Don’t forgot to read – A Trapped Bear – Chapter 9
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By late afternoon of their first day’s travel, Emma’s strength was wearing thin. Already thankful Josiah kept their march at a slow pace, Emma was even more grateful when he announced they would stop and make camp for the night.
As Josiah built a lean-to, Emma and Mary gathered wood for a fire. Then it was time for supper, and Emma handed out their rations of buffalo jerky.
Except for loud chewing noises, everyone was quiet, including Mary. Josiah sat across the small fire from Emma, his eyes alternately studying Emma as though trying to delve into her private thoughts. Even under such scrutiny, Emma kept her demeanor well in hand, and prayed her face mirrored the resolve in her heart.
The sun had yet to set against the mountains, but Emma decided she couldn’t wait any longer for sleep. Crawling into the lean-to for some much needed rest, Emma lay down as Mary squeezed in on her left side to keep warm. Before Emma could get the pine needles and buffalo robe beneath her into a comfortable bed, she fell asleep.
Barely half-awake, Emma felt passion stirring within her breast. Heat warmed her face, and then her mouth, until Emma slowly realized she was being kissed. Eyes fluttering open, she found herself in Josiah’s arms!
“Stop it, Josiah!” Emma pushed him away as hard as she could until his back was against the lean-to.
In the darkness, Emma heard Josiah’s quick breath and the angry growl of his voice.
“What are you trying to do to me, Emma? If you didn’t want me, then why’d you start nuzzling?”
Emma was still trying to calm her senses, when she suddenly realized Josiah’s accusation.
“Are you trying to say I started this, Josiah?”
Loudly grinding his teeth in frustration, Josiah scooted over as far as the tight lean-to would allow. “Mary, crawl over yer ma, and sleep between us.”
“Honestly, Josiah, it wasn’t me–” Emma stopped short of her own defense. Even in the heavy darkness, she could feel his displeasure boring holes through her skull.
“Go to sleep, Emma.”
A small child climbed over Emma, and then settled down between the two adults.
Confused, and more than a little disturbed, Emma’s tired mind went over what had just happened. Was it true? Had she kissed Josiah? Emma struggled to untangle reality from her dreams, knowing that the familiar intimacy of being so near Josiah would have made it easily possible. Silently promising herself to be more careful in the future, Emma prayed God would give her the strength to not weaken in her sleep.
The next morning, Josiah escaped the confinements of the lean-to as quickly as he could. It was bad enough Emma wasn’t being very friendly, but with kisses like that, she was downright aggravating!
Last night’s incident only made him all the more determined to regain Emma’s affection.
Getting to their store of jerky first, Josiah handed Emma her breakfast with as charming a smile as he could manage. He made sure she had a blanket around her shoulders, a hot cup of water to sip, and whenever her gaze happened to fall on him, he tried to appear contrite.
After bombarding Emma with adoring looks for several minutes, Josiah tried to detect any weakening in her defenses.
To his consternation, Emma remained unfazed.
Again, they headed South, following the mountain until it brought them to a narrow valley surrounded by white foothills. The valley was flanked on the East by a partially frozen creek, and another set of foothills and mountains. Josiah set his face against the Eastern horizon, scanning for any signs of the game he had come to hunt.
“I do not see any deer,” Mary said disappointedly.
In spite of his own disappointment at the lack of wildlife, Josiah grinned. He hadn’t needed to tell Mary what he was looking for, for she already knew. “That don’t mean they’re not here,” said Josiah. “I’ll make us a lodge over against that foothill, and tomorrow, I’ll go hunting.”
For the rest of that day, Josiah worked on a large dome-shaped lodge, covering it with more than one buffalo skin, and lining its floor with thick boughs of cottonwood. In the center of the shelter, he made a comfortable fire.
On either side of the fire, Emma spread out buffalo robes, to make two beds.
“Is Mary sleeping by herself?” asked Josiah, half hoping to receive a different reply than the one he got.
“No, it’s for you.”
That night, Josiah curled up on his bed feeling completely alone, and even a little unwanted. Whenever he let himself look at the other side of the shelter, he would envy Mary, as the girl slept snugly in Emma’s arms.
“I hafta try harder,” Josiah said quietly. Rolling onto his other side, he faced away from the happy scene.
Morning came, and Emma was awakened by the smell of cooking meat. Upon sitting up, she saw a delicious looking rabbit roasting over the fire. Josiah was seated nearby, looking very pleased with himself for surprising her with a hot meal of fresh meat.
“Good morning, Ma!” Mary smiled at Emma, and Emma suddenly realized they had let her sleep.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” asked Emma. She felt embarrassed for being the last one up, especially when she saw how high the sun was in the sky.
“You needed yer rest,” said Josiah, turning the rabbit to cook it evenly. When he turned to look at Emma, his gaze met hers, unabashedly.
Feeling her face grow hot, Emma quickly looked away. She pinned up her braids, then took out the Bible to read to Mary until breakfast was ready. To Emma’s utter surprise, Josiah smiled pleasantly and looked as though he wanted to listen. Emma didn’t mind, but his smile was overly warm, and very suspicious.
When Mary asked a pertinent question about some hard-to-understand verse, Josiah looked very attentive as Emma explained God’s Word. Impatience and disgust were lurking behind those dark eyes of Josiah’s, and Emma knew better than to believe his smiles and assenting nods.
Putting away her Bible when breakfast was ready, Emma saw Josiah literally sigh with relief.
“You should read before EVERY meal,” he said, as he gave Emma her share of food. “Be sure you eat that rabbit liver I gave you, Emma. Yer body needs more than meat to survive.”
Even though the cooked liver didn’t look appetizing, Emma swallowed it down, knowing it contained nourishment that the meat did not.
The meal over, Josiah patted his belly in satisfaction. “That was good food. Do you reckon God sent that rabbit along, just so we could have something tasty to eat, Mary?”
