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Chapter Twenty-five
The Big Decision

1837, in what would later become Yellowstone National Park.

"The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious."
~ Proverbs 12:27 ~

Though no one in camp spoke of it, it was never far from Emma's mind. Josiah, Will, and Grandpap had shot enough Buffalo to keep everyone busy, so it didn't leave much energy to talk of the future while they fleshed hides, cut meat to dry and turn into pemmican. Josiah seemed grateful for the fact no one brought the subject up. He remained contentedly quiet, throwing himself into his work instead of the conversation he must've known Emma was eager to begin.

At night, everyone fell into their beds, exhausted from the labor. In the morning, they fleshed and stretched buffalo skins, until the men had amassed a rather good-sized collection. It was nothing grand or large, but still, Josiah expressed surprise at the amount of God's blessing. These were no beaver pelts, but buffalo robes could turn a tidy profit for a man like Josiah.

But Josiah was unwilling to slay the buffalo simply for their hides. When the carcasses began to outnumber the usefulness of simply the skins, he put a halt to the hunting. Others relied on the plentifulness of the buffalo, a fact everyone was reminded of when a Crow tribe made camp nearby. Josiah made no effort to stop the elderly and women who went out to gather the remnants of the carcasses he and Will and Grandpap had shot, only too glad that nothing would be wasted.

The Crows were uneasy at Grandpap and Cora's presence, for the Blackfoot and the Crows were long-standing enemies. Neither side did anything to antagonize the other, each keeping a careful distance and a wary truce. In between the silent hostilities stood Josiah, speaking for himself and the others, and putting the Crows more at ease. Very little trading was done, for everyone wanted to save their goods for the rendezvous that would happen in July. Besides, the Crows and the two Blackfoot in question, didn't seem eager to come into contact with each other unless absolutely necessary.

With all the excitement of the Indians and the Buffalo, it was easy not to speak of the future-- easy, that is, for everyone but Emma. For several minutes every night, she lay awake dreaming of it, praying for it, planning for it. Then, Emma would fall asleep, too tired to think any further.

Not until some time after Josiah and Emma's talk, did the subject of leaving come up once more. There was little left to do now, but to wait for the remainder of the last freshly killed meat and the hides to dry, and of course, to rest. It was a calm, peaceful day, with everyone lounging about the fire. George rested under the tree with Mary, following her progress as she slowly read from his law book. Everyone and everything was at rest, until Mary suddenly stopped and asked George a question that had Josiah sitting up, wide awake and listening intently.

"When you leave after the rendezvous, George, can I come with you?"

George's brows shot up in surprise, and he quickly glanced at Josiah in obvious embarrassment.

"You're speaking nonsense, Mary. Please continue reading."

"But George --"

"No buts, and no arguing. Finish your lesson, or we'll stop early today."

Mary frowned. "Can't I come with you, George?"

With a frustrated groan, George wearily rubbed his eyes. "No, you can't come. You'll live with your parents."

"Then can we all come with you?"

"School is definitely over for today," said George, setting aside the heavy book. He folded his arms, and looked at Mary with a mixture of amusement and sadness. "Why all this talk of leaving?" he asked. "Don't you want to stay in the mountains like your father?"

"I want to go with you," said Mary, her face earnest and sincere. "Please, George, I want to come."

"That's enough," said George, hushing Mary before the girl could speak any further. "I don't want to hear any more nonsense out of you. Go sit with your pa, so I can sleep."

Mary sighed deeply, and watched as George reclined his head against the tree and shut his eyes.

"Are you still there?" he asked after several moments.

"I will be quiet," said Mary.

A frown formed on George's mouth but he said nothing.

Josiah looked thoughtful as he lay back down. He turned his head to look at Emma, and she smiled hopefully.

"I reckon you've been patient long enough, Emma. Go on and speak yer mind." He sounded reluctant, but at the same time, resigned, as though he knew this conversation had to come. He folded his arms beneath his head, and stared at her expectantly.

Emma wanted to ask if he were sure, but decided against it. She was doing good to get this far.

"Mary, come over here with me, would you? Cora, Grandpap-- this involves you both, so I'd appreciate your opinions."

Cora had to shake Grandpap awake before the old man blinked open his eyes and sat up. He didn't look as though he understood the quiet buzz of excitement that filled the camp, but Cora did. The Blackfoot woman sat with a blanket around her shoulders, her eyes sharp and alert.

