Mountain Wild – The Stranger at My Side : Chapter 2

Don’t forgot to read – Into the Wild – Mountain Wild : Chapter 1


Continue Reading… 🙂 

When Josiah awoke the next morning, he found Emma still clinging to his buckskins. Satisfied the one blanket had done its job, he considered tussling Emma. However, since the sun was already so high, Josiah concluded he didn’t have time.

“Emma,” he nudged her awake, “we gotta git moving.” Groggy with slumber, Emma buried her face deeper into her cozy pillow. As a groan of satisfaction rumbled beneath her head, Emma suddenly remembered where she was and quickly let go of Josiah’s hunting shirt. Amused, Josiah watched Emma awkwardly retreat to her side of the buffalo robe. “Daylight’s burning,” he informed her. “We need to move on.” Automatically reaching for his Hawken, Josiah checked the percussion cap on his rifle. The trapper jumped to his feet, and then went to see to his horses. Nervously, Emma checked herself beneath the blanket, and breathed a sigh of relief when she found her clothing still intact. She hadn’t remembered anything happening during the night, but it had frightened her to find Josiah still in her arms when she awoke. “I ain’t waiting fer you all morning!” Josiah called to her impatiently. Emma poked her head out from under the blanket and saw that Josiah was staring at her from beside the horses. “Pack up the bedding,” he ordered. “We’re clearing out.” “What about breakfast?” she asked hungrily. “There’s no time fer eating,” Josiah urged. “Now git up, afore I come over there and pull you off’a that buffalo hide!” Scrambling to her feet, Emma hurried to roll the heavy robe and pack it away. Before loading the packhorse with his belongings, Josiah checked the wound on Emma’s leg. After declaring that it looked to be healing as it should, he dressed it and bound it with a clean blue handkerchief. After everything was in readiness, Josiah placed Emma on the sorrel and then mounted his own horse. He maintained tight control of Emma’s reins, and never once let them out of his hand without first securing them to his saddle. For all of that morning, they continued to ride in an ever Northerly direction. The territory around them grew increasingly majestic, and Emma wondered if this was the land of the Yellowstone she had heard Josiah mention the day before. Whatever it was, she knew they were nearing Blackfoot country, and dearly wished they were headed in any direction but North! To her, this was an act of insanity, for even though Josiah was part Blackfoot, he didn’t seem to be on very good terms with his own people.

After more than half a day’s ride, Josiah stopped the horses and then dropped from his saddle. Shielding the sun from his eyes, he gazed at the broad valley before them. Tree clad mountains surrounded the rolling hills and open meadows, while billowy white clouds sailed past the sun, casting moving shadows onto the wild landscape. Narrowing his eyes, Josiah searched for his prey. Then with a cry of satisfaction, he caught glimpse of it to the West– a moving ribbon of darkness, spreading across the rolling valley floor. From this great distance, Emma was unable to see what Josiah was looking at. “What is it?” she asked. “Buffaler!” exclaimed Josiah, guiding their horses to a nearby shelter of sturdy conifers. Before Emma had a chance to realize what “Buffaler” meant, Josiah ordered her to dismount. Then he pulled a buffalo robe from his packhorse and hurriedly tossed it at Emma’s feet. He grabbed a small remnant of dried meat from his possibles bag and then shoved it into her hand. “That’s all the food I got, so don’t eat it too quick,” he cautioned. “It should hold you till I git back.” “You’ll return by sundown?” she asked nervously. Josiah remounted his horse. “That’s what I told you yesterday, ain’t it? When you’re cold, hunker under the buffalo hide.” Reaching for the pommel holster on his saddle, Josiah drew out a pistol. “This weapon is only if some animal comes too close,” he explained warily. “If I hand it over, I don’t want it used against me when I git back!” He glared at Emma and waited for some assurances that it wouldn’t. When Emma remained silent, Josiah groaned impatiently. “Say it woman, or I’m leaving you here without a weapon!” “I won’t use it against you,” Emma finally responded. Josiah scowled at her knowingly. “The thought crossed yer mind, though.” He flung the small pistol a good piece from Emma, planning to be well out of range before she had time to reach it. As Josiah turned his mount toward the valley, Emma suddenly realized he was taking all the ponies with him. “You’re not leaving me with a horse?” “Why?” Josiah grinned. “You ain’t going nowhere.” He spat at the ground and eyed Emma one last time before leaving. “If you see anyone, keep out of sight.” “Even if they aren’t Indians?” she asked in surprise. With a fearsome growl, Josiah barred his teeth at Emma. “White skin or red, you keep out of sight!” With that, he plunged his heels into the sides of his horse and galloped away. When the last of the trailing ponies disappeared from view, Emma went to retrieve the pistol. After Josiah picketed his horses, he approached the edge of the buffalo herd on foot. A large bull took notice of Josiah and gave him a warning huff to stay away from his female cows. Taking a small step back, Josiah waited for the bull to return to his grazing. The mountain man grinned at his good fortune. Buffalo can be skittish creatures, known to stampede at the mere shadow of a man; at other times, hunters could approach them quite close, before the herd would sense danger. These buffalo were grazing and enjoying the autumn sunshine so much, that Josiah figured he could make short work of his hunting.

