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By Beverly Lewis
Bethany HouseCopyright © 2011 Beverly M. Lewis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA brutal blizzard howled across Lancaster County in the night, dumping nearly a foot of snow on Salem road and the surrounding farmland. The heavy snowfall quickly concealed the existing banks of crust and grime along the roadside. Icy ruts that ran between the stable and the barnyard were now hidden.
Rose Ann's oldest brothers, Joshua and Enos, hurried into the house from the barn along with Dat as snowflakes flew thick early Friday morning. The brims of their black felt hats were nearly white as the men came inside for hot coffee, red-faced, their eyes alight at the aroma. Eagerly they warmed their big, callused hands around the cups, chattering in Deitsch about the upcoming Gordonville Spring Mud Sale.
Mamm sat primly in her wheelchair, wearing a green choring dress and long black apron, her brownish-blond hair pulled back into a perfect round bun at the nape of her neck. Her Kapp was perched on her head, the strings draped over her shoulders. From time to time, she gazed lovingly at Dat where he sat beside the gas lamp on this dreary day.
The winter solstice had brought with it exceptionally cold temperatures and plenty of snow, as foretold by the neighbors' chickens, which last fall had shed their feathers from the front of their bodies before the rest. Corn husks had been mighty thick at the harvest, too, and Aaron and Barbara Petersheim reported spotting caterpillars that were inky-black at both ends last summer. All of that had indicated a severe start to the bleakest season.
Quite unexpectedly, a bolt of lightning crisscrossed the snowy backyard from the west, ripping through the bitter storm. The smell of sulfur instantly pervaded the atmosphere, making rose tremble. Ach, such a rare thing in the wintertime. Is it an omen?
"Did ya see that?" she rushed to the window.
The wind howled noisily, too loud for her to hear the rumble of thunder sure to follow.
"Never point at lightning," Josh told her, a twinkle in his eyes as he came to stand beside her.
"That's silly." rose stared through the tufts of snow that clung to the window, looking out into the swirling world of white.
Enos chuckled. "Most superstitions are just that."
But nothing could have predicted what rose saw while standing at the icy window, peering out in the direction of the lightning strike. It was the unmistakable plume of ...
Could it be?
Smoke was rising from the roof of the woodshed. She squinted and frowned. How can this be, in the middle of winter?
Then suddenly, as if in answer to her unspoken question, the shingles on the woodshed burst into flames. "Ach, boys! Dat ... oh, hurry, Dat!" rose waved at the flames, stumbling for words. "Fire!"
Josh and Enos grabbed their black winter hats and darted out the back door, not bothering to put on work coats or woolen scarves. Dat hurried along, too, instructing them to dump buckets of snow onto the flaming roof, although they already seemed to know what to do.
"Rosie," Mamm called, her small voice high pitched. "stay right here with me, won't ya, dear?"
Quickly, rose moved to her side and took hold of her trembling hand. "Thank goodness it wasn't the barn."
"Or the house," Mamm added, eyes wide.
"Jah, 'tis just the ol' woodshed," rose said. "They'll have it out in no time."
"But the fire's so high," Mamm said. "How will they—"
"Don't fret, now." rose bowed her head and folded her hands. in another moment she heard Mamm's soft murmurings as she asked the lord God and heavenly Father to protect her sons and husband. rose stayed right next to her mother. Just the thought of not being able to walk and being trapped near—or in—a fire gave rose the shivers.
After she'd added her own silent prayer, rose raised her head to watch her brothers and Dat form a small line to douse the woodshed roof with snow. Josh was up on the tall ladder, but rose could tell by the look on Dat's face that he was not fearful.
A dozen or more buckets were filled with the heavy snow and thrown onto the woodshed roof as the wind wailed and snow flew in all directions.
Rose and Mamm watched anxiously as the men dumped even more snow than was necessary on the now-smoking roof, just to be sure. Or perhaps, was it for fun?
Then, of all things, enos threw a snowball at Joshua, who ducked, then leaned down and scooped a handful of snow as the boys laughed and carried on rambunctiously.
"Ach, such silliness." Mamm gave a relieved sigh, her hands no longer shaking.
"Thank goodness the fire's out."
"Praise be," Mamm said softly.