Mary dropped onto the buffalo robe beside Emma, her mouth drawn into a wide grin.

"Can I go with George, Ma?"

"No, you're going to stay with us, Little One." Emma touched Mary's hand as the child sighed in disappointment. "After the rendezvous, Will and George will go home. You must accept that. It's simply the way things are."

Will leaned forward as if to speak, then shut his mouth and looked at Cora; Cora took no notice of him whatsoever, her attention fully on Emma and Mary.

"This family has a big decision to make," said Emma, addressing Mary and Cora and Grandpap, "and I want everyone to think about this very carefully. Where do you think we should go, and how can we make a living when we get there?" Emma swallowed hard as she waited for anyone to speak. Anyone at all.

Only Mary jumped at the chance. "I want to live with the white man, Ma. I want to go with George."

"I know, Mary, but I already told you that isn't possible. Remember? We must be practical. Since you can't go with George, do you still want to leave?"

Mary didn't hesitate. "Yes, Ma, I do."

Considering Mary's painful history with her people, it was understandable. If things had gone differently with Josiah in the past, the girl might very well want to stay. But they hadn't, and Mary wanted to go.

"Are you sure?" Emma asked her soberly.

Mary nodded "yes," very emphatically.

Emma glanced at Josiah. He didn't look surprised, but he didn't look too happy, either.

"I'm knowing where you stand, Emma," he said, pushing himself up to sit cross-legged on the ground. "But how about you, Ma? Grandpap? Haven't you got nothing to say about all this?"

Of all the members of her family who could sway the decision in a dramatic way, Emma knew Cora could. With a lump in her throat, Emma awaited Cora's response.

"Are you willing to leave these mountains, Ma? That's what Emma and Mary are wanting us to do."

Cora looked at her son evenly. "I know this."

"Well, ain't you going to fight to stay?"

The Blackfoot woman didn't flinch in her answer. "If you wanted to stay, Josiah, you should not have taken a white woman to wife-- a woman who had no choice. She wishes to go back to her people. I understand this."

Mary stood up eagerly. "I want to go, too, Pa."

Quickly, Emma tugged Mary down before Josiah directed his displeasure at the child. Emotions were running high, especially between mother and son, and Emma didn't want to get caught in the middle-- although that was precisely where she sensed she was at the moment.

"You brought white trappers into Blackfoot hunting grounds, knowing this would anger my people. You did not care, and now you can not return. There is nothing left for you."

"Your people, Ma? What about me? I'm half Blackfoot, too. My life is in these mountains where I belong, and where my people belong."

Cora harrumphed. "You have never valued your people in the past; it is too late to begin now." When Josiah's jaw clenched, Cora narrowed her eyes at him. "Do you ever wonder why I taught Mary English? Or why I gave her a white name?"

Josiah smiled grimly. "You was trying to get back at me fer what I did to her ma."

"No," said Cora, "I was preparing her to live with the white man, to become part of their settlements and their way of life."

Josiah was completely silent.

"You were not there to hold Mary, to dry her tears when the others kicked her because her father was an enemy to the Blackfoot." Cora shook her head unapologetically. "It was not good for her to stay. I prayed for a miracle, and it came. Emma came. Your soul was saved, and now Mary can live in peace."

"What kind of peace do you think she'll have in the white man's world, Ma?"

Cora inhaled deeply. "As much peace as you are willing to make for her, my son."

Silence again. The words must have stuck to Josiah for he didn't move, didn't turn away from Cora's steady gaze.

"I can't, Ma."

"There is no choice, Josiah. You have chosen your path by the decisions you have already made. You must not be afraid. God will go with you."

"Will you come with me, too?"

"I will."

Emma was surprised to see Josiah relax a little, almost like a child drawing comfort from its parent's presence. He was a grown man and no child, but still, Emma knew he drew strength from Cora's promise to go with him. A broad calloused hand rubbed the knee of Josiah's buckskin trousers. He sat quiet for several moments, before turning his eyes to Emma. She could see vulnerability there, and apprehension of the unknown.

Someone cleared their throat, as if to ask permission to speak.

"I realize this is a family discussion," said Will, "but if there aren't any objections, I'd like to ask Emma if she's thinking of returning to Indiana."

Before answering, Emma thought back to her own fears of what her neighbors would say about someone like Josiah, and poor little Mary, who came into this world without married parents. "No, I don't think that would be wise-- not under the circumstances," said Emma, unwilling to voice her concerns in front of Mary.

