Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, June 1885
Jacob Sauder drove his buggy toward the home he left four years before, never intending to return. Same old dirt lanes bisected greening patchwork fields and plain Amish farms, untarnished by time. But despite the landscape, time had passed. Life had changed. And unlike the panorama that quickened his heart, Jacob Sauder had been tarnished.
Uncertainty had dogged him since his decision to return, but this sense of anticipation -- this was a surprise.
Jacob stopped the buggy at the top of Hickory Hill and scanned the valley. Lancaster looked the same, yet different, trees taller maybe, grass greener surely.
Home. He had come home after all.
But would they let him stay?
He flicked the reins setting Caliope to a trot. Right before he left this place -- at his mother's funeral, no less -- he told everyone, God and the Bishop included, to go to hell. Then he'd turned from Mom's open casket, and the dirt hole waiting to swallow her, climbed into his buggy, and never looked back.
He'd tried to become English, which his people called anyone not Amish, and broke every rule he'd been taught, some as slight as wearing buttons on his coats ... others, much, much worse. And he might have gone on that way, if fate had not taken a hand.
Anticipation skittered his heart.
Dread weighed him down.
How would his father feel about his unexpected return? How would Rachel feel? She who'd filled his empty soul when his twin sister, Anna, had died. Rachel who became, somehow, his missing half. Rachel Zook. Mudpie -- he called her. His brother's wife.
How were Datt and Rachel? Had they changed?
Jacob slowed when he spotted thirty or so Amish buggies outside the Yoder barn. His heart skipped as he turned into the drive. A good sight, these buggies. "You are home, they said, and welcome."
If only he believed it.
"You are not welcome here!" came a familiar voice.
Well, his brother, Simon, had not changed, not in looks, certainly not in disposition. Jacob shook his head. "Missed you, too."
"Go back to where you belong," Simon said, approaching with an angry stride.
Jacob climbed from his buggy. "This is where I belong." It tickled him to skin Simon's knuckles, especially with faulty sentiment.
Simon's thin lips firmed, his eyes narrowed. "You would come on Church Sunday, especially this one." He straightened his frock coat and raised his chin. "I am to be ordained Deacon this morning."
Jacob was taken aback by the news, but it explained Simon's solitude; he was waiting to make an entrance. His brother would be a stern, humorless deacon, but some people needed that, Jacob supposed. "You must be pleased."
"I am pleased to do God's will. Unlike you." Simon walked away. "Just go," he said, and disappeared into the barn.
Very unlike me, Jacob thought, as he made his way around his buggy, raised the back flap ... and grinned. After all these weeks, he still could not get over the sight of them, his two-year-old twins, now snuggled in sleep like newborn pups. "Come, Pumpkins," he said. "Up we go." What a surprise they'd been. What a joy, despite the fact that he deserved no joy. He held them, one in each arm. He was getting good at this, he thought, considering he'd only had them a short time. Two sleepyheads, one kapped, the other hatless, nuzzled his neck.
Good. They felt good there.
When Jacob walked into the Yoder house after four silent years and carrying two small children, whispers grew, then, "Shh, Shh, Shh."
Suddenly, not a sound could be heard save the chafing of his new black broadfall pants rubbing one leg against the other. Rough they were and itchy, not smooth and comfortable like the buckskins he'd worn when he pretended to be English.
He stopped and stood in the middle of the group, the sight familiar yet foreign. Row upon row of men sat ramrod straight on simple backless benches. In the opposite room, facing the men, sat rows of women, on matching benches, the folding doors between the two rooms open for this purpose. The women were white-kapped, the men bearded, marking them Amish.
Jacob's own beard had been shaved daily during his sojourn into the English world, with only three weeks growth now to show for his decision to return. This marked him a rebel. And a liar. Only married men let their beards grow.
He saw old friends, nodded at a few. Some smiled back, but not many. This should not anger or surprise him, but it did. Emma sighed in her sleep, reminding him of his plan to raise his babies here. Knowing that a bad attitude could make for a bad beginning, Jacob swallowed his urge to declare that he was not sorry he left.
