Don’t forgot to read – Making Adjustments : Chapter 7


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After a long day’s work on his bearskin coat, Josiah fell asleep while Emma was hearing Mary’s bedtime prayer. Josiah didn’t know how much time passed until he awoke, but when his eyes opened, the cabin was silent. Turning his head slightly, Josiah found Emma sleeping beside him on the buffalo robes. Ready to go back to sleep, Josiah heard a soft, faint sound coming from the other side of the fireplace. His eyes focused on a small child, tiptoeing toward the door in her moccasins. Josiah frowned. Was Mary trying to leave? Emma wouldn’t like it if she left.

Before Josiah had a chance to move, the child stopped beside the bucket he had hollowed out for her to use as a chamber pot. Relaxing, Josiah waited to see if Mary would finally use it. It had sat untouched for two whole nights, and every morning, Emma had been urgently awakened for a trip out to the latrine.

Josiah saw Mary cautiously peek over her shoulder to make sure he was truly asleep. Shutting his eyes, Josiah let himself drift off into slumber. At least the girl was using the bucket. Finally. In his half-awake consciousness, Josiah could see Emma, hugging him for doing such a thoughtful gesture for Mary. Then a dull thud broke through Emma’s praise, and Josiah was awake again.

Scanning the room, Josiah found Mary on the ground by the door, her bare bottom in the dirt. Beside her was an overturned bucket. Josiah felt the strong urge to laugh, for she had obviously fallen off.

Stunned, Mary looked up to see him wide awake and staring at her. Her bottom lip began to quiver and Josiah was suddenly afraid the girl was going to start crying.

“Emma,” Josiah nudged his wife.

Groggily, Emma turned in bed, but remained fast asleep.

Shaking Emma’s shoulder, Josiah lowered his gaze to keep Mary from bursting into humiliated tears. “Yer needed, Emma. Mary’s had a spill.”

By now, Mary had picked herself up, and was desperately trying to clean up the mess the overturned bucket had made.

With an understanding nod to Josiah, Emma quietly went to the girl. Without a word, Emma helped Mary scoop up the soiled dirt in a shovel, and then dispose of it outside. All the while, Mary looked on the brink of tears, but Emma’s understanding smiles and soothing hugs kept them at bay.

As Emma led Mary back to bed, the girl lamented her situation. “He saw everything, Ma!”

Josiah scowled as Emma turned to him for verification. He sure wished that child was a boy. Boys would be less trouble.

“Well?” asked Emma. “How much did you see?”

By the cautious look on Emma’s face, Josiah understood she didn’t want him to make a big deal out of whatever he HAD seen. Even so, Josiah’s sleep had been interrupted, and now he was being questioned for opening his eyes.

It was too much.

“All I saw was a runty mixed-breed who couldn’t keep herself on a bucket,” he heard himself mutter. “Quiet her down, Emma, so I can sleep.” With that, he shut his eyes. If Emma didn’t like him for speaking his mind, then it was just too bad. After all, how much was a man supposed to take?

Feigning sleep, Josiah half expected to hear Mary sobbing something about how terrible he was. Instead, all he could hear was silence. Unable to contain his curiosity, Josiah peeked open one eye. Instead of crying, Mary was happily snuggled under her blankets beside Emma. Getting comfortable in the small bed, Emma whispered something into Mary’s ear that made the girl smile. Josiah heard a “Goodnight, Little One,” and then the girls closed their eyes to sleep.

Josiah swallowed hard. Emma wasn’t coming back to his bed. Tossing onto his side, he tried to pretend that he didn’t care.

The next morning, Emma awoke to find Josiah already awake, and working on his coat. He didn’t say a word as she started breakfast, and wouldn’t even look up when she placed his cup of hot broth beside him on the robes.

Feeling tired, Emma wasn’t up to soothing Josiah’s ruffled pride. He had behaved terribly last night, and for once, she didn’t feel like trying to make things better. At least Mary was in good spirits. She knew the child had enjoyed sleeping beside her, and Emma was already making plans to repeat last night’s sleeping arrangements, if Josiah didn’t soon apologize.

Having already had their broth, Emma took Mary to the small bed to begin their daily Bible reading. More than once, Emma was aware of Josiah watching them, though she resisted the temptation to see if her intuition was correct.

Finally, Emma heard Josiah’s deep voice rumble above the Bible story.

“Ain’t you going to say nothing to me, Emma?”

Emma paused, collecting herself before lowering the book.

You’re the one who needs to speak, Mr. Brown.”

Josiah noticeably grimaced as he heard the “mister” in her address. “I reckon I was a bit harsh on Mary last night.”

“Is that an apology?” Emma’s eyebrows raised expectantly.

Josiah twisted his face into a scowl. “Yer pushing me, Emma.”

“In that case, we’re returning to our story,” said Emma, forcing her eyes back onto the page. “Where was I, Mary?”

“The great fish swallowed up Jonah,” said Mary.

“Oh, yes,” Emma found her place and began reading.

“I’m sorry,” Josiah spoke up so his voice could be heard over Emma’s.

Emma lowered her Bible. “What did you say?” she asked.

Gritting his teeth, Josiah repeated his words. “I swear, woman, yer making this mighty hard.”

Emma sighed, closing the large Bible. “Josiah, I’m tired. I’m tired of your animosity toward Mary, and I’m tired of forcing you to make peace with her.”

Josiah looked at Emma uncertainly. “Ani-what?” he asked.

“It means to have ill will,” said Emma.

“I made her the bucket, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“And I told her all them stories, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“I’m going to keep my promise to take her hunting.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

At the end of his list of good deeds, Josiah looked flustered. “I don’t know what yer wanting from me, Emma.”

“Yes, you do.” Emma’s voice was unflinching.

Josiah tossed aside the awl in his hand, and threw back the partially formed bearskin coat in his lap. He got to his feet as though angry, and yet, his expression was not one of anger. “I’ll be kinder to Mary,” he said finally.

“Kindness would come easier if you loved her,” said Emma.

“Don’t make this into a war, Emma. You won’t win.”

The sharp edge in Josiah’s voice warned Emma to back down. He had promised to be kinder, and that would have to be enough.

“Am I forgiven?” asked Josiah, towering above Emma with his arms folded across his chest like a proud Indian chief.

Emma looked over to Mary, and the girl nodded “yes.”

“I suppose you are,” sighed Emma.

Squatting down, Josiah picked up the Bible in Emma’s lap. As he flipped through the pages, Emma sensed he was deliberately putting himself in her way. After more page turning, Josiah offered the Bible back to her.

“Are we friends, again?” he asked.

“I suppose so,” said Emma, accepting the Bible from his hand.

“Aw, Emma, I don’t want another ‘suppose.'”

Josiah lightly caressed Emma’s cheek with his rough fingers, and Emma was surprised when tears came to her eyes.

“What are you crying fer?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Emma quickly brushed away the stray tears. “I’m so tired.”

Pushing aside Mary, Josiah took her place on the small bed beside Emma. Then, as though an afterthought, he looked at the girl. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No,” Mary said, looking somewhat shocked that he had even asked.

Josiah turned back to Emma. “Are you tired of me, or just plain tired?”

“I don’t know,” shrugged Emma. “Maybe both.”

As if carefully trying to gauge her feelings, Josiah slowly put an arm about Emma. When she didn’t stiffen, he drew her to his side. “I know what we’re needing,” he nodded. “We need to stretch our legs and git out of this here lodge. If I have some help on my bear coat, we could go hunting tomorrow.”

“I will help!” said Mary, her small mouth in a broad, Josiah-like grin.

“There now, ain’t that something to look forward to, Emma?” Josiah peered down at Emma as she buried her face against his chest. Then she began to cry.

“Is Ma all right?” Mary asked in concern.

