Rosetta Bender stepped out of the stable with a bucket of fresh goat milk in each hand, gazing toward the pink and peach horizon. Sunrises felt special here at her new home. She was grateful to God for helping her and her two sisters jump through all the necessary hoops to acquire this abandoned church camp. Its name alone—Promise Lodge—made Rosetta feel hopeful, made her dare to dream of a better life for her family and for the other Plain folks they hoped to attract to their new settlement. Even so, she let out a long sigh.
“You sound all tuckered out and we’ve not even had breakfast yet.”
Rosetta turned to smile at her eldest sister, Mattie Schwartz, who’d just come from the chicken house with a wire basket of fresh eggs. The sun’s first rays made a few silvery strands sparkle in her dark hair, which was tucked up beneath a blue kerchief.
“There’s no denying that we set ourselves up for a lot of work when we bought this property,” Rosetta replied wistfully. “I wouldn’t move back to Coldstream for love nor money, but I wish I could join the gals who’ll be cleaning at the King place this week, helping Bertha get their house ready for Sunday’s service. And I’d like to be at the common meal with everyone after church, too.”
Mattie looked away. “So I’m not the only one who’s been missing our gut friends?” she asked. “In all the hustle and bustle of selling our farms and shifting our households to Promise, I hadn’t thought about leaving everyone we’ve known all our lives. Takes some getting used to, how quiet it is out here in the middle of nowhere, ain’t so?”
“Is this a meeting of the Promise Lodge Lonely Hearts Club?” their sister Christine demanded playfully. As she stopped beside them, she removed her mesh beekeeping mask so she could shade her eyes with her hand. “That gorgeous sunrise comes with the reminder that the heavens declare the glory of God and that we should, too—and I for one will not miss plenty of things about Coldstream. Every time I saw that new barn out my kitchen window, it reminded me of how my Willis died because someone set the old barn afire,” she declared. “I—I’m glad to be leaving old ghosts behind. Focusing forward.”
Rosetta nodded, because she’d sold the house where Mamm and Dat had died, too—but Christine’s tragedy was far worse than the passing of their elderly parents. The Hershberger family had returned home last fall to discover their barn in flames. When Willis had rushed in to shoo out the spooked horses, one of them had kicked him against a burning support beam—and then part of the barn had collapsed on him.
“And I won’t miss the way Bishop Obadiah refused to allow an investigation into that fire at your place, Christine,” Mattie continued in a stronger voice. “God might’ve chosen him to lead our church district—and I understand about Old Order folks not wanting English policemen interfering in their lives. But Obadiah turns a blind eye whenever his son’s name gets connected to trouble.”
“Isaac Chupp and his dat know more about that barn fire than they’re telling,” Rosetta agreed. “And while I miss the company of our women friends, I do not want to endure another of Obadiah’s lectures about how you two should get married again and how I need to get hitched now that Mamm and Dat have passed on.”
Christine chuckled. “Jah, he’s not one for tolerating women off the leash—”
“Or women who don’t submit to husbands anymore, and who don’t keep their opinions to themselves,” Mattie added with a sparkle in her eyes. “If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget the look on his face when he heard we’d sold our farms so we could buy this tract of land.”
“I thought Obadiah’s eyes would pop out of his head when Preacher Amos declared he was coming to Promise Lodge with us, too!” Rosetta chimed in. Just thinking about their last chat with Coldstream’s bishop made her laugh out loud. “We broke a few rules, leaving our old colony to start a new one, but I believe the pieces wouldn’t have fallen into place had the Lord not been urging us to break away and start fresh.”
Mattie glanced toward the barn, where Preacher Amos and her two sons were milking Christine’s dairy cows. “Don’t expect Roman and Noah to agree with that,” she said. “My boys don’t like it that I sold the farm where they’d figured on living out their lives and starting families. But I figure they’ll have a whole world of new opportunities here—”
“And chances to meet a bunch of girls, as well, when other families join us,” Christine pointed out. “That’s how my Phoebe and Laura see it. They’re both relieved that Isaac Chupp’s not pestering them to go out on dates anymore. And so am I.”
“It should be easier on Noah, too, now that he won’t be seeing Deborah Peterscheim wherever he goes,” Rosetta remarked. “I was sad to hear that they broke their engagement. They’d been sweet on each other for most of their lives.”
“Oh, there’s more to that story than anybody’s telling.” As though she sensed her sons might finish their milking and come out of the barn at any moment, Mattie started walking toward the lodge. “Noah would never admit to it, but I have a feeling he did something stupid and Deborah decided she’d had enough. But don’t quote me on that.”
“And we all know that Preacher Amos really came along to look after Mattie,” Christine murmured, smiling slyly at Rosetta. “She’s pretending he doesn’t make eyes at her when he thinks we’re not looking.”
