Chapter Nineteen

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While the gift-giving continued, David and Georg left from time to time to attend to chores, such as cutting the carrots into fingers, making a roux for the gravy, filling dishes with chutneys and relishes and slicing the loaves of bread. Georg lent a hand with some of these, but mainly, he monitored the stove and worked on the table setting.

"Rachel has told me about your proficiency in the kitchen."

"My mother taught us all to cook from an early age, and we often helped with meals." He laughed. "When my father was away, that is. He didn't consider the kitchen a proper place for boys, let alone for men."

"She was a French baroness, wasn't she? Rachel said that's where you get your noble bearing."

David laughed as he looked up from slicing pickled cucumbers. "Not a baroness, but the daughter of a baron. She was the eldest, and there were no sons, so in an equal world, she would inherit the title and be a baroness. But because there were no male heirs, the title died when her father did."

"Rachel has been telling me things like this — how women aren't considered as people. I had never thought anything of the sort until she mentioned it, but looking back, I see a lot —"

"David, we need you for the gift-giving," Maria rushed into the kitchen and looked around. "Do you need any help? Have you any questions?"

David wiped his hands on a towel, then headed toward the drawing room with her as he answered. "How much butter do you use with the carrots? I fingered two dozen large ones."

"I've never done it for more than five people. A dollop works well with that amount, so maybe five dollops."

"How big is a dollop?"

Maria snickered. "We seem to often talk about size." She looked down at his crotch and shuddered. "We'll get to that later. The dollop too."

Maria showed David to a chair, then stood by the tree and put her hand on her necklace. "This distracted me, and I forgot about your gift." She turned and squatted to pick up a suit bag.

David smiled as he recognised the colour of it. "Pierre?"

"Yes, while you were busy disrupting the Germans, I took your lounge suit back to l'Homme Véritable and requested he fashion a leather overcoat in the German style to fit it. You need something warm as you travel." She opened the bag and pulled it out. "Try it on."

David clapped his hands to the top of his head and stood swaying, tears rolling down his cheeks. He shook his head, and then took the coat from her and slipped it on.

Bethia raised her hand to her mouth. "Mein Himmel! You look like a Kraut in that."

"That's what I was hoping, Tante. I want him to look as if he belongs."

Maria squatted and reached for another bag, then held it toward David. "And this is a jacket and two pairs of trousers, so you'll have something besides a lounge suit to wear when you're duping Fritz."

David nodded as he stepped forward to enfold her in an embrace. "I was going to buy some next week. Now all I need is shirts."

"There are four in the bag — and socks."

He held her tighter as he searched for words. Then he heard the soft notes of Silent Night. Then hums and words added to the sound. He turned to see Rick with a harmonica to his mouth and several others singing along. The volume slowly increased, and soon everyone had joined in.

When Rick had finished the song, he looked up and shrugged. "My father had brought one to New Brunswick when he immigrated, and he taught us all how to play."

David smiled as he waved his arms like he remembered the school choir director doing. "You continue playing and singing while we get dinner ready." He motioned to Georg, Michael and Jacob, and they headed to the kitchen.

Maria followed and selected a spoon from a drawer, scooped it in the butter tub and held it up to David. "This is a dollop." She looked down and smiled. "We'll examine other sizes later. I'm going back to join the singing."

To the sounds of music coming from the drawing room, the four men continued with the dinner preparations. Shortly past four, Georg and David lifted the pan of geese out and put it on the stovetop. "My mother said a roast is better if allowed to stand for ten or fifteen minutes before carving."

He skimmed pan drippings into a pot and began adding roux as he whisked. "Someone give these carrot pots a shake and a stir every few minutes to keep them from scorching. Add more butter if needed, but there should be enough. We'll leave the potatoes in a bit longer as the oven warms for the pies." He nodded toward the dishes of pickles, relishes and chutneys. "Those can be distributed around the table, and also the bread baskets."

A few minutes later, after he and Georg had removed the rack of potatoes and placed them in three wooden bowls, David said. "My thought is for you three to each carry a goose in, set it in the centre of your table and begin carving it. I'll bring in the potatoes, gravy and carrots, then pour the wine."

Georg shook his head. "I've never carved a bird, and I'd likely make a mess of it. I think it's best you do it, and I'll tend to the vegetables and wine."

"That will work as well. You go in and tell everyone to take their places while we dish up the carrots."

Within five minutes, everyone had been served, and Michael Jacob and Georg had taken their seats. David stood behind his chair, leaned forward and picked up his wine. "Christmas has become a celebration of sharing with family, but the war has made it impossible for many to do that. Let's now take a quiet moment to think of our families back home."

After a long pause, David continued, "We hope our celebrations together today can provide a feeling of family, and inspire us to work toward spending next Christmas at home." He raised his glass and slowly swept it past each person, then said, "Merry Christmas to all our families. The ones back home and the one we have here."  

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