Don’t forgot to read – Mountain Wild – A Holiday for Emma : Chapter 11
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Josiah wasn’t sensible of the relief that washed through him when he saw Emma, or the joy he felt when he lifted Mary into his arms. His mind was too busy, his senses too occupied with the terrible scene he’d just come from. He couldn’t get two coherent words put together from Emma, though from the intensity of her sobs, he didn’t need words to understand they had been through an ordeal.
“Are you hurt? Are you all right?” he asked Emma, tearing her away so he could get a good look at her. With Mary hugging him so tightly about the neck, and Emma sobbing into his chest, Josiah refused to let go of either one. “They ain’t hurt, Grandpap.”
Grandpap grunted, and moved to the open doorway of the cabin. A cry of alarm sounded from inside, and Josiah heard the unmistakable click of a rifle cocking.
“Don’t shoot!” Josiah shouted, hauling his clinging family to the entrance. “George– Will– don’t shoot!”
Stepping past Grandpap and into the dark cabin, Josiah saw Will, sitting at the table with a shotgun braced across his knee. “That’s my grandpap, Will. He won’t harm you any. He knows all about you and–” Josiah’s eyes settled on the weak figure lying on the buffalo robes beside the fire. It was George.
George opened his mouth to speak, but Josiah heard no words. The pale lips shut, and George closed his eyes.
“Am I ever glad to see you,” said Will, setting aside his shotgun. “We’ve had some Indian trouble.”
“I saw them,” said Josiah, finally releasing Mary when she tugged at his shirt to put her down. She went to George’s side, and held his hand.
“Do you reckon they had company, Josiah?” Will squinted him a fearful look, and Josiah shook his head “no.” “Mary said she didn’t recognize them,” Will continued, “but she was fairly certain they were Blackfoot.”
“Oh, Josiah,” Emma clung to him. “I’m so grateful you’re home!”
He hugged his wife, but kept his gaze fixed on George. “Little Cub, go outside.”
The girl shook her head stoutly. “I ain’t leaving George.”
“Mary.” George’s voice was only a whisper, but his fingers squeezed her hand and she sighed reluctantly.
“I always have to leave,” she said, getting to her feet. “It ain’t fair, Pa.”
“Mary.” The whisper came again, and Mary bit her lip. “I mean, isn’t. Can’t I stay to hear you talk to George, Pa?”
Josiah nodded to the door. “Yer grandma’am is outside.”
“She is?” Mary’s eyes lit up with delight. She ran through the entrance, and into Cora’s arms.
“Ma,” Josiah said over his shoulder, “keep her outside. I want to speak to the men.” Emma gripped his arm, and he patted it, assuring Emma she could stay.
Hugging her granddaughter lovingly to her side, Cora led the child away as Josiah shut the door.
Grandpap sat down on the floor, and lit his tobacco pipe, while Will stared at him warily from the table.
The pluck Josiah had always admired about Emma, slowly resurfaced, and she quieted her sobs and dried her tears. She was with child, and Josiah figured it made those tears come more easily than usual. He led Emma to their bed, sat her down, and gently touched her bound golden hair.
Before he heard their story, Josiah went to George, and carefully checked the bandaged wound in his side. Blackfoot medicine had been correctly applied, and Josiah guessed it was the handiwork of Mary.
George’s pale lips parted, and Josiah heard him ask a single, heartfelt question: “Are they dead?”
Josiah nodded. “They are. My family wasn’t hurt, though, and from what I’m seeing, I reckon I have you to thank for it.”
“That’s very true,” Emma said soberly. “He saved Mary’s life, and took the shot that had been intended for her. Without him, she would have been killed.”
Josiah groaned, sat down, and stared at George. “I’m mighty grateful to you, George, and I’m sorry this happened. It was because of me.”
George looked puzzled.
“I reckon it’s best Mary doesn’t hear what I’m about to say,” Josiah said quietly. “I’m glad she didn’t recognize them two Blackfoot, lying on the mountain, for one of them is her dead ma’s husband– the other, his brother.”
“Then, it was him.” Emma squeezed her eyes shut. “I feared as much.”