Josiah raised his rifle at the fattest cow before him. Just as he was ready to fire, he noticed something dark in the distance, swiftly moving along the base of the valley floor. This time, they weren’t buffalo. They were riders! Forgetting the buffalo, Josiah quickly went to his horses and led them out of sight behind some trees. By the dress and gear of the riders, he didn’t have any doubt that these were Blackfoot Indians. The sound of pounding hooves alerted the buffalo to danger, and the entire herd stampeded to the West in one wild rush for survival. The Blackfoot ponies galloped in hot pursuit, and Josiah couldn’t help but watch the expert horsemanship the men displayed. Thrusting their mounts into the thick of the panicking herd, hunters singled out their targets with deadly accuracy. “Ain’t none can run buffalo like a Blackfoot,” Josiah muttered with a twinge of grudging pride. He cast a wary glance at the sky. Soon the sun would disappear behind the mountains, and there wouldn’t be any light to hunt by. Trapped without any way of leaving that wouldn’t betray his presence to the Blackfoot, Josiah carefully concealed himself behind the trees. There was nothing for him to do but wait. As evening neared, Emma ventured from under the buffalo robe to look for any signs of Josiah’s return. He had promised to be back by nightfall, and the sun was fast slipping behind the tall Rocky Mountains. The thought of being alone in this wilderness at night, turned Emma’s heart to dread. Shivering, she returned to the buffalo robe to keep warm. “God,” Emma quietly prayed, “if I die, please let it be quick. You know I’m not very brave, but I’m trying to be. Please, make me strong!” Emma gripped the pistol and took a steadying breath. “‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,'” she reminded herself. It was one of her favorite Bible memory verses, and it helped to fortify her nerves. “Oh, Pa!” she cried in a heartrending sob. “I wish God had taken me as well, so I could be with you and Ma in Heaven! I don’t want to be on this earth without the both of you! How am I to bear it?” Silently promising herself not to melt into tears again, Emma dried the moisture that stung her eyes. She had spent most of the afternoon weeping, and was determined to summon more courage than that. Emma’s grief was soon cut short, by a sound coming from behind the buffalo robe. Not wanting to see what it was, and yet knowing that she had to, Emma turned her head and came face to face with a large gray wolf! The animal stared at her with glowing yellow eyes that glinted in the setting sun. With trembling hands, Emma slowly raised the pistol. “Please go,” she whispered, closing her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see the carnage of what was about to happen. She pulled the trigger, and Emma heard a loud yelp! Her eyes popped opened, and she saw the tail end of the wolf disappear behind the trees. “I hit him!” she gasped in surprise. Then Emma noticed the strike mark on a nearby conifer and realized she had missed the animal entirely. The sun was now completely behind the mountains, and the sky dimmed more and more as the bright orb retreated beyond horizons that Emma knew she would never live to see. She had had only one shot, and now the pistol was empty. A tear slid down Emma’s cheek as darkness blanketed the wilderness. By the time the Blackfoot had finished their buffalo hunt, there was very little light left in the sky. Josiah figured this meant they would camp nearby, and then return to their territory the next morning. With the careful stealth of a man who didn’t want to lose his scalp, Josiah grabbed the reins of his horses and picked his way through the trees. His stomach growling with hunger, Josiah was a little ashamed when he recalled telling Emma that she wouldn’t have to go hungry anymore, because she was now with a buffalo hunter. “Some hunter!” he harrumphed, jerking at the reins to urge his horses forward. He hadn’t had a bite to eat all day, having given Emma the last of the food with the expectation of buffalo meat later on.

 

Just then, a small rabbit bounded across Josiah’s path and suddenly froze, as rabbits usually do when they suspect detection. Deftly moving to his packhorse, Josiah brought out his bow, for he didn’t want to risk the sound of a gunshot carrying to where the Blackfoot were camped nearby. Taking an arrow from his quiver, Josiah drew it against the tight sinew of his bow. He let the arrow fly, and the rabbit was soon dangling from Josiah’s saddle. At least he wouldn’t have to return to Emma empty handed. Stars were visible by the time Josiah reached the spot where he reckoned he had left Emma. The moonlight was dim, so he crouched low to probe the darkness with his ears. Just to the left, Josiah detected the faint cry of a woman. He crept closer until his buffalo robe came into view. Emma was nowhere in sight, but when he heard the cry once more, he realized she was beneath the robe and had no idea that he was there. Thoughtfully, Josiah scratched his chin. Had Emma spent her ammunition, or did she have a loaded pistol waiting for him? Not wanting to chance getting shot at, Josiah stalked closer until he could hear the sounds of Emma’s smothered breathing beneath the buffalo robe. Without warning, the trapper pounced on the robe and clamped a strong hand over Emma’s mouth to keep her from screaming. Terrified, Emma thrashed under the weight of her assailant while her hand frantically searched for the pistol. Josiah, however, was ready for just that, and he quickly located the weapon before she did. Keeping Emma pinned with one arm, Josiah examined the pistol and found it wasn’t loaded. “Emma, stop moaning!” he scolded, and let the woman go so she could collect her senses. “Thought to shoot me, did you?” Gasping for breath, Emma looked up at him with a tear streaked face. “Thought you said you wouldn’t use this against me,” he mused, waving the pistol before her accusingly. “I– I didn’t know it was you!” stammered Emma. Josiah looked at her skeptically but made no reply. “I got us a rabbit for supper.” He sat cross-legged on the ground and pulled out his Bowie knife. “Did you see anyone while I was gone?” “No,” mumbled Emma, still trying to calm her nerves after Josiah’s surprise attack. “What’d you shoot at, then?” he inquired, running the blade of his knife down the length of the rabbit. “I scared away a wolf,” replied Emma. “You only gave me enough shot and gunpowder to fire the pistol once.” “I don’t trust you with more ammunition,” came Josiah’s ready response. “I don’t favor getting a belly full of lead from no woman.” He cleaned the Bowie knife against the knee of his buckskins and then returned it to his belt. “Even if that woman happens to be my wife.” Josiah looked at her with a steady warning in his dark eyes. “You get my drift, Emma?” “I didn’t know it was you,” she protested. Josiah grunted and then peeled back the skin of the rabbit lying in his lap. Not knowing what to make of his grunt, Emma dried her tears and wearily folded the warm robe around her body. It was then that she noticed the horses were picketed unusually close to camp and ventured to say as much to Josiah. “There’s Blackfoot about,” he shook his head cautiously. “I saw a passel of them back yonder, hunting and skinning as much buffaler as they could carry.”