“I ain’t rightly knowing,” said Josiah. “Emma? You still angry with me?”

“I don’t think so,” came her muffled reply.

“Well, that’s something, anyway,” he chuckled. “Come now, Emma, gather yer senses. No one died, so there ain’t any call fer tears. Take a look at Mary there. See? She’s smiling, so you should, too.”

“I see her,” said Emma, trying very hard to stop the oncoming tears. She finally managed a smile, and Josiah let her sit up on her own strength. It startled Emma that she should cry so hard over a situation Josiah had already diffused, and it made her carefully think over her condition. When Emma and her father had been on their own in the wilderness, her menstrual cycle had disappeared. It had yet to come back, though she was now eating regularly and much healthier than before.

As Josiah showed Mary his coat, Emma realized her back was sore– a sure sign of an upcoming cycle. Back home in Indiana, Emma would have used sheepskin during such times, but there were no sheep to be found in these mountains. Emma knew she had to make due with whatever was on hand, so while Josiah worked with little Mary, Emma went to the leather packages stacked in the corner. Without asking permission, she began to open and go through Josiah’s belongings.

“Emma!”

At the sound of her name, Emma glimpsed Josiah over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

The sound of Josiah’s brisk stride crossing the room made Emma feel a little weak.

“I never said you could go through those things,” he said, coming to her side with a frown.

Emma prayed Josiah would understand. Leaning forward so Mary couldn’t overhear, Emma quietly explained what was about to happen.

Thankfully, Josiah understood. He searched through his limited store of animal skins until he pulled out a mink. “At least it’s soft,” he said, handing the skin to Emma.

Not only was the skin very soft, but its underside was watertight. Grateful, Emma kissed Josiah’s cheek. “Thank you, Josiah. I don’t know what I would have done without this.”

Josiah looked at her thoughtfully. “Is that why you were crying this morning? It’s yer cycle?”

Embarrassed, Emma nodded “yes.”

Josiah was pleased. “Until you start bleeding again, I reckon you can’t become with child.”

Emma felt self-conscience for discussing such things with a man, even though that man was her husband. “I think that’s why nothing’s happened so far,” she said quietly.

With a broad hand, Josiah pulled Emma close. He wrapped his arms about her, and Emma relaxed in his warm embrace. When Josiah gave a contented moan, Emma knew he was pleased to have her back in his arms. Just then, a small tug on Emma’s dress drew her attention away from Josiah. Emma turned, and saw Mary beaming up at her proudly.

“See what I did, Ma?” Mary held up one end of the heavy bear coat she had dragged across the dirt floor.

Josiah’s tenderness turned into a scowl, and Emma heard him groan impatiently. Then he saw the dirt on his coat, and Emma could tell he was struggling against frustration. His dark eyes flashed at Mary, and then at Emma.

Without speaking, Emma nested in the strong arms still around her.

“She’s ruining my coat, Emma. Lookit, she’s tugged one of the unfinished sleeves half off.”

Emma nestled even harder.

“All right, I’ll let it slide, Emma.”

Emma looked up at Josiah’s strong face. He was in a better mood than he should be, considering what Mary had just done to his coat.

Disappointed, Mary hung her head. She had obviously hoped she had done something praiseworthy.

Taking his coat from the child, Josiah ran a large hand over the dirty fur. He absently patted Mary’s head, and then lumbered back to his workplace on the buffalo robes. When the girl remained where she was, Josiah called out, “Am I going to have to finish this on my own?”

Eyes brightening, Mary ran back to the robes and then plopped down beside her father to continue their work.

Grateful for Josiah’s efforts to include Mary, Emma retrieved her knife to cut the mink skin into lengths she could use. The soft skins were then placed into a kettle of boiling water, to clean them from oil and grime. After they were boiled clean, Emma hung them over the fireplace to dry.

Since Mary was intent on helping Josiah finish his bearskin coat, Emma set aside Mary’s lessons for the day. It did Emma’s heart good to see father and daughter getting along together, though Emma knew deep in her heart that Josiah was only doing it to please his wife. At least it was a start, and Emma prayed it would be enough.

Gathering her sewing, Emma settled down on Mary’s empty bed to mend one edge of her frayed petticoat. She hadn’t gotten very far in her progress, before her back begin to ache even more. Emma sighed. She hoped her “monthly visitor” would come soon, and relieve her of these symptoms. Adjusting herself on the buffalo robe, Emma resumed her sewing.

By suppertime, Josiah’s large coat was finished. Its seams were held together by strong buffalo sinew, and the long bear fur gave Josiah a shaggy appearance when he put it on for Emma to see.

“Oh dear,” sighed Emma. “Josiah, you look even more like a large bear than you did before– and I didn’t think that was possible.”

Josiah grinned. “To my way of thinking, that ain’t a bad thing.” Going to his things, he pulled out a bushy fox skin cap, and then plunked it on his head to complete his attire. “Reckon we can go hunting tomorrow.”

Excitedly, Mary jumped up and down, her long braids dancing behind her back as she celebrated the news.

“You’d better take that thing off before you start perspiring inside the cabin,” said Emma, “and Mary, please stop jumping about. It’s suppertime, and I need you to put the plates on the table.”

“We are going hunting!” Mary said over and over, until Emma gave her a patient look that asked her to stop.

Taking off his coat, Josiah hung it on a peg on the wall. “When did you last check the priming on yer shotgun, Emma?”

“I always check it before I leave the cabin,” Emma said, preparing more buffalo jerky for their meal. She looked at the unappetizing dried meat, and felt her stomach rebel. She already knew she wouldn’t be eating very much supper tonight.

“You didn’t eat much lunch, either.”

Emma nodded. “I know.”

“You’ve got to eat more than that, Emma.”

“I will– tomorrow.”

Josiah didn’t look as though he approved, but said nothing more.

Bedtime came, and with it Mary’s list of people in her nightly prayer. When she came to Josiah, Mary was about to say “Mr. Brown” again, when she heard Josiah clear his throat. Peeking one eye open, Mary looked at Josiah, and he shook his head at her reproachfully. Mary looked thoughtful, and then proceeded to pray for the saving of “Pa’s soul.”

When it was over, Josiah flashed Emma a “Does she have to do this every night?” kind of look.

With Mary tucked in her blankets, Emma checked the door and then came to bed.

“I know you think differently,” said Josiah, “but my soul don’t need anyone praying fer it. Especially every night.”

Lying down, Emma winced as her sore back straightened on the buffalo robes.

“You hurting?” asked Josiah.

“It’s my back.”

“Has yer bleeding started yit?”

Emma sighed. “Must you be so uncouth?”

Frustrated, Josiah cursed under his breath. “What do you want me calling it? Emma, you and yer highfalutin words! You must have had a powerful lot of book learning.”

“No, it hasn’t started yet,” Emma said finally.

Josiah’s face softened when he saw Emma’s discomfort, and he opened his arms, as though inviting her to come closer.

Gratefully, Emma leaned her head on Josiah’s shoulder, and let his arm envelope her in an embrace. She resisted when he proceeded to rub her back, but when she realized he was trying to help her pain, and not frolic, she slowly relaxed. Emma wasn’t in the mood for romance tonight, and from the careful way Josiah was holding her, she knew he didn’t have to be told. It was obvious.

“Could she say her prayer to herself?” asked Josiah. “Does she have to say it out loud?”

“Who do you mean?” asked Emma. “Mary?”

“It’s not that I begrudge her some religion, but I don’t enjoy feeling like a heathen every night in my own lodge.” When Emma didn’t respond, Josiah lifted his head just enough to see Emma’s face. “You crying again?”

Unable to speak without openly weeping, Emma buried her face against his hunting shirt.

Josiah rubbed her back consolingly. “I love you, Emma.”

“I love you, too,” Emma said in a muffled voice.

