Mountain Wild – Friendship : Chapter 18

Don’t forgot to read – Books, Teachers, and other Unnecessary Things : Chapter 17


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t seemed physically impossible for Mary to sit still for more than two minutes at a time. She swallowed her supper without chewing, and every time Emma told Mary to do something, Emma had to repeat herself before Mary listened.

“Will he bring books?” asked Mary, as she finally stoked the fireplace with more wood as Emma had asked. “Will Mr. Hughes bring books?”

“I don’t know, Mary, but I wish you’d calm down.” Emma glanced at Josiah. He worked cross-legged on the buffalo robes with Mary’s moccasins, busily saying nothing. Emma wished he’d speak up, and answer some of Mary’s questions.

“Can he be my friend, Ma? Do you think he will be my friend?”

“I don’t know, Mary. Now, please, settle down. Mr. Hughes only agreed to be your teacher while he’s here, in the mountains.”

“I know, Ma.” Mary squatted beside the fireplace, her eyes glittering with hopefulness. “I wish he would be my friend. I surely do want one, Ma.”

“I’m your friend, aren’t I, Little One?” Emma stroked Mary’s braid as they both enjoyed the warmth of the hearth. Mary had been speaking much of friends that evening, and ever since, Josiah had been increasingly silent. “You have two friends right here. Your pa and me. And then there’s your grandmother, and your great-grandpap.”

“But,” Mary sighed dully, “they are family.”

“That doesn’t mean they can’t also be friends.”

“But I want a real one,” said Mary, wistfully dropping onto the buffalo robes and then hugging her knees to her chest. “I want a real friend, Ma, one who is not my family. I am tired of being the only one who does not have a friend.”

“Mary, if you can’t count family, then I’m the same as you. I don’t have anyone but you and Josiah.”

“But,” Mary looked up at her wistfully, “you had friends in… where you came from, in the white man’s world.”

“I came from Indiana,” said Emma, “but I had very few real friends.”

“Why?” Mary gazed at her in bewilderment.

“I was different.” Emma tried to sound as though it didn’t matter, but knew she failed. The strained sound of her own voice told her it had mattered, and still did. “Without my spectacles, I can’t see very far, and when I was little, the other children teased me. I suppose it made me shy when I grew up, for I never possessed the happy ability to make new friends easily.”

“I will never tease you for that, Ma. Besides, you ain’t so very blind. There was worse in our village than you.”

“Thank you, Mary.”

Even though he didn’t look up, Emma knew Josiah listened.

“You are my friend, Ma, but I still want a real friend. Someone who will like me, even though I am not the same as them.”

Opening her arms wide, Emma invited Mary to her side. When the girl came without hesitation, with a smile and a hug in return, Emma said nothing more. She only hugged Mary, quietly wishing the girl didn’t so completely understand what it was like to be different.

“Ma?” Mary’s voice sounded a bit sleepy now, cuddled in Emma’s arms. “When I marry, will my husband be my friend, or will I feel the same?”

“The same?” Emma peered down at Mary, and noticed the girl’s eyes growing heavy with sleep. “What do you mean, Mary?”

“Will I still want a friend, or will he be my friend, because he is my husband?” It was a very big question for such a small child.

“I believe,” said Emma, trying to choose her words carefully, “if you love someone enough to marry him, then he’d better be your friend, first. Don’t you think? Or else your days will be long, and the nights even longer.”

“I want a friend, Ma,” Mary said yawning, “even more than I want a husband.”

“Well,” Emma smiled, “since you’re only nearing six year old, I should hope so.” She kissed Mary’s cheek. “You’re still very young, so there’s plenty of time for both. Come, it’s bedtime.”

Stretching her arms high above her head, Mary yawned. “I am not tired.”

“Then you can lay down until you are. Come, Little One, before you fall asleep, and I have to carry you.” Emma lightly tickled Mary, and Mary’s eyes brightened a moment before closing.

“I’ll take her,” said Josiah. He set aside the moccasins, got to his feet, then lifted the tired girl onto her bed.

Sleepily, Mary looked about for Emma. “I want Ma.”