 

“Did they see you?” she asked nervously. Flashing a grin at Emma, Josiah tossed a portion of the rabbit meat onto the robe beside her. “I’m only seen when I want to be.” Emma looked at the hunk of raw meat, and was about to ask Josiah if he wanted her to collect wood for a fire, when she looked up to see him eating! “Aren’t you going to cook it first?” she cried in horror. “Nope,” Josiah replied with a mouthful of rabbit. “An open flame will carry far in all this darkness, and I don’t want them Blackfoot knowing we’re here.” The very idea of what Josiah was doing, turned Emma’s stomach and she tried not to watch. “Why ain’t you eating?” prodded Josiah. “Ain’t you ever had raw meat?” Emma promptly shook her head in disgust. Frowning, Josiah tore off another mouthful and then chewed as loudly as he could so Emma could hear. “Looks as though you’ll just have to go without,” he concluded. Timidly, Emma slowly pulled something from her dress and Josiah recognized the dried meat he had left her earlier that day. “I saved it, in case you weren’t coming back,” she explained. “There weren’t no chance of that happening,” declared Josiah, taking another bite of food. “Good women are scare in these mountains, especially ones as purty as you.” Josiah watched her closely until her brown eyes flashed in the moonlight, and he knew she was looking directly at him. “I never had a wife afore,” continued Josiah. He set down his rabbit to wipe a hand against his buckskins before resuming his feast. “Some men tire fast of their women, but from the looks of you, I won’t be getting weary anytime soon!” “What if you do?” wondered Emma, her voice sounding as though it could easily happen at any moment. “What if you no longer want a wife?” “Then I’ll give you back to the Blackfoot,” grinned Josiah. When she remained deathly silent, he chuckled. “I was just teasing, Emma.” “What if this doesn’t work?” she repeated. “What will happen to me?” “I ain’t letting you go,” Josiah informed her outright, “so you might as well make the best of it.” “If you ever change your mind and let me go,” wondered Emma, “will you leave me at a trading post?” Josiah stopped eating long enough to look at the woman seated on the buffalo robe. “Why?” he asked. “No white man will want you, when they find out you’ve been the wife of a half-breed.” The truth of Josiah’s remark hit Emma hard, and she struggled not to start crying again. “I know,” she finally managed, “but I’m not speaking of remarriage. I’m only requesting that you spare my life, instead of leaving me to fend for myself when you no longer want me.” “What makes you think I don’t want you?” scowled Josiah.

 

“You only left me one shot,” pointed out Emma. “I’m just wondering how hard you’re trying to keep me alive!” Josiah harrumphed. “Worrying about yer skin, are you?” “Do you want me for your wife?” “I do.” “Then I’ll need a few measures of gunpowder from that horn slung around your neck, and at least three lead shots for the pistol. I believe that should do.” “You think I’ll just hand it over to you like that?” asked Josiah. After a moment of reflection, Emma nodded. “Yes, I do.” Josiah grunted and returned to his raw meal. “You’ll make do with whatever I give you.” Emma would have gladly pushed the point further, but Josiah was a formidable man, and she didn’t want to risk further displeasure. After washing down supper with cold water from a nearby stream, Josiah crawled onto the buffalo robe beside Emma. “I been looking forward to this all day long,” he declared unabashedly. “Lay back Emma, ‘an let’s get started.” Emma did as she was told, and Josiah occupied himself with her far into the night. The sounds of a happily chirping bird awoke Josiah, and he pulled the blanket over his head to keep the sunlight from his eyes. When the bird continued to sing, Josiah reached for a stone and hurled it at the feathered creature. “Shut yer mouth!” he grumbled. The bird chirped one more time, and then flew off to find its morning breakfast. From the other side of the buffalo robe, Emma stirred from her slumber. Even after a little sleep, she still felt tired and exhausted, for Josiah hadn’t let her get much rest. With slightly trembling fingers, Emma refastened her one-piece dress and smoothed her skirt. “Where are you going?” mumbled Josiah, as Emma started crawling from the buffalo robe. “I just need to find a tree,” she tried to explain modestly. “I’ll only be a moment.” There was urgency in her voice, and Josiah understood that Emma needed to empty her bladder. “Keep within sight of camp,” he told her. After Emma left the buffalo robe, Josiah rolled onto his back and faced the blue sky overhead. All of nature seemed in better spirits than him, and he begrudged the sky for its brilliancy, and the bird for its happy song. Emma’s soft footfalls signaled her return, and Josiah sat up to search for the hunting shirt he had discarded the night before. “Emma, when are you going to start tussling me back?” he muttered. “I can git more pleasure from a whore, than I can from you.”

 

The comparison was an unflattering one, and it was all Emma could do to keep from crying. She folded their blanket in silence, while Josiah checked his rifle. “You won’t kiss, and you won’t tussle,” he grumbled. “Fer someone’s who’s afraid of being left out here by yourself, you sure haven’t been very obliging!” He got to his feet so Emma could roll up the buffalo robe. “How’s yer leg feeling? Did I hurt the wound any?” Gulping back a sob, Emma shook her head “no.” “Would have served you right if I had,” murmured Josiah. Still grumbling, he went to see to the horses. The hungry animals nickered and tossed their heads, impatient to stretch their legs and hopefully graze in the meadow, for they could smell the grass from here. “Easy, easy,” Josiah calmed his ponies. “If them Blackfoot are gone, you’ll have the valley to yourselves.” The last of the bedding packed away, Emma prayed there would be a breakfast. She was so hungry, that even the grass Josiah had promised the horses sounded good. After saddling his pony, Josiah lifted Emma into the saddle and then swung up behind her. “I want to scout ahead, and see where the Blackfoot and buffalo are at,” he explained, leading their horse away from camp. Josiah put an arm about Emma’s small waist, and turned his face to the horizon. There wasn’t a buffalo in sight. “I’m thinking them Blackfoot ran the herd North.” A cold wind blew down into the valley as they rode, and Josiah kept a guarded watch for Blackfoot or buffalo. His Hawken rifle was ready for trouble, but all they found were a few prowling wolves and some rabbits. The hard saddle worsened Emma’s soreness, and she almost wished Josiah had left her at the camp. However, it only took one look at the wolves, to remind her that she was grateful for the arm about her waist. The valley floor swelled in front of them, like one solid wave of earth. Josiah grinned triumphantly when they reached the top and beheld the view this vantage presented. A moving sea of black followed the contours of the valley, as buffalo grazed and wallowed in the bare patches of dry dirt. “There they are,” Josiah breathed contentedly. “And not a Blackfoot in sight! That means I can use my rifle, and we can have a hot breakfast!” Since Emma was seated in front of Josiah on the horse, he couldn’t see the smile that adorned her pretty face. Halfway back to camp, Josiah suddenly spotted an elk. Promptly firing his Hawken, the animal collapsed in a heap of antlers and brown fur. With a war whoop that stung Emma’s ears, Josiah dropped from his saddle and proceeded to reload his rifle. “Dismount!” he shouted to Emma over his shoulder. The mountain man pulled out his Bowie knife and expertly carved away the choicest parts of the fresh meat for their food. After arriving at camp, Emma gathered firewood while Josiah hobbled the horses in a meadow so they could graze to their hearts’ content without straying too far. The elk smelled delicious as the aroma of cooking meat wafted past Emma’s nose. When it was sufficiently cooked, Josiah cut off a rather large portion of it for Emma.

