Authors: Mary Ellis
Tags: #Religious, #Amish, #Christmas stories, #Fiction, #Religion, #Holidays, #Christian Fiction, #Christmas & Advent, #Christian, #General
“Nobody’s here but us mice, and I have no reservations for tonight.” Mrs. Pratt opened the refrigerator door and bent over to look inside. “I know there’s fresh fruit in here somewhere.”
“Well, what shall we do today?” Sarah asked. They usually tackled major cleaning projects while the rooms stood empty.
“I think we should wash windows before it turns any colder. But first, let’s eat! How about oatmeal?” Mrs. Pratt found the tub of blueberries she’d been hunting for and straightened her spine.
“Of course. I’ll get it started,” said Sarah. They always had oatmeal on slow days, topped with fruit or cinnamon and brown sugar.
During the meal they chatted about the weather, their plans for the upcoming weekend, and the local Christmas displays. Although Sarah loved the manger scenes and electric candles flickering in the windows, to her most of the plastic inflatables seemed silly. They were usually lying face down in front yards as though exhausted by their efforts.
After breakfast, while they washed dishes together, Mrs. Pratt again offered Sarah a ride. She felt guilty about her little white lie because she didn’t plan to visit
friend but one of Caleb’s. And it hadn’t been her only deception that day, either. She had also led her mother to believe she would be visiting Josie instead of merely passing by on her way to the Sidley house. Albert Sidley had been Caleb’s only Amish friend after he’d started working for the English construction company. If anyone knew her
’s whereabouts, it would be Albert, but after five years it wasn’t likely.
Yet how could she have told her mother the truth? Sarah had seen how upset
had become with questions about Caleb. She’d specifically asked Sarah to drop the subject. Why hadn’t she realized her mother still suffered from him leaving the Order?
I’ve been too preoccupied with my own life to notice another person’s pain
She sent up a silent prayer of forgiveness for her deception and for her self-absorption. If she could obtain Caleb’s current address and perhaps a phone number, maybe her mother wouldn’t feel cut adrift from her firstborn. Knowing a person’s whereabouts, or having the ability to call in an emergency, gave a person security…even if you never chose to write or call in the foreseeable future.
After the two women had washed the windows with vinegar water, Sarah ran the sweeper and dusted. A few hours later, with the inn clean and sparkling, she hitched up her horse and headed toward Caleb’s former best friend.
Small by Amish standards, the Sidley farm stood on one of the last unpaved township roads. Sarah’s buggy bounced from side to side for a mile and a half. Just when she thought her kidneys might suffer permanent damage, the one-hundred-fifty-year-old farmstead loomed into view, the last house before the dead end. She remembered visiting here once a long time ago, and her response remained the same—sheer pity.
Mrs. Sidley had passed away after the birth of her fourth son. Her husband and four boys scratched out a bare living on twenty hardscrabble acres of hilly, rocky ground. Even the three dairy cows looked forlorn as they chewed their cud beside the sagging fence.
Sarah drove up the rutted driveway, got out of the buggy, and tied the reins to the barn’s hitching post. The house, in desperate need of paint, looked empty. Then Albert Sidley walked onto the rickety porch.
Why is it that some homes look full of life even when owners vacation, whereas this house seems empty while inhabited? It appears to suffer from a terminal illness.
Sarah tried to put these thoughts away as she stepped forward and stood in the thin sunlight.
At first Albert didn’t seem to recognize her. Then, “Sarah? Sarah Beachy?” he asked, walking down the steps. His wool chore coat was frayed at the hem and sleeves, while his boots were caked with dried mud. And he had come
of the house in those boots.
, it’s me. I’m surprised you remembered.” She forced a nervous smile.
Albert took a handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe his mouth and hands. “Of course I remember you. Hasn’t been all that long.” He approached with uncertainty. “Are you lookin’ for my pa?”
“No, I was looking for you.” She stepped closer and ran her sweating palms down her skirt. What had seemed like a good idea this morning no longer did. Her courage began to wane. “I’d like to talk to you about my
Albert squinted at her, though the sun had disappeared behind a heavy bank of clouds. The sunny morning had changed into a gloomy, overcast afternoon. “Caleb?” he asked. “What would I know about him? It’s been four years or so.” He shuffled his boots in the dirt. Driveway gravel had long ago sunk beneath a layer of mud.
“Five years, actually, but you were his closest friend, Albert. He trusted you and confided things he didn’t tell his family.”
“That was a long time ago, Sarah. After he took up with those carpenters, he didn’t have much use for his old friends.” The pain of rejection could still be heard in his words. “He let me try my hand at carpentry one summer on his crew. They were building barns for Amish and English. I wasn’t any good with math, so the foreman wouldn’t hire me permanently with all that measurin’ and firgurin’. They wanted everything exact, and I had made a couple bad cuts. He said the next time I cut a board short, the price of that piece of lumber was coming out of my pay.” His mouth thinned into a sneer. “I don’t know why you can’t just lay one board atop another and cut it about the same.”
Sarah had no answer to that, but she didn’t wish to alienate the sole person who might be able to help her. If anyone in Fredericksburg knew Caleb’s address, it would be Albert. “Well, that job didn’t turn out so good for Caleb either, as far as his family is concerned.”
