The Amish Girl
William H. Coles
eter Pisano failed computer science and Russian literature at the state university, credits he needed to graduate, so he took courses at Hunchett College in Ohio in the summer of '06. He lived on campus but often took his meals in the only restaurant–the Whispering Maiden–in the small town of Raspier, which had two cross streets and no traffic lights and was juxtaposed to the campus entrance like the cap on an acorn. On many days, especially on weekends, the Amish set up a table or two on the grassy central island on the main street to display food and furniture they made for sale. Usually a buggy or a wagon was parked nearby, the horse tethered to a parking meter or a tree. One evening, Peter saw a lone girl sitting next to a table with baked goods. His meal had been more tasteless than usual, and he had eaten little. He wanted desert.
The girl wore a grey ankle-length wool dress and a white hairnet/bonnet that covered her head and that tied under her chin so that only wispy dark strands of hair showed above her brow. She looked down and away as he approached.
He studied the table. A hefty assortment: apple, cherry, and mincemeat pies; muffins; shoofly and whoopie pies; and cookies with raisins and oatmeal. On a small wooden display shelf were loaves of wheat bread, and tall round chocolate cakes frosted in white.
"Do you sell a piece of the pie?" he asked. "Say, maybe the apple?"
She had still not looked at him and did not respond.
"Look," he said. "I live in the dorms and I have no place to keep a pie, so I can't buy the whole thing."
She looked at him briefly, her warm intelligent eyes clear and bright as if carved from diamonds. Then she looked away.
He took that as a no. He went back to examining the baked goods for smaller items.
"This whoopie pie. It's small. What's the price?"
She stood gracefully, the folds of her dress straightening and covering her ankle boots with brass metal lace-holes and hard, steel-reinforced toes.
Her hand reached out, her fingers long, the nails short but trimmed with care, and the perfection of the pale skin on the back of her hand marred by a recent, abrasion scab. She pointed to a slip of notebook paper with "whoopie pies," "29¢," on it.
More than reasonable. He picked up a small sample of whoopie pie, one of many that had been cut into half-inch irregular squares to entice customers; the chocolate taste was bitter and the crème inside, between the two exterior cake layers, was a lumpy, bland paste. He made a face in spite of himself. He decided to find a candy bar at the general store that was only a few hundred feet up the street.
"Another day," he said walking away. The girl ran up to him touching his arm and leading him back toward the table. He saw her eyes up close now. A deep enigmatic ocean blue without the coldness he imagined in these people. With a stainless steel bread knife she cut a triangular piece of apple pie placing it on a paper towel and handed it to him, stepping back.
"How much do I owe you?" he asked.
She waved her hand dismissively as she shook her head no.
"I'd be happy to pay," he said.
She shook her head again.
"Thank you," he said. With his feet together, heels touching, he gave a little bow.
"Goodbye," he said.
She did not answer.
He ate the pie with his fingers as he strolled back to his room, down the wide tree-lined gravel path that bisected the campus. His spirits lifted and he found he was uncharacteristically smiling at people whom he passed on the way.
In the morning on Saturday he tried to study in his room. The morning sun blazed well above the horizon with lacey high clouds moving lazily across an azure sky. He decided to drive to Columbus, catch a movie, hang out at a bar where he knew he could get served and meet people from the University … maybe a girl, although most of the women available in Columbus were bar girls who didn't excite him much anymore. He'd lately been eyeing college girls he might take home to his parents. He drove with the top down in his two-seat, deep-red, imported sports car.
The road snaked over hills and through fields and copses. For four miles he saw no traffic. He came over a small hill and braked, gearing down with loud swell-whines of the engine as he closed in on a farm wagon with two large wheels in the back and two smaller wheels in front. A man wearing a brimmed straw hat and coveralls, with a boy dressed the same next to him, loosely held the reins attached to a team of horses. In the back, with the tailgate down, two girls sat with their legs dangling. He pulled out to pass but visibility was blocked by another hill. With irritation, he tucked back in behind the wagon staying in second gear and riding the clutch to meet the pace of the wagon.
