You would think that a person might be able to enjoy some
peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon. After all, it was the
Sabbath—a day of rest. Yet Phoebe Miller found herself
hiding behind a tree to escape from her family. There were
just so many of them. Living next door to Aunt Julia and
Uncle Simon guaranteed plenty of drop-in visits, impromptu
potluck suppers, and more unsolicited advice than any
red-blooded, seventeen-year-old girl needed. It's not that
she didn't love her family—because she certainly
did—she simply needed more time alone time than others.
Holding her breath, Phoebe stood stock-still until Uncle
Simon headed into the barn in search of her father and Aunt
Julia entered the house looking for Hannah. Her mamm. Hannah
wasn't her mother by blood, but had earned the title during
the past twelve years of bandaging scrapes, helping with
math homework, and remaining beside while Phoebe suffered
the flu on long winger nights. She couldn't remember her
birth mother anymore. She was only five when an impatient
driver in a fast-moving truck decided to pass on a blind
curve. It didn't hurt much anymore. She had Hannah, and her
daed, and her little brother to love. They were all she
needed…except for a little personal solitude.
Phoebe sucked in her gut as ten-year-old Ben ran across
the yard, chasing his dog that was chasing a rubber ball.
When the two ducked under a fence into the cornfield, she
ran pell-mell in the opposite direction through the sheep
pasture, clutching her box of pencils and sketchpad tightly.
She dared not look back for fear some cousin would be waving
frantically from the porch. This time, she didn't stop to
watch baby lambs nursing from the ewes or to pick a fistful
of wild trilliums for her windowsill. On she ran until she
reached her favorite spot for drawing—an ancient
stonewall constructed by long-gone pioneers in Holmes
County. Phoebe doubted these early settlers had been Amish.
Not too many Amish men would take the time to painstakingly
stack flat rocks just so to form a long fence line. Not when
dozens of tall trees fell over in the woods each winter that
could easily be split into fence rails. And not when
stampeding cows spooked by thunder, or marauding sheep
needing no reason whatsoever to bolt, could knock the entire
wall down within minutes. That was probably why this
twenty-yard section was all that remained. But it was all
Settling comfortably on a smooth flat stone, she gazed
over acres of rolling pasture, lush with thick clover, alive
with honeybees and hummingbirds attracted by the wild
Morning Glories. Those climbing vines would entwine her if
she sat too long. Hannah's beloved sheep frolicked and
capered like small children. Beyond this pasture lay corn
and alfalfa fields, the peach and apple orchards, and the
stately pines in the distance. Like sentinels, they guarded
the property line between their farm and the westerly
neighbor, while a pond and lowland bog separated them from
Uncle Simon and Aunt Julia.
Phoebe turned to a fresh page in her oversized tablet and
selected a charcoal pencil from the box. What would she draw
today—horses nibbling on the proverbial green grass?
Sunlight glinting off dewy treetops at dawn, while the rest
of the land remained cloaked in darkness? It was well past
midday, but Phoebe had witnessed dawn enough times to
remember. Maybe their three-story bank barn with open
hayloft doors, against a stark backdrop of pristine,
unbroken snow? Everyone loved the serenity that could be
found within a winter landscape. It didn't matter that it
was May—and an exceptionally warm day at that. A good
artist, worth her salt, possessed a photographic memory
capable of retaining visual imagery until the moment she
recreated those images on canvass…or in her case, on a sheet
of white paper.
"I thought I would find you up here."
Phoebe jumped out of her skin, dropping her sketchpad and
spilling her box of colored pencils, charcoals, pastel chalk
and various erasers and sharpeners. "Daed! You nearly gave
me a heart attack." She dropped to her knees to retrieve her
Seth Miller brushed off a spot on the wall and sat down.
"You're too young for a heart attack. And I wasn't sneaking
up on you—I came up the same path along the fence that
you took. You were too absorbed in your masterpiece to see me."
With her supplies safely returned to the box, she plunked
down next to him, clutching the tablet like a shield.
"Nothing even started yet. I was waiting for the perfect
inspiration." She giggled, knowing how full-blown that sounded.
"Plenty of pretty scenery up here to pick from. It would
be hard to narrow it down to just one." Seth bumped his
shoulder into hers.
Phoebe sighed. "Jah, but none I haven't sketched a
hundred times before."
Seth shifted his position on the wall to offer his
profile. "How about me? Or am I too old and wrinkled?'
