Hello, and welcome to the continuation of my story. I pray that you have a blessed day!
Hattie gasped as her heart rate quickened once more after just returning to its normal pace since losing Leah. While she was counting on this job offer to give her Leah a buffer of protection, the thought of returning to an Amish community after many years spent away while supporting her mamm and schweschder had filled her heart with happiness. After her mother’s death, Hattie’s inheritance was released, freeing her from the burden of working amongst the Englisch for a paycheck. Now the simple security of room and board offered to her in Deer Springs was all Hattie was after.
She turned, her wide eyes focused on the man whose warm correspondence had put her mind at ease about choosing to accept the teaching position at the Deer Springs Amish School. His jaw looked grim, which besides pointing out the gravity of her predicament, indicated that this man was a bachelor. Levi’s raven black hair poked out from under his straw hat with the slight hint of a curl, and his strong arms were a gut indication that the man wasn’t afraid of hard work. She glanced at him curiously. Hattie hadn’t been around an Amish man in nearly six years, and she was surprised by the way standing next to Levi made her feel.
“Pardon? I thought all the details of my employment have already been decided. I…I mean we, are counting on this position.”
“With all due respect, it’s clear that you weren’t truthful while filling out your application. So I can’t be hiring you.”
Hattie’s eyes flashed as she thought back to the day when she had sat inside of her small rented room in downtown Bozeman, neatly answering every question which Levi had asked of her concerning her training by the light of her desk side lamp. She had been nothing but truthful and accurate. Hattie reached down and rubbed Leah’s back, who was currently leaning against her hip. This surely wasn’t the way she had hoped to reunite with her schweschder after six years’ time. “I’m sorry, but I disagree. I need more details please.”
His eyes traveled over her body, making her toes curl. “How can I hire a woman who isn’t Amish to teach at an Amish school haus? The local families would be fit to be tied.” He wrung his hands together, looking anxiously out of the window. “If you need a place to stay for the night, you’re welcome to sleep in the small home behind this building. But you’ll have to leave in the morning. Now if you don’t mind, I must be on my way.”
Hattie shook her head fiercely while looking at her crimson frock. Of course Levi had come to the conclusion that she wasn’t Amish. What else would he think while she was wearing such clothing? She had intended on changing into the Amish cape dress which she had carefully sewn only one week ago after finishing her last tutoring session with a troubled youth in Bozeman this afternoon.
Even after nearly one year, news of her mamm’s death was still fresh, and she needed to change into her proper Amish mourning clothing as quickly as possible. There should have been plenty of time for her to change before catching the stage coach with Leah, but her sister’s unexpected disappearance had put a wrench in her intentions. Hattie’s plans to make a gut first impression in Deer Springs flew out the window while searching for dear Leah. She thought she had lost her.
“I understand your concern.” Hattie motioned towards her dress. “But I’m truly Amish. Six years ago, I accepted a job in Bozeman as a teacher’s assistant after my daed passed away. You see, he made many poor decisions, and left my mamm with a rather large debt to pay. I saw a flyer advertising teaching assistant jobs at an ice cream shop in Lancaster, and decided that I would do whatever I could to help my family.”
She bit the inside of her lip, trying her best to fight back tears. The debt would have been non-existent if it were not for her scoundrel of a father. His trickery had caused her once-wealthy mamm to place the full of her dowry into a trust for her daughters which could only be payable to them upon her death. The family had lived in near poverty due to her daed’s negligence. “My previous schoolmaster did not approve of my Amish clothing, so I was asked to dress like the local townspeople. Otherwise, I would never be caught in such worldly attire.”
Levi rubbed his jaw, which was beginning to show a slight five o’clock shadow. “Your story just doesn’t make sense. Why would a girl travel across the county in order to support her family? Besides, I thought you had real teaching experience. A teacher’s assistant doesn’t count in my book.”
“I know my story seems odd. And surely it is. But I’m telling you the truth. Shortly after arriving in Montana, I took my teacher’s exam and received my full certification. I am more than qualified for this position. I’ve been teaching a normal class as well as mentoring troubled youth in Bozeman for quite a while now.” Her hands shook as she clutched them behind her back. There was more to her story. So much more. But could this man be trusted? His chocolate brown eyes shifted to the window as he impatiently tapped the toe of his work boot. Hattie quickly decided that she didn’t know enough about Levi to tell him more of her story. Leah’s safety depended on their whereabouts remaining unknown.
“Have you been baptized?”
“Well then, my decision stands. Your connections outside of the Amish community are too strong, and I ask for you to be on your way shortly.”
Hattie stood her ground as Leah tightened her grip around her abdomen. Levi was right about one thing. Her relationship with the outside world was strong. Stronger than this man would ever realize. Hattie’s connection to the Englisch was in fact the root of her and Leah’s problems. But she needed this job like she needed oxygen. She couldn’t give up so easily.
“If you are certain about this, I will need to speak to the Bishop.”
Levi raised an eyebrow, a half smile exposing a dimple on his right cheek. “Are you intending on going over my head?”
She tilted her chin defiantly. “That’s exactly what I plan on doing.”
He huffed underneath his breath. “I’m afraid you’ll be wasting your time. Since I’m the schoolmaster, Bishop Graber will likely agree with me.”
