CHAPTER TWELVE Friday Morning , December 1, 1899
Eyes open and pinch back shut. Pulls bed sheet over face. Light sneaks in. Dark under Mother’s quilt. Ears don’t hear Stella singing in kitchen. Tosses covers away. Not on couch. Sun shines bright through window. Curtains hide sun on living room window.
Caleb’s bedroom! Father, not Stella, tucked Caleb in new bed last night. And desk and dresser, Father said Mr. York’s surprise. Foot steps into slipper. Giggles.
Nana teases, “I’m going to find your secret place.”
Walks to desk. Wiggles toes on foot without slipper. Floor cold.
Nana Sings, “One shoe off and one shoe on. Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my grandson Caleb.”
Opens desk drawer. Mr. Wentzel’s tobacco tin with three curly things. Stella put in drawer when saying goodnight. After Father tucked Caleb in.
“Caleb. Are you awake?” Father’s voice from the stairway. “I need you to meet someone in my office.”
Looks down stairs at Father. “S-stella?”
“I wish Stella were here, but she went to the dairy to get milk for breakfast.”
“I’ll wait for you by the office.”
Not a dream. Father let Caleb drive Dowdy’s horse. Holds out arms. “Giddy up.” Makes clicking noise. Trots down stairs to bathroom.
Father stands outside office door and points. “That man in there knows something about your family.”
Nose remembers cigar smell. Finds foot without slipper. Whispers, “Diddle, diddle, dumpling.” Eyes see man’s black shoes. Not shiny! Go up to black pants. To black shirt. To black hat. No cigar.
Oma says Man-in-Black always stinks like cigar.
Black hat hides man’s eyes. He points to chair. Caleb sits. Man’s eyes move to chair behind desk. Father sits.
“Caleb, this is Mr.—”
“As I told you, just Sean.” He lifts black hat. “My only name for now.”
“Well young man. Now that you know my name, tell me your name.”
“Is that your full name? What about a last name?”
Father’s hands on desk. Sees Papa’s ring first time. He says, “We aren’t even sure he’s been baptized. Can you supply us with that information?”
Sean-in-Black keeps eyes on Caleb. “Tell me about your mother.”
“Where is she?”
Papa yells. “Are you sure that’s necessary, Sean?”
Oma says Sean is Caleb’s mean uncle.
“Please answer, Caleb.”
“In heaven with Nana. With Little Sister.” Eyes want to cry.
“A little sister?” Sean smirks.
Oma tells Mean Uncle to wipe smirk off his face.
“What about your little sister?”
Eyes go to black shoes, not shiny.
“You do know something about the girl.”
“Oma says pray for her.”
“She died?” Mean Uncle Sean pushes coat open and shoves hands in pockets. “What about your father?”
“Don’t have papa.”
“Do you remember a baseball game?”
“Man in uniform hit the ball real hard.”
“Who bought you a baseball cap at the ball park? And took you to a cinema?”
Face hurts. Papa should make Sean go away. “Papa?”
“You said you don’t have a papa.”
“I think Caleb means me. He sometimes confuses my title of Father with Papa.”
“Was he a priest like Father Busch?”
Remembers only shiny black shoes.
“Tell me about the fire.”
Papa says, “That’s going a bit too far.”
Pinches eyes shut. Shiny black shoes won’t go out of Caleb’s head. Looks around. “Where’s Tella?”
“Who is Tella?”
“Stella, my housekeeper. She’s taking care of Caleb until he finds a permanent home.”
Eyes open. Find white envelope on Papa’s desk. Mrs. Cunningham has brown envelope. Policeman had black envelope.
“I presume she is away. Does she leave Caleb alone often?”
Man-in-Back looks around. “Never?”
“Except when I’m here to watch him.” Uncle Sean’s eyes stay on Papa. “Unless accompanied by an adult.” Papa sits back down. “For instance, yesterday Mrs. Cunningham escorted Caleb to a prospective family.”
“Cunningham? The Implement dealer here in Bovine?”
“Yes, his wife. I don’t see what that has to do with—”
“Did the fire burn you, Caleb?”
“I’m afraid I have to confirm that.” Faces Papa. “Note that I did not touch the boy.” Eyes back on Caleb. “Please stand and lift your shirt for me. I want to see your back and stomach.”
Glances at Papa. Lifts shirt.
Uncle Sean makes circle with finger.
Turns around and pulls shirt down.
“Lower your pajama bottoms and turn around.”
“I most seriously object.” Papa tries to stand.
“Very quickly, Caleb.”
Loosens string and pajamas fall down. Urge to pee again.
“Thank you, Caleb. You may pull your pajamas back up. Now, I need to see your feet.” He looks at Papa. “May I?” He sets Caleb back on chair and lifts foot without slipper. He shakes head and takes slipper off other foot. He smiles.
Points and giggles. “My strawberry.”
Nana says, “I’m going to find your strawberry and tickle it.”
Uncle Sean puts slipper back on foot. “Caleb, I want you to show me where you sleep?” He glances at Papa. “With your permission, of course.”
Papa stands. Man-in-Black stares but Papa doesn’t sit down.
“Father Busch, I want you to understand that I am a professional. I will in no way harm this boy. There are certain conditions that go with the stipend. You’ll find them in the envelope with the bank draft. Feel free to look them over while this young man shows me his bedroom.”
