Don’t forgot to read – The Homecoming : Chapter 22
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ain crept into George’s dreams, twisting them into nightmarish visions of flying arrows, black gunpowder and death. He saw himself on the mountain, clenched with terror as the enemy surrounded him and Mary. They were no longer two Blackfoot, but thousands, and the more George looked at them, they changed into apparitions of his worst fears. He no longer fought against Indians, but against his father, his birthright, and the cries of the slaves that came with it.
With a wrenching gasp, George jarred awake to a dim fireplace and a dark cabin. He remembered where he was, and realized the nightmare for what it was– just a dream.
“George?” Mary peered above him in the semi-darkness. “Are you all right? Are you hurting any?”
His chest thumped like a frightened rabbit, but he wasn’t going to tell his little friend that. He tried to speak, but his tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth. Before he could rasp out a request for water, the child crawled away on her hands and knees.
Dimly, the sensation of pain brought him more fully back to the present. He lifted a hand to the bandage at his side. It throbbed, but not as much as when he kept completely still. Movement seemed to make the pain even worse, so he did his best not to move.
How his mouth felt like cotton! George raised his head, looking for someone he could ask for a drink. To his puzzlement, he found everyone asleep. Frowning, he let his head drop back to the robes. It must be nighttime, he slowly realized. It explained the dying fire, and the lack of light coming through the empty cracks in the log walls.
Had Josiah really returned, or had he simply dreamed it? George was no longer sure. He was about to doubt Mary’s recent presence, when she returned with an overflowing cup that dripped with water. He eagerly raised his head, and drank from the cup she put to his lips.
“Is your pa back?” asked George, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.
The question appeared to trouble Mary. She put a palm to his forehead. “Don’t you remember?” she asked timidly.
“I’m not feverish, Mary.” He brushed aside her hand, intent on getting his question answered. “Is Josiah back?”
“You talked to him yesterday. Ain’t you remembering at all?”
“Then he is home,” said George, breathing in a deep sigh of relief. “I was afraid I’d only dreamed the things he said to me.” George closed his eyes, then opened them to pin his wayward student with a reprimand. “What do I have to do before you erase that word from your vocabulary? ‘Ain’t’ isn’t a word.”
“Sorry, George.” Mary offered him the cup again, and he raised himself for a few swallows more. When she kept tipping the cup, cold water ran down his neck and wet his shirt.
“Enough,” he said, pulling away before she poured the entire amount into his clothing. He lay back, gradually becoming aware that the cabin wasn’t silent at all. Will snored at his usual loudness, this time, newly accompanied by Josiah’s Grandpap. No wonder Mary was awake.
“Does it hurt a lot?” she asked, her eyes filled with fearful concern. It was a question she frequently asked, and it seemed to George, that no matter how hard he tried to console her, it never stopped her concern.
“I’m all right, Mary. I really am. I’m in pain, but it’s livable pain, and will only last for a short duration.” George sure hoped the duration would be short, but refused to burden the child with his fears. He gave her his very best smile. “Thank you for the water. It’s helped immensely.”
A pleased grin spread over her face, but quickly vanished when he winced as he gingerly moved his leg to stop it from cramping. Finding a comfortable position, he closed his eyes.
“Huh?” he asked, hoping sleep would pull him into more rest. His body felt drained and he needed escape from the throbbing in his side.
“Do you want one of my dolls?”
“Whatever for?” groaned George. He remembered he was trying to console her about his well-being, and tried to lighten his tone. “It’s very kind of you to make the offer, Miss Brown, but I can do without it.” When there was no response, George opened one eye and discovered Mary had gone. Thinking she’d grown tired of sitting up and talking with him, George shifted on the robe and tried to sleep.
Something nestled beside him, and George opened his eyes to find a wooden doll tucked into his blanket.
“This will help you,” said Mary, covering his cold feet under the blanket. “She is my Blackfoot doll, the one Naahks made for me. When I can’t sleep, I hold her and think of my family.” Mary adjusted the robe beneath his head, and he had to admit he felt better for the attention.
