Don’t forgot to read – Mountain Wild – George’s Responsibility : Chapter 20


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Outside the village, where the horses grazed quietly, Josiah stood before a Blackfoot Indian. Josiah signaled to him in peace, not wanting the man to act rashly. In alarm, the man quickly stepped back, his hand automatically reaching for the knife at his belt.

Josiah relaxed his stance even more, letting the Blackfoot recognize him. They were joined by a second man– both known to Josiah. Their eyes glared unwelcome.

“Why are you here?” the second man asked in his native tongue. He held a solid flintlock rifle in his hands, and looked as though he wouldn’t mind turning it on Josiah.

“My mother,” Josiah said in Blackfoot, pointing his chin in the general direction of her lodge. “I have come to see her.”

“You come to make trouble for her. It is not good that you are here. Leave.”

“I will not leave,” said Josiah. “I will speak to her.”

The man aimed the flintlock at Josiah. “You have more beaver and horses to give Wild Knife?”

Josiah stiffened. He hadn’t heard anyone say that name, since he’d been hauled to a tree to be whipped within an inch of his life. “Is he here?”

For the first time, the Blackfoot smiled, though his face lacked humor. “He is here. When he sees you, he will kill you.”

“I will see my mother.”

The two men were about to forcibly remove Josiah from the village, when a commanding voice stilled them. A man well known to Josiah approached, a robe of hides covering his body from the cold.

“Uncle,” Josiah greeted his mother’s older brother.

The man breathed heavily, and shook his head. “Why have you returned? You will only bring heaviness to your mother. When you are killed, she will mourn for you.”

Josiah didn’t like the fact he kept getting the same warning from everyone he met. The husband of Mary’s mother apparently still harbored a grudge, and it sharpened Josiah’s determination to get what he had come for and leave. “I want to take my mother with me. Please, Uncle, let me take her. I will go, but not without my mother.”

Uncle turned to the two men. “Tell my sister that her son is here, but tell no one else.”

The men looked at each other, then at Uncle. Reluctantly, they left– Josiah hoped, to do as they had been told.

“How is my mother?” asked Josiah, as they stood watching the horses and the everyday activity of the village. “Is she well?”

“Her body is with her people, but her heart is with her son and his daughter.” Uncle looked at him, and Josiah could feel his displeasure. “You will not come here again. If my sister chooses to go with you, then I will let her. But if she wants to remain, you will not return.”

The forcibleness of Uncle’s words made it clear to Josiah that whatever peace he had with the Blackfoot, was tenuous, at best. He had long ago worn out his welcome, and it was only for his mother’s sake, that he wasn’t killed where he stood. He had caused heartache and trouble to his mother’s people, and now, standing with Uncle, Josiah knew he would never be able to return again.

A woman clad in a buffalo robe approached them. She looked at Josiah.

He had expected her, and tensed now that he saw her. “I have no beaver to trade,” he said, hoping that would discourage her.

She let the thin, worn robe drop about her shoulders, and Josiah hated himself when he felt the old wants begin to gnaw at him. He’d been with her before, and knew what was under those animal skins.

“I ain’t interested,” Josiah said, momentarily forgetting to speak in Blackfoot.

She didn’t understand, and stepped closer, until Josiah braced himself with his rifle. The woman stopped, but didn’t leave. Instead, she sat down and waited.

Josiah couldn’t make the woman go, and was afraid that if she did, Wild Knife would know he was there. He said nothing more, and ignored her presence by keeping his eyes from her.

Uncle grunted, and Josiah looked up to see his mother coming toward him. A buffalo hide covered her, revealing only her head and moccasins.

“Ma.” He smiled, but she didn’t return the gesture. Those piercing eyes looked at him, cut him like a knife.

“Why are you here?” she asked in English. The others watched closely, but couldn’t know what was said, for they spoke no English. “You never should have come, Josiah.”

