In the Land of White Nights

by Bonnie Leon

Anna or rivers of gold—which will captivate his heart?

The lure of the nineteenth-century gold rush calls to Erik, a civil-war veteran. He and Anna, his Aleutian bride, set sail for a new life together in Sitka.

Anna stands strong against the adversities of the new land with its unfamiliar culture and fearsome challenges. She fights the prejudice of others, while growing her newfound faith in the white man’s God.

When forced to move farther north and begin again, Anna refuses to give up, allowing nothing to stand in the way of her family’s happiness. They discover joy as well as heartache in the Alaskan wilderness. But will Erik’s love of gold put all they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy?

Chapter 1

Alaskan Territory

May 1869

Anna’s stomach tightened as she watched the dory travel back to the dock of onlookers, leaving her on the ship anchored in the harbor. Was this the right thing to do? Would whites accept Indians like her into their world?

Erik moved to her side and smiled down at her. “Ready?”

Nodding, Anna stepped forward on the wooden decking of a sturdy clipper ship. She held baby Luba in her arms and her five-year-old sister, Iya, stayed close beside her.

The captain shouted orders to put out to sea, and the crew set to work, clambering over riggings, pulling on lines, and climbing up masts to unfurl the sails. The men worked in unison, almost as if in a dance. The sails expanded and the ship moved beneath Anna’s feet as they headed into the deeper waters of Cook Inlet.

She turned her face into the wind and couldn’t keep from smiling. Cool air caressed her cheeks, the clean smell of the sea lifting her spirits. Stifling an impulse to laugh, she glanced down at Iya and squeezed her hand and hugged Luba more tightly. What would Kinauquak say about her taking his child to a new land? He would want what was best. He would want her to be loved. Anna pressed a kiss to her daughter’s head. Delight at being on the sea once more swept away fears of the unknown.

She took a slow, deep breath and looked up at her betrothed. Tall and handsome, Erik had his gaze fastened on the swelling sails. He seemed aware of nothing but the billowing white canvas that flapped in the wind. His blue eyes shimmered with anticipation, and he gripped the railing tightly, as if by doing so he might hurry the ship along.

They were on their way to the place called Sitka.

The clipper creaked as it rocked and edged forward, gradually picking up speed as they plunged toward the open sea. The small swells gave little resistance, and the ship skimmed over the waves.

Shouts and cheers came from people standing along the shoreline.

Anna answered their spirited farewells with an enthusiastic wave until the well-wishers and the village grew so small she was unable to distinguish them from the beach. Then the cove blended into the shoreline and was lost.

“We will see them again?” Iya asked.

An ache squeezed Anna’s chest. Anna and Iya Dunnak would never return, but Iya didn’t need to know. “Maybe one day we will come back.”

Erik watched her, eyes moist.

Do his eyes fill with tears or is it the cold wind?

He smiled softly, then turned and focused on the broad expanse of water stretching out before them.

Anna followed his gaze, seeing only sky and sea. She closed her eyes, allowing the aroma of the salty ocean and the excitement of adventure to wash over her. The world, with its promise of rich experiences, awaited her and the children. Her hand rested on the walrus tooth necklace Erik had found on the beach many months before. Their new life had begun.

Many moons ago, when the giant wave destroyed her home and she left her birthplace to face an uncertain future, she’d been afraid. But no longer. She wasn’t alone. She had Erik, Iya, and Luba, and Erik’s God, who watched over them. They would share a good life.

Erik leaned against the railing and placed his hand on Anna’s arm.

With her eyes still closed, she whispered, “I love you.” The wind whisked away the words, and she looked into the warmth of Erik’s eyes. “This is right. It is good.” She squeezed his hand. “We will be together always.”

Luba whimpered and squirmed.

Anna lifted the infant and peered into her round, flushed face.

The little girl’s eyes teared in the wind, and her nose was red from the cold.

“Do you want to go to a new home?” Anna smiled at her little one.

Luba chortled, kicked her feet in the air, and swung her fists.

Erik put his arm around Anna’s shoulders and pulled her next to him. “I think that’s a yes.” He patted the little girl on the fanny, then turned to Iya. “How about you? Are you ready to make a new home?”

Grinning broadly, Iya nodded. “I am glad to go. You say it is the right thing for us. So I know it is true.” She leaned on the railing, tipped forward, and watched the waves wash against the hull.

“Iya, no!” Anna yanked the little girl back from the balustrade.

Iya lost her footing and landed on her backside on the deck. Wearing a bewildered expression, she looked up at Anna.

“I am sorry.” Anna’s reckless reaction had only caused more trouble. “It is not safe there. You could fall into the sea. Stay away from the railing. Until we are on land, you must be with me or Erik … always.”

