Read Racing Home Online

Authors: Adele Dueck

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BOOK: Racing Home
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“That’s a good girl,” he said, trying to sound soothing. “Just give me a bit of milk, and I’ll let you out with your baby.”

Tess didn’t want to stand still. She flicked her tail and moved her feet restlessly, then walked to the door. There were only a few centimetres of milk in the bottom of Erik’s pail.

He tethered Tess, then hurried to eat breakfast. A Norwegian travelling pastor was speaking at a school some distance away. Lars was picking them up for the church service and picnic afterwards.

“Olaf isn’t with you?” Inga asked when the wagon pulled up by the sod house. “I wanted to meet him.”

“You will,” said Lars. “He rode one of the horses.”

“Even though he says they’re all too big and slow,” added Aunt Kirsten. “He wants to be a cowboy like some of his friends.”

“Nonsense,” said Lars. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s young yet.”

Bumping along in the back of the wagon, Erik wished he was riding a horse, even a slow one.

Church was held inside the school. Afterwards, despite threatening weather, everyone spread blankets on the grass. Kirsten and Inga unpacked their baskets together. The meats, fresh bread and desserts looked like a feast to Erik.

His plate was almost empty when a shadow fell across his face. A pair of long legs stood beside him.

“Olaf,” exclaimed Kirsten, smiling warmly, “I thought you’d forgotten to eat.”

“Have you ever seen that boy forget to eat?” Lars was smiling, but Erik thought his voice sounded strained.

“I have your favourite turnovers,” Kirsten began. “But first I want you to meet –”

“Inga,” interrupted Rolf, his face red above his beard. “My wife Inga and her daughter Elsa.” Setting his tin mug on the blanket, he stood before continuing. “Inga, this is my son, Olaf.”

Elsa glanced at Erik, her face showing her surprise, but Inga rose quickly to her feet. “Olaf,” she exclaimed warmly, throwing her arms around him. “I’m so glad to meet you. Rolf talks of you often.”

He does?

When Olaf pulled away from Inga’s hug, his face was as flushed as Rolf’s.

Kirsten filled a plate for Olaf. He took it, mumbling his thanks, and moved away. Erik wished he had the courage to join him.

When they finished eating, Lars and Kirsten took Inga and Rolf to meet some of the other people. Erik scanned the crowd, hoping for someone close to his own age.

Seeing mostly adults and young children, he gave up and reached for another piece of Kirsten’s saskatoon pie.

“For a skinny kid, you sure can eat.”

“Hello, Olaf,” said Erik, wondering if he was eating too much. “Did you want some pie?”

“I can get it myself.” He crouched down and transferred a generous slice to his plate, then glanced at Erik.

“You got that farm of yours all built now?” he asked, his voice challenging.

“We built a sod shed,” said Erik. “And a hutch for the chickens. We haven’t started breaking land.”

“Got any horses?”

Erik bit his lip. Olaf knew they didn’t have horses.

“We’ve got good oxen,” Erik said at last. “They don’t head straight for sloughs or ignore our directions, not like some I’ve heard about.”

Olaf grunted and forked up a bite of the pie.

“I didn’t know Rolf had a son,” Erik said in a rush. “Not till the other day.”

“So that was a lie, then,” said Olaf. “When your mother said he talks about me.”

“I guess Rolf talks to her, just not to me and Elsa.” Olaf’s fork paused as Erik spoke. “Rolf doesn’t talk to me much at all. We just work all the time.”

“But he’s your father now.” Erik wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement.

“No, he’s not,” said Erik. “Elsa calls him Papa sometimes, but she doesn’t remember our own father.”

“And you do?”

“He drowned when I was three,” said Erik. “I only remember bits.”

Olaf shot Erik a sharp glance. He opened his mouth to speak, just as someone called his name.

“Hey, Hanson! Time for baseball.”

A man ran up to them, pretending to hit Olaf with a wooden bat. Another man strolled behind him, tossing a small white ball in the air. “We’re getting up a game,” he said to Erik. “You want to play?”

Olaf jumped to his feet, swallowing the last bite of his pie. Erik, who’d heard of baseball but never seen it played, said he’d watch for a while. He followed the men over to the playing field, wishing they hadn’t been interrupted, wondering what Olaf was going to say.

Olaf’s first turn at bat got him to third base, but he wasn’t able to make it home. His next turn was accompanied by loud thunder and a sprinkling of rain.

The pitcher threw the ball; Olaf swung and missed.

The rain came down harder and most of the spectators
ran for the school. Erik didn’t move.

The pitcher threw the ball again. Olaf hit it with a loud crack. He started running; at the same time it started to hail. Erik pulled the brim of his hat down over his eyes and ran toward the school.

He saw Rolf and Elsa in the crowd ahead of him with the blankets and picnic basket. Olaf was one of the last into the building, laughing as he wiped the rain from his face with a handkerchief.

Minutes later someone looked out the door.

“The shower’s over,” he said. “Let’s finish our game.”

“Great,” called Olaf from the back of the room. “I got a home run.”

“Doesn’t count when you’re the only one still playing.”

Lars tapped Erik on the shoulder. “We’re going before it rains again.”

Erik watched the men hurrying back to the baseball field.

“Maybe you can play next time,” said Elsa.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Erik roughly. He brushed past Elsa and climbed into the wagon.

Other people prepared to leave as well. Erik watched enviously as they hitched up horses. No one had come to the picnic with oxen.

The schoolyard was only damp from the shower, but as they neared home, Erik could see it had rained more. There was water pooled in low spots along the trail and in the yard. Hailstones lay by the sod house.

Erik jumped down from the wagon, scooping up a handful of the frozen white pebbles.

“Big enough to break the stems on plants,” said Lars.

“Good thing our garden is still in the ground,” said Elsa.

