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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 1. Her Adoptive Parents.
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A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 1. Her Adoptive Parents. Post by :mimiabas Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2367

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A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 1. Her Adoptive Parents.


"Ans, the next time you twist hay f'r the fire, I wish't you'd dodge the damp spots," said the cook, rising from a prolonged scrutiny of the stove and the bread in the oven. His pose was threatening.

"Cooks are always grumblin'," calmly remarked Anson, drawing on his gloves preparatory to going out to the barn; "but seein' 's this is Chris'mus, I'll go out an' knock a barrel to pieces. I want them biscuit to be O.K. See?"

"Yes: I see."

"Say, Bert!"


"Can't we have some sugar-'lasses on our biscuits, seein' it's Chris'mus?"

"Well, I s'pose we can, Ans; but we're gittin' purty low on the thing these days, an' they ain't no tellin' when we'll be able to git more."

"Well, jes' as you say, not as I care." Anson went out into the roaring wind with a shout of defiance, but came back instantly, as if to say something he had forgotten. "Say, wha' d'ye s'pose is the trouble over to the Norsk's? I hain't seen a sign o' smoke over there f'r two 'r three days."

"Well, now you speak of it, Ans, I've be'n thinkin' about that myself. I'm afraid he's out o' coal, 'r sick, 'r somethin'. It 'u'd be mighty tough f'r the woman an' babe to be there without any fire, an' this blizzard whoopin' her up. I guess you'd better go over an' see what's up. I was goin' to speak of it this mornin', but f'rgot it, I'm cook this week, so I guess the job falls on you."

"All right. Here goes."

"Better take a horse."

"No: I guess not. The snow is driftin' purty bad, an' he couldn't git through the drifts, anyway."

"Well, lookout f'r y'rself, ol' man. It looks purty owly off in the west. Don't waste any time. I'd hate like thunder to be left alone on a Dakota prairie f'r the rest o' the winter."

Anson laughed back through the mist of snow that blew in the open door, his great-coat and cap allowing only a glimpse of his cheeks.

The sky was bright overhead, but low down around the horizon it looked wild. The air was frightfully cold--far below zero--and the wind had been blowing almost every day for a week, and was still strong. The snow was sliding fitfully along the sod with a stealthy, menacing motion, and far off in the west and north a dense, shining cloud of frost was hanging.

The plain was almost as lone and level and bare as a polar ocean, where death and silence reign undisputedly. There was not a tree in sight, the grass was mainly burned, or buried by the snow, and the little shanties of the three or four settlers could hardly be said to be in sight, half sunk, as they were, in drifts. A large white owl seated on a section stake was the only living thing to be seen.

The boom had not yet struck Buster County. Indeed, it did not seem to Bert Gearheart at this moment that it would ever strike Buster County. It was as cold, dreary, and unprofitable an outlook as a man could face and not go utterly mad. If any of these pioneers could have forecast the winter, they would not have dared to pass it on the plains.

Bert watched his partner as he strode rapidly across the prairie, now lost to sight as a racing troop of snow-waves, running shoulder-high, shot between, now reappearing as the wind lulled.

"This is gittin' pretty monotonous, to tell the honest truth," he muttered as he turned from the little window. "If that railroad don't show up by March, in some shape or other, I'm goin' to give it up. Gittin' free land like this is a little too costly for me. I'll go back to Wiscons', an' rent land on shares."

Bert was a younger-looking man than his bachelor companion; perhaps because his face was clean-shaven and his frame much slighter. He was a silent, moody young fellow, hard to get along with, though of great good heart. Anson Wood succeeded in winning and holding his love even through the trials of masculine housekeeping. As Bert kept on with the dinner, he went often to the little window facing the east and looked out, each time thawing a hole in the frost on the window-panes.

The wind was rising again, and the night promised to be wild, as the two preceding nights had been. As he moved back and forth setting out their scanty meal, he was thinking of the old life back in Wisconsin in the deeps of the little _coulee_; of the sleigh-rides with the boys and girls; of the Christmas doings; of the damp, thick-falling snow among the pines, where the wind had no terrors; of musical bells on swift horses in the fragrant deeps, where the snowflakes fell like caresses through the tossing branches of the trees.

By the side of such a life the plain, with its sliding snow and ferocious wind, was appalling--a treeless expanse and a racing-ground for snow and wind. The man's mood grew darker while he mused. He served the meal on the rude box which took the place of table, and still his companion did not come. Ho looked at his watch. It was nearly one o'clock, and yet there was no sign of the sturdy figure of Anson.

The house of the poor Norwegian was about two miles away, and out of sight, being built in a gully; but now the eye could distinguish a house only when less than a mile away. A man could not at times be seen at a distance of ten rods, though occasional lulls in the wind permitted Bert to see nearly to the "First Moccasin."

"He may be in the swale," muttered the watcher as he stood with his eye to the loop-hole. But the next time he looked the plain was as wild and lone as before, save under the rising blast the snow was beginning to ramp and race across the level sod till it looked at times like a sea running white with foam and misty with spray.

At two o'clock he said: "Well, I s'pose Ans has concluded to stay over there to dinner, though what the Norsk can offer as inducement I swear I don't know. I'll eat, anyhow; he can have what's left."

He sat down to his lonely meal, and ate slowly, getting up two or three times from his candle-box in a growing anxiety for Ans, using the heated poker now to clear a spot on the pane. He expressed his growing apprehension, manlike, by getting angry.

"I don't see what the darn fool means by stayin' so late. It'll be dark by four o'clock, er jest as soon as that cloud over there strikes us. You couldn't beat sense into some men's heads with a club."

He had eaten his dinner now, and had taken to pacing up and down the little room, which was exactly six paces long and three wide, and just high enough to permit Anson to walk erect in the highest part.

"Nice fix to leave a man in, ain't it? All alone here, an' a blizzard comin' on! If I ever git out o' this country alive, I'll bet I'll know enough not to come back," he broke out, stamping his foot in a rage. "I don't see what he means by it. If he's caught in that blow, his life ain't worth a cent."

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