His father was not to be seen, but Ruben Miller, fellow rebel, grinned a true welcome. Jacob grinned back.
Where should he sit? He belonged in the men's section. The babies belonged in the women's. Unheard of, this, a man raising his babies alone. He would be expected to court a mother for his children soon. But how could he, when the woman he loved....
He saw her watching him and was jolted.
Rachel was more beautiful than he remembered, but she looked....
She buried her anger -- he saw the effort it took -- and came to him. "They're yours?" she asked.
Drinking in the sight of her, he could only nod.
"Their mother?" she asked.
Gave them life with her last breath, he thought, but he shook his head, his remorse too great for words.
"What are their names?"
Jacob swallowed his yearning, and his regret, and found his voice. "Emma and Aaron."
Rachel opened her arms. "I'll take them."
"I can't ask you--"
"Oh, please," she said, her maple-syrup eyes wide and pleading -- revealing a different kind of anguish.
And Jacob knew within the deepest part of himself that Rachel longed to hold his babies with an ache as acute as his own had been these many years to hold her.
He'd almost forgotten this ability they shared -- to feel each other's emotions, as if each lived inside the other. It had happened often to them as children, less as they grew older.
But this, just now, had been powerful. Except that she should be holding her own babies. "Thank you," he said. "Sit first. It's tricky when you're standing."
They held everyone's attention, he knew ... the prodigal and the woman who'd tossed him away, passing babies back and forth, her marriage to his brother like a cloud between them.
Jacob sat in the back of the men's section. Everyone opened the Ausband and turned to the hymn named. As always, the Vorsinger began the chant. The High German song soothed him, their blended voices the only music. The words and chant had been passed from one generation to the next. The same song sounded different in other settlements. Better here.
With an ordination, service would be longer than the usual three hours, but he'd already missed the vote for Deaconate candidates. Simon, by the grace of God -- according to Amish belief, not Jacob's -- had obviously been the candidate to choose the Bible with the slip of paper naming him Deacon. And from what Simon said, the ordination and laying-on of hands was yet to come.
When it began, Simon was in his element, eyes downcast, brought high in his humility for all to see.
During the ceremony, Jacob could not keep from watching Rachel, his babies asleep in her arms, her slim fingers gentling them. He closed his eyes and imagined the lips that touched Emma's tiny forehead, touching his.
He remembered how Rachel's hair, now hidden by her white heart-shaped kapp, would look and feel set free as it grazed his cheek. She had hair the color of blackberry wine, with unruly curls all over her head. And if he were to wrap sections of the silky softness along one of his fingers, he could make the ringlets into long curls that hung down her back like a veil of evening mist after a new moon. And it smelled like honey straight from the hive. Honey with that extra scent of musk it had on a summer afternoon, the sun high in the sky, and you had to fight the swarm to win your prize.
He had removed her kapp on just such a day, let down that beautiful hair, and kissed her for the first time.
Back then, he thought she would always be his.
But she belonged to Simon now. Still, Jacob could not keep from imagining that musky scent ... until the words of the new Deacon's sermon stung him.
"A cankerous apple left in the barrel will rot those around it! It must be plucked, discarded so as not to spoil the rest." Simon looked straight at him, the bad apple, and all but pointed an accusing finger as he urged all to thrust him from their midst.
Jacob almost laughed. It would take more than a vengeful sermon to scare him away. He'd lived English; nothing could frighten him now.
When he'd looked for Miriam, three years after leaving her, and found his motherless babies instead, he'd considered the best place to raise them and thought this might be it. Now, with Rachel holding them, he was certain of it. But already he knew it would be much harder to watch her and Simon together than he had imagined.
Nevertheless, he was staying ... unless he got tossed out.
Simon must have read his resolve, for the Deacon rocked on his heels, clasped his hands behind his back and turned from such a rotten-apple brother as he to gaze at the men about him.
"Who do you think has the most important role in the Amish Church?" Simon asked with great interest. "Is it the Preacher? The Deacon? Is it the Bishop?" He paused to build expectation, searched the men's faces.
