Stein House
  
Stein House
Published:
11/11/2015
Format:
E-Book (available as ePub, Mobi, and PDF files) What's This
Pages:
306
ISBN:
978-1-49178-085-5
Print Type:
B/W

Max reappeared in the doorway of the inn, and the crowd on deck shouted in delight as he stopped, bowed to his audience, and took a huge gulp from the open bottle. Gretchen shuddered against Helga's shoulder, and Hermie's fist pounded the rail as he muttered between clenched teeth, “Come on, Papa.”

“It's all right. The captain will wait.” Paul breathed into his cupped hands.

The ship began its laboring surge as the black, swirling water of the Weser River churned up waves that grew from undulating ripples to frothy caps. Still Max whirled and danced and tipped his bottle as he headed almost casually toward the departing ship. The laughter died, and in a body the crowd began coaxing him to jump, make one mad leap, to entertain them one more time.

Helga pulled the children tighter against her, holding them, willing them not to watch.

And then Max jumped, tossing the empty bottle into the water as his body floated, suspended, arms extended, fingers spread, wildly grasping for the slowly arching rail. His face suddenly twisted to disbelieving shock as his fingers missed their grip, and he dropped like a slender arrow straight down into the roiling, icy water without causing the slightest splash.

After three long months at sea, Helga Heinrich and her four children sail into the thriving Indianola seaport on the Texas coast in 1853 to begin a new chapter.