Will turned to glance back at George, who apparently, had never gone to sleep and had been following the entire conversation.

"When you folks began talking of leaving, George and I discussed our own views on the matter." Will leaned an elbow against some folded buffalo skins for support. "As much as I figure you want to go back to where you come from, Emma, George and I reckon it's not wise to return. Even with Josiah willing to get along with others, they might not be so willing to get along with him. What George and I suggest is this," said Will, now addressing Josiah, "go further West. That's where the future is, that's where this country will be heading. Why, the way is already opening up, and if we start before everyone else, maybe we can claim some of that prime land before it's all taken."

"'We'?" Josiah looked at Will skeptically.

"We-- as in you and your family," said Will, dropping back with a chagrined smile. "Give it some thought, Josiah. Leastways, it's an idea."

Weariness traced itself onto Josiah's face. He didn't look ready for more talk, or for that matter, more thought. He'd been forced to contemplate the unthinkable, and understandably, it made him downcast and somewhat dark.

"I'm going hunting," he said, grabbing his flintlock as he got up. Silently, he stalked out of camp. They didn't need more meat, so it was understood he just wanted to be alone.

"What about you, Grandpap?" asked Will. "Where do you want to go?"

Grandpap shrugged lightly. "It does not matter. I am old and will die soon."

This prompted a sharp look from Cora. She said nothing, but it was evident she didn't like hearing her father say such things.

Getting to her feet, Mary moved to sit beside her great-grandfather. "I don't want you to die," she said softly.

Grandpap patted her head, pulled out his pipe, and seemed content to sit and huff on his remaining tobacco.

Solitude made Josiah's misery even worse. He wished he had asked Emma to go with him. Whenever his spirits were low, she often made him feel better.

Emma was like that.

Compounding his loneliness, a bird was singing its heart out for a mate.

That did it. He stopped, turned about, and retraced his steps back. They were probably still talking about leaving, but in his pain, he didn't care. He just wanted to be near Emma again. The sky wasn't as blue, or the mountains nearly as inviting, without her at his side. A warning sounded in the back of his brain, a warning that somewhere along the way he'd become too needy, too reliant on Emma. His happiness was tied to hers, and he, the wild son of Hiram Brown.

His pa's memory caused Josiah to frown. If Pa had been there, he would've punished Josiah for allowing himself to get so hopelessly tangled with Emma. "Never become so attached to a woman you can't leave her when yer wanting to," had been one of Pa's favorite sayings.

Maybe it was a sign of weakness that Josiah had tangled himself to the point of not caring. His mouth stretched into a grin as he thought about Emma. He needed his sunshine, and if that made him weak in the eyes of his pa, then so be it. At least his old man was dead and couldn't give him any trouble.

Josiah neared camp, paused as he thought about his father. Hiram Brown had passed on his hatred to his son, not caring that it isolated Josiah from both sides of his heritage. If they stayed, Josiah feared the same thing would happen to Mary-- not belonging anywhere, but always holding a clenched fist against an unforgiving world. Hiram had never given Josiah the chance to fully adopt the ways of one side or the other, always goading him to remember that he was nothing but a half-breed. But not Mary. God help him, Josiah would not let that happen to Mary.

In his deep thought, Josiah didn't notice Emma coming towards him. When he finally did, he opened an arm to invite her to his side. She readily accepted, stepping into his embrace as though she had been there all along.

"Are you all right, Josiah? You looked troubled."

He squeezed her gently. "I was just thinking, Em."

"So was I."

"We're leaving," he said, making it real by saying it out loud to his wife. "I've made up my mind. After the rendezvous, we'll head off to wherever it is this family thinks best."

"Truly?" asked Emma. "Do you mean that?"

"You should know by now," he said with a tired smile, "I ain't in the habit of making promises I'm not intending to keep. I should make one provision to that promise, though: we'll leave, provided I can earn a living wherever it is we go."

An odd sort of look flitted across Emma's face, one that seemed to dampen her excitement.

"I thought you was wanting us to leave."

"I was... I am." Emma bit her lip. Something about this news bothered her, and whatever it was, it was beginning to bother him.

"Emma, yer making me uneasy."

She stepped out of his arm, turned to look at him with sober brown eyes. If he didn't know better, panic lay just beneath her stoic features. It was very unlike her.

"You can't be with child again," he chuckled. "You haven't given birth to the last one yit."

