The next three weeks passed in a blur. Hansel divided his time between Gretel and Father, chopping wood for their fireplace and caring for Bree and then setting off through the forest to keep their father resting and healing. He tread an enduring path between the cottages. Before long, however, Gretel could see the weariness in her brother’s movements. He couldn’t continue laboring in this same way for much longer.
Hansel sat in his seat before the fire. His snow-covered boots sat on the hearth, a small puddle forming about the tread. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees with his chapped and chilled hands stretched out toward the warmth. Gretel draped a blanket across his shoulders and returned to the kitchen for the steaming mug of cocoa she had prepared for him.
“Thank you,” Hansel murmured, blowing on his mug before cautiously taking a sip. He winced and set it aside to let it cool. “Father is well. Doc Jameson stopped for a visit this afternoon, just before I set off for home. He said the break is mending, but Father still can’t put any weight on his leg. It’ll be a few more weeks before he can get about on his own. But he’ll still have to be careful - no outside labors and caution on the slick snow, of course. I imagine he’ll be needing help, at least until the spring thaw. Perhaps even longer.” He rubbed his hands together and reached for his mug.
“What a gift you have given him, Hansel. Your help and your care is priceless. Thank you for serving him. I wish ...” She let her words hang in the gathering darkness of the evening. Previous nights and tear-filled conversations still echoed in the cottage. As much as she tried to muster up her courage to see her father, Gretel was unable. Upon each of Hansel’s returns, she enjoyed listening as he shared about the men’s time together and she would feel a building desire to see her father. But every morning as Hansel packed his sack for the trek through the forest, Gretel would weaken, falter. All commitment to join him fled. In vain, Hansel had tried to convince Gretel that in time there would be reconciliation., but she lacked her brother’s certainty.
Hansel, seeing his sister’s sadness, reached across the space between them and patted her knee. “It’ll come, it’ll come. Someday you’ll join me.” Leaning back in his chair, he began to recount his recent visit. “I saw a flock of geese overhead this afternoon. They were headed back north. Maybe spring will be upon us soon. I also noticed that about midday, some of the snow was melting from Father’s roof. Of course, now those drops have probably frozen into icicles, but there is a sign of a thaw coming. I’m eager for some warmth and to see the forest green again.”
Gretel felt her nerves settle as she listened to Hansel. She leaned back in her chair, a peaceful contentment to have Hansel home and to have the breech in their friendship mended. Much to Hansel’s credit, of course. Gretel, however, had made an effort to soften her attitudes and words regarding their father. While she still held Father at a distance physically, she welcomed stories about him. And on comforting evenings like tonight, she could almost pretend that she held him no ill will and that maybe next week she would visit him. Almost, but not quite.
“Here. I almost forgot.” Hansel slipped his hand into the deep pocket of his cloak, “Father wanted me to give you this.” He opened his hand. Laying in the palm of his hand was a wooden squirrel.
“Oh, my! Look that little fellow!” Gretel plucked him out of Hansel’s hand to inspect his mischievous look. “He looks as if he might just scamper across the room!” She couldn’t help but smile at his beady eyes, and curved fluffy tail. “It truly is a marvel that Father can carve such marvelous creations!” Standing, she walked to the mantel and added the squirrel to the menagerie on display. Each visit, Hansel ferried home another critter for his sister, his most recent gift being a robin.
“Come to the table, and let me serve you some stew, Hansel. I’m sure it will help you to thaw out completely.” Gretel set about ladling out a hearty meal into heavy bowls. She tore off a hunk of bread for each of them and fetched the crock of butter from the icebox on the front porch. Sitting at her seat across from Hansel, she watched her brother dig into his dinner. She smiled again, grateful for the harmony in their home.
Hansel swallowed his bite of bread and looked up at his sister. His eyes locked on hers. “He’s sorry, you know. He suffers in the same way that you do. Perhaps worse. But he is sorry and he wants nothing more than to see you. To welcome you home.” Gretel stared back at her brother and nodded silently. “It doesn’t mean we forget how we were wronged, but we do have the choice to forgive and let the past live in the past. You invite your future to be better, fuller, richer. That’s what I want for both of you. More than anything.”
“I know. I just ... I still feel ...” Gretel stuttered and twisted the napkin in her lap, she sighed. “I’ll try. That’s all I can promise you. I’ll try to forgive him.” She smiled shyly, “‘Planting a seed of forgiveness, ...’ ”
“‘... reaping a harvest of love,’” Hansel smiled and returned to his stew, and shared another story from his visit with their father.