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Authors: Jeanette Gilge

A Winter's Promise

BOOK: A Winter's Promise
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ONE
The Homestead in Winter

 

The
wind howled around the corner
of
the cabin,
sending a shiver down Emma

s back and
out
to her
very
fingertips. She stretched
to light the
kerosene
lamp high on the bracket, against the log wall.


Must be ten below,

she
muttered
as she pulled on
her heavy woolen coat and
beckoned
to
little Al
bert. He shuffled toward
her,
intent on fastening
two clothespins together.


You watch baby George,

she whispered,

and
don

t let Fred climb on
anything,
and
keep Ellie out
of the water pail.

She bent closer.

Take good care
of them and Saturday, when Papa comes home, I

ll
tell him what a big boy you are.


Is
Saturday
after I sleep?


No. This is Thursday. Two more sleeps and it

s
Saturday.

Albert grinned.

And Papa comes home!

She hugged him.

That

s right! Now you watch
the little ones real good,
and
I

ll be back in a little while.

Casting a furtive glance at three-year-old Fred
and
Ellie, seventeen months, who
were
wrestling
like two puppies under the table, Emma tied her
kopf tuch
snug, picked u
p the l
a
ntern, and slipped out the door. Baby George, three months old, had just finished nursing.
He

d sleep —unless Ellie rocked the cradle
too hard.

Emma didn

t mind doing chores while Al was away
working all week in the
lumber camp. The barn with its
warm-animal smells was a welcome change from the
dark cabin, though it, too, was dark. But it was leaving
the three little one

s in five-year-old Albert

s care three
times a day
that
knotted her stomach.

The taunting wind tore at her coat
as
Emma slogged
toward the barn. It wrenched the door out of her hands
as
soon a
s she unlatched it. She tugged
the door shut be
hind
her, her heart thumping, and
groped for the
lantern in the
dusk. She lit it and hung it on a nail covered
with sparkling frost crystal
s.

Another time she would
have
taken
a moment to admire the diamond
crusting
adorning every nail, bolt, and hinge, but not tonight.
S
he hurried to give the noisy chickens their steaming
hot water, it, would be cold in seconds and frozen before
they could finish drinking it,
Poor things, with their
frostbitten combs,
Emma thought.
They

re as
tired of
winter as I am,
and it

s only the
first week
of February,
She grunted as she d
ragged a pitchfork full of hay
to
ward the ox.

For a moment Emma wished they were living in
town again, so Al could be home every night, and she
wo
uldn

t have to leave the little
ones alone like this.
But only for
a moment. She hadn

t forgotten what liv
ing in town had done to Al.

In the early days of their marriage,
on
their little
no
rthern Wisconsin homestead, Al had
always been full
of bright-eyed banter, no matter
how
hard he worked.
After they moved to Phillips

temporarily,
in hopes of
saving enough money for taxes and
a team of horses for
the
farm it was as though the day

s
work
spared
him
barely enough energ
y to drag himself home, dull-eyed and sullen. And month after month, the cost of necessities ate up all but a few crumbs of his wages.

Now, as she dragged hay to the cows, Emma
remembered
the
February day a year ago when Al had sat
scribbling
on a sheet of
figures.

He had thrown his stub of a pencil across the table
and asked,

Emma? What say we move back home?

She didn

t
rememb
er what she had answered, she

d
been so t
aken by surprise, but they had talked way past
their u
sual bedtime and decided that, if they were going
to
move back, they should
do it in the spring.
All t
hat
next day, pictures had flashe
d through her mind

s
eye.
She could see the little o
nes hunting across the slope of
the field toward the cedar swamp, the curve of the river
below the ho
use, blue-green cabbage leaves
with rain
drops dancing on
,
them, dew-covered grass sparkling in
th
e morning sun.

That day she had ad
mitted to herself how much she
despised the clatter of he
avy boots on the board sidewalk
close to
the front window, the dust that rolled up from
the alley and settled on her, nice, clean wash each time a
buggy went by, the constant scolding of the gravel—
voiced woman to the east and the whining of the one to
the west. And worst
of all, the constant, fear that one of
the little ones would get out of the fenced-in yard and
into the busy street.

The more she thought about
the
homestead, the
more she wanted to go back. Were the forget-me-nots
still there under the south window and the Wind Lake,
roses still alive? In town t
here was little she could do to
help Al, except care for the house and children and tend
a tiny garden in summer. On the farm she could do
much more.

She would miss
going
to church, of course. She

d
miss being with people who loved the Lord, and she

d
certainly miss the singing, but most
of all she

d
miss
having the pastor

s words to think about during the
week. But Al said he planned to get the neighbours together and see about finding a pastor to come
—maybe only
once a month at first. She

d keep praying,
and
one day they

d have their own little church.

0h, and it would be good to
be near her
father and
mothe
r and Winnie
and Walter and Dick

and the
Ge
bers. Mrs.
Geber
had helped deliver Albert and Fred, but
Ellie
had been born in town. The doctor who had
delivered
her had
been i
n
a hurry, because he had another
w
oman in labor on the other end of town. He

d been
impatient
to
say the least. It would be good
to have Mrs.
Geber

s
help with the next one.
Emma had been ready to start packing immediately
until she
happened
to glance across the street and
see
the Riley children cavorting in the snow.

Wha
t
Will
I
do without Mrs. Riley?

she had said right out loud.

When Fred fell downstairs and cut his chin, when Al
got a
sliver under his thumbnail, when Ellie, cried so
hard she turned blue, and goodness knows how many
other times, Emma had called for Kate Riley. Each time,
Kate’
s light-hearted wisdom had set Emma

s world
straight again. And it wasn

t just in times of crisis.
Emma couldn

t count the times the two women had
run across that street to share some comical or touching
incident as well.

Remember
i
n
g, Emma leaned on the pitchfork a mo
ment. What she would give to hear Kate Riley

s laugh
right now, and to see that warm glow of approval in her
eyes. She cou
ld picture Kate as
she looked
when Emma
told her they were moving
back to the homestead, the
light from the kitchen window catching the coils
of her
red hair.


Sure

n

I

ll be

m
issin
you, girl. But

tis back with
the trees

n

the river you should
be,

she had said, all
the w
hile, tucking stray locks of Em
ma

s hair, into her
pug as
though
Emma were one
,
of her daughters. Emma
had wanted to bury her hea
d in
Kate

s shoulder and sob
but, seeing
three p
airs
of little
e
yes needing
assurance,
she had mustered
a smile instead and filled the: teapo
t.


What

s the matter with me!

Emma scolded
herself.

Here I stand daydreaming while the little ones are
alone!

She hurried back for
another load
of hay.

But
again, as she dragged more hay to the cows,
her mind
slipped back. It
was just such times as these winter days
that Al had warned her about that night over
the bl
ue, checked oilcloth. They simply
had to have
some
money
,
so he would have to work in the lumber camp in win
ter. It would mean he

d be gon
e all
week, every week
and
she would have to do the milking and take care
of
the
livestock.

BOOK: A Winter's Promise
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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