Jerry Eicher’s bestselling Amish fiction (more than 210,000 in combined sales) includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, and the Little Valley Series. After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.
Katie Raber sat on the tall, swivel chair with a smile on her face. She was now mistress and queen of this one-room Amish schoolhouse for the term. Her hiring had been reaffirmed this morning by Enos Kuntz himself, the chairman of the school board. Enos had paid her a special visit, leaving with a friendly nod and a quick comment. “I think you’ll do just fine with your new job, Katie. Let us know if you have any problems.”
Katie swept the top of her teacher’s desk clean with a shaky hand, pausing to replace the small plastic pencil holder she’d knocked over. On the other side of the room, pushed up against the window, sat a table loaded with the year’s supply of schoolbooks. She was a little scared, but she told herself there was nothing to worry about. This world of learning called her, just as she was certain it would also beckon eager young students once school began next week. And then, in less than two months, she would be twenty-one, considered an adult in her Amish community. Her wages would be her own to spend how she chose instead of sharing them with her parents—Mamm and her new husband, Jesse Mast. How blessed Katie felt. It was still hard to comprehend all the changes that had occurred in the last few years.
Katie stood and looked out the window. Enos was driving away in his buggy, his bearded face still visible through the open door. Calm was flooding over Katie now. There could be only one reason he would take the time to drive all the way over here this morning, the week before school officially begins. And it wasn’t because he harbored any doubts about her teaching abilities. The vote to hire her had been unanimous and given with pleased smiles on the faces of all three school board members.
No, Enos had stopped by to emphasize his approval one last time. Likely he thought she needed it—this being her first year teaching. But it was more than that. Enos knew the details of her past, as did all the Amish community. And they wished her well as she continued to put her life back together after the awful situation with Ben Stoll. Even now Ben was sitting in jail, serving out the last few days of his sentence.
Katie had survived that disastrous time because Da Hah had been with her, just as He’d been with Mamm and her after Katie’s daett died. And just as Da Hah had been with the two while Emma Raber raised Katie alone. Katie’s mamm had an awful reputation for a long time. After a love gone wrong in her teen years, a marriage to a man she learned to love, and then being widowed at an early age, Emma had chosen to remain a single mamm, raising her daughter on the land her husband had left her. She’d gone against usual Amish practice by refusing offers of marriage until, by Da Hah’s grace, she’d accepted a marriage proposal by a local farmer named Jesse Mast. That marriage had created a new atmosphere of change and acceptance, and Katie’s reputation had improved along with her mamm’s. After Katie fell in love with Ben and he’d turned out to be involved in the drug trade, part of her acceptance in the community came from how much she was admired for the way she’d handled herself since Ben Stoll’s arrest and imprisonment.
She’d loved Ben with all of her heart. And he had broken and smashed her trust beyond repair. Now he was no longer part of her life. That had all happened over a year ago, when the news of Ben’s arrest had reached Katie while she was in Europe with her Mennonite friends Margaret Kargel, Sharon Watson, and Nancy Keim. Only Da Hah’s healing touch a few days later had kept her from spending years in bitterness and sorrow. The miracle had happened the morning they’d gone up in a cable car high in the Alps to Schilthorn, where she’d seen the mighty works of Da Hah’s hands displayed in the mountain range around her. The tears had flowed freely that morning, washing the deepest pain from her heart. Afterward, she’d returned home and continued mourning her loss for a time, but without the crushing hopelessness that had first gripped her heart. Then last fall she’d made application to join the instruction class to officially join the Amish church, and this spring the wunderbah day had arrived. She’d been baptized by Bishop Jonas Miller himself! She was now a member of the church.
If anyone had entertained doubts about her, they’d been answered in how Katie had lived her life the past year. She still stayed in touch with her Mennonite friends Margaret and Sharon, but she saw them infrequently. The invitation to Margaret’s wedding had arrived in the mail yesterday, and Katie would certainly attend. Beyond that, Sharon and Margaret understood that Katie had made the best choice for her—to stay within the Amish faith. And it was, Katie told herself. Her heart was settled on the matter. The Amish were her people, and this was her home. She’d seen the land of the church fathers in Switzerland, and now she’d chosen this faith for herself. This community in Delaware was the place where her heart could rest for whatever time Da Hah had for her on this earth.
Enos’s buggy was already a black speck just before disappearing around the curve in the road. In addition to his interest in her success in the classroom, there was the suspicion on Katie’s part that Enos had hopes she would be his next daughter-in-law. She could tell by the light that sprang up in his eyes when he spoke to her of his son Norman.