Timidly nodding “yes,” Mary scooted closer to Emma, as though unsure what to make of Josiah’s odd behavior.
“That’s what I’m thinking, too,” Josiah said with a nod of agreement. “Why, my clumsy snare could’ve easily been empty this morning. Just because I’ve been snaring rabbits since before I could shoot, and know how to place them just right, outside their burrow, don’t mean a thing. It’s God who sends the animals into the snares– ain’t that right, Emma?”
Emma eyed Josiah warily. She didn’t appreciate his sarcasm, even though he spoke with a pleasant smile.
When Emma made no reply, Josiah reached for his flintlock rifle. “Mary, you’d best pray God sends something bigger than rabbits our way.”
Mary looked up at Emma, and then back at Josiah.
Both girls remained silent.
Grinning, Josiah readied the rifle on his lap. “I’ll tell you what, Mary… tell God to hunt the North half of the valley, and I’ll take the South, and we’ll see who brings back meat, first.”
Mary may have been somewhat small for her age, but she wasn’t stupid. When Mary didn’t smile, Emma knew the child had understood Josiah’s mock against God.
Later that day, a sullen Josiah returned empty-handed. Emma bit back the urge to say “It serves you right,” but her looks must have said what her mouth did not, for Josiah avoided looking directly at Emma for the rest of the night.
Morning came, and Emma braced herself. What would Josiah do next? She really didn’t want to know.
Innocently eating buffalo jerky, Josiah behaved as though she and Mary weren’t even there. His indifference to their presence went as far as to mutter to himself about the snowfall, and how it was getting heavier.
They had enjoyed a short reprieve in the weather, with unusually clear skies and surprisingly little wind. Emma smiled. It was almost as though God had held back winter, just long enough for them to safely arrive in the valley.
“Do you want more jerky?” Emma asked Josiah.
Instead of indicating that he had heard her, Josiah continued to eat. He kept acting as though he were the only one in the shelter, and though sad, it suited Emma better than his sudden religious talk of the previous morning.
In her childlike ignorance of what was happening, Mary asked Josiah a simple question. Emma winced when he didn’t respond; he simply looked outside, and continued to eat his meal.
“Pa?” asked Mary. “Would you show me how you set a rabbit snare before you go?”
When Josiah remained mute, Mary sighed heavily and finished the rest of her jerky in silence.
Once again, a sullen Josiah returned from his hunt that evening, and once again, he was empty-handed.
The very next morning, Emma sat up in bed to stoke the fire before the flames died out and she would have to ask Josiah to start another.
“How’d you sleep?” Josiah’s voice came from the other side of the lodge.
Looking up, Emma raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. “So, you’ve decided to start talking again?”
Josiah grinned wearily. “I can’t get along without you, Emma.”
Looking at him thoughtfully, Emma tossed more wood into the fire.
“How about coming over and just laying beside me fer awhile?”
Emma shook her head.
“Then how about giving me some sunshine?”
Emma didn’t budge, and Josiah’s jaw tightened.
“Yer one stubborn woman. What are you wanting from me?”
With a snorting laugh, Josiah reached around to find his flintlock. He checked the priming, then got on his hands and knees to fit through the small entrance of the shelter.
“Don’t you want breakfast?” Emma called after him.
“Just hand me my coat and snowshoes,” said Josiah. “I might be late gitting back, today.” Squatting down, he accepted his things from Emma and their gaze met. “There ain’t any signs of elk or mule deer nearby, so I have to go farther. Keep close to the lodge, and don’t step outside without yer shotgun.”
“I won’t, Josiah.”
Josiah heaved a deep sigh, and stared at Emma longingly. “I love you, Em.”
“Then be faithful,” she said with a challenge in her voice.
Shaking his head, Josiah chuckled dully. “Don’t you ever give up?”
“I don’t intend to,” said Emma. “You didn’t pack any jerky to take with you. Do you want me to fetch you some?”
“You’d best keep it,” Josiah said, standing up to his full height and out of Emma’s line of sight.
From the small entrance, all Emma could see of Josiah were moccasins and large hands as he tied on his snowshoes.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” said Josiah, “but we’re running low on jerky. If I don’t find some game real soon, we’re going to be in trouble.”
“I’ve noticed,” said Emma, grateful Mary was still asleep so the child couldn’t overhear. Crawling outside, Emma got to her feet as Josiah fastened his bear coat shut. “I have to admit, I thought the jerky would last longer.”
“It never does,” said Josiah. “Git back inside, Emma. Yer shaking like a leaf in this cold, and the snow’s coming down heavy.”
Shaking her head “no,” Emma wasn’t ready to go inside just yet. She lingered while Josiah checked his flintlock one last time.
“As long as yer there, fetch me a buffalo hide. The way this snow’s looking, I might have to take shelter.”
Crawling inside, Emma soon returned with a heavy robe. Before she could find her feet to stand, Josiah took the robe, heading off without a word goodbye.
The center of the day passed, and Emma kept watch for Josiah. She hoped he would arrive before sundown, but guessed that if he couldn’t find game, he would probably make camp rather than return empty-handed.
Night descended, and Josiah didn’t come back. The next morning and all of that day showed no signs of him, either. Now that his large appetite wasn’t there to need the remainder of their dried jerky, Emma knew she and Mary had enough to get by for at least a week. After that– Emma shuddered. She prayed Josiah’s hunt would be successful.
Josiah was well acquainted with hunger, and the bad stretches of luck that came with finding no quarry. What he was unused to, however, was the utter helplessness he felt knowing that two females were depending on him.
After all the scrapes and close calls Josiah had experienced throughout his lifetime, he wasn’t too afraid. One way or another, he always made it, and now would prove no differently.
“But, what about Emma?” Josiah’s deep voice melted into the wind, so that he could barely hear himself think. He knew that by leaving, he had made the food stretch farther, but it wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, Emma would run out of jerky.
“Sure wish I could get out of this snow,” he said to himself.
