A Child's Christmas Wish(5)

By: Erica Vetsch



He couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. Pastor Tipford would have to find someone else.

A hand touched his arm. He looked down into Kate Amaker’s face. Her cheeks were gently rounded and looked so soft. How long had it been since he’d stood this close to a woman? Oscar sucked in a breath and smelled lavender mixed with wood smoke.

“Thank you.” She bit her lip for a moment, her eyes looking suspiciously moist.

His muscles tensed. He hated to see any woman cry, even Liesl. It made him feel so helpless.

“It’s kind of you to put us up. I don’t know what we would do, where else we would go.” She blinked hard, lifting her chin, her shoulders rising and falling as she breathed rapidly, staring at the glowing embers. “I…it’s just…gone.” Her pretty eyes met his once more.

And just like that, Oscar had houseguests.





CHAPTER TWO

Everything…gone. Kate could hardly wrap her mind around the fact. Her clothes reeked of smoke, and if she closed her eyes, she could still see the merciless flames, the showers of skyward-rushing sparks, hear the crackle and roar. It was so hard to believe.

Away from the fire, the night was black and cold, the moon barely a sliver and the stars remote. The wagon rattled up the drive toward Oscar Rabb’s house, and Kate kept her arm around Grossmutter. Neither had said a word since climbing onto the high seat. What was there to say? Words weren’t enough to describe her sense of loss.

Oscar’s house sat atop a small hill, facing south. Two-storied, white clapboard, with lots of windows. A porch stretched along the front. The overall design was more compact and less flamboyant than the house Johann had built, but the porch was similar. How many evenings had Kate and Grossmutter sat on the porch shelling peas, snapping beans, while Grossvater and Johann had sat on the steps, talking over the day’s work, planning for the future? A hard lump formed in Kate’s throat.

Oscar Rabb’s house, porch notwithstanding, looked dark and forbidding with not a single light shining from any of the windows.

Ahead of them, Oscar drove his wagon down the slope behind the house toward his barn. Kate knew Oscar hadn’t wanted to offer hospitality, that he’d been on the verge of refusing, but he had been too well-mannered. And Mrs. Tipford had practically coerced him into it. Well, they didn’t want to have to accept hospitality, either, but what else was there? Pastor Tipford had been right. Oscar’s place was the logical, if reluctantly given, choice.

Grossvater directed the horses, Schwarz und Grau—Black and Gray—after Oscar’s wagon, drawing up in front of the immense red barn with its gambrel roof and sliding doors.

A large dog leaped from the bed of Oscar’s wagon, his tail a bushy plume and his breast glowing white in the darkness. Every bone ached as Kate forced herself to stand and climb down over the wagon wheel. The dog came over, friendly and sniffing, nudging her hand with his broad head for a pat.

“Rolf, come.” Oscar snapped his fingers, and the big dog bounded to his side. “He can be a nuisance sometimes.”

Kate and Grossmutter stood out of the way as the horses were unhitched and turned out into a small pen. Oscar forked some hay over the fence and then went to his wagon. He scooped up a blanket-wrapped bundle, holding it to his shoulder. Kate spied small, stocking-clad feet peeping from under the hem of the blanket.

This must be Oscar’s daughter. Liesl, wasn’t it? Kate’s mind was so muddled she hadn’t even thought to wonder where the child had been during the fire.

“This way.” Oscar led the way up the curved path to the back of the house. “Watch your step.”

“You go ahead. I’ll follow.” Kate let Grossvater take Grossmutter’s arm and fell in behind them, lifting her skirt and the hem of Johann’s heavy coat, weary beyond words. All she wanted was a quiet, warm bed, some place to curl up and sleep…to forget what had happened for a while.

They gained the porch, and Oscar held the door open. “I’ll light a lamp.”

He laid his daughter down on a bench beside the door and rattled the matchbox on the wall. A scritch, and light flared, illuminating his face. He touched the match to the wick of a glass kerosene lamp on the table and replaced the chimney. Light hovered around the table and picked out objects around the edges of the large room.

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