Abram sat next to Ida on the front porch swing, watching the stars come out. He also noticed the lightning bugs were more plentiful than in recent summers, maybe due to frequent afternoon showers. “’Twas right kind of Leah to settle Lydiann in for the night,” he said.
Ida nodded, sighing audibly. “Jah ... even though she’s as tuckered out as I am, prob’ly. She’s such a dear ... our Leah.”
“That, she is.”
Ida leaned her head gently on his shoulder. At last she said, “We did the right thing treatin’ her as our very own all these years.”
Hearing his wife speak of their great fondness for Leah made him realize anew that his own affection for Lizzie’s birth daughter was as strong as if Ida had given birth to her. For a moment he was overcome with a rare sadness and remained silent.
Their flesh-and-blood Sadie was a different story altogether. Her defiance in not returning home after all this time had stirred up more alarm in him than he cared to voice to beloved Ida.
“The Good Lord’s hand rests tenderly on us all,” Ida said softly, as if somehow tuned in to his thoughts. “I daresay we’d be in an awful pickle otherwise.”
He had to smile at that and reached over to cup her face in his callused hand. Sweet Ida ... always thinking of the Lord God heavenly Father as if He were her own very close friend.
“Where do you think our twins are tonight?” He stared at the seemingly endless cornfield to the east of the house, over toward smithy Peachey’s place.
“Don’tcha mean whom the girls are with?”
He let out a kindly grunt; Ida could read him like a book. She continued. “Deacon’s wife told me in so many words that two of her sons are spending quite a lot of time with Hannah and Mary Ruth.”
“Which boys ... surely not the older ones?”
“I’m thinkin’ it must be Ezra and Elias.” Ida snuggled closer.
“A right fine match, if I say so myself. I best be givin’ my approval to Deacon here ’fore long.”
He heard the small laugh escape Ida’s lips. “Best not get in the way, Abram. Let nature take its course.”
“I s’pose you’re thinkin’ I shouldn’t have interfered with Jonas and Leah back when.”
Ida sat up quickly and looked at him, her plump hands knit into a clasp in her wide lap. “Leah would be happily married by now if you hadn’t held out for Smithy Gid.”
“Are ya blamin’ me for what went wrong?” he said.
Ida pushed her feet hard against the porch floor, making the swing move too fast for his liking. When she spoke at last, her voice trembled. “None of us truly knows what caused their breakup.”
He inhaled and held his breath. Ida didn’t know what had caused the rift between Jonas and Leah, but he knew and all too well. Abram himself had gotten things stirred up but good by raising the troublesome issue of Leah’s parentage with Jonas. He had never told her that, at Peter Mast’s urging, he’d put Jonas to a fiery test of truth, revealing Lizzie’s carefully guarded secret. When all was said and done, Jonas had failed it miserably. “Best leave well enough alone. Jonas is married to our eldest now.”
“Jah, and worse things have happened,” Ida whispered, tears in her eyes. “But I miss her something awful.”
Abram didn’t own up to the same. “What’s done is done,” he said. “Thing is we’ve got us a son-in-law we may never lay eyes on again. Could be a grandchild by now, too.”
“All because our daughter was bent on her own way....”
He leaned back in the swing and said no more. At times an uncanny feeling gnawed at him, made him wonder if Ida—who seemed to know more about Sadie than he did—might’ve disregarded the bishop and read a few of their eldest’s early letters, after the law was laid down about returning them unopened.
But no, now was not the appropriate time to speculate on that. Clearly Ida needed his wholehearted companionship and understanding this night.
Hannah was surprised how warm the night was, with little or no breeze. Her eyes kept straying toward the moon, and she was grateful for the hush of the evening hour, especially after having sung so robustly. Now she sat eating ice cream in the front seat of the open carriage with Ezra Stoltzfus, who wore a constant if not contagious smile.