“Thank you for looking after me,” he said in a hushed voice, “but now it’s time you went back to sleep. Go on. I’ll be all right. I’ve had a drink of water, I’m all tucked in, and thanks to your doll, I have some company.” He tried to coax her away, and finally, after a promise that he’d awake her if he needed anything else, Mary crawled back to her bed on the other side of Will, Grandpap, and Josiah’s mother.
A warm feeling comforted George. He had friends in this cabin, and friends in the hide lodge outside. Closing his eyes, George let sleep and exhaustion overtake him. With Mary’s doll beside him, his dreams were sweet.
A cool draft awakened Emma. She turned onto her side with a whimper, pulled down the corner of the buffalo robe that had been left open, then settled back into her warm nest to get more sleep. Drowsily, it occurred to her that Josiah had left their bed. She reached a hand to his vacant place on the robes, and felt it had grown cold. He’d left some time ago, only she hadn’t realized it until now.
“I’m over here, Emma.”
She lifted her head and saw Josiah, sitting cross-legged by the fire. “Come back to bed, Josiah.” She opened the robe for him.
“I need to think,” he said, turning down the invitation. His chiseled features were solemn, as though he had already been doing a great deal of thinking. “We can’t be staying here, Emma.”
At first, she didn’t understand. Did he want to move back into the cabin before their night was over? Sleep muddled her thinking, and Emma sat up on the robes to fully wake up. The cabin. He meant they were going to leave the cabin and the area, altogether.
“I’ve been turning it over in my mind, and we can’t afford to wait.” The firelight played shadows on his face, making Josiah look severe and even ominous.
He was preparing for trouble.
“They’re coming — it’s only a matter of time. It makes too much sense for Wild Knife’s kin to come to my lodge, looking fer him. Problem is, when they do,” Josiah flexed his right hand, his thick fingers tightening into a fist, “they’ll find George and Will. I ain’t having to tell you what that’ll mean.”
No, Josiah didn’t have to tell her. She could picture several possibilities, all of them dangerous, and many quite deadly. There was too much bad blood between Josiah and the Blackfoot, and Wild Knife’s death only complicated matters further.
“There’s a big problem about leaving now, though.” The fist opened, and the fingers rubbed his cheek in troubled frustration. “George. If only he had time to get strong. Moving him too soon could cost him his life, but if I don’t, and we wait here for him to recover, he could die anyway.”
“We have to protect him, Josiah.”
“I’m knowing that. I ain’t intending to let him go under, just because he helped our Mary. Even so, we’re in a tight fix. Our good intentions might not be enough to keep that young man alive.”
“I think you’d better talk to him,” Emma said quietly. “If he’s going to die, it’s best he has a say in the decision.”
Josiah blew out a defeated sigh. “I reckon you’re right. I sure could use some more faith right now, Emma.”
“I remember something in Psalms that might help,” said Emma, trying to recall the exact words. “‘The LORD taketh my part with them that help me…’ I believe since George helped Mary, God will help George.”
Josiah looked at Emma with something akin to admiration. “How did you do that?”
“You rattled off that verse like it was right in front of you.”
“It almost was,” she smiled. “I read that passage yesterday.”
He nodded, though he still looked at her curiously. “I surely would like to be able to do that. Do you reckon I could?”
“Remember a simple Bible verse? Of course.”
“No,” he rubbed the worn knee of his buckskin trousers. “I’m meaning, do you think I could learn to read? Everything I know from the Bible is what someone else tells me. I surely would like to read them words fer myself.”
Emma smiled. “I hope you don’t think I’d purposefully misdirect you.”
“I trust you well enough,” he said with a small grin.
“You could learn to read,” Emma nodded.
He sat there, quietly looking at her with growing intensity in his dark eyes. He didn’t have to say anything for her to know his thoughts were returning to more intimate matters.
