To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in child bearing very severe. With painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Hal Lapp took a deep breath and blurted out to her step daughter, “So, Emma, are you going to assist me with delivery when I go into labor?”
The iron skillet the sixteen year old girl had dried slid out of her hand and banged down on top the wood cookstove.
Hal flinched. “Mercy!”
Afraid to look over her shoulder at Emma, she turned the kettle she was washing toward the window for more light to see in it. She concentrated on the inside to see if she'd gotten it clean and continued causally, “It's just that I've been thinking. Right after our medical clinic was built, Jane Bontrager brought up the idea of using it for a birthing clinic. Since I haven't had one single Plain woman want to deliver here yet, it looks like I'm going to be the first. I need to plan for the big day. After all, I may only have two weeks left.” Hal hesitated, thinking about what to say next. She had hinted at needing the girl's help before, but Emma always changed the subject. What would convince Emma to help her?
She looked out the window and saw evidence that her due date was getting closer. Mid March was showing hopeful signs of a much awaited early spring in Iowa. The sun basked the greening yard in a warm glow. Busy chickens scattered, scratching for an early nightcrawler or trying to uncover a nest of hiding lady bugs. One of Emma's roosters extended his neck and crowed several times. The other rooster answered from the barn yard.
Utter silence from Emma. Finally Hal twisted to look at her. The panic plastered on Emma's pale face highlighted her freckles. She was staring at Hal while she unconsciously wadded and unwadded the dish towel in her hands.
Hal insisted, “Well?”
Emma opened her mouth and closed it, struggling to find her voice. She took a deep breath and exclaimed adamantly, “Ach, nah. You can not be serious, asking me a question like that.”
“Very serious. I don't have much time to waste. I have to have a plan in place. I'll need help.” Hal pressed, “I want you to be my help.”
Emma swallowed hard and stuttered, “I – I think we should pick a gute midwife to help this first time. We could both use some teaching about childbirth from someone with experience. I have never done such as this. You are a nurse and have taken classes, but you are the first to admit you have not the experience when it comes to delivering babies. For sure, you will not be a help to anyone assisting you once you are in labor. Another thing ----.”
Hal interjected, “Why would you say something like I won't be a help?”
A blush flushed Emma's face as she pictured Hal in labor. She averted her eyes and busied herself scooting the skillet on the stove to a warmer place to finish drying it. “Believe me, it will all be very different from your view of things at the head of the bed. What if something went wrong? I would not know what to do. Another thing, I do not know how calm I can be when it is you I am helping give birth. We need someone else not related to you with experience enough to have a level head,” Emma reasoned frankly.
Hal laughed. “You know what? I think you're right. We better come up with plan B before the end of March.”
“Jah! And a whole team already in place very soon, just encase, to take care of the surprises,” Emma predicted, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. “As well as I know you, Hallie Lapp, I know we need to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter what the situation, always when you are around we have surprises.”
Hal giggled as she finished washing the last pan and placed it in the rinse water. She wrung out the dish cloth and proceeded to wash off the table. Emma dried the stainless steel pot and headed for the lower cupboard on the end of the counter. The pot hit the floor with a loud clatter. A gush of air expelled from the girl as she propelled back and braced herself against the counter.
Hal had been feeling edgy lately. It didn't take much to put her over the edge. She glanced from the pot on the floor to Emma and admonished, “Fudge! I didn't mean to upset you this much. I said I'd come up with a plan B. Why are you still upset?”
Emma shook her head. “That is not it. A mouse just came out of the cupboard and scared me.”
Hal wrinkled her nose and searched the floor. “That's awful.”
“Ja. Now we have to wash all the pots and pans it walked in,” Emma said resignedly.
“That won't do a bit of good if we don't catch the mouse. He will be back in the cupboard in the night. Where did he go?”
Emma pointed behind the cookstove. “Under the corner of the wood box.”
Hal studied the wood box with disgust. “We have to run that awful creature out from under there and get it out of the house.”
“I can have the boys bring in Buttercat,” Hal suggested.
“You know Papa does not like a cat in the house,” warned Emma, keeping her eye on the wood box for any quick movement of the mouse. “Is your memory so short you do not remember how Papa acted last time you brought Buttercat inside?”
Hal countered, “I remember all right that Buttercat is good at his job. Is your memory so short you don't remember Buttercat caught that mouse.”
Emma gave her a grumpy look.
“All right. We'll do this ourselves. We need to pull the wood box back, and the nasty animal will run out.” Hal started for the opposite side of the cookstove.
“Stop!” Emma snapped. “You are not going to pull on that heavy wood box in your condition. I will do it, but what do we do to catch the mouse when he runs out?”
“Oh yeah.” Hal thought for a second. “Give me a minute.” She waddled out to the mud room and came back, holding the broom, handle first in front of her. “Now when I'm ready you move the wood box.”
“You can not possibly think you are going to be fast enough to poke the mouse toward the mud room door and let him outside,” Emma said dryly.
“That isn't what I had in mind,” Hal huffed. She turned the broom around and stuck the broom's straw head over her shoulder. “Now I'm ready.”
Emma took up position at the opposite end of the wood box. She waited while Hal sidled in the small space between the box and the cookstove.