“She’s all right.” Erik lifted Iya and set her on her feet. “I suppose we should find our rooms and get our gear stored.” He moved toward the captain, who stood just a few paces away.

The paunchy, friendly looking man had a pipe in his mouth and a small black cap pulled down over unruly brown hair.

“I’m Erik Engstrom.” Erik extended his hand.

The captain bit down on his pipe and accepted the greeting. “Captain Bradley. Glad to have you aboard.”

“Happy to be here. I was wondering if you could tell me where my friends and I might find our cabins.”

The captain peered at Anna and the children from beneath the rim of his hat. One eyebrow cocked, he looked back at Erik. “Certainly.” He called to his first mate. “Show these passengers to their cabins.”

The sailor bobbed his head. “Aye, Captain.” He turned to Erik. “Your name, sir?”

“Engstrom.”

The man consulted a list. “Two rooms?”

“That’s right.”

“Follow me,” the sailor said curtly and marched toward the companionway.

Erik set his jaw as Anna had seen him do many times before. He was unhappy about something, but he said nothing as he gathered their belongings and followed. Uneasy, Anna hoisted Luba onto her hip, took Iya’s hand, and trailed along behind.

After following the seaman down a flight of stairs, they entered a narrow passageway.

A woman with a small boy approached from the other direction. She hugged the wall and pulled the child in close, as if protecting him from intruders.

A lump formed in Anna’s throat. She tried to smile, but the woman looked away.

The sailor stopped outside a wooden door. “This one be yours, sir,” the crewman said as he unlocked the door. He handed Erik the key, then proceeded to the next doorway and, without looking at Anna, said in an unpleasant tone, “This one’s for you three.” He dropped the key in Anna’s hand, quickly retraced his steps, and disappeared up the stairwell.

Anna stared at the door to her room, then looked at Erik. We still do not share a bed? Hurt grew inside. At the beach he refused to share a hut with her, but why now? They were promised to each other. Before the great wave had taken her beloved Kinauquak, he had never turned away from her. Hot tears of humiliation built up behind her eyes. Did Erik not love her? Fighting to control her emotions, she asked, “Why do you stay there?”

Erik blushed and looked at the key in his hand. When he looked up, he wore a crooked smile and cleared his throat. “I explained that back at the beach. We can’t live together until we’re married.”

Anna swiped at her tears. “Why? I do not understand. You say you love me but do not wish to share my bed?” She took a quaking breath, afraid of the question she must ask. “You do not wish to be with me?”

Erik moved closer. He cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her face and looked into her eyes. “I love you very much.” He stopped as if to gather his thoughts. “I know the customs of your people are not the same as the white man’s, and I do not want to hurt you, but we must wait. It would be wrong for me to share your bed before we are married.”

Anna released a sigh as he enfolded her in his arms. Of course he loved her. She pressed close. “Why are we not husband and wife?”

“We will be as soon as I can find a minister to marry us. I know this is hard for you to understand, but God wouldn’t be happy with me if I disobeyed Him in this. We’ll be married soon. I’m sure there’s a minister in Sitka.” He hugged her more tightly. “I can’t wait to be your husband. It’s what I want more than anything in this world.”

Why did his God not want them together? She managed a small smile. “We wait as you say.”

Erik unlocked her door and carried her bag inside. The room was tiny, with what looked like two pallets, one above the other on one wall, and a washstand on the other. At the end of the room, a round window let in dim light, and next to that a cabinet was tucked into the corner. On the opposite corner stood an ugly, black stove.

Anna unlatched the door and peered inside, trying not to breathe in coal dust. “What is this?” Coughing, she backed away from the blackened interior.

“A coal stove. It’s for heat. I’ll show you how to use it later.”

Anna pointed to the pallets. “What are these?”

“Bunk beds,” Erik said. “You sleep on them.”

Iya climbed onto the top bunk. “I will sleep here.” She sat on the edge and hung her legs over the side.

Anna set Luba on the floor and sat on the lower bed, exhaustion suddenly pulling at her.

“I’ll get settled in my room while you put your things away and rest. I’ll meet you on deck later.” Erik stepped out and closed the door behind him.

With Erik gone, the tiny room felt empty. Anna’s earlier enthusiasm faltered.

Erik should be with her and the children.

Luba fussed and Anna lifted the infant up from the floor and then sat on the hard bunk to nurse her while Iya explored the cabin.

A mirror over the vanity brought a delightful exclamation from the little girl as she examined her reflection. “This is better than Mama’s tiny glass. Much better!”

