Read Racing Home Online

Authors: Adele Dueck

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BOOK: Racing Home
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Most of the people Erik saw were men, though he knew there were women and children on the farms. He expected the men would bring their families to Green Valley when the businesses were built.

One day Kirsten sent Erik to the general store for eggs, giving him a chance to walk through the town. The store was in a tent, run by a Norwegian named Nilson. Erik looked at all the supplies, seeing what he could buy with the twenty-five cents Uncle Lars gave him each day. It would be food for sure, that’s what the family needed most. He could buy three tins of pork and beans for fifty cents, but it didn’t seem like much for two days’ pay. Like the nails he was selling, they were expensive because they were heavy and had to come to Hanley by train and then to Green Valley by wagon. Potatoes might be better. Mr. Nilson sold half a bushel for fifty cents, but Erik wondered if a local farmer would sell for less.

It was hard to believe what he was seeing as he walked back to the lumberyard. A week ago this was a field, and now it was a town. Wooden buildings rose in every direction, but businesses weren’t waiting for them. A bank and a real estate office were working out of tents. An implement shop was almost framed across the street from the lumberyard, and a hotel was going up on the corner. Everyone was working. Even Jim pounded nails on Pete’s new livery stable.

Several times a day, Erik stood in front of the lumberyard, watching the town grow. Coming from a country where most of the buildings were old, it was exciting to be part of something so new.

In their hurry to finish, the carpenters kept going after sundown by the light of kerosene torches. At night, when Erik rolled up in a blanket behind the counter in the store, he could see the flickering light of the lamps through the front window, and when he drifted off to sleep it was to the pounding of hammers.

Gunnar Haugen needed to get back to the business in Hanley, so he and Lars worked long days on the lean-to. As soon as the shell was finished, Erik helped move Lars and Kirsten’s household belongings into the new rooms.

When all the lumber was transferred to town, Rolf went to work building a drugstore and Olaf returned to hauling lumber from Hanley. With Lars now working in his own store, Erik went back to the farm, bringing with him a bushel of potatoes purchased with his earnings.

Being home seemed very dull after his days in Green Valley.

CHAPTER
ELEVEN

Threshing

It was September. In Norway or Minnesota or even Hanley, school was starting, but not for Erik and Elsa. “We could go to school where we went to church the day it hailed,” suggested Elsa.

“It’s too far,” said Inga. “Even if you took the oxen, it would be more than an hour each way. You’ll have to wait till they build a school closer to home.”

“What about Green Valley? I could walk there. It’s only five kilometres.”

“We’ll see when they build a school,” said Inga, “but it will still be a long walk.”

Erik didn’t miss sitting in a desk studying numbers and history. He needed school to learn more English and meet boys his age, but it wasn’t going to help him with the only thing he wanted to do – farm.

There wasn’t time to go to school, anyway. The slough was dry, so Erik had to haul more water. They hadn’t worked on the well since before the town auction; Rolf was just too busy. Erik frequently thought of the man who’d dug fifteen dry wells, wondering if Rolf would ever hit water. The well in Green Valley was dug in a spot chosen by a man with a forked stick. They’d found water, so maybe Rolf should have let him choose the location for their well, too.

One day after the garden froze, Erik and Elsa harvested the vegetables, finding small potatoes, short carrots and not much else. With the garden gone, the oxen and cow were allowed to find their own feed. Erik didn’t tether them anymore, but sometimes he had to look for them instead. Fortunately, they came back to the yard for water.

He put another post in the shed so he could tie up both Tess and the calf on cold nights, but far enough apart to prevent the calf stealing the milk.

When he wasn’t hauling water, Erik searched the river hills for cattle feed and firewood, piling it together, then bringing it back in the wagon. Once he saw horses travelling toward the river. There were three or four riders trailing the herd, all wearing wide-brimmed hats. Erik had learned that cowboys weren’t common in farming country. The only ones he’d seen around Green Valley were Jim and two or three others who worked with Pete in his livery stable. It seemed strange that twice now, herds of horses had gone through the area.