“Now, Emma, tug.”
Emma jerked. The box inched back. The mouse eased out and flattened to the floor, indecisive about what to do next. Hal lifted the broom and felt resistance as she swiftly brought the broom down. Even when she heard the grating crunch behind her, she kept the broom coming hard and fast toward the mouse. Not even the yelp from Emma kept her from her mission. That nasty creature wasn't going back in the pan cupboard ever again. Once the broom straws hit the floor over the mouse, Hal glanced over her shoulder. A dangling stove pipe, hooked to the wall pipe, quivered, spilling soot on top of Emma.
That dismal sight caused Hal to shift the broom slightly on the floor. She looked down as the mouse hunkered just beyond the broom then sprinted fast toward the cupboard. “Oh nah, the mouse is headed for the pots and pans again,” Hal said in a panic.
She raised the broom over her shoulder, tangled with the pipe again. The blow put the pipe into a swinging motion. Soot sifted over Hal this time. Oblivious about the calamity behind her, she concentrated on her aim and clobbered the mouse. Once the broom was on top of the gross little creature, Hal quickly stepped on the straws. She watched the floor around her feet to make sure she had succeeded. A feeling of victory surged through her when she heard loud squeaks emitted from under the broom. Hal proudly announced, “I got him.”
“You got me too,” coughed Emma, batting at smoke billowing from the stove pipe attached to the cookstove.
Dumbfounded, Hal couldn't believe her eyes. Emma's face was streaked with soot and black specks continued on down her dress. Her white prayer cap was now mostly black and sifting soot into Emma's light brown hair. No way was that cap ever going to come clean. Maybe not even the dress. “Fudge! The pipe's broke. You're a mess,” Hal stated.
Emma swiped with her dress sleeve at the black ring that circled her mouth to keep the soot from going into her mouth when she spoke. “You should not be one to cast stones. You are a mess, too,” she wheezed disgustedly.
“Did I do all this?” Hal inquired disbelievingly, taking inventory of Emma, the mess behind the stove and the smoky room. Her throat began to tickle. She tried to wave the smoke away from her face with her hand but the effort was useless.
Emma retorted, “You certainly did. We better fix the pipe fast before Papa comes back. I am having trouble breathing with the way the kitchen is filling up with smoke,” She reached for the dangling pipe and withdrew her hand quickly. “Ouch!” She snapped and put a finger in her mouth.
“The stove pipe is too hot to hold, and it is bent. It will not fit back on the other piece without straightening the opening,” said Emma, perplexed.
As if things weren't bad enough the living room banged. John called, “Hal, Emma, we have company.” A pause then he said, “Hurry, Elton. The kitchen is full of smoke.”
Bishop Elton Bontrager's voice filled with good humor as he replied, “Is Hal baking bread again?”
Hal rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. Why did John always tell Elton about her goofs so they could have a good laugh at her expense? Well, this was one time her husband wouldn't have to bother share with the bishop. Elton would get to see first hand, and she feared John wasn't going to find this dilemma one bit funny.
John, Elton and his wife, Jane, burst into the kitchen. Jane stared at Hal a second with her hand clamped over her mouth as she choked. The way her warm brown eyes sparkled, Hal figured the older woman was more choked from surpressing humor than on the smoke.
As John Lapp rushed across the kitchen, his dark brown eyes narrowed at Hal with annoyance. “Get the windows open.” As he rushed behind the stove, he scolded, “Hal you should not try cleaning the flue out with a fire in the cookstove. This could have waited until spring.”
Jane and Emma raised the windows. The breeze fluttered the white half curtains and thinned down the smoke in the room. Emma handed Jane a dish towel, and they moved about the room, waving their towels.
John took his chore gloves out of a hind pant pocket, put them on and grabbed the pipe hooked to the cookstove. He tried to fit it in the pipe sticking out of the flue.
Elton stood behind John, watching. His face changed from rosy red to beet red as he tried to breathe. “Can I help, John?”
Concentrating on his task, John said, “Somehow the stove pipe has gotten really bent. It will not slide together. Elton, get me a pair of pliers from the tool bucket in the mud room.”
As the short, heavy set man rushed into the mud room, the back door slammed. Noah and Daniel past Elton and came into the kitchen. They stopped short and waved the smoke away from their faces.
Daniel's doe like dark eyes widened as he whispered, “What is going on?”
“I do not think we better ask. Look how dirty Mama Hal and Emma are. From the way Papa looks, I think they are probably in trouble with him,” Noah replied gravely.
“Why is it we always miss out when something gute happens?” Daniel groaned softly.
Hal held her breath as long as she could, breathed in and sucked smoke into her already burning lungs. She wrapped her arms around her expanding waist and coughed hard. Jane bolted around the table to help her and stubbed her toe on the broom handle. Hal caught the older woman as she stumbled. Jane uprighted herself, looked down to see what she tripped on and back at Hal. Her voice was a flat statement. “You are standing on your broom.”
“I know,” Hal said hoarsely.
Jane tugged on Hal's arm. “You must get out of here into fresh air. This smoke is not good for you to breathe.”
