Don’t forgot to read – The White Woman : Chapter 13
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orning came all too soon for Josiah. Unwilling to spoil their peace any sooner than necessary, he waited until breakfast before speaking to Emma.
When she began eating, Josiah knew his time had come.
“Yer to watch Will, today.” Josiah’s words were straight and to the point. “George and I are going hunting, and I ain’t wanting to leave Will alone fer too long. He might do something to himself.”
Except for Emma’s momentary surprise at the announcement, Josiah couldn’t see any concern in her expression. She only nodded her willingness to help, and continued to struggle down pemmican.
Mary, on the other hand, was a different matter. Her face shone like a little Christmas tree, her eyes flickering excitement. “Me too, Pa? Can I come, too?”
“You, too,” said Josiah. He felt no excitement, and wished he could muster as much enthusiasm for the day as Mary. He swallowed his meal, not bothering to chew. Work had to be done before he could go hunting. Rifles needed to be cleaned and loaded, and that day’s food needed to be packed for travel.
While Josiah busied himself, Mary jumped about the lodge with wild war whoops and prancing feet.
“Quiet down, Little One,” said Emma, “that’s no way for a young lady to behave. Don’t you want those men to think you’re a proper young lady?”
The whooping immediately stopped. “I want to be proper,” she said eagerly. Mary dropped beside Emma, and Josiah heard the girl ask, “Ma, what does proper mean?”
“It means you should not behave like a rambunctious schoolboy, but conduct yourself in a quiet, ladylike fashion. These men are just trappers, but I think today is a good opportunity for you to practice your manners.”
Even with his head bent over his work, Josiah couldn’t help but notice how quietly Mary finished her breakfast.
His flintlock ready, Josiah checked Emma’s shotgun and then Mary’s pistol. Emma bundled Mary in blankets, and gathered two buffalo robes to prepare against the bitter cold that lay on the other side of their cabin door.
Snowshoes fastened, coats buttoned and sashes closed, Josiah and his family stepped out into the winter. Taking lead, Josiah started the procession around to the back of their lodge. Even though he heard Emma’s heavy breathing as she struggled to keep up, Josiah made no attempts to slacken his pace. There was no need. The small shelter he had built for the trappers wasn’t far from the cabin.
Hidden among the trees, Josiah glimpsed a small column of smoke ascending from a hide-covered dwelling. “Hello, in the lodge!” he called.
George’s head appeared in the entrance, quickly followed by his shoulders and then a pair of woolen trousers and store bought shoes. He got to his feet, grinning expectantly. “I’m ready to go hunting!” he said, raising his rifle in salute. Then the young man’s face grew sober as the women behind Josiah finally caught up.
“This here’s my kin,” said Josiah. “They come to look after Will while we’re gone.”
Stunned, George blinked at Emma. He swallowed, fumbled to straighten his capote, and then stared at Josiah as though expecting something to happen. When nothing did, George cleared his throat as if trying to give a subtle hint.
“Are you waiting fer something?” asked Josiah.
Emma tugged at Josiah’s sleeve, and he turned to see her looking somewhat embarrassed. “Introduce us,” she whispered.
Josiah gritted his teeth. So that was it. White man’s etiquette. He had no use for such formalities, but jerked his thumb at Emma by way of an introduction. “She’s my wife.” Then, pointing his chin at the trapper, he muttered, “This here’s George.”
“George Hughes,” smiled George, bowing politely to Emma.
Emma curtsied, her smile betraying a trace of panic; she obviously hadn’t expected to find any manners in these mountains, and certainly not in these trappers.
Josiah motioned to the entrance. “Git inside, Emma. You too, Mary.”
“I’m afraid it’s untidy,” George stammered in alarm. “We weren’t expecting guests.”
“They won’t mind,” said Josiah, hunching down to follow the girls into the small shelter. There was considerably more space here than in the snow cave, and everyone fit nicely. Josiah warmed his hands over the fire in the center of the lodge, while Emma kept at his side.
Clutching Emma’s hand, Mary gaped at George in wide-eyed wonderment. When he noticed her, Mary shyly hid her face against Emma’s capote.
On the far side of the circular shelter, Will lay in his buffalo robe, fast asleep.
“He had a difficult night,” said George, keeping his voice hushed so he wouldn’t awaken his friend. “I think he’s looking better, though.”
Josiah didn’t agree, but kept his mouth shut.
“Have you had breakfast, Mrs. Brown?” George offered Emma some pemmican, and she politely turned it down.
“They’ve already eaten,” Josiah said gruffly.
“Oh.” George laid aside the food. His eyes strayed back to Emma, as though not quite ready to believe what he saw. A white woman. Here in their shelter, and married to–
Josiah stopped trying to read George’s face, not liking any of the conclusions he reached. George would have to accept the way things were, just like everyone else.
“We’d best git going,” said Josiah, preparing to leave with a buffalo robe Emma had brought; in an emergency, a thick hide made for a good shelter against the snow.
“Is that a pistol?” asked George, his gaze fixed on the weapon at Mary’s belt.
