Don’t forgot to read – Into the Wild – An Honest Heart : Chapter 4
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When Josiah didn’t arrive back at the cabin before nightfall, Emma wasn’t very surprised. He had taken enough supplies to be gone for several days, so Emma felt no alarm at his continued absence. Instead, she contented herself with reading her Bible and keeping the small cabin tidy.
Night came, and Emma curled up on the buffalo robe by herself. She thought over the meeting with Josiah’s grandfather earlier that day, and the bitter words they had exchanged.
Then the memory of her own family moved to the front of her tired mind, and visions of a happy childhood comforted Emma as she waited for sleep to come. She could see her father’s face, and how his eyes often smiled when he spoke. And then there was Ma, with her encouraging words whenever her daughter became disheartened by life’s inevitable trials. The contended evenings by the fireside when Pa read from the Bible, and the mornings when Emma could hear her mother moving about to fix breakfast, all came back to her like long-lost friends. Emma wished for the old days, when she was surrounded by people who truly loved her. She sorely missed the fellowship of her parents, and the friendship of familiar acquaintances. They were all the more cherished, now that she knew the loneliness of the wilderness.
A stab of grief cut through Emma’s soul. Josiah might be a solitary bear, but she wasn’t!
“Please, God,” prayed Emma, “please don’t let me wallow in self-pity. I am never alone, because You are always with me. But, dear God, how I miss my parents!”
Emma had hoped, rather than believed, she had finally shed enough tears over her parents’ death that more would be unnecessary. She laughed at the naiveness of such a thought, knowing that for as long as she lived, she would never stop missing them. At least when buried in Josiah’s arms, she wasn’t so aware of how very alone she was.
In the silence of the cabin, Emma’s heart reminded her that the next time she would see her parents, it would be in Heaven. If she remained in these mountains, Emma felt she would never again know the joy that came from the fellowship of such like-minded people. It was a lonely thought, and it made her shudder beneath the warm blankets.
Emma hastily turned onto her other side. “This is what comes of too much solitude,” she rebuked herself. “I’m thinking too much.”
How long it took for Emma to fall asleep, she didn’t know, but the next time she opened her eyes, light was pouring through the cracks in the window shutters. Hearing the horses whinnying for their food, she hurried out of bed to tend to their needs as best she could.
The blue heavens were cloudless as Emma carried water to the ponies. Snow was temporarily retreating from the sun’s rays, and bare patches of brown broke through the blanket of white still covering much of the ground. Though winter was just beginning, Emma was grateful for this small reprieve that let her go outside without putting on snowshoes.
After she had finished with the three horses, Emma started back for the cabin to thaw herself before the fireplace.
Out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw two figures emerge from the line of trees surrounding the cabin. Their presence frightened her, for she understood that trouble would come if Josiah’s relatives knew they were here. Were these Blackfoot? Or were they from another tribe? Suddenly realizing she had no cover, Emma scurried into the cabin. With trembling hands, she grabbed at the shotgun hanging over her shoulder, and stood in the entrance of the doorway. If these two were hostile, she could always duck inside and bar the door.
Endeavoring not to betray any signs of weakness, Emma returned the intruders’ steady gaze without flinching or giving way to the trembling she felt in her bones. Though the figures were not far from the cabin, the details of their faces were only a blur to Emma’s poor eyesight. Their garb, however, was more distinct, and Emma knew they were Indians.
Emma watched as the taller Indian turned to the other. The shorter one nodded, and then, to her horror, they started toward the cabin!
Displaying calm control, Emma brought the butt of the rifle to her shoulder, but kept the barrel pointed toward the ground. She didn’t want to shoot anyone, but was determined to defend herself, should the situation come to that.
As the two forms grew closer, Emma distinguished the features of the taller Indian to be those of Old Man, Josiah’s grandpap. Feeling a great sense of relief, Emma brought down the rifle, and was embarrassed to find the old man grinning at her.
“Your eyes are very poor,” he laughed in near derision, “for you did not lower your weapon sooner!”
Emma smiled politely, trying not to let his comment irritate her. Her eyesight was a sensitive subject, and it didn’t take much to hurt her feelings.
The second Blackfoot was a woman, bundled in several layers of blankets against the harsh cold. Her demeanor exhibited quiet strength, and though she looked old enough to be Emma’s mother, she was quite beautiful to look upon.
Even as Emma endured Grandpap’s mock at her poor eyesight, Emma could feel the woman’s penetrating gaze.
“Won’t you come inside?” Emma invited the two Blackfoot into the cabin.
Grandpap grunted. He stepped into the small lodge and immediately went to the fireplace to warm himself.
To Emma’s surprise, instead of sitting down on the warm skins before the fire, the Blackfoot woman went to the table and sat down in one of the split-bottom chairs. She was obviously acquainted with the white man’s ways, for she waited for Grandpap to introduce her to Emma before speaking.
As Emma took the remaining seat at the table, Grandpap introduced the woman using a long name in Blackfoot that Emma couldn’t understand. Emma nearly jumped from her chair, however, when she heard the words, “Josiah’s mother.”
“Mrs. Brown?” Emma exclaimed in surprise.
“My white husband called me Cora.” Cora’s English was halting, though her expression betrayed no awkwardness. She was the picture of confidence, and Emma secretly envied her. If only she could be as calm!
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Brown,” Emma held out her hand in polite friendship. “My name is Emma.”
Cora formally accepted Emma handshake without smiling in the slightest. “I am not called Mrs. Brown anymore.”
“Oh.” Emma tried to manage a smile, though her polite manners seemed to go unnoticed by her guests.
Grandpap sat beside the fire, content to watch the two women as they stared at each other across the table. He even seemed to derive some amusement when Emma awkwardly shifted in her chair under the steady gaze of his daughter.
“My son is gone?” asked Cora.
Grateful for the broken silence, Emma quickly nodded. “Yes, he left yesterday. I’m afraid I don’t know when he will be back.”
Cora grunted. She eyed Emma’s deerskin gown and shook her head in disapproval. Her own deerskin dress was unornamented, and such decorations could only mean one thing.
“You have been trading with the Crows?”
“Yes… I mean… Mr. Brown has… I mean, did,” Emma stammered, realizing that she was admitting Josiah had been trading with their enemies.
Again, Cora grunted. “Has he beaten you?”
