Don’t forgot to read – Land of the Broad-Shouldered Mountains : Chapter 28


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The dark May heavens still held a blanket of stars as Josiah closed the barn door on his way to the house for breakfast. As usual, Emma had gotten up before him, and he could smell the result of her labor wafting toward him through the crisp morning air. Chores had a way of making his stomach growl something fierce, and without fail, Emma’s cooking always managed to tame it.

A light shone from the second story of the snug log cabin, calling Josiah’s attention to its owner as he moved across the yard, around the house to the back door. He smiled. George was up, no doubt getting ready for the journey that lay before him. At least they would have George for a short while longer, before it would be time to say goodbye. While Josiah wasn’t looking forward to it, he was grateful George had waited as long as he had before going. It had been wonderful having him here, not only his willingness to lend a hand with the building and the planting, but also for his unreserved friendship. It had meant a lot to Josiah.

George had done a heap of maturing in his twenty-four years, and Josiah had an unshakable confidence in George’s future. Despite what waited for him back East, George had a solid backbone, a good deal of conviction of what was right. Even though Josiah wished he could somehow help George face the coming months, he knew the young man would weather his troubles and come out the stronger for them.

Stepping into the mud room, Josiah began the struggle to remove his boots so he wouldn’t track mud onto Cora’s clean floor. This cabin bore little similarity to the one he and Emma had wintered in during that first year together in the Rockies. Here, they had floorboards instead of dirt, actual glass for windows, separate rooms for sleeping and a comfortable, if small, main room for sitting and cooking. The second story consisted of a loft, where George slept and studied over the books he’d purchased in Oregon City.

Jefferson, who would turn five this coming Autumn, had recently been allowed by Emma to climb the ladder to the loft and make his room with George. The boys were getting along so well that Washington, who had just turned three, thought it unfair that older brother Jefferson could climb the ladder while he couldn’t. Until the Brown boys, who included two-year-old Adams, were old enough to climb the ladder, they had to share a room with Mary and one-year-old Rachel, who at present had a cradle in her parents’ bedroom so Emma could nurse in the middle of the night. Five healthy children. Josiah couldn’t help feeling God had given him a great deal more than he deserved. They were still three short of Emma’s original plans of eight, but if they had more boys, Josiah knew what to call them. What had started with Emma’s father, later became a tradition of naming their sons after American presidents. Men with such names could be looked up to, and Josiah wanted his children to see themselves as Americans– full-blooded Americans with a double heritage worthy to be respected.

Free of the boots, Josiah wiggled his toes in their socks. He missed the freedom of moccasins, and once every so often, he’d put them on for old time’s sake. Not long after arriving in the Oregon Country, Josiah had exchanged his buckskins for woolen trousers and linen shirts; but those items hadn’t been missed as much as his moccasins. No amount of breaking in of store bought boots could compare to his old deerskin moccasins. They were just downright comfortable.

A young girl’s protest carried from inside the main room, breaking in on Josiah’s thoughts. Ever since George had announced his intentions for departure, Mary had been dragging her feet around the house as though her life was coming to an early and fatal end.

Sucking in a bracing breath before entering the conflict, Josiah ducked past the mud room and into the main room where Emma stood by the fireplace, working a griddle hanging over the flames. A healthy stack of pancakes waited for him on the table, along with an open jar of strawberry preserves. His stomach rumbling, Josiah made his way to the table.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” asked Emma, as Josiah scooted out his chair.

He harrumphed at being asked such an obvious question. “What does it look like? I’m going to eat.”

“Not with those filthy hands, you don’t.” Emma waved a cooking utensil at him with such animation, he couldn’t help smiling. “Go back to the mud room and use the washbasin.”

“Emma, when you get yer bristles up, yer mighty purty,” he said with a grin.

“Oh, you!” An absent hand pushed back a tendril of yellow hair, almost as though she couldn’t help herself from making sure everything was in decent order. Josiah grinned all the harder as a self-conscious smile touched Emma’s lips. “Oh, go wash your hands.”

He chuckled, then returned to the mud room to get himself clean enough for breakfast. Despite having spent the night walking the floor with Rachel, and getting up before the crack of dawn to start breakfast, Josiah thought Emma had never looked purtier. Even the thick spectacles that gave her clear vision, only served to add to Emma’s already good looks. Josiah couldn’t help smiling as he bent over the basin to splash water onto his face. Being so in love with Emma as he was, Josiah allowed he wasn’t an impartial judge. But Emma had to be the most striking woman this side of the Rocky Mountains, and that was just pure fact.

“But why can’t I, Ma?” came Mary’s voice, as the girl resumed her debate with Emma. Josiah turned his head enough to see Mary move past the mud room entrance in her dress and apron. “Why not?”

“Because I said so,” came Emma’s predictable response.

“But, it isn’t fair! Why can George go and I can’t?”

“Because George isn’t my child, and you are. Mary, we’ve gone over this a hundred times. You can not go with George, and that’s final.”

“But, Ma!”

Emma sighed deeply. “You’re only ten– all right, almost eleven– but there is no way on God’s green earth I’ll let you leave home until you’re much older. And even then, only if you’re traveling with family.”

Wiping his hands on a towel, Josiah stepped back into the house. Mary came to him immediately.

“Pa, can’t I–“

Josiah held up a hand to stop his daughter from saying a word more. “You heard what yer ma said. Don’t git me to contradict Ma. Do that, and you’ll be visiting the woodshed.”

Mary hung her head, and she nodded that she understood. The brightest of all Josiah’s children, and certainly the most strong-willed, Mary slumped into her chair at the table.