As a youngster, Josiah used to think those who talked to themselves were crazy; seclusion had cured him of that notion, and now he sometimes spoke to himself when loneliness was at its sharpest. Josiah had experienced such sensations before, but somehow, this time his loneliness was different. It cut into him deeper, and he felt bereaved, as though he had lost a part of himself.
“What has that woman done to me? This is what I get fer wintering with a white woman who has thoughts about God. And what did I go and do? Give her a Bible!” Josiah spit a profanity into the air, cursing himself for his stupidity.
The trapper’s footsteps grew heavier, and he searched for a place to take shelter. The snow was still coming down, and his stomach growled so loudly he felt sure it was scaring away the very game he sought.
In an attempt to numb his hunger, Josiah cut some fringe from the bottom of his hunting shirt. Working the old leather in his mouth, his thoughts returned to Emma. Everything within him wanted her, and yet, Josiah had a feeling mere lust wasn’t enough to make Emma happy; desire could while away the hours of a long night, but it wasn’t enough to make him stop hankering after other women– and that was what Emma wanted. Faithfulness.
Exasperated, Josiah groaned inwardly. How was a man supposed to be faithful, when opportunity kept presenting itself in the form of willing women?
Not to be fooled by the taste of buckskin, Josiah’s empty belly rebelled. Driven by hunger, Josiah checked his flintlock and continued on his way.
It had been at least a week, and Josiah still hadn’t returned. Emma was concerned for his safety, but another necessity was pressing hard upon her heart. There was only enough jerky to give Mary something for lunch. After that, they would be completely out of food.
“Please, Ma?” Mary looked at Emma, imploringly. “I can set snares for rabbit, just like Pa did.”
Emma shook her head, knowing Josiah had left before showing Mary his technique.
“I know how,” said Mary.
Feeling the beginnings of hunger, Emma rethought her resistance. For days, they had seen wolves prowling about their camp, and Emma was very slow to step outside where they would have little protection. The wolves were obviously hungry, and to Emma, this was just another sign that Josiah was having difficulty finding food.
Even the wolves were getting desperate.
As Mary got to her feet, a wolf made its presence known by showing itself against the snow. It was soon joined by others, until four or five wolves were staring at Emma and Mary.
Following Emma’s example, Mary stood absolutely still.
“Have you ever eaten a wolf before?” asked Emma.
Mary grinned hungrily.
Slowly, Emma raised her shotgun.
Skittish of Emma’s movement, the wolves began to pace the perimeter of the camp, as if searching for vulnerability.
“Do you have a good grip on your pistol?”
“I want you to get as close as you can to the lodge’s entrance. When I fire my shotgun, I don’t know if the rest will attack; if they do, try to hit one of them before you duck inside. If I can’t make it into the shelter, stay there until Josiah arrives. No matter what, I want you to stay inside. Is that understood, Mary?”
The child whimpered in protest, but Emma remained adamant. If anything happened to her, she wanted Mary to live.
“I understand,” Mary said finally.
“Start edging your way back to the entrance.”
With small, measured steps, Mary left Emma’s side until a low call signaled Mary was in place.
By now, the wolves were becoming brazen, lunging into the camp, then quickly retreating to see if they would be pursued for their audacity. They were thin beasts, and their desperation matched their obvious hunger.
Emma leveled her aim at the nearest wolf. The wolf didn’t move, but stared at Emma until she fired a single barrel from her shotgun. With a high-pitched “Yip!” the animal fell to the snow.
Instead of attacking, the other wolves turned tail and fled.
“They are gone!” Mary said happily.
“Thank God,” said Emma, breathing a deep sigh of relief.
Before Emma knew what Mary was doing, the child had pulled out a knife and approached the dead wolf. Squatting, Mary wobbled on the balls of her feet before kneeling in the snow to work.
Hurrying to Mary, Emma admired the girl’s calm deliberation as the child explained what needed to be done.
There wasn’t much to the wolf but skin and bone, but the little meat that was there, was slowly harvested by Emma. When Emma thought her work finally done, Mary pointed out the liver, heart, and eyes.
“We must eat those. Nothing must be wasted.”
Realizing Mary was right, Emma carved out the wolf’s internal organs.
While Emma cut the meat into thin strips, Mary located some tree branches that had broken off under the weight of too much snow. Pulling off twigs and debris, Mary stripped the boughs down to bare wood. After tucking her pistol into a fold of her blanket, Mary cut the belt around her waist into two lengths. Selecting four of the straightest branches, Mary bound them two by two with her belt, to form a pair of upside down V’s.
“I am not big enough,” said Mary, looking to Emma for help.
Going to Mary’s aid, Emma stood the two upside down V’s in the snow. Then Emma lifted an even longer branch over the two ends, to create a drying rack for the meat.
After placing their precious food on the rack, Emma built a small fire below the meat to hurry the drying process. Until everything was completely dry for storage, Emma and Mary needed to keep watch for hungry scavengers.
The very next day, Emma was awakened by the sound of crunching snow. Going for her shotgun, she crawled to the entrance, expecting to find some animal, attracted by the smell of the meat they had taken down for the night.
“Josiah!” Emma struggled through the doorway and into the mountain man’s weary arms.
“Easy does it, Emma,” Josiah tried to steady himself from being knocked over. “I ain’t too strong.”
Releasing the bearskin coat, Emma looked into the gaunt face of her husband. Josiah’s back hunched forward with weakness, and his broad shoulders sagged, as though it were a difficult thing to hold his rifle.
“When have you last eaten, Josiah?”
Excitedly, Mary came out to greet him.
Weakly rubbing his forehead, Josiah paused before answering. “I ain’t rightly knowing. I ate all the fringe off my buckskins, and was thinking long hard about starting in on my moccasins.”
Mouth wide open, Mary stared at Josiah in horror. Emma understood how the girl felt, for he looked terrible.