“Who? Mr. Brown?” asked Emma in surprise. “No, he’s never struck me.”
Cora nodded, the first sign of any emotion being one of relief. “Good.”
“Has he hit many women?” Emma asked timidly.
“Josiah is too much like his father,” Cora replied in a cold voice, “but he swore to me never to beat a woman as Hiram did.”
“Oh.” Emma tried not to sound as relieved as she felt.
“Did he force you?” asked Cora.
Emma gulped. “Force?”
Cora grasped her wrist with her other hand, forcing it down to the table as though being restrained.
That’s the question Emma was afraid it was. “Mr. Brown was rough for awhile, but when he understood he was hurting me, he became gentler.”
Cora looked frustrated, as if her question was still not being answered. “How did he take you to wife?” she demanded. “A woman like you, would never accept such a husband.”
Realizing her response had not satisfied Cora, Emma replied the best way she knew how– with the straightforward truth. “When Mr. Brown found me, my situation left me with no choice but to accept him as my husband. I wanted to live, and Mr. Brown offered me life when others did not.”
Cora eyed Emma cautiously, though there was now a glimmer of respect in her eyes. “Another might have taken her life, rather than let herself be handled by such a man.”
“To be honest, I asked God to do just that,” Emma confided, “but instead of death, He sent Mr. Brown.”
Cora was very quiet. So quiet, Emma could hear the slight intake of Grandpap’s breath, as he lit a tobacco pipe.
Cora’s eyes narrowed. “You have religion?”
“I am a Christian,” Emma nodded.
At this, Grandpap harrumphed, but his daughter quickly silenced him. She turned back to Emma. “My son has a Christian wife?” Her tone was one of disbelief, though she obviously believed Emma’s statement to be true. “Josiah is not such a person… but I am.”
Emma was unable to conceal her surprise. “You? A Christian?”
“My husband was not a good man,” explained Cora, “but he taught me of Jesus when he read stories from his thick book.”
“He had a Bible?”
“Yes,” nodded Cora, “but he ‘lost’ it after he said I was taking the stories from the book too seriously.” Her eyes grew dark with the pain of past memories. “When my beauty faded, he left our bed, and found another wife.”
Emma bit her lip. She prayed Josiah would never do anything like that to her.
“Josiah was a boy when I took him with me to return to my people. It was not good for him at my village, so he went back to his father.” Cora’s voice was matter-of-fact, though the pain remained in her eyes.
Silent, Emma didn’t know what to say.
Cora looked at Emma curiously. “Do you have family?”
Emma sighed in a moment of unguarded honesty. “No, I only have Mr. Brown.” When she realized how that must have sounded, Emma covered her mouth in embarrassment.
Instead of scolding, Cora’s mouth parted in the slightest of smiles. “It is not good for you to be alone with my son. You will be happier with a child.”
Emma blushed, for the subject of children seemed to come up with every Indian woman she came into contact with.
“You would like a child?” The question seemed to greatly interest Cora.
“I’ve always wanted a large family,” admitted Emma, though she had intended to have it with a godly husband.
Hopefulness flickered behind Cora’s eyes, and for a moment, Emma thought she was about to say something very important. Indeed, Emma had had that feeling ever since Grandpap and Cora’s arrival. There was a deeper reason for their visit, and Emma had a strange hunch it was no accident that they were here while Josiah happened to be away.
Gathering her blankets around her shoulders, Cora stood up. “We must go.”
Grunting in agreement, Grandpap tapped his pipe against the fireplace and then got to his feet. He gave Emma one last cursory glance before the two headed out the door.
There were no tender goodbyes, and no promises of future visits. Even so, Emma felt herself wishing that they had. She liked Cora.
Her visitors gone, Emma put the bar back over the door. The cabin was eerily quiet, making Emma realize all too much how she sorely missed the company of others. It felt good to talk to someone, even though that someone kept looking her over with an air of distrust. Emma thought Cora had warmed to her by the end, and hoped the woman would return for another visit.
“Please, God,” prayed Emma, “please let her come back. Even if it’s only for five minutes.” Hearing the desperation in her own voice, Emma sighed heavily. She was pitiful. Pleading with God for five minutes of conversation with another human being. Josiah had only left yesterday, and already Emma was feeling as though it had been a week.
Settling beside the small shelf by the window to read her Bible, a verse from Proverbs dropped into Emma’s heart: “The desire of the righteous shall be granted.”
With grateful eyes turned upward, Emma knew she would see Cora again.
The hope of a second visit, kept Emma from feeling too lonely. God was a very present comfort to her spirit, and Emma knew that even if she never saw another human again, she would survive the solitude. Still, the anticipation of speaking to Josiah’s mother again, gave Emma something to look forward to.
The next day, as Emma tended to the ponies, she kept a close watch on the trees surrounding the cabin for any signs of Cora and Grandpap. Emma wished she had invited them to come again while she had had the chance, but now all she could do was pray and wait.
The nickering of one of Josiah’s ponies caused Emma to look up from where she was gathering firewood. Something moved near the trees, and her eyes caught sight of a deerskin clad Indian. Thinking it was Grandpap, Emma’s heart beat with joy. Then she noticed the figure’s shoulders didn’t slightly hunch the way Grandpap’s did, and her joy disappeared.
That was not Grandpap!
Three more men wrapped in animal hides moved into view, and they nodded to the first Indian.
Firewood tumbled from Emma’s arms, and she took a step backward in the direction of the cabin. Emma moved her shotgun from over her shoulder and ran as fast as she could toward the lodge, not stopping until she had reached the relative safety of its thick walls.
Breathlessly securing the shutters, Emma took a brave stance in the open doorway with her shotgun. The Indians were still in the distance, but Emma wanted them to know she was not helpless. Even so, she was shaking so hard, the sturdy rifle trembled violently in her hands.
Hoping she wouldn’t have to duck inside and bar the door, Emma watched as the men nodded to each other and stared at the cabin. They made no attempt to come closer, and after several minutes, they left.
When the last Indian disappeared behind the trees, Emma quickly barred the door, unless their departure should mean a surprise attack. Something within her said this was silly, for if they had wanted to attack, they could have easily out-waited her. Maybe that was what they were doing. Maybe there was still someone out there, waiting for her to leave the safety of the cabin before pouncing on her.
Emma frowned. Only Josiah pounced. She remembered his surprise attack one night, when he had tackled the buffalo robe she was hiding under.
