Authors: Lauraine Snelling
Tags: #Soldahl, #North Dakota, #Bergen, #Norway, #Norwegian immigrant, #Uff da!, #Nora Johanson, #Hans Larson, #Carl Detschman, #Lauraine Snelling, #best-selling author, #historical novel, #inspirational novel, #Christian, #God, #Christian Historical Fiction, #Christian Fiction
Published by eChristian, Inc.
To today’s sons and daughters of the pioneers.
May we always remember those who came before us.
Nora Johanson leaned her forehead against the sooty train window. It seemed as if they had not climbed a hill nor traveled through any woods in the last forty years. “Don’t be silly,” she chided herself. “You haven’t been on this train for forty years, it just feels that way.” She glanced over at the corpulent man sprawled in the seat across the aisle. She certainly didn’t need to worry about her mutterings waking him—snores fit to wake hibernating bears puffed at his walrus mustache.
Besides, he would not have understood a word she said since he obviously did not speak Norwegian and her few, carefully learned English phrases were not understood by most people she met.
She dug a cloth out of her carpetbag and scrubbed at the window, the dirt reminding her of how desperately she wanted a bath. If only she could have bathed in Minneapolis. But she was down to her last few coins and could afford only a small hunk of bread.
What will you do? What will you do? The question beat in time with the clacking train wheels, ever bearing her west. Farther from her beloved mountains and fjords of Norway but closer to the arms of the man she had promised to marry. At fifteen she had been so sure of their love. Now, she could barely remember him. She scrunched her eyes shut to conjure up a picture of Hans Larson, but it was easier to see his handwriting on the letters they had exchanged over the last three years.
She carefully drew off her natural wool, knitted mittens and opened her purse to count the coins that were left. One, two, three, four.
. No blessed angel had multiplied them while she dozed. Four pennies—all that was left of the money Hans had sent to her.
Her stomach rumbled.
In the last letter, Hans had said it was plenty. But then he had not counted on the overly long, storm-tossed sea passage. Or the tedious wait with the thousands of other immigrants on Ellis Island in this year of 1910. Or the blizzard that stopped the train for twelve hours.
Her stomach rumbled again. Would they never come to another town?
Nora fought back the tears that seemed to hover like persistent bees at the back of her eyelids. She sent a silent plea upward.
Please, make the town hurry.
Or maybe it was the train that should hurry. Whatever.
She leaned her head against the back of the seat. Visions of home danced through her mind. Home—with her family crowded around the white-clothed kitchen table, laughing, teasing, telling funny stories.
A sob caught in her throat. Her sister Clara had promised to come to the new land too, as soon as Nora could send her passage money. And her brother John. When she closed her eyes she could see them so clearly. She shut off the memories with a snap.
Think only of the better times,
she told herself. Remembering her loved ones, all bundled up and waving good-bye at the train station in Oslo, cut too deeply.
She blew her nose and wiped the errant tear away. As Mama had always said, “The good Lord will be with you and guide you when we can’t.” But right now Nora needed a human hug, one that she could touch and feel, and even hear. She sneaked a peak at the man in the other seat. She certainly could hear him. The train trip had not kept him awake.
She focused her attention again to what was out the window. The snow did not surprise her—it would be weeks yet before spring came to the hills and valleys at home. It was just the unending flatness of the land. The only rises were the drifts that piled against the buildings and sometimes stopped the train. Several times, the railroad men had been forced to dig through the drifts so the train could continue. It would have helped if the men had allowed her to assist them in digging instead of just looking at her as though the wind had frozen her brain. Her brothers would have tossed her a shovel and dared her to outdig them.
She caught a sigh as it was escaping her throat.
Think about Hans,
she ordered herself.
Think of what a fine man he is, how wonderful it will be to have a home of your own and milk cows again. Think of his promise to buy some chickens in the spring.
Will there be flowers by the house?
she wondered, closing her eyes to see them better.
Roses. I’ll have pink ones and red, maybe even a scarlet climber.
