Read Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) Online

Authors: Laura Bradford

Tags: #FBS, #Amish, #Mystery, #read2015

Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) (3 page)

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
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The true beauty that was Ruth Miller transcended the obvious and resided in an inner genuineness that was recognized by everyone. Except, perhaps, by Ruth herself.

“Is everything okay?” Claire finally asked by way of a response that had taken far too long in coming.

Ruth’s brows furrowed ever so slightly. “Everything is fine. God has made it so.”

She crossed the alley and gestured at the two remaining parcels on Ruth’s top step. “I guess I’m just used to seeing Eli carrying your deliveries inside . . .”

“I have been telling them for years I can do such things myself, but they do not listen. Even now, when Eli is married, he still spends too much time worrying about things I can and want to do by myself.”

“He loves you. Benjamin does, too. They just like to make sure you’re okay, is all.”

Ruth glanced over her shoulder and through the screen door, the lull of customers in Claire’s shop holding true inside the bakery as well. “I know they do. And I am grateful.” Slowly the young Amish woman lowered herself to the top step and invited Claire to do the same. “But it is okay for me to look after them, too.”

Claire claimed the cold concrete step just below Ruth and raised her face to the late winter sun just starting to peek itself over the top of her store. “Of course it is. That’s what loving someone is all about.”

“Eli did not return to Esther until dawn. It was even later when Benjamin’s wagon went past the house. It was a long night of much worry and hard work.”

And then she knew. Ruth was referring to the fire that had cut her unexpected evening with Jakob short—a fire that had burned for hours before night had finally reclaimed its hold on the view from Claire’s bedroom window. “Did it spread to the house?” she asked.

Ruth shook her head.

“Was anyone hurt?”

Ruth’s shapely shoulders rose and fell beneath her simple, plain blue dress. “No people. But a few horses perished.”

Claire turned her body just enough to afford a clear view of her friend. “I was told the barn belonged to the Stoltzfus family?”

“Yah. Jeremiah and Miriam Stoltzfus.” Ruth fiddled with the front of her apron for a moment and then continued, “I did not speak to Benjamin long this morning, but he said the barn is gone. There is nothing left.”

“I know how important a barn and horses are to an Amish farmer. To start over must be difficult.”

Ruth waved aside Claire’s worry. “The Stoltzfus farm will have a new barn by week’s end.”

“By week’s end?” she echoed. “But how?”

A hint of surprise raised Ruth’s perfectly arched brows. “The men will come together to raise a new one. They will work all day long and the women will make sure they are fed.”

“And they can raise an entire barn in less than five days?”

“With many able hands they can raise it in two.”

*   *   *

S
he was less than a hundred yards from Sleep Heavenly when she heard the car approaching, the quiet whir of the engine and the slow rotation of the tires making her step onto the strip of gravel shoulder separating the grass from the pavement.

A familiar black sedan rolled up alongside her and stopped. Seconds later, the window lowered to reveal Jakob’s smiling face and knee-weakening dimples. “Isn’t it a little chilly to be walking home?”

She felt the flutter in her chest and the way it manifested itself in a matching smile she couldn’t contain even if she’d wanted to. “According to the calendar, the official start of spring is only three weeks away.”

“Mother Nature doesn’t follow a calendar in these parts.”

She laughed while simultaneously pulling the flaps of her jacket a little closer. “Exactly. And that’s why I’m getting a jump on things now. You know, the whole early-bird thing . . .”

“You’re a nut, do you know that?”

“I do. But when you’ve spent most of your adult life thus far sidestepping people and taxis in order to walk five blocks, I guess I find walking around here almost therapeutic. Besides, you can’t beat the fresh air or the uninterrupted quiet time.”

He winced dramatically. “Ouch.”