“Then how about a kiss before we sleep? Mary got one.”

Planting a warm kiss on Josiah’s cheek, Emma snuggled deep into his arms. “I’ll ask Mary to lower her voice when she prays out loud.”

Josiah squeezed Emma, and the cabin lay still as the small family went to sleep.

Morning came, and Emma awoke to a gentle kiss. Her eyes flickered open, and Josiah grinned down at her.

“You feeling better today?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Emma moved slightly, trying to see how her back felt. It wasn’t as sore, but even now, Emma could already sense an edge to her emotions that she didn’t like. She had been fighting it the day before, and this morning, it was still present.

Josiah stroked Emma’s cheek.

Annoyed, Emma sighed patiently. “Please, I’m not in the mood.”

“All I want is a little sunshine,” he said grinning.

“Josiah, I don’t feel like playing with you right now.”

“Where’s my sunshine?” he asked. He reached under Emma’s arm, and she gasped involuntarily.

“Josiah! Stop it!”

“Not until you give me some sunshine,” his voice was playful but insistent. Josiah stared at Emma, as though willing her mouth into a smile.

“I don’t feel like sunshine, Josiah.”

“You may not feel it, but you certainly look it,” he said matter-of-factly. He stroked the blonde braids that Emma would pin up once she readied herself for the day. “It’s like yer wearing sunlight, Emma.”

Emma looked at him evenly. “I know you’re trying to flatter me, but I’m really not in the mood.”

Instead of leaving her alone, Josiah gathered Emma in his arms and quietly snuggled with her. Emma would have protested, but his calmness felt good against her tattered nerves. When Emma sighed contentedly, she heard Josiah grin.

“It’s not that I begrudge her some religion, but I don’t enjoy feeling like a heathen every night in my own lodge.” When Emma didn’t respond, Josiah lifted his head just enough to see Emma’s face. “You crying again?”

Unable to speak without openly weeping, Emma buried her face against his hunting shirt.

Josiah rubbed her back consolingly. “I love you, Emma.”

“I love you, too,” Emma said in a muffled voice.

“Then how about a kiss before we sleep? Mary got one.”

Planting a warm kiss on Josiah’s cheek, Emma snuggled deep into his arms. “I’ll ask Mary to lower her voice when she prays out loud.”

Josiah squeezed Emma, and the cabin lay still as the small family went to sleep.

Morning came, and Emma awoke to a gentle kiss. Her eyes flickered open, and Josiah grinned down at her.

“You feeling better today?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Emma moved slightly, trying to see how her back felt. It wasn’t as sore, but even now, Emma could already sense an edge to her emotions that she didn’t like. She had been fighting it the day before, and this morning, it was still present.

Josiah stroked Emma’s cheek.

Annoyed, Emma sighed patiently. “Please, I’m not in the mood.”

“All I want is a little sunshine,” he said grinning.

“Josiah, I don’t feel like playing with you right now.”

“Where’s my sunshine?” he asked. He reached under Emma’s arm, and she gasped involuntarily.

“Josiah! Stop it!”

“Not until you give me some sunshine,” his voice was playful but insistent. Josiah stared at Emma, as though willing her mouth into a smile.

“I don’t feel like sunshine, Josiah.”

“You may not feel it, but you certainly look it,” he said matter-of-factly. He stroked the blonde braids that Emma would pin up once she readied herself for the day. “It’s like yer wearing sunlight, Emma.”

Emma looked at him evenly. “I know you’re trying to flatter me, but I’m really not in the mood.”

Instead of leaving her alone, Josiah gathered Emma in his arms and quietly snuggled with her. Emma would have protested, but his calmness felt good against her tattered nerves. When Emma sighed contentedly, she heard Josiah grin.

Just then, two small feet made their way to the buffalo robes. “I am hungry,” said Mary.

“You know where the jerky’s at,” said Josiah.

Mary blinked at him, and then turned to go find breakfast.

Stirring from Josiah’s comforting arms, Emma sat up in bed. “I’ll be with you in a moment, Mary.”

Emma pinned up her braids, while Josiah watched her with a decided frown. Before getting out of bed, Emma paused. She turned to Josiah and gave him a heartfelt smile, and right before her eyes, Josiah’s rain clouds evaporated, leaving a grinning man.

As Emma began to prepare breakfast, Josiah grabbed her empty water bucket and announced that he and Mary would go to the creek this morning, so Emma wouldn’t have to.

“I can do it, myself,” said Emma. She saw Mary’s stoic face, and then realized he was taking Mary without her– even though it was only to the creek. “I don’t think this is a good idea, Josiah.”

Ignoring Emma, Josiah waited as Mary slowly wrapped herself in a warm blanket, to brave the outside cold. She didn’t look very eager, but quietly obeyed Josiah.

Emma was about to bundle up, so she could go with Josiah and Mary, when Josiah put out his hand and stopped Emma.

“This ain’t nothing to get concerned about, Emma. We’re just going to the creek.”

“But–” Emma was interrupted by Josiah’s firm gaze. It amazed Emma how he could still her with just one look.

After Mary was ready, Josiah, his Hawken, and two new snowshoes disappeared out the door. Behind him trailed a little girl, toting an empty bucket.

Josiah glanced behind his back to check Mary. She was still following, though he detected a little hesitation on her part to come with him. Shouldering his rifle, Josiah took a large tree branch, and then crashed it through the frozen surface of the creek. The bucket filled, Josiah waited before turning to go back to the cabin.

Mary looked up at him expectantly.

“You ain’t even half a human yet, seeing yer just five years old,” said Josiah, “but I’m expecting you to understand something important, so perk up yer ears and listen carefully.”

Using the sleeve of her blanket wrap, Mary dried her runny nose.

“Emma is mine,” Josiah said firmly, “and I ain’t too eager to share her with anyone.” The Hawken shifted to his hands, and for a moment, Mary looked frightened. Her dark eyes blinked at him questioningly, before he realized he was scaring her, and lowered the weapon. “Even though I don’t have to, I’m willing to share Emma with you. But not when my arm is about her. You understand my drift?”

Mary sniffed, most likely to keep her nose from running.

“Are you getting any of this?” asked Josiah, wondering how much the little girl understood. “When my arm is around Emma, you keep yer distance.”

Mary’s head somberly nodded “yes.”

“Let me hear you say it,” said Josiah.

“I’ll keep my distance.”

He eyed the child skeptically. “Don’t just repeat me. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand.”

“If my arm isn’t there, then she’s yours. That’s fair, ain’t it?”

Mary didn’t respond.

“Ain’t it?” Josiah scowled at Mary. “Yer supposed to say ‘yes.'”

“Yes,” Mary said promptly.

Stooping to pick up the heavy bucket, a thought flashed through Josiah’s mind that it wouldn’t be good if Mary looked as though he had just frightened her. Not in front of Emma. “When we go hunting,” he said with a lighter tone in his voice, “would you like a weapon of yer own? I got a pistol you can carry.”

Mary’s face immediately brightened.

By the time Josiah and Mary returned with a full water bucket, Emma was getting a little concerned. It usually didn’t take this long to simply fetch water, and she worried that perhaps something had gone wrong. What that could be, she had no idea, but Emma wasn’t at ease with the idea of Josiah being solely responsible for little Mary.

As Josiah and Mary took off their coat and blanket, Emma tried to dissuade herself of any fears. Mary was bright and smiling, and so was Emma… right up until she heard Mary say Josiah was giving her his pistol.

“I ain’t exactly giving it to you,” Josiah told the girl, “I’m just letting you hold it while we hunt.”

Emma shook her head emphatically. “Firearms don’t belong in the hands of children.”

Josiah opened his mouth to speak, but Emma interrupted him.

“I don’t care what your pa let you get away with,” said Emma, “my concern is with Mary. She’s much too young for a loaded pistol.”

