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"Bella, what's wrong with you?" Miriam Kauffman pulled her arm from beneath the quilt to squint at her watch. The glow-in-the-dark numbers read one forty-five in the morning. Her dog continued scratching frantically at the door to her bedroom.
Miriam slipped her arm back under the covers. "I'm not taking you out in the middle of the night. Forget it."
Her yellow Labrador-pointer mix had other ideas. Bella began whining and yipping as she scratched with renewed vigor.
Miriam was tempted to pull her pillow over her ears, but she wasn't the only person in the house. "Be quiet. You're going to wake Mother."
Bella's whining changed to a deep-throated bark. At eighty-five pounds, what Bella wanted Bella usually got. Giving up in exasperation. Miriam threw back her quilt.
Now that Bella had her owner's attention, she plopped on her haunches and waited, tongue lolling with doggy happiness. In the silence that followed. Miriam heard a new sound, the clip-clop of hoofbeats.
Miriam moved to her second-story bedroom window. In the bright moonlight, she saw an Amish buggy disappearing down the lane.
When she was at home in Medina, such a late-night visit would mean only one thinga new Amish runaway had come seeking her help to transition into the outside world. But how would anyone know to find her in Hope Springs? Who in the area knew of her endeavors? She hadn't told anyone, and she was positive her mother wouldn't mention the fact.
Miriam pulled a warm cotton robe over her nightgown and grabbed a flashlight from the top of her dresser. She patted Bella's head. "Good girl. Good watchdog."
Guided by the bright circle of light, she made her way downstairs in the dark farmhouse to the front door. Bella came close on her heels. The second Miriam pulled open the door, the dog was out like a shot. Bella didn't have a mean bone in her body, but her exuberance and size could scare someone who didn't know her.
"Don't be frightenedshe won't hurt you." Miriam called out quickly as she opened the door farther. She expected to find a terrified Amish teenager standing on her stoop, but the porch was empty. Bella was nosing a large basket on the bottom step.
Miriam swung her light in a wide arc. The farmyard was empty. Perhaps the runaway had changed his or her mind and returned home. If so. Miriam was glad. It was one thing to aid young Amish people who wanted to leave their unsympathetic families when she'd lived in another part of the state. It was an entirely different thing now that she was living under her Amish mother's roof. The last thing she wanted to do while she was in Hope Springs was to cause her mother further distress.
Bella lay down beside the basket and began whining. Miriam descended the steps. "What have you got there?"
Pushing the big dog aside. Miriam realized the basket held a quilt. Perhaps it was a meant as a gift for her mother. The middle of the night was certainly an odd time to deliver a package. She started to pick it up, but a tiny mewing sound made her stop. It sounded like a baby.
Miriam straightened. There's no way someone left a baby on my doorstep.
Bella licked Miriam's bare toes, sending a chill up her leg. She definitely wasn't dreaming.
She took a few steps away from the porch to carefully scan the yard with her light. "If this is someone's idea of a prank. I'm not laughing."
Silence was the only reply. She waited, hoping it was indeed a joke and someone would step forward to fess up.
The full moon hung directly overhead, bathing the landscape in pale silvery light. A cool breeze swept past Miriam's cheeks carrying the loamy scent of spring. The grass beneath her bare feet was wet with dew and her toes grew colder by the second. She rested one bare foot on top of the other. No snickering prankster stepped out of the black shadows to claim credit for such an outrageous joke.
Turning back to the porch, she lifted the edge of the quilt and looked into the basket. Her hopes that the sounds came from a tape recorder or a kitten vanished when her light revealed the soft round face of an infant.
She gazed down the lane. The buggy was already out of sight. There was no way of knowing which direction the driver had taken when he or she reached the highway.
Why would they leave a baby with her? A chill that had nothing to do with the cold morning slipped down her spine. She didn't want to be responsible for this baby or any other infant. She refused to let her mind go to that dark place.
