A Child's Christmas Wish(6)

By: Erica Vetsch

He’d brought them into the kitchen rather than through the front door, but the room seemed to have a dual purpose, one end for cooking and eating, while the other, through open pocket doors, appeared to be the sitting room. Chairs and a settee grouped around a massive fireplace. In the kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture filled the room—a sideboard, a bench, a table and chairs, all decorated with intricate carving. Oscar Rabb must be better off than most of the farmers around Berne if he could afford such fine furnishings.

The dog’s nails clicked on the hardwood floor as he went to his water dish, lapping noisily and scattering droplets when he raised his head.

Upon closer inspection, the large room was…rather untidy. Not filthy, but definitely cluttered. Boots and shoes were piled by the door, and it appeared someone had taken apart some harness on the table. Straps and buckles and bits lay everywhere. At least there weren’t dirty dishes, but Kate could tell it had been a long time since the room had received a thorough scrubbing.

Battered children’s books and blocks lay on the rug in front of the settee, a rocking horse stood in one corner and what looked like a pinafore hung from his ear. A stack of newspapers stood beside a large wooden rocker. Was that where Oscar sat each night, reading while Liesl played? She categorized what she saw without really caring, observing only, too tired to do much else.

Oscar shifted his weight, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Bedrooms are upstairs. I can carry some water up for you as soon as I get Liesl settled. I imagine you want to wash some of the smoke off.”

Kate wrinkled her nose. Her coat—Johann’s coat—reeked of the fire, and she knew her hair did, too. She’d love a hot bath, but she’d settle for a cold basin of water and a bit of soap.

Their host shucked his black, wool coat and tossed it over the back of a chair. He lifted his daughter into his arms, cradling her head against his chest. Kate spied glossy, dark hair, and rounded, sleep-flushed cheeks. Long lashes, limp hands, a pale nightgown. Her heart constricted. There was something so sweet about a sleeping child, especially one held in a parent’s embrace. Her hand went to her own baby, sleeping there under her heart.

“If you’ll get the lamp?” Oscar looked at Kate and inclined his head.

She lifted the glass lamp and followed him toward the staircase. Grossmutter and Grossvater followed behind. At the top of the stairs, a hallway bisected the house. Four doors, evenly spaced, two on each side of the carpeted runner, and a window let a small amount of light in at the far end.

“You can sleep in here. And the older folks across the hall. Liesl’s room is next to yours, and mine’s across from hers.” Oscar opened the first door on the right. A stale, closed-up smell rolled out. Starlight hovered near the windows, and the lamp lit only half the room as she stepped inside. The bare mattress on the bedstead had been rolled up and tied, and a sheet draped over what looked to be a chair. “There’s sheets in the bureau. Sorry the bed isn’t made.”

He really hadn’t been expecting company. Kate pushed a stray lock of hair off her forehead, forcing down a weary sigh. “It’s fine. We’ll take care of things.” She set the lamp on the bureau, found another lamp there and lit it for her in-laws. “Get your daughter settled back into bed. We’re sorry to inconvenience you like this.” She was barely hanging on, willing herself not to cry. How soon could she be alone?

Grossvater took the second lamp. “Come, Inge. We will get some rest. As Mrs. Tipford said, perhaps things will look better in the morning. Thank you, Oscar, for a place to stay tonight.” He put his arm around his wife and led her across the hall.

Oscar stood in the doorway, frowning. He lifted Liesl a bit higher in his arms, appeared about to say something and then shrugged. Finally, he turned away. “I’ll be back with that water.”

Kate left her coat on. She was chilly, though she wasn’t sure if it was because the house was cold or from shock.

The rope binding the mattress roll was rough on her hands, but the knots came loose easily enough. With a couple of tugs, the feather-tick flopped open. She nudged it square on the bed frame. Searching the bureau—another hand-carved beauty—she found a set of sheets and a pair of pillows in the deep drawers.

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