah, pointing to Emma’s tree.
“You take her for whiskey?”
“That depends,” Josiah hesitated.
“Take woman for good, or for one night?” “One night,” the Indian gruffly replied.
“Need wife,” insisted Josiah. “One night not good. Must keep.”
“You come to save white woman,” the Indian once again concluded. “You not want wife. You take woman and maybe kill us.”
Josiah let out a small laugh, as if the thought amused him. “You give woman as wife, I give jug of whiskey.”
The young Indian seemed somewhat agreeable, but the older was still suspicious. “You take to wife,” he said, pointing to Emma’s tree, “and we take whiskey. You not take her to wife, we kill you.” The Indian pointed his rifle at Josiah as if to make his point.
So they were going to test him. Josiah looked at the woman still trying to hide behind the tree. “Take to wife there?” he asked.
“For one jug of whiskey?”
“Whiskey,” the Blackfoot nodded.
“Wife must be virgin,” Josiah continued to bargain.
The Indian laughed grimly. “If she not bleed, you take back whiskey.”
The two leveled their eyes at each other, letting the silence finish their communication. Josiah finally nodded in agreement.
The younger Indian let out a whoop and jumped to his feet to follow Josiah back to his horse for the half a jug of whiskey. When they returned to the campfire, Josiah handed over the jug to the older of the two Blackfoot, for he clearly seemed to be the leader.
The Indian accepted the jug, sloshing its contents about to determine if there was anything left. When he was satisfied that there was indeed some whiskey still left, he waited to see if Josiah would fulfill their deal, for he still suspicioned Josiah had come to save the white woman. As Josiah started off for the tree, he called after him, “You take white woman to wife. I come see.”
Emma filled with dread as one of the Indians started heading toward her tree. As he came closer, she was able to distinguish his dress, and noted that he wore buckskins like a white man, and not the loincloth and leather leggings of her captors.
Crouching as far away from him as her bound arms would let her, Emma kept to the shadows as the man sat down on the buffalo robe. He looked at her for a moment, and then unsheathed a long knife. Emma gasped in fear, thinking he meant to kill her. Instead of putting the knife to her scalp, however, the man leaned forward and cut the rope binding her hands about the tree. Emma rubbed her sore wrists, and shrank even further into the shadows behind her.
“You sure got yourself in a mighty tight fix, Ma’am,” he declared, returning the knife to his belt and letting his arms drape over the rifle across his lap.
Emma was startled when she heard his voice. He spoke English like a white man!
Josiah looked at the campfire, allowing the woman to get a glimpse of his face in the dim light. He had no beard, and an eagle feather dangled from long dark hair that went past his shoulders. Emma could see the strong cheekbones of her captors in his face, but also something more. He didn’t quite look like the other Indians.
“I’m half Indian, Ma’am,” he finally answered her unspoken question. “Half Blackfoot, half white– but all mountain man.” At this, he grinned proudly. “Name’s Josiah Brown.” The woman was crouched in the shadow of the tree, so Josiah was unable to see her face or to tell whether she was happy if he was there. When he heard the rapid intake of her frightened breath, Josiah understood she was still afraid.
“Have you come to save me, Mr. Brown?”
“That depends,” he hesitated, “on what you’re meaning by ‘saved.’ Saved from them there Blackfoot… or from me?”
“Both.” Her answer was quick and decisive, and it made Josiah shake his head apologetically.
“I’m afraid you can’t have it both ways, Ma’am.” Sensing she was about to bolt, Josiah quickly reached into the darkness and took hold of her by the ankle. “Them Blackfoot will kill us both if I don’t take you to wife,” he informed her bluntly.
At the feel of his grip, Emma struggled to free her ankle. “I don’t believe you!” she cried. “You’re one of them !”
Just then, the leader of the two Indians stood up from the campfire and looked in their direction.
Every muscle in Josiah’s being tensed as he waited to see if the Indian was going to come and check him now, or not. “You’d best be believing me,” Josiah growled in a low rumble, his eyes remaining glued to the campfire. His left hand gripped his Hawken rifle. The Indian was staring hard in their direction, as if trying to make up his mind. “Not now,” Josiah’s breath came out in a barely audible whisper. “Not yit. I ain’t ready fer you yit.” When the Indian sat back down with his jug of whiskey, Emma felt the hand on her ankle loosen its grip by just a little. “I’d better git started afore he comes,” muttered Josiah, pinning Emma to the buffalo robe with one strong leg to free his hand from her ankle. “You got kin, Ma’am?”
