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Authors: Adele Dueck

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BOOK: Racing Home
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Mr. Haugen stopped in the middle of a sentence, switching suddenly to Norwegian. “You’re too tired to think English today,” he said. “I’ll quickly tell you in Norwegian, then we’ll go back to easy words in English.”

Erik nodded with relief, and saw his mother smile.

“This new town is just thirty-five miles away.” That was fifty-six kilometres, Erik calculated. He’d learned in Minnesota that people measured in miles here, but he was used to the metric system from Norway. “There’s no train yet,” Gunnar Haugen continued, “but they’re working on it. The town will be named Green Valley because of the trees between it and the river.”

Erik’s ears perked up at the mention of trees.

“Right now it’s a wheat field,” said Mr. Haugen, “but Lars and I decided not to wait till they auction off the lots. Earlier this spring we built a small building a couple of miles northeast of where the town is going to be. Lars and Kirsten live in the building, and we’re hauling as much lumber there as we can. That boy of his has been a big help. Works like a man, hauling as fast as the train brings it to Hanley.”

Mr. Haugen stopped speaking as his wife dished out soup with a large metal ladle. Erik’s first spoonful told him it tasted as good as it smelled. Along with the bacon-flavoured cabbage soup were thick slices of fresh white bread. It seemed strange to eat soft bread when it wasn’t Christmas or Easter, but Erik didn’t complain. He declined the
gjetost
, though. He didn’t want to eat the brown goat cheese again for at least a year.

“They’ll have the big auction sale in August,” Mr. Haugen went on. “We’ll buy a couple of lots and, since the building is on skids, we can move it to town that very day.”

Mrs. Haugen offered cake, but both men shook their heads. “We must unload our car,” Rolf said in Norwegian, with Mr. Haugen repeating the words in English. Erik watched Mrs. Haugen put the cake back on the shelf. She caught his eye and smiled.

“Later,” she said. “Before bed, we have cake.”

Erik nodded, embarrassed, and followed the men out of the kitchen.

“Wait for me,” called Elsa from behind them. “I’m coming, too.”

“You can’t unload the train car,” said Erik. “You’re too little.”

“I can unload as well as you,” said Elsa, tossing her head so her braids danced. “I’m nine years old.”

“You’ll be a big help,” said Rolf, holding a hand out to Elsa. “I’m glad you’re coming.”

When they reached the train, they saw some settlers loading belongings onto wagons, while others were making piles beside the tracks. One family had finished emptying their car and was spreading canvas over the pile.

Rolf opened the door to the car. The cow and the two oxen turned their heads, and the cow lowed.

“Time to get out,” said Erik, pulling himself up into the car. While the men placed the ramp in the doorway, Erik untied Tess and turned her around. “No more trains for you,” he said as he encouraged her toward the ramp. “From now on you’ll have to walk.”

Erik doubted the cow wanted to walk all the way to Green Valley. But, like Erik, she didn’t have a choice.

CHAPTER TWO

C
loser

E
lsa stood at the bottom of the ramp with a fistful of grass. “Come on, Tess,” she coaxed. “Come get the good grass.”

Tess headed straight down, her head stretching toward the green blades in Elsa’s hand.

The oxen, Black and Socks, were soon tethered near her in the grass by the train track. Erik lugged the crate of chickens over beside them. One of the brown hens lay stretched out on the bottom of the cage, while the others walked on top of it. He reached in for the sick chicken, dropping her on the ground. She twitched slightly. Shrugging, Erik gave water to the healthy hens while Elsa filled their food dish. He went back to the car for another load, but Elsa stayed with the hens, trying to get the sick one to drink.

Near the track they piled the chests and boxes of household supplies brought all the way from Norway, along with the few pieces of furniture they’d purchased in Minnesota.

Very carefully, Rolf carried out two panes of glass. They were wrapped in a quilt, then slid between pieces of wood.

“Windows,” said Rolf proudly, “for our new house.”

Erik tipped over the water barrel, letting the last of the water spill onto the floor of the car before rolling it down the ramp. The other water barrel, heavy with pails, hand tools and a rifle, had to be moved more carefully.

