by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
The giant streamliner streaked through the gray April afternoon, its whistle blaring a warning to the cars at the coming crossing. A long blast ripped the air and was quickly followed by several short ones, then the engine passed between the swinging red signals and hurtled on through the early spring countryside.
The sharp blasts were muffled in the passenger cars, but the dozing young army nurse in the second last car awoke with a start when the engineer sounded his first warning. She glanced anxiously at her slender, dark-haired companion of the past two weeks. After what seemed an endless moment, the final blast died away and Helen Sommers sank back in her seat.
He rested his head against the seat and closed his eyes.
“Whew!” she breathed and noticed with relief that her companion’s eyes were still closed. “Poor Hans,” she thought, “everything is so new and strange to him – this little rest will do him good.”
Helen had grown very fond of the orphan boy she had met on the voyage home from her tour of duty in Germany. he was so anxious to learn all he could about the United States that they had spent a lot of time together on the ship. At first he had been very shy, but gradually she learned that his mother had been German and his father American, and that he was on his way to the United States to make his home with his only relative – his father’s sister.
“I wonder what she’s like,” Helen asked herself, and would have been surprised to know that Hans was wondering the same thing.
Hans could not sleep as Helen had suggested, but she had been very kind to him and he wanted to please her; so he rested his head against the seat and closed his eyes, only to have everything that had happened during the past month flash before his eyes.
It had all started on the morning of his thirteenth birthday. He and Otto and Fritz, the two boys who shared his room at the orphanage, were filing out of the chapel after morning devotions when the matron stopped him at the door and took him aside.
“Wait for me in my office, Hans,” she said, “I have a surprise for you.”
Hans entered the office and sat down on one of the hard wooden chairs placed around the room. In a few moments the matron entered.
“So!” she exclaimed and seated herself behind a small wooden desk. She wore her customary gray dress and a small gray cap perched on the braids entwining her head. She clasped her hands on the desk and looked at Hans. “And now for the surprise.” She opened a drawer and held up a plain white envelope. “This is a letter from your father’s sister in the United States. The International Red Cross helped us find her and she is going to give you a home.”
“A home,” Hans echoed softly. How he had prayed for a home those first years at the orphanage – and now his prayer was being answered – he was to have a home – and in the UNITED STATES. His mind was in a whirl and the matron had to call his name twice before he noticed.
“Under the circumstances,” she said with an understanding smile, “you are excused from your classes this morning – perhaps you could write a letter to your aunt,” she suggested as he got up to leave. “Her address is on this piece of paper.”
“When will I leave?” Hans wanted to know.
“As soon as we can book passage – it may be several weeks.”
Hans paused outside the door and looked at the name on the slip the matron had given him.
Miss Minnie Madison
Hans could hardly wait to tell Otto and Fritz the news. He took the stairs two at a time and got halfway up before he remembered that they were in their classes. But he had to tell someone. He decided to go down to the barn and tell old Karl. He ran down the hall and out the door of the two-story whitewashed building as quietly as his stout leather shoes would allow and never stopped until he reached the threshold of the weathered barn. He pushed open the bottom half of the door and ducked inside.
“Karl,” he shouted.
“Here – in Flower’s stall,” a voice answered from the shadows.
Hans scooped up two of the kittens that bounded up to him and carried them along. At the door of Flower’s stall Karl gave a warning “Shhhh,” and pushed it open to admit Hans.
“Why aren’t you in school?” he whispered, at the same time pointing to a tiny brown calf lying in the sweet, fresh hay.
“Flower’s?” For a moment Hans forgot his exciting news.
“Yes, and you made her very nervous shouting so.”
“I’m sorry,” Hans apologized.
“All right,” Karl put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s leave Flower and her family and you can tell me why you aren’t in school – and you had better have a good excuse.”
Hans gave Flower a gentle pat and closed the door. “Oh, Karl –” with breathless excitement he poured out the whole wonderful story.
“That is fine, Hans,” Karl said when he had finished, “but we will miss you – the animals and I – you have a way with them.”
“Well, you aren’t gone yet, and let me see – isn’t this an important day for another reason? Your birthday!”
Hans grinned and nodded.
“I thought so. Wait here, I will be right back.” Karl hurried to his room at the end of the barn and returned a moment later carrying a wooden mallet, several chisels, and two knives. “Take these, Hans.”
“But they are your carving tools.”
“I have wanted to give them to you for a long time – I will not need them much longer – my eyesight is failing me and perhaps you will have a chance to use them – if not, keep them as a remembrance of the happy times we had carving here in the barn.”
Hans suddenly felt very sad. “Well, I – I think I will go and write a letter to my aunt – I wonder what she is like,” he said.
He had wondered that often and now the time was here when he would actually meet her –
“Meadowfield – next stop Meadowfield.”
Hans opened his eyes and his heart skipped a beat as he saw the blue-coated conductor coming down the aisle.
“Hi,” Helen said cheerfully, “looks like your stop is coming up.”
Hans tried to smile, but his face felt stiff and he could only nod.
The conductor stopped beside them and leaned down. “We’ll be in Meadowfield in about ten minutes – oh, and you’d better put on your raincoat. It’s raining again.”
Hans slipped his arms into the soft plastic raincoat and picked up his suitcase. “I’d better go to the door,” he told Helen.
“You still have eight minutes,” Helen said, glancing at her watch.
Hans sat down again, but his fingers kept their hold on the handle of the suitcase. As the final minutes of the journey clicked by his throat felt parched and dry and his heart hammered against his chest.
“Everything’s going to be all right, Hans.”
His friend’s words made him feel better and he was grateful to her.
“You promised to come and see me,” he reminded.
“The very first chance I get – oh, here’s the conductor – Meadowfield must be coming up.” She put out her hand and Hans shook it gravely.
The train was already slowing down. “Thank you for your kindness,” he said and returned the brisk salute the girl gave him.
Hans made his way up the aisle, and in the gray afternoon light he could make out little clusters of buildings. He looked around but no one else was getting off at Meadowfield. Several jolts brought the car to a standstill and the conductor swung down and helped him off. His feet had barely touched the solid concrete of the station platform when the engine started up again.
For a split second Hans stood as if frozen, then his head turned wildly as he tried to get a final glimpse of his friend and a first glimpse of his aunt. The car he had been on was almost past before he found the right window. He ran along beside it waving his hand and hoping that Helen would see him. There was a blurred flutter of white at one of the windows, then the train outdistanced him.
He was on his own now. An uncertain little shiver ran through him, like the first time he held one of Karl’s carving tools and cut into a piece of wood. Then he squared his shoulders and turned to face the platform, but there was no one there.