“Is there anything we can do about George right now?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Not until morning.”
“Then come to bed, Josiah. Who knows when we’ll be able to have this much privacy again.”
He grinned broadly, got up, and came over to the robes. “If I have to build a separate lodge every night, I’ll find a way fer us to be together. You can count on it.” She averted her eyes as he pulled off his buckskins, and heard quiet laughter behind her back. “Emma, try not to ever change too much. Grow older, get larger, do whatever you need to– just don’t stop loving me. I reckon it’d break my heart if you did.” The robes stirred, then she felt his arm come around her, and pull her back against his chest. “Yer my sunshine, Em. I can face a lot in life, knowing yer standing with me.”
He moved the hair away from the back of her neck, and she felt his lips on her skin.
“You and God and family,” he breathed, nuzzling her neck with a groan of satisfaction. “Except fer the trouble with the Blackfoot, I reckon it couldn’t get much better than this.”
Emma hadn’t wanted to contradict her husband in such a tender moment, for she felt more problems lay before them besides the Blackfoot. It couldn’t be denied, however, in the full light of morning, that the Blackfoot were a most definite problem. She sat on the buffalo robe by the hearth, trying to appear busy while Josiah spoke to George a few feet away. She’d succeeded in getting Mary out of the cabin beforehand, by asking Cora to keep the girl busy outside. Grandpap huffed on his tobacco pipe on one side of the table, while Will sat on the other, each staring at each other from time to time as though they were just checking. Talk of more trouble with the Blackfoot didn’t help Grandpap and Will to get along, but so far, they seemed to tolerate each other’s presence.
From the start, Will had wanted to be in on the discussion with George, but Josiah had insisted on talking to George alone. Afterward, if anyone had something they wanted to say, they could say it. But right now, Josiah wanted to hear George.
The young man looked the better for a good night’s rest, or so Emma tried to tell herself as she listened to Josiah explain their situation. The truth was, George was weak and would need a lot of care before he was up and around again. Emma wondered why God had allowed such a serious injury when Heaven knew they needed to leave as soon as possible. Her pa’s voice sounded in her memory, his confidence in God’s purpose firm every time he quoted the favorite passage: “‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.'”
How this would work to everyone’s good, Emma didn’t know. She only knew that God would keep His promise.
The quiet that filled the cabin after Josiah had laid things out before George, was heavy and somber. His lips pale, his eyes betraying a fear that his half smiling mouth did not, Emma knew he had understood the danger.
“My choice is easy, Josiah,” George said with a false chuckle. The young trapper was propped up against some belongings, so he could sit up and interact with everyone else without having to lay there, looking at the ceiling rafters. “The way I see it, if I let you hide Will and I– and we stay– the Blackfoot will think you killed Wild Knife and his brother, and you risk getting killed yourself. So I refuse to let you hide me.” George sucked in a deep breath, his voice cracking with the strain of speaking so boldly. “We need to leave this place. If I die, then so be it. Let me die without knowing it didn’t cost you your life, as well.”
“Think carefully, George. I could hide you and Will so no one would find you until yer better.”
“No, it won’t do, Josiah.” A flush of color came to George’s face, and he pushed himself forward to look Josiah straight in the eye. “I didn’t save Mary, just so she could live without her pa. I won’t do it. We’re leaving.”
Josiah sighed heavily, his expression argumentative but his voice silent.
“You’ve been a better friend to me than I deserve,” said George, weakly dropping back. “Let me do this for you and the others.” His breathing came in quick breaths, trying to recover the strength it had taken for him to “stand” up to Josiah.
The seasoned mountain man looked at the younger, and Emma saw the fondness in Josiah’s eyes. “Don’t you go wearing yerself out,” said Josiah, bringing the blanket back up to George’s chest. He was about to go on, when Josiah noticed the Indian doll.
“Mary put it there,” said George. “She’s trying so hard to help me, I didn’t have the heart to toss it aside.”
