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Arms of Love
By Kelly Long
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Kelly Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMarch 1777 Lancaster, Pennsylvania
I am going to die with the birth of this child, Adam."
Twenty-one-year-old Adam Wyse stared at the older woman, his mother's best friend and the mother of the girl he loved. He had little doings with the ways of women and understood the bearing of offspring better in terms of the horses he raised. But there was something calm and certain about the statement Mary Yoder had made, and he sought to turn her from such premonitions.
"You are anxious, 'tis all, as any ... woman would be near her time." He had almost said mare. He cast about the room in hopes that inspiration would come to him. Instead, the bright sun of spring beguiled through the windowpanes. He longed to be outside, holding hands with Lena.
"Adam. This is not the fancy of some nervous horse; I have given birth to three other kinner with no problem. But this time—well, the Lord has revealed it to my heart, and I must make preparations now, especially with Samuel absent."
The past three weeks had been a hard time for the Yoder family. Samuel Yoder had been hauled off to jail after refusing to give up his last cow to the Patriots' cause of revolution, and there was no telling when he would be released.
Adam chafed a bit under Mary's scrutiny and tried to look anywhere but at the mound of bedclothes covering her abdomen. "Would you like me to send Lena to you?"
"Nee. I would like you to make a dying woman a promise."
"A promise, Adam. But some questions first, if you will?"
He nodded, resigned. "Of course, but I—"
"Gut. Tell me, have you kissed my daughter?"
"You heard me well."
"Nee ... Of course not."
Mary laughed. "But not for lack of wanting, eh?"
He felt himself flush like some green lad, knowing he had held himself off like a wolf on a leash for want of kissing Lena in the past, convicted by her youth and delicacy.
"I wanted," he said, unable to keep the roughness from his tone.
She reached to pat his hand. "As is normal. But I am glad that your relationship has not progressed that far—it will make things easier later."
"Later?" he asked, but she was on to another question.
"I know how your fater abuses you, Adam. I have seen the scars on your back. Why have you not left his home?"
"I—" He broke off in confusion. He'd never been confronted by the truth of his private life in so forceful a manner, even by Lena. It was not so simple a question to answer. His father did see fit to discipline him harshly, careful not to "spare the rod," but he hadn't actually beaten Adam in several years. It was more torturous games of the mind now.
He swallowed hard. "I stay because ... because I am bound there. I cannot easily go out into the world without my father's blessing, and— well, perhaps I deserve what I get from him."
Mary snorted. "You deserve to be hurt, Adam? And your mamm standing by, helplessly? She can do nothing. She is a victim too, as is Isaac." She covered his hand with her own.
He thumbed the contours of her fingers and shook his head, thinking of his older brother. "Not Isaac ... He gets away from it somehow. He has escaped."
"Nee, 'tis not true. He's lost himself in his own world, in his books and studies and animals, but he won't walk away free. No one who lives in that house will ever be free."
Adam felt unexpected tears burn at the back of his eyes. He swallowed hard. "Ya, there's truth in that."
"I believe that no one should have to live under such oppression of the spirit."
He smiled then. "You sound like a Patriot."
He was surprised when a thoughtful look crossed her face. "Well, maybe I am."
"What?" No Amish person would ever admit to supporting the cause of the Revolution—except for a few men, mostly young, who had done so outright by enlisting ... as Adam himself had secretly considered. But to hear a woman, a neighbor he had known all his life, speak in such a way was confusing, especially with her husband jailed.
"Ach, do not worry, Adam. I am not being unfaithful about Samuel's plight. But there is in me something that believes there are things worth fighting for. Do you agree?"
He thought about the bondage his mother was in to his father. "Ya, some things."
"Is my dochder one of those things, Adam?"
He met her eyes, confused. "Lena? I know 'twill sound forthright, but she loves me true, and I her."
"Ya ... this is so."
"Then why would I have to fight for her?"
Mary withdrew her hand from his to rub absently at her belly. "Because of the promise I mentioned before."
"I will do whatever you ask."
She looked at him, her eyes the bright turquoise blue of Lena's own. "Will you, Adam?"
"If it is within my power, and with the Lord's grace, ya."
She smiled faintly. "Grace? Ya, that you will need ... for I ask you to promise, Adam Wyse, to give up Lena's love, to give her up, until you are free from your fater's rule and are ready to build a new and free life for the two of you. I cannot die knowing that you would take her to your home as our custom decrees."
"Of course I would take her to my home; it is our way. But Fater would never harm her."
"And what of your kinner, Adam? Can you be so sure? What of your sons? And, Adam, it hurts me to speak thus, but do you trust yourself? What if you gave into a rage like your father's?"
