Read The Guardian Online

Authors: Beverly Lewis

Tags: #FIC026000, #Christian fiction, #Foundlings—Fiction, #Lancaster County (Pa.)—Fiction, #FIC042000, #Amish—Fiction

The Guardian

BOOK: The Guardian
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(c) 2013 by Beverly M. Lewis, Inc.

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6103-8

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible and
G
OD

S
W
ORD
(r). (c) 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

This story is a work of fiction. With the exception of recognized historical figures and events, all characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cover design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services Art direction by Paul Higdon

To
Edwin and Marion Rohrer,
cousins ever dear.

Prologue

S
omething about heading for home at nightfall tugged at my better judgment that Thursday evening. And my squirmy youngsters weren’t helping my concentration one bit as I picked up the reins and signaled for the mare to move forward.


Psch!
Be still back there,” I called over my shoulder. All four of them had managed to squeeze into the back of the carriage.


Ach
, but Sarah’s hangin’ over the edge with her doll,” tattled nine-year-old Benny.

Leda, his twin, complained, too. “
Jah
, she’s awful
rutschich
tonight.”


Kumme
sit with me, Sarah, won’t ya?”

“My dolly wants to look at the sky,” little Sarah said in
Deitsch
.
“Sei so gut, Mamma?”

Please?
Sarah had a way of adding sugar to her pleadings. Such mischief she was! How many times in her four years had Sarah gotten her way simply by making her perty blue eyes do the talking?
“Please, Mamma,”
she’d say in Deitsch and warm my heart yet again.

Soon I could hear Sarah and Leda chattering and laughing softly, playing their hand-clapping game. Their brothers, Benny and seven-year-old Tobias, grew quiet, most likely watching the fireflies twinkling on the roadside.
Must be wishing they were catching them in a big canning jar.

It was beyond me why they’d bunched up together back there, all sticky and sweaty from the long, hot day at the benefit auction in Paradise. We’d raised money to assist two Mennonite families with children who suffered with fragile X syndrome, a genetic disease. We did this twice each year.

Mine were the only Amish
Kinner
present, but that didn’t seem to bother a soul. And the children played cheerfully, jabbering in Deitsch. At the end of the day, once all the money was counted, many families were reluctant to leave, enjoying the good fellowship. My great-aunt Heddy Hoover, Mennonite matriarch, suggested we make strawberry ice cream. So the young folk took turns cranking the old ice cream makers brought out from the summer kitchen, and we sat and talked. There was some gossip, too, including news about Rosaleen Yoder, the preacher’s twenty-year-old daughter and the teacher at our Hickory Hollow school. Due to her recent engagement, Rosaleen would not be permitted to teach this fall.

In the end, we’d lingered much longer than planned. And I’d thought for sure my children would be fussing over who’d get to sit up front with me during the trip home to Hickory Hollow.
Little Sarah always wins out… .

Looking back at them again, I saw my precious girl kneeling to peer out the back of the buggy, holding up her cloth doll, Kaylee, and talking to it. I couldn’t help wondering what thoughts buzzed round in her head.

My last baby with Benuel …

The sweet scent of honeysuckle mingled with the oppressing
humidity as I made the turn onto Harvest Road. A few more
clip-clop
s of Dandy’s hooves on the pavement, and just that quick, the family carriage fell still. The children were sound asleep.

I breathed a grateful prayer, thinking how far my young ones had come since their father’s farming accident three years ago.
“Children are ever so resilient, Maryanna,”
Great-Aunt Heddy had whispered today as we stood under the immense green canopy of a tree, watching Sarah and her sister and brothers as they played happily with all the other Plain youngsters present.
Jah, resilient

more so than their own Mamma, just maybe?

Tender thoughts of Benuel filled my heart anew. Although many expected me to remarry in due time, someone to share the responsibilities for this family, I could scarcely consider it. At thirty-three, I believed no one could ever replace my dear husband, so why should I receive another man into my life? Although I missed Benuel terribly, we were all doing fine, with the Lord’s help. In all truth, I was rather content as a single mother.

Honestly, it had never crossed my mind that our lives would take such an unforeseen turn the year after Sarah was born. I’d been taught to lay down my own wishes and desires to accept God’s sovereignty. The events and circumstances of our lives were enveloped by this heavenly covering.

A shelter, of sorts …

So I’d set out to be a young woman who lived cheerfully and worked hard under the shadow of the Almighty, as the psalm declared. And for the most part, I had not questioned what happened to Benuel. At least not to God.