The older girl was the one who gave him a piece of pie. He eased the car a little closer. Her dress today, although still plain and frumpy, suggested a trim feminine body. He could see glimpses of her ankles as she flexed and extended them in time to the wagons movements. He imagined her in a short skirt, a dark blue maybe, showing her legs … Her blouse would be plain, glinting with the luster of opal buttons, and well tailored the way he liked women’s clothing, with a deep color, and open to show her neck and suggest the curve of her breasts.
The younger girl touched her arm and said something that made her laugh. Her head tilted slightly so that her lush hair obscured the lower part of her face. He pulled out to see if the way was clear. The man waved to him to pass. He down shifted to gain speed quickly. She waved before he lost sight of her.
No college girls were at the bar, but he met a high school grad who was working temporarily as a waitress until she could find a career in singing. She was watching a soap on the TV above the bar. She was fake blond, plump, and easy to giggle, an outgoing girl but with an air of desperation in her banter that wiped out the usual attraction he would have for her. When she wanted to go to her place, he refused, saying he had to study. He felt bad; she looked ready to cry, but he could not imagine any enjoyment at being with her. He went to a movie before heading back to campus to sit in his room and stare blankly at his assignments.
On Monday, he failed the midterm exam, missing the cutoff by two points. One question! He argued with his professor, who finally agreed to allow a makeup. If he passed the makeup, he could finish. If not, he was out. The repeat test would be Thursday afternoon in two weeks at five o'clock.
The next weekend he devoted to study at the library. The air was hot and stuffy, filled with musky smells of sandwich remnants and the lingering perspiration of students doomed to failure. From a third floor window he saw the distinctive shape of an Amish buggy on the street in town. He tried but it was impossible to read and he decided to take a break.
She sat alone on a three-legged stool. She watched him approach, gazing not on his face, but somewhere on his chest, as if she'd discovered a shirt button that needed a tidy up.
"Hello," he said.
She looked away.
"Do you speak?"
She turned on the stool so her back was partially toward him. He sidestepped so he was in front of her.
"Why not say something?" he said looking down on her.
She turned back to her original position, her back almost completely to him. He did not move.
"This is ridiculous," he said. "You could say, 'hello.'"
With her elbows on her knees, she put her head in her hands. "Please," she said. "Go away." Her voice trembled.
He laughed. "I knew you could talk." He sidestepped to be in front of her again.
"You selling much?" he asked.
She shook her head no.
"You must have sold something."
She shook her head no again, more emphatically.
"You look intelligent enough to speak," he said.
Her eyes turned hard with anger. "I'm not stupid," she said.
"Did I say stupid? I said you looked intelligent."
"I am not allowed to talk to strange boys."
"I'm not strange. What if I was married? Could you talk to me then?"
"That would be permitted."
"I'm married," he laughed. "And I have nine kids."
He expected she would smile, but she looked away, flustered and angry at his condescension.
"Was that your sister on the wagon?"
She did not move.
"You do not look like sisters."
"She is my cousin." She still did not look at him.
"You take care of her?"
"She does not need to be taken care of. She is a competent young lady."
She still would not meet his gaze. He sat down on the grass in front of her, his legs out, leaning back on his hands.
"Do you like sitting out here. No customers. No one to talk to?"
She turned her head to stare at him.
"It is not for me to like or dislike. It is what I do."
"Do you go to school?"
She turned her head away again. "I am not to talk about myself."
"You ashamed?" he challenged.
Her head snapped back to look at him. "I am not proud."
He looked off into the distance as he spoke.
"I'm stuck in this know-nothing town with a roommate who won't talk to me, students gone for the summer, teachers who think I'm too distracted or dumb to pass. And I have to pass to graduate or my father will kill me. He's rich but never went to college. I'd be the only college graduate in my father's family for three generations. That's what he tells me."