“Oh, where is he?” exclaimed Emma. “Where is Mr. Brown when I need him?”
Besides the fact that the cabin had been found, was the bigger concern that it had been found by Blackfoot Indians. From what Grandpap had said to Josiah, Emma understood that something bad might result from discovery… maybe even Josiah’s death. Emma shuddered, trying to keep her thoughts from running too wildly.
For the remainder of the day, Emma kept inside, occasionally peering out through a crack in the shutters. Every time she checked, there was nothing but quiet.
When morning peeked through the cracks of the window shutters, Emma looked to see if the men had come back.
Should she venture outside to feed the horses? They were making a fuss, and she didn’t know how much longer she could put off their needs.
As she was wondering what to do, Emma was startled to hear the sound of someone knocking on the door!
Instead of rushing to open it, Emma hesitated. Josiah would be yelling at her by now, so it couldn’t be him. Besides, this knock had a request to it, and not one of authority that expected to be obeyed.
Steadying her nerves, Emma cracked open the window shutter to see who it was.
“Cora!” cried Emma in delight. She quickly lifted the bar over the door, and invited her guest inside.
The Blackfoot woman had come alone this time, but Emma was so excited she didn’t notice Grandpap’s absence.
“The cabin has been discovered.” The words fell from Cora’s lips without emotion. Adjusting her blankets, she went to the table and sat down in the split-bottom chair she had used during her previous visit.
Emma felt faint, but reminded herself to keep trusting God. She couldn’t understand why God had let such a thing happen, but had confidence that He knew what He was doing. Folding her trembling hands, Emma took the remaining seat at the table. “How did they find us?”
“I told them,” Cora’s chiseled face showed no signs of remorse or apology.
“I don’t understand,” puzzled Emma. “How could you do this to your son?”
Cora’s eyes narrowed, though she didn’t appear to be angry by Emma’s question. “Do you believe I would kill Josiah?”
The frank question made Emma pause before responding, “I don’t think so.”
In spite of Emma’s hesitation, there was no fear in her eyes. “Good,” nodded Cora, “you trust me. You must stay in this lodge and not go out. You are being watched.”
“I saw Indians looking at the cabin, yesterday,” related Emma. “I didn’t know if they were Blackfoot.”
“They were,” confirmed Cora. “They watch for my son’s return. You will stay inside?”
“As much as I can,” sighed Emma. “It’ll be impossible to remain indoors all the time, but I’ll make my trips as brief as possible.”
With a satisfied nod, Cora offered no explanation for her actions. For someone who had purposely led her son’s enemy to his door, she looked remarkably calm.
“Do not ask me why I am doing this,” instructed Cora, seeing the question plainly in Emma’s eyes. “It is for the best that you do not know everything.”
“I don’t know anything,” Emma sighed.
The two women stared at each other, as if trying to guess what the other was thinking.
Feeling unequal to the task of understanding this Blackfoot woman, Emma decided there was only one thing left for her to do. “Will you stay for lunch?” she invited Cora. “I don’t often have visitors. In fact, you’re the first.”
“Lunch?” Cora looked puzzled.
Emma pressed on, unsure why Cora looked so confused. “It’s nearing the center of the day, and I haven’t eaten anything yet. If you’ll stay for lunch, I’ll make stew.”
“I had forgotten this was the white man’s custom,” Cora nodded in understanding. “I will eat lunch with you.”
“Thank you,” Emma’s smile was sincere. It was a rare thing to enjoy the company of another woman, and it was made even better by the fact that this woman spoke English.
“My people eat when they are hungry, and not at set times of the day,” explained Cora.
“I didn’t know,” smiled Emma, pouring water from her bucket into the kettle. “Mr. Brown eats breakfast, lunch, and supper, just like me.”
“My son is a white man in red skin,” Cora mused ironically. “He has never spoken of me to you?”
“Not since I’ve known him,” replied Emma. “Until I met his grandpap, I had assumed all his close relations were dead.”
Discouraged, Cora shook her head, her two long braids rubbing against the front of her deerskin dress. “I am dead to my son. He will not listen to my words, or to the words of my father.” She gazed at Emma with an unspoken hope that made Emma strangely uncomfortable.
Once again, Emma had the nagging feeling this woman wanted something from her.
Preparing as appetizing a lunch as she could, Emma placed tough buffalo jerky in the kettle of water hanging over the fire. Taking some of her precious sage, Emma added it to the kettle to make a savory stew for her guest.
Cora quietly watched on, and then opened a pouch hanging at her side. She offered some of its contents to Emma.
“What is it?” asked Emma.
“You have not had pemmican?” Cora was troubled with Emma’s ignorance, for pemmican was a staple of life among the Blackfoot. Not one to waste time, Cora promptly set about instructing her son’s wife in the preparation of the food. “Grind dried buffalo meat and mix it with marrow and fat. Put the powdered meat into a skin, and pound it with chokeberries and birch sap that has been made into sugar. When it is dry, it will not spoil and keep you strong when there is little food.”
Emma looked at the pemmican warily. Since it was warm from Cora’s body heat, the clump she offered looked sticky.
“Eat it,” prompted Cora.
Politely accepting the food, Emma took a cautious nibble. To her delight, it was quite tasty.
With Cora’s pemmican and Emma’s stew, the ladies sat down to lunch. In spite of the alarm Cora had caused, Emma was having a grand time! It felt good to say a prayer before eating, and to know that the other person at the table wasn’t impatiently waiting to get at the food.
Since all Emma had was one battered cup, she and Cora shared turns, using it to dip into the kettle of stew. All too soon, their small meal was over, and Emma was bracing herself for the solitude that would come after Cora left.
Thanking Cora for the pemmican, Emma was about to start clearing the table, when Cora stopped her.
There was that quiet hope shimmering in Cora’s eyes again!
Slowly, Emma sank back down at the crudely fashioned table. Every ounce of her feminine intuition told her that Cora was about to ask something difficult.
“You would like children?” questioned Cora.
“You’ve asked me that, before,” puzzled Emma.
“How much…” Cora hesitated, “how much has Josiah told you of his past?”
The question bothered Emma– more so, since it had come after the question about children. Blushing bright pink, she was greatly ashamed to admit the truth. “Mr. Brown has made some remarks about being in the company of whores. I don’t know how many there were, but he has said nothing of them producing any children.”