She shook her head. "You're not old, daed, even if you do
have some serious crow's feet." She bumped his shoulder in
return. "But once Uncle Simon caught me doing a portrait of
cousin Emma, and he scolded me. He said drawing a picture of
an Amish person was no different than capturing their
likeness with a camera." Phoebe then lapsed into mimicking
Uncle Simon's stern voice, forgetting the person she was
talking to for the moment. As bishop of this district, I
won't have my niece and my daughter committing such a sin.
Her father merely shrugged. "In that case, you could draw
our old buggy horse, Sam. Now that he's been turned out to
pasture, we no longer have to worry about capturing his image."
"I think I'll stick to wildflowers today." With her piece
of charcoal, she pointed at clumps of purple violets, green
Mayapples and the elusive Jack-in-the-Pulpits. "Sam usually
has too many flies buzzing around his head to contend with."
Seth stretched out his long legs. "I saw you hiding from
your bruder behind that tree. Has he been pestering you? Is
that why you didn't want him to follow you?" He shielded his
face from the sun, deepening the wrinkles webbing his eyes.
"Oh, no. Ben's been all right. But he's ten years old. He
doesn't understand the concept of sitting still or remaining
quiet. If I let him come with me down to the river or to the
duck pond, he expects me to catch tadpoles or butterflies
with him. Once he dropped a two-foot black snake at my feet
and told me to draw him." Phoebe met her father's gaze. "I
let him come along as seldom as possible without hurting his
"Mind if I have a look-see?" Without waiting for her
answer, Seth pulled the giant pad from her grasp.
For a moment, Phoebe felt a familiar wave of panic. Her
art was a private collection, showcasing her limited
abilities. But the moment soon passed. She was Phoebe Miller
of Winesburg, Ohio, not Michelangelo of Italy. "Sure, why
not?" She exhaled, willing herself to relax.
Seth paged through her assortment of sketches, some bare
bones, others filled with vibrant color and intricate
shading. "These are quite good, daughter." He paused to
study one picture of a small child kneeling in prayer beside
a trundle bed. With white walls and dark pine floorboards,
the girl's black prayer kapp but white pinafore—the
drawing was a contrast of light and shadows. One could feel
the presence of God in the rays of moonlight streaming
through the open window.
She smiled with pleasure, leaning over his arm. "That's
one of my favorites. Not bad for someone with no talent and
no training, huh?"
He shook his head. "You have talent, make no mistake
about that. And what kind of training does an artist need?
Either a person has the gift or they don't."
"A few classes would have been nice in school. My
teacher's idea of art was coloring a seasonal mimeographed
page—all trees were green, every autumn leaf either
red or gold. Everyone's picture looked exactly the same."
Seth dispensed his usual daed-look. "Plain folk have no
need for individuality as long as you're known personally to
God." He shut the sketchpad and then handed it back to her.
"But providing you get your chores done, I see no harm in
capturing the beauty of nature in your pictures." Seth rose
to his feet. "Which of the lilies of the field will my
artist choose to draw today?" He waved his hand toward a
multitude of flowers and weeds growing along the
vine-shrouded wall. "I'd say you have less than an hour
before it's time to eat. Don't be late, Phoebe. You know how
your Uncle Simon hates not eating at the appointed hour."
Seth started down the path and did not glance back. He
didn't have to. He knew she wouldn't be late for supper, or
neglect her chores, or forget to say her nightly
prayers…because she never did.
Phoebe was a good girl. She had never painted her face
with makeup as Emma had during her rumschpringe, nor taken
up with an English boy with a fast green truck. Everything
was well and good now that Emma and Jamie were married,
raising two little boys, and sheep farming in Charm. But
when they first converted to New Order, both sets of parents
lost more than one good night's sleep.
And Phoebe had no desire to go into business like her
cousin, Leah. Running a diner with a business partner as
naïve as she almost landed Leah in the county jail. Who knew
that not collecting sales tax to send to the State of Ohio
was a crime? She shuddered remembering how long it had taken
Leah to pay her share of debt incurred by the diner. Meeting
Johan Byler had been the only good thing to come out of that
diner fiasco. Apparently, he hadn't been looking for a wife
with any business savvy.
Nope, Phoebe was a good girl—helping with cooking,
cleaning and laundry; doing a fair share of gardening,
canning and berry picking, despite having no particular
fondness for domestic duties. Her mamm, Hannah, along with
Emma had their beloved sheep, along with the spinning,
dyeing, carding and weaving that came with those wooly
creatures. Both women knitted such exquisite sweaters and
sofa throws tourists would pay more than a hundred dollars
for one of their creations. Leah had her pie-making cottage
industry. Bakeries throughout the county clamored for more
Leah Byler pies. Her recipe for Peach Parfait Supreme once
had been a finalist in a national bake-off. Until Aunt Julia
pointed out the error in that line of thinking: Plain folk
weren't to set themselves above anyone through competition.
