Ella Lantz’s field of lavender, edging toward full bloom, stretched as far as her eyes could see. But, she admitted, peering out from under her bonnet brim, that was only because the humped, wide-set rows of the fragrant purple plants went up the hill and disappeared from sight. She had almost an acre of the sweet stuff and, as Grossmamm Ruth put it, with no man or marriage coming down the pike, her little garden of Eden here in Eden County was her future.
With her curved hand sickle, Ella cut an armful of the earliest, hardy English lavender, then rushed down to where her widowed brother, Seth, was loading the wagon with his household goods. Beside him in the wagon sat Hannah Esh, Ella’s good friend, whom he was going to marry this Friday, in just four days.
Even though Amish weddings usually avoided the farming months, everyone agreed they’d waited a long time. Their borrowed wagon was filled with the rest of Seth’s furniture, which was going into storage in the Troyer barn until his and Hannah’s house was done. Meanwhile, the newlyweds were going to live in the big Troyer house while Seth would build first his and Hannah’s home, then one for the youngest Troyer son, Josh, and his wife, Naomi. So many weddings, Ella thought, but none of them hers. Both Naomi and Hannah were her friends, and she wanted to send enough lavender with Seth to scent the Troyers’ house, then later the wedding itself at Hannah’s family home.
Ella was grateful to the Troyers for hiring her oldest brother in these tight times. And, she was getting a house of her own in the bargain. Seth was giving her his two-story home on this property. She planned to live upstairs and make the downstairs into a lavender workshop and store where she could oversee a small staff to make potpourri, candles and soap.
“Here, for Mrs. Troyer,” Ella said, and lifted the big bundle of blooms up to Hannah, who cradled them across her knees. On the wagon seat between her and Seth perched three-year-old Marlena, Seth’s little girl, who adored her new mother-to-be. The child smiled and waved down at her aunt Ella, who had helped to care for her since her mother died two years ago.
One of the four big Belgians hitched to the wagon snorted and stamped a huge hoof. They were anxious to be off. Ella knew Seth and Marlena were only going four miles away, but she would miss them.
Just think on it—us making candles for the royal wedding,” my brother-in-law, Gil, called to me from the door of the wax workshop.
“Us and six other chandleries,” I reminded him as I sat behind our shop’s counter, which was cluttered with stacks of candles. “Four hundred tapers for the thanksgiving service, the mass and wedding banquet. I’m so excited that the marriage itself will be out on a public platform for all to see. I do so adore weddings, especially when I’ve seen so many funerals.”
Gil shuffled all the way into the shop, which fronted the street and which I oversaw. He was a short man but with a powerful upper torso from hefting metal molds and bales of woven wick from the days when he had his own small shop out by Wimbledon. I think his far better position in “fancy London,” as he always called it, went to his head, though he had not yet been admitted to the Worshipful Guild of Wax Chandlers. It was one of my goals for him, since women could not belong and my deceased husband had been so prominent in the guild. Gil did a fine job for me here: Our four apprentices jumped when his piercing voice ordered them to tasks he once had to do himself.
I myself had jolted at his voice and stabbed the wing feathers I’d been carving on a wax angel. I would have to smooth it over. It was entirely possible to correct mistakes in wax, at least. Dear heaven, how I rued the ones I’d made in life. Why, if I hadn’t been so careless, perhaps my dear Edmund might still be among the living.
I slowly slid the half-carved candle under the counter so Gil would not see that this angel, like the others I’d carved, had my dead son’s face again. Maud and Gil thought I was weak for mourning him so deeply, but they’d never had or lost a child. It was my sister’s cross to bear that she longed desperately for one, but Maud had never conceived.
“The ’prentices were talking ’bout seeing the Spanish princess enter London,” Gil said, wiping his hands on his waxy apron. “So, by the by, you going to walk our own Arthur home from school or want me to? I thought Christopher’s be calling on you again afore we close up, and I know you want someone waiting for the lad the moment he comes out the door.”