“He has a child,” began Cora, watching Emma closely to see her reaction, “and the child’s mother was not a whore. The woman lived in my village when Josiah visited me five seasons ago. She was beautiful, and my son wanted to lay with her. Josiah persuaded her to come to him while her husband slept, but the woman’s husband awoke and went to search for his wife.” Cora paused, seeing Emma’s face turn pale.
Emma took a deep breath. “Go on.”
“The worried husband discovered his wife with my son,” resumed Cora, “and after many angry words, forced Josiah to leave the village. Then he punished his wife’s adultery by cutting off her ears.”
Putting a hand to her mouth, Emma felt her stomach turn. Cora was speaking without obvious emotion, and Emma wondered how she could be so matter-of-fact concerning something so terrible. As Emma watched Cora’s stoic face, she sensed it was out of resignation to what had already happened.
“After my son left,” continued Cora, “the woman discovered she was with child. She gave birth to a white baby, and her husband swore he would drown it out of hatred to Josiah. The birth was hard on the woman, but before she died, she gave me the child so it would not be drowned.”
“But,” stammered Emma, in a terribly helpless voice, “I thought the reason Mr. Brown had fallen out of favor, was because he brought trappers to your hunting grounds!”
“When the woman died, her husband blamed Josiah for her death,” explained Cora. “That is why my son brought the trappers.”
Emma tried to swallow, but felt as though she were struggling to gulp down dry grass. She wished she could share Cora’s resignation; it would make listening to this easier.
“You will take the child?” Cora’s eyes had that same look of hope again, and now Emma understood why.
“Mr. Brown has refused?”
“His ears are closed to my words, but he will listen to yours.”
“No, he won’t,” sighed Emma. “He’s only interested in frolicking on the buffalo robe. He listens to very little I say.”
“After Josiah brought white trappers to our grounds, the child was not treated well by my people. It will be better for her in her father’s lodge, with his white wife.”
Emma finally managed to swallow. “The child is a girl?”
Nodding, Cora leaned across the table to touch Emma’s hand. “It is hard for her to live with my people, so she must make her home among the white man. You will teach her your ways? You will take her?”
Emma felt guilty for even contemplating a “no.” After all, this child was Josiah’s responsibility, and she was suffering because of her father’s actions. Though these were good reasons to accept, Emma couldn’t help but dread Josiah’s reaction when he returned.
Deciding to brave her husband’s anger, Emma steadied herself and nodded. “We’ll take her.”
“Do I have your word?” pressed Cora.
Emma took a deep breath, hoping that she was doing the right thing. “You have it.”
Instead of looking relieved, Cora pensively stared at Emma, as though struggling to follow through with her desperate plan.
“The child needs you,” affirmed Cora, as she steadily gazed into Emma’s face. “It is settled. She will live with you and Josiah.” Cora’s resolve strengthened, she got to her feet, leaving behind her blanket wraps in the chair.
Emma was still getting over the gravity of what she had just promised Cora, when the Blackfoot woman opened the cabin door. Cora put her hands to her mouth, and the air filled with a strangely beautiful, birdlike whistle.
Curious, Emma came to the door. She followed Cora’s gaze to the line of trees, just as Grandpap came into view with a small figure trailing beside him.
Emma glanced at Cora.
“My father brings the child,” the woman answered Emma’s unspoken question. “She is frightened.”
“She’s not the only one,” confessed Emma, hurriedly straightening her deerskin dress and then making sure her hair was neatly fastened in the back.
As Grandpap and the child slowly approached the cabin, he shouted something in Blackfoot to Cora, and Cora responded with a nod. Grandpap grinned broadly, showing off a space where his teeth were missing. “Josiah has a good woman!” he praised Emma in English.
Emma did not hear the old man’s praise, for her eyes were transfixed on the short person silently rooted at his side. Her form was almost entirely bundled in warm blankets, which covered most of her face and all of her head. In her hand, she clutched a small doll that slightly trembled whenever its owner did.
Standing in the doorway with Emma, Cora motioned for the child to enter the cabin, but the child remained where she was. Grandpap nudged the bundle of blankets forward, and they reluctantly obeyed, not stopping until they had gotten past the white woman and safely behind Cora’s dress.
Leading her granddaughter to the fireplace, Cora began unwrapping the girl’s winter blankets.
“This is your new ma,” Cora spoke English in a tone loud enough to be sure Emma could hear. “She will be kind to you, and you will learn much from her.”
Feeling a lump in her throat, Emma watched as the last blanket came off. Before her stood a white complexioned little girl, no older than five years of age. Her dark brown hair hung in two long braids that curled at the ends, showing she had inherited her father’s curls.
A small, stoic face gazed up at Emma, and Emma saw the girl’s bottom lip quiver.
Cora fondly stroked the child’s head. “You must be brave, Mary. Your new ma will feed you, and show you where you will sleep, and then you will not be so frightened.” Cora turned to Emma, and beckoned her to come closer. “This is Mary. I named her after the mother of Jesus. Her name was Mary, also?”
“Yes, it was.” Emma gave the child a friendly smile. “It’s a lovely name.”
Mary blinked, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Remembering what Cora had said, Emma took a buffalo robe and folded it in half, placing it on the opposite side of the fireplace where she and Josiah slept. Then Emma took two warm blankets, and completed the bed for Mary.
Cora led the child to her new bed. With an audible sigh, Mary sat down on the warm buffalo hide with her Indian doll tightly wrapped in her arms.
Emma turned to Cora. “Would she like stew?”
Cora smiled, and handed Emma the leather pouch hanging at her side. “Give her pemmican.”
Emma noticed that Cora had told her to do the giving, so Emma opened the small bag and pulled out some of the dried sweet meat. Bending down, Emma offered the pemmican to Mary.
For the longest time, Mary simply stared at Emma. Then, slowly, she took the meat from her new mother’s hand.
Cora sat down on the buffalo robe beside Mary. “See? Your stomach knows this is home.”
With another sigh, Mary leaned against Cora, burying her face from Emma’s view. “Take me with you,” Emma heard the child plead in a muffled voice.
Cora looked up at Emma to explain. “The hunting here is no longer enough to feed our great tribe, so we will move our village to follow the buffalo.”
“When will your people leave?” inquired Emma.