 

“I can hear yer belly growling,” he grinned. “You should have eaten the rabbit last night!” Emma closed her eyes and quietly thanked God for her breakfast. Then she devoured the food until she could eat no more. After their meal was over, Josiah got to his feet. “I’m going buffalo hunting,” he announced. The man grabbed his rifle and went to one of the horses grazing nearby. Emma wanted to ask what he was going to do with her while he was hunting, but she remained silent. He knew her concerns about ammunition and remaining by herself, and she guessed he had already decided her fate. Josiah saddled the fresh mount and led it back to camp. “Emma,” he called to her, “let’s go.” “You’re taking me with you?” Emma immediately brightened. “Why?” asked Josiah in feigned shock. “Did you want to stay here? I can leave you with some of the leftover meat–” he stopped short, as Emma eagerly mounted his pony. “Then I reckon you’re coming,” he muttered with half a smile. As their horse trotted to the hunting grounds, Josiah slipped his arm about Emma’s waist. The buffalo were where they had left them earlier, grazing in the warm sunshine and unaware of the cold wind that chilled Emma to the bone. The animals seemed ignorant of their presence as Josiah wheeled his horse around to the back of the herd. He studied the direction of the wind, made note of the terrain, and then deposited Emma beside some nearby trees so she could watch. “If the buffalo start running,” he cautioned, “make sure you don’t git in their way, and stay right where I put you. Hide behind that yonder tree. Them dumb animals will trample anything in their path.” “I’ll be careful,” Emma assured him. Josiah checked his rifle one last time and then turned his horse toward the outside edge of the grazing herd. Upon finding a fat cow, Josiah reined in his horse and surveyed the land. The ground here was fairly flat, and if he had to run the herd, this was a good place to give chase. Slowly dropping from his saddle, Josiah bellied against the ground until he felt the unmistakable spines of the prickly pear cactus piercing through his buckskins. Ignoring the discomfort, the hunter kept his attention on the female cow before him. The cow’s mate was grazing beside her, and for a moment, Josiah’s mind wandered back to Emma. He cast a quick glance at the trees and grinned when he saw her intently watching with squinted eyes. The cow moved, calling Josiah’s attention back to the hunt. He fired at the area behind the cow’s neck, and her bull huffed in surprise as she dropped to the ground. The bull snorted, and raised his great head to eye Josiah. Josiah ignored the stunned bull and immediately reloaded his Hawken. He carefully selected another cow, and slowly formed into a crouch. Steadily raising the barrel, Josiah braced the stock against his shoulder. With careful timing, he squeezed the trigger. The cow staggered, and a nearby bull lowered his massive head to charge Josiah! Leaping onto the back of his horse, Josiah dodged the bull with a taunting laugh. Alarm quickly spread through the herd, and the air filled with the thunder of stampeding hooves! Dust rose from the ground, as Josiah poured a measure of powder down the muzzle of his gun. A lead ball, followed by a hard strike of the butt on the pommel of his saddle, and he again took aim. A puff of smoke and another large cow dropped, ploughing into the earth. Emma gasped as Josiah reloaded his rifle and then thrust his pony into the rushing wave of buffalo!

 

Heedless of the risk he was taking, Josiah’s breath came in quick gulps and his face flushed with the thrill of the chase! In the heat of the moment, he saw neither danger nor common sense. His entire being was trained on his gun and the cow before him. With another crack of his rifle, the animal went down! By now, the herd was running wildly to escape the hunter still in pursuit! A nearby bull lunged at Josiah’s horse, but the experienced pony leaped aside, and its rider remained unscathed. Loading his rifle on the back of the horse, Josiah was unrelenting in his determination. Another bull dropped its head and charged Josiah, its tongue hanging out in exhaustion. They were becoming desperate, and so were their attempts to rid themselves of this man. Dust billowed around Josiah, and he gritted his teeth in wild delight. Another cow presented herself before his rifle, and he fired without hesitation. After Josiah reloaded his Hawken for the fifth time, he reined in his tired horse. He had enough meat. The mountain man let the herd run on until they disappeared from sight, leaving torn ground, moist dung, and their fallen comrades behind them. Wiping his face of muddy perspiration, Josiah trotted his horse back to the buffalo he had just shot. He counted five dead cows, and grinned with satisfaction. Going to the first cow, Josiah carved her open to harvest the best portions suited for food. He tied the meat to his saddle, and then went to the next cow. On and on he went, until his horse was laden with fresh buffalo meat. By the time Josiah returned to Emma, it was the center of the day. “The difficult part comes next,” he told her with a hardy grin. Emma followed behind Josiah on foot, as he led the horse back to camp. She had seen men hunt buffalo before, but there was a calculated recklessness about Josiah that made her wonder at him. After turning his tired horse into the field with the other ponies, Josiah strung sinew ropes between several trees and secured the ends around the trunks. Then he hunched over the piles of fresh buffalo meat and slowly cut them into thin strips. While he worked, Emma took the strips and then hung them over the sinew to dry. It was a long and tedious process, and the sunlight gave out just as Josiah came to the very last of the meat. “If you want to give your back a rest,” Emma offered after they had finished, “I can prepare the last of the elk meat for supper.” Giving her an assenting nod, Josiah went to the buffalo robe to stretch his stiff limbs. It was hard work cutting meat so thinly, but the thinner he could make the jerky, the quicker it would dry. The rope strung about their camp was crowded with drying strips of buffalo meat, and Josiah surveyed the scene with a degree of accomplishment. Then he leaned back to watch Emma as she tended the fire. Josiah blinked hard to keep his eyes open, but sleep was beckoning and he found it hard to resist. Telling himself that he had enough time for a short nap before supper, the tired man went to sleep. The camp was dark by the time Josiah stirred from his nap. He was dimly aware of something sharp jabbing at his chest, arms, and legs, and he couldn’t tell why. Rolling onto his back to escape the discomfort, Josiah sleepily touched his chest and felt the spines of the prickly pear cactus still embedded in the front of his buckskins. Groaning wearily, he closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Light spilled across Josiah’s face, and he awakened to find Emma bent over his chest. She was intently picking the cactus spines from his buckskins, and by the way she squinted, Josiah guessed she was having difficulty.

