A Child's Christmas Wish(7)

By: Erica Vetsch



Across the hall, she heard some rustling and bumping. Peeking through her door, she saw Grossvater spreading a sheet across a wide bed while Grossmutter slid a pillow into a case. They were speaking to each other in German, soft, gentle tones. Kate smiled as Grossvater called his wife “liebchen.” There was so much love and affection in his tone it made Kate’s heart hurt. In spite of all they had lost, they still had each other.

Boots sounded in the hall, and Kate returned to making up her bed. She had just finished spreading the top sheet smooth when there was a tap at her open door.

“I brought you some blankets.” Oscar stood in the doorway, a bucket dangling from one arm, the other full of quilts.

“Thank you.” She came to take them, careful not to touch him. The sharp tang of cedar drifted up. The blankets had been in a chest somewhere. “I’ll share them across the hall.”

Coming back from leaving more than half the blankets with her in-laws, she found Oscar flinging open a patchwork quilt over the bed. He’d poured water into the pitcher on the washstand, and he’d raised the wick on the lamp.

He drew the covering sheet off the chair, setting the rocker in motion as he wadded the muslin up. Standing there in the glow of the lamp, he waited, watching her.

What did he want? She drew her coat around herself. “Thank you. I hope we won’t be too much of a bother. I’m sure we’ll get something sorted out tomorrow.” Though what, she couldn’t imagine right now. “We’ll need to be up early to tend the cows. If you wouldn’t mind knocking on my door when you wake up?”

He nodded. “I’ll say good night, then.” He crossed the room and closed the door behind himself.

Kate opened her coat and let the heavy garment slip down her arms. Laying it over the rocker, she reached up and began unpinning her long, brown hair. It tumbled in waves about her shoulders. She had no brush, so she finger-combed the locks, separating them into strands and forming them into a less-than-elegant braid. Pouring water from the pitcher into the basin, her lips trembled. The water was warm. He must’ve drawn it from the reservoir on the stove. That was thoughtful of him.

Looking into the mirror, she grimaced. Soot streaked her cheeks, and her eyes were red from smoke and unshed tears. She looked as if she’d been dragged through a knothole backward. What a sight.

Dipping the corner of a towel into the water, she scrubbed at her hands and face and neck. Patting herself dry, she considered her options for the night. No nightgown. Only a smoky dress with a let-out waist. Wrinkling her nose, she shed her dress and decided to sleep in her chemise and petticoat. She hurried to spread her clothing out over the footboard of the bed, hoping they would air overnight.

After all, they were the only clothing items she owned now.

Sliding under the covers, she curled up, wrapping her arms around her unborn baby. Loneliness swept over her, loss and sorrow crashing into her chest. She reached for the second pillow, burying her face in the feathery softness, letting the tears she’d been holding back flow.

The baby rolled and kicked, bumping against her hand, warm and safe in her belly. Which was just as well, since she had no home for him or her at the moment.

* * *

Oscar closed the damper on the stove, checking that the fire was well-banked and letting Rolf out for one last run before he climbed the stairs to his bedroom. The clock on the mantel said it was already tomorrow, and he needed to be up early. Familiar with his house in the dark, he didn’t bother with a lamp.

His boots sounded loud on the stairs, and he wished he had remembered to take them off in the kitchen. Liesl, once asleep, could slumber through a brass band marching through her bedroom, but his houseguests probably didn’t sleep that soundly.

Light snoring came from the old couple’s room. He was glad someone was getting some rest. They were in the room his wife had reserved for her parents when they came down to visit from Saint Paul. Those infrequent visits had always made Oscar uncomfortable. His in-laws had wanted their daughter to marry someone from town, a doctor or banker or lawyer, someone who could provide an easy life for her in the city in which she was born. But she had married him instead, a farmer and woodworker. It had been on one of his trips to the city to deliver his hand-carved furniture that he’d met Gaelle. One look and he’d been a goner. Three happy years of marriage, one daughter and a baby on the way…and now nearly two years of emptiness…except for Liesl. If he hadn’t had that little girl to look after, he didn’t know what he would’ve done.

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