A simple phone call would bring a slew of people to look after this child. It was, after all, a crime to abandon a baby. As a nurse, she was required by law to report this.
But that would mean facing Sheriff Nick Bradley.
"Miriam, what are you doing out there?" Her mother's frail voice came from inside the house.
Picking up the basket. Miriam carried it into the house and gently set it in the middle of the kitchen table. "Someone left a baby on our doorstep."
Her mother, dressed in a white flannel nightgown, shuffled over, leaning heavily on her cane. "A boppli! Are you joking?"
"Nee, Mamm, I'm not. It's a baby."
Miriam's first thought had been to call 9-1-1. until she remembered who the law was in Hope Springs. She'd cut off her right arm before she asked for his help. Who could she call?
Ada Kauffman came closer to the basket. "Did you see who left the child?"
"All I saw was a buggy driving away."
Ada's eyes widened with shock. "You think this is an Amish child?"
"I don't know what else to think."
Ada shook her head. "Nee, an Amish family would welcome a babe even if the mother was not married."
"Maybe the mother was too afraid or ashamed to tell her parents." Miriam suggested.
"If that is so, we must forgive her sins against Gott and against her child."
That was the Amish wayalways forgive firsteven before all the details were known. It was the one part of the Amish faith that Miriam couldn't comply with. Some things were unforgivable.
Miriam examined the basket. It was made of split wood woven into an oval shape with a flat bottom and handles on both sides. The wood was stained a pale fruitwood color with a band of dark green around the top for decoration. She'd seen similar ones for sale in shops that carried Amish handmade goods. The baby started to fuss. Miriam stared at her.
Her mother said. "Pick the child up. Miriam. They don't bite."
"I know that." Miriam scooped the little girl from the folds of the quilt and softly patted her back. The poor thing didn't even have a diaper to wear. Miriam's heart went out to their tiny, unexpected guest. Not everyone was ready to be a parent, but how would it feel to be the child who grew up knowing she'd been tossed away in a laundry basket?
Stroking the infant's soft, downy cap of hair, she felt the stirrings of maternal attachment. She couldn't imagine leaving her child like this, alone in the darkness, depending on the kindness of strangers to care for it. Children were not to be discarded like unwanted trash.
Old shame and guilt flared in her heart. One child had been lost because of her inaction. This baby deserved better.
Putting aside her personal feelings, she called up the objective role she assumed when she was working. Carefully she laid the baby on the quilt again to examine it. As a nurse, her field of expertise was adult critical care, but she remembered enough of her maternal-child training to make sure the baby wasn't in distress.
Without a stethoscope to aid her, it was a cursory exam at best. The little girl had a lusty set of lungs and objected to being returned to her makeshift bed. Who could blame her?
Ada started toward the stairs. "A little sugar water may satisfy her until you can go to town when the store opens and stock up on formula and bottles. I have your baby things put away in the attic. I'll go get them. It's wonderful to have a child in the house again."
Miriam stared after her mother. "We can't keep her."
Ada turned back in surprise. "Of course we can. She was left with us."
"No! We need to find out who her mother is. She has made a terrible mistake. We need to help her see that. We need to make this right."
Ada lifted one hand. "How will you do that?"
"I. .I don't know. Maybe they left a note." Miriam quickly checked inside the basket, but found nothing.
"Vel, until someone return for her, this boppli needs a crib and diapers."
Miriam quickly tucked a corner of the quilt around the baby. "Mamm, come back here. You shouldn't go climbing around in the attic. You've only been out of the hospital a week."
A stormy frown creased her mother's brow but quickly vanished. "I'm stronger than you think."
That was a big part of her mother's problem. She didn't realize how sick she was. Miriam tried a different approach. "You have much more experience with babies than I do. You take her, and I'll go hunt for the stuff."
Her mother's frown changed into a smile. "Ja, it has been far too long since I've held such a tiny one. Why don't you bring me a clean towel to wrap her in first."