She felt the color drain from her face as her last three words looped their way from her mouth to her ears. “Wait. No. I didn’t mean that the way that it sounded. It’s just that there’s no song on the radio to cloud my thoughts or—”

“Hey, I was just kidding. No offense taken, I promise.” His gaze left hers long enough to note her royal blue sweater and partially zipped coat. The appreciation on his face as he returned his focus to hers warmed her cheeks instantly. “Any chance I could entice you into getting in the car with me? There’s something I’d love to show you if you’re game. Unless”—he leaned forward against the steering wheel to gesture toward her aunt’s inn—“you need to get home to help Diane with dinner?”

There was no mistaking the hope in his eyes or the renewed flutter in her chest as she contemplated the answer she was all too eager to give. “We’re in the middle of a trio of rare guest-free nights at the moment. While not necessarily good for Aunt Diane’s bottom line, it does provide a rare opportunity for her to get out. Tonight, she’s meeting friends for dinner in Breeze Point. So, in answer to your question, yes, you can entice me into your car . . . provided it has a heater.”

“You’re on.”

She opened the door and slid into the passenger seat, the blast of warm air from the dashboard vents a welcome reprieve from an evening that had gotten cold, fast. “Oh. Wow. It’s nice in here.”

“I’ll pretend you’re referring to my company rather than my heater,” he teased before a rare shyness took over. “Thanks for saying yes. I’ve been wanting to take you to see this since they started showing up a few hours ago.”

“Since who started showing up?”

He swiveled in his seat just enough to gain an unobstructed view of the road, then did a U-turn that took them back toward Lighted Way. “Did you have much of a chance to look out your window at the shop today?”

Settling her head against the back of the seat, she took a moment to look out at the scenery as blacktop gave way to cobblestones and the quaint shopping district she’d left on foot less than ten minutes earlier. “Now that Esther isn’t working at the shop any longer and I’ve yet to hire a replacement, I don’t have much time to do anything except take care of customers, stock shelves, and keep the books straight. Although, today, I did get to spend a few minutes in the alley talking with Ruth.”

“You need to hire some help. Working seven days a week isn’t good for anyone.”

She swung her focus back to Jakob. “You sound like my aunt right now.”

“There could be worse things. Diane Weatherly is a wise woman as you well know.” The
thump-thump
of cobblestones beneath the tires gave way to the distinctive ping of fine gravel as they left the shopping district and headed out into the Amish countryside. “Anyway, if you’d been able to look outside, you’d have seen far more Amish buggies than normal moving along Lighted Way this afternoon. Dozens and dozens of them, actually.”

“Did someone die?” she asked quickly.

“Nope.”

“Did someone get married?” Though, even as the question left her mouth she knew it was a silly one. Wedding season among the Amish took place in late fall. And even in the rare instance when one took place in late winter, they were held only on Tuesdays and Thursdays—never Wednesdays.

“They came because of last night’s fire.”

“But the fire was put out last night, wasn’t it?”

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he nodded. “It was.”

“Then I don’t understand . . .”

“You will in about two minutes.”

He returned his full attention to the road in front of them and she followed suit in time to notice the parade of empty buggies now lining both sides of the quiet Amish road as dusk settled around them. “What’s going on?”

They rounded the next corner in a near-crawl and then came to a complete stop on the far side of the driveway belonging to Daniel Lapp and his wife, Sarah. “Come on, it’s just past that tree line over there.”

She followed the path made by his outstretched finger but saw nothing out of the ordinary except the continued line of buggies and an usually bright light in the distance. “I’ve never seen a light like that on this side of town,” she mused.

“It’s propane powered and it’s a necessity tonight.” Unlatching his door, he stepped onto the road and met her on the passenger side of the car, his hand finding hers in the growing darkness. “Come on. This is a sight not many people outside of Lancaster County ever get to see, and they should.”

She quickened her pace at the slight tug to her hand and, together, they made their way along the winter brown grass that bordered the gravel road. A curious horse or two turned their head to watch as they passed, but, for the most part, it was just the two of them and whatever mission Jakob had in mind.

