PostScripts from Blessing

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

12-5-1903 Week One The Unexpected Gift

The Unexpected Gift
By Danae Hiltner

Week One

Ella Bischoff and her husband, Andor, descended the snow-covered front steps of the Blessing General Store and crossed to their wagon at the hitching post. The horse nodded his head, his breath rising in a cloud in the cold air.
"Let's hurry home or your mother will be worried," Ella said as Andor grasped her arm and assisted her up the wagon wheel. She sat, settling her skirts around her ankles, tucking a strand of dark golden blond hair back under her shawl hood.
Andor chuckled. "Right you are. Mutti is always taking care of someone. Like an angel she is." He sat down and took the reins.
He'd backed up the horse just as the train whistled into the depot. Ella shaded her blue eyes from the bright sun and stared in the direction. The train shushed to a halt, smoke billowing.
"Is the train early?" Ella asked.
"I think so," Andor rested his boot on the dashboard. He clicked his tongue and gave the leather reins a flick. The horse broke into a jog, bit jangling.
The long trail of boxcars blocked the wooden crossing. "Whoa." Andor pulled back on the reins, stopping the horse again, earning a snort from the animal. "Hope the train isn't stopped for too long."
Ella nodded her agreement, tugging her knitted wool shawl farther over her forehead. She glanced past Andor down at the wooden platform. She watched as a few people stepped off the train and were greeted, and handshakes and hugs of welcome were exchanged. "Welcome, Merry Christmas!"
Will Andor and I have a merry Christmas? A heavy-sounding noise caught her attention. Ella turned to the left, noticing the door to one of the boxcars slowly opening.
"Andor," Ella touched his arm, pointing. He followed her gaze. The young couple watched the door's movement diminish, wondering how it moved.

"How did…?" Ella's voice trailed off as a young boy scooted to the edge of the boxcar and leaped to the ground. He got up and turned to help a smaller boy and girl down, one after the other. All of them wore ragged, torn clothing. The smaller two clutched belongings in their arms. His arms around them, the oldest boy led his siblings off. They dashed behind a building out of sight as if afraid to be seen.
"Andor, we've got to help them!" Ella turned to her husband. "They must be homeless."
"Ja, let's find them," Andor drove the horse up to a lone hitching post. He leaped down, tied the horse then walked around and lifted his wife down. He took her hand and both hurried off, following the shoe prints in the dirty snow. How had the three children gotten away so fast?
"Hello? Is anyone here?" Ella called.
No response.
"Here, they turned here," Andor led the way. Rounding a corner, they came to a halt at the sight. The three children sat huddled against the wall of the abandoned building. The oldest boy leaped to his feet with a growl and attacked Andor.
"You get away from us! You keep away!" he shouted in German, beating his mittened fists against Andor's chest. Long locks of blonde hair fell over his blue eyes from beneath the droopy bill of his torn black cap.
"Wait son, whoa!" Andor, startled, grabbed both of the boy's forearms.
"Let go!" the boy jerked and tried to yank free.
"Hold on, son. I'm not going to hurt you." Andor's voice softened as he reverted to German, his first language. "Please, I only want to talk to you." He straightened his crooked fedora over his blonde hair
Ella glanced at the other two children huddling deeper into their oversized coats in fear. She moved over and knelt down beside them. "Hello." She smiled gently, hoping to reassure them.
Two pairs of wide blue eyes stared up at her through locks of light blonde hair. Ella glanced up at Andor, who held the now-calm boy.

