Last week when we left our heroine she had just lost her son and discovered a new side to the man she had begun to hate.
Kaja came from Norway with full intent of returning there for her two daughters she had left behind. When she raped by her employer and became pregnant, she was forced to marry him and stay in America.
Hans is a widower with two children, a son and daughter. Against Kaja’s wishes, Hans sends his daughter, Sophia, to live with her uncle because she does not approve of his marriage to Kaja.
Hans Berglund is several years older than Kaja and never shows any kindness to his demeanor until his infant son dies of pneumonia while in his arms. For the very first time Kaja softens her heart towards Hans and she is grateful that at last he understands how important it is that she find a way to return to Norway for her two daughters.
Just when things appear to take a turn for the better, Hans is stuck down by congestive heart failure and Kaja again must face a future alone. Today’s excerpt is a poignant moment when Kaja’s daughter, Marty, is faced with her father mortality and her world begins to crumble.
North Dakota 1920
Christian Johnson quickly buttoned his plaid shirt and slipped into his overalls. He brushed through his blond hair, and then felt his face for stubble. He must look his best.
It had been over a year since Hans took ill and Christian had worked faithfully everyday helping Kaja and William keep the farm running. He always arrived early in the morning to help with the milking and the daily chores. During the summer, he worked every afternoon in the fields with William. He was pleased to help his brother-in-law; he didn’t have any land of his own anyway, and he was tired of working in the grain elevator.
He’d almost yearned for winter even though the snow made it difficult to get out to the farm. There had been less tension once Sophia left for school in September. She was determined to become an excellent nurse, but even before she left she made no secret of her feelings about her stepmother.
“That housekeeper is to blame for Papa’s bad heart. She pushed him to work all the time so she could save money to return to Norway for her children.”
“Now, Sophia,” Christian said, trying his best to pacify his critical niece, “Kaja still does not have her children yet she is a good wife to Hans.”
“Says who?” Sophia replied. “She’s much too young for a man Papa’s age.”
Christian smiled and shook his head. He, too, secretly wondered what an old guy like Hans did with a young beauty like Kaja for a wife. He had to admit he could easily fall in love with her himself, and maybe it had already happened. With Sophia gone, it was very tempting to spend all of his meals out at the farm.
Christian went out the door and climbed into the wagon. He guessed thinking about Kaja was probably a waste of time anyway. She wanted nothing to do with him or Hans for that matter. She slept in the bedroom and put Hans on the sofa, claiming it was less strain on his heart. Christian snickered to himself. Old Hans would probably die from trying anyway if he crawled into bed with his young wife.
“Come, Marty,” Kaja urged. “Bring your papa his juice.”
Martha’s lip stuck out. “Papa is sleeping, Momma. He can’t wake up.”
Every morning the awkward six-year-old would carefully carry a small glass of juice to Hans. Awakening him with a gentle pat on his cheek, she’d smile shyly and wait for him to speak. Hans would hold her hand and sometimes tell her stories.
“At least he gives her that much,” Kaja would mutter to herself.
Kaja was devastated when she’d first learned of his heart condition, but her remorse quickly turned to hostility when she’d realized her dream of returning to Norway would never come true. In the spring of 1917, America had entered the war, and by the time Armistice Day arrived in November of 1918, Hans was already showing signs of heart failure.
The money they’d saved for the trip was used to pay for medical bills. Struggling to contain her anger, Kaja was gratified when the doctor banned Hans from her bed.
Since September Hans slept most of the time, too weak to even come to the dinner table. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and Kaja was dreading Sophia’s return from school. Her animosity towards her stepmother never slackened.
Kaja watched from the window as Christian’s wagon came slowly up the road.
“You must be a good girl this morning, Marty. Uncle Christian will be here soon with the Christmas tree.”
Sophia didn’t know how lucky she was to live with such a kind man as Christian Johnson. Not only was he kind but much too young and handsome to be without a wife. His square jaw and straight nose made him look quite distinguished and many times Kaja saw the sparkle in his deep blue eyes turn to desire when he gazed upon her.
She knew his broad shoulders and strong arms would be inviting to most women, but not Kaja. Never again would she give herself to another man.
“Papa won’t talk to me today,” Marty whined tearfully.
Kaja looked down at the little girl tugging on her skirt and was repulsed by the yellow stub that hung in the front of the child’s mouth. The dentist said the bone could be removed when Marty was older, but it was certain no permanent tooth would replace it. Every time she looked at her disfigured child, her anger for Hans was rekindled.
Kaja took Marty’s hand and pulled her into the parlor. “Come, child. Momma will help you.”
“No, no, Momma. Papa’s too cold.”
Kaja’s stomach churned when she looked down at Hans.
“Don’t touch him!” Marty shrieked, hiding behind Kaja.
Shaken by the child’s screams, Kaja gasped, the juice in her hands catapulting to the floor. Her eyes widened as she knelt by the sofa and gently touched her hand to Hans’ forehead. It was like stone. Her hands covering her face, she prayed for cleansing tears, but there were none. Nothing could wash away the wall of bitterness she had built around her heart.
The memorial service was held the day after Christmas and the body was placed in the granary to await a spring burial. Three days after the service, a tall seedy looking man with wire rimmed glasses arrived at the door.
“Mrs. Berglund, I’m Mr. Marklund, your husband’s attorney. He asked that I read his will to you and the children.”
After the reading, Kaja sat in shock, stunned to discover she had been betrayed again. The farm was to be sold for William and Sophia’s education and a meager trust was left for Marty and Kaja. It was barely enough for them to live on for a short time and would never cover a trip to Norway.
“Well, housekeeper,” Sophia said with a sneer, “you thought you had your wish now. Papa is dead and you can go home to Norway. But first you’ll need to find the money to do it.”
“Stop, Sophia.” William stood by Kaja’s side. “Momma has spent many years being a good wife to Papa. She deserves more than this.”
“The housekeeper is getting everything she deserves.” Sophia stomped off to her room just as she had as a child.
William placed his arm around Kaja’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Momma, I don’t need to go to school. I will help you.”
Kaja wrung her hands. “No, William, you will do as your papa wanted. The money is for your schooling. I have always survived and I will find a way again.”
Tune in again next week to see how Kaja once again must survive on her own. You can purchase Rubies-Escaping the Curse the Beginning on Amazon here. Rubies – Book One
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