Chapter 1: Truth
December 1, 1955
The night was ominous and had begun to merge into a winter blizzard that raged brutally outside; it would likely last past the first hint of dawn. The fierce wind blasted against the upstairs windows, evidence of the violent ambiance outside.
By the ghostly golden glow of a kerosene lantern, the scene that was being played out in the Zooks’ upstairs birthing room this evening was not one of excited anticipation. The roar of the storm was loud enough to almost mask the screams of pain that became wearier as the night progressed.
“Lizzy, how much longer?” Jacob asked one of the midwives as she made her way into the kitchen for more hot water and towels.
“Jacob, I suggest you send for the doctor. The child is breech. If Esther delivers tonight, I doubt seriously that the child will live.”
“No matter the child, do not allow Esther to die. Promise me, Lizzy. Don’t let my wife die.” Jacob grasped onto Lizzy’s arm and refused to let her go.
“If you stay, be in prayer then,” she said, calming his fears with a pat of her hand and a soothing smile, which was interrupted by another bloodcurdling scream from the birthing room. “I believe it’s time,” she said softly.
Cora, Lizzy’s sister, nodded to her from between Esther’s legs and said in an even tone, “If you will hold on to her, I think I can manage to ease this child feet first into this world.”
Esther let out another scream and clinched hard onto Lizzy’s wrists. Lizzy climbed behind Esther in order to help her push, an unbearable undertaking for Esther.
“Wait, Esther, don’t push yet, dear. The cord is wrapped around your child’s neck. I will ease it off while you collect your energy for the next contraction.”
Cora slid her dainty hand into the opening, pushing the child’s rump up and out of the way to venture past it to its head and neck. She could feel the next contraction start to take hold and rushed to finish the job at hand. The cord was indeed just under the child’s chin. In order to deliver it safely as a breech, she would have to slide her finger between it and its neck, and then bring the cord over its face, an easy task if the child had decided to come into this world the normal way.
“There! Push now, darling,” Cora called out, bracing herself for the child’s entry. The wind moaned mournfully with velocity against the window, drowning out Esther’s screams for mercy as the child finally emerged. The child’s long legs and small hips emerged first, then his broad shoulders, and lastly his head, causing Esther to gasp with a ripping pain that tore her.
“It’s a boy, and he’s alive!” Cora cried out, somewhat in a state of shock that he was indeed alive and seemingly in good spirits, unlike his mother. “Goodness! I need to stop this bleeding or we will have a child with no mother.” Cora stood and handed the infant to Lizzy to bathe and calm him, for his cries resounding throughout the house were loud and strong.
“Ok?” Lizzy asked as she bent to watch her sister add the last stitch, repairing the tender torn flesh.
“She, too, will live. Rest now, Esther. Your child will need a name. Have you and Jacob chosen one for him?”
“Nicolaus,” Esther whispered as she looked up at her son and reached for him. He was placid now, the cries and the crash of the storm seemingly ceasing at the same time.
“I hope I’m not too late.” A familiar voice came from the doorway. It was Betsy, Jacob’s sister. She was carrying another kerosene lamp and holding it high to see more clearly. She took the child without asking and cradled him in her arms as if he were hers; she had none of her own. She carried him out to meet his father, unwrapped his covering, and exposed the dark wet curls upon his head. “Jacob—your son. His name is Nicolaus,” Betsy said cautiously.
Jacob looked down at the child. “He is the devil’s child. I curse him with a curse of devastation on whatever he touches. Take him from my house.” He spoke so low, Cora and Lizzy could not make out what he had said, but Betsy heard him loud and clear. He then turned his back to the child and walked away.
“This child will be special,” Betsy said as she smiled down at the small frail creature in her arms, not allowing the reaction of his father to dull this miraculous moment.
Nicolaus tiptoed down the wooden stairs that led into their big rustic family room, being mindful of the notoriously creaky floorboard at the bottom. The golden light of early morning washed over the room and he paused for a moment, enjoying the silence and peacefulness that remained here. Leaving quietly by the kitchen door, he carefully closed it behind him, holding solid to the knob that had rattled for as long as Nicolaus could remember. He was cautious not to disturb his parents, who were still in morning prayer. As the door secured behind him, Nicolaus jolted off into a dead run, scattering chickens in his path as they squawked their alarm.
The brisk May morning air felt like tiny pinpricks to his cheeks as he ran along the country road he knew so well, which was shaded heavily by large, old oaks, like sentries standing guard. The lane was sheltered from the sun during the early spring months, allowing only a few rays of light to filter in from above. The shadows cast a scene on the path before him that made Nicolaus think of the nearby town’s stained-glass church windows that he had seen while growing up in his small Pennsylvania community. The area had been settled in the late 1800s by a group of Amish families passing through, looking to start farms and homestead on available land in the area. The soil was fertile for planting, and a few families turned into many. It was a pastoral scene of beauty, with the quaint whitewashed wooden houses, barns, green grass, crops, and bucolic country lanes all there to separate one boundary from another.
Nicolaus’s destination was a one-room schoolhouse he had attended for eight years of his young life. Up ahead, patiently waiting was his best friend Sylvain, who lived just two miles up the lane. Running past Sylvain, Nicolaus extended one arm as if he were going to catch his comrade and pull him captive. Being at least a head taller, his friend stopped Nicolaus cold in his tracks, knocking him to the ground in playful fun.
“Ach, your face, Nicolaus. Not again!” whispered Sylvain, bending down to touch Nicolaus’s discolored cheek as if in disbelief.
“Sylvain, we will be late. Come!” Nicolaus replied in English, grabbing Sylvain’s arm and pulling as he began to run towards the schoolhouse.
Sylvain knew Nicolaus would never speak of, or confess his father’s cruelty towards him. Nicolaus’s explanations ranged from clumsiness to barnyard animal vindications. As Sylvain ran alongside his friend he wondered, Is Nicolaus starting to believe these grand stories himself?
Nicolaus reached the schoolhouse first. Rushing into the cloakroom, he hung his wide-brim black hat on a peg above his homemade black flock coat with hook-and-eye closure. Plain and unadorned clothes such as these were the custom of dress in their world.
He could hear the children and their teacher, Mattie, embark on one of his favorite songs in German. He loved them all, even those they sang in Gimie. They were the songs they had sung for generations, passed down from the homeland, and they stirred his soul with their hauntingly medieval tones, taking what seemed like hours to sing.
He made his way down the rows of differently sized wooden desks that comfortably accommodated the various age groups. The larger desks were placed conveniently next to the smaller ones so there was always an older student next to a younger, ensuring that help would be available. They were a close-knit group, much like a family. They had all seen one another through severe winters, drought, lean years, and many dangers as a result of living primarily off the land.
