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Kent County, Delaware, Spring
More than forty people, Mennonite and Amish, waited in the old Grange building for the speaker's arrival. A long table covered with photographs and maps stood at the rear of the hall, and volunteers had arranged folding chairs in two sections, one on either side of a central aisle. Leah Yoder, three of her sisters, her brother-in-law, and nine giggling and whispering Amish teenagers from Seven Poplars filled the first two rows on the left.
It was rare for Old Order Amish to attend events hosted by other denominations, but tonight was an exception. Leah's older sister, Miriam, and her husband, Charley, had volunteered to chaperone the outing for their church's youth group, the Gleaners, and the bishop had given them special permission to do so. Leah, at twenty, was too old for the Gleaners, but she had been just as eager as her younger sisters, Rebecca and Susanna, to see the PowerPoint presentation and hear the Mennonite missionary share his experiences in spreading God's word outside the United States.
A young man in jeans and a raincoat, carrying a briefcase and a camera, wandered in from the offices in the back, and Leah thought that he might be the speaker, but it was only a reporter from a local newspaper. She hoped that he wouldn't attempt to take photos of the audience. Having pictures taken was against Amish beliefs, and if he tried to snap their picture, Charley and Miriam might decide that it was better to leave. To Leah's relief, the man found a seat near the front and didn't even look across the aisle at them.
The program had been scheduled to start at seven, but it was already twenty past the hour and Susanna was growing restless. Susanna had been born with Down syndrome, and although she was eighteen, in many ways, she would always be a child. Leah had convinced their mother to allow her to bring Susanna to the presentation this evening, so her sister was her responsibility.
Susanna wasn't the only one losing patience with the long wait. Herman Beachy, who could never sit still for long, was tugging at his sister Verna's bonnet strings and, by the expression on her face, she appeared ready to give him a sharp elbow in the ribs. Amish considered themselves nonviolent, but that didn't mean brothers and sisters didn't have their spats. Leah could see that the rest of the Gleaners were keyed up as well. If the youngsters became unruly, it would reflect badly on the entire Amish community, and that would put an end to any future outings of this kind.
Leah leaned forward, cleared her throat and threw Charley a meaningful look. See what's keeping him, she mouthed silently.
We'll just wait, he mouthed in return.
Leah rolled her eyes in exasperation. What was wrong with Charley? It had been his idea to bring the youth group, but now that they were here and things weren't going as smoothly as expected, her usually gregarious brother-in-law seemed unsure of himself. Even Miriam seemed out of her element.
Leah wished she and Rebecca had come alone, as she'd first planned when she'd seen the notice for Daniel Brown's talk. The sisters had recently returned to Delaware after spending a year in Ohio caring for their aging grandmother and great-aunt. The Amish church in Grossmamds community had been more liberal than in Seven Poplars, and she and her sister had often gone to dinners, charity auctions and programs put on by the Mennonites. There, the two denominations mingled more regularly than in Seven Poplars.
Leah had never stopped to think that not all Old Order Amish were so at ease with the Mennonite community. And the same went for the Mennonites. She'd certainly seen it tonight when the Amish had all taken seats on one side of the aisle and the Mennonites on the other. And now, both Charley and Miriam, of all people, seemed nervous. Well, if they wouldn't go see what was going on, she'd have to.
"Stay here with Rebecca," she whispered to Susanna as she stood up.
Smiling, Susanna nodded and clasped Rebecca's hand.
Leah crossed the aisle to where a gray-haired woman stood talking anxiously to a middle-aged man. Dinah was a cheerful woman who always wore a modest dress and a white crocheted head covering. She often stopped by the Yoder farm to purchase large quantities of eggs for her church bake sales. It was Dinah who'd made a special point of inviting the Seven Poplars Amish community to hear the speaker.
"It's an opportunity not to be missed," she'd said to Leah's mother, Hannah, a few weeks ago. "Daniel Brown faced down an angry Moroccan mob to rescue a homeless youth falsely accused of theft. If Daniel hadn't put his own life in danger to interfere, a tragedy could have occurred."
"An excellent role model for our children," Mam had agreed. She'd said no more about Daniel Brown, but Leah had seen her mother deep in conversation with their bishop after church the following Sunday. Both Leah and Miriam were convinced that it was due to Mam's powers of persuasion that Bishop Atlee had agreed that the Gleaners should accept the invitation to hear the young missionary speak.
But now they were here and anxious for the program to begin
and there was no Daniel Brown in sight.
"I apologize for the delay," Dinah said as Leah approached. "Daniel's on his way. He's usually very dependable, but he had some problem. Something about leaving his coat at a rest stop." Dinah chuckled. "Men. But, we're so pleased that so many from your church have come out to hear Daniel, especially the young people."
"We didn't want them to miss hearing Daniel's story," Leah said. "How often do we have a real hero in our midst?"
"Exactly," Dinah agreed. "Oh, Leah, do you know my eldest son, Raymond?" When Leah nodded, Dinah went on. "Raymond's been trying to reach Daniel on his cell phone to see how soon he expects to arrive, but he hasn't had any luck. We thought he'd be here by now."
"I'm sure it's just the storm." Leah offered a quick smile.
It was raining hard outside, and the wind was rattling the shutters. Earlier, as they'd driven here from the farm, they'd been caught in a sudden flurry of thunder and lightning so fierce that Leah had wondered if she should turn back, but that had passed, leaving just a steady downpour. Fortunately, there was a long, open shed with a good roof behind the Grange where they could shelter the horses and buggies.
"Daniel's driving up from Richmond," Dinah explained, "and I understand that Virginia's had bad weather all day."
