Amish Historical Fiction – The Amish Schoolmarm Part 1

Hello, friends!  About one year ago I was a finalist in a Love Inspired writing contest.  My story didn’t make it to publication, but I thought I would begin sharing it here, piece by piece.  I had such fun writing it.  It is a Historical Amish Romance novel titled The Amish Schoolmarm.  The Amish way of life has always intrigued me.  I love their simple way of life and strong ties to home.  I’m sharing the first half of chapter one below.  I hope that you enjoy!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:19

Chapter 1

Deer Springs, Montana

August, 1920

An involuntary cough coursed through Levi Hilty’s lungs as dust from the forgotten bed sheet wafted through the small Amish school haus.  Giving it a final shake before folding it in two, his gaze resting momentarily on the solid, wooden desk which the cotton fabric had been protecting during the too-hot summer.  His guarded heart flinched.  Levi could almost envision Rhoda, his previously betrothed, sitting primly behind the piece of furniture, her smiling face tanned a golden bronze from the unforgiving Montana sun.  He felt his expression sour as he ran his fingers across the brim of his hat before crossing to the chalkboard which graced the full-length of the adjacent wall.

His worn hands reached down into a galvanized bucket brimming with suds, and he removed a cloth in order to begin washing the board clean.  After it had been thoroughly scrubbed, he turned to the window to check the time based on the sun’s position in the sparkling blue sky.  Levi winced once realizing the sun not only streamed through the thick panes of glass dotting the cabin, but through glaring cracks in the structure as well.  A deep sigh blew through his lips.  He would need to apply fresh chinking to the joints shortly, but it would have to wait for another day.  As the schoolmaster, he was expected to introduce the new schoolmarm to her classroom this very afternoon.

A frown filled Levi’s jaw when a soft rap sounded at the door.  While meeting the new schoolmarm was the last thing he wanted to do, it would be best to get the task behind him.  He plopped the rag into the bucket hastily, sending a spray of lukewarm water across the plank flooring.  Sighing, he wiped his hands across his plain gray pants before quickly striding to the door and swinging it open a bit too forcefully.

To his surprise, a waif of a girl stood meekly on the porch, gazing at him shyly with hollow eyes the color of spun caramel.  Her black mourning dress had seen better days, and the kapp perched on top of her head was darkened with soot.  He spied the worn carpet bag resting by her side in concern, wondering who this young girl might belong to.  She was surely new to the small Amish community of Deer Springs.

Levi cleared his throat while sinking down to the girl’s level.  She was small and lanky, and his heart went out to the young stranger who reminded him so much of himself at that age.  His brown eyes caught on hers.  “What can I help you with?”

The girl’s eyes widened in a mixture of fear and concern.  “I…I am looking for Hattie Fisher.  She’s the new schoolmarm.  The kind man that drove the stage coach told me I could find her here.”

Levi tried his best to keep his composure as he rose to his feet.  The new schoolmarm didn’t say anything about bringing an extra mouth to feed.  While the runt of a child surely wouldn’t eat a large supply of food, any amount was scarce in these parts.  “Ja, I’m planning on meeting Hattie any minute now.  Feel free to take a seat until she arrives.”

The girl didn’t hesitate, and after looking over the school room, she slid into a desk on the first row of the cabin.  Unsure of what to do next, Levi decided to get back to work cleaning the area.  While many questions swirled through his mind concerning the young girls’ identity, the disgruntled schoolmaster figured it would be best to ask Hattie Fisher for the facts herself.

As Levi wiped the desks clean of the dust which had accumulated over the dry summer, the young girl’s eyes began to droop.  In five seconds flat, her head and arms were draped across the desk, and a loud snore erupted from her mouth.  Raising an eyebrow, he continued tidying the room while wondering where the schoolmarm could be.  She wasn’t putting her best foot forward, and he couldn’t help but think that the young girl who was currently drooling across the hand-hewn wooden desk top had put quite a wrench in his plans for the day.

Levi’s stomach began to growl as he quietly stepped outside near dinnertime, while a sense of alarm began to fill his chest with worry for the new schoolmarm’s safety.  What could be keeping her?  His ears perked as a soft bleat sounded from his nearby pasture.  As a sheep farmer, he knew that his time at the school haus must draw to an end.  His flock would need to be tended to shortly, and he wasn’t one to leave them waiting.

He took his job seriously, never taking for granted how the passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 had allowed him to purchase quite a large spread for near to nothing.  But what was he to do with the girl?  He removed his straw hat to scratch his head full of dark hair as a patch of red fabric caught his eye around the side of the school haus.

“Have you…have you seen a young Amish girl?  She’s ten years of age, and her hair is brown, much like my own.  She’s been traveling for days, and is liable to be quite the sight.”  A young woman of medium height dashed to the front of the school building before clutching her abdomen and leaning downward to catch her breath.  Perplexed, Levi studied the woman’s garment carefully.  The crimson frock was bunched and pleated, which stood in stark contrast to the Amish’s standard cape dresses he was used to.   The beige lace trim which accented the high neckline and sleeves mirrored the fashion of the modern world perfectly.

