She jumped at the sound of Hansel stomping his heavy boots on the porch and she turned just as he opened the front door. He stepped in and quickly closed the door behind him, hoping to keep the cold air out and the warm air of the fire in. Gretel carefully folded her afghan and placed it in the basket. Rising from her chair she saw that Hansel’s mood hadn’t improved. Now in addition to an uncharacteristic frown, his nose and ears were bright pink and his eyes looked sad and heavy.
“Ol’ Man Miller passed away last night. I just talked to James, his son. He was headed to Pastor Willem’s place and he stopped to tell me.”
Gretel felt a wave of sadness and guilt wash over her. Sadness for the Miller family’s loss and guilt for suspecting Hansel of some clandestine meeting.
“I’m sorry, Hansel. It seems to me that he’s been around forever. How old was he, do you know?”
“Ohh ... I think he was going on eighty. Or maybe he just look that way. All those hard years of cutting wood, working out of doors. I know that he was a wood cutter long before Father. In fact, I think Father worked with him as a young man, a bit like an apprentice, perhaps.”
“I didn’t know that. I guess that’s why Father always had a fondness for the Miller family. That makes sense to me now.”
“Yes. I imagine that it will be a blow to hear he’s passed.”
Gretel paused a moment before speaking. It was still a challenge to talk about her father and this added grief brought with it an unfamiliar wave of compassion for him. She felt the iciness of her heart thaw and her shoulders relaxed. “Maybe you should be the one to tell Father. I’ve already made up a small package for him.” She pointed to the table where the bundle sat. “You can head out after breakfast. You need get to warmed up a bit first.”
For the first time that morning, Hansel smiled. He settled himself in his chair at the kitchen table and took the steaming mug of hot tea that Gretel offered him. She pulled the warmed biscuits out of the oven and brother and sister sat down to eat. Both felt curious about this change in Gretel. And both hoped that their father was warm and well-fed in his cottage on the other side of the forest.