Don’t forgot to read – Friendship : Chapter 18
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Breakfast didn’t set well in Emma’s stomach, but not because of her being with child. Thankfully, the nauseous regularity of that particular ailment had subsided sometime back, only to be replaced by the terrible dread that now filled her being. There were many fears to give to God’s keeping, but one in particular flooded her with thoughts too painful to dwell upon for long.
As Josiah swallowed down his food, she watched him thoughtfully.
He liked women, knew how to make them smile, even when they were determined not to. He had charmed her almost without trying, and she knew he had done similarly with others. He enjoyed the presence of a woman in his bed, the easy intimacy that came from lying with each other, the nestling, the kissing. It consoled her that she had been the first to capture his heart, and she prayed she would be the last. Josiah would be without her on this coming trip, without that presence in his buffalo robes to keep him faithful. All the tie that bound him to her was his vow, his love, his family. His obedience to God’s Word. Those were much stronger than knowing she was the first to receive his affections so fully.
As if he had been aware of her thoughts, Josiah moved to her side of the hearth long enough to squat down and plant a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll be going up the mountain to talk to Will and George. I want to get them together, afore George comes to give Mary her lessons.”
“Can I come, Pa?” Mary jumped up, her face bright and eager to leave the confines of the cabin.
“If you want. Just remember to put on yer snowshoes. I ain’t carrying you again.” As Mary hurried to get ready, he turned back to Emma, his face gentled with a smile. “Sometimes, I think she doesn’t try too hard to remember. I reckon she enjoys being carried.”
Emma took a deep breath, then another as he caressed her cheek with his thumb. “Mary enjoys spending time with her father,” Emma said softly. “So do I.”
The darkness in Josiah’s eyes intensified, and without saying it, she knew he understood what she had spent the morning in silent thought over.
“Are you still trusting me to do the right thing?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper over the crackle of the morning fire.
“I trust you, Josiah.”
He narrowed those dark eyes into slits, as if to deepen his perception into her soul. “But yer still fearful.”
“I’m trying very hard not to be.”
Josiah groaned tenderly. “It pains me that yer struggling so much, Emma, but I’m the one to blame fer it. I hurt you once, and I’m–” he paused, and Emma knew he wanted to swear, but smiled thankfully when he didn’t. “May God strike me down if I ever betray you again. I’m meaning that with all I got in me. I ain’t the same man as afore. Yer still believing that, ain’t you?”
Sincerity shone in his eyes, sounded in his voice.
“You’ve changed,” she smiled, touching the hand that touched her cheek. “You’re not the same as you used to be, and I love you for it.”
He sucked in a deep, contended breath. “What am I going to do without my sunshine? I ain’t gone yet, and I’m missing you already, Emma.”
“Pa, I’m ready.” When he didn’t turn to look at Mary, she tugged at his arm. “Can we go now, Pa?”
“I reckon,” he said, giving Emma a kiss before standing. “Are you wearing yer snowshoes?”
“Yes,” she grinned excitedly. “And my pistol.”
Folding his arms, Josiah looked her over with a lightheartedly critical eye. “I reckon yer ready, but what’s all the fuss about? George will be here shortly. You aim on visiting Will?”
Mary nodded. “Mr. Shaw knows stories. He tells me them when I come.”
“Stories, huh?” Josiah lifted a brow and scowled. “Are they better than mine?”
Mary had a ready answer, but as fast as she opened her mouth, she shut it again. She looked reluctant to answer, then grinned broadly when Josiah laughed and scooped her up, snowshoes and all.
As Emma watched Josiah with Mary, Emma’s heart lightened. If she had needed any more proof of Josiah’s transformation, she had proof enough, right before her. Josiah’s deep laughter filled the cabin as he gave Mary an all-encompassing bear hug before setting her down. He pulled on his coat, went through his normal routine of checking weapons and ammunition, all the while laughing with Mary.
When father and daughter left, the cabin felt empty. Emma would have gone with them, but she didn’t feel up to braving the cold. She added wood to the fire, gathered the blanket shawl around her shoulders, then opened the Bible for some quiet time with just her and God.
“You’re leaving?” George could hardly believe what he was hearing. How could Will look so calm, when their protector– their only friend in this wilderness besides Mrs. Brown and Mary– was leaving?
“I’m asking you to take care of my family while I’m gone,” said Josiah, looking directly at George.