 

“You can’t see too good,” he observed. With a startled cry, Emma quickly scooted back to her side of the bedding. Chuckling, Josiah sat up to look at his hunting shirt. “Where’s supper?” he asked, easily removing the remaining spines. “There isn’t any,” stammered Emma. “You fell asleep, so I only made enough for myself.” “Then git the fire started, woman!” Josiah swatted at Emma as she quickly scrambled from the buffalo robe. “It’s a fine thing when a man can’t take a short nap, without his wife eating his supper!” Emma was about to protest that she hadn’t done anything of the sort, when she realized Josiah was only teasing. After his meal was cooked, Josiah ate while he checked on the buffalo jerky drying on the sinew ropes. Content that everything was as it should be, he returned to the fire while Emma folded the buffalo robe. “How long will it take for the meat to dry?” she wondered. “I reckon four days ought to do it,” he replied. Finishing the last of his meal, Josiah wiped his hands on his britches. “I’ve a mind to see if there’s any beaver signs by the river, but I’ll stay within sight of camp to keep an eye on the jerky.” He looked at Emma. “You can come if you want.” Rifle in hand, Josiah set out to explore the stream with Emma following at his heels. The wind was cold, and Emma shivered as she hurried to keep up with Josiah’s long strides. When they came to the stream, Josiah squatted down to get a better look at the tracks along the edge of the banks. “Did you ever have a beau?” he wondered, reaching down and touching a small track before glancing up at Emma curiously. The question caught Emma a little off guard, and for a moment she couldn’t find her tongue. “I’ve had a few,” she finally replied. “Thought as much,” muttered Josiah, turning his dark eyes back to the tracks. “This here’s a raccoon and this one’s a skunk. I don’t see no signs of beaver though. Looks like them critters are all trapped out, even in the Yellowstone!” Frustrated, Josiah clapped his rifle with a strong hand and looked out over the moving stream. “Why wouldn’t any of them marry you?” he suddenly wondered. The wording of his question irked Emma, and she decided not to reply. “You got some ailment I should know about?” he pressed. “Mr. Brown,” sighed Emma, “this is hardly any of your business!” The trapper stepped toward Emma, until she backed from him like a tree giving way to the prevailing wind. Josiah showed Emma his rifle. “This Hawken is mine,” he declared evenly, “and so is this knife, my furs, my horses, and my woman. You’re just another of my possessions.” Josiah leveled his eyes with Emma’s. “If you ever tell me what’s my business again, you’ll wish I never took you from the Blackfoot. You hear me?” Frightened, Emma could only nod. Seeing she was sufficiently reprimanded, Josiah looked back at the moving water. “The beaver are further upstream,” he deduced. “They can’t all be gone!”

 

After they reached camp, Emma was grateful to find an excuse to get away from Josiah. She slowly checked the ropes of jerky drying in the sun between the trees, and lingered there for as long as she dared. By the fire, Josiah was seated on the ground cleaning his rifle. Every so often, he raised his head to see Emma still standing with the meat. “It ain’t gonna dry any faster with you staring at it!” he finally called to her. That was enough to send Emma back to camp. She located the tree furthest from Josiah, and sat down at its base. Josiah glanced up from his polished Hawken. “You’re looking better,” he remarked. “For awhile there, you were mighty pale– even fer a white woman.” Emma wearily closed her eyes. When Josiah realized Emma wasn’t planning to respond, he resumed his task in silence. He refused to acknowledge the regret tugging at him somewhere within his breast; Emma was completely and entirely his, and the sooner she accepted it, the better off they would be. Over by the tree, Emma was silently petitioning God for a promise of deliverance. “Please, God,” she prayed, “remind me of a promise for escape, so I have something to hope for!” Emma didn’t have a Bible to turn to, but a Scripture passage dimly sifted its way to the front of her mind. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife…” that was all Emma could recall. Even though it wasn’t the promise of deliverance she had been hoping for, she knew within her spirit that God had brought it to her remembrance. Josiah had finished cleaning his rifle and was about to call Emma to start supper, when she appeared by the fire and began cooking a few cuts of buffalo meat. “You feeling all right?” he asked. “The color in yer cheeks is fading again.” Josiah was obviously trying to show some goodwill, but instead of turning it away, Emma politely acknowledged his concern. “Thank you, I’m feeling better.” A small sigh escaped her lips, and Josiah had a feeling she was trying to bring herself to say something. “If you have a piece to say,” he prompted, “then spit it out.” “I think…” Emma hesitated, “no, I’m sure. I should have answered your question, Mr. Brown. You’re perfectly within your rights to ask why I’m still unmarried.” “Then why are you?” he asked. “No one ever proposed,” Emma explained with some embarrassment. “Two came courting, but one died, and the other married my friend.” Josiah scowled. “The men back East must be blind as posts! Why, I ain’t ever seen anything as purty as you!” Smiling sadly, Emma turned the buffalo meat over the fire. “Mr. Brown, you’re the only one to think so in a very long time.” With a harrumph, Josiah leaned back on his elbows to stare into the flames. “I’m not believing you, Emma. You’ve been admired, even if they never said a word about it to you. The prettier the woman, the more courage it takes fer a man to loosen his tongue.”

