"You're Not Really Cold..."
He half-expected the usual bellow from the goose but heard nothing. Alan wished there was someone who could direct him to the Benton Banking Co. Still, if there wasn’t anyone, he should be able to find the bank in enough time before the 4:15 train.
The town clock was chiming just then, and Alan stopped to listen. One...two...three...another hour and one quarter to go. Alan continued down the street. As he traveled along, he noticed a strange sound. It was not the goose’s honking. It was different...yet, he felt like he heard a similar sound recently.
He followed the sound. It led him to a fallen store canvas on a nearby lane. Only when he was a few paces from dirty sheet did he realize what the noise was: a child crying. Alan pushed the canvas aside to reveal a little girl huddled underneath the withered sheet, her face flushed and eyes red.
“What’s wrong?” Alan asked.
The girl cringed with a squeal.
“Oh, please don’t hurt me, sir,” she said.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Alan said, “Why are you crying?”
“I can’t find my mummy and granddad,” she wept, “I lost them at the train station.”
“Did you wander off?”
“I only wanted to pet a kitty,” she sniffed, “But the kitty ran off and I chased after—and—and now I’m lost!”
She was sobbing again.
“Do you know if they’re still at the station?” Alan asked.
“Oh, they must be miles away now! I’ll never see them again!”
“I doubt that,” Alan murmured, “Come on, let’s return to the station. They probably came back looking for you.”
The girl was not so inclined to move from her place. She was cold and the tattered canvas had been keeping her warm enough. Furthermore, Alan’s lanky form was a bit frightening for her, and she didn’t recognize his American accent. He tried to persuade her that returning to the station really was the best plan, but she just stared at him wide-eyed and would not budge.
Alan feared he would never get her out, but then came the sound of an off-key, “honk!” He looked down. Lo and behold! The goose had reappeared at his feet.
“Oh!” the girl gazed in surprise at the rotund fowl.
“What’s he saying?”
“He’s telling you that you should follow him to the train station.”
“Is he truly?” the little one gasped in wonder.
“He says that I’ll help you get there, too.” Alan interpreted.
“Honk!” the goose looked up at Alan, then to the child. “Honk!”
The girl hesitantly stood up.
“Well,” she said slowly as she approached the pair, “if you are certain that’s what he says...”
“Absolutely,” Alan assured her.
He extended his hand and the girl shyly took it. With a “honk,” the goose began to waddle down the street, the man and child following close behind.
Alan hoped that the goose actually knew where it was going, otherwise the girl was going to follow the bird rather than him. He knew where the station was, a few streets down, to the right. The goose was decidedly walking to the left. Alan called to the goose, but it did not make any sign of recognition. The girl began to lean more heavily against him. All her crying and wandering around had worn down her strength.
They were definitely going the wrong way now. Alan decided to take matters into his own hands. He started toward the station’s direction, but the girl noticed he was deviating from the goose’s route.
“Wait, the bird wants us to go this way,” she said.
Alan grunted inwardly. “Well, he said that I’m helping you get to the station, too,” he reminded her, trying to keep the gruff undertone out of his voice.
“Honk!” the goose called, inopportunely looking back just then.
“See, he wants us to follow him!” the girl insisted and she began to release Alan’s hand.
“Hold it—wait—all right, I’m coming,” Alan said quickly, stepping back onto the goose’s path. He only took a few steps forward before he slackened his pace and finally stopped. The little girl slowed to a halt beside him, and the goose stopped waddling and merely stared back with its wide black eyes.
The girl looked up at Alan. “I suppose he’s forgotten the way,” she said, close to tears. Alan didn’t trust himself to answer.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She wrapped her little arms around his waist. “My daddy’s in the war. Mummy said he must be cold, spending Christmas without us.”
“I’m sure he thinks about you...” Alan said quietly.
She looked up at him again.
“You feel cold, too. Why?”
There was maturity within her round little eyes. Alan sighed.
“Because I am,” he answered quietly, looking down at her.
“Don’t you have anyone to think about you?” she asked.
Alan drew in his breath. “Must not, or I wouldn’t be cold.”
The girl lowered her eyes, pondering his answer. Alan felt her arms tighten around his waist.
“I’ll think about you,” she whispered.
Alan looked down at the young child. She had closed her eyes again. He felt her quivering as she set herself to make him warmer.
Why is she doing this for me? Alan thought. Her dad’s the one in danger.
“Do you think if I help you warm up, daddy will be warm, too?”
Everything inside Alan wanted him to tell her life didn’t work that way, but something in her eyes silenced his practical words.
“Maybe...” he said, “If you think about him, maybe he...he won’t be alone.”
“And he won’t be cold anymore?”
Alan did not want to tell her they wouldn’t be able to know, so he replied, “You’re not really cold if you’re not alone.”
He could almost feel the love that she was trying to send her father. Her little eyes were shut, but a smile was on her small lips. Alan felt that the bond of love forged between her soul and her father’s was too sacred to be shattered by his words. He remained silent, but a faint smile replaced the words he had chosen not to say.
A few hallowed minutes slipped by in this fashion. The little girl held him tightly, her lips parting once more into a smile.
Alan cleared his throat awkwardly. “Uh...kid, I—”
There was a commotion behind them. Turning back, Alan saw an elderly man and a woman hurrying in their direction.
“Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” The woman was calling, tears streaming down her relieved face.
“Mummy! Granddad!” The little girl cried. She broke away from Alan’s side and rushed into her mother’s arms. The woman held her close, stroking the young face and weeping with joy. The older gentleman approached Alan.
“Thank you so much! We have been searching for hours and nearly lost hope,” he said, casting a glance toward the mother and child.
“We were so worried that she’d freeze to death before we found her,” the mother sobbed between her kisses.
“How can we repay you?” the gentleman pressed.
Alan shook his head. “Money’s got nothing to do with it.”
“Good, good, then we can be certain you didn’t make off with her for that reason,” the fellow said, pulling out his pocketbook. Alan was about to protest at the insinuation, when the gentleman placed a decent roll of money in his hand. “God bless you, Mister...?”
“Are you a soldier?” the fellow asked.
“When do you leave for the front?”
“I already did. I was wounded when the Nazis ambushed our camp, and now I’m waiting to get passage on a ship that’ll take me home,” Alan said.
“Oh, you must be an American!” the woman said, “I thought your accent was foreign. Oh, Father, give the poor man some more. He must be terribly homesick.”
“Yes, yes, indeed,” and another amount was added to the first.
Alan was growing concerned at so much money being given away, but Elizabeth returned to his side and hugged him again. He looked down at her, and her eyes glowed.
“Thank you for helping me make Father warm,” she said.
Alan gave a wry smile.
“Keep up the good work, kid,” he said. “The world needs it.”
“Hurry, Elizabeth, our train is about to leave,” the mother said, “Our thanks again, Mr. Striver.”
With a chorus of farewells, the happy troop departed for the train station. Alan looked at the roll he held in his hand. He did not know the exact amount—he was not familiar with English currency—but it seemed a sizeable sum.
A sense of relief came over Alan. He needed money now more than ever. His savings back home were going to be eaten up by medical bills as soon as he returned. Not that the sum he held now would support him in the long term—but it would make him feel more confident asking Donna if...well, if she still wanted to—
Stop dreaming, Alan shook his head, You can’t ask until you know how money this actually is.
Probably Mr. Watson would know the exact amount. Since the bank was his next destination anyway, Alan slipped the roll into his pocket and moved on.