Don’t forgot to read – Common Ground : Chapter 16
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Outside the trappers’ shelter, Josiah put Mary down, having carried her from the lodge a short distance up the mountain.
“Hello in the shelter,” Josiah called out as he bent to untie his snowshoes. When no one answered, Josiah frowned. Setting his snowshoes by the entrance, Josiah lifted his rifle, pointing it inside the shelter warily. He could see no signs of trouble, but also no signs of Will and George. “Mary git inside and stay there.”
Mary obeyed, her face sober with concern. “Where are they, Pa?”
“I ain’t knowing, but I aim to find out. With Will’s leg the way it is, they couldn’t have got far.”
“Best say limb, Pa.”
Josiah smiled. He’d forgotten about that. “Keep out of sight until I git back, Cub, and keep yer pistol handy.”
After retying his snowshoes, Josiah followed the tracks leading farther up the slope, winding through the trees and rocks. There were three footprints, casting no doubt in Josiah’s mind who had made them. By the age of the tracks, Will and George must not be too far ahead.
Before long, Josiah heard the indistinct sounds of two men, their voices almost entirely swallowed by the wind. Flintlock in hand, Josiah ventured closer, not betraying his presence until sure of the situation. Many times as a boy, his pa had scolded him for coming in unawares on a situation; caution was better than blind assumption, and a man needed to keep his guard up, if he wanted to live. Wild animals and unfriendly Indians were just two of the dangers, either of which could put a man under the ground if he wasn’t careful.
Keeping himself concealed, Josiah stealthily followed the sounds.
In a small clearing up ahead, he found George leaning against a rock, the young man looking tired and somewhat bored. George said something, and a voice behind the rock answered.
With a grin, Josiah stepped from his cover, allowing George to see him for the first time. George waved, and said something to the rock. Will’s head appeared from around the rock, confirming Josiah’s guess. They had come here so Will could relieve himself. As far as Josiah was concerned, this was a good sign. Until now, Will had kept to the shelter, letting George clean up after his wounded partner.
“I’ll be done shortly,” said Will, giving Josiah a quick wave before disappearing again.
“How deep into Blackfoot country are we, Josiah?” asked George, as the two men waited for Will.
“Deep enough to git into mischief if they find us. Why? Are you gitting scared?”
George straightened a little. “I only wanted to know how cautious I should be, that’s all. Will said of all the Indians, the Blackfoot are the most dangerous.” There was a trace of disbelief in George’s voice, as though he hoped Josiah would disagree.
“I reckon that’s true enough,” said Josiah. “They’re a strong people, and fear little.”
“But they aren’t here presently?” asked George, obviously trying to grasp at some kind of hope. “Besides you and your family, we haven’t seen anyone in quite a while.”
“There ain’t any buffaler around, so I expect there ain’t much Blackfoot, either. But that don’t mean we can throw caution to the wind.”
“I know,” sighed George, lifting his rifle in answer to the advice he must’ve sensed coming. “Don’t go anywhere without a loaded weapon or a buffalo robe. I brought the weapon, but left behind the robe; we’re only a short distance from the shelter.”
“Yer catching on,” grinned Josiah.
“I’m ready to leave,” Will called from around the rock. George went to help up his friend, and Josiah made himself useful by assisting in their return to the shelter.
“Sure is good to get outside,” said Will, his breath coming in huffs as he exerted himself. The one leg did its best to help, though when it couldn’t keep up with Josiah and George’s pace, it finally dragged behind, useless.
“We’re coming, Mary, so don’t you go shooting us!” Josiah called to the shelter.
Mary appeared in the entrance, then quickly backed away when she saw they were preparing to come inside.
“In all my days, I’ve never seen a small girl with a weapon,” Will muttered, more to himself than to anyone else.
“She’s an odd one, all right,” said George. “My journal is fast filling with things I’m sure no one will ever believe to be true.” He glanced at Josiah as they lowered Will to the ground. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
“Or ever likely to,” said Will, pulling himself inside with his arms. “George is an educated man, so he’s led a sheltered life.” Will tossed a smile over his shoulder at Josiah. “I reckon just stepping outside this lodge holds more excitement for him than any day back in civilization.”