Pleased at having been noticed for her weapon, Mary pulled out the pistol. She held it in her small hands, letting George see it from a distance.
George shook his head in wonderment. “I’ve never seen such a thing.”
Mary grinned proudly.
“A little girl with a loaded gun,” he murmured.
Mary’s smile evaporated. She returned the pistol to her belt, and with folded arms, met George’s amazement with obvious indignation.
Taken aback by Mary’s boldness, George fumbled for his rifle. “I’m ready whenever you are, Josiah.”
“Come then.” Josiah moved to the entrance, but paused for his good-bye kiss from Emma. He hadn’t needed to remind her, for she already leaned forward to peck his lips.
“Keep safe,” she said, smiling the smile that always filled him with sunshine.
Josiah grinned broadly. He stuffed himself through the entrance, hoping George had seen the way she had smiled at her husband. Emma loved him, and Josiah wanted these trappers to know that.
Once the two hunters were outside, Josiah made sure George’s shotgun had been cleaned and made ready for use. They were taking Will’s rifle along, mostly to keep it from him, but also to give them the added advantage of another weapon.
From the awkward way George had of evading Josiah’s direct stare whenever Josiah spoke to him, it became apparent that Emma’s presence had not been forgotten. George’s smile wasn’t as friendly now, as it had been in the past, and Josiah knew the young man disapproved of his having a white woman for a wife.
Uneasily, Josiah swallowed his spit. From the looks of things, this would be a long day. Silently praying Emma would fare better than himself, Josiah started down the mountain, his long strides easily outstripping George’s shorter ones.
The loud snores of the sleeping man filled Emma’s ears as she took off Mary’s blankets and then unfolded a buffalo robe to make themselves comfortable by the fire. She felt awkward being there with a stranger, and experienced not a little gratitude when he continued to sleep, undisturbed by their presence.
It didn’t take Mary long to become fidgety, the excitement of seeing two white men wearing off. Emma allowed her to sit in the entrance to keep a lookout for trouble, and so she could be the first to see Josiah when he returned. It gave Mary something to do, besides sit there and stare at a man with an unkempt beard.
Emma wondered how much she could tell about a man, by simply observing his head while he slept. She knew it probably wouldn’t be much, but from her few simple observations of George, and now Will, Emma had a feeling she had underestimated these trappers.
From the white showing in his black hair, Will appeared considerably older than his friend, and by his weathered face, Emma guessed he felt at ease in the outdoors without a hat. Even so, he didn’t look like the rowdy mountaineer she had expected. The collar of a store bought shirt peered beneath his heavily bearded chin, reminding Emma of the civilization she had left behind. It felt like ages since she had seen cloth on a man, for Josiah only wore animal skins. Emma looked down at her deerskin dress. None of the women in the settlements dressed like this– no one but the Indians.
A pang of self-consciousness tugged at Emma, and she quickly brushed it aside. She turned her eyes back to the sleeping man. He looked so ordinary, it unnerved her. Emma hadn’t precisely known what she had been expecting, but it wasn’t men like George or this man with the linen shirt. They could’ve been her neighbors, or storekeepers and clerks, or even clergy, for besides Will’s unkempt beard, they didn’t look wild at all. In fact, by comparison, Emma felt she looked more wild than either of them.
Movement by the entrance interrupted Emma’s thoughts. Mary wanted one of her blankets back, for she was getting cold. Wrapping a blanket around Mary, Emma gave the child a squeezing hug. Thankful for this sweet reminder of where she belonged, Emma released the child only when Mary squirmed to get free.
Mary returned to her watch, and Emma to her observation of Will. He wasn’t a large man, as far as weight was concerned, but the robes expanded across his chest, suggesting a broad shouldered man. Then her eyes fell on a single booted foot, and Emma shuddered. She didn’t know if she would’ve had the courage to face such an operation, let alone live with its aftermath. With God it would’ve been possible, but Emma sighed in gratitude that she had never had the necessity to endure such a terrible trial.
Without warning, the buffalo robes stirred, and two blue eyes stared at Emma. They were a clear shade of blue, like the color of the sky on an unclouded day. The eyes blinked, and then they blinked again, as though their owner didn’t quite trust what he saw.
The gentle appearance of the man shocked Emma. From Josiah’s accounts, Will’s temperament had been anything but gentle.
“Excuse me, Ma’am, but am I in Heaven?” he finally asked. “Are you an angel?”
Emma smiled. “No, Mr. Shaw, I’m a mortal like you. I’m Mrs. Brown. My daughter and I are here to keep you company while my husband and Mr. Hughes are out hunting.”
Will’s brow furrowed in thought. “You’re Josiah’s woman?”
“I’m his wife.” Emma spoke in self-defense, for by the tone of Will’s voice, it had sounded more like an accusation than a question.
“That Indian has a white woman?”
“I’m his wife.”
Those clear blue eyes Emma had only a moment ago admired, now pierced her with an unfamiliar sensation. For the first time in Emma’s life, she felt shame; being teased because of poor eyesight was nothing compared to the embarrassment now welling within her.
Struggling to fight back anger, Emma held up her chin. “Josiah is my husband, and the sooner you get used to the idea, the better it will be for everyone.”