The dark look in Cora’s eyes said what her mouth could not– not in front of the child: the Blackfoot were waiting for Josiah’s return.
Biting her lip, Emma nodded in understanding.
The sky outside had already faded from noon to early evening, as Grandpap got to his feet and stretched his stiff limbs. With a yawn, he made motions to Cora that he was ready to go home.
“No!” whimpered Mary, as Cora stood up to gather her blanket wraps from the chair.
Bending down to kiss the child, Cora whispered, “When you are frightened, talk to Jesus.” In a hushed voice, Cora murmured a quiet prayer over Mary. Then, without looking back, the grieving woman left with her father.
Watching the two disappear out of sight, Emma swung the heavy door shut. As it thudded against the doorjamb, Emma noticed Mary stiffen.
Hoping her smile looked friendly, Emma went to the fireplace to start supper. “Would you like a little stew to go with that pemmican?”
Dropping her fistful of uneaten food, Mary quickly burrowed beneath the blankets. From the toe of her moccasins, to the top of her head, Mary had gone into hiding. Then, in an afterthought, a small hand reached out to grab her doll, and that too, disappeared beneath the blankets.
“When you’re hungry, let me know,” sighed Emma. She placed jerky into a kettle of water, and then hung it over the fire to cook.
Emma gazed back at Mary’s buffalo robe, her thoughts still reeling from what had just transpired. Josiah had a child? Emma shuddered. Josiah had an illegitimate child. What would her neighbors back in Indiana have said about this? Even in these distant mountains, Emma could feel the reproach of their shame. Suddenly feeling cold, Emma put on her blanket shawl for comfort.
A low, mournful sound came from Mary’s blankets. Even though Emma could barely hear each stifled sob, she knew the little girl was crying.
“Would you like to join me for supper?” invited Emma.
“No!” came the tearful response.
With a heavy sigh, Emma poured hot stew into Josiah’s battered cup. After saying a quiet prayer, Emma ate by herself.
Evening sunlight glinted off the snow as Josiah gathered his two traps from the frozen banks of the creek. These few days of hunting hadn’t caught a single beaver, and he was counting himself a fool for wasting time. The surface of the creek was frozen and the beaver were keeping to their warm lodges to wait for spring, just as Josiah reasonedhe should be doing.
Short though it had been, Josiah’s recent meeting with Grandpap had been their first talk in years. Their bitter exchange had left Josiah in a foul mood, and it had taken these icy winds to distract him from his anger. It was easier for a man to forget his past when his fingers tingled with the cold, and his feet needed to be rubbed so frostbite wouldn’t claim more of his toes. It was easier… and yet, the past never left Josiah.
Squinting his eyes to shield himself from the retreating sunlight, Josiah tried to dismiss his Grandpap’s concerned indignation. He thought a lot of that old Indian, and it hadn’t been easy for Josiah to go against him.
An icy wind bit into the trappers face, and he embraced the numbing pain with a grin. Sometimes, Josiah didn’t know why God bothered to keep him alive. It would be easy for the cold to rob him of his breath, and for the snow to entomb him in a winter grave where the dead felt no pain. Josiah shook his numbed senses back to reality, suddenly realizing just how cold he was becoming. Thoughts like those were rare, and it startled him back to his shelter before the night plunged the temperatures even lower.
A warm blaze glowed in the fireplace as Emma lifted her head from the buffalo robe to check on Mary. Emma had finished her supper without Mary emerging from under her blankets, and now that Emma had gone to bed, the cabin was completely silent. Only the crackling night fire broke the stillness.
It had been awhile since Emma had heard Mary last stir, and it caused Emma concern as she stared at the blankets, waiting for them to move. Just as Emma was about to go check for a pulse, the sound of a yawn and then the rustle of moving blankets showed Mary was still alive.
Scolding herself for being silly, Emma let her head fall back to the buffalo robe. Emma had never raised a child, and the thought of suddenly being responsible for one, frightened her. For many years, she had hoped and prayed for such a precious responsibility, though she hadn’t expected that responsibility to come today.
Feeling more than a little overwhelmed, Emma dearly wished she could talk to her ma, and ask her what to do. Ma would’ve known how to make Mary at home. That little girl wouldn’t have cried herself to sleep, if Ma had been here.
“Help me, God,” Emma prayed silently. “I’m trusting You.”
Sleep tugged at Emma’s eyes, enticing her to get some rest. Giving Mary’s blankets one last check, Emma drifted to sleep.
When Josiah awoke early the next morning, he was ready to go home. He was missing Emma something terrible, and wasn’t looking forward to another lonely night without a woman at his side.
Gathering his belongings, Josiah started back for the cabin. The air still held the bite of cold from the previous night, for the sun had yet to appear over the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
It was a quiet morning. The snow crunched beneath his snowshoes, punctuating the silence with an uneasy monotony. Josiah paused in his tracks long enough to bring the collar of his buffalo coat up around his neck. Even the birds seemed to be absent this morning. It was almost as if all of nature were holding its breath.
Josiah cautiously pressed onward, his senses sharpened by the electricity that was running down his back. He was being watched. He was almost sure of it. A startled bird suddenly took to the sky. Josiah’s eyes darted to the cover where it had been hiding.
There was nothing.
Sighing in relief, Josiah let down the Hawken he had raised without even thinking. He had been sure someone was there. Trying to shake off his uneasiness, he continued his journey.
The feeling that he was being dogged every step of the way, grew stronger until Josiah was unable to dismiss his instincts. He was being hunted, and Josiah had the sinking feeling he had just walked into a trap.
War cries suddenly pierced the air, and before he had time to react, Josiah’s world went dark.
With a small groan, Emma stirred on the buffalo robe. She wanted a little more sleep, but something had awakened her. Wondering if the child was in trouble, Emma raised her head to find Mary sitting on her bed.
“Do you need a trip outside?” asked Emma, realizing Mary probably had to relieve herself.
The girl remained silent, her dark eyes flashing fear.
Emma was getting concerned. “What’s wrong?”
There was no need for Mary to answer, for the very next moment, Emma heard the indistinct sound of men shouting outside the cabin.
Going for her pa’s shotgun, Emma quickly checked to make sure the weapon was loaded. Not daring to open the window shutters, Emma found a space between the split logs and peered outside.
Two Indians were dragging a half-conscious man to a large tree. Emma’s blurred eyesight struggled to distinguish the limp body. She couldn’t be positive, but it looked an awful lot like Josiah. Other Indians followed, and they all gathered around the tree.