“I ate some roots a few days ago,” said Josiah. His knees started buckling, and Emma rushed to keep him upright.
“Mary, take his flintlock, and then put out the meat so it can continue drying. Can you keep watch without me?”
Ravenous with hunger, Josiah grasped at Emma’s words. “You have meat?”
“Mary and I shot a wolf, yesterday,” said Emma, as he leaned against her for support. “You need to lay down.”
“I need to eat,” said Josiah. When Mary appeared, he snatched a strip of meat from her small burden and began eating the morsel raw.
Kneeling, Emma hurried to untie Josiah’s snowshoes while he busily ate. Unwilling to part with food for even a moment, Josiah clamped the unfinished meat between his teeth so he could get down on his hands and knees to crawl into the lodge.
Dropping on the nearest buffalo robe, Josiah continued eating. Emma struggled to pull his arms through his heavy coat so he wouldn’t overheat in the warm shelter, but Josiah did little to help, for his attention was consumed with food.
Before Josiah had a chance to ask for more, Emma began cooking meat over the fire.
His first helping of meat safely in his belly, Josiah stared yearningly at the cooking food.
“Do you think you can wait?” asked Emma.
“I could, but I sure don’t want to,” said Josiah, wiping his mouth hungrily.
Reluctantly, Emma gave the partially cooked meat to Josiah. He eagerly gulped it down, wincing as the hot food burned his tongue.
By the time Josiah was nearing the end of his meal, he was falling asleep between mouthfuls. Emma made up his bed with blankets and buffalo robes, and the weary man tried to climb in before she was finished. As soon as Josiah’s head hit the robes, he fell asleep.
“Ma?” a small voice called Emma to the entrance. “Is Pa all right?”
Crawling to the entrance to speak in hushed whispers, Emma smiled consolingly to Mary. “He’s very hungry and weak, but I believe he’ll be fine.”
“Will he die, Ma?”
“No, Little One, he won’t die. He’s just very tired.”
“Could we pray he won’t die?” asked Mary.
Taking Mary’s small hand in hers, Emma bowed her head. Keeping her voice low so she wouldn’t disturb Josiah’s rest, Emma asked God to help Josiah regain his strength, and to cause Josiah to learn from his suffering.
Having given their concerns to God’s keeping, Mary smiled a little more bravely, and Emma felt a little more hopeful that something good might come from Josiah’s ordeal.
Before he opened his eyes, Josiah savored the warmth of the blankets and robes; after being cold for so long, it was a welcome sensation. He first opened one eye and then the other, listening for the sounds of Emma and Mary moving about the lodge. Hearing nothing but the crackle of the fire, Josiah sat up in bed, only to discover that is was nighttime, and Emma and Mary were asleep.
With all the stealth of a Blackfoot warrior, Josiah left his bed without making a sound. Sitting down beside Emma’s blankets, he lightly stroked her golden braids. He could barely feel the texture of her silken hair through his hardened callouses. Oh, how his soul longed for Emma!
As though sensing he was close by, Emma unexpectedly stirred. Before he could hide, two eyes were peering up at him.
“Is it morning, already?” asked Emma.
“No, it’s still dark out. Reckon I slept the day through.”
“There’s not much meat left after today, but Mary and I saved you enough for a good meal.”
Josiah was quiet. He thoughtfully caressed Emma’s cheek.
“Don’t fret yerself, Emma. I ain’t trying to get you to tussle with me.” With a weary sigh, Josiah withdrew his hand.
“Did you see any signs of game?” asked Emma.
Josiah laughed softly. “If they’re in the valley, God’s doing a good job of keeping me from them.” The firelight was playing with Emma’s features again, making it nearly impossible for him to remove his gaze from her face. “I sure missed you, Emma.”
Emma was cautiously silent. It was evident she didn’t want to encourage him to lay down with her.
“It ain’t what yer thinking,” Josiah said with a small grin. “Emma, I can read yer face– almost as easily as you can read that Bible of yers. I’m speaking of something else, altogether.”
Emma looked puzzled.
“You and me was getting to be good friends, and I kinda miss that.” Josiah studied her face with a wistful smile. “I surely do miss that.”
Resting her head against the buffalo robes, Emma didn’t say a word.
“Emma, when I was with that Shoshone woman, I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
“Why did you do it, Josiah?”
Josiah hesitated. “Not too long ago, it was just me and the other trappers. Then you come along, and suddenly I have thoughts about turning Christian. And, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it, a little girl and a baby don’t exactly make a man feel very free.”
“I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Emma.”
“Then will you promise to be faithful?”
“Why not? What’s stopping you?”
“I know what I am. Even if I promised to be true, I’d only go whoring after other women again; it ain’t no use pretending differently.” Josiah wanted to dry Emma’s tears, but was afraid of making them worse. “Can’t you accept it?”
Emma shook her head. “I refuse to be treated like one of your whores. I’m your wife, and I won’t share you with anyone else.”
Sniffing back another sob, Emma sat up to look him straight in the eye. Josiah felt his insides quiver as she raised her hand to touch his cheek. He wondered if he was blushing the way she sometimes did, when he caressed her.
“You belong to me, Josiah.”
He swallowed hard. “I reckon that’s true enough.”
“Then promise me.”
“I can’t, Emma.”
Her bottom lip trembled, and her hand slipped from his face. This time, Emma’s tears would not be stopped, and she fell back to the buffalo robes to drown her sorrow against the heavy fur.
Despair closed in around Josiah. He never felt more hopeless than he did at that very moment. In full retreat, he went to bed without eating any of the meat Mary and Emma had saved for him. Though his stomach hungered, there was a far greater hunger in his soul that no amount of meat could ever satisfy.
Josiah loathed himself. He couldn’t even promise his own dear wife that he would be faithful. His sins came up before him in a long, seemingly never-ending succession of past misdeeds.