“Who’d he kill to get you?”
“I don’t appreciate the sound of your voice, Mr. Shaw.”
“I’ll wager you buried a husband, and maybe even a father or brother, for him to get a woman like you.”
“My father is in Heaven, Mr. Shaw, but Josiah wasn’t the man who sent him there.” Emma glanced over her shoulder at Mary, the child’s intent expression tracking every word, for Mary had never been told of how she had come to be Josiah’s wife. Emma cleared her throat, careful of her words. “Josiah rescued me from the men who killed my father. He saved my life.”
“So now he’s forcing you to be his woman. Find my shotgun, Ma’am, and I’ll see to it you escape.” Then Will saw the rifle in her lap, and frowned. “You have a weapon?”
“I’m not being held against my will, Mr. Shaw. I choose to remain with my husband.”
He spat in disgust but said nothing.
Emma tried her best to match Will’s gaze without flinching, though it didn’t come easily. She felt as though all of polite society were looking down at her for surviving, and worse, that she should be blamed for not wanting to leave Josiah now that escape had been offered.
Tension hung heavy in the air, and it frightened Mary. The girl crawled to Emma’s side, hiding herself against Emma’s arm.
“There, there,” Emma whispered to the child, “it’s all right.”
“That your offspring?” asked Will.
Emma shot him a warning glare. He’d better not hurt Mary’s feelings. “She’s my daughter by marriage, Mr. Shaw.”
“Not too late to escape, Ma’am.”
“Mr. Shaw, I’m with child.”
“You could say it was against your will. Everyone would believe you.”
“It’s no use, Mr. Shaw, I don’t want to leave my family.”
The deep, resigned sigh in his breath gave Emma a small measure of hope.
“Do you have family of your own, Mr. Shaw?”
Curious, Mary peered from around Emma’s arm.
“I had a brother, but he died some years back.”
“You never married?”
Shifting somewhat self-consciously in his bed, Will scratched his chin. “Guess I’m not a man women take a fancy to. Unlike Josiah, I never had the good fortune to come across a beautiful woman in distress.”
Amused by his answer, Emma felt at ease enough to smile. “A very pretty compliment, Mr. Shaw, but I’m not beautiful and I’ve the good sense to know it.”
“No one ever told you that?” Will slanted her a look that hinted with something of friendliness. “If you’ll excuse my saying so, but you’re a mighty fine looking woman.”
Emma hoped she didn’t blush, but when Mary looked up at her and giggled, Emma knew she had.
“I’ll lay odds your husband has already told you something of the sort,” said Will. He leaned forward an inch or two. “From your pretty glow, I’m guessing you didn’t believe him, either.”
In spite of her annoyance at all this attention to her looks, Emma’s heart lightened just a bit. Will had called Josiah her husband.
“No, I didn’t believe him,” admitted Emma.
Will laughed. “I expect you think he’s desperate enough to believe any white woman that’s his own, is more beautiful than she really is.” Will scratched his chin, and Emma guessed it came from poor hygiene rather than deep thought. “I reckon there’s some truth to that,” he said, “but you’d do yourself a favor and start believing him when he pays you such compliments. Josiah may be an Indian, but he isn’t blind.”
Emma’s smile faded, and Will cleared his throat, as though realizing he had just stepped on her feelings. With an apologetic shake of his head, Will continued,
“Don’t pay any mind to this ornery tongue of mine, Mrs. Brown. Half the time, I never know what it’s speaking, so don’t you take to heart what it said. You’ve already got more than your fair share of grief, and I don’t want to be the cause of giving you more.”
Emma smiled politely, unsure of his meaning. Then she caught the look of pity in his face, and realized he felt sorry for her. She felt something hot sting her eyes, and blinked hard to keep the tears back. Suddenly, Emma desperately wanted to find someplace where she could cry in private.
“You’re in a sad predicament, Mrs. Brown, and I’m sorry for opening my big mouth.”
“Ma,” Mary said, tugging at Emma’s dress, “I am hungry.”
Finding she had no voice, Emma shoved aside her tears to force her attention on lunch. With all her heart, she didn’t want to frighten Mary, especially since Will’s soothing tones had made the girl smile again.
Mary couldn’t understand, and Emma didn’t want her to.
Opening the small bag at her belt that Josiah had readied for today, Emma pulled out some pemmican. When the girls bowed their heads to pray, Mary interrupted with,
“He is not bowing his head, Ma.” Mary pointed an accusing finger at Will, and he turned bright crimson with embarrassment.
“Mr. Shaw won’t be eating, today,” said Emma, coaxing Mary back to the prayer. Closing her eyes, Emma finished, “And please keep Josiah and Mr. Hughes safe while they find food. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Emma couldn’t help but notice the determined look on Mary’s face as she gave the girl her measure of pemmican. Before she could stop Mary, the girl crawled to the other side of the shelter and approached Will.
“This is for you,” said Mary, her innocent face staring at him expectantly. She held out the food to him, but he didn’t move.
