Don’t forgot to read – Valley of Decision – Chapter 10


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When Emma awoke, everyone else still slept. Josiah’s arm remained clamped about her shoulders, and Emma longed to stay for a little longer. However, she needed a trip outside, and with a twinge of regret, she loosened his hold.

Josiah gave a low unwilling moan as his arm moved from her shoulders. Thankful when he didn’t wake up, she crawled from the bed to go find her shotgun.

Weapon in hand, Emma stole to the entrance of the lodge. Outside, an overcast sky blackened the night stars. She didn’t know how soon morning would come, but Emma already knew she would be unable to lay down and get more sleep. Her mind was too awake.

After having relieved herself by the protection of some nearby trees, Emma made her way back to the lodge. Before she could get down on her hands and knees to crawl inside, a small face greeted her at the doorway.

“Ma, I need to go.”

Emma smiled at the irony. “Come with me, then.”

Looking a little frightened, Mary cast her eyes about the wild terrain before crawling outside.

“How long have you been afraid of the dark?” asked Emma, for this hadn’t been the first time Emma had noticed.

Mary gave a slight shrug.

Taking Mary’s small hand in hers, Emma led her to some trees. “Have you always been like this? You can tell me, Mary.”

Emma heard a small sigh.

“Yes,” the little voice admitted. “Naahks said I am a small mouse, afraid of the hunting owl. I do not like being the mouse, though.”

For a moment, Emma remained puzzled, until she remembered naahks was the Blackfoot word for “grandmother.”

“Perhaps it’s time you became the owl.”

Mary looked puzzled. “What do you mean, Ma?”

“I mean,” said Emma, helping Mary smooth down her deerskin dress after the child had finished, “when you’re busy trusting in God’s protection, there’s much less time for fear.”

A small row of white teeth glittered in the semidarkness as Mary grinned broadly. “I know! You must have a promise! Tell me, Ma!” Mary’s cold hand took Emma’s, as they slowly made their way back to the lodge.

“What makes you think I have a promise?” asked Emma. She could almost hear Mary roll her eyes as the child let out an exasperated,

“Maaaa!”

Laughing, Emma remarked to herself that even though Mary had grown up amongst Indians, some things were the same no matter where you went.

“Very well,” Emma smiled, “I find my courage in Psalms: ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.’ Whenever I remember those words, I cannot help but find more courage.”

Mary didn’t look a bit surprised. “I will try to remember that, too.”

The stout look on Mary’s face made Emma smile. “For someone already so brave, I predict conquering the dark will be easier than you think.”

Hearing this, Mary shook her head. “You are much braver than me; I did not shoot the wolf.”

“No, but you were the one who told me how to skin it,” said Emma, as Mary stooped to enter the lodge.

Yawning, Mary crawled into bed. She smiled at Emma, shut her eyes, and before long, fell back to sleep.

Not feeling the least bit sleepy, Emma sat beside the fire with a warm blanket about her body. When her finger felt a small rip in the heavy cloth, she held the blanket up before the light for a closer inspection. If she had a needle and thread, she could easily mend this. Emma sighed. She missed the cabin, and her sewing box, and the security of having four solid walls about her. This lodge of branches and buffalo hides created a warm enough shelter, but Emma missed the cabin.

Something stirred on the other side of the tiny dwelling, and Emma discovered Josiah staring at her.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” said Emma.

“I awoke, when you left me.”

Emma raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You did?”

Josiah grinned. “I heard what you was telling Mary.”

“Oh?”

Josiah’s grin broadened. “You shot a wolf, huh?” He had been so famished and weak, he evidently hadn’t noticed what he ate.

“Yes, but Mary helped.”

“You’re quite a woman, Emma.”

“I told you, Mary helped.”

“I heard you.” His grin remaining, Josiah cast a curious glance to the small bed where Mary lay. “You awake?”

“I’m certainly not asleep,” said Emma.

Josiah scowled. “I weren’t talking to you.” He inspected the sleeping child a moment longer before pulling off his hunting shirt. “Want to tussle, Emma? Mary’s sleeping.”

“Must you put it that way, Josiah?”

Unfazed, Josiah opened the blankets and patted the buffalo robes beside him.

Emma smiled and crawled into bed. She wanted to show Josiah how much she forgave him, but even so, his touch felt different. She struggled to reign in the painful thoughts that accosted her. Not long ago, another woman had filled these strong arms and drank from the same mouth that now smothered hers.

A large hand slipped behind Emma, coming to rest at the small of her back. Emma felt sick. Her stomach turned, and she scrambled from the robes.

Ignoring Josiah’s concern, Emma crawled outside to lose her supper. By the time she finished, she looked up to find him nearby with his rifle.

“I’m all right,” she said, returning to the warmth of the lodge before he could speak.

Josiah followed her inside, his bare chest flaked with freshly fallen snow. He shuddered from the sharp chill, and Emma wrapped him in a thick blanket.

“You feeling better?” he asked, his eyes large with concern.

“I suppose.” Emma tried to shake off the question as though it didn’t matter.

“Reckon it’s the baby?”

“Perhaps.”

Her one word answer seemed to preoccupy Josiah as he sat down on the bed with his blanket. Emma remained by the fire, still trying to rid herself of what she had felt while in his arms.

“Yer fixing to ask me something,” said Josiah. “I can tell by that small crease on yer brow. When yer mind is busy working, I usually see that crease.”

“I don’t want to make you angry,” said Emma.

The mountain man sat up straight on the buffalo robes. His chest stiffened, as though waiting for an expected blow. “I reckon you’ve a right to ask me anything you want.” His words came out slow and full of caution, and Emma took a deep breath.

“Did you… did you hold that Shoshone woman the same way you hold me, when we tussle?”

The long quiet pause before Josiah’s response felt like an eternity to Emma.

“I reckon I did,” he said finally.

“Did you place your hand on the small of her back?” Emma knew it would be less painful if she didn’t know, but she had to ask. She had always treated that one special touch as a sign of Josiah’s affection.

“I can’t be certain,” Josiah said with obvious reluctance, “but I probably did.”

Biting her lip, Emma came back to bed.

Josiah moved over so she could climb beneath the covers, though he made no attempts to resume where they had left off.

Emma felt the hot sting of tears, and she swiped them away before Josiah could notice. “Thank you for answering truthfully,” she said in a choked voice. Rolling onto her side, Emma shut her eyes. She heard Josiah open his mouth to say something, but only silence followed.

The next morning, Josiah pulled some deer meat from the rack by the fire and then located his flintlock. Emma must’ve have drifted off sometime during the early morning hours, for her soft breathing told him she slept soundly.

Tearing off a bite of jerky, Josiah set aside the remainder of dried meat to tend to his rifle. His soul felt heavy, and it grieved him to know Emma had been crying.

