A spiritualist, an insane asylum, a lost little girl . . .
When Clive, anxious to distract a depressed Henrietta, begs Sergeant Frank Davis for a case, he is assigned to investigating a seemingly boring affair: a spiritualist woman operating in an abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of town who is suspected of robbing people of their valuables. What begins as an open and shut case becomes more complicated, however, when Henriettamuch to Clive’s dismaybegins to believe the spiritualist's strange ramblings.
Meanwhile, Elsie begs Clive and Henrietta to help her and the object of her budding love, Gunther, locate the whereabouts of one Liesel Klinkhammer, the German woman Gunther has traveled to America to find and the mother of the little girl, Anna, whom he has brought along with him. The search leads them to Dunning Asylum, where they discover some terrible truths about Liesel. When the child, Anna, is herself mistakenly admitted to the asylum after an epileptic fit, Clive and Henrietta return to Dunning to retrieve her. This time, however, Henrietta begins to suspect that something darker may be happening. When Clive doesn’t believe her, she decides to take matters into her own hands . . . with horrifying results.
About the Author
Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as Novel Notes of Local Lore, a weekly blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. She suspects she may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, has resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there. (Her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and many others, so she might be on to something.) Unbeknownst to most, Cox hoards board games she doesn’t have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. Also, marmalade.
Read an Excerpt
Elsie sat in theology class listening to Sr. Raphael expound on the different types of grace, but she found it hard to pay attention. It’s not that the material wasn’t interestingit was, actuallybut Elsie’s mind was unfortunately on other things at the moment. It had been, truth be told, ever since her rather unexpected discovery of a small girl named Anna apparently living in Gunther’s hut behind Piper Hall. As she distractedly drew in the margins of her notepaper, she took the time to calculate, concluding that it had been just over a month ago already. She shifted slightly in her chair. They were still no closer to any answers.
She was inextricably caught up in Gunther’s story now, whether she wanted to be or notand probably had been, if she were honest, since she had surreptitiously read his journal while she sat at his bedside in the hospital on New Year’s Eve last. That was where she first came across the name Anna, scrawled across the page in his unkempt handwriting, along with various poems and personal notations and ramblings, some of it in English, but most of it in German.
For a long time, Elsie assumed that Anna was a woman, perhaps someone Gunther was romantically attached to from his native Germany. But then Elsie had begun to feel certain stirrings for Gunther herself, perhaps unconsciously, and when he’d tenderly kissed her hand in the hidden greenhouse in the Mundelein Skyscraper, she had fled in terrornot for her personal safety, but for fear of what she might in truth be feeling for him. After a day and a night of avoiding him, however, she had eventually come to the conclusion that she needed to face her fears and confront him, the result being her discovery that the mysterious Anna in his journal was merely a child, which had raised a whole new set of questions and fears, especially when the child had called him “Papa.”
Upon discovering the two of them in the hut that day Elsie almost fled in her mortification and her sorrow and probably would have, had it not been for the look of panic on Gunther’s face and the broken utterance of her name.
“Elsie . . . ”
His whisper had given her sufficient pauseenough to see the silent “please” that followedhis lips forming the word, but no sound escaping. His plea and the desperate longing she saw in his eyes were palpable and hovered in the short space between them, paralyzing and holding her there against her will.
“Elsie, please come in,” he said hoarsely, slowly gesturing toward the interior of the small cottage, as if he suspected she might bolt at any moment and therefore should not employ any sudden movements. She did not bolt, however, though every nerve in her body was taut and ready. She instead took a deep breath and sternly reminded herself that this was why she had come: to hear him out. Hadn’t she stood at her bedroom window through most of the night, puzzling out what to do? Near dawn, she had finally come to the decision that she would go to him and listen without interrupting or judging, just as he had done for her, no matter how shocking his explanation turned out to be. And yet there in the frigid morning air, the sun having just crested the horizon, she had already been tempted to run; seeing a little girl standing in front of him addressing him as “Papa” was certainly beyond anything she had heretofore imagined. But as difficult as his explanation promised to be, she knew there was no turning back now. So with just a slight pause, she had stepped across his threshold and thus into his world.
Once inside the small hut, Gunther indicated for her to sit in one of the chairs next to a little wooden table. Anna retreated to a rumpled trundle that sat pulled out from under the main bed, which was also unmade and looked as though it had been recently occupied. Elsie averted her eyes from what was obviously Gunther’s bed and instead looked at Anna, who sat cross-legged on her thin mattress, warily watching Elsie with her finger in her mouth, very much reminding Elsie of her little sister, Doris.