The sound of Dandy’s hooves on the road calmed me.
Ah, twilight … such a pensive time of day.
On a similarly tranquil evening, baby Sarah was born as healthy as can be, free of
the fatal genetic disorder that plagued many of our Old Order communities due to generations of intermarrying. Right from the start, little Sarah’s life seemed like a divine miracle, God’s gracious gift. How thankful Benuel and I were, and ever so relieved. With three healthy children at home, we’d feared that eventually a babe would be born with the disorder … that little Sarah might be the one.

“Sarah?” I called softly to her now. “
Boppli?

No answer.

I didn’t call again, lest I awaken her … and the others. My girls sometimes curled up next to each other and slept on the ride back from a family or church gathering. But this night, I wanted my youngest one’s company—
needed
her near. Oh, to have Sarah’s head resting against me, her tiny hands folded prayerfully in her lap as she slept.

Sarah … God’s little princess.

“Once we’re home, I’ll tuck her into bed,” I whispered. Now that my children had no earthly father to care for them, it was up to me to be the best Mamma they could have.
A sacred and blessed calling.

Chapter 1

M
aryanna Esh directed the mare onto the familiar road, the carriage lights showing the way. Hickory Lane was indeed a welcome sight. She gave in to a deep sigh as a nearby owl
hoo-hoot
ed at the glistening white half-moon.

In just minutes, Bishop John Beiler’s farmhouse appeared on the left—its tall, ancient trees adding to the air of dignity about the place … a quality the People affixed to the man of God and everything surrounding him.

Farther down Hickory Lane, beyond Nate Kurtz’s vast cornfield, the spread of land that had belonged to widowed Ella Mae Zook came into view. Known as Hickory Hollow’s Old Wise Woman, Ella Mae was one of Maryanna’s dearest friends and confidantes—Ella Mae liked to say she always had time for peppermint tea and a prayer. The land had been parceled out to Ella Mae’s adult children, including her daughter, the Amish midwife, Mattie Beiler, and her husband, who’d lived in the main farmhouse for more than two decades now.

The stretch of road eventually led to the stark white clapboard house built many years ago by Benuel’s grandfather, Simeon Esh, once a well-respected carriage maker in the hollow.
The rustic outbuilding where some of the first carriages were made and repaired still stood on the north side of the property, flanked by thick underbrush and wild flowers and nearly obscured from view.

Maryanna relaxed as she rode into the tree-lined driveway, relieved to be home. The solar-powered yard light shone brightly, and for that she was grateful. Someone, possibly her father, who resided with her mother in the
Dawdi Haus
next door, had gone over and lit the gas lamp in the kitchen.

She stepped down from the buggy and tied Dandy to the hitching post, then called to the sleeping children. “We’re home now. Leda, you and Benny unhitch the horse an’ stable her, won’t ya?”

After a moment, the twins climbed out and stumbled toward the mare. Tobias came next, rubbing his eyes as he followed his older siblings. “I can help, too, Mamma,” he said in a husky voice.

“Jah, right quick,” Benny said, seemingly more awake than the others.

Maryanna made her way back inside the carriage for Sarah, glad for the slight breeze this warm night. “Kumme, little one … Mamma’s gonna take ya off to bed.” She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t carried Sarah into the house while the older children unhitched after an evening trip. Not since Benuel’s accident, anyway. “Sarah, honey … time to open your peepers, ya hear?”

“‘Tis best not to show partiality,”
Ella Mae had once chided her privately after Maryanna repeatedly sought out Sarah at a picnic gathering following Preaching service.
“Ain’t good for her, nor you,”
Ella Mae had said, her milky blue eyes mighty serious.

Maryanna hadn’t realized she was even doing it, but she supposed if Ella Mae thought so, then it surely must be.

“Sarah … where’d ya go?” whispered Maryanna, looking about. Then she realized her youngest must have crawled out when no one was watching.

She exited the carriage again, making her way around it to the children. “Did ya see Sarah wander by?” she asked Leda, who’d already unhooked the back hold strap on her side of the mare.


Nee—
no,” said Leda.

Benny merely shrugged.


Des Haus,
maybe?” Tobias piped up.

Maryanna glanced at the house. “Jah, prob’bly.”

She made her way across the driveway and through the large backyard. The grass felt comforting on her bare feet, and she made a mental note to mow tomorrow.
Right after breakfast, while it’s still a bit cool.
Goodness, but it seemed like yesterday little Sarah had taken her first few tentative steps here—just weeks before her first birthday. Benuel had knelt right down in the grass, egging her on and wearing the biggest grin on his mischievous bearded face. He’d clapped his callused hands as Sarah tottered into his open arms, and Maryanna couldn’t help but notice his twinkling blue eyes.