“Mary, Mr. Shaw isn’t eating, today,” said Emma, trying to call the girl back before anything bad happened. She remembered Josiah’s wrestling incident with Will, and didn’t want anything like that to happen to Mary.
Frowning, Mary examined Will’s face. The trapper froze, looking very out of place around children.
“If I am hungry, then so are you,” said Mary. When Will made no effort to take the pemmican from her hand, she sighed patiently. Undeterred, Mary boldly yanked at his chin hair, popping a morsel of pemmican into his mouth when it opened. “Now you must chew,” she said soberly.
To Emma’s surprise, Will obeyed. His features softened as Mary fed him bite after bite, until he had eaten all of Mary’s pemmican.
“Thank you, little lady,” he nodded to Mary. “I’m much obliged.”
Mary grinned, her face strongly resembling Josiah’s.
Trying to hide her relief, Emma coaxed Mary back to the other side of the shelter to eat her lunch.
After Mary’s kind treatment, Will grew misty eyed and Emma saw him search about for something. When he pulled out a handkerchief to blow his nose, Emma wished she could take Mary and leave. She didn’t know if she could take much more pity– not when she had tears of her own threatening to give way.
With every look, every glance, every kind word, Emma felt herself being pitied. The poor woman was trapped. She thought herself not beautiful, and when an opportunistic half-breed of a mountain man came along and saved her life, she didn’t want to leave him. And even if she did, she was with child and no man would want a mixed baby that wasn’t his own. Emma didn’t need to hear the words come from Will’s mouth to know what he was thinking. She could read it in his eyes, just as though he had spoken the words out loud.
For now, Emma had no privacy to untangle her feelings. She had to keep smiling, all the while hoping for Josiah’s soon return.
Snow fell from the cloudy heavens as Josiah made his way across the valley floor in search of wildlife. George trailed several paces behind, seemingly wanting the distance between himself and Josiah.
Dropping his eyes to the flintlock in his hands, Josiah doubled checked his weapon, a habit he did without even thinking. Even now, his attention wasn’t on the rifle, but on the man behind him. George hadn’t said a single word all morning, and Josiah wished the fellow would get it over with and speak his mind.
“You still back there?” Josiah called over his shoulder.
“I’m still here.” The slight grin in George’s response made Josiah chuckle.
“I was just checking. You’ve been mighty quiet this morning.”
George made no reply.
“Reckon I know what yer thinking,” said Josiah. “Do you want to get it off yer chest?”
When George remained silent, Josiah stopped in his tracks and turned to face George.
George looked at him, apprehension filling his eyes.
“Say it, and be done with it,” said Josiah.
Biting his bottom lip, George cast his stare to the ground, unable to gather the courage to speak.
“Don’t have the brass to tell me, huh?” Josiah harrumphed. “You’ve a lot to learn about being a man.”
George’s head snapped up, and for a fleeting moment, he looked ready to stand his ground and speak his mind. His boldness quickly vanished however, leaving a young man fearful of meeting resistance and willing to avoid it at any cost.
Josiah shook his head sadly. “Never mind, let’s git moving again. We’re wasting precious daylight, just standing here and doing nothing.”
For quite some time after Josiah’s reprimand, George remained downcast and mute. His spirits improved when Josiah spotted some elk, and even more when Josiah urged him to take aim and shoot. Successfully bringing down the largest of the animals, George grinned with a sense of accomplishment that would last for the remainder of the hunt.
When daylight began to fade from the skies, Josiah and George made their way back to the others, each carrying one end of a wet hide filled with cut elk meat. It had been a successful trip, and Josiah nearly felt as pleased as George looked. With a rifle in one hand and a fistful of wet hide in the other, George appeared quite pleased with himself.
As they neared the shelter where Josiah had left Emma and Mary, he wondered how their day had fared. He had felt poorly for leaving Will with Emma, but there had been little choice. Josiah could only hope and pray things had gone well. He glanced at the man beside him, silencing a frustrated groan as he considered George’s character. George was a coward, no two ways about it. The wilds of the Rocky Mountains had been an odd place to find someone afraid of facing trouble, but here George walked, plodding beside him with fresh kill dangling between them in the elk hide.
“Won’t they be surprised to see this!” laughed George, looking down at his kill one more time. “I never thought fresh meat could look so good!”
“That’s because you’re the one who brought down that elk,” Josiah said with an amused smile.
The hint of smoke in the air told Josiah the shelter couldn’t be much farther. He looked forward to cooking some of this meat, and enjoying a meal with his family. Once again, his mind strayed back to Emma. She hadn’t been far from his prayers all day long.
As the shelter came into sight, Josiah heard a child shout, “It is Pa!” Then his tired eyes clapped on two figures as they hurried from the entrance, moving as fast as they could to come meet him. He paused to admire the sight of Emma running across the snow in her capote and deerskin dress, the retreating light softly highlighting her flushed cheeks.
Shouldering his rifle strap, Josiah’s free arm soon filled with an armful of Emma. She clung to him tightly, as though he had been gone for days, and not hours.
“I think you missed me,” he said with a pleased grin. Then Josiah felt the tremor in Emma’s embrace. “What’s wrong, Emma?”
