The Lord was testing him. It was as plain as that.
Gabriel Fisher sat down on the bed, its quilt pulled up and neatly tucked in. She hadn't even slept in it.
He looked at the note in his hands as if seeing it for the first time. From downstairs, he could hear the sounds of the boys stirring around, arguing over who was going to eat what, too impatient in their hunger to wonder where their sister was.
He crumpled the paper, not needing to read the words again.
Not able to read them through the tears welling in his eyes. His daughter was gone. She had left, wanting to see what the Englisch world could offer her. She wanted to go to school, help animals, make more of herself than she could if she stayed in Clover Ridge.
Gabriel raised his eyes toward heaven. "Where did I go wrong, Becca?" He dipped his chin and shook his head. "I did the best I could."
He rose, his joints popping, his heart breaking. He felt old.
His baby girl was gone.
He tossed her good-bye note onto the bed, then retrieved it again, smoothing it back flat. He'd keep it. It might be the last he heard from her. At least for a while.
Quietly, he shut the door behind him when he really wanted to slam it to expel the growing remorse, regret, hurt, and anger that boiled in his gut.
He wanted to run after her, get in his buggy and scour the county. But she was long gone. Probably already in Tulsa. Staying with strangers. Or at least with people she knew but who were strangers to him. Englischers. Too many places she could go in a car. He'd never find her.
He took a deep breath at the head of the stairs, held it in. Let it go. Then started down.
His oldest bu, Matthew, stood in the middle of the kitchen, hands propped on his hips. He surveyed his brothers as if he wasn't
sure if he should intervene or walk away.
In that moment, Gabriel realized that Matthew was next. Steady and true, Matthew would turn sixteen next year and get his taste of the Englisch freedoms.
He hadn't meant to raise his voice quite so much, but there it was, and it was effective. Simon, who had been holding the remains of last night's pie above his head to keep it away from leaping David and bouncing Joseph, stopped his own jumping and stared at his father. All three of them turned as if only just now aware that their father was anywhere near.
Samuel quietly sat at the table waiting on someone to stop their nonsense and feed him. Poor child. He hadn't been the same since his sister, Katie Rose, had moved back in with their folks, but that was customary while she and Zane Carson were courtin'. But this . . . this would set Samuel back even more.
Gabriel took a couple more steps into the room, his boys still watching him closely. They knew something was wrong. Their sister had not been about this morning, cooking and laying out their clothes. There was no coffee brewing, no boiled eggs to eat on the way to the barn to jumpstart their morning chores. No Mary Elizabeth.
"Sit down." He nodded toward the table. There were chores that needed doing. Cows to milk, eggs to gather, horses to feed, but they needed to know first.
He waited until they had all settled themselves into their seats before he started. He took a deep breath. Carefully avoiding the empty seat where his dochder should have been, he looked at each of them in turn. "Mary Elizabeth has gone."
Matthew's eyes widened as if he understood, yet could hardly believe that what he had heard was true. He alone remained silent; the other bu we began speaking at once, talking over each other, but asking the same questions: "Where has she gone?" and "When will she be back?"
Gabriel shook his head, refusing to answer. "Now, go do your chores. I will make breakfast, and we will not speak of this again."
They hesitated, but only for a heartbeat, then the sound of their chairs scraping the floor filled the room. They trudged out the back door, their faces reflecting their unasked questions. But they all knew better than to push him.
All but Matthew.
His oldest son remained seated, his green eyes so like Gabriel's own filled with concern and dismay. "Dat?" His voice was barely above a whisper.
"There are horses to feed, Matthew."
"She's not coming back, is she?"
Hearing the words spoken out loud nearly broke his heart in two. But he had to push the pain aside. He had to remain strong for all of them. "The horses, Matthew." His voice came out gruff, not at all like it had the day before.
Gabriel dipped his head as Matthew pushed his chair back and rose from the table. He didn't watch as his son reluctantly followed his brothers outside to complete the morning chores. Instead, he closed his eyes and uttered a small prayer for her safety and well- being. His Mary Elizabeth was smart, but unaccustomed to the ways of the Englisch. He could only hope wherever she was that she was safe and protected from the temptations which made up the outside world.
With an aemen and a sigh, he rose from the table and started breakfast.
About noon time, Gabriel came out of the barn, drawn back into the sun by the jingle of a horse bridle and the creak of a buggy. He blinked a couple of times to right his vision as Zane Carson, the fancy reporter who was bound to marry Katie Rose, pulled his buggy to a stop.
"Goedemiddag," the Englisch-man-turned-Amish greeted, jumping down from the buggy and smacking his horse affectionately on the rump.
For a fancy city boy, Zane Carson had adapted to the Plain ways as if he had been born to them. Yet the bishop had his reservations about allowing him in, making him wait over a year before he could begin classes to join the church. Amish folk leaving the district was more likely than the fancy joining up. With Gideon marrying his own Englisch bride . . . well, two Englisch asking to join in the same year had the bishop as wary as a fox.
Thoughts of leaving brought Mary Elizabeth's desertion back to the front of his mind. He sighed and pushed back those thoughts. She was in rumspringa. That didn't mean she wouldn't return. She hadn't joined the church. She wouldn't be shunned for testing Englisch waters, but she was his little girl, and he worried about her. Hadn't known that she was so unhappy with the lot God had provided for her that she felt there was more to be found in the world.
"Wie geht?" he asked his sister's intended.
"Gut, gut," Zane Carson said, with a dip of his chin. "Deacon Esh sent me. Katherine Yoder passed in the night."
Gabriel tsked and shook his head. What was it about the night that so many things turned for the bad? "Terrible sad, that.
Katherine was a gut woman."
"That she was. Uh, the deacon wants you to accompany him to the funeral."
Zane Carson shrugged. "I'm just the messenger."
Unsaid was the truth that Old Ezekiel Esh, for all his obedience to God and heavenly aspirations, was something of an odd duck. A little like Katherine herself. It would do no good to question him on the matter. Compliance was the surest way to discover the method of the old man's thoughts.
The more logical choice would have been Zane Carson himself, since he had moved in with the deacon, seeing after his farm while waiting for permission to become a part of the community.
No doubt Old Zeke had a motive, but Gabriel would only find out when the old man wanted him to know. Even though Katherine Yoder's house was no longer in their district, the deacon would naturally attend the services to pay his respects to the family.
"The funeral will be next Tuesday."