PostScripts from Blessing

The official blog of author Lauraine Snelling and the fictional town of Blessing, North Dakota

12-23-1903 Week Three The Unexpected Gift

The Unexpected Gift
By Danae Hiltner
Week 3

The Unexpected Gift
By Danae Hiltner
Week: 3

The next morning, when Ella walked out to the barn, music from inside reached her ears. She found Steven in one of the empty horse stalls, playing his violin. The notes to O Christmas Tree rose with each graceful move of the bow. Steven's back was turned to her, so he didn't see her. Did he not hear her, either? The Christmas carol sounded beautiful, as if someone much older played the instrument.
Steven finished, letting the last note linger. His eyes widened when he turned and saw Ella standing in the doorway.
"Steven," Ella's voice was above a whisper. "That sounded magnificent."
Steven mumbled, "Thank you." He knelt and placed the violin in its case with hurried but gentle movements.
Ella then realized he hadn't wanted to be discovered. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right." Steven turned the little screw on the end of the bow to loosen it before he placed it in the case beside the violin. He shut the case and picked it up, rushing past Ella out the door, his boots thumping the hard-packed dirt.
"Steven! Wait!" Ella started to follow him then halted. She would only make him feel more uncomfortable if she asked questions. He has an amazing talent! Does he not want anyone to know of it? The question nagged her all the way back to the house.

They made the trip to church on Sunday and returned home afterwards, beating the blizzard. Ella helped Freja out of her coat. The little girl's eyes took up her entire face.
"I don't like the wind." She gave Ella a sad look.
"Neither do I, but it will go away soon. I'm sure." Ella smiled at the little girl. Freja wrapped her arms around Ella's neck and squeezed. Ella hugged her and patted her back. Dear Lord, please stop the wind! Freja doesn't like it and neither do I!
"My land, this is some nasty weather." Hanna shook her head. "Freja, want to help me bake more cookies?"
Freja smiled and nodded, forgetting her fear. She skipped down the hallway ahead of Hanna, singing O Tannebauam. Steven and Josef were in the living room, their coats hanging near the stove. She could hear them playing with Simeon; the dog's happy yips making them laugh.
Andor pushed the door open, the howling wind fighting to blow it closed again. Snow blew in with him. He slammed the door shut and the flurries dropped around his feet.
"Andor," Ella began unbuttoning his coat. "Heavens, but you were not out there for that long at all!"
"This weather's getting mighty nasty," Carl entered the room. "Need any help, son?"
"I know," Andor agreed. "I think I can manage. Are there any white spots on my face?"
Ella searched his face for white spots which indicated frostbite. "Nein, none."
"Thank you, Lord." Andor took off his hat, his fingers heavy like weights.
"You're frozen all the way through." Ella tugged his gloves off and rubbed his frozen hand between hers. "Come and get warm in the kitchen. Do you need help getting your boots off?"
"Nein," Andor said, shaking his head. "Hope I didn't loose any toes."
"Do your feet have feeling? Does anything hurt?"
"I'm feeling fine, Ella dear," Andor assured her. He reached up and touched his ear. His eyes widened.
"What?" Ella asked, feeling frantic.
"My ear doesn't have any feeling at all!"
"What? Are you sure?" Ella started to check it, but then Andor burst out laughing. She glared at him and squared her jaw. She crossed her arms. "You sir, are not funny."
"You should have seen your face. Why, I bet that…,"
"Thank you, Andor," Ella cut him off. She pointed down the hallway. "Take yourself and your frozen ear to the kitchen, if you please."
"As you wish," He chuckled, running his fingers through his blonde hair, bits of ice crumbling off. Ella couldn't repress her laughter.
"What'd you scream about? What's so funny?" Freja and Josef both asked, bursting into the room.
"Andor teased me about his ear being frozen," Ella explained, "and I believed him."
Steven burst out laughing, as did his brother and sister.
"Ella, I told you not to believe everything he told you," Hanna pretended to scold, shaking her finger at Ella.
"You should have seen her. She screamed so loud! I had her thinking I'd really lost my ear." Andor sipped his coffee after Hanna set it in front of him. Children's giggles met his comment. The look Ella shot him made him cough. "Hot coffee," he lied. His eyes twinkled.
"Like I'll believe that," Ella rolled her eyes. The children giggled again and took bites of their cookies in unison to prevent Ella from asking them questions.
"Did you really climb onto a chair? Were you that scared of a mouse?" Carl asked, his eyes shining like his son's.
Ella glanced at Andor and glared at him, rolling her eyes. She mumbled something into her coffee cup. Andor laughed again, shaking his head.