As they worked, Erik watched enviously as another family led out six horses, two cows and some pigs. Turning away, he shrugged his shoulders. At least he’d only had to care for three animals on the train, not twelve.

Mr. Haugen and Rolf half-carried, half-dragged the walking plough. Erik and Elsa brought out stovepipes and tarpaper. Almost invisible against the wall of the boxcar, Erik saw his skis.

The last thing out of the car was the wagon. As soon as they set it upright and tightened the wheels, Rolf said they would fill it.

Erik felt his eyebrows shoot up.
Now? It’s almost dark.

“Good thing I came,” said Elsa. She ran over and grabbed the handle of one of the round-top trunks. “Can we put this in first?” she asked.

“Possibly,” said Rolf. He glanced at the pile of belongings. “Yes, I think so.”

Loading the wagon took longer than unloading the car. Everything had to be packed carefully to make it fit. In the end there were a few pieces left by the track.

On top of everything was the crate of chickens. Elsa carried the sick hen in her arms, cradled like a baby.

“She drank some water,” she told Erik. “I think she’s going to live.”

Back at the house, Mrs. Haugen served large pieces of rhubarb cake while Inga struggled to describe the rhubarb soup she’d made in Norway.

When the cake dish was empty, Erik wrapped himself in a blanket on the kitchen floor, glad to be in a house after sleeping so many nights in the train car with the animals.

The sound of coals being shaken in the stove woke him in the morning.

“Ready for breakfast?” Mr. Haugen asked in English. Erik nodded and watched him lay thick slices of bacon in a black frying pan.

Mrs. Haugen took bread and coffee to Erik’s mother in the bedroom. Elsa helped with the dishes while Erik went outside to water the cattle.

He was just finished when Rolf and Mr. Hanson drove up in a wagon drawn by two immense black horses.

“Beautiful,” Erik breathed. “As good as grandfather’s horses.”

Mr. Haugen climbed down from the wagon. “Beautiful they are,” he agreed, slapping the nearest horse on its flank, releasing a small cloud of dust. “Too bad they aren’t mine.”

“Not yours?” asked Erik.

“No, Olaf has my team hauling lumber to Green Valley. I borrowed these so we could get the last of your belongings.”

While they spoke, Rolf climbed over the wagon seat and tugged a chest to the edge of the box. Gunnar Haugen grabbed one end and Erik the other. Piece by piece, they stowed everything in a corner of Mr. Haugen’s stable.

After they added his mother’s sewing machine to the pile, Erik saw Rolf loosening the rope holding the canvas cover on their own wagon. “We’ll take out a few things,” he said to Erik. “Elsa and your mother are staying here while you and I join Lars.”

Erik stared at him.
Staying? While he and Rolf joined Lars?

“Inga is tired,” said Rolf. Not looking at Erik, he pulled the corner of the canvas back. “Mrs. Haugen will look after her while we find a place to live. Maybe Lars has already found us land.”

And maybe there will be a house and furniture and a money tree growing in the garden.

Erik bit his lip hard. His mind pounded with questions, but instead of asking them, he nodded and helped Rolf wrestle a box from the wagon. When he carried it into the house, Elsa met him at the door. “I’m to stay here with Mama,” she said. “Mama is sick, I can tell. And Mrs. Haugen doesn’t speak Norwegian. What will I do?”

“You know some English,” Erik said. His voice was rough. “And Mr. Haugen speaks Norwegian.”

“Yes, but he –” She stopped suddenly as Mrs. Haugen came into the room, speaking quickly. Erik stood, still holding the box, staring at her. She gestured to the corner, speaking more slowly. It was English this time, and Erik realized the first words had been German. He could see why Elsa was afraid.

He put the box against the wall, under the bench. When he turned to go back outside, he heard his mother call his name.

“Ja, Mor,”
Erik replied, stepping into the bedroom. She lay against a pillow, her brown hair, the same shade as Erik’s, loose around her face. “Are you all right? Can I do something?”

“Yes, Erik,” she replied. “I want you to help Rolf. He is going to this new area to find his brother and a place for us to live. I need you to help him.”

