Chapter 29 continues

The story so far: Katka prepares goulash for hungry men — and a hungry mom.


When Katka brought the baby back to Lily an hour later, a very thin milk had come in. The beer had done just what the old ones always said it would. She had also finished the plate of slightly less bland food and kept it down just fine. Katka handed the baby to Lily. He fed, and then mother and son slept for hours.

Katka worked on the dinner, stopping occasionally to look out the front window. When she finished the goulash, she rolled the dough for potica, pulling and stretching it until it was paper thin. She fed the animals and chopped the wood. She did some of the wash and hung it on the line. She kept a lookout for Anton, for the men. When they did not come, she went back in the house, removed the goulash from the heat and covered the pan. She checked on Lily and the baby. She fed Lily some of the goulash and gave her another beer. Everywhere she went, she dragged the Winchester with her.

Finally, just as the last light of the day faded into shadow, she saw the figures of men. There was no moon and they did not carry torches. She grabbed the rifle and held fast to it. She blew out the lantern she had just lit, then bent down, trying not to be seen from the outside. She followed the shadows as they approached her door. No one had explicitly said that this house was in danger. But Milo had led the walkout. By now, Mr. Stone and his men would know where Milo lived. Paul served as the official IWW representative, sent from headquarters. Everyone in town would know who he was by now. Did they know he was Lily’s cousin? She was glad Anton had given her his Winchester. She was even gladder that she knew how to use it.

She saw shadows in the distance and thought she could make out voices. She held tighter to the gun. She pulled the lever and racked it, waiting. She loved to shoot. But right then, at that moment, it was not love for gunpowder that she felt. A quiet calm came over her. She envisioned Lily and the baby soundly sleeping upstairs. If anyone tried to hurt them, she would kill them.

She stood just to the left of the curtained window, watching the shadows approach. The men were obviously tired. She heard voices, laughter. “Slovenski Dom,” one said, pointing. “Let’s sit for an ale.” They went up to the tavern entrance and tried to open the door.

“Closed,” another said. They kept walking, toward Biwabik, toward the location towns. They were miners.

Lily watched for fifteen or twenty minutes. A few others tried the door to the tavern. She recognized the voices and felt no fear. The men were coming back. They were unharmed, so far anyway. The voices were not filled with fear. She left the window, lit the fire and heated the goulash, filling the room with the pungently sweet aroma of red paprika and sweet onions. Her boarders would be home any minute.

She was in the kitchen when she heard the code. Three long, two short. She ran to the door and opened it. Four boarders were followed by three more. Finally, Milo, Old Joe and Samo entered. They were smiling. Laughing. Talking all at once.

“Sit! Sit! I’ll serve you,” Katka said.

The men sat, but the conversation continued. Using a metal cup, she splashed giant helpings of the goulash onto each plate, listening intently the whole while.

“Where’s the beer, beautiful Katka?” Old Joe said. “A handful of ‘do-nothing foreign-borns’ stand up to the biggest company in America, practically change the world and we don’t get as much as an ounce of beer?”

“No beer in the house,” Katka said. “Lily’d have your heads. And watch your language. If you want a drink, carry your plates into the tavern and eat there. I’ll pull some pints.”

From upstairs, a baby cried. At first, the cry was weak and muffled. Then it rose up, like a gust of wind on the prairie. Babies who have known hunger all their lives rarely cry loudly. They whimper, almost apologetically, expecting nothing. But this baby had been completely satiated once earlier today. His cry became a roar as fierce as poverty and as strong as hope. The men stopped talking. They listened to the voice of the baby.

“The cry of a warrior, that is …” Old Joe said, “a boy?”

Katka nodded.

“Let us make him proud.” Because he did not yet have a drink in his hand, he held his fist in the air instead. The other men followed suit, toasting the child of Lily and Anton with nothing more than their dirty, work-worn skin.

The next two days, the marches continued. By the end of the third day, various shifts of miners traversed Blood Red Road, shutting down every mine east of the St. James in Biwabik.


Tomorrow: Chapter 30 begins.