The rebuke grated him, causing a pang of regret for coming. He hadn’t been on good terms with his ma in a very, very long time, and he nearly gave in to past habit and left. He looked at her, and realized that was what she wanted. After all, Wild Knife was in the village. “Ma, Emma’s with child.”

Cora looked at him steadily.

Josiah could tell she was pleased, and continued. “She’ll be needing help late this summer.”

Cora nodded willingly. “I will come when you ask.”

“I’m asking you to come now.”

Her eyes narrowed at him in scrutiny.

“Ma, I’m asking you to live with us. Emma gets to hankering after female company, and yer already knowing how much Mary would want you to come.”

Cora remained stone silent. She was waiting for more, and Josiah knew it.

“You’d be welcome in my lodge. And, I reckon…” he hesitated, “I reckon I’m needing you, too. Will you come?”

She looked at Uncle, and spoke to him in Blackfoot. Uncle nodded in agreement, then pinned Josiah with another of those disapproving looks before leaving.

“I will come,” said Cora, taking note of the woman sitting in the buffalo robe nearby. Cora grunted, then looked back at Josiah knowingly. “Finish your trading away from the village. Wild Knife must not know you are here.”

Josiah opened his mouth to protest that there would be no trading, but Cora didn’t let him speak.

“I will meet you by the fork in the creek, Josiah.” She left, and Josiah felt the relief of knowing his mother would indeed come. He had thought she would, but for some moments during their meeting, he hadn’t been so sure. Her self-control often didn’t betray emotion, and it took someone who knew her closely, to read those hidden meanings in her face, her voice. As her son, Josiah prided himself that he knew her better than anyone– anyone but Grandpap and Uncle, that is. Her clan was tight-knit, loyal, protective of each other. It would be no small thing for Cora to leave, but Josiah knew she would.

He moved away from the village, kept out of sight behind a thick line of trees and rocks beside the creek. The warmer weather had thawed the frozen waters, though snow and ice could still be found on its banks. Feeling parched, he dropped onto one knee to dip his hand into the water. Then he saw the woman.

His heart sank when he realized she had followed him.

She was the wife of someone, though Josiah couldn’t remember whom. It had never mattered in the past, only that she habitually sought him out whenever he came into the village. As much as Josiah despised himself to admit it, he felt himself drawn to her. Familiarity would not be ignored, and as she approached him, he drew in a breath and held it.

Silence surrounded them as she stared and waited. He shook his head, “no,” but she removed her robe and spread it on the ground.

Thoughts wildly chased through Josiah’s mind, and his senses clouded with want. If he gave in, no one would ever know. Emma would never find out, and she wouldn’t be hurt. What harm would it do, if here in this secluded spot, away from everyone that mattered, he lay down with his old acquaintance and had a good tussle?

She reached for his hand, inviting him onto the robe.

Why did his chest have to thump so loudly? He couldn’t hear himself think! His hand stretched to her, their fingers touched, and in that brief contact, Josiah remembered his promise to God and to Emma.

Panic engulfed him. He had been seriously contemplating sinning, and he, not even a full day back at his mother’s village! His feet stumbled backward, and he turned and fled. Water soaked his moccasins as he frantically splashed across to the other side of the creek, away from the woman. Ice water shuddered into his veins when his foot slipped on the ice, plunging him backward into the water. He scrambled onto the bank and ran.

It wasn’t until his legs, numbed from the biting cold, began to give way, that he finally stopped. He dropped onto his knees, grasped weakly for the pouch hanging from his belt. His hands shook violently as he tried to make his fingers work the flint and steel, until a spark kindled the tinder. He struggled to his feet, grabbed a handful of low hanging tree branches before letting gravity drop him back to the ground. He had to get warm, and get his wet moccasins and buckskins off.