Anna couldn’t resist the temptation to look. Standing behind Iya, she gazed at her reflection. Gold, almond-shaped eyes stared back at her. Although Anna had known for some time that she’d grown into a woman, she was surprised to see that the girl she remembered had changed so. She brushed dark-brown hair back from her face, exposing a smudge of dirt on her cheek. She scrubbed at it, frowning when it didn’t come off. Holding Luba in one arm, she poured water from the pitcher on the washstand into a bowl, took a rough towel hanging from a wooden bar, and dipped it in the water, then scrubbed at the dirt again. Finally, it submitted to her efforts. “This is helpful.” She washed Iya’s face.

The little girl grimaced, pulled away, and quickly found something new to investigate. She peered beneath the bunks, reached into the dark recesses, and pulled out a small pot. She removed the lid and tipped it one way then another. “What is this?”

Anna shrugged. “Ask Erik. He will know.” She sat on a wobbly, wooden chair and finished nursing Luba. The movement of the ship felt peculiar in the close quarters.

Luba was content to sit on the floor and play with her mother’s hairbrush while Anna put away their few belongings.

When the room looked tidy, she said, “We will go meet Erik now.” With Luba strapped to her back and Iya hanging on to her hand, she slipped out the door and headed for the stairway.

Erik leaned on the deck rail, watching the shoreline. When he spotted them, he straightened. “Is your room all right? You get everything put away?”

Iya took a little hop toward Erik. “There is a big glass where I see myself.”

“I have one too.” Erik grinned. “But I’m sure your reflection is a lot prettier than mine.”

“There is something under our bed I do not know. It is like a bowl.”

A blush rose in his cheeks, and he chuckled. “That’s a chamber pot.”

“What is chamber pot?”

“It’s there for when you have to relieve yourself.”

Iya’s expression remained perplexed.

“You know, when you have to go in the weeds?”

Understanding dawned on Iya’s face. “That is smart to have.”

Anna turned her attention toward the sea, gazing at spray kicked up by the waves as the ship gently rocked.

Gulls squawked overhead and dived between the sails and rigging, looking for tidbits a sailor might have carelessly laid aside.

The ship cut through the water at an astonishing pace. Surely it would only be a matter of days before they pulled into Sitka Harbor. It was there her new life would truly begin.

Erik had said it might be hard, that some white people wouldn’t trust them because they were Indians, like the woman in the passageway with the little boy. They wanted nothing to do with a native.

Is that how it would be everywhere in the new place called Sitka?

Chapter 2

Anna closed her eyes and tried to block out negative thoughts, focusing instead on the sensation of sailing. The wind rippled through the sails as the ship rolled, creaking and groaning, through the waves.

So much had happened so quickly. It was hard to believe only a few weeks had passed since she and Erik had acknowledged their love for each other. And although Erik wouldn’t allow them to live as husband and wife now, it would happen soon. Thankfulness filling her, she looked at him.

Erik watched the bow cut through the waves. Once, he had seemed so different, even frightening. At their first meeting on the beach, she hadn’t noticed how handsome he was. She didn’t know he’d come to rescue her and Iya. She had only seen a tall white man with a wild bush of blond hair and piercing blue eyes. She hadn’t noticed the ever-present smile in those eyes or known how gentle he could be. He had scared her then, but now she couldn’t imagine life without him.

A sharp, sneering voice broke through her reverie. “Looks like he’s got hisself a fine bed warmer,” one of the sailors jeered. “Wonder if he’d mind sharin’ a bit of that warmth.”

Erik turned about sharply. His eyes locked with the sailor’s.

Neither spoke.

The crewman finally looked away. “Ah, she don’t look like much, anyway. Not enough meat on her bones.” He turned back to his work.

Erik looked at Anna but said nothing, though apology lay in his eyes. He had warned her there would be trouble.

Still, she could see that the mockery of the one he loved hurt him. “It is all right, Erik. It does not matter. His words mean nothing to me.”

“It does matter,” Erik answered between clenched teeth. He turned a smoldering glare on the sailor.

The next few days passed without mishap. The weather remained calm and Anna found the time on board pleasant. Her only company were the children and Erik, although the captain occasionally stopped to chat. The few women passengers avoided Anna, so she filled the hours fashioning hides into winter garments. The unsavory comments from the sailors kept her below decks most of the time. She refused to let their taunts impale her, but they tormented Erik. Would he get so angry he would fight for her honor and get hurt or worse?

Iya didn’t bear the brunt of the sailors’ animosity, so she most often could be found at Erik’s heels.

One afternoon, warm, sunny weather enticed Anna to journey onto the upper deck. With Luba and Iya napping, she enjoyed the freedom of roaming about with no encumbrances. She stood near the railing and watched the shoreline. Large spruce and pine had re­placed the treeless beauty of the Aleutians. Dense brush and moss spread out beneath the giant trees that stretched over the water, as if wishing to be part of both worlds—earth and sea.

Though engaged by the scenery, Anna still noticed one of the sailors watching her from his perch on the bulwark.

