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"Did he hurt you, Ma?"

"No, Little One, I'm just fine."

"What did he mean by 'tussle'?"

Groaning, Emma shook her head. So Mary had heard that. "You're too young to understand, so I'll just say it means to be on friendly intimate terms, and leave it at that."

"Oh." Mary looked at the cooking food and smiled. "I am sure hungry, Ma. I ain't had bear in a long time."

"You've been listing to your pa too much," sighed Emma. "'Ain't' isn't a word. We should say 'haven't.'"


"I haven't had bear in a long time."

"That is what I said."

Emma smiled patiently. Mary's English was still halting, though she was learning fast; Emma just wished the child wasn't learning from Josiah's vocabulary.

Before Christmas supper, Emma pulled out several bits of candle, and then carried them to the tree on the table. Melting each bottom over an open flame, Emma placed the small candles on the evergreen's branches.

"You going to set it on fire now?" asked Josiah. He climbed off the robe and then strode to the table expectantly. "Best have a bucket of water to douse it, when it gits out of control. I ain't letting you burn down our winter quarters, just so you can have Christmas."

"I've done this many times before without any adverse effects," Emma said confidently.

"He said 'ain't'!" piped up Mary.

Josiah gave the girl a scowl, and the child ducked behind Emma's wide blue dress.

"This will be our first family meal together at the table," Emma said with satisfaction. Josiah had been eating on his robes, while Emma had eaten her meals with Mary on the child's bed.

Mary looked uncertainly at Emma.

"We need something for you to sit on, because there's only two chairs. Let's see..."

"I'll sit on the bed," said Josiah. "Let the runt use my chair."

"I am not a runt!" When Josiah gave Mary a challenging glare, she quickly silenced her protest.

Josiah's stomach growled, making him all the more impatient.

Emma, however, was firm. "We are eating at this table as a family!" After searching the cabin in vain, she went to the pile of firewood she had gathered the evening before. Digging through the dry sticks, Emma came to a wide log about two feet high, that Josiah had chopped some time back. It had never been split into firewood, for Emma had thought it could be made into something useful. Rolling out the wide, flat-ended log, Emma stood it at the table and then motioned for Mary to sit down.
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