“I can't leave yet. I'm standing on a mouse under the broom, and it may not be dead,” Hal said stubbornly. “I don't want him to get away after we went to all this trouble to catch him.”
From behind the stove, Elton said incredulously to John, “Did all this happen because of a mouse?”
“Sounds like it probably did,” said John matter a factly.
“It would have been a lot simplier to bring a cat in to catch the mouse,” Elton surmised.
“Here take the pliers,” John said, ending the conversation.
Hal and Emma fanned their faces as they coughed. Jane held a hanky over her nose. “You both need out of here, mouse or no mouse.”
“Wait!” Hal saw the boys, standing in the corner. She motioned to Noah and Daniel. “Come here.” She said, “Daniel, place one of your feet between my feet.” He did. “Now when I move my other foot you step onto the broom.” Daniel gave Hal a thoroughly bewildered gaze as she stepped off. “You're standing on a mouse under the broom. I'll let you boys figure out how to get him from under your feet and out of the house. Please, after all this don't let him get away,” Hal pleaded, patting her chest.
Once they got out on the front porch, the women inhaled deep breaths of fresh air between coughing spells.
When they quieted down, Jane exclaimed, “I can breathe so much better now.”
“I agree,” Hal said huskily, clearing her throat. The chilly east breeze picked up, causing her to shiver.
“You should have your coat on. This no time to catch a cold,” Jane scolded.
“Nah, I don't want to have to wash the soot off my gute coat.” Hal studied Emma a minute. “You look awful covered with black soot.”
“You should see yourself. You look just as awful,” Emma said and giggled.
Jane surveyed both of them and chuckled. Suddenly all three women were laughing until tears smudged the soot on Hal and Emma's faces.
Emma said, “I am going to get you a chair so you can sit down, Hallie. You have been on your feet long enough.” She brought back two chairs, and a blanket for Hal. Jane opened the screen door to let her out. “Jane, you sit too and talk to Hallie. I'm going to get washed up and change clothes before it is time to fix dinner.”
“Put on plenty of water and let me know when you're done with the tub,” Hal told her.
After Emma left, Jane said, “Seems as though we picked a bad morning to come visit.”
“I can't imagine what you think of me. I'm sorry you got in this mess,” Hal declared.
“I am not one bit sorry. I can always count on you to perk up my day, Hallie Lapp,” said Jane, giggling.
Hal looked over her shoulder and uttered ruefully, “Denki, but I hope John sees this morning that way. He's not so calm about accidents sometimes.”
Jane chuckled. “In that case, we will leave as soon as Elton gets done helping John. We are on our way to Wickenburg. We stopped so I could find out if you have a plan in place for the big day. Are you going to the hospital?”
Hal's attention was on Noah and Daniel as they came from behind the house, headed to the barn. Daniel carried the mouse by its tail. The body looked limber. She didn't have to worry about Buttercat letting that one get away so it could find its way back to the house.
“Hal, did you hear me?”
Jane's voice brought Hal back to her company. “Sorry, I was watching the boys take the mouse to the barn and thinking good riddance. What did you say?”
“I asked if you had a plan for help when the baby arrives?”
“Oh, jah. It wouldn't be a very good recommendation if I went to the hospital and then expected Plain women to come to my birthing clinic when it's their turn. Emma didn't want me to be her first assist at helping a birthing patient so I'll ask Rachel Kitzmiller at church on Sunday to help me. Emma can watch and help her to get the experience.”
“Des gute idea. I think you and Emma have made a wise decision. Rachel has brought many babies into the world safely. She is a gute choice,” Jane said approvingly.
About a half hour later, John and Elton came out the screen door. Emma, scrubbed clean, was right behind them.
“We should leave,” Elton told Jane.
“Denki for your help, Elton,” John said.
“Hallie, I have your bath water ready,” Emma told her.
“I'm glad. Come back soon you two.” Hal waved good bye as the Bontragers walked toward their buggy.
John leaned against the porch post and folded his arms over his chest. “While you get cleaned up, Hal, maybe Emma could tell me what happened to turn the kitchen and the both of you into such a mess.”
“Jah, Emma can tell you,” Hal said quickly. She got a stern look from Emma for leaving her to face John. As she let the screen door bang behind her, she said, “Be back when I'm clean.”
In her bedroom, Hal pulled a purple dress from a peg on the wall. She opened a dresser drawer for underwear. Her hand hit a bottle that rolled out from under the stack of panties. Rose bath oil. She'd forgotten she smuggled that bottle in when she moved. Since Amish women didn't wear perfume, Hal was afraid that bath oil would be prohibited. With the mess she was in, this seemed like as good a time as any to transgress. She needed all the help she could get to smell human again. Besides, who would know besides her. She rolled her dress around the bottle and headed for the tub.
By the time Hal bathed and washed her curly copper red hair several times to get all the soot out, Emma had dinner ready. Hal made it to the table just in time. As soon as the family finished the silent prayer, Daniel wiggled his nose like a rabbit as he sniffed the air. “I smell something sweet, but it is not Emma's food.” He sniffed again. “More like flowers.”
Noah took in a deep breath. “Jah, I smell it, too. It is a pleasant smell all right. What can it be?”