“I’m going to miss him, Pa. Who’s going to teach at the schoolhouse if George isn’t here? And who’s going to read with me, and tell stories, and help me with my penmanship, and who will I find to discuss civil liberties and the absolute rights of individuals?”

Josiah raised his eyebrows. “That’s a mouthful, all right. Pass the jam.”

Her sweet face clouded over by the approaching loss of her best friend, Mary placed the jar beside Josiah’s plate. “Can’t you get him to stay, Pa? Just until I’m old enough to go with him?”

“Older or not, he still wouldn’t take you.” Josiah couldn’t help teasing. “Cub, you best face facts. George is going back to his way of life, and there ain’t a thing you can do about it but to wish him well. He’s been a good friend to this family, and I don’t want you making him feel guilty about leaving.” Josiah spread butter onto his pancakes, then smothered them with strawberry preserves.

The rocking chair creaked in the corner of the room as Cora sat with baby Rachel in her arms, the baby half-asleep but still needing the constant motion of the chair for comfort. Poor Rachel had spent most of the night crying, and between Cora and Emma, and even after some help from Josiah, had given everyone a long several hours. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than colic, but it had been hard to explain to the small children in the family.

For half the night, no one could sleep. Jefferson had finally managed to get some rest with a pillow stuffed around his ears, while Washington and his two-year-old brother, Adams, had fitted themselves into Will and Cora’s bed to escape Rachel’s tenacious cries. Will hadn’t complained, though Cora had found her up-and-down assistance with the baby rather difficult, seeing her spot kept being filled by small sleeping bodies that protested whenever moved. But moved they were, and when they were sleeping soundly enough, Josiah had lifted them back to their own bed to give Cora the rest she needed.

After a prayer over his meal, Josiah dug into the pancakes without mercy. The long night made Will understandably late for morning chores, and Josiah expected his father-in-law would remain in bed awhile longer before tying on the wooden leg. If Josiah could manage it, he’d try to talk Will from going out at all. Lately, Will’s leg stump had been giving him trouble, his skin raw from being rubbed against the padding he used to cushion the wooden leg. Josiah knew with enough rest the pain would go away, but Will had to actually rest for that to happen. The older man had a great deal of patience for the situation, never once complaining, and more than once reminding everyone when their “I’m sorry’s” got too thick, that he was happier than he deserved, and was more than a little thankful the leg had come off so he could still be “stumping about.” “Rather this, than an early grave,” he kept saying.

Mary sighed heavily, ignoring the plate of pancakes Emma placed before her. “If Great-Grandpap were alive, he’d find a way to make George stay.”

“If Grandpap were here,” Josiah put in with a mouthful of food, “he’d tell you to hush up and eat your breakfast.”

“First Great-Grandpap, and now George. Pa, everyone’s leaving.”

A hearty laugh sounded as George strode to the table, his sleeves rolled up as though ready for a long day of work in the field. “I hope I’m not leaving the same way Grandpap did. I’m not ready to meet my Maker just yet.”

“Thank God, Grandpap was,” smiled Josiah, placing the jam where George could reach it. The old man had passed on two seasons ago, but had survived long enough to see more than one great-grandchild come into the world.

Indignant, Mary folded her arms and stared at George from across the table as he bowed his head in prayer. When he had finished, and reached for the butter, Mary spoke up. “You won’t be here, so what’s the difference?”

“A lot, I’d think,” said Josiah, stuffing more pancake into his mouth. “George is going to school, not Heaven.”

“But we’re never going to see him again, so what’s the difference? Pa, can’t I–“

“No,” said Josiah, pinning Mary with a warning look. If she didn’t stop her arguing, the woodshed would be in her future.

“Yes, Pa.” Mary hung her head. George pushed the strawberry preserves toward Mary, finally coaxing the first smile Josiah had seen from her in over two days.

George smiled, and began shoveling in food at the same rate as Josiah. “I’m mostly packed. As soon as your friend arrives, I’ll be ready to leave with him.”

Josiah grunted. “Tom Peters is a good friend of mine from a long way back, and knows his way about the Rockies like it was the back of his hand. He’ll git you to Missouri in one piece all right, but then it’ll be up to you to find someone to take you the rest of the way to Massachusetts. I reckon you got a respectable six month trip ahead of you– that is, if you can stay healthy and keep moving.”

“I’ll make it,” said George with a determined grin. He opened his mouth for a large bite of Emma’s pancakes, then chomped away like his stomach didn’t know when its next meal was coming. “I’ve got a lot to do today,” he said with his mouth full, then paused to take a gulp of milk before resuming work on the food. “I’d appreciate your help, Mary.”

Mary smiled at being included in George’s plans, though Josiah knew her joy would be short-lived. If Zeke Thompkins had located Tom Peters the way Josiah reckoned Zeke would, then Tom would be due to arrive any day now.

Then it would be time to say goodbye to George, once and for all.

After demolishing breakfast, George went up to the boys’ loft to get a surprise. Mary waited for him at the bottom of the ladder, smiled when she saw the canvas bag dangling from his hand. He opened the bag, pulled out one book after another, and placed them into Mary’s surprised arms.

“I can’t take these with me, so I want you to have them,” said George, noting the wonderment filling Mary’s eyes. “You love reading almost as much as I do, so I know you’ll take good care of these books. If you’ll notice, I included ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ and our old favorite, Blackstone’s ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England.’ I wish I had the other volumes of Blackstone to give you, but–” George cut short his speech when he noticed that it wasn’t wonderment filling Mary’s eyes, but tears.