Josiah rebuked himself as he huddled before the blazing fire, a dry robe from his pack clutched about him for warmth. He’d behaved like a frightened boy, and not as a man determined not to repeat the same sins. Then he remembered how strong the temptation had been, and clamped his eyes shut. Thank God he’d run. His powder was wet, his buckskins were wet, but providentially, his buffalo robes had been protected by the watertight leather bag he wore on his back. He was wet, but he was safe. He hadn’t let Emma or God down, though the memory of how close he’d come left him frightened.

He checked the rifle drying beside him. It needed to be thoroughly wiped down and cleaned, for it not to rust.

The day waxed long, and Josiah finally tugged his damp buckskins on. He had to go back to the fork in the creek, for Cora would be waiting. He sincerely prayed the woman would not be waiting there, as well.

It was cold, but Cora resisted the urge to build a fire. It might attract attention, and she desperately wanted to get away before Wild Knife discovered her son had returned. Where was Josiah? He should have been here when she’d arrived at the creek. Instead, she had only found that woman. She waited too, and it only added to Cora’s already mounting concerns. Had Wild Knife finished his revenge? If Josiah were all right, that woman would not be alone.

Cora didn’t set up her hide lodge, but kept it bundled on the travois with her other belongings. She wanted to leave as soon as possible, just as soon as Josiah came.

Nearby, her brother sat with their father, both men quiet and solemn. It was not easy for her to leave her people, and her brother and his family. Even so, it gladdened Cora to know their father would come. He had insisted on leaving with her, stubbornly refusing his son’s pleas to stay. He was old, he’d said, and his remaining days were few. Before he died, he wanted to see his grandson, his great-grand-daughter, and know how they fared.

An approaching figure caught Cora’s attention, and she stood expectantly. It was Josiah.

“Ma, I’m thinking we best git out of here,” he said, casting a hawkish glance over his shoulder. “Are you ready?”

“We are ready,” she said, moving to the pony to harness the travois.

“We?” Josiah stared at her. “Who’s coming with us?”

Cora nodded to her father, and he stood up.

“Grandpap,” Josiah went to him, put a hand on his shoulder. “Yer knowing this is fer good? This ain’t a visit. You’ll be living in my lodge, from here on out.”

The old man’s eyes glinted with a mixture of wariness and hopefulness. “Am I welcome in your lodge, with your white wife?”

A smile creased Josiah’s mouth. “You’ll be even more welcome, since yer family.”

The gentle kindness in Josiah’s face when he spoke to her father, made Cora wonder. Something had changed in her son. Something subtle, and yet as big as the Shining Mountains the white man called the Rockies. Josiah had changed, and immediately, Cora’s thoughts went to the white woman named Emma.

If change had occurred in Josiah, Cora was certain Emma was the cause.

To Josiah’s great discouragement, the woman had waited for him at the creek, waited for him still, after he’d spoken to Grandpap and Cora. Thankful he had others present, Josiah decided to face her, and make her understand she must leave. The trick was not to do it in such a way that would anger her, for he needed her to keep his visit silent in the village.

He could feel Cora’s gaze upon him as he approached the waiting woman. He flicked a quick glance at his mother, then turned to his old acquaintance.

“You have to leave,” he told her, trying to speak Blackfoot as firmly as he could without showing anger. “There is no trading.”

She didn’t look as disappointed as Josiah had expected. She simply nodded that she understood, but didn’t make any signs of leaving.

“My husband is dead,” she said in a quiet voice. “I will be your wife now.”

“I already have a wife.”

“I will be second wife.” She looked at him earnestly, pleading him to take her, too.

“I can’t,” said Josiah, grasping for the right words to make her understand. “I’m already hitched to a woman, and she won’t share me with another. Do you understand?”

“I will be good wife. Not eat very much.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head, “but Emma won’t let me.” He reached into his backpack, took out the first thing of value he saw that she could use for trade. His axe. He gave it to her, stepped back, and shook his head again. “I can’t take you.”

Her eyes held sorrow, but she no longer looked as dejected as before. She had something she could use for barter, and Josiah had no concern that she wouldn’t be able to find another husband. It just couldn’t be him.