Fearfully, Emma strained to get a better look at the man’s face. Indians raised his limp arms, and then lashed his wrists to a high hanging branch. His front was now to the tree trunk, giving Emma a good view of his backside and long, dark brown mane. It wasJosiah!
“Dear God!” Emma prayed frantically. “What should I do?”
As Emma watched, someone took a knife and ripped Josiah’s hunting shirt, exposing his flesh to the cold air. Regaining consciousness, Josiah struggled against the sinews binding him to the tree.
“Ma! tell them to stop!” Emma heard him command.
Her eyes growing wide, Emma searched the crowd until she saw a woman’s form among the Blackfoot men.
“Cora?” Emma breathed in amazement.
“Ma!” shouted Josiah, as one of the men produced a whip made of buffalo hide. “Grandpap? Ain’t you going to stop them?”
Emma saw a hunched old man sitting down on the snow, as if unable to stop what was about to happen.
Twisting himself about to face his enemy, Josiah brazenly grinned at them all. “I ain’t afeared of you!” he shouted. “Do yer worst! You’ll never hear me ask fer mercy!”
The Blackfoot with the whip looked more than happy to oblige Josiah, and two men turned the mountain man around to face the tree trunk. The whip cracked, digging into Josiah’s back, and leaving a crimson trail of torn skin in its wake. As much as it must’ve hurt, Josiah refused to scream… although Emma did.
Surprised by her scream, the Indians paused as Emma burst from the cabin. She leveled her shotgun at the nearest Blackfoot, ready to defend her husband’s life.
“No!” Cora called to Emma. “Do not shoot!”
The call distracted Emma from pulling the trigger, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cora running toward her.
“Put down the rifle!” commanded Cora.
Josiah’s strained voice called to his wife. “Best do as she says, Emma!”
Dazed and confused, Emma looked back at Josiah as he twisted around to get a look at her. His face betrayed the pain he was enduring, though he managed to give Emma a weak grin.
Reaching out her hand, Cora lowered the barrel of Emma’s shotgun. “You must not stop this. If you do not put away the rifle, Josiah may die.”
Emma grasped Cora’s arm. “They won’t kill him?”
Just then, Mary appeared at Cora’s side, looking very happy to see her grandmother again.
“Go back,” Cora gravely instructed the child.
Quickly shuttling Mary inside the lodge, Emma returned the shotgun to its pegs on the wall. Though Emma didn’t understand what was happening, she also knew she didn’t want to be the cause of Josiah’s death.
After closing the door to be sure Mary couldn’t watch, Emma returned to Cora’s side.
The threat of the rifle now gone, the Blackfoot raised his whip. Josiah’s teeth clenched as it ripped across his back.
“Mr. Brown!” whimpered Emma. She tried to take a step forward, but Cora firmly held her back.
“This must be done,” whispered Cora. “Josiah must satisfy my people that he has been punished.”
Though Emma knew Josiah deserved this, and probably much worse, it didn’t make it easier for her to watch. Again and again, the whip cracked through the air, coming down on Josiah’s back.
“I ain’t asking fer mercy,” panted Josiah. “Never.”
Hearing this, the Blackfoot threw down his whip, swiftly unsheathing the knife at his side. Cora shouted to him, but the man ignored her. He grabbed a handful of Josiah’s long hair, and jerked the trapper to one side, as if preparing to scalp him!
Emma nearly fainted.
Frantically, Cora ran forward to intercede for her son, while Grandpap gripped something concealed beneath his heavy winter robe. Pleading to Josiah’s tormentor in Blackfoot, Cora pointed to the corral. The man hesitated, as if considering what Cora had said.
Realizing Cora was trying to buy Josiah’s life, Emma hurried inside the cabin and went straight to the pile of beaver pelts stacked in the corner. Gathering as many as she could in one armload, Emma raced back, dropping them at the feet of the Blackfoot still holding Josiah by his scalp.
“Please,” begged Emma, “take the horses and the beaver, but spare his life!”
Even though Emma had spoken in English, the Blackfoot seemed to understand her meaning. He looked down at the willow hoops of stretched beaver skins, his face still undecided.
Emma retrieved every beaver pelt she could lay her hands on, and then offered them to the Blackfoot.
“No,” a voice rasped in defiance. Everyone looked at the man yanked to one side by his scalp. “You won’t git a single beaver from me!”
Fearful that he was about to seal his own fate, Emma swiftly kicked Josiah.
The Blackfoot Indians laughed. The man with the knife released Josiah’s hair, letting the mountain man dangle by his wrists from the tree limb. Sheathing his knife, the Blackfoot man looked Emma over with an appreciative eye.
“Don’t you touch her!” Josiah barked hoarsely.
A rifle quickly appeared from Grandpap’s winter robe, its barrel aiming straight at the man’s belly. Grandpap said some things in Blackfoot, and Emma looked to Cora to interpret.
“‘She is not for you,'” translated Cora. “‘You have had your revenge, and it is enough.'”
Emma gasped. “Is he the wronged husband?”
Cora nodded that he was.
The Blackfoot cast Josiah a parting glare before retrieving his newly acquired horses from the corral.
While the men collected Josiah’s beaver pelts, another Blackfoot inspected Josiah’s prized Hawken. Yanking wildly at the tree limb, Josiah struggled in vain to get free. Every time his knees buckled, the sinew cut even deeper into his wrists.
The man looked over the Hawken and admired its craftsmanship, for such rifles were rare in these mountains. When the Blackfoot looked as though he were going to take it, Grandpap muttered something, and the disappointed Indian dropped it back on the ground.
Taking away every single beaver pelt, the three ponies, Josiah’s buffalo coat, the two heavy traps he had carried with him on the trip, his Bowie knife– and even Josiah’s snowshoes– the Blackfoot Indians departed with their revenge.
Confronted with the pity on Emma’s face, Josiah turned his bloody back to her and motioned to Grandpap with his chin. “Cut me down.”
Silently thanking God for sparing Josiah’s life, Emma gazed at the half-dressed man bound to the tree. His torn hunting shirt was dangling from his arms, and blood trickled down his back, staining the white snow beneath him.
When Grandpap cut away the sinew, Josiah’s body dropped to the ground.
“Stinking savages!” swore Josiah.