A shaky sob escaped Mary’s lips. She shoved the books into George’s arms, then fled the house without answering his calls of what was the matter.

Having seen the whole thing, Jefferson came over to George with a sad shake of his head. “Girls,” he breathed in sympathy, as if the one word explained everything. “Pa said us men can’t git along without ’em, but I sure wish we could. Girls are trouble.”

George couldn’t help smiling. Whenever Jefferson wanted to be big and grownup, he would imitate his pa’s mountain-talk. George handed Jefferson the pile of books. “Put these on Mary’s bed, would you?”

Jefferson looked over the stack, then turned his dark eyes on George. “Whatcha givingme when you go?”

George laughed. “You’ll be doing good if I don’t make you write out, ‘I will always use proper English,’ one hundred times on Mary’s slate.”

The boy wrinkled his nose. “Can’t make me. I can’t read.”

“Give it a few more years, Jefferson. Your ma will have you reading before you know it. Why, Mary was only a few months older than you when she started reading. You’re not going to be bested by a girl, are you?”

Jefferson gave a heavy sigh. “I reckon not.”

As Jefferson went to place the books on Mary’s bed, George stepped outside to see if he could find Mary. He knew all of her favorite places, and didn’t have any doubts that with a little searching, he could find her before long.

Busy chopping wood by the side of the house, Josiah paused his work to speak to George. “If yer looking fer Mary, she was heading to the creek.”

“Was she still crying?”

“She was.” Josiah wiped the sweat collecting on his brow. “I’ll be glad when Tom gits here and you leave. No offense, but the sooner you go, the sooner Mary can start fergitting you.”

Hands in his trouser pockets, George nodded in understanding. “I know. I’ve come to think of Mary as my little sister, and I guess she looks up to me like her big brother. I sure feel like one. I was thinking about making a promise to Mary, but I won’t say a word to her or the others unless I get your permission first…”

Sure enough, George found Mary weeping beside the small creek that ran through a wooded area of Josiah’s 640 acre farm. Most of the fertile land had yet to be cultivated, but that would come later. The house had been built, and the Browns were putting down roots that would last for generations to come. George could already see it happening.

A fresh sob erupted from Mary as she drew her knees up and buried her face in the clean apron. She had noticed his arrival, so dispensing with quiet footsteps, George located a spot beside Mary and sat down.

“I’d hate to think all those tears are for my sake,” he said, slanting a look at the ten-year-old. “You’ve known for years that my staying here was only temporary.”

The tears slowed. Mary sniffed but said nothing.

“I intended to stay a year or two, but then it turned to three, then four, and now I’ve been here about five years. I have important work to do, and I must leave.”

“Couldn’t the rights of mankind wait a little longer?” she asked, drying her cheeks against the apron.

“My whole life has been leading up to this, Mary. You know how important it is– not only to me, but to the others I’ll one day be able to help.”

“I could help, too.” Protest rose in her voice, but George sensed Mary was struggling not to argue. No doubt because of her pa and the woodshed.

“As a matter of fact, you could help me a great deal. I’d feel better knowing someone was praying for me, and counting on me to do the right thing. There’s a lot in front of me, Mary. I don’t mind telling you I’m a little scared.”

Her head bobbed up from the apron. “You aren’t scared– at least, not enough to stop you from doing the right thing. You’re not a coward, and if anyone says different–“

“You’ll what?” George shook his head with a small chuckle. “You’ve got more fight in you than most boys, Mary. I wish I had your spunk.” He felt a twinge of sadness. “I expect when you become a lady, that will change. It’s a great pity.”

“I won’t change, if you don’t want me to, George.”

Chuckling, he tugged at her braid. “Don’t be silly. Changing is part of growing up. Now what about being my helper? Will you pray for me, and remind God that I’m going to need all the grace and attention He can give?”

“I’ll pray, George.”

“I appreciate it. And now I’ll make you a promise. I’ll write it down later, so you can look at it whenever you want. Five years from now, I’ll send a paid courier– someone I trust completely– to travel across this fine country, all the way from Massachusetts to Oregon Country, and deliver to you and your family some of the best presents I can get my hands on. I’ll send bolts of cloth and books– as many books as I can manage, and the courier will tell me how you and your family are doing, and he’ll tell you how I’m doing.”

Mary brightened. “Could I give him letters? I could write to you, and he could give you my letters.”

“He could,” George admitted, gladdened by the hopeful turn in Mary’s countenance. Encouraged, he went one step further with the offer. “I could write you, and every five years, I’d send out the courier and he could exchange our correspondence. Of course, it’ll take him time to travel such a great distance, so don’t expect him all at once.”

“It’ll cost you a great deal of money, George.”

“My aunt gives me a generous allowance,” he smiled, “so when I get back, I’ll be able to afford such luxuries. I’ll be able to keep in touch with the Brown family, even if it is on the other side of the continent.”

The sound of quick approaching footfalls had both looking up. Jefferson rounded some trees, huffing to catch his breath while at the same time trying to get out his news.

“Rider’s coming!” he said, doubling over a moment before saying more. Face reddened from excitement, Jefferson carried himself with the importance of someone bearing news. “Pa said to come get you! He said it was most likely Mr. Peters!”

Getting to his feet, George helped Mary up, then nodded to the still panting Jefferson. “Tell your pa I’m coming.”

The boy ran off to deliver the message, and George turned back to Mary. “There’s a few more books in the loft, and I want you to have them. Just remember your brothers and sister when they become old enough to want to read them, too.”