"Mary, I would never—"
"Perhaps I overstep ... but I would still have your promise."
Inwardly Adam reeled as though he had been struck; he could not fathom the request. "I can build a new home—away from my father's house—farther out into the community."
"If this were your intent, you would have done so by now."
He bowed his head and felt a thickness in his throat. "You ask too much."
"With the Lord's grace, Adam ... remember? You said that."
"But I ..." He stopped. He would not give in to the sob that beckoned from the depths of his heart. Give up Lena? How would he even go about it? He could not imagine breathing without her, let alone living out a life until he could do what Mary asked.
"My time is short, Adam. Do you promise?"
He stared at her. Was she mad? He was a man of his word, but Mary was near her time and probably not thinking clearly. He could promise and give her the comfort she wanted, and then they could resolve things later.
He took her hand. "I do so promise, Mary Yoder."
She sighed, a restless, broken sound. "Gut. Danki, Adam. You will see ... Your arms will be full of love again before long."
He nodded, watched as she drifted off to sleep, and then left the quiet room, deep in thought.
* * *
"What did Mamm want?"
Lena Yoder looked up into the face of her beloved and couldn't help but think how beautiful he was. His dark hair hung heavy to his shoulders, and the strong bones of his face were the perfect frame for his strange golden eyes.
He looked down at her now as they stood in the early garden and gently ran the back of his hand across her cheek. She shivered in delight, longing to lean into his touch.
"She wanted to talk, 'tis all."
Lena ignored the prick of conscience that saw something hesitant in those golden depths. "She loves you, Adam."
"And I her ... and her kinner."
"I am sure that John and Abby will be glad to know that," she teased, giving him a bright smile.
But he didn't smile in return. Instead he drew close to her, bending so that his breath brushed her ear. Her heart stopped when she thought he might kiss her ... but he merely stood close, tantalizingly close, and then drew away.
She felt heat rise into her cheeks and looked up at him, but he was gazing at the afternoon sun, now dipping behind the endless rows of ancient trees.
"It grows late. I had best start for home."
Lena felt a pang of disappointment, but she knew he had work to attend to. She slipped her hand into his as they walked toward Tim, his big dappled horse.
"I'll come tomorrow, Lena ... to make sure that all is secure."
She nodded as he mounted. Then he stared down at her, his eyes intent. "Be safe, my love," he said.
"Of course." She smiled. But something cold and unfamiliar, like a splinter of ice, pierced through her as she watched him ride away, and she shivered despite herself.
Chapter TwoAdam tossed restlessly against the coarse linens of his wide bed and flung his arm up to shield his face.
It was the same engulfing blackness as always, as if he were wombed in the dark, unable to breathe. And then the red haze came, like some eerie dawn breaking over shrouded and jagged edges, until he gasped with the burn of the bloodlike sun and its shadow. He tried to beat against it, through it, flailing his fists in useless movement that only seemed to elongate the shine of the hazy red. And then it was winter and all snow, but for the sun, which still burned, turning his hands and arms and neck crimson as he tried to swipe himself clean with strokes of his shaking hands. But his efforts were futile, and then he was falling into nothingness, his soul left somewhere behind with a child's cry. His face stung; his fingers were numb; and then, strangely, he was in Lena's arms, pressed secure against her shoulder, sobbing for want of something and nothing and everything ...
Adam woke with a strangled cry and tried to gain control of his racing heart and raw breathing. He stared around the shadows of his room and shivered in a cold sweat. Then he lay back down, searching the recesses of his mind for the nameless fear. But nothing came save the familiar feeling that he had been ravaged, his spirit burdened with a load he could not name. And then, as he always did, he began to pray.
* * *
Lena pushed the spade into the damp earth and found the ground still frozen beneath its surface. She took a deep breath and piled her slight weight on the edge of the tool; her rough-soled shoe slipped and she fell. Facedown. For a long while, and despite the chill, she lay there breathing in the comforting smells of mud, melting snow, and the slightest promise of new grass. She only lifted her dirt-stained face when the feeble cry of an infant lingered in the early morning air, and she knew that she must rise. I must rise. I promised.
She placed her palms flat against the earth and was pushing up when the reverberation of hoofbeats shook the ground. She jumped up then, scraping at her face with the hem of her apron, the better to see. She abandoned the spade in an attempt to cross the slippery dirt to the house, but the horse and rider were upon her before she'd gone three steps. She stared up at Adam and worked to blink back tears.
He slid down and looped Tim's reins over the wood post before gently catching her close in his arms.
"What are you about?" he asked softly as he lifted a hand to skim some of the mud from her cheek.