Throwing back the blankets, Josiah grabbed his rifle and coat, and then hurried from the shelter. He had often joked with friends of how he was going to be in hell before the rest of them, for he was the biggest hell-raiser in all the Rocky Mountains. He could sweet-talk a woman into anything, and his laughing brag had always been that there was no greater scoundrel than Josiah Brown.
Feeling himself slipping into the gaping mouth of hell, Josiah was no longer laughing.
A silvery moon shone through the thick clouds, giving Josiah just enough light to find a nearby cleft of rocks. Knocking off the snow, he seated himself on a cold boulder.
The question proposed itself to Josiah’s mind: “Will you surrender?”
“No!” came his quick response. “Never!”
“You’ve never cared about me before, but I’ve a gripe with you, God. Look what You’ve done to Emma! You knew I’d break her heart, and yet You gave her to me– plopped her in my lap like a star falling from the heavens. Emma’s a good woman. She didn’t deserve me, and now she’s crying!” Josiah stared at the moon, waiting for a response. “Didn’t You hear me, God? Emma’s crying! Don’t You care?”
The only reply Josiah heard, was the whistle of the wind as it whipped past his hiding place in the rocks.
“Emma’s all wrong about You! You don’t care one whit about her, do You?”
Again, there was no reply. Josiah grinned bitterly. That’s what he thought.
Somewhere in the recesses of Josiah’s heart, he suddenly remembered, (of all things), a Bible verse Emma had once read out loud. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
There was a lump in Josiah’s throat. He didn’t dare say another word, for now he was certain he was in the presence of God. Did God really care about Emma? or even what happened to a lone mountain man with mixed blood? Josiah had heard about the cross where Jesus went to die for the sins of the world, and for the first time, it suddenly meant a lot to him. It meant God cared, and right there, beneath the large brilliant moon, Josiah knew God cared about Emma.
From what that verse had claimed, God also cared about Josiah Brown.
The revelation sank into Josiah’s soul, until he heard the faint words once more: “Will you surrender?”
“What would I have to surrender?” asked Josiah. Immediately, his conscience bare witness against him. He was a self-confessed scoundrel, who was at this very moment breaking his wife’s heart. “All right, God. I’ll give up whoring. I’m going to need a powerful lot of help from You, though, fer that sin runs mighty deep. What else?”
Again, Josiah didn’t have long to wait. Whether he had wanted to pay attention to those many times Emma read aloud from the Bible, or not, his memory was alive with God’s words. Would he repent of all his sins, and believe on the name of Jesus? He recalled once more, “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God was making the offer, but Josiah needed to accept it, if he were to have that everlasting life the Bible spoke of.
“It’s too late fer me, God. I reckon I’ve about broke every rule there is, and there ain’t no saving my soul.”
Whosever. That single word echoed in Josiah’s heart with startling clarity. Whosoever didn’t mean someone else– it meant HIM.
Wiping the wet collecting in his eyes, Josiah got down on his knees. “I surrender,” he said in a hushed voice, “I surrender.” In the clefts of the rocks, Josiah gave his heart to God.
Lifting his head from prayer, Josiah saw the clouds part even more to reveal an endless night sky. Treetops silhouetted against a large brilliant moon, while stars shimmered so brightly they stunned Josiah’s eyes. He felt as though the scales of his former life were falling away from his vision, and he were seeing everything for the first time. How had he not noticed this, before? The raw majesty of the Creator’s hand was plainly evident everywhere Josiah looked.
Overwhelmed with awe, Josiah sank back in the snow and wept.
It was some time later when Emma heard Josiah’s return. She wasn’t quite sure how long he had been gone, for she had cried herself to sleep, only to be roused by the sound of rustling cottonwood boughs as he crawled inside.
The musky scent of leather and dried sweat greeted Emma’s nose, and she could feel Josiah’s presence as he again sat beside her bed. Even though her eyes were tightly closed, Emma could feel his gaze as he examined her to see if she were awake.
Emma hoped Josiah would leave her alone. She was tired, and temptation was taking advantage of her weakened state.
“Emma?” Josiah’s hushed voice cut through the silence, and Emma could feel his breath on her face. “You awake, Emma?”
Emma lay completely still.
“I need to speak with you, Emma.”
Emma didn’t move.
“I know yer awake, Emma. You ain’t breathing like yer sleeping.”
A small groan escaped Emma’s lips and she reluctantly opened her eyes. Long locks of Josiah’s hair tickled her neck, and Emma pushed them back with a gulp in her throat. There was that eagle feather, taunting her with something she was beginning to think would never happen. Josiah would never be hers, and the thought forced another tear from Emma’s already low reservoir.
“You still crying?” he asked.
Emma dried her cheek. “Please, Josiah, leave me alone. I’m not coming to bed with you.”
“I ain’t expecting you to.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I hafta tell you something important.”
Waiting for Josiah to speak, Emma hoped she could keep silent. She didn’t want to give herself the chance to weaken.
Josiah straightened, and Emma heard him sigh. “Reckon I don’t blame you any for not wanting to listen– not after what I done. It was selfish of me to bed that woman without giving any thought to you or God, and I’m sorry, Emma. From now on, I’ll be faithful to you. I might have to lash myself to a tree to do it, but I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my promise.”
Stunned, Emma looked up at him in wonderment. She saw the tear stains on his cheeks, and realized he had been crying.
Emma sat up in bed to get a better look at her husband. “Are you sincere?”
“I was out there on the mountain, telling God I was a sinner and bawling like a baby. I reckon that’s about as sincere as I git.”
Emma’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Sinner?”
Josiah stared at the ground before raising his eyes to hers. “I told God I repented of what I done. That Bible of yers said to believe on the Son of God, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I ain’t thinking so big of myself to expect you to fergive me right now, but do you reckon God will? If He don’t fergive me, then does that mean I can’t have everlasting life?”
Emma pinched her arm. She was truly awake, and Josiah was waiting for an answer.
“If you’ve truly repented, and are believing on the name of Jesus, then God has forgiven you, Josiah.”