Simon raised an arm to signal the power in his words. "I will tell you who," he shouted. "It is the women with babies on their laps who have the most important role in our church."
Jacob sat straighter. Swift and bright, understanding came. Rachel was barren. And Simon was up to his old tricks. His sanctimonious judgment, dispensed now through sermon, would emerge as God's words. Coated in pretty sentiment, the new Deacon had just shamed his wife before the entire church district.
'Lift not the sword,' they'd been taught from birth. Not that the English lived it, and neither had he. But he was Amish again, for good or ill ... and he wanted more than ever to plant his fist in his brother's face.
Jacob sighed. This was not going to be easy.
Then he saw the tic in Simon's cheek, the color reddening his neck, signs of discomposure, most likely anger. And Jacob's heart lightened, for Simon was gaping at Rachel, two tiny two-year-olds to her heart, looking for all the world like an angel, her attention not on him but on the babies in her lap.
Jacob suppressed his chuckle and grinned. She probably hadn't heard a word her husband said.
With a struggle, likely only visible to this rotten-apple brother, Simon composed himself and turned his sermon toward repentance and the like ... until a child's wail split the air, and the Deacon's voice was silenced once more.
Everyone craned their necks to see whose child dared interrupt. But Jacob knew. Emma was awake.
Simon glared at Rachel.
Jacob stood to go to her, knowing how difficult it could be to maneuver two heavy babies.
She implored him with her eyes as he came from the back.
I'm coming, Mudpie, he said with his look.
Hurry, she begged with hers.
Aaron, awakened by his sister's screams, scrambled to the floor, allowing Rachel to carry Emma to the kitchen, shushing her and kissing her tears.
The crowd tittered and a few men chuckled as Aaron stood in the middle of the room looking up at Simon, the uncle he did not know, and pulled on his trouser leg. "Pee pee," his boy said.
"Ach," Jacob said as he scooped his son into his arms. "First time he asks to go. I have waited for this day."
A round of hearty laughter followed them outside. "Good boy, Aaron," Jacob said, rolling his eyes. And then he began to laugh.
Once he and Aaron were back, Jacob saw Rachel return, Emma nibbling the outer edge of a cookie in that way of hers, 'round and 'round, till the treat got so small, she would likely drop it and cry again. Jacob only hoped Simon would be finished sermonizing by then.
It was a good thing Aaron hadn't noticed his sister's cookie, or there would be heck to pay for all the noise he would make requesting one of his own.
He should have separated the twins right away, Jacob supposed. Aaron had all the parts required for sitting in the men's section, after all. But Amish women always kept the children during service, boys and girls.
Well, he would be the exception from now on. It suited his rebellious streak well enough for satisfaction, but little enough so as not to cause an uproar.
Before the Bishop's sermon, they broke for babies to be fed, and necessities tended. Men went out to smoke. In North Dakota, the Amish Church banned the use of tobacco. In Illinois, smoking was banned only during service.
Funny how they could all be Amish, but have different rules.
Simon made directly for Rachel. Jacob did too. He wanted to see how Simon dealt with his children. He sat Aaron beside Emma on a wooden settle while his brother stood silently by. They watched Rachel play with the twins.
"Where's Datt?" Jacob asked.
Simon glared. "If you had stayed, you would know."
Jacob resisted the invitation to bicker. "Where is he?"
"He visits Atlee Sunday mornings. Sometimes he brings him to service. If Atlee's feeling poorly, Datt comes late." Simon almost smiled. "You know Atlee."
Jacob chuckled. "Lord, he must be a hundred and ten by now."
"A hundred and three," Simon said.
Simon's mood darkened visibly as he watched Rachel borrow diapers and allow herself to be shown how to fold and fit one to Emma.
Jacob knew then that he was right. Rachel -- with so much love she could fill all hundred and twenty acres of Datt's farm and still have more to give -- was childless. Yet she laughed at her slipshod diapering, and when she did, Simon placed his hands behind his back, that tic going at a furious pace.
Jacob declined the loan of a diaper for his son saying, "Aaron is a big boy now."
"Big girl," Emma said, to get her share of attention, and Jacob fancied he could hear Simon's teeth gnashing.
