Based on the Book of Job in the Bible, "Echoes Along the Sweetbrier" is a heart-warming story Set in the latter part of the Victorian era, the novel depicts the hardships faced by a young woman who conceives out of wedlock
Sussanna Steiner, a courageous country-girl, falls in love with charming Reuben Maust, but soon learns that his pleasant visage hides a disturbed and troubled man. After being rejected by him, she turns to the church for help, only to be ostracized. However, Reuben confess in church, and offers to marry her. Susanna is overjoyed, but soon realizes that he only married her to torture her. She flees along with her children, suffering homelessness and near-starvation. In time she marries Milton Leatherman, an admirer and friend. Again, the wheel of fortune turns and they lose everything that they have. Can they face the ordeals courageously? Can they learn to be thankful for small mercies? Will the townsfolk ever forgive Susanna and take her back into the fold?
The novel reads like a true-life drama. This lends the story depth and compels readers to empathize with the protagonist. Yoder’s compassionate look at the issue of domestic violence through the eyes of well-defined characters makes this an unforgettable novel of depth and inspiration.
-- Bookwire Review
Eighteen-year-old Susanna Steiner plunked the sadiron on the range top and slipped the housing around a hot iron. Tightening the clasp with a calloused finger, she turned back to the sturdy oak ironing board stretched in front of the open window where the tops of the late blooming beauty bush nodded.
Her left hand clutched her pale chin as the words burned in her brain. No! Reuben Maust, what are you doing? No, no....
Nausea crept upwards to her throat at the mingling smells of the freshly laundered and sun-dried overalls she pounded with the iron. Surely the morning sickness was over now that it was ten o'clock.
"I'll have to confront Reuben Maust again tonight," a part of her whispered to the other trembling portion. Startled by the thud of her mother Anna's heels on the threshold by the east kitchen door, Susanna turned. She realized she was unable to shove the fear back down into her heart. She knew it leaped from her dark brown eyes.
"Susanna, two pairs of brother Aden's britches and your Father's Sunday broadcloth shirt, then enough for the morning. Let's sit on the east porch and listen to the cardinals as we snap beans to can this afternoon." The strings on fifty-year-old Anna Steiner's white prayer cap drifted back as her black-stockinged legs carried her matronly form across to the willow laundry basket resting on the green bentwood chair.
Susanna thought of her people who'd settled in these Pennsylvania valleys since the late eighteenth century. Mennonites. Their very own sixty acres on the fertile north bank of the Sweetbrier. Swiss and German were her people.
"Susanna, you look weary. Sweat's beaded on your forehead. Let me iron these overalls and this shirt while you rest. You must have stayed out too late last night at the gathering over at Hostetlers." She smiled tenderly at Susanna.
Susanna noted the smile and felt her mother's unfailing love. How can I tell her? Her stomach tightened. "No, Mother." Susanna lifted a hand to push in a hairpin that had worked its head out from the thick braids wound around her head. "Aden and I got home about eleven o'clock, Mother." Susanna tried to steady fingers that automatically stretched up again, this time to mask a twitching upper lip.
The memory scratched at her heart like branches of the wild plums by Sweetbrier Creek. Should I try to see Reuben again? She pondered. Dear Lord, dear Lord. What am I going to do? Her heart pounded against her rib cage. Susanna gasped, breathing in the air blowing off the sweet clover field.
Her mother jerked a ladder-back chair from its place at the oak dining table. "Sit, Susanna, you're paler than one of my Buff Orpington hens." Anna lifted the sadiron from its cast-iron trivet parked at the wide end of the ironing board and shoved it down the denim overall leg as skillfully as the Chinese laundry man over at Blessing did.
Steam circled toward her rosy cheeks and graying hair. "You must have played outdoor games last night, tired as you are today, Susanna. Was it walk a mile? That game can wear out any young one...believe me...." Anna chuckled. "That's how I got to know your father, Susanna. Yes," she added, "one can meet new people while playing walk a mile, and, it's especially nice when the full moon is shining."
Suddenly Susanna's brain was assaulted by an onslaught of echoes--echoes from along the Sweetbrier where Reuben Maust had insisted they walk over two months ago after the singing. They encircled her heart like an iron hoop long forgotten and grown into the bark of an oversized oak.
"Let's look at the little waterfall by Metzler Bend where the wild roses cascade down. It's moonlight, too..."Reuben's voice liquid, warm as pancake molasses.
Susanna hesitated, "It's too late, Reuben, and..." then there'd been that uncertainty about it. She had turned at the sound of an approaching buggy, noticing that it was Bishop Weaver's son, Isaac, and his new bride, Reuben's sister, Rachel. Isaac and Rachel had raced past their halted buggy, Rachel's loud laughter rippling in the cool April evening.
Reuben had grabbed her hand, squeezing it until it hurt, though she'd said nothing as she skipped, trying to keep up and avoid entangling her feet in the buck brush alongside the trail. She could still feel the heat of his hand. Entangling her foot in the loop of a wild grapevine, Susanna staggered and would have fallen, but Reuben reached out and caught her.
"How do I know you didn't do that on purpose?" His deep laughter rolled up his throat. Then, he'd held her with one arm, but just for a moment.
The voices still circled in her head. "You're lucky to be going with Reuben Maust, Susanna. Those onyx eyes of his could charm a courthouse judge to change a burglar's sentence," Sadie Swick had said, unable to hide the jealousy in her own voice.
"Make you a splendid living, Susanna. Fine carpenter, too, Reuben Maust is," Beulah Byler added. "Besides, his sister, Rachel, is married to Bishop Weaver's son, Ike. Marry Reuben and you'll be the same as in Bishop Weaver's family."
Suddenly Susanna realized that Reuben had led her off the main trail. His hand slid from her hand up her arm. She could still feel it, tight, like a blacksnake coiling around an unfortunate rabbit.
"Reuben, the falls are over eastward, you're going away..." but she couldn't finish. Reuben thrust his face into hers kissing her forcefully with his hard, firm lips. His sandpaper jaw and face chafed her cheek.
Susanna remembered hearing the nervous murmur of the falls behind her shoulder and the rattle of the leaves in the burr oak as the great tree shuddered in a swift gust. She even remembered the whippoorwill's call. Now she recognized it was a ghostly, sad song, a portent of her heart-wrenching shock. Susanna wanted to put her palms up over her ears as the cries echoed in her head: "Whip poor Willa, whip poor Willa...,"only her name wasn't Willa, it was Susanna.
"Reuben, what is it?" Her own voice, fear-laden as he forced her to the mossy ground by the hazel bush. "Reuben, I have to get home, Mother, Father..."
"Susanna, hush." He placed a big, calloused hand that smelled like walnut planks over her face. Near panic, she reached out with one palm to try to shove him back, but she couldn't breathe with his hand smothering her.
"Susanna, you're my girl. I only want to show you my love. Susanna...." Reuben's rough bungling in attempting to partially disrobe her added other sounds to the night, ripping organdy, and tearing undergarments.
Overpowered and fear-stricken, Susanna realized then that there was nothing she could do as a splitting pain stabbed her body and pierced the encircling waves of echoes along Sweetbrier Creek.
ISBN Number: 0-7414-2143-7 (softcover)