Chapter Twelve

Two nights later, Leora had fallen asleep in her rocker. She woke up to a cold room, the fire having gone completely out. Goodness, but she needed to get to bed. She went to the warming stove and opened the heavy door. She blew on the embers and there was a small spark. Perhaps she should throw another log in to warm up the house some.

But she decided against it. The warmth wouldn’t reach her bedroom anyway. She turned down the wick of one of the lanterns, snuffing it out, and picked up the other to go to her room. It was then that she heard it. Sirens blasting somewhere in the area.

She stiffened. What was it? Usually, she couldn’t hear any sirens unless they were going to someone’s place in her district. She stopped moving and listened. Was it an ambulance? A police car? A fire truck?

She couldn’t tell. A tremor of fear shot through her. Surely, it wasn’t another fire. She sent up a quick prayer and hurried to the window, hoping to see something. But the siren was further away. She could see nothing. At times like that, she wished she had a phone. She wanted to know what was happening, but she could hardly get on her bicycle at that time of night and go pedaling madly down the road.

She set the lantern down and stared out the window, putting her arms around herself.

Gott, take care of whoever it is or whatever it is…” she murmured.

She heard a second siren join the first, and she shuddered. Oh please, don’t let it be someone hurt…

She didn’t know what to do. But then, what could she do? The coldness of the room crept into her until she was shivering. She needed to get to bed; standing there in the cold wouldn’t help anyone. Reluctantly, she picked up the lantern and went to her room. She quickly changed into her nightgown, went to the bathroom, and then returned and crawled into her cold bed. She should have heated a brick and put it between the sheets earlier.

Well, she hardly could have done that considering she’d fallen asleep in her chair. She lay on her side and pulled the quilts up to her chin, drawing her knees toward her chest. She closed her eyes, but she could still hear the sirens wailing. It was only one siren now, so she assumed that was a good sign.

She lay there with her eyes wide open. Sleep didn’t seem within grasp. She tried to think of soothing things to relax herself, but it was of no use. And then she heard the gravel on her drive crunch and the sound of a horse snorting. She shot out of bed and ran through the dark to the front room. She peered out the window, expecting Martha’s husband Tom again. But it wasn’t Tom.

It was Noah.

She fumbled with the lock on the door and got it open right as he was about to knock.

“Noah!”

“I told Tom I’d check on you,” he said. “It’s another fire…”

Nee!” she cried, covering her mouth with her hand.

“We think it’s the same person or people that did this. It’s the Gutzman’s barn this time.”

Marlie Gutzman had just given birth the week before. And wasn’t her husband in Linder Creek for a few days to help his cousin?

Nee,” she said again. “Can I come and help? I could stay with Marlie.”

“The men are all there helping. I-I don’t know…”

“I’m coming,” she insisted, dashing back to her bedroom. She lit her lantern and quickly got dressed. She bundled up and then ran into the kitchen and snatched up the fresh loaves of bread she’d made the day before. She doused the lantern and locked the door behind her.

“I don’t know if I should—”

“I’m giving you no say in it, Noah. I’m going. I think Marlie’s husband is away…”

“He is. Come on, then. She’ll be glad to see you.”

They hurriedly got into the buggy and were off. Again, Leora was grateful for Noah’s buggy heater.

“Can they save any of the barn?”

“I don’t know,” Noah told her. “I hope so. The fire trucks got there sooner this time.”

“And the animals.”

“They’re safe.”

“Noah, who would do this? Who would do such a thing?”

She could see his grim face in the light from the streetlamp. “I don’t know. It defies reason.”

It defies reason. Yes. He was right. It did defy reason. They were silent then the rest of the way. When Noah turned into the Gutzmans’ place, it appeared to be in total chaos. But as she looked more closely, she saw a rhythm to the firemen’s actions. The men from the district had saved some of the bales of hay, but they were now being held back by a fireman.

The blazes licked up the sides of the barn, and the whole yard was covered in a red glow. The sirens on top of the truck circled in a steady tempo. Water gushed from the hoses, forming arcs that could be mistaken for rainbows in a happier time.

And then Leora saw her. Marlie stood on the porch in her nightgown, her hands covering her face. Leora barely waited for Noah to stop the buggy before she jumped out and went racing across the lawn.

“Marlie,” she cried. She went to her and held her with one arm, balancing the loaves of bread in her other. “Come on. Get inside. You’ll catch your death out here.”

“I c-can’t. Ach! Leora! What will Bart say? He’s out of town, you know. He’s going to come back home to no barn. This is terrible! Leora, what am I going to do?”

“You’re going to come inside,” Leora said as softly as she could above the noise. “Come on.”