Hal looked from one to the other boy, amazed that bath oil as old as hers was still so potent. She was already in more than enough trouble with John. She was dumb to add one more thing to her Make John Unhappy list. Why didn't she ever think of the consequences before she acted? Generations of dead Lapps were probably screaming protests from their graves about her offending transgression, smelling up their house with her Englischer bath oil.
Curious now, Emma sniffed and surmised, “It is the smell of roses. We do not have roses in bloom this time of year. Where can it be coming from?”
Hal ducked her head and picked at her food.
John leaned closer to Hal and sniffed. His lips twitched as he put her on the spot, “Hal, you are awful quiet, ain't? Have you noticed the sweet smell in the air?”
Hal gave John a painful I've been busted look. “I've noticed, hopefully, the smell will go away soon.”
For the first time since John found the kitchen a mess, he smiled. He must have figured Hal had been through enough for one day. He winked at her as he said, “I think the boys will agree the smell of roses is much more pleasant than the smell of a kitchen full of smoke.”
“Oh, ja,” Noah agreed. “The smell is much better than smoke.”
Hal relaxed and ate her lunch. Looked as though there was one advantage to being pregnant. Her family took sympathy on her for her mistakes.
On Wednesday morning of the next week, Hal looked out the window at the dense, dark clouds. They obscured the hope of any sunshine. She turned loose of the curtain. It wasn't in her DNA to like dreary days. Her interest in outside perked back up when she heard wheels crunch in the rock as a buggy slowed down and turned off the road into the driveway.
“Emma,” Hal called. “Samuel and Roseanna Nisely's buggy is coming in.”
Roseanna lumbered down from the enclosed buggy. The very pregnant woman held her back as she stalked toward the house. Her wispy chestnut hair strayed from all sides of her prayer cap as if she had put it up in a hurry.
Her husband, Samuel's usually twinkling blue eyes looked worried. The children, Jimmy, twelve years old, and Ella, ten, their heads down as they walked behind their parents, were very subdued. Usually those two energetic kids raced to get to Noah and Daniel.
Hal jerked the clinic door open when Roseanna started up the porch steps with Samuel's help. “Was ist letz?”
“Es a vooderball gute thing that is the matter. You still plan to use the clinic for a birthing place?” Roseanna asked with a half smile, then she winched as she grabbed her bluging stomach.
“I certainly do.” She looked past Roseanna. “Noah and Daniel are in the barn, kids. Go find them.” As Jimmy and Etta took off, Hal ordered, “Samuel, help your wife. Bring her over to the bed and help her get seated.” Once Roseanna was on the bed, Hal said, “Now, Samuel, scoot out of here. John's in the barn I think. This is women's work.” Hal waited for Emma to come in and shut the door to the living room.” Emma, we are delivering a baby.” In nurse mode, she went to the table and grabbed the plastic sheet from the top of the stack of bedding they'd laid out for her own use. She turned back to Emma. “Put on water to boil and make sure we have plenty of supplies. Roseanna, wait a minute until I prepare the bed before you lie down. How far apart are the pains?”
Roseanna pushed a stray lock of hair off her sweaty brow as she thought. “Maybe ten minutes apart. Ahhh.” Her face scrunched up in pain.
“I'd say you're going to be a mother again soon. The ride here may have helped you along,” Hal said. “Now lie down.” She put her arm behind Roseanna's shoulders and helped ease her on to the plastic sheet. Hal searched behind the stack of linen and came up with a small piece of folded flannel cloth. She offered it to Roseanna. “Want this bite into when the pains hit?”
Roseanna managed a giggle.
Hal looked at her in disbelief. “What's so funny? You know what's coming.”
“I will not need to bite on cloth. My mother always says babies just pop right out of me like they did her. I will hold onto the top of the bed though to help with the pushing,” Roseanna offered to appease Hal.
“I hope you're right about this. That means I've been blessed to have you as an easy first patient to help,” Hal said.
Roseanna grabbed the top of the bed and grimaced when another contraction hit her.
Hal waited until the pain passed. “Let's see how far dilated you are.” She suspected Roseanna couldn't be too far along as perky and calm as she was. What woman in her right mind giggled in the middle of painful contractions.
On further examination, Hal was astonished. She guessed wrong! Roseanna was nine centimeters.
“Is something wrong?” Roseanna asked, wiping with her blouse sleeve at the beads of sweat that popped up on her forehead.
“Not a thing except you will be a mother sooner than I thought. Very soon.” Turning to Emma, Hal instructed, “Keep wiping Roseanna's face for her.”
“I'm so excited. Samuel and the children can hardly wait to have a baby in the house,” Roseanna babbled while Hal took her vitals. “Am I doing all right?”
“You're doing so well I'm jealous of how easy this is for you,” Hal teased.
Instantly, Roseanna's quick smile left and a red flush covered her face. She got down to business with a hard push. There were several more hard pushes which Roseanna softly grunted her way through. Hal wondered if her stoic attitude was because she was Amish. Maybe this behavior was some Amish motherhood code that wouldn't allow a woman to loudly protest childbirth pain. The thought ran though Hal's mind she was pretty sure she wasn't Amish enough yet to silently suffer those sharp pains.