“Me?” George felt his heart stop, and expected any moment that someone should pronounce him dead. “I don’t know what I’m doing! You’ve said so, yourself– I’m the greenest one here! Give the responsibility to Will. I can’t possibly accept it.”
Will looked at Josiah intently, a shadow of hurt in his eyes. “Why aren’t you asking me? You know I have more experience.”
“I’m knowing it,” said Josiah.
“Is it because I’ve only got one limb?” asked Will. “You carved me up a wooden one–”
“Which you haven’t used,” finished Josiah.
“I can learn,” said Will.
“That’s fine and good,” said Josiah, “but I’m needing someone who can move about, and do it now. George is the only one who can go outside, and protect my family when they have to fetch water and firewood.”
Will blew out a defeated sigh. “I kept putting off using that wooden limb, and now it seems I’m too late to be of any use.”
“That ain’t true,” said Josiah, straightening as he sat around the fire with George and Will in the center of their shelter. “I don’t want to hear you slipping back into yer despair, Will. You’ve come out of it nicely, and it won’t do anyone any good fer you to give up now.”
“Then give me something to do,” said Will, his face cracking into a smile as Mary looked up at him from his side. “Besides tell stories to this little lady.”
Mary smiled brightly.
“I’m relying on you to help George.” Josiah turned his eyes back on George, and George shook his head vigorously.
“I won’t accept the responsibility, Josiah. It’s too much.”
“Is that why you ran away from school?” asked Josiah. “Because it was too much responsibility?”
Indignation heated George’s face. “I happen to have done well in my studies and all the responsibilities that came with them. That’s not why I ran.”
“Then you should have no trouble here,” said Josiah.
The challenge in Josiah’s voice made George want to meet it, and challenge himself with something he’d never done. He’d never had to directly answer for the personal safety of others, though the very thought made him weak.
“You’ll have Will and Emma to help,” said Josiah.
“And me,” said Mary. “I will help you, George.”
“Thanks,” he smiled, sincerely grateful for her willingness. “Josiah, before you hand over your family, you should know something about me. I’m a terrible coward.”
“Maybe, in the past,” shrugged Josiah; the mannerism was easy, but the steel in Josiah’s eyes was not. He had caught Josiah’s attention.
George rubbed his forehead, and wasn’t surprised when he touched perspiration. He despised speaking of this to anyone, let alone the two men he had come to respect so highly. “I left Massachusetts, not because of any great responsibility, but because of a question of morality. The question had been thrust upon me, and rather than face the issue, I ran.”
“What issue?” asked Will. “I admit to some curiosity.”
George looked to Josiah for assurance that he didn’t need to explain himself, but when Josiah continued to stare at him expectantly, George loosened the top collar button of his shirt.
“Was it a woman?” asked Josiah.
“No, it was nothing like that at all,” George said hurriedly. He gathered a deep breath. “I suppose what I believe is a responsibility, so when I look at it that way, I guess I did run from it. Isn’t that good enough for you, Josiah? I’m not trustworthy. I’m a coward, and you know it’s true.”
“No, you ain’t!” Mary folded her arms indignantly. “You ain’t yeller, George! Tell them you ain’t!”
In her anger, Mary had slipped back into her father’s mountain-speak, and George had to smile in spite of himself. “I’ve been teaching you better than that, Mary.”
“You aren’t a coward!” she corrected.
“Yes, I am.” George smiled at his little defender. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mary, but I am very much a coward.” He tossed a branch into the fire in a fit of disgust. “I don’t want to say more, Josiah. I’m afraid it might change our friendship.”
“At least yer acknowledging we are friends,” Josiah smiled. “I can remember a time when I don’t think you would.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” said George, “and that’s my problem. Maybe Mary should leave. She shouldn’t have to hear this.”
“I am staying,” said Mary, her little face set like flint. “I want to hear.”
“I’ll make her leave, if I feel she needs to,” said Josiah. “Go on, George. Get whatever you’ve been carrying, off yer chest.”
Taking a deep breath, George looked at his small audience. “Are any of you familiar with the abolitionists?”
“I am,” said Will, “or at least, I’ve heard something of them. They’re people who want to do away with slavery.”
“That’s true.” George looked to Josiah, but saw no immediate reaction. Perhaps Josiah couldn’t understand, for he had lived all his life in the Rockies, away from the troubling questions back East.
