Don’t forgot to read – Into the Wild – Never Alone : Chapter 5
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Emma stirred in Josiah’s arms, tired from the concerns of the previous day, but dimly aware that it was probably morning. Her eyes fluttered open, and she found Cora sitting on her buffalo robe, while Grandpap and Mary continued their slumber.
Trying to loosen Josiah’s embrace, Emma struggled against the sleeping man until he finally awakened enough to let her go. “Sometimes, Mr. Brown, I don’t think you know your own strength!”
Yawning, Josiah only grinned and closed his eyes to get more sleep.
The sound of Emma’s voice stirred Grandpap, and he pulled his stiff frame off the ground to go outside and find a tree to relieve himself. Mary whimpered at the cold draft Grandpap had left by tossing aside their blankets, and Cora quickly replaced the covers.
“Should I make breakfast?” Emma asked Cora in a low hush, so she wouldn’t disturb Mary. “There’s still some pemmican left.”
Cora nodded. Her face suddenly became concerned, and Emma turned to see what Cora was looking at. There, on the buffalo robes, Josiah was slowly and painfully climbing to his feet. He winced as the flesh on his back pulled tight, but Josiah didn’t stop until he was standing.
“Lay back down! You should be resting!” scolded Emma.
Bare-chested, Josiah passed the women on his way to the door. “I need to make a puddle,” he said urgently. He had no shirt or coat, but seemed to not care as he quickly disappeared outside.
Dismayed, Emma grabbed a blanket and rushed after Josiah. He was standing at the recently dug latrine, (a hole in the ground), when Emma caught up to him and quickly covered his shoulders with the blanket. Modestly averting her eyes from Josiah’s yellow stream, Emma ran back to the cabin with the sound of his laughter in her ears.
Trying to ignore Josiah’s howls, Emma stoked the morning fire while Cora’s inquisitive eyes prodded her for an explanation.
“He’s just teasing,” said Emma.
Just then, Grandpap trudged in from outside, planting himself near the fire to enjoy some food and smoke his tobacco pipe.
Soon after, Josiah returned to his bed. He looked frozen, but warmer than he would have been, had Emma not brought the blanket. His eyes twinkled with amusement as Emma gave him his food, but he said nothing and ate his breakfast without teasing her any further.
Now awake, Mary munched on her pemmican, while her dark eyes quietly observed the large man on the buffalo robes.
The women ate their breakfast at the table, for there was little room in the small cabin for so many. When they were finished, Cora told Emma to take Mary outside.
“I must speak to my son,” said Cora. “What I have to tell him, you should not hear.”
Reigning in her curiosity, Emma wrapped herself in blankets, while Cora bundled Mary for the winter cold.
“I do not want to go with her,” Emma heard Mary’s frightened whimper.
Cora led the child to the door where Emma was waiting. “She will not harm you, Mary. Now go. I will call you when it is time to say goodbye.”
With shotgun in hand, Emma took Mary outside. They found a spot beside some trees where the wind was not quite so chilling, and there they stood in silence, waiting to be called back into the lodge.
“All right, Ma,” Josiah braced himself for the worst, “speak yer mind while you can. I ain’t letting you and Grandpap stay much longer.”
Cora returned to the table, her eyes fixed on the buffalo robes where Josiah was sitting. “When you took Emma to wife, she had no white man’s wedding?”
“No.” Josiah’s face hardened when he realized where this line of questioning was leading.
“You will shame her among her people, if you will not do this. It is the white man’s way.”
“I ain’t caring, Ma.”
Cora sighed. “Then you will stay here?”
“Only fer the winter.”
“You must not bring white trappers to our hunting grounds,” warned Cora. “It will mean your death. I can not make peace for you a second time.”
“I never asked you to make peace!” Josiah spat at his mother in contempt. Grandpap grunted so loudly, Josiah knew the old man was displeased. “Why is she always against me, Grandpap?”
“Because, you are against yourself,” Grandpap took another puff from his pipe. “You must make peace with the white man or the Blackfoot. Your mother knows you cannot live with your hand raised against everyone.”
“There’s always the Crows,” harrumphed Josiah.
“You would fight against your people?” asked Cora.
“I already have,” chuckled Josiah. “I went after them two Blackfoot braves that killed Emma’s pa; they won’t be going back to their women as anything but ghosts.”
Cora was silent. She looked to her father.
“I have claimed many scalps, and some were Blackfoot,” Grandpap admitted with a shrug. “Sometimes, it cannot be helped.”
“They was planning to kill me, so I had no choice,” Josiah pulled the blanket up around his bare shoulders. It was harder to keep warm, now that he no longer had his hunting shirt. “It’s time fer you and Grandpap to be leaving, Ma.”
“I have something to say,” Grandpap slowly puffed at his tobacco as though he had all the time in the world. “You still owe me.”
The old man was speaking of when he had given Josiah a warning shot, back when the Blackfoot and the Crows had fought, and Josiah knew it. “Name yer price, and be gone,” grumbled Josiah.
Grandpap was thoughtfully silent, as though trying to pick from the great number of choices this situation presented. “You will take Emma to wife again, this time, the white man’s way,” Grandpap said finally.
Josiah nearly laughed. “Why should I? She’s already mine!”
“You have better peace with the white man than the Blackfoot, so you will follow the white man’s ways,” Grandpap calmly continued to smoke his pipe. “Maybe, you will not be hung.”
At the sound of Cora’s voice, Emma ushered Mary back into the cabin. It was terribly cold outside, and the two girls quickly went to the fire to toast themselves. Emma glanced at Josiah. He looked as though his patience was being sorely tested.
Grandpap exhaled a draft of tobacco before speaking to Emma. “When you are among the white man, Josiah will take you to wife again. This time, he will follow the white man’s ways, and you will have a wedding.”
Surprised, Emma looked to Josiah.
“Have it yer way, Old Man,” Josiah said wearily. “I’ll keep my word and try, but there won’t be a willing parson to be found, unless she’s already with child.”
Cora looked worried again, but Grandpap didn’t flinch. He tapped his pipe against his knee, and tucked its stem beneath his belt. “I have done all I can,” Grandpap said to his daughter. “The rest is up to your God and your son.”
Tired, Josiah reclined on the robes, rolling onto his stomach to avoid putting pressure on the scars on his back. Emma knew he must be in a lot of pain, for he said no more and shut his eyes.
Grandpap’s weathered face stared at his grandson. The old man shook his head. “If you do not change, one day, it will mean your death. Come, daughter. We are leaving.”