“How can you be so sure? Does it say so in that book?”
Under pressure, Emma suddenly couldn’t remember the verse she needed. Then it came to her: “If we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“Where does it say that?” asked Josiah.
“I think it’s in First John somewhere,” said Emma, feeling very much as though she had awakened into a dream.
“Can I see it?” he asked. “I ain’t trying to question yer book learning, but this is important.”
“Yes, of course,” nodded Emma. She pulled out the large Bible, opening it to First John.
“I want to see where it says those EXACT words,” said Josiah.
The trapper hovered over Emma’s shoulder so closely, she had trouble turning the pages without him getting in the way. When he didn’t move after a gentle hint, Emma finally offered him the Bible.
“Would you like to do this for yourself?”
Moving back a little, Josiah mumbled something Emma couldn’t understand.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” said Emma.
Josiah groaned. “I said, ‘I can’t read.‘ And don’t you go laughing at me, Emma.”
“I won’t laugh,” said Emma. She turned her attention back to the Bible, rather than embarrass Josiah any further.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go telling people.”
“It ain’t that. I mean about me bawling like a baby. My friends will never let me hear the end of it, if they find out.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” said Emma. She glanced up at Josiah and saw the look of vulnerability etched in his face.
“Just find the verse,” he sighed.
Emma located the verse in question, and read it word for word to Josiah. He touched the page, as though to confirm in his own mind that the promise was truly there, and then nodded in satisfaction.
“Reckon you can go back to sleep and git yer rest,” said Josiah, taking the Bible from Emma and then covering her with blankets. He put the Bible back where Emma kept it stored, and then turned to go.
He paused. “What?”
“I forgive you.”
Turning his back to Emma, Josiah nodded brusquely. Without a word, he went to his bed.
Emma wondered if she had said something to offend Josiah. He was careful to keep his back to her as he laid down on his side and covered himself, and when his shoulders began to heave, Emma understood why.
Josiah was crying.
It didn’t take long for Emma to make her decision. Crawling to the other side of the shelter, she climbed beneath Josiah’s covers; he didn’t seem to notice her until she lightly touched his shoulder to announce her presence.
Turning his head, Josiah looked at her with reddened eyes. Emma tried very hard not to stare at him.
“Are you moving back to my bed?” he asked, his voice breaking as he spoke.
“This is where I belong,” Emma said softly.
Turning over, Josiah slid down on the robes until his face buried in Emma’s bosom and his blankets and moccasins stuck out the lodge entrance. He wrapped his arms around Emma, clinging to her while his frame shook with grief.
Tenderly stroking Josiah’s head, Emma untangled his mass of shaggy curls until his sobs gradually quieted down. She listened to his stomach grumble with hunger, and felt the unnatural leanness of his body against hers. When he finally fell asleep, tears were still drying in his eyes.
Much went through Emma’s mind as she held Josiah. The fatigue of strong emotion and lack of sleep prevented her from thinking too clearly, but one thing resounded in her heart more loudly than all else: “Thank you, God!”
Dawn peeked through the cracks of the shelter as Emma went to sleep.
Daylight was something Josiah couldn’t easily ignore, especially when he knew he had two mouths to feed. Leaving Emma carefully tucked in bed, Josiah found Mary sitting by the fire. Picking up his flintlock, he sat down beside Mary to prepare for the day’s hunt.
Mary solemnly shook her head. “The last of the meat is for you.”
“Fer me? What about you?”
“Ma and I had ours, yesterday.”
“What about today?” asked Josiah, cleaning his flintlock while keeping an eye on Mary’s brave features. “What are you going to do fer food?”
Mary quietly stared at his rifle, as though he were holding the answer.
“I’ll be going hunting after I eat,” said Josiah. “I’d be willing to part with some of my breakfast, though. Reckon you’ll help me finish off that meat?”
Nodding eagerly, Mary’s face broke into a smile for the first time that morning.
After laying aside his flintlock to divide up the last of the food, Josiah watched Mary bow her head to pray.
“Would you do yer praying out loud?” he asked.
Without asking why, Mary did as requested. In simple, childlike words, Mary thanked God for their breakfast. She offered no railing accusations as to why there was no more food, but sincerely thanked God for the small bit of meat her pa had given her to eat.
After hearing Mary’s prayer, Josiah bit into his breakfast. Chuckling, he shook his head. “I was just recollecting what I said about God or me being the first to bring back meat. Reckon He put me in my place.”
The shadow of a certain Blackfoot woman was visible in Mary’s smile, and Josiah felt resentment welling inside his heart. Cruelty had come too easily in the past, and it frightened Josiah how strongly it tempted him even now.
“Did you…” Josiah hesitated. “Did you hear any of what yer ma and I said last night?”
Mary shook her head, “no.”
“I apologized to yer ma fer being unfaithful.”
“Is that why she slept in your bed, and not mine?”
Josiah nodded. “It is. I also did some repenting before God, and now I reckon I need to make things right with you.”
Mary listened intently. It was clear she understood something big was happening.
“It ain’t been easy fer me to take a strong liking to you. Yer the spiting image of yer ma– the one that borned you– and I don’t have a lot of fond memories of her. Truth is, I look back at what I done with her, and I… I don’t like myself.” Josiah hesitated, wondering how much he should tell Mary. Would Emma be angry with him for using words like “seduced” and “adultery” to a five-year old?
It only took Mary a moment’s thought before nodding, “yes.”
“I’m obliged to you.”
Grinning, Mary resumed her meal.
After breakfast, Josiah cleaned and loaded Mary’s pistol. Emma was still asleep, so Josiah was careful to keep quiet as he got out his snowshoes and a buffalo robe to leave.
“When will you be back?” asked Mary, following Josiah outside on hands and knees.
“That depends. You reckon God will help me?”
Mary’s head bobbed up and down in an emphatic, “yes.”