Silently, Gunther placed a steaming mug of coffee on the table before Elsie and sat down across from her. Elsie stared at the mug for a moment and then took hold of it, her cold fingers finding comfort in the warmth before she forced herself to look up at him. He in turn was looking at her with such worried, sad eyes that she felt her stomach clench.
“Elsie, please. Do not look at me in such way. I can explain. I tried to explain to you in the greenhouse.” He paused. “Many times.”
Elsie wasn’t sure what to say to that. She looked back at the little girl, if only to avoid his eyes.
“This is Anna Klinkhammer,” he said, his eyes following Elsie’s, anticipating at least one of her silent questions.
The girl was thinscrawny evenwith very blue eyes and fine blonde hair that looked as though it hadn’t been brushed in quite some time, certainly not yet today, at any rate. She had on a plain, brown dress and held what looked like some sort of soft doll, though Elsie couldn’t see the face of it. Elsie guessed her to be no more than five. Her face was dirty, smeared at the corners of her mouth with what looked to be jam. At least she hoped it was jam. She glanced over at Gunther, who was still staring at Anna, almost as if he were trying to see her through Elsie’s eyesfor the first time, as it were.
“Ach. You have jam, Anna,” he said. He stood up and walked the few steps to a small sink.
As he did so, Elsie took the opportunity to quickly glance around. It was warm and dry in this little hut of a home, clearly intended for one person only. It consisted mainly of one large room, with a bed in one corner and a sink and a stove in the other. Above the sink, various dishes were carefully stacked on a shelf, under which hung a few mugs on hooks. Along the back wall was a chest of drawers, and in the middle of the room stood a table and chairs for two, where Elsie currently sat. Though terribly small, it was clean and cozy and just the sort of room that Elsie liked. In a way, it reminded her of the shabby apartment on Armitage, where they had lived before discovering they were actually part of the wealthy Exley family.
Gunther took up a rag from somewhere in the sink and brought it to where Anna sat. Awkwardly, he attempted to wipe her face despite her squirms. Elsie felt herself wanting to help, but she forced herself to remain seated and instead looked back into her coffee.
“She is not mine,” Gunther said quietly, as if reading Elsie’s thoughts. “I swear this.”
Elsie’s eyes darted back up at him.
He stood up tall, and Elsie felt her pulse quicken as he locked his gaze on her. She struggled to gauge the truth of his words, and pulled her eyes away to glance back at Anna, who seemed to have shrunk even smaller, if that were possible, at Gunther’s last words. Elsie bit her lip at the little girl’s distress.
Gunther followed Elsie’s gaze, and when he saw the tears welling in Anna’s eyes, his face contorted. “Ach!” he said and reached out and patted her head. His voice softened. “I did not mean that, Anna. Aber du bist mein Mädchen, genau so, nein? You are my girl. You will always be my girl, yes?”
The little girl merely gave a slow, methodical nod and put her ragged toy in front of her face. Suddenly, Elsie’s heart ached for herhow many times had she herself wanted to hide behind something in her grief and loneliness? She desperately wanted to go to the girl and scoop her into her lap, but she remained seated. Besides the impropriety of it, Elsie felt sure Anna would draw little comfort from a strange lady.
As if he were thinking the same thing, Gunther reached down and picked up the girl, who wrapped herself around him and rested her head on his shoulder, her eyes watery and a finger in her mouth. “Shhh,” he said in a low voice as he rubbed the girl’s back. He exhaled loudly, then, and steadied himself, as if wondering how to proceed.
“I do not know where to start,” he said with a heavy sigh, his voice low. “But I will try. My father was mathematics professor, as I told you, at University in Heidelberg. He was part of intelligenz of German society at this time. When the war broke out, he did not believe in this war, but he was anyway forced to fight in it. He was very patriotic, but he thought the Kaiser had stumbled . . . ” Gunther paused here, seeming to search for the right words, “ . . . lost his way. Victoria was, you know maybe, the Kaiser’s grandmother. The people of England and Germany were very close before the war; my mother was English. How could my father fight them? And yet he was made to. He was killed. He had no idea how to fight,” he said sadly, rubbing Anna’s back again.
“I’m sorry,” Elsie murmured, realizing that it was the first words she had spoken since entering the cottage.