Mary remained absolutely silent as Cora hugged her and said one last prayer before parting. Then, the two Blackfoot left to join their tribe as it moved to follow the buffalo.
Teary-eyed, Mary returned to her buffalo robe by the fireplace. She blinked at Emma, and then pulled the blankets over her head to cry.
“Would you like a hug?” Emma offered the small lump of blankets.
“I ain’t feeling too frisky right now,” declined Josiah. “Maybe later.”
“I was speaking to Mary.”
Grunting, Josiah fell asleep.
Quietly going to Mary’s bed, Emma sat down beside the crying child concealed beneath the blankets. An Indian doll lay nearby, and Emma tucked it beneath the blankets where Mary could find it.
“Yesterday was Sunday,” Emma thought out loud, “but I was unable to keep the Sabbath. I suppose I’ll make today Sunday, instead. I don’t really know what day this is, or even the month. I think it might be December, but I’m not sure. You wouldn’t happen to know, would you?” When the blankets sniffed, Emma smiled kindly. “Do you know what December brings? Christmas.”
When Mary’s hushed crying stopped, Emma had hopes the child was listening.
“Mary, have you ever had Christmas?”
“What is it?” a small voice asked from under the bedding.
“It’s the day we celebrate Christ’s birth. Do you know who Christ is?”
“Yes,” sniffed Mary. “He is the Son of God.”
“Your grandmother is a Christian,” Emma ventured carefully, needing to know what this child believed, if she was going to raise her. “Are you a Christian, too?”
“Yes. Are you?”
Emma smiled happily. “As one Christian to another, would you like me to read you a story?”
“Story?” Mary curiously peeked out from under the blankets.
Emma got up to fetch her Bible.
Returning with a thick book in her hands, Emma opened its worn cover. An engraving of a man and woman immediately caught Mary’s attention. The couple stood beside a tree, where a large serpent was coiled around its trunk. Fascinated, Mary touched the page. “What are those?” she asked, pointing to the lettering beneath the picture.
“It says, ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,'” read Emma. “Each letter combines to form words, and the words make up sentences.” Seeing Mary was positively clueless as to what she was saying, Emma flipped through the pages, until Mary stopped her at another picture and asked what it was.
“Would you like me to read this story?” asked Emma.
Forgetting her fear of the white woman, Mary sat with her doll in her arms and listened as Emma read from the book. It was about a wicked city named Jericho, and how a man named Joshua made its walls to tumble down flat, simply by marching and shouting and blowing horns.
When it was done, Emma tried to get to the story she had thought more appropriate for a little girl, the story of Ruth and Boaz, but Mary asked about another picture, and it too, was about a battle. After David had slain Goliath, Emma decided Bible story time was over.
“Do you know any hymns?” Emma thought it unlikely, but was unsure how much Hiram had taught Cora, thus limiting what Mary could possibly know. When Mary gave Emma a blank stare, Emma sang a hymn, while the child watched on in curiosity. Then, after the hymn, Emma let Mary look at the pictures sparsely sprinkled throughout the Bible, instructing her not to damage the fragile book, for it was very old.
Slinging the strap of her shotgun over her shoulder, Emma took the water bucket outside to the creek. Its surface was frozen, but Emma managed to break trough the ice and fill her bucket. Just as she was about to start back for the cabin, Emma heard Mary’s terrified screams! Dropping her bucket, Emma ran as fast as she could to answer Mary’s call.
When Emma reached the door, she found Josiah calmly standing beside the fireplace. In a far corner, Mary was crouched against the wall, her eyes wide with terror.
“What happened?” panted Emma.
Josiah shrugged. “I got up to put more wood on the fire, and she ran off screaming.”
Sighing with relief, Emma went to the corner, gently pulling Mary back to her small bed. “He won’t hurt you. I promise, he won’t.” Emma glared up at the large mountain man, and he rolled his eyes. “I have to fetch water. Will you be all right without me?”
Mary shook her head that she would not be all right, so Emma bundled the child into her winter blankets and then took her outside to help retrieve the water bucket.
When the girls returned with freshly drawn water, Josiah was back on his buffalo robes, lying on his stomach.
The cabin needed tidying, and as Emma went about her daily routine, the timid little person at her side kept getting under foot– mostly because she was hiding from Josiah. Mary went to great lengths to keep behind Emma’s deerskin dress, so much so, that Emma stepped on the poor girl’s foot more than once.
“Why don’t you play with your doll?” Emma said as kindly as she could, without sounding as though she were trying to get rid of Mary.
Mary peeked around Emma’s dress, only to find Josiah watching them. The girl looked up at Emma with frightened dark eyes, vigorously shaking her head, “no.”
“He won’t hurt you,” Emma smiled gently.
Mary didn’t look at all sure, and refused to leave Emma’s side for even a moment.
“Would you like to talk while I work?” suggested Emma. She hoped Mary’s fear of Josiah, might help the girl overcome her fear of this strange white woman who was now her ma. But Mary’s braids shook “no” so Emma worked in silence, making the small cabin remarkably quiet for two adults and a five-year old.
Emma took out buffalo jerky for lunch, and Josiah made room on the bed so Emma could join him while they ate. Mary, however, was terrified to be by herself, so Emma sat on Mary’s robe and the cabin had a very quiet lunch.
Supper was also eaten in silence, and afterward, Emma readied the lodge for bedtime. After Emma tucked Mary into her blankets by the fire, the girl grabbed Emma’s dress and refused to let go.
“I can’t sleep here,” Emma said kindly. “I have my own bed.” Emma glanced in Josiah’s direction and saw that he was closely following every word. “Now, lay back Mary, and go to sleep. I’ll just be over there, on the other side of the fireplace.”
“No,” whimpered Mary, holding on even tighter.
“Where’s your doll?” Emma suddenly remembered. She looked about the bed, and picked up the small figurine clad in animal skins. Placing it under Mary’s arm, Emma unwound the small fingers clinging to her dress. “Do you want me to hear your bedtime prayer?”
“What is that?” puzzled Mary.
“Well,” stammered Emma, suddenly realizing the girl was unfamiliar with this childhood ritual, “my ma always said it was best to start and end the day with a prayer. We ask for God’s blessings in the morning, and then thank Him for answering us at night. What happened today that you can be thankful for?”
“Are you going to be much longer?” asked Josiah.
“I’ll be along soon,” Emma said patiently. “What blessings have you had today, Mary?”
The child shrugged her shoulders.