As far back as Nicolaus could remember, he had never seen one of these desks moved, nor could they be; they were anchored to the wooden floors as if the schoolroom were a grand floating vessel in danger of rough waters.
Mattie nodded, speaking with a sidelong glance at both boys, and continued with the morning’s lessons and recitations, letting them know their tardiness was noticed.
No word or expression from either his classmates or Mattie was made about the bruises on his face, which he painfully tried to hide throughout the day with a hand to cover them or a turn of his head at an appropriate time.
This was not the first time he had bruises on his body for all to see. Nicolaus, his older brother Israel, and his older sister Edna never spoke of what they all led others to believe were the normal bumps and bruises of youth. Each sibling, however, had observed firsthand their father’s treatment and attitude towards Nicolaus, which to their bewilderment was much different from their own experience with their father. They were painfully aware of the disgusted looks and harsh treatment their father had always heaped on their brother, but also knew not to question it.
Nicolaus’s friends Sylvain and Eli also knew better than to think that these bumps and bruises were normal. Nicolaus held a fondness for Eli primarily because of Eli’s sister Sarah, with whom Nicolaus had fallen deeply in love with from childhood. His closest and dearest friend, though, was Sylvain, who was more like a brother to him. They shared many boyhood memories and Nicolaus knew he could trust Sylvain and share just about anything with him.
Sarah was a delightful brown-haired girl, a year younger than Nicolaus and always at the center of any vortex of trouble in their small Amish community and school. She was mischievous in nature, which enticed Nicolaus even more. Her big, almond-shaped brown eyes with their long black lashes occasionally looked back, catching Nicolaus by surprise, his own eyes lowering quickly in hopes that she hadn’t seen his. Everything about her—her face, the way she moved, her laugh—made him dizzy with the want to be close to her, for he cared for her deeply.
Eli occasionally stopped in at Nicolaus’s family’s farm to do his homework while waiting for his father to pass by in their black and gray Amish buggy on his way back from town. He had seen firsthand the ill-treatment Nicolaus’s father would inflict on him on occasion. Eli recalled especially one evening late last year while studying at the Zook’s kitchen table with Nicolaus. His father, Jacob, stood over Nicolaus demanding an explanation why the manure mound in the barn had not been moved to an area appointed the day before, thinking he had asked Nicolaus to move it. Eli recalled Nicolaus looking and acting nervous, even afraid. He wondered why he wouldn’t answer his father, but instead he just looked passively down at his book in silence, frozen in time.
“I asked you a question, Nicolaus. Answer me straightaway!” commanded his father, looming over his son, casting his ominous shadow across the large oak table.
Eli sat breathless with fear while Jacob, with one swift movement scooped his son up, pinning him against the kitchen wall, one hand holding firmly to the front of Nicolaus’s shirt and the other arm extended ready to strike. Jacob asked again, the veins exposed at his temple and throughout his neck, so engulfed with rage that he no longer was aware of Eli’s presence. “Were you not asked to do this chore?”
Nicolaus could not remember his father asking him to do it, but Nicolaus also knew what would come next if he answered his father “no.” Either way, he had a sickening realization that Eli would witness what Nicolaus was far too accustomed to. Stricken with silence, Nicolaus waited in dread. To Eli’s horror, Jacob struck Nicolaus across the face, sending him to the ground.
Nicolaus’s brother Israel appeared in the doorway. “Datt,” he cried, “it was I you asked to move the manure, not Nicolaus.” He quickly came to stand protectively between his father and his fallen brother.
Nicolaus wiped off the blood that trailed down his chin in a heavy stream from his lip. He tried to get to his feet but staggered a little at first before he could securely stand, and even then only with the aid of the wall.
“Perhaps it is time I should go to meet my father. I’m sure he should be along shortly!” Eli said, frantically gathering his books from the table. He wasn’t even sure anyone had heard him and didn’t care if they had. He knew he had to get away from what had just happened, having never witnessed any physical abuse in his own family.
Sylvain, who had also been a witness to a beating or two, was the only friend Nicolaus would openly speak to about his father, except for his brother Israel.
“Ach, look at da time, scholars. You may be excused for recess now,” Mattie called to her students.
“Nicolaus, I would like to speak to you at my desk please,” Mattie said, making her way between the children’s desks to her large desk near the potbelly stove, which was the only source of heat during the long, harsh, cold winter months. Mattie was a middle-aged, single Amish woman who had decided long ago to change her black cape and apron into white ones, thus showing to her Amish community that she no longer considered herself available for marriage among the Amish men in her district. Mattie was kind enough to the children and tried her best to keep the parents of her scholars informed of their children’s progress.
Nicolaus waited until all the other children had cleared the classroom before making his way to Mattie’s desk, knowing the conversation needed to be confidential or Mattie would never have asked him to remain while the others played.
“Nicolaus, I’m going to ask you to be honest with me. Are the marks on your face placed on you by human hand?”
Nicolaus frowned, turning his head slightly to one side as if not sure what she was talking about, much like a dog would when it hears something that spikes its interest. This was one of his many decoys in biding him time while thinking of believable stories to explain away his misfortune.
“I will always be honest with you, Mattie,” replied Nicolaus, using her first name. All the children called her by her first name. It was disrespectful to call their elders by anything but, their way of showing unity in their Amish community.
“Nicolaus, do you have a bully in for you?” Mattie asked, her heavy brows nearly touched together in a suspicious frown.
“No, Mattie,” Nicolaus answered, lowering his eyes, trying to avoid contact with hers.
Sensing Nicolaus’s fear of the truth, Mattie asked in a stern tone, “Is it that I will have to bring Bishop Yoder’s attention to this suspiciously recurring problem? It appears to be happening more frequently with no acceptable explanation for it, Nicolaus!”
“Excuse me!” an unfamiliar woman’s voice called out in English from the doorway. Mattie and Nicolaus looked up, Nicolaus with relief as if he had just received a pardon, feeling grateful to this beautiful stranger for her intervention. She had been waiting outside the classroom none too patiently because of an overwhelming need to use the restroom after the long drive from town. Not being familiar with the language the two were speaking she broke in on the conversation, feeling as if she would soon explode if she had to wait a minute longer.
“Ach, you must be Miss Johnson,” Mattie said as she stood and pushed back her chair, walking past Nicolaus as if he were no longer there. Offering her hand, Mattie said in an insincere way, “I’m sorry, I had forgotten you were coming today. You have to excuse Nicolaus and me. We were discussing a private matter.” Mattie looked back at Nicolaus and nodded to him that he could leave.
“Would you rather that I waited outside?” replied Miss Johnson, hoping she then could possibly ask one of the children where the ladies’ rooms were.