“My mother,” Gunther went on, after catching Elsie’s eye for just a moment, “especially as English woman, had no way of making money except to take in sewing and rent out rooms in our very old . . . ” he made a gesture as if searching for the right word . . . “big? rambling? . . . house that was no good for nothing else. A big house full of books and some said Geister . . . ach . . . how do you say? . . . ghosts,” he said with a little flourish of triumph. “When I became older, I asked my mother why she did not return to England after war. She said she could not leave my father buried somewhere near border of France in mass grave. Also, that Heidelberg had been her home from time she was little girl. There is nothing and no one for her in England, she said. And so we rented out rooms, mostly to students, who became like older brothers or sisters to me. One or two were not so nice, but mostly they were kind; that or they ignored me. I liked to sit in corner and listen to them debate politics of day or discuss literatureRilke versus Schiller, as examplebefore Mother would find me and put me to bed.
“Then about five years ago,” he continued methodically, “just as I am finishing my degree at university, a young woman by name of Liesel Klinkhammer came to rent room from us. She was not student, but she had job in one of the cafés in town. How she can afford this room, I do not know. Maybe it was that my mother felt sorry for her. I was not at home most days, either at university studying or working at local school, where I had just found job as a teacher.”
Anna murmured, then, and Elsie watched as Gunther began to sway a bit, rocking the child until she quieted.
“When I did see her,” he went on more quietly, “Fraulein Klinkhammer rarely speaks to me. She was very quiet and keeps to herself, but little bit by little bits, she begins to trust my mother. She tells her things. She was what my mother would call a Bauer . . . peasant? Like poor person. She tells my mother where she comes from. From a farm outside of city. As a young girl, she fell in love with boy from next farm over, she tells my mother. Heinrich is his name. He left countryside to travel to Heidelberg to find work. Fraulein Klinkhammer was . . . how do you say it? Verrückt in der liebe? . . . crazy in love for him? . . . is what my mother said. So the fraulein followed this Heinrich to Heidelberg and found job and room. It is impressive, no?”
Without waiting for Elsie to answer, he went on. “My mother was very glad for the money. But she told Fraulein Klinkhammer to forget this man, to go home. As it was, Fraulein Klinkhammer did not listen to her. And you can take guess what happened,” he said, shifting his eyes toward the back of Anna’s head, still resting on his shoulder.
The little girl looked to be asleep now, as evidenced by not only her closed eyes, but also by her slack body, her arms drooped loosely around Gunther’s shoulders instead of tightly gripping his neck as they had just a few minutes before. Gunther shifted the weight of her and went on in a quieter voice.
“No one knew the fraulein was with childeven my mother, which is impressive. You would know this if you have met her, my mother. It was my mother that delivered the babyright there in our house. She hears fraulein screaming and runs upstairs to find a big
Unordnun . . . ” Gunther shrugged, searching for the right word. “Mess.” He looked at Elsie again as if to gauge her understanding. “Lucky my mother was there,” he went on. “Poor Fraulein Klinkhammer was keeping pregnancy a secret, not eating much food, and baby came out little, only four pounds. My mother predicts she will not live, but, yes, she did live.” He kissed the side of the sleeping Anna’s head, bringing a smile to Elsie’s face. “Fraulein Klinkhammer told my mother that she believes baby will bring father around, this Heinrich, but, no, it did not. She discovered that he ran off. To America.”
Balancing Anna carefully, Gunther slowly lowered himself into the chair opposite Elsie, shifting carefully to find a comfortable position. Elsie couldn’t help but stare at him as he sat across from her. He was not wearing his spectacles, and she could see his fine blond eyelashes. Her eyes observed the smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks, then travelled lower to his blond mustache and his full lips beneath.
A warmth began to radiate through her as she watched him, and she knew then what she had long suspected; she was indeed falling in love with him despite everything. She couldn’t help it. It was inconsequential what else he might say; it simply didn’t matter. Anyone this good and this compassionate, this intelligent and caring, who could hold a child as tenderly as he held a poem was to be desired beyond any, no matter what other horrors he had yet to tell. She could probably guess the rest of the story, anyway. Obviously, the young woman fled to America after her lover, and Gunther had then set off on a quest to find her, towing the little girl along. It was admirable to be surebutas Elsie considered it more closely, did not make a lot of sense. There were several better alternatives that came to her mind in just a few short moments; surely, he must have thought of these, too . . .
“Fraulein Klinkhammer became very mutlos,” Gunther went on, oblivious to the delicate strands weaving at that moment into a cord of love within Elsie’s heart. “Sometimes this happens, my mother says. The woman does not want to know the baby . . . becomes depressed. My mother is thinking that the fraulein should be with her family, but we do not know how to find them, who they are. And Fraulein Klinkhammer will not say. My mother, she tries to help her, but we have other cares to be thinking of. And now baby, too. Many, many nights, baby cries, but Fraulein Klinkhammer does not rise. My mother cannot endure this, and also lodgers complain, so she picks up baby and feeds her each night. Many times in night. Then one day, Fraulein Klinkhammer disappears. She leaves baby and note to say she is going to find this Heinrich. She says she is going to America and that she will be coming back for baby someday when she can.”