She leaned slightly toward him, studying his face intently. "Did your mother go to school?" she asked.
He nodded. "She works in a pharmacy. She's pretty smart."
She looked away again.
"You people don't go to college, do you?" he asked.
"Do you want to go to college?"
She still looked away.
"You do, don't you?"
She was silent.
"I'll bet you read all the time."
She said nothing.
"You don't watch TV, do you? I heard that. You don't have electricity."
"We do have electricity."
"Do you have lights in your house?"
"We have power tools. My father has a milking machine."
She was sitting stiff and proper now, her hands on her knees that were together. Her chin was up, her head tilted back. He uncrossed his legs and looked away from her.
"Seems dull to me. Like you're missing a lot."
"That's not true," she said.
"How would you know? You never tried to live out in the world, have you?"
She looked down on him, staring straight at him now. "I don't like talking to you."
She stood and he watched her go to the wagon for boxes. She carefully wrapped each of the baked goods one by one, and packed them. When a box was full, she placed it in the wagon, and returned to pack more.
He stood up before she was finished.
"How much is that pie?" he asked pointing to an unwrapped pie.
"The mince?" she said. She picked up the pie. "One dollar and forty-two cents."
"I'll take it."
She covered it and placed it in a plastic bag. He handed her two dollars from his wallet.
She frowned. She handed back one dollar. "I don't have the change."
He held out the dollar to return it to her.
"It's worth two dollars," he said.
She shook her head.
"Take it," he insisted.
"It would not be right."
He shrugged and put the dollar back in his wallet.
"Nice talking to you," he said and backed away.
Walking toward the dorm with his pie in its bag swinging at his side, he could still see the remarkable blue of her eyes, like gazing into a clear mountain stream that reflected a cloudless morning sky.
The next day he awoke before dawn and sat down to study. After two hours, he had read fewer than five pages. He looked through his pockets for change but found none. He shuffled through papers and books on his roommate's small table that served as a desk. He found scattered coins and carefully, with his finger, slid a quarter, a dime, a nickel and two pennies of the edge of the desk into his open hand. He walked to town.
She looked exactly the same as before. Probably the same clothes, he imagined, washed and dried over night as she slept alone, maybe on a pallet on the floor, or, at most, a cot for one in a room with her siblings and maybe her cousin.
There were three women today. He walked up to them.
"Hi," he said. The girl turned away.
"May I help you," an older Amish woman said walking toward him.
"I owe that girl money."
"I can take it."
"No. I came to pay my debt."
The woman hesitated and decided not to interfere. "Hannah!" she said.
The girl turned.
He reached into his left pocket and held out the five coins to her.
"I don't want that," she said.
"No," he said. "I owe you. Take it."
She hesitated and then held out her hand.
"Thanks," he said. Her hand touched his in the transfer of coins.
She shifted her weight awkwardly from her left leg to her right. She looked down at the dust at his feet.
"Did you like the pie?" she asked softly still looking down.
He wasn't even sure where the pie was. Somewhere in the room, still in its bag, untouched. He hadn't even thought about it.
"Did you make it?"
He smiled. "It was great," he said.
But she turned abruptly to stare intensely at him … and coldly. She trusted only honesty, he saw that plainly.
"Could we talk?" he whispered so only she could hear.
She walked to the display table and said something to the woman who had first greeted him. The woman picked up a whoopie pie with a piece of wax paper and approached him.
"Here," she said.
"I didn't buy a pie," he protested.
"No, it's yours."
He was about to say no again, but over the woman's shoulder he saw the girl staring at him impassively. It was her doing.
"Thank you, m'am," he said taking the pie, stepping aside, and then nodding to the girl.
He carried the whoopie pie palm up and walked back to campus. He took a bite. Heavenly. The pie was gone when he reached the dorm. He tried to study in his room but he wasn't in the mood and went to the gym to hang out.