As the three of them laughed and strode toward the timbered lodge, Rosetta’s heart felt lighter. Was there anything deeper than the love she and her two sisters shared? The surface of Rainbow Lake reflected the glorious sunrise, and as they passed the tilled plots that would soon supply produce for Mattie’s roadside stand, Rosetta gazed at the rows of newly sprouted lettuce, peas, and green beans that glistened with dew.
That’s how it is with us, too, Jesus, she thought. You planted us here in Promise, in fresh soil and sunshine, so we can grow again.
“What’ll we cook for breakfast?” Rosetta asked. Her old tennis shoes were saturated with the grass’s wetness, so she toed them off. Could anything feel better than walking barefoot in the cool green grass? “We could make French toast with the rest of that white bread in the pantry.”
“And fry up the ham left from last night’s supper,” Christine added as she grabbed Rosetta’s wet shoes.
“And nothing’s fresher than these eggs,” Mattie said as she slung an arm around Rosetta’s shoulders. “Your hens are laying as though they like their new home—even if it needs a few new boards and some paint.”
Rosetta gazed at the lodge building ahead of them, thinking a double coat of stain and a new roof would be welcome improvements. “Did we bite off more than we can chew?” she asked softly. “It’s going to take a lot of money and elbow grease to make this lodge into a bed and breakfast. Every time I turn around I see something that needs fixing. I didn’t notice so many problems before we decided to buy the place.”
“Are you saying we got a little too excited before we plunked down our money?” Christine replied as she slung an arm around Rosetta’s shoulders. “Don’t you dare admit that to the men.”
“Are you forgetting that once the Bender sisters decide to make something work, nothing and nobody can stand in their way?” Mattie challenged, slipping her arm around Rosetta’s waist. “I’m the big sister, and I say we’ll handle everything that comes along.”
“You’ll feel better after you eat a gut breakfast,” Christine assured her. Then one of her eyebrows arched. “Have you had any coffee yet, Rosetta?”
Chuckling, Rosetta shook her head. “I filled the percolator but I didn’t want to wait for it to finish perking—and didn’t want to leave that old stove burning while I milked the goats.”
“There’s your answer!” Mattie crowed as the three of them climbed the steps to the lodge’s porch. “Everything’ll look perkier after you’ve had a shot of coffee.”
“And if the caffeine doesn’t kick you into gear, I will,” Christine teased. “You were born the youngest so Mattie and I would have somebody to boss, after all.”
“Jah, Mamm and Dat knew what they were doing when they made you last, Rosetta,” Mattie agreed. She held Rosetta’s gaze, her expression softening. “And they couldn’t have had a better caretaker in their later years, either. They’d be so tickled to know that the three of us are starting up a place for all kinds of folks to call home—folks like us, who need a fresh start and something to hope for.”
Rosetta smiled as goosebumps rushed up her spine. Mattie had always been good at seeing the rainbow behind life’s storm clouds—and good at pointing out what others did best, as well.
“It’s my fondest hope,” Christine murmured, “that amongst the new families we’ll meet is a fellow who’s just right for you, Rosetta. A fellow who’s been waiting for the best cook and the sweetest soul and the prettiest smile he could ever meet.”
“Amen, Sister.” Mattie squeezed Rosetta before opening the screen door for them. “How about if Christine and I cook breakfast so you can freeze your milk? I think our new families—and the guests at your B and B—are going to feel mighty special when they use the soap you make from it, Rosetta.”
“Jah, I love your rosemary and mint bars,” Christine remarked as she led the way inside the lodge. “And the boys really like the cornmeal soap you make, for scrubbing up. It cleans their grimy hands without making them smell girly.”
Rosetta smiled. It was part of her dream, when the Promise Lodge Bed and Breakfast was established, to supply her guests with her handcrafted soap and to sell it in her gift shop, too. As she imagined the smiles and appreciative comments her guests would have about her lovely, simple rooms and her special soaps, she once again believed she could accomplish all the necessary preparations to make her inn a reality.
“You girls are the best, you know it?” she asked softly. “And you’re right. With the three of us helping each other, our dreams will all come true—because we won’t quit until they do.”
“We’ll make it happen,” Christine agreed.
Mattie’s laughter echoed in the high-ceilinged lobby they stood in. Hours of scrubbing had cleaned the soot from the stone fireplace and their intense efforts with polish and rags had made the majestic double wooden staircase glimmer again. “We can’t fail,” she reminded them playfully. “Too many men are waiting for that to happen, and we can’t let them say I told you so.”
“Jah, you’ve got it right—and you’ll not hear another peep of wishful thinking from me,” Rosetta stated. “We’ll make do, and we’ll make it all work out, and we’ll make new friends. Right after we’ve had our breakfast and a pot of coffee.”