"Who's this?" Freja asked Ella that afternoon. The blizzard howled on outside, the whistling beginning to grate on Ella's nerves. She shivered. Lord, please calm the wind. She looked up from the letter she was trying to write to her mother. She couldn't concentrate on anything at all. If only the wind would stop blowing!
"Mrs. Bischoff?" Freja called again. Ella came out of her daydream. "What, dear?"
Freja held the picture of Abe in both her hands up. "Who's this?" Freja waited patiently, her eyes searching Ella's face.
Her throat went dry and an ache started in her heart, "That's my baby, Abraham." "Oh. The one you talk about sometimes?" Freja asked.
She means my prayers. Ella realized. She nodded.
"Is he with God, like my momma and papa?" Freja looked down at the picture, then up at Ella.
"Ja, he's with God," Ella nodded.
"He's with the angels like my parents," Freja said. "My momma will take care of him for you. And God will, too."
"Thank you, Freja." Ella gave a wobbly smile.
"Do you miss him? I miss Momma and Papa still, but then I remember God has them. Papa told me that God takes care of everyone."
"I…I miss him," Ella's voice shook. "But like you said, God has him now."
Freja nodded, staring down at the picture in her hands. "You don't have Abe and me'n my brothers don't have parents."
Ella reached out and patted Freja's shoulders. "But we're all together now and having a wonderful time."
"Just like Papa and Momma and Abe in heaven," Freja's solemn voice and serious face made Ella smile. "You're right."
Freja set the photograph down, climbed into Ella's lap and hugged her around the neck. "I love you."
Ella hugged Freja back, shutting her eyes tight as tears filled them. "I love you too, Freja. I'm so glad you and your brothers are with us."
"Me too," Freja squeezed tighter.
Dear Lord, thank you for sending this precious child to me. I needed to hear her tell me 'God has him'. Thank you, dear Father. You deserve to be praised. Thank you, thank, you. She opened her eyes and a tear ran down her cheek. What if I gave these children something special for Christmas?
Freja tugged Ella's handkerchief out of her sleeve. "I saw you pull it out, once." She held it up with a smile.
Ella laughed, hugging the little girl again, kissing her cheek. "Danke, Freja. You're a wonderful little angel."
"I'm an angel for God." Freja said happily.
"That's right." Ella agreed.

The wind howled on into the night.
Ella, on her knees beside Freja's trundle bed, stroked the wisps of hair off the little girl's forehead. Freja had been afraid again, so Ella had stayed with her. Now the child slept peacefully.
She stood, pulling her shawl tighter around herself. She checked on the boys.
"Ella?" The voice was Steven's.
"Yes?" Ella asked.
"I'm sorry I ran away when you found me playing my violin."
Ella smiled softly. "I'm sorry I startled you."
"That's all right," Steven fell silent. Then he spoke up, "My pa played and he taught me. After he died, I was almost too sad to play anymore," he explained. "But I played for Freja and Josef sometimes. It feels like Papa and Momma are alive when I do."
"Your violin playing is wonderful." Ella sank down on the edge of the bed. "Keep on playing your music, Steven."
"Did Abe like any songs?" Steven asked. "Freja told me about him."
"Abe liked any music," Ella smiled at a memory. "He used to dance whenever he heard any."
She could see Steven smile in the dark. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Steven turned over. "I'll play more music."
Ella stood up and padded quietly out the door. She rubbed her elbows with her hands, arms crossed. The wind screamed louder, shaking the house. Ella stopped and picked up the photograph of Abe before going to bed. "Go with God," she whispered, staring at the picture. Then she set it down and walked off to bed, while the shrieking wind caused fear to crawl up her spine.

Abe's cry woke her in the night. At least she thought it did but she couldn't tell. Ella opened her eyes, listening again for the sound. She stood up, stepped into her slippers and grabbed her shawl, moving as if she were in slow motion. Abe was crying. He needed her.
Ella left the bedroom, unaware of anything, walking slowly, looking for her son. Hearing the faint cry again, she followed the sound, a dark shadow slinking along with her down the hallway.