Levi’s prediction might prove to be true, but Hattie knew she must try. While she wasn’t willing to share confidential information with him, surely the Bishop would be trustworthy. He was her only hope if she and Leah were to remain in Deer Springs. They most certainly could not return to Lancaster. She put her hand inside of the hidden pocket within her pleated skirt, and ran her fingers against the thin piece of paper which she had folded neatly before placing it by her side at the beginning of this warm Montana day. She would need to share this bit of information after all.
Truth be told, there was much that she needed to share with Bishop Graber, and Hattie would do well to pick up her forgotten suitcase from the stage coach station before meeting with the man. “With all due respect, I ask that you take me to the Bishop. Immediately. I must get this sorted out.”
Levi blew out a puff of air. “And I must get back to my flock. They are expecting supper shortly.”
“Are you planning to forego your duties as the schoolmaster in order to feed a few sheep? I’m sure they won’t starve.” Hattie regretted the words as soon as they flew through her lips. In fact, she had much respect for the farmers who had not given up and moved their herds during the severe drought. But fear of the unknown coupled with her empty stomach was causing Hattie to become overwhelmed. She felt like she might snap.
Levi clenched his fists by his side. “I own more than a ‘few’ sheep. They are my responsibility.”
“As am I.” She pushed a stray tendril of hair behind her ear, wishing that she had at least been conscience enough to wear her head covering on this day. The two adults locked eyes, and Hattie continued to meet his glare for all it was worth until she felt a slight tug on her skirt.
“Hattie, I’m hungry.” Leah’s voice wavered as she clutched her stomach in demonstration. “I haven’t eaten since the train.”
She looked down at the child sympathetically, sorry that their reunion was going so poorly. “Of course you are, dear. We’ll find something to eat in just a few minutes.” Hattie returned her gaze to Levi’s face, surprised by the flicker of concern which drifted across his eyes.
“Surely there is a woman in this church district who sells baked goods from her home. Right? Perhaps we can purchase a snack on our way to the Bishop’s home. That is, after we pick up my valise from the stage coach drop off location.” Hattie sucked in her breath, surprised at her gumption. She had learned a thing or two since moving West. One of her lessons was that woman, and not only men, needed a certain amount of strength to survive. This lesson along with her faith in Gott had caused her to acclimate to her surroundings over the past six years. Living alone in the frontier wasn’t for the faint of heart.
“I won’t take no for an answer.”
Levi sighed deeply, scuffing his toe across the wooden floorboard. “All right. Greta Miller sells baked goods from her home. We’ll stop by on our way to Bishop Graber’s.” He took long strides towards the entrance of the school haus, pausing momentarily to motion the Fishers to follow. “Schnell. We must be on our way. If one of my sheep falls ill, I’m planning on holding you accountable.”
Hattie hid the smile which threatened to tug on her lips. “Fair enough. Come Leah, let’s make our way to Levi’s buggy.”
Leah grabbed Hattie’s hand and began to pull her to the door. “Okay. Hey, did you see the automobiles driving around Bozeman? Do you think we’ll ever travel that way?”
“I suppose not. We much prefer the simple life, ja? There’s no need to travel around town any faster than a horse and buggy can carry us, right?”
“Right. They did look exciting though, didn’t they?”
“That they did.” Hattie patted her schweschder’s head, thankful that she seemed comfortable with her after a six year absence. Why, she had just turned four when Hattie had traveled to Montana as a frightened sixteen-year-old, desperate to find a way to provide for her mamm and schweschder after her daed’s death.
Hattie didn’t realize she would never see her dear mother again after stepping on the train headed West. Her absence shadowed her days. Thankfully, Leah was fortunate enough to have never felt her father’s strong hand. After his passing, Hattie thought that Leah would be safe forever. Unfortunately, it appeared like the frail girl had taken after her mother. And she had no idea that an even greater threat would someday loom over the horizon.
Hattie stifled a cough as she stepped outside, a hot wind blowing a puff of dust to her nostrils. Instinctively, she covered Leah’s face while stepping towards the waiting buggy. Hattie glanced across the parched valley, which was once covered with lush greenery. The drought that began last year had changed things. When she had first arrived in Montana, the promise of beginning a new life with a large tract of land was evident. Now only the strong remained.
She looked curiously at Levi, who was propped up against his rig. He was obviously very physically strong, while his simply being there held testament to the strength of his spirit. He could surely be an ally if only he would believe her…
“Don’t forget your bag.” Levi motioned towards the porch, pointing out what Hattie assumed was Leah’s belongings.
“I’ll be back in just a minute.” Leah’s voice was soft as she quickly bounded back up the porch steps to retrieve her things.
Hattie continued towards Levi, while praying that her impromptu meeting with Bishop Graber would go well. When she reached his side she gasped in surprise as he hoisted her into the buggy as if she weighed next to nothing. Her heart rate quickened slightly as she felt a warm blush rise to her cheeks.
“Danke for the help.”
His lips twitched. “Don’t thank me. You’ve given me no choice in the matter, remember?”
Hattie bit back the childish urge to stick out her tongue, and instead, tightened her lips in exasperation. He had her there. She breathed a quick prayer under her breath, asking the Lord for a measure of patience, kindness, and grace. She scooted over, allowing Leah room once she returned to the buggy, carpet bag in hand. While Hattie normally tried to exhibit the meekness that she was painstakingly taught as a kind, desperate times called for desperate measures. She gazed at the faraway mountains, their tall peaks offering a welcome change to the otherwise bleak landscape. Her heart began to pound when she began to think about what was really at stake if the Bishop turned them away as well. Returning to Lancaster County would be disastrous to her Leah.
…to be continued.