But Phoebe never experienced a thrill over a particularly
flaky piecrust or just the perfect sweet-tart balance of her
fruit filling. Only her art held any joy. Painting with
acrylics from the Bargain Outlet or sketching people while
they were unaware lifted Phoebe's spirits like nothing else.
Not exactly a practical pastime for someone Plain, but what
could she do?
With a sigh, she selected a moss-covered, termite-riddled
log for today's subject. The dark moist wood where decay
added a blackish-green hue, along with the sun-baked
topside, striated and gnarly from wind and weather, would
provide a stark background to the delicate, wispy yellow
For sixty minute, feeling the warm sun on her face, a
cool breeze on her neck, Phoebe surrender to her creation.
Adding a bold slash here or light shading there, the flower
on paper became as real as those growing near her feet and
almost smelled as sweet. She lost herself in her work,
unaware of hunger or thirst or the pesky hornet circling her
head. Funny how mopping the floor, hanging laundry on the
line or slicing peaches for cobbler couldn't hold held her
interest. All she about was snitching another cookie or
refilling her glass of lemonade.
Finally, when the drawing neared completion, she leaned
back against the wall with a satisfied sigh. There had to be
something she could do with her so-called gift, as her
parents called it. She'd been out of school for three years,
yet seldom brought to the household more than a few dollars
from selling eggs. She once hung an index card up at the
grocery store, announcing "Artist for Hire," with her name
and address at the bottom in block letters. She landed two
commissions from the advertisement. One, a local farmer
needed an autumn replacement for his produce market sign,
since peaches, organic lettuce and berries were long gone.
Phoebe created a four-foot by six-foot masterpiece,
showcasing colorful apples, pumpkins, butternut squash,
eggplant and Indian corn. She'd tried to turn down the
second project: An elderly widow needed someone to paint the
white picket fence around her vegetable patch. And of
course, daed had made her accept the job. Painting was
painting, he declared.
Packing up her supplies, she started down the well-worn
path to the rambling farmhouse filled with her parents,
brother, aunts, uncles, cousins. Lately, it seemed like
she'd wandered into the wrong house, but folks were too
polite to tell her. How could she live surrounded by
affectionate and endearing people, yet still feel utterly,
* * * * *
Julia stepped down from the buggy gingerly, always a
little nervous to see if her legs would hold her. It had
been years since her double knee replacement surgery, yet
she remained skeptical about the stainless steel substitute
Simon took her arm to steady her. "Easy does it, fraa.
Did you take your pills today?"
"Jah, of course, like I do every day. I'm just stiff from
sitting. Run off now and find your brother," she said. "With
these perfectly fine store-bought knees, we should have
walked here. What's the advantage of living next door to
your brother and my sister if we must drag out the horse and
buggy even in perfect weather?" Julia leaned heavily on his
arm despite her assertion she could have walked half a mile
through scrub forest and bog.
"I'm not running anywhere until you're planted in one of
Hannah's kitchen chairs," Simon insisted. "And our old
gelding needs the exercise more than we do." He supported
her elbow up the walkway.
"If Hannah sees you practically carrying me inside,
she'll start feeding me more of her herbal cures." They
paused midway to the house. "Boswellia, bromelain, yucca,
tumeric, sea cucumber—do you know what those things
taste like?" Julie wrinkled her nose. "I burped the other
day and it tasted like stagnant pond water."
"Why it is you know how stagnant pond water tastes?"
Simon clutched her tightly around the waist as they reached
"I'd rather not say what my sister was like as a teenager."
"Whatever she gives you to eat or drink, you'll take
without complaint. One of these days, Hannah will land on a
miracle cure that'll have you skipping like a schoolgirl again."
Julie gulped a deep breath and climbed the steps,
clucking her tongue in disapproval. "Miracles from teas and
tonics? And you—the district deacon. What's gotten
into you?" She reached for the doorframe to steady herself.
"All miracles come from the Lord, but He used a wide
variety of delivery methods." Simon kissed her cheek. "I'll
see you at supper."
Julia waited until she stopped panting like a dog before
entering her sister's large, airy kitchen. "Hannah," she
called, finding the room empty.
Hannah Miller bustled into the room looking as fresh and
cheery as she had ten years ago. Amazing what the lack of
chronic pain did for a person's appearance and attitude.