“That’s probably true,” George said in a low chuckle, as he followed after Will and Josiah. George put away his snowshoes, but looked up in startled surprise when one of the nearby animal skins moved. “Oh, it’s you, Mary! Make some noise so I know you’re there!”
“She takes after her pa,” said Will, watching Mary cross the room to sit beside Josiah. “One of these days, you’ll have to teach me some of your stealth.”
“You can’t sneak up on anything, dragging that leg,” said George, reminding Will of the obvious.
Will glared at George. “You’d do better to keep that nose in one of your books.”
“You have books?” Mary’s eyes widened with wonder. “We have a book. We have a Bible.”
“So does George,” Will said, evidently glad to change the subject. “Why don’t you show her your books, George?” With a chuckle, Will turned to face Mary and Josiah, as if to let them in on a private joke. “This crazy man brought books when he came to the mountains! Can you believe it? Books! Not small volumes, either, but thick heavy ones. What’s the good of leaving civilization behind, if you bring such unnecessary things with you?”
Mary blinked at Will, her expression one of bewilderment. “You do not like books?” she asked, her head cocked to one side in puzzlement. She was obviously having trouble figuring out this white man.
“I’ve never had much use for them,” said Will, shaking his head in disdain. “Education breaks a man’s spirit, right, Josiah?”
Josiah harrumphed, careful not to agree or disagree with Will. Such things were beyond his understanding, and as George pulled out three heavy books, intimidation sat heavy in Josiah’s soul. What were in those books? White man’s ideas, most likely, but what ideas? What did they say that someone took the trouble of putting them down into those scratches he had heard Emma say were letters.
Mary shared Josiah’s curiosity, for she eagerly moved beside George to peer at the books.
“This one is a Bible, of course,” said George, setting aside the volume, “and this is the only volume of Sir William Blackstone’s that survived theft; the other three were on my pack mule when it was stolen. Such a shame.” George sighed, opening the book. “This set cost me a small fortune in Massachusetts.”
“Massachusetts, is it?” Will leaned back with a triumphant gleam in his eye. “I’ve never been able to get you to tell me where you come from, George. I reckon this is as close to it as you’ve ever gotten.”
“There’s not much to tell,” George shrugged, letting Mary look over his arm at the open book.
“I know he comes from money,” Will said, turning to Josiah in confidence. “When I met him in St. Louis, he wore the clothing of a real gentleman.”
“Why’d he join up with you, and not some trapping expedition?” asked Josiah, for Will seemed in the mood for talk.
“He was too green for anyone to take a chance on him,” said Will, watching Mary point to something in the book. “I was the only one willing.”
“Then why didn’t you join a trapping party?”
“I wanted to come farther North than most felt comfortable,” laughed Will. “I reckon the joke’s on me, though, for I sure as–” Will crimsoned, and Josiah knew Will had just caught himself before unleashing an expletive. “I didn’t intend to land smack dab in Blackfoot country, that’s for sure.”
“S-she… w-who…” Mary sounded out the words on the open page while George stared in muted wonderment.
“She who holds the crown in her own right,” George finished, “… such a one has the same powers, prerogatives, rights, dignities, and duties, as if she had been a king.” George looked at Mary. “You can read? Who taught you?”
“Ma,” Mary grinned proudly. “But I can only read small words. I am not good like you yet.”
“But you intend to be?” The smile on George’s mouth looked strained. He didn’t seem amused at Mary’s ability to understand letters. “Few races posses the spark of higher understanding needed for true comprehension; everything else is but a parlor trick and rote memorization.”
“You be nice to the child,” said Will, his tone hardening as he addressed George. “You’d better pray our guests didn’t understand what you said, or you’ll be wishing you never left Massachusetts.”
George slammed the book shut, and Mary disappointedly watched him put it away.
“Mary,” Josiah beckoned the girl to leave George’s side, and she promptly obeyed.
Still glaring at Will, George folded his arms. “If the meat is dry, you may take your half now, Josiah.”