Miriam did as her mother asked. After swaddling the babe. Ada settled into the rocker in the corner of the kitchen with the infant in her arms. Softly she began humming an Amish lullaby. It was the first time in ages that Miriam had seen her mother look content, almost
happy. Miriam knew her mother longed for grandchildren. She also knew it was unlikely she would ever have any.
Ada smiled. "I remember the night you and Mark were born. Oh, what a snowstorm there was. Your daed took so long to come with the midwife that I was afraid she would be too late."
"But the midwife arrived in the nick of time." Miriam finished the story she'd heard dozens of times.
"Ja. Such a goot, quiet baby you were, but your brother, oh, how he hollered."
"Papa said it was because Mark wanted to be born first."
"He had no patience, that child." Ada began humming again, but her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
Miriam struggled with her own sadness whenever she spoke of her twin brother. Mark's death had changed everyone in the family, especially her, but the old story did spark an idea.
"Mamm, who is the local midwife?"
"Amber Bradley does most of the deliveries around Hope Springs."
"Bradley? Is she related to
him? Is he married to her?" Did he have a wife and children of his own? Thinking about him with a family caused an odd ache in her chest. Miriam had taken pains to avoid meeting him during her months in Hope Springs. She realized she knew almost nothing about his current life.
Ada said. "Nee, he's not wed. Amber may be a cousin. Ja, I'm sure I heard she was his cousin."
Nicolas Bradley was the sheriff, the man Miriam had loved with all her heart when she was eighteen and the man responsible for Mark's death. Would the midwife involve him? Miriam hesitated but quickly realized she had no choice. She didn't have any idea how to go about searching for the baby's mother. If Amber chose to notify Nick. Miriam would deal with it. She prayed for strength and wisdom to make the right decision.
"The midwife might have an idea who our mother is. She is certainly equipped to take care of a newborn. If nothing else, she will have a supply of formula and the equipment to make sure the baby is healthy."
Ada frowned at her daughter. "I have heard she is a good woman, but she is Englisch, an outsider. This is Amish business. We should not involve her."
"I'm no longer Amish, so it isn't strictly Amish business. Besides, she may feel like we do and want to keep this out of the courts. I'm going to call her."
"You know I don't like having that telephone in my house."
Her mother tolerated Miriam's Englisch ways, but she hated to allow them in her Amish home. It was a frequent source of conflict between the two women.
Irritated, but determined to remain calm, Miriam said. "I'm not giving up my cell phone. You are a diabetic who has already had two serious heart attacks. You could need an ambulance at any time. If you want me to stay. I keep the phone."
"I did not say you should leave. I said I do not like having the phone in my house. If I live or die, it is Gottes wille and not because you have a phone."
"It might be God's will that I carry a phone. Did you ever consider that?"
"I don't want to argue." Ada clamped her lips in a tight line signaling the end of the conversation.
Miriam crossed the room and dropped a kiss on her mother's brow. "Neither do I. I have said I'll only use the phone in an emergency and for work. I think this counts as an emergency."
When her mother didn't reply. Miriam quickly ran upstairs to her bedroom and pulled her cell phone from the pocket of her purse. A call to directory assistance yielded Amber Bradley's number.
When a sleepy woman's voice answered the phone. Miriam took a deep breath and hoped she was making the right decision. "Hi. You don't know me. My name is Miriam Kauffman, and I have a situation."
After Miriam explained what had transpired. Amber agreed to come check the baby and bring some newborn essentials. She also agreed to wait until they had discussed the situation before notifying the local law enforcement.
Miriam returned to the kitchen. Her mother was standing beside the kitchen table. She had taken the quilt out of the basket. Miriam said. "Amber Bradley is on her way. I convinced her to wait before calling the police, but I know she will. She has to."
Ada held up an envelope. "I told you not to involve the Englisch. I found a note under the quilt. The child's name is Hannah and her mother is coming back for her."