Read Racing Home Online

Authors: Adele Dueck

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Racing Home (15 page)

BOOK: Racing Home
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Erik found Olaf in the stable, brushing Tapper. Together, they harnessed the team and brought them outside. Minutes later Kirsten came out of the house, covered head to foot in a fur coat and hat.

“I’m going to your mother,” she said, climbing into the sleigh. “I’ll send Rolf in, too. We don’t need men when a baby is born.”

“What’s this?” asked Lars, joining them. “I told Mrs. Sorenson I’d pick her up in a few minutes.”

“I’ll get her,” said Kirsten. Her eyes rested on Olaf standing in the doorway to the stable, then she smiled at Erik. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Your mother will be fine, and you will soon have a new brother or sister.”

She snapped the reins and pulled out of the yard.

Lars turned toward the store, then glanced back at Erik. “You want to help me unpack the new shipment?”

Erik glanced at Olaf’s grim face.

“In a few minutes,” he said.

Lars nodded. “I’ll work slowly so there’s some left to uncrate when you join me.”

Erik followed Olaf into the stable. Olaf dropped onto an overturned pail in the corner. Erik crouched on the floor by the door. Picking up a bit of straw, he turned and twisted it in his hand.

The silence between them became too long to bear. “This baby,” Erik said at last. “We will both be its brother.”

There was a long pause before Olaf spoke.

“I never knew my mother. She died when I was born.”

It was the fear in the back of Erik’s mind, the fear he hadn’t voiced, even to himself. He breathed a silent prayer for his mother.

“I called Kirsten
Mor,”
said Olaf, “even though I knew she and Lars weren’t my real parents.” He stood up and brushed straw from his trousers. “I’ve always known my father gave me away.”

Erik thought of Rolf’s face when he and Olaf met. “He didn’t want to.”

“Then why did he do it?”

“Maybe he thought he couldn’t look after you alone.”

Olaf reached a hand out to Tapper. The horse sniffed it, then tossed his head and backed away.

“He still doesn’t trust me.”

Erik smiled. “He remembers those cold baths.”

Olaf talked softly to Tapper in Norwegian, telling him what good times they would have together when his back healed.

Shivering, Erik went into the store. He helped Lars unpack the new stock, then went to see Colin. The O’Briens had moved into a house when it grew too cold for a tent. To Erik the house didn’t seem warm either, not as warm as the sod house. There was frost on the walls and air whistled through gaps between the boards.

Colin set aside his copybook when Erik came in.

“My mother used to be a teacher,” he said. “She thinks we should be in school.” His mother looked up from her sewing and smiled warmly at Erik. Colin’s brother, who’d opened the door, invited Erik to sit on the bench beside him.

“I’m learning to print,” Patrick said proudly.

“Show me what you know,” said Erik. He watched Patrick print his name on a slate, rubbing out letters and rewriting them till they were perfect.

“Da has started work at the general store,” said Colin.

“At the store?” repeated Erik. “Just till spring?”

Colin shrugged. “We’re not sure. Ma doesn’t want to move again.”

“There are so many businesses in town now,” Colin’s mother said. “It will be a good place to live.”

There were many new houses, too. Some, like the O’Briens’, were built to rent or sell. Others, bigger and sturdier, belonged to businessmen and the doctor. Even Lars and Kirsten talked of building so they wouldn’t have to live behind the store.

Visiting Colin helped Erik forget his mother for a while, but not for long. When he went back to the lumberyard, Rolf was there, silently pacing.

“You’ll wear a path in the floor,” Lars said. “Look, here’s Erik. Why don’t you play checkers? It will give you something to think about till Kirsten returns.”

Lars got out the checkerboard, but it was a new game to Erik and he couldn’t concentrate. When a man with a thin pointed face came in, he sat in Erik’s seat, defeating Rolf very quickly.

“Your mind is far away,” the man said, getting up to make his purchase. “Perhaps we can play again another day.”