Helga gripped the ship railing, straining to see the slowly materializing shore, lulled by the sweet sounds of Paul’s harmonica as he roamed among the passengers. His music became part of the voyage, always in the background adding energy when the hours dragged, lifting spirits during the after-supper sing-alongs. Now, the passengers leaned over the ship rail chattering excitedly, as unaware of Paul’s music as they were of the gentle breeze blowing against their faces. Heaving its way through the waves, the ship seemed as eager as everyone on board to reach Indianola, the tiny speck of buildings stretching across the flat Texas landscape. 
Then, like a storm wave rising black and angry out of the sea, the memory washed over Helga—forcing her back to the horror that began their trip: Max leaped wildly over the ship rail to the dock. The crowd on board roared its delight, enjoying another of his hilarious antics. He whirled to face his audience on deck, tilted the rounded brim of his hat over one eye, spread his feet apart like the maestro of a grand orchestra, and played a few bars of “Die Huehle” on his harmonica while the passengers clapped or rapped the rhythm on the ship rail. Then, his long graceful legs sprang gleefully into the air; he clicked his heels together in a final salute and raced into the inn. The children’s hysterical laughter stopped the instant Max disappeared. A cold wind of fear blew over them. Helga caught her breath, pulled the children tight against her, apprehension forcing bile into her mouth. 
Gretchen whispered, “No, Papa . . . ” as she clutched little Anna and buried her face in the two-year-old’s shoulder. Paul trembled like a leaf and Hermie stood as rigid as a poker, his face still flushed from howling at his papa’s performance. The sailors ignored it all, kept to their steady pace, never looking up from their work of hauling in the gangplank. The ropes slid like gigantic reptiles onto the deck, the sails billowed, and the vessel heaved as it inched ever so slowly from the dock. 
Max reappeared in the doorway of the inn and the crowd on deck shouted in delight as he stopped, bowed to his audience, and took a huge gulp from the open bottle. 
Gretchen shuddered against Helga’s shoulder and Hermie’s fist pounded the rail as he muttered between clenched teeth, “Come on, Papa . . . ” 
“It’s all right. The captain will wait,” Paul breathed into his cupped hands. 
The ship began its laboring surge as the black, swirling water of the Weser River churned up waves growing from undulating ripples to frothy caps. Still Max whirled and danced and tipped his bottle as he headed almost casually toward the departing ship. The laughter died and in a body the crowd began coaxing him to jump, to make one mad leap, to entertain them one more time. 
Helga pulled the children tighter against her, holding them, willing them not to watch. 
And then Max jumped, tossing the empty bottle into the water as his body floated, suspended, arms extended, fingers spread wildly grasping for the slowly arching rail. His face suddenly twisted to disbelieving shock as his fingers missed their grip and he dropped like a slender arrow straight down into the roiling, icy water without causing the slightest splash. 
* * * 
“Mama, are you sick?” Gretchen slipped her arm around Helga’s waist, forcing her mama back to the present. 
Catching her breath, Helga shook her head and cuffed the sweat off her upper lip. “Just excited. Tante Amelia is probably jumping up and down watching our ship head toward port.” 
“Paul makes me think of Papa when he plays that harmonica with such joy.” Gretchen’s lip trembled. “Sometimes, I wish he wouldn’t.” 
“When he plays, I can see your papa, even at ten, he’s so tall and thin.” Helga did not add that she worried, as she watched Paul on shipboard, that he might be as much of an entertainer and as eager to please the crowd as Max. 
As they waited for their small transfer ship to be loaded with the sea trunks and equipment and foodstuffs they were advised to pack for Texas, Helga had watched in amazement as Max became acquainted with all the passengers. He quickly discovered if they were merchants, or farmers, or professionally trained. The men delighted in his wild tales such as the one about stacking his manure pile on top of old farm implements to form such a mountain of manure that his neighbors thought he owned a huge herd of milk cows. 
Max managed the introductions by strolling about the dock playing his violin or his harmonica. The first night after supper, crowds gathered as his rich bass led them in familiar folksongs. By the second night, people of all ages accompanied him in four-part harmony. It passed the time and it seemed to cheer those in grief over leaving the Fatherland. 
At night, when Helga tried getting the children to sleep, Max kept all four of them in gales of laughter with his whispered tales of the other passengers: Frau Brugh’s gas explosions every time she bent over, Herr Schmidt’s big toe peeking from his shoe, and Frau Mueller bringing enough bedding for every person on the ship. 
Growing up, Helga had listened to her papa’s favorite sermons about Job and character and the test of a believer when faced with adversity. It all seemed so simple: like Job, girded with trust and faith, a person could weather any test, any storm God sent his way. 
Then, their lives changed abruptly. Helga stood paralyzed at the railing, staring at the place that swallowed Max, her mind telling her to comfort the children, to ease the terror gripping them, but she could not move. 
Hermie raised his head, staring at her in disbelief. “He’s drowned. Papa’s drowned in the Weser.” 
“Won’t they get him out? Won’t they help him?” Gretchen pleaded. 
The passengers moved close, some of the women enfolding them in the circle of their arms, whispering gentle consolations: 
“He was so happy.” 
“He was such a good man. 
“Everyone loved him.” 
“He kept our spirits up as we waited all these long days.” 
If there had been some place to go on the tiny transfer ship, somewhere off the crowded deck, she would have pulled the children away. There was nothing to do but stand in ice-cold silence, nodding as well-intended strangers offered what comfort they could muster. 
Gretchen cried softly, stroking Anna’s blond curls and straining to see through the crowd as though watching for her papa. Hermie stood as white and cold as a piece of marble, and Paul wailed, his face pressed against Helga’s breasts. 
Herr Weilbacher pushed through the crowd and gently laid his hand on Helga’s shoulder. “Frau Heinrich, the Captain says if they find his body in time, they’ll cart it the few miles downriver to Brake where we’re transferring to the Margarethe. We’ll carry him out to sea for a proper burial.” 
“Bury Papa in the ocean?” Gretchen’s face twisted in pain.” 

Myra Hargrave McIlvain is a teller of Texas tales. Whether she is sharing the stories in her books, her lectures, or her blog, she aims to make the Texas story alive. She has two adult children and a houseful of grands. She and her husband, Stroud, live in Austin, Texas.
 
 


Buy This Book
E-Book
Price $3.99
Perfect Bound Softcover
Price $20.99
Share Print E-mail
facebook   twitter   Website