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Lancaster BridesRomance Drives the Buggy in Four Inspiring Novels
By WANDA E. BRUNSTETTER
BARBOUR PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2002 Wanda E. Brunstetter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMiriam Stoltzfus took one last look around the small one-room schoolhouse, then shut the door behind her. As she stepped outside, she could hear the voices of two children playing nearby, Sarah Jane Beachy and Andrew Sepler. The children couldn't see their teacher, she knew, for if they had, they surely would not have been having such a conversation.
"I wish our teacher wasn't so cross all the time," Sarah Jane said.
"My older brother says that she is just an old maid who never even smiles," Andrew added. "I think she must have a heart of stone!"
Miriam's cheeks burned hot, and she winced as though someone had slapped her face. Perhaps some of their words were true, she reluctantly admitted to herself. At age twenty-six, she was still an unmarried woman. This was nearly unheard of among the Old Order Amish group to which she belonged. Miriam shook her head. "I am not cross all of the time, and I do not have a heart of stone," she fumed to herself. But even as she spoke the words, she wondered if they were true or not. She was glad to see that the children had now left the school yard. She did not want them to know that she had overheard their conversation, nor did she feel in the mood to hear any more such talk against herself.
The horse and buggy, hitched under a tree nearby, offered solace to the tired schoolteacher. Speaking a few words of Pennsylvania Dutch to the mare, she climbed wearily inside the box-shaped buggy. She would be glad to leave the school day behind and get home to her waiting chores.
A short time later, Miriam found her mother sitting on the front porch of their plain, white farmhouse, shelling fresh peas from their garden. "Look, Daughter, the first spring picking," Anna Stoltzfus called as Miriam stepped down from the buggy.
Miriam waved in response, then began the ritual of unhitching the horse. When she finished, she led the willing mare to the barn.
"How was your day?" Anna called when Miriam reappeared a short time later.
Miriam crossed the yard and took a seat on the step next to her mother. "Sis gute gange-it went well," she said in the Pennsylvania Dutch language of her people. Then changing to English, she said with a long sigh, "It is so good to be home."
Anna wiped a wisp of graying hair away from her face where it had fallen loose form the tight bun she always wore under her head coveting. "Problems at school?"
Miriam sighed again and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. After a few moments, she spoke. "It is probably not even worth mentioning, Mom, but after school I overheard two of my students talking. They seem to think that I have a heart of stone." She clasped her mother's hands in her own, "Oh, Mom, do you think it is true? Am I cross all the time? Do you think I really do have a heart of stone?"
Anna frowned. "Miriam, I don't believe any Christian's heart is made of stone. However, I have noticed that you are very unhappy, and your tone of voice is a bit harsh much of the time. Does it have anything to do with William Graber? Are you still pining over him?"
The color in Miriam's oval face turned a bright pink. "Of course not! I am certainly over him."
"I hope that you are, because it would do you no good to fret and dwell on what cannot be changed."
An uncomfortable yet familiar lump had formed in Miriam's throat, and she found that she couldn't bring herself to look directly into her mother's eyes. She was afraid the hidden pain in her own eyes would betray her words.
"If your troubled spirit is not because of your old beau, then what?" her mother asked.
Miriam shrugged. "I suppose everyone feels sad and out of sorts from time to time."
"Remember what the Bible tells us," her mother reminded. "`A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.' Happiness and laughter are good medicine for a troubled spirit, Miriam."
"I know, Mom. You have quoted that verse from Proverbs many times, but it's not always easy to have a merry heart." Miriam stood up, smoothing her long green cotton dress. "Now, if you will excuse me, I had best go to my room and change, and then I will help you with supper." She quickly went inside, leaving her mother behind on the porch with her head bowed in prayer.
Miriam's upstairs bedroom looked even more peaceful than usual. The freshly aired quilt on the bed was neat and crisp, giving the room the sweet smell of clean, outdoor air. The bare wooden floor was shiny and smooth as glass. Even the blue washing bowl that sat on the small dresser beneath the window reassured her of the cleanliness and orderliness of the plain room. On days like today she wished she could just hide away inside the four walls of her own room and shut out the world and all its ugliness.