“I’m coming,” said Emma, crawling from the robes to Mary’s small bed. She heard Mary’s prayer, gave and received a goodnight kiss, then tucked the child in with one last hug.

Mary ended her protest with a reluctant yawn. “I want to stay awake.”

“Goodnight, Mary.” Emma kissed her daughter, smiling when Mary’s eyes closed and remained shut. Such a dear child, Emma thought, as she returned to the robes.

Josiah resumed his work on the small pair of moccasins, but scooted over to make room for Emma to lay down.

She touched his buckskins, resting her hand on his knee. “You’ve been awfully quiet, tonight.”

Josiah grunted. “She’s in for an awful lot of heartbreak, Emma.” Emma followed Josiah’s gaze to their sleeping daughter. “What’s the point of birthing in life, when you know life will only bring it pain?”

“There’s more to life than pain, Josiah.”

He harrumphed. “I reckon, but it sure is a big part of living.”

Folding her legs beneath her, Emma sat up to look into Josiah’s face as he bent over his work. “What’s wrong? You were completely silent while Mary talked of wanting a friend.”

“If I ask you a question, Emma, will you answer it truthfully?”

“I’m not in the habit of lying, Josiah.”

“I ain’t saying you are. I just want to know something. Something important. Mary may not want to count family among her friends, but I do.” He leveled his eyes with Emma’s. “Am I yer friend?”

“Of course you are.”

“Am I good friend?”

Emma gazed at Josiah, not knowing whether to laugh.

“Mary wanted to know if her future husband would also be her friend, and it got me to thinking.” Josiah’s dark eyes searched Emma’s face. “I got to wondering if I’m as good a friend to you, as you are to me. I ain’t thinking so much of myself to say that I am, only that I hope I am.”

The quick assurance on Emma’s tongue faltered, his words taking her by surprise. Josiah wasn’t in the habit of humbling himself before her like this.

“I want to know,” he said, touching the hand resting on his knee. “Tell me, Emma. Am I a good friend to you?”

“You are,” Emma finally managed.

He pierced her with his stare. “Yer not just saying that to please me, are you?”

Emma leaned into him, touching her lips to his cheek. “You are my dearest friend, Josiah.”

“Even after all that’s passed between us?”

“Yes.”

He gently squeezed her hand. “Thanks, Em.”

When he picked up the small moccasins, Emma lay down to watch him work. Firelight flickered against his features, betraying the dampness hiding in the corners of his eyes. She touched Josiah’s wrist, and he paused to look at her.

“I’ll join you in a bit,” his voice hushed against the quietness of the cabin. “I want to get these finished up fer Mary, so she can wear them tomorrow.”

“Josiah?”

“Go to sleep, Emma. I’ll lay down when I’m done.”

“I love you, Josiah. I’ll love you and will be your friend for as long as I live.”

“You will?” He quickly brushed something wet from his eye. “Do me a favor, Emma, and go to sleep.”

“Josiah, what’s wrong?” She sat up again, and he exhaled his annoyance even though his arm tugged her close.

“We’re both knowing I don’t deserve you, Emma. I got a better wife than I should, and I’ve never had a better friend than you.”

“But what, Josiah?”

He turned to look at Mary, sleeping with the head of one of her dolls resting against her cheek. “What’s going to become of Mary, if her future ain’t as blessed?”

“I pray God will bless her even more than He has us,” said Emma. “I’ve been praying that for some time now.”

“I never thought it was possible to be friends with yer spouse, but you’ve proved me wrong, Emma. I only pray to God that Mary can find such a haven as that. Someone dear to her heart, that’ll go on loving her, no matter what trouble comes.”

“For as long as we have her, Josiah, we are her haven. When the time comes to let her go, I trust God will choose a good man for our Mary.” Emma watched Josiah mull over his worries. She touched her finger to his chin, but his expression remained the same.

“Give it to the Lord, Josiah.”

“What happens if she marries someone who beats her, instead of loving her like he should?” Josiah’s eyes narrowed in contempt at the very idea of such a man.