He lifted Aaron, straightened his tiny frock coat, a miniature of every man's, and turned to his brother. "Have you met my children, Simon?"
"What need? They are English."
"They are Amish, like their father," Jacob said softly.
The sound of whispers grew, then hushed. People returned to their seats. Rachel's father, the Bishop, was waiting to begin the last sermon of the day.
A half hour into it, Jacob looked up as if summoned, and saw his father walk in. So white his beard had gone, so many new wrinkles etched his beloved face. It was difficult for Jacob to keep from rushing forth to greet him after so long. And when their gazes locked, Datt's eyes filled.
Bishop Zook saw the exchange. He looked from father to son and stopped speaking. Other than the sound of Jacob's own heart, silence held. No one so much as shuffled a foot or cleared a throat. Even the little ones seemed to sense the moment.
When Jacob raised his chin and looked into the Bishop's eyes, they were cold, piercing. On this man's whim, he and his children would be welcomed or banished.
"You are back, Jacob Sauder," the Bishop said.
'For my children,' Jacob wanted to clarify, 'not for me,' but he dared not. "I am back, Bishop Zook."
The Bishop rocked on his heels, his face stern. "You ... ah ... consigned us all to ... warmer climates, when last we met."
Jacob's collar got tight. He resisted an urge to wipe his palms on his pants.
The Bishop indicated those in attendance. "None of us went."
Jacob didn't think he should smile. He didn't think the Bishop had a sense of humor.
Their highest spiritual leader looked him over as if he were a fly in his cracker pudding, then he nodded thoughtfully. "You either, I am surprised to see."
But the Bishop was wrong; Jacob had been to hell and back.
Bishop Zook examined the congregation at large for a full minute, then he turned back to the rotten-apple, fly-in-the-pudding prodigal and regarded him so long, Jacob began to understand the word, eternity.
Then the Bishop nodded, as if he was listening to a voice only he could hear. "Jacob Sauder," he said like a judge passing sentence. "In the name of God, welcome home."
Jacob expelled the breath choking him and swallowed, but not fast enough to stifle his sob.
From the women, came a sniffle or two. From the men, throat clearing, coughs, a grunt.
Datt's tears streamed into his beard.
The Bishop raised his hands for quiet. "Let our fellowship meal today be one of great rejoicing, for Jacob Sauder has returned to us."
Jacob caught Simon's stunned, but swiftly-banked, expression. They stared at each other. This should have been his day. The Bishop should have invited rejoicing over Simon's ordination. But Jacob's return had overshadowed Simon's glory.
An ordination was a once-in-a-lifetime event, one experienced by a select few. An event Jacob was certain defined, for Simon, his status as chosen by God. And it was shelved to make way for the return of a worthless sinner.
Even to the sinner, this did not seem fair.
As people made their way toward the fellowship meal, Jacob embraced his father. "Ah, Datt." He stepped back and cleared his throat. "You have grandbabies," he said as Rache approached. "Emma, Aaron, here is your Grossdaudy."
Levi laughed as he took one in each arm. Emma called him, Daudy, and when he kissed her forehead, she pushed his beard aside, and scratched her face.
Jacob smiled at Rachel. "Thanks, Mudpie, for watching them."
Simon bristled. "My wife's name is Rachel!"
Jacob raised a brow to make light of Simon's ire and remove the sting of it for Datt and Rachel. "To me, she will always be Mudpie. Ever since she made me schnitz pies of mud." Jacob examined her face -- a little more lined, a lot more dear. "Remember? Three years old, you were, I think. I had just lost Anna, and I was lonely. I had never seen you before, but when I asked your name, you replied, 'Mudpie,' while offering one of your creations. They didn't taste so good, Rache."
Her look softened. "I didn't think a smart five-year-old would be so foolish as to taste one, Jacob."
"I did it to make you smile," he said, wishing he understood why she'd turned from him. "Such was always my desire." He yanked one of her kapp ribbons to prove it.
The sadness in her maple-syrup eyes lightened. "Welcome home, Jacob."
And Jacob felt his stone heart crack.