The train hadn’t reached Green Valley yet, but Erik knew the track was being built from Moose Jaw. It was supposed to reach Green Valley sometime in November.

A couple of times, Lars asked Erik to come to Green Valley with Rolf. Then Erik minded the store while Lars worked on the stable at the back of the lot.

There was always something to see or do in town. Lars had hired a man to bring coal from Hanley, while Olaf hauled more lumber. Wagons came and went at all hours as other businessmen hauled their supplies from Hanley.

One cool afternoon, Erik was sweeping the floor when he heard rumbles in the street. He poked his head out the door to see three wagons pass by, each piled high with trunks and boxes and household furnishings.

Erik’s eyes searched the wagons, looking for boys. The one on a lady’s lap was too young, and so were the two crouched behind the driver on the second wagon. But on the third wagon, leaning against a trunk as if he’d come all the way from Norway like that, was a boy who looked just the right age.

Erik waved as the wagon passed in front of him. The boy didn’t move but his eyes watched Erik as he passed.

He’ll be happy to see me when he learns how few boys are here, thought Erik.

Lars came around the side of the store. “Did you see the wagons?” Erik asked. “It must be the new settlers. I heard Mr. Nilson say there were some coming this fall.”

“They might be.” Lars started to pull the door closed.

“Can I talk to them?” Erik asked quickly. “I can tell them about the town and where the well is and about there not being a school yet.”

“Go along, then.” Lars took the broom and Erik dashed out of the store.

“Don’t stay too long,” his uncle’s voice followed him. “Rolf will be here soon.”

“I won’t,” Erik called back over his shoulder.

As he neared the wagons, he saw people gathered to greet the newcomers. Men shook hands, then turned to help the women down from the wagons. Erik didn’t mind that he wouldn’t be needed to give information. He just wanted to talk to the boy.

He saw him jump down from the wagon and look toward the buildings, the peak of his cap shading his eyes from the sun.

“Good day,” said Erik in Norwegian, running up to him. “Welcome to Green Valley.”

The boy looked at Erik, his face totally blank. After a moment he said something unintelligible.

Erik froze. The new settlers weren’t from Norway. They weren’t even from England. They spoke another language altogether.

The boys looked at each other for a long moment.

Erik smiled and tried again. “Good morning,” he said, this time in English.

“Good morning,” said the other boy. The words were English, but perhaps he was only imitating Erik.

“My name is Erik. Erik Brekke.”

“Colin,” said the other boy. “I am Colin O’Brien.”

“You speak English,” said Erik with relief.

“Yes,” said Colin. “And Gaelic.”

Erik heard Rolf’s voice behind him, then a man from the wagons called for Colin.

“I must go,” said both boys at once.

“I’ll see you again,” said Erik.

Colin held out his hand to Erik. They shook, then he turned and ran back to the wagons. Erik turned to Rolf.

“They speak English and Gaelic. Whatever that is.”

“They must be from Scotland or Ireland. They’re part of Great Britain.”

They usually walked to town, but they’d taken the oxen that day to bring home flour and rice. After climbing onto the wagon, Rolf sat for a moment, staring at the oxen.

“I’m through building for now,” he said finally. “I’m joining a threshing crew. It pays better. Your mother, she thinks you’re too young and the work will be too hard, but if you want to come along, we’ll see if they’ll hire you on.”

“I’m strong,” Erik said, thinking of the sods he’d stacked and the grass he’d cut. “Least I’m as strong as I can be for my size.”

“That’s right, Erik,” said Rolf, “you are, and that’s what I told your ma. You’ve worked hard and you haven’t complained. I wouldn’t have got near as much done without you.”

Erik looked down at his feet. Rolf had never said anything like that to Erik before. It felt good that he’d noticed, just like a real father would.