“Let’s see,” Emma thought out loud, “you got to sleep beside your grandmother last night, and you enjoyed the Bible stories today, didn’t you?”
Mary’s head soberly bobbed up and down in a “yes.”
“Dear Heavenly Father,” Emma bowed her head, “we thank you for Grandmother’s care over Mary, and for the stories that were read today. Please keep us safe while we sleep, and give us pleasant dreams. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Emma opened her eyes, and found Mary had followed her example and bowed her head, as well. “Snuggle down with your doll,” smiled Emma, tucking the warm blankets around the child as she wiggled under the covers to get comfortable. “God keep you till morning,” Emma kissed the girl’s cheek. “Goodnight, Mary.” Emma would have felt better had Mary returned her smile, but she contented herself that at least Mary hadn’t recoiled from her kiss.
After checking the bar over the door one last time, Emma crossed the room to the buffalo robes where Josiah was waiting.
“You shouldn’t coddle her,” said Josiah, as Emma climbed beneath the covers. “Kindness weakens a body, until they can’t fend fer themselves. If you want to be kind to the runt, then let her be.”
Instead of snuggling against Josiah, Emma rolled onto her side, so that her back was to him.
“You ain’t going to take it like that, are you, Em? Yer going to nestle with me, aren’t you?”
“You’re right, I shouldn’t coddle people so much,” Emma said evenly, “so it’s best I don’t nestle with you anymore. After all, I wouldn’t want to weaken you.”
“I ain’t laughing,” muttered Josiah.
“If you haven’t noticed, Mr. Brown, neither am I.”
Suddenly, Emma felt a strong arm drag her across the buffalo robe until the space between her and Josiah closed. Firmly placed beside him, Emma saw the mountain man close his eyes to sleep.
“Be kind to the girl,” Emma said quietly. “I don’t want her to fear you anymore than she already does.”
Josiah’s hand moved to Emma’s shoulder, and he squeezed it threateningly. “Don’t tell me what to do.”
“I will when it concerns Mary.”
Gasping, Emma suddenly found herself on her back, her face inches from Josiah’s.
“Don’t defy me, Emma!”
Swallowing hard, Emma struggled to push aside the intimidation she felt welling in her breast. “I won’t let you hurt that little girl’s feelings. I simply won’t let you do it.”
“Bold words fer a woman!”
“I’m not just a woman,” Emma said bravely, “I’m your wife. You told me I was to be the one to look after Mary, and that’s just what I’m doing.”
In spite of himself, Josiah’s features lost some of their fierceness. “You ain’t no ordinary woman, that’s fer sure. And it ain’t because yer my wife.” He gazed at her with a small grin, though he still didn’t look very happy. “All right, I’ll back off when it comes to Mary.”
“Despite what you’re thinking, I’m not trying to defy you,” said Emma.
Josiah smiled grimly. “If you ain’t, yer doing a mighty good imitation of it. Let it slide, Emma. I ain’t angry anymore.” Josiah held her close, until she relaxed against him. “You gave that runt a goodnight kiss, and you never give me one.”
“It was Ma’s tradition to kiss my cheek before I went to sleep,” Emma said quietly. “It was to give me sweet dreams.”
Josiah squeezed Emma. “I want a kiss, too.” When she kissed his cheek, he scowled. “I want a real one.”
“I’ll give you a real kiss, but only if you’ll stop squeezing the stuffing out of me.”
Immediately, Josiah’s arms were tender. To Emma’s surprise, she saw him tremble as she raised her mouth to his. He quickly dominated the kiss, and all traces of vulnerability disappeared, leaving Emma to doubt her eyes.
“We should stop,” she said finally. “Your back needs a chance to heal.”
With a loud moan, Josiah pushed away from Emma. “I hope this won’t git to be a habit with you. There you go, telling me what to do again.”
“If you want to tussle, I won’t stop you, but it probably won’t help your scars.”
On his side, Josiah looked across the buffalo robe at his wife. “Yer probably right, but it pains me to admit it.”
“You’ll be in worse pain if you don’t,” smiled Emma. “If you still want me to, I’ll cuddle you.”
Josiah harrumphed. “Yer getting mighty sure of yerself.”
Emma couldn’t help her confident smile. “I admit, after all these days, I know you a little better than I did before.”
“Don’t git too cocky, Emma. If you try to rein in my heart, I’ll fight you. Just try me, and see if I won’t.”
Emma yawned. “If you don’t want to cuddle, I’m going to sleep. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
“I never said I didn’t!” Josiah gently gathered Emma in his arms, and was rewarded with a kiss on his cheek.
“Goodnight, Mr. Brown.”
The next morning, Emma started the day early by getting her chores done as quickly as possible. Mary followed her about the small lodge, getting under foot, and hiding from the man watching them on the buffalo robe. Emma knew Josiah had little else to do while he was getting better, but she felt if he would only take a nap or turn his eyes elsewhere, little Mary might not cling to her dress quite as much.
“I don’t know what yer up to,” Josiah finally spoke up, “but I don’t want you straying too far from the lodge. It ain’t safe.”
“We won’t go far,” nodded Emma. She looked down at Mary. “Come, Little One, let’s go tree hunting!” Mary’s face was just as puzzled as Josiah’s, but Emma didn’t let that discourage her holiday spirit.
Opening the heavy cabin door, Emma stepped outside with Mary following close behind.
“What are we doing?” asked Mary, as Emma went to some nearby trees and looked them over with a critical eye.
“We’re selecting a Christmas tree, just like the ones I used to have in Indiana. Ma would put our small Christmas tree on a table in the parlor, and people would come from miles around, just to see it! Let’s go a little further into the woods and see if we can’t find a small tree.”
Casting a glance over her shoulder at the cabin, Emma ventured into the thickly wooded trees further down the mountain.
“What is a parlor?” Mary asked in halting English.
“It’s a room where you receive guests into your home.”
“Oh.” Mary still didn’t sound as though she understood, and Emma realized her previous life in Indiana had been vastly different from the one Mary had known with the Blackfoot.
Wiping her runny nose against her blanket wrap, Mary watched as Emma chopped the top off a middle-sized evergreen.
“This should suit our purposes just fine!” laughed Emma. “Now, to get this back to the cabin!”
Letting Mary tote the small tree, Emma started back in the direction of home.
Even though Josiah was flat on his stomach, his back was bothering him again. With an impatient groan, he wondered when Emma would return. It was nearing the center of the day, and he had expected her to be back by now. Lumbering over to the window, Josiah opened the shutters to look outside. The snow was coming down heavily, and Josiah knew it would quickly cover tracks, making it difficult for Emma to find her way back to the lodge. Concerned, he prepared to go after her.