“Thanks, I might just do that.” Josiah raised his arm to let Mary hide against his hunting shirt. He had caught enough of George’s insult to know what had been said; strangely, it pleased Josiah that George had been impressed enough with Mary’s reading, that he had felt the need to lessen her accomplishment. Hugging Mary with one arm, Josiah grinned. “My Emma is real smart. She can read and write, and has been teaching Mary all she knows. I’m proud of them both.”
“You’ve every right to be,” said Will, sounding a bit uncomfortable in the wake of George’s statement. “Education improves a body’s spirit.”
Mary harrumphed. Not long ago, Will had voiced a very different opinion.
Chuckling in chagrined embarrassment, Will laughed at himself with the good humor of an easygoing man.
An involuntary smile flashed across George’s face, fleeting and almost unnoticeable except to Josiah’s watchful eye. That friendly feeling Josiah had sensed when first meeting George, slowly resurfaced. That feeling that George liked Josiah, and even Mary, though Josiah saw flashes of resistance every now and again.
“She’s a bright child,” Will smiled at the girl fondly, his words drawing Josiah back into the conversation. “With smarts like hers, she’ll learn to read in no time at all.”
A frown creased George’s forehead, and Josiah guessed George’s thoughts were troubling him again.
“I reckon we’d best git back to Emma,” said Josiah, readying to leave the trappers’ lodge. “Thanks fer showing Mary yer books, George. I reckon you must be a very learned man to understand all them words.”
The sincerity of Josiah’s compliment made George appear uncomfortable. It gave Josiah all the push he needed to speak further.
“Emma has a lot to do, and Mary’s lessons sometimes get put aside. I don’t suppose” — Josiah grinned — “I don’t suppose I could pay you to give Mary some schooling? I know she’d like it, and since you don’t have much else to do, maybe you’ll give it thought.”
“He’ll think on it,” said Will.
George stiffened at his partner’s promise.
“I ain’t wanting you to be pushed into anything, George. If yer willing, then I’ll pay what you reckon is fair fer such things. You think it over, and let me know what you decide.”
“He’ll have an answer for you, tomorrow,” said Will.
George said nothing to contradict Will, though by his firmly set jaw, Josiah knew George wasn’t happy.
Taking half of the dried elk meat, Josiah bundled it into a blanket wrapped about Mary. He crawled outside, put on his snowshoes, and then lifted Mary into his arms as she held the meat. Until he made Mary some snowshoes of her own, he wouldn’t let her walk in the snow.
Jostling a flintlock in one arm, and Mary in the other, Josiah made his way down the mountain to the small snug lodge waiting for them both.
Mary grinned excitedly. “Will I git some schooling, Pa? Proper schooling?”
“We’ll have to see about that.” Josiah hated to get Mary’s hopes up too high. “I ain’t thinking it’s very likely, so don’t you go setting yer sights on something you can’t reach.”
“Can we have elk jerky for supper, Pa?” Mary hugged the dried meat in her arms. “It sure smells good, don’t it?”
“It sure does,” Josiah grinned proudly. His little girl was sounding more like him, with every passing day.
“You asked Mr. Hughes to what?” Emma could hardly believe her ears. “After what he said to Mary, you asked him to tutor her? I don’t care if he accepts. I won’t allow it, Josiah, I simply won’t allow it.”
The pleased look on Josiah’s face vanished a little and Emma suddenly wished she hadn’t sounded so adamant. It might only serve to make Josiah more stubborn. He gnawed at the elk jerky, his face a wall of decided opposition. Emma sighed heavily. As she feared, Josiah had made up his mind, and he had done it without her.
“Mary, git ready fer bed,” said Josiah. “Yer ma and I have some talking to do.”
“Can I listen?” asked Mary.
“No.” Josiah stood up from the buffalo robes in one lithe motion. His dark eyes fastened on Emma. Without his having to say it, Emma knew he was angry. “I’m going out. Call me when Mary’s sleeping.” Josiah grabbed his bearskin coat, flintlock rifle, and then disappeared out the cabin door without a word more.
Silently, Mary finished her meal while Emma prepared the girl’s small bed. Then, after saying a prayer and exchanging goodnight kisses, Emma gathered her blanket shawl, and went outside.
Clouds covered the moon, forcing Emma to wait for her eyes to adjust to the darkness before she could look for Josiah.