A subdued smile parted Josiah’s mouth, half in sadness, half in determination. “You’ve got people here willing to do a lot to keep you alive, George. While yer busy sacrificing yerself, I don’t want you to ferget that.”
George swallowed hard, and moisture gathered in his brown eyes. Neither man said a word more, but parted with a nod– a nod that acknowledged deep friendship. Will didn’t speak up, and neither did Grandpap.
The decision had been made. They would leave the cabin.
The flurry of activity that followed amazed Emma. She didn’t know what she would have done without Cora, overseeing the packing and keeping things in order while everyone hurried to clear out. Josiah brought up the horses that Wild Knife and his brother had hidden, though Emma couldn’t recognize either of them as Josiah’s former pony. The hide lodge was dismantled and packed onto Cora’s travois, while Josiah constructed another travois for George.
One of the Blackfoot ponies was given to Will, and it took considerable help from Josiah to get Will onto the animal’s back. Since Will only had one leg to keep him mounted, Josiah tied him into a saddle so he wouldn’t fall out. The horse pranced about with Will, both enjoying the freedom of movement until Josiah hitched them to George’s travois.
“Don’t worry, little lady,” Will said, looking down at a concerned Mary. “I’ll take particular good care of George. This is a strong horse, and between the two of us, we’ll get him out of here safely. We won’t jostle him too much, will we boy?” said Will, patting the pony’s neck. “Feels good to be on a horse again. Makes me feel like a whole man.”
With a great deal of care, Josiah lifted the young trapper from his bed in the cabin and carried him out to the awaiting travois. George winced during the transfer, but not once did he cry out in pain.
Though Emma didn’t feel easy about sitting a horse while she was with child, she had to admit she wouldn’t move very quickly on foot and would most likely slow everyone down. So with the help of a tree stump and Josiah’s steadying hands, Emma climbed onto the back of Cora’s horse. The horse pulled Cora’s travois, and with Cora leading the animal by its halter, all Emma had to do was keep her seat and pray it wouldn’t harm the unborn baby.
Mounting the remaining Indian pony, Josiah hoisted Mary up in front of him so the two sat together. The girl looked pleased to ride with her pa, her face beaming with the grin that reminded Emma so much of Josiah. Father and daughter took the point, leading the way for the others.
As their procession moved down the mountain, Emma looked back one last time at the cabin that had been their home. The lodge was humble, but it had given them shelter during more than one blizzard, refuge from wild animals, and a cozy roof over their heads all those winter months. Josiah had brought her here shortly after her rescue, and she remembered with a smile her disappointment upon first seeing his lodge; then, it had been nothing but a fallen pile of old logs and a crumbling chimney, but with work and a lot of love, it had turned into a home.
Upon reaching the valley below, Josiah swung Mary onto Emma’s horse.
“Grandpap,” Josiah said to the old man, “take them South of here, and keep ’em moving fer as long as you can afore nightfall. Keep the camp cold, and picket the horses out of sight.”
Grandpap grunted, and turned his pony to the head of the line.
“Josiah,” Emma called to her husband, alarmed that he intended to leave. “Where are you going? We aren’t leaving without you!”
To her consternation, Josiah said something more to Grandpap, this time in Blackfoot. The old man nodded, apparently in agreement.
“Josiah, if you’re staying, then so am I!” Emma searched for a way to drop off the horse, but couldn’t without help. Josiah looked at her quietly, knowing full well her threat was an idle one.
“I’ll catch up, Emma. You go on with the others. I’ll be along when it’s all clear.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked, pushing back the panic that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. “Josiah, please, let’s just leave this place before there’s anymore trouble.”
His smile was grim, though Emma thought not hopeless. “I ain’t looking fer trouble, Emma, but I sure ain’t going to let it catch up to my family, if it’s there. I’ll only be about a full day’s ride behind you.”