Somber again, Mary nodded. “I’ll remember.”

As George and Mary approached the log house and they saw the horse tied up out front, the identity of their visitor became clear. It wasn’t Tom Peters. With a smiling face that spoke of relief, Mary ran inside to greet their guest.

A short balding man with spectacles and a kind smile, Quincy Kirkwood was the manager and part owner of Oregon City Bank, located in the heart of Oregon City. It had been Emma’s idea. Josiah and Emma Brown were Quincy’s silent partners in business, having invested much of Emma’s gold in the partnership. Quincy had a savvy sense for money, and Josiah and Emma had the capitol to start the enterprise. Together, they made a tidy profit, and with the promise of a growing city, their investment had every chance of becoming quite lucrative.

Not wanting to break in on Quincy’s report to Josiah and Emma, George sat on the front porch and admired the panoramic view of Willamette Valley. Rolling hills in the distance, sapphire skies that spread out for as far as the eye could see, land that held a future for anyone willing to earn the right to pull a livelihood from the ground.

George had to admire Josiah and Emma’s decision to farm despite their success as bankers. “The money is good,” Josiah had said, “but the land will always be here. The children will always have the land.” That practicality carried over to how they cautiously spent their money, although George knew Emma had to constantly convince Josiah not to spend just because they could.

If Josiah had his way, Emma would already be cooking over a wood stove instead of sweltering before an open hearth, and Josiah planned on a pump by the back door, so Emma would never have to go down to the creek for water again. A better barn for livestock, a traditional frame house to hold their growing family, turning more and more acreage into cultivated fields and cash-crops– Josiah had many dreams yet to be realized, but he was well on his way. That mountain man was making a place for himself in this valley, and George felt certain that what Josiah didn’t finish, his children would.

Two riders on a single horse ambled up the road, obviously not in any hurry to get where they were going. The man on the creature’s back lifted a hand to George, and George reciprocated the gesture. Getting to his feet, George climbed off the porch to greet their neighbors.

“Thought you might be gone by now,” said Alfred Bellamy, owner of the farm next to theirs. “I’m right glad you’re still here. We’re short on company as it is, and when you leave, things are going to be on the quiet side.”

“I’m still here,” said George, trying to smother a groan as the rider behind Alfred dropped to the ground in her bare feet. Sally Bellamy was Alfred’s eldest, and considered by many to be the most handsome eligible girl in this part of the Willamette. While George had to admit a certain beauty in Sally’s features, her scatterbrained chatter and forward behavior put an end to any interest George initially felt. After only a day’s acquaintance, the fact that the Bellamys had to ride a few miles whenever they visited, became a matter of gratitude for George. Any closer, and George felt certain he would have packed up for Massachusetts long ago.

“Sally’s been real excited about being the new schoolteacher,” said Alfred, tying his horse to the hitching post in front of the house. “Who’s that?” asked Alfred, jerking a thumb to the horse already there. “That belong to Quincy?”

George nodded in the affirmative, and without ceremony, Alfred found a seat on the porch to wait for the business meeting to end. “I thought so. Ella Mae saw his horse go past our place, so me and Sally thought we’d come over and hear all the news. I need to get up to Oregon City one of these days and look around.” Alfred shook his head with a glum sigh. “Hard to get away from the farm, but one of these days…”

The great distances between farm communities, and the muddy winter roads, all made for rural isolation. Whenever someone came from somewhere else, curiosity was natural, and the willingness to share news, a necessity.

Sally stepped in between her pa and George, forcing George’s attention. “Do you think you’ll need to give me instructions about the schoolhouse again?” she asked, her voice irritatingly hopeful. George had only gone over it a dozen times, and none of it had seemed to make an impression. He wished he didn’t have to hand over the school to Sally Bellamy, but until a better candidate could be found, the children would have to make due.

Maybe when Mary was older, she would become a teacher. Looking at Sally, George could only hope.

When the young woman began preening herself right in front of George, straightening the woolen dress and pinching color into her already rosy cheeks, George turned and went inside. He smiled his greetings to Quincy, who sat at the table with Josiah and Emma, then headed straight up the loft ladder for some peace and quiet.

Having recognized the annoyance on George’s face as he passed through the room on his way to the loft, Emma announced they had company outside.

“It appears Alfred brought Sally, again,” said Emma, closing the ledger their partner had been showing them. “The books look very impressive, Quincy. We appreciate the time it takes you to keep us abreast of what’s going on.”

“It’s only fair,” said Quincy, pushing up his spectacles with an index finger. “You and Josiah are, after all, the primary owners of Oregon City Bank.”

“We never would have been able to get this far without your expertise,” said Emma, accepting the small bag of money from Quincy. As usual, the large remainder of Josiah and Emma’s profits would remain in the bank.

Josiah leaned back in the chair. “Has anyone objected to my having an interest in one of the city’s primary financial institutions, yet?” he asked, plying some of the big words Quincy had used during his last visit.

A small, practical smile upturned Quincy’s mouth. “Since my face is the one they see, day in and day out, the fact of your ownership doesn’t bother them too often. There hasn’t been any real objection, and by now, I don’t anticipate one in the future.”

“As long as I keep my distance, and don’t keep reminding the good folks that Josiah Brown is a half-breed.” Josiah nodded in understanding, annoyed, but accepting of what could not be changed all at once. Changes in perception and prejudice took time, and Josiah must be content with the local successes he had, rather than concentrating on what had yet to be accomplished.

“You’ll stay for lunch, Quincy?” asked Emma, handing over the money to Josiah for safekeeping.