"Who are you? Why are you and your brother and sister alone?" Andor asked.
"I'm not going to tell you anything!" The boy glared up at Andor. "Now let me go!"
"Don't you have parents?" Andor asked. "Please, we want to help you."
The boy studied Andor carefully before answering a few moments later, "No, our parents are dead."
Ella's heart knotted in sympathy. Dead! Their parents are dead…like Abe. She waited for the boy to go on.
"Where are you from?" Andor asked.
"Eastern Minnesota," said the boy. "Now can you let me go? Please don't put us in any orphanage! We want to stay together."
"We won't send you anywhere," Andor knelt down on one knee so he and the boy were eye to eye. "My wife and I want to help you."
"We'll take you home with us," Ella smiled at the boy. "How does that sound?"
The boy studied her. He looked back at Andor, a guarded look in his eyes. "Home? With you?"
"We going with you?" the little boy nestled beside the girl sat up.
"Ja," Ella smiled at him. He smiled shyly. The little girl shoved her boy's cap back up out of her face. "Are you my mutti now?"
Ella's throat tightened.
"Freja," the oldest boy scolded. "Sorry." He gave a sheepish look.
Andor patted the boy's shoulder. "Come on home with us. So your sister is Freja, what are your names?" Andor asked the boys.
"I'm Josef," the little boy waved his hand, a tiny grin on his face. "Freja an' I are twins."
"Steven," the older boy stared down at his shoes. "Steven Edelmann."
"Good to meet you all. I'm Andor Bischoff, and my wife is Ella." Andor motioned to Ella, who smiled.
"That's a pretty name." Freja stood up and walked to Ella, wrapping her little arms around her neck. "Will you carry me?"
"Yes dear," Ella smiled at the little girl. I-I haven't held a child in over a year! "Are those your things?" Ella asked. A carpet bag and a violin case rested on the snowy ground beside Josef.
"Uh-huh. They're our parent's things mostly." Josef explained.
"Here, I'll carry them for you," Andor offered.
Steven reached down and grabbed up the violin case, clutching it tightly. "Danke," he mumbled. Andor picked up the carpet bag. "You're welcome."
Why is Steven so protective of the violin case? Ella thought. She lifted Freja into the wagon bed. She could feel layers of clothing under Freja's coat. Amazing the little girl could walk at all. "There's a robe there for you all to cover yourselves with."
"Okay," Steven unfolded it. Josef clapped his hands and Freja giggled, both tugging the robe over their heads.
"Can you see us?" Josef called.
"Why, they've all disappeared!" Andor acted shocked. Josef and Freja giggled.

"Come in, come in," Hanna, Ella's mother-in-law ushered them. The two Edelmann boys entered, hesitant. Andor carried Freja, the look on her face matching the faces of her brothers.
"Oh, you poor dears! Come and warm yourselves by the fire." Hanna looked up at her son. "Where did you find these children?"
"They got off the train," Andor replied, setting Freja down in a chair. Ella knelt by the girl's seat and began unbuttoning her coat. "Here, let me help you."
"I'll go put the horse away." Andor went out the door again. Ella draped all of Freja's coats and sweaters near the stove with the boy's. The three held their hands out to the heat of the stove, eyes glowing as brightly as the embers, gazes locked on the stove.
The little things we take for granted. Ah, dear God, help these poor children. She studied the ragged coats. I could mend their clothing but Hanna must have hand-me-downs somewhere.
She listened to Hanna speaking to the three silent children, her German words soothing Ella's tight nerves. Am I her mother? What made Freja ask such a question?
Hanna set plates of bread and cheese before the silent little trio. Their murmured "Danke" made Ella wonder if they were shy. She saw Steven make sure Josef and Freja were okay before he relaxed. All of them nibbled mouse-sized bites.
Are they afraid or unsure of how to act? How long have their parents been gone? They behaved well and had good manners. So perhaps not too long ago?
Andor entered the kitchen again, carrying an armload of wood. A black-and-white dog trotted in, his feathery white-tipped tail wagging.
"A dog" Freja exclaimed, delighted. "What's his name?"
"Simeon," Andor ruffled the dog's ears. "He herds the sheep and cows."
"I always wanted a dog!" Josef smiled as Simeon nosed his arm. Ella stood, ignoring the pain that sliced her heart. Abe loved playing with Simeon, too.
Freja smiled at her, the little girl's sunny smile making Ella's heart glow. How she'd missed children being around
Such sweet children. Perhaps we can do something special for them. Christmas is coming, after all….

Watch for Part 2