The side door opened, and everyone glanced up expectantly. "Evening, Daniel," Dinah said. "Maude." The couple took seats on the Mennonite side in the last row, and Dinah turned back to Leah. "That's Daniel Warner and his wife." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "They're always late."
"I'd hoped that was the speaker," Leah said.
Dinah laughed. "We seem to have a lot of Daniels in our community. It's a popular name among us. One of my sons is also a Daniel. Named after my father-in-law. My husband always teased that perhaps we should give them nicknames to keep the Daniels straight." Another gust of wind shook the windowpanes and she grimaced. "If we'd realized that it would be such a nasty evening, we could have postponed until tomorrow night."
"I see that there are pictures and other material up front." Leah pointed. "I was wondering if it would be all right if the young people looked at them while we're waiting." She chuckled. "You know how impatient youngsters can get. They've been looking forward to tonight for weeks."
"Absolutely," Dinah said. "And we have a refreshment table. There's no reason we shouldn't all enjoy lemonade and cookies while"
Abruptly, the heavy door at the front of the building banged open and a blast of wind blew through the hall sending photos and maps flying. Leah turned to see a tall, slim man about twenty-five years old standing in the doorway. Water dripped off his jean jacket and the bill of his ball cap, pooling on the floor. A gust tore at the door, threatening to wrench it out of his grasp, but he held it open until ten-year-old Abraham Beachy ducked into the hall.
Abraham was even wetter than the man in the jean jacket and ball cap. The Amish boy's face was pale and he looked frightened. The man said something to him that Leah couldn't hear, but Abraham just shuffled his feet and stared at the floor.
The newcomer looked up and cleared his throat. "Could I have your attention, please!" He nodded to Abraham who shook his head. "Go ahead," he urged.
Everyone in their chairs who hadn't turned around to look when they made their entrance, turned now.
Abraham swallowed hard and a deep flush rose from his throat to tint his face. "
Need help," he squeaked. "
Charley stood up and hurried toward Abraham. "What's wrong?" he demanded.
Abraham, an undersized lad, burst into tears. Leah left Dinah and Raymond and walked down the aisle toward the Beachy boy.
"Abraham's parentsNorman and Lydia Beachyhave asked for help," the stranger said, speaking for Abraham. "It seems one of their children"
"Joey!" Abraham wailed. "We can't
"Their six-year-old son has gone missing," the man explained calmly, turning his attention to the Amish side of the aisle. "The family has asked if your youth group can come to their farm and help with the search."
Miriam walked up to the stranger. "Of course," she said. "We'll all help."
Chairs scraped against the worn floorboards. Everyone in the hall, Amish and Mennonite alike, stood.
"We have to look for Joey," Abraham managed. "It's all my fault. I.I lost him."
"It'll be all right." Miriam put an arm around Abraham. She was short, but Abraham's head barely reached her chin.
"Lost him where?" Leah asked. She couldn't imagine a six-year-old out in this weather. It didn't make sense. Maybe he was hiding somewhere in the rambling Beachy farmhouse or in the barn or outbuildings. With fourteen children under the age of sixteen, it was easy for Lydia to lose track of one little boy. That didn't mean that Joey was really lost.
Herman Beachy, Abraham's brother, hurried up to him. "What do you mean you lost him?" Herman demanded. Their sister, Verna, covered her face with her hands and sank back into her chair.
"How did you find out about the missing boy, Daniel?" A Mennonite girl only a little younger than Leah joined them. "Daniel's my cousin," she whispered to Leah. "I'm Caroline Steiner. I think you know some of my Steiner cousins in Ohio. From Hope Mennonite Church?"
"Sophie and Jeanine." Leah nodded.
"Hey, Caroline." Daniel offered a worried smile. "It's good to see you. Abraham's father flagged me down at the end of his lane," he explained. "He knew that some of the young people from their church were here with their group leaders and asked if I could bring Abraham to ask for help looking for the boy."
"You can count on us," Charley said.
He and Miriam went back to their group and began to organize them. Leah knew that some of the children were too young to join in. The girls' parents, especially, would want them safely delivered home. Luckily, they'd come in four buggies. Rebecca could be trusted to drive Susanna and some of the others home; Miriam could manage the rest.
As for Leah, she had no intention of going home. She'd always had a particular fondness for freckle-faced Joey. She would offer to take Verna, Abraham and Herman back to the Beachy farm, and once she was there, no one would object to her joining the search.
As the Amish moved toward the doors, the newcomer strode past Leah and called out to the Mennonites. "Michael? Gilbert? Who'll come with me to find the boy?"
"I'd be glad to," a stout man answered. "I've got a flashlight in the truck, but there are a lot of woods and fields around here, and I'm not familiar with the area."
"So we'll form groups," Daniel said, checking his pockets. "Someone can ride with me, if they like
soon as I find my keys." He looked up, extracting keys from a jacket pocket. "We'll make certain that there's someone in each group who does know their way." There was a chorus of agreement as men and women raised their hands and offered to help.
Leah knotted her bonnet strings and waved at Caroline just before dashing out into the rain. It made her feel good that Caroline's cousin had urged the others to join in the search.
She couldn't help but think how attractive the new Daniel was. He had a serious but handsome face, and nice hands that were never still when he was talking, even after he'd found his keys. As he'd walked past her in the aisle, Leah had noticed that his eyes were clear greenhe had beautiful eyes. She couldn't remember ever meeting anyone with eyes that green before.
After telling the children to wait for her at the door, Leah made a run for the buggy. With so many more volunteers, she was certain they'd find Joey quickly. As Mam often said, most people had good hearts and were willing to do the right thing, if someone would just point them in the right direction.