by Margaret F. Bach
Illustrated by Lynnette Moench
The story of a little immigrant who was looking for a home – and love.
Helen Sommers was sitting at her desk filling out a report for her commanding officer, but she had trouble keeping her mind on her work. It was a beautiful fall day and her eyes kept straying out to the street of the quaint old German city. Two chimney sweeps covered with soot from their top hats to their shoes passed by her window followed by a group of children chanting, “Bring us luck – bring us luck.” Helen smiled to herself, remembering when she was a little girl – only we said, “Star light, star bright … wish I may, wish I might.” With a sigh she glanced around the large room, which also served as a waiting room, and returned to her report. She made a few final notations on the bottom of the page and put it in the wire basket on the corner of her desk.
“I was afraid you might have changed your mind.”
“That does it,” she told herself. “And now I have a whole wonderful weekend ahead of me.” She opened a drawer and took out her handbag and military cap. As she hurried out the door she almost bumped into a young man coming in.
“Excuse me,” he said with a heavy accent.
“That’s all right.” Helen recognized the young man. He had been in the reception room several times during the past week. he was such a thin young man. “I wonder what brings him here,” she thought, then shrugged. “Everyone who comes here has a problem – guess it’s none of my business.”
At the door leading out of the building she met one of her fellow officers. “Off for the weekend, lieutenant?” she asked.
Helen nodded eagerly. “That castle up there on the hill overlooking the city has fascinated me all week and I’m off to explore it.”
Once outside the building she boarded the electric streetcar and rode through the steep narrow streets of the old town. At the end of the line she found a carriage to take her up the slope of the hill. She paid the driver and found herself on a beautiful garden path. The air was fresh and clear, and as she strolled along she met several other people enjoying the castle grounds. When she came to the terrace of the castle she stopped in delight. Below her lay the whole city. She saw the church steeples, the crooked streets with gabled houses, and the fishing boats on the winding river which flowed through the town. She could see beyond the town, too – the fertile fields and the grassy meadows, the wooded hills –
“The castle can wait,” she decided and sat down on an empty bench. “I’m going to enjoy this view.”
She had been sitting there for some time trying to pick out buildings she knew when someone sat down on the other end of the bench. There was something familiar about the thin figure staring at the scene in front of him. She had seen him before. Oh, yes, now she remembered – the young man in the waiting room. He looked even thinner and paler out here in the daylight. All at once he slumped and clutched the bench. Helen was beside him in a flash.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“No,” he said weakly.
“But there is,” Helen insisted; “you’re ill.”
“No – I’m just a little dizzy – I – I haven’t eaten today.”
She rummaged through her purse and brought out a candy bar. “Here, eat this,” she commanded.
He ate it without a word and when he had finished she said, “And now you’re coming with me.”
Seated across from her in the restaurant he was still protesting. Finally he smiled and said, “You Americans don’t take no for an answer, do you?”
He ate hungrily. Once he stopped and said, “I don’t even know your name.”
“Helen Sommers. and you?”
“I’ve seen you in our office several times.”
Paul nodded bleakly. “I have been trying to locate my family.” He told her that he had spent the past seven years in prison camps. “Before that I was in the army. A month ago several of us tunneled our way out of the prison. We separated when we got out – we thought we could travel better alone. When I got to the border some peasants gave me clothing and helped me get across.”
“And what about your family?”
“What was once my home is occupied by strangers. I tried to find some of our friends – I searched for days and today I found someone who told me that my parents both died and that my sister and her husband are dead, too.” His voice broke, then he went on, “My sister had a child, but the people I talked to didn’t remember what became of him – that’s why I was in your office today. I don’t know where to start looking. I should find work but I must try to find my sister’s child.”
Helen had heard of cases like this before. Any number of things could have happened to the boy, and the chances of finding him were slim – still – she snapped her fingers. “Have you gone to the courthouse or whatever you call it over here?”
“No,” Paul looked puzzled. “Why?”
“Well, he might have been placed in an orphanage and that would be a court proceeding, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“I guess I’m just a detective at heart,” Helen said; “but I’d like to help you. Will you let me?”
“I would be very grateful.”
Helen looked at her watch. “Six o’clock – it’s too late to go today, but I’ll meet you there first thing in the morning.”
After a night of tossing and turning, Helen made her way to the courthouse. As she came in sight of the old stone building she saw Paul Meyer pacing restlessly up and down. At the sight of her he hurried over. There was a look of relief on his face. “I was afraid you might have changed your mind.”
Helen did not tell him of the doubts and misgivings that kept her awake most of the night. “Come on,” she said, and started up the steps.
Inside the building they stood and looked at the little printed signs above the many doors lining the dimly-lit hallway.
“I’m afraid I’m not much good at this part,” Helen confessed. “I don’t know much German.”
“There is the one we want,” Paul said, pointing to one of the doors.
They explained their business to the man behind the railing. He scratched his head thoughtfully. “I don’t know – we do not make it a practice to let people go through our records.”
“Oh, please,” Helen pleaded; “you’re the only one who can help us.”
The man studied the uniformed girl and her companion. “I will have to get the records from the vault.”
“Oh, thank you,” Helen said.
The man returned in a short while with several thick record books. “I’m sorry there is no table you can sit at.”
“That’s all right,” Helen assured him. “We can hold the books on our laps.” They each took a book and sat down.
“These records are from ten years ago – does that go back far enough?” Helen asked.
“Yes; I received a letter from my sister shortly before I was captured and that was seven years ago.”
Helen read the first entry and laughed.
“What is it?” asked Paul.
“A fine detective I am – I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”
Paul looked puzzled. “A court proceeding which may have placed my nephew in an orphanage.”
“Yes,” Helen agreed, “but I don’t even know his name.”
“Hans – Hans Madison.”
“Madison – that doesn’t sound very Ger – Madison – Hans Madison?”
The man behind the railing looked up, startled, as the name exploded form Helen’s lips.
“What is it?” Paul asked.
“The boy I met on the ship. Hans – do you have a picture of your sister?”
Paul looked hopelessly confused.
“I know I’m not making sense to you, but I met a boy on the ship when I went home on leave – his name was Hans Madison. He was an orphan and he was going to make his home with his father’s sister. We became good friends. He showed me a picture of his parents – ”
While Helen talked, Paul was eagerly getting a battered billfold out of his pocket. He got out several pictures and handed them to Helen.
“It is – it’s the same girl. What an amazing coincidence. This is just too good to be true!” Helen’s face was wreathed in smiles as she looked up from the photographs.
Paul shook, his head unbelievingly. Finally he said, “It is no coincidence; it is an answer to a prayer.”
Helen started to laugh but it caught in her throat. “Maybe you’re right,” she said quietly. “I’ll give you Hans’s address, then I’ll run along; mission accomplished.”
She got out a pad of paper and a pencil and wrote the address at Meadowfield. She handed it to Paul and turned to go.
“No – wait.” Helen turned. “Come with me,” Paul pleaded.
“To the church.”
Helen hesitated. “I haven’t gone for a long time.”
“This would be a good time to start.”
Paul opened the door and Helen walked past him. She nodded and Paul closed the door behind them.