With Roseanna's next push, Hal was brought back to the moment. A baby boy popped into her hands as if he was in a real hurry to join the Nisely family. There weren't even any tears in Roseanna's perineum. Amazed at such a quick, uncomplicated birth, Hal decided Roseanna was right about one thing. Birthing was easy for her.
Hal gathered the baby in a blanket. “Roseanna, you have a boy.” She handed the baby to his mother and turned to find a very unsettled girl behind her. “There you go, Emma. Your first baby delivery assist. You worried for nothing about helping, didn't you?”
Emma, gave a slightly doubtful nod. “Jah.”
Hal said, “Bring the wash pans and warm water. You and me have some cleaning up to do. You can wash the baby, and I'll take care of the mother.”
As soon as Roseanna and the baby were cleaned, and the baby was sucking, Hal asked, “Are you ready for me to call Samuel in?”
Roseanna gave her a tired smile and nodded.
Emma opened the clinic outside door to empty the pans of reddish water. She said, “Papa and Samuel are in the living room. I told Samuel he had a son.”
“Gute,” Roseanna said. “Samuel claims he can not pick a name until he sees the baby. Then he will know what name to pick.”
“Maybe you can suggest a name to help him out,” Hal commented, looking at the baby's fine blond hair sticking out of the blanket. “He's going to be the spitting image of Samuel I'd say.”
“I think so, too, but it is up to Samuel to name our baby. That is the way it is done,” Roseanna said.
Hal hadn't heard that little tidbit before. She already had names picked out for her baby. She hoped John gave her a chance to use at least one of them.
Hal opened the door to the living room. Samuel was standing right there, eagerly waiting to see his son. She smiled at him as he rushed past her.
So the couple could be alone with the new arrival, Hal said she'd go help Emma fix dinner. She stopped by John, in his rocker. “Mother and baby are doing fine.” She felt a twinge, grimaced and rubbed her back”
John gave her a sharp inspection “That is gute, but how is Nurse Hal?”
“A little tired is all,” she replied. After watching Roseanna give birth, she didn't want to complain about a minor twinge. “I better get in the kitchen and help Emma with dinner.”
As she walked to the kitchen, Hal wished the nagging ache in her back would ease up. It must be from her big stomach over balancing her these days. She was getting as sway backed as an old mare long past her prime.
Thank goodness for efficient Emma. While the girl heated water, she'd put on a large stainless steel kettle of vegetable soup. Enough for all of them.
Hal set the table and hunted up a box of crackers. That was all the energy she had. She sat down, feeling exhausted.
Emma called everyone to the table then she fixed a bowl, using a cookie sheet for a tray to take Roseanna.
After dinner, the men talked in the living room while Emma and Hal washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Emma saw Hal make a face. “Hallie, are you all right?”
“Oh, just the usual aches and pains, a backache and a crampy stomach. I hate to complain about these little things now that I've seen how an Amish birth is done,” Hal said with a slight smile. “My goodness, I wouldn't want to sound like a wimp.”
Emma looked awe struck as she whispered, “I know what you mean. Do you suppose this is the way it is for all women?”
“Ach, nah. I'm pretty sure it can't be. Roseanna is just a super great birthing machine. That's all,” Hal said in a hushed voice. “I should go check on her to see if she ate her dinner. I can bring back the tray to wash.”
“Let me go get the tray while you sit down and visit with Roseanna,” Emma insisted.
In the clinic, Hal checked out the tray beside Roseanna on the bed. The soup bowl was empty. She said, “Gute to see you have an appetite.”
“Having a baby is work. Makes me hungry,” Roseanna said and giggled.
Hal's smile changed to a frown. She grabbed her stomach as a stab of pain shot through her lower belly. “Oh my!”
Emma ordered, “Sit down quick, Hallie.”
Hal started for the chair by the table but stopped. She felt a wet trickle run down her legs. She clutched her stomach and cried out. The trickle turned into a gush that made dark blotches on her blue skirt. Smelly amber liquid splattered on her sensible black oxfords and spread onto the floor.
“Oh, my goodness,” Emma gasped, staring wide eyed at Hal's feet.
“Sit down, Hal,” Roseanna said calmly. “Your water just broke. Now it is your turn to have a baby. Quickly, Emma, you need to help me up so you can remake this bed for Hal.”
“Nah, Emma doesn't need to help you up,” Hal protested. She grabbed her crampy stomach and gasped. “John can set up another bed for me. Emma, find Noah fast and tell him to head for the Kitzmiller farm right away.” As the girl rushed outside and thudded down the porch steps, Hal groaned to Roseanna, “Why do babies pick such bad times to come?”
“Because they do not own a watch,” suggested Roseanna, grinning. When Hal darted a that is not funny look at her, Roseanna said, “I am so glad I am here to see your baby born. I can not wait to greet your baby.”
“I'm not so sure I want you watching after how easy you made it look. I'm afraid I won't hold a candle to the way you handled childbirth,” Hal worried.
“Do whatever it takes. This is your first baby. Trust me, the first is the hardest,” Roseanna said seriously.
Hal heaved herself off the chair and walked to the living room door. “John, we're going to need another bed in the clinic right away. Can you bring the one from the spare room down.”
