Read A Land to Call Home Online

Authors: Lauraine Snelling

A Land to Call Home

Books by Lauraine Snelling

Golden Filly Collection One*

Golden Filly Collection Two*

High Hurdles Collection One*

High Hurdles Collection Two*

S
ECRET
R
EFUGE

Daughter of Twin Oaks

D
AKOTAH
T
REASURES

Ruby • Pearl

Opal • Amethyst

D
AUGHTERS OF
B
LESSING

A Promise for Ellie • Sophie’s Dilemma

A Touch of Grace • Rebecca’s Reward

H
OME TO
B
LESSING

A Measure of Mercy • No Distance Too Far

A Heart for Home

R
ED
R
IVER OF THE
N
ORTH

An Untamed Land • A New Day Rising

A Land to Call Home • The Reapers’ Song

Tender Mercies • Blessing in Disguise

R
ETURN TO
R
ED
R
IVER

A Dream to Follow • Believing the Dream

More Than a Dream

W
ILD
W
EST
W
IND

Valley of Dreams

*5 books in each volume

A Land to Call Home
Copyright © 1997
Lauraine Snelling

Cover design by Jennifer Parker

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2011

ISBN 978-1-4412-0302-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

To my mother,
who loves unconditionally
more than anyone else I know.

LAURAINE SNELLING is an award-winning author of over 60 books, fiction and nonfiction, for adults and young adults. Her books have sold over 2 million copies. Besides writing books and articles, she teaches at writers’ conferences across the country. She and her husband, Wayne, have two grown sons and make their home in California.

Dakota Territory
September 1884

D
ear Hjelmer.”

Penny Sjornson dipped the tip of her quill pen into the inkpot, then tapped the tiny black bead back into the bottle. What could she say to him that she hadn’t already said many times over? Why did he never write back? He had promised he would. In that first and only letter, he had pleaded for her to wait for him.

She brushed a feathery strand of sun-gold hair back from her forehead, now wrinkled in thought. She stared up at the tendril of smoke rising from the chimney of the kerosene lamp. Behind her she could hear the sounds of children going to bed, the boys to the bunks in the lean-to and seven-year-old Anji to the bed she shared with her aunt Penny in the soddy.

Here it was the end of September, and Hjelmer had already been gone for two months—two of the longest months of her life. Granted, it wasn’t terribly long compared to eternity, but then she wasn’t one of the angels yet either. She studied the freckles on the back of her slender but work-worn hands. Kisses from God, her mother had called them. Penny thought so often of the mother who had died in childbirth the winter her eldest daughter reached ten. When their father disappeared not long afterward, the three children had been split up between the relatives. Penny wanted them all back together again someday almost as much as she wanted a letter from Hjelmer.

Her aunt Agnes Baard laid a gentle hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “Having a hard time of it, eh?”

Penny nodded. “But I promised to write Hjelmer one letter a week, and Joseph said he is going to St. Andrew tomorrow and will mail it for me. Tante Agnes, why doesn’t he write?”

Agnes settled wide hips on the chair at the end of the trestle table. “I wish I knew.” She shook her head. “Never did trust that young man myself. Trouble seems to follow him like chickens will the corn.”

“It’s not his fault that Mary Ruth took it in her mind to—”

“To get that young man for her own, I know. But she must have had some reason to feel she could accuse him like that. I know he says he never even kissed her, but—” Agnes clamped her lips over the rest of the sentence.

“But what?” Penny leaned forward. “You’ve heard something and you didn’t tell me?”

“Uff da. Me and my big mouth. You want a cup of coffee with Joseph and me before we go to bed?”

“Tante, you are changing the subject. What did you hear?” Penny could feel her jaw tighten. “I want to know. What did you hear?” She tamped down the urge to slam the table or shake her aunt. “I am not a child anymore to be kept in the dark and only told what is good for me to hear.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Please, Tante Agnes, tell me what you’ve heard.”

“I don’t hold with gossiping.”

“Please.”

The sigh heaved Agnes’s ponderous bosom that swelled above the belly protruding under her apron. “Ingeborg said she saw Hjelmer kissing Mary Ruth Strand out behind the haystack. And you know as well as I do that Ingeborg don’t make up stories.”

Penny stared at the yellow-orange flame burning the edge of the wick in the lamp. Weeks earlier something inside had warned her to be ready for such a telling. She had ignored it then but could no longer. “He lied to me then?”

“Well, I heard tell of women kissing men, you know, and maybe them not wanting it but being too polite to push the hussy away,” Agnes offered by way of comfort.

“She’s a hussy all right, and that’s being Christian charitable.” Penny pushed the tip of the pen into the table so hard it broke off. She sighed. Now she’d have to sharpen the quill again, and it was already getting down to the finer part of the feather shaft. She pushed the cork into the inkpot and gently placed the precious piece of paper back in the carved wooden treasure box, one of the last things her father had given her. If paper didn’t come so dear, she’d do what she wanted—crumple it up and throw it in the stove along
with her promise to Hjelmer Ivan Bjorklund, that . . . that . . . She couldn’t think of a name she dare utter aloud. But one of those she’d heard the threshing crew say would surely be useful right now.

Agnes heaved herself to her feet, grunting in the process.

“No, Tante, you sit down and I will get the coffee.” Penny looked down at her aunt’s feet, closely resembling sausages stuffed into a casing. Her elk-skin moccasins were already the only shoes she could wear. Penny didn’t remember her aunt having trouble like this when she’d been in the family way before.