“No,” replied Mattie. Still looking at the visitor, Mattie spoke to Nicolaus in their Amish dialect. “Nicolaus, look past. Quit staring at the visitor and go watch over the little ones while they play. You’d think we’ve never seen such things!” she said in a whisper, speaking to no one but herself, for Nicolaus was already making his way past the two, trying his best not to make eye contact with the young beautiful stranger.
“Nice shiner you got there!” Lyn blurted out, thinking it would break some of the tension the young man displayed as he passed. Nicolaus glanced back at her with what looked to Lyn as a making of a smile, but it vanished as soon as he looked back at Mattie.
“You are da music teacher from da college then, ja?”
“Yes, and you must be Miss Fisher?”
“Ja, but you must call me Mattie. We do not usually let outsiders come to teach here at Longstone, but da state has insisted, so we will be obedient and adhere to their wishes. The Elders did, after all, agree to four weeks, you know,” Mattie said while she began to erase the fractions from the blackboard near the doorway. “I have to tell you that you may make trouble for the scholars if you influence them to go beyond our Ordnung.”
“Ordnung?” Miss Johnson questioned.
“The rules da Elders set forth for our community. Please don’t go beyond dem,” Mattie replied coldly. She handed Miss Johnson a three-paged list of handwritten rules and regulations that was conveniently mounted on the wall next to the doorway with a thumbtack so Mattie would not forget to give it to the new Yankee teacher. The Ordnung were verbal rules, so Mattie thought it would be to the new teacher’s advantage to handwrite them so she would not forget them.
As Miss Johnson read, she stopped at rule number 15, No musical instruments, or modern music unfitting for a good man. “Is a pitch pipe considered a musical instrument to your community?” Mattie gave the intruding visitor a stern glare. Changing the subject before Mattie could answer, Miss Johnson asked, her eyes looking down at the small book of rules, “The boy that was here speaking with you, is he in the age group for my class?”
“Ja, there are only five graduating scholars this year and they are all boys. Here are their names. You may have them after I call da children in from recess.”
Having dreaded this day for months, Lyn wondered if she had dressed conservatively enough for these quaint simple people. She thought she did her homework by extensively researching the Amish and their ways. However, when the children filed past in their clean simple clothing, without a giggle or normal childlike chatter, and the older children holding onto the younger children’s hands, helping each one to his or her desk, she realized then that all she had learned and perceived as “normal” was a matter of culture. So unusual was this behavior to her that she found herself staring intently at them, making a mental note not to let her facial expressions give away her feelings and thoughts, which she normally did well, having had much practice within her own culture.
Mattie made her way to the front of the classroom, her hands daintily clasped in front of her rather large rounded frame. She announced in English, “Scholars,” clearing her voice with a cough and a pudgy white hand to her lips, “this is Miss Johnson. She will be training da graduating scholars how to read musical notes for da voice. Da English government has requested that we incorporate an extra curricular activity… so… we will obey.”
Miss Johnson was waiting for moans or a resounding “hurrah” from the children but they said nothing. A few younger ones turned to her with gentle smiles, their eyes bright and excited as if they were all just told they were going to an amusement park. Mattie turned to Miss Johnson and said politely, “I hope you don’t mind taking da scholars outside perhaps under da big tree. As you can see, it would be impossible to allow you to train them in da classroom with me.” Speaking to the class in their Amish dialect, Mattie called for the five students to get their hats and meet with their new teacher. Once outside, all five of the boys strolled quietly to a log bench that sat beneath the shade of the large black oak tree. Its limbs reached generously out over the playground, giving ample shade to the children throughout the day. The boys watched as the young teacher continued on to her car and opened the trunk to retrieve the heavy equipment. Suddenly, all five of the young men leapt from the log with their eyes full of excitement, and their faces beamed as if it were Christmas and her equipment were the toys under the tree. One by one, they came to a screeching halt at her side.
“Can we help?” one asked, as another just helped himself to the easel and flip charts.
“You want these under da tree?” Nicolaus asked.
“Yes,” replied Miss Johnson, taken back by the beautiful contrast of Nicolaus’s deep blue eyes and dark chestnut hair that curled slightly in all directions under his black, wide-brim hat. He stood at least a head taller than her. “Huh… yes, under the tree will be fine.” What a striking young man, she thought. His features were not like the rest of the young Amish men she had seen in town, these gnome-like creatures with their bobbed hair, half-bearded chins, and clean-shaven upper lip. This one was handsome in all his features; he stood out from the rest, and it was hard not to notice him.
I’ve got to keep my mind from these diversions. After all, these boys are only fourteen or fifteen at most! Lyn thought as she walked back to the oak tree with her students. Her mind then trailed off into foggy memories from the past. Lost in thought, she was snapped back into the present by the screeching vocal tones of one student well on his way into his late teens and becoming a true baritone, she thought.
“You are going to teach us to read these?” Sylvain asked, as he stopped trying to sing and pointed to the musical notes on the flip chart with a sheepishly playful smile.
Oh good, thought Miss Johnson, these kids are not robots after all. I see some hidden human characteristic not seen previously while in their classroom setting. “You will start by telling me your names and then we’ll sing.”
“And I’m Sylvain Glick!” Sylvain said proudly, causing the rest of them to shake their heads and laugh at him.
“Great!” Miss Johnson said, trying hard not to smile at the boys’ childlike excitement and enthusiasm. “Now, how can I find out how well you sing? Do you know any songs?”
There was total silence except for the few birds that were doing their best from the tree above to express their disdain for those who were disturbing their territory.
“Okay… well… I understand you speak a German-Swiss dialect among yourselves. Can you sing one of your songs?”
The boys bowed their heads and started to laugh, less from shyness but more to do with mischievous wrong.
“I will sing for you!” Nicolaus said with enthusiasm in his voice, looking over at Sylvain in a playful way. He went without bashfulness into an old medieval-sounding chant that caused goose bumps to rise over Lyn’s arms. The boy’s voice was unbelievably deep and rich, with perfect tone. As he looked into her eyes, he sang as if he were singing just to her. She could not make out the words. They must have been German, she thought. She watched and listened to him hit each note firmly and evenly, “blues-ing it out” as she would say, as if he was professionally trained to do so.
“That was ah… very good! What was the song about?” Lyn asked, not noticing the other boys turning their faces so she could not see their smirks of laughter.
“Ach, yust an old song we like to sing, ja?” Nicolaus turned to the others and nodded to each of them. They straightened up and shook their heads yes, agreeing with Nicolaus all at the same time, except for Joseph, who placed his head in his hands and shook his head as if he were ashamed.
“We sing it most every day at school, ja?” Sylvain again nodded his head while he replied as if he were trying to get her to believe Nicolaus.