“You're going to be a father again. Very soon I hope,” she stated. “Roseanna needs the clinic bed for a little longer so I need one of my own.”
As the men headed to the stairs, Samuel slapped John on the back. “Now it is your turn.”
Hal plopped down in the wooden chair to wait.
“Are they getting you a bed?” Roseanna asked.
“I'll have one soon.” Hal answered with a dull grin. “You know I think that's the fastest I've seen John move in a long time.”
Emma brought in a pail of water and a rag. She got down on her knees and scrubbed the floor.
Hal said apologetically, “I feel like I should be doing that. I made the mess.”
“Not on your life, Hallie. You get down here, and we would never be able to lift you up. We would have to leave you until the baby came,” Emma scolded.
Banging and clanging came from upstairs as Samuel and John tore the bed apart. The men tromped down the stairs, carrying the parts. With a flurry, they put the bed back together and made two more trips to bring down the springs and mattress.
When they were done, John said to Hal, “Are you doing all right?”
“So far. You go keep Samuel company. Emma will come get you when the baby is here,” said Hal, waving the men out the door.
Emma brought a fresh stack of linens and made the bed. As she helped Hal to lie down, another pain sliced from Hal's back to her belly, knotting her up in a ball. When the pain eased up, Hal snapped, “Ouch. That hurt!”
A burst of laughter came from Roseanna. She replied, “No kidding.” Then she searched around her pillow and found the folded flannel material. She threw the piece onto Hal's bed. “Here you might need this.”
Hal gave her a disdainful look, thinking, “Whatever Roseanna does I can do. I have to as long as she watching me.”
Meanwhile, Daniel and Jimmy helped Noah corner one of the draft horses and get a bridle in his mouth. Noah threw his arm around the neck of the horse and hopped on with a speed that made the horse's ears perk up and swivel in alarm. Mama Hal was counting on him. He didn't have any time to waste. Noah headed the horse toward the road. He lashed the hard stepping horse on both sides with the reins to get him moving fast.
Leaving a small trail of dust in his wake, Noah leaned into the horse and raced down the road. The familiar views on either side became a blur of green, blue and brown as he sailed by the barren fields, budding timbers, swollen creeks and greening pastures. Noah knew when he went by Elton and Jane Bontrager's house. He slowed the horse enough at the intersection to make the turn to head south. Before he knew it, he galloped past Luke Yoders farm. The Kitzmiller farm was just over the hill.
Luke's wife, Linda, was going in the house when she heard fast moving horse hooves. She stopped to watch as Noah raced down the road, disappearing in a second over the hill. She hurried inside. “Mama Margaret, where are you?”
Margaret thought Linda's voice sounded rushed. “In the kitchen,” She replied as she came to the door. “Was ist letz?”
“Noah Lapp was going by here mighty fast just now. John does not approve of the boys running his work horses like that unless there is a good reason. Do you think it is Hal's time?”
Margaret thought a second. “From what I heard Sunday at church you could be right. Hal asked Rachel Kitzmiller to be her midwife.” Her voice held concern. “Oh dear, Noah will not find the Kitzmillers at home. Their buggy went by earlier, headed for Wickenburg. I have not seen them returned yet. Not knowing she is needed, Rachel will not hurry to finish her shopping.”
“Hal may need help now,” lamented Linda. “Should we go see about her? We would be better than no help at all.”
“Might be a gute idea. From what I heard of Hal and Rachel's conversation, Emma was very nervous about being alone with Hal when she went into labor and what not,” Margaret said with a weak smile.
Linda ran for the barn. She hooked the horse to the enclosed buggy and pulled up by the house just as Noah sped back by. Linda would have flagged him down, but the boy went by too fast for her to get to the road. She called in the front door. “Better hurry, Mother Margaret. Noah just flew back by headed home with the bad news. Hal will be worried sick.”
Noah was frantic. He didn't know what to do. Rachel Kitzmiller wasn't home. No way did he want to go back home without any help for Mama Hal. As he neared the Bontrager farm, he was struck by an idea. He slowed the horse down and veered into the yard. He hopped off the panting horse and tromped up the porch steps. Noah only had time to pound once on the door before Jane opened it.
She grabbed him by the arm. “Goodness sakes, Noah, come in. Something is wrong, ain't?”
“Jah. It is Mama Hal's time.” He stopped to take a deep breath before he could continue. “She needs Rachel Kitzmiller, and Rachel is not home. I just have to bring a woman back to help Mama Hal. Can you come help?”
“Jah, I can. Go on home. I will be there as soon as I can.” She closed the door and yelled, “Elton, hurry. Hitch up the horse to the buggy. It is Nurse Hal's time. I have to go to the Lapp farm quick. ”
Noah straddled the tired horse and came to a sudden stop at the end of the driveway when he saw dust stirring up the air. He recognized the Yoder buggy. Linda and Margaret waved at him as they sped past. Noah knew what his hurry was, but he wondered about their hurry. He turned out on the road and heard the grate of wheels on rock. He looked back. Jane's buggy was already behind him and getting closer.