“In Massachusetts, where I’ve lived the past few years,” began George, “the abolitionists are gaining momentum in noticeable ways. They want to put a stop to the slave trade and more and more people are listening. I’ve heard it said that all men are born free and equal” — here George noticed a stirring from Josiah — “and even the Massachusetts Constitution claims this as truth. But not all feel that way, especially down South, where the tobacco and cotton trades require the continuation of slavery.”
“What do those slavers have to do with you?” asked Will.
“I’m one of them.”
“You’re what?” Will narrowed his eyes, and looked at George as though he had never really known his friend.
“I suppose I should say, my father is,” said George. “I’ve never personally owned any slaves, though I don’t think that should make any difference. I’m not against the practice, and that makes me the same as my father.” The last few words had cost him, for George hated his father, and the very notion that he supported his father’s cruelty, filled George with self-loathing.
“I was born in Virginia, on my father’s cotton plantation,” said George. “My older brothers were given much of the responsibilities as they grew, but my father’s sister, Aunt Dorothy, wanted me to come North and live with her in Massachusetts. So when I was fourteen years of age, father sent me to Aunt Dorothy to continue my education.” Here, George smiled grimly. “The education I received, however, was quite different than the one I imagine my father wanted. Aunt Dorothy had no views whatsoever concerning slavery, but others in Massachusetts did. Certain citizens were very vocal about abolition, as was the opposition. The longer I stayed, the more pressure I had to decide the issue and stand by my decision once and for all.”
“I don’t understand,” said Will. “If you support your pa, then you’ve already decided.”
“But he hasn’t decided– not yet,” said Josiah, staring a hole into George. “Say what you want, George, but deep down you don’t like yer pa and are uneasy with his ways.”
“I never said that,” said George.
“But it’s true,” insisted Josiah. “I see some of me in you.”
“My own pa was an Indian hater, and many of the things he did, I didn’t like.”
“But I like my father,” George said defensively. “It’s true there’s things about him I don’t find agreeable, but overall, he’s a good man.”
“Then you won’t mind following in his footsteps,” said Josiah.
George wanted to retaliate, but was unable.
“There’s a war waging inside of you,” said Josiah, “a war I understand. I’ve come to see that when I hate others, I’m really hating myself. No matter the skin, we’re all men and we all have to come to terms with who we are and what we decide to believe. My pa made his own decisions, and I’ve made mine. The question is, where will you stand when the time comes fer you to act? I figure that’s why yer here– because yer fearing you’ll have to act.”
“You’ve got an uncanny ability to see into me, Josiah.” An ability George wasn’t sure he liked.
Josiah only chuckled. “That’s because we ain’t so very different. I reckon I have an advantage over you though.”
“My pa is dead, and I don’t have to fight him to make my stand.”
“My stand.” George thought about it grimly, recognizing the war cloaked in Josiah’s wording. “You may be closer to the truth than you think, Josiah. I believe the issue of slavery will eventually lead our nation into war.”
“I ain’t rightly knowing,” said Josiah, “but if things come to that, where will George Hughes stand when the lines are drawn? Some time back, Emma told me that men like you would decide this nation’s destiny. Emma has a way with big fancy words, but I expect she’s right.” Josiah laughed. “She usually is.”
“Do you still want me to take care of your family while you’re away?” asked George.
“If I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t have asked,” said Josiah. “I’ve seen enough conscience in yer actions, to think there’s reason to hope. And besides, all I’m wanting is fer you to keep my family safe and out of harm. I ain’t asking you to raise my children.”
George smiled, glad for the relief of Josiah’s continued friendship. He needed that friendship to survive in these mountains, but more than that, he respected this wild half-breed of a man who was trying to live honestly before God. Josiah had the courage that George lacked, and George admired Josiah all the more for possessing it and making a stand by the way he lived. George could only wish that one day, he could do the same.
“When will you leave?” asked George, reconciling himself to the fact that Josiah truly was leaving.
“Tomorrow. I’ve got to go after my ma, afore spring starts showing itself. With that deer we shot some days back, you’ll have food enough to last awhile. But you have to keep hunting, or else you’ll risk coming up short.”
“I’m not afraid of that,” said George, gathering the tatters of his dignity left after such a frank discussion. “I can hunt. You’ve been teaching me enough, and drilling it into me every time we go out.”
Will slapped the ground, his teeth clenched in frustration. “Wish I wasn’t so useless! I could do the hunting, and George could stay back and protect the women. Now I reckon that job’ll fall to me.”