Every day at his mealtime walk to and from the Whispering Maiden he looked to see if the Amish were there. Four times he saw someone, but never Hannah. No one in town knew the Amish well or where Hannah might live. Twice he drove the roads that wound through local Amish countryside. Although he retraced the routes over and over, he saw no sign of Hannah, or very many women … only men with straw hats working the fields or tending cattle.
On a Wednesday he received a note from Mrs. Mangrove who owned the Whispering Maiden. The envelope was sealed and had only "Peter" written in pencil on the front.
"Where did this come from?" he asked Mrs. Mangrove.
"Amish girl comes all secretive like and asks if I know you. She describes you, tall, dark hair, college student. I said of course I know you. Peter, I say. You eat here five or six times a week. Then she writes your name on the envelope and says soft, like a dove cooing, would I give this to you and you only. So here it is."
He put it in his pocket.
"Ain't you going to open it?" Mrs. Mangrove asked.
"It can wait," he said casually, going to his usual table in the corner where he could see the TV screen over the bar at the front of the room.
He waited until he was in his room. The note said she would be in Ambiance. The booth would be set up there on Saturday. Her father would leave in the morning about seven-thirty.
He slept poorly that night and the next day, Saturday, just after dawn, he drove to Ambiance to see Hannah. She was waiting, expecting, and smiled with her pleasure at seeing him. She took his hand. He tried to hold her but she backed away. "Not here," she said. "I can't."
And with the impact of a meteor, his heart was aching as he had never known before.
"When can I see you? When can we talk? I want to talk," he said.
"It is so hard."
She sat down on the stool, glancing around for anyone near. But it was early. She patted a chair for him to sit. She wiped her eyes with her dress sleeve.
"I am to be married in the fall," she said.
His heart sank. Married! "So soon?" he blurted out.
"My dress is being made. Only a few know. It will be announced soon." She looked away. "He is a nice man. We will have a nice family together."
"But do you … love him?"
She turned her head back to him glaring. "Don't ask that."
He searched for words. "But that's what marriage is about."
"What do you know about a woman's love?" she said, irritated. "The scripture teaches us love is selfless, love is giving. Love is an open heart and mind."
He paused. "Love is how you feel," he finally said.
"Oh, how selfish that is." She looked down and held her face in her hands.
"I know how I feel," he said.
She cried again, her body trembling.
He saw a woman in Amish dress approaching from the north, walking down the path. "Someone's coming."
"Jumping Jehovah," she said, "It's mother." She wiped her face. "Go. Before she sees you."
"When will I see you?"
"Go," she said. "Hurry."
Two days passed. He didn't see her in town and waited for some sign. Finally, he received another note. She would be at a crafts fair in Cranton. Alone. Early in the morning. She prays he can come.
The tent with furniture displayed had side flaps down and the front flap opened only part way. Her face showed her joy at seeing him. She had arranged two stools in the back. She reached out and took both his hands. He felt the warmth of her palms. They sat facing each other.
"I'm so glad you came," she said, withdrawing her hands. "I think about you."
He hesitated. He had never opened his heart to a woman. Never. He was afraid he would lose something, some essence of his strength, like Samson. Her stare spoke of her love for him, and he needed to speak. Finally he said, "You're very pretty." She held his hand. It was a touch of desire and caring … selfless, without guile. He wondered what it would be like to be with a girl like this … so unaware, so pure.
"I failed my test," he said. "I don't want to go home. My father will find out what's happened."
"There is no make up this time."
They sat silent for a minute. She looked at him. "Ely knows something is wrong in my heart."
He looked puzzled.
"He's my fiancé. I didn't say anything, of course. He said, 'You're avoiding me, Hannah. Have I done something to offend you?'"
They sat silent; she did not look at him for more than a minute. "I'm going to take some time off before I have to go back home," he said. "I thought I'd go to the beach."
"Is it far?"
"Myrtle Beach. In South Carolina."
"It is good, Peter," she said. "To take time off. Do not feel guilt."
He hesitated mulling over the other part of the idea. Finally he said. "Would you come with me?"