Slipping the unfinished moccasins from Josiah’s lap, Emma pulled his hunting shirt over his head. He absently complied.

“What if he beats her, Emma? What if I ain’t around to stop it?”

“She isn’t married yet, Josiah. She’s still a little girl, and you’ve already got her married and moved away.” He looked so worried, he didn’t notice Emma coaxing him down to bed. “Whatever happens, Josiah, trust her future to the Lord.”

“He’d better not beat Mary.”

“Who?”

“Mary’s husband.”

Lying side by side, Emma observed the worried crease in his forehead. Josiah was lost in thought, troubles that had not yet come, burdening him down like a man struggling beneath a sack of weights.

“What about our baby?” asked Josiah, his voice ladened with worry. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“Him? What if it’s a girl?”

“What if he can’t find a good woman like you, Emma?”

She pushed herself up to kiss Josiah’s shoulder, his chin, and then lingered above his mouth. “Give it to the Lord,” she mumbled through the kiss.

Josiah didn’t need any more distraction, Emma’s love being more than enough. One broad hand touched the small of her back, while another blindly grasped at the bedding, until both were concealed beneath the blanket.

The air hung sleepily in the shelter, lulling George back to slumber until the emptiness in his stomach demanded action.

“Will,” George cast a boot at his friend. “Wake up, Will. It’s morning and I’ve got to get you fed and cleaned up before I leave.”

Will stretched out, and scratched the beard covering his chin. “You’re going somewhere?”

“Don’t you remember? I’m going to be at Josiah’s cabin, teaching Mary. Maybe you’re getting forgetful in your old age,” said George, grinning as the boot came hurling back at him.

“I’m not that old.” Will pulled himself into a seated position, and looked about for breakfast. Will was old enough to be George’s father, a fact George sometimes wished were true.

Over a meal of dried elk meat, George opened his journal and began to write down his thoughts. His pencil halfway through the first sentence, Will broke all concentration by talking. Worse, he waited for George to answer.

“Scribbling away in that book again?”

“What does it look like?”

“What are you writing? Anything about me?”

“Your name comes up once in a while,” George said over his shoulder. He jotted down his few thoughts as quickly as he could before he had to put the journal away and help Will.

“What are you saying about me?” Will had taken another bite of food, and George could hear it when Will spoke. “You’re always scribbling in that journal of yours, and I want to know what you’re saying about me.”

George closed the journal with a decisive thud. “These are my own thoughts, not meant for others to read but myself. Do you want a trip outside?”

“I reckon. But I still want to know what you’re saying about me, behind my back.”

Though George had a habit of complying with Will, the journal was private and George resisted as politely as he could.

“I’ll straighten your blankets before I leave,” said George, hoping if he ignored the question, the subject would be dropped. “And I’ll leave some food by your bed in case I don’t return before lunch.”

“You’re fixing to leave me here, all by myself, until noon?” asked Will, as George helped Will outside and into the snow. “I don’t think I like that.”

Hefting Will onto his only leg, George steadied them both so they wouldn’t fall. “If you get lonely, sit by the entrance and watch for buffalo.”

“Buffalo.” Will grunted disbelievingly. “There aren’t any buffalo, this high in the Rockies.”

“Then watch for rabbits,” said George, propping Will beside a snow covered rock where Will could have enough privacy to drop his trousers without fear of women happening by. It was because of this, because of Josiah’s woman and little Mary, that Will demanded they go so far up the mountain. Today, George decided on a closer location.

“Rabbits.” Will spit at the snow, then looked at George with weary patience. George had become familiar with that look, the look that said he was green as grass, a youngster who didn’t know up from down. An idiot. Will had never said those exact words, but he didn’t have to. That look said it all.

“Then clean your shotgun, I don’t care,” said George, slumping against the other side of the rock to wait. “Find something that’ll keep you busy until I get back.”

“Why can’t I come?” asked Will, everything hidden behind the rock but the top of his black head. Hair stuck out in every angle, a testament to Will’s oblivion to the civilized world. Will had partially surrendered by shaving, but the whiskers were already growing back, and before long, he would look like the hairy mountain man George knew him to be.