When Noah arrived home he was surprised to see the Yoder buggy by the house. He stopped at the barn and slid off the horse. Jane Bontrager pulled up behind the Yoder buggy and got down. Noah watched the three women greet each other and hurry to the clinic. He could quit worrying. Mama Hal had plenty of help.
Emma held the door as the three women filed in. Hal looked surprised see all of them.
Jane placed her coat on a wall peg. “Gute afternoon, Hal. You too, Roseanna. We did not expect to see you here.”
“I have a new son. Came this morning,” she replied. Tilting her bundle up, she pulled the blanket away from the baby's face.
Margaret and Linda stopped at the foot of Hal's bed. “Are you doing all right so far, Hal?” Margaret asked.
“So far,” Hal hissed and groaned as she grabbed her stomach.
The women moved to Roseanna's bed and peered down at the baby. Linda asked, “What did Samuel name him?”
“Samuel James, but we will call him Sammy,” Roseanna told them.
After a quick peek, Jane rolled up her sleeves as she approached Hal's bed. “We saw Noah go by fast and thought you might need our help.”
“Noah should be back soon. He went to get Rachel Kitzmiller to be my midwife,” Hal explained.
“Noah is back. He is putting the horse away,” Linda said, patting Hal's hand.
“Oh, that's gute. Rachel will be here soon,” Hal said, sounding relieved.
“About that,” Margaret said slowly. “The Kitzmillers left home to shop in Wickenburg this morning. They are not home yet.”
Sweat beads popped out on Hal's face. She said in a panic, “Rachel is supposed to be here. She said she would be.”
“Now calm down. As long as she is not, you have us. We do know what to do since we have been through childbirth ourselves,” Margaret assured her. She rolled up her sleeves, and Linda did the same.
Jane turned to Emma, “Is the water heating?”
“Jah, I think it is ready,” she replied uncertainly.
Margaret asked in concern, “Do you feel all right? You look tired.”
Emma fretted, “I did not expect to get so much experience at child birthing all in one day.”
Margaret smiled and hugged Emma. “Hang in there, dear.”
An hour later, Hal's contractions were closer together. Emma rubbed Hal's back. Feeling irritable about everything, Hal decided Roseanna was over doing her joyful cheerleading as she nursed her baby. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from saying so. Muffled footsteps paced in the living room. Hal suspected John was nervous. Well, he should be. Her midwife was missing. Samuel's low voice ramble on, keeping a conversation going to distract John.
“Is Elton in the living room, Jane?” Hal asked.
Jane patted her arm. “Nah, it is not our way to intrude on a family until after the baby is born. Margaret, Linda and me thought this was a special circumstance. You needed help.”
A knock sounded on the door. Linda went to see who it was. “Rachel, it is gute you are here to take over,” she greeted in a grateful tone as she let the elderly midwife in.
“With so many buggies here, I thought maybe I should stop and see if it is Hal's time,” the wizen old woman rasped.
“It is,” Linda replied quietly and pointed to Hal's bed with Margaret and Jane in attendance.
Rachel motioned her hand toward the other porch door as she said to her husband, “Joe, go visit with the men.” She stopped to gaze at Roseanna. “It was your time, too?”
Roseanna giggled. “Nurse Hal delivered my baby this morning.”
“Everything go all right?”
“Very gute, Rachel. I have a son,” Roseanna said, beaming.
“Gute.” Rachel turned around. “Now let me examined you, Nurse Hal.” The midwife peeked under the cover then asked, “Has anyone put on water?”
Emma said, “Jah, I have water boiling for the clean up.”
“Nah, I mean the tea kettle for a cup of tea. We might have a bit of a wait,” Rachel said. “And shopping always makes me thirsty.” She pulled a chair away from the table to the foot of the bed and sat down. “Now, Nurse Hal, stretch your feet out here to me. When you feel a contraction coming on let me know. I can control the pain.”
“Like now,” Hal said through clamped teeth, straightening her legs out.
Rachel took a foot in each hand and pressed her thumbs into pressure points in the soles. “Breathe deep in, Nurse Hal. Breathe out and keep that up. The pain will be gone quickly.”
Emma hovered at the door long enough to watch Rachel so she'd know the procedure before she rushed past the men. They looked at her questioningly, and she shrugged her shoulders.
Her hands shook as she tried to fill the tea kettle. She spilled water all down the sides. When she placed the dripping kettle on the hot cookstove, dribbles of water did a hopping dance over the stove top. She stared at the kettle waiting for the water to heat and wished she could rush it. As soon as the kettle sizzled, she fixed the tea and carried a cookie sheet loaded with steaming cups to the clinic.
“What is going on in there?” John asked.
“We are having tea while we wait,” Emma replied in a calmer tone than she felt.
As Emma disappeared, Samuel teased, “Tell the women they should tend to business. They can have a tea party later.”
“Here is the tea, Rachel Kitzmiller,” Emma announced.
“Gute, Emma.” Rachel took a cup off the tray as she studied the girl. “You look peaked. Feeling all right.”
“I already helped Mama Hal with Roseanna's birthing. I did not expect to have to help again so soon,” Emma protested as she made the rounds with the tea.
“Stop looking like you are going to get a tooth pulled, girl. You are doing just fine, and you need all the practice you can get if you are going to do what I do some day,” Rachel retorted, showing the girl no sympathy at all. “Take over for Jane, wiping your mama's face. Jane, the girl makes gute tea. Sit down and have a cup.”