Muttering beneath his breath, Josiah caught himself before he began to swear. He hadn’t needed anyone to quote chapter and verse from the Bible to know he shouldn’t say such things. His mother had always scolded him for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but until now, he had never made the effort to mend his ways.

It wasn’t easy to change.

Biting his tongue, Josiah asked God for patience. He would need a whole lot more than he had right now, if he weren’t going to terribly disappoint God and Emma.

As he thought this over, Emma pushed back her covers and sat up in bed.

“Morning, Em.”

Emma gave him a smile that made his insides feel warm.

He knew he probably grinned like a boy who had seen his first girl, but Josiah didn’t care. He turned the rifle in his hands, as though it required his complete attention. “Reckon I’ll be headed out to see if I can’t find another deer. I’m sure hoping God will put one in my way, for that there buck I got yesterday, won’t last us all winter.”

“God won’t forsake us,” Emma said confidently.

“I’m admiring yer faith.” Josiah looked up from his weapon. “I keep thinking I’ll go out there, and won’t find any game. I don’t know,” Josiah resumed his inspection, “maybe my spirits are low. I didn’t sleep too good.” He quickly looked back at Emma. “I ain’t blaming you fer anything. I just had a bad sleep, that’s all.”

Getting on hands and knees, Emma came to his side. His heart skipped a beat as she rested her pretty head against his shoulder.

“I love you, Josiah.”

Josiah’s work came to a complete stop, and he looked down at his wife. “Yer just saying that to make me happy.”

Emma peered up at him. “Is it working?”

Shaking his head with a harrumph, Josiah couldn’t help but shower Emma with a grin. “I reckon it is.”

Emma smiled, and a contented sigh filled Josiah’s lungs. He soaked in the comfort of her tenderness, and suddenly, his spirits were no longer gloomy. He felt as though he could stalk the most elusive deer, and return to Emma successful. “If yer smiling, then God must be smiling, too,” he said with a surge of hopefulness.

“That’s hardly a good barometer,” said Emma. “Live before God with a clean conscience and obey His words, and you can be sure God will be smiling.”

“But it don’t hurt none, if yer smiling, too.”

Emma hugged his arm.

Nuzzling his face against the top of Emma’s blonde head, Josiah inhaled her natural fragrance and closed his eyes. “Wish I didn’t have to go out today. I surely do like it when yer with me, Emma.”

The hold on his arm grew snugger, and Josiah fought to control himself from coaxing Emma into anything more. Then another thought, completely unrelated, occurred to him.

“Em? I’m wondering– what’s a barometer?”

The snow fell heavily as Josiah picked his way through the blanketed treetops and boulders. Having left Emma behind in the shelter, he struggled to keep his hopes high. There were no signs of game, and he felt as though they were purposefully hidden away from him.

Josiah looked up at the clouded heavens. “Help me have stronger faith, God. I sure am struggling right now.” Rubbing the back of his neck, Josiah tried to remember the promise Emma had read to him from the Bible that morning. “I can’t remember it all, God, but Emma said you was promising to help us. I’m just mentioning it, so no one here fergets anything important.” Hoping God didn’t take offense at this small reminder of His own promise, Josiah continued on his way.

At about the center of the day, Emma heard footsteps outside the lodge. She hadn’t expected Josiah to return so soon, even though her faith had been constantly reminding God of his Word all morning long.

Mary quickly crawled to the entrance to peek outside. “It is Pa!”

Surprised, Emma followed Mary out the small doorway. Before them stood Josiah, a wet hide slung over his back.

“This here elk should make good eating,” grinned Josiah, as he heaved his heavy burden onto the snow. “I reckon there ain’t but a handful of mule deer and elk in these parts, but God’s giving us enough food to get by. I can’t ask fer much more than that.” He surveyed the ground beside their lodge. “I’m thinking of building a second shelter for us to dry meat. Mary, go fetch my axe.”

Shading her eyes from the harsh glare of the snow, Emma felt encouraged to hear Josiah’s confidence in God.

Nodding as though he could guess her thoughts, Josiah grinned. “God is good, Emma. He’s proving it to me, one day at a time.”

The two girls helped gather the wood and branches Josiah chopped, and created a pile from which he could construct a second structure. When the cone-shaped shelter came near to completion, Josiah removed one of their buffalo robes from the main lodge. Cloaking the new lodge with the robe, Josiah made certain the smoke hole in the center remained open. After starting a good-sized fire inside, Josiah fashioned more meat racks.

His preparations complete, Josiah began cutting the meat into thin strips. The thinner he could cut, the quicker the meat would dry. This took much of the day, as it was a very large elk.

Supper time came, and Josiah swallowed his meal before plopping down on the buffalo robes to sleep. Emma could only crawl into bed beside him and make sure he kept warm.

When Emma awoke in the morning, she found Josiah sitting by the fire, eating breakfast.

“I ain’t going hunting this morning, so I’ll be here to keep watch over the campsite. You can go back to sleep, Emma.”

“But, don’t we need more food?”

“The snow’s coming down too hard to do much tracking, but I ain’t overly concerned. We’ve already got enough meat to last us a little while.”

“How long is a ‘little while’?” asked Emma.

“It’s as long as it takes until we run out,” Josiah said with a chuckle. “It won’t last nearly as long as we’ll want it to, but I reckon God knows best. When He wants us to have more, He’ll send it.”

“That sounds like faith speaking,” Emma smiled.

Josiah shrugged. “Reckon I’m learning.”

After getting a little more rest, Emma and Mary gathered wood for the two fires that had to be kept burning, night and day. The fire in the main lodge not only dried meat, but also kept them from freezing to death, so the girls were kept busy stoking the flames.

Outside, the snows were getting heavier, and though the cold grew worse, they remained relatively cozy in their snug little shelter. Throughout the day, Josiah cleaned weapons and molded bullets, while keeping a close eye on the skies for any signs of the storm letting up.

That night, Emma fell asleep as she waited for Josiah to come to bed. Before her eyes closed, she saw him sitting by the entrance, whittling away at some poor stick until nothing remained but splinters.

When morning came, Emma discovered Josiah slumped by the entrance, his knife sheathed at his belt. She moved ever so slightly, and the cottonwood boughs beneath her creaked.

Josiah’s eyes opened. “Anything wrong?”

Emma shook her head “no.”

Rubbing the sleep from his face, Josiah leaned through the entrance. “It’s still snowing, though I’m thinking it ain’t coming down so heavy now.” He looked back at Emma and grinned. “Today, we make pemmican out of our jerky.”

Pulling out their kettle, Josiah went outside to locate some flat stones. When he returned, he collected the deer meat and then instructed Emma to roast it until completely dry. While Emma roasted venison, Josiah and Mary pounded the deer’s bones, until the morrow lay exposed. Tossing the shattered bones into a boiling kettle of water, Josiah started work pounding Emma’s dried deer meat.