His gaze traveled to the woman’s face, which displayed piercing caramel eyes when she raised her chin after catching her breath.  Small tendrils of chestnut hair which had escaped from her loose bun curled around her face, drawing attention to the lift of her chin and rosy cheeks.  Levi’s chest clenched when her eyes met his, pressing on his sense of both uncertainty and compassion.

“Answer my question, please!  Have you seen my schweschder?”

With that, Levi quickly made the connection between the woman standing before him and the girl snoozing inside of the school room.  The surname and caramel eyes were a dead giveaway.  But why was the young Amish girl related to the very worldly woman standing before him?  Was this the new schoolmarm he had hired?  Instead of asking any of the questions at the front of his mind, Levi stepped aside and motioned for the woman to enter the school haus.  “Ja, I have.  A girl matching your description is waiting for you just inside.”

Ach, danke ever so much!” A faint citrus scent drifted to Levi’s nose as she rushed past him quickly, her skirt brushing against his pant leg in her haste.

Curiously, Levi turned away from the choking heat and rested his gaze back inside of the schoolroom.  With trepidation, the young woman approached the girl and gently touched her shoulder, shaking it slightly.  She awoke with a start, her back suddenly ridged while staring wide-eyed at the woman.

“Hattie?  Is that you?”

Ja dear girl, it surely is.”

With that, Leah squealed with delight and rushed into Hattie’s outstretched arms.  The two began to cry as the woman rocked her slightly while stroking the hair which had escaped from the girl’s kapp.  She brushed a stray piece behind her ear before pulling away and holding her at arm’s length.

“You gave me quite a fright.  We were supposed to meet at the Train Station in Bozeman hours ago.  What caused you to ride on the stage coach to Deer Springs without me?”

Leah shrugged slightly, her light brown eyes clouding over.  “I…I don’t know.  After so many days of traveling after Mamm’s death, I was confused, I guess.  I’m sorry.”

Hattie scooped the girl back into a hug, sighing deeply while her eyes squeezed shut in relief.  “That’s understandable, Leah.  The important thing is that we are together now.  I don’t believe that I’ve ever been as scared as I was this afternoon.”  She shuddered violently.  “My mind began to run away with imaginations of what might have happened to you.  After searching for hours the stage coach returned to the depot after its run to Missoula, and the kind driver let me know that he had just dropped off a young Amish girl in Deer Springs.”

“Jonathan Philpot?”  Leah’s eyes brightened at the thought.  “He sure was nice.  Much nicer than the people running the train.”

Hattie smiled.  “Ja, Jonathan Philpot.  I jumped on the coach and came here myself as quick as he could carry me.  I hope you weren’t too frightened.”

Levi leaned against the door frame, trying his best to understand the scenario unfolding before him.  He had obviously made a grave mistake hiring this woman sight unseen.  He had hoped a woman who fit the definition of an aging spinster would be gracing his presence this afternoon, and instead, a fancy young woman arrived in her place.

While the sisterly reunion was touching and he felt sorry for the young orphan, Levi couldn’t allow a woman who had most assuredly left the Amish faith teach the local kinder.  The school year was due to start in mere days, and he wasn’t sure what step to take next.  The families of Deer Springs were counting on him…and Hattie…to teach their children after Rhoda abruptly left before the school year officially ended six months ago.

The other girls in the community were either too young, or simply not interested in the position given the disproportionate amount of men to woman.  As soon as a girl reached courting age, she had her pick of at least a dozen suitors and was usually betrothed within one year’s time.   He had made a promise to the community that a qualified teacher was on her way, which was enough cause for several families skeptical of the harsh Montana climate to stay put.  But now?  He had no desire to repeat his folly by hiring a worldly teacher who was destined to leave when the going got tough.

Levi shook his head in embarrassment, ridged as his fence next door.  The few families which held the small Amish settlement together were likely to be on the first train heading East as soon as they caught sight of her.  Hattie’s letter stating that she was of Amish decent and had taught for six years had been quite convincing.  She had fooled him but gut.

Hattie and Leah jumped when Levi took a few tentative steps into the schoolroom.  Hattie stood to her full height and quickly wiped her eyes dry with an embroidered handkerchief.  After tucking it into a fold of her skirt, she pulled Leah to her side.  She smiled brightly at Levi, giving him her full attention.  He sucked in his breath as her face shined with a sense of gratitude.  Turning Hattie and Leah Fisher away wasn’t going to be easy.

“I take it that you are Levi Hilty, and that this is the Deer Springs School Haus?”  She looked around the room, drinking in her surroundings.  “Why, I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to starting my job here as the schoolmarm.  My Leah and I are ever so grateful to Gott for the opportunity.”

Levi frowned, confused at her use of the Deitsch along with a tone that he wasn’t used to hearing. She sounded…highly educated.  Her words were soft and delicate, in a very intriguing kind of way.  He licked his parched lips and took a step backwards.

“And I’m guessing you’re Hattie Fisher?”

Ja.  I surely am.”

Levi sucked in his breath, while noticing the pure kindness which radiated from Hattie’s smile.  “Well then, I’m afraid that we have a problem.  I can’t hire you to be the teacher in this school haus.”

   …to be continued next week.

Read Part 2 Here

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