A slight movement beside the cabin gave away his presence. Emma drew the shawl around her shoulders and waited for him to speak. Rifle resting in his arms, Josiah leaned against the logs, his face hidden in darkness.
“I thought you’d be happy to hear my news,” said Josiah. The edge in his voice couldn’t be missed. “I thought it’d please you, but I reckon I was wrong.” Josiah snorted, and Emma found herself wishing for one of his familiar harrumphs.
“You never asked me,” said Emma, her face growing warm in spite of the biting cold. “You made Mr. Hughes your offer, without even asking me if it was all right.”
“All right?” Josiah’s form straightened. “I don’t have to ask. My gitting yer agreement is only a favor, but I don’t have to consult you fer anything.”
“Then you don’t care what I think?”
“Of course I care.” Josiah moved forward, but Emma couldn’t help herself and took a quick step back. He stopped, the sound of his breath heavy in the night air. “I care what you think, Emma, or we wouldn’t be out here talking.”
“But you’re only talking, as a favor to me.”
“Woman, git it through that stubborn head of yers, once and fer all– I’m yer husband and you’ll do what I say.”
“I wish you’d stop turning this into a tug of war, Josiah. I’m not trying to usurp your authority.”
“Then don’t speak any more of agreement.” Josiah’s voice cut through the air, and Emma felt the heat of his breath on her face, even though distance separated them. “You and me don’t come from the same places, and we don’t see everything eye to eye. I understand that. But it don’t change the fact that we’re man and wife.”
“All I’m asking for is agreement.”
“No, yer asking fer much more.” Josiah leaned his shoulder against the wall of the cabin. “Yer wanting me to have to come to you, afore I make any decisions at all. And some decisions, I ain’t wanting any help making.”
They both knew what he spoke of. Civilization, and leaving these mountains.
“If you don’t want or value my opinion, then you must not want or value me.”
“I never said that, Emma, and you know it.”
“I have a mind,” said Emma, her voice raising as she spoke, “and I have thoughts, thoughts just as big and every bit as important as yours.”
“Yer real smart. I never said you weren’t.”
“But you don’t allow me to express them– not really. You don’t allow me to have opinions that differ from your own. You only put up with me, and try to cajole me with soft touches and consoling promises. You don’t listen to what I have to say.”
“I keep my word. I haven’t promised you anything, that I haven’t kept.”
“I’m not saying you have.” Emma sighed heavily. The pain between her eyes was getting worse, and this talk wasn’t helping. “Stop putting up with me, Josiah. Get my agreement, even if it means having to go to all lot of trouble to do it. Care enough what I think, that you’re willing to fight me to find agreement– that common ground for us to live in peace together. Don’t just ask me what I think and then pass over me like I didn’t matter.”
“Yer my wife, of course you matter.”
“Then fight me, Josiah.”
“What do you think I’m doing?”
“Why did you ask Mr. Hughes to be Mary’s teacher?”
Josiah laughed wearily. “That’s the first time you’ve asked me why, all night long. I told you my news, and you didn’t pause to ask why, you just started in on yer disagreement.”
“I did?” Emma struggled to remember. “Why did you, Josiah?”
“You mean, you care what I think? Even though I’m just yer husband?”
“Please, don’t tease me, Josiah. Not now.”
“I reckon I had my reasons,” Josiah’s shoulders shrugged, and Emma sensed he was weighing his willingness to explain his actions against that of what her reaction might be. “I thought it’d do George some good.”
“Because I have a hunch he likes me and Mary, even though we ain’t all white like he is; because he saw Mary was smart, and it shook him up; because I don’t like thinking that George can’t change– that’s why.”
“Those sound like good reasons,” said Emma. “Why didn’t you tell me those, in the first place?”
“You never asked.”
“Maybe I didn’t, but you kept silent because you didn’t want to have to explain yourself. You didn’t want the trouble of a disagreement.”
“This is trouble, Emma, no matter what you call it, this disagreement is trouble.”
“Do you love me, Josiah?”
Emma heard his mouth immediately open, and then close without an audible response. “Yer aiming to trap me,” he said finally.
“It’s not a trap, I promise. Do you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Then fight for my agreement.”
