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"My arms are full right now."

"Then put her down. I'm hungry!"

As much as Emma was tempted, she bit back a retort and commanded patience to the forefront of her emotions. "Would you mind preparing it yourself?"

"Why should I, when I got you to do it?"

"Very well, I'll start lunch." Emma nudged the child in her arms. "Mary, it's time to get up." She coaxed Mary awake, and then shifted the girl back onto the blankets. "Do you feel better now?"

Quietly, Mary nodded "yes." Seeing the broken doll, Mary buried it out of sight under the blanket, and then closely followed Emma as lunch was being prepared.

"Mr. Brown, we're almost out of firewood," said Emma, stoking the fireplace with more wood. "I've gathered all the nearby branches and limbs that I can, without taking an ax and chopping down a tree, myself."

"I'll git it done after lunch," said Josiah. Coming to the fireplace to cast one last piece of bear fat into the flames, he knocked into Mary, who was intently keeping close to Emma's side. "Watch where yer going, you little runt."

While Emma busily started bear meat cooking on a spit over the fire, she noticed Mary hiding behind her deerskin dress. "Are you frightened?" asked Emma. "Where's that brave little girl I saw yesterday?"

A large tear splashed against Mary's cheek, and her small face looked ready to cry again. "He does not want me," she whimpered.

If Josiah overheard, he didn't let it show. He grabbed his ax, and set about sharpening the instrument on his bed.

Kneeling on the dirt floor, Emma gazed into Mary's sad eyes. "I know I can never replace your grandmother, but I promise to love you as my daughter."

With a tearful smile, Mary hugged her ma.

"You are a great big blessing from Heaven," said Emma, comforting the child with a loving kiss on her forehead.

The smell of burning meat came wafting from the fireplace, for Emma had been so busy with Mary, she had quite forgotten to keep an eye on their lunch. With a cry of dismay, Emma checked the damage. Mary giggled, her face lighting up with smiles as Emma pulled their blackened lunch from off the cooking spit.

Josiah frowned. "Emma, you burned our meal! Bear meat don't come along every day!"

Emma tried to remain optimistic. "It's only a little charred." When Mary began to laugh, Emma had to smile in spite of herself.

Josiah shook his head in disgust. "What a mess."

"I'll eat the worst of the burnt meat, Mr--" Emma hesitated, suddenly remembering Mary was listening, "I'll eat the burnt meat myself, Josiah."
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One of my longtime readers, Myra Valcourt, has created a Facebook group just for you! "The Works of Judith Bronte" offers a forum to discuss the stories and characters, and a way to get to know other readers. I hope to see you there!