 

Josiah’s explanation for why she had been unmarried for so long, greatly embarrassed Emma, for she felt it wasn’t true. After all, her “beauty” hadn’t seemed to quiet his tongue any. However, if Josiah refused to acknowledge out loud that he had a very plain woman for his wife, then it was his business; she had done her best to be honest about the matter. Thankfully, Josiah soon dropped the subject, his attention having been diverted by her announcement that supper was ready. After they ate, Josiah prepared for bedtime by spreading two blankets on the buffalo robe. The added blanket meant Emma wouldn’t have to keep close to him during the night, and Josiah wondered what she would do. He didn’t let his disappointment show as Emma quickly went to her side of the bed. “It’ll be cold tonight,” he cautioned, as if the previous nights had been any warmer. “If you need to share my heat, I won’t shove you away if you want to nestle with me.” When Emma remained where she was, Josiah restrained himself and didn’t pursue her beneath the blankets. The next morning, Emma was awakened by the smell of breakfast cooking beside the campfire. Hungrily, she crawled from the buffalo robe to get her share of the food. “I’m going trapping today,” announced Josiah, pulling out his Bowie knife to slice off some meat for Emma. “I’ll leave you with one of my rifles and some ammunition, so I reckon you’ll be all right while I’m gone.” Curiously, Emma ventured a quick glance at the mountain man. “That’s right,” he growled, “you heard me! I’m leaving you a rifle!” Josiah bit off another chunk of meat before continuing. “It ain’t safe being without a rifle, with all that meat still drying. I reckon griz will be getting fat for winter, and that jerky will be looking mighty good to ’em right about now.” “Griz?” puzzled Emma. Josiah frowned. “Grizzly bears! Ain’t you ever heard of griz?” “When we first came to the Rockies,” recalled Emma, “Pa shot at a grizzly bear to keep it from attacking our horses after we made camp.” “They can snap the back of a buffalo,” Josiah bragged with a knowing grin. He raised a large hand and extended his fingers as though they were claws. “With just one blow.” Emma shuddered. Josiah looked much like a grizzly bear himself, with his dark brown hair and broad shoulders, and from the look on his face just now, he knew it. “Be here when I git back,” he ordered, putting down his paw to continue with his breakfast. When Emma bowed her head to silently thank God for her meal, Josiah stopped chewing and didn’t swallow until she began to eat. “I won’t be back until the day after tomorrow,” Josiah informed Emma. “I’m going upstream to trap beaver.” He saw Emma struggle to swallow her buffalo meat. “You’ll be away for so long?” she whimpered a little fearfully. “I’m giving you a rifle!” retorted Josiah, not caring for the guilty feeling she was causing with those wide brown eyes of hers. “The meat should be dry by then, and we can move on to my pa’s lodge up North.”

 

“It seems to me as though everything is up North,” lamented Emma. “The beaver, your cabin, and the Blackfoot Indians.” “That’s about the size of it,” grinned Josiah. He tossed the last bite of his buffalo meat into the fire and then climbed to his feet. If he stayed any longer, he was afraid Emma might be able to talk him out of leaving. Going to his packhorse, Josiah pulled a rifle from a leather bag. “You can shoot with a flintlock, can’t you?” he asked, tossing Emma a glance over his shoulder. “I can,” she assured him. As Josiah turned to give her the weapon, Emma cried in shock! “Pa’s rifle!” she exclaimed, running to Josiah and eagerly taking the heavy double barrel shotgun into her small hands. “Where did you get it?” “The Blackfoot left it by the wagon, after they were finished with yer pa,” he answered. Stunned, Emma looked at Josiah with renewed fear in her eyes. The rifle raised, and Josiah suddenly found its barrel leveling with his belly! “What are you doing that fer?” he protested. “I didn’t kill yer pa!” “You’re a Blackfoot, aren’t you?” Emma cocked the rifle in readiness to shoot. “Kill me, and you’ll be out here by yourself,” he reminded her. “I don’t care!” she shouted. “You killed Pa!” The rifle trembled as Emma raised the weapon to Josiah’s chest. “Your pa was scalped and left fer dead when I found him, Emma! He told me them Blackfoot had taken you and sent me after you!” “Then take me back to him,” Emma declared resolutely. “I want to go back!” “Back to what?” Josiah tried to reason with the frightened woman. “To a corpse that’s been got to by wild animals?” Horrified, Emma wasn’t aware of her hand tightening around both triggers of the shotgun. “You didn’t bury him?” she screamed. “What kind of savage are you?” Before Emma knew what hit her, Josiah had rushed her and pinned her against the ground. “I’m the savage who saved yer life!” he bellowed. “If you ever point a weapon at me again, I swear–” Josiah stopped short with a groan. “Emma, stop yer crying! I ain’t going to hurt you!” He rolled off of Emma and then helped her to her feet. She was weeping uncontrollably, and for once in his life, Josiah felt helpless. “I didn’t hurt yer pa,” he assured her. “You believe me, don’t you?” Unable to speak, Emma’s head bobbed up and down. She believed him. Then she turned and ran to the buffalo robe to shed her tears in private. Unsure what to do with himself, Josiah retrieved the unloaded rifle still laying on the ground. He had forgotten the weapon had belonged to her pa.

 

