The wood pile had dwindled to a dozen or so scattered sticks. Elizabeth wanted to cry but she knew the tears would freeze on her cheeks, only adding to her misery. She scraped her icy scarf from her face where the wind had plastered it, and gathered the reminder of her fuel in her arms.
Daniel hunched his collar up closer around his ears. He was grateful for the fur lining, and for Beth, who had insisted on sewing it in before he set out for town to do some bartering yesterday morning. That dad-blamed snowstorm came out of nowhere and it had kept him there overnight and most of today. Assuredly she'd be worrying about him, but he was near frantic for her.
Two lonely pieces of wood remained on the stone hearth. Elizabeth shivered as a frigid gust sifted between the logs of the cabin wall, and she reluctantly poked the smaller of the two sticks into the embers of the dying fire. A few puffs of breath resurrected a flame.
Daniel's voice whispered through her thoughts.
"Darlin, it must be your warm heart."
Elizabeth tilted her head, and firelight danced in her golden tresses. "What is, my love?"
"I'm heated through already and you've only lit the fire."
She pounced on her husband, and he caught her in a hug. They nestled on the rug in front of the fire and watched the flames lick, then devour the logs as through the window the moon rose over the horizon.
Elizabeth settled into the rocker she'd pulled up closer to the fireplace and wrapped her cloak more tightly around her shoulders. As she fingered the soft red wool, she warbled the opening lines of "Oh Tannenbaum". She no longer fought the tears, but welcomed their warm caress on her windburned cheeks.
No Christmas tree graced the forlorn cabin. Beth had strung red berries on threads, and the colorful garlands were the only sign of the season. Worse yet, it didn't appear that her husband would make it home for their first Christmas together. Daniel, where are you? Lord, are you keep him safe and warm?
Daniel lay his load on the ground and rubbed his mittened hands together, hoping to generate some warmth. At the top of the snow-covered hill ahead of him, he could see a wisp of smoke curl out of the chimney of the cabin perched there, and his racing heart spread a warming flush to his cheeks. Ah, my Beth. Praise the Lord. I'm comin' Darlin. I'm comin'. He patted his coat, checking the safety of the parcels tucked inside.
Elizabeth crouched before the popping embers murmuring prayers for her Daniel, her cloak spread open to catch the warmth. A rustling outside the door made her start and teeter off her heels and onto her backside. Before she could right herself, the door burst open and a snow-covered Daniel fell onto the floor beside her.
He pulled Beth to him and grabbed her into a hug. "Beth, my darlin' Beth. I'm home.
"Oh, and the stoop is icy."
"Yes, my love, I see," she said, laughing through her tears. "Can you close the door, please? You've let all of the heat out."
"Oh, 'tis heat you want then. I can help you out with that."
"Daniel! Really. I mean, I missed you too, but.."
Daniel roared with laughter. "Oh, we'll get to that, Darlin' don't you fear. But I had a different kind of heat in mind. Now get off me woman."
Elizabeth pummeled his chest with her tiny, chapped fists and couldn't stop laughing. He got to his feet, lifting his wife with him, then set her in her rocker before wrapping her cloak around her again and kissing her long and tenderly.
"Now sit tight a minute," he said. Daniel watched his step this time as he walked out the door. "And close your eyes."
Elizabeth obeyed, squinching her eyes shut tight. "What is it?" she called out.
She heard Daniel come back in dragging something behind him before shutting the door tight. A thump, then "Ok, you can look now, Darlin'."
"Oh! A Christmas tree! Oh, Daniel!" She bounded out of her chair and threw her arms around him, squealing and giggling.
"Seems a bit too tall. Plus we need to stoke up that fire. Get me the hand axe and we'll get her ta goin'. Then I'll warm you up, my Darlin'."