Since Josiah no longer had a hunting shirt or buffalo coat, he wrapped himself in a blanket and then a heavy robe. As he started for the door, he heard the sounds of a talking woman, not too far from the cabin.
Hurrying off the blanket and robe, Josiah cast them aside and quickly went back to his bed just as the door opened.
A blast of air rushed inside, and Emma appeared in Josiah’s capote, covered with snow but laughing. Mary was smiling broadly, as she held what looked to be a miniature tree in her hands. The moment Mary’s eyes met Josiah’s, however, her smile disappeared and she quickly got behind Emma.
“Just down the mountain a little way. Look, Mr. Brown, isn’t it a sweet little tree?”
“You’ve bin gone fer most of the morning,” Josiah said accusingly.
“Did you miss us?” laughed Emma. Then her eyes caught sight of the blanket and buffalo robe heaped on the floor against the wall. She looked back at Josiah. “Did you go somewhere?”
“Not exactly,” he stammered. “Stop dodging my question, Emma. You should’ve bin home sooner!”
“Oh, I see.” Emma bit her lip, but Josiah saw that she was fighting back another smile. “I didn’t mean to worry you, Mr. Brown.”
“You didn’t,” he lied.
“Are you hungry? It’s not quite noon yet, but I have things to do afterward.”
Josiah grunted, and rolled onto his side while Emma went to get out some buffalo jerky for lunch. While Josiah ate by himself, he heard Emma tell Mary about Christmas.
“My ma’s people came to the American colonies in 1737, on a great ship. They settled in Pennsylvania, hoping to begin a new life in the New World. They were ‘Deutsch,’ meaning German, but to the Americans the word sounded like ‘Dutch,’ so they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. They brought many German customs with them, but the best custom of all was the Christmas tree.”
Josiah saw Mary’s eyes grow wide with wonder.
“When I was a little girl, every Christmas, Ma used to tell me the legend of the German reformer, Martin Luther, and the first lit Christmas tree. This happened long, long ago, back in the Old Country, before my ma’s people immigrated to America. One dark winter night, Martin Luther was walking in the woods, when he saw a great big fir tree pointing straight up at the many brilliant stars overhead– just as they did on the night of Jesus’ birth. Martin was so awed by this sight, he took a small tree home to his family and then decorated it with candles that shone like the stars over Bethlehem. Martin knew that when a lit Christmas tree points up to Heaven, it’s trying to remind us of the Christ-child, Who came to save us from our sins. That’s why my family always had a tree every Christmas.”
“Is this a fir, like Martin’s tree?” asked Mary, picking the small evergreen from off the dirt floor and gazing at it with a sparkle of excitement in her eyes.
“Why do you think we chose it?” smiled Emma.
After lunch, Emma took an old split log intended for firewood, and, using a knife, bored a small hole in its side. Then she stuck the end of the tree in the hole, so it would stand upright on its own. While Mary watched, Emma placed the evergreen Christmas tree on the table.
Josiah watched Emma’s face. He could see she was feeling a little badly that it was such a plain looking tree, for it had no candles like the one she had mentioned in her story. Her look of sadness vanished, however, when Emma saw Mary’s face lit with joy. Like Mary, Josiah had never seen anyone purposefully bring a tree into a lodge, where trees simply didn’t belong. It was an odd thing to do, but he had to admit it held a curious fascination. Josiah had seen thousands upon thousands of trees in his lifetime, but he found his eyes glued to this small evergreen sitting on the table. For some reason, this tree meant something special.
Maybe it was because of Emma’s story.
After eating, Mary curled up on her buffalo robe, letting Emma tuck her and her doll in for the night.
“When will it be Christmas?” Josiah heard the child ask. The mountain man smiled to himself when Emma paused, obviously unsure of the answer herself.
“I think next Sunday,” Emma said finally. “We’ll have a fine supper, and then I’ll read the story of Christmas to you.”
“When is Sunday?” came Mary’s next question.
“Five days from now,” smiled Emma. “It’s time you went to sleep now. Do you want me to hear your bedtime prayer?”
Mary closed her eyes, and the first thing she thanked God for, was their Christmas tree. Next came Grandmother and Great-Grandpap, and then her doll. A sure sign of Mary’s growing acceptance of Emma, came when the child paused her prayer to ask, “What should I call you?”
“Would you mind terribly, if you called me ‘Ma’?”
Mary closed her eyes, adding to her prayer, “Thank you for Ma.”
“God keep you till morning,” Emma said softly. She kissed Mary’s cheek, and the girl smiled sleepily.
“Goodnight, Ma.” Mary’s eyes drooped, and before long, she was fast asleep.
In the semi-darkness of the other side of the fireplace, Josiah watched Emma gently stroke Mary’s braids. Emma stayed there for quite awhile, before getting up to check the bar over the door and then coming to bed.
“She called me ‘Ma,’ tonight,” said Emma, climbing beneath the blankets.
“I heard. Yer getting mighty fond of that child.”
“Mary is easy to love.”
Josiah grumbled something that wasn’t fit for a lady’s ears, and then turned onto his other side.
“What?” he knew his voice sounded grudging, but he didn’t care.
“Do I please you?”
The question surprised Josiah. “I reckon… sometimes,” he said finally, after a sufficient amount of time had gone by to let Emma know he wasn’t too pleased.
“Do I please you enough to ask a favor?”
“That depends.” Sensing he was being outmaneuvered, Josiah felt Emma fold her legs behind his, while her hand stole under his arm before coming to a stop on his chest.
“So it’s Christmas, is it?” Josiah looked down at the gentle hand on his chest. “What is it yer wanting?”
“I was hoping you could spare a candle, so I could cut it into short lengths, and put them on the tree.”
“Is that all?”
“If it’s not asking too much, do you have a bit of colored fabric you could do without? Mary doesn’t have many playthings, and I want to surprise her with a gift on Christmas morning. It’d mean a lot to me.”
Getting up, Josiah stepped around Mary’s bed, and went to the corner where he had trade goods wrapped in animal skins. Evidently too eager to wait on the buffalo robe, Emma soon appeared behind him, looking patiently hopeful.
Without a word, Josiah handed Emma a long white candle. Then, he unfastened a bundle and pulled out a folded piece of brightly colored calico. “It’s the last cloth I got, but you can have it.”
“Mr. Brown, I really appreciate this!” Emma glanced at the sleeping child, and quickly hushed her voice. “This calico will suit my needs perfectly!”