While Emma wept, Josiah saddled his horse and then prepared his packhorse for the days he would be away trapping beaver. He was about to retrieve a small ax he had left by a tree, when he sensed Emma behind him. “Did my pa suffer very much?” “He died soon after I found him,” replied Josiah, tightening the packhorse’s cinch with a pat to its belly. “Couldn’t we return to bury him properly?” she begged. “I ain’t fighting with bears over bones already picked clean.” Josiah made sure of the sinew ropes securing his beaver traps by testing the strength of the knots. “Besides, someone has to stay here and guard the jerky.” “I’ll stay!” Emma immediately offered. “Please, Mr. Brown! Bury my father! He was a good man! If you have any decency, you’d go back and do him justice!” Josiah suddenly stopped what he was doing and turned to face Emma. “I’m as decent as you!” he spat bitterly. “I won’t take such talk from my wife!” “Please!” breathed Emma. “I’ll do anything!” Josiah’s face brightened. “Anything?” “Well,” she hesitated, “almost anything.” He was about to name a price, but caught himself. Here he was, bargaining with a grieving woman over burying her father. Josiah hated himself for the picture it painted of his own character. “I’ll be back sometime tomorrow,” he muttered, mounting his pony. “I’m leaving the other horses here, but if you ride off…” Josiah slapped his knee in frustration. “Don’t leave,” he finally requested. With that, he reined his horse South and then rode away. Smiling through her tears, Emma thanked God for causing Josiah to return to her pa. Since the trapper didn’t have Emma and the string of ponies along, he was able to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. Even so, it was nearly dark when he arrived back at the wagon. In the fading daylight, Josiah tethered his horse to a wagon wheel to have a look around. The wagon had been hurriedly plundered by the two Blackfoot, and the remainder of its contents shredded by wild animals. Stepping over an open trunk, Josiah rounded the wagon. He had left Emma’s father lying on the other side, but wasn’t very surprised when he didn’t find him there. Animal tracks were everywhere, and Josiah figured they had dragged the body away to feed on it elsewhere. The sun was fading fast, so Josiah made camp near the abandoned wagon. As he ate his cold supper of dried buffalo meat, Josiah curiously checked the open trunk laying nearby. To his surprise, a carved wooden box was still inside, having escaped attention from the plunderers. Easily guessing it belonged to Emma, Josiah packed the ornamented box away, intending to surprise her with it later. After the sun rose in the morning, Josiah examined the tracks around the wagon. By the look of things, several wolves and a grizzly bear had come through here. Holding his Hawken tightly, Josiah followed a few of the tracks into the nearby trees. It was there that he found the first of the immigrant’s remains. For a long while Josiah scoured the woods, but was unable to find any more of Emma’s father.

 

After returning to his horse for a shovel, Josiah dug a hole beside the wagon. He laid the unfortunate man in his grave and then covered him with rocks and dirt. “Guess I should say something,” Josiah awkwardly stood over the man’s grave. “I don’t know any Christian words to say over you, but seeing how you raised your daughter, I figure you were a good, decent man. I reckon Emma was right about that. If there’s a Heaven, you’re probably there, looking down on what’s happening to your daughter.” Josiah sighed and shook his head soberly. “I bet when you sent me after Emma, you never figured I’d take her for my wife. You probably never counted on that and probably didn’t want that for Emma. I can’t say I blame you, but I ain’t giving her back to the white folks! Emma said she had no kin, so I reckon I’m the only family she has left. Well, that’s all I got to say, ‘cept rest in peace.” Josiah strode back to his horse. If good people could die so easily, then he reckoned God didn’t care what happened to Emma. Even with all her religion, she was no better off than him. It was noon of the following day, when Emma heard a rider approaching their camp. Her ears were better than her eyes, and she strained to see the blurry horizon. When the horse rode into camp, Emma finally recognized Josiah and lowered her shotgun. “Did you find my pa?” she asked hopefully. “I did,” replied Josiah. “I buried him beside the wagon.” “Thank you, Mr. Brown. I appreciate it.” Josiah grunted, and went to the fire to warm his hands. Timidly, Emma bit her lip. “Did you stop to bury the two Blackfoot?” she wondered. She expected Josiah to snap at her, but to her surprise, he didn’t. “What was left of them,” he replied. “I figured you’d ask.” “Thank you,” mumbled Emma. She opened her mouth to say something nice about him for doing such a thing but closed it again with a sigh. Sensing her futility, Josiah laughed grimly. “Emma, I know you don’t think much of me, but I’m still yer husband.” “I know,” she numbly replied. Emma went back to the buffalo robe to sit for awhile. She was weary and the hard strain of the last few days showed plainly on her lovely face. Josiah gazed at her for a moment before returning to his horse. “I’m going beaver trapping,” he told her. “I’ll be back tomorrow.” Sadly, Emma lay down on the robe, clutching her father’s rifle as though she were hugging him with all her might. She said nothing, but watched as Josiah rode off with his packhorse and traps. That night, the fire crackled as Josiah tossed another dry branch on the flames to cook his supper. The wind was coming in even stronger now, so he pulled his buffalo robe up around his neck to keep warm. A modest collection of skinned beaver pelts lay drying at his feet, and Josiah was pleased by his success. The beaver were far from plentiful, but it was still more than the slim pickings he had been getting near Jackson Hole.

 

The flames popped, and Josiah could almost taste the roasting grouse he had snared earlier that afternoon. He bit into the tasty fowl as soon as it was cool enough to touch, and then settled back to enjoy a full belly and a warm fire. All that was missing was a woman to share his robe. Emma. She had been on Josiah’s mind for much of the day, and now that night had descended over the land, he found it harder to not think of her incessantly. He could close his eyes and feel her beside him, and a grin would spread across his chiseled face. Hugging his rifle close, Josiah shut his eyes and soon fell asleep. His dreams were of the woman with long golden hair and soft white skin that he would be returning to tomorrow. The next morning, Emma found herself shivering beneath the blankets on the buffalo robe. She had been so exhausted the night before, that she had accidentally let the fire burn out while she slept. Emma knew she was in trouble, for now that the fire was out, she had no way of re-lighting it again. “God,” she pleaded, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are upon Thee!” As soon as the words left her mouth, God answered by reminding her of how Josiah lit their campfires. Smiling, Emma looked at the rifle lying beside her. Unlike Josiah, she had no dedicated flint for building a fire, but she did have the flintlock on her pa’s old shotgun! Instead of gunpowder, Emma carefully placed a little dry tinder in the rifle’s pan. Quietly saying a prayer, she cocked back the hammer and then pulled the trigger. The flint sent a few sparks into the pan, causing her tinder to momentarily glow with an ember or two. Emma’s joy was short-lived, however, for the tiny embers were rapidly extinguished by the wind. Undaunted, Emma went to the cold campfire and dug about the ashes for any bits of wood that might have turned to charcoal. She was rewarded with a tiny fragment buried at the bottom of the fire, where oxygen had not gotten to the wood. It was not very good charcoal, but it was all Emma had so she placed it in the rifle’s pan and tried again. The crude charcoal caught spark, but it was all Emma could do to keep it from going out. She shielded the embers with her hand and was able to coax a flame from her smoldering bit of charcoal and dry tinder. Lighting one end of a twig, Emma carried her precious flame to the lifeless campfire and she soon had a proper fire going! Triumphantly, Emma sat beside the fire and warmed herself against the chilly air. “Thank you, God!” she exclaimed in great relief. “Thank you.” When Emma finally ventured from the fire, the cold wind caused her to quickly retrieve one of the warm blankets from the buffalo robe. She wrapped it about her shoulders as she would a shawl and then set about gathering more wood for the fire. When she had collected more wood than she could possibly use, Emma took her pa’s shotgun to the buffalo robe to keep guard. There was little left to do but pray, wait for Josiah’s return, and keep a careful watch for animals who might want the now dried meat. Josiah cast a watchful eye to the clouding sky, as his horse headed back to the camp where he had left Emma. There was a sharp bite in the air that told Josiah snow was on its way. Maybe he wouldn’t see white today, but it wouldn’t be long now until he did. Urgently, Josiah drove his horse onward, until he at last saw the small spiral of Emma’s campfire in the distance. Something in his chest began to pound hopefully. At the thought of tussling Emma again, he quickened his pace. This time, there was no relief on Emma’s face as he rode into camp. She was calm, even cool at his return and showed very little emotion.