“No,” she whimpered.
“What about a man? You got a man?”
“No.” “You’re gonna have one now,” he declared, “so you’d better start getting used to me, Ma’am.”
“Please, let me go, Mr. Brown!” begged Emma.
Josiah pulled off his buckskin hunting shirt and looked back at the campfire one more time. “Wisht I had me more whiskey. They ain’t gonna git drunk off’a what’s left in that jug.”
Behind the deep shadow of the wide tree, Josiah crawled to Emma and lay down beside her on the buffalo robe. “I ain’t had a woman in quite a spell,” he breathed quietly, “but I’ll try not to bother you too much.”
Emma whimpered helplessly as Josiah’s mouth found hers. When she wouldn’t return his kiss, the mountain man left off kissing and continued on with his business.
What else happened behind the tree, I won’t say, but when the Blackfoot Indian came to see if Josiah was true to his word, the Indian left, content that Josiah really had wanted a wife.
As the sky overhead began to change hue with the coming of morning, Josiah propped himself up on one elbow and peered down at the sleeping woman beside him.
“Yeller hair,” he wondered in amazement. Josiah had once seen a woman with yellow hair, but she had been the wife of a prominent white man, and had been decidedly off limits to her many admirers. Josiah took a loose strand of the long blonde hair and rubbed it between his fingers. It flowed behind the woman’s head and cascaded in a gentle wave of captured sunlight.
The soft light of day finally revealed Emma’s face to the man, and he saw that she was probably about as old as he was– most likely coming on thirty years of age. How could a woman who looked like this, still be a virgin? The night before had confirmed this fact to Josiah; he didn’t need to check for any blood in her petticoats to know that she had never known a man before him. The graceful curve of her cheek, the long eyelashes, the rose colored lips that had refused to kiss him, all held Josiah’s rapt attention.
Feeling someone’s breath on her face, Emma’s eyes suddenly fluttered open in alarm. A rough hand quickly smothered her cry, and an eagle feather dangled in her face as its owner turned to look back at the cold campfire.
“They’ve been taking turns all night, and staying up to keep an eye on us. I’ve an oneasy feeling they ain’t done with us,” he softly breathed, turning back to look at the woman. Josiah wasn’t prepared for the frightened brown eyes that met his, and he had to swallow hard and steady his voice before speaking. “Morning Ma’am.”
From beneath the long lashes Josiah had been admiring, Emma gazed at him with curiosity. His chest felt greasy, and he had a rank smell that suggested he hadn’t bathed in awhile. Against the light of day, Emma saw that his hair wasn’t black after all, but a dark shade of brown that lightened at the tips– very much like a grizzly bear. There was a slight curl to it that nearly made Emma smile, for she easily guessed he had been curly headed as a boy. Besides his tall stature and solid build, his face was his most prominent feature. It was strong and unyielding, and bespoke a hard life seasoned with experience. Then there were those piercing dark eyes that seemed to bore straight into her. Shifting uncomfortably on the buffalo robe, Emma realized she was staring, and awkwardly tried to look elsewhere.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” Josiah apologized, “but I don’t believe you ever told me your name.”
Mortified, Emma bit her lip. How could she possibly be married to a perfect stranger, who didn’t even know her name? Emma felt the touch of his hand as he stroked her long mane.
“Your name?” he pressed once more.
“Emma. Emma Perkins.”
A noise from the campsite momentarily distracted Josiah, and Emma could feel the eagle feather on her neck as he turned to see if both Indians were awake. When he saw just the one, Josiah looked back at Emma. “They ain’t gonna let go of a beauty like you, for no half a jug of whiskey. I reckon I’m a dead man, unless I do something about it afore they do.”
The young Blackfoot yawned and looked back at the tree. He could still see Josiah’s moccasins, and was satisfied that the trapper was still asleep. The Indian eyed the empty whiskey jug on the ground and wished Josiah had had more. That one jug had bought the mountain man a night with the white captive, but now that it was day, he was going to be in for a surprise.
