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Late May, Kent County, Delaware
Sarah! Are all the baked goods in the buggy?" Ja, Mam. I put them carefully on the backseat." Sarah returned to the large white farmhouse where Ruth Mast stood inside the front screen door. "Everything is ready to go."
"Gut," Ruth said. "Iva will keep me company today. Mary Alice will help you at the Sale."
Sarah nodded without argument although she knew that the day would be eventful with two wild boys to mind at the Sale. She worried about her mother, who had been feeling unwell for some time. Her mam hadn't been out of the house except for Sunday services for months. Aunt Iva had taken Mam to the doctor's last week, but Mam's refusal to share the results of that visit frightened Sarah.
A black buggy drew up and parked in the barnyard, and Iva Troyer and her daughter Mary Alice stepped out of the vehicle.
Sarah waved a greeting to her aunt and cousin as she searched for signs of her brothers. "Timothy! Thomas! Time to go to Spence's!"
"Coming!" a young voice cried.
The boys came barreling around the house. Their straw hats flew off as they bolted toward the buggy, revealing twin mops of bright red hair. Her brothers looked disheveled as they halted before Sarah, out of breath.
"Boys! Your hats! Get them and quickly!" Sarah narrowed her gaze as her brothers obeyed and then approached. "You clean enough for town?" she asked, examining each with a critical eye.
"Ja," Timothy said as he jammed his hat back onto his head.
"Only our hands are a little dirty," Thomas added, "but they don't look it."
"Nee, they are clean," Timothy insisted. "We washed them in the pond."
"Let me see." The twins stuck out their palms for her inspection. "You've been playing with frogs again," she guessed, and saw Timothy nod. "Go wash your hands with soap." She kept her smile hidden as they scampered toward the house. "And comb your hair!"
The boys weren't gone for long. "Bye, Mam!" they cried in unison as they raced by their mother and out of the house.
"In the buggy, boys!" Sarah instructed. "And don't touch the baked goods." She turned to lock gazes with her mother. "I'll make them behave."
Her mother managed a slight smile as she opened the screen door and stepped outside. "I know you will, daughter," Ruth replied as she watched her youngest sons scurry into the buggy.
Sarah hesitated as she eyed her mother with concern. Mam wore a royal-blue dress. The dark color emphasized Ruth's sickly pallor. The white kapp on her head hid the gray in her dark hair.
"She'll be fine," Iva assured her. Iva Troyer,Mam's sister, was a large, strong woman with a big, booming voice.
Sarah nodded. As she hugged her overly thin mother, she gave up a silent prayer. Please, Lord, make Mam well again. She caught her aunt's glance and relayed her silent gratitude. Iva gave her a slight smile as she steered her inside the house to rest.
"My mam will take gut care of yours," Mary Alice said as she climbed into the Mast family buggy.
"I know she will." Sarah joined her cousin in the front seat. Mary Alice was tall but thinner than Iva. She wore a green dress without an apron, and a white kapp over her sandy-brown hair. "I appreciate your help today."
Mary Alice shrugged. "I like going to the Sale. I'm getting a barbecued-pork sandwich for lunch."
Sarah smiled, grabbed hold of the leathers and then steered the horse toward Dover. "Sounds gut to me."
Early morning at Spence's Bazaar was a beehive of activity as vendors and folks set up tables with their items for sale and prepared for the crowd that the warm spring day would bring.
Jedidiah Lapp arranged brightly painted birdhouses, stained and varnished shelves and other well-crafted wooden items on his uncle's rented table. He set some of the larger things, such as side tables, trash boxes and potato bins, on the ground where potential customers could readily see them. Finished, he turned to review his handiwork.
"Looks fine, Jed." Arlin Stoltzfus joined him after a visit to the Farmers' Market building across the lot. "Here." The older, bearded man smiled as he handed his nephew a cup of coffee, and Jed nodded his thanks. "You finish unloading the wagon?"
"Ja," Jedidiah said. "Almost everything you brought today is out and ready to be sold." He reached into a cardboard box beneath the table to pull out two cloth nail bags. "Dat gave us these to hold the money." He handed one to his uncle.
"Your vadder is a wise man," Arlin said as he stuffed dollar bills and coins into the bag's sewn compartments. "Where are all of your mudder's plants? I don't see many."
Jedidiah shrugged before he adjusted his straw hat. "I put the rest under the table. I can put out more later after we sell these."