Soon, a layer of fat formed on the surface of the water, and after it had sufficiently cooled for handling, Josiah took the fat from the kettle.

“Wish I had me some chokeberries or even honey to make this pemmican sweet,” Josiah said reluctantly, “but I reckon this will do.”

After mixing bits of pounded meat with the fat, Josiah placed his concoction in a bladder of animal skins to let it turn solid.

The next day, they repeated the same process with the elk meat, until they had three bladders of aging pemmican. By the night of the second day of meat preparations, everyone went to sleep almost as soon as they climbed into their beds.

During her sleep that night, Emma had the vague feeling of being watched from a distance. Something tickled her face, and when she reached up to brush it way, the feel of someone’s warm breath caressed her fingers.

With a startled gasp, Emma awoke in a confused daze. Had she been dreaming? She looked at Josiah, and found him sleeping beside her as usual.

Emma silently scolded herself. She had imagined the whole thing.

Rolling onto her side, away from Josiah, Emma had no trouble falling back to sleep. The rest of the night passed uneventfully, and the feeling of being watched withdrew from her dreams.

Morning came, and Emma didn’t want to stir from bed. She felt warm, and for a moment, she couldn’t think of any sensible reason to get up. Then the hushed sounds of people munching food greeted her ears, and Emma quickly found her reason: her empty stomach.

Pushing back the blankets, Emma stretched out. Her sore back protested against being straightened, and a small whimper tumbled from her lips.

A large bulking shadow came between her and the fire, and Emma looked up to see Josiah on his knees beside the bed.

“Is yer back hurting?” Remnants of breakfast stuck to his teeth, while his tongue worked pemmican from his gums. Josiah wiped a pair of greasy palms against his buckskins, as though preparing to do something requiring clean hands. “Roll onto yer stomach, Emma, and I’ll rub yer back.”

The gentle tone of Josiah’s voice made Emma curious if he were trying to sweet-talk her into something more than just a back rub. It would be so like him, and Emma waited to see what would happen. To her surprise, his hands never strayed as he worked the tight muscles in her back.

Emma felt so relaxed, the world slowly grew dim and she fell asleep.

The second time Emma awoke, hunger demanded she eat. While Emma listened to the sounds of Josiah moving about outside, Mary handed her some pemmican. From the sober look on Mary’s face, Emma realized the girl must’ve thought she were ill.

“Do you think I’m not feeling well?” Emma asked Mary, as the child settled beside her on the bed. Emma took a small bite of pemmican, and waited for Mary’s answer.

“You look weak,” the girl said in a soft, understanding voice. “Pa said we have been working you too hard.”

“Nonsense!” Emma shook her head adamantly. “I just needed a little rest, that’s all.”

The sound of crunching snow stopping outside their lodge caused Emma to cease any further protestations about her health. A mass of hair and fox fur squeezed through the entrance, until the rest of Josiah came into view.

“I heard what you was saying,” said Josiah, locating a vacant spot by the fire. Sitting cross-legged, he warmed his reddened hands before leveling two dark eyes at Emma. “Yer to take things easy. With all the work we’ve been doing to make pemmican, I reckon I didn’t make allowances fer yer condition.”

Emma harrumphed, and the tiniest of smiles tugged at the corners of Josiah’s mouth. “My condition is just fine, thank you. All I needed was some rest and a little food, and now I’ll be back to normal.”

An odd sort of scowl crossed Josiah’s face. “You’ll do as I say, Emma. I want you to take things easy, until I tell you different.”

“I think I’m the best judge of how I’m feeling,” said Emma, “and I need to work. Mary and I must gather firewood, and then I must finish the deer hide–“

“Emma.” Josiah’s voice commanded her full attention. “My word is final.”

Emma felt her chin jut out in defiance, but she remained silent. Finishing the last of her breakfast, she crawled beneath the blankets and stared at the lodge wall. Her back to the rest of the room, Emma overheard Josiah tell Mary to play with her doll until he could take her outside to do their chores. Then the rustle of cottonwood boughs announced Josiah’s approach, and the buffalo robes tugged beneath her as he settled onto the bed.

“Emma.” His voice gentle once more, he touched her shoulder with a large, rough hand. “You ain’t crying, are you?”

“I’m not so helpless I can’t work while I’m with child,” said Emma, trying to shrug off his hand.

“You’ve been sleeping every chance you get, Emma. You can’t see fer yerself, but Mary and I can, and you need rest.”

“I do not!”

The hand withdrew, and for a moment, Emma thought she had won. She heard the sounds of someone rummaging around, and then a small shiny object passed over her arm and into her hands. It was a mirror.

“Take a look fer yerself, Emma.”

Emma obeyed. The reflection staring back at her appeared to be a woman, but Emma thought surely that woman couldn’t be her. The woman’s face appeared weathered and dirty, with soot smudges smearing her cheeks; two soft brown eyes looked back, but they were as weary and tired as an old woman’s; the blonde hair Emma kept arranging so carefully in pinned up braids, were in fact, untidy lengths of yellow rope with stray hair poking out this way and that.

Collapsing in one great sob, Emma buried her head against the robes. She couldn’t look at her own reflection any longer.

“What’s wrong, Emma? Is it yer back again?”

Emma couldn’t speak.

“What’s wrong with Ma?”

“I ain’t knowing, Mary, but you best go back to yer doll and let me take care of her.”

“Is she dying?”

“No, she ain’t dying. Go back to yer doll.”

Two hands squeezed Emma as Josiah rolled her onto her back. She gasped in dismay when his troubled face came into view.

“Oh, please, don’t look at me, Josiah!”

“Why not? Emma, yer not making any sense.”

“It’s so awful! How can you stand to look at me?”

“What are you talking about? You look fine.”

No, I don’t!” Emma turned her face away from his. Grabbing a blanket, she pulled the cover over her head.

“Emma, yer not making any sense.” Josiah tried to pull the blanket down, but Emma held it firmly in place.

“Please, leave me alone, Josiah!”

“No, I won’t– not until you tell me what’s got you crying.”

“I look h-horrible! I’m s-so changed, I didn’t even recognize myself!”

“You ain’t changed, Emma. Why, except fer being so tired, this is always the way you’ve looked.”

Emma renewed her sobs with more energy than before.

“Are you sure she ain’t dying, Pa?”

“Mary, I told you to go back to yer doll!” Then Emma heard Josiah groan patiently. “No, Mary, she ain’t dying.”

Emma fully expected Josiah to yank the blanket off her head, but instead, she felt Josiah lay down beside her and then gather her into his arms. Through the heavy material, she heard Josiah’s breathing.

“Emma, you ain’t horrible looking.” He caressed her, and pressed her close to his body. “There, there, Emma, please stop crying.”

“It was so ugly, Josiah!”