From his hiding spot behind some trees, Josiah was prepared to rush the young Indian from behind. His plan was interrupted, however, when the older Blackfoot unexpectedly roused from his sleep and started talking with the other in guarded whispers.
Josiah was silently scolding himself for getting such a late start on things, when he suddenly heard footsteps close to his hiding spot. Realizing that his presence was about to be discovered, Josiah quickly dropped his pants and started relieving himself. Just then, a face peered at him through the bushes. “Howdy,” Josiah nodded to the Blackfoot.
The Indian grunted and went to inform his companion that the mountain man was already awake.
When Josiah had finished, the older of the two Blackfoot approached him with a rifle, while the younger stood at his side, equally armed. “Woman bleed?” he asked.
Josiah hesitated, recognizing the guarded stance of both men. “Woman was virgin,” he nodded.
“No want whiskey back?” the older Indian laughed without smiling.
Josiah was sizing them up, and knew he had guessed correctly. They were not going to let him leave this camp alive. “No want whiskey back,” he shook his head. “Woman was virgin,” then he added in English, “and I aim to keep her.” Josiah pointed his rifle in the direction of his horse. “Want more whiskey?” he asked in Blackfoot.
Instead of the eager looks they had given him the night before when the subject of liquor had been broached, the two Blackfoot remained unchanged. By their lack of enthusiasm, Josiah knew he was in for a fight.
“I git whiskey,” he nodded to them. With measured even strides, Josiah turned his back to his enemy and started for his horse. As he tightly gripped the sturdy rifle in his hand, Josiah was glad he had double-checked the priming on his Hawken before leaving the buffalo robe that morning. One on his left, and one on his right. Josiah didn’t like the odds. He reckoned he could get off one shot before they both unloaded their weapons into him, but he could only take one man. That still left the other to deal with. If only he could make it to his horse in time to get his pistol.
The small hairs on the back of Josiah’s neck suddenly stood on end. Josiah could sense imminent danger hanging in the air, and he braced himself.
A loud crack sounded, and Josiah felt a biting pain in his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the telltale puff of smoke that told him which Indian had fired. Grinning broadly, Josiah rapidly spun around and raised his Hawken at the older Indian who had yet to fire his weapon. Without a moment’s hesitation, Josiah squeezed the trigger and the man staggered backward, his rifle discharging into the air as he dropped to the ground. Then Josiah unsheathed his Bowie knife and let out a bloodcurdling war cry.
Stunned by the mountain man’s nerve and not having enough time to reload his weapon, the young Indian dropped his rifle and grabbed the knife at his side. He didn’t have any time, before Josiah was upon him.
Peering from around her tree, Emma timidly checked to see who was winning. One Indian was already dead, while another lay at Josiah’s feet, his legs still thrashing about. Emma’s blurry vision was unclear, but when she squinted, she could see Josiah’s hand take hold of the dying man by his hair, and deftly move something across his scalp.
As Josiah tore away his trophy, he heard the terrified screams of a woman. Alarmed, he checked the empty campsite for an enemy he had missed. When he realized there was no one, Josiah looked back at the tree to Emma. She was standing there, her eyes wide and staring, her face filled with horror.
Josiah took a step toward her and she fled into the trees.
Emma’s mind was frantic with the thought of escape! Her eyesight had not been clear, but the little she had seen was more than enough to make her sick with fright. He was just like those two Indians after all, and she had been naive to hope that he wasn’t! Branches flailed at her body as she thrust herself heedlessly into the forest, desperately trying to find a hiding place from the monster that she was sure was now pursuing her.
“Ma’am!” a voice called out from behind.
Finding no place to hide, Emma ran as fast as her wounded leg would carry her. When she felt a hand catch hold of her dress, she screamed uncontrollably.
“Have you gone plumb crazy?” shouted Josiah, struggling to get his arms around her to hold her still.
“Don’t kill me!” she screamed, gripping the arms holding her around the waist. “Please, don’t kill me!”
“Calm down, Ma’am!” Josiah’s voice was getting more agitated by the moment, until he finally pushed her to the forest floor and weighted her down with his body.
As she squirmed beneath him, Emma’s hand touched the still dripping, gruesome trophy hanging from Josiah’s belt; it rapidly sent her into renewed hysterics.
