On the second day of December

Not far from the lake stood a single cottage. Inhabited by a still-young husband and wife, its stacked log walls, painted thickly but softly in brown, embodied a hearty humility.

It emanated warmth: in the mellow oil-lamp light of the living room, just enough for reading, which a small rectangular window, with a simple, white wooden frame, diffused for the evening's cheer; in the rhythms of coffee kettle and iron stove. The ashes of the stove would mutter long into the night as the husband and wife slept, preventing the cold from settling in, to be kindled again by the first-up; then water would be fetched in a bucket from the stream, a filled kettle placed on top, and an earthy smell of coffee fill every nook.

The cottage's touch upon the biology around it was light. Bees and butterflies gathered in the wildflowers and grasses which the husband and wife left uncut in the summer. A mouse sheltered in the outdoor toilet shed, appearing on one of its wooden beams if they sat still.

Twice the gentle husband and wife had heard the beat of a nascent heart in the womb of the young wife; twice they had begun to dream joyful scenes of a little one running through the cottage, leaping over its doorsteps; and twice the baby had been lost before twelve weeks had passed — like a plant that had been lovingly potted in faint spring sun, its first green shoots being discovered above the soil with primeval glee; only for a late — too late — frost to sear through its cells, and it have to be painfully, forlornly taken out by the roots.

Yet hope had returned the stronger, for the young wife now bore, for the third time, a life, eight months advanced.

A doctor had called for a routine check. Exchanging advent tidings brightly with the husband at the door, she went in to the young wife, Listening to her stomach, she felt here and there.

But she listened a little too long, felt a little too thoroughly.

"The little one is still lying feet-down," she told the husband and wife at length, who understood the import of these words. It was a considerable way from the cottage to the doctor, and to give word that the young wife had gone into labour would take time — the birth would not be without risk as it was.

"Let us hope that labour will proceed slowly — at least until you arrive; after that, it can gladly go faster!" had been the standing quip of the young wife to the doctor through the pregnancy. If she had spoken those words now, it would have been as an earnest plea.

"I will return in ten days," the doctor said, "try not to worry too much in the meantime. The little one may yet turn."

But until she had left, the husband and wife avoided their eyes meeting: their self-control could not have withstood the intensity of their foreboding.

This is the second part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 00:30 (GMT+1), 3rd December 2022