"You're alone?" she said, pulling aside the curtain. "Where
are your daughters?" Without needing to ask, she filled two
tall glasses with iced tea. "I baked way too much glazed ham
and potato salad if the rest of your family isn't coming to
eat." She carried their glasses to the table.
Julia smiled, lowering herself into a chair. "Just Simon
and myself, but I promise to eat ravenously. Henry will stop
over later. He took the open buggy for a ride, after he
spent hours yesterday polishing every inch with leather oil.
I think he's courting some gal, but when I drop subtle
hints, he turns beet red and clams up."
Hannah sat on the opposite side of the long table—a
table large enough to seat the entire Miller clan. "You,
subtle?" She winked one luminous green eye. "You're as
subtle as a blind bull in a spring pasture. Poor
Henry—being the only one left at home. What about
Leah? She's not coming either?" Hannah laced her fingers
over her still flat belly. "I was itching for one of her
"No fresh peaches yet. You would know that if you left
your loom and spinning wheel once in a while. And all her
canned peaches are gone. Anyway, she and Jonah are staying
home today, as is Emma, Jamie and their two boys." Julia
leaned back in the chair. "I saw Ben chasing that dog of
his, but where's Phoebe?" She craned her neck to scan the
living room. "Let me guess—upstairs, immortalizing the
intricacies of a spider in her web, instead of whacking it
down with a broom."
Hannah took a long swallow of tea. "Too warm upstairs in
her room. She headed to the high pasture with her tablet.
Seth walked up to check on her, although she can't get lost
or into any trouble up there. He would prefer she stay
within eyeshot of the house at all times."
"I remember when you used to hide from
people—sometimes in the woods, sometimes down by the
river—when you first moved here from Lancaster.
Whenever my Simon crawled up you neck."
Hannah snorted dismissively. "I wasn't hiding from your
Simon, I was plotting how to snare Seth into my web, just
like Phoebe's pet spider. It wasn't easy, but I ran away
from him so often he finally caught me."
The two sisters enjoyed a chuckle. "The two Kline sisters
marrying the two Miller brothers. It sure made things handy,
no? Maybe that's what your Phoebe does when she wanders off
by herself—plotting how to capture the eye of some
hapless young man at the next social event. Isn't she
"Almost eighteen. But no, she won't go to singings. She
says they make her nervous. She'll only attend work frolics
and quilting parties. Not too many eligible young men at
sewing bees." Hannah finished her tea with a slurp; then
rose to refill both glasses. "She says she has nothing in
common with boys her age."
"How would she know if she never steps out from behind
your skirt? Has she ever talked to boys other than to say
‘pass me the catsup?'" Julia clamped her jaw shut,
remembering her bad habit of overstepping the role of big
sister. Running roughshod over folks—that's how Simon
referred to it.
"Phoebe is still young. She has plenty of time. People
aren't marrying so early anymore, not like when we were at
that age." Hannah tucked a stray lock of flaxen hair under
her prayer kapp.
Julia rubbed her fingers one at a time. "She shouldn't
spend so much time alone. It's not healthy."
Hannah shot Julia the look that meant you're treading
dangerously close to thin ice. "I realize with both of your
daughters married, you have no one to needle and advise. You
can always go back to me to keep your talons razor sharp."
"Ach, I would, but I threw my hands up years ago and
declared you a hopeless case. You listen to advice as well
as your sheep." Julia stared out the window where the lilac
bush was in full bloom without seeing the profusion of
flowers. "At least your daughter has come a long way since
you started courting Seth. How long did Phoebe go without
speaking a single word—eight months, a year?"
Hannah paused to consider. "Almost a year and a half.
Constance's death pulled the rug out from under her feet.
Seth was trying to cope with a household without his wife,
along with his own grief. He was too busy and too distracted
to notice a little girl in serious pain." She furrowed her
forehead as memories of some very difficult months returned.
"Seth wasn't spending enough time with her, because he had
suddenly twice as much on his plate. But how can you explain
that to a five year old?"
"Phoebe watched all her daed's attention being lavished
on you." Julia chanced a look at her sister.
Hannah scoffed. "Lavish would hardly describe Seth's
interest to me."
"True enough. He erected quite a wall around himself,
while you patiently worked with Phoebe. Eventually, she came
around and started talking again, but she's still a very
quiet child. No one would believe she was a Miller if she
wasn't the spitting image of Seth. They would have figured
Constance discovered a foundling in the parking lot of
Wal-Mart and brought her home."