“You should be grateful they did not kill you,” Cora scolded her son.
Glaring up at his mother, Josiah unleashed a string of curses until the startled woman backed away. “I don’t want you coming near me!” he finished with an angry growl.
“You need me to help,” entreated Cora.
“I don’t need anyone,” muttered Josiah, struggling unsuccessfully to get to his feet.
Running into the cabin, Emma soon returned with a large blanket. Josiah looked ready to resist Emma’s help, but as she knelt beside him in the snow, his face softened.
Quietly, Emma gently covered his quaking shoulders with the warm blanket.
“It stings,” he muttered, as the cloth came into contact with the cuts on his back.
“You need to get inside,” urged Emma.
“Fetch my Hawken first,” requested Josiah, seeing his beloved rifle still in the snow.
Refusing Cora’s help, Josiah struggled to his feet while Emma and Grandpap supported his shoulders as best they could. Emma was crushed under Josiah’s weight, but she managed to keep up with Grandpap.
Mary hid behind Cora as the large bear of a man staggered into the cabin with his human crutches.
“We’ll put you on the buffalo robes,” guided Emma, as they led Josiah toward the bed. “Roll onto your stomach so I can clean your back.”
“You’d best git out that trading knife I gave you,” the injured man directed through gritted teeth, “and start heating it over the fire.”
Feeling numb, Emma handed the knife to Cora. “Bring it to me when the blade is hot,” requested Emma.
Cora nodded her willingness to help.
Grabbing the water bucket, Emma went outside to fetch water from the creek. When she returned, she found Josiah on his stomach, waiting for her.
Pulling a handkerchief out from one of Josiah’s leather bags in the corner, Emma knelt beside him to examine the wounds.
“Before you start,” panted Josiah, “I need something to chomp down on.”
Emma looked about for something that would do, and gratefully accepted the stick Grandpap handed her.
“I’m ready,” muttered Josiah. He placed the stick between his teeth, bracing himself for the pain that was sure to come.
Closing her eyes in a moment of prayer, Emma soaked the handkerchief in the water bucket. Then, with trembling hands, she carefully dabbed the shredded skin on Josiah’s back. In one place, she could even see the white of his backbone. Biting her lip to dull her senses, Emma continued until his back was as clean as she could make it.
As Cora approached the buffalo robe, Emma heard Josiah pant even harder.
Cora handed the knife to Emma. “Do you want me to do this?” she offered.
“No,” Emma bravely shook her head. “He did as much for me, when he rescued me. I owe him this.” Emma saw Josiah’s body harden as the heat of the blade touched his skin.
One by one, Emma cauterized the torn skin, searing the flesh together so there were no open wounds on Josiah’s back. By the time she was finished, Josiah had gone limp.
“He’s passed out,” trembled Emma. She looked to Cora and Grandpap for advice. “Should I wake him?”
“Let him rest,” urged Cora, wiping the perspiration from her face. She looked about, only to find Mary huddled in a far corner of the cabin, clutching her Indian doll. “It is all right,” she smiled encouragingly to Mary.
“Is that my pa?” asked Mary in a frightened voice.
“Yes,” coaxed Emma, “but he’s sleeping now, so we must keep quiet.” Emma got to her feet, but when her knees wobbled, she had to lean against the fireplace mantle to keep from toppling over.
“I will prepare the noon meal for you,” prompted Cora, gently pushing Emma back to the buffalo robes. “You rest now.”
Emma smiled weakly, grateful for a chance to lay down and soothe her tattered nerves.
The excitement over, Grandpap settled beside the fireplace and got underfoot as Cora moved about to fix something to eat.
Lying on her side, Emma watched Josiah’s unconscious face. He was still on his stomach, and she figured it would be quite awhile before he would be comfortable enough to lay on his back again.
Josiah moaned, and his eyes opened. He grinned when he saw Emma’s brown eyes gazing at him in concern. “I always knew you had pluck,” he breathed unsteadily. “I’m proud of you, Em.”
“Thank you for not screaming,” she sighed gratefully.
Josiah closed his eyes, letting the fatigue of pain pull him to sleep.
It was evening when Josiah awakened from his rest. Emma quickly came to his side, dabbing his face with a cold cloth and then looking over her handiwork on his back.
“Do you want me to apply the same Indian remedy you used for me?” she inquired thoughtfully. “The skin is cooled now.”
“Git Grandpap to do it,” grunted Josiah. “He knows which one to use.”
Emma showed Grandpap the smelly little pouches, and the old Blackfoot quickly located the one he needed. After applying the Indian remedy, Grandpap took a long strip of cloth Emma had cut into a bandage from a blanket, and bound it around Josiah’s chest.
“It will heal good,” Grandpap nodded in approval. Going to the warm blaze, Grandpap sat down on the dirt floor beside his daughter, and then lit his tobacco pipe. “We can leave in the morning,” he puffed smoke in Cora’s direction.
To Emma’s horror, Josiah rolled onto his back. His face revealed that he was in a great deal of agony, but evidently, his anger was even greater.
“Please, be careful,” Emma pleaded, as Josiah sat up beside her on the robe.
From the bed, Josiah confronted his mother. “You told them where I was, didn’t you Ma.”
Calmly, Cora nodded. “I told them.”
Josiah uttered a curse. “Why, Ma? Why’d you do this to me?”
When Cora remained silent, Emma spoke up. “Because,” deduced Emma, “she couldn’t bring the child here, without them knowing where we were.” Emma looked to Cora to see if she had guessed correctly.
Cora nodded. “It is true.”
“Child?” Josiah stared at his mother, an understanding light beginning to flicker behind his dark eyes. His gaze darted about the room, until he noticed the large blanket nestled behind Cora. Though its contents were mostly hidden from his view, he could distinguish the partial outline of a sleeping child.
The mountain man clenched his jaw. “I ain’t taking her.”
Gathering her courage, Emma turned to face her husband. “I told Cora we would.”
Josiah grabbed Emma by the wrist. “You had no right!” he shouted angrily. When Emma whimpered, Josiah lessened his grip until he finally let go of her altogether. “You had no right, Emma. I wasn’t here!”
Rubbing her sore wrist, Emma quietly nodded in agreement. “I should’ve waited until you returned,” she conceded, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept responsibility for your actions.”