"Nee," Arlin said. "We'll put more out now." He shifted things about to make more room for his sister's plants. "Your mam will be hurt if we don't sell everything she gave us."
Jed smiled. "We'll sell them." He helped his uncle rearrange the plants before he reached beneath the table to withdraw more of his mother's plants. "The sage look healthy."
"Ja, and the vegetable plants are thriving." Arlin looked pleased by the new display.
"Mam's kept busy in her greenhouse ever since Dat and Noah built it for her."
Arlin grinned. "Ja." He lifted a hand to rub his bearded chin. "She gave me ten tomato seedlings and four green-pepper plants," he admitted. "And she says she'll have more for our vegetable garden next week."
"You've got a fine selection of wooden items." Jed admired his uncle's wares.
"Enough, I think." The older man moved a trinket box to the front of the display.
Jed agreed. Arlin had crafted enough items to stock several shops back home in the Lancaster area, including Whittier's and Yoder's Stores. He'd spent weeks building birdhouses out of scrap lumber donated by the Fisher wood mill. Besides trinket boxes, he'd built hanging shelves that he'd carved and painted, vegetable bins, side tables and fancy jewelry boxes that would appeal to Englischers. Arlin had hospital bills to pay; his daughter Meg had suffered from some health issues. His Amish community in Ohio had held fund-raisers to help with Meg's medical expenses. Once Meg was well, Arlin moved his family to Happiness, where his sister lived. While he was grateful for his new community's help, Jed's uncle felt it was his responsibility to pay off the remainder of his debt. Someone had told him that he'd sell a lot of his handiwork at Spence's Bazaar Auction in Dover, Delaware.
Jed set down his coffee cup. "We're all glad you decided to move back to Happiness, Arlin." Their village of Happiness was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Arlin's stern face warmed with a smile. "I'm glad, too. Missy's mudder and vadder can't understand why their daughter converted to Old Order Amish. They are gut people, but they expected us to go against our beliefs and have electricity and a phone." He looked sad as he shook his head. "They wanted to buy us a car. I couldn't stay there any longer, and your aunt Missy understood. I prayed for the Lord's guidance and decided to come home. Missy and the girls love Happiness, and Meg is thriving."
"They are happy to live in a community who readily accepts them." Jed thought of his cousins and grinned.
Arlin frowned. "Still, I worry about my girls. Who is going to keep a watchful eye on them while we're away?"
"Your sister. You know Mam will be there to help Aunt Missy. She may not have teenage daughters, but she has enough experience with her sons to handle any boys who come looking to spend time with my cousins."
A middle-aged woman came to their table, her arms laden with her purchases, and bought several of Mam's herb and vegetable plants. Jed offered to carry them to her car. "Thank you," she said with a smile. Jed followed her to her vehicle and set the bags carefully inside before closing the trunk.
A dog barked, followed by a horn blast. He heard someone scream with alarm and then the rumble of tires spinning against gravel. Jed turned in time to see two young boys bolt out into the parking lot after a dog, into the path of an oncoming car.
"Schtupp!" he cried as, reacting quickly, he snatched the two boys, one in each arm, out of harm's way. Heart thundering in his chest, Jed set them down. He studied them carefully, noting the startled look on identical twin faces beneath their black-banded straw hats. "Are you all right?" he asked. They nodded, and Jed released a relieved breath. "Come with me."
"Are they hurt?" Arlin asked with concern as Jed steered the boys closer to their table.
"Nee. Where's your mam?" He searched the area for their mother. The youngsters appeared too frightened by their experience to answer. Suddenly, he saw her, rushing toward them.
The young mother had bright red-gold hair beneath her white prayer kapp. Her eyes were the vivid blue of a clear sky on a cloudless day. She wore a dress the same blue color as her eyes with a white cape and apron. Judging by her horrified expression, Jed realized that it was her scream that he'd heard.
Sarah gave each of the twins a fierce hug before she released them. "You know better than to run out into the parking lot!" she scolded. "You could have been killed!" She grabbed each boy by the hand. "You're to stay here next to me," she stated firmly. "Don't move. Do you understand?" They nodded silently and cast their eyes downward. Obviously, they were too upset by the near-accident to say a word. She then took several deep calming breaths before turning a grateful gaze toward the man who'd saved them. "Danki," she said softly, studying the rescuer for the first time. "They escaped so fast, I didn't know where they'd gone."
