By LOREN BEACHY
The scene is a common one in Amish life. Two horses are trotting docilely, pulling buggies in opposite directions down a country road, still 100 yards apart. There appears to be nothing unusual in the whole scenario.
When the Kansas Andy boys are occupying one buggy though, anything can, and likely will, happen.
Kansas Andy’s Henry, in the passenger seat, has his binoculars trained on the oncoming buggy and Sammy and Mose are becoming impatient. “Can’t you tell who it is yet?”
“I think,” Henry answers slowly, “yes, it’s Bill’s Lonnie!”
“Perfect!” the boys are almost gleeful as they scramble off the seat of the enclosed buggy and kneel in the front of the box under cover of the dash. To anyone meeting them on the road, the buggy appears empty.
The ditch-side curtain is left open at the bottom so Sammy, the driver, can keep his bearings while hunkered down so low.
Henry, Sammy and Mose had determined to spice up their routine buggy trip to town by toying with their fellow travelers. Getting a chance to play a prank on neighbor Lonnie is much better than they had dared to wish for. The trio had long since deemed Lonnie responsible for the neon-orange painted rooster that had showed up in their barn as well as the mysterious crop of golf balls just a few inches under the surface of their garden that came boiling to the top when Mose went through with the tiller. The boys also suspected, though they weren’t sure, that Lonnie had been responsible for every clock in the house being an hour fast in the morning after the youth hymn singing last winter.
Henry and Sammy, who work in town, were an hour early for work that morning and have been eagerly waiting for a chance to catch Lonnie vulnerable. Now they have it — if Lonnie takes the bait.
The pranksters huddle, invisible and holding their breath against the dash of the buggy. They listen to the approaching horse’s hoofbeats, now close ... now right beside them ... now just past.
Quickly and carefully Sammy eases up onto the seat and glances in the mirror.
“Yes! He’s stopping!” Sammy hisses to his brothers. “Now watch how you get up. Do not get in front of the windows.”
A driverless horse and carriage is a hazard to the horse, to the carriage, to fellow travelers and to any fences in the vicinity. Amish children are taught from a young age that such loose horses must be quickly corralled, thereby preventing further damage. Lonnie is no exception. When he sees his neighbor’s team running “loose” down the road, he wastes no time.
Quickly, he halts his horse, hands the lines to his brother and jumps out of his own buggy to begin sprinting after the runaway.
Sammy and company, now back on the buggy seat though careful not to show themselves, have already eased the whip out of the front of the buggy. With only an occasional glace in the mirror, they can keep track of Lonnie’s progress in catching up.
The brothers allow Lonnie to get within a tantalizing 10 feet of the rear of the buggy before gently tapping the rump of their horse with the whip. Trigger obligingly speeds up, and Lonnie, legs pumping determinedly, loses 50 strides.
Now the grinning lads watch the mirror carefully. What will Lonnie do? They can almost hear the turmoil going on under Lonnie’s straw hat.
“It would be tempting to give up, stop and use a phone. Should I? But no, the highway is just three-quarter mile further. That horse needs to be stopped now! Maybe he’ll slow down again. Maybe ...”
Lonnie steels himself and lengthens his stride just a bit more. His breath begins to come in tearing gasps. The sweat starts to run down his back and he begins to catch up to the buggy in front of him.
Now the buggy is 80 feet ... now 50 ... now 15 ... now he is within just a few strides of the elusive carriage, and there it goes again!
For some reason, the horse out front has decided now to quicken the pace. Now, when victory was almost within his grasp, now, when his grueling sprint was almost over, the gap widens again.
Lonnie feels like collapsing on the pavement. The highway with its heavy traffic is closer yet though, and Lonnie is made of stern stuff. He grits his teeth, tosses his hat to the side and extracts one more effort from deep inside himself.
The boys in the buggy are shaking with mirth and are now more boldly peeking into the mirrors. They see the sweat blotches on Lonnie’s shirt, the set of his shoulders and the determination of his stride. When the whites of Lonnie’s pained eyes come into plain view, it is all the passengers can do to restrain themselves from shouting in laughter.
Lonnie makes a few final staggering strides around the buggy and grasps the horse by the bridle. “Whoa!” he gasps in a quavering voice. He is utterly spent. Having stopped the horse, Lonnie bends over, sides heaving, sweat dripping, struggling only to regain some oxygen and equilibrium.
A voice floats out of the carriage behind him, cool and collected as you please. “Well hello Lonnie! What’s the problem?”
Lonnie’s heaving shoulders stiffen noticeably and he turns slowly. The buggy, he was sure, had been empty. But that voice — it sounds familiar.
When Lonnie has turned, three wide-eyed, querying and innocent faces peer back at him. The Kansas Andy boys would love to pull one more over on Lonnie and have him think it was all an innocent mistake.
Lonnie is not deceived for an instant. He knows foxes don’t sit in henhouses discussing the stock market and he knows the Kansas Andy boys’ buggy didn’t accidentally appear empty.
“You ornery clowns!” Lonnie puts all the feeling he can muster into the last word, drops his hand from the bridle and begins the long walk back to his own carriage.
Loren Beachy is an auctioneer and elementary school teacher. He can be contacted by writing to 14047 Ind. 4, Goshen, IN 46528 or by calling 642-1180.