PAGE COUNT: 240
Elizabeth Stoltzfus, a young Amish widow, finds love again; but can she rip her infant daughter away from her only relatives by marrying Elam and moving far from her family and church district?
Through many trials, her faith in God remains steadfast. Then the buggy accident. Will the results dash their hope for fulfillment?
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RETURN TO EDEN (240 pages)
Amish Eden Series Book 2
by Barbara Michel
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The August sun beat relentlessly on the gray carriage roof as Elizabeth Beiler Stolzfus turned Xerxes into the dirt lane that led to Beiler’s farm. Puffs of dust drifted upward from the horse’s clipping hooves. The breeze produced by the moving vehicle did little to relieve Elizabeth’s discomfort. Swiping a hand across her moist brow, she sighed. Even the leaves of the majestic oak at the corner of her parent’s cornfield seemed to droop.
Oh, Elam. She blinked to erase the image of his smiling face. He would be going back to Mercer County soon. Seeing him again after eight years had been wonderful, but his three-week visit o Lancaster County had invaded her loneliness, created joyous visions, and encouraged foolish dreams.
The sooner he leaves, the better. She must get Elam Miller out of her mind. “For Moses sake,” she whispered, wondering if her attraction to another man desecrated the memory of her late husband.
Straightening her lavender skirt, she glanced into the basket on the back seat. Four-month-old Priscilla slept, although the heat made her fretful. Moisture caused the golden curls that formed a halo around her face to glisten.
Xerxes shook his mane and blew as he stopped at Beiler’s front gate. Elizabeth slid the carriage door open, lifted the basket gently, as not to waken Priscilla, and stepped from the conveyance. Picturing the container of lemonade her mother usually kept in the refrigerator, she sighed.
Eli, her twenty-year-old brother, bolted from the house, leaving the screen door slam. Pausing for a second on the top step, he crunched his straw hat onto his tousled blond hair and raced down the path toward her. “John fell. I’ll have to hitch our buggy, unless I borrow yours.” He spoke in Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect always spoken in Amish houses.
“Take it.” A tremor sent a chill through her as she pictured her blond, blue-eyed, three-year-old brother. “Is he hurt badly?”
“I don’t know.” Eli rushed past her and climbed into the driver’s seat.
Esther hurried from the house, the limp form of the little boy cradled in her arms. Her hazel eyes brimmed with concern. Apparently she’d been baking, for a smudge of flour on her skirt contrasted sharply with the dark-blue material.
“Mama, is he . . . ” Gripping the handle of her baby’s basket, she swallowed.
“He’s unconscious. Eli will drive me to the doctor’s. From there . . . I don’t know.”
Elizabeth figured that would be the quickest way to get her brother help. By the time they got to the phone shack, they might as well go to the doctor’s. She set her basket by the gate to help her mother into the carriage. Jedidiah, Beiler’s black dog, stood as though guarding the baby, anxiety shimmering in his eyes. Her lower lip caught between her even teeth, Elizabeth watched the carriage as it rumbled down the lane. The conveyance disappeared around a bend, but she stood transfixed until she could no longer hear the metal wheels on the stones or the horse’s hoofbeats. Wakened by the hubbub, Priscilla began to whimper. Thankful she’d decided to visit, Elizabeth picked up the basket, shooshed the baby, and headed for the house.
Sarah, her eighteen-year-old sister, opened the screen and stepped aside, concern furrowing her smooth brow. Sarah’s tall, slender form was similar to Elizabeth’s, although her eyes were light-blue and her hair blond, differing greatly from Elizabeth’s brown eyes and reddish chestnut hair. Both young women had a pretty oval face.
Twelve-year-old Ruth, their plump, rosy cheeked sister, stood in the center of the kitchen, her brown eyes brimming with surplus moisture, her expression unusually solemn. Flour whitened her clasped hands. Five-year-old Reuben sat in a wooden rocker in the corner, nursing his straw hat and staring at the floor.
Helplessness settled over Elizabeth, but she groped for the faith that had always sustained her. “Little John is going to be fine.” She prayed her words sounded more convincing than they felt. Time would pass more quickly if they kept busy. “Wash your hands, Ruth, and take care of Priscilla.” Setting the basket on the bench by the door, she lifted the baby. “Reuben, Jedidiah needs to be brushed.”
Silently, Ruth and Reuben obeyed.
Elizabeth moved across the beige-and-white vinyl, skirted the large oak table, and motioned Sarah aside. “What happened?”
“Mama was baking bread while Ruth rolled out noodles. I’d turned to get the bread pans from the cabinet. Little John pushed a kitchen chair to the counter to watch Mama. Instead of standing there as before, he climbed to the counter and slipped on a smudge of shortening. Before Mama could get her hands out of the bread dough to grab him, he toppled to the floor.” She chewed her lower lip and wrung her hands. “He struck his head.”
“We must pray that he’ll be all right.”
Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but her voice caught. Nodding, she headed for the pan of bread dough. “I must finish the baking.”
Elizabeth grappled in a drawer for a knife. “I’ll cut the noodles.” Keeping her sibblings occupied seemed easy, but she was failing to hold her own worry at bay.
Sighing, Sarah gave the bread dough a punch.