"We just wanted to pet the puppy," Thomas explained and his brother nodded in agreement.
"Still, you know better than to run into the parking lot," Sarah reminded them firmly. "And to leave without permission."
"They are young boys eager to explore," the man said quietly.
"Ja," she replied, "and they are a handful on their best behavior." She closed her eyes briefly and shuddered. "I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been nearby."
"The Lord planned for me to help." His soft answer touched a chord in her. "The boys learned a lesson and won't run into the road or parking lot without looking again or without permission again. Will you, boys?" They looked up at their rescuer and nodded their agreement with their eyes wide.
Sarah smiled. It must be true. The Lord watched over her brothers and sent this man to help the boys when they were in trouble. She studied the man closely. "You don't live here in Delaware." The Amish man's clean-shaven face told her he was still single. "Pennsylvania," she guessed. At his nod, she asked, "Lancaster County?"
"Ja," he said. He studied her, his look making her feel warm inside. "But you live not far from here."
She blinked. "Ja, 'tis true but what gave it away?"
"Your prayer kapp."
Sarah smiled. "Ja, ours are shaped differently than the women from your area." The back of their kapps was round, while the women in Lancaster wore kapps with a back that resembled a seamed heart.
She had relatives in Pennsylvania, although it had been many years since she'd visited them. Lancaster County was home to the largest Amish population in the country. Lancaster Amish returned each week to run the shops at Spence's Bazaar Auction and Flea Market in the Farmers' Market building.
"You have a table," Sarah said.
"Ja. I came with my uncle to sell plants and his woodcrafts."
"Do you know anyone who runs a Farmers' Market shop?" She pointed toward a building that housed several mini shops.
"I don't know." He shrugged. "I haven't been inside the building yet."
"You should take the time to go inside," Sarah urged. "They have the best food. My cousin and I like the pork sandwiches from the meat shop." Her heart skipped a beat as cinnamon-brown eyes met hers. "This is your first time here."
"Ja. That is my uncle and this is our table." He gestured behind him to where an older man stood helping an Englischer buy a jewelry box. "Arlin made all the wooden items. I brought plants from my mother's greenhouse." He introduced his uncle as Arlin Stoltzfus.
"You both should do well here," she said after she and Arlin had greeted each other. "Englischers love to buy plants for their flower and vegetable gardens at Spence's." She glanced toward the man's table and spied a potato bin among the items for sale. She turned back to smile at the man. "I'll have to come back later to shop."
The man studied her with an intentness that made her nape prickle. His dark hair under his straw hat was cut in the style of Amish men. His bright brown eyes, square, firm jaw and ready smile made her tingle and glance away briefly.
Her gaze settled on his shirt. She couldn't help noticing the way his maroon broadfall shirt fit under his dark suspenders and the long length of his tri-blend denim pants legs. She had to look up to meet his gaze. He stood at least eight inches above her five-foot-one height. His arms looked firm and muscled from hard work. Sarah felt her face warm and she quickly averted her gaze.
Thomas tugged on her arm. "Can we go back to our table now?"
"We promise to be gut and sit nicely in the chairs," Timothy added.
Sarah studied them a moment, until she realized that they were sincere. "Go ahead. Make sure you listen to Mary Alice and sit and behave!"
With a whoop of joy, the boys scampered back to their table. Sarah watched with relief as they kept their word and sat in their chairs. Mary Alice was busy selling baked goods. There were several people waiting in line to make a purchase. "I should get back-my cousin needs help selling our cakes and pies." She also didn't trust her brothers to behave for much longer. "Danki for rescuing the boys-"
He smiled. "Jedidiah Lapp."
"And I am Sarah Mast." She returned his smile. The intensity of his regard made her face heat. "I hope you sell everything you brought today, Jedidiah Lapp."
"I hope all of your cakes and pies sell quickly," he replied.
She was conscious of the man's gaze on her as she hurried back to her table. A pie, she mused. She'd bring him a cherry pie in appreciation. Perhaps purchase some plants from him for their vegetable garden.
She chanced a quick look toward his table, watching as he helped a customer make a purchase. Jedidiah Lapp, she thought, intrigued. He remained in her thoughts as she worked with her cousin to sell the rest of her baked goods.
As the day went on, Sarah couldn't help the occasional glance toward his table to see how Jedidiah was doing. Normal curiosity about the man who saved my bruders, she told herself when she caught herself looking toward him often. Or is it?