She hoped Elias was not able to wrestle the reins away from Ezra tonight. It seemed both boys liked to trade off sitting in the driver’s seat of the shiny new carriage. In fact, she was fairly sure they were actually sharing ownership of the courting buggy, though she’d never heard of this done in other families with many sons. As keenly interested as the deacon’s boys had been in Mary Ruth and herself for the past several years, it was no wonder Ezra and Elias might share a single buggy now that the foursome were courting age.
Hannah’s heart leaped with excitement. She was truly fond of auburn-haired Ezra, but more than that, she was most happy to see Mary Ruth putting aside her dream of becoming a schoolteacher. At least it appeared to be so in the presence of her dashing young beau. If Elias was the reason for Mary Ruth to set aside her perilous goal, then all was well and good and Hannah could simply use the money she’d saved from selling handiwork for something else altogether. If Mary Ruth didn’t end up needing the money for future college expenses, maybe several pretty wedding quilts would do.
Thinking about this, Hannah felt she could accept Ezra’s affections if for this one reason alone—to keep the double courting going full speed ahead, for the sake of a peaceful household and for Mary Ruth’s future as a baptized church member. The latter she knew their parents wished for above all else.
“Let’s find another courtin’ couple to race,” Elias said nearly the minute they were finished eating ice cream.
“Not tonight,” Ezra replied firmly.
Hannah bit her tongue. She hoped her beau got his way, being older and all.
“Aw, lookee there. It’s Sam Ebersol and Adah Peachey.” Elias pointed to an open buggy some distance behind them, then waved his arms, trying to get the couple’s attention.
“I’m driving,” Ezra said at once.
But Elias persisted. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. What do you say, Mary Ruth?”
“Sure, why not?” her twin was quick to say.
Hannah grew tense. The last time Elias persuaded his brother to let him race, they’d nearly locked wheels with another courting carriage on the way to a railroad crossing down on Route 372. In the end, Hannah had let out a squeal ... and Elias had stopped. He’d apologized promptly, saying he hadn’t meant any harm by it. He had also said, “There’s plenty other things to do to have fun after singing.”
Plenty other things is right, thought Hannah. She figured at the rate he was going, Elias wouldn’t be ready to settle down and farm, probably, or marry, for another couple of years. But she’d seen the love-light in her twin’s eyes for the redheaded and handsome young man, and in his for pretty Mary Ruth. Sooner or later, the both of them would start thinking about joining church.
Just then Sam and Adah pulled up beside them. “What’s goin’ on?” asked Sam.
“Thought you might wanna race,” Elias called to them from the backseat.
Sam looked at Adah, then answered, “Oh, that’s all right. We’ve got some talking to do, Adah and I.”
“Okay, then,” Elias said, sitting down.
Hannah was relieved and felt herself relax against the seat. Sam hurried his horse, passing them, and she was glad to see Ezra let Sam gain on him. Ezra, after all, was most steady and dependable. At nearly eighteen, he was taking baptismal instruction classes and might be looking to settle down and marry within a year or so. Hannah wondered if she was truly mature enough, though, to accept if he should ask her to be his wife. Was she ready for the duties of home and motherhood? Mamma’s sisters had married young. All except Aunt Lizzie, of course. And Mamma, who, though she’d been but seventeen when first she’d met Dat, had waited until her early twenties to tie the knot.
Behind her, she heard Elias whispering to Mary Ruth, probably with his arm draped around her shoulder; they’d done their share of snuggling, for sure.
As for herself, the rest of the night would be most pleasant—watching for shooting stars with Ezra, playing Twenty Questions, and letting him reach for her hand as they slowly made their way back home before dawn.
Once Leah had safely nestled Lydiann into her crib for the night, she crept toward the stairs. Having just kissed the little girl’s tiny face, she realized sadly that Sadie might never know about Mamma’s coming baby—their new sibling-to-be.
Downstairs, she spotted the tops of her parents’ heads through the front room window. She wouldn’t think of disturbing them. Much of their energy, too, went into thinking of Sadie; Leah was sure it had been so since her sister’s shunning.