"Please, don't tease me, Josiah. Not at a time like this."

"At a time like what? Yer not making any sense."

She winced, even though nothing had touched her except his words. For a moment, he wondered if she had turned yeller, suddenly become afraid of what her own kind would think of her for having a half-breed husband.

"This is going to make you angry, Josiah. I should have told you sooner, but there hadn't been any need to before now."

"Tell me what?" he asked.

Reluctance filled her countenance. "How much money do you have?"

The question surprised him. "How is asking that going to make me angry?"

"Please, Josiah, how much?"

He considered the question thoughtfully. "Well, after I trade in the buffaler robes at rendezvous, it should give us something to leave with. It won't be much, but then you've probably already guessed I ain't a rich man."

"No, I didn't think you were." Emma adjusted her blanket shawl against the cool afternoon air. "I'm afraid I've kept a terribly important secret from you, Josiah."

"How terrible?"

"Terrible enough."

"I'm moving past angry, Emma, and moving on to downright scared. What is it yer trying to tell me?"

"I buried eight hundred half eagles under our wagon."

"What?" Josiah blinked. Surely, his hearing was going out. He thought Emma had just said she had half eagles-- five dollar gold coins-- buried under some wagon. Disbelief turned to concern when she didn't laugh at the joke she had just made.

"Please, Josiah, don't look at me that way."

"You've been doing too much work," he said, touching a hand to her cheek. "Yer feeling warm."

"I'm standing in the sun, Josiah."

He grabbed her arm, pulled her toward Cora's lodge. "I feared skinning all them buffaler hides would do you harm, and now yer ailing. Yer needing rest." He tugged her into the lodge where the others were occupied with their own matters. With a gentle but deliberate hand, he made Emma sit on some robes.

"Are you very angry with me, Josiah?"

"It's myself I'm angry with," he said, beckoning his ma to leave her work by the fire and come join them. "It was my fault fer letting you work yerself ill."

"Are you angry I didn't tell you sooner? About the money?"

He crouched, took her hand and tenderly squeezed her fingers. "Don't give it any more thought, Em. You'll feel better soon." He looked over his shoulder as Cora approached. "Ma, Emma's been working too hard; she's talking mighty strange."

Emma shook her head, insistent that she felt fine. "Pa wanted a good start in our new country, so he packed half eagles into a wooden chest. It weighed about twenty-two pounds, but we carried it all the way from Indiana. We lost most of our belongings, but not that box. Before the Indians attacked, he made me bury it as quickly as I could." Emma's eyes turned misty, and Josiah knew it pained her to speak of her pa's death. "In the end, it didn't matter. They killed him, and you took me. The chest no longer seemed important after that."

The story quieted Josiah. Emma was making too much sense, and her retelling hadn't sounded as though it came from fatigue or delirium.

"Where was you and yer Pa going, Emma?"

Cora looked at him, and he knew she was surprised he had never thought to ask before now.

He shrugged. "It never came up." He turned back to Emma. "Where, Em?"

For the second time that day, she looked reluctant to speak.

George, who had been napping, sat up to listen. Will stopped his sewing, Mary perked up and crawled to Emma, and Grandpap remained dozing with his hands in his lap.

"Pa said we'd remain at a trading post for awhile, then move on into the Pacific Northwest if things didn't work out." Emma worried her bottom lip.

"Yer pa was wanting to enter the fur trade?" asked Josiah.

"Not exactly." Emma looked at Josiah meekly. "He came as a missionary."

"Who to? The Indians?"

"No, the trappers."

Behind his back, Josiah could hear Will's chuckles.

"Pa said the trappers needed to be reminded that God was in the wilderness, as well in the cities." Emma sighed heavily, her voice touched with grief. "He just thought he could do some good, that's all. After Ma went to be with Jesus, and my beau married my friend instead of me, the years passed until Pa said there wasn't anything left for us in Indiana. Truth be told, I think he wanted to leave behind the things that kept reminding him of Ma."

Remembering something Will had said, Josiah looked into his wife's face. "Will said he and George thought you came from money. Is that true, Emma?"

"I suppose that's true, although I never felt very rich," Emma said modestly.

"And the half eagles? Are they real?"

Emma nodded. "My grandfather was a very wealthy man, so the eight hundred coins are real."

A whistle came from Will's direction. "That's four thousand dollars in gold. You're a rich man, Josiah!"