Miriam took a seat on the comfortable bed and pulled her shoes off with a yawn and a long sigh. How odd that some of the young people among my faith desire to leave this secure and peaceful life for the troublesome, hectic, modern way of life. I do not believe I could ever betray the Amish faith in such a way. Modern things may have their appeal, but simplicity and humility, though they separate us from the rest of the world, are apart of our culture that I treasure.
She fluffed up her feather pillow and stretched out luxuriously for a few moments of rest before changing her clothes. Staring up absently at the plaster cracks in the ceiling overhead, she reflected again on the voices of the two children she had heard talking about her earlier. "How little they really do know about their teacher," she whispered. "They truly believe that I have a heart of stone, but rather it is a broken and shattered heart, and I am afraid it always will be."
A tear slid down Miriam's face and landed softly on the pillow beneath her head. She longed to be loved. To feel cherished. She knew in her heart that she was capable, or at least had been capable of, returning that same kind of love to a man who was willing to give his whole heart to her. She thought she had found that man in William Graber, but she knew now that no man could ever be trusted. She would guard her heart and never let another man cause her the kind of pain she was feeling now. The reminder of her past hurts was enough to keep her from ever falling in love again.
Miriam let her mind travel back in time. Back to when she was a pupil at the one-room schoolhouse where she was now the teacher.
Chapter TwoThe young Miriam sat upright at her desk, listening attentively to the lesson being taught, until a slight tug on the back of her small, white head covering caused her to turn around.
The deep green eyes of twelve-year-old William Graber met her own pale blue eyes and held them captive. Even then, at her young age, Miriam had known that it was love she felt for him. He was a good friend, but he was also the boy she hoped to marry someday.
William smiled and passed her the crumpled note he had taken from his shirt pocket.
Miriam took the note and opened it slowly, not wanting the teacher to hear the paper rumpling. She smiled as she read the words. "Miriam: I want to walk you home from school. Please meet me by the apple tree out behind the schoolhouse. Your friend, William Graber."
Miriam nodded her agreement to William; then she folded the note and placed it securely inside her apron pocket. Impatiently, she waited for the minutes on the big battery-operated wall clock to tick away.
The walk home from school with William that day was the first of many. Over the next few years, they walked together, and he continued to carry her books, as well as continued to gain her favor. Their childhood friendship grew stronger with each passing year, until by the time they were both fifteen, their relationship had turned into a trusting love and a deep commitment to one another and to their future.
Their eighth year in school was their final one, and they both spent the next year in vocational training at home. William was instructed in the best of Amish farming methods, and Miriam learned the more arduous homemaking skills. After all, it was expected that they would marry someday and settle down on a farm of their own. They would both need to be taught well in all areas of farm life, as well as learn how to run an efficient and well-organized household.
William was given a horse and courting buggy at the age of sixteen. "Miriam, you let me give you a ride home after the singing at Schumans' tonight?" he asked after the morning church services that had been held in the home of his parents.
Miriam felt herself blush from head to toe; though she really didn't understand why. They had been close friends for such a long time, but this was to be the beginning of their official courtship. "Jah, William," she whispered.
How her heart swelled with joy that night, as she prepared to go to the young people's singing. She would be going with her two older brothers, Jonas and Andrew, but according to Amish custom, she would be allowed to accept a ride home from any eligible young Amish man. Since William had already asked her, the question of whom she might be traveling home with was already settled. She smiled to herself and placed her small covering securely on her head.
The singing was held in the Schumans' barn, where the young people spent several hours singing some traditional Amish hymns, playing games, and enjoying a delicious array of foods, which had been prepared by the hostess and her daughters.
Miriam was having a good time, but she could hardly wait for the evening to end so that she could be alone with William. She was also anxious to experience the thrill of riding in his new, open courting buggy.
"I am riding home with William," Miriam whispered to her friend Crystal as they waited in line for refreshments.
