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Mary was already awake, quietly eating buffalo jerky before the warm fire. She stared at Josiah as he climbed from bed, and he felt her dark eyes track him across the room as he went to fetch some breakfast of his own.

Without being asked, Mary moved over so Josiah could sit down beside her. It was warmer in front of the fireplace than at the table, and since Emma wasn't awake to insist on proper etiquette, the two ate cross-legged on a buffalo hide.

Wearily, Josiah rubbed the back of his neck as his jaw worked the tough meat in his mouth. He felt drained.

"You found no buffalo?" asked Mary, munching another bite of jerky.

Josiah glanced at the child, and decided to answer. "No, they're long gone by now."

"Will you get another Hawken?" she asked.

"I reckon not."

"I can read," she smiled proudly. "I can read all the way to the letter 'Z.'"

Josiah grunted.

"Can you read?" asked Mary.

Indistinctly mumbling something unfit for a child's ears, Josiah stared at Mary. "You ask a lot of questions."

Mary grinned happily. "I know."

The sound of Emma slowly awakening caught Josiah's attention, and he didn't hear Mary's next question. He quietly waited, wondering if Emma would be satisfied with the story he had given last night.

Josiah felt a tug on his sleeve. "What?" he asked the child, not moving his eyes from Emma.

"Will you go hunting soon?" asked Mary.

"I reckon."


"When I've the mind to."

"But, when?" asked Mary.

Groaning, Josiah turned to glare at Mary. "Why are you wanting to know?"

In spite of shrinking back, Mary's expression remained unmoved. "I want to come with you."

Josiah harrumphed. "That ain't likely."

"I can help," said Mary. "I can shoot. I can help you."
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