It grew dark. Lars invited them to a new restaurant down the street. While they pulled on their coats, he said he’d look for Olaf. When he returned from the stable alone, he shook his head. “Olaf used to work all the time, saving up his money. Now he buys those fancy cowboy clothes and I can never find him when I need him.”

He tried to make it into a joke, but Erik thought he was worried. Rolf nodded his head in reply. His face wore the same stony look Erik had seen so often on Olaf’s.

There were several other men eating in the restaurant. One of them recognized Rolf. “You looking for work?” he asked. “I’m building a house for my family but need some help.”

He glanced at Erik. “I could use you, too, if you know how to hammer.” Erik sat up straighter and looked at Rolf.

“I’m sorry,” said Rolf. “His mother needs Erik at home, but I should be able to start work tomorrow.”

Erik sighed. It’s true, there was always work to do at home, but they could do with the money he would earn, too.

Kirsten was in the lean-to when they returned. “You have a beautiful son,” she said as soon as Rolf stepped into the room.

A boy!

“Inga is doing well. I’ll come out tomorrow to see how she is and will bring some fish balls and dumplings.”

Rolf turned around and reached for the door handle. Erik picked up his skis.

“Take the sleigh,” suggested Lars.

“No, no, Kirsten will need it tomorrow.”

“Then bring it back tomorrow morning when you come in,” said Lars. “I insist.”

Erik and Rolf travelled in silence. Erik watched the trail, shadowy in the starlight, his mind on his mother and his new brother.

Elsa was sitting in the rocking chair holding a white bundle when they burst into the room. Without waiting to take off his outdoor clothes, Rolf rushed over to the bed.

“Inga, you are truly all right?” He perched on the edge of the bed, leaning over to kiss her.

“Of course I’m all right,” said Inga. She reached up and brushed snow from his red hair. “You shouldn’t have worried.”

“How could I not worry?”

Erik pulled off his coat and stepped out of his snowy boots. Glancing from Elsa, with the baby, to his mother and Rolf, he nodded. How could they not worry, knowing what had happened to Olaf’s mother?

The baby was smaller than Erik expected. His dark eyes seemed to look right into Erik’s face. Hesitantly, Erik reached out his hand and smoothed it over the downy soft hair. “He looks so wrinkly and red.”

Rolf came over, reaching for his son. “Let’s see this wrinkly, red fellow,” he said. As he picked him up, the baby started to cry.

“What’s wrong?” exclaimed Erik. “Is he hurt?”

“Probably thinks I’m not doing this right,” said Rolf. He cuddled the baby a moment. “Sit down, Erik.”

Surprised, Erik sat, and Rolf placed the baby in his arms.

“His name is Leif,” Elsa said, bouncing up and down in her excitement. “And I get to be with him all the time.”

A couple of times during the night, Erik heard sounds from the other room. Someone moving around, l
ittle cries from the baby. He got up when he heard Rolf tend the stove. Baby Leif snuggled with Inga on the bed, both asleep. Rolf left soon after to go to his new job in town, but Erik waited till it was light before going outside.

He took hay to the calf and oxen, then pushed the remainder into a pile in the corner of the shed. There was so little left, though Erik was feeding less than the cattle needed. He milked Tess, getting half of what she’d given in the fall. Erik noted how her ribs showed sharply against her sides. Thinking of the calf she would have in the spring, he decided to stop milking her to conserve her health.

Coming out of the shed, he saw one of Lars’s horses tied to a fence post. Inside the house, Elsa urged Olaf into the rocking chair.

“He’s a very good baby,” Elsa assured him. “He hardly cries at all.”

“He cried last night,” said Erik.

“He was hungry,” said Elsa confidently. “That’s the only time he cries.”

Olaf looked worried as Elsa placed the baby in his arms. “I might drop it,” he protested.

“Nonsense.” Inga smiled at Olaf from the bed. “Nothing will happen.”

“Let him hold your finger,” said Elsa. “He likes that.”

Erik made coffee from melted snow water, glancing over his shoulder occasionally. Olaf rocked Leif, talking to him the same way he spoke to Tapper.