Night blackened the sky, hiding the untamed wilderness from Josiah’s tired eyes. He hunkered further down into his buffalo robes, more for lack of comfort than warmth. His arms were so empty they ached. He grabbed his leather pack, hugged it tightly to his chest.

Movement beside the dimming campfire caught his attention. With wide blinking eyes, Grandpap sat up and looked at him as though his grandson had lost his mind.

“I can’t sleep,” said Josiah. He rolled onto his other side, away from Grandpap’s view. How he missed being with a woman. He hugged the leather supply bag– hard lumps and all– to his chest, and pretended it was the one someone he wanted most in all the world.

“You miss white woman?” Grandpap’s voice came from behind Josiah’s back.

“Stop trying to read my mind, Old Man.”

Grandpap harrumphed. “You miss your wife. You miss the white woman.”

Josiah turned to look at his grandfather. “Her name is Emma, and yes, I’m missing her. What of it?”

Grandpap only grinned. “It is good,” he said, and lay back down.

“That’s easy fer you to say,” Josiah mumbled. “I’m the one missing her.” He pulled the pack closer, shut his eyes to sleep. As yellow hair the color of sunlight filled his memory, a smile spread across his lips.

Grandpap was right. It was good.

“It’s snowing again,” sighed George, as white flakes fell from the sky. “I bet you anything, it’s not snowing down in the valley right now.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Will, sitting up on the robe by the hearth, “for I’m not a betting man. Not anymore, at least. Why don’t you take Mary, and go see for yourself, instead of haunting the doorway like a restless ghost? If you want to get out so much, then go. Leave the rest of us alone to get some work done.”

Leaning his shoulder against the jamb, George looked at his friend. Will had been talking more and more like a man who’d found religion, and George was beginning to think it was more than just talk. Will had been reading the Bible, praying like he meant every word, being careful of what he said and did. That morning, before Mrs. Brown and Mary had awakened, Will had shook his shoulder, roused him from sleep to ask for forgiveness. George had thought he’d been dreaming as he listened to Will repent of despairing when his leg had been taken, and for the harsh things he’d said at George’s expense. George had forgiven him gladly, but it still made him unsettled, as though God were now waiting on him to do the same. Will had made peace with God. Did that mean it was his turn?

George frowned, turned to look back out the door. “Mary, why don’t we try hunting elk in the Southern half of the valley, again?”

Mary looked up from where she worked at the table, his old law book open before her. “Now? I’m studying, George.”

“Excuse me,” he said, grinning. “After you’re done, of course.”

“Mr. Hughes?” Mrs. Brown moved forward with Will’s axe. “We could use more firewood.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He straightened as she handed him the tool. “I’ll start now, before the snow gets any heavier.”

“Snow won’t last the day,” said Will, tugging a thread of sinew through two sides of a rabbit skin. “Just wait and see. The clouds will part, the snow will start to melting, and it’ll feel like spring all over again.”

With an uncaring grunt, George shrugged on his capote. The weather teased him, making him think spring one moment, and winter, the next. He tired of snow, of the constriction of remaining inside the cabin. Even so, it was far better than the shelter Josiah had built them, and George remembered to thank Mrs. Brown again for the invitation for them to remain. It was easier for him to look after the family, with everyone under one roof.

Propping the axe handle over one shoulder, and grasping the rifle with a free hand, George made his way down the mountain. He realized with a smile, that he had come to think of Mrs. Brown, Mary, Josiah and Will as family, and not just as strangers trapped in the same place as himself. In an odd sort of way, he belonged here. He was useful, needed, even depended upon, and it felt good to be so trusted.

He paused a moment, heard the soft footfall of approaching moccasins, and smiled as Mary came running to join him. “I thought you were studying!”

“Are we going into the valley?” she asked excitedly. A bag of dried meat was tied at her sash, and her pistol looked primed and ready. With Mary tagging along, he never went hungry.

“Firewood first,” he said, and let himself enjoy the cold breeze as they descended the slope.