Gunther stopped to softly rub the sleeping Anna’s back again. “That was four years ago. She did not even give her a name,” he said sadly, and for the first time he broke his gaze with Elsie and looked down.
“Who named her?” Elsie asked quietly.
“I did,” he said, looking up at her again. “My mother insisted I name her, so I gave her the name of Anna. It was my mother’s name, too.” He gave Elsie a sad smile.
“I’m sorry she died, Gunther.”
“Yes, it is very terrible.” His voice was soft, his heavy grief still apparent in his eyes. “She should not have come. It was too much for her.”
Elsie longed to reach out to him, to touch his armsomethingbut she did not. “Why did she come?” she instead asked. “Why did all of you come? Why not just you?”
Gunther let out a deep breath. “Ach. I am getting ahead of the story.” He paused as if to recount the tale in his mind and then continued. “After the fraulein left, we begin always to argue, me and my mother. We could not agree what to do with Anna.” He lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “My mother wanted to put her in a . . . what do you call it? Kinderheim? Orphanage? She is much attached to Anna, it is true, but she predicts it will only get worse as time passes. We cannot care for her forever, she says. I argue that is only for little while, but she does not believe this. She is sure that Fraulein Klinkhammer will never return. But I insist she will. I try very much to help my mother to care for Anna, but I admit I find it hard. I am not so good at this. I am not woman, and I have much demands on my time at school. Also I am making small fixes on house each day; always there is problem.
“Finally, after about six months, we receive much welcome letter from Fraulein Klinkhammer. It says that she is in Chicago, that she has found job in a school, near place called Mundelein. She has been ill, the letter says, and that she cannot return for now. She is trying to save money, but she finds it hard. It was very short letter, written by friend, she says. She does not say whether or no she found Heinrich, and she does not ask about baby. That was all. After I read this letter many times, I understand that she is not going to come back. That my mother is right. But still we wait, hope.
“My mother becomes, then, very ill. Many weeks pass, and much of Anna’s care falls to me. Some lodgers, too, help me, take pity on the girl, but I now see how much work it is for my mother to run house and care for baby. My mother was not young when I was born. And I see that she will be weak from her illness for maybe long time. So, I finally agree that we must take Anna to orphanage. My heart nearly was breaking for this, for I have grown to love her, even then. She is already turning one year of age. We were very sad, but we tell ourselves small lie, that it is only for short time.” Gunther gave another shrug. “But we do not believe. My mother packed a bag for her, and I was preparing things to leave with her when terrible thing happened . . . ”
Gunther trailed off and looked away for a moment, and Elsie was surprised to see his look of anguish.
“She had a fit,” he said quietly, smoothing Anna’s hair. “Shaking on the ground, her eyes going back. It was terrible. We did not know what to do. We . . . we were very much frightened. One of our old neighbors was there, too, and she says that Anna is possessed by devil. Schwachsinn!” Gunther said fiercely. He rubbed his brow as if to calm himself and then went on, steadying his voice.
“We knew we cannot take her to orphanage like that. So we again keep her until we can understand what is happening. I take her to a doctor friend of mine from university. He examined her and tells me that she is probably having something called Epilepsie . . . epilepsy? I tell him the whole story and our plan to take her to orphanage. He agrees this would be for the best, but he warned me about the new Nazi laws under Herr Hitler calling for the Sterilisation . . . sterilization of the feebleminded. He tells me that in any type of institution, even in orphanage, Anna would probably be early victim. Not only that, he says, but many people have fear that this awfulness might go beyond sterilizing into something of more seriousness . . . maybe killing . . . murdering. I . . . I cannot believe this. It was ridiculous. Wahnsinn! How can this be? So I do more asking about this law, and I very soon come to same understanding as my friend. That our country is headed to very dark place.”
With his free hand, he reached for his mug and took a drink of his coffee, now cool. “I went to university library and find books about epilepsy,” he went on. “I learn more of what it is and how there is no cure. A few scientists predict salts of bromide and say that quiet life, good diet, some little exercise is only known treatment. Either way, me and my mother know then that we can never take Anna to orphanage, even for a short time. The authorities would know of her condition and maybe track her down later? We tried to follow what the books saidto give her a quiet, calm life. We tried these salts of bromide, but they only make her more ill. She fought taking them so much that sometimes it brings on another fit, so we finally stopped trying to give these to her. We tried to keep her fits a secret, but too many of the lodgers knew about them already. We asked them please to be silent about this, but,” he said with a shrug, “students cannot always be relied upon. More than them, though, we were having much worry about the neighbor, Frau Mueller, who is now hanging Nazi flag in her front window and is always asking about Anna.”