“I can protect myself,” said Mary, looking up at the one legged man she sat beside.
He peered at her with a wide smile. “I’m sure you can, little lady. I meant no offense.”
“Now I’m knowing why Mary likes visiting here so much,” said Josiah, shaking his head with a low chuckle. “Yer spoiling her, Will.”
“It ain’t hard,” said Will, patting the girl’s head affectionately. “You can leave with yer heart at ease, Josiah. George and I won’t let you down. You have my word on it.”
“And mine,” said George.
Then the men discussed Josiah’s trip, and George noticed that in all the talk, Josiah never said which route he would take, or the landmarks he would use to get to his ma’s village. George was impressed with the realization that if Josiah never returned from his trip, George would be unable to go and search for him. There would be no rescue or help, for George had just enough survival skills to stay by the lodges, and nothing more. This sobering reality tempered any pride George had in his newfound responsibility; the only reason he had been given it, was because there was no one else.
Out in the open mountains, Josiah would be on his own. At least here, George had Will.
After Josiah’s return from the trappers’ shelter, Emma tried to stay out of the way as he prepared his gear for the prolonged trip. George came for Mary’s lessons later in the day than usual– after lunch– and did a good job of keeping the girl busy while Josiah worked.
Emma wished she had as good a distraction, to keep her own thoughts occupied. Her heart felt a jumble of emotions as she watched Josiah pack extra gunpowder, shot, a length of braided rope still left after making Mary’s snowshoes, and a small portion of dried deer meat.
“Won’t you take more food than that?” she asked.
“I can hunt fer myself,” he said distractedly.
It was difficult for her to keep quiet, and she didn’t want to interrupt his planning by voicing silly concerns. But food was important, and Emma knew he didn’t pack more to leave the rest for her and the others.
“I’m taking my axe, George.” Josiah wrapped something over the sharpened blade, then slipped into the growing leather sack.
“When I need to chop more firewood, I can use Will’s,” said George, in such a ready voice, Emma knew he only paid half attention to Mary’s lessons.
Josiah picked up the snowshoes and inspected the webbing with his fingers, testing knots and sturdiness of construction. He packed two buffalo robes, and a small pouch of Blackfoot medicine. Without turning, he said something in Blackfoot to Mary, and the girl smiled at hearing her pa speak the native tongue. She answered with an affirming nod, then returned to her schooling.
“What language was that?” asked George, unable to contain his curiosity. “Was that Blackfoot?”
“It was.” Josiah didn’t even turn, but kept his attention focused.
“What did he tell you?” George asked Mary in a hushed voice.
“Pa is leaving behind medicine, and told me where to find it.”
“Why didn’t he tell that to your mother?”
Mary giggled, glancing quickly at Emma before staring back at the open book on the table. “She would not know how to use it.”
To protest the point would do no good, for Mary had been right. The silent admission made Emma feel a little left out, however, and when she bowed her head to stare at the hands folded in her lap, Josiah grunted.
“You ain’t going to be lonely, Emma.”
She looked up, and smiled when her gaze met his. “You guessed wrongly, Josiah. I wasn’t thinking of that at all.”
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he leaned back from his work to stare at her. She caught the playfulness in his eyes and prepared herself to be teased.
“Are you saying you ain’t going to miss me? Not even a little?”
She leveled her chin at Josiah. “With so many people to talk to now, I won’t even know you’re gone.”
“Good.” He turned back to the flintlock he was cleaning. “Now I won’t feel so poorly fer leaving you behind.” He glanced back at her, a tender smile teasing his lips. “Then what were you keeping to yerself, all quiet and somber?”
“I was just wishing I were Blackfoot,” said Emma.
Josiah’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s a mighty peculiar thing fer a white woman to say.”
“Not really,” said Emma, “not when you consider the rest of that white woman’s family speaks a language she can’t understand.”
“Oh.” Josiah grinned at her sheepishly. “You were feeling left out. You want me to stop speaking to Mary in Blackfoot?”
Emma smoothed out her deerskin dress. “No, but I wouldn’t mind learning some of your native tongue, and someday, I’d like to learn how to use that Blackfoot medicine.”
“Neither will be easy,” said Josiah.
“I’m willing to learn,” she answered stoutly.
“I’m sure going to miss you, Emma.”
When she only smiled, he poked his chin at her.