With a grunt, Josiah replaced his animal skin packages in the corner, and then went back to bed. He watched as Emma seated herself on the floor between the two beds, and by the light of the fireplace, used her finger to trace imaginary patterns on the calico.
The next few nights, Emma sewed by the firelight while Mary slept, for it was the only time when Emma could work, and not be observed by Mary. To Emma’s surprise, Josiah didn’t gripe about her absence in their bed, although more than once, she felt his eyes on her before he fell asleep. Sometimes, Josiah was a perplexing mystery to Emma. She hadn’t really expected him to give her the candle and the cloth– especially when all she had to do was give him a caress.
Lately, Josiah had been quieter than usual, though Emma guessed it was because of Mary’s presence in the cabin. The mountain man didn’t speak to the child, and the child kept well out of the way of the mountain man. Neither looked at each other unless they could help it, and whenever Josiah’s gaze happened to fall on Mary, Mary quickly hid behind Emma’s dress. To her dismay, Emma found herself the only person in the lodge, who was actually speaking to everyone else.
Hoping Christmas might create a little cheer and goodwill, Emma pressed on with her plans. After she had been satisfied that Mary’s present was turning out the way she had hoped it would, Emma dropped a hint to the girl that on Christmas morning, she would have a present under the tree. Mary’s eyes grew as wide as saucers, and from that day on, she repeatedly asked if it was Sunday yet.
The scissors, needles and thread in Emma’s sewing box had been invaluable for making Mary’s gift, but those things wouldn’t work on heavy leather. After Josiah had fallen asleep late one night, Emma quietly pulled out his torn hunting shirt to look over the damage. Going to his things, Emma procured an awl and some sinew, and then went to work mending the leather garment.
The day before Christmas, Emma turned her attention on the supper she would make for tomorrow. Christmas supper was a tradition she had enjoyed since childhood, and Emma wanted something special to fix for the holiday. The only problem was, she only had dried buffalo jerky. They had already finished off the pemmican Cora had given them, and everyone was eating jerky, morning, noon, and night– though no one complained. Food was food, and at least they weren’t gnawing leather to stay their hunger. Emma had made the mistake of telling the Christmas meal tradition to Mary, and now the girl was praying for fresh meat.
“Where do you think yer going?”
“Since you’re not well enough to go hunting, I’m going myself.”
“I come with you?” Mary desperately grasped Emma’s capote. As Mary spoke, Josiah got up from bed, and the child quickly ducked behind Emma.
With just a few strides, Josiah crossed the room. Swinging open the door, he looked at the white ground. There were several inches of new snow, and the sky was threatening more.
“You ain’t going nowhere,” Josiah shut the door, putting the bar back in its place.
“But, what about Christmas supper?”
“You’re not going, Emma, and that’s final. The snow’s too deep. I ain’t taking such a chance with you– not when I’m still trying to recover from this here back of mine.”
Josiah looked prepared for an argument, but when Emma took off the capote, his shoulders relaxed.
“I ain’t trying to disappoint you, Emma.”
“It’s all right,” she sighed. “I would have had to leave Mary with you, and I’m not sure she could have endured my absence.”
“No, I could not!” said a small voice from behind Emma.
Josiah groaned. “Would you tell that child I ain’t going to hurt her?”
“I already did.”
“Then, tell her again! That runt keeps hiding from me like I was planning to lift her scalp! I know I ain’t an easy man to live with, but I ain’t yet laid a hand on no little girl! She’s got nothing to fear from me– tell her that Emma.”
“Why don’t you tell her, yourself?”
Grumbling, Josiah went back to his buffalo robes. “This lodge is getting mighty small!”
Turning, Emma looked down at the child still hiding behind her dress. “He truly won’t harm you, Mary.”
Instead of looking assured, Mary shrank back and remained quiet.
“I know your pa acts like a big hairy animal, but once you get used to him, he’s not so frightening.” Emma moved one of Mary’s braids behind the girl’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take a look out of the shutters and see if it’s snowing? If it’s not, we need to gather firewood. I don’t want to do anymore work tomorrow, than I can help.”
Solemnly, Mary went to the window, slowly managing to open a shutter. “Ma!” she whispered. “Look!”
Emma quickly joined Mary, and her mouth fell open in wonder.
Josiah hadn’t needed to say a word, for Emma was already going for his rifle. If Josiah could shoot this bear, it would mean fresh meat for Christmas!
The bear seemed oblivious to his peril, and casually lumbered by the cabin as though he were king of the mountain. At first, Emma thought it was a grizzly, but she recognized the dark fur and smaller size, and knew it was a black bear– something they had back in Indiana.
Taking careful aim, Josiah brought down the bear with just one shot. Reloading his Hawken, Josiah pulled the bar off the door, and then cautiously approached the fallen bear. After nudging it with his foot, he grinned back at the girls standing in the doorway. “We got meat!”
“Praise the Lord!” Emma said happily.
Josiah scowled. “I was the one what shot him– not God.”
“God brought the bear to our cabin, and you didn’t even have to go hunting.”
Josiah was getting frustrated. “The bear woke up, and left its den to explore! God had nothing to do with it!”
Folding her arms, Emma looked patiently at Josiah. “Then, you don’t have to have any Christmas supper. Mary has been praying for fresh meat, and God brought it to our door. I call that an answer to prayer.”
“Answer, nothing!” The cold was biting into Josiah’s bare chest, but he ignored it with clenched teeth. “When are you going to get it into yer thick skull that God doesn’t care! The only time He pays attention to me, is to make my life harder!”
When Josiah’s frame gave an involuntary shudder from the cold, Emma’s concern shifted. “You’re freezing, Mr. Brown. Before you begin harvesting the meat, I’d better fetch your capote.”
Grudgingly, Josiah entered the lodge, causing Mary to scamper behind Emma while she pulled out the heavy blanket coat.
“Best stand watch with yer shotgun, Emma. That bear will be attracting animals soon.”
“I will,” nodded Emma, handing the warm coat to her husband. “Please, Mr. Brown, let’s not quarrel. Not now– not so soon before Christmas.”
“You think a lot of that Christmas of yers, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“At least we’ll be gnawing something besides jerky,” Josiah shrugged on his coat and then tied the sash shut to keep the garment closed. Retrieving a sharp trading knife from his belongings, he stepped out the door, muttering into the air about too much religion.