“That’s right, Elsa,” said Inga. “For us, it’s just moisture to help the plants grow.”

“Likely damaged some crops,” said Rolf.

Erik looked at the stones melting in his hand. There was so much about farming that they couldn’t control.

He tossed the hailstones to the ground. The chickens pecked at them, expecting grain.

CHAPTER
EIGHT

Snared!

Monday morning, Erik followed rabbit tracks through the wet soil of the garden but lost them in the grass. He found more tracks in the brush around the slough.

Going into the house, Erik dug through one of the trunks.

“What are you looking for?” asked Elsa.

“Wire,” said Erik. “Thin wire. I think I can snare us some meat.”

“Rabbits!” exclaimed Elsa immediately. “The boys in Minnesota snared rabbits. Can I help?”

“Only if you get up very early,” said Erik. He unwound the wire, feeling its strength. “I’m going out before it’s light so I can catch one as soon as it gets up.”

The song of the birds woke Erik before dawn. In the still darkness, he took his loop of wire and headed for the slough. He’d only taken a few steps when something bounded out of the grass ahead of him.

A rabbit already? Weren’t they supposed to be sleeping?

Erik arranged his wire loop along a path he’d chosen the day before and lay down close by, holding the end of the wire. He tried to stay motionless, but the ground was damp and biting insects whined around his face, stinging him repeatedly. He cautiously reached up with his left hand to brush them away. One bit the finger of his right hand, and he jerked it without thinking. He felt the snare tighten on empty air, just as the plants around him rustled. Had a rabbit passed and he’d missed it?

Erik had no idea. He reset his snare and lay down again. It was getting lighter now. There were rustles in the bushes all around him. He held his breath as a large shadow appeared. It moved and became a deer, followed by a fawn. Erik raised his head as the deer stepped carefully through the plants in front of him. When it moved out of sight, Erik sat up and peered around a bush. The two animals bent their heads to drink at the slough.

At breakfast, Elsa asked if Erik had caught any rabbits.

He shook his head, not pausing as he ate his porridge.

“Did you see some?”

“Ja,”
he said shortly.

“So will you try again tomorrow?”

“There must be a better way. I’ll think about it.”

“Can you think about it while you get water from the spring?” asked his mother.

Rolf set his cup down and looked at Inga. “Are you out of water?” he asked. “I was going to start breaking land today.”

“We used so much having baths and washing the dirt from travelling off the dishes,” said Inga. “Maybe we can use the slough water for a couple of days.”

Erik shook his head. Not for drinking. He and Rolf drank from the slough when they first arrived, but it tasted worse now.

“Do you think I could borrow horses from Uncle Lars to get water from the spring?” he asked. “It wouldn’t take very long.”

Rolf sighed. “We need a well,” he said.

“You can’t do everything at once,” said Inga. “We’ll find a way.”

“I can get two barrels this time,” suggested Erik.

“I’ll use slough water for washing,” said Inga, “so the spring water will last longer.”

Rolf nodded slowly. “You can walk over to Lars’s and ask him,” he said to Erik. “Maybe they need water and you could bring some for all of us.”

“Can I go, too?” asked Elsa.

On their walk across the prairie, Erik kept his eyes open for rabbits. He saw only one, but many of the brown, whistling rodents. He wondered if anyone ever ate them.

Kirsten met them at the door, her hands covered in flour.

“How nice to see you,” she greeted them. “I’m up to my arms in bread dough, trying to make German bread.”

“You mean like Mrs. Haugen makes?” asked Elsa eagerly. “I helped her when we stayed there.”

“Then you should help me.”

“Is Uncle Lars here?” asked Erik. “I wondered, I mean Rolf wondered, if I could use your horses to get water from the spring. Do you need water, too?”

“We always need water.” His aunt smiled as she went back to her bowl of dough. “Lars and Olaf are stacking lumber in the back. Why don’t you go and talk to them?”

“I’ll just stay here for now,” said Elsa.

“You can find an apron on the shelf behind me,” said Kirsten.

Erik closed the door and headed around the house.

“Are you used to driving horses?” Lars asked when Erik made his request. “Perhaps Olaf should go with you. He knows our team.”

Erik felt his face turn red. “I don’t want to interrupt your work,” he said. “I helped my grandfather with his horses in Norway.”

“I’m sure you did,” said Lars, “but we need water anyway. Olaf, load the barrels on the stoneboat and you can go together. It’ll be quicker with two.”

Olaf harnessed two horses to the flat, runnerless sled. Erik rolled on one barrel, finding it easier than lifting the barrel onto the wagon. Olaf rolled on the other barrel, then went into the house. He returned a moment later with a metal pail and a rifle. Turning the pail upside down on the stoneboat, he plopped himself down on it, laid the rifle between the barrels and picked up the reins.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Erik jumped on, balancing himself between the water barrels as they bumped out of the yard. It was his first experience with a stoneboat. He hoped both he and the barrels would stay on.

“Here,” said Olaf suddenly. “Hold these!”

Erik let go of the barrels and grabbed the reins. Olaf relaxed on his upside-down pail and Erik found himself driving the horses.

They picked up two barrels at the sod house, along with another pail. Olaf held the reins as they set off across country to the spring. This time Erik sat on a pail, too.

“Rolf would like to dig a well,” he said, trying to make conversation.

Olaf nodded.

“But how will he know where there’s water?” Erik went on.

“I expect he won’t.”

“That’s a lot of work without knowing you’ll reach water in the end.”

“Heard of a man in Minnesota who dug fifteen wells
without finding water.”

Erik stared at Olaf. Fifteen wells!

He considered that for several silent minutes, not speaking again till a rabbit bounded out of the grass ahead of them.

“I tried to snare a rabbit this morning.”

BOOK: Racing Home
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