“Pa, you shot an elk!” said a delighted Mary, first hugging Josiah’s leg and then going to admire the fresh meat. The girl’s attention didn’t stay on the meat for very long, for the young man holding one end of the hide stared at her as though she were a curiosity. Ducking behind Josiah’s trousers, Mary peered shyly at George.
“Emma,” Josiah pressed his lips to Emma’s ear, “are you all right? What happened?”
“Are you back, George?” shouted a voice from inside the shelter. “You catch anything?”
“I shot an elk!” George said excitedly, his focus returning to his prize. He gathered both ends of the wet hide, and with a great deal of trouble, managed to struggle into the shelter with his elk.
“Emma, you ain’t answering me,” said Josiah, as she clung to his bearskin coat, her shotgun trembling against both of them. “Are you all right? Did Will say something to hurt you?”
“Please,” she murmured quietly, “take me home.”
Josiah looked down at the girl huddling in a blanket at his side. She seemed unwilling to go very far from either him or Emma. “Is yer ma all right?” he asked the child. “What happened?”
Mary gave him a puzzled shrug. She timidly looked at the entrance as loud sounds of Will laughing at the sight of the elk, filled the evening air.
“Please, I want to go home,” said Emma, her voice on the brink of tears.
“All right, Em,” Josiah hugged her as gently as he could. “Just answer me one thing: Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m not hurt,” Emma said in a muffled voice.
He felt a stifled sob against his chest, and Josiah drew her closer. “We’re leaving, Emma. Just let me go inside and get our things. You wait out here with Mary.”
Letting go of Emma, Josiah unconsciously felt for the knife on his hip, his fingers wrapping about the handle until he noticed Emma’s large frightened eyes.
Her hand grasped his wrist, as if trying to stay whatever he had been contemplating. “Promise me you won’t get into a fight, Josiah.”
Josiah would make no such promise. “Stay here,” he said, ducking into the shelter to confront Will. If Will wanted to take out his hatred on someone, Josiah determined it would be directed at himself.
But not at Emma.
Outside, Emma heard Josiah’s deep baritone demand something from Will that Emma couldn’t quite make out. Will’s loud reply cut through the walls of the shelter, letting Emma hear every word.
“This is between me and you, Indian! Take the women home, and then we’ll talk!”
A higher pitched voice said something, and it was quickly silenced with,
“Stay out of this, George!”
Emma desperately wanted to leave, heartsick she had gotten Josiah so angry with the trappers. Mary became frightened, and hung to Emma’s capote like a quiet mouse, her small face intently paying attention to every word coming from the shelter.
Suddenly, someone emerged through the entrance. It was George. His reddened face showed an emotion Emma couldn’t quite place. Whether anger or frustration, she didn’t know, only that he locked eyes with her for a moment before stalking away with his rifle.
The language in the shelter raised several octaves, words becoming indistinguishable as Josiah and Will shouted at each other. For a brief moment, Emma panicked Josiah would become embroiled in a knife fight, for he sounded in a great rage. Then, the voices came to a stop, and Josiah said something in a very low voice that was impossible for Emma to hear.
Josiah appeared head-first through the entrance, and when he gained his feet, he came to her side, his jaw hard as granite. “I’m taking you home so you won’t have to hear,” he said in a low growl.
Josiah’s dark eyes flashed with a wildness that terrified Emma. She refused to budge when he tried to lead her away, back to their cabin.
“Josiah,” she said, yanking free from his grasp, “I won’t go– not until you give me your word that you won’t harm Will! He said some hurtful things, that’s true, but he apologized.”
“He did?” Josiah looked surprised. His excited breath came in huffs, and she could see he struggled to regain composure. “Emma, maybe he apologized to you, but he and I have a score to settle. I ain’t waiting fer him to git a hold of his shotgun, fer him and me to come to an understanding. Now’s as good a time as any to get it over with.”
Emma gazed at Josiah soberly. “Tell me you won’t kill him. I see that look in your eyes, Josiah, and it frightens me.”
Josiah’s teeth clamped together in frustration, but she could see the darkness in his expression release its hold. “I won’t harm him.” The words came at great cost to Josiah, and Emma sensed he hadn’t made the promise lightly. “I give you my word, Emma, I won’t hurt him.”
She held out her hand. “Then give me your knife.”
Without hesitation, Josiah unsheathed the weapon and handed it to Emma.
Clutching his knife, Emma let Josiah take her back to the cabin. She struggled through the snow, for unlike Josiah, she didn’t have her snowshoes. They were still back at the shelter, along with the robe and the rest of Mary’s blankets that Josiah had forgotten to bring.
After depositing Emma and Mary behind the safe log walls, Josiah left without a word. Emma saw the determined gleam in his eyes, and knew that for better or worse, Josiah and Will would have it out tonight.
The hours grew late, and Emma tucked Mary into bed with her dolls. When Emma heard the soft sounds of sleep coming from Mary’s bed, Emma picked up her shotgun, gathered a robe, and quietly left the cabin.
