Chapter 4 continues
The story so far: Katka arrives in Duluth and meets her Uncle Anton.
When she awoke, the sun was high in the sky and the horses had stopped. She was sweating under the blanket.
“Minnesota, for you,” Anton said. “Each morning and evening is the same, even in July. Cold as an old whore’s heart. Afternoons? That’s something else altogether. Can get right blistery.”
“Are we here?” Katka asked, disoriented. The buggy was parked on a dirt path next to a fast-flowing stream. Giant pine trees surrounded them. They were so tall that the skirts of their fragrant needles were over six feet off the earth. The trunks were exposed and resembled hairy legs. Looking at them, she imagined running into the forest, touching the trunks of the trees just as a small child would tap the legs of grown-folks as she ran through a crowd of people.
“Just stopping to rest. Don’t want to bake the horses.” He took the last swig out of his canteen and walked over to the stream to fill it. Then he came back, released the horses and led them to water.
Katka got out of the buggy. She walked around for a while, then washed her hands and face in the cool stream.
“So, Katka,” Anton began. “When did you lose Paul?”
“We separated at the medical checks.”
“Did he look sick? Did they mark his coat?”
“Not sick. I didn’t see them mark his coat. A woman told me he had been detained.”
“What did she look like?”
“Pretty. Black curly hair. Blue eyes. Definitely not Slovenian. She spoke to me in English.”
“Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Are you sure she said ‘detained’? Not ‘delayed’?”
“I am sure.”
“Damn,” Anton said. He shook his head, muttered some more cuss words. He took a deep breath and let it out, slowly. “So, niece. What do you do after you tell the truth?”
“Run. To the fields,” she said.
“A good girl, you are, Katka.”
“Also, you need to fix the lock on my trunk.”
“Has it been broken long?”
“Not that I have noticed.”
“I’ll be sure to do that.”
This time, when she got in the buggy, Katka sat in front with her uncle. They continued down the Vermilion Trail toward the village that would soon be her home, meandering around several lakes and waterways. The terrain was kindly, with leisurely green hills and gentle slopes. They passed two encampments, one French and the other Ojibwe. Anton knew men in each, but did not stop at the French camp.
He made some quick trades at the Indian camp. Katka stared absently at the Ojibwe women, who strode about wearing a hodgepodge of clothing. Some in white men’s shirts, others in white women’s blouses with long skirts. It was warm. Anton did not waste much time. He wanted to get Katka home before dark. As they traveled farther north and west, the landscape changed slightly. “Why is the earth so rusty looking?” Katka asked.
“It will only get redder. This here, it is the richest land in the nation. Not a great climate for growing things, but the red iron runs deep. It’s shipped all over the world. Made into roads, fancy automobiles, even weapons. All a man’s got to do is take his shovel, dig out a scoop of grass and there’s the ore. Beautiful color, ain’t it?”
“Men have died for that color, I tell you. Some willing and some not.” He explained a bit about the place where she would live. The road they were on, the Vermilion Trail, was an important one. It connected the port town of Duluth to the vast stretch of mining towns that dotted the area. The region, from Ely to Grand Rapids, was called the Iron Range. The Range, as most people called it, consisted of three separate sections of iron. The town where Anton lived, Biwabik, was on the Mesabi Range. The purest, most valuable, ore was found there and the towns were booming as a result.
The sun was just setting when they approached their destination. The sapphire sky still clung to a hue of gold and everything looked magical in the fading light. The temperature was dropping and the wind died down. Katka removed the handkerchief she had been using to keep the red dust off of her face. The Vermilion Trail had ended at a T. Anton stopped the buggy. “This here is Blood Red Road. It connects all the mines and mining towns from Ely to Grand Rapids. It’s over a hundred miles long. Our house is this way, to the east.” He pointed to the right.
“Can we drive through town?” Katka asked.
Anton hesitated. “Don’t tell Lily.” He turned left onto Blood Red Road, which bisected the town of Biwabik. “Lily don’t think it’s right for women folk to be in the town during candlelight time. It ain’t nice and it ain’t quiet. But it sure is interesting. Things are brewing here. Things are changing.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 5 continues.