“I want to come,” said Will. “I’m not going to sit in that shelter, while you’re having yourself a good time.”

“I’m teaching an ignorant little girl to read and write,” said George, checking Will’s progress before stepping away to look at the valley down the slope. “Do you call that a good time?”

“I call that being sociable.” Will hollered, and George came to help him up. “I hope you’re going to treat Mary better that that,” said Will, “better than what she is. She may come from an unfortunate parentage, but it isn’t right to hold it against her.”

“I still can’t believe that about Josiah and the girl’s true mother,” George shook his head, having only been informed of it yesterday. Will had told him. And now regretted it, from the caution George saw in Will’s face.

“It isn’t Mary’s fault,” said Will, leaning into George as the two men slowly worked their way back to the shelter. “I never should’ve told you. Josiah told me in confidence, when I asked him who Mary’s real ma was. Mrs. Brown had said the girl wasn’t hers, so I asked Josiah in private. He told me, and now that I’ve gone and told you, you’re going to give the girl a difficult time!” Will looked truly flustered.

“It makes little difference to me, I assure you,” said George, easing Will down so the man could elbow his way inside. “Bastard or not, she’s still–”

“Saying things like that could get us in a heap of trouble,” said Will, interrupting George without apology. “We need Josiah’s help, and besides that, I’ve taken a liking to the man. He’s a rare breed of wild man and gentleman, and I won’t stand by and let his daughter be mistreated– bastard or not. Mrs. Brown has taken the girl as her own, and that’s all that matters. Mary has a ma, and if I haven’t wrecked things too badly, she still has a teacher.”

“I told you last night, I wasn’t going to back out.” George felt impatience welling within him. “I freely acknowledge we owe Josiah this, and much more. I’ve already promised you I would treat Mary politely, and I mean it.”

“I want to go with you,” said Will.

“I’ll only be gone until noon,” said George. “You won’t get lonely.”

“I don’t care about that. I’m coming with you.”

Irritation taking hold, George ignored Will. He picked up his remaining volume of Sir William Blackstone, and crawled through the entrance with Will’s protests sounding in his ears.

Tramping down the mountain in his snowshoes, George wished for the day to be already over. He would teach Mary, and then return to the shelter. No one back home would ever need know he was in the company of these people. He would get through this, survive, and go back home with his head held high.

He would be polite.

George adjusted his capote, took a deep breath, and knocked on the split log door of the small cabin. Inside, he heard the indistinct shouts of Mary, evidently celebrating his arrival.

“Just get through this,” George muttered to himself.

The door opened, and the woman greeted him with the same warm smile as the day before. She was a beautiful woman, George admitted to himself as she showed him inside. It was no wonder Josiah had risked so much, to have her for his own.

The mountain man in question looked up from where he worked leather strips into a webbing for snowshoes. George glanced at Mary’s feet, realizing she was wearing her new moccasins.

“How’s Will?” asked Josiah.

George lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. “Same as yesterday.” The woman was arranging some hides on the floor, where he was apparently supposed to hold school. “If it isn’t any inconvenience to you, ma’am, I’d rather work at the table.”

“Oh?” she looked at him with a smiling face, then urged him to shed his winter gear. “Mary,” she said, turning to the now subdued little girl beside her, “show Mr. Hughes to the table.”

Mary looked up at George, her expression timid. She grinned unabashedly when she saw the book under his arm.

“Do you need more light, Mr. Hughes?” the woman asked as George took a seat at the table. Mary scooted an upright log beside him, obviously eager to get started.

“No, ma’am, this is fine,” said George. He nodded his gratitude anyway, when Emma cracked open the window shutters, allowing light to spill onto the table.

“What is in the book?” asked Mary, her dark eyes flashing with hungry curiosity.