“Okay… we’ll just stick to English if you don’t mind.” Lyn now realized that they were laughing at her. “Well then… I’ll teach you an English popular song, and by the way, I would like it if you would all call me Miss. J from now on,” she said, going right into an old rock-and-roll song with a smile. The end of the song came just as the younger students spilled out of the schoolroom, the door swinging violently open as they ran for their respective farms and down the lane in all directions. The five boys sat glaring back at her as if her song had turned them into pillars of salt, which made her start to laugh at the spectacle. Obviously, the words to the song were either over their heads or too vulgar for them. She started to pack up her flip chart, handing the equipment to the boys who now stood fervently wanting to help.
“Nicolaus, right?” Miss. J asked as she pointed at him. Nicolaus smiled and nodded shyly. “The quality of your voice is unique! I mean… Many bands out there today are looking for a voice like yours. It’s… ah… sexy!” The words came vomiting from her mouth crudely. She was trying hard not to insult or be excessively brash to the young Amish. She knew they were not familiar to her worldly ways and words but she could not help herself. After all, she didn’t want this government-funded job that was trying to convince the Amish to mainstream their children into the public school system anyway. Why can’t the government just leave these quiet people alone?
Nicolaus’s shy smile slowly slipped into a look of shame. Glancing down at the ground, he avoided making any eye contact with Lyn or his classmates, hoping they had not heard what she had just said to him.
“I think you’re going to be her favorite. After all, you do have such a ‘sexy voice!’” Sylvain said as the two walked alone down the lane to their homes.
“Keep it to yourself, Sylvain. I’m not in the mood,” replied Nicolaus, who was still worried that Mattie would pay a visit to Bishop Yoder on his behalf.
“Can you come home with me tonight? We can do our homework and hook up my transistor radio in my buggy,” suggested Sylvain, knowing the thing Nicolaus wanted least was to go home.
“No, but thanks,” Nicolaus said in English, grateful for Sylvain’s insight into his plight. “Datt told me that I had to be home every night to help him with da planting until after graduation. Und Mattie wants to go to Bishop Yoder over da bruises because I wouldn’t tell her how I got dem.”
“Nicolaus, I have never asked you about… you know! No one, but most of all you don’t deserve treatment like the way your datt…”
“Yeah, and I thank you for not asking,” Nicolaus interrupted with a grateful smile, cutting his friend off before the conversation went any further.
“But why? Why does he do this to you only? He doesn’t beat anyone but you!” Sylvain reached his hand out to touch Nicolaus’s bruised check but was slapped gently away by Nicolaus in more of a guarded reflex than of resistance.
Nicolaus looked at Sylvain with eyes of strange sadness and said coldly detached, “I don’t know what you mean!”
Preparing the rich, God-blessed soil, and planting the varieties of seeds selected the harvest before took up most of the following weeks. Each field was slow plowed by Jacob Zook’s two strong Belgian horses side by side, two noble creatures of strength. With the backbreaking toil of preparing the earth, Nicolaus had a great deal to keep his mind occupied, the finishing tests at school being the greatest of his worries. Because they believed that higher education was a doorway into the world and that, in itself, encouraged children to leave their tight-knit society, school for the Amish in Nicolaus’s district went up to the eighth grade only. After that, they went to work full-time on their family’s farms, until the time of Rumspringa or “running around.” From the age of sixteen to late twenties, Rumspringa was a time for the young to experience whatever they thought they needed to before entering the training preparations of baptism and accepting the Church’s rule. This was a time of doing what teens do best. The parents turned a blind eye to what generally came of it, not encouraging this behavior but simply tolerating it, knowing that most of those who went out to sow their wild oats at this time normally came back, living a full and happy life among their kind after baptism.
“No, Nicolaus, not like that! Watch, take the seed like this,” Israel said, as he took Nicolaus’s hand in his, patiently showing him the proper way to toss the seeds out into their field, knowing their father refused to give Nicolaus any extra help in learning their ways of farming. “That’s right. The seeds need to fall where God wants them, just let them fall. Good!” Israel placed his hand on Nicolaus’s shoulder and gave it a hearty squeeze then a pat as he smiled reassuringly down at him, letting him know that he was doing a good job.
“Israel, Datt is watching. He will be mad that you’re wasting your time with me. Go. Be with him before he says something to us,” Nicolaus said, looking respectfully down at the dirt while his father watched from the spring wagon.
“Nicolaus! Go back to your mother and help her. We need to get this done before nightfall and you are slowing things up,” Jacob yelled from the wagon, his hands planted firmly on his hips as he added, “Israel doesn’t have the time to teach you the things you should already know. Now go!”
Miss J’s music class kept Nicolaus’s spirits up through the long tiresome month leading to graduation. The relationship he developed with her blossomed to a friendship that was one of respect dashed with a splash of playful flirting that he never took too seriously, thinking it was just her particular brand of humor. He lived for the music and drank in every note and theory class as if starved for its substance. The sound of harmonizing human voices gave him a feeling of contentment through this trying time in his world.
“A radio? Oh well, I guess you won’t go straight to hell if you listen to one of those, but rock and roll? For shame, boys,” Lyn said to Sylvain as she met him and Nicolaus in town the weekend before graduation.
“Nope, no lightning has struck yet!” Sylvain replied with a smile as he turned down the radio he had inside his buggy so they didn’t have to talk over the music.
“Hi, Nicolaus! Cat got your tongue? How come you’re so quiet sitting over there in that darling buggy as if you were shy or something?”
“Hi, Miss J. What is it that you’ve got? Is it music?” Nicolaus asked, looking at a book she was holding.
“It’s Bach. One of my all-time favorites!” Lyn replied holding the book close to her breast in a protective way as if it was a child.
“Is he a current artist?” Nicolaus asked, looking down at the book in a lustful way.
Lyn laughed, and then allowed him to take the book to look at. “No, my dear. He’s been dead a long time. Rock and roll isn’t the only form of music there is ya know,” she said smiling up at Nicolaus, watching him read the notes to the first cantata. “Would you like to keep it for a few days and study it?”
“What? Oh… no I can’t do dat. But, yeah, I would if I could.” Nicolaus handed the book back to Lyn, not taking his eyes from its cover.
“Don’t be silly, Nicolaus. Take it a few days, then give it back on Monday. I bet you a guitar if you can sing that entire cantata without one error by Monday.”
“A guitar! You would give me a guitar if I could sing dis?”
“That’s the bet!”
“Ach, Miss J. I can’t take you up on that bet but I will sing dis Monday for you.”
“Nicolaus, for some strange reason I have no doubt that you will do just that,” Lyn smiled back up at her protégé. It was a tragedy that he lived in a culture that forbade his particular God-given gift.