Emma didn’t intend to go far. She wanted to sit by some nearby trees to wait for Josiah, and to finally shed those tears she had bottled all those long hours. She didn’t know if tears came easier because she was with child, or because she felt she had a legitimate right to cry, but the tears came so freely it amazed her.
With all her heart, Emma wished she hadn’t greeted Josiah so desperately. She had excited his anger toward Will, and now she prayed nothing bad would come from their confrontation.
Scattered between her frantic sobs, Emma felt the sting of Will’s pity, still sharp in her consciousness. Sinking to her knees, Emma wept with all her strength.
When Josiah returned to the trappers’ camp, his temper had considerably died down. He had Emma to thank for that. Her fear of him harming Will, had had its effect, and now Josiah could think more clearly without rage choking at his insides.
Crawling through the entrance, Josiah noticed Will had done some calming down of his own. They regarded each other for several moments, and then Josiah took a seat before the fire, so that the men faced each other over the flames.
Josiah absently cast a loose twig into the blaze, giving himself a moment longer before speaking. “I don’t know what you said to Emma that had her trembling in my arms, but she told me you apologized. Fer that, I’m grateful.”
“I’m sorry I grieved her,” said Will, exhaling a deep sigh. “The poor woman’s had enough heartache, without my making it worse.”
Josiah narrowed his eyes. “What heartache are you meaning?”
“After you saved her life,” asked Will, “did you offer her freedom, or did she have no choice but to accept you as her husband?”
Josiah remained silent. He tried to wet his mouth but found he had no spit. He wondered how much Emma had told Will of that night.
“She remained fairly tightlipped about it,” said Will, answering Josiah’s unspoken question, “but I’m not stupid. I may be missing a leg, but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes. A respectable woman like her, doesn’t remain with someone like you, unless she feels she has no choice.”
“Emma can leave whenever she wants,” said Josiah, suddenly finding his voice.
“Have you told her that?” asked Will.
Josiah hesitated to answer, knowing full well he hadn’t– not really– not in so many words. He’d always been too afraid she might take him up on the offer.
Will leaned forward, his eyes searching Josiah’s face. “Did she have a choice in the matter when you took her to wife?”
“The situation didn’t allow fer it,” said Josiah. “It was either me, or the two Blackfoot who killed her pa.”
Will scratched his beard thoughtfully. “I have a peculiar feeling about you,” he said, leveling a finger at Josiah. “I have the feeling you used those Indians to make her more willing to accept you. I don’t know all the particulars, but you strike me as someone who saw a rare opportunity, and seized it with both hands.”
Josiah remained quiet. How much had Emma told him?
“Tell me I’m wrong,” challenged Will. “I’m thinking you gave her a choice of letting those Indians have their way with her, or her becoming your wife.”
Josiah grunted. “You think too much.”
“Maybe so,” sighed Will, “but I didn’t get to be my age without knowing which way the wind is blowing. And right now,” he said, pinning Josiah with an accusing look, “I don’t like the direction it’s going. Everything points to a low down, dirty skunk.”
Josiah didn’t move a muscle, only stared at Will with a glare that dared him to continue.
Will readily obliged. “You know what I think? I think you’re a scoundrel for using that poor woman the way you have, and I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to tell you so!”
“At last,” Josiah smiled grimly, “you found a reason fer living.”
“Tell me I’ve got it all wrong,” said Will, his voice rising as he spoke. “Tell me you aren’t the man I think you to be!”
Josiah felt his jaw muscles working. “I can’t. I reckon yer right about me.”
Nighttime had plunged the mountains into a silvery darkness where only the moon gave a faint cast on the snow. Emma hunkered beneath the heavy robe, trying to keep her tears from freezing on her cheeks. In the close, thick blackness of her cocoon, Emma continued to let herself cry. She wondered at her own bravery, sitting among the trees at night, by herself with her shotgun, pausing between sobs to listen for prowling animals and not shrinking at the smallest noise. Emma’s ears had become attuned to the wilderness, and the whispers of the wind as it passed through the snow ladened trees. The soft trot of a small animal moving through the deep snow, the hoot of an owl– nothing gave her alarm. She could hear everything–
“Emma, how long’ve you been out here?”
Emma startled. Everything, but Josiah.
Fighting her way out of the robe, Emma looked up to find a large figure towering above her. Josiah was a tall man, and her neck had to crane all the way back, just to see his head.
“I wish you wouldn’t stalk up on me like that,” said Emma, hearing the squeaky sound of her own voice for the first time. “You gave me a fright!”
“I weren’t stalking.” Josiah squatted, leveling his eyes with her face. “You were so busy crying, I could’ve dragged my feet through the snow and you wouldn’t have heard me.” A rough finger brushed Emma’s moist cheek. “How long have you been out here, Emma?”
“I don’t know.” Emma hated her shaky voice. “Is Will–”
“I didn’t lay a hand on him,” said Josiah, leaning his back against a tree with a weary groan. In the dimness of the night, Emma saw very little of Josiah’s features, except the occasional glints of his eyes as they caught the moonlight just right. “Are you cold?” he asked. Emma could hear his breathing, as he waited for her response.
“I’m warm enough.”