Hannah's smile looked bittersweet. "Seth didn't like me
telling him how raise his daughter, eventually ran out of
choices and took my suggestions." She shook off the
reminiscence like a dog in the rain. "Now, he dotes on the
girl, as much as she allows him, to the point of wrapping
her in a cocoon. Pity the poor boys that come around when
Phoebe starts courting. Seth will probably stand guard in
the front room with his squirrel rifle across his chest."
"I didn't know Seth ever went hunting." Julia lifted one
"He doesn't. He inherited that relic of a firearm from
his daed. Just don't tell the young men that gun hasn't been
fired in twenty years." They enjoyed a good belly laugh
while Hannah started pulling side dishes from the refrigerator.
To feel useful, Julia pushed herself up from the table to
get plates, glasses and silverware. Sitting around too long
stiffened arthritic joints, hastening the day she would need
more replacement parts. By the time Hannah carried the
platter of sliced ham to the table, in trailed Seth, Simon
and Henry. Julia blinked with her son's early appearance.
"You're back from your ride already son?" she asked.
Henry's ears reddened while he washed his hands at the
sink. "I saw what I set out to see." He slinked to a kitchen
chair like a stray barn cat.
Phoebe slipped into the house unseen, joining them just
in time for silent prayer. The moment the Millers lifted
their bowed heads and began passing bowls of food Henry
turned to his cousin. "After we eat, Phoebe, do you want to
see my new filly?" Despite the fact he was a grown man at
twenty-one, he blushed whenever he addressed females, even
"Sure," she agreed, popping a gherkin into her mouth.
"What's wrong with this one?"
"Hardly anything. I picked her up at the Sugarcreek
auction for a song. She had a mild limp so other buyers
passed her over." He drained half a glass of milk.
Simon set down his fork, dabbing his beard. "You bought a
lame horse, son? What are we going to do with her if she's
not fit for the buggy or pulling a plow?"
Julia and Hannah exchanged a glance. Father and son had
been down this country road enough times to wear grooves in
"She's not lame, Dad. A slight limp, that's all. And
she's much improved since I started applying liniment and
wrapping the leg." Henry built a sandwich with home-baked
rye bread and several slices of ham; then lathered on the
hot pepper relish.
Simon grunted, picking up his coffee cup. "Could she at
least pull a pony cart to earn her keep?"
"Eventually. Maybe." Henry bit into the stack, rendering
further speech impossible.
"Look at it this way—she is a filly and could turn
into a fine brood mare some day." Seth interjected his two
cents worth into the conversation.
Simon's brows beetled above the bridge of his nose,
focusing on his brother. "We don't have room for the horses
we own now. They're already two to a stall and my horse
pasture gets grazed down to nubs by July. I'll have to start
feeding oats and Timothy year round."
"Maybe I'll lease you some of our pastureland. Hannah's
flock is down this year. If you're willing to pay me a fair
price, that is." Seth bit the inside of his cheek to keep
"I think it's a fine thing you're doing, nephew," said
Hannah, slicing pies at the counter. "Rescuing balky horses
from the auction kill-pen and then retraining them for
useful lives is a noble calling."
Julia watched Hannah aim her dazzling smile at Simon.
After all these years, she still knew how to get her
"Jah, Hannah," said Simon. "But the idea was to resell
the horses at a profit—make a little income while he's
doing his good deed."
"I have sold some," interjected Henry, after swallowing
another mouthful of sandwich. "Just last month I sold that
three-year-old Morgan to the bishop's son. He couldn't
believe the change that had come over that horse with two
years of training."
Simon rolled his eyes, pushing away his plate. "Two years
for a Morgan to let someone put a saddle on his back?" His
muttering was barely audible, knowing he was out-numbered by
animal-lovers in his brother's home. "Fine, nursemaid your
new filly. Just don't turn my barn into the Miller Horse
Phoebe straightened up in her chair. Small and shy, it
was easy to forget she was in the room. "That has a nice
ring to it." Phoebe flashed Henry a grin. "Would you like me
to make you a sign to put down by the road? I could paint a
stallion and mare, with a young filly in the foreground. I'm
pretty good drawing horses." She winked one warm cocoa-brown
eye at him.
Some of Julia's tea slipped down her windpipe; then flew
right out her nose as she gagged and coughed. The rest of
the family laughed more moderately, except for her beloved
husband, Simon. He simply stared at his favorite niece like
she'd grown a tail.
"Danki for your generous offer, "he said in his most
patient voice. "But that won't be necessary. Everyone in the
county already knows the location of Henry's save-a-horse
society." Simon reached for the largest slice of pie among
the dessert plates.
Julia wiped her face and then blew her nose, trying to
compose herself. She needed to better control her drinking
habits because she had a feeling it would be one long, hot