Erik swallowed hard. “What about you and Elsa?”

“We’ll be fine here,” she said. “Mrs. Haugen is kind. I’m not sick, just tired. I’ll feel better soon. Then we can join you.”

“This house is small,” Erik said.

“There’s another room. They’re storing merchandise in it, but Mr. Haugen said he will make space for Elsa and me. It will only be for a few weeks.”

Weeks.
Erik had been thinking days. He nodded his head. “Yes, Ma,” he said.

Going back outside, Erik saw Mr. Haugen on the borrowed wagon.

“Come for a ride, Erik?”

“I don’t think I have time,” Erik began, but Mr. Haugen interrupted.

“We won’t be long,” he said. “Your father has gone to get some supplies. We’ll be back before he is.”

“Supplies?” repeated Erik. How many supplies did they need? They already had more than the wagon could hold.

“Food,” said Mr. Haugen, as Erik jumped up beside him. “You need to eat. I think he said something about a fishing rod, too.”

Erik’s head jerked up at that. A fishing rod? Where would they fish? Then he remembered the river valley that was to give the new town its name.

“Have you ever driven horses?” Mr. Haugen asked.

“Ja!
On my grandfather’s farm.”

“Then why don’t you drive? We’re just going to the edge of town.”

Erik took the reins eagerly, feeling the strength of the big black horses through the leather. Why had Rolf bought Black and Socks when he could have had beautiful horses like these?

When they reached the paddock by a small white house, they unhitched the horses and turned them loose. They were bigger than Erik’s grandfather’s horses, bigger than what he’d want for a riding horse, but they were so much better than oxen. They had personality. Oxen were just stupid cows!

“Perhaps Rolf will buy a team like this after you get your first crop,” suggested Mr. Haugen.

Erik nodded. “Perhaps,” he agreed politely, but he couldn’t imagine it happening, not with Rolf doing the farming. All Rolf knew was how to cut down trees.

They walked quickly back to the lumberyard. Mr. Haugen went in the front door of the store. Erik perched on some fenceposts in the shade of a pile of lumber to wait for Rolf.

Two men in wide-brimmed hats came down the boardwalk toward him, a young man with a wispy brown beard and an older man with bushy eyebrows and a dark moustache drooping past his chin. They were the same men who’d bumped into Erik on the street the day before.

“Has Pete made any plans yet?” the younger man asked in English. Erik listened carefully, translating the words in his head.

The older man grunted. “You know Pete. He always has plans. Good ones, too.”

Erik was pleased that he could understand the gist of the men’s conversation. Those three months of school in Minnesota had been good for his English.

“They’re not all good, Tex. Remember Colorado?”

“We’re not in jail, are we?” Tex thumped the other man on the back. “We’re safe here, Jim. In a place like this, no one’s gonna ask questions and no one’s gonna care.”

Erik stared at their retreating backs. He must have misunderstood. Maybe
jail
had another English meaning that he hadn’t learned.

“Did you yoke the oxen?” asked Rolf. Erik jumped. He had been so intent on the cowboys he hadn’t noticed Rolf behind them carrying a large paper-wrapped parcel.

He pulled out the oxen’s tether stakes while Rolf secured the parcel under the canvas in the wagon. They yoked the oxen, then Erik tied the cow on behind and Rolf swung the chicken cage onto the wagon.

Still without speaking, Rolf went into the house. Erik watched him go.

Erik had sympathized with Elsa staying with Mrs. Hanson, but he wondered if working alone with Rolf wasn’t going to be worse.

CHAPTER
THREE

Travelling

The trail out of Hanley was well worn, with homesteads every kilometre or so. Erik noted each one, wondering what theirs would be like. Sometimes he couldn’t see a house, just two or three low sheds. All the farms looked poor compared to his grandfather’s, with its fine barn and strong fences.

Erik glanced sideways at Rolf. He was rolling the whip between his hands restlessly. There were no reins to hold and the whip was rarely needed. The oxen were trained to respond to voice signals. English voice signals.

BOOK: Racing Home
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