“Is it May yet, George?”

“Nope. By my journal, this is still April– the very last part of it, but still April.” He didn’t need to ask the reason for the question; Mary always asked the same thing, whenever she was thinking about Josiah, and how long he’d been gone.

George understood the brave look on Mrs. Brown’s face, whenever Josiah’s name was mentioned. Josiah had been gone for nearly a month, and no one liked to talk of the fact he hadn’t returned. In quiet moments such as this, George toyed with the idea of going to look for him. Then he would remember the responsibilities entrusted to him, and dismiss it. He would be of no use to anyone, dead.

The firewood chopped, Mary helped him carry armload after armload back to the cabin. As they gathered the last of the wood, Mary’s head bobbed up in alert. She cocked her head, narrowed her eyes as though listening to some faint sound that only she could hear.

“What is it, Mary?”

She put a finger to her lips, signaling him to be quiet. Her hand went to her sash, to the pistol he helped her to clean and keep loaded.

He followed her example, and felt for the rifle hanging at his back.

A bird sound whistled lightly in the air, and George smiled easily. He looked at Mary, noticed her eyes grow big and round. Frowning, he looked back at their surroundings. He could see nothing.

“Mary–” he started to say, but she quickly shook her head, put a clapped hand over her mouth to signal silence. “What is it?” he mouthed the words.

“Someone is here,” she mouthed, her face sober with fear.

The bird sound came again, and this time, Mary dropped to the ground and George did the same. He’d heard Josiah speak of whistle talk before, and the way Indians had of communicating their presence to each other without alerting their enemy. His stunned mind struggled with the shocking possibility that they were being hunted. Even more frightening– if their adversary communicated in whistle talk, it meant there were more than one.

George followed Mary’s gaze, clutched his weapon when she drew her pistol. Nothing but ordinary terrain and some patches of ice were before him, and George couldn’t understand how someone could possibly be there. He would have doubted Mary, but something within him screamed danger. It was pure instinct, instinct George didn’t even know he had. He twisted about, scanned the slope above them for some kind of cover. They were exposed here, out in the open, without anything to shield them from gunfire or arrows.

He wondered if danger really did lurk out there, which would it be, arrows or gunfire? He stopped wondering when an arrow shaft whistled past him, nearly catching his capote. The sound of a firing gun spun him about, and he saw the telltale puff of smoke from another of their attackers, crouched behind a tree. Mary leveled her weapon, and for a brief moment, George feared she would fire. They didn’t have enough ammunition for a prolonged firefight, and when she held back, he inhaled a sigh of relief.

“Only fire when it counts,” he said, and she nodded in understanding. Another arrow shot past them, and he shoved Mary’s head to the ground when she looked up. They had to get out of there, caught in a crossfire of bullets and arrows, with little to no cover.

He had no time to assemble a plan, to weigh the consequences. He had to act, and when he saw the Indian behind the tree move to a better vantage, George leaped to his feet, grabbed Mary like she was a rag doll, and made a beeline for the trees just behind them. The thwipp of an arrow kept George running, dodging behind rocks and trees, Mary tucked under his arm.

Someone shouted in a language George couldn’t understand, and Mary screamed in terror. He turned to look, saw someone level a rifle, aim it directly at Mary. In a swift moment of raw reaction, George threw Mary behind him, and caught a blast of burning pain in his side. George raised his rifle, squeezed the trigger as the Indian unsheathed a knife to rush him. George staggered backward, tripping over Mary. He frantically searched for the second Indian, saw him step out boldly from behind the rocks, begin to draw his bow and arrow, thinking George had spent his only shot.

Mary placed the pistol into George’s hand, and without hesitation, George aimed the weapon and fired. Surprised shock filled the man’s face as he fell to the ground. Blood bubbled from his chest, and he pushed himself onto his back, facing the sky.

George grasped Mary’s arm when she tried to rise, struggling to keep her out of the line of fire.

“I think they are dead, George.”