Josiah slanted Emma an exasperated glance before planting himself at the table for breakfast. “I never said anything about it being loaded.”

“But, I thought…” Emma sighed patiently. “I suppose I didn’t give you much of a chance to explain, did I?”

 
“I’ll be glad when that cycle of yours gits going,” he said, tearing off a mouthful of dried meat before taking a large gulp from the one cup of water they all shared. “This sure is hard on a man.”

Emma smiled at him apologetically, and he grinned back.

After breakfast, while Josiah cleaned and readied their two rifles, the girls read a Bible story and then Emma reviewed Mary’s ABCs. Mary was up to the letter “E,” and Emma didn’t want to lose the progress they had made in the last few days.

Then it was time to bundle up, and Emma made sure Mary had on more than one blanket, for they would be out for a prolonged time. Emma strapped on her snowshoes and then climbed into Josiah’s heavy capote. She pulled up its large hood, and then picked up her pa’s shotgun.

Grabbing enough jerky to feed everyone for the day, Josiah placed the food in a large buffalo hide that would keep them warm, should they need to take shelter against the snow. Tossing in his tin cup, Josiah bound the hide with sinew rope, and then swung the leather package over his shoulder.

By the time everyone was outside, they looked like a clan of fur bearing mountain dwellers. Emma wondered what her parents would have said, had they been there to observe her new family. Up front, dressed in his shaggy bearskin, Josiah trudged across the snow, his Hawken ever at the ready. Behind him plodded Emma, keeping careful watch as Mary kept pace at her side. In the sash tied about Mary’s waist, Josiah had tucked his unloaded pistol. They left trails of vapor that vanished in the winter air, and three sets of footprints that wouldn’t be erased until the next snowfall. All in all, Emma felt they were a strange sight to behold.

Josiah led them down the mountainside, until the valley below opened up like a large amphitheater, white and ghostly to Emma’s poor eyesight. The valley floor was surrounded by rugged foothills and scattered with trees, rocks and wide open spaces. Hollowtop Mountain reigned over all, its flattened crown clearly visible for miles around. Emma felt vulnerable being so out in the open after the close confines of the cabin, but tried not to let it show.

“Wish I had me a horse,” Josiah said longingly, his sharp eyes piercing the trackless horizon before them. “I’d scout out the elk.”

A sharp chill went through Emma’s frame. Tugging the sash about her capote, she made sure her coat was completely closed. The haunting sounds of a prowling wolf caused another chill through Emma, and she suddenly realized it wasn’t the cold that was making her uncomfortable. She clutched her rifle, and Josiah flashed her a knowing grin.

“Cabin life has been spoiling you,” he said with a laugh.

Emma smiled grimly. She remembered life with Josiah before they arrived at the lodge, and knew he was probably right. Life hadn’t been easy, but it was certainly safer behind four solid walls. Another howl filled the mountains, until other wolves joined in, and soon, a full chorus pervaded the air. Emma listened to the wilderness song, until the last howl faded in the wind, leaving her to silently marvel at their wild, untamed beauty.

Cupping a hand to his mouth, Josiah cut loose with a wolf howl of his own. To Emma’s surprise, his call was answered with a solitary cry.

Josiah breathed in the sharp air. “We’d best keep moving.”

 
With every step, Emma felt her strength slowly evaporate. Her empty stomach growled from hunger, and she found herself wondering how much further she could walk. She kept putting one foot in front of the other, until she was perspiring heavily.

Struggling to catch up to Josiah, Emma panted hard before she spoke. “I’m afraid I’m getting wet from perspiration.”

Josiah came to a complete halt, his face gravely serious. “Why didn’t you tell me, sooner?”

“I wasn’t aware of it until now.”

Josiah quickly scanned the valley, and then pointed his chin to a cluster of rocks and trees. “We’ll take shelter there.”

When they arrived at the trees, Josiah made a lean-to, and then ordered Emma inside to dry off. After shedding her snowshoes and garments, Emma put back on the capote so she wouldn’t freeze while her body cooled down. Mary crawled inside, looking almost as energetic as Josiah. Emma groaned within herself. Didn’t they ever get tired?

Outside one end of the lean-to, Josiah found a dry place to sit down and keep watch. His Hawken rested in the crook of his arm, and his eyes kept alert to any signs of danger. “You doing all right in there, Emma?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Yes, thank you.”

“I’m thinking now’s a good time fer some lunch.” A large hand reached inside to tap Emma’s shoulder, and then pass her some dried buffalo.

“I’m not hungry,” Emma said, giving her share of the food to Mary.

“Give it back to her, Mary.” Concern sounded in Josiah’s voice. “You hardly touched breakfast, Emma. You need to eat.”

“I don’t think I can keep down any food, Josiah.”

“You said you’d eat more today, remember? Yer eating that jerky, Emma.”

“I can’t!”

“Yes, you are, if I have to shove it down yer gullet.”

Shocked by Josiah’s forceful words, Emma gazed at him numbly.

Taking off his fur cap, Josiah thrust it onto the ground with a loud sigh. He looked up at Emma, and she could see the worry in his eyes. “Emma, if you don’t eat, you won’t have any strength. You must eat.”

Nodding, Emma accepted the jerky from Mary. Her teeth clamped down on the hard food, and she tore off a small bite. Almost at once, Emma felt her stomach turn. She struggled to swallow. The nausea becoming too much, Emma scrambled to her feet, brushing past Josiah on her way out. Emma fell to her knees beside some rocks, and vomited.

 
When it was over, two strong arms lifted her upright in the snow, and then guided her back to the lean-to.

“Mary, move over so yer ma can lay down,” said Josiah, as the small girl hurried to obey.

Emma smiled weakly, embarrassed to have created such a scene. She declined to lay down, but let Mary snuggle beside her to keep them both warm. “I feel a little better now. I think I can eat.”

Looking uncertain, Josiah passed Emma more jerky, and she managed to eat it without running back outside to the rocks.

“We never should’ve left,” Josiah shook his head reproachfully. “You don’t have the strength to go hunting.”

Emma summoned her courage. “I’m fine. I want to keep going.”

Josiah searched her face, until Emma thought he was staring so hard, he could see right through her to the other side of the lean-to. “No, I’m going to find us a place to make camp fer the night. If you can keep eating, and feel better in the morning, we’ll continue our hunt.” When Emma was about to protest, Josiah held up a silencing hand. “I don’t want to take anymore chances with you, Emma. Yer a white woman, and you ain’t as used to these mountains as we are.”

Indignant, Emma looked at him defiantly. “I’m as hardy as any Indian.”

Josiah harrumphed. “I know yer a strong woman, but even you have yer limits. We stay fer the night.”

Even though she hated to admit it, Emma was glad for the rest. She felt strangely weak, but it wasn’t to be surprised, for she had eaten very little yesterday and today.

As Emma put on her deerskin dress, Josiah checked her shotgun once more before handing it back to her.

“I’m just going a little ways from here, to find a place better suited for a campsite. Keep watch fer animals that venture too close, and don’t leave this lean-to until yer completely dry.”

“I won’t,” said Emma.

Opening the buffalo hide with their provisions, Josiah gave their supply of jerky to Emma, and then swung the empty carcass over his shoulder. Lifting his rifle, Josiah walked off, the sound of snow crunching beneath his snowshoes as he gradually faded into the distance. Emma took out a little of the buffalo jerky. She didn’t really feel like eating, but wanted to gain back her strength as soon as possible.

Sitting cross-legged on the pine needle floor of the lean-to, Mary pulled out Josiah’s pistol. She curiously turned it about in her hands, fingering the metal and wooden piece as though she had never before seen such a thing in her life.

“Be careful with that,” said Emma.

Mary grinned. “It ain’t loaded, Ma.”