“Stop saying that, Em. Yer purty, and I won’t listen to you speaking against yerself. Mary, go back to yer doll.”

“Am I frightening Mary?”

“Yer frightening both of us, Emma. Come now, and dry yer tears. Nothing’s happened that’s worth crying over.”

Her well of tears near exhaustion, Emma dried her face with the blanket. After freeing herself from Josiah’s arms, she pulled the cover from off her head. She hoped no one would laugh at her silliness.

“See, Mary, she ain’t dying– although I’ll grant she sure sounded like it fer awhile.”

Emma’s bottom lip trembled, and Josiah pulled her back into his embrace. “Emma, you’ve got to calm down. Look at Mary. You’ve got her crying, too.”

Brushing back fresh tears, Emma saw Mary sitting on her bed, hugging her doll while she softly cried. Emma opened her arms, and the child hurried to fill them.

“I’m all right, Mary,” Emma sighed with regret. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

“Are you sure you ain’t hurt?” asked Mary, wetting Emma’s dress with her own frightened tears.

“No, I’m not hurt.” Emma smoothed Mary’s braids, and then kissed the top of her small head. “I just had a fright, that’s all.”

Josiah patted Emma’s head, his face much calmer than before. “It was because of the mirror, wasn’t it? I never gave any thought to letting you see yer own reflection; most women like admiring themselves in those small trinkets, but none of them ever bawled over what they saw.”

“Please, Josiah, don’t tease me.”

“I ain’t, Emma. I’m just observing.”

By now, Mary had stopped crying, though she didn’t seem eager to leave Emma’s comforting hug. Instead, the girl remained on Emma’s lap, attentively listening to the adults as they talked.

“Now maybe you’ll believe me, when I say yer needing more rest. If you hadn’t been so overworked, this never would’ve happened.”

“I’m strong enough to work, Josiah.”

“No, you ain’t, Emma.”

Emma saw his jaw muscles working.

“Yer mine to do with as I want, and you’ll rest when I tell you.”

“Won’t you even listen to reason, Josiah?”

Josiah harrumphed. “Yer a fine one to talk about reason, after what I just saw. This argument is over. The rest of today is a holiday, and if I’ve a mind to, I just might make tomorrow a holiday, as well.”

Mary’s face brightened. “A holiday?”

“Sure, why not?” asked Josiah.

“Because, we have too much work to do,” said Emma.

“I’ll be the one to decide that,” said Josiah. He moved to the other side of the lodge, and then picked up his rifle. “Mary, look after yer Ma. I’ll be back afore sundown.”

Taking some pemmican, his snowshoes, a buffalo robe and an axe, Josiah disappeared out the entrance, headfirst.

Alone in the shelter, Emma looked down at the child in her lap.

Mary smiled.

Hugging Mary, Emma reached for her Bible. She could use some comfort from the Scriptures.

A few hours before dark, Josiah returned as promised. Mary ran out to meet him as he untied his snowshoes, and from inside the lodge, Emma could hear the child ply him with questions about their holiday. As she prepared supper, Emma strained to hear Josiah’s responses. She, too, was curious about his plans– if he indeed had any. Emma sighed. Josiah’s notion of a family holiday probably consisted of sleeping in late and seeing who could hurl spit the furthest distance.

“When is our holiday, Pa?” Emma heard Mary ask Josiah as he shoved his snowshoes through the entrance.

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Will there be a Christmas tree?”

“No, this ain’t Christmas.”

“Will there be a present?”

Josiah chuckled as his broad shoulders fit through the entrance. “You mean, will there be any present fer you!”

Mary followed him inside, her curiosity apparently not yet satisfied. “Will there be a present fer Ma?”

Josiah slanted Emma an uncomfortable look. “Yer asking too many questions, Mary.”

Squatting down, Mary balanced on the balls of her feet as she watched Josiah pull off his bearskin coat.

Concealing her amusement, Emma remained silent as she tended the fire.

“Will we have fresh meat, Pa?”

“What do you think we’ve been eating? leather?”

Two brilliant eyes stared expectantly at Josiah, and the man groaned. “Emma, would you tell this bear cub to mind her business?” Though Josiah sounded annoyed, his face betrayed otherwise.

“Can I come with you, tomorrow?” asked Mary.

“What I’ve got to do, is best done alone.”

“Please, Pa? I can help!”

“Ha! You don’t even know what I’m doing,” Josiah said with a laugh, “so how do you know if you can help, or not?”

“Please, I want to surprise Ma, too!”

When Josiah didn’t respond, Emma paused her work. She looked at Josiah, and saw him smile kindly at Mary. It wasn’t a teasing smile, or a jesting grin, but something much more tender.

“If yer Ma can spare you, then I reckon you can come with me, tomorrow.”

Jumping up, Mary descended on Emma.

“Can I, Ma? Can I go?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Emma caught Josiah watching her intently, as though wondering what her answer would be. Not too long ago, Emma didn’t trust him alone with Mary.

Taking a moment to think it over, Emma nodded to the eager girl. “You may go. But be sure you stay within sight of your pa, and don’t go running off.”

The shelter filled with excited war whoops as Mary celebrated.

“Settle down,” said Emma. “Is that any way for a young lady to behave?”

Though Mary quieted down, she grinned so hard during supper Emma thought her face must surely ache.

After supper, when Mary had been tucked in bed with her doll, Emma tidied the shelter and put things back in their place for the next day. Already in bed, Josiah watched Emma go about her usual routine. He kept his thoughts to himself, though from Mary’s questioning that evening, he hoped Emma hadn’t been able to guess his entire secret.

Moving over to make room for Emma, Josiah watched as she crawled beneath the blankets and then collapsed.

“Thought I told you not to work so much.”

Lightly touching her forehead, Emma sighed as though she had a headache. “I tried to rest today, but it’s difficult to find the time when you’ve a family to care for.”

Josiah smiled in spite of himself. At least she had tried to obey his wishes. Unpinned golden braids shifted against the robe as Emma turned to look at him. They were so close, they nearly touched noses. She said nothing, but her eyes glowed with an unspoken caress that nearly drove Josiah crazy. He’d made an undeclared promise not to touch Emma until she was ready. Did this look of hers mean what he hoped it did? Josiah couldn’t be sure.

“Thank you fer trusting me enough to take Mary fer the day. You won’t have to worry about her. I’ll take good care of the little cub.”

“I know you will, Josiah.”

Josiah swallowed hard. He forced himself not to stare at Emma’s lips, inviting though they looked. “I don’t want you stepping out of this lodge tomorrow, unless you have to. Can’t say I’m fond of leaving you alone.”

Emma smiled. “You’ve done it before, and I’ve survived.”

“That was because I had to. Promise me you’ll stay inside, Emma. I’d feel better if you kept out of sight until I got back.”