The Lord brought Isaiah 26:3 to Elizabeth’s mind, and she felt his reassurance. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusted in thee.”
“Ja.” Sarah looked at her older sister.
Elizabeth smiled. “We’ll trust God with little John.”
Three hours later, Xerxes trotted up Beiler’s lane. Before the carriage stopped, Elizabeth was at the front gate. Relief filled her when she saw little John sitting on her mother’s knee. He seemed stunned, but blinked his blue eyes and grinned. Never had a set of dimples brought such joy.
Esther stepped to the ground with her son in her arms. “He has a slight concussion, so we’ll have to watch him closely, but he’s going to be fine.”
“Danka Got.” Cradling Priscilla, Elizabeth straightened the baby’s pink skirt and strolled to the apple tree. The searing August sun seemed to smother the Beiler farm. Swiping at the excess moisture on her forehead, she sat on a bench that her brother had placed in the shade, spread the pink baby blanket on the grass by her feet, and placed her daughter on it.
Priscilla kicked and cooed, bringing a smile to Elizabeth’s lips. Sighing, she straightened her lavender skirt, then, hoping for a slight breeze to caress her neck, she untied the straps of her prayer cap. Her eyes slowly traveled over the farm where she’d grown up. Heat waves radiated from the rooftops of the outbuildings. The leaves of the corn hung lower than usual–as though the stalks were about to pant. Even the rich soil seemed to look toward heaven as though in search of moisture. The ducks sat barely moving in the small pond, and not a cackle issued from the henhouse.
Jedidiah, usually frisky and coaxing someone to play, meandered to the shade. Flopping to the grass to the right of the bench, he stretched out and sighed. He swished his tail twice, then blinked and lowered his head to his paws.
Elizabeth reached to pet him. “It’s too hot for you, too, isn’t it Jed?”
He yawned, but didn’t bother to glance up.
Elizabeth’s eyes traveled to the silo, and her heart lurched as she focused on the top. It was the last place she’d seen her husband alive.
“It’s been almost a year since your papa fell,” she said to Priscilla. Besides her memories, the baby’s blond ringlets and deep-blue eyes were all she had left of Moses.
A gray buggy, drawn by Jacob Zook’s carriage horse, rumbled up the lane. The animal stopped by the gate, blew and pranced. Elizabeth drew a quick little breath when the driver stepped to the ground. Elam! ricochetted through her brain and lodged in her heart. The man had been visiting his sister, Emma, who was now Jacob Zook’s wife.
Spotting Elizabeth, Elam headed in her direction. He carried his six-foot-one frame straight and his broad shoulders squared as though he were impervious to the heat. His golden-brown eyes sparkled over his light-brown beard.
Warmth spread through Elizabeth as she returned his smile. It’s too soon. She fought her rekindled attraction to him.
“Vea-gaits.” Pausing a few feet from the end of the bench, Elam removed his straw hat. His black broadfalls had slight extensions at the sides where they buttoned to his green shirt, unlike Amishmen in Lancaster County who wore suspenders.
“Vea-gaits, Elam.” She glanced at the three buttons on his shirt front. All her life she’d wondered why men were permitted to use buttons to close some of their garments while women had to use straight pins. Will the ease and comfort of buttons ever be permitted for Amish ladies?. Men even had the luxury of hooks and eyes on their Sunday frock coats.
Elam stood, his fingers playing a rhythm on his hat brim.
“Papa’s at the barn with Eli.” She lowered her gaze to the grass by his feet.
“Ja, vell, I didn’t cume to see Isaac.”
“Oh.” She battled the blush she knew stained her cheeks. She felt at twenty-five she was too old to blush over a gentleman’s attention.
He cleared his throat. “May I join you?”
Elizabeth slid over to make room for him. He took a seat, and as he placed his hand between them, his fingers brushed hers. The nerves in her arm tingled and a familiar warmth encompassed her. She jerked her hand back, reprimanding herself for being affected by his nearness.
He seemed puzzled. “Es spied mich (I’m sorry).” He looked pensive. “Emma would like you to cume to her place for supper.”
“I’d love to.” She felt foolish. Elam’s sister had been her close friend for years. Why had she assumed the man had come to call on her? Endeavoring to fight her attraction, she thought about Elam’s deceased wife and his two little boys. “It must have been difficult to leave your sons in Mercer County when you came to visit your sister.”
“Ja. Emma would’ve liked to have seen the boys.”
“Why didn’t you bring them?”
“Emma has quite a brood of her own. Two more probably wouldn’t make much difference, but Leah felt it would be better if I left them at home,” he said, referring to his youngest sister. “Leah’s been taking care of them since Mary died.”
The sound of his wife’s name jolted Elizabeth. I’m being silly. She vowed to govern her effusive emotions and act as her Amish family expected her to. What do they expect? She pondered how her younger sisters, Sarah and Ruth, seemed to create instances that placed her in Elam’s presence. Even Eli prompted situations that threw the two of them together.
She envisioned Moses’ smiling face and prayed to retain a clear memory of him. Since Amish don’t believe in taking photographs, all she had was the picture of him in her mind. Would it fade if she permitted her heart to embrace another man? The fear of it made her inch farther from Elam. To her distress, her heart reached toward him, ignoring the space she’d created. She swalloed. Now what shall I do?