As Emma wrapped herself in some warm blankets to go outside, she saw Mary’s distressed face. “I know, Little One. Your pa has a lot to answer for, but that’s why we must pray for his soul. Will you do that? Will you help me pray?”
“Emma! I ain’t waiting all day fer you!”
Hurrying out the door with her shotgun, Emma turned to look back at the still open cabin. She saw Mary drag her buffalo robe to the door and then sit down to watch.
“That’s right, Mary, stay inside,” Emma said with a wave. “And make sure you keep warm!”
Emma turned her eyes to the snow blanketed trees surrounding the small lodge, keeping a careful watch for hungry animals that might appear without warning. The Rockies were being dusted with yet another mantel of white, its icy touch reaching through Emma’s blankets, warning her not to remain outside for too long.
With an efficient hand, Josiah skinned the bear, and soon had its raw carcass exposed to the winter air. Then, he carved out the meat, tossing large steaks into the wet hide as he worked. By the time he was done, Josiah had stripped the animal of every edible bite of meat.
“Git this here wet hide into the lodge, Emma. I’ll take what’s left of the carcass, and put it someplace where I won’t mind the wolves finishing it off.”
The bear skin was wet and heavy, and Emma struggled to lift it off the ground. Seeing her chance to help, Mary came running, and the two girls managed to haul the meat into the cabin before Josiah returned.
That night, even though bear meat was curing in the rafters, everyone ate jerky for supper. Josiah complained it was foolish, but Emma wanted to save their first taste of fresh meat for tomorrow. Mary agreed, though she was too timid to tell anyone but Emma.
The special morning finally came, and Emma awoke to the childish clamor of “Christmas! Christmas!” Momentarily forgetting her dread of Josiah, Mary plopped herself down on the robe beside Emma. “I saw the Christmas tree,” she told her ma with troubled dark eyes, “but there was no present.”
“That’s because I haven’t set it out yet,” smiled Emma. “If you’ll help me by tidying the cabin, I’ll put it under the tree.”
Hearing this, Mary ran off to fold her bedding.
“I’m getting more sleep,” yawned Josiah. “Wake me when the food’s ready.”
Crawling to a corner of her buffalo robes, Emma was about to reach between the heavy skins, when she saw Mary watching. “Close your eyes, Mary, or you’ll ruin the surprise!”
Feeling Josiah’s curious gaze follow her to the table, Emma placed a cloth doll under the Christmas tree. The body had been made from one of her white petticoats, and its long dress was of red calico, a design of small white flowers, green leaves, and bits of vine printed on the bright cloth. There was no face, but it wore a white sunbonnet and apron, and even had a small petticoat of its own beneath the calico dress.
“All right, Mary,” Emma said excitedly, “you may open your eyes now.”
Bringing down the small hands covering her eyes, Mary gasped when she saw the doll laying beneath the tree. “For me?” she looked to Emma for reassurance.
“For you,” smiled Emma.
“Do you like her?” Emma couldn’t help but ask.
“Oh, yes,” Mary said softly, “I do.”
“Besides God, you have your pa to thank for the doll.” Out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw Josiah sit up in bed at the mention of his name. “He gave up the last bit of calico he had for trading, and let me turn it into a doll dress.” Silently, Emma mouthed the words, “Say ‘thank you,'” and nodded in Josiah’s direction.
Shyly, Mary inched her way toward Josiah’s bed.
The trapper looked at Mary uncertainly, as though he didn’t know what to expect.
“Thank you,” Mary said in a still, small voice.
Awkwardly, Josiah cleared his throat. “Uh, yer welcome. It was mainly yer ma’s doing.”
With a big smile, Mary threw her arms about Emma’s dress, and then went to play with the new doll.
Smiling, Emma looked back at Josiah. “Thank you, Mr. Brown. You’ve made her very happy.”
The uncomfortable look on Josiah’s face made Emma smile even more. “Would you like your present now?”
“My present?” Josiah looked at her skeptically. “You made a doll fer me, too?”
Kneeling on the robes again, Emma pulled out a familiar leathern garment. Holding up Josiah’s hunting shirt, she turned it around so that he could see its back. Instead of a jagged knife rip, Emma had brought the two sides together in a neat, long seam, so that it was hard to tell anything violent had ever happened. Emma handed the shirt down to Josiah, and he silently looked it over. Emma had even reinforced seams that had been threatening to give way for quite some time. Overall, it looked very well cared-for.
“When did you have time fer this?”
“I’ve been working while you were asleep, and finished it just last night.”
A frown knitted Josiah’s brow. He didn’t look happy, but he didn’t look angry, either. “When are you going to put the candles on the Christmas tree?” he asked, putting on his newly mended shirt.
“I’m going to light the tree for our Christmas supper. Is the back too tight? I thought about adding an extra strip of animal skin to the back, to help make up for the seam, but I didn’t think it necessary. Turn around, so I can see.” Josiah turned, and Emma examined the fit. “Yes, I think it will work. What about you, Mr. Brown. Is it comfortable?”
With a surly nod, Josiah grunted. “It’ll do.”
Giving the shirt one last inspection, Emma got up and went to start preparing meat for their Christmas supper. Since it was to be a grand feast, Emma decided to serve it as more of a late lunch, than a supper.
Cradling her new doll, Mary looked up at Emma questioningly. “Do you dress like this?” The child pointed to the doll’s bright calico, and then lifted its skirts to reveal the petticoat. “Do white women dress like this?”
Mary shook her head, “no.”
“I have my cloth dress put away, because it isn’t up to keeping me warm in these snowy mountains. Animal hide clothing is best here, and it doesn’t fall apart as quickly.”
“Could I see it?”
“Do you really want to?”
Smiling, Mary eagerly nodded, “yes.”
Going to the buffalo robes where Josiah was still reclined, Emma pulled out her dark blue dress to show the child. “The dress needs some mending, but its still serviceable.”
Small fingers lightly touched the worn cloth, and Emma could clearly see Mary was fascinated.
“Do you want me to put it on for our Christmas?”
When Mary grinned excitedly, Emma thought the child looked remarkably like Josiah– although much prettier.
Collecting her old shoes, Emma was about to undress when she noticed she was holding Josiah’s rapt attention. “I don’t suppose I could expect you to be a gentleman, and look someplace else while I dress?”
“What fer? Yer my wife.”
That was the answer Emma had expected, but as she started to undress, she was surprised when Josiah turned his head away. Mary watched as Emma put on the several layers of clothing, which, to the girl’s delight, included petticoats! The dark blue dress came last, and then Emma completed her wardrobe by putting on her old shoes.