Spending every free moment listening to Sylvain’s transistor radio, Nicolaus and Sylvain tuned in on one of the local rock stations, memorizing every song. Most of their friends thought the songs were vulgar and planned to tell Mattie of the worldly device installed in Sylvain’s buggy. Not only were Nicolaus and Sylvain going against their Ordnung, or rules, they were going against them in a most rebellious way. Sylvain wasn’t too concerned though with the repercussions these secret pleasures brought. The only punishment he would possibly get would be a lecture at length by his parents or, the worst, a lecture of the evils of this world from the Elders. Because neither one had made the final decision yet to join the church, these kinds of allowed behaviors were sporadic and what the Elders referred to as “poor choices.” Nicolaus, however, had to contend with the fear of his father, but the pure pleasure of it and the music that came from it made him relinquish the dread and submit totally to Sylvain’s persuasions.
Nicolaus dreamed of the outside world, as did the others. He lay awake at night and wondered what it would be like to listen to whatever he wanted, wear what he wanted, drive a car, or go to the movies. These freedoms were things he could only imagine and dream about. He had dabbled in most of these once or twice before the age of sixteen, of course, but never without hiding it from his parents and his people. He did, however, have sympathy on the English youth for never being able to experience the thrill and excitement of doing something forbidden, but he never thought for a moment the youth on the outside might also have rules of their own. Down deep, he also feared venturing out into the world. After all, it was a frightening place for him, out there without the safety and security of his own people and their rules. He loved his people with all his heart. Yet he wished at times that they wouldn’t be so all seeing, all knowing as they were in the particularly protective way they could come across at times, but he knew they meant well. It would make the problems he had with his father a little less pulling on his soul if there were not so many watching. With all the fondness he had for his people, Nicolaus could never shake the feeling that he just didn’t belong and felt powerless to change it.
The days sped by and graduation loomed closer, students and parents alike swept up in their own cycles of anticipation and excitement. Parents were thinking of the busy planting season ahead, and all the work that went with it. The students’ thoughts were of the final tests and, of course, the much-awaited graduation party.
This particular Monday, however, Mattie was in no mood for festivities. She had never pretended to like
Miss J’s freedom to take her graduating boys out of class for almost half of the school day for what most of the Amish districts considered foolery. A waste of the youths’ minds, not to mention added temptations to their souls was Mattie’s thinking. Each arrival of Miss J made Mattie despise her more and more. Today Mattie was especially tense, and all the students were walking on eggshells, trying to stay out from under her radar.
The boys went out to meet their teacher at the oak tree as usual while Mattie held class inside. It was almost an hour before they could see the dust rise down the lane from Lyn’s car as she rushed to her appointment, again late but in no trouble with the graduates since they quite enjoyed their secret freedom from Mattie and their exam preparations.
“So sorry I’m late,” she said as she hurried around her car to retrieve her things, looking over at Nicolaus, who had the biggest grin on his face. “What’s up?” she asked suspiciously to the boys.
“Nicolaus can do it, he can sing da cantata!” Sylvain said as he pushed at Nicolaus in a playful way.
“I’d like to see that,” Lyn said with a questioning look over her shoulder, knowing she had been working on it for over three weeks herself and hadn’t perfected it as she would like. “I have to admit, I respect you though for trying anyway. Let’s hear your rendition.”
The boys sat on the bench as Lyn planted herself on the ground, folding her legs under her in a most unlady-like manner. Nicolaus handed her the book she had let him borrow and looked down at her then at the others.
“Well?” Lyn said as they waited, all looking up at him in expectation.
Nicolaus started to sing, and the notes coming from his throat were at once familiar to Lyn, knowing the piece as well as anyone could. While he continued to sing flawlessly, Lyn hastily opened the book to find her place to read the notes as he sang. Not only did he sing every note with accuracy, but he had also memorized the entire Bach cantata in three days.
“Nicolaus, I have no words to express to you what you have just done,” Lyn said in a trance-like gaze as she stared up at him, mesmerized by his natural talent.
The shy smile faded from his lips as he looked down, thinking he had done something wrong. He sat down next to Sylvain and folded his hands on his lap, waiting to be lectured on whatever he thought he may have done wrong to her much loved music.
Lyn stood and walked over to the bench where the boys sat waiting for her reply. Placing her hands on each side of Nicolaus’s face, she bent down eye level as she whispered to him. “I have never met anyone as talented as you are, Nicolaus. Please, I beg you to follow this God-given gift. I will help you in any way that I can if you’ll let me.”
Nicolaus sat motionless, looking back into her eyes and feeling his body start to betray him. He thanked God that his people insisted even the young to have a hat at all times, his being placed conveniently over that portion of his body that most threatened to expose to all his feelings of a beautiful woman’s touch.
Lyn finally moved away from Nicolaus, noticing that Mattie was glaring at her from the schoolhouse door. The boys looked at one another wide eyed that she was intimately close to him as she whispered, something some of them hadn’t even seen their parents do to each other. The incident was not brought up again, even though Lyn would in private occasionally ask Nicolaus to think about her offer.
Finally, the last week of school arrived. In all the excitement, the scholars prepared for their graduation party planned for the Saturday afternoon after the last day of school.
“Did you hear?” Sylvain whispered, his head lowered as he helped one of the younger children complete a handmade decoration for the party.
“What?” Nicolaus asked, his face glimmering with flecks of glitter that somehow made their way to his cheek as he looked up from the small child’s decoration project.
“Miss J’s not coming today or the rest of the week. They told her not to come back.”
“Why?” Nicolaus said loudly, then shrinking as if to hide from his classmates’ wide-eyed curiosity.
“There are tales that she… well, you know. She’d been seen with… well, you know!” Sylvain spat and stuttered, wanting to say the words but unable to find them.
“Mattie just wanted to get rid of her! That old biddy is jealous of her. You know she doesn’t like Miss J. It’s plain to see,” hissed Nicolaus.
“Nicolaus, don’t be so blind,” Sylvain said with a sheepish smile.
“I don’t believe it. Not for a minute!” Nicolaus repeated as he shook his head.
“Well, you’d better know all the right answers when Bishop Yoder and the others come questioning you about Miss J.”
“Nah!” Nicolaus replied, with fear in his eyes.
“They did me!” Sylvain said. “They asked personal questions like had I ever been alone with her, or did she ever ask me to go with her anywhere in her car or offer me presents. For two hours Bishop Yoder preached to me about how the world wants to entice us young men to practice their ways.”
