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Mary quickly came to Emma's defense. "I will eat burnt meat, too!"

"Then you two will be eating the entire meal," said Josiah.

For all of his complaining, Emma thought she detected him smothering a grin. "Do you want me to fix you more bear meat?" she asked.

Josiah got to his feet to put away his sharpened ax. "No, I'll feed on buffalo jerky, instead. Then I'll head out to chop wood."

"Good," said Mary.

Josiah grimly stared at the child. "Looking to git rid of me, are you?"


"Mary!" exclaimed Emma.

"Only for awhile," Mary said timidly.

With a harrumph, Josiah grabbed his buffalo jerky, and then took a seat at the table.

Seeing how badly the food was burnt, Emma turned to Mary. "You don't really want any of this, do you?"

"It should not be wasted," Mary said knowingly.

"I suppose not," Emma sighed. Placing the meat on a plate, Emma sat down at the table to begin eating.

Keeping true to her word, Mary scooted her chair next to Emma, helping herself to the blackened meat.

"I'm sorry I burned lunch," Emma said apologetically. "This happens to everyone, though. I'm sure even your grandmother makes mistakes."

"No, her meat never turns black," said Mary.

Josiah choked on his jerky, and Emma knew he was struggling to keep from laughing. Refusing Emma's offer to pat him on the back, Josiah managed to swallow down his lunch without further trouble.

Her mouth full of food, Mary turned to Emma thoughtfully. "When will Mr. Brown come back from chopping wood? Will it be several days?" There was an unmistakable ring of hopefulness to her voice that saddened Emma.

"I expect he'll only be gone for a few hours, Mary."

Looking disappointed, Mary chewed on her meal in silence.

Emma decided not to reprove the child for calling her father, "Mr.," after all, Josiah was doing precious little to earn the privilege. Still, it grieved Emma that the two were getting along so terribly. Josiah took little interest in his daughter, and Mary was trying to do her best under the circumstances.
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