The balding man nodded, seemingly happy to accept the invitation to rest awhile before making the return trip to Oregon City. He tucked the ledger in the bag by his feet, then settled back in the chair, his hands folded in his lap, as Josiah got up to invite the Bellamys inside.

With baby Rachel cradled in one arm, Cora began helping Emma get lunch ready. Recuperating from the sore on his leg, Will sat in the rocker without his wooden stump and carried on a friendly conversation with Quincy. When things became too hectic in the food preparations, Cora placed the baby in Will’s arms, then herded the boys to the washbasin to clean up for lunch. One by one, Jefferson, Washington and Adams cleaned their faces, scrubbed their hands, and had to pass Cora’s inspection before being allowed to sit at the table.

As Emma set a platter of cold beef on the table, she saw George emerge from the loft, one of his books tucked under his arm. Mary took her place beside George at the table, while the Bellamys stepped inside the house with Josiah.

Upon seeing Alfred, Quincy opened the bag, and pulled out a folded newspaper. Quincy waved it to Alfred with an amused smile. Living as he did in the city, it was difficult for Quincy to appreciate the rarity of news.

“I was hoping you’d remember,” Alfred said with a smile. He prepared to hand over some money to pay for the paper, but Quincy turned him down.

“I read it on my way here, so I already got my money’s worth.” Quincy smiled as Emma placed a loaf of freshly baked bread before them on the table. “You sure can’t get a meal like this in the city. Josiah, you’re a lucky man to live with such good cooking all year round.”

Josiah grinned at the compliment to Emma. “Blessed is more like it, Quincy, but you’re right, no one can cook like my Em.”

Emma hoped she didn’t blush at Josiah’s praise. And in front of company, too!

Alfred and Sally sat down, the young woman trying to gain George’s attention by turning the discussion toward the schoolhouse. Emma noted George’s aversion to the subject, and how he chose instead to talk to Mary about some passage from a new law book he had been studying. Although it amused Emma, she was glad George would be leaving soon; Mary had become much too attached to him, for her own good.

Taking one of the tin plates, Cora filled it to capacity with food, then carried it to Will to exchange the baby for the lunch.

“Mighty good, Emma,” said Will, after tasting the cold beef. Cora had been too busy to give Will much attention that morning, so when she pulled out a chair and placed it beside his rocker, Will’s sky blue eyes beamed contentment.

All throughout the meal, Alfred and Josiah discussed the crops, the weather, then exchanged stories about their lives before becoming farmers. At one time, Alfred had tried to trap the Rockies, and had given up after only a few months of hostile Indians and just as unfriendly weather. The men laughed and joked, both at ease in each other’s company. When Josiah put his mind to it, (which these days was most of the time), he could usually find something he had in common with others, something to draw them into friendly conversation. His easy, non-threatening manner caught people off guard, and Emma had been gratified to see how much Josiah tried to live in peace with his neighbors. True, not all of their neighbors were as cordial as the Bellamys, but most were, and Emma had thanked God on more than one occasion for the peace they had found in the Willamette. God was blessing them, not only with good neighbors, but with a solid investment that kept proving to be more and more advantageous to their family.

The only thing that would make Emma’s day ideal, would be to see Mary finding an interest in someone or something else besides George Hughes.

After lunch and a lengthy talk among friends, Quincy and the Bellamys got back on their horses and left just as another rider approached the Brown’s farm. With a hearty “Hullo!” Tom Peters came into view just as Quincy and the Bellamys disappeared from sight.

The happiness drained from Mary’s smile as George quickly went into the house to gather his things.

Swinging down from his rather rangy looking pony, Tom Peters shook hands with Josiah and declared he wouldn’t have recognized Josiah without his shaggy hair and greasy buckskins, if not for the beauty of a woman standing beside him.

“This has to be Emma,” said Tom, shaking Emma’s hand as heartily as he had Josiah’s. “For once, David Lambert wasn’t spinning a tall tale. Yer as pretty as he said, and then some.” He turned to Josiah, not waiting or needing Emma to answer. “I got the message you passed along to me through Zeke. Too bad about him. I guess he wasn’t cut out to be a farmer, after all. But you sure are,” said Tom, looking about the property with admiration. “Never thought you had it in you, but I guess that’s what a good woman will do to a man.”

“I hope Zeke is glad to be back in his mountains,” said Josiah. “He had a nice farm, and I thought fer sure he’d keep it going. But at the last, he complained he didn’t have enough freedom and when his wife heard that, and she up and left him. Took the children, too. Such a shame. Some men just don’t know what they have.”

“I’m glad to see you’re not one of those men,” said Tom, a touch of understanding in his voice. Emma understood Tom’s meaning. In his day, Josiah had been a wild man, in nearly every way one could be called wild. That someone like Josiah could have a family, a nice home like this one, was no small matter. Josiah had yielded his life to God, and God had blessed him for it. It was obvious to anyone who had known Josiah’s previous life.

“Zeke tells me I’m to be hired to take some young feller back East,” said Tom, rocking back on his heels in a good-natured manner. “Zeke said something about being paid in gold. Is that true, or was Zeke just being Zeke and making a joke at my expense?”

“No, fer once Zeke told you right.” Josiah looked back at the house, smiled as George stepped outside with a leather pack on his back. “He’s a mite eager to get going, but I reckon you’ll want to stay fer supper and git an early start in the morning.”

Tom grinned as George approach them. “You hear that, young feller? We’ll be staying the night, and leave in the morning.”