His face hardened into flint. “I’ve made up my mind, Emma, so there ain’t any use talking. Daylight’s burning.” There was no sentimentality in his voice, no soft look that told her he was trying to be gentle. He didn’t turn to look at her as he galloped away, and Emma had watched to see if he would.
Will trotted his horse to Cora’s travois, and looked at Emma with understanding in his eyes. “He’s trying to keep us safe, that’s all. I’d offer to remain behind, if I thought I’d be much help.”
Emma smiled kindly at Will. She had assumed they would leave together, but not like this, not separated from each other if trouble arose.
The horses moved South, but Emma kept turning about, trying to look back at Hollowtop Mountain, trying to see Josiah. Of course, with her poor eyesight, it was no use, and after awhile, Emma stopped trying.
Someone whistled, and Emma saw Will point to the mountain behind them. She turned about on the horse, saw faintly the column of smoke that held everyone’s attention.
“What does it mean?” she asked, touching her heart with a trembling hand.
“He’s burning the cabin,” said Will, looking to Grandpap.
Grandpap gave Will an affirming nod.
“But why?” asked Emma.
Grandpap urged the procession forward, and spoke to her over his shoulder. “To show them he will not come back.”
The finality of those words haunted Emma. Another cabin could always be built, but not in this land, not in these mountains. That bit of ground where their cabin used to sit, was where Josiah’s pa had built his own lodge. Josiah had brought her there, rebuilt the walls, and they had enjoyed a relatively quiet winter in their mountain seclusion. Now it was gone.
“Smoke’s dying away,” said Will, twisting about on his horse to look back. “I can’t see it so much anymore. Maybe we’re just getting farther.”
Behind her on the pony, Emma felt Mary’s little hands, clutching onto her ma’s deerskin gown so she wouldn’t fall off. The reminder of her daughter’s presence comforted the shock of Emma’s grief. With the exception of Josiah, she had all that mattered, right here with her. They would go elsewhere, find some other place to call home.
But would they ever again enjoy the protection of four walls and a roof? With Josiah’s nomadic life, hunting and trapping wherever he thought there were pelts to be caught?
Josiah. Emma turned again, hoping and praying to see his pony in the distance. She should be counting her blessings, but one of them was still behind.
“Mary,” Emma said to the small girl, “if you see your pa, be sure to let me know.”
“I will, Ma.”
“Are you all right back there?”
“I am fine,” Mary said stoutly, her childish voice more resilient than Emma’s. She grasped more deerskin dress, leaned around and looked at Emma. “When will Pa come?”
Emma smiled at her expectant face. “Soon, I hope.”
With a sigh, Mary disappeared behind Emma’s back.
“George?” Mary called to the occupant of the travois beside them.
“What?” came the weak reply.
“Are you hurting any?”
“I wish you’d stop asking that, Mary.”
“But are you?”
There was silence.
“I’m well enough, Mary. Now please stop talking. You’re wearing me out.”
The pain in George’s voice was noticeable, but Cora and Grandpap pushed on. Emma prayed George could hold on long enough for them to gain a safe distance from the cabin. They needed to leave the area. With each passing day, it would only become more and more dangerous to stay, and now was not a good time to slow their pace.
Emma prayed they hadn’t waited too long to leave. If only they’d set out as soon as Josiah had gotten back from his journey to the Blackfoot village. If only she and Josiah hadn’t spent half a day in Cora’s hide lodge… if only… if only. The regrets mounted, but then, Emma remembered God hadn’t given Josiah that sense of urgency until last night. God’s timing was always perfect, and Emma rested her confidence in His providence.
She craned her neck to look behind once more, only to see a fuzzy horizon crowded with mountains and trees and sky.
The sun grew warm overhead, and still there was no sign of Josiah. Grandpap kept the pace slow enough to keep George from moaning, but fast enough to keep up with Cora. Though the only one not sitting a horse, Cora seemed to have no trouble at all– not only in keeping up– but many times leading her pony before her father’s. Cora handed out pemmican for lunch, and still they kept moving, ever Southward.