"I wouldn't go that far," Emma smiled for the first time since her confession. "It's a lot of money, to be sure, but it's only a few thousand."

"That's a whole lot of beaver in one lump sum," said Josiah, sinking onto the robe in stunned amazement. "I've spent my life trying to get up a fortune like that." A twinge of bitterness stung his pride. Over the years, he'd earned plenty trapping beaver, but had never been able to hold on to his earnings for very long. Gambling, whiskey, and women had been his weakness, as well as his wild friends. In his lifetime, he had bought an awful lot of whiskey to make his trapper friends happy.

"That's a decent stake in a new life," said Will. "If you can get back to where that wagon is, the coin chest is probably still there."

Josiah groaned inwardly. The wagon was waiting for him in Jackson Hole, or at least, what was left of it after a hard winter. But that wasn't the only thing. Josiah's friends had wintered close by, and were likely trying their luck around the area. It was possible they had even pressed into the Yellowstone by now, cursing him out for not showing up to be their guide as he'd promised the year before.

"Josiah?" Emma touched his hand. "What's wrong?"

"It occurs to me," he grinned darkly, "I've jumped out of the frying pan, and into the fire."

Emma thought it had been an odd thing to say, especially after finding out he was four thousand dollars richer than the day before. After lunch, she took him aside to a quiet area just outside of camp to talk.

"You're angry at me, aren't you," said Emma, choosing to stand instead of sit.

The flintlock rested in Josiah's arm in the casual manner he had of looking dangerous and relaxed at the same time. "I ain't angry, Emma. You guessed wrong."

"I wouldn't have to guess at all, if you simply talked to me."

He harrumphed. "Yer a one fer talk. You had all them coins buried away and you never even told me."

Instead of a biting retort, Emma pressed her lips together. She refused to speak rashly, for she could never take back the words once they had been spoken. Forgiven, yes, but nearly impossible to forget.

"After you first found me, what would you have done had I told you about the money?"

Josiah shrugged. "I'd've dug it up."

"And you would have spent it on your vices. I couldn't trust you, Josiah-- not like now."

A scowl parted his mouth. "What are you meaning? There wouldn't have been any place to spend it until rendezvous."

"That's not the point," said Emma, "and you know it."

He sighed wearily. "All right, I ain't disagreeing with you. I would've spent it on sin if I could've."

"Josiah, I thought you said you weren't angry."

"I ain't."

"Then why are you shouting at me?"

"I ain't shouting."

She inhaled a patient breath. "I didn't tell you about the coins later on, after you were saved, because I feared it would change you. I love you the way you are."

He darted a quick glance at her, obviously interested in hearing more.

"There's one complaint I have about wealth-- it changes nice people into people who aren't as likable. Before Pa inherited his fortune, he operated a wheelwright shop and made a modest living from the sweat of his brow. I was still little when we became wealthy, but I remember Ma talking to Pa about how some of her friends were whispering cruel things behind her back, but when they came calling, they gave her nothing but flattery. Ma had never been an outgoing woman to begin with, and it all frightened her. For years afterward, she never could trust a compliment without fearing an ulterior motive."

Josiah frowned. "Ulterior?"

"Another reason than the one they gave," said Emma. "Our dearest friends did their best to treat us the same, but money did change things between our families." She stopped, realizing this was probably the most she had ever told Josiah of her life before him. "I feared what even four thousand dollars might do to you, so I simply ignored it. I pretended to myself that it didn't exist. Truly, it almost doesn't for I don't know if the chest is still there. I only know that when you said we were definitely leaving, I had to tell you my secret."

His brow creased thoughtfully, and he nodded that he understood. "Sorry I shouted at you, Em. I shouldn't have."

She inspected him carefully. "Something else is bothering you."

"Careful, Em, yer turning into Grandpap; you both think you can read my mind."

"Please, Josiah, talk to me. I want to help."

He looked at her, reached out and drew off her blanket wrap. "You ain't needing to be modest when it's just me to see you," he said, laying aside his rifle long enough to spread the blanket in the sunny grass. "Sit down. I can see yer feet are hurting."

She wanted to deny it, but couldn't. He didn't miss much, not even her sore feet. Obeying, she sat down, and smiled when he joined her.

"Always my sunshine," he said, brushing away a strand of hair from her mouth.

"I'll try to be, Josiah."

His smile came easier now. "You don't need to try, Emma, you just are." He set the rifle across his lap. "My friends are likely in the Yellowstone by now."