“Please, don’t say ‘ain’t.’ I know it isn’t loaded, but seeing you with that pistol makes me nervous.”

 
Mary stared at the weapon awhile longer before returning it to her belt. With a yawn, the child rested her head on Emma’s lap to take a small nap, for there wasn’t much else to do but wait and sleep. Resisting the desire to rest her eyes, Emma kept watch, keeping her shotgun close at her side in case of trouble.

Before long, Emma heard Josiah’s snowshoes, and then she saw him drop to his knees by the lean-to’s entrance.

“I made us a shelter for the night,” he said, his eyes traveling to the napping child on Emma’s lap. “It’s beside some foothills and a mountain spring that ain’t froze over. You feel up to moving?”

“I’m ready,” said Emma.

Josiah’s deep voice stirred Mary, and before long, Emma and Mary were outside, following Josiah to their new temporary quarters.

Beside the recess of a steep foothill, Josiah had made a sturdy dome-shaped framework of branches. It was covered with his buffalo hide to keep out the weather, and boughs of pine needles lined the edges where the skin didn’t meet the ground. In the center of the lodge, the skin wrapped around a curious hole. When Emma crawled into the cozy structure, she found a pile of firewood in the center, and understood the hole in the ceiling was for smoke to escape.

Taking flint and steel, Josiah expertly lit a fire. As warmth enveloped Emma, she felt comfortable enough to take off her capote. Following Emma’s example, Mary shed her blankets, and then settled on the pine needle floor beside Emma.

“This is very nice, Josiah,” Emma said with an admiring smile. “You certainly know how to make yourself at home in this wilderness.”

Pleased, Josiah grinned. “I should, I’ve lived here all my life. Keep the fire going. I’m headed back out to see if I can’t find us something fer supper. Reckon fresh meat will sit easier in yer stomach than hard jerky.”

“Can I come with you?” Mary looked at Josiah pleadingly.

Hesitant, Josiah turned to Emma for approval. “What do you say, Emma? I want you staying here to rest, so Mary would come alone with me.”

Emma looked at Mary. She was mildly surprised when Mary didn’t seem discouraged at the prospect of being by herself with Josiah.

“Don’t worry, Emma, I’ll take good care of her. I’ll even treat her like my own daughter.” It was a wry attempt at humor, though Josiah didn’t smile when he spoke.

The hint of bitterness in his voice reminded Emma he still resented Mary’s presence.

“No, I want her to stay,” Emma said finally.

“But, Ma–“

“No buts,” Emma told the girl. “You’re staying here with me. We’ll go hunting, tomorrow. I’m sorry, Josiah, but you’ll have to go alone for now.”

Josiah studied Emma’s expression, as if trying to read her thoughts. “I’d never hurt her, Emma.”

 
“I know, I’d just feel more comfortable, if I came with Mary.”

Sighing heavily, Josiah nodded in acquiescence. “Yer going to have to trust me more than this, Emma.” Picking up his Hawken, he crawled headfirst from the lodge.

When the sound of his snowshoes disappeared, Emma snapped a long branch, tossing both halves into the fire. Flames crackled as smoke rose up through the vent hole in the low ceiling. Emma turned her gaze on Mary, and recognized the look of disappointment on her small face.

“If I’d known we would be away for the night, I would’ve brought one of your dolls,” said Emma.

Mary nodded, but remained quiet.

Emma was thoughtfully silent. She wished Mary could’ve gone with Josiah. While trying to think of something to say by way of an explanation, Mary crawled to Emma’s side and then rested her head against Emma’s shoulder.

“Are you cold?” asked Emma, lifting her arm to let Mary cuddle against her for warmth.

Mary looked up at Emma smilingly. “This lodge is warmer than our cabin.”

“Yes,” laughed Emma, “I’m afraid it is. When the wind is strong, a lot of heat gets sucked up that stone chimney of ours. If it ever gets any colder, maybe we could ask your pa to build another of these shelters.”

Mary giggled softly.

Through the small open doorway, Emma saw the ground darken as clouds covered the sun. Before long, it began to snow.

Daylight was waxing dim by the time Emma heard the tramp, tramp of Josiah’s snowshoes. She saw his feet first, and then a snow-dusted fox skin cap as he crawled through the snug doorway.

“I snared us a grouse,” he said, flopping the dead bird onto the pine needles. Sitting cross-legged, Josiah pulled off his heavy coat. “Snow’s coming down hard.” He rubbed his reddened hands above the flames, drawing them back when the heat became too much.

As Emma took a knife to begin dressing the grouse, Josiah stuffed his coat into the doorway to keep as much heat inside as possible.

“Is yer back still sore?” asked Josiah, returning to the flames to finish thawing his frozen limbs.

Emma looked at him a little sheepishly. Her back had been hurting all day, though she hadn’t wanted to say anything. She had already caused enough trouble to Josiah’s hunting party, as it was.

“I thought so,” he said knowingly.

While Emma readied supper, Josiah took two stones to pound some roots he had gathered. After grinding the roots, Josiah pulled out the tin cup he had packed with their provisions. Momentarily opening the door, he filled the cup with snow, and then carefully melted the snow over the fire. When the water was hot, Josiah dumped in the roots, and then handed the cup to Emma.

“Drink it, it’ll help yer pain.”

 
The thought briefly occurred to Emma to ask what it was, but her back was hurting enough to be grateful for even a questionable remedy. She took a small sip, and then another, enjoying the warmth it gave her body.

“It’s Blackfoot medicine,” said Josiah. “I learned it from my ma.”

Emma smiled at him thankfully.

“Let me finish dressing that there bird,” said Josiah, pulling the knife from Emma’s hand so she could finish her tea. He looked at Emma and then at Mary. “You both staying warm?”

“This is a good lodge,” said Emma, taking another sip of root tea. “We’ve been very comfortable.”

“That’s good. Maybe tomorrow, I can show Mary how to use that pistol.” His knife stopped to check Emma’s reaction. “It’s good for her to know how to defend herself, Emma. From now on, I’m thinking that pistol should be with Mary every time she steps outside. It’s different when yer living among others, for they can look after children. But since there’s only the three of us, everyone should carry a weapon. Even Mary.”

“Did your pa give you a loaded weapon when you were Mary’s age?” asked Emma.

“When I was Mary’s age,” said Josiah, cutting away at the bird, “there weren’t much need. My pa’s trapper friends looked after me, and when I grew about a foot taller, I had my first rifle. Shot at anything that would hold still,” he chuckled.

Emma sighed. “But, Mary’s so young.”

Spearing the grouse on a spit, Josiah held it over the fire to begin cooking. “I’ll teach her what she needs to know.” His eyes lifted to Emma, and he remained silent for a moment, as if thinking things over. “I don’t want Mary getting carried off by a wild animal, and this is the best way I know to keep her safe.”

Slowly taking another sip of tea, Emma thought over what Josiah had just said. “All right,” she said finally, “but she must learn how to use the pistol responsibly.”

Josiah nodded readily. “Agreed.” He turned the spit, letting the heat evenly cook the bird. “Thanks, Emma.”

At first, Emma was puzzled why he should thank her, and then she remembered his comment about trusting him more. Finishing off the last of her tea, Emma watched as Josiah tried not to return her gaze. When he finally chanced a look, she smiled at him warmly.

Josiah sighed contentedly. “Pure sunshine.”

The lodge filled with the smell of cooked meat, and Josiah cut off a healthy portion for Emma.

“I want you eating everything I give you,” he told Emma seriously. “I even caught fresh meat to make sure you’d keep it down.”

“I’ll do my best,” smiled Emma, feeling his admonition unnecessary. The grouse smelled delicious, and as she ate, her stomach didn’t rebel. Josiah kept handing Emma more, even giving her some of his own food, until Emma begged him to stop. Her stomach was full, and she couldn’t hold another bite.