Tom was about as old as Josiah, and that meant Tom was old enough to think George about as green as they come. George scowled at the indignity of being called “young” twice, and both times before he had been able to get a word out of his mouth. Emma understood this, and couldn’t help smiling as George squared his shoulders like a man.

“I hear tell you’ve spent some time in the Rockies,” said Tom, looking George over with a skeptical eye. “From what I’m told, you’re supposed to have lasted more than a season.”

“That’s right.” George cleared his throat. “I had some help, of course.”

Tom slanted a look at Josiah, humor dancing in Tom’s eyes. “I reckon that’s enough to make this boy an honorary grad-you-ate. Don’t you reckon, Josiah?”

“I reckon.”

George frowned. “A graduate of what?”

“Why, fer such an educated feller, I’m dumbfounded you don’t know. Ain’t you dumbfounded, Josiah? This boy hasn’t heard of the Rocky Mountain College! If you don’t graduate, no one ever hears from you again. And here you are, so I reckon you passed. Now, how do you like that for an education?”

George cast a wary glance at Josiah. “I think I prefer Harvard.”

In a burst of laughter, Tom slapped George so hard on the back that George stepped forward just to keep from being knocked over. Emma was only glad Tom wasn’t joking around with her.

After calming down his merriment, Tom eased back on his heels again, looked over George with a more friendly attitude. “This one’s got some mettle in him. I reckon he’ll do.”

“He’s as good a man as I’d ever hope to meet,” said Josiah, nodding to George to go back into the house. “Tom, let’s you and me sit down and talk some business. I can pay you in gold, but we need to settle on a price before tomorrow morning.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Tom, taking a seat on the porch as Josiah did likewise.

Josiah looked up at Mary, nodded for her to go into the house as well. With a heavy sigh, Mary did as she was told; Emma decided she didn’t need to be around either, and went to go see to the baby. The men remained on the porch for several hours, the sound of their conversation carrying into the house where everyone listened from the main room. The matter of money was easily settled, Tom naming a somewhat low price and Josiah raising the sum to a more fair amount. Though neither man mentioned it, Tom owed Josiah a big favor for having saved Tom’s life several years back in the Rocky Mountains. According to Josiah, Indians had stolen their horses yet again, and Tom had broken his leg crossing a slippery stream. With Tom slung over his shoulder, Josiah had carried his friend several miles to the nearest trappers’ camp, refusing Tom’s insistent pleas to be left alone to die. It reminded Emma a lot of Will’s story, and she recognized the strong impulse to survive that it took for Josiah to live in such raw wilderness. To not only keep your life intact, but to actually thrive. No wonder there was admiration in Tom’s voice when he addressed Josiah.

Something warm touched Emma’s neck, stirring her from slumber. She felt it again, breathed in the scent of Josiah, and her senses awoke to find him kissing her throat.

“Tussle with me, Em.” He pushed himself up until his mouth hovered above hers.

Silvery moonlight filtered through their bedroom curtains, highlighting the sharp contrasts of Josiah’s face. Emma traced a finger across a cheekbone, stopping when she came to his lips.

“Thank you for being content, Josiah.”

He looked at her with a puzzled smile. “What are you talking about?”

“Thank you for being content with just me, and not going off to find your pleasure with some other woman. Thank you for not being Zeke.”

“Well, now,” Josiah grinned unabashedly, “if this means you’ll tussle, I’ll wake you up five times a night so you can thank me proper.” He lowered his head, his lips grazing hers with such light gentleness, Emma felt her pulse quicken. Josiah drew back a little, his smile coming slow, like the stirring of embers before being fanned into an open flame. “I reckon yer thinking back to that Shoshone woman. I’ve been true to you, Emma. I won’t ever give you cause to regret you fergiving me like you did.”

“Oh, Josiah.” She breathed his name, and he claimed her mouth once more, this time more insistently, as though his need for her had grown stronger. She placed a hand against his chest, pushed just a little to let him know she wanted to stop.

“What is it, Emma?” His dark eyes sparkled in the moonlight, and she heard his ragged breath trying to steady itself against desire.

“George told me today that you said it was all right for him to send a courier, five years from now, with gifts for Mary and the rest of the family.”

“I did. What of it?”

“Do you think it’s wise for Mary to continue thinking about George? Wouldn’t it be better for him to sever all ties with us, instead of Mary hoping to hear from him again in five years? I understand this courier will only come once, but still, that’s five years of her being hopeful.”

Josiah groaned dully.

Josiah?” Emma felt herself tense. “What do you know that I don’t?” A slight shove to his chest made him groan again.

“George came to me this evening, and said he talked to Mary. He’s going to send a courier every five years, not just once. He also said they plan to trade letters.”

Emma tried to sit up, but couldn’t because Josiah’s chest blocked her from moving. “Trade letters? Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

“Aw, Emma, it ain’t such a big deal. Let’s tussle.” He touched her lips again, and when she didn’t kiss him back, he returned his attentions to her throat.

“You do realize what’s happening, don’t you?” She shoved his shoulder, and Josiah only kissed her the harder. “George is thirteen years older than Mary, but when she becomes old enough, he’s going to start courting her. Do you really want that? She’s only ten!”

“If he waits until she’s older, she won’t be ten anymore,” Josiah answered dryly. “Now how about tussling me, Emma?”

“Then you do think George will have an interest in Mary in the future?”

“What I think,” said Josiah, pushing himself up until he looked into Emma’s eyes, “is that he considers her as a little sister. He told me as much today. If Mary can get George to see her in any other way than a brother and a sister, then she’ll deserve to be his wife.” Josiah inspected Emma’s mouth, evidently couldn’t help himself and kissed her with such passion, Emma knew he was trying to change the subject.