Emma didn't have time to show her shock. Mary came running up to them, a scrap of paper flapping in the wind.

"See what I wrote!" she cried happily, dropping beside them on the blanket. When Mary straightened the paper for Josiah, he looked to Emma for help.

"It says, 'Miss Mary Brown,'" read Emma. "Did you write this, Mary?"

The girl nodded enthusiastically. "George held my hand, but I wrote it. He showed me how to use his quill and ink, Ma. And after this prak-tice, he let me write my name in his journal." The girl traced a finger over the strokes of her name, her face aglow with pleasure in her accomplishment.

"Josiah," Emma turned back to her husband, "about your friends--"

"They may be a rowdy lot," he said, interrupting her worry, "but they won't hurt you. I'll see to it that they don't."

"Actually, I was worrying about what they might do to you."

Josiah looked hurt that she would even think such a thing. "They're my friends, ain't they? Aside from you and Mary and the people in our camp, they're the best I've ever had. You ain't having to worry on my account."

Even if those words could convince Emma-- which they couldn't-- she had the strong suspicion Josiah was trying to convince himself that what he had said was true. He remained to admire Mary's writing a few moments more, then got up on the excuse the horses needed to be checked.

Before he left, Josiah paused to look over his rifle. "Things are sure pushing in around me," he said quietly. "Wish we could stay in these mountains." Emma didn't know if he intended her to hear him, though he didn't seem to care if she had or not. He walked away, his feet heavy, his face long.

When Josiah joined everyone for supper, he announced he would take three horses, and go after the gold.

"Do you feel up to going with me, Emma?" he asked, his mouth working some buffalo meat as he spoke. "I ain't knowing where to dig."

Emma nodded readily. She had hoped he would ask her to come. "It's not much of a hole, so you won't have far to dig. I'm afraid I didn't have time to hide the chest very well."

"I wish I could go with you," said George, leaning forward for more food. "After two months of camping in the same place, I'm ready for a change of scenery."

"Two months?" Emma looked at him, startled by how much time had gone by while she hadn't been paying attention. They had been working to dry buffalo meat, prepare the skins, give George a chance to rest properly. Now the weakest member of their party wanted to move on.

"According to my journal, it's the end of June," said George, popping a handful of berries into his mouth that Mary had gathered "just for him."

"That reminds me"-- Josiah gave George a long inquisitive look-- "just what have you been scratching about in that book, that journal, of yers?"

George shrugged, though it was hardly a casual gesture. Emma saw the trace of nervousness in his face, and knew he didn't really want to answer the question. "Just some private thoughts, that's all," he said, hurrying to fill himself with more berries.

Mary beamed at her pa. "George has been writing stories about you, and where you've been and what you've been doing. They're awfully good, Pa."

"Stories, huh?" Josiah eyed George with suspicion, and the young man shrank back.

"Mary was supposed to keep it a secret," said George, shooting a reproachful look at his small friend. "I just did it to keep myself busy and give her a little entertainment."

"Maybe you could read one of the stories to us sometime," said Emma.

George swallowed hard. "Maybe. Sometime."

Not wanting to press that sometime into now, Emma nudged Josiah and he backed off from questioning George. Emma didn't fear the stories George had penned, for if he had been reading them to Mary, they had to be flattering of Josiah.

From Mary's happy smiles, Emma knew she had nothing to be concerned about.

The next morning, Josiah and Emma set out to retrieve her father's coin chest. Every step of the way, she noticed Josiah looking about for signs of his friends. She tried to recognize the terrain, for she and Josiah had passed this way before, on their way to the mountain cabin. To her distress, the landscape looked very different cloaked in the mantle of late spring, early summer. At last, she resigned to simply following Josiah's horse and to stop straining so hard to see her surroundings.

They made camp before the sun travelled too far into the horizon, then started off again before sunrise. Josiah kept asking Emma if he were going too fast, and she continually assured him that she could keep up. In the intimacy of their bed, he would rub her back and work out the aches that had accumulated over the day. She did her very best not to slow their progress. The need to press on, find their treasure, and get back to the others, weighed heavily in her prayers. Besides the easing of her aches, she didn't know why she should feel so urgent-- though she had to privately confess that there would be more safety in numbers, especially where gold was concerned. They ate dried buffalo jerky, and kept moving, day after day until Josiah announced they were nearing Jackson Hole.