“I reckon Wild Knife came to kill Mary,” said Josiah, “and possibly, even you, Emma. He must’ve had quite a surprise though, when he discovered you weren’t by yerselves. No, sir,” said Josiah, tucking in a loose corner of George’s blanket, “he didn’t count on this brave mountain man being here.”
Tears came to George’s eyes, and his voice sounded in a quiet whisper. “I’m not brave, Josiah. I was scared stiff.”
“But you didn’t let it stop you,” said Josiah, “and to my way of thinking, that’s what it means to be brave.”
A tear rolled down George’s face, and splashed onto the robe beneath him.
Josiah touched his arm. “Thank you, George. Thank you for saving Mary.”
The young man tried to wipe away the tears, but when his arms were too weak, Josiah brushed the wetness away with his own hand.
“You’re needing some good food to give your body strength,” said Josiah, noticing George had expended a lot of energy in their small talk. “When was the last time you had fresh meat?”
“George shot an elk some time back,” said Will, swiping away something suspiciously wet on his own cheek. “It was good eating while it lasted.”
“Well then,” Josiah got to his feet, “reckon I know what I’m doing today.” He peered down at George. “You shot an elk, huh? Sounds like you’re getting to be a regular hunter.”
George smiled wanly. “Hardly,” he said in a husky voice. “Mary’s been doing most of the hunting.” George looked as though he wanted to say more, but was too tired to continue. When he closed his eyes, Will did the rest of the talking.
“Between George and Mary, we haven’t been going hungry, have we, Emma?” Will tossed Emma a jovial wink, then leaned back in the split-bottom chair he occupied at the table. “We’ve not been doing too poorly, if I do say so myself. Emma has even gotten me to use that wooden leg, and I’ve been getting about quite nicely.”
After hearing Will use Emma’s name so freely, and without the Mrs., it was difficult for Josiah to feel relaxed and friendly toward Will. He looked about the lodge, and realized the two trappers had been living there for some time. When had that happened? And when had Will started calling Emma by her first name?
Grandpap muttered to Josiah in Blackfoot, and the cautious look returned to Will’s face. It was hard to blame Will for being uneasy. After the attack they’d just endured, Josiah was only grateful Will wasn’t outwardly belligerent towards Grandpap. After all, this was William Shaw, a sometimes outspoken Indian hater, and he was at this very moment sharing the same lodge with a Blackfoot.
Grandpap muttered again, and Josiah nodded to the old man in agreement. Josiah searched for his shovel, choosing to speak in English so Will and George could follow the conversation. “Grandpap’s right. I’d better get what’s left of those bodies under the ground, afore anyone starts to assume there’s a war between us and the Blackfoot.”
“Do you think there will be more trouble, Josiah?” Emma asked as he measured out dry gunpowder into his horn. “Do you think the two men came alone? We’ve been staying inside, just to be safe.”
“No, I reckon there ain’t anymore Blackfoot around,” said Josiah, “except for the ones at this lodge. As fer trouble, I ain’t rightly knowing. George here wasn’t looking to shoot himself any Indians, but if the Blackfoot find out, I ain’t thinking they’ll be so understanding.” Josiah glanced up at Grandpap, saw that the old man agreed.
“Will you be back for supper?” asked Emma.
Josiah sighed heavily. “I want to, Emma, but I need to scout around and see if any tribes moved into the area while I was gone. And while I’m at it, see if I can’t shoot some meat for George. The wound is looking good, but he’s on the weak side, and I’d like to see him stronger.”
She looked disappointed at the prospect of him leaving again so soon, especially since he’d just gotten there. Josiah knew how she felt. She smiled bravely as he stooped for his kiss goodbye, and the warmth of her slowed him, made him linger over his wife.
“I need to go, but I’ll be back as soon as I can, Emma.”
“I know,” she said quietly.
He sensed she was near tears again, and was proud of her when they didn’t come. He wanted to stay– God knew how much he did– but he couldn’t. She touched his face, and he lowered his mouth for another kiss. With a painful moan, he pulled away. “Grandpap,” he turned to the old man sitting on the floor, “will you look after things while I’m gone?”
