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"Emma, where have you been?" Josiah's dark eyes flashed his disapproval, but to his consternation, Emma only smiled.

"Just down the mountain a little way. Look, Mr. Brown, isn't it a sweet little tree?"

"You've bin gone fer most of the morning," Josiah said accusingly.

"Did you miss us?" laughed Emma. Then her eyes caught sight of the blanket and buffalo robe heaped on the floor against the wall. She looked back at Josiah. "Did you go somewhere?"

"Not exactly," he stammered. "Stop dodging my question, Emma. You should've bin home sooner!"

"Oh, I see." Emma bit her lip, but Josiah saw that she was fighting back another smile. "I didn't mean to worry you, Mr. Brown."

"You didn't," he lied.

"Are you hungry? It's not quite noon yet, but I have things to do afterward."

Josiah grunted, and rolled onto his side while Emma went to get out some buffalo jerky for lunch. While Josiah ate by himself, he heard Emma tell Mary about Christmas.

"My ma's people came to the American colonies in 1737, on a great ship. They settled in Pennsylvania, hoping to begin a new life in the New World. They were 'Deutsch,' meaning German, but to the Americans the word sounded like 'Dutch,' so they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. They brought many German customs with them, but the best custom of all was the Christmas tree."

Josiah saw Mary's eyes grow wide with wonder.

"When I was a little girl, every Christmas, Ma used to tell me the legend of the German reformer, Martin Luther, and the first lit Christmas tree. This happened long, long ago, back in the Old Country, before my ma's people immigrated to America. One dark winter night, Martin Luther was walking in the woods, when he saw a great big fir tree pointing straight up at the many brilliant stars overhead-- just as they did on the night of Jesus' birth. Martin was so awed by this sight, he took a small tree home to his family and then decorated it with candles that shone like the stars over Bethlehem. Martin knew that when a lit Christmas tree points up to Heaven, it's trying to remind us of the Christ-child, Who came to save us from our sins. That's why my family always had a tree every Christmas."

"Is this a fir, like Martin's tree?" asked Mary, picking the small evergreen from off the dirt floor and gazing at it with a sparkle of excitement in her eyes.

"Why do you think we chose it?" smiled Emma.

After lunch, Emma took an old split log intended for firewood, and, using a knife, bored a small hole in its side. Then she stuck the end of the tree in the hole, so it would stand upright on its own. While Mary watched, Emma placed the evergreen Christmas tree on the table.

Josiah watched Emma's face. He could see she was feeling a little badly that it was such a plain looking tree, for it had no candles like the one she had mentioned in her story. Her look of sadness vanished, however, when Emma saw Mary's face lit with joy. Like Mary, Josiah had never seen anyone purposefully bring a tree into a lodge, where trees simply didn't belong. It was an odd thing to do, but he had to admit it held a curious fascination. Josiah had seen thousands upon thousands of trees in his lifetime, but he found his eyes glued to this small evergreen sitting on the table. For some reason, this tree meant something special.

Maybe it was because of Emma's story.
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