He gazed off to where two dogs chased a rabbit across a barren cornfield. When the rabbit escaped down a burrow, the dogs pawed the frozen ground, yipping with dismay.
The Sidley harvest was sparse this year, judging by the number of dried cornstalks,
Then Albert returned his focus back to her. “What do you hear from him? How’s he making out in the big city?” His tone had softened somewhat.
“We haven’t heard from him since he left.”
“That happens, I s’pose. My pa says not everybody’s cut out to be Amish. Some ain’t got the spine to turn their backs on the temptations of ease and comfort.”
Sarah watched the two dogs lose interest and then trot off toward the barn. If lack of comfort and convenience was what it took for assurance of heaven, the Sidley family had an easy path. But discussing salvation would be better left to the bishop or deacon. “Maybe so, but I’d still like to talk to him.”
Albert stared at her while scraping his boot toe in the dirt. “Can’t help ya.”
“Did he ever contact you after he left?” The question hung in the brittle cold air. Sarah could almost see his mind whirring with possible answers or ways to evade the question, yet somehow she knew he wouldn’t lie.
, I heard from him once or twice. He sent letters to our post office box in town.” Albert crossed his arms over his tattered jacket. Sarah felt a barrier was being raised. “But I never wrote back. What would I have to talk about with an
? ’Cause that’s what he was. Making that kind of money, driving around in his pickup truck, living in a place where you could look out and see some big lake. He’d said in the letter he was joining the carpenters’ union. You got any idea what kind of money they make?” Jealousy flashed in his dull gray eyes.
Sarah shook her head. “Nope. I don’t have a clue about union wages.” What she found more unsettling was that Albert knew these details. He’d known things about Caleb that his family hadn’t for all these years.
“That much money just makes it easier to get into trouble.” He lifted his chin. “You go on home now, Sarah. Your
is better off forgotten.” Albert turned his back on her and marched toward the house.
Sarah’s belly churned as her only chance slipped away. “Wait!” she demanded in an unfamiliar voice.
He stopped and glanced over his shoulder.
“Please, Albert. Give me another minute.” He turned around but didn’t come back. “Those letters,” she continued. “Do you still have them?”
“Sarah Beachy, there’s no sense in—”
“Do you still have them?”
, I’ve got them. Couldn’t bring myself to throw them in the woodstove like I should have. I never had that many friends.” He met her gaze and then focused on the frozen ground.
His hollow eyes had bored a hole through her heart. Tomorrow she would talk to her parents or the bishop about ways to help the Sidley family, but today she had her own agenda. “May I see them, please? I would like the return address if there is one.”
“It’s been four years.”
“I know that, but it’s all I have.”
Albert stomped into the house and slammed the door. The aura of abandonment returned to the farmstead. He was gone so long she began to think he wasn’t coming back. Then the door creaked open and he reappeared. Sarah ran up the porch steps without hesitation.
He held up a hand. “Wait, girl. Caleb said in his letters that he didn’t want anybody knowing his whereabouts. I don’t owe him any loyalty, but I do want to know why you’re so interested all of a sudden.”
Sarah stood paralyzed. Now it was her turn to consider possible reasons and excuses, yet she knew only the truth would get her what she wanted. She sucked in a breath. “I’m thinking about getting married. It’d never bothered me much that he took off and broke my
s heart until now. I want to know
he left before I start having my own
.” She looked into his eyes, and he stared back for a long moment.
Then he slowly extracted two folded envelopes from his coat pocket. They were wrinkled and smudged, but Sarah spotted handwriting she recognized in the upper left-hand corner: Cal Beachy, followed by the information she had come for.
Adam’s trip home from work took twice as long as usual. His boss let him go two hours early in exchange for making a delivery on his way home. Two hand-carved oak doors had been finished that afternoon and were needed for Christmas. As the buggy rolled down a township back road, he had time to ponder possible gifts for Sarah. He could buy a quilt she’d admired in the shop in town, but he knew several quilts would be made for her as soon as they announced their engagement. He thought about the basket of bath salts, lotions, and powders she’d liked in the fancy gift shop, but would her father think that gift too frivolous from a man with serious intentions? He’d probably buy a cardigan sweater, something to keep her warm this winter—his usual gift of choice.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, he clucked to the horse to pick up the pace. At this rate it would be fully dark by the time he got home. He hadn’t brought along battery-powered lamps for the back window, and his buggy had only red reflectors. Light snow began to fall as he spotted another buggy approaching the stop sign ahead from a gravel side road. He slowed his horse, though he had the right of way. Something about the horse and buggy even in the dim light made the hair on his neck stand on end. After another moment he recognized the driver pulling hard on the reins. His initial suspicion was correct—Sarah Beachy was turning from the gravel lane onto the township road.
Sarah. What on earth is she doing out here?
His mind clouded for a moment as he tried to remember who lived down there. Then he remembered Albert Sidley, a tall, thin fellow who seldom smiled or socialized within the Amish community.
Why would Sarah be visiting another single man in the district? Was this why she was dragging her feet and wouldn’t allow him to announce their engagement?