She practically carried Marlie back into her house. Once inside, she saw the wide eyes of Marlie’s oldest three. They were lined up on the couch, tears welling in their eyes.

“All right, kinner,” Leora said, placing the loaves of bread onto a side table. “The firemen have everything well in hand. Your mamm just needs a minute to sit down, but you need to get back to bed now.”

She spoke kindly and steadily as she helped Marlie into a chair and then went to shepherd the children upstairs.

“Who’s going to show me which bed is which?” she asked, working to inject a playful note into her voice and grabbing a lantern. “Don’t you fret. Tomorrow you’ll be able to see the barn, and the animals are all safe, so no worries about that. Come on, now. Show me your beds.”

She took them upstairs, had them all use the bathroom, and then followed them to their rooms. They didn’t say much; although young Jake asked if he could help.

“You most certainly can,” Leora told him. “But not till tomorrow. That’s why you must get your sleep tonight.”

She tucked them all in, kissed their foreheads, and walked back down the hallway to the stairs. Such sweet children. And the baby was sleeping through it all. Her heart ached for children of her own, but she didn’t have time for such thinking right then. She had to tend to Marlie. When she got downstairs, Marlie was in the kitchen, making tea.

“I’m sorry,” Marlie said, looking ashamed. “I kind of fell apart out there.”

Leora glanced out the kitchen window. The lights on the firetruck were still circling but the flames had died down.

“At least the house is far enough away from the barn, that they weren’t worried about us in here,” Marlie went on. “I don’t know what got into me. No lives were lost. I should be grateful.” She looked over at Leora. “And I am. I am grateful.”

“Of course, you are,” Leora said gently. “But it’s a shock, nevertheless. I think being a bit upset is nothing to be sorry about.”

Marlie poured the hot water into a row of cups. “I thought the men might want some tea.” She sighed and shook her head. “They’re likely tired.”

“They may want to just go home afterward,” Leora said. “I can run out and ask them if you want me to.”

“Would you?”

Leora nodded and then hurried outside, careful to stay out of the firemen’s way. But they looked about finished with their job, and Leora breathed a sigh of relief. Noah saw her approach and went to her.

“Marlie has tea ready if anyone would like any.”

“I’ll tell the men,” Noah said. “My guess is they’ll just want to go home.”

“I figured that. But anyway, would you offer it to them?”

“I will. And I’ll be in later to give you a ride home.”

“Thank you,” she said, looking into his face smudged with soot. He was a good man, Noah King.

She was turning around when a policeman came over. “Were you here when it started?” he asked her.

Nee. I came when it was well underway.”

He looked toward the house. “Is the missus home? I understand her husband is gone.”

“She’s inside.”

“I’ll accompany you to the house then,” he said and fell into step with her as they headed back inside.

Marlie gave a gasp when she saw him, and Leora quickly took off her cape and gave it to her so she could cover her nightgown.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” the officer said. “I need to know if you saw or heard anything suspicious before the fire started.”

Marlie’s face turned white, and Leora feared she might fall over. She quickly stepped beside her and grabbed her arm.

“Marlie?” she asked softly. “Are you all right?”

Marlie squared her shoulders. “I did see something,” she said, her voice shaking. “I was up because the boppli had fussed, but she fell back to sleep right away. I looked out my bedroom window and I saw…” She stopped and took a breath. “I thought I saw someone running away from the barn.”

“Was it male or female?”

“I … couldn’t be sure. Male, I think. He was slight, you know, thin. He had on a sweatshirt or something with a hood. It was dark, so I couldn’t see much.”

The officer was busy taking notes. He looked up. “You couldn’t see any hair color?”

Nee. Not with the hood, and it was dark.”

“What time was this?”

“Uh, I’m not certain. Just after midnight, maybe.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Not at first. But … after the last fire, I was scared. I stared at the barn, praying, and then I saw it. The fire…”

“And?”

“I was afraid to go out there. I couldn’t leave the kinner alone. I didn’t know… I didn’t know if he might come back…”

She was growing agitated, and Leora put her arm around her.

“It’s all right, ma’am. I don’t mean to upset you. You did real good. This information is helpful.”

Leora could feel Marlie shudder against her.

“I-I don’t have a phone,” Marlie muttered. “I didn’t know what to do. After a few minutes, I ran outside and saw that the fire was too big for me to put out. And then an Englisch person was driving by and must have seen it. They stopped and called it in on their phone. I-I didn’t even get to thank them before they drove off.”

She was crying now and Leora led her to a kitchen chair, and Marlie sank into it.

“Thank you again, ma’am. I may have more questions later, but I’ll leave you for now.” He closed his notebook and nodded, letting himself out.