She gasped and put her head in her hands. He could not tell what she was feeling. "I didn't mean anything …" he stammered.
She was crying.
"Really …" he said.
"Oh, no," she said looking up. "Oh, no. You don't understand. I mean it is my prayer. Dear, God. I feel so guilty thinking I must get away. To be me. In my heart I believe it is what God wants for me. But I cannot make Ely miserable. That's not God's will. And Mother is so against any of us doing anything away from home."
He was confused.
"It would be a sin," she said.
"It would be time off."
"What would we do? Where would we stay?"
"I'd get you a separate room. We'd be like friends on spring break. All the college kids do it."
"Mother wouldn't allow it."
"Couldn't you just leave her a note? Tell her you're all right and you'll be back soon."
"Father would be so angry."
"I could talk to him."
"Never. Never do that."
Her eyes moistened. She paused to contain her emotion. "You are never from my mind," she said softly. "I miss you when you are not in sight."
He was sure she spoke truth. He had never had any woman feel this way about him. It frightened him a little.
"I want to be with you," he said. "I can't just keep buying pies and seeing you at dawn."
She didn't respond for a moment and again he was afraid he had offended her.
She reached out and took his hands again. "It would be so enjoyable. And it's not a sin. It's not … to go with friends to the beach." she said.
He was pleased. He started to embrace her. She pushed him away. "No. Someone might come." She kissed him on the cheek.
They sat back down with an acceptable distance between them.
"Will you come?"
She sighed. "Oh, Peter. I'll try."
"When can we go?"
She didn't know. But she would find out and tell him.
The next day Mrs. Mangrove slipped him another note with a conspiratorial smile. "The Amish girl," she whispered unnecessarily. He opened the note as Mrs. Mangrove stared. Hannah would be ready at four AM on Friday and she gave a spot at a country crossroads where she could be concealed in bushes by an abandoned farm shed.
She was there when he arrived eight minutes early. She ran to the car and got in, carrying her belongings in a laundry sack. He ran the stop sign in his eagerness to get her away from her heritage. She was giddy, asking questions about Myrtle Beach, how long it would take. She didn't have anything to wear. She wanted to eat at a Burger King. She'd been to one before, she assured him. It was great.
"What did you tell your parents?" he asked.
"I wrote Mother a note. I told her I was going on a trip with a friend for a few days." She looked at him. "That was okay, wasn't it? I mean I didn't know how long we'd be gone or when you had to be back home."
"Fine," he said. "I can stay as long as you want. I don't want to go home yet."
She was silent for sometime. "I'm so lucky. That you've come into my life."
He smiled at her. She'd taken off her hairnet and her hair cascaded, freshly washed, around the sides of her round face. Her full lips were a vibrant, deep red. Her eyes glittered with her expectation.
"You're very pretty," he said.
She blushed, her cheeks and ears the shade of a ripe apple.
"I want to buy you some new clothes," he said.
"If that's what you want. Two or three if you find what you like."
She glowed in the reflection of the early morning sun. He was fascinated by her.
Peter had made it to I 40 and in a few hours he found a shopping mall near Raleigh. She picked out frilly, little-girl dresses, and nothing above the knee or open at the neck. But he smiled at her joy.
In twelve hours they were in Myrtle Beach. He found separate rooms on different levels at a motel on the beach. She ate a hamburger and a milkshake at Burger King. Then, in bare feet, they walked the beach. She let him hold her hand, so delicate, yet substantive and strong. After their stroll, he took her to her room and knelt with her by her bedside when she prayed for her family and for him. He wanted to kiss her, but he decided it was not the right time.
The next morning she was up long before he arrived at her door. She was sewing. She had rearranged the room, storing the lamps, the coffee maker, and the TV in the closet. At breakfast in the motel lobby, she told him of discovering how the shower worked, and how she usually bathed in a round copper tub with heated well water.
