The oddest man lived on the property next to my grandparent’s winter cabin in Herndon. He was an elderly German immigrant, and my father always knew him as Mr. Klaus. Mr. Klaus was somewhat of a recluse, and considered a loner amongst the many Herndon villagers.
My grandfather built his cabin around 1910 as a retreat from the harsh New England winters. My father often spoke fondly of his childhood days, visiting Grandpa, trampling through the open fields of snow which surrounded my grandfather’s cabin, roaming through the cold and quiet woods, sometimes wandering his way down to Sugarland Run.
My father said he spotted Mr. Klaus only a few times during his childhood. He seemed to be more taken with Mr. Klaus’s dog and constant companion, Rudy, than of Mr. Klaus himself.
On one of our recent holiday visits to Grandpa’s cabin, I was allowed to go out to collect fire wood for the cabin. As I roamed through the woods I spotted a burly man down by the stream.
Standing still and silent, I watched as the grey-bearded man, accompanied by his dog, picked berries from the fruit-filled bushes. Then something amazing happened. A deer appeared from the thick wooded area, approached the man’s outstretched hand and ate the berries — right out of his hand! The man stroked the deer’s neck as it lowered its head and antlers in seeming affection. Amazingly, several other deer appeared from the woods and approached the old man as well.
A slight gasp came from my mouth. The dog turned toward me and gave one loud bark. The deer scampered off. The old man, peering at me over top his eye glasses, said, “Approach, boy.”
I walked slowly toward him, glancing all around me as I cautiously moved forward.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that,” he said.
Without skipping a beat I asked, “How did you get those deer to eat from your hands?”
“They are my friends.” He paused. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Frankie. My name is Chris. Where do you live?”
“I live on Horse Pen Run.”
“What are you doing here, then?” he inquired.
“My Pop and I came to visit Grandpa for Christmas Eve.”
“Ah, yes. Your grandpa lives in the cabin by the field.”
“Where do you live?” I decided to ask back.
“A little further down by the stream.”
“Where did the deer go?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Probably back down to my cabin. We have to go on a long trip tonight.” He smiled. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Hesitating, I followed him several yards down a woodsy trail, until we came upon his cabin. The glow from his cabin windows was bright and I wondered why I had never noticed it before, as it did not seem to be too far from my grandpa’s cabin. As we approached the cabin I could see the name “Klaus” carved into the wooden lintel above his doorway.
“Over here,” he motioned me over to the small barn behind his cabin. “Here they are.”
Peering inside the barn I could see eight deer milling around a large wagon. I entered in awe.
“Here — give them some of these.” Chris reached into his pocket and handed me some berries.
I stuck my hand out to the deer and they approached. One-by-one they ate out of my hand as I saw them do with Chris down by the stream. My eyes bulged out of my head in amazement as I continued to feed the deer.
Suddenly, Rudy gave a bark and the deer went back over to the wagon.
“Well, Frankie, I’m afraid I’m going to have to send you back home now. Do you know your way back?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, Frankie,” he said as he patted me on the head.
“Nice to meet you too, sir.”
As I left the barn, I hustled up the trail back to Grandpa’s cabin as fast as I could. Out of breath I told my Pop and Grandpa about Chris, his bright cabin and how he let me feed the deer. They looked at each other skeptically.
“Now Frankie,” my Pop explained, “Mr. Klaus was an old man when I was a boy. I haven’t seen him in years. I’m sure he and Rudy are no longer with us.”
“That’s right, Frankie,” Grandpa added. “There’s nothing down by that stream except an old abandoned shack.”
“But I swe-e-e-a-ar!” I plead with my Pop, and I tugged hard on his shirt arm. Grudgingly, Pop came with me back down the trail. As we got to where Chris’s cabin was, there was nothing but an old, dark, abandoned shack, with weeds overgrown all around it. No lights, no deer, no Rudy, no Chris, no nothing. “But, Pop, I swear it was here.”
“That’s OK, Frankie,” he said reassuringly. “Let’s go get that fire wood.”
The next morning, we bid farewell to Grandpa as we loaded up the carriage to head back to Horse Pen Run. I pulled a wool blanket from the back seat of the carriage to keep myself warm on the ride home. Under the blanket I found a big red package. Atop the package was a scribbled note:
“TO FRANKIE, THANKS FOR HELPING ME FEED THE DEER. CHRIS.”