“Then, I promise.”

“I’ll be sure you have enough wood to last the day. I don’t want you wandering about, looking fer wood or a dry place to relieve yerself. Stay within easy eyesight of the lodge when you tend to yer necessities.”

“I will, Josiah.”

Exhaling, Josiah moaned softly. “I sure do like the way you say my name, Emma.”

Emma touched his face, and Josiah prayed with all his might she would kiss him. To his great disappointment, she didn’t. Exhaustion pulled at her eyelids, and her hand slipped from his face. Soon, sleep washed over Emma, sinking his hopes for anything more that night.

A small tug awakened Emma. Struggling to open her eyes, Emma found Mary peering down at her with a wide awake, beaming smile.

“Is it morning, already?” Emma asked with a yawn.

“Pa and I gathered wood, so you do not have to,” said Mary, pointing to a large pile of wood near the entrance.

Blurry-eyed, Emma strained to focus on any light filtering through the opening from outside. She found none, and realized the sun had not yet come up.

“Aren’t you two leaving a little early?” asked Emma.

“We must,” Mary said in a very serious tone. “We’ve got to–“

“Mary,” Josiah stopped the child from finishing her thought out loud. “It’s a secret, remember?”

Covering her mouth with shame, Mary timidly nodded. “I am sorry, Pa. I fergot.”

“Don’t let it happen again, or I’ll leave you with Emma.” The playfulness in Josiah’s voice made Mary giggle, and the child eagerly nodded that she understood.

“When will you be back?” asked Emma, sitting up in bed to find Josiah dressed in his bearskin coat and bushy fox cap. Mary had been bundled into several blankets, so that only her eyes, hands, and the bridge of her nose could be seen.

“We’ll be back fer supper,” said Josiah, picking up his axe and snowshoes. “Mary, can you bring that buffalo robe, or is it too much fer you?”

“No, I can carry it,” said Mary, her small frame struggling a bit to move with the heavy object in her arms.

Josiah gave Emma a confident nod. “Don’t worry, I won’t let her hurt herself. Remember what I told you about staying inside?”

“I remember,” said Emma. She got out of bed, and crawled to Josiah. “God keep you safe, My Love.” Emma kissed his cheek, and the mountain man grinned so broadly, she could see his gums.

“Me too! Me too!” said Mary, and she hurried to get her goodbye kiss from Emma.

Armed with a rifle, pistol, and two knives, Josiah and Mary crawled from the shelter. When Emma tried to see them off by coming outside, Josiah barred the entrance with his sturdy legs.

“You go back to sleep, Emma. I want to find you good and rested when me and Mary return.”

“Very well, Josiah.” Emma didn’t think it useful to argue the point, for she did feel tired.

After saying a prayer for their safety, Emma watched as Josiah and Mary vanished into the early morning darkness. Emma lingered by the entrance, and then made her way back to bed.

Her shotgun had been cleaned and loaded by Josiah, and waited for her beside the buffalo robes. If trouble came, Josiah had made sure she would be protected.

Emma didn’t know if fatigue kept her in bed, or sheer laziness. It felt strange not to stir when the sun ascended high in the sky, and the center of the day beckoned her to work. When she finally got up, Emma found her arms heavy, and knees weak. She had forgotten to eat breakfast, and the omission quickly caught up to her. Cutting off a small slice of solid pemmican, Emma tried to keep the food down. She had been intermittently experiencing nausea for days, and it appeared today would be no better. If anything, she felt worse.

After several bites, Emma’s stomach lurched, and she scrambled to the entrance to vomit. The mess landed right outside the lodge, threatening to attract wild animals with an easy meal.

Taking a branch from the wood pile, Emma went outside and did her best to shovel the vomit away from the lodge.

As she worked, the mountains swirled about Emma, and she fought the urge to faint. Leaving the rest of the mess untouched, Emma struggled back to the lodge before she passed out in the snow. Just then, Emma realized she had forgotten to take her shotgun! Frightened by her vulnerability and her own forgetfulness, Emma hurried inside. She grabbed her shotgun, and clutching it to her breast, collapsed on the buffalo robes in a fit of exhaustion.

“Emma!”

Josiah’s voice rang so loudly in Emma’s ears, she winced in pain.

“Emma, wake up!”

Two rough hands rubbed her temples. Then a slap stung her cheek.

“Open yer eyes, woman!”

“Josiah?” When Emma heard her own voice, she shuddered at the weak sound she had just made.

“Emma, fer pity’s sake, open yer eyes!”

Summoning her strength, Emma slowly obeyed. She blinked several times, as Josiah’s sharp features came into view.

She rapidly found herself shoved against Josiah’s chest, as a “Thank God!”
shook his frame and hers. After being crushed, Josiah let her back down on the bed, for she felt too weak to sit up.

“Have you been asleep all day?” he asked.

“No, just small naps,” said Emma.

“Have you eaten?” Josiah looked at her pointedly, his eyes flashing displeasure. “I found wolves fighting over yer vomit outside the entrance. Have you eaten since then?”

“Where’s Mary?” asked Emma.

Mary touched Emma’s hand. “I am here, Ma.”

Have you eaten?” Josiah sounded angry.

Even in her condition, Emma stiffened with indignation. “No, I couldn’t hold it down. And don’t look at me like that, Josiah. I’m doing the best I can!”

To Emma’s consternation, instead of looking reproved, Josiah grinned.

“That’s more like it, Em. Now yer beginning to sound like yerself. Mary, fetch yer Ma some of that grouse we snared.”

Cold wet grouse found its way into Emma’s hands, just as her world grew dark once again.

When Emma’s eyes opened, she was sitting up, and Josiah was forcing food into her mouth.

“Chew, Emma. You need yer strength.”

The food tasted wonderful, but Emma’s stomach rebelled. She leaned forward to vomit, but finally managed to keep the food down. More and more meat passed her lips, until Emma felt able to sit up on her own strength.

“I never should’ve left,” Josiah kept muttering to himself.

“I’m all right,” said Emma. “Could I have some water?”

Mary hurried to fill the tin cup with snow. After holding it over the fire to melt the ice, Mary placed the warm cup of water into Emma’s trembling hands.

“Have you eaten, yet?” Emma asked them.

“You just ate our supper,” said Josiah. “Mary and I set out some snares, hoping to surprise you with something besides pemmican fer supper.”

The cup paused before reaching Emma’s mouth. “I ate raw grouse?”

“Of course, didn’t you notice?”

“I thought it was just undercooked,” said Emma, suddenly feeling her stomach turn.

“Now, there, Emma,” Josiah’s voice raised in caution, “I just got that food down you. Keep it there.”

Taking a sip of water, Emma commanded her attention elsewhere. The grouse had tasted good– too good for raw meat.

Josiah gave pemmican to Mary, and the two started eating their supper.