“You seem mighty confident. You reckon God answers prayer?”
Mary again nodded. “You are now a Christian, ain’t you?”
Josiah chuckled. “Look after yer ma, and let her sleep as long as she wants. There ain’t nothing to eat, anyway, so she might as well save her strength. Keep to the lodge, and I’ll try to be back afore sundown.” Closing his heavy coat, Josiah put on his fox skin cap and headed off toward the open valley.
Strong winds and a hidden sun kept Josiah cold well into the afternoon. He had hoped after all his repenting and trying to make things right, that food would suddenly appear in front of his gun sight. Wasn’t God pleased with him? Josiah wasn’t sure. How could he know if God wasn’t still waiting for him to do more?
The center of the day came and went, and Josiah’s empty stomach weakened his legs, dulled his judgment, and made his spirits even lower than before. It was difficult to believe God had forgiven him when starvation was staring his family in the face.
With staggering steps, Josiah talked into the air as though God were walking right beside him.
“I’ve surrendered my soul to You, so the only thing left to give is my life. If Yer needing it, then take it. I give it gladly. Only, save Emma and Mary. They ain’t deserving to be left out here with no one to take care of them.”
Josiah’s breath labored, and his legs felt like dead weights. He didn’t know how much further he could press forward without collapsing. He had come close to death before, but he never had so much to lose. The thought of Emma slowly wasting away from hunger kept prodding him to go on. When cold threatened to rob him of his consciousness, Josiah pictured Mary, pining for something to eat.
Sinking to his knees, Josiah stared up at the snowing heavens. “God, I reckon I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve bin all over this valley, and there ain’t hide nor hair of any game. I could go farther, but I ain’t got the strength. I don’t mind dying so much, if it weren’t fer Emma and Mary.”
“Do with me what You want, God. I’m willing.”
Exhaustion pulled at Josiah’s eyelids, and he fought to keep them open. It would be easy to fall asleep in the cold, never to awaken. But until God told him to lay down and die, Josiah was going to continue fighting for life. He had no choice. God hadn’t taken his life yet, so there was only one thing left to do: carry on.
Getting up, Josiah willed himself forward.
“I’m needing yer help, God. I can’t do this without You.”
A gust of wind knocked Josiah off his weakened feet, and he sprawled on the snow. So this was it. After all he had been through, he was going to die. Josiah closed his eyes, surrendering his fate to the hands of God.
Just then, Josiah heard a faint noise above the howling wind. He weakly lifted his head. There, in an open stand of trees, was a large mule deer. Busily eating twigs, the buck seemed unaware of Josiah’s presence, for the wind had pushed Josiah to the ground just in time to conceal his presence from the animal. Josiah grinned. He would never speak of “mere luck” again. Mouthing a silent thanks to Heaven, Josiah slowly raised his rifle and then squeezed the trigger.
It didn’t take long for Josiah to have the deer skinned and ready. He left nothing inedible. Eyes, heart, tongue, liver, kidneys– anything and everything that had nutrition, he took. Bundling his harvest into the wet deerskin, Josiah hoisted the heavy load over his shoulder. Its weight caused him to sink in the snow, and Josiah had to put the burden down to eat. He had no strength to return on an empty stomach, and was too hungry to bother lighting a fire to cook food. As did many Indians, Josiah ate the meat raw. It was fresh kill, and he was famished.
Finishing just enough food to recover some strength, Josiah headed for his lodge by the foothills.
Waking from her slumber, Emma smiled when she saw Mary sitting by the entrance with her pistol.
“See any wolves?” she asked the child.
“No,” came the glum response.
Crawling to the fire, Emma heard her stomach rumble with hunger. She had known hunger before, but now that she was with child, strength was harder to find. Fighting back panic, Emma prayed for food.
“Pa talked to me,” said Mary, crawling into the entrance to sit beside Emma.
“He did? What about?”
“He said he was sorry.”
Taking a deep breath, Emma nodded in affirmation. So it hadn’t been a dream, after all. Her life truly had changed, for Josiah had changed.
“I am hungry, Ma.”
“I know. So am I.”
Light was growing dim in the early evening sky when Emma heard the familiar crunch of Josiah’s snowshoes. She and Mary scrambled out of the lodge, only to find Josiah loaded down with a buckskin full of food.
“Lookit what God provided!” Josiah laughed heartily. “I nearly missed this here buck, if God hadn’t knocked me to the ground first!”
It felt strange to Emma’s ears to hear Josiah speak of God without derision or anger in his voice. Once again, she thanked God for this remarkable change in Josiah.
“Git out yer kettle, Emma, and start boiling up some stew!”
“Meat! Meat!” Mary said happily.
The girls went inside to ready the kettle for supper, and Josiah shoved his bundle in after them.
Settling on the floor, he took off his coat to begin stripping branches for an indoor meat rack. Josiah tied the branches together and then placed his rack by the fire where meat could dry from the heat. The rack took up some room, leaving only the two beds and a place to sit while cooking.
His work finished, Josiah sat cross-legged on his buffalo robes, waiting for supper. He quietly studied the falling snow outside their entrance, the weave of cottonwood boughs lining the floor, the brightly colored pattern on Mary’s Christmas doll’s dress– but not once did he look in Emma’s direction.
“I was afraid you might have to camp outside, tonight,” said Emma, trying to see if he would look at her.
Josiah harrumphed. He rubbed his arm, and then reclined on the bed with a tired sigh.
“Supper is almost ready,” said Emma. “Shall we say grace before we eat?”
Sitting up, Josiah folded his hands in his lap, closed his eyes, and waited for Emma to pray. Following Josiah’s example, Mary did likewise.
“Heavenly Father, thank you for sending us this food. Thank you for Your blessings, and thank you for not giving up on us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“Amen,” said Josiah. Still, he didn’t meet Emma’s gaze.