“You stay where you are,” he said, releasing her only when she stopped moving. He gripped the pistol in his hand, knowing it was empty but unwilling to give it up. The two men lay there, unmoving and apparently lifeless. He combed the trees, rocks, terrain for others. “How many, Mary? How many did you count?”

“Two.” Her voice sounded so distant, he repeated the question in a loud bark. “Two, George! There are only two!”

Lightheaded, and losing his sight fast, George squinted hard at the two bodies, his empty pistol trained on them. “Go, Mary. Go get your ma.”

Thick darkness smothered George like a heavy blanket. He was dimly aware of the hot wetness soaking his shirt, the searing pain, the touch of Mary’s hands. Then he could see nothing, feel nothing, and the darkness overtook him.

At the sound of the fourth gunshot, Emma grabbed her shotgun and ran to the door. The gunfire was coming too steadily to be from one, or even two people, and it sent a shock of dread through Emma as she looked outside. Will, newly moving about on his wooden leg, stopped her from leaving without him. He hadn’t been outside except for brief visits to the latrine, but Emma, too flushed with fright and urgency, made no protest.

The lack of deep snow aided Will, as he hobbled beside Emma, doing his level best to keep up.

“Best not to rush in, Emma,” he said, when she ran even faster.

They could hear nothing more, and Emma prayed with all her might that Mary was all right. She slipped once, ignored the hand Will offered, and kept going, all the way to the place George usually chopped firewood.

Emma’s heart trembled when she saw Mary, on her knees, beside a fallen George. She didn’t stop to look about, but hurried to help Mary. The girl had placed a heavy stone over the wound in George’s side, to stop him from bleeding to death.

“Are you hurt, Mary?” asked Emma, laying aside her shotgun to tend to George.

“No, Ma. I’m fine.”

“What happened? Who did this?” Emma tore away the store bought linen shirt, and unfastened the woolen pants to see the wound. She didn’t wait for Mary’s reply, but searched for shattered bones, anything that might prove fatal to the young man.

“God, have mercy,” said Will, just now arriving.

Emma glanced up, looked at Will. “I think it’s a flesh wound.”

“He isn’t conscious,” said Will, struggling down on one leg for a better look. “Appears he’s been through quite a battle.”

“What do you mean?” asked Emma. She followed Will’s gaze, saw the two dead men.

“What tribe are they, do you know?” Will looked to Emma, then to Mary.

“They are Blackfoot,” said Mary, in a quiet, frightened voice. Emma noticed the girl held George’s limp hand.

“I think he will live,” Emma told her gently. “Who are the men? Do you recognize them?”

Mary shook her head. “I couldn’t see their faces. It happened so fast, Ma.”

“I wonder if there’s any more Indians about,” said Will.

“I only saw two,” said Mary, squeezing George’s hand. “Ma, he saved me. He threw me behind him.”

“We’ll do our best for him, Mary.” Emma rubbed George’s cheek, trying to revive him. A low groan escaped from his pale lips, and to everyone’s relief, he opened his eyes.

“Mary,” he whispered, “is Mary all right?”

Emma breathed a silent prayer of gratitude. “She wasn’t hurt, George. I’m afraid you were, though. You caught a ball in the side. Do you think you can stand if we help? We need to get you into the cabin, but I don’t know how’ll we’ll manage it, if you can’t walk.”

Mary had to help Will upright, then aided Emma as she tried to stand George on his feet. His hand grasped his side, applying pressure so he wouldn’t lose more blood. Emma feared he would cry out in pain, but the young man kept mostly silent. He gave Mary a weak smile, and Emma realized he was being brave for Mary’s sake, and didn’t want to frighten her anymore than she already was.

Slowly, the small procession made its way up the mountain, and into the safety of the small cabin. Emma made George lay down on his bed beside the hearth, and Mary ran to get the medicine Josiah had told her of before leaving.

Will sat on the floor beside his young friend. “It’ll have to be cauterized, George,” he said firmly. “Reckon you’re up to it?”