Just before she nodded off, she jerked upright. This time through the window she saw the sinking sun fling banners of orange and red, vermillion and gold across the sky. The heaped high, gray clouds were now burnished to shine and glow like the very gates of heaven. As the fiery red sun slipped below the horizon, the clouds faded to lavender and purple—and back to gray.
One thing this flat land does exceedingly well,
She had never seen such a display—not even over her beloved mountains in Norway. As she watched, she dared not blink in fear that she might miss a single hue.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” the woolen-coated conductor said as he paused at her seat. At least he spoke Norwegian. “But we’ll be an hour later than I thought.” He dragged out his gold watch and peered at its face. “Somewhere around ten, I expect.”
thank you,” Nora nodded with her words.
“Surely your young man will check at the station, so he’ll know our arrival time.”
Nora nodded; she seemed to be doing a lot of that. Why didn’t she feel the consolation the man was trying to offer? Was something wrong with her hearing? “I . . . I’m sure he’ll—Hans’ll be there.”
a little voice inside her whispered.
You’re sure he won’t be there to meet you.
Nora forced her lips into a smile and thanked the man again. She kept herself from turning around and watching him as he made his way down the length of the car, swaying with the movement of the train. He had boarded the train in Chicago and was beginning to seem like an old friend. The music of her own language cemented that feeling. She had never dreamed she would be at such a loss for words because she spoke only Norwegian.
She started to take out her dictionary but put it back because the light was so dim. She had not been able to concentrate on learning new words for the last two days anyway. Since the Norwegian woman she had traveled with left the train in Wisconsin, Nora had practiced English with no one.
Seeing her reflection in the darkened window, she smoothed a few stray hairs up and tucked them under the thick, golden braids she wore coronet-style. She shook her head. “You really need to brush and rebraid your hair,” she whispered to the woman in the glass. “And take a bath.” She used her handkerchief to dab at her tongue and rub off a spot on her cheek.
In the reflection she could also see a portion of the car behind her. Polished wood on the walls and ceiling gleamed in the lamplight; the brown fabric of the padded seats was worn in spots; some of the passengers had drawn their window curtains closed against the cold and dark. Not Nora, though—she hated to close herself in any more than was necessary. The car had looked comfortable in the beginning, but these five days of being cooped up had worn on both her body and spirit.
It seemed like another week had passed before the conductor returned, announcing, “Soldahl! Next stop, Soldahl!” He stopped beside her. “You take care of yourself, now.” He reached up and swung her bag down for her from the overhead racks. “I’ve already made sure your trunk will get off when you do. I just hate to see a pretty thing like you . . .”
Nora could feel her cheeks flame at his compliment.
I thank you for all you’ve done. I . . . I’m . . .” She lifted her chin. “I’ll be just fine.”
While the train slowed, Nora searched for lights. Surely everyone in the town had not gone to bed already. But, as the train huffed and screeched to a halt, she saw only two lights off in the distance—only two. There must be more than two houses in town; Hans had said this was a big town.
She pictured his letter and tried to remember how his voice sounded. “It’s a large town for the area. We have stores, a hotel, a Norwegian Lutheran church and . . .”
She shook her head to keep herself awake. After all, it was ten o’clock at night.
A lone gaslight hung above the door to the train station. Nora paused a moment at the head of the steps leading down to the platform. It had started to snow again; tiny hard pellets rattled on the roof of the metal car. The square window of the station glowed like a beacon against the blackness of the outside peppered with whirling snow.
The conductor held out his hand. “Be careful going down these steps, Miss,” he said with a ready smile. Even with his muffler, he shivered in a draft of bitter wind. “Don’t appear anyone’s here to meet you.” He looked over his shoulder as if hoping that someone—anyone—would make a liar out of him.
Nora bit her bottom lip and forced her mouth into a smile. “I . . . I’m sure Hans will be here. I’ll wait for him in the station.”
She trembled at the thought of another falsehood. She wasn’t sure he would be there at all. In fact, she was terrified to admit the nagging feeling she had that something was not right.
“You better ask Oscar, the stationmaster, to come pick up your trunk. It’ll get buried if this keeps up.” He motioned to a black square farther up the station platform.