The smell of savory stew filled the lodge as Emma dipped their tin cup into the kettle. Mary was the first to eat, and she hungrily gulped down chunks of meat and broth like someone who hadn’t seen food in days, and not just since breakfast.
Filling the cup again, Emma handed it to Josiah. Josiah, however, refused to go before her.
“You eat next, Emma.”
Doing as she was told, Emma ate from the cup and then filled it for Josiah. The process was repeated until everyone had full bellies and broad, satisfied smiles.
Emma saw Josiah’s eyes close. At first, she thought he had fallen asleep, but when a tear slid down Josiah’s cheek, she knew he was listening to Mary’s hymn.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.”
Josiah brushed something wet from his face as Mary finished her soft lullaby. Kissing her doll, Mary gently tucked it in bed and wished it goodnight.
“It’s time you got in bed, yourself,” Emma told Mary.
“But, I am not sleepy.”
Leaning toward Mary, Emma whispered, “Your pa and I need some time to ourselves. I’ll let you stay up late, tomorrow.”
Disappointed, Mary bowed her head. “I sleep by myself?”
“Are you trying to make me feel guilty?” Emma chucked a finger under Mary’s chin, and the girl smiled. “You’ll have your doll to keep you company. Come, let me hear you say your bedtime prayer.”
In her usual custom, Mary listed off her prayer requests. This time, instead of asking God to “save Pa’s soul,” Mary changed it to “thank you for making Ma smile again.”
The prayer over, Emma kissed Mary’s cheek. “Goodnight, Little One.”
After stoking the fire so it would last the night, Emma crawled to Josiah’s bed. He sat quietly staring into the flames, his face deep in thought.
“Would you move over to make room for me?” asked Emma, for he was in the middle of the bed.
Grunting, Josiah scooted against the wall of the lodge, giving Emma the warmer side next to the cozy fire. He didn’t move as Emma climbed beneath the covers and made herself comfortable.
“Aren’t you tired?” asked Emma.
“Are you coming to bed?”
He looked at Emma’s yellow braids as she took out her hairpins for the night. Avoiding Emma’s eyes, he turned back to the fire.
“Josiah, are you all right?”
“I was hoping we could talk,” said Emma.
“Ain’t we doing that, already?”
“I meant…” Emma checked the small girl who was staring at them, “out of earshot of you-know-who.”
After managing to get under the blankets he was sitting on, Josiah lay down with a yawn. Because there was no room for him to stretch his legs, he had to remain on his side. Emma, on the other hand, could fit just right, and had enough room to lay on her back without her feet poking through the lodge’s entrance.
Even though facing Emma, Josiah didn’t look directly at her, but promptly shut his eyes.
Emma was disappointed. “You aren’t going to sleep, are you?”
“I’m awake, Emma. Go ahead and speak yer mind. I’ll listen.”
Lowering her voice, Emma hoped Mary couldn’t overhear. “Are you doing all right? You’ve been quiet all evening.”
Josiah didn’t respond.
“Please, look at me, Josiah.”
Two dark eyes trained on her face, and a faint smile tugged at the corners of Josiah’s mouth. “Are you sure you don’t want to sleep with Mary? I can wait until yer ready fer me, Emma.”
“What are you talking about?”
Josiah sighed heavily. “I bruised yer trust something terrible. I got no right thinking you’ll nestle with me like before.”
“You made peace with God, Josiah. If He can forgive you, then so can I.”
Propping himself up on an elbow, Josiah looked at Emma in earnest. “You don’t want time to think it over?”
“I already have.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“What if it ain’t safe fer you to trust me? I don’t know, Emma. I ain’t so sure. I aim to keep my promise to you, but until I have a chance to prove myself, maybe you should keep to Mary’s side of the lodge.”
Emma was dumbfounded. “This doesn’t sound like the Josiah I know. Why, in the past, he coaxed and cajoled until he got his way.”
“I’m knowing that, but a man can change.”
Josiah grinned. “Even me.”
“How long do we have to wait, before you’ve been properly tested?”
“I’m serious, Emma.”
“So am I. There aren’t a lot of women around, Josiah.”
“I know.” With a groan, Josiah shook his head. “I still don’t think it’s right, me going back to the way things were as though nothing happened.”
Noticing the ragged edge of his hunting shirt, Emma tried to straighten the few stray tassels of fringe still remaining. “I won’t pretend things are the same, because they aren’t. Every time you’re around another woman, my trust will be tested.”
“What should I do?” asked Josiah. The hint of desperation in his voice told Emma he was sincere.
“Choose me, Josiah. When temptation is strongest, actively choose me over anyone else. Do that, and I’ll know you’re staying faithful.”
Caressing Emma’s cheek with his finger, Josiah grinned as her skin blushed at his touch. “I knew it when you gave me that there eagle feather; you was claiming all of me fer yerself.”
“Please, Josiah, choose me.”
Drawing Emma’s mouth to his, Josiah kissed her lips until Emma felt his passion weaken and he finally had to stop.
Wearily, Josiah dropped back on his side. “I’m dog-tired, Emma.”
“Then we should stop talking, so you can sleep.” Emma pulled the covers up under her chin. “Goodnight, Josiah.”
“Ain’t you going to kiss me goodnight?”
“What do you think we just did?”
“That weren’t a goodnight kiss. It was more ‘hello,’ than ‘see you later.'”
Laughing softly, Emma planted a kiss on Josiah’s cheek. Then she prepared to go to sleep.
“I ain’t too tired to nestle.”
Beneath the warm blankets, Emma moved onto her side and then nestled her back against Josiah’s chest. Pulling her even closer, Josiah hugged her tightly with a strong arm. A moan of contentment escaped his lips as his tired body slowly relaxed into deep rest.
Dreamily watching the soft firelight as it danced along the walls of the lodge, Emma felt her eyelids grow heavy. She hugged the muscular arm about her shoulders. Josiah had chosen her, and Emma’s happiness filled the entire lodge until even little Mary was smiling in her sleep.