Simon, the new deacon, the son who stayed to work the farm and care for their father, left the Yoder house alone.
Jacob slapped his father's back. "Let's go congratulate Simon."
On the way home from service, Rachel saw a yellow warbler sitting atop a thorn apple bush. Usually, she cherished such beauty. Usually, Gadfly's proud, head-up gait caused a rocking motion that soothed her, but just now it only added to her unease.
She'd been furious when she saw Jacob, as furious as she was elated, bless and plague him, both. And the same to her own heart for betraying her. Elated, indeed.
Why, oh why, had he left her? And why now had he returned?
Yes, plague him and Simon, too. As angry as she was with Jacob -- as she had a right to be -- as much as she wanted to berate him for his unexplained departure, she would never have done so publicly. Urging the district to shun Jacob was cruel, even for Simon.
But it would not go well for her if she said so.
Rachel took a deep breath and opened her senses to the morning mist over fresh-turned fields, the canopy of new-leafed maples, and the earthy scent of horse and leather. But she would not be calmed, for the silence of the bitter man beside her taunted her. "How could you condemn your brother before everyone?"
Simon's narrow-eyed gaze caught Rachel like a bug on fly-paper. Dismay froze her, her heart quickening under his scrutiny ... until she realized he would not show anger toward her today, not with any outward display. Because the people who would come to welcome Jacob home would see, and Simon could not bear that. Words he would use, but words of the mouth did not hurt, not like the lack of heart words hurt, and between she and her husband, there had been no words of the heart for some time.
"Jacob deserves shunning," he said, finally. "He married English."
"His marrying English would be wrong, only if he had been baptized Amish, Simon, you know that. Besides it's the Bishop who should decide his fate."
"I'll be Bishop one day."
"You cannot know you will become Bishop. My father is young, yet." Later, Simon would punish her for speaking her mind like this, but she was too upset to care right now. She raised her chin. "You sound as if you have pride in your calling to the church."
Fury burned in her husband's look. Pride was a serious sin. "Mind your tongue, woman. I am a plain and humble man ... plainer and humbler than most. 'Tis not proud to know God's will."
"Perhaps it is His will, then, that we have no children."
"How dare you! 'Tis His plan that we bring forth children. And your punishment, your fault, His making you barren. 'T'will continue until you repent ... you with your brazen hair and--"
"I cannot change my hair, Simon. And it's covered decently by my prayer kapp. No one sees it but you, as is a husband's right. I am sorry the sight repels you." Sometimes Simon could make her feel as if she was shrinking where she sat, and if she wasn't, she probably should, to save the world from the sight of her.
"'Tis not just your hair repels me, and you know it."
"I am the way God made me," Rachel said, smaller still.
"With your frivolous play, it's a wonder the Elders let you teach their children. Such laughter we hear coming from the schoolhouse. I do not approve. There are others, I think, who do not wish to offend me by taking your position away. If you would give me children, you could leave teaching and save the church leaders the embarrassment of replacing you."
"If you would visit the school, Simon, I am certain I would remember not to laugh." Rachel bit her lip in regret for her rash words, but Simon was too intent on his driving to notice her slip.
He tugged Gadfly's reins and skirted a rut. "And that newspaper. Your pride in it will destroy your soul."
Rachel sighed. After she'd published her first newspaper and saw the good she could do, it gave her purpose. Her people needed her newspaper. Even if they were too stubborn to step foot in the English doctor's office or call him to their homes, they read his column. Little Jake Hertzer would have choked to death, if not for Doctor Sam's advice in the Amish Chalkboard. That should be proof enough.
So if satisfaction was akin to pride, then yes, she felt it. She would not give up the Amish Chalkboard. No, nor her plan to purchase Old Atlee Eicher's printing press, though, heaven help her, Simon did not know about that.
As for being barren, her heart cried at not having little ones. But her barrenness, her newspaper, her teaching, these were old arguments, ones she could not bear to have today. Not when her heart and mind were so filled with Jacob's return.
"We are coming to the farm," Simon said. "We will speak of this later, in private."
"I know," Rachel said.