Mary giggled as the dress swayed when Emma moved back to the fire to cook.
“Walk more!” Mary tugged Emma’s hand pleadingly.
When Emma complied, Mary put out her arms to mimic the elegant swaying of the dress.
“I must get back to the meat!” Emma laughed. “Be a good girl, and play with your dolls.”
Still smiling over Mary’s antics, Emma turned back to the cooking meat. It was filling the small cabin with a delicious aroma that only heightened Emma’s feeling that today was very special. This was Christmas Day! Humming a church hymn, Emma’s heart became all the merrier.
Suddenly, Emma looked up to find Josiah standing beside her.
“Mr. Brown! I wish you wouldn’t sneak up on me that way!”
“I weren’t sneaking.”
“Call it whatever you want, but I didn’t hear a sound!”
“If you’re just going to stand there, would you please move aside? I have a meal to prepare.”
Josiah took one step back.
The bear meat was coming along nicely, but Emma forgot her hymn. Josiah was looking at her strangely, and she couldn’t understand why. She was about to get out some sage to season the meat, when Josiah caught hold of her skirt.
“Mr. Brown, don’t tear my dress!”
The mountain man reeled Emma in, until she was firmly in his arms.
“What’s gotten into you?” Emma looked at him wonderingly.
Josiah didn’t say a word, but gazed into Emma’s brown eyes. He touched her cheek, and then brushed a wisp of stray blonde hair from her face.
The tender look in Josiah’s eyes took Emma’s breath away.
“What are you doing to me, Emma?” Josiah laughed softly, but he wasn’t smiling. His gaze fastened on her lips, but he didn’t kiss her. “Reckon I know what’s happening, but I ain’t sure I like it much.”
Emma was quiet. Josiah looked into her eyes, and then back to her mouth, his breath growing heavy. Still, he didn’t kiss her. He kept looking at her pleadingly, and then back to her mouth, until Emma understood that he wanted her to kiss him. Instead of complying, Emma freed herself and then turned back to the fireplace.
“What’s wrong, Emma?”
“I don’t think I love you, Mr. Brown. I tried to, God knows I tried to, but I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” said Josiah. “I’ve been knowing it’s been coming on fer awhile now, but when you fixed my hunting shirt, there weren’t no more question about it.”
“Please, don’t mock me,” Emma looked into the fire, still sensing Josiah was behind her. Slowly, two large hands encompassed her waist, until she felt Josiah’s breath on her neck.
“Oh, Emma, yer like sunshine in my heart. I thought it weren’t possible fer a man to have such feelings fer his wife, but I do.”
“Please, don’t say that unless you mean it.”
Clutching Emma, Josiah turned her around until she was facing him. “Could I hold you like this, unless I meant it?”
“I– I don’t know.” Emma searched his face, trying to find the truth. “I don’t know, Mr. Brown, I just don’t know.”
“Then kiss me, Emma. Just one kiss. I’ve been hankering for one all morning.”
“If you want a kiss so badly, then why don’t you take it?” Emma weakly fought to get out of Josiah’s arms, but even she knew she didn’t want to leave his embrace.
“You don’t need me! All you need is a woman to keep you warm at night!” Emma struggled to get free, but Josiah held her even tighter.
“Kiss me, Emma. Please.“
Emma held still. There was a marked ring of desperation in Josiah’s voice that made her wonder if he really meant what he was saying. He was trembling again, and this time, Emma knew her eyes weren’t playing tricks. But, was Josiah?
Feeling her heart quicken, Emma’s hand reached around the back of Josiah’s neck, and he let her lower his mouth to hers. She thought about the Bible he had given her, the calico for Mary, and the way he had held her gently in bed. Closing her eyes, Emma’s lips touched Josiah’s. Josiah felt helpless in her arms, and Emma knew he had been telling the truth. He needed her. Not just a woman, but her.
With a gasp of joy, Emma came up for air.
Josiah wasn’t ready to stop, and he coaxed Emma by brushing his mouth against her cheek.
“I love you, Josiah.”
He looked surprised. “I was wondering if you’d ever git around to calling me by my name.”
“Tell me you love me,” Emma pleaded.
“I just did.”
“Please, let me hear the words.”
Lightly touching Emma’s face, Josiah smiled tenderly. “I love you.”
Emma hugged him tightly.
“How about tussling?” he asked.
With a sigh of dismay, Emma pulled away from Josiah’s arms. “Must you say it quite like that? It’s not very tender, Mr. Brown.”
“What happened to ‘Josiah’?”
Putting her hands on her hips, Emma stared Josiah down. “I have supper to finish, so you’d better get out of my way.”
Grinning, Josiah swatted at her skirt before leaving. “Don’t think you can rule me, Emma.”
Still grinning, Josiah went back to his bed.
As Emma examined the cooking bear meat, Mary appeared at her side.
“No, Little One, I’m just fine.”
“What did he mean by ‘tussle’?”
Groaning, Emma shook her head. So Mary had heard that. “You’re too young to understand, so I’ll just say it means to be on friendly intimate terms, and leave it at that.”
“Oh.” Mary looked at the cooking food and smiled. “I am sure hungry, Ma. I ain’t had bear in a long time.”
“You’ve been listing to your pa too much,” sighed Emma. “‘Ain’t’ isn’t a word. We should say ‘haven’t.'”
“I haven’t had bear in a long time.”
“That is what I said.”
Emma smiled patiently. Mary’s English was still halting, though she was learning fast; Emma just wished the child wasn’t learning from Josiah’s vocabulary.
Before Christmas supper, Emma pulled out several bits of candle, and then carried them to the tree on the table. Melting each bottom over an open flame, Emma placed the small candles on the evergreen’s branches.
“You going to set it on fire now?” asked Josiah. He climbed off the robe and then strode to the table expectantly. “Best have a bucket of water to douse it, when it gits out of control. I ain’t letting you burn down our winter quarters, just so you can have Christmas.”
“I’ve done this many times before without any adverse effects,” Emma said confidently.
“He said ‘ain’t’!” piped up Mary.
Josiah gave the girl a scowl, and the child ducked behind Emma’s wide blue dress.
“This will be our first family meal together at the table,” Emma said with satisfaction. Josiah had been eating on his robes, while Emma had eaten her meals with Mary on the child’s bed.
Mary looked uncertainly at Emma.
“We need something for you to sit on, because there’s only two chairs. Let’s see…”
“I’ll sit on the bed,” said Josiah. “Let the runt use my chair.”