"Ach, my, now that is not such a surprise," Crystal countered. "Everyone in this county knows that you two are sweet on each other."
Miriam felt her face heat up. "Hush. We are just supposed to be friends."
"Has he asked to come calling yet?" Crystal wanted to know.
Miriam shook her head. "Not yet, but then he only got his buggy a few weeks ago."
Crystal nodded and smiled knowingly. "Your brother Jonas only had his buggy two days before he asked to call on me."
Miriam giggled. "That sounds like my bold brother Jonas all right."
"I'm so glad that my eighteenth birthday is only a few weeks away," Crystal said. "That way, if Jonas should ask me to marry him, I can be fairly certain that Papa will say, `Jah, it is fine with me and Mom.'" She smiled happily. "I know what my answer will be as well."
"I cannot speak for your papa, of course, but I do know my brother rather well. I think he is just counting the days until you turn eighteen."
Now it was Crystal's turn to blush. "I hope you are right. Don't you wish that you and William were a bit older, so you, too, could be thinking of marriage?"
Miriam giggled again and then whispered in her friend's ear, "I think we have both already thought about it, but we still have two more years to wait. I know that my parents would never let me marry before I turn eighteen."
The ride home in William's buggy was everything that Miriam had expected it to be. A gentle August breeze offered the couple a cool but pleasant trip. The horse behaved well, responding to each of William's commands without delay. At one point, William was even brave enough to rein the horse with only one hand. That left the other hand free to seek out Miriam's.
Miriam felt the color come quickly to her cheeks. She smiled and stole a quick glance at her escort. She hoped that William couldn't see how crimson her face must be in the moonlight.
William said nothing, but he smiled and tightened his hand around hers.
A short time later, as he walked her to the door, he whispered, "May I come visiting on Tuesday night, Miriam?"
Miriam nodded and ran quickly into the house. At last, they were officially courting. She felt too joyous to even utter a word.
The months melted into years, and by the time the young couple had turned twenty, there was still no definite wedding plans made. Though they often talked of it secretly, William did not feel quite ready for the responsibilities of running a farm of his own. After working full-time for his father since the age of fifteen, he wasn't even certain that he wanted to farm. He knew it was expected of him, but he felt that he might be more suited to another trade.
The opportunity he had been waiting for arrived at the age of twenty-two when William was invited to learn the painting trade from his uncle Abe, who lived in Ohio. While Abe and one of his sons ran a small farm of their own, he also had a paint contracting business and needed another apprentice.
Miriam cried for days after William left, but he promised to write often and visit on holidays and some weekends. It wasn't much consolation to a young woman of marrying age. She had so hoped that by now the two of them would be married, perhaps even starting a family.
Impatiently, she waited for the mail each day, moping around in a melancholy mood when there was no letter, and lighthearted and happy whenever she heard from her beloved William. His letters were full of enthusiastic descriptions of his new job, as he explained in great detail how he had learned the correct way to use a paintbrush and apply paint quickly yet neatly to any surface. He told her about some of the modern buildings in town that they had contracted to paint. He also spoke of how he cared for her, and he promised he would be home soon for a visit.
William's visits were frequent at first, but after the first year was over, they became less and less, as did his letters. One day, on Miriam's twenty-fourth birthday, a long-awaited letter arrived with the familiar Ohio postmark. Her heart thumped wildly, and her hands trembled as she tore open the envelope. It was the first letter she'd had from him in several months, but the fact that it had arrived on her birthday caused her such joy that she nearly forgot how unhappy she had been feeling.
A sob caught in her throat, and she let out a gasp as she read the letter.
There are no easy words to say what must be said in this note. You have always been a dear friend to me, and I will never forget the happy times we have shared. However, I will not be coming back to Pennsylvania, as I had originally planned. I have met a girl. Her name is Lydia, and we plan to be married in a few weeks. I am sorry if I have hurt you, but it is better this way. I could never have been happy working as a farmer. I know you will find someone else-someone who will make you as happy as Lydia has made me.
Excerpted from Lancaster Brides by WANDA E. BRUNSTETTER Copyright © 2002 by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.