“Can I have a clue?”

“Nah.” He dropped back a step, put his hand to the small of her back, and guided her around an outcropping of trees. “You’re smart. I think you’ll figure out why I brought you here in about five seconds.”

“I’m not too sure what I think of this cryptic side of you . . .” She stopped speaking midprotest as they reached the next clearing. Jakob was right. She didn’t need an outstretched finger or verbal directions to know which way to look. The sheer volume of men working to clear burned and mangled debris from the spot where Jeremiah Stoltzfus’s barn had stood twenty-four hours earlier took care of that all on their own.

“By the day after tomorrow, there will be a brand-new barn in that exact spot.”

She heard Jakob’s voice, even processed his words, but the nonstop motion less than twenty yards away claimed the bulk of her attention and made her jaw go slack. “There are so many of them . . .”

And there were. Hundreds of hatted Amish men in black pants and suspenders worked together to move charred lumber and cover the site with fresh dirt. Teenagers carted fresh lumber from wagons and lined it up along the ground at a safe distance. Still younger boys sorted tools and passed out shovels for those who turned over the earth in hopes of accelerating the cooling process for anything still smoldering.

“The apostle Paul said that to fulfill the law of Christ, brethren must bear one another’s burdens,” Jakob explained. “The Amish believe that it is God’s will for them to assist each other through financial ruin, disaster, fire, sickness, and even old age.

“When there’s a fire like this one, the Amish come from all over to help. They bring bales of hay, tools, food, and anything they think the family might need. Once the fire is cool and the debris is removed, they start raising a new barn.” He leaned against the nearest tree and raked a hand through his hair. “The womenfolk come, too. See?”

Shifting her gaze toward the farmhouse, she noted the gaggle of women in their aproned dresses and kapps wearing a path between the front porch and a slew of tables. “Ruth said they would feed the men who came to help, but I didn’t realize she meant
that
many men.”

“A happenstance like a fire has a way of turning into a social occasion.”

She nodded and then looked back at the men and boys who showed no sign of slowing down. “Ruth said they can build a new barn in its entirety in just a few days, but I never imagined she meant
now
. It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours yet,” she whispered.

“The Amish don’t wait. When help is needed, they come.”

“It’s hard not to imagine what the world could be like if everyone responded to another person’s suffering like the Amish do,” she commented, engrossed.

“I couldn’t agree more.” Jakob pushed off the trunk of the tree and came to stand beside Claire, his upper arm gently brushing against her shoulder as he did. “So . . . Are you glad you got in my car instead of just going home to an empty inn?”

“How could I not be? This is absolutely amazing.” She allowed herself a moment to really look at Jakob, to see the awe in his face and know it was surely mirrored on her own. For not the first time since they met, she couldn’t help but wonder if he regretted his decision to leave his Amish upbringing behind. But, as was always the case, she kept the question to herself. “I almost want to stand here and watch until the whole process is done.”

“They will be calling it quits for the night soon, which is a good thing for that young man right over there.” He pointed her attention toward the object of his and laughed. “I think someone needs to tell him they don’t need any more dirt.”

Sure enough, a young Amish boy Claire judged to be about thirteen was painstakingly digging and transferring dirt into a waiting wheelbarrow. The dirt, she now knew, would then be used to sprinkle in and around the footprint of the former barn. This particular boy, unlike his many counterparts, seemed oblivious to the fact that the goal had been met.

“He’ll figure it out when he looks up and realizes everyone else has moved on to dinner,” Jakob teased before reaching for her hand once again. “How about I buy you dinner since I interrupted your evening with—”

“Dat! Dat!”

The fear-filled cry echoed across the open field and brought their attention back to the boy and the shovel now hovering above a hole he’d no doubt be tasked with refilling once his father got a close-up look at his handiwork. “Dat! Please! Come quick! I found bones!”

Chapter 3

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
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