Josiah groaned. “Yer asking me to go to a lot of trouble, and if I don’t, yer going to say I don’t love you. If this ain’t an example of female thinking, I don’t know what is!”
“But, you do love me.”
“Yes, I love you.”
“Then I assume you must care what I think.”
“We’ve already been over this ground, Emma. I can see our tracks, plain as anything.”
“I realize we’re very different, Josiah, but our marriage is worth some trouble, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I reckon…” Josiah hesitated, and Emma knew he felt unsure of his footing. “If I ask yer opinion, though, you’ll be wanting to fight until we find some kind of agreement.”
“No, I’d want a reasonable, logical discussion.”
Josiah chuckled grimly. “Like the one we’re having now?”
“Our agreement matters, doesn’t it, Josiah?”
“I ain’t knowing, Emma.” Josiah sounded frustrated. “I wasn’t raised to care too much what a woman thought outside of the bed. Her job was to give pleasure at night, and keep camp during the day. Outside of her willingness to do those things, it didn’t matter what else she thought. I can tell you one thing, this ain’t at all the way my parents lived.”
Emma was silent. “Your pa beat Cora, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he beat her.” A consoling tone melted into Josiah’s voice. “Don’t be afeared, Emma; if I agreed with him on such things, I would’ve beat you long ago.” Josiah exhaled, pushing away from the wall with his shoulder. “I reckon I love you enough to get into a fight” — he laughed — “a spirited discussion, every once in a while. I’ll concede that ground, but it doesn’t mean if we can’t come to terms, I won’t do what I think is best. If that ain’t to yer liking, speak up.”
“That sounds reasonable, Josiah.”
“It does, does it? It doesn’t sound to you like I’m rolling over and playing dead, just to please my wife?”
“Or that I’ve a wide yellow stripe going down my back, because I’m yeller? A coward, afeared of only a single woman?”
Emma smothered a smile. “I don’t think it sounds that way at all.”
“You don’t, huh?”
“No, I don’t.”
Josiah leaned forward, until Emma found her back against the rough hewn logs of the cabin, his face inches from hers. “I ain’t afraid of a fight, Emma, but I am afraid of losing to you. I’ve fought off grizzlies, and enemy bound on lifting my scalp, but the biggest threat I’ve ever faced is standing right here in front of me.” A large calloused hand touched her cheek, and Emma heard him swallow hard. “I ain’t surrendering my better judgment to no woman, if even that woman is you. Do you understand me, Emma?”
Emma didn’t know what to say, her only thought that his lingering hand felt warm and inviting.
“Do you understand?” Josiah pressed her, until she murmured finally,
“I understand.” Emma didn’t know if that was quite true. She hoped she understood Josiah, and she sensed his fear of more change. But the entire country was changing, and Josiah could no more stop that, than he could the kiss that swept her firmly into his arms and kept her there. In that kiss, she felt his desperation, that crazy frantic desperation of clinging onto something that made sense when other things no longer did. She knew he didn’t want to need her, to need her love or her good opinion, and yet he needed them both. He needed her in so many ways, Emma began to realize the full extent of the hold she had on Josiah.
A wedge of light widened on the snow as the cabin’s window quietly opened. Josiah ignored the interruption by smothering Emma more passionately than before, but Emma knew who craned her neck out the window, watching them embrace.
“Mary,” Emma managed to break free long enough to speak, “go back to bed like a good girl.”
“What about Mr. Hughes?” asked Mary.
Josiah groaned, his breath steadying as he drew his mouth away from Emma’s. “What about him?”
“Can he be my teacher?”
“It’s all right with me, but only if it’s all right with yer ma.”
Mary waited for an answer, but Emma could only kiss and hug Josiah. He was trying.
After breakfast the next morning, Mary couldn’t sit still, even though Emma did her best by reviewing Mary’s alphabet and teaching her some new words from the Bible. But nothing could distract Mary for long. Her head kept bobbing up, looking to the door expectantly at the smallest sound of someone approaching the cabin.
“It ain’t likely he’ll come,” said Josiah, slanting Mary a warning glance over the work in his lap. “I told you not to set yer sights too high, remember?”
Sighing heavily, Mary sat down beside Josiah and watched him tear apart an old pair of his moccasins. The toughened leather soles would be reused to form new shoes for Mary.