“What exactly is Miss J supposed to have…”
“Boyz! Das enough whispering,” commanded Mattie in English, knowing full well what the whispers were all about that afternoon. The rumors were rapidly traveling throughout the district. With no one in their community having telephones, this was quite an amazing feat.
“Take your places, children. Graduates, help the younger ones,” Mattie commanded. “I know the excitement you have about the party tomorrow but I want all to sit in quiet rest while I speak to the graduates one by one. Eli, come, you are first.” Mattie sat down at her desk and prepared to go over finishing grades with each graduate.
Meanwhile, Nicolaus quickly sat down at a desk close to Sarah, in hopes that she would need his help. “Look, Nicolaus!” Sarah whispered with a giggle as she passed him a tightly folded piece of paper. Nicolaus looked into her eyes, his own eyes questioning as he unwrapped the neatly folded paper. He glanced down at the cartoon rendition of Mattie that Sarah had drawn with its disproportionate face and body; Nicolaus thought it was a gross compliment on Mattie’s behalf. The back end of the character, however, was so oversized that it looked twice the size of the completed picture. The caption above the drawing said in English, “Fatty Mattie.”
There was no doubt whom Sarah had tried to capture with her pencil on paper. Nicolaus laughed to himself as he looked over the page and then turned to Sarah and said in a flirtatious manner, “Ach, Sarah, for shame! If Mattie sees this, it would be…” Just as he whispered, a shadow of dread fell over him as he saw Sarah’s upcast eyes change from glee to pure fear. Feeling a presence of impending doom, Nicolaus froze.
“I will take that!” Mattie screeched as she pulled the paper from Nicolaus’s hands. She inspected it for what seemed to be a lifetime to Nicolaus, and then asked in a voice that quivered with such anger it made the hair on Nicolaus’s neck stand straight up. “Who drew this?”
Complete silence filled the room. Again, Mattie screeched, “Who drew this?” This time she reeled around inspecting each child, the last one being Sarah. Nicolaus knew he had to do something fast or Sarah would confess, as tears were already streaming down her face.
“It’s mine, Mattie, I…” Before Nicolaus could finish, Mattie ushered him to the front of the class by a tight grip on a lock of his hair. Nicolaus could do nothing but go in pain with Mattie to her desk.
“Und dis is what you think of me, ja, Nicolaus?” Without allowing him to answer, she grabbed for her hickory switch and ordered him to place his hands palms up on her desk. Nicolaus obeyed immediately, and with one forcible swoop the skin on Nicolaus’s palms split, the switch splintering throughout the classroom, sending the classmates to jump for shelter. The pain was so intense he fell to his knees. He rested his forehead on the side of Mattie’s desk with both hands firmly clenched into tight fists, feeling as if he were going to either pass out or vomit.
“Stand, Nicolaus!” Mattie commanded as she reached for her chalkboard pointer. “Open your hands!” Nicolaus stood looking at the pointer in disbelief, and then reluctantly opened his hands, this time palms down to protect his wounds. This did not stop Mattie from applying another two blows before stopping, as she finally came to her senses, her anger appeased at last.
Nicolaus looked slowly up through tearing eyes at the horror-filled expressions of his classmates. In shame and disbelief, he noticed the figure of Miss J standing in the doorway with the same look of horror in her eyes. Fighting back tears, he brought his hands, swollen with welts, to rest folded under each arm. He looked past Mattie while she pinned a note to his shirt as she would one of the smaller children, informing the parents of the child’s misbehavior. The pounding of his heart matched the throbbing of his hands as he thought, Miss J must have been watching the whole time. She saw it all! The shame was too much for him. He admired the young English music teacher. He had even stood up for her when all his friends, including Sylvain and Eli, said she was the town whore.
“Nicolaus, you go straight home, und make sure your parents read my note. I will be there shortly to speak to them about it.” Nicolaus’s heart sank as fear overwhelmed him, knowing his father would administer twice as much pain. Trying hard to avoid eye contact as he walked past Miss J, Nicolaus looked up just long enough to see her offer him a sympathetic gaze with her eyes as she whispered, “I’m sorry, Nicolaus.”
Nicolaus entered the back washroom to the kitchen, knowing his mother would be there with his sister, Edna, busily preparing the evening meal. His mother had a way of soothing the anger in his father. After all, he was innocent. Even though Sarah’s silence during the ordeal was a little questioning, it did make him feel better, knowing she thought of him as a hero. He was thankful she had remained silent.
“Nicolaus? Why are you home so early? Are you okay?” asked Edna, his oldest sister who had nurtured him throughout his young life and who kept a watchful eye over him, being more like a parent to him than his actual parents.
“What is it, son, are you ill?” his mother asked as she turned to him from the oven.
“No, Mater, I left school early,” replied Nicolaus. His throat felt as if he swallowed a large peach pit with the natural reaction to gag about to overtake him. He had this feeling a lot, noticeably right before being confronted by his father over matters that he knew would be upsetting.
“Because of this.” Nicolaus pointed to the folded paper Mattie had attached to his shirt. “Momma, I am innocent. I took the blame for someone because I didn’t want them to get in trouble.” Nicolaus paused, the tears welling up as he looked into his mother’s eyes. For of all things meaningful to him, he never wanted to shame her; he loved his mother deeply even though she at times seemed indifferent to him. He knew it was her way of detaching herself from one part of the family to keep unity of the whole.
“Nicolaus, your hands!” Edna whispered in disbelief as she pulled his hands down to better examine the welts and deep cuts. Edna tore the note from his shirt in an angry assault.
“Mattie?” Esther asked as she went for some salve.
“Momma, maybe you’d better read it,” replied Edna in disbelief of the content.
“After I mend what she’s done to my son. May her night be fitful and without sleep for doing this to you, Nicolaus,” Esther whispered as she tended to Nicolaus’s hands with a homemade salve of herbs and lard.
“Momma, please read her note,” Nicolaus pleaded.
Esther opened the sketched picture first, looking at it with raised eyebrows. “Mattie is blind. This you would never have done. Who are you taking this punishment for, Nicolaus?” his mother asked, looking deeply into his eyes and forcing him to look back. Nicolaus said nothing. Esther then opened and read Mattie’s note. Closing it slowly, she said without looking at her son, “Go. Be in your room until your father calls for you.” Nicolaus knew what this meant. It was all too painfully familiar. He had seen his mother detach her feelings from him automatically when she knew Jacob would correct him.
Nicolaus lay alone on his bed looking over the spotlessly clean white glossy bedroom walls. He couldn’t help but wonder why the ceiling of his room had not sooted over or at least grayed by the kerosene lamps, which were the only ordained form of lighting in their large Amish district. Even the shine of the highly polished wooden floor showed no hint of dirt or dust. The thoughts needed to be of anything but his fate, panicking was useless.
