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Kent County, Delaware October
The storm beat against the windows of the house and rattled the glass panes. Since the early hours of morning, the nor'easter had hovered over the state, bringing high gusts of wind that ripped loose shingles on the outbuildings, sent leaves and branches whirling from the big shade trees and dumped torrents of rain over the Yoder farm. It was almost 10:00 p.m., nearly an hour past Hannah's usual bedtime, but she'd lingered in the kitchen, reading from her Bible and listening to Aunt Jezzy sing old German hymns while she knitted by lamplight.
Neither Irwin, Hannah's foster son, nor her two youngest daughters, Susanna and Rebecca, had retired for the night. The young people seemed content to remain in the kitchen, warm and snug, sipping hot cocoa, eating buttered popcorn and playing Dutch Blitz.
Today had been a visiting Sunday, rather than a day of worship, and so it had been a relaxing day. Usually, on visiting Sundays, Hannah's household would have company over or share the midday meal with one of her married daughters or friends. But the nor'easter had kept everyone home. Simply getting to the barn and chicken house to care for the livestock and poultry had been a struggle.
Footsteps in the hall signaled Johanna's return to the kitchen. Hannah's oldest daughter had taken her two children up to bed earlier and stayed with them, reading aloud and hearing their evening prayers, until they dropped off to sleep. Katie, two, had adjusted easily to the move to her grandmother's house, but Jonah, now five, was still difficult to get in bed, and once there, he was prone to nightmares. Since Johanna and the children had returned to live with Hannah, almost a year and a half ago, the boy often woke the entire house in the middle of the night screaming, and nothing would satisfy him but his mother's arms around him.
"Did you get them down all right?" Hannah asked as Johanna appeared. Hannah thought her daughter looked tired tonight. The strain of her husband's illness and suicide and the need to return to her mother's home had been hard on her; now she was learning the struggles of being a single mother. Even with the support of her family and friends, it was a difficult time in Johanna's life. Hannah knew that Johanna worried about her son, and prayed that God would ease Johanna's mind.
"Katie was fine, but there's a loose shutter on the bedroom window, and Jonah was afraid that a monster was trying to get in."
Hannah glanced at Irwin suspiciously. Even though he was almost fifteen, he still behaved young for his age, probably as a result of his parents' death and his being shuffled around. "Have you been telling him stories about trolls again?"
Irwin's face reddened and he feigned innocence. "Trolls? Me?"
"Under the corncrib," Susanna supplied, looking up from her cards. She nodded firmly. "Fa. You said there was trolls with scabby knees, fleas in their ears and buck teeth."
"Did not," Irwin protested. "Moles. I might have said there was moles under the corncrib."
"Were moles," Hannah corrected.
Johanna frowned. "Find someone your own age to tease."
"But I didn't," Irwin insisted, hunching his shoulders. "Must have been one of Samuel's twins who told Jonah that."
"We'll discuss it tomorrow. With Jonah," Hannah said, marking her place in John with a red ribbon. She closed the big Bible. "Past time you were in bed, anyway. You'll have to leave early to get to school in time to start a fire in the woodstove. After all this rain, the schoolhouse will be damp."
"Maybe the storm will get worse," Irwin suggested. "Maybe there will be so much rain the school will wash away."
"I doubt that," Johanna said. "It's built on high ground, with a brick foundation."
Reluctantly, Irwin stood up, unfolding his long, gangly legs. He'd grown so much in the past three months that the trousers Hannah had sewn for him in June were already high waters, short even for an Amish teenager. She'd have to see about new clothes for him. Irwin was shooting up faster than a jimson weed.
She'd never regretted taking him in after his parents died in that terrible fire, but an Amish teacher's salary went only so far. Like everyone else, she had to watch her pennies, especially now that Johanna and the children had come back home to live. Not that Johanna was a burden; she contributed as much as she could. She had her sheep, her turkeys and her quilting, as well as the sale of honey from her beehives.
Johanna picked up the empty popcorn bowl and Ir-win's mug. "I think I'll turn in now, Mam. I have to finish that quilt for that English lady tomorrow."