Another hour passed before Rachel announced, “Keep up the good work, Nurse Hal. That baby is going to be born soon.”
Loud knocks rapped on the outside door. “I did not hear anyone drive in,” Margaret said. She answered the door and said bluntly, “Stella Strutt! What are you doing here?”
Stella ignored Margaret and didn't wait for an invitation to come in. She marched to the middle of the room, stood with her hands on her hips and confronted all the women lined up along the side of Hal's bed. “Saw the buggies. Saw all the buggies. Thought I might have missed that there was going to be a quilting bee. Maybe someone forgot to tell me. Accidentally forgot to tell me,” she said testily as she looked from one to the other accusingly.
Hal groaned louder than before, and the groan didn't sound very painful. Everyone turned their attention to the mother to be. Jane smothered a giggle as she squeezed Hal's hand. She doubted Hal's outburst was contraction related.
Margaret explained calmly, “As you can see, Nurse Hal is having her baby. No quilting here today, Stella.”
Stella's eyes darted from Hal to Roseanna. She took in all that was happening. “Maybe I can be of help,” she offered sheepishly.
The women looked at each other and centered their attention on Jane, wordlessly imploring her to come up with something for Stella to do as far away from them as possible. Jane said, “Stella, how about you go see what you can find in the kitchen to fix for supper. We have a living room full of men and children that need fed.”
“I'll be glad to do that – do that,” Stella said. In a short amount of time, she was back. “Added some more vegetables to the kettle of soup on the stove. Should be enough. Should be plenty enough. Thought if I hurried I could get back in time to see the baby born.”
Hal stuck her hands over her head and gripped the bed backboard. She gave a few hard pushes at Rachel's instructions. The elderly woman held her hands between Hal's legs.
Suddenly, Hal relaxed, and Rachel straightened, holding the baby. “You have a girl, Hal.” She tapped the baby on the bottom. The baby let out a kitten like cry. Rachel came around the bed and handed the baby to Hal. “You hold her just for a minute now. We have to wash her off. Stella, bring in two pans of water.”
The women heard Stella Strutt's loud excited voice over the thud of her feet as she importantly announced to John and the other men, “Nurse Hal has a baby girl. A baby girl.”
As soon as Hal was resting comfortably with the baby in her arms, the women sent John in as they made their way to the kitchen to finish getting the meal ready.
Not paying any attention to Samuel and Moses talking on the couch, Stella lingered outside the open door. Then she plopped down in the rocker as if she was taking a minute to rest.
“Are you all right, Stella?” Her husband, Moses, asked.
“Shhh!” Stella hissed as she cocked her ear toward the open door.
Hal held the blanket open. “Well, Papa, what do you think?”
“She looks like her mother. Look at that red hair,” he said admiringly.
“What are you going to name her, John?” Roseanna asked.
“Looks like we have us a redbird. How about Redbird?” He looked at Hal for agreement.
Hal said timidly, “We should really give her a more appropriate name. How about naming her Cardinal Emma Lapp and calling her Redbird.”
“I think that would be just fine,” John agreed. He placed a finger on top the baby's soft red hair and said proudly, “Wilkum to the Lapp family little Redbird.”
Tromping heavy footed to the kitchen as fast as her swollen feet could carry her, Stella, with a sad expression on her face, clucked her tongue. When the women continued to work on supper, she said in a hushed voice, “I feel sorry for that poor little baby! Poor little baby.”
The women turned to stare at her. Jane said softly, “Stella, what is wrong with you? Why pick on that baby? It just got came into the world. It is just fine. Roseanna and Samuel have a healthy boy.”
“Not the Nisely baby. I am talking about the Lapp baby. Poor Lapp baby,” Stella lamented.
Linda Yoder looked toward the mud room door, fearing Emma might show up any minute from gathering eggs. “This is no place to say these words. That little baby is pleasing to look at and healthy.”
“She might be, but you saw all that red hair. She is the image of her mother. Just like her mother,” Stella lamented, shaking her head from side to side.
Very puzzled by Stella's concern, Rachel said, “I have caught many girl babies. From what I have seen, they usually look like their mothers.”
“That is unfortunate for this baby. Unfortunate baby indeed,” Stella repeated, clucking her tongue loudly. “All that woman's wild blood is in that baby. You can see it. That little girl does not stand a chance. You mark my words. Mark my words.”
“I do not want to hear another word of this nonsense from you, Stella Strutt. Help me set the table so we can eat. Noah and Daniel will be in from milking soon, and our men need to get home to chore,” Jane said coolly.
Stella didn't move. She hissed, “If her red hair and the look of her mother is not enough to convince you of her wild blood, maybe what John named her will be.” Again the women lined up to listen, curious this time. Stella pointed toward the clinic and said in disgust, “They are going to call her Redbird. How awful is that?”
Margaret said thoughtfully, “Redbird. I like that name.”
Jane agreed, “It is an original name and fits her red hair. John did gute.” She noted with satisfaction Stella's defeated look. “Now we need to get the food on the table, Stella. No more dawdling.”
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