Turning from the room, she decided it was best to leave Dat and Mamma be. They deserved some quiet time together.
She went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water, thinking now of Smithy Gid. More than likely, he could be found in his father’s big barn playing with the new brood of pups. “Tonight’s the night,” she said to herself, “ready or not.”
Slipping out the back door, she headed past the barnyard and through the cornfield. She’d kept Gid waiting long enough—too long, really, as he’d made his thoughtful invitation to her two days ago. She mustn’t be rude and keep him guessing by the hour. She’d had several opportunities to speak privately with him yesterday, but she had still been uncertain, though she knew Gid was as stalwart in his soul as he was in his frame. He wasn’t just “as good as gold,” as Dat liked to say; Gid was superior to Dat’s proverbial gold, and the girl who consented to be his wife would be truly blessed.
Is it to be me? she wondered. Can I trust the Lord God to guide my faltering steps?
In vain, she tried to imagine being held in his strong arms. Would she be gladdened by his tender affection ... ready for their courting days to begin? All these things and more Leah contemplated as her bare feet padded the ground on her way to find the blacksmith’s son before Dat and Mamma wondered where on earth she’d taken herself off to on a night set apart for singings.
She found Smithy Gid in the haymow, amusing himself with a new pup. “Hullo,” Leah called up to him.
Quickly he rose and made his way down the long ladder to her, carrying the tiny dog. “I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight, Leah.” He looked at her with gentle eyes. “But it’s awful nice,” he added with a warm smile.
They stood there looking at each other by lantern light, Leah feeling ever so awkward. She glanced down for a moment, breathed a sigh, and then lifted her face to his. “I’m ready to give you my answer,” she said softly.
“I’ll go along to Strasburg with you ... with Adah and Sam, come Saturday night.”
Gid’s face lit up like a forbidden electric light bulb. “Wonderful-gut! Denki for comin’ here to say so.”
She realized at that moment the power her decision had over him. If she’d said otherwise, she could just imagine the look of disappointment that would have transformed his ruddy face. “I best be headin’ home,” she said.
“Aw, must ya?” His eyes implored her to stay.
“Dat and Mamma don’t know I’m gone. I wouldn’t want them to fret.” She didn’t go on to say they were worried enough over Sadie. No doubt he was aware of that; it was to be expected with Gid’s mother and Mamma close neighbors and bosom friends. Miriam Peachey had surely heard tell of Mamma’s sleepless nights.
“Well, then, I ’spect it’s best you return schnell—quickly.”
At that she moved toward the barn door. “Gut Nacht,” she said as Gid strolled alongside her.
“Good night, Leah.”
She nodded self-consciously and turned to go, walking briskly toward her father’s cornfield. Hundreds of stars beckoned her, and she found herself wondering if anyone had ever tried to count them, at least those twinkling over the Ebersol Cottage.
Staring up at the sky, she pondered her decision to go with Gid this one time ... and his near-gleeful response. Did I do the right thing?
The last place Gid wanted to be, now that Leah had told him her good news, was back up in the lonely haymow. He returned the puppy in hand to the whelping box and hurried out behind the barn, toward Blackbird Pond. He had to keep looking at the ground, now murky in the early evening hour, to see if his feet were really touching the grassy path that led through the pastureland and beyond to the lake.
With great joy, he began to count the hours till he would see Leah again, not in Abram’s barn or out in the field ... no, what he most anticipated was their first real date. The long ride to Strasburg was nothing to sneeze at as far as time on the road; he must make sure he took along a light lap robe, in case the evening had a chill to it. They would enjoy a fine meal in town with Adah and Sam, then leisurely return to Gobbler’s Knob, a round trip of nearly ten miles. All in all, the night would not be so young when he returned Leah to the covering of her father’s house.
Gid’s heart sang as he picked up his pace and began to run around the wide lake. Will Leah accept my love at last?
The Sacrifice by Beverly Lewis
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764228722, 0764228757, 0764228765, 0764228773
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.