We left off the story with a look at Karl's life, up in the camp where he is working in the mountains. We continue now with Karl....
He stretched tiredly and hooked his left arm under his head, as he gazed at the rafters above his cot. The dim light of his coal oil lantern outlined the wooden beams and the glow from the lamp hit upon all the cobwebs that hung suspended from the ceiling. He sighed and rolled to his side and reached beneath his cot to retrieve his box of personal effects. He dug beneath his clothing until his hand found what it had been searching for. Returning to his back he reached over again to turn up the lamp, and then settled down to re-read the letters he had received from home.
The first one he chose tonight, as he had every night since he had received it, was Emilie’s. Just imagine, he thought to himself; Emilie was learning to read and write English! He read her short sweet note to him, and smiled warmly, as he imagined her struggling with her newly- learned language. “Come home soon”, she had written. Did that mean that she wanted him home because she had missed him as much as he had missed her, or was it only an expression, politely given when she could think of nothing else to say? Oh, how he wished he knew for certain!
He fingered the paper and held it to his nose, hoping to catch the essence that was all her own, but the paper smelled the same as everything else in this camp – of wood and stale cigarette smoke, and unclean male bodies.
He carefully laid her note aside, and picked up the most recent letter that he had received from George. Dated two weeks earlier, it had arrived only yesterday, and already Karl had read and re-read it so many times that he could have recited it almost word for word, if asked to do so.
I hope you are having a good winter up there in the mountains. We sure are having a hard time here. So much snow and cold. The family are all fine. The children are all are behaving fine, except Raymond and Richard sometimes can be a handful for Emilie. We ran out of potatoes three weeks ago, so some people have been sharing their supplies with us to help get us through the winter.
Karl raised his eyes from the letter and cursed himself for the hundredth time since first receiving the letter. How could he have left his family without enough food to sustain them through the winter? What kind of a provider was that? His eyes lowered to the page once more.
Emilie has made the acquaintance with two German men who have recently moved into the area. One of them, his name is Joseph, is real sweet on her. He brings presents for us all, but mostly for her, I think. Joseph and his brother, Will, come by almost everyday to help us out, and Emilie is very happy about that!
Again his eyes lifted from the page, but this time they closed in anguish. Sweet on her! He said this man Joseph was sweet on Emilie. Was she sweet on him too? Was he going to return home too late to stop a romance that would take Emilie away from him and his children forever?
I went to see my father in the hospital after Christmas. Frederich took me and my younger brothers. Dad has not changed, and still looks the same. He did not seem to know us, and he got violent with the nurses while we were there. I don’t think he will be coming home soon, if ever, so I have decided that once spring is come, I will work my father’s land, and plant his crop. I asked Frederich if he could help me, and he told me that he would. Could I use that new tractor that you are planning to buy with the money you made up there? Like you said, we can get a lot more crops in this year because of the tractor.
Karl closed his eyes once more, and wondered, not for the first time what was to become of Charles Bell’s children. He supposed he could keep the ones that were living in his house now, but if he couldn’t grow enough potatoes to feed his small family, how in God’s name was he to feed the much larger brood that he had suddenly inherited!
Well Karl, I look forward to your return home. It will be good to have you back here where you are really needed and missed.
Good kid, that George Bell. He was glad that George was there keeping an eye on things for him, but suddenly he felt an urgent need to return to his home and his family. He folded his correspondence slowly, and tucked the letters into his shirt pocket. He had planned on staying two more weeks, but he had a feeling that come morning, he would be packing his belongings and heading his team home.
He reached over, cupped the chimney of the lantern and blew hard. Still his eyes sought the rafters above, and then with a deep sigh, he turned on to his side and fell into a troubled sleep.