 

“See anyone while I was gone?” he asked, sliding from his saddle. “No,” answered Emma, “no one.” After turning his two ponies into the meadow to graze with the others, Josiah went to the warm campfire. “I see you’re well stocked on firewood,” he chuckled, pointing his chin to the ample pile Emma had gathered. “I know it’s a lot,” she admitted, failing to hide her embarrassment from Josiah. “I slept so soundly last night, I let the campfire go out. I suppose this morning, I got a little carried away and gathered more firewood than we needed.” “The fire went out?” Josiah looked at her curiously and then at the fire burning brightly before him. “You got it started again.” “Yes, I did.” Emma awkwardly adjusted the blanket around her shoulders. “Did you find your beaver?” “I did,” nodded Josiah, his wandering gaze feeling Emma until she could no longer look him in the eye. “What’d you use?” “Use?” asked Emma. “To light the campfire,” replied Josiah. “How’d you manage it?” “I used the flintlock on Pa’s shotgun.” The mountain man grinned proudly. “You did, huh?” His eyes continued to roam, so that Emma finally retreated to the strings of dried buffalo meat. “Shouldn’t we pack the jerky away?” she wondered. “I reckon so,” admitted Josiah, reluctantly tearing his attention away from Emma. Retrieving an old buffalo hide from his things, Josiah unfurled it on the ground and instructed Emma to pack the meat in the skin. As she did this task, Josiah began packing his beaver skins, traps, and other belongings into burdens that could easily be loaded onto his packhorse. Josiah didn’t have many earthly possessions, but much of what he did have, was carefully wrapped in waterproof hides and bound with sinew. There were a few bundles that Emma would have liked to explore, but she kept her curiosity in check. After all, those things weren’t hers. They were Josiah’s. When the jerky was finally bundled and placed with the rest of Josiah’s belongings, Emma noticed that he had yet to put away the buffalo robe and remaining blanket. “I want to have a look at yer leg afore we leave,” Josiah directed Emma. “Go sit on the robe and wait fer me. I’ll be along as soon as I get the last of this ready for travel.” Silently, Emma did as she was told. Josiah soon joined her, carrying a small familiar box in his hands. “I found this back at the wagon,” he explained, placing the object in Emma’s lap.

 

“My sewing box!” she cried in delight. Emma opened the carved wooden container and was overjoyed to find her sewing book still safely housing two slender needles. Her scissors were still there, as were three spools of thread, some pins, and her mother’s thimble. “I thought I’d never see these again!” exclaimed Emma. She turned to thank Josiah and saw that he was busy pulling off his hunting shirt. “Has yer leg been hurting any?” he asked, pushing back her dress to examine the blue handkerchief tied around her leg. “Not as much as before,” she replied. “Mr. Brown, are you intending to… to…” Emma stopped before finishing her thought out loud. “I’m untying the handkerchief,” Josiah informed her. “The wound is healing nicely, and it doesn’t need a dressing no more.” His dark eyes flashed at Emma. “After we’re done,” he breathed, “we’ll head North to my pa’s lodge. Hopefully, we can make it there afore the first winter snow.” “Then we should leave now,” reasoned Emma. “I think you already know I’m not gonna leave you alone this morning,” Josiah told her frankly. “I’ve been wanting us to lay on the buffalo robe, and I ain’t waiting any longer.” Emma swallowed hard and looked down at the unexpected treasure in her lap. “You like what I brung you?” he grinned expectantly. “Yes, thank you,” mumbled Emma. “This sewing box will be helpful.” “Then how about showing me your gratitude?” he coaxed, taking the container from Emma’s hands. He reclined her against the robe and then tried to kiss her, but Emma couldn’t bring herself to return his advances. Disappointed, Josiah continued without Emma’s encouragement. It was late morning by the time Josiah broke camp. The clouds had parted, revealing the blue sky, but the cold wind was ever present. Emma felt a sense of foreboding as her husband guided his string of horses toward the Northern horizon, straight for Blackfoot country. Clinging to her faith, she prayed God would give her courage to face whatever lay ahead. Then Emma turned her thoughts to the stranger riding his horse up front and observed the eagle feather that dangled from his long hair. He had taken her, and now she belonged to him. Even so, Emma acknowledged the danger of giving her heart to such a man as Josiah Brown.

Unbeknownst to Josiah, Emma purposed within herself to never love him.

 

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म जस्तो छु त्यस्तो देखिँदैन, म जस्तो देखिन्छुु त्यस्तो पनि छैन । मेरो कसैसंंगको सम्बन्ध उ संंगको दुरिले निर्धारण गर्दैनँँ केवल गर्छ त उ संंगको सम्बन्धले । म कसैैको जीवनमा महत्त्वपूर्ण ब्याक्तिको रुपमा स्थापित हुन नसकूँला त्यो मेरो बशको कुरा हैन । म केवल यो चाहन्छु कि जब कसैले मलाई देख्छ, एक मुस्कान देओस् अनि मनमनै भनोस उ मेरो साथी हो ।

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