Who can Rebekah trust when the line between English and Amish becomes blurred?
An Amish Settlement. An English stranger. The Blizzard of 1888.
Rebekah’s mother, Elnora Stoll, is the finest quilter in all of Gasthof Village but it seems Rebekah has inherited none of her skill. It’s not until the arrival of a mysterious English stranger that a lifetime of questions are answered and Rebekah, her special friend Joseph Graber, and the entire settlement of Gasthof Village learn the true meaning of what it truly means to be Amish.
The Pike, Indiana Territory, 1868
“Look Elnora!” Samuel’s German accent thickened the English words, giving them a musical feel. He pointed to the vast expanse that spread out before them. “That’s what the English call The Pike. Many are traveling west on this very road.”
Elnora peeked out from the wagon, her eyes searching the desolate vastness. “So this is Indiana Territory.” She giggled. “I see, Samuel. Many are traveling this road.” The lack of fellow wagons was sadly apparent.
Grinning, Samuel swiveled on the driver’s seat to look at his wife. “Perhaps they have already passed for the day.”
“I already miss Canada,” Heloise Graber whispered when Elnora turned back toward her. “But not as much as I miss Germany.” Heloise patted the back of her boy, Joseph, who was snuggled down in the cornflower blue quilt Elnora had stitched just for him.
Heloise looked lovingly at her son. “At only two years of age he has already crossed an ocean and three countries.”
Elnora’s face fell as her hand fluttered to her still-flat stomach.
Heloise, the older of the two friends, smiled. “Your time to become a mother is coming. God has a special plan for you and Samuel, I can feel it.”
Elnora’s lips pulled back in a genuine smile. “I must say, the weather is more agreeable in Indiana Territory than Canada. I may pack the extra quilts when we stop to rest.” She swiped at a trickle of sweat as it slid down her nose.
“You’ll do no such thing!” Heloise placed one long, thin hand on an especially fluffy blue quilt. “It may be a trifle warm, but pass those blankets over here. I’ll sit on them, they ease the rickety ride.” The women dissolved into a sea of girlish giggles. “Yours are the softest quilts of anyone else’s in the village.”
“Take them with you when we swap wagons,” Elnora offered her fiery-tressed friend.
Heloise shook her head, the straps on her black head covering flailing about her shoulders. “It’s not the same,” she insisted. “Part of what makes Elnora Stoll’s quilts so soft is the wonderful company that comes along with them.”
Samuel’s quick yank on the horse reins interrupted Heloise’s compliment.
“Lucas, is that what I think it is?” he called to Heloise’s husband in the next wagon.
The two women stared at each other, eyes wide.
“Ja!” Lucas called. “Ja, it is!”
Before Elnora could pull herself up to see the cause of the commotion, Samuel was off the driver’s seat. She peeked out to see the menfolk piling out of all the wagons. Lucas was even with Samuel, holding his hat on with one hand, and pumping the air with the other. Simon Wagler stumbled as he ran, fumbling with the black braces that looped over his shoulders and held up his britches. His wife, Sarah, nuzzled their infant Elijah, who’d let out a shriek with the sudden stop. Isaac Raber pulled on his broad-brimmed hat as Jeremiah Knepp, Simeon Odon, and Abraham Yoder pulled their wagons to a halt in a haphazard line. In an instant, all of the men of families who’d come so far together were running toward the remnants of an English wagon.
Pieces of the torn canvas fluttered in a passing breeze and the box itself lay on its side, looking as though it had rolled off The Pike. Blood spatters dotted the ground around the silvery dust that refused to settle around the scene. Splintered wheels hung broken and unmoving from the axels. Beyond Samuel, she could make out the remains of a horse just over a small rise. Automatically, Elnora searched for any sign of the tell-tale arrows she’d heard so much talk of during their journey to Indian Territory. Trembling, she drew a fist to her mouth as a prayer of forgiveness for judging those she didn’t even know filled her mind.
Heloise’s voice was solemn, as if in prayer. “God be with them.”
The men’s chatter, broken by the shifting breezes, allowed her only fragments of their hurried conversation. Lucas’s voice was the loudest. “No survivors.” Slowly, the large German-born man trudged back to his wagon without so much as a glance toward Elnora and Heloise. Without expression, Lucas rummaged only a moment before pulling the hand-hewn spade from the wagon bed and started back toward Samuel.