“It’s a law book,” said George, opening it so she could see. “This volume is the first in a set called ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England,’ by Sir William Blackstone.” He continued, explaining the importance of law, particularly the profound significance of Sir William’s influence on America. He waxed long concerning material that his aunt in Massachusetts had complained was “dry, uninteresting.” But little Mary Brown sat rooted to her log chair, eyes wide with interest. The rights of people, the judicial process, justice– all kept the girl absolutely still. Her expression was so fixed, George felt as though he were speaking great words of wisdom, rather than the ramblings of a run-away law student.

After several minutes of expounding the law, George realized his mistake, and set about the task of finding out how much his small pupil understood of the alphabet. She knew them all, from A to Z. She could read short words, though had an impossible time of anything longer than three letters. This, George decided, was a good place to start.

“Sound the word out, Mary,” he said, guiding her eyes to the word on the page.

Mary tried, then sighed when he told her she had gotten it wrong. Again and again she tried, until George gave up and moved to the next word. Again, she couldn’t manage, and he moved to the next. George felt a twinge of satisfaction in her failure, but when he saw a tear squeeze from her eyelid, and escape down her cheek, George’s victory promptly faded.

“Now, now, dry your tears and let’s begin again. Perhaps I’m going too quickly for you. I’ll slow down.” George tried to give her an encouraging smile, and she seemed to perk up with the kindness. “When you see two vowels side by side like this, the second vowel is silent, but the first is long. Understand?”

Mary gazed at him, mystified, but nodded anyway. George had a hunch she didn’t understand, and went over it until he noticed a light behind her eyes. She understood, and proved it by reading the next word.

The broad grin on Mary’s face when she read a word correctly was infectious, and before long, George found himself cringing when she made a mistake, and celebrating her small victories right along with her.

He quite forgot that her pa was sitting nearby, most likely keeping an eye on him to make sure everything went all right. It wasn’t until the end of a few sentences, when Mary exclaimed to Josiah, “Pa! I am reading! Did you hear me read?” that George suddenly became aware of the two other people in the room. The couple tried to behave as though they were too engrossed in work of their own to notice, but Josiah’s quick smile to Mary said otherwise. Josiah was following very closely, and so was the woman.

The woman. The white woman who was Josiah’s wife. She smiled thankfully at George and he smiled back. Her very demeanor was one of a mother, guarding over her child, protective of its feelings, delighted with its successes. And yet, she was not the girl’s true mother.

“Did I read it right, George?”

George’s attention had wandered, and Mary’s voice called him back to their lesson. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear.”

“Mary.” Mrs. Brown gave Mary a reproving look. “We do not call people by their first name without their permission.”

Mary frowned. “Pa does. I think he does, don’t you, Pa?”

At being called on the spot, Josiah cleared his throat. “I don’t reckon I ever gave it any thought, Mary. But if yer ma says not to, then you best obey.”

“I can call you George, can’t I, Mr. Hughes?” Mary turned to him, and George found himself once again smiling. With such an engaging child, it was hard not to. “I suppose it’s all right,” he heard himself say.

“Can we finish this page afore lunch?”

“That’s ‘before,’ and no, that’ll take too long. We’ll resume tomorrow.” George shut the book, and Mrs. Brown immediately closed the shutters. The cabin had been steadily growing colder with the window even partially open, and George was glad to have it shut again.

“I’m afraid tomorrow is out of the question,” said Mrs. Brown, returning to the fire to resume her mending. “School is closed on the Lord’s Day.”

“I’d forgotten tomorrow was Sunday,” said George. He picked up his book, but remained in his chair. He was ready to leave, but didn’t get up.

“If you want, you and Mr. Shaw can come for service,” said Mrs. Brown. “It’s not anything much, just some singing and reading from the Bible.”

His thumb fumbled at a corner of the law book. “Yes, ma’am, we’ll come.”

“Good.” That warm smile again, and then a hug for Mary. That was Mrs. Brown.

He put up no fight when invited to lunch, and stayed the entire afternoon, saying very little but observing the family together. He would’ve been loath to admit it in public, but he liked what he saw.

From the moment George returned, Will had eyed him angrily. Why hadn’t he come back sooner? Had anything bad happened? Did he know that Will had been sitting there, thinking the worst, yet helpless to do anything about it? George answered Will, then went on to relate the first day of tutoring the Brown girl. Since George admitted to making Mary cry at one point, Will didn’t consider it an entire success, but for the first day, Will declared it a promising start.