Grandpap gave a grunting nod. He stood up to get out of Josiah’s way, so Josiah could get out the door, and moved to the buffalo robes were Emma sat on the bed. There was little room for so many in the lodge, and Emma seemed momentarily unnerved when Grandpap came to sit beside her. Seated in the place of authority, the old man huffed his pipe and watched everyone with an air of quiet dignity. Josiah thought he resembled a Blackfoot chief, sitting there cross-legged next to Emma, confident and in control.
“Will, strap on that wooden leg of yours,” said Josiah, slinging the pack he had used for the last couple of weeks, back over his shoulder.
The surprise in Will’s face lasted for only a moment, then his smile came quick and ready. “I was wondering why you didn’t ask me to look after things. Thought for a moment there, you didn’t trust me.”
Will’s choice of words struck Josiah as rather interesting. Josiah said nothing, and waited as Will tied on the leg. The trapper stood, shrugged on his coat, lifted his shotgun, and hobbled to the door where Josiah waited.
The men stepped outside, and Josiah looked about for his mother. She sat by the corral with Mary, listening to the child talk of all that had happened since Mary had come to live with her ma and pa. They spoke in Blackfoot, engrossed in their conversation, and with each other.
“That your ma?” asked Will, as they moved past the happy scene, and started down the mountain.
“It is,” said Josiah, letting Will negotiate the terrain on his own, instead of offering a steadying hand. He kept a watchful eye on the wooden leg, waiting to see how long it would take before its owner asked for help.
“Mind if I use that shovel?” asked Will. “It’ll make a good cane.”
Without a word, Josiah handed over the shovel. “You weren’t bragging back there, Will; you really can get along on that leg.”
Will smiled mildly. “I didn’t want to mention it back in the lodge, especially in front of Emma, but we were all getting mighty worried about you. You’ve been gone for over a month, and I know for a fact Emma did a lot of praying for your safe return.”
“Knowing her as well as I do,” said Josiah, “I’d already figured as much.” He squinted at the hobbling man. “How long have you been sleeping in the lodge?”
Will chuckled. “So that’s it, huh? I was wondering what was bothering you.”
“How long, Will?”
“For your edification,” said Will in a careful tone, “Emma, herself, invited George and me to move into the cabin. That’s a fact. We didn’t go searching for any invitation.”
“How long?” pressed Josiah.
“I can’t be sure, but I reckon it’s been about two weeks now.” Will came to a stop, gathering his strength and breath. “I suppose I should take this as a compliment, seeing I’m old enough to be your and Emma’s father. Makes me feel as though I’m not so elderly, after all.”
“I ain’t accusing you of anything, Will.”
“I know you aren’t.”
Inhaling a slow breath, Josiah rested his rifle in the crook of his arm. “It kind of took me by surprise, when I came and found you and George living in my lodge. I hadn’t expected it.”
“Well now,” said Will, scratching his thickly bearded chin, “I suppose if I was in your place, I’d feel the same.” Will offered his hand in friendship. “I understand, Josiah. I’m not offended.”
Surprised, Josiah looked at the hand, then back at Will. “Something’s different about you,” he said, accepting the handshake.
Will looked pleased. “I’m glad you think so. I’ve been getting myself right with God, and with George. And to prove I’m not just spouting hot air, I want to get things right with you. I’m asking your forgiveness for some of the things I’ve said in the past. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking back everything.”
“I’m understanding yer meaning,” Josiah said with a nod. “I ain’t defending what I did to Emma.”
The two men continued down the mountain, their pace greatly slowed by Will. Not once did Will ask for help, but steadily managed on his own.
Wild animals had gotten to the slain men, and Josiah was grateful George wasn’t there to see it. Will seated himself on a boulder to keep watch with his loaded shotgun, while Josiah took the shovel and dug graves. When the men were buried, Josiah did his best to erase all evidence of the battle.
If the Blackfoot ever found out who had shot Wild Knife and his brother, Josiah figured they would go harder on George, than even himself. George was a white man, through and through– a white man who had come to trap the land the Blackfoot called their own. If it was discovered George had killed two Blackfoot, the young man would die. Josiah had no doubt of it.
“What do you think will happen?” asked Will.
Before answering, Josiah thought about it long and hard. “I reckon when they don’t return, their tribe will start to missing them.” He handed the shovel back to Will. “If Wild Knife told anyone of where he was going afore he left, we’ll have people coming to look fer him. And knowing the grudge he held against me, it shouldn’t be too hard fer anyone to put two and two together.”