He bought her a bathing suit that she choose … loose fitting, one piece. When she modeled it for him, she felt comfortable only with a towel wrapped around her. But he still could detect small breasts, and a firm, cute butt. To him she was unique and beautiful. Now he held her hand, and wanted to do so much more, to hold her in his arms, stroke her, sweep back the hair from her face and look into her eyes, but she seemed oblivious to the extent of his passion. She loved him, but she did not know his need to possess her, to culminate the expression of love he wanted to deliver to her.
The next day they went to movies, and the local formal gardens the following day. Then the amusement park. She was afraid of the rollercoaster but did bumper cars–keeping her eyes shut–and gripped his arm with both hands. She liked the water rides. He won a teddy bear at a shooting gallery; it was only six inches tall, and she smiled and held it to her heart when he gave it to her. But at the end of each day she retreated alone into her room before dark to read her bible. Once, after sunset when he hesitated outside her closed door, he heard her quietly singing familiar hymns in a clear pure voice. He wished she wanted to be together, but he went to the beach to sit alone.
With her first, and last, time swimming, she was not comfortable in her bathing suit; "someone will see" she said, and she wore his blue sweatshirt with the long sleeves the entire time, in and out of the water. So they walked the beach the next few days fully clothed and sat in the sand side-by-side and talked.
She worried about Ely and what he was going through; she hoped her parents would forgive her; she loved her cousin, the one on the wagon, and she wondered if her cousin's feelings about her would change. He began to feel her sadness at being away, even though she gushed her gratitude for his bringing her many times a day. What captured his heart even more was her seeming inability for an evil thought. She freely talked of her frustrations and dislikes, but she did not hate, or seek revenge, or feel jealousy. And when she told him earnestly about what she felt, the wind on the beach swirling her hair around her face, her eyes intently holding his, he wanted them never to part.
When he went to see her to start the fifth day she was crying. She missed her family. She wanted to go back.
Her distress pained him. "I'll pack," he said. "We can leave tomorrow before eight." They'd be home after dark but before midnight.
She nodded but did not say anything as he closed the door to her room.
As they traveled back to her home, he began to broach the future. Could he continue to see her? he asked. Of course, she said, but she could not say how.
When they were on I-77, he put the top up on the car at a rest stop so she could hear him speak while driving. For the next hundred miles he talked, she listened … her eyes moist, her breathing faster than normal. He told her she was the most beautiful human being he had ever known. That she was beautiful outside, but even more beautiful inside. That he was going back to learn his father's used car business, and he knew they were ready for each other at this moment in their lives. He wanted to be together. He wanted to spend his life with her. Together they could be more than they would ever be apart. He hoped she wanted the same. To be together.
He knew his sincerity, his inability to look at her more than a few times while he poured out his inner truths, had affected her. He was the man who could make her happy. She would learn no man could desire her with so much love. And surely she'd never seen such love among her family and friends. Ely probably had a genuine interest in her in a paternal way, but different, distracted even. He knew his time with her had made her feel alive and special. His heart began to ache again with the need for her. He wished they were back at the beach, and they could lie on the bed full length and she could lose herself in the touch of him.
She undid her seatbelt so she could reach him over the gearshift console and she kissed him on the cheek close to his lips.
He looked for a place to pull off the interstate. He needed to feel her next to him.
She settled back down in the seat and fastened her seat belt again. "I have to get back. I've got to work things out," she said, undoubtedly sensing his want to stop, and fearing her loss of control for something she did not really understand.
"I'm afraid I'll never see you again!"
"You will," she said.
"I don't mean at the baked-goods stand."
"I have to plan. I have to talk to Mother. She's the only one who might convince Father. But I will work it out, Peter. I will."
He heard the determination of an adult in her voice for the first time. But his aching need for her was suddenly coated in a deep sadness.
"Can I talk to them?" he asked.
"Maybe later," she said. "I'll need to talk to them first. It will take time for them to understand."
"How much time?"
"I'm not sure."