She tapped his shoulder, and Josiah came up with a patient sigh.

“Then you don’t think George will ever have more of an interest in Mary?”

Not answering, Josiah nuzzled Emma’s ear, drew his hand to the small of her back and pressed her close. “If you only knew what you do to me, Em, you’d take pity and kiss me.”

“But what if they write over the years, and George never courts Mary? Wouldn’t it be better to forbid them from writing in the first place, rather than risk such long-distance heartbreak?”

The caresses on Emma’s throat became more desperate, and finally, when she didn’t reciprocate, Josiah whimpered like a boy whose hurt needed to be kissed. “I must be doing something wrong, because I can’t seem to distract you, the way you do me. Please, Em, we’ll talk in the morning. Just nestle with me. I’ll be happy– God help me, I’ll try to be happy with just that.”

He rolled onto his back, pulled her to him, and she snuggled against his chest like a small kitten basking in sunshine. A deep groan of satisfaction rumbled beneath Emma, sending little shock waves into her heart. She touched his chest, heard him groan as though she were going to push away again.

Tipping her chin up, she met his lips, and kissed him until both strong arms came around her in a tight embrace. Snuggled in the wooden cradle beside her parents’ bed, baby Rachel slept without so much as a tiny cry as Josiah and Emma shared the night. Josiah had been wrong about his inability to distract Emma, but it was a wife’s prerogative to keep her husband guessing, so Emma let Josiah think her passion had been of her own choosing, and not because of his attempts to get her mind on him, and not Mary and George.

Emma still had a great deal of apprehension about Mary’s friendship with George, but since the young man considered their daughter as a little sister, and nothing more, Emma decided to remain quiet about their exchanging letters. She and Josiah would keep a watchful eye on the situation, and if need be, they would put an end to the correspondence once and for all. Emma wasn’t as concerned about George, as she was in Mary’s heart breaking over someone who didn’t love her in return. If she could, Emma was intent on sparing Mary that kind of pain.

The kisses became more insistent again, and Emma realized her attention had strayed from Josiah. She moved closer, and Josiah slipped into unrestrained contentment. All he wanted was “my sweet, sweet Emma,” in his arms. As Josiah showered her with love, Emma knew she would never want to be anywhere else; she could think of few greater earthly joys than to be here with Josiah, cuddled in his arms, away from the world and the struggles of everyday life. Here, they had refuge, and here God’s blessings of love only grew stronger.

This house held a lot of love, but with God’s continued blessing, their family would only grow stronger through the years.

Even the baby was quiet as George moved about the house, making sure he had everything he needed. His hands searched through the contents of the leather bag before he tied it closed, then swung the bundle to his feet in a movement of finality. He stood by the table in the main room, looked at each of the family who had gathered to say goodbye.

Reaching for the Bible on the table, Josiah opened it, turned to Isaiah fifty-four, then began reading out loud. The words touched George deep in his soul.

“‘Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by Me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake… No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the LORD.'” Josiah placed the Bible back on the table. “George, know that we’ll be praying for you. If things get too difficult for you back East, you’re always welcome here.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it.” George tried to clear his throat at the touching offer, then continued talking in the hopes that his voice wouldn’t break in front of everyone. “When I leave home today… strange,” said George, muttering to himself at the realization, “I don’t know when I began thinking of this farm as my home, and not Massachusetts and Virginia. It doesn’t matter. I belong back East. I have a law degree to earn, a father to face, and a job ahead of me. I won’t rest until I’ve done everything I can to rid the institution of slavery from the South. It’s long been a disgrace, and it’s time someone from the Hughes family admitted it.”

“I know you have yer generous aunt and all, but if you need money,” said Josiah, lifting little Adams into his arms, “you send word with that courier of yers, and we’ll do all we can. It may be that yer Pa disowns you, and that favorite rich aunt of yers won’t help. Whatever happens, whatever friends turn tail and run, you can be sure we won’t. You just remember that when yer facing down all them slavers.”

“That goes double for me,” said Will, hobbling forward on his wooden leg with a wince of pain in his face. He had tied on the leg, just to be sure he could be present to say goodbye. “We may not be your blood kinfolk, but we’re family just the same.”

Something glimmered in Mary’s eye, and George turned to his small little friend. George hadn’t really thought it would be this difficult to leave, but then, he never allowed himself to think about it very much.

“Are you sure you can manage without me, George?”

Mary’s simple question caught him off guard, and he waited a moment before answering. “I’m sure. I’m also sure I’m going to need your prayers. You won’t forget, will you?”

A tear slid down Mary’s cheek, and she brushed it away with the palm of her hand. “I won’t forget.”

Rummaging about in his pants pocket, George brought out a roll of leather parchment. “I wrote down our deal in plain words, just like I said I would. I have one like it, as my own reminder. It’s not valid in a court of law, but it binds my word of honor, just the same. Go on, take it and read it out loud before I go.”

With a small sniffle of sorrow, Mary took the leather parchment, unrolled it, and with a wavering voice read aloud George’s promise to send the courier every five years. It was witnessed by Josiah’s own signature, something George noticed made Emma give her husband a noticeable sigh. At the bottom, George had signed the document, “For Miss Mary Brown. Your devoted friend and servant, George Hughes.”

Reading this, Mary broke into tears.

George crouched to her level, tugged her braid to try and coax a smile. “You know I have to do this, don’t you?”

“Yes, George.”