Norman Kuntz, though, wasn’t like his daett at all. He was shy and withdrawn for the most part. The boy was handsome enough and came from an excellent family, so he ought to bubble with confidence, but he didn’t. So far he’d lacked the courage to take Katie home from the Sunday-night hymn singing—although he did spend considerable time stealing glances at her in the meetings. He’d mustered up enough courage lately to send a few tentative smiles her way.
There was nothing in Norman that set Katie’s heart pounding so far. Not like Ben Stoll had done. That had been another matter entirely. But Katie knew she shouldn’t be comparing Norman with Ben. Her life had changed for the better now, and she wasn’t going back to the past. Ben had been a terrible misjudgment, and she didn’t plan to repeat the error.
This time whoever the man was who drove her home, Katie wanted Mamm’s full support. And hopefully Jesse’s too, although he’d mostly care about whether the young man was a gut church member and knew how to work hard. Norman met both of those standards quite well. It helped, of course, that he would be a gut provider for his family, but that paled in comparison to the really important matter to Katie. Her main concern was that Norman would never do what Ben had done—break her heart.
Katie sighed, pushing the dark thoughts aside. Things were coming together well for her. This offer of a teaching job had been another blessing from Da Hah. One of the many she’d been given since Ben’s betrayal.
Katie sighed again, allowing her mind to wander into the past. For years she’d dreamed of capturing Ben Stoll’s attention. Mamm had warned her that such handsome boys were above her, and she shouldn’t dream that way. And that was long before Ben even knew Katie existed. But Mamm had been drawing from her own experience of rejection, and the young man she’d loved had never even asked her home. So Katie had rejected Mamm’s counsel and hadn’t drawn back when Ben finally noticed her at a Mennonite Youth Gathering. She’d ridden in Ben’s buggy and held his hand. They’d even kissed—often and with great joy. How could she have been so wrong about him? Katie pondered the question and managed a faint smile. Even in this situation she could be thankful. The pain of that question no longer stung as much. She’d given the pain and hard questions over to Da Hah. He knew the answers, and He would forgive her where she’d been wrong.
Now she was being given a wunderbah opportunity by the community. They were entrusting her with the care of their children for a whole school year. This honor had been held by Ruth Troyer for the past few years. After chasing Jesse Mast before he’d married Katie’s mamm, Ruth had finally found a man who asked to wed her—Albert Gingerich. He was an older farmer in the community whose wife had passed away last year.
Ruth had stepped down from consideration as a teacher this summer in preparation for her wedding, although she probably hadn’t imagined in her wildest dreams that Katie Raber would be offered her job. Ruth might have hung on for another year if she’d known that. After all, she’d been rebuffed by Jesse in favor of Katie’s mamm, Emma Raber, and the sting of the rejection and community talk surely still rankled in Ruth’s mind.
Katie smiled at the memory of Mamm and Jesse’s courtship. The two widows—Emma and Ruth—had faced each other down, and Mamm had won! The strange thing was that Mamm hadn’t put up much of a fight—at least not out in the open. But maybe that was the allure that drew Jesse in. Katie decided she needed to allow that Mamm had more wisdom than she let on at times. Ruth had had all of Jesse’s children on her side at first, and she put her best moves on Jesse by baking the pecan pies he loved. Mamm, on the other hand, had turned down Jesse’s advances the first few times he came calling, which seemed to make him all the more determined. And when she finally came around, Emma offered nothing but herself. In the end, all of Jesse’s children except Mabel, the eldest, had come over to Mamm’s side.
Mabel hadn’t been the easiest person to live with after the wedding, but since Katie’s return from Europe they were on decent terms. Mabel’s heart had been softened last year by seeing the great heartache Ben’s betrayal had caused Katie.
A rattle of buggy wheels in the schoolyard interrupted her thoughts. Katie walked to the window again. She gasped as Ruth Troyer climbed out of her buggy. What did she want? Had she forgotten some of her personal possessions? If so, she could have come in the evening after I’d gone home, Katie thought. But, there was no sense avoiding Ruth, so she might as well put on a brave front.
“Gut morning,” Ruth said with a forced smile when Katie opened the door.
“Gut morning,” Katie replied as she held the door and invited Ruth in.
“I thought I might catch you here this morning.”
“Yah,” Katie managed to get out, her smile gone now. “There’s much to do before school starts.”
Ruth pushed past her and bustled inside. “I thought I’d drive over in case you might want some advice, seeing this is your first term and all. And remember, I did teach here for three years so I know many of the students and the material. If you have any questions, I’d be glad to answer them.”