“I ain’t letting that dirty little half-breed–” Josiah’s tirade was quickly muffled by Emma’s hand. She glanced at Mary. To her relief, the child was still asleep. Josiah pushed Emma’s hand aside. “She ain’t living in my lodge!” he finished adamantly.
“Please, lower your voice before she hears you!” Emma whispered. “If that poor girl is what you say, then what, may I ask, does that make you?”
“She’s a bastard child, and I don’t want anything to do with her!”
Emma tried to calm down, though her heart continued to pound in her ears. “Mary has a father, and now she has a new mother.”
“No, she ain’t!” spat Josiah.
“I gave Cora my word.”
Josiah glared at Emma.
Emma knew how much value Josiah placed in keeping promises, and hoped his self-righteousness wouldn’t force the child out of the cabin.
“You had no right, Emma.”
“I know,” she admitted, “not without your agreement.”
“I ain’t caring if you agree! My word is what counts!” Josiah enforced the edict by slapping his knee hard. The sharp movement of his shoulder blade caused him to wince in pain.
Wetting a clean handkerchief in the water bucket, Emma gently dabbed the chiseled features on Josiah’s face. The cool water calmed him, for his hand reached up and lightly grazed Emma’s cheek. He grinned as Emma melted to his touch, her cheek rubbing against his rough hand.
“I sure missed you these past days,” he breathed quietly.
Coming back to her senses, Emma returned the handkerchief to the bucket. “Did you trap any beaver?”
“What would it matter if I did?” harrumphed Josiah. “You gave all my pelts away.” When Emma opened her mouth to defend herself, Josiah touched her chin to keep her silent. “I ain’t blaming you fer trying to save me.”
Emma’s beautiful brown eyes gazed at him pleadingly.
The man groaned. “You really want to keep her?”
“She’s your daughter,” reasoned Emma.
With a deep sigh, the mountain man prepared to lay down again. “If you’ve a mind to look after her, I reckon she can stay fer awhile.”
“Thank you, Mr. Brown.”
Muttering something Emma couldn’t hear, Josiah painfully rolled onto his stomach.
Quietly staring at his back, Emma rebuked herself for not saying anything affectionate; Josiah had said he’d missed her, and Emma yearned to tell him how much she had missed his presence in the cabin.
A log in the fireplace popped, diverting Emma’s attention away from her husband. Two faces stared back at her, and Emma suddenly realized Cora and Grandpap had been listening. Embarrassed, Emma smiled weakly. “Is anyone hungry? I think it must be suppertime by now.”
Grandpap held up the pemmican Cora had already handed out. “Not hungry,” he grinned broadly. “You and Josiah tussle now?”
Jabbing an elbow at her father, Cora gave him a don’t-you-dare kind of look, and the old man backed off. Emma figured Grandpap had only been teasing, but even so, the words had made her blush.
After eating her helping of Cora’s pemmican, Emma made a bed for her guests. She unfolded Mary’s buffalo robe, and then placed it by the fireplace, where Mary’s spot had been. Ensuring they had enough blankets to keep warm, Emma bid them goodnight.
The bar was securely over the door, the shutters were tightly closed, and Emma was content that the cabin was ready for the night.
Crawling onto the buffalo robe, Emma cuddled beside her husband. When she hugged Josiah’s arm, he let out a low moan.
“Am I hurting you?” she whispered.
“I can git to liking this kind of pain,” he sighed with pleasure, his voice not hushed in the slightest.
“Not so loud,” Emma pleaded in a whisper. “They’ll hear you!” In her haste to quiet him, she nudged him a little too hard.
Josiah moaned again, but this time, out of pain.
Josiah grunted, and Emma heard him yawn.
“Emma, go to sleep,” he begged wearily. “If you keep moving around, I’ll never git any rest.”
“I missed you, too.”
“I said, ‘I missed you, too,'” repeated Emma, this time in a slightly louder hush than before.
Josiah grunted. “That’s what I thought you said.”
Hearing the grin in his voice, Emma playfully swatted his arm.
Wincing in pain, Josiah rolled onto his side, so he could face Emma. “Did you know I was in fer a whipping when I returned?”
“No, Cora wouldn’t tell me what she thought might happen,” answered Emma.
“Good.” Josiah opened his arms to let Emma snuggle against his chest. “Don’t ever betray me, Em. I don’t trust people too often.”
“Do you really trust me, Mr. Brown?”
“When you kicked me today, I didn’t hold it against you,” he sighed. “Reckon that means I must trust you.”
“Cora didn’t betray you,” Emma tried to plead her cause. “She only did what she felt she had to do.”
Josiah’s arms stiffened. “Keep out of it, Emma.”
Emma sighed, grateful that at least Josiah hadn’t taken his arms from her. She needed his closeness tonight, and from the way he was holding her, Emma sensed Josiah felt the same way.
“I’ve never spent so much time with one woman,” he breathed in near amazement.
“Not even with Mary’s mother?” Emma couldn’t help but ask.
Josiah groaned. “If the child’s being here is going to make you ask such questions, I’m sending her back with my ma!”
“Please, tell me,” Emma begged in a hushed whisper. “Cora said you only spent one night with Mary’s mother. Is that true?”
“Why are you wanting to know, Emma? It’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Was it only one night?” persisted Emma, her voice becoming a little desperate.
“It wasn’t even a whole night,” he tried to calm her. “There. I answered yer question. Are you happy?”
“Did you love her?”
Josiah groaned so loudly, Cora sat up in bed to see what was wrong. When she saw her son holding Emma, Cora lay back down, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
“Did you?” Emma repeated.
With a sigh, the trapper moved his hand to the small of Emma’s back. “I’ve never felt any deep affection for the women I’ve bedded,” he finally replied. Lightly massaging Emma’s back, Josiah drew her closer until his lips touched her ear. “I ain’t asking you to give me yer heart, but if you do, don’t expect me to change. I’m meaning it, Emma.”
Snuggling even harder against Josiah, Emma tucked her head beneath his chin. “Thank you for answering,” she murmured quietly.
Josiah sighed longingly, his lips brushing Emma’s hair. “I want to keep holding you, but I can’t frolic. These stripes on my back are hurting something fierce.”
“I don’t expect anything more,” Emma whispered softly. “I’m just happy to have your arms around me, Mr. Brown.”
The answer must’ve pleased Josiah, for Emma heard him moan one last time before falling to sleep.