Something moved outside the cabin, attracting Mary’s immediate attention. She hopped to her feet and ran to the door, stopping only because she couldn’t open the door by herself. “Ma!” Mary looked at Emma pleadingly.
“There’s nothing out there but wild animals and the wind, Little One.”
“Ma, I heard something! It is Mr. Hughes, I know it is!”
“Yer letting wishfulness git in the way of yer thinking, Mary.” Josiah expelled a groan as Emma opened the door. They had been through this several times that morning, and Emma understood Josiah’s skepticism. The longer it took for George to come with his answer, the more likely his answer would be “no.”
Upon finding no one at their door, Mary quietly returned to Josiah’s side to watch him work.
Josiah looked at Mary out of the corner of his eye. “One day, we’ll find you another teacher. Fer now, you’ll have to make due with yer ma. Ma’s a good, fine woman, so you’ve got nothing to gripe about.”
“I ain’t griping, Pa.” Mary stared at the old moccasins in Josiah’s lap. “He did not come because I am Blackfoot?” The words fell like heavy stones to the floor, Mary’s voice soft with feeling and heartfelt disappointment. Emma saw understanding dawning in Mary’s face, and wished she could’ve shielded Mary from the truth. The world would come soon enough, with all its trials and prejudices. The best thing about these mountains were their remoteness, and Emma wished they had been remote enough to keep Mary from the truth a little longer.
Josiah patted Mary’s head. “Not all white people are the same, so don’t you go thinking they are. Look at yer ma. She ain’t got a drop of Indian blood in her, and it don’t make any difference to us, does it?”
Mary shook her head “no,” a smile creeping onto her small mouth. Something moved outside the door, but this time, Mary remained where she was. Then Emma saw Mary’s nose sniff the air, and Mary’s features suddenly came to life with surprise. “Pa, it is him!”
Josiah’s back straightened, his face toward the door. No one had knocked, and Emma thought Mary must surely be mistaken.
“I can smell him,” said Josiah. “He ain’t making much noise, though. I reckon he’s just standing there in the snow, thinking– that, or he’s trying to listen.” Putting aside the moccasins, Josiah got to his feet and moved toward the door. “Go sit with yer ma, Mary.”
“Do as I say.” Josiah gave Mary a commanding look, and the girl obeyed.
Emma gathered Mary onto her lap, both watching Josiah open the door.
Snow swirled inside, and Josiah stood staring at the figure before him. “Are you coming in?”
The figure moved forward, into the cabin and into the warm light of the fireplace.
“Good day, ma’am,” said George, nodding to Emma as Josiah shut out the cold by closing the door. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I came to speak with Josiah.”
“You ain’t interrupting,” said Josiah, motioning George to take a seat on the floor. “Best take off yer capote first, or you’ll get to sweating.”
After unbinding his snowshoes and removing his coat, George sat down while Josiah resumed his work.
“I’m fashioning Mary some moccasins,” said Josiah, answering the unasked question in George’s face. “Next, I’ll be making little girl sized snowshoes.” Josiah grinned, saw that George didn’t smile, and bowed his head again to work. “What’s on yer mind, George, that you’ll stand in the snow fer so long?”
“It hasn’t been long,” said George. Then his mouth opened in surprise. “How long have you known?”
“Long enough to know yer trying to make up yer mind about something.” Josiah slanted George a knowing look, and the young man fell silent. “Have you given any thought to my offer?”
“I have.” George stared at the floor. “I’ll teach your daughter.”
Josiah’s eyes narrowed and the work in his lap came to a stop. “You don’t have to, George. I ain’t trying to pressure you.”
George smiled wanly. “But you are. I owe you, Josiah. I owe you my life, as well as Will’s. I won’t accept payment for teaching your little girl, and I think you realize that, or you wouldn’t have asked.”
“I don’t say things I don’t mean,” Josiah said evenly. “If I said I’d pay you, then I meant it.”
“That may be, but I can’t accept.” George glanced at Emma and Mary, sitting on the buffalo robes not far from where he spoke with Josiah. “I was taught to pay my debts, and that’s what I intend to do.”