Winter was a good time for a new baby. Erik wasn’t as busy as the rest of the year. Leif soon recognized his voice, waving chubby fists when he came near. Olaf stopped by often, bringing food from Kirsten. He taught Leif to play peek-a-boo, and brought a rattle he’d bought in town. He seemed to know when Rolf was working, for he never visited when Rolf was there.

CHAPT
ER SEVENTEEN

Water

In March, the snow melted and school started in the Presbyterian Church. Rolf wanted Erik at home, but a couple of times a week he let Erik and Elsa walk to Green Valley to school. Elsa made friends with Sara, whose father owned the drugstore. Erik and Colin visited Tapper at noon whenever they could. Erik hoped to ride him one day, when he was completely healed.

Erik fed the last of the hay he’d gathered to the cattle, then let them loose on the prairie, hoping they could find something to eat.

Thin as they were, Rolf still caught the oxen each day, hitching them to the plough. They worked the ground broken the year before and then started breaking new land. When the oxen rested, Rolf dug in the well, using a rope ladder to get up and down. He built cribbing out of wood to support the inside of the well and keep the walls from caving in. As the well got deeper, Rolf lowered the cribbing and Erik pounded together new sections to add at the top.

One Saturday, Erik was hammering on the cribbing when Rolf hollered to him to pull up the pail. Erik carried
it over to the firebreak and dumped it. The dirt looked dark against the ground. Erik grabbed a handful of the soil.

“Rolf, Rolf!” he yelled. “It’s wet!”

“Hallelujah!” Erik heard Rolf’s voice from down in the well. A moment later he tugged on the rope, signalling Erik to pull up another load.

Rolf kept on digging, and Erik carried pail after pail to the firebreak, throwing the dirt wide so it didn’t pile up.

As he tossed yet another pail of soil, Erik looked at it closely, then bent down and touched it. Dry.

How could it be dry? It should be getting wetter. They should be hitting water.

Erik went back to the well. He should say something to Rolf. Even with the kerosene lamp, it was dim down there. He probably couldn’t see what was happening.

“Last one,” yelled Rolf. “I’m coming up.”

Erik grabbed the rope and pulled up the pail. By the time he’d emptied it, Rolf was stamping the dirt from his boots.

“A good day’s work,” Rolf said, clapping Erik on the back. “At this rate, the well will be finished in a few days and I can start seeding.”

Erik nodded and forced a smile. Maybe he was wrong. He wouldn’t say anything. They would know for sure tomorrow – no, Monday. On Monday they would know.

After church the next day, Olaf took Erik to a corral holding several horses on the edge of town. “I put Tapper here sometimes,” he said. “Gives him more exercise.” Olaf perched on the top rail of the corral, whistling for Tapper.

Erik patted Tapper’s sleek neck. “Quite the brave boy, aren’t you?” Tapper shook his head and nuzzled Erik. “Sorry, I didn’t bring you any treats.”

“You started seeding yet?” asked Olaf.

“Not yet. We’ve been working on the well.”

“Oh? Hit water?”

“Not…not yet,” said Erik. “We’re down nine, maybe ten metres. It was damp for a while but now it’s dry again.”

“Digging it all by hand, are you?”

“Well, Rolf is.” Erik noticed how Olaf avoided any direct reference to Rolf. “We better get water soon, I don’t think he can dig much further by hand, and well drillers cost money.”

“Everything costs money,” said Olaf. “Come on, we better get going before they eat all the food.”

First thing the next morning, they were back at work on the well. Elsa came out to watch. “Is there any water yet?” she yelled down to Rolf.

There was a long pause.

“No.” Rolf’s voice floated up to them. “Not yet.”

Rolf sent up a couple more pails of the hard grey soil, then tied his pick and shovel to the rope.

“Time to quit,” he said when he climbed out. His shoulders slumped and his voice was discouraged. “Looks like it’s dry.”

Erik looked at the slough, not so far away, overflowing from the spring runoff.

“How can there be water there and not here? It doesn’t make sense.”

BOOK: Racing Home
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