“I’ll never be able to live with myself if I don’t give this cause every effort I can.” Since Mary didn’t smile, he did it for her, then gave her a parting hug before standing. “You of all the children will miss me most, but I don’t want you grieving after I’m gone,” he said, summoning his sternest teacher’s voice. “I’ve got my work ahead of me, and so do you. I expect to hear that you’re not wasting the intellect God has given you, and that you’re working to expand your knowledge at every possible opportunity. I encourage you to share that knowledge with others, whether it’s simply teaching your brothers and sister, or one day becoming a schoolteacher, yourself. God gave you a gift, Mary, and I expect you to use it.”

His words seem to give Mary courage. Her shoulders straightened, her chin held high, and the tears became a little less frequent. He sure was going to miss Mary and the other children. He would miss being a big brother, and George had to force aside some regret at having to go back and face his kinfolk where he was still the baby of the family.

“When you go back, tell them to do the right thing, George.” Bravely sniffing, Mary ran the sleeve of her dress across her eyes. “Tell them to respect the rights of man, and become a really good lawyer. I sure am going to miss you, though.”

“We all will,” said Emma, coming to Mary’s side and drying the girl’s remaining tears with her own apron.

Jefferson and Washington came forward to shake George’s hand, both boys solemn at this parting of their friend. Not wanting to be left out, little Adams clamored to be put down, and when Josiah had, the boy came to George and insisted that his hand be shaken, too.

In a break with her usual stoicism, Cora gave George a warm hug, a kiss on his cheek, then placed a bundle of food in his hands. She made sure George would have enough home-cooked meals to last a few days. Even eaten cold, they would still remind him of home.

“Well,” George said, casting a quick glance to Tom, who stood waiting by the open door, “I guess I have to go now.” George let his gaze linger on each member of the family. When he felt sorrow begin to crowd around him, George nodded to Tom, then they both headed out the door.

George couldn’t afford to look back, but he did. One last look at the farm and the people who flowed onto the porch to wave goodbye. He lifted his hand, smiled, then turned to climb onto the horse hand-selected by Josiah for the journey.

Long after the shouts of “Goodbye!” had faded into the distance, George knew he would never forget the Brown family or what they had taught him. As he drew his coat shut, he felt something lumpy in his pocket. He stuck in his hand, and pulled out a small wooden doll.

A well-beloved Blackfoot doll.

Reigning in the horse to follow behind Tom’s pony, George quietly wept into his coat. No matter what the future held, there was one person who would always pray for him. Little Mary Brown.


Epilogue

eorge arrived in Missouri in one piece, as Josiah predicted, then went on to Massachusetts to finish his law degree at Harvard Law School. With the continued generosity and support of his Aunt Dorothy, George was admitted to the Worchester County bar a year after graduation. Despite severely strained relations with his father, George worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery.

George kept his promise to Mary, and the courier arrived for the first time, five and a half years after George left the Oregon Country– the half, accounting for the time it took the courier to cross the continent. Among the books and dresses, Mary found a stack of letters addressed to her and her family.

After the letters had been devoured at least twice, Mary noticed a single leather volume with George’s name on the cover in gold print. “The Rocky Mountain Journal of George Hughes,” told not only of George and Will’s harrowing experience as would-be trappers in the North, but most of the book was filled with none other than Josiah Brown. Careful selections of Josiah’s exploits, his encounter with the grizzly, his adeptness at being able to navigate and survive in such terrible wilderness, captured the popular imagination of the readership back East. People who would have scorned Josiah for being a lowly half-breed, found themselves endeared to this hairy man, who was, from George’s accounts, “a bear of a man, strong as any ox but with a heart as broad as the Rockies.” Though the book chagrined Josiah to no end, it increased Josiah’s peace with other Oregonians; they came to look at Josiah as not only an upstanding member of their community, but also a respected member of the famously romantic legend of the mountain men.

Over the years, George and Mary continued to exchange letters. And over the years, Emma and Josiah continued to watch.

Will and Cora remained on the farm, helping the children to grow with the land. After continued problems with his wooden leg, Will took to walking about with crutches, claiming they gave him less trouble. Cora passed down her father’s heritage to her grandchildren, filling their childhood with the history of their people, and the knowledge of those who had made the Shining Mountains their home. Will and Cora remained happily married, a living testament of the joys that mutual respect and love can bring to a relationship.

The Browns continued their interest in the Oregon City Bank, Josiah and Emma’s initial investment having grown at an even faster rate when the Oregon Trail began in earnest in 1843 and the Willamette Valley became a destination for many immigrants. Josiah was finally able to build that large frame house for Emma and the children, and their next two baby girls were born on the first floor in Josiah and Emma’s room. Emma never did have another child to make her goal of eight, but Josiah always joked that since God rested on the seventh day, God decided Emma needed rest and stopped at seven children.

Each child Josiah and Emma held, comforted and soothed, was a celebration of the love that had first blossomed in the trapper’s cabin, once tucked away beneath the shadow of Ole’ Hollowtop. Those early memories in the Rocky Mountains were treasured by both. The moment Josiah saw Emma in the first morning’s light, and realized what a beauty he truly had. The mending of the hunting shirt for Christmas, that first kiss given in love. The intimate smoke curling from the cabin, sheltering Josiah and Emma from the harshness of winter. Mary’s precious face as Emma’s very first “Little One,” the mending of the Blackfoot doll, the wonder of the first Christmas tree. Those days replayed themselves to Josiah and Emma, and every time they remembered, they thanked God for the blessings of their family… and each other.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

The LORD has promised good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.

– John Newton


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