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"Oh." Emma tried to manage a smile, though her polite manners seemed to go unnoticed by her guests.

Grandpap sat beside the fire, content to watch the two women as they stared at each other across the table. He even seemed to derive some amusement when Emma awkwardly shifted in her chair under the steady gaze of his daughter.

"My son is gone?" asked Cora.

Grateful for the broken silence, Emma quickly nodded. "Yes, he left yesterday. I'm afraid I don't know when he will be back."

Cora grunted. She eyed Emma's deerskin gown and shook her head in disapproval. Her own deerskin dress was unornamented, and such decorations could only mean one thing.

"You have been trading with the Crows?"

"Yes... I mean... Mr. Brown has... I mean, did," Emma stammered, realizing that she was admitting Josiah had been trading with their enemies.

Again, Cora grunted. "Has he beaten you?"

"Who? Mr. Brown?" asked Emma in surprise. "No, he's never struck me."

Cora nodded, the first sign of any emotion being one of relief. "Good."

"Has he hit many women?" Emma asked timidly.

"Josiah is too much like his father," Cora replied in a cold voice, "but he swore to me never to beat a woman as Hiram did."

"Oh." Emma tried not to sound as relieved as she felt.

"Did he force you?" asked Cora.

Emma gulped. "Force?"

Cora grasped her wrist with her other hand, forcing it down to the table as though being restrained.

That's the question Emma was afraid it was. "Mr. Brown was rough for awhile, but when he understood he was hurting me, he became gentler."

Cora looked frustrated, as if her question was still not being answered. "How did he take you to wife?" she demanded. "A woman like you, would never accept such a husband."

Realizing her response had not satisfied Cora, Emma replied the best way she knew how-- with the straightforward truth. "When Mr. Brown found me, my situation left me with no choice but to accept him as my husband. I wanted to live, and Mr. Brown offered me life when others did not."

Cora eyed Emma cautiously, though there was now a glimmer of respect in her eyes. "Another might have taken her life, rather than let herself be handled by such a man."

"To be honest, I asked God to do just that," Emma confided, "but instead of death, He sent Mr. Brown."

Cora was very quiet. So quiet, Emma could hear the slight intake of Grandpap's breath, as he lit a tobacco pipe.

Cora's eyes narrowed. "You have religion?"
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