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"Are you getting any of this?" asked Josiah, wondering how much the little girl understood. "When my arm is around Emma, you keep yer distance."

Mary's head somberly nodded "yes."

"Let me hear you say it," said Josiah.

"I'll keep my distance."

He eyed the child skeptically. "Don't just repeat me. Tell me you understand."

"I understand."

"If my arm isn't there, then she's yours. That's fair, ain't it?"

Mary didn't respond.

"Ain't it?" Josiah scowled at Mary. "Yer supposed to say 'yes.'"

"Yes," Mary said promptly.

Stooping to pick up the heavy bucket, a thought flashed through Josiah's mind that it wouldn't be good if Mary looked as though he had just frightened her. Not in front of Emma. "When we go hunting," he said with a lighter tone in his voice, "would you like a weapon of yer own? I got a pistol you can carry."

Mary's face immediately brightened.

By the time Josiah and Mary returned with a full water bucket, Emma was getting a little concerned. It usually didn't take this long to simply fetch water, and she worried that perhaps something had gone wrong. What that could be, she had no idea, but Emma wasn't at ease with the idea of Josiah being solely responsible for little Mary.

As Josiah and Mary took off their coat and blanket, Emma tried to dissuade herself of any fears. Mary was bright and smiling, and so was Emma... right up until she heard Mary say Josiah was giving her his pistol.

"I ain't exactly giving it to you," Josiah told the girl, "I'm just letting you hold it while we hunt."

Emma shook her head emphatically. "Firearms don't belong in the hands of children."

Josiah opened his mouth to speak, but Emma interrupted him.

"I don't care what your pa let you get away with," said Emma, "my concern is with Mary. She's much too young for a loaded pistol."

Josiah slanted Emma an exasperated glance before planting himself at the table for breakfast. "I never said anything about it being loaded."

"But, I thought..." Emma sighed patiently. "I suppose I didn't give you much of a chance to explain, did I?"
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