Josiah reached for his belt and tossed aside the offending scalp. Then he pinned Emma’s arms to the ground by her wrists.
“I ain’t gonna hurt you!” he huffed into her face. The adrenaline from battle was still fresh in his veins, and his heart was pounding so loudly it nearly drowned out her voice.
“You’re just like them!” she cried.
“I never said I was no angel, Emma!”
“That man was still alive!”
“They was the enemy!” Josiah argued. “If I hadn’t done it to them , they would’ve gladly done it to me!”
Emma shook her head. “That doesn’t make it right!”
It wasn’t a surprise to discover that she had religion, for Josiah had figured as much by the way her father had mumbled God’s name in prayer before death.
By now, Emma was weeping pitifully beneath him, horrified at this man who had taken her as his wife.
“Now, now,” Josiah tried to soothe her, “I ain’t all that bad.” His conscience smarted a bit from his lie. Not liking what he knew Emma must be thinking about him, Josiah tried to distract her by running his hand down her arm. When Emma’s sobs broke off in a gasp of inadvertent pleasure, Josiah saw his chance for a little revenge. “Stop blaming yourself fer having a good time,” he chided.
When Emma felt the humiliation of his remark, it filled her with indignation and confused shame. By the look on her face, Josiah knew she was still struggling to reconcile her senses with what her upbringing had taught her was right.
“Are you trying to tell me you didn’t enjoy last night?” he laughed at her mockingly.
“I can’t be married to you,” answered Emma. “You aren’t a Christian.”
Josiah dropped his head and placed his lips against her ear. He felt Emma shudder at his touch. “If we ain’t married, then what does that make you? No, Emma, you’re mine now. I was the first to lay with you, and fer as long as I live, you won’t lay with anyone else. Do you hear?”
Emma’s breathing had slowed and her strength expended by the constant drain of emotion she was presently enduring.
“I wanna hear you say it!” demanded Josiah, his face only inches from hers.
Emma felt the full weight of Josiah bearing down on her body.
“Say it!” he growled.
“I won’t lay with anyone else but you,” she finally mumbled.
“And who am I?” Josiah squeezed her wrists until her hands tingled.
“You’re my husband,” whimpered Emma.
“Say it again!”
“You’re my husband.” Emma’s face was getting quite pale now, and Josiah was beginning to think he might have pushed her too far.
“If I let you up, you promise not to run?” he asked.
Josiah climbed off Emma and she struggled to sit up. Her leg was hurting something fierce, and when she touched it, her face lit up with pain.
“I’d better git a look at that,” said Josiah, brusquely pushing back her dress and petticoats without even a “May I?”
Emma grimaced, unwilling to look at the wound.
“It’s deep,” declared Josiah, getting to his feet soberly. “I need to fetch you back to camp.”
“I’m too tired,” Emma shook off the hand that tried to help her up. “I want to stay here.”
“Stop talking nonsense,” he scolded.
Her emotions numb, Emma curled up on her side and shut her eyes. Perhaps this was all a bad dream that would go away with sleep.
“That wound needs tending to, Emma.” Unwilling to wait any longer for her compliance, Josiah hoisted Emma over his shoulder and started back for camp.
Draped over Josiah’s shoulder, Emma was seeing the world entirely upside down and from the vantage of his backside. The leather fringe on the bottom of his buckskin shirt swayed and danced back and forth as he moved, and for awhile the hypnotic movement entertained Emma. Then she noticed that the seat of his leather britches were black, while the rest of his buckskins were mostly dark brown. Why was that? It wasn’t easy to think too hard with so much blood rushing to her head, but Emma finally concluded that it was because Josiah sat in the saddle so much of the time.
Just when Emma was certain that her own bottom had been deprived of every drop of blood, having been distributed entirely to her head and feet, Josiah lifted her onto the buffalo robe behind their tree. She noticed he had been careful to take the long way around camp, so she couldn’t see the carnage of the slain Blackfoot nearby. Even now, Emma couldn’t see anything from the vantage he had placed her.
“Stay put,” he commanded before leaving to go restart the campfire.
Emma felt as though she couldn’t move, even if she had wanted to, and was quite willing to remain where she was. At least the buffalo hide was softer than the forest floor with all its pine needles coming up to poke her body. Tired, Emma reclined on the makeshift bed and stared at the Autumn canopy of yellow above her. How could something so peaceful as these majestic trees still be possible, when she felt as though her life were over?