Katie swallowed hard. “Did the school board send you?”
Ruth laughed. “Nee, I’m here on my own. Don’t tell me you’re too high and mighty to accept help? Just because you’re a schoolteacher now doesn’t mean we don’t all remember where you came from, Katie Raber. After all, that man of yours is still sitting in jail.”
“I have no connection with Ben Stoll anymore,” Katie countered. “I haven’t seen him since before he was arrested.”
“Well, that doesn’t matter now.” Ruth breezed around the room, speaking over her shoulder. “I guess we all make our mistakes. But I, for one, would have seen that one coming. And I suspect your mamm did, but she was too busy stealing Jesse from me to warn you.”
Katie turned and watched Ruth. This was after all her schoolhouse now, and she’d better act like it was. Katie kept her voice even. “Mamm did have reservations about Ben—just to set the record straight. And she didn’t steal Jesse from you. Jesse made up his own mind.”
Ruth turned around. “Things do turn out for the best now, don’t they? Thank Da Hah Jesse didn’t decide on me. Then I never would have been available for Albert’s proposal. Did you know he farms more than 100 acres northwest of Dover? Some of the best black soil in the area. It’s worth a fortune. He’ll have a mighty gut heritage to hand down to his children.”
Katie forced a smile. “I’m glad for you, Ruth. And Mamm has fallen deeply in love with Jesse, so everything did turn out for the best.”
“It always does.” Ruth glared at Katie. “And I guess you know gut and well why you got this job. Enos is expecting quite a lot out of his investment, if you ask me.”
“I don’t expect you know what you’re speaking of,” Katie said. She tried to still her pounding heart. How this woman could get under her skin! Enos might hope she’d date his son, but he hadn’t made any requirement or suggestion for her to do so while hiring her.
Ruth laughed. “I don’t think you’re that blind, Katie. Enos is a man of high standards. And your past hasn’t gone away, believe me. He’s just overlooking it right now. But if you turn down the advances of his youngest son, I doubt if things will stay that way for long.”
Katie almost sputtered a denial, but she pressed her lips together instead. Nothing would persuade Ruth’s mind. Not once she’d made it up. And there likely was some truth to the woman’s statements.
Ruth smiled, apparently taking Katie’s silence as victory. “Let me show you the books then, and I’ll get out of here. I have a ton of things that need doing for the wedding preparations, but I told myself this morning that I owe you at least one visit since I was the former teacher. I’m aware you know nothing about teaching. I do hate to see you thrown into this situation and making a total mess out of it—to say nothing about all the decent learning from the past few years that could be lost. Let’s look at the books for this term.”
Katie walked toward the table by the window. Two of the books had fallen to the floor while she’d been going through them, but she hadn’t noticed until Ruth’s criticizing presence entered the room.
Ruth marched over and bent down to pick up the books. “This is no way to treat new books! I always told myself, if I don’t respect the school’s property, how can I expect ‘my’ children to? Because they do, after all, learn more by example than by any lecture. But how would you know such a thing? Your mamm probably never taught you much.”
Katie choked back her response. Ruth was trying to goad her into saying something she might regret. And Enos had just been here, and he’d said nothing about books lying on the floor. Everyone knew such things happened during unpacking. But Katie knew Ruth would only see more of Enos’s scheming and favor in his silence, so she might as well keep quiet about that too.
Ruth’s voice continued in lecture mode. “These are your first-grade reading books, Katie. Be sure to spend plenty of time with that age group. The children need to learn quickly because everything else is at a standstill until they learn how to read.”
Katie nodded, forcing herself to listen. Ruth was telling her some
gut things, and she did have much to learn. She even managed to keep a smile on her face as the former teacher droned on far longer than Katie had hoped. Over an hour later, Katie was more than ready to see Ruth leave. She summoned up her best manners as Ruth finally prepared to go. “Thank you for your time, Ruth. I do appreciate it.”
“It’s gut that you can listen,” Ruth remarked. “I guess your mamm taught you something after all. Now, will you come out and hold my horse for me? He gets a little skittish when I take off. Albert promised me a decent horse when I move into his house after the wedding. Now that’s a decent man, if you ask me.”
Katie held her tongue as she walked outside. She held the bridle of Ruth’s horse as the former teacher climbed inside the buggy.
“I hope you remember everything I told you,” Ruth said as she took off with a slap of the reins.
Grinding her teeth, Katie watched Ruth go. That woman was the limit and then some. But Ruth was also a creature Da Hah had made, and her elder besides. And the woman had given her some useful advice.