Sunday morning, George and Will arrived at the cabin to the welcome of Josiah and his wife. The last vestiges of shyness from Mary were gone, and she sat beside George, sharing his Bible as Mrs. Brown read from her worn Bible. Mary tracked George’s finger as he followed Mrs. Brown from verse to verse, a visual aid to help Mary recognize words as they were being read aloud. Even though Josiah sat beside his wife on the robes during the service, George had a feeling Josiah couldn’t read, for the buckskin clad trapper gazed blankly at Emma’s open Bible, ignorant of where she was on the page.

Then Mrs. Brown sang a hymn, with Josiah doing his best to keep up with words that were obviously unfamiliar to him. It was a novel thing to watch Josiah, a roughened man at ease in the wilds of the wilderness, now stumbling through a hymn about the tender mercies of the white man’s God.

In George’s eyes, Josiah was out of place. All that morning, he observed Josiah, trying to detect any marks of deception, any displays of disbelief in Josiah’s profession of religion. As savage as he thought Josiah was, by the end of the day, George confessed to Will that he thought Josiah to truly be in earnest. It was a difficult admission for George, one that hushed Will into thoughtful silence.

Lying in bed, awake and full of disturbing thoughts, George was only thankful his father was back East. Thank God, his father wasn’t present to see what was happening to his youngest son.

February waxed cold with snow filled skies and warm fireside nights. George kept coming to the lodge for Mary’s lessons, their routine becoming as normal and everyday as keeping fresh water in the water bucket. Josiah watched Emma as she bloomed bit by bit, her belly protruding to a noticeable swell by mid March. Still the snows came, and with them anxiety over the baby.

Only this time, the anxiety wasn’t Josiah’s. He knew Emma wanted a woman present, someone to consult and help with the birthing. A woman to confide in over what was normal, and what wasn’t, while you were expecting a child.

One night near the end of March, Josiah was awakened by Emma, tugging at his arm.

“I’m sleeping, Em and so should you.” Josiah yawned groggily, only dimly aware of the wide awake face peering down at him. Emma was sitting up in bed, her hand on her belly.

“I felt it move, Josiah. I felt our baby move.”

“The quickening’s started, then?” He placed his large hand on the swell to feel for movement.

“I pray it will be all right, but oh, how I miss my mother.” Emma stroked her belly, then placed her hand on Josiah’s. “I wish I could speak to her, Josiah. I’d ask her so many things, things a mother would pass on to her daughter upon the arrival of a first child. I miss her so much, Josiah.”

“You ain’t worrying again, are you, Emma? You were the one telling me to give my troubles to the Lord.”

A small laugh parted Emma’s soft lips. “Sometimes, I think I need reminding.”

“Nestle with me, Em.” Josiah raised his arm, inviting her to snuggle against his chest. When she came to him, he hugged her tight, enveloping her protectively with his arm. “I’ve been thinking, Emma, and I want you to hear me out afore you go disagreeing.”

“Go on, I’m listening.”

“You’re needing a woman around, someone to help with Mary and the baby. I want to go after my ma, and bring her back to live with us.” He gently squeezed his wife. “What do you say, Emma?”

“What do you mean ‘go after’? Isn’t Cora miles away by now?”

“I reckon, but if I wait until the snow melts, I risk her moving farther North, as the Blackfoot follow the buffalo.”

“But winter’s hardly over. Surely, you’re not planning to leave while there’s still snow on the ground. What if you get caught in a blizzard, get hurt, and there’s no one to help?”

“I’ve been on my own plenty of times, Emma. I know my way around these mountains. I’ll be fine. And I’m not planning on anything definite, not unless you’re in agreement.”

“Would you take George with you? At least then, you wouldn’t be alone.” Josiah could feel Emma stiffen against him, and knew she feared for his safety. Seasoned mountaineer or not, it was a dangerous thing to be on your own, and Emma understood that all too well.