“Very well.” Josiah said nothing more, only “very well,” and resumed his work.
“I can’t believe I’m here.” George cast Emma and Mary another awkward glance as he spoke. He appeared nervous. “This isn’t like me at all.”
“I thought you said you always pay yer debts,” said Josiah, not bothering to look up from the moccasin working in his broad hands.
“I pay them,” said George, “but I’ve never before owed so much to someone… someone like you. If you knew my family, you’d understand how difficult this situation is for me.”
“It ain’t too easy fer us, either,” Josiah said dryly.
“No, you don’t understand,” the frustration in George’s voice was building, “you don’t know me. You don’t know my father. If he knew I was here, speaking with you as an equal, he’d disown me outright. My father isn’t the kind of man people often disobey.”
“Yer pa ain’t here.”
“No, he isn’t,” George said a little hopefully.
“If yer willing to give Mary some reading and writing lessons, we won’t tell him. I give you my word.”
This prompted a smile from George. “Thank you, but I don’t think it’d help.”
He hadn’t said it outright, but Emma understood what George had meant. His father would never accept the word of someone like Josiah.
“What he don’t know, won’t hurt him.” Josiah turned the leather between his fingers. “I reckon it don’t matter much where a man comes from; it’s what he does and how he lives that speaks the loudest. My own pa had his faults, but it doesn’t mean I have to follow in his footsteps and repeat them.”
George looked at Josiah with an open, forthright stare. “Are you sure you want me to teach Mary? You don’t know me, Josiah, not really. If you did, you wouldn’t want me as her teacher.”
“Do you mean to tease her and make her feel poorly for who she is?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then we understand each other.” Josiah’s face held a warning that anyone could read clearly. Don’t hurt Mary.
George nodded in silent agreement.
“Emma, you have anything to say?” asked Josiah. “Anything here change yer agreement about OUR decision?”
From the great deal of emphasis in Josiah’s question, Emma knew he took great delight in asking it. Doing her best to maintain composure, Emma tried to ignore the wide mouthed grin of her husband. Although tempted to ask about George’s family, and father, Emma left her curiosity unanswered. Josiah hadn’t asked, so neither would she. “How much education have you had, Mr. Hughes?”
“As much as my health and constitution would allow,” George said with a smile. “My education was interrupted when I left Massachusetts, but when I return, I intend to finish what I started and earn my degree.”
“And what would your degree be in?”
“Law. I’m a student at Harvard Law School.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, and when Emma remembered her American history, it came to her. The sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, had been a graduate of Harvard, and had later been a student of the law before entering his political career.
Such were the caliber of men who came from Harvard College.
This was no backwards trapper sitting at their hearth, but a future lawyer who would one day interpret the law for others. Men such as these were judges and senators, men with influence to shape a nation. Looking at George, Emma frankly didn’t feel the young man was up to the task.
“Why was your education interrupted?” asked Emma.
George cast his gaze to the ground, his brow furrowing. “I’d rather not say, ma’am. Things were becoming difficult there, and I needed to think.”
“Isn’t college an excellent place to think?”
“Sounds to me,” Josiah put in, “you ran away from school.”
When George remained silent, Josiah had his answer.
“I’ll go back and finish,” George said in a low, steady voice that spoke of resolve. “I’ll show them I’m not afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” asked Mary.
The question shook George from his thoughts, for when he looked up to see Mary staring at him so wonderingly, he looked embarrassed to have spoken his mind out loud. “I’ll be by tomorrow, to give your first lesson.” George turned to Emma. “Would late morning be all right?”
The girl on Emma’s lap squirmed happily. “That would be fine,” said Emma, stilling Mary with a hug. “I’m sure she’s eagerly looking forward to it.”
With a half smile, George put on his snowshoes, collected his capote and rifle, and then headed out the door.
“What a strange man,” said Emma, releasing Mary as the child let out an excited war whoop. “Little One, young ladies simply do not do that.”
“I reckon you never guessed you had a lawyer sitting in yer lodge, did you, Em?” Josiah looked at her with merriment. “Men of all kinds come to the mountains– some to find their fortunes, some to run away from their lives back East. I wonder if what George is running away from, has come along fer the ride.”