"You think you can?" Aunt Jezzy asked. "If it's still raining, Jonah will be stuck inside again all day, and"
"I know," Johanna agreed. "He has so much energy, he'll be a handful."
"I can take him with me to Anna's," Rebecca offered. "He can play with Mae. The two of them are less trouble when they're together."
"Would you?" Johanna said. "That would be so much help. Katie follows Susanna around like a little shadow, and if you take Jonah for the day, I know I can finish those last few squares and press the quilt in no time. The lady's coming for it Tuesday afternoon."
Irwin went to the kitchen door. "Come on, Jeremiah," he called to his terrier. "Last chance to go out tonight. You, too, Flora." The sheepdog rose off her bed near the pantry and slowly padded after Jeremiah.
Abruptly, a blast of wind caught the screen door and nearly yanked it from Irwin's grasp. He grabbed it with both hands, stepped out onto the porch and then immediately retreated back into the kitchen, tracking rain on the clean floor. Irwin's mouth gaped and he pointed. "There's somethin' somebody Hannah! Come quick!"
Jeremiah's hackles went up, and both dogs began to bark from the doorway.
"What's wrong with you, boy?" Johanna said. "Don't leave the door open. You're believing your own tall tales. Who would be out there on a night like this?"
Hannah tightened her head scarf and hurried to the door as Susanna, now on her feet, let out a gasp and ducked behind Rebecca.
"I don't see" Hannah began, and then she stopped short. "There is someone." She stepped through the open doorway onto the porch.
Standing out on the porch steps was a woman. Hannah sheltered her eyes from the driving rain and raised her voice to be heard above the storm. "Can I help you?" she called, shivering. She couldn't see any vehicles in the yard, but it was so dark that she couldn't be sure there wasn't one.
"Who is it, Mam?" Johanna came out on the porch behind her.
"An English woman," Hannah said. She motioned to the stranger. "Don't stand there. Come in."
Johanna put a restraining hand on her arm. "Do you think it's safe?" she asked in German. Then, in English, she said, "Are you alone?"
The girl shook her head. "I I have my son with me." She turned her head and looked behind her.
Standing on the lower step was one very small, very wet child. Instantly, Hannah's caution receded, and all she could think of was getting the two of them out of the rain, dried off and warmed up. "Come in this moment, both of you," she said. She stood aside, grasping the door, and motioned the English people into the house. Seconds later, they were all standing in the middle of the kitchen, dripping streams of water off their clothing and faces. The young woman was carrying an old guitar case and a stained duffel bag.
For a long moment, there was silence as the Amish and the English strangers stared at each other amid the still-barking dogs. "Hush," Hannah ordered. Flora immediately obeyed, but Jeremiah circled behind Irwin and kept yipping. Hannah clapped her hands. "I said, be still."
This time, the terrier gave a whine and retreated under the table where he continued to utter small growls. And then Susanna broke the awkwardness by grabbing a big towel off the clothesline over the wood-stove and wrapping it around the small boy.
"He's wet," Susanna said. "And cold. His teeth are chattering."
"Ya, I'm afraid he is cold," Hannah agreed. "Please," she said to the young woman. "You're drenched. Get out of that sweater."
The stranger, her face as pale as skim milk, set down her things and stripped off a torn gray sweater. In the lamplight, Hannah could see that she wasn't as young as she had first thought. Mid-to-late twenties probably. Her cheeks were hollow and dark shadows smudged the area beneath her tired blue eyes. She was small and thin, the crown of her head barely coming to Johanna's shoulder. But her face in no way prepared them for the very odd way she was dressed.
The woman wore a navy blue polyester skirt that came down to the tops of her muddy sneakers, a white, long-sleeve blouse, a flowered blue-and-red apron and a man's white handkerchief tied like a head scarf over her thin red braids. The buttons had been cut off her shirt, and the garment was pinned together with what appeared to be safety pins, fastened on the inside.
No wonder Irwin and Hannah's girls were gaping at the Englisher. For an instant, Hannah wondered if this was some sort of joke, but ne, she decided, this poor woman wasn't trying to poke fun at the Amish. Maybe she was what the English called a hippie. Whatever she was, Hannah felt sorry for her. The expression in her eyes was both frightened and confused, but more than that, she appeared to expect Hannah to be angry with herperhaps even throw the two of them back out into the storm.