“God,” Emma prayed once more, “I don’t understand.”
A gentle breeze picked its way through the trees and caressed Emma’s cheek. A prayer Jesus had said in the Garden of Gethsemane came to her mind, and this time Emma could recall every word with perfect clarity, as though she had had an open Bible right before her: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but Thine, be done.” In the midst of the insanity around her, those words came as a balm to Emma’s soul. Hadn’t Pa always told her that God had a purpose for everything that happened in their lives? Even the bad things? “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans eight, twenty-eight had been one of Emma’s Bible memory verses, for her Pa had promised there would come a time in her life when she would need to remember it. “Emma,” he had said, “God has a purpose for your life, and He’ll put you where He best sees fit. You just need patience to find where that place is.”
Josiah returned and knelt down on the robe beside Emma. He was holding an old knife with a red hot blade, as if he had just drawn it from the fire. “Open yer mouth,” he instructed.
Emma’s wide eyes fixed on the glowing knife. “Why?” she timidly asked.
Not giving any explanation, Josiah forced a wooden stick between her teeth. “Chomp down,” he warned, as he pushed back her dress.
Swallowing a deep gulp of air, Emma braced herself and squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
With the skill of a man who had done this before, Josiah cleaned and cauterized Emma’s wound. The second the knife met her skin, Emma clutched in pain and moaned. She would have violently jerked her leg out from under Josiah’s knife, but he held her down until his work was finished. When Emma didn’t faint as he had expected her to, the mountain man smiled within himself. Brave men had passed out from less, and this woman was showing she had grit.
While Emma’s pale face silently watched on, Josiah sat cross-legged on the robe and began tending to his own wounds. He pulled off his buckskin shirt and twisted himself around to get a good look at his shoulder. “I nearly went under with that shot,” he remarked, knowing full well that Emma was listening. “That crazy young Blackfoot jumped the gun, and started shooting afore he was supposed to. It plumb took his elder by surprise, and even though his gun were loaded, he hesitated a mite too long.” Josiah glanced over to Emma and grinned broadly. “That were all I needed to get him, and get him good! Lookit,” he proudly showed off his wound to the woman, “fer all that, the ball only grazed me!” Josiah picked up his buckskin shirt and his face screwed in displeasure. “It sure left a good rip, though.”
Josiah got up and went to his packhorse, returning a short while later with an awl and some sinew. He punched the awl into the leather and then forced the sinew through the holes he had made. Then he pulled the leather tight and tied it off.
Examining Emma’s wound again, Josiah dressed it and bound it with his red handkerchief. “I’ll git us something to eat in awhile,” he remarked, lying down beside her. “I’m powerful tired, but we best not sleep fer too long; them bodies will be attracting bears soon.” Josiah turned his head and looked at Emma. “You ready to let go of that there stick?” He pried it loose from between her teeth and saw that her face was slowly returning its color. “Too bad there wasn’t any whiskey,” he yawned, throwing the stick a fair distance away and letting it strike a nearby tree. “Would’ve come in handy fer yer pain.”
Then the man fell asleep, and Emma soon followed.
When Emma awoke, the sun was nearly straight overhead the trees, indicating the center of the day. She could smell something cooking, and when she sat up and leaned past the edge of the tree trunk, she saw Josiah sitting beside the fire, eating strips of elk meat with his Bowie knife. As her eyes drifted toward the mutilated bodies not far from where he sat, Emma forced herself to stop, and quickly lay back down on the robe.
Not long after, Josiah appeared with his Hawken in one hand, and some cooked meat in the other.
“Should’ve known better than to look,” he scolded her, tossing the meat onto her lap.
Sitting up, Emma stared at the meat. Her stomach was empty, but the pain in her leg was throbbing once again and it dulled her hunger.
“You ain’t been eating too regular,” observed Josiah, squatting down and balancing on the balls of his heels. “When I was feeling you last night, you weren’t nothing but skin n’ bones.” He quietly added to himself that her Pa must not have been a very good shot, for his daughter looked as though she had not had a good meal in a long time.