Rose moved the wheelchair away from the window. She observed her mother more closely. Dear long-suffering Mamm. It wouldn't be much longer before she and Dat would travel over the Susquehanna River to York for Mamm's back surgery. Only another thirteen days. Mamm seemed rather stoic about her situation as she counted the hours, hoping the constant pain from her buggy accident years ago could be alleviated soon. She had been given an epidural pain medication to decrease inflammation in the nerve endings, but the relief lasted mere days, so the doctor had dismissed such treatment as unsuccessful. In a case like Mamm's, he said, surgery was warranted.
"Folks daresn't ever use wood struck by lightning to build a barn or house, ya know," Mamm said, a glint in her golden-brown eyes. "Lest that building be struck by lightning, too."
Another superstition, thought Rose, wondering about all the strange sayings she'd heard as a girl. Her sister, Hen, had mocked such Amish old wives' tales in her teens. Now, however, Hen had come nearly full circle, realizing too late that there was more to the Old ways than superstition. Her sister wished with all of her heart for her English husband to join church with her. Far as rose could tell, that seemed downright hopeless.
As if sensing whom she was thinking about, Mamm asked how Brandon was feeling today. "Hen says he still can't see a stitch." rose paraphrased her sister's remark from earlier that morning, when rose was over in the Dawdi Haus where her sister lived, helping make bread. The small house was attached to their father's large home.
"Isn't it odd?" Mamm replied. "Whoever heard of a man goin' blind after a blow to the head?"
"According to the doctor, Brandon had some swelling in his brain." It is strange for the blindness to go on this long, rose thought. But these are strange times....
"You and Hen seem to be getting along nicely, ain't?" Mamm said. "like when you were girls."
"Jah, I missed her something awful when she lived in town."
Mamm dipped her head. "We all did."
Rose told her Brandon was itching to talk to his business partner again. "land development is booming, Hen says. And with Brandon still out of the office, he and his partner have discussed that they might have to hire someone to cover for him. Just till he can return to work."
Till his sight returns ...
A little frown crossed Mamm's brow. "Surely that won't be long."
Rose wondered what would happen when Brandon could see well enough to drive a car once more ... and to live on his own in the house he and Hen had once shared. Separated again. She shuddered.
"He must have cabin fever after all this time in the Dawdi Haus." Mamm sighed. "I won't stop prayin' for him."
"Might still be weeks yet," Rose reminded her of the original doctor's assessment. She stared outside and watched the snow continue to fall. "It's surprising he's not as outspoken against stayin' here as Hen first thought."
Mamm's face brightened. "Could it be he's getting accustomed to our ways?"
"Not to discourage ya, Mamm, but I doubt it. He seems pretty low, almost despairing. More so each time I visit Hen and Mattie sue."
"Poor man. Who can blame him?"
It was odd hearing Mamm speak so sympathetically about Brandon when he had chosen not to have any contact with their family during the years of his marriage to Hen. But since he was Hen's husband, what else could Mamm say?
Abruptly, Mamm said, "I hope you're plannin' to attend the next singing, dear."
Rose hesitated. "Haven't decided, really." She felt sure Dat had told Mamm about the parting of ways between her and Silas Good. Close as Dat was to Silas's father, he must have been one of the first to know, particularly when he had helped to encourage their relationship.
"I understand your reluctance." Mamm paused and glanced at her. "But ya might want to think about going ... you know, make yourself available right away."
For a new fella, she means.
Thoughtfully, rose nodded her head. "Just wouldn't be the same."
"Rosie ... honey-girl, you'll get over Silas soon enough," Mamm surprised her by saying right out.
"Well, it's not Silas I was thinkin' about." Rose caught herself too late, and Mamm's astonished eyes held Rose's gaze.
Rose looked away and wheeled her mother closer to the cook-stove, to ward off the chill of the room ... not all of it from the cold.
Just that quick, Mamm changed the subject. "It's the second time that ol' shed's been hit."
"I thought lightning didn't strike twice in the same spot." But as soon as she said it, rose knew better. Where people's lives were concerned, lightning sometimes struck repeatedly. Bishop Aaron and Barbara had to know this, bless their hearts. Their family had been struck nigh unto three times now, including the loss of their only sons: Christian, their natural-born son, who'd died in a so-called accident, and Nick, who ran off to the world not long afterward. And Aaron himself had suffered a direct blow, as well, when his divine calling was taken away from him as a punishment for Nick's refusal to join church—a sign of his foster son's willfulness against God and the People.
So much pain ...
Rose disliked thinking about all that had happened since Christian's untimely death ... and Nick's sudden leaving.
Only the dear Lord knows what may befall us, just around the bend.
Excerpted from The Mercy by Beverly Lewis Copyright © 2011 by Beverly M. Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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