Josiah grunted, and Emma had a suspicion he didn’t believe her. He stood up, and something dark unfurled on the ground beside her. Two strong arms lifted her onto the darkness, and then Emma felt the thick fur of buffalo beneath her hand.
“Now you’ll be warm,” he said, taking a seat against a tree opposite hers. The branches above him moved in the wind, knocking snow onto his lap with little warning. Josiah casually brushed the snow away, his face remaining hidden in the shadows. Even though she couldn’t observe him, Emma knew he looked at her. She could feel his gaze. “Is Mary asleep?” he asked.
“Yes, I checked on her a little while ago.”
Josiah grunted, and then a heavy silence filled the air.
Emma adjusted her feet, enjoying the warmth collecting in her moccasins now that they rested on a robe instead of the frozen ground.
“At a rendezvous some seasons back,” said Josiah, his voice steeled with a roughness that surprised Emma, “someone brought two white whores to do some trading with the trappers. They did brisk business, but not with me. Those white women wouldn’t let me come near them, unless it was out of sight where no one could see they were laying with a half-breed.” Emma thought she could hear Josiah’s jaw tighten as he spoke. “One of them said she liked tumbling with me, and like a fool, I asked her to marry me. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she turned me down flat, but I was, and it hurt like someone had slugged me right in the chest. I was turned down by the white man’s table scrapes, not even good enough fer whores.”
Emma shuddered, though not from the coldness of the winter night. “Why are you telling me this, Josiah?”
“I’m a white man,” he said, his fist thumping his chest so loud Emma thought he might hurt himself. “I wanted a white wife, so they’d have to accept me as one of them. That, and I…” Josiah paused, “I was gitting kind of lonely. I hankered fer a woman of my own, and when yer pa said there was a white woman taken captive by Blackfoot, I couldn’t believe my good luck.”
Emma could hear her own breathing as she waited for Josiah to continue.
“When I came after you, all I kept thinking, was how to git you to accept me as yer husband. The two Blackfoot who took you, didn’t think anyone was tracking them, and I could’ve jumped them easy enough in the dark, and surprised them before they saw me coming. But I entered their camp as plain as anything, and suggested to them that I wanted a wife. By the time I came to you behind that tree, I had it worked out in my mind to give you the choice of being used and killed by them, or marrying me.”
A sob escaped Emma’s lips, and she clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from weeping out loud.
Josiah remained where he was, sitting across from her in the shadows, his form quiet and still.
“Emma?” he asked, when she remained silent for some time. He waited, his breath making trails against the dim moonlight.
“I knew you’d taken advantage of the situation,” said Emma, “but I hadn’t known to what extent I’d been right.”
Emma saw a glint of moonlight reflect in his eyes. She thought she saw something shimmer, but he moved, his eyes once more concealed in the darkness.
“Now that you know,” he said, “I expect you’ll go back to calling me Mr. Brown.”
The measured roughness in his voice contrasted the gentle touch of his hand, for when he leaned forward to make sure she kept warm, he was unable to hide his concern. As Josiah rested against the tree, Emma knew what he was up to. He was trying to make it easier for her to let go. She waited for the words to come, bracing herself as she heard him draw breath.
“Do you want to leave me, Emma?”
The words were cold, and it sent another shiver down Emma’s spine. She waited for the feeling to pass.
“Emma?” It hadn’t taken long for Josiah to become frantic, for she didn’t answer immediately.
“No, I don’t want to leave you,” said Emma, smiling in spite of her tears, for she heard the quick intake of Josiah’s breath, and knew he felt great relief.
“Oh, Emma, my poor sweet Emma!” The words caught in Josiah’s throat, and Emma heard the pain in his voice. All pretense of roughness had gone. She refused to leave, and now he could speak his heart. “That night I took you, I excused my decision ’cause I figured you owed me fer saving your life. But oh, Emma, I didn’t even give one thought to you or how the white people would treat you. Not even one thought! When Will confronted me about what I’d done, I suddenly had no more excuses. He was right about me. I’m a no-good, stinking skunk!”
“No,” said Emma, “don’t say that. You’re a changed man.”
“I took advantage of you,” he continued, “I let you think you had no choice.”
“You aren’t the same man you used to be,” said Emma, trying to fight for their relationship. She dried her face with the palms of her hands, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. “If you hadn’t changed, you’d never be so honest about the past. Even though the truth hurts, I’m grateful you told me.”
When Josiah remained silent, Emma left the warmth of her wrap to crawl to his side.
“No, Emma, you’ll git cold.” With a firm hand, he took her back to the robes. When he tried to return to his seat, Emma clutched his arm and refused to let go. Reluctantly, he sat down beside her.
“I’ve been with you for some time,” said Emma, “and trust me, you HAVE changed. You used to be a manipulator and scoundrel, that’s true, but not anymore. You’re a God-fearing man who’s trying to do the right thing, and I love you with all my heart.” She squeezed his hand, and the return pressure on her fingers said what his mouth could not. A shimmer slid down his cheek, and he hugged Emma close.
“I’m sorry, Emma,” he said, his voice a ragged whisper. “Are you sure you don’t want to leave me?”