The train whistled, as if impatient for the delay.
“You take care of yourself now.” The conductor helped her down the last step. “Get right inside before you freeze.” He waved his lantern, picked up the metal stool, then stepped aboard as the wheels of the train squealed back to life. “God bless.”
Before she could get her scarf wrapped up over her nose, the pelleted snow stung her cheeks.
If this is what March is like in North Dakota, what will January be like?
“Please, God, let Hans come soon,” Nora whispered as she peered off to the sides of the station building that seemed to hunker down against the swirling snow. Darkness, so black it reached out for her, sent her skidding across ice-coated planks towards the square of light.
she muttered as she slipped and slid, barely keeping her feet.
The wind helped her push the station door open, but it swirled her black woolen skirt and tugged at her scarf before it retreated in defeat. She slammed the door shut and leaned against it. Why did she feel like she had just battled and barely won? Her wish had been that Hans would be waiting inside to surprise her. He had liked to do that—surprise her and make her laugh. But, when she stared into the darkened corners of the room, she felt the dream fade and disappear.
The stationmaster certainly did not resemble Hans in any way. Short and thin seemed the best words to describe him, from closely clipped hair, to feet that barely touched the floor when the man sat at his desk. He had not risen to greet her, but Nora realized right away it was not because of bad manners. The man listened to the telegraph with both his hands and ears.
Nora nodded back at him, left her satchel by the door, then wandered over to the potbellied stove near the station desk. She loosened her scarf and let it drape around her neck. While the room temperature was warmer than outside, the heat from the stove failed to reach the door, or the corners, or the benches lining the center of the room.
His tapping finished, the man gave a little hop to get down from his chair and then he limped forward. “May I help you, Miss?” He reached into a back pocket to retrieve a handkerchief. After blowing and wiping his reddened nose, he peered over his metal-rimmed glasses and, starting at her feet, measured her height with his stare.
Nora felt like the giant troll in one of her sister’s stories. “I . . . I’m Nora Johanson, from Norway.” His intense gaze caused her to falter. “I . . . I wired ahead. Hans Larson, my betrothed, was to meet me tonight. I’m . . . ah sorry, the . . . ah train was late.” Why didn’t the man say something? Anything? She unclenched her hands in her mittens and extended them to the warmth of the stove. Right now her cheeks felt like they had been sunburned.
Maybe he had not understood a word she had said. She pointed to her chest and repeated her name, louder.
“You don’t have to shout.” The little man backed away.
Nora breathed a sigh of relief—he had answered in Norwegian. “Did you receive my wire?” she asked.
“Did you give it to Hans Larson?”
The stationmaster shook his head.
“Did Hans contact you?”
A nod. “Close to a week ago. Said he’d return in a day or so. Too far out in the country for me to deliver it.” The man limped back to his desk and shuffled the papers in a wire basket. He pulled one out. “Here it is.”
Nora felt something clench around her stomach and twist. Hans didn’t even know she was arriving today. How could he have met her? She licked her dry, chapped lips. What would she do now?
“The hotel’s right up the street. I can take you there on my way home.” The man returned to the stove and closed the damper. He set the teakettle to the back and peered through the isinglass windows to check the coals. A grunt seemed to express his approval.
“I . . . ah—” Nora could not force the words past the lump in her throat.
“Ja?” He paused on his uneven journey to the coatrack.
“Sir, I have no money for a hotel.” Nora felt like crawling under one of the benches. “The trip took much longer than we planned, than Hans planned. Perhaps I can sleep here, until Hans comes, that is. Maybe he’ll come first thing in the morning. I won’t bother anyone and . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“My name’s not Sir, it’s Oscar.”
Mister Oscar, I . . .”
He was shaking his head again. “Not Mister Oscar. Oscar Weirholtz. But everyone just calls me Oscar. You can, too.”
I—” Nora could feel the tears clogging her throat and stinging her eyes. She clamped her lips shut and looked upwards to ward off the waterworks. She would not cry!
Oscar stopped buttoning his coat. “No money at all?”
Nora shook her head. “Four pennies.”