He catapulted off the ledge, grabbed her waist, and pulled her against his rough, filthy-smelling overcoat. “Gotcha!” he said in a gravelly voice, stale breath washing over her.

Anna tried to pry his arms free. “Do not touch me! Go away!”

“Ah, come on, just a little kiss for a poor, lonely mate.” He pulled her closer.

As if she struggled in quicksand, the more Anna fought, the tighter his arms held her. “No!”

He nuzzled her neck, his beard scratching her skin.

All of a sudden, his hold loosened and he was yanked away. If she hadn’t been so frightened, Anna would have laughed at his surprised expression. Rage quickly replaced his shock when he recognized his adversary. He jerked free of Erik’s grasp and swung a fist at him.

Erik ducked and easily avoided the intended punch, then threw one of his own. He struck the sailor squarely on the jaw, sending the man sprawling across the weathered planking.

“Get ’im!” a seaman called while the rest of his mates cheered.

The sailor rolled over and crouched close to the deck, then threw himself at Erik, managing to strike a sharp blow to Erik’s chin.

Dazed, Erik stumbled.

The sailor pulled a knife from his boot.

“Erik! He has a knife!” Anna screamed.

With a sick grin, the seaman swiped at Erik, but Erik leaped away. Seemingly out of nowhere, a black whip slithered across the deck, wrapped itself about the mariner’s ankles, and jerked him off his feet.

Several sailors who had been cheering now stood mute.

“What’s going on here?” Captain Bradley bellowed as he re-coiled the whip.

The sailor pushed himself to his feet, his anger dissipating as he faced the master of the ship. He kept his eyes focused on the deck and wiped sweat from his face.

Captain Bradley waited. “Well?”

Forced to defend himself or confess his offense, the crewman finally said, “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on. He took a punch at me, and I wasn’t gonna put up with nothin’ from a brainless Laplander.”

The captain turned to Erik. “Is that what happened?”

Before Erik could say anything, Anna spoke. “That is not true. He … he … grabbed me. Erik stopped him.”

The captain’s face darkened and he seemed to grow in stature as he turned to the cowering mariner. “You bothered the lady?”

“Lady? She ain’t no lady. She’s nothin’ but a dirty Injun.”

In two quick steps, Captain Bradley crossed the short distance to the sailor. Before the younger man knew what was happening, the captain had his hand clasped about the sailor’s throat. Face only inches away, the captain snarled, “To you and every man on this ship, she’s a lady.” When there was no reply, he tightened his grip. “Do you understand?”

The sailor bobbed his head up and down.

“As long as you’re on my ship, you’ll do as you’re told. Or would you rather swim for shore?”

The sailor stared at the captain, eyes bulging as he fought to breathe.

For a moment, the captain took his eyes from the crewman and looked at the other men, then he thrust the man away from him. “I want an apology from you.”

The man gasped for air.

“Now!”

Quickly shedding his hat, the sailor glowered at the captain but obeyed. Sounding as if his throat were full of gravel, he said, “I’m sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean no harm.”

Captain Bradley scanned his crew. “If any of you so much as touches a hair on her head, I’ll have you thrown in the brig!” With that he turned to Anna and removed his hat. “I apologize for the behavior of my men. I hope there’ll be no further trouble. Let me know if anyone bothers you.”

Anna could only nod politely before allowing Erik to usher her to her cabin.

Erik closed the door firmly behind them.

Anna turned and examined his wounded chin. She touched it gently, and Erik winced. She dipped a cotton cloth in cool water and dabbed at the swollen, red spot. “You will have a bad bruise tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing.” Erik’s eyes were darkened by con­cern. “Are you all right?”

“I am fine. You cannot fight for me.”

Erik didn’t say anything.

“Promise,” Anna insisted.

“I can’t promise, but I’ll try—talk first … then fight if I have to.” He grinned and took the cloth from Anna and dabbed at his wound. “It wasn’t a suitable example of my faith.” He pressed the cloth to his forehead. “All I could think of was smashing in his face—great way to love my enemies.”

“Love enemies?” Who did such a thing?

“Don’t figure tact would have worked.” Erik took her hand. “I’m sorry. I knew it would be hard for you and the girls. A lot of whites don’t understand about Indians. I knew this kind of thing could happen. I don’t want that for you.”

“Do not be sorry. You are not to blame. When I come, I know it will be hard. I come anyway.” Anna stroked his cheek. “All I want is to be with you.”

Erik kissed her palm. “I love you. I’ll do everything I can to make a fine life for you and the girls. I promise.” He glanced toward the door. “I better get going before we give those jack-tars something else to talk about.”

After Erik walked down the corridor and up the stairway, she closed the door and replayed what had happened. Her stomach ached. This new life she had chosen would be harder than she had imagined.

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