Careful not to snag her handmade purple dress on the rough wood, Elnora climbed down and made her way to the crash. She didn’t speak until she reached her husband, who took the spade from Lucas as he passed. Not a word passed between the two men, but it was as though they were of a single mind. Without hesitation, Samuel dug the sharp end of the spade into the earth, oblivious to his wife’s presence. Spadeful by spadeful, the grave dirt he turned became a small mound at his feet.
Samuel swiped at the trails of sweat that leaked from under his broad-brimmed hat, down his neck. Beneath his arms, circles of moisture had long-stained his favorite blue shirt. Elnora’s lips tilted into a smile at the memory of their first anniversary, when she’d given him the shirt she’d made for him that matched his eyes. He had pretended not to notice that one sleeve was just a bit shorter than the other. Two years have passed since that day, and we’re still without child…
Finally, Elnora spoke, her voice but a meek whisper. “May I tidy them before their burials?”
Samuel turned, revealing more fully the scene of death they’d encountered.
Elnora’s stomach wound up in knots at the sight of the mangled, crimson-streaked arm that reached lifelessly from behind the overturned wagon, the blackness of death already visible on the fingers. A crumpled bag, obviously store bought, lay near the bloodied arm which eerily pointed at a rainbow of quilting squares that trailed the barren earth. Dipping, Elnora retrieved a bright blue square that would never become a quilt to warm a babe.
Samuel rested Lucas’ spade against his leg and offered a downcast smile to his wife.
Before he could speak, a shrill cry broke the solemn silence.
As out of place as the cry was among the sea of death, Elnora recognized the sound in an instant. An infant’s cry. Eyes searching the terrain, her gaze fixed on a lone, scrubby bush. A wail pierced the air again. Tucking the English square deep into her dress pocket, Elnora reached the bush in a moment, her hands clawing and searching through the summer leaf litter. Finally, something warm brushed her fingertips.
Cradling the English baby in her arms, Elnora rose to face the throng of women who had gathered to witness the unfolding miracle. “It’s a girl,” she proclaimed.
Sarah Wagler’s mouth hung agape as she bounced Elijah absently on her hip, and the other Amish wives and mothers from the wagon train allowed tiny smiles to creep onto their solemn lips. Even the men folk paused.
Elnora’s awestruck voice was uncharacteristically robust. “Not a scratch on her! Not a bruise, not a drop of blood!”
Heloise, toting wide-eyed Joseph in her arms, stepped forward to get a better look.
Elnora’s voice took on the soft shushing of a new mother as she rocked the squirming infant. “Hush now, sweet one. You’re safe now.”
“You’re a natural,” Heloise observed, a twinkle in her eyes. “Look how she’s already calming. She feels safe.”
She is safe, Elnora thought, unable to tear her gaze from the tiny girl. Safe with me. Safe with us. “Come,” Heloise whispered. “Get her to the wagon and out of this sun.”
Sarah fell in step beside her friend, her blue eyes also transfixed on the English baby. “It’s a miracle she wasn’t injured … or worse.”
“I have extra goat’s milk that I boiled for Katie and Annie,” Katherine Knepp cooed as she and the other women joined them. “This little one must eat.”
Esther Odon nodded. “I have some girl clothes she can have.” Dinah Yoder placed her arm around Esther’s shoulders. The memory of Esther’s hard labor on the trail that had resulted in a stillborn baby girl was a raw one in all the women’s minds.
Tears pricked Elnora’s eyes. “Thank you. Thank you all.”
Day turned quickly to night as the Amish women fawned over the tiny infant that seemed to have come straight from heaven, leaving the men to finish the burials by moonlight.
“I understand you wanting to keep her, Elnora,” Samuel’s patient voice was gentle when he finally returned to the wagon. Gentle and firm. “Especially since the Lord has yet to bless us with children of our own.”
Elnora fixed her eyes on the baby who lay asleep in the nest of pillowy quilts in the wagon bed. Usually, Elnora was unable to tear her gaze from the stars in the night sky. They seemed to wink at each other in the blackness, making her think they were simply bright young children, playing gotcha-games in Heaven. Tonight though, Elnora couldn’t force herself to look away from the tiny miracle of a girl. “Gelassenheit,” she whispered. “We must trust His divine reasons and timing.”
Samuel exhaled, swiping his gritty hands on his britches. “We simply can’t keep her. She is not one of us.” Exhaustion weighted his words.
“Ja Samuel, but those she belonged to are now with Our Lord.” Elnora sucked in a breath. “Aren’t we all children of God?” Her gentle voice wafted with the night breezes.