He stopped talking then and stretched his neck, the strain of holding the sleeping girl evident.
“Why . . . why don’t you lie her back down,” Elsie suggested, nodding toward the trundle.
“Ach, no. She will wake and start screaming. Best to hold her. She did not sleep well again last night.”
Elsie looked at him, her heart overwhelmed. Hesitantly, she held out her arms and inclined her head toward Anna. Gunther did not move for several moments, looking at her as if weighing the risk of transferring the girl, his face conflicted. Finally, though, he inched forward and gently placed the sleeping girl in Elsie’s arms, watching carefully to see if Anna would settle. Anna did stir, but Elsie carefully cradled her against her body. “Go on with the story,” she said softly to Gunther. “Your voice will soothe her.”
“There is not much more to say, I am thinking,” Gunther said, slowly easing back in his chair and tentatively watching Anna in Elsie’s arms. He gazed at her for several moments and then let out another deep breath.
“As time passed, things started to get very much worse. Lodgers started to leave. I suppose people everywhere are ignorant, yes?” he asked grimly. “Some of the lodgers were afraid of either the possessed girl, as she begins to be called, or the Nazis, so they went other places. Then other things not so good begin to happen. In the town.” He stopped and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Another war is coming, I am afraid, Elsie. Hitler is not the Kaiser. This is different. Much evil is already happening.”
He stood abruptly.
“Like this,” he whispered fiercely, gesturing at the sleeping girl. “Only a monster would
. . . would sterilize heror worsebecause of her illness. Something she cannot control . . . ” He gripped the back of the chair and bowed his head down between his arms. “Forgive me,” he said after a moment. “This is not the point.”
He stood up straight and began pacing back and forth, occasionally looking over at Elsie. “Each week we had less and less money, and we lived more in fear,” he said. “It was my mother’s idea to come to America. To get Anna out of the country and maybe back to her mother if possible. We had the fraulein’s one letter, so we were thinking that maybe we could find her. Idiocy, I know,” he said, glancing at Elsie. “Also, I read that this epilepsy can be passed down . . . hereditary? Is that the word?”
Elsie quickly nodded.
“So I am thinking that maybe Fraulein Klinkhammer has this, too. Is this her meaning in the letter when she said she was ill?” he asked, thoughtfully scratching his whiskered chin. “At first, I am thinking to make this journey on my own,” he went on. “I was not sure how my mother would be on journey, and Anna, too. I predict that both of them are not being strong enough, but I do not want to leave them behind, alone, even though I have friends at university who might help. But I have no choice. My mother insisted that we all go together. I suggest that maybe I should just take Anna to reunite her with Fraulein Klinkhammer, but she predicts I am not able to take care of Anna alone. But look at me now,” he said with a sad grin. Elsie tried her best to give him an encouraging smile in return.
“No, the truth, I am thinking,” he said with a heavy sigh, “is that she had no wish to stay anymore. She was afraid. My father, she said, would understand. And so I got tickets and visas, which took some time, and finally we left.” He stopped pacing and looked down at Elsie. “Maybe we exaggerated the threat,” he shrugged, his voice tired. “Maybe we should have stayed. I do not know. Nothing has turned out as I predict it would.”
He slumped down into the chair opposite her again. “As you know, she died on the way over, my mother. I very much grieved her, as did Anna. Very much,” he said hoarsely. “Ach, Elsie. What is worse is that it has been for nothing. Look at us. No closer to finding Fraulein Klinkhammer than the day we first arrived.”
Elsie was at a loss for what to say to this poor man in front of her. “It must have been terrible, Gunther. What did you do? When you landed, that is. How did you come to be here?”
Gunther let out another sigh. “We docked in New York and made our way, me and little Anna, on the train to Chicago. I . . . I must say I did not understand how big America is, how big the cities are. I was . . . how do you say it? Overwhelmed? I felt despair of ever finding the fraulein, but I have no choice but try. At train station, I asked someone to direct me to Mundelein, and so we arrive here. It is what Fraulein Klinkhammer said in letter, no? That she had found work at a school? I asked many people . . . many of the girls as they walk by . . . if they know of a Fraulein . . . Miss . . . Liesel Klinkhammer. No one has heard this name, they say. I grow more and more upset. Finally, someone had pity on us and took us to see Sister Bernard. This sister welcomed us in, even though we were very dirty and shabby. I did not realize this until we were standing outside her office, how dirty we are.