The thought brought Olaf to mind. Would kind words make any difference to Rolf’s real son?

“The extra money will be a help,” added Rolf.

That was the important part. Maybe Erik could fish through the ice in the winter, and there might still be rabbits to snare, but there was so much they had to buy. The flour Rolf had bought today would last just a few weeks, and the potatoes Erik had bought would be gone even sooner. They would soon need kerosene for the lamps. Elsa had grown out of her shoes and Erik’s pinched his toes.

“I can work,” Erik said.

“Just while they’re in this area. When they move on, I might go with them, but you’ll stay here and take care of your ma and the livestock.”

That night Erik spread his straw-filled ticking on the floor near the stove as he had since the nights had grown cold. Long before dawn, he woke to see Rolf building a fire. They rolled their blankets with a clean shirt or two and tied the bundles with string. Inga made them porridge and Elsa bounced out of bed to pour tea.

“Will they feed you where you work? Should I get some flatbread?”

Erik glanced at Rolf, but his mother answered. “Kirsten told me the crew has a cook for the threshers. They’ll eat better than us.”

Erik thought Elsa looked disappointed.

“You’ll have work to do while we’re gone,” said Rolf, setting down his cup. “You’ll need to lock Tess in the barn at night, so your ma can milk in the morning. Tie her up tight. If she’s loose in the barn, she’ll trample the feed Erik gathered.”

“And eat it,” Erik added.

“I can do that,” said Elsa.

“And,” Rolf went on, “tie a rope to the handle of the washtub and drag it across the prairie. Fill that tub a couple times every day with buffalo chips or dry cow chips and anything else that will burn. We’re going to need a lot of fuel for the winter.”

Elsa’s face fell.

“It won’t be hard to keep this house warm in the winter.” Inga’s voice was comforting. “Not a breath of wind gets through, except a bit around the door and windows.”

Well, thought Erik, something good about the sod house. It was dark, full of bugs, and the floor made everything dirty, but at least it kept out the wind.

He and Rolf left a few minutes later, walking. The threshers were working about eight kilometres away, so they moved briskly. Erik’s heart quickened as he heard the big steam engine roaring long before they could see it. Just as it came into sight, they heard several short blasts of the whistle.

The sun was only a faint line on the horizon when they walked into the field, but the men were already at work. Some loaded wagons with bundles of grain, others pitched straw into the big steam engine or hauled water.

The foreman met them as they neared the machinery. “Humph,” he said. “Thought you weren’t coming.” He looked at Erik. “Not very big, are you?”

“I’m strong,” Erik replied stoutly.

“We’ll see how strong you are. Grab a fork and throw sheaves into the separator.” The words made little sense to Erik, but he followed the man’s hand as he pointed toward one of the wagons.

“Get up there with the man in the green coat. That’s Angus. He’s fast and he knows how to do it.” The man spoke quickly and in heavily accented English. Erik understood about a fork and a man with a green coat named Angus. He cast an anxious look at Rolf. Rolf took Erik’s bedroll and nodded encouragingly. Erik walked hesitantly toward the wagon containing the man in the green coat, just as it moved up beside what he took to be the threshing machine.

Erik climbed onto the wagon and pulled the pitchfork from the side of the box.

Angus glanced at Erik. He asked a question and Erik looked at him blankly. The man jammed his fork into a bundle of grain and hoisted it in the air. “Sheaves,” he yelled over the noise of the machinery. “Have you ever pitched sheaves before?”

Erik shook his head. Whatever the man had said, he knew the answer was no. Nothing they’d done on his grandfather’s farm looked remotely like this. The man shook his head in turn and tossed the load into the wide mouth of the threshing machine.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Get pitching.”

Erik watched him for a few seconds, then tried to lift a sheaf with his own fork. It was heavy and awkward and his first thought was that he wouldn’t be able to do it. For all that he’d said he was strong, he was going to fail before he’d worked five minutes.

BOOK: Racing Home
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