Samuel rubbed the bridge of his nose. The other men had returned to their families and were already fast asleep in their wagons, evident by several different tones of snoring. “Ah, Elnora. I love you and your compassionate heart. I want so to make you a happy wife.” He stifled a yawn.
“You do, Samuel.” The baby stirred and began to squeak.
Elnora’s voice was tender as she plucked the rooting babe from the nest of blankets. “Come here, Rebekah.”
“Oh mein! You’ve given her a name?”
She smiled, rocking Rebekah to and fro.
Sarah Wagler’s shy voice came from somewhere in the near darkness. “Elnora? Samuel? Are you awake?”
“Yes Sarah, we are.” Elnora bounced Rebekah in her arms as the infants squeaks grew into angry coughs and sputters.
“I heard the baby fussing.”
Crimson colored Elnora’s cheeks. “I’m sorry to have woken you Sarah–”
Waving a hand, Sarah cut her off. “Oh no, you see, the baby sounds hungry.” The flickering firelight from the Wagler’s dying fire illuminated her timidity. “And Elijah is only six months old. So I thought I might feed her until…”
The worried creases melted from Elnora’s face. “Thank you for your kind offer, Sarah. We call her Rebekah. Danke.”
Sarah accepted Rebekah and turned back to her wagon, picking her way carefully amid the carefully stacked wares and items. “Ah, sweet Rebekah,” she cooed. “I will share with you the story of your namesake.”
“Wake me when you bring her back,” Elnora whispered loud enough for Sarah to hear.
As Sarah and Rebekah retreated to the Wagler wagon, Samuel turned back to his wife. His hazel eyes shined with the tender light of a father. Squatting, he scooped both her hands into his. “Elnora, would it be agreeable to you if we keep the child-”
She nodded emphatically, the straps to her covering bouncing against her shoulders.
Samuel’s face clouded over. “Dear Wife, if we keep her safe only until another English wagon happens by?”
With pain cramping her heart, Elnora managed a compliant smile. “That is agreeable, Husband.” Her words hung in the air as the song of a night bird laced the momentary silence with hope. “But what should become of Rebekah should we not meet another English traveler?”
Samuel’s gleaming white teeth were visible above his inky beard. He stood and ran his thumbs along the inside of his black braces. “Elnora, the English are moving west in droves.” He extended his hand and helped Elnora to her feet. “The Pike is rumored to be the most traveled route in The United States now. We will meet more English, you’ll see.”
Unable to meet his warm and weary gaze, Elnora nodded at the ground.
“Come Wife, let’s go to bed.”
With a heavy heart, Elnora closed her eyes. Though whether it was to hasten sleep or hold in the tears, she couldn’t be sure.
Over the remaining two days of their trip, the wagon train of Amish families, moving south from Canada, only saw each other.
Elnora whispered to Heloise as they approached their final stop. “Not a single wagon filled with English people has passed.”
Heloise, however, was much too charmed with Rebekah to be bothered with watching for English wagons. “Such a good-natured baby!” Her voice was awestruck. “At this age, Joseph did nothing but cry.”
Turning her attention back to the baby, Elnora cupped Rebekah’s silken head in her palm and stroked the blonde wisps above her tiny ears. “And she has so much hair!” Elnora’s voice was equally awestruck.
Heloise narrowed her wise, blue eyes. “That means she will be healthy.”
“We’re home!” Samuel announced. “Wilkommen to Daviess County, Indiana Territory!”
Elnora plopped Rebekah into a quilt-lined basket. Her eyes welled as Samuel helped her from the wagon. “Oh Samuel, it looks just like Germany!”
He beamed. “So you are happy then?”
“I am so happy! Danke! What a beautiful place to raise a family. And there is ample wood for your woodworking -” Shifting, Elnora gestured wide with one arm toward the thick woods that ringed the clearing. Oak trees that seemed to scratch the floor of heaven stood tall and majestic, their leaves waving in the tender breeze. Shorter, wider trees blooming in varying shades of snowy white and blush pinks punctuated the deep greens and browns of the oaks, giving the entire area a magical feel. Samuel’s large hand came to rest on her shoulder, disrupting her gracious spiel.
“Dear Wife, I will go in to Montgomery tomorrow to find an English family to take the child. It will be best for everyone if she is with her own kind.”
Elnora sucked in a hard breath, and willed the sudden fringe of tears not to spill onto her cheeks. She held Samuel’s gaze. There she saw the same dull ache she felt beneath her ribs.