“I tried to explain that I am seeking Anna’s mother. She tells me that this name of ‘Liesel Klinkhammer’ she has not heard before. She is not student and not worker at this school. I am made very low by this, as I am thinking that my searching is to be nearing an end. Sister Bernard asks me then if maybe this woman is using different name? Or if maybe she moved on to different place? I have no answer to this. Then Sister asked where we are to stay, and I say that I do not know. I was no longer thinking so clear. We had just come from train station. We have nothing and nowhere to go. She has pity on me, I am thinking, and says that we can stay for time in small house behind dormitories. It is small like a hut. It is where old Hausmeister? . . . caretaker? . . . once lived. In exchange, she says, maybe I can do odd jobs for them. I agreed, and Anna and I moved in right away, that day. I cleaned the place,” he said, looking around the room, “and unpacked our things, which was not much. We have little to bring. Thankfully, I know English because of my mother. She taught me this as child. It is not perfect, I know, but it is enough for me to get by,” he said with a small shrug.
“It is very good,” Elsie encouraged with a smile. She looked down at Anna and gently brushed her fine hair back from her eyes. “Then what?” Elsie prodded, looking back up at him.
“I . . . I work very hard at new job,” he said, pulling his mutual gaze away. “Though I admit I am not skilled at jobs mechanical, but most of work is not hard. Most of it is cleaning. I think constantly about Fraulein Klinkhammerhow I can find her. But I have not much time free and no . . . no help. On evenings off, I take Anna by hand, and we explore neighborhood. I go into shop after shop, asking if anyone has heard of woman with Fraulein Klinkhammer’s description. But there is nothing. No one.
“As time goes on, Sister Bernard offered me a permanent job as caretaker if I want. I was happy with this; I have nothing else,” he said with a shrug. “But she has condition, she says. Anna, she says, cannot stay. I am shocked by thisangered, too. I say I will refuse, but Sister explained. She says that living in a hut in back of school with man who claims not to be her father is not good life for a child. There is a place, she tells me, called the Bohemian Home for the Aged and Orphans. Not too far away, on Foster Avenue. I can visit often, she says. Many children in orphanages have parents still alive who cannot care for them, she tells me. For reasons many. So they put children there until they can. Or until someone else wants them,” he added, looking at Elsie again.
“Sister Bernard is very convincing,” Gunther went on, with an odd trace of defensiveness in his voice now. “She tells me that Anna will have good food, some school, a place to run and play, learn better English. It is a good place, she promised. ‘Do what is best for Anna,’ she says. In my mind, I am thinking she is right. I have to admit that Anna was not doing so good. Constantly she cries for my mother. I tell her to stay in this hut while I work, but two times already I find her wandering by lake and then by road,” he said with a nod toward the front of the college, where the busy, twisting Sheridan Road lay.
“I . . . I did not know what else to do,” Gunther explained, his eyes pleading. “I did not have much of choice. Not one that I could see. So I . . . I went to this place. This Bohemian Home. And in the end, I . . . I put her there.” He looked at Elsie with deep shame in his eyes.
Elsie was just about to reassure him when he suddenly broke down, putting his hand over his eyes to hide his tears.
“After everything. All that we went through in Germany. My mother dying. The terrible trip. All so that Anna could end up in orphanage anyway. Ach, Elsie. I have failed,” he groaned, and his shoulders actually shook as he cried.
Elsie’s heart went out to him, and she wished she could think of something to say that would comfort him.
“It was all for nothing,” he said before she could offer anything. He angrily wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I am no closer to finding Fraulein Klinkhammer than I was before. She could be anywhere. Even far away from here. Who knows?”
“Gunther,” Elsie began in a low, soothing voice. “You haven’t failed. You might not have found her mother . . . yet. But you saved Anna from a potentially horrible fate in Germany. That alone demands credit and praise. Your mother’s death was not for naught. She helped save this little girl. As did you.” Privately Elsie considered the loss of his studies and his life as a teacher as worthy of sorrow and regret as well, but she did not say so. “All is not yet lost,” she said softly, though, in truth, she did think it to be nearly a hopeless situation. “What about her . . . her epilepsy? Has she . . . has she had any more fits?” Elsie asked tentatively.
Gunther sighed. “As if by miracle, she had none on the ship or during time with me here. I . . . I thought maybe they were over. That this condition has somehow gone away. That she is cured. Something like that. I know it was idiocy to think this.” He exhaled loudly again, pausing to think. “I did not tell Sister Bernard or people at orphanage about . . . about Anna’s illness because I have fear. Maybe this is wrong, but I decided to . . . what is the word? Zocken? Gamble? I prayed that all would be okay, but no. It was not to be. Since she has been at orphanage these fits have come back. She has had two. The people at the orphanagea couple, a man and wifehave much understanding and kindness. They wish to help, they say, but they tell me they cannot keep a child who has fits. They say she should be sent to special institution for feebleminded children in different part of state.” Gunther put his hand over his eyes again. “Ach, Elsie,” he mumbled. “What am I to do? I must find Fraulein Klinkhammer.”