“I’m sorry I ate your food,” said Emma.

If Mary experienced disappointment at not having the expected meal of roasted grouse, she didn’t let it show. Instead, she smiled at Emma.

“Do you feel better, Ma?”

“Yes, thank you. That bird is doing wonders for me.”

Mary looked at her wide-eyed. “It is, Ma? Really?”

“It was Mary’s snare that caught yer grouse,” said Josiah.

“Well, that explains it then,” said Emma. “My stomach must’ve known it was Mary’s bird, and decided it was much too precious to lose.”

For this, Emma received a hug from Mary. Then the child planted herself at Emma’s side and remained there until bedtime. Emma had had the thought before, but especially now, as the girl clung to her dress, that Mary must’ve had a lonely childhood among the Blackfoot. Cora’s love was evident in Mary’s upbringing, but Emma witnessed enough clinging vines in Mary’s temperament, to sense the child had not enjoyed much love outside of her grandmother and great-grandfather.

Feeling too weak to crawl, Emma heard Mary’s bedtime prayer and then kissed her goodnight without moving from the buffalo robes.

Politely refusing Mary’s Christmas doll, Emma insisted she didn’t need to take Mary’s baby from her.

“I won’t be alone,” said Emma.

Mary looked thoughtful. “Pa?”

“What?”

“Do not make Ma cry, again. Best break the mirror.”

Josiah tossed a handful of pine needles in Mary’s direction, and the girl giggled.

“Quiet down and go to sleep,” said Josiah.

“Pa?”

“What now?”

“Goodnight, Pa.”

Josiah smiled. “Goodnight, Mary.”

Feeling tired but happy, Emma reclined on the soft robes. Her eyelids felt heavy, but she remained conscious as Josiah took his usual place in bed. Lying on his side, he bent his knees so he would fit in the space their bedding occupied. Emma wanted to thank him for giving Mary such a good day, but words wouldn’t come to her tired mind.

Giving Josiah a heartfelt smile, Emma fell asleep.

Morning sounds of breakfast stirred Emma’s senses as she climbed out of bed. Josiah and Mary were eating, and as Emma accepted her meal from Josiah’s hand, Emma realized they were going to let her sleep in again.

Emma sighed, and Josiah slanted her a look that challenged her to be silent. Emma knew she wouldn’t be able to win any arguments concerning her need for more rest, especially after he had returned to find her so weak. She had little appetite for food, but from Josiah’s hawk-like attentions, she knew he would not let her avoid breakfast.

As Emma began chewing the pemmican, Josiah seemed to relax.

Her eyes sparkling with an untold secret, Mary swallowed her food down, nearly without chewing.

Nibbling her solid pemmican, Emma eyed the two suspiciously. “What are you up to, Josiah? What are we doing for this holiday of yours?”

“It ain’t my holiday,” Josiah shook his head with a grin. “It’s yers.”

Emma looked to Mary for more information, but the girl burst into giggles and shook her head firmly.

“Pa said not to tell you!”

In spite of her curiosity, Emma struggled to finish her food. When she couldn’t eat the last of her pemmican, Josiah growled something beneath his breath that Emma couldn’t understand. She hoped he wasn’t swearing again.

“Do you want me to toss you over my shoulder, Emma? If you don’t eat, you won’t have the strength to walk to our next campsite.”

Emma looked at him in surprise. “We’re moving camp?”

“As soon as yer able. Mary, start gathering things into a buffalo hide for the travois. Emma, eat that pemmican.”

Resisting the temptation to hide the food from Josiah rather than eat, Emma willed herself to swallow the ground jerky whole. It went down better than if she had chewed.

After helping Emma outside and into her snowshoes and capote, Josiah gathered the buffalo robes from their bed and packed them onto his travois. Then he took down the snow covered hides draped over their shelter. All that remained of their snug little lodge were old boughs of cottonwood and fir and a blackened pit in the center where a fire had kept them warm.

“Emma, you ain’t going to shed tears over leaving that pile of sticks, are you?”

Drying the wet collecting at the corners of her eyes, Emma said nothing. Afraid speech might bring on sobs, Emma remained silent as the small procession slowly made its way along the narrow valley floor.

Josiah led the way up front, while Emma trailed behind with Mary at her side. Emma noticed he kept a watchful eye, not only on their surroundings, but also on her. More than once, he stopped to insist she rest and catch her breath before they continued.

“Aren’t you glad I made you eat that pemmican?” he asked with a grin, as they resumed their trip.

Emma saved her strength, and made no response but gave an affirming nod of her head.

The frigid air hurt Emma’s lungs each time she inhaled. As she began to lag behind Josiah, she felt Mary tugging her forward.

“Ma, we must keep up,” the girl encouraged her.

Nodding that she understood, Emma summoned her willpower and kept following Josiah’s travois and snowshoe tracks.

Only a few footsteps before them, Emma noticed Josiah slowed his pace until she and Mary were at his side.

“Only a little more ways, Emma. You feeling all right? Do you need to stop fer awhile?”

“No, let’s keep going,” said Emma, a trail of vapor spilling from her mouth as she spoke. Ice had formed on her capote, and she longed to be warm. She shivered, and Josiah looked at her in concern. Shivering exhausted strength, and it wouldn’t be long before she reached the end of her supply.

“Reckon its colder in these parts, than in the valley,” said Josiah.

“Aren’t we still in the valley?” Emma asked in surprise, for her poor eyesight hindered her from seeing things from a distance.

“No, we’re heading up into the mountains,” said Josiah, pointing forward with his chin. “This is on our route back to the cabin, but we’re going to stop along the way fer awhile.”

Mary grinned excitedly.

“Why?” Emma asked in a whimper. “Isn’t going back to the cabin your surprise? Couldn’t we go home, Josiah?”

Sighing, Josiah tenderly touched the hood of Emma’s capote. “Hold on, Emma. You’ll be warm soon enough.”

“I’m so cold, Josiah.” Emma hated the weakness in her voice, but the tears were coming, and if she didn’t stop them soon, they would freeze and make her even colder.

Momentarily dropping the poles of the travois, Josiah stepped close to wrap his arms around Emma in a big bear hug. “I know it ain’t easy, Emma, but I promise we’re almost there. Just a little more, and you’ll be warm. I promise.”

With Mary holding fast to her capote, Emma again walked behind Josiah. Her snowshoes felt like leaden weights, but she kept her eyes down on the snow, and her concentration on the effort it took to raise each foot.

Josiah’s voice called Emma to look up. “We’re here, Emma.”

Emma sighed in relief as she saw another shelter, similar to the one they had just left, ready and waiting for them. All it needed were more buffalo robes to keep out the wind, and a nice fire burning inside.

“Emma? What do you think?” asked Josiah.

“I think I want to go inside and get warm,” smiled Emma.