“Reckon I don’t have a choice,” said George, as Emma prepared a knife over the flames. “Does the child have to be here to watch?”

“She’s the one who knows Blackfoot medicine,” said Emma. “But I’ll get Will to take her outside when it’s time to apply the knife.”

George closed his eyes, his face pale, his lungs sucking in rapid snatches of air. He was beginning to panic.

“Will, take Mary.” Emma helped Will up, then coaxed an unwilling Mary with him to the door. “It won’t take long, Mary. When it’s done, I’ll call you inside and you can apply the medicine.”

Mary shook her head. “No, I will stay and help.”

Emma bent down, looked into Mary’s frightened dark eyes. “I know you want to help George. Right now, he needs you to leave for just a little while.” She touched the girl’s face. “I promise, I’ll take good care of him.”

Reluctantly, Mary let Will lead her outside.

Emma felt weak as she returned to George. She had to be sure the ball, all the material and debris had been removed from the wound, or gangrene would set in. There would be no amputation possible. George would die, if the wound wasn’t properly treated. How Emma wished Josiah were here!

Emma did all she knew how, then lifted the glowing knife from the flames. George clamped his teeth onto a folded strip of leather, nodded to her that he was ready.

He moaned, but did not scream as the blade touched his skin. Emma tried to hurry, knowing every moment she took cost him dearly.

“Mary!” Emma called to her daughter, and the girl hurried through the door Will opened. “It’s your turn.”

Mary went about her task with a steady efficiency that reminded Emma of Cora. Mary applied medicine, inspected it, finessed it, worried over it, then let Emma bind it with strips of clean cloth.

“Did I kill them?” he asked Emma in a rough whisper.

Emma didn’t know how to answer the pained soulful look in his eyes, and decided the truth was best. “I believe so. They weren’t moving when we left. Did Mary fire her pistol?”

“No, she gave it to me.” George leaned his head back, and shut his eyes. “Thank God, she gave it to me. I wouldn’t have wanted her to…”

Silent as a mouse, Mary sat beside him, holding his hand. She didn’t let go when Emma checked her to be sure she hadn’t been hurt, and didn’t let go when Emma gave her some supper.

“If she bothers you too much, tell her to leave you alone,” Emma told George, when he awakened between naps.

His pale face smiled, but he didn’t shoo Mary away. The girl needed to be there, and George seemed to know that. Tending him meant she could keep busy, keep her attention on something besides their harrowing experience that morning.

For the next two days, no one left the cabin unless it was to visit the latrine or to fetch water. They had enough firewood, and Will thought it best not to risk meeting with more Blackfoot, should the two men have company. It didn’t help to remember that Cora’s clan knew the location of the cabin, for they had been there before. Knowing how hidden the cabin was, made Emma think their attackers hadn’t simply chanced upon it. They knew of the cabin, had known Josiah wasn’t there to defend it, because they knew he was with Cora. Such boldness and detailed knowledge, made Emma think the men had come for personal reasons.

Though Emma didn’t say it, she had a feeling one of those men had been the angry husband of Mary’s mother. She could have gone to check the dead bodies, see for herself, for she had met the man when he’d whipped Josiah. But Emma wasn’t brave enough to check, especially when it meant potentially encountering more Indians.

For two days, they kept close to the cabin, and kept their weapons ready. Then, on the morning of the third day, Mary bounded out of bed before Emma awoke, and went to the shutters.

“Pa! It’s Pa!” she shouted, jarring poor George from his sleep, and startling Will to reach for his shotgun until he realized what Mary had said.

Thankfulness washed through Emma as Mary danced with excitement. They went to the door, threw it open, saw Josiah with two other Blackfoot. Emma couldn’t see them, for all she saw was Josiah and his arms outstretched to her. She ran into those arms, hiding herself in his embrace.

He was home. Thank God, Josiah was home.

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Chapter 22 – The Homecoming

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