Due to popular demand — well, okay, it was one request, and ellen was more politely eager than demanding, but still — our serial posts will appear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. Cue organ music …
by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
Hans closed the door quietly and walked to the head of the stairs. He could hear Aunt Minnie and Ann Lane talking below and as he started to put one foot on the stairs he heard Ann say, “He looks just like Dick – I’m sorry Minnie, I know you don’t want his name mentioned but I just had to say it. Oh, Minnie, aren’t you happy that you decided to have him with you?”
Hans realized that they were talking about him. He didn’t want to eavesdrop but the braided stair treads blotted out the sound of his footsteps. Perhaps if he hurried down – . He ran down three steps when his aunt’s words froze him in his tracks.
His aunt’s words froze him in his tracks.
“Happy? don’t you see, Ann, that if it hadn’t been for his mother Dick might be here today and you two might be married. No, I can’t be happy. And how Dick could marry a girl whose people are our enemies – ”
“Oh, Minnie,” Ann interrupted sadly, “the war has been over for years; let bygones be bygones.”
“I can’t help it, Ann. I’ll do my Christian duty and give the boy a home, but – ”
Hans did not wait to hear the rest of the sentence but walked numbly back to his room.
Ann sighed wearily. “It isn’t fair to the boy to have him with you feeling as you do.”
“He isn’t with me by choice,” Aunt Minnie said. “After Dick’s wife wrote that he was dead, I lost track of her and the boy – ”
“But she wrote to you several times – ” Ann stopped but it was too late.
“How did you know? I never told anyone.”
“I’m sorry, Minnie,” Ann replied. ‘I always steer away from gossip, but you know how small towns are, and a foreign postmark always attracts attention.”
“She did write,” Aunt Minnie admitted, “but I didn’t read her letters. They stopped coming after a while. Then two months ago a Red Cross worker came to see if I’d be willing to give the boy a home. What else could I do but take him?”
Ann started to answer when the kitchen door opened.
“There’s Nat,” Aunt Minnie said, changing the subject. “Were the flowers all right?”
“Yup,” Nat answered.
“Good,” Aunt Minnie exclaimed. “Mrs. Hill’s so hard to please.”
Ann started. “Wha – what did you say, Minnie? I”m sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
“‘Twasn’t important.” Aunt Minnie got up and walked out to the kitchen.
“Is there something I can do to help with supper?” Ann asked, following her.
“No – I’ll have it on in no time.”
“Well,” Ann hesitated, “if you don’t mind, I think I’ll run upstairs and see how Hans is making out.”
“All right,” Aunt Minnie said stiffly.
Ann hurried across the floor and up the stairs. At the door to Hans’s room she raised her hand to knock but changed her mind and called, “Hans,” instead. There was no answer. She repeated his name a little louder.
“I thought perhaps I could help you unpack and get settled,” Ann offered.
Hans shook his head and put a pile of clothes into the open suitcase on the bed. It was already partly filled with clothing and Hans added the remaining pile on the bed.
“What are you doing?” Ann asked quietly.
Hans had his back to her and she could barely heard the word. “Packing.”
“Why?” she asked, walking over to him.
“Aunt Minnie doesn’t want me – I heard her say so – I didn’t mean to listen – ”
“Hans, wait – I – I don’t know what to say – ”
“Why doesn’t Aunt Minnie like me?”
“I – that is – ”
Ann’s painful stumbling made him sorry he had asked the question. “I shouldn’t have asked – ” he began.
“No, it’s all right,” Ann assured. “I’m going to tell you something and I hope it will make you change your mind about leaving. You see, your Aunt Minnie loved your father very much – but she also loves her country and she’s very proud of the part her ancestors have played in its history as far back as George Washington’s time – so when your father stayed with an enemy country during the war – ”
“My father fought in the war,” Hans interrupted.
“I’m afraid you don’t understand, Hans; our country was at war with yours.”
“I know; but my father fought with the underground and when the American troops came, he joined them.”
Ann’s voice was filled with amazement. “Are you sure, Hans?”
Hans nodded. “Will Aunt Minnie like me if she knows this?”