He thought of Sarah and her endearing giggle. How happy she was today, possibly because of the expected end of the school year or the long-awaited leisurely warm summer days of plowing and planting, and the festive district gatherings. Possibly it was the graduation party on Saturday. It made no difference; whatever made her eyes shine like the glittering rays of sun on a calm lake made all the difference in the world to him.
Slowly rising to look out his bedroom window, he could make out the form of his father and brother Israel coming in from the east pasture. Feelings of dread rose in the pit of his stomach, seeing Jacob atop his spring wagon towed by his two large Belgian horses. The dust whirled around them as if they were walking on a cloud, and Israel strode alongside with a hoe resting over his shoulder.
A cold chill came over Nicolaus, thinking of the evening at hand and praying that Mattie would forget and forgive. Suddenly, out of the dust’s haze, he could make out Mattie’s horse and buggy speeding as if to catch up with the two weary laborers. Moments later Edna knocked at his bedroom door.
“Nicolaus,” she whispered.
Out of the one brother and four sisters in his family, Edna was Nicolaus’s favorite, not because she always soothed him when his father’s temper would flare, but because she always spoke words of encouragement to him, which made it easier to go on when it was almost intolerable to do so. Nicolaus thought of her as a healer; she didn’t even have to lay her hands on you, she did it with her words alone.
Nicolaus stood facing the door, placing his throbbing hands in his pockets and waiting for the words he did not want to hear. Now hearing voices downstairs, some faint, some loud, but distinctly his father’s.
“Nicolaus,” Edna’s voice came a little louder from behind the door, making Nicolaus’s body start to vibrate with fear. “Nicolaus, come downstairs now. Datt has called for you.” He felt an irresistible urge to jump from his second-story window, not caring what shape his body would be in after landing.
Placing his forehead against the crack in the door he whispered, “I’m afraid, Edna.”
“Nicolaus, come or Datt will come for you. Do you want that?” she said in English.
“No, I will come.” Nicolaus opened the bedroom door slowly, looked at Edna with wide eyes of apprehension, and without a blink turned them hypnotically to the hallway in front of him. The lump in his throat was half choking him as he started down the stairs, catching his first view of them. Mattie, his father and mother looked up at him as if he were a defenselessly maimed rabbit in the presence of a pack of starving wolves. Nicolaus nodded to Mattie, and Mattie nodded back as he stood silently next to his father at the end of the staircase.
“Mattie is a good sister in Christ, do you agree?” Jacob asked in a low gentle tone, quivering a bit in what Nicolaus knew well to be his father’s way of trying to control the unexplained, dark anger he had for him.
“Ja, Datt,” answered Nicolaus in a whisper, his head bowed in shame.
“You have hurt your sister, das right?”
“I ask you to stay, Sister Mattie,” Jacob said as he took hold of the back of Nicolaus’s collar. “Nicolaus and I will return shortly. I assure you, sister, Nicolaus’s punishment will be swift!”
“But, Brother Jacob…” Mattie said as she watched Nicolaus obediently follow his father.
Jacob waived Mattie off as if to say, don’t try to talk me out of what I need to do. Mattie had no idea that Jacob would go so far; she thought he would ask Nicolaus to apologize but she never thought he would be so harsh and angry with his son. His restrained rage was disturbing to her.
As they entered the barn, his father took down the pair of old buggy reins he had intended to mend for weeks. Nicolaus stood still as he watched his father double them to reinforce their strength.
“Come, Nicolaus!” commanded Jacob, his voice stern, and his eyes fixed on Nicolaus, whose soul was seared with fear. “You have shamed your Mater and me for the last time! Remove your suspenders and shirt at once!”
“But, Datt…” Nicolaus cried. Suddenly feeling his father’s fist slam across his cheek, the taste of his blood was strong as he reached up to feel if his father’s first assault had opened his lip clean through.
“I told Sister Mattie your punishment would be swift. Turn, uncover and prepare yourself at once. I will not repeat myself!”
As Nicolaus slowly turned and removed his suspenders he glanced up, sensing a presence. There in the loft was his brother Israel standing silent in the shadows.
Removing his shirt and letting it fall to the ground, he held his breath as he waited for the beating. He prayed to God that his father would reconsider and use any other form of punishment. Nevertheless, his prayers were in vain. The assault came painfully hard, feeling as though his skin had been torn and laid open. Four lashes in all before Jacob stopped. Nicolaus was now on his knees with both hands holding fast to the stable plank.
“You have learned from your sins, or do I give you more?” Jacob asked, handing Nicolaus his shirt.
“I have learned,” Nicolaus answered, as he stood unsteadily to his feet, turned, and painfully put an arm in each sleeve. He looked up to see his brother’s tear-drenched face as he came out from the shadows in the loft.
“Clean off your face and come to the house,” Jacob demanded. “I will be there waiting.”
“You didn’t cry out, Nicolaus. Why? It must have hurt something fierce?” Israel asked as he helped his brother wash the blood from his face.
“Do I still have my front teeth?” Nicolaus asked, showing Israel his teeth without responding to his brother’s question.
“They are all there, aligned and perfect,” replied Israel, with a small feeling of jealousy towards Nicolaus’s
“It tastes like I’m drinking blood instead of water!” Nicolaus mumbled, bending over the old-fashion hand-pump that delivered cool and refreshing water from the family’s well. “No, you’ll be okay, just hurry and go in the house and get this over with!” his brother said as he handed him a towel to dry off and pushed him toward the front door as he said softly, “God be with you.”
Entering the house, Nicolaus went straight to the staircase, not looking to the living room where the guest and his parents were waiting.
“Nicolaus, you have something to say to Sister Mattie, ja?” his father asked, stopping him before he could move farther from the first step.
Nicolaus turned and slowly walked back to stand in front of his teacher, looking at her straight on. The blood flowed gently from his lip, mingling with the wet curls that lay upon his neck.
“I’m sorry for the pain I caused,” he said obviously beaten unmercifully.
Tears came to her eyes but she fought them off, saying low to allow only Nicolaus to hear her, “I’m so sorry, Nicolaus!” In her heart now she was certain, for it was painfully clear he had been a victim of physical abuse all these years. These were not just clumsy accidents and mishaps as he let them all believe. Nicolaus turned to go upstairs to his room but heard his father tell Mattie that his son would not be attending the graduation party tomorrow.
“But Jacob, Nicolaus is one of our graduating scholars. Surely he has paid already for his sin,” said Mattie, forgetting how improper it was to argue with a man in their community. She didn’t care at this point, being single and having had her way most of her life. Jacob said nothing as if to dismiss her. He turned and walked away.
