A Child's Christmas Wish(4)

By: Erica Vetsch



He motioned for Oscar to come over.

“Looks like the pastor wants you.” George sniffed again. “Rotten cold I’ve got. Passed it around the house like candy, we did. Every last kid sneezing and coughing and dripping. Not even the baby escaped.”

Oscar stepped back. The last thing he wanted was to pick up George’s cold and risk passing it on to Liesl.

Pastor Tipford motioned again.

“You better see vat he vants.” Per hitched up his pants. “I vill be going now. Nothing to do here anyway. The house is gone.” He went to his wagon, and climbed aboard. “Gute Nacht… I mean, good night.”

Oscar checked on Liesl once more, told the dog to stay and waited for Per’s wagon to roll past him and down the drive before heading toward Pastor Tipford and the Amakers. He braced himself for the sorrow in their eyes, tucking his hands into his coat pockets, taking a deep breath. Other people’s grief always made his own more acute.

“Ah, just the man we need.” Pastor Tipford clapped him on the shoulder, a hefty blow.

“Pastor.” He nodded. “Mr. Amaker, I’m sorry about your house. I wish we could have saved it.”

Martin Amaker looked at him, but he didn’t really seem to see. His eyes behind his spectacles were unfocused and blank.

Shock.

The elder Mrs. Amaker trembled, twisting her fingers in the fringe of her shawl. The knot on the kerchief under her chin wobbled. The pastor’s wife hugged her again, rubbing her arms as if trying to restore warmth.

But it was the younger Mrs. Amaker that drew Oscar’s attention. She stood a little apart, her face golden in the reflection of the lowering flames. Her eyes were wide, and she huddled into the coat that was too large for her. It looked like a man’s garment. Her dead husband’s perhaps?

They had that in common, he realized. The loss of a spouse. He could understand her desire to keep her husband’s memory close. She must really be missing him now.

God, you exact too high a price. What did she do to deserve this? First her husband and now her home? For that matter, what did I do to deserve to lose Gaelle? Or Liesl her mother?

“Oscar, the Amakers need a place to stay for the night.” Pastor Tipford spoke in his most “let’s all be reasonable” tone. “Your place would be perfect. You have the room, and you’re right next door, so tending to the chores tomorrow would be simpler for everyone.”

His place?

No.

He hadn’t offered hospitality in years. Not since…

Everyone looked at the pastor. “The Frankels are too crowded, and anyway, there’s been sickness there. And the parsonage is tiny,” he pointed out. “You can help out, can’t you, Oscar?”

Mrs. Tipford spoke up. “Of course he will. And I’m sure Liesl will love having some company.” She gave Mrs. Amaker another reassuring squeeze. “It’s all going to be all right, my dear. You can rebuild a house. We’re just thankful that no lives were lost. Now, it’s late, and it’s chilly, and there’s nothing more we can do here. Everything will look better in the morning.” She turned Mrs. Amaker toward the wagon, still whispering in her ear.

Without so much as a nod from him that it was all right. Women could be like that…tornadoes in petticoats, pushing the world around to suit themselves, and in such a nice way that men hardly protested.

But Oscar was going to protest. His home wasn’t open for visitors, even for a night. There had to be another option, something that didn’t involve strangers invading his peace.

“Come along, Kate,” Mrs. Tipford called over her shoulder. “You shouldn’t be out in this night air any longer.”

Kate. So that was young Mrs. Amaker’s name. Pretty name.

She reached up with both hands to tuck stray tendrils of hair off her face and her coat fell open.

Oscar felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.

She was pregnant.

He turned away, but the image was seared on his brain, and he was jerked right back to the center of his own grief. He’d lost his wife in childbirth two years ago come this Christmas. Having a woman in the family way around his house, even for one night, was going to rip open all the old wounds.

Also By Erica Vetsch

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