The sky began to change color, signaling nightfall. Only then did Grandpap stop. Since they were in a hurry and trying to stay out of sight, Cora decided not to set up her hide lodge. Instead, they would sleep on the ground under the open sky, and pray the weather didn’t turn against them.
Though Josiah had told Grandpap to keep a cold camp, the old man built a fire anyway, and Emma noticed the apprehension build in Will’s expression. She sensed Will was starting to wonder if Grandpap had led them into a trap. Perhaps Grandpap had moved them far away from Josiah, only to let the Blackfoot take their revenge. Will said nothing, but was noticeably easier when Cora put out the fire and scolded Grandpap. The old man merely harrumphed, and added another blanket to his shoulders.
The Rockies descended into a moonless night, making Emma miss the fire Cora had put out. On the robes at her side, Mary slept with her cloth Christmas doll. The other had apparently been bestowed on George, and Emma was grateful for the young man’s long-suffering good humor in the matter. Not even Will’s teasing before bedtime, when Mary had tucked her beloved Indian doll into George’s blankets, had made George willing to refuse Mary’s kind gesture. It had come with a price, though: Mary was not to ask him if he was in pain again– at least, not until morning.
Thankfully, George had fallen asleep quickly, granting him some respite from the pain. When they had heard the soft snores come from George’s buffalo robes, everyone spoke in hushed whispers so his much needed rest wouldn’t be disturbed.
Now, in the darkness of their fireless and moonless camp, Emma lay awake and thought of Josiah. Was he safe? Emma prayed with all heart that he was. She wondered if it had cost him anything to burn down his pa’s lodge, the sweet little cabin on the mountain. Then Josiah’s unflinching face before he rode away, came back to her, and she sensed it had. Josiah had wanted to spare her the distress of seeing their home burn down, as well as the grief he might have felt upon knowing he could never return. His childhood memories must stay in these magnificent mountains in the Blackfoot country, but he would have to move on.
A familiar hope fluttered in Emma’s breast, and she struggled to remain realistic. She knew Josiah would never leave this way of life, and scolded herself for even dreaming of the possibilities. He could not go back to the land of his mother’s people, but the Rockies extended well out of Blackfoot country, and there were other streams to trap, other valleys to hunt.
Fatigue tugged at Emma as the weariness of the day gradually caught up to her. One by one, her thoughts were swallowed by a hazy sleep, until not even the loud chorus of Will and Grandpap’s slumber could awaken her.
The chilly spring morning and the insistent hand rocking her shoulder, were finally enough to rouse Emma. Her eyes opened, and she saw a new morning beginning to dawn in the horizon. Cora handed her some pemmican, and Emma ate it without thinking. Grandpap was already making sounds that he wanted to get moving, and everyone was busy packing their things to resume the journey.
“Is Josiah back?” she asked Will, as he rolled up his buffalo robe.
“No, I’m afraid he isn’t,” said Will. “You know Josiah, though. He does a good job of looking after himself. He’ll be all right.”
Emma nodded absently, not really hearing the comfort Will tried to offer.
“Is Josiah’s pa dead?”
Emma hadn’t realized she’d been asked a question, until Will repeated it, and politely waited for an answer.
“Yes, I believe he is,” said Emma, puzzled by the expression on Will’s face. “Why do you ask?”
Will shrugged lightly. “Just wondering. Need any help with your bedding?”
Without making a big deal of the fact he was moving and that it hurt to do so, George carefully climbed back into the travois. No one present was strong enough to lift him by themselves, but George hadn’t complained. He did, however, give a measure of protest when Mary replaced the doll at his side.