Elsie did not see how finding the fraulein at this point would solve anything, but she didn’t want to add to his distress. What difference would it make if they found her? She was a perfect stranger to Anna. And even if Fraulein Klinkhammer really had been acting on some sort of maternal feeling by trying to find a better life for her and eventually her child, which was unlikelyeven the usually generous Elsie allowed herself to admitshe was probably not any closer to being able to provide for Anna than she had been when she originally fled Germany after Heinrich.
“Is that why she’s here with you now? Because she can’t go back to the orphanage?”
“No, it is because . . . because sometimes I bring her back. For a visit. I thought maybe it would help her, but all it does is confuse her more, I am thinking.”
“Why does she call you ‘Papa’?” Elsie asked tentatively.
Gunther sighed. “I do not know. When she was very little, just learning to talk, I called myself Onkle to her, but it did not stick. It was probably one of the lodgers who thought it is amusing to teach her to call me Papa. Anyway, she just does. And now I do not have heart to tell her. Constantly, she asks for my mother, her Oma. She does not understand she is dead,” he said hoarsely, so much so that Elsie thought her own heart might break.
Carefully, she pulled out one of her hands, nearly numb, from under Anna and reached out across the table to take Gunther’s hand in hers.
He looked up at her, surprised.
“Gunther, I will help you,” she said steadily. “We’ll find a way.”
“No,” he said, sitting up straight and pulling his hand free. “It is not for you to worry about. And I would not take you from your studies. You have much worries of your own. I know this, Elsie.” He paused. “But I thank you.”
“I would like to help you,” Elsie insisted, her face warm from the fact that he had pulled away his hand. “I have very few to . . . to care for. I can study and help you to find this Fraulein Klinkhammer.”
“But how? You have not much time between your class and your family. Aunt Agatha and all of these. Lloyd Aston,” he said with a sad grin.
“I’ll think of something. I’m . . . I’m very resourceful, you know.”
“I do know.”
They stared at each other for several moments, during which time Elsie was tempted to say aloud the words she believed he already knewbut she just couldn’t. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words died in her throat. It was not the time for it, or to be thinking of herself, she reasoned.
“Besides this habitual or sanctifying grace there is also actual grace,” Sr. Raphael was reading aloud. “Actual grace is that grace which empowers us to perform actions and operations proportionate to our ultimate end, the vision of God in his proper essence. By its means we build up within us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, the cardinal virtues of prudence justice, fortitude, and temperanceand the moral virtues. Since all of these are the fruit of grace, they are called infused virtues.”
Sr. Raphael stopped reading from the book she held in front of her, her spectacles nearly at the end of her nose, and perused the class. “I think that’s all the time we have, girls,” she said, glancing at the brown wall clock. “You’ll have to read the rest of Reverend Lapierre’s chapter on Aquinas’s interpretation of grace on your own. I had hoped to have time to discuss, but never mind. Instead, I want you to write a paper for Thursday on one of the cardinal virtues.”
Elsie gave a small internal groan. She hadn’t been listening. Again. Since visiting Gunther in his hut, she had become nearly obsessed with helping him. At one point, she ventured to ask her roommate, Melody, if she had ever heard of a Liesel Klinkhammer. Disappointedly, she had notwhich was significant considering Melody claimed to know almost everyone at Mundelein and “loads” of girls, not to mention boys, at the neighboring Loyola as well. Melody had of course begged to know who this Liesel was, but Elsie put her off by telling her it was “the daughter of a friend of her mother’s who had maybe worked here at one point.”
“Criminy! Why didn’t you say!” Melody had laughed. “I don’t know all the staff! Pops would not approve of me fraternizing with ‘the help,’ as he calls them. He’s terribly bourgeois, you know, though he doesn’t even realize it. For God’s sake, his father was a miner! It’s perfectly obnoxious. Anyway, why don’t you ask Gunther? He’s German, too, I think. Maybe he’s heard of her.”
At this suggestion, Elsie had merely bit back a smile and said that she would.