Two hours later he let her out about a half mile from her house. She did not want anyone to see him or the car. She wanted to tell them about her trip and her friend, and then tell them about her love.
He agreed because he felt her need for him was starting to move closer to his infinite need for her. And he loved her all the more; he knew she had changed for him. He knew, before he had come into her life, she would never have withheld the stark truth from her family. Now she was scheming to change them. Risking the honest comfort in her life.
He got out of the car and kissed her. She was crying.
"When can I see you?" he asked. "Tomorrow?"
"Come the day after tomorrow. Two o'clock. After midday meal. Father will be in the fields. I'll have my chores done. I want you to meet my mother first. She'll understand."
He spent most of the next day in the gym. Exercise lessened the pain of missing her. But in spite of complete exhaustion, he could not sleep well that night.
At two o'clock the next day, he stopped his car in front of the farm just to the side of the unpaved path that led from the road to the house. Near the barn, a man worked on a horse-drawn, iron, tilling machine. Cattle grazed in a pasture to the right and on the left mature corn swayed in the brisk breeze. He waited, unsure what to do, hoping Hannah would see him, come to him. But there was no activity. He got out of the car, straightened his tie, and buttoned the second button on his dark-blue sports jacket.
He knocked on the solid wood door and waited. On the repeat knock the door opened. A man in coveralls stared at him without speaking.
"Is Hannah here?" Peter stammered.
The man glared for a few seconds.
"She told me to come," Peter offered.
The door slammed.
He knew she would be here. He hadn't misjudged her caring for him. He waited a few more seconds and knocked again.
The door opened quickly. Only a few inches. A small woman in a grey dress and white bonnet looked up at him.
"I came to see Hannah," he said.
"That is not possible."
"She said to meet her."
"She is no longer living here."
Words failed him for a few seconds.
"I must see her."
"She is on her way to live with my husband's cousin."
"Where can I find her?"
"You can't. She is far away."
A new tall man with broad shoulders moved to stand behind the woman and looked down on Peter.
"Are you Ely?" Peter asked.
"It is of no consequence to you who I am."
"Go," the woman said. "You are not wanted." The door closed.
He went to the car and waited, sure that Hannah was close. The two windows at the front of the house had the blinds drawn. He watched, but no one looked out. By late afternoon two men walked toward the barn, looking over their shoulders at him for a few seconds, but without stopping.
He got out of the car, took off his coat and tie, and walked to the barn. They were feeding cattle lined up for milking. They did not acknowledge his presence.
"Where is Hannah?"
They continued working.
"You know where she is. I want to see her."
"She will not see you," the older man said.
"Let her tell me that. I want to know that is what she wants."
The older man dropped his pitchfork to come to him. The man was taller than Peter and when he stopped, they were almost face-to-face and only a few inches separated them; Peter stepped back.
"Hannah has sinned," the man said. "Against God and her family."
"She did not sin," Peter said loudly.
"God bless you, young man. For your caring. But she is gone."
The younger man Peter was sure was Ely walked to stand beside the older man. "You will never find her," he said, his tone angry and bitter.
"Go," the older man said.
Over the next few months, Peter asked for news of Hannah in many Amish communities. People listened but either did not know or would not say. In the fall, one old woman, vending quilts near the Pennsylvania town of Cadmium, said, "You mean that Wisconsin girl?"
"Could it be Ohio?"
"You're right. It probably was Ohio, come to think of it. "That girl was sent to Belize. There was a heap of trouble."
Peter described Hannah. About five feet five. Unique close-set eyes the color of an early morning sky that turned deep-sea dark when frustrated. A quick, ready smile … and a musical laugh. Auburn hair. A narrow waist and long straight shapely legs … thin like an adolescent girl younger than her seventeen years. And beautiful hands that would, when she got excited and the words tumbled out, spring and circle in the air like swallows in flight. "Is that the one?"
The woman shook her head. "Wouldn't know, really. Saw that little girl only once when she was a baby, and then only from afar."