Of course, Emma didn't recognize it-- she couldn't, with her weak eyesight. Even when Josiah declared he could see the wagon, she couldn't. Not until they were close, did Emma recognize her pa's weathered wagon, bleached wood and metal wheel rims scattered about the ground. A crumbled pile of rocks marked her father's grave, or at least, where Josiah thought he had buried him. It was hard to tell after so much time had passed.

"I ain't trying to rush you," said Josiah, as Emma knelt to touch her pa's grave, "but I'll feel a whole lot easier after we've got that chest safely tied to our pony."

Emma nodded in understanding. Her grief must wait for later.

Only one side of the wagon still stood, the other side having fallen from its axle long ago. On her hands and knees, Emma scanned the ground, searching for any familiar landmarks. It felt surreal to be here, back where her life had changed in such a dramatic way. Her pa had died here, and here, she had been kidnapped by the Blackfoot. She tried to recall those days, the panic of hurriedly digging, the numb fear as her father shouted that the Indians were attacking.

"I don't know," she sighed heavily, secretly wondering what they would do if they couldn't find the coins. "I can't remember. If only I could remember." A hand lightly touched her shoulder and she looked back to see Josiah staring off into the distance.

"Did you hear that?" he asked, his voice pensive and alert. "Thought it came from behind us, off toward the Yellowstone."

"No, I heard nothing."

"You best keep looking," he said, urging her back to the task at hand. "Just give me a place to start digging."

"Do you think someone's nearby?"

He grinned sheepishly. "More than likely, I'm just getting a mite jumpy."

Emma pointed out the most likely spot she could, and Josiah started in with a shovel. The hole came up empty, but on the second try, after just two shovelfuls of dirt, Josiah's blade struck something wooden.

"I think it's the chest!" Emma cried in relief, as Josiah brushed aside the dirt. When he lifted out the compact wooden container, she recognized its metal fittings as commissioned by her father.

Josiah tugged at the heavy lock. "Don't suppose you have the key?"

"Pa had it in his pocket," said Emma, picking the caked dirt from around the lock's opening. She was about to ask Josiah what he was about to do, when he nudged her hand aside, grabbed a large rock, and burst open the lock with a powerful blow.

Josiah threw back the lid, grinning when the gold coins sparkled up at him, winking and glinting in the sun. He dipped his hand inside, letting the coins fall from his fingers. "I've never touched so much money in my life," he said, his voice approaching awe.

Emma grabbed his arm. "Josiah, its only money."

He didn't pay her attention until the second admonition. Then he turned his eyes on her and she could see the first rush of excitement had passed. "All right, Emma, I won't let it git to my head. But ain't it a sight? Eight hundred gold half eagles."

Something sounded in the far distance, and his face turned sober.

"What is it, Josiah?"

He shook his head. "We ain't alone. Whoever it is, ain't close by, but we definitely ain't alone. Let's git this chest tied to the third pony, and get out of here. You got yer shotgun?"

Emma brought up her weapon. "I thought they were your friends."

"First off, I ain't knowing if that's them or not, and second, if it is, we're both knowing they'll be hankering after this gold." Josiah got to his feet, pulled Emma onto hers, then hefted the heavy chest onto his shoulder.

It didn't take long before they were heading back toward the Yellowstone, toward the noises Josiah had heard. When night came, they endured a cold camp. In the morning, they resumed their journey, all the while keeping a close watch over their treasure. They saw no one, and for all they knew, no one saw them; even so, Josiah couldn't shake the feeling that more than one someone was there, somewhere in the surrounding areas, just missing them as Josiah and Emma passed through.

That feeling was soon confirmed.

A few days into their return, Josiah drew the ponies to a sudden stop. He crouched low on the horse, held a hand up to signal silence. Emma followed his gaze. Just off on the horizon, she could barely make out several black blurs, moving about as though they were alive and not stationary trees. From the way Josiah behaved, Emma knew those blurs weren't animals, but men.

"We'll take a wide berth around them," whispered Josiah, "and continue on and get back to our camp without them taking notice of us."

"Who are they?" asked Emma.

Josiah half grimaced, half smiled. "They're free trappers."

"Who?" Emma wasn't sure she understood the impact of Josiah's statement, other than the fact that white men were in the Yellowstone.

Urging the horses along, Josiah muttered beneath his breath. "Those are my friends."

"If riches increase, set not your heart upon them."
~ Psalm 62:10 ~

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
~ Matthew 6:21 ~

end of chapter
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