“Then you think they’ll assume you killed the two men?”
Josiah nodded. “They know nothing of you and George. Wild Knife proved that, by coming after Mary with just his brother.”
“What do you think we should do?”
“There ain’t much else to do but leave,” said Josiah. He picked up his flintlock, made doubly sure of its priming. “As soon as George is strong enough, we’ll leave the area.” He helped Will onto his wooden leg, then both men continued down the mountain until they reached the valley to do a little scouting and some hunting.
Josiah had said he wouldn’t be back for supper, so Emma wasn’t surprised when he and Will were missing from the evening meal. Mary crawled to George’s bed, and helped him to eat the pemmican Cora had brought. George remained quiet for most of the evening, too tired to do much else than slowly chew the small bites Mary kept placing into his mouth.
After eating, Cora came over to where Emma sat, and placed an expert hand over Emma’s swollen belly.
“I know it isn’t as big as it should be,” Emma said apologetically. “I think I’m four months along, but I’m not certain.”
“The baby is growing good,” Cora said with such calm authority, Emma felt deep relief. For weeks, she had been concerned that the baby wasn’t growing fast enough, but if Cora wasn’t alarmed, then neither should she.
“I don’t know much about such things,” said Emma, as Cora shooed Grandpap away from the buffalo robes. Cora took his place, and waited for Emma to continue. “I’ve never been present at a birthing, but I did have a friend who had twins. I suppose I’m comparing myself to her.”
Cora looked at Emma in wonderment. “You never helped a woman to give birth?”
Emma wondered at it herself, now that she thought about it. “I don’t remember anyone ever asking. I was unmarried at the time, so I suppose I was never someone who people thought of when it came time to give birth.” Emma shrugged. “My ma was frail for nearly as long as I can remember, and needed almost constant nursing, so I didn’t have much time for other things. It kept me at home.”
Cora looked at Emma thoughtfully, but said nothing.
That one look gave Emma the strong impression Cora had seen a lot more, than Emma had really wanted her to. She’d been solitary a great deal of the time in Indiana, and from that brief description of her life, Cora had easily discerned the truth. This wasn’t something Emma enjoyed speaking of, especially to Josiah’s mother. If she’d wanted pity, there were more excuses, more reasons she could have given as to why things had turned out the way they had, back in Indiana. Painful reasons, such as her poor eyesight. But at times like these, Emma tried to be thankful for what she had, and not for what she lacked.
A flutter moved inside her belly, and Emma touched it lovingly. She never had so much to be thankful for, as now.
“I will help you with the birthing,” Cora said quietly. She turned to watch Mary feed George. “I have missed her.”
It was such a simple statement, Emma wondered why she felt tears sting her eyes. “You raised her into a beautiful and loving child, Cora. I’m glad you’re with us.”
Cora grunted, but Emma saw something shiny spill down her cheek and knew her mother-in-law had been touched by the words.
She looked back at Emma. “He is not the same man.”
“By that, I suppose you mean Josiah. Yes, he has changed.”
Dark eyes examined Emma, and Emma felt oddly self-conscience.
“I think he loves you more than he has told me,” said Cora. Before Emma could answer, Cora lightly touched Emma’s hand. “You are good for my son.”
Emma’s tears came easily now, and she wiped them away as best she could before her face again became wet.
“What’s wrong with Ma?” asked Mary, getting up from her vigil over George. Before Emma knew it, Mary had climbed onto her lap and was hugging her. “Don’t cry, Ma.”
“These are tears of joy, and not sadness,” said Emma, hugging her daughter so hard Mary started to squirm.
A low groan came from George’s bed. Mary was about to get up and check him when Cora stopped her.
“I will go,” said the woman.
Emma and Mary watched as Cora spoke gently to George. She fixed his bandage, gave him a sip of water, and then adjusted his blankets.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Emma heard George say.
“Sleep now,” said Cora.
He obediently closed his eyes, and before long, was fast asleep.
The bed where George and Will usually occupied, lay on the other side of the hearth. Now that Emma had more guests, she moved her own buffalo robes against the log wall, allowing for another bed to be made beside hers. If George needed tending, Emma assured Mary, he would only be a very short distance, on the other side of Grandpap and Cora.