“Come, Mattie, I will walk you to your buggy,” Esther said as she nodded to Edna and Katie, Nicolaus’s sisters, to start supper, intentionally not inviting the teacher to stay for the meal. Taking her arm gently, Esther asked as they walked, “Tell me, Mattie, what was the real reason you fingered my son out. You know as well as I, Nicolaus didn’t draw that picture!”
“Sister Esther, I will answer your question if you will answer this one. I have taught all of your children, and they have all been under my guidance for many years now. Not one of them comes to school in the condition Nicolaus has on occasion.”
“What are you trying to say, Sister Mattie?” Esther’s eyes squinted questioningly, piercing Mattie’s as she asked.
“Let us not pretend. We have known each other too long, and if it wasn’t for Germain, we would still be on speaking terms, but that is beside the point. Am I correct in thinking the physical abuse I witnessed tonight to Nicolaus has gone on as long as I have been his teacher? Only he has come to school with unexplained bruises and cuts. I passed them off at first as common childhood accidents, but not any more. I believe Jacob’s been beating him!”
“First of all, Mattie, do not ever speak of Germain’s name or refer him in anyway with my family again. Whatever tall tales your sinful mind can conjure up, keep it to yourself! Ja, Jacob is strict with Nicolaus, but Nicolaus is different. He has always needed more guidance than the others.”
“Beatings?” cried Mattie.
“Let God be the judge, not you,” Esther said. “Jacob is a good man. Yes he has his faults, and you and I know that. After all, we both fell in love with him as teens, did we not?”
“Ja, but you won, not me, and selfishly at that!” Mattie resounded as she climbed into her buggy.
“What do you mean by that?” Esther asked as she stood looking up at Mattie, who sat with her shoulders straight, looking self-assured in her buggy.
As Mattie snapped the reins hard she said, “You didn’t love Jacob. Germain was the one you were after. But you took both!”
Esther shouted, “You sinful woman!” She bent down and loaded her hands with stones and proceeded to throw a few at the retreating buggy. Catching herself, realizing what she was doing, she straightened her apron and, tucked a few wayward strands of hair back up under her prayer cap as she turned to head back to the house, dropping the remaining stones one at a time. Her hatred for one woman was not going to be a question to ponder tonight.
Meanwhile, Nicolaus lay facedown on his pillow, soaked with tears and blood, allowing at once the emotions he had successfully restrained earlier to come silently flooding to the surface. Jumping to sit up at the edge of his bed at the sound of the door opening, he wiped his face dry with his arm as fast as he could in fear that it was his father. It was Israel, with a lamp held high, illuminating the look of concern and sympathy on his face.
“Mater made a salve for you; take off your shirt so I can put it on.”
“I hate him, Israel!” whispered Nicolaus as he looked down at his knuckles swollen and welted from Mattie’s disciplining earlier. “I did nothing wrong.”
Israel sighed. “I know, Nicolaus, I know. Hold on to the bedpost to steady yourself while I put this on. Surely it’s going to be as if you’re getting another beating.”
It was; the pain was so unbearable that Nicolaus begged Israel to stop. “Israel, I can’t stand it anymore, please.”
“I’m done, now lie down and rest. I’ll see if I can sneak some supper in for you tonight.”
“Thank you, Israel,” replied Nicolaus already half unconscious from the shock and pain of the evening.
“I’m sorry you missed the graduation party, Nicolaus. We had so much fun. Eli said you weren’t feeling well; it is true?” Sarah asked wide-eyed, not even trying to cloak the innocence about her.
“I’m all right now, thank you for asking,” replied Nicolaus as he graced her with a gentle smile only Nicolaus could give. Innocent charm, along with his striking features, hastened her heartbeat to a pulse that hurt deep within her breast. His deep-blue eyes framed by dark lashes glanced tenderly at her. The highlights in his loose curls of chestnut glimmered in the sunlight, enhancing his strong jaw and face; he was a man no woman plain or modern could resist. “Eli, what are you planting this season?” Nicolaus asked, trying to change the subject, as he darted his eyes to Eli.
“I’m helping my datt with wheat, corn and tobacco. Und you?”
“The same,” replied Nicolaus, looking to Sarah with a smile, hoping she wouldn’t feel left out of the conversation and leave to be with the young women.
“Will you and Sylvain be going through baptism class with Eli?” Sarah asked.
“Are you, then?” Nicolaus asked as he looked down into Eli’s eyes.
Eli laughed. “You act surprised, Nicolaus. Why?”
“I don’t know… I just… well, I guess your datt being a minister I shouldn’t be. But I would think you would want to go through at least a year or two of Rumspringa. You know, just to make sure you’re doing the right thing.”
“I don’t know. I may not need to run around doing things I may regret. I’m still thinking about it. Anyway, my datt being a minister has nothing to do with whether I decide to be baptized or not. Where is your head, Nicolaus?”
“It’s just where it should be!” exclaimed Sylvain, rapping Nicolaus on the back of his head hard enough to make Nicolaus see stars for a few seconds.
“Ahee Sylvain, don’t sneak up on us like that,” cried Nicolaus as he rubbed the back of his head.
“I wasn’t sneaking. You just don’t pay attention. It will cost you dearly every time!” replied Sylvain with a smirk and a prideful tilt of his hat. “Are we talking of our big plans now that we are free men?”
“Free? We are Amish! Even though we are out of school we still have fields to plow, not to mention harvest time!” Eli replied reminding all of the hard work that still lay ahead of them through the seasons.
“Well, I don’t know about that. Nicolaus and I don’t agree, do we, Nicolaus?” Sylvain replied draping his arm around his friend’s shoulders.
“I’m staying out of this one, Sylvain,” Nicolaus said laughing, looking shyly at Sarah and she back at him with a smile that melted Nicolaus where he stood.
“Nicolaus and I are going to find work in town, aren’t we?” Sylvain said while tightening his grip around Nicolaus’s shoulders.
Nicolaus stopped eyeing Sarah, and looked up into Sylvain’s face. “Are you kidding? My datt would…” Nicolaus stopped in midsentence, looking like he should be still. “I’m not allowed in town for a while cause of…” Looking back at Sarah and then down to the ground, tapping a rock nervously with his shoe, he again lapsed silent.
“Mark my words, brethren, I will be in town before too long working alongside those English. I’ll be wearing their English clothes, going to their English movies and watching their English TV. I might even buy a car and drive you around for pay, Eli! Ah, don’t laugh, Nicolaus, you will be right by my side as you are now.”
“Sorry for laughing, Sylvain. Since when did you become my prophet?” Nicolaus replied a little unnerved. Knowing that Sylvain had the gift of “seeing,” as it was called, Nicolaus knew that Sylvain could see what others could not—that being, on occasion, the future.