by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
Minnie Madison was in the shop arranging a gold satin bow on a pot of yellow tulips when she heard the whistle of the 4:45. She checked the time with her watch – it was exactly 4:45. That meant that in less than ten minutes Nat would drive into the yard with her nephew. Her lips were pressed in a tight line and there was a firm set to her jaw at the thought.
Miss Minnie, as the townspeople called her, was known as a good woman. She went to church faithfully, she contributed to every worthy cause, and she had cared for her brother when both their parents died.
Dick Madison had been the apple of his sister’s eye and when he graduated from the school of journalism at the head of his class, there wasn’t a happier person anywhere than Minnie Madison. A short time later his newspaper sent him to Europe as a foreign correspondent. How Minnie looked forward to his letters with the strange postmarks – England, France, Italy, Germany. From Germany he had written:
“This is my hottest assignment – it looks like war clouds are gathering.”
The letter had worried Minnie a little but surely if things got bad his paper would call him home. Then came a telegram which changed everything forever.
“Have married German bride. Paper wants to end my assignment but Anna does not want to leave.”
His letters had kept coming and in one he announced that she had a nephew. Not long after that war was declared – and Dick was living in an enemy land – married to one of its citizens. Dick – whose ancestors had been among the first settlers of the state! People no longer stopped her on the street to ask about Dick, and when she walked by she felt the pity in their eyes. She could imagine what they whispered after she had passed – “poor Miss Minnie – it must be terrible to have raised a traitor.”
Minnie shook her head as she did every time she thought about it. How could he have done such a thing? It was unforgivable.
The telephone broke into her thoughts and she lifted the receiver off the hook. “Meadowfield Greenhouse – Minnie Madison speaking.’ She listened to the voice over the wire. “All right, Mrs. Hill, just as soon as Nat gets here I’ll have him bring them over … yes, I’ll send red ones.”
She replaced the receiver as the truck was pulling into the yard. In the living room a small door in a beautifully carved clock flew open and a tiny bird darted out. “Cuckoo.” One … two … three … four … five. Five o’clock. They were late.
Minnie briskly opened the glass show case and got out a tall crock jar full of roses. she had counted out twelve partly opened buds when the door opened with a loud jangle of bells.
Hans jumped back in alarm.
“My land,” Aunt Minnie exclaimed, “haven’t you ever heard bells before?”
Hans was so confused that he could only think in German and he began to stammer out an explanation, but a cold glance from the tall dark-haired lady behind the counter silenced him.
“The letter you wrote from the orphanage was written in English – did someone write it for you?”
“No – I can speak and write English, but the bells – ”
His aunt did not let him finish. “I never want ot hear that foreign language from you again – remember that.”
Hans nodded miserably and raised his eyes from the polished wood floor to meet the steady gaze of his aunt. There was no resemblance to the aunt of his daydreams who welcomed him with a happy smile.
But – he thought – perhaps his aunt had daydreams, too. She might have pictured a big strong boy who could help her around the greenhouse. his father had been tall. And I am small – Miss Sommers had called him “Shorty” when she first stood beside him on the deck of the ship. Perhaps if he told her that he knew something about working in a nursery, but just then the door opened and the old man came in.
“What kept you, Nat?” Aunt Minnie asked.
“Well, the roads were slick and – ”
“Never mind,” Aunt Minnie closed the box she had been filling with long stemmed roses and handed it to Nat. “Banker Hill’s wife phoned – she wants these right away, the banker’s bringing home unexpected company for dinner so you better hurry right over there.”
“Can I help?” Hans asked. “I could ride along and run up to the door much faster than Nat.”
“Humph,” replied his aunt, “that maid of Mrs. Hill’s would get one look at you and tomorrow it’d be all over town that I had you running errands your first day here. Well, what are you waiting for, Nat?”
“I’m as good as there, Miss Minnie.”
Nat left, and in a moment the truck rattled past the window and disappeared up the road.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” said Aunt Minnie. “Come along and I’ll take you upstairs to your room.”
Aunt Minnie led the way through a curtained doorway separating the shop from the living room. It was a long room with a fireplace at one end and looking down from the wall above the mantel was a boy his own age dressed in a sailor suit. Hans had the feeling that he was looking into a mirror. He turned to his aunt and his voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Is that how my father looked when he was a boy?”
His aunt seemed to be having difficulty swallowing. She gave him a stiff nod and started toward the staircase. Hans took a step to follow her when the bells in the shop jangled and aunt Minnie hurried from the room.
There were several other pictures standing on the shelf above the fireplace. There was one of a man and lady with two children – one was a girl but Hans wasn’t sure of the baby sitting on the lady’s lap. He studied the picture carefully and decided that the people in the picture were his grandfather and grandmother Madison and the children were Aunt Minnie and his father. He had no trouble making out the rest of the pictures. there was one of his father holding the handle bars of a bicycle, another of his father holding a shiny horn, and one of his father with a pretty girl. It was not his mother. He was trying to decide who she could be when Aunt Minnie returned with another lady. She looked strangely familiar – like the girl in the picture. Hans was sure she was the same one.
The lady stepped forward. Her voice was quick and warm. “I’m Ann Lane, you may call me Ann.”
That was the way people had introduced themselves on the ship – it was one of the first “American” things he had learned and he knew what came next.
“I am glad to meet you. I am Hans Ma – ”
“He means his name is John,” Aunt Minnie interrupted firmly.
John – Hans – he was getting all confused again and the German words came tumbling from his lips as he looked helplessly from Aunt Minnie to Ann Lane.
Ann put a comforting hand on his arm but her words were directed to Aunt Minnie. “Let him be Hans,” she said softly. And to Hans she said, “Your father and I were good friends – I hope we will be, too.”
“Oh, yes,” Hans said eagerly.
Ann gave him a quick smile and turned to Aunt Minnie. “I’d better be running along.”
“What’s your hurry?” asked Aunt Minnie. “Can’t you stay for supper?”
“Oh, yes,” Hans said eagerly.
“Well – ” Ann hesitated. “All right – I have some examination papers to correct but they’ll keep until – ”
The rest of her words were drowned out by the doorbells.
“Will you go see who’s in the shop, Ann, while I show him,” Aunt Minnie nodded in Hans’s direction, “to his room. Tell whoever it is that I’ll be right down,” she added over her shoulder.
The stairs were steep and Hans’s suitcase bumped each step on the way up. There were two doors directly across from each other. Aunt Minnie opened one and motioned him to go in.
“I’ll call you when supper’s ready.” A faint click closed the door between them.
Hans walked slowly to the center of the room and looked at his surroundings. The bed was covered with a bright patchwork quilt which years of washing had failed to dull. Next to it was a low chest and the remaining piece of furniture in the room was a straight-backed chair. Hans looked at the room for a long moment and realized that at last this was home. He felt his eyes filling with tears and closed them tightly – a trick he had learned the first months at the orphanage to keep from crying.
“Please, Lord,” he murmured when he had conquered the tears, “let Aunt Minnie like me.”
He suddenly remembered the gift for Aunt Minnie. Helen had suggested it – “sort of an ice-breaker,” were the words she used and she had helped him pick it out. He emptied the suitcase, putting the clothes on the bed in neat little stacks.
“I hope it isn’t broken.”
He opened the cardboard box on the very bottom of his suitcase and took out the glass paper weight inside. When he turned it upside down a flurry of snowflakes swirled inside the globe and settled on the tiny figures of gaily dressed skaters. Hans smiled to himself and decided to take the present right down to his aunt.