After stoking the fire for bedtime, Josiah curled into a fetal position on his side, for there wasn’t enough room to stretch out his long legs. Crawling to Josiah, Emma got into a similar position, until they fit together like two spoons laying on their sides.

“Come, Mary,” said Emma, beckoning the child to lay down in front of her to keep warm.

Mary didn’t budge, but sat on the other side of the lodge, staring at Josiah’s arm. It was around Emma.

Josiah’s arm moved, and Mary scrambled to join Emma.

Sandwiched between Josiah and Mary, Emma covered everyone with Mary’s two blankets. After making a few adjustments to get comfortable, Emma kissed the top of Mary’s head goodnight.

“What about me?” asked Josiah.

“I’m not messing up everyone, just to turn around and give you a kiss,” Emma laughed softly. Reaching for Josiah’s hand, she tenderly pressed her goodnight kiss into his palm.

When morning came, Josiah stirred to find Emma awake. Propping himself up on one elbow, he leaned forward to see her face.

“How’s yer back?” he asked.

With a small whimper, Emma’s voice struggled to sound hopeful. “The tea helped me sleep, but I’m afraid the pain’s returned with a vengeance.”

“Yer probably just stiff,” said Josiah, for their small quarters restricted movement. He shifted one leg, and found his own muscles painfully tight. “Tell Mary to get up so we can start moving.”

The girl yawned at Emma’s gentle coaxing, but it wasn’t fast enough for Josiah. Reaching over Emma, he shook Mary by the shoulder.

“Please,” asked Emma, “not so rough.”

“I ain’t waiting any longer, Mary. Get on yer hands and knees and move over.”

Still dazed with sleep, Mary did as she was told without complaint.

Josiah helped Emma to sit up, her face wincing as she straightened her sore back.

“Do you feel any stronger?” asked Josiah.

“I don’t know yet,” Emma shook her head wearily. “I was hoping this sore back would go away.”

“It’ll feel better once you start walking,” said Josiah.

After Emma scooted over, Josiah crawled to the coat-stuffed doorway to go outside and stretch his limbs. As he removed his coat from the door, he was greeted by a wall of snow. “We’re snowed-in,” he told the girls.

 
Smiling, Mary quickly crawled over to see for herself.

Digging into the snow with his hands, Josiah soon found daylight. Sunlight poured into the entrance hole as Josiah came back to help Emma and Mary leave their makeshift shelter.

After finishing the last of the jerky, they gathered their weapons, blankets, coats and snowshoes, and then climbed up through the deep snow into the morning sunlight. When Emma had some trouble bending to tie her snowshoes, Josiah knelt down to strap them on for her.

After knocking away the snow atop their shelter, Josiah pulled off the buffalo hide that had kept them warm. Wrapping the heavy skin around their tin cup, he made sure his Hawken was primed and ready.

With Josiah in the lead, Emma and Mary followed behind. Every so often, Josiah turned to look at Emma, to make sure he wasn’t going too fast for her to keep up. Even though she didn’t say it, Josiah knew she was still weak.

“I’ll be all right,” Emma said, as if able to read his mind.

“This ain’t no women’s cycle, Emma.”

“I know.”

Josiah was silent. He slackened his pace to let Emma catch up to his side. He glanced at her and saw she was busy thinking.

“Reckon yer sore back will go away in nine months?” he asked. When Emma didn’t look surprised, he knew she had been thinking the same thing.

Emma bit her lip. “I suppose you think I’m foolish to not know any sooner than this.”

Josiah laughed, his breath sending warm contrails into the air. “You ain’t a fool, Emma. You’ve got more book learning than any woman I know. Reckon they don’t come any smarter.” When Emma didn’t look as though she believed him, Josiah didn’t press it any further.

“Have you ever helped in a birthing?” asked Emma.

“More than one foal was helped into the world with these hands,” he grinned confidently. “There ain’t much to it, Emma.”

Emma gave one of his harrumphs, but didn’t comment.

Just then, Mary hurried to Josiah’s side. “You promised to show me how to fire the pistol.”

“I ain’t going back on a promise,” nodded Josiah.

“But,” Mary looked in the direction they were headed, “we are going back to the lodge.”

Giving Mary a small grin of approval, Josiah came to a stop. He pulled the pistol from Mary’s sash. “Mind if we stop fer a spell?” he asked Emma. “I did promise her to go hunting.”

 
Smiling, Mary quickly crawled over to see for herself.

Digging into the snow with his hands, Josiah soon found daylight. Sunlight poured into the entrance hole as Josiah came back to help Emma and Mary leave their makeshift shelter.

After finishing the last of the jerky, they gathered their weapons, blankets, coats and snowshoes, and then climbed up through the deep snow into the morning sunlight. When Emma had some trouble bending to tie her snowshoes, Josiah knelt down to strap them on for her.

After knocking away the snow atop their shelter, Josiah pulled off the buffalo hide that had kept them warm. Wrapping the heavy skin around their tin cup, he made sure his Hawken was primed and ready.

With Josiah in the lead, Emma and Mary followed behind. Every so often, Josiah turned to look at Emma, to make sure he wasn’t going too fast for her to keep up. Even though she didn’t say it, Josiah knew she was still weak.

“I’ll be all right,” Emma said, as if able to read his mind.

“This ain’t no women’s cycle, Emma.”

“I know.”

Josiah was silent. He slackened his pace to let Emma catch up to his side. He glanced at her and saw she was busy thinking.

“Reckon yer sore back will go away in nine months?” he asked. When Emma didn’t look surprised, he knew she had been thinking the same thing.

Emma bit her lip. “I suppose you think I’m foolish to not know any sooner than this.”

Josiah laughed, his breath sending warm contrails into the air. “You ain’t a fool, Emma. You’ve got more book learning than any woman I know. Reckon they don’t come any smarter.” When Emma didn’t look as though she believed him, Josiah didn’t press it any further.

“Have you ever helped in a birthing?” asked Emma.

“More than one foal was helped into the world with these hands,” he grinned confidently. “There ain’t much to it, Emma.”

Emma gave one of his harrumphs, but didn’t comment.

Just then, Mary hurried to Josiah’s side. “You promised to show me how to fire the pistol.”

“I ain’t going back on a promise,” nodded Josiah.

“But,” Mary looked in the direction they were headed, “we are going back to the lodge.”

Giving Mary a small grin of approval, Josiah came to a stop. He pulled the pistol from Mary’s sash. “Mind if we stop fer a spell?” he asked Emma. “I did promise her to go hunting.”

 
“You were taking us home?” Emma asked in surprise.

Josiah winked at Mary. “White women,” he chuckled. “Don’t know up from down. I bet she couldn’t find her way to the cabin, if her life depended on it.”

“I could,” Emma said a little defensively.

Realizing he had bruised Emma’s feelings, Josiah backed off.

While Josiah showed Mary how to load the pistol, Emma went to sit beside some trees, to keep out of the wind. The girl was too small to follow the complexity of loading the firearm, so Josiah instead concentrated on showing her how to aim.

Squatting down to get on Mary’s level, Josiah pointed the loaded pistol straight ahead. Placing Mary’s small hands on the pistol’s grip, Josiah let Mary hold the weapon. The girl looked nervous, though a bit excited, and she kept looking to him for reassurance.

“Keep both eyes open, and aim it at your target,” said Josiah.

Mary looked about for a likely target, at last choosing the bottom limb of a nearby tree.

“When yer ready, set the cock, and then squeeze the trigger.” Josiah watched as Mary tried to squeeze the trigger, but her small hands didn’t have the needed strength. Just when he thought she couldn’t do it, the gun exploded in a burst of white smoke and Mary squealed with delight.

“Well, well,” chuckled Josiah, “you even hit yer target!” Josiah turned to the trees where Emma had been sitting, in the hopes she had been watching.