“Hans – ”
He looked up and to his surprise there were tears in Ann’s eyes. She blinked them away and quickly went on.
“This isn’t something we can just go down and tell Aunt Minnie. She’s very bitter toward your country and its people, and if we were to go downstairs and tell her the truth, chances are she wouldn’t believe us.”
“But it’s true,” Hans said desperately.
‘I believe you, Hans, and one of these days we’ll tell Aunt Minnie the truth. In the meantime you can help your aunt to overcome her feelings about your country.”
“By being a goodwill ambassador.”
“A goodwill ambassador,” Hans said thoughtfully. “What is that?”
“Well, it’s a person who tries to bring about friendship and understanding between his country and another country.”
“That sounds like an important job.”
“It is – will you do it?”
“Good!” Ann exclaimed. ‘Now, what do you say we unpack this suitcase?” Hans nodded, and when the last pair of woolen stockings was in the drawer they returned downstairs.
Aunt Minnie was putting food on the table and nat was busy setting the places when Hans and Ann appeared.
“Let me do that, Nat,” Ann offered. “You and Hans sit down till we’re ready.”
Nat motioned Hans to the window seat and picked up a neatly folded newspaper and a stubby pencil lying beside it. He studied the paper for a moment, then he filled some little squares with letters of the alphabet. He had been writing for several minutes and Hans was watching him with interest when he put the paper down with a disgusted “Aw.”
“Stuck?” Ann asked.
Nat nodded sadly. “What’s a five letter word for a sacred song?”
“Nat has a weakness for crossword puzzles,” Ann explained to Hans. “Let’s see – five letters … hymn … no, that’s only four. Have you any clues?”
“Second letter’s an ‘s.’ How about you, young fella?”
Hans shook his head doubtfully.
“Psalm,” Aunt Minnie declared crisply.
“P-s-a-l-m,” Nat spelled as he wrote. “You’re right, Miss Minnie. The idea is to fill up all the squares,” Nat told Hans, “but sometimes I don’t finish ‘em all,” he admitted.
Aunt Minnie announced supper and they gathered around the table. When everyone stood in place she bowed her head and asked a blessing on the food.
Chairs scraped on the floor and everyone sat down. Hans had not realized how hungry he was – his last meal had been a sandwich on the train at noon.
“Save some room for dessert,” Ann advised. “Your Aunt Minnie makes the best gingerbread in Meadowfield.”
“Now, Ann,” Aunt Minnie said severely, but Hans could see she was pleased and when he finished the last warm crumb he looked up to find her watching him. Before he could tell her how good it was she looked away and started talking to Ann about the new rose she was growing.
Later that evening, after Ann and Nat had gone home, Hans lay in his room and tried to go to sleep. The evening had been pleasant. He and Nat played checkers while Ann and Aunt Minnie visited over their knitting. Nat paused long and thoughtfully before each move, giving Hans a chance to watch Ann and his aunt. In the darkness of his room Hans could remember the sound of Ann’s voice and her quick laugh. Even Aunt Minnie laughed when Ann told about some of the funny things that happened at school that day. But the thought of Aunt Minnie sobered Hans. Her words had echoed through his mind all evening. Her “Christian duty”! He wondered what she meant. He knew what a duty was – he had duties at the orphanage. He had to help clean his room, dry the dishes, feed the stock. He had enjoyed some of the duties, but there were some he disliked … perhaps a Christian duty was like that. He should have asked Ann. He wished she would be his teacher but she taught the smaller children. He wasn’t even sure which grade he would be in – Ann said something about some tests he would have to take.
Hans turned toward the window with a sleepless sigh. The moon was beginning to rise and its silvery light poured down from a cloudless sky. Hans slipped out of bed and knelt at the window sill for a better look. It was the same moon he had seen at the orphanage – here was something that had not changed. Then he remembered a line from an English hymn he had learned at the orphanage.
“O, Thou who changest not – ”
There was Someone who had not changed, Someone who was with him and would always be with him. A warm glow came over Hans and he crept back into bed.
“O, Thou who changest not, abide with me,” he prayed, and went to sleep.