Since their conversation, Gunther, she knew, had taken Anna back to the orphanage, where the girl so far had not experienced any more fits, at least that Elsie knew of. But it was only a matter of time, Elsie felt sure, as did Gunther, before another one might occur. Elsie also ventured over to Loyola’s library, something she had not previously worked up the courage to do, and unearthed several books on the subject of mental diseases, just as Gunther had done back at the university in Heidelberg. It made for slow, painful reading in the evenings, but she had been rewarded with a couple of nuggets of informationthe saddest being that there really was apparently no known cure for epilepsy, corroborating what Gunther’s colleague in Germany had told him. She had hoped that maybe American doctors had perhaps devised some sort of new, innovative treatment, but no.
Despite her initial opinion that finding Liesel Klinkhammer would not help much with the bigger problem of what to do about Anna, Elsie had since given in to Gunther’s insistence that they continue the search for her, perhaps because there seemed precious few other options. Maybe something could be resolved by finding her, Elsie convinced herself. If nothing else, it was at least a place to start. More than once though, she had wondered if Anna should at least be taken to a doctor in town and examined. She had suggested this to Gunther, but he had no money to pay for a doctor, he said, and refusedno, was offendedwhen she had offered even to loan him the money, much less give it to him. So they resorted to finding the fraulein. Sr. Bernard had not been of any help, and it did not seem a matter for the police. But how to find a missing person? Or worse yet, a person who maybe did not want to be found? Elsie wondered.
As she gathered up her things from Sr. Raphael’s class, Elsie, again thinking about how they could find Fraulein Klinkhammer, bemoaned the fact that her mental abilities were not of a more practical, common-sense nature. Like Henrietta’s, she thought glumly. As she pondered this, a stray thought suddenly occurred to herone which she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of before! It was obvious what they should do.
She was interrupted in this new exciting thought, however, by the tap of a pencil on her arm. Startled, she looked over to see Melody, happily in this same theology class, pointing with her pencil in a very superior type of way, with raised eyebrows, at the hearts Elsie had unconsciously drawn in the margin of her paper.
Melody gave her an exaggerated wink and whispered loudly, “I knew it! I knew you had a secret love! Oh, do tell!” she urged. “Honestly, Elsie, it’s horribly unfair if you don’t. Haven’t I waited long enough? Surely I’ve earned your trust by now!”
Elsie tried not to audibly sigh. Melody was forever trying to get a confession of love out of her and was relentless in her attempts to “set her up” with various promising Loyola boys, each of whom, Melody declared, was more “perfect” for her then the next, which in and of itself was astonishing, really. Who would have imagined that there were apparently so many “perfect” men out there for her?
Elsie had thus far been successful in thwarting both the confession and most of the attempted dates, not wanting to explain that she was already the subject of the very same attempts by her scheming Grandfather Oldrich Exley and his somewhat unwilling accomplice, Aunt Agatha. Nor did she wish to reveal any of her other “secrets,” for that matter, such as her recent desire to become a nun or her sordid past with Stanley and Lieutenant Barnes-Smith. And she most definitely did not want to confess, nor discuss, the real object of her tender feelings, which were something very different than any of the fleeting, immature ones that had come before. She had no wish to explain, nor was she really able to, even to herself. All she knew was that Gunther and his woes were all that mattered to her now. And her studies, of course. Where everything else was gray and shallow, this was real and alive and filled with color. It was almost blinding, actually. Gunther needed her, and that alone was intoxicatingnot to mention his mutual love of literature, his tenderness with Anna, and dare she admit? . . . his handsome face and his very blue eyes.
“Well, it’s a very long story,” Elsie said, moving hurriedly toward the door.
“Even better!” Melody gushed, following closely behind her. “Oh, I do so love long stories. Especially long love stories!”
“Later then,” Elsie suggested. She was eager to find a place alone so that she could think about her new idea; the one that had just come to her a few minutes ago, which was, of course, that she, or, well, theyshe and Gunther, that isshould ask Henrietta and Clive to help them find Liesel Klinkhammer! After all, isn’t that what Henrietta had told her at Christmas? That she and Clive were hoping to open a detective agency? Perhaps this could be their first case!
The wheels in Elsie’s mind were turning furiously, and she made an excuse to Melody that she had to meet with Sr. Sylvester, her math tutor. If she had merely said that she was going to the library, Melody would have found a way to talk her out of it; Elsie had used that excuse already too many times.
“Well, all right, then, Els. I’ll let you off for now,” Melody said sternly, “but don’t forget! You promised!” she added gaily as she set off in the direction of Philomena Hall. Elsie, in turn, made her way toward Gunther’s hut, hoping he was there so that she could lay out her idea. She felt sure Clive could find Liesel; after all, hadn’t he once been a brilliant detective? And it might be good, Elsie mused, for Henrietta, too, as she hadn’t been herself since she had lost the baby.