With a calming breath, the threat of tears subsided and Elnora’s face softened. She patted her husband’s hand. “If it is best for Rebekah, then you must do as you will,” she agreed. The tugging on the tender ends of her shattered heart, however, didn’t concur.
“What do you suppose Samuel found out in Montgomery?” Sarah’s whisper of a voice was edged in curiosity as she rocked both Rebekah and Elijah. The chair, which had been a wedding present to the Waglers from Samuel and Elnora, had held up well as a testament to Samuel’s craftsmanship, despite the numerous long-distance moves. Not a squeak sounded from the rockers.
“He has been gone since before dawn,” Elnora said, glancing at the midday sun. “I expect him back any time.”
No sooner had the words passed her lips than the sound of horse hooves called their attention to the horizon. Samuel was back.
“Here, take Rebekah,” Sarah offered knowingly.
When she was situated in the crook of her arm, Rebekah snuggled against Elnora and sighed a tiny baby sigh.
Oh my, she sounds content.
Samuel dismounted in one easy motion. “Elnora, I’m back.” Without any tell-tale sign on his tanned face, he strode to where she sat with Rebekah. His black felt hat seemed to loom over her, threatening to unleash its gloomy news all over both of them. Samuel squatted down beside her.
Never one to mince words, he spoke plainly. “I met the Englishman who owns the livery in Montgomery. He gave me good news and bad news.”
Resisting the urge to look down at the angelic girl, Elnora focused on Samuel. “Let us have the good news first.”
“I took a wooden wheel and the owner agreed to buy my woodwork.”
The sides of her eyes crinkled as her lips thinned into a smile of the most genuine sort. “Ja that is wonderful Samuel!”
“After business was discussed, I asked if he knew of any suitable English families looking to take in a baby.”
The comfortable sounds of home that had been humming about them faded to silence with Samuel’s words. Elnora’s voice came out in a squeak. “What did the shopkeeper say?”
Samuel glanced down at the child in his wife’s arms. With one large finger, he reached to stroke her tiny cheek. At his touch, Rebekah cooed and began sucking in her sleep. Samuel smiled.
“He said that there are no families willing to take in a child, and that they are all pulling up stakes and heading west. Gold fever, he called it.”
Elnora’s eyes widened and she began to sway ever so slightly, dancing with the idea of this perfect baby becoming theirs. Forever.
Samuel’s eyes never wavered from Rebekah. “He said if we happened upon an unwanted child, there are places called orphanages where these children are kept.”
Elnora stopped swaying.
“These orphanages are filled with unwanted children that the English throw away or whose parents have died. Those children have no one.”
Rebekah let out a sweet baby noise and opened her eyes.
“When they get too full of children, as they are now, they put them on orphan trains. They send them from city to city, hoping they will find a home on their own.”
Elnora gasped and instinctively clutched the child closer to her breast.
Samuel sighed and stood, turning to look at his wife. “Wife, you know what we have to do.”
Elnora shook her head infinitesimally. “Oh, Samuel.”
Face widening into a gleaming grin, Samuel cupped his hands round his mouth. “Families, please come here! I have an announcement!” Leaning over, he plucked the baby from Elnora’s arms.
When everyone had gathered around the Stoll’s, Samuel spoke again.
“I would like to introduce you all to our daughter, Rebekah Elnora Stoll.” The fatherly glimmer shining again in Samuel’s eyes.
Sarah’s husband, Simon, clapped Samuel on the back. With a teasing note in his voice, he chimed, “If we keep acquiring family members, we will have to call this settlement the Stoll Inn!”
Samuel guffawed, his infant daughter proudly displayed on his arm. “You’re right, Simon. This place may become a regular village inn!”
Elnora’s meek voice whispered so that only Samuel could hear. “Then perhaps we should call our settlement Gasthof.”
Samuel’s free hand found hers and gave it a squeeze. “How clever, dear wife. The German word for inn. I believe that fits our new home
Sara Barnard is a mother of four beautiful children and author of the children’s nonfiction book THE ABC’S OF OKLAHOMA PLANTS and the historical romance series AN EVERLASTING HEART. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, hiking with her family, or tackling the ever-growing pile of laundry produced by her family of six! Sara holds her B.A. in history and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Fish and Wildlife Management. Along with their four children, Sara’s family consists of a plethora of rescue animals, each with a story of their own. Sara and her family currently make their home in the beautiful, historic hills of Oklahoma.
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