Emma’s stomach rumbled at the sight of food, as if reminding her that even if she didn’t feel like it, her stomach did. After saying a quiet prayer to herself, Emma took a small bite. Since there was no salt to be had, the meat was bland. Tasteless or not, once Emma started, she quickly devoured the entire strip of elk Josiah had given her.
“You’re with a buffaler hunter now,” Josiah told her, “an’ you won’t be going hungry no more.”
While Emma rested awhile longer on the buffalo robe, Josiah readied his horses and then carried Emma out to the sorrel mount the young Blackfoot had been riding.
“You sure don’t weigh much,” he observed, nearly tossing her onto the horse with hardly any effort. Emma reached out to take her horse’s reins, but Josiah firmly kept them in his hand. He mounted his horse, secured the lead rope for his packhorse and the older Indian’s pony, and they rode away from the Blackfoots’ campsite.
Josiah remained quiet as they rode, his thoughts guardedly kept to himself. He was busy thinking things through, and his decision only seemed to grow more certain the longer they traveled in their present Northerly direction. The mountaineer knew his friends were waiting for him back at Jackson Hole, where they would then move on to winter near their spring trapping grounds to get an early start on next year’s hunt. This had been Josiah’s plan, that is, up until Emma had changed things.
Even though Emma was timidly accepting his presence, Josiah knew she still had yet to truly accept him as he wanted her to– as her husband. He also knew that finding a parson to officially marry them was not likely. When white mountain men took Indian wives, the marriage ceremony was often performed by the woman’s tribe, and not by a white parson. Josiah’s problem was, Emma had no tribe, and no parson would join them in marriage, because the groom was half Indian. Since many decent white folk in this part of the country thought the races should never mix, Josiah figured he was on his own.
With all this, Josiah had another more pressing problem. If Emma ever told any white people of how he had taken her to wife, Josiah guessed he would quickly find himself hanging at the end of a rope. The mountain man tried to convince himself that what he had done was perfectly harmless. So he had suggested to the Blackfoot that he wanted a wife. He had. But Emma owed him as much, after all, he had saved her life.
Josiah glanced back at the horse trailing his, and wondered how Emma was going to treat him when he tussled her that night.
They hadn’t been in the saddle for very long, before it was time to find a place to make camp for the night. They had left the Blackfoots’ campsite late that same day, and Josiah had been anxious to get some space between them and the slain Indians. Dead humans attracted all the wrong kind of wildlife, especially bears.
“How’s yer leg feeling?” asked Josiah, helping Emma down from her horse.
Emma found a large rock nearby and sat down. After being jostled by the horse, it felt good to hold still.
Without asking if he could, Josiah strode toward her and promptly lifted her dress and petticoats to check the handkerchief. Emma flinched as he did this, though it wasn’t out of pain; Josiah was like a confident bear that knew he could do whatever he wanted.
“It’s doing good,” he pronounced, letting down her dress. “Tomorrow morning, we’re getting a mite more distance between us and the Blackfoots’ camp, and then I’m going hunting.”
“You’re leaving me?” Emma asked in alarm.
Concealing his pleasure at her distress, Josiah shrugged. “I’ll be back by sundown. I wanna hunt buffalo, afore we reach the lodge. Winter’s coming on, and I don’t hanker chewing hides and tree bark just to keep my belly full.”
At this, Emma’s ears perked up. “Lodge? What lodge?”
Quietly, Josiah regarded her for a few moments before answering. He could see she was happy with the thought of having something over her head, and realized it had likely been some time since she had had that luxury. “My Pa’s cabin is through the Yellowstone, in Blackfoot country,” he explained.
“He’s dead,” shrugged Josiah, as if it mattered little to him. “Unlikely any white men will be bothering us, ’cause they’ll be at winter quarters until springtime. Besides, few is crazy enough to go very far into Blackfoot territory, for they hold their scalps too dear.”
Upon hearing this, Emma looked extremely hesitant. “I’m fond of mine as well,” she confessed.
Josiah laughed. “Your scalp would like mighty fine in some warrior’s lodge! Yeller hair ain’t common in these parts!”
Instead of shrinking back as Josiah half expected her to, Emma straightened her shoulders and began gathering wood for their campfire. She saw nothing to laugh about, but since she wasn’t the one in control, all she could do was follow.