But Emma wasn’t there.

Although blurry to Emma’s eyesight, she knew it was an eagle. She had heard that call before, and now followed it in the hopes of obtaining a feather. The bird glided high above Emma until it came to rest on a tall fir tree. Emma didn’t know what she expected it to do, and felt a little silly for even following it this far. Just then, Emma heard the explosion of a gun firing, and the bird flew off in alarm. As the eagle made its escape, a single feather floated to the ground, landing nearly at Emma’s feet.

But Emma was too startled to pick up her trophy. Had that gunfire been Mary shooting Josiah’s pistol? Or was there trouble nearby? Anxiously, Emma grabbed the eagle feather, and then started back for the tree she had been resting under. She wasn’t sure what time of day it was, for the sun was hidden behind a thick screen of white clouds. Emma shuddered. It looked about to snow.

Hurrying across the deep snow as fast as she could, Emma paused to check her surroundings. Where was Josiah and Mary? Hadn’t she left them just a few steps away? Surely, she couldn’t have gone far following the eagle. Emma squinted, trying to recognize the terrain. All she could see were trees and snow, and to her horror, they all looked alike.

“Calm down,” Emma said to herself. “Follow your tracks. Just follow your tracks back to Josiah.”

 
Emma turned about, retracing her snowshoes’ tracks back to the tree where she had left the eagle. The sky grew whiter, until snow filled the air. Panicking, Emma struggled to find her tracks before the snow covered her trail. The wind grew steadily worse, and suddenly, Emma couldn’t see the ground in front of her.

Blindly feeling her way through the blizzard, Emma finally found refuge beside a tree, and huddled against its trunk for shelter.

“God, please help me,” Emma prayed into the air. She pulled the hood over her face as far as it would go, and then hunched down on her snowshoes to keep warm. The icy wind cut through Emma like a knife, and she struggled to retain her body warmth. Emma cupped her hands to her mouth. “Josiah! Josiah!” Her call was swallowed by the wind, and Emma decided to save her strength. She was already feeling a little drained, and it wouldn’t do any good to wear herself out when no one could hear her calls.

The blizzard began just as Josiah started to look for Emma, and the heavy snow forced him to return to Mary. They crouched beneath the buffalo hide to wait out the storm, and watch the steadily increasing snowfall.

Mary looked frightened, but Josiah knew it wasn’t for herself.

“She’ll make it all right, you just see,” he said with a confident nod of his head.

The girl didn’t respond, but tried to huddle against Josiah for warmth. At first, Josiah edged away from Mary, but when he saw how cold she was becoming, the mountain man let her get closer.

“Emma won’t go far,” said Josiah. “She’ll keep her wits, and wait out the storm, just like us. Then I’ll go looking fer her.”

Mary blinked at him. She didn’t look fooled by his brave words. “The snow is covering her tracks, Pa.”

Mary’s astute observation surprised Josiah, but not because he hadn’t already thought of that. This little girl was smart. Smarter than he had given her credit.

“I’m knowing about the snow, but I can find her anyway,” he said, sounding more confident than he was feeling.

Mary stared at him uncertainly, tears pooling in her dark eyes. “I will pray,” she said with a whimper.

Josiah harrumphed, but let Mary do as she wanted. God wasn’t there, and if He was, He sure didn’t care about Josiah Brown or anyone else. Why, with Josiah’s bad luck, Emma would be found next spring, a lifeless thawing carcass, still clinging to some tree or rock for safety. The thought angered Josiah, and he heard his clenched teeth grind. He let himself love Emma, and now God was trying to take her from him.

“I ain’t letting Him get away with it,” Josiah said beneath his breath.

Mary looked at him questioningly.

“The moment this blizzard let’s up,” said Josiah, “I’m leaving you with a loaded pistol and this here buffalo hide. You just keep yerself wrapped in the hide, and wait fer me and Emma.”

Mary’s eyes grew wide. “You will come back for me?”

 
Indignant that she should even ask such a question, Josiah snarled angrily. “Yer my flesh and blood ain’t you? I won’t leave you to die.”

Biting down on her bottom lip, Mary quivered as she moved closer.

Feeling some remorse for growling at the child, Josiah put his arm about her. Mary softly cried against his chest, and Josiah patted her shoulder. All he could do was wait for the snow to let up.

Huddled by her tree, Emma remembered today was Sunday. Needing something to calm the terror she felt tugging at her heart, Emma began singing a hymn about Jesus.

“His name yields the richest perfume, and sweeter than music His voice; His presence disperses my gloom, and makes all within me rejoice.” Emma paused to listen, but could only hear the wind gusting about her capote. “I should, were He always thus nigh, have nothing to wish or to fear; No mortal so happy as I, my summer would last all the year.”

Emma stopped. She thought she heard something, but couldn’t make it out over the wind.

“Josiah!” Emma shouted as loudly as she could.

The hauntingly familiar noise came again, and Emma anxiously looked about to see where it was coming from. This time, she knew what it was. Gripping her shotgun, Emma squinted through the blizzard. When the howl sounded again, Emma prayed the wolf wouldn’t find her. Surely, no creature would be out in this storm.

With a startled cry, Emma saw a large form coming toward her through the heavy snowfall.

Josiah waited impatiently, while Mary continued to pray at his side.

“Bring Ma back to us, Jesus. Make her come.”

“Ma would do better to stay where she was, and wait fer me,” said Josiah. “Stupid woman.”

Mary stared at Josiah indignantly. “My ma ain’t stupid!”

“When it comes to things from books, I’m sure she ain’t, but when it comes to keeping herself alive in these mountains…” Josiah’s voice trailed off, unwilling to follow through with his accusation. “Yer right, she ain’t stupid.”

The snow finally let up, and Josiah climbed out from under the buffalo hide. While Mary looked at him bravely, he bundled the child into the warm skin, and then loaded her pistol. Handing it to Mary, her small dark eyes locked with his.

“I’ll be back fer you,” he said reassuringly. “I give you my word.”

Mary nodded soberly.

Casting one last glance at the small bundle waiting for his return, Josiah started off in search of his wife.

Emma froze. The form moved toward her with a steady even step, and then stopped just a few feet from where she sat crouched against the tree. When the figure took another step forward, Emma cocked back one of the hammers on her shotgun, bringing it around so the large form could see she was armed.

 
The figure stopped again, as if to consider the situation.

By the size of the individual, Emma guessed it was a man, though he was so completely covered in fur hides and animal skins that she couldn’t tell if he was an Indian or a white man.

His hand came up, pulling down the muff of furs keeping his nose and mouth warm. From the man’s chiseled features, Emma knew he was an Indian. Maybe even a Blackfoot. The man stared at her for a long time, and then cast his eyes about, as though trying to ascertain whether she were alone. As the snow let up, the man took another cautious step toward Emma. He held a rifle, though for some reason he didn’t aim it in her direction. Perhaps he didn’t think she would really shoot him.

Standing to her full height, Emma brought up her shotgun, leveling it at the Indian’s chest. To her amazement, he didn’t seem very intimidated. Instead, he gave her an appraising gaze that would have gotten him into trouble, had Josiah been there.

“Please, go away,” said Emma. She didn’t even want to try to ask this man for help– not from the way he was staring at her.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “You have man?” he asked in halting English.

“Yes, yes I do,” said Emma. “I expect he’ll be along any moment, looking for me, so you’d better go.”

The man grinned disbelievingly, but took a step back. Then something caught his attention, and he touched one of his two long black braids. He pointed to Emma. “Hair,” he said, as though struggling for the word he wanted.

“Please, go,” Emma fought to keep her voice from betraying any fear.

“Hair,” said the man, gazing at Emma in wonderment. He touched his braid, and then pointed to her head.