“I want to hear you say it.”
Emma managed not to crack a smile. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Say you’ll miss me, Emma.”
“I will not. It won’t be a compliment, if it’s forced.”
“I don’t care. Say it.”
Emma shrank back a little when she shook her head and Josiah laid aside his weapon.
“I want to hear you say it,” he said, crawling on all fours to her side of the hearth. In that position, he resembled a bear, all shaggy and wild.
She gulped back a nervous laugh. “Now, Josiah, you’re taking things too far.”
He crowded over her until her back was against the buffalo robes. “Say it.”
Resolute, Emma shook her head, “no.”
“Then you need some reminding,” he breathed, and dropped over her, smothering her mouth in a kiss.
Her senses drowned in that kiss, and Emma felt her hand in his long mane, caressing his neck, and pulling him closer.
When he finally came up for air, his grin was victorious. “Tell me you won’t be missing me after that. I dare you.”
Her vision misted, and she brushed away the wistful tears. “Please, don’t go, Josiah. I’m begging you.”
All playfulness disappeared, and he hid her a moment beneath his buckskins. “Now I’ve gone and made you cry.” He raised his head, gazed down at her, stroked her cheek tenderly. “Yer knowing I have to do this.”
His mane cascaded around them in a private fall of semi-curling hair. She fingered the eagle feather, perched in dark tangles, and sighed wistfully.
“You’ll be careful, won’t you, Josiah? You’ll take every precaution to remain safe?”
His lips spread in a wide grin. “I ain’t one to take unnecessary risks.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” she said, trying to plumb the depths of that masculine stare. “Promise me you won’t.”
“When I’m this near to you, I could almost promise you anything,” he said, his unsteady breath caressing her face. “I promise, Emma. Now let me hear you say it.”
His playfulness brought a smile to her face. “I’ll miss you.”
“How much?” he pressed.
Her heart gathering speed, she brought his head down to hers and kissed him until he moaned in pleasure. It wasn’t until then, Emma suddenly remembered George was in the cabin.
“Josiah,” she whispered, struggling to push him off as his hand searched for the small of her back, “we have a guest.”
“Let him watch,” mumbled Josiah. To her great relief, however, he heaved a reluctant groan and pushed himself upright.
The giggles of a little girl told them they had been watched. Josiah slanted a look at the table where George and Mary sat.
“Are you leaving any time soon, George?”
The young man looked about to answer, when Emma slapped Josiah’s arm and addressed George, herself.
“You stay right where you are. Josiah is only teasing.”
“Speak fer yerself, woman.” With a low mutter, Josiah grabbed up his flintlock and went back to cleaning it before the fire. “I’ll remember to return the favor one of these days, George.”
With an easy laugh, George tapped at the book in front of Mary, calling her attention back to their lesson.
This time, as Josiah worked, he didn’t look or take notice of Emma. She knew the reason for it, and was glad she wielded such influence over him as to be able to distract him so thoroughly.
That morning she had been working on a secret task, a task which had been interrupted when Josiah returned from the trappers’ shelter. Now that he tried not to pay her any attention, Emma took the opportunity and retreated to a private corner of the buffalo robes. Beneath a corner, she pulled out the fluffy white rabbit skins that Mary had given her from Mary’s own snares. Emma took out Josiah’s awl, some sinew, and went to work. She needed to get this done, before he left tomorrow morning.
After George left, Mary snuggled beside Emma and they exchanged a conspiratorial hush of whispers and smiles as the work progressed.
Suppertime came, and Mary jumped up to get the food so Emma wouldn’t have to. They were almost done, and if the sinew didn’t run out, their gift would soon be ready.
It needed to be, for Josiah was growing restless. They had refused him access to his own bed, so they could finish.
“What are you doing over there that’s so all-fired important?” he asked, sitting on Mary’s blankets with a tired frown. He shifted a moment, then pulled out Mary’s wooden Blackfoot doll. “I’m meaning it, Emma, I’m tired. I got a long day tomorrow, and I need some sleep.”
“In a short while,” she said, looking up from her work long enough to give him a smile. “Please, Josiah.”
He sighed wearily, looked about for some place to put the doll, then pulled out his knife to test its sharpness one more time. It was a habit Emma had seen him do all evening, as though his mind were busy with thoughts of tomorrow.