"Ach, Adam ... I dig my mamm's grave. She died this morning giving birth. There was so much blood ... I didn't know what to do." Lena sobbed and moved toward him, expecting to find refuge in his arms, but he stared at the farmhouse, his body tense. "Adam? I am sorry ... I know you loved her too."
* * *
Adam bit back the words of comfort that came to his lips and brushed past Lena to retrieve the spade. He struck the ground with force.
"Adam ... what ... you don't have to do that," she said, scrambling to reach him.
"I know. Is it a boy or a girl?"
A lesser man might have felt disarmed by the pain that darkened her already shadowed eyes, but Adam steeled himself. He longed to hold her to him, to feel her delicate frame yield to his willing strength. But he had made a promise before Gott and Lena's mother, and he had no choice but to keep it. His world felt as though it had slid from him, and he tried to concentrate on the dirt before him.
"It is a girl," Lena said, breaking into his thoughts.
He looked at her, gripping the handle of the spade with all his strength to keep from taking her in his arms.
"Go and tend the babe, and send John to me."
She swiped at her splattered face with a shaking hand. "I don't think that a ten-year-old boy should dig his mother's grave, Adam, do you?"
Her question, protecting her brother from the duty of death, edged at something in his mind, but he couldn't capture the thought. He rested his foot on the spade. "Yet you would do it yourself." He paused, then spoke in a soothing tone, deciding he could at least comfort her with his voice. "I mean no harm to the boy; I thought to send him to the woods for firewood. It would be better if he were not about."
Lena nodded and walked up the steps to the front door of the farmhouse. Her small back was straight, her kerchief still white in places over the fall of her shoulders, where the golden mass of her hair had worked loose from beneath her head covering and straw hat. Adam tore his gaze away and stared at the ground, feeling an eerie sense of being outside of himself before he snapped back to the moment. He would do better with a pickax.
He heard Lena's melodic voice echo from within and then the sounds of the infant's cries diminish. The door opened with a creak, and he looked up to see ten-year-old John, pale and thin, edging out onto the porch, his fingers pressed into a crevice of the limestone wall. The boy appeared to be of a sober and studious bent of mind, but there were times when Adam wondered what really went on behind those intense blue eyes.
"Take the horse, sohn, and go fetch some wood for the fire. Ride into the forest on this side of the river. Neither British nor Patriots camp there."
"You would trust me with the horse?"
Adam smiled, trying to remember what it was to be ten and failing entirely. "Ya—you have tended him while I have visited, haven't you? It's a sad morning today. Some time alone in Gott's woods would help you, I think."
"They took our horse, Benjamin, when they came for Fater."
Adam nodded. "I have heard. General Washington's army must have need."
"You still have your horse." There was a slight irony in the boy's statement.
"So I do."
John wet his lips and looked with longing at the steed. "I would like to ride."
The boy stared at Adam and straightened his back, so that for a second he seemed remarkably like his sister and older than his years. "I will walk."
Adam shrugged, tossing a spade full of dirt. "As you wish."
John lifted a birch basket from a corner and unlooped a small hatchet from a peg in the stone wall. He walked off in the direction Adam had indicated without another word.
* * *
Adam smiled to himself. They were a strong family, the whole lot of them. Then the renewed cry of the infant reminded him that it was a parentless family for now, and that Lena would have a far greater load than she could possibly carry. Although he regretted her loss, he allowed himself to imagine the privilege of helping with her burdens. Then he shook his head. That was impossible now; he had given his word. And he turned his attention back to the ever-deepening grave.
* * *
Lena fancied she could hear the earth turning over from Adam's digging outside, then realized it was only the beating of her heart. Abigail, her eight-year-old sister, was still in her nightgown, blond hair hanging to her waist in a tangled mass. Mamm would have seen to it by now ...
Lena rubbed her fingers against her temple as she tried to think where to begin. Her spontaneous rocking from foot to foot would not soothe the new babe for long, but she had no idea where a wet nurse might be found. She could give the infant goat's milk, of course, but her mamm had asked specifically for a wet nurse before she died, murmuring about too many infants not surviving without the touch of a woman.
And then there was the body to be washed, but no one to bless the burial. She could send for Deacon Wyse, Adam's father, but what she knew about the man made her reluctant to ask. She suppressed a sob. This wasn't the time to mourn. And ach, how to break the news to her father ... His health hung in the balance as it was; to carry news to him in jail of the loss of his beloved wife might be more than he could bear. In truth she had not been to see him in the three weeks since he had been taken because her mother had seemed to weaken each day after he was gone, finally becoming bedridden with the pregnancy. Lena told herself that she should have known things would go badly for the delivery; she should have tried to send for a midwife. But she hadn't been sure when the baby would come ...
Excerpted from Arms of Love by Kelly Long Copyright © 2012 by Kelly Long. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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