Josiah frowned. So did Mary. They both looked like she were missing something important. Puzzled, Emma took a better look at her surroundings. They were on a mountainside with large snow covered boulders strewn everywhere, and little vegetation. It must’ve taken some good work hauling branches and wood to this location to build a shelter. Then it hit Emma. Why this location? What made here so special, that someone would take extra work to build a lodge where there were no trees?

Venturing a few steps forward, Emma noticed a curtain of steam rising from behind one of the massive rocks some distance away from the lodge. Curious, Emma made her way to the boulder.

Peering round the large rock, a pool of clear water greeted Emma’s eyes. It hadn’t frozen over in the winter cold, and by the steam rising from the water, she understood why.

Grinning, Josiah stood behind her with Mary at his side. “Dip yer hand in, Emma. It’s safe.”

Stooping down, Emma touched the water. “It’s warm!”

“Can we go in now, Pa?” Mary looked up at Josiah pleadingly.

“Let me throw more buffalo robes over our lodge first, and get a good fire started so you won’t freeze when you get out,” said Josiah.

In sheer wonderment, Emma looked at Josiah. “Did I hear correctly? We can bathe?”

Josiah grinned. “Let me get the lodge ready, and then you and Mary can bathe to yer heart’s content. I don’t know why Mary’s so eager, though. She probably hasn’t been wet all over except fer accidentally falling in the creek.”

“Pa, that is not true!”

Josiah laughed as he unpacked the travois, and then went to prepare their lodge.

Emma stared longingly at the clear water. She hadn’t fully bathed in such a long time, she couldn’t remember her last cleansing.

The crunch of snow announced Josiah’s return as he tramped to the girls with a large blanket. His rifle hung from a strap at his side, and after giving Emma the blanket, he brought the flintlock up in a ready posture.

“I’ll be keeping watch over by that rock,” he said, pointing his chin to a high boulder veiled in a thick layer of snow. Everything surrounding the hot springs lay beneath a similar covering of white, for after the steam collected on the surface of the rocks, it froze into a protective layer of ice.

“Aren’t you coming?” asked Emma.

Josiah looked at Emma hesitantly. “This is mainly fer the women-folk.” He gave her a wistful grin, and then headed off for the large boulder.

As excited as Mary appeared to get into the water, she looked apprehensively at Josiah’s boulder. He had cleared off the snow, perching himself high above the pool with his rifle; from the direction his head faced, Emma knew he was watching.

“Ma,” Mary sighed heavily. “He can see.”

“Josiah, would you please avert your eyes so Mary could undress?”

Even though Emma sensed he scowled at the request, Josiah moved himself about until his back faced the hot springs.

“There, now it’s safe,” said Emma, helping Mary off with her blankets. “Can you swim? Stay close to the edge and wade out slowly until you know how deep the water is.”

“The water ain’t deep on the east side,” called out Josiah.

“Did you hear that, Mary? Stay on the east side.”

“All right, Ma. Oh, the water is so warm!”

Emma noticed that when Josiah heard this, he turned to watch. His attention wasn’t on Mary, though, but on her. Feeling terribly self-conscious, Emma took off her capote and then turned to Josiah. She gave him a pleading look, and she saw his large shoulders heave in a reluctant sigh. Moving about, he turned his back once more.

Warmth enveloped Emma as water lapped over her bare arms in the deep side of the hot springs. The water had turned silty, for Mary’s playfulness stirred the fine silt at the bottom, so the water no longer appeared clear. It didn’t matter to Emma. After being so cold, the soothing warmth made her feel relaxed and content.

“Can I look now?” Josiah asked over his back.

“Yes, thank you, Josiah.”

He turned, and let the rifle rest in the crook of his arm. Emma couldn’t see his features well enough to know what thoughts went through his mind, but she knew him well enough to guess. He hadn’t touched her in passion for several nights, and she sensed his impatience.

Emma moved in the water, her feet hugging the slippery bottom of the pool. Josiah had changed. She hadn’t asked him to keep his distance, and yet he did.

Emma looked back to the boulder, and saw Josiah still facing her direction. Did he smile? Emma wished she had her spectacles. Poor eyesight didn’t get in her way so much in the close confines of a lodge, but out in the open, she simply couldn’t see very well.

After some splashing about, Mary declared she had had enough of the water.

“Dry off with the blanket, and then warm yourself in the shelter,” said Emma, not ready to leave her holiday just yet.

“Turn around, Pa!” Mary called to Josiah.

Closing her eyes, Emma let herself relax. She didn’t have to think about the best places to find dry wood, where to draw drinking water, where they were going to find their next meal, or ways to keep warm when the sharp chill went through your moccasins and foot wraps to numb your toes. Emma reached out and grabbed a handful of warm water. It felt perfect– not too hot to scald, and yet hot enough to relax tense muscles and make one feel liberated from the cares of daily life.

Some time later, the water swished near Emma and she opened her eyes. Josiah had pulled off his buckskins, and now enjoyed the hot springs with her. Emma glimpsed up at the boulder, and found Mary dried and dressed, keeping watchful guard with her pistol.

“She volunteered,” said Josiah, taking a deep relaxing dip in the water. “Nice, ain’t it? My pa showed me this place. Some springs ain’t safe to enter, because the waters are too dangerous, but this one is always good fer a swim.”

“It’s heavenly,” said Emma.

Josiah stretched out his arms, but carefully retracted them when his hand grazed her side.

“I think I could stay here forever,” said Emma.

“Thought you’d like it,” grinned Josiah.

Emma braced herself, half wanting Josiah to hold her, and yet, hoping he wouldn’t unless asked.

He moved about in the water, quickly seeming to grow tired of the novelty.

“I’m leaving, Emma. When yer ready, I left a blanket fer you by the rock over yonder. I’ll set a kettle of water to warming, so you can rinse all this silt from yer skin.”

“Thank you, Josiah.”

He paused before going, his eyes locking with hers. Her thanks had a double meaning, and Josiah seemed to understand.

“Stay in the water fer as long as you like, Emma. I won’t rush you.”

She closed her eyes as he climbed out of the pool, and quietly promised herself to stay for as long as she could. Long after he left, Josiah’s words echoed in Emma’s heart. “I won’t rush you.” He had changed.

When Emma looked up at the boulder again, Josiah sat there with his rifle. Mary played by the banks, studiously fashioning a miniature Blackfoot lodge with snow and small rocks.

It had to be nearing lunch time, and Emma heard her stomach growl with hunger.

“Josiah, I’m ready to dry off now.”

“All right,” he said, turning his back to the pool.

Mary helped Emma wrap the dry blankets around her body before she froze, and then the girls hurried to the lodge where a comfortable fire awaited them.

Settling beside the fire, Emma warmed her cold hands as Josiah crawled in. He removed the kettle from over the flames, and then carried the hot container outside where Emma saw him add snow so the water would be comfortable to the touch.