Grandpap lay down, and then Cora, so that Mary snuggled between her and Emma. As Josiah’s child cuddled with Emma in her sleep, Emma thanked God for the family she’d been given.
Something moved into Josiah’s face, and he blinked open his eyes. Lifting Will’s hand, Josiah moved it back to the sleeping man’s side. First the snoring, then the muttering in his sleep, and now the arm that kept stretching into Josiah’s face. Josiah nudged Will in the side. A snort momentarily caught in Will’s throat, and then the snoring continued.
Moving onto his back, Josiah lay awake in the buffalo robes, and stared at the clear night sky. He had imagined sharing this night with Emma, and not a loudly snoring trapper who mumbled and moved about in his sleep. How was a man supposed to get any rest, when he lay beside all that commotion? Josiah tugged at the robe, but it held fast under Will. Josiah had two robes with him, and wished he had thought to give Will a robe of his own, so they could sleep on opposite sides of the fire, instead of together.
It served him right for forgetting that Will snored like a sputtering kettle.
With a sigh of regret and longing, Josiah shut his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep. He sure was missing Emma right now.
Morning peeked through the shutters, slowly awakening the occupants in the cabin. It was difficult to do anything until everyone had gotten up, for the beds filled a great deal of the space on the floor. Cora served pemmican, and Mary looked happy to feast on such a familiar meal. The treat of pounded meat mixed with honey tasted wonderful, and Emma ate every bite of her breakfast in a state of bliss. It had been ages since she’d had honey.
After washing her hands, Emma picked up the chamber pot to bring it to George. He couldn’t crawl outside like Will, and needed to remain in his bed so his wound could heal.
“I will do this,” said Cora, taking the pot from Emma. “Then I will clean him, and change his bandage. Go.” She pointed her chin to the door.
Emma thought she should put up some kind of protest, for up until now, George had been her responsibility. But Cora didn’t give Emma the chance to decline her help. The Blackfoot woman spoke to Grandpap in their native tongue, and the old man grunted. What he had grunted about was beyond Emma, until she saw him go to the door and wait for her to follow.
“You too,” Cora said to Mary.
After quickly making sure George was still breathing, Mary joined Emma and Grandpap as they went outside. The first thing Emma noticed, besides the crisp morning breeze, were the horses. She hadn’t seen horses since the Blackfoot had led away Josiah’s ponies after he’d been beaten. But here stood two horses, grazing peacefully on shredded cottonwood bark, their legs hobbled, for the rails of the corral had fallen into disrepair over the winter months.
Curiously, Emma went to a fallen rail, and watched the docile looking animals as they ate and blinked back at her. They must belong to Josiah’s family, Emma thought to herself. A large travois rested nearby, its contents of long poles and animal hides resembling something of a dismantled lodge– the kind that stood like an upside-down triangle on the ground. Emma had seen the Crows in such lodges, and hoped to see Grandpap set up his.
Instead of unpacking the lodge, however, the old man set about repairing the corral. Eagerly, Mary climbed through the fallen rails and spoke to the horses as though they were cherished pets. Emma watched for as long as she could, before her swollen ankles forced her to find a seat beneath a tree.
She rubbed her feet, trying to ignore the pain in her lower back. In spite of her fears that the baby wasn’t growing as big and as fast as it should, Emma felt her own body was growing uncommonly large. Her deerskin gown had become so snug, Emma kept a blanket shawl around her at all times for the sake of modesty. At this rate, she wouldn’t be able to wear the gown until after the baby came. She tried to reason away a sudden burst of panic. All this swelling would go away, wouldn’t it? Emma prayed it would.
The nicker of horses made Emma look back at the corral. When she saw the ponies looking in a particular direction, their ears perked in attention, Emma turned to see what it was they were sensing.
Grandpap dropped a long rail, and lifted a hand in greeting to someone coming up the mountain. Since he hadn’t went for his rifle, Emma assumed it was not a hostile presence.
Josiah. It had to be Josiah. Emma struggled to her feet, straightened her aching back. She thanked God as Josiah came into view, for he was safe, and he was home. He carried no meat, no wet hides, nothing that showed his hunt had been successful. In spite of his lack, she watched with heartwarming delight as his eyes met hers and he smiled broadly. Will hobbled beside him, looking somewhat tired from so much travel on his wooden leg.