Papa drops to his chair. “I’ll be right here, Caleb, if this man frightens you.” He picks up envelope and sets it down. “No, I will follow you to the stairway.”
Man-inBlack doesn’t scare Papa.
Slides off chair and takes man’s hand. Hears Papa humming as they climb stairs.
“So, this is your room. Where did you get the nice quilt?”
Counts on four fingers. “Mrs. Cunningham, Grandma Betsy, and Earl’s mother.” Lowers his pinkie. “And Arnie’s mother but she died.”
“I see. Mothers. You miss your Oma?”
“And Nana.” Tears form.
I want you to think real hard. “Who put you out on the window ledge?”
Shakes head. Picture won’t go away.
Nods and tears burst out. “Nana.”
“Where was Oma?”
“Oma on fire.” Runs and bumps into Papa on steps.
Papa yells, “I regret that I allowed you time alone with this boy.”
Can’t pee no matter how hard Caleb tries. Wants to look at sad face in Oma’s little mirror. Nana hides locket in apron pocket. Kicks off slipper. Giggles through tears.
“You can tickle my secret place now, Nana.”
Peeks out bathroom door. Runs to Stella’s bedroom and looks in. No one in kitchen. No one in living room. Outside office door, Mean Uncle Sean grabs Caleb’s arm, bends down, and whispers, “Look under your mothers’ quilt.” He puts his finger on his lips. “Our little secret.”
Papa comes out of his office. Sean smirks again. “I’ll be back some time next year. I’m aware of the new orphanage. Not a good place for Caleb.” He pulls black hat down over eyes and walks out.
Curls up in corner. Chews on pajama string. Papa sits at desk. Writes.
“Caleb?” Stella calls from kitchen.
“The boy’s in here.”
Stella stares. “Caleb, are you all right?”
“He’s had a difficult morning. Take these notices to the Council members. We need to meet immediately.”
“Yes, Father. Immediately?”
“This afternoon at one o’clock. It’s written right in front of you.”
“What about Caleb?”
“Take him with you.”
“Your breakfast, Father?”
“I’m in no mood.” He reaches into his pocket and takes money out. “Get him something to eat at the cafe when you deliver Emma’s note.”
Nana helps Caleb stand. Kisses his hair. “Where are your slippers?”
“Caleb doesn’t know.”
Papa scratches head. “He came down stairs with them on.”
“I’ll find your slippers later. Right now you need get dressed for outdoors. The sun is shining but the air is still cold.”
A bell jingles when they open cafe door. Emma comes from kitchen. “Hello, Caleb. You’re just in time to help with the noon rush.” She glances around empty tables. “Well, maybe it’s still coming.”
Stella takes off Caleb’s coat and holds it. “We’re here on Father Busch’s order to deliver this message.” Hands Emma folded paper. “And to buy Caleb breakfast.”
“I think Caleb earned pancakes and maple syrup after working at the venison fry last Monday.”
“Father gave us money.”
“In that case, I better pay up.” Emma takes nickel from money drawer. Gives it to Caleb.
In New York Nana saves nickels for Milk Man and Ice Man.
“Do you have a safe place to put this?”
“Wow. A young clerk.”
“Mr. York’s idea to get him ready for school next fall. He furnished Caleb’s bedroom furniture. I’ll make some curtains.”
“Sun hurts Caleb’s eyes.”
Emma asks, “What else do you have stored there?”
“Three curly things from Mr. Wenzel. Maybe something else. Don’t know.”
Our little secret.
Emma says, “All boys have a secret stash.”
Stella says, “Bring out Caleb’s pancakes. We have one more message to deliver this morning.”
Emma glances at paper from Father. “Emergency meeting. What’s that all about?”
“Man looked at Caleb’s strawberry.”
Stella sets coat on chair. “A birth mark on his foot.”
“This is a meeting, I don’t want to miss.”
“I better deliver this last message to Ben and get back to make Father his lunch.”
“Breakfast first, S-stella.”
Bundled back up after pancakes, Stella tells Emma, “Our next stop, York’s Mercantile.”
“Giddy up.” Makes clicking noises. Trots out the door
Stella looks at Emma. “We have Father to thank for that.”
Inside York’s store, man takes milk bottles out of box and puts them on shelf. Talks to them. “Customers have to see you guys before they’ll buy.” Claps the dust off hands. “What can I do for you, Stella?”
“We have a message to deliver.” She hands him the paper. “And Caleb has something to say to you.” She nudges Caleb. “What do you say to Mr. York?”
“Thank you, Mr. ‘Ork, for my desk.”
“And your bed and dresser.”
“My secret place.”
“I charged the parish for the bed and dresser, but Caleb can keep my children’s desk as long he stays. I’m sure the parish will want to purchase more adult furniture when the bishop arrives for confirmation. You’ve taken the guest room since he was here two years ago.”
“I expect to sleep on a cot in Father’s office.” She glances around the store. “I would like to buy Caleb a small toy.”
Mr. York puts his hand on Caleb’s shoulder and points to shelf of toys. “Go see what you would like?”
Turns and points. “Caleb wants milk bottle.”
“A strange toy and quite breakable.” He looks at Stella. “Sturgis dairy only delivers bulk milk, but some of his customers want it in bottles. He agreed but won’t furnish the containers.”
“I’ll take one. If I need to walk to the dairy again, I’d sooner carry a bottle than a pitcher.”
“They come in pairs, an empty to exchange for a full one.”
“Just one for now.”