“Emma,” he said, kneeling down to look inside as his rifle swung across his chest, “the water is ready fer you to do some bathing. If yer wanting, I’ll wait elsewhere while you and Mary clean yerselves. Just keep yer weapons handy, fer the hot springs attracts animals.”

Emma nodded in understanding, and the trapper left.

Crawling outside, Emma lightly rinsed her body with warm water while trying not to get her blanket wet. After telling Mary to undress, Emma rinsed the silt from Mary’s skin. With the remaining water, Emma undid Mary’s braids to wash her hair. While Mary rushed inside to dry by the fire, Emma washed her own dirty locks. It felt good to be clean, or at least, as clean as one could get without soap.

A short while later, Josiah ventured back. As he sat down on the buffalo robes to eat lunch, Emma could feel his eyes as she dried her long blonde hair by the open flames. He said nothing, but his intent gaze spoke volumes.

Lunch went down without incident, and Emma thanked God for the abatement in her nausea so she could regain some much needed strength.

After lunch, Emma sat Mary on her lap to untangle the girl’s long dark hair, using her fingers as a comb.

“You have your father’s hair,” Emma told a smiling Mary. “His mane keeps tangling, but at least yours remains tidy in braids.”

As Emma brushed, it reminded her of a long prayed-for wish. “In my girlhood, I dreamed of my future husband, and the children we would have. I planned for eight children– four boys to help my husband with his work, and four girls to dress up and brush their hair and read stories to.”

Josiah raised his eyebrows. “Eight?”

Emma smiled as she continued to brush Mary’s hair. “Ma had such trouble giving birth to me, she never could have more babies. She had always wanted a large family, so that was what I wanted, too.”

Josiah was quiet.

“I want eight babies, too,” said Mary, getting up so she could now brush Emma’s long tresses.

“She had a hard time birthing you, Emma?” Josiah’s brow knit in thought.

“Yes, but I’m much stronger than Ma. With God’s help, I should have an easier birthing than hers.”

“This is yer first babe, and its already giving you a hard time with all yer vomiting,” said Josiah.

Emma sighed, realizing she had made Josiah worry. “I know, but there’s little else I can do but pray. I’m in God’s hands, Josiah.”

When Emma’s hair hung in soft glossy waves, she started gathering them into braids. Halfway through her work, Emma hesitated. Josiah still looked troubled by their talk of difficult births, and she wanted to give him a pleasant distraction. Letting her hair hang loose, Emma lowered her head to whisper something into Mary’s ear.

“It’s not seemly to wear your hair unbound in the presence of men, but since the only man here is your father, its perfectly decent to let out your braids once in a while. I’m only telling you this, so you know how to behave when you’re older, and among others.”

“I will remember, Ma.”

Emma gave Mary a quick hug and a small pat, and then reached for their Bible. Opening the old pages, Emma read a passage from Psalms while Josiah and Mary listened. From over her book, Emma noticed Josiah’s eyes continually wandering to her loose hair.

Afterward, Mary lay down for a mid-day nap. As the girl slipped into her rest, Emma added more wood to the fire to keep the chill from taking over their lodge.

By the entrance, Josiah sat with his knife and a whittling stick. He still looked thoughtful, though from his frequent side glances, Emma knew his mind now preoccupied with other things besides giving birth.

When Emma heard Mary’s soft snore, Emma decided the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Crawling to where Josiah sat by the entrance, Emma found a seat at his side.

“You feeling all right?” he asked, as Emma rested her head against his shoulder. “I noticed you ate yer lunch without any trouble.”

“Please lower your voice, Josiah, or you’ll awaken Mary.”

Josiah looked at Mary, and then at Emma. “I hadn’t noticed she’d nodded off. I reckon she got all tuckered out from playing in the water.”

“Yes, I expect so.” Emma touched Josiah’s hand, and she heard him inhale sharply.

“Emma, tell me now if yer not wanting to tussle. I don’t want you vomiting again, because of me.”

“It wasn’t completely you,” said Emma. “At the time, my stomach was upset.”

“How’s it feeling, now?”

Emma smiled. “It’s fine.”

With a disbelieving grunt, Josiah continued with his whittling. He looked angry, but not with her. “I bedded Mary’s ma, and the woman died after giving birth. I’ve bedded you, and now I expect the same thing will happen; yer ma had a hard time, and so are you.”

“I pray all will go well,” said Emma, “but if God decides another fate, then I must accept it.”

Josiah stared at Emma. “You trust God that completely, Emma?”

“Yes, I do.”

“But, yer carrying my child. Women seem to fare badly when they’re carrying my children.”

“How many children have you had, Josiah?”

“Counting yers– two.”

“Then I would wait until we have more children, before making such a pronouncement. I’ve been having nausea, and though it’s sometimes rather severe, I haven’t miscarried or died. I have a stronger constitution than my mother’s, and I don’t think I’ll have her difficulties.” Emma placed her hand on Josiah’s chest. “Even so, whatever happens, give me to the Lord, Josiah.”

Josiah swallowed hard.

“It’s safe to trust God,” said Emma. “‘The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works.'” (Psalm 145:9)

Josiah looked at her in earnest. “Emma, if you died, I couldn’t go on.”

“If you’re still living, you’d have to.”

Sighing, Josiah nodded his consent. “Reckon so, but I sure wouldn’t like it. I wouldn’t like it one bit. What was that again? ‘His tender mercies are over all His works’?” Josiah sighed heavily. “I’m already trusting God fer life, praying we won’t starve from day to day, so I might as well trust Him fer everything else. I just don’t like thinking about yer demise, Emma. It puts a knot in my stomach, bigger than my fist. Reckon I’d rather lose my traps, than think about this any longer. I’m giving you to God’s keeping and I’m praying fer the best, but I’m done talking about it.”

Cuddling her cheek against Josiah’s hunting shirt, Emma touched his hand once more. “I left my hair down for you.”

Emma heard Josiah grin. “I noticed.” His knife had stopped working, but his hands were still poised for more whittling.

“Josiah?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you waiting for me to throw myself at your feet? Mary won’t sleep all day.”

The knife slipped into its sheath, and the whittling stick landed in the fire. They crawled to the buffalo robes, and then Josiah pulled off his hunting shirt as Emma climbed beneath the covers.

Snuggled side by side, Josiah took Emma into his arms. When she noticed he carefully kept his hand from her back, Emma took his large hand in hers, and placed it where it belonged.

“I love you, Emma,” his voice whispered into her ear, sending little shivers down her back. “I’ve held other women, but I’ve never held them in my heart like you. Can you be happy knowing that, Emma? Is it enough?”

Emma answered with a kiss, her hand tugging the heavy blankets over their heads for privacy.

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Chapter 12 – These Wild Mountains

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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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