“I am not a runt!” When Josiah gave Mary a challenging glare, she quickly silenced her protest.
Josiah’s stomach growled, making him all the more impatient.
Emma, however, was firm. “We are eating at this table as a family!” After searching the cabin in vain, she went to the pile of firewood she had gathered the evening before. Digging through the dry sticks, Emma came to a wide log about two feet high, that Josiah had chopped some time back. It had never been split into firewood, for Emma had thought it could be made into something useful. Rolling out the wide, flat-ended log, Emma stood it at the table and then motioned for Mary to sit down.
“We must thank God first,” Mary said seriously.
With an amused grin, Josiah regarded the little girl. “Yer getting mighty talkative.”
Mary stared at him bravely. “I ain’t afraid of you.”
“Mary, please don’t say ‘ain’t’!” Emma said in discouragement.
“Tell the runt to mind her tongue, Emma.”
Emma looked at them pleadingly. “Let’s bow our heads to say grace?”
Getting down from her makeshift chair, Mary scooted it along the dirt floor until it was beside Emma. Then, the child climbed up and bowed her head.
“Dear Heavenly Father,” said Emma, “thank you for bringing us together, to celebrate the gift of Your Son. Please make us worthy of Your love. It was love that brought Jesus into this world, and it was love that sent Him to the cross to save us from our sins. Please, help us to remember this all year round. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Going to the fireplace, Emma returned with a sizable slab of bear meat, and then placed it on the table using one of their two plates. Smiling, Emma took a firebrand and began lighting the candles on the Christmas tree, one by one.
For all of his complaining about hunger, Josiah didn’t dive into the meal. Instead, he sat there, staring at the little tree.
The evergreen glowed just like the stars up in the heavens, and was truly a wonderful sight to behold, especially in these wild mountains. Everyone present felt the same way, and Mary had difficulty paying attention to the food before her. Her eyes kept turning back to the Christmas tree on the table.
“In all my days, I ain’t never seen anything like it,” breathed Josiah. “I heard someone once talk about Christmas trees, but I thought he were just telling tales.”
“It can’t be lit for very long,” said Emma, “for the candles aren’t very tall. If we blow them out now, we’ll have just enough to light it again this evening. It’ll be even more beautiful, at night.”
Hearing this, Josiah blew out his side of the tree, leaving Emma to do the same for hers.
Then, everyone started in on the meat before them. This was no tough jerky, but moist, fresh meat. For once in a long while, Emma filled her stomach until she was full. Most days, they only ate a portioned meal, not trying to go through their store of dried meat too quickly. But today, Emma could feel the happy satisfaction of being full.
After everyone’s stomach had been satisfied, Emma fetched her Bible, and then crawled onto the buffalo robes to begin reading. Mary eagerly took her place bedside Emma, her small arms filled to capacity with her two dolls. Josiah lingered at the table, but when he saw Emma’s pleading eyes, he relented, and soon joined the girls.
With little Mary on one side, and Josiah on the other, Emma began reading the story of Jesus’ birth. “‘And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Mary craned her neck to look at the picture in Emma’s Bible. Even Josiah wanted to get a better look. It was a scene from the nativity, and showed Joseph and Mary looking down into a manger where the small infant was sleeping.
“Now for a tune of lofty praise,” Emma began a favorite hymn, her voice sweetly filling the cabin, “to great Jehovah’s equal Son! Awake, my voice, in heavenly lays, tell the loud wonders He hath done. Sing how He left the worlds of light, and the bright robes He wore above; how swift and joyful was His flight, on wings of everlasting love. Down to this base, this sinful earth, He came to raise our nature high; He came t’ atone almighty wrath; Jesus the God was born to die.”
Whatever Josiah was thinking, he kept it well to himself. Emma was unable to discern anything more than a mild tolerance for the Bible reading, and a fondness for her singing voice. Those weren’t the results Emma had been praying for, but at least Josiah was trying harder to make her happy. If only he would do the same for God.
Closing her Bible, Emma ended their church service with a prayer.
In no hurry to leave Emma, Mary began playing with her dolls on Emma’s dress. One doll was a Blackfoot, and the other white. Watchfully, Emma saw Mary interacting one doll with the other, as though the two sides were not quite on speaking terms.
“Why don’t they become friends?” asked Emma.
“Ask one of them if they’ll say something nice to the other.”
Mary introduced her Blackfoot doll to the white sunbonnet. “How about tussling?” she asked, bobbing the Blackfoot as though the doll were speaking.
“What’d she just say?” Josiah looked around Emma and peered down at the playing child.
“I told her it meant ‘to be on friendly intimate terms,'” Emma said with some embarrassment. “She’s too young for any more of an explanation than that.”
“No, she ain’t. When I was her age, I saw Pa with–” Emma interrupted Josiah by clamping a hand over his mouth. She didn’t trust what he was about to say, and didn’t want to run the risk of Mary overhearing.
“Mr. Brown, I’ll explain everything to her when she’s older. Mary,” she said, turning to the child, “find something else friendly for the Blackfoot to say. Tussling is something only married people do.”
Shaking his head in disagreement, Josiah stretched out on the robe to get a little shuteye. His back was feeling much better today, and he found he could lay back without much discomfort. “Tonight, I’ll be wanting to hear you say my name, Emma. When we’re alone, no more ‘Mr. Brown.'”
For the remainder of the day, Emma’s family rested and occasionally got up to enjoy a little more bear meat. When the sun darkened the cracks between the split log shutters, Josiah reminded Emma of her promise to light the Christmas tree one last time.
“Burn it until the wax gives out, Emma.”
One by one, Emma lit the Christmas tree candles, their warm glow filling her heart to near-capacity. The wind howled outside as though there were no tomorrow, but here in this small refuge in the mountains, a tiny tree glowed with the hope Emma felt in her breast.
“You ain’t going to cry, are you?” Josiah leaned forward to look into Emma’s misting eyes. “There now, Emma. I ain’t going to let you do it– not after you’ve made this shining day fer us.” Rough fingers dried her cheeks, and then he pressed Emma’s head against his chest to watch the flickering lights on the Christmas tree.
“Are you happy, Josiah?”
Grinning, Josiah rubbed the small of Emma’s back with a broad hand. “Reckon so, Emma. I reckon so.”
This Christmas was happier than Emma had even dared to hope for. Emma now knew, for the very first time, what it felt like to hear a man tell her, “I love you.” It hadn’t been quite the romantic moment she had always thought it would be, but Emma welcomed it with open arms. Josiah loved her, and that was enough.