“How’s young George doing?” Will called to her.
“He’s doing well,” said Emma, bracing herself as Josiah came straight toward her, and enveloped her in a great bear hug. She was so happy, she forgot to breathe– or rather, she breathed, and wasn’t aware of it. Were the birds singing? She didn’t know, for she couldn’t hear them, only the sound of her own heart, as Josiah pressed her to him.
“Emma, oh Emma,” he breathed, the words tickling her ear as he spoke. “I’ve missed you so much.” His mouth searched for hers, and he kissed her so soundly, so completely, Emma entirely forgot that Will and Grandpap, and even little Mary, were watching them. She forgot, and returned the kiss until a large hand moved to the small of her back. Alarm broke through Emma’s consciousness, and she suddenly remembered where they were. It took every ounce of determination she had, to try and push him away.
“Emma,” he said, not letting go, “I want–“
“I know what you want,” she said, glancing nervously at Will and Grandpap, “but this isn’t the time or the place for it.”
Josiah grinned. “Say my name again, Emma.” He tugged at her playfully, weakening her resolve.
“Please, Josiah, not now.”
He hugged her again, and she heard a steadying breath shudder through his lungs. “I sure do love to hear you say my name,” he whispered.
“Will,” Emma waved a hand over Josiah’s shoulder as the man grinned at them, “have you and Josiah eaten this morning?”
A low rumble moved through Josiah’s chest. “I don’t need any food but you, Emma.”
“Hush,” she said slapping his arm, “they’ll hear you. It’s time to let me go.”
“Never,” he whispered. Fearing he might pull her back into another passionate kiss, she struggled to free herself from his arms. He groaned painfully, but let her out of his grasp.
Trying to recover some measure of dignity, Emma straightened her deerskin dress, and hurriedly gathered the end of the shawl that had dropped to her side during their embrace.
“You’ve been doing some growing while I was away,” said Josiah, looking at her and the swollen belly. “Have you been doing all right? Is the baby still moving?”
She smarted a little at the observation, but hurried to answer the concern in his voice. “I’m well, and the baby has been moving, especially when I’m trying to sleep.” She looked back at Will, who was staring warily at Grandpap, who, in turn, was staring cautiously at Will.
Josiah squeezed her hand. “I need to talk to you, Emma.”
“Later, Josiah, please.”
He sighed loudly, bordering on the impatient. “All right, Emma, I’ll wait. But I haven’t had a chance to enjoy you yet, let alone talk to you, and I ain’t going to wait fer very long. Tonight, you and I are going to share a buffaler robe.”
Panic made Emma hesitate. She pictured the crowded cabin, everyone in their beds before the hearth, trying to sleep while Josiah and she were kissing. “If you haven’t noticed, Josiah, we have company. That means we have no privacy.”
He frowned. “I ain’t needing any.”
“But I do,” said Emma. “Josiah, the cabin is already crowded. Now that you’re home, we’re going to be stepping over each other just to get from one end of the room to the other. We won’t have a private moment to ourselves.”
Grandpap approached them. “Did you find horses?” he asked his grandson.
“Yeah, we found them,” said Josiah, still wearing a scowl. “Wild Knife hid them in a stand of trees, North of here.”
Puzzled, Emma looked at Josiah. “What horses?” she asked.
“Wild Knife’s and his brother’s,” said Josiah, stepping back from her, as though he needed the distance. “They hid them, so you and Mary wouldn’t know anyone was on the mountain. I left them hobbled, right where I found them. Gave ’em some cottonwood, and made sure they could drink from the creek. I ain’t wanting to bring them up here, in case any Blackfoot come calling. It won’t be healthy fer us, if they see Wild Knife’s horses here.”
“Then why don’t you let them go?” asked Emma. “Isn’t it too dangerous to keep them?”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” said Josiah. “We’ll be needing every horse we can get, when it’s time to leave the lodge.”
“We’re leaving?” It didn’t come as too great a shock to Emma, for she’d known Josiah would move her and Mary after winter had come to an end. Still, the thought of leaving their safe home, saddened her.