I was, as usual, tempted to go myself to greet and accompany my boy home, though most of the lads walked by themselves. But Gil was right about my possible visitor. Like many a widow with a prosperous shop, I had been courted by several men, and Christopher Gage, an officer in the Worshipful Guild of Wax Chandlers, had emerged as the most determined. I was in no rush to wed again after a year alone. Though there would be much profit in our shop’s assets being merged with his, I wished he would do more to make my son Arthur like him. Such a union with another chandler had helped me once, when I wed after my family died, but then, as ever in a merchant’s marriage, it brought my money and skills to the Westcott Chandlery too. That had been my dowry to my husband, Will, and my dower from him was this fine house and larger shop—and most of all, a kindly husband who gave me my two sons, though one of them was lost to me now.
In truth, I was not prepared to deal with Christopher again, so I was about to say that I would walk to fetch Arthur. Then, through the shop window—panes of real glass, I thought proudly, not just thin horn—I saw a fine ebony stallion ridden to a stop just before our door. No, two fine horses. A well-attired couple dismounted, and the man, tall and broad shouldered, gave a street boy a coin to hold their horses.
“You’d best go for Arthur,” I told Gil, standing up and shaking out my burgundy wool skirts. “Well-heeled customers, I warrant, ones I don’t recognize.”
“So I see,” he said, stooping to squint past me.
And then the great adventure of my life began.
A STRANGE, SHRILL VOICE dragged Abigail from deep sleep. No, it was two voices, one low-pitched, one high. She huddled under her sheet and quilt, then thrashed against them. Dreams had haunted her again—of a couple running through a cornfield, whooping in delight, with Ben leading the way. Ben laughing, knocking over the stalks…running in crazy circles… Had she been dreaming of Ben and Liddy? No. The voices were real. She could hear them right now.
Clutching the covers, Abby sat bolt upright. At least the people weren’t outside her house. Maybe down by the creek, or on the covered bridge. That often funneled sounds her way. Probably rumspringa kids, maybe some she knew. Drinking beer, staying out late, just as she had during her running-around time. Or maybe it was outsiders telling ghost tales on the old bridge where, if you shouted loud enough, your voice echoed. Ja, scaring someone about the Amish girl and Englische boy who hanged themselves there years ago because their love was forbidden.
Despite the fact she was sweating, Abby shivered. She didn’t believe in ghosts but she knew the story: the Amish girl had argued with her lover, saying it was wrong to take a life, but he had convinced her to put he noose around her neck and jump with him into the darkness….
Abby stopped breathing and strained to listen to the high-pitched voice again. Ja, it was a woman’s, strong and strident. Land sakes, couldn’t they quiet down and let a body sleep?
Trying to keep calm, Abby fumbled on her bedside table for her flashlight, clicked it on and shot its beam toward her battery-run clock. It was 4:14 a.m.! Now she’d never get back to sleep. She had to get up before dawn to make more mushroom chutney and relish for the Saturday farmers’ market. And she wanted to take a loaf of friendship bread over to her new neighbors across the creek, plus harvest more mushrooms.
Her feet hit the rag rug on the floor, and she found her slippers by feel. Though her place was six miles out of town, and the nearest Amish farm was two miles away, she’d lived here for years, first with both grandparents and then just with Grossmamm. She’d never felt afraid here, she told herself, and she didn’t now. She knew Wild Run Woods behind the house, Killibuck Creek—really a river—and the old bridge better than anyone. And people had better learn to be quiet at night!
As she wrapped a shawl around her flannel nightgown, another thought hit her. Maybe the folks who had taken over the old Hostetler house across the creek had gone down to the bridge and were arguing. If she were the woman who had just moved into that run-down place, she might be shouting, too.
By now her curiosity was as awake as she was. In the front room, she knelt by the window she’d left cracked in the crisp September air, and raised the sash a bit higher. The woman’s voice wasn’t Amish in tone or rhythm. Abby couldn’t be sure, but the man must be a modern, too. This part of Eden County had folks who weren’t Amish, but they all had the good sense not to be disturbing the peace this time of night.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at The Literary Guild® Book Club even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.