The small procession started out once more, and Emma kept a prayer ready on her lips for her absent husband. She knew he was only a day’s ride behind them, but it didn’t make her feel any less apprehensive. The fact Josiah kept back, told her a lot of what he was thinking. Though he hadn’t burdened her with all his thoughts, she understood Josiah felt the possibility of being followed was at least big enough for him to take such a precaution. Enough days had to pass for Wild Knife’s family to come looking for him, and Emma didn’t think that had happened yet. Wasn’t it still too soon? But Josiah was being cautious, and with so many in his care, she understood his abundance of caution.
It was easier to understand, after she’d calmed down, than it had been the day before. Obviously, Josiah had known that, and had acted without giving her a chance to get all emotional. At times, that man could be very annoying. He had thought he knew her so well, he could correctly anticipate her reaction, even before she could, herself. Well, when he returned, she would prove to him that he had been wrong. It didn’t matter if she was with child or not, she was just as rational as Josiah Brown.
She thought of ways to gently punish him, when a gunshot pierced the stillness of the morning. Everyone reigned in their horses, and Will grabbed his rifle, his eyes steadily searching the Northern horizon.
“I only heard one shot,” Will said to Grandpap. “How about you?”
“One,” said the old Blackfoot, his flintlock at the ready. The wind whistled down the foothills as everyone waited, listening.
The distant explosion of a second gunshot echoed against the mountains, causing everyone to look at each other soberly.
More agonizing silence followed.
Grandpap’s face filled with resolve. “I will go back,” he said, directing his instructions to Cora. “Keep heading South. We will meet you in the Yellowstone.”
Cora nodded in understanding, then watched as her father galloped away.
“Should I go with him?” Will asked Cora.
“No, we keep moving.” Cora’s eyes closed for a few moments, and Emma saw her mouth move in silent prayer.
One long day after another passed, and Grandpap and Josiah didn’t return. They heard no more gunfire, and Emma tried to comfort herself that it was a good sign.
Then, a day after Cora announced they were nearing the land of the Yellowstone, Mary cried out that she saw a rider– two of them– heading in their direction!
Emma’s heart pounded loudly as she waited for someone to recognize the riders.
“It’s Pa and Grandpap!” came Mary’s excited shout. The girl dropped off Cora’s pony, then went running toward the two riders.
“Is it them?” Emma asked Cora a little frantically, for they were unable to stop Mary.
“It is,” said Cora, her usual reserve breaking into a wide smile. “They are coming back to us.”
“Thank God,” said George.
“Amen to that,” said Will, breathing a huge sigh of relief. He looked to Cora with a chuckle. “Not meaning any disrespect to your Shining Mountains, ma’am, but this trapper is mighty glad to have escaped with his scalp.”
Whatever Cora felt, Emma didn’t know, but Will was more readable; he watched Cora somewhat wistfully as they waited for Josiah and Grandpap to rejoin them.
“Pa shot a deer!” Mary shouted to anyone who would listen.
Relief flooded Emma’s soul. No one had followed them, and Josiah was safe. Someone might still track them later, but at least they were away from the cabin and the immediate vicinity of Blackfoot territory. The dangers were still there, though now they were fewer in number.
It felt good to know that the farther they travelled, the safer they would be.
Former concerns in the process of being put behind them, Emma’s mind moved on to the future, even before she saw Josiah riding up to meet them. Would he ever leave the Rockies, altogether? she wondered.
Her intent of gently punishing him forgotten, Emma smiled at Josiah as he trotted up to Cora’s horse.
“I’m back, Em,” he said, that handsome grin of his flashing with unabashed male confidence. “You can tell me how much you missed me later. I lost my food somewhere along the way, and thought I’d have to live on raw deer until Grandpap showed up. We ran out of his supply of pemmican a few days back though, and I’m sure enough hungry. Got any pemmican handy?” He leaned forward on his mount and gave her a kiss, which she willingly returned.
In spite of his rough talk, Emma could see the tenderness in his dark eyes. He was glad to see her, and gladder still that she wasn’t angry. She didn’t need words to know what he felt, for no matter how well Josiah Brown thought he knew his wife, she knew himeven better.