Josiah slung his rifle over his shoulder. “As soon as George is able, we’re leaving.” He looked at Emma, took a deep breath, then strode off in the direction of the cabin with Grandpap.
“We haven’t had anything to eat all day,” said Will, coming forward now that she wasn’t busy with Josiah. “I don’t suppose you have any food, Emma?”
“Cora brought plenty of pemmican,” Emma smiled. “As soon as she’s finished cleaning George, I’ll get you some.”
Will nodded gratefully, and carefully lowered himself to the ground. He leaned his back against a tree, pulled off his hat, and closed his eyes in the partial shade of the overhead boughs. He needed to rest awhile, so Emma left him as he dozed off into sleep.
After lunch, Emma noticed Josiah speaking to Cora alone by the door. She wondered what they discussed, and why Josiah kept his voice so low that no one could overhear. Josiah said something, turned his head and looked at Emma, then turned his back to the room and continued to talk to his mother.
At Emma’s side, Grandpap sat with his tobacco pipe, his head nodding forward every time he drifted to sleep. Will sat on the robes beside George, working a piece of rabbit hide with an awl and some sinew. George was sleepy, and each time he yawned, so did Grandpap. Mary squatted beside Will, watching him work, and every so often checking on George.
The sound of Cora’s hushed voice drifted across the room, and Emma looked back to the entrance. Josiah had picked up his rifle, and his free hand was on the door. Cora added something, Josiah nodded, then opened the split log door, and disappeared outside. Emma couldn’t help feeling disappointed. She had known there wouldn’t be any privacy in the cabin with so many people, but at least they could find a quiet corner and sit together.
At least they could have that.
Sighing, Emma pulled out some sewing, and tried to keep herself busy. She couldn’t help thinking about Josiah. Where had he gone? Couldn’t he have stayed awhile, before rushing off after wolfing down his lunch? A small fear tugged at Emma, making her wonder if the urgent thing Josiah had said he needed to talk to her about, was another confession– another indiscretion– a woman he had lain with, while he was at Cora’s village. She regretted putting him off, but knew very well that she hadn’t had any choice. If she lingered too long in Josiah’s arms, they would need that privacy she had considered so important.
The afternoon waxed long, and Emma tired of the sewing. As she put it away, the door opened, and Josiah appeared.
“Emma,” he said, disturbing the quiet atmosphere and awakening George from his rest, “get up and come outside.” He didn’t wait for her to ask why, but went back out, shutting the door behind him.
Without a word, Cora came over to help Emma to her feet. Emma wanted to ask Cora what was going on, for she had a feeling Cora knew. But Cora remained stone silent as she led Emma to the door. Without explanation, Cora gently pushed Emma outside, then promptly closed the door in Emma’s face.
Puzzled, Emma drew up the blanket shawl about her shoulders, and looked around. It was then that she saw it. An Indian lodge had been set up some feet from the cabin, its frame of sturdy wooden poles covered by buffalo hides in the familiar upside down V.
The front flap opened, and Josiah stepped out.
Emma smiled as he came to her. “Did Grandpap give you his permission to put up his lodge?” she asked.
“It ain’t his,” he grinned. “It’s Ma’s.”
“Oh, I see,” said Emma, beginning to understand. “Is this what you were talking to her about?”
Josiah grinned, and pulled her by the hand toward the lodge. “I reckon you’ll tussle with me now,” he said, stopping before the entrance. He dropped his head, and covered her mouth in a long sweet kiss. Before she could recover, he took her inside.
The lodge was roomier than Emma had thought it would be, even though from the outside, its tall poles stood impressively against the sky. Hide covered the walls, and some of the floor, lending it a close feeling, even though there was room to spare. A fire burned in the center of the room, its smoke curling up through the hole at the top. She noticed a buffalo hide bed, made toward the back. It looked as though it were several skins deep– deep enough to make even the stiffest back comfortable on the hard ground.
“Josiah,” Emma looked behind her, and noticed he was busy pulling off his hunting shirt and moccasins. “Josiah,” she said, as he came to her, tugging her into his arms, “I’d like us to talk first, if you don’t mind.”
“I mind, Emma. I mind a lot.” But even as he spoke, he took a few steps back and refrained himself from going any further. “But I reckon yer right,” he said, sucking in a deep breath. “I was wanting to tell you something.”