"I'm Hannah Yoder," she said in her best schoolteacher voice. "Did your car break down?"
The Englisher shook her head and lifted the child into her arms. "I I hitched a ride with a milk truck driver. But he let me off at the corner. We walked from there."
"Where were you going?" Johanna asked. "The two of you rode in a milk truck? With someone you didn't know?"
The Englisher nodded. "You can pretty much tell if somebody is scary or not by looking at their eyes."
Johanna met Hannah's questioning gaze. It was clear to Hannah that for once, even wise, sensible Johanna was dumbstruck.
"I'm Hannah," she repeated. "And these are my daughters Johanna" she indicated each one in turn "Susanna and Rebecca. This is Irwin." She turned back toward the rocker by the window. "And Aunt Jezzy."
The stranger nodded. "I'm Grace and this is my boy, Dakota."
"Da-kota?" Susanna wrinkled her nose. "That's a funny name."
The young woman shrugged, holding tightly to the child's hand. "I thought it was pretty. He was a pretty baby. I wanted him to have a pretty name."
She had an unfamiliar accent, not one Hannah was familiar with. She spoke English well enough. Hannah didn't think the stranger was born in another country, just another part of America, maybe Kansas or farther west.
"Oh, you must be as cold as the child," Hannah said. "Rebecca, fetch a blanket for our guest."
Grace held out a hand to the warmth of the wood-stove. Hannah noticed that her nails were bitten to the quick and none too clean.
"Are you Plain?" Hannah asked in an attempt to solve the mystery of the unusual clothes.
The woman blinked in confusion.
"You're not Amish," Hannah said.
"Maybe she's Mennonite," Aunt Jezzy suggested. "She might be one of those Ohio Old Order Menno-nites or Shakers. Are you a Shaker?"
"I'm sorry about the apron." Grace brushed at it. "It was the only one I could find. I looked in Goodwill and Salvation Army. You don't find many aprons and the only other one I saw had somethmg something not nice written on it."
Hannah struggled to hide her amusement. The apron was awful. It had seen better days and was as soaked as the rest of her clothes, but the red roosters and the watermelons printed on it were definitely not like any Mennonite clothing Hannah had ever seen.
"Would you like some clothes for your little boy?" Johanna offered. "We could dry his trousers and shirt over the stove."
Grace pressed her lips together and nodded. "That's nice of you."
"And something hot to drink for you?" Johanna suggested. "Tea or coffee?"
"Coffee, please, if you don't mind," Grace answered. "I like it with sugar and milk, if you have milk."
"We have milk." Susanna smiled broadly.
"Maybe Dakota would like some hot milk or cocoa," Hannah said, noticing the way the boy was staring at a plate of oatmeal cookies on the counter. "He's welcome to have a cookie with it, if you don't mind."
"He'd like that," Grace stammered, shifting him from one slender hip to the other. "The cocoa and a cookie. We missed dinner being on the road and all."
Hannah thought to herself that Grace had missed more than one dinner. The girl was practically a bag of bones. "Let us find you both some dry things," Hannah offered. "I've got a big pot of chicken vegetable soup on the back of the stove. That might help both of you warm up." She smiled. "But I'm afraid you're stuck here until morning. We don't have a phone, and it's too nasty a night to hitch the horses to the buggy. In the morning, we'll help you continue on your way."
"You'd do that? For me?" Grace asked. She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Her eyes were welling up with tears. "You don't know me. That's so good of you. I didn't think People told me the Amish didn't like outsiders."
"Ya," Hannah agreed. "People say a lot about us. Most of it's not true." Then she looked at the stranger more closely. What was there about this skinny girl that looked vaguely familiar? Something Something "What did you say your last name was?" she asked.
Grace shook her head. "I didn't."
Hannah had the oddest feeling that she knew what the stranger was going to say before she said it.
"It's Yoder." The young woman looked up at her with familiar blue eyes. "Same as you. I'm Grace Yoder."