After Emma had gathered enough wood, Josiah took flint and steel and lit themselves a fire. He pulled out the last of the elk meat from the Blackfoot camp and started cooking it on a rock beside the open flame.
It was a cold evening, one that reminded a body that winter was coming. The two ate in silence, and then it came time for Josiah to make their bed. He was about to fetch two blankets from his packhorse, when he hesitated. Josiah looked at Emma sitting beside the fire, enjoying its warmth. She had her hair braided and pinned back in a knot, just the way he had seen women in the settlements do. Absently feeling the blankets, Josiah thought things over for a moment. Instead of two blankets, he only brought back one.
Josiah spread his heavy buffalo robe on the ground, and dropped the blanket onto the robe. “Reckon it’s time to turn in now,” he said in a voice loud enough for Emma to hear. It was hard not to sneak a look at Emma’s face to see her reaction, but Josiah willed himself not to. Instead, he settled onto the robe and lay down with his face to the sky, as if fully expecting her to follow. In silence he waited, but Emma did not come. At last, he couldn’t help himself, and raised his head to see where she was. Emma was still beside the campfire, looking very much as though she intended to stay there the entire night.
“Emma?” he called to her. “You coming?”
“I’m perfectly fine where I’m at, thank you,” she politely declined.
“That weren’t a question, Emma.”
When Emma didn’t budge, Josiah jumped to his feet and covered the distance between the buffalo robe and the campfire with just a few steps. Without a single word, he swiftly kicked dirt into the fire until the flames died out, and then marched back to his robe and lay back down.
Emma bit her lip. She could feel the threat of tears and struggled to hold them back, for she didn’t want to give Josiah the pleasure of knowing he had made her cry.
Beneath the darkening sky, Josiah’s voice sounded with a firm unyielding tone. “Who am I, Emma?”
Emma was silent.
“Who am I?” he repeated, this time his voice more forceful than before.
“My husband,” at last came her quiet reply.
Josiah waited. He knew she was cold, and wouldn’t last the night without a way to keep warm. All he had to do was wait– though he wasn’t willing to wait for very long. She had better come soon, or he was going to fetch her!
Before long, Josiah felt Emma’s cold frame crawl under the blanket beside him. When her arm accidentally brushed his, she quickly scooted away from him.
Amused, Josiah folded his arms behind his head and looked up at the vast sky spread above them. It was teeming with stars, so that a body couldn’t find so much as a thumbnail of empty space in all the heavens. A large brilliant moon hung above the Rockies, casting its silvery light onto Emma’s golden hair, and making her look more ethereal than usual.
Josiah could hardly believe his good fortune! That he could have such a woman as her, was only the day before an impossibility. But here she was, a real flesh and blood reality, and not just the lonely fancy of a half-breed mountain man.
Before finally settling down to sleep, Emma inched away from Josiah just a little more. At least he was civil enough not to force his attentions on her right now. She should at least be grateful for that small measure of kindness. Emma shivered beneath her half of the blanket. It was such a cold night!
Josiah was still watching the stars when he noticed Emma trying to tuck her legs beneath her to keep warm. Smugly, he knew he wouldn’t have much longer to wait.
A small while later, Emma cautiously edged back to Josiah’s side of the buffalo robe. When she was as close to him as she could get without touching him, Emma tried to warm herself. She could just feel a little of his body heat, but even that made a welcome difference.
To Emma’s surprise, Josiah suddenly pushed her away, and she found herself sliding across the robe back to where she had started. Puzzled, Emma returned to her spot beside him, and once more, Josiah shoved her aside.
Fighting back tears, Emma tried to make do by herself. Very quickly, the cold became too much for her to take, and Emma was forced to lay beside Josiah once more. This time, before his strong arm pushed her away, Emma grabbed Josiah’s buckskin shirt with both hands and hugged herself against him so he would have a harder time shoving her aside. When Josiah gave Emma one more nudge, she responded by gripping him tighter. To her relief, he let her stay.
In the darkness, a faint smile flickered across Josiah’s face. It was enough that she was holding him, and he decided not to tussle her tonight. Even though she was only trying to keep from freezing to death, it was a start. Josiah had all winter to win the immigrant’s daughter, before their marriage would be tested by the white man’s world come springtime.
He only hoped one winter would be enough.
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