Like Sarah’s own …

Maryanna entered the house by way of the west-facing side door, where the well pump was attractively enclosed in white gingerbread laths. Clipped shrubs flourished along the edges, as well as hollyhocks and petunias. That particular back door led directly into the kitchen, and just inside, she noticed again that the linoleum was beginning to show some wear. Maryanna pushed a throw rug over the worst of it.
No extra money for new flooring.

There was a second back door, as well, which opened into the long utility room, where work shoes and boots were neatly
lined in a row. Maryanna was fairly sure Sarah would’ve wandered in this way, sleepy and eager for her bed.

The house was downright stifling after being shut up all day, and she hurried to the kitchen windows, opening them as wide as they’d go.

Pressing the back of her hand to her face, she longed to slip away to the shower. What a treat on such an oppressive night! But she didn’t dare indulge herself till the children were settled inside once Dandy was stabled for the night.

Stopping to light a lantern, she then carried it up the stairs. Heading past Leda’s room on the right, Maryanna moved to Sarah’s room on the left, at the far end of the hallway. Sarah liked her bedroom close to the street because she loved the sound of the
clippity-clopp
ing
,
she’d whispered in Deitsch one night when Maryanna tucked her in with the Lord’s Prayer and a hymn.

Slowing her step, Maryanna wondered how the children always managed to find their way up the long, dark staircase without a flashlight or lantern.
Young eyes.

In Sarah’s room, she raised the lantern high. The bed was still made, the room uninhabited, as best she could tell. She set the lantern on the oak dresser, built by Benuel himself, and looked under the bed skirt. “Are ya hidin’, little one?” This wasn’t the time for a game of hidey-seek.

But Sarah was not there, either.

She snatched up the lantern. Calling louder, she made her way back down the stairs. “Sarah, are ya here?”

Maryanna searched the entire main level of the farmhouse, every possible hiding spot Sarah and her siblings had ever used for rainy-day fun.

Wurum is sie?—
Where is she?

Maryanna headed back outside. She set the lantern on the
porch steps and ran across the yard, retracing her path to peer into the carriage. But she found it as empty as before.

It would do no good to alarm the other children, yet she rushed back to them and helped insert the tugs into the harness around the back of the horse. “Have ya seen Sarah anywhere?” Her voice was a wavering thread.

“She ain’t inside?” Benny asked.

“Can’t seem to find her.” Then, thinking she ought to have done it sooner, Maryanna grabbed the lantern from the steps and made a beeline to the stable. Not finding Sarah there, Maryanna moved on to the greenhouse, where she and the children spent many hours planting vegetables—and garden flowers, too—ofttimes dividing and potting plants to sell at their roadside stand.

“Dear one?” The lantern flooded the familiar corners with light—the nooks and crannies her youngest knew so well. Where Sarah pretended there were little fairy creatures living amidst the cobwebs she refused to sweep away.

Picking up her pace, Maryanna made her way to the Dawdi Haus to check with her parents. On many occasions, Sarah liked to pad over there in her long white nightgown and say
Gut Nacht
to
Mammi
Emmie and Dawdi Zeke, who sometimes slipped candies to all four children.
“Our secret,”
Sarah had told Maryanna with a playful smile. And sure enough, the next morning, Maryanna found the wrappers under bed pillows.

Tapping lightly on the screen door, Maryanna looked into the small house where her parents lived, snug and contented. “
Mamm?
” she called through the dark utility room that led to the small kitchen. “Are ya still up?”

She heard rustling, and then the downstairs bedroom sprang to light. Maryanna realized she’d likely awakened her parents
and felt bad, wondering what she might say, not wanting to worry them needlessly.

Her mother appeared in the hallway, hair hanging loose to her waist. “Maryanna … what is it?”

“Chust lookin’ for Sarah—thought she might’ve come over here.”

“Ain’t she with you?” Mamm replied, a wrinkle forming on her brow as she motioned Maryanna inside.

“Checkin’, is all.” Maryanna waved good-night and turned to leave.

But her mother called after her. “Maryanna?”

“Not to worry.” She kept going, moving faster now as a nameless fear settled on her.

When Leda saw her coming from the driveway, she must have known her little sister was still missing. “Mamma … did ya find her?”

“Sarah’s got to be round here somewhere.”

“I’ll have a look-see in the house,” Leda said, her skirt tail flying as she dashed back before Maryanna could stop her.

“Mamma?” It was Tobias’s small voice now. “I looked in the woodshed.”

“How ‘bout the springhouse?”

“Ain’t there, neither,” he said.

Maryanna struggled to catch her breath, her hand on her heart. Her pulse pounded in her temples as she looked out to the dark road and beyond, to hundreds of shadowy acres of cornstalks, and she couldn’t help but tremble.

O, Lord Jesus, where’s my darling Sarah?

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