Emma shuddered with dread, but stopped herself from being certain of what he was about to say. After all, Josiah had promised her– had given his solemn word– that he would be faithful. “What is it?” she asked him.
He looked hesitant. “I’m taking a risk by telling you, Emma, but I reckon I owe it to you, all the same.”
Emma’s heart stopped as she waited for him to finish.
“Back there, in my Ma’s village, there was this woman…”
Emma shut her eyes.
“I didn’t lay with her, Emma,” he said hurriedly, stepping forward and taking Emma by the shoulders, “so don’t you go looking like I did. I didn’t. I was faithful to you.”
Emma opened her eyes, and looked up at Josiah. “I’m sorry,” she breathed shakily, “I’m sorry.”
“You ain’t got nothing to be sorry about,” he said, rubbing her arms as though he were frightened she might pass out.
Emma shook her head. “I should have known you weren’t going to make another confession. I should have known.” She gulped in air, felt herself being lowered onto the robes to sit.
Crouched before her, she saw the wincing hesitation in his face. “I was faithful, Emma, but the truth is, I nearly wasn’t.” He rubbed her hands. “There was this woman– one that later turned out, wanted to be my wife.”
Emma felt dazed.
“I told her I already had myself a wife,” said Josiah, his voice rising a little in self defense, “but she said she’d be my second.”
“You mean, a second wife?” Emma pulled her hands from Josiah, trying to understand what he was telling her. “What did you say to this woman, Josiah?”
He frowned, a touch of hurt in his expression. “What do you think I told her?”
“Since I don’t see her here, I suppose you told her ‘no.'”
“That’s right, I told her ‘no,'” said Josiah, picking up Emma’s hands to resume reviving her. “I told her you wouldn’t let me.”
“That was a good answer,” said Emma, “because I wouldn’t have. I don’t.”
“But, the thing is, Emma…” Josiah sat back on his heels, looked at her directly. “I almost went to the buffalo robes with her. Everywhere I went, she was there, waiting fer me. It would’ve been so easy to do it, but I want you to know that I didn’t. I didn’t ferget you, or God. When she reached out her hands to me, I didn’t take them.”
“What did you do?” asked Emma.
“I ran.” He looked embarrassed to admit it, and Emma realized he was doing his very best to be honest. “I ran straight into an icy creek, my foot slipped, and I fell in.” He looked at her, a half smile on his lips. “That cold water did me a lot of good, Emma. I got up, and just kept running.”
“Thank you, Josiah.”
“I didn’t want you to think I hadn’t been tempted,” said Josiah, “that when I told you I’d been faithful, you wouldn’t think that it hadn’t crossed my mind to lay with that woman. Because it did.”
“I appreciate your honesty,” said Emma.
His brows went up, and a smile spread across his face. “You do? You ain’t angry with me fer being tempted?”
“Did you purposely find this woman?” asked Emma.
“No, she found me,” said Josiah.
“Did you lay with her?”
“Then you don’t owe me an apology. It’s only human to be tempted, Josiah. But you didn’t act on that temptation, and so you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m proud of you for running.”
He grinned, a soft light flickering in his eyes. “You are, Emma? You ain’t just saying that to make me feel easier about what happened?”
“Oh, Josiah,” she touched his face, and he lifted his hand and covered hers. “You’ve come so far, and changed so much. I’m so grateful. So very grateful to God for what He’s done.”
Josiah had held back for as long as he was going to, and he tenderly pushed her onto the robes. She felt the thick buffalo fur beneath her, then quickly glanced at the flap over the entrance, to be sure no one could see inside.
It was closed. They were truly alone.
His breath warmly skimmed her face, and his hand moved to the small of her back. He spoke, his lips brushing hers. “I love you, Emma. It ain’t humanly possible fer me to love you anymore than I do right now. And yet,” he said, his voice hushed and wistfully gentle, “I reckon tomorrow, that love will be even bigger.”
She had no time to answer, to bask in the sweet comfort of those words, for his mouth smothered hers, and the only response she could give, was to return his love.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth… His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.”
~ Song of Solomon 1:2, 2:6 ~
“Blessed is the man [Josiah] that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.”
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