“There’s a good girl.” Agnes settled back into her chair with a sigh. She glanced over to see her husband, Joseph, in the rocker with his head rolled back, snores puffing from his open mouth. “Don’t think he wants any, so just bring for you and me. Them sour cream cookies you baked today would taste right good now, don’t you think?”

Penny used her apron for a hot pad to lift the blue granite coffeepot to the hot side of the stove. She lifted the iron stove lid with the coiled-handled lid lifter and dropped a couple pieces of kindling on top of the glowing coals. When those flared, she added bigger sticks that would burn quickly. She set the lid back in the hole and pulled the coffeepot over the now crackling fire. It wasn’t cold enough yet to keep the fires burning at night, but before she went to bed, she would bank the larger coals in ashes to keep them for the morning. Going to the shelf, she fetched cookies from the jar and set them on the saucers with the cups. All the while, thoughts of Hjelmer leapfrogged through her mind.

Where was he? He had said he was going down to Fargo to get on with the railroad laying track to the west. He’d mailed his one half-page letter from there. “My dearest Penny,” he had written and signed it “Yours, Hjelmer.” She’d done what he said, sent her letters to the Fargo post office. He’d pick up any mail there. Had he even received any of her letters? Had he been injured after that and not able to write? She shuddered at the thought. Was he still alive? Death came easy on the unforgiving prairies of Dakota Territory, and she’d heard horror stories of terrible accidents. In the fall of 1884 the big push was on to web the country with railroad tracks.

“I’m sorry, child, to have brought that up,” Agnes said when Penny sat back down. “Hjelmer just has some growing up to do, I think, and maybe this is God’s way of making that happen. Sometimes men are still boys, only wearing bigger clothes, until God takes them by the suspenders and gives them a good shake. When
He sets them back down, they’ve learned a thing or two and make fine men. If Hjelmer is half the man his brothers were, he’ll be a good husband someday”

The two looked at each other in the lamplight, knowing they each thought of the terrible winter that took the lives of the two Bjorklund brothers, Roald and Carl, along with Carl’s two little girls. Others in the area had died, too, from both influenza and the killing blizzards.

After she was finally in bed, Penny tucked the covers under her chin and stared into the dark. She could hear Joseph snoring in bed and Agnes puffing in the way she had lately. The seven-year-old beside her turned over and sighed in her sleep. “Dear heavenly Father,” Penny whispered, “I can’t believe the bad things I hear about Hjelmer, for if I do, how will I manage? Please watch out for him and bring him safely home again. I want to do your will, dear Lord, and I always thought when Hjelmer came here from Norway that he was the one I would marry when I grew a bit older.” She paused, the dog barking outside catching her attention.

What if it were
Hjelmer coming
now?

But when the barking stopped and the dog settled back down, she knew it was probably nothing more than a passing coyote or some such curious animal. “Please take care of Tante too. I’m so afraid something is wrong, no matter how much she tries to tell me she’s fine. Thank you for our house and the farm, and thank you for your loving care for all of us. Amen.” She turned on her side, the corn husks in the mattress rustling beneath her. The tightly strung ropes that held up the bed creaked, and she heard a clump of dirt drop from the sod roof. Joseph had hoped to build a house of wood this year, but it didn’t look to happen now. They would probably just add another lean-to onto the soddy.

“No letter then, girl?” Her uncle, Joseph Baard, already had the horses harnessed and hitched to the wagon before the sun peeked over the horizon.

Penny shook her head as she loaded a box packed with eggs to trade at the Mercantile in St. Andrew. “It’s not ready yet. Tante says for you to ask Kaaren and Ingeborg if they want to come over for some quilting on Saturday.”

“That I will.” Joseph turned and lifted one of the smoked elk
haunches from the shelf in the smokehouse, nestling it into the straw that lined the wagon bed. “Agnes going to send any garden stuff?”

“I’m getting it now,” Penny called over her shoulder on her way to the root cellar. “Come help me, Knute. There’s butter to get out of the springhouse.” Knute was her ten-year-old cousin. When she returned with a sack of carrots dug the day before, Penny slung it into the wagon, and Joseph settled it in the corner in the front. He’d be picking up more goods from the Bjorklunds, so he needed plenty of room.

With everything loaded, he entered the soddy to fetch the dinner Agnes was just finishing packing into a basket. “Surely does smell good in here.” He inhaled a deep whiff. “Got any of that coffee left?”

“Ja, and I sugared some pancakes for you. They’re rolled in a cloth on top so you can eat them midmorning.” Agnes tucked a cloth over the top of the food. “Don’t forget to pick up the mail.”

He looked at her with sorrow lining his narrow face.

She playfully slapped his shoulder. “Now, don’t try getting around me.”

“Just because I forgot one time. You know MacDonald and I was talking, and—”

“And you just drove off, I know.” Concern darkened her eyes. “You be careful now, you hear?”

Joseph shook his head. “Women, always worrying.” He poured a cup of coffee and turned to leave. “Make sure those two rapscallions of yours help Petar out in the field. They like to slack off when I’m not here.”

Other books

Bear Meets Girl by Shelly Laurenston
Jenna Petersen - [Lady Spies] by Seduction Is Forever
Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
Hearts On Fire by Childs, Penny
The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier by Orenduff, J. Michael
Smells Like Dog by Selfors, Suzanne
Sweet Dreams Boxed Set by Brenda Novak, Allison Brennan, Cynthia Eden, Jt Ellison, Heather Graham, Liliana Hart, Alex Kava, Cj Lyons, Carla Neggers, Theresa Ragan, Erica Spindler, Jo Robertson, Tiffany Snow, Lee Child
Dear Sylvia by Alan Cumyn
A Man Called Sunday by Charles G. West