FALLEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
“If you are not careful, Sarah Elizabeth Weaver, you will end up a maidal, as lonely and sad as that old man you work for.” Mamm had what she obviously considered the last word as she drew the buggy to a halt by the Strickland house.
“Mamm…” Sarah hesitated, ready to jump down, but not wanting to leave her mother for the day with harsh words between them. “I know you want to see me married, with a home and family of my own. But I’m just not ready.”
Her mother shook her head, a mix of sorrow and exasperation on her face. “When will you be ready? Independence is all very gut, but having someone of your own is better, that’s certain sure. Ach, well, go on to work.” She waved her hand toward the huge old Victorian house, its gingerbread trim and fancy touches a far cry from a simple Amish farmhouse. “But think on it. All of your friends are starting families already.”
“I will, Mamm.” She slid down. Easier to say that than to argue over a subject on which they’d never agree.
Anyway, not all of her friends were married. She still had two dear friends, Abby and Lena, who weren’t, but since they lived far apart, their only connection was the Round Robin letters they sent from one to the other. They understood, even if Mamm didn’t.
But she couldn’t take comfort in Abby’s unmarried state much longer. The long-awaited letter she’d received yesterday from Abby had contained surprising news. Abby would soon wed Ben Kline. They’d been brought together at last after Ben’s return from the Englisch world. That news from Abby had probably been what started Mamm on her current train of thought about marriage.
Sarah waved as Mamm clicked to Bell and the buggy moved onto Springville’s main street. Mamm had stopped saying it, but they both knew who she had in mind for a son-in-law. Mamm and Jacob’s mother had been planning their marriage since the two of them were in their cradles.
But if they’d been serious about marrying the two of them off to each other, they’d have been better not bringing her and Jacob up so close that they were like brother and sister. Jacob was her best friend and the brother she’d never had, but to think of falling in love with him was laughable. Why couldn’t Mamm see that?
Sarah unlocked the door into the back hall off the kitchen, pausing there to hang up her black bonnet and sweater and straighten the apron that matched the deep green of her dress. Getting dressed for work was simplicity itself when you were Amish—she’d had a choice between green, blue, and purple dresses, all cut exactly the same.
Exactly the same, just like all of her working days. She’d been taking care of the house for elderly Englisher Richard Strickland for over three years, and nothing ever changed, because that was how he liked it. Probably that was partly due to his bad eyesight. He didn’t want to trip on anything that had been moved.
She went on into the kitchen, reaching to the kitchen table automatically to pick up the breakfast dishes. And stopped. The table was bare, except for the napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers which always sat in the center.
Every day she let herself in the back door at eight-thirty, and every day she found Mr. Strickland’s breakfast dishes on the table. Her employer himself would be in the sunroom on the side of the house, enjoying a second cup of coffee while he listened to the news. But the coffeemaker was cold, the sink was empty and shining, and no sound broke the stillness of the old house.
A chill spread through her. Sarah spun, moving quickly toward the front of the house. Mr. Strickland must be ill…nothing else would cause him to change the immutable habits of a lifetime. She hurried through the hallway, thoughts racing faster than her feet—call Mr. Strickland’s doctor, or the rescue squad if it looked very serious, they could be here faster and—
She skidded to a stop a few feet from the bottom of the stairs. Neither the doctor nor the rescue squad would be of help. Richard Strickland lay tumbled on the polished stairs, one hand reaching the tiled floor of the hall. Sarah didn’t need to touch him to know he was dead.