“Never,” said Emma, trying to hug him even tighter than he was hugging her, and finding it impossible to do. He had her so tight, she could feel his heartbeat and measure his smallest breath. She closed her eyes, hiding herself in the darkness with her husband.
“God gave me to you, Josiah. All those years I waited and prayed for a husband, Pa kept telling me that God had a purpose for everything in my life, and to be patient. One day, said Pa, my prayers would be answered, though maybe not in the way I had thought.” Emma drew back, her chin tilted to look into Josiah’s face. She touched his wet cheek, gazing into those pooling reflections that told her he still wept. “I waited, and God brought you into my life,” said Emma, her voice soft and thoughtful. “I think He must’ve saved me for you, Josiah. That’s the only conclusion I can come to, for until I came into these mountains, I had the hardest time getting a man’s attention.”
Josiah chuckled, sorrow punctuating his hoarse laughter. Then his smile faded, and Emma heard him sniff back more tears.
“Do I get your attention, Josiah?” She flicked the eagle feather in his hair, and he quickly caught her hand.
“You know you do,” he said, pressing a kiss against her fingers. “I love you, Emma. I love you more than I love my own life.”
The sincerity of his words sunk deep into Emma’s heart, and her moment of mirth dissolved into longing. The moon had sailed to a different position in the vast ocean of stars, bathing Josiah’s face in a soft, silvery light. She saw him swallow hard, his eyes steadfastly holding hers in what seemed to Emma an eternity of time. All those years of waiting for a man to take notice of her, and offer her a home and a family of her own, had finally come true. It had taken nearly thirty years of her life, but God had answered her prayers in due season. God had given her to this man– this man who gently held her, his warm tears mingling with hers as they kissed.
Josiah had been well worth the wait.
The trees went sideways as he lowered her against the buffalo robe.
“Tell me yer mine,” he said, dropping his mouth to hers, his lips first grazing her mouth and then her cheek. “I need to hear it, Emma. Tell me now.”
“I’m yours, Josiah.” Emma tried to remain as calm as she could, for she felt the desperate way he held her and knew he needed reassurance. She understood his desperation, for in a way, she felt the same thing. All they had in the world were each other, their children, and God– especially God, for without Him, they truly were alone.
“Tell me you ain’t leaving me,” he said, his breath warming Emma’s face. “Tell me, Emma.”
Tenderly, Emma caressed his shoulder. “I’m not leaving you. Please, My Love, calm down.”
In an almost painful groan, Josiah clutched Emma, his face buried against her neck. “Thank you, God! She didn’t take me up on my offer to let her go! I don’t think my heart would’ve kept on beating, if she had left me.”
“Don’t say that, Josiah.” Emma stroked his head, trying to settle her own heart, as well as his. “If something ever happened to me, God would give you the strength to go on. You know that’s true, don’t you?”
“I reckon,” he said, pushing himself up to gaze into her face. “Just don’t test me on it, Emma. I need you too much.”
Before Emma could answer, Josiah covered her mouth with his in one of the gentlest kisses he had ever given her. All the troubles of the day melted into nothingness, and even the harshness of the winter night couldn’t fight against the warmth of that one kiss. She felt his hand move to the small of her back, and Emma regained her senses.
“We can’t stay out here all night, Josiah. Mary is by herself.”
The low moan in her ear told Emma that Josiah had heard and agreed. He lingered for as long as he could, at last sitting up and calming the warm huffs of breath that trailed in the cold night air. He offered Emma a strong hand, pulling her upright.
“Did you remember to bring back my snowshoes and Mary’s blankets?” asked Emma, straightening her deerskin dress.
Josiah chuckled. “Yer a wonder, Emma. Thinking of such things, after all that kissing.”
“Did you remember?” she asked. “Tomorrow, I intend to pay Mr. Will Shaw a visit.”
Even though she couldn’t clearly see Josiah’s face in the semi-darkness, Emma knew he was thinking.
“I remembered to fetch them,” Josiah said finally, his chin pointing to a nearby bundle in the snow. “You’ll go easy on Will, won’t you?”
“What’s this?” Emma smiled in spite of herself. “I thought you didn’t like him.”
Josiah shrugged. “I reckon he’s growing on me. He seems to have taking a liking to you and Mary, so I can’t fault him fer that.” Josiah lightly touched Emma’s hand as she prepared to get up. “I don’t know what you told Will about yer rescue, but you can git me into a heap of trouble by what you tell others. My life is in yer hands, Emma.”
Emma smiled at the last comment, and she heard Josiah grin.
“You fixing to get me into trouble, Emma?”
The impulse to tease Josiah disappeared when she thought of what could happen to him, and she quickly shook her head, “no.”
Josiah propped his forehead against hers. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came.
“I love you, too,” Emma whispered, giving him one last kiss before leaving their hideaway among the trees.
Hand in hand, Emma and Josiah strolled to the cabin. When they closed their eyes for sleep that night, they were hidden in each other’s arms. Their hearts already brimmed with love for each other, but their cup overflowed and love washed around them as they realized God’s loving mercy in their lives.
He had given them each other.