The awl punched through rabbit skins, then the two sides were brought together with sinew and tied off as securely as Emma could manage. Mary added the finished item to the other she had been holding in her lap.
“They’re done,” Emma nodded to the girl. “Go on and give them to your pa. After all,” she added in a louder voice, “he’s been so patient.”
Josiah harrumphed, though from the way he sat, Emma knew he was curious.
Hiding the surprise behind her back, Mary got up and stood before Josiah with a grin so like his own. “They are for you,” she said, presenting him with two furry objects.
All traces of annoyance vanished as Josiah slipped his hands into the warm rabbit mittens. Though they didn’t have fingers, Emma had split the fur of the right hand to allow room for his trigger finger; he could keep warm, and still fire his rifle without first having to tug off his mitts.
“Do they fit?” Emma asked when Josiah remained silent. She crawled over to him, and inspected his large paws with satisfaction.
“I’m obliged to you fer thinking of this, Emma.”
“I didn’t do it alone. The rabbit skins are from Mary.”
He tugged the grinning girl onto his lap, and hugged her tightly. “Yer gitting to be quite a trapper. Those rabbits have been good eating this winter.”
With Mary on Josiah’s lap, and Emma in front of him, the three enjoyed the companionable company of each other. Then Josiah spoke soberly, his face creased with concern.
“While I’m gone, keep close to the lodge. Take George whenever you go to the spring, but always keep yer weapons ready; it’s further from the lodge than the creek, and not as safe.”
Emma listened as Josiah gave them instructions. They had been using the spring ever since the creek had frozen heavily. Instead of melting snow, Josiah had shown them a spring in the crevice of the mountains where they could still find water.
Then Josiah prayed and talked with Emma while Mary fell asleep in his arms. When Josiah tucked the child into her bed, night had already descended on the Rockies.
“Goodnight, Cub,” he whispered, kissing her forehead lightly.
“Don’t go until I wake up,” Mary mumbled pleadingly. She sleepily latched onto her Christmas doll, only shutting her eyes when Josiah had promised not to leave without her goodbye in the morning.
The night was cold, even by the fire, so when Josiah pulled off his hunting shirt before crawling beneath the blankets with Emma, Emma knew what he wanted.
“I thought you needed sleep for tomorrow.”
“I’m needing something else more,” he said, stretching out beside her. “This will need to last me until I git back.”
“That’s not very romantic, Josiah.”
Grinning, he slid an arm around her shoulders, then kissed her so intently Emma felt his desperation. He was soaking her in as thoroughly as he could, to stave off later temptation.
Morning came too soon for Emma, but she was thankful when Will and George came to see Josiah off. With the trappers present, she didn’t feel so small and alone as they stood in the snow to say goodbye.
Outfitted in a fox skin cap, grizzly bear coat, rabbit mitts, and deerskin moccasins, Josiah was protected against the elements with as much fur and hide as most animals could ever want. A large leather bag hung from two straps at his back, containing his supplies.
A light snow sprinkled the skies as Josiah shook hands with first Will and then George. Then he turned to give Mary a hug.
When he came to Emma, Emma was crying.
“Mary,” Josiah called as he took Emma into a tight hug, “yer to sleep with yer ma, do you hear? I don’t want her sleeping all by herself. She’ll git lonely.”
“I’m sorry, Josiah,” Emma pulled free from his embrace. She straightened her hair, gathered her courage, and determined to be stronger. “I’ll pray everyday for your safety.”
“I’ll do the same fer you,” he said, looking her over slowly, drinking her in with his gaze. “God help me,” he sighed, “I love you more and more every day. Yer a wonder and a miracle, and I ain’t accepting what God’s done fer me, lightly.”
She trembled inwardly.
“I love you, Emma.”
Her reply couldn’t be spoken without more tears, so she rushed him for one last hug. They kissed, then his arms released her for the rifle at his shoulder.
Turning his face into the wind, Josiah spoke with his back to her. “I can’t look back, or else I’ll never leave.”
Emma took a deep breath. “Go with God, My Love.”
Without further lingering, he started for his destination.
She watched until his bearskin coat could no longer be seen through the line of trees, and when she imagined another glimpse, she knew her poor eyesight was to blame.
Emma looked up to see George, his rifle in hand.
“Do you need to fetch water, Mrs. Brown?”
Half paying attention, Emma turned her eyes back to where she had last seen Josiah. Life must go on, even if she felt it would never really begin again until Josiah returned.