Emma sighed. He had noticed her blonde hair, peeking out from under the hood of Josiah’s capote.

In his fascination, he moved toward Emma.

Emma cocked the second hammer on her shotgun. “If you take another step, I’ll let you have both barrels.”

The man stopped. He didn’t look pleased by her threat, but refused to step away from her.

“Five horses, two wives,” he said proudly. He flexed his arm, and Emma saw his animal skins bulge with muscle. “Good hunter. Women never hungry. Take many scalps.” He opened his furs, revealing leather leggings trimmed down the sides with tassels of human hair. “Very brave,” he thumbed his chest with a grin. “You come.”

Emma swallowed hard. This man wanted her for his wife! “I already have a husband, so please go, and leave me alone!”

The man frowned, and looked about Emma. “Where husband?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but he’s nearby.” Emma prayed it was true.

Just then, another form stepped toward them through the lightly falling snow. The Indian turned, lifting his rifle into a ready position.

 
 
“Emma?” Josiah’s voice boomed across the distance between them. “Git yerself over here, Emma.”

The man looked ready to stop Emma, but when he stepped a few paces back, Emma guessed he wasn’t ready to fight Josiah.

“Husband?” the man asked her disappointedly.

“Yes,” Emma nodded, edging past him before running to Josiah.

Josiah roughly shoved Emma behind him. “Stay put,” he told her. Training his Hawken on the stranger, Emma saw Josiah’s face harden with resolve.

Looking defeated, the Indian gestured to Josiah in sign language before stepping away. He turned to look at Emma one more time before his form disappeared against the snowy horizon.

Heaving a deep sigh, Josiah’s eyes remained on the horizon, as though not trusting the man to come back. “Did he hurt you?” he asked.

“No,” the tension in Emma’s limbs left her feeling weak. “He wanted me for his wife.”

Turning to face her, Josiah angrily spat at the ground before speaking. “Why did you wander off like that? The snow covered yer tracks, Emma. It was only sheer luck I found you when I did.”

“I’m sorry,” Emma felt something hot splash against her cheek.

“Emma, I could’ve lost you.”

“I’m sorry.” It sounded weak, but it was the only thing Emma could think of to say. She began to weep, but Josiah remained where he was.

“Go ahead and cry, fer all the good it’ll do you.” Josiah turned his back to Emma, and she saw his shoulders drop. “Are you hurt?” he asked, as if needing to hear her assurance one more time. Emma couldn’t see his face, but she could see the gentleness creep back into his posture.

“I don’t think so,” said Emma, “but I’m frozen with cold.”

Not meeting her eyes, Josiah turned to tightly wrap his arms about his wife. “Don’t ever scare me like that again, Emma.”

“I’m sorry, Josiah.”

“You got the baby to think of,” Josiah said reproachfully. He tilted back Emma’s chin until they were eye to eye. Without another word, he kissed her, and then hugged her so hard Emma’s snowshoes lifted from off the ground.

Dangling from Josiah’s safe arms, Emma let herself cry. Then, kissing her cheek, Josiah set her feet back on the ground.

“Don’t leave my side, Emma.”

“I won’t,” she said with a sniff. “Where’s Mary?”

 
Shaking his head at Emma, Josiah took the lead with his Hawken. “I left her back with the buffalo robe and a loaded pistol. Reckon we’d best announce ourselves before we get into her range.”

As the words left Josiah’s mouth, they heard the explosion of a gun in the distance.

Emma gasped in alarm. “Mary!”

It was awkward to run in snowshoes, but Josiah’s sturdy legs served him well, and he hurried across the snow. Emma struggled in vain to keep up, her strength lagging against the strain of the morning. When Josiah turned and saw her falling so far behind, he stopped in his tracks.

“Go, go help Mary!” Emma said frantically.

Josiah’s jaw tightened. “I ain’t leaving you!” In spite of his own words, he turned and continued to hurry in Mary’s direction. Before long, Josiah was out of Emma’s sight.

Josiah cursed himself for leaving Emma behind. He had promised Mary to not leave her to die, and the memory of his word kept moving him forward.

As he neared the place where he had left Mary, Josiah heard the low moan of a wounded man. Then he saw the same Indian he had just warned off from Emma, kneeling in the snow, cradling a bleeding arm. His rifle lay beside him, untouched.

Josiah’s sudden presence startled the wounded Indian, though the Indian made no attempt to go for his rifle.

Disregarding the injured man, Josiah ran to Mary’s tree, pulling back the heavy buffalo robe to reveal a frightened little girl.

“You came back!” Mary cried happily, her small arms quickly wrapping about Josiah’s neck.

Lifting Mary into his arms, Josiah turned to the man in the snow. He didn’t look badly hurt, although his wound needed tending.

“Daughter?” the Indian asked Josiah.

Josiah nodded “yes,” and the man laughed without smiling.

“Yer luck ain’t too good,” said Josiah. Mary was still clinging to his neck, so Josiah let the girl remain where she was. Shifting the child onto one arm, Josiah pointed his Hawken at the man’s wounded shoulder. “I got to fetch my wife. Keep pressure to the wound, and when I git back, I’ll bind it up fer you.”

The Indian made no protest, though he was already applying pressure to his wound.

With Mary still in his arms, Josiah retraced his steps until he saw Emma struggling along in her snowshoes. Mary clamored to get down, and Josiah let the child run into Emma’s outstretched arms.

“Are you all right?” Emma checked the girl over, asking questions so quickly Mary didn’t have a chance to answer. “What happened? Did you fire that shot?”

“Yer admirer paid Mary a visit,” Josiah said, as Emma continued to hug and kiss Mary. “Reckon he thought he had another pair of hands to do the work in his lodge.”

Mary beamed up at Emma. “I prayed to Jesus that He would bring you back.”

Emma touched the girl’s head before enveloping her with another hug. “He answered you, Little One.”

Getting free of Emma’s embrace, Mary beamed at Josiah. “He came back for me, Ma! He came back!”

Josiah scowled at the girl’s joy. “I said I would, didn’t I? Speaking of gitting back, I promised yer ma’s admirer I would bind up his arm. Reckon we best get going, afore he thinks I was lying.”

“I wish you’d stop calling him my admirer,” said Emma.

Chuckling, Josiah picked up Mary to make quicker progress. Mary was smiling ear to ear, and Josiah couldn’t help but feel some pride. His little girl had defended herself against a full grown man, and won.

When they reached the place where the Indian was supposed to be waiting, Josiah found only a red stain in the snow, and tracks that headed off toward his people.

“Was he a Blackfoot?” asked Emma, retrieving their buffalo robe while Josiah reloaded Mary’s pistol.

Josiah shook his head. “No, Shoshone. I reckon he’ll think twice, before tangling with Josiah Brown’s women again!” He flashed Emma and Mary a proud grin. His smile vanished, however, when he saw Emma lean against a tree to steady herself. “If you ever stray off again, Emma…” he hesitated, stopping short of his threat. Going to her side, Josiah gave her another hug. “Whatever possessed you to wander off like that?”

Retrieving something from inside her capote, Emma placed an eagle feather into his hand. “You said you’d wear me in your hair, remember?”

Something warm and tender tugged at Josiah’s insides, as he hung Emma’s eagle feather in his long mane. His pride warned him that Emma was laying claim to him as her personal property. But Josiah didn’t mind. As long as he kept Emma in her place, so that she never forgot that he was the one who owned her, Josiah didn’t mind Emma’s feather at all. In fact, he was rather proud of it.

With a brand new eagle feather dangling from his hair, Josiah moved his family up the mountain a little ways, before stopping to rest for Emma’s sake. When she was ready, Josiah took Emma and Mary home to their small cabin, away from hunting Shoshone Indians, and the rest of the world.

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Chapter 9 – A Trapped Bear

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

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