“No, I want George and Will to stay with you. They wouldn’t be any help when I found the Blackfoot, anyways. I’ve thought about this a lot, Emma, and this needs to be done. The idea to go after Ma has come to me before, but I couldn’t leave you and Mary. Now that George and Will are here, I can go.”

“How long will you be gone?” Josiah caught the dread in Emma’s voice.

“I ain’t leaving if you don’t want me to, Emma.”

“If you go, how long would it be?” Emma pressed her hand to his biceps, her fingers constricting his muscles tightly.

“I ain’t knowing. Long enough to find where the Blackfoot are camped, and then bring back Ma. Depending on how deep the snows are, it could be fer a month or two.”

“Two months.” Fear filled Emma’s voice. “No, I don’t want you to leave.”

“I need to go, Emma.”

“You said you wouldn’t if I didn’t agree, and I don’t. So that’s that.”

“Emma,” Josiah caught her hand before it slipped from his arm. “I don’t want you to go through birthing without a woman handy. Ma will come. If I ask her, I know she’ll come.”

“It’s too dangerous, Josiah. What if the Blackfoot haven’t entirely forgiven you yet? You could be killed!”

“I’m not thinking of myself. I’m doing this fer you and Mary. Think what it’ll mean to Mary, to have Cora with us.”

“I want Cora here, you know I do, but not if it means you getting killed. Josiah, I’ll face this birth all by myself if I have to, but I’m not letting you go to your death.”

He groaned softly, not willing to voice his worries out loud to Emma. If he wanted her agreement though, he knew he had to.

“Emma, do you remember speaking of yer ma, and how she had trouble giving birth? And do you recollect what happened to Mary’s ma, after Mary was born? I’ve never fergotten that. If there’s something I can do to help you, I will.”

In the dim firelight of their shared bed, Emma turned to face him. “I won’t die in childbirth, and since I’m stronger than my mother, there’s no great emergency.”

“What if there is?” asked Josiah.

“What if you get killed?” asked Emma.

“Emma, if I thought I was going to my demise, I wouldn’t go. I wouldn’t do that to you and Mary. When I head back, I’ll make certain I’m not followed, and the Blackfoot won’t ever know about George and Will. I’ll make sure of it.”

She was silent.

“I’m going fer Cora, Emma.”

“What about our agreement?”

With a groan that threatened to awaken Mary, Josiah sat up on the robes, the blanket falling in his lap. “I can’t wait any longer fer the snow to melt. Ma will be farther North, just when yer needing her most. Agree with me, Emma. I need you to agree. I ain’t going to sit by and watch, and do nothing while you struggle with yer birthing. Let me do this fer you, Emma. Just let me go.”

Emma closed her eyes so tightly, he feared she was in pain. “Promise me you’ll come back, Josiah.”

“Of course I’ll come back. I’m only going fer Cora.” Josiah felt indignation tighten his chest. “I ain’t leaving for but a short while, Emma. I’m coming back.”

“I know you are.” The resignation in Emma’s response was palpable, and Josiah knew she would let him go. “I’m afraid,” she confessed. “I’m afraid you’ll go back, and not want to return.”

“Why would I want to do that? My heart is with you and Mary. Yer knowing that.”

“Yes, I know.” Her voice trembled, and Josiah stretched out beside his wife, gathering her to him in one armful of deerskin and female softness. He inhaled her scent, memorized her heartbeat, soaked in her love.

“I’ll be faithful to you, Emma.” He whispered the promise tenderly into her ear, knowing deep down that was what held her back. “I swear before God and you, I’ll be faithful.”

“Don’t forget me, Josiah. Please, don’t forget what we mean to each other.”

“I promise, Emma, I won’t.”

Silence closed in around them as Emma wept softly into his buckskins. She was trusting him enough to let him leave without her, to be around other women, women who might be willing to share his bed. Josiah knew of some who would likely offer when he arrived at the Blackfoot village, and he steeled himself to keep his